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29 July 2009

Meeting Me to Death

Isn't it funny how HUGE a role communication plays in your workplace?

If it's missing we say, "There was a breakdown in communication."

If there is too much communication we say, "There are too many cooks in the kitchen."

So how do you deal with communication in your workplace? Meetings, phone calls, texts, IM, Twitter, hallway conversations, etc. How do you manage all that and still stay productive?

At Granger, we've shifted our focus quite a bit. When I first started working at the church it wasn't unheard of to have multiple meetings per day - every day. After all, you need to meet in order to get stuff done, right? Well, as it turns out, you can meet so much that nothing gets done. You come up with all sorts of good ideas that never get realized.

The Issue with Meetings
Here's what it all boils down to. In every company, business, department or church there are three types of people:

  1. The Dreamers: Those that cast vision, see the big picture and have the next big idea. Highly capable of dreaming and speaking but rarely part of the day to day.
  2. The Middlemen: Those who have the ability to add value to the vision and fine tune the big picture while at the same time playing an active role in the follow through. Able to troubleshoot and complete tasks.
  3. The Front Liners: Those that are getting it done. They flesh out the vision that has been passed down in the form of task lists and project scopes. Able to get numerous things done each day but typically stay out of the big picture stuff.
Sound familiar? Can you lump your people into these three categories?

What we did at the beginning was grab everyone on the team for every single meeting. Problem is, the Front Liners were getting stressed out. Not only were they being pulled off the assembly line for large amounts of time, but in the meetings they got to watch their task lists grow!

The Solution?
The Dreamers now have more high level meetings with other Dreamers. When they are ready to flesh out their ideas they meet with some of the Middlemen (this includes women of course...). And finally, when it's time to implement, there is either a short meeting where the Front Liners attend, or the Middlemen simply pull the Front Liners aside during the day and walk through the new project, task or process.

The cool thing is that this issue break down when it comes to other forms of communication. Our entire team is connected at any given time via email, text, IM and Twitter (notice I did NOT say by phone). This works well because it only interrupts the work flow if you allow it to. This way you can keep ideas flowing without interrupting the assembly line.

How about you? Feeling "meetinged to death"? Give this new strategy a try and see if it helps.

27 July 2009

It Must Be People AND Process

I purchased a Dell Studio 15 laptop ( for my wife back in January. But over time it began to slow down and have issues that no 4 month old computer should have. Outlook wasn't happy, the fan ran constantly, IE8 would take WAY too long to load average web sites, etc.

So last week I began the troubleshooting process.

I started at home by re-installing Windows Vista 64bit OS with no success. Still slow.

I then worked with our IT guys here at Granger to install the free version of Windows 7 to see if that helped. However, it did not. Because of this the IT guys suggested I call Dell as it was most likely a hardware issue.

And so began my 3-day ordeal with Dell.

  1. I talked with laptop support who ran an hour long test. Test failed because I had deleted a "diagnostic partition" when re-installing the OS.
  2. When they learned this was an issue they transferred me to the software department. The software department ran me through a number of procedures like starting in safe mode and reverting all settings to default. Still no joy. So they transferred me back to the hardware department.
  3. I was accidentally transferred to desktop hardware support and spent 20 minutes describing the problem to the wrong person who then transferred me to laptop hardware support.
  4. Now I've come full circle and I'm worried that they will recognize me and send me back to software support. But this time it is something else. Since I installed Windows 7 they cannot help me. I need to put Vista 64 bit back on the machine before they can help me further.
  5. I spend the rest of the day loading Vista 64 bit back on the computer.
  6. This morning I call back laptop hardware support and say, "I'm good to go - have Vista 64 bit installed."
  7. They walk me through a battery of tests and hardware checks (including taking the back off the laptop and removing and replacing memory cards in random variations.)
  8. Interesting side note - the machine ran faster with one memory card (2GB) than with both installed (4GB)...
  9. We then upgraded the BIOS to the most recent version. Still no changes in speed.
So we've now put over three days and countless hours into the machine and the final result:

Dell has decided to send someone to my house to replace the mother board, both memory cards and the hard drive...

Wow! What a process.

In Summary
I didn't have one person treat me poorly. They were all professional, took their time and went by the book to fix the problem. They called me "Sir" and said "please" and "thank you" a lot. They apologized for the time I was putting in and always asked if there was anything else they could do for me.

So why did I feel so drained? Because it was the Process that was faulty...not the People.

How often do we put on a big smile and be as nice as possible but never attempt to make the process more enjoyable for people?

Are we providing technical support for a website that drains the life out of people? If so, we need to make some changes quickly.

Maybe we should make this our goal:
Design a web experience that will ensure people are happy with the process. Then when they encounter the people they will be wowed and not just satisfied with the outcome.

14 July 2009

Introducing Tammy

Tammy McMullenI know I've mentioned Tammy before, probably in passing on a post about family or something to that end. But have I officially introduced you to her?

She's not only my wife and the mother of our three kids, but she's an amazing woman in her own right.

God TOTALLY knew what he was doing when He interrupted my long string of superficial relationships and asked me to grow up long enough to recognize what true love is all about.

It's not even our anniversary. But maybe that's the point. You're supposed to say nice things about each other on days like that. But how about July 14 at 4:56 in the afternoon? Shouldn't you feel the same way then?

Tammy is so many things to me. Trying to summarize them all would be less than accurate, so let me list just a few of the things I've seen recently that take my breath away:

  • She does more in a day than I do in a week. Seriously...a full time job, three kids, a home, bills, a grumpy husband, and the list goes on...
  • She is the glue in our relational world. Time and time again she keeps us connected to family and friends in ways I don't even dream about.
  • She goes above and beyond for the kids. If it were up to me we'd stay at home 80% of the time. But Tammy sets up activities for the kids so we don't fall into that rut. This summer it was everything from Spring Hill Camps to soccer, swimming lessons and VBS.
  • She supports me. Even when I get a bit off center and want to buy thousands of dollars worth of SCUBA equipment, she allows me the freedom to check off "bucket list" items with the boys.
  • She still finds the time to sell jewelry through Lia Sophia and hold garage sales that take weeks to prepare for.
  • And finally, she went camping this summer. Yes, she stepped WAY out of her comfort zone in upper Wisconsin and did amazingly well considering mother nature was a complete &*%$! and sent us rainy cold weather for the entire trip.
Those are just a few of the many reasons. I thank God every day for bringing her into my life.

Those of you that know Tammy will agree with me. Those of you that don't, should really get to know her.

Follow Tammy on Twitter or Connect with her on Facebook.

13 July 2009

Content Management Systems (CMS) 101

I'm definitely NOT an expert on CMS.

However, I still get asked the question a lot - typically by people that read my blog or attend our workshops - typically from smaller churches or organizations that aren't ready to shell out big bucks for complete web design/development/CMS packages.

Luckily there is a middle road between a blog and full blown web development.

These robust online CMS options give you the ability to develop websites with typical html pages, blogs, photo galleries, eCommerce and more. This along with simple administration behind the scenes and you have a cheap alternative that looks fairly professional.

Obviously you don't have 100% control over the look/feel of the sites created by these CMS engines but it's a lot closer than trying to redesign a template on Blogger or TypePad.

For an excellent read on CMS: 10 Simple Rules for Choosing the Perfect CMS + Excellent Options.


For those of you wondering:

  • is completely designed from the ground up (including CMS) by our partners at (great team to work with).
  • was just redone on the Drupal platform with Ubercart eCommerce running the store. We worked with Commerce Guys on this project and had a blast. Check them out if you're in the market for a good eCommerce solution.

KNOW1NG Is Half the Battle

I rented the movie Know1ng last night and was surprised a bit by the impact it had on me.

I just told you I love movies that answer The Big Three questions (see recent post) but I also love movies that are eschatological in nature. So I'll typically see them in the theater or as soon as the come out on video.

In this case I just missed it in the theater so when I saw it on On Demand I was quick to check it out.

Again, not a movie that accurately explains what happens at the end of time. But I don't mind. I'm solid in my end time beliefs so it fascinates me to see what people come up with when they have no guidance (like we do with the Bible).

Some takeaways (without ruining the plot of the film):

  • Typical tension between those with religious views and those with scientific minds.
  • Interesting take on the final event that extinguishes the human race.
  • Interesting take on those NOT from this world and how they interact with the humans.
  • Interesting take on the cyclical nature of humanity and the influence/guidance by those NOT of this world.
  • Interesting take on the way the way those NOT of this world communicate and guide those on earth.
I loved the "M. Night Shyamalan" feel of the film - thriller and horror mix that really worked.

Made you think about the relationship between parent and child along with reminding you just how fragile life on earth really is.

I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to stay fired up about the end of time.

Luckily films like this come along and remind you just how relevant it really is.

Coleman: Social Network Guru's?

I've gotta say, I'm a bit perplexed. When I think of social networking, I don't think of Coleman.

I mean I understand their slant on it. Just by using the words "social networking" they appear relevant and current.

Social networking today implies Internet connectedness so the thought of it meaning relationship building around a campsite is an interesting twist.

Can't say I'm impressed or irritated. Just saw the new campaign and thought it was worth mentioning...

Finally! The Day Has Come!

Last year I bought a Sony HD Camcorder that records in AVCHD. It came with a program called Picture Motion Browser which is a complete joke. So for the past year I've been looking for a free AVCHD player so I can at least watch my archive without plugging my camcorder into the HDTV.

Of course it's my fault. As an early adopter you run into things like this. The hardware is available but your computer (software) can't handle it.

I tried numerous recommended options but each either didn't work or required hoop jumping in terms of downloading external codecs that didn't seem to help either.

The closest I came was the Oxygen Player by Mirillis. But just as I began testing it they had to pull it from the market due to some legal dispute over the technology used to create it.

And that's where I was stuck until last night.

I decided to check out Mirillis again and what do you know they're back! The new product is called Splash HD and it works like a charm. Great picture with clear and concise playback.

Thanks Mirillis - you just saved my life... are a few quick tweaks that I'm already looking forward to:

  • The ability to see thumbnail images of your clips so you don't have to open the file to see what it is.
  • An upgraded player that allows for insanely quick and easy editing (cropping and stitching) of AVCHD.
If you can make that happen I'll buy you something...or at least buy the product...

11 July 2009

Do We Make Contact?

I found myself watching the movie Contact yet again last night. I love a good movie that seeks to answer one or more of the Big Three Questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? And Where do we go when we die?

The movie is one persons thoughts on our origin, purpose, death and afterlife. And it does a fairly good job of running that view (very scientific) parallel to the opposing religious/spiritual view.

If you haven't seen it yet you should check it out - if for no other reason, to reacquaint yourself with the fact that the scientific community is searching for the same answers we are as Christians.

But that isn't why I'm blogging this. During the movie the characters quote Ockham's Razor:

Taking all things into consideration, the simplest answer is usually correct.
As Christians we believe the Bible includes the answers to our questions. I tend to clump Biblical truth in the following ways:
  1. Absolute Truth: Stuff that is black and white and easily identified as such.
  2. Shielded Truth: Stuff that is symbolic and metaphoric at best (like prophecy). The sort of thing a non-believer wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole but those sold out for Christ can understand with the Spirit's guidance.
  3. Withheld Truth: Stuff that we and our mortal minds wouldn't begin to understand so God is vague or silent (concepts like eternity and the Trinity).
  4. Absent Truth: Stuff that I believe God expects us to understand because it just makes sense. If we were to come to any other conclusion it would likely be due a lack of common sense or an overinflated ego attempting to write it's own reality.
This last area is where I apply the statement by Ockham. I've had conversations with very intelligent people that seem to lose sight if this. Something that makes perfect, logical sense in light of the rest of the Bible is thrown out with statements like, "God is God, therefore He can do whatever He wants." Or, "We're not God, so the simple answers is probably the wrong one."

Are you serious?

Of course my logical thought process is to bring it all back to what I do - communicate via the web to those asking the Big Three Questions.

So are we making Contact? If so, I'm betting it's because we use the right mix of the four things listed above.

Hit hard on what is absolute. Don't force what is shielded (as it will only alienate people). Don't even try to explain what is withheld. And help people see that what is absent is really quite important in light of the rest of the truth in the Bible.

I think if we follow this recipe for communicating we'll do well.

09 July 2009

Simply Smashing

I follow a bunch of tech blogs and Twitter accounts simply to be in the know about the latest stuff out there.

In so doing I get immediate information in the form of content or links info on tech, gadgets or even tutorials on how to get web design/development stuff done.

But out of all those I follow, one seems to rise to the top in terms of helpful and amazing content.

Smashing Magazine has had more articles, freebies, aggregated content lists, and tutorials that fix immediate needs I have than any other source.

I'll give you one example: You looking to become a freelance web designer?

If you haven't checked them out - get on it!

06 July 2009

Technology: Increased Productivity or Increased Laziness?

We just returned from vacationing in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Wisconsin. Quite rural. And I remained unplugged the entire time (except for some Twitter action on the Palm Pre...)

Doing so made me think about the way technology has impacted us - both for better and for worse.

It goes without saying that our lives are easier now than in the past. Just look at the difference between the typewriter and the computer for instance. If you're thinking about writing a book - you're going to LOVE the backspace button and the ability to keep all your work on a SD card the size of a postage stamp.

The automobile gets you from point A to point B in a respectable amount of time. We're talking horsepower rather than a horse...

Airlines give us the ability to see the world in person rather than in a book at the library.

And the list goes on...

But there are some interesting drawbacks as well. Now we tell people they need to "unplug" in order to relax. We have connectivity that can eat up every waking second of our day. And yes, even though there seems like limitless things to be done in a day, could it be that we're getting lazier despite our increased activity?

Here's where I'm going with this...

Today I'm connected almost 24hrs a day. With the Palm Pre (or iPhone if I'd chosen that path) I'm able to manage email, text, calendar and tasks along with the insane amount of online (cloud) content available at my fingertips via browser and Apps.

But does this make me more or less productive as a worker?

On the one hand I can do my job anywhere at any time. On the other hand I can also do a million other things with the technology. I can Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, etc. at work and at play.

Because of this my life has the ability to become one giant tech trip. An enmeshed mess of work, family, spirituality, entertainment, education and relationship building.

Before the computer we worked hard for 7-9 hours a day to get everything done so it wouldn't be waiting for us the next day. But today we often play at work and leave stuff undone because we can always jump online at home to finish things up.

I really don't know that I have a good answer to this dilemma. On the one hand I love it. On the other I long for simpler days. Either way, there's no turning back. I don't think the Amish lifestyle is for me so I need to learn balance in this new age of technological enlightenment.

Am I alone in this?