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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Auld Lang Syne -- From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000, via
auld lang syne
NOUN: The times gone past; the good old days.
ETYMOLOGY: Scots : auld, old lang, long syne, since.
Not to mention its most common usage.

May your pursuit of happiness (ecstasy?) in 2004 be unconstrained.

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I'm Usually an Early Adopter . . . of technology. After all, my 20th anniversary of using a Mac is in the same year as the 20th anniversary of the Mac. I've often been intrigued by Instant Messaging (especially since this), but have resisted, so far. Given my usual rants about multi-tasking and interruptions as killers of productivity, I guess this make sense. Jakob Nielsen agrees...
"IM is even worse than e-mail with respect to one of the most important human-factors criteria: It's interruptive of task flow because it demands realtime attention. Some things do need realtime attention, but even a one-minute interruption can easily cost a knowledge worker 10 to 15 minutes of lost productivity due to the time needed to reestablish mental context and reenter the flow state."
"Information pollution," indeed. (Linkage courtesy of efios.)

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More on Best Practices -- Yesterday, I pointed to Johanna Rothman's piece on Best Practices. So did Heath Row over on the Fast Company Now weblog, posing the question...
"How do you tailor other organizations' best practices to best meet the needs of your company and work?"
Unfortuately, the question is too often posed as Heath does -- as an issue of transplanting best practices with tailoring or tweaking rather than one of creating your own best practices grown from your own needs and values. The value of other organizations' best practices is not in knowing what to do in your own, but as examples of the kind of thinking that might be going on in the original user organization -- examples useful primarily for mind-bending and mind-opening regarding possibilities of performance. The value of others' best practices are embedded in their relationship to their constraints, which are not your constraints, and how they have defined their desired strategic constraints, which should not be yours, if you want to do anything more than simply play catch up.

That said, if you still feel compelled to try to copy someone else's solution, there are two tools in the tailor's kit -- two questions -- "Why should we NOT do what they do?" and "Why can't we do more than they do?"

The first question is about reservations, concerns, and possible undesirable side-effects, the answers to which will add to the borrowed practice for a solution that better fits your own environment, and at the same time address resistance from those stakeholders who harbor those concerns.

The second question is about making the "best" better for your environment, pushing challenge and ambition into the mix to take your application of the practice beyond what has been done elsewhere. The route for doing that is not so much in the bench-marking of competitors or users of practices, but rather "bench-marketing" -- studying the limiting "best practices" of your customers and markets. By doing so, you can target the application of new practices of your own to help them do more by using you.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Agile Bridge Building -- A gently satirical look at agile software & extreme programming (XP) development philosophies.
"The Self-Realizing Project -- We have now embarked on Iterative Incremental Bridge Design (IIBD). A cornerstone of IIBD is how new design elements will suggest themselves the instant you begin building. For example, it is only by building this first section of the bridge that we are able to see that the log is not totally stable and could easily be washed away by changing water levels. So a team, perhaps a pair of bridge builders, may thus be intuitively assigned to rework, reinforce and better secure the first log to the embankment. These opportunities to "re-factor" elements of our design will present themselves often within the course of our bridge project and should be pursued relentlessly."
Heh, heh. (via s.norrie)

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The Ties That Bind -- Now if it wasn't for the need to make good first impressions in a variety of corporate cultures (or to keep my sartorially-sensitive spouse -- who believes that "business casual" is a sign, or even cause, of the decline of western civilization, if not of the apocalypse -- happy from time to time), neckties would no longer be in my closet. That would also help to avoid things like glaucoma and getting pulled into a machine. Not to mention chafing around the neck after putting on a bit of weight between buttoned up tie-wearings. That said, if you must, some of these ties are pretty good looking, and promote awareness of even greater dangers, to boot. My favorites are Hepatitis-B in red and taupe and Plague in midnight and red for a brighter, less staid look.

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On Policies -- From Quotes of the Day - The Quotations Page...
"Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it."
    - Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)
Any fool can also find the basis for a rule in a list of best practices. Heh, heh.

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Best Practices Are Not Necessarily Best -- Johanna Rothman writes wisely today about the short-coming of short-sighted uses of best practices that don't predict project success. She points out that what's best for one organization or project is not necessary any good for another.

Another problem with "best practices" is that, as soon as they have been identified as such (or very shortly after), they tend to become "average practices;" that is, if they are good enough to get into wide usage. As I have written or noted before, look outward for the specifics of how to do things will only help you play catch up, not help you excel -- unless you benchmark not their actions but rather the thinking behind them, and then apply that thinking to your specific situation to create your own unique -- and superior for you -- practices.

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Monday, December 29, 2003

5 Super General Laws of ... -- From douglasp comes a set of laws he claims are for software development...
Know the business and how the users operate in the business.

Any implementation plan longer that 6 months is not worth doing.  It will fail.

No design withstands implementation.  Be pragmatic.

Semantics define design and thus implementation.  Use your user's semantics.

Complex problems demand simple solutions.  Keep it simple.
These sound appropriate for any process change/improvement, whether software is involved or not. (Pointage courtesy of Channeling Cupertino)

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On Experience -- From Quotes of the Day - The Quotations Page...
"Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again."
    - Franklin P. Jones

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Estimates and Uncertainty in Iraq -- The New York Times (free registration required) has an article today on Halliburton Contracts in Iraq: The Struggle to Manage Costs...
"The rebuilding of Iraq's oil industry has been characterized in the months since by increasing costs and scant public explanation. An examination of what has grown into a multibillion-dollar contract to restore Iraq's oil infrastructure shows no evidence of profiteering by Halliburton, the Houston-based oil services company, but it does demonstrate a struggle between price controls and the uncertainties of war, with price controls frequently losing."
Check out the article before it disappears into the Times' pay-for-access archives. Political questions aside, it's a pretty good real-world discussion of the problem of estimates as commitments. One of the most pertinent lines in the article comes from the Army Corps of Engineers...
The initial price was based on "drive-by estimating," said Richard V. Dowling, a spokesman for the corps, which oversees the contract. The second was a result of a more complete assessment. "The best I can lamely fall back on is to say that estimates change," said Mr. Dowling, who is based in Baghdad. "This is not business as usual."
Life during wartime..."not business as usual," but probably in the realm of "foreseeable uncertainty," since even in less extreme environments, "estimates change."

hmmm...How would you feel about having your "lessons learned" reported in the national press?

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Sunday, December 28, 2003

Prioritization -- I've often said (and will continue to say) that if project management (in all it's aspects) is an answer, then the question is "What should I/we be working on?" Johanna similarly points out that the manager's first role is "prioritization."

Focus, focus, focus requires prioritization, prioritization, prioritization.

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Coincidence? Perhaps, Perhaps Not -- Dave Anderson (yes, him again) noticed a spooky "coincidence" over the holidays...
"I was watching the DVD of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer with my daughter last night. I was amused to note that the constraint in the elf toy factory is an elf called Herbie - remember the walk in the hills example from The Goal where the slowest boy is also Herbie."
It's really scary when you can't get away from work stuff, even when watching cartoons with the kids. Gotta be a conspiracy.

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Saturday, December 27, 2003

Taking Notes -- I'm a notoriously bad note-taker. Maybe this will help.

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On Value (aka Beauty)

Daily Cartoons by Hugh Macleod, via Ben.

(On a related note, resistance is in the eye of the proposer.)

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Re-evaluating Agile Affiliations -- David Anderson write some common sense about the "agile movement"...
"I worry that the agile community gets sucked into perpetual naval gazing. A state where it is more important to worry about whether something is 'agile' or not, or whether something is 'more agile' than something else. To me these are not important questions. The important question is whether software development is aligned with the stockholders interests and whether software development can be performed in such a manner as to improve the return to the stockholders. It's all about better software, faster! Good, fast, cheap - pick 3!

Hence, I have no time for discussion about 'but is this self-organizing' or not. I'm not interested in the observed attributes of some 'agile' methods - only in the results."
As someone watching from the periphery of the "cool kids" of agile, as someone not in the software only world and who sees value in "agile" approaches but who also sees value in good practices outside of agile, as well as good agile practices in "non-agile" practices (???), I thank David for some common sense.

(Later...By the way...There's a lot of that same "navel-gazing" in the "TOC community" as well. Sometimes I think that the biggest obstacle to getting good stuff dissemination is the arrogant attitude of the early adopters.)

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Wow! I Can't Believe . . . I've been doing this for three years. I guess I've had to been doing it that long to accumulate the list of self-proclaimed "best of" links over in the right-hand column.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Happy Holidays -- I'm outta here for a few days for the annual family and fun stuff. Merry Christmas, if it applies to you. If not, have yourself a couple of great days.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Good Advice -- From Elizabeth Lawley comes the admonition to back up your blog!

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Business Movies -- Pointed to by and Larry Ribstein, the following list of what Forbes considers the top 10 business movies is discussed (Amazon links included so you can stock up with fodder for that new DVD home theatre system you got for Christmas.)...
Citizen Kane
The Godfather, Part 2
It's a Wonderful Life
The Godfather, Part 1
The Insider
Glengarry Glen Ross
Wall Street
Tin Men
Modern Times
I'll leave it to the Forbes article to justify their list. I've seen all but two of them, enjoyed them and I agree with their recommendation, and agree with Ribstein's contention about the too-often demonizing of business by Hollywood.

Regarding one of those I've not seen, I'm probably one of a handful of people alive who has never seen It's a Wonderful Life -- my preference for the era and genre is You Can't Take It With You, and I've also got some more worth considering...

One of my absolute favorites is Efficiency Expert, a nice small picture from Australia about a slash and burn consultant (Anthony Hopkins) finding his soul when faced with the lives of the people he impacts.

From the heyday of British satire of the 50's comes I'm All Right Jack, with Peter Sellers taking shots at industrial relations and HR, and Alec Guiness in The Man in the White Suit...a classic tale of disruptive innovation and the backlash it engenders.

Do you ever click around the channels, and find that when you stumble across certain movies, you stick with them despite knowing them by heart? For me, one of those is about pre-pre-pre-internet information retrieval -- Desk Set, with Tracy and Hepburn is a story of early implementation of "enabling technology." (Then again, stumbling across Hepburn stops me cold in anything except Rooster Cogburn , especially that classic of executive succession in a family business, The Lion in Winter, in which Peter O'Toole ticks off the skills and shortcomings of his sons. OK, OK, I know that's stretching it for a business film example, but hey...too bad.)

On the pure documentary side is 2001's, following the ups -- and near inevitable down, down, downs -- of a bubble business boom and bust, complete with scenes from CNBC. For docu-dramedy, one film from HBO is near and dear to my heart, having lived the RJR Nabisco buy-out close up -- Barbarians at the Gate offers a perfect contrast of Jonathan Pryce as super-serious supercilious Henry Kravis matched with James Garner as the larger than life F. Ross Johnson -- the ultimate hail fellow well met, slap-you-on-the-back salesman.

Finishing up with a few comedies, I'll finish the list with that paean to creative accounting, The Producers, and a glimpse into life in the trenches of where we could all be heading as manufacturing disappears and we turn into a pure service economy, Clerks.

Trust me...I'll be back to more serious matters after Christmas. For those of you who are jonesing for serious stuff before then, check out Hal's recent rant on the crimes of small government. (Later...Dave Pollard writes on the same subject.)

In the meantime...Happy Holidays to all.

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Break Out the Suitcases -- After too long of a dry spell, chances are good that I'll be on the road a bit for a couple gigs in January. (Huzzah!)

I suspect that I'll need to keep my clothes a bit more presentable than I need in my subterranean basement office. Two links might help (and might be worth a look if you're planning some holiday travel as well). One from Fast Company -- The Joy of Packing, and another from the Big White Guy in Hong Kong, in which he points to a video on folding shirts that you can't take your eyes off despite the assault on your ears. (Windows Media Player required for the .wmv file)

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Monday, December 22, 2003

35 Years Ago This Week -- Speaking of Saturday's topic, 35 years ago this week was Apollo 8, the Christmas Eve reading of Genesis, and the first Earthrise, an image that still serves as an icon for the best of the late 20th Century...a culmination of humankind's technological prowess and of the awareness of that same humankind's small and fragile place in the universe.

With what I remember of the rest of 1968 - King, Kennedy, Chicago, Viet Nam, Nixon, and my high school senior prom, Apollo 8 was a nice way to end the year. I only hope that today's generation finds something as inspiring to make up for the world in which they are growing up.

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Saturday, December 20, 2003

Project Management in Space -- OK, maybe not "in" space, but definitely on the way to it. Recent discussion of a new space effort towards Mars and of talk of lack of project leaders in NASA led to a thread on the Newgrange discussion list. One recommendation from that conversation came from Vincent Alcalde...
A fantastic book about the Apollo program is Murray and Cox's Apollo: The Race to the Moon. Not about the astronauts, but mainly about the managers (and lead engineers) and how they built America's space program.
This reminded me of one of the best (only?) realistic depictions of PM activity for the screen is Episode 5 of the HBO series From the Earth to the Moon. Each episode of that excellent series focused on a different set of Apollo Program stakeholders. Episode 5 -- "Spider" -- is about the engineering team behind the Lunar Module. Great scenes about creativity, errors, failures, tests, tests, tests, slipped timelines, and ultimate success. Check it out if you get the chance.

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Friday, December 19, 2003

Post-Implementation Reviews -- The best way to do a post-implementation review is not to do only a post-implementation review, but rather rolling reviews along the way, perhaps tied to major milestones, and to include them as specific project tasks supporting the too-often forgotten project objective of learning.

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Friday Fun (?) - The Tolling of the Hour -- A Seeing Ear Theatre "City of Dreams" presentation from the creator of Babylon 5...
"We have become a society answerable to the tick of the clock, the Board of Directors, the CEO...with your average corporate employee daily crushed under the wheels of downsizing, working harder for less money so the stockholders get a ten percent per share boost. I felt there needed to be a cautionary tale about the inevitable result of grinding down people's souls, because sooner or later, the universe downsizes those who downsize unto others."
    - J. Michael Straczynski
Scrooge got to travel in time; this guy just lets it get away from him and loses it. Sometimes speed is not all it's cranked up to be. (Requires RealPlayer.)

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Thursday, December 18, 2003

Take 10 Seconds to Get Soup to the Needy -- Here is an easy way to make a difference this holiday season. Campbell's is donating a can of soup to the needy for every person that goes to their site and votes for their favorite NFL team. Their goal is 5,000,000 cans. Go here to vote. It will only take a few seconds of your time to fill some empty tummies with warm soup this winter.

Like Zach Lynch, on whose Brain Waves blog I found this bit of charity (and from whom I appropriated this text word for word), I'm not a big football fan, but this is a no brainer.

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Project Portfolio Management - Assessing Risk -- Most of my writings about project risk management have been related to assessing risks for making promises during the planning and execution of individual projects. While such discussions of uncertainty can be relatively focused and quantitative in these circumstances, there is less to go on when assessing projects for inclusion in a portfolio or pipeline.

One aspect of project portfolio management involves ranking projects for risk. At this stage, without a lot of details or specific numbers, you have to rely more on gut, or on more qualitative assessments. Baseline recently passed along a 10-question quiz that looks helpful for putting an initiative in perspective -- a perspective consisting of a scale of risk characteristics from a Sloan Management Review article that ranges from "variation" through "foreseen" and "unforeseen uncertainty" on to "chaos."

My favorite question in the quiz is about whether...
This project will make or break the career of the executive who's sponsoring it.
A nice dose of realism. Taken with appropriate grains of salt, such an instrument can be useful in discussions of risk in the portfolio planning process.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

We Need Generalist Leaders -- From the Creative Generalist...
"Leaders are, ideally, generalists that can understand and handle many different parts of a company. Innovation is dependent on an organization's ability to regularly access and sift through large volumes of available information, determine which is most important and pertinent and then to apply it to unique situations in new ways. This role -- essentially one of direction and delegation -- is the province of leaders."
Read the whole thing. It's good news for those of us who define ourselves as generalists.

By the way, project managers need to be generalists as well.

(I wish the CG would tell his Blogger settings to post an RSS feed. Doing most of my weblog reading via an aggregator, I keep forgetting to browse over to his always interesting writings.)

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Word of the Day - Probabilism -- Via

SYLLABICATION: prob·a·bi·lism


NOUN: 1. Philosophy... The doctrine that probability is a sufficient basis for belief and action, since certainty in knowledge is unattainable. 2. Roman Catholic Church... The system of moral theology that applies when the lawfulness of an act is uncertain, by allowing an actor to follow an opinion favoring personal liberty if that opinion is solidly probable, even though an opposing opinion, favoring law, is more probable.

I guess that, in addition to being a generalist, I'm also a probabilist.

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It's the Story, Stupid -- Originated by the now famous Tufte pamphlet, the meme on the evils of Powerpoint continue with a recent NY Times article. But it's not the tool's fault; it's the user -- especially those of us who use slides as speaker's notes. To that end, Doc points to an older piece of his with good advice for presenters.

Now excuse me while I go rework all my "speaker notes" presentations.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

On Thinking --
Thinking is a momentary dismissal of irrelevancies.
    - R. Buckminster Fuller
...and leadership is a consistent dismissal of irrelevancies (after great care is taken to understand the relevancies).

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Weinberger on Projects -- Thoughts on projects in the age of the net from a Fast Company interview with Dave Weinberger, contributor to The Cluetrain Manifesto and author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined...
"[I]f you're in business, government, or education and you're thinking about how to scale a project massively, you have to think about the possibility of doing it in Netlike fashion. You have to consider the opposite of what thousands of years of experience have shown us to be the only way to scale a project. You have to give up control over it.

"The belief in centralized management isn't just a business decision. It's part of a larger, neurotic understanding about our place in the world. For the past century, Americans have been obsessed with controlling everything. It's neurotic because the human condition is about living in a world that we didn't make and that we can't control. In that sense, the Web's lack of control -- its very architecture -- is a celebration of being human in a universe that joyously overwhelms us."
Trying to control the uncontrollable is the source of much of what goes wrong in organizations and in projects. Trying to control time through task due dates and impossible commitments, trying to control resources through micromanagement of task activity, and trying to control scope through premature definition and rigidity of details all lead to a range of unintended consequences and therefore loss of control. Rather, you need to understand the system and the limitations of control over it, separating the mere sources of noise from the real issues of concern.

In order to achieve success, the impulse to control needs to be replaced with the urges to understand, learn, and connect, and organizational process must be designed to support them, including, as Hal has recently written, the leadership process of listening before acting to control.

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Books -- Booz-Allen's excellent strategy+business journal and site offers a selection of the best business books of 2003...
The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth
by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor

Beyond Budgeting: How Managers Can Break Free from the Annual Performance Trap
by Jeremy Hope and Robin Fraser

Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology
by Henry Chesbrough

Corporate Scandals
The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind

One World: The Ethics of Globalization
by Peter Singer

Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround
by Louis V. Gerstner Jr.

The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism
by Shoshana Zuboff and James Maxmin

Human Capital
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
by Michael Lewis

Business History
Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress, 1903–2003
by Douglas Brinkley
Not that I've read them all, but perhaps worth checking out, based on the inclusion of Christensen (which I've mentioned before), Gerstner (who totally impressed me when we met during his brief pre-IBM stint at RJR Nabisco), and any book that talks about going "beyond budgeting."

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Monday, December 15, 2003

Someone Is Doing a Year-End Cleanout...and calling it "First Principles." From the same guy who brought the recent mega-post on time, this is a collection (a "copy and paste"?) of thoughts on "getting along in the world." Nothing really coherent that I can see on first skim, but worth a browse when you have nothing better to do.

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Risk and Commitment -- From Dale Emery, a brief discussion of the relationship between risk and uncertainty.
"If I haven't made any commitments about when I will finish, my uncertainty is not a risk. It's just uncertainty."
The acceptance of the reality of uncertainty is the first step necessary for effective management of uncertainty and risk...for the conversations necessary to understand the uncertainty, it's implications, and its sources, so informed commitments can be made.

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How the Stock Market Could Cost You Your Job...or Not -- I don't want to get off on a rant here, but I've been triggered by Dave Pollard...
...there is no reason to believe that these 500 globally dominant companies can expect to increase revenues considerably in the future at all. Consumer debt is already at record levels, the little guys have already been squeezed out by the oligopolies, and spending on new products is simply replacing spending on older, obsolete ones.

How do you increase profits if revenues are flat? You cut costs. Material costs have already dropped in recent years, so the principal way you cut costs today is by reducing the cost of labour. That means offshoring, outsourcing, getting rid of the union, firing older workers to bring in cheaper younger ones, and lowering product and service quality. All of that means laying off and under-employing domestic workers, creating unemployment and underemployment. This of course becomes a vicious cycle, since this further reduces consumer spending power and forces yet more 'productivity' improvements (offshoring and layoffs) to keep profits rising, the 'Wal-Mart Dilemma'.

Eventually you crash into a wall: At some point there are simply no further 'productivity' improvements to be had, even if you 'win' the treacherous Race to the Bottom. Then what? Then you realize that a reasonable P/E ratio for the S&P 500 is 10 to 15 (which is what it always was until a generation ago), not 30. After you've lost your job to 'productivity' cuts, and after you've been forced to buy stuff from Wal-Mart made and serviced by the third world people that took your job away, then you lose half or two thirds or more of your pension as stock markets tank.
Of course, one way to avoid the outcomes described in Dave's rant is to search out real innovation for new markets and continually deliver it quickly. (Project Management comes in here.)

Another is to stop relying on the success of the S&P dinosaurs and instead on the supply capabilities of the demand side. Yesterday, Doc wrote...
The demand side has enormous power now — far more than was even imaginable at the height of the Industrial Age, or even as recently as ten years ago. That power grows out of its connectedness, out of its ability to inform itself.

The demand side now has the power to supply itself. That's the lesson of Linux, of "open source" everything, of peer-to-peer, of independent creators in everything from music to software, of the shift in media power from the few to the many, from the peerage of Big Network Powers to the peer-to-peerage of everybody with something worthwhile to contribute to the connected whole, whether it's a piece of music, a piece of code, an opinion, an observation, or a few bucks for a candidate. These developments are not opposed to business or government, but rather support both by providing more choices to the supply and the demand sides of marketplaces.

Again, AND logic.
"AND logic." I love it. "AND logic" is the basis of much of the ability to bust assumptions about how things have to be. The reason we've had to rely on large organizations is partly on the economies of scale necessary for the gathering of information (research), for collaboration (design and delivery), and for the dissemination of information (marketing). I have to wonder to what extent we can really attack those assumptions, given today's technology. Even in the realm of physical goods...there was an intriguing piece on NPR over the weekend about efforts to grow local networks of food producers to wean us off of our belief that strawberries in the Northeast US in January are a good thing. The possibilities boggle the mind.

But that's only my opinion, I could be wrong.

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Saturday, December 13, 2003

Teamwork -- The new 2004 collection of Demotivators is out. Along with the link to Teamwork, there's another good one on Achievement.

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Value -- A random firing of synapses just came up with this blinding flash of the obvious...
Project Value = Scope x Quality / Time - Value of alternative uses of resources
Like I said...obvious.

But what might not be so obvious is the simplifying notion that the time and the resources (together adding up to "attention") involved in the equation are associated with critical, constraining resources -- not with the mass of supporting players.

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Friday, December 12, 2003

On Planning...
Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.
    - Sir John Harvey-Jones
(heh, heh)

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Motivation -- My recent break from output was not necessarily a break from input. Rather than let them get too stale while waiting for time to put together comments, here's a grab bag of links on the subject of motivation and buy-in...
- Getting a Handle on Employee Motivation
- Indifference, Inertia, and Insight
- Continuous Improvement -- Harness The Passion
- Where Has All the Ambition Gone?
- Persuasion
- Why Change Efforts Fail

Later... Another link on attitude distilled by s.norrie popped up today as well.

Even later... One more on Patterns.

Still more later... The Journey from WIIFM to WOMII excerpted at Unbound Spiral.

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Friday Fun - Holiday Snowglobe - Made me smile. (Then again, I do have a twisted sense of humor.)

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Thursday, December 11, 2003

Agile/CCPM - Non-Meaningful Distinctions -- A recent thread in the TOCExperts YahooGroup has touched on the subject of SCRUM, one of the family of Agile approaches to [software development] projects. Being a Theory of Constraints oriented discussion group, it was not to be unexpected that at some point in the conversation, a "comparison" with Critical Chain-based Project Management (CCPM) would pop up. Clarke Ching, a frequent and knowledgeable member of TOCExperts, offered an excellent summary of SCRUM for the non-practitioner, but within it, he offers a few bullets on how SCRUM differs from CCPM that are worth some questioning comment. The first "difference" offered is that...
CC aims to get the project finished as quickly and reliably as possible. Scrum aims to get working functionality delivered as quickly as possible.
This is, in my opinion, a non-meaningful distinction, as the basis of the difference is in the comparison of "project" and "working functionality." In a CCPM-managed project, there is nothing to say that the objective deliverables can't be pieces of "working functionality." There is nothing to say that individual pieces of "working functionality," delivered via SCRUM practices, can't be assessed vis-a-vis expectations of cost and schedule via CCPM's buffer management, either as individual sub-projects, or as deliverables diverging from the mainline critical chain of the overall project. The management of the effort is related to the second offered difference...
CC buffers with time. Scrum buffers with functionality.
Now I've been known to utter similar comments about buffering with time versus buffering with scope, but reviewing some recent descriptions of "burn-down" charts common to agile environments (and perhaps viewing the recent PBS NOVA episodes on string theory), I've come to a view of scope and time as sufficiently intertwined to be only one of perspective. Like the idea of space-time, drawing too fine a distinction between the components of scope-time is a distraction at best. Too much scope left (for the time we wanted to deliver it it) and not enough time left (to complete the work we would like to) are the same thing. Any decisions about changes in the work content to recover our initial promises/targets or the deliverables that we finally produce in either approach immediately get into the question of time of work remaining (and vice versa).

At the practical, less metaphysical, level, the content of SCRUM meetings are nothing more than the equivalent of the content of CCPM's daily buffer management reviews of single projects. "Burn-down" charts, used to assess what is left in SCRUM and other Agile project environments can map directly to CCPM buffer consumption analyses. Both, with their forward-looking view, are superior to the backward focus on supposedly immutable baselines or completed work as the source of "earned value" in other approaches to projects.

The third difference is offered as...
CC says "Don't put the safety in the task; put it in the project." Scrum says "Don't try and figure it all out up front because you can't. Things will change too much as you go. Instead, build working software quickly, inspect and adapt."
Again, I don't see the "difference." I almost saw putting these two together as a non sequitor, but then there might be some connection, and again, more similarity than difference. SCRUM and other Agile approaches use plans for their efforts. They're just not detailed in a way that locks them into a calendar or to artificial dependencies to make promises, mapping them instead to a set of time-boxed sequential iterations or sprints. CCPM also frees the interim activities of a project from the calendar by removing the idea of task level safety, commitment, and due-dates.

As in most things, when there are two common sense approaches to a particular issues, there is often more in common than there is different.


posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Thank You -- Thank you all for your notes of sympathy and condolence. They mean a lot.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

If I were you, I'd make time... to check this out.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Play Code Blockhead -- Laurent writes...
"Blockhead is a classic game in which players take turn piling wooden block atop each other until the whole edifice topples; the last player to have placed a block loses."
...and goes on to describe the software version of the game, in which pieces of code are piled upon one another until the function comes crashing down, unfixable.

There's another version that I've observed, in which an organization's management reacts to every unforeseen event or problem with band-aid policies, processes, or measurements, resulting in a mishmash of conflicting, debilitating, and sub-optimizing behaviors.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Frank Patrick, 1923-2003 - My father passed away Wednesday night. In addition to being a loved and loving brother, husband, father and grandfather, he was primarily a builder and a gardener. Beside his family, the chief sources of pride in his life were the buildings that he and his brothers built, and in his ability to share the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and zucchini he nurtured every summer. If there were physical symbols for his life, they would be the cinder blocks that he laid as a mason and the beautiful black soil that he composted and created for his garden over the decades. Like cinderblocks, he was a bit rough around the edges but provided a no-nonsense, solid foundation for myself, my sisters, and my nephew. And, like the all-important role of the soil in which a garden grows, he has been and will be a rich source of nutrition and support in which we all continue to grow.

(Final full text of my eulogy for him has been placed on Unfocused, my personal weblog.)

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Thank You -- I continue to receive notes from many of you, based on my past couple postings, offering your concern and often carrying the phrase "If there's anything I can do..." It would be nice if there was anything to be done. That said, I may as well break down the barrier between my personal and business life that I've tried to maintain in my weblogs. That border is apparently very porous, and it's probably better to share the reality than to let the imagination of friends be bothered by unstated worries.

My father was hospitalized several weeks ago with what turned out to be a heavily damaged gall bladder and surrounding infection. It snuck up on him because symptoms were masked by the steroids he's been on for a chronic and incurable problem he has been bravely dealing with for a few years now -- pulmonary fibrosis. Even without this latest situation, he's been facing a likely very uncomfortable resolution of the fibrosis probably within the next year. Dad's a strong and resilient man, considering his condition and his 79 years, having unconsciously come through the operation, a stint on a respirator, septic shock from the gall bladder, a post-operative seizure, and near pneumonia in just the past few weeks, all exacerbated by his compromised lungs, which is making it difficult to reconcile what his body is apparently striving for with what we know are his wishes regarding quality of life.

As you know, my business writings are full of references to issues about clarity of goals, dilemmas, and uncertainty. Those concepts surely are the theme of my family's life right now. Again, thank you all for your thoughts and your support. They've meant a lot.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

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