Monday, January 31, 2011


The cheap solution is seldom the best solution, or at least a solution that can scale to solve future problems.

This should be self-explanatory, yet every day I encounter a cheap solution standing in the way of someone getting their work done.

If you do choose the cheap solution, at least have the decency to have low expectations.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Dreams Realized

Years ago I had a dream of having a cubicle job (I know....) where I could set up a little media center to assist me in my day.

It would play my favorite music as I chose to listen to it. Have a cable feed so I could monitor the news or a ballgame. A radio for the same. But here was the key: I would run all my sources through a mixer so I could just dial up what i wanted when i wanted it. And I would listen on headphones so I wouldn't bother anyone else with my odd tastes in music. (Beirut anyone? Fela Kuti? BR549? Holly Cole?)

Today I can, wirelessly, without all the hardware and unlimited choices, on my smartphone. It only takes a few apps to pull off, too.

Its easy to take all of our modern toys for granted. Sometimes I force myself to step back and remember what my pipe dreams were, and how things used to be.

What are you dreaming of today?


Thursday, January 27, 2011


The labor market is beginning to thaw. HR staff are processing more "voluntary resignations" than they have seen in months. Assume everyone is looking for advancements they have delayed during the Great Recession.

How do you retain the staff that is most valuable to you? Don't just throw cash. While cash always helps, it has the shortest shelf life as a reward. Think intrinsically. Does your staff feel valued? Important? Are their suggestions considered and sometimes implemented? Do they like their work environment and coworkers? Do they find their work rewarding and meaningful?

Improving the intrinsic factors are usually cheaper and have a greater impact on retention than cash alone. Buy everyone a nice, new office chair. Really nice. The chair you buy them is a daily reminder of what you think about them as a person and an employee. You can't spend too much.

Give everyone a training budget to spend as they wish. Online video series? Great. A pile of books? Enjoy. Out of town seminar? Be sure to get a nice dinner while you are away.

These kinds of initiatives should improve morale and productivity while reducing turnover. Your budget should be half of what it would cost you in both cash and opportunity to replace a star performer.

You're going to spend it one way or another, and its a better investment than a boat payment.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Contrary to your instincts, it is possible to have too much detail in planning. Life is not a stage play where you have control of every actor and element. You can't account for the randomness of life.

Your thought process needs to be a bit more in the "If-Then" structure, as opposed to the "A-B-C" sequence we gravitate towards. Every moment has a series of possible actions, some more appropriate than others. Choose the one that makes the most sense at that moment, see what happens, then make another choice.

Planning out every possible event response will drive you batty, plus prevent you from doing actual work.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Even though I argue a bit of the opposite yesterday, I believe the best plans are made in big, bold strokes.

Too much detail and subtlety gets in the way of people understanding the plan, and it slows implementation. Don't immediately start peeling the onion so everyone can marvel in your brilliance. Talk about the plan in big picture terms, let everyone get their arms around it, and later start discussing what it means to the front line.

Of course, this requires a healthy amount of trust in your staff to make reasonable decisions (notice I didn't use "right decisions"). If you have hired bright, resourceful and responsible staff, they should be capable of handling some latitude in the decision making processes of their jobs.

If they can't, either you need different staff or different processes. It really is that simple.


Monday, January 24, 2011


Conceptual physicists believe there is a Theory Of Everything- one nice neat way to tie together the universe, which works in opposite ways at the biggest and smallest scales.

That is a very human urge, and we're good at it: looking for simplicity in noisy environments, latching onto random bits of data as the explanation for larger events, or simply picking out evidence that supports what we want to be true.

Many grand plans, designed as simple solutions to problems, often fall apart during implementation as the dirty reality on the ground doesn't fall neatly into line. While the Grand Plan may act as a guide in daily decision making, their are simply too many details to shoehorn into neat policies.

Organizations who try to be too simplistic may feel good at the roll-out, but will struggle when human nature begins to weigh in.


Saturday, January 15, 2011


The most effective way to get attention, especially in the public sector, is to allow a situation to deteriorate until a disaster is imminent. The crisis forces action, and the result often exceeds what could have been achieved in slow steps.

You see this with buildings on college campuses. The University could ask for $100,000 per year to slowly preserve and modernize an old building over ten years, but that's a tough thing to squeeze into a budget or fundraise for. But if you do the bare minimum of maintainance for five years, eventually a crisis will arise (leaky roof, dead boiler, etc.). Suddenly the question is raised- fix or tear down?

Often the answer isn't just fix, but fundraise and fix. Bring in architects to propose new uses, historians to explain the building's value, and crank up a fundraising campaign.

Suddenly you have support for The Big Plan and $5 Million in donations to make it go, rather than begging for $500,000 over five years to continue the status quo.

I'm not suggesting that this is smart management, because it causes unnecessary stress and is more expensive in the long run. But it is a savvy use of human nature to achieve what might otherwise be unrealistic goals.


Monday, January 10, 2011


My judgment of leadership skills is often driven by performance when things fall apart.

Being well-prepared is fairly easy, and when things work success is usually achieved. But sometimes things just go bad- someone screws up, something stops working, a delivery is missed, etc. What happens next is what matters.

Some leaders freeze up. They just can't develop a plan on the fly, even in a just-get-through-the-next-moment way. This goes back to their original planning, as Plan A was dependent on everything working in the right way the first time. It's foolhardy to think that way, because something always goes wrong. It just does- accept it and develop plans that mitigate the damage that occurs.

This does not mean you must think through every possible option out twenty steps like some kind of multi-dimensional chess. That is bad leadership of another kind.

But when that moment happens you must rely on experience of what worked in the past and a quick judgment of your present options. Pick one. Observe how it plays out. React to it by making another step. Maybe you steer the whole thing back to Plan A, maybe not. But improvise a plan and roll with it. It will probably be fine.

If you and your team are really good, the folks paying the bill won't know anything went wrong.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I'm not the first to write this, but the biggest hurdles we have to clear personally and professional are usually self-erected.

Since your brain put them there, your brain can just as easily push them aside.

There. Now you have no excuses. Go.


Monday, January 3, 2011

The Capacity of Systems

New York recently received a near-record snowfall. It took several days to clear out, and I suspect much of the criticism directed towards the city is due to the public's underestimating the capabilities of systems.

Every system is designed for a "normal" job- a restaurant can serve 50 people an hour, a stretch of highway can allow 20 cars per minute, etc. Send 200 people or 100 cars at the same systems and they essentially freeze up.

New York could build a snow removal system capable of moving 20 inches of snow in 24 hours- but it would be so expensive New Yorkers would refuse to pay for it. They are willing to pay for a 6 inch system, and since that is a typical snowfall, it works most of the time. Residents are also conditioned to what "normal" feels like. When the response is longer than "normal", even though the demand is much larger than "normal", frustration sets in.

In the case of a 20 inch snowfall, the work isn't simply a linear increase (normal times 3) but probably exponential (normal squared or cubed).

Systems have their limits, which are usually budget-driven.


Sunday, January 2, 2011


I can see the value of a "Content Strategist" role in organizations, but the part of Scott Kubie's description that resonated with me is "Bulldog"; as in, someone who stays on people to get all the bits done on schedule.

Perhaps the image of a bulldog is a bit menacing, but tenacity is a handy skill in a project manager (to use a much less sexy job description- "Content Strategist" is so shiny and new!). There is a balance to be made between "just get something out the door" and "wait until everything is perfect", and having all of the parts be pretty good, or at least present.

In our new App World, users are accustomed to steady improvement of products, so go for incremental processes rather than all-or-nothing. Things get shipped.

Bring out some of your inner bulldog.