Wrapping My Head Around Integration

My new job is with a systems integration group. Aside from being happy I have a job after the layoffs last week, I am grappling with just what exactly my job is. As is my nature, I tend to wax philosophical in the absence of concrete data (which I understand will be part of my job to help produce.) But it helps me to get a sense of how it all “fits” so I had to take a break and write this into my Wikidpad.

+ Herding Cats? Really?

So, for my first week of my new systems integration job, I have been trying to wrap my head around just what system “integration” means. I know what it is to *build* something from customer language to requirements to implementation. I have used the Design for Six Sigma methodology to *transform* systems into something new. I have donned my Black Belt hat and led teams to *improve* existing systems. But where I find myself seems to be both all and none of the above. And something else entirely.

A co-worker offered a popular metaphor: “Herding ferile cats.” That seems a little pat and lazy. Like throwing up your hands and saying, “It’s chaos! We’re treading water here!” This has got to be something that can be approached with a measure of engineering discipline, right? Right? (Bueller?)

+Integration Must Be Visionary

For me to survive in any work situation, I have to lock on to a pretty concrete picture of what defines success. I need to maintain a laser-like focus on whatever goals we are trying to achieve. The more observable and measurable the better. My ADD-ness requires that I have solid signposts that will orient me in the right direction or else I will go off track.

So when I join a new project, I am downright pushy about finding out what the stated goals are and clarifying them as much as possible. I bring them up frequently in conversations about resources (because that’s when you find out the difference between _stated_ goals and _actual_ goals). I post them right over my screen so they are always in view. They become a kind of mantra.

That’s my strategy for managing complexity. And I figure that in an effort to “integrate” dozens of organizations, thousands of software programs totaling hundreds of millions of SLOC, and millions of software budget dollars, it’s got to be pretty damn important to more than just me.

+Integration Creates Nothing But Value

It seems to me that a good integrator would work himself out of a job over time. By strict definition, you are non-value-added. You add form, fit, and function to _nothing_. At best you can be evaluated by what you _avoid_, which cannot be measured.

Integration creates nothing but value. Your value is measured by roadblocks cleared, risks averted, waste avoided. If you do your job well, everyone else looks good and you become redundant. Only entropy allows you to keep your job. And that’s if you’re really good.

+Integration is Information Reduction

My first week has been consumed with listening to a bunch of conversations and looking through a lot of documentation and trying to pull out the important bits. I believe that’s a lot of what we will do for the next year — make summaries of the vastness of information associated with all the systems in MOD. Then we make the handy Quick Start Guides, provide the convenient data aggregators, put the “You Are Here” arrows on the maps, and clear a path through the information jungle so people can get things done.

This is what excites me about the prospect of being an integrator. Besides my over-fondness for metaphors, I like teasing the Big Picture from the details. I like making summaries of information that other people find useful. I like to gather useful data. I like to facilitate diverse groups of people. And I like making other people’s jobs easier.

+You Must Be Willing To Be Unpopular

But unfortunately, nobody likes to be “integrated.” The drive to autonomy is at the core of the Human Person. Work groups naturally norm into equilibria that resist outside influence. But when many people and groups are supposed to be marching to a greater organizational vision, their goals and norms must be merged with the whole. Which means that someone has to walk up to an insular, well-formed workgroup and ask them to submit their desires to the Greater Good. Pretty please. Or we can’t fund your project.

This is why many of the prophets were persecuted and killed.

What this means to me is that Change Management — helping the _humans_ who use the technology cope with change — is a key part of the integrator’s job. A real challenge is to find a value statement to appeal to each stakeholder group and still move everyone toward the end goal. Any good integration plan would need to incorporate a great change management plan.

+Integration is servant leadership

Integration is inherently relational and so it seems to me to be an opportunity for spiritual practice as well.

If your job is to make people’s lives easier by reducing complexity and providing a clear path, then you are a servant leader. If your job is to keep everybody’s interests in mind and look out for things that might put others’ interests at risk, then you are a servant leader. If your job is to clear roadblocks and to occasionally have the courage to tell people something they don’t want to hear for their own good, you are a servant leader. If your job is to be the one guy representing for the unrepresented viewpoint, the long view, when all are “just trying to do their jobs” and find you annoying, you are a servant leader.

It seems that Integration is an opportunity to practice humility, compassion, courage, vision, and creativity in the mundane everydays of work.

So, okay. Maybe I already love my job though I am just getting started.