Saturday, March 27, 2010

Is Tiger Woods winning the Masters?

In class the other day we were discussing the benefits of a RAG or BRAG report. The main problems seem to be the definitions of the various colors and also the complete lack of objectivity in switching between them. We were further adressing the difficulties of keeping score of a portfolio of projects using a portfolio management tool. To add some humor and clarity to the situation we imagined a portfolio manager reporting on the Masters Golf Competition in Augusta, Georgia.

Our ‘reporter’ began by asking each golfer how they were doing at various points of their rounds.

Tell me Mr. Woods how are you doing now? “I'm doing pretty well considering the conditions I'd like to be doing better.”

Our intrepid reporter then moves to another hole and asks the same question of Mr. Els “Oh. I'm not doing so good. I started out well but I had a few fat shots and I'm losing ground. But thanks for asking. “

He then spies Padraig Harrington sauntering up the 10th fairway with a smile as wide as Galway bay. And how are you going sir?

“Grand” says Padraig. “Just grand”

He then returns quickly to the scoring booth and puts a red circle beside Ernie Els, a yellow one by Tiger Woods and a Green one beside Padraig Harrington and the crowd gathered by the scoring tent goes wild with cheers.

A crazy and impractical situation of course. Each golfer keeps meticulously objective score at all points of the competition and is accountable for completing his own scorecard.

We should take a leaf from the professionalism of these pros. We have become accustomed to keeping score in the operation of our companies however we rarely keep accurate score of our projects.

Bring back cigarette breaks.

Have you ever left the office and wondered what you have achieved during the day?

Meetings, meetings, meetings, they seem to have become the norm in the modern workplace – an endless round of emails, teleconferences and face to face meetings. A student smiled ironically as she explained that she had 28 hours of pre booked meetings each week in her calendar.

Ask yourself - does a doctor have meetings? a carpenter or plumber?

However they do take breaks and frequently of the unfashionable kind – a cigarette break. Many smokers try to quit but along with the biological difficulty also express a longing for the pause or break in the day, a chance to think and plan.

Much as I disagree with the damage and effects of smoking  I also miss the truthfulness of conversation, the clarity of thinking, the strength of the bonding that accompanied these breaks – and I have never been a smoker.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Decisions - Naiveté and Innocence

A student at an investment bank asked an interesting question yesterday and my answer unfortunately lacked the benefit of the perspiration, incubation, inspiration that comes from a good nights sleep.

He wanted to know if there was a mathematical formula to enable correct selection of projects into a portfolio. We had discussed differences between subjective and objective methods and he was leaning towards the latter.

I should have asked him how he had chosen his wife – and did he believe that a formula could exist that would have made a better choice for him? for her?

I should have explained how great thinkers had grappled with this very problem from Quentelet, Laplace and Hume right up to Lehrer, Bernstein and Talebs of today.

I should have told him a story of our selection method for General Motors projects in the mid-90’s that involved a weighted matrix approach. We measured 7 target ‘benefits’ for each project and gave them a weighting score to reflect their true relative value. Unfortunately my naiveté led me to take the numbers literally until a senior manager took me aside and quietly explained that the weights were for public consumption (e.g. sustainability ranked above preserving the architecture and both above cost) but were not be used in real decision making. I felt like a schoolboy in front of the headmaster instead of a professional earning his keep.

Which leaves me with the last regret:

I should have explained the difference between Innocence and Naiveté. That innocence was keeping alive the idea that it might be possible in the future but naiveté to believe that it could be done today.

Or more simply as a great thinking friend put it - Innocence is to childlike as Naiveté is to childish.

So Max – there are no easy answers, no simple formulas to take away the pain and frustration of decision making at this level. You are senior enough to take on this responsibility. Maintain your innocence as you go forward but leave behind the naiveté as it will only cloud your thinking even more.