Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
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Silicon Valley State of Mind

Tips, thoughts, and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "The Science of Success."

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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in outcomes

Posted by on in Leadership

Now that both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are over, we’ve had a chance to hear both sides talk about what’s on their mind. To me, it seems like both sides are focused on the incumbent leader, President Barack Obama. The Democrats are focused on how President Obama can further strengthen the nation by proceeding with his political approach. The Republicans are focused on preventing President Obama from further damaging the nation by proceeding with his political approach. I think there’s an overall consensus on the objective of strengthening the nation; however, there’s an overall disagreement on whether or not the alternative that Obama has promoted since he started running for office, will eventually lead us there. Politics aside, from a leadership standpoint, the Democrats have it right, and the Republicans have it wrong—it’s a crime of leadership to focus on what won’t work, especially if you’re passionate of your convictions.

I can’t understand why the political strategists on the right would expend so much political passion on attacking the left. A more effective strategy would involve a constructive review of what happened in the last four years, followed by a candid discussion with the American public about how, if elected into office, they would build on what went right, and improve the areas that fell short.

What you focus on matters: in strategy, in projects, and in everyday activities. Focusing on avoiding what you don’t want, counterintuitively puts your tropism in the wrong direction. After a magnet has pushed away from it’s polar equivalent, where is it left to go? If there’s no attraction to a polar opposite, it goes nowhere.

That’s why a strategic vision is so important; if done right, it tightly focuses you on where you want to go. You should do the same with your critical programs, projects, and processes. And once you get clear on your vision and need to communicate it to your organization, hire Bill Clinton to deliver the message—what an amazing speech, huh?

Now, I’m off to focus on having a great weekend. I hope you have one too!

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Posted by on in Program Management

The Unites States Federal Bureau of Information (FBI) announced today that it spent $600 million to share files electronically. That seems silly doesn’t it?

To add insult to injury, this was the initiative that was spurred by the September 11th attacks back in 2001. That’s right, it took $600 million and 12 years to build a system that shares files electronically.

I know you may not be as experienced as I am in these matters, but in case there’s any doubt, no it does not take $600 million and 12 years to build a system to share files. At Sun Microsystems, it took me only $2 million and 1 year to build an entire compliance data system from scratch, that hooked into four disparate transactional systems including a massively customized Oracle ERP installation. This is at Sun Microsystems, the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a government operation in the private sector.

The obvious problems are bureaucracy and politics, but it’s worth mentioning to highlight just how insane costs can get when you don’t get this straight. Bureaucracy and politics go hand in hand to destroy a program. Bureaucracy happens when objectives don’t matter anymore and everyone’s just worried about following steps. This is what I call the project management trap. Politics happen when leaders protect their fiefdoms by any means possible, sustaining their position and the status-quo. In both cases, objectives are demoted in favor of artificial gods.

To prevent this in your organization, do three simple things:

  • Establish an Executive Sponsor who is clearly accountable for objectives. Give him/her the chair on a steering committee if you must, but there should be one, very high-level person accountable for nothing but results.
  • Establish a program/project charter, and assign full authority and responsibility to a competent program manager. Hire a good consultant of you don’t have the competence or availability in house, but avoid huge management agencies; it’s like hiring another bureaucracy. The FBI fired Lockheed Martin midstream on this project due to delays. I wonder why. The same thing will happen with any of the big consulting firms.
  • Setup tight-cycle (i.e. weeks, not months), functional deployments (i.e. something that can actually be used by the business), and reward everyone based on accomplishing small objectives to attain larger objectives.

Just like bureaucracy and politics work together to bloat program costs and timelines; these three practices work together as the Pepto-Bismol. By keeping the focus on objectives and actively fighting politics and bureaucracy, you can bring your project in far under $600 million and 12 years.

I mean, really? Give me a break!

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Posted by on in Operational Excellence

The best way to avoid the process management trap is to impress yourself—with self-assessments. You can tell an organization that’s slipping into this trap when they start attaching undue value to process steps, and forget about why they’re executing the process in the first place. Use self-assessments to undo this.

Of course this idea has a direct implication on compliance, but a more general and appropriate application is in becoming excellent at executing—operational excellence if you will. In compliance, they’re abused and over-used—we’ll fix that here. In operational excellence, they’re not used enough.

The reason why you don’t see many self-assessments with operational excellence efforts, is the very reason people fall into the bureaucracy that cripples their efforts. In their zeal to create and document processes, the focus becomes the means, and not the ends. This is the why I emphasize process leadership over process management.

A good operational excellence effort will deliver a control chart which is a structured tool for monitoring how the (ostensibly) critical process is doing. That’s better than nothing, but their complex nature is intimidating, and the tool itself needs to be maintained—another process!

Self-assessments are a simple and effective way to make sure you’re focused on process outcomes, and not just following steps. You shouldn’t over-complicate this. Just create a checklist of outcomes. Ask yourself this simple question: “At the end of this process, what should the outcomes be?” Remember to include all the parties that have a stake, and all the supporting constraints. For instance, if I’m going through the process of throwing a party, the primary objective is for the guests to have a good time; however, a supporting constraint is for me to have a good time as well. And, my neighbors have a supporting constraint that involves the collective level of “disturbance.”

Make sure everything on your checklist is an outcome, not just another step in disguise. For instance, don’t put on your checklist, “Was the garbage taken out?” This is just a task with an outcome’s costume on. The real outcome is “Is the place clean?” Also, self-assessments don’t have to be based on the final outcomes of the process. Try to put together some self-assessment checklists to gauge your success along the way. This will give you a structured way to adjust mid-stream if necessary. To build a progress self-assessment, just ask yourself, “What will it look like at point x if everything is going well?” The answer again, should just be a simple list of outcomes.

In most cases, you are your own toughest judge. If you comply with your own self-assessments, you’ll probably stay out of trouble with others as well. More importantly, it will keep you focused on the real purpose of the process, and not just the motions. Take some time to impress yourself once in a while—you deserve it.

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