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Just one less block…

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Estimated reading time 2 minutes.

I recently started in the Winchester/Frederick County Community Leadership Program. As part of our initial orientation, the twenty-seven of us participated in a series of team building exercises. One of those exercises contained a lesson far beyond the intent.

The exercise consisted of two piles of ten small wooden blocks, each the width of a shoe and about two and a half shoe widths long. We were divided into two groups and given the challenge of standing on the blocks in such a manner than no one was touching the ground for roughly eight seconds — long enough to sing one round of “Row Row Row Your Boat”.

Ten blocks was difficult at first, but our group got it. The instructor, Martin, then asked us to make do with fewer resources. We kept eliminating blocks and working through the problem until, after forty-five odd minutes, we successfully had all thirteen people in our group off the ground on only four blocks.

It was later during the debrief that it hit me. After hearing about how competition had spurred us on, I raised my hand and, choosing my words carefully said “I learned that, given the effects of competition, we will keep trying to make do with less just for the sake of making do with less.”

The group was silent and reflective for a bit. The final round of the song had been very rushed. There was someone standing squarely — and painfully — on my right foot. And, as a group, we had huddled together focused on just keeping the whole thing up. We had pushed the team to the point where, even a few more seconds would have led to us collapsing on the ground.

The interesting part to me was the fact that many of us had said “enough” at six blocks. But the psychology of trying to unconsciously “be the best” coupled with the cheerleading of a handful had been enough to put caution to the winds and push things to the limit. The team was in pain, huddled tight, and utterly helpless if another task had been added — not because getting by with fewer resources was a benefit, but because we had succumbed to the temptation to try.

When you look at your organization and start to think about how you can do more with less, how you can run leaner, and how you can get by with fewer resources, take a moment to consider — am I really doing this for the betterment of the entire organization, or am I just trying to see if I can for the sake of doing it. Ask yourself: “Am I thinking about the next challenge too, or just seeing if can I get by with just one less block?”

John Elrick is currently earning a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Colorado State University.



Rick Rogers Salutes Retiring Scouting Leader

Monday, May 6th, 2013

 

Rick Rogers (L) Presents Retired Scouting Leader with Mementos Box

Rick Rogers, the recently appointed District Chair for the Appalachian Trail District of Boy Scouts of America, recently presented Robert “Hutch” Hutcheson with a box for his Scouting mementos.  Hutch retired earlier this year from his position as District Commissioner with the Appalachian Trail.  He served in numerous leadership positions in Scouting during the past 20 years, and  recentlyretired to the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.

Chris Bohanan has replaced Hutch as District Commissioner.  Both Rick and Chris have spent a combined 43 years in Scouting. As Cub Scouts, they earned the Arrow of the Light Award, and later attained the rank of Eagle Scout. Now, as the two leaders of the Appalachian Trail District, Bohanan and Rogers plan to carry on the proud tradition of Scouting excellence.



John Elrick Joins Golden Key Honour Society

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

John Elrick, Senior Systems Engineer at Fenestra, was recently invited to join the Golden Key International Honour Society, www.goldenkey.org at Colorado State University-Global Campus. The invitation is only extended to those in the top 15 percent of their classes.

John finished his BS in Organizational Leadership at the Colorado State University -Global Campus in September 2012 with a 3.98 GPA.  He was accepted into the university’s graduate in November of 2012 and is currently earning a MS in Organizational Development (MSOL).  The invitation, which John accepted, noted that “This invitation comes with great distinction as joining Golden Key at this time makes you a charter member of the chapter at Colorado State University-Global Campus…. You will create a lasting legacy for others to follow by accepting this invitation.”



Four Secrets to Surviving Federal Cuts

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Recent events remind me of an adage from Anthony Robbins that “success is 80 percent psychology and 20 percent mechanics.”  Allowing for the obvious hyperbole, this observation is highly relevant to businesses and government agencies seeking to maximize performance in these rather unstable times.

As budgets get tighter and concerns about the impact from sequestration — both real and political –  begin to dominate the thoughts of leaders in the government contracting field, we can be certain morale will be negatively impacted, and that these impacts will affect far more than we think.

I am one of those rare technology people who also has had a long term fascination with positive psychology. With sequestration looming, over the past few months I’ve thought about how we can prevent the growth of irrational fear from destabilizing project teams. The answers are relatively straight forward, but I am concerned they will be ignored in the wake of focus on costs.

While researching a paper for one of my graduate classes, I happened upon a startling revelation from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The statement surrounded the OPM’s decision to halt a pilot project concerning the Results-only Work Environment (ROWE). The comment hits home at the current weaknesses which can and must be addressed to ensure a smooth process moving forward.

[OPM Director] Berry said that employees’ goals — which were a crucial element for ROWE to succeed — weren’t set clearly enough, and the metrics used to hold employees accountable for getting their work done were also lacking. Communication between employees and managers also was not clear, he said, and OPM didn’t do enough training during the beginning of the program.

This liturgy of systemic failings points to key areas of concern for government and contractors over the coming decade. Three of the issues are clearly essential management skills and the fourth is a “smoking gun” as to why the first three were so disappointing in results; all the more so as the OPM, by its very mission, should be the best prepared of government agencies to handle these basic responsibilities.

The primary areas highlighted by Berry’s comments can be addressed with the following key strategies:

  1. Make training a vital part of operations. The government and contractors can take a page from the United States Military — the more you sweat in training the less you bleed on the field.
  2. Ensure that goals are set correctly and clearly. Many options are available for setting solid goals with clear metrics. Most government agencies have internal coaches who are quite capable of assisting in those areas.
  3. Make goal setting and proper metric design training an ongoing part of manager’s continuing education. Developmental coaching can be a vital tool in ensuring that even the best managers improve their skills in this critical area.
  4. Ensure that all managers and employees receive ongoing training in communications. Among other alternatives, Toastmasters International offers an incredible amount of skill development for a very small cost.  As a bonus, many agencies already have existing clubs. (disclaimer: I am a long time member of Toastmasters).

 

When budgets tighten, training is most likely the first candidate for being cut in many organizations. However, when one is trying to do “more with less” one can no longer afford the luxury of strict tactical thinking. Instead, they must measure the impact of squeezing budgets by “trying to get by” rather than reducing real costs by ensuring that all those involved are working to their highest potential.

 

John Elrick is currently earning a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Colorado State University, Global Campus. He has a BS in Organizational Leadership and is in the process of completing his DTM from Toastmasters International.



Elrick Completes Coaching Certificate Program

Friday, March 8th, 2013

John Elrick, Senior Systems Engineer at Fenestra, recently completed the Coaching Certificate program offered by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

“We frequently work on complex projects where we need to inspire diverse stakeholders to do their best work,” explained Rick Roger’s, Fenestra’s founder and president.  “This training will be valuable to John in working with both internal and external teams, and help everyone achieve a higher level of performance,” added Mr. Rogers.

ASTD is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to the training and development field. It was founded in 1944 and is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.

 



Chamber Ribbon-Cutting Celebrates New Office

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

 

Fenestra Technologies celebrated their new office space right along Carroll Creek in downtown Frederick with a ribbon cutting hosted by the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce. Left to right are:  Nan Sheridan- Mann, Membership, Frederick County Chamber of Commerce; Susan Warrenfeltz, wife of Fenestra’s President; Rick Rogers, President, Fenestra Technologies; Paul Frey, Vice President, Frederick County Chamber of Commerce; Frederick Alderman Shelley Alloi ; Donna Goff, City of Frederick, Economic Development; Frederick Alderman  Karen Young, and Frederick Mayor Randy McClement.

 

 



Cloud Burst

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

At roughly 2:00 pm EST (1:00 EST according to one report) October 22, 2012, Amazon’s Web Service (AWS) experienced an “incident” involving “degraded EBS [Elastic Beanstalk] performance in a single Availability Zone”. In spite of the carefully chosen words, the list of corporations affected was very high profile and included Netflix, Reddit, Airbnb, imgur, Pinterest, Heroku, and Foursquare. Heroku itself is a hosting platform so it can be assumed that dozens more high profile firms were directly impacted.

Fenestra ran headlong into these issues with an inability to access both AWS and Heroku sites via the console Application Program Interfaces (APIs). Fortunately, the servers themselves continued functioning during this outage. However, the impact of operating with hands tied serves as a reminder that every step forward involves a trade-off. While having redundant servers in the cloud simplifies many concerns, there is something comforting about having a server a few steps away, with equipment that can be replaced — albeit imperfectly — with a trip to Staples.

The failure brought up the uncomfortable reality that Amazon has suffered from several outages over the past few years which have seriously impacted the business functionality of high profile organizations. As a result, it is past time for IT buyers to consider carefully strategies which can mitigate the impact of outages and for IT Advisers to prepare solid recommendations to their clients.

Among the strategies Fenestra Technologies are reviewing were those adopted by Netflix in the wake of a large outage in April of 2011. Additionally is the sometimes complex and costly course of utilizing redundant cloud vendors to ensure failover. One of the key areas which still remains problematic is the difficulty of coordinating moves through the various APIs. While automated solutions are in development, it can be difficult to anticipate all of the permutations making a “one click” move hard to implement, regardless of how desirable it would be.

As government continues to examine ways to leverage cloud based resources for its ever growing big data needs, the potential impact of outages must be factored into those plans — not as a reason to avoid the move, but as a clear and transparent risk mitigation strategy. These strategies will come at a cost and federal buyers must be prepared to understand the trade-offs between costs and benefits before deciding upon how to best allocate resources between internal and external data storage. It will be the responsibility of Federal Information Technology Advisers, such as Fenestra, to ensure that their key personnel are well versed in understanding these key areas of risk.



Monday, September 17th, 2012

Rick Rogers Is Selected for the Frederick County Chamber

of Commerce’s Leadership Frederick County Program

Rick Rogers, President of Fenestra Technologies, was selected to participate in the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Frederick County program.  With him at the opening reception is Diane DeMarco, President of Marketing @ Work, Fenestra’s marketing firm, and Richard Griffin, Director of Economic Development at the City of Frederick. 



Rick Rogers Appointed to Tech Frederick Advisory Team

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Rick Rogers, President of the Frederick, MD-based Fenestra Technologies, was recently appointed to the Tech Frederick Advisory Team. Fenestra invents creative information technology solutions to complex business problems.

Formed in 2009, Tech Frederick is a joint venture of the Frederick City Department of Economic Development, the Frederick County Business Development and Retention Division (BDRD), the Frederick Innovative Technology Center, and the local tech community.

“We see Rick as a key thought leader and influencer in both industry and the community. He brings a strong understanding of the IT world, the needs of the business community, and the impact a vibrant and dynamic community can have in supporting the IT industry,” said Heather Gramm, CEcD and Business Development Specialist for the Frederick Coty Dept of Economic Development.

“The mission of Tech Frederick is to promote collaboration, innovation and growth in the Frederick technology community through advocacy, communication and partnerships.

Rick’s enthusiasm and ideas are a great asset to the Advisory Team,” added Gramm.

Fenestra has been a prime contractor to the United States Census Bureau, and a subcontractor to Lockheed Martin and IBM on programs for the Census Bureau and the National Archives and Records Administration. Fenestra is currently working on a large scale video collection project, providing system design support to Westat on a project for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  This project is an extension of the Foundation’s work on “Measures of Effective Teaching.”

 



Fenestra a Finalist in Maryland Chamber Small Business Awards

Monday, August 6th, 2012

 

Fenestra Technologies Corporation was one of three finalists in the one – 10 employees category for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 Small Business of the Year Awards.  These awards  honor businesses for their innovations, growth and contributions to their communities.

The Awards Lunch was held on Thursday, June 7, 2012 at the Hotel at Arundel Preserve.  Fenestra’s nomination was supported by the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce.  Ric Adam, Chamber President, attended the event as well. “Being recognized within the State of Maryland for all of your accomplishments is truly an honor on its own,”  noted Adams.

The Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes” star Duff Goldman ws the keynote speaker.  Goldman is also the founder of Charm City Cakes.

Left to right are John Elrick, Rick Rogers, Fenestra Founder, Ric Adams, President of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, Lida Blake, Lisa Arant and Carolyn Salamon.