Archive - December 2011

22.10 20120

It’s in the Kiss

I know if you are reading this you must be hoping that this article contains some important romantic advice; however, I am sorry to disappoint.  I must warn you that this article contains important information of a somewhat less exciting nature.  The topic is timely and of great importance to those of us overwhelmed, not by romantic notions, but by the massive amounts of data in our lives. Kelly Johnson, a lead aircraft engineer at Lockheed Skunk Works coined the phrase “Keep It Simple Stupid” or KISS.  The KISS principle promotes the idea that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made more complex.  Johnson promoted the idea that simplicity should be a key goal in design and that unnecessary complexity should be avoided.  Johnson’s acronym became a very popular phrase used by many people in the US Air Force and in the field of software development. His phrase did not imply that engineers are stupid or simple, but rather that they should design with the non-engineer end user in mind.  In Johnson’s case, the end user was the aircraft mechanic who must repair the machine under combat conditions with minimal tools and little time to manage complexity. While it seems contrary to what instinct tells us, simplicity is much harder to obtain than complexity.  It takes more time to be simple than to be complex.  To be simple, we must understand something at its core… a massive amount of data must be reduced to a simple usable product.  It is similar to a massive block of wood that is whittled away until a simplistic masterpiece is created.  As our world becomes more and more complex, simplicity and the ability to create it becomes more and more valued. In his book The 12 Pillars of Project Management, Adil Dalal, addresses the topic of information overload and data usage on projects.  Dalal points to the 2008 Bohn and Short study, stating that Americans consume data equivalent to 10,844 trillion words a day, which translates into 34 gigabytes, approximately one-fifth of the storage in a standard laptop.  Not only is more data available to us with technological advances, but also the channels for receiving it are more numerous than the past and often uncontrolled …chat, text messages, Twitter, Linked In, Facebook and many others. With so much data available to each of us for every decision that we make, a plan for managing data decisions becomes critical to both project success and to the mental health of those involved in the project.  Focusing on key objectives and requirements is critical to project success, and establishing appropriate communications channels will further focus the project team on important results.  According to Dalal, for each project, we must decide, how much data the project requires, what types of data are available and which type of data is most critical to make the project successful.  The process of parsing data and data sources is a bit of up-front work for a project team, but it will save time and promote quality during the life of the project.  Estimating how much data is required is challenging… we must look at project duration, the complexity of the project and its criticality to business to guide us. According to Dalal, project data should be categorized and ranked by its importance to the project.  The two broad categories of project data are value-added data and non-value added data.  Value-added data has a direct impact on the customer product of the project; whereas, non-value added data may have an indirect impact on the project.  Value added-data can be further categorized as crucial project data, historical data, artifacts and metadata.  Crucial project data is critical to project decisions, and while some historical data is required, it should not be too abundant, or it will cloud decisions about current issues.  Artifacts, such as electronic records and templates, and metadata, unique identifiers for artifacts, are required, but in minimal quantities. Dalal points out that there is necessary non-value added data, such as corporate policies and procedures, regulatory or industry related data, factual, referenced data and analytical or inferred data.  Generally speaking though, most non-value added data should not be considered when making project decisions.  Non-value added data is generally not referenced and can include false, misleading and irrelevant information.  Categorizing project data sources helps keep a project running leanly and speeds up the decision-making process with more pointed information. Once we learn to simplify our lives, we will have more time for those things in life that really matter.  Ingrid Bergman once said “A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”  It is perhaps a trick that we should learn well.  To create meaning from life, we must learn to simplify what we entertain in our conscious thoughts and actions.  Such focus will allow us to move forward more quickly than when we are overburdened with too much irrelevant information.  The secret of the KISS is not in how much you know, but in the quality of what you know.

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05.10 20120

Let’s Get Hitched

To motivate is to get forward movement… it is a progressive idea.  The changing and challenging 21st Century world needs a 21st century model for motivating an ever-evolving group of people.   Early survival depended upon an agrarian society that utilized the labor of horses and those driving the horses, using the carrot to motivate and the stick to punish when necessary.  In today’s world, where labor is less mechanical and more creative, new motivations emerge.  We are no longer driven simply by the desire to make money or threat of the loss of money. In Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, he discusses a new drive that has emerged as a primary motivator of the workforce, and that drive is engagement.  People work because they want to be a part of a community, and they want to engage with the world.  In the traditional model, you reward the behavior of which you want more, and you punish the behavior of which you want less.  For example, bonuses typically are effective for tasks requiring mechanical skills; however, with more creative tasks, bonuses may lead to worse performance.  Punishment offers a similar experience.  In the traditional model, if you punish a behavior, you will get less of it; however, in an environment requiring cognitive thinking, punishment may led to more of the activity you wish to eliminate.  Pink offers the example of fining parents for late pick-up of children from nursery school.  After a school instituted a fine for such behavior, parent late arrivals soared.  Parents, who previously had picked up their children on time out of respect for the workers’ time, then felt no obligation to the workers, and picked up late when convenient because it was a paid service. Pink’s new drive of engagement has three primary motivators:  autonomy, mastery and purpose.  In the old model, management created compliance, but in a new model, engagement requires self-direction.  When people are allowed the freedom to self-direct, they can come up with innovative ideas and solutions.  Some companies have successfully utilized 20% time, allowing employees to use 20% of their time on self-directed projects.  Pink’s second motivator is mastery.  The open source movement illustrates how highly skilled, highly paid, employed people will use their spare time to work on free projects for the challenge of mastery and the desire to make an overall contribution.  One of the top motivations of workers is to make progress, even just doing something a little better.  Pink’s last primary new motivator is purpose.  The purpose of employment must be more than just the “profit motive.”  Workers must be inspired by the “purpose motive.”  Steve Jobs “purpose motive” was “to put a ding in the universe.”  Today’s workers require a noble mission or purpose to drive their creative work efforts. Organizations have begun to realize that differing motivations require differing management practices.  Agile practices use self-directed teams to complete the work.  Team members are challenged to lead the charge in developing mastery of their work by utilizing the skills of the group to accomplish goals.  While the product owner manages the idea of return on investment, the teams are given purposeful user stories to drive the development of creative solutions, verses focusing on budget driven activities.  In order to keep business running, “the profit motive” must be securely hitched to the “purpose motive.”  If the two become unhitched, bad things can happen to an organization.  For a purposeful life, we must stay married to the idea that our life has meaning and the work we do matters.

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