Saturday, January 26, 2013

Can You Stand Being Lost?

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
Steal Like An Artist, book cover, iPhone screenshot of Kindle edition

I found myself turning the lush pages of Lynda Barry's book What It Is because I read the minimalist styled pages of Steal Like an Artist: Ten Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. In the back of the book, Austin Kleon, a fantastic living artist, left a tidy list of 10 or so books that influenced him. This one by Lynda Barry was on that list.
Lynda is another fantastic living artist who makes powerful work. She's worth sharing. Here's a nugget that struck home:
"To follow a wandering mind means having to get lost. Can you stand being lost?"
Just quoting Lynda like this isn't fair to you because it doesn't give any sense of the richness and power of her work.  Here's a photo of the page where this quote lives and breathes:
Page quote from Lynda Barry, What It Is
Photo of Page quote from Lynda Barry, What It Is, by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson
This is saturated, colorful, layered and intense.  All that and she's got great content.  Can You Stand Being Lost?
Whether clinging to vertical career paths in a gig-based labor market, expecting consistent good health throughout life, or goaling ever faster run times in the face of age, when I need my life to conform to a certain map, I am NOT standing being lost. When I need everything I do to have a purpose, to align with my goals, I am NOT standing being lost.
There's something gained by leaning into the lost times. Moses was probably on-plan when he saw the Burning Bush. He went to explore it. In a sense, he got "lost". He followed a wandering. And his life, his purpose, his mission were forever changed from what he knew before and for good.
It's important to have a plan but it's also important to wander, to stand being lost.  Both are critical to becoming. Elsewhere, in Anna Farova's book, Josef Sudek, Poet of Prague, Anna quotes Josef, a fantastic Czech photographer with a long career in photographer from the early 1900s onward:
"I have no particular leaning toward....the all too clearly defined; I prefer the living, the vital, and life is very different from geometry; simplified securing has no place in life."
New Year's resolutions seem like Sudek's geometry while the year that unfolds will be different because it is living and vital. As I begin the New Year, I have no particular leaning toward a resolution of any kind but to ask myself the question,
"Can I Stand Being Lost?"
All writing and images by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2013

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Get Rid of 100 Things

The woven reed basket under our desks was overflowing with..... What? I didn't know but 3 months ago I had pledged, in a burst of exercise-induced enthusiasm, that I would "Get Rid of 100 Things."

This is an idea I thought up all on my own.  There's no Oprah show, reality tv or Martha Stewart article urging us to do this.  It just came out of the blue.  I wanted the clarity that comes from fewer piles promised by Gretchin Rubin in The Happiness Project.

Well, in December, 2.75 months into this pledge, I had only managed to get rid of 4 things. I sold one bottle of perfume on e-bay but made a mistake about the number of ounces in the bottle so I refunded the buyer and asked her to keep the bottle for her trouble.  At least it was one thing gone. My mother like 3 of the perfumes from my overflowing collection and took those home with her.  Hence, my grand total of 4.

With the year ending soon I wanted to make some progress on the remaining 96 items. This is what brought me to stare deeply into the overflowing woven reed basket of cast offs.  Several hours of later, after untangling cords, matching cords to devices, researching possible termination points, I had a plan. By New Year's, with my husband's help, I had moved:

  • Three antiquarian cell phones dating back to 2003 through 2005 with associated chargers and car adapters to the 911 Cell Phone Bank. (9 items)
  • Assorted orphan land line cables and power cords, a shaver with cradle, a non-functioning Garmin with charger, chest strap, cables and cradle went to Green Citizen. (13 items)
  • One bag of 12 clothing items and 1 box of 23 books went to Goodwill. (35)
  • One bag of books sold back to Powell's (14)

For a grand total of 78 things! I still have 22 to go but that's not bad progress for a week.  The woven reed basket looks much tidier inside and I'm more confident about what's left in there.

Take the "Get Rid of 100 Things" pledge.  I would love to know how it goes for you and what types of things you decide to get rid of.  I'm looking for ideas myself!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Measures Matter

The metrics we chose to measure matter because they make a difference in whether or not we win.  They make a difference in whether or not we achieve our vision, our strategy and our objectives.

The reasons to measure are pretty straightforward because as Tom Peters says, "What gets measured gets done." But selecting what to measure is bit more complicated and just as critical.  For example, if you're going on a trip from New York to Paris, you may want to get there fastest, or cheapest, or in the most gracious style. If fastest, then you measure speed and total duration of the journey.  If cheapest, then you measure dollars.  If in the most gracious style, then you may have to first understand how you would know.

Similarly, in business, what you measure yields vastly different methods for the same goal.  The Oakland A's shared every baseball team's goal to win but didn't have the budget to recruit players with great batting averages, the typical metric. They found another way to win by measuring something different. They began recruiting players based on on-base percentage and slugging average because they found that these measures were better indicators of offensive success. And sure enough, they won more. Measuring something different from the other teams led to a competitive advantage.

In another example, rather than focus solely on revenue per seat metrics, Southwest Airlines began measuring aircraft turnaround time at the gate to drive a reduction in unit costs. It seems obvious but this change resulted in a competitive advantage for them.

On a professional level, what are you measuring today to determine performance for your self, your department, your charter, your business? How could you find another way to win by measuring something different? Do the current measures drive the results and success that you want?

On a personal level, what are you measuring?  The number of things accomplished, the number of people influenced, business strategies affected? What else could you measure that would result in a better life?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Core vs Context: Three Common Myths and Three Useful Tools

The phrase "core vs context" is part of the common vernacular in the business arena.  However, sometimes, the things we're sure of could use a closer examination.  It's in this spirit of seeking to understand that I re-examined Geoffrey Moore's core vs context model in his book Dealing with Darwin. First, a bit of background.

There are Two Major Distinctions
The 4 quadrants are based on 2 major distinctions:
  1. Mission Critical vs Non-Mission Critical measures whether a process shortfall creates a serious and immediate risk to revenue.  If it does, it's Mission Critical. 
  2. The Core vs Context categorization addresses whether the process creates a differentiation that wins customers.  If it does, it's Core.  If it doesn't, it's Context. Both Core and Context are Mission Critical but Context processes do not provide a strategic differentiation from competitors.

There are Four Quadrants
  1. Invent: Revenues aren't big enough to be mission critical but inventing is core to the company's future new products.
  2. Deploy: When the innovation is ready to be deployed it moves to this mission critical core quadrant.
  3. Context: The focus here is on managing mission critical processes as context at scale.
  4. Offload: Offloading non-mission critical processes frees up resources to move back to Quadrant 3 and therefore resources in 3 to move back to 2 and so on.
Three Common Myths
  1. "Core" means the majority of our revenue comes from the core.  Actually, "Core" means that the process is mission critical and the company expects the highest returns because the initiative gives them distinct competitive advantage. 
  2. If my company is looking at Core vs Context, I'll lose my job.  Ideally, you'll be able to move up the quadrant scale.  If you're currently working in 4, look for opportunities in 3.  You'll know a lot about downstream impacts that will likely be useful.  Similarly, if in Context, look at opportunities in Core. You're understanding of how to manage mission-critical processes at scale will help when deploying a differentiation at scale.  You could also move the other way.
  3. Offloading and Out-tasking are the same thing.  Out-tasking means taking some number of the tasks performed in a role or department today and moving them to an outsource which frees up internal capacity for other things.  Offloading is much larger in scope.  A good example would be the recent divestiture of the Juarez manufacturing operation where the responsibility for manufacturing the product was outsourced.
Three Useful Tools
Geoffrey Moore addresses some of this but not all. When you're working on something whether product, project or process, it's useful to know which quadrant you're working in because that suggests that certain tools will be more useful than others:
  1. When managing either in the Invent or Deploy quadrants, Agile development methods help with the uncertainty that goes along with going from the first time a new product, process or project is introduced to scale. Introducing products into new markets such as Brazil or Russia are useful examples.
  2. When managing in the Context quadrant, Moore covers the 5 levers of driving cost out of the process.  Centralizing processes under one roof and standardizing them is followed by modularizing and optimizing the process. Consolidating all project and program management functions in one place and standardizing the program management lifecycle across all functions would be a potential example.
  3. When managing in the Offload quadrant, the focus is more on de-risking the process by setting clear expectations with outside sources through service level agreements or contractual agreements.  The recent divestiture of the Cisco Scientific Atlanta Juarez manufacturing operation is an example.
If you'd like to know more, Cisco figures prominently in Moore's book, Dealing with Darwin.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Oobeya: The Project Control Room in a Virtual World

Oobeya literally means "Big Room" and is used to mean "Project Control Room". The basic concept of Oobeya of bringing visualization to knowledge work to shorten project cycle time and increase quality is not a new concept. But putting that capability in one room for all functions and using that room as the SSOT (Single Source of Truth) is rare.

The room's walls include Boards set up in cascading order for: Corporate or Project Objective--> Target or Expected Output--> Metrics--> Action Board or Concurrent Schedule Board--> Decomposition Area--> Issues (includes Potential Issues).   All of these are clustered in clockwise order around the prototype or end state.

Some of the most compelling concepts in Oobeya are:
  1. At the center of all of the big room is a visual representation of the goal, the end state, the output that the team is responsible for.
  2. The concurrent schedule board fosters concurrency similar to that of APEX, a project management collaboration tool used to develop cross-functional schedules for acquisitions at Cisco.
  3. The Decomposition Board show hot items (things that were coded red on the Action or Schedule Board) that need attention.
  4. The Issue Board shows the types of critical problems that can only be resolved by higher level management.  The person referred to must respond within 48 hours.
While this method is easy to use at home or in business settings where all team members are on-site, is this concept relevant in an age of projects that are distributed globally?  The same needs that an Oobeya satisfies exist, but they may need to be met in different ways.  With certain modifications for working from home, working remotely and global workers, it may be possible to leverage this project control concept to a virtual environment.

For example, APEX is a concurrent scheduling tool that allows all functions to create a project schedule in the same place and view it together.  It may also be possible to create an Oobeya at each site.  Signage Tools could be used to remotely refresh the board in rooms across the globe.  If collaboration portals were organized according to the Board Flow above, it may also be possible to use them to re-create this flow.

A virtual work environment certainly adds a layer of complexity or implementation difficulty to the concept but it doesn't take away the need for a project control room and for shorter project cycle times.