Of Cobblestones, Solomon, Paula, Gunter, Joseph and the GDPR.

I’ve been reading a fair bit of software vendor marketing and press from around the world about the GDPR. It seems to me that a lot of it misses the point. GDPR is seen as a compliance burden, an unwelcome dose of EU bureaucracy or at best a useful opportunity sell security software.  It is perhaps useful to reflect on why the GDPR and its predecessors in data protection legislation came into being.

I was walking to the train station in the rain this morning, and I paused for a moment by the pair of  Stolpersteine (tripping stones) on the corner of the street where we live. I’m not sure why I took the picture today,  perhaps they glistened from the drizzle.  I  wondered what Salomon and Paula were like, what were their hobbies and their foibles, did they watch football or play tennis together, what jobs did they do, was she left handed, who were their friends, what colour was his favourite tie,  did he make puns that made her smile, did she play Chopin on piano so that the notes drifted down the street on the breeze, did they hold hands as they walked beside the Neckar on that summer’s evening for the last time?

stolperstein image. two next to each other. Deutsch family.

Gunter Demnig began this art project in 1992. The first stone was laid in Salzburg, Austria, and now there are over 27,000  plaques across  22 countries, and growing.  Think of it as a distributed  museum.   They all follow the same format, size and font.  In situ, on the doorsteps of houses, for me they are more powerful and poignant than any centralised memorial or museum. They bring an uncomfortable intimacy and they force me to think about  how easily such an evil could come into being.  (check out more about the stones  here).

The GDPR exists to protect our data (and our person)  from abuse.

This Regulation protects fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons and in particular their right to the protection of personal data. (Article 1 (2) GPDR) 

Software has the potential for enabling goodness, yet it can also empower evil. Software can encourage democracy, but it can undermine it too. Software can level the playing field, or it can entrench privilege.   The power of software to find, sort and group people is both awesome and awful.  It is a mighty thing that we wield.

As an industry we need to see people’s data as something to treat with care and respect. The GPDR is a long overdue firm nudge for us to remember that.

One of the pioneers of artificial intelligence,  Joseph Weizenbaum, fled Berlin for the US as a child in the 1930’s.  I suspect there is a stoplerstein for his family on a street in Berlin. His book, Computer Power and Human Reason, should be required reading for all those building software.

““The computer programmer is a creator of universes for which he alone is the lawgiver. No playwright, no stage director, no emperor, however powerful, has ever exercised such absolute authority to arrange a stage or field of battle and to command such unswervingly dutiful actors or troops.”

We proclaim gleefully that software is eating the world, and data is more valuable than oil, so it is high time the software industry took its human rights responsibilities more seriously.

I, for one, welcome the GDPR.

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Customers, colleagues, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and my writing day.

I have been spending the last few months deep in accessibility law, testing, standards, universal design, GDPR, the early history of business computing and of course my old friend, Sarbanes Oxley. I am an expert on Heidelberg and Sandton coffee shops, and I have spent far too long debating the value of one font over the other, and merits of footnote or in-text citations.  This week I have finally felt the adrenaline kick that comes from writing several competent pages and seeing a couple of pieces start to fit together. Long way to go though.

By the way, if you do any kind of research work, get hold of the tool called Mendeley. It is genius.

While I’m no longer in hurly burly of product management at SuccessFactors – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn keep me abreast of what’s up back at the farm.

It was cool to read that Employee Central had hit the 2000 customer mark. Whenever I see those milestones I think back to the early customers without whom EC would not have 100 customers, never mind 2000.  Earlier this week, Liezl’s Facebook gave me a detailed account of  her visit with a South African customer to Timken, one of those early adopters.

But what prompted me to write this was a new connection today on LinkedIn.  Tim Gregory, the Director of HR Ops at Corning sent me a connection invite. While I had been involved in the early stages of the Corning project, I’d not actually met Tim.  We had a nice online chat, and he was cool with me quoting him about their go live.

I’m the Director of HR Operations here at Corning Inc – we went live with SF in July (23 countries, 12 languages, 70 integrations, all modules – except learning).

Not to over state it… but yet we’re pretty euphoric over here.

While 2000 is a cool number. Corning as happy campers is even better. Thanks Tim, you made my day.  I’m going to be following up with you on the blockchain thing.

Now, time to get back to this pile.

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EMEA. A little rant.

Dear  US software vendor,

Thanks for your market survey publication about trends in HR, helpfully categorised into an EMEA / US comparison of time/cost to hire and so on.

However, there is no such thing as a country called EMEA. It has no President, Queen, King or parliament. There is no language called EMEA. There is no EMEA currency. There is no EMEA culture. There is no EMEA compliance, or EMEA payroll. There are no EMEA business practices. No one who lives east of Cape Cod but West of India would describe themselves as from EMEA. There are no EMEAns or EMEAese. There is no EMEA flag. There is no EMEA anthem to stand or kneel to.

EMEA stands for Europe, Middle East and Africa. It is a vaguely useful construct for accounting and sales region organisational purposes, let’s leave it that way.

 

Finishing what you start

For more than 10 years I have been vaguely doing a PhD. I think about it a lot, but then don’t actually do real work on it. It gnaws, mocks and taunts me. Something else always gets in the way. For the last 4 years I have been resolutely ignoring the PhD while I focused on leading Employee Central Product and then co-leading SuccessFactors product with Dave Ragones.

I’m proud of the last 4  years. They have been a blast. I’ve given the job my all. Having played a role in growing Employee Central from a handful of customers into a market leader, I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction.  I have repaid the trust and the bet that Lars and Dmitri took on me. My deep affection for our customers and my colleagues is undimmed.

About a month or so ago, SAP hired Amy Wilson to head all of Product at SAP Successfactors. I have known Amy since, gosh, my early Gartner days. She has a remarkable track record in our industry, she is wicked smart and generally a top notch human being.  She is already rocking the gig. Hiring her was a strong move by the SAP leadership.

Amy joining creates space for me to step out of the hurly burly of product management, and focus resolutely on the single KPI of how many words did you write today? I will be enmeshed in footnotes, citations, statistics and bibliography.

SAP’s enlightened HR policies help too.

If all things go to plan, I’ll be back in January. I’ll have finished what I started.

As that mega wise dude Seneca said.

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life.

Product Management, Hopping and Localization.

(Taking some liberty with the facts).

Imagine for a moment you are the product manager for augmented /autonomous driving at Volvo.  You have got every different type of snow and ice covered.  You have figured out how to find parking at IKEA, at the back of the store where you collect the  Billy Bookcases on the mind of its own trolley. (You even have a stage two feature lined up with a robot that  manoeuvres the IKEA trolley and loads the car for you, but I digress).

You have figured out how to dodge elks, moose and even reindeer, with or without sleds.  Cyclists, well, your Danish colleague has had that figured for a while.

Then someone in head-office has the idea to do a pilot in Australia. So, you get the heat thing figured out, right hand drive,  how to overtake trucks bigger than trains, and you dial back the 14 types of snow requirement for the first release.  But one thing catches you by surprise.

Kangaroos.

Kangaroo

image via http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-40416606

Actually for the last few years Volvo have been filming and analysing Kangaroo movement and behaviour.  It causes havoc with the sensors as the hopping makes measuring distance really difficult.

Turns out that Kanagaroos account for roughly 80% of vehicle/animal collisions in Australia. See  https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2017/06/volvos-driverless-cars-cant-figure-out-kangaroos/ for more.

So what does this have to do with HR software product management? Well a bit.

  1. It is unlikely that you can gather all the requirements and design the perfect solution in isolation of customer reality. Some big requirement will come along and catch you on the hop. Agile or not, hopping is part of the gig.
  2. Localization requires people on the ground in the country to work out the real details.  I’m reminded of the sculpture of an elephant on the Basel Cathedral (google it).
  3. Australia is complicated. The leave rules and accruals there are the HR equivalent of kangaroos. If anyone ever says, “How hard can calculating leave rules be?”, send them to Australia or New Zealand.  Then wait.

 

 

 

 

 

Stoicism and Product Management

Tim Ferriss has made Stoicism hip and accessible. That is a good thing. I came across Ryan Holiday via Tim’s podcast, and it rekindled a long lost interest in things Greek philosophy. I have quoted liberally from Ryan’s Daily Stoic. Thanks Ryan and Tim. Buy Ryan’s books and read them.

I reckon Epictetus would have been a brilliant product manager.

He understood prioritization.

“Don’t set your heart on so many things,” says Epictetus. Prioritize. Train your mind to ask: Do I need this thing? What will happen if I do not get it? What if it all happens all at once?

He figured out constraints and not stressing about what you can’t control.

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”

He understood that you can’t build it in a day.

“No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen. “

but he also grokked minimal viable product.

Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake, in little things; and thence proceed to greater.

the power of the open mind.

What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.

The buck stops with you

It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition; it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on himself; and of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor himself.

And my favourites

And are all profited by what they hear, or only some among them? So that it seems that there is an art of hearing as well as one of speaking

 

Nature hath given men one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the max.

Building product, once you get beyond the brain wave stage, really requires customer input. Not all customer input is made equal though. What makes a massive impact is when you find that customer that shares your goals, your vision,and brings that dose of realism and practicality to the party. Treasure those customers. They don’t come around often. I’m enormously grateful for those customers that have played that crucial role in our success to date.

Last year we announced the Klaus Tschira award. I’ve written about this a couple times. Klaus meant a great deal to me. He inspired me early in my career, and his wisdom, kindness, and humility have continued to influence me even today. He was a remarkable man in so many ways.

tschira

So it was really cool today to see Shakti Jauhar and PepsiCo to win the award. It is a pity that Shakti never met Klaus, I reckon they would have got on fabulously.

Our partnership with PepsiCo and Shakti goes back to early bet Shakti took with Lars and the team. Since then Shakti has collaborated, cajoled and coerced us to build Employee Central into a solution capable of handling the largest global processes. Without you and your team, our product would have not become what it is.

It seems appropriate to include a photo of Shakti with Murali. Murali is the lead Product manager on Employee Central, and his partnership with Shakti is the Leitfaden that runs through the heart of the product.
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To Shakti and all the team at PepsiCo, our deepest thanks and gratitude from all of us here at SAP SuccessFactors. We consider you a partner and a friend.