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The Soundtrack

Wake up, sing in the shower, exit your flat, whistle a tune, commute,  i-Play a favorite ditty, Zumba to beats, 150+ per minute, dine to ballads, promenade to hip-hop, talk over soft jazz, shop to Pop, fall asleep to pink noise.  Music and sound everywhere.

Now consider your workplace and its soundtrack, the themes motivating the dancers on your projects, programs, and change initiatives.  A lonesome horn, over some bass and swirling brushwork?  A blend of finely tuned multi-part harmonies?  12-tone and dissonant or easy to hum?  The usual verse-chorus-verse-chorus-fade, or something more?

Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies.  Miles’s Blue in Green.  SOS Band’s Take Your Time.  Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me.  Segovia’s Bach Prelude.  St. Vincents Party.  Your favorite?

They’re all playing out there, in your head, in the office next-door, on the floor below, down the boulevard, across the country, after the sun, the different tunes, the backbones laid down by the different drummers.

To each their own.  Include your favorites and then play them all.  Not one at a time, but all at once.  You will potentially need to, dear Maestro, to bring order to what would otherwise be cacophony.

© Michael C. Simonelli,, 2013

A Synapse Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

You do not typically have the liberty to start with a blank slate, to flash it all away as the Men In Black do, to wait it out and hope for collective memory to fail.  There is no command-shift-delete that allows you to clear the cultural cache.  It endures, persists, and will outlive your brief footprint on its surface.

Learn from the past, the dying memories, the latent, the dormant, that which lurks but which in due time will once again rear its head.  Relive the good times, celebrate the tribal successes of those who came before, pay homage to the spirits that yet float about the halls, get out the old albums and reminisce.  Motivate with tales of olde, good and bad.

Tell each other why this time will differ from the last, and the time before that, or why the good times will continue to roll as they always have, or why the turn in the road ahead will demand a new and improved We.

Break the amber around the professional hearts and minds of those who will follow, who will lead, and who will give counsel, each according to their comfort.  Provide compelling reasons, examples, and demonstrations, of what goodness looks like.  Enlist both, those who’ve succeeded, and those who’ve failed, to tell their stories.  Make each accountable for each, person by person.

This New Yorker cartoon is paid for and used under Non-Exclusive license agreement with Conde Nast.

© Michael C. Simonelli,, 2013

Tickets Please

Is every employee entitled to a seat on the moving vehicle of an organization undergoing change?  Who goes, who endures, and who thrives?  Ducks, swans, and eagles, quacking, singing, and soaring.  There are some moving on, others rehearsing the next meaningful soliloquy, and those who for the first time will show ’em what they’ve got.

As you contemplate the challenge, do you see yourself still standing when all that’s ahead is behind?  Are you outside looking in, or are you center, in the mix?  Are you motivated and are you able?  Do you still have a chisel to whet?  Dust, talc, or bedrock?

Consider your tolerance for challenge and for change.  How long does it take to get to a new you?

© Michael C. Simonelli,, 2013

The Henny Youngman School of Consulting

Henny Youngman, was an American comedian and violinist, the “King of the One-Liners.”  Mr. Youngman passed away in 1998; he would have been 107 years old this March 16th, 2013.

The Urban Dictionary has an entry for what’s known as a Henny Youngman Problem:  A problem that is best solved by avoiding the problematic situation.  Or, as Henny’s one-liner tells it:  Patient says, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this!”  Doctor replies, “Don’t do that.”

The next time you are considering handing over part of your budget to consultants for advice, ask instead: Do I have a Henny Youngman Problem?  You can potentially save yourself some upfront time and money.

  • Hurts when you manage change?  Well, don’t do it that way any more.
  • Operations planning painful?  OK – then stop and adopt a new way.
  • Portfolio reviews ineffective and tedious to prepare for?  Cease and check.
  • You agreed to all that scope and now you can’t deliver?  Well, whose fault is that?

Additional one-liners that might prove useful:

  • My doctor grabbed me by the wallet and said “Cough!” Are you providing IT value?
  • The more I think of you, the less I think of you.  Does your IT brand withstand the scrutiny?  Equally applicable to transparency around IT spend.
  • Nurse: “Doctor, the man you just gave a clean bill of health to dropped dead right as he was leaving the office”. Doctor: “Turn him around, make it look like he was walking in.”  Your own caption here.

© Michael C. Simonelli,, 2013

To Integrity!

This morning a friend of mine awoke and found herself richer, in dollars and in spirit.  A past client had overnight transferred a sum of money her way, a “bonus” for services above and beyond.  Though the contract said it was possible that she could receive such payout, a premium for value received, it was totally at the client’s discretion with absolutely no obligation for them to do so.  They easily could have said, “Out of sight, out of mind,”  and rested on goodwill already attained between them, and left it at that, but didn’t.

I raise my glass to those who do not allow circumstances to offer an excuse for a lapse in integrity.  Gestures like these are palpable demonstrations of ethic and principle, and they kindle the same in those they touch.

Salut! Ade Yamas!

© Michael C. Simonelli,, 2013

Room for the heart?

As I host and attend events to support the days’ goals, I am often amazed at how many people – co-workers – are meeting each other physically for the first time, despite being co-located and holding stakes in common interests.  This actually makes it easier in many cases to get juices flowing, to use the freshness of the first encounter, to smash through the predictable, and take a first cut at new points of view.

While we gain goodness like this, in people connecting physically and intellectually, consider that the more compelling wins will come from further connecting at the heart, passion to passion.  Is your culture competent to nurture its mad scientists, artists, and sculptors?  Does it allow time for the creative process to take hold?  Do these ideas jibe with what you consider practical in managing the top and bottom lines?

For more on the topic, and about the love that goes into a mother’s butter cookies, please see:

Creativity: A Dialogue with Oliver Uberti.

© Michael C. Simonelli,, 2013

Dream Team Rides The Bench

You spend a lot of effort to acquire the best talent.  Scouts constantly on the lookout, poring over credentials, conducting interviews, filtering out, distilling it down to the very best, the Dream Team.  Each Dream brings that extra something to the court, a personal brand on a basic game.  In time the team gels, the fingers defer to the larger needs of the hand, they execute near-flawlessly from a common playbook, without sacrificing spontaneity and creativity.  The players get comfortable with one another, riffing, rocking, rolling through the opposition.

But over time, do they stay dreamy?  Are you finding beds of laurels where once there were workout mats?  Noticing a little hesitation in the dribble, flubbed crossover moves, alley oops to no one?  Their fault or yours, the head coach?  Still rallying them at half-time?  Willing to get thrown out of the game to fire them up?  When was the last time you stood center court and jumped the opening tip?

© Michael C. Simonelli,, 2013

What do Margaret Mead and Hunter S. Thompson have in common?

2 quotes to get you thinking about organizational change.

The first from Margaret Mead, an anthropologist known for her work in helping us to consider cultural evolution:  “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world.”

Mead believes that transformation results from a cluster of interacting people who make choices and set direction, responsible for crucial innovations, disrupting relationships with other groups, funneling events until change occurs.

In Continuities in Cultural Evolution, Mead writes: “Even in the very simplest culture we find conditions which are favorable or unfavorable to evolution in the ways in which age, sex, and the manipulation of even very small amounts of esoteric knowledge are structured, so that the specially gifted are assured-or deprived-of a chance to exercise their gifts in any particular field.”

I think Mead’s ideas neatly complement the sentiment of our second quote, from Hunter S. Thompson, American writer and founder of Gonzo journalism:  “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

In upcoming posts we explore the potential for Communities of Professionals as disruptive clusters and their members as catalysts for change.

© Michael C. Simonelli,, 2013

What can the (extra) ordinary IT organization learn from the Apple Retail Store?

Ron Johnson, the current CEO of J.C. Penney, was the Senior VP at Apple who brought the Apple Retail Store and the Genius Bar concepts to market.  In a Harvard Business Review blog, he says that the Store is essentially about “the experience,” and building face-to-face relationships.  He recommends to start with a basic question: How do we reinvent ourselves to enrich our customers’ lives?  Let’s take a look at what IT organizations can learn by answering this question.

 First and perhaps foremost, the Store is a brick & mortar site in an otherwise electronic world.

The Store layout exposes visitors both to the products, and more importantly, to the solutions those offer. How might your IT organization benefit from a physical point-of-presence, open to your Business customer, at the various locations where you do business?

Sure, you’re not selling Macs and i-Products; instead you’re delivering ITIL services, and sales applications, or clinical trial databases, or the cloud, or security, to Business customers who are investing a lot in you.  Don’t they deserve to be similarly delighted, wowed, and enriched?

 Create your own flavor of the Genius Bar.

Why not re-purpose that unoccupied double-office on the 11th floor in a creative way? Perhaps a Usability Lab where Business Analysts (BA), Product Managers, graphic and branding folks, meet with the Business, to collaborate on Requirements and Design, make on-the-spot decisions, equipped with the right space and tools, executing on known capability patterns, to accelerate the time to make exciting and new functionality.  45 minute sessions – you can do 20 to 30 of these weekly if need be, in support of the projects in your current IT Investments’ Portfolio.

BMW and the Genius Bar

 Create environments – create buzz.

Consider performing everyday activities, in new and creative ways. Rethink the layouts.  Do your end-users typically do User Acceptance Testing (UAT) at their desks, when they have the time, negatively affecting your schedules and product quality? Consider a dedicated space with handsome maple tables, standard devices configured and ready to go, staffed by your Development, Quality Assurance, and BA team leads, ready to pace the users through the tests, iterating real-time as defects arise.  Name the space the Accelerated UAT LAB; make it easy – even fun –  to do business with IT, while decreasing costs and improving delivery.

Pick an IT function; imagine the sort of work that would queue up for them at a Genius Bar

How about Project/Program Managers and staff dedicated to sizing and estimating IT efforts? Change Requests and the impact of those on schedule and staffing, though commonplace, are still typically disruptive and difficult to coordinate across a meshed set of projects . Maybe a Change Request Studio? Maybe it’s only for the larger Programs: a well-designed facility, with a well-known and advertised agenda, a predictable set of activities and outcomes, that does nothing more – or less – than process complex change requests – with a smile – to the delight of the Business.

Roping off and promoting services as Bars, Labs, and Studios, brings them out in a bolder relief, more likely for IT and the Business to manage and control them.  Being in the physical space motivates those in the space to execute the process for which the space is intended.  Your delivery lifecycle comes alive.

Bringing the functions and flagship activities out this way creates transparency.  Scheduling for services makes it clear that there’s a wait for service when we are dealing with limited resource.

 Focus on solutions.

The Apple Store sales strategy is not to sell but rather to solve problems, to understand customers’ needs, some of which they might not even realize they have.  You might find your Managed Services partners and 3rd party vendors to be very happy to work with you to create Solution Labs to host various flavors of Workshops, One to One sessions, and other types of Learning events.


  • The physical space – the look, feel and bustle of the environment – is essential to the customer experience.
  • Human interaction is the order of the day.
  • You are attempting to execute a consistent and predictable process repeatedly in a dedicated space that is aesthetically pleasing to both you and your customer, to cut waste and to improve quality
  • Engagement typically takes place by appointment, though you will welcome drop-ins as well.
  • Staff provides support, executes lifecycle activities, focuses on solutions, and spreads IT goodwill.
  • The Bar complements the more standard customer support you offer, like the Help Desk and self-servicing portals.

The job of the Apple staff member is to make customers happy. Make your customers happy and you will likewise enjoy increased goodwill, growth, and return business.

© Michael C. Simonelli,, 2013

Thoughts On Boiling the Ocean

Don’t boil the ocean – a clichéd caution against over-ambition and a lack of focus.  We imagine steam rising from waters, salty spray, a scene almost primeval. But is this good advice for organizations seeking meaningful and lasting change?  Putting a kettle up might be okay for tweaking things as they are, but sometimes we need to act in a way more disruptive and reaching.  Should we be willing to throw caution to the wind, just a bit, when faced with such a challenge?

A vision for organizational change imagines a rejuvenated and improved state of affairs, across a broad seascape.  Otherwise it’s a vision for something less, a point initiative, a narrow improvement.  IT practice is systemic, a cultural phenomenon based on hand-offs, stand-offs, and interlocking pieces.  Wiggle a wrist, and the hand flexes, the elbow braces, while the shoulder, back, and neck, resonate in support.  Wiggle enough parts and soon the joint’s jumping’!  Likewise with organizational change.  An ocean wave begets another, and so on ….

Consider the potential benefit of spreading our lessons learned across a wide span of initiatives that evolve together, each nudging the other to a success greater than the parts.  Is boiling maybe synonymous with executing a well-orchestrated and calculated program for change?

Consider the standard frameworks out there like COBIT, ITIL, CMMI,  and other favorites, whatever might be right for what’s at hand.  These are templates to frame change, end-states of the ocean successfully boiled, manuals of how to agitate the molecules of various process and service areas, to heat things up, to get us to where we’re heading.

Be cautious of under-ambition.  It is difficult to effect meaningful and sustained change in just one or two service or process areas.  It’s all interrelated, and the idea that the organization can neatly isolate these practices is not always an effective one.  Look to advance meaningful combinations – like Change, Release, Software Configuration, Test Data, Environments, and Quality Assurance – as a package of ability which over time evolves to higher levels of maturity.

© Michael C. Simonelli,, 2013