Spring Cleaning Time for SharePoint Sites

We have been deeply involved in a cleanup of our SharePoint portal plan for the last several weeks and I thought I would share with you some of our observations because I know most of you with both Internet and intranet sites that are more than a few years old probably share the same issues we do. Our Internet and intranet portals have been around for 9 and 8 years respectively and over time, a lot of ‘junk’ has accumulated. The example I like to use is that it is similar to the way your email slowly fills up with ‘junk’ over time. For example, if you received 20 emails a day, but only have time to address 19 of them, you may go home feeling pretty good about the amount of work you got done. However, that 1 email you did not get to if you consider have only 1 email that you do not get to each day over the course of a typical work year can amount to over 250 emails. Of course, if you get more than 20 emails and the number that you do not get to is greater than 1, that total can expand much more rapidly.

So how do you get a handle on the problem? You could simply delete anything older than 2 weeks old, but that might delete important email messages that you really need to see. On the other hand, the email that you received yesterday and did not get to may be a total waste of time. Clearly the age of the email is not the only deciding factor. Maybe you choose to delete all emails from people outside of your department. Unfortunately, some of those emails from other departments may be more important than the email that circulated around asking people where they wanted to go to lunch on Friday. You could delete anything that comes from outside of the company. That would certainly help keep you focused on your work, but you would also miss notifications of appropriate training or white papers relevant to your job.

Thus you can see that cleaning out your inbox can be more complex than any simple rule or a set of rules (although they may help). It is also important to perform that cleanup on a more frequent basis than once every year. One a month may not be too often and even once a week perhaps on Friday afternoon as you are winding down for the week might be a good choice.

In a similar way, if you have both an Internet and intranet portal (hey, even if you only have a collaboration site), periodic cleanup is still something you need to consider doing. If nothing else, cleaning out old obsolete content will make search run faster and return more relevant results. So here are a few tips that may help you perform your own portal cleanup.

10 Steps for site owners to consider when performing their next portal cleanup:

  1. Remove obsolete or unnecessary sites – Sites where all content pages/documents have not been updated for 2 or more years are candidates.
  2. Examine all pages for duplicate or obsolete content and update or remove – This could result in removing the page itself if all content on the page is obsolete and removed.
  3. Remove obsolete/duplicate documents/files – Multiple instances of files all get indexed and results in bloating the search results with many invalid entries that do not point to the most recent data. Delete obsolete/duplicate files.  Burn copies onto a DVD if you want to keep them.  Adding them to your intranet site or collaboration site is not a valid solution.
  4. Remove content that appears on other sites for your organization that you do not own – Copying/duplicating content that appears on other sites within your organization bloats search results and diminishes the relevance rating of the correct document if multiple occurrences exist.  Any content not ‘owned’ by the department should be removed and replaced with a link to the content on the ‘true’ owner’s site.
  5. Remove content found on sites outside your organization – Not only is this a potential copyright issue, but updates made to the content on the ‘true’ source will not be reflected in the copied content resulting in misinformation.  Just link to external content.
  6. Clean out your calendar/announcements – If your site has a calendar or an announcements list, clean out old events that are no longer relevant.  This will improve the performance of the calendar and/or announcement list.
  7. Consolidate sites – Sometimes subsites were create when all that was needed was another page on the site that owns the subsite (parent site).  Unless the subsite requires a different set of permissions (owners, content managers, approvers, etc.) you may be able to simplify your site structure by moving content/pages/documents up a level.  This will also improve navigation and reduce the number of clicks to find the content you need.
  8. Remove content that really does not need to be public – For any content item (subsite/page/document) ask yourself if anyone in the public really needs to see this content on a public web site or whether it just clutters the public facing sites with content that no one really looks at.  Perhaps all you need is a ‘Contact Us’ link for anyone in the public to request additional information if necessary.  Some current public content probably should only be internal intranet content.  If so, move it there if it does not already exist and delete the public version.
  9. Do not duplicate content between the Internet and intranet – If the content needs to be seen by both the public and organization’s employees, place the content on the Internet and only add links to that content from the intranet. Don’t place the content on both and definitely don’t place the content only on the intranet.
  10. If content is not owned, remove it – If you have current Internet content that is not officially owned consider removing it.  Content that is not owned probably is not updated.  If the content is necessary, an owner for the content must be identified.

Well, that’s it for this time. C’ya.

Riding the Rails to Work

This morning I rode the new SunRail train to work. Our light rail commuter train just went into operation here in Orlando last week and for the next week or so is free. So why not try it? Right? If you have ever been to any major city with a great rail and bus system, you know the value of these types of system. For example, in New York City I’ve been able to get from the airports to downtown Manhattan and even get around town exclusively via the bus and train system. In Seattle, the light rail was able to get me from the airport to downtown where I was staying for less than $3.00. Taxi riders paid as much as $40. I even met a Microsoft employee who works in downtown Seattle who takes the light rail to and from work daily. So when they announced plans for a light rail in Orlando, I knew right from the start that I would have to try it.

Currently, each train only has two passenger cars, but each car has two levels. The lower level gets used mostly by people who bring their bikes to either get to the station from home or from the station to work. On the upper level seating is very comfortable and is arranged in groups of four seats. Some groups have a small table between them. The trains are very well lit. In fact, some people on the early morning train have asked if the lights could be dimmed so they could sleep, but that is not an option.

On the other hand, the trains all support free WiFi and even power outlets if you need them. So I pulled out my iPad and was able to get through both my work and personal email on the ride into work. You cannot do that in your car or at least you should not be doing that unless you are carpooling and someone else is driving. Another thing you cannot do in your car on the way to work is use the restroom facilities which you can do on the train (although I did not try that), but still, it is just one more reason to consider taking the train. Oh, and texting while you ride is definitely allowed on the train.

But the best reason to take the train was that: “There is no traffic!” One of the major corridors through Orlando from the north to the south is the multi-lane I-4. Even at 6 AM, the traffic can be quite heavy although it usually moves well unless there is an accident. In the evening, going home is significantly worse. But even when the traffic moves, you still have to contend with the Type A personality drivers who have hang onto your back bumper until they can find a small gap in the lane next to you to slip around and get a car or two ahead. And no longer will I have to worry about those crazy motorcyclists pulling wheelies at 65 mph going down the highway and weaving in between cars.

After the free period ends, the cost of riding the train will be $2.00 for a one way ticket plus $1.00 for every county you cross. However, there will also be round trip tickets, 7-day passes, 30-day passes, and even an annual pass. Discounts of 50% are offered to seniors, students, and disabled individuals. There is even an extra 10% bonus for buying a pre-paid card with $10 to $300 on it. You need to consider how much you spend on gas and wear and tear on your car. Maybe you even pay to park downtown. If most of your driving is to and from work, you may quality for a reduction in your car insurance by taking the train. But best of all you can arrive at work or at home at the end of day without having to deal with the stress of driving. And that last factor will only become more important when they start the new I-4 widening project later this year. Construction during the widening will make an already bad commute even worse in the interim. And for those environmentally conscious folks, every train rider is one less car on the road pumping out carbon dioxide.

Yes, I know that Orlando still does not have the infrastructure for public transportation like New York City, Philadelphia, London, and many other large cities, but this could be a step in the right direction. Kudos to Orlando for taking that step.

C’ya next time.

Just Give Me the Steps

“Just give me the steps I need to know to get my job done. I don’t really care about why those are the steps or what else you can do with the software/tool/machine. I don’t care about your videos or your in-class training sessions. Just give me the steps in a nice neat printed list that I can use and let me get out of here.” Does that sound like one of your training classes? While I hope not, that attitude toward training has become increasingly prevalent.

We provide SharePoint training to what I sometimes call ‘reluctant’ users. These are users that were told they had to come to class because they are now responsible for their department or project sites. They never built a web site before in their lives and their only familiarity with on-line web sites is when they go to MSN to check the latest news, visit Facebook or go download their e-mail. Their approach to learning how to build web sites with web parts, content editing, approval workflows and page layout issues is a cross between fear, dread, and loathing. But now they sit in your class with arms crossed just waiting for time to pass. You can tell the ones pretty quickly. They are on their phone, not to text back what they are learning to their staff, but rather to play Candy Crush or Flappy Bird. Sometimes they are just sitting in the back of the room talking to their co-captives about where they can go eat when the class breaks for lunch.

Of course, not everyone falls into that category. Some people come to training sessions excited about what they are about to learn and anxious to implement their new skills when they leave. But those few people who really do not want to be there tend to ‘poison the well’. I tend to favor explaining the concepts behind how different aspects of the software system work so that people can adapt those concepts to new situations, often in ways that I would not have anticipated since I do not intimately know all aspects of their jobs. And these shining stars exist and it is for them that people who do training get the most job satisfaction.

However, over the years (and I have been teaching computer classes since the days of the TRS-80 and Apple II) there have always been those who want some kind of magic list of all the steps they need to do, complete with illustrations, for the very specific task they need to accomplish at the moment. Perhaps I’m a bit old-fashioned, but I consider this approach more of a one-on-one mentoring or custom training. I have even seen computer books written like cookbooks with step-by-step instructions on how to solve specific problems. However, these books do not help much when your problem falls outside of the narrow scope of the examples covered. Therefore, it is my opinion that it is not the goal of a general training class to provide a cookbook style set of instructions to using a programming language or a very generic piece of software such as Word, Excel, or even SharePoint.

I do recognize that times have change and different people learn in different ways. To that extent, I tend to encourage the use of a combination of classroom style training along with written documentation, whitepapers, websites, and videos. I also recognize that no matter what approach is used for an individual training class, those individuals that really do not want to be there will always find fault in something about the way the training was conducted. One might say the material covered was too general while the next person may say that it was too complex. Someone else may complain that the pace of covering the material was too fast for them to keep up while someone else may comment that they only got to the ‘good’ stuff by the end of the day. Some people protest when new functionality is introduced by using written documentation only because they are visual learners. Yet others at in-person class training lament that they could have gotten the same information from written instructions and would have been done in half the time and then they would have something to go back to later. We have even had people complain that videos of the training they are currently attending and can watch over and over again do not help them learn how to do their specific job.

I suppose the comment that bugs me the most is when people complement us on our training generally, but then follow that up with a ‘but’, such as, “The training was great, but it did not show me the exact steps I needed for my job.” So I sat back last night and wondered whatever happened to the need to learn fundamentals first so that the person could apply what they learned to any situation. You learn the fundamentals on how to drive so that you can drive on any road. Similarly, learning the fundamentals of how to play an instrument allows a musician to pick up any music sheet and learn to play that song. Of course, you could argue that merely knowing the fundamentals of a sport will not make you an Olympic medal winner. Simply knowing how to drive will not land you the poll position at the next Daytona 500. Nor will your ability to read sheet music make you the next pop super star. However, in all cases, a firm grasp of the fundamentals were a necessary starting point for those who do succeed.

So will I change the way I approach training software? Probably not substantially. I believe that approaching your job, if it is knowledge based, requires more than just the ability to follow a set of pre-defined steps. There typically is not enough time or infrastructure to support building the style of ‘cookbooks’ lists for each knowledge-based task that you might find in manufacturing tasks. In additional providing a combination of in-person training along with printed documentation and videos for every possible alternative is not always feasible, especially not for small organizations or teams. Maybe we need to place a greater emphasis on learning the fundamentals so we can apply that knowledge to whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. Perhaps that should also factor into our hiring practices by looking for people who show that they have been adaptable to changes and new systems in the past and have a demonstrated willingness to learn and succeed.

C’ya later.

Droning On and On

Earlier this week Jeff Bezos of Amazon announced their ambitious plan to deliver products ordered online to the customer within 30 minutes.  Of course this promise comes with a major caveat, that being that the customer must live within a 10-mile radius of an Amazon distribution center.  I guess that means that they will need to build distribution centers around the country like Walmart builds stores.  Anyway, how is Amazon planning to achieve this 30-minute goal?  By using drone aircraft of course.

Drone aircraft?  I’m not sure if these will be remotely piloted or whether they will have artificial intelligence to avoid things like bridges, fly balls over ball parks, other drones, tall buildings, or even Superman.  I’m sure some of these details remain to be worked out.  Jeff did say that one hurtle is getting FAA approval for low flying aircraft.  I suppose that includes concerns about sharing airspace with things like traffic helicopters, news helicopters, and emergency helicopters.  Maybe they will define different altitudes for travel in different directions like they do for commercial flights.

Jeff also stated that the program would be piloted (pun intended) in New York and Los Angeles, two densely populated cities which would cover a lot of potential customers using the 10-mile radius limitation.  But my question for such densely populated areas is how does a drone deliver a package to a customer on the 10th floor of a high rise apartment building?  Do they drop the package by parachute or just try to shoot it through an open window?  Perhaps the customer lives in a townhouse instead.  Will the GPS be accurate enough to deliver the package to the right doorstep and not allow it to drift in the breeze to a neighbor’s door?  And if the package is delivered to the wrong doorstep, who is responsible?

Another thing to consider is what happens when the mechanism that grips the package, which by the way could weigh up to 5 pounds, fails and the package falls from the drone onto your car are you drive down the street or on a person walking around the block or on two young lovers kissing in the park?

What if these drones are remotely piloted and the ‘pilots’ start to play ‘war games’ and start competing with each other earning points for what they hit with their packages?  Once they start doing that, it is a small step to begin arming their drones with little guns or perhaps even a small high powered laser.  Soon we might have dogfights in our sky with Amazon trying to shoot down Overstock who is trying to laser NoMoreRack who is trying to crash into Land’s End and on and on.  The fallout, literally, from these dogfights will rain down on pedestrians as millions of dollars in merchandize goes undelivered to the sound of crying children on Christmas morning when their toys, ordered by their parents (or guardians), fails to show up because they were shot down a mere two blocks from a safe delivery.

Extreme?  Yes! But it is the Christmas season where people stay up all night or even camp out by their favorite stores to get the latest ‘got-to-have’ toy or electronics.  So is it that hard to believe parents going out to shoot down drones carrying the latest Play Station 47 or Xbox GX9 before it can be delivered to the Jones family down the street?

Well it is the Christmas season, the time of year retailers live for.  So who knows what will happen when Amazon launches their drones.  Tis the season to think and be wary, fa-la-la-la-la…..

C’ya next time.

What Have I Been Up To?

Last week I was at the PASS Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina.  It was my second time attending the summit and also my second time speaking at the summit.  I think they said that this was something like the 15th year for the summit.  There is nothing like getting together with a couple thousand other professionals who have professional and/or personal interests in the same things you do. It is an opportunity to talk with collegues that you may only communicate with through email or twitter throughout the rest of the year.  It is also a chance to reconnect with existing friends and to make new friends who share the same interests as you.

This year, the number of sessions dedicated to business intelligence and the Microsoft BI stack has grown.  Part of that is that the BI stack itself has expanded with everything from the tabular model in SSAS to augment the multidimensional model to Data Quality Services (DQS), Master Data Services (MDS), Power Pivot, Power View, Power Map, Power Query and Power Q&A.  (If you would like to try some of the latest members of the BI stack, go to: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel/power-bi-FX104080667.aspx ).  Of course, PASS also supports a separate BI conference that is scheduled for the spring.  However, the interest in business intelligence was especially interesting to me because of my personal interest in the entire stack of tools since the introduction of PowerPivot several years ago.

Personally, I’m looking forward to one more SQL Saturday this year, the Tampa SQL Saturday, BI Edition (http://www.sqlsaturday.com/248/eventhome.aspx ) which happens on November 9th.  I will also be speaking there so if any of you have an interest in BI topics, come out to Tampa in a little over 2 weeks and say, ‘Hi!’.  The BI edition of SQL Saturday was founded in Tampa several years ago by Jose Chinchilla and I’m glad to have been a part of each subsequent annual event.

Other events that are coming up are the monthly meetings of both Orlando SQL groups.  The south group, MagicPASS (http://magicpass.sqlpass.org/ although I don’t think the web site has been updated), will be meeting in Celebration, FL on Wednesday, October 23rd and the north group, OrlandoPASS (http://orlando.sqlpass.org/ ), will be meeting in Sanford, FL on Thursday, October 24th.  If you are more into SharePoint, there is a meeting of the Tampa SharePoint group on Tuesday, October 22nd at 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM at the Microsoft Office, Tampa (https://www.eventbrite.com/event/8853808981/).  It is a busy week as you can see.

The other news that you may have already heard is that the CTP2 of SQL Server 2014 was released last week during the PASS Summit.  I have not looked into 2014 yet so I don’t have a recommendation one way or the other.  However, if you have processes that would benefit from improved performance, the new Hekaton engine in SQL 2014 may be able to provide some performance improvement with very little effort (read that as no program changes).  During the Summit, the Thursday keynote was presented by David DeWitt who tried to explain the technology behind how Hekaton achieves its performance gains.  Most people left the keynote with their heads hurting trying to understand the magic behind the technology.  However, it seems like the magic might be summarized by the combination of the elimination of latches and locks thus reducing the amount of contention when accessing data along with efficiencies with the new column store method allowing more data to be read into memory reducing disk access for many operations.  Of course that may be too simple and probably incomplete.  Afterall, my head started to hurt as well.

Well, that’s it for this week.  I guess it was more of a summary of what I’ve been up to and why I did not have much time to post any blogs for the last two weeks.  I’m sure my text here does not even begin to do justice to the excitement of the summit,  so perhaps it would be better if I just left you to go out to the summit site and watch some of the interviews and keynote talks here: http://www.sqlpass.org/summit/2013/PASStv.aspx.

C’ya next time.

Wisdom, Not Brilliance, Will Make a Difference

Ok, it has been a tough week for me, but I need to get back into things.  I recently was catching up on listening to some of my older webcasts.  One in particular from back in early 2009 caught my ear and I thought I would share some of the insights I got with you.  The specific webcast was part of the TED Talks series and was presented by Barry Schwartz.  It was a very passionate presentation because Barry really believes in the  importance of his topic.  However, I know people who would call him angry and mad, unable to control his emotions, and danger to have around ‘real’ people.  Unfortunately, these people don’t understand the difference between passion and anger.  That is too bad, because passion is often what drives progress.  Well, let’s see what Barry says.

Barry began by talking about the typical job description.  Most jobs simply list the things that the individual should or sometimes should not do.  They rarely if ever go into interpreting the way the person in that job should interact with others.  Oh sure there are simple comments like the employee should work well with others, but what does ‘work well with others’ really mean?  Does it mean that the employee should simply follow the rules given to them by their boss and walk lock-step like an android with never any additional thought about why the rules are there or whether there should ever be a reason to disobey a rule.

Barry tells several stories such as the janitor who stopped mopping a floor at a hospital even though he was told to get it done now because he saw a patient trying to walk up and down the hall with a walker after an operation.  Another hospital employee refused to vacuum the carpet in the waiting room because there were some people in the waiting room who had been up all night with a sick relative and were trying to catch a little nap before going back into their family member’s room.  While these were hospital related examples, I remembered them because I related to how nurses would come into a darkened room in the middle of night and turn on the bright lights just to take a patient’s vitals.  Can’t they have a lower wattage night-light rather than waking up the patient every 2 hours? I thought sleep was suppose to be healing?  Can’t the vitals be obtained remotely?  Or how about the buzzers and alarms on the electronic equipment at night?  Do they really have to be that loud?  Isn’t it possible in this day and age to have them automatically signal the nurse’s station or send a text message directly to the nurse’s cell phone so they can get the message no matter where they are?

Where is the kindness, caring, and empathy in today’s world?  Where is the moral will to do what is right rather than simply what some procedure says to do or what will cost the least amount of money?  Having to make many phone calls to various people lately I can tell you that I am sick and tired of answering machines that pick for people that are either not at their desk, on another call, or simply do not want to answer that say, “Your call is important to us.  Please leave a message and we will get back to you as soon as possible.”  Four hours later you might get a call back.  Sometimes it is the next day.  In either case, I have to ask how important was my call to them really?

A wise person knows when to ignore the rules and when to improvise for the greater good of the customer, patient, or client.  They treat rules as guidelines, but not absolutes, not as limitations.  They depend on their experience to choose the better path.

Barry then goes on to tell the story about a father and son at a baseball game.  I actually remember seeing this in the news.  The son was thirsty and wanted a lemonade.  The father went to the concession stand and bought a Mike’s Hard Lemonade which was a relatively new product at the time.  He really did not know this product had alcohol in it.  (I see you snickering.) Anyway, he brought it back for his son and an employee of the stadium saw the boy with the lemonade and called the police.  The father was arrested and they tried to move the boy to foster care.  It took two weeks for things to be straightened out and the father reunited with his son.  The point is that a simple conversation could have solved the issue without all of the expense of an ambulance, police, courts, foster homes, judges, and more.  Wisdom would have solved the problem in minutes while procedures cost everyone time and money for what was a simple mistake.

Brilliance is nothing without wisdom.  Even the most brilliant person can look stupid if they don’t apply their brilliance to know when and how to apply rules.  Take away a person’s ability to think and just blindly follow rules and you take away the growth of their moral skills.  Furthermore, too many rules can lead to stagnation.  Providing incentives on top of those rules takes away a person’s understanding of doing what is right unless they are paid for doing it.

Barry also maintains that we all need to build character starting with students in our schools.  We need to teach them how to respect themselves, how to respect their school mates, respect their teachers and staff, and respect learning.  Everything, he maintains, follows from that.

Is Barry right?  Perhaps.  At the very least, it should make us pause to consider.  All I can say is that it is all about what you do and how you do it.  Practical wisdom, not blind obedience to rules, will help you make a positive contribution.  That type of wisdom does not require brilliance, but it does require practice building your moral skill and moral will.  If your organization does not support you building those skills, then even the best employee forced to constantly swim upstream will give up and never really soar with the eagles.

Thanks Barry for a very insightful presentation.

C’ya next time.

It Is Not About The Metadata!

A while back I was at a meeting in which the topic of discussion was how hard it was to find any documents on the SharePoint portal.  The site collection in question was created four years ago and while the initial structure of the site made sense aligning itself along department and function boundaries, things have changed since then.  More importantly, many of the original site owners have moved on and new site owners were never selected.  That was problem #1.

Users of the site were encouraged to place documents on the site.  However, they treated the site much like they would a network share dumping everything on the site in a series of nested folders within folders within folders within folders…  Well, you get the idea.  The site nesting was not much better.  As a result, getting to any file was a complex series of branching that could easily confuse the person looking for a file.

Problem #3 is related to problem #1.  Obsolete files and information from a year, two years, and even three years ago still sits on the site and has not been updated.  I say that this problem is related to problem #1 because when a site does not have an active owner, no one looks at the content of the site with a critical eye as to what should be there and whether the information has been kept up to date.

None of these problems can be solved by magic.  If only that were true.  Switch to a new software product will never fix a problem if the users continue to try to work and do things like they always did before.  New systems give you an opportunity to change the way you work.  Hopefully this leads to better systems.  But trying to force new systems to work the same as old systems and then claim that the new system is no better than the old system is just plain silly.

So why not just use the SharePoint search functionality to find the files?  Great idea if you craft your search based on moderately unique words or phrases found within the document, something I do all of the time.  The problem is that it takes more creativity that perhaps an equivalent search using Google.  But that is not a fair comparison either because Google constantly performs analytics over millions of searches to determine which searches are successful and then they rank return results based on that information among other techniques.

Unfortunately, doing the same thing in SharePoint requires additional work that many smaller organizations do not have time or resources to do.  So the solution I offered was to restructure the sites and folders to flatten the structure considerable while at the same time adding metadata to libraries to classify the documents.  Yes, it would take time to determine what that metadata should be.  But once defined, we could add that information back as managed metadata to help classify future documents.  After all, search can also take advantage of metadata to help narrow your search.

But the answer I got was that metadata was ‘too hard’ for the system’s users to figure out and manage.  Then the person who said that it was too hard started to pitch a different system in which people could store the data that would make it easier to find individual documents.  After moving most of the documents out of SharePoint into their new system, they would consider restructuring what was left in SharePoint.

The whole argument of ‘too hard’ struck me as odd coming from a professional. I remember a time many years ago when I was told by a secretary that using a word processor was ‘too hard’ compared to using her trusty typewriter.  Fortunately, the department head at the time believed in the future of PCs and convinced the secretary to just try it.  Of course, the test was rigged a bit.  The department head asked the secretary to type a three page letter that needed to get out and then proceeded after each time the secretary finished to edit the resulting letter to add, delete or otherwise modify the letter.  Using a manual typewriter meant retyping the entire letter.  Next he took a progress report to be sent to management and asked the same secretary to use the PC to type the report and then print a copy for his review.  Again he mercilessly modified the report.  But this time, the changes could be made quickly by just entering the changes, not retyping the entire report.  After a ‘few more’ documents were created both ways, the secretary actually came to the manager asking to have the typewriter removed so she would have room on her desktop for the computer and keyboard.

Another example of ‘too hard’ is when we tell children that math and science is ‘too hard’.  If enough people tell children this lie including peers and adults, they begin to believe it and stop even trying.  In fact, they begin to use the ‘excuse’ that it is ‘too hard’ when they don’t do well on homework and tests.  Since many adults believe math is too hard, they accept the excuse and give the child a pass on their poor grades.

I recently was having a conversation with another professional about my same age and when I told him what I do for a living, his response was, “Isn’t that too hard for a person our age?”  Really?  If it were socially acceptable, I would have slapped some sense into him right then and there.

But saying that metadata is too hard is not what really ticked me off.  A few days after this initial discussion about what to do to better organize the files in this SharePoint site, the person who told me that metadata was ‘too hard’ pitched their concept to management using this other non-SharePoint tool that would use ‘metadata’ to classify the documents to make them easy to find.

Stunned! It is really not about the metadata is it?  It is really not about how hard or how easy it is for users to learn a new system is it?  It is really not about the best use of corporate resources and using what one has to the best of its abilities is it?  It is really just about pushing a personal agenda.

C’ya next time.

Sharing Knowledge in the New Year

Sharing Knowledge in the New Year

Many of you may work with co-workers who guard the information they have like they are guarding the gold in Fort Knox.  Perhaps they believe that if only they have specific information, they will become invaluable to the organization and receive immunity to layoffs.  They may even intellectually understand the value of better collaboration, but the emotions of uncertainty in most jobs today can overpower what a person knows should be the best way for them to act.

Maybe one of your co-workers is more comfortable working on their own rather than as part of a team.  Before blaming them, you may want to consider that at one time they were on a team in which other team members took advantage of them by letting them do all of the work while expecting the credit to be shared equally by all team members.  When management condones this type of behavior or is just ignorant that it is occurring in the first place, better performing team members soon start to look for other ways to individually shine on tasks belonging to only them.

At the same time, management needs to become more aware of situations when all members of the team do not appear to participate.  If management waits too long to act, the outstanding performers eventually realize that these other team members are consciously or unconsciously taking advantage of the work they are doing and they begin to withhold information.  In a successful team, all team members must pull together.  You cannot have a few members of the team pulling the sleigh while the rest sit on the sleigh and go along for the ride.  (I just had to have a seasonal analogy.)

Does this mean that everyone has to be part of every single task?  I fundamentally disagree with the notion that everyone in a team or department must know all aspects of everyone else’s job.  A carpenter does not pretend to be an electrician and an electrician does not attempt to do the work of a plumber.  Sure they may know a little about these other jobs, but they are not experts.  So why does management assume that all IT staff are interchangeable?  There are many specialties in IT just like in construction.  A good manager encourages his/her team members to diversify their skills so they augment each other, not duplicate each other.  No one person can be an expert in all areas of IT.  However, everyone should be expected to be an expert in at least one area.  Project teams should then be structured to make the best use of the specialties of each staff member.  In such an environment, people may not feel like they have to protect the expertise they have developed on their own time to benefit others who are too lazy or unprofessional to develop an area of expertise on their own.  In groups of true professions with different areas of expertise, collaboration and sharing of information makes the entire group greater than the sum of the individuals.

Another concern is the manager who does not share information with his/her direct reports.  Sure there may be some information that should be retained at specific levels within the organization, but if a manager never shares information with their direct reports, they appear aloof and out-of-touch with their staffs.  Furthermore, when workers only find out what is going on from their fellow co-workers who work for managers who are more open with sharing information, a lack of trust begins to develop.  The team members begin to doubt that their manager considers them part of the larger team.  At best, this could cause the team to become guarded in everything they say and do rather than freely share information.  However, it could also encourage better performers to begin looking for other positions in the hope that they can work in a more ‘open’ environment.

Since it is New Year’s Day and a time for New Year’s resolutions, perhaps one of the resolutions you might want to consider is how to more openly communicate with your co-workers.  If you have direct reports, do you share information with them on a regular basis, perhaps at weekly team meetings?  How about the co-workers at your level?  Do you regularly communicate with them about what you and your team are doing?  Could you develop some synergism between groups by sharing information between groups rather than letting everyone work within their own silos?

And while you are evaluating your communication skills, think about how well you communicate at home with family, neighbors, and other people.  I won’t even ask the question how many of you even know your neighbors on a first name basis, where they work, and what their interests are?  Perhaps you could improve your communication by changing your perspective to see how others see you?

Change is hard.  Improving collaboration in a time of cut-backs and downsizing can be even harder as the natural tendency of most workers is to guard information they have even tighter than before.  Maybe it is time for management to show that they recognize and appreciate collaboration by rewarding those employees who share their knowledge and help mentor others rather than trying to be ‘fair’ by rewarding all employees equally which is anything but fair.

Well, New Year’s Day is a time for dreaming and wishing isn’t it?

C’ya later.

Light Rail in Orlando and Seattle

Recently our town of Orlando has started building stations for a new light rail system.  The first phase of the project will run from north of town to south of town going through downtown itself. On the north side, it runs through the very populated area of Maitland and Altamonte Springs.  That will be great for their commuters coming into town to work.  We do not live in that part of town.  We live southwest of Orlando close to the Universal Studios and International Drive area, a big tourist area to say the least.  But the light rail will not come anywhere near us.

In fact, the southern route of the light rail will not go to Disney.  It will not go to the airport.  It will not go to the Florida mall.  It will not go anywhere near the outlets.  It will not go to the Orange County Convention Center.  Sadly, it will not go anywhere near anything that might help tourists get around.

Why do I want the light rail to help tourists?  Well, for one reason, we were just in Seattle Washington about a month ago and we took advantage of the light rail system there to get from the airport to downtown Seattle where our hotel was located as well as the convention center.  At a cost of only $2.75 for a one-way ticket, it certainly beats the $30 taxi ride alternative.  Sure there were several stops between where we got on and where we got off, but only about 10.  Depending on the time of day and thus the traffic conditions, the 45-minute ride may have even been faster than a taxi.

The train cars were a bit older than since the light rail in Seattle has been around for a while, but they were still comfortable.  My only complaint/recommendation to them is that since the line goes to the airport, an area to place luggage might keep the aisles from being cluttered with people’s travel bags.  I even met a person on my ride back to the end of the conference going to the airport who works for the marketing department of a major company in the Seattle area.  He told me that he takes the light rail every day to and from work.  It is less stressful than driving into town and he does not have to pay to park his car in one of the parking garages in part compensating him for the cost of riding the rail.  He usually spends the time reading the news on his Windows Phone or reviewing work documents or doing email so that when he gets home, he has more free time for his family.

I know the local light rail in Orlando tried to save money by using the existing train tracks used and owned by freight carriers.  They made a deal with them for access during certain daylight hours while freight trains were routed around the western side of the county to avoid the downtown tracks.  I’m sure that saved a lot of money, but if the train does not go where it is convenient for users, they will not use it.  Originally, one of the alternatives was to have the tracks go down the center of I-4 to the International Drive area.  I don’t know if cost or other facts squashed that proposal, but the new line reminds me of a road we use to call ‘The Road to Nowhere’ in Reading Pennsylvania.  That road was built as part of a proposed by-pass around town, but funding stopped after only a small segment was built which essentially went,… well… nowhere.

To get to the nearest station for the Orlando light rail from my house would be about the same distance as I would need to drive downtown and in fact, the traffic to and from the station over the existing road would be involve more traffic and probably more time.  Even if they eventually added a line from that station that extended from the Orlando airport at one end to International Drive/Universal area at the other end, it would be inconvenient and more time consuming because of transferring between trains. (Sort of like the difference between direct flights between two cities and flights with one or more stops where you have to run from one end of the airport to the other to get to your connecting flight.)

I wish them luck and success, but unfortunately, I don’t think the southern end at least will be of much help to me.

C’ya next time.

Freedom Of Religion, Not Freedom From Religion

The other day I was at Costco as we often do some of our weekly shopping there.  Of course they already have many of their Christmas items out as well as items for Hanukah.  It seems like each year the holiday items go on sale earlier and earlier.  With such a big emphasis on holiday sales boosting the bottom line of many retail establishments, I guess that should not be surprising.  However, that is not my point.

As I walking down one of the main aisles to the back of the store, I passed a nativity scene display.  Actually, there were two displays with a stack of boxes between them.  The figures were not quite life size, but nearly so.  The figure of Joseph held a cane but the cane was separate from the figure.  Anyway, as I was passing, I overheard two guys talking by the display.  The one said to the other, “I could use a cane like that.”  The other replied, “Don’t you think that you would go straight to Hell if you took it.”  The first answered, “So, I don’t believe in that.”

I continued to walk to the back of the store for the groceries I came for.  However, when I returned back up the aisle a few minutes later, I noticed as I passed the nativity scene displays, that both canes were missing with Joseph’s hand trying to circle around air.

Now I’m not sure those two were the two that took the canes.  I certainly did not see them anywhere in the store.  However, I have to wonder whether the person(s) who took the canes were so poor that they could not afford to buy a cane.  If so, I’m sure Jesus would not condemn them.  Or maybe the crime was just a crime of opportunity with no other significance than to just see if they could get away with it. (Note that does not make it right.)  However, if the person(s) who took the canes did it because they wanted to make a statement against the celebration of one religion’s holiday then they may have more to answer for at some point.  At the very least, just because someone does not respect someone else’s religion does not make it right to damage symbols of that religion, or as in this case to steal canes from a religious display.

The Founding Fathers were not all of one faith as some might have you believe.  In fact, there were several different faiths represented.  Remembering that many of the original colonists came to America from Europe to find religious freedom. (Check out the pilgrim’s reason for coming to America.  It was not just to have a big turkey dinner with the local natives once a year.)  In fact, the importance of freedom of religion was held in such high regard by the founding fathers that they emphasized its importance by making it the beginning of the first amendment as you can read for yourself here:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It is amazing that they were able to express so clearly in a mere 45 words a set of beliefs while the new health care bill consists of several thousand pages that practically no one has read in its entirety much less understands. That is another issue.  Imposing one’s beliefs on another person no matter what the belief is the very definition of intolerance.  One cannot claim that others are intolerant while they themselves are intolerant.  When the government takes sides in such an argument, they are violating the Constitution by respecting the establishment of a religion.  If the government tries to eliminate all displays of religion, it is equally violating the Constitution by prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  Rather people should decide by their vote, political or economic, whether to support businesses or organizations that display one belief over another.  So going back to my story of the canes, if the people who took the canes really despise Christianity and its symbols, they should support stores that support their own beliefs, not steal or damage merchandise from stores that sell merchandise that offends them.

C’ya next time.