Posts Tagged ‘robust’

Resilience engineering (RE) supports personal success, adaptation, and growth. Remember the definition of resilience?

Resilient: A system is resilient when it can adapt to internal and external challenges by changing its method of operations while continuing to function. While elements of the original system are present there is a fundamental shift in core activities that reflects adapting to the new environment.

This applies to personal life quite well. The question is, “How?” How can this be, especially when a lot of what’s been presented in this series has to do with accident models? The answer lies in where RE places its focus – it is actually on success. RE is about looking at the socio-technical complex and determining how success is sustainable. To do that there is a need to pay close attention to failures. Consequently, the accident models are “out front,” so to speak.

Okay, that sounds fine but what about the fact one has a busy life and working on changing oneself while getting other things done seems a bit too much? Also, isn’t this for presidents, CEOs, and prime ministers? It is for all of us.

Mythology is filled with stories about the threat of falling apart if the hero continues striving to move forward dealing with obstacles seemingly impossible to conquer. There is the threat of losing it all because life is complex and complexity can let failure emerge just as much as success. The way to increase the odds of success is to be resilient and change with the dancing terrain.

Carl Jung was a big believer in this. According to Jung we each need to be our own hero or heroine. He felt the job or station we have in life had a primary purpose of helping us discover who we really are. The job itself is a vehicle rather than an end in itself.

So what does this have to do with resilience? Look at it this way, think of robustness. In the previous blog Rupert Murdoch’s mistake had to do with robustness. Remember that definition?

Robust: A system is robust when it can continue functioning in the presence of internal and external challenges without fundamental changes to the original system.

He put his goals first and lost sight of what was happening. He just keeps on doing what has always worked in the past and continually tries to amplify it.

There’s a saying in Buddhism:

Paying attention and living by habits are mutually exclusive.

Paying attention is resilient. Living by habits is robust.

What does this all come down to? Is there a difficult person who has the power to influence your life? Do you feel they distract you from your work? Jung would say deciding how to take ownership of your situation and respond to that person comes first. The desire to have your job go the way it always did is the distraction. That difficult person is a wake up call asking what principles are important and what is the best way to use them.

Behaving this way shows others you are working from an inner force that is self-directing. You have a plan and are sticking to it. People see something they want for themselves and will allow you to influence them. This is power.

Thus, the paradox is by taking care of oneself and maintaining commitment to something bigger even while things are in flux the leader emerges.

Be resilient!

Resilience Engineering #8: Rupert Murdoch’s Folly

by Gary Monti on August 2, 2011

Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation’s latest problems provide ample opportunity to show both what happens when resilience engineering is ignored and how important it is for success in business and project management. It also provides an opportunity to point out the shortcomings of the domino and barrier models, both of which were described in previous blogs.

If you haven’t heard, the issue is illegal hacking of cell phones of crime victims to gain inside information and “scoop” the other tabloids thereby keeping their tabloid, “News of the World (NoW),” circulation at the top of the heap in the British market and continue to maintain substantial influence in British politics. During a Parliament committee hearing both Rupert and his son, James, said they were shocked, appalled and surprised to find out that phone hacking and other illegal activities were endemic in their tabloid.

Mr. Murdoch said it was the humblest day of his life. He apologized for everything but took responsibility for nothing. He stated, “I feel people I trusted – I don’t know who, on what level – have let me down, and I think they have behaved disgracefully, and it’s for them to pay.”

He went on to claim he did not know that 1.6 million pounds were paid out to two victims of phone hacking. Nor did he know the tabloid was paying the ongoing legal fees of a guilty private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, and reporter Clive Goodman who were convicted in 2007 of hacking into the phones of the royal family’s staff. He also went on to say he would not step down as chairman of News Corporation and that he is the best person to handle an investigation as to what went wrong.

This is the domino accident model at its finest, or should I say worst. Find the “bad apple,” punish him/her, and throw the bum out.

But wait! There’s more! And it is worse! The flaws of the barrier model come into play when looking at the firing of the former editor of the now-defunct NoW, Rebekah Brooks, whose job it was to maintain the barrier model and validate the veracity of and methods used to obtain information the tabloid would publish. She was to make sure no ill-gotten information was used. But she consistently delivered what was desired and that was the end of it in terms of auditing.

These approaches are disingenuous by trying to say those in charge are almost as much a victim as the true victims of the hackings. But is that the case? NoW had a very robust model that consistently gained what it was after and Murdoch stuck to it.

Let’s explore and start by going back to the first blog in this series and get basic definitions for robust vs. resilient behavior.

Robust: A system is robust when it can continue functioning in the presence of internal and external challenges without fundamental changes to the original system.

Resilient: A system is resilient when it can adapt to internal and external challenges by changing its method of operations while continuing to function. While elements of the original system are present there is a fundamental shift in core activities that reflects adapting to the new environment.

So why is Murdoch’s behavior robust? At the end of the day what matters to Murdoch is getting the scoop and massing political power. For the number of years the illegal and unethical behavior had been going on employees at NoW knew this is the only standard by which they were judged. Why is this fair to say? Simple. Once the scoop and political power were achieved no attention appears to have been paid to the behaviors surrounding it. As both Murdochs said, “I didn’t know.”

The robustness (as defined here) of their news empire can be seen in former News Corporation executives being close to the Prime Minister as well as 10 of the 45 media specialists working for Scotland Yard being former NoW employees and, as mentioned before, the development of pipelines of information within the police via financial bribes. And this model definitely was robust. British politicians paid attention to News Corporation and how they are viewed and reviewed by it. This formula was working quite well and had so much influence that the purchase of the satellite broadcasting company, British Sky Broadcasting (BSB), was all but a slam-dunk. However, because of the drift that occurred that purchase is off the table for now.

Yes, NoW was sacrificed along with its editor but that actually isn’t a resilient behavior. Why? A robust approach was taken to essentially say, “We can continue with the purchase of the BSB satellite service. Look! It wasn’t us! It was irresponsible underlings who did this and we are punishing them.” This is a much bigger prize that has the potential of expanding the existing model even further.

The big plus with the resilient model is its comprehensive approach, socio-technical. It takes into consideration the attitudes and power structure that permeate a situation as well as the technology. In this case, Murdoch’s organization suffers from the same issues of robustness that contributed to the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters or the Abu Ghraib prison debacle in Iraq:

  • A belief that a robust model can continually be pushed. This ultimately leads to brittleness and fracturing of the system due to inability to look ahead and prepare to respond accordingly;
  • Drift whereby an organization moves closer and closer to a disaster feeling smug the entire way because of previous successes but oblivious to the environment and the pending disaster;
  • Initial avoidance of independent audits. Those responsible for creating the context are in a position to judge the players, singling out lower level individuals for punishment while those with the power to create the situation are left untouched.
  • An ever-widening gap between work as imagined vs. work as performed

With the domino and barrier models the situation is ideal for a fragmentation to set in (which is essential when denial is practiced for the sake of achieving a goal) and powerful people can divorce themselves from culpability in who was hired and what they did (domino model) and point to the PMO or other group that was in charge that should have been making sure problems were trapped and neutralized (barrier).

So what is the lesson learned? The resilient approach keeps everyone connected. As many factors as possible that lead to sustained success or failure are considered. Adaptability is key. While several sets of standards may be involved there is an above-board balance created between those standards for all to see. Everyone takes responsibility for his or her share of the success or failure. This leads to sustainable performance and development of the most precious asset an organization can have – trust.

Rupert Sosnoff in his blog for Forbes Magazine sums things well, Rupert Murdoch is looking a lot like King Lear these days.

Resilience Engineering #2: Drift

by Gary Monti on June 14, 2011

Last week introduced resilience engineering and started with two critical concepts, robustness and resilience, with robust systems being unchanged but pushed to provide performance in a challenging environment and resilient systems adapting to the challenge and evolving.

This week we’ll look at the costs that can accrue with robust systems and the potential for introducing a potentially dangerous behavior called drift. Before getting to drift a little background information will help.

Resilience engineering is especially useful in resource-limited, constrained situations; situations where trade-offs must be made almost on an ongoing basis. One such trade-off that must be considered is how far to push the current system in terms of both technology and people vs. making necessary changes.

The Importance of Time Horizons

The distance to the client’s, customer’s, senior manager’s, or any other powerful stakeholder’s time horizon has a big influence on whether or not a robust or resilient approach is used. A client situation that had very real consequences might help explain. The client firm wanted to purchase another company. Due diligence was performed. However, it was constrained by shortsightedness. The client wanted to enter the market and generated emotionality regarding the issue. As the urge to purchase increased so did the shortsightedness.

The financials looked fine. The concern for the client was the physical plant, comprising four locations. The shortsightedness mentioned earlier won out and the purchase went through. The entire situation ended up slowly turning into a nightmare ending with the client selling at a very reduced price several years later to get out of the situation.

The Cost of Robust Behavior

What had occurred was a classic case of the seller making the company look enticingly resilient while actually working it in a robust manner. A simple metaphor for the situation is brakes on a car. Imagine you want to buy a used car and you ask, “Do the brakes work?” Truth be told; the answer is, “Yes, they always have.” Sounds good. But what if a different question were asked, “How much life does the braking system have left in it?” That might yield a totally different answer, e.g., the rotors/drums need replaced, the hydraulic fittings are corroded and will need replaced if a wrench is put to them, etc., etc. In actuality the braking system is on the verge of failure and an additional $1,000 or more is needed to make needed repairs…and the repairs can’t be piecemeal, the entire system needs replaced at the same time. However, if the purchaser is satisfied with the fact the car has always stopped well in the past then the issue of overuse, of being pushed beyond a safe limit, will be missed and the dreams of where this car can take him will continue. This overuse of the braking system to the point where it is close to being a safety issue is called drift. Formally,

Drift is the incremental movement of a system towards, and eventual crossing of, a failure boundary. This all occurring while belief is maintained that all is well.

Using the brake metaphor, the seller had let the system (physical plant) drift towards failure while increasing performance pressure in order to be able to say, “See, it is giving the desired results.” In the previous blog it was mentioned there was a cost associated with this behavior. In this case it was an insidious cost. Money that should have gone into maintaining the physical plant was shifted towards the bottom line.

The seller pushed the system to perform in a robust manner, i.e., continue generating profit and have them falsely increase by siphoning off money needed for the physical plant to maintain and adapt to the increasing performance pressure.

This made the purchase look that much more enticing causing the client, only looking at the bottom line and blinded by emotionality, to pay too much, essentially taking a mortgage to cover profits extracted by the seller – profits that really weren’t profits but maintenance dollars. On top of that the needed repairs and equipment costs still needed to be incurred.

Another issue was inability to grow since there was no resilience. With the assumption that the plant was fine the belief that current systems could be integrated into the changes envisioned turned out to be bankrupt. Not only did current systems need work, they were close to obsolescence.

Probably enough said for such a dark and dreary topic. Next week we will look at a brighter story, a story where a firm split but did it amicably through a resilient approach.

Resilience Engineering #1: Robust Vs. Resilient

by Gary Monti on June 7, 2011

Sustaining success in complex situations presents challenges where classic approaches to projects, programs, and processes may fall short. This series of blogs will present a tool for dealing with those challenges, resilience engineering (RE). I’d like to start with two terms from RE: robust and resilient. Why? In a word, Relevance. These terms will give a taste of RE and set the stage for the rest of the series.

Robust Systems

Robust: A system is robust when it can continue functioning in the presence of internal and external challenges without fundamental changes to the original system.

An example of robustness may help. Company XYZ is an early entrant into a new market with Product Line A. In supporting Product Line A, a series of integrated databases are built in the back office and end-user operations are superb. As time goes by the industry morphs and there is opportunity for introducing Product Line B. The database requirements for Product Line B are a mix: 60% can be handled with the current systems and the remaining 40% present new requirements.

Time-to-market can be reduced if a commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS), stand-alone product is purchased to cover the new requirements. The problem is it does not integrate with the existing system and double entry in both systems is required. Specifically, products and services for Product Line B clients will be tracked in the COTS system while accounting will be done separately in the original system.

While an integrated solution is desirable it will take 6-9 months and is decided against. Another reason for deciding against the integrated solution is Company XYZ is in a recession in their market and keeping costs down is a “must.” Those in functional operations, the end-users, are told they will have to figure out a way to handle the double entry and insure problems don’t arise. The database end-users absorb the changes, create new policies and procedures, and the entry into the new market achieves sales and margin projections.

This is an example of robustness, i.e., the organizational system responded to a challenge and met its functional requirements while the original database systems are not modified. People absorbed the changes. This absorption comes at a cost, though. The stress level of the end-users rises and they are a little less masters of the database system and a little more victims of double entry.

Resilient Systems

Resilient: A system is resilient when it can adapt to internal and external challenges by changing its method of operations while continuing to function. While elements of the original system are present there is a fundamental shift in core activities that reflects adapting to the new environment.

With a resilient approach the integrative change would be adaptive in nature. Database operations would morph to reflect and environment comprising a composite of Product Line A and Product Line B. This is in stark contrast to the robust solution, which is still Product A-centric.

In its simplest form with the resilient solution, the end-users would focus on serving the customers and be free of the clunkiness and increased potential for failure associated with the double entry system.

Robust or Resilient: What’s the Difference?

Is the robust decision a bad one? Not necessarily. It just comes at a cost; a cost incurred while deciding on trade-offs, a cost that may be invisible to the culture. This issue of trade-offs is at the core of RE.

In the next blog we will look more at the accrued costs associated with trade-offs and a rather scary element that can be associated with robust solutions – drift. As the series progresses more innovative ways to approach trade-offs will be presented.