Thursday, September 30, 2010

I've Seen the End... We Don't Get Nice Things

OK, my boss must be wondering about my sanity and stability right about now, but this is just a fantasy of a project gone horribly wrong. Now, I would be lying if I said I'd never been in meetings like this before, but not recently.

Fortunately, most of our meetings are quite civil. Maybe not any more productive than this, but certainly civil.

  • I've never worn or even contemplated wearing a bomb belt to a meeting.
  • I've never brought a loaded weapon on campus, nor considered using one on inanimate hardware.
  • I have never successfully bribed another employee to do something that I couldn't talk them into doing some other way. And if I were to try bribing Prophead, I would use wine, not cash.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Saying Everyone is Special is Just Another Way of Saying that No One Is

Hat tip to Dash of The Incredibles for the title of this post.

This is another in the series of exploring implementing change with limited resources. I hate to be a curmudgeon (not really, I love being a curmudgeon), but sometimes the only equitable way to allocate limited resources is to give no one anything.

But that's really just another way to say that resources can't be divided equitably. It's pointless to deny everyone resources just because you can't divide them equally. Faced with limited resources, there are going to be winners and losers. The problem arises when the losers (and sometimes the winners) take it personally.

Just because your project got resources and someone else's didn't doesn't mean that you are better or more important than anyone else. Maybe your project is considered important despite your participation in it. Ever think of that?

Managers have to (though often times they don't) make tough decisions about how best to use the limited resources at their disposal. With everyone clamoring for a piece of the pie, it's not an easy decision to make. Telling someone they aren't getting resources can easily be interpreted as saying "you suck." That's why people need to find ways to get beyond taking it personally.

And managers aren't fortune tellers; they often don't really know what the organization will need in a year or five. This is especially true in IT, where technologies and their uses evolve rapidly.

Combine limited resources, imperfect knowledge and imperfect people... and you have a recipe for an unlimited supply of TFRLs!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Unicorn Pony Rainbows are REAL!

I'm partial to unicorn burgers myself, though My Little Pony salami sounds pretty darn good too!

Why do we even fight these battles? Well, the answer is right there in the cartoon: limited resources. We're trying to do too much with too little.

I'm not a fan of this.

I got my bachelor's degree in natural resources management (truf!), and that major was all about 'managing' 'resources' - if you can imagine that. One of the first tenets they drilled into your head was that resources are limited, and unlimited use of resources inevitably leads to their depletion.

We do the same thing in higher education that the timber barons did to forests, only we don't end up with massive clear cuts; we end up with people and systems overtaxed and spread too thin. We end up with units with conflicting goals and needs completing for the same resources (whether human, financial, or technological).

Inevitably, you end up getting less done than if you had strategically limited the use of your resources because the resources you have are spread so thin and have so many demands on them that they can't be effective.

And this goes for software too. I'm the only person supporting our WCMS. Imagine if our management - in their infinite and inscrutable wisdom - decided that the WCMS would be used as a wiki and for incident management, as well as for web content management. I wouldn't be able to do any of those things effectively, regardless of how good the program was, because I would be spread too thin trying to make it all happen.

This is all Management 001A (Resource Management for Retards), but it's amazing how quickly we forget that during tight budget times. Rather than trying to do more with less, we should be trying to figure out what we can do without (My God, I'm starting to sound like a Republican. Eek!)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

HighEdWeb 2010 TFRL T-Shirts!

I still have a few TFRL T-shirts left over that I'm going to bring to HighEdWeb 2010 in Cincy.

If you are going to be there and want one, now is the time to order!

Yes, they're $30, which is highway robbery, but I ain't making anything on the deal.

Here's the design:

I've got shirts left in the following sizes and colors:

1 - Medium Navy
3 - Large Navy
1 - Large Dark Red
2 - Large Black
2 - XL Black
1 - XXL Black

Order now before they are all gone! Tweet me @tonydunn or leave a comment and I'll put you down. Bring cash to Cincy to get your shirt.

Monday, September 20, 2010

When the Only Tool you Have is a Hammer, All of your Problems Look Like Nails

I've never understood the attraction to software that is supposed to be able to "do it all". Just like those printer/fax/scanner things you see on the market, do-it-all software may to it all, but it will do it all poorly.

For example, 'FingerPoints' is supposed to be able to do content management, and at least one person has commented that we could dump our WCMS (which works great) and use FingerPoints instead. We'd save the licensing fees for our WCMS, the argument goes.

But that's a false economy. As we learned when we went through our WCMS process 3 years ago, just because a piece of software says it does something doesn't mean that it does it in a way that is useful or that meets our needs. 

Consider one of the WCMS products we seriously looked at. "WCMS editor allows upload of image files": CHECK. Sure, but what that 'check' doesn't say is that only administrators could upload images into the WCMS and all images went into a single common 'library'. There is no way that something like that would be even remotely useful or usable for us or our users. 

Part of the problem is asking the wrong questions, or asking incomplete questions. "WCMS editor allows all content editors to upload images to their site space and insert them into page content as desired" would be a better (but still not perfect) question. 

Part of the problem is the reliance on checklists of features. We learned this when we purchased our first WCMS. When we purchased its replacement, we required vendors to give us a sandbox and sufficient training to be able to use it enough to determine if it met our needs. Those vendors that refused were stricken from the list of potential products without compunction. Think of shopping for a car and having the dealer refuse to let you test drive it. You wouldn't do that. And software can affect many more people and cost more than a new car.

And part of the problem is trying to use software to do tasks for which it was not designed. Our WCMS was designed to be a Web content management system. And it does that task great. It would be possible to try to repurpose it to be a wiki, but it wouldn't do that task very well. I suppose it could also be used as issue tracking software, but it would completely and totally suck at that. It's not what it was designed for, and though you may be able to make it do something like what you want, it will never be what you want.

I believe in using the right tool for the right job. We have wiki software that works great. It costs money, but because it works well for our needs, it actually saves us money in increased productivity. I for one, would scream bloody murder if they tried to take the wiki away.

They say when the only tool you have is a hammer, then all of your problems look like nails. My response is: invest in better tools because with better tools you get better solutions. 

Oh, and a final caveat: I haven't been put in charge of anything, nor is it likely that I'll be put in charge of anything. This is just a horrific fantasy I've cooked up in my mind. One problem with this cartoon is that so many posts have been based on real life for so long that when you do something completely fictional, people think it's real. 

P.S. There are still some HighEdWeb 2010 TFRL T-shirts available. But there's only a few left, so order yours now! I only have design #2, in medium, large and XL, mostly in black, but a couple in other colors as well.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

There May be No "I" in "Team", But There *is* a "U" in "Failure"

OK, some caveats are in order here because I could seriously piss off some people if they thought these cartoons represented my opinions of actual events.
  1. None of this has happened - yet. I'm still happily working in my little WACM world. I've had no interaction with any applications other than our WCMS.
  2. "FingerPoints", despite certain resemblances it may have to real software, is completely fictional (though I thought the name was particularly clever). It's characteristics are a mashup of several real applications as well as applications that do not exist.
  3. The events and interactions here are fictional. They may be based on bits and pieces of real events (or accounts that I have heard of real events), but they are deliberately exaggerated and fictionalized and are not meant to represent real events or real people. 
I write this cartoon to make people laugh, not to piss people off (OK, well, there was that one post last year... and I got into plenty of trouble for it too. But other than that, no.) The work we do, and the issues and conflicts we face are serious - and I take my work as seriously as anyone. But it is also possible to take the things we deal with and think about them in such a way that they are humorous. That's what TFRL is about.

So, if you think that I'm commenting on real software or real issues, you are mostly wrong. Do I get my inspiration from real life? Absolutely. But TFRL is not a direct commentary on our work environment.

Hopefully that covers my ass, but if TFRL stops abruptly, you'll know why.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Success is Just a Stop on the Road to Failure

Nuh-huh. People do so read my cartoon! There's at least five of them... if you don't count my boss, my wife and @prophead. I have the Google Analytics to prove it!

And why don't I like where this is going? Why can't I be the campus "Keeper of the LOLcats"? You know, the guy that gets paid for spending his day reading and Nick Holmes. I'm ideally suited for that job. Project management? Not as much as you might think.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Beginning of the End

As I've said before, my job as I know it is coming to an end. A vaguely dark cloud hangs out there on the vaguely dark distant horizon, vaguely foreboding my vaguely dark future.

My boss's idea is to move me into project management, which would be great if most of the projects on campus worked anything like the CMS project. But the CMS wasn't typical. The CMS software actually works, and they gave it to a curmudgeon who scared off anyone who wanted to have any input into the way it works.

It's a lot of work scaring people away, and I'm just not sure I'm up to it again.

Friday, September 3, 2010

TFRL T-Shirts!!!

Continuing the tradition of bringing TFRL T-Shirts to HighEdWeb, I will once again be... uh bringing, uh, TFRL T-Shirts to HighEdWeb.

These are custom shirts, designed specifically for the conference and available only at the conference. If you want one, the only way to get one is to get it at HighEdWeb. 

Sadily, the rising cost of CafePress has forced me to charge $30 per T-shirt... and trust me, I'm not making any money on the deal. I wish I could give them away, but that's just not realistic is these times of budget cuts.

There are two designs:

Design 1 is available in either black or 'cinder' (I'm calling it brown).


Design 2 is available in black, dark red, navy, military green, red, royal blue, brown, charcoal or kelly green.

Don't ask me why one shirt has two colors and the other has a bunch. Cafe Press forced me to use two different t-shirt products for each design. 

I haven't ordered any T-shirts yet. If you want one, let me know ASAP. Tweet me (@tonydunn), email me, or leave a comment. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Who Said You Get Vacation?

Why am I always the last one to find out things? I just learned yesterday that Prophead is leaving today for a vacation in the Caribbean. Who said he could do that? And how does he afford that? I took a week in Oregon - which is literally next door - and it wiped me out! How does he get to go to the Caribbean? huh? Tell me!


I hope he gets sunburned.

BTW, if you don't know what movie the last panel is a reference to, then you should be ashamed of yourself. It's the closing scene from literally The. Best. Movie. Ever.