Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Point of no return decision making

I had the idea to write this blog while I was in Durban over the Easter weekend. It occurred as a result of a visit to Moses Mabhida stadium but quite honestly the idea has been around for a while. Its something that I first encountered whilst traveling with a colleague of mine Des Le Roux. Des has a very odd (well I think so anyway) quirk where she commits to a route but only for a limited period. Let me explain, if she is not 100% certain about a route she will commit to that route for a a fixed time period or a fixed distance. Its her way of managing her travel risk. I've been thinking about it for a while now and I think that its actually quite a valuable management tool or skill to develop.

The Moses Mabhida example happened as follows. We were originally going to hire bikes to ride around the stadium but decided against it when they asked me to leave my licence behind. We then started the walk around the stadium, while walking I kept thinking that maybe I should turn back an go a fetch the car and move it to the other side of the stadium, which is where we were heading. I needed to make the decision early because the longer I took to decide the less the value of the idea would be worth. From an effort point of view, the further I walked the less valuable idea would become. I turned around at about the 30% mark, walked back to fetch the car and met Robyn and my oldest daughter on the other end of the stadium. Had I walked further I would have wasted that energy and realised less value from my idea.

Hey, my shortest blog to date...maybe all of them should be this length...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Under the RADAR

I have some broken/stuck record tendencies so I'm sure those closer to me have heard me wax a little lyrically about this one scene from the Devil's Advocate. Forgive me if I get it a little wrong but Al Pacino says to Keanu Reeves: "the problem with you is that you're too slick, people see you coming from a mile away and they know what to expect, but look at me on the other hand". The reason that I like it is because it has elements of going in under the radar.

Now to the purpose of this blog. It has become the way of the world that you do everything with a big bang, lots of fanfare, streamers, media coverage and the obligatory social media barrage. I think that this approach has lots of merit if you're in the private sector. You're first to market (I now hate this phrase) and you want to shout it from the roof tops and point out how much better you are than your competitors. Also you want to create the awareness necessary to create some momentum that you can then maintain when you're in full campaign mode. But what if you're not in the private sector?

Traditional wisdom will have you take the same route, but that is where I want to differ. My problems with the big bang approach are the scale and also the fact that it puts you firmly on the nation’s radar. That way if you drop the ball, everyone has a grandstand seat.

First lets have a look at the scale. It makes sense to tackle the whole country at one go since there are a number of economies of scale that make the argument for you. The problem is that its, just so big and the site variables make it very, very difficult to manage. You have to make sure that each site with its different dynamics is ready to work, perfect and then go live with a particular solution. Managing multiple sites with different skills sets, infrastructure, leadership and of course politics can prove to be a very hairy experience. Take the enatus example of allowing booking for learners and drivers licenses on-line. The system was launched amidst lots of pomp and ceremony and it crashes more times than Julius Malema is in the news. Gauteng on-line which was designed to allow learners access to the internet from schools should change the name to Gauteng off-line since there are very few venues if any where it is operational. It too was a big bang operation, looking to achieve too much to quickly and with the incorrect scale.

Second, when everyone is aware, especially in a politically driven environment, when you fail it gives everyone ammunition to crucify you. I know I’m sounding dramatic but its for a reason, when you fail in this case because of the scale and related big budget spend the fail will be epic. “Hundreds of millions of tax payers money wasted and still we don’t have a working revenue collection system”, sound familiar City of Johannesburg?

This is my solution to the problem, design and plan big but implement small. When I say design and plan big, I mean design the entire solution and plan the roll out to finally cover the entire country. But, UNDER THE RADAR start to roll out, test and debug the system. Test spectacularly by running simulations that mimic full roll out and then once you have it working in pockets, allow it to grow embryonically until it covers the whole nation. So for e-health or IT driven facility and patient management systems, start small to create a group or network that you can manage and then start to plug in additional facilities, regions and then provinces. Everything about the IT environment is about portability and plug and play, we need to take a look at this for national rollouts of any kind.

We’re busy with a project at the moment where we’re piloting a patient management system. We’re starting really small, one facility, and then the aim is to roll it out to the rest of the facilities that fall under this chains portfolio. We’ve found that managing the smaller scale is easier and because we planned for the up-scaling initially it won’t (fingers crossed) throw us any curveballs later. Even though the system that we’re using here won’t have the volumes that the rolled out version will, all testing protocols are designed to allow us to simulate implementation as closely as possible.

This blog has given me a bit of head ache, so I’m going to take two panados and call myself in the morning.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Data and Behavioural Change

I'm currently being mentored by a very intelligent man. I just completed my first session with him and his wealth of knowledge is exceptional. It covers a number of sectors and most interestingly both the private and public sectors. Anyway, I digress.

The first session was on business intelligence and why its important and also how companies are currently using it. There were a number of areas that we covered but the one that stuck in my head the most is how 'introducing data into a room creates behavioral change'. Showing staff past performance data gives them a very good sense of how units have performed to date. Linking this data to future targets and performance agreements then gets the ball rolling on the behavioral change. This sounds like a good idea but there's this terrible thing called human nature and it throws a spanner in the works.

The spanner is something I like to call 'radar vision'. Its actually quite a simple concept. Every human being operates off a mental radar screen, the bleeps nearer the centre are more important than those at the periphery. In a really poorly run organisation the important ones are usually related to the manager who makes the most noise and not necessarily because it is of a higher operational or strategic importance. But that is for another blog. Occasionally things will slip off the radar screen and that's when you have failures in project delivery. When you introduce data into a room, you firmly place a bleep on the radar screen of all those present. Depending on who is present that bleep may very well begin to migrate towards the centre of the screen. This has both negative and positive consequences but I'll explain these a bit later.

By presenting the data you have either intentionally or unintentionally elevated the importance of that data. The rationale is that you're presenting it because you feel it is important and therefore all present feel that they should also see it as important. This seems fine, since you want staff (key people) to be focused to what is important to the business but the problem is that it should never be to the exclusion of other areas of the business. Lets explore this more in-depth.

A focus on reducing production cycle times places restrictions on quality and also places pressure on equipment and staff involved in production. A blind focus on cost-cutting has a similar effect on quality and that is why it should not be used in isolation. You see the problem with introducing the data to the room is that it may start to prematurely get staff focused on the wrong things/areas. Focusing on reduced times and cost-cutting are steps towards a goal that is much further away, and that is how you should be doing it.

Most companies have a vision and mission statement and strategic objectives but they've never really translated that into meaningful operational requirements. That's what they should be doing, capturing and clearly representing data that is very strongly linked to their corporate strategy. To achieve this properly my humble suggestion is that it is a combination of both internal and external data. The external data will set the stage and then the internal data shows what needs to be done to impact on the figures presented in the external data.

The link is between: Inputs, Outputs and Outcomes. The movement between inputs and outputs is governed by efficiency and the movement between outputs and outcomes is measured through effectiveness. You want all present to be focused on the outputs, if you get them focused on anything that is shorter to medium term then you will have problems. Don't get me wrong you want to give people ownership of their areas or value chains but you don't want them to lose sight of the future state you're aiming for.

So word to the wise (from the not so wise), don't introduce data into a room unless you're certain that it will create the behavioral change you're after. The two are intrinsically linked.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Running Next to the Bicycle? What's up with that?

I'm busy working on and with a few start-ups and also some rather more established brands and companies and even though the nature of the beasts is fundamentally different, there is one very striking similarity, they seem to like running next to the bicycle. I borrowed this saying, the title for this blog, from a facilitator at a workshop I attended. He was busy explaining to staff that how what he was proposing could add oodles of efficiency to what they were delivering, but the more he tried to drive the point home the more the attendees pointed out that they did not have the time to implement or manage the system. Finally, exasperated, he said: 'So you guys are just happy to run next to the bicycle?' - I like it, because its powerful, but also because it conjures up such a silly picture of this person running next to a bicycle not realising that by hopping on you could make your life easier.

People have got their heads down and are working very hard but to the point that they're now almost working with blinkers on and are not exploring anything new that could be helping them deliver what they need to. Take for example an internal brainstorming session that could create new ideas, most staff would say no to this because it would be seen as a waste of time while there is a distinct possibility that a discussion of this nature could yield results that provide you a with that much needed idea/concept (bicycle).The stumbling block, in my humble opinion, is in the implementation. Individuals and by extension companies are scared to implement (hop on the bike) as it takes time from business as usual and will negatively impact productivity. But this is far too shortsighted, of course there will be short term losses but the long term gains will outweigh them.

Ok, so here's how to do it. Plan your day religiously and in that plan include some time to look for your bicycle (how to find the right one will be my next blog). Once you've found it you need to provide proof to your bosses why it would be a good idea to hop on. The investigating does not have to be a complete cost benefit analysis, just some notes on improved cycle times (no pun intended here) or reductions in costs because the two easiest selling points are efficiency improvements or overall cost reductions, if you can lay claim to one of those then you're already won most of the battle to convince your boss about your new bike.

Classically Trained Vs Playing by Ear

This is almost like shooting myself in the foot since most of what I do is playing by ear but I know in my gut that this blog needs publishing. I attended a Jazz Jam session recently, where musicians are allowed to pitch up with their instruments and then 'jam' along. Its was really great to watch and I thoroughly enjoyed it. What stood out most for me was the difference between guys that were classically trained and those that were self-taught or played by ear. The guys who played by ear were very good but the classically trained guys were in different class. Without going into too much detail I'm defining classically trained people as those that can read sheet music and have sat for both theory and practical exams. They have been given all the skills needed to deal with anything the world of music can throw at them.

While watching them I picked up one very important difference and that difference was about the number of gears available to the musicians. While most of the 'play by ear' brigade were fast approaching the end of their gears (or had even reached overdrive) the classically trained saxophonist was coasting along waiting for someone to throw something at him. The scary thing was that even when they did throw something at him he hit it out of the park. There seemed to be no end to the number of gears he could go through. You see a fundamental difference between the two musicians is that classically trained guys can play both down and up comfortably. This means that they could drop their 'standards' and play in a jazz jam session or they could join an orchestra and fit in just as naturally. The 'play by ear' guys are limited by there lack of formal training, and if pushed hard enough will fail badly. This is not to say that they are not good musicians but they are limited because they are not classically trained.

Ever since the session I have been playing around with this 'classically trained concept'. My wife is an ardent watcher of the reality dance show called:'So you think you can dance', and on the show more often than not (there are exceptions but they're limited) the people who have received formal training prevail since their repertoire is so much bigger. Even in instances where they attempt a style that is not their own they manage to get through it reasonably unscathed. This is because they have been taught the first principles of dance and can almost in a bio-mechanical way understand what is required from them and their bodies. People who have not been trained will have lots of difficulty shifting gears and moving into a different genre.

My suggestion, to people is that if you are considering doing something full time and professionally, then you must have formal training in the area. Learning the first principles and understanding why methodologies are used is critical to making you better at what you do. By way of an example, markets are routinely segmented and those in the industry will refer to the LSM's that they will be working with. Now unless you understand the rationale and process of segmentation you will never be able to develop a suitable campaign. Yes, I know lots of 'players by ear' will give me examples of campaigns that have worked but I will argue that it was by luck rather than by design (hey its my blog so its only my opinion that counts). This approach applies across all disciplines, including, believe it or not, soccer. The Barcelona team is classically trained. They have been given all the skills necessary to be consummate footballers and will be able to play any formation of tactics that you throw at them. 

So if you're really truly passionate about what you do and want to play with the big boys then go and study. I dedicate this blog to Andrew Spitz, my one time interaction design partner who will be leaving me to study a course overseas so that when he returns he will be classically trained and rock the world of interaction design. Good luck Andrew.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Goosebumps as a tool for measuring success?

Andrew Spitz and I recently attended an open day, which was meant to be a kind of show and tell. It was an opportunity for us to showcase what we can do as interaction designers. We had a blast, I got to show off with a microphone in hand and Andrew got a chance to wax lyrically about the technical aspects of what we do.

We showed the people present the newest piece of work which was the BMW announcement of their sponsorship of the Sprinboks - complete with virtual stadium experience with the sound of walking down the tunnel and flash bulbs going off when you exit the tunnel. One of the ladies present commented that we should make our Tag Line: 'We're in the business of making goosebumps'. At the time I acted nonchalant but its super (well I think so anyway). If I think about the times I got goosebumps they were for really spectacular events and they always stand out for me as memorable experiences. My list is fairly simple: everytime I sing the national anthem, hearing Chaka Khan sing live, watching the opening and closing ceremony of the 2010 FIFA WC are some examples of what makes those hairs stand up. Its because of the emotional connection that I make with these events that I think Goosebumps are a good measurement tool.

Creative teams in marketing and advertising firms should invest in a goosebumpometer (not a really a  word hey but it works). I understand that these guys may have become numb over time but surely above all else their task is to create a memorable interaction with a product and what better way than to create goosebumps. There are other methods to achieve the same effect I suppose but I'm not convinced the effect is as lasting.

That was meant to be the end of my post with some pithy statement or quote but then I thought, do creative companies have a monopoly goosebump manufacture. And my answer anyway is NO, goosebumps are not only related to a product but can be linked to an experience as well. Part of the thing about creating goosebumps is that its an appreciation of beauty and as we have grown to know the beholder has a part to play in that. A maths solution or creative accounting solution could be beautiful to someone who was that way inclined. It takes all sorts or people and these people create all sorts of answers, which will be beautiful to someone.

So whether you're a sales person, a teacher, an ad man, a photographer, a singer or even an accountant...go out there and give goosebumps. Aim to have your own single original thought that could inspire you and others to greatness...and if I have my wish create GOOSEBUMPS.

Oh yes and thanks to Jamie Ingram who made the original Goosebump statement.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Peer review and sounding boards? - To Eloise Pieterse

'I like the fact that all around, opinions are so different and yet can also be so similar'. This is something that Eloise said to me recently and it got me thinking. The first thing we need to do is to separate the world in Academia and the corporate world. My reason for the separation is that is the world of Academics peer review is process that occurs very often, your peers rate the quality of the work that you do and publish. Their input ranges from full praise to completely rubbishing the work that you've published. In the corporate world however, review by your peers is not really accepted or used. In fact sharing of ideas does not occur freely, yes some teams may claim to have 'war room' sessions where there is a free flow of and ideas and innovation but it is masked by something else.

Let me explain. In a corporate environment real sharing or ideas and knowledge only really happens very high up in the organisation. Its usually between very senior management or executives and that's because they don't (usually) feel threatened by one another. The sharing of ideas is done freely because there is an environment of trust and an unwritten agreement that what we do is for the benefit of the company. No (ok well very little) one up man ship exists. This allows colleagues at these levels to use one another as sounding boards and when it comes to ideas and innovation the more minds the merrier.

In contrast to this the environment for staff levels below this is very cutthroat.  Colleagues rarely if ever share ideas for fear of 'idea theft'. They shy away from using one another as sounding boards for fear that a colleague will present the idea as his own and gain recognition from it. This stifles creativity and definitely is bad for business. The question is how to get around this. The work space is inherently competitive and gaining recognition for what you do is very important for gaining credibility and creating that upward movement on the corporate ladder. 

A concept I've been toying with is called the 'Ideas Registry'. How it works is that when a staff member has and idea they can log onto a system and have the idea registered. This process then creates some 'ownership' of the intellectual property. Once the idea is assesed it either gets full management support and a task team is established to explore the idea further or it can get partial support and this will mean a basic investigation will be done (a single human resource). Companies have versions of this running through their suggestion box process and many have fully fledged departments that investigate innovative ideas so they're on the right track to creating a truly collaborative environment. Because in my very humble opinion that's a huge gap at the moment in most sectors, truly original though that through collaboration with your peers becomes a truly wonderful business concept or process. Some serious thought needs to be put into developing models that are fair, transparent and allow these ideas to be properly explored.

In closing, I guess I'm saying, be that change and start to openly discuss ideas with you peers and use them as sounding boards. A stolen idea that makes it to implementation is much better than one that never got to see the light of day because you were scared. It will be a bitter pill to swallow but you'll know that truth about where the seed for the idea first began growing.

The blog is written for Eloise Pieterse, who believes that reading and finding out is an important characteristic to have and that curiosity is equally important...but that is for another blog. Later.