PSC Tech Talk: Change Management

“It’s all in the way we listen”. It’s the PSC motto and especially relevant when it comes to helping clients migrate platforms. With our knowledge and experience we’ve seen that technology is often not the problem in our projects, it is people. Humans are masters at making systems serve our needs, but in general people don’t change quite so easily.

In this light hearted presentation with a serious message, one of our most experienced consultants, John Bigenwald (@john_bigenwald), talked about how he approaches change management when helping client migrate platforms. While this is not “Technology Talk”, it is something we do every day at PSC and relevant to every technology project we do.

Tech is easy – People are hard

Not to minimize how hard developers have it, but code can be refactored and changed without having to hurt it’s feelings or years long emotional attachment to the application.

Why do project fail?

Based on research done by a French company, of their own internal projects:

  • 11% of large projects fail because of quality
  • 39% of projects fail due to a lack of planning resources and activities
  • 57% of projects fail due to “breakdown in communications”

The problems are with “soft skills” and not “hard skills”. Staying in contact with the program mangers as we are going through a project is critical and essential to its success. Communicating with the users not only buys us good will, but gives us better insight into how they work. During this time we also uncover many issues which, left unaddressed, could cause the failure of the project.

Lewin’s Change Management Model

No one starts a project intending to fail. There are three stages to Lewin’s Change Management Model:

  • Unfreeze
  • Change
  • Freeze

In a survey 75% of the project managers expected that there would be some form of failure in their IT projects. It is the expectation from the outset based on history and experience telling them not to expect success. Even 15 years ago, The Harvard Business Review stated in an article that:

“Managers expect to be able to plan for all
variables in advance, but they can’t.
Nobody is that smart or has a crystal ball that clear….”

Unfreeze is the key to the change

How you prepare the organization for change will be the driving force behind the whole process. You have to create a sense of urgency, build coalitions and create a vision for change.

  • Preparing the organization to accept the necessity and/or desirability of a change. It involves breaking down the existing status quo before you can build up a new way of operating. You need to develop a compelling message showing why the existing way of doing things cannot continue.

John then went on to draw an analogy between “change management experts” on tv and real life.

In the “Property Brothers” on HTGV they work with people buying a new house and renovate it. As they walk through the show there are issues uncovered and they all need to be handled within budget. The news is not always good and pleasant to have to deal with, but the home owner has to determine what is most important for them to have implemented to call the project a success. They never know what’s going to be behind a wall at the start of a project.

In “The Walking Dead” tv show people are living in a post-apocalyptic world where they have to survive by using their experience and wits to avoid becoming one of the hordes.

There is a point to this….I assure you 🙂

Creating Urgency

The status quo is unfrozen only by creating a sense of urgency. Stalling and slowing the process is not only a high risk, but gives people who want to be obstacles, leverage to not change.

In the Walking Dead a zombie horde in the camp really creates a sense of urgency. But that urgency is driven by fear, which often leads to bad decisions. A poorly thought through decision causes someone to do something unexpected which puts the whole group at risk.

In the Property Brothers they create urgency by painting a vision of the future. This provides the impetus for change. Besides designing and building a new home, an integral part of the brother’s job is to paint of vision of the future. This allows the client to better handle the unplanned nightmare behind the wall. The overall goal is the overall goal and that which is in front of us right now is only an obstacle on the way to the goal.

So how do we create urgency? Hire some zombies to crash the office?? No…..

Urgency is created by a desire to achieve a vision. The greater the vision, the better the promised future, the greater the urgency to reach that future. Losing a ton of money in a certain area, does not necessarily sway the budget lines for the overall plan. This is only one example but the thought process is the same. Without a sense of why this needs to be done now, why is it important enough to move to the front of the queue? Without a sense of why a change will improve the program, your job, your life, there is no urgency to make the change – inertia will win.

Building coalitions

As projects evolve your change agents can switch and they aren’t always the people you think they will be. In the Walking Dead the group’s leader was a former deputy. Others in leadership are a housewife and a survivalist loner. You would not have chosen them as a team to start with but they need to work together for survival. Over time people are lost from the group and new members join as needs change. In the same manner, hidden structure, long term friendships and who is impacted by the change can drive the dynamics of the coalition.

Create a vision for change

Going to the Walking Dead again……they are always talking about a better life, it drives them forward. They don’t talk about how one direction has fewer zombies over there, they talk about the better life when they get there.

In Property Brothers they do not talk about the size of the house, they talk about entertaining, having dinner with the kids and how that will give you a better life.

Unless you have a clearly defined vision for where we are going, and some people to help you get there, and a sense of urgency to do it….. your chances of failure are higher.

Big thinking precedes great achievement

– Wilfred Peterson

Conclusion

Understand what is driving the change. Use that knowledge to paint a vision of the future. Logic drives technology; Emotion drives people.

 

 

 

 

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PSC Tech Talks – A Journey to the Programmable Data Center

During this PSC tech Talk Geremy Reiner gave us an overview on his “Journey to the Programmable Data Center”. The emphasis of the presentation was not on the technologies involved, but on the concepts and processes which enable infrastructure to be deployed as code and then from there what business solutions become enabled by the infrastructure.

Background

There is more to innovation that technology for the sake of technology. When asking the question why should we build programmable datacenters the answer is much more than “because the technology is better”. We need to consider how a modern datacenter:

  • Provides a business focused approach to infrastructure
  • Simplifies datacenter management
  • Increases speed of delivery
  • Extends benefits of automation and orchestration

Datacenter Ascendancy

As technology has evovled, so has the way we use it to solve business problems. But technology is not the only thing which has to evolve to be able to maximize the cost reduction and productivity gains which a modern datacenter can provide. The organization has to embrace the new capabilities as well.

A traditional datacenter is stable secure and reliable but to achieve that it has a large footprint, it is generally utilized at only 20% of capacity on average, has a high management cost and is very expensive to scale.

A virtual datacenter has increased scalability, can be managed at a computer not at a rack terminal, is generally utilized at 50% or greater and is much quicker to stand up a new capability.

Cloud computing or “IT as a service” uses highly automated self service portals, the abstraction of infrastructure creation and “click of a button” deployment of managed services . With a global footprint, the capacity on demand model now allows business to plan for the future without having to make large CAPEX investments and planning for its needs for the next 5 years.

Organizational maturity

As the organization matures so can the technology. When the needs of the business can be reflected in a truly self service manner where everything from a new site to a new templated service can be deployed with nothing more than a set of configuration parameters and a button, the automated datacenter comes into its own.

 

Software defined datacenter

Geremy went into more depth about what a programmable datacenter is composed of. From application, to automation, to infrastructure, all with business oversight the modern architected datacenter provides visibility at all levels.

 

So then what?

With all this in place, Geremy then got into the real business benefits, with examples, of where the modern data center enables business flexibility, cost saving, speed to market etc.

Process automation

When we talk process automation at a high level we are generally talking about frameworks like ITIL which cover the best practices for delivering IT services. How we respond to the needs of the users, outages and other unplanned issues requires the ability to know what is going on at any time and to be able to respond to it in a repeatable manner.

In a modern datacenter that is generlly an amazingly well defined automated process.

If a service looks like it is not responding as expected, a new instance of the service is spun up, the necessary configuration changes are made to direct traffic to the new service and the old one is turned off – automatically. The end goal is for this to be seemless to an end user.

Continuous Delivery 

The modern datacenter enables us to create business enables “DevOps” capabilities whereby not only is code tested automatically, the infrastructure enecessary to run the test on, is created programmatically at time of testing. Servers and test suites are stood up and then broken down (or turned on and then turned off) as necessary. This level of automation allows high productivity but keeps costs down for the business.

Azure Resource Management (ARM) templates

There are configuration stanadards for being able to describe how your infrastructure should be created, deployed, sized and run. This can make a sizeable difference to being able to deploy capabilities for your business.

As an example, if you wanted to go from zero capability to a deployed SharePoint farm with SQL server and supporting services, you would be looking at a quarter to half million dollar’s worth of capital investment in hardware and infrastructure, months of planning, service creation, setup and configuration and then installation of the software.

With ARM you can literally deploy the entire sharepoint stack within 15 minutes hosted on Azure, using 9 servers, with the click of a button. At the time of the presentation this build would have cost approx $5000 a month. The cost benefits are clear and significant.

To help get orgnaizations get started with using Azure, Microsoft has created many open source ARM templates and posted them on GitHub for general consumption and improvement. They can be downloaded, configured for personal needs and you can be up and running within hours, not months.

 

Working in the real world

PSC worked with one of our clients to create a 19 server, repeatably deployable process for them, whereby they could sell their services to end customers. Through a web interface, the client team could answer questions on a form which in turn built the custom ARM template. The ARM template was programmatically used to automate the deployment of the necessary environment for the end client based on their requirements.

Conclusion

A modern data center is designed around what business need can it flexibly solve for end users, now and in the future rather than how it can rigidly support the business needs of the present past. PSC has proven experience in deploying infrastructure as a service using ARM templates, automated deployment and management of virtual infrastructure and utilizing modern datacenters to help our customers future-proof their technology needs.