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    Entries in Technology (346)

    Friday
    Dec022016

    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!

    Tuesday
    Nov292016

    CHART OF THE DAY: Managing the algorithms

    It must be 'Algorithm Week' on the blog, given that yesterday I posted a piece about how HR folks need to consider carefully how algorithms and other intelligent technologies are introduced into HR and talent management practices. 

    Keeping with that theme, today's Chart of the Day is also about algorithms, more specifically about how the overall role and responsibility of HR and HR leaders might shift as more intelligent technologies are introduced into workplaces. The chart comes to us from an MIT Technology Review briefing paper titled 'Asia's AI Agenda: How Asia is speeding up global artificial intelligence adoption', a look at how the increased adoption of automation and other 'smart' technologies are going to impact work, workplaces, and too, the practice of HR.

    The entire paper is interesting, but for today's chart I wanted to share what MIT's survey of Asia HR leaders revealed about how these HR leaders see their roles changing along with the changing workplace (and workforce).

    Here's the chart, then some FREE comments from me after the data:

    Three quick takes...

    1. First off, it is really interesting, (and I think really encouraging), that more than 87% of HR leaders in the survey realize that these new technologies are going to have a 'major impact' on the role of the HR leader moving forward. The first step in the grieving process is acceptance, (actually, I am not sure if that is true, but don't have the time to look it up, so just pretend it is true anyway), so it is a good sign that the vast majority of these HR leaders are at least cognizant if not accepting that advances in automation and smart tech are going to change the HR role. 

    2. Next, it is also interesting, (if possibly a little naive), in that fully two-thirds of these surveyed HR leaders see that their roles will expand to encompass the 'overall productivity' of both people and the machines and other intelligent technologies that are increasingly being introduced into their workplaces and processes. I have to admit to being a little surprised that so many HR respondents seem ready or at least willing to get into the 'machine management' business.

    3. What that does imply however, is that these HR leaders wanting to expand the traditional talent management role to include machine management as well are going to have to develop an entire new set of expertise and skills, (not to mention some baseline understanding of this technologies), that have as far as I can tell never been a part of HR or talent management in the past.  I am not sure if 'managing' the machines and algorithms is going to be easier or harder than managing people, (if I had to bet, I am going with 'easier'), but either way it will require an expansion of the traditional HR role beyond what most if not all HR leaders are prepared for.

    Check out the paper from MIT if you want to learn more. Really interesting stuff on how business and HR are thinking about the increasing incorporation of automation and algorithms in the workplace.

    Monday
    Nov282016

    Onboarding the algorithms

    During the Ideas and Innovators session at the HR Technology Conference last month, my pal Michael Krupa gave an outstanding talk about automation and advanced 'learning' kinds of technology, and some of the implications for HR and organizational leaders who are choosing to incorporate these technologies into their people and talent management programs.

    In the talk, (and once I get the video of this, I will be sure to update the post with the link), Michael used a great expression to illustrate the deliberate and measured approach HR should take to adoption of these 'smart' tools. He called it 'Onboarding the algorithms'; a way of comparing the introduction and deployment of these technologies to the structured and immersive process that most organizations follow when onboarding new employees. The larger point - HR and business leaders need to carefully evaluate, understand, assess, and introduce algorithms and other advanced, intelligent, (and often predictive), tools carefully, and insert them into the HR and talent processes intelligently and intentionally - just like we do when hiring and welcoming new employees.

    I think Michael's analogy was a great one as it serves as a kind a warning to HR and business leaders eager to adopt these kinds of advanced and predictive tools for functions like evaluating a slate of job candidates, making decisions about which employees should be considered 'high potential', and thus granted more development and growth opportunities, scheduling the 'optimal' mix of employees for a given day or shift, or to provide intelligence and decision support to managers making decisions about the allocation of salary and bonus pools.

    I have no doubt that organizations and HR leaders will seek to adopt these kinds of tools more and more in 2017, but at the same time I think it also we be important, to use Michael's phrase, to 'onboard' these tools and algorithms effectively, in order to ensure we not only utilize the tools to their potential, but we also understand how these tools are actually designed and how they are performing. Kind of like how we know the background of every new employee that comes onboard the organization and how we like to keep track of their assimilation and performance - usually in a pretty structured 30-60-90-180 day kind of manner.

    This is a pretty important and complex idea for sure. One that can't be completely explained in one blog post. But I think one good place for HR and business leaders to start is to have really open and honest conversations with their HR technology providers of these smart tools and algorithms to gain a better understanding of how they are designed, how they work, (or are meant to work), and how transparent are the machine's thought processes they end up in a decision, (or at least a recommendation, i.e. 'Hire this person, and not that person.').

    A great starting point for HR leaders who need to know what questions to ask of your HR tech providers is the Principles for Accountable Algorithms statement from the  Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in Machine Learning organization. They break down the five key guiding principles for algorithm design, (responsibility, explainability, accuracy, audibility, and fairness), that HR leaders can look for, (and seek answers about), from their technology providers. Of course there is plenty more for HR leaders to consider when evaluating and deploying these tools, but the FAT/ML document provides a good starting point. You can learn more about that organization and what they do here

    Just like every good HR pro knows that we just can't toss new employees blindly into the fire and expect that they will produce desired outcomes, (and be happy), we can't expect that we can simply insert new technologies, no matter how 'intelligent', and think we will get optimal outcomes. If these tools are meant to become a fundamental element of you and your leader's talent and people management playbook, then you need to understand them as well as you need to understand all the members of your team.

    And you need to be able to tell when the algorithm is wrong too.

    Have a great week!

    Wednesday
    Nov232016

    HRE Column: On Recruitment Marketing

    Here is my semi-frequent reminder and pointer for blog readers that I also write a monthly column at Human Resource Executive Online called Inside HR Tech that can be found here.

    This month, in the aftermath of the recent Talent Acquisition Technology Conference and thinking about all the innovative and potentially disruptive HR and talent acquisition technology solutions that continue to appear in the market, I thought about how much I have heard and seen lately about the concept or category of 'recruitment marketing.'

    Both at Talent Tech and at the recent Smashfly Transform event, the strategies, tactics, and technologies that HR and talent acquisition leaders are employing to define and communicate their unique employer brand and value proposition, as well as find, engage, and convert their targeted candidate communities were on full display. This field or category of recruitment marketing has seemingly emerged from the combination or confluence of a tight labor market, powerful and purpose-built technologies, and HR and talent acquisition strategies that are leaning heavily on consumer marketing precepts and concepts. 

    It is a really exciting, interesting, and fast-moving time in this new recruitment marketing space, and I thought it would be fun and hopefully valuable to share with HR Executive readers my thoughts about this new and emerging space. I came up with a few observations for my latest HR Executive column.

    From the HRE piece:

    One of the highlights of the recently concluded Talent Acquisition Technology Conference was the emphasis on recruitment marketing as an emerging new recruiting discipline. The definition of recruitment marketing is pretty straightforward: "the strategies and tactics an organization uses to find, attract, engage and nurture [sought-after people] before they apply for a job, called the pre-applicant phase of talent acquisition." (As an aside, you know a new concept has "arrived" when it has a Wikipedia page for its definition.)

    In some ways, recruitment marketing is just the natural extension of the widely discussed "HR should act more like marketing and/or sales" argument that has become popular in recent years. While that argument has indeed proven durable, it may not always be appropriate in all cases, as George LaRocque from HRWINS, one of the conference speakers, pointed out. LaRocque correctly showed that, while most consumer marketers serve only their ultimate external customers, recruiting leaders and recruiters often serve several kinds of customers: candidates, hiring managers, and even HR and organizational leaders.

    But even if there is not a perfect analogy between recruiting and sales/marketing, many progressive organizations and talent-acquisition leaders are successfully using consumer-marketing strategies, tactics and approaches to more effectively "market" their organizations and employment opportunities to potential candidates. This discipline of recruitment marketing has indeed emerged and grown more prominent in just the last few years and since not all HR leaders might be completely familiar with the concept and approach, I'd like to explore at least a few important points and share some thoughts on how HR and organizational leaders can begin to incorporate these ideas into their talent acquisition strategies.

    Why is recruitment marketing different than just posting job ads?

    In her closing keynote at the conference, Stacy Zapar presented a comprehensive review of the many strategies organizations can and perhaps should employ to more effectively define, communicate and market their unique employer brand and employee value proposition to the candidate marketplace. While posting specific job ads on the company careers page and ensuring these ads are distributed to additional outlets such as Indeed or LinkedIn are certainly part of most organization's candidate-attraction strategies, Zapar correctly emphasized that these efforts are only a small part of the optimal overall recruitment-marketing strategy.

    Read the rest at HR Executive online...

    Good stuff, right? Humor me...

    If you liked the piece you can sign up over at HRE to get the Inside HR Tech Column emailed to you each month. There is no cost to subscribe, in fact, I may even come over and rake your leaves car or clean out your gutters or even help you re-purpose the Thanksgiving leftovers. 

    Have a great, long Thanksgiving weekend!

    Monday
    Nov142016

    Basketball, media, and robots coming for our jobs

    With the events of last week's election pretty much consuming and subsuming national attention last week you probably missed this really interesting story on the intersection of sports, media, and technology, one that raises some interesting questions about the future or automation and work.

    First a little background on the story from last week, then some thoughts on why it is interesting beyond the narrow, 'sports' focus.

    Last week Mark Cuban, famous rich guy and owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks suddenly revoked the media credentials at Dallas' arena for two Dallas based ESPN basketball writers, Mark Stien and Tim MacMahon. From the first reports that came out, Cuban made the decision to revoke the ESPN pair's credentials because he was disappointed that MacMahon would not be covering every Mavericks game, a change from prior years; and Stein, as a national NBA reporter was thought to only want to cover Mavs games to gain access to players and coaches from the Mavs opponents as they came through Dallas. It was reported that Cuban was particularly miffed by the fact that no ESPN media attended and reported on the Mavs opening night game.

    If this story was just about a team owner trying to play strong arm a major media outlet into providing more coverage for his team, it would not be all that interesting, and I would not have decided to write about it here.

    But a day or two after the initial media credential ban was announced, the story became more nuanced, and well - interesting. 

    What Cuban was also protesting, in addition to the reduced coverage of Mavs games in general by ESPN, was what he feels like is going to be the inevitable replacement for at least some human media game coverage - automated game summaries and stories generated by machine learning and algorithms.

    Here's some additional detail from an email Cuban sent to the web site Deadspin, who had been reporting on the Mavs-ESPN kerfluffle: (Note: I edited this some for brevity and clarity, the full email is at the link above)

    Two things triggered this whole thing. First was when I found out they (ESPN) had cut back or had always offered reduced coverage for 19 nba teams I had no idea this was going on

    The second was when espn didn’t cover our opening night and the resultant coverage on their website was a tweet, One highlight and a wire service story

    It made me realize that I had expected to be covered by all media, but it no longer was a given

    Even though espn was covering the same number of games, if they didn’t think it was a big deal to miss opening night. I had a problem. Not necessarily an espn problem , but a coverage problem

    And if it’s 30 games now for 19 teams. What would keep it from being 60 games for 25 teams ?

    What was their long term thinking ?

    When you realize that the hottest area in technology, and it’s not even close , is machine and deep learning , then it’s an easy step to see where this was going

    I told espn this was my concern. They didn’t say they were taking this path. They didn’t say they weren’t. But I voiced these concerns to them

    They said they would run their business . I can run mine

    So the next question is where would it leave Mavs fans who wanted game results coverage of nothing changed and espn didn’t send a reporter for 30 games ?

    It meant for 30 games and inevitably more in the future they wouldn't have a good experience with espn

    It meant it was likely that in the near term when they went to espn Dallas they find a couple videos, tweets and a wire service story

    How is that positive for any nba team or their fans when 30 games have second rate coverage ?

    And what happens and what message is sent to fans when those games are covered by an algorithm in the future ?

    Short term this is a Mavs issue. Long term it’s a certainty that our games will be covered algorithmically. Thats a problem across the board for us and the NBA

    IMO that devalues our brand . It devalues the fans experience. I feel strongly that now is the time to partner with those who commit to the Mavs and to sending real people to cover the games for Mavs fans

    It may seem like we are picking on espn or telling them how to run their business. We aren't. We are trying to protect ourselves and our fans and our future by partnering with those in the written media who commit to us

    I know the whole automation thing may not make sense to some. But to me this is no different than saying that streaming would change media in 1995. Or social media would change coverage of sports , etc

    Machine and deep learning and algorithmic coverage of sports events is going to happen.

    This isn’t about replacing writers. The best writers will always have a place

    This comes down to how do we value reporting on a game . Right now I value it more than espn and others and want to partner with the DMN FWST (media outlets), and use our own writers as our focus

    Really interesting takes coming from a guy who got rich back in the day, selling a technology company, (Broadcast.com) for millions to Yahoo. Cuban is no Luddite or technophobe.

    But at least in 2016, he (probably rightly), feels that despite advances in machine learning and automation that NBA game coverage is still best produced by actual human reporters and not the algorithms. And if you think that the entire idea of an algorithm replacing a human reporter to write sports event coverage think again - it is already happening mostly via technology created by a firm called Automated Insights. You can learn more about what they are doing with automated reporting of minor league baseball games here.

    Let's go back on one line of Cuban's email above - "Long term it’s a certainty that our games will be covered algorithmically. Thats a problem across the board for us and the NBA."

    In the same message where Cuban admits to using some tough negotiating tactics to push ESPN to continue to provide quality, human coverage of Mavs games, he admits that the algorithmic coverage of these games are a certainty. Today while technology like the one provided by Automated Insights is inferior to human reported coverage, over time it seems apparent to Cuban that the difference in quality will matter less to the media company than the sheer cost savings and efficiency gains that could be realized by replacing human reporters with a computer program.

    And Cuban has a problem with that, as it is in his best interests to have top-notch coverage of Mavs games in the media, as he sees that as an extension of his team and of the Mavs brand.

    I know this post has gotten pretty long, especially for a busy Monday, but I thought it important enough to try and lay out the context before hitting what I think is the main takeaway which is this:

    Just because something can be automated away or a job be done by a robot or a machine instead of a human doesn't mean that it necessarily should. Your customers will decide and balance the tradeoffs between costs, convenience, and quality about the products and services you are offering. 

    You might think, or your CEO might insist, that automation is always the way to go, but until the robot or the algorithm can do the job almost as good as the human it is replacing, then don't be too quick to agree.

    Think I am wrong?

    Take a look at the 'self-service' checkouts sometime at a busy grocery store or big box home improvement retailer?

    Anyone using those? Do they provide a great experience?

    Or would you rather wait an extra few minutes and check out with a human cashier?

    Have a great week all!