Working Up

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

Working Up header image 1

Great Ideas and Those Who have Them

October 20th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

A great idea is merely a requirement; it is not a design. The thinker of the great idea is important, but so is everyone else involved in the endeavor.

Allow me to start with a blunt statement:

Steve Jobs did not design the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and nothing else that made Apple what it is today.

Allow me to soften that a bit:

Steve Jobs did state the requirements for those products that made Apple what it is today.

Jobs was the “idea man” at Apple. He stated what he wanted the iPod (just one example) to be.

  • Real designers designed a build-able product.
  • Real testers tested the product.
  • Real builders built  the product.
  • Real manufacturers manufactured the product.

I’m not picking on Steve Jobs. He is merely a well-known example of a person who has a great idea. Let’s try this statement:

A great idea is an important requirement.

The designers, builders, testers, and everyone else involved in the endeavor carry the requirement to fruition as a product. Without them, the great idea is merely science fiction; with them, the great idea is a great product.

→ No CommentsTags: Design · Ideas · Requirements

Job Interviews and Consulting Sessions

October 16th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Take care in a job interview as you may find yourself giving work to someone who will not hire you.

A few months back I tried to get a job with a publisher as an editor. First, I had to take an “editing test.” They sent me a ten-page piece of writing and I had to edit it. The writing was terrible. I spent fifteen minutes editing the first page and emailed them that one page was enough to ascertain if I could edit for them. I never heard back.

A few months later, I tried to get a job with another publisher as an editor. This time, the publisher was well-known (I won’t give the name to protect the guilty, but everyone would recognize it.). I spent twelve hours on the editing test. I really wanted the job, so I completed the task.

I didn’t hear back from them. Six weeks passed with no word. I  finally found someone on the phone to discuss the matter. Within fifteen minutes I received an email saying my editing skills were insufficient. Imagine that! Six weeks and no one looked at my test, and in fifteen minutes they knew I was not up to their standards. Smells funny to you?

Then I learned about editing test scams. Basically, your “test” is real work. The publisher is being paid by someone to edit their writing. You edited it for free, they charged the writer for you work, and so it goes.

I just read about a programmer test that runs the same scam. The programmer being “tested” is actually doing work for the company. The company replies that the programmer is not skilled enough for them, but uses the programmer’s work in their product.

I have also found the same scam in job interviews. They ask, “what would you do in this situation?” They are facing that situation now, and will use your answer on the job. They will not hire you and they will not pay you for your solution to their problem. It is a scam.

Here is a legitimate job interview question:

Have you ever dealt with employees who are late to work?

Here is a scam question:

How would you deal with employees who are late to work?

That is a question you ask a consultant, and you pay them for their answer.

See how quickly a job interview becomes a consulting session? See how quickly it becomes a scam?

→ No CommentsTags: Consulting · Employment

Finding the Question

October 13th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Perhaps we should stop teaching kids to find the answers and switch to teaching them how to find the questions.

I read much these days from older people complaining about how younger people just look up the answers on Google. These younger people don’t know anything; they don’t learn anything.

Well, the world has changed. The knowledge of mankind is at our fingertips on the Internet. Give me a question, I can find the answer. Show me a younger person who can’t do the same, and I will be terribly disappointed.

We have collided with a brick wall called the education system. In school, teachers ask questions and students find the answers. In the past, finding the answers meant reading the texts, sometimes many texts, and formulating answers. Sometimes it meant calculating the answers after reading the texts that taught calculations.

Nowadays, finding answers is almost trivial, and that infuriates teachers.

Okay, what do we do? The Internet has made the second half of education almost trivial.

Perhaps, we should shift education:

Teachers stop giving the students the questions.

Teachers start teaching students how to find the questions.

I doubt anyone will adopt my recommendation for education reform. Nonetheless, I give it.

→ No CommentsTags: Education · Internet · Knowledge · Learning

Why Innovation Doesn’t Occur in Government

October 9th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Here is a brief explanation of why innovation doesn’t work in government. Too bad as there are clever, innovative people in government.

I worked several decades inside the US Federal government. There are plenty of dedicated, smart people working inside government. They often have good ideas for things and gadgets the government and the taxpayer can use. It is unfortunate that these ideas don’t come to fruition.

Here is how it doesn’t work with your clever idea:

  1. You are not the only clever person in the world
  2. Other clever people (outside of government) probably have the same idea
  3. #2 make that a hundred other people
  4. You work the government system to fund and begin work
  5. A dozen of #2 start working right now
  6. Several of #5 turn the clever idea into an actual product
  7. A few of #6 compete in the market
  8. A couple of #7 become market leaders
  9. By the time you have your program finished, you can buy the thing for $19.95 at Best Buy

The killer is step #4. It can take three years, if you are lucky, to gain approval, gain funding, and begin working. People outside of government begin working today. If you are excellent, you can never compensate for that three-year head start.

Just be patient and go to Best Buy.

→ No CommentsTags: Agility · Competence · Government

It’s Called “Winning the Pennant”

October 7th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

This is a repeat post from October of 2011. I find it unfortunate that the sorry situation is still the same.

<rant>Baseball now (soon) moves into the World Series. You take the pennant winners from the National and American leagues and play a best-of-seven series to see who is the best in the world.

Now, let’s see if we can ruin this. People must be trying to ruin this, because they are succeeding at that.  They are trying to turn the World Series into the Super Bowl. It isn’t the Super Bowl; it is a series between the best of the two leagues.

When a team wins a league championship in baseball, they win the pennant. They actually get a pennant or flag to fly in their ball park. That is the prize.

Recently, however, some people who want to kill the game are trying to change the names. They now call the winners the “winner of the League Championship Series” or L-C-S. I’m sorry, “L-C-S” sounds like a disease or something. Maybe it is the Last Child Syndrome or the Lowest Calorie Syndrome or something like that.

Just remember, it’s called

Winning the pennant

not

Winning the LCS.

</rant>

→ No CommentsTags: Culture

Finish the “We Can’t” Statement

October 6th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We often state that we can’t do something. We rarely finish that statement with a reason. The reason usually leads to a solution.

Several years ago I was working on a project where we were building a small gadget. The user was to take the gadget outdoors (backyard) and attach it to their grill. We created a design for the gadget, but the response was:

We can’t use that.

Disappointed that the user couldn’t use our wonderful design, we pressed the issue. The response was:

It is too small.

We were very disappointed as we felt a small gadget was quite an elegant design. We pressed the issue. The response was:

We can’t install it with our hands.

Aha! was the response of one colleague. We’ll do it this way. He quickly drew a tool that would hold the gadget and allow a person to install the gadget easily. The user was happy.

Let’s review the conversation. The user statement went from:

We can’t use that

to

We can’t use that because it is too small to install with our hands.

The user had finished the “we can’t” statement. The designers were then able to design something that worked around the user’s situation.

Here are a few more examples:

We can’t use that (because it is too expensive (it won’t fit in this year’s budget))

Solution: We can spread the cost over the budgets for several years.

We can’t use that (because it is too complex (our current workforce doesn’t understand the controls))

Solution: We can change the controls and include a video tutorial with it.

The extra statements from the user are not easy to obtain. We have to ask for them; we have to ask for more information. People don’t often like to provide more information, especially if that information explains one of their shortcomings (we can’t install it with our hands, it won’t fit in this year’s budget, our current workforce doesn’t understand the controls, etc.).

Patience and tact are usually required and may not be present.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Design · Problems

In Search of the Almighty Grade

October 2nd, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We often create systems and then complain how persons act in our systems.

Many years ago, I attended college. I often heard professors complain,
You aren’t interested in learning, all you are only in search of the almighty grade!
I found that us students were guilty. We did worry about our grades. We, I led the way on this one, would ask the professors which pages of the textbook to study and which ones to skip because they wouldn’t be on the test.

I had good reasons:

  • I had limited time
  • Failure to achieve good-enough grades resulted in being dismissed from college

People were actually dismissed from college in those days (the 1970s). An academic standard was more important than tuition payments into the college. Funny how quaint that seems today, but that was in the day of the dinosaurs.

This confused me. The professors created the system whereby if your grades were low, you were out. Then the professors complained because we tried to keep our grades above the you-are-out threshold. If they didn’t want us to pursue the almighty grade, why did they make the grade almighty?

I have encountered many such situations since college.

  • The persons in charge create a system of rules.
  • The other persons in the system follow the rules.
  • The persons in charge complain about the other persons’ behavior.

Oh well, such is our plight.

→ No CommentsTags: Education · General Systems Thinking · Systems

Tuition and Learning

September 29th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We often pay the tuition for learning, but neglect to learn anything.

I have blogged about this before. (From January 2010) I suppose I will stop blogging about this when the practice stops. Sorry, I guess that means that every few years I will blog about it again.

Is there any least bit of angst or upset in your life? (If the answer is, “No,” please email me as I want to meet you.) That angst and upset is tuition. That is something you are paying. It is costly, sometimes quite costly.

As usual, it is not the event, but the reaction to the event that you control. Take the extra step and learn a lesson or twelve.

  • What happened?
  • How could you have foreseen it?
  • What did you do?
  • What do you wish you did?
  • How did you feel before, during, and after it?
  • Do you have this feeling often?
  • What do you do when you have this feeling?
  • How do you feel when you have this feeling?
  • What do you do when you have this meta-feeling?

There, just a few questions I wrote in thirty seconds with almost no thought. People have written books on the topic. I suppose too few persons read those books and too few persons are going to read this post.

Such is our state—we pay the tuition and skip the learning.

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Learning

Will the Federal Government Listen to the Google Guy?

September 25th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Much has been made of the Google guy in Washington running the US Digital Service. The USDS is not needed and won’t succeed.

There is a lot of splash in the regular media these days about the US Digital Service. Our government has recruited stars from Silicon Valley, brought them to the District of Columbia, and even let them go without wearing a tie. Wowee!

Okay, now it is time for a grouchy old man to pooh pooh all of this. The USDS (that’s the cool acronym people are using instead of saying the entire name) will wander about our Federal government and help agencies build cool websites really fast and really cheap. This will all be much better than that, well, hmmm, you know (whisper tones) health care dot gov (now return to regular tone) website.

As I have blogged before, that website would be an excellent teaching example for software developers, but because it is tied to health care, something all of us desire and something many of us argue concerning the details, it is not a good teaching example.Anyways, health care dot gov cost almost $1Billion. We need some Silicon Valley I-don’t-even-tuck-my-dirty-shirt-in-my-pants expertise, right? Wrong.

There are a few thousand software project managers in the Washington D.C. area who could have walked into the billion-dollar website project and spotted and described the problems in five minutes. Guess what—no one would have listened to them either.

One anecdote: I attended a project manager luncheon during the summer of 2013. Sitting next to me was a person who had been working on that billion-dollar website project. The person quit their job in a weak, high-unemployment economy because they couldn’t stand working on the project any longer. It was killing them mentally, emotionally, and physically. That billion-dollar website was what some of us old people call a death march project.

So now we have a USDS that will help all the agencies. How do you spell failure? I have 30 years experience in and around the US Federal government. Here is how the USDS will fail.

<Start of sad story.>

The USDS walks in the office of the CIO of an agency.

USDS: I am here to help you with your current website project.

Agency CIO: Says aloud, “Glad to meet you.” Thinks quietly, “Oh no, who let this person in?”

USDS: How are things going?

Agency CIO: Says aloud, “Things are fine here.” Thinks quietly, “This place is a disaster, but I am not going to tell this hotshot. The first thing he’ll do is tell people in the White House what a mess this is, and I will be blamed for everything. I did choose the people to do the work, and that was the worst decision of my life, but I’m not stupid. I know how things work here. My face will be on the front page of the Washington Post as I squirm and feign ignorance in front of a Congressional hearing.”

<End of sad story.>

Perhaps the USDS will do some good. The best case is for the USDS to walk into the office of an agency’s CIO where this CIO has just arrived and has noticed the disaster that the prior CIO made. The new CIO is guilt free if s/he:

  • yells “disaster” very quickly
  • calls the USDS immediately
  • gives all credit to the White House for the USDS success

You see, this is the sad state of affairs in Federal IT and everything else the Federal government does. I know it sounds cynical, but I have lived it too long to not see it.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Government

The Round Table of Librarians

September 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Librarians have always been able to point us to the right place to find the information we needed. Today, however, with all the knowledge of mankind on the Internet, one person can’t find everything.

Librarians don’t know much, but they do know where to look.

Someone told me something like that a long time ago. I guess it was and is true. The librarian, you know, that person behind the counter at that building full of books called a library, knows how all the books are arranged in the library. Ask, “Where are the books on old people who still go to libraries to find books?” and the librarian will point you to the right shelf of dusty books.

Today, however, we are in the era of open source and open knowledge where the complete knowledge of mankind is on the Internet and it is searchable. Well, is it all really EASILY searchable? No, plenty of us just can’t find the right search phrase to find what we seek.

This is where the 21st-century librarian comes in, but there is too much for a one librarian; there is too much for one person to know all the right search phrases to find anything that anyone wants. A team of persons is needed for the task.

Hence, I propose a roundtable of librarians. I call it a roundtable because that is the epitome of ego-less cooperation for the good of all. This, lest we forget, is about finding knowledge for the good of all. Each organization should have such a roundtable of librarians. A person would send a sentence or paragraph describing what they are trying to find. The roundtable of librarians would answer back with the search phrases that will save the person time in their search of all the knowledge of mankind.

I guess we would have to change the noun from librarian to something like data analyst or data scientist or knowledge mangers or something.
Funny how we have to use two words to replace the one word that has worked for a few centuries. I suppose I could find one word to replace librarian in today’s world. I’m sure that word is out there on the Internet somewhere, but I can’t seem to conjure the appropriate search to find it.

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Communication · Knowledge · Library