Reviewed: the Phoenix Project

A while back, a friend of mine tipped me off to this book, and said it was a book I should read. Here are my thoughts.

Author: Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and  George Spafford
Publisher: IT Revolution Press
Year: 2013
ISBN: 9780988262591
Length: 345 pages

An IT Operations department in dire straits, facing the very real possibility of layoffs and outsourcing, starts to turn the ship around, implementing processes as needed in this inspiring fictionalized account. The IT version of Eli Goldratts bestselling book the Goalthe Phoenix Project shows not only how to use process tools such as ITIL and Kanban to turn a situation around, but also what insights are needed to successfully do so.

It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I am a big believer in ITIL, and I recently wrote about my thoughts on Kanban in an IT Operations setting. This book is an interesting look at how things can be turned around, and a good read, too. I heartily recommend it.

Reviewed: Fish

Some time ago, I was handed this book by my manager, and told to read, understand and internalize its lessons. Here are my thoughts on the book:

Author: Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, John Christensen and Ken Blanchard 
Publisher: Hyperion
Year: 2000
ISBN: 9780786888825
Length: 112 pages

Lundin, Christensen and Blanchard weave a fictionalized story as the backdrop to the lessons they have to teach in this book. We are introduced to Mary Jane Ramirez, a single mother, managing a backoffice outfit at a bank, described by most people as a “toxic energy dump”. Following an encounter at Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market, she decided to turn it around, and to teach her employees a few lessons in the process.

Throughout the book, the lessons offered by the FISH! Philosophy are emphasized by the story. The narrative, while ordinary and fairly predictable, serves its purpose well; it is not there for its literary qualities, but rather as the delivery vehicle.  The book is short, and fairly well written. The lessons it teaches are ones that anyone can stand to learn, and most of us need a reminder every now and again.

Kanban in an IT Operations setting

A while back, I participated in a discussion about the application of Kanban in an IT Operations setting. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

I strongly believe there are three keywords to keep in mind when thinking about process design:

  • Practicability – What is the learning curve for using the process?
  • Repeatability – How well is the process documented?
  • Measurability – How well are we actually using the process?

The process must be simple enough that you want to use it. It should be documented well enough that someone from the outside can understand it. KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) must be well-defined, and build up under CSFs (Critical Success Factors). Finally, any cumbersome and elaborate process will not be followed, as other ways to work will be chosen and used.

Kanban, Scrum and Lean are all interesting process tools, and can all undoubtedly have a place in IT Operations, as well as in IT Development. Like Ole Kirk Christiansen, I believe that the best will do. That said, we must not let the search for perfection become the enemy of that which is good enough. If you find a tool that might work in the here and now; start using it. If it turns out not to be expedient, find something else. Above all; do not be afraid to try something out, only to see it fail. Instead; fail quickly!

MS Excel: Create PDF of active worksheet

I recently had a user call in and ask me how he could export the contents of a single worksheet to PDF while working in Microsoft Excel 2010. As I told him, that is a simple feat to achieve. Here is how:

  1. Click File, then Save as…
  2. Change the format in which to save to PDF
  3. Click the Options-button that will have appeared
  4. Select what to save to PDF

You are not only offered the opportunity to export an active worksheet, you can also choose to export only a selection within the active worksheet.

Google Accounts: Responding to calendar invites on behalf of other email addresses

Here’s the scenario: You have set up your main email address to forward to your GMail address. Whenever you get calendar invites, you are unable to accept them, because they have been sent to your main email address, and not your GMail address. If that sounds familiar, I have good news: this can be fixed, and the fix is fairly straightforward. Here’s what you do:

  1. Log on to your Google Account
  2. Go to Google Calendar
  3. Click the Gear icon and choose Settings
  4. Select the Calendars tab
  5. Click Reminders and Notifications next to your primary calendar
  6. Under Alternate email address, check the box next to “Allow me to respond to event invitations forwarded from these addresses. My attendance response will come from youraddress@gmail.com

That should do it.

SPSS: The SAVE command has succeeded. However…

A while back, I had a user call in and tell me that he was editing a document in SPSS, and went to save his progress to the original file, when he got the following error:

The SAVE command has succeeded. However, due to contention for the specified file, the data have been saved to a file with a different name. Saved to: location\filename.sav

 

He further reported that the file specified was the one he was working on, and the file size had been reduced to 0kB. Looking into it, I found that this is a challenge for SPSS users for years, and is most likely caused by SPSS locking the original file, and in turn being unable to save to the same file. Knowing this, a workaround presents itself: save your work as a new file, then close and rename. Cumbersome? Sure. It will, however, prevent you from losing data.

SSH: Logging in

The single most handy tool for any Linux administrator is SSH. Short for Secure SHell, it is a way to connect to another computer, using the terminal. It is immensely powerful, and gaining confidence with it can be a bit of a challenge. Before you can do ANYTHING else, you need to know a few basic commands:

  • ssh user@server
  • ssh -p #### user@server

Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it? But, wait a minute; what are we actually doing? The first command tells the terminal to connect, using SSH, to a server, identifying as a user (obviously, you would need to replace user with your username and server with the address of the server). The second command does the same thing, but specifies which port to use (and yes, you need to make the same replacements as before, as well as replacing #### with the port number you are trying to access).

Having logged in, we can perform a number of tasks, such as setting folder permissions, creating users, running tests on the network, and much, much, much more. This, though, connecting and logging in, is where it all starts. Without that, nothing that you know how to do makes any difference.

Seven years, four hundred posts

The first post to this blog was made on September 14th, 2007. Since then, seven years have gone by, I have moved twice, changed jobs as many times, gotten married and become a father, and embarked on a bachelor’s degree. The blog has gone from being hosted on Blogger to being hosted on WordPress, and I have moved it from a subdomain to the primary domain where you find it now.

By no means the first online presence I have had (the first was hosted by IBM back in 1996, the second was on now defunct GeoCities), this blog is the one over which I have had the most control, from which I have learned the most, and which has offered the most permanence.

This is the four hundredth entry I have made. They range from my forays into Linux to the sunk cost fallacy, and everything in between (and a lot of things not connected at all. They all belong here due to the simple fact that I say they do.

I have no plans to stop writing now. I have far too much still to cover, such as my forays into Linux and OBIEE. The topics will continue to be varied, and other topics to come are book reviews, change management and really, whatever else I find the time and inspiration to write about.

Mac OS X: Change what programs load on startup

I like having my Mac start a set of programs each time I boot it, yet there are others which, under normal circumstances, would be set to load on boot that I only want to be running when I want them to be. Luckily, deciding what programs to start on boot – or not – is a simple enough proposition. Here’s how:

  1. Open System Preferences, then Users & Groups
  2. Go to the Login Items tab
  3. Click the lock to make changes, and input your admin password when prompted
  4. To remove programs: Highlight the programs you don’t want to load, and click the minus sign to remove them
  5. To add programs: Click the plus sign, and navigate to the program in question

That’s all there’s to it.