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.
...There's usually a lot more performers in an effort than there are project or process managers, so the boxes, tasks, and subprocesses that are identified usually get a lot of attention. More attention often needs to be aimed at the arrows, handoffs, and deliverables. Most of my project plans have quite verbose task descriptions, often necessary to help clarify and define the outputs of the task in order to fully define completion for the performer of the work. I wish I could put information on the arrows, defining the actual deliverables, in PM software like can be done in software designed to map processes....
The New York Times reports that DNA tests refute claims by creepy-looking football head John Karr that he was involved in the killing of Jon-Benet Ramsey. County district attorney Mary Lacey asked that the arrest warrant be dismissed, saying no evidence has developed, other than his repeated admissions, to place Mr. Karr at the scene of the crime.
What was this man doing?!
He was trying to leverage popularity by attaching himself to a brand.
Jon-Benet Ramsey's not a brand.
She isn't a brand... but there is a Jon-Benet brand. It's just not one most people would want to associate themselves with.
And it worked! He got a business-class flight out of it, and the overall brand experience now includes his weird head.
And champagne on that business class flight, as well. (full text at the zefrank wiki)
Blogday 2006 -- Today is Blogday, the goal of which is to link to five blogs not previously linked to before. Last week the venerable Boing Boing (no, that's not one of my five) caught my attention with a pointer to a surreal cartoon featuring Sluggo from the old Nancy strip, which led me to the current surreal work of Jim Woodring at The Woodring Monitor (#1), on which I found a reference to The Blog Reader (#2), a compendium of what look to be quality reads, including The Grub Report (#3), covering one of my favorite things in life -- the appreciation of good food.
360 Pixels (#4) is a new photoblog from my co-worker, Ayash Basu. Nice stuff, even if I didn't know him.
These are probably more appropriate for my other Unfocused blog, but there is not much that I've been reading and feel worthy of inclusion that I haven't previously linked to in the topics usually dealt with in Focused Performance. But more in line with the usual subject matter, although this one might not technically be a blog, I'll suggest Booz Allen Hamilton's strategy+business has added a pile of RSS feeds (#5) since I last looked that often provide some interesting biz-think pieces. (hmmm...maybe I have linked to them before. Too bad.)
Proud to Be an Industrial Engineer -- From Raising the Floor in Samsung's DigitAll Magazine...
Almost since the Industrial Revolution began in the 1750s, engineers and managers have sought to make factories more efficient and productive. Industrial engineering and operations research developed in the mid-twentieth century to put factory design on a more scientific foundation. Total Quality Management and Six Sigma brought a new focus to these efforts: they made quality improvements the centerpiece of factory reform, and made quality a key consumer benefit. They also generated vast quantities of information about factory operations, and required large amounts of information to succeed. Likewise, robotics and supply chain management made manufacturing more information-intensive.
Industrial engineers are now looking beyond the production line: Georgia Tech dean William Rouse argues that industrial engineers will design supply chains and entire enterprises, not just factories. Meanwhile, new technologies are moving into the factory floor. Put most simply, theyíll make products more intelligent; make manufacturing more information-intensive; and turn the factory floor into a center for a new kind of knowledge work...
So, just about everything that can be improved, is being improved. If you define "improved" to mean more features, more buttons, more choices, more power, more cost.
Good enough can be good enough, and in some cases, better than "improved."
Variations on this advice can be found in the Wikipedia entry for the KISS Principle.
"Keep It Super Simple";
"Keep It Simple and Solid", in animation;
"Keep It Simple, Sweetie", gentler, or perhaps more patronising;
"Keep It Small and Simple";
"Keep It Simple, Smartguy";
"Keep It Simple and Stupid", often used when discussing artificial intelligence;
"Keep It Small and Scalable", often used when discussing IT;
"Keep It Short and Simple", a common marketing maxim for sales presentations;
"Keep It Short and Sweet";
"Keep It Simple and Sweet";
"Keep It Simple, Keep It Stupid", which produces the acronym KISKIS;
"Keep It Simple; Make It Fun", a term used in scouting;
"Keep It Stupidly Simple";
"Keep It Simple, Silly", another kinder phrasing;
"Keep It Stupid, Simple", the joking version;
"Keep It Simple, Shithead", the dysphemistic version.
Or the long KISSSS:
* "Keep It Short, Simple, Small, and Self-contained"
Of course, my preference is the classic, "Keep It Simple, Stupid."
posted by Frank - Permanent Link -
Thursday, August 24, 2006
BlogDay 2006 is Coming -- The idea of BlogDay (Aug 30) is to link to 5 blogs that you haven't linked to before. Be there or be square.
posted by Frank - Permanent Link -
Thou Shalt Not Overwork Yourself -- As reported in The Herald, Pope Benedict, after his vacation in the Italian Alps, passes along a message from St. Bernard of the 12th Century...
"The saint advised pontiffs to 'watch out for the dangers of an excessive activity, whatever... the job that you hold, because many jobs often lead to the 'hardening of the heart', as well as 'suffering of the spirit, loss of intelligence',' Benedict said, quoting St Bernard.
"'That warning is valid for every kind of work, even those involved in the governing of the church,' said Benedict, 79."
Everything is important to some local part of the organization, but as a result, nothing is recognized as important to the organization as a whole. But we can't say that my silo is important and yours isn't -- it's just not polite -- so I scratch your back by not questioning the value of your desires and you scratch mine. A clear strategy will go a long way to getting leadership on the same page, and understand why it is best to delay "my" local interests in order to use scarce resources for "yours."
"What does a credible schedule look like? What are the units of measure of credibility for a schedule? How would I recognize a credible schedule is I had one in front of me?"
A couple things I would look for are...
A minimal number of tasks with no successors - Other than milestones related to the delivery of specific, real value themselves, maybe one or two related to getting certain things done by a certain time along the way. Other than that, the existence of tasks in a plan or schedule are only justified if they contribute to the actual "external" deliverables of the project - the project's product.
Range-based promises - If things go better than we deserve to expect, we'll deliver around here, called out specifically in the schedule. If not, delivery could occur at some later point in time, called out specifically in the schedule. The promise is that we'll work to deliver between those two points, closer to the former than the latter if at all possible. Any specific, hard-edge promise is based on the latter, later time. For Glen's idea of "maturing objectives", the fuzziness of promisability can be refined with additional "maturity." (Alternatively, minimally I'd like to see a confidence level associated with a particular promise date, but my preference is to see a delivery window.)
Resource leveling - If task A and task B require the same resource, they can't be scheduled for the same period of time.
Time to fix - One of my pet peeves is finding a "test this" or "review this" task without related "fix if it's broken" and "re-test" tasks, or even another iteration of fix and re-test. If you need to test, you might need to fix, which will take time. And if you're sure you won't need to fix, then why do you need to test or review?
Clarity of dependencies and deliverables - A list of tasks and dates is not a schedule. I want to easily see the dependencies between tasks. The handoffs of "internal deliverables" live on the "arrows" between the "boxes." I also like to see verbose task descriptions that provides information about what the predecessor task is delivering to its successor.
Again, from Glen:
"Planning is a management function. Scheduling is the mechanical production of the sequence of work efforts needed to implement the plan."
To me, a fair amount of the plan can be documented in a network diagram that identifies tasks, resources, and dependencies. Scheduling takes that plan, adds to it information about baseline resource capacity, develops a timeline for the project, then looks further at the resource availability vis a vis other projects, and then applies that timeline to a calendar.
But this planning doesn't end with the schedule. As Glen points out, planning (and re-planning) constitutes the "management" of the project. It involves the process of modifying previously planned methods and schedules when they come up against reality, so that the promises of "maturing objectives" remain "deliverable," while at the same time narrowing down the delivery window as work is completed.
It also involves the process of refining aspects of the original plan and schedule as the objective "matures" and more is known, allowing us to fill in previously fuzzy aspects of the plan.
Periodic, on-going re-planning is how a schedule and its promises are kept credible.
"...the best way to get a link from any blogger is to link to them first. But geez, make the reason something other than a link exchange. Sure, sometimes I'll link to something somebody's said about something I've said, but it's always either because the other writer said something interesting or because what they said moves a conversation forward. I never link for the sake of reciprocity alone, or to perpetuate any "elite".
"Want to succeed in the blogosphere, or the Web in general? Easy. Do search engine optimization. Here's how:
1. Write quotable stuff about a lot of different subjects. 2. Do it consistently, for months if not years. 3. Link a lot, as a way of giving credit and of sending readers to other sources of whatever it is you write about.
- We'll try (the one above) - We'll work smarter (we're working stupidly now?) - It's just one more change (many phrases with 'just' are project killers) - Let's hope for the best (I wouldn't bank my company's future on hope) - We'll multi-task (that way we can not make progress on anything) - We'll find the resources somewhere (where?) - We'll make do (being resigned to the worst certainly won't help finish a project)
"There is no try. There is only do, or not do" - Yoda
posted by Frank - Permanent Link -
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Accumulated Blogfodder -- Cleaning out a backlog of links...
Assumption Based Planning: A plan is a tentative solution to the inexact problems posed by an uncertain future...Planning is not the same as scheduling.
Good versus Bad Variation: Organizing for routine work: Drive out variation. Organizing for innovative work: Encourage variation.
Late projects are late one day at a time: "How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at a time." - Fred Brooks, software engineer and computer scientist - Read the extensive comments
When do people change?: If you donít know them and you donít love them, you are not going to change them. Why people do the things they do: So I'm thinking about the person who was proud of making people cry when consulting. Let's call her Jackie. Jackie comes in with an idea of how people should be doing their jobs. If the people aren't doing their jobs that way, Jackie's assessment is that the people are incompetent.
[Unfocused] Bull's Hit -- Penn & Teller present their rational, libertarian bent views on diverse subjects, now available for free download on Google Video. If you haven't caught them on Showtime, check out the following subjects online.
[Unfocused] Huh? -- I got an email from Amazon today recommending I buy Titanic because I had previously purchased King Kong (the original), Batman Begins, and, get this, Frank Miller's Sin City.
OK - maybe the big ape and the big boat have romance in common, but Sin City? Titanic is one of those "classic" movies that I have never seen and have no plans to ever see beyond clicking by it on cable, along with Gone With the Wind and It's a Wonderful Life.
posted by Frank - Permanent Link -
Wicked Problems and Real Wicked Problems -- Glen Alleman has a good current piece on "wicked problems", which are defined by...
"...attributes that make them difficult to manage in a "top down" manner. And what does this mean an agile project manager? First is to recognize that problem solving is opportunity driven not plan driven. The challenge then is to create the opportunities...Wicked problems are primarily "issues" problems not "solutions" problems. They are "creation" problems rather than "assembly" problems. Solutions to wicked problem arise through intuitive processes rather than logical processes."
The idea of "issues problems" brings to mind the use of the TOC Conflict Diagram (aka Conflict Cloud) that helps to define problems in terms of their seemingly irreconcilable conflicts.
Such a construct helps bring the intuitive closer to the logical. Some practitioners have been known to talk about the TOC Thinking Processes as tools for "verbalizing intuition" via cause-and-effect relationships related to either clarifying sufficiency of causes for effects or necessity of pre-requistites for objectives. The conflict diagram falls in the category of "necessity" tool.
Getting back to Gene's "wicked problems." Despite the characteristics with which he starts his post, I find it hard to fathom such a problem that could not be defined in terms of some sort of irreconcilable conflict, driving us down one path to satisfy one (or more) objective(s) and at the same time requiring another action deemed necessary to satisfy an equally important objective but in conflict with the first action path, assuming that the objectives are also related to some larger common goal. Serious "wickedness" could be a factor of being a collection of such rock-and-hard-place conflicts, either related or not.
Addressing an "issue problem", in my mind, is hindered by invisible dogma -- by beliefs in the issue -- in the conflict -- and in the conflict as irreconcilable -- "there's nothing we can do about it," -- "it's always been like this," -- and perpetuated by the development of copingmechanisms alluded to by Glen. But if the irreconcilableness can be discussed in terms of necessity logic, there's a chance to question the underlying assumptions that keep it alive - that reinforce the "must have" necessity arrows of the diagram. It's not just a "creation" problem, it's also a problem of perpetuation. But if one of those assumptions can be invalidated in a way that allows both objectives to be achieved without relying on one or both of the conflicting actions, a potential opening move to a solution might be in the offing.
Warning: Major leap of context ahead.
OK. All that said, there are some situations that are truly "wicked problems" for which there is no common objective.
I thought I had written before about the difficulty of problems/conflicts that are based in other than what most of us can accept as rational (or at least discussable and "questionable") needs or requirements, but I can't seem to find it other than a reference to superstition. (Probably did so on some e-mail discussion group.) Along these lines, the same day I read Glen's piece, political columnist Andrew Sullivan described what might be an ultimate example in real wicked problems:
"This is what happens when religion takes over politics. Rational negotiation becomes impossible; victory becomes a theological mandate; no end becomes feasible except conflict; and in this case, some of the actors actually want that conflict to be apocalyptic. We have to understand the fundamentalist mindset we are grappling with. It is not rational in worldly terms. It is other-worldly - and rational only under those theological constructs. For those reasons, it is the biggest threat to Western freedom since the totalitarianisms of the last century; and easily the most mortal theat to Israel since its founding. It cannot be disarmed or reasoned with; it can only be defeated."
When the "top-down" "issues" of such problems are embedded in unquestionable assumptions and unquestionable requirements (aka inflexible dogma), there is little or no hope of rational solution that works for both sides.
I'll take Glen's wicked problems over Andrew's any day.
If you want to lead a team, a company, an army, or a country, the primary problem you face is getting everyone moving in the same direction, which is really just a polite way of saying "getting people to do what you want."
Anyone willing to attach such a title to his works has got to be worth reading. And he is, his online Joel on Software offering having been on my blogroll for sometime. Looking forward to the meat of the series, that, according to the intro, will cover the Command and Control method, the Econ 101 method, and the Identity method.
How an Agency Works ...when the cameras are running, that is, in this self-concious "viral video" about which David Armano wonders whether it is about the client or about the agency.
And that's OK.
But if about the agency, it's interesting that everyone could just drop what they're doing and run to the corner office when beckoned. Maybe they're not that busy. Or maybe they don't care about delivering to the customers they've already pitched to.
Maybe not, but that's what came to my mind.
By the way, what are those tall wooden things blocking the entrances to the rooms they work in? (I may be wrong, but I think they call those rooms "offices.")
If you don't have the time to watch the whole thing, there's a shorter version out there as well.
The Book Business: Externally Constrained? -- The TOC approach to dealing with an external constraint, that is, one in which the capacity of a business is more than the perceived demand for its product or service, is largely based on the understanding that the offer surrounding the product is as much, if not a more important factor, than the product itself. Breaking through (or just breaking) the mindset that allowed a business - or an industry - to survive and thrive in the past is necessary to overcome shifts in the landscape that threaten that older way of presenting products to the market.
One path to doing this is to segment the market into smaller pieces that have different thresholds of value depending on ancillary aspects of the product - either slight differences in feature sets or in supporting service (What's the real difference between a Toyota Camry and a Lexus ES than accounts for thousands of dollars? Or between an airline seat bought a month ahead of time or the day before the flight that accounts for hundreds of dollars?)
In today's nascent internet age (and we are still in the birthing process), not many industries need a major shift in how their products are offered more than book publishing. Jeff Jarvis, at Buzzmachine, offers up a range of possibilities for the book business, that could help it tap into the long tail of their market. Ranging from simple different pricing for different delivery times, to ways of taking advantage of online technology and to ways of working with the new middle-men that old-line publishers have seen as threats rather than shifting their view to see them as opportunities.
"It doesn't have to be that way anymore. The internet is not the enemy of books, authors, publishers, and ideas. The internet is your friend, damnit. As with other media, these guys think shrinkage when they see these new challenges because it affects their old business. They should be thinking expansion: what opportunities are created for new business...
"...Publishers don't need to decide to be all digital overnight...yet. They can still print books, especially beloved blockbusters. But they do need to realize that they are long-tail companies, that the more content and the more demand they can create and satisfy for it in for more niches with longer life and greater efficiency, the better off they will be. Is the business the same as the one they have now? No, of course not. It's not the same business it was 25 years ago, either. So stop trying to just protect the old and figure out how to invent the new."
(And speaking of books, one that lays out, in novelized form, a few examples of addressing such external constraints (including one similar to the small batch vs long print run dilemma that publishers might feel they're caught on), is Goldratt's sequel to The Goal, It's Not Luck.)