February 10, 2011
In Linked Segments I worked hard to be succinct. In doing so, I actually squeezed the life right out of the blog post! Rather than rework it directly, I am attempting to metaphorically add milk, stir, warm, and thus reconstitute the soup rather than a leaving a congealed glob of condensed puree. :*)
I have worked with technical project teams spanning a few to many members . It’s easy to work with a few members – priorities and progress are easy to update – it occurs naturally in the hallway, across cubicle walls, and informal team meetings. It gets more challenging when there are more than about five (5) team members AND when one (or more) is not co-located – the fluidity declines to the viscosity of……..condensed soup!
I could make a list of many reasons why it becomes harder, but I believe the primary one is that with greater visibility (more team members) there is a tendency toward declining informality. Members feel pressure (internally?/externally?) to share only polished work stemming from personal struggles to maintain control and dignity (see my reference to Roger Martin’s work at Technical Complexity). So sharing frequency declines – we wait for members to fully analyze their data, prepare a slide deck, and then present at the next team meeting. These effects mitigate the efficiency and productivity gains of larger groups, because they slow progress down.
Gaining trust and reciprocity that facilitates frequent informal exchange is much easier in smaller groups because protective cliques form readily in small groups. Yet, gaining trust and reciprocity is not impossible in larger groups; it just requires forming a protective tribe – really. This is where the newer ESSP (Emergent Social Software Platforms) have a role. For example, in mid 2008, I began participating in Seth Godin’s online community, Triiibes. I was blown away at how effectively Seth created a large online community that allowed each of us to grow professionally – no polishing required. My blog post On Triiibes celebrates the 1st anniversary of that community and the value that it created — truly amazing!
Two of the very best primers on the subject of forming a tribe:
- Great Boss Dead Boss by Ray Immelman (note: although the title is unappealing, it is an excellent book!)
- Tribes by Seth Godin
When I realized that large organizations (agri-business, pharma, and medical research) were beginning to use larger work groups to increase efficiency and productivity (segment and specialize) I felt compelled to crystallize my most important insights. Unfortunately, my efforts to distill the essence left a blog post with the consistency of solid goo! I hope this greater context makes Linked Segments more readable. 🙂
My long-view message:
- Team members need to feel protected and valued.
Better? Your feedback is welcome and appreciated!
October 1, 2010
I recently had the pleasure of hearing David Brooks speak about politics and his career as a journalist (now for the New York Times). He was both funny and insightful.
Mr. Brooks spoke on many subjects, but I was especially piqued by his observations about one specific character trait that makes President Obama unduly effective in his role as leader – extraordinary CALMNESS.
The story he tells about Obama’s calmness is as follows (paraphrased):
When Obama debated McCain in the 2008 presidential election, each man took turns at the lectern. Both could be seen writing notes onto the provided notepad. An observer later collected those notes. McCain’s notes were jotted words topical to the debate. Obama’s notes were six extremely straight drawn lines.
I deeply appreciate those who have mastery of calmness because I am personally a hyperactive, difficult to sit-still person. Yet I recognize that calmness is an essential ally in gaining mastery over new material or terrain. It is easy (and natural) to panic when a situation seems overwhelming and futile. However, panicking never breeds success.
Having pushed thorough to higher knowledge and performance many times before, I know that every obstacle must be overcome to achieve success. As I continue to push myself professionally and personally, I often find myself in over my head. At those times, I must channel calmness to proceed. My personal mantras (long view advice) for learning new things and tackling more demanding challenges are as follows:
- Breathe deeply through your nose (channel straight lines) – it helps to retain focus and minimizes irrational thoughts about quitting.
- Break down the problem – try simpler versions to validate the strategy or idea before incorporating into more complex scenarios.
- Ask for help – consult someone more knowledgeable and learn from them.
Although #2 (teach oneself) enables deeper learning, don’t wait too long to seek #3 (learn from another), because of #1 (irrational thoughts).
Would you benefit from channeling straight lines?
April 29, 2010
I have been guesting at a conference on cell culture engineering. At this conference, researchers share knowledge and innovations for engineering the processes for making medicines known as biopharmaceuticals (large molecule cancer drugs, heart attack drugs, etc.). These drugs are manufactured on a large scale by harnessing the microscopic cellular machinery of a massive number of cells in culture.
I learned that cells in culture act just like humans, if you overfeed them they will be lazy and not make the desired product. As I walked through the poster session last evening, I was struck by the importance of nutrition and environment on the productivity of cells to make these biopharmaceuticals.
In fact, researchers demonstrated that changes to the diet of the cell culture media (the food stream) could increase the productivity of the cells by 2x and more! Apparently, in cell culture there is an equivalent of substituting a diet of ice cream with a well balanced diet of proteins and carbohydrates.
There were also several posters showing that manipulating key environmental conditions, such as temperature, could lead to increased productivity. For example, most cell culture processes are run at normal body temperature. One researcher showed that cooling the culture several degrees from normal body temperature increased the productivity of the cells. Make them shiver — their machinery runs faster! Like the cells, I know that I swim faster in cooler water I run faster when the weather is cooler (until it requires too much bundling up and I’ll then head to the indoor gym).
The cells (and their researchers) reminded me that in order to achieve excellent performance over the long term we should all eat a balanced diet and stay cool. Thus, today’s long view advice:
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Stay cool for improved performance.
Are you eating right and staying cool?
March 25, 2010
After acquiring a handful of consulting clients over the past many months, I have finally embarked on building a real business. I am in the process of creating a manifesto of services and infrastructure to support it.
I recently hired Greg (Cloud Marketing Labs) to build me a website and “market Linda.” He pushed me to define what I represent, how I work, what clients should expect, and more. One of the things Greg recommended was to solicit feedback from my current clients, find out what they liked and what they might value in a future offering. Thinking that I had really over-delivered with clients thus far, I compiled a list of questions and asked for feedback.
It all seemed easy until I received the following feedback relative to Rapport (Beside Manner):
Question: Do you find our interaction to be positive? Did you feel like you better off because you called me?
Answer: I feel that I was better off because of you, but not sure if all shared that sentiment. You have a very strong personality, which is not completely embraced by all.
That was unexpected and I needed to understand how to improve. I immediately committed to understand “strong personality” – it could mean so many things…
I had a follow-up meeting with my client yesterday. (I am grateful that he agreed to discuss this further.) I learned that the negative reaction was associated with a strong recommendation that I had made about how to run a specific experiment and what data should be gathered. In retrospect, I had not taken adequate time to parse, describe the why, and encourage understanding about the data needs. As such, my strong recommendation felt disrespectful and intransigent to some team members. Although there is always tension between Go Fast and Move Slow, ultimately, my desire to execute the experiment quickly got in my way. I must remind myself constantly that a hike is not over until everyone reaches the campsite. It is not possible to go faster (without casualty) than the slowest team member.
My long view advice:
- Slow down – take time to teach and encourage understanding with the entire team. It is not good enough to understand alone, achievement occurs only when everyone has arrived at understanding.
- Stay committed to improvement, know that everyone needs to be reminded to do better – no one is perfect.
- Ask for the last 10%, which is the feedback that is difficult to give, harder to hear, but most important for improvement (described in the book Integrity, pg.120).
- Listen, internalize, and adjust accordingly.
I am extremely grateful for the candid honesty of my client. To that end, I am re-committed to slowing down to ensure that understanding is achieved before asking for execution.
Are you ensuring understanding before asking for execution?
March 16, 2010
I was reminded recently of one of my long view axioms – workarounds don’t work (for long).
Workarounds have a finite duration for which they will enable correction/detection of an existing problem. This is because they require extra effort for what is usually an infrequent problem. Thus, as humans, we tend to forget, begin to believe it is unnecessary (it doesn’t really matter), or it was simply too much effort (not worth it to me), so it just does not happen.
I was reminded about this axiom last week when my 16-year-old daughter passed her driver’s license exam. Although she passed, she couldn’t get her license because the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) computer system had a known counting error that indicated that she was two days short of her required permit duration, yet the workaround had been forgotten.
The time-based requirement for teenagers to receive a full license is that they must have held their permit a minimum of six months. My daughter received her permit on 09/09/2009. She scheduled and passed for her driving exam on 03/09/2010 – exactly six months later. So, how could she be two days short?
It turns out if you assume that SIX MONTHS = HALF-YEAR = 365/2 DAYS = 182.5 DAYS and then assume that a minimum of 183 DAYS is the appropriate standard to apply to ensure completion, then the criteria FAILS six-months of the year: March, April, May, June, July, and August, (see graphic) for the condition when a teenager schedules their six-month driving appointment exactly six-months out (date to date). This happens because there are only 181-182 cumulative days in the six-month periods, falling immediately after February, which has only 28 days.
Can you imagine how frustrated and aggravated the two of us were?! She was quite disappointed at not receiving her license and thus not being able to drive her planned excursion the following day, not to mention it was rather anti-climactic to return two days later to get her license. I was aggravated on her behalf and because of the hassle of having to go to the DMV twice in two days.
I was sufficiently aggravated about the situation to contact Gary, the Drive columnist in my local paper, to help me get the problem fixed. Gary successfully got to the right folks at the DMV. The DMV confirmed that the problem was a known counting issue (the computer had been programmed with a 183 DAY threshold rather than programmed for six MONTH threshold). The DMV agent also informed me that a fix was in the queue to convert the counting from DAYS to MONTHS (but there wasn’t any priority for it) AND that there was a workaround in place to allow the field offices to allow a DMV manager override the system but that my local office had forgotten the procedure. (My daughter should have been able to get her license on the day she passed her driving exam.)
Although the DMV representative was very apologetic and promised to write a memo to all the field offices reminding them of the workaround, I was disheartened by the futility. How much work was created because because they did not expeditiously fix this known problem and allowed a persistent workaround? For example they could simply change threshold from 183 days to 181 days – one line of computer code! What’s the risk – a teenager sneaking in to get his/her license a few days early in November? How many managers at the hundreds of field offices will have to read another memo about the workaround and remind their staff to override when needed? Of course, all will be forgotten come September and experienced again come March!
My long view advice:
- Expeditiously fix problems – workarounds don’t work.
- Do not allow workarounds to persist for any more time than it takes to solve the problem permanently. (It costs more than you are probably aware.)
Are you avoiding workarounds in favor of solutions?
February 12, 2010
I got one of my clients to use BaseCamp (very cool workplace networking and project dashboard platform). It was clear to me that they could benefit due to the geographic diversity of their team and their need to increase visibility of their project work. For this client, BaseCamp was instantly successful and they now collaborate more effectivley (than before) commercializing some very promising technology.
BaseCamp itself solves project visibility issues for team members, but instantly creates the proverbially “cannot see the forest for the trees” problem for project managers (PMs). It’s just not possible to get a top-level, Gantt view of projects, tasks (to-dos), and milestones inside BaseCamp. But….
I became a raving fan even before I spent a penny with them. Here’s why….
I noticed in the Trial IntelliGantt Add-In (FREE) that my BaseCamp imports of completed-tasks were not shown as complete yet associated Milestones indicated progress in MS Project. I wrote to John at TeamDirection and explained the problem. Over the course of a few days, we worked together by phone and by web – John even joined us at our BaseCamp until he understood and could resolve the problem.
The fix was dramatic – a wow moment, like putting glasses on for the first time! The quality of the data import was now high fidelity and aligned exactly as I would expect to see it in MS Project. I loved even more that he thanked Linda on the software update for helping them. :*)
- Build relationships with your users. Creating connection encourages honest, timely communication.
- If your customer calls you to complain or seek advice, THANK them, encourage narratives, and listen for information in the details.
- Fix what isn’t right without excuse and be grateful for the opportunity.
Thanks John and TeamDirection!
If you are BaseCamping, are you IntelliGantting? (I’m buying the Add-In!)
October 10, 2009
I was recently involved in a recruitment dance at a small biotech ready for manufacturing scale-up. The organization had some very interesting and valuable technology and was looking for someone with mastery in manufacturing scale-up (me). Initial impressions suggested an excellent match to my skills, interests, and passion.
I talked to the organization a few times over the course of several months. Although I was in no hurry to find my next full-time professional adventure, I was delighted to be considered for the position and was eager to get traction if there was to be a successful match. At my last meeting, I met with a recently hired executive that assessed my ability to fit into a start-up culture. He emphasized and reiterated the urgency of the scale-up effort, suggesting only weeks remained before a crucial deadline. How would I handle that pressure? I answered his questions truthfully: I am not a miracle worker, but I am extremely competent with a track record of success even under crisis conditions. He thanked me for my time and promised to get back to me by end-of-day and no later than end-of week. A week came and went and there was no follow-up, so I sent a brief email requesting an update. What followed was a series of emails trying to set a time for a phone call. By the third email, it was quite apparent that my candidacy for the position was not a priority.
Although I am confident that I could have helped them technically, I finally realized that I was not a culture fit for their organization because I was frustrated that their actions were incongruent with their words. How could they claim excessive urgency for technical scale-up deadlines yet be so delayed in getting back to candidates necessary to meet the deadline? This example, was one of several examples of inconsistency that could be rationalized singly, but together created a sense of pervasiveness.
This journey got me to thinking deeply about the importance of congruence and consistency. I began to notice it everywhere. In fact, I categorize three broad types of incongruence:
- Harmless/Intentional Incongruence that is part of comedy. In this context, incongruence works because it is intentionally funny. An example is the intentional incongruent dialogue and props in the performance of Monty Python’s Spamalot. Similarly, my accompanying photos are funny because they are incongruent.
- Annoying/Incomplete Design Incongruence that is an omission of an overall review of the customer experience. An example is the mixed use of manual and sensor-based equipment in the ladies’ restroom at my local mall. The toilets flush by sensor, the soap is dispensed by sensor, and the towels are provided by sensor. However, the water is delivered from the faucet by turning the knob. I no longer recall how many times I (and others) have felt like an idiot waving my hands under the faucet trying to make the water come out then realizing that I need to turn the handle! This situation is just an annoying omission, no one really thought about how a customer would experience the facility after several sensors have been presented – we expect sensors for all interactions.
- Damaging/Short View Incongruence that results from mixed messages. An example was my opening story.
Congruence is an important long view attribute because it creates predictability, reduces uncertainty, and increases credibility – people know what to expect and how to behave. My long view advice:
- Create priorities and communicate them profusely.
- Strive for consistency and congruence in your messages (story) and be aware of the potential for misunderstanding.
- Be intentional with your actions; actions speak louder than words.
It was emotionally hard to call and decline the technical opportunity with that small biotech because I had already imagined success on their behalf and I felt invested. However, because I sell process confidence* (requires congruence), I declined the opportunity. I wish them a successful future and I will keep looking for the right fit for my next adventure!
*Note: see my superpower statement at Entrepreneurial Athleticism
Does your story match your actions/behaviors?
September 5, 2009
One year ago, as a result of a running hip injury and a prior history of a hip stress fracture (running), my doctor recommended a bone density measurement even though I am young, active, and have no significant risk factors for osteoporosis. Obediently, I went for a DEXA measurement.
Shortly after, my doctor informed me that the good news was that I had not lost any height, but the bad news was that I had osteoporosis. I was shocked.
This diagnosis was opportunity to adjust my lifestyle to improve my long-term skeletal health. As with any significant emergent problem, the long view response is similar:
- Assess priority – does it merit long view investment?
- Define improvement/success metric(s)
- Create a plan for improvement/success
- Execute: drip, drip, drip…
- Measure improvement/success
- Reassess priority (Celebrate improvement/success)
Establishing priority was easy. To ensure my long-term skeletal health, I was immediately committed to aggressively battling this silent disease. Complacency was never an option for an Off-the-Scale-Futurist.
Defining the improvement/success metric was also easy. I needed to increase my bone density to greater than -1.5 spinal t-score (low end of the normal range) as measured by DEXA.
With my doctor, I created a threefold plan for bone density improvement/success:
- Increase mineral availability: take calcium supplements 3×600 mg/day.
- Decrease demineralization: add drug therapy, Boniva 1x/month.
- Increase mineralization: add load-bearing exercise. This required a remix of my athletic lifestyle. My typical regimen of swimming, biking, running, and an occasional cardio machine provided limited load-bearing. Only running counted as load-bearing, and it only loads the lower skeleton. So, I reduced swimming and biking in favor of weight-lifting 2x/week, along with my usual running. After a bit, I realized the combination did not give me the joy of athletics to which I was accustomed, so I went in search of new load-bearing sports. I tried both yoga and rock climbing, both of which provide whole skeletal loading. Although I liked yoga, it didn’t like me (rhomboid strain). I loved rock climbing – it is so addictive that it became the clear winner! 🙂 I now mix a combination of swimming, biking, running, and rock climbing throughout the week, along with weight-lifting 1x/week. I still have joy, but I increased the amount of load-bearing exercise.
Since DEXA bone density is measured no more frequently than annually – I committed to a full year of execution. Keeping the faith, I impatiently and anxiously awaited my next DEXA results, drip, drip, drip, …
I recently received my results and I moved the needle! I went from a -2.6 spinal t-score to a -1.6 spinal t-score; a full standard deviation of change. Woohoo! Although I didn’t quite reach a number greater than -1.5, I certainly made a significant gain. Time to celebrate!
Because load-bearing is now integrated into my lifestyle, I no longer need aggressive focus. Time for a new adventure…
What are you doing to ensure your long-term health?