7 deadly sins of IT

I happened to overhear yet another conversation where some non-IT folks were discussing how they could get around IT. They were justifying their actions based on the lack of responsiveness of IT in general to their needs.

This is a common theme I have seen. Technology vigilanties bending the rules to get around the very team that supposed to help them solve technical problems.

Much of this attitude comes from the 7 deadly sins of IT.

Tech speak is not your first language

Nothing communicates implicit condescention more than using vocabulary and phrases that are are unknown to your audience. Technology is filled with words and acronyms that non tech professionals and employees don’t know or understand.

If you are fluent in tech speak and your immediate customer is not you can confuse them quickly and easily.

I have seen IT folks deliberately tech speak to the non-initiated for their own fun and sport.

The deadly sin here is that instead of being a problem solver and technical guide, the IT personnel who engage in this behavior lose influence with their customers. Their customer can’t understand them. What customers can’t understand they won’t value. Customers will find other ways around IT to get their problems resolved. Hello shadow IT.

Would you like IT attitude with that?

Most IT folks are pretty smart. After all they are dealing with computers and networks and software which can be pretty complex stuff. It can be a pretty heady vocation.

Being smart as evidenced by your sagacious problem solving and astute solutions is one thing. But having the attitue that you (as an IT worker) are smarter than everyone else because you are in IT is another deadly sin.

The thing is most employees bring their own type of ‘smart’ to their job. Just because they don’t know tech stuff per se doesn’t mean their smart is less valuable. It’s just different.  A business requires different types of ‘smart’ in order to succeed and grow. IT smart is just one of them.

Ignoring the customer

Another deadly sin is creating solutions while all the time ignoring or not involving the customer.

Too many IT groups still operate under an “IT knows best” pattern. This leads to ignoring the customer in the pursuit of solutions that IT deems necessary.

The result is that the customers needs are not met, and they are forced to look elsewhere to get the solutions they need. More shadow IT.

Means and not the end

IT is a means to an end and not the end. Unless the revenue generating product is IT, then, of course, IT is the end.

In most companies IT is needed as a means to an end, such as to improve productivity, or speed production or aid compliance. IT is a utilility that helps the business get it’s job done, faster, cheaper and with higher quality.  And it should be a responsive utility to get the best results.

Too many times entrenched IT interests believe themselves to be the end. This deadly sin results in empire protecting and dedicated adherence to the status quo. Both of which are suffocating to a business. This jurrassic mindset will go extinct just like the dinosaurs, hastened by a flood of easy to use, online, inexpensive and disruptive services.

It’s the paradigm stupid

IT camps can also fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy. Unchecked this deadly sin can yield the ‘we have to do it this way’ attitude.

Your business needs may call for new thinking or a different solution. But, because of previous investment in systems and personnel, you try to meet that need with what you have always done. Even if that’s not what will work.

When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, the old saying goes.

We have high standards

Standards are necessary. They reduce variation, expenses and help with more consistent results and experiences. We all need standards. We all get it.

The deadly sin comes in when IT uses standards like Wonder Woman used her bullet bracelets. Too many times IT teams do not respond to needs because they are outside of ‘standards’. In these environments standards are used to deflect requests, dodge opportunities and dampen ideas.

Standards end up being static snapshots in history. And in the wrong hands are used to stifle innovation and responsiveness.

Indecent exposure

The capability of technology we have today is really amazing. Modern software, mobile phones, the internet and all of its technology are unbelievable tokens of progress. Sometime just getting a technogy to work correctly is an amazing feat.

And IT has its share of amazing feats.

The deadly sin comes in when we don’t also consider security while doing amazing technogy.

We all see the news stories. There are lots of bad actors that take advantages of lax security and wreak havoc on businesses. Malware, ransom wear, data breaches, identity theft, internet disruptions are all the work of bad folks taking advantages of systems that have flaws uncorrected leaving the users of that technology exposed and vulnerable.

 

The seven deadly sins exist in many IT teams. If they remain unchecked they can damage business. Don’t let that happen to your business. What will you do about it?

You’re Fired – 6 ways to deal with being let go

“You are being transitioned.”

“We are letting you go.”

“You’re fired.”

“We are laying you off.”

“We’re going in a different direction.”

It doesn’t matter how its said. It always means the same thing.

Your job with that employer is over.

Your paycheck stops. Your benefits are over. Your daily routine changes. You have to leave fellow employees you have become close with. Your future becomes uncertain. Your financial situation may be put in distress. You may feel emotionally traumatized. Your focus is suddenly and violently redirected. And you have to deal with a range of emotions.

And at the end of the day the reason is almost meaningless unless you did something wrong.

When you are let go, here are 6 things you can do to cope and start moving on.

Believe in yourself

It is easy to become fearful or worse, angry and bitter, when you are terminated.

However, those emotions are counter-productive to your progress.

Remind yourself  of your talents, characteristics, experience and knowledge that you have gained.

You got the job in the first place. You have proven you can learn and grow.

Let that boost your confidence as you begin the process to re-group and find a new job.

Refresh your faith

When bad circumstances happen to us we need to return to our true foundation, our faith in God.

Remind your self with scripture that God has a plan for each of us and a job change, even un-planned, can be a part of a greater process for your development and growth. God can use trying times to deeping your faith and lead you to even better circumstances and personal growth.

Renew your committment to prayer, scripture reading and engaging with your church community. In doing so you will find encouragment and motivation to move ahead.

Engage your family

When this happened to me, my family was unbelievably supportive. We all sat down and talked through what had happened. Even with the kids. I involved them all in the process  of reacting to and beginning to move on to something else.

My family helped me process what had happened. They talked to me. They helped me brainstorm ideas. They helped me with new contacts for potential jobs. They encouraged me. They prayed for me.

If you, because of fear or embarassment, shut off your family from participating in the process you are eliminating a strong source of support and encouragement.

Embrace your network

In today’s environment, the importance of your network cannot be overstated. It is most likely that your next job will come, directly or indirectly through your network.

You should always be building your network. And when you are let go from your job, lean on your network. Inform them.

I recommend you send individualized messages to people in your network. Ask them if they know of any opening or any one in their network who may know of any openings.

The day it was announced that I was let go, I notified 61 people in my network individually that night. I received lots of support and numerous leads which I immediately starting following up. And that immediate effort got my transition off to a good start.

Resist making network wide posts. These may invoke sympathy from your connections but do less for you than individualized messages where you can reconnect with people you know and get advice and leads.

Become future focused

Its easy to spend a lot of time focusing on what happened and why and trying to assess blame. It can be cathartic to work through that for a time. However, only thinking back will not prepare you for the future.

Decide to discipline your mind to leave the past behind and to focus on your future. Learn what you need to and laser focus on your activities needed to move you forward.

You now have a new opportunity. You have a chance for a clean slate, a start over in a new job or even a new career if you so choose. Focus on that. Pour your energy and effort into that. Your new future awaits.

Make it a game

When this happened to me I started tracking my own stats like a baseball player would.

I made a spreadsheet and tracked the number of emails/messages, phone calls, resumes submitted, jobs applied for  and recruiters I had engaged with. These numbers became my job search KPA’s. I was tracking the activities that I know would eventually result in me finding a new job.

Having my own job search KPA numbers I could update and review each day motivated me to keep going, to keep making the calls and sending the emails etc.

 

These activities will help you re-focus and transition after the jolt of being let go. Put all your effort into that. Look forward and embrace a better future.

 

 

5 Simple Ways to Boost Technology Value Before Sale

This article first published at the Axial Forum here: 5 Simple Ways to Boost Technology Value Before Sale and is reposted here with permission.

During M&A, seemingly small technology concerns can have material impacts on the ultimate valuation of your business. When selling your business, how can you improve your technology’s value and speed up the due diligence process?

Here are 5 simple tips.

(Note that these tips don’t address more significant technology issues like embedded technical debt, un-found software defects, or key security risks. Those types of issues need to be discussed and evaluated separately.)

1. Clean the garage

Ask any realtor: a clean and orderly house is easier to sell and will do so at a higher price than one that is disorganized or in disrepair.

Every company accumulates old technology that is no longer needed or used. Clean it up. Take a Friday, buy pizza and sodas for the technology teams, and have a spruce up day.

Sell or dispose of old printers, laptops, phones, computers, or servers that are no longer being used. Get rid of the accumulated boxes, old manuals, broken mice, computer monitors that only show green, and outdated cables and connectors.

Eliminate everything but what you know you have definite need and direct use for. Resist, with great aggression, the notion that “this may have value someday.” It won’t, especially not for your business’ new owners.

2. Take inventory of the technical assets

Know what you have and what the new owner will be taking over. You should already have an inventory of your technical assets, but if you don’t, create one now. This can be as simple as a Word or Google Doc, or an Excel spreadsheet that lists servers, software systems, infrastructure elements, employee devices, etc.

The inventory list also needs to show the purpose of the asset. If the server called “acmeacct” is the host server for the corporate accounting database then say that. If you have a Cisco router that interfaces with the WAN circuit to the remote office in Columbus, OH, then put that as the purpose. I recommend having hardware and key software systems listed on the inventory sheet.

An up-to-date inventory list will speed the work of the technical due diligence and improve the perception of the acquiring team.

3. Draw pictures

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If you don’t already have them, create a few high-level drawings of the overall technical layout and architecture of the technology in the business. Those drawings will communicate, far better than any other medium, the technical relationships and dependencies for your acquiring team. Include the names of the assets, physical locations, and other pertinent high-level details on the drawings. Be sure and use the same names on your drawings as you do in your inventory lists.

The drawings don’t have to be professional CAD drawings. Simple PowerPoint block diagrams or even hand drawn pictures, as long as they are legible and accurate, will suffice for most businesses.

4. Police your policies

The state of your technology policies and procedures will communicate volumes about your operational condition to the acquiring team. Clearly written, accessible, and organized policies increase compliance and will improve the buyer’s perception of the value and capability of your organization. Password and security policies, backup policies, and software deployment procedures should all be documented. Especially if your business engages in regular credit transactions, the lack of security will increase perceived risk in the minds of the acquiring M&A team.

Before due diligence starts, review and update any policies or procedures that are out of date. Document missing procedures and communicate them to the organization.

Organize the policies and procedures and title them appropriately in a common place – this could be a shared folder on a company server, a list of Google documents, or a defined location on the corporate intranet. Every employee should know where these live and how they are accessed.

5. Rectify the roles and responsibilities

Acquirers will view your company’s employee base as a key asset during M&A. Certainly any good HR department will have a list of employees and job titles. But that list does not communicate responsibility or system expertise from a technical perspective.

The technology teams should have their own roles and responsibilities list that communicates what each team member is responsible for and expert in. When possible, the list should include the names of systems used in the other documents to facilitate better overall understanding by the acquiring entity.

7 ways to turn your growing startup into a shrinking shutdown

Starting a company is hard. Growing it is harder. A lot conspires against a business that makes growth hard.

However, some of the main reasons for business difficulty are self-induced.

Here are 7 avoidable ways that a growing startup can turn into a shrinking shutdown.

Stagnate Products

Every product has a life-cycle.

Every product has an end date.

Markets move along.

Customer needs evolve.

Competitors improve.

Regulations change.

Disruptive ideas challenge the way things are done.

Keeping your product  the “same old same old” in a dynamic market environment is like leaving the milk out overnight. It spoils and nobody wants it. Customer interest wains. Sales dwindle. Revenue decreases.

Certainly, you can extend the life of a product by adding new features and making customer requested changes. But, astute owners understand no matter how good your product is now, or how much market share it commands, you should be planning for its decline.

Become Arrogant

Companies that create a market leading product become susceptible to ‘market arrogance’.  In your own little microcosm of success, you ridicule new entrants to the market, dismiss competitors, and ignore  potential disruptors.

During my time with Motorola, market arrogance (among other things) led to ignoring the move digital cellular. Motorola was the analog cellular king and didn’t believe digital had a future. Nokia did and became a market leader in a few short years. Motorola eventually recovered for a time with the introduction of the RAZR but later declined due to missteps in the smartphone category.

Market arrogance blinds you to the very thing that will unseat you.

Wise market leaders understand that humility and a little paranoia are 2 keys to inoculate a company against market arrogance.

Forget strategy

Your strategy is the high-level plan to achieve corporate goals. It is the activity that maps direction to vision.

Companies who choose to ignore strategy are abandoning achievement and giving up on goals. They are adrift.

Leaders who ignore strategy have abdicated their responsibility.

Companies who ignore strategy can only hope for random results at best. The more likely result is consistent decline.

Perceptive business leaders know that strategy sharpens focus, provides direction and helps align the organization for achievement.

Abandon Vision

Hand in hand with strategy is the vision.

Vision is the destination, strategy is the map to get there.

When a company abandons its vision, the purpose degrades to simply making money. We all need money to live. However, as author Dan Pink writes in his book Drive, money in and of itself, is not a sustaining motivator, especially in today’s culture.

Smart owners understand the vision has to be re-communicated regularly, refreshed as needed and it has to be the driving motivator for the organization.

Eliminate employee development

The most important asset of any business is the employees who show up everyday and do their job. You don’t see this asset listed on any balance sheet.  But without them, the company won’t be able to operate.

Employee development is the way to care for that asset. It is the way the company invests in its future. It is a long play for your employee base.

Abandoning development is akin to saying ‘there is no future here’.

Intelligent owners know that investment in employees through training and development pays dividends back to the company in many ways.

Ignore customers

In today’s business environment, customers expect a dialog.

Many customers have a lot to say and can provide excellent feedback regarding your products or services. Customers whose feedback is heard and understood can be wonderful advocates for your company. However, if customers feel ignored they will migrate to your competitors.

Companies that engage customers and value feedback gain insight to markets that is otherwise unavailable. Companies that ignore customer feedback miss important clues as to where the market may be going.

Adroit leaders know that customer engagement builds loyalty, advocacy, and improves results.

Think the same

Thinking the same means you and your organization have stopped learning.

Same thinking is stale thinking. Same thinking blocks insight and dampens learning. Same thinking is fragile. Same thinking won’t allow you to continue to grow and succeed.

One of the only truly sustainable competitive advantages is an organization that can learn and learn fast and apply what they learn in the marketplace.

Great leaders know that both success and failure should lead to learning. And learning changes thinking.

 

 

Keep – Buy – Steal or Build – The 4 mechanisms of software system replacement

So your business has a software system or software project that needs some attention.

Maybe there is pressure or need to replace the software system  altogether.

The reasons for replacement or update can be varied. Maybe it’s scalability, security, usability, or features. It could even be due to maintenance issues or a business need to change the architecture.

Whatever the reasons behind it, you have a decision to make about how to move a software system to a better place.

How do you decide what level of investment / work to do?

1. You can keep the software you have

Remodel or refactor the software

Refactoring is a way to make incremental changes or add iterative improvements to a body of software over time without replacing what you have.

Refactoring software is like repairing a boat as you sail across the lake. You make small changes so as to keep the boat afloat and not sink it.

By refactoring you keep the usage, benefits and revenue of the existing system but iteratively improve what you have. In most cases, it’s lower risk and can be less disruptive and lower cost.

An adroit team of developers can identify and iteratively improve an existing system surprisingly quickly. This mechanism can breathe new life into existing code in less time, with lower risk and a far more predictable schedule that the full replacement options listed below.

Depending on the level of need and the root issues this may be a viable option. However, you the situation warrants it, you may have to replace.

2. You have to replace the software you have

At one large company I was at years ago, our VP was known for responding to requests for software development resources for new projects with the following paraphrased response: “First we steal, then we buy, then we build”.

By his response, he was showing the truism regarding internal software development economics.

Reuse is cheaper than buying.

Buying is usually cheaper than building and maintaining.

If for business or functional or support reasons you have to completely replace what you have, there are essentially three options.

Steal

This is a metaphor for reusing software from another project or system within your company. It’s also called creative re-use.

If you have multiple projects or programs, one may have the software foundations already in place for what you need. Reusing or repurposing that can take less total effort and risk than standard replacement methods.

Buy

At this time in software development history, there are commercial options for almost every business need. It is worth it to look at your requirements and scan the existing universe of commercial software to see if there is an existing fit. This method can reduce time to market or reduce time to reap the benefits of having the system.

Build

Nothing exists that you can use for the need you have.  Or maybe what exists so prohibitively expensive or not a fit for your needs. If you don’t have anything laying around to reuse and you can’t use what is available on the 3rd party market, you must build it.

If you have to build it there are a lot of considerations to make.

  • Internal vs external team
  • Tech Stack to use
  • Specific external libraries or 3rd party services to use
  • Architecture
  • Development Environment
  • Deployment Environment
  • Non-Development Resources

If you decide to build the software internally also consider the ongoing maintenance costs after initial release that will be associated with hosting, updates, training, security patches, environment, and feature improvements.

So What

By considering all the available options a business has regarding software replacement, including re-factoring, an owner or sponsor improves the odds of the best decision for the company.

 

5 reasons to attend a tech conference near you

It was the first tech conference I had attended in years. And waiting this long to attend a technical conference was a mistake.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the ITRoadmap conference put on in Fort Worth, Tx. by the fine folks at IDG.

I enjoyed a well-paced day of keynotes, panel sessions, vendor presentations and tutorials.

I had breakfast and lunch with very interesting groups of people and discussed relevant current issues and found out how they are dealing with them.

I even ran across 2 guys who live very near me that I had never met before.

I spent time discussing culture issues with one of the panelists on the “Best IT places to work” panel. He gave me some great ideas regarding culture and employee practices to improve engagement and retention.

I left the day refreshed, better informed and motivated.

So here are my 5 reasons you should attend a conference near you.

1. Meet new people in your market similar to you

As an IT and software development director, it was enjoyable and informative to meet the same type of people who work in my geographical market and get to know them and their business.

I increased my network, made new friends  and learned new things about some of our local businesses.

It was good to hear how those folks are dealing with some of the same problems I have to deal with. I walked away with new ideas.

2. See new perspectives on the same problems you are dealing with

The tutorial sessions and vendor presentations were well done and educational.

I learned something new in every session I attended.

I walked away with new techniques to try, new tools to investigate and new acquaintances to further my reach.

3. Form connections for future business or collaboration

I made connections to people and businesses that will help me in the future as well.

I learned about some new tools from Dyn that can help us with product delivery to our customers.

I came away with new DevOps strategies from Irwin Lazar, Vice President of Nemertea Research.

Dean Shroll of Sophos gave an interesting and scary talk about ransomware and the current threat landscape.

And I met some folks who work very close to me that I can continue to develop friendships and learn from.

4. Explore more in-depth industry trends and issues

Here are just 3 small examples of the talks and tutorials that were given.

Derek Hulitzky provided a talk with 3 short case studies of companies that have made profound digital transformations their business.

Mikel Steadman, Director of Sales and Solutions Engineering at Dyn gave a fascinating talk regarding doing business on the internet and provided some perspective on the recent DDoS that Dyn suffered.

Nicole O. Fontayne, Vice President, Chief Information Officer for  DART described how they deal with the enormous IT complexity of a metro area transit system.

We learned about the trends in hiring, retention, IoT and cloud migration and scaling, DevOps, Security and tons of others.

5. Find a new job

And yeah, you can also find folks who have businesses that need people like you. It can be a recruiting (or hiring) bonanza depending on what you are looking for.

Conclusion

It was so worth missing a day of work and the pains that come with that to attend the IT Roadmap conference. It was a great benefit to me and I will sign up as soon as registration starts next year.

So go and find a good conference near you and attend, and participate. You will be glad you did.

4 ways every business is increasing technical debt and how to change that

We all like to think what we do helps move our business and products forward.

But………

Sometimes subtle, embedded habits and tendencies we have actually increase the rate at which a business accumulates technical dead. Which of these does your business have?

Short Sighted Executive Decisions

You have been in those meetings.

You know the meeting, where the executive in charge slams their hand on the table to get everyone’s attention after an extended debate.

And then, with red face of anger and the decibel level of a 747 on takeoff, bellows “this product will ship on time“. 

This display is usually accompanied by promises of some sort of employee  retribution if the fantasy date is not met. It is at that point the meeting is really over and no one will dare raise any additional points no matter how real and urgent they are. 

Using emotional outbursts to attempt to motivate a team doesn’t create technical debt per se. However, it is the short-sighted executive decision making that results in this environment will create technical debt.

There may be valid reasons why the product can ship on time. However, there may be serious issues, just under the surface, that could cause the company big problems if the ship date is met.

Astute executives ask penetrating questions, validate assumptions and create productive dialog. Click To Tweet

Astute executives ask penetrating questions, validate assumptions and force the analysis and discussion that create productive dialog. It is only in an environment where subordinates and colleagues feel safe in disagreeing or bringing bad news that all issues can be on the table and then dealt with appropriately. Otherwise, things that could be real issues get covered up, hidden, or ignored. And when issues and technical debt builds, are you can rest assured they will pop up later at the most inconvenient time.

Management Short Cuts

Typically managers take short cuts that build in technical debt for two reasons: 1)because they are incompetent or 2)because they are trying to make points with the boss by finishing earlier, cheaper etc.

Incompetent managers yield all kinds of pernicious evil in software or IT implementations. They can hire the wrong employees, force inadequate or inappropriate implementations, misunderstand technical requirements, force the use of the wrong tools or rewarding the wrong behaviors. The results of these managers will always cost more, take longer, disappoint, and need large corrective actions.

The brownie points gang are those managers that always want to have the right answer.

“Yes we are on schedule”

“The project is coming in under budget”

“Yes we can add those all those new features” 

No, that change won’t affect our delivery capability”

Looking good is more important than reality and truth. These types of managers are skilled at making themselves look good and figuring out some other person, group or division to take the fall when things hit the fan.

Adroit managers work to always increase their competence through training, assignments, asking questions, checking assumptions and working closely with their teams. They understand that by continual growth and disciplined execution they will impress their bosses and it will be real.

Developer  Laziness

I was recently working on some software and came across a whole section of code that had been copied identically and only a couple of  lines changed to accommodate the different situation. This is a perfect example of developer laziness. Instead of taking the extra mental effort and time to create a method to do the work so that it was encapsulated in one place,

This is a perfect example of developer laziness.

Instead of taking the extra mental effort and time to create a method to do the work so that it was encapsulated in one place, technical debt was created by copying a bunch of code unnecessarily. It may have allowed the developer to quickly get work committed but built in a headache for someone else to deal with later.

Skilled developers understand when small refactoring can save huge time later. Click To Tweet

Skilled developers understand when small refactoring can save huge time later. They know when it is worth it to make additional small investments to avoid bigger problems later.  Invest in resources to train developers on your systems, standard coding best practices, and effective coding refactoring processes.

Team capability

What’s your team training plan look like?

Do you cross train?

Are you encouraging them to learn better methods of coding or testing or implementation?

Are you giving them tools to improve code, deployments, or testing?

Is continual learning part of your culture?

If you don’t have answers for these questions for your team or yourself then you could be inadvertently building technical debt in future implementation.

The technology software and IT is advancing at an ever increasing pace.  Your organization has to adopt an adaptive, learning mindset to stay up with advancements. And incorporate them to give your business advantage.

Improving teams create and execute training plans for the tech they are involved with. They set expectations for learning, growing and utilizing what they learn to improve products, productivity, and performance.

 

The two warring tribes within small business IT and software development and how to make peace

Lisa Jaspers LinkedIn article struck a chord. She identified a huge issue that affects any small business IT/Development team that is tasked with BOTH maintaining existing systems as well as facilitating new product development.

In small companies, usually a single team has to do both existing system maintenance as well as new product development. This duality can  create a “two warring tribes” atmosphere. And as Lisa states in her article, you can’t just add roles here and there and solve the problem.

Sometimes the warring tribes exist inside the individual as they feel pressure from both camps to do different, yet equally urgent, work. Sometimes they exist as 2 groups of developers within the same team, competing for resources, priority, or direction.

Warring Tribe #1: Maintenance Tribe

Your existing systems, software, and products carry the company. They pay the bills, enable the work, and serve the customers.

But, over time, these systems require patches, bug fixes, updates, security changes, regulatory modifications and customer feature additions. Maintenance, support, and caretaking of these systems can consume a small team.

It’s like your company is in a boat in the middle of the ocean and the boat is made up of the existing systems and products. Any leaks or issues with the boat have to be corrected quickly lest you risk the boat beginning to sink. This is existing system maintenance. Yeah, small leaks can be ignored for a while. You can hire more folks to ‘bail water’. But in most cases existing system maintenance issues will soon trump new product developer in time and dollars.

Warring Tribe #2: New Product Tribe

New product development, on the other hand, is like building a new boat, while you’re still in the old boat, without sinking either boat.

When there are existing product or system issues or urgent features needed for the paying customers, you pull your team out of the new boat and back into the old boat. When existing maintenance furor dies down the team heads back to the new product and continues on. This back and forth focus shift is more expensive than you think. It causes both tribes to suffer. And it causes the results of both tribes to suffer.

Influences on Tribal membership

When I was a developer, getting picked to go build the “new thing” was special. It was like getting drafted in the NFL. Or like getting asked to the prom by someone you really liked. You were desired and worthy of helping accomplish an important initiative for the company.  Getting “left behind” to continue to maintain systems was not as desirable. You got to sit out the prom. No dancing for you.

However, for others, who had key hands in building an existing system, they wanted to stay behind and continue to nurture their ‘baby’.  They had little desire to go and build something new.

In a large company setting, an engineer may get the flexibility to choose. And some engineers can do either.  But in a small company setting, you don’t always get that choice.

The same tension between  doing something new, or staying behind and shepherd something current, also affects project managers, QA folks, DBA, system admins and other roles within the team.

Ways to make peace

1. The two team approach

If you have enough resources you can divide and conquer to some extent. Pick those who want to go and help out with the new thing and allow them to focus on that exclusive, leaving those in favor of maintaining the existing systems in place.

I have seen this method work well.  Small, competent, focused teams can make progress very quickly. In the end, this is probably the most desired approach as Lisa Jasper shares, “because product development is such a different mindset“. A dedicated team can focus on new tools, new processes, different vendors and the different mindset needed for new product development without distraction.

2. Bring in the reinforcements

Another approach, if your new product development takes too many of your resources is to strategically contract for necessary  bug fixes and feature work on existing systems. Using this approach can help minimize cost, focus effort on only the most important issues and help keep you from ‘gilding the lily’ on existing system improvements.

If your existing systems have a lot of baked in technical debt the outside, tactical contractor engagement may not make sense. The success of this approach hinges on finding a reliable contractor who is familiar with your tools/framework/languages or systems. If this is the case then tactical contractor engagements can be very useful.

The success of this approach hinges on finding a reliable contractor who is familiar with your tools/framework/languages or systems. If this is the case then tactical contractor engagements can be very useful.

3. Bring in another army

If your team is small and they don’t have the experience or knowledge in the  domains of the new product then you can consider outsourcing the new product development.

In one engagement, in the earlier days of the app store, our team was building and maintaining web applications and needed an iPhone app built. Our team knew databases and the languages and frameworks we used but none of us had any real experience with iOS or ObjectiveC. So after some research and comparison shopping, we went with a third party company that specialized in mobile app development to develop the app for us. If your new product need is specific enough this method can work well.

If your new product need is specific enough this method can work well.

4. Refactor

Another approach that is not as glamorous, is to refactor existing products. This is especially true in software. In software, refactoring refers to the process of re-structuring software code to improve its operation and add or take advantage of new features that could not be done in the prior state.

If your new product needs can be broken down into smaller more atomic features, it may be possible to use your existing team and refactor your current product to add certain aspects of what a new product would bring. In the end, this may be a less costly approach overall and bring incremental improvements online faster.

Pass the peace pipe

There is no one size fits all solution.

Each company and situation are different.

By taking the time to contemplate some of these options you may be able to come up with a new and creative approach that will enable you to deliver a great solution within the constraints of your team and budget. The strengths of your team, time to market needs and existing product structure all influence this type of decision.

But in the end, recognize the pulling forces between the two tribes and the different mindset required for new product development. If you do this you are well on your way to a more successful engagement.

6 P’s of really bad leadership OR don’t inspire your employees this way

Bad leadership can be highly inspirational. It inspires anger, mutiny, frustration, confusion, abandonment, resentment or just plain old apathy. All of which, negatively affect your business.

Use the 6 Ps below to see if you have any of the highly inspirational traits. And find out alternative mindsets for change.

Patronizing

When leaders patronize their team they are sending an implicit message that they don’t believe the team knows what they are doing. It is a message of superiority on the part of the leader. It’s saying “I’m smarter than all of you”.

Patronizing your team chokes the flow of ideas and communication. No one likes being spoken to in this way. It makes you feel like a child and generates resentment. Do this long enough and folks will stop ‘having your back’. That can expose the leader’s blind spots in public and sometimes embarrassing ways.

Smart leaders will use tone, words and body language that encourages dialog and ideas.

Pontificator

A close relative of the “Patronizer” is the pontificator. A pontificator expresses themselves in such a way as to convey that they are always right. And usually, they do it in an overly long-winded dialog. They may allow conversation and listen to other ideas. But at the end of the discussion they make it clear through their speeches that they are the ones who are correct.

This too, is a habit that limits real communication. It makes people zone out. It encourages your team to go through the motions. It undermines team effectiveness. Why bother fighting for a great idea when you have to be brow beaten with long winded diatribes about why your idea is not as good as the pontificator’s idea? People will give up.

Observant leaders will carefully structure their words. You as the leader may be right. If so, then communicate clearly why. Succinctly list reasons or constraints that eliminate other ideas or courses of action. Invite dialog. Explore counter arguments. You may well be right. Or you way well learn something new.

Platitudes

Leaders with nothing substantive to say often resort to platitudes. These statements are worn out cliche’s that have little or no value in the business context in which they are said. They are said so much they are meaningless.

Phrases such as “It is what it is“, or “You never know what might happen” are worthless. Jeff Haden has more great ones in this article.

Resorting to platitudes during a time when real debate, discussion, and collaboration is needed on hard issues will evaporate the confidence of your team in you as a leader.

Effective leaders don’t waste others time with meaningless phrases that serve only to derail substantive discussions. They speak clearly and concisely directly to issues, allowing their team to fully participate.

Petulant

So what happens when you don’t get what you want?

Maybe the software release is going to be late. Maybe you didn’t get the contract. Maybe marketing rejected your ideas on the new website.  Maybe the CEO rejected your product plan.

Do you react in anger? Do you throw a fit? Do you lash out in rage on unsuspecting subordinates when they had nothing to do with the issue?

If you react like this, you are a petulant leader. Think of a three-year-old not getting the toy they want, falling down kicking and screaming. Yeah, you’re an adult version of that.

Having a public negative reaction undermines confidence in your leadership and will cause employees think twice before bringing bad news to you. The bad leadership behavior clogs up the communication pipeline.

Good leaders understand that things don’t always go your way. They react professionally and use these times as learning opportunities. They focus on what improvements they can make when bad things occur.

Pretender

The pretender always seems to have done great things…somewhere else. They can regale you with stories of great business prowess from yesteryear. They are always they one who saved the day, rescued the sale, figured out the bug. They always have accomplishments that no one else has heard of. Pretenders spend more time in the neighborhood of make believe than they do making people believe in whatever they are doing.

The pretender knows the jargon but comes up short on execution and results. Excuses yes, accomplishments, not really. Pretenders are impressive at first glance but with any probing, you see quickly how shallow they are. And pretenders are highly skilled at pointing the finger of blame somewhere else. They wear Teflon jackets.

Fred Brooks said it well in The Mythical Man Month:

“In practice, actual (as opposed to formal) authority is acquired from the very momentum of accomplishment”

Pretenders may have titular authority, but true influence comes from results. Eventually, the pretenders have to move over for those who actually get things done.

Authentic leaders inspire more devotion because their words and actions reconcile.

Parsimonious

These are the leaders that will choke every last cent out of an organization. No toilet paper is cheap enough. No coffee is too watery tasting. No office supply cabinet is too bare for their tastes. Spending the tiniest amount of money, even on absolute necessities, is like pulling wisdom teeth without anesthesia.

Certainly, keeping a judicious eye on expenses is prudent and desirable. But if getting you to spend any money is harder than prying food from the hands of a starving man you are misguided. If you cling to every cent and are so maniacal about costs that you won’t buy sugar packets for the coffee machine you are missing the bigger picture.

There is a balance between expense control and putting out a few bucks to improve the business or treat the employees from time to time.

Balanced leaders know a little spent here and there can go a long way to adding fun,  improving morale and generally making people enjoy the environment more. All of which are shown to improve productivity and engagement. Happy employees are proven to take care of customers  far more effectively than their sad sack counterparts.

So What?

If any of these behavioral attributes ring true for you, the first step to change is admitting you have a problem. If you have leadership tendencies from this list know you can change your habits. These traits may not in singular cases cause you big problems but they all subtly undermine your leadership and effectiveness if the behavior is engaged in on a regular basis.

If you are an employee and see these attributes consistently in your leader or leadership team then it may be time to polish up that LinkedIn profile.

Maybe this was what Grandma was talking about with the admonishment to “mind your P’s and Q’s”.

7 Areas of Hidden Technical Debt That Increase M&A Costs

This article first published at the Axial Forum here: 7 Areas of Hidden Technical Debt That Increase M&A Costs and is reposted here with permission.

Effective buy-side deal teams are well-versed at issues during due diligence that might impact a deal. But even the most astute deal teams can miss te­­chnical and IT aspects of the target company that can significantly impact the cost of the integration and the return on the investment.

Here are seven often overlooked areas of potential hidden technical debt that acquirers should investigate prior to close.

Employee Devices

Desktops, laptops, mobile phones, and tablets are the tools of the modern office worker. In most businesses each employee has at least one of these and in many cases 2 or 3.

The acquiring business will assume responsibility for the condition and upgrade/replacement policies for these devices. Even in a small company acquisition, there can be hundreds of devices to track, maintain, update, replace, or discontinue. A well-run business should have an inventory of employee devices.

During due diligence use this inventory to determine if excessive technical debt exists in the device fleet. If the business does not have a device inventory, further due diligence investigation will be needed to determine hidden costs.

Backend Server Hardware

Most businesses still use physical servers. These could exist in a rented data center or be stacked up in the closet down the hall.

As an acquirer, you need an accurate list of these assets and the purpose they serve. The actual server hardware needs to be checked for age, serviceability life, warranty, general condition and need. A server upgrade can be a non-trivial task, especially on a mission critical application. Factor in the costs of migration, updates, and maintenance of these physical assets in due diligence planning.

Server Operating System Patches and updates

In addition to physical hardware inventory, the operating systems of the servers need to be checked. Operating system vendors like Microsoft, Apple, or Linux issue updates to correct software defects and security vulnerabilities. It is up to the system administrators to keep up with the installation of patches and updates. Systems that have not been patched are more vulnerable to penetration and disruption.

Spend time during due diligence inventorying the operating systems’ patch level and the security vulnerabilities of the servers. Then plan for additional time and effort post-integration to mitigate.

Unsupported/Obsolete Software Applications

Some businesses rely on older software applications, sometimes custom-built. Old or obsolete software is a significant cost factor when planning mergers of technical assets.

During due diligence, inventory all software in use by the business. Licenses, support contracts, warranties, and necessary upgrades also should be documented. Software applications that are no longer supported by the vendor or creator need to be factored into the cost of the merger. Knowing the landscape of the business software and planning for changes during due diligence can save significant amounts of time and money during the execution phase.

Paper Dependent Processes

Many businesses still use paper. Make sure you understand which processes are dependent on paper, how its stored, whether it needs to be converted to electronic format and the like.

Paper can generate storage, security, and accessibility issues for the acquiring business.

Integrating paper processes with electronic processes of the acquiring business can add time, expense, and potential errors, as well as require additional equipment. Investigate this liability up front to appropriately plan for it during integration.

Duplication of Data

Almost all businesses have databases to hold corporate, product, or customer data. Careful examination of the database architecture yields important facts regarding duplicate data that will impact future integrations.  Duplicate data leads to misreporting, inefficiencies, and security risks. It’s not a deal-killer but does need to be examined and understood to determine its ongoing need, security risk, and cost impact to the merger.

Custom Software

Custom software can be a competitive advantage, and help make a target attractive. However, custom software can also hide all kinds of scary things. On the outside things may look shiny and new, but on the inside there may be loads of technical debt.

During due diligence, consider the software’s architecture, dependencies, and implementation. Look at the quality of the code and what tools and languages were used. All these factors impact the cost of the business and its ability to grow and integrate in the future.