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 self-assessment

Posted by on in Program Management

Happy Friday, everyone!

As we’re wrapping up another week, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on—wrapping up. There are lots of things you could wrap up: a conversation, meeting, client engagement, project, program, or even a large-scale strategic implementation. In all cases, it pays to intentionally spend some time in review of what happened. In Deming’s classic Plan, Do, Check, Act management method, this would be the Check phase. Six Sigma, in true form, has formalized this process and it’s called a Plus Delta.

Although more structured than an ad-hoc review, the Plus Delta is really a loosely defined construct. The Plus part attempts to discover what went right, and the Delta part attempts to discover what could be improved. Notice that there’s no Minus, this is intentional.

Concerning yourself with what went wrong has three problems. First, it’s negative. Call me a typical, California bliss-head if you must, but negative talk is just not empowering. Second, it encourages ratholes. For some reason people love to complain about what went wrong. It’s easy to have the discussion devolve into a huge moan and groan session if you start going down this path. Third and most importantly, there’s very little value in what went wrong. It’s like telling a restaurant server who’s taking your order, “Well, I don’t like lima beans or liver.” Okay, but it doesn’t say much about what you would like to eat now.

Exploring a Delta, or what could be improved, is a much more constructive conversation. However, don’t let you or your collaborators spin this into a Minus conversation. After the Plus, it’s easy for people to assume it’s time to talk about the Minus, even if you call it a Delta. This is not clever management-speak, Deltas and Minuses are two different topics.

Finally, if this session has a title, please don’t call it a post-mortem. As you probably know, this is latin for after death. What kind of cynic came up with this crazy term? I’d rather call the session a post-victoria!

So, the next time you hold a post-victoria, try the Plus Delta format. You’ll find it sets you up nicely for the next time around.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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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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