Bloomington-Normal Job Locations

I stumbled on the Where Are the Job? website, that places all of the jobs in the US on the map. 

2016-12-21 09_54_30-Where Are The Jobs_ - Pale Moon

It is from 2014, so in Bloomington-Normal it is pre-Mitsubishi closing.  The clustering in is interesting.  People looking for manufacturing or logistics jobs should be on the western, southern, and northern outskirts along the Interstates.  Professional services jobs are clustered around COUNTRY Financial and State Farm along Veteran’s Parkway. 

Service sectors jobs are in the thin line following Veteran’s Parkway while much of the government, medical, and education jobs follow Main St (US 51.)

Clustering of jobs isn’t surprising.  Small companies of similar types grow up near larger institutions.  It also help workers since working in proximity to others in the same field help spread ideas and talent.  It also shortens travel time during work hours.

Businesses and Integrating Social Media

imageA year or so ago, I wrote this to help managers in mid-sized companies  understand the best ways to train employees on how to use social media to interact with customers.  Clearly, I suck at the subject so take it as a outsiders view point. 

Before using social media, most employees generally want training on how to engage customers, especially if they grew up pre-internet or don’t use it personally.  The most preferred way individual training.  Unfortunately, in most companies this scales poorly.  There is so much turnover that it is expensive to keep everyone up to date with newest networks, let alone how to use Facebook or Instagram.  It also limits the learner to established practices.  This limits their options and discourages them from exploring new ways to communicate with customers.

Many companies fallback to webinar training, but this is usually a terrible medium for learning complex ideas.  This type of training often take the worst aspects of traditional classroom learning such as being a passive listener and having to attend at a fixed time.  Add to that a student needs to stare at PowerPoint slides on a tiny 17” screen while listening through tinny speakers it a wonder that anyone would attend unless forced. 

There is still a place individualized training and webinars but other options work better.  Some of the best idea come from podcasters and YouTube video bloggers.  Many are entrepreneurs with their livelihoods at stake.  Therefore, most tend to be focused on increasing attendance.  Here is what they many successful ones do:

1. Keep the message short and focused. 

People find the best training sessions are up to 5 minutes long.  Studies show that people on phones watch training sessions for about 3 minutes and tablets/computers for 5 minutes. 

Short lengths help keep people’s attention.  More short content offers increases the likelihood of covering something people need simply by chance. 

Serialization provides more excuses to publicize content.  This is similar to how tweets aren’t often about the content.  They are about keeping the message in the front of the consumer.

The problem is that short content is often harder to do.  Instructors spend more working a 3-minute speech than an hour-long one.  This increases quality.

Percentage of video watchedviewingpercentageSource:

  1. Make highlight reels.

Take snippets the important ideas from long-form content and post it on the content intranet.  This is common in the public policy sphere.  A creator will make an hour-long video, take snippets out, and post the best parts as short form content.  Some will even create separate short pieces and condense the material still further (sort of like an ad or highlight reel.)  

  1. Practice just-in-time learning.

Because most businesses are cyclical, create and publicize content when learners need it, during peak times of the year.  For instance, at a bank, more employees will want to give savings advice during tax season.  

  1. Ask questions before producing content.

Participation is higher in session where employees know it will cover something they are interested in learning.  In a hour+ long training, few people ask questions.  Sessions cause mental fatigue, especially those in remote locations when the temptation to answer emails or play solitaire is strong.

Gathering feedback before production gives the trainer an idea of what people want to know.  It also gives time for people to think about what they want to learn.

  1. Market it.

Content is worthless if no one knows it exists, market it.  Ideally, there should be multiple posts per week about how to do things cycled on the intranet.  Even if it is a repeat, post it.  Few employees will know that it is a repeat and even if they do, there is no harm with a little refresh. 

  1. Build a community.

If the company is really serious about using the internet to communicate with customers, build a internal community.  Make it a one stop shop.  Start by adding all available training and links to corporate social media presences.  Next, have employees write about personal experiences.  Make this a user listening post.  Use forums, surveys, Q&A, and anything to keep interest.  This will also help trainers and experts by giving a single place for research.

  1. Be passionate.

Nothing is more boring than listening someone reading a script or going through the motions.  If it is boring to the poster, imagine what it like for others.  Training should be interesting to the trainer firstly.  Otherwise, it is not worth doing.

  1. Use multiple mediums.

People learn in different ways, so it is important to mix up training by using multiple mediums such as live training, audio, webinars, videos, blog post, LinkedIn requests, etc.  Together with many short pieces, this has several benefits:

  • Helps to track what works for the audience.
  • Risk of failure is lower, so it allows trainers more freedom to experiment. 
  • Allow for creation of meta-training.  This means creating categories of training based ideas and not on the content type.  Some of the better MOOCs do this.

Use video and live feeds and examples to liven the presentation.  When using video, produce audio and text versions of content.  Despite MTV mantra, video didn’t kill the radio star.  The great aspect of audio is learners can multitask (think audio books.)  Short posts are great to drive traffic to existing content and offer bite sized training to boot.  Post snippets from live training sessions can help reinforce ideas.

9.  Test your audience.

Short quizzes or surveys after the content can reinforce content.  Even if the content is short, ask questions after it to reinforce the material and to gather feedback on how well the content was conveyed.

10.  Be Committed

The weakest part of an social media strategy is management.  Most C-level executive want to engage customers online, but don’t put resources into help employee do it.  The results is lackluster with many employees jumping in at the start and two months in the effort is forgot about, to the detriment of the customer base. 

Nor do many engagement their employees or customers to provide an example.  Without this engagement, interest will wane.

2016 ISU Professor/Administrator Pay Breakdown

Illinois State University - FIREI was doing a little research on teacher pay and came across the Illinois Board of Higher Education site, which lists the compensation of all professors and many administrators.  With is in hand, I through it into Tableau and profiled Illinois State University (ISU.)



ISU is top heavy.  It pays the administrators and unit directors more than other institutions.  They also tend to pay their professors and adjuncts less than most other institutions. 



ISU also uses many more atypical (likely adjunct) teachers.  There are almost twice as many part time instructors than other public universities.  This is likely because it is a teaching college as well as having a vocational/technical bent.  Bringing in people with real world experience can improve learning.  It is also why the pay for instructors/lecturers’ pay is low. 



Excluding the lower paid people, the mix is fairly typical with a few more associate professors on average.  With instructors removed, the median salary is $80,700 vs other universities $83,400. 



When looking at a Pareto chart of compensation, there is a budge of low paid instructors with compensation in the $10 to $30K range.  There is another bulge around $80 to 120K.

Overall, the administrators and high positioned people at ISU are well paid compared to other universities.  It also relies on part-time and adjuncts more than others.

Want to play with the data and compare it to other schools?  Go here: 2016 ISU Professor Pay Visualization.

Samsung vs Internet




Samsung seems to be taking tips from TheDonald and attempting to silence parities and stiff people who have been affected by the fire prone Note 7.  You think companies would have learned that controlling the narrative rarely working on the Internet these days.

There are just too many people with access and too few public relations employees to fight them.  Instead, an obscure modder get their 15 seconds of fame while I and much of the world wouldn’t have even know it existed.  It shouldn’t be surprising that they treat their potential buyers as poorly as they treat their employees.

Link: GTA 5 – EXPLOSIVE Samsung Galaxy Note 7?! (GTA 5 Mods Showcase)


Tableau Confernce ‘14-Day 3


Let us recap day two’s festivities:image002

  • Most presenters talked about simplified visualizations better convey topics to non-data people.
  • There are few good programs to correct data file imperfections.
  • Most companies present dashboards without insight generalization.  Users need to draw their own conclusions from the visualizations presented.
  • Designers hate pie charts.
  • What is truly evil is the exploding pie chart (which I now know how to make, ha!)

Good morning Seattle!  I got up early today and went for a stroll around the downtown area just before sunrise.  I shot pic above down by the water.  I realize now that one does not simply stroll east-west as the rolling terrain make it more ascending mountains.  I was almost late to rendezvous with my colleagues at the hotel.  Again food at the conference had a high nom factor.


Session #12: Keynote: Dr. John J. Medina—The Business Brain

imagesI didn’t have a clue to who Dr. Medina, the author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, was before the session and asked around to see if anyone else knew who he was to no avail.  I guess he wasn’t a contestant on Dancing with the Stars or Idol.  I first thought he’d going to go on about how people think or ways to excel at work or home, but instead the topic was sleep.  A great topic indeed.

  • Myth: People use <10% of their brain.  It is actually 50-60%.
  • Myth #2: There are left and right brained people.  There is no evidence of this.  Humans need both to survive.
  • Our brain evolved to survive outside.   We are wired to notice changes in weather, sensing motion, and looking for things that aid in survival.
  • Brain as two parts
  • Generator – Affected by mood, what we eat, sickness and sleep
  • Spotlight – Our attention and stimulus receptors
  • We need around 8 hours of sleep a night.  This occurs in 4 to 5 cycles a night.
  • Why so sleepy after lunch?  It is the brain telling you to take a nap because it is confused.  This happens when the circadian arousal and homeostatic sleep drives are nearing equilibrium.  Take a 26 minute nap. 
  • People who have bi-polar often have problems with the homeostatic sleep drive.  I see this in my mom.  At times, she does not sleep, leading to all sorts of problems.
  • Sleep helps people remember what they learn over the course of a day.  The brain replays the memories to aid learning.
  • Four levels of sleep depravation

    1. Irritability
    2. Worsening working memory
    3. Motor skills worsen
    4. Hallucinations similar to LSD

    Sleep deprived people don’t realize they need sleep in the first two stages, but those around them do.

    How we get sleep depravation

    • 5 days w/6 hours of sleep a night is like being up 48 hours straight (felt that when I was Seattle)
    • If someone is up 18 hours in one day, it takes 3 to 4 days to correct the issue.

    Takeaway:  Sleep is the best career move.  Get some.  Hopefully my boss will let me take naps after lunch, for my health…that’s the ticket.


    Session #13: 100 Years of Visualization Best Practices—It’s Time to Stop Making the Same Mistakes

    2014-09-17 17_38_47-Graphic presentation - graphicpresentat00brinrich.pdfAndy Cotgreave gave an interesting speech about Willard Brinton and his book, Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts, which can be read in its entirety online (thank you public domain.) 

    • When zero could be a real number in a visualization, start the axis at zero.  Otherwise the perspective can be distorted.
    • The title and images in the visualization tell their own story
    • Use a checklist to make sure visualization meet the needs of the user

    “Show me the numbers” – Stephen Few

    Keys to data visualization

    1. Data interactivity – Use over time, YoY or averages to give context
    2. Isotype – Use shapes that are similar to what you are measuring.  Like footballs for the number of catches a receiver makes.
    3. Don’t size by area, it is not effective.  Make the keys understandable.

    No, bad Economist, no.



    This was original.


    This is what Andy created using the same data.  Notice how the convey different a meaning.  The top one is more visceral, but the latter one really tells a positive story (well before ISIS hung is shingle in Iraq and Syria.) 


    Thanks Patty for the snaps.

    2014-09-17 17_43_28-Graphic presentation _ Brinton, Willard Cope, 1880- _ Free Download & Streaming

    Look! Pie charts even in 1914.  They’re eternal I tell you.

    Note:  This book has some great visualizations.  If you have the time, I’d recommend skimming the book for ideas.

    Takeaway:  The visualizations used can change how the reader perceives the insight.  Think about this when displaying data. Review the book, it is nearly as good as Edward Tufte’s, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, another one I highly recommend.


    Session #14: General Motors Design Center: Connecting a Data-Driven Business with a Visually-Driven Team

    I wasn’t expecting grandeur, after all this was a presentation by a GM, a company until recently was known as Government Motors.  My perception changed as Ben Pope took the mic.  He a affable, witty, and most importantly knew analytics.  He even built his presentation in Tableau and not PowerPoint, I true analytics deity.

    GM implemented a graphic view for their projects forgoing the horrendous UI of Microsoft Project and their other internal project systems. 

    • It is used in 10 design centers worldwide with 2,500 people
    • Built with strong IT and management support (which is needed for analytic project in my opinion)
    • Holds all data sources in one workbook.  The they can make changes centrally and push it to the server.
    • Have 3 analysts working and maintaining their dashboards.


    Picture doesn’t do it justice.


    2014-09-17 18_10_38-Sketch114142222.tiff - Windows Photo Viewer

    Rough sketch of the data workflow.  Missing the piece of pull from Microsoft SharePoint to Access (likely to get user information.)

    Takeaway:  It is important to get your stakeholders involved earlier and have a strategic direction to help analytics teams when creating visualizations.


    Session #15: Keynote: Hans Rosling—Future Global Trends: A Fact-Based View

    I was looking forward to Hans Rosling closing out the conference.  I am a big fan of, a organization he help to found.  A few years ago in the pre-Tableau and Excel 2013 days, I used the software his organization created to make a bunch of dashboards in Flash.  During that time, I got to play with the world data he showed to the audience.  Tableau has this data available natively in its products.

    He ask six questions to the audience.  Before proceeding, take the survey to see if you’re l33t enough to continue:

    Answers: (love the filename)

    Anyway, he was frank and funny, a great presenter.

    • Population in 2100: 5 billion Asia, 4 Africa, 1 Americas, and 1 Europe
    • Peak child will be in 2014 to 2016.  That means their will be only 2.1 billion people under 18 in the world each year from now to 2100.
    • The lack of gender equality lowers fertility in middle income and advanced countries (see China and Japan.)  It has no affect on those making <$1.25/day.  This is because of high child mortality rates, which in turn increase birth rates.
    • Two factors that have contributed most to the declining birth rate: vaccinations (sorry anti-vaxors) and globalization (sorry protectionists and greens)
    • Once families make more than $10/day, birth rate declines .  Children are healthier (survive) and don’t have to work.  They go to school and become more educated after which they make more than their parents and have even fewer children.
    • High-income earners have more children provided there is a high level of gender equality.
    • Most high income countries have a lower birth rate than the replacement rate (2.1 children/woman.)  This means their populations will stabilize and shrink (unless there is immigration.)



    I was inspired to draw again during the presentation.  I thought of a way to do rolling overtime with a YoY graphic programmatically directly from a DB2 data source.  When I have the time, I will implement it on a daily basis and make the DBAs cry.




    The conference let out early on the last day, so I went back to Pike Place Market while it was still open.  It is a cool scene when open with all the activity from locals and tourists.  Much of the food was fresh.  I spied an ostrich and emu eggs for sale.  I thought, briefly about taking one to take back.  Then I realized that I had no place to put it in my luggage.  Even if I could manage, the TSA would not keep it whole (like what happened to my jar of garlic spread, grrr.)


    Them are some big lobster tails.

    After poking around a bit, the group that I was with headed toward the bay to eat.  After some side treks, we heads to Anthony’s Pier 66, just north of the Seattle Aquarium, where we went to sit up so we looked down on the water.  I ordered swordfish, which was good, but I decided not my favorite type of fish.  It was too cooked.  Fish is better in its natural state–raw.  Overall, the food and service was decent and adequate enough for a bunch of tired convention attendees.

    After eating, everything that had happened hit my mind at once.  It was a zen realization that I was dog tired and only wanted to hit the pillow for a few hours before the early 7am flight back to the Midwest.


    The recap for day number three:

    • Sleep is more important than staying up all an finishing the next round of Civilization, get some and often.
    • Edward Tufte wasn’t the first person to think of how to display data.
    • There is no one way to get data into Tableau.  Most companies use CSV or Excel rather than go directly against data stores.
    • IT limitations will cause data analysts to do crazy things.  It is important to collaborate with IT to set up reporting systems correctly.
    • The population will stabilize and get older as the world gets richer.  That is a comforting thought for the future of humanity unless a big rock falls from the sky.

    About the Conference

    The conference overall was slickly produced and well run.  Things of note:

    • The TCC14-Data14 app was well produced and was built on Event Base technology.  It bridged nicely between the virtual and physical world.  Tableau added all of the sessions, happenings, maps, surveys and even a game in the app itself. More impressively, the kept it constantly up to date.  I think that it would be a useful tool for any company wanting to hold events with hundreds of people.
    • Tableau used the app and other technology during check-in to see what programs they needed to add during the conference.  The app was constantly pinging about sessions moving to larger venues or added to accommodate popular topics.
    • The lament the size of the lanyard, but it did have a map in the sleeve so you did have to pull out your phone/tablet to see where you needed to go.
    • Tableau offered nice touch services such as shuttle to and from the hotels and discounts of their stuff.
    • Offered a good brand of non-carbonated unsweet lime water in a can.  Wish I could remember the name of it.  It was weird to drink something flat from a can, but it grew on me in place a of black tea that I usually drink.

    Miscellaneous Stuff

    This is stuff I forgot to mention in the earlier posts or just plain didn’t know where to put it.



    Mount Rainier from the Air by Patty Walsh.


    Rainy Monday at the Fish Market by Patty Walsh.  The rest of the week was clear and sunny.



    Listening to Sir-Mix-A-Lot while staring upwards whilst eating a doughnut.


    Shiny buildings.


    Looking down from the 10th floor in the Seattle Public Library.  Gave me vertigo.  The place is awesome on the inside, but just pain ugly outside.


    Mount Rainier again.  This time from Safe Co field.  By Brian Welch.

    Note: Next time, bring a decent camera.


    Not sure where I snapped this.  Decent visualization though.

    Tableau Conference ‘14 Diary–Day 2

    Let us review day 1:

    • Most of the conference goers where relatively new to Tableau, few that I spoke with had more than a year or two of experience.  There are two reasons for this.  Firstly, Tableau has grown rapidly in the last year or two.  The other is the conference seems geared toward newbies.  It also doesn’t hurt that Tableau gives out free passes to new enterprise clients.
    • Many of the presentations to on day one focused on data presentation and little on how to get the data into Tableau.
    • There was little explanation on what insight people received from using Tableau.  Most dashboards created were around user self service.


    The conference started at 9 instead of 8 today.  I think this was to give marry makers some time to recuperate after last nights festivities. The breakfast was different today, but just as good.

    Session #6: Keynote:  Neil deGrasse Tyson –Science as a Way of Knowing

    Oddly, I wasn’t familiar Mr. Tyson.  I should turn in my geek card.   As co-creator and main host of the new Cosmos series I should have known who he was.  The original inspired me to get into the hard sciences as a kid.

    His presentation focused data should be used to explain the universe and how humans need to be open to new ideas that can challenge how we see the world.

    Source: Tableau blog

    • The tree of life doesn’t have humans at the top.  We are just one of thousands of species on its branches.  Also we are more closely related to mushrooms than to plants.
    • It is not a matter of if, but when we will be hit by a large asteroid.
    • We don’t have to destroy the asteroid to save the planet, only use the gravitational pull of a space ship to alter its course.

    Takeaway: It might not helped me use Tableau better, but it was sure entertaining.  Oh and Pluto is not a planet.

    Session #7: Making a Viz that Stops Traffic

    big_circle_zen_masterMy first real session of the day brought in three Tableau Zen Masters, Paul Banoub, Anya A’Hearn, and Dan Montgomery.  20 or so are chosen each year based on the knowledge of the software based on their contributions to the Tableau community, user feedback, and employee nominations.


    2014-09-15 19_37_17-

    2014-09-15 19_38_04-

    Thanks for Patty Walsh for snapping these.

    The three all had decent presentation styles focusing on data presentation over analysis.  As a fan of Edward Tufte, I wasn’t a fan of what they has built, but well-crafted.  I felt they were too over produced to be practical for users.  However, they all had great color sense and use of language.

    • Use your dashboards to tell a story
    • Pair down your charts using only ones that will enhance user understanding of the data
    • Match colors and fonts with company standards
    • If putting a visual online, use the Blog size, 650×650 canvas
    • Max number of colors should be 2 to 3
    • Use conversational language to explain visualizations
    • Add pictures where necessary
    • Tableau does not embed fonts, so you will have to screen print specialized fonts and add them as a graphics.
    • Learn by pulling data on topics you love and building visualizations.

    Useful links:

    Takeaway:  The is a trade off with visualizations.  Data heavy ones might be easier for analysts but management and casual users need simple visually pleasing visualizations.  Try to make your works look cleaner and less like Tableau.

    Session #8: Porn, Pokémon & Pop Culture: Using Data That Doesn’t Suck

    Similar to the previous session, a few more Zen Masters and a Tableau employee took the stage.  For whatever reason, I thought that Jewel Loree, Andy Kriebel, and Peter Gilks had a better presentation.  I think it was because they spoke less about their visualizations and more about how to get data into Tableau.

    • Cut and paste is king.  There are few tools that help clean data.
    • Cleaning data it the most time consuming part of creating visualizations (hear-hear.)
    • Excel is still comes before Tableau.  You still need to build the data sets somewhere.
    • KISS is the way to go as user engagement is the key to success.
    • Create your own data to hone your skills.  Use an app like Moves to capture what you do or last.FM to capture your musical life.

    2014-09-15 20_00_51-Paint By Numbers



    2014-09-15 20_04_06-Jewel Loree

    Note: since my pictures did not come out, I found the visualizations referenced in the presentation from from the presenter’s respective web sites.  Click on the visual to discover more.

    Useful links:

    Takeaway:  Tableau only makes data pretty.  It is still hard to get the data in a useful format.

    Session #9: Keynote: A Conversation with Michael Lewis

    200px-Michael_Lewis_2009I was looking forward to this keynote as I have read a number of his books.  I like how he brings the data users to life without getting into the gory details of the analytics they employ.  Personalities always come before numbers.

    This session was a Q&A that started off stiffly, but as he and Tableau’s Kelly Wright warmed to one another the conversation improved.

    • His stories focus on personalities over data.
    • Most of his stories are about outside or little guys fighting consensus in the marketplace.
    • He related better to people who use theirs instincts vs detached people like venture capitalists.  He finds it hard to connect with quants and entrepreneurs.  The are too detached.
    • He likes using a minimalist writing style and does not use jargon.
    • Pairs down is story and leaves part unsaid to to let the reader interpret.


    • Thinks that the right-left divide in the country was due in part to the financial crisis.
    • The financial sector is scared of change.  Many people fear technological change will cause them to loose their jobs.
    • Thinks there is a disconnect in capital markets.  Most people working on Wall Street are free agents and don’t hold allegiances to their employer of customers.  This is harmful.
    • He gets writing ideas from talking to people in his network.

    Books I have read w/Twitter reviews:


    Takeaway:  Work to pair away your data until you can see the story you want to tell.

    Session #10: Use Tableau like a Sith


    In the end, I am not sure what I got our of the Sith presentation done by Darth Flashypants, and Jinbar Nomix.  It focused on hacking Tableau desktop and server to bend it to the will of the user.

    Much of the time, I spent wondering if I would use anything they presented in real life.



    • Tableau employees hate pie charts.
    • Tableau Data Stores are in XML.  If one knows how to decode the parameters in the file, they can change a file saved in 8.2 to open in earlier versions, create pivot tables with more than 16 columns of data, change Excel connections to Access connections, and muck around to point at Internet URLs to pull in pictures rather than embedding them in the file.
    • There is a way to create exploding pie charts using dual axis charts.
    • There is a way to create gauges, but it is so complex why would you?
    • You can use a jitter function to show over-lapping data points.
    • There was a lot on how to improve Tableau Server performance, but since I am not a server admin, I didn’t bother to capture it.


    Takeaway:  Tableau uses XML, so it is possible to do some cool things if you know how to read it.

    Session #11: BI Reboot at Coca-Cola: Driving Sales with Tableau

    Chathura Manawadu was wonderful.  This was the best presentation of the day and a great note to go out on.  He created a dashboard called SalesPulse for the thousands of Coca-Cola distributors that interact with the local Walmart and mom and pop stores.

    2014-09-15 20_57_43-



    • Designed their metrics from the bottom up as they implemented Tableau.
    • Package the dashboard weekly by division.  3,500 users pick the packaged Tableau workbook off a file share and can use it when offline.
    • Use a consistent color schema for all dashboards they create.  Schema are color-blind friendly.
    • Track sales, volume, and R.E.D. score.Sketch1627410
    • In the back end, use Business Objects connected to Teradata or Microstrategy connected to MS SQL databases and Excel files.


    Takeaway:  Companies can use reader to distribute dashboard to field users. It just takes some effort to make it happen.


    At night we took Seattle’s light rail to see a baseball game.  I continue to be impressed by the cities transit.  Chicago’s pales in comparison.  There is little graffiti, it is cheap and it seems to connect bus, monorail (which I don’t think many ride,) and their funky trolley system well.


    Safeco Field and Century Link field, where the Seahawks play are right next to each other on the south side of the downtown.  Personally, I like the building aesthetic of the Seahawks field, but Safeco’s upper decks view has an unparalleled view of the city.  It is the best view from any park I have been to date.


    Garlic fries is a local Mariners fan favorite.  The first third was overpowering, the second third wasn’t too bad…the last part was more garlic than fries.  Vampires beware.


    In the upper deck, it was a cold clear and clam night.  The stars were out but the Mariners lost to the Astros.  I thought their pitching was decent, but their hitting line up was scattered and weak.  Luck is the only way they will sneak into the wild card playoff spot.

    Update: 10/21/2016: Sine spell corrections.

    Tableau Conference ‘14 Dairy–Day 0 & 1

    2014-09-14 16_02_58-Tableau Conference 2014 _ Seattle, Washington September 8–12

    This is a rambling account of how I experienced the Tableau Conference 2014 (TCC14) held in Seattle.  I will highlight the sessions as well as the city attractions attended adding color where necessary.

    Day 0

    Up at 4am, is there another 4? Why wasn’t I informed of this?! It started good, if you are leaving from anywhere, Bloomington airport is one of the best to go from, from parking to the terminal takes less than 30 minutes with security being a breeze.  The only place better is from Charlottesville, VA.  What makes that better is various historical artifacts at the terminal to peruse, otherwise they are similar. 

    4142382064_186593cfb4_z vs. airport

    One thing I’d change about the travel arrangements was the car.  I rented a Kia Sorrento.  A decent upgrade to my ride, an a upgrade to my Hyundai Elantra Touring, but was unnecessary.  The public transportation in the city is truly excellent.  I suspect the train from SeaTac to Seattle proper would only take 20 minutes and cost a few dollars. 

    Once checked in the Motif hotel, the car stayed parked as it was too expensive and a pain to drive around.  The hotel itself was good, living up to its name with weird colorful rooms and an open lobby with furniture chosen more for its modernist style than comfort.

    After dropping my luggage off at the hotel, some of my collogues and I went down to the waterfront and at ate at The Crab Pot, a local tourist trap.  While the salmon wrap was the worst food I ate during the stay, it still was tasty enough, I’d not recommend it for the price and so-so atmosphere.

    Then to check-in at the conference.


    Unfortunately, this initial start of the conference sucked.

    IMG_0648[1]Going up the escalator, the group I was with was treated to dub-step played by a DJ via his MacBook and Tableau employees milling around giving away stickers and other flair to adorn your clothing.  The check-in process was simple overall just walk up the some Apple tablets, enter your info and the cleric finished the process, 5 minutes tops.  The best part was the free self-styled Tableau backpack, which came in handy as when traveling the conference center and city itself.

    The main problem during this process was receiving the lanyard, which as the size of a 7 inch tablet, which made me feed dorky when wearing it outside the conference.  When you met someone for the first time, the lanyard caused them to stare at your navel.  My eye are up here, HERE!  Because they had RFID chips, vendors and those letting you into session poked your belly with wands.  I made me feel like to Poppin-in-Fresh Doughboy – he-he.


    Source: Wikipedia

    Session #1: First Timers; Field Guide to the Tableau Conference

    Uh, painful and by far the worst session I attended in the four days.  Matt Francis and Emily Kund did their best to pack in 10 minutes of content in an hour of presentation.  They tried and failed to explain what we were about to embark on in hipster-isque fashion.  Upon refection, their presentation style made sense, but just was poorly executed.

    Takeaway:  If you have been to any conference in your life, skip it if your going to TCc15 in Las Vegas.


    I does a choice of a network event with free beer and Seattle.  Of course I chose Seattle since I am uncomfortable in large unstructured gatherings.  So off to Pike Place Market, which I found that many of the shops were closed since it was after 5.  So a group of colleagues and II  walked to Etta’s, a Tom Douglas dinning establishment.  The overall décor make me feel out of place.  I’m much more confortable in jean wearing family establishments. Despite this I had an excellent salmon dish decked out in local farm grown vegetables and their specialty rub.  Included was some of the best calamari I have ever ate.  I wouldn’t eat there again, but it was a good experience overall.

    Day #1

    The first day we were treated to an excellent buffet-style breakfast instead of the usual carb filled donuts and coffee style spread, which I see the norm.  For those that didn’t like the fare of egg, meat, potato, and bagel combo they could go to the juice bar or refreshment stations place strategically around the center.


    Source: Tabeauza via Twitter

    Session #2: Keynote: Christian Chabot (CEO)  & Chris Stolte (CDO) – The Art of Analytics

    2014-09-14 16_31_14-Live Stream of Keynote _ Tableau Conference 2014 - Internet Explorer

    Tableau really came out the of the gate with a wow factor similar to an Apple product launch.  It was a high-energy affair that seemed to enrapture the audience.  It is not often that you see a CEO of a billion+ dollar company start off with a marijuana joke to get the crowd into what he’s saying.

    While topics at the sessions start were interesting, it was a typical affair about how visual analytics was going to change the world and how Tableaus power users will make it happen, so I won’t going in details.  You can go to the conference site and watch.  The more interesting things were about upcoming features.

    Terminology explanation is in order before going into the new features:

    Pills – These are the measures and dimensions when used in a visualization


    Shelf – Anything that holds pills such as Pages, Filters, Marks, Columns and Rows.

    Table with one measure

    Tableau Desktop

    • Enter measures on shelves.  This bypasses the Create Calculation popup. You can save them as measures too by dragging them into the Measures area.
    • Auto complete on the shelves.  This is similar to what Excel 2010+ does when you enter a formula into a cell on the taskbar.  Should be a great feature that will make simple calculations easier to enter. 
    • Analytic drag and drop.  Users will be able to drag, say Median pill onto a measure on a shelf and change the calculation on the fly. 

    Takeaway:  Expert analysts will enjoy them and the changes will make it easier for newer users to build out visualizations.


    • Search – Users will be able to type in say, Colorado, and have the map zoom into the correct location.  It will work with countries, states, counties and cities (and maybe more)


    • Circular and Lasso selection – Users will be able to select areas in anyway they choose. Right now you can only select in squares.

    Takeaway:  Great updates for power users, but casual users will not notice these feature.  They are not prominent on the UI.


    • Caching will make maps update quicker
    • Maps will pre-render in the background so there is no lag when moving around.
    • Calculation will now use more than one core.  Most systems have at least 2 to 4 so expect much faster results.
    • Calculations will persist once calculated.  This will help when opening a book to continue to work or switching between dashboards.

    Takeaway:  Minor but useful improvements.

    Data entry

    • Auto clean up Excel imports.  Can’t wait for this feature. I will no longer have to format Business Objects reports before entering them into Tableau.
    • Split on qualifiers.  If a column has something like this, Illinois-Bloomington, you will be able to separate it into two columns on import.
    • Web data connector.  This allow users to pull into content from web APIs.  This might be an awesome bridge to import data from Adobe SiteCatalyst or other could data API sources.

    Takeaway:  Not flashy, but these are the most important improvements.  Data cleaning takes up large portions of most analysts time.


    • Can control colors on the screen now.

    Takeaway:  There were other features talked about bit I didn’t write them down.  Storytelling is still worthless in an enterprise environment. 


    • Caching calculations.  Same as above
    • JavaScript API version 2
    • Infinitely scrollable views.  Finally, I never liked that it only displayed 10 workbooks at a time.
    • Cleaner interface with more meta data displayed on screen.
    • Easier to adjust security features on a per user/group basis.

    Takeaway:  Features will make finding work easier.  The server features should help infrequently updated workbooks run faster.


    • “Cloud 2 Cloud” login.
    • Push data from one cloud based software (such as Sales Force) to Tableau Cloud.

    Takeaway:  Only good for those using Tableau’s cloud instead of Tableau Server.


    • Caching calculations again.
    • Ability to favorite workbooks and to highlight
    • Web and mobile app will have more ways to edit.  Eventually Tableau wants parity with desktop and mobile operations.
    • Snapshot – Ability to save data to use when offline

    2014-09-14 16_32_37-Live Stream of Keynote _ Tableau Conference 2014 - Internet Explorer

    • Mobile workbook creation
      • Ability to pull in Excel files and create dashboards
      • Mobile app can zoom down to the record

          Takeaway:  In 5 years it could be a game changer, but most changes are minor or untested in real world scenarios.  I personally like this feature because it means my tablet will have more powerful editing features.

            Session takeaway:  Tableau says that they will invest more in research in the next 2 years than since the inception of the company.  If that is the case, expect great things when these upgrades arrive in the coming months.

            Session #3: DATA @ NFLX: Building a culture of Analytics Everywhere at Netflix

            Of all sessions on the first day, this was the one I wanted to see and it didn’t disappoint.  Blake Irvine and Albert Wong went into detail about the analytic strategy of  Netflix.  It turns out that they are going down the same path as Country Financial, just on a larger scale.


            Each division has its own analytic group.  The benefits are that the system engineers can become system experts rather than generalists.  This improves analytics expert response time to meet user needs.  Each area operates independently and therefore Netflix must own multiple reporting data stores.  To minimize duplicate reporting/metrics, analysis teams have frequent knowledge sharing meetings.

            My take: This is a good short run strategy as a company grows, but becomes burdensome as it ages.  All these process need experts to keep them running.  Knowledge is often lost when people move jobs so it becomes harder to maintain and upgrade.   Even with open-source technologies, which Netflix often uses, eventually the company will have a difficult time with maintenance and an nearly impossible time switching technologies when the need arises.

            Other things of note:

            • The company does a lot of A/B testing to improve user experience.  Tableau is used in some of these workflows.
            • Mostly reporting systems use open source technologies to gather and store data, though they still use Tableau for the front end and occasionally Teradata in the back.
            • Nearly all of their data is in the cloud using Hadoop and Amazon S3.


            • Have an OE department that uses Tableau through Hadoop and Teradata.
            • They are open to developer changes on the fly (empowerment) to reporting systems.  Many have access to the underlying database and can change code to meet their users insights need.
            • The IT is reluctant to remove reporting systems once built.  This is one of the reasons why I think their strategy will become unsupportable in a decade or so as people who build the systems leave.
            • There is little to no data governance.

            Takeaway: Data, analytic, and insight silos are common no matter if the company in the new or old economy.

            Session #4: Visualizing Unstructured Data with Tableau, Featuring Bill Inmon


            Honestly, I didn’t get much of out this presentation.  Bill was too detailed in his explanations of unstructured data using taxonomy created by Wand.  When pivoting to his Verizon and 1st American Tableau reports, I was unimpressed.  Having used unstructured data from call center and surveys before, this added nothing someone couldn’t do with R or Rapid Miner’s text analyst add on. 

            The main problem was there was no sentiment or context analysis, so you have to use qualitative or other data to indicate whether or not groups of calls were positive or negative.

            Takeaway: I still think that Tableau stinks for mining/displaying unstructured data.  It is better to use a specialized tool and the display the insight in Tableau.




            Food provided continues to impress.  The conference had a main place to eat near the vendors booths, but also stocked at least a dozen fridges with wraps, drinks, and salads so you never had to go far for vittles.  I am sure a few people left for lunch, I did for a bit to purchase some bottled tea, but if you weren’t picky as me, you could eat hardily, even if vegan. 

            The main problem with lunch was the wait.  With 5,500 and at least 1,000 Tableau employees going to each at once (all of the sessions ended at the same time) people could wait a half and hour to get to the buffet.

            Session #5: Zen Master Tips & Tricks Panel

            In this session, the there were three presenters, Kelly Martin, Craig Bloodworth, and Mark Jackson each with a different style they used to create visualizations.  Overall, the session was average, the best part was looking at the examples rather than the tips they offered.  This and the following session really helped stoke the design side of my brain.

            • There is no need to type if or case statements.  Tableau will handle the branching for you.  If used, I think this will make statements less clear to others.
            • There is an ability to do top ten (or any number) on by a category basis [link.]
            • There is an ability to do context filters [link.]
            • There are two API for Tableau Server.  Version 1 is undocumented and version 2, new to Tableau 8, is documented. To understand version 1, you can use Fiddler to discover it features by spying on the traffic between the computer and server.  It also helps to code by using Alteryx to code the API and pull XML data.
            • Use blank text boxes over data to prevent people from clicking on it.
            • The [+] in front of a dimension in a hierarchy is called the power key.

            Takeaway: Tableau is flexible. Most of the tips offered have multiple ways to accomplish the same thing.

            During this session, some of the examples helped me figure out ways to solve some of my problem dashboards.  During the session, I drew an updated design for the Agency Dashboard.  Hopefully, I will have time to integrate it in a few weeks. Note: I know my drawing sucks, bare with me here.


            Session #6: 10 Tips to Becoming a Tableau Jedi

            I was impressed with Marc Rueter’s presentation.  He was knowledgeable and went just at the right speed to explain his tips without having to hurrying like many presenters did with the limited time they had. 

            • You can drop dimensions and measures on top of existing pills to replace them.  The new pills will inherent the previous pills existing formats and display.  I use this trick when building dashboards.  Frist, I duplicate the worksheet and then make the change on the copy.
            • Create a Summary.  on the visualization, right-click > Summary
            • Create a source average or median.  Duplicate data source w/o connecting it to its parent and place the measure the chart.  For best results use dual axis.  I am not a fan because you have to use data blending and a duplicate source.

            2014-09-14 16_56_29-Trellis Chart with Linear Regression

            • You can create trellises
            • You can create drill downs on dashboard using actions (Country > State > County)

            The rest were too complex to explain or I already knew they existing so didn’t write them down.


            Not knowing the extent of food that would be on hand at the Data Nite Out, I went to eat at Elliott’s Oyster House out on Pier 56.  I think it had the best food I ate during my stay.  This might be because I didn’t eat much during the conference, but whatever, it was great.   Chowing down on their Sockeye salmon ruled and tasty spicy clam chowder while looking out on the harbor was awesome.

            Data Nite Out235px-Marge_vs._the_Monorail_(promo_card)

            Getting back to the hotel, I was soon on a bus to the Seattle Center that Tableau rented for their networking event.  This location is familiar to tourists.  It contains the Space Needle (which I had already been in on a previous trip) and the starting leg of the monorail built during the 1962 World’s Fair.

            I wasn’t prepared for this event’s scope.  With 8 to 10 bands and dozens of food and adult beverage locations, it was easily the most impressive part of the entire conference.  They did it in style.  Each area has a unique theme, food type, and activity.  After wandering around sampling every sugar, salt and, grease concoction I could find, Sir-Mix-A-Lot started.  I never been a huge fan, but the show was high energy helped in part by the free booze Tableau provided those in attendance.


            Ode to Sir-Mix-A-Lot

            I like big data and I cannot lie
            You other quants can’t deny
            A dataset comes in with a little bit of analysis
            And a pie-chart in your face
            You get insight


            Update #1: Spelling and photo sizing changes.  Added some graphics based on comments.

            Why Project Frameworks Succeed

            2013-11-21 05_00_47-Webcast_ How To Prepare For The AIPMM Certified Product Marketing M...

            AIPMM Product Lifecycle Framework

            In the last year or so, my area became leaders new product development.  In a customer-focused company this is essential.   This led one of my collogues to bring in the AIPMM product lifecycle framework to guide our work.  

            Like most frameworks, it is an application of the basic principals of the systems development life cycle (SDLC,) which encapsulates most project management techniques.  This got me thinking how these frameworks succeed or fail within organizations. 

            Generally, it is not the framework that fails.  The AIPMM model works like most others following the this pattern:

            Plan > Design > Build > Operate/Refine/Retire

            In business, there are is actually three outside forces that have a greater effect on project outcomes.  People using any framework need to understand them in order to succeed.

            Well-defined strategy

            A strategy does two important things for frameworks:

            • It defines what ideas employees will research at the beginning of a project.  Without a strategy ideas and the project scope are impossible to vet accurately.  This leads to indecision and project bloat. 
            • It allows people to make decisions between phases (at tollgates.)  Without a strategy, decisions are made based on who pitched the idea.  Bad projects result because there is no vetting process. 

            Empowered decision makers

            The product lifecycle framework has gates between phases to let workers and stakeholders gauge the viability of a project.  During these checkpoints, decision makers need the power to kill the project.  Why should they have this ability?

            Usually, management personnel pitch projects they are have a interested in.  Then hand it off to subordinates to execute.  Because it is hard to say no to the boss, employees tend to finish projects once they receive orders.  Unless management trusts their judgment (the definition of empowerment) bad projects are hard to stop.  I have seen too many unnecessary projects built because management gave employees the responsibility to build, but not the authority to direct its design or kill the project.

            Adherence to the framework

            This might sound like a no brainer, but often groups start off with good intentions on using a framework and veer off after a few months.  It is easy to do because frameworks impose constraints and may slow implementations.  This tends to be an anathema to executives who want it built now.  The project lead has an important job to educate others on why they should follow the framework.  In the end the project is likelier to succeed and meet the needs of the organization. 

            Remember the adage:  One is better than none.  Even if they are a pain, always work within some sort of framework to help guide and improve decision making.  If the one chosen doesn’t work out, there are plenty of other to choose from.

            Steam Box: How Customer Intimacy Works with Customer Segmentation

            2013-11-19 18_55_26-Steam ControllerEven with the recent release of the PS4 and Xbox One, I am waiting for the consumer-oriented console, Valve’s Steam Box.  It is worth the wait, not simply because I am a PC gamer, but for the fact that is a lesson in excellent market segmentation. 

            What is Steam?

            For those not computer gamers, Valve has platform called Steam, which allows users to purchase games electronically and have them downloaded to the desktop.  Using tried and true market disruption, it is likely the primary reason brick and mortar companies stopped selling boxed PC games. 

            Now they are on the cusp of releasing a TV based console to their 50 million+ user base.  This is built on a platform called Big Picture, which allows users to hook up their computer to a TV and play games.

            A cold reception

            The overall reporting has been rather negative.  The PC gaming community mainly complains that it is already possible to hook up a computer to a TV.  The console community issues are about specs.  Using a good, better, best system, the are likely to constantly change meaning users will need to upgrade every year to stay current*.  And they are both right.  However, neither are the targeted consumer.

            Customers intimacy counts

            2013-11-19 18_42_45-Untitled 1 - LibreOffice Draw

            Valve seems to have segmented their client base in such a way to discover a user group that has these attributes:

            1. Consume entertainment (games, music, and video) on alternate devices or in unique ways
            2. Do not want to tinker with technology, they just want it to work**
            3. Have discretionary income

            If you have heard of this type of consumer before, it is likely you’re using an Apple device to read this post.  What Valve gambles on is this customer group would like to play computer games (and purchased media) on their TV without hassle. 

            To make this easier, they have used a customer centric approach.

            1. Create a plug and play system, much like plugging in DVD player to the TV
            2. Offer familiar features lifted from the Steam application
            3. Build a great user experience by offering an easy way to find and play media and games

            Gauging success

            Unlike Sony’s PS4 or Microsoft’s Xbox One, which have to sell at least 10 million consoles in the next year to remain viable, Valve’s third party hardware designers, such as Asus do not need to sell in large quantities for success.  Convincing just 2% of their user base, or about a million or so users, succeed in building a billion dollar eco system.

            This approach is not unlike AppleTV.  While not a major product, it fits a niche that helps the fruity company retain its most loyal (and profitable) customer segments inside iTunes. 

            To help adoption, Value has worked several things to help customers:

            1. Demanded a high-level of quality control around the user experience. Valve is controls the software and input device (controller) quality to giving to Steam box a standard user interface (UI) paradigm.   This is much like other appliance based goods such as the iPhone and Microsoft Surface.
            2. Access to a hundreds of games day one, and when including their streaming service, access to all 2,000+ games the Steam library today.
            3. Open platform (Linux) encourages programmers to find new uses for the system.  Groups like XMBC are likely to have an app that gives users access to their previously purchased media.  Valve already stated they are working with media providers so features like Netflix, and Spotify should be available day one.  There might even be room for competition, such as the indie gaming platform Desura.
            4. The open nature allows users to pair most any peripheral.  Those who rather play games or surf the web keyboard and mouse will be able to do so.

            The best part of this effort might be for those who don’t use the product.  If popular, gaming companies will design their games around controllers and might be more inclined to port their games to Steam, enriching the ecosystem for all users. 


            * Consoles user complain about the upgrade treadmill, however this is not a problem.  The reference designs are better than the new consoles.  Usually, games companies benchmark their offerings to these platforms.  In addition, a 5 year old mid-range computer plays every game today and likely for the next 5 years given the software plateau we have experienced lately. 

            ** I explain that the likely user base is going to be non-tinkerers.  Given that it is an open platform based on Linux, it is likely to attract a hacker following.  However, it is unlikely they will buy a finished console.  Instead, they are likely to install Steam OS on a custom machine much like PC builders do today.

            JPMorgan Realizes Too Late Brand Reputation Important on Social Media

            If there is one thing that you don’t want to do in social media when you have a poorly regarded brand name is ask people to send questions for a online event.

            JPMorgan found this out the hard way yesterday with their #ASKJPM.

            2013-11-14 07_20_14-Relentless Twitter Mockery Forces JPM To Kill #AskJPM Q&A Session _ Zero Hedge

            Originally, it was suppose to be an answer session for one of the their Board members and soon be leader Jimmy Lee.  Instead, it was it became a litany of complaints on the bank recent illegal dealings and its lack of compassion for those going through foreclosure and loan modification processes.

            The Inevitable Twitter vs Facebook IPO Post

            Source: TwitterWith a big bang, Twitter is now a public company.  It is up 73% to about $45/share.  Now pundits, myself included, are comparing it to the other large social media IPO of recent memory, Facebook.  Most know that Facebook’s IPO was bad.  Glitches, insider sales and hype drove the stock price lower through May 2012.

            My hunch that Twitter would be big.  Not because of any technical reason, or the promise that it will be profitable in the near-term, but a simple fact: people like things they use.

            Just like has Apple its fanbois and Twitter has a strong following on Wall Street’s trading community because it is a rich source of breaking news.  This means most people who have the ability to buy stock were already familiar with how it works.  Many companies even build tweets into their trading algorithms, which causes panic from time-to-time.  Since it is a service they like, it is easier to bid up rather than short the stock.  Why hate on something needed for your job?

            This is unlike Facebook.  Its model is built around local networks that spread gossip, fads and local news.  While important to individuals, much of what is posted cannot be used for financial gain.  It is unlikely that many people in finance even use Facebook regularly. 

            I think Facebook’s model is more profitable than what Twitter built mid-term.  It is difficult to see great profit as much of what Twitter relies on is advertising.  Outside Asian languages that use hanzi, It is hard to advertise in 140 characters.  Maybe picture and Vine will help, though I am skeptical.

            PS4, The Return of Sony’s Deaf Ears

            PS4 Front
            Attribution: Sony

            Sony is an odd corporation in that I hold two positions about the company.  I like their hardware division.  It puts out good and sometime even innovative products.  However, their media division is often consumer hostile and its management control freaks.  Looking through its history there are a long line of things preventing consumers from using their products in unapproved ways.

            Enter the PS4. It was nice to see Sony releasing an FAQ of its capabilities prior to launch.  So I read it hoping it would be a good candidate for a media center.  I like playing music and podcasts and only dabble in console gaming.  The previous incarnation, the PS3, is the only media player I have used without a horrendous U.I.  Since mine broke last year, I thought I’d wait until the next gen system came out and upgrade my listening experience. 

            Much to my surprise:

            2013-11-06 05_23_00-PS4_ The Ultimate FAQ – North America – PlayStation.Blog

            2013-11-06 05_23_24-PS4_ The Ultimate FAQ – North America – PlayStation.Blog

            Ever since the PS One, Sony’s game systems as well as DVD and Blu-ray players could play CDs.  I cannot think of any consumer electronics with a disk drive not being able to play one (as long as the CD fit.)  Obviously the hardware is there, they don’t want to enable it.

            Not being ale to play MP3s is also weird choice given the habits of consumers over the last half decade.  The reason these music files are popular is the ability to play them on any device.  Even I have moved digital, forgoing disks in favor of convenience.

            My conclusion is the media division got involved with hardware design.  This is likely because consumers would have used it to consume pirated material (it also cannot play video files) and force users to pay for their approved Music Unlimited service or apps like Pandora.  In this way they want to control the user experience like Apple, Amazon or to a lessor extent, Microsoft.   Too bad they are going about it in the wrong way.

            There is a subtle difference in Sony’s philosophy.  It crosses the line into consumer hostile territory, which it has times treaded in the past.  Limiting usage choice simply because people might not use your services and not for technical reasons is anti-consumer.  It artificially limits the system to hard core gamers, a bad move given the rise of competition from other devices, namely phones.

            Unfortunately, Sony does not have the market clout to do this.  It doesn’t have the brand cache of Apple to micromanage their ecosystem, the breadth of content Amazon provides, or the polish the Microsoft brings to its software (most Sony apps are poorly made.)

            I wanted to like the PS4 and hoped it would be the media center of the future.  While Microsoft’s gaming systems offer a good music experience, but I don’t want to pay a yearly subscription fee to Xbox Gold to be shown ads. I guess I will wait for the SteamBox unless the Ouya improves it user experience.

            Defining Strategy

            Over the past six months, I have been in the process of refining how I work from a strategic viewpoint.  What brought this to the forefront of my thinking are the great changes that managements wants for the company.  I generally use this line of thinking to figure out what the projects I work with are trying to accomplish.  In addition, I use it to get a handle on how competitors go to market and to see if they are actually competitors or just in the same field.

            The process

            The strategic process should dictate everything about corporation’s business work. It is a simple cost benefit process weighed against expectations of philosophical beliefs. Without one, a company governs based on the whims of the strongest executive personalities or worse, their competitors.

            The main benefits are twofold. Firstly, it allows greater insight into the business. The company can apply their financials to the value chain and note what is working. Secondly, it forces each person to be accountable for the success of the company. Additionally, it enhances empowerment as employees know why the come to work each day.

            Chain of Accountability

            Strategy Diagram

            Centralized companies should work from a unified strategy down to the tactic level, while flat and decentralized companies might need to have a handful of strategies rolled up into a overarching philosophy.

            Level explanations in the chain of accountability


            A company’s view of the world and how it fits within it. There should be only one philosophy per company as it the lens in which you view the world. Once set, this view should not change often as it leads to confusion. Therefore, it is vital to make it broad enough to weather changes in the marketplace.

            Pitfall #1: Not communicating the philosophy. Leaders can create a great philosophy then marshal the resources needed to execute it. Without constant communication, employees default to working within the system because the unifying message is unclear. This is the Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

            Questions at this level:

            • What do well? How are we different from our competitors?
            • What do we want to do well in the future?
            • Where can we grow?
            • Does everyone understand what we want to accomplish?


            This is the physical manifestation of the philosophy. It is the lens used to evaluate tactics and gauge success. While it is possible to have multiple strategies, a company needs to track benefits gained and effort expended separately. Do not pool resources between strategies because it will lead to organizational conflict.

            A strategy needs two things to be successful:

            1. It needs to be actionable.
            2. It needs to be attainable given the time horizons, the resources (people) available and accessible capital. This is the Iron Triangle.

            Pitfall #2: Mistaking a philosophy for a strategy. Take the philosophy; grow households. It sounds good on paper until someone wants to act. How does the company want to grow households? Maybe lower prices or expand product line or entering new locations? A strategy needs to actionable.

            Pitfall #3: Creating a strategy without resources. Until a strategy has resources, it is a dream. A strategy needs resources in order to work.

            Questions at this level:

            • What are we trying to accomplish?
            • What does success look like and how do we apply it to our goals?
            • How long is this going to take?
            • What resources do we need to accomplish the goal?
            • What will we give up to succeed? Highly important = organizational change


            Positive goal

            At a high-level, it is what the strategy hopes to accomplish. Goals are the quantifiable piece of a strategy.

            Pitfall #4: Cost center thinking. Without a positive goal, groups seem like cost centers to be minimized. This often happens in service and IT areas. It is important that everything be subject to both the positive and negative goals.

            There are no questions at this level since strategy work addresses any questions.


            Negative goal

            What the company is willing to surrender to reach the positive goal. This goal is very important as it allows the company to know its limitations.

            Pitfall #5: No negative goal. Without a negative goal, there is no expense management and ability to stay within the strategy’s purview. This often leads to bloat (scope creep.) It also makes it impossible to figure out what tactics are successful.

            Again, there are no questions at this level.


            Metric goal

            Amount of benefit you gain per effort spent. It is the lens to evaluate ideas and gauge the success of both tactics and overall strategy. For tactics to be effective, you need some way to pit them against one another. Not all programs will necessarily have same metrics, but all need an objective metric based on the strategy goals.

            Pitfall #6: Vanity metrics. These are many metrics not tied to a strategy. While some may have valid micro or diagnostic uses, they should not be confused those that make or break a strategy. Vanity metrics are easy to spot, think Facebook Likes, since they do not have negative goals.



            Execution of the strategy. Every tactic, however mundane, needs a direct line to the overall philosophy through its metrics and strategy.

            Pitfall #7: A tactic with no strategy. These tactics are easy to spot because they do not have a Metric Goal. Without this tie, there is no accountability, no ability to empower people to work toward strategy, and employees will not feel engaged.

            Questions at this level:

            • What do we want to do?
            • When we rank various tactics, which ones bubble to the top based on our strategy metrics and ability to execute?
            • Do we want to continue, expand, or terminate this tactic based on the results?

            Remember: Strategy = F(x){tactic #1 metrics, tactic #2 metrics, tactic #X metrics} – All corporate efforts need to be included in the strategy.


            Example: Putting it all together

            Say a CEO of an offline luxury futon-company wants to go online in order to better service clients. To be worth their while, they need to ramp up sales in this channel too. Because it is hard to find funding for this venture, the company shifts resources internally to build out its web presence.


            Since our customers are shopping online more, we want to capture these sales while improving our customer service to bring in more repeat buyers. This benefits the company because it is cheaper to sell online and we will be able to learn more about our customer’s preferences.


            Over the next four years, we want 1 in 5 new clients to come from the online channel. These clients should have client satisfaction scores similar to our offline clients. To do this, we will move $1 million a year and utilize 10 FTEs from our offline efforts to succeed.



            • 20% sales (20,000 a year in Year 4)
            • 80% client satisfaction score for these clients


            • $4 million spent
            • 40 FTE equivalent (100,000 person hours @ $50/hr.)
            • Implicit: spend less on the offline sales channel


            1. $100 or less online cost per sale in Year 4
            2. 5% profit margin based on COGS in Year 4
            3. 80%+ client satisfaction score


            • Year 1-2: Online system improvements (metric 3)
            • Year 1: Test marketing messages (1 and 2)
            • Year 2: Campaign and advertising roll out (1 and 2)
            • Year 2: Additional online customer support (3)
            • Year 3: Increase product availability (All)
            • Year 3-4: Mobile app (3)

            Notice how each step relates to the one above and below it. This is by design to and allows accountability from management level to program directors to the lowest employee. With this hierarchy in place, the company can begin to assign bonuses for meeting the goals or change tactics based on well-defined strategic criteria.

            Change is inevitable and a good strategy will have the flexibility to meet this need. Maybe this company does not need to create a robust mobile app since the web site is mobile enabled. They then can shift resources to marketing. Conversely, if satisfaction is high but sales low, the company could shift its efforts from online customer support functions to increasing product availability or advertising.

            Choosing Collaboration Software, Its Not a Technology Problem

            yahoo groups no reflectionOne thing that I love about my job is that I’m on the lead end of some interesting projects.   Most of what I do, fails at first, but that rarely prevent me from having fun deciding doing it.

            The main problem with these projects, especially at the beginning and tail ends of them is communications.  I started my career in the early 90s using three electronic communications tools, something to write documents in, something to enter numbers in and email.  Even 20 years later, I am still using Word, Excel, and email as the main methods of electronic communications.

            Now the world has more tools, but few have replaced these time tested methods.   Now I’m looking into collaboration software and ways to integrate it into my division’s workflows. Now, collaboration software is nothing but a fancy term for software akin to Facebook at Work.  In the past, I have used a great many of these tools such as Yahoo Groups, Google Drive, Ning, Chatter, and even when I had to Microsoft SharePoint.

            Most failed to work. The reasons are generally not technical but social.  Emailing a Word document is so damn easy.  If your going to attempt some like this at work or to get your friends involved in a community, remember these lessons:

            1. People over technology.  Generally group projects fail because the technology choice overrides how to get people to actually use the new tool.  Technology is rather unimportant so take a day or two and window shop for a product that is good enough and not perfect.  Spend the rest of the time harassing users into actually using the tool.
            2. People like to be told what to do.  This is why email is so awesome.  A user doesn’t need to do anything except fire up Outlook and wait for a report to come rolling in.  The problem with collaboration tools is that is requires effort on the part of the user to actually go out and look up the information (know as pull.)  People would rather have it pushed to them, even if the information is irrelevant and deleted it without being read.  To get around that, you need to make it the go to place to do their job, like a fashionable clubbing spot.  (I sometimes do this by shutting down the old tool, but that is playing dirty.)  Just be ready to field the inevitable complaints.
            3. People rather lurk than work.  Unless it is a small tightly knit community, you will have 9 lurkers for every one person enthusiastic enough to post.  Scale is the key.  Get as many people online as quickly as possible since few people want to be first poster.  Choose seeders if possible, especially managers or others with high status.  This will help kick start the community.
            4. People rarely see the need for new technology, until it becomes old technology.  A recent case in point is smartphones.  Dozens of people I spoke with never could figure out a reason they needed one.  Now most can’t put them down even when your talking with them.  Any communications software from chatter to IM to texting goes against the tried and true email.  You need to break people away by offering better content and relentless train to cut down on the learning curve. 

            Linus Torvalds Hurts Long-Term Viability of Linux with Outburst

            Linus Torvalds is a brilliant person, but often does detrimental things to the long-term viability of his pet project, the Linux kernel.  I’m not talking about coding, he is rather good at that, but the more important aspect of interpersonal relationships.  To see why, one only need to read this rant where he swore at a developer about a shoddy patch.  To quote:

            Mauro, SHUT THE FUCK UP!

            It’s a bug alright – in the kernel. How long have you been a
            maintainer? And you *still* haven’t learnt the first rule of kernel

            While there is some indication that the developer was trying to blame other software that use the code in question, there is no excuse to berate a someone in public like he did.  It poisons the well and creates an environment to hostile to creativity. 

            In business, it is never a good idea to get this personal, especially if you are a manager.  It is harder to foster trust as subordinates worry they will be on the receiving end someday and become risk adverse.  Since people are now covering for themselves, they are less likely to bring creative ideas to the table.   This leads to the minimum amount of work being completed.

            Now Linus has to deal with the subtle fallout of his bad personnel decision.  This will hurt all of us who use Linux in the long-run as good coders overlook it for more hospitable environment in which to work.