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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July 23, 2009

Tracking!

Posted in Business, Life tagged , , , , , , , , , at 11:10 am by lindaslongview

I love cheering on my friends who are participating in sports because it is a great way to stay connected, to provide meaningful positive reinforcement for the participant, and have fun by participating vicariously.  Until now, vicarious participation has been limited by time and proximity or by TV coverage (Olympics, ballgames, etc.).  So, unless I have been near enough (and had enough time) to go watch at the friend’s venue or my friend has been an elite athlete that makes TV coverage, I have been relegated to listening to tales and seeing photos later.  All that is being changed by customized tracking…

Chi2MackinacRace2This weekend, a college buddy of mine was crewing on a sailboat that was racing from Chicago to Mackinac (Michigan).  During the race, all the boats carried a GPS chip that constantly transmitted data to the iBoat website which then showed the positions and identifying information of all the boats in the race.  It was so much fun watching all of the boats race toward Mackinac over the three-day race.  As I went about my own weekend, I kept pulling out my iPhone to check-in on the position of my buddy’s boat (the little green dot on the map).  What a riot!  I would show anyone who would look how my friend was doing in his race – real-time.

Also this weekend, my sister-in-law (SIL) and I ran in a local ½-marathon.  Timing was done using RFID technology – a disposable RFID tag was attached to the shoe of every runner.  As we crossed the start line, our start time was captured and as we crossed the finish line, our completion time was captured.  Because it was a long race, my husband (also SIL’s brother) planned to be back at the finish line to cheer us on (and take our picture).  Although we gave him a pretty good estimate (less than 2 hours) of our expected completion time, he tracked our progress via iPhone GPS technology since SIL and I carried phones with remote tracking enabled (my teenagers!).  Even though the iPhone tracking worked, it was klugy and not universally available.  Imagine what the experience could have been for many others if real-time text-messages (tweets or emails) were being sent via RFID timing portals at milestones along the trail?!  I know that I would have paid extra to sign up a for race day texts (or emails or Tweets) as my “bib” number reached various milestones.  What an opportunity to create connection and positive reinforcement!

Over the long view, enriching the experiences of others by creating connection and positive reinforcement always pays positive dividends. If you can think of a way to create connection, meaningful positive reinforcement, or camaraderie, as part of your service and/or product, do it because it will build loyalty, returns, and possibly additional revenue!  Real-time tracking has added value to many businesses – package delivJimOnRailery, sailboat racing, … I’m hoping that the technology will trickle down to running, cycling, swimming, etc.

I can’t wait to participate vicariously with MORE of my friends through tracking – it will help me stay connected.

Can you create an opportunity to enrich, create connection, and reinforce positively in what you do?

April 6, 2009

Constraint Abstraction

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:04 pm by lindaslongview

cc_descamaradoWhen I first started working professionally in chemical engineering, I only worked on technical problems.  As such, I only saw, knew, and understood technical issues – my level of abstraction was limited.  As my career matured, I realized that logistical issues often trumped technical issues for achieving the goals of the organization. So I gained mastery in solving logistical problems.  Then, as I understood even larger levels of abstraction, I realized that organizational issues often trump both technical and logistical issues and so I gained mastery in solving organizational challenges.

I have found that in order to be effective in the development and commercialization of emerging technology over the long view, one must recognize the domain of the system constraint and be attentive to changes (as the organization progresses and the marketplace matures). Mastery of all three domains is required to successfully develop and grow an emerging technology business.

Domain differences are assessed by level of concreteness (or the level of insight that can be achieved through measurement, modeling, and computation):

  • Technical challenges are addressed through physical/chemical/mathematical models and measurements of physical quantities. Direct quantitative comparison of competing phenomena creates optimized technical processes that meet stated goals.
  • Logistical solutions rely on intuitive understanding of outcomes. Discrete event simulation can build intuition and help to create optimized processes, but there is no direct analytical optimization.
  • Strategies for resolving organization issues are least concrete. Detailed logical analysis (if-then scenario analysis) provides direction for solution but requires experience and excellence in future projection.

Why is it hard?!  Because the situations are all too common.  For example:

The organization must improve conversion at step X (upstream) to stay within market costs, so a technical team is deployed to address it.  It is also recognized that the separation at step Y (downstream) must be improved to achieve scalability, so a separate technical team is deployed to address it.  Then the business team makes the case that they need more products to sell (to potential clients, to show investors breadth, ….) so yet another technical team is deployed to develop processes using key technology at step Z (finishing) in new applications or markets.  However, technical resources are limited (the technical organization is small) and many of the same people are working on X, Y, and Z simultaneously.

By trying to do too much, organizational constraints emerge from technical constraints. Because these types of problems emerge slowly, they are often unrecognized and unaddressed until damage is done (insufficient progress is achieved for X, Y or Z to satisfy stakeholders).  Although some tolerance for multitasking is inevitable, not all technical specialists are equipped to recognize and manage progressions from technical → logistical → organizational constraints effectively for success.

Does your business have a technical challenge now, but an organizational challenge waiting to happen?

April 2, 2009

Entrepreneurial Athleticism

Posted in Business, Life, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:59 am by lindaslongview

pole_vault

There is an adage that says, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”  This week I received experience.  I learned that I was trimmed from the short list of candidates for an executive position at an emerging technology company. This outcome was not terribly surprising because I did not have sufficient deep technical experience (none!) in their key process operation.  I am only disappointed because I enjoyed the people that I met, I continue to be interested in gaining expertise in technology more new than familiar, I was joyful at the prospect of making the world a little greener (CleanTech), and I had that deep instinct that I could help them build a successful and sustainable organization.

Although it is sometimes a challenge to take a deep breath and be self-aware enough to be gracious and grateful simply for the opportunity to be considered, it was not hard in this situation.  In the process of being considered, I had the good fortune of connecting to industry leaders, receiving excellent advice, and learning more about my own value proposition than I previously was aware.  For example, although I have been selling my technical agility in combination with my organizational strengths (see Proverbial Zebra), I had yet to create a value proposition to best market my superpower* (see Credibility).  In this process, I discovered that entrepreneurial athleticism has already been described and advocated in the recruitment of CleanTech (emerging technology) management teams:  “The best approach is to source individuals who have demonstrated an ability to reinvent themselves…” – WooHoo!  This discovery has deepened my conviction that my value proposition is both valid and valuable.

Although this particular opportunity was not to be, I continue to be confident that a suitable adventure will find me.  They always do.

(*Linda’s superpower:  I create, amplify, and broadcast process confidence to ensure emerging technologies achieve commercial success!)

March 31, 2009

Headwinds & Wobble

Posted in Business, Life, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:09 am by lindaslongview

wb-actionWhen I was running with my friends Sunday morning, the headwind at the outset was strong. Our progress slowed to a crawl along the trail.  As we chatted, inquiries as to the condition of my ankle (six weeks post-sprain) heard reports of recovery – even a wobble on Friday’s run “righted” perfectly as pre-injury.  And then, as we continued to chat about the economy and technology, I realized that the P’s of overcoming obstacles for running apply to technology business too.

On Running:

  • Keep Perspective:  When there is a headwind out, there will be a tailwind on return (and sure enough, we flew back).
  • Be Patient:  My friends continue to commend me for taking the long view and being patient with my ankle.   I did not run for 4 weeks, I rehabilitated through swimming and targeted exercise, and when I returned to running, I slowly increased distance with time.
  • Maintain Persistence:  I worked hard to regain proprioception by strengthening my ankle with balance (wobble) boards.
  • Create Positivity:  My friends enjoy and encourage a positive attitude; we see the glass as half-full.

On Technology Business:

  • Keep Perspective:  When there are technical challenges, it is important to recognize that they are competitive opportunities.  Each solution becomes a barrier-to-entry for competitors.
  • Be Patient:  In a desperate economy, there will always be significant pressure to attempt to do too much too quickly.  However, doing too much is foolish because it dilutes resources and increases the risk for success in any single effort.   The long view encourages prioritization and sequencing of effort to achieve the greatest productivity and opportunity for success.
  • Maintain Persistence:  Key insights are achieved by diligence, being mentally prepared to recognize when key insights have been realized, and acceptance of breadth (be open to “not invented here” – look to other technologies for similar problems and generalize solutions).
  • Create Positivity:  Staff, customers, investors, and the media are human and thereby obey the law of attraction (subject of ch. 2, How to Be Useful:  A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work by Hustad). Authentically projecting positivity and confidence about your technology will encourage others to do the same!

March 25, 2009

Remembering Wyo

Posted in Life, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:42 pm by lindaslongview

wyo_linda_2007

Wyo was a regal dark chocolate (almost black) Morgan horse.  He had a massive neck, a muscular stature, and the sweetest disposition that a horse could have. Today Wyo was laid to rest after two years of suffering from equine COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

When I was a little girl, I desperately wanted a horse, but even though dad was an experienced and able horseman it just was not to be.  As time passed, I became more urban, less rural, and I did not think much about horses after college.  Imagine my surprise when my parents retired to a ranch and (finally) bought me a horse!

I met Wyo when he was a gangly 2-year-old still in training.  It was love at first sight!  I immediately hired a trainer to teach me to ride, to tack, to muck, to groom, and be safe around horses.  Although I could only see Wyo occasionally, my trips to visit him were always joyful learning experiences.

There is an old proverb that says, “When you are ready, your teacher will come.”  It might be surprising, but Wyo was one of my best teachers.  He taught technology leadership from a horses’ point-of-view.   His lessons were few, but important:

  1. Build a relationship before you ask to lead. He led me to develop a deep and lasting bond that enabled me to confidently give commands and him to accept them.
  2. Be present. He taught me the importance of paying attention to the trail, to the beauty of the mountains that we traveled, to the possible dangers (rattlesnakes), and to the unexpected (a flock of  startled pheasant).
  3. Overcommunicate. He taught me the importance of making sure that we understood each other when working together.  We learned to open a gate without dismount and could easily move cattle between pastures.  Although I spoke and he did not, the position of his ears and his breathing told me everything.
  4. Take the lead when others cannot. He demonstrated confidence to other horses when they shied from crossing streams.  He stepped confidently into the water and escorted other horses to the other side, crossing as many times as was needed.

I miss his powerful stride under my saddle and the wind in my face, but I can still feel the reins in my hands.  Rest in peace my friend and teacher.  Your memory lives with me.  You were loved.

March 16, 2009

Credibility

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , at 6:44 am by lindaslongview

credibilitysurvey_031520093

This weekend, a friend of mine pointed out to me that my technology management advice does not have the credibility of Jack Welch.  He’s right – I’m no Jack Welch. Nevertheless, I thanked him profusely, because it made me realize that I need to communicate my superpower (what value I provide).

I work at the “action level” building processes and products deeper in the technology organization than Jack typically works (at least these days).  That’s not to say that I don’t respect his insights and wisdom, I do.  However, it is the “action level” niche for which I am passionate and for which my insights are most relevant.  In a sense, I have simply made the world smaller – I am not competing with Jack Welch.

In the process development marketplace, what I sell is confidence:  confidence to staff that management makes good decisions, confidence to management that goals are being met, and confidence to investors & media that the organization can do what it says it will do. That is my superpower.  To that end, it is my sincere goal to own the word-pair “process confidence” in my niche. (Thank you Scott, I crystallized my word-pair using your worksheet: 24 Questions to Discover Which Word You Own).

Have I achieved the elite (10,000+ hour) level (in process confidence) that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book Outliers:  The Story of Success (pg. 39, “….the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.  That’s it.  And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t just work harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder.”)?   I have certainly invested in learning, practiced extensively, and made changes in my environment to ensure that I continue to ratchet up my game.  This blog is part of that process.  I hope that you find value here.  Let me know what you think.

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 10, 2009

Collegial Apology

Posted in Business tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 4:31 am by lindaslongview

The process of attribution is effectively taught in engineering school and in the technology workplace – we see acknowledgements in presentations, references in papers, and funding thanks in reports.  However, attribution alone is insufficient to be successful over the long term.  The long view requires us to nurture and build relationships with colleagues over the full spectrum on our road to success.  To that end, it is the dark side that is often unappreciated – how to say you are sorry and make amends for slights which take the form of omission, overvaluation of one’s own work above others’ points-of-view, and unintended consequences of expediency.

An honest awareness of daily actions and inactions will likely uncover a host of things for which our need to be right got in the way of being collegial.  When we recognize these situations, it is imperative that corrective action be taken.  We must offer a sincere apology and accept the discomfort of doing so knowing that it will help us to do better next time.

Delivering a sincere and meaningful apology falls into the realm of things technologists need to know to be successful. What is needed is a sincere acknowledgement of the error, acceptance of blame, and no further explanation.  This strategy meets most primal needs for satisfaction.  Although there are entire treatises on an apology, the “on defense” advice in How to Be Useful:  A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work (Hustad) is very appropriate and helpful (how I wish I read this book when I first started my career!). She warns of the non-apology like “I’m sorry that you’re upset” or some variation, which will backfire and not effectively gain long-term collegial appreciation.

Even though apologies should routinely be timely, I learned in kindergarten (or thereabouts) that “It’s never too late to say you are sorry.” This adage is just a special case of the quintessential long view adage “better late than never.”

March 1, 2009

Identity Matters

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , at 6:44 am by lindaslongview

As our social and professional networks grow larger with time, our human need for identity is ever more paramount.  I learned this lesson from my many colleagues in the technology workplace.

Even though technologists have been stereotyped as robotic (logical, rational, and devoid of emotion), the reality is that having a sense-of-purpose, a unique identity, and an ability to know how we are being measured is critical for our professional success.  These key attributes are summarized (albeit in the negative form) by Patrick Lencioni in his book, “Three Signs of a Miserable Job” as irrelevance, anonymity, and immeasurement.  Just like the employees in Lencioni’s tale, without a clear role in the organization, technologists are challenged to understand their future (the long view) and can readily become hyper-sensitive, wary, and less-productive.

Step #1 for success as a technology manager is creating the long view on behalf of staff and colleagues – providing and nurturing a sense-of-purpose, a unique identity for each technologist, and a measurement system that provides effective performance feedback.  It might seem too time consuming for busy professionals, but it is the single best predictor of managerial performance.

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