Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Systems! And then there were systems



I was reading Matthew Squair's course materials on System Safety Fundamentals when I came across this slide:
"Life was simple before World War II. After that, we had systems."
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (USN)


Ya gotta smile at that witicism!

The Admiral Dr,of course, is best known for inventing the system "bug" when she literally found a dead bug in in an inoperative computer system.

And, she used to hold up an 11.8" piece of wire to show the length travelled by an electron in a nanosecond. (*) Shorter is better! Thus, the sub-micron circuitry of today.

She retired from the Navy at age 79 in 1986 after serving about 50 years.

(*) To be more precise, about 11.8 inches in a vacuum; slower in wire, of course.


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Friday, August 10, 2018

They say: Story is almost everything


"Alasdair MacIntyre argued many years ago, you can’t know what to do unless you know what story you are a part of.

Story is more important than policies."

"You can get a lot of facts wrong if you get your story right."
Quoted by David Brooks

That last observation -- good story, wrong facts -- sounds off key, but consider: facts are in the rearview mirror; only estimates lie ahead. If you are a visionary -- see: E. Musk -- you don't want to be too encumbered by facts (i.e., historical approaches). You need freedom to envision!

Not so fast!
Facts and "wrong facts" aren't the same thing. Misusing facts to support a story -- even futuristic and new-to-the-world stories -- is, in some quarters, not-less-than fraud. See myriad SEC cases where investors and employees bought into a narrative based on false facts. One might even think (gasp!): Bernie Madoff!

Now in a different context -- a history of political imperialism -- I've heard the same thing: "They" say: Conceive the narrative, paint the grand picture, and then find facts -- or, if you have too many facts, discard those that are inconvenient."Remember the 'Maine'!"

If you are risk averse, story-sans-facts is not the formula for you! You've got to be willing to live with a disaster if real substance doesn't come along in time to bail you out and validate the story. Story teller beware!



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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Is this a mix? Agile, oil, and gas



There comes a point where more planning can not remove the remaining uncertainty, instead execution must be used to provide data and remove uncertainty.

This quote comes from a nicely argued case -- from the agile blog 'leading answers' -- for mixing agile methods in rather traditional businesses, like the oil and gas exploration/production business

If ever there was a business that benefits from Boehm's Spiral Model, OGM (oil, gas, minerals) is certainly one. (Disclosure: I hold some OGM leases in Texas, so I've a bit of personal experience with this)

Agility needed?
So, what have we got here?
  • A lot of risk acknowledged up front (can't know everything -- thus the opening quote)
  • A need to run with pilot projects before committing to production
  • A need to tie into legacy systems (in the OGM case, distribution systems)
  • A lot of deliverables that can be done incrementally and then integrated
  • Small (it's all relative re small) teams, co-located, personally committed, with risk hanging on every move.
  • A degree of local autonomy required to meet the challenges of the moment
Sounds like an environment that needs agility, if not agile methods, on a lot of the stuff.

Of course, there's "one big thing":
You can't go around self-organizing (agile speak) willy-nilly! There's regulatory constraints everywhere and safety-first doctrine hanging on every move.

We're here to help!
So, yes, there is a big bureaucracy that watches over... it's certainly more intrusive than a coach or a servant-leader (more agile speak)  I'm sure they never heard this stuff in an oil field or an offshore rig! In fact, I'll bet the rig boss is a force to be reckoned with!



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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Hello! Robots have limits!


Elon Musk, lamenting at the June shareholder meeting about Tesla production
“One of the biggest mistakes we made was trying to automate things that are super easy for a person to do, but super hard for a robot to do,” he said. “And when you see it, it looks super dumb. And you are like, wow! Why did we do that?”



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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Micromanage vs Microknowledge



Robert Gates, former U.S. Defense Secretary, recently wrote in his memoirs that a strong and effective leader in a big and complex organization needs to put the time and energy into acquiring "microknowledge" but refrain from "micromanagement.

An interesting thought, to be sure. Let the emphasis lie on "... put in the time and energy... " This stuff is not free. Didn't Gladwell say: 10,000 hours to be an expert? Well, microknowledge is not 10,000 hours worth; indeed: most Defense secretaries don't even serve 10,000 hours.

On the other hand: "Microknowledge"? What's that?

  • Think of it as the knowledge you would need if you were to micromanage -- thus, it's the knowledge you use to assert leverage, influence, and legitimacy over those you do lead.

In other words, you need to understand the traffic while you resist the impulse to direct the traffic -- others can do that for you. (Think of the scene from the movie "Patton" when the General himself is standing in an intersection of tangled tank traffic directing their movements... you probably don't want to do that, even though with microknowledge you might be successful)

  • And, it's the knowledge you use to make decisions about delegation (this individual can likely to "this" but would not be good at "that"...) and assess performance.

But, of course, there's a dark side: microknowledge also what feeds the old saw: "he knows enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be effective" If this said about you, then you've crossed the line from legitimacy and leverage to nuisance and nemesis... Back off!


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Friday, July 27, 2018

Privacy -- a perspective



If you read "The World is Flat" then you know that for project management the world is a flat platform with nearly unlimited connectivity that allows nearly everyone to climb aboard, more or less equal in their access to function and data.

Tom Friedman wrote the book; he's well known for his pithy summaries, and now he says this, which for project managers, is a heads-up for what the flat and universally accessible platform might bring:
"Privacy is over:" Hackers can get to anything; so beware your faith in non-disclosure agreements, patents, secrets and safes, and whatever you think is proprietary
"Local is over:" That's the message of the platform; I would argue a bit on this one since it is well documented that velocity and local go together. Want to go fast? Get local!
"Later is over:" In fact, if you're on-time, you're late. If you wait, the advantage goes over to the next guy. That brings "too fast to plan" and other inverted process paradigms into the frame.
"Average is over:" Functional automation of all manner of PM tasks is creeping in; and guess what: automation is quicker, faster, more accurate, and did I say 'above average'? Like timeliness, if you're average, you're lost
The first three are more or less on everyone's radar. We know about hackers and platforms and quicker-faster.

OMG, that last one is a problem. In any big organization, half the people are below the organization's average. Don't believe it? Just ask Mr Bell Curve. And, if automation pushes the expectation for the people mean upward, you've got to bring your A-game

And, so what's the A-game? Ever increasing intellectual skills to stay ahead of the robots, and broad experience so you don't get organized out of a job when things change. And attitude: a success today is to be rewarded with a harder job tomorrow... we love it!


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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Agile cycles





Agile methods are a grand bargain with the sponsor and with the portfolio manager:

In trade for latitude to encourage and accept change, the agile project manager delivers the best value possible for the allocated investment

And so, one is encouraged to ask: how does the investment for  best value -- aka: optimum capital allocation -- get envisioned and planned?

Enter: Planning cycles!

Yes, but ....
The customer (user) determines value, so how does that dynamic get cranked in ... (out yonder, beyond agile interations where, close in,  the customer dynamic is well understood)?

After all, consider: the portfolio leader must come to grip with dynamics that may affect strategic optimization and value maximization. Customer-directed value may well:
  •  Introduce unanticipated “creative destruction”, or “destructive innovation”
  • Affect carefully crafted portfolio coherence and coupling
  • Change commitments on the business and project scorecards, and
  • Affect stakeholder KPI’s
 Throughput is the big test .... throughput is what counts in the end after all the creation and innovation


Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox, writing in their business novel “The Goal”, made popular the concept of throughput when they set down their ideas for the Theory of Constraints. Throughput—a particular focus of agile methods—is defined as:
Throughput is that which is valuable to customers and users for which they are willing to pay and willing to adopt in their operations.

In agile methods, planned throughput is adjusted after each cycle or iteration. This table summarizes agile throughput.
Agile throughput
Customers
Throughput is what customers buy and use
Stakeholders
Throughput improves the business scorecard
Project
·   Each agile iteration produces throughput
·   Each iteration consumes resources, and …
·   Depletes the business balance sheet
Business
Throughput restores business balance sheet over time

Need more? Chapter 11 in my book "Managing Project Value" will give you all you can handle.


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