Working Up

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

Working Up header image 1

An Idea Person

June 27th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

There is the great idea, then there is the great execution that brings the idea to fruition. In my experience, the idea is greatly over valued.

I worked 28 years inside government. I was bombarded with examples of, “Oh, so-and-so is a great idea person. We need you to work all the little details to make it work. We’re moving the idea person on to the next great idea.”


Here is my government-born-definition of an idea person

A person with enough friends in high places who allow the idea person to get by without ever finishing anything.

Often, people who can finish things are called in to clean up the mess left by the idea person. These idea persons are scorned by the few persons who actually understand what is happening.

Everyone has ideas. Not everyone has well-placed friends who cover up bone-headed actions during the execution phase.

→ No CommentsTags: Government · Ideas

The Catalog Readers

June 23rd, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We give new titles to an old profession.

Back in the last decade of the prior century, I met several people at work who had one skill:

They could read a product catalog.

They would read the catalogs from DEC, Sun, IBM, and even Dell. They would proclaim, “Look what is out this year? We can buy one of these, one of those, duct tape them together and have a system.”

Soon thereafter, these catalog readers would proclaim themselves to be some kind of engineer because, by reading a catalog, they had designed and built a system. Wow.

Now in the second decade of the current century, we have a new generation of catalog readers. This is what

  • systems engineers
  • solution architects
  • systems architects
  • and others

They have read the product catalog end to end and then again. Except today we don’t have paper catalogs, we have websites and control consoles and such. The catalog publishers have changed: Google, Amazon AWS, Facebook, and even Apple and Microsoft.

As a user, I describe my needs, and the catalog readers point to the glossy pages in the catalog and tell me, “We’ll get one of these, one of those, and hold them together with duct tape, and …”

Cynical? maybe, but the resemblance to the 1990s is striking.

→ No CommentsTags: Analysis · Computing · Design

Do You Have a Mobile App for That?

June 20th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Every era has its own stupid question. Ours is no different.

The title of this post is the stupid question of our era.

Back in the day, if you said you have a computer that had the performance of a Cray, was the size of a shoe box, cost $100 and so on, the stupid question of the era was, “but is it DOS compatible?”

If today, I had a machine that harvested energy from the rotation of the earth, i.e., plentiful and free energy, or a machine that painlessly and quickly removed cancer, someone would ask, “Can I control that from my smartphone?”

And why do we call it a smart phone if it is the object of such stupid questions? But I digress.

So, no matter what wonderful technology you have created, always be ready for today’s stupid technology question.

→ No CommentsTags: Technology

Synergy: Are You Averaging or Multiplying

June 16th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Instead of averaging, trying multiplying to judge the effectiveness of your group.

We tend to average things. I’m not sure why, but it seems to make sense.

Consider a team of four people. We assign the ability of each person a number: 1.2, 1.0, 0.7, and 1.1. The average of these four numbers is 1.0. Hey, we are doing pretty well here. The stronger persons are compensating for the weaker persons. With time, the weaker persons will learn, and we will have an excellent time some time real soon now.

Let’s reconsider this team. Instead of averaging the team’s numbers, let’s multiply them. The product is 0.92. Uh, oh, uh, the team is not so good.

There must be something wrong with multiplying numbers when some are less than one?

This multiplication example shows that perhaps a manager should devote more attention to the weaker members of a team instead of the stronger members. Also, when considering only myself, I should devote more effort to my weaknesses instead of strengths.

Then again, surely there is something wrong with multiplying numbers when some are less than one?

→ No CommentsTags: Synergy

The One Letter to Use and the Two to Avoid

June 13th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

When talking with others, it helps to use one letter of the alphabet and avoid using two others.

The one letter to use: I

This comes from the old adage, “speak for yourself.” That is harder than it seems as smart people (like me) know so much we are qualified to speak for most if not all of mankind (not). Wow. So much arrogance.

One letter to avoid: U

Avoid, “You did this or that or something wrong!”

The second letter to avoid: Y

Avoid, “Why is this all messed up?”

Let’s combine the two letters to avoid into the common question, “Why did you do this (and ruin my life)?” The poor other person is now on the defensive and in the impossible situation of explaining the universe to me.

Try this instead, “I don’t understand what is happening here. Please help me.” I am in trouble. The other person is powerful. I want their assistance. Perhaps they will help me.

I have had this conversation with countless people. One frequent response is, “Look, (1) I’m a straight shooter. (2) I tell it like it is. (3) I don’t have time to fool around.”

(1) Who said we were talking about shooting some thing or some person?

(2) Oh, all understanding of the universe is held in your mind with never a mistake.

(3) Oh, all valuable time in the universe is yours. Excuse me.

It isn’t easy to work with other people (sometimes). It isn’t easy to convey meaning to other people (sometimes). I find the result is usually worth the effort. Given above are some simple tips. Try them.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Word

Significant Digits: Another Forgotten Fundamental

June 9th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Regardless of what Excel tells us, significant digits (remember that?) tells us otherwise.

Recall something called significant digits from high school math?

Consider calculating something with two numbers. One number has two digits while the other number has three digits. The answer can only have two digits.

For example, 23 x 123 = 2,829. That’s what Excel tells us and what the calculators tell us. Significant digits tells us the answer is 2800. So what? So, plug this overly precise number into a long chain of calculations and the error grows until one day we wake and wonder how we got it all wrong.

Too nerdy? Perhaps, but sometimes math, and other fundamentals, are just that way.

Always, always, always remember the fundamentals.

→ No CommentsTags: Analysis · Clarity · Computing · Estimation · General Systems Thinking

Magic in Fantasy Land (management)

June 6th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Magic happens in fairy tales, not real life. Stop wishing for it to appear. Do the work instead.

I don’t want to manage the work and lead the people. I want magic to happen. I want someone to create a self-managing organization. oooh aaah this is special.

Grow up folks. Magic is in fairy tales, not real life.

→ No CommentsTags: Management

They are My Customer, but not My Teacher

June 2nd, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

My customer pays me for a product or a service. I provide it. I do not, however, have to allow my customer to be my teacher.

My customer is my customer. They pay me for a product or a service, and I provide that.

However, I don’t have to:

  • act like they act
  • talk like they talk
  • treat people like they treat people
  • hate like they hate
  • ridicule like they ridicule
  • and so on

I don’t have to learn from them.

Not only does this apply to my customer, it also applies to my employer and a lot of other persons I meet each day.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Customer · Learning

DevOps: Born of Managers Managing Poorly

May 30th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Yet another new occupation comes from yet another bad practice.

For the past several years surveying the job market, I kept finding ads for a position called DevOps. Some reading and discussions sort of brought me to an understanding of what that is.

Once again, I learned that I did this new job some 25 years ago. Back then, however, it was known as managing the work. It seems that a number of managers managed the work so poorly that someone created an occupation to do this work properly so the managers wouldn’t have to try in vain to do it.

A generation ago I managed the work of two dozen persons who were swirling all day. Some were developers, some were system administrators, while some were users of the computers and software. I recall pacing all day behind the cubicles off all these persons asking some to wait a minute or two while someone else set up the system for them. Then I would ask an administrator to wait a minute or two while a user’s task finished. Then I…eight or ten hours went by quickly.

This managing the work wasn’t easy. I felt unprepared to do this, but I did it, and we all worked together to do our jobs.

What happened? Why did we create an occupation to do the job of the managers?

My guess is that managers didn’t want to manage so we whined enough that senior managers hired someone to do our job for us. Eventually, a new occupation was born. These new DevOps persons do our job for us. If they fail, we can fire them and hire someone else to do our job for us.

Perhaps we could just do our job ourselves no matter the difficulty. Then again, I am somewhat naive about all this.

→ No CommentsTags: DevOps · Management · Work

Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan (even in Agile)

May 26th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I emphasize fundamentals in my work. One such fundamental is the old cliche about planning and working (see title). I find it still applies—even with “new” methods like Agile.

Plan your work, work your plan

I heard that a lot in the 1980s. I find it to be one of those things that are just true or “no duh.” If you pour water on something, that thing will be wet.

“But,” some say these days and the past 15 years, “we are Agile, we don’t plan.”

The Agile Manifesto states, “We value responding to change over following a plan.”

That statement is itself a plan. The plan is to have a plan, but be ready for change and respond to those changes. The plan is to be flexible or agile.

The “work your plan” part of Agile is to actually respond to change. Don’t just say you will respond to change, respond.

Plan your work, work your plan. Still true.

→ No CommentsTags: Agility · Culture · Lifecycle · Management