Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Love the Process Art

At some point (Sunday) I realized I am simply too old to spend $30 on a swim suit. When the $30 suit looks awful and the $120 one looks fantastic, you don’t question why, you just lay down your credit card.

So I did. All the time wondering, “how did I get here?”

In my 2010 goals plan I gave myself this theme: Learn to love the process. Not coincidentally, by the end of that year I was ready for a new career as a process analyst. I adopted the theme because the dissertation was taking significantly longer than I had anticipated.


Last week I went to the State Museum’s lunch art talk hosted by Paul Matheny, III, Chief Curator of Art. The artist was James Busby, a Columbia resident who teaches art at the University of South Carolina.

I won’t bore my non-art-fan readers with details about Busby or his art. I’ll just highlight what I found most interesting.

James said when he was younger he went through the process of priming a canvas as quickly as he could so that he could create his oil paintings upon it, covering all of that priming work.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On Being A New Mom

Crunch, crunch, crunch, from the kitchen table: HB happily munching on Froot Loops cereal with mushrooms.

Yesterday we played at the Y so HB could "wun" as fast as she can and today we will go to the farmer’s market where Clemson tents sell peanuts. HB will skip along singing, “here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail, pippity poppity, Easter’s on its way!”

I know Easter was several months ago, but it's the song she knows best.

Her vocabulary is growing, partly hindered by those difficult sounds in the English language, mostly the double-consonant ones. But also partly hindered by the real silliness that she strains to make sense of: how can those men be ‘building’ a ‘building’?

I gently correct some of the slips, “I need the ‘nother one,” she’ll say and I respond, “the other one.” She repeats, “the other one."

Others, like the mushrooms in the Froot Loops, I just let go. She’ll get “marshmallows” eventually and the mushroom thing might be an association with our favoritepizza place.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Personalized Leadership Creates True Contributors

I’m a big picture person. I usually can’t see the trees for the whole forest. I keep a spreadsheet of all of my annual goals and their corresponding tasks. It's true. Nerdy, but true. I've been doing it for years.  I have to construct lists to get myself to a task-level. I list specific tasks every day.
A model of one of my Goal - Objective - Task Pyramids

The tasks I list every day are things like: storytime at the library, 9:30 a.m., call SVP of case subject firm B, prep lasagna, blog post write, blog post post, blog post share, read book for book club, clean bathroom, get mail. Each one contributes to a goal.

Whenever I feel distracted, I ask myself:

Task lists are how I make sure the answer to that question is usually yes. That question hung on a post-it note on my monitor at my previous job for about three years. It reminded me to stay focused by naming the tasks and then doing them. I consider this personal leadership.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Unfit Metaphor

There’s nothing so uncomfortable as an ill-fitting metaphor. It feels sticky, wedged into a crevice it doesn’t belong, gritty with sand, and smeared with sunscreen that only makes one’s fingers greasy when trying to remove it.

Such is the case in a leadership blog Tweeted today by some well-meaning consultant-types. I won’t directly dispute the suggestions here about creating a stellar team.

It seems like the writer has the right ideas. I’m not a leadership expert (yet) but I have studied some of the seminal works, Blanchard and the like, and I think this article has a good mix of approaches.

It’s the metaphor with which I take issue.

When comparing two similar things, or when using one to analyze another, it’s important to find the most accurate metaphor. I don’t think these characteristics say “rock band:”

·         Have a clear vision and purpose.

·         Recruit star players / Find your team’s star power.

·         Help the team know their strengths and the strengths of others.

·         Let people play to their strengths.

·         Let them be stars.

I’m not a rock band expert, either; though we did live in Charlotte for two years with our sole occupation the promotion of Backyard Green. Never heard of them? Big surprise.

Without dissecting each of the items on the consultant’s list, I’ll just explain how the metaphor fails. It fails because

Friday, May 4, 2012

My Blog Writing Family

Just a quick note here on "Family Friday" to remind you all of the Liebster Blog award which recognizes "Worth Watching" bloggers.

I was lucky enough to be nominated by two great writer friends, Kelly Ann Williamson and Gerry Wilson. Thank you!

Monique Liddle and I were just discussing validation and whether being published is what all writers are really after. I think just being read is great! But that people read, appreciate, and respond to my work is even better.

Mostly, though, I'm just really, really glad to be part of a new writing family.

So thanks, #MNINB (Robert Lee Brewer) for bringing us all together. The #MNINB people have a Facebook page, too.

There's another group, #ShareTheLoveForAuthors by the World Literary Cafe (Search WLC on Facebook) that sends a bunch of people to my Facebook page. That's encouraging!

Also, thanks to #amwriting and Johanna Harness for her writing sprints and the great community being built at that web site.

Wow, this sounds like an acceptance speech. Self indulgence alert! Okay, here's the deal:

Liebster Award

The Liebster Blogger Rules are:
1. Thank the one who nominated you by linking back.
2. Nominate five blogs with less than 200 followers.
3. Let your nominees know by leaving a comment on their sites.
4. Add the award image to your site.

My nominees are:

Michelle Goes Global which is about everyone's younger sister who didn't get married and settle into suburban life but instead became Awesome Aunt Michelle who is traveling the world. Leave off questions about job, health insurance, and retirement savings, will ya? It's a live-vicariously thing.

I like Becca's Blog because the prose is readable. She writes like she's speaking directly to you over a cafe table or a bar top. She makes me think we are sharing some kind of secret together, just her and me.

I like The Rogue's Scribe for formatting. I'm also really impressed that she kept a journal. I'm so bad at daily writing that I used to do all of my journal entries the night before they were due. Using different colored pens for each, of course, so they would look like they'd been written on different days. That was fourth grade and I've never gotten any better at it.

I'm not sure how many followers C. Hope Clark has, but I like her because she's a Southern author, an unashamed unlike some Mississippians who shall remain nameless.

Jennifer Chow crosses cultures with Chinese sayings applied to Asian-American experiences. This post titled "Blessed are the Fools" talks about our experience with the MNINB April Platform Challenge. The title, the definition, and her summation -- that screen-to-screen communication only takes us so far -- are all so thick with meaning that I could spend hours teasing out the possibilities.

Thanks, fellow writers. We may not always have something to do, but at least I'm not the only one who always has something to say!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Software Consultant For Hire

The project is the mapping of a proprietary end-to-end enterprise resource planning platform (ERP). The CIO described a sort of subway map design that would enable any user to locate a process – like a colored tube – and then see all dependent processes, resultant processes, and points of intersection or change.

The idea is brilliant. I mentioned it once before, with some over-indulgent transcendentalism chatter. At the time I was just thinking casually about it. But a month ago I actually volunteered to do the project. They did not hire me. That’s fine.

If I were going to do the job here’s how I would do it:
  1. Outline the objectives
  2. Create a scalable plan
  3. Identify and define core processes
  4. Categorize secondary processes
  5. Code the elements

Begin with the end in mind

Objectives must be clearly defined and agreed upon as both reachable and beneficial to the business. In this case, the primary objectives are:
  • create a universal reference via knowledge base
  • identify gaps and inconsistencies for maintenance
  • define operating standards to which all future developments can be compared.

I would then create a scalable plan.

Set Expectations

Something like mapping a complete end-to-end ERP could take years. So laying out the first phase and creating some boundaries that translate into progress and some others that represent phase two, phase three, etc. can help set expectations.

A preliminary scalable plan might be organized one of three ways:

  • By Priority – let’s use neighborhoods to identify the various blocks and streets that may depend upon one another. A city model might work here as some elements of software are firm grids and others are winding half-streets or dead ends. Organizing by relationship allows the plan to scale based upon the focus of the construction efforts. For example, if the sales screens are receiving developer focus, then the mapping should work the sales screens first. Sales screens are revenue generators; they will receive the lion’s share of resources.
  • By Relationship – how are the transactions in one neighborhood similar to those in another neighborhood? Organizing a plan by relationship allows the map to employ similarities to duplicate elements but also develops a natural compare and contrast analysis, useful for objective #3.
  • By Accessibility – there is nothing wrong with approaching any project by completing the easy tasks first. So a plan built on accessibility would get the easy maps out of the way first. Those processes we full understand, that are wholly independent, or that are run by people in the same time zone could be tackled first.

Scalable plans have the unenviable task of suggesting how long the entire project will take. They should also include likely challenges, potential threats to completion, and alternate suggestions should the plan not be completed within the original scope.

Use Broad Strokes for Landscapes

The next step, after the plan is decided upon, is to identify and define core processes. The processes with which to begin are dictated by the plan. The mapping of those processes requires investigation, transcription, documentation, verification, and publication.

I would begin with interviews in the investigation phase. I would use transcription to identify the key elements of the interviews and to categorize the responses. Documentation would combine of all sources of information into a single process outline.

Once that outline is verified, the map should be drawn or published. This process is repeated for all of the core processes and should result in a skeletal model of the system.

Fill in Detail

Secondary processes will be discovered during the investigation of the core processes. A running list should be kept in preparation for the secondary process stage of development. After adding any additional known secondary processes which are not on the list, I would categorize the secondary processes.

Categories can enable duplication to be used when documenting and mapping. If, for example, one process has a similar trajectory, duplication will enable the map to maintain consistent vocabulary, style, and relevance.

Finally comes the coding of elements. On a subway map symbols indicate stations where riders can change trains and colors maintain train identity from point to point.

When mapping a software system using process trajectories as patterns and shared tables as intersections, we need symbols to show common behaviors. The data is retrieved in the same way, but used differently. Symbols work as categories and help identify similarities and differences between elements.

Why it matters

In all enterprises there are certain activities which receive laser focus. Countless hours of dedication and effort are applied to them in the hopes of ensuring success. These activities are usually the sexier, profitable activities, those more interesting to the actors or more immediately profitable.

Yet many processes suffer from poor initial construction and the enterprise can spend any number of hours patching and fixing instead of growing and developing. If it were up to me, I would apply at least a modicum of focus to the underpinnings so as to avoid wasting hours "fixing" one side of the structure while inadvertently weakening another side.

When they didn't hire me, they turned a job that needed doing into something that will never get done. But like I said, they didn’t ask me.

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Thanks for reading!

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