Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Social vs Natural Science in Management

Have social scientists have kidnapped management thinking?
Consider the following:
•a considerable number of outdated management theories based on dubious science pervade every facet of a modern organization and are not value managed.
•Social scientists push ‘empiricism’ as their new religion into the training rooms and ‘buzz’ books that greet every business traveler.
•It is true that humans are different from other animals because we can change based on knowledge. But for how long can we change our behaviour because of a book, leadership dictate or inspirational training. Hawthorne, Forer, Observer effects etc, are not properly discussed.
•Proof and results have not been forthcoming and the theories are remolded and re-presented to account for the many anomalies.
•Experiential learning may be fine as a concept but we do experience the world as flat and ourselves as younger, taller and less grey! But thankfully we have satellites and mirrors to put us right.
•And just because 200 students in the professors department say so doesn't make it true. John List (Chicago Economist) is challenging a lot of the economic behaviour study methods ('truths') that have filled many airport bookshelves recently.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are Humans Intelligently Designed?

I was recently in the Toyota design showroom near Miraikan in Tokyo. On the wall they listed the 7 principles of good design that they had borrowed from an American, Ron L Mace.

I wanted to do a thought experiment where Mr Mace was asked by God (or a representative from the 'intelligent design' community) to review the human body as a designed product to see how it would fare against a modern automobile from Toyota. I imagine Mr Mace making notes on his 7 principles check list as follows:
Equitable use (all sizes and types and Handicapped access etc)
Relatively easy to interact with but somewhat harder to ensure correct interpretation of communicated instructions. There is a wide variation of abilities and traits between genders. A general bias exists against females in strength and size and against males in lifespan and number of friendships. Older models have limitations with mobility and sense perception but generally may be considered equitable in use.
Overall score - not bad - 7/10

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Sistine Chapel Ceiling – A Case Study

I am a big fan of Leonardo da Vinci and was very upset recently to learn about the rivalry between these two great men in their latter years. I suppose that I want to believe in the beauty of gentlemanly rivalry like maybe between Federer and Nadal or Nicklaus and Watson. However Leonardo da Vinci did come to Rome in 1513 and he heavily criticised the chapel ceiling as both a work of art and an understanding of nature.

Here in a much more modest way I critique Michalengo’s role as the project manager for one of the most famous ‘projects’ in the world. Though it still stands as a testament to his brilliance as a painter he had many issues or challenges as a manager – in this case the product remains adored but the process, as far as we can tell, was terribly flawed.

Mistake number 1 - Michelangelo was first and foremost a sculptor and when asked in 1508 by the non-Borgian Pope Julius II to cover the monstrous ceiling he probably should have put his foot down and declined.
Know your own limits
You cannot shoot well when the gun's askew”

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Hitchhikers Guide to the PMBOK®

(A Project in 42 Chapters)
“The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.”
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ would be 30 years old today and so was born around the same time as the creation of the Project Management Institute in a kitchen in Philadelphia by 6 founding members. One wonders what Douglas Adams or one of his amazing characters would make of the latest version of the PMBOK Guide?

His terrific sense of humour combined with a strong science background allowed him, before his untimely death in 2001, to tackle a wide range of topics from a ‘universal’ perspective. He would have stretched the global reach of the PM standard. Brilliant ideas from Ford Prefect to Marvin the Paranoid Android helped many people, including Richard Dawkins, to make sense of this complex world or just simply get through the day. He wrote in a time before Dilbert, The Simpsons and The Office but his books and quotes are still as readable today as when created. One of the most famous ideas from the original book is the answer given by Deep Thought, the biggest computer in the universe, to the question – ‘What is the answer to life, the universe and everything? If you remember the book well you would know that the answer was ‘42’.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Don't be a Sissy Puss

Sisyphus was cursed to continuously roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down for eternity.
Many students talk about the hardships for project work by using the metaphor - 'I feel as if I am pushing a boulder up a hill' or worse as in ' I am flogging a dead horse'. The credit crunch has given many organizations the opportunity to weed out the less productive members of staff and 'reward' those remaining with more work or 'stretch' projects as some like to call them. Now we are starting to see some green shoots finally emerging and volumes and other measures of work are increasing. The only thing not increasing seems to be the staffing numbers. If your project is heading uphill or you feel like any of the above metaphors then the first thing that you have to do is stop pushing (or if it is a hole that you are doing then stop digging!). You need to:

  1. Clarify the exact benefit of the project with the sponsor (how and when will they get your invested time/money back) and get them to sign off on it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Life is a shortcut - don't take it

Every day we seem to read more about mental shortcuts that we make to enable us to make sense of the diversity and frantic pace of life around us.

For many years we have been used to physical shortcuts (navigational or directional) as being perceived as a good thing. Local knowledge enables you to get somewhere quicker, via an alleyway in london, an air-conditioned building atrium in HK or a side street in Mumbai.

We are also used to healthcare shortcuts (vitamin boosts, fast food, pain killers, yoga, jogging) as a way to keep sickness at bay and maintain productivity at the same time. Until we burn-out and realize that sometimes these shortcuts don't work.

We can also try career shortcuts (night classes, on-line learning, 1 year - MBA's, unpaid overtime) - in an attempt to reduce or obliterate the 10,000 hours that our brains need to gain a new skill. We simply don't have the time or patience to devote to the deep practice needed to gain unconscious competence but struggle on with nervous incompetence and rising stress.

Londoners - who are you?

Do your parents come from different countries? and were you born in another one? Did you grow up in 4th country altogether and now where do you live?

It seems from a limited survey that I have carried out with students from the banking world that many of the worlds unsettled adults are ending up in London.

Maybe it is the tolerance for cultures and languages. Or maybe it is the variety of foods and entertainment that attract you. Maybe it is the central location and hub Heathrow that allows easy connections back to past associations. Or perhaps the streets really are lined with gold - you see it all the time - the fast cars, the fancy shops, the high end fashion. Who knows for sure?