Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Top 3 Weekend Getaways

After the long Memorial Day weekend, I started thinking about some of my favorite weekend getaway locations.  We all work hard.  Sometimes we need to just get away.  Here are my top 3:

#1 - Mirbeau - Skaneateles New York
Located in the finger lakes wine region of upstate New York in the quaint village of Skaneateles, this place is number 1 on my list of get away destinations.  The french country architecture sets it apart from most destinations.  As soon as you walk in the door you get a sense of calm and relaxation.  The food and wine menus are five star.  They have a first rate spa as well.  The village is great for finding unique treasures and the surrounding area is home to many excellent wineries that offer tours and sampling.  Simply put, this is a great destination.

#2 Shelburne Farms - Sheburne Vermont
Located on the shores of Lake Champlain just outside of Burlington Vermont, this is a memorable destination. Built in the late 1800's as a model argricultural estate, it is now a combination educational farm and Inn.  The Inn itself is in the former residence - ie mansion.  Due to the high heating costs for this 19th century building this is a three season destination with no winter availability. The former dining room now is home to an excellent restaurant.  Strolling the grounds can be very relaxing.  The staff will even put together a picnic basket of their own breads,  meats, and cheeses for you to take on your walk.  The city of Burlington is just 7 miles away and has lots to offer for food, shopping, and other fun.  You are not far from some great attractions like the Ben & Jerry ice cream factory (and tour), the Vermont Teddy Bear factory, and more.

#3 American Club Resort - Kohler Wisconsin
Food, golf, spa, shopping, you name it and they have it at this destination.  Located in Kohler Wisconsin, this is another relaxing place to spend a weekend.  You can pick a quiet weekend or one of the many with planned events - if that is your thing.  While there, don't forget to plan a little time at the Kohler design center.  Even if you are not looking to make any changes at home, it is interesting to see some of the creative things that can be done.  They also have a very good museum at the design center that chronicles the history of the village and the company.  This one is a little personal for me as both of my grandfathers spent their careers at the Kohler Company.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Meeting overload - a chance to improve

I don't know about you, but for me there are way too many meetings.  Now, don't get me wrong, meetings can serve a very important purpose.  It is a way to get all of the right people around the table to hash out an issue, make an important decision, get guidance, provide updates, etc.  The problem I have is that too many of these meetings feel like they are more social events than focused activities.  They are meetings for the sake of meetings.

Yet another valuable meeting!
Meetings cost real money
Is there a good reason that meetings have to be 30 or 60 minutes?  Why can't we be done in 22 minutes?  A meeting of 6 senior level assocaites costs about $500/hr.  Think about it.  Are you going to get $500 in value from that one hour chatty meeting that had no agenda, no minutes, and started 15 minutes late?   Probably not.  It gets worse.  Have one meeting a week with those 6 people and you are spending over $25,000 per year.  Imagine the total company cost for all of the meetings that don't bring value.

Why is everyone falling asleep?
What about those meetings that are scheduled for two hours or more?  Two hours, really?  Do we have that much to discuss?  The longer the meeting, the more likely people are to check their email and do other things not associated with the meeting.  Are they contributing at that point?

Some people use meetings to address an issue that is immediate.  Don't be that person!  C'mon, get up out of your chair and walk over to address it right now.  You will probably save a great deal of everyone's time, including your own.

Start on time, be on time
Everyone knows what time the meeting starts.  You should start it as scheduled.  Waiting only wastes the time of those who bothered to be on time.

Are you the person that comes strolling in 10 minutes after the meeting starts?  Knock it off!  When this happens, you ususally have to be brought up to speed on information everyone else already knows.  You then add your two cents worth of input and send the meeting completely into the weeds.  If you can't be on time, don't bother.  Read the minutes to find the outcome.

Some rules
To try to get better at this whole meeting thing, let's try something new.  Here are some rules to consider. 
  • Schedule only the time you really need for the meeting.  Getting done early is ok.  Everyone will appreciate you for it.  My rule of thumb is keep it under an hour.  After that you lose everyone's attention.
  • An agenda must be published at least one day prior to the meeting - no agenda, no meeting.  I suggest including the agenda right in the meeting invitation.
  • Any supporting materials must be distributed at least one day before the meeting
  • Think twice before making a meeting recurring - there is a time and place for it, just use it wisely.
  • Only invite those that have to be there.  No need to FYI people about your meeting.
  • Each meeting shall have a time keeper - this helps keep everyone focused
  • All meetings start on time
  • Be on time
  • Checking email, texting, etc is forbidden - Consider installing a mobile phone basket outside the meeting rooms.  Prior to entry you must put your phone in the basket.
  • Stick to the agenda
  • No meetings shall go into overtime
  • Meeting minutes must be published within one day of the meeting.  If not, the meeting never happened.
Too many rules?  Some may argue that it is.  Hopefully it will get everyone focused to maximize their time and the value created from a meeting. 

Remember, if the meeting doesn't bring value, why meet?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My top 5 electronic gadgets

I don't have all of these but since I am more about the chase than the capture (as most with the Y chromosome tend to be) I like to follow what is out there (the chase).  Here are some gadgets that I think are worth the chase and the capture.

Logitech Harmony Remote - If your AV system has multiple components, each requiring their own remote (TV, sat/cable box, surround system, DVD, etc) Logitech makes a very good universal remote for the money.  The Harmony line allows you to program buttons that appear on the touch screen to create shortcuts.  The multiple device capability gives you one-click control to turn things on and off.  All of the setup can be done on your PC (using a free application) and you simply connect the USB cable from the PC to the remote to transfer the settings.

Anything Apple - iPad, iPod, iPhone, MacBook - I am not sure what to say about this other than if you don't have one of these, what in the world are you waiting for?  This is technology that simply works.  No manual required.  Just turn it on and go.  I have not talked to anyone who expressed any buyers remorse for having one of these.  If you don't have one of these yet, turn off the computer, crack open the piggy bank, and run down to the store - right now.

Sync from Ford - More technology is going into cars and trucks every
day.  Ford got it right.  Their Sync system provides hands free controls of audio, navigation, phone, heating/cooling, and more.  It inegrates easily with bluetooth enabled phones.  It will even read text messages for you if your phone supports the MAP bluetooth protocol.  Indexing of audio devices like your iPod is automatic.  You can even tell it what playlist to play from your iPod using voice commands!  I don't say this often, but Microsoft got this one right with the help of the Ford IT team.

    Sonos - Sonos is a wireless sound system that connects to your WiFi network.  No in house wiring is required to make this system work. It can play directly from your PC, your network storage devive or from an iPod connected to a wireless doc.  You can control it using a free app that can run on your Android phone, Android tablet, iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad.  You can have one speaker or scatter them throughout the house.  The remote allows you to select the must and which speakers to play it on.  Ok, I have one of these.  To quote my spouse - "the best present, EVER!"  For those wondering, this says more about the quality of this sound system than any of  my previous gifts!  Setup time, including removing all the packaging is less than 15 minutes.  Simply awesome.

    Sports GPS - There are many interesting options out there but two jump out at me.  The golf watch GPS from Garmin requires no course downloads, is simple to use, and is in line with the pricing for hand held units.  If you are a golfer, a golf GPS is a wonderful aid.  If you are a bicylist, check out the Garmin GPS for bikes.  The nice feature of this, other than preventing you from getting too lost, is that it tracks your speed, cadence, and course.  You can then upload the workout to a personal website and even share it with friends.  On your next climb of the famous Mont Ventoux, make sure you have your GPS along to prove just how tough you are.
    I would like to hear what your favorite gadgets are.  Post a comment by clicking on the Comments link below.

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    Email etiquette - A little rant

    I don't know about you, but I get too much email.  Spam filtering is great, but it doesn't save me from some of the other nonsense that floats around.  Here are my tips for email and email formatting.  I get a little cranky about this so please pardon my rant. Your mileage may vary....

    Email volume
    Don't be a slave to your email.  It really should not be for real time communication.  That is what the telephone and in-person visits are for.  Try checking your email only a few times a day.  Tell those you work with that you will check first thing in the morning and early afternoon.  Beyond that, turn the bloody thing off.  At a minimum turn off the notifications you get regarding new mail in your inbox.  You might be amazed by how much time you save.

    Reply All
    Ok, just knock it off, would you?  Think about it before doing it.  Does everyone really need to see your reply?  Will they care?  Will they be able to take any action as a result?

    Using a background image is not appropriate in business email (or for that matter - ever).  It is distracting and can really mess things up when someone replies.  Save the background gimmicks for your webpage or blog.

    Signature blocks
    By their name, signature blocks are for, well, signatures.  Including canned closing sentences (or for some paragraphs) prior to your signature isn't necessary, and at times annoying.  Put just what you need in the email and leave the canned message out.

    Email readers have gotten better, but images embedded in an email are still problematic.  Office email is generally not the place for building brand awareness.  Does it add value when communicating to your customers?  Maybe but I question the value add.

    Oh, and all those silly fonts and sizes.  It does say something about you when you send email to me using Comic Sans in 18pt font.  The impression isn't a positive one.  Use the standard font and size for your messages.  By the way, nobody is fooled by the Script font in your signature.  Keep it simple and use those creative thoughts and ideas to innovate.

    ALL CAPS - Really??
    If you need to shout at me, stop by and shout.  I am ok with that.  Don't run the risk of insighting the crowd by using ALL CAPS.

    Getting the last word
    It is not necessary to always reply to an email.  If the reply is simply an acknowledgment, think about the recipient.  Will a reply add value?  If not, don't send it.  It will be one less email that someone has to open and then probably also send an acknowledgment.

    Using Bcc
    The blind copy can be useful but more often than not can have evil under tones.  If you don't want people to know who else you sent an email to, maybe your motives are wrong and you should reconsider your actions.

    Email ping-pong
    After a few volleys of email back and forth, pick up the phone or walk over to discuss it.  Stop hiding behind the email and work it out directly. 

    It is for FYI, not CYA
    Think about the purpose of your email before sending it.  Are you providing information that is useful or only covering your tracks for when things go wrong?   If I am taking time to read an email I want to get useful information.  The CYA stuff only serves to hurt the senders credibility.  Don't do it.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Let's Innovate

    Businesses that want to survive for the long term must always look for new and better ways to operate.  This can come in many forms, from process improvements to new services and products.  In a word, it is about innovation.  To remain viable we must continually innovate.
    Before anyone can innovate, they have to really understand what it means.  According to, innovation is:
    1. the introduction of something new
    2. a new idea, method, or device : novelty
    You don't see anything in this definition that indicates you must dream up the next coming of Facebook to innovate.  Putting that expectation on innovation is setting you up for failure.  You have to think differently to innovate, including what it means to be innovative.

    Innovation can be broken down into many types.  For simplicity sake, I like these three:
    1. Operational innovation - Finding a better way to do something you do today

    2. Product/Service innovation - New or improved products and services within your current portfolio

    3. Disruptive innovation - This is creating the next big thing.  Changing your market completely.  Doing something that nobody has done so far and making it difficult to quickly replicate.
    Consider what it takes to improve a process.  Using new techniques or tools to make a business process more efficient is a form of innovation.  It is the ability to take techniques that may already exist and applying them to your business.  It is not necessarily the bleeding edge stuff that defines something innovative. 

    Look at your current product/service offerings.  Adding something new that compliments your current product/service or building on what you already have is innovation.  This type of innovation is usually closer to your customer than process innovation.

    Would we like to come up with the next market disrupting innovation for our business?  Of course!  But holding this as the only example of what innovation is will set you back.  Not only will you not get operational improvements, it is very difficult to ever get to disruptive innovation without an innovative culture in place.  You can establish that culture through incremental innovation.  Start small and build up so that everyone understands what innovation is and how to get there.

    Ok, so how do we get there?  For me, it starts with a story... 

    In the mid 90's a friend and I came up with a crazy idea.  We were working on the largest software development project of its time and had created a program to help the other software developers track their changes, bugs, and releases. 

    One night I had a dream (really!) that we started a company and turned this into a commercial product.  When I shared this idea with my co-developer, he laughed at me. Quite hard I might add.  I persisted. After some discussion with our employer we licensed what we had developed and spun off a new company.  To start, we knew that what we had developed was going to have to be thrown away.  Only the framework of the initial idea remained.  Why would we do this?  Hadn't we sunk a lot of time into this already?  Yes, we had.  We needed a strategy.  To make this idea viable, it was going to have to work in ways that we could not possibly see.  Our mantra from the beginning was just that - build a solid product that could be used in ways we could not yet imagine.  It worked! 

    Although targeted for developers of software, we really did see our product used in ways we never could have imagined.  Our product was used to upload and download information to the Space Shuttle!  Our product was used for the creation of Disney movies starting with the Lion King to manage artist drawings.  Our product was used by Alta Vista, an early pioneer in Internet search engines for automated tracking of customer inquiries.  We even evolved it to be our customer relationship management (CRM) tool.  We had stayed true to our vision and built a solid solution that would be used in unique and unanticipated ways. Our innovation enabled our customers to innovate. It took great ideas, great people, and admittedly some amount of luck.  It still makes me smile to reflect on what was achieved from such simple beginnings.  The company has long since gone but the concepts and ideas remain.

    What are we doing today?
    1. We have created a business strategy that calls for and embraces innovation
    2. Our values reflect innovation through our entrepreneurial spirit
    3. We have put programs in place to help our associates understand our strategy and to "Find a better way."
    4. Our senior leadership has embraced innovation and are walking the talk
    The challenge for your innovation starts with the definition.  You must decide what innovation means to you.  You need to build this into your strategy and develop your culture to embrace innovation.  To make it work, you have to live the vision and the strategy every day.  No innovation is too small.  Will every idea work?  Probably not.  Is that ok?  Absolutely.  Culturally, your people have to become comfortable making suggestions for innovation and those receiving the ideas must be good listeners.  It is imperative that everyone live by the adage that no idea is a bad idea.  Even "bad" ideas can have nuggets that can lead to an innovative idea. 

    Innovation comes with risk.  To have a successful innovation program you have to be willing to accept failures along with the success.  Find a way to learn from failure, don't ever punish failure.  That will immediately kill any desire people have to innovate.

    Innovation is about change.  Your culture will have to be willing to accept change to innovate.  The status quo simply is not good enough.

    Collectively your innovations will make your business even more successful than it is today.  What are you waiting for?  Let's innovate!

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Consumer devices in the enterprise - It's all Good!

    With all of the gadgets in the market today, from tablets to smartphones, all having personal productivity tools on them, what should we be doing within the IT organization to react?  We have a few choices. 
    • Ignore it and hope it goes away
    • Pick a few new gadgets that meet IT needs
    • Accept and embrace the devices
    Ignoring this will be like a staph infection.  If you don't deal with it, it might just kill you.  Picking just a few devices that meet IT specific needs is very self serving and not customer focused.  Sometimes it is easy to forget that one of our marching orders is to deliver technology that brings value by improving productivity.  We have to find a better way.

    The use of these technologies in the enterprise is inevitable.  So, why not be proactive and find a way to enable them within the enterprise?  Well, that is just what we are doing.  Nearly two years ago we saw this trend and embraced it.  We didn't know which devices were coming, just that they were out there with more on the way.  We needed to find a way to meet the user needs while still controlling our costs. 

    The strategy that we have developed is to focus on information access rather than on any particular piece of hardware.  There are two key elements to execute on the strategy.  First, leverage the cloud.  Information contained in documents, dashboards, etc. are or will be accessible through secure cloud based solutions.  Second, focus on the application rather than the device.  By finding an application that can provide secure access across multiple platforms we need only worry about securing and supporting the application.  The user retains responsibility to support their personal device while IT assists in the setup, configuration, and support of the application that will run on the device. This greatly simplifies matters and allows the user a much broader choice in the device as well as when to get a new one. 

    To enable the access to email, calendar, and contacts, we selected Good Enterprise.  Users simply download the app from their device app store and get a license key from IT to get started.  An annual license fee is charged to the users organization for the application.  Pretty simple setup.  Is Good perfect?  No, but nothing is.  It is a solid solution or as they say "It is all Good!”. 

    The convergence of the consumer world with the corporate world is happening fast. We chose to be proactive, develop a strategy, and learn through execution.  So far, so Good!

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    A little humor - How does wellness impact IT?

    Not all calls that come to the IT service desk can be solved with technology. This is a true story about someone I know.

    Jason was very upset when he called the IT service desk to report a problem with his computer. He said that randomly, while sitting at his desk, the computer would start making beeping sounds and the cursor would jump all over the screen. It was hurting productivity and he was convinced he had a virus. The service desk ran some remote diagnostics on his computer. All appeared fine. The problem had stopped just before the call so the service desk asked that he call back if it occurred again.

    Two weeks later the symptoms appeared again and Jason called the IT service desk. They tried some additional diagnostics, replaced his mouse and keyboard, and ran some software updates. No matter what they did Jason would intermittently have the same problem over the next several months. His frustration was increasing and after several more phone calls to IT, they finally decided to replace his computer with a brand new unit. All was good for the next few months.

    When the problem reappeared, Jason was livid. The cursor was speeding across the screen and the computer was beeping again. That was the last straw. He was going to escalate this to someone in charge. As he placed the call he realized that his belly was resting on the space bar. As he leaned back, the beeping went silent, the cursor stopped moving. When the IT serve desk answered his call, Jason asked them to close the ticket. To his credit, he told the service desk what he had discovered.

    It was time to go on a diet and start to exercise.