Successful Courageous Executives are Doing these things. You should too.

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me Digital Transformation was easy over the past 10 years I’d have a private jet fueled up and on stand by 24 hours a day. The truth is transformation is not easy and there’s never been a more difficult time to be a c-level executive. Markets are less stable now, deciding on a plan upfront and hoping for success doesn’t cut it in today’s dynamic marketplace.

Compliance with a schedule used to be paramount but that way of thinking is now a liability when the priority is creatively responding to a rapid changing market and user need.  Big up-front planning and large investments are gobbling critical investment that could be allocated to innovation. The solution is thinking big but taking action on smaller increments to learn fast, steer investment and maximize return.

Ask any big executive what keeps them up at night and they’ll most likely tell you:

  • Heritage Applications fuel our business today but they aren’t the applications that will make us competitive in the Digital Economy.  The challenge we face is keeping these applications running while transposing that value to a cloud context.
  • Successfully executing on innovation will propel our business from also-ran to first place.  Making more time for innovation and funneling more investment into these programs needs to be a higher priority.
  • In the process of transforming applications, they’d like to reimagine these experiences and drive customer loyalty and change brand awareness.


Successful Courageous Executives are Doing these things

No two transformation movements are the same.  Organizations like people, have their own DNA. So finding a consistent roadmap, one size fits all transformation blueprint is impossible. Yet there are themes to successful transformation movements and some are listed below.

Failing Fast: Plans change, customers’ needs evolve, and competition is fierce. The wrong kind of failure is watching revenues decrease quarter over quarter. The right kind of failing fast should be synonymous with quick learning and iteration on user need, so costly risk is mitigated through rapid experimentation.

A tersery look at successful entrepreneurs reveals that they have been successful by building companies that are constantly running experiments. Experiments that last one day or less. This is the type of rapid experimentation that will fuel innovation and success in the Digital Economy.

Successful c-level executives have embraced this way of thinking and taken it one step further by creating a vivid picture of success for their teams. At the center of that picture is customer benefit, customer usage or consumption and customer behavior. By iterating in small slices and using feedback they create a clear roadmap to success.

Drop the Pivot, Just Persevere: For many of us failure often recalls painful childhood images of losing an important football game; failing to make it onto the basketball team; getting a bad grade. Failure is often seen as something negative. As children we were taught that we can learn and grow from failure and the same lessons are true as we compete to win in the Digital Economy.

Organizations need to take learning from failure to an extreme. To develop the grit and determination to continuously learn from experimentation until the organizational mantra becomes, ‘learning from failure is just the way we do things around here’.

It’s not the end of the world if a product pitch or deliverable was rejected by a customer.  Companies with strong organizational grit and determination will take the learnings and find better ways to solve client needs and problems.  Creating safe environments where failure is identified as an important step in the learning process is key to success.  In fact teams should be rewarded for learning, not punished for failing.

Psychological Safety: Leaders who create a safe environment where everyone’s voice matters and failure is a way of life, foster more open-minded, creative, and resilient team members. Successful startups have learned to evolve this way of thinking at scale and have created a learning culture that can sense and respond to the changing environment.

It all sounds good in theory but the breakdown in creating this psychological safety often occurs at the implementation phase.  When we try to move from vision to implementation invariably people are impacted and this requires an immediate change in behavior.  Like all change this is met with resistance. When it starts impacting managers and leaders—and control starts to shift—that’s where things erode.

We create an almost invincible combination when we couple user experimentation with high powered engineering executing at a rapid pace.

Learning from the Best: Large organizations are facing two complex issues: the pace of change of their market and their ability to connect their organization with the future of tech. They are not alone in facing these challenges nor are they the first to solve them. Netflix, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon are all great examples of organizations that have embraced change to position them to win in their market. We can learn a lot from each of them.

Companies across the globe are realizing that irrespective of the industry they are in, they now need to learn new ways of working from leading tech companies if they are to retain and grow market share.

Companies recognize that the dominant value proposition is often technology and their people drive that technology evolution and innovation. But they make a critical mistake when decomposing legacy value to the cloud; they attempt to build feature parity. In doing this they miss a critical opportunity to reenvision these user experiences for a new workforce in a new marketplace.

By adopting a different approach to decomposing value teams seek to understand the business context of the applications. They create an architecture that supports those capabilities and build vertical slices of the platform that are visible to users for feedback. Reducing the risk of replatforming initiatives and creating new business value. These teams are changing the future of work

People: Many organizations that fail to successfully execute a transformation movement don’t understand that the most complicated part of any digital transformation isn’t the technology— it’s the people.  Companies do not evolve, people evolve. Successful executives know that lasting organizational success results from leveraging and harnessing the power of their people.

Successful Executives don’t pretend to know everything, they engage their teams.  They solicit feedback from a broad base to define a pathway to success.  By practicing these techniques they steer through ambiguity and focus relentlessly on value.

At Cognizant we relentlessly focus on hiring and retaining individuals who embody a full stack mindset. We often refer to these individuals as ‘unicorns’, hard to find and sometimes non existent in the market. When we do find these special individuals we don’t make common leadership mistakes and remove their decision making rights. Instead we cultivate an environment where we engage these professionals and empower them to do the ‘right thing’ through fast feedback.

Looking Beyond Cost Cutting: Continued success in the Digital Economy means looking beyond just cost cutting and creating an environment for sustainable growth.  Visionary leaders will seek and find opportunities for people when tasks and jobs are automated. They coach, train and prepare their workforce for the future. They are  thinking about the new roles, skills, training, and talent when automation replaces jobs.

They show equal passion for people and technology. They nurture the creation of integrated teams that have both business and technology acumen. Recognizing that by delegating decision making to teams individuals feel more rewarded and teams are far more likely to succeed.  By doing this People know what decisions they can make, who to go to for help, and how to work together to resolve issues without having a “manager” involved.

Governance no longer involves command and control. You’ll find that in the new world, where the confluence of everyone’s opinion leads to the best outcome is more fun anyway.

Until next time, C-ya


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Adventures at VMWorld 2017

The Grand Canyon at night can be an ominous place. Standing on the lip staring off into the abyss gives way to a deep enveloping darkness that overwhelms all but the bravest. This is exactly how many enterprise companies feel when they look at their competitors out pacing and out innovating them. This week at VMWorld Pivotal in collaboration with VMware and Google announced the launch of Pivotal Container Service™ (PKS) in front of over 30,000 attendees. Bold announcements that may just lift the darkness for many in the enterprise …

Pivotal Container Service (PKS)

So what is PKS exactly? PKS is a commercially supported release of the open source Kubo project, adding two important new capabilities for Pivotal customers: a simple way to deploy and operate enterprise-grade Kubernetes, and a seamless mechanism to migrate to container-based workloads to run On-Premises on VMware vSphere and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). This latest move is a significant step forward in capabilities for traditional VMWare customers and a major statement that the big players are listening to the needs of their customers.

The journey to the digital economy is as perilous as wandering around the Grand Canyon in the dark. It’s easy to lose your way with no end in sight. That’s what’s happening to many enterprise companies as they lose themselves in the journey to the cloud. But cultural transformation needs software to accelerate adoption. PKS is to the enterprise what automation was to Dev + Ops. It enables seamless and rapid delivery of end-user value in a repeatable way.

PKS enables container workloads across multi cloud environments leveraging the power of BOSH for automated infrastructure provisioning, configuration and operation. It’s the commercially supported version of the Kubo release. Essentially it’s BOSH-Powered, Web-Scale Release Engineering for Kubernetes. It brings all the power of BOSH to Kubernetes. Kubo was launched by Pivotal & Google in Feb 2017 and donated to Cloud Foundry Foundation in June 2017.

Developer Ready Infrastructure

While we are at it why don’t we talk about the gap between development and operations because this can often feel like the distance from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other (no really). How can we bring these 2 groups together so we can deliver software faster? As a starting point we can enhance communication but that alone is not enough. We need to enable seamless provisioning and monitoring of applications and infrastructure. That’s where DRI comes in.

PCF needs scale, security and availability from the IaaS. It also needs robust integrated monitoring. DRI provides just this. Beyond just monitoring it also provides isolation zones. The ability to run enterprise applications alongside POC environments with complete isolation. NSX also provides a network plane for addressability.

What does all of this mean?

No one makes money from managing operating systems (well maybe the cool hyper scale guys do) but let’s face it, we’re not them. That doesn’t mean we’re not cool though. What’s not cool is when we write infrastructure code when we should be focusing on writing application code. Because applications drive our business.

The announcements this week may have lifted the darkness on the enterprise, by bringing dev + ops closer together and providing better infrastructure for us all to host our applications but much work still remains. We need to think about value based outcomes. A single-pane-of-glass that enables us to categorize workloads, move them seamlessly from one cloud to another without reducing security. We need to unify this fractured technology space so we can focus on building our applications.

I’d like to thank Kit Colbert and Paul Fazzone for inviting me to share my excitement about the recent announcements on their panel sessions this week. My excitement is genuine, we are inching towards our goals. The Grand Canyon seems a little smaller every day.

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4 Reasons why Lean will make you a better Dad

The Situation
My job is pretty stressful. I’m sure yours is too. I often have a difficult time leaving the baggage of my work week in the car when I get home on Friday night. Sometimes this means I’m not as patient as I ought to be at home. This results in a rocky weekend with the kids. Sometimes it’s Sunday afternoon before I’m in full on ‘dad mode’ and engaged.
Every third weekend I’m home alone with the kids. This means I have to wake up in ‘dad mode’ on Saturday morning ready to go, solo. One of these weekends followed a stressful week that wasn’t easy to leave behind. In fact it spilled over into the weekend and it got messy. I was impatient, lost my cool and yelled more than a few times.
Later that evening after putting the boys to bed, I asked the girls how the day went. Also known as our retro(spective) of the day. We talked about what we did in our day. What went well, what wasn’t so great and what downright … well, made us sad. They were sure to remind me of the moments where I lost my cool and yelled. I defended my position and said, “if I didn’t yell you guys would not listen.” Their response, “Yes we would. Try talking to us Dad.”
So the next day I decided to make some changes and put the feedback in practice. The results were astonishing. Everyone listened. We had a fun day. We all got along and helped each other. Needless to say retro on Sunday night went much smoother and there was more in the happy column. Making me happy …
Here’s what I learned from doing stand-ups and retros with my kids.
They will love you more
And who doesn’t want that? Unless they’re 9 year old girls. In that case all hope is lost. But that’s another blog post all together. When you’re a better Dad they feel more connected to you. Dads get to spend such a small amount of time with their kids it’s important to maximize that time.
Kids are people too
No really, they are. So talk to them. When we communicate with each other we develop empathy. We practice better listening skills and that makes us all feel better.  We see each other’s points of view, which makes handling problems a lot easier.  
Kids want to be included
No one wants to feel included they want to ‘be included’. To actually be part of the team that comes up with the plan. That way we all feel a sense of ownership, like the work product was our idea. Because, well, it was.
Autonomous teams are more successful
When we all feel like we came up with the plan we all feel like we own the outcomes. Good or bad, it was our plan and it’s our responsibility. We work to keep it on track and we work to fix it when it’s broken. We also all celebrate success. Who doesn’t want that?
I’m not a perfect Dad and I’m not a perfect husband. I still lose my cool and get impatient from time to time. But when I fall off the wagon there’s a process in place to point out my mistakes and I can work to fix them. Without that process it would be one train wreck after another.
I bet you’re not a perfect parent either. I’d also bet you make a few mistakes at work. I bet your team wishes you handled certain situations a little different. My team conducts stand-ups so we can share what we worked on. We talk about priorities and what we will work on tomorrow. We conduct a weekly retro. The most important meeting of our week. We all attend this meeting because we know we’re not perfect and we likely never will be. But we want to work hard to get better each week.
If you change only one thing next week add a retro. It just might turn you into ‘Super Dad’ for a weekend or two.  And let’s face it, who doesn’t want that?
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Ready or not Digital Transformation is Happening Now.

The Situation
Digital Transformation is no longer far in the distance. It’s happening now. But it used to be this distant event that would happen some day. It seems like only yesterday when we started worrying about it. We are in the middle of it now. Every action we take is either the next step in our journey or a desperate move to keep up.
It’s Complicated and we’re Bad Estimators
We all planned to adopt DevOps and break down our applications. It seemed so easy, at the time. We would change every aspect of software delivery over night. Transform our monolithic apps to modular microservices and dominate our markets. It didn’t quite work out that way.
We underestimated the effort it would take to adopt DevOps. It seems silly now. How could we have underestimated the ‘people’ challenges? The truth is, we weren’t very good at estimating waterfall releases. So I guess it’s no surprise we wouldn’t be very good at estimating this transition.
The World is moving on, even if you’re not
The sun is going to set today and it’s going to rise tomorrow. Doesn’t matter if we’re prepared for it or not. Digital Transformation is happening whether you’re ready for it or not. Like sunrise and sunset. Our very existence will depend on our ability to navigate this change.
It’s time to make new plans
Many have given up on their original plans. Sequencing their transformation. Adopt DevOps, transform the apps. We all realize the ‘people’ challenge is going to take time. To be successful we have to give it the time it needs. Like software physics, it will take as long as it’s going to take. But the market isn’t waiting. Our competitors aren’t waiting for us. What about all those apps? We still need to do that work. We need to find someone to do it if we can’t.
Cognizant to the Rescue
At Cognizant we realize you need to do both of these things. We can help you achieve both. DevOps is going to take time. We will work with your teams to show them the way. They will learn-by-doing. The best way to change. The apps are a different story. Through the learning process we’ll tackle some of them. But it won’t be quick enough. That’s why we’re going to help you do this at-scale. We will break down your monolithic apps for you. We will do this now.
We are introducing the concept of Cognizant Labs. Purpose-built facilities where your teams can learn with us at their own pace. Create business value in the process. Digital Transformation doesn’t have to be impossible. It is going to be hard. But with a little help from your friends it becomes a lot easier.
Contact me to learn more about how we can help you.
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5 Things You Should do now to Succeed Tomorrow 

I usually share my thoughts over 1-2 hour talks. Let’s break that model and distill it right down. If you do these 5 things you’ll be well positioned to be successful in the future. 

  1. DevOps: make Conway’s Law a distant memory. Kick-start a DevOps movement, bringing development and operations together. Break down silos and downstream consumers. Adopt two pizza teams and empower them to succeed by controlling their own destiny.
  2. Microservices: break down monolithic applications to modular services that can be delivered independently. 
  3. Continuous integration: deliver code often and integrate it all the time. Never allow teams to work independently for long without integrating. 
  4. Continuous delivery: every change or completed story doesn’t have to be pushed directly to production but it should be possible if that is the desired outcome. By integrating often we know the code hangs together without regressions. Because all of this is automated we can easily flip a switch and push to production. 
  5. Automation: continuous delivery isn’t possible without automation. Automate everything from code deploy, delivery to production and your infrastructure. Yes treat your infrastructure like you do code, version it, automate it and watch magic happen. 

It’s exciting to be on this cloud journey with you all. I love sharing my experiences and learning from yours. I’d Love to hear your feedback so leave a comment. 

Until next time, c-ya. 

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Rockstar Engineers Aren’t a Long Term Strategy for Success

Rockstar Engineers Aren’t a Long Term Strategy for Success

I’ve been fortunate to travel and speak a lot about my experience leading teams that successfully adopted XP. In my talks I share my approach for hiring and retaining great talent. The approach I follow now is the exact opposite of the approach I had 15 years ago.

I used to believe that I needed engineers fueled by caffeine, the ones that worked through the night and committed large amounts of code. The true rockstars. We all know those people, zero empathy. If you stopped them in the hallway to ask what they were working on they’d tell you you’re not smart enough to comprehend what they’re doing. This is exactly the kind of person I go out of my way NOT to hire now.

Why Not Hire Rockstars?
I’ve said this at least a million times but I’ll say it again,
The best outcomes are the confluence of everyone’s opinion
Following that statement to logical conclusion, if I had two choices to get work done:

1.Complete a story in 30 minutes with a rock star working alone OR
2. Pair 2 developers together take 3 hours and up-level the knowledge of the team

I’d choose option #2 every time.

Together we are Strong, Together we will Go Far

Two heads are better than one. I’ve seen it time and again, two developers working to solve a problem will ultimately lead to a better outcome. The confluence of their experience and effort …

There are other benefits though. Pairing is context sharing. When we work together to solve a problem we don’t ‘feel’ included we are ‘included’. We’re part of the solution. Perhaps more important when there’s a problem we feel a sense of shared ownership to fix it. The code becomes everyone’s problem and not just one person’s. That sense of ownership may seem odd especially to leaders who look for ‘one neck to choke’ when there’s a problem. The syndrome, “if it’s everyone’s problem, then it’s no one’s problem” is true for leadership. But that’s a whole other blog post.

Through pairing we boost efficiency through collaboration. Programming really can be a collaborative endeavor. When we pair we knowledge share and skill transfer. We prevent
little silos of knowledge from forming. Everyone knows the code base and we’re all familiar with each other.


At Cognizant Labs we’re fueling our innovation with teams that lift each other up. We employ XP, retros, standups and other agile methods at all levels. Yes even my leadership team attends a standup, a retro and we have a backlog of work we call action items instead of stories. But we write our action items like stories. They have a consumer, goals … definition of success. Why? So anyone can pick that action item from the backlog when they’re free and resolve it.

Influencing change throughout an organization isn’t just about asking developers to change, it’s about change at all levels. The most successful teams are the ones that realize the enemy/competition isn’t inside our walls but outside. We need to work together, lift each other up and remove roadblocks to achieve greatness.

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