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The Last Retrospective

April 20, 2014 Leave a comment

In an ongoing agile endeavor, the practice for eliciting and applying freshly learned knowledge going forward is the periodic “retrospective” (aka periodic post-mortem to the “traditional” old fogeys). Theoretically, retrospectives are temporary way points where individuals: stop, step back, cerebrally inspect what they’ve accomplished and how they’ve accomplished it, share their learning experiences, suggest new process/product improvements, and evaluate previously implemented improvements.

As the figure below depicts, the fraction of newly acquired knowledge applied going forward is a function of group culture. In macho, command and control hierarchies like culture B, the application of lessons learned is suppressed relative to more flexible cultures like A due to the hierarchical importance of opinions.

Gained Vs Applied

Regardless of culture type, during schedule-challenged projects with a fixed, do-or-don’t-get-paid deadline (yes, those projects do indeed still exist), this may happen:

Last Retrospective

When the elites upstairs magically determine that a panic point has appeared (sometimes seemingly out of nowhere): retrospectives get jettisoned, the daily standup morphs into the daily inquisition, corner-cutting “practices” become best practices, and the application of newly acquired knowledge stops cold. Humans being humans, learning still naturally occurs and new knowledge is accrued. However, it is not likely the type of knowledge that will help on future projects.

Importance Of Opinion

April 18, 2014 6 comments

Regardless of whether a project is managed as an agile or traditional endeavor, it is well known that the execution team learns and acquires new knowledge as the project lurches forward. It is also well known that individual team members learn and formulate opinions that may be at odds with each other.

In spite of the “we’re all (equal)” scrum mantra, some individual opinions will always be “more important” than others in a hierarchy… because that’s what a social hierarchy does (POSIWID). The taller the hierarchy, the larger the gap of importance between opinions. And the larger the gap of importance between opinions, the lesser the chance that a diverse subset of newly acquired knowledge will be applied to future project activities.

The figure below shows two concepts of “Importance Of Opinion“. On the left, we have the Scrum ideal – we’re all one and all opinions carry the same weight. On the right, we have the reality. The opinions within the pyramid of elite titles strongly influence/skew/suppress the PO’s opinions, the PO does the same to the SM, and the SM does the same to the group of DEVs. Even within the so-called flat structure of the DEVs, all opinions are not created equal.

Theory And Reality

Categories: management Tags: , , ,

Formal Waterfall Events

March 31, 2014 2 comments

The customers of all the big government-financed sensor system programs I’ve ever worked on have required the aforementioned, waterfall, dog-and-pony shows as part of their well-entrenched acquisition process. Even prior to commencing a waterfall death march, as part of the pre-win bidding process, customers also (still) require contractors to provide detailed schedule and cost commitments in their proposal submissions – right down to the CSCI level of granularity.

If you think it’s tough to get your internal executive customers to wholeheartedly embrace an “agile adoption” or “no estimates” initiative, try to wrap your mind around the cosmic difficulty of doing the same to a large, fragmented, distributed authority, external acquisition machine whose cogs are fine-tuned to: cover their ass, defend their turf, and doggedly fight to keep the extant process that justifies their worth in place. Good luck with that.

Go Agile

The Ridiculously Obvious

March 15, 2014 8 comments

Over the years, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard smug, self-important consultants and coaches spout things like: “If your org doesn’t do what I say and/or you don’t get what you want, you should just leave“. Of course, like much of what they say is, it is literally true – you can indeed leave. However, here’s an interesting counterpoint:

“To say people have choice when they are in no position to make one is disingenuous.” – John Seddon

Consultants and coaches love to spout platitudes and self-evident truths couched in the fancy “new” language of the latest fad. Amazingly, stating the ridiculously obvious is what they get paid the big bux to do. To these high-horse riders, life for others is always much simpler than it really is. As outsiders looking in, they have what Nassim Taleb calls: “no skin in the game“. The only thing they have to concern themselves about is sucking up enough to the executives who run the show so that they can get hired back after their $2k/day gig is done. And saying the right things, no matter how impractical they are to implement, is the way they do it.

The Obvious

In Defense Of Hierarchy

March 10, 2014 1 comment

The word “hierarchy” gets no respect. Except for popes, generals, executives, and managers, who tend to thrive exquisitely in command and control hierarchies, many people associate hierarchical social structures with ineffectual bureaucracy, back-stabbing politics, patronization, unfair distribution of status and rewards, and suppression of individual initiative.

Despite all the bad press, hierarchically structured social systems do have benefits; even for those residing in the lowest tiers of the pyramid.  One benefit that hierarchy serves up is… orderly execution of operations:

Imagine if students argued with their teachers, workers challenged their bosses, and drivers ignored traffic cops anytime they asked them to do something they didn’t like. The world would descend into chaos in about five minutes. – Duncan J. Watts

In “Influence” Robert Cialdini writes:

A multi-layered and widely accepted system of authority confers an immense advantage upon a society. It allows the development of sophisticated structures for resource production, trade, defense, expansion, and social control that would otherwise be impossible. The other alternative, anarchy, is a state that is hardly known for its beneficial effects on cultural groups and one that the social philosopher Thomas Hobbes assures us would render life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

I don’t agree with Mr. Cialdini that the alternative to hierarchy is pure anarchy, but his point, like Mr. Watts’s, is a good one.

Management “guru” Tom Peters (to whom I used to closely listen to prior to reading Matt Stewart’s brilliant “The Management Myth“), sums it up nicely with:

Hierarchy will never go away. Never!

H-forever

Space Flights To Alpha Centauri

February 7, 2014 1 comment

A disgusted reader recently sent me this link regarding yet another textbook example of corpo scam artistry:Bwin.party proposes new bonus plan for top execs as share price languishes. Since the board of directors at a borg is usually a hand picked crew of yes-men by the “senior leadership team“, the article headline should probably read: “Bwin.party executives propose new bonus plan for themselves as share price languishes.

When pay for performance under the current set of “KPI“s (Key Performance Indicators) stops the money from flowing into the pockets of the head shed aristocracy, the answer is always the same no-brainer. Simply get your board-of-derelicts to lower the bar and champion a new set of bogus KPIs to the powerless and fragmented shareholdership. Ka-ching!

With the old bonus benchmarks now akin to launching manned space flights to Alpha Centauri, Bwin.party is proposing a new scheme that more accurately reflects the company’s lowered expectations. Under this plan, CEO Norbert Teufelberger would pick up a maximum bonus of 550% of his annual base salary of £500k, while chief financial officer Martin Weigold would receive 435% of his £446k annual pay packet. - Steven Stradbrooke

When borgs perform brazen acts of inequity like Bwin.party (“party” is literally true for the execs), the rationalizations they spew to the public are mostly hilarious repetitions recycled from the past:

  • Bwin.party says the paydays are necessary because the US market is beginning to open up, and the hordes of US gaming companies looking to move online lack senior management with online know-how.
  • The potential for US companies to poach senior execs from experienced European companies represents “the single biggest threat to Bwin.party’s ability to retain its senior management.”
  • Bwin.party also suggests its top execs deserve danger pay due to “aggressive enforcement of national laws against senior executives within the industry.”

Danger pay? Bwaaahahhah and WTF! That excuse certainly wasn’t dug up from the past. Ya gotta give the clever board-of-derelicts bonus points for such creative genius: “If ya break the law and damage the company, don’t worry. We’ve got ya covered.” Why not go one step further and give Bwin.party’s employees hazard pay for having to work under such a cast of potentially criminal bozeltines?

To determine if executive compensation has any correlation to company performance, BD00 performed 30 seconds worth of intensive research and plotted the results of his arduous effort for your viewing pleasure:

Exec Comp

So, whadya think? Is executive compensation tied to performance over the long haul? Regardless of how you answer the question, ya gotta love capitalism because after all is said, it’s the worst “ism” except for all the other “isms“.

The Supreme Council Sez

January 29, 2014 2 comments

Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory – Leonardo da Vinci

Supreme Council

The Non-Absorption Of Variety

January 23, 2014 6 comments

Update: Thanks to input from “fatjacques“, the quotes below can be attributed to Jon Seddon

A few days ago, I clipped a bunch of text from an article I read on computer-provided public services and put the words into a visio scratchpad page. However, I forgot to copy & paste the link to the article. Thus, I can’t give proper attribution to whomever wrote the words and ideas that I’m about to reuse in this post. I’m bummed, but I’m gonna proceed forward anyway.

Consider the computer client/server model below. In the simplest case, a client issues a request to fulfill a need to the server. The server subsequently provides a single response back to the client that fulfills the need. The client walks away happy as a clam. Nothing to it, right?

reqresp

Next, let’s assume that the client needs to issue “k” requests and receive k responses in order for her need to be fulfilled:

multiple transactions

From the bottom of the above multi-transaction graphic, you can infer that the service provider can be “implemented” as a person or a software program running on a computer (or a hybrid combo of both).

With the current obsession in government about “reducing costs” (instead of focusing on the real goal of providing services more effectively), more and more public service people are being replaced by computers and the buggy, inflexible software that runs on those cold-hearted, mechanistic beasts.

Since computers obey rules to the letter and, thus, can’t absorb variety in real-time, service costs are rising instead of declining. That’s because each person requiring a public service likely has some individual-specific needs. And since the likelihood of a pre-programmed rule set covering the infinitely subtle variety of needs from the citizenry is zero, employing a computer-based service system guarantees that the number of transactions required to consummate a service will be much larger than the number of transactions provided via a thinking, reacting service person. What may normally take a single transaction with a flexible, thinking, service person representative could take 20+ interactions with a rigid, dumbass computer.

But it’s even worse than that. In addition to requiring many more transactions, a rule-based computer service interface may totally fail to complete the service at all. Frustrated clients may simply give up and walk away without having received any value at all. Miserably poor service at a high cost. Bummer.

Good services are local, not industrial, delivered by people, not computers, who give people what they need. – Jon Seddon

The Long And Winding Road

January 13, 2014 Leave a comment

TLAWR

Huge Cajones

January 9, 2014 2 comments

According to “No Managers Required: How Zappos Ditched The Old Corporate Structure For Something New”,  by the end of 2014, Zappos.com will have dismantled their corpo pyramid. Under the stewardship of maverick CEO Tony Hsieh, the 1500 employee company will be transitioned into a “holacracy” of 400, self-governing circles.

Hierarchy Holarchy

Talk about having huge cajones. Just think of the disruptive risk to business performance of making such a daring structural/operational change to a billion dollar enterprise.

Although I look forward to watching how the transformation plays out, I’m a bit skeptical that Mr. Hsieh can pull it off. After visiting the site of the “consultant” that will be advising the company during the transition (holacracy.org) and browsing through the ungodly long, complicated, formal Holacracy Constitution, the first thought that came to mind was “D’oh!“.

Twitter friend and guest blogger @serialmom sums up the situation with this insightful tweet:

SM Tweet

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