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, January 31, 2003

The New Record (Loss) Business -- A couple days ago I noted a quote about the inabilty to manage a business by focusing on the money it makes, as that is merely an effect of inter-related causes. The recent earnings (?) announcements from AOL triggered this look into some causes of this specific effect.

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Aides for Complexity -- A proposed method to select appropriate management actions in a complex adaptive system based on the degree of certainty and level of agreement on the issue in question.
"The Edge of Chaos (The Zone of Complexity)

There is a large area on this diagram [zone 5] which lies between the anarchy region and regions of the traditional management approaches. Stacey calls this large center region the zone of complexity - others call it the edge of chaos. In the zone of complexity the traditional management approaches are not very effective but it is the zone of high creativity, innovation, and breaking with the past to create new modes of operating."
A later point in an addition to the original paper talks about using pattern recognition to try to move from the chaotic zone 4 into 5, where there's a chance of resolution. This triggered thoughts of what we under the influence of the Theory of Constraints refer to as the layers of resistance. Moving from zone 4 to 5 is similar to our analysis of disparate issues and details to identify patterns and connections to deeper root causes that can be further studied in zone 5. The tools of the TOC thinking processes -- particularly those defining current reality, and breaking through with an innovative starting point for a more desirable future reality -- seem to me to be appropriate and effective in dealing with "agenda building," "search for error," and verbalization of "intuition" necessary to move on to the more concrete realms of Stacey's zones 1, 2, and 3.

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Thursday, January 30, 2003

• What Can Be Managed? -- Found in an APICS discussion group posting...
"You can measure a business by how much money it makes,
but you cannot manage it by focusing on this effect.
Only causes can be managed."
-- Bill Hodgdon, APICS CMSIG Dialogue, 2002
It probably could have fit in the previous collection on strategy.

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Ten Easy Pieces on Strategy -- My backlog of potential blog entries keeps getting in the way of original work, so here's a pile of stuff I've found to be interesting in the last couple months, mostly on topics related to strategy...

Managing Dysfunctional Clients -- From the Professional Services Journal -- "A business, however, is usually controlled by many brains communicating to several different business units or areas of the organization. These brains are the "strategists" or "thinkers" who send messages to the implementers or "doers." In [dysfunctional] companies, a disconnect between the "thinkers" and "doers" occurs. Hierarchical organizations expect the brains to tell the organs and systems what to do. Period. They don't realize the importance of two-way communication." . . . and therefore fail to even consider effective tools to enable that communication.

Michael Porter's Big Ideas -- From Fast Company -- "It's been a bad decade for strategy. Companies have bought into an extraordinary number of flawed or simplistic ideas about competition -- what I call "intellectual potholes." As a result, many have abandoned strategy almost completely. Executives won't say that, of course. They say, "We have a strategy." But typically, their "strategy" is to produce the highest-quality products at the lowest cost or to consolidate their industry. They're just trying to improve on best practices. That's not a strategy." This is.

A Convergence of Improvement Programs -- From Better, by Gary Cokins -- "...there are four broad concepts that are the generational heirs to prior discoveries:
• Quality: Six Sigma
• Operations: Lean Management
• Thinking: Theory of Constraints
• Managerial accounting: Activity-Based Cost Management and Target Costing
Just like the physicists who are making advances at explaining the unification of the fundamental forces of nature (e.g., electromagnetism, gravity, subatomic forces), business managers are also seeing more interdependencies than were apparent even a few years ago..."
I agree

An Application Of The Theory Of Constraints -- A case study from The CPA Journal -- "Daufel Enterprises' constraining factor is, like many small businesses, the time of one or a few key individuals. This is certainly true in most service businesses. Like the Daufel brothers, owners or managers of small businesses normally have an intuitive feel for which products are more profitable. Often a simple constraint analysis will allow them to quantify their intuitive feel and make precise adjustments. CPAs that service small businesses can help their clients become more profitable by assisting them with the analysis." part of an overall constraint-based strategy.

The Management Secrets of the Brain -- From Business 2.0 -- "For example, look at what the brain does: It must assess new information, resolve internal conflicts, and decide how to act. These chores are the basics of any organization. Except the brain's managerial duties are far more complex. That's why the first rule of management we learn from the brain is obvious ...1. Never try to micromanage a large, complex organization." aka "Identify" the constraint.

Factory Days -- An interesting, almost 3-year (so far) chronicle of running a small business.

How Managers Express Their Creativity -- By Herbert Simon -- "As long as we refer to acts of creativity with awe and emphasize their unfathomability, we are unlikely to achieve an understanding of their processes. And without such an understanding, we are unlikely to be able to provide usable advice as to how to encourage and enhance diem. Fortunately, it is not necessary to surround creativity with mystery and obfuscation. No sparks of genius need be postulated to account for human invention, discovery, creation. These acts are acts of the human brain, the same brain that helps us dress in the morning, arrive at our office, and go through our daily chores, however uncreative most of these chores may be. Today we have a substantial body of empirical evidence about the processes that people use to think and to solve problems, and evidence, as well, that these processes can account for the thinking and problem-solving that is judged creative." Simon says it's at least partially a matter of identfying patterns and cues.

On Being Proactive -- by Preston Smith -- "The idea of proactivity is simple enough: consider what negative outcomes might befall you in advance of an event and then take steps to preclude it from happening or at least mitigate the damage it might cause if it does occur. In the same way that product developers have applied other techniques to product development, such as early supplier involvement, early manufacturing involvement, or having marketing participate continuously throughout a project, so developers have also applied "proactivity" without thinking about it as such. Now that some of the older approaches have lost their competitive edge, we are looking for the next opportunity for improvement, which is to propagate this notion of' "proactivity" throughout all aspects of the project." ...aka risk management.

Innovation Now! -- from Fast Company -- "A radical idea has the power to change customer expectations . . . A radical idea changes the basis for competition . . .A radical idea is one that has the power to change industry economics." . . . Just what's needed to develop a solution to a constraint in the market.

Put An End To Project Mismanagement -- From Optimize -- "Projects turn corporate strategy into reality, and in a sense, everything an IT manager does takes the form of a project. Yet too often, the concept of managing projects is poorly understood and executed. It's no wonder that many companies do a lousy job of prioritizing and allocating project resources. Worse, they fail to effectively implement their hard-won strategies. The results of this mismanagement can be devastating, with projects missing key deadlines, exceeding budgets, and failing to meet business goals..." Strategy drives project prioritization -- a necessary step in effective multi-project management.

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Sunday, January 26, 2003

What is Six Sigma? -- A good (and brief) intro (and analysis) to Six Sigma, from Darwin...
"Is Six Sigma the answer to all my dreams?
If you are already operationally excellent and want to squeeze out defects and increase efficiency, Six Sigma is for you. If your business is built on intangibles?stuff that's awfully hard to subject to statistical analysis?then Six Sigma is not for you. If you want to be a product leader competing primarily on quality?but not first-to-market?then get out your wallet.

Beware, though: Data collection is the Achilles' heel of many a Six Sigma effort..."
Nice summary. Matches my take on it.

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Human Filtering with RSS -- After about 3-4 months of serious blogging, and about a week of realizing the power of focused web browsing via RSS, I find that Terry Frazier points out a seed of a solution for the still daunting task of finding good stuff on the web...
"The combination of Weblogs and RSS create a global network of subject matter experts (SMEs) that bring analysis, insight, and useful opinion to a range of everyday topics and current events, but there is no easy, efficient way of finding, defining, or distributing the metadata about these sources of information...Filters are still useful, they just aren't that useful...More useful is the RSS feed from an SME..."
Terry talks about a direction for a solution, that starts with the providers. Those of us who gather and add information to the flow should pay better attention to the headlines used so that folks using these new tools know when they've run across something of interest.

New Years RSSolution...As I add things to this river of information, I promise to give careful consideration to those titles, so those downstream from my little tributary can come to trust me as a reliable SME on the subjects I choose to write about and/or pass along.

There's another part of Terry's piece that caught my attention as well. He talks about how Jim McGee writes on Murphy's Law and Design, using work from a piece I've mentioned recently, James Vornov's piece on The Origin of Murphy's Law. This building on the work of others, or standing on the shoulders of those who came before, strikes me as an informational corollary to the "open source" movement in software design, in which a whole is the outcome of many pieces of input. Those of us adding more bits and pieces to the flow, sometimes creating eddies and retracing currents of conversation, contribute to the benefits of those downstream, unimpeded by the gate-keepers, the old-school publishers, and the "certifiers" of "professional" expertise.

Something tells me I'm not the first to have this epiphany, but as my intended audience is not really the advanced webheads out there that I'm running into in the blogging community, I'd like to encourage them to jump in if they are at all tempted. The water is fine. The more comfortable you get swimming around in this flow of growing ideas, commentary, and information, the more easily you will find trusted SMEs in your areas of interest. (Check out my blogroll for some that I've found for myself in the realms of management, leadership and creativity.) And the more comfortable you will feel pitching in with your 2 cents worth.

Who knows? If and as you get into the swim of things, you may find yourself in the role of "trusted SME." And as Britt Blaser (who keeps on popping up in my stuff...see what I mean) said in To Make A Difference... "Is there any urge more basic than for your life to be of consequence? No matter how we define consequence, most of our instincts and actions seem aimed towards it.

"Now consider that we are helping in the birth of a ubiquitous global network, for it's not the "frozen" Internet Infrastructure that matters, it's the connecting of most humans who wish to be, using words and gestures that seem natural to them (not yet, but real soon). We all know this is what we're about, but it's good to pause and wonder at our good luck to be at this place at this time."
Like I said, jump in...the water's fine. Take a bit of time to find some trusted (or at least interesting) SMEs. Watch who they build off of and who comments or builds on them, And add your piece to the flow. Then it will be richer for all of us.

(OK, Frank -- enough work on the channel. Get back to work on the content to fill it.
All right, you're the boss, Frank.)

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Ming the Mechanic, Frank the Fixer -- Last week, Britt Blaser, opened up a posting with comments about Turn Around Artistry. There were things in the piece about the conflicts over local and global performance to which I initially responded. But Britt's opening line got my attention, as it hit quite close to home, and has stuck in my craw since first reading it...
"Maybe we need a turn around artist. You've heard of these guys who go into a faltering company and bitch-slap them into profitability. They don't have a great rep, but it's a nasty job few are good at.
Helping companies fix themselves -- turn around their thinking and performance -- is what I do. Hence the stuck craw.

While there are some situations where someone has to go in and "bitch-slap" managers like those at the top of Enron, Worldcom, etc., and there is residue in some quarters of the consulting profession of behaviors associated with the old "efficiency expert" image, there are other ways of getting a company "turned around." The eventual trigger of what you, dear reader, are perusing right now is a piece by Flemming "Ming" Funch, in which he talks about satisfaction found in being...
"...a people mechanic, or a system mechanic. I like if people bring me something to fix, and I fix it. Particularly when it relates to individuals or groups of people trying to do something, and not quite succeeding. And I resonate with people with that kind of abilities."
I know the feeling. There is nothing more satisfying than helping people through the issues and constraints that block their ability to acheive more of their goals. After talking about experience with different kinds of consultants, Ming uses a minor character in a modern classic film as...
"...another example, some would say a horrible choice, but it illustrates my point: In the movie Pulp Fiction, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson's characters get in some trouble. There's a dead body in the car, blood all over, they're at this guy's house, and his wife is coming home in an hour, and they don't know what to do. Their boss, the big gangster Marsellus Wallace decides it is time to call in Mr.Wolf. Mr.Wolf happens to be across town in a tuxedo at a party, having cocktails. But when he gets the phonecall, he's professionalism itself. He gets paid extremely well, but he is only used when it really counts. He's there in 10 minutes in his Porsche. "I'm Winston Wolf, I solve problems" he says. And so he does. All he really does is to take a keen look at what is going on, and to tell the people who're standing around what the logical thing to do is. And, well, I certainly don't have in mind working for gangsters, but I like the idea of being the person who's brought in to solve a problem, but who otherwise is happily uninvolved."
While I could probably write a whole piece on the values of helping people develop solutions for themselves versus going in and doing a direct "fix" (and probably will at some point), instead, I'm going to pick up on Ming's cinematic example with a few more of my own.

The lead character in Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, the story of a hit man, attaches himself to a questionable benefactor in the loyal style of samurai and lord. The film uses readings and themes from Yamamoto Tsunetomo's classic, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, to bring home the theme of the honor of loyalty owed by hired help, be it a consultant or a hit man, to his or her client. That loyalty puts a flavor on work that brings, I believe, something more to work than Mr. Wolf's detachment. It is one thing to be brought in for otherwise unavailable technical knowledge, like a mechanic, to deal with a single blocking situation. It is another to be brought in not only to fix the presenting symptom, but to help the client dig deeper to deal with systemic root causes to prevent future recurrences. That requires a connection with the people involved and a loyalty to their larger goals, in addition to the objectivity of fresh eyes and open mind, in order to help them through the understanding of what needs to change, the vision of the desired future, and the actions necessary to get there.

There's another small film, likely seen by few -- The Efficiency Expert, featuring Anthony Hopkins and a very young Russell Crowe, from 1992 -- that is more directly linked to this topic through the evolution of the conscience of a consultant from a partner in a ruthless cost-cutting firm (the "bitch-slapping" version of mechanic). It parallels the difference between doing such work in the supposedly anonymous nature of the big corporation versus helping smaller firms, in which the issues are not about cutting 450 or 500 unnamed headcount, but about sacking the lives of Jack or Jill, who you have come to know as you walked around the shop floor or among the cubicles. It's important to me that the journey that the main character takes is similar to my own, in the realization that cost-cutting is often not the solution, and that fixing the ability to protect and grow the top line is far more important, more lasting and more valuable, than fixating on the lines between it and the bottom.

Ghost Dog talks about the honor of loyalty for the sake of loyalty. The Efficency Expert talks about the deeper honor of loyalty to those you come to care about. In films that may be more familiar to most readers -- The Seven Samurai and it's western clone, The Magnificent Seven -- are not unlike the latter (or for that matter like another little film on the theme that comes to mind -- Local Hero), the main characters start out as ronin, masterless samurai, detached mechanics, caring mainly about what's in it for them in the end, to honorable retainers, subordinating their interests -- and in the case of some of these dramas, their lives -- to those that they serve.

Somehow, as effective as Mr. Wolf is in cleaning up a mess (hmmm...While my head is riffing on films, didn't Harvey Keitel also play essentially the same character (Victor the cleaner) in Point of No Return?), I can't quite see him getting that involved with the real outcomes of his efforts, or in developing connections with anyone other than the checkbook.

And that's were the real value -- the real meaning -- is found, in the movies and in life.

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Thursday, January 23, 2003

Applying the Theory of Constraints Thinking Process to Medicine -- This online presentation is an excellent summary of the TOC Thinking Processes with examples from a medical environment. It includes a set of common medical conflicts (slide 29), a specific analysis of a medicine vs religion conflict (slides 30-45), bottleneck examples (slide 62), potential uses for the TOC replenishment/pull solution usually associated with Supply Chain Management (slide 67), patients as projects, practices as multi-project environments (slide 69), achieving buy-in of good medical advice for patient compliance (slide 71), and a comprehensive core problem and current reality tree for a hospital situation (slides 84-95). This is all interspersed with good introductory material about TOC, its applications, and its Thinking Processes, including a nice 2-slide comparison of TOC and traditional Decision Analysis (slides 101-102). As I've said elsewhere about TOC and Six Sigma...its an matter of logic versus data.

This presentation, by Stephen G. Pauker, MD, of Tufts-New England Medical Center, includes a great quote from Peter Drucker, that ties into some of the recent blog-based discussions on global/local perspectives and the need for holistic viewpoints in a variety of environments...
"What the worker needs is to see the plant as if he were a manager. Only thus can he see his part, from his part he can reach the whole"
- Peter Drucker, The New Society (1950)
It's not only in industrial settings that TOC works. It's about the logical analysis, management, and improvement of any "complex" system.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2003

• Now Available in XML -- Astute readers who care about such things as RSS will notice the little orange XML button over in the right side column. Use it as you wish. (Thanks, Terry, for the nudge. You, plus playing with NetNewsWire Lite pushed me over the edge. Now I "get it.")

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• Blogging for Business: Meet the B-Blog -- For those of you who have stumbled onto this little effort of mine and wonder what goes here, this link goes to a brief intro to "business blogging" by Kathleen Goodwin of (via Ross Mayfield, via Terry Frazier's b.cognosco).

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SCRUM: Removing bottlenecks is a core systems design principle -- Jeff Sutherland, in his January 22 blog entry on agile software development, highlights a book that's near and dear to me and to other advocates of TOC, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, in a context that it's factory setting doesn't usually trigger. A nod to Jeff for seeing through the surface of the novel and putting it in terms of his software world...
"The book shows that any industrial (or software, or clinical) process is a complex adaptive system. It is not possible to directly optimize the whole system because side effects overwhelm any analysis. The key to optimization is to look for bottlenecks. What is getting in the way? Remove the obvious bottleneck and throughput will increase. Then the next bottleneck with appear. By adopting a strategy of eliminating bottlenecks one by one, the system will evolve into radically improved throughput. This is why the third key question in a SCRUM every day is, "What is blocking progress?" The primary responsibility of management is not managing a SCRUM. It is removing bottlenecks identified by the SCRUM."
It's also interesting to see Jeff think of The Goal as "the best novel on project management and probably one of the most sophisticated project management books," especially since author Eli Goldratt is also responsible for Critical Chain. Jeff's intution is pretty good, though, because the way that the TOC core concepts are applied to a production environment in The Goal is closely related to the management of multi-project environments, in which organizational project performance is geared to scarce, potentially constraining, resource skills.

While on the subject, I've been recently trying to wrap my head around the various flavors of agile software development, and what they describe as "agile Project Management" (which has more of a sound of "task" or "process management" to my ears). There's been an excellent discussion of this in the Newgrange PM discussion list, which starts in the YahooGroups archive here.

I'm coming to the conclusion that a lot of the arguments that the agile community has with traditional approaches to project management are answered in the critical chain approach, with it's respect for inevitable variability in project schedule and cost performance, and the use of buffers to account for not only uncertainty in duration, but in iteration as well. As a matter of fact, I think that the difficulty that they have talking about making specific project level promises could be dealt with if the necessarily agile parts of a project were contained in a larger picture planned (I know that's a dirty word amongst the radical agile), controlled, and managed via critical chain processes.

Jeff concludes his post with...
• Focussing on maximizing (Throughput minus Inventory minus Operating Expense) does optimize the business. It seems to me that Throughput is software SOLD, Inventory is software built but UNSOLD, and Operating Expense is the usual expense budget.

• I'm interested in any analysis or experience you may have with this book and the application of its concepts to software development.
Regarding the latter, consider this a start. Regarding the former, the only bone I would pick with his analysis of T, I, and OE is that assuming there is a cash register at the end of a project (otherwise, why do it?), Work-In-Process Inventory in such an environment would be more closely related to the projects that have commenced, but not finished. On a production floor, too much work in process gets in the way and accumulates in queues, extending lead times. In a project environment, too much work in process -- too many projects -- get in the way of focused attention that the agile folks are so good at, and that critical chain processes both support and require for optimum results, and if forced on the system by pushing too much work into the pipeline, tends to drive multi-tasking and it's resulting expansion of project lead times.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2003

It's About Delivering Value, Stupid... -- Another great post (on January 17; scroll down to it if it's not at the top of the linked archive) by Joe Ely in his Learning About Lean blog. Too often, "leanies" get so hung up in the trees of "driving out waste" that they forget that it's what comes out in the end that the customer gets.
"In mundane, ordinary enterprises (school books, child care), folks are stepping back and asking "What does the end user really need? Can I provide it?" They both got very creative and tried some things. Outside the "normal" expectations for either. And, having defined value for the end user, both were far more able to see what activities did NOT add value...and these are opportunities to stop doing something and remove waste.

Think broadly about value."
Value first. (Throughput)

Then waste. (Operating Expense and Investment)

But be careful not to let waste efforts cut into, compromise, or block the ability to deliver true value.

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Murphy's Law -- An interesting exploration into its origin and validity (or lack thereof), from James Vornov's blog.

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Sunday, January 19, 2003

• More of the Same -- A few days ago, I linked to Britt Blaser's Escapable Logic blog, on the topic of broken managerial capitalism. In Britt's latest, he touches on the reason for such managerial failure -- one very familiar to those who read this blog regularly, or who are students of TOC...
"The problem with super-organisms is that they're on their way to becoming real organisms, but they lack the full-on coordination tools, like a teenager in the awkward stage. Companies and nations are super-organisms that seem a lot more super than they are. When a company or nation is foundering, its internal fiefdoms start pointing fingers and avoiding blame. Sometimes the internal competition is killing the company faster than the company's competitors. Make that usually internal competition does more harm than the competitors."
...Yes folks; the old local optima resulting in global suboptima...the failure of managers, rightfully focused on their own responsibilities, to at least occasionally look up from their own work to see if and how they are actually aligned with and contributing to the success of the whole -- the larger organization.

Britt goes on to quote Marc Canter of Macromedia fame, on how such a failure to communicate in a systemic manner within a larger system (in Marc's case, the "supply chain" associated with media) results in local optima of conflicting media standards...
"There is an entire eco-system out there - surrounding the world of media. I helped create one of the leading tool vendors 'in this space' - Macromedia - but there are others as well (Adobe, Avid, Discreet, Sonic - to name a few) - as well as hardware vendors (Sony, Phillips, Samsung, Matsushita, etc.) all who profit from media in one sense of the other.  All of these companies have some sort of 'grand media strategy' that usually includes the end-users and developers committing to their platform, standards and/or 'solutions'. But when it's all said and done, at the end of the day, they all don't want to work together."
Didn't anybody learn from the oft-cited BetaMax debacle? Even today, the big media conglomerates, specifically and ironically Sony, stuggle to align the desires of their content side (to protect and lock in control of media) with those of their hardware side (to allow customers to maximize the use of the same media).

Now these particularly sticky situation may be an extreme, but as Britt points out, the dilemmas and conflicts engendered by this "failure to communicate" (or even play nice together) as a system can do as much, if not more, to perpetuate constraints than any external factors like market conditions and competitors. It is, in most systems, the "meta-constraint" inhibiting the ability to fully capitalize on their capabilities.

This classic conflict of having to act locally, but think globally is a tough one, if the too common belief that if one manages the individual links of a chain optimally, the chain will optimally benefit as well. It ain't the links (except maybe for the weak one) -- IT'S THE LINKAGES. It's the relationships of the links, and especially with any currently logistically constraining link that is at the center of effective management.

As Doc Searls and the rest of the Cluetrain gang like to say in thesis numero uno of their manifesto...
"Markets are conversations."
...And not just markets. If delivery systems, whether inter- or intra-company (supply chains) are seen as interrelated chains or networks of processes, turning inputs into outputs used by the next link/process, essentially strings of little mini-markets, companies and supply chains are conversations as well.

As Eli Goldratt likes to say of supply chains, "No one gets paid until the end customer puts down his/her money for the product." The failure to recognize this, whether within a single company or throughout the whole chain, is the root of real constraint to getting companies, supply chains, and economies. There is more capacity in organizations than they know. If they could just free up some of the energy wasted on internal conflict, they could tap it and move further and faster than they dream.

And, as I've written about recently, the path to getting out of these conflicts and on to coordinated effort is through a strategy of alignment around dealing with constraints through a holistic, "whole-system" view of "the conversation."

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Theory of Constraints Project Management - A Brief Introduction to the Basics -- From Dee Jacob and Bill McClelland of AGI (The Goldratt Institute) this "white paper" (also available as a PDF download) provides, as the title says, "a brief introduction to the basics" of Critical Chain-based project management. Additional info on the topic (from yours truly) can be found here as well.
If you've come here via recent links from Doc, Mitch, Marc or others, looking for "More of the Same," be advised that Doc grabbed the wrong archive pointer and everyone else copied from him. Where you really want to go is HERE. It's cool to be noticed by these blogging luminaries, but I guess Murphy's Law has not yet been repealed.

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Friday, January 17, 2003

The Coolest Small Company in America -- Yesterday, I gave a presentation to my local Chamber of Commerce, on the need for and an approach to planning the future of a firm in terms of its current issues. Today, I see (via the Creative Generalist) that I missed a great example to include in the presentation, based on this article in Inc.'s online edition. It's a great story of a small company that found themselves in a classic dilemma of such firms...
"Weinzweig and Saginaw had a choice. They could keep Zingerman's a small, local operation and run the risk that it would languish or atrophy. Or they could take it to the next level. But if they grew Zingerman's aggressively, they might sacrifice the very attributes that had made the deli extraordinary since its beginning -- close contact with a community, intimacy with customers, team spirit among employees, and exceptional quality of food and service."
Obviously, they needed to break that conflict, and find a way to grow without sacrificing their soul. It's a good story, still unfolding with new dilemmas, as every organization will face when they try to become more tomorrow than they were yesterday. But I get the sense that these guys "get it," and will succeed.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Applications for Distributed Project Management -- PMForum has published a short piece by Rainer Volz, who maintains a site on Virtual Project Managment (and to my surprise, actually includes my blog in his list of links found there...thanks, Rainer). The paper is worth a visit, even if only for the closing set of criteria to consider in selecting project groupware, touching on questions of distribution, ease of use, security, organizational integration, technical integration, administration, and total cost of ownership.

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• I Love it When a Plan Comes Together -- A couple week ago, I blogged about a site that had information on spreadsheet production scheduling. Using some of it's tips, I did some fine tuning to a spreadsheet developed for a client whose operation is simple enough and appropriate for both such a basic approach, and for a flavor of S-DBR.

We turned it on yesterday for the first time with current data, and HALLELUAH!!!, the workorders that ended up "in the red zone of the buffer" to a large part matched the work that the shop thought was hot. What was even better was that it highlighted one that should have been hot, but was slipping through their cracks. Cool.

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Monday, January 13, 2003

Eight P's of Project Integrity -- Today seems to be a day to catch up with some of the other blogs I read regularly (several of which are highlighted in the "Blogroll" you'll find on the right side of this page). In Reforming Project Management, Hal Macomber's got an interesting endeavor going, which he calls "Project Integrity Day." In a later post, Hal talks about integrity in these terms...
Projects get into all kinds of trouble. The usual commentary on this speaks to scheduling issues, cost control, changing customer requirements, etc. I have never heard a project manager say,
"We got into trouble because we acted inconsistently with our public declarations."
...Project Integrity Day is aimed at bringing words and deeds together again reducing the situation for cynicism.
I really like that comment we know is as true as it is often that we don't hear it, "We got into trouble because we acted inconsistently with our public declarations." The blog heading link of what you're reading now goes into a couple handfuls of concepts associated with the idea of maintaining a sense of integrity in project efforts. Purpose... Promise... Process... People... Planning... Practice(s)... Performance... and Place...

Check them out, and wander around Hal's weblog a bit while you're there. I particularly find interesting his views on "reliable promises." They are in total alignment with the goals and processes associated with buffered (risk-respectful) critical chain schedules.

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Why a Daily Start Up Meeting? -- Scroll down to the January 07 post in Joe Ely's Learning About Lean blog/journal to read something that sounds a heck of a lot like a buffer management meeting in the world of TOC. I think Joe's talking about production or operations workgroups, and a review of critical constraint resource buffer status would stand in for Joe's review of visual metrics for production, but similar activity feels appropriate in project environments as well. While weekly PM buffer management meetings tend to be more manager oriented and related to the health of the whole multi-project portfolio, I could see a similar daily startup session for individual projects, with the PM and key active resources as the players.

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Sunday, January 12, 2003

• Where are they now? -- A little diversion into the realm of TOC trivia, triggered by recently seeing the Ben Affleck flick, "The Sum of All Fears." It features in the character of a General, John Beasley, an actor that I've noticed a number of times on TV; on CSI and The Pretender. The Internet Movie Data Base fails to mention a film we all know and love in which Beasley worked with Aubrey Morris (spotted by yours truly in an episode of Babylon 5), Todd Jeffries, Trisha Simmons, Arthur Roberts (spotted in a latenight softcore piece on Cable, in which he plays the role of a sleazy manager type -- could he be getting typecast?), and Michael Skewes. Can anyone match these actors with the roles we all know and love them for? One should be easy -- his IMDB page includes a headshot.

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Would You Really Follow a Manager into Battle? -- Britt Blaser's "Escapable Logic" blog has a piece that, while considerably less polite than Tony Rizzo's essay (actually it's largely a major rant against what is refered to as "mangerial capitalism"), makes some interesting parallel points. For one, drawing a distinction between managers and leaders...
"Leaders are people who know how to do what is done by the people they lead. Leaders expose themselves to the inconvenience of proceeding in front of the troops, Tom Hanks-style, rather than piloting a desk while others pilot less predictable craft."
He takes on the current managers of the nation's economy, pointing out that, while today, capital is essentially free,...
"Every economic proposal we're hearing is to increase capital! Like any age, we're focused on the problem that we started with, not the one in front of us. Our economic problem is obvious: we don't know how to inspire and deploy the energy and skill of our work force, so instead, we're trying to put more money into the hands of the wealthy so they'll invest it in enterprises which will be better equipped to do more of what already isn't working...

"...The problem with Managerial Capitalism is not that it's too pervasive and powerful (though it is), but that it is so poor at doing what it claims to do best—allocate people and resources skillfully and compellingly."
Pretty harsh stuff, but then again, a lot of what I hear around the online water cooler, from Dilbert to Gantthead, to discussion groups on TOC, Lean and Project Management often sounds like a variation on that theme.

But so much of it ends up sounding either like the same old "bitching and moaning" or, as in the case of Blaser and other web-centric cyber-thinkers, the basis of thinking for marginal approaches to pieces of the manager's responsibilities like Xpertweb. The question that needs to be asked is how managers can be made more effective in their ability to utilize capital and skills. In my opinion, it lies not only in a deeper understanding of what their charges are expected to do, but also, and more importantly, a deeper understanding of the role of their local responsibilities in terms of the interactions with the larger system in which they work.

While those they manage need to mostly focus on the specific intra-functional contributions of their efforts, managers must learn to lead through inter-functional relationships that define their organizational system.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

• Management — For Their Own Good -- The following essay was written by a particularly articulate friend and competitor of mine on a TOC-oriented discussion list. I’ve often said that he should get into blogging. Since Tony allows, in his "Copyleft" statement, copying and dissemination of it, here it is.

The subject is management responsibility for and involvement in creating and maintaining an effective multi-project organization.

...the answer to this question impacts directly an executive's ability to delegate successfully.

Smart executives know when they need to take charge.

Tony Rizzo

One obstacle has blocked me for a rather long time, in my quest to bring sanity to multi-project organizations. It has been my inability to convince key decision-makers that they need to take action personally, to make certain improvements to the performance of their organizations. Now, that longstanding obstacle is showing serious cracks. Soon, with some effort, it may just tumble and vanish.

For what seems like a countable infinity of years (6 years actually), I have encountered executives whose model for taking action has been to delegate to subordinates, for everything that affects all matters internal to their organizations. Often, the results of such attempts to delegate have been only improvements that remain local to the subordinates' own domains. The overall organizations and their performances have continued to languish.

For example, it is quite common for an executive in charge of, say, product development, to request that his/her subordinates implement improved project management methods. The executive might even mandate that all the project managers of the organization become Project Management Professionals, PMPs (R) [the term Project Management Professional is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute, PMI]. At times such a mandate might actually bring modest improvements to some of the projects within the organization. But the overall performance of the organization remains largely unchanged. The organization's ability to complete its projects on time, with full scope, and within budget, remains largely unaffected, because local improvements rarely cause system-wide improvements. This brings us to the question at hand, which is also the foundation of that longstanding obstacle. How can an executive know when he/she needs to make a system-wide change personally?

This may seem like a trivial question, at first glance. However, it is anything but trivial, for the answer to this question has wide-ranging implications. It impacts directly an executive's ability to delegate successfully, which in turn impacts the efficacy of many organizational change efforts. So, how can an executive know unequivocally if he/she needs to take action personally?

The answer is provided by Dr. Russel Ackoff's definition of the term, system. Ackoff states that a system is defined not by its components but by the interaction between those components. By definition, local improvements affect only the inner workings of individual departments. They do nothing to change how departments interact with each other. Therefore, local improvements almost never cause a system-wide performance improvement. Thus, if an organizational improvement effort must affect how departments interact with each other, then the success of that organizational improvement effort absolutely requires the very active participation and leadership of the owner of the organization, the executive.

Does this apply to projects? It absolutely does. Consider the impact of implementing improved project management methods on individual projects, which is all that any project manager can achieve. Project managers may improve their plans, and this certainly can help an organization that lacks good project plans. Project managers may even improve their ability to track their projects. But the project managers of any organization can achieve only improvements that are local to their own projects. They can do nothing to change how the organization's many projects interact with each other, through the many shared resources. The interaction between projects is the clue, which tells us that the performance of multi-project organizations cannot be improved by project managers.

Therefore, if you are in charge of a multi-project organization, and if you want to really improve the ability of your organization to complete its projects on schedule, with full scope, and within budget, then you must make the appropriate system-level changes. You cannot expect your project managers to do it for you.

(L) Copyleft, Tony Rizzo 2003. This article may be copied and distributed freely, without permission from the author. The article also may be published in print or electronically, so long as it is published in its entirety.
I wish I wrote it.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Creative Commons -- And some new "rules" worth considering.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Current events about rules worth breaking -- or stopping -- Never thought I'd be on the same side of an issue with Microsoft. From The Mercury News, (via Ming)...
"The entertainment industry had the upper hand in the battle last year, with a carefully orchestrated lobbying campaign and bills introduced by powerful lawmakers. Hollywood-backed legislation filed by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Los Angeles, would embed copy protection into PCs and an array of consumer devices."
(Then again, I've never really found myself with Hollings, either.)
"But the legislation had consequences that Walt Disney and other backers hadn't bargained for. It served as a rallying cry for consumer groups and tech companies to fight for consumers rights to make copies of CDs, DVDs and other digital works for personal use, as they do with TV shows and audio tapes."
Sometimes you gotta love those unintended consequences. (Here's a related story.)

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• Learning Blocked by Rules -- At one of my favorite email discussion lists, on the topic of group facilitation, I've come across the valuable contribtions of Ned Reute -- contributions that I never fail to read when I see his name in the "From:" list. One of his recent posts laments on the fact that...
"Everyone in an organization can know something, but the organization can still be unable to learn it..."
Part of the reson for this, according to Ned, is that...
"American Management tries to add excellence to their organizations without getting rid of anything. They keep doing what got them to where they are. Unfortunately, for most organizations what got them where they are is the management practices of the 50s and 60s, when America had the only manufacturing capacity unscarred by WWII. The only way to fail then was to mess up: to keep from messing up, American management evolved into a system of making sure nothing happened. When that age passed and they had to make something happen, they didn't know that American management wasn't the way to do it. Everything they try to do, they try to add to American management and then add more American management to manage it. Then it doesn't work, and the effort was so expensive it almost broke the company, so they never try anything like that again."
"American Management tries to add excellence...without getting rid of anything." And the most important things that remain beyond their usefulness is the rules that were useful in "getting them to where they are." As I wrote a while ago in one of my Unconstrained Thinking columns, unless a change is of a huge, revolutionary magnitude that renders the environment unrecognizable, it has to co-exist with much of the old environment. Operating environments are made up of policies, measurements and procedures, otherwise known as “rules.” These rules are often deeply embedded in the organizational psyche. Behaviors and politics are usually based on them, and those who are successful are so based on their ability to work within these 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 -- and therefore blocking the benefits of potential learning. If expectations for the change are based on the new rules, and if these rules are compromised, then the outcome will as well, in both the short and long term.

Successful creativity and deliberate destruction must go hand-in-hand if the benefits of the new are to be optimized.

What old rules have you broken recently?

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Thursday, January 02, 2003

ThoughtsOnBusiness -- I've come across a weblog by Cass McNutt that reminds me a bit of my own. Good stuff ("obviously," he said with a grin), including...
"Working on developing our internal project-management system tonight, I'm reminded of the quotation:
"There are no unrealistic goals, only unrealistic timeframes."" well as these musings on the "primary resource" that is time. Added the site to the "Blogroll" on the right side of this page for future reference.

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AOL said ready to boost blogging -- News Flash!!!...
"America Online reportedly will furnish subscribers the tools through which they can publish diaries and commentaries on the Web. Known as "Blogs," or Weblogs, they are easily produced one-page Web sites, popularized by entertainment artists and journalists. They are also used by school pupils and vegetarians, among others, and for political comment by individuals and organizations."
hmmm...entertainment artists, journalists, school pupils, vegetarians, and political commentators...and now AOL users...I've got to find a new crowd to hang with. [grin].

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Production Scheduling by Spreadsheet -- This link goes to an impressive tutorial on using spreadsheets for production scheduling.

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Why Can't We All Just Get Along? -- Back in July, 2002, Thomas Stewart, in Business 2.0, wrote about conflict and cooperation in the workplace, keying off of an Emory University study of "the neural basis for social cooperation." It turns out that good things happen in the brain when we cooperate with one another.

Why then, in so many organizational settings, does conflict and self-interest seem to be the norm? Stewart opines...
"Managers complain that people frequently hoard knowledge, fail to share credit with others, and generally behave uncooperatively. Office politics -- a proxy for selfishness -- is the second most common reason people give for quitting a job. (Number one is tension with one's immediate boss.) It's human nature, we sigh.

"But it's not. All around us is evidence that people are naturally predisposed to get along. We live in cities, help little old ladies across the street, and sorta obey the speed limit. The profound urge to cooperate is why "good cop/bad cop" works, why you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and why it was the sun, not the wind, that got the man to remove his coat. I don't buy Jean-Jacques Rousseau's argument that selfishness is all society's fault; society is manmade, and hermits don't share. Yet organizations are filled with behavior that is contrary to our very brain chemistry.
The fly in the organizational ointment is the too common view of a path to success based on the individual contributions of the components and individuals in tha organization. Local measures of success may, on the surface seem to be aligned with larger organizational goals, but too ofter, those local measures are found to be in conflict with one another.

Whether its the classic confrontations between project managers and resource managers, production and sales, or R&D and marketing, or simply the day-to-day dilemmas, doubts and difficulties associated with trying to work together, so many of them can be related to either failures of alignment (horizontally across local domains) or disconnects between responsibility and authority (vertically between superiors and subordinates). These situations lead to a chronic or habitual situation, where expectations are lowered whenever it faces difficult choices. Without an approach to truly dealing with conflict, the participants fall back on political approaches or compromises that provide sub-optimal results. When that's the case, sometimes one side prevails and sometimes the other does, and sometimes there are no real compromises involved, which leads to a never-ending oscillation or recurrence of the problems. In any event, this quickly devolves into lose-lose situations in which at least one side resents in the short term and both resent in the long term. The resentment festers, making future conflict situations all the more difficult to resolve.

Sometimes this leads to a breakdown of communication, where even if thoroughly justified, people suppress their concerns and reservations about proposals put forth by others. Or if they do come forward, the concerns might be swept aside as the questioned proposal's originator sees the expression of concern as an attack on his or her idea.

Stewart quotes some suggestions from the Emory study on ways to attack the situation; the latter two of which are directly related to my thoughts about conflict and communication:
1) Be human....
2) Stop teaching fear and greed....
3) Cultivate a long-term view...
Our organizations are made up of people who have to interact with each other. As much as we try to align the goals of the organization with the goals of its participants, sometimes the "human factor" becomes the toughest obstacle to achieving effective teamwork. Sometimes the conflict involved in balancing relationships and teamwork with indivduals' need to contribute makes it difficult.

This conflict between our interests and the interests of others in the organization must be addressed if all parties are to "be successful" as a group.

If, however, the team can become proficient in and have success with an approach that helps them deal with conflict through clarification of win-win possibilities, that success alone will help to strengthen the various relationships. Nothing succeeds like success. Clarity of communication, combined with open dialogue about wants, needs, and concerns goes a long way to "unteaching" the fear and greed that our organizational measurement systems too often put us. But beyond the tools and techniques that can help teams and individuals "self-facilitate" their conflicts and conumdrums, there is another source of solution that addresses a structural version of Stewart's/Emory's "long-term view."

The idea of a "long-term view" versus short-term is directly parallel to the idea of a holistic "whole-system view" versus one of local optimization. One of the responsibilities of management is to develop a strategy of alignment that can minimize the pressures for conflict and clarify what is needed from each local component to assure whole-system success. The Theory of Constraints is an effective way of addressing this goal. The concentration of attention on how various components support the ability of the organization to get the most out of its identified constraints can provide a common view of performance. It might be surprising how such an understanding of the system, its goals, and its constraints, (consistently walked and talked) can go a long way to minimize the need for uncomfortable politics and conflict, allowing "us all to get along."

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

• Happy New Year --

As the path to your goals takes you into the new year,
may it find you “unconstrained” in health, happiness, and prosperity.
-- Frank Patrick

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