Upside Down in D.C.

So coming downtown this week in D.C., I see this quite unhelpful posted sign. 



If you can read upside down, while rushing down a busy street with a million and one things on your mind for the day, it says, “Sidewalk Closed. Use Other Side.”



Of course, the people flowing speedily down the streets in the morning, were still walking on this sidewalk, despite the construction and potential dangers. 



But in a way this reminds me of a bigger question here–is this really a sign of the times?



Today, I read in the Wall Street Journal about continued problems with Healthcare.gov–no, not related to the crashing websites, exemptions and delays, parts being overturned (such as with the contraception mandate), low enrollment (particularly after accounting for over 5 million people that lost their coverage with the new law and in effect had to sign up), but now in terms of thousands of people who signed up not getting their benefits due to continued problems with the enrollment system.



This is not just an issue for this party or that, but rather matters of government that we as a unified nation must tackle togther to grow our capabilities and competitiveness econically, militarily, and socially. 



Are the signs pointing us in the right direction and what streets should we be going down as a nation in order to succeed? 



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Government Shutdown – On The Street

Government Shutdown - On The Street

Day #3 of the Federal Government Shutdown.

I am reminded on the streets of D.C. that there are many others hurting and in need.

Pictured here are some hardworking folks striking against “unfair labor” practices.

They’re up early and are standing there ready, presumably willing, and able to work.

At the bottom it says, “Employer refuses to bargain in good faith.”

With news coming again this morning about continued failure in talks on the government budget (and debt ceiling not far behind), we are left wondering when good faith and compromise will bring 800,000 federal workers back to their jobs.

All these people have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and jobs to perform.

I read this morning how the Federal workers are feeling like “pawns” and “marginalized” like never before.

Perhaps, we can get more done by helping people feel a level of control, valued, and with purpose?

The world is still a big and scary place with lots of dangerous actors and challenging problems.

Rather then political polarlization and indecision, we need to stand firm by a definite set of sacred national values (while compromising on the implementation details), project the strength to defend them both domestically and abroad, and stay fair, faithful, and unwaveringly united to perform our vital role in this world.

To solve large global problems, we need to be able to show that we can manage our own house in order first. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Back To The Computer Stone Age

Back To The Computer Stone Age

According to Charles Kenny in Bloomberg BusinessWeek (20 June 2013), the Internet is quite a big disappointment–because it “failed to generate much in the way of economic growth.”

While on one hand, the author seems to see the impact that the Internet has had–“it sparks uprisings, makes shopping easier, help people find their soul mates, and enables government to collect troves of useful data on potential terrorists;” on the other hand, he pooh-poohs all this and says it hasn’t generated prosperity.

And in a sense, don’t the facts seem to support Kenny: GDP is still in the 2-3% range, labor productivity growth is even lower, and unemployment is still elevated at over 7%?

The problem is that the author is making false correlations between our economic conditions and the rise of the Internet, which already Jack Welch pronounced in 2000 as “the single most important event in the U.S. economy since the industrial revolution.”

Kenny seems to think that not only aren’t there that many economic benefits to the Internet, but whatever there is we basically squander by becoming Facebook and Youtube junkies.

It’s a shame that Bloomberg BusinessWeek decided to publish such a ridiculous article as its “Opening Remarks,” blaming the failure of the Internet for economic challenges that have been brewing for decades–with high-levels of debt, low levels of savings, hefty entitlement programs based on empty national trust funds, the global outsourcing of our manufacturing base, elevated political polarization in Washington, and various economic jolts based on runaway technology, real estate, and commodity bubbles.

It’s concerning that the author, someone with a masters in International Economics, wouldn’t address, let alone mention, any of these other critical factors affecting our national economy–just the Internet!

Kenny adds insult to injury in his diatribe, when he says that the Internet’s “biggest impact” is the delivery of “a form of entertainment more addictive than watching reruns of Friends.”

Maybe that’s the biggest impact for him, but I think most of us could no longer live seriously without the Internet–whether in how we keep in touch, share, collaborate, inform, innovate, compute, buy and sell, and even entertain (yes, were entitled to some downtime as well).

Maybe some would like to forget all the benefits of technology and send us back to the Stone Age before computing, but I have a feeling that not only would our economy be a lot worse than it is now, but so would we. 🙂

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

>“The Happiness Myth” and Enterprise Architecture

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Recently, I was reminded of an interesting article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal (20 Dec 2007) that what really matters in life is not happiness, but rather peace of mind.

Generally speaking, people “are consumed by the pursuit of happiness,” and this fact is codified in our very Declaration of Independence that states: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that are among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

However, absolute happiness is often in conflict with the “reality on the ground”.

There are some of the inherent conflicts we deal with in enterprise architecture (sort of like the Murphy’s Law of EA):

Here are some typical user wants (often associated with problematic architectures):

  • A baseline, target, and transition plan without their having to provide virtually any input or to collaborate whatsoever.
  • An architecture roadmap that they do not have to actually follow or execute on.
  • A platform for information sharing and access to information 24/7, but they also want to hoard “their information”, and keep it secure and private, on a need-to-know only basis, which they subjectively decide.
  • A structured IT governance process to ensure sound IT investments for the organization, but also they want leeway to conduct their own affairs, their way, in which they buy want they want, when they want, how they want, from whomever they want, with whatever founds they can scrounge up.
  • A requirements generation and management process that captures and aligns specific functional requirements all the way up to the organization’s strategic plan, mandates and legislation, but that they don’t have to be bothered with identifying, articulating, or aligning.

The world of EA is filled with conflicting user demands and polarizing directions from user that want and expect to have it all. While certainly, EA wants and strives to meet all reasonable user requirements and to satisfy the user community and “make them happy,” at a point there comes the realization that you can’t (no matter how hard you try) make everyone happy all of the time.

People want it all, want it now, and often when you give them what they want, they realize that it wasn’t “really” what they had wanted anyway.

So the way ahead is to understand and take into account your user requirements, but more importantly to do the “right” thing for the organization based on best practices, common sense, and initiatives that will truly drive improved performance and mission results.

The WSJ states, “Dad told me: “life isn’t built around ‘fun.’ It’s built around peace of mind. Maybe Dad sensed the paradox of happiness: those most desperate for it run a high risk of being the last to find it. That’s because they make foolish decisions. They live disorderly lives, always chasing the high of the moment.”

In User-centric EA, we don’t “chase the high of the moment,” or look to satisfy each and every user whim, but rather we keep the course to developing sound IT planning and governance and to enhancing organizational decision-making capabilities for our end users. EA is a discipline that ultimately strives to ensure peace of mind for the enterprise through the provision of vital “insight” and “oversight” functions.

>Groups Can Help or Hurt the Decision Process…Here’s how

>Generally, IT governance is based on the assumption that by vetting decisions in groups or boards—such as an Enterprise Architecture Board or Investment Review Board–we get better decisions. I for one have been an outspoken proponent for this and still am.

However, I read with great interest in the Wall Street Journal, April 25-26, an article entitled “How Group Decision End Up Wrong-Footed.”

In this article, an organizational psychologist at Stanford University, Robert Sutton states: “The best groups will be better than their best individual members”—okay, that’s right in line with our IT governance model, but then goes on to say…

and the worst groups will be worse than the worst individual.”—oh uh, that’s not good…here the IT governance model seems to backfire, when the group is dysfunctional!

Here’s the explanation:

“Committees and other groups tend either to follow the leader in a rush of conformity [here’s the herd mentality taking over] or to polarize into warring groups [here’s where the members break into oppositional stovepipes jockeying for position and turf].”

In these all too common dysfunctional group scenarios, the group does not work the way it is intended to—in which members constructively offer opinions, suggestions, explanations and discuss issues and proposals from various points of view to get a better analysis than any single person in the group could on their own.

Instead, “all too often committees don’t work well at all—resulting in a relentless short-term outlook, an inability to stick to strategic plans, a slapdash pursuit of the latest fad and a tendency to blame mistakes on somebody else.”

So how do we develop groups that work effectively?

According to Richard Larrick a psychologist at Duke University, “For committees and other boards to work well, they must be made up of people with differing perspectives and experience who are unafraid to speak their minds…they must also select and process information effectively and seek to learn from their mistakes.”

In this model, people in a group can effectively balance and complement each other, and synergistically work together to make better IT decisions for the organization.

Here are some suggestions offered by the article for effective groups:

The first is to break the group into “pro” and “con” sub-groups that can develop arguments for each side of the argument. I call this the debate team model and this offsets the tendency of groups to just follow the “leader” (loudest, pushiest, most politically savvy…) member in the room, creating the herd mentality, where anybody who disagrees is branded the naysayer or obstacles to progress. To get a good decision, we need to foster a solid debate and that occurs in an environment where people feel free to explore alternate point of view and speak their minds respectfully and constructively with non-attribution and without retaliation.

The second suggestion is to ask how and why questions to “expose any weak points in the advise.” This idea was a little surprising for me to read, since I had prior learned in leadership training that it is impolite and possibly even antagonistic to ask why and that this interrogative should be avoided, practically at all costs.

In prior blogs, I have written how enterprise architecture provides the insight for decision-making and It governance provides the oversight. So I read with interest once more, that oversight has a dual meaning: “the word can mean either scrutiny or omission.” And again it clicked…when the governance board works effectively; it “scrutinizes” investments so that the organization invests wisely. However, when the group is dysfunctional the result is “omissions” of facts, analysis, and healthy vetting and decision-making. That is why we need to make our IT governance boards safe for people to really discuss and work out issues.

>Polarization of User Demands and Enterprise Architecture

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What happens when users want conflicting things from their EA programs?

Recently, as part of a discussion following an EA briefing, I received a number of interesting comments from some users.

While multiple users talked about the EA capturing some terrific EA information that is being used for IT governance and planning, the users wanted the focus of future EA to go in different directions:

  • IT Governance—on one side of the table, one user wanted to see more IT governance and standards and less IT planning (target architecture), “since target architecture should be set by the technical subject matter experts and EA was more of a policy and management function
  • IT planning—across the table, another user wanted to see more IT planning (target architecture) and less IT governance, since “target architecture is the ‘real’ architecture, and the rest was just management.”

This sparked a lot of discussion throughout the room. Someone else asked, “Well, if you could only do one of these things well, which would you choose?” And another asked, “What is your vision for the ultimate direction of the EA program?”

To me, I believe firmly that ultimate answer to these questions is that you really need both IT planning and governance to have a viable EA program.

  • IT planning without governance—is developing and maintaining the baseline, target, and transition plan without using these to influence and drive actual decision-making. The IT plans are shelfware!
  • IT governance without planning—is trying to leverage EA information to support capital planning and investment control (CPIC) and to enhance overall organization-wide decision-making without having the necessary information to support sound decisions.

So at the end of the day, with limited resources, “which would I do?” and “what is my vision?”

You have got to do both IT planning and governance. IT planning is the process and IT governance is the implementation. One without the other would be utterly meaningless.

So with limited resources, we manage expectations and progress in a phased implementation in both areas—continually building and refining the EA information base so it is increasingly relevant (IT planning), and simultaneously, creating effective governance processes to manage IT investments in new projects, products and standards (IT governance). In this way, EA practitioners make the information useful and usable.