Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Battlespace Management

Monday, July 9th, 2012

We’ve all been there: A project that has gone south and needs to be put back on track quickly. Resources get thrown into the breach to bolster customer and management confidence. When this situation occurs the manager dealing with the issue can get myopic pretty quickly. How can he do anything but focus like a laser on the one thing that everyone is looking at?

But focus comes at a cost. Other issues can quickly rise out of the turmoil and out flank a manager’s ability to effectively see and deal with it. Some of the available resources do not get fully utilized. There is dead space in the feedback loop. This is where Battlespace Management comes into play:

Battlespace Management (BM) – The adaptive means and measures that enable the dynamic synchronization of activities and resources to provide the desired outcome. BM has always been important but the nature of modern operations requires ever lower levels of command to plan and execute increasingly complex BM.

Yes, it is a military definition but can easily translate to business. In fact many consulting firms use military comparisons regularly. Whole books are written on the subject.

Battlespace Management has four main principles:

  • Universal Application – BM is applied at all levels, the only difference being the means and measures. All applied activities require coordination, synchronization and prioritization.
    • Strategic Management – Focuses on resources acquisition and management.
    • Tactical Management – Focuses on resource assignment and task measurement.
  • Interaction – Resources interact; therefore activities will (eventually) impact each other.
  • Coordination and Control – As resources interact, control must be asserted to maximize benefit and minimize interruptions.
  • Collaboration – Seldom can activities remain compartmentalized. Collaboration occurs both up and down the command chain, as well as across environmental boundaries.

So how could this understanding benefit an IT unit?

  • Standard Operating Procedures: Clear cut procedures that exist in a process improvement environment that allows any member of a team to easily initiate required work.
  • Task Integration vs. Responsibility Silos: Each member of a team should be familiar (but maybe not an expert) with all aspects of a unit’s area or responsibility.
  • Liaisons: Have members of the team assigned to interact with support units. These liaisons are used to reduce the ‘friction’ that can naturally occur when coordinating tasks and resources w/o the need for supervisorial involvement.
  • Training and Preparation: Each member should be competent in all platforms the unit operates in and a training regime should exist to support this.

If a unit followed these ideas it would be a lot harder to be surprised (flanked) by new developments within their area of responsibility. Has anybody seen a related case-study in one of their MBA classes?

“Mr. La Forge, Engage!”

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Several recent events have brought associate engagement to the fore-front. Since the quite frank and refreshing conversation that out CIO had at the associate breakfast a little while back, I’ve looked inward to find where I was engaged and where I wasn’t and why. The classic definition of engagement doesn’t fit this conversation, however I did find this:

Employee Engagement[Business Management Concept] An “engaged employee” is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests.

At work I always act in a way that furthers my company’s interests, mainly because being an employee ties my future with the company’s. When the company benefits; I benefit. But I can say that there have been instances where I felt… less than enthusiastic. I worked hard non-the-less, but it felt like a weight on my shoulders. Did the work get done?…Yes. Was it a quality job?…Of course. Was it on-time?…Always. But, all the same, by the time I got home I was beat, mentally and physically. My wife would force me to “leave work out on the tree.” Which of course made it that much heavier.

Here are instances I’ve seen where a little recognition could provide quite a boost to associate engagement with very little cost:

  • Being backed up – When your supervisor has your back and writes a wrong or injustice…That’s engaging!
  • Recognition from your boss’s boss – A personal email from your director goes a long way: Let’s you know that your work makes a difference and was noticed.
  • Role expansion – Being allowed to expand one’s role is very engaging.
  • Idea investigation – If you have an associate that has an idea that could potentially benefit the company, create an environment where it could be explored by the associate. Make sure that when it works and is beneficial, that associate is in the front getting credit…engaging!
  • Career coaching – Work with the associate to discover where their career is going and what it could become. Associates that can see their future are engaged.
  • Comp time – If someone has worked extra hours, and/or through the weekend, giving a day or two off is a great way to allow the associate to recharge…..and get enhanced engagement.

There are many others…and the best part is all you have to do to find some is ask. I guess there is nothing more inspiring, at least in my mind, as getting a little recognition for your contributions and being involved in shaping your environment.

An observation if I may: Sometimes it only takes one act to disengage a highly engaged associate…Tread carefully.

So…When was the last time you were recognized for your contribution or allowed to make a difference? When was the last time you acknowledge someone for their contributions?

“I stand relieved.”

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

In a previous life, I spent countless hours watching gauges, taking logs and answering the bells on an engine order telegraph a couple hundred feet underwater: Life on a submarine can be quite boring. Six hours of every 18 were spent standing watch on the throttles (big chrome wheels on the left). It was boring…very boring…mind-numbing, like watching paint dry boring. And it was one of the most important jobs on the boat, because if you did not pay attention, if you didn’t follow the proper procedure and documentation, if you did not give the proper turnover to your relief then a catastrophic accident could occur. So it was vitally important to give a proper turnover.

I can hear it already, “What’s a turnover?” A turnover in the Navy, what we would call a transition in in Corporate America, is a process by where you provide information to your relief (replacement) for the watch station (position) that you currently hold. Kind of sounds mysterious, but is conceptually quite simple:

  • You outline the current state of the system(s) that you are transitioning.
  • You detail any anomalies that has occurred since you took over (or a sufficient period such that any relevant events can be considered).
  • You review any existing documentation.
  • You review most important standard operating procedures.

Once you have covered this information, you ask, “Is there anything else you wish to cover?” If there are additional questions you answer them. If not, “I stand relieved of the watch.” Sounds easy, but the details can get quite messy. For example, before I moved to the Data Warehouse group I created this transition document that outlined those items my replacement would need to know to be productive:

Application DBA – Transition Plan

  1. Database Server Management
    1. Disk Space Management
      1. CA Tickets
      2. Database Growth Estimation
    2. Performance Monitoring
  2. Database Build Management
    1. Data Refresh
      1. Redgate
        1. SQL Data Compare Projects
        2. SQL Package Projects
      2. Final Builder Project and Schedule
    2. SQL Auto-builds
      1. Final Builder Project and Schedule
    3. TCW Builds
      1. QA Build Process
      2. Prod Build Process
    4. Metadata Environment
      1. DDL-only Build
  3. Turn Process
    1. Pre-Turn Validation
    2. Post-Turn Validation
    3. Damage Control – Turn Gone Wrong
      1. Discovery
      2. Correction
      3. Cleanup
  4. Database Construction
    1. SQL
      1. “Do No Harm” Scripts
      2. True One-shots
    2. SSIS
      1. Construction
      2. Operation
        1. Database Server
        2. App Server
  5. Control/Meta Data/Source Code Management
    1. SQL
      1. TFS Management
    2. SSIS
      1. Construction
      2. Operation & Management
    3. Configuration Data
      1. ORCA Files
      2. CMD Files
      3. CONFIG Files
    4. Control/Meta Data
  6. Database Consultation
    1. Strategy
      1. Technical Roadmap
    2. Tactics
      1. Database Design
      2. Query Optimization
  7. Environmental Management
    1. General Server Health Monitoring and Management
      1. Architecture Database
        1. dbo.SQLPerfMon – Stores the aggregated historical data from the query cache; captured every hour.
    2. Technical Story Creation
      1. General System Improvement
      2. Database Specific Improvement

Environment Management Team – Transition Plan

  1. New FTP Server Migration
    1. FTPNEWPRODSERVER – Production
      1. Replaces FTPPRODSERVER
      2. DNS – FTPProd
    2. FTPNEWTESTSERVER – Lower Environments
      1. Replaces FTPTESTSERVER
      2. DNS – FTPProof, FTPQA, FTPTest, FTPDev
  2. General Monitoring
    1. Messaging
    2. ISO Listener
    3. Process Tracker
  3. Environment CA Ticket Resolution
    1. Research
    2. Procedural Resolution    
  4. Metavante Management
    1. Password Reset
    2. Outage Management

Needless to say that is quite a bit of information….and this is just the outline. Almost all this information was held in a multitude of documents in the document repository. It was necessary to understand all of this information to properly manage the SQL Server environments. Really, this was the MINIMUM NECESSARY INFORMATION to transfer. I could have dumbed it down, but then I’d be doing a disservice to my fellow associate and not leading them toward perfect service.

And that is the crux of this discussion: Leadership….Anyone at any time has the ability, and responsibility, to lead. And it is when you exhibit leadership that everyone benefits; management, customers, fellow associates and shareholders.

Many lose site that leadership is an exhibited attribute of a person, not the authority of a position. They similarly confuse the action of leading with the act of dictating. This can’t be further from the truth. In the simplest term a leader is someone who is followed by others. So if you are responsible for handing off a system(s) to another person (group, unit, etc.) you are a leader…Act accordingly.

App DBA? What’s that?

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Over the years I’ve been a DBA on and off, depending on what my employer at the time needed. Some IT shops do not even have a DBA. They have either a developer who thinks they are qualified because they know SQL, or a network engineer who sat through a MCSE boot camp course and knows how to use Google. Neither of these are a skilled DBA. So what does it mean to be a DBA and why bother having the skill around?

I’m going to restrict my comments and analysis to the Microsoft platforms, SQL Server. I’ve worked with Oracle, Sybase, Ingress, Informix and a couple other now defunct platforms, but SQL Server has been my concentration for years and that is what I know best. Regardless, I think they would apply to any of the other platforms.

You can prowl the web and find all kinds of different DBA’s, with the appropriate description and caveats. So as not to get all tripped up on titles, I just simplify the list down to these three:

  • Data Architect – This position is logical/theoretical in nature: They envision the future. They translate the strategic goals of the company into tactical plans that can be implemented by the DBA’s. They look into the future 3 to 5 years, driving the technological direction. They outline the flow of information company-wide and design the overall logical model(s).
  • Production DBA – This position is technically focused on platform installation, maintenance, and health: They establish the infrastructure. They are the gatekeeper that ensures that the intellectual property of the company is safe, secure, and available. They work across servers and databases to monitor health and performance, tuning as appropriate. They work with the application DBA as necessary to help the business units achieve their goals.
  • Application DBA – This position, in contrast, is business focused: They implement the features. Usually integrated with the development/support team to help manage the intricacies of an especially complex application. They work within the database boundaries to ensure that data integrity, query performance, and overall database functionality work for the business process and are appropriate for the business goals.

These, of course, are just my opinions. But, an organization with these three positions in place would cover almost all the needed territory. You could conceptualize this as:

Vision -> Infrastructure -> Implementation

We seem to do very well with the first two: I know quite a few people over in Database Services for my current company and they do a good job of supporting LITTERALLY THOUSANDS databases; the numbers are mind-numbing and GROWING. And the support I’ve received from this group is to be commended. The amount of abuse that my DBA (who I think is the model of a Production DBA) took and just kept chuggin’ along is astounding. His group does a great job on Vision and Infrastructure.

But what about Implementation? Who is ensuring the proper use of the database features and ensuring quality down at the level of the developers? When I was given the App DBA position in when I first arrived I tried to find others from which I could model my effort. When I asked Darrell about it, he just laughed at me. So I sat down with my manager at the time, Bob Johnson, and designed the position for our unit. The APP DBA would be responsible for:

  1. Develops technical deployment plans, coordinates cross-team deployment efforts, and ensures smooth deployments.

    • Responsible for creation, maintenance, and process improvements for all releases deployment plans for all code bases.
    • Responsible for all coordination efforts with DBA Group, including completion of necessary processes, documentation and securing the necessary approvals.
    • Responsible for environment resource allocation and planning for all release efforts in all stages of SDLC.
    • Execute deployment plans in all environments for entire SQL code base, including supporting infrastructure (e.g., DTS, SSIS, replication, etc.).
    • Ensure all supporting documentation is updated to reflect release changes.
    • Ensure the integrity and health of environments during deployment.
    • Test and validate data script execution in all lower environments, track issues and manage correction for release.
    • Review, execute and capture results for production support data scripts.
    • Route all necessary documentation for SOX and resolution.

  2. Work with all teams and members to ensure functional, reliable, and secure environments are available.

    • Perform periodic review and control of access in all environments and user groups.
    • Manage, schedule and execute data refreshes across all environments.
    • Ensure all SQL scripts follow approved guidelines and are managed within TFS.
    • Identify, design and implement environment management process improvements.
    • Execute performance monitoring in all environments when appropriate and initiate proactive issue resolution.
    • Ensure all data is secured and in compliance with audit requirements and provide support for audit activities.
    • Work with DBA Group to plan and implement server and network infrastructure changes to ensure maximum uptime and minimum interference.
    • Monitor database performance and investigate anomalies; document issues, causes, and possible resolutions. Communicate issues to management, product owner, and developers.

  3. Conduct process identification, analysis, improvement and automation activities.

    • Develop, test and deploy tasks that assist in automation.
    • Validate structural changes and templates are design to support automation and process improvement.
    • Initiates code review process for code changes and complete agreed upon changes.
    • Document and perform analysis of current technical and business processes.
    • Design process and procedures that take into consideration future business needs and flexibility.
    • Design and develop automation taking into consideration the industry’s current technological and methodological directions.
    • Focus on adaptability and continuous integration to support Agile development.
    • Provide improved visibility of environmental management, deployment, and integration processes.
    • Investigate, determine, and implement the tools that are the best fit based on current and future business needs and constraints.

  4. Set the direction of database interaction though consulting and collaboration to ensure the flexibility, usability and scalability of database resources.

    • Create/maintain the design view of the database system which encompasses the ERD, data dictionary, and SQL object definitions.
    • Create/maintain the data flow diagrams and process view which addresses the security, performance, and scalability of the system.
    • Participates in requirements definition. Capture/maintain the architectural aspects of the database via ERD’s, data flow diagrams, and replication/index plans.
    • Perform analysis of current technical and architectural needs.
    • Design systems that take into consideration future business needs and flexibility.
    • Design databases taking into consideration technology industry directions such as master data management and universal data modeling.
    • Design physical database models that support the business need and maximizes cost effectiveness.
    • Define the methods used for scripting the database, produce templates, and train developers on their use.

  5. Provide database consultation and support for the development areas.

    • Collaborates with the development areas to ensure that database architecture strategies are clearly communicated and the hand-off to detail design occurs smoothly
    • Create prototypes and sample code/templates for use by the development areas
    • Produce blue prints and documentation related to the database standards and processes
    • Lead and provide coaching and mentoring in database code review
    • Provide coaching and mentoring to the development resources throughout the development process.

After we agreed to these items and started to put them in place, things got a lot smoother. So…Where are the App DBA’s? And what are they doing?

Innovation Incubators

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

I have a proposal. It might be considered quite radical on the face, but with a little backing we could add some serious value. And…believe it or not…we are already doing it, as least informally.

Companies should construct a formal unit to act as an innovation incubator. I see this as being different than, but complimentary to, a the Center of Excellence. It would reach out to the various engineering groups to see how common problems were handled, evaluate the results, and look to see if that solution could be made available company-wide. In fact we are already doing it, just with a lot less controls and a lot more risk. Case in point, TPS (known locally as either the Transformation Processing System or the Task Processing Service)…

TPS – A Precedent

TPS is a home-grown, Windows-based, .NET scheduling and batch processing system. It runs on a Window’s server as a service allowing a multitude of functionality to be orchestrated (grouped together and run in order). It can be expanding both internally (changing the TPS code base) or externally (adding/altering the interface calls). It has the capacity to manage errors, send email, page on-call, etc… It tracks intermediate steps and gathers quantitative values for later analysis and reporting. In short, it is a fairly rugged, home-grown scheduler that is versatile and expandable.

We were not the only unit in need of similar functionality.  Another unit was looking for like functionality, but was unable to purchase a commercial scheduling tool that would fit the bill.  They reached out to us to discuss the use of TPS. The long and short of it is that after several technical discussions, we collectively drew up an agreement and a branch was created in TFS to allow this other unit to have their own version of TPS. And as of this writing, TPS is a vital tool for both units and the company.


Now that the precedent has been set, where to from here? I would suggest that the following construct could take TPS to the next level:

  • Talk to existing users: What works? What could be improved? What is missing? …e.g. Stakeholder Engagement
  • Set out roadmap for tool generalization, adoption, enhancement, and rollout.
  • Reach out to perspective users through existing venues (ACOP, EA, etc.).
  • Allocate a subset of budget dollars from current and interested parties.
  • Assign a group with both the experience with tool and available resources to ‘own’ the product and enhance it based on the roadmap.

Expansion and leverage after that would bring flexibility (because we could change it in-house) and economies of scale (build it once, use it multiple times). As more groups use the tool, Humana gains ‘royalties’ on its own product in the form of saved budget dollars. This can be measured and tracked. There is not much difference between this and, say, Application Blocks. (Has anyone ever tried to measure the benefit of Application Blocks against budget dollars?) There is the possible cultural issue of disregarding tools that others have created, but cultural change is a top-down driven issue that could easily be managed by the endorsement of this endeavor, very much like the Agile initiative. When people see the natural advantage, they will come to see its wisdom.

Think Ideas, Not Items

This thinking can extend to almost all aspects of the IT business. A process could be treated the same as a tool. Keron Salmon is using the same process over and over again to automate .NET builds for out unit , Billing, Mobile, and a couple others. What could be do if we proceduralize, document and evangelize these configuration management processes like we evangelize Agile? What other things could be enhanced and leveraged to provide value? Well, just going off the top of my head I could think of these…

  • Tools
    • Object Messaging (A lot like Tuxedo, except without all the overhead.)
    • Service Monitor
  • Processes
    • Automated .NET Builds (I don’t believe HUMBUILD has all the capability that is being used in Spending Account, and other, builds.)
    • Automated SQL Builds
    • Automated Data Refreshes
    • Automated Testing

There are many, many more. What can you think of that could be adopted widely and add value?

“Leadership is action, not position.”

Monday, June 11th, 2012

I spent the first decade of my adult life in the US Navy. I went to interesting schools and had some unique experiences. During this time I was exposed to the concepts of leadership and management. But more than that, the Navy made a direct connection between the two concepts; leadership and management worked hand in hand to complete missions and maintaining preparedness. Every officer, commission and non-commissioned alike, was expected to lead AND manage. Because both leadership and management are skills they can be taught, honed, and mastered, the US Navy spent considerable resources teaching those skills.

The reason the US Navy taught both skills is that they have different characteristics and applications. One of the better articles on the subject can be found here, but I summarized the highlights below…

Leadership is:

  • Vision
  • Followers
  • Inspiring and Charismatic
  • Charting a Course
  • Empowerment
  • Focused on People

While Management is

  • Efficiency
  • Subordinates
  • Productive and Efficient
  • Following a Map
  • Control
  • Focused on Task

When I look at the differences, I can see why they taught both. What I see is synergy, and I’m not the only one. And when I look back at all those who I thought we good as a leader or manager, they always had both skills firmly tucked in there tool belt. When one dominates the other, the overall mission may become compromised.

After leaving the US Navy, I entered the corporate world where management was discussed ad nauseum, but I didn’t hear half as much about leadership….At least that was the impression I got. There was definitely leadership at the executive level, but I always felt that management predominated at the level I operating in. Is that a good thing? I think not. Leadership is strategy, management is tactics: To win in any struggle, both have to be properly employed.

What leadership and management traits are you exhibiting? Do you have a balance? Take this test and find out.