Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
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    Welcome to a Silicon Valley State of Mind, thoughts tips and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "Silicon Valley's Top Information Strategist."

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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 risk

Posted by on in Program Management

Blackouts remind me why I’m not a devout agilist anymore. My block in San Ramon had another one if its infamous blackouts a few days back. And just like the last major blackout we had, my productivity only decreased a tiny bit; I was certainly able to accomplish all the critical things on my plate, including an important client deliverable that was due that day. At worst, blackouts are a nuisance for me; they don’t really slow me down because I’m prepared. However, that wasn’t the case in the early part of this century when I was a born-again agilist. When it comes to execution, Aristotle had it right with his golden mean—you must find a good balance between the two extremes of classical waterfall and agile.

The ideology of agile management proscribes advanced planning, even when it comes to risk management. The way agilists handle risk—like everything else—is very empirically. In agile execution, there’s the concept of yesterday’s weather wherein the belief is that today—for all intents and purposes—will be like yesterday. So, instead of formally analyzing risk, agilists just assume they’ll crank out as many widgets in this cycle as they did in the last cycle. Axioms like this allow them to forego much of the upfront planning that classic (i.e. waterfall) managers would necessarily undertake. That’s all fine and good—until it’s not fine and good.

The reality is this: Murphy is far too mischievous to be that consistent. Tuesday I had power all day long, just like Monday, Sunday, and Saturday. However, on Wednesday I had no power from about 6:00pm until about 3:00am the next morning. That’s nine long, dark hours if you’re not prepared. This is one big area where agile execution simply falls short—I don’t care how passionate you are about the ideas.

Fortunately for me—long before Wednesday—I stocked up on candles, lanterns, tap-lights, flashlights, portable light-bulbs, and most importantly batteries of all shapes and sizes. Kim and I actually had a pretty nice time that night after I finished up my work. The house was well lit, we ordered some food from a local restaurant, and we watched TV together on the iPad by candlelight (and battery-powered lanterns).

Don’t get me wrong; I’m still very much in the agile camp for most scenarios. However, like Aristotle would probably say today, you cannot be a die-hard fanatic on one style or methodology. That’s why the consultant’s standard answer to any question is, “it depends.”

Don’t let your zeal for agile put you in a blackout without batteries.

Tagged in: agile execution risk
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Posted by on in Strategy

How many management consultants does it take to change a light bulb?

Well, it depends; let’s first understand why you feel light bulbs are necessary.

(I’m kidding)

Actually, I had a light bulb moment yesterday—literally. We have a small chandelier in our entry way that blew its last bulb this past weekend, so my first order of business was to shed light on the situation (pun intended). Once I got up on the ladder, I realized I had a situation. I could not reach the light bulbs because there was a grey, metal diffuser in the way. It’s there so that people upstairs looking down don’t get blinded by staring directly into the bulbs. The only solution that came to mind was to remove the large, heavy, glass base of the contraption. So that’s what I did.

Before long, I was screaming to my wife for help. I’m balancing on the third step of a ladder holding a heavy, delicate ornament in one hand and the knobs that hold it in place in the other. Fortunately, Kim quickly came to the rescue and I was able to change out the light bulbs without breaking my neck.

Later that day, I stopped into the lighting store where we bought the chandelier and told my story to the owner. He patiently waited for me to finish my story, smiled, paused, then explained to me that I should have removed the diffuser—not the huge glass bowl at the bottom.

Good information not only increases strategic effectiveness and efficiency, but it also reduces risk. I talked about this yesterday when I was commenting on the awful bombings at the Boston Marathon. In my chandelier episode yesterday, I got the result I was looking for—light where there was no light. However, I could have arrived at the same result with much less risk, had I known about removing the diffuser instead of the base.

I’m not making that mistake again. Fortunately, I see the light now.

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Posted by on in Strategy

I’m still struggling to process how anyone thinks it’s okay to set off a bomb in the middle of a crowd of innocent people over a difference of ideals. I was in the dentist’s chair this afternoon when my wife sent me a text succinctly detailing the awful Boston Marathon bombing. I couldn’t believe it—and still can’t. It’s unfortunate that a plot like this actually succeeds; however, I’m thankful for all the terrorist plots against our people that don’t. Although I talk a lot about using information for strategy and innovation, information prowess is also a powerful tool to mitigate critical risks.

It’s hard to notice non-events because they aren’t conspicuous; however, it’s remarkable to think about all the terrorist plots that were attempted and failed. Our intelligence agencies work with our enforcement agencies around the clock to monitor and intercept all the crazy schemes devised to harm and kill Americans. At times like this, President Obama reminds us, our friends, and our enemies how serious we are about justice around these matters. The combination of leadership and information prowess keeps critical risks from surfacing. The unfortunate event in Boston today is the exception that makes the rule.

All strategy is vulnerable to the effects of critical risks—not only those that involve Big Data or some other form of information exploitation. Your degree of analytic capability has a direct impact on how well you mitigate these risks. You can see this in action with Santam, South Africa’s largest short-term insurance provider. With big data and predictive analytics, Santam was able to save millions that were previously lost to insurance fraud.

Mitigating critical risks is an important part of any leader’s strategy. If the stakes are high enough, it may make sense to assemble a big data team for the sole purpose of making sure nothing happens. Regardless, take some time today to see where advanced analytics might neutralize your biggest risks.

My sincere condolences to those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings

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Posted by on in Operational Excellence

It has been a couple of months since I purchased a LifeProof case for my iPhone, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts. I bought one for both my wife and me in the wake of an incident that happened some time ago. My two-year old niece accidentally fell in the pool, and my wife dove in to save her life. Thank God everything turned out okay with my niece; however, the iPhone she was holding at the time never recovered from the swim.

Since that time my radar had been raised for something that could protect the phone better. I eventually decided on LifeProof. After two months of using the case, I’m completely thrilled. To be honest, it’s overkill for what I need—I’m not exactly mountain climbing in the Himalayas every day. In my normal day to day activities, 9 times out of 10 I didn’t worry about the phone at all. I can’t tell you how good it feels to now not worry about the other 1 out of 10.

I have a healthy paranoia about mixing electronics and water, as any good Silicon Valley native should. Kim’s phone was only in the water for a few seconds, but as you know, that’s all it takes. I tried to resuscitate it with an overnight rice plunge (rice draws the water out), but to no avail. The LifeProof case changes all of that for me.

LifeProof claims that it will keep your iPhone safe from water, dirt, snow, and shock. So far, I have full confidence the case will live up to their claim. I can already attest to the claims on water and shock, and as soon as winter arrives, it’s off to Lake Tahoe for the snow test!

LifeProof is very diligent about covering all the bases. They exhort you to do a rigorous water test without the phone before you ever put your phone in the case. Of course I complied (with both phones), and I was delighted at the results—after an hour under water, both cases were completely dry. Then it was time for the real test. I carefully sealed up my wife’s phone, and threw it in the pool (you didn’t think I was using mine, did you?).

Voila! The phone worked completely fine underwater, just as they said. I was thrilled! Since then we’ve used our phones in and around the pool with no worries at all—what a relief.

As much as I like the phone, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some of the areas I would recommend for improvement. First, the case is a bit bulky. It has a relatively slim design as far as protective cases go; however, compared to no case, or any normal carrying case, it makes the phone a little big. Also, it’s best to keep the phone in the case at all times. Because of the way it seals around the phone, LifeProof doesn’t recommend that you open and close the case too many times. A full water test is recommended every time you put the phone back in the case, so you won’t want to do this very often.

This makes the handling of the phone a bit cumbersome. There is a door at the bottom of the case that swings open so you can charge the phone. That’s fine if you plan to use the normal charging cable that comes with Apple; however, it presents a challenge for docking stations. LifeProof claims that if you buy a dock extender (like the one in the picture), you can use the case with any docking station; however, that’s not true. Shortly after I purchased the case, I purchased a dock extender and a Sinjimoru Sync and Charge Dock Stand. With almost 100 reviews and an average four star rating, I thought it was a safe bet—I was wrong! There’s nothing inherently wrong with the stand; I think it’s pretty slick. However, when you add the LifeProof dock extender, the unit becomes top heavy and it doesn’t take much to flip the phone over. This was driving me crazy, as when I’m in the office, I keep the phone in the stand next to me. This thing would dump over several times a day. I gave up on this idea, and after some research, settled on an iHome iD37GZC Dual Alarm Stereo Clock Radio. I don’t need an alarm clock in my office, and this doesn’t sync, but it does support the phone when it’s docked. As a bonus, it charges my iPad when I’m not using it for my iPhone.

Another minor thing about handling the phone with the case on it, is the headphones. Without the LifeProof case, it’s no big deal to plug-in and unplug headphones. I would do it all day long, as I only use headphones when I’m talking on the phone. With the case, there’s a screw where the headphones go. Every time you want to plug in headphones, you must unscrew the cap, and screw in the LifeProof headphone adapter (actually, you don’t need the adapter if you’re using standard iPhone headphones, but for any other kind of headphones, you need the adapter). This is a bit of a process compared to just plugging in headphones when you need them. I may adjust in the future to bluetooth, but I’m still not impressed by the connection quality.

Of course, I have a belt clip as well, which makes the bulky phone even more bulky. This might be appropriate for an athlete, but there’s no way I’m going into a meeting with an executive wearing this bat-phone gadget. Plus, the belt clip won’t work with the dock extender in the phone, so you must remove the dock extender, close the door, then push it on the belt clip. It’s all a bit clunky compared to my Belkin case that would just slide and snap into place.

Shortcomings notwithstanding, I love this case. The peace of mind is worth every penny I’ve spent and all the adjustments I’ve had to make. I just ordered a second dock extender to keep in my car, when I need to use the car charger. I’m also looking into waterproof headphones and an armband for when I’m swimming in the pool or at the beach.

All this is of course analogous to extra investments in risk mitigation. Even if you have some tolerance for risk, it’s okay to take a few more steps and spend a few more dollars once in a while for the extra peace of mind. As long as priorities are covered, it’s okay to splurge a bit on extras. That might be hiring a consultant even when you have capacity in house. It might be putting redundant controls in place even though the existing controls are working fine. It might be taking a process to six sigma even though five sigma is well within tolerance. It might be going after 85% market share when you already have 75%.

It’s hard to put a cost on anxiety, but it sure feels good when it’s not there. And if you have an iPhone, go buy a LifeProof case—you’ll see what I mean.

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