Working Up

Working Up in Project Management, Systems Engineering, Technology, and Writing

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Gone with the Self-Driving Car

August 21st, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

A little future prediction about what we used to call automobiles.

When the self-driving car actually arrives. We will no longer have:

Rear-view mirrors – we’ll have lots of sensors “looking” in all directions.

Steering wheel – what would we do with that?

Front-facing seats – car interiors will be rectangles that we arrange and decorate as we wish. What about safety? Self-driving cars don’t have accidents.

Windows – I guess we will have some kind of windows, but we will decide where they are, how big they are, and so on. Again, the car will have lots of sensors “looking” out for us.

Trunk – why put things in a compartment that we cannot reach?

Four doors – ooops, we already lost that one.

Some cosmetics – really, it will be a personal bus, so how good does that have to look? Besides, a big box gives us more space inside.

Anything else?

→ No CommentsTags: Technology · Time

Knowledge Management in Real Life

August 17th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Want to see knowledge management in action? Go to, of all places, the library.

No, we won’t go to the library to find a book all about knowledge management. We will go to the library to see knowledge management in real life.

Look about. We are surrounded by reusable modules of knowledge Grab one. Grab another. Put them back in place.

Want to find one of those modules of reusable knowledge? They are searchable. These new libraries have computers to help us find the modules. Older libraries, I think some of these exist, have these cabinets full of little cards that tell us where the modules of reusable knowledge are.


I don’t think so. The library is the best, easiest to find and visit example of knowledge management I can find. Trying to convince someone that your organization’s knowledge costs money and should be saved, searchable, and reusable? Take them to the library. Try to imagine the library without being able to find any book. Not pretty. It is a shame that most of our organizations are not pretty in this way.

→ No CommentsTags: Knowledge · Library · Management

Fundamentals – Yet Another Part of an Unending Story

August 14th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

It has reached the point where I don’t even ask anymore. Working systems is so much important than documentation, that…well, you know.

Situation: Someone has a horrible problem. Someone else has asked them to do something that they simply cannot do. Someone asks me to look at this.

Me: Please show me…any one of the fundamental pieces of documentation that you know you should have to manage a system.

The Bearer of the Impossible Task: Uh, we don’t have that.

Me: Hmm, I think we both know the root of the problem.

The Bearer of the Impossible Task: But you have to understand.

Me: No, I don’t have to understand neglect.

The Bearer of the Impossible Task: But we have lots of problems here.

Me: I can see that, and so can you. Now, what are you going to do?


Do you have someone who can disassemble your system, move it to a new location, reassemble it and have it work the first time? If not, you should have something that explains how to do that.

Do you have someone who can show you how every part of your system was tested and how it performed “good enough?” If not, you should have something that explains that.

Do you, not someone on your team, but you, know everyone external to your system who can turn it off? If not, you should…well, no use continuing.


→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Management

Forward to the Past

August 10th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Once again, our new “technology” brings us back to where we started a few decades ago.


I walk into Starbucks.

And there is a long line.

So I sit in my usual spot and start my Internet work.

I order my coffee and bagel on my phone.

Five minutes into work I walk over and pick up my order.

I have turned a stand-and-order restaurant into a sit-and-order restaurant.

Hmmm, all this technology takes me back to the 1960s or something. We sat in restaurants, ordered, and did something until the food arrived.

Stand-and-order is okay sometimes. Sit-and-order is okay some times.

Well, there is some value in choice, I guess.

Still, it seems this mobile app order was intended to do something new or whatever.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Childhood · Choose · Technology

Please Don’t Answer My Question

August 7th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Why is it that people ask questions when they don’t want to hear the answers?

Let’s go in reverse order here.

Result: Dead silence.

My Answer: I want to work with good, smart people on difficult problems whose solution enhances national security.

Recruiter’s Question: What is it you like to do?

What has happened here? Just another case of, “I’m going to ask you a question, but I really don’t want you to answer it.”

This happens too often for me. I suppose I have this defect where I feel that if you ask me a question, you want an answer to it. I guess for the good of all mankind, my defect is rare. Mankind seems to function alright with this “hear my question, but don’t answer it” situation.

I guess this is a function of most people being uncomfortable with silence. Words must be flowing. I don’t know why they must be flowing, but again, I have this inherent but rare defect.

Here’s a suggestion: Say what you really feel. “I am uncomfortable with silence between the two of us. Please, talk to me a while. Anything will do. Anything.”

→ No CommentsTags: Adults · Communication · Questions · Reaction

The Tides and Decisions

August 3rd, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes people decide simply on what washes in and out with the tide. It works sometimes, but I don’t recommend it.

The tide comes in. It carries things, deposits them on the beach, and it goes out.

The tide comes in. It picks up what is on the beach, and carries it out to sea.

We walk on the beach. Oh, look what came in with the tide. This could be interesting. Let’s do something with this thing carried in by the tide.

In my decades of work with technical systems and the persons who work on those systems, I have seen the tides come in and out, in and out. I have seen the decision makers base their decisions on the tide.

Look at what the tide carried in. Maybe, oh, wait, I’m busy with a vacation or something. When I come back, something else is on the beach carried in by the tide. Oh, I have some time on my hands. Let’s do something with this tide-transported thingy. Here we go.

The tide decision process works sometimes. Its randomness helps us maintain a status quo. Perhaps half the things carried by the tide are good, half are bad, so we end up about where we started. This is especially good in government where moving from the status quo is usually considered bad.

Want to do something better? Avoid the tides. Think. Use your brain. Notice the tide as sometimes better just washes in. That, however, is rare.

Choose, instead.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Decide · Management

The Efforting User and Us

July 31st, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Some of our system’s users will work and work to make the system perform for them. Others, however, will dump it at the first sign of frustration.

We have a system. We think it is “good enough.” It can do things for a group of people that nothing else can do. It is worth their while to learn how to use it as the time it while save them is an order of magnitude greater than the time required to learn it, i.e., the return on investment is very high.

Will they learn it and use it?

Some will. They will work and work and use it. When the system bumps and trips—like all “good enough” systems will do now and then—they continue to work with it and move around the trips. It is worth the effort.

Others won’t. “Piece of junk.” They move on to something else or go back to the way they’ve always done their job before.

We want efforting users, i.e., those who will expend the effort required. They eventually forget the frustrating hours where they expended effort. They market the system for us among their peers.

How do we find those efforting users? We have to be like them. We have to expend the effort required to find them. We can’t just build a wonderful, albeit good enough, system and wait for the world to discover our masterpiece. We have to push away from our computer and, uh oh, here it comes, go to their place and talk to them face to face.

We have to be like the people we want to find. Couldn’t this be easier?

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Customer

Fake News (and our misguided efforts to stop it)

July 27th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Let’s take a breath and pause regarding all this “stop fake news.”

We have to stop fake news. It is ruining civilization. It ruined an election. It is wreaking havoc around the world. Come on everyone, when you see fake news, label it, punish it, eradicate it.

Well, perhaps some pause is in order. I label such and such fake news, that is an editorial on my part. That is my opinion.

This is fake, see that for the truth,” I shout aloud with all my lungs.

And it is censorship. “This person must shut up!”

Of course I can work around all these not-so-nice words like censorship and justify how when you turn on the lights the roaches run away and all that. Still, let’s not kid ourselves.

Someone once said that we could solve the longitude problem with a pocket watch. Fake News! (well, not really)

Someone once said the hysteria was not a female condition. Fake News! (well, not really)

Fake News! Censorship?

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Fable

Ingenuity or Let’s Try Something

July 24th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The day we fixed a supercomputer with a cardboard box.

I suppose this post has to do with good old American ingenuity or some myth we like to create about ourselves. Regardless of myths and selective memory, this is actually a true story.

On the job we had serial number one of a supercomputer. Yes, we bought the first one. Perhaps a bit over-optimistic on our part bordering on the foolhardy. Well, good old serial number one wasn’t working. It was constantly rebooting itself after it lost its mind. Not good for something that cost $6 Million (in 1990 dollars).

Part of the many long distance phone conversations (yes, in those days we still used the term “long distance call” when calling coast to coast), was a mention of cooling, over heating and other such thermal things.

Good old serial number one was sitting atop a raised floor with (supposedly) enough cold air blasting up its innards to allow it to function. Right in front of the rack, yes supercomputers used to require an entire, full-height 19″ rack, was a vent on the floor.

Someone, I’ll take the credit here, had the goofy idea of taking a cardboard box, sitting it on the cold-air vent, and using it to force the cold air into the middle of the good old serial number one. A knife, some masking tape and no one in senior management watching, and we had an ugly something-or-other pushing cold air into the computer.

It worked. In five minutes, the $6 million supercomputer was super computing.

Lesson #1: Try things.

Lesson #2: Pay attention to the conversations. The mention of thermal properties was a quiet, slight, and quick one. Someone on our side of the continent heard it and remembered it. There are lots of little things passed in conversations. It is a good idea to listen for them.

I suppose this is another example of people telling your their problems and the solutions. We have to notice.

→ No CommentsTags: Computing · Consulting · Failure · Listening

How did You Write that Book?

July 20th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The basic steps I have used to writing a professional, non-fiction book and having it published.

I have written about half-a-dozen professional non-fiction books. The counting is a bit fuzzy when you include a second edition or two here and there. These were published by the IEEE and other publishers of such books.

I have met members of my profession who are itching to do the same. They ask me, “How did you write that book?”

For the (somewhat boring) record:

Step 1 – Write a book. Use a basic word processor. Write chapters in a logical order (consult already published books). Create a lot of figures. There, now you have a book.

Step 1a – I sure learned a lot by doing the research, thinking through everything, making my thoughts clear enough to express in writing. Hence, if you stop here, you are much smarter than before.

Step 2 – Now that I have learned so much…do I even care that it is “published.”

Step 3 – Decide how to publish.

a. Just make a PDF and put it out there.

b. Write publishers describing your book that you have in hand.

b.2. They will want editing. Lots of editing work that will probably double the amount of work done to date.

Here is the odd part, at least it was odd to me. Every year, publishers send contracts to people saying, “If you deliver a book to us that meets blah blah blah, we will publish it and pay you royalties.” Every year, the majority of interested writers sign the contract, but do not deliver a book. The writing (Step 1. above), proves more difficult than anticipated or something.

That is why I have the steps in the order they appear above. Write a book first. Once in hand, approach publishers. Seems backwards? Not what you have read? Well, these are professional, non-fiction books. These are not romance novels, novels about teenage girls who fall in love with werewolves, or teenage girls who save the world with a bow and arrow.

And that is how I wrote that book.

→ No CommentsTags: Work · Writing