Project Management Operational Problem Solving Implementation & Change Management Strategy & Alignment

Frank Patrick's Focused Performance Business Blog
This Focused Performance Weblog started life as a "business management blog" containing links and commentary related primarily to organizational effectiveness with a "Theory of Constraints" perspective, but is in the process of evolving towards primary content on interactive and mobile marketing. Think of it as about Focusing marketing messages for enhanced Performance. If you are on an archive page, current postings are found here.

Monday, September 30, 2002

• Time: It Really is Money (from InformationWeek.com) -
"Along the way, new opportunities will emerge for businesses to make a profit by charging a fee and saving customers time. Companies that understand this logic will shape the future of the customer experience."
A vistor to this blog (Clarke Ching) found this by following one of my other links, and passed it along on a constraint management email list sponsored by APICS. (Cool. I guess this is what blogs are all about.) Thanks to Clarke, this one is yet another in the series relating to creating value for customers by attacking their problems -- in this case those associated with the ultimately limited resource -- time.

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Friday, September 27, 2002

• Marketing yesterday and project management today -- It must be CIO week. From Gantthead, a site dedicated to issues of project management, Five Things the CIO Can Do For Us lays out a short list of advice for what the author (John Sullivan) thinks would "help create a more loyal and dedicated IT staff and save a few bucks in the process."They include:
• Stop Coddling the Executive Staff...

• Back Our Efforts to Change the Business...

• Enforce Project Governance
There is a huge gap between company priorities, departmental projects and individual goals on performance review forms. To bridge that gap, some departments and people consistently go outside the project governance system to get pet projects done, and these folks wreak havoc on staff morale--and the IT budget. You know who they are, yet do nothing about them. Apply some pressure to these people and their VPs to start complying with existing policies. This is one battle you should pick because it will focus staff and budget on the priorities that you actually want done.
• Fund Training...

• Help Change the Company Attitude about Consultants...
I liked the sound of that last one, but he's really talking about making contract programmers that most companies rely on part of the team. ;-)

I included the full quote from the bullet on project governance, since I feel it should be at the top of the list. The impact of the failure of management to set an maintain priorities, or at least explicitly recognize when they change (and act accordingly) is at the source of so much wasted time and effort in these environments, due to the pressure for multi-tasking that it generates. (By the way, Gantthead requires a free registration, but it is, in my opinion, the best site dedicated to the broad scope of project management that I've seen. Their forums even seem to appreciate my comments on the use of Critical Chain PM processes. If you're interested in PM, it's worth the sharing of minimal info about yourself and visiting Gantthead every once in a while.)

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• Unfocused -- Frank's personal blog, for items of interest separate from his world of work.

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• TOC World 2002 - November 4-7, 2002 at Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut - This 4-day conference is targeted towards corporate decision-makers, features client presentations, educational sessions, networking opportunities and more! This means you will hear directly from actual clients using Theory of Constraints (TOC) – how they met their goals, overcame frustrations, and continue to improve with TOC. From our educational sessions, you will walk away with a clear understanding of Theory of Constraints as it relates to applications such as project management, production, supply chain and others. You’ll know what it will take to move your company toward implementing Theory of Constraints, and you’ll know how to get it done PERIOD . . . Networking opportunities provide attendees with an atmosphere to speak one-on-one with those that instruct, use, or are just considering TOC as an improvement method . . . This global conference will have something for everyone – from the seasoned TOC professional, to those that have simply read a book and are intrigued by the Theory of Constraints methodology as a means of business improvement.

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Thursday, September 26, 2002

• CIO As Marketeer, from Optimize Magazine --
"IT professionals must begin to think like marketers. Marketing is the corporate function responsible for understanding and interpreting changes in the marketplace, stimulating customer demand, and devising a strategy for maintaining customers' attention and loyalty. Stripped of all its refinements, marketing is a process of learning and experience gained through the constant exchange of information with existing and potential customers and with other market-infrastructure stakeholders, such as channel partners. The end game is to form lasting, value-enhancing relationships with customers...

"It's time for top management to recognize IT as a strategic marketing asset that can establish a responsive market presence to sustain customer loyalty. IT is the glue that binds the company and its customers in a dynamic feedback loop of information and services. Staying in touch with customers and maintaining a competitive edge require people who understand what each solution means to the customer."
Good point. As I've said a number of times, both here and on other public blogs, "too many companies sell products and services while their customers want to buy solutions to their problems." IT's contribution to understanding those problems and solutions can be to provide systems of communication that, if done right, can feedback issues of true value that can be included in the offering that wraps around the nominal product or service.

The article goes on to discuss the idea of "information logistics" to support "marketing from the core" rather than at the margins. Implementing such concept makes sense to me as part of a strategic future reality plan to identify, deal with, and capitalize on customer problems. The article, authored by Regis Mckenna, concludes...
"Most likely without even realizing it, IT is doing more for marketing than marketing is doing for itself. I've often heard that engineers and IT professionals just don't have the "creative skills" or "customer understanding" to be marketing types. But who would have imagined a decade ago that computers would manage customer relationships? In practice, if not by title, all of today's management responsibilities and business functions are unlike those of the past and those of the future. That means CIOs and other IT professionals probably already have the skills to link the customer's needs with the company's resources."
All that needs to be done is to link IT with marketing in a holistic manner instead of across the silo walls. A good article.

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• About six months ago, I pointed this blog at the early results of a survey of project management performance indicators offered by a friend and competitor of mine, Tony Rizzo. It's worth an updated look.

The results are intriguing, and about what I would expect.

Tony and I crossed paths a few years ago when we worked together at Bell Labs and got into the Theory of Constraints (TOC) at that time. Running the risk of sending potential clients to a competitor, there are a number of well-thought-through and common sense writings on issues of management at his Product Development Institute site. Tony is oft to say, "if you care, then share." I care about getting the word out about successes associated with constraint management, especially with regard to rational but rapid multi-project management, so I'll share Tony with you. (By the way, If there's anyone in the TOC community that I would like to see apply his writing skills to doing a blog, it's Tony.)

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Wednesday, September 25, 2002

• WARNING - Rant Mode ON From the sublime (look down at the other posting for today) to the ridiculous. Not only can misused accounting practices lead to questionable day-to-day decisions. They can allow criminal absurdities like this to happen as well. Rant Mode OFF

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• A little far afield for the subject of this blog, but I was so overwhelmed with this link, I had to include it here as well as on my personal blog. I suppose it could apply as a great example of creating a vision...

Thinking Big - A Plan for Ground Zero and Beyond -- Wow!!! After the rightfully aborted anemic official first pass at plans for rebuilding Ground Zero, a project involving world-class architects and artists, encouraged by the NY Times Architecture critic Herbert Muschamp, have come up with a real visionary approach. I saw this project featured on the Charlie Rose TV show a couple weeks ago, but the web site describing it, in both visuals and audio interviews is superb. A lot to explore and marvel at. This vision will probably never see the light of day in the physical world, but hopefully it'll influence the eventual effort.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2002

• An interesting post from the Creative Generalist blog --
It cannot be overstated how important the simple act of asking a naive question can be. It triggers the consideration of something altogether new. It deposits some speck of impurity into the mix. It opens up avenues that lead to new intersections. But it is only a receptive mind that is able to answer a naive question. You have to be open to the unexpected so that if you come upon a discovery you'll recognize it and act upon it....
The CG goes on to discuss the relationship between "playing" and "naive exploration." An alternative to the "naive question" (which is a more professional way of describing the "dumb questions" I often claim to ask -- sometimes dangerously verging on the "Socratic") is to structure the language describing the problem in "extreme" terms. For example, in one of the TOC Thinking Processes, the Evaporating Cloud, problems are translated to conflicts or dilemmas the components of which are stated "In order to A, we MUST B." The use of "must" is a sneaky way to subliminally raise the "naive" question, as it tends to beg the question of whether there is really no alternative to B to acheive A.

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Monday, September 23, 2002

• From IndustryWeek - Aim High --
"Comparing the Best Plants finalists from the past five years with respondents to the most recent IndustryWeek Census of Manufacturers (2001), a greater proportion of the finalists have adopted a continuous-flow production strategy, pull systems and a cellular work structure. These plants also invest significantly more effort, but not more dollars, in employee training. And as ambivalent as many manufacturing executives are about the huge investments they've made in ERP, CRM, PDM and APS systems, the best manufacturers have managed to implement more in the area of information technology as well. All of this work seems to have paid off in shorter order-to-shipment lead times, higher on-time delivery rates, higher inventory turns and better quality.

"Lacking direct correlation, such cause-and-effect conclusions are risky. But a new study by researchers at Ohio State University's (OSU) Fisher College of Business, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Operations Management, statistically links some of these organizational practices with better performance. The analysis is based on IndustryWeek's 1999 Census of Manufacturers. It reinforces many managers' intuitive understanding that diverse practices -- lean-manufacturing techniques specifically -- are more effective when implemented together as part an integrated program."
Those who buy into Constraint Management (TOC) as an overarching, integrating, holistic approach to "programs," or more importantly, to managing complex systems in general, have understood this for a long time. For example, it should be evident that the early implementations of TQM that all the broad training, problem-solving, chart-posting, and process teams did not deliver bottom line results commensurate with the effort expended. That's because only impacts on the system's weak links translate to system improvement. Strengthening already strong links does very little unless there is an understanding of how they would otherwise become new weak links or how the efforts will result in improvements to their support of the weak link.

Tools and techniques associated with approaches like Six Sigma and, to some extent, Lean Manufacturing, are excellent in dealing with local improvements in a system. What is needed to maximize and accelerate the results from such efforts, and what seems to be suggested in the IndustryWeek article, is a larger strategy for focusing improvement, or at least aligning it across the sub-functions and sub-processes of the system. TOC can supply such a strategy.

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Friday, September 20, 2002

• Needing the Unnecessary -- The democratization of luxury is compelling, especially when considered in the context of defining and segmenting markets. Amongst the discussion of Pashmina, Martha Stewart, and Michael Graves' partnership with Target stores, one paragraph really got my attention -- "In the older culture, my dad’s culture, the limited production capacity of the economy sharply reduced aspirations to material comfort. In the modern world, my culture, much greater material satisfactions lie within the reach of even those of modest means. Thus a producer culture becomes a consumer culture, a hoarding culture becomes a surplus culture, a work culture becomes a therapeutic culture. Because what you buy becomes more important than what you make, luxury is not a goal; for many it is a necessity." I guess the question is whether more is less or less is more. Twitchell ends with - "Instead of wanting less luxury, we might find that just the opposite -- the paradoxical luxury for all -- is a suitable goal of communal aspiration. After all, luxury before all else is a social construction, and understanding its social ramifications may pave the way for a new appreciation of what has become a characteristic contradiction of our time, the necessary consumption of the unnecessary."

Since my work is focused on helping organization increase markets, capacities, and capabilities, I guess it's a good thing for me that most people believe the dictionary and think that more is more. The trick is to remember that on the production side of the equation, very often less IS more.

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Thursday, September 19, 2002

• From IndustryWeek (via Allen Simen on the APICS Constraints Management Discussion Group) -- Cost Accounting Undercuts Lean -- Given that the TOC community has long understood the mistaken decisions that cost accounting can lead one into, it had to be only a matter of time before the Lean folks realized it as well. Some Lean folks have even have even started promoting Lean Accounting, which seems to be a complication of TOC's Throughput Accounting, but I should look into it more before coming to a final judgement.

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• Second Thoughts about the Tufte Project Diagram -- After having a chance to think about the diagrams mentioned in the post of 9/17, I'd like to reiterate that while the examples look nice and clean (which appealed to me greatly), as a project gets a bit more complex, i.e., tasks with multiple successors, you'll still have a fair amount of spaghetti going on (They examples show some multiple predecessor situations but only single successors). The clean look will definitely go away in the real world.

In addition, the explicit timeline raises another potential problem as well -- more significant than the cleanliness of the diagram. In my implementations of critical chain-based project management, I encourage clients to use display projects with network diagrams (like the one usually called PERT) rather than Gantts. Gantt charts, with their "predictions" of the future present too much distracting fiction in terms of the time line and dates associated with future tasks. The presentation of anything that can be construed as interim due dates that, if met, imply that the project is "on track," run the risk of introducing Parkinson's Law behaviors into the project, and threaten the schedules speed and schedule performance.

A network diagram and an indication of current project buffer status should suffice to describe a project, its status, and its health. If necessary to determine corrective action when buffers get too consumed, the PM can dig into the Gantt info to see where assumptions about future task durations provide opportunities for improvement.

What I do like, however, about the Tufte diagram is the idea of the vertical axis containing resources with the sense (if not the detail) of time (via the logical dependencies) along the horizontal. The resource structure, resulting in a swimlane-like diagram, will allow resources and their mangers to more easily see where their activity is, and as tasks get checked off as complete, their approach.

So I guess a reasonable variation would be network diagrams organized by a vertical depiction of resources.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2002

• Things that make me go hmmmm -- Customer Satisfaction -- Most companies claim to measure "customer satisfaction," but they primarily do so through negative, after-the-sale metrics like complaints and product returns. Why not call it what it is and measure "customer sacrifice" instead? Doing so would put a different spin on the subject, and developing initiatives to drive down the difference between what the customer wants and what they settle for could be an interesting approach to "customer focus," aka "subordination to the market." I wonder if the difference between the open-ended objective of driving satisfaction to infinity (delight?) versus the more targeted objective of driving sacrifice to zero would reap different results. The TOC Thinking Processes, applied to market analysis, takes advantage of customer dis-satisfiers to develop strategies and offerings, but I wonder if the legacy view of "customer sat" might compromise long run optimization of the resulting offers.

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• Project Management Graphics - You might recognize the name of Edward Tufte. His field is the design of visual delivery of information, and he's authored a number of books on the subject, several of which are in my own library. Tufte's website includes a discussion thread on Project Management Graphics which starts with a critique of the good old Gantt chart, and moves on to some intriguing ideas for a more easily understood picture of projects. Instead of tasks on one axis and time on the other, picture resources vs time, with tasks as "cells" in the body of the chart...a sort of "swimlane" approach.

While the concept might require a bit of tweaking to accomodate critical chain-style buffers and/or anticipated impact of risk/variation, and while I do have a concern about the sort of spaghetti diagram that might occur with tasks that have more than a few successors, there is something in the design that I find attractive.

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Monday, September 16, 2002

• From IndustryWeek, Strategy Before Technology is a brief look into a rational approach to continuous improvement. Before getting into details of operational enhancements, the big picture of supporting customer/market needs come first, then careful assessments of business policies and processes. The chairman of ATC, featured in the article says, "I believe any turnaround plan for a company has to have a three-step sequence: reconnect with customer expectations, evolve the right manufacturing strategy, and then look at process solutions. To be successful, technological solutions need a strong strategy." TOC and other leanish designs need to drive more detailed operational improvements, since if not done in an aligned fashion, local improvements can often conflict with and compromise each other. After all, as the old saw goes, "If you fail to plan..."

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Sunday, September 15, 2002

• The Theory of Constraints approach to attracting customers has long advocated avoidance of price wars and instead focused on maximizing the perceived value of the offering that surrounds it. While we sell products and services, our customers buy solutions to problems. Maximize the solution value for a market segment, and unit price becomes less of an issue.

A column on Business Week Online, The Dilemma of Declining Prices suggests that not only will prices be under pressure from the usual circumstances, but the potential for a deflationary economy will exacerbate the need for creative value propositions -- "...corporate profits dissipate as consumers hold off on major purchases, knowing that they'll get a cheaper price by waiting just a few more weeks or months. Companies desperately maneuver to conserve cash by laying off workers and delaying investments. "The fact of falling prices injures entrepreneurs," John Maynard Keynes wrote 70 years ago in Social Consequences of Changes in the Value of Money. "Consequently, the fear of falling prices causes them to protect themselves by curtailing their operations."

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Saturday, September 14, 2002

• From Business 2.0 - In Praise of the Anonymous CEO - Tired of celebrity execs who ruin companies and flee with stock options? Meet Colgate's Reuben Mark, who shuns publicity and has a better record than Jack Welch. I caught this article on the plane to Cleveland this week. It really says something when a business mag launched in the peak of the tech bubble highlights Colgate's CEO.

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Thursday, September 12, 2002

• From Forbes.com: Daily Business Triumphant - From a column that fit my activities yesterday..."Those who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, were freely going about their daily business when the attacks occurred. Each in their own way was manifesting the extraordinary dynamism and creativity of a capitalist system that prizes and encourages people who, in Abraham Lincoln's words, try to improve their lot in life--and thereby the lot of us all. For most of us, our most eloquent testimony to them this day, tomorrow and ever after is to do the same. "

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• Stuck in the PIT - One of my Unconstrained Thinking essays includes the commentary that "...it also feels like a bit of deja vu all over again. I was in Pittsburgh working with a client on their project management processes. They suffer from trying to do too much, just like Newark air space. There is pressure in these kinds of dysfunctional systems to make the most use of their resources, be they system engineers or runways. Maybe your company operates like this as well, striving to keep everyone busy in the belief that an idle resource is a significant waste."

Talk about deja vu...but with two minor modifications. This time it was a Cleveland client and the post 9/11 skies were clear sailing (at least at 6:20AM).

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Friday, September 06, 2002

• As I get into a more regular blogging mode, readers may have noticed some reuse of older material from the FP website. This is one of my favorites...Ax or Slack? - Last year, I was reading the May 27, 2001 business section of New Jersey's major paper, the Star Ledger. They've been carrying a series of articles on Lucent Technologies. This particular article focused on a possible takeover by Alcatel and the style of that French firm's chairman and CEO. This headline grabbed me...

Rebuilding with Ax and Cattle Prod

I don't want to get off on a rant here, but...more...

By the way, the
saga continues spreading to competitors and spin-offs, even without the merger.

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Thursday, September 05, 2002

• Break Rules to Make Rules - A change comes with its own set of rules. One source of "resistance to change" can be based in the system rejecting, or at least modifying, these new rules in an effort to fit old experience and expertise to the new way of doing things. If expectations for the change are based on the new rules, and if these rules are compromised, then the outcome will as well....

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Wednesday, September 04, 2002

• Six Sigma and the Theory of Constraints With my reputation as a vocal proponent of the Theory of Constraints as a framework for management and improvement I often get asked about how it compares with Six Sigma. Coming from a pre-independent background that included working for a pre-six-sigma, mature TQM, Baldrige-winning company that was big into process management, I feel pretty comfortable in both realms. (Despite being a "sans-a-belt" practitioner.) The two approaches do come to improvement from different directions, although that is not to say that they are in any way incompatible. (more...)

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Tuesday, September 03, 2002

• Inspiration 7.0 - My favorite cross-platform software for building clouds and trees has been upgraded. Inspiration is a flow-charting application, and has been my long-term tool for doing TOC logic diagrams like clouds and trees and branches. Since upgrading to Mac OS X, it has been the only tool I use that lured me back into the Classic Mac environment. A new version (#7) has just been released that will now let me stay in OS X. (It's also available for Windoze as well, and files created on one platform work on the other.)

If you go to the site via the link here, don't be put off by Inspiration's targeting of the educational market. The fact that it is a favorite in schools is probabaly related to the reason I like it so much -- it works in a far more point-and-click, click-and-type intutive manner than other tools like WinFlow/MacFlow and that very clunky Visio. If you're interested in building TOC logic diagrams or in Mind-Mapping as a note-taking process.

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Monday, September 02, 2002

• A Creative Barcode Application -- It might not be what you think. After all, we don't live on logistics alone.

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• An oldie but a goodie for Labor Day - Effort and Energy - This old (1999) essay seems even more applicable today, as the continual down-sizing and restructuring takes more and more slack out of organizational systems. Survior syndrome and burn-out are the mental equivalents of the physical maladies for which the labor movement of the last two centuries offered some protection.

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