Tuesday, October 31, 2006
The problem is that relying on the super hero project manager is indicative of an inefficient project management process. In order for the team to perform to potential each team member needs to fully contribute. The paradigm of a super hero project manager effectively enables the rest of the project team because it allows them to sit back and wait without fully engaging. The super hero will take care of it. Because most project managers don't know how to overcome the team's lack of engagement they shoulder the extra burden themselves. This leads to long hours and smoldering resentment for the project manager as she pushes the project forward out of shear will.
After a few projects like this project managers begin to question the risk/reward equation. Most opt out. Losing a good project manager is extremely costly to the organization because experienced project managers are the ones with the local knowledge of how the system really works. With a new project manager projects take longer, are more expensive, and don't turn out as well.
So what to do?
How about this? The best way to fully engage the entire team is to increase the mutual accountability of the team members. There are several ways to do this, but here is one suggestion. Have the team members rate each other at the end of each project to a known set of criteria, questions like, "Did Harry pull his weight? Would you like to work with him again?" The peer responses should be shared with the person being rated and their supervisor as part of the project debrief process. Knowing that your performance is going to be explicitly reviewed will help to engage the team members. The more that the team performs, the less of a super hero the project manager needs to be in order to be successful, the happier the project manager is. And happy project mangers mean successful projects for the company.
Friday, October 27, 2006
“You gotta believe. And all you can do is the things you believe are right and as soon as you think they are wrong, change them. And as soon as you think the player is wrong, change him.” - Dick Juron, Head Coach Buffalo Bills
The idealism of youth was augmented by the pragmatism of politics – General (Ret.) Tommy Franks
H.L. Mencken’s great aphorism: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
“I like it [General Management]. But it's vastly different from coaching. Down there you're making about 200 decisions with only 30 seconds to make each one. Up here, I just stand around and try and look wise wondering what they're going to serve at halftime.” - Marv Levy
“A great challenge equals a great opportunity" - Dick Juron, Head Coach Buffalo Bills
“You've got to learn the five d's of dodgeball: dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge!” - Patches O’Houlihan, from the movie Dodgeball
Interested in Innovation? Try this at work. Do one new thing each month. It could be a new software tool, a different way of running a meeting, or anything else you choose. The catch is that is can’t be something that would be expected during the normal course of your job. So, creating the next generation prototype doesn’t count. Doing one new thing a month turns out to be a pretty hard thing to do.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
At one point in Schwarzkopf’s career he and his peers were ordered to paint the barracks for an upcoming inspection by the top brass. Schwarzkopf noted that there were two reactions to the order; those that executed the orders as best they could, and those that fought the order and then ended up painting the barracks anyway. The point of the story being that it takes twice as much effort to fight a dumb order as it does to simply execute it.
Now it is important to clarify the difference between illegal, immoral, and unethical from dumb. Dumb doesn’t get you put into jail, fired, or shunned by your peers.
I used to fight dumb orders. Stew about them while I was at home. Rage against the injustice and waste of energy that could have been otherwise been put into constructive results producing work. And I was wrong.
The personal stock drop that resulted from my “push against the dumb” prevented me from being able to engage in any meaningful organizational change.
So I’ve changed. I want to create an Innovation Organization that is one of the best in the world. If doing dumb things is the Innovation equivalent of “rinsing my cottage cheese” then count me in. I just want to have the chance to create a great organization.
Monday, October 23, 2006
The Lifestraw, a TIME 2005 Best Inventions Winner, is a low cost, oversized drinking straw that can clean water. Given that over 1 billion people lack access to potable water this is an amazing device. It’s neat to see that you can do well by doing good.
Image Source: www.Time.com
Sunday, October 22, 2006
The first rule of documentation is that you should never write anything down that you wouldn’t want posted on the work bulletin board.
That being said, having a recorded project history is extremely helpful should questions ever arise about the decision making process. And, since projects are basically the operation of a human system, questions will arise.
Things that are helpful to document are:
+ The project objective
+ The design criteria
+ The design selection process (PUGH Matrix)
+ Anything having to do with money
+ Major changes in direction
Doing this has saved me a couple of times, but one time stands out. I was dealing with a lax financial manager on a transaction to shift funds around different project budgets. I had asked that we credit an account for $500,000 and instead the account was debited for $500,000. This made it appear that the business had spent and extra $500,000. To make matters worse this transaction was un-reversible because it was year end and the books were closed, so business earnings were decreased by $500,000.
They way that I found out that the accounts were messed up was in an e-mail from the financial manager asking why I had screwed up the transaction. Luckily I had the documentation of my original request, which I gladly forwarded along. It must have worked because I never again heard about the issue.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
The problem was that when I went to the Little Tykes site, to see if it was worth posting to, I found that my experience was a million times less pleasurable than the experience that I had with the catalog. With the web, you can’t see the products in the same context as you can with a catalog.
I’ve had the same problem with books. Amazon.com is great if you know what book you want, but it in no way comes close the experience you have when walking through Barnes and Noble’s. At Barnes and Noble’s you can slowly walk and peruse the graphics and titles, stopping at things that catch your eye. The web, on the other hand, doesn’t engage your senses in the same context setting way. You don’t smell the coffee on the web. The books aren’t aligned as easily on the web. The sounds aren’t the same on the web.
The fact that the web doesn’t offer the same visceral experience as real life is the biggest indicator that we’ve just begun our web experience. We won’t be happy until “getting online” matches “going to the store.”
To me, the fact that all of “this” is just the beginning is terrifically exciting.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Now, normally there is absolutely no way that I would play cards for money seeing as that I don’t know how to play cards and I have a strong aversion to losing money.
My friend assured me that if I stuck with the system that I could play Texas-Hold-Em for 2 hours and only lose $20. “Ten dollars an hour isn’t too much for all the fun we’ll be having,” he said.
Sounded like I would be stupid not to play, with all that fun and all.
The problem occurred when I was dealt a 5 and a 7 of clubs and there were two clubs showing. (If you can make a formation of 5 clubs then you have a straight). This got me excited because straights are good and you can win pots with a straight.
So, hoping that more clubs would be dealt I paid to stay in. As it turned out I paid a lot to stay in. And I did this several more times. And I never won. And my $20 loss came in slightly (a lot) higher than expected. My problem was hope.
I continued to hope that the right cards came up; that if I simply sat there in time and space that something good was bound to happen.
Businesses do this too. They say, “Once the economy picks up and consumer spending comes back will be fine.” They’re hoping for a straight.
But business doesn’t work that way. In business you make your own luck. You have to grind, claw, and scratch out new ways to solve customer problems. You should never wait and see, you should be out trying something.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
In the presentation the argument for Innovation over 6-sigma is that Innovation is about “high impact solutions”, exploring “latent customer needs”, and “driving points of customer delight” while 6-sigma is about “optimizing for cost reduction”, “explicit customer needs”, and “internal process efficiencies”. Hence, 6-sigma is good for “incremental” and “modest risk” projects, but you need Innovation for “substantial” and “highly novel” projects.
The assumption being made here is that 6-sigma and Innovation are mutually exclusive; meaning that you have to have one or the other. That, my friends, is plane old wrong.
6-sigma is a tool that enables either a product or service to operate one way, the right way, the same way every time. It partially answers the question, “How will I deliver my customer’s solution better than anyone else in the world?” What it is not supposed to do is act as a tool to discover what problem the customer’s problems are. That requires a completely different tool set.
Both 6-sigma, and other systems such as Lean, should be considered components of Innovation. Innovation is about continual learning of all facets of your business, even the old boring ones like distribution and manufacturing.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Do you think that this is a sign of things to come? Where you have your hip replaced and someone asks what brand of replacement? Can you imagine someone saying, “I got the ACME 4000 with the Dura-lube option. It was more than I wanted to spend, but what’s the price of health?”
Don’t get me wrong, I am a card carrying capitalist, but it strikes me as odd that the brand name of the part that we put inside our body somehow distinguishes our innate worth. What the heck happens when we can order the exact features of our children?
Thursday, October 05, 2006
There are a lot of disjointed conversations occurring about Innovation (a term that has jumped the shark by the way) but not a lot of thought about the requisite components of a successful Innovation System. Here are what I think are the required elements.
The whole thing rests upon the behavior of the organization. Does the company engage the heart, mind, body, and soul of their employees? Even when cash flow is lean? Is Senior Management authentic? Do they lead from the front? When the fur starts flying is there support or witch hunts? Are the tough interpersonal issues tackled proactively and with respect? These things may sound soft and fuzzy but a company’s resource allocation process is a reflection of the company’s values. If the values are off then the resources will be poorly allocated and then it is simply a matter of time before results start to fade.
Next, the issue of Value Proposition needs to be addressed. What value are you going to create for what target market and how are you going to deliver that value? Put another way, what customer problem are you solving and how are you going to solve it better than anyone else in the world? Some of the tools used to answer these questions are customer surveys, conjoint analysis, scenario planning, product roadmaps, technology development processes, and pro-forma business case analysis.
The Value Proposition is then translated into engineering jargon via Systems Architecture / Engineering. The theory here is that a product’s architecture is a function of the required product, process, and supply chain elements. If you don’t get the Architecture right you either expertly make the wrong product or poorly make the right product. Little to no discussion is occurring in the Innovation World regarding the tools required for creating the right architecture; they include 6 Sigma, Houses of Quality, Lean Manufacturing, Value Stream Maps, and Design of Experiments.
Finally, once you’ve been able to match the right product architecture to the right value proposition you need to deliver the intended results. And this requires world-class project management. Does the project team know what is to be delivered? In enough detail that it could be a checklist? Do they know who the only people that get to change the deliverables are? Do they have the money and resources needed to be successful? Once this is set, are project teams using actions registers, timelines, test protocols, meeting agendas, meeting notes? World class execution of a poor plan beats poor execution of a world class plan.
Organic systems are never optimal and they can’t be given their inherent complexity. But, they can evolve over time, increasing their effectiveness. By using the model I’ve proposed above it allows you to look at your organization through different lenses and evaluate yourself against where you think you should be. Once, you get a bearing mark you can begin to get a sense of what you need to do to move towards that next evolution.
Consider the following:
1. I was in the middle of a development initiative with a supplier when they ceased communicating. They simply stopped responding to e-mails or voice mails. And this happened after the supplier and I had already had a discussion about their responsiveness. In fact, they had gone to great lengths to assure me that they were committed and things will improve. Instead of the supplier simply rejecting the job outright, I was left to guess for a period of time before giving up and moving on.
2. I had a supplier that didn’t want to do a small design job that they originally agreed to. Instead of simply refusing the job I got a host of reasons why the current status was acceptable (it wasn’t)
In each of these situations it took time to figure out that there was a “No” present. The issue is that the time that it takes to figure out that there is a problem is directly proportional to the resulting project delay. Ideally, these problems are solved before they ever occur, but if you do find yourself in this situation then you need to know how to dig yourself out. Here are some tips for both scenarios.
Pre-screen Your Negotiation Partner: Make sure you understand what you are asking for and what is needed to deliver against it. This way you can understand if the supplier will be capable of doing what they are asked. If this is the first time that you are asking for this particular good or service you don’t understand exactly what you are asking for.
Define Expectations Upfront: What needs to be delivered when, by whom, and for how much? How will this be verified? How will we work through issues when they arise? By working through this process you flush out emergent requirements and give the supplier a chance to say “no”.
Make it OK to Walk Away: This is Steven Covey’s Win Win or No Deal Principle. You need to set an environment where mutual respect in maintained even if an agreement cannot be reached. By making it ok to say “No” you create that environment where someone can back out and therefore get quickly get to a “no” quickly rather than languish
Don’t Beat Up Your Supplier: They are people the same as you and I. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t share with them the severity of the situation, but making them mad won’t solve anything.
Parallel Path: Work with the supplier on a get well plan and quickly find an alternate source. This strategy has worked well for me. Several times I have had the 2nd source deliver before the first source.
Determine What You Can Accept: Engineers hate this rule because they want it made to their design. Technically they are right, but some product is better than no product. What can the design really tolerate?
Monday, October 02, 2006
53. Never change process and product at the same time.
54. Excellence takes the same amount of energy as mediocrity, but an entirely different skill set.
55. “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.” Thomas Alva Edison or “95% of any creative profession is shit work.” – Michael McDonough
56. Success is peace of mind which the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable. – John Wooden
57. Force action early and often by setting concrete milestones that leave no room for interpretation. For example the milestone “Build 1st prototype, evaluate grip force using Protocol Rev. 1.0” is much better than the milestone “working prototype” because it helps the project team because they know exactly what is due when. The reason this works is that amount of activity on a project is directly proportional to how close the due date it.
58. Focus first on the problems that you have. Not the ones that you might have.
59. Facts on the ground trump presentations.
60. Just because you have a problem doesn’t necessarily mean that your supplier has one.
61. A tool is only valuable if the results are greater than the effort that went into it.
62. Successful people engage in behaviors that other people don’t.
63. The way you do things aint the way you do things.
64. For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. H.L. Mencken
65. It isn't just about winning the championship and I don't think you should be defined by that. I still feel that way, probably even more so after having won the game [superbowl]. – Bill Cowher
66. I like it [General Management]. But it's vastly different from coaching. Down there you're making about 200 decisions with only 30 seconds to make each one. Up here, I just stand around and try and look wise - Marv Levy
Link to the original 51