Handling delays on Internal Projects due to skill gaps

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Other duties as assigned or projects performed by employees are both precarious and advantageous.

There are slower times in employees operations, and most talented employees will enjoy the extra challenge, which means you can get more production out of them as well as they can add skillsets to their career. But, the peter principle of management typically yields adding more other duties, projects, or promotions until the performance level drops. Typically, to get them back on track, coaching, consulting, or even get-well plans are required. Also, during this phase, if not addressed, when career growth is stymied as either bored or overwhelmed, they want to retain with minimal effort, while just enough to retain employment and to have time to surf for future jobs on the web.

So if the staff is not familiar with these other duties or projects, they will most definitely slip, cost more, done with lowest quality, or requested scope. So, you have four options – coach more, invest in consulting, put on get-well plan, or let go due to underperformance – or the fifth no action and let those duties and project objectives slip.

If this is staff you want to retain, then get well or coaching can help, but if you have near-term project objectives, the only other option is adding consultants. You may have internal folks who can be that, but many times, they are also under duress with their own scope. This means introducing consultants. Possibly, the solution is a new hire for a new permanent position, but the perception will be for the first 90 days, this person is an “outside” consultant.

Avoiding The Bobs

“What would you say you do here?” is the imminent persona of a consultant as portrayed on the movie office space. 

Employees have had many bad experiences working with consultants. Sure, many good ones as well, and a lot of times they are re-hired or even converted. All in all, though, it is less the consultant or more the way the consultant was brought in.

  • “I’ve had consultants work for me before and they gave me ideas way too advanced for our culture.” – In this case, deliverables were not designed, the contract was not performance-based, and the sponsor did not know exactly what they were buying
  • “They explain things using a different language. They don’t get us.” – The consultant went off and interviewed other staff or trained, and it was not tailored to their priorities, lingo, acronyms, objectives, maturity, etc.
  • Or water cooler chatter, “Why do I need these guys, they costs twice as much, and I have to train them”. There was never clear definition of measures for the staff to get the project done, so if they didn’t, on what would trigger additional help

Point being, we all have had bad experiences with consultants just like we have experiences with peer employees. The different of course is one is part of the plan most the time, and the other is a remediation when the plan has gaps.

There are a few ways to introduce outside consultants.

The best way is when you hire, promote, or give them a project, you budget this upfront knowing their gaps. But, sometimes you may want to see what the employee is made of first, or the complexity of the task/project was unknown. Bringing in consultants unplanned can tend to introduce cultural issues, and creates various turbulence if not brought in right. You still need to either start your project right or get your project back on track, and outside consulting can do just that, assuming, on a separate topic, the project is scoped right, vetted right, priced mutually well, and is clearly defined for delivery and transition. 

Also, the level of consultant you bring in will change the types of possible reaction:

  • Strategic Advisor Intrusion
  • Embedded Consultant Insult
  • Consulting Project Team Infestation

The following captures some common issues and suggested solutions for engaging outside support in hero mode.

The Strategic Advisor Intrusion:

A strategic consultant will spend time with a top sponsor. This is inserting influence where existing team used to have more time for. If value is produced that aligns all or most agendas, this is seen as positive. If no fruits are visibly linked to a wanted agenda, this is seen as an intrusion

Potential Reactions:  

  • Seen as insult to executive or leadership team
  • Some team members hog the advisor to advance own agenda possibly undermining the intended direction
  • Some team members take offense on why they aren’t receiving budget support for their gaps in support and feel their scope is undervalued and is seen as competing priorities

Suggested Solution:

  • Kick off the effort with a collaborative, tailored 2-day workshop to rapidly plan, capture drivers, needs, priorities in front of each other, make the deliverables each night, produce value immediately, show how the team can work together with the new advisor both showing they add great value, but also get their culture. Tailor the workshop to the project needs (complexity, as-is situation, defining target vision, scoping out resources, and setting milestones).

Embedded Consultant Insult

An embedded consultant can be seen as a short-timer “leader” working side-by-side existing staff trying to catalyze a vision where others may perceive as a sign of failure. If the value can be seen clearly by project or program objectives or measures advancing, this is typically on the whole seen as positive, but even then, the insult of having to get help can insult a minority of the staff, and some could be key staff.

Potential Reactions:

  • Especially in project recovery, if the sponsor forces the consultant on the lead, typical reactions go beyond resistance, and can actually go into sabotage as a sign of “Not in my backyard” protectionism. It can be seen as an insult to intelligence.
  • If also the consultant is replacing a previous leader, the “acting” or “temporary” leadership role the consultant will definitely experience an “awkard transition”. This is expensive as consultants do tend to run 1.25-2x employee costs

Solution:

  • To get this positive, three things need to happen
    • One, the lead has to recognize they are behind, the sponsor wants to help them address the gap and being specific to – project is behind, solution is not there, costs are overrunning or has a high burn rate, or project team needs more guidance to get quality up
    • Two, Consultant needs to be brought in as embedded consultant – part of the team. This is not a temp that does “rote” tasks and reports to a manager. The consultant needs be part of team, interact with all, and be expected to deliver within culture, get deliverables done. The consultant can gather, interact, make observations, and even present training or subject matter, but the concluding direction, recommendations should be presented outward by the manager. This demonstrates they get it, are competent, and can grow.
    • Thereafter, to address objectives for achieving value, the consultant needs to have clear deliverables, and early ones should be tangible and visible. This is so that others including the manager can see if they are getting what they paid for. The deliverables should be defined up front. Thereafter, you can decide to doe time & materials, but at minimum, milestones should still be clear.
    • As a way to get started, use a process that links the embedded consultant work to the newly defined/updated drivers, stakeholders, objectives, and milestones and always refer back to both when developing solution, so any collaboration is not personal, but using executive direction and proven process

Non-solution:

  • Train existing staff how to do a specific intermediate skillset – plan, design, research, architect, etc.. – who already is observed to be overwhelmed rarely yields success without first taking on more other duties or projects off their plate. These intermediate positions are multi-year effort with years of domain, subject, and pattern knowledge. The solution can be to start training, but they will come back with new acronyms and certifications (PME, ITIL, FEAC, CMMI, etc.), patterns, which take time to learn what applies when.

Consulting Project Team Infestation

A project team brought in to introduce a new system, process, migration, or evaluation can be a tidal wave when it hits. Project teams introduce a sub-culture within themselves, and can be referred to in a segregated fashion as they will be “gone soon”.

Potential Reactions: Awkard transition from previous development, resentment from those loyal to previous developers, initial stagnation, Attempted coup in defense of previous team, lower IT support to team, project team has myopic view of needs due to isolation and could impact deliverable results

Solution:

  • Foster new relationships early by getting a milestone successful executed out of gate to show the new team demonstrates results
  • Have a project liaison, whether that is the project manager, or the office correspondent, to the team that assures the project team has escalation of needs and as well help them acclimate to how “things get done around here” as well as opportunities to engage in the office culture (events, outings, even idea meetings, and brownbags)

Point being, bringing in consultants can be scary to staff if the expectations are not clear why.

Sure, there may be cases where the employee is on a get well pan while bringing in consultants. If you are not at that point, set the milestones for what needs to happen, and if those measures are not being met, and it is not at a fire point, and the coaching time dedicated is not cutting it, you need to move to consultant phase.

Xentity recognized on CIO Review list for Most Promising Government Technology Solution and Consulting Providers 2013

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Matt Tricomi

Xentity was recognized on CIO Review list for “20 Most Promising Government Technology Solution and Consulting Providers 2013” list. 

With the advent of internet technologies, there has been a change in the landscape of business processes related to the Federal Government system. But the change hasn’t been easy as it requires constant dedication to move the entire workforce from traditional systems, and getting them to seamlessly adapt to the modern systems. This transition also includes the role of technology consulting providers, whose sole responsibility is to provide a wide spectrum of services in order to help the federal agencies to cope with the changes, in the best possible manner.

As customers and business partners increasingly demand greater empowerment, it is imminent for government companies to seek for improved interactions and relationships in their entire business ecosystems, by enhancing software capabilities for collaboration, gaining deeper customer and market insight and improving process management.

In the last few months, we have looked at hundreds of solution providers and consulting companies, and shortlisted the ones that are at the forefront of tackling challenges related to government industry.

In our selection we looked at the vendor’s capability to fulfill the needs of government companies through the supply of a variety of services that support core business processes of all government verticals, including innovation areas related to advanced technologies and smart customer management. We also looked at the service providers’ capabilities related to the deployment of cloud, Big Data and analytics, mobility, and social media in the specific context of the government business.

We also evaluated the vendors support for government bridging the gap between IT and Operations Technology. We present to you, CIOReview’s 20 Most Promising Government Technology Solution and Consulting Providers 2013.

CIO Review Magazine Full Article on Xentity:

Xentity Corporation: Rapidly Designing The Needed Change In Cost-Cutting Times

By Benita M
Friday, December 6, 2013

 

Benita M

“We always try to believe that leaders want to execute positive change and can overcome the broken system. We are just that naïve,” says Matt Tricomi, Founder of Xentity Corporation in Golden, CO, named for “change your entity” which started on this premise just after 9/11 in 2001.“This desire started in 1999. I was lucky enough to be solution architect on the award winning re-architecture of united.com. It was a major revenue shift from paper to e-ticket, but the rollout included introducing kiosks to airports. Now that was both simple and impactful”. Xentity found their niche in providing these types of transformation in information lifecycle solutions. Xentity started slow, first, in providing embedded CIO and Chief Architect leadership for medium to large commercial organizations. 

Xentity progressed, in 2003, into supporting Federal Government and soon thereafter International to help IT move from the 40-year old cost center model to where the commercial world had successfully transitioned – to a service center. “Our first Federal engagement was serendipitous. Our staff was core support on the Department of the Interior (DOI) Enterprise Architecture team”, Matt recalls on how the program went from “worst to first” after over $65 million in cuts. “We wanted to help turn architecture on its head by focusing on business areas, mission, or segments at a time, rather than attack the entire enterprise from an IT first perspective.” The business transformation approach developed ultimately resulted in being adopted as the centerpiece or core to the OMB Federal Segment Architecture Methodology (FSAM) in 2008.

Xentity focuses on the rapid and strategic design, planning and transformation outreach portion of the technology investment in programs or CIO services. This upfront portion is generally 5 to 10 percent of overall IT spending. Xentity helps address the near-term cost-cutting need while introducing the right multi-year operating concepts and shifts which take advantage of disruptions like Geospatial, Cloud, Big Data, Data Supply Chain, Visualization, and Knowledge Transfer. Xentity helped data.gov overcome eighty percent in budget cut this way. “Healthcare.gov is an unfortunate classic example. If acquisition teams had access to experts to help register risks early on, the procurement could have increased the technically acceptable threshold for success.” 

One success story of Xentity is at United States Geological Survey (USGS). “After completing the DOI Geospatial Services Blueprint, one of several, the first program to be addressed was the largest: USGS National Mapping Program.” This very respected and proud 125-year old program had just been through major reductions in force, and was just trying to catch its breath. “The nation needs this program. The blueprint cited studies in which spending $1 on common “geo” data can spur $8 to $16 in economic development. Google Maps is one of thousands which use this data.” The challenge was to transition a paper map production program to be a data product and delivery services provider. “The effort affected program planning, data lifecycle, new delivery and service models, and road-mapping the technology and human resource plan. We did architecture, PMO, governance, planning, BPR, branding, etc.” Xentity, with its respected TV production capability, even supported high-gloss video production to deal with travel reduction and support communicating the program value and changes with partners and the new administration. This is definitely different than most technology firms. The National Map got back on the radar, increased usage significantly, and is expanding into more needed open data. 

Presently, Xentity is a certified 8(a) small disadvantaged business with multiple GSA Schedules and GWACs (Government Wide Acquisition Contracts). Xentity invested heavily in Federal Business management. Part of providing innovative, pragmatic, and rapid architecture and embedding talent is being able to respond quickly with compliant business management vehicles. Xentity is constantly seeking out the passionate CIOs, Program Directors, Architects, and Managers looking at transformation in this cost-cutting environment. “Sequester, Fiscal Cliff, debt ceiling, continuing resolutions–it’s all tying the hands of the executives who can look at best six months out. They don’t have the time to both re-budget and rapidly design multi-year scenarios to out-year performance drivers and options let alone staff up to speed on the latest disruptions or right innovation. That is where we come in. We start small or as fast or slow as the executive wants or believes their organization can absorb and progress.” 

Where to get started on IT performance tuning

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In general, we like to apply the iterative Deming Cycle

or a variance we implemented in late nineties – TMAF – Test, Measure, Analysis, Fix, repeat

  • List your tests across the major components and design your test harness (like taking your mid-life physical – get your sensors on every moving part having wear and tear – get your performance monitors, load testers for storage, CPU, memory, logic process points, database, etc. etc.)
    • This is your foundation. Focus here, or your tests results turn into the leaning tower of Pisa – data becomes unreliable
    • Make sure your test prove real-world volume, velocity, veracity and variety so you do not provide a simulation of data that would never happen that way.
  • Run and measure  and validate all data collected correctly which proves it to be a successful reliable test proving to be good data.
    • Using load testers and test harness like jmeter or web sites if public can help get bundle the test and measurements
    • Make sure to record your internal performance monitors as well and know what measurements to get – are you looking at memory, CPU, I/O, read/writes, etc.? 
  • Run your analysis looking at the expected change results, and document findings and capture potential recommendations
    • Go one step deeper in your analysis than your role typically requires and get to know the other guys/gals part better and ask questions here! You’d be surprised that most performance tuning resulted in not realizing what the exchange between different parts were causing the problem
  • Decide the next change and fix to implement by prioritizing the less risky and biggest wins first, then more risk and medium wins, and being prepared to move to higher risk last. 
    • List your fixes across logical fixes (code changes or business rule usually), vertical (Tuning), and then horizontal (hardware)
    • This cycle should try to address logic, then vertical and then horizontal (more hardware) last where possible.

In the previous blog on Ten Web Performance Tuning Tips – Measure, Compress, Minify , all the solutions landed on vertical (minify, tune, etc.) on the front-end, but didn’t hit where the bulk of the measurements were proving to fail – back-end.

Need more help?

Xentity does not just design, manage, and do outreach on the big projects. We help recover on existing projects. Its very common the architecture was not implemented as the blueprint was designed. Either due to misunderstanding, or just lack of blueprint, it looked good on paper, things changed, or in all reality, a technologists went rogue. Sorry, it happens.

We can engage in either executing and getting hands dirty or facilitating and training the TMAF process. 

Our architects understand various architecture stacks – ETL and data aggregation, MVC and n-tier/3-tier stacks, transation modeling, database tuning, or considering new business rules, new architecture, and the like.

Overall Xentity staff have executed dozens of performance tuning engagements:

  • Energy Mission lifecycle for transaction tuning between screens and database
  • Energy allocations and billing batch processing in Oracle (PL/SQL, SQL, Oracle Configuration, hardware)
  • Financial allocations and feeds calculation batch processing in Oracle (similar scope)
  • Government Records in Oracle including legacy XML objects database on cloud (similar scope) 
  • Airline Major eCommerce content management system and logic design
  • eCommerce and Web coding tuning facilitation (similar to Ten Web Performance Tips – Minify CSS Javascript HTML et cetera
  • Capacity Planning sizing of eCommerce and service to citizen sites for hardware, software, business rules, and expected volume, velocity and data veracity and variety.
  • And of course, our upfront architectures are designed to have the simplests architecture allowed by outcome and market relevancy goals.

These engagements can be small hours/weeks or can be full-time embedded consultant or performance SWOT team engagement with all 3 expertise (logical, vertical, horizontal).

 

Ten Web Performance Tuning Tips – Measure, Compress, Minify

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With the mobile ecosystem creating an even less patient user than desktop users, web performance issues harken us back to 1999 when we were on 56K baud modems and using netzero to dial up from airport lounges. A web site needs to be architected, designed, and coded with best practices to perform well. After reviewing Google analytics for an Atlassian Confluence website, we realized we had both client-side and server-side performance issues.  Google provides more Web Performance tips to learn more about web performance tools at Google, including browser extensions and APIs for Insights, PageSpeed Service, and their optimization libraries. So we did some investigation and the following were some suggestions:

Enable compression

Compressing resources with gzip or deflate can reduce the number of bytes sent over the network. Enable compression for the following resources to reduce their transfer size. We found about 72% reduction.

Minify JavaScript

Compacting JavaScript code can save many bytes of data and speed up downloading, parsing, and execution time. Minify JavaScript for the following resources to reduce their size. We found about 12% KB reduction

Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content

If your page has one or several blocking script resources or CSS resources, this causes a delay in rendering your page. None of the above-the-fold content on your page can be rendered without waiting for those resources to load. Try to defer or asynchronously load blocking resources, remove render-blocking JavaScript:or inline the critical portions of those resources directly in the HTML. We had 7 scripts and 11 CSS blocking resources.

Leverage browser caching

Setting an expiry date or a maximum age in the HTTP headers for static resources instructs the browser to load previously downloaded resources from local disk rather than over the network. Leverage browser caching for cacheable resources. We had several files that could be cached for 10 minutes and a two for 30 and 60 minutes.

Prioritize visible content

Your page requires additional network round trips to render the above-the-fold content. For best performance, reduce the amount of HTML needed to render above-the-fold content. Prioritize visible content that is needed for rendering above-the-fold. 21 KB of our responses required to render the above-the-fold content.

Minify CSS

Compacting CSS code can save many bytes of data and speed up download and parse times. Minify CSS resources to reduce their size. (we found 4% reduction).

Minify HTML

Compacting HTML code, including any inline JavaScript and CSS contained in it, can save many bytes of data and speed up download and parse times. Minify HTML resources to reduce their size. We found about 17% reduction.

Optimize images

Properly formatting and compressing images can save many bytes of data.  Optimize images to reduce their size. We found 33% reduction opportunity where our repeating images in menus fould be reduced 50%, but in all honesty, that saved less than 2K overall

Avoid landing page redirects

Your page has no redirects. Learn more about avoiding landing page redirects.

Reduce server response time

There are many factors that can slow down your server response time. Please read our recommendations to learn how you can monitor and measure where your server is spending the most time. This is where we found 90% of our issues – the server was going to sleep mountain time and not waking up for other time zones, where our primary usage was coming from.

Yes, the tweaks above will definitely help the mobile user on 3G on an older SmartPhone. But Occam’s Razor suggested focus on the simple, obvious part first. The above will take a few days or maybe more since many of the recommendations rely on a COTS package and we’d need a dialog with them to find the right solution. But, the server side fix turns out we just needed to tickle the server and set one server-side recommendation about (caching). Reason: we notice generally great performance, but sometimes when the service is waking up, the page times skews the overall page performance. 

We’ll still tweak some images and cache some files, but we’ll likely more reach out to Atlassian to see where they are at with minifying and addressing above-the-fold content processing.