Working Up

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

Working Up header image 1

When You Write Something (Anything)

December 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

When you write something (anything), also write your name and the date.

This is pretty simple, but usually neglected. Always write your name and the date next to anything you write. If you are writing in a notebook with your name on the cover, it may be sufficient to write just the date. If what you write is significant, you should write your name on the page next to the significant item.

If you are working or playing on your own, writing your name and the date shows that you own the words. That could be vitally important one day.

If you are working under the pay of someone else, you are claiming the idea. That doesn’t mean you own it, but it makes life and work much easier for everyone else who are also under the pay of someone else. They now know who to seek when a question arises.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Writing

The Sweet Spot

December 18th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Go to the optimum, then back off a quarter turn on the knob. There you are.

One principle of technology and systems in general is not to operate at the extreme. Go to the extreme, but move back just a bit towards the ordinary. Odd things occur at the extremes.

This behavior leads to the sweet spot.  The sweet spot is that area in a system where you are a little less than the optimum—a little less than the extreme.

Simple enough, right?

No, it isn’t. Often systems, at least systems that are worth anything, have N dimensions. The sweet spot is a place among those N dimensions.

When N is 2, life is easy. We can draw two axes and see the sweet spot clearly.

When N is 3, life is a little more difficult, but we can draw three axes and see a 3-dimensional spot that is sweet.

When N is 4, well, too bad. We can’t see in four dimensions. Some people can create a concept in their head that works for them, but no one else.

Four is a small number, and the sweet spot breaks at that point. Real-life systems have N much larger than four. We haven’t yet understood how to find the sweet spot  in the great majority of our endeavors.

Sorry if you expected a solution from me.

→ No CommentsTags: Design · General Systems Thinking · Ideas · Systems


December 15th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Communicating can be reduced to one simple question. Answering that question is the pursuit that inspires me.

I have an idea in my head; I have a feeling in my heart.

Here is the crux of communication:

How can I affect the other person?

I love to try to answer that question. I love the figure-it-out part. What is the approach, the technique, the medium, the everything that encompasses the crux question?

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Consulting · Writing

A Writing Hierarchy

December 11th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Writing, like most endeavors and systems, has a hierarchy. There is a trade-off between resources spent and quality.

I have a writing hierarchy. It has something to do with a trade-off of time and quality. My hierarchy is basically:

  1. jot on a napkin
  2. note in my journal
  3. my daybook
  4. blog posts
  5. paid posts and articles
  6. books

Posts like this one are given to the world at no cost. I hope they generate interest in paid writing, but most of the time they don’t.

Paid writing is rare these days. Nevertheless, I spend more thought, time, and effort on those.

→ No CommentsTags: Writing

The Zero-th Step of Any Process

December 8th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Before doing anything else—think. Yes, this is old advice, but it still works.

Process, process, process. The world uses Agile processes now. (At least those people whose job it is to tell everyone else what their organization does tells the world that they are Agile. I tend to doubt that they actually are Agile, but that is me.) The world used to be Spiral process or was it Evolutionary process or something. It certainly wasn’t Waterfall process as we all know how stupid that was or at least how stupid it was to do things stupidly even though we weren’t following the Waterfall process.

Be all that as they were, we all use one process or another. Process is simply the things we do, and we all tend to do something.

So now I come to state the Zero-th step of any process:

Before doing anything, think about what you will do.

Not earth shattering; not unique, and sadly not practiced often enough.

A few years ago, I wrote a book about managing human endeavors. In that book, I framed endeavors using People, Process, and Product. The process an organization should use depends on the product that the people are trying to build. If the people are expert and experienced in the product, e.g., a word processor, they should use a simple and efficient process. If the people are smart but inexperienced in the product, they should use a process that allows for experiments and learning. Again, this isn’t earth shattering or unique, but then again it isn’t often practiced.

My view of managing human endeavors requires the zero-th step of any process. Someone must think about the current situation, i.e., the people and the product, before choosing a process.

One problem is that most of us like to start fast. Thinking prevents the fast start, but it usually helps with a successful end.

You choose. oooops, choosing requires some thought at the beginning and that…

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · General Systems Thinking · Learning · Management · Process

The Describe-a-Picture Method of Writing

December 4th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

One method of writing that has worked for me is to sketch a picture or diagram and then describe it.

I have used this method of writing for years. I needed the assistance of others to understand that this is what I was doing.

Here is the method:

  1. sketch a picture or diagram
  2. describe it in writing

This isn’t complicated. I guess the simplicity helps the method work. I have used it in non-fiction and fiction.

You can be more sophisticated by putting a photograph in front of you and describing it. Of course you could go to an art gallery and describe works of fine art.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Writing

The Question and Answer Method of Writing

December 1st, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

One way to write is to first write a list of questions, set the questions some place you can see them, and answer all the questions.

I continue to work with college students on their writing, and they continue to teach me.

A recent assignment the students were working involved answering a set of questions about a given technology. It is amazing how complicated the students made the assignment. Their circuitous approaches to the assignment helped me clarify:

the question and answer method of writing

Here it is:

  1. write a list of questions
  2. place the list where you can see it
  3. write the answers to the questions

This method works better for non-fiction, informational writing. It also works well for non-fiction essays. It also works well for fiction.

Hmmm, I think that covers just about all forms of writing. Maybe something has escaped me at the moment.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Education · Writing

Drones, Remote-Controlled Aircraft, and Reality

November 27th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Can we stop the silliness surrounding drones and come back to reality?

This recent story decries coming regulations that may require a pilot’s license to fly a drone. Let’s repeat a bit of reality:

Today’s drones

  1. are not autonomous flying robots
  2. are remote-controlled (RC) flying vehicles

For decades, hobbyists have flow RC aircraft. Some of these aircraft are large—approaching the size of manned aircraft. RC aircraft have always been regulated. Mostly, the FCC regulated the radio frequencies and power levels of the radio controllers. There are also regulations where you can fly RC aircraft as they become larger and can fly at higher altitudes.

Today, we have some  technology advances that permit four-rotor quadcopters to fly easier. The on-board computers and accelerometers provide stability and remove much of the skill needed to fly prior-generation RC helicopters. Advances in batteries allow these newer RC quadcopters to fly farther and higher.

No, you should not be allowed to fly your RC quadcopter near a commercial airport where you can collide with a plane carrying my wife and kids.

No, you should not be allowed to fly your RC quadcopter in Yosemite National Park where you crash land into a pool of super-heated water and spoil it for generations.

Yes, if you are flying a bigger and better RC quadcopter, you should have a license to provide some public safety.

This is not a privacy issue. This is a safety issue. Who wants a 500-pound RC quadcopter crashing onto their roof?

→ No CommentsTags: Government · Technology

Two Unspoken Requirements

November 24th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Many projects make no sense. They are driven by two unspoken yet paramount requirements.

I have seen many projects that were driven by two unspoken but paramount requirements:

  1. The project must cost a certain amount of money—no more and no less
  2. You have to look like you are trying to do something

Allow me to elaborate.

  1. The spoken requirements for a system are published.
  2. Analysis shows that a system that will meet the requirements will cost $1,000,000.
  3. The managers of the organization decide to build a system that will cost $100,000.
  4. Analysis of system #3 shows that it will not meet the requirements, i.e., it won’t work.
  5. The organization builds system #3 anyways.

One way to tell if the project is driven by the two unspoken but paramount requirements is to inject a step 3.b. by suggesting:

Let’s build a system that costs $1. It won’t work either, but it will cost even less.

This suggestion is laughed out of the room immediately.

Logic argues for system 3.b. in that it won’t work either, but it will cost much less money. Logic, however, fails the paramount requirements in that the $1 system doesn’t appear like you are trying to do something, other than trying to show the silliness of the entire situation, and doesn’t cost the required amount.

These silly requirements stem from the concept that people are earnest, well intentioned, and want to do something about a need. Reality, a $1,000,000 is needed, bursts the bubble, but still,

there must be something we can do.

→ No CommentsTags: Culture · Expectations · Magic · Management · Requirements

The Smartphone: Today’s Transistor Radio

November 20th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Today’s smartphone bears a striking resemblance to yesterday’s transistor radio.

Okay, yell at me. I will wait.

Now that you’ve screamed your lungs out, let’s compare today’s smartphone to yesterdays transistor radio. In case you are young(er) and don’t know what a transistor radio is, see this page.

Attributes that the smartphone and transistor radio share:

  • Fits in your pocket
  • Provides music
  • Provides latest information
  • Uses an ear bud for privacy listening
  • Needs a charged battery
  • Depends on wireless reception
  • Can be inconspicuous
  • Can be obnoxious
  • Has (had) a cool factor

I rest my case.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Systems · Technology