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, February 28, 2003

Good Advice for Today (and any other day) --From Joe Ely's Learning About Lean --
"...just pick an assumption and challenge it today. If it holds up, you will know better why. If it doesn't, you just might make some surprising progress."
A lot of other folks agree.

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Enterprise software: The last dot-com victim? -- From Charles Cooper of CNET News:
"Enterprise software makers may want to believe business will return to normal when the geopolitical storm clouds clear but they're only kidding themselves. The truth is that neglected customers are undergoing a sea change in reaction to their shoddy treatment.

"It took long enough.

"During the pre-Y2K buildup, companies overlooked buggy software, shabby support and the dismissive arrogance of suppliers because the overriding objective was to buy, buy, buy. I should add this was a buying spree caused in no small part by a scare campaign orchestrated by salesmen with a self-interest in stoking as much panic as possible.

"But in this post-frenzy era, CFOs are regularly holding folks accountable on a project-by-project basis. That means IT managers no longer have the gumption--let alone free rein--to take big chances spending a fortune on iffy software implementations."
I guess that's why those guys in yesterday's post on value were acknowledged for their efforts.

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Thursday, February 27, 2003

On-page commenting is back -- for now.

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Creating Knowledge -- The APICS CMSIG discussion group (I wish they had a web-based archive) has recently fallen into one of its periodic rehashes of favorite philosophical subjects -- the current one is whether the TOC Thinking Processes can be used to create new knowledge. Along this line (knowledge creation, not necessarily the TOC TP implications), I've come across this link at Juha Haataja's Universal Rule weblog. My sense is that knowledge can be created, or at least modified, through techniques and processes that uncover and invalidate erroneous assumptions and paradigms, and that while it is helpful to have explicit outside stimulus involved, it's not absolutely necessary. Although implicit outside stimulus, accessed through the human ability to recall memories, make connections, and discover patterns is definitely a necessary part of the process; fodder upon which the tools and techniques operate.

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Nothing But Value -- From CIO Magazine, a special series of articles about their 11th Annual Enterprise Value Awards, an effort to recognize "value-based business cases grounded in reality rather than wishful thinking." Recognizing a hospital, a business school, a trucker, a clinical research organization, and a governmental agency, the series points out that all these successful efforts are rooted in...
"a crystal clear understanding of their core business value; the courage to reexamine what they do, how they do it and with whom they do it; and a commitment to careful change management."
Throughout the series, key success factors for the implementation of technology solutions are identified, many of which should be familiar to regular readers of this Focused Performance weblog. Some of them are...
Addressed most frustrating problem first to show immediate results
Enlisted powerful constituency before tackling toughest users
Focused on unarticulated user needs
Invested users in development process to ensure buy-in
Reworked an entire process rather than just one piece to ensure speedy data analysis
Found ways to compromise and balance the needs of multiple constituencies
Effectively used project management
While I'll admit that this list is a bit edited for emphasis of my point (check out the articles for the full lists), that point is also borne out in the texts of the articles. It ain't just the technology, or even the bit-level techniques of delivering the technology, that drives value in such efforts, but rather, it's the relationship to the business value, the ability to articulate the business value, the partnership between the techies and the business folks, the process/policy/procedural changes that the tech enables, and inclusionary buy-in for effective execution.
"For the Enterprise Value Award winners, "Change management was a fundamental aspect of their overall implementation plan," says Rebecca Rhoads, CIO of Raytheon and an Enterprise Value Awards judge." There was an appreciation for the significance of the cultural changes. Many of the companies brought the [internal and external] customers into the solution and involved them in the problem.""
The examples pointed out in these awards clearly demonstrate that IT solution can "deliver unassilable enterprise value," but that while technical excellence of the solutions is necessary, it's also not sufficient for world class results. Understanding the constraints of the business, assessing the policies and practices that are trying to deal them, and empowering/enabling the people to effectively operate within them or effectively transform them rounds out the sufficiency factor needed to create real value.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Innovation on Ice -- from Corante Ideaflow. No deep message. Just something that made me smile. Smiling is a good thing. (I guess maybe there is a deep message anyhow.)

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Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Software -- Necessary (maybe), but (clearly) Not Sufficient -- From Rodent Regatta, an interesting observation on PeopleSoft stealing some CRM business from Seibel...
"Absent strong leadership, investments in software are no different from other business fads. The results seldom live up the potential or the presentation done to justify the investment.
Some more fodder for the message of Eli Goldratt's most recent book. Unless changes in the processes, rules, policies, measurements, behaviors accompany changes in software, and are driven by clear, unequivocating leadership, expectations of benefits will be dashed.

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Murphy Strikes Again -- Sheesh...Now that the subscription snafu is dealt with, the commenting system seems to be slowing down and even stopping the loading of the page. OK. It's out for now -- there never really were many comments on the page anyhow -- and is replaced with a solicitation to send me your comments through the Focused Performance comment page, which may result in reference and feedback in future posts.

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Subscriptions Back On Line -- After several weeks of difficulties, the email-based subscriptions for the Focused Performance weblog seem to be working again. As a result, I've reinstituted the subscription form toward the top of the right-hand column. This then provides two ways of getting the postings fed to you, either email or the XML/RSS feed, readable by newsreaders. Those of you who have been long-time email subscribers might have noticed the recent quiet. You might want to pop in at the web version of the "blog" to see what you've been missing.

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Monday, February 24, 2003

Dynamic Planning -- Cass McNutt, in ThoughtsOnThinking last year, posed a classic dilemma associated with plans and planning...
"...where on the one hand the Engineering Perspective tries to nail down and quantify all the variables, there's another perspective that says such effort is totally futile -- because there are too many variables to ever be managed or understood. For lack of a better phrase, I call this the Artist Perspective. It says that since the planning we do is essentially futile anyway -- it's all subject to change, right? -- that there is no point in trying to plan at all. The Artist Perspective says, "It's just a matter of winging it well." (Perhaps I should call this the "Que sera sera" perspective)."
Of course "winging it," even well (and with "agility?"), does not quite jive with the need to make promises that characterizes most project environments. Cass continues with an insightful view to this dicotomy..."I believe that both of these are false perspectives. I also believe that the division we typically erect between the two is a false dichotomy -- that they're two edges of the same coin... and I call that coin Dynamic Planning. Planning, that adapts on the fly from new information, takes into account the effects of iteration (and, indeed, expects iteration), and yet still projects as much predictability and control into any given situation as is economically feasible. It brings -- or rather, reveals -- structure for situations that seem to have none, and provides a framework for figuring out where the leverage is."
The problem with many "engineering plans" is that they become the end all and be all of the effort. If reality deviates from the plan, the plan becomes near useless because all of the hard links of time and dependency -- all of the milestone dates and interim targets -- seem so separate from reality that the plan is either reworked from scratch or abandoned to winging.

Cass' point about indeterminacy of such efforts requires an approach to planning and promising that recognizes and embraces the uncertainty of the situation -- detailing what can be known, but also including information about uncertainty up front along with mechanisms that allows the plan to flex with the inevitable variation, and to provide buffers protecting the promises that are the reason for trying to manage the effort in the first place.

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Saturday, February 22, 2003

Customers - Love 'em or Hate 'em, Never Forget You Need 'em -- Back in September of 2002, I came across an article in Fortune that has been sticking in my craw. The article, Will This Customer Sink Your Stock?, put forth a case for assessing the "profitability" associated with customers and classes of customers, and using it to discourage customers that were perceived to be reducing the value of the firm.

My immediate gut reaction to the article was that it was a clear example of local optimization, "cost-world" thinking, and the bad advice that can come from allocating costs to pieces of the transaction, whether those pieces are products or customers. Most of the examples in the article focused on the "cost" of attracting or serving particular customers as an offset to the revenues associated with that customer. In aggregate, this is something that must obviously be managed carefully, so that operating expenses don't exceed financial throughput (revenues minus purely variable costs of the transaction). But my sense of the article was that trying to make pruning decisions about "customer portfolios" is far more fraught with uncertainty than such decisions about product portfolios. And the kind of thinking that the author exhibited, relating illusory costs of activities to incremental spending of customers fails the same test of logic that makes allocation of expenses to products and product for portfolio decisions ill-advised.

If an organization has the capacity to serve "less profitable" customers, along with "more profitable" customers, then the decision to drive away the former will simply reduce revenues and profits. If costs are then cut to offset the lost revenues -- costs which are associated with the capacity to serve customers -- more or less profitable -- then the capacity to serve the "more profitable" will be threatened.

While the article did have some good advice for and examples of the idea of maximizing revenues by paying special attention to those customers, which is a well-advised strategy, it stresses too much the "value" of driving away the "unprofitable customers."

I've been sitting on this article for almost half-a-year now, but was finally triggered to comment on it by some other pieces brought to my attention by Terry Frazier in Customer Conundrum. After discussing his own experience with the banking industry, Terry points to a Wharton Business + Strategy article on The Customer Profitability Conundrum: When to Love 'Em or Leave 'Em.

Terry pulled out and commented on a couple excerpts, which I encourage an interested reader to check out, but there were a few others that caught my attention, especially as they touch on the subject of market segmentation, a key aspect of a TOC Based Strategy and the development of "unrefusable offers."
""We just finished a project for a client where, when we looked at customer profitability, 30% of the customers created 200% of the client's profits," Rosenbleeth says. "About 50% of the customers weren't very profitable and the remaining 20% destroyed profits. So should the client have cut those 20% loose? That wasn't the answer."

"Instead, the solution was to segment customers into what Rosenbleeth calls tailored business streams. "You structurally change the way you serve different customers to make each segment as profitable as possible," he explains.""
Not specifically addressed in either article, but of foremost importance in such a segmentation is an understanding of the constraints in your own system that limit the ability to serve these segments. The relative use of the constraint by a particular market segment (or product, for that matter) is the key to understanding their relative value.

If a small revenue stream is attainable with current capacity and without requiring attention by your constraint, then that revenue goes darn close to straight to the bottom line. If on the other hand, a "valuable customer" monopolizes your resources and requires significant attention by the constraint, there is little room for taking advantage of new opportunities or for nurturing new customers. I was chatting a couple nights ago with a manufacturer who had a "profitable customer" in Home Depot, who they had allowed to consume significant utilization of their constraint capacity to the point of becoming 50% of their business. I probably don't have to go on with the present condition of the firm, after Home Depot said "thanks, but no thanks" to continuing as a customer. If they had paid a bit more attention to their "less profitable" customers, they might not be shutting down plants and scrambling to contract their suddenly freed-up capacity to their competitors.

To avoid such a situation, a distinction needs to be drawn between a "love 'em or leave 'em" approach to customer relations and one that is more like "love some more and love some less." The rationale for this is summarized in the Strategy+Business article by Wharton marketing professor Barbara Kahn...
"It's more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one,"; Kahn says. It's even more expensive to bring back a customer that you've gotten rid of. It's costly and it's a mistake you don't want to make. That's why I believe firing customers should be a last resort."
I'm working with a client right now whose whole operation has been thrown into a tizzy by a particular customer who has jerked them around. It is tempting to think about "firing" them, but then they would only have another even less comfortable situation trying to replace them. Better they learn from the situation, and redefine the relationships so that the whip-saw effect of such dealing with such customers is eliminated or at least minimized to a manageable degree.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2003

The Idea -- A short movie about the evolution of an idea, and maybe why it pays to keep it simple. (via Pure Content). Requires Quicktime (available for Windows, as well as Macs).

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Why My Previous Post Matters -- Project Weblogs -- Rainer Volz writes about the knowledge management potential of weblogs in terms of enhancing communication of and access to issues and lessons learned in a project environment. Hal Macomber has had a recent interesting set of posts on the subject, actually beating me to the punch with this link, and well worth looking into.

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This starts off a bit off the usual topic for this page, but worth a mention since probably everyone reading this is probably familiar with Google. Dave Winer, in Google don't blink, writes about the recent acquistion of Pyra Labs, the blogging service behind the page you're currently reading.
"Google is a good search engine and blogging tool. We don't know how they will connect them yet. I bet they don't either."
While I'm a relative neophyte in the world of weblogs, I do have some familiarity with the history of hypertext, having authored the first usable hypertext text tool for Apple's Hypercard environment back in the day. Ted Nelson's original view of what became the web was one of ubiquitous annotation of original documents and two-way linking, accumulating into both deeper and broader views of the topic in question. The combination of Google's effective search, with weblogged "annotation" and comment, plus "trackback" technology feels to this observer like something that has the potential of Nelson's Xanadu, although his feature of copyright control and micropayments is still a bit away.

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Monday, February 17, 2003

The Silent Conductor -- As an old woodwind player (clarinet and sax since from 5th grade right on to the Rutgers Alumni Wind Symphony), I've always gravitated to musical ensemble metaphors for management and organizational effectiveness more than the usual sources like sports or the military. (One of my favorite books in this vein is Max Depree's Leadership Jazz.)

With that in mind, expanding on a recent post on managing techies and a response to Britt Blaser's view of the "slacker masses," this short essay by Benjamin Zander from Optimize Magazine puts forth a role of managerial leadership that resonates with me...
"I try never to forget that the conductor is silent and the music is made by the players. The conductor's job is to awaken possibility in others. My only power is that which comes from making others powerful. It is a sacred task, and success shows up in the shining eyes of the players."
Tempo, vision, guidance, and assurances of harmony and timing are all provided by the conductor. Whether interpreting the clear strategy or a composer's score, or leading a tight ensemble of seasoned improvisors through new music being created on the fly, the occasional nods, cues, and appreciative responses are welcome input to the players.

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Thursday, February 13, 2003

Commodity Busters: Be a Price Maker, Not a Price Taker -- Following yesterday's theme on Big Ideas and marketing them, this piece in Harvard's Working Knowledge e-zine, by Benson Shapiro points out that
"Too many businesses are price takers, not price makers. That means they are willing to lower prices to capture market share or to sign up a marquee customer."
Shapiro fleshes out seven steps to setting lucrative prices...
Step 1: Create customer value...
Step 2: Choose your customers...
Step 3: Be different...
Step 4: Keep it simple...
Step 5: Determine customer value...
Step 6: Deliver on your promise...
Step 7: Be courageous...
Right in line with the TOC approach to marketing and strategy.

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Spherical Angle, Inc. -- Almost ready for prime time, Spherical Angle is an endeavor by my friend and competitor Tony Rizzo. It will shortly be a source for Critical Chain-based project management software, with modules for single projects, multiple project portfolios, and management reporting that will work in conjunction with Microsoft Project. Tony tells me that the single project module is just about ready for beta. Watch this space for more info.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Subscription Problems -- If anyone out there is waiting for their subscriptions to these posts in email, be advised that there seems to be a new glitch between the weblogging service and the subscription service. If it doesn't get fixed in an expeditious manner, I'll probably bail on the subscriptions and instead set up an email list service to disseminate these peals of wisdom to those who want them. Along these lines, I strongly encourage readers to check out the XML feeds as an alternative to email subscriptions. My discovery of the speed and convenience of NetNewsWire on the Mac has transformed my web browsing experience for those sites that offer such feeds.

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Hyper-Differentiation -- From Knowledge@ Wharton (may need registration). Today's posts seem to be following a theme.
"Hyper-differentiation is not so much driven by the economy but the need to make money in any economy. When the market pushes your prices down, for reasons that may or may not be related to an economic downturn, that is when there is a need to differentiate your product."
Once you get out of the rut and into the big idea, you have to let the market know about it . . . you have to communicate your new value proposition. If the idea if far enough out there, then it sounds like "hyper-differentiation." Examples come to mind in Sam Adams beer, Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, Godiva Chocolate. In the latter two cases, the offering and positioning is about a lot more than just the product.

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The State of the Big Idea -- Fortune has an interesting essay on the investment in (or not) of "Big Ideas" in today's economy. "It doesn't matter what business climate you're in," says G.T. LaBorde, co-founder of MedMined, which helps hospitals keep track of infectious outbreaks. "If you have a service that really does deliver the value that you claim, and the value is measurable in real dollar returns, that is something you can probably sell in lots of different business environments."
Big ideas come from looking at the assumptions that everyone operates under, and finding a way to invalidate it. Classic TOC Thinking Process technique.

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Creating a Culture of Ideas -- Nicholas Negroponte says expertise is overrated. To build a nation of innovators, we should focus on youth, diversity, and collaboration as an effective combination for big ideas.

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Sunday, February 09, 2003

Unrest Among Tech Ranks -- CNET News.Com reports on a survey of 1,100 workers and 300 executives at medium and large companies across North America.
"The study, released last week, found that people relate to their work on a personal level, basing much of their satisfaction on whether their job provides them a sense of confidence or control over their destinies. "Employees are not apathetic or indifferent, as many suppose. In fact, people have very strong emotions about their work," researchers wrote.

"The study said that one of the reasons workers are so grumpy is because managers wrongly interpret why employees are so disgruntled. Some of the major reasons that workers cite for their unhappiness are: amount of workload, a lack of a chance for professional development, boring job tasks and insufficient recognition.

"Meanwhile, managers mistakenly believe that employees' feelings about management and the future of the company were more important to job satisfaction than workers' personal goals. In fact, the opposite is true. The study also found that managers underestimate the importance of many factors contributing to workplace satisfaction, including career development opportunities, rewards, challenging tasks and a sense of self-confidence."
Fellow weblogger Steve Pilgrim (whose site -- Rodent Regatta -- has one of the best names I've come across), pointed me to this story, with the suggestion that there might be opportunity in this situation for some enterprising consultant. I hate to break it to Steve, but as one of the three canonical "necessary conditions" that are required for organizational success, "satisfaction and security of associates, now and in the future," this is a significant component of most TOC implementations. At the very least, bringing joy to the work, or at least the chance of enhancing the joy component, is something that I consciously strive to bring to every engagement in every organization with which I get involved.

And, fortunately, the toolset and mindset that I try to bring helps me considerably in this endeavor.

In my opinion, one of the key contributions of Goldratt's theory and it's supporting body of knowledge and applications is the integration of the "human and the humane" with the "logistical" aspects of management. It isn't about silly team-building games or outward bound exercises. It isn't about building a team to accomplish things, but rather building a team and enhancing worklife by accomplishing things. Between the thinking and communication tools (appositely acronymable as TACT) of the TOC Thinking Processes, the recognized necessity of the system's policies, processes, and practices to allow the people to do their best work, and (for knowledge workers like the techies of the survey) the enhanced possibility of flow experience through rational project management practices, there is a lot that can be done to enhance the quality of worklife that is found embedded in this holistic approach to management.

Much of the onus fall on the organization's management/leadership. As I wrote yesterday, it's up to management to understand the system and create the environment, and as I've written about before that, it's up to the workers to call them on it when they fail to "walk their squawk."

There was something that one of the original management consultants had to say on the subject.
- - Chapter 17 - -

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don't trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn't talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
the people say, "Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves."

-- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Translation by Stephen Mitchell
I'm not sure where in there it says that master managers should worry about how their workers feel them. All they have to do is the right things, and don't put their people into positions of untrustworthiness.

(By the way, that Mitchell version of the "book of the way" is a superb translation; check it out for classic commentary on leadership.)

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Saturday, February 08, 2003

The Project-centric Enterprise -- Britt Blaser, in Escapable Logic, recently wrote on the importance of a critical few resources to "multi-project organizations." But I think he got only part of the picture. Britt wrote...
"They are the innovative organizations that seem to get more done than others, probably because they see their business as a series of projects that produce the individual products or service sets their customers want. At the core of each project you'll find just a few people -- maybe just one -- who produce as much and are as overworked as Ming's description.

"These projects are big revenue producers. Just a few of them may be responsible for most of a company's income -- the 80-20 rule says that 80% of your income is from 20% of your products. And projects don't seem to work unless driven by a small core of dedicated people. It's well known that most big software projects' code is written by about a half dozen people -- sorry to be fuzzy about that important data point, but it's true in my limited experience. The reliance on concentrated productivity is what allows the remainder of most organizations to be laughable in their low productivity. This is such a disconnect with industrial age thinking that we can't imagine it's true:

"Can our economy be the work of, like, 1% of us?!"
Britt goes on to look at the characteristics of those "productive few," in an attempt, as I interpret it, to find a prescription to bring everyone else up to their level. On one hand, I agree with Britt regarding the statement that the output of a system is based on very few resources or aspects of that system. That is the basis for my preferred theory of management, Goldratt's Theory of Constraints, and it's common sense approach to managing constraints for maximum systemic output. The recognition of the capabilities and capacities of the critical few is the first step in rational management.

But I want to offer a different point of view about what Britt calls the "laughable...low productivity" of the "slacker many," compared to the apparent effectiveness of the critical few. Their "low productivity" is not necessarily limited by the lack of laudable characteristics listed by Britt, but instead can be an important aspect of a well-run organization. In a well-run organization, the critical few constraining resources need to be exploited, in the best sense of the term. If there are certain resources, skills, talents that by their very nature are the touchstones of the existence of a particular business, they are also by nature, probably limited in availability. If they weren't, barriers to entry by competitors would be nil. It is important to the organization to get the most (in a reasonable, sustainable manner) out of these resources as is possible. To do so means that they should never be starved for work on the input side, and on the output side, their work should not be allowed to be stalled by the lack of availability of other resources or skills. These invaluable strategic constraints need to be surrounded by non-trivial levels of protective capacity throughout the remainder of the system -- protective capacity that might be misinterpreted as "low productivity" by some.

Additionally, a well-run system recognizes the capabilities and capacities of those critical few, and does not allow them to be overloaded or overburdened. While I suggested earlier that they should not be starved for work, they also must not be burnt-out by overwork or loaded up with too many conflicting priorities that drive them to lose throughput to multi-tasking behaviors. The desire to keep everyone busy must be subordinated to the need to primarily exploit the constraining resource.

That said, it is up to the management/leadership of such an organization to assure that constraining resources/skills/capabilities are managed effectively. The "non-productive" supporting players are often a key to successful constraint management. Once identified, effective exploitation of the constraint can often be a matter of having other resources off-load work from the critical few -- work that does not require the special talents that characterize their scarcity. This can also be a path to cross-training and the eventual creation of more people with those critical skills -- a path to elevation of critical skill capacity and to the growth of organizational capability. In addition, too often, projects fight over key personnel and try to assure their availablity by tying them to the project, and then feel forced to keep them busy on things that don't require their special talents. If these projects were resourced not by names, but by skills, they would probably find that the critical skills could be spread around more for the benefit of not the individual projects, but of the whole organization and it's total project portfolio.

The fault lies not in the "low productivity" of what Britt refers to as the "slacker masses" but in the failure of the leadership of organizational systems -- management -- to fully understand their system through their constraints, and to develop strategies to exploit and elevate those constraining components, while at the same time subordinating silly ideas like individual productivity and utilization to the needs of the constraints and of the organization's throughput. Since it is a very rare situation in which individuals can produce anything in an industrial setting (after all, that's why organizations come together -- to produce things that individuals can't), let's stop obsessing about individual productivity and instead get everyone to understand how they contribute to organizational throughput and productivity.

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The Power of a Blitz -- Joe Ely's Learning About Lean weblog has some good advice about doing Kaizen events. These process improvement efforts, typically focused in a particular area that improvement would return benefits, are excellent tools for refining a TOC-based system. By focusing such efforts on bottlenecks, or capacity constrained resources, they turn into a tool for exploitation of the constraint. And when judiciously used elsewhere, may support the need to subordinate to (support) those expolitation strategies and tactics.

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Friday, February 07, 2003

Problem Solving Meta Process -- Renee Hopkins on the Corante IdeaFlow page has been writing about her experience at the Creative Problem-Solving Institute's Winterfest conference.
"We dip and sway across complex problems, dancing in and out of the lists and lists and lists we make. Diverging and converging at every stage of the process.
While I might quibble with her comment that a specific "CPS process" is "the basis for almost all other creativity and innovation processes," as an example of common confusion of correllation for cause-and-effect, her description of cycles of convergence and divergence does apply to the TOC Thinking Processes, and probably serves as a common thread -- a meta process -- to any problem solving effort.

We start by converging on a goal, and then solicit divergent symptoms associated with difficulties in achieving it. After translating those symptoms to the form of their underlying conflicts or dilemmas, we converge them into a deep dilemma or core conflict that serves as a root cause perpetuating the diverse symptoms. We then diverge to identify a range of assumptions that perpetuate the root, only to converge on those that seem suspect and subject to invalidation by adding new thinking to the system. That new direction for a solution is then diverged back out to the collection of symtomatic dilemmas as the basis of a coherent strategy for addressing them.

In scutinizing the strategy, we converge on indivdual components to identify the "yes, buts" so that a divergent set of reservations and obstacles can be collected and used to flesh out the strategy (to deal with the reservations) and to develop an implementation plan (to overcome the obstacles).

Interesting in the process that in addition to the divergent/convergent nature, there is also a cycle of moods associated with the process as well (today must be mood day). We go up when a goal is clarified, get bummed out when we realize all the problems we have, get encouraged when we find a root cause and possible solutions, get set back when people start say "yes, but," feel better that we've addressed their concerns and strengthened the solution, run into a seemingly daunting set of obstacles, and come together to move forward with confidence when we realize we don't have to do them all right now, but just need to follow the clearly laid out plan.

In and out, up and down.
Hopefully, not round and round.

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More on Deadlines -- Hal Macomber (who I should have credited for pointing me to yesterday's deadlines piece), points to another piece on the subject by Tom Mochal, this one tactics for dealing with deadlines that are in trouble. While Hal picks up the "people" side and suggests that dealing with the team's mood should come first before taking Tom's suggested concrete actions to get the project back under control, that mood is in an effect-cause-effect loop. The lack of control leads to failed mood which leads to difficulties getting back in control which leads to worse mood which leads to...

Pulling together realistic views of risks, scope, issues, and openly communicating them, as suggested in the Mochal piece, is, in my opinion, a necessary precursor to confidence in the team. But in addition to that, if systemic issues that come from beyond the specifics of the particular project are not addressed, there is good chance that any refinements of the project or any mood-enhancing methods will be for naught. The combination of good, effective PM practices, combined with a vision on how the system will be changed will at least provide the bummed out resources with a bit of a reason for believing that things will be "different this time." But as I wrote last year, it takes just a few wrong words or actions on the part of management to prove the nay-sayers right.

Moods and attitudes can work for or against you. To get them working for you, they first have to develop momentum in the right direction. To even get them even started moving in the right direction, you need to provide a concrete footing underneath and a map and compass to tell them that they are walking in the desired talk or not.

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Thursday, February 06, 2003

Flow: More than just a "Lean" concept -- One of the core concepts underlying the success of the TOC approach to multi-project management is setting up an environment that allows/encourages people to focus on the task at hand. While this has been easily demonstrated to support speed of project completion, it also provides more opportunities for the people involved to attain a "flow" experience.
"Elements that make experiences Enjoyable:
1. A challenge requiring skills
2. A chance of completion
3. The opportunity to concentrate, merging action and awareness
4. Clear goals
5. Immediate feedback
6. Deep involvement transcending distractions and the awareness of time
7. A sense of control over actions
8. Absorption of self
9. Expansion of self through experience"
If one of the necessary conditions for the sustainability is to provide "security and satisfaction of associates now and in the future," using management processes that provide the possibility of such experience would be of significant benefit. And speed of efforts in their race to the cash register is a nice side effect as well.

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When Employees Miss Deadlines -- (From an column by Aubrey Daniels) -- "Don't assume every glitch is a result of poor performance. Instead, look for failures in the system." In many cases, polices, practices, and processes associated with meaningless interim due dates lead to Parkinson's Law.

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Monday, February 03, 2003

A few days ago on 1/31/03, David Lyttle responding to my post of the Bill Hodgdon quote about managing causes...
According to Peter Drucker, "Managing means taking action to make the desired results come to pass"

Manage, "To direct or control the use of".
Cause, "The producer of an effect"

The act of creation is itself an effect.
Cause (the producer) cannot be managed (directed or controlled).
I'm not sure where David is coming from with this, other than the fact that all causes can be further decomposed as effects of deeper causes. The Drucker citation that David includes points to this directly, in my opinion, as the "actions" are the "causes" of the "desired results" or "effects" of a managed system. The effect of making money as a result of a series of actions, alluded to in the original quote, is actually only a further cause (a necessary condition) for the real goal of such an organizational system -- sustainable survival. There is definitely a cyclic nature, with causal loops and feedbacks in the cause-and-effect structure of a situation, but an effective manager knows how to winnow out the real causes from the effects, and counts on prudently planned changes to those causes to drive desired effects.

It's interesting. In a subsequent posting on his blog on 2/1/03, David talks about contagion, and a recommendation to impact the cause (exposure) to minimize the effect (infection). You can't really manage the infection, so you must manage the cause.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Conversational Terrorism -- For your amusement, or perhaps for your bemusement, as too often, instead of rational, logically-developed discourse, our communications rely on these kinds of tactics.

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Saturday, February 01, 2003

Give Something Back Foundation -- It's not the usual content of this blog, but hey, it is mine...
"The Give Something Back International Foundation is a non-profit educational organization incorporated in Florida in 2002. The purpose of the Foundation is to provide life- changing, quality education to needy children, young adults, and teachers around the world that will have a lasting impact on their future lives and that of their families."
Founded by my sister and her husband.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Pondering Awareness of Variation -- In one of my online hangouts with like-minded folks, and a major sources of input, APICS' Constraint Management SIG discussion group, Philip Bakker recently reminded me of a contribution by Brian Potter from a while ago. I wish the archives of this maillist were available on the web, but they aren't, so here are Brian's insights on how we might see variation...
"1. Total unawareness: Attributing effects of variation to a "failure to execute" (probably, the "failure" of subordinates).

"2. Glimmer of awarenes: A "Murphy's Law" level of understanding that "things always go wrong," but there is nothing one can do about it (other than allow "extra" time, resources, and [of course] money).

"3. Basic awareness: Knowing something about statistical variation, randomness, reproducibility, and the like but with a feeling that it is "somebody else's problem" (probably a subordinate's)

"4. Awareness: It's real; it's my problem, and SPC is a good control methodology.

"5. Mature awareness: Variation is a reality, and a continuous improvement management philosophy creates a dynamic system that can deal with variation. How do I keep variation from damaging the ultimate results? Deming, TQMP, 6-Sigma, et al have reached this point.

"6. Sophistication: Variation is a natural phenomenon of physical systems. How can I design systems that absorb variation without suffering damaging effects (in particular, without passing damaging results on to the customer, but also absorbing variation without feeling damaging internal impacts)? This is where I see TOC being, now.

"7. Exploitation: Variation is change with a natural pattern. How can I design systems with the variation patterns as PLANNED control parameters? How can I "surf" on the variation and use it to my advantage?"
...The message of that last one might be translated to the vernacular as "If s..t happens, take advantage of the fertilizer." Philip goes on in his reminder by pointing to a technical application of the idea for wireless transmissions...
"In wireless systems, radio waves do not propagate simply from transmit antenna to receive antenna, but bounce and scatter randomly off objects in the environment. This scattering is known as multipath, as it results in multiple copies ("images") of the transmitted signal arriving at the receiver via different scattered paths. In conventional wireless systems, multipath represents a significant impediment to accurate transmission, because the images arrive at the receiver at slightly different times and can thus interfere destructively, cancelling each other out. For this reason, multipath is traditionally viewed as a serious impairment. Using the BLAST approach however, it is possible to exploit multipath, that is, to use the scattering characteristics of the propagation environment to enhance, rather than degrade, transmission accuracy by treating the multiplicity of scattering paths as separate parallel subchannels."

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