Yearly Archives: 2006

The IT Iceberg Secret

The Iceberg Secret, Revealed by Joel Spolsky

It’s pretty clear that programmers think in one language, and MBAs think in another. I’ve been thinking about the problem of communication in software management for a while, because it’s pretty clear to me that the power and rewards accrue to those rare individuals who know how to translate between Programmerese and MBAese.

Customers Don’t Know What They Want. Stop Expecting Customers to Know What They Want. It’s just never going to happen. Get over it.

When developing software applications in house, developers should work in cooperation with those who will use it. Working from requirements is not a very effective way to proceed. It is similar to the old idea of suppliers working to specifications. Dr. Deming taught long ago that companies needed to work with suppliers and customers to improve the overall system. Well managed companies have learned this and practice it.

You know how an iceberg is 90% underwater? Well, most software is like that too — there’s a pretty user interface that takes about 10% of the work, and then 90% of the programming work is under the covers

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Change Your Name

Best Buy Asks Man To Change Name [the broken link was removed]:

Turns out if your last name is less than three letters, the online sign-up isn’t an option for you.

Companies often put up barriers for no reason, then leave customer service agents to try and explain. And then this happens:

When he called Best Buy one customer service agent even suggested he change his name

Now that is great 🙂

Charles Yu: “I said well, I think that is a little ridiculous – I don’t want to change my last name just to sign up for this.”

When 7 On Your Side contacted Best Buy, the company apologized for the problem saying… “We were aware that our online system for creating Reward Zone accounts does not recognize a name with less than three letters and the decision has already been made to correct it.” The company went on to say they have no definite timeline for the fix…

My advice. Don’t create stupid restrictions (in IT systems or otherwise). What do you care how long people’s names are? There are many people with 2 character names.

Also, have customer service personnel who are trying to improve the system, not trying to get the customer off the phone to meet some arbitrary numerical target. Most often the representatives seem most concerned with getting you off the phone. An effective system to discover what needs to be improved is not something that management has bothered to design into the system. Big mistake.
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Customer Un-focus

Counties caught in conundrum: getting Amish to take food stamps [the broken link was removed] by John Horton

Accepting public assistance is verboten within the Amish culture. It simply is not done. But Taylor is under orders to at least try to get them enrolled. The Ohio Department of Job & Family Services has asked Geauga and Holmes counties, which feature the state’s largest Amish populations, to lift dismal food-stamp participation rates.

Taylor and his Holmes counterpart, Dan Jackson, called the mandate a waste of tax dollars, time and resources. In their eyes, the directive is government bureaucracy that ignores the obvious in setting an unrealistic goal.

Taylor and Jackson said they’ve both asked the state to readjust participation goals for their counties. Carroll said the request is under consideration. This is the first year for the performance standard.

Data, such as participation rates can be used as in-process measures to help you locate areas to look at for improvement. When you discover a good reason for the numbers then look to other in-process measures. Don’t make the mistake of managing to the measure. The measure should help you manage. Improving the number is not the goal. Improving the situation that the number is a proxy for is the goal.

Related: Another Quota Failure ExampleForget TargetsWelfare waste

via: Amish Refusal to Accept Food Stamps Makes Welfare Workers Look Bad

Poor Service – Industry Standard?

More Trouble Canceling HP Orders by Bob Sutton:

I wrote a post a couple months ago about how difficult it was to cancel an order I had JUST made for an HP computer, and how when I complained on the phone to the HP salesperson, his justification was that it was “industry standard,” which really pushed my buttons — as the logic is “I am going to treat my customers badly just because everyone does.”

How true. One good example, one bad example from: Ritz Carlton and Home Depot. I find it very frustrating how poor the service is most everywhere these days. Have you shopped in a Trader Joe’s? The contrast is amazing. I am used to most employees, on the phone, or in person, seeing the customer as a bother. I have been in Trader Joe’s maybe 10 times and the staff always seems happy to have customers. Which seems like a good indication that management is doing a number of things right. That with almost everyplace else that I interact the service is the opposite, does not speak well for management.

Related: Companies in Need of Customer FocusCustomer Service is ImportantWhat Could we do Better?No Customer FocusStarbucks: Respect for Workers – Great old lean thinking at HP: Eliminating Complexity from Work: Improving Productivity by Enhancing Quality by Tim Fuller, 1986 – More recent HP

Create Your Own Book

I received a custom made photo book from my brother. It is amazing. It is a hardcover book, full of photos. The quality is amazing. The book is printed by blurb. Looking on their web site the pricing is surprisingly cheap: 150 page full color hardcover book – $39.95 (for 1 copy! – 10% discount at 25 copies…), as little as $18.95 for a full color softcover book up to 40 pages. The site says books are normally printed in under a week.

I have not tried it but it appears printing your own great looking book is about as easy as creating a blog. I knew it was getting easier to print books, but still I find this very cool. Blurb can import photos from Flickr [the broken link was removed] and Picasa [the broken link was removed].

Holding Improvement Gains

The Hard Part: Holding Improvement Gains [the broken link was removed] by Ron Snee

The long term goal should be to combine all improvement initiatives into an overall improvement system and create the management framework to sustain that system. Thus, improvement will become a routine managerial process, just like any other.

One of the strongest spurs to maintaining momentum and sustaining the gains of an improvement initiative comes from the effect achieving significant, measurable benefits has on the culture. People like to succeed. When they see tangible results, they are eager to repeat the process. That is the simple, but powerful, principle of the kind of culture change that sustains improvement over the long term: Culture change doesn’t produce benefits; benefits produce culture change.

Related: Going lean Brings Long-term PayoffsChange is not ImprovementConstancy of PurposeLeading Six Sigma

Management Blog Tag

John and Bill Hunter

I have been tagged by Mark Graban of the lean blog: “Tag” – 5 Things You Don’t Know About Me.

      • I spent a year in Singapore (the small person in the photo is me, the bigger one is Dad on a beach in Malaysia during a visit during our stay in Singapore) and another in Nigeria while I was growing up.
      • Dad, Bill Hunter, was a professor (related to the item above), who co-authored Statistics for Experimenters and applied Deming’s ideas in the Public Sector for the first time. Out of the Crisis pages 245-247 include a write up on that effort with the First Street Garage. Peter Scholtes, at the time worked for the City of Madison, and played a big part in the effort. He went on to write the Team Handbook and The Leader’s Handbook.
      • I was on the Wisconsin Badger Basketball camp championship teams in 7th and 8th grade. The second year we played the championship game on the regular Badger Basketball home court. The Badger’s are a bit better now [the broken link was removed] then they were then.
      • I have flown on “Air Force One.” Not technically, since it the president was not aboard, but while working for the White House Military Office I flew on the plane on a couple test flights. It is officially “Air Force One” only when the President is flying.
      • I spent many Thanksgivings beating John Dower, my father (and other of the family members of both) at Oh Hell. Some might claim I remember more victories today than took place at the time.

John Hunter.

I tag: Kathleen Fasanella [I updated the broken link], Mike Wroblewski, Peter Abilla, Karen Wilhelm and John Dowd [the broken link was removed].

More on Madison’s Quality efforts: Doing More With Less in the Public Sector: A Progress Report from Madison, Wisconsin – Quality in the Community: One City’s Experience [the broken link was removed]

Interview with Toyota President

Very interesting interview with Katsuaki Watanabe – Toyota President seeks growth without major quality problems:

For the North American-exclusive models, we would like to localize as much as possible the r&d activities, like factory, production engineering and production preparation. We need to improve the engineering capabilities in those functions so that we will be able to localize more of those activities. So in that sense, they have to increase and enhance the operations at TMMA. We are likely to increase the size of TMMA.

However, it’s not just because we have more plants. Instead, the driver for this enhancement is that we want to localize r&d, production engineering and production preparation functions. Our desire is to do all the designing and production preparation for upper-body parts for North American-exclusive models, like Tundra, in America.

The whole interview just has a different feel to me that most CEO interviews. The focus seems to be on how to manage the organization better. The financial details will flow from managing most effectively. But it is hard for me to tell whether it is just my good feelings toward Toyota coloring my opinion of the interview.
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Why Extrinsic Motivation Fails

Why Motivation by Pizza Doesn’t Work

This completely changes the role of the manager as motivator. Rather than being the source of motivation (kind of a ludicrous idea in itself), the manager must help employees to find their own intrinsic motivation.

Lean thinkers understand this idea as respect for people. Dr. Deming talked about joy in work. Douglas McGregor talked about theory x and theory y thinking. All of these perspectives incorporate an understanding of workplace systems and human psychology. Extrinsic motivation is easy but not effective. It is really just abdicating management and using extrinsic motivation in place of management. The alternative requires managers to actually manage. This is challenging but the correct choice to make.

Stop Demotivating Employees

So rather than trying to bribe people to want things using pizzas and promotions, managers should help their people to discover meaning and develop skills at work. What some managers don’t realize is that people want to do good work. Create a happy, positive work environment and people are naturally motivated. Even better: They motivate themselves and each other.

As I have stated before: Alfie Kohn has some great books and articles on the problems with extrinsic motivation, and related ideas – I know it is hard for many people to believe (the link provides some online articles that can help as well as some books).

Related: MotivationDangers of Extrinsic MotivationEliminate SlogansThe Trouble with Incentives: They Work

How to Prevent Innovation

Top ten tips for preventing innovation give some great ideas many companies are already doing but you may find some your company hasn’t mastered 🙂 For example:

Make performance reviews easy. Create some easy-to-measure metrics (like # of sick-days taken, # of powerpoint slides created, # of meetings attended), and use those for performance reviews. People always gravitate toward the metric. We can run the reviews with a minimum of effort, giving us more time to tell them how to do their jobs. Just an hour a year. Some managers can give feedback in 15 minutes.

The performance appraisal systems used now, are a great way to stifle innovation. If you actually want to look at encouraging innovation, see some of our posts on innovation.

Related: Better and DifferentPerformance Appraisal ProblemsQuality and Innovation Dr. Deming on Performance Appraisal