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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.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

• Iatrogenic - I learned a cool word today, essentially refering to shooting one's self in the foot -- or a problem caused by the very methods intended to cure it. From Merriam-Webster online...
Main Entry: iat·ro·gen·ic
Pronunciation: (")I-"a-tr&-'je-nik
Function: adjective
Etymology: Greek iatros physician + English -genic
Date: 1924
: induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures [an iatrogenic rash]
- iat·ro·gen·i·cal·ly /-'je-ni-k(&-)lE/ adverb
Sounds like a lot of things we do to improve organizational performance.

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Fast Company Roadshow 2002 - While Fast Company (the magazine) has over time, in my opinion, lost a bit of its early assumption-busting character, and is tending to focus more on people than ideas than my taste would like, I still read it. And beyond the magazine, a community has grown in both cyberspace as well as in meatspace. Local chapters of a reader's network known as the "Company of Friends" have grown in a wide range of locales. The link above is to the diary of one of the magazine's editors, Heath Row (not the airport - that is his name), as he visits a set of meetings of these local groups on the East Coast. There's interesting comentary on values, a topic that has recently developed cachet in business, as well as on a range of organizations participting in the companies of friends, ranging from the Department of Defense in Virginia to a community theatre in New Jersey. If you're a fan of Fast Company or not, it's worth a read.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2002

On the other hand...Constraints & JIT - Not Necessarily Cutthroat Enemies - This APICS Advantage article by TOC luminaries Bill Dettmer and Eli Schragenhiem (co-authors of Manufacturing at Warp Speed: Optimizing Supply Chain Financial Performance) provides an insightful view into the commonalities between DBR and JIT. They summarize by saying...
"If you truly want to compare two different management approaches, don't focus on their techniques and tools. If we'd done so here, we'd have seen two seemingly very different processes. After all, drum-buffer-rope (DBR), the TOC planning methodology, doesn't seem to have much in common with kanban cards. In fact, in some respects the tools of DBR might seem to have more in common with advanced planning and scheduling (APS) systems than with JIT or lean production. But this isn't the case. The TOC paradigm is much closer to JIT than it is to APS. The search for simple, effective rules is common to both TOC and JIT, but it's alien to APS. This kind of insight isn't clearly visible if we look closely only at detailed techniques.

"The similarities between JIT and TOC are many. The areas of difference are few. Key differences lie primarily in considerations that TOC addresses and JIT does not. The underlying reason for these differences is that by its very nature, TOC takes a broader view of systems management than does JIT."
Of course, Bill and Eli are talking about the underlying goals and philosophies of these two approaches to management. The other blog entry in this post talks about the relative performance value of going down one route versus the other.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Using Drum-Buffer-Rope Scheduling Rather Than Just-In-Time Production - A comparison of JIT (Lean) production and TOC-driven DBR scheduling by Patricia Huff in the Management Accounting Quarterly highlights benefits of the latter approach to production management. In it, Huff points to...
"...several studies that compare the performance of JIT and DBR. D.W. Fogarty, J.H. Blackstone, and T. R. Hoffman found that TOC processing, using DBR scheduling, "gives superior performance with less effort." DBR produced approximately 2% more units of output than the JIT production.

"In a simulation study by Cook, DBR and JIT performed better than traditional processing. However, DBR outperformed JIT in a number of categories. DBR required less inventory, which led to reduced manufacturing costs, better responsiveness to customer requirements, and the opportunity for better product quality. DBR also produced more product with a lower standard deviation of flow time. Cook defined this benefit as better due-date performance. Such performance resulted because it was easier to determine when the product would be ready for shipment."

"Based on the information presented, it appears that DBR scheduling can achieve a higher level of performance. Because it doesn't require a balanced set of production tasks, DBR lends itself to a larger number of processing situations. As in the case of a job order shop, DBR can be used in situations that allow for different sizes of batches to be processed. The evidence also indicates that DBR scheduling results in lower WIP inventories, which leads to lower investment in manufacturing costs. Compared to JIT, Drum-Buffer-Rope scheduling is clearly the superior production method."
The simplicity of DBR's reliance on letting processes work to their natural pacing while controlling WIP (and at the same time minimizing production lead time) through the release of material to the shop floor should be evident. It avoids the complexity of managing Kanbans as well as the difficulties of dealing with the potential brittleness of balanced production systems associated with JIT and its Lean progeny. It also, in implementation, provides pinpointed targets for improvements through it's execution control mechanism, Buffer Management. The "efficiency" of targeted improvement efforts cand result in fast and deep bottom line impacts. Production performance is not so much about driving out waste as it is maximizing speed, reliability and throughput.

I'm going to be facilitating a DBR implementation in a small machine shop in a few weeks. If I get the permission of the client, I'll blog a journal of the experience here. Watch this space.

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Friday, October 18, 2002

• A blog for a lazy Friday - Some interesting thoughts (obviously not by me) that have recently come my way...
Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man's training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly. - Thomas H. Huxley

Dissatisfaction is the mother of improvement. — Shigeo Shingo

It wasn’t a mistake. I just didn’t know any better. - Merce Cunningham

Thinking is a momentary dismissal of irrelevancies. - R. Buckminster Fuller

In one case out of a hundred a point is excessively discussed because it is obscure; in the ninety-nine remaining it is obscure because it is excessively discussed. - Edgar Allen Poe

Focus is a substitute for time. - Edward Yourdon, Death March

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental notion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Albert Einstein

Measures of productivity do not lead to improvement in productivity. - W. E. Deming

You will get whatever the system will deliver ... - W. E. Deming

He's ridiculously overpaid, but worth it. - Samuel Goldwyn
One of my goals is to have someone use that last one to describe me. ;-)

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Thursday, October 17, 2002

Firms put more value on finding, training managers - From USAToday.com, this short article alludes to many of the same need for useful managers as one of my favorite books, Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency, by Tom DeMarco, i.e., that managers with time and skills are necessary to step back from the fray to do the planning, to think about improvement, and to break down barriers for the folks doing the day-to-day. From the article:
"When asked about the most critical traits that enable workers to do their job better, 50% ranked leadership and management skills at the top of their list, according to a poll by management and services firm Accenture...Ron Swift, a vice president of strategic customer relations for Dayton, Ohio-based data warehousing company Teradata, says cultivating managers is critical to company survival. "Companies now getting rid of management probably won't participate in the next growth spurt," he says."
Without management that has time and energy, the opportunities won't be recognized when they present themselves, and if recognized, not much of value will be done with them.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2002

QuickTopic – An Interesting Collaboration Tool - One of the email discussion groups in which I participate focuses on issues of Facilitation. One of the members of that group brought to our attention QuickTopic, a web-based collaborative tool for presentation and commenting on a text document. Picture a single-topic discussion forum. For that matter, don’t picture it...check out the example document and discussion that my facilitator friend has put up on the site. The operators of the service also apparently sell a version of it to for set-up on internal servers for secure collaboration.

While on the topic of web tools, there’s another one that is also used by the same facilitation discussion group. Picturetrail is a free picture album site. Our facilitation discussion group uses it to put faces with names that participate in the discussion.

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Monday, October 14, 2002

Sumo Strategy - My favorite sport, Sumo, is a straightforward endeavor with simple rules -- stay on your feet, stay in the ring, and push your opponent down or out (with only a few additional common sense prohibitions regarding closed fists, eyes, throats and groins). Like business, simple rules; sustain a system to attract customers and deliver on your promises to them. Maybe there’s some metaphors from sumo that could apply to business.
Sumo: Big guy grinding opponent out of the ring. (another example)
Business: Operational excellence, marketing by reputation and momentum.

Sumo: Side-stepping -- Zigging when a zag is expected.
Business: Anticipating resistance and redefining the offer.

Sumo: Nimbleness -- coming at the opponent from the side, or even from behind
Business: Redefining the approach to the market, maybe even the market itself, selling capabilities to come at the market from an unusual direction.

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Friday, October 11, 2002

There's an old story about the pre-schooler who comes home and says "Dad, where did I come from?" Dad is surprised by the precociousness of his youngster but nonetheless launches into an age-appropriate discussion of the reproductive process. When he's done, the kid says, "That's all very interesting. But Chris at my school came from Cleveland. Where did I come from?"

Let's make sure we understand the question (like "What to change?") before we try to answer it (with a response to "What to change to?").

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

• Project Conflicts - As pointed out numerous times either in this blog or in it’s parent site, it is useful to define problems in terms of dilemmas, typically between actions assumed as required to support necessary conditions of success. No where is this more evident than in the realm of project management. Here’s a few conflicts that may be familiar.

An engineer's/programmer's/resource's dilemma: On one hand, in order to prosper, I must support the goals of the organization (including the need to deliver things fast); in order to support the goals of the organization, I'm pressured to estimate and promise my work aggressively. On the other hand, in order to prosper, I must perform as an individual (against such criteria as due-date performance) and avoid "pain"; in order to perform successfully as an individual and avoid "pain", I'm pressured to estimate safely and promise conservatively. (I'd suggest that if permitted, the second option would win over the first every time.)

How about a dilemma for project managers: On one hand, in order to prosper, I must promise projects that have minimum planned lead time; in order to promise minimum planned lead time, I'm pressured to not protect the project. On the other hand, in order to prosper, I must assure that project promises are kept; in order to keep project promises, I'm pressured to protect the project more. (This one is usually subject to compromise, which quickly devolve to lose-lose situations -- a little protection, a little late, very little prospering.)

And project owners or program managers aren't immune either: On one hand, in order to finish all projects asap, we must finish existing projects asap; in order to finish existing projects asap, we are pressured to delay the starts of new projects. On the other hand, in order to finish all projects asap, we must finish new projects asap; in order to finish new projects asap, we are pressured to start new projects asap. (Could the usual solution to this one be to start the new projects, and then multi-task to "assure progress" on all projects?)

And looking a bit deeper, maybe there's a core conflict at the root of problems in most of today's projects: On one hand, in order to have successful projects, we must respond to unexpected circumstances impacting key goals of our project (i.e., schedule, scope, budget); in order to respond to unexpected circumstances, we are often pressured to compromise on at least one of the other goals. On the other hand, in order to have successful projects, we must deliver the key goals; in order to deliver the key goals, we must not compromise those goals. (This one's easy -- How many projects ever come in on time AND within budget AND as specified?)

Hey -- who said it would be easy? That's why folks associated with projects get paid the big bucks. Right?

The key, however, to dealing with dilemmas or conflicts like these is to look a bit deeper into the assumptions that underlie the "in order to, we are pressured..." statements or the belief in the conflict itself. Maybe if we identify and address some faulty assumptions, the conflicts can be resolved - maybe we could achieve the "musts" without the conflicting "pressures." At the core of Critical Chain-based project management is the questioning of these assumptions. The resource’s dilemma is rooted in the assumed need to promise task duration performance in order to assure project duration performance. For the PM’s dilemma, there are assumptions about how project promises can be made safe. And the assumption about "starting sooner to finish sooner" can be shown to break down as soon as projects start interacting and drive multi-tasking of resources.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Monday, October 07, 2002

• Face Reality! - I have a favorite cartoon that I first saw long ago (it must be at least 10 years now) in The Utne Reader. I often refer to it at some point in most of my engagements with clients, whether regarding strategic planning, production management, or multi-project management. It’s a single panel and pictures two people standing in a doorway. The person behind has his arm outstretched, holding the head of the person in front so that he is forced to look out of the door to the street scene beyond. It has as a simple caption, the advice to ”Face Reality!. Too many times, I've come across strategies that try to unrealistically address multiple priorities, production plans that don’t recognize the finite capacity of the plant they purport to schedule, and project management organizations that keep piling on the projects without regard to resource capacity. In each of these cases, the failure to “face reality” leads to sub-optimization and disappointing results.

A few days ago, I mentioned that I had started reading Larry Bossidy’s and Ram Charam’s Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things Done. As I make my way through it, I’m finding in it a number of themes with which I strongly resonate, one of which is reflected in (and reminded me of) that old cartoon. According to Bossidy and Charam, a key aspect of a disciple of execution is to ”insist on realism.” Strategies need to be planned for execution, highlighting key obstacles and concerns. Promised “numbers” need to be supported by a realistic sense of "how" those they will be achieved. Getting ahead of one’s self is a failure of execution and source of larger failure.

This thinking is totally in line with practices common to TOC-based management. The core concept of the constraint permeates decisions and directions, providing a basis for understanding the source of limitations, most obviously in implementing production and multi-project management processes. But also in the development of strategies (to address both individual problems or larger organizational directions), the structured use of the TOC Thinking Processes provides and encourages open and realistic scrutiny of proposals. It also specifically solicits dialogue regarding both concerns and obstacles — the exact issues that Bossidy and Charam suggest that an execution-focused leader need to be aware of and to deal with.

I suspect that this won’t be the last mention of this book that you will read in this blog.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Saturday, October 05, 2002

• End of Project Review - The purpose of "end of project reviews", also known as "lessons learned session," IMHO, is to develop changes to policies, practices, and behaviors that have proven to result in undesirable outcomes, and to systematize those things that result in good stuff.

Now, since no one will remember the good stuff, anyhow, and since avoiding pain is a higher priority than achieving pleasure, I'd start out with what people are good at -- bitching and moaning. Accentuate the negative.

What were the undesirable effects of the project's performance?

Collect all the problems that you want to assure don't happen again, from a broad cross-section of project stakeholders.

Identify why these are undesirable.
Identify why you put up with the problems, especially if they are chronic.
Identify what is being jeopardized by each problem.
Identify what undesirable actions resulting from these problems.
Identify any actions that feel like causes of the problem.
Identify whether the action ever puts you into a conflict or dilemma.

Use these characteristics as a story line surrounding the identified problems, so you can describe them in terms of a conflict or dilemma, or you can verbalize a conflict or dilemma that is closely related to each problem. (After all every problem can be described in terms of
such a dilemma...some rock and hard place situation.) Doing this keeps the problems from becoming finger-pointing sessions. Putting the problems in terms of systemic conflicts...rock and hard place situations that you find yourself in because there are two mutually exclusive requirements associates with trying to achieve some necessary conditions of success...makes it clear that most of these problems are not anyone's fault, but rather are related to people trying to make the best of a bad situation.

The Theory of Constraints Thinking Process known as the Evaporating Cloud is very useful for this process. For more information on the the Evaporating Cloud and on the full gamut of the TOC Thinking Processes, check out this link.

Now if you have the time and energy, and a deep well of patience, you can address each of these problems/dilemmas individually, but you will probably find that many, if not most or all, of the dilemmas have a similar feel. Develop a genericized version of these dilemmas. Analyze the paradigms, perceptions, and assumptions that force you between this generic rock and hard place. Address this root cause (core conflict) so that the erroneous assumptions that perpetuate it don't return to recreate the symptomatic problems. Solve this dilemma, and you have not only a deep solution, but also a meaningful starting point for thinking about the specifics of all the component problems/dilemmas that went into it.

This approach has been proven to work in many environment for solving specific problems in small subsystems like a project, as well as dealing with larger strategic issues of an organization. With facilitation, it takes only about a day to find the deep dilemma and an opening to solve it, with each participant working from the most important problem to them. It takes another day to translate it's solution to specific solutions for the individual problems. Then it is simply a matter of developing an implementation plan and project for putting those solutions into place.

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Reforming Project Management is, as Hal Macomber, author of the linked blog describes it, about ”exploring the emerging theory and practice of lean project delivery.” As in many other things “lean,” there seems to be a great deal in common with the TOC view of projects, as nondeterministic endeavors that need to maintain the focus on linkages or “conversations” between dependencies and respect the inevitable variation in performance.

The Reforming Project Management blog is starting a set of entries on project control. The first installment says ”about control of more complex systems . . . the first rules are clear. Control the last variable while keeping the others within some range, and tightly couple the detection of variance to the control gate.” It sounds like it’s in sync with concepts that underlie Critical Chain’s Buffer Management, as well as its advice to focus on tasks until complete, assign resources as late as possible, and to eschew the idea of trying to control the details of the project in execution, but worry instead about its dynamics.

All I know is that Hal’s blog has intrigued me enough to add to my public “blogroll,” a set of links found somewhere in the grey column to the right.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Thursday, October 03, 2002

• What I'm Reading These Days - On the road for a couple weeks, I'm realizing how much I appreciate the broadband internet connection in my office. So I've been living with paper a bit more, bouncing between a couple books. The first one I'm almost done with, Four Days With Dr. Deming: A Strategy for Modern Methods of Management is a great intro to the good doctor. It comes off as the notes of an attendee to his legendary 4-day seminar. Including graphics from Deming's presentattion, direct quotes, and interpretations by the author lays out a lot of important messages.

If the Deming book lays out good thinking on "what to change" and "to what to change to," the other one in my briefcase is turning out to be a treatise on "how to make the change happen." That should be evident from the title of Larry Bossidy's book, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. I'm only about a third of the way through it, but it looks like it's going to provide some good common sense adivce, laying out execution as a "systematic process of rigorously discussing hows and whats, questioning, tenaciously foolowing through, and ensuring accountability...a systematic way of exposing reality and acting on it." I'll get back to the blog with more on it when I finish it.

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