Working Up

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

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Something for Nothing, Nothing for Something

August 22nd, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

A new deal where we are offered something for nothing indicates that the provider has been delivering nothing for something.

This isn’t just a rant at McDonald’s or Starbucks. It holds for any situation where we expend some resource from some product or service. Someone is “improving” their offering at the same price.

  • More computer memory, same price
  • More burger, same price
  • More coffee, same price
  • More service, same price

Sometimes there is a technology breakthrough that allows a provider to offer more at the same price. Sometimes.

Nevertheless, in general, what have they been doing to us in the past? Why were they charging more money for the same product or service? Does the new offering come with an apology for over-charging in the past? Why not?

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Communication · Customer · Expectations

Show Some Respect

August 18th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Okay, I’m an old man. Nevertheless, can persons in the workplace show some respect to one another?

As I write this, I remain unemployed. There is always hope for a 50-something with a few job skills (advanced degrees, certifications, books published, etc.), but it is tough.

One request for those interviewing the unemployed:

Show some respect.

For example,

  • arrive on time
  • offer a cup of coffee or other beverage
  • comb your hair
  • shave
  • straighten your shirt
  • pull up your pants above your knees
  • act like a professional (you do have a paying job)

“Come on old man, this is the 21st century. These are the fashions…”

Don’t give me that excuse. Go out of your way and do more than you “have to” that shows some respect.

Now to the “do not’s:”

  • usher people into phone booths called interview rooms
  • read from a script
  • ask meaningless questions
  • talk in circles
  • promise things you won’t do

And so on, but please, just show some respect.

→ No CommentsTags: Competence · Employment · Respect

MOOCs and Bad Presentations

August 15th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Why do online educators put bad presentations in their courses?

I am taking yet another online course. My wish is to show potential employers that despite my advanced age I am not brain dead yet and still actively learning. My current online course—no names mentioned to protect the guilty—brings with it something that too many others do:

The presentations are bad

Far too often, the presenter attempts to speak English when English is not their native language. The result is broken, utterances and backwards sentences and logic that, well it isn’t logical and it goes no where. I find myself skimming the topics and searching the web for the definitions and formulas that I need to complete the course.

I don’t blame the presenters. I know a few other languages a little bit, but I would do terrible presentations in those languages, too. The presenters are doing their best, but I ask for more than that. I ask for clarity.

I blame the purveyors of these online courses. They are selling bad presentations for the price of good presentations. You can’t learn of these bad presentations ahead of time and avoid them either. They purveyors are good at hiding these things. My advice to these “educators:”

Hire an actor and have them read a script.

But actors don’t know the subject matter. But the person in the online course has a PhD in the field. But I don’t care about any of that. I want to learn something, and broken English doesn’t help.

→ No CommentsTags: Education · Learning · MOOC

To Write is to be Misunderstood

August 11th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sorry, the title of this post is true.

Several years ago, I managed a West Coast project from the East Coast. Every day I would send several faxes to the other coast to ask and answer questions. (I wrote that this was several years ago and faxes were the best means of written communication.)

On the header of every page of every fax was the title of this post. It emphasized that we were attempting something quite difficult. We all needed to focus and forgive.

Focus: what is the other person trying to convey? No quick glances.

Forgive: perhaps they misunderstood my intent. No blame.

There is nothing wrong with the persons on the other coast. There is nothing wrong with the persons on this coast. We are all working against something that plagues us all.

→ No CommentsTags: Work · Writing

The Cheapest Part

August 8th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes the cheapest and simplest part of a system is the one that fails and you may have to buy half a dozen of them to find one that works.

I had a bad experience repairing that large appliance in the bathroom. Did you know that you can crawl under a toilet? You can, and it is as bad as it sounds.

After four or five hours of work (I removed the water tank from the toilet bowl, replaced the connecting parts, and attached it again) the problem I was trying to fix still existed. More research on the Internet, that bastion of knowledge known as YouTube, indicated that the problem was with the flapper.

The toilet flapper is that small rubbery-like object that sits atop a large hole. Its function in life is to stop water from flowing out of the tank. It is also the cheapest and simplest part in the system.

What are the odds of having four flappers that don’t seal the hole? The odds are small, but, as they say, greater than zero. Well, I had four flappers that didn’t seal the hole. Water leaked around the seal.

The fifth flapper I had—don’t ask how many trips to Home Depot were required—worked.

Lessons Learned:

Sometimes it is the cheapest and simplest part in the system that breaks.

When you go to the logistics depot, a.k.a., Home Depot in this case, obtain extra parts.

Don’t assume that “brand new” parts work, especially if they only cost $3 at the end of the retail chain (10 cents to make).

Crawl under a toilet at your own peril.

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Agility · Analysis · Systems

Short and Bitter

August 4th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes the news has a sharp, pungent taste or smell.

Short and sweet is a fond, old cliche. Gosh, wouldn’t real life be better if most news were short and sweet? Sometimes that is not life; sometimes the news in life is short and bitter.

So, let’s attempt to learn something from bitter news. What does bitter news tell me? Consider a few questions and add more that are relevant to yourself.:

  • What does this tell me about myself?
  • What does this tell me about my situation?
  • What does this tell me about my colleagues?
  • What does this tell me about my customers?
  • What does this tell me about all the stakeholders?
  • What else can I learn from bitter news?
  • How can I react in a way that benefits all of us?

→ No CommentsTags: Questions · Reaction

Neither Nor—Another Legitimate Choice

August 1st, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes the better choice among two alternatives is neither, nor.

We have two alternatives—this, that. The most well known choice is

either this or that

One of them must be better than the other. Let’s decide which is better and go with it. Aha, but we grow smarter with the years and someone says, let’s take the best of both or let’s take both and make them better, so the choice is

both this and that

I agree that sometimes both-and is better than either-or.

Allow me to add one more legitimate choice:

neither this nor that

Gosh, we hate this one. The result of all our work is this-that. Surely there is merit in this-that. Do you want to discard this-that and continue the search? When will we decide?

Sorry. Sometimes this-that are both bad ideas.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Clarity · Communication

Silence is Agreement (not)

July 28th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes we operate our meetings and our groups with stupid, unspoken rules.

Silence is agreement

This is one of the things I was told as a much younger person on the job. If I didn’t object loudly in a meeting, I had agreed. Really? Says who? What was that about?

I suppose it was something everything just sort of knew ahead of time. If you didn’t know it, you were too stupid to contribute.

I think this unspoken rule has fallen in use over the years. I am happy to see that. I always felt it was stupid. Everyone was assuming what everyone else thought. It was if everyone was reading the minds of everyone else.

How did anyone ever conclude that?

If I want to know what someone thinks, I as them what they think. Perhaps that is too obvious to write, but there, I wrote it.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Meetings

Technology Triggers

July 25th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Knowing, ahead of time, when to change the design of a technology system.


We have software running on different computers. We don’t have much electrical power available for computers “out in the field,” i.e., they probably run on batteries. Hence, we move heavy computations to lab computers where electrical power is plentiful. This requires sending a relatively large amount of data from the field to the lab. The computers in the field don’t have much computational power when compared to the lab computers.

Technology Trigger: when a commercially available processor has X computational power at Y or less electrical power, we change how we assign which software to which computer, i.e., we can change the design of the system.

We have a design for today that works with the technology we have today. When technology changes, we change the design. If we are smart, and a bit lucky, we can set an explicit technology trigger so that we only have to monitor one or two things in the technology press.

The concept of the technology trigger is simple. Times change, technology changes, and solutions change with them. Simplicity, however, is not often practiced.

What are the technology realities that drive your designs today? Understand how your design would change if the wished-for technology existed. Watch those technologies as wishes will one day come true.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Design · Technology


July 21st, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We have yet another case where a manager failed to perform the job title, but someone else was fired.

This is an interesting story. A software tester wrote some software to run all the tests. The tester didn’t have anything to do, so the tester sat around for five years twiddling thumbs.

After five years, a manager discovered what was happening and fired the tester.

Where was the manager when the tester created a money-saving system for running tests? The tester should have been give a big bonus.

Where was the manager when the tester was doing nothing for five years?

Why wasn’t the manager fired?

Come on guys. We all know what should have happened. Let’s do what is right.

→ No CommentsTags: Management