Bringing Sanity to Meetings and Con Calls – You Can Do It!

I’m sure all of my readers love meetings. If you’re like me, you wake up looking forward to people who forget they’re on mute, people who forget to go on mute before yelling at pets/neighbors/unpleasant BMs, and of course what I call Cisco Standard Time (“We’ll get started about 5 minutes late because everyone before us did.”).

But for those of you who want to make a difference, I thought I’d share some ideas to help you make the most of your meeting time, whether you’re running a meeting, participating in one, or thinking you’d rather get a few more root canals and maybe a vertebra replacement instead of going to another conference call.

Caveat: I work remotely (not to be confused with remotely working), so a lot of my recent thoughts on this topic are focused around Webex or other conference call methods. I hope they’ll help you with face-to-face meetings as well, but don’t count on hitting mute in a conference room to save you from your woes.

I’ll start with an anecdote. I worked for a search engine company about 13 years ago, and one of the CEOs during my time there made an interesting observation. He walked around our San Francisco office and saw meeting rooms full most of the time. Many/most of the people in the meeting rooms were disengaged, and people couldn’t justify the meetings to him in many cases. So a mandate went out, a decree from on high, telling people to cut back on meetings and trim down the attendees. It was one of the wisest admonitions from a CEO that I’ve ever been in the room to hear first-hand. And it seemed to work. (The company failed later for other reasons, but nobody who left the company thought “if we’d only had a few more meetings each day, we would’ve made it.”)
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Live from Interop 2016: Wireless Big Data, #interop4things, and hats #rsts11 #interop #bigdata

2016-05-03 16.56.25For the fourth year, I’m spending a week’s vacation in Las Vegas attending Interop. What started with Stephen Foskett inviting me to participate in a Tech Field Day Roundtable at Interop 2013 has become a tradition, thanks to the courtesy of Interop PR. I’ve experienced all four hotels in the Mandalay strip, learned the secret identity of airline chicken, and met some great people with great projects and products and the occasional interesting vending machines.

YOU CAN’T SEE MY HAT

My coworkers were in large part confused that I would take vacation time, come to Las Vegas mostly on my own dime[1], and act like I don’t have a day job. When I did things like this during my employment with Disney, I’d “leave my ears at home,” as I did for the Tech Field Day events. Cisco doesn’t have iconic ears, and I don’t have a bridge hat (as Teren Bryson suggested yesterday). But I still leave work behind.

You’re not going to be able to leave your experience and expertise behind, of course, and there are enough folks out there who know who I work for, but my work phone, work laptop, work business cards, and work identity[2] are left behind for the duration of an event like this.

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Belated Post-Strata Thoughts 1: Hadoop is finally over…

[Apology: Formatting issues may have been resolved.]

Last month I managed to attend a big data event as an attendee, for the first time in nearly two years. One upside to being a big data storyteller is that you don’t get 3am oncall pages. Downsides at events like Strata include that you’re often working the booth, or preparing for and recovering from a presentation, or trying to convince vendors that your role doesn’t involve buying software and services for a Fortune 50 company personally.

Sure, I did give a brief booth presentation for my friends at MapR on both expo days at Strata SJ, but more time was spent catching up with the people in my ecosystem who I rarely see, learning what they’re doing new these days (or who they’re working for these days), and occasionally getting a no-BS perspective on a very rife-for-BS idea, product, or company.

One of the other upsides to not being a buyer anymore is that it is easy, and practical, to jettison the sales pitches and move on to the stories. I tell stories. I don’t deploy production environments anymore. And it’s refreshing to be able to look at things outside the sales pressure.

HADOOP IS OVER…

So the first point, which was teased at Strata NYC last fall, is that Hadoop is finally over…

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Bad behavior isn’t the right response to bad behavior

tl;dr:

And now on with the show…

Earlier this week Nutanix put out a video campaign against VCE. Many people found it inappropriate or unacceptable. Many people didn’t find it inappropriate or unacceptable. But it offended a very visible contingent of the Internet tech community.

And a bunch of people on Twitter decided to fight inappropriate and unacceptable with the same. For example:

delpo

I was told on Twitter last night that “as a father” made this comment acceptable and respectable. Reminded me of the Jenny McCarthy “as a mother” fiasco a few years ago.

There was another tweet telling Nutanix execs that they’d better plan to work in fast food soon… but it looks like that was deleted since last night. If that’s the case, kudos to the poster for thinking better of it. And kudos to Howard Ting, Nutanix’s marketing SVP, for his creative response to that particular tweet.

I was also informed last night on Twitter that being disappointed with this sort of discourse meant I was “white-knighting,” and that an offensive ad campaign was perfect justification for immaturity in return.

The “white knight” term seems to be a popular way of dismissing any disagreement these days, although I hope that ceases to be the case someday. The fellow who made that accusation also accused me of not having a leg to stand on in my position because I stopped arguing with him. Sometimes you just can’t win.

So what’s your point?

Is it really too much to ask, that we keep the level of discourse a bit above what we’re allegedly (i.e. when it’s convenient or attractive or beneficial to us) trying to discourage in others? I don’t think so. As a father, as a technologist, as a human, I don’t think so. And if I’m in the Internet Minority on this, I’m disappointed but okay with it on my side.

I was impressed with a couple of the responses that came from people who missed the memo that they were expected (or even required) to be offended.

The blog post linked in that second tweet is a worthwhile read, although I expect it will be attacked promptly by Nutanix’s competitors and various other people who thrive on feeling outraged.

Nutanix could have done a milder campaign, and I understand they’ve done so already. Should they have started with that? Maybe. Would it have had the same impact? Probably not.

Would it have inconvenienced people looking for something to be outraged about, if they’d started with the new version? Not for long; this is the Internet as you know. Are there hidden (or not-so-hidden) agendas at work in the outrage? I’ll let you decide on that. Will anyone remember this in two months? Other than the folks who are now setting a calendar reminder to stir the pot in two months… probably not.excellent

But those of us with genuine concern about the impressions and realities of sexism, racism, and anythingelse-ism in tech need to take the high road whenever possible. Having a proven history of fertility and/or adoption does not exempt us from being civil. Nor does having a certification, a job, or a social media account. It may not be easy at all times, but change is rarely easy.

Didn’t you have a booth babe thought to share too?

Yes, thanks for reminding me while I still have my asbestos Speedo(tm) on. For that image, you’re welcome.

The blog linked above suggests that people should express outrage about promotional models or “booth babes.”

While I agree with that concern, and I don’t stop at booths that are overwhelmingly ‘babed, there’s a right way and a wrong way to address this issue as well.

I was disappointed to hear some folks at a recent professional trade expo cheerfully and proudly insulting the models themselves, some even claiming knowledge of the models’ alleged (unlikely) alternate professions and sexual proclivities. One or two people I overheard were even thrilled to insult a technologically aware person in a booth who simply made the mistake of being an attractive woman in tech.

The white-knight-decrying fellow can pipe up here if he likes, but insulting or attacking the models themselves–or anyone at a trade show for that matter–will not help your cause or do anyone else any good. Complain politely and professionally to the vendor in question if you want change to happen. Calling the model something you wouldn’t call a person in your family (or that you wouldn’t want someone in your family called) just puts you farther in the wrong than the vendor you’re trying to be outraged at.

Disclosure: I have some people I consider friends over at Nutanix, and I have been a guest at their office for Tech Field Day and just as a friend of the company. However, I don’t have any pigs in the fire on this market at the moment, and nobody has asked or enticed me to write this or given any consideration for this post. And I do have a relative who is a part-time promotional model, albeit in the fashion/club/media world, not the tech world.

The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Decision-Making Mongoose; or, RASCI as a transitional responsibility model

250px-RASCI[1]I’ll apologize in advance to George Clinton.Video below.

As I prepare to transition out of my current job, my priorities change and I have to be a bit more cautious about what I get involved in, so as to not leave anyone hanging when I do hand over my badge in just over two weeks.

I’m reminded of the decision-making scheme we were taught at eBay–RASCI. That’s

  • Responsible (Person who does the work),
  • Accountable (the person in charge, also Approver of the work R does),
  • Supporting (someone who helps out with the process but is not the main responsible party–sometimes merged into Responsible for RACI),
  • Consulted (subject matter experts who provide advice), and
  • Informed (people who get status updates).

This model was obviously intended to set out expectations and points of responsibility within a project, defining responsibility and telling people who would be on either end of a communications channel as well as who is actually hands-on-keyboards (figuratively or literally) to do the actual work. However, it has another useful role.

At the point where someone gives notice and their countdown begins, they would move into the “C” category. They no longer get action items, presumably no on-call, and the ability to focus on passing along knowledge as needed to the people who would pick up their areas of responsibility.

I’m in the C category now at Disney, There’s a lot to be done, but I can’t take long-term ownership of it anymore. What I can do is work with the folks who are taking over for me, make sure they have the tools and contacts to do their best in my absence.

But what’s this with the mongoose?

Well, that’s controversial. RASCI is the name eBay gave to the mascot for their process, He’s the “decision-making mongoose at eBay.” There was a stuffed version (I have one somewhere in the garage, I’m sure), and it was entertaining and a bit creepy. There was also an unofficial travel blog, with pictures of RASCI in various settings. I can’t find that anymore, but it was out there, I promise.

My fiancee wondered why anyone would need a mascot for decision-making. Fair point, but it does make the model more personally accessible for people who aren’t in project management. And how many mongooses (mongeese?) do you run into in your daily life?

So where do we go from here?

Well, I’m going to Cisco. I don’t know about you guys.

But seriously, RASCI or its variants may be worth considering if you’re having problems with identifying roles in a project, or even if you aren’t yet. You don’t have to use the mongoose, but hey, it’s there.

It’s also worth considering RASCI or the like as a means of communicating a transition of responsibility, whether someone is leaving a project, a department, or the company entirely. Who owns that piece of infrastructure the guy who just left was handling for years? Who remains in the department to provide support and receive reports?

If you have experience with RASCI/RACI, or if you have an extra RASCI doll in need of a new home, let me know in the comments.

And for those of you who might not have known the title reference, have yourself some P.Funk.

[Video link updated 2017-11-30 since the old one has disappeared since 2014.]

[2018-03-02: The card we had to remind us of the RASCI model]

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-10-14,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YMaker:0x4c,Date:2017-10-14,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y