Archive for October, 2007

It’s the environment, stupid

Monday, October 29th, 2007

With the recent UNEP’s fourth Global Environmental Outlook Report UN’s (full report - Global Environment Outlook [21.9MB]) clearly outlining the state of play, I’m hoping that our leaders and those elsewhere have “It’s the environment, stupid” prominently displayed in their offices to keep (get?) them on the #1 issue.

This phrase is derived from Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign which focused on the economy “It’s the economy, stupid” - it had three parts, another of which is pertinent “Change vs. more of the same”.

Where to start? Try Celsias and their “Top 50 things we can do!“.

The importance of a roll call in a meeting

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Q.E.D.

ITIL having a hard time living up to hype

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

This headline in the latest Computerworld (October 15, 2007 - “ITIL having a hard time living up to hype“) and my reaction was, “Why did it take so long for this to be stated?”.

Remember ISO9000, TQM, Six Sigma and the others? They too suffered the same fate after years of vast sums of money being shelled out to consulting companies to implement these ’saviours’.

Cynical, perhaps but they’ve come and gone - only a few organisations have been successful in getting anything up and running.

Why?

Another article in the same edition of Computerworld (page 27) is headlined - “How to hit pay dirt when overhauling IT processes“.

This article by Denise Dubie is based on comments made by some of the 2,000 attendees at a recent conference (itSMF USA Fusion 2007).

She lists nine reasons, some of which are more telling than others.

1. Get upper management support

How many times will this be said and how many times will initiatives be started without it?

2. Tie best practice adoption to specific business goals

Good point, but how many initiatives do this?

3. Tailor best practice adoption

What? Does this mean that a framework is just that and the implementation doesn’t have to be all or nothing?

4. Understand process interdependencies

Again, surely this is considered before taking on the massive task of implementing something like ITIL?

5. Put people before technology

Why? It’s never been done before so why break the habit of a lifetime?

6. Mature to your desired level

Are they suggesting that not everything has to be there? I can pick and choose?

7. Automate where possible

But I thought IT was all about automation

8. Quantify cost of noncompliance

Jeez, that sounds like big brother - you mean that I have to comply with these processes? Of course, something like Corrective Action Tracking System (CATS) does this.

9. Measure and adjust

That’s a novel thought - measure stuff and adjust where necessary - sound a little like #6 where maturing to a desired level is suggested. Whenever we run an Action Meetings workshop we measure and report a range of things and if below target we adjust by running a CAT.

My experience with any of these programmes is that the concept of how do you eat an elephant is lost. The answer, of course, is in bite size chunks. CATS, mentioned above, operate on this principle - fix small bite sized chunks that are broken. Or, as stated in vernacular Kaizen, “By the yard it’s hard, by the inch it’s a cinch”.

Goes back to the KISS principle which is also forgotten.

Oh well, it keeps the large (and medium and small) consulting organisations generating massive revenue streams and the customer most likely not to achieve what was promised. As the headline read “….hard time living up to the hype.

So the question really is - “Are tight prescriptive solutions ever the answer?” And this brings to mind a favourite quote by Dee Hock, former CEO of Visa International who said “Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex, intelligent behaviour. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple, stupid behaviour.”

Pies - charts, that is

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

While not obsessed with pies in the way that Mr.Scruff is, I do have a thing about pie charts and their correct expression.

Sweetsmoke from Mr. Scruff - perhaps the only music video about pies.

Inside the Wellington City Council “annual report summary” there is a number of pie charts and I can’t figure out how or why they have formatted them as they have. The legends aren’t in alphabetical order or in the preferable descending value sequence.

The table on page 8 of “cost per resident” uses a convenient old trick - reduce numbers to the smallest element. For example:

  • $0.41 per resident per day - urban development
  • $0.77 per resident per day - transport
  • $0.18 per resident per day - cultural well-being

These are trifling sums that are clearly good value. Or are they?

  • $150 per resident per year - urban development
  • $281 per resident per year - transport
  • $66 per resident per year- cultural well-being

You’d better be attending the art galleries and free events to make sure you get your $66 worth every year.

A pie chart properly expressed starts with the first segment from a vertical line from the centre to the top of the chart and then each following segment (slice) goes round clockwise in descending size.

Why? Because you get to see all the important stuff (i.e the biggest) first and then round to the least significant.

If you create your pie charts in Excel (or similar) then sort the data into descending sequence of the values (data series) and your pie chart won’t just be a graphical device, it is far more likely to convey information.

When I consulted to Saturn Communications (now subsumed by TelstraClear) it had been a cable TV company that had added telephone services to its offerings. One of the monthly reports included a pie chart of revenue by product and the pie showed the data in alphabetical order by product name - you could see the split by products - but when we changed the chart to the correct rules for a pie chart, it became immediately apparent that the vast majority of revenue came from telephony products - and that Saturn was really a telco that also sold cable TV.

Here’s a chart from page 8 - “Cost per Resident in 2006/07 by Operating Strategy”.

pie chart - unordered

Here is the chart in descending value sequence.

pie chart - ordered

What’s the difference? Now I can easily see that the council spends about:

  • 76% on operations (now)
  • 16% on development (the future)
  • 4% on culture
  • 4% on running itself

Rather than having to work hard to interpret the numbers or the pie chart (the purpose of a graphic is to convey something more easily than looking at the numbers) I can more easily draw out information and conclusions.

A graphic (chart) is a communications device - that means we have to focus on what is to be communicated, not just knock up a pie chart and make the colours look nice.

3-D pie charts? Just don’t go there.

Unreadable but looks nice

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Having received the Wellington City Council “annual report summary” in my letterbox recently I thought I’d check it out to see what I get for my rates. Online version of annual report summary (pdf 236kB) is easier for me to read as it comes up larger on the screen and there seems to be more contrast.

Firstly, I found it hard to read - just plain hard to read - a narrow typeface on a dark background - how legible is that? Being on the wrong side of 50, I am unable to read without glasses - and I can’t really read this document easily with glasses.

annual report summary

Turn the page and the heading states “Our activities at a glance” - I can pick up the headings at a glance, but little more.

So - I dug in with more than a glance to find “Our website, contact centre and annual report all won national awards.” OK - so what does an award winning annual report look like? Pop on over to the award winning site and type “annual report” into the search box - and we have the second to last entry on the first page of results “[PDF] Annual Report: 2006/07” - bummer, that link doesn’t take you to the whole report but just the auditor’s stamp of approval. Keep looking through the five pages of results and you guessed it - it’s not there.

Incidentally, one of the discussions at the e-government barcamp touched on generally how poor search is on government web sites. Discussion on standards led to this idea - that it be mandatory that if you put “annual report” into the search box on a government website that the first result must be to the current annual report. How good would it be if you could go to any government website and know that if you put “annual report” into the search box that you could guarantee you were only two more clicks away?

Anyway - back to Wellington - try the Publications page on the site. Nope. You won’t find the award winning annual report on the award winning website.

Flick to page 10 to see “State of the City - Our Performance” - and what do you learn? Frankly, I can’t really conclude anything useful from this page. Why?

  • “We achieved 62% of our targets in this area.”
    • Were they the important 62%, the hard 62%? Are some of the 38% missed the ones we really care about?
  • Just showing assessment trend isn’t enough - we need to see where in relation to target as well. “Stable” and below target is way different to “Stable” and exceeding target. Or, looking negatively, “declining trend” (doesn’t sound too bad) is problematic if it’s below target as well.

I don’t think I could safely conclude anything from reading the “Our performance” pages, except in Governance where all targets were met.

Maybe the comprehensive analysis is in the complete version of the annual report…

Keep it simple, stupid, says visiting consultant

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

This week’s ComputerWorld has an article on page 10 by Rob O’Neill.  He reports on a visit by Roger Sessions who is proclaimed as the “Simplicity” guru.

An interesting article but what happened to “simplicity”?

Towards the end of the article Roger is quoted as saying, ” I don’t want to use any language at all that implies complexity is acceptable”. 

Great, so far.

It continues - “One issue is that nobody ‘owns’ complexity.  It should be owned by the enterprise architect”.

The article continues - “Session’s theory about managing, or rather fighting complexity is, basically, the idea of ’simple iterative partitions’ that focus the mind on functionality, rather than complexity”.

Oh darn, this is getting a little complex for me!

And still continues - ”He says he uses the term ‘partitions’ in the mathematical sense, so partitions on their own won’t do the job, as there are multiple way to partition the universe”.

OK, I’m out of here as this has become rather too complex for me!