Monthly Archives: November 2006


From the “you call this agile?” department by Joel Spolsky:

Yes, context switching is painful. Yes, you need to take into account the costs of context switching when you interrupt someone’s work. But every decision has pros and cons and when I hear a manager who is just talking about the cons without considering the pros, that manager is not doing their job.

This is a simple article about basically choosing to sub optimize a part to optimize the whole. One of management’s roles is to determine when to trade a loss to one part of the system for the sake of the overall system. One of the big losses for software development is interruptions which distract developers.

The general consensus is that the loss from interrupting 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. However, that should not prevent decisions that factor in that loss and conclude that taking that loss is worth the gain (to the rest of the system).

Related: Management Science for Software EngineeringStretching Agile to fit CMMI Level 3post on Joel Spolsky’s ideasJoel Management

TPS and Jidoka

TPS & Jidoka, interview of Tomo “Tom” Harada by Art Smalley:

There are two different parts to Jidoka. The first meaning is to separate man from machine. It was normal in the original parent company for a single young woman to operate many machines since they were automated.

So when Mr. Ohno came to the automotive company after WWII and saw one man operating one machine tool he thought that it was strange and inefficient. He embarked upon a path of breaking down the notion of one man one machine in the engine shops. Instead of “monitoring” machines the operator was to walk between two machine tools and keep them both up and running. Then three machines and four machines and so on.

Related: TPS v. Lean ManufacturingOrigins of the Toyota Production SystemJidoka descriptionblog posts on the Toyota Production System

Ackoff’s F-laws: Common Sins of Management

Russ Ackoff once again does a great job of providing insight into management. I highly recommend A Little Book of f-Laws [the broken link was removed] where Ackoff, with Herbert Addison and Sally Bibb, present 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

See: Deming’s thoughts on unknown and unknowable figures. A book with over 80 management flaws (er I mean f-Laws) will be published in January – you can even submit your own [the broken link was removed].

Related: Ackoff articles and booksblog posts on Ackoff’s ideasManagement Advice Failures
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Information Quality In Health Care

The Life and Death Results of Information Quality by Doug Johnson:

I believe poor information and the inability to make medical decisions with correct, complete and timely information kills more people than any single disease in the United States. In the same way we have tagged diabetes with the term “the silent killer,” poor information quality creeps into our decision-making capabilities like a thief in the night. When patients die because their blood glucose levels get too high after surgery, we say, “We didn’t know they were diabetic.” When lab results come back negative for cancer, we are happy to go on our way only to find out months later that the disease spread and the patients are now terminal. We then say, “We got faulty lab results.”

Related: heathcare related postsposts on how to use data properlyEvidence-based Management

Lean Education Meeting Slides

Presentation slides from the joint The Lean Aerospace Initiative [the broken link was removed] and LEAN joint meeting (October 16-18, 2006) are available [the broken link was removed – the links that relied on MIT to retain historical information using technology over the long term failed. It is sad MIT doesn’t understand how to manage information using technology more effectively. They really should learn how to do the extremely basic tasks of combining technology and management if they expect to be respected in that field it seems to me. It is embarrassing they are doing so poorly now.]. From Jim Womack‘s slide:

What Is Lean?
Lean = Purpose + Process + People
Purpose = solving customer problem while provider prospers.
Process = 3 primary value streams and many support processes, some involving customers.
People = engaging everyone touching every value stream to operate and improve it steadily (kaizen)
and dramatically (kaikaku)

Related: Lean Education Academic Network Spring MeetingLean Education Academic Network

Amazon Innovation

Jeff Bezos’ Risky Bet [the broken link was removed]

And, he hopes, making money. With its Simple Storage Service, or S3, Amazon charges 15 cents per gigabyte per month for businesses to store data and programs on Amazon’s vast array of disk drives. It’s also charging other merchants about 45 cents a square foot per month for real space in its warehouses. Through its Elastic Compute Cloud service, or EC2, it’s renting out computing power, starting at 10 cents an hour for the equivalent of a basic server computer. And it has set up a semi-automated global marketplace for online piecework, such as transcribing snippets of podcasts, called Amazon Mechanical Turk. Amazon takes a 10% commission on those jobs.

In my view Amazon is doing some very interesting innovation. As with most true innovation it is not easy to understand if it will succeed or not. 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). Innovation often involves taking risks. Bezos is willing to do so and willing to pursue his beliefs even if many question those beliefs. That means he has the potential to truly innovate, and also means he has to potential to fail dramatically.

Related: Bezos on Lean ThinkingMaking Changes and Taking Risks10 Stocks for 10 Years UpdateA9 Toolbar for Firefox Browser

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Five Pragmatic Practices

Becoming a Great Manager: Five Pragmatic Practices by Esther Derby [the broken link was removed]

1) Decide What To Do and What Not To Do

Deciding what to do and what not to do helps focus efforts on the important work – work that will contribute to the bottom line of the company. Articulating a mission has another benefit: When everyone in your group knows the mission and how the work they do contributes to it, they will be able to make better decisions about their own work every day.

2) Limit Multitasking
3) Keep People Informed
4) Provide Feedback
5) Develop People

I don’t see these as new ideas that have not been discussed before. But this article does a nice job of covering some good ideas. Taking the time to read this article can help remind you of some good practices you may neglect.

Investing in Six Sigma

Bank of America: Investing in Six Sigma [the broken link was removed] by Thomas Hoffman:

To help the bank’s IT organization align more strategically with its businesses, Desoer has challenged her IT staff to learn more about the bank’s external customers and their needs. “The voice of the customer is what you start with when you embark on a Six Sigma piece of work,” she says.

I think in reality there are several things needed at the starting block but voice of the customer is one, and one that is given too little attention far to often.

Six Sigma … at a Bank? by Milton Jones Jr.:
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China’s Lean Journey

China’s Lean Journey [the broken link was removed] by Dennis J. Stamm:

The lean initiative in China is still in its infancy, and not every company in China is inclined to invest in the latest technology, but the challenge from China to our manufacturing base is not likely to get any easier to meet. Modernization and Lean manufacturing are trends that will gain momentum as China meets increasing challenges from other low cost producers.

Related: China’s Manufacturing EconomyManufacturing Jobs Data: USA and ChinaEngineering Education: China, India and the USA

Respect for Workers

Respect at “In-N-Out” Burger:

They start employees at almost $10, quite a premium over all the other fast food places that are trying to get the cheapest labor possible.

But the thing that really jumped out at me was a brief exchange with a college-age worker who left a job with a law firm to work at In-N-Out. Not only was the pay better, but they treat him with RESPECT at In-N-Out.

NPR podcast: Pay Helps Keep Workers at Western Burger Chain. I discussed a related matter in Hiring the Right Workers, by paying more the overall system of hiring and managing people may well be optimized.

Related: Respect for PeopleExcessive CEO Pay