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    Entries in development (15)


    A quick reminder that your employer probably won't help you stay employable

    The belief that employees have to own their own development, career planning, and future employability, and that no employer can truly invest/care that much about its employees in the modern world to do those things is not a new one. I am pretty sure I heard it from an employer myself back in the 90s.

    But while the idea of employees being (more or less) solely responsible for ongoing development and learning, and as in the case with most jobs now, keeping up with and remaining/becoming proficient in the latest and most relevant new technologies is generally accepted these days, it isn't often that we see senior execs of big companies going on record stating this as a fact or condition of employment. No, usually C-suiters like to talk about 'people being our most important asset' and like to tout investments in employee learning and development and other ways they portend to be a 'people' organization.

    That disconnect between what leaders of large companies like to say, and the generally accepted premise that all employees, even 'permanent' employees, are just temps that get a few more benefits, was really crystallized for us all by the (kind of surprisingly), frank comments on employee development attributed to Dell and VMWare CIO Bask Iyer, in a recent interview and as reported in the Economic Times of India

    Check these comments then a quick comment of my own...

    Bask Iyer, CIO and Executive Vice-President of Dell and VMware, has sounded a warning for information technology (IT) employees: surf the oncoming technology waves all the time and upskill yourself, otherwise be prepared to leave IT. 

    "I am making sure that all my IT folks are best equipped to generate revenues rather than lay them off. People without the skill-sets to go ahead to the next level in a company will go anyway, that’s just the way it is," Iyer said in an interview to

    Iyer said the onus for upskilling lies with the employees themselves and not the organisations. "As for reskilling, no organisation provides for that because even they don’t know what to train employees on," he said. The IT employees themselves must figure out the future and upgrade their skills accordingly, Iyer said.

    Pretty frank, and seemingly honest observations from a tech leader at one of the world's most well-known tech companies. Iyer tries to couch or position his comments less as 'the organization won't make sure your skills are up to date because it is solely your responsibility as an employee to do that' and more of a 'we as an organization just can't predict what skills will be needed, and therefore are unable to train our staff to remain relevant and current.'

    But that is kind of a cop-out as well as probably not being 100% honest if you dig in a little.

    If the CIO of Dell claims that he and the rest of Dell's leadership can't predict what skills will be needed, then truly what is the reasonable expectation that the average software engineer or designer at Dell would be able to make that call him or herself?

    And wouldn't it be reasonable for that software engineer at Dell to think that the technical and business leadership at Dell (or insert any company name here), would in fact be able to have that kind of foresight and strategy, and be able to help develop workforce plans and associated technical skills and competencies needed with at least some advance warning?

    My guess is this - Dell probably has some idea of where they want to go in the next few years, but since no one can really be sure what technologies will dominate and be needed outside of a year or so, they want to hedge and offload at least some of their responsibility to their employees.

    I will wrap with this last comment. If we, all of us, are all truly temporary workers, (we are), then we need to break down lots more assumptions - legal, regulatory, social, ethical, of what it means to be an employee anywhere. I am kind of glad to see the frank comments from Iyer about employee development. He finally said what lots of us have been thinking for a long time.

    Have a great week!


    Learn a new word: The Feature Factory

    Quick shout-out to John Cutler writing at the Hackernoon site for this outstanding piece (and the source for today's 'Learn a new word' submission - The Feature Factory.

    What is a 'Feature Factory' in the context of a software development function?'

    From the piece on Hackernoon, '12 Signs You're Working in a Feature Factory' to get an idea -

    I’ve used the term Feature Factory at a couple conference talks over the past two years. I started using the term when a software developer friend complained that he was “just sitting in the factory, cranking out features, and sending them down the line.”

    How do you know if you’re working in a feature factory? (SMB Note: there are 12 signs in the post, I am just going to grab two of them here, but you really should read the entire piece)

    3. 'Success theater' around "shipping", with little discussion about impact. You can tell a great deal about an organizations by what it celebrates.

    7. Obsessing about prioritization. Mismatch between prioritization rigor (deciding what gets worked on) and validation rigor (deciding if it was, in fact, the right thing to work on). Prioritization rigor is designed exclusively to temper internal agendas so that people “feel confident”. Lots of work goes into determining which ideas to work on, leaving little leeway for adjustments and improvisation based on data. Roadmaps show a list of features, not areas of focus and/or outcomes 

    Really, really good stuff for project managers and development teams to think about.

    Why should this matter for readers of Steve's HR Tech?

    I can think of two reasons straight up.

    One, it is worthwhile to think about your current and potentially future providers of HR technology solutions in this context. Does your provider talk about their product roadmap for the next year or two in the same way you run down your holiday shopping or grocery list? Do they talk about the future as simply the container in which they will 'ship' more features and gadgets? Or do they discuss their plans and directions using your challenges and your desired outcomes as the context in which they are organizing and planning to deliver new solutions? I know I have written about this before, but it is worth repeating - almost any provider can build the capability you need if they think they have to. What is much more important for your long term success with a tech provider is if yours and their visions of the future are in alignment, and the methods, pace, and you feel confident in the manner in which you will both grow and evolve to be better prepared to succeed in that future. That is what is really important. Not just "shipping."

    And the other reason that this idea of the 'Feature factory' is important? Because in late 2016 it is pretty likely that all but the very smallest organizations have in-house IT and development teams themselves, and these teams are comprised of folks that both do not want to work in an environment that could be described as a feature factory, and at the same time have lots of career options that don't include your organization. As HR leaders, it is probably worthwhile from time to time to check in with some of your really important, hard to find, and harder to replace tech talent types and see how they really think and feel about the organization's development climate. If you are treating these talented and in-demand folks too much like cogs in the machine, chances are they won't want to stay in that machine for too long. They will see your shop as a skills and resume builder stepping stone to somewhere more interesting, more fun, and more challenging.

    Ok, that's it from me. Tip your servers.

    Have a great weekend!


    PODCAST: #HRHappyHour 233 - Knowing Your HR Potential

    HR Happy Hour 233 - Knowing Your HR Potential

    Recorded Thursday February 4, 2016

    Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve Boese and Trish McFarlane recorded a podcast of a rehearsal on the day before a webinar that actually happened last Friday. I know that might be a little confusing, but just think of the show as the audio track for a webinar for the Cleveland SMA called 'Know Your Potential', (slides have been loaded up to Slideshare and are embedded below), that Steve and Trish delivered last week.

    The webinar (and this podcast), covered a range of topics, trends, and tips for HR, recruiting, and talent professionals - all aimed towards getting the most out of your potential for excellence in 2016.  So on the show we talk about some of the important trends for 2016, why they matter for HR and Talent pros, and how to leverage these trends in your professional life. Additionally, we shared some advice and tips on maximizing the value from online, social, and professional networks - an always interesting and rapidly changing space. Finally, while the webinar, (and attached sldes), covered some emerging HR and recruiting technologies, we cut the podcast short before this topic, as we will revisit it on its own show soon.


    You can listen to the show on the show page HERE, or using the widget player below (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through).

    The slides we used for the webinar and podcast can be found on Slideshare here, as well as embedded below.



    This was a really fun show to do, and many thanks for checking it out, and to the Cleveland SMA for having us on the webinar.

    Reminder: you can subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on iTunes or using your favorite podcast app for Android or iOS. Just search for 'HR Happy Hour' to add the show to your subscriptions and you'll never miss a show.


    What should we be working on?

    My favorite things to do on Winter weeknights are to watch NBA basketball, (thank you NBA League Pass), and plow though the seemingly thousands of unread items that accumulate each day in my Feedly feed reader. So in case you really care, and I am pretty sure you don't, this piece is being drafted (who am I kidding, on the blog there are no 'drafts', it is ship or don't bother writing around here), while watching LeBron and company take on Lance Haun's Portland Trail Blazers.

    But I digress.This is not Lance Haun

    While grinding through my Feedly looking for some inspiration for the blog, I came across this excellent compendium of product development prioritization techniques and approaches called 20 Product Prioritization Techniques: A Map and Guided Tour. The piece is a fantastic collection of strategies and methods that are employed by product managers and developers when faced with the fundamental and critical questions of 'What product features should we build?' and 'In what priority order should we build these features?'

    Both questions seem kind of easy on the surface, but for product managers and leaders they are not only very often quite complex, but how successful product leaders are at answering these questions plays a significant role in how successful (or not), their product will be. Build the 'wrong' features and current customers may defect and acquiring new ones may prove impossible. Build the 'right' features but in the 'wrong' order and risk making customers wait too long for features they need and end up losing 'bake-offs' for new customers when needed product features are not yet available.

    Like I said, simple sounding questions that are often really hard to answer. And really, really important to get right. 

    That's where the list of the 20 product prioritization techniques makes for a really useful starting point not just for 'product' people, but anyone that needs to assess and prioritize work efforts from a range of options, or what always seems to be an impossibly long 'to-do' list. Let's pull one example from the piece and see how it can be relevant and useful for both product and non-product, (I suppose that is just 'service') leaders. This is one I liked a lot and I think also can be pretty easily applied to say any internal HR or talent function.

    Technique: Feature Buckets

    The Feature Buckets technique by Adam Nash is also very popular on Quora.

    Adam believes that feature prioritization varies a lot across different product types and industries and that’s why he emphasizes that this technique was thought specifically for consumer internet products.

    Feature concepts should be placed in one of four buckets:

    • Metrics Movers — Features that will move the target business and product metrics significantly. There should be specific goals and strategies behind the decision to invest in a product or feature (things like AARRR metrics come in handy here);
    • Customer Requests —  These are features that have been requested directly by customers. They are usually incremental enhancements, but it’s important to consider them or else risk alienating users or miss important feedback coming from their usage of the product;
    • Delight —  Innovative features that are internally generated based on insights in design or technology. Working on surprising and exciting features is important to delight customers and create a differentiated position in the market (c.f. Kano Model for more on this);
    • Strategic – Features that are included for strategic reasons related to learning or future goals (e.g. experimentation and data gathering.)

    A well balanced product release should typically include features from all of these buckets. The framework is not explicit as to the appropriate distributions among these buckets and to how to prioritize internally within each. These implementation details are left up to the Product Manager to define.

    Breaking down the four components or buckets helps us see how if you could consistently deliver across all four that you would have an increased likelihood of customer (both internal and external customer) satisfaction.

    In this technique you address your fundamental, internal goals, (the Metrics Movers), as well as direct customer feedback, (Customer Requests). But you also showcase your innovation, and give your team opportunity to work on exciting stuff that your customers will be surprised by, (Delight). Finally, you continue to strengthen your position as market, product, and service leaders by building towards the future, (Strategic). 

    And I think you could just as easily apply the Four Buckets approach to any HR or Talent or Recruiting organization's quarterly plan as you can to a product development organization's list of potential features for the next product release. 

    If you are in product management, or just have the important, (and tough), job of figuring out what the organization should be working on today, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc., take a look at some of the prioritization techniques in the above-linked piece.

    No one can do everything we are asked to do. The most successful organizations know this, and they get really good at deciding what to do and what not to do.

    Ok, I am out. 

    Back to basketball.

    Have a great day!


    You can learn plenty from a simple employee tenure chart

    Count of employees by years of tenure. Quite possibly the simplest workforce metric, (can we even call it a 'metric?'. I guess), that exists. And since it is so simple, really it is just counting up the number of employees at different levels of tenure like 1 year, 2 years, more than 10 years, etc., it probably can't tell us all that much about the conditions or capabilities of a large workforce right?

    Well maybe this simple metric can tell us a little more than we think. Take a look at the data below, and before you skip ahead to the rest of the post to see where the data is drawn from, ask yourself what this simple data set might say or at least suggest about the organization in question:



    First year


    Second year


    Third year


    Fourth year


    Fifth year


    6-9 years


    10-15 years


    16-20 years


    21-27 years


    Source: (see below)


    So what can we discern from the data above, on the tenure counts of a group of employees that do pretty much the same job inside a mid-sized organization?


    Obviously there is a visible 'gap' in experience levels across this group - there is a huge cluster of the total of 121 employees in the group (about 61%) having more than 10 years experience and another smaller, but not insignificant grouping having between 1 and 2 years experience, (about 20%). But in between these clusters at the extremes of experience? Not many employees at all. In fact there are only 2 out of 121 employees having between 3 and 5 years experience on the job - often the 'sweet spot' for proficiency in many roles, but more on that in a second.


    What might we then deduce about the potential issues that might face any organization, (and again, we will get to which specific organization data set represents soon), with this kind of 'hollowed-out' tenure distribution?


    I can think of at least three things, and I promise I am not trying to allow my knowledge of who this organization is to reach these observations:


    1. Something in this organization's recruiting/onboarding/mentoring/early development for new employees is not working. To have effectively about zero staff in the 3 - 5 years of experience cohort says you either are bringing the wrong type of people into the role, or are failing to get them up to speed to the point where they are succeeding within 3 years. The chart, simple as it is, can't tell us what exactly is wrong, but that certainly something is wrong.


    2. Although this is just a tenure chart, and not an 'age' chart, it doesn't require too much of a stretch to conclude that this organization is going to face a pretty serious issue with older workers either retiring or with them simply unable to perform in the role at a high level once they hit a certain age. There are pretty significant physical and fitness requirements for this role, making it not the kind of job that most people can continue in much past say 60 or so. This lack of balance in experience with the heavy skew towards 10 and 15 year plus employees is going to present acute issues in the next 3 - 5 years (and possibly beyond).


    3. An organization with this kind of tenure distribution probably has not kept up from a talent management and recruiting perspective with the increasing demands of the role. Like most jobs, the one held by the folks in this chart has become more complex in the last few years, has more scrutiny and pressure placed upon the people in the role, and the employees have more at stake in terms of money and prestige for the organization that employs them. In a nutshell, this job, while being around for about 100 years or so, has in the last 10 or so gotten much, much harder. And the 'gap' in the talent pipeline shows us that recruiting, development, and mentoring efforts have not kept up. Entire new classes of new hires are gone inside if 5 years.


    Ok, so who is this organization/group of employees who are reflected in the above chart?


    No one but the National Football League's on-field officials - the 'Zebras' that officiate and adjudicate the action on the fields of America's most popular professional sports league, the NFL.


    And increasingly, these on-field officials are in the news for all the wrong reasons - missed calls, bad calls, failure to recognize clearly concussed and barely vertical players after they are smashed in the head, and so on. This group of employees, as a group, have been performing poorly for some time now. And the talent pipeline as we see above does not indicate that things are about to get any better anytime soon.


    The big lessons for the rest of us?


    Pay attention to tenure. Sure, it is not the only or even the most important simple metric to think about. But if it takes 3 or 4 or 5 years for someone to really become expert at the job, and you have hardly any employees in those buckets, then you are going to have organizational performance issues. You will have too many folks on the downslope of their capability and too many who have not yet figured out what the heck is going on. And not enough folks heading up towards their peak.


    You are not always recruiting, developing, mentoring, and retaining to ensure high performance this week - sometimes you are doing all of those things to ensure high performance four years from now.


    And football is still dumb.