February 8, 2011

Linked Segments

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:31 am by lindaslongview

I have received some unflattering feedback that I made this post so succinct that I squeezed the life right out of it! (Thank you for gently letting me know.) Rather than rework it directly, I have attempted to reconstitute it at Protective Tribes, feel free to go there FIRST!

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Since my post Technical Complexity, I continue to deepen my thinking on subject of technology collaboration.  Recently,

  • I read Enterprise 2.0 (Andrew McAfee), a treatise on collaboration platforms (software) for organizations, and
  • I attended the Lab Automation 2011 conference in which a number of speakers addressed their experiences with collaboration platforms.

From these, I gained some new insights on the profound need to link organizational segments

Although segmentation and specialization are not new to industry (see Scientific Management), research and development activities have retained craftsman-like approaches because of the need for pattern recognition in problem solving and innovation.  Traditionally, within a narrowly defined research area, one or very few steward experimentation, analysis, and the accumulation of structured knowledge. However, more and more, segmentation and specialization are being deployed upstream of manufacturing changing the dynamics of pattern recognition and the accumulation of structured knowledge.  In fact, speakers at the conference described harnessing automation, outsourcing, and scheduling to fuel faster innovation across agri-business, pharmaceuticals, and disease research in ways that startled even me!

Having spent many years facilitating technology commercialization, I know firsthand the challenges of transitioning craft-sensitive loosely defined processes to robust segmented processes (research → development → manufacturing).  In my experience, the most critical factors for success are as follows:

  • Commitment to the transition – participants must understand deeply the constraints of the status quo and the benefits of change (the why)
  • Team collaboration – participants must be engaged and timely share process understanding to create new knowledge (the how)
  • Role valuation – participants must understand their responsibilities, feel valued for their contributions, and foresee continued opportunity (the human need for self-actualization)

With increasing scale and penetration of segmentation and specialization, the need for collaboration platforms such as dashboards, messaging, wikis, blogging, and tagging (described in Enterprise 2.0), is apparent – the proliferating segments need to be linked.  One of the pharma speakers at the conference provided an excellent primer on the demands and challenges of linking the segments.  He eloquently made the point that success requires a proactive creation of collaborative structure that encourages productive behaviors – “it’s about the conversations not the tools.” Concurring, McAfee describes common obstacles to implementing collaboration platforms:

  • Need to achieve 9x superiority (overcome status quo bias)
  • Reluctance to relinquish successful interpersonal behaviors of private communications (unilateral actions and defensiveness) that fail in public collaboration (due to mistrust and rigidity)
  • Impatience (adoption is slow and is thus a long haul effort).

Distilling the different observations and experiences, I conclude that the accelerating shift to a collaborative culture of linked segments requires a deliberate long-view transition with special attention to interpersonal behaviors. It is not enough to add the new collaborative tools into the organization along with automation and segmentation, but requires an integrated program that addresses commitment, valuation, and known obstacles for success.

Are you deliberately moving towards linked segments?

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January 4, 2011

Technical Complexity

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 3:16 pm by lindaslongview

The management of technical complexity and its evolution is probably my favorite subject.  I am simply fascinated by the challenges created by ever more complex technologies and the processes required to see them to fruition.

I read the book War Made New (Boot) a few years ago.  It was a fascinating read, with the most striking element being the evolution of tactics and strategies as new technologies emerged over 500 years of military history.  Boot captures the evolution of weaponry and concomitant strategies vividly because he covers 500 years of the proverbial arms race in time-lapse drama – it’s easy to see the big changes and the impacts of those changes in his case studies over such a long view.

I have wanted a similar treatise of commercial technology discussing the many innovations needed to manage technical complexity since the emergence of industrialization.  I have not found it yet…

Recently I read three separate books (in succession) that each provide pieces that help create a time-lapse perspective of commercial technology that includes social, structural, and historical contexts.  Although there is significant overlap in the ideas of the three authors, oversimplifying the content of each book allows me to divide them into the three domains:

Defining the trajectory of progress is very important to me because as a freelance participant (consultant) in the technology sector, I must continually update and upgrade my strategies for managing and participating in technology development and commercialization.  I must live at the edge…

From this trio of books, I distilled the following long-view insights:

  • We must develop our ability to collaborate to handle the increasing complexity of our science, products, and operational processes.  This is probably the single hardest task, because individually we struggle to maintain the illusions of “victory,” “control,” and “dignity,” which often get in the way of collective engagement. From Roger Martin:  “Erosion in [productively sharing responsibility] skills is hugely threatening in a world of large, complex networked organizations and coalitions and alliances in which joint choice-making and effective collaboration is a necessity.
  • We must encourage adaptability and options development in worker skills (ourselves, our colleagues, and subordinates) to effectively survive extraordinary futures.  We must really harness the instincts and knowledge of the different members of our teams.  We must encourage everyone to take the wide-view and to over-communicate perspectives.  From Kevin Kelly:  “We have lots of choices.  But those choices are no longer simple, nor obvious.  As Technology increases in complexity, the technium demands more complex responses.  For instance, the number of technologies to choose from so far exceeds our capacity to use them all that these days we define ourselves more by the technologies that we don’t use than by those we do.
  • We must understand, prioritize, and manage inherent conflicting loyalties that arise from the variable time scales (short-, mid-, and long-views) that confer operational system stability.  Because we will constantly face short-term vs. long-term conflicts, we must have strategies to prioritize our actions. From Stewart Brand: “The combination of fast and slow components makes the system resilient.

Are you actively developing collaboration, encouraging adaptability, and prioritizing conflicting loyalties?

October 19, 2009

Touching Data

Posted in Business tagged , , , , , , , at 11:06 pm by lindaslongview

Someone once told me that the most powerful person in an organization is the receptionist.  Although it may not be entirely true, there is a kernel of wisdom in that advice, because the receptionist touches everyone that comes through the door of a business.  The process of touching allows the receptionist to develop a sense of order about vendors, staff, and clients, allowing her to come to understand the underlying structure of the organization and be able to successfully assess and courteously triage access to executives and other staff.

TouchDataArtI recently ran across a director-level staff person not yet ready to relinquish known workarounds and seize the opportunity to transform his work by touching data flows (such as cleaning up a client database).  The rationalizations were typical, “I’m too busy” and “Maybe we could hire someone else to do that?,” failing to recognize the long-term benefits of gathering information oneself and understand the underlying limitations.

I was saddened by emphasis on the short-term urgencies and the limited investment in the important (long-term) that I observed, but this was a case where I did not actually have any influence.  Because I care about the organization, I asked too many questions, so my advice to self is to stop asking such questions, but I digress…

When I look at situations like this one, I recognize that organic learning is often required, because organizations tend to grow organically – they fail to document along the way, they fail to create processes for review and archiving (until it is a crisis), and they allow single person specialists to emerge (that can leave with the organizational history).   Yet it is important (and tedious) to gather, consolidate, or validate information when trying to move an organization to an improved future.  The hard news is that such work often requires tedium and/or assimilating the unknown.  The good news is that the most valued people in every organization are the people who learn, think, and transform by doing this.  As such, my long view advice:

  • Seize the opportunity to touch key data flows and learn the limitations of the current system.
  • Spend time on the important (learn, think, transform) even when your schedule is filled with urgencies.
  • Do not be above tediousness; participate in the tedium and gain appreciation for the efforts of others who complete tedious work regularly.

Are you touching important data flows, learning from them, and creating transformation?

May 18, 2009

Inspiration from Rachel Alexandra

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , , , , at 6:38 pm by lindaslongview

photo by Steve Helber/Assoc. Press

Steve Helber/Assoc. Press

Rachel Alexandra, a girl horse, won the Preakness Stakes, the 2nd leg of the Triple Crown of Horse Racing this past Saturday!  It hasn’t happened in 85 years.

Part of long-view thinking requires identifying, being present, and breathing-in moments of inspiration to launch and sustain transformation.  The achievement of Rachel Alexandra is one of those rare inspiring events.

Rachel Alexandra’s accomplishment reminds me of similar inspiration…

I was paying attention (and cheering) when Title IX was passed into law (1972) and when Billie Jean King trounced Bobby Riggs in the tennis “Battle of the Sexes” (1973).  At that time, I imagined the transformation of our world to largely what we have now – women participating, competing, and being taken seriously in many, many sports, just like the men.

In 1977, I was the first girl in my high school to be allowed to take weight lifting for P.E. credit instead of the expected volleyball.  I recall that the coach agreed to give me an “A” if my cumulative total for the three defined lifts: squat, dead lift, and bench-press, was three times (3x) my body weight at the end of the program.  The boys needed a cumulative total that was five times (5x) their weight for an “A.”  Although it was probably a fair accommodation considering that boys are stronger than girls, I wanted to be taken seriously.  I set my goal at 5x in three lifts.

In class, I was partnered with Todd, the skinny kid who also weighed only about 100 lbs. and who didn’t really care about weight lifting.  Although we had different outlooks and viewed each other suspiciously at first, we found common ground.  I was grateful for his collaboration to help me achieve 5x. Together we learned excellence in technique and worked hard.  At the end of the term, we both achieved 5x and the rest of the class took us seriously.  ☺

I am grateful to have been inspired by the birth of equal opportunity athletics and to have participated in nurturing and sustaining the transformation.

Woohoo, Rachel Alexandra, you go girl! 

How are you inspired?!

May 1, 2009

Gadget Queen

Posted in Life, Technology tagged , , , , , , at 9:15 pm by lindaslongview

flattireThere is just something about gadgets that I love.  I love the innovation and the potential for transformation that they represent.  With each new gadget, I buy into the story that it will somehow improve my life:  save me time, make my experience more joyful, or reduce the tediousness of tasks.

Emerging technology represents the same potential for transformation, yet must be nurtured to successful commercialization.  Processes need to be developed ensuring that robustness and customer satisfaction are built in.

With the love and devotion that I give my gadgets, it is such a disappointment when a favored gadget fails.  Yesterday, one of my favored gadgets, the Max Stealth Tire Minder pressure gauges, failed. My car had a completely flat tire – not a little low, but completely flat!  Naturally I assumed that I must have picked up a nail on my last trip. Maybe because I wanted to believe that my Tire Minders were robust, it never occurred to me that they failed (even though it happened once before a few years ago).  So, instead of pulling out the compressor, I dutifully pulled out the jack, collected the tire wrench and changed my tire.  Although I couldn’t see the failure point on the tire, I took the tire to the shop this morning to get it fixed.  My tire dealer assured me that the tire was fine, but my super-hooty-doo tire stem pressure gauge indicator was the culprit.  Aargghh, the indignity of it all – I believed in them, loved them, and told all my friends how neat they were – I feel betrayed!

I sold myself the storyline that I saved time while still ensuring that my tires were properly inflated (saves gas!). Each time I filled up, I didn’t have to drag my pressure gauge from the glove compartment to check my tire inflation.  All I had to do is just walk around the vehicle and look for the “yellow” indicator to see if a tire was low.

As it turns out, all that accumulated time that I saved not using the regular tire gauge evaporated with the time it took to change that tire, take the tire to the shop, and then wait to have the shop “fix” it.  Was it worth it?  Well, the fellow at the tire shop told me that he sees lots of failures and fine print indicates that they are warranted for a year.  I bought them exactly one year ago, when I purchased my tires – how did they know a year was up?!  Even though Tire Minder is neat, it is not robust enough to create my satisfaction over the long view.

There’s always a positive, I think my neighbor got some good laughs watching me change my tire.  I was challenged to break free the lug nuts with my short little tire iron that came with my sedan, so there I was jumping up and down on the tire iron (putting all my weight into it) to get them loose.  My neighbor took pity on me and brought over his long lever arm tire iron.  It worked much better; I think I need one of those!  🙂

That being said, I will continue to try new technology and innovations, because over the long view that is how we achieve progress.   This story just provides another reminder of the importance of building robustness and customer satisfaction into innovative products (and emerging technology) to ensure successful adoption (and commercialization).