Monthly Archives: June 2007

Funding Google Gadget Development

Google Gadgets are small tools and toys that integrate with iGoogle. Google is funding developers to work on creating gadgets through Google Gadget Ventures. Great idea. They offer:

1. Grants of $5,000 to those who’ve built gadgets we’d like to see developed further. You’re eligible to apply for a grant if you’ve developed a gadget that’s in our Google gadgets directory and gets at least 250,000 weekly page views. To apply, you must submit a one-page proposal detailing how you’d use the grant to improve your gadget.
2. Seed investments of $100,000 to developers who’d like to build a business around the Google gadgets platform. Only Google Gadget Venture grant recipients are eligible for this type of funding. Submitting a business plan detailing how you plan to build a viable business around the gadgets platform is a required part of the seed investment application process.

Google continue to make good moves to manage in a new world. With this program they are not investing in creating an infrastructure to develop software, support software, hire staff… Instead they get to tap the drive and capabilities of those developers working on products which increase the value of iGoogle through small cash incentives. Previously they offered Google Gadget Awards. They also fund Google summer code – to support software developers creating open source software and reducing computer waste (where they didn’t stop with improving the servers they use but to making a broader impact on society). They really do a great job of leveraging their efforts well.

Related: Google Innovation and EntrepreneurshipGoogle Custom Management Improvement Search EngineExperiment Quickly and OftenInnovate or Avoid Risk

How to Get Ahead

Deep Thinkers Need Not Apply: How To Get Ahead In the Modern Business World [the broken link has been removed – when will sites be managed with the known wise practices from 1998 (web addresses need to live forever)?]:

Fast forward to my first real job out of college. It didn’t take long for me to realize that management’s perception of who should be promoted was heavily biased by who they liked. There was one engineer in particular who was highly skilled and detail oriented, but was one of the last to be promoted to the next level. Why? Because he was always working instead of schmoozing. As a result, it was thought that he “didn’t have good people skills,” when really, he was an excellent communicator, but simply didn’t waste time with frivolous talk and schmoozing.

This is something to be very careful of when managing people. I find that who says something is usually more important in predicting how people will react than what is said. As I have tested this myself I have learned how biased people are by who is talking; and I have tried to correct the judgments I reach (I know I don’t do it all the time but I try to especially for important things).

Fast forward to today. I sit in meetings with strangers and say things that are deep and insightful (at least, I think they are), but no one pays attention. A friend of mine in the group says “Rob has a popular business blog…” and suddenly I can say nothing wrong. My ideas are the same, but five minutes earlier, no one cared. Now I’m perceived as popular. Now my ideas matter.

I haven’t managed to have that reaction yet 🙁 Ok, maybe I am not suppose to wish that people would use poor reasoning to listen to me but I am in favor of any reason that makes them listen 🙂

Related: Management is PredictionProblems Caused by Performance Appraisalposts related to psychologyCurious Cat Management Improvement Jobs

Lean Health Care Interview

Nice short interview of Professor of Emergency Medicine, Matthew Cooke, on lean health care in the UK (via the lean blog). He mentions that applying lean thinking to health care gets rid of wasted time for patient, eliminates errors (by reducing opportunities for error) and staff spends more of their time on direct patient care.

Related: articles on improving the management of health careGoing Lean in Health CareDocumentary of improving hospitalsSimple Solutions That Worknon-value added steps

No Excessive Senior Executive Pay at Toyota

Toyota Boosts Executives’ Bonuses on Record Earnings (link broken by Bloomberg has been removed – why can’t companies with huge IT budgets follow even basic web usability rules like not breaking urls?):

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s biggest automaker by market value, will increase the total amount of executives’ bonuses by 33 percent for the year ended in March after the company posted record earnings. The automaker will pay a total of 970.5 million yen ($7.8 million) in bonuses to its top 32 executives, including President Katsuaki Watanabe, for the previous fiscal year, it said at its shareholders’ meeting.

Toyota’s 32 top executives received just over $12 million in salaries in the 12 months ended March. Lets see Toyota made something like $13,000,000,000 in profits. With the top 32 executives getting about $20,000,000 that is .15% of earnings. Even if there are some other benefits not included in the total that .15% figure for the top 32 executives doesn’t really compare to ludicrous pay of many CEOs in the USA. They are in a different paradigm than the others. I think their paradigm is much more effective (and the pay is the symptom of that system). I’ll take the executives of Toyota over the overpaid executives any time.

Related: More on Obscene CEO PayExcessive Executive Payaddition to the seven deadly diseases12 Stocks for 10 Years Update – Jun 2007 (Toyota up 69%)

At Ford, Quality Was Our Motto in the 1980s

Former Ford President responds to the Wall Street Journal with At Ford, Quality Was Our Motto in the 1980s:

I strongly disagree with a statement in “Detroit Pursues Sweeping Cuts in Union Talks” (page one, June 14), that the Big Three U.S. automakers “allowed quality to deteriorate in the 1980s,” at least as it applies to Ford Motor Co.

I was first president, then chairman and CEO of Ford in those years, and my major undertaking was to make significant improvement in the quality of Ford’s products.

Shortly after becoming president, I arranged to meet with W. Edwards Deming and contracted with him to consult with us and assist us in improving our quality. We established six guiding principles for the company, the first of which was “Quality comes first — To achieve customer satisfaction, the quality of our products and services must be our number one priority.”
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Standard Prepaid Cell Phone Policy

I ran across a specific example of standard policy that I found amusing (related to the post earlier today on Why Isn’t Work Standard). Like the authors, I can’t really see a reason for why you would want a policy that no more than two prepaid cell phones can be purchased. But if it is important, couldn’t you design a much better system to assure this policy was followed. And, at the very least, let customers hear your reasoning (so make an accurate explanation part of the standard work instruction stopping the sale of more than 2) behind such a restraint on their options. Doing so wouldn’t really help solve the problem (if they want more phones) but it seems it would be better customer service not to make up stuff like claiming it is the law – which is what happens when you tell people to do things without explaining why. Why Wal-Mart Will Refuse to Sell You Prepaid Cell Phones:

He collects my phones (seven in total) and walks me over to the register.Then another sales associate named Tara looks at me, then at Tom and finally at the phones and says to Tom, “you know he can’t buy all those phones”. Tom looks puzzled for a second and then his eyes light up with recognition. He turns to me and says, “I’m sorry sir, she’s right. We can’t sell you more than two phones”

Later, the post author explains the answer he receives after calling Walmart headquarters and being directed to the District manager – “the only person that could quote policy.” The person that answers says the district manager is busy but she can answer, there is no policy that only the district manager can quote policy:

A few minutes later, she calls me back and says that yes, it is indeed a Wal-Mart policy not to sell a person more than two prepaid phones. However, she said that the official policy was that they “could not sell more than two phones per person, not per household, per day”. So, Tara was clearly not listening on Wal-Mart policy day. I asked why this was an official policy (again, I stayed mum about what Tara and Ann had told me) and she said she wasn’t really sure, but that she could find out and give me a call back.

Verizon seems to be doing a good job keeping poor customer focus as a guiding policy (double trouble at Verizon):
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Why Isn’t Work Standard?

Are You Really Asking? by Mark Graban

The worst form would be, “Why the hell aren’t you following the standard work??? How many times do I have to emphasize that??” A better approach might be, “It appears that the standard work isn’t being followed. Why is this the case? Has something changed? Is there a problem we need to fix?” (as a legitimate question that you want the answer to).

Good advice. When standard work is not followed by one person then it might be that intervention with that one person is needed (or in some cases it might be that person found a better way and you need to update the standard and figure out why the standard wasn’t updated before – probably a system problem, annoying to follow procedure to get improvement adopted…). Much more often “policy” (which might be similar to standard work – but I think standard work really requires a system that is missing in places where “standard work” is not standard at all) is not followed in general – everyone does their own thing.

Then obviously (at least to someone that understands management) the issue is why does the documented standard work differ from the practice and why is management allowing such a divergence… Fix the system. What needs to be worked on is the failure of the management to create a system where standard work is the way work is done, not blaming everyone for not following the standard in various ways. Often this can be the practice, though not as obvious as stated, for example, when common cause errors are examined as special causes. Instead of looking at all the data, the error in question is examined, hey they didn’t follow x procedure – obviously they are to blame. Ah yeah look a bit more – no one ever follows that procedure (or what crazy system design allows that type of error to be possible): European Blackout: Human Error-Not.

Related: Visual Work InstructionsFind the Root Cause Instead of the Person to Blamevariation description

Mistakes in Experimental Design and Interpretation

Mistakes in Experimental Design and Interpretation

Humans are very good at detecting patterns, but rather poor at detecting randomness. We expect random incidents of cancer to be spread homogeneously, when in fact true randomness results in random clusters, not homogeneity. It is a mistake for an experiment to consider a pool of 47,000 possibilities, and then only report on the 7 cases that seem interesting.

A proper experiment states its hypothesis before gathering evidence and then puts the hypothesis to the test. Remember when you did your seventh grade science fair experiment: you made up a hypothesis first (“Hamsters will get fatter from eating Lucky Charms than Wheaties”) and then did the experiment to confirm or refute the hypothesis. You can’t just make up a hypothesis after the fact to fit the data.

This is an excellent article discussing very common errors in how people use data. We have tendencies that lead us to draw faulty conclusions from data. Given that it is important to understand what common mistakes are made to help us counter the natural tendencies.

Related: Seeing Patterns Where None ExistsIllusions, Optical and OtherUnderstanding DataDangers of Forgetting the Proxy Nature of DataHow to Deal with False Research Findingsdescriptive “theory” and normative theory

People are Our Most Important Asset

One of the beliefs I try and get the organizations I work for to adopt is to truly value excellent people. The costs are challenges of hiring great people, to me, makes it critical to do what you can to keep your exceptional people. I probably haven’t written about this because it can conflict with my advice against performance appraisals. I do actually believe it is possible to know certain people are great and contribute greatly to the success of your organization. I also believe many (a majority) organizations do such a bad job of identifying those people they shouldn’t even try. But if you can identify some people that seem to be positive special causes of success there is a good argument for making sure they are happy.

I don’t believe you should try to pay these special employees fairly. Overpay them. I would much rather waste (10-20% on extra pay) than pay them fairly and make it easier for them to switch to another job. Talk to them and make sure they are doing what they want and making the progress they want. I find (I don’t have enough data to know if this is generally true) that the best people complain the least and so you need to make extra efforts to find out what they might like to see improved. Include these provisions during your human resource planning, make it a point to get the most qualified people to want to work for you.

Don’t focus all of your energy on putting out fires and expect those that keep their areas of responsibility in decent shape without your intervention to just cope on their own. Since many managers adopt this “only dealing with the squeaky wheel” strategy (without saying that is what they do, of course), force yourself to spend time coaching, learning, helping… the most successful – as well as others. I want to have employees delighted (all of them ideally, but at least those that are most critical). As Deming said it is easy for competitors to take away satisfied customers – it is not easy for a competitor to take away delighted customers. The same holds for employees.
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Innovation Thinking with Christensen

In my opinion Clayton Christensen offers truly insightful ideas on innovation and management. He presents the rare management advice that is not only good but also new – an incredibly rare combination. The current issue of Business Week includes an interview with him: Clayton Christensen’s Innovation Brain:

Yes. The problem is when you say “listen to your customers,” your customers are only going to lead you in a direction that they want to go in. Generally, that will never lead you to disruptive growth. You’ve got to find that new set of customers, and listen to them and follow them. That’s the trick. Once you have customers, they hold you captive to their needs.

It’s hard for me to see what will disrupt Google. I think they’ve got a pretty good run ahead of them.

While some of Christensen’s ideas are new he also builds on existing ideas. The idea on customer focus being a potential trap was discussed by Deming a great deal. Interesting point on Google, I must agree, though it makes me nervous to think that way: it is easier to mess up success than to fix a mess. I will be interested to read his ideas on the health care system.

Related: Six Keys to Building New Markets by Unleashing Disruptive InnovationManagement Improvement Leadersarticles by ChristensenThe Innovators SolutionWhat Job Does Your Product Do?
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