“I’m not techy”: Complexity vs Simplicity

A few days ago, my sister-in-law made the claim that she is not “techy”. This was after she opened up one of those digital photo frames, got it working and got several of her siblings all hooked up so they could send their 94-year-old aunt photos. She did a nice job, but when one piece didn’t work, out came the “I’m not techy” statement.

Here is a smart woman that figured out an electronic device, user accounts, and smartphone apps for both Android and iPhone. I don’t know if you have ever used one of those digital photo frames, but the user interface is terrible.

The tech industry still doesn’t truly understand what creating products for non-tech people means. For the record, I include myself in “tech industry”. For 30+ years in IT, I was responsible for putting out lots of software for employees to use. There were a lot of mistakes. We continue to put things out that require more technical expertise than our customers or users need/want to spend.

The problem mostly revolves around the tradeoff between Complexity vs User Interface. To oversimplify, the more complex the feature set, the worse the user interface. It is very hard to have lots of features and keep things simple.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing in the future. One reason is that security, very appropriately, needs to be built into the lowest level of all our electronic devices and that adds complexity that is hard for the user to understand. The second reason is that interfaces between things (think photoframe and smartphones in this case) are getting more complicated. We all want different parts of our tech world to work together.

I don’t have a good solution here other than to suggest that companies (and IT departments!) work a little harder at keeping complexity hidden from the user. I know it isn’t easy, but it is important.

Ask The IT Director: The Drama Triangle

A U.S. Army Soldier from the New

Dear IT Director,
I have two employees that just don’t get along. One of them is always in my office complaining about the other one. I’ve tried patience, impatience, active, passive, etc. to no success. Help!
– Mystified in Missoula

Dear Mystified,
I think every leader gets into this position at some point in their career. You, my friend, are in a Drama Triangle, specifically, the rescuer. Not a really fun place to be. But maybe this will help.

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xkcd: Code Lifespan


This is so terrifyingly true. From systems that morph into other systems to systems that rely on a whole hierarchy of vaguely known open source modules, code lasts a lot longer than we think it will.

Dashboards: over and under used

gray airplane control panel

I did a search for IT dashboards to see what is currently going on and limited the search to this past month. There are an amazing number of complex dashboards, with dozens of little graphs and charts.

I can’t see how they are useful over a long period of time. Too much time is spent maintaining the automated tools to gather the metrics or manually gathering the data compared to the value we get. When personnel change, they often bring other ideas for metrics.

In an operating room, there is a lot of equipment, all with displays, warning bells and lights, and numbers available at a glance. Individuals in the operating room are responsible for their equipment. There is no central dashboard for the surgeon because it takes focus away from the main goal of surgery on the patient.

Airplane cockpits are very complex. There are many dials, knobs, levels, switches, and displays available to the pilot. Lots of effort has gone into identifying what the pilot needs and when they need it. The goal is flying the plane, and that drives how the cockpit is designed.

IT needs to take some hints from these two scenarios. Too often, metrics are gathered onto a dashboard because it is easy to create the metric. After it is created, people figure out how to use it. It should be the other way around. Don’t create the metric unless you know how to use it to manage the department.

The internal metrics for our IT departments should be driven from the external metrics we share with the rest of the organization.

We need to keep our eye on the primary task of managing the department and only make our team create metrics that will drive decisions and behavior changes.

Two Articles in Golem.de, a German Magazine for IT professionals

A German magazine for IT professionals, Golem,de, published two articles related to my IT books.

Are you who you say you are?

grayscale photo of gas mask

How do I know you are who you say you are? How do you know I am who I say I am?

I think that verification of online presences will become more important over the next few years. This includes all the social media. It also includes anywhere that an employee representing an organization is present online.

We will need to strike a balance for the need to have anonymous accounts and the need to know specifically who are scam calling the elderly. Most systems we have in place are too far in one direction or the other, usually towards anonymous accounts. We need a better balance.

We need the ability to prove who we are if we so chose. We need the ability to be anonymous if we want. And we need a way to limit contact with those that may not be who they say they are.

I don’t have good answers, and there are those smarter than me that are thinking about this stuff.

However, if you lead an IT department, you need to make sure that your identity management actually works and that your social media policies cover identity.

CIO.com: War for Talent article: decent ideas, terrible title

people forming round by shoes

Recently, CIO.com published an article titled “IT’s ‘war for talent’ is a losing battle“.

Let me get one thing out of the way first. The title sucks. It is clearly clickbait, like all titles that use this phrase. Very few in IT actually think it is a war. Same for HR. Competition? Yes. Tough competition? Absolutely! War? Don’t be stupid. Go tell the Ukrainians that your search for talent is analogous to their war. I’ve been involved in organizations with other IT leaders for years and no one ever talked about employee relations as a war. I’m sure there are a few out there, but they are a clear minority, in my opinion.

The article itself is decent. There are two points that are particularly strong.

  1. Remote work is here to stay. We can argue about what percentage of employees need to be in the office how many days of the week but that doesn’t change the point. Personally, I think the pendulum will swing back to more in-office in a few years, when both employees and employers realize that new employee connections to the company are weaker in remote situations. But I also believe that IT leaders must offer, support, and enable remote work as a permanent change. Provide the tools, HR policies, and management techniques to support remote workers as full members of the team.
  2. Build a pipeline. Intern programs with local post-high-school education entities are an excellent way to see a handful of upcoming graduates. Get involved in local technical groups to spot talent that becomes available. Find out the local IT certificate programs to find the diamonds in the rough without a college degree. Even smaller IT departments with a dozen or two employees can benefit from these techniques.

As always, remember that retention is more important than any of this. The position that doesn’t come open is the easiest to fill.

Tomorrow’s Problems: An Opportunity

Another good post from Seth Godin.

The post talks about short term vs long term problems and how it is easier to focus on the immediate problems.

This is true for all of us, including the IT department. We see today’s problems with much more clarity than tomorrow’s or next year’s.

How do you balance the immediacy of today’s problems and the importance of tomorrow’s?

A classic example is balancing working on help desk tickets vs eliminating future tickets. Sure, everyone agrees that eliminating future tickets is the right thing, but how many help desks actually behave that way?

I would suggest that if you prioritized all the active tickets, some of them are lower priority than preventing future tickets.

Let’s look at an example. Imagine a help desk that gets 50-75 tickets/day. Imagine they also have identified a good candidate for ticket elimination; that is some work that, if performed, will eliminate some number of future tickets. Let’s say it will take 20 hours of work.

If you approach the 50-75 tickets/day as a single block of work, AFTER which you work on the ticket elimination, you will never make progress.

However, if you look at those tickets, there are very likely tickets that are not urgent. They have a workaround; they are questions; they can wait until later. Those tickets should be prioritized LOWER than the ticket elimination work. You fit the 20 hours in before handling the lower priority tickets. Perhaps not in a single stretch but some each day.

Because if you can eliminate future tickets, you are giving the gift of time to both your team and the users. If you can eliminate ten tickets a week, that is time your team will have for other things, like doing more ticket elimination. A virtuous cycle.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It requires discipline, a focus on the future, and permission for help desk personnel to ignore some tickets for a day or two. Also, if you have a hard focus on metrics, this can trip you up.

Make sure you encourage and reward ticket elimination, or any future problem resolution. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

New Book! The I.T. Leader’s First Days

Click here to see all bookstores!

Folks, I am very pleased to announce my second book. If you are a new or future IT Leader, The I.T. Leader’s First Days is for you. It covers the skills you need to have and how to come up to speed quickly in your new position.

The ebook is available NOW. Paperback & Hardcover will be available in the next few weeks.

Here is the book description for The I.T. Leader’s First Days:

As a new IT leader, you are stepping into a world of excitement and challenge. Prepare yourself.

You and your team must understand and apply ever-changing technology to make your organization successful. You must continually improve yourself, your team, and your company.

The I.T. Leader’s First Days introduces skills and techniques you need to be effective and provides you with the strategies for your first weeks and months on the job.

Long-time IT leader, author, and speaker John Bredesen leverages decades of experience to create the book you need to start your IT leadership career. Clear explanations with a splash of humor cover a broad range of topics needed to launch your leadership career. Check out The I.T. Director series to see all his books.

Starting your new job off right is important to you. This book will help you make your First Days successful.

IT Leaders: Consultants & Contractors

IT Departments use external people regularly. While definitions can vary, here is what I use:

We use contractors for staff augmentation. This can be situations where we need more developers or where we need a skill part time, like a DBA.

We use consultants for deep technical expertise. Examples include a major new software product or the learning to use a new ERP module.

Let’s look at how we can be smart about using these types of resources.

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