Tag Archives: tips

Management Blog Posts From November 2006

I have selected a few great posts from the Curious Cat Management Blog back in November 2006.

  • What Could we do Better? – There are many important ideas to improve management. This is one of the most important tips to aid improvement that I know of: it is easy to do, brings huge benefits and most organizations fail to do it. Ask your customers: “What one thing could we do to improve?”
  • Ackoff’s F-laws: Common Sins of Management presents 13 common sins of management, such as: Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure
  • Common Cause Variation – “Every system has variation. Common cause variation is the variation due to the current system. Dr. Deming increased his estimate of variation due to the system (common cause variation) to 97% (earlier in his life he cited figures as low as 80%). Special cause variation is that due to some special (not part of the system) cause.”
  • Sub-Optimize by Interrupting Knowledge Workers – “The general consensus is that the loss from interrupting [software] developers is much greater than for interrupting most other forms of work and therefor a great deal of effort is placed on improving the system to allow developers to focus.”
  • Amazon Innovation – “I believe Amazon uses technology very well. They have done many innovative things. They have been less successful at turning their technology into big profits. But I continue to believe they have a good shot at doing so going forward (and their core business is doing very well I think).” [Amazon announced great sales numbers today, continuing their long term tread. They are also continuing to be very slow to grow profits (CEO, Jeff Bezos remains willing to challenge common practices – such as his willingness to build business and sacrifice current profits)].

Don’t Treat People Like You Want to be Treated

I have never understood the logic behind the idea that you should treat people like you want to be treated. I know I am different; I don’t want what lots of other people seem to want. If I treat them how I want to be treated, they are not happy.

I understand the sentiment behind the statement. I think it is much more effectively stated as: treat people how they want to be treated. An understanding of psychology will provide you with the understanding that people are different and want to be treated differently, while wanting to feel that they are valued and respected. Some people will like a boisterous extroverted environment and others will want to be able to have some time to concentrate and think by themselves. Some people will want to avoid confrontation at almost any costs others will want to deal openly and directly with issues confronting the organization. And most people will be somewhere in between the alternatives.

I don’t want to be thanked for trivial matters. But I have seen lots of people do like this. I do like to be challenged on what I claim and debate the merits of the idea (if I can learn I am wrong, it is much better to do it early and change – instead of waiting for some problem to develop). I notice a lot of others don’t like this at all. I don’t like to be interrupted when I am trying to concentrate. I know lots of others don’t understand this. And when they are treating others as they want to be treated the thought that others are trying to concentrate doesn’t cross their minds. They are not intentionally trying to be disruptive. They are trying to include others as they would like to be included. I find it annoying when we celebrate some minor success while much more serious problems are left unaddressed. I realize most others don’t have this problem.

I like to see data and evidence to back up claims and to explore what the data strongly shows and what conclusions are more tenuous. I know many just get bored by numbers and don’t want to see endless charts and figures. I like to be challenged and asked difficult questions in meetings. I know lots of people do not like this. I would like to ask other people difficult questions (but don’t – if I went with the treat people like you want to be treated idea I would ask). I like change that is part of a sensible strategy of improvement (that measures results to avoid change for that isn’t improvement, which I don’t like). However, I understand many people are uncomfortable with change. I despise sitting in meetings without agendas or a clear purpose that wander and don’t seem to accomplish anything. Others seem un-bothered by this (though I know in this feeling I am with the majority).

I think a key to managing people is to take time to think about the individuals involved, what your intention is, and then to act in a way that is tailored to how that person wants to be treated. Some people will want to be recognized publicly. Some people may want to discuss in private how they could do even better. Some people may like to be given the opportunity to lead a meeting. Others would rather be given the opportunity to create a new design for the intranet. Others may like the opportunity to train new staff on some aspect of their job. Some people may want opportunities to move up the corporate ladder. Others would rather have some time off to pursue other interests.

You should treat people how they want to be treated, not how you want to be treated.
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Delighting Customers

If you have customers that see you as adequate you will keep customers based on inertia.

But you have several big problems awaiting you. Those trying to win your customers business only have to overcome inertia – which can be very low hurdle (saving a small bit of money, some minor additional feature). If your customers are delighted they won’t leave (by and large) without significant reasons to.

Also your attempts to increase price are very likely to lead to increased customer losses (than if customers are delighted). Delighted customers are willing to pay a premium which helps profits enormously (Apple has done this quite well).

Delighted customers will refer others to you – great free marketing.

Satisfied customers leave you very little leeway for error. If you cause satisfied customers some problem (which granted, hopefully you won’t but if you do) they are not likely to be forgiving. If they are delighted they may well stay even if you have a delay, provide less than stellar customer service for some request…

There are many ways to attempt to delight customers. One of the simplest powerful tools is to ask a very simple question: What Could we do Better?

Related: What Job Does Your Product Do?It Just WorksKano Model of customer satisfactioncustomer focus resources

Actionable Metrics

Metrics are valuable when they are actionable. Think about what will be done if certain results are shown by the data. If you can’t think of actions you would take, it may be that metric is not worth tracking.

Metrics should be operationally defined so that the data is collected properly. Without operationally definitions data collected by more than one person will often include measurement error (in this case, the resulting data showing the results of different people measuring different things but calling the result the same thing).

And without operational definitions those using the resulting data may well mis-interpret what it is saying. Often data is presented without an operational definition and people think the data is saying something that it is not. I find most often when people say statistics lie it is really that they made an incorrect assumption about what the data said – which most often was because they didn’t understand the operational definition of the data. Data can’t lie. People can. And people can intentionally mislead with data. But far more often people unintentionally mislead with data that is misunderstood (often this is due to failure to operationally define the data).

In response to: Metrics Manifesto: Raising the Standard for Metrics

Related: Outcome MeasuresEvidence-based ManagementMetrics and Software DevelopmentDistorting the System (due to misunderstanding metrics)Manage what you can’t measure

Building on Successful Improvement

Do ‘Quick Wins’ Hurt Lean Initiatives?

This becomes very difficult, since in many organizations these executives have the strategic attention span equivalent to the life-cycle of a mayfly. When the ‘quick win’ approach is taken, the savings / impact becomes like a drug to the executives. They see the benefit and they want more – NOW. Usually they are able to get this for a while, since they are very interested in the program at the beginning and show their support thought attending events and removing obstacles, and in general there are a lot of opportunities in healthcare for immediate improvement. However, as these opportunities dry up, and the work gets harder, while the executives focus shifts elsewhere, the expectation is to continue to deliver exponential results (a clear sign the truly do not understand the fundamental concepts at play here), and those who are leading the Lean charge, try to appease.

If you don’t change how people think, the quick improvement can end up not helping much. I think quick wins help. But managing how those quick wins happen is important. Creating a maintaining a dialogue that while quick wins are possible, much bigger wins are possible by building on the gains to adopt more critical improvement (and often more complex and requiring more effort) .

As quick wins are achieved try and be sure they are building capacity at the same time. Get people to think in new ways and see improvement opportunities. Also have people learn new tools to attack more problems with. I firmly believe you learn lean best by doing lean. So getting quick successes is great training – better than classroom training. But in doing so, you do want to focus on making sure people understand how the quick fix is a process they can repeat to improve other areas.

And one of the skills you have to practice in the example mentioned in the post mentioned above is managing up. It is tricky but part of what you need to do is coach your bosses to understand lean so that you can expand the adoption of more lean thinking in your organization.

Related: How to ImproveBuilding a Great WorkforceFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed ManagementLeadership

Classic Management Theories Are Still Relevant

Good management is good management: it doesn’t matter if someone figured out the good idea 100 years ago or last week.

Are “Classic” Management Theories Still Relevant?

It did make me wonder about the staying power of management models, processes, skills, and conventional wisdom…

There are way too many people in our field that are not true professionals – they don’t do their homework, and rely too much on their own personal experience. They’re the ones who tend to jump from one fad to the next, enthusiastically promoting each one with an almost religious passion.

However, there’s also a danger of not keeping up with the times and sticking with models or skills that really have outlived their usefulness. At best, you run the risk of coming across as a dinosaur when you explain a management model that was developed in the 1920’s to a group of Millennials. Even worse, you may be relying on models that really don’t apply in today’s world.

Classic management ideas are definitely very valuable today. It is amazing how little use of long known good leadership lessons actually takes place in organizations. You don’t need to discover secrets to improve, just adopt ideas others ignore since they are not new (or whatever justification they use for ignoring them).

One of the main things I have been trying to do with my web sites is to get people to use the already well documented successful management practices.

Bad management ideas are bad: Regardless if they were good ideas 40 years ago, or not. I find bad management practices most often never were good practices so worrying about outdated good practices is not something that merits much time. Just avoid bad practices, don’t worry about when the practices were adopted.

As Dan McCarthy says in his post: “Read and respect the classics and keep up with the latest.”

And if you have to focus on one, focus on the classics. Most of what is new isn’t worthwhile so you will likely spend a lot of time reading about fads that die before you can even try to adopt the ideas into your organizational system. There are good new ideas – read Clayton Christensen, for some good new ideas (even many of those are nearly 10 years old now). Agile software development is another area where good tactics seem new. Mainly agile management offers good ideas on tactics for applying lots of good management ideas (often these ideas are not new), it seems to me.

Related: New or Different? Just Choose BetterManagement Advice FailuresNew Management Truths Sometimes Started as HeresiesNot New Rules for Management

Interruptions Can Severely Damage Performance

Interruptions can severely degrade your performance. The type of work you are doing impacts the cost greatly. I have spent some of my time programming web applications. When I am doing that interruptions are huge drain on my performance (for me the costs of interruptions while programming are far higher than any other type of work I have done – many times higher). If the interruption disrupts my flow (an interruption needn’t necessarily disrupt it I found, instant messages may not, while speaking to someone else almost surely would – it is a factor of how much of your brain much shift focus I imagine) it can take a huge amount of time to get back into a high performing state. Other work I do can be interrupted with much less impact. I am easily able to slip back into what I was doing.

For me the main cost of interruptions is the time it takes to get back to where I was before the interruption. And the cost is related to how much focus is needed to address what you are working on. Most programming takes a huge amount of focus.

Another big cost of interruptions is the increased risk of mistakes. When people are distracted and then have to go back to a task, and then are distracted, and then go back and… it is more likely they will miss a step or miss noticing some issue than if they can work without distraction. One tool to help cope for distractions that can’t be designed out are checklists.

Paul Graham addressed the importance of managing the system to provide uninterrupted time very well in, Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

Paul Graham’s article also shows why managers so often fail to adequately address this issue. Manager, by and large, work in an environment where interruptions are the work. I know, much of my time as a program manager is driven by interruptions and is doable even with many interruption every day.

When managing you need to understand how big a cost interruptions have and design systems appropriate to optimize system performance for all parts of the system. The design of the system needs to take into account the costs and benefits of interruptions for those people working on various processes in the system.

Related: Understanding How to Manage GeeksExplaining Managers to ProgrammersWhat Motivates Programmers?Joy in Work – Software DevelopmentProgrammers CartoonChecklists in Software Development

Circle of Influence

In, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey discusses the circle of control, circle of influence and circle of concern. This provides a good framework from which to view issues as you look for improvement strategies.

Within your circle of control you have much more autonomy and have less need to win others over to your plan. However, in practice, even here, you benefit from winning over those who are involved (for example you are their boss).

Our circle of concern covers those things we worry about. Often, we believe because we worry we should find solutions. Problems that fall into this category (but outside our circle of influence) however often prove difficult to tackle. And often people don’t understand why they get frustrated in this case. You can save your energy for more productive activities by seeing some things are outside your influence and avoid wasting your energy on them.

A problem with this, I see in practice however, is that if you are creative many things that people think are beyond their influence are not. With some imagination you can find ways to have influence. Good ideas are powerful. And often that is all that is needed for influence is offering a good idea.

Understanding to what extent an issue is within your control or influence can help a great deal in determining good strategies. Where you have a good chance to influence the process you can focus on strategies that may require much more of your participation to be successfully adopted. As you have less influence such a strategy is likely a poor one.

You should remember, that there is a temporal component to your circle of influence. On some current issue, I may have a very low chance of success for getting the organization to adopt an improvement I think is best. But certain actions can build the understanding that will allow me later to have more influence. This can even be completely separate from how people normally think of circle of influence. By building an organization that moves toward data based decision making and therefore reduces HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) decision making I increase my ability to influence decision making in the future.

Long term thinking is a very powerful, and much under-practiced, strategy. Your influence within an organization is limited today but has great potential to expand, if you act wisely.

Thinking about the extent a current issue falls within your sphere of influence is important it determining the best strategies. But the most valuable insight is to understand how import your sphere of influence is. It determines what strategies you can pursue. And building your sphere of influence should be part of your decision making process.

By taking the long view you can put yourself in good positions to have influence on decisions. There are many ways to do this. My preferred method is fairly boring. Prove yourself to be valuable and you will gain influence. Help people solve their problems. They will be inclined to listen to your ideas. Provide people useful management tools and help them apply them successfully. Help get people, that you know are good, opportunities to succeed. Often this gains you two allies (the person you helped gain the opportunity for and the person that was looking for someone to step in). Work hard and deliver what is important. It isn’t some secret sauce for quick success but if you make those around you successful you grow your circle of influence.

Related: How to ImproveHelping Employees ImproveOperational ExcellenceManagement Advice FailuresManagement Improvement

Making Better Decisions

I think the most important thing you can do to make better decisions is to learn from the decisions you make. It sounds easy, but very few people do so effectively.

The best strategy to learn from decisions is to:

Carve Out Time to Think

Dan Markovitz recently discussed the practice of the CEO of eBay to take thinking days, Why isn’t “thinking time” part of your standard work?,

Some people think that it’s all well and good for a CEO to unplug himself — when you’re the big cheese, you make the rules — that’s just not possible for the folks in the trenches. But I think that’s a lie. Unless you’re in a sadly dysfunctional organization (and if you are, feel free to stop reading now and go to ESPN.com for the latest baseball scores), you’re being paid to create value for customers (internal or external). You’re not being paid to respond to every random thought or idle question in 8 nanoseconds. And to create value, sometimes you have to actually stop and think.

And a recent Business Week article quotes Turner Broadcasting CEO, Phil Kent: “carve out time to think, not just to react.”

I agree. We need to take more time to think and reflect on how to improve the system to produce better results. We too often find ourselves trapped by spending so much time reacting to seemingly urgent but less important matters. We need to make time to focus on important but perhaps less urgent matters. And taking time to think is part of doing so.

Related: Think Long Term Act DailyHow to ImproveMost Meetings are MudaManaging Innovation