Monday, February 25, 2013

New Tricks For Today's Musician

I was practicing mandolin tonight and after going through a few pages in the lesson book I kept running into duets. I've been skipping them so far. I'm all by myself and don't know any other players right now (though there's some really good ones around New Ulm). What good is it to play a duet by yourself?

Then came the facepalm moment: I have technology! The music app I use on the iPad for all my sheet music has a simple recorder on it. So I figured I'd give it a try. Sure thing, works well enough!

I can't believe the tools we have at our disposal today. Recording used to be expensive and difficult. Now every device has a high quality microphone and digital recording capabilities that only used to be available to professionals.

So now I'm not going to skip the duets. I'll be accompanying myself.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Being Conscientious

Had a brief discussion today regarding service interactions and how we look at them. We're trying out a new observation tool that is essentially a self-evaluation form to be filled out after a service incident. Due to illnesses last week I was out of the office more than in and didn't have many service opportunities except the quick 'can you reset my password' type. To me it seemed a little silly to fill out this big form for a conversation that took 30 seconds but I was encouraged to do it anyway.

The point was this: It is important to be conscientious. Every interaction you have, whether insignificant or life changing, has the possibility of making someone's job or day better. You need to be just as aware of how you treat people and how you interact with them during the brief contacts as you do the 1-hr support sessions.

We interact with so many people so briefly in the course of our day its easy to get into assembly line mode and just do our small part and get on to the next.

Like I've heard many people tweet from #Pink13 this year - The person on the other end of the phone/IM window/email/interplanetary portal/etc is the most import focus of your job at that moment, one support session at a time. Its more than good support, its being a good human.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

More Strings!

At wind ensemble rehearsal the other day I sat down and noticed a mandolin part had been placed on my stand along with the expected trombone parts. Only then did I remember a conversation I'd had a while back with the director. She was coy about her plans so I didn't know what instrument part I'd end up seeing (I kind of expected accordion to be honest).

My mandolin's neck had split off from the body about a year ago so I had given it away to a friend who is an avid tinkerer. Without an instrument to play the part, the only solution was to go shopping! I found a very nice Fender FM-52E at a local shop. It played nicely but the most impressive part was the electric pickup. Nice and clean with a very uncolored sound. Almost a warm tone to it. 

I've played with it some and its coming back to me quickly. Definitely needs some adjustments to bring the action lower. Not sure why everyone sells mandolins with the action set 3/8ths of an inch off the fretboard. Too much work to play IMO. 

Understanding Your Process

A tweet from @theitskeptic this morning brought back some memories for me. Good memories.

During my college days I was getting pretty disillusioned with computer science. Right before I was about to jump ship a person I hold in high regard as a mentor arranged an internship for me with a major US educational testing company. It was an eye opening experience in many ways but most importantly it got me really excited for what IT could really do. More importantly, what IT can do if you have a service-oriented mentality.

Testing is fraught with errors. Its just a fact of large scale testing. The people creating and scoring the tests are trying their hardest; Accuracy is their goal. When you're developing and administering hundreds of different tests and scoring thousands, even millions, errors will happen. Software bugs show up. These things happen. In educational testing, though, the stakes are high since youthful aspirations hang on the results and the tensions are extremely high due to parental anxieties. Teacher and tester are put in a tough spot when things go wrong.

The internship landed me in a department that did a lot of testing in a US state with a pretty big population. Lots of tests, lots of students, lots of problems to resolve. The task I was given was requirements research: What would it take to implement a ticketing system for problem tracking? (Sound familiar to you service desk folks?)

As I dug into the problem I discovered that no one knew the problem resolution process! Actually, there was a generally accepted view of it but at the core of the problem was that there was no actual full process. Management understood there were incidents slipping through the cracks after being submitted but without tracking or even an established workflow there was no way to find them. The process was paper-based, handled between geographically separated teams, undocumented, and unclear. It was a beautiful, glorious problem to sort through!

I spent nearly three months unraveling this tangle and learned a few things:

  • The larger the organization the more essential process becomes. When process is broken real people get hurt. Both your employees and your customers.
  • Continuing on without understanding your process doesn't just compound the problem. It explodes it and it becomes a toxic, radioactive weight around your team's neck.
  • It is a lot of work understand process.
  • Process transparency is scary but without it service stinks, trust breaks, and management is helpless.
Technologists talk a lot about standardization, simplification, automation, even elegance but none of this matters, even a little, without understanding. If you do not know your process you do not understand the basis for your work. Your vision, individually and as a team, is out of focus. With one team focused on new development, another team focused on service, and no process between them never the twain shall meet!

This is the natural point at which I'm supposed to conclude by offering some incredible insight into HOW you understand your process. I'm afraid I don't have that for you. If we ask around I'm sure there is good info out there about how to do this. I can assure you, however: Fully understanding your process is vital to the function of your business. Good service (internally or externally) cannot occur without understanding your process.