Team chemistry – learning the mix

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Can you describe team chemistry with words?

20 years removed from undergraduate college work and I’m still learning about team chemistry. It’s one of the simplest and yet most complex concepts. You know good chemistry when you have it because you can feel it. But yet, you may not quite be able to describe it with words. Good team chemistry keeps you motivated and involved. Bad team chemistry leaves you frustrated and looking for a way to leave.

I’ve been on teams with a good and bad mix. When it’s good, team members respect each other. They accept the faults in others and help find ways to look past weaknesses. Where there is good chemistry there is trust. You don’t have to ask for something twice. You don’t worry about how a task is completed because you know it will be completed. When there is good chemistry you recognize that each team member has a role that contributes to the whole. With good chemistry the individuals value the output of the team more than their individual output.

Teams with bad chemistry show the opposite characteristics. They disrespect each other and focus on one another’s faults. They don’t trust others to complete a task and would rather do it themselves. When the chemistry is off, the team members value their own output more than that of the team. With bad team chemistry the team members selectively hear their teammates with a filter that immediately gets defensive or says ‘no’.

Good chemistry happens when the results are more important than the credits.

Star athletes competing in a team sport often say their individual performance isn’t as important to them as the team winning. Charles Edward Montague wrote “There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit for it.” Many variations of this principle exist in quote, but the concept is the same. Teams accomplish more when individuals work together.

In one of my first software project management experiences, team was developing a B2B website for bankers to use. There was tight cohesion on the team from analysis, to requirements gathering, to design, and programming.We succeeded together and failed together and everyone knew it. The team focus was all about the goal of software releases. I felt good chemistry.

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Bad chemistry happens when individuals are more interested in being “right” than in finding a solution.

I once made the mistake of always wanting to be “right”. I had a filter applied towards a manager based on past disagreements. No matter what they said, I found fault. When we disagreed about the direction to solve a problem or how complete a task, I argued to be “right” or to win the argument. It cost me a position and a relationship.

I’ve seen groups of people take sides in an office environment when disagreements and differences of opinions happened. They stopped listening to each other. They stopped working together. Solving problems for customers became less about the customer and more about their specific solution. The “right”solution. That’s bad business. That’s bad team chemistry.

There is a time to disagree and start over.

Sometimes as imperfect people we let ourselves devolve into bad chemistry. Sometimes the chemistry is there from the very beginning of a team due to personalities, individual goals, competitiveness, egos, or strong wills. There reaches a point where it’s not beneficial to go forward. It’s like trying to put the square peg in the round hole.

In the book of Ecclesiastes in the third chapter it says “For everything there is a season….a time to keep, and a time to cast away;”

Good chemistry isn’t something you can force on people. In some ways it just happens. Yet it’s also something that people have to intentionally work to keep in good balance. But there reaches a point when a team has bad chemistry that it’s time to agree to disagree and part ways. For the betterment of all involved it’s time to start afresh. I’ve been a part of a team that was disbanded because it wasn’t producing solutions. I’ve also been the new entrant to a situation where team members were not getting along and new players were needed to reset and refocus on business goals. When the chemistry isn’t good, the solution may be to re-rack the people.

The brevity of celebrations

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We celebrated my daughter’s high school graduation this week. After weeks of preparation for the party we hosted, attending a few others parties, and the graduation ceremony, I reached a point of exhaustion. I proclaimed that I officially had ‘graduation fatigue’.

As I Reflected on the entire set of events, I was drawn to the abruptness of the closure of a life moment and the movement towards a new life chapter. Graduation celebrations are the culmination of years of study and experiences. We celebrate the achievements in a few hours and then it’s over. Reflection on the past and any self introspection we do is quickly replaced with planning for new life events.

Then I realized that business and software projects are the same way. We celebrate milestones and project completions and then return to work quickly to think about and plan the next big goal. Projects can be both long in duration and/or complex in solutioning and delivery. In contrast, the celebrations, while important, are usually quick and to the point.

There’s no time to stop and the journey of life and business don’t stop when the final class or most recent project ends. Life and business move on to the next chapter, the next step, the next phase. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.” It’s a reflective thought talking about successive steps in a journey. Life, after all, is a journey. We don’t truly stop moving. But we can pause to celebrate. Let’s do celebrate. It makes the journey worthy of the steps.

Measuring the cost of IT

How should we measure the cost of IT?

The short answer is that there is no set answer. It depends.

I’m debating this question with myself as I want to deliver meaningful measurements back my stakeholders as well as create a repeatable view to measure progress over time. Ratios are a common evaluation method for financial accounting. So it seems natural to use ratios to measure the cost of IT in an organization as well. The most common ratio I’ve seen is spending as a percentage of company revenue. This gives a macro level picture of the cost of IT to the company. Gartner and other firms publish IT metrics based on industry data they collect. This doesn’t mean there is a right answer, but it allows companies to see how they compare to others in the same industry.

A challenge is consistent and agreed to measures of the factors in the ratio. In my case there are pockets of technology spending outside of the core IT function due to a decentralized alignment in the organization and profit centers of the business. Should I count all areas of technology spend in the company or only those associated with IT? Companies replying to the metrics survey undoubtedly have similar organizational inputs. So the answers in the survey are not an apples-to-apples comparison. But it may be as close as we can get!

But what’s really important?

Examining the ratio in terms of industry comparison may provide clues to help with determining average profit margin makeup for your company. But it seems to me that examining the ratio within the context of our company goals is as important or more.

  • Is the company trying to provide more automation through software? If so, then the technology costs may go higher than average to support this push with an expected offset in labor in other areas.
  • Is the company being positioned for sale? If so then the technology costs may be kept in check to prevent unnecessary open ended investments.
  • Is the company trying to differentiate itself from competitors through technology solutions or people solutions?


Change the mindset of IT as a cost center.

Looking at IT solely as a cost center is dangerous. The only way to improve cost centers is reduce costs. IT should be as concerned with creating solutions for productivity and revenue gains. So it’s a two-way street.

Tracking IT metrics should also include revenue gains and automation efficiencies. These metrics have a more favorable feeling to them than straight cost ratio. They represent value. I think value gains are tricky to measure as a attribution back to a technology effort. But it provides the basis for continued investment in a “cost center”.

I haven’t settled on a complete answer yet on how to best measure IT.  Maybe I never will. I suspect introspection and analysis will lead me towards new questions and then a natural course of tweaking and adjusting. Keep the calculator handy and align processes to aid with measurements. Happy computing.


Feeling inadequate

When I assess my own performance at work, I always feel like I could have done better. I feel like I could have done more. It’s not that I’m not giving 100%. But it’s more a feeling in the day-to-day and week-to-week grind of the job. It’s that feeling that I’m not strategic enough when I need to be. I’m not focused enough on the little things. I wonder, if this is my best output and where could I be doing more.

Is this healthy? I think so. Here’s why.

Feeling inadequate helps me maintain a sense of urgency.

I don’t always act with a sense of urgency. It’s hard to maintain the drive of 100% all the time. But self assessments that seek new ways and better ways to do things help me keep a sense of urgency to continue to grow. Feeling inadequate to grow is a bit of reverse psychology. But I believe it’s a way to keep pride from letting myself get lazy.

Self assessment is healthy and results new ideas and actions.

Do the drill and self assess. As much as people hate the annual performance review at work, it does give all us an opportunity to self assess our performance. For me, it will inevitably lead to new ideas for how to improve my actions. I’ve used performance reviews to help set goals for the upcoming year and to identify personal disciplines that I need to develop.

A professional career is a journey filled with both success and failure.

I don’t like failure just like everyone else. But I don’t mind failure if leads me to examine new ideas. When I self examine, if I know I’ve failed at something then I may resolve to try the task again in a different manner or think about an alternate way to solve the problem. Software projects are good examples of this. I’ve been part of a team that has delivered software on-time and on-budget as well as as teams that have not delivered. The course of action is to examine what failed then get back to work. Take the time to assess.

If I’m ever satisfied, then I’m not accomplishing enough.

If I feel like I’ve arrived or mastered or all there is to know then I stop learning and growing. That’s not a good place to be. Looking back I can see this happening to me with project management skills after I completed a set of training classes. I know my skills as a project manager ceased to grow at that point. But there is always room for improvement. There is always something new to learn. I’m not one to sit and watch. I like to take action.


I’m annoyed with hackers and cyber thieves

An unwelcomed pattern

When I decided in high school that I wanted to pursue a career in technology I didn’t think about technology security. While I earned a degree in Computer Science I don’t remember any classes on cyber security. Now, 20 years, security issues are taking over the technology profession. Help!

Now of course I know security it important. In fact, you would label me as one of the security proponents at work. I am pushing colleagues to take more security precautions than what they are used to doing. I am the guying supporting the cause of compliance so that we can continue to compete for business. In today’s world if companies don’t keep up with security measures then they will begin to lose opportunities for business. It’s not an option.

But I don’t enjoy this. I was attracted to technology for problem solving, solutions, and automation.. I like to create things and solve puzzles. Filling out audit questions on security documents and creating new security processes doesn’t fit that mold. Help!

Such a waste of talent

These criminals are smart. They are talented. It leaves me asking why people so smart can’t use their talents for good. Instead they put their energies into creating software and devices that steal and make life miserable for others.  If money is the motive, then don’t you think someone so smart could earn more money by creating legitimate and legal programs? And just think about the reduced risk of getting caught and going to jail.

The ripple effect

So what’s left in the wake of all the hacking, stealing, and destruction of property from viruses and cyber theft? An entire industry has been born which I guess is good for those that it employs. But now the average technology manager spends several hours each and every week implementing new security measures, answering security questionnaires, answering security controls for standards, and mitigating risks. Whew, it feels good to check a control on an audit. This of course doesn’t completely lock hackers out. It just forces them to find new methods for breaking into systems.

But the problem is the ripples are getting bigger. The time commitment for security compliance is growing. It’s taking away from using technology to help solve business objectives. That’s not fun for me, but I guess that’s what the criminals want.  I’m annoyed.