Working Up

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

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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

The Opposite of Synergy—Yet Another Example

April 13th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Often, the individual members of a group don’t understand what the group has decided.

This is wonderful. I found a discussion online where persons who care about words were trying to invent a word for the opposite of synergy. No one suggested the obvious—the US Congress.

Politics aside, or maybe politics of ordinary persons included, lots of groups of people do what Congress usually does:

The group decides something while most of the individuals in the group don’t know what the group decided.

“Someone else understands the details. I was told it was okay,” is the usual justification.

Some persons in the world, like me, always know the details. We can’t function in life without it. We put too much emphasis on facts. Sigh. The world drives us crazy. Unless, of course, we can see the folly and entertainment in the rest of the world.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Competence · Decide

The Condescending Robot (Employer)

April 10th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

A new high or low in robots in the warehouse.

I find this one fascinating. This warehouse “robot” walks a human to the right spot in the cavern of products.

The touchscreen shows the human what product to load in the bin. Hence, the robot knows where the product is and how many products to ship. The human knows next to nothing. The human, however, has a functioning arm and hand. Automating the reaching and picking and placing is a bit too expensive at this time. Just wait a few years though.

Anyways, the smart robotic cart leads the not-nearly-as-smart person around the warehouse like a little puppy dog. The makers sell this as a collaborative robot in that it works with the human, not replacing the human.

Does anyone else see the arrogance here? The makers are condescending towards the little people who work in the warehouse. The warehouse owners admit that their human employees are morons.

How does a person think that way about a person they employ? How desperate are persons to take these jobs where the robot leads them around?

→ No CommentsTags: Adults · Technology · Work

The Mythical Shortage of fill-in-the-blank-persons

April 6th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Shortage of qualified applicants? A myth. Here is one of the explanations. Sorry if this exposes what you wear under your kilt.

There is a shortage of…

  • qualified programmers
  • qualified analysts
  • qualified engineers
  • qualified qualifiers

that is why we want more fill-in-the-blank-with-magical-government-magic.

Listen to what companies say: “We can’t find qualified fill-in-the-blank-persons.”

True statement. Note, the company representatives didn’t say, “Qualified fill-in-the-blank-persons don’t exist.” They merely can’t find them.

Now we are moving closer to the problem. Sorry if this offends you:

Companies have trouble hiring persons.

Big companies have big trouble hiring persons.

Here is a link to a “joke” interview process. The joke is this isn’t a joke. Interviewers ask questions like this and don’t understand the answers they receive.

Answer: Let persons who actually understands what they need in an applicant converse with the applicant.

Note: the above answer does not:

  • use the word “interview”
  • involve a recruiter
  • use a standard interview script

But this is a pollyana world that does not exist. No one can afford to have working fill-in-the-blank-persons step away from their jobs to converse with fill-in-the-blank-persons applying for jobs.

Perhaps. Perhaps that is merely an excuse. Perhaps it is easier to lobby elected officials to plead for magic instead of doing the work.

→ No CommentsTags: Employment · People

March Madness

April 3rd, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I used to love the NCAA basketball tournament. Perhaps it is only for the young.

The NCAA men’s basketball championship game will be played tonight. I won’t watch it as the game won’t start until after I go to bed on the east coast. It starts late in the east as that maximizes the nationwide TV audience and brings more advertising dollars.

What was once a sporting event is now a TV show. I suppose that is okay as it makes more money that way. And the players do deserve the higher pay they recei…uh, oh, no, uh, wait…the players don’t get paid. Never mind.

It is odd that while there is more money in NCAA basketball than before, the players are paid less. Yes, the players used to be paid. Their pay was against the rules, but they were paid here and there by this person and that person who were only “associated with” the basketball programs. Now, there is much tighter scrutiny by the NCAA so the money spigot was closed.

I used to love watching the NCAA basketball tournament. The finals were played on Saturday afternoon after the third-place game was played earlier in the day (on TV). Now the finals are late-night Monday night in prime time on a school night. It is no longer a sporting event for kids who love sports. Now it is a TV show for adults. Oh well.

Still, the guys playing on the teams do it because they want to do it. Some of them simply love playing the game. Some love the attention they receive. Some do it because they may do this professionally and support their close and extended families. I find that admirable. Trouble with that last one is that only 1% are good enough to make a living.

I know when I was young I would have given almost anything to be on a team that was in the NCAA tournament. I would happily have sat the bench and never played just to be there. I was young.

Perhaps that is key to all this. The TV show is for the young.

Troubling question: is it all for the child-like or the child-ish?

Perhaps many of the players are child-like—something I find admirable. Those older people who are spending and making all the money; perhaps child-ish, and I don’t find that admirable.


→ No CommentsTags: Adults · America · Childhood

Writing and Googling

March 30th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Writers (and everyone else): use the research resources that are available. And extend them.

Mark this one under the non-existent tag of #a-writing-basic-that-I-feel-compelled-to-write-about-just-for-the-record or something like that.

Writers: Google stuff before you write. Google stuff while you are writing. Google stuff after you have finished writing.

This is not a paid commercial for Google. (Does Google pay for stuff like this? Where? Where is my money?)

Want to write about someone who lived in rural Iowa in the 1950s? Google will point you to things that explain how that was. Want to write about earned value project management? Same answer. Want to see if your description of sine cosine and tangent are correct? Same answer.

Some writers haven’t heard this before. Hence, the long nonsensical tag in the first paragraph.

All kidding and ranting aside. Use the research resources that are available. Extend those resources. Google for people who know about rural life in Iowa in the 1950s. Then go find those people, buy them lunch, and talk to them. Now you are the expert and people will find your writings when they Google “rural life in Iowa in the 1950s.”

→ No CommentsTags: Research · Work · Writing

And Then What Happens?

March 27th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

There is a fundamental question to ask in analyzing and engineering systems. Why don’t we use it more often?

A: We put this into the system.

B: And then what happens?

A: Well, now the system can do this great function for the users.

B: And then what happens?

A: For one thing, the users don’t call us so often.

B: And then what happens?

A: We have more time to ourselves to do what we want to do.

B: And then what happens?

The conversation can take several twists and turns depending on how A answers. This important thing is that B repeatedly asks the question.

It is a simple question—only four words. The words are easy to say. I often wonder why more people don’t ask the question more often. It provides useful answers. Of course A can become quite irritated, but then again, some persons hate it when you ask them anything.

Proceed with caution.

→ No CommentsTags: Adults · Communication · General Systems Thinking · Questions · Systems · Thinking

Analog Had Its Advantages

March 23rd, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Somteimes I miss the analog days. They covered a lot of my mistakes.

Handwritten notes let me fudge and smudge and avoid mistakes—like spelling. I could smudge the “i” and the “e” together and put the dot of the “i” somewhere in the middle, and no one could tell that I didn’t know how to spell. Well, the digital world finally came around with typing on a computer with auto-correct, so that’s okay.

But still, is it “effect” or “affect?” Is it “farther” or “further?” When I wrote this by hand, I could make squiggles so no one could tell if I knew what I was doing. The auto-correct word processor doo-dad doesn’t correct those goofs for me. I type them, and the whole world can see my ignorance.

All this digital computer stuff pushes me to know what I am doing. Rats.

→ No CommentsTags: Knowledge · Learning · Technology · Work · Writing

In the Mirror

March 20th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I have seen this in people often, especially when looking in the mirror.

Not off to a good start, but let’s try to pull something useful from this.

We all tend to do what we like and avoid what we don’t like. Not surprising. I like ice cream. I hate paper cuts. My following actions are obvious.

I like solving some types of problems over others. Again, my following actions are obvious.

So what to do with all these meta-obvious-ness? Here are some things I have told myself to push me into the less-liked actions:

  • This is your job. You are paid to do it. Do it.
  • The longer you delay, the more it will hurt.
  • Surprise yourself and do it, you might actually learn something.
  • Well, we’re waiting…

There are other things I tell myself. The list could continue, and it will.

→ No CommentsTags: Adults · Change · Choose · Employment

The Present and the Future

March 16th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Here we are in the present. We can decide how we create the future.

Things are the way they are because they got that way.
Let’s try that again…The present is a natural result of all past circumstances. There are people, capabilities, technology, budget, outside forces, and a host of other things that combined to bring us to where we are today. The persons involved have all done the best they could with the best intentions with the situation.
We can decide the future.
The Zeroth Decision: let natural results continue or decide the future for ourselves.
The second choice puts a heavy responsibility on us. Just letting things happen is much easier.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Design · Excuses · Expectations