Author Archives: jimphelps

About jimphelps

Chair, ITANA Enterprise Architect, Sr. IT Architect; UW-Madison

Week 4 begins

About to start up my fourth week of working from home (and thinking I should wash my hands and go sanitize all the light switches). Still looking for a more normal routine. I have really dropped looking at social media, news, websites from my routine. I check them in the morning. For the most part though, and for my sanity, I just plow on with my day. I check in to see how friends are doing and what they are posting but I skip the wider “I wonder what is happening on Twitter” which is always crazy-making anyhow.

I am trying to find a good book to read that will be the right balance of captivating and lighthearted. I watched and old Jeeves and Wooster yesterday. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are such a great comedic duo. I might have to buy the complete series to get through the next few months.

I feel like we are waiting for the storm. This must be something like waiting for a hurricane to make landfall in old times before modern weather forecasts when you could see dark clouds on the horizon and rough swells and a boat pulled into harbor telling tells of 40 foot seas and winds that would blow you right off the deck. Or like waiting in England as WWII builds in Europe and you are listening to the news and wondering if war will break out and if so, will we be involved and how long it will go on for.

To keep myself buoyed up and my head above the Seas of Anxiety (located near Charybdis), I imagine the time when I will sit with friends and we will have a glass of wine and talk about COVID-19 in the past tense and be glad it is behind us.

Until then, stay well and healthy.

Talking with a friend, it helps!

Yesterday, we went to the grocery store in the morning. The store workers look frazzled and worried (like us all). I love our store and the workers there. When this is all over, I can’t wait to go up to each and everyone one of them and tell them how much we appreciated them.

After shopping, and using hand sanitizer, and washing our hands a bunch of times; we decided to get out of the house and go for a walk a Magnusson Park. It is a large open space but it was full of people. We were trekking off the paths to try to stay away from other people. That was probably the last time we do that for quite a while.

I swing between “OMG, We should have bought 6 dozen eggs and enough food that we won’t have to leave the house for 6 months” to “the risk to Ena and me personally is fairly low and we are doing what we can do… all we really can do is let this pass… what will be, will be“. I can do this switch several times in an hour. It is crazy making. [Did I mention that I was thinking that my next house would also be a giant autoclave?]

Yesterday evening, Christy called. Sometimes you don’t know what will help until it happens. It was great to chat with her. She is the CIO at our Bothell campus. Christy has been in full-time fire drill since this started trying to get the Bothell campus switched over to on-line learning – suddenly hearing from faculty who said (only recently) that they would never, in their life, teach on line.

She asked bluntly why was I so freaked out. I had to say, “It is just a perfect storm for anxiety”. Which is an admission that anxiety is running around being irrational… not me. I have a name for my anxiety when it is getting problematic. I call it Loki – the Norse God of Trouble. When anxiety pops up, I will say to myself, “Shut up Loki. Your not helping.” Guess I need to say that more.

Maybe we will follow the best case scenario in this NY Times article. COVID-19 might mutate and die out like SARS. It might go into seasonal reduction like flu. There are some promising anti-virals out there that might help the sickest survive. We might be back to something more normal by June. I hold onto this vision of a possible future (while planning for the worst).

Chris Hadfield has good advice. After all, the guy has been isolated in a dangerous environment before.

Cul De Sac Happy Hour – Managing the Madness

Our neighbors, Phillip and Maggie, sent us a text last night about 6 saying, “Want to have a Cul De Sac Happy Hour?” What a great idea. We replied, “sure”. They said, “meet us in 10 minutes.”

We headed out front with our drinks. They came out with lawn chairs so we grabbed ours. Maggie invited Mollie from 2 doors down to come up too. We chatted and sat (at least 6 feet apart) until the sun set. It was nice to see neighbors and have a moments respite from the craziness.

Mollie is small business owner. This is incredibly challenging for her as she tries to do the right thing for her employees like keeping them on insurance (see our broken medical care system) while also trying to stay afloat personally and professionally. The impact that COVID-19 will have our society are extremely deep, wide and long. It is scary to contemplate it all. Which makes it a perfect storm for my anxiety. Which is why it was nice to spend a couple of hours with our neighbors sitting in lawn in the cul de sac on the first day Spring.

As for my anxiety – that is taking all of my skills to manage at the moment. The disruption of normal routines, the loss of our usual distractions (plays, dances, dining out) and the knowledge that this is going to get much worse before it gets better all add up to … I don’t know how to state it… perfect feedback loops for amplifying anxiety. I get anxious in situations that are “unknown” and this is full of unknowns. What helps my manage my anxiety is stability and “rituals”. All of the usual rituals have been blown up. Stability (economic, health, societal) all on in question. So, meditation, exercise, trying to build new normals that will help me get through are top of my day.

We have just been told that we will be working remote until mid-June (at least). I have 3 months of this new life. Time to find balance and wash my hands.

Stay well everyone.

Working From Home in Seattle

I’m midway through my third week of working from home due to COVID-19 here in Seattle. The University just announced that Spring Quarter will be all remote classes. I’m starting to find a new normal but that has been hard. As someone who suffers from anxiety, this is a perfect storm. Fortunately, the weather has turned and we have beautiful sunny Spring days so that helps. Going for walk with Ena each afternoon gives us a chance to chat with neighbors (6 feet apart) and to see the Sun, the cherry blossoms, and to hear the birdsong.

It is terrible to see the city so shutdown and empty. Last night, we went down to Piatti’s at University Village to pick up dinner. The 373 (my commuter bus) passed us going North as we drove down. It was empty as far as I could tell. Normally, I would be on that bus and it would be standing room only. Piatti’s was dark with only the front end manager and Chef Dylan there. Dylan was in the kitchen by himself. Ours was the only order. It really hit me hard to see this lively fun place and the people we know riding this out alone in an empty restaurant. I was very sad. I hope that the restaurants and workers we know make it out of this and are able to start back up in the future.

I worry a lot about the economic impacts of the COVID-19 on many different levels. Many hourly workers and shift workers have had their jobs evaporate overnight. Washington and Seattle are working on plans to help them bridge the gap until the jobs come back. What about Fall quarter at UW? How many students will return and how many won’t be able to because their families no longer have the money to help them with college? Finally, the stock market has taken a nose dive and so has most people’s retirement funds. I’m a ways away from retirement but it still worries me.

We have house cleaners that we have put on hold. They are a young family. They just had a baby about a year ago. We have paid them for the next three visits (6 weeks basically) but told them they don’t have to come. It is these people, at the bottom of the ladder, who are really going to feel the pain of the social distancing and closures of so many things around Seattle and Washington.

This could go on for months. I think about that and what it means. I think about what are things that I always wanted to have time for that I can do now to make this a positive experience. Teleworking has given me back something like 90 minutes a day. Where can I invest those minutes? I’m also trying to think about the other side of this event. What will it be like in 2 years? Because there will be a moment when this is over and life returns to a new normal. What do I want that normal to be?

For now, I’m focused on finding some new normal rhythm. People at work are starting to have open Zoom Rooms for lunch and other events so you can at least drop in and chat with them and see their faces. We have our afternoon walks to get out of the house. What else to add to this new normal to help us traverse this pandemic and to help us come out where we want to be?

Self-Interview: On National Engagement – why it is important

I am Director of Enterprise Architecture and Strategy at University of Washington.  I have been at UW for 5 ½ years or so. UW is the fourth higher education institution that I have worked at.  Before coming to UW, I was at UW-Madison for 12 ½ years.

Below is a self-interview about national engagement and why I think it is important on many levels.

National engagement has been an important part of your work in the past and present.  How did you get started?

When I moved to UW-Madison, I went to work for Keith Hazelton.  He was a very active leader and co-chair in Internet2’s MACE-Dir initiative.  This was when Identity and Access Management (IAM) was in its infancy and MACE-Dir was formed to build common standards and frameworks for IAM in higher education.  I was pulled in to work on IAM and to speak nationally about the concepts, drivers and the roadmap for various IAM initiatives and best practices. I saw that this was a common problem for many campuses and that we could all benefit by sharing knowledge and solutions.

Was there something special about the Community of Higher Education institutions ?  Did you do anything similar when you were in industry?

Higher Education is most different from industry in that we don’t hold every advance and idea tightly, just in case it might give us a competitive advantage.  If I was in industry and we had made a great leap (developed concepts, software, practices and procedures, etc) that let us more efficiently onboard and manage our workforce, that would be a competitive advantage over others.  We would not go teach others how to do it. 

Higher education’s openness and sharing is important to you?

This is a wonderful thing about higher ed; we are willing to help others.  A small college failing in our town or city isn’t seen as a competitive win (at least to me).  It is seen as a loss of opportunity for students and faculty. Therefore, I’m happy to help the small college so the higher education landscape stays rich and vibrant.

How does helping others help you or your team?

I encourage my team to engage and share nationally.  I think it builds richer leaders in a variety of ways.  

Sharing your thoughts and ideas makes you crystalize them.  You have to take something you have been thinking about and formalize it into a rational discussion that you can share with others.  This is the first benefit of sharing and presenting nationally. They say you never really understand something until you have to teach it.

The second benefit is that we get great feedback and ideas.  For example, we were sharing our EA Practice 2.0 work. Someone, Louis King of Yale I think, said, “have you thought about using the EA Maturity Model (EAMM) Framework to form this work?”  That was a great insight. I went back and went to my whiteboard. I put up the EAMM categories and then made stickies for the EA Practice 2.0 work I wanted to get done. It really helped to clarify my thinking.  Similarly, Chris Eagle from University of Michigan shared his framework for understanding societal transformations at a national meeting. That really helped me think about Digital Transformation. This has happened over and over – cooperating to formulate solutions for higher education as a whole has benefits for each architecture group’s particular case.  

The third thing is that it builds leadership skills.  Architects need to be able to facilitate group discussions, present and tell stories, structure their thoughts in lessons, and lead from the front of the room.  You really learn these skills when you do them at a national level – in a room with 30 to 300 strangers at a conference.  

So, it helps build your team by building on your ideas, making you crystalize and explain your thoughts and build your leadership skills.

How about your institution?  How does it help UW and UW-Madison before that?

First off, it is good to have your institution recognized as a thought leader in a variety of areas.  If we need to hire architects, I hope that the fact that UW is known for its architecture practice and presence would help us attract the best and brightest.

Second, we get feedback and ideas we bring back from the national stage that we apply back at home.  We brought back MESA Diagrams from U-Michigan, the Lean Bench concept from UCSD, among many other things.  Putting your ideas out there is a great way to crowd-source improvements on your idea or new ideas.

Finally, I see it as critical staff development investment.  My team is really strong because they have worked and presented and engaged nationally.  They have a breadth of experience that helps them in every project they do back on campus.

A key part of your national engagement was the founding and running of Itana.  How and why did you found Itana?

I was really lucky when I founded Itana.  I was friends with Ann West – who was a liaison between Internet2 and EDUCAUSE at the time.  I had been working with Internet2 quite a lot so I had supporters inside of I2 who saw the need to grow the pool of practicing architects.  There was a small group of “usual suspects” who worked on all of the various MACE-Dir efforts. Ken Klingenstein noted that many of them were “gray beards” and that we needed to “grow the seed corn” for future architects.  

I was also active in Common Solutions Group – a group of 30ish research universities who get together three times a year to talk about challenges.  So I had connections there.

I saw the challenges that higher education faced, challenging IAM situations especially around access for research, rapidly changing technical environments, etc. and I thought, “the future of higher education needs to be architected.  We need architects who understand higher education.”

This confluence of events led me to push to start Itana.  Ann acted as a liaison and helped arrange support from Internet2 and EDUCAUSE.  EDUCAUSE has an existing structure – Constituent Groups – that Itana could fit into really well.  Catherine Yang at EDUCAUSE helped make that a reality. I2 provided a phone bridge, flywheel and wiki space.

Why the name Itana?  Does it stand for something?

It did.  In the beginning it was ITANA.  ITANA stood for IT Architects iN Academia.  ITANA.  But we later expanded the focus to include business and enterprise architects.  So now, it is a name, Itana. Our tag-line is “a professional group for Enterprise, Business and Technical Architects in Higher Education.”  We changed ITANA to Itana when it became a name not an acronym. Renaming it seemed too much of a pain – the domain name, etc. Plus, we have a lot of name recognition.

Would you do it again?  How would you do it differently?

I don’t know how I would do it differently.  So many things came together to make it possible to start Itana.  Keith was supportive because he was active nationally. Scott Fullerton (an architect at UW-Madison) joined as founding member.  Piet Niederhausen was at Georgetown and he joined early on. This core group came together to host bi-weekly calls. We eventually decided we needed a steering committee.  Piet drafted bi-laws. It was the confluence of so many forces and people that I don’t know if I could do it differently.

I would definitely do it again.  I think the value of having a community is amazing. Itana has grown to where we have working groups under Itana that are as large and functional as the whole of Itana was in the early days.  That is amazing. We have 740 subscribers, and we hosted 85 events last year. These numbers still stun me – I can’t believe how Itana has grown.

I was really lucky to have support in so many places and that the time seemed right.

Itana isn’t the only place you present or engage nationally, where else and why?

No.  Itana isn’t the only place.  I present frequently at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, which brings together the large community of IT leaders in higher education.  EDUCAUSE draws institutions of all types, so it is a great event to reach out other institutions that I normally don’t engage with like community colleges and small colleges who focus on first generation, at-risk students.  It is interesting to hear their challenges and how they are dealing with them.

I already mentioned Common Solutions Group.  That is a very close-knit community and many of the members are friends to me.  There are very bright people who bring great ideas to the table.

I have also presented at AACRAO and NACUBO – I like working with these other communities that are our business partners.  I enjoy seeing their hot topics and learning about how they see the challenges and opportunities of higher education.

Finally, What do you wish people knew about engaging and presenting nationally?

That it doesn’t have to be perfect and done.  Go out on a limb. Throw your ideas out while they are early.  Get feedback from your peers. Get practice on the stage. You will gain so much if you just engage and put your ideas out there.

Facilitating from the Side

I presented today on the Itana New2EA Working Group call on the skill of “Facilitating from the Side”. This skill helps make a productive meeting out of one that is poorly planned or poorly run. The nice thing is, you can apply it when you are not up front running the meeting.

I started with poll of attendees asking the question, “How often are you in unfocused, orderless, rambling meetings?”. The scale was 1 to 5 where 1=”Never. All our meetings are awesome” and 5 = “OMG! A meeting on my calendar is my worst fear.” The majority of the people put themselves at a 3 on the scale. I think this is true for everyone’s calendars. There are hundreds of articles out there on why most meetings are a waste of time.

Poll Question:  How often
 are you in unfocused, orderless, rambling meetings.
Poll Question: How often are you in unfocused, orderless, rambling meetings?

So what can you do if you are not up front running the meeting?

First off: recognize that you are not alone in the meeting. Probably everyone in the room is wishing that it was going better or that they weren’t there at all. Realizing this is empowering. It means that almost everyone will welcome your intervention. You won’t be hated. They will thank you after.

Step 1: Ask Clarifying Questions

Preface your questions with humility. “I’m just a bit confused…” “Maybe I missed this but could you help me understand…” Ask about three things to help focus the meeting.

  • Could you help me understand the goal of this meeting?
  • So, at the end of the meeting, you would like to have _______?
  • And that means, you would like us to _______ to help you ________.

Step 2: Ask If You Can Write them down

This is a way to get up to the whiteboard or flipchart. It also makes the goals, outcomes and roles visible for the rest of the meeting.

Step 3: Offer Activities

This is more complex but here are a couple of scenarios to help you think through this step.

Meeting Leader: I thought it would just be good to get together and talk.

Your follow-up question: “Just so I know, what is in and out of scope for the discussion?”

Offer activities:

‘Should we do an agenda bash on the whiteboard then vote to see what is the top topic?’

‘We could capture ideas on sticky notes* then group them to find themes’

Should we do a go around to hear what is top of mind from each person?’

Meeting Leader: I thought we would get together and review this document [that wasn’t sent out before hand]

Your follow-up question: Do you want to give us an idea about the types of feedback you are looking for?

Offer activities:

‘Should we break into small groups to read and comment then come back together?’

Note if you do this one, control the conversation when you come back by asking, “Who else had comments in the first section?” This acts as an opening for discussion but it also controls the flow of comments (top down) and you can gather up similar comments more easily (‘I had that too’)

‘Should we take 15 minutes to read the document and capture comments on stickies that we can group later?’

*Always carry a zip top bag with pens and sticky notes

Step 4: Offer to “Help Capture Notes”

Another way to get to the whiteboard and help control the flow of the conversation is to offer to capture the conversation, notes, feedback, ideas, etc. You can ask simply, “Would you like me to capture the feedback / ideas on the whiteboard for you?” Almost always people want help with notes in a meeting. If you are capturing notes, you have the opportunity to “ask for clarification” on topics where you think there should be more conversation. Simply ask, “can you help me understand what you meant by this?” or “could you put this in other words just to make sure I have it right?” This leads you to “is this how others think of this” or “does this make sense to everyone?”

Step 5: Reflect Back Goals and Outcomes

When the conversation gets sidetracked, reflect back the goals and outcomes that were agreed upon. Offer to start up a parking lot for off-topic ideas.

Reflect the goals and outcomes.  Put off topic ideas in a parking lot.
Reflect back the goals and outcomes when the conversation gets sidetracked.

Step 6: Provide a Time Check

You can interject, from the side, time checks. You can say, “I see we have 30 minutes left and I want to make sure we get to where you want?” or “There are 10 minutes left, should we wrap up and capture next steps?” This is a way to keep the conversation moving and focused on the outcomes.

As part of this you can also reflect back next steps. “I see there are 5 minutes left. Let me make sure I have the right next steps. Sarah will _____”

If you do these things, you will have built an on-the-fly effective meeting plan. In short, you will have:

  • Set the goals for the meeting
  • Defined the roles of the participants
  • Defined the meeting outcomes
  • Scoped the conversation
  • Defined the process by which we will get there (activities)
  • Captured the notes
  • Parked out-of-scope conversations*
  • Provided time checks
  • Pushed towards next steps
  • Reflected back the next steps a the end of the meeting

*There was a facilitator at UW-Madison, Lindsey Schmidt, who was running a group that was all over the place and willing to roam across every possible topic. She put the Parking Lot on a flip chart outside of the room. Every time someone went off topic, she would say, “I’ll put that on the Parking Lot” and she would walk out of the room. Everyone thought it was pretty funny but they also got the message. “Stay on topic.”

After the meeting…

If you have time, go up to the meeting owner after the meeting and talk for a few minutes to make sure everything was okay. “I hope it was okay that I was asking questions and taking notes.” You will usually get a “No problem. Thank You for helping” reply. Ask, “I hope you got what you wanted?” This gives the meeting owner a chance to reflect on how the meeting went. They may say, “It was great. You helped a lot.” Hopefully they realize that this meeting has gone better than most and your help is what made it happen. If you have the time and are willing, you can offer to help plan and run the next meeting. Use the checklist above to plan the meeting in advance.

3 Lenses to Apply Before You Facilitate from the Side

There are three lenses I consider before I start to influence how a meeting is being run by someone else. The first is the Political Lens. Whose meeting is it? Who is in the room? Will someone (the meeting organizer most likely) look or feel like fool? Is that okay? The second lens is the Cultural Lens. How does this team or group work? Are they really tight and I am the outsider (this can be an opening to start asking questions)? Are they very top-down hierarchical? How will my questions and actions be interpreted in their culture? Finally, an Investment Lens. Is it worth my political capital to push on this meeting? Is the meeting salvageable at all or will this be wasted effort? Is this where I want to invest? While I get pulled into a much larger effort that I don’t want to be in?

Apply these lenses and decide if you want to help a meeting run better. If you decide you do want to help, remember to come from a place of humility. It is amazing what a few questions and an offer to “help write things down” can do to make a mediocre meeting much better.

Washington Digital Government Summit – Presentations

I presented twice at the Washington Digital Government Summit 2018. The first presentation was with Mike Lawson, Cloud Platform Specialist, Application Development, Public Sector, Oracle.

We talked about Disruptive Technologies:

Technology is defining the way we live, work, play and govern. The adjective “disruptive” is probably an understatement when applied to trends such as autonomous vehicles, drones, artificial intelligence, ever-smarter devices, robotics and the Internet of Things. This session explores some of the technologies that are changing the face of society and – inevitably – government.

My talk was focused on the shape of disruption (building on a great talk by Chris Eagle, IT Strategist and Enterprise Architect for University of Michigan) and the impacts of digital technologies on how we design our applications and the centers of excellence we need to support this disruption.

You can see my slides in Google Slides:

Disruptive Technologies Shape of Disruption – Radical Design

The second talk was on the Future of IT Skills

Never has the future of IT jobs been so difficult to predict. In an era of disruption, the key is to keep your skill sets as sought-after as possible. If you’re a manager, that means doing the same for your team. The approaching silver tsunami, while most certainly disruptive, can also be a time of unprecedented opportunity – if you’re prepared. This session covers which IT skills will be in higher demand than others and how to best prepare for our very bright futures.

I covered the shape of disruption (again), three personas and how shifting from building software to SaaS impacts our relationships, skills and the staff. I went on to build on the topics above to talk about the organizational changes that need to occur, emphasizing the need to hire for and build above-the-line competencies in our staff. You can get the slides below:

Future of IT Skills