Posts Tagged ‘process’

Fantasy vs. reality during project execution can be a major concern for the project manager and the team. “No good deed goes unpunished” might be the project motto. This seems rather dark but it is a common project reality. Assuming everyone has the best of intentions how could this happen? It can be summed in a word, “disconnect.” What is maddening is how this disconnect can be subtle and imperceptible, being spread out across the entire organization rather than focused at one location.

The Truth(s)

One would assume with intelligent, disciplined, competent people from top to bottom that harmony would be the order of the day. So, what happens? It has to do with the “truth.”

Truth is anything but an isolated, stand-alone reality. Truth is always embedded in a belief system. Belief systems are shaped by experience. As one travels through the various levels of hierarchy and across disciplines, experiences shift and the truth is in tow.

Imagine people at different altitudes looking at the project through a tube with a lens at the end, a lens that changes with their stakeholder position. Everyone gets the same light radiating from the same project but the truth varies from person-to-person. The relief effort in Haiti is a good example.

Suffering continues in Haiti. The project goal is frustrated. A year after the hurricane billions of dollars contributed to help the Haitians languish. While project managers are frustrated and impotent, those higher up feel they are being quite responsible by insisting criteria be met before funds are released.

The Solutions(s)

Is someone wrong? A better question is, “Why the disconnect?” Staying with international aid, project managers who have resources available may be in a situation where achieving their immediate goal of providing relief may require negotiating locally in a manner that goes against the grain of stated strategic political policies and procedures.

Aircraft maintenance is another example. A mechanic in the field can be faced with a problem not defined in the policies and procedures yet they need to get the airplane functioning and back in service. All this needing to be done with the tools and resources available.

What can develop are two sets of books, one set is informal and spread throughout the maintenance community and the other is the official set used to show compliance with stated methodologies. There is the danger of punishment if caught. Why? It goes against the “truth” as seen by those with power working at a distance (in all its meanings). There’s nothing unusual about this. Readers working in other professions probably have similar stories.

The Challenge

One of the project manager’s jobs is working the interfaces between all those truth systems and doing so in a way their integrity remains intact. It is a classic case of situational leadership. In the next blog we will look at other examples of what can happen when there is insistence from senior management that stated methods and policies and procedures be followed.

Quality #13: Reviews can be fun (if done right)

by Tanmay Vora on January 19, 2010

Last year, in November, I posted 12 posts on QUALITY in the form of QUALITYtweets, on Active Garage. It didn’t quite seem right to stop just there… when there is so much still left to say about QUALITY!

Here are the first twelve posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality
  8. Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual
  9. Quality #9: Quality of Relationship and Communication
  10. Quality #10: Inspection can be a waste if…
  11. Quality #11: Driving Change Through Leadership
  12. Quality #12: Middle Management and Quality Culture

#QUALITYtweet Make every review meeting a learning

experience by reviewing the product

and process, not people.

We create, we review and we make it better. Reviews are an integral part of product/service quality improvement. The core purpose of any review process is to “make things better” by re-examining the work product and find out anomalies or areas of improvements that the creator of the work product was not able to find.

Establishing a good review process in an organization requires management commitment and investment, but for returns that it generates, the effort is totally worth it. In software world, a lot of emphasis is given to formal inspections, but they work best when a formal process marries with a set of common sense rules. Here they go:

1) Reviewing early

Reviews in early phase of product development means that findings are less costly to resolve. The later defects are found, more expensive it gets to resolve those defects.

2) Staying positive

The art of review is to report negative findings (problems) without losing the positive undertone of communication. Negative or destructive criticism will only make the process more burdensome. Stay positive and keep the process lightweight.

3) Keeping review records

When a lot of time is spent on reviewing, it makes sense to track the findings to closure. Recording the finding helps you to effectively track the closure and trends.

4) Reviewing process, not the person

Always question the process and not the person. Human beings are bound to make mistakes, which is why reviews are required. So accept that mistakes will happen. How can we have a more effective process so that these mistakes are not repeated? That is the critical question.

Imagine that Bob is the reviewer of John’s work product and consider the following conversations:

Bob: “John, I reviewed the code of invoices module developed by you. Again this time, you have not implemented the architecture correctly. You committed the same mistakes that were also found in the registration module earlier.”

OR

Bob: “John, I reviewed the code of invoices module developed by you and your team. We have found some anomalies in the architecture implementation. I just wanted to know if the team had undergone the workshop on our standard architecture. If not, we should invite our systems architect to take a small workshop on system architecture so that the team has better clarity on how it can be best implemented.”

Two conversations with a totally different outlook. The first conversation tries to blame the producer where as the second conversation tries to assess the process and take corrective actions.

5) Training and more training

Reviewers can make huge mistakes if they are not trained. If you don’t invest in training your review teams, you cannot expect them to do it right, the first time.

6) Reviewing iteratively

Review often. During the course of product building, product needs may change. New ideas may be implemented. Keep review process constant amidst all these changes. Discipline is the key.

7) Reviewing the process of reviewing

Are we reviewing it right? Are we reviewing the right things? Periodically, assess the results and the benefits of having a review process. Assess how reviews helped improve product quality. In process assessment, also identify if people are heavily relying on reviews. It that is the case, it is a bad sign.

Success of any process depends on 2 E’s – Efficient and Enjoyable. Same holds true for your review processes. Review is a control mechanism, and hence the focus on getting it right the first time is still very important. A good review is just an internal quality gate that ensures that internal customers (reviewers) are happy with the final product. If your internal customers are happy, your external customers will be happy too!

Author’s Journey #3 – What should you write about?

by Roger Parker on January 7, 2010

Roger-Step1-Plan“Write what you know!” is a frequently heard statement.

So is, “Write about your passion!”

Yet, is that all there is to writing a successful brand-building book?

In this Author Journey segment, I’d like to share a simple, 3-step process for taking your choice of book topic to the next level. Because, no matter how much you love the topic you’re writing about, it’s your market that ultimately determines your book’s success…as well as the client relationships and profits that your book generates for your business or your employer.

So, I encourage you to look beyond your interest in your topic, and examine your ideal reader’s desired change.

Change and nonfiction book success

The starting point to planning a successful book, one that builds your brand and drives traffic to your business, is to identify the change that your market desires.

Going back to the basics, readers purchase fiction and historical nonfiction books, like David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of Building the Brooklyn Bridge, for entertainment. These books are discretionary purchases; they are wanted because the subject matter or the author’s style will provide pleasure while reading.

Readers buy nonfiction books, like self-help, career success, marketing, or business leadership, however, to solve problems and achieve goals. To the extent that the problem, or unachieved goal, causes pain, costs money, or wastes time, books that address these books become necessities–and can be outstandingly successful.

If you can’t figure out how to get on Facebook.com, for example, or no one is following you on Twitter.com–or your department is experiencing unusually high employee turnover–books that address these issues are relatively recession-proof. These books become necessities rather than luxuries. The higher the pain, or lost opportunity costs, the more urgently readers will want your book.
Reader-Change-Planner

How to profit from your ideal reader’s desire for change

In order to enjoy the greatest rewards from writing and publishing a book, you have to go through a  simple process, as shown in the Reader Change Planner example shown at left.

The Reader Change Planner guides you through a simple 4-step process. These steps include:

  1. Select your most desired readers, the market segment you most want to attract to your business. (I discussed how to do this was described in Author Journey #2).
  2. Review the characteristics of your most desired readers. This will ensure that your marketing message will align with their attitudes and communication style.
  3. Identify your desired reader’s problems and unachieved goals. Ask the popular, but appropriate, saying goes, What’s keeping them awake at night? The more you can identify your desired market’s hot-buttons, the easier it will be to write the book they want to buy and read.
  4. Create a process, or step-by-step plan. Identify the steps that readers can follow solving their problems or achieving their goals. Provide them with a book that serves the same function as an instruction sheet or Mapquest driving instructions.

Coming up with a logical process, or sequence of actions, is the key step in choosing the right contents for a nonfiction book. It’s the step that will convert your vague yearning to write a book into a reader-pleasing content plan that will guide you as you write your book. It’s also the step that makes your book magnetically desirable to readers.

The importance of a process

Process is the key word. Process sends all the right messages. Process builds your prospective reader’s confidence in your book. Process implies knowledge and organization. Process eliminates uncertainty; it projects certainty.

Finally, process simplifies the apparent effort involved in obtaining change. Process breaks big projects into an organized series of smaller, more doable, tasks.

If I tell you, for example, that writing a book involves 47 (hypothetical) tasks, you’re going to think, That’s a lot of work!

But, on the other hand, if I tell you that writing a book involves 4 steps, Planning, Writing, Promoting, & Profiting, the process immediately appears a bit more feasible.

Taking action with sections & chapters

What works for you in the above 4-steps to Writing Success example will work for your intended readers, too.

Begin thinking in terms of the major steps that have to be accomplished in order for your readers to solve their problems or accomplish their goals. Your 3, 4, 5, or 7 steps will become the sections of your book.

Each of these sections will contain 2 or 3, or however many are needed, chapters. Each chapter will correspond to the major tasks needed to solve your reader’s problems or accomplish their goals.

By following the 4-step program described above, you’ll not only end-up writing a more useful and desirable book, but you’ll also find it easier to figure out what you should write about!

In the next Author Journey installment, we’ll address the importance of analyzing existing books in your field and using them as a guide to positioning your book relative to its competition.

Offer

If the idea of a Reader Change Worksheet appeals to you, drop me an e-mail at Roger@Publishedandprofitable.com. I’ll send the first 10 who respond a PDF copy of the Reader Identification Worksheet shown above. (Please mention Reader Change Planner in the subject line. Thank you.)

Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual

by Tanmay Vora on November 18, 2009

Welcome to the eighth post in this 12-part series on QUALITY, titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first seven posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality

#QUALITYtweet The best practices are contextual – they

worked well for someone in a given context. Are you

applying them in the right context?

Imagine a doctor prescribing a standard medicine based on common symptoms without carefully analyzing other ailments and patient history. A doctor knows the best medicine to cure a particular ailment, but he would look at a patient’s context and then decide if the “best medicine” is really best for a particular patient.

Process managers play a role of doctors for the organizations. They have to identify all possible problems (symptoms) and then suggest a solution (medicine). Best medicines for different types of ailments are termed as “best practices” in business.

Best practices are a set of processes that, in a given context, have the best likelihood of delivering quality products or services. In equation of context identification, some of the variables are:

  • Your goals as an organization
  • Market segment you operate in
  • Your target customers
  • Nature of your product / services
  • Types of customer you already serve
  • Team capabilities and internal alignment
  • Management commitment and sponsorship to improvement initiatives
  • External market pressures (e.g. recession)

The list can go on. Best practices often tend to ignore these variables because they worked in past for someone in a particular context. Their context may be different, but never a static one. Implementing best practice without considering organization’s context is like prescribing a standard medicine without looking into symptoms. Both can be equally dangerous!

So how are best practices useful? Studying best practices can give you some very useful insights on possible solutions for your business challenge. They offer alternative perspectives on ideas that can minimize your risks.

For process improvement experts, having access to best practices can be their biggest asset. But their ability to apply those best practices in an organization’s context is absolutely mandatory for success. As a professional, there is no fun in having a best practice for everything and a solution for nothing!

As an organization, you can leverage best practices by carefully studying them and mapping with your unique business challenges. For this, improvement managers need to understand nuts and bolts of business. Once the context is understood, best practices can become your best guide so that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Depending on context, you can either implement a best practice as it is or select portions of a best practice that can be most useful for your context.

Simply believing that a best practice will work for you just because it worked for someone else in the past and applying them in vacuum can harm you more than it can help.

There are no silver-bullets in business and things like context and innovation does play a huge role. As one of the Dilbert comic says – “If everyone is doing it, best practices is the same thing as mediocre”.

Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality

by Tanmay Vora on November 11, 2009

This is the third part of a 12-part series titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first two posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention

#QUALITYtweet No certification will

save the project if you staff it with

poor resources

Great quality is always a result of good people working passionately towards organizations goals. People can be your strongest (or weakest) link that has the strong influence in quality of your deliverable.

In the process improvement initiative, if due consideration is not given to the people aspect, processes manuals and specifications can easily give you a false confidence that everything will go as per the process. People form the core of any project because they write specifications, understand, design and develop your solutions.

I believe that organizations need good people to deliver quality – process acts as a catalyst to drive the success and manage risks. People are always the strongest or the weakest link in the success or failure of a project.

One of the key challenges for managers/leaders is to build a “quality aware” team where people know that quality is everybody’s responsibility.

For example, having a set of development guidelines or testing guidelines does not stop an individual from developing a bad product. Ability to develop a good product, associate it with business understanding and finding optimized ways of accomplishing things is an art – an intrinsic ability. Focus should be on people because they develop solutions with the help of a process (whether a formal or personal process).

Processes help you create a right management framework, manage risks, measure outcomes and take right decisions. Processes should act as a tool and help people perform better. Knowing the priorities, business model and having insight on what has really worked for you in the past is crucial to see that processes drive growth and not become an overhead.

Recipe for great quality is to have right people following right processes employing right tools at a right time.

Quality #2:“Cure” precedes “Prevention”

by Tanmay Vora on November 10, 2009

Cure or preventionThis is the second part of a 12-part series titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture. This series will provide 12 relevant insights on how organizations can improve their quality culture through people, processes and leadership.

#QUALITYtweet Never let your processes

come in the way of solving your

customer’s immediate problems

I recently saw a very popular and award-winning Indian movie where a goon decides to become a doctor to fulfill his father’s dream. He cheats in entrance test and gets into a medical school, only to notice the impersonal attitude of doctors and their bureaucratic relationship with patients.

On the first day of his college, as he walks towards the class room, he notices a patient in critical condition waiting to get admitted to hospital. He is in a critical condition and his relatives are struggling to get the admission form which needs to be filled as a mandatory process for getting admitted. This deeply annoys the protagonist who then proceeds to the induction session. When the Dean’s introduction lecture gets over, the protagonist asks him in front of all other students, “When a patient is in a critical condition, is it necessary to fill up the admission form? If the patient lost his life, who will be responsible?” This agitates the dean who walks out of the room without giving any answer.

This movie sequence contains a great lesson for the organizations – “Never let your processes come in the way of solving your customer’s immediate problems.”

Your processes should have flexibility to allow your people to solve customer’s burning problems. “Cure” precedes Prevention”. You can think of prevention after you have learned how to solve immediate problems of your customer.

How do we achieve this? Here are some pointers:

  1. Constantly review processes to identify redundancies that can be removed to simplify the process.
  2. Identify processes that are designed to “save the turf” but not related to actual customer service or value.
  3. Create an action plan of how these processes can be changed to simplify.
  4. Automate critical processes in form of applications that are easily accessible and easy to use.
  5. Train middle management to develop a customer-oriented mindset.
  6. Lead the team from front and set right examples of what customer-orientation looks like.
  7. Once immediate customer problem is solved, assess the opportunity to improve process and prevent similar occurrences.
  8. Make people nearest to customer accountable for customer satisfaction. Base your rewards on customer satisfaction and not on metrics.
  9. Keep doing these activities continuously.

Process is a tool that we use to deliver better services. The same process, if applied rigidly, can become your biggest obstacle in solving customer’s burning problems. In business critical situations, empathy towards customer’s business is as important as having a process. That is the hallmark of a customer-centric process culture.