Posts Tagged ‘solution’

Project Reality Check #9: Tyranny of the “Truth”

by Gary Monti on February 15, 2011

Tyrannical behavior can spring from the best of intentions. It is one person seeing the “truth” and insisting others follow. If you read the previous blog you’ll know why “truth” is in quotation marks. It can refer to our perception of reality, expectations, and insistence to conformance to that view rather than addressing reality itself. In projects this can lead to disastrous behaviors when the person or organization giving the orders believes they are in the know and doing what is best. This surfaces repeatedly throughout history.

The Devastating 88’s

In World War II one of the most effective weapons was the German 88 millimeter cannon. It was initially developed as an antiaircraft artillery piece and proved to be extremely effective. Testing it, the army noticed it could penetrate any British armor and quickly adopted it for field use, building a field carriage that made it quite transportable. Its performance was, in a word, devastating. Four 88’s could decimate a much larger unit of British armor.

So what does military history have to do with business? Look at it this way. Imagine how it would feel if you could invest $500,000 in a project, have a smaller team and take market share from a much larger competitor who had invested $5,000,000 and just isn’t as quick responding to customers. If that were true then your deliverable would be a force multiplier. A force multiplier amplifies the output of an individual. The 88 was a force multiplier!

Roll back to the previous blog regarding fantasy and reality. The German military management saw what the 88 could do, modified their view of the “truth,” and let subordinates implement accordingly. The “truth,” though, can cut the other way.

The Tyranny of the “Truth”

Ironically, the British could have matched and neutralized the 88 with an artillery piece of their own, a 3.5 inch antiaircraft cannon. This was very slow to occur and did only on an ad hoc basis. Consequently, the tyranny of “truth” caused many lives to be lost. The back story to this reveals a lot.

Similar to the 88, the 3.5 was devastating. It could penetrate any armor the Germans had. So, why aren’t there stories of 3.5’s wiping out German armored units? The British military command was notorious for being very hide-bound. Rank and privilege went hand-in-hand. In other words, an officer must be intrinsically superior to an enlisted man. Also, a-place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place was the order of the day and that place was determined by military command, those superior people. Consequently, the “truth” about the 3.5 was, “It was designed for antiaircraft use and it was preposterous to think something designed to attack an aircraft could have anything to do with an armored vehicle.” The “truth” was infantry would use a 2-pounder cannon, the shells of which pretty much bounced off German vehicles. The important thing was the 2-pounder was designed for anti-tank use so that was that.

The “Solution”

Eventually, British troops were allowed to use the 3.5 as an antitank weapon in North Africa and had some success. There was a problem, though. Because of the bureaucratic restrictions the gun plus carriage was twice the weight of the 88 and lacked the nimbleness. Keep that image in mind and switch back to business.

Think of General Motors before (3.5) and after (88) bankruptcy. The “solutions” offered before bankruptcy were predicated on keeping the status quo and associated reward system intact.  That was the “truth.” The path to success at GM has been built on dropping the old belief/reward systems and working to mold GM to be in line with current market demands and pricing. It has been painful, to say the least. It also has been rewarding and looks to offer a chance for GM to once again thrive.

In closing, I’d like to pose a question, “If you were to present this story to your organization and project team… would they say you are an 88 or 3.5 and what would they want to do about it?”

When does independence promote less-than-optimal performance? When is it a force tearing the project apart? In this first of six blogs on leadership cancers we will look at the potential corrosive effect independence can have on your organization and projects leading to sub-optimal performance if not failure. It will be done through game theory and The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Finally, we’ll take a look a possible solution to the situation.


We all start life dependent upon our parents and others to be fed, clothe, nurture, and teach us. As we mature there is movement towards self-reliance, i.e., independence. Based on self-interests we can take action and control our lives. Teams can be joined for accomplishing tasks that go beyond what an individual can perform. This sounds sufficient for success. But is it?

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

When teams are formed based solely on independence a problem arises. Once a member’s self-interest fails to be met they can pull out of the relationship with potentially devastating consequences. When other team members see this behavior then they may pull out as well. Let’s look at a typical example.

Imagine a 2-person design team, John and Mary. John is extremely good at designing for performance but the product is a nightmare to maintain. Mary is just the opposite. Her designs are easily maintained but they don’t have the performance of John’s.  Each can do the entire design but lack efficiency when it comes to their weak spot. John is overly sensitive and Mary is rude. They both want to be seen as superior and never hesitate to stick it to the other. Whenever one appears to cooperate the other takes advantage and tries to put in fewer hours. There is no backup for either of them and management is afraid of losing either but will draw the line at flat out refusal to work and will withhold any bonuses. The grid below shows the four possibilities in terms of effort-hours expended. If they both cooperated the total hours would be 60 (blue). With both being non-cooperation it shoots up to 100. If either pulls out completely the other has to put in 150 hours. The job ends up taking 100 hours (red) because both will be selfish at the first sign of cooperation by the other.

John Selfish John Cooperates
Mary Selfish 50,50 0,150
Mary Cooperates 150,0 30,30

In game theory this is called The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Both could cooperate and put in fewer hours overall but that would require being empathetic and trusting. Instead, at the first sign of seeing the other cooperate, the one will try to take advantage and be selfish. With them both being selfish the job gets done but at great inefficiency.

A Possible Solution

One approach is asking them to cooperate, pointing out the value to the organization and they could be more productive. That is unrealistic since it expects altruism from two uncooperative people. A more realistic approach and one that works well in a complex situation is a joint evaluation. Their bonuses, profit sharing, etc., rises or falls with team performance. This returns power to the leader. Mary and John can do as they like and they will be rewarded accordingly. There are risks associated with this approach. However, if costs are outstripping benefits then it is worth considering.

If you find this topic as fascinating as I do and would like to delve deeper into game theory and its use in leadership send me an e-mail at or visit

Quality #4: Simplifying Processes

by Tanmay Vora on November 12, 2009

keep it simpleWelcome to the fourth part of a 12-part series titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first three 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

#QUALITYtweet Want to add complexity?

Get obsessed with a solution without

focusing on the real problem.

We love complexity because thinking complex solutions give us a false sense of achieving something worthwhile. Two questions to ponder:

1)      Is your complex solution accurately solving the problem?

2)      Is there a simpler way to solve the same problem?

Consider this story:

One of the most memorable case studies on Japanese Management was the case of the empty soapbox, which happened in one of Japan’s biggest cosmetics companies. The company received a complaint that a consumer had bought a soap box that was empty. Immediately the authorities isolated the problem to the assembly line, which transported all the packaged boxes of soap to the delivery department. For some reason, one soapbox went through the assembly line empty.

Management asked its engineers to solve the problem. Post-haste, the engineers worked hard to devise an X-ray machine with high-resolution monitors manned by two people to watch all the soap boxes that passed through the line to make sure they were not empty. No doubt, they worked hard and they worked fast but spent a whoopee amount to do so. Now, when a rank-and-file employee in a small company was posed with the same problem, he did not get into complications of X-rays, etc but instead came out with another solution.

He bought a strong industrial electric fan and pointed it at the assembly line. He switched the fan on, and as each soap box passed the fan, it simply blew the empty boxes out of the line.

Implementing complex review process or a complex workflow is relatively easy. Picking up an off-the-shelf best practice is easy too. Identifying the simplest solution that best solves the problem is difficult.

When you improve your processes constantly over a period of time, adding new steps to the process, it tends to get complex.  Simplification of process requires you to think with a fresh perspective (and may be a fresh set of people) and ask a simple question: “What problem is this process intended to solve?”

The answer often reveals that there are much simpler ways of solving the problem.