Working Up

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

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The Pre-Meeting

May 18th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The pre-meeting is one of the better techniques for holding a successful meeting.

Want to have a “good” meeting, i.e., one where the outcome is to my liking? Hold a pre-meeting. Meet before the meeting. Plan what you and yours will do and say in the meeting. Plan what you and yours won’t do and say in the meeting. Understand the focus. Stick to the topic. Resist any temptation to stray to other things.

In other words…


One of the reasons those TED talks are so good is that they rehearse. They have a pre-talk before the talk. They pre-talk over and over and make the talk focused, to the topic, tight, with no straying.

Rehearsal works. Pre-meetings work.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Meetings

Change and Improve (as long as…)

May 15th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We will change and improve the situation to improve our products and services to better satisfy our customers…as long as…

Change for the good is good. Hey, it is great. Notice, I am writing about change that IS going to improve our situation and WILL help us better satisfy our customers. I am not writing about that other stuff that is just busy stuff.

So, good change is good…as long as

it is all those other people on our team who are changing and improving


they are changing and improving in a way that highlights my abilities and past contributions.

Oh. Now that we have those caveats stated, perhaps we can discuss the proposed changes and improvements. And perhaps now we can better understand some of the resistance to change and improvement that we all seem to face when we walk in the door on Monday morning with some great ideas.

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Adults · Change · Management

The First Few Minutes

May 11th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Be alert when first meeting someone. You first few minutes are often the most valuable.

Consultant and author Jerry Weinberg once told me, “Pay attention, your customer will tell you their problem and its solution in the first few minutes.”

I have found this to be true, many times.

Recent examples of statements persons have told me in the first moment of meeting:

  1. “Here is our reference manual. If our users would read this, we would eliminate most of our problems.”
  2. “Our users work in chaotic offices. When something doesn’t work, they immediately make a phone call (to us asking for solutions).”

Case 1: The users have lots of problems and bother the developers all day. The reference manual is the wrong type of information for the users. We need a new source of information.

Case 2: The users interact with persons. That is their temperament. We need someone to interact with them right now on the telephone.

People understand their situation well. People know how to solve the vexing issues in their situation. For some reason, people will blurt out these things to a new person, i.e., you in the first few moments of meeting them. Be ready.

→ No CommentsTags: Consulting · Customer · Meetings · Observation

The Reframe or Perhaps We have this all Backwards

May 8th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

One of the more beneficial techniques I have learned is how to reframe a situation or turn it around backwards or upside down.

Is it

  • (1) the donors aren’t giving enough money or
  • (2) the leaders aren’t inspiring the donors.

I hate my boss, so I should

  • (1) become my own boss or
  • (2) stop hating people.

These are “reframes.” The situation is changed, sometimes changed to its opposite. What good are these things? They help me understand how to consider something else. Sometimes they point me to a simple and far more effective course of action.

How do you reframe? I’m not sure. Here are some tips that may help:

Consider above and below the level of abstraction you are using. For example, the donors have leaders. Should the leaders be doing something else? The donors have recipients. Should the recipients be doing something else?

Consider the verbs in your statement of the situation. For example, “I HATE my boss.” Forget about the boss and how to be your own boss, think about hating people.

Consider the nouns in your statement of the situation. For example, “I hate my BOSS.” If I start my own business, do I really become my own boss? Perhaps in a business, the customers are the boss. If my business is really successful, I will have millions of customers. I have gone from hating one person to hating millions of persons. Now what?

As with most advice about advising, proceed with caution.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Communication · Consulting · Reframe

Hate Your Boss, Be Your Own Boss (or???)

May 4th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

There are alternatives to replacing your hated boss with yourself.

The title of this post came to my attention recently. It was part of one of those “Give me your money and I will make your life so much better” ads. If you hate your boss, you can quit your job, start your own company and be your OWN boss.

My question: If you  hate your boss and become your boss, will you hate yourself?

Perhaps you won’t hate yourself. Perhaps you will learn that as the owner of your own company, you will find your customers to be your boss. Then will you hate your customers? Now you hate a large group of persons.

Let’s retreat a few steps and consider this one:

learn not to hate.

Now you won’t have all that trouble with starting a business, working really hard, borrowing money, hiring others, and so on. And you won’t have to tolerate being hated by yourself.

Just a thought.

→ No CommentsTags: Greed · Health · People

Political Polarization and being Just Plain Lazy

May 1st, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I delve into politics or politicians and submit an ugly theory about polarization in American politics.

American politics seem to be polarized more than in the last few generations. There are plenty of explanations and denials (see a recent New York Times story as an example). One explanation that makes a lot of sense to me is (get ready for this):

America’s elected representatives have become just plain lazy.

Consider the theory of how America’s elected representatives should behave:

  1. They run for elected office on principles, not specifics.
  2. Once in office, they use their principles to guide their decisions.
  3. They engage in compromise necessary to govern, i.e.,  budgets are on time, appointees are approved or not quickly, and the other little things that comprise governing.

Now for the laziness. Item (1) says that you don’t stand up in the campaign and proclaim, “I will never approve anything that so-and-so in the White House proposes.” If elected, that person is bound to vote “no” on everything. The nation grinds to a halt. It is much more difficult to explain principles to voters expecting them to understand what you say and see the good judgement in that.

Item (2) requires thinking, contemplation, and explanation. They have to return to their home and explain to their voters why they voted for this and against that. Those explanations take thought and time and enduring criticism. People may never understand your whys and wherefores. That, again, requires hard work.

Item (3) is perhaps the most difficult. The US Constitution is full of compromises. Everyone, well when I was in high school, studied these great compromises. No one got everything they wanted. Everyone settled for something less. That was hard work. Elected representatives today don’t want to do this work. Consider approving judges. There are 11 court openings. The party that has 51% of the Senate picks six judges while the other party picks five. Everyone is disappointed. Everyone gets something, but not everything. The vacancies are filled quickly and the nation moves forward.  The same happens with the budget. The party in power with 51% of the Congressional seats writes 51% of the budget. The others write the other parts. The budget is on time, we move forward. Everyone is disappointed, but the nation functions.

That is all hard work. What happened to that? Where did the adults disappear to?

→ No CommentsTags: Adults · Work

What are We Doing Here?

April 27th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Another fundamental question in systems engineering. Like the rest of the questions, ask with caution.

Ever ask the titular question at work? Ever ask it out loud and expect an answer? Perhaps you are a systems engineer. Perhaps your workplace needs a systems engineer.

The question seeks to find the reason behind daily life in the workplace. Surely we are doing something for some reason for some person. Right? Let’s hope so, but hope is often at odds with reality.

The question seeks to stop the busy-ness of the work day and start some contemplation, i.e., some thinking. Really folks, what ARE we doing here? Who is paying us? What do they want? How will our current activity lead to something of value for those paying the bills? Why do we ask questions like this that don’t seem to have obvious answers?

As with other fundamental questions, take care when asking. Try doing it quietly in small groups of no more than three persons at first. Some people take great offense at such questions.

→ No CommentsTags: Analysis · General Systems Thinking · Questions · Systems

Ready, Fire, Aim—or something like that

April 24th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes we have to stop, go back to basics, and learn what we are trying to do before we try to do it.

Stupid, right? How in the world could I run off and start working before knowing what it is I am supposed to do?


Someone I trusted told me what to do. I ran off like a faithful puppy dog and tried to do it. Silly me. I didn’t take the time to speak with someone and say, “Hi, I’m Dwayne. What is it you would like us to do?”

I felt that would be a waste of time. Silly, right? I was wrong again.

I am never to0 old, experienced, or too anything to skip the basics. It is ready, aim, fire—not something else.

→ No CommentsTags: Analysis · Clarity · Work

The Steam Roller—What’s in a Name?

April 20th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We still refer to the steam roller even though no one has one such a machine in over a hundred years. So what? Maybe something important.

We once used steam rollers to flatten things. They had a steam engine for power. They weighed a lot. They were effective.

We quit using steam engines on such machines over a hundred years ago, but we still call them steam rollers. Who cares? Cute name. No harm done.

It matters what names we use for some things.  It matters when we call hour-long meetings “stand up” meetings. It matters when we “sprint” all day long.

Somethings to consider.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication

The Commissioned Trade Study

April 17th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The follies and pitfalls of a trade study.

One of the more wasteful things governments, persons who work for governments, do is commission a trade study.

Go forth, study something, and report back to us.

Time passes. Persons run about asking questions and reading readings. The money flows. Keyboards clickety-clack, spots appear on computer screens, and toner is electrostatic-ally adhered to previously white paper. The commissioners fight off sleep to the last page, stand, and proclaim:

I already knew all this stuff. Why did I pay you to do this?

The question is of course rhetorical as no will utter the response. Hence, folks like me write blog posts like this.

How it all goes wrong:

First, the trade study is commission is vague. A few sentences direct the study-ers. The study-ers attempt to read the commissioners minds, but they are study-ers, not mind readers, and, well, it all flops. The commissioners need to write specific instructions. They commissioners need to provide specific questions (in writing). The commissioners need to write much more than they want to write.

The usual I’m-a-commissioner-not-a-writer response is, “They (the study-ers) are supposed to know what I want. I’m not supposed to write a trade study telling them what to study!”

Too bad.

Second, the commissioners underestimate how much they learned by reading the trade study. There is something called Hindsight Bias (see Heuert’s groundbreaking text on all sorts of mental biases). We all tend to underestimate how much we learn when we read.

The result: not good. Good taxpayer money is wasted. Persons on both sides lose trust in one another. Knowledge is not accumulated. Bad decisions follow.

→ No CommentsTags: Analysis · Communication · Customer · Expectations