Monday, June 29, 2020

Out-of-the-office worker-traveler

Following up on my last posting, here's some other insights to the out-of-office worker and traveler, as quoted from the recent press*

[C.E.O. read: project executive]

“A C.E.O. who does not meet people in person is a captive to the aperture of a camera lens rather than the aperture of her eyesight. .... —Bill Perlstein, Washington

• “The office doesn’t matter for the C.E.O. (who travels a lot anyway) or any other executive. What matters is what they accomplish. If you think about it, the office environment is an expensive artificial structure ....”—Joe Carlin, Cary, N.C.

• “As a former director of research ... , the best ideas came from colleagues talking over coffee or at lunch about some pie in the sky idea or discussing a problem they could not solve.” —Emily Jones, Rochester, N.Y.

• “I am an ‘outbound C.E.O.’ That means over 50 percent of my time is spent outside of the office constructing high-value relationships ... An ‘inbound C.E.O.’ spends over 50 percent of their time in the office and builds value by management of the company processes. ”—Steve Baird, Vancouver, Wash.

•  I would say that being on-site was essential. I felt responsible for creating a positive work environment and for maintaining a caring office culture. I don’t see how I could have met those objectives remotely.”—Erica Moeser, Madison, Wisc
*New York Times, May 28th, 2020

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Maybe you shouldn't work from home

From press clippings we get these bits about not working from home, which I've paraphrased:

What about social capital? 
The relationships currently sustaining business [and project offices] were built from face-to-face meetings before the lockdown. This "capital" that has been banked, to think in Stephen Covey terms, will erode over time if not refreshed. The longer people are apart, the weaker those bonds become.
So, how to build up the bank account will be a topic for the near future.

Remote hiring:

How would any new hire acquire the project [or business] culture; how would they made to feel connected? How do you do remote mentoring?

Of course, virtual teams have been dealing with this problem for years, so many protocols are already well developed for the new-but-remote person on the team

And, what about personal goals? 
Some predict a potentially destabilizing divide between workers who get ahead by going into the office and those who work remotely and miss out on career opportunities. “Everyone who wants to manage, to run things, to influence, to jockey, to make friends, to build a network — they will clamor to work in the office,” David Pogue writes. “Almost every single ambitious person in a company will be demanding a desk at HQ.”

I agree: when I worked for the military in Berlin, it was all about who could get closest to the flagpole.

What about the power relationships?

Like it or not, proximity to power is important, so if a project executive promotes a remote-first approach but then works mostly in the office, what's the power message there? And, ref to the above, who stays home while others get close?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

About ignorance

Ordinarily, we don't put much value on ignorance -- or being ignorant.

It's said that in the pre-modern world, say before the enlightenment in Europe in the middle of the first millennium, that all you needed to know was pretty much what could be learned from history.

If it wasn't known, then you didn't need to know it, in the same way your forebears didn't know it either.

History is limiting
But, thankfully, we came to understand that history -- if that's all you know -- is quite limiting. The enlightened figured out that there is a case for ignorance -- that is: recognizing you are ignorant of something. And, then setting about with a project to fill in the blanks.

Filling in the blanks
And, you might notice, guys like Newton and daVinci brought the concepts of observations and mathematics into the battle of ignorance. Indeed, for the longest time before, math was considered "philosophy".

And then we have Bayes, somewhat a contemporary of Newton, with his version of continuous improvement: form a hypothesis based on assumed conditions; make observations; then adjust assumptions about conditions to conform to observations.

And so, that's the idea here:
  • Know, going in, that you are likely ignorant
  • Recognize the value of theorizing and observing to overcome ignorance
  • Don't assume history has all the answers -- it doesn't
  • Appreciate that improvement doesn't just come from reorganizing what you know(*); sometimes new facts are more powerful (See: Newton)
  • Repeat 
(*) Pre-Newton methodology which actually carried on in some forms until the industrial revolution

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Saturday, June 20, 2020

A leadership personality

Exasperating, but generally forgiven. A combination of charm, audacity, imagination, optimism, and energy
Historian Arthur Schlesinger describing William Donovan, the leader of the clandestine spy agency, OSS, in WW II

And, to put a point on it, Donovan was considered a mediocre administrator and manager.

Noteworthy: Donovan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for service in WW I, and then was a successful Wall Street attorney, politically a Republican, who served FDR, a Democrat, throughout the war.


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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

About organization

"Organization is the enemy of improvisation
It is a long jump from knowing to doing
Committees take the punch out ...."

Lord Beaverbook, Minister of Aircraft Production for Britain in WW II

So, about "organization" Max Beaverbrook is really speaking of bureaucracy that is encumbered by rules designed to put accountability with the institution rather than the individual (just following the rules ....) and thereby contain or restrain those that would go outside the rules.

But wait!

Along comes an emergency and the rules go out the window. Now, risk-taking and entrepreneurship are in, and the organizational pyramid is a shambles. Ad hoc relationship meshes form that connect all the right people, regardless of where they ordinarily fit in the structure.

It's no small matter how flat and responsive an organization can get when the circumstances are dire.
One wonders why it takes an emergency .....

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Value system as a business doctrine

Consider, if you will, this value system arranged as a Belief and an Operating Principle, adapted from "Maximizing Project Value" Chapter 1 (one of my books):

  • Quality is free: We value doing the right job (value adding) in the right way (training and skill development) the first time (correct systemic errors).
  • There is no substitute for ethical, honest, and transparent transactions: As leaders of (entity), we (establish and promote a culture to) conduct business legally, with good order and protection for staff, according to reasonable and customary conventions.
  • Community partnership is good business: As members of (community), (entity) is a willingly good steward of the environment and a committed partner in promoting the welfare of the community
  •   Employees are inherently trustworthy: We (establish and promote a culture to) trust first, then verify, to avoid deliberate obfuscation, ambiguity, and duplicity

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Thursday, June 11, 2020

Measure, then execute

Measure twice
Cut once
Back to the drawing board

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Monday, June 8, 2020

Analog clocks

Every project manager is responsible in some way for schedule. And schedule is often about not only duration, but dates and time. And so, from time to time, we must be able to tell the time.

On the iphone, "clock" is an icon of an analog clock, although the main display is a digital clock.

About analog clocks, Deb Olin Unferth writes:

"[Some young people] can't read an analog clock. For many .... reading this: The analog clock, with it's ring of numbers 1 through 12 around a circumference, has two hands, one short and one long, affixed to the center and pointing outward, which revolve by force of a tiny mechanical motor.

The muddle comes in these little hands. The shorter one is simple: Whichever number it points to is the hour. If it points to 1, it's 1 o'clock. The longer hand is trickier. When it points to 1, it means 5, as in five minutes. The 2 means 10, and so on.

The delightful key to the puzzle is that the numbers on the face represent more than one value simultaneously."

And, she goes on: "I understood the world I knew was gone forever when I had to teach a college student how to operate an envelope"

Now, here's some news you can use: (*)
The analog clock as a mechanical device came into being sometime in the 1200s to 1300s, although time was told by ringing bells rather than rotating a hand around a clock face. And, those earliest clocks were in church bell towers for the most part.

The 16th century brought the pendulum into being as practical mechanism for regulating the clock. Within 200 years, the mechanics had advanced to the point that the clock face was invented, and clocks were smaller than bell towers. However, until sometime around the 1700's, most clocks did not have a minute hand .... there simply was not sufficient accuracy available in the mechanism. Most people did not reckon with anything more precise than the hour.

Thus it's only been about 300 years that we've had to muddle with the "big hand" and the ambiguity of the numbers on the clock face. And now, that's fading away?!

(*) As reported in the book: "Unbound" by Richard Currier

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Friday, June 5, 2020

Natural stupidity

"We study natural stupidity rather than artificial intelligence"
Amos Tversky

Tversky--now deceased--was a partner with Daniel Kahneman, who together wrote some of the most influential papers about biases in our observations and the biases that affect decision making under uncertainty.

If you're a project manager or business manager, then you encounter these influences routinely. If you've not read at least their seminal work "Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases" you really should.

You've really no excuse for putting it off. 😀

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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

You can't run a project with dice

Is this a fair die with a roll-string of heads and tails like this?


It doesn't look fair, but it well could be.
50/50 heads and tails is a so-called limit outcome requiring, in theory, nearly infinite rolls to achieve

What's going on here?
  • The die has no memory!
  • The next outcome (roll) is not dependent in any way on the last roll
  • There are no lessons learned!
  • There are no political, business, or project pressures which could affect outcomes
  • There are no biases; there is only objectivity
  • The rules of chance are fixed, and can't be changed, by anyone
In a real project:
  • You've got memory! You'd better remember what happened last
  • Whatever comes next is dependent on what just happened; no vacuums allowed
  • Lessons are learned, whether you do a formal inquiry or not. Only the truly ignorant ignore the past in all respects
  • There are pressures!
  • Of course there are biases; everyone has an attitude about risk that's not entirely objective
  • And, your job as PM is to change the rules, circumstances, culture, or whatever it takes for project success! (*)
  • Dice games don't work in projects 
(*) For roughly the same reason, Earned Value doesn't work well in projects either. The linear equations upon which the methodology depends are artifacts of fixed rules. But in projects, the rules are always subject to circumstances, and so, like the rules of dice, the linear equations are obsolete almost as soon as they are written.
HOWEVER, EV methods are good for setting up a plan; just remember: all plans change the moment reality is contacted.

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