My “Digital” Habits

I was interviewed for a company newsletter a few weeks back; it was to be a fun, short Q&A about my digital habits. Apparently the metrics show that this section is one of the most read items within the newsletter and I was interviewed because I was deemed a “Collaboration Guru” and might have something interesting to say. You can be the judge of that!

Here’s the transcript:

Introduction

Background: It might not tow the party line, but I’m always slightly cynical. I initially hated the term “digital”. I could’t help thinking this just another case where powerful technology companies have manufactured a wave of hysteria to increase dwindling sales figures. I’m thinking SOA (now microservices?) here. Don’t worry, it’s just the term I disagree with, I love the pace of technology innovation and the increased enablement of consumers and end users that we’re witnessing.

I’ve spent the majority of my career in  IT delivery and Technology Architecture roles. I am a cross-industry technologist, but I’ve throughout my I have always seemed to end up at either energy, utilities, chemicals or natural resources companies, with a particular focus on consumer and retail..

My current role is at Shell where I’m a Technology Architecture & Delivery Lead for a global marketing and retail analytics program.

How many hours are you online every day in total? Sixteen hours – my iPhone is automatically set to “do not disturb” between 10:30pm and 6:30am.

Are you an innovator or conservator? Neither. I’m always curious of new technologies and gadgets, but haven’t created anything new myself! Therefore I would class myself as a fast-follower rather than an innovator or conservator.

Best digital invention? I love my Pebble smartwatch (I was an original backer on Kickstarter) but it’s very hard to pinpoint just one. I think the start-up revolution itself is a great innovation. Even though most fail, creating a business has never been so easy or cool. Small teams of focussed intelligent people are making headway in a marketplace where huge corporations have historically dominated. That is very exciting to me.

Website you can’t live without? www.google.com – I don’t think that answer has changed since I was at university.

App that are you using the most right now? Strava – an exercise tracking platform that uses your smartphone GPS. Leverages gamification and social collaboration techniques to push you to exercise further and faster.

Website you’d most like to send to the trash? I don’t tend to visit poorly designed websites unless I really have to. Some of the intranet sites at work are notoriously bad though.

When was the last time you liked, commented on, or microblogged on a collaboration platform? A few hours ago, in my company instance of Yammer.

If you could set up a digital business what would it be? If I knew that, then I wouldn’t be working in consulting any more!

What’s the most useful digital tip you’ve picked-up recently? Putting an iPhone into Airplane Mode allows it to charge faster.

The future’s bright? Definitely. Any advances in technology that can make people’s lives safer, healthier, more enriched and more productive have got to be good for humanity. I’ve firmly jumped on both the “quantified self” and “wearables” bandwagons recently. I’m starting to see them merge and cross-over now, which makes my life a lot easier. I can’t wait until the new wave of health platforms/ecosystems (Apple vs Microsoft vs Google) become more mainstream. For me, there’s still some way to go to make them seamless.

Quickfire:

LinkedIn or CV? They have very different use cases in my opinion. I use LinkedIn frequently keep in touch with ex-colleagues.

Twitter or no Twitter? I’m a regular twitter user, but mainly as a “lurker”. In particular I find it hugely useful for real-time service disruptions to South West Trains. I tend not to use twitter in a work context, but I’m sure that will change in the future.

Facebook or good book? I use Facebook in a social context, but I’m not connected to many work colleagues. A good (Kindle) book or streamed (Sky Go / iPlayer) movie helps me pass the time during my daily commute.

To blog or not to blog? I publish this blog on a very irregular basis. I do have great ambitions of keeping up to date, but I always get distracted.

TV or laptop? I don’t tend to watch much live TV these days. Given I have a young family at home, it’s mostly just pre-recorded stuff via TiVo or Apple TV.

Newspapers or iPad? I haven’t bought a newspaper for over a decade, so it has to be my iPad.

Current Favourite Gadget? Sonos Play1.

TOGAF – What is it? Should you get certified?

I promised an Accenture colleague I would write this blog after I attended a TOGAF 9 training earlier in the year. So here goes…

What is TOGAF?

TOGAF is an acronym for The Open Group Architecture Framework. It’s a widely used enterprise architecture framework and associated vendor-agnostic architecture development methodology (another meaning for the #ADM TLA!). Arguably it’s the most prominent and reliable one in existence, although many others exist today  most have common elements with TOGAF e.g. Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF), ISO/IEC 14252 and The Zachmann Framework etc.

The Framework

adm

TOGAF is an open source architecture framework, with associated guidelines, techniques and methodology.

It tells you “what” you need to do to design an architecture capability.

The Certification

TOGAF is a universally recognised architecture certification. A successful candidate needs to pass two exams (see below)

Why get certified?

At my client – Shell, all architects need to be TOGAF certified. This is because their architecture function follows TOGAF, it’s principles, guidelines and Architecture Development Methodology rigorously. Although my current role is not as an Architect (long story), learning and passing TOGAF certification has been very useful to understand all terminology, roles, process and deliverables. It also enables me to “a seat at the table” during architecture discussions.

What is the process?

The approach I took to get certified was to attend the five day virtual training course, which was run by Global Knowledge for Accenture (mylearning course code: Z99425-0002). Being truly virtual, this in itself was an interesting experience. There were fifteen attendees located around the globe – Europe, Asia, US – and one external instructor based in Canada. For most people this meant the course was at an awkward time of day: 5am start for me, midnight start for the instructor, but those in India lucked out with 9:30am!

We received a voucher during the course allowing us to schedule the TOGAF 9.1 Level 1 and Level 2 certification exams. We were expected to schedule and sit the exams through our nearest Prometric Test Center within 90 days of completing the course.

What were the exams like?

Both exams were taken at a third party testing facility in the same sitting. For me, this was only a 15 minute drive to a dilapidated office building on a small industrial estate. They took it very seriously though – I was ordered to hand over any possessions, searched and then marched to a testing booth with a PC, a wipe-clean notepad and with CCTV monitoring me whilst I sat the exam.

There are two parts to the certification process:

Level1

  • 60 minute closed book exam
  • 40 multiple choice questions
  • Tests your knowledge of the core concepts of TOGAF.
  • The scoring is binary: only one answer is correct, but some are partially correct to try and catch you out. 
  • The pass mark is 55%

For someone like me who hasn’t sat an exam since leaving University back in 2001 – this was a bit of a shock to the system. I’ve always preferred, and performed better in exams that test your understanding of content rather than straight knowledge quizzes. I get bored quickly learning “parrot fashion”. However, I found that with the knowledge I’d gained from the training course and some light revision the night before the exam, this was enough to pass with confidence and well within the time limit. The key success factor for me was the training course. It really was a worthwhile use of my time given the way I like to learn.

Level2

  • 90 minute open book exam
  • 8 complex scenario based questions
  • Tests your understanding of the core concepts of TOGAF.
  • The scoring is graded: only one answer is completely accurate and gets you a perfect score, but others are partially correct to try and catch you out and therefore score lower (or nothing if you select the red-herring).
  • The pass mark is 60%

I haven’t been involved in many pure EA projects before, I’m more experienced in Technology Architecture (lower level of detail) type work. So as expected, answering the scenario based questions proved much easier for me and again I finished within the alloted time. I would state the key success factor here was my background and experience, rather than the training course.

Have I found it useful?

In other words, did I learn anything? Yes, is the simple answer. As mentioned previously, it complements the Accenture’s internal architecture frameworks and methodologies nicely. As you would expect most of the content is common sense, I didn’t come across anything I would consider complicated or that was contrary to my base knowledge. I have learned that from The Open Group’s perspective knowing their exact terminology is as essential as understanding their key concepts, models and methods. It’ll need a bit of short-term cramming to pass the two exams.

Maybe I’ll look into ITIL next?!

Additional Links

100 miles. Done.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me, in the end I raised £1,785  which is 143% of my original target! It is all going to Cancer Research UK, a great cause.

Fortunately I finished the race in one piece on Sunday with no injuries, crashes or mechanicals to speak of. Although my legs are still a bit sore today! It was a great experience riding with 20,000 other cyclists on closed roads throughout London and Surrey. The hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets certainly helped me to finish in a faster time than I expected. After being in the saddle for nearly 6 hours I’ll never forget sprinting down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace spurred on by the crowds.

Thanks again!

Final stats:

  • Time – 5 hours 46 mins 31 secs
  • Position – 5944th of 15045 finishers
  • Distance – 100 miles / 161 km
  • Avg Speed – 17.9 mph / 28.8 kmh
  • Calories – 4500
  • GPS tracking results here

Here are a few photos:

RideLondon

Route

My sponsorship link is here www.justgiving.com/donalpsmith – please feel free to donate!

I’m attempting the @RideLondon 100 mile bike ride for @CR_UK

I’m cycling 100 miles for Cancer Research UK on 4th August because it’s about time I did something useful and personal in the fight against cancer. I think it’s increasingly important to take the chaotic destruction that is cancer and turn it into something good.

I took this opportunity, not only to challenge myself physically and mentally, but to raise some money for @CR_UK to help them develop newer, kinder treatments, and get closer to cures. 

More than 1 in 3 people will develop cancer at some point in their lives and with our ageing population, this statistic is getting worse. Many of my family and friends have been affected in my lifetime, so I decided it was about time I stopped watching it happen and did something positive to help.

I’m taking this challenge seriously, 100 miles is a long way to cycle for a vets-eligible front row forward like myself! That said, I’ve lost a bit of weight in order to get fit for August 4th, and I intend to get as much pedaling practice as part of my daily commute as I can. My wife even bought me a new set of weighing scales and a personal trainer for my birthday!

triathlon

I’ve set up a fundraising page on JustGiving. Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity and make sure Gift Aid is reclaimed on every eligible donation by a UK taxpayer. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – I raise more, whilst saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

I’ve signed up and paid the registration fee myself, but @CR_UK require all their “athletes” to meet a certain fundraising target.

So please dig deep and donate any amount. It will all help.

I intend to write a series of blog entries over the next few months to give updates on how my training is progressing (I’m logging rides and runs on Strava), and to remember some of the people for whom I’m doing this.

Take the time to share non-work interests with your team

As part of our global architecture status meeting, we have been taking 10-15 mins out of the agenda to share some of our non-work interests. Our team is geographically distributed, so not many of us have never met face to face. This is a great way for us to build rapport and improve our working relationships.

So far we’ve had some very quirky and interesting topics:

  • Indian weddings
  • Building a space elevator
  • Community engagement outside work (being a local politician)
  • RC helicopters
  • The “Cinco de Mayo” festival
  • Lacrosse – the oldest N American sport.
  • and me on Rugby Union

Here’s the slide deck that I used to explain Rugby Union to the uninitiated –> Rugby Explained (External)

Why not try something similar in your next team meeting? It’s surprising how it can break up a regular monotonous status session.

Donal’s approach to complex problem solving

There are all sorts of frameworks and whitepapers on this subject. But quite simply, I try to break down complex problems into more easily solvable chunks…

To do this, I use my own take on the Decision Analysis and Resolution (DAR) approach from CMMi.

DAR is a structured, formalized and somewhat long-winded process that helps organize and document complex, high-impact decisions where multiple resolutions are possible and the optimal one isn’t obvious from the outset. It facilitates the objective comparison of alternative solutions using sponsor/stakeholder agreed selection criteria and weighting.

In my role as a Technology Architect, I often use a cut-down DAR to help solve the following types of problems:

  1. Selecting a technology platform, product or application (e.g. Siebel vs SAP CRM vs SalesForce.com)
  2. Resolving complex technical architecture decisions (e.g. Legacy vs Packaged/COTS vs Custom Build)

It’s useful to refer to a previously approved set of requirements or standards when choosing which selection criteria to specify. I’ve often used a client’s Enterprise Architecture Standards, or project specific Functional and Non-Functional Requirements to good effect. Here are some examples of the common core selection criteria I’ve seen:

  • Business Strategy Fit – alignment to business drivers, goals and objectives
  • Functionality Fit – adherence to functional requirements and regulatory compliance etc.
  • Technology Architecture Fit – adherence to technical requirements, reference models, road-maps, strategy, principles and standards
  • Resource/Skills Fit
  • Cost Factors – software, hardware, CAPEX, OPEX, resourcing, licences etc.
  • Implementation Time-frames
  • Barriers to Delivery – impact to/of in-flight programs and initiatives

It may be obvious, but the complexity of your DAR model should be proportional to the complexity and importance of the decision you are making or the problem you are solving. That said, I often use the same, simple scoring and weighting mechanism whatever the complexity (see below). Although I know a few people that prefer Harvey Balls for this – incidentally, did you know there was a MS Word font for this, and even a MS Excel conditional formatting setting?!

For each of the weighted selection criteria, a group of stakeholders and Subject Matter Advisers(SMAs) should discuss and agree on the relative score/multiplier for each option under consideration. This process should be as collaborative as possible, but it often helps if you draft a initial straw-man model prior to the meeting in order for them to review it. Although a clear winner may not emerge straight away, it will at least narrow down the decision to a couple of pivotal areas, focusing the debate and avoiding paralysis by analysis.

For me, the key benefits of this type of approach are:

  • It organises and structures my thinking into a simpler, more manageable process;
  • It enables a more collaborative and consensual approach – this is essential in some client cultures!
  • It objectifies the selection criteria and weighting – it’s not just my opinion;
  • The solution comparison becomes obvious, even to a lay person;
  • The document produced creates an unchallenge-able paper-trail. These types of decisions will come under scrutiny at some point in the future.

What frameworks do you use? My simple process isn’t infallible, nor is it all-encompassing, but it has proven very useful for me in the past.

Avoiding Decision Fatigue The Barack Obama Way

According to Wikipedia, the term decision fatigue describes the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual caused by a prolonged period of decision making.  The common consensus is that decision fatigue is a phenomenon experienced by us all, whether we realize it or not. It can occur at work, at home or in our social lives.

In most cases, this has negative connotations: for example, my friends recently amassed over 1000 Facebook messages just to organize one night out over the Easter holidays, just because nobody could make a decision on where to meet, what to eat and at what time. But some industries use it to their advantage – I’ve learned recently that the reason why most supermarkets have magazine racks and junk food situated next to the checkouts is because people are so worn down by having to make constant choices throughout the store that they will often pick someone at the end of their shop without thinking.

Car manufacturers have cottoned on to this and now have learned to avoid swamping their customers with endless decisions up front and tend to offer a reduced set of options by packaging them up into distinct specifications. But in closing the deal they’ll offer you all sorts of additional extras like paint cover, extended warranties, gap insurance and expect you to be fatigued into ticking all of them – that’s where their bonuses come from.

As technology architects often working in high-pressure working environments,  we experience decision fatigue inducing scenarios all the time. Whether it be big up front design decisions, technology selections, change impact analysis, production change approvals, we need to find ways to remain as ordinarily sensible people and reduce our decision fatigue to become more effective architects.

How do other people cope? Barack Obama famously enforces a streamlined process on all (100+) of his direct reports, whereby they must include three check-boxes on any document they ask him to review with the options: agree; disagree; or discuss further. I really admire the simplicity of this approach.

Unbeknownst to his technique I tried something remarkably similar a few years ago when my fiancee went through a period of intensive wedding planning. Whenever she needed my input on a decision e.g. wedding invitations, colour schemes, menus etc. I asked her to do some research (she loved this bit) and come back to me with her three preferred options and we would pick our favourite together over a glass of wine. I could then focus my time on the important stuff like how much beer and wine we’d need and the location for the honeymoon etc. Incidentally we also had a huge shared Google Spreadsheet with reams of detailed plans and lists, which still serves a purpose nowadays as our Christmas card list complete with people’s addresses!

Like Mr Obama, we can do this by both employing prioritization techniques and structured decision making tools to our advantage. And if we’re lucky enough to have direct reports then get them to do some research and streamlining up front. We need to take stock of the types decisions and their cadence. Often, it’s easier to tackle big issues first before attempting simpler day-to-day decisions.

In my experience it always feels safer to weigh up all pros and cons in to arrive at the “best” answer for the bigger more complex issues, but to avoid fatigue try to focus your attention a few key criterion, and leave the rest alone. Where possible, try making quick decisions on smaller choices that don’t matter as much, or try empowering your team members to do the thinking for you and just provide you with the opportunity to quickly Agree, Disagree or Discuss.

What do you think? Is decision fatigue a problem for you at work or at home? How do you cope?

Getting to “Inbox-Zero” and staying there…

What is “Inbox-Zero”?

It’s about how to reclaim control over your email, reduce stress and increase your attention span.

“Inbox-Zero” isn’t necessarily how many messages are in your inbox, it’s how much of your own brain capacity is taken up by what might or might not be in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be.

Merlin Mann originated this concept, he wrote a book about “making the time to be scared of more interesting things”. Here’s a bunch of articles that describes how he does it: http://inboxzero.com/articles/

Personally, I’ve been able to keep to “inbox-zero” for many years. Here’s how I do it:

  1. I turned off the Outlook desktop alert and taskbar email-notifications and instead I perform periodic email “dashes” a few times a day.
  2. I flag emails for “follow-up” that require further action from me.
  3. Then I use my personalized Quicksteps buttons to file email away quickly and “mark it as read” with one click.
  4. I’ve set up and maintained an Outlook rule to move internal newsletters and circulars to a “read-it-later” folder.
  5. I’ve set up and maintained an Outlook rule to move emails where I’m cc’d to a “low-importance” folder. Once read, I use my Quicksteps again.
  6. I use the Outlook ignore button to remove myself from irrelevant email conversations (thanks to @billglover for the tip).
  7. I use the Outlook cleanup tool to remove lengthy email chains but keep the most recent email response.
  8. I categorise and colour email and calendar entries by project / initiative.
  9. reduced my infobesity by un-subscribing from external sales, spam and marketing emails to my work email address.
  10. (from @conradnajohnson) For old projects create a rule that archives everything from a group of people into a project folder and run it. This can take time when done for the first time. Run it when you go to get a coffee.
  11. (from @conradnajohnson) For other mail just archive everything from a date. If you don’t know what it is, you probably wont need it. Learn how to search better: http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/outlook-help/learn-to-narr…
  12. (from @conradnajohnson) Make sure your archives are listed in indexing (click into a search, note the new options in ribbon/menu, search tools > search options > indexing options > modify). When you get a new PC the indexing of mailfiles takes time. Always good to check it is building and that you have your archives listed
  13. Make sure everything has a folder and file emails appropriately once you’ve processed then – even if that folder is as generic as “all support message threads”.
  14. Limit your active working mailbox to set period of time or project. Then archive items when the last period or last project is complete.
  15. Configure the “Do not disturb” function on your device to silence ringtones, notifications and alerts during your working/waking hours e.g. http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5463

I agree with Merlin, you’ve got to keeping tweaking your approach to this. Don’t stand still. Keep an eye out for other people’s tips and tricks and add them if they work for you.

“You’ll never stay ahead of this stuff if you don’t recal­i­brate starting today. Give each message as much attention as it needs and not one iota more. Remember the con­tex­tu­ality of triage: if you keep trying to care for dead and doomed patients, you’ll end up losing a lot of the ones who could have actually used your help.”

Please feel free to add your tips in the comments!

Large-scale Systems Integration & Programme Management

A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered to help out Accenture’s  Technology recruitment team by giving an “ITMB Guru Lecture” at the University of Manchester on the subject of IT Management for Business. Little did I realise, but this was to be no ordinary lecture. It was on behalf of a not-for-profit company called e-skills, and rather than just talking to one class of undergraduates, the lecture would be webcast simultaneously to all (14) other universities who were following this degree program. A scary prospect for someone like me who isn’t comfortable in speaking to large audiences. I’ve always known this, so have have always tried to challenge myself whenever suitable stretch opportunities arise.

The lecture title and content was up to me as long as it didn’t overlap with any previous or upcoming lectures. I didn’t have much time to prepare anything new, so I refreshed the slides I used for the Warwick lecture earlier in the year.

On my train journey  from London to Manchester, I looked back at some of the learning points from the first time I spoke to students and also the guidance from the e-skills team:

  1. Keep it simple.  It is easy to forget that 18 year olds have a much less developed ‘world view’ than us. Don’t assume any particular level of knowledge – technical, business or otherwise.  If a particular concept is crucial to your talk then give a straightforward explanation first.  Analogies that the students can relate to work well but don’t use acronyms.
  2. Use a top down approach revealing complexity as you progress through the talk. Pin what you’re saying onto real world issues/products/services/experiences that they will relate to.
  3. Focus on five clear key points that you’d like to get across. Tell them what they are at the beginning and again at the end.
  4. Use real life stories, metaphors and humour to illustrate the points wherever possible.  The students will remember the stories and hopefully this will provide the hook for remembering the business/technology message. If the stories involve emotion – ‘frightening’ challenges that were overcome – the euphoria of success – etc. then they will be even more memorable.
  5. Most importantly, you are being billed as an inspirational guru so we need you to be inspirational! Please communicate your enthusiasm for the work you do and the customers you serve in order to inspire the students to commit to work hard and pursue excellence.
  6. Your presentation will be web cast live to students in other universities. There will be multiple cameras focused on you at all times, so you will be asked to stand reasonably still throughout the presentation in order to maintain video and audio quality.  It’s unlikely that this is your normal presenting style so you may want to spend a few minutes beforehand practising your presentation standing still!  Facial expression and hand movements however will be visible to all and extremely important.

Sound advice for anyone giving a webcast style lecture I think.

Once I arrived in the lecture theatre, there was quite a bit of logistical and technical preparation to get through before we kicked off. Getting 14 other universities to connect in was quite a feat!

The presentation itself seemed to go reasonably well, I got over my nerves and into a steady flow after a while. The physical audience was very attentive and engaged, which was apparent with the high standard and quantity of questions at the end.

I’ve been granted access to the recording, although it’s pretty tough for me to watch without cringing, it should help me identify ways of improving my presenting style.

Olympic Volunteering – Part3

Now I have finished my volunteering experince, people ask – “Was it worth it?”

I’ll answer this question in this, the final part of my Olympic blog…

Personal Highlights

London 2012 has been universally lauded and declared a rousing success by many people. But for me, being involved in an Olympic Games in my home town was a unique privilege. Here are some of the memories that stand out:

1. Watching the Opening Ceremony rehearsal live and in the flesh before the world got to see it. Danny Boyle did Great Britain proud. That experience in itself was worth going through the protracted application process. Here are a  few snaps:

Stratford Station:

Heading to the Olympic Park (lots of mobile phones!):

Great seats, watching the country-side scene unfold:

Audience participation, holding up the sea:

Industrial Revolution:

NHS scene:

Music scene:

2. Testing commentator headsets during Tom Daley’s 10m synchro final – and being caught on the BBC coverage in the process.

Here’s me caught live on TV:

And here’s a photo I took from that very spot:

3. Being on the Olympic park on Super Saturday and listening to the crowd in the Olympic Stadium roaring Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah on to their Gold Medal wins (albeit from outside the stadium). That same evening I witnessed Michael Phelps win his 22nd and final Olympic medal in the 4*100m relay. He was also awarded The Greatest Olympian trophy.

Phelps’ Final Medal Ceremony:

Greatest Olympian:

4. The unconditional, deafening support for every single British swimmer and diver, whether they won or lost.

5. Watching the eventual Olympic Water Polo champions, Croatia, demolish their opposition, it was the first match I’d ever been to and it was a bit of master-class. The physicality of the sport certainly appealed to the rugby player in me.

6. Watching “Our Greatest Team” Parade come close by our Accenture office in London along with thousands of other city workers:

London lunchtime skivers:

Sir Chris Hoy and his medals:

Mobot:

Unexpected Recognition 

Quite a few people have come up to me in the office to ask me how it went. Even the Prime Minister sent me a personal thank-you letter!

In summary, I got so much more out of this experience than I was ever expected to put in. Not a bad return on a few days unpaid leave!  I wonder how I go about volunteering for the Rugby World Cup in 2015… it’s in my home town after all.