September 28th, 2010

Making Money

I recently interviewed a candidate who, when presented with the opportunity to pose some questions of his own, asked me how the company made money. This initially seemed like an idiotic question (since it immediately followed “why is the bathroom door locked?”), but in hindsight perhaps there’s a subtlety here that I didn’t appreciate in my rush to get the next candidate in the door.

July 10th, 2010

Recommended: Skunk Works

Skunk Works

Skunk Works

In 1975, thermodynamicist and propulsion expert Ben R. Rich took over the role of CEO at Lockheed’s famous Skunk Works division, inheriting an unconventional organization-within-an-organization that had become, at the height of the cold war, the envy of defense contractors and private enterprise alike. As chronicled in Rich’s account of the years before and after his promotion to the most coveted role in American aerospace, the Skunk Works became renown for designing cutting edge aircraft under extraordinary pressure and impossible timelines, often coming in under budget.

July 10th, 2010

Process Refactored

I recently held a project management summit at Vortex Mobile where I asked my project managers to question each of our existing processes and come up with new approaches to any of our endemic challenges. Although refactoring code is commonplace among progressive software development companies, few companies talk about refactoring methodology. For many, it’s easier to either cling to outdated processes (remarkably, Staples still offers next day delivery on carbon paper) or invest in the development of cumbersome enterprise-scale methodologies intended to predict and accommodate any conceivable circumstance.

June 24th, 2010

Bad Managers

Over the past ten years, I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some excellent managers and business strategists. I’ve also worked with a fair number of wasters. In fact, I’ve come to a sort of counter-Tolstoy realization about managers: the good ones seem each to be unique in their particular approach to handling people and process, while the bad ones are dispiritingly alike.

May 20th, 2010

Recommended: Yertle the Turtle

“I’m ruler,” said Yertle, “of all that I see.
But I don’t see enough. That’s the trouble with me.”

Dr. Seuss

Yertle the Turtle

Yertle the Turtle

To scan the business management shelves of one’s local bookstore is to rediscover the fun of counting: “Six Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance”, “The 48 Laws of Power”, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”, “The Five Essential Elements”, “The One Minute Manager”, “10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy” — and that’s just the first page of leadership results on Barnes & Noble’s website.

Although curiously snubbed by the world’s top business schools (et tu, Tuck School of Business?), Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle remains the seminal volume in math-enabled hubris.

May 15th, 2010

NUB Task Notation

Task management is a critical part of any process; beyond lies the precipice, an increasingly sheer descent of missed deadlines, forgotten details and abandoned deliverables. When projects go bad, poor task management is often to blame; while no one might remember exactly where a project slipped off the mainline, the cascading failure of incomplete or unacknowledged tasks is an unmistakable sign to stakeholders that things have somehow gone irrevocably wrong.

The problem with most task management systems is that they’re easily derailed by unexpected urgencies: misprioritization, politicization,  extraneous detail, things unquantifiable. Little wonder so many project managers fall backward into the arms of Stephen Covey at the first hint of trouble.

May 10th, 2010

Recommended: The Soul of a New Machine

The Soul of a New Machine

The Soul of a New Machine

I had the recent good fortune to pass a colleague a copy of Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine.

Kidder’s chronicle of the struggle to design and build a 32-bit minicomputer beneath the radar of politicized executive management came out nearly thirty years ago, and while there remains a faint whiff of naugahyde and Old Milwaukee, many of the roadblocks encountered by project leader Tom West are no different than the pitfalls confronting production managers today.

May 4th, 2010

The Five Stages of Bottom-Up Estimate Adoption

  1. Denial.
    “There’s nothing wrong with our current top-down estimation process. Why reinvent the wheel? Wouldn’t our time be better spent arguing about Lost?”
    read more »

May 4th, 2010

Process and Creativity

One of my favorite paralogisms (and, sadly, I have several) is the fallacy of false opposites, more popularly known by such variants as the straw man argument or the fallacy of false alternatives. I like it because it’s a quick way of getting a conversation to us-versus-them, at which point any need for supporting argument goes swiftly out the window. What’s a Republican? Someone who doesn’t believe in unions, graduated tax or socialized healthcare. What’s a Democrat? One who doesn’t keep a loaded Glock beneath the pillow to defend home and hearth against early parolees and illegal immigrants. See how it works? It’s so easy, it ought to be illegal. (Republican again.)