Monday, November 23, 2020

The Economics of Strategy


A good blog read on this topic -- the Economics of Strategy -- is found at herdingcats
written by Glen Alleman.
 
In his posting, Alleman makes a couple of important points:
  • There are many tactical actions that can be taken within a project -- like attention to risk management -- that ultimately have strategic outcomes for the business: enhanced profit on the income statement, sustainable free cash flow, and a stronger balance sheet
  • Likewise, there are many tactical decisions about product features and functions that will enhance customer value but have only marginal impact on business outcomes, and yet have strategic consequences for the business. See: customer loyalty

Four elements of strategy

Of course, attention to strategic finance and customer satisfaction are two of four components of a good business strategy. 

A third is development of the business capability and capacity to innovate and produce. Typically, there is a cost-benefit and cost-outcome analysis that is required to figure out how much to invest in training and development of people, and how many robots to purchase.

A fourth is just do what you do all the better. That is, invest in operational effectiveness -- lower overhead, fewer reworks, more throughput for the dollar.

All four contribute

So, when you are considering all economics contributions to or effects on strategy, the balanced scorecard of finance, customer satisfaction with the value delivered, investments in organizational development, and improvement in the economics of throughput




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Friday, November 20, 2020

Tradeoff vs corruption


How do you know when you've crossed the line from making trade-offs to fomenting corruption?
That's not a question asked very often in the is space, and not usually asked in polite company.

Nonetheless, it happens.
And, what is "it"?

"It" is making decisions about doing 'this' or 'that' that are a violation of accepted norms wherein the outcomes have an inappropriate personal benefit, rather than a decision among legitimate alternatives where the personal benefit is non-existent or indifferent to the outcome. 
 
Corrupting decisions take many forms: There may be a financial benefit, like a stock option that gets out of negative territory; there may be a job benefit insofar as the decision comports with the business narrative; or there could be a 'traitor in our midst' problem.

Sovereignty
They say that in a republican democracy (small 'r', small 'd') that the people are sovereign and that political power is simply a delegation from the sovereign -- such a delegation intended to benefit the sovereign (the people at large). Political corruption is then using that gifted and delegated power to work against the interests of the sovereign to one's own benefit. 

How does that work in a project? Who is the sovereign? What is corruption in the project sense?

You could say the owners and shareholders are sovereign. You could say that customers are sovereign and that all business value is a delegation from customers. 
  • To work against the customer's interest (or owners and share holders) with false claims and hidden quality shortcomings is committing corruption. 
  • To work for a compromise that is beneficial to customers and business alike is making trade-offs.
 
Enough!




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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Feeling the pressure


" [The concern my some is] that with all good intentions, some project managers might start cutting corners. It's easily done. Don't be fooled by the trappings. ....

This sort of success comes with a lot of pressure. There are deadlines, penalties, [finances], and [executive changes]. [PMs] are stuck in the middle. Priorities can become murky.

It would be natural for some to feel the pressure and choose speed over quality" 
Louise Penny, novelist

I'm sure you can tell from the brackets that I took the excerpt from one of Ms Penny's crime novels, but nonetheless her character's words probably ring all too true to many readers. One wonders if she is writing about the false engineering found in the diesel car industry or the calamitous decision-making in the aviation industry of late.

Risk assessment and confirmation bias

I put it down to executive-level risk assessments. Looking the other way or deliberately hiding is always the path to trouble. There is a political adage that might apply: the coverup is always worse than the underlying transgression.

Even if that is understood, the pressure of the moment is often telling. One sign: the stressed PM is looking everywhere for confirmation .... and making themselves susceptible to confirmation bias. It is likely they will hear what they want to hear.

It's like a bad email

Most people handle email (and social media) poorly, sending email (or media) when they are mad or when they think no one else will find out. Never make an important decision when mad, and always assume what you write will appear on the front page.

The same is for the high-risk assessments. Unless life itself hangs in the balance, there is time to consider the consequences more thoughtfully. Take that time.




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Saturday, November 14, 2020

Ghost writer


So, you work in project communications, perhaps directly for the PM. In the 'old days', say 15 years ago, that probably meant long-form press releases and updates to the project web page or communications dashboard.

Today, it's those plus social media.

But, if you're a ghost writer for the 'boss', who gets the credit? And, does the boss get the credit for imaginative and effective writing when it's really you?

Welcome to the world of ghost writing. 
The person you're writing for gets the credit, usually, and you're lucky if you're recognized outside your PMO. You probably knew all that coming into the job. Why else is it called 'ghost' writing?
 
But what if you disagree in some fundamental way with the content of the communication you've been asked to write? What then?

Two cases:
  1. Opinion: It's not your opinion you're opining. You can write 'B' for the public, but believe 'A' privately.
  2. False facts: If not about 'beliefs' but rather about misleading or even factually incorrect material, you have an obligation to push back. 

Life is too short

If you can't live with the material you're writing, then don't. Find new material; it probably means a new job. If you're a gig person, fire the boss!





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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Value flow


About value (*)
In many posts in this blog, I have established these propositions:
  • That there is a distinction between project value and business value, and 
  • That the interests of the customer/user, sponsor/stakeholder, and project manager are to be balanced among these parties, even as they all compete for attention as value is developed. 
We recognize that:
  • Each has their own needs and wants, 
  • Each has their own sense of urgency and importance, and 
  • Each has an idea of the investment they want to make and the risk they are willing to accept.

Value planning challenge
The planning challenge for project sponsors is to fashion a practical and rewarding opportunity from the myriad of permutations and combinations of needs and wants, colored by urgency and importance, affordability, and risk. 
 
To make the best of opportunities requires goal setting and strategic development in the context of mission and vision. 
  • Mission provides the compelling call for action. 
  • Vision provides the epic narrative and points the way ahead. 
  • Goals set the stage; goals motivate business strategy and, in turn, motivate project strategy

OE and project objectives:
Business goals, extended through business strategy, drive project objectives. But of course business strategy also drives operational effectiveness (OE) ....

OE being the quality of the operations and operating programs that amounts to doing things better with predictable repetition (see: Michael Porter for more ideas like these). But even predictable repetition, if done better over time, like projects, add value to the business.  

OE and projects, working together, are two instruments of strategy. They are interdependent. The outcomes of projects may well affect operations—add, change, or delete them—thereby closing the loop on goals and strategy, as captured on the business scorecard 

Strategic Plan

Here, at the bottom of this post, is the bottom line:

Strategy is a plan that integrates continuous improvement of operational effectiveness with a vision and narrative for differentiated innovation attained with projects

 

-----------------------
(*) Some of the material in this post come from Chapter 2 of my book, cover illustration below, "Managing Project Value"


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Sunday, November 8, 2020

Running a business



On the one hand:
Follow the science; follow the engineering; follow the facts; adhere to policy and precedent
On the other hand:
Listen to the customer; stay ahead of the competition; keep an eye on shareholder value; don't be late!
As one prominent CEO opined, business decision-making is all about a talent for making trade-offs. In effect, "situational decision-making" somewhat akin to "situational leadership". Different and multiple styles to be fitted to the situation:
  • Nothing is so simple as "follow the facts" and adhere to precedent. 
  • Nothing is so "lacking sense" as just "listen to the customer"

Here's another idea: seek stability and predictability. The fact is that without either, your only recourse is to apply a heavy discount to future value. 

Not so fast! 

Maybe your business model thrives on instability, in effect working off the 'rate of change' rather than the steady-state. 

Many 'transactionalists' work this way, making large bets on even small changes (very large times a very small number may still be a quite large number, aka: the "one-percent doctrine").

But if you are the business leader that heads toward the unpredictable, then you should be thinking of how to make your business "anti-fragile", to wit: to be able to absorb great shock without collapse.

  • By having interior firewalls to stop risks from propagating
  • By having redundancy to fill in for failed capability and capacity
  • By having reserves to cover losses
  • By not being totally "just in time" because there may not be time

No matter the model for decision-making, an internalized methodology that you can apply with confidence is your best tool, to be practiced and made like "muscle memory"

 



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Thursday, November 5, 2020

Influence at a distance


The energy from a transmitting antenna decreases as the square of the distance from the transmitter to the receiver -- if the distance increases by a factor of 2, the energy decreases by a factor of 4. Light obeys the same rule. 
 
And all of the above only applies if the bandwidth is infinite and the transmission is in a vacuum. If the bandwidth is high restricted, as in a filter, or the media of transmission is not clear, then there are more losses of energy and there is a time-delay as well. 
 
The fact is, even an enormous energy source may have little effect at long distance, and increasingly less as the distance lengthens.
 
So that's the physics for the day.
How do these physics apply to the PMO? 

Influence at a distance
The plain fact is: if you want to maximize your influence, you have to be close to the flag pole -- be at the center of decision making and in the room, at the table.

Now you say, remote video conferences are all the rage, and so how does distance make a difference?
And I say:
  • No virtual conference setting is as clear as being there; there are losses
  • A good deal of communication is lost in the restricted bandwidth, particularly the informal communications during breaks and the body language exchanged off camera
  • If you're really far away, everyone knows you can't get to the flag pole in a hurry, so your influence is discounted
  • All the power of the "casual" encounter at just the right moment is lost
So, how to have influence at a distance
  • Create intimacy and familiarity by being a frequent communicator
  • Be up front and noisy about your points of view
  • Give feedback on everything so they know you are listening and thinking
  • Be a contributor; be consequential -- get things done. Avoid the empty suit "all talk"
  • Innovate where possible. Be the source, rather than the sink for energy

 



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Monday, November 2, 2020

CPP and Technical debt -- history


debt (n): that which is owed
technical debt (n): unmet scope items owed for project completion
The term "debt" as applied to projects has been promoted as part of Agile methods since at least the late 1990s, certainly more than a generation ago. As a matter of process, debt is added to backlog, and scheduled, according to priority, in sprints or iterations like all other scope is processed.

But, guess what!
Debt has been around longer than 25 years. Who knew?!
Well, of course, there have been "punch lists" and "check lists" and "parking lots" and the infamous version 2.0, but really: how old is this debt concept?
 
Circa 18th century
In the late 18th century, a small group of American politicians, the elite of their day, met to frame a new constitution for the United States.  Heretofore the country had been operating under Articles of Confederation which were judged to be too weak to hold the union together.

Crafting a new constitution for a republican form of government, to operate at continental scale! Never been attempted. A rather massive project when you get right down to it.
 
One of the first orders of business in the Constitutional Convention was to form the "Committee on Postponed Parts"
 
Committee on Postponed Parts
Brilliant! There you have it, perhaps one of the first technical debt vehicles applied to a large scale project -- the CPP!.
 
Different, but also similar, to the priority ranking and scheduling of technical debt we see today, the Committee was an active body. Its members, like PMs today, set priorities, scheduled when to birth it's ideas on the main body, and debated alternatives for "customer satisfaction". 

So, curiously, what were some of the "postponed parts" from the Constitutional Convention?
  • The first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, was deferred to the first Congress seated under the new constitution (*)
  • The location of the permanent capital city
  • The assumption of war debt by the "general" (aka federal) government
  • A central bank

Actually, there were a lot of "parts" postponed. By design, the Constitution had to be skinny in its enumerated powers to gain state ratification, but robust in other ways to form a strong union. No small matter, architecturally.

And so, many thorny issues were labeled "postponed parts" and were not closed for many years after the ratification. Nonetheless, the American constitution today is testimony to the workability of the debt concept embodied in the Committee on Postponed Parts.

_____________________

(*) Actually, the first Bill of Rights was a set of 12 amendments. But two were not approved and left with the CPP. Thus, what we popularly know as the "First Amendment" was actually numbered "3rd". Ah, but ordinal numbers, like first, second, third, do not convey importance or priority -- just order.

 

 



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