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.
While the other so-called legacy carriers are also slashing labor costs and increasing efficiency in an effort to compete with successful low-cost airlines, [this airline] has been the most aggressive in emulating the positive employee relations of low-cost rivals. Indeed, when ... management intensified its cost-saving efforts, it didn't turn to high-priced outside consultants. Rather, it asked its employees, since they do their jobs day in and out and know them probably better than anyone else.
It might surprise you to find out which one. Ah...the power of top-down strategy that embraces bottom-up tactics. It warms the heart.
Planning vs. and Improv vs. The Brick Wall -- Johanna recently had some good points about what happens when nothing looks like it'll work...Impossible Schedules Reinforce No Thinking. When there's little or no chance for real success, survival ends up as the definition of success.
posted by Frank - Permanent Link -
[Just noticed, Blogger must have recently fixed their post-counting process. According to it, at about 4 1/2 years, this is my 1000th Focused Performance Weblog posting. Phew. If you're relatively new to it, dip into my archives and "best of", found over in the right-hand column. Between 2002 and 2004, I did some pretty good longer - less link-and-comment, more essay-like -- pieces, if I do say so myself. Got 352 over at Unfocused as well.]
posted by Frank - Permanent Link -
Calling All China Hands -- If there are any readers out there familiar with or living in China, I'm curious to know whether an itinerary of Beijing - Pingyao (old town) - Chengdu (Pandas) - Leshan (Big Buddha) or Lijiang (but probably too far out of the way) - and a wind down in Hong Kong would be feasible in about 14-16 days next March.
Already been to Beijing once (in 1996), as well as to Shanghai, Suzhou, Zuangzhou, Xian, and Guilin, and actually consider Hong Kong a home away from home having been there 4/5 times since 96. The wife is not too enthusiastic about mountain destinations that involve cable cars, which might also preclude Lijiang, otherwise Wutan or even better, Wulingyuan National Park (which seems like China's version of Yosemite) might have made my list.
The D.C. sniper has an entire region hunkered down. What are the odds any individual person in the area will be shot?
Next to zero.
What are the odds that anyone you know will be affected?
Next to zero.
What are the odds that the Nightly News will tell you anything of real use?
Next to zero.
What are the odds that, if you quiet your mind and attend to the work in front of you - or maybe blog a little - you'll come up with something of surprising value, or do something nice for someone you care about?
Feel free to replace the first couple lines with almost any story that gets 20 hours of coverage per day on cable news. (From Britt, who I once met at a blogger's dinner at Katz' deli in NYC. We oughta do that again. Any readers in the NY/NJ/PA area interested in a meetup?)
posted by Frank - Permanent Link -
Friday Fun: Sci-Fi Friday -- With the demise of Star Trek Enterprise and the end of the 5-season series Andromeda, one of the few remaining quality space opera series on the tube is the new incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, featuring one of my favorite actors, James Edward Olmos of Miami Vice, Stand and Deliver, and Blade Runner fame. The second set of new episodes starts tonight on the Sci-Fi Channel. For you podcast listeners out there, the producers are offering a podcast commentary for the series - think TV plus mp3 equals DVD commentary track. (By the way - the podcast is also available in the new iTunes podcast directory as well.)
One qualm I have about the series is the depressing notion that civilian characters seem to be costumed in what appears to be 20th century business attire - suits and TIES! I hope it's simply a factor of being economical in costuming for the series and not a real glimpse of what is to come in the future.
posted by Frank - Permanent Link -
Pfeffer says that "numerous, often hidden, assumptions underlie the mental models or mindsets of senior leaders. These assumptions inform the design of specific business practices -- the particular compensation mechanisms, performance management systems, new measurement practices, and the like that define an organization. If such underlying assumptions are correct reflections of what truly produces employee and organizational effectiveness, you're golden. But if they turn out to be erroneous, you could be headed for trouble."
The trick is to figure out the dominant erroneous assumptions underlying common practices in your industry, turn them on their heads, and put into place new, differentiating practices (aka policies, measurements, and behaviors) based on better assumptions.
1. Learn to say, "I don't know." If used when appropriate, it will be often.
2. It is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it.
3. If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.
4. Look for what is missing. Many know how to improve what's there, but few can see what isn't there.
5. Viewgraph rule: When something appears on a viewgraph (an overhead transparency), assume the world knows about it, and deal with it accordingly.
6. Work for a boss with whom you are comfortable telling it like it is. Remember that you can't pick your relatives, but you can pick your boss.
7. Constantly review developments to make sure that the actual benefits are what they are supposed to be. Avoid Newton's Law.
8. However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts.
9. Persistence or tenacity is the disposition to persevere in spite of difficulties, discouragement, or indifference. Don't be known as a good starter but a poor finisher.
10. In completing a project, don't wait for others; go after them, and make sure it gets done.
11. Confirm your instructions and the commitments of others in writing. Don't assume it will get done!
12. Don't be timid; speak up. Express yourself, and promote your ideas.
13. Practice shows that those who speak the most knowingly and confidently often end up with the assignment to get it done.
14. Strive for brevity and clarity in oral and written reports.
15. Be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements.
16. Don't overlook the fact that you are working for a boss. * Keep him or her informed. Avoid surprises! * Whatever the boss wants takes top priority.
17. Promises, schedules, and estimates are important instruments in a well-ordered business. * You must make promises. Don't lean on the often-used phrase, "I can't estimate it because it depends upon many uncertain factors."
18. Never direct a complaint to the top. A serious offense is to "cc" a person's boss.
19. When dealing with outsiders, remember that you represent the company. Be careful of your commitments.
20. Cultivate the habit of "boiling matters down" to the simplest terms. An elevator speech is the best way.
21. Don't get excited in engineering emergencies. Keep your feet on the ground.
22. Cultivate the habit of making quick, clean-cut decisions.
23. When making decisions, the pros are much easier to deal with than the cons. Your boss wants to see the cons also.
24. Don't ever lose your sense of humor.
25. Have fun at what you do. It will reflect in your work. No one likes a grump except another grump.
Predicting Uncertain Futures Redux -- In a recent "blogversation" with Tim at Cutting Through, the theme has shifted from simple formulas to accounting for potential variation in promise making. Tim (whose site seems to be either broken or slow in loading this week) pointed to a graphic from a Bank of England PDF that replaces a future trend line with a future trend area, appropriately spreading out the range of possibilities the further one tries to look in the future.
A couple years ago, I offered up a similar graphic; one often seen on TV on the east coast of the US from July to November - hurricane season. The accompanying text in that post goes on to talk about the visible buffers of critical chain schedules as a means of communicating such variation.
Tim also bemoans the nature of traditional Gantt charts that don't seem to allow one to take into account the probability associated with schedule variation. And again, buffered critical chain schedules to the rescue. If the tasks estimates that go into the scheduling process reflect 50% confidence and 90% confidence, the CC buffer will approximate a similar range of probability for the collection of dependent tasks whose promise it is predicting or protecting. As much as I would prefer to live in the world of network diagrams and buffer charts, Gantt charts with buffers can be good enough.
For clarity, when I write disparagingly about "best practices" in this blog, the practices I'm referring to are "management practices" which are based in the experience of others, and are often "benchmarked" and misapplied in different situations, supported by cookie-cutter software systems and Johnny One-Note consultants.
The handling of surgical instruments and the landing of 777s that Glen mentions fall more in the realm of "technical practices" that are in place to assure consistency where consistency is important. Doctors need to be able to expect how the nurses will hand them the scalpel. Co-pilots and ground control need to be able to trust pilots to do what is expected bringing in the aircraft.
Deviating from technical practices that have been standardized within a system, without careful consideration and preparation, can be fraught with danger and with risks to quality outcomes.
Deviating from best management practices that have become standard industry practices, with careful consideration and preparation, can be the source of significant competitive advantage.
Application of "proven" best practices may result in something that looks like the original, but without the original artistic impluse (or in the case of the practices, without the context of the organization's unique needs) it will fall short of the intended power and meaning. If you feel attracted to a "best practice," be sure to scrutinize and customize it for your real needs.
posted by Frank - Permanent Link -
Continuing in the spirit of providing "too much information," my similar toilet paper pull process comes to mind. One roll on the roller. An immediate buffer of four rolls in a drawer in the vanity next to the toilet (within reach from where you would be when you need it). When down to one roll in the drawer, the last empty tube doesn't get immediately thrown out, but rather gets dropped to the first floor, near the door to the basement. This reminds me to replenish the drawer from the bulk package kept down there, next to the buffer of 1 to 4 cases of bottled water. We usually go through the latter faster than the former (won't go there), so when our next trip to Costco is triggered by dropping to one case of water in the basement after replacing the one kept in the kitchen, it's easy to assess whether it's worth picking up another bulk pack of TP as well.
To get 'process' people to consider options, repeat this phrase:
One choice is not a choice, it is a trap; two choices is not a choice, it is a dilemma; three choices is a choice.
(I believe I got that saying, perhaps worded slightly differently, from Jerry Weinberg.)
Repeat this saying often. Establish it as a process to follow to avoid traps and dilemmas.
One the other hand, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who split the world into two kinds of people, and those who donít. Or the other two kinds of people: those who can count. Or the other two kinds of people: those who finish things.
Humor aside, the perception of choice is very much based in the assumptions that underlie the perceived limit of choice.
The phrase "I didn't have a choice," is another way of saying "I chose the lesser of two evils." But I certainly had a choice. Since we make such choices all the time, we have a term for them: Hobson's Choice. Hobson was a seventeenth-century livery stable owner who said to his customers, "You may either take the horse nearest the door or none at all." That's still a choice. If the horse nearest the door looks unridable, I can always walk.
This whole matter looms large in engineering design. All the time, designers want to throw up their hands and cry, "I know it'll be hard to lubricate, but I'm making it that way because I don't have a choice!" Design is life-in-microcosm -- always a complex set of constrained choices. Design is finding ways around being painted into corners. Options open up only when we refuse to accept what's obvious -- when we tell Mr. Hobson, "Fine, but I see you have a back door. Give me the fine mare next to it."
Iím always a little wary of formulas - when thereís a calculation to come up with an answer, thereís always a temptation to rely on this as a definitive God-given answer that has to be correct to five decimal places - but if people are involved as a factor, thereís a danger that youíre lucky if the answers are accurate to an order of magnitude.
...although my wariness comes from a different direction...the fact that this formula ends up with a single number, which gets plugged into a plan as a single number that translates to the "deadline" of the title of Bert's post. Those deadlines then serve as a "not to exceed" target for the task performer, that if not exceeded, implies success from a duration point of view. "If I get done by such-and-such-a-date, our project will be "on track." The problem is that human behavior kicks in with such a deadline-driven viewpoint, serving as the source of Parkinson's Law. Work will expand to fill the time allowed by that deadline.
When considering task estimates, we should simply face reality and recognize that estimates are best communicated in terms of ranges and best agreed to as such, and not as single point commitments. The idea of "accurate estimates," over which too much time, effort, and angst is too often spent in project planning, needs to be set aside. It must be replaced with a brief conversation about how long (in time or iterations) something might take and how short it could take if good luck and good work practices come together. The former needs to respect the fact that Murphy's Law has not yet been repealed and that there are non-trivial unknowns at the time of planning. The latter highlights what management practices and additional predecessor pieces of the project would benefit delivery speed. The difference between the two is the time value of doing what is necessary to make the shorter time more likely.
From a planning efficiency perspective, this two-point range estimate heads off a lot of unnecessary negotiation, CYA, and other political activity that is associated with "accurate estimates" or "estimates as commitments," and does little but strain the necessary teamwork and trust between the people involved. It does so by respecting the concerns of those who will do the work, and and by providing necessary understanding of the prediction to those for whom speed of delivery translates to more benefit.
And from an effectiveness perspective, it provides the basis for rational predictions and promises; expected not-to-exceed promises bounded by the upper limits of a range of reasonable prediction that is managed, refined and narrowed as the project effort learns more about itself.
The Declaration of Interdependence -- We're all in this together.
Don't Let Them Tell You It Doesn't Make a Difference (Update) -- Didn't think I'd get caught up in the Live 8 thing on TV to the extent that I did 20 years ago. But I seem to have been grabbed by it. Sir Bob just showed a picture from the original Live Aid show -- a picture of a starving, apparently dying, little girl. He then introduced a lovely young woman, who through the aid started back then, managed to survive, to get educated, and more. That woman was the little girl in the picture.
Not a dry eye in the house.
The MTV/VH-1 Nannyism (Another Update) -- Watchin' JayZ and Linkin Park. Again, surprised at how much I'm enjoying some of these artists I don't usually pay attention to. However, MTV and VH-1 are dropping out way too much language. Annoying. Basic cable is as ballless as network in succumbing to the new nannyism protecting us from words. As if these "obscenities" compare to the obscenity of extreme poverty. [Later: I guess it's OK if you're an aging icon (like Pink Floyd) to sing about "that goody good bullshit" without being subject to an audio dropout.]
By the Way... If you've got HBO, look for a repeat of their recently broadcast movie The Girl in the Cafe. It starts out as one of the best romantic comedies I've seen, and morphs seamlessly into a message movie regarding the G8 and the crimes of compromise without breaking down. Excellent flick. (Another movie related in subject matter is Beyond Borders, in heavy rotation on Showtime, with Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen.)