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

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The Advantage of Cultural Ignorance

February 11th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Ignorance is often bliss. Ignorance of culture has kept me from trouble many times in my life. I guess this is an advantage of being a nerd.

I remember as a kid other kids walking up to me and, with their most earnest face, saying,

I dare ya’

They were really serious when they said this. They would look side to side to ensure no adults could hear them, purse their expression, and give me the “dare” statement. My reaction was always the same. I had no clue what they meant or why they were so serious. So, I ignored them.

Somewhere in my upbringing, my parents had neglected to teach me the importance of a dare. I was completely ignorant of it and I never got into trouble doing something wrong because of a dare.

That is the first example I can remember of being culturally ignorant. There were others that came to me while a child and there have been many others that hit me as a adult. People, like the “dare ya'” kid, would seem so earnest and tell me something that I just didn’t understand. Then they would pause and stare at me like I was supposed to do something earth shattering. Instead, I responded with a blank stare until the other person shook their head and walked away muttering something that I won’t repeat here.

There are great advantages to being culturally ignorant. In my life, being ignorant kept me from doing many stupid things. I avoided many problems because I simply didn’t understand what was bringing people to the point of a physical and emotional fit.

I guess this is an advantage of being a nerd or whatever term people use to describe us dolts these days.

→ No CommentsTags: Culture

How do You do Your Job?

February 8th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

It can be most helpful to many if you would write what you do to accomplish your job.

How do you do your job?

Can you answer that question? Most people I have met cannot. I find that quite frustrating. Part of my job is to describe to possible customers how my colleagues do their jobs. We want possible customers to become real, paying customers, but those pesky possible customers want to be convinced that we know what we are doing. Hence, they want a description of how we do our job.

There are other possible benefits to describing, on paper, how you do your job. One is that other persons can look at your description. They can offer suggestions. Now we reach the point where we discuss ego—caution folks. Yes, I can do my job better than I do it now. “Better” is of course subjective, so I have to proceed with caution. It may be that I don’t want to improve in the way you want me to improve. If, however, I don’t at least listen I will never know.

Think—I know, another dangerous suggestion. How do you do your job? Start with a few scribbles and build it to an actual half a page or so. Put it away for a week. Look at it again.

This is not a request for analysis paralysis. Use your information to your benefit.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Knowledge · Learning

Don’t Try So Hard

February 4th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

One of the worst things to do in many situations is to try really, really hard.

One of the best pieces of advice I received from author and consultant Jerry Weinberg is:

Don’t try so hard

I have to force myself to remember this when I find myself staring at something and not seeing anything.

A friend of mine expresses this thought as:

Let’s not over think this

Another way I state this is:


Enough pithy sayings. I try to back away from the details and consider what I am trying to do. There is something in front of me. What is the first and obvious thing I notice? Go with that.

Trying too hard constricts the flow of goodness to the brain and the heart. Relax folks. If there is something in front of you, you will see it. If nothing is there, you aren’t missing anything.


→ No CommentsTags: Breathe · Observation · Work

Too Bad They Used a Cliche

February 1st, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I wish I knew what they meant, but, unfortunately, they used a cliche.

Oh, what a cute cliche.

I wonder what the writer actually meant.

I’ll never know because the writer used that cliche instead of words with meaning.

→ No CommentsTags: Clarity · Communication

Wasting Time and Wasting Time

January 28th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes the best use of time is wasting it and the most wasteful use of time is working hard.

Here is a story I heard many years ago:


Two computer programmers came to work. They both worked hard and programmed for six straight hours to the point of exhaustion.

The first programmer, being exhausted, wasted the rest of the day, the next two hours.

The second programmer, being more punctilious than the first, continued to write computer programs for the next two hours.

Being exhausted, the second programmer made a lot of mistakes during these last two hours. There were so many mistakes that it took the rest of the week, four days, for the second programmer to find and correct all the mistakes.

The first programmer spent the rest of the week writing new, mistake-free computer programs.

Conclusions about the Story

  1. Sometimes, the best thing to do at work is to waste time.
  2. Sometimes, working really hard leads to mistakes that waste time to find and correct.

Real Life

This story came to mind this week as a colleague felt ill, but worked really hard anyways an made lots of mistakes that took days to find and correct.

I suppose these little stories we hear have some truth to them.

→ No CommentsTags: Fable · Fatigue · Work

The Default Choice

January 25th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Given a choice made for us or us making our own choice, we choose the default.

A recent experiment showed that people will eat fruit instead of french fries if fruit is the default choice. This experiment was not done on sophisticated, health-conscious adults but on kids. Uh, well, there must be an explanation.

Here are some possible explanations:

  • we are lazy
  • we trust those who set the default
  • proximity overrules other things (including judgement)

Let’s skip over the first two as I don’t want to believe those about myself. Let’s agree the third explanation is most correct. So now what do I do?

Put the alternative I want people to choose right in front of them.

Boy, it is a bit embarrassing to need an expensive study to learn such a simple lesson.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Choose

Assumed Outcomes and Dietary Guidelines

January 21st, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We often assume desired outcomes when recommending practices. It often helps to know your desired destination.

Once again, our government recently issued dietary guidelines. Some hailed the guidelines while others went as far as to say that our government officials were bribed. How else could they issue such bad advice?

Perhaps those who issued the guidelines and those who hated the guidelines had different outcomes in mind. Consider:

To move your body in the direction of blank-number-1, consume more blank-number-2 and expend more blank-number-3.

We rarely fill in blank-number-1. We all assume that we all agree on blank-number-1. I doubt that even a third of us agree on that. (I’ll skip the joke about what we do when we assume. That exercise is left to the reader.)

Examples for blank-number-1 include:

  • low body mass index
  • high muscle content
  • resistance to flu
  • resistance to cancer
  • resistance to close personal relationships

It seems to me that blank-number-2 and blank-number-3 will differ greatly depending on what we chose for blank-number-1.

Let’s pull this back towards project management. Everyone knows that all practices we do should be aimed towards agile project management. I guess I am not with everyone as I know there are many projects for which agile is the worst possible approach.

Please, state the desired outcome before recommending how to achieve it.

→ No CommentsTags: Management

The Paramedics Rule

January 18th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Don’t do anything that you can’t explain to the paramedics.

I learned this rule at a workshop held by author and consultant Jerry Weinberg. We were learning how to do simulations or exercises in seminars. You didn’t want to do anything that would accidentally break any bones or cause other things that would need attention from paramedics. You would have to try to explain to the paramedics what you were doing that warranted a call to them and…well, you know.

We can lessen the reach of this rule to something like:

Don’t do anything that you can’t explain to fill-in-the-blank-with-someone-who-you-would-be-embarrassed-to-explain-your-actions-to.

I suppose this means that we shouldn’t take unnecessary risks. Of course the word “unnecessary” is subjective and can mean just about anything to just about anyone.

Still, keep the thought in mind.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Excuses · General Systems Thinking

Don’t Connect to the Silly Internet!

January 14th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Governments worldwide are grappling with how to make their infrastructure safe from hacking. The solution is trivial.

Everyone is afraid that their SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems are being hacked (here is one story of many). Bad people will cause dams to overflow and sewage to be poured into drinking water and the lights will go out and so on.

How do these bad people gain control over dams, water supplies, and the electric grid? Those things are connected to the Internet. The Internet can be hacked. Hence, bad people gain control over dams, water supplies, and the other infrastructure that keeps people safe and voters happy.

Why are those things connected to the Internet? Because someone else built the communications system to make the Internet function. The communications used for remote control is really cheap.

Now it is plain. Those companies that operate our utilities traded security of control for money. Hmmm.

How can we make our dams and water supplies and such safe from hackers. Pay attention as this is complicated.

Don’t connect to the silly Internet.

If you want remote control of your dam, pay a little money for your own, secure communications. I don’t know why this obvious answer has eluded utility companies. I don’t know why this obvious answer has eluded those public servants who sit on utility regulatory commissions. Perhaps someone can explain this to me.

→ No CommentsTags: Government · Security

Lie to Everyone but Me

January 11th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

If someone could overcome the scientific and logical barriers to backdoors to encryption systems, they would still face one of trusting liars.

Many of our elected representatives want our technology companies to build encryption systems with “backdoors.” (Here is a link to one story of such.) These magical backdoors would permit the technology company to read our encrypted mail and other such private conversations. Our elected representatives don’t seem to understand that if there is way to unencrypt a message, people will find that way and do nefarious deeds.

If we could overcome the scientific and logical barriers to such encryption backdoors, there is a greater issue. The fundamental factor in encrypting message is that the technology company tells customers that the encryption is good. This means that a person must have the key to read the message. Since no one has a key, the conversation is private.

(1) The technology company is telling customers, “No one can read your message.”

The technology company, however, has a backdoor (in our magical legislated world).

(2) The technology company is telling the government, “We can read everyone’s message.”

A brief consideration of (1) and (2) shows that the technology company is lying to its customers. Hence, the technology company is a known L I A R.

Fast forward a day or two, and our government charges someone with a crime and comes to court to present evidence found in that ne’er-do-well person’s messages. The conversation goes something like…

Prosecutor: We have obtained evidence proving this ne’er-do-well is guilty.

Judge: How did you get this evidence?

Prosecutor: We obtained it via our friendly technology company and their magical backdoor.

Judge: So your case is based on the word of the technology company.

Prosecutor: Yes.

Judge: But from items (1) and (2), we know that the technology company is a L I A R.

Prosecutor: pause

Judge: You want to convict an accused ne’er-do-well on evidence supplied by a L I A R.

Prosecutor: longer pause

Judge: Good bye.

As a side note, the government of China has recently acted in an unprecedented transparent manner with regards to encrypted messages. They require all technology companies to give them copies of all the keys. There are no backdoors and there is no lying by the technology companies. Everyone in China knows that the government can read their mail all the time.


→ No CommentsTags: America · Communication · Engineering · Government · Privacy · Security