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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.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Comment Apologies -- I was hit with over a hundred bits of comment spam this morning, and in my haste, accidentally deleted a few recent comments. I might have also accidentally "banned" an IP or two that I shouldn't have. If you're not purveying porn, stock tips, or misspelled pharmaceuticals of questionable origin, and if you try posting a comment and are disallowed, drop me a line at my firstinitial-f-lastname-patrick at g-oogle-maildotcom with your IP info so I can fix the problem.

Jenny and Brian - this might mean you. Try commenting to this message to see if it's a problem.

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Silos and Overlap, Boxes and Arrows -- As the firm that pays me continues to grow (we're getting close to tripling in staff since I joined almost 2 1/2 years ago), we've been going through some predictable growing pains. Nothing that's threatening performance or quality in a serious way, or our status as one of the best places to work, but as an organization goes from 20-some to 70-some people, working relationships and structures necessarily change, including some formalization of processes and procedures so that "the way we do stuff" and useful knowledge can be transferred from "old timers" to new hires efficiently.

Some around here have bemoaned a growing sense of "silos" between groups, but I haven't been completely comfortable with that description, having seen some real serious silos at their worst in my previous Fortune 100 experience. However, a description of "team silos" by David Armano (that's two from him recently - his Logic+Emotion is a keeper - great graphics too, one of which I've absconded with for this post) is a bit closer to what I think can commonly happen.
Reminds me of an old post about avoiding the use of project managers as conduits (Border guards? Customs officials? Neutral Peacekeepers?) for information between team members.

As an organization sets out to improve and formalize processes for communication and handoffs to improve quality and speed of project execution, it has to be careful to continue working as true teams, allowing the overlap to inform and improve results. It can be an overlap in skills as suggested by Armano, but it can also go beyond that to a procedural overlap, as handoffs from one team member to another end up having overlapping responsibility, with both hands making sure that one knows what the other needs or, conversely, has done and that they both agree it's a successful handoff.

Projects are often documented in the form of boxes (tasks) and arrows (handoffs or deliverables). Responsibility for the boxes is usually pretty clear. Responsibility for the arrows has to be shared between the box owners.

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[Unfocused] Monday at the Movies: All's Well That Ends Well - Over at Filmcritic.com, they've come up with a list of The Top 50 Movie Endings of All Time. As is usual in such a list, they're forced to leave some out.

I could point out the obvious fact that Hitchcock's Psycho is missing from the list. I'm not talking about the reveal of Norman's mother that traumatized me as a 10-year-old (still can't figure out what my friend's parents were thinking when they took us kids to the drive-in for that one), but Norman's interior monologue in the cell.

But actually, the first one that I thought of when I read about the list on Boing Boing, and one that has stuck with me ever since seeing back in high school humanities class back in the 60's was A Man For All Seasons and its final "quick cut" to black.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Further Friday Fun: Colbert Skewers MSM -- Speaking truth to the power that's supposed to be speaking truth to power. Which is the real journalism? It sure ain't always the "main stream media."

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Friday Fun: Podcast Picks -- A few things that live on my iPod and have contributed to the death of my live radio listening...
The Sly Crooner - Music (laid back lounge jazz) and stories from Swanktown, broadcast from "the intersection of style and substance."

Penn Jillette - The bigger, louder half of Penn and Teller with skeptical (atheist), libertarian, anarcho-capitalist social observations. The most uncommon sense to be found on talk radio, along with some laugh out loud interludes. Be sure to check out the show on "Monkey Tuesdays."

Engines of Our Ingenuity - Short (under 5-minute) bits on "how our culture is formed by human creativity." Not only available as mp3 and podcast, but there's also a complete set of keyworded transcripts. One of this week's episodes talks about the possible validity of the idea of the internet as a series of tubes, giving a historical perspective. If you are at all into the history of technology and science, this is a treasure.
These are all available through iTunes Music Store as well, in the Podcast section.

[Update: After posting this dark and early, one of my other podcast subscriptions showed up this morning with a good piece on how work has been treated in pop culture (the movies). Check out this mp3 from The Fishko Files if you're interested.]

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fix the Plan -- Jeffrey Phillips writes about pressures to stick to the plan when it's clear the reality has failed to do so.
"To leave the confines of an existing plan, we will probably be changing the scope, timeframes, deliverables or other aspects of the plan. That means a significant departure from what was agreed on previously...

"...Also, once a plan is re-written, there's a certain whiff of failure attached to the fact that the team did not live up to the plan."
The problem is rooted in the up-front expectations implied by the mere existence of a plan. If presented as the "one true path" to the project's objectives, or if offered as a prescient commitment to not only the objectives but to the way the objectives will be delivered, then yes, deviating from (or even fixing) a plan along the way will be involve a struggle for hearts and minds of the planners and of those who are invested in the plan. (Do I really have to mention Iraq?)

It's better for all to recognize up front the fact that a plan is merely a model of expectations and that, as memorably pointed out by George E. P. Box...
"All models are wrong. Some models are useful."
Take the useful bits and discard the bits that are proven wrong by reality (after learning from them).

More importantly, advise the project's stakeholders upfront that the plan is just that...a plan that is is to the project as a map is to the territory it represents, subject to error and uncertainty, but nevertheless useful as a starting point and subject to change, correction, or even complete abandonment along the way.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dilbert: A Classic Today -- Project versus Process...
Check out the whole thing before it disappears.

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Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great -- A new book from Esther Derby, a long-time friend of this blog.
That's two this year for her (along with Behind Closed Doors by Esther and Johanna Rothman).

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Mac-Based PM Software Coming From Omni -- OmniPlan sounds interesting, based on Digg comments from beta tester iNik...
I was on the private beta (guessed what the product was a few days ago on their blog), and it's an excellent program. Just the kind of spit and polish you'd expect from the Omni Group. Does round-trip file sharing with MS Project without difficulty (using the MS Project XML file format), has a great (and easy) web publishing feature, and does a waaaay better job of "balancing" resources and schedules than MS Project. (You can balance based on time or resources being fixed -- very nice.)
Given my fond memories of the late, lamented MacProject (which had the best network-based plan-building interfaces ever}, this, coming from one of the best Mac App development houses, sounds nice indeed. Especially given the comment about resource balancing, for which MS Project is useless without plug-ins. Really looking forward to checking it out.

Maybe I won't need Parallels to run MS Project anymore. (Wishful thinking, although without that need, what other excuse can I come up with to upgrade to a new Intel-based Mac?)

Tagged:

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Heroes and Villains -- Derry Simmel writes about the problems with heroes. One of the many points he makes...
"Heroes are dangerous: Just ask every Security officer on the Enterprise (red shirts). Standing too close to a hero can be a problem; our hero may be impervious to nuclear weapons, but those of us nearby are slightly less durable. When a hero comes in to save your project, if they succeed, they’re the hero (again). If they fail you will be watching them ride off into the sunset while you clean up the mess and count the cost."
But he's not really against heroes, but rather the dependence on them - the "hero culture." The "money quote"...
"Problem is - projects are not contests, they are projects, and that is where the hero culture fails."
Heroic performance is laudable when needed, but it should only be needed rarely - it can't be expected or depended upon on a regular basis. Otherwise, the resulting stress and burnout will eventually make it impossible.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

New Book From Edward Tufte -- Soon to join his other works on my bookshelf - Beautiful Evidence. 'Nuff said. No ducks here.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Where...Do Ideas Come From? - According to the show with zefrank (Quicktime required),
"If you don't want to run out of ideas, the best thing to do is not to execute them."
"...execute them."

heh, heh.

(Note: Song included in this short video might not be safe for work.)

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Squeak Early, Squeak Often -- From Managing a Doomed Software Project: Practical Suggestions for Breaking the Bad News...
"The earlier you provide this information to management, the more they can do about it. Remember: Keeping management in control is in your own best interests. Squeak far enough into the project, and with enough data, and it will be clear that you're a committed contributor who isn't just crying wolf."
Note carefully: "with enough data".

Also note: This might not work at Microsoft.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Innovation - Thinking Plus Doing -- Steve Hardy, at Creative Generalist, points to some insights on "holistic creative thinking" from David Armano, who offers this view of an innovation process...
Steve and David talk about the having these abilities embodied in a "creative" individual, "strong at both imagining concepts and following through with execution."

Another approach might be, recognizing the different needs of the innovative process, to form teams of individuals that, together, add up to the "embodiment" of these elements. What is then needed along the way is an effective approach for communication and persuasion between team members, so that the thinkers have a way to talk to the doers about objectives and desirable outcomes and the doers can talk back about prerequisites and plans, and both can freely express yes-but concerns as well as yes-and ideas. If the thinkers and the doers spend enough time working together effectively, I have little doubt that they'll rub off on each other.

Perhaps the ability of the TOC Thinking Processes to help logically "verbalize intuition" could fill that bill.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

From "The Goal" to Babylon 5 to Deadwood -- The previous post's mention of Babylon 5 reminds me of something I noticed Sunday night, which might be interesting to hard core TOC folks. A new character showed up on HBO's Deadwood (ranks right up there with B5 among my all-time favorite tube offerings) - Chesterton, an invalid actor in Langrishe's company, played by Aubrey Morris. Morris also played the character Duncan in the Exogenesis episode of B5 (sheez - Was that 10 years ago already?), which I noted a while ago. But of more interest to TOCers out there is his portrayal of Jonah in the video version of The Goal.

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A Pair of Posts on Purpose -- One from Rumi, via Ming...
"There is one thing in this world you must never forget to do. Human beings come into this world to do particular work. That work is their purpose, and each is specific to the person. If you forget everything else and not this, there's nothing to worry about. If you remember everything else and forget your true work, then you will have done nothing with your life."

   - Jelalludin Rumi, from "The One Thing You Must Do", The Soul of Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
...and one from Jason Calcanis via Hugh...
"As I tell folks on our team, there are three types of people in the world:
People who make stuff.
People who sell stuff.
People who support the first two groups of people.
"That's really it... I'm a servant to my people. I am here to serve (as a wise, wise man once told me), and if the talent ain't happy then I've failed. The problem is sometimes the support folks think they're the talent."
I largely fall into the servant category, as well.

Why are you here?

Come to think of it, that's also one of the core questions posed to the characters (and viewers) of one of the best TV shows ever - Babylon 5: Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here? Where are you going?

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Managing Web Projects -- I recently came across Flipping Heck, by web development manager Katy Whitten. She's got some pretty good stuff in there, especially a current series-in-progress on managing web projects, for which she's up to the fifth sixth installment.
#1 - The Brainstorm - A mindmap laying out the scope - what's involved in getting and doing web development work.

#2 - The Workflow - A PDF turning the mindmap into a process flow.

#3 - The Pitch - Research, then presentation.

#4 - The Quote - Rates and work estimates, but not much about dates, unless her "word of warning" to "add on extra" is her means of translating work to duration.

#5 - The Contract - Get it in writing.

#6 - The Technical Specification - [Updated link: haven't read it yet]
As you can see, she's already up to step 5 6 and has only gotten to [one step beyond] commitment to do the job - the contract. Success in web development is far more than just doing good work.

It also requires getting the work. [Then the fun starts.]

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Interruption is not Collaboration -- Check out Jason Fried's 37Signals post on productivity:
"Being productive isn't something that just happens. You don't just sit down and be productive. Real productivity takes time. It's a process. You make your way into it. Sometimes it takes 15 minutes or a half hour or an hour or more to really get in that zone. And when you're in that zone you are actually getting real work done. But once you get knocked out of that zone it takes a real toll on you. You go from highly productive to annoyed."
Gotta keep in that flow zone for real productivity.

In a related manner, and getting above the issue of interruptions a notch or two, one of the roles of an effective enterprise multi-project management process is to provide clear prioriy to people regarding which task they should be focused on, letting them set aside lower priority tasks with no guilt or pressure to multi-task (interrupt) with them.

Also see the video of Jason's presentation and recommended books on flow and strategic project portfolio management (the first step in priority setting in a project-based organization).

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Truth In Forecasting -- I didn't think this would turn into a string of posts about Microsoft, but at least this time, according to David Weinberger, there's some truth in the forecast. Their MS Money servers have apparently been down for a month, they owned up to the problem, and they have no estimate of when they'll be up. Amazing. I suppose "We don't know." is a better answer than a promised date without justification.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Tough To See the Future (Spanking the Truth) -- At least when the vista is clouded by self-deception, like this from Philip Su at Microsoft, on project managers associated with the Vista operating system effort:
"Turns out they're actually great project managers. They knew months in advance that the schedule would never work. So they told their VP. And he, possibly influenced by one too many instances where engineering re-routes power to the warp core, thus completing the heretofore impossible six-hour task in a mere three, summarily sent the managers back to 'figure out how to make it work.'? The managers re-estimated, nipped and tucked, liposuctioned, did everything short of a lobotomy -- and still did not have a schedule that fit. The VP was not pleased. 'You're smart people. Find a way!' This went back and forth for weeks, whereupon the intrepid managers finally understood how to get past the dilemma. They simply stopped telling the truth. 'Sure, everything fits. We cut and cut, and here we are. Vista by August or bust. You got it, boss.'

"Every once in a while, Truth still pipes up in meetings. When this happens, more often than not, Truth is simply bent over an authoritative knee and soundly spanked into silence."
...sigh...

Reminds me of my proposed PM theme song. "Facts don't do what you want them to."

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