The observations and opinions of a person who has no discernible insights or ideas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Don't Shoot the Messenger 

The most pervasive culture issue that I have seen in hierarchal organizations is the tendency to discourage bad news from being reported upward. This is driven by the fact that managers will either blame the bearers of the bad news for the problems that they are reporting, or else they will require them to go fix the problems. This type of problem has been responsible for a wide variety of major failures (disasters?) that could have been prevented or at least minimized if senior management had been made aware of the problems earlier.

A classic example of this was the Challenger disaster, which happened largely because management wanted to have the launch go forward, and therefore the voices of caution among the (relatively low-ranking) technical staff were not heeded by management and their concerns were not elevated to the necessary levels to stop the launch.

Another, more recent, example would be the Coast Guard’s Deepwater acquisition program. Again, some workers identified problems fairly early in the acquisition, but those concerns were not passed up to the top until ships with unsound hulls had already been produced, which would have to be modified at great expense in order to make the fleet seaworthy. (Note that there is also some evidence of more criminal activity in this case, but even that could have been curtailed by better communication from those in a position to see problems early.)

I’m not sure how to fix this kind of culture. There is a strong and justifiable desire to hold workers accountable for problems that occur on their watch. Perhaps there needs to be a better distinction made between problems that happen under someone’s watch and problems that a person creates. Of course, that isn’t likely to happen. If your project fails, it’s because you are a bad person, not because I failed to give it sufficient support to succeed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

How to Survive a Shootout 

In playing a first-person-shooter video game recently, I have discovered three principles that can help you survive in them. You can’t always apply all three, or even necessarily any of the three, but to maximize your chances of survival, you should try to follow them as well as possible. I believe that priority should be placed on them in order, so that the first is used at the expense of the second or third where you can’t meet them all.

1 – Standoff: Place as much distance between you and your enemy as possible. In almost every shooting game that I’ve played, I have been more accurate than my opponents. This is often because the physics of the game give accuracy bonuses to stationary players or because I choose weapons that are more accurate, even at the expense of having a slower fire rate. Also, the greater the standoff distance, the more time you have to make decisions. You can choose whether to fire, track a moving target better, and get more shots off before the enemy can close the distance and finish you.

Note: This rule is by far the most practical in real-life. Your chances of surviving in a real-world gunfight are much improved by being as far away from the other shooter as possible. This is especially true if it gives you time to take more careful aim before returning fire.

2 – Isolation: You should position yourself where it is impossible, or at least difficult or unlikely, for an enemy to come at you from behind. This will often mean placing yourself into a corner or into a room with only one entrance. Few things will ruin your day faster than having someone blast you while you were busy looking the other way.

3 – Focus: Try to find a position where you can hit any incoming target without moving your crosshairs. It is a lot easier to hit a target if it walks into your sights than if you have to take special aim at it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

'How to Love Your Supplier' and other illegal activities 

I sometimes talk with a debator I know about the similarities and differences between the government (especially the Federal Government) and private industry. He points out a lot of similarities that people might not realize without being more familiar with both of them, but we also find some stark differences.

Perhaps the biggest difference can be found in how they go about acquisition of parts and services. In private industry, purchasing is done with an eye to minimizing costs. Sometimes this is directed at long-term costs, and sometimes it has a more immediate focus. Low quality is sometimes considered as a cost in this sense, and is therefore sought to be reduced.

In the government, purchasing is driven by a substantial document called the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and its descendants in each of the departments and agencies of the government (e.g. the Defense FAR, or DFAR). The FAR is not so much tailored to reduce costs as it is to maintain fairness. It directs a lot of contracts to go to small businesses, in an effort to make things more fair to them. It severely limits the amount of corroboration that can exist between buyers and vendors.

One end result is that if government buyers tried to minimize costs in the ways that a private sector buyer might, then they could go to jail for it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

"'C' is for 'Cookie'" 

My son had tasted candy before, but last week, he learned what it looks like and just how wonderful it is. Where once he would launch into a tantrum if he saw some electronics that he couldn't have (he still does sometimes, but not like before), he does so for candy.

What a monster we have created.

Slipping Into Something More Comfortable 

[Note: The following was written a couple of weeks ago, except for a bit at the end. Enjoy.]

This week, I have been attending a course that has, so far, forcused on why the organization that I work for needs to change. This is not exactly news to me, but what I find far more interesting is the question of how to change and what the expected impacts will be. I have made a few observations on that topic, some of which are borrowed from course material, but all of which are made outside of the intended meaning given in the course. I speak here specifically about process changes, although the ideas may apply to other types of changes as well.

1. All change comes at a price. You can't change something without experiencing some cost. There is almost always an initial drop in performance as people get accustomed to the new ways. Typically there is also substantial costs to document and publicize the new changes and to train people on how to do it. The training process will also hit on productivity as workers are not engaged in their core duties. These transition costs are usually short-term in nature (except for the ongoing costs of training new people), but they can be substantial.

2. Change can be either good or bad. No matter how broken a thing is, there are always ways to change it that would make it worse. Care should always be taken when making a change to ensure that it does not cost more than it gives back. In other words, one should never change just because things are broken, but change should only occur if there is a better way of doing things.

3. Process change produces a finite long-term "gain". No matter how fantastic a new process is, there is a limit to the savings that it can bring. The old processes have a certain amount of cost, and a certain amount of productivity, and the new processes will have some other cost and productivity level. This would likely be manifest as a per-unit cost improvement.

4. Changes must be properly implemented in order to work as advertised. For example, if you join a gym and don't ever go, then you won't get into better shape. If you decide that you'll be on time by driving 100 MPH all the time, you'll eventually have your plans shot down by The Man. (Lobbying Congress to raise the speed limit would be a better way to implement that plan...)

Any other thoughts?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?