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, June 30, 2004

The Joy, Burden of Being a Hero --
"Being a superhero -- saving lives, foiling evil, doing cool aerials -- is more than a job. It's a habit."
More on the psychic costs of heroics, from a modern fable.

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Heroics -- In a posting on resistance to change, David Anderson discusses the common practice of recognizing and rewarding firefighters and other such organizational "heroes." He concludes that...
"...senior management must start to reward people for behavior which is congruent with controlled performance and they must build self-esteem around that behavior. The heroes must be coached and assisted to adapt to a new pattern of behavior - one which anticipates and absorbs uncertainty rather than one which heroically reacts to it."
To have to rely on heroics is no way to run a business. It's easy to say, "So stop rewarding it.", but, as Dave points out, the culture and the operational system that spawns the need for such behaviors need to be addressed in order to do so.

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Authority --
"Authority and power are two different things: power is the force by means of which you can oblige others to obey you. Authority is the right to direct and command, to be listened to or obeyed by others. Authority requests power. Power without authority is tyranny."
    -- Jacques Maritain
(Via Bartleby.com)

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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Meetings --
"Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything."
    --John Kenneth Galbraith (1908 - )
Probably an overstatement, but so what? (From Quotes of the Day - The Quotations Page)

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Lust and Anticipation -- Hey, I'm a fan who finds himself stuck in a Windows world.

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Friday, June 25, 2004

More Friday Fun: More Clocks -- Finishing off what has become a three-week series, this time in the real world rather than on screen. tick tock tick tock...

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Friday Fun: A Philosophical Question --
"What if the Hokey Pokey is really what it's all about?"
    -- A t-shirt at the Jersey Shore
Actually, it sounds about right to me.

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A Political Process: -- Word association...When I say "organizational politics," what comes to mind?

Is your response negative, positive, or neutral? Are organizational politics something you try to avoid? Or do you relish "the game" of complex interpersonal relationships? Or do you view politics simply as necessary for making meaningful things happen?

How one views the subject -- as power struggles, ego stroking, or just another tool -- will influence how one addresses it. Politics is just a catchall term that encompasses a spectrum of activity that ranges from clear communication to convincing persuasion to cajoling to conniving to coercion. To the extent that things in your organization get accomplished at the communication end of that spectrum versus coercion probably colors your feelings about omnipresent politics.

A culture based on effective realpolitik, i.e., pragmatic and practical politics, comes from clearly understanding and communicating where one wants to go, why to go there, and plans for getting there. Along the way, one needs to bring people to understand what's in it for them and that going there won't cause new problems.

One of the most important pieces of the TOC body of knowledge -- the Six Layers of Resistance (to change) -- provides a process to guide one through a potential political morass. In the order listed, focus on getting and moving from:
Agreement on the real problem, to
Agreement on a direction for a solution, to
Agreement on the efficacy of the solution, to
Agreement that the solution won’t cause new problems, to
Agreement on a plan, and to
Agreement to proceed
Logically addressing these steps, and making sure that earlier steps are dealt with before moving on to later ones, will help to turn political endeavors from one of conniving and coercion to growing collaboration and co-ownership.

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Friday, June 18, 2004

Friday Fun: Another Clock -- I've gotten some feedback that the clock I mentioned the other day was a bit distracting. Here's one via Steve that's a bit more relaxed. (I'm not sure what's triggered this obsession with time. I've got some suspicions, but this is a "fun entry.")

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The Challenge of Customization: Bringing Operations and Marketing Together --
In this paper, consultants from Booz Allen and faculty from Wharton conclude that failure to communicate and coordinate among functions, particularly between marketing and operations, significantly raises the costs and difficulty of executing customization strategies. They explain the structural and cultural reasons that make it tough for marketing and operations to work together. And they offer suggestions on how senior executives can encourage better communication and information sharing between these functions to ensure that new varieties of products actually add value for customers and earn profits for companies.
Yet another good piece from strategy+business.

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Theory of Constraints in the "News" -- My Google news alert tracker pointed me to this piece from Tester, a collection of news and information from the Naval Air Station in Patuxent River...
TOC is a process improvement tool, based on rigorous cause and effect, used to increase a systems' throughput while simultaneously decreasing inventory and operational expense.

"TOC and Lean help to create more visibility between each department. Maintenance now knows what supply is doing and vice versa," said Capt. Jeffrey Bolduc, MALS-26 supply officer. "TOC helped to tie it all together to increase interaction and communication between departments. Our main difficulty is maintaining constant communication between different departments."...

...TOC achievements include reducing critical due-in-from-maintenance items by 50 percent in the first month, and from 129 items to 20 items overall. Also, from January 2002 to present, the average yearly readiness rate increased from 72 to 77 percent.
A few years ago, I visited Pax River when they were considering using Critical Chain for getting the V-22 Osprey program back on track after a few serious mishaps. They ended up not taking that approach (maybe I should really say I failed in selling them on it) but the folks down there in Maryland still impressed me considerably. Nice to see they've embraced TOC to maximize their Lean efforts.

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Monday, June 14, 2004

Beyond Bullets -- A new (to me) blog from Cliff Atkinson on taking not a few steps, but strides beyond usual PowerPoint practice. From a recent post...
Who needs bullets, when a picture or two will do?

Tip: As you think through your next presentation, what is a problem your audience is facing? Go to Corbis or another image library and find an image that represents the 'before' view of the problem. Then look for another image that represents the 'after' once they've been fortunate enough to work with you. Place the two images side-by-side using the split-screen technique above. Can you use this slide to help your audience see between the lines?
If you use presentation software a lot, this weblog about "people communicating with people" is a breath of fresh air. Rather than simply complaining about the misuses of PowerPoint, as many do, Cliff offers real, thought-provoking suggestions on using that tool.

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What Time Is It? - Does anyone if it's possible to turn Flash into a screensaver?

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Friday, June 11, 2004

A Guide to Implementing the Theory of Constraints (TOC) -- First New Zealand gives us The Lord of the Rings, now it gives us the single best overview of the Theory of Constraints to be found on the web! (Do you get the impression that I'm impressed?) Kiwi Dr. Kelvin Youngman offers what he describes as...
"...most of all, a personalized view of Theory of Constraints. The intent is to make much of the available theory and practice more readily accessible and to present it within the broader context of parts of the general management literature and also personal experience at the coal face (or should that be the brick wall)."
This is a dense but well organized site that covers the bulk of the TOC body of knowledge. I would match it up against many overview books out there as well.

While it emphasizes the manufacturing and supply chain management applications, it also does an excellent job of discussing constraint-based strategy and the Thinking Processes. For some reason, it surprisingly doesn't go into are the applications for project management (Critical Chain and Multi-Project Management). But then of course, if you're reading this, you know where to go for those topics.

(Yet another tip o' the hat to Clarke Ching for pointing me to Dr. Youngman's site.)

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Friday Fun: Efficiency -- A 1.9mb mov(ie) of domestic efficiency.

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The Project Manager's Prayer -- Probably better known as the prayer of serenity - a state not familiar to many project managers...
"God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."
    -- Reinhold Niebuhr
(From Bartleby.com)

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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The MBA Menace -- I heard this piece on Marketplace (Realmedia) the other day -- great to find it in text. Let's jump right to the quote...
"...Imagine dropping a young MBA student into a classroom of experienced managers. So long as the class sticks to theory and technique, the student would be fine. But as soon as the discussion turns to application, the student would be lost. In this respect, a classroom of such students is always lost. Organizations are complex phenomena. Managing them is a difficult, nuanced business, requiring tacit understanding that can only be gained in context. Trying to teach it to people who have never practiced it is worse than a waste of time--it demeans management..."
From Henry Mintzberg (author of the new book, Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development, in Fast Company. Go read the whole column.

By the way, the same goes for most "professional" certifications as well. Beyond the ability to put a few 3- or 4-letter acronyms on a resume or business card, they amount to little without demonstrated experience. Obvious, but too often overlooked.

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CCPM and PMBOK -- Rumor has it that the Critical Chain methodology so often espoused here will appear as one of the "generally accepted practices" in the upcoming 2004 edition of PMI's PMBOK Guide.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2004

It Ain't the Tasks. It's the Project. -- In a discussion of task versus project management, Jack Vinson points out something important and worth repeating...
"What should be of primary importance is the impact of those tasks on the project, not whether an individual task was completed 'on time.' One way that Critical Chain Project Management helps with this is to ask for 'how much more time do you need' to complete a task, rather than 'are you going to be done on time.' This lets you have conversations like, 'if you are able to finish a day earlier, we can get started on the subsequent activities and bring in the project sooner.' Or, 'that's fine, there is another set of tasks that we are focussed on completing in the next two weeks to bring the project in early.'"
After a couple months of getting comfortable understanding the operations at my new company (Oh what a life consultants have, not having to worry about the day-to-day while setting up for the future.), I've started having just such a series of conversations pointing out the exact same thing.

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Common Sense Weblog -- Blog buddy Clarke has pointed out this new TOC-centric weblog from John Sambrook. John has often contributed to various Theory of Constraints discussion forums. I look forward to taking in his blog. Welcome, John. Now if only weblogs could get TOC the attention it deserves. At least we're getting the word out to those beyond the already converted.

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Monday, June 07, 2004

Spark, Fuel or Flame? -- Innovationista Joyce Wycoff asks "Which is most important: the spark, the fuel, or the flame?" Let's set aside that in Joyce's metaphor, the flame would probably be considered the objective (and therefore most important) and should be replaced by oxygen in the question (which would still work with her sense of an innovative fire being smothered before really catching on). That said, she does nicely describe several necessary conditions for innovation despite the fact that for most "or" questions like this, the answer is "all of the above."

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Friday, June 04, 2004

Friday Fun: Oxymorons --
"An Oxymoron is a combination of contradictory or incongruous words, such as 'Cruel Kindness' or 'Jumbo Shrimp' (Jumbo means 'very large' while Shrimp means 'very small'). It is a literary figure of speech in which contradictory or opposite words, terms, phrases or ideas are combined to create a rhetorical effect by paradoxical means."
Having written about such wordplay, it's good to see one of my favorites -- accurate estimate -- show up at the top of the (admittedly alphabetized) list of favorites on this site.

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Are You Vulnerable? -- A quiz on your risk vis-a-vis "disruptive technologies."

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Learning to Expect the Unexpected - An essay on uncertainty, by Nassim Taleb, author of Fooled by Randomness...
"A black swan is an outlier, an event that lies beyond the realm of normal expectations. Most people expect all swans to be white because that's what their experience tells them; a black swan is by definition a surprise. Nevertheless, people tend to concoct explanations for them after the fact, which makes them appear more predictable, and less random, than they are. Our minds are designed to retain, for efficient storage, past information that fits into a compressed narrative. This distortion, called the hindsight bias, prevents us from adequately learning from the past."
A potential flaw in counting on "lessons learned" to protect us from our future selves. [From Edge]

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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The Trap of Overwhelming Demands -- From Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge...
"Most cases of overwhelming demands stem not from managers' actual work situations but from how they deal with those situations. How do you know whether there's a problem with the way you approach your job? For one, you deem some aspects of your work important, but you can never find time for them. Or you might feel under constant pressure. The most dangerous of all is believing that you are indispensable.

"Managers who fall into the trap of overwhelming demands typically do so because they fail to actively influence those demands. These managers take demands for granted and simply respond to them, rarely questioning whether they actually make sense or whether one could reshape them. Feeling always 'under the gun,' these managers never find time to ask themselves, 'Am I busy with the right things?'"
Less is more. [link via Esther Derby]

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