Monday, September 05, 2005

Methodology

Last Tuesday, I met with a group of about 15-20 people in a Computing Commons conference room. I did a short monologue, recapping some of the themes in the blog, and then we did 40 minutes or so of question and answer. I wish I could remember all the questions, if for no other reason than to see if I'd give the same answers after reflection that I gave on the spot. I like to think I'd be pretty close, but you never know.

I can only remember three of the questions clearly.



The first, from the Skeptic, was along the lines of "Why do you think things will change here?" As an answer, I had a kind of "Howard Dean" moment I guess, full of crazy passion. Passion is an important component of change, for sure. Never underestimate the force of passion. But the most important reason to believe that ASU is serious about technological change is the strength of committment "at the top". From where I sit, it's clear that ASU's President is committed to creating a new gold standard for technology in the service of learning and discovery -- that he views technology as a vital part of the New American University vision. Hence the desire to have a strategic plan.

Now if you were to Google "committment at the top", you'd find some 873 examples of people and organizations saying "There has to be a commitment at the top to make employees see that the change is credible." It is a rare thing to have a President take up your cause. It is not an opportunity to be squandered. Dare to believe that significant, positive change is possible and participate in the process. Planning is the first step, identifying both the strategic vision for technology's role in support of ASU's futurea and the tactical, practical steps we will take to achieve that vision.

Committment at the top is hard to come by. Its usually the hardest part. Let's not waste it.



The second question I remember came right after that Howard Dean moment. It was something like, "OK, so suppose we believe that things will change, and we're willing to help define what the changes should be. What can we do?" I have to admit I froze for a second, like a rabbit in the xenon glare. To be honest, I hadn't really thought that far ahead. After four weeks, I was still in the mode of looking around, trying to get the lay of the land. I realized, as I sat there trapped by the headlight's beam, that while I had been saying that we would develop the plan together, I hadn't thought a lot about the practical aspects of that. Now, in front of all those people in that stiflingly hot room, I needed an answer, and I needed one fast.

So I just started talking about blogs and hoping for the best...

"I'd propose that we use a hierarchical set of moderated blogs backed by a wiki. My blog has been getting good readership in the community and I think I can continue to use it to raise issues (and tell scorpion stories) in a general way. As an issue -- and the opinion leaders that grasp the solutions to it -- emerge, it starts to require hard core, detailed work -- as opposed to analogies to Gothic novels and rock songs. So we'll identify it as a key issue, split it off the main blog, and I'll identify a set of leaders who will moderate a combination blog/wiki which they will use to develop a coherent strategic and tactical answer to that issue.

As the solution comes together, the moderators will close the blog to comment, but continue to develop the details of the solution in public. Once it has been developed to a sufficient level of detail, the blog will open back up for comments, to allow people to identify improvements, point out flaws and suggest alternatives. Then the moderators will incorporate those comments into a final cut.

This way the plan, both strategic and tactical, can come together in public, allowing policy to be developed with full participation, without the use of traditional committees.

Or not. If someone has a better idea for how to get a plan together quickly, I'm all ears. But no committees please."


I thought it was a pretty good answer for off the top of my head. The person who asked the question seemed satisfied with it, or at least was willing to let me off the hook. But the more I think about it, the more I think there's the germ of a good idea there.

I realize it might sound a little gimimicky. And that it might restrict participation to the technocrats, leaving out the vital participation of those most knowledgeable about our business processes. It may not be enough of a solution, on its own. But I think it could help us move to the next level of detail. And its the best idea I have right now.

Now I'm not talking about a complex network of hundereds of interconnected blogs and wiki's. I'm thinking maybe an organizational structure something like this:


  1. Web Strategy

    • Governance

    • Message

    • Content

    • Portal

      • Student

      • Staff

      • Other Affiliations



  2. Administrative Computing

    • CPI

    • ERP

    • Data Warehouse


  3. Academic Computing

    • Platform

    • Content


  4. Research Computing

    • Stimulating research

    • Driving research

    • Doing research


  5. Library – Capturing and Sharing the Intellectual Assets of the University

  6. Organizational Challenges

    • Improving collaboration between central and distributed IT

    • Improving collaboration between distributed IT units





The 6 major divisions would be independently moderated blogs/wikis, each responsible for the development of strategy and tactics for that area.

Requirements are critical of course, but I think a hierarchical set of requirements is more important than loads of detail at the bottom. For success you need a clear and simple high level architecture, followed by a few more layers with increasing detail as you go down. But getting the top level requirements right is the most important.

So what do you think? Crazy idea? Just might work? Do you have other ideas for the high level breakdown? What's missing here?



Which brings us to the last question, which went something like:

"My time is pretty much spoken for. How can I find time to help you work on planning when I already have a plate full of things to do?"


Once again, something I hadn't really thought through yet. My first instinct was to say that I was looking for people who were willing to stretch a little in order to participate. And that's true to an extent. In my experience, the highest bandwidth people usually have the best ideas...not always, but often. So a little stretch in the beginning might be called for.

But basing the entire planning process on volunteerism isn't a sound idea. So I am going to have to work out a way, in conjunction with Dr. Lewis and other members of the leadership, to see if we can make planning part of at least some people's official mission.

Without bringing the train off the tracks, of course.

It could be done using pros I suppose -- outside consultants who would be paid to outline a plan after analyzing the organization. People do it that way all the time. But I'm not sure how much internal credibility such a plan would have when it was finished.

We're not looking for a plan for its own sake here, something pretty to put up on the web site and make everyone feel all warm and fuzzy inside. We're trying to make a map so we can follow it to the broad sunlit uplands of a new way. Which means we have to have buy-in from a large part of the group. Which is why I favor an open, participatory process.

So it may take some stretching to participate at first, but if you don't want to stretch too much, just read about the blogs and store your energy up for an issue you really care about. Watch to make sure we don't get too far off track.

Pull on your rope.

10 comments:

Max,  September 6, 2005 at 8:15 PM  

I am a junkie...an endorphin junkie. Endorphins are chemicals released in the brain in response to pain or stress usually caused by periods of continuous and intense exercise. I have been trying to produce endorphins on a daily basis for over thirty years now by some type of physical activity like running or swimming. If I miss a day I really notice it and unfortunately other people notice it too. As I get older however it is harder for me to recover in a day’s time so that I can go hard enough the next day to produce my daily endorphin hit. It is apparent to me that I need to find some other ways to produce endorphins.

How else can I produce endorphins? What else is stressful? Can mental stress cause endorphins? If change is stressful, can change cause endorphins? Can getting out of my comfort zone cause endorphins? ummmhh..

I made the statement last week that ASU has a culture of change. As it was pointed out to me that is an un-true statement. ASU NEEDS a culture of change - however it does NOT have a culture of change - YET. There is a rumor afloat that we are going to become the New American University. [Please note - this is more than a rumor]. Change is going to happen whether we participate or not. Technology change is going to happen whether we participate or not. Stress is going to happen whether we participate or not. The New American University is going to happen whether we participate or not.

Adrian’s Blog is change. Adrian’s Blog is a technical change (for most of us). Responding to Adrian’s Blog is stressful. Adrian’s Blog is helping shape (at least that is the plan) the New American University. Let’s all change; let’s all influence technical change; let’s all get stressed; let’s all help shape the New American University. By “all” I mean functional as well as technical staff must help shape our technology change. I admit I have been somewhat of a skeptic about blogging our way to change – but the old method hasn’t been working. It is time to change. It is time to get stressed. It is time to get another way to produce endorphins. My goal is to add another phrase to my current mantras – “Close the gap” and “Death before decaf”. The phrase I want to add is “Blogging – the new endorphin!” You can help me add this mantra by changing, by stressing, and by blogging.

Max

Jon September 7, 2005 at 7:24 AM  

Roadblocks or Rest areas. Do we leap blindly, believing that we have the answer and correct direction? This is the question that several Colleges are now asking themselves.

We have Great leadership from President Crow, who has given each College the chance/opportunity to make themselves stand out by "charting their own course to success". The difficulty (in my opinion) is that each area (College/School) is "unsure" in what direction to go. Leaders don’t want to take the chance that the direction taken is politically or technically unsound, so are either taking small steps, or spending great amounts of time in discussion of what to do. Others are quickly trying to protect the fiefdom they’ve created by convincing Leadership of their importance to the “grand plan” while contributing very little to the direction.

The answer to what direction to go “may” be outside of our comfort zone. Rather than suffocate growth and inhibit radical or “different” ideas I feel that we need (MUST) allow newer avenues of thought within the College level to take us to our new plateau. Without this, we may not achieve our goals in either a timely fashion, or at all.

As any major City is faced with the political problems of working/collaborating with other Departments they have no direct control over, ASU must develop the relationships across both inter and intra College Departments. Allow a business model rather than academic model approach to the solution. Find a solution that meets what our customers need and want, rather than still believing that we are a captured market. Where’s our marketing report?

Establish relationships based on resources, skills and location rather than by College. We’re shaking the foundation of ASU in order to grow it into something that will be marketable to current and future Customers.

We need more focus on centralized resources. We need to re-group our technology pools to provide this. We need a greater emphasis on web based classes, certifications and continuing education. What’s available? What will be attractive? Will we have to create our own content or can we “borrow” and re-purpose existing content?

We have the skill sets here within ASU to provide this currently, but there are political boundaries we would have to cross. We need to either “re-think” or remove those boundaries.

bohnsack September 7, 2005 at 2:48 PM  

As networking and security are the foundation your IT enterprise is built on, it would be wise to give this computing infrastructure the same kind of high level attention you're giving the other topics.

Cat,  September 8, 2005 at 2:50 AM  

On leaping... just because we leap does not mean we do it blindly. Luck is when opportunity and preparation meet. Is there risk? Of course, there is! But without risk, we don't stretch and grow.

Sports analogy 1 (applicable to downhill/water skiing, or any sort of upright or airborne activity):
If you don't fall sometimes, you're not trying hard enough!

Sports analogy 2 -- from the mouths of babes:
My 13-year-old son's competitive soccer team is building up to the start of their season with 3x weekly practices and some pretty grueling conditioning. Each night, at the end of the workout, the coach engages the players in a strenous interval activity, uphill windsprints, vertical jumping, etc. My son commented that while it's tough and it hurts, especially at the end of a 90-min workout, he realizes that pushing himself is the only way to extend his endurance and his abilities.

I'm with Max. Embrace the stress. Feel the essential tension that keeps you upright and lets you know you're alive. In the words of Lee Iococca: "We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems."

Oh yeah... and: "Lead, follow or get out of the way!"
- Cat

Val,  September 9, 2005 at 8:55 AM  

Yes, let’s make sub-blogs to discuss more specific issues pertaining to each of our areas of expertise. Perhaps it will be a little less intimidating to those of us in the trenches that would like to participate but haven’t known exactly how. Do we need some sort of high level topics within each group to get things started and insure we don’t focus too much on pet projects (or pet peeves)?

I’m sure we can coax some of those "most knowledgeable about our business processes" into blogging if the content was a bit more goal-oriented. Is it time to move toward the next level?

kakdh,  September 16, 2005 at 8:29 AM  

I wonder how it can possibly be effecient, effective or safe for a small department to have their own web programmer. It takes a lot of time in these departments to support the hiring process alone. Also it is questionable whether a lot of positions really need to be a full-time after the learning curve. I also feel it is a risk to have valuable data at the sole control of one programmer who may or may not be very security conscious. Therefore, it seems to me that IT could do a valuable service by taking many departmental applications under our wings, perhaps on a chargeback basis.

I also think that there should be a single advertised point of contact for requests of Central IT. The way things work right now, some departments get great service and others don't even know who to ask.

Lois,  September 19, 2005 at 3:51 AM  

The blogs and wiki organizational structure outlined here assumes a division between Central IT and distributed IT. When our College of Liberal Arts and Sciences computing managers met with you last week, you talked about eliminating things as we go forward that are not beneficial to our business. The division of computer support staff is a canidate for expulsion. Just as the ASU campus in Tempe is now known as the Tempe Campus rather than Main Campus to support the idea that we are all one university in many places, computer support needs to go through this same transformation.

The structure for the university's omputer support staff needs to be addressed to better utilize the wealth of experience and skill represented in support of the university objectives---teaching, research, and public service.

Even trying to define computer support between academic and administrative computing becomes foggy at times. It often requires folks from both areas to work out a solution for someone's needs. Is someone who needs to have a web solution developed in an academic department for scheduling (administrative) labs (academic) performing an administrative or academic task? It may take a team of folks from each area to provide the solution. While working on the project, do the team members have allegiance to the team, priorities of their home department or the academic department?

It would be most wonderful if all computer support were somehow "Central IT" with the respect. Imagine everyone working for the greater good. We might be able to make efficient and effective use of everyone's skills, expertise, knowledge, and time. Most importantly, we could free up some time to devote to the effort of building a great university rather than just barely keeping our technology infrastructure patched together.

Who knows what we could do if we all worked together? We currently compete for resources, whether hardware, software, or human resources. How many different units currently have in place their own software license agreements or lease agreements on hardware? Do we currently negotiate with vendors for the best price possibile for our entire university or for all three univeristies? How often has a college hired a shining star from another unit on campus? This unit then goes through the hiring process from creating a job (or sometimes several jobs to replace that person), advertising, interviewing, training the new person, and perhaps the person doesn't perform well and is let go before the probation period ends. The process then starts all over again. What if we were all part of the same department and we could make use of the career progression process more like a business would do? The shining star could then be placed where his or her talents could be best used and a new person could be hired at the entry level poised to move along that career ladder as merited. We have the structure in place but currently have road blocks to using it!

pchorner,  September 19, 2005 at 1:02 PM  

I would like to suggest a component to the Current Assessment category of each sections Strategic Plan. A tool used in marketing is the Perceptual Map. I see where this might aid in the design of structure and services by surveying stakeholders to provide their perceptions. This also can aid in "positioning" IT. If you are not familiar with this tool, here is an example taken from Marketing Management - The Millennium Edition:

"A theme park company wants to build a new park in the Los Angeles area to cater to the large number of tourists. Seven theme parks now operate in this area: Disneyland, Magic Mountain, Knott's Berry Farm, Busch Gardens, Japanese Deer Park, Marineland of the Pacific, and Lion Country Safari.
The company presented tourists with a series of trios (for example, Busch Gardens, Japanese Deer Park, and Disneyland) and aksed them to choose the two most similar attractions and the two least similar attractions in each. A statistical analysis led to a perceptual map (scaled quadrant) conaining two features. Seven dots represented the seven tourist attractions. The closer any two attractions are, the more similar they are in tourists' minds. Thus Disneyland and Magic Mountain are perceived as similar, whereas Disneyland and Lion Country Safari are perceived as very different. The map also shows satisfactions that people look for in tourist attractions. Marineland of the Pacific is perceived as involving the least waiting time, so it is farthest along the imaginary line of the little waiting arrow. Consumers think of Busch Gardens as the most economical choice."

To expand, the results of this query could influence groupings in the ASU.EDU site. If you go to www.asu.edu and select the header bar for "students", currently you do not see the "Library" under Academic Support Services. Yet students might "perceive" it as such. The same could go for how ASU IT is organized. How the customer perceives things is a result of the current environment and their expectations. Dare I say that what is perfectly logical for us IT folk in catagorizing and departmentalizing services and resources might not be the perception or expectation of our customers?

Just a suggestion, not a requirement.

Cat,  September 20, 2005 at 3:05 AM  

"Dare I say that what is perfectly logical for us IT folk in catagorizing and departmentalizing services and resources might not be the perception or expectation of our customers?" Yes and thank you! Others interested in designing for the user might want to try Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think... second edition is now available.

Nancy September 20, 2005 at 5:00 AM  

Love the idea of perceptual mapping advocated by Perry Horner above. How does the student think about the University? A faculty or staff member? A parent? How do we learn what those ways are? Whatever the user's associations and mental linkages are - his mental map - we can use it to design access to systems, per Krug and Cat's "Don't Make Me Think" admonishment. And then, maybe lead the student/faculty/staff to places they didn't know existed, but that they need to know about.

I'm going to add a page to the wiki somewhere that creates a door to that kind of theory and discussion. Great!

Nancy