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.

Friday, November 29, 2002

Google Fight -- Comic relief time. Here's a funny site that can be useful for totally irrelevant statistics. But it can be great for one's ego, as this, this, this, and especially this show. (Some inside humor for the TOC crowd.)

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Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Making the Most of a Downturn -- From Business Week Online (requires free registration) -- Despair isn't an option. So says the University of Cincinnati's Charles Matthews, who advocates preparing for the better days to come. Matthews briefly discusses six things that should be done when things are slow:
Plan ahead...
Plan again...
Don't price recklessly...
Follow up on every lead...
Delegate tasks...
Secure adequate capital...
The first two planning suggestions are right on, as many small and struggling businesses think that strategic and operational planning is just for the big boys. Fortunately, using the TOC Thinking Processes as an overlay to discipline and document their valuable intuition, such an effort can be undertaken on an appropriate scale.

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Error -- From the archives of the radio show "The Engines of Our Ingenuity," by Professor John Lienhard, a lesson about the word error.
"It's from the same root as errant, which means embarked on a searching journey. Five hundred years ago, the two meanings were closer together. A person in error was a person searching for the truth...

"Today we begin to see that's the core of the creative process. Engineering design teams are learning to make errors rapidly and correct them. To create is to wander off the path, to be errant, to start in one place so we might, in the end, find another place we never dreamed was even there."
It seems to be an interesting path to perfection that goes through error. The search for error and its negative effects is also the start of problem solving with the CRT, as well as the fixing of proposals through NBRs.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Beat The Odds: Understand Uncertainty From optimze.com, this article by Sam Savage asks...
"What if you knew your company's business forecasts would always be wrong? That no matter how well you and your business and technology colleagues planned, you could never be certain about a financial forecast?...

"To begin with, there's a common misconception that business projections based on average assumptions are, on average, correct. I refer to this phenomenon as the flaw of averages, and it gums up well-intentioned plans with alarming regularity in all lines of work."
"Flaw of averages" -- I like it. Too many forecasts rely on such flaws when what needs to be projected and protected is not the ability to deal with elusive, but boring averages, but with the peaks and spikes that make things interesting. That's why I'm attracted to the robust logistical solutions that come from a TOC approach.

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Throwing Einstein for a Loop -- OK. Humor me with this one.

This link to a Scientific American article is a bit out there for a business oriented blog, but should appeal to those in the TOC community who appreciate it's roots in the physical sciences. It's about physicist Markopoulou Kalamara and her recent connections of the quantum world to Einstein's space and time.
"In this picture, there are no things, only geometric relationships. Space ceases to be a place where objects such as particles bump and jitter and instead becomes a kaleidoscope of ever changing patterns and processes."
hmmm...not details, but dyamics...
"Each spin network resembles a snapshot, a frozen moment in the universe. Off paper, the spin networks evolve and change based on simple mathematical rules and become bigger and more complex, eventually developing into the large-scale space we inhabit.

"By tracing this evolution, Markopoulou Kalamara can explain the structure of spacetime. In particular, she argues that the abstract loops can produce one of the most distinctive features of Einstein's theory-- light cones, regions of spacetime within which light, or anything else, can reach a particular event. Light cones ensure that cause precedes effect."
(Good old cause and effect. This'll put a crimp in the story of those agile or extreme project managers who like to whine about the lack of cause and effect in their world and point to quantum physics as a metaphor.)
"We can understand this concept by gazing upward and knowing that there are countless stars we cannot see because not enough time has passed since the birth of the universe for their light to shine our way; they are beyond our light cone.

"It is not so obvious, though, where light cones fit into the spin networks. Those networks are subject to quantum mechanics. In that wonderland of uncertainty, any network has the potential to evolve into infinite new ones, leaving no trace of a causal history. "We didn't know how, in the language we were working in, to put in the notion of causality" in LQG, Smolin says. Markopoulou Kalamara found that by attaching light cones to the nodes of the networks, their evolution becomes finite and causal structure is preserved.

"But a spin network represents the entire universe, and that creates a big problem. According to the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics, things remain in a limbo of probability until an observer perceives them. But no lonely observer can find himself beyond the bounds of the universe staring back. How, then, can the universe exist? "That's a whole sticky thing," Markopoulou Kalamara says. "Who looks at the universe?" For her, the answer is: we do. The universe contains its own observers on the inside, represented as nodes in the network. Her idea is that to paint the big picture, you don't need one painter; many will do. Specifically, she realized that the same light cones she had used to bring causal structure into quantum spacetime could concretely define each observer's perspective."
I may be stretching it a bit (I did warn you up front), but the whole TOC TP process for buy-in, based on effect-cause-effect logic and on the different perspectives and intuition of the team involved feels like a nice fit here.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Business 2.0 - Magazine Article - How to Think With Your Gut -- This article has popped up on a number of other blogs recently, so I checked it out to see what the hubbub (sp?) is all about. The author, Thomas Stewart, points out where "intuitive" decision making may be particularly helpful...where situations are complicated, complex, or chaotic. He concludes with...
"Behind many of the errors in decision-making lies a yearning for the "right" answer: If only we get enough data, if only we examine all the alternatives, we'll know what to do. "People tend to spend all their time looking for rules," Snowden says. "They're kidding themselves." Situations in which rules supply all the answers are becoming an endangered species, in business and everywhere else. Command-and-control management went out with tail fins. Risks are both greater and less predictable. As companies outsource, globalize, and form alliances, they become more interdependent -- simultaneously competitor and customer, drastically increasing the complexity of their relationships. More and more, all you can do is admit that you simply don't know and go with your gut.

This may well feel uncomfortable. No one likes uncertainty, and it's going to be hard to explain to your boss a hunch you can't really articulate, even to yourself. To make things easier, you can teach yourself to tune in more attentively to intuition and to raise your gut IQ."
To some degree, this feels like a bit of a cop-out. Like the advice of those in the "agile" or "extreme" project management camp, it feels like an excuse to give up on analysis, and take fire-ready-aim actions when at least ready-fire-re-aim is the more appropriate course. To be fair, this is not what is being said, as a side-bar points out....
"Practice, practice. This is the most important thing. "Gut instinct is basically a form of pattern recognition," says Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor and psychologist. The more you practice, the more patterns you intuitively recognize. List decisions you've made that turned out right -- and mistakes, too. Then reconstruct the thinking. Where did intuition come in? Was it right or wrong? Are there patterns?"
Nine times out of ten, there probably will be patterns...patterns that have been hidden by blinding assumptions about the complications, complexity, and chaos of the situation. Those patterns are based, in my opinion, in at least a modicum of cause-and-effect logic. The confidence of "high-intuitives" comes from their ability to "feel" the logical connections. The fact that they haven't been exposed to the tools to verbalize their intuition does not mean those connections and patterns aren't there.

A simplified (but not simplistic) understanding of complex systems can go a long way to helping one's confidence in one's "gut," as will the willingness to step back a bit before being forced into a decision on the spot, when it will be enhanced with a "gut-check" in the form of a little logical thinking.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Is Your Value Proposition Strong Enough? From MarketingProfs.com -- "A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services. The more specific your value proposition is, the better. Most people and companies have lousy value propositions. They're weak -- often, really weak. Often they're simply a description of the offering?s features or capabilities. Or they're filled with self-aggrandizing puffery." Once your strategy is developed, you need both the words to communicate it and the tools to sell it. Value is in the nature of the problems you can solve for your target market(s). If you can't get them interested in their own problems, then a re-tooling of your message is needed.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Spot the danger signs of a failing business This brief article from The Scotsman contains YATTL (yet another top ten list), this time focusing on danger signs for small businesses. Get past the local Scot jargon of #1's symptom of missed tax payments, and #2 pops up as...
POOR management decision making procedures. The management of some businesses are too busy dealing with day to day issues such as dispute resolution or short term cash flow issues. In fact, they should be concentrating on more fundamental business strategy issues, such as whether they are operating in the right markets, at the right margins, with the right level of resource.

Poor management of fundamental business strategy issues can be a sign that management is stretched, or understaffed, or that the wrong people have been hired because they were cheaper than the right people. Perhaps they lack the relevant experience, and are either unaware of it, or they don't know where to turn to for small biz assistance. Either way it is often a sign of the start of things going wrong.
Some of the others in the list include #5, lack of training and slowdown of skills provision, which could lead to #4, increases in complaints and #9, inventory increases, which ties up cash, which could lead to #3, insufficient funding.

This is a good warning list for small businesses.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Monday, November 11, 2002

Reforming Project Management - Afer being away from my braodband for a few weeks (it's amazing how spoiled one gets, and how unappreciated certain things are until you don't have them), and a tough time getting back into the blogging habit, I paid a revisit to Hal Macomber's blog, in which he is preparing to unleash upon the world his thoughts on "Uncertainty as a basis of project theory and practice..."

This idea has been at the core of my writings on Critical Chain. From Risk Management and Critical Chain...
"Protecting the value of a project involves dealing with the uncertainty that will be associated with its delivery. The role of Project Management is to assist in turning uncertain events and efforts into certain outcomes and promises. If this is the case, then the primary process associated with project management should be that of risk management. How other processes, such as scope, schedule, and spending management support risk management is therefore critical for successful project management and for maximizing the value of our project-based efforts. One of the more recently introduced project management methodologies has at its core a focus on the management of uncertainty and risk."
And from my opening salvo -- the first article in PM Network on Critical Chain... Getting Out from Between Parkinson's Rock and Murphy's Hard Place...
"Uncertainty is why we need project management. How we manage for uncertainty is at the core of improvement of project performance -- getting projects done both faster and with better reliability of the promised deliverable dates."
I know from Hal's previous comments and from his links (including to this blog -- thanks, pal, and here's back atcha) that he has a healthy respect for Goldratt's Theory of Constraints. As I'm sure he can appreciate, all of the "logistical" applications of TOC, for PM, as well as for production management and supply chain management, are based on a healthy respect for uncertainty...for the fact that Murphy's Law has yet to be repealed, for the fact that estimates/forecasts are only glorified guesses, and for the fact that it is human to err.

And I'm with him in the belief that Project Management is primarily an exercise in recognizing, mitigating, and managing uncertainty.

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Ten Top Sources of Project Failure (The Executive Version)

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