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Five Hundred Stories

Today marks a turning point for this blog. As longtime readers know, I don’t often talk specifically about blogging.

Going forward I have some exciting things planned. At least they are exciting to me. And I appreciate all of you lending me a few minutes of your day each Monday through Friday to attempt to entertain you. Hopefully, we’ll share a writer/reader relationship for a long time.

Okay, what’s new?

First, I’m moving to a themed layout. Not the actual layout of the blog, I don’t plan on updating that for at least another year. Instead, I’m planning to pick a topic or theme each week to write about. One week might be devoted to business travel, another one might be devoted to coaching employees. Still another might be focused on interviewing.

I attempted this a couple of times with pretty good success in the past.

Up until now, I’ve kind of written whatever took my fancy that day. I have a list of topics I draw on if I have a total brain cramp. But, most times I pick something that has happened the previous day that I can blend together with an IT topic into a single post.

This format has worked pretty well. Starting next week I’m going to put a little more structure around the process. I’m hoping this will make reading this blog less of a kinetic experience, where today you read about running a rafting company in Wisconsin and tomorrow I delve into the intricacies of the ten data areas of the Professional Project Management process.

My goal is to create a more cohesive narrative. One that is more entertaining for you and easier to repurpose into a longer form. That’s scared writer-speak for “I want to start collecting these scratchings into books.”

Don’t worry, I still intend that each day’s entry will be completely self contained. You don’t have to worry about needing to “catch up” if you miss Monday and Tuesday’s post.

Why?

You might wonder why I’m doing this and why now?

First, I’m following the Howard Tayler career path. Howard is my friend who writes the award winning Schlock Mercenary web comic. I admire Howard for his success in transitioning a hobby of drawing comics while working full time for a computer company, into a full time cartooning career.

When Howard started out, he by his own admission “didn’t draw well.” Later, he self deprecatingly described his skill as “less bad.” The fact is that he is very, very good at both drawing and storytelling. However, when he started out he simply drew what he found funny. The story moved forward, but in a somewhat random manner. After a couple of years, he started to organize his stories into “books.” Each story had a beginning, a middle and an definite ending that stretched over several months.

It was only after he started writing more complete stories that he turned his comics into books. Howard has released 11 books so far. He envisions as many as 18 in this current series. At that point he will end the story of Schlock Mercenary.

What does that have to do with me? After all I’m not a cartoonist.

It occurred to me that the first two years of this blog are a lot like some of Howard’s early work; consistent, hopefully well written, but lacking in direction. I realized that I can make the experience better for you the reader by applying some thought, structure and planning.

Do I expect to someday quit my day job and write full-time?

Ask me when I’ve been doing it for a few years.

Finally, why now.

Since March 2013 I’ve updated this blog every Monday through Friday. There are some posts that appear sporadically prior to March, but starting in March it’s been regular as clockwork. Today marks the 500th blog post. It seems like a good spot to pause, take an assessment and think about what I want the blog to become.

So, thank you for your readership. I’m continually amazed and humbled that my thoughts and writings provide some measure of entertainment or usefulness to so many people I’ve never met in person.

I’m grateful you are here as we start What’s Next.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Thank You For Breaking Our Systems?

Great job on solving today’s problem, Rodney.

Yeah, Rodney you really saved us on that one.

You’d think I’d be grateful. My boss and my coworkers were telling me what a good job I did resolving a nasty technical issue. I’d just spent two days working with my engineering teams to do an emergency install of a redundant backup system that had failed when we tried to use it the day before.

But, I wasn’t feeling particularly worthy of their gratitude. I was the technical project manager. The word “technical” is right there in the job title. I had run this project. I had vouched for the validity of the technical solution. The very same technical solution that had failed to work the day before.

Every project is a series of tradeoffs. You never have all the resources and all the time and all the features you want. You have to trade off. It’s called “Risk Analysis.” And during the project we identified the risks around our backup solution. The project team considered the issues, weighed the risks and we made our choices.

And when things started to go south the day of the rollout, the risks we had evaluated as low turned into high risks. So, I was looking at the problem and recognizing the choices we could have made months earlier that would have prevented our current outage.

Was I responsible?

Partly.

There were also technical issues that had led to the outage, but I couldn’t get past the decisions we had made months earlier. The risks that we had noted and dismissed. I didn’t feel like they should be thanking me. If they had accused me I might have felt they were more justified.

I wanted to have properly prioritized the risks.

As I was leaving after a 12 hour day with the last of the technical issues finally resolved, the site manager thanked me again.

Great job today Rodney.

Thanks, Derek. But as the technical PM, I figure I’m the one who should have prevented it in the first place. Not feeling really brilliant. . .or competent.

You don’t get it, Rodney. Stuff goes wrong. It’s why we have jobs. But, look at the last two days. When stuff fell apart, you didn’t. You kept your head. You put together a contingency plan. You put in long hours and you led the engineering teams in building a solution. At the same time you managed the client and kept our management team informed. You aren’t being thanked for causing the problem. You are being thanked for the professional manner in which you resolved the problem. That’s valuable. And people noticed. Nice job.

Thanks, Derek.

I really hadn’t thought of it that way. Everyone makes mistakes. How you handle yourself when the system falls apart defines you.

You are at your best when things are at their worst.
Starman

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Tomorrow is Another Day

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Somedays it just doesn’t pay to be me.

I’m a project manager. But what happens when the project doesn’t go as planned? People react differently when things go badly. How you react to a blown project can either build credibility and lay a foundation for solving the problem, or make the problem worse.

1. Stop

First thing to do when things go bad? Stop. Don’t make a bad decision worse by rushing into a solution.

2. Evaluate your options

What choices do you have? There are always options. Doing nothing is an option. Retrying your previous solution is an option. As a project manager sometimes I get to pick the options. But, more often it’s the engineers who will tell me what my choices are.

3. Pick a solution

After evaluating your choices at some point you have to pick one and go. As a PM, I answer to my stakeholders. I will evaluate the solutions and if the decision is a big one I’ll take it to my stakeholders. They expect me to not only recommend a solution but to identify the benefits and risks of each solution. While I have my preferred solution, ultimately the stakeholders have to believe in the solution. They get to pick.

4. Execute

Finally, act on you solution. Again, as a PM I can run a project, but I need engineers to actually make it work. The hardest part of this step is to wait. It’s tempting to pester the engineers, but if you have done your research properly, the key in step 4 is to let the workers work.

It’s easy when you are in the middle of crisis to run to the first solution that presents itself. The pain in a crisis can be excruciating. All you want is for it to stop. But, if you keep your head, you can turn a crisis, if not into a win, at least into less of a loss.

And remember that as bad as your crisis was, as terrible as today may have been, the sun will come up and tomorrow is another day.

Make it a better one.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Back To School

Milan stared at the screen and wearily clicked NEXT. One more online class. This one was about network applications. He had three more sections to complete tonight.

I didn’t choose to go into computers, into IT. IT picked me. (Back Where It All Began) I always seemed to move from one job to the next, WordPerfect, Microsoft, consulting. But, I have to admit there was no grand plan.

The problem I ran into was the training. I guess every job has it, but computers and networks change so fast that like trying to go up the down escalator, if you are not constantly learning, constantly trying to get ahead, you are falling behind.

During the time I spent working for a large non-profit, I assumed I had found my last job. The company was incredibly stable. They had a pension, they were so old school. I focused on the job and didn’t worry about certifications or keeping up on the latest technology.

Getting laid off was a surprise. And I realized that I’d stood still on the escalator. I was several steps back of my peers and no competitors for the job openings. For the first time in a long time, I started to focus on my career. I did three things to try to catch up.

First, I started to read. While I love business books, I also started reading blogs. I started to try to identify technology leaders and follow them. I started to research technologies, security and servers.

Second, I started to write. It was during this period that I started this blog. I wrote every chance I got. I wrote research papers. I wrote white papers just because I had an interest. And writing led to more reading.

Third and finally, I looked at the certifications that existed in my field. I identified three and put them in priority order:

Project Manager Professional (PMP)
Six Sigma Black Belt
Certified Scrum Master

I started one the first one. I had the experience but I took a class to help me with the exam. After two months and a lot of coursework, I sat for and passed the exam. Next, I looked at the Six Sigma certification. I was just starting it when I went to work for my current company.

Over the coming year, I have several goals related to work. I still plan to get the Six Sigma. I also plan to write for more places. I’ll also be turning some of the better blog entries into a longer format. And of course, I continue to read voraciously.

I don’t think IT is that unique. My brother is a CPA. He goes to school every year to learn the new tax laws. He’s becoming an expert on the Affordable Care Act since it will impact taxes so much.

Never think you are done learning.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Dogs and Cats. . .and Babies

Magdalina. That was her name. And she was four months old. I met her and her slightly stressed mother in Minneapolis. I had seat 8A. Mother and daughter were in 8B.

You’re welcome to have the window if you’d like.

You don’t mind?

Not at all.

Magdalina didn’t really say much. Well, she was vocal, but I think it translated as “Feed me!”

Some people stress a lot about babies on planes. And it’s not always the baby’s parents who do. I’ve never been a nervous traveller. And I like to think that I have a more than usual share of empathy. Having survived traveling with 13 children will do that for you.

My wife and I travelled to India ten years ago to bring home a daughter. Our daughter was 18 months old at the time. She was fine if my lovely wife held her, but would absolutely howl if I held her, or even if my wife put her down. It’s easy to understand why. Two strangers who speak a different language and look different from her show up and take her away from everything she ever knew.

The trip from New Delhi, India to Seattle, WA took nearly 36 hours total. The longest leg in the air was 15 hours. Think about that. Fifteen hours with an infant that will not allow you to set her down. We flew Singapore airlines who provided a bassinet that attached to the bulkhead. Our daughter wanted nothing to do with it.

She finally fell asleep after several hours and we were able to lay her very carefully on the seat next to us for a few hours of rest. So the prospect of sitting next to Magdalina for a 2 hour trip from Minneapolis to Richmond, VA didn’t bother me a bit.

The Twin Cities to Richmond was actually the second leg of my trip. The first was from Salt Lake City to Minnesota. As we were queuing in the jet way I overheard another passenger,

I’m terribly allergic. I cannot believe they allow it.

Well, she’s typically no trouble and. . .

Well, I’ve been on other flights and it’s caused an issue!

Imagine my surprise when I ended up as the middle seat between these two women. And the point of contention? A cat. One woman was transporting her cat.

I’ve never seen a cat on a plane. Even today, I still haven’t seen it. The cat never left the duffle bag carrier. I barely heard the cat.

So, do you drug her before you fly?

I used to, but then I forgot to one time and she acted exactly the same.So I quit.

The allergic lady ended up switching seats with someone further back. I like cats, but it wouldn’t have mattered since the woman could have been transporting a bag full of books on cats for all the fuss the actual cat made. The guy on the aisle asked her about the cost.

So, do you have to pay extra to bring a cat?

Yes. Actually it’s quite a bit more. It used to be $75, but they recently raised it to $100.

Apparently she travelled with the cat quite a bit.

The dog last month wasn’t nearly as inconspicuous. I was coming back from my friend’s wedding in Seattle when a guy came walking down the aisle with a dog. This wasn’t a “pocket dog.” It looked like a Chesapeake.

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(Photo credit: dogbreedinfo.com)

He and his owner had the seat behind me. There were plenty of bumps on the back of my seat as the dog got comfortable. I thought, “Oh, boy. This is going to be a challenge.”

Nope.

It’s 90 minutes from Seattle to Salt Lake. That dog didn’t make a peep. He didn’t seem to move a muscle. As we touched down in Salt Lake and taxied to the gate several of us commented on what a good traveller he was. Looking over my shoulder I added,

I rarely lean my seat back any more. But, today especially there was no way I was going to.

I can’t raise my hands right now. But, if I could, I’d high five you.

Travel is stressful enough. When someone needs to take their baby, be they human, feline or canine, the least I can do is try to make it a little easier for them. Especially since it doesn’t cost me a thing to be a little accommodating.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
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Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

It’s Not About The Food

Hey Mark, want to get some dinner?

Yeah, I just need to finish up this payroll processing.

Okay, let me know when you want to go.

Three hours later I was still waiting. But, we were headed to a really nice restaurant. The Brick Tap House in Louisville, Kentucky.

I’ve been to Louisville several times and eaten at the Tap House, or is it Brick House? (I’m never sure.) I could never get past the steak and ‘shrooms to try the rest of the menu. But, today I was really looking forward to the drunken chops. I was clearly going to have to wait a while longer.

Another hour went by while I thought about the fact that I was really happy I didn’t have to do payroll processing.

Why was I even waiting? I could have gone by myself, right? Four hours is practically enough time to have eaten and been ready to eat again. But, still I was cooling my heels in the lobby waiting for my coworkers. Because good as it was, it wasn’t really about the food.

When I travel, I love to stay in Residence Inn by Marriott. Part of it is rewards points and free breakfast and stuff, but more importantly is the kitchen. Food isn’t that important to me. Even really good food. Given my choice, I’ll stay at my hotel and cook frozen burritos.

So why was I waiting to go to dinner?

Finally, at 9:30 it was time to go. We had a wonderful dinner. The drunken chops were everything I was promised they would be. But, it was the conversation that was the real treat. The people I was having dinner with were men that I’d worked with to get our Louisville site set up and running over the past several months.

No talking about work during dinner.

We spent the evening talking about many thing. We talked about being poor. We each discussed where we were in 2008 when the economy crashed. One man lost two businesses. One lost his job. One ended up living in barn. One had a good safe job. . .where everyday people were trying to kill him.

We talked about growing up. One man picked vegetables every summer from the time he was eight until sixteen, for $50 for the summer. One man grew up in a home with no electricity and no indoor plumbing. One man had 7 different step dads growing up.

We talked about professions. Two men were former Marines. One had never been in the service, and I’m not sure about one. We talked family. One man had 13 kids. Two others had no kids. And the other one I’m not really sure of. We talked of music and friends. Cars and coworkers. Food and vacations. Politics and religion.

No, the food wasn’t the point. The real value of the evening was a bonding that only happens when you break bread with people.

The pork chops were good, the company was better.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Not Everyone Likes Vanilla. . .And That’s Okay

Do you know what the most popular ice cream flavor is?

Yeah, it’s vanilla.

I like vanilla.

Many people don’t.

Yesterday I got to return to one of the coolest museums and factories in the world, Hillerich and Bradsbury Co,

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It’s also known as the Louisville Slugger museum and factory.

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Regular readers know that I’m kind of a baseball nut. This was my second trip to the museum. (That’s A Really Big Bat) When I visited the museum back in October I was all by myself. That was fun. But visiting a historic site all alone is not nearly as much fun as sharing the experience.

Yesterday we were attending as part of a team building activity. My company and some of our clients were going together. I was really excited, but it quickly started to become obvious that not everyone shared my enthusiasm. Brad and I were the first to arrive.

Rodney, if you start talking baseball trivia, I swear my eyes are going to glaze over.

I attempted to resist the urge to spout baseball stats to him.As the rest of the people started to arrive it became clear that Brad wasn’t the only non-fan.

Do you like baseball, Kent?

Not really.

Are you a fan Sara?

Not much.

At one point we walked past the wall that displayed the Major League players who signed with Louisville Slugger and were now in the Hall of Fame.

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Alex got excited,

Wait, is this the Hall of Fame?

No, Alex. No it’s not.

When I was here months ago I wandered through the museum for what seemed like hours. This time we spent less than 5 minutes inside. I really had to resist the urge to let my baseball geek show.

It occurred to me that It’s okay that some people find my favorite past time a complete waste of time. It happens.

Coke vs Pepsi

Ford vs Chevy

iPhone vs Android

Microsoft vs Apple

Google vs Everybody

Mariners vs Yankees

Okay, maybe it’s just me on that last one.

Taking the baseball example, I realized that if everyone supported the same team, it wouldn’t make for much of a league. The diversity is a strength. The same is true in businesses. We all have stories of “Yes Men” style bosses. But, a strong leader will surround herself with people who are willing to disagree. Don’t pray for lots of people to agree with you. It’s much more interesting to have worthy detractors.

And occasionally try the chocolate ice cream.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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