Posts filed under ‘Problem Solving’

The Victims of Change

The Question:
“How do you suggest we deal with the victims of the changes we embrace?”

The Details:
“We produce a magazine. A new application offers too many advantages for us to ignore.  With decreased markets, we must be very  cost conscious if we’re to survive. This new solution will almost totally eliminate the need for our current Grpahic Designer

The downside to this new way of doing business is the loss of significant annual income for this designer.

I am looking at transitional solutions, but all so far are only temporary, and seem to delay the inevitable loss of income for this person.

Do you have any suggestions or broader perspectives that might help me find transitional strategies  that are more acceptable to both parties? (Us and the Designer).”

That you even feel the need to ask the question means that you’re doing more in this area than most. Whether you can take comfort in that or not is up to you. The question is a real one, New technologies often displace workers – as you point out in your description, there is an inevitable loss of income for the individual(s) being displaced. You also recognize that it’s the transition that’s most painful. The bad news is that unless we, both employers and employees, plan in advance for these types of transitions, then there is little we can do to mitigate the pain unless the organization is willing to assume the bulk of the burden and carry the employee through the transition. MOst organizations don’t choose this course.

The organization, for the reasons you offered, must more forward with any process that legitimately reduces costs without compromising quality of products & services. An organization can, either through incompetence or deliberate intent (or a combination of both), delay the deployment of an advantageous advance, but to do so for too long places the organization at risk.

To seize upon a displacing technology without considering the impact on the employees is not uncommon. As to whether or not it is ‘moral’ is another matter entirely, one I’ll leave for ethicists to debate. Regardless of whether or not such practices are moral or not, they do have inevitable consequences.

The survivors of any one particular round of technological displacement will inevitably ask themselves, “Is this how the organization will treat me when something comes along to replace what I do?”. The amount of loyalty & dedication they afford the organization in the future is in proportion to the amount of caring and compassion the organization displayed to them in the past. It’s not a complicated equation – and it’s one that the organization creates, and they control all the variables.

Putting aside the contentious questions of what an organization is obligated to do for their employees, there’s the legitimate question of what they’re capable of doing.

Helping an employee transition via re-training is one option. Another is to reposition the employee in some other capacity within the organization. This is one of those situations where the employee’s ability and willingness to learn new things is crucial. If the employee fundamentally does not want to learn a new skill, then they are deciding that obsolescence is preferable to change. An irrational, though common, response to this type of change.

The other side of the coin is that the employee can, I’m reluctant to use the word ‘must’, take responsibility for their own future. Unlike ‘Diamonds’, there is no guarantee that any skill is “forever”… A flint knapper has no place in a modern knife factory – a pen & paper draughtsman has no place in a modern architect’s office. The list is endless, and endlessly growing. Almost all the skills we have today WILL be obsolete before we retire. Anyone who thinks otherwise is going to be stunned and surprised by each transition.

It might sound like a cliché, but if an organization wishes to assist their employees through this type of change, then glorifying our ability to learn new things is a good first step. This means, that training budgets must increase beyond today’s paltry pittance, and such budgets must acquire a certain robustness that allows them to survive at consistent levels through downturns in business.

If the desire is to increase an organization’s ability to Change, then it must increase its ablity to learn.

September 30, 2008 at 10:38 am Leave a comment

How to Select a new Technology

It’s ubiquitous, (and it’s everywhere as well) and some would have you believe that if you’re not using the latest and greatest product, then you’re falling behind. This “you’re not keeping up” sales pitch is very effective at striking at the heart of our insecurities; am I falling behind? Will I lose out if I don’t buy this stuff? Don’t the ads claim that they’ll make me more productive, more efficient, and even more attractive to the opposite sex? How could I possibly live without it? Here’s my credit card.

Before attempting to answer the question, “How should we go about adopting a new technology or product?” we first have to have a clear definition of what it is we’re trying to accomplish. To decide what product we’re going to use to improve our organization, we need to embrace a strategy more reliable than submissively accepting the carefully chosen blather of the wordsmiths who wrote the glossy ads.

What problem are we trying to fix? What specifically do we want the technology to do? Better yet, since “technology” by itself doesn’t do anything, how exactly are we going to use this technology to change an existing process? To put this advice into concrete terms, how exactly will the work of department ‘X’ change because of the technology purchase we’re contemplating? And finally, in excruciating detail, what benefit do we expect to reap from our investment?

If that sounds like a lot of intensive work, it is, and it’s necessary work, unless you wish to add your organization to the long, and still growing list of embarrassing examples of how we shouldn’t implement technology.

Once you’ve done all of the above, then and only then are you ready to start looking at what’s available.

Phase 1.0: Advertisements and articles from your trade publications will provide you your first truckload of information. Read everything you can lay your hands on. Create, and maintain a research file. Keep in mind that all of the advertisements and most of the articles will paint the rosiest of pictures. According to most of what you read, everything works as intended, it’s as effective as was promised and the tooth fairy will visit you tonight while you sleep.

At this point, every product claiming to address your problem is a possible candidate.

Phase 2.0: Put on a large pot of your favorite brew and head to the internet. The websites associated with the products you’re researching will provide details beyond what they decided to put into the ads. Use this information to connect what they claim to do, with what you need them to do. From your perspective, every claim is an unproven assumption. The more you need a specific function, the more you must verify the company’s claim that they can deliver the functionality.

By now, you’ve rejected at least a few of the products you found earlier. You’ve made some progress, not much, but some.

Phase 3.0: Get another pot of that brew, and head back to the internet. This stage is incredibly informative, even entertaining. You want to track down the discussion groups where users of the products are talking about the real world functionality of the product, the actual delivered service, their pet peeves, the new, next and previous releases, the known bugs, problems, anomalies and their general experiences. You’ll find some of these discussion groups on the product sites, others you’ll have to search for, a good place to start are the discussion groups of your industry associations.

If you don’t see the answers to the question unique to your organization then post those questions and wait for the results. It’s important to remember, if you decide to purchase a particular product, then there are dozens, if not thousands of existing users all with more experience than yourself. These existing users represent a goldmine of experience, of use to you only if you ask for the information you need. Don’t be shy, most people are more than happy to answer your questions.

After reading just a few product discussions, you’ll have quickly trimmed your list down to a more manageable size.

Phase 4.0: Put a call out to your existing associates, do any of them use the products you have your eye on? If so, it’s time to get on the phone and arrange a meeting. If they have the time, spend an afternoon with them; see how they’re using the product. What problems have they encountered, what benefits have they gained? The assumption here is that you already trust their opinion.  If you have the time, attend an industry conference and buttonhole anyone who uses what you might decide to use.

Have you noticed we’ve not even spoken to the vendor yet? By now you should have only a handful of products in mind.

Phase 4.9: Buy some insurance. I don’t mean life insurance or accident insurance; I mean something a bit more peculiar. Rent yourself a technical consultant who knows far more about technology in general and perhaps this product category in particular, than you’ll ever need to know. They’re your hired gun; they’ll accompany you to vendor meetings and demos.

Their role? Just by introducing who they are and then by having them sitting quietly in the back of the room they’re going to keep the vendor honest. If necessary, they’ll ask the relevant ‘hard’ technology questions, they’ll ensure that the demos presented to you are ‘real’ and not simulations of what the product might do someday. (In the next release — honest!)

They’ll also ensure that the questions you’re receiving to your questions are accurate. They’ll do that just by being in the room, but again they’re your technical backup, ready to jump into the fray conversation if there’s something missing or unclear in the answers given to you.

This type of companion is a vendor’s worst nightmare in any demonstration, that alone justifies having them along for the ride. Life is fun; enjoy it while you’re here.

Phase 5.0: See the demos of the products on your short list. Narrow that list even further, and then make no commitment until you’ve had the chance to experiment with a pilot project, using your data, your people, and your environment. Does it work the way you expected? Are you getting the benefits you hoped for?

Phase 6.0: There is obviously a technical component to your search. Will the product you’re purchasing operate within the context of your existing infrastructure? If not, what gaps need filling? Will it handle the expected workload? What about the unexpected, but reasonably likely spikes in that workload? Will you be able to operate and maintain this product with existing skill sets? Or will you need to hire experts? How available are these experts and at what cost?

You might have gathered the answers to all of these technical details in earlier phases, or you might not. The most likely place to verify the technical details is in Phase 5.0, nothing is more effective at weeding out problems than trying to actually implement a pilot project. What is important is that they all get answered before you sign on that dotted line.

Congratulations, you’ve selected a new technology, all you have to do now is ‘implement’ it, but that’s another story.

September 2, 2008 at 12:52 pm 1 comment

Problem Solving Webinar – Today – August 14th 2008

Tricks, Traps and Tips for better Problem Solving

Cost: Nada!
Although you’re more than welcome to send me a note of appreciation and/or order some books as a way to support the costs of providing this service.

Where? Head here for all the details.

If you work for a living, then you solve problems of all types.This session will explore some simple PS concepts and explain how we can use formal, and informal, PS techniques in every day Life.

Peter believes very much in the idea that we learn by doing, more precisely? That we learn by failing at doing.

So??? This presentation WILL be interactive.
1) Make sure you have a deck of playing cards handy.
2) Peter will take ‘questions’ via e-mail as he presents.

Feedback from a similar live session:
Peter … We reviewed the feedback forms this week – of the 90 collected for the Problem Solving sessions, overwhelmingly the ratings were 5s (highest) We summarized the feedback as follows, included member quotes:

‘Over the top’ successful. Very dynamic, excellent speaker.
Members wanted more from Peter; many felt his sessions were too short.
“..energizing & interesting. Very helpful.”
“..too short – was enjoyable & thought provoking!”
“Fabulous, awesome presentation. Great interaction & exercises.
Could have spent the whole afternoon in his session.”
“Excellent session, extremely dynamic presenter! Useful for any level of team member.”
“Peter was the “BEST” part of the day.”
“Please bring Peter back to talk to us.”

August 14, 2008 at 9:10 am 1 comment

Why to Write

Writing serves many purposes – here are some of the reasons why I write (even why I participate in list serves)

1) It helps you think.
If you can put an idea down on paper then you are inevitably deciding, from one word to the next, what is important and what is not.

Since writing is sequential, since you can’t say everything at once, you have to impose an order on your thoughts. As a speaker – this is useful, but it’s useful to anyone in any endeavor.

2) It’s practice.
As a speaker, I’m essentially a word smith. My primary tool is the English language, and writing allows me, and forces me, to play with words, phrases, cadence and meter. Since I’m always writing to an audience, I am in a sense, always presenting.

3) It’s advertising.
I DARE you to contact the advertising department of any publication and ask them what it would cost for you to run a full page ad describing your services. Be sitting down when you do this. Yet… a full page article is far more powerful a means to demonstrate your ‘power’ to a potential client. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, they’ll pay you for the privilege.

**Note… keep all your copyrights. It’s your work – unless it’s a ‘work for hire’ – keep your copyright – you want to be able to use your own work in perpetuity. Give them the right to use your work… but keep your copyright.

4) It’s marketing.
Marketing isn’t advertising. It’s just general exposure. Write enough and people will ‘SEE’ your articles in publications that don’t even know who you are. They’ll insist they know you… when they’ve never met you.

5) It’s your PR ambassador. And it works forever… for free.
Write ‘timeless’ articles – articles that will as useful 10 years from now as they are today. That isn’t always possible or desirable… but it’s a goal to follow when you can. You want your work to speak for you when you aren’t there. Once you’ve written what I classify as a ‘keeper’ (this posting is a self referential example of that I hope) then it gets saved… and then passed around. And literally becomes a personal employee and PR agent.

6) It’s multipurpose.
I’m the world’s laziest man. Anything I produce, must carry several loads. A good article is all of the above, and it’s a potential presentation at the drop of a hat.

7) It’s plastic.
As in… any well written article can be tweaked and twisted to generate at least one more significantly different article, if not half a dozen. Hmm… this ‘article’ was first posted to an online discussion… it’s morphed already, and will again!

8 ) It’s something you’ll learn from.
If you don’t write much – then you’ll likely not even believe this one… if you do write a lot, you might know what I mean. When you write… and then read what you’ve written later… then you’ll learn stuff you didn’t know you knew. I can’t really explain this, but I’m a smarter, more insightful person when I write. I often come up with ideas as I’m writing that I literally did not know I knew.

9) and finally? Writing is calming. Well… sort of.
If you’ve got writer’s block? Well, you’ll just have to shoot yourself – it’s the only real cure. BUT when the muse takes over, and the words begin to flow like water across the page? Then it’s the best thing going to boost your spirit and your ego.

Now… go break a pen
Peter de Jager

July 23, 2008 at 1:02 pm 1 comment

Baseballs, Mars and Strategic Planning

My interest is in the Future, because
I am going to spend the rest of my life there.
Charles F. Kettering
1876-1958 American Inventor

At the foundation of most Strategic Plans there rests a simple question, “Where do we want our organization to be in five years, and what must we do, and when must we do it, to get there?”

That question looks like a good one. The answer will have all the attributes of a sound objective. Asking, “Where do we want our organization to be in five years?” entices us to paint a picture of what we want to achieve. We can call this picture our “Vision” or “Vision Statement”, in either case it creates a target worthy of our attention.

Since these things don’t happen by accident, “What must we do, and when must we do it, to get there?”, outlines our footsteps towards a rudimentary project plan. Since we know what we want to achieve, we now define the “what” and the “when” of our “To Do” list for the next few years.

Most strategic planners would agree that this question lies at the core of the strategic planning process. It is certainly the most common approach, and while sometimes the objectives we choose are overly simplistic, perhaps even ambiguous i.e., “We want to be the world leader in ‘X'”, they provide something to work towards.

And that’s the issue. Unless the next problem is addressed by some hidden assumption, this type of planning cannot succeed other than by luck, no matter much effort is put into that project plan.

Here’s the problematic snag, we cannot answer the question, “Where do we want our organization to be in five years?”, unless we first answer a bigger and more complex question, “Where will the World be in five years?”

Crafting a Strategic Plan is sort of like trying to get to Mars, or running to catch a baseball, you don’t go to where it is now, but to where it will be, when you finally get there.

Obvious? Of course it is. Yet most Strategic Plans make no attempt to determine where the World will be, they plan as if the World stands still in time, when in reality it is rocketing off in some unknown direction under the influence of Moore’s Law, politics, demographic trends, diminishing resources, new opportunities, aging populations, shifting alliances and a thousand other trivial and humungous forces.

If we do try to target the future, we plan for it based upon our understanding of the past. ie. Transactions have been growing at a rate of 10% per year, so we will plan for similar growth in the coming years.

New developments, “wild cards” if you wish, can erase all credibility from this type of reasoning. The rise of digital music and the ease, with which it is shared over the Internet, eroded the relevance of all historical sales figures for the music industry.

Of course, our real problem is that answering the question, “Where will the World be in five years?” is a challenge… as Yogi Berra, the great Philosopher King and sometime baseball player said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Tough? Yes, definitely. Impossible? No. Even if we choose to ignore them, there are developments we know will affect us in the future. Here are a few worthy of consideration;

The Collapse of Constraints: (The result of Moore’s Law)
Computer and telecommunication technology is going to get more powerful, faster, cheaper, more reliable, more accessible, smaller, cooler (in more ways than one), better and more convenient.

The Implications?
What technologies would you like to implement in your organization today, but can’t because of some limitation? Chances are that within the next five years, the natural advance of technology will collapse those constraints. Then what? Here are some reminders from our recent past, imminent future, their impact and possible implications;

Digital Music => Copyright => Music Industry Sales?
Telecommunications => Offshore Outsourcing => Local White Collar Work?
Voice over IP => Personal Communications => Phone Companies?
RFID => Inventory Costs => Privacy & Security?
Flat Screen TVs => Redesign of living space => Furniture Sales?

(An off topic question we might ask ourselves, “Which solutions implemented a decade ago, are the wrong solutions considering current technology?”)

The Passage of Time: (Demographics)
We’re getting older… all of us, soon the elderly will outnumber the young whippersnappers.

The Implications?
No secret here, as we get older we change in predictable ways. How do you differ from your parents? Imagine their buying habits and lifestyle rolled out as the norm. Imagine the bulk of marketing targeted at something other than teenage tastes, how does that affect your business… more importantly, the business of your clients.

Not to mention of course, the financial impact on poorly designed, naïve and idealistic Social Security programmes.

New Markets & New Competitors: (The Third World is no longer Third)
One word: China. Okay… two words: India.

The Implications?
According to some statistics, America makes up 5% of the world population and consumes 30% of the world resources. Imagine a new nation (or two), with the buying power, consumption, resources and production capability of 5-10 USAs.

Now… Can you imagine a Future where these new juggernaut nations do NOT affect your business?

These are just three of the many developments you might choose to incorporate into your strategic plan. Which ones do you factor into your planning? That depends on how far you choose to cast your attention. What could provide a threat or opportunity to your business? Or are you convinced that tomorrow is just today, plus another day?

How exactly do you factor in these future forces? There are no easy answers, yet there are lots of different approaches, tools and methodologies; from generic Scenario Planning, to Joel Barker’s Implication Wheel; from simple ‘What If’ sessions to more involved Brainstorming. The goal is not to do the impossible, we cannot predict with great accuracy what tomorrow will bring, but we can get a sense of what tomorrow might have in store for us and put together a Strategic Plan which will perform well against a handful of likely future possibilities.

No matter how we factor them in, the sooner we do it the better. As the quote at the start suggested, we’re going to live in the Future; we might as well look forward to it.

July 17, 2008 at 10:35 am 1 comment

At the Heart of Time Management

Is reading this article the best use of your time right now?

If you can extract the core lesson contained in the above question, then not only don’t you need to read this article, but you never have to attend a course on time management. You’ve just saved a lot of time and money. You can go about your business. Good-bye.

What? You’re still reading? You mean I have to finish this article? I was just about to take a break you know. Okay. Okay. Just for you, I’ll continue, but I have a cold beer waiting on the deck, so hurry up and finish reading… I have better things to do right now.

Time Management isn’t a overly complex topic. When you get right down to it, a good time manager really only needs two sets of information.

1) Which of all the tasks we have to complete, is the most important?
And please, don’t adopt the strategy used by some psychotic managers… Everything is Priority #1!

Making everything Priority #1 isn’t possible. When everything on your plate is Priority #1, then the reality is that nothing is Priority #1.

2) How much time do you have available to do the tasks on your plate? If you have time aplenty for everything, then you don’t have a time management problem.  Please stop reading so I can leave, that beer is getting warm.

What! Still here? I can see how this is going to play out. Sigh. Okay. On we go.

Since you’re still reading, I can only assume you don’t have enough time to do everything you’ve been tasked to do. (but you have the time to read this article… weird) I won’t ask why you took on more than you can handle, that would be rude.

With more work, than time, we’re faced with a problem. We can’t do everything.

This is perhaps the most important thing to know about time management. Time Management is not about doing everything on our plate, it’s all about deciding what to do, and most importantly, what not to do.

This is where Time Management gets difficult. Prioritizing our tasks is fairly easy, some things are obviously more important than others. Identifying how much time we have, is also relatively easy, since we can start with 24 hours a day and work our way down to a more reasonable/realistic number.

Where we all have a problem is coming to the conclusion that task ‘X’ won’t be done this week, because we don’t have time for it.

Of course, to get to that point, we do need to become proficient at allocating time to the tasks we’re choosing to complete and then focusing our attention on those tasks until they are complete

The most basic tool to assist us in this, is the ‘to do’ list. We all know how that works. List the stuff we must do on top in order of priority, then the stuff we should do if we have time for them, and then at the bottom the stuff we’re unlikely to ever get done (like that rapidly warming beer on the deck).

The mechanics of the TD list aside, there’s an aspect of the TD list that’s rarely mentioned. Part of the problem we have managing ourtime is the overwhelming sense of chaos that swirls around our heads. There’s little more demotivating than the certain knowledge that we’re disorganized, that we’ll never get it all done no matter how hard we work.

This sense of constant chaos cheats us of any sense of progress towards a goal. A daily ‘To Do’ list, compiled during those few calm moments before the day starts with a rushing vengeance, is the perfect solution to our all too common panic attack.

Writing down what we have to do, immediately removes the certainty that we’ve forgotten something. It stops the constant mind juggling necessary to keep everything in memory and allows us to focus on a single task.

Time Management becomes an exhilarating experience as we strike a task off the list with a swooping flourish of a lurid purple marker (am I disclosing too much?). This is such a pleasure, that you’ll find yourself putting things on the list, just so that you can strike them off the list.

The sense of progress we didn’t have before, is now there for all to see as a flurry of purple strokes across the page.

The truth about the heart of Time Management is contained in the opening question. We can’t answer it until we know what we should be doing right now, and how much time we have available. Simple, if not easy. Now, the next thing on my list is that beer. See you later… maybe… if I have nothing better to do. I’m not kidding.

July 8, 2008 at 11:48 am Leave a comment

Out! Out! Damn Pebble!

It requires no great skill to opine on what’s wrong with the world. All we need do is go about our lives, and pay attention to all that annoys and peeves us. Like a sharp pebble caught in a sandal, wrongness is self evident at every step. Flaws aren’t silent; they whisper their presence at every turn and plead for our attention.

Only one thing takes less skill than noticing errors and that’s whining and moaning about them, that and looking to someone else, anyone else but ourselves, to make things right. It’s a habit picked we up in childhood when we lived under the protection of loving parents. It was best forgotten as we aged.

Nor is there any great intelligence necessary to imagine we know what needs doing. Even the naïve child we once were, suspected that sandals, free of pebbles, tread softer.

There are great gaps though, between seeing what’s wrong, knowing what’s right, and stepping from certain pain to possible relief. If the worried world around us is any evidence of our ability to cross them, these are insurmountable gaps. Huge gaps only ancient heroes and leaders can bridge. That is, if we believe that heroes and leaders are a thing of the past. Or worse, that no heroes or leaders lie sleeping within us.

These gaps are kept alive through no base lack of knowledge about either the problems or possible solutions. Nor is there, if our whining is any meaningful measure, a lack of desire for a world free from stony pebbles.

Yet the pebbles persist, despite our earnest wishes. Perhaps they exist because all we do is wish and pray for better times?

Removing even a pathetic pebble from a sandal requires us to do a lot more than wishing it away… we have to care enough, even for a tiny pebble, to bend down and act.

There are no guarantees here. No parents to ensure we won’t stick our hands in too fierce a fire. No warranty on the correctness of our solutions. No protection that we won’t make things worse through our actions. Never the less, action is all we have, without it, even that teeny pebble will eventually wear us down. The pebbles exist, that we have no control over. What we decide to do once the pebble gets our attention is entirely under our control.

Admittedly the real world is more complicated than mere a pebble in a sandal, but problems are still like pebbles in that they make their presence known by annoying us. And because of this, real world problems are at a distinct disadvantage… the bigger they are, the more people they annoy. And even problems the size of mountains can be shifted, one person, one pebble at a time.

The eyes that see a wrong, can see the hands to fix it.

July 4, 2008 at 2:37 pm Leave a comment

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