Archive for January, 2007

 

Consolidation Downside? – 22. January, 2007

When I was in school, I specialized in Anti-trust Economics, so this subject holds a special fascination for me…if you’ll provide me this indulgence…

I just ordered a notebook computer from one of the largest PC suppliers (who will remain nameless). The machine was perfect in every way except for one thing – it had Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition, although the request was made to the person making the order for the Professional edition. It was ordered with Home edition in error, but the omission was missed in the initial order review. When the error was caught the next day, an attempt was made to amend the order. Even though the machine was not due to be built for another week, I was informed that it was impossible to change the order (curiosity #1).

Doing what any self-respecting IT professional would do, I decided to obtain a license for XP Pro and would upgrade the machine when it arrived. Fast-forward to the receipt of the notebook…On performing the upgrade, the process stopped at a point where “there was an incompatibility of one of the hardware components with Windows XP,” according to the Microsoft Knowledge Base. Curiosity #2 – how could a machine that had XP Pro as an option be incompatible with XP Pro?

Long story short, after talking to a half-dozen people at the manufacturer, the only solution was to return the unit and re-order the machine with the correct operating system. Huh? There’s no better way to fix it than that?!? This is something that’s amazed me for years, although I understand the economics of it – it’s cheaper to replace something than to fix it. That goes against all of the training I received from a Depression-era father, but there we are.

Welcome to the world of the oligopoly*. One of the effects of this corporate structure is that products become more proprietary – even those that once were open systems. Dell and Hewlett Packard have just about eliminated all competition in the Windows-based PC market over the past five years through supply efficiencies and contracts with the largest corporations. I think we’re seeing an effect of this – the “non-upgradable PC” – which was antithetical to the main reason why the IBM PC took off – its open platform.

Now, the moral of the story: Openness is messy and time-consuming, but it’s necessary to a thriving economy…or government…or society. Large organizations in control is more efficient (for the organization), but what do we give up in return?

* For you non-economists, an oligopoly is a market where there are few suppliers but many product variants, so from the outside, it looks competitive but acts much more like a monopoly, with the lack of choice and price controls inherent in the structure. For the economists out there, I know this is oversimplification, but the definition works for our discussion today.

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Two Minute Drill – 11. January, 2007

I was in a meeting with my client today, and it was a painful experience – those who have been in the consulting business for a while know the type of meeting it was. A deadline approaches. There are issues, both with completed functionality and change requests. The functional team doesn’t have time or resources to fully document the things that need to change, and the technical team doesn’t want to start work until requirements are made clear. The standard response to this from a “classical” project management perspective is to break into a smaller group, hash out the details, and hope it’s enough for the technical team to work with, which more often than not isn’t accomplished. So, the cycle begins again, and a day or two is lost for development and testing.

Unfortunately, most project managers are only versed in the PMI-approved PMBOK* style of project management, which tends to fall apart when the heat is on. Often, this leads to acrimony among the project team, missed deadlines, and software riddled with errors – not a good result.

Then, something occurred to me – I was watching a football game. The home team was behind by two scores with about six minutes remaining in the game. They have a solid game plan, but some bad fortune caused them to fall behind. What usually happens, sports fans? Of course – the offense goes into a “no huddle” mode, improvising plays at the line of scrimmage (within the parameters of their offensive skills) to try to score quickly and get back in the game. Yes, mistakes are made along the way, but the eleven players on the team have faith that they will all do their jobs well and, together, they will accomplish their goal, which is to win the game.

So, here’s an idea – perhaps we as project management professionals should expect the possibility that we might be behind the eight-ball with a looming deadline, and plan some contingencies and change our management style, much like the football team does. For example, change to an Agile/Scrum project management mode in the last few weeks before deployment to facilitate rapid change. Of course, that would assume that everyone on the team knows how to react to a change like that, and the coaching staff (project managers) know how to make that change. That is a massive assumption – there’s very little rehearsal for contingencies like a football team practices, and the project managers usually only know one way to coach.

This is the challenge – approach projects like football games. Radical? Perhaps, but it might not hurt as badly as the current state of play…

* “Project Management Book of Knowledge” – the Bible of the PMI, and a great book – but only one way to approach the subject…

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For 2007, The Password Is… – 2. January, 2007

Happy New Year to all…
I’m probably dating myself here – well, OK, I’m definitely dating myself – but I can hear the hushed tones of the announcer on the old Password show right now…
“The Password is…’Context'”
As I get farther and farther down the rabbit hole of Master Data Management, Metadata Management, Data Quality, et al, everything seems to come back to that word – “context”. Dictionary.com defines “context” this way:

1. The parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect: You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context.

2. The set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.

(I left out the other meaning dealing with the structure of a mushroom. You’re welcome.)

In my opinion, the thing that separates information from data is context. A manager really can’t analyze the effect of a particular event or group of events if she does not understand how these events relate to other events, either preceeding or succeeding. When the definition of “context” is applied to data, you can see that each piece of data is related to every other piece of data either directly or indirectly, and the nature of these relationships give the data character and relevance.
One way of providing context in the business intelligence world is by providing dimensions to classify events. Dimensions are the attributes that describe events, or facts. Generally, these are presented as “sorts” in a reporting tool on such topics as Department, Business Unit, Time, and Account, to name a few. They are used to perform the infamous “slice and dice” operation to information to determine trends and seek outlier data, and they do a good job of it for the most part.
However, I feel that the way dimensions are usually used is very limiting. The definitions of these relationships are static and linear, which doesn’t reflect reality very well. It reminds me of why I didn’t become an Economics professor – I didn’t think that the theory of ceteris paribus* held water and I couldn’t stand the thought of teaching that to others while a better model was (hopefully) being discovered.
Over the next few months, we’ll be exploring the concept of context in data warehousing and how to better represent it with the tools we have (and maybe stumble across a new technique or two).
…and yes, I plan to finish the “What’s Wrong with Process” eventually as well…I’m still working on that writer’s discipline…
* “Cetris paribus” is defined as “With all other factors or things remaining the same.” I remember all of this from Econ class, but I had to Google it to get the right term 20-plus years later. Thanks again to the power of the Internet…;-)
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