The Project Manifesto: Transforming Your Life and Work with Critical Chain Values came out a few weeks ago and was available for free on Kindle for a little while. I snatched it up, expecting some more good stuff from Rob Newbold.  It's another business novel, but it strays from the formula a little (no grizzled guru in this one).  And it isn't a full-length treatment of project management or critical chain, which was somewhat of a surprise. Clearly, for those who know Critical Chain, this is a key component. But the story just talks about it as a fait accompli instead of something to explain in detail.

The book's main focus is the introduction of the Project Manifesto, which takes queues from the Agile Manifesto that talks about values and which kinds of values are more important, rather than important vs unimportant. Rather than thinking about these values as in conflict*, it's that when the conflict comes up the manifesto provides a guide. And it turns out you get both if you focus on the right thing.  

Project Manifesto paradigm of the Relay Race:

  1. We value priorities over responsiveness.
  2. We value finishing over starting.
  3. We value speed over deadlines.
  4. We value shared goals over individual goals.

The story of the book is the development of these four elements of the Project Manifesto with anecdotes and discoveries from the team. And it is interesting that the authors don't spend a ton of time describing the hows and whys of each of these. Instead they provide some hints and suggestions and leave a lot to the reader's imagination.  

The narrative also develops some other concepts that Newbold and Lynch find useful in managing projects under Critical Chain, such as a set of work standards, an update checklist (before project team meetings), and a scheduling process.  Again, with my work in CCPM, these are familiar. But it is also useful to have them collected under one roof. Now I get to check them against my practice and introduction of CCPM with clients.  

* Given my background in Theory of Constraints, my ears perked up when I heard "conflict" and assumed that the conflict would be eliminated in a way that made one direction the obvious choice.  Newbold and Lynch don't bother drawing conflict diagrams, but they resolve the conflicts in a less-common way: by emphasizing A over B, the person/organization gets both.  Whereas, emphasizing B over A often nets neither.  Even when this is counter-intuitive.

One thing that the authors do that is somewhat refreshing: Implementing the project manifesto is not an easy thing, either with the emergency project that is the bulk of the book or with a full implementation that glosses over the gory details. It takes time to get people thinking a new way, and the narrative hints at the challenges and strategies they employed to really getting it working.  While some of the impacts might be felt early on in a CCPM (or Project Manifesto) implementation, the long-term effects must be monitored and guided.

Agile manifesto:

(We value):
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

Most of the novel portion of this business novel was perfectly reasonable. The one exception was the fiction on which the story revolved - an artificial intelligence that does some amazing things. I'm fine with the fiction. But I just read Daniel Suarez' Influx, which had advanced artificial intelligence as a key element of the future. I found it odd to have this in two books in a row.

This book will be something to talk about with my colleagues and friends who are running these kinds of projects. It will be interesting to see where these conversations lead.

I picked up another book recommended by a colleague - this time it's only ten years old. The 2004 book Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne has the extra-long subtitle "How To Create Uncontested Market Space And Make The Competition Irrelevant."  The book provides a way of thinking to get out of "red oceans" of violent competition and into "blue oceans" with open horizons and opportunities.

This is an important topic in thinking about any business.  How do you not just "stay ahead" of the competition, but change the playing field so that the competition can't possibly join you (right away).  The easiest example of red oceans are price wars: anyone can change the price of their offering.  Sure, price wars will eventually kill you (thus the "red ocean" in their analogy).  Blue oceans are the places where you select how you want to present your offering to the world and position it in such a way that creates a completely different pull to your business. 

The interesting thing for me was that a lot of what the authors discuss is very similar to the ideas behind the TOC community Viable Vision projects: create a capability and then find a way to capitalize on it that your competition cannot match.  Offer a unique service, speedier delivery, solve a problem for your customers, etc.  All of the ideas focus on building something internally and then finding a way to take advantage of it in a way that is unusual or surprising.  More to the point - take advantage of it in a way that the customers will want more.  Where Viable Vision focuses on creating operational capability and then capitalizing on it in some very specific ways, Blue Ocean offers guidance on how to find the ways to capitalize.

Importantly, Blue Ocean (and Viable Vision) attempt to look at the system in which the company operates: not just manufacturing or sales or the supply chain. The whole company plus its partners and customers.  "Value innovation requires companies to orient the whole system toward achieving a leap in value for both buyers and themselves."

The last third of the book talks about implementing these strategies - and change management in general. There are familiar topics that come about in many change management writings, but the authors also bring in some interesting perspectives.  I particularly liked the discussion around engaging people and the idea of "fair process" or "procedural justice." The short form is that when the process doesn't make sense or appears to be unclear, people will distrust it - and often appear to be "resisting." People are tied into the way an outcome is achieved as well as the outcome itself. 

A colleague pointed to the video and article by Fred Kofman at Linkedin, Doing Your Job May Be Hazardous To Your Career. It's a great discussion of systems thinking and ties into much of what the folks in the Theory of Constraints camp talk about.  In the first minute, he says several times some version of, "To optimize the overall system, you must sub-optimize the subsystems."  

It's obvious, maybe, but why people can't we do it?  It's built into the way we are paid.  Management by Objectives, Pay for Performance, you name it.  Almost all of these are limited to the sub-system in which they operate, not the overall.

Unfortunately, global incentives - at least the first pass version - don't work very well either. They solve some of the local incentive problems, but then they generate some of their own. They tend to be too complex and they tend to inspire free-riders.  It seems that Global incentives are harder make work than Local incentives. Every incentive system deludes you into thinking that your job is to achieve the metric. That's where they fail. Your job is not the metric, it's to help the company succeed.  Kofman suggests that while all companies struggle with this problem, those that "suck less" at it will tend to beat their competition.

Kofman uses the fun analogy of a sports team. The team goal is to score more than the opponent.  But if the defense is paid to prevent scores, they might be happier losing 0-1, instead of winning 5-4.  And if the offense is paid to score, they might be happier losing 4-5, instead of winning 1-0.  As Kofman says, "Multiply by a million, and you have a company - every company."

Here is the introduction to the talk.  Go have a listen if you are intrigued.

Your job is not what you do, but the goal you pursue. Your real goal, however, is not your individual KPI, but the team’s goal. Whether you play defense or offense, your real goal is to help your team to win the game.

FansA colleague has raved about the Ken Blanchard book, Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach To Customer Service, for years.  I only just recently unearthed a copy and gave it a read. As with many of Blanchard's other writings, it is a short story (the blurb on the back cover calls it a "parable") teaching a lesson. The lesson makes sense, but the story is rather wacky.

The lesson is that business survives because of its customers.  And customers that love your business and the service you provide are the ones that will come back, tell others, and help your business grow.  The customers you have because no one else provides anything better or because you abuse them just as much as the competition aren't customers you are going to have for very long.  This book was first published in 1993, and this lesson has only gotten stronger now that people can talk and share experiences easily.  Recent customer service success stories, like that of Zappos, have a lot of connections to what this book suggests.

The specific recommendation has three components: Decide what you want. Discover what the customer wants. Deliver plus one.  It is your business, you have to decide what you want it to be and how you want to deliver value.  Yes, you need to understand what is important, but you cannot be all things to all people.  Decide what it is that you are about first.  This will help set your own boundaries, so you can think about how you are going to do these things in the face of the actual customers and the competition.  Once you know what you want, discover what the customer wants.  Then you can see how their needs fits with your vision of the business. The authors make the point that going right to the discover step without deciding what you want leads to being whiplashed by every possible customer desire.  You might realize a need to change your own vision - but make it yours.  Or you might see that your vision doesn't align with what some customers want and that they would be better served elsewhere.  Finally, with these two pieces in place, then focus on delivering consistently and delivering that little extra.  This is the key to creating those raving fans. You provide consistent delivery, and there is always something new or extra beyond the expectations.  Of course, this means a constant revisiting of all these steps because once the "extra" becomes standard, the larger picture may change.

Some other ideas and quotes I found interesting:

  • Exceeding expectations is important, but it is more important to consistently meet expectations.
  • Use systems, not rules.  Systems are a predetermined way to achieve a result.  And the result is the focus, the system should be allowed to change.  Rules tend to be fixed and people try to follow them mindlessly.
  • Systems allow you to deliver a minimum standard of performance consistently.  They give you a floor, not a ceiling.

The story, however, is so wacky as to make me want to discount the value of the central ideas. The central figure is a hapless sales manager who has to turn around the declining fortunes of his department (and the company).  Who should appear but a fairy godfather!  Yes, a fairy godfather.  

[Photo: "Fans - And we really mean FANS!" by Anne Bennett] - p.s. I went to Ohio State. Go Bucks!

A friend described an interesting analogy to me, and I am going to recreate it here.  

When planning a project, are you more interested in the dates every activity happens, or are you more interested in how all the activities are connected together?  Which focus will guarantee success?  

The answer depends a little on what kind of work you are planning.  Event-based planning focuses on the sequence of activities needed to complete the project.  Time-based planning focuses on the time available and attempts to get as much done as possible, according to the clock.  

And here is where the analogy comes in.  In baseball, there is a clear sequence of activities from the first inning to the ninth inning.  There is even allowance for ending early (if the home team is leading after the top of the 9th), or for extending the game when there is a tie.  The primary focus is executing the events required to get to a win, not how much time it will take.  (The longest professional baseball game was a 33-inning minor league game in 1981.)  This is an event-based project with an understood sequence to get to the successful conclusion.  

Time-based planning focuses on the timing, regardless of what happens in a given time bucket. In soccer (or football to the rest of the world), the match is played for a specific time. Each time period is controlled, and there are very few reasons to pause the clock.  Depending on the league, there are rules for adding time to the play - all decided on the field by the referee.  But if you are a soccer fan, you can expect nearly every match to be done in 90 minutes (plus a 15 minute halftime).  The resulting score may be nil-nil or a 5-6 nail biter.  The primary focus is time, not the activities within the match. (Association Football on Wikipedia).

Trying to run a baseball game to a clock would end up in a very different game.  And trying to set a soccer match based on the number of possessions or goals or some other event-based rules would give you another game altogether.  I won’t comment on whether this would be more or less interesting. 

If you are trying to run an event-based project by locking down all the work to a clock or a calendar, I would wager that you will not get what you think.  Similarly, if you try to describe an Agile time box by the sequence of events to be executed, you would be thrown out of the daily standup after about 2.3 minutes.

I don’t quite know how to stretch the analogy, but there is another aspect of these approaches - variability.  There is always variability in human endeavors (look at the scores of those baseball games and soccer matches).  For event-based projects, the way to manage variability is with strategically placed time buffers. Time-based projects must have a buffer of scope to handle variability.  

The whole reason I am writing this is that people too often mix these things together.  They try to play a baseball game with a time clock.  Each event in a plan is given a start and finish date with no acknowledgement of variability, even though it is build into the individual tasks. There is no opportunity to finish early or start early, and there is often no real punishment for finishing the individual activities late.  Unfortunately, the result is usually a game no one enjoys. The project team must decide to either to reduce scope or extend the time. (And often spend more money in the process.)  

If you are playing baseball, throw out the timer.  In event-based projects, figure out what the flow of work needs to be to successfully accomplish the project. Buffer the overall project. And execute like the project actually matters.

Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher (Bias musicus)I’ve written here a few times about cognitive biases. They encompass a wide variety of mental phenomena. Blind spots, biases, etc. etc.  They enable fast thinking based on patterns and previous experiences. One assumes this is valuable for instantaneous decision making. But when “the good gets in the way of the best,” it’s a source of interest for many people.  

A friend pointed me to the The March 2014 Scientific American piece on Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones (intro only) by Merim Bilalić and Peter McLeod that talks about the Einstellung Effect.  (An earlier version of the article is available as When Good Thoughts Block Better Ones by Merim Bilalić, Peter McLeod and Fernand Gobet published in Cognition in 2008.) 

This particular cognitive bias is the “I have a hammer, therefore everything is a nail.”  They demonstrate this through chess players who get locked into a favorite closing move, even though there is an even better closing move on the table. There’s a sidebar on how they did the research. Of course, this doesn’t only happen with chess players - the original Einstellung research was on doing relatively simple math problems.  And we see ourselves getting stuck with familiar solutions all the time - at least I see myself getting stuck on familiar when there might be opportunities for better solutions if I were to just step back and think differently.

It would be nice to see more discussion of how to break oneself of the bias.  The Scientific American article suggests that people overcome the bias as they gain more expertise - I suspect this is because they gain more experience that tells them to look beyond the first solution.  The article also said that even Grand Masters are not infallible.

It is entertaining that the earlier paper closes with a 400-year-old quote from Francis Bacon. (And the SA article with a quote from Darwin.)  This isn’t something people are just noticing:

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion ... draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects; in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate. ... Men mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happen much oftener, neglect and pass them by. But with far more subtlety does this mischief insinuate itself into philosophy and the sciences, in which the first conclusion colours and brings into conformity with itself all that comes after ... It is the peculiar and particular error of the human intellect to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than negatives (p. 36 of Novum Organum).

[Photo: "Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher (Bias musicus)" by Tom Tarrant]

Several weeks ago I spoke with Ralph Marlbrough at APQC on a variety of topics, centered around their themes of critical knowledge.  I couldn’t help myself, and we blew through the 30 minutes we had allotted to talk, and the result is two blog posts on the APQC website.  The first was posted last week, Identifying Critical Knowledge Starts with Good Collaboration.  And the second posted on Monday, Transferring Critical Knowledge in a Crisis.  It was a fun conversation, and I couldn’t help weave together the knowledge management topics with the operational excellence work I have been doing as well.  

Here’s how they introduced the discussion: 

APQC recently interviewed Jack Vinson on a wide range of topics regarding transferring critical knowledge. In part one of our interview, he talks about why identifying critical knowledge can be a difficult collaboration between management and workers. In part two, Jack will discuss the challenge of transferring and using critical knowledge during a crisis.

Thanks again for the discussion, APQC.

I just re-read The Choice, Revised Edition by Eli Goldratt and Efrat Goldratt-Ashlag.  My first reading was of the pre-publication galleys, when it was being called Inherent Simplicity (my review).  There is a paragraph in the appendix that summaries the book:

There are two alternatives: one is to bitch about reality and the other is to harvest the gifts it just gave us. This is what I call the freedom of choice. (p. 240 - final page)

The book is setup as a discussion / debate between Eli and Efrat (father and daughter) around the topics of “how do I think” (like a scientist)? and “how can I have a full life?”  The discussion is interspersed with notes from Eli Goldratt to his colleagues on observations he was making in working with clients.  These notes were used to illustrate the concepts that arose in the discussion. The way they were used seemed to be contrived - but I wouldn’t be completely surprised if this wasn’t something Eli Goldratt did with his close associates (and family).

The updated version of the book includes a set of thinking notes, presented as Efrat’s Notes, in the back that act as another way to think about the written dialog. They read like notes and include maps of main ideas.  I thought of them as a study guide.  In terms of summarizing the book, the final map does an excellent job.

The book includes the logic diagram which I attempted to recreate here and explain below.

The Choice logic

In order to have a full life, one needs to have enough meaningful successes. To gain the successes, one has to keep trying - to have the stamina to get up after failing.  But this isn’t all, one also needs to have the opportunities in which to have the chance to success (or fail).  And, since most of those successes aren’t going to come from independent efforts, one must be able to collaborate with people.  

In the articulation of the book, all three of these things (stamina, opportunities, collaboration) are all depended on thinking clearly - and more specifically on overcoming a set of common obstacles that people face. Obstacles that prevent them from thinking clearly and creating the necessary conditions for having a full life.  These are (obstacle —> opposite)

  • The perception that reality is complex —> Every situation is simple
  • Accepting conflicts as given —> Every conflict can be removed (nature abhors contradictions)
  • Blaming people for problems —> People are good. There is always a win-win.
  • Thinking that you know —> Every situation can be substantially improved.

Of course, each of these points gets significant discussion in the course of the book.  And each point could be a source of its own blog post. I like how these all hang together. It helps that I have been participating in a number of Theory of Constraints communities and conferences, and these ideas have come up several times.

One thing that was interesting was the idea of the “mystery analysis” or what people should do when confronted a surprising result. Rather than accepting the result, it is my responsibility to discover why the result was so significantly different from expectations. This is the OODA loop or Plan-Do-Check-Act or POOGI or any of the continuous improvement cycles.  The focus here is on checking what I was thinking about the situation, rather than on the situation itself.  What did I misunderstand about the system that created the vastly different result?  And it ties together some of the ideas around the last obstacle to thinking clearly - “thinking that you know”. This is also directly related to Eli Schragenheim’s talk on Learning the TOC Way from last year’s TOC ICO conference.

Ron Friedmann has a great find in law firm continuous improvement Clifford Chance Adopts Continuous Improvement Program

[This month] Clifford Chance, one of the largest law firms in the world, published a white paper called Applying Continuous Improvement to high-end legal services.  I view it as a potential turning point in BigLaw.

Ron offers a great summary, if you just want the top level. The white paper itself provides the detail and suggests this isn’t something new - Clifford Chance have been pursuing this effort for five years.

Given the language in the white paper, they are primarily talking about Lean and Six Sigma approaches to continuous improvement. Happily, they don’t go crazy with the “insider” language of these disciplines - I am guessing that this white paper is as much an advertisement and position paper aimed at their customers as it is a means to talk about application of these ideas in an unconventional environment.

I’m also encouraged to see language like “people need to agree that there is a problem” before any solution is developed or implemented.  And they have been brining in their client where those improvement efforts related to client engagements - especially where the client plays a part in creating the improvement.   

I see that they are doing the familiar internal training to bring everyone into the continuous improvement fold. I hope they aren’t making the common assumption that optimizing everywhere is going to lead to success. They need a focusing process as well.

The report’s summary of the results thus far point to internal cost savings (what about the bottom line?) and significant speed improvements. Of course, their clients are seeing these benefits too. I like the comment that improved speed has a ripple effect into their clients’ customer - helping to improve service at that level as well.  One almost throwaway comment said they have seen speed improvements of up to 50% - I would probably trumpet that one a little louder!

There are a number of interesting tidbits and a few case studies in the white paper to give a flavor of the projects they’ve undertaken.  I like one of the closing thoughts about continuous improvement, so I will close with it as well:

Continuous Improvement will, at some point, change from being something that we do ‘to’ the way we work and will simply become the way we work.

Are successes because of the design or despite the design?  What about failures?

Dr. Richard Cook of the Cognitive Technologies Lab has been researching complex systems for 25+ years.  He published a short pdf 15 years ago, called How Complex Systems Fail or "Short Treatise on the Nature of Failure; How Failure is Evaluated; How Failure is Attributed to Proximate Cause; and the Resulting New Understanding of Patient Safety”.  He presents a series of 18 points on how complex systems are designed (how they emerge?) and where they typically fail.  I like his point that there are rarely true single failures in these systems - rather it is often a collection of small failures or changes that end up creating the circumstances for the failure to happen.  Pinning the cause on one event (or a person) is often the wrong answer.

Interestingly, the work I have been doing in TOC takes a different view of systems and the forces that drive them. Of course, TOC isn’t usually looking at failures per se, but rather a system that isn’t working as well as it could. But in a system with many moving parts, the changes need to be thought through in terms of potentially negative ramifications. Or “the system” will resist the change because it has been designed - explicitly or implicitly - to work under the old way of doing things.  And, of course, TOC has a deep belief in inherent simplicity of systems, rather than the default assumption that everything is complex.  But these are different ideas of complex.

He also presented at the O’Reilly Velocity 2012 conference on the same topic, though he introduced it as “How Complex Systems Don’t Fail” - or why they don’t fail as often as it seems like they should. This was recorded as a ~30 minute video.  He covers some of the same ground that is in the paper, but he also brings out the ideas of resilience and the engineering that does into designing systems.

For those people interested in Theory of Constraints, there are some nice videos out there that describe the idea and the impact this way of thinking can have.  

A lot of what TOC’s ideas provide is a way to help people focus. This video from amdocs is a both a high-level description of Critical Chain Project Management and a great way to get a sense of the impact on how people think about their work differently.  

And then there are the TOC Thinking Processes that help people focus on what they are trying to do. Used together, they are a whole set of tools that take you from Goals to Current Reality to Future Reality to the Transition to that new reality.  Philip Marris recently published a series of 7 videos with Bill Dettmer, author of The Logical Thinking Processes (my review) and longtime TOC writer and thinker.  The series is probably all from one interview, broken into digestible chunks that talks about the full suite of TOC thinking processes (in Bill’s terms).  The interviewer is Erik Mano.

The sequence of the Thinking Tools is always interesting to me. Dettmer adds a Goal Tree that describes the goal of the overall system, which then helps frame the following pieces (part 2).  The Current Reality Tree helps people think through the underlying cause(s) behind challenges to reaching the goal (part 3). Evaportating Clouds (conflict clouds) help individuals and organizations think through all sorts of conflicts, but in the context of this series it is the Change vs. Don’t Change conflict analysis (part 4). From here you can build the Future Reality Tree (FRT) to take in the injections developed in the problem-solving process and check whether they will produce the desired results AND that they don’t create new undesired results - also known as preventing negative branches (part 5).  With that together, the team can build a plan to get to the new solution with the Prerequisite Tree (part 6). The Thinking Processes are frequently used for problem resolution, but they can equally be used to formulate a strategy to reach a new level of performance (part 7).

Teleos and The KNOW Network have announced its 2013 Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises (MAKE) Award winners for the Worldwide awards as well as some of the other regional winners.

The World’s Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises for 2013 are Accenture,, Apple, ConocoPhillips, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Fluor, Google, IBM, Infosys Limited, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft, POSCO, PwC, Samsung Group, Schlumberger, Tata Group, Toyota, Vale S.A., and Wipro Limited.  And it is Samsung that took the overall.  Read the article for more details about each of the companies and a brief description about why they made the list.

KNOW Network has also announced a variety of other related awards: 

Picture a steaming coffee cup. Better yet, grab one and have a read!

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