Three Phrases I’m Eliminating From My Vocabulary

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” – Luke 6:45

Been doing a lot of reflecting lately on my goals in life, and I realized that I complain. A lot. Complaining is good when it leads to change (i.e. complaining about your sibling to your mom MAY cause their behavior to change), but complaints without action just lead to bitterness. I don’t want to be bitter, so I’ve recently started getting rid of these three phrases.

“I didn’t have enough time.”

Variants of this include “I didn’t get everything done I wanted to do”, “I’m not blogging enough”, “my career’s not as far along as it should be”, and “I didn’t make MVP again? Bummer”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making excuses for not completing things; I’m just trying to figure out ways to not complain about it. There’s never enough time in the day to do everything, and I completed what I spent time on. If I’m not satisfied with the outcome, it’s because I made the wrong choice, not that I didn’t have enough time. The trick is to figure out what I want and choose the right path.

“I’m fat.”

My clothes don’t fit right, and I’m sitting here at a table writing this blog and polishing off a bag of Doritos. To me, exercise is waddling my way from the fridge to my chair, and I wonder why I struggle with my weight? Again, complaints without action do nothing but make you bitter. I’m reading on Facebook about how several of my friends are turning to activity to drop weight and become healthy, happy, people. Maybe the first step is to quit reading Facebook.

“I’m tired.”

Variant of phrase two, but not quite the same thing. To me, fatigue has become a synonym for boredom. Instead of enjoying the moment, I spend 15 minutes complaining about how much work it was to get involved in the moment, and I miss half of the fun. It’s natural to be tired, but it should never stand in the way of getting the most out of life.

Summary

Again, I’m not necessarily to the point of taking action to correct all of the deficiencies in my life; I am, however, just about done with griping and moaning. Life is what you make of it, and I want to make more out of mine.

June 9, 2015 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Health, Professional Development, SQLServerPedia Syndication, Uncategorized

(Personal) Kanban Myths: The Myth of The Important Task

Continuing in my efforts to chronicle myths of kanban utilization, I thought I would tackle the second biggest misconception I see surrounding kanban boards.  As I discussed in my previous post, many people mistake kanban to be a process for task management, when in reality, it’s a visualization of some other process.  The key takeaway is that you should spend some time making your board match your process; a kanban board should emulate your workflow, not the other way around.

So you’ve invested the time, and you now have a complex board that accurately reflects how you do work.  You’re humming along, getting things done.  Life is good, right?

Almost.  If you’re just using a kanban board to visualize a process, there’s a temptation to accept the following:

Myth 2: Kanban is a visualization tool primarily focused on (important) task management.

This is partially true; in industrial kanban, workers may use a kanban board to keep track of individual issues as they move throughout the workflow.  Managers, however, should primarily use the tool to look for opportunities to continuously improve their processes.  Once your kanban board matches your process, it becomes easy to understand where bottlenecks occur (both resource allocation and/or unnecessary processes).   Tuning workflow is a critical part of kanban utilization.

For personal kanban, however, managing resource allocation becomes a bit of challenge; how do you manage yourself?  You’re already too busy working through your pile of stuff.  Unless you can recruit other friends or family members (the Tom Sawyer approach), it’s unlikely you’ll be able to adjust resource allocation.  You can, however, begin to look for opportunities to tune processes.  How?

This is where the conversation has to drift away from kanban a bit; as a tool, a board allows you to visualize workflow and primarily focus on improvement, but in and of itself the measure of improvement isn’t part of the board.  In other words, you can see how things work, but there’s no built in visualization for determining if something has room to improve.  You have to decide what that method of improvement will be.  To improve your processes, you must define the metrics for improvements.  Those metrics are known more commonly as goals.

Goals are a critical component of a successful kanban implementation.  For example, if you have a personal goal of “I want to lose 50 pounds in the next year”, that goal should influence your decision on which tasks to pursue (and what the priority of those tasks are).  In other words, if your kanban board shows that you’re getting a lot done, but no tasks are associated with the goal of losing weight, you’ve got some room to improve your processes.

So, in summary:

  1. Spend some time making your board match your processes (at least 30 days).
  2. Define your goals (metrics for improvements)
  3. Take some time to tweak your processes to align them with your goals.

Minor incremental adjustments are more likely to be adopted than sudden and swift changes (see my management notes about change curve).  Kanban is a long-term tool, but can be highly effective at improving workflow.

 

March 10, 2015 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, Professional Development, SQLServerPedia Syndication

(Personal) Kanban Myths: The Myth of The Process

Recently, my friend Joe Webb has posted some great resources on Personal Kanban on his Facebook timeline.  Joe’s an influential guy in the tech community (particularly the #SQLFamily), so I’ve been excited about the flurry of emails and comments regarding the adoption of Kanban techniques.  I’ve been using Kanban boards for a while now at work, and it’s interesting to see the differences between Personal Kanban and “industrial” Kanban.   The significant distinction between the two appears to be the impetus to “get things done” in Personal Kanban by using a very simple abstraction; in other words, start with a simple board of “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done” and attack your task list.

I think this is a great way to get started with Kanban, but I also think that it’s easy to forget about some critical components of Lean thinking.  After observing a couple of email chains from friends (and comments on Joe’s Facebook thread), I thought I’d blog about some common misconceptions of Kanban, starting with:

Myth 1: Kanban is a process to manage my task list.

This is probably the biggest trap that most people fall into when they decide to get started.  The simplicity of Kanban is so appealing; just throw up a board and start moving cards left to right.  Getting things done; Kanban helps you do that, right?

Sort of.  Kanban is not a process; it’s a visualization of your process.  The distinction may appear to be subtle, but it’s important.  A simple board showing three columns (i.e., “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done) assumes that your method of handling tasks is equally simple.  Your process should drive your board, not the other way around.  While the act of defining tasks will yield some immediate benefits, oversimplifying the visualization has some costs.

As a concrete example, let’s assume that one of your tasks is to call and make an appointment with your doctor.  You move the card to the Doing pile, call your doctor, and then get informed that they’ll have to call you back.  Can you move the card to Done?  You haven’t made the appointment.  Do you leave the card in Doing?  Are you doing anything with it besides waiting?  Do you move it back to To Do?  You’ve already started working.   If your board is driving your process, the temptation is to leave the board alone and struggle with task movement.  If your process is driving your board, you change the board.  Add a column for waiting tasks, move the card, and then revisit that pile as needed.

Don’t get me wrong; starting with a simple board is a GREAT way to get started with the fundamentals of visualizing workflow, especially if you don’t know what your process is yet.  However, as you discover more about the way you work, don’t try to change the process (at first); make sure that you spend some time developing your board so that it matches the way you do work.  Improvement will come later.

March 4, 2015 · stuart · 3 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Professional Development, SQLServerPedia Syndication

Pleased to be a Friend of Redgate Again!

Just got my email this morning stating that I’ve been accepted again as a Friend of Redgate for 2015; very honored to be a part of this program again, and excited to continue contributing to the community in this way.

January 23, 2015 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, SQLServerPedia Syndication

New blog post on SQL Authority!

Very honored to be today’s guest blogger at Pinal Dave’s blog Journey to SQL Authority; check out my post here:

http://blog.sqlauthority.com/2015/01/22/sql-server-the-dba-goes-to-mars-maintenance-architecture-research-and-support-notes-from-the-field-063/

January 22, 2015 · stuart · No Comments
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2014 Year In Review

Finally finding some time to sit down and write this post; of course I’m squeezing it in after work, and before my wife and son come home, so there’s no telling how far I’ll get. This post is probably best treated as a stream of consciousness effort, rather than my usual agonizing over every word. 2014 was a mixed bag of a year; lots of good stuff, and lots of not-so-good stuff; I’ll try to start with the good:

2014 Professional Highs

As I’ve mentioned before, I was promoted to management in my day job a few years ago; in October of 2014, my kingdom expanded. Instead of managing a team of SQL Server DBA’s, my department was consolidated with another small group, and I now manage the IT infrastructure for our Product Group. It’s not a huge jump, but it is an opportunity for me to get involved with more than just SQL Server and databases; I’m now managing a team of sysadmins as well, so I’m getting a crash course on virtualization, server administration, and networking. It’s been fun, but a bit challenging.

I haven’t neglected my SQL Server roots, however; I presented to over a dozen user groups & SQL Saturdays last year (which is a lot for full-time desk jockey). I ultimately delivered two killer presentations at Summit in November, which boosted my confidence tremendously after 2013’s less-than-stellar performance. Blogging was steady for me (23 posts on my blog), but I did have a chance to write a piece on Pinal Dave’s blog (Journey to SQL Authority); that was a great opportunity, and one I hope to explore more. In addition to blogging and community activity, I also finally passed the second test in the MCSA: SQL Server 2012 series (Administration; 70-462). I’m studying for the last test (Data Warehouse; 70-463), and then I need to start getting some virtualization certs under my belt.

Finally, a big professional step forward for me was that I became a Linchpin (part-time); I’ve had a great deal of respect for this team of SQL Server professionals over the years, and I was very blessed to be able to step in and help on a few projects this year. I’m hoping for more. It’s a great way to test the waters, even if I’m not ready to dive into full-time consulting yet.

2014 Professional Lows

I got nominated for Microsoft MVP (twice); I didn’t get it (twice).

 

2014 Personal Highs

Big year for travel for my wife and I; we went to Jamaica and Vancouver, as well as Nashville, Chattanooga, St. Louis, Charlotte, Seattle, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, and Ponte Vedra. We saw two killer shows: George Strait and Fleetwood Mac; I also got to see one of my favorite bands, The Old 97’s. Our son turned a year old, and it’s been a lot of fun watching him grown and discover new things. 2014 was a year of joy in a lot of ways….

2014 Personal Lows

2014 was also a year of sorrow for me; if you follow me on Facebook, you know how proud I am of my son. What became less well-known is that I have two teenage daughters from my previous marriage; they turned 17 and 15 this year. In September of 2013, my daughters decided that they didn’t want to spend as much time with me and their stepmother. Over the last year, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my daughters aren’t planning on changing that any time soon, and they have no desire to have a relationship with their brother. That’s a pain that I’ll never get over; I love all of my children, and all I can do is pray that someday things will change. The only reason I feel compelled to mention it publically is that I don’t want them to become invisible; I have three children, even if I don’t get to see two of them very often. I also feel like I’ve reached a turning point; I was VERY depressed last year because of this situation, and I’m ready to move forward in 2015.

 

Summary

2014 was more good than bad, but I’m looking forward to 2015. I’ve always believed that you should play the hand you’re dealt, and make the most of it. Life is good, and it’s only getting better.

 

 

 

January 8, 2015 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, SQLServerPedia Syndication, The Social Web

Testing Word as a blogging tool

For Christmas, I got a neat little tablet hybrid (Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10 w/Windows), and I’m trying to use it as a laptop replacement; I’ll try to give an honest review of it by the end of the month, but for now, I’ve been trying to replace Windows Live Writer with some other tool (since support for Writer may be ending). Someone suggested that I give Word a try, so I’m giving it a fair shake with this blog post. Not much to add (other than I have a few ideas brewing); this is just a work in progress to see if Microsoft Word can handle things like:

  • Image upload
  • Formatting issues
  • Tags and categories

I’m hoping to get a year in review post up soon (while it’s still relevant); stay tuned.

January 4, 2015 · stuart · No Comments
Posted in: Gadgets

Where does my index live? YouTube edition–#SQLServer

I was recently contacted by Webucator, an online training services provider, and asked if they could turn a recent post of mine (#SQLServer – Where does my index live?) into a video.  They are promoting their SQL Server classes by doing a free series called SQL Server Solutions from the Web using (with permission) different blog posts from around the web.   Wish I’d thought of this sooner; enjoy!

December 9, 2014 · stuart · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: SQL, SQLServerPedia Syndication

#SQLPASS – Fluffy Bunnies

File:Fluffy white bunny rabbit.jpgI didn’t really have a good name for this post, so I thought I’d just try to pick something as non-offensive as possible.  Everybody likes bunnies, right?  Anyway, the last series of posts that I’ve made regarding the Professional Association for SQL Server has raised a number of questions that I thought I’d strive to answer; since I’m still mulling over my next post, I figured this was as good a time as any. 

What’s your motivation in writing this series?

Believe it or not, I’m trying to help.  For several years, it seems like there’s been one controversy after the other within the Professional Association of SQL Server, and those controversies dissipate and re-emerge.  My goal is to document what I perceive to be the root causes for some of these issues so that we can work toward a solution.

 

Why are you bashing PASS?

I’m trying very hard to NOT “bash” the Professional Association for SQL Server; I’ve been a member for several years now, and I’ve seen controversies get personal.  I really don’t feel like I’m doing that; I still believe that the Board of Directors are a great bunch of people that are making decisions based on their circumstance at the time.  I’m trying to wrap a schema around those circumstances, so I can understand those decisions. 

I’m trying to articulate my own perspective on what I think is wrong, so that I can be better prepared to have an honest discussion about those perceptions.  Relationships aren’t about ignoring issues; the first step in addressing an issue is to identify the issue.

You mentioned “transparency” as an issue with the BoD before; what do you mean by that?

That’s more complicated to answer than I thought it would be.  At first, I thought it was more information; as an active community member, I felt like I needed to be more involved in the decision-making process.  However, I can’t really name a specific reform that I would make for the BoD to be more transparent.  I don’t want to read meeting minutes, and most of the form letter emails I get from the Association go straight to the trash; I’m too busy for them to be transparent.

On further consideration, what I’ve been calling transparency is more about leadership and up-front communication than it is about revealing information.   As an example, I help run one of the largest SQL Server chapters in the world; if I had realized that the Professional Association for SQL Server was planning a major re-branding exercise, I feel like I could have contributed some “notes from the field” on what that would mean, and how to best prepare our membership for it.  Instead of appearing defensive about a controversy, the Board would appear to be very proactive.

It’s that feeling of being left out of the conversation that bothers me, I think.  I realize that there’s some details that can’t be shared, but I feel like the onus is on the BoD to find better ways to communicate with members (and to me, chapters are an underused resources).  The information flow is very unidirectional; Summit keynotes and email blasts are not an effective way to discuss an issue.   Maybe those conversations are happening with other people, but if so, few people have stepped forward discussing them.

It’s also an issue of taking action when an issue is raised; for example, the recent passwordsecurity controversy was documented by Brent Ozar.  He states that he and several other security-oriented members had several private conversation with board members, and yet no comprehensive action was taken until it became a public issue.  The perception is that the only way to get the BoD to act is to publically shame them.   That’s not healthy in the long run.

What’s your vision for the Association?

That’s the subject of my next post, so I’m going to hold off on that one.  I do think that the unidirectional flow of communication is not just an issue with the organization, but that it’s a tone set by our relationship with Microsoft.  As I pointed out in my last post, if the Association knew more about the needs and desires of the membership, that knowledge becomes a very valuable resource.   Instead of being a fan club for a product, we could become strong partners in the development of features for that product.

How do you feel about the name change?

Frankly, I feel a little sad about the change in direction, but I understand it.  I predict that SQL Server as on premise-platform is going to become a niche product, regardless of the number of installations.  It just makes sense for Microsoft to broaden their data platform offerings.  I do think that we (the Association) need to do a better job of preparing membership for this new frontier, and it’s going to take efforts to transform administration skills into analytic skills. Without providing that guidance, it seems like we’re abandoning the people who helped build this organization.

Where is this series headed?  What’s the final destination?

To be honest, I don’t know.  When I first started writing these posts, I was sure that I could describe exactly what was wrong, and suggest a few fixes.  The more I write, the easier it is to articulate my observations; I’m surprised to find that my observations are not what I thought they would be.  Thanks for joining me for the ride; hopefully, it leads to some interesting conversations at Summit.

October 23, 2014 · stuart · 8 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, PASS, SQL Server, SQLServerPedia Syndication

#SQLPASS–Data Professionals?

So, in my last post, I described the financial pressures of community building; two companies benefit from building a community organization.  I’ve tried to stay away from assumptions, but I am assuming that their influence must factor into the Board of Directors’ decision making process (Microsoft has a seat on the board; C&C is dependent on the decisions that the BoD makes).  The metrics that matter most to Microsoft are the breadth of people interested in their product line, not the depth of knowledge attained by those people.

Influence isn’t a bad thing per se, but in my mind, it does explain why good people continue to make bad decisions, regardless of who gets elected to the board.   What do I mean by a bad decision?  In general, the Professional Association for SQL Server BoD remains a non-committal and opaque organization.  Board members have personally promised me that “they would look into something”, and yet the follow-thru never materialized; the opacity of the decision making process is documented by other other bloggers in posts like the following:

http://www.sqlservercentral.com/blogs/steve_jones/2010/06/30/pass_2C00_-don_1920_t-waste-my-time/

https://ozar.me/2014/09/bigger-passvotes-problem-password-shared/

http://sqlblog.com/blogs/andy_leonard/archive/2014/06/27/pass-and-summit-2014-session-selections.aspx

SIDEBAR: I will say that the Board continues to work on the transparency problem; Jen Stirrup and Tom LaRock have both stepped forward to explain decisions made.  However, such explanations are usually given after a controversy has occurred.

For a specific example, I want to focus on the branding decision (the decision to remove SQL Server from marketing material for the Professional Association of SQL Server and to be know simply as PASS); the decision to move the organization away from its lingua franca of SQL Server to a new common language of “all things (Microsoft) data” is not in and of itself a bad thing.  Recent marketing trends from Microsoft indicate that the traditional role of the DBA is continuing to evolve; as individuals, we need to evolve as well.

However, as database professionals (or data professionals), we should be inclined to make decisions based on data.  As Jen Stirrup herself says:

I think it’s important to have a data-based, fact based look at the business analytics sphere generally. What does the industry say about where the industry is going? What does the data say? We can then look at how PASS fits in with this direction.

Jen’s post goes on to state some great statistics about the nature of the industry as a whole, but then uses some less concrete measures (growth of the BA/BI Virtual Chapters) to identify support within the organization.  I generally agree with her conclusions, but I’m concerned about several unanswered questions, most of them stemming from two numbers:

  • Association marketing materials claim we have reached over 100,000 professionals, and
  • 11,305 members were eligible to vote (a poor measure of involvement, but does indicate recent interaction).

I look at those two numbers and wonder why that gap is there; just for simplicity’s sake, let’s say that 90% of “members” have not updated their profile.  Why?  What could the Association have done to reach those members?  Who are those members?   What are their interests?  What’s a better metric for gauging active membership?

Of course, once I start asking questions, I begin to ask more questions: How many members don’t fit into Microsoft’s vision of cloud-based computing?   How many members use multiple technologies from the Microsoft data analysis stack? What skills should they be taught?  What skills do they have?  What features do they want?  The short answer: we don’t know.

As far as I know, there has been no large scale data collection effort by the Board of Directors to help guide their decisions; in the absence of data, good managers make a decision based on experience, but then strive to collect data to help with future decisions.  Continuing to rely on experience and marketing materials without investing in understanding member concern, desires, and input is simply put, a bad decision.

Shifting an organization that shared a common love for a particular technology to an organization that is more generally interested in data is a huge undertaking; overlooking the role that the community should have in determining the path of that transition is an oversight.   I don’t think the Professional Association for SQL Server is going to revert back to a technology-specific focus; that would be inconsistent with the changing nature of our profession.  However, the Board needs to continue to understand who the membership is, and how the organization can help a huge number of SQL Server professionals transition to “data professionals”.   Building a bigger umbrella may help the organization grow; investing in existing community members will help the organization succeed.

October 21, 2014 · stuart · 7 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, PASS, SQLServerPedia Syndication, The Social Web