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, May 28, 2004

Someone Will Set Priorities -- Esther Derby writes...
When customer priorities aren't explicit, developers will (naturally enough) fill in the blanks based on their own values.
A corollary is the priorities (not only of features, but also what to work on) will always be set. If priorities aren't made clear, then in addition to the values that Esther mentions, individual interests and relationships will dominate what gets done. The question is whether those setting the priorities are in alignment with the larger goals of the organization or the effort. If you are responsible for priority setting, and you waffle it, don't complain when things you expect or want don't happen in the manner or with the speed that you expect or want.

(By the way, as a trigger to her post, Esther points to a new - to me - weblog, Michael Farmer's Nerdherding for Beginners. Looks to be some good stuff there. Some of what I've skimmed there is ringing quite true with my recent experience. Check it out. I'll continue to.)

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Friday Fun: THX 1138 -- After the vapidity of Star Wars I and II, a welcome in-theatre re-release and DVD release of George Lucas' first feature film is coming this fall. Jeez, Robert Duvall sure looks young.

(Speaking of science fiction, some not-so-fun news. One of the stars of my favorite TV space opera, Richard Biggs of Babylon 5, passed away recently. His character was given a lot of the most thoughtful speeches of a series full of great writing, and he did them justice with convincing confidence.)

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Rethinking for Resilience -- In Four Steps to Corporate Resilience from strategy+business, Liisa Välikangas offers four steps to organizational resilience, of which...
"The first is rethinking the underlying principles on which management is founded. Consider the argument of Max Weber, the German sociologist, that those with the most relevant expertise in a given situation or strategy should take the lead in decision making. That principle is why most companies have marketing departments to make marketing decisions, sales teams to control sales campaigns, and so on. Yet recent research suggests that cross-functional decision making gets better results. Managing a resilient corporation requires a greater willingness to access information from multiple sources for richer content, and to avoid guidance by those with a vested interest in the status quo."
Generalists, who can see the big picture are one source of similar diversity of thought. The best management development programs move promising people through a range of operational, marketing, and sales positions so that, when they "arrive" at the top, they are, in a sense, generalists who can see into and communicate with and across specialist-heavy functions. A successful European auto exec agrees, for different reasons...
"What we especially need are generalists. Everyone in professional life will be able to confirm that a first-class education is certainly important, but not crucial in the final analysis. In my time as a manager I had quite a few “straight A” graduates from the very best faculties at my side, and they were all far technically superior to me with regard to academic ability. In terms of qualification they soared in icy heights — and frequently, despite expert knowledge, they were absolutely not up to the task in working practice. Motivating colleagues, convincing employees, providing a solid working atmosphere, assuming responsibility for others, coming to terms with setbacks. Nobody prepared them for that. And such competencies are indeed also not so easy to learn, and not even able to be taught like any other body of knowledge. But you differentiate between a good and a bad manager, a good and a bad politician. That’s why I consider the topic “education” to be a very pivotal theme for the future."
As does a study of MBA student performance in management simulation games. (Thanks to the Creative Generalist for pointers to the latter two links.)

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Technorati -- If you're looking for writing related to what you find here at Focused Performance, check out Techorati's list of folks who have linked to me. If they had good enough taste to point to my epistles and epiphanies, they might also point to others of equal, and probably even more, value.

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Projects@Work -- One of my favorite paper-based PM publications is now a free (with registration) web resource. Check it out.

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Monday, May 24, 2004

Blogging Behind the Firewall -- More on blogging an project management from InfoWorld. I'm not yet convinced, but still intrigued.

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Speed Kills? -- Yesterday, Laurent Bossavit wrote about the weekend's tragedy in France...
"...Earlier today the roof of the newest terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport collapsed, killing five and injuring three. That's a stone's throw from where I live, for you readers in other countries.

"Terminal 2E opened last year, a week late, with some equipments and services not fully operational. The official reason cited for the delay was that the region's commission on security had been unable to collect all the required certification documents by opening day. Actually, what happened was that a light detached from the roof and fell almost at the feet of the officials, architects and engineers from the commission who had been touring the building a few days before the scheduled date.

"With a total cost of 750M euros, it was crucial that the new terminal, scheduled to process 10 million passengers per year, started paying for itself as soon as possible. At the time, several unions had been protesting work conditions on the site of construction, noting in particular that contractors were under significant pressure to complete the work on schedule...[more]"
Not that there's necessarily a direct cause and effect between deadlines and compromises in quality (or tragedy), but when those deadlines are allowed to be threatened -- when the schedule safety is lost, stolen or strayed -- they often threaten back.

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Five years from now... -- From Seth Godin.

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Friday, May 21, 2004

Friday Fun: The CubeSolver -- Just go see it. Amazing.

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A TOC Case Study -- My mind boggles that I've never come across this site. Thanks, Clarke.

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Thursday, May 20, 2004

Global Virtual Classroom Contest 2004 -- My side project continues. Global Virtual Classroom, a web-based collaborative project for elementary and secondary schools around the world, has just opened up the registration process for next year's website design contest. This past year, we initially attracted almost 100 schools that built 26 websites -- 13 each in the primary and secondary school categories. Award winners were announced last month, and a fair number of last year's participants have taken advantage of the early registration period to assure a place in this year's contest. Thirteen of them applied in the just first few hours following the announcement.

We're hoping to attract our limit of 300 schools for the 2004/05 school year contest. Especially, any readers in Asia, the Mid-East, South America, or Africa should know we would like to involve more schools from those regions this year. One of our award winning sites, built by schools from Russia, Puerto Rico, and Italy took a prize despite being the only team that was mistakenly put together without a native-English-speaking school on the team. In addition to that accomplishment, one participating school in particular, from Tashkent in Uzbekistan, touched our hearts. One of the students from there told us in her feedback that she thought it was great that people who had never met outside a computer could work together so well. A week later, we all held our breath as Tashkent was rocked by marketplace bombings and rockets, and the connection to the school was lost. One of the teachers on the team with that school said that in their everyday review of current events, something like this would have normally slipped by among the stories, but when this one came up, first a hush fell across his class, and then animated discussion about the region and their long distance cyberfriends. These are the kinds of connections that are what the Global Virtual Classroom is really all about.

I would like to encourage anyone with children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or young friends to pass this information along to their teachers, schools, or school systems.

I don't usually go trolling for linkage, but I would like to ask my blogging buddies out there to help spread the word about the program. In addition to participants, we're looking for sponsors for some new, larger hosting that can support new features like chat for the kids to work with as well. Check out the work that these kids put together last year, and if you agree that it's worthwhile (and I'm sure you will), please pass it along.

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Flag Wavers -- Of course we must... This time, we don't have to... Of course we can't... Of course we can... We can never... We must always... There's absolutely no way we can... Its absolutely impossible to... This time'll be different... This is just like last time...

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More on Why -- Ikea hiring "Why-Sayers."

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Plogs - Project Management Blogs -- In The Virtues of Chitchat at cio.com, Michael Schrage writes about the potential of project logs in weblog form -- plogs...
"The simple truth is, many organizations may need plogs to discover their own simple truths about how well (or how poorly) their projects are going. Maybe plogs will be more successful as project communication media for departments outside of IT. Wouldn't that be ironic? That's the sort of emergent managerial phenomenon that somebody might well decide to launch a blog about."
I'm not sure how applicable it would be in my new environment, in which projects typically range only from 2 to 6 weeks in duration, although as a lessons learned depository or as center of discussion of process breakdowns and fixes, there could be some value.

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Common Errors in Reasoning -- While on the subject of questioning beliefs with "why," it's also worth watching out for errors in reasoning, such as these offered by Flemming Funch...
...Situations in which people assess the frequency of a class or the probability of an event by the ease with which instances or occurrences can be brought to mind.

...When two events can occur separately or together, the conjunction, where they overlap, cannot be more likely than the likelihood of either of the two individual events. However, people forget this and ascribe a higher likelihood to combination events, erroneously associating quantity of events with quantity of probability.

...According to the ‘framing effect’ peoples’ understanding of a problem is profoundly influenced by how the problem is presented.

...People tend to judge the probability of an event by finding a ‘comparable known’ event and assuming that the probabilities will be similar.

...Research has shown that people find it very difficult to decide what information is necessary in order to test the truth of an abstract logical reasoning problem.
That last one brings to mind the underlying basis for communication with the TOC Thinking processes in describing logical systems. The use of the TP, allows for -- actually requires for full application -- scrutiny of our cause-and-effect-based CRT analyses and FRT propositions by soliciting concerns about the logical reasoning they present. These include questions about clarity, entity existence, causality existence, sufficiency of the stated causes to lead to the identified effects, absent predicted effects, and additional causes. In TOC jargon, these are known as the Categories of Legitimate Reservation -- CLRs.

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Urgent/Important -- In response to one of my posts, Mr. McGee points out that...
"Differentiating between urgent and important is the trick though isn't it? After the fact, it may be easy but in the moment it can be devilishly hard, especially in a world that treasures action over reflection"
He's got a point there. I don't have an easy answer, but maybe if we give it some thought, a simple answer will arise.

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Monday, May 17, 2004

Freezing = Inertia -- Jack Vinson points to Tom Collins' Knowledge Aforethought article, "Best-yet" Practices - Do Not Re-Freeze, and discusses the flaw of the common change management process of thaw-change-freeze.

Even if some current best practice is found to work, it does so at a point in time in which a particular constraint is in place. The practice may be best at managing that constraint. However, once the constraint moves elsewhere, sticking strictly to the "frozen" local practice may very well prove to be sub-optimal in the new situation.

Step 5 of the Five Focusing Steps is the "on-going improvement" step..."Do not allow inertia to become the system's constraint."

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Friday, May 14, 2004

Friday Fun: A Streak -- The very few readers of my personal blog, at least those who read it before I started going overboard with political comments the last few months, may remember that my favorite sport is Sumo. (Come to think of it, I even mentioned it in these posts a while back.)

This week, in the bi-monthly basho (tournament), the current Yokozuna (top ranked wrestler), Asashoryu, broke the previous record for consecutive wins with his 31st on the first day of the meet. As of yesterday, he was up to 35. Realmedia video of Day 5 includes his latest win [800k .rm], which shows how, even with his relative small size for the sport, he has risen to the top of the sport with agility and leverage.

-- Update -- Later the same day --

I hope I didn't jinx him.

Oh well. Thirty-five in a row is still awesome.

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On Leverage -- At the 2000 TOC World conference (as well as in his most recent book, Necessary But Not Sufficient), Eli Goldratt suggested that there are two basic ways of thinking about improvement. The first can be related to Ben Franklin’s old saw, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” and that a lot of saved pennies can accumulate to a significant sum. The second goes back to Archimedes of ancient Greece, who said “Give me a place to stand and I can move the world,” referring to the multiplying power of a lever, and of a well-placed leverage point.

Anyone who’s worked with a shovel and a wheelbarrow knows the difference. To move a couple hundred pounds of whatever, one can use a shovel and a lot of effort to walk back and forth from the source to the desired location a couple dozen times, dropping and dribbling the material on the way. Alternatively, one can stand in one place, build up a good rhythm shoveling into a wheelbarrow, take advantage of the leverage of the handles and wheel it to where you want it in one trip.

So the question is, when one thinks about a continuous improvement, why does shoveling pennies come to mind rather than a well-leveraged movement of the world? Why do we settle for nickel-and-dime improvements spread across the organization rather than insist on truly significant results from our efforts?

It’s probably because we’ve grown up hearing Ben Franklin more often than Archimedes. It’s probably because most of us have been most comfortable dealing with pieces of our organizational systems rather than taking a system-wide view to find that powerful leverage point. We erroneously assume that big results require big efforts or risks. But as Archimedes suggests, a modest effort can lead to not so modest results.

And once we’ve levered that first big move, what is there to stop us from moving the lever to a new fulcrum point and doing it again. In this way, we can institute a true process of ongoing significant improvement.

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Thursday, May 13, 2004

Why? --
"What concerns me is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are."
    - Epictetus
In the Darwin article, The Power of Why, John Baldoni writes...
"Why is a word favored by those not satisfied with the way things are. These individuals tend to be inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists, social capitalists and politicians. By nature, they are catalysts. Inventors and entrepreneurs wonder about alternatives using why to provoke thought about what might be and try and quantify it as a product or service. Scientists use why as part of the scientific method that begins with a hypothesis and ends with proof. Engineers use why as a means of diagnosis: what happens and why. Social capitalists and politicians alike use why to question assumptions about the way organizations and governments serve their constituents. For all of these types of people, why becomes the trigger word for invoking alternatives as well as beginning the process of bringing people along to alternate points of view."
Problem solving and innovation is all about, as Baldoni suggests in his list of uses of "why," "questioning assumptions" and "bursting preconceptions." Plumbing the depths of such potentially erroneous beliefs requires the willingness and ability to ask "why" effectively. (Link via Jack Vinson)

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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

POOGI III

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POOGI II -- Heath Row at Fast Company Now, picked up on my earlier post regarding TOC's Five Focusing Steps, commenting...
"Rooted in manufacturing, it seems to be a solid way to approach working around any limitation or lack of resources."
Rooted in manufacturing...Yes, to the extent that the concept was first applied in manufacturing environments. Goldratt's classic book, The Goal, is a novelized tale of such a manufacturing implementation. But TOC is more than just bottlenecks and buffers. It's really a means of managing systems, their performance, and growth, by managing their constraints.

These constraints don't have to be resource-based; they're often really found in erroneous policies and practices that end up mismanaging existing resources. And those policies and practices could be anything from how projects are launched in an IT or R&D shop, product pricing based more on questionable cost analyses than on value to customers, trying to manage quantities rather than flow in distribution systems, and over-emphasizing cost cutting to the detriment of top-line growth.

Each of the above examples is related to TOC-based starting point solutions in various common business functions. In addition to these "applications," the TOC toolkit also includes a set of logical "Thinking Processes" that I like to think of as practical "systems thinking" diagrams to help understand and communicate the various cause-and-effect relationships that lead from things like the aforementation erroneous policies and assumptions to problems faced in (complex) organizational systems.

Some of the non-manufacturing applications and the early introduction to the Thinking Processes can be found in Goldratt's sequel to The Goal, a book entitled It's Not Luck. Another good intro to the range of TOC is Deming and Goldratt, by Cohen and Lepore.

(By the way, the appropriate means of "exploiting" a "policy constraint" is to eliminate/replace it, which is facilited by the analysis and buy-in communication that the Thinking Processes were designed to provide.)

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Harvard Business Review Reprints -- Reviewing the recent list of readings by my readers, I came across a growing set of relatively inexpensive Harvard Business Review reprints available for download on Amazon.com. A few that look interesting to me...
IT Doesn't Matter

Value Innovation: The Strategic Logic of High Growth

Strategy as Simple Rules

Tipping Point Leadership

Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System

Choosing Strategies for Change

Matrix Management: Not a Structure, a Frame of Mind
...among a bigger list.

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POOGI -- As my time and energy are consumed by other endeavors, it's good to see some others picking up my slack in the realm of blogging about the Theory of Constraints. Clarke Ching has a good collection of links today that address the TOC POOGI -- Process Of On-Going Improvement, aka the Five Focusing Steps...
1. Identify the system's constraint.
2. Decide how to best exploit the constraint.
3. Subordinate everything else to the above strategy.
4. Elevate the constraint.
5. If, in a previous step, the constraint has been broken, go back to step 1. (Prevent inertia from becoming the system's constraint.)
It's that simple -- not necessarily easy, but simple.

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Monday, May 10, 2004

Interested in Blogging? -- You should probably take a look at the new Blogger system. They've updated almost everything about their offering, adding integrated comments, new templates, post pages, and more. If you're interested in getting a presence on the web, check it out.

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Agile Project Management (The Book) -- I've started reading this new book from Jim Highsmith. In it, he proposes project management as a five-phase process:
Envision, Speculate, Explore, Adapt, Close
While I'm still absorbing the material, the use of the word "speculate" resonates with me. It seems to be meant to replace "plan" in typical PM glossaries, and doing so, brings with it a far more flexible context than what is too often associated with "plans." You'll probably be reading more about this book here later.

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Sunday, May 09, 2004

Why Blog? -- From Paul Scrivens at Whitespace...
"Blogging helps you learn because you can post what you don't understand and there is someone out there who is willing to help."
Hence the role of comments, trackbacks, "via links," and services like Technorati, all of which help turn what might have been one-way monologues into a multilogue. (via Rodent Regatta)

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Science and Art -- I just noticed on Technorati that Michael at Managing a Platform had some nice things to say about my weblog...
"It is something to get lost in."
...and there's no better way than flattery to get my attention. In his July 13, 2003 posting found at the site link (sorry I can't point to it directly, his direct links don't seem to be working) he writes about the science of planning and the art of execution...
"Once a plan is cast, resources found, and the architecture and product technology is understood, then the project can switch to art mode. By this, I mean, tracking actuals and detail project plans can generally be thrown out the window. We've adopted a build plan, which lists major feature deliveries on a weekly basis and use that for the basic project tracking. The art comes in, as the tug and pull of daily tactical decisions and a heavy amount of 'open door' communication with the team, and 'management by walking around' help to minimize surprises and keep everything moving."
I'm in general agreement about "tracking actuals." Actuals are about the past, what is done, and what doesn't matter any more to the success of the project (although they might -- and that's a big might -- have some use for assessing future efforts, but I would rather spend time on subjective lessons learned than on the capture and analysis of fuzzy actuals).

What does matter, however, is the plan of what remains and what has shown up that wasn't in the original plan, especially if promises have been made about what is to be delivered when. This doesn't have to be a "detailed plan." Details are often within the level of noise, or a matter not of project management, but task management. And after all, most of those details fall into areas that are probably not related to the critical chain of the total project, and therefore can often be absorbed with little impact to the project. It's merely knowing which of the feature deliveries are critical to any timing promises and keying in on the dependencies associated with them.

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Customers Don't Buy Products -- In a recent Fast Company article, Smart Strategies: Putting Ideas To Work, Cardinal Health is pointed to as "getting it..."
"Cardinal uses its unique access to both drug manufacturers and hospital chains to figure out where the problems are in the pharmaceutical business. Cardinal then creates new products to solve those problems, save customers money, and produce a tidy profit for itself. 'They grow by figuring out how to improve their customers' economics,' Slywotzky says."
This is exactly what was prescribed in Goldratt's It's Not Luck, his sequel to The Goal. Customers do not buy the services or products you sell. They buy solutions to their problems. While you have to sell service and products, you need to market solutions. When you can tweak your offerings around the edges, in order to maximize the solution power for a particular customer or market, the incremental value that is tied to the bottom line of the target can become more than incrementally valuable.

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Saturday, May 08, 2004

Sometimes There's More Than Meets the Eye --
Sometimes not. (via Eric Hanson)

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Software Project Management Link-O-Mania -- From a Columbia University course. Some people (especially, but not limited to, academics and professional associations) just insist on making things more complicated than they need to be.

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Friday, May 07, 2004

Friday Fun: The Beat of the Drum -- As David Anderson has recently been reminding us, the TOC approach to projects (especially the multi-project management solution) owes a lot to its production management precursor -- Drum-Buffer-Rope. For that matter, in the early days, before taking on names like synchronizer and pacing resource, the resource that was chosen to set the pace for the multi-project system was known as the Drum Resource.

Today's fun(ky) link is related to this drum theme. My musical tastes were developed in that hazy era of the overblown drum solo. Here are a couple songs in mp3 and realaudio format that I remember nodding my head and flailing the air to in those pre-digital drum machine daze. And here's one (mp3) I've never heard before but is a lot of fun. If you're into rhythm, there's a lot more where these come from.

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Purpose -- I've written often in these posts about organizational goal and purpose. Here's a quote from a movie currently in heavy rotation on HBO...
"Without purpose, we would not exist. It is purpose that created us, purpose that connects us, purpose that pulls us, that guides, that drives us. It is purpose that defines us, purpose that binds us."
    -- Former Agent(s) Smith, The Matrix Reloaded
But of course that character would naturally understand being part of a system. It's us humans that need to be reminded of it from time to time.

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What I (Didn't Fully Realize I) Miss(ed) About Office Life -- Over at Worthwhile, David Weinbeger (who I often cited here and here from his JOHO blog, has written a piece about working from home versus in an office. There were some points he makes that I suspected as I went into this change. And now that I'm into the transition back after a bit over seven years, he hits the mark for me in most of his piece...
I've been working at home for almost exactly ten years now, and I love it. But every now and then I spend time at a client's office and get wistful...
For me, there was always a little melancholy at the end of an engagement, as I would typically be leaving behind a bunch of new friends. Even when I worked with people for only a few weeks, teaching the TOC Thinking Processes, the intensity of getting into their big problems with them always brought a sense of camaraderie that faded not long after.
I miss bumping into people I like. Getting an email from someone you've never met in person just isn't the same, no matter how delightful the message.
While I've cultivated a great group of cyberspace-based friends who I've never met in meatspace, there's something to be said for the addition of facial and body language added to the thoughts and ideas of those you're working with. Just yesterday, I found myself sharing in the joy of a new co-worker's new car -- a convertible that she picked up on a perfect spring convertible day in NJ. The fun in her face as she was showing off how she was going to have to tuck her hair in her cap is the kind of thing that is missed online.
I miss eating lunch with people.
Now I miss eating lunch with my wife and my father-in-law, but eating lunch with co-workers will do.
In fact, I miss eating lunch. At home, I grab something out of the kitchen and get back to work while the last bite is mid-esophagus. In the office, each lunch time was another little adventure: Who to eat with? Where to eat? How major a lunch?
Actually, now I find that I'm eating more lunch. And after only a month, back up to near my all-time high weight again. However, I'm trying to use the new environment to develop new habits. When I was home, if I ate lunch alone, I'd usually do it in front of the DVR, catching up on The Daily Show and Tough Crowd from the night before. Now that I'm working in a quaint old town in the Morris County hills (Boonton, for you NJ locals), I've been able to get out for a 20-minute walk at lunch. There's one hill behind the office that, once I'm atop it, my shins burn.
I miss the full-bodied project experience. Now the projects I work on feel abstract: There's a piece of work that gets done via collaborative-but-separate efforts. In an office, a project has a body, not just a brain.

I miss watching the dynamic social relationships expressed in nuance because they have to be accomplished outside of the official structure. Org charts simply don't - and couldn't and shouldn't and don't want to - capture the friendships, rivalries and loves that are inevitable when people occupy the same space. But because office relationships - and I don't just mean romantic ones - have repercussions, they are often tentative and accomplished through subtle symbols - a cocking of the head as someone listens attentively, a smile as budget numbers are passed from hand to hand...
Yup. A rich experience I forgot as I got deeper and deeper into theory and into transitory engagements in which I didn't really need to worry about protecting long-term relationships with people I didn't warm up to. Or having to work through the usual barriers of client/consultant relationships.
I miss the giddy joy of taking the second-to-last cup of coffee.
That one doesn't fit me. I don't drink coffee. But in it's place is the chance to listen to Howard Stern during the morning commute on a regular basis -- maybe not giddy, but always good for laughs and, recently, free speech politics. The radio reception in my basement office was just about non-existent, and anyhow, my mornings used to be dominated by emailing and blogging -- better backed by music rather than talk radio. There's something I miss. My iTunes. Some of the designers and developers sit at their screens with headphones or earbuds. I haven't quite gotten to that comfort level yet, and anyhow, in project and process management, the ears are needed a bit more than in coding.
But then I get pulled into some client's weekly 'status meeting' (and believe me, it's all about status), or one of my kids pulls me out to play or help with homework, and I remember why I like working at home.
My downsides include missing the flexibility of spending a weekday with Lois, especially since her weekends are dominated by the retail job she loves so much. And yesterday's homebound commute was an hour and fifteen. And as I'm putting the finishing touches on this dark and early this morning, I'm hearing a torrential spring downpour that would used to have me pitying those who had to go out into the vagaries of weather every day.

But then again, yesterday, we solved a pile of little problems -- not the big kinds of things that I would have been brought in on in a consulting gig, but cumulatively the kinds of things that add up to a good day. Yup. Quite a good day.
How about you? What are the little pleasures of your life in the office?
Yeah. How about you?

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Business Plans: You Pick the Winner -- From Knowledge@Wharton, the winners of a business plan contest, with "not a single dot-com" among them. How the times change.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Emery's Ironclad Test of Best Practices -- Dale's offered some nice concise common sense. Go read it. Now.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Off Topic, But Cool -- What's today's big story?

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Managing the Unexpected with "Mindfulness" -- This from the authors of the new book, Managing the Unexpected...
Five Practices for Developing "Mindfulness"

Preoccupation with failure. Encourage the reporting of errors and pay attention to any failures. These lapses may signal possible weakness in other parts of the organization. Too often, success narrows perceptions, breeds overconfidence in current practices and squelches opposing viewpoints. This leads to complacency that in turn increases the likelihood unexpected events will go undetected and snowball into bigger problems.

Reluctance to simplify interpretations. Analyze each occurrence through fresh eyes and take nothing for granted. Take a more complex view of matters and look for disconfirming evidence that foreshadows unexpected problems. Seek input from diverse sources, study minute details, discuss confusing events and listen intently. Avoid lumping details together or attempting to normalize an unexpected event in order to preserve a preconceived expectation.

Sensitivity to operations. Pay serious attention to minute-to-minute operations and be aware of imperfections in these activities. Strive to make ongoing assessments and continual updates. Enlist everyone's help in fine-tuning the workings of the organization.

Commitment to resilience. Cultivate the processes of resilience, intelligent reaction and improvisation. Build excess capability by rotating positions, creating additional sources of knowledge and adding new skills. Be mindful of errors that have occurred and take steps to correct them before they worsen. Once the fix is made, make every effort to return to a state of preparedness as quickly as possible. Be ready to handle the next unforeseen event.

Deference to expertise. During troubled times, shift the leadership role to the person or team possessing the greatest expertise and experience to deal with the problem at hand. Provide them with the empowerment they need to take timely, effective action. Avoid using rank and status as the sole basis for determining who makes decisions when unexpected events occur.
While I'm usually more of a big picture person that likes to rely on building robust systems that provide the aforementioned resilience, these suggestions for "paying attention" are worth considering. I know I need to practice such behavior a bit more myself.

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A Surly Wonk? -- I subscribe to a Google feed that let's me know when topics related to the Theory of Constraints hits the press. Most are usually PR pieces by consultants or software vendors. This one's a less than laudatory review, by a local business columnist, of Eli Goldratt's recent Viable Vision seminar in Denver...
The surly wonk swaggered in a white shirt, unbuttoned at the top. Once a soldier in the Israeli army, he raised his voice like a commander, his mouth on a wireless mike and his finger on the button of a slideshow projector. He began his points with maverick bravado and ended them with rhetorical demands for agreement: “Is that understood? Yes or no?”

Many cried back a hearty “yes,” proving the maxim that the more you pay consultants, the more you’ll let them patronize you.
Ouch. But it does sound like Eli's road shows.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Monday, May 03, 2004

Topic Maps -- In my new position, I'm involved in a project that is providing me with a great introduction to relational databases and the structure of linkages between connected pieces of information. (It's tough to concentrate on the PM aspects of a new domain when there's neat stuff to learn.) I stumbled on this piece on Topic Maps this evening that takes those connections beyond the tables we're designing.
"Topic Maps is an abstraction that tries to bring together quite a lot of these bits, from the data model to the user interface, making an effort to try to tell the same story across the many layers we have in computers. And as such, it not only permutes through the technical layers of "data model" and "user interface", but also the people involved in using it, from designers and developers, project managers and general management, to users and interested parties. John the developer can now speak in the same language as the user, which is no small feat in itself and one that should lower the cost of miscommunication."
(via ColumnTwo via elearningpost)

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Defining Innovation -- Joyce Wycoff, who's email newsletter on innovation I've read for a long time, but have dropped -- because she's offered an RSS feed -- writes about the definition of innovation, and an expansion of it...
"Our experience shows that the two steps that we leap over all too often are: 1. stopping long enough to gather new information about the situation and 2. testing ideas that show up. So, we thought the following definition might help people remember those critica steps:
Innovation Requires:
PEOPLE using new knowledge and understanding
to experiment with new possibilities
in order to implement new concepts
that create new value.
We believe this definition emphasizes the importance of gathering new knowledge and understanding before trying to find solutions and the concept of experimenting with possibilities in order to test them against reality."
In a TOC context, we do those things on paper, with Current and Future Reality Trees.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Prototype Project Schedules -- From an ode to "yellow stickie scheduling"...
"The project schedule, especially at the beginning of the project, is a promise on the part of the project team to try to meet their estimates/guesses. The only thing you know about the project schedule is that the way you've laid it out is the one way it won't happen. Life happens and the project schedule can't reflect the server going down, the thunderstorm that took out power in one sub-project's building, or the person who had an emergency appendectomy. All those events happen on projects, and you can't know at the beginning when you schedule a project what will happen. The schedule is how you hope the project will unfold -- but it's certainly no guarantee."
...from Johanna Rothman (also, by the way, mentioned in Seth Godin's Bullmarket directory), it reminds me of some stuff on schedules that I wrote last August.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Michael Porter on Charlie Rose -- Missed it Friday night, but Harvard Professor and strategic management thinker and author Michael Porter was apparently a full-hour guest on Charlie Rose on PBS. By Porter:
Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Amalyzing Industries and Competitors
Competitive Advantage : Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance
Michael Porter on Competition
Fortunately, in New York, the show is repeated the next day (Monday May 3 in this case) at 1:30 PM. I'm setting my DVR for it. You might want to check your "local listings."

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Best Sellers Q104 -- The following is a list of Amazon items purchased by the community of my weblog and site readers during the first quarter of 2004. While most have been discussed in these pages or listed in my "bookshelf," there are a few new ones as well that might be of interest.
Agile Management for Software Engineering: Applying the Theory of Constraints for Business Results - 3

Deming and Goldratt - 3

Thinking For a Change: Putting the TOC Thinking Processes to Use - 2

Agile and Iterative Development: A Manager's Guide - 2

Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, Revised and Updated - 2

The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action - 2

Management Dilemmas: The Theory of Constraints Approach to Problem Identification and Solutions - 1

The Measurement Nightmare: How the Theory of Constraints Can Resolve Conflicting Strategies, Policies, and Measures - 1

Critical Chain Project Management - 1

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience - 1

Thriving on Chaos : Handbook for a Management Revolution - 1

Data Reverse Engineering : Slaying the Legacy Dragon - 1

Re-Creating the Corporation: A Design of Organizations for the 21st Century - 1

Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software - 1

Balancing Agility and Discipline: A Guide for the Perplexed - 1

Enterprise Integration Patterns: Designing, Building, and Deploying Messaging Solutions - 1

Ackoff's Best: His Classic Writings on Management - 1

Introduction to Symbolic Logic and Its Applications - 1

Elementary Logic - 1

Thinking Beyond Lean: How Multi-Project Management Is Transforming Product Development at Toyota and Other Companies - 1

The Innovation Paradox - 1

The Project Management Scorecard: Measuring the Success of Project Management Solutions - 1

Goldratt's Theory Constraints: A Systems Approach to Continuous Improvement - 1

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement - 1

The Race - 1

Critical Chain - 1

Essays on the Theory of Constraints - 1

Late Night Discussions on the Theory of Constraints - 1
Using my Amazon links to make your purchases (of either the recommended books or other items in the same Amazon session) is one way of showing your appreciation for these ramblings. That said, I'm using the minimal "kickbacks" to add to my reading...which should, in time, add to yours. Thanks.

By the way, here's a few more titles for your consideration...
Agile Project Management -- Strongly recommended!

Who's Counting? - A Lean Accounting Business Novel

Profitable Growth is Everyone's Business

For People - And For Profit
Thanks again. By the way, if you've got any reading, viewing, or listening recommendations, pass them along.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Congrats -- Congratulations to blog buddies Clarke and Hal for getting a nod in Seth Godin's recent eBook, BullMarket. (I'm big enough to admit to being small enough to feel a touch of envy.)

And a tip 'o the hat to Jack for sharing third place in a contest to come up with a short "elevator pitch" for the use of weblogs...
You've heard of the blogging phenomenon, right? Blogging takes electronic note-taking and writing a step further and enables people to write for an audience, as well as for themselves. Blogs also attract serendipitous encounters with new people through web searches or by recommendations from still other friends. Isn't this exactly the kind of thing we want to encourage with our people?

I recommend that we try blogging within the company for the next six months. The software is inexpensive, and that length of time should get us enough involvement throughout the organization to show some benefits. I would primarily look for increased collaboration and re-work reduction, as more people will be able to participate in the "has anyone done this" conversations. Ideally, we will also see a higher level of general understanding of what is happening in our business, and having our people connected to our business drivers is a good thing.
See other entries via links on Jack's page, or via The Social Software Weblog, the contest host.

Way to go, guys.

- Update -
According to Dave Pollard, Jack and the other winners in the "Perfect Pitch" contest now get to turn the tables and judge the offerings of the judges on the same subject.

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

Perfectionism -- From Joel on Software...
"Perfectionism is a very dangerous quality in business and in life, because by being perfectionist about one thing you are, by definition, neglecting another."
And a related thought that I've heard or read elsewhere, "The perfect is the enemy of the good enough." (Or something like that.)

posted by Frank - Permanent Link - |

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