Monday May 12, 2008

May your golf shoes collect no dust

Yesterday, I walked past my golf shoes, and noticed they really look as though they're collecting a fair amount of dust. In Colorado, many golf courses remain open year round, so I can't blame the winter into spring weather. I can only blame the slight layer of grey sediments on a lack of choice. I admit, my choices are governed by my family, career, and a strong sense of not wanting to let anyone down. For example, a few weeks back, I was describing my morning activities to one of my direct reports, and it was very clear how carefully I'd scheduled each minute, with literally no time to spare. Stress abounds in the case someone should forget their homework, or if the dog should decide to bring back up that small sock she shouldn't have eaten the night before, right in the middle of the carpet.

The sand trap

Like many, I'm living the super-scheduled life. Activities, urgencies and obligations which all seem immutable or undeniably necessary tend to consume many of us. We find ourselves running from one obligation to the next. Even worse, super-schedulers oftentimes prepare for one activity while still finishing up another.

Do you find yourself:

  • making obligations to others while sparing no time to do something for yourself?
  • using the bonus of any bit of "extra" time for fixating on distractions that you perceive as the cause of stress (kid care arrangements, those piles of laundry, all the email sitting in your inbox?)
  • and simply put, do you fail to make a priority of stopping to take time away from it all?

Dancing on the green

Its time to evaluate what isn't working and decide what you'd really like to have time for but you just don't. And after that evaluation comes the hard part: actually deciding to make a change to the old habits that keep you from making the most of the time you have and implementing change. Of course, implementing a change to your behavior can't just be something you do on the weekend, when you perceive you actually have some spare time, it needs to be every day.

Decide to make the time to take the time. Schedule it, write it down, and then stick to it. For example, golf, while on the one hand challenging and sometimes frustrating (if you golf like I do), can provide a host of benefits. For those of us who tend to be super-schedulers of our time, its important to Evaluate, See the Benefits, and then Act on Making the Choice to take the time to play a round. It might help you think straighter about that pending proposal. Or perhaps it could grant you the patience required to help one of your kids with their homework later in the evening. And maybe it would just give you something to talk about with your friends or spouse that has nothing to do with work or stress or high risk decision making.

So, next time you're encouraged, asked, or required to bind your time to that which seems altogether undeniably necessary, yet seemingly without inherent value, you might just want to step back and take a Mulligan.

Friday Apr 18, 2008

Lovely data, lovely model

The most important step in refining data is writing down what makes it tick. In my last blog entry I outlined the process by which my team refined the data flow for Sun Web sites and mentioned Unified Product Data Model (UPDM). UPDM is a formal means for organizing the information for Sun web sites, with an emphasis on product data. The goal in developing UPDM was to reduce the redundancy and inefficiency in the data sets for the Starlight publishing platform, and then to extend the benefits to e-commerce sites, each of which happen to be hosted on different platforms.

UPDM provides definitions, basic business rules and relationships between facets of product data, including hierarchy, and attributes of each category, product and part. It’s maintained in a simple XML which can be transformed to HTML, spreadsheet, or even UML diagram. The following listing is a snippet from the actual core UPDM 1.0 model used in Starlight.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<data-model>
  <label>Data Model Browser - UPDM 1.0</label>
  <explanation>
   <p>The UPDM Data Model Browser describes concepts and attributes that are 
      core to the <b>Sun Unified Product Data Model</b>. This 
      version [UPDM 1.0] covers product data elements as they are represented 
      in <b>Sun.com, shop.sun.com, and Sun Catalogue</b>. Product elements 
      that describe transactions, implementation, or presentation are not 
      included in UPDM...</p>
  </explanation>

  <concept id="product">
    <label>Product</label>
    <explanation>Actual product entity.  Representation of the unit offered 
                 to the market by Sun (i.e. Sun Java System Application Server 
                 Platform Edition 9.0; Sun SPARC Enterprise M5000 Server.)
    </explanation>
    <implementation-guideline>
      Use the id as a stand-in for the product itself
    </implementation-guideline>
    <association ref="swordfish-id"/>
    <association ref="name">
      <constraint>Strictly syndicated through SwoRDFish</constraint>
    </association>
    <association ref="description"/>
    <association ref="image"/>
    <association>
      <concept id="plc-date">
        <label>Product life cycle date</label>
        <explanation>A date on which a change of PLC status occurs</explanation>
        <implementation-guideline>
          <data type="date"/>
        </implementation-guideline>
[...]
        <example>2006-10-10</example>
        <comment>Related to the price effectivity date</comment>
      </concept>
  </concept>

  <concept id="industry">
    <label>Industry</label>
    <explanation>Industry for which suited or targeted</explanation>
    <association ref="swordfish-id"/>
    <implementation-guideline>
      Use the SwoRDFish ID as a stand-in for the industry itself
    </implementation-guideline>
  </concept>
[...]
</data-model>

We developed UPDM 1.0 at a time when there were not as many good options for expressing such data models. RDF and XMI carried too much baggage, and we wanted something simple and clear, although RDF does play an important role in how things are bound together in the implementation, as I’ll discuss another day. Again we can generate all these other representations as needed. As an example the following picture is a UML class diagram generated from the XML above.

OK, a bit of an eye-chart. But, when you develop a broad data model such as UPDM its a real eye-opener, and you gain more than just the end product. You learn a lot about what business problems and business rules are not really well expressed anywhere, and are only to be found in someone’s head. Sometimes you learn about the key tensions between how different roles and departments interpret and process information.

To take one example, at Sun what we sell for hardware, the actual SKUs, are called “parts” in the marketing department, including e-commerce. In many other departments, and in a lot of the vendor software we use these are called “products”. We don’t really market at this level, though. We market the families of these such as “SunFire T2000”, and these are what we call “products” and what others call “product families”.

UPDM itself doesn’t provide any magic to reconcile such differences. It does provide the best you can hope for – a framework for writing down the knowledge so it’s open, shared, and even accessible through code. Then you have half a chance to build some magic on top of the model.

Saturday Jan 13, 2007

Hair Raising Thoughts

So, I started reading more this year... (And it wasn't even one of my New Year's Resolutions.) It's more about suddenly feeling the need for new ideas, and new ways of seeing things, etc.

Looking over the last two plus years of officially managing an engineering team at Sun got me wondering: What have I learned lately? Do I know anything more this month than last? Am I effectively leading my team? To really get the answers will take more serious investigation than when I worked in more tactical positions. With previous jobs (xml data architect, web site project manager, technical trainer, graphic designer, ice cream scooper extraordinaire — no that's not me in the apron) it was seemingly easier to gauge what I've learned and where or how I've grown. Management, well, that's trickier to measure.

Anyway, I'm reading. This week, I started The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Not exactly because I view my team as dysfunctional, (suppose that remains to be seen, upon outcome of my read) but more so to understand team dynamics better, drive more success, and drive Sun overall.

I started reading it, in all places, at my hair salon. Yes, folks, good hair can take lots of time, and why just sit there with People Magazine? My stylist saw it and said, "Wow, a bit of light reading today?" Ya sure, why not? (Incidentally, she owns the salon, so she may need the book someday too!)

A few pages into it, and it felt pretty good so far. The book is written more like a fable or novel than a "learn how to manage by following these 5 steps" kinda book. Much better suited for the salon that way. ;) One of the first points woven into the story was about how you refer to the group you manage. If you, or the group, do not refer to the collection of people as a team, they probably are not a team. That's interesting, and a glimmer of hope for our situation. That's what we are, a team — the Content Management Engineering TEAM, not Kristen's STAFF or Kristen's DIRECT REPORTS. OK, 34 pages into it and I'm feeling like its worth reading. We'll see where it goes from here; certainly it can't all be this simple...

About

Passionate about data engineering strategy and solutions for Sun’s external web sites. Happiest when building taxonomies, data models, and high performing teams.

Kristen Harris
Director,
Web Data Engineering

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