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

E!Live Webinar on Digital Transformation

I was on a panel with Jennifer Sparrow (Penn State), David Weil (Ithaca College) and the EDUCAUSE staff to discuss the Digital Transformation (Dx as they call it). You can see the slides, read the transcript and (EDUCAUSE members) can watch the webinar at the EDUCAUSE E!Live site:

EDUCAUSE Live! Webinar Digital Transformation in Higher Ed: What Is It, and Why Should You Care?

Future of Higher Education – Our Response to Disruption – Presentation at EDUCAUSE Annual 2018

I presented at EDUCAUSE Annual 2018 on the Future of Higher Education in the US. The presentation talks about four big drivers: Shifting Skills, the Digital Transformation, Income and Employment Challenges in the American family and the Higher Education Financial Crisis. For each of these drivers, I suggest a set of responses. I then paint a picture of a future Higher Education institution that has responded well to these drivers. You can download the Playbook and the Presentation from the EDUCAUSE Site.

Future of Higher Education – Our Response to Disruption – EDUCAUSE Annual 2018

The presentation and playbook are downloadable as PDFs below:

Scenario Planning and Job Pathways – Two tools to help you plan your career.

I recently published an article in EDUCAUSE Review on using scenario planning and job pathways to help individuals think about their career plans.  I suggest starting with scenario planning, with a focus on changing skills and how the workforce needs to adapt, to get a sense of possible future skills and careers.  This acts as an input into Job Pathway planning where you look at career steps you could take and the skills needed to take each step.  Here is a link to the article if you would like to read it in full:

Scenarios, Pathways, and the Future-Ready Workforce


Architecture and finding the path

Ron Kraemer, our VP of Information Technology and CIO, spoke at the IT Leaders Program this week. He built on his blog post, Interdependence – Both Positive and Negative. To paraphrase:

The growing interdependence of our systems is driving the complexity of our systems towards the edge of chaotic systems. The choices that we make are no longer focused on finding the perfect solution. Instead, we can see many possible solutions, many of which are good solutions. The choice is then to pick the solution which builds positive interdependency and limits negative interdependency.

Interdependency and Complexity

Fig. 1: Growing interdependency has put us at the edge of complex and chaotic systems.

In his talk at ITLP, Ron also pressed on the ever-growing rate of change. These two factors limit our ability to design and implement perfect solutions to problems. To paraphrase again:

If you take two years to design a great solution, the landscape will have changed so much that the solution may not be applicable. The level of complexity makes finding and defining the perfect solution even more difficult. The level of interdependence means that even more good solutions are available – when many systems are connected, many systems could be used to provide the solution.

Impossible Route to a Perfect Solution

Fig. 2: Impossible Route to a Perfect Solution

I agree with what Ron has come to believe. The level of integration between systems is very high. The expectation for real-time interactions has become the norm. Users expect to see real-time flight information. They expect real-time updates on openings in courses. Students can see, in real-time, the bus schedule, where they are located and the location of nearest bus stop and the location of the buses on their routes.

This interdependence has driven complexity to the point where perfect solutions are hard if not impossibly to design and deploy. Therefore, we must choose from many good solutions that exist. We need to act quickly to implement some solution to meet the rapid rate of change.

Many good solutions

Fig. 3: Many good solutions

This is where Enterprise Architecture and the other architecture practices can help. If we look out to the future and think about the desired state, then we can begin to sift out those good solutions which move us towards that future state. For us, we had stated that Service Oriented Architecture was a strategic direction. That bounded the future state some. In the student area, we had a future state process diagram. This diagram outlined improvements to the way that students manage course data and move through finding courses to enrollment. This put another boundary on the future state. When it came to think about how we get course roster type information out to a new learning management system (Moodle), we were able to use that projected future state to pick from the possible solutions (flat file transfer, shared database connections, web services) those which moved us closer to future state.

Architecture filtering the good choices

Fig. 4: EA can help filter the good choices that move you towards the desired future state.

The rate of change and interdependency drives the importance of an architectural approach. If you have not thought about the future state, then there is a multitude of choices. To pick from many choices, you have to establish some factors that affect your selection. In a restaurant, this might be dietary restrictions, cost, the weather outside. In technology, it is often quickest and cheapest. But those factors, in this complex environment are often shortsighted and misguided. The quickest and cheapest solution might need to be replicated many times for many systems. This would increase the interdependency in a negative way and push you even closer to a chaotic system. A more expensive, slower solution might serve you well over the long haul.

Architecture can help you make those choices in a framework that is focused on the future and on the overall complexity that you are creating. Enterprise Architecture (and the other architecture practices) can help sort those good solutions and help make sure the choice you make is along the path to desired future state.