Month: October 2012

BYOD: Goodbye Simplicity by Conformity

A familiar anti-pattern to anybody who knows anything about security is “security by obscurity”. The idea of security by obscurity is that you can rely on withholding details of how a security protocol operates to increase the security of the protocol.

The simplest example might be if you store passwords “encrypted” but you don’t tell anybody that you are only decrementing each letter by one – so if your password is “IBM” it becomes “HAL” when “encrypted”. This isn’t a true, nor secure encryption; and keeping the details of the encryption secret don’t make it more secure.

This brings me to the “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend. This is basically the idea that employees, rather than using company issued work stations, could simply bring their own computing device and access corporate systems from that.

Too many people are focusing on the risks of BYOD rather than the opportunities. Do we have to code for multiple devices? What about security on their device? What happens when they resign? What right does the company have to the personal property?

But the reality is this is just like security by obscurity. We have been living in a world deluded into thinking that things would be simpler, and more efficient, if we all conformed. If only everybody had the same desktop environment, and we didn’t let anybody change anything without calling (and being told “no”) by the IT help desk.

We were living with the illusion of what I call “simplicity by conformity”. We choose an arbitrary object – our work stations – and decided everything would be better if they were all the same. But this simplification never happened. People had to find work-arounds to the rules that tried to create this conformity. And they weren’t finding work arounds for the fun of it. They were finding work arounds in order to try and simplify areas that actually mattered: servicing customers, working efficiently, collaborating with their teams.

So I see BYOD as the end of “simplicity by conformity”. By taking control of the device out of the equation we are forced to create rules that simplify things that actually matter. Real simplicity.

One last point – people working on their own device expect it to operate like their own device. If the attention economy has taught us anything it’s that we’ll shift our attention to things that are more entertaining – or those that have greater usability. Imagine how difficult it is to keep yourself from distractions as you work on your computer at work – and then magnify that by each distraction you’ll find on your own device.

The challenge of distraction is another hidden false assurance. We can no longer pretend that boring, meaningless work will be done efficiently because there is nothing else to do. BYOD will reignite the need to create engaging work. Conformity by engagement, perhaps?  Perhaps not.  But engagement around things that actually mater.

It’s not all about people – it’s about respecting people enough to make the systems work

How many times have you had an employee come to you with a complaint about how a process works, or how an IT system is broken, or how they aren’t getting along with another department, and you’ve basically counselled them. You’ve told them how they might get a better result if they approach the situation a different way. Maybe you’ve suggested that they escalate this to another person. Perhaps you’ve even brokered a meeting where the two groups just sit together to rebuild their relationship – just try and see it from each other’s point of view.

You take this approach because people management is important, right? You take this approach because “it’s all about people”. But don’t you think if the system wasn’t broken there would be less of these “people issues”? It’s the most respectful thing you can do for the people in your organisation to make the organisation itself work better?

That fact of the matter is that your people are not your most important asset. Your systems are your most important asset. Because when your systems work, and make it easy for your people to operate your organisation (i.e. what I call “organisational usability”) then your people will stay. Your “assets” support your customers first, and your people second. And that is all. To say your people are “assets” is actually pretty offensive.

The fast is you need good people if you want to change anything. People have ideas, people make stuff happen. But the more you are relying on people to do basic tasks, work arounds, and counselling sessions, the more you are destroying the competitiveness of your business by adding unnecessary costs to the cost structure.

The idea that you should focus on making your organisation a “great place to work” doesn’t contradict this in the slightest. Being a great place to work means the people in your organisation aren’t constantly trying to avoid being the ones who do the low value jobs. Being a “great place to work” means that management systems are in place that ensure that you don’t have to suck up to your line manager in order to be recognised for your contribution.

Constantly focusing on the people, at the exclusion of focusing on the systems, is completely counter-productive. Of course, I mean “systems” broadly, beyond IT systems. But more importantly, I mean the systems that create a set of unique capabilities controlled by your organisation and connect those capabilities to customers.

The only reason managers focus on people is that they want to manage them – read: control them. If you make everything into a people issue you don’t have to fix your partner eco-system, you don’t need to have a strategy, and you don’t need to manage risk. Or more importantly, you can focus on your own career progression rather than making the systems work for people who operate them (too cynical, perhaps?).

By focusing only on people you just get to wake up in the morning, see what’s failed and fire somebody, or ask everybody how they are adding value and let them take the effort to justify. This is the extreme but natural conclusion of how focusing on people plays out. By only focusing on people you’ll find yourself saying things like “Bob doesn’t get it” when there is no “it” to get. Like I’ve said before “management at it’s worst is the art of saying ‘you’re not seeing the big picture – even when there clearly isn’t one'”.

The more you focus on the people, and the less you focus on the systems, the more you’ll need to focus on the people. People in an untidy, unstructured, and ultimately political environment will undoubtably require more attention. People who need to end their day manually collating information and re-typing into systems that don’t work will require more attention. People who need to collaborate across teams where no agreed protocols exist will require more conflict management. People who need to suddenly “do more with less” will – by definition – actually do less with less until the systems change.

It’s time to respect people by managing systems.


Thought of the day: English Breakfast

Sometimes, where we are trying to sell technology, we fall into the trap of looking at one of the varieties of tea we have and asking “So, customer, what type of breakfast would you like in your tea?” These questions are trying to be helpful; but they don't make any sense to anybody and they reveal that you've already got an answer in mind that you don't fully understand.


Thought of the day: Stand-up Meetings

One of the original tenants of MWT was that management itself would have to change if everybody was already managing themselves.  I was responding to much of the discussion 10-15 years ago that was about “empowering” the workforce and I wanted to think ahead to the situation where everybody really was empowered and really was managing themselves.  This is, of course, actually happening all around us…

I think the same thing goes for “agile”(*).  I’m often surrounded by people adopting somewhat “agile”  practices.  Simple things like “stand up” meetings.  

The only problem is – and this bugs me more than it probably should – I don’t know what a “stand up meeting” actually is?  I don’t mean I don’t understand the concept, I just mean it doesn’t make sense to call it a “stand up meeting” anymore when everybody is doing it.

In a typical week I might be aware of or participate in 5-10 “stand up” meetings.  And every time one of these is on I hear people calling out “hey everyone time for the stand up meeting”.  This isn’t helpful at all.  Which one?  What will be discussed?  Should I be there?

The other interesting part is that I often see people walk out of the stand up meeting and discuss their actions with other people who weren’t in the stand up meeting.  This isn’t helpful either.  The purpose of the stand up meeting is to get everybody prepared for their day.  If the people whose day you are preparing aren’t in the meeting than it’s not really helpful.  

A stand up meeting that doesn’t involve the people who will be impacted today with significant effort driven from the stand up meeting is simply a management meeting, standing up, which doesn’t have a sufficient planning horizon to add value, make a strategic impact, or give other resources sufficient lead time to plan their own activities. 

(*) Note: I’m by no means an “agile” expert.  Nor do I think it’s the answer for many problems to which it is applied.  I like it though.

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