Friday, October 08, 2010

Why Communication Matters

You've probably heard your fair share of cliches about the importance of communication. How "it's impossible to over-communicate", etc. And there is some value in reinforcing the fact that bad things happen when people take for granted that everyone around them knows what is going on. The advice you hear is usually centered around communicating status, or effectively managing change.

What happens if you can't - not because you aren't good at it, but because, well, you just can't.

Healthy and effective communication are dependent upon healthy and effective relationships. You can "communicate" until you're blue in the face - if you do not have the respect of the people you're addressing, it won't matter.

If you're a leader in particular, it's crucial to go out of your way to establish strong relationships with your subordinates, peers, and supervisors. I have an example of why I feel so strongly about this.

If you have a chilly relationship with a co-worker, where conversations are tense or cold or generally unpleasant, you will not communicate with them as often as you should. Consciously or sub-consciously, you will begin a futile effort of trying to anticipate their reactions to whatever you have to tell them, and because humans do that which is least painful, you'll avoid communicating with them until you get too far down the path (or worse, go in the wrong direction).

You may try overly hard to perfect whatever you're working on for your supervisor if you simply cannot get comfortable dealing with them, and what you end up with will have taken longer and not be as good as it could have been if you were working more closely - communicating more frequently and in smaller chunks.

Progress is impossible without collaboration; collaboration is impossible without communication; communication is impossible without relationships. People can have respect for leaders without liking them - that scenario may be fine in the military where collaboration is scarce or where matters of life-or-death put the importance of friendliness on the back burner, but it's a recipe for inefficiency and mediocrity in the enterprise.

If you're a leader, or you are subordinate to someone with whom you do not have a great relationship, do everyone a favor and make a renewed effort to get there.

People who have talent and respect for themselves do not want to work someplace where their efforts do not result in success. Talented people live for the chance to successfully meet challenges. If that's you, recognize the truth of this - you will never, ever get it done as well by yourself as you can with a team of people who share strong relationships. You owe it to yourself as a leader (by fiat, de facto or otherwise) to do whatever it takes to put differences or past issues aside, focus on the positives with everyone, and break down barriers to communication.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Torch

I've been evaluating a BlackBerry Torch for the past few days. It's a pretty phone, but I can certainly understand what people were talking about when the early reviews came in blasting it as not ready for prime-time.

The interface is somewhat clunky to operate - distinctly unlike BlackBerry's of the past. It's slow, in about every respect - perhaps because you're used to things working instantly on a traditional RIM device. It is buggy - I've had the screen lock in sideways mode just pulling it out of my pocket, and couldn't get it un-stuck but to press the dial button. The layout and operation takes some getting used to, and the screen is so sensitive, you often finding it doing things you had no intention of it doing. This device would turn a 30 year old systems engineer into a 70 year old car salesman...muttering, "what dit...why?, go did I..."

The screen is good, and people I call say I sound great in either handset or speakerphone mode, but that's where the compliments begin and end. I constantly hear my own voice in a robotic, almost water-in-the-ear "echo" when using it as a handset phone, and it's really irritating. Then of course, we have the AT&T network's propensity to drop calls at will - so it's obviously not a device problem.

We did learn you can press ALT+"n m l l" to have the handset display the actual signal strength in dBm (I think it's dBm). It's at least more useful than counting bars. I see it bounce between -70 and -130 sitting at my desk, immobile. When it does say -70, it's typically not doing anything - as soon as you start hitting the mobile network, it falls like a stone. Still goes back and forth between GPRS / EDGE and 3G - I've probably talked about this before.

Anyway, we won't be deploying them, and that's all that matters. We have a couple hundred RIM handhelds, and I don't want a fleet of people who have devices they hate. Probably for the first time ever, we'll start looking into MobileIron or Good for Enterprise to open the gates a bit. When Amazon starts chopping the price of a new smartphone in half less than a week after it debuts, it's not a good sign. RIM is, as Gordon Ramsay would say, "Deep in the $#!+".

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

This iPad Nonsense

I hope to look back at this post in a few years' time and think of the iPad as the Newton - really cool at the time but totally over-hyped. I fear that this will not however be the case.

It's a neat device like everything Apple does. The appeal of a $650 gigantic iPod Touch remains lost on me however. Yes, books and magazines look great. Yes, through WiFi, it's quick. Mostly. Yes, there's tons of unproductive stuff you can make it do. This should all be a given at $650.

Here's what's irritating me. The 3G service. AT&T's network double-live sucks. Period. I've not found a non-AT&T employee who thinks otherwise. It stinks on ice. It is biblically bad. Epic fail. I have a drawer full of retired BlackBerry devices and a building full of similarly disgruntled coworkers to prove it.

The 3G part of this iPad is so God-awfully slow, I've considered taking advice from Sleep Talkin' Man and eat a blend of razors & lemons rather than wait for it to load web pages or start Apps with an internet dependency. Again, on WiFi, it's quick. 3G, not so much.

What I find most interesting of all, is the signal strength meter. I've yet to see the iPad report anything fewer than five bars (5 bars for Googlers) of service. Ever. My BlackBerry shows between one and five most times, and it fluctuates a lot. It's hardly ever five, even right next to the iPad, which seems almost programmatically indifferent to the reality of long range CDMA radio transmissions.

Had I yet another device with the capability to quickly take an image of my BlackBerry and iPad together, or better yet, a video, I'd post it. But, as with all things, I realize I'm not ever going to be the first to experience something and be irritated by it if it's bad, so I don't even bother looking for other examples online. I just decide to let this post serve as a stand-alone testimony to the crappiness of the AT&T network, and the literally laughably optimistic character of the iPad when it comes to how good the 3G signal is. Everywhere. AT&T may cover 97% of the U.S., but the iPad has 5 bars of 3G coverage in 100% of places that have any 3G coverage at all. Remarkable.

Anyway, the experiment with the iPad is distracting and irritating because I don't want one personally and wouldn't spend that kind of money even if I did, and I know that the person who will ultimately use this will curse it to eternal damnation because it cannot read their minds and it is mediocre at best when it comes to brewing tea and they are already sick of bullshit, and it will undoubtedly be me who has to answer the "how do I do this" call from memory. Sigh.

Monday, April 26, 2010

SharePoint on a Shoestring - Done

It's been a Herculean effort to get all of the loose ends wrapped up and to go live with our SharePoint infrastructure, but we have done, and the end results are fantastic.

Adoption early on was at least as aggressive as we'd hoped for, confirming that there was a huge well of latent demand for better collaboration tools. Some pockets of users are finding some very innovative and exciting uses for the system with no real training at all - a great sign, and further indication of just how badly this system was needed here.

We have been successful because we had a great team of people contributing, not just in the IT department, but throughout the company, in truly meaningful ways. It has been a very gratifying endeavor. We've not even really scratched the surface in terms of capabilities - nothing but default content approval workflows, no Excel services to speak of, no KPI's, etc. Just a basically bone stock deployment, but with some very snazzy dynamic look and feel treatments that customize the appearance for every company we support (allowing us to present a tailored experience on a single farm / set of site collections).

I sometimes surprise myself after answering SharePoint questions, because I know the answer is right, and it actually sounds like I know what I'm talking about. I'm so used to hearing consultants give me such answers, that it's a little disorienting to hear them come from my own mouth. I can adjust audience settings, troubleshoot article publishing issues, manipulate crawls & profile imports, secure document libraries...I'd better stop, I'm scaring myself again.

We know enough about SharePoint to know we'd do a few things differently next collections, for us, are overkill and make some things very difficult. We also know enough to know we want things fixed in the 2010 release - but aren't holding our breath.

The next year will see us attempting to leverage all of these tools and really take things to the next level. Done right, this can be game-changing, business-changing stuff that gets us very tightly aligned with the companies we support. In short, cool stuff.