Saturday, November 28, 2009

leading vs. managing

I'm an EX minus 3 with no direct reports and no budget. I'm not a manager. Does that mean I'm not a leader?

I'm a software developer so I come at this question with an information architecture approach. I think there are (at least) three key dimensions or facets of leadership in play in our workplaces.

The first is people management - what I'll call the "leadership relationship" is supervisor/subordinate. Supervising is purely an HR function - performance management, learning plans, managing leave, travel, training, etc.

The second is action management. Whether tasks are ongoing or part of one-off projects, there's usually a team involved, so my leadership relationship for this one is team lead/team member. It's the team lead's responsibility to ensure the successful delivery of the project/service/whatever whether the members report to him or not.

The third is competency building. The leadership relationship here is mentor/protegé. The protegé seeks out guidance from the mentor as needed. The mentor coaches the protegé through "stretch" tasks and spreads knowledge via conversation, e-mail, lunch-and-learns, etc. In addition to technical or operational competencies, this can apply to values and ethics, strategic thinking, engagement, and management excellence. The beauty of living in the future, as Wil Wheaton says, is that social networking tools make it easier than ever for the mentor/protegé relationship to cross the boundaries of work units, departments and agencies, and even the government itself.

I think that the larger the organization, the more overlap there is among these facets in any given working relationship between two people. I work in a relatively small IM/IT shop - we don't have the luxury of a lot of specialists. In many projects, the team lead needs to wrangle multidisciplinary resources that don't report to her, and it requires a culture where supervisors don't hoard their subordinates for their own projects.

Maybe the most novel point in all of this for me: it is possible to have team leaders who don't supervise or mentor, supervisors who don't mentor or lead teams, and mentors who don't supervise or lead teams. I don't think it's ideal from an operational standpoint, but we don't work in an ideal world. Supervisors who don't lead teams is the tricky one, as it requires phenomenal communication with team leaders to manage performance effectively.

In terms of building leadership capacity in the context of public service renewal, I think it's incredibly important not to mistake managing for leading. It's easy to let the (very real) need for good people management to blind us to the importance of the other key leadership competencies.

This isn't a fully-formed theory of leadership by any means, but it's something I've thought about off and on over the last several months as my unit undergoes a re-organization. I'm putting it out there, as so often happens, because of a short conversation on Twitter, and I'm hoping it will prompt a conversation in its own right.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

there must be a word for this

You know that feeling you get when you've accomplished something that needed to be done, but at the same time you've neglected something else that was more important or pressing? It's like a blend of pride and shame. I think people with a predisposition to procrastination know this feeling well. It seems like there should be a German word for it, like Schadenfreude - so much meaning packed into 13 letters.

Finished up a web site for the wedding. Great! But the dirty dishes are still in the sink and the laundry won't do itself.

Wrote a blog post about that feeling. Great! Dishes are still in the sink.

(At least I started the laundry.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

the great unplugging

I've got some vacation coming up. Ten consecutive days off work. I'm thinking about trying a Great Unplugging.

No e-mail.

I already have some plans. There's a family reunion. We're cottaging with friends for a bit.

No Google Reader.

Meg and I are probably going to get away for a couple of days by ourselves.

No Twitter.

No Twitter?

No Twitter! No webcomics, no blogs, no interesting links, no nothing. Hide my laptop, put my phone in a drawer for a week.


Am I crazy to think that I could do this? (Um, maybe.)

Am I sure I even want to? (Definitely not.)

My #1 question right now: What does it say about me if I can't?


I'd love to hear from anyone who has tried this. Encouragement would be preferred. :)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

analogy police

This morning, I got to play analogy police.

Is there anyone reading this blog who doesn't also either follow me on Twitter or read Doug Bastien's Government of Canada 2.0 blog?

I didn't think so.

In that case, there's absolutely no point in me mentioning that I've been participating in some interesting discussions here, here, and here. Doug's on a crusade for open Internet access in the Government of Canada, and the comment threads on these posts are full of insightful analysis from many different sides of the issue.

Go. Read. Comment. It's interesting stuff.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Government 2.0: what's in a name?

Today's blog post brought to you by the letters N and D, and by the number 2.

Last week, Nick Charney and Doug Bastien each wrote thought-provoking posts on their blogs. Nick wrote about the problem of public servants who would rather stake out territory than work together across silos and boundaries. Doug wrote on the issue of federal departments blocking employee access to Internet sites. (Twice.) Great discussions ensued in the comment threads, and for me, one theme loomed large across them all: communication being hindered by people with different viewpoints speaking different "languages". For Nick's, it was the territorialists vs. what he called the "synergists", while for Doug's, it was IT vs. "the business".

This notion of "we aren't even speaking the same language" prompted me to come up with three "language" dimensions that I see obstructing clear communication as we all try to move forward with Government 2.0. ("Whatever that means," he said, clumsily foreshadowing his point.)

The first dimension involves the metaphorical "languages" discussed above which are essentially points of view evolved through different experiences, biases, education, what have you.

The second dimension is official languages. Scheming virtuously requires diplomacy and negotiation. I take pride in my ability to craft a convincing argument. In English. I'm less capable in French, despite exemptions in reading comprehension and written expression. We all have differing levels of comfort with our official languages, and I think it's critical to remain aware of that while trying to push an agenda forward within a bilingual workplace.

The third is terminology.

In one of Doug's tweets this weekend, he defined Enterprise 2.0 as "Web 2.0 + KM". I thought it was an interesting take, but too specific. I tend to think of Enterprise 2.0 as simply the application of Web 2.0 tools and practices in an enterprise context and Government 2.0 as Enterprise 2.0 in a government context. I prefer to think of "Web 2.0" as a blanket term covering any area where social interaction, collaboration, content creation, and technology meet. Instant messaging is a Web 2.0 tool as far as I'm concerned - the applications and protocols involved just don't matter to me.

I think Government 2.0 means social, collaborative, internal business processes every bit as much as it does outreach on Twitter, and it does not mean a public-facing blog just delivering press releases with no feedback. To me, Government 2.0 is much more about practices and processes than it is tools.

Records management. Information management. Knowledge management. These terms mean the same thing to some people. They don't to me, but I have only a vague idea of my own distinctions among them. I know I consider software development to be an information management activity, as opposed to an information technology activity, but I think most people look at it the other way around.

Don't even get me started on "cloud computing". As with all too many of the buzzwords we throw around in 2009, there are as many different interpretations as there are people in the room.

None of these "language" obstacles are insurmountable in my opinion. We need to remain aware of them and how they can impact communication, from both sides of a discussion, argument, business case, negotiation, whatever. And when challenging the status quo, I think being prepared to meet people more than halfway can only help us make our case.

Thursday, July 9, 2009 is now

When I decided to start blogging again, it took a while to come up with a name that fit my intentions for the new blog. I was pretty pleased with "" but two things have been bugging me:

1. "" looks like a website address, but it's not.

2. Disclaimer or not, "" might imply that I speak for the government.

This is only my sixth post, so it's not like I have a long and storied history as "". When you move a blog to a custom domain, Blogger will redirect all of your old URLs to your new domain, which is pretty fantastic.

New links:
Post feed
Comment feed

Time for blogging has been hard to come by lately, I've got several topics queued up in my head and no time to get them out. Hopefully soon.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

engagement: the medium is the message

I'm totally cribbing Marshall McLuhan here.

My directorate had an all-day all-staff meeting today. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the ongoing evolution of the unit in the face of the fiscal reality of reduced resources and ever-increasing demands for new and existing services. The irony of losing a full day of time to respond to those demands was not lost on me. Was I looking forward to it? I was not.

Then a funny thing happened. I went to the meeting and felt totally engaged.

It's not that I normally feel unengaged. My director general is CIO and enterprise architect in one and I'm a senior member of the development team. We see a lot of each other and we both speak our minds without hesitation. But for some unknown reason, having our management team pull together forty-odd people into one room for one day, to collaborate on where we go from here, completely energized me.

I was as surprised as anyone.

This got me thinking about different methods of engagement and the ways in which different people respond to them in different situations, particularly with respect to Public Service Renewal. I'm sure there were a few people in the room today for whom the whole affair was soul-numbing, and on some other day, in some other frame of mind, I might have been one of them. Most of the content today was already available in some form on our unit intranet, but for me, the freedom to put aside the day-to-day, to spend one day in give-and-take, to focus on the important instead of the urgent, in person, was what it took to get the message across, to really engage me, and hopefully to engage many of my colleagues as well.

I know the word "message" can connote one-way communication, and in engagement we're talking about collaborating. In an engagement context, I suppose we could think of the invitation to engage as a message that sets the tone, and the dialogue that hopefully ensues as messages in multiple directions. I think the medium transforms each of these, probably in different ways, and I'm going to keep saying "message" to keep the focus on McLuhan, which is kind of the point here. :)

I think this concept also applies to the challenge of the uptake of Web 2.0 tools. I don't think a blog, a wiki, or a discussion forum would have framed today's message nearly as well. Maybe the challenge is to avoid falling into the trap of "I've got a hammer and everything looks like a nail." To consider how the medium transforms the message. To *tailor* the medium to the message. Don't get me wrong. I firmly believe that there is immense untapped potential for Web 2.0 tools in the enterprise and in government. But as evangelists, we occasionally have difficulty recognizing that there actually *are* some things that "ain't broke" and some others where trying to force a message into a Web 2.0 medium actually diminishes the effectiveness of the communication *and* the willingness of the audience to use Web 2.0 tools in scenarios for which they *are* well-suited. While a blog wouldn't have been a good tool for communicating today's messages, it's a perfect tool for keeping the unit up-to-date on the ensuing work as it progresses. Our management team has committed to keeping one, and I think that's fantastic. But we can't always swing the hammer. We are ultimately doing our clients a disservice if they come to perceive our advice as flawed or biased. "Oh, she *always* thinks a wiki is the answer for *everything*. We just ignore her."

Getting back to Public Service Renewal, the challenge for those charged with engaging a large group of people lies in trying to come up with the best medium (or media) to communicate the message as effectively as possible to as many people as possible. That much seems obvious. But as the audience being engaged, we have a challenge of our own. To recognize how various media affect our perception of the messages being transmitted, and to try to move beyond those perceptions. To see the real message without the lens of the medium, *if* that medium is obstructing our capacity to fully engage. Talk about pushing out of your comfort zone. :)

I'm sure a lot of what I've said here will come across as self-evident to many, but my day kind of brought it home for me. I'm just making this up as I go. Then painstakingly editing it for public consumption. :)


En fait, ce n'était pas la fin. I wrote this in Notepad and as I went to review it for the last time, the thought that popped into my head was "You should review this in the Blogger preview pane, the medium is the message, remember?"

It's not always easy being me. :)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

a giant moves on

Thanks to Twitter, I recently learned that Ian E. Wilson had retired from his post as Librarian and Archivist of Canada and joined the University of Waterloo as strategic adviser on the Stratford Institute, one of the anchor hubs in the new Canadian Digital Media Network.

I went to GTEC for the first time last year. Six of us squeezed into a van and drove from Moncton to Ottawa. Mr. Wilson spoke on the last day, the day of the cabinet shuffle, and he plain knocked my socks off.

He spoke passionately about digitization and the preservation of Canadian culture. He spoke on information and knowledge. It was maybe the first time I'd really considered the distinction.

He said information only becomes knowledge when a person learns it and can make use of it, that we have much more information than we do knowledge.

He quoted T. S. Eliot: "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

I was a developer. 13 years in what I thought of as "IT". Gradually coming to think of myself as an IM practitioner. I was eating this stuff up with a spoon.

He said this:

"The real organizational structure is based on how the information flows."

(emphasis mine, from the Westin Hotel notepad on which I hastily scribbled it down)

Socks, consider yourselves knocked off.

All this to say that the federal government's loss is Waterloo's gain, and I wish Mr. Wilson all the best in his new challenge.

Friday, May 29, 2009

campaigning to innovate, redux


How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Open Source Zealots

Actually, I didn't learn that at all. I spent the better part of the week worrying about them, so suave and debonair, with their convincing tales of heightened productivity using and Ubuntu, and their laser cannons, that's right, they're armed, and they're also aliens from the planet Firefox. Fear them!

This is what passes for humour chez Jeff after a long week of trying to brainstorm, encourage, document, and comment. OK, they're not laser-toting aliens, but as a developer and an end user in a predominantly Microsoft environment for a pretty long time, I often felt painted as the one to be feared.

You know what?

Microsoft makes some damn good products that are reasonably priced for the business value they deliver.

That felt better than I thought it would.

I'm way out of my comfort zone playing the evangelist, but some of the comments that I've read on the GC IT Innovation Campaign site this week have gotten my back up. I'm not normally an MS zealot, but I could play one on TV for a few minutes, right?

You want open standards? Try ECMA-376 and ISO/IEC 29500:2008 on for size.

You want the source code? Why on earth? You're a government programmer, for crying out loud. If you have the time to patch security holes yourself, you clearly have too much time on your hands and you're not spending enough of it delivering value to the public you're supposed to serve.

Calc is just as good as Excel? You're talking about the #1 business intelligence tool in the world here. Can you handle a pivot table drilling into an OLAP cube? Maybe. How about building a library of pivot tables, charts, and key performance indicators that a user can drag-and-drop on a web page to build their own custom dashboard? Man, I love Excel Services!

Not to mention that with the guidance of our dev shop, smart people with no traditional systems development experience are building apps with Office and SharePoint, so we can say "yes" to our business owners more than we ever used to doing completely custom development. Now let's talk about productivity!

OK, that was a little exhausting. But kinda fun. That is so not my way, but when faced with the outright negativity of so many people, in what was supposed to be (and was, for the most part) a constructive effort to do a better job as IM and IT practitioners in the public service, I think it was an understandable reaction.

But we pay so much for Microsoft licenses! And Ubuntu is free!

Don't give me that. Talk to me about the total cost of ownership. Talk to me about training. Talk to me about support contracts. Talk to me about manageability. Talk to me about user productivity, translated from hours into dollars. (Time is money, I hear.)

Look, I love that there are free, open source options out there. I've used a lot of them myself, going back to installing Debian on my 386 in 1997, from like a dozen 1.44 MB floppies, to run gcc for school. But they're not for every problem, or for every user. Let "I Am Not My User" be your mantra.

You want free? So do I. I want the freedom to decide for myself, because I know my business better than you do. That freedom hasn't always been extended to people who have wanted to leverage open source offerings in their work, and that's unfortunate, but the other extreme is just as bad.

I know that this issue is more complex and nuanced than this, but complexity and nuance were in short supply in way too many comments on the campaign site. It's been a long week, I'm tired, and I've got to work overtime this weekend. Call this my emotional knee-jerk reaction. But my mind is open to a reasonable debate. I love that I got a thoughtful comment out of nowhere on my first post on the issue.

That is all. *yawn* Good night.

Friday, May 22, 2009

campaigning to innovate

I tweeted this today:

Government of Canada IT Innovation Campaign: Support the good ideas and help crush the bad ones! #gcitic #GoC #cpsr

First off, I love this campaign. A government-wide initiative to gather ideas on improving the development and delivery of programs and services for the Canadian taxpayer? What's not to love? The organizers built a community site where public servants can add ideas, write comments, and vote for the ideas they like. It's just fantastic, and I applaud anyone involved in its implementation.

Here's the thing: not every idea can be a winner.

An all-too-common pattern: "I think we should standardize on <Product X> across the government for <Requirement Y>! <Vendor Z> sucks!" Let's let X = "Firefox", Y = "web applications", and Z = "Microsoft" for the sake of argument. I like Firefox as much as the next guy, but I support a legacy line-of-business web app built on ASP, COM+, and SQL Server, and it's full of IE-specific JScript. We have neither the time nor the money to make it work in Firefox, and even if we did, it would still be an enormous waste of taxpayers' money.

A lot (most?) of people who work in IT are control freaks. I'm one myself, though I'm learning to let go of certain things. I can completely understand the mindset of "I love <Product X>, everyone should use it!" But if you impose it on me, you're tying my hands when I'm trying to deliver the best, most cost-effective service I can to the Canadian public. Nightmare scenario: "Here we go again, build vs. buy. Hmm. Well, that perfect COTS app needs a SQL Server back end, and we're limited to MySQL, so I guess we're building yet another custom system. We would have done it with SharePoint in the good old days, it would have been cheaper, and we would have gotten it done faster. Oh well." Sounds ridiculous, and it should, but I worry that it's not as ridiculous as I'd like to think.

Full disclosure: as you might have guessed, I work in a predominantly Microsoft shop. But I'm not a zealot. I believe in finding and using the right tool for the job, whatever the source. As a public servant, it is my duty to provide the best value possible for the public, and "value" does not equate only to up-front costs. It's the TCO, stupid! What's your value proposition?

I'll quote myself, from an email I sent to my directorate today: "In an exercise like this, those who participate are the ones whose views are heard, so it’s important for us to voice our opinions." So please, if you work for the Government of Canada, sign up for the campaign web site. Vote up the good ideas. Don't even vote low for the bad ones, you're just padding their scores. And comment, whether it's to say "yes, that's great" or "what are you smoking?"

The leaders of the GC IT community want to know what you think. Let your voice be heard.


My name is Jeff Rose and I work as a jack-of-many-trades developer slash architect for a regional economic development agency in the Canadian federal government. I maintained a personal blog more or less regularly for a year or so then stopped finding time for it when I started dating my girlfriend in 2005.

I joined Twitter in January 2009 and have found it just phenomenal, especially as a tool for technological community building. Following SharePoint people like @joeloleson and @andrewconnell has provided great information and made me feel like part of the community, even though I haven't been tweeting that much about SharePoint myself to this point.

The nice thing about Twitter is that I actually find the time to compose 140 characters on something I find interesting when I might not go to the effort of a full blog post. The flip side of Twitter is that I am naturally long-winded and sometimes I just can't do my thought justice with that inherent limit. I encountered that today, and felt compelled to elaborate on a tweet. So here I go again, with a new blog and no idea how often I will post. I've got good intentions as far as contributing to some of the communities that I've been getting so much out of, but you know what they say about the road to hell...