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Jason Owens http://www.jasonowens.com Learn. Teach. Grow. Tue, 20 Dec 2011 16:48:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.7 How To Be An Effective Project Sponsor http://www.jasonowens.com/how-to-be-an-effective-project-sponsor/ http://www.jasonowens.com/how-to-be-an-effective-project-sponsor/#respond Thu, 16 Jun 2011 18:48:23 +0000 http://www.jasonowens.com/?p=1189 How To Be An Effective Project Sponsor is a post from:   Jason Owens at www.jasonowens.com

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The Project Sponsor is critical to the success of a project. Sometimes referred to as the owner or champion, the sponsor is an individual that has the authority, access, and interest to help drive a project to successful completion. Often Project Managers do not have formal authority within an organization nor do they have direct control over resources that may work on the project team.

It’s not always necessary to have an executive or senior level manager as a Project Sponsor. Often priority projects and strategic projects have more senior level sponsors, while less visible, non-priority, or maintenance projects can do very well with sponsors that have the needed authority and are under that senior-level.

While it’s important to have a sponsor with the appropriate amount of authority for a given project, more important is that your organization operates from a mature process, and that the Project Manager is supported and provided with the direction and information needed by the sponsor in order to be successful. This includes trusting the Project Manager’s judgment, maintaining priorities, being available when needed, making optimal business decisions, being aware of project health and progress, and overall having a healthy and positive view of project management.

Responsibilities of the Project Sponsor often include:

  • Create or assist in creating the project charter
  • Provide information about the business and direction to the project team
  • Interpret business policies and goals for the Project Manager
  • Lead Organizational Change
  • Set clear expectations for the project and team
  • Review and approve statements of work
  • Review and approve project plans
  • Assist the Project Manager in addressing obstacles
  • Confirm that the business is using resources optimally and adjust where needed
  • Act as the executive level contact for the effort
  • Communicate project value and progress to the business
  • Validate the project is accomplishing its intended goals
  • Help clarify responsibilities where needed
  • Monitor project health

Project Health and Questions to Answer

Easy to Ask, Hard to Answer

As a project sponsor you may be asked the following questions, and you may be asking them yourself. Without having the proper tools, data, and relationship with the Project Manager these questions can be difficult to answer accurately and objectively:

  • Have we accomplished less/as much/more than we thought we would at this point?
  • Have we spent less/as much/more than we thought we would at this point?
  • How much will it cost to finish?
  • When will we be done?

Monitoring Project Health with Earned Value Analysis

Earned Value Analysis (EVA) is a methodology that collects planned costs, actual costs, and results at specific points in time and uses formulas to determine key indicators of project performance overall. Information collected includes planned value, actual cost, earned value, and budget at completion.

As a sponsor you may not need to know the formulas and minutiae, but being aware of the methodology and what’s possible to ask for from the Project Manager helps communicate status to the business and make recommendations to the Project Manager. It’s also important to note that EVA should not be used as a tool for micromanagement, nor is it always a simple matter to generate, especially for efforts that may not have tangible results at first. If your organization has never done EVA for projects set realistic expectations and grow from there. See details below for questions and their corresponding formulas.

Project Sponsor Self Survey

The following are questions a sponsor can periodically ask themselves to collect information or reinforce responsibilities and effective Project Sponsorship.

  • Does the business agree the project accurately addresses the problem to be solved?
  • Is the charter in alignment with the project team’s expectations?
  • When was the last time I checked how the project was performing?
  • When was the last time I let the business know about the project?
  • What has the Project Manager asked for help on, and what did I do about it?
  • Is the project accomplishing what it said it would?
  • Does the team know what’s expected of them?
  • Does the team know why they are doing the project?
  • How does the rest of the organization view the project?

Earned Value Analysis Formulas

  • Planed Value (PV) – what was planned to be done at this point
  • Actual Cost (AC) – what has been spent at this point
  • Earned Value (EV) – the value of what has been accomplished at this point
  • Budget at Completion (BAC) – the planned budget for the entire project

Once this information is collected a project manager can use the following EVA formulas to answer project health and performance questions.

  • Are we on budget? Cost variance (CV) = EV-AC
  • Are we on schedule? Schedule variance (SV) = EV-PV
  • How effectively are we spending money? Cost performance index (CPI) = EV/AC
  • How effectively are we spending our time? Schedule performance index (SPI) = EV/PV
  • By how much will we be off budget when the project is done? Variance at completion (VAC) = BAC-EAC
  • How much do we have to spend yet  before we are done? Estimate to complete (ETC) = (BAC-PV)/CPI
  • How much will this project cost when it’s all done? Estimate at completion (EAC) = BAC/CPI

Summary Tips

  • Know what’s expected of you as a sponsor
  • Be clear and concise with the Project Manager and team
  • Ask questions, trust the answers
  • Keep the business informed about the project
  • Be available and participate
  • Be aware of your project’s health

References

Verzuh E. The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 1999.

Rad P, Anantatmula V. Project Planning Techniques. Vienna, VA: Management Concepts; 2005.

Kerzner H. Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning Scheduling, and Controlling. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 2006.

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How To Be An Effective Project Sponsor is a post from:   Jason Owens at www.jasonowens.com

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RSA’s SecurID Breach and What You Can Do Right Now http://www.jasonowens.com/rsa-breach-and-what-you-can-do-right-now/ http://www.jasonowens.com/rsa-breach-and-what-you-can-do-right-now/#comments Sat, 19 Mar 2011 14:03:34 +0000 http://www.jasonowens.com/?p=1169 RSA’s SecurID Breach and What You Can Do Right Now is a post from:   Jason Owens at www.jasonowens.com

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RSA announced they have had a breach of their corporate systems and have stated some information regarding SecurID was stolen. There does not seem to be a direct threat as of this posting, but this is an ongoing investigation and RSA is recommending caution. What should you do?

Two things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t be an alarmist and don’t panic
  • DO focus on what you can do right now

There are many articles right now pontificating on what the breach means, how it was done, what could happen, is this the end of SecurID, are my FOBs safe, etc. Ultimately this doesn’t provide objective information or help you figure out what you need to do or can do right now.

If you’re asking yourself “what should I do?” here are some recommendations for customers and service providers that use SecurID. We may not know what happened yet, but we can look for symptoms of issues and use best-practices.

  • Watch your network, especially your SecurID servers, for unusual or different traffic patterns
  • Create reports in your SecurID servers to watch for
    • failed authentication attempts
    • FOB lockouts
    • authentication during unusual or off-hours
  • Consider changing PIN numbers for FOBs. It may may also be helpful to increase the strength of PIN numbers and passwords
  • Protect usernames and Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • Don’t ship FOBs to customer and employees in a active state.
  • Worst-case, consider moving to a different multi-factor authentication solution. Yubico’s Yubikey might be a cost-effective and simple place to start.
  • Review with with users
    • what to do when they lose a FOB
    • risks of phishing and social networking sites
    • stronger security now offered with other sites such as Google’s two-factor authentication and HTTPS for Facebook and Twitter
  • Review with you NOC and Help Desk
    • how to appropriately respond to issues and alerts
    • how to escalate security incidents
  • Consider adding HIDS like OSSec to your environment
  • If you’re a customer of a service provider that uses SecurID to manage your systems
    • ask them what they are doing in response to the issue
    • follow up and review concerns
  • If you’re a service provider, work with your RSA Account Manager, communicate proactively with your customers, and focus on what you can do right now. Securosis has some recommendations as well that you can ask your RSA Account Manager:
    • While we don’t need all the details, we do need to know something about the attacker to evaluate our risk. Can you (RSA) reveal more details?
    • How is SecurID affected and will you be making mitigations public?
    • Are all customers affected or only certain product versions and/or configurations?
    • What is the potential vector of attack?
    • Will you, after any investigation is complete, release details so the rest of us can learn from your victimization?

This is an effective reminder that in security there are no guarantees and nothing is 100% safe. It’s important to view security as juggling probabilities and be prepared for when the worst happens.

References

http://www.rsa.com/node.aspx?id=3872
http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/790070/000119312511070159/0001193125-11-070159-index.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form_8-K
http://securosis.com/blog/rsa-breached-secureid-affected

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Evernote GTD and More to Get Organized http://www.jasonowens.com/evernote-gtd-and-more-to-get-organized/ http://www.jasonowens.com/evernote-gtd-and-more-to-get-organized/#comments Wed, 09 Mar 2011 15:10:16 +0000 http://www.jasonowens.com/?p=1079 Evernote GTD and More to Get Organized is a post from:   Jason Owens at www.jasonowens.com

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Trying to find new ways to be productive? Reviewing how you work on a day-to-day basis to find better ways to do things? I’ve tried to find effective ways to be productive and organized using digital tools, and most systems I found over time revolved around paper, note taking, and organizing folders and files.

I can remember when it wasn’t that common for people to have e-mail, and the majority of calendaring and organization was still done over the phone and with day planners. Over the last 10 years as digital records and tools for organization have become more pervasive, and it feels like trying to get organized is a constantly evolving and changing endeavor. I essentially live all day in e-mail, web, and digital content. What’s challenging for me is that I typically deal with small pieces of information that are associated to each other in some way yet I don’t manage “documents” in the traditional sense as much any more. I also get hit with a lot of information and ideas at all times and places.

Several years ago I started using Evernote, and I also use Dropbox frequently. Recently I started feeling how I was using my tools was creating more work for me than problems they solved. I ran across some articles about using Evernote, Dropbox, and the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology to be more productive. Below is a summary of how I was working and what I’ve changed to try to be more productive.  And this is a summary of what works for me. It may be flawed, it might not work for you, at least not all of it, but it’s an improvement and I think that’s what’s significant.

Before I get into digital tools, I have to say one of the best tools I found to try to stay organized and sane is still paper and pen. I have a small 3 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch notebook that I carry with me everywhere. There’s a rubber band wrapped around the front the help mark my page and help tuck items into.  I also found small gel pens that are 4 1/2 inches long, same as the notepad, and they clip onto the cover or rubber band.  This is my fail-safe. Anything and everything can get written into here. To-do items are written with a check box in front of them, and anything else is just written as notes. At one point I saved the last two pages of the notebooks for books and things that I would like to read or learn about.

I’ve tried to use an e-mail client for everything, but it never worked. When using Outlook at work it seemed like a good idea to try to use tasks and notes and calendar items and reminders, but it never really seemed to be effective. I don’t know if it was a usability issue, that I didn’t like the tools that I had at the time, or that there was one system for work and another for personal.

The GTD System

If you’re familiar with GTD you can skip to the next section. So far I’ve read the Getting Things done book by David Allen, and I’ve done some research online. My basic understanding of the methodology is that it provides a framework to consistently collect, filter and prioritize, and act on “things.” The intent is to reduce stress and help clear your mind by providing a way to deal with information overload and all the things you have to deal with on a daily basis. By not worrying about having to keep track of everything and how you’re going to get things done, you free yourself up to actually doing things and producing results.

The high-level aspects of the workflow include

  • Collection
  • Process
  • Organization
  • Review
  • Do

Collection is exactly what it sounds like: pulling in everything that comes at you and putting it in one place, the container if you will. Once it’s been collected you don’t have to worry about trying to remember it all the time. Processes is the act of taking things out of the container and evaluating it. Can you act on it? Can you do anything with it?  This is the do it, delegate it, or defer it aspect of the methodology. Organization is kind of like the destination for things in the container: reference, someday, trash, projects and plans, waiting, calendar, to-do.  Review is seeing the big picture “of your life and work” and evaluating and reviewing actions and options. Do is making action choices. This involves actions in the moment, evaluating daily work, in reviewing your own work at different levels of detail and perspective.

For the visual learner, you can take a look at this workflow graphic by Xplane to try to get a better understanding of the GTD process and methodology. I actually discovered this before I had read the book, and found it helpful.

After reading the GTD book, I did feel I learned a few things that I could apply. I didn’t agree with everything, but it did make me consider what I was doing that probably could be done better, and how to organize what I was collecting in a more effective manner. There’s also more about selecting actions and prioritizing that I don’t discuss in this article.

What I was Doing That Wasn’t Working

Some of what I had been doing had been working, but I started running into problems. It started becoming more work to manage all the information in some cases than it was to actually do the work. And I started getting stressed about trying to be organized so I wasn’t so stressed. I realized I was having most problems with the Collection phase of things. For example:

  • Using my e-mail inbox to try to collect everything. I ended up with an overwhelming inbox, junk hanging around, and trouble focusing on what was priority.
  • I do a lot of research and reading using Google Reader and RSS feeds. When I would find articles or content I wanted to revisit or learn more about, I would typically star items so I could find them and check them later. This worked because I was typically reading feeds on different devices at different times; phone, iPad, computer. The problem was I had to remember to go back and check the feeds, and then find a way to store them someplace else to do the research anyway.
  • Collecting everything in one place in Evernote was helpful but without accurate tagging, organization, or meaningful prioritization everything started to become noise.
  • Trying to maintain and organize information that wasn’t really important was a waste of time.
  • Using a strictly folder-based production to trying to organize information in Evernote became unwieldy and limiting.

What I’m Doing Now

The cleanup process I’ve been using has some basic parts: the input and output, and in between there is the filter, prioritization, and accessibility needs. Accessibility means making it easy to use the system with the tools I have whenever I need to. With the exception of my phone and iPad, the tools I’m currently using are all free, and include:

  • Dropbox
  • Evernote
  • Email
  • Calendar
  • Rally (http://www.rallydev.com/)
  • iPhone and iPad, various iOS Apps
  • Dropbox and Evernote

If you’re wondering if there’s a place for both Dropbox and Evernote, I think each one serves a different purpose. While there is some overlap, they have their different strengths. I use Dropbox as a container for documents, files, and things that may need to be archived or accessible to others. I use Evernote for workflow and collecting data, content, and information. It’s also possible to use folder actions in the Windows version of Evernote to automatically import items placed in a Dropbox folder. This can be useful if you have access to Dropbox and not Evernote, or you want to be able to provide others a way to get content to you without granting them access to your Evernote folders, your Evernote email account, or your regular email account. This places the information directly into your workflow without have to go through a different tool first. You can also use a forwarding email address to protect your actual Evernote email account.

Evernote has become my container for Collection. I’ve seen recommendations for setting up Evernote to mirror the GTD process, but some aren’t effective. A limitation within Evernote is that a note can only live in one folder at a time, so organizing by folders isn’t really effective and inhibits you. This is exactly the problem I was having. Rather than just collecting information I started worrying about what bucket it should be in, and started to become inconsistent when things could be in multiple buckets or how to tag things.

Tags and saved searches are your friends. Tagging items allows you to associate multiple pieces of metadata to note. You still have to figure out how you want to tag things but that’s a more manageable problem. The following is how I setup Evernote based on the GTD methodology:

Storage Notebooks

  • 1_MyNotebook for Collection. I don’t like calling in an inbox; it’s confusing with email.
  • 5_Someday for hold or review later
  • 6_Reference for PDFs, supporting data, content, etc. Essentially something that I may read or use but not modify and/or is unlikely to change frequently
  • 7_Done

Action Notebooks

  • 2_Now
  • 3_ASAP
  • 4_Scheduled

Context Tags

The purpose of context is to help provide triggers as to where or when you might be able to do something. When you’re out running errands you can check the :Errands items to see if there’s something to do you forgot about,  or if there’s something that may only take 15 min. and you have some time to spare.

  • :AtHome
  • :AtWork
  • :Outside
  • :15min
  • :Errands
  • :Read

I used a colon rather than an @ sign as that symbol is used by Evernote when parsing email in order to determine what notebook to send an incoming email into.

Information Tags

Information Tags include things like

  • Article Idea
  • Woodworking
  • Art Idea
  • Gift
  • Agenda
  • Call
  • Work
  • Garden
  • Kids

One of the things that I started doing with Evernote that seems to work very well is emailing information directly into it. This gets me out of the bad habit of using my inbox to collect things, and as long as I have email I can send anything into it. When reading articles on the iPad it’s often very easy to e-mail a link to an article that I want to read up on later. I don’t have to worry about starring or saving articles, and can include whatever metadata I want in the subject of the message. Evernote allows you to use an @  plus the notebook name in message subject to determine what notebook the note should go in, and you can use # followed by a tag to automatically add tags to the item as well. And it doesn’t have to be just a link to an item, you can e-mail entire pages of content if needed. I also use the Evernote plugin for browsers to grab web content.

Evernote has the ability to search text within an image. At times I found it a lot easier to take a picture of notes or whiteboard diagrams save and Evernote. With a camera phone this becomes even easier. Another collection tool I found useful is Dragon Dictate on the iPhone. At times I have a long commute, and end up thinking of things when I’m driving. It’s not an option to write a note or to text, but it is fairly easy to dictate. It’s possible to record a voice note in Evernote but the problem is you still have to apply tags and metadata for it to be useful. The better solution I found is to use Dragon Dictate on my phone. I was surprised and how accurate it was. Driving in the car with road noise I really expected it to be more trouble than it was worth, but so far it’s worked very well. It saves the note, and as soon as I’m able can email it into Evernote.  Another option is to use Google Voice to leave yourself a voicemail which can then get converted automatically into text, but that seems to be a lot more work and not as accurate.

Once it’s in my default folder, I usually go back and add metadata to it.  My small notebook also serves as a collection tool. Things that I’ve written down get entered in Evernote as notes in the default folder as well. At this point I also start filtering and sorting notes. The new process has simplified sorting. Reference and Someday items are self-explanatory. If I feel like I can’t do something about an item but hope to eventually, it goes into the Someday folder. They’re still tagged and easy to find, just not in my way when I’m looking and other items with higher priority.

From here things get turned into actionable items. They may get turned into full-blown projects, small to-do items, or items to delegate to others.  You can create saved searches for tags you need frequently, or for the context-specific items to make it easy to find later.

I use Rally for work projects and Agile Project Management, and an item may get added as a user story or task. When developing other tasks and to-do items, I do schedule them on my calendar. While not recommended by some productivity consultants, this does seem to work well for me. Provided you can develop accurate effort estimates and are disciplined about managing your time and sticking to your calendar, I feel it’s a good way plan out your time as well as have a point of reference to look back on how and where you spent your time. The exercise of going through potential actions and putting them on my calendar also helps with the Review and Do aspect.

There are other aspects to what I’m using that are out the scope of this article, such as email rules and filters, separating work time from personal time, and effective communication. I’d recommend taking a look at Inbox Zero content from Merlin Mann about email management as well as Upgrade Your Life from Gina Trapani for email control and other productivity tips.

Summary

I think the GTD methodology can only take you so far, and it’s not a magic bullet. You still have to be disciplined, and you still have to be consistent about how you do things. If you aren’t, it won’t matter what system you use, you won’t get the results that you want.

One caveat regarding Evernote, unfortunately I think the Windows version is a little better that than Mac one in some respects (the Mac version seems to be a bit behind in functionality.) I input nearly all of my data via Mac, but find that massive cleanups, tagging, etc. seem to be easier in the Windows version.

With regards to limitations, I don’t know that GTD system really addresses some critical issues beyond the personal level. For example I don’t think it really addresses how to help effectively manage other people’s work and priorities, nor does it address complex evaluations. When you think about decision sciences and challenges such as trying to determine the overall benefit of tasks you could take on optimize results, profitability, and productivity, what’s identified for evaluating items in GTD doesn’t really cut it in my opinion. The prioritization method still feels single threaded and one-dimensional.  But to be fair GTD seems to be a methodology more about reducing stress, feeling productive, and making progress in your life, which I hope we’re able to achieve.

Image by Kevulike under CC license.

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Just Read: The Checklist Manifesto http://www.jasonowens.com/the-checklist-manifesto/ http://www.jasonowens.com/the-checklist-manifesto/#respond Wed, 09 Mar 2011 14:00:46 +0000 http://www.jasonowens.com/?p=1148 Just Read: The Checklist Manifesto is a post from:   Jason Owens at www.jasonowens.com

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Over the weekend I read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. It was recommended to me by a teammate (thanks Heather) . My library had a copy, so I checked it out.

The point of the book is not that checklists and the answer to everything, which is what I was expecting. Rather,  developing effective checklists help to identify what’s both critical and routine, where in your process those checks need to be made, and helps disparate or new teams to come together quickly and efficiently.

Using brief, effective checklists at key stages reinforces consistency and quality and allows your brain to focus on what needs creative latitude. It also has a secondary benefit of helping encourage effective communication. The brook provides practical and statistical evidence from surgeons, pilots, and large-scale construction, and it could be applied to IT, Project Management, Security, and more. It’s available in hardcover, paperback, CD, and on Audible.com.

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Managers Should Add Value When Communicating http://www.jasonowens.com/managers-should-add-value-when-communicating/ http://www.jasonowens.com/managers-should-add-value-when-communicating/#respond Tue, 08 Mar 2011 14:00:23 +0000 http://www.jasonowens.com/?p=1099 Managers Should Add Value When Communicating is a post from:   Jason Owens at www.jasonowens.com

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As a Manager when it comes to communication, you should be able to add value, otherwise, why are you involved?  Think about it. With today’s e-mail centric business environments it’s completely possible for a CEO or senior level executive to just e-mail everyone in the company.  Your role as a manager should be to add value, to shape and to customize the message and information for your reports and for your audience. You add value by accurately interpreting the message and putting it into terms that your reports understand, and can provide actionable items if needed.

There can be potential  security or strategic issues to take into account for sure. However, to assume that the information is always intended only for you as a manager and not to go anywhere else does not make for an effective organization. Develop effective business communication practices.There is no point in having the information if it does not answer a question, address a need, provide direction, or affect change for your organization.

Image by P Shanks under CC license.

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Helping Manage Your Manager http://www.jasonowens.com/helping-manage-your-manager/ http://www.jasonowens.com/helping-manage-your-manager/#comments Mon, 07 Mar 2011 14:00:13 +0000 http://www.jasonowens.com/?p=1092 Helping Manage Your Manager is a post from:   Jason Owens at www.jasonowens.com

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Not all engineers are blessed with having a seasoned Manager with strong communication skills and business training. Sometimes engineers get promoted to a senior position for their technical prowess without having all the leadership training they might need to be as effective as possible.

You can help them succeed, and in doing so, you’re likely to be more successful as well. A word of caution, not all Managers want feedback and direction from reports (which is unfortunate and ultimately self-destructive.) Consider how and when you provide the feedback, and remember to be respectful and professional. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Regular check-ins. If you don’t have them, maybe you should ask for them. It shouldn’t be a bad thing or time-consuming, it’s an opportunity for you and your manager to discuss goals, progress, and expectations. It’s also an opportunity for you to receive feedback. Your manager should be giving you slight nudges in the right direction if you’re veering off course, not a shove as you’re about to go over the cliff.
  • Clear expectations. If you don’t know what it means to complete assigned tasks and projects successfully, ask for clarification and get an answer you can understand. It’s not a negotiation, you may not agree with what your Manager defines as the end state, but you do both need to understand what done means.
  • Learning style. If you need to take training or take in a lot of information, help your manager to understand how you best learn. If you’re a visual learner, a 30 minute discussion on the phone over spreadsheet numbers might not accomplish what your manager had hoped.
  • Information flow. Managers should be communicated through, not to. When senior leadership provides information down to managers, the intent (hopefully) should not be that the information stops with your manager. Your manager should see themselves as a conduit and translator of information. Granted they might not be able to share everything they know all the time in its entirety, but as a general rule they should be parsing what they learn, translating it into terms you understand, and turning that into actions you can complete if needed. If you feel something is missing or that what you’re working on doesn’t seem to fix with business goals, work with your manager to clarify expectations and get the info you need to be successful.
  • Be concise with your feedback. Your manager may not mind receiving feedback, but if they feel their time is being wasted unnecessarily, they may not be as receptive as you’d like and may miss the message you’re trying to convey.
  • Have realistic expectations of your own. Know that someone that has poor communication skills and not much empathy will not suddenly be what you want them to be just because you give them feedback. Unfortunately there can be ineffective managers, people that have no business being in a leadership position or at least not their current one.

Be professional, tactful, and constructive, and accept that there may be only so much you can do. You may have more success changing your reactions and interactions with your manager than you will trying to change them and their behavior. Hopefully though you can provide helpful information to your manager and some insight as to how they can be more effective and in turn help yourself be more effective in the long run.

Photo by blue_j under CC license.

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Taking Responsibility for Technical Mistakes http://www.jasonowens.com/taking-responsibility-for-technical-mistakes/ http://www.jasonowens.com/taking-responsibility-for-technical-mistakes/#comments Sun, 06 Mar 2011 19:05:42 +0000 http://www.jasonowens.com/?p=1082 Taking Responsibility for Technical Mistakes is a post from:   Jason Owens at www.jasonowens.com

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Mistakes happen. No matter how much training, experience, or process controls we have in place it’s still possible to misconfigure, bring down a system, or cause a customer to go down unexpectedly. And it feels horrible, that sinking feeling in your stomach as you start to realize what happened.

Unless you’re working with an engineering-centric organization that understands the all technical issues involved in the problem as well as you understand them, as an engineer you probably have the additional challenge of translating and clearly communicating what happened, especially to non-technical parties.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Have a good relationship with your customers and coworkers to begin with. Far too often there are antagonistic relationships between IT and Business, Engineering and Sales, etc. Develop trust and a good working relationship so that when there are issues you can address them together.
  • Take responsibility. Don’t blame other people or the situation. If you did it, be accountable.
  • Be clear and concise, and explain the issue in a way that makes sense to your audience. Don’t use a lot of technical jargon and details. At best your victims will be confused and frustrated, or worse you’ll seem like you’re being dishonest.
  • State the solution. Whether the issue is fixed or about to be, explain what the resolution to the situation is.
  • Deliver the message in the most effective and appropriate way possible. An email might not be the best way to communicate the apology. You may need to be on the phone or deliver the message in person.
  • Ask for feedback. It’s an opportunity for the other party to express concerns or items you may have not considered, and it’s a chance for you to become a better engineer.

And remember, the point of the apology is not to be absolved of any wrongdoing. If you screwed up, fix up, get up, fess up.

Photo by Anderson Mancini under CC license.

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Long live Tommy http://www.jasonowens.com/long-live-tommy/ http://www.jasonowens.com/long-live-tommy/#comments Mon, 24 Jan 2011 17:43:44 +0000 http://www.jasonowens.com/?p=1071 Long live Tommy is a post from:   Jason Owens at www.jasonowens.com

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This post is a little different from my usual ones. It still applies to project management, security, business, productivity. Last week I went to a funeral. Tommy Kuehn was 24 when he died. I had been his next-door neighbor, and essentially got to watch him grow up. The service was held during the worst snowstorm this winter yet. What was normally a 1 hour drive took almost 2 1/2. As I watched cars disappear into the drifts and snow of the storm, spinning out of control on the interstate, I had a lot of time to think.

Start at the end to get to the beginning. While I was driving I happened to be listening to a podcast about “assumptive goal planning.” I think I’ll write a post about it in the future, but the point is rather than figuring out what you need to do to improve process, be productive, boost sales, etc. and then try to make your numbers, think about where you’d want to be at the end of the goal. Think about what you could say about what you did, or what you accomplished, such as “we improved customer retention rates by 15%.” By thinking about the future and putting yourself in the future, you help avoid the mental block of figuring out everything that you’re going to do in order to get to your goal. You work backwards, distilling down objectives and tasks, until you end up the roadmap.

Back to Tommy. I don’t remember who said (paraphrasing) “if you want to know how to live your life, think about what you want people to say about you at your funeral and work backwards.” Tommy was a really great kid. I say kid because that’s how I still think of him, even though he was really grown. He had an infectious personality, grinning, smiling, always willing to help, intelligent, and positive. He died suddenly of bacterial meningitis in a matter of days.

So remember, terrible storm. Snow everywhere, slick roads, no visibility. Monday morning.

Conservatively there were 500 people at Tommy’s funeral. His mom told me that they had the showing the day before. It was at the funeral home up the street where he had learned to ride his bike in the parking lot when he was little. She said there were so many people that showed up, they had to shut the doors near the end. There was a line outside and people stood in the cold to pay their respects. In a very short amount time Tommy made a very large and positive impact on a lot of people. Unfortunately, I’m left wondering what he could’ve accomplished had he not died so young.

But here’s the point. What do you want to be when you grow up? Are you happy with your current job? Are you loyal to your job or to your profession? Are you producing the work or the results that you want to? Whether you’re a project manager, engineer, security professional, a leader, or manager, what is the impression you want to make? What do you want your legacy to be?

It was never too early to start thinking about your future accomplishments through yesterday’s reactions for tomorrow’s past.

Long live Tommy.

Photo by saturdave under CC license.

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DataLossDB – Learn About Recent Breaches http://www.jasonowens.com/datalossdb/ http://www.jasonowens.com/datalossdb/#respond Tue, 04 Jan 2011 01:49:39 +0000 http://www.jasonowens.com/?p=1030 DataLossDB – Learn About Recent Breaches is a post from:   Jason Owens at www.jasonowens.com

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A non-profit group called the Open Security Foundation curates a site that provides details on information security breaches. You can search for information, use their various RSS feeds (such as the latest incidents) or just browse. Even if you’re only a consumer, the site seems to be a useful and objective source of information. For example, if you went to UW Madison, been a patient at the Mankato Clinic, or are a Walgreens customer, there’s some recent news for you.

See the latest incidents link above, visit datalossdb.org, or follow them on Twitter @datalossdb

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Paid for Xmarks Lately? http://www.jasonowens.com/paid-for-xmarks-lately/ http://www.jasonowens.com/paid-for-xmarks-lately/#respond Mon, 20 Dec 2010 04:14:23 +0000 http://www.jasonowens.com/?p=1018 Paid for Xmarks Lately? is a post from:   Jason Owens at www.jasonowens.com

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In early December LastPass announced that it had purchased Xmarks. My initial impression was this seemed like a good fit product-wise, and frankly I was glad it seemed the product was saved. A couple days after reading the announcement I paid for the upgrade to the premium version. I had previously tried, but not really used LastPass (haven’t had a reason to stop using KeePass.) The bundled offering to purchase both Xmarks and LastPass was only a few dollars more than Xmarks alone, so I spent the ~$20 and got both. For those of you that were upset or pledged to donate to Xmarks, have you purchased a license yet, or are you waiting to see what happens?

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