February 12, 2010

Adding Performance

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , at 12:46 pm by lindaslongview

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….

TeamDirection makes both a stand-alone Gantt chart product (IntelliGantt) and an MS Project Add-in (aka IntelliGantt) that interfaces directly with BaseCamp giving PMs an immediate Gantt view.

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 dramatica 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.  :*)

What made this interaction special is that TeamDirection clearly adheres to my three favorite (long view) customer service mantras (previously blogged at Rocking Customer Service):

  • 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!)

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December 17, 2009

Heat

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:04 pm by lindaslongview

Last week, I visited my Dad at his rural ranch for a holiday visit and it was really COLD!  The temperatures had dropped to -15 F during the day!

While there we visited Dad’s nearest neighbor Todd, who lives in a woodstove heated mobile home down the road. The conversation was largely about the weather, how many water lines had frozen, how to use heat tracing to keep them from freezing in the future, and how to ensure that the livestock get adequate feed, water, and shelter during the extreme cold. Todd and his family have spent many years in that area and he summarized the conversation, “Heat is Life.”

Because I live in a temperate climate, staying warm for me is mostly inconsequential. I just don’t think about the importance of heat for daily life or survival; I never face bitter-biting cold or frozen pipes. As I listened to Todd talk, his perspective put my own into stark contrast. I was reminded that Scarcity and Abundance differ for each person, each organization, each community, and changes with time (heat, food, shelter, money, time, privilege, opportunity…). Different operating assumptions exist based upon what is Scarce and what is Abundant at any given time. For example, when summer comes and heat becomes abundant, there will be little discussion of frozen pipes and heat tracing among cowboys; something else will have become scarce. Yet, the installation of heat tracing is best done in the summer as part of a plan to prepare for the cold when winter arrives…

This observation became a clear and present long-view reminder:

  • Consider the ebb and flow of abundance and scarcity – what matters and when?
  • Mitigate the intensity of scarcity by planning for the expected and unexpected – what can be done to limit the impact?

Have you considered the ebb and flow of abundance and scarcity in your world and created plans to mitigate scarcity?

September 5, 2009

Moved the Needle

Posted in Life, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , , at 11:52 am by lindaslongview

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.

bone

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:

  1. Assess priority – does it merit long view investment?
  2. Define improvement/success metric(s)
  3. Create a plan for improvement/success
  4. Execute:  drip, drip, drip…
  5. Measure improvement/success
  6. 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:

  1. Increase mineral availability:  take calcium supplements 3×600 mg/day.
  2. Decrease demineralization:  add drug therapy, Boniva 1x/month.
  3. 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?

June 23, 2009

Applied to Soccer

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:57 pm by lindaslongview

BSC_Ajax_BeforeSemiFinalCalCup_June2009Over years of leadership, I stumbled onto important human traits that should be considered in order to successfully lead:

  1. Relativistic comparisons:   “How people feel about their situation is highly dependent on comparison to others.  Thus, in order to achieve good staff (team) morale, it is important to consider how to minimize negative comparisons now *and* in the future.”  (Relativistic Comparisons, blog topic from last week).
  2. Loss aversion:  “Our aversion to loss is a strong emotion…one that sometimes causes us to make bad decisions.“ (Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, Ch. 7, pg.134, see his YouTube video explaining the difference between gain and loss perspectives)

These traits lead to key long view leadership principles:

  1. Learn the strengths of the individuals of your team and leverage individual strengths to achieve team goals. Be fair from the perspective of your team.  Be clear on expectations, reward excellence, and avoid marginalization.
  2. Strike a fair balance between competing goals and demands of multiple masters.  Be fair from the perspective of your customer (whoever pays for the service is the customer).  Be clear on deliverables, achieve excellence in customer service, and respect tiered pricing.
  3. Have a plan that considers likely contingencies to ensure balance.  (Do not assume that you can achieve balance under fire.)

This past weekend, I found myself observing these leadership principles in a very different domain than technology development.  I felt them as a soccer mom.

The goals of a U14 (under fourteen) Class 1 (highly competitive league) are twofold:  win games and develop players.  A soccer team fields 11 players at a time, but carries a roster between 14 – 17 kids to allow for substitution (rest and injury).  The coach’s leadership job on game day requires allocation of playing time to effectively win games and develop players.  Players sitting on the bench do not develop (get better), but playing the strongest players improves the odds of winning games.  This creates the inherent tension between the two goals (win games vs. develop players) with “playing time” being the valued (and measureable) scarce resource.

My son’s coach is an excellent well-trained soccer player with outstanding credentials.  During training, he provides excellence in drills, discipline, and development feedback.  At game time, although he is well-intentioned to achieve balance between the competing goals, he can become loss averse with respect to winning – can’t we all?!  Given the much stronger aversion to loss, it is no surprise that long-term needs for gaining player development become subverted for short-term loss aversion during games.   Without discipline and planning, the long view suffers…

Although my son is an excellent soccer player, combining speed, agility, and accurate ball placement, he is small of stature and is considered less aggressive than some of the other boys.  He follows the expectations set by the coach and works hard to receive as much playing time as possible.  He is loss averse to playing time both because he recognizes the vicious cycle of dis-improvement and because he feels “unfairness” (relativistic comparison) when the other boys receive substantially more playing time.   With each successive “loss” of playing time he is further marginalized, thereby jeopardizing his love and passion for the game – a serious long view consequence of many small seemingly insignificant slights.

This past weekend resulted in an acute amplification of the phenomena…

My son’s soccer team traveled over a hundred miles from home to play a several day soccer tournament.  Since not all team members could attend the tournament, extra players were recruited to “guest” at the tournament for the team.  The team had 16-18 total players available for the tournament games.  My son averaged 12.5 minutes of playing time per game (25% of 50 mins/game) with ZERO in the semi-final.  Guest players each received substantial playing time (>75%) in all games including the semi-final.

It was a very unpleasant 2-hour ride home after the loss in the semi-final.  Although I am confident that my perspective differs from those who received adequate playing time because they did not suffer marginalization – they have the perspective of “gain” whereas I have the long perspective of “loss,” a line was crossed that prompted me to write this blog post.

From my perspective, there was an omission of long view leadership principles when substantial playing time for the guest players led to permanent team members playing ZERO in the semi-final (scarce resource allocation):

  1. Marginalization was allowed. Receipt of ZERO playing time in a semi-final is a vote of “no confidence” and is severely marginalizing in the context of the guest players receiving substantial playing time (relativistic comparison of scarce resource allocation).
  2. Tiered pricing was not respected. Although everyone incurred (equivalent) travel expenses, the guest players, who received “free” coaching and tournament entry (those fees were paid by the team) were treated the same as paying players.  It would be reasonable (to me) to defer to those players who bear the costs of the salary, expenses, and tournament entry to ensure principle #1.
  3. Planning was insufficient. If principles #1 and #2 are compromised, then #3 is insufficient.  Planning is the big differentiator for long view leadership success – if you plan for contingencies you can and will overcome instinctual tendencies.

I don’t want my son to lose his love for this game, which leaves me with the question on how to move forward and regain the positive when I do not have any real influence.  Although I it would be helpful if the coach could:

  • Acknowledge error to my son and commit to move forward positively.
    OR
  • Explain to my son that the team fit is no longer correct and then offer to help place him on a team that will value him (before we pay the $1400 fee for the fall season!).

I am not sure that will happen spontaneously.  I would love to be able to Teach Concepts, Explain Specifics, and Gain Acceptance (Relativistic Thinking), but I am not the one with the relationship with the coach.

Can a 13-year-old navigate this effectively?  What is your perspective?  Do you have advice?

March 14, 2009

Unexpected?!

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 12:49 am by lindaslongview

As a veteran of understanding complex systems, it is not terribly surprising that sometimes the unexpected occurs. It is not so much that humans have poor intuition, it is more that we 1) oversimplify (we focus on a specific element and not the whole), 2) we underestimate the affect of randomness, 3) we do not account for a changes in underlying assumptions of our mental models, and 4) we overvalue the expected outcomes because we become emotionally attached to the outcome.

As a trivial example of the unexpected, I am whining about my sore hands after having returned to running and climbing after a month of ankle injury hiatus (the climbing calluses on my hands receded and my hands became soft). So even though I expected to be most challenged by my ankle, it is actually my hands that are unexpectedly sore — I did not anticipate the whole picture.

As a really BIG example of the unexpected, the core of the financial mess that the world is currently experiencing can be traced to an oversimplified quantitative model that failed to account for changes in market assumptions – see Wired (March 2009): “A Formula for Disaster.” (Very interesting yet short article).

My experience in managing complex systems coincides with all of the wisdom and experience of others before me — take the long view: pay attention to the capacity constraint of the system, be wary of process steps with similar capacity to the constraint either upstream or downstream (they could easily become the constraint), and stay aware of external factors that can impact the system. The most important advice is to assume that Murphy exists and plan for managing it. To that end, if you do not have good intuition under different scenarios and want to build it to plan for it (for example, recovery from disruption), I recommend discrete event simulation with Simul8.

I am sure that there are other reasons than the four (4) I listed for the unexpected to occur. I invite you to add reasons 5, 6, 7….

March 3, 2009

Body like Business?

Posted in Business, Life tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:01 am by lindaslongview

Each of us only gets one body.  From an early age we are trained to care for ourselves — brush & floss our teeth, eat right, exercise regularly, and rest appropriately after illness or injury.  Although most of us do all of these things regularly, it is the last one that can be the most vexing. It is challenging because injury and illness are inherently unplanned, undesirable, and unintended.  Recovering from injury or illness requires expenditures of time and effort to recover that would not be required if everything had “gone to plan.”  So there is opportunity to be bitter and angry.  The reality is that there is risk in sports (one cause of injury) and being around others (one cause of illness transmission). It is the payoff: fun in sports or the creation/nurturing of a social/professional connection, that makes the risk worthwhile.

In an analogy to business, routine care is required for operations  — develop products, purchase raw materials, manufacture products, sell products, account for the flow of money and products, and take time to recover from setbacks.  As in illness or injury, setbacks require expenditures of time and effort that would not be required if everything had “gone to plan.” Similarly, there is risk in business — if it was easy, it would not be a long-term business.  It is the payoff:  money (in a for-profit business), that makes the risk worthwhile.

In both cases (body or business), routine care requires planning, precautions, and prudence.  Yet these cannot prevent all setbacks; they minimize the severity, duration, and frequency.  Thus, in order to be truly successful, we need to take the long view and be disciplined in our recovery from setbacks.  We must expect setbacks, plan to expend time and effort to recover (relative to the risk of the payoff), and not be negative or rushed in our recovery execution.  One way is to buffer projects from uncertainty by realistic planning, disciplined tracking, and adequate resource deployment for recovery using Goldratt’s Critical Chain, all the while staying, persistent, passionate, and positive!

On a personal level, I am working hard to recover an ankle sprain (a moment’s inattention to a pothole in a running trail left my ankle discolored, swollen, and sore).  Since I want to enjoy the wind in my face (from running) for as long as I live (the long view), I am in rehab (toe-raises, gentle stretches, and swimming).  Only nine (9) more days until I can run on my ankle again!  But who is counting?!