Archive for the ‘goals’ category

A second opinion

November 17, 2011

I have no idea what the inside of my body looks like and I have only a vague notion of what each of the pieces-parts are doing at any given moment.  Like most of us, I do have suspicions about when something might be wrong, but that’s when I typically turn to a pro and his or her tools and knowledge (like MRI’s, stethoscopes, etc.) to help figure out what’s going on in there.   It’s the only body I have and I plan to put it to continued good use well into the future.

And if I suspected that something was seriously wrong, I might even get ‘a second opinion.’  Depending on my insurance, I might have to pay out of my own pocket for that opinion, and there’s also a good chance I might hear the same feedback I got from the first physician, but hey, this could be serious and I can’t afford to take chances!

I work with a lot of organizations who rely on software and information technology about as heavily as I rely on my body.   In many cases, software runs their business and gives them a competitive advantage.   And many of these business users know as much about their software’s inner workings as I do about my body’s.    After all, it’s not their field of expertise.  They have IT professionals who are working ‘under the covers’ to make their software do what it’s supposed to do.


But I’ve noticed they rarely, if ever, seek a second opinion.  Sometimes that takes the form of a “software audit” or a “code review.”   Usually, it’s done by an independent third party who, like a medical second opinion, may completely agree with what their IT pros are telling them.  On the other hand, if something is not being done according to best practices or industry standards, that’s about the only way they are ever going to find out.

Health Care has second opinions.  Construction has building inspectors.  Even elevators have to be routinely inspected.  Isn’t it about time the software industry grew up and realized that even though you may not always get a ‘clean bill of health’ from your audit, that’s better than waiting til they break out the scalpels…?

Speed Racer

November 10, 2011

My daughter ran in the Grand Rapids Marathon a few weeks back.  She finished in 4 hours and 30 minutes, which I believe is a respectable time to run 26 miles if you’re not from Kenya.  One of the things I learned from her preparations is that you have to have a “plan” for your race.  Her plan, apparently, was to use her heart rate to determine how fast to run each mile, striving to keep a relatively steady beats per minute, which may lead to less buildup of lactic acid or other ‘cramp inducers.’  Near as I can tell, she ran the first half of the race just slightly slower than the last half, but kept a pretty steady pace throughout.  Good for her!

I have decided, though, that if I ever run a marathon, I will take a vastly different and obviously superior approach.  I will jog the first 16 miles of the race and then sprint the last ten.   I am pretty confident I can beat her time by doing that.  I can jog 16 miles briskly in about 3 hours, and then sprint the last ten at ten miles per hour, in another 60 minutes, finishing in 4 hours.  Take that!


I was committed to this plan until a few friends asked some probing questions like, “Bob, have you ever sprinted ten miles?”    Brutally, they followed up with, “Have you ever sprinted even two miles?”  And then, the coup de grace, “Have you ever sprinted even one mile after jogging 16??”

At that point, I realized the flaw in my plan.  Trying to go faster at the end of a long race is no strategy for success especially if:

a) you’re out of shape or

b) you’ve never done it before

So why do so many project teams and project managers think they can get to the halfway point of a project in six months and then finish the other half in two??

It’s gotta be the lactic acid buildup…

The Eleven Percent Solution

September 29, 2011

It seems appropriate, on this last day of the major league baseball season, to ponder the difference between success and failure, two terms that get thrown around a lot in sports and business.

The New York Yankees are having a successful season so far.  They are likely to end up winning 98 baseball games this year if they hold on to the lead they have right now.  They lost 64 games.  If you think about it, that’s a lot of games to lose.

The Cleveland Indians will not be in the playoffs and I suspect some of their fans would not consider their season successful.  They won 80 games so far, and lost 81.  Even Steven…

What’s interesting about that to me is that the difference in wins between the Yankees and the Indians is a mere 18 more games won by the Yankees.  Over the course of 162 games and six grueling months, that amounts to eleven percent more games won by a “successful” team over a “failure.”  Not a lot.


Coincidentally, I was also at a panel discussion last night about innovation.  One of the questions from the audience was “do you celebrate failure?”  Good question!   I was a bit surprised by the answer, which was pretty much “no we don’t.”   I thought perhaps the speaker would wax eloquently about how important it was to coddle your team and accept interim defeats.  But no!    I think the gist of the response was that, although you have to learn from mistakes and continually correct your course, just because you’re innovating doesn’t mean you have to expect, tolerate, or celebrate failure.

So here are my questions:

  1. Do you think the Cleveland Indians are popping champagne tonight?
  2. Do you think the Yankees high-fived each other in the clubhouse after one of their 64 losses?
  3. Does you think that the most successful sports teams get angry when they lose and use it as motivation to go out the next day and kick some butt?
  4. Does your team or organization hate to lose?
  5. Do you think that anyone on your team believes that an 11% improvement in their results, however they are measured, would mean the difference between success and failure?

Answer key:

  1. no
  2. no
  3. yes
  4. you tell me
  5. If not, I think the Indians are looking for a backup catcher…

Is Everybody Happy??

September 9, 2011

I am not a huge believer in polls.  I think that regardless of statistical sampling size and other factors, the way that questions are ordered, worded and who you ask still affects the outcome in ways that belie objectivity.

Be that as it may, has anyone seen the latest Gallup Healthways Well Being index as it relates to “employee engagement?”  Interesting stuff!

Allow me to summarize.  The Gallupians use three categories to segment employees:  engaged (in their companies), not engaged, and actively disengaged.  It may surprise no one to hear that 30 percent of American workers are engaged in their work, 51 percent are not engaged, and 19 percent are actively disengaged.   A sad state of affairs indeed.


What can you do about this??

I would suggest two things:

1)   it turns out that many economic sleuths are actually willing to admit that there’s a relationship between engaged workers and your company’s bottom line.  Personally, I don’t feel like anyone should even have to make that case, but next time you bump into your CFO in the elevator, ask her if she believes that to be the case.  If not, dust up your resume.
2)   there was an editorial in the New York Times this past week  that referenced the Gallup engagement survey but also proclaimed to find a root cause relationship that will change your workers’ sense of engagement for the better.  Get this!   As a manager, you should acknowledge and praise incremental progress in your team’s work.  That’s what keeps them engaged!  Brilliant!  It gets better.  When 669 managers were asked to rank 5 motivators, 95 percent of them ranked “supporting progress” dead last.

Are we happy now?

Nature v Nurture

May 26, 2011

I was hanging out in my friend Lori’s office a few weeks ago.  She had a magazine in her lobby – HR Magazine.  Who knew such a publication even existed??

The cover story?  “Slackers, Can they be saved?”  The byline?  “Most slackers can be turned into better performers by removing organizational conditions that create or enable loafing behavior.” 

Next, the definition:  “Slackers are people who know they could be much more productive but make a conscious decision not to be.”

And finally, the requisite quadrants of slackers, who apparently fall into one of four quadrants:  Sandbaggers, Weasels, Parasites and Mercenaries.  I kid you not.

I would post a link to the article, but you have to “join” HR magazine first and I already re-upped my membership in the KKK this spring, and there are only so many hours in a day to stereotype people and then mistreat them…


Let me just say a few quick things about this:  I understand that it can be challenging to get the most out of any team on any given day.   I also understand that a lack of motivation can cripple any undertaking.  But I suspect that many of these so called “slackers” are highly engaged parents, mountain bikers, runners, audiophiles, volunteers, or hobbyists.   Nowhere in the article, whoever its intended audience might be, does it suggest that the leader or senior executive might be the problem.    The article does seem to suggest that a manager’s job is to “catch them,” calls them “time bandits” and bemoans the fact that in this age of computers, slacking is “easier to mask.”

Maybe the organizations goals are not clear.  Maybe the slacker cannot relate what they do to the achievements of the team, department or company.  Maybe they think the company’s “mission statement” is a bunch of BS.  Maybe management’s actions and words are more misaligned than a Yugo that just jumped a 2 foot curb.  Maybe they showed up for their first day at a new job all those years ago, full of enthusiasm and optimism, and the management style, hypocrisy and bureaucracy drained them of their energy like a slow leak in an above ground pool.

As Rodney Dangerfield said long ago, when asked by his spouse to take the trash out, “You cooked it, you take it out…”

Who luvs ya, Baby?

November 18, 2010

One of the things that seems to unite most Americans, if not folks everywhere, is our love for an underdog.  Show me someone who has no chance going up against a bigger, meaner, wealthier, or more vicious adversary, and I am rooting like crazy for the “little guy.”  Who knows that more than LeBron James?  In the span of 8 months, he has gone from the loved, admired and franchise face of the Cleveland Cavaliers, to a member of the “Big Three” in Miami, with better nightlife, better teammates, more money, and allegedly, a genuine chance to win his first NBA championship.  And guess what?  Almost everyone is rooting against him and/or the Miami Heat.

We in the business world are not immune to this either, but we are often equally naive about it.  We start businesses, scrap for every client, contract or order, treat every customer like they were our first and last, and work our butts off to deliver the best services and products to grab just a sliver of the market from “the big guys.”  And some of the business we win comes from that very market rooting for an underdog.   And we start to succeed.


First, we get noticed.  “Hey, who ARE those guys??”   Then, we get confident.  “We can beat anyone.”   And if we’re not careful, we get arrogant.  “We’re the best.”  And suddenly, no one is rooting for us anymore.

It’s good to want to be the best.  Just make sure your fans are telling you that, and not the other way around…

The Department of S&E

September 19, 2010

One of the things I thought was cool about 2001 A Space Odyssey was the name of the computer, HAL.  Being the not-so-intuitive type, someone had to clue me in that HAL was IBM, just one letter each toward the front of the alphabet – H instead of I, A instead of B, you get it…  (side note – Arthur C. Clarke, the author of 2001, A Space Odyssey, denies this and claims it represents Heuristic ALgorithm…)

Did you also know that the budgets for Research and Development for IBM, Microsoft and Intel are, respectively, $6 billion, $9.5 billion, and $6.5 billion?  Even recognizing that new products and technology are the lifeblood of those companies, that is still some serious cash to throw at one department, relying on them to come up with the next big thing.

  What about the rest of the folks at IBM, Microsoft, and Intel?  What is the budget for them to innovate?  I fear it may be $175.89.  That’s the cost to purchase and mount 6 or 7  “suggestion boxes” in the cafeteria, lobbies and break rooms.


I wonder how all the employees who aren’t part of R&D feel about all that.  And not just at IBM, Intel and Microsoft.  They are just easy targets because their budgets for R&D are so mammoth.  What about your company’s R&D budget?  How much is it and where does it go?

I have to believe that teams that work with their company’s products and technology have an amazing number of ideas for how to improve them or how to create brand new ones.  But I worry that many of the employees who aren’t in R&D are, perhaps inadvertently, being messaged that they are in S&E, Stagnation and Entrenchment.  And I have seen this!  Employees seem all too comfortable to work very hard at keeping things just the way they are (stagnation) and avoiding new tasks, responsibilities and challenges (entrenchment).

It’s easy to think that’s the employees’ fault, right?  I mean, they’re jaded, what are you gonna do? 

Why not take a little of that R&D budget and give it to the S&E teams?  Give them a serious incentive to innovate and improve your products and services.  Give them the opportunity to become an extended and welcomed arm of R&D.

Or, just learn how to hum Daisy Bell…

Pit Crew or Family Truckster?

May 29, 2010

I am sure many of us have been the primary driver on a long vacation trip with one or more kids in the back of the van.  As the primary driver, if you’re like me, you take a bit of time to plan a route, figure out roughly how long it will take, where some smart places to stop along the way might be, how to avoid peak traffic driving around the DC beltway (by the way, that part turns out to be impossible…) and stocking up on maps or programming your GPS.  You also plan clever answers for the fifty or so times that one of the ‘back seat passengers’ asks if we’re halfway there yet.


Given that this is the weekend of the Indy 500, I was thinking that Helio Castroneves probably doesn’t have to go through a similar routine with his pit crew.   Even though I don’t follow NASCAR or the Formula I racing closely, I suspect that even though their pit crews never actually get behind the wheel of the race car, they are 100% engaged in the planning and race strategy, but more importantly, in gauging during the race how the car is performing, what place they are in, how many laps there are to go, how their job relates to the overall chances of winning the race and what they can do to ensure victory.

Having spent the last few weeks with several clients debating the role of project managers in their organizations, it occurs to me if I were a project team member, I’d would rather be thought of as part of the pit crew and get engaged with the project planning and progress measurement accordingly.  And if I were a project manager, I’d much rather have a pit crew than a disengaged bunch of passengers.

So if you’re being honest with yourself, what’s your organization driving these days??  A Formula I race car or the family truckster???


The Matrix

May 20, 2010

Thanks to some colleagues that, to be honest, are just plain smarter than me, I am becoming a fan of matrices, specifically two by two arrays better known as quadrants.  You know, like Gartner’s “magic quadrant” where everyone wants to be in the upper right hand corner at the happening intersection of The Ability to Execute Boulevard and Visionary Avenue.  Quadrants just seem to be a handy way of partitioning collections of objects into meaningful categories.  I think the other thing about quadrants that seems intuitive are the percentages and how easy they are to calculate and act upon.

For example, in high school, I had a bad haircut and was a bad dresser.  The quadrant for that looks like this:


Intuitively, we can see that my chances of getting a date for the prom were 25% assuming I would have needed a good haircut AND some style.   Sadly, this was empirically proven.

But that’s not my point…

Consider instead the relationship between effort and recognition, seen from your employees’ perspective.  What if your quadrant has these four elements:

Minimal Effort/No Credit
Effort/No Credit
Minimal Effort/Credit

Three of these four outcomes, as a leader, are not what you want.  You certainly don’t want your teams to do the minimum just to get by, right?  But if you don’t make damn certain they get recognition or credit when they DO expend the effort you want, you solved the equation for them!  They stand a one in four chance of a positive outcome.  And even if they’re not math majors, they can figure this one out.

You can mock this and contend its trivial but tell me you’ve never spent time in a large, bureaucratic organization where you can’t figure out why everyone seems so unmotivated.  Do the math, Neo…


    Will it make me sweat?

    April 29, 2010

    When we moved to West Michigan almost six years ago, we had two teenage daughters.  As you can imagine, the day we announced we were “taking them away from all their friends” they were overjoyed – NOT!  But when push came to shove, they had no choice but to come along, resolved to make the best of it.   And I thought that if they were going to be such ‘troopers’ I should find a way to make the new house different and maybe a little special.  So we decided to get a hot tub.   Not knowing the climate of West Michigan that well, it seemed like a safe bet to get some use at least eleven or so months out of the year.

    And I did some research, a little planning and set a budget.

    And we bought a hot tub.   Hot tub!   Owwww!
    And we had it delivered.

    And I found an electrician to wire it up, which is the last step.  (other than filling it, I suppose)

    And that’s when the electrician told me he couldn’t wire it up to our existing panel, because there weren’t enough “amps.”  And so I thought, well, how much could a few more amps cost?  It turns out that the amps come along with a brand new panel which cost about $800 if I remember right.  NOT in the budget.

    And so we had some limited choices:

    1. fill the hot tub with dirt and make it an unusual backyard “planter.”
    2. give up, return it, and disappoint my troopers
    3. pay the electrician to bring more amps to our amp-starved home

    You already know what we did.  We paid the extra $800.  Here’s why – because we were ‘committed’ to the project outcome.  Going over budget was not fun, but the most important thing was the right outcome.

    Last week, in my previous post, I somewhat glibly dismissed caring about budgets in favor of caring about outcomes.  So I figured I should take some time to explain what I meant.

    I think too many organizations like to create big project lists with budgets and due dates.  Ever see a spreadsheet with a list like that?  Other than the project description, do they ever say what the outcome is?  You know, the real outcome – like making a move away from your friends a little less painful?  Doubtful.

    So my point is not that budgets don’t matter, it’s that they matter less than the right outcome.  So next time you have to tell a project sponsor or someone else who “owns” the budget for your project that you’re running over and you need more funding, wouldn’t you feel better if you and the sponsor both shared the same passion for the outcome? 

    If you do, you might not need to sweat so much…


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