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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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

A Presentation on Planning -- January 16, 2003 -- For readers of this blog in the New Jersey area, I'll be giving a short presentation on simplified planning processes (strategic and otherwise), sponsored by the Somerset County Business Partnership (formerly the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce). The notice on their site might be a bit misleading, as it also includes info about a second brief presentation on technology to get organized. Come on out.

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Friday, December 27, 2002

• Consistent Leadership Behavior as a Source of "Intended Consequences" -- A while ago, a discussion list I participate in carried a thread about how to engrain and assure appropriate behaviors in management of a project organization. The following had come into my inbox from a different source, and for some reason I thought of that thread...
There's a story about an MIT student who spent an entire summer going to the Harvard football field every day wearing a black and white striped shirt, walking up and down the field for ten or fifteen minutes throwing birdseed, blowing a whistle, and then walking off the field.

At the end of the summer, it came time for the first Harvard home football game, the referee walked onto the field and blew the whistle, and the game had to be delayed for a half hour to wait for the birds to get off of the field.
...A clear demonstration of the power of consistently walking the "squawk."

There's also a story from my personal experience that shows how deviating from the promised behaviors can get management into trouble. It happened in an implementation of Critical Chain-based multi-project management at a telecom equipment firm building systems of integrated hardware and software. Critical Chain training was given to management first (since they had to have the ability to "walk the talk" from the get-go), and then to members of the project teams as the projects were revisited for completeness of plan and alignment with the multi-project processes.

One of the key concepts demonstrated by games and simulations in the training is the idea of the "project as relay race," as opposed to the usually date-driven metaphor of a train schedule. The team picked up on this idea with a vengeance -- so much so that they went out to the local sporting goods store and bought a set of relay race batons, which were painted brightly, and attached to a rope so that they could be hung on a doorknob or on the entrance to a cubicle. The batons were passed along from resource to resource along the critical chain (the resource-leveled critical path) of the project, the idea being that if the baton was in sight, you were not to interrupt it's carrier/keeper and instead address his/her supervisor with issues that might normally be addressed by that person. This allowed resources on the critical chain to work with head down, uninterrupted, and protected from pressures to multi-task, thereby speeding the project around the track from critical leg to critical leg of the race to the cash register.

Well, the story comes to a climax when one of the managers forgets his promise to the team -- the promise to support "relay race behaviors" and to help "drive out multi-tasking" among project participants. This manager keeps interrupting one of the project players assigned to a critical chain task, bringing the engineer into meetings, and asking for reports on non-project efforts -- meetings and reports that could be easily addressed by other members of the team. The engineer eventually reached the end of his patience, picked up the baton, and asked the manager if he had some place to put it -- some place very personal and potentially painful -- since it was obvious that the manager didn't respect the baton or the promises it embodied...
"Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it." -- Marian Anderson
...In a follow-up session with the client team, when I was told this story, my reaction was only slightly conflicted. On the one hand, I'd be the last one to condone physical violence or threats of it, but on the other hand, it was clear that the engineer had gotten the message that the manager had not. Project participants, once they discover how much they can achieve if allowed to work in a single-tasking state of flow, are loathe to allow managers to take that high-performance environment away. Admittedly, it takes managers a bit longer to feel the real benefits, as they might need to see to believe the enhanced pace of project completions and unleashed capacity that results, but for most, effective education, indoctrination, and simulation allows them to suspend disbelief long enough to effect improvement, by walking the talk.

For those that don't, there are always the batons.

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Thursday, December 26, 2002

Rumsfeld's Rules -- Enlarging Problems -- The ThoughtsOnBusiness blog recently pointed to a document (pdf) purporting to be a compendium of "rules" for dealing with Washington, attributed to our current Secretary of Defense. Back before I got seriously into blogging, I focused my spare writing time on a series of short pieces useful as columns in local professional society newsletters. One of which, Make Mountains of Molehills, was triggered by a similar reference, and took as a starting point a line about enlarging problems.
"If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower
This on rang true with me as, the primary analytical process I use -- the Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes provides an approach for doing just that. The definition of problems as dilemmas or conflicts allows a range of seemingly unrelated symptoms (chronic or intractable by themselves) to be grouped and "enlarged" in the search for deeper commonalities and "core conflicts." The focus for solution shifts to this deeper root cause, since 1) if it is not addressed, it will continue to perpetuate and retrigger the symptomatic problems and 2) if it is addressed, it will provide a consistent direction for the solutions of the symptoms.

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Monday, December 23, 2002

Ho Ho Ho! -- Merry/Happy whatever.

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An Evaporating Cloud Testimonial -- Exploring older posts in Joe Ely's Lean Diary (previously mentioned here), I came across this little "success story" about interpersonal benefits of using Evaporating Clouds (scroll down to "The Tools" at this link) to define a conflict and get out of being "hung up on the testy exchange with my friend."

Nice story.

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Sunday, December 22, 2002

• A Short Day -- A verse from my friends, Donna Fitzgerald and John McHugh of NewGrange
"May you always have work for your hands to do.
May your pockets hold always a coin or two.
May the sun shine bright on your windowpane.
And may the light of the solstice sun brighten your day."
Worth repeating from me to you, my readers, as well.

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• A Good Question -- In a newsgroup disussion, regarding possible unintended consequences in a current topic too political to get into on this weblog, this comment came up from a writer and TV producer I respect...
"So I guess the question before us is not so much 'Does the end justify the means?' as 'Does the means assure the end?'"
Not only applicable to the important question at hand, but applicable to many business decisions as well. Assuring that the means get to the desired ends is what Future Reality Trees and Negative Branch Reservations are all about.

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Friday, December 20, 2002

Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing: Synergystic or in Conflict? -- From ASQ's Six Sigma Forum Magazine : November 2002 -- As in most of these articles with titles like this (including my own), the answer to the question of synergy or conflict is probably obvious by now. This one is actually a collection of responses from five working managers and one academic. Some of the comments that caught my attention:
"Deciding where to apply lean is key. Senior management must be involved in project selection."
I've heard this for Six Sigma as well.
"When you want to reduce waste and improve the efficiency of a process, you use the lean tools. When your goal is to reduce variance and improve performance, you should be using Six Sigma tools. "
And when the goal is to break constraints blocking throughput, applications of TOC come into play.
"While the focus in lean is on eliminating muda (waste), the Six Sigma focus is on reducing the variation of process inputs and creating a robust process, thereby producing very predicable outputs."
...and the TOC focus is on growing the volume of those outputs -- on Throughput.

Like my aforementioned article says -- better together.

TOC for focusing the efforts of Lean's waste reduction and Six Sigma's attacks on variation where they will do the best to maximize system throughput.

My favorite comment from the ASQ piece...
"I’m also seeing more and more companies adopt strategies that include both methodologies, but they are calling their initiative something else. They are giving it a name that means something to the company’s business but does not tie them to one or even two methods. These are the companies I see having the best chance for success in the next few years."
I like it. After all, it isn't the methodologies that are in conflict -- only the purveyors of one and not the others.

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Thursday, December 19, 2002

• Why TOC Works -- I've recently had a few exchanges with Pat Burke, the keeper of TOCForMe, a great little site chronicling Pat's learnings from a generally home-grown implementation of TOC at Texas Die Casting. Pat recently shared a note from the VP of Manufacturing to the Controller on the TOCExperts Yahoo Discussion Group. Since I've recently given Pat permission to use some of my stuff on the TOCForMe site, a substantial quote here should be OK.

Note: References to Alex and Peach are about characters in The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eli Goldratt, "father" of TOC.
I thought that since you seem interested in comparing the "Continuous Improvement Programs" we've seen so widely used, I'd at least give you my opinion of WHY TOC WORKS.

A Most business Managers can easily relate to Alex, and his dilemma. We all feel we've worked for a "Peach" at one time or another, and have been faced with seemingly impossible objectives, which have far-reaching consequences. In short, "Misery loves Company".

B The improvement process in "The Goal" is presented as both logical and simple to implement. With a little bit of direction, Alex and his team are able to stumble through their issues, and develop their own workable solutions.

C The "5-Step Process" effectively removes the blame from finding and resolving constraints. "Herbie" is presented as a very human element with the best of intentions, yet in need of help from others. We find that Alex and his co-workers are really no different. This promotes a more "global" outlook to issues in business.

D " The Goal" promotes Teamwork! In successfully completing a hike, or saving a business, involvement from others was critical. It gives a real human twist to "subordination". The identification of "Human Insulation Layers" is ground-breaking stuff. Most people are instinctually so defensive in the business environment, that removing insulation layers is "Job One".

E The whole Improvement Process is presented as a wheel, where it is OK to make mistakes, try the wrong solutions, then try again. The key is to develop a culture of "PLAN-DO-CHECK RESULTS", and build your successes from there. Many improvement programs or ideas are never tried, from fear of reprisals if unsuccessful.

F Success and happiness at work are tied to success and happiness at home, and vise-versa. Here's a concept we all know to be true, but few are ready to admit. This becomes a very "human" motivation for resolving work related issues. It's a very human story with a happy ending.

G Through-out the story, data is being used to guide decisions. Be it time, pieces completed, inventory issues or sales, the message is loud and clear that "GOOD DECISIONS ARE BASED ON GOOD DATA". This is a critical part of any well run company.

H The root concept of why we run businesses is clearly defined. I fear some DECISION MAKERS lose sight of the simple reason of being in business; "TO MAKE MORE MONEY NOW AND IN THE FUTURE". Reducing operating expense and inventory, as well as increasing through-put is a grass-roots shopping list for continuous improvement.

Some of the other Continuous Improvement programs we've seen involve arduous technical training (Six Sigma Blackbelts) and almost "other world" cultural changes. TOC relates to the every-day guy with every-day problems, and offers a simple element of hope of better things to come. Who wouldn't want to try it?"
Couldn't have said it better myself.

And if I did, who would believe me?

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Creativity and Context -- Another from the archives of the Engines of Our Ingenuity radio series.
"In 1978, 31 creative scholars were called to Sigtuna, Sweden, for an odd semimar. The aim was to learn how inventive minds worked. They talked and wrote personally and self-revealingly. They free-associated. The seminar organizers, and they themselves, looked for commonality in the way they worked. Finally, they listed five stages in the creative process:
"First, the arrival of a new idea.

"Second, sharing the idea.
Exposing it to criticism by trusted friends.

"Third, the hard work of analysis.
Fleshing out and testing the idea.

"Fourth, creating a language of exposition.
Learning to teach the idea to others.

"Fifth, going public with the developed idea."
These stages map nicely to the TOC Thinking Processes and the layers of resistance that they address.

The "new idea" in the TP is related to the initial injection that addresses a dilemma or conflict associated with the task at hand. There are several opportunities for exposure to criticism, or scrutiny, as we refer to it in TOC Land. The Future Reality Tree is our tool for fleshing out and testing. Learning to teach to others is construction; going public is communication.

Some people will say "nothing new under the sun." Others will say "old wine in new bottles." I'll say "Great minds think alike." (In more ways than one.)

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Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Simplified Drum Buffer Rope (pdf, 216K, requires Adobe Acrobat or Mac OS X) -- A recent discussion on the usually excellent APICS Constraints Management discussion list delved into a "simplified" version of Drum-Buffer-Rope, the TOC solution for the management of manufacturing and production-like operations. Introduced by some friends and competitors of mine in their book, Manufacturing at Warp Speed: Optimizing Supply Chain Financial Performance, this approach is useful when there is no clear constraining internal constraining resource, or for the very common situation of many small shops that find that they have a demand constraint (aka market, marketing, or sales constraint) rather than one in their ability to supply.

This discussion was timely for me personally, as I am currently in the process of aiding the implementation of such a process. Admittedly, in the case of my client, the border between DBR and S-DBR is a bit fuzzy, as they're a job shop that has as the possible critical constraint resource a set of relatively interchangeable machines that also serve as the gating operation for their products. As a result, the material release schedule, pulled by the market demand, is tighlty coupled to what would be the "drum schedule" in a basic DBR set-up.

It's going to work nicely. A simple Excel spreadsheet is being finetuned right now that take desired ship dates, calculates ropes for different categories of parts, provides a material release date, and backs that date off ("bulldozing) them back in time) to avoid possible overload of the gating operations. That last bit makes sure that they don't try to force 10 punds of ... through their 5 pound plant, only to create mountains of inventory.

Once the schedule is set, it boils down to behaviors on the shop-floor. Allowing "road-runner behavior" is what all the scheduling is about. Like the "beep-beep" cartoon character that has only two speeds (stop and full speed), operators are being directed to work in the same manner. When there's work in front of the operation, work it. When there isn't, don't work on unnecessary stuff. As one person on the discussion list put it, the simplicity of tying a "rope" between demand and material release (or between demand and a critical resource schedule), and then letting the natural capabilities of other operation pull the work through the shop unimpeded, is so much simpler than designing a system of kanbans.

If I've always viewed DBR as a simplified approach to Lean Manufacturing, then Simplified DBR has the potential to take the process to another level of "speed to results."

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Saturday, December 14, 2002

• In Case You Didn't Notice -- This Focused Performance blog has two features that I'd like to remind readers about -- one of which is being taken advantage of by a surprising number of people. If you look in the right-hand column of this page, you'll see a small form to enter your email address for a "subscription" to the blog -- daily (at least on the days that I add postings) emails to subscribers that contain the posts. My ego would like to thank the growing number of people who think my stuff is worth finding in your inbox, and I invite others to do so as well.

The other feature, while it does hurt page loading time a bit, is one that I wish more readers used. At the end of each posting is a little link about "comments." It was my hope that some of my posts and commentary might engender a dialogue with readers. But alas, not too many of you are rising to my bits of bait. I'll watch to see if this changes. If not, to enhance performance of the page, the commenting feature may be eliminated.

While I've drawn your attention to the commenting possibilities, why not try it now on this message, with any general comments on the topics I've raised in the blog, or with ideas on sites or topics you might want to see linked in the future.

I look forward to hearing from you. -- Frank Patrick

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Friday, December 13, 2002

Learning About Lean -- I've been watching this blog from Joe Ely for a while now, ever since he chronicled the leaning of a bake sale operation. His recent blog posting struck me as another span in the bridge between thoughtful Lean applications and TOC.
"I wrote yesterday about the most excellent article by Mark Rosenthal of Genie Industries on the two pillars of Lean(click here to read the article).

As I reread it last night and this morning, I was struck by the simplicity of his four points of implementing the human side of Lean:
1. Detect the abnormality.
2. Stop
3. Fix or correct the immediate condition.
4. Investigate the root cause and install a countermeasure.
We find here that step 2 is the most difficult. Why, we ask, should we stop right in the middle of what we are doing? We won't get it done otherwise!"
There's a parallel here with one of the aspects of TOC -- the third of TOC's five focusing steps -- "Subordinate everything else to the strategy for exploiting the constraint." The act of subordination is often one of omission rather than comission. So very often, the desire to "do something" leads to self-defeating actions, misaligned efforts, or misguided measures of local success that get in the way of global performance. Rosenthal's "abnormalities" are probably put forth as undesirable effects of a process or a system; in TOC the "abnormalities" of conflicted, misaligned behaviors are also causes of systemic suboptimization.

The difficulties in "stopping" a process to fix it are closely related to the difficulties "stopping" the policies and behaviors that might be beneficial at the local level, but are causes of shortchanged achievement of goals. Sometimes the best advice is "Don't just do something. Sit there."

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Monday, December 09, 2002

Is Management Possible? -- Another piece from Business 2.0. (I'm getting so much good stuff from their web site, I may actually subscribe to the magazine.) In it Thomas Stewart (the new editor of Harvard Business Review) discusses something very familiar to those of us who promote Theory of Constraints-based solutions.
Unreliability was the management problem of the 20th century, and we more or less licked it. Uncertainty is the problem of the 21st. It can't be wrestled into submission... Uncertainty must be acknowledged, not combated; respected, not repressed; embodied, not rejected.
Respect for uncertainty, and mechanisms for managing for it, are at the core of every logistical solution associated with TOC. The "lean," but not anorexic, TOC approach to Production Management -- Drum-Buffer-Rope allows for "protective capacity" in non-constraint resources -- capacity useful to deal with the certain-to-happen uncertain outcomes of run-ins with Murphy's Law, be they breakdowns, or unexpected hot orders.

Project Management is all about turning uncertain efforts into certain outcomes of time, cost, and scope. Without trying to fool one's self into unrealistic expectations of unnecessary intermediate milestones, Critical Chain schedules start with the explicit recognition of uncertainty and risk in its use of range estimates for tasks, and their translation to buffers to protect what's important -- the project's promises.

And in supply chain situations, where distribution networks are subject to uncertainty in demand (one of my favorite oxymorons is the title of an acquaintance, "Demand Manager"), the usual 20th century response is to try to deny it and instead strive for the equally oxymoronic "more accurate forecast." The TOC approach, based on demand-pull replenishment avoids tempting uncertainty by avoiding premature distribution to where product may not really be needed.

Stewart continues...
Uncertainty challenges management to become one of the humanities. Companies won't succeed if people cannot improvise, ad lib, make do, and override procedures. Nor will they survive if they're out of control. Becoming both resilient and consistent will take more than decentralization or programs to empower people.
Again, this aspect of Stewart's prescription is supported by TOC through the Thinking Processes. Empowerment comes from knowledge, combined with the ability to analyze that knowledge for questionable assumptions. The ability to predict with "good enough" logic the outcome of actions may not result in perfection of prediction (we are talking about uncertainty here), but should be able to lay a foundation of expectations, so that, if impacted by the unknown unknowables, deviations can be recognized sooner rather than later.

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Some New Ideas for the Oxford Unabridged --
"BLAMESTORMING - Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible."
It might not be new, but it made me chuckle, especially in the context of one of my blog posts on project reviews. Another one...
"OHNOSECOND - That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you've just made a BIG, uncorrectable, mistake."
At first glance, I thought it had something to do with Taiichi Ohno, or maybe some attempt at a 60/minute takt time situation. But no...

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The MegaPenny Project - A mild diversion from weightier matters.
"Visualizing huge numbers can be very difficult. People regularly talk about millions of miles, billions of bytes, or trillions of dollars, yet it's still hard to grasp just how much a "billion" really is. The MegaPenny Project aims to help by taking one small everyday item, the U.S. penny, and building on that to answer the question: "What would a billion pennies look like?""
Hey buddy! Got any spare change?

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Saturday, December 07, 2002

• A Thought or Two on Outsourcing from an acquaintance of mine here in New Jersey.
"In the USA, manufacturing accounts for 24% of the GNP.
Extraction and Construction account for 13% of the GNP.
Service industries account for 63%

But...Services do not create wealth, so its content must be subtracted from the GNP to determine where our wealth really comes from

Therefore...Manufacturing represents 65% of the wealth creation in the USA

Source: Marcus B. Crotts, President of SME
Manufacturing Engineering Magazine June 2002

If we become a service economy, we will then become servants of the manufacturing nations."
Source: Don Frank, in a posting to the Northwest Lean Manufacturing Network's email discussion list.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2002

TOC and Six Sigma -- Better Together -- Some more thoughts related to yesterday's posting on the questionable results of Six Sigma.

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Demotivators® -- The new collection for 2003 is out for more comic relief. My favorite of the new group joins the best of the past.

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Monday, December 02, 2002

How Satisfied Are Six Sigma Companies' Customers? -- From Six Sigma Forum (unfortunately, requires registration), this article calls to question the success of Six Sigma in meeting it's "customer starisfaction" goals.
"The American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is an economic indicator of customer satisfaction with goods and services purchased in the United States. Customers evaluate quality based on their experiences with their purchases, and the University of Michigan Business School's National Quality Research Center analyzes the data.

It may be too soon to make scientific and precise judgments about what effect, if any, Six Sigma has on ACSI scores. Thorough implementation takes years, and results cannot be expected upon deployment. Additionally, the intersection of Six Sigma organizations and ACSI-measured organizations produces a somewhat exclusive subset. Extrapolations to a wider population may be unreliable.

Still, many organizations have been quite vocal about the financial savings they have reaped from their Six Sigma programs. Perhaps it is high time to begin attending to how those organizations' overall customer satisfaction scores have fared since implementation....

If this limited sampling points to any conclusion at all, it is that Six Sigma is not yet improving, or even noticeably affecting, ACSI scores:
* GE has not yet managed to equal its ACSI high score of 84 in 1995, the year it implemented Six Sigma.

* With Six Sigma, Whirlpool Corporation, Apple Computer, Delta Airlines, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo & Company have not matched their 1994 baseline scores.

* Dell Computer is the only company to show a steady increase in scores; however, that increase halts in 2001.

* The only company to show a continual decrease in scores, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, is a newcomer to both the ACSI and Six Sigma.

* Gateway’s score dropped five points from 2000 to 2001, corresponding with its first year of Six Sigma customer service projects.

* GE's score dropped three points from 1995 to 1996, its first year of implementation; since implementation, GE has yet to match its 1995 score and has exceeded the industry average only in 2001.

* Scores for Wells Fargo & Company and Bank of America are noticeably lower than the banking industry average.

* For Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, Honda Motor Company, Delta Airlines, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo & Company, pre- or early Six Sigma scores from the mid 90s are noticeably higher than later Six Sigma scores.
In contrast to the extraordinary savings results that some Six Sigma organizations report, changes in ACSI scores appear to be negligible, gradual, and variable..."
... if not downright troubling.
"Then again, the emphasis placed on Six Sigma savings may present a more sobering explanation for drops in ACSI scores. “Customer satisfaction appears to be negatively related to cost-cutting efforts,” Claes Fornell asserts. Whirlpool Corporation and Gateway serve as cases in point: with new cost-cutting measures in place, these Six Sigma companies showed ACSI drops of three and five points respectively in 2001."
Then again, given the pervasive practice of cost allocations, I wonder how much of those "savings" actually reached the bottom line.

Another link to the publicly open ACSI site itself goes into more detail about the scores' trends, with additional comments on the questionable ability of "quality programs" like Six Sigma to actually impact customer satisfaction.

As demonstrated in too-common failures of TQM, real improvement is a matter of focus on what to change.

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Stop the (end-of-quarter) Madness!!! -- From the Unconstrained Thinking series, this was written in September, but fully applies to December, if not more so.

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