Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Silo Effect and Other Productivity Killers – A Practical Guide for IT

If we recognize that the greatest innovation comes from working across silos, then how do we reward and incentive this pattern and are companies actively doing this? Some thoughts this weekend triggered readings into the “Silo Effect” [1] and its impact on the pace of progress. In the SaaS world, managing close collaboration between Development, Q&A and Operations is no easy feat, especially for a growing platform. I have to remind myself regularly that a handful of people really can’t run it all. Intuitively, you look for the simplicity of a well-integrated team with common skills and experiences; in practise, teams are highly specialized with varied focuses.

The first stop was an excellent read courtesy of John Simpson and Eric Winquist (of Jama Software [6], Portland, Oregon) in their paper, entitled "Eliminate the Top 3 Productivity Killers and Build Great Products in Half the Time” [5] – some takeaways are highlighted below:

Productivity Killer #1 – The Great Scavenger Hunt is Costly
Information is growing over 66% every year and is constantly changing. The good news is we now have the opportunity to know more about our customers like never before. The bad news is we’re inundated with information – some of it valuable, much of it noise. Where do you store and organize the relevant product information? Do you have the right intelligence captured to make the right decisions and take the right actions?

It’s estimated that employees at U.S. companies waste over 5 billion unproductive hours annually just looking for information2. At $35 per hour for an average knowledge worker, that’s a $175 billion problem in the U.S. alone. As an executive friend used to say, “That’s no pocket change, that’s adult money.”

Did You Know?

  • Employees spend 25% of their time just searching for information
  • Employees spend 20 minutes per day recreating information that already exists
  • 42% of employees accidentally use the wrong information at least once per week
  • The average ramp up time is 45 days for a new employee, as high as 9 months for highly skilled jobs
  • The productivity loss of IT employee turnover can last from 3- 12 months

There’s Much Hype but the Social Trend is Real
If you’re like us, you might be tired of reading about “the revolution of social networking” – as if life or business wasn’t social before Twitter, Facebook or other Web applications existed. However you feel about this trend, there’s evidence to show the collaborative movement is real and is gaining momentum in the workplace. IBM estimates that within six years, workers will collaborate 80% of their time. You can’t open a prominent business or technology magazine without reading about open innovation and the impact that collaboration is having on business processes. With nearly $1 trillion being invested in R&D worldwide annually, you can understand why it’s a popular issue.

It’s a great read with emphasis on: a) how to better classify information to facilitate cross-silo collaboration, and b) how to cater to more natural forms of day-to-day dialogue. I must say, the 25% of time spent on search really resonated with me – what a powerful stat! I’m relentlessly “negotiating” with reluctant administrators on this dated restriction. I live in email and maliciously hold on to conversations, as I’m sure others do; the ability to instantly query across last decade’s worth of conversations is priceless. Trying to stitch together threads in separate mailboxes with crucial messages lost in some error-prone archiving scheme is, on the other hand, quite expensive. If never ceases to amaze me how these limitations can still be defended? Unlimited email (10-20-30GB, practically speaking), with foolproof-web-based-search-that-works, should be a minimum bar in any organization – what exactly are we waiting for??

(On the paper itself, yes, many of these data points are used in all sorts of collaboration solutions, which ultimately weakens the comparative evaluation for the sake of establishing a business case. I see this all the time and think: yes, it’s a problem, without question, but why is your solution better than X,Y,Z? The StrangeLoop team was a perfect example: yes, we know latency is an issue, but why should we address it with this appliance? I would imagine that would-be customers have identified and understand the problem and that this emphasis is lost on them. Well, here’s a scenario where justifying the business case got my attention.  Without question, these are the 3 productivity killers – but from a tool perspective, whether Contour is the answer or whether a TFS/SharePoint paring is an equally viable approach is another debate all together.)

Tearing Down Business Silos[2] was the next stop:

The foundation of a successful organization is an entire team focused on common goals. Silos erode this foundation. Being aware of the fundamental human behaviors that lead to silos and taking steps to overcome them offers fantastic benefits - including more relevant products and services, higher productivity, better use of resources, and more effective and engaged personnel.

So what can we do? Carol has some fantastic suggestions:

  • #1 –Reward Collaboration: define collaborative performance objectives, make it part of the preview, promote based on this and spread the story throughout the organization!
  • #2 – Focus on Innovation: triggered by a cross-pollination of ideas; bring together people with diverse perspectives and expertise when setting the agenda.
  • #3 – Communicate Transparently: enough said; it’s dead-easy and so often missed.
  • #4 – Encourage Networks: use social networking tools and create visual models – I haven’t seen this formalized well.
  • #5 – Mix it Up: rotate people, invite other managers to your meetings, make them a member of the group – also very rare.
  • #6 – Focus on the Customers: stay close to the end-user! Share marketplace information, customer-feedback, the good and the bad. In practise, customer opinions pass through layer upon layer before reaching the Development team.
  • #6 – Get Personal: collaborative relationships thrive in an environment of personal trust. Most companies do a decent job of this, as they should.

Do these things well and you will avoid scenarios like the one faced by the CIO of a mid-size company (125 reports) who wrote into a recent issue of InfoWorld [7]:

“From the way everyone behaves you'd think my head of application development was Bill Gates and the head of Operations was Larry Ellison. There is no trust at all, and they appear to be out to undermine each other more than they're out to be successful at their own responsibilities.

Worse, the attitude is contagious. The people reporting to them act just like they do. There's no trust, no ability to collaborate ... nothing except a lot of blaming, which seems to have become our core competency.

I've tried lecturing, coaching, berating and arguing, and nothing seems to work.
They really are two talented people and I don't want to get rid of either of them. On the other hand, the situation isn't sustainable. Any thoughts about what else I might try before firing one or both of them?”

InfoWorld’s Bob Lewis responds:

“Before you do anything else, look at the situation you've put them in. Usually, when organizations turn into silos, it's because goals, and any compensation tied to those goals, reinforces silo-oriented behavior.

My guess is that you'll find a lot of win/lose trade-offs. For example, if the budgeting process starts with a fixed pie and when one of them gets something it comes out of the other's budget, it's win/lose, which reinforces organizational rivalry. Result: Silos.

Or, maybe Applications is counted as successful when projects finish on time no matter what, while Operations is counted as successful based on system stability and performance. Which means Applications has an incentive to skimp on software quality assurance, while Operations has an incentive to keep all new code out of production as long as possible. Result: Silos.

While you're looking at structural sources of moat-building, you should also figure out if any of their responsibilities require collaboration. Very likely, they don't. Usually, organizational design starts by trying to draw clear boundaries between departments, to clarify who is responsible for what. The unintended consequence is that because managers have no reason to collaborate, they neither build the habit of doing so, nor see any reason to start.”

“People do what they do for reasons. If you want them to do something different, take away the reasons they're doing what they're doing, and give them reasons to do something different.”


[1] – The Silo Effect (Seven Key Obstacles to Change):

[2] – Tearing Down Business Silos

[3] – Breaking Organizational Silos using Enterprise Architecture

[4] – Jama Software (Contour)

[5] – Eliminate the Top 3 Productivity Killers and Build Great Products in Half the Time

[6] – Requirements and Bridging the Silos

[7] – Stuck in Silos

Thursday, October 15, 2009

High CPU in ASP.NET - Finding Large DataTables with the Public SOS

This is yet another one strictly for the dump analysis crowd – what can I say, it’s been a long week! Last episode, we highlighted the lack of support for many useful windbg commands. Well, chief among these was the DumpDataTables command that provides a nice summary of the largest tables and their column counts, typically a nice starting point for high-memory/high-CPU issues in traditional application. So how do we fend for ourselves and reproduce this with the SOS that we have?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Value of Microsoft’s MVP Designation: Expert, Evangelist or Critic?


Jon Skeet is something of a legend in the Microsoft Development Community – I first stumbled across his name on a C# thread on StackOverFlow, a popular forum for developers, where Jon holds the highest reputational ranking (with a healthy 20K-point lead over the #2 challenger). Something of a Chunk Norris like figure among developers, Mr. Skeet’s fans have gone as far as creating a AskJeeves-styled tribute in his honour [2]:

“It is hard to explain this website without first describing what is Stack Overflow and who is Jon Skeet. Firstly Stack Overflow is a fast-growing website featuring questions and answers on a wide range of topics in computer programming. It has already built up a large community and has an addictive quality that is largely down to its Reputation system.

Meanwhile Jon Skeet is a software engineer who currently works for Google. He has recently gained minor celebrity within the developer community by becoming a prolific contributor to StackOverflow. At the time of writing he has totalled 2,738 answers in the 5 months he has been registered. This works out at roughly 500 questions per month!

Of course being this prolific is astonishing in itself, however it wouldn’t be of much value if the answers were of a poor quality. That is what stands Jon Skeet apart, his answers have a consistent and almost reference  quality. It was this that led me to think that it would be fun to create a website that farmed Stack Overflow of all the questions that Jon Skeet has answered and put them in an AskJeeves.com style website. If you want to know what Jon Skeet thinks about a topic, put it in AskJonSkeet.com and see.”

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Blogger SEO Limitations: Why URL Length & Indexed Tags Matter

Working with blogger over the last few months, 2 things have caused me a bit of unnecessary angst:

  1. Its artificial limit on URL length (truncates URLs somewhere around 40 characters), and;
  2. Its refusal to crawl /search paths for indexing post tags.

Even for an avid user of anything and everything Google - Google Search, Google Apps, Google Reader, Google AdWords, Google AdSense, Google Wave, GMail, Google Analytics, Google Maps, and who knows what else – it was enough to trigger thoughts of Wordpress.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Migrating SharePoint Content to Google Sites via New API

The latest in the “Battle for Enterprise Collaboration” comes courtesy of  Barb Mosher of CMS Wire [1] and Adriaan Bloem of CMS Watch [2] in their reviews of the Sites API release that now enables migration of content out of SharePoint and into Google Sites. What both accounts fail to mention is that SharePoint SaaS has a long way to go to match the capabilities of on-premise SharePoint. Success in SaaS form, arguably more relevant than anything that’s happened in the server market over the last decade, will ultimately be predicated on PaaS  (Windows Azure vs. Google App Engine) strengths and not the current feature sets around collaboration.