Speeding Up the Enterprise

January 29, 2013

This is the first of a series of occasional blogs whose main purpose is to make other people very rich.  I mean, heck, I’ve got enough, or at least I would have enough if my family couldn’t read the word “Sale,” in department stores.

So how can YOU get rich from my idea.  Build an app that does it.  I explain how the app works, and you go ahead and do it.

This first idea is pretty simple, but the app might be hard to build.  That’s OK.  You don’t usually get rich without talent.

The idea is to take advantage of something we’ve all observed:  that management slows projects down.  Not deliberately, mind you; usually, they want to speed things up.  But all those gates and calendars and (with top, top management) staff that surround management make it a big production just to get hold of these guys.  (And it’s usually “guys,” I’m sorry to say.)  

Now this makes no sense at all, if you think about it from the enterprise’s point of view.  A team of busy, talented people who are being productive should never, ever wait around twiddling their thumbs for weeks until it’s time for their half-hour with the boss, who will usually make a decision in a split-second.  

Bosses don’t like it either.

So what I propose is an app–or really, a series of apps, which I’ll call “unscheduling” apps.  They’re designed to short-circuit, circumvent, avoid, get rid of as much of the ceremony and delay associated with decision-making as is possible.

I believe that small, simple apps that make incremental improvements are always better, so let me  give you a few examples of what I mean, all of which are indeed very small improvements.

**  Da De-Delayer:  Your Table’s Ready, Sir.  You know the problem.  That really great executive just happens to be running late.  Everybody else’s schedule gets thrown off.  So do for busy executives what many restaurants already do for their patrons:  send them an alert when their meeting is actually about to start.  In the meantime, all those people waiting can do something productive.

**  Da Agendifier.  Make it possible for the people who are asking for the meeting to put two lines or so right in the calendar that says what question is being asked or what decision is being asked for.  This has to be readable at a glance.  As with Twitter, only giving people 140 characters makes for a needed concision.

**  Da Snooperintendent.  Back in the days when people were co-located, managers would drop in from time to time and a lot of stuff would get settled.  Nowadays, that isn’t possible.  Your manager is in Bangalore or someplace and aint’ dropping in any time soon.  So give the manager a virtual place where they can drop in and say hello and sniff around.  The group that’s working on something would keep a live description of what’s going on Now:  what people are working on, questions that are coming up, issues.  Next to each notation would be a presence indicator for each of the people involved.  The manager would be able to drop in at any time, then be able to send messages or, if they were present, videoconference the people involved. 

Da De-Synchronizer.  Meetings, which require synchronous communication, are much more expensive than a chat or e-mail exchange, which are asynchronous.  So give people who want to talk to a busy executive a choice of two schedules, the synchronous (we’ll see each other face to face, eye to eye, mano a mano) and the asynchronous (I’ll spend xx minutes reviewing this and get back to you by XX).  The executive then spends part of his (or her) time on each schedule.

I can go on and on, but there’s no need to do this, because you can see what I’m trying to do.  Whenever possible, try to give people more control over their (mutual) schedules, get right to the point, and try not to waste a lot of time when something simpler would do.

Comments welcome, of course.  And of course if there are apps that really do any of these things already, feel free to boast.


Terrific Reads, Part 1

January 21, 2013

Just finished a year and a half of unblogging.  Had a gig, and oddly enough, what they wanted was exclusive access to my opinions about technology.  So it wouldn’t have been right to broadcast them out to the net, too.

Before ramping back up, though I’m going to take a break.  Sit back.  Travel some.  Read some books.  Extend my range a little bit.

In the process, I thought, why not do the same with the blog.

What follows, then, has nothing to do with technology.  But it contains much better advice than I usually give.

Read these books.  All of them are terrific.  A lot of fun.  Worth your time.  I first compiled the list for some people in my family who asked for it.  Thought I’d share it with you.

In no particular order:

1.  To Each His Own. Leonardo Sciascia. Sciascia was an Italian journalist who wrote both fact and fiction about the Mafia. His three works of fiction are among the creepiest murder mysteries ever written. If the thought of the Mafia scares you now, any of these very short books will have you looking in your closet before you go to sleep. In this one, a Sicilian priest begins to suspect that there’s more to the murder of a postman than meets the eye. And there is.

2.  The Long Ships. Frans G. Bengtsson. An adventure novel written by a Norwegian journalist during the Nazi occupation, set (more or less safely) in 975 AD, when the Vikings would row (literally) from Norway to Spain and back, if they thought they could pick up some treasure on the way. The hero, a Viking captain, does indeed go to Spain, is captured, rescues himself from the galleys, becomes a favorite of a Castilian Prince, revenges himself on his captor, escapes with a fair amount of booty, clevery fends off the King of Norway who thinks that boodle belongs to him by rights, deals with mutiny, shipwreck, and treachery, and that’s just the first 100 pages. Then it gets better.

3. Odds Against. Dick Francis. Horses. Self-possessed loners who deal with whatever comes up. Burly, ruthless villains. It’s Dick Francis. What can you say? The best of the lot, probably, and if you like this hero (Sid Halley), there are two more with him.

4.  The Spies of Warsaw. Alan Furst. Clever Nazi villains, but a cleverer hero, who just barely escapes. Wealthy, but available countesses who have a past; dangerous border crossings; bags of money. What could be more fun?

5.  True Grit. Charles Portis. There’s a reason why it’s been made into a movie, not once, but twice. It’s a heckuva yarn. What the movies lose, however, is the best thing in the book, the voice of the heroine–resolute, prudish, penny-pinching Mattie, the one who’s willing to hire John Wayne and make him do what he wants, but sure as shootin’ ain’t gonna pay full freight, not if she can help it, even if it is John Wayne. I mean, he drinks. The (first) movie does have one thing superior to the book. It offs Glen Campbell. Can’t complain about that.

6.  Gone with the Wind. Margaret Mitchell. Another book that’s better than the movie, but takes a lot more time. I don’t need to tell you anything about it, except maybe that the title comes from a poem by Victorian poet, Ernest Dowson, who also came up with “days of wine and roses,” and “loyal to you, darling, in my fashion.”  No one reads Dowson any more.  Does anybody read Margaret?

7.  The Count of Monte Cristo. Alexandre Dumas. At a little over 1000 pages, it isn’t an easy commitment, and even Dumas got tired about page 850, but listen, even if you just do the first 350 pages, where he’s barely escaped from the Chateau d’If, you can call it a day,  and still had about 20 books worth of great reading.