The divide

There’s a divide in our world.

Workers at your company live with it every day.

It’s so much a part of our landscape – a part of normal – that many do not see it.

It has to do with our software. You might not care about that yet. But this is short, so stay with me.

Productivity suites and apps are tied to the Web. And Web apps are tied to the desktop. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Oracle, SAP (the MAGOS), all are making sure this happens. This evolution fattens their bottom lines and lets them move to the subscription business models that create the annuities they love to see on their balance sheets. This transition has been happening a long while. It’s mom and apple pie.

And then there are corporate apps – the parts of your world where you touch your company’s data. You might have tens of these. Or even hundreds. Some were built by your IT staff. Some were purchased. Many are Web deployed – via what they used to call your Intranet.

And these do yeoman’s work. Meat and potatoes work. (For vegans, quinoa and kale work.)

These have in common:

  1. They are stovepipes. Sealed off. The databases are closed off unless somebody has spent the effort to pry it open.
  2. They don’t look and feel like each other. They were built or bought at different points in your evolution, from different managers or different companies.
  3. They lock you into infrastructure. Browser types and releases, operating systems, databases, middleware. Whatever, you’re stuck supporting that infrastructure until you move away from them.

Meantime, the MAGOS suites and apps have fewer of these problems. They are open – at least interoperable with other apps from the same vendor. They tend to have a consistent user experience. And they are relatively free of lock-in…

… except they lock you in to a MAGOS .

For most businesses,  it’s tempting to dump the in-house apps and move to vendor suites and accept the lock-in.

Even though the transition will cost. Hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions.

And once that money is spent, you are well and truly locked in.

There has to be a better way.

There is.

Stay tuned.

A transformation

There’s a transformation happening in the world of work.

Most older companies are run on a hierarchical structure. Within that structure they tend to rely on keeping their people in formal roles, and in limiting mobility between roles (promotion to the next level on success, demotion or firing on non-success). Staff must often get the approval from upper hierarchy to make decisions. The thinking is that only executives have the interests of the organization in mind, and that their review of decisions prevents the lower levels from breaking the organization.

Most startups are run flatter, without strictly formalized roles. Decisions are often the result of peer review or even are allowed unilaterally. New projects form, are marketed, integrated, absorbed, in a flurry of massive creativity. Startups then will either (after some time – months or years) succeed enough to discover and build a working business, and gain funding from customers and/or from investment or acquisition, or they die.

Once they move past being a startup, they tend to turn into the other kind of organization – with formal roles, with formal planning and management by the “traditional” hierarchical structure.

Most A workers – the creative people that make new products and process ideas – prefer the flatter organization as it prevents the organization from stifling their new ideas and creativity. Most B and C workers prefer the hierarchy as it absolves them of responsibility.

What’s the result? Startups get the creative gold and the A players. Older organizations stratify and die.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

solve your training problem with software

I’m a software designer and manager of people by trade, and a trainer by necessity.

I want to solve a problem we managers have.

The Problem

I hire new developers to work on our software products. My approach is “hire for talent, not skills.” E.g., I hire based on raw talent and engineering, without caring much about their “previous skills” in particular computer languages, operating systems or particular technologies. So I hire future engineering geniuses, and working for us, they gain specific skills in languages and technologies while working on our team and eventually become brilliant, productive, creative developers working on our products.

So how do we get them productive? We train them. We show them how to debug JavaScript, and how to code SQL, and how to use SVN to commit changes to our code, and our tools and methods for functional and unit testing – which are always going to be different than other companies codes, methods, processes, etc.

After years of this, I’ve got a basic metric. It takes 12-18 months to get a new developer fully productive. During that time we’re paying them a salary and benefits, and it’s taking more effort from other staff and me to get up to speed – by far – than they’re returning to us in ideas and quality code. We’re fixing the bugs they accidentally introduce. We’re showing them how to use tools. Etc.

Sure, we use Agile process and team-building is continuous and we build knowledge base wikis and keeping our knowledge stored and accessible in other ways. Yes, we actively write down  every part of everyone’s job that we can isolate and identify. But it changes all the time. We change tools. We change methods. We adopt new processes. So we’re always rewriting. It never ends.

It’s the expense and effort and time and lost productivity I’m getting at here.

Aside: Some managers hire for skills; they get people who might need some less training in some areas. But can we agree that every manager, no matter what industry they are in, or what types of staff they need, has to train new people in what’s proprietary about their company, what tools they use, their processes. No staff is instantly productive.

The questions

  • What is your time to productivity for staff? Do you have a “productivity problem” for new staff or even for job changes?
  • What processes do you use to solve this? What do they cost (time or money or both)?
  • What tools do you use to solve this? What do they cost? (time, setup, maintenance, money)?

The framework

I’ll lay some suggestions as to a framework for answers, that is, if you’re going to contribute ideas:

  1. Always say what industry you’re in, the positions for which you’re training, your hiring philosophy.
  2. Characterize the people you’re training (mindset, skill set, personality). If it’s varied, specify a couple examples.
  3. State your metrics: time to productivity, hours spent per person for training. etc.
  4. Say what tools and processes you use that make it easier. Use names – and point to websites if you like.
  5. Be honest about your biggest challenges – don’t worry about impressing anyone. These could be challenges with the people, with the budget, with the tools, or anything else I can’t think of. For this exercise we need to see your pains, and I will always share mine.
  6. Lastly, and I hate to have to say it, but: please be polite, and considerate of everyone’s time. No spamming, no selling productivity products, no insults or smarter-than-thou stuff. Don’t criticize other people, don’t brag on yourself. and don’t make us wade through ads. Be of help.