Delivering Value Instead of Cutting Costs

Written By: John Glasgow 7/24/2021

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When times are tough for an organization, the first thing that comes to mind is cutting costs, focusing on “trimming the fat.” For many, this is an initial reaction to a bad situation.  However, before cutting costs, try to find out why your organization is suffering.

Before making reactionary decisions, spend some time focusing on the value you are giving your customers.  Are you delivering more value than your competitors’ or customers’ expectations?  Do potential customers know what you are offering them?  Are there substitutes (alternative products that the customer can use) that are more popular than what you provide them?

Are you providing value?

Come up with at least five factors to compare your company to your competitors.  Put this in a spreadsheet.  Do your research, do not just go off what you hear or think!  Also, make sure no one is tied; if there is a tie, do more research! Compare your product and services to those of your competitors.

Comparing companies.

The categories can be anything you want but be sure they are not focused solely on one or two areas, such as marketing or finance. 

How does your organization want to differentiate itself over the competition?  Are you looking to be global or local?  Broad or niche market segment?  It would be challenging to be a leader in all areas, and in many cases, it is unnecessary and wasteful.

Next, weight the categories from 0 to 1, then multiply that number by each company ranking to get their overall scores.  The same rule applies here as above; no weight can be the same (you need to prioritize everything).

Comparing companies with ranking what is valued.

Assuming we are company A, how would do we stack up against our competition?  The leader, according to our example, would be company C.  In reviewing what we could do to improve our value proposition, we would want to change our focus.  We could, as an example, take resources from our social media and invest in more locations if possible.  Or assuming you had some funds available, leverage your strengths, such as social media, to promote new areas.  Each company is unique and should have a special formula for its success.

Looking Within.

Based on how you want to differentiate yourself from your competitors, what is not promoting your organization’s values in your organization?  It may be a waste and needs to stop.  According to Four Principles, “The focus is on identifying Waste in three areas: cost, processes, and people.” Before going and laying off or terminating people, there are often other areas to look at.  Based on your analysis of external competitors, identify those costs that do not directly impact the value delivered to your customer that makes you different from your competitors.  Are there products and services that your company has that do not provide value to the customers?  More likely than not, the answer is yes. 

A classic example is an organization with more than one service or system it maintains, such as a Customer Management System (CMS).  In this case, the company could save costs by unifying on a single platform, which could also benefit from having a company-wide communications approach.  This is part of why it’s crucial to think about Business and Enterprise Architecture.  The larger the organization becomes, the more likely waste accumulates.  One of my professors, Brian Cameron from Penn State, has stated that he was involved with Silicon Valley startups who saw value in setting up their companies intentionally to avoid waste as the company expands.  Of course, there are many more organizations that have grown organically. 

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This gets back to my brief discussion on Efficiency Vs.  Effectiveness.  Are the employees doing the right things?  It does not matter how efficient the employees are if they are not doing the right things (such as contributing directly to the value stream or following the vision and mission statements).  Since employees are the most significant asset and expense most employers have, it would make sense to create the correct value.

If you honestly can say that we have eliminated redundant systems, services, and processes, you have come a long way to creating a lean operation.  If you have employees that are not interested in taking on new roles that provide value from what they were doing in the past, they will likely move on to an organization that values that.  It is not a negative reflection of that person or their capabilities; their work could be more valuable elsewhere.  In some cases, employees who have not contributed to the value stream will decide to continue not contributing; that is where management will have to intervene and clarify that everyone needs to contribute value to the customer.

Repeat.

Lastly, there is no end to the process, and it needs to be cyclical.  Once you are done implementing your changes, evaluate where you are and where you want to be.  Chances are the goalposts moved several times through this process, either due to unforeseen internal or external forces.  This is normal.  The difference is, what are you going to do about it?  What needs modifying to achieve your goals.

Conclusion

Don’t blindly look to cut costs; find out which expenses, processes, and people contribute to your organization’s value stream.  Focus on differentiating your organization from others.  Eliminate areas that are wasteful, such as redundant systems, by consolidating them in meaningful ways.  It is essential never to stop evaluating the goals and what needs to change to be successful.

Before Your College Moves to a New ERP or SIS, Read this First

Is your college looking to migrate to a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Student Information System (SIS) system? You are in for quite some excitement. Why? SIS and ERP systems are the keystone for all of the student/customer data of your college.  Moving to the new system impacts the entire school; in this article, I will highlight some of the challenges and provide some strategies I have found to be helpful.

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Note: 75% of ERP projects fail.

Do you need a new ERP or SIS?

The reason has to be authentic, compelling, and necessary.  These migrations are often multi-year, multi-million-dollar projects for your institution.  It is not just an Information Technology problem; it is a college-wide problem.  Most managers and directors for your school will be involved at some point, some for a long time – such as records, billing, financial aid – and some for less time.  If your college is not prepared for most key personnel in critical offices to have at least half of their time divided between the project and their everyday responsibilities, STOP!

Your institution needs to be ready for a genuine time commitment. As such, it needs to have a commitment from the Board and senior management; they need to participate early and often actively.  I have witnessed executive leadership show up and voice their opinions only after the architecture phase was finished. In this respect, they are too late, and making those changes would cost additional money and delay the project.  Adding time to the project can lead to the burnout of employees. They need to be there for the meetings or actively engage with those taking their place in the design meetings.  This shows a lack of concern and lack of engagement from those leaders, which then impacts the morale of those who work under them and those who are essential to the project.

Meetings, meetings, and more meetings

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Depending on your role, be prepared for many meetings.  Some days, people will be involved in all-day meetings. This is not just Information Technology, but everyone throughout the organization that is in a leadership or expert role that deals with the current SIS or ERP.

The meetings at the beginning of the project are to set up the migration structure, such as the order of migration and milestones.  Then come the discovery meetings, where you meet with your consultants to identify all of the existing processes and data flows that currently happen.  This is a critical step in uncovering how most of your college operates today.

The meetings that will start to involve everyone will be the architecture or design phase meetings. These meetings provide the foundational set up and get the system configured in a way that will work best for your school. 

Then comes the onslaught of various testing phases involving multiple groups of people.  These testing phases are partly training in addition to the testing.  For many, this will be their first introduction to the new system, so the testing needs to be spelled out well.  Students will also need to be involved in this phase.  If they have issues using the system (without training), then you have problems.  Helper guides can be useful for students for some of the nuanced usage.  However, the system should be configured or set up to intuitively enable the students to use the system.

So, Where is the Advice?

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Here it is:

  1. EVERYONE needs to be on board and prepared for the change.  This means the culture has to be ready, as well as executive leadership.  This means people will need to be prepared through good change management.  Be prepared to lose staff.  Those who are not used to change will look elsewhere because it is a change they can control rather than one they cannot.
  2. Communication is key.  As with anything related to business, or marriage, communication will enable the success of the ERP/SIS migration.  A sentence you will never hear is: “I’m glad we didn’t communicate with other offices; it helped the project’s success.”
  3. The mythical idea of hiring replacement staff is great if you can afford it. This is great in theory; employ many people to replace the people working on the project.  The problem is that the positions would be hiring for are managers, directors, and experts in the current ERP/SIS and how your college does things.  If you were to hire replacements, they would need to be on Board for a year before the start of the project to get them to the point where they could be useful.  They would need to be on board for roughly 3 years (depending on your implementation plan).

The key comes back to number 1; the people involved need to be dedicated to the success of the college and the project.  People will do amazing things if they have the desire and tenacity to do so.  My advice to you is this: give them space and fuel to get it done.  This may mean giving them additional perks throughout the project and rewards after the project is done.  If they work better from home, let them as long as they don’t need to be onsite. 

Conclusion

There are many, many different things to consider when migrating to a new ERP/SIS.  A myriad of things needs to be in place for it to be successful.  Good business practices will help the project, but the people are the most critical aspect of the migration. 

Innovation, the Business, and Information Technology:

Why the Business and IT Fail

Written By: John Glasgow 6/26/2021

I have spent almost 15 years doing Information Technology (IT) work in Higher Education.  Based on this experience and some years of not working in Higher Ed, I have noticed some themes that hold organizations from being innovative.  The Information Technology department and the rest of the organization see each other as distinctly different. 

People within both IT and the organization view themselves as separate and distinct entities within the larger organization.  This separation results in the misalignment of resources, culture, and strategy.  Without a firm degree of understanding of the enterprise by executive management and mid-level management, neither side will correctly prioritize goals.

Goals? Misalignment of Culture?

You are probably saying, what does this have to do with innovation? What does culture and prioritization of goals have to do with coming up with the next thing that will allow my business to thrive? Everything.

Innovation takes time, creativity, and collaboration.  Without these things, be prepared for just “keeping the lights on.” Innovation does not come when you spend 50+ hours a week working on trying to meet deadlines. Nor does it happen without collaboration.  As far as creativity goes, I do not know many people who have their best ideas when struggling to meet deadlines.

People in Information Technology often work well over 40 hours per week and are expected to be on call 24×7. People outside of IT might decide to purchase a product without consulting IT to determine when and how the system can be implemented.  The department manager then discovers that they need help from IT and pull them in to get the project across the finish line.  The problem is that this is now an emergency for them. People in IT then have to reprioritize everything to put out the fire that someone delivered to their doorstep.

Conversely, people in the business are hurrying to meet quotas, striving to exceed the metrics they are held to continually. They are trying to get their job done and since they interact with customers or the value chain, everything in the business needs to work how they need it to.  Unfortunately, those people in IT are constantly setting up roadblocks, preventing us from making the numbers.

Does any of this sound familiar? The fact is that the two should be one.  Culture needs to change to see them both as the same.  The merging of the two requires commitment from both sides; they need to display unity when creating and finishing projects visibly. 

High-level overview of Enterprise Architecture

The diagram above underlines the importance of unifying the culture between IT and the Organization. Everything the business does is dependent on data, which is presented through applications, which are all kept running by IT.  For more information on this, check out Enterprise Architecture.  Simply put, business leaders and especially executive management need to be aware of everything besides the business layer that makes their decisions work.

Leaders’ decisions, changes in strategy, or business initiatives add workload for everyone outside of the normal level of work.  If the amount of work increases too much, people put in more hours to get things done.

When we look at the organization according to the diagram, it is simple to see why organizational leadership needs to look at the business through a holistic view of the enterprise and not just the business layer. Of course, it might be hard for leaders to think of the company at a level of detail that encompasses everything. 

This is why having people that specialize in representing these levels abstractly makes sense.  As projects get created and go through their phases, having someone document the underlying capabilities and system architectures allows the executive level to see what has changed.   Such as did they gain new capabilities or weaken existing ones? The leaders need a way to know what the organization’s capabilities are.  These documents then get stored in a body of knowledge which helps the organization in the future.

If the organization cannot throw additional resources at projects to create new capabilities, then it becomes a zero-sum game; adding or strengthening a new area means prioritizing that project over existing resources or capabilities.  Often this prioritization falls to IT, who comes across as a Debbie-downer because someone will not get attention.  Executive-level prioritization needs to happen to avoid this stigma.  In fact, the executives need to say no more often to allow the company to be innovative, which is what Steve Jobs did with Apple.

What about Innovation?

To get to a place where the organization can innovate, they must get all of these things aligned and properly balanced.  People should NOT be working at 100% capacity, meaning they cannot take on additional workloads; this should be common sense, but sadly, most managers think running at 100% capacity is good.  Granted, that might be true for a factory with large amounts of repetition, but even those have less repetitive tasks due to automation.

In Summary

If you want people to innovate, give them time and space to do so! Set appropriate expectations for the business, do not overburden your employees.  If they are overworked, do not expect good ideas or good work to come from them.  IT and the Business need to be the same; everyone needs more awareness of their capabilities and capacities.  Lastly, executive leadership needs to be aware of their employees’ workload to create the next innovation and should not be afraid to say no.

I want to hear some of your stories, positive and negative, please drop me a note.

Are you going to be a manager now? Start here.

Written By: John Glasgow

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Congratulations! You now have more responsibility and “other duties as assigned.” You likely will have a team reporting to you. Are you looking to make an impact? What is your motivation? If you don’t understand this, now is the time!

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Are you stuck on those questions?

I was very fortunate to work for some great leaders and great managers, as well as some terrible ones. Take some time to write down all the good and bad experiences you have had as an employee. Just a simple brainstorm can help; jot them down. This is an essential step.

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Based on those notes, create a set of principles based on the stories. Take time to think about them, convert them from the stories to a do’s and don’ts list. These are simple rules you are creating for yourself. Now take it a step further and flip the don’ts to things you should do. These are principles that you need to have with you as you move through your first days in your new role. Read them every day and revise them when necessary.

Why do this? It would be best to internalize them until you are the person you want to be in your new role. You will need these as a compass for being an ethical leader in your organization. From my experience, principled leaders are respected and admired in an organization; those with no true north flounder are ineffective leaders.

Develop muscle memory for your responses to ethically questionable situations. According to Brooke Deterline, it is possible to change the response, similar to muscle memory in sports.

Vision and Mission Statements

Take time to learn the vision and mission statements for your company. Chances are, many do not take the time to understand them. Keep in mind that the people who wrote them are often the executive leaders of the organization. If these statements matter to them, they should matter to the whole company and your department. When in doubt, fall back to those statements as a guide to making your decision.

Rely on Your Team

Your team likely wants the company to succeed, so let them. Top-down hierarchies have their place, but that mindset is dwindling and doesn’t work. The United States military, a bastion of the hierarchical model, has even seen changes in this area, promoting innovation. If you want to get an MBA condensed down to a word, communicate! Top-down is only half of the equation; feedback needs to flow up to them. How many times have you heard a co-worker say, “the President of the company just does things without our feedback”? If this is the case, either those that report to the President or CEO are not honest, the President doesn’t value input, or the culture has a problem.

Hint: most of the time, this involves active listening.

Keep open communication channels with your team. Be as honest with your team, but also be mindful of the impact of your words. It’s not just that you say it; it’s also how you say it.

Your communication with your group is essential, but value other’s input as well. Build a better work environment by listening to your team. They will have good ideas; let them experiment. Before just letting them run with it, I would recommend having them come up with four alternatives. At least three of these solutions should be serious contenders. It forces them to think about the problem and stretch to know the problem they are trying to solve entirely.

Efficiency Vs. Effectiveness

Eisenhower was very accurate with his statement; while management and leadership are often thought of as the same thing, they are two very different things. Think about those questions now, are you a manager, or are you a leader? To know this focus on the difference between these two words. Efficiency is accomplishing something with as few resources as necessary (time, people, materials, etc.). Effectiveness is doing the right thing. Managers are efficient, but leaders are effective. It doesn’t matter how efficiently your team is; if they aren’t doing the right thing then why even do the work?

Keep this in mind when taking on new projects, is the project right for the department? Is it right for the company?

Take-aways

  1. Develop a solid ethical base, from which all of your actions will come from.
  2. Learn the vision and mission of the company, know them, and let them guide your decisions.
  3. Your team is critical to your success, communicate openly and wisely with them. Even more important, listen to your team.
  4. Remember, being efficient is not being effective. If you are going to do something, make sure it is congruent with the vision and mission of the company.

Thoughts?

I would love to get a dialog started on this, do you have any suggestions or comments? Please post them and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

I’m writing again! Where have I been?

Written By: John Glasgow

For those of you following my blog, I have not written in some time.  This is because, like many things, time has significantly changed my priorities. I find it fitting that this blog is titled RefactoringSelf, because I have been heavily involved in changing my career and my goals. I recently finished my MBA and got a Business Architecture certification. My family has also expanded to four children, which provide me with much joy.

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I am still a die-hard fan and participant in software development and programming, but I also am starting to focus on the wider needs of the industry and focusing more on the business end of things.

What does this mean for RefactoringSelf?

I am still committed to providing good content that can help developers, but I will expand my topics to other areas that can improve your role where you work as I delve into different concepts that will round out you as a software developer. After all, you might be the most technically brilliant person in the room, but what good is it if you can’t relate to or understand the problems the business is facing?

New content you say?

Yes, it is my intention to provide content on new subjects such as:

  • business topics
  • soft skills (writing, communication, team building, strategy)
  • enterprise architecture
  • business architecture

I am continuously having experiences and challenges. My hope is that I can provide you with new interesting content that will save you a few steps (or a few missteps).

I am looking forward to continuing to share my journey and with you and hopefully get some great interactions with you in the future.

Black Screen Installing CentOS 7 on VirtualBox

I noticed something that was irritating me this morning.  The screen would go black after I chose to install CentOS 7 on VirtualBox.  What you can do is choose Troubleshooting in the startup of the installer. Then choose Basic graphical install, this seems to get around the problem.

Hope this helps somebody!

Being Grateful

I have not posted on my blog in a while but given that this is fitting is oddly fitting.  As I am writing this my grandfather is moments away from passing.  He has been very influential in my life; he was the one who first introduced me to fixing computers in the early 1990’s.  He started my spark of curiosity of technology.  For those of you who know me well, know I am obsessed with learning and using technology.

He also was always excited about fixing things and tinkering.  He was an avid craftsman, and built many pieces of furniture.  By trade he programmed/ran/maintained CNC mills and he was the best in his company at it.

I’ve had a missed opportunity, so many times I could have thanked him for all the inspiration and knowledge he imparted on me.

He is too far gone for me to say my final farewell, his breathing very faint and sporadic. So this post has to suffice.  A parting note, please take a moment and thank the people in your life who have inspired you.  They are few and far in between.

SQL Server – Deleting Duplicate Rows

Oh what a tangled web we weave when we don’t use unique constraints or primary keys…

Using some clever rules about deleting from a view (also applies to a common table expression).  You can delete from a view if the view only references one table.

WITH    cte(b, r)
AS (SELECT    Field1,
ROW_NUMBER() OVER (PARTITION BY Field1 ORDER BY Field1)
FROM      dbo.Table1
WHERE     Field1 IN (SELECT   Field1
FROM     dbo.Table1
GROUP BY Field1
HAVING   COUNT(*)>1))
DELETE FROM cte WHERE r > 1;

Part of the trick is to use Row_Number to make a distinction between the rows.  You can then delete anything that has a row number greater than 1 (a dupe)

Great Primer for Threading Basics in .Net

I stumbled across this article from one of my LinkedIn friends,  Threads in C#

It answered one of my questions about thread pooling in a very concise, easy to understand fashion.  It is a short article, but he then goes into the Task Parallel Library, something that I really enjoy.

If you are asking why should I care about this, I use the magic of Async/Await.  These are the fundamental technologies and techniques that they are built upon.

Keep in mind that not many people are experts in highly concurrent systems, I am not one of them either.  But hopefully by reading this article we will all be a little better in how we implement parallelism/concurrency.

Cheers!

SQL Server Performance Tuning For Developers

Chances are if you are reading this, you are a software developer.  Relax, I am one too, as well as a database administrator.  I spend a lot of time helping people to write code that is efficient or get the right results.  I want to share this post on SQL Database Tuning http://www.toptal.com/sql/sql-database-tuning-for-developers by Rodrigo Koch. It provides some really good advice, especially for beginners in the area.

Really hits the nail on the head though, keep it minimalistic. Only return what you need, it takes more time on the server and then the data has to go over the network.  He goes into some detail of how to troubleshoot slow queries and when to create indexes