Archive for the ‘quality’ 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.

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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…?

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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.

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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…

Put me in, coach!

September 1, 2011

One of the things I love about baseball is the subtle communication that is taking place all over the field.  The signs between the catcher and pitcher, silently communicating the type of pitch and its location.  The signs between the manager in the dugout, the third base coach and the batter, informing the batter whether to bunt, swing away, take the next pitch, or ask for more money in his next contract.  You can imagine that, if a new player showed up on the team and didn’t take the time to find out what all the signs were, he wouldn’t be very effective and would be on the bench, “riding the pine” as they used to say, pretty fast.

So I am always a bit amazed when a vendor that is being  paid handsomely for their efforts introduces a new “player” in a meeting or on a conference call, allegedly with some new expertise that is greatly needed for the project/endeavor to succeed, and the first words out of the new player’s mouth are, “I’m really not familiar with your project or environment.”

Really?  Did the person coordinating the resources from your end not take the time to fill you in on a few key details, like what we’re trying to accomplish, who the team is, what our milestone dates are and what your role will be??  Or did you not bother to ask??

imageWhen you play pickup baseball in a park or schoolyard, there are no signs.  That’s because everyone playing are a bunch of amateurs, not paid professionals.

How do you want YOUR team to be perceived…?

Schaden-what???

July 21, 2011

As many of you astute linguists know, Schadenfreude is a German word that basically means “taking pleasure in the misfortune of others…”  Germans have a more sophisticated word for this than we do because, well, first of all, they are more disciplined and sophisticated, and secondly, they like to create long, complex nouns for everything near as I can tell.  Our best options in English seem to be “I told you so” and “nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah…”

All in all, though, I’d say the whole concept is pretty childish and selfish.

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So imagine my shock this week when I caught myself slipping into the world of Schaden.  I am working on a project with some pretty aggressive deadlines (read, virtually impossible to meet) and a team that, though dedicated, is quite novice at taking on such an intense project.  I feel like, as a good consultant should, I have pointed out these things to the stakeholders, but they have doggedly persisted in their approach and retained their timelines.  I suppose that’s their prerogative.

Then, all of a sudden, I was filled with anticipation of a day that might come when they have missed all their deadlines, and I could trot out, even if it was unspoken, with a gleeful “I told you so.”  Fess up – the reason there’s a word for this is German is because it’s pretty innate human behavior.  You’ve done it too, haven’t you?

But the reality is it’s not helpful to anyone to behave this way.  I caught myself and have renewed my determination to find ways to bring this thing to a positive outcome, or at least go down with the team.  Next time you find yourself in a similar situation, remember there’s no Schadenfreud in “team…”

Common Cents

April 22, 2011

Two years ago, I consolidated all my 401k and retirement accounts into a single account so I could watch it not grow more easily.  That included transferring the money I had in a Charles Schwab account.   The following month, I got a statement from Schwab that said the balance in the account was one cent.  That’s right.  $00.01.  I can only assume that some instantaneous computer-driven interest-calculating program granted me a “dividend” at the very moment I took out all my money.  So I did what most self-respecting, lazy procrastinators would do – I ignored the statement and threw it out.

I have continued to receive statements every month showing my balance of one cent.  To be honest, after 24 months, you’d think it would have grown to two cents, but such is the state of our economy I suppose.

But wait…

Last week, I got a letter from Schwab informing me that the State of Michigan requires them to send me paperwork that I have to fill out and return, indicating that I wish to keep the account open.  If I do not respond by May 11, they will turn over the “assets” of the account to the “unclaimed property department of the State of Michigan.”  As hard as any of this is to fathom, I am not making it up.

As much as I wanted to do nothing (see self-characterization in paragraph 1) guilt got the better of me and I called Schwab, asked the nice person who answered to close the account, and I also let them keep the penny…

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So here’s the thing.  Between all the people and computers in the state of Michigan AND at Charles Schwab, don’t you think someone would have recognized the ridiculousness of the situation and put a stop to it, if for no other reason than doing some simple arithmetic around spending 40 cents every month to send me a letter to tell me I still had a penny in an account I had liquidated?  But no one did.  And here’s why…

Because it’s not their money.

As a leader in a small, mid-sized, or God forbid large organization, are you still capable of thinking about expenditures as if it were your money?  Do the teams you lead think that way?

If you don’t or they don’t, maybe you should Talk to Chuck…

Well, what did you expect??

February 10, 2011

I got hit in the face with missed expectations this week courtesy of American Airlines.   I was flying home from Colorado after a quick but really fun mini-ski trip.  But, as with most trips, at least the ones where it’s as cold there as it is in Michigan, I was ready to come home.  I expected to be home around 8 PM on Monday.  I actually arrived home on Tuesday at 2 PM.

Here’s the interesting thing about this:  I realize weather affects flights.  I realize there are FAA limits on how many hours a pilot and crew can fly.  And I realize that it is not necessarily the airline’s “fault” that I got home much later than I had hoped, and had to deal with the delay on my own, since there is little compensation or assistance that the airline provides other than re-booking you on the next available flight.

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So what did they do “wrong” then?

I think they failed to set and then manage my expectations.  In fact, they did the opposite.  They told me my connecting flight was “on time” until an hour  before it was scheduled to leave.  Clearly that was not the case.  They told me I was booked on a later flight that day.  They had me wait at the airport for 5 hours, telling me the plane was on its way.  They never mentioned that there was a chance there wouldn’t be a crew.  They announced final cancellation due to a “lack of crew” at the last possible moment, after first saying they were looking for a new crew, as if pilots were lounging around O’Hare just hoping they got “picked” for an end of day jaunt to West Michigan.

But in reflecting on this, it seems that we as leaders all have a tendency to do the same.  How many times have you put off an uncomfortable conversation with an employee, a boss, or a client?  How many times have you promised that a project would go smoothly, ignoring the fact that there  is a roughly 100% chance that there will be “turbulence” along the way?  How many times have you set expectations too high and hoped that no one would compare those to outcomes?  And how many times were you shocked and defensive when someone called you on it and reminded you of what they were promised?

Well, what did you expect…?

Boris, Natasha and QA

November 30, 2010

 

Last month, the creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Alexander Anderson Jr., passed away at the ripe old age of 90.  Definitely one of my favorite cartoons as a kid!  I remember, among other things, Boris Badenov, the villain, saying, “I send Lady Spy (aka Natasha) with package which is really bomb.  She gets caught, she throws bomb out window, who gets blown up?  Me!”

Setting aside the fact that those were simpler times, and that the TSA likely would have stripped-searched Natasha and found the explosives long before she could heave them out the window, I had a similar experience last week where I felt a bit like Boris.

I have been providing training to one of my client’s Trustees, an elite group of successful, influential and typically ‘senior’ folks who are going to begin to receive documents, view calendars and do other things on line in their new “board portal” that they had done by email, snail mail or telephone in the past.  Good idea!

Because of the sensitive nature of the materials on the portal (as you can imagine) I was not granted access to the “real” portal – just a training version with generic content.  As many of you savvy readers will conclude, I also was therefore not able to “test” the real portal myself and ensure it worked flawlessly before demonstrating it and educating these local titans of industry.  Not a problem, I was told!  The rather granular permissions model, access from outside through the firewall and the search feature were all thoroughly tested by the system administrator.  Excellent!  No worries!!

Wait for it…

That is correct!  When I went to the law offices of one of the trustees, and stood over him in his corner office while he first used the portal, the search feature found documents from another site ‘by accident’, it didn’t allow him to participate in discussions that it should have, and it even threw a lovely 404 error when he tried to access one of the documents that search ‘found’ for him.  I, of course, was left to “explain” these behaviors and assure him they’d be corrected (which they have been).

A cautionary tale:  If you’re doing something important and you leave the Quality Assurance to others with no means to verify it’s been done thoroughly, just remember that when the bomb gets thrown out the window, you’re the one standing under it…