Working Up

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

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But This Worked Before!

December 18th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Nothing is so cruel as to learn that the system we built doesn’t do what we thought it would.

We are good, smart, caring people. We work diligently to build good systems that serve others. We test. We really test—no kidding, no fooling around. We really test.

Then one day, someone walks in the room and says, “Hey, this doesn’t work right.” Then they show us that our creation doesn’t work right. What? Something must be wrong, and the wrong thing has been done by someone else. We, we, we, er, uh, we can’t deny what we see. The ceiling falls in on us.

We understand that this person has done us a favor by showing us a fault we missed. The fault will be corrected before folks out in the world depend on our system. Still. This is crushing.

Now we have to crawl through the inside of our system to find what we missed earlier. That is called “crawling” for good reasons. It requires getting down on our bellies and moving slowly inch by inch and gosh that is tedious and I really had some enjoyable things lined up today that I like to do and this isn’t fun and I’m going to miss lunch and and and things just are bad.

Take a walk. Five minutes, but just five minutes. Breathe deeply and slowly. Realize once again that:

  • we are human, not perfect
  • the system is the system, it is not us
  • no one is saying we are bad, they are just noticing something odd in the system

Breathe a while longer. Regain composure. Now begin the work.

Fantasy? Maybe, but it works better than other approaches I have used.

→ No CommentsTags: Breathe · Learning · Reframe · Systems · Testing · Thinking

I Don’t Want to Hurt Your Feelings, but…

December 14th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Drop the “but.” It erases all previous words. Use a period instead.

I said: I don’t want to hurt you feelings, but, we need to change how we do things here.

He heard: we, actually YOU, need to change how we do things here.

Funny how the word “but” works in conversation. It tends to erase all the words that preceded it. Let’s try this.

I said: I don’t want to hurt your feelings.

He heard: blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah.

Wait, the second conversation was supposed to be wonderful with blue skies, rainbows, and all sorts of pixie dust, right? Well, those things only exist in fairy tales. Let’s continue the conversation.

I said: I’m being clobbered by the way we are doing things now.

He heard: I have a problem.

I said: I need your help.

He heard: Well, maybe this guy isn’t so bad after all. He came to me for help. Perhaps I’ll listen now. Let’s see how painful this is going to be.

I said: I need the outcome to be this instead of that.

He heard: Now he’s starting to mumble again, but…

I said: what would you do?

He heard: Oh, he wants me to fix him. Well, he does have lots of problems, that is obvious, and if he didn’t have all of them my life might be better. Perhaps…

Roses and rainbows? No. The second conversation has a better chance of working. It is worth a try.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Conversation · Word

Grow Your Own Food (not, but)

December 11th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

There are a long list of things we could try that would not work, but there may be side benefits for trying.

A recent article highlighted what some call agri-hoods where people are trying to live an agriculture life in the outer suburbs. Yes, they are going to grow their own food. Of course this won’t work. Estimates differ, but you need two to ten acres of good land per person to grow your own food. So, this will fail, BUT you may learn a few things a teach a few things. Those are pretty good side benefits.

Got great ideas of things to do? Most will not work. Here are some that won’t:

  • write a novel
  • write a screenplay
  • write a play
  • build a house
  • build a car
  • paint portraits
  • It is easy to continue the list.

Then we go back to the first paragraph, BUT there are many things we can learn and teach that flow from the attempt. So, attempt it and keep your notice-er in full gear and learn and teach.

→ No CommentsTags: Learning · Notice · Observation

We Know It’s Broken, but…

December 7th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

For some reason (and we have a lot of these reasons), we just let things go when we know better.

Yes, that thing doesn’t work right, but you know, we just don’t fix it because…

  • I don’t like fixing things
  • It is someone else’s problem, they broke it or they installed it wrong
  • I have more fun things to do
  • I have more interesting things to do
  • If you ask me to fix it, I’ll quit this job and get one where they let me do what I like
  • I don’t work for you, or
  • You’re not the boss of me
  • and besides, people are so accustomed to it not working that they stopped complaining
  • and we could keep growing the list.

And so this management job isn’t as easy as people told me it would be because there are all these people working here, and they don’t do what I say.

→ No CommentsTags: Excuses · Management · People

Stop Listening, Don’t Wonder

December 4th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I write this one with some hesitancy as there is always something to be learned by continually listening. Sometimes, however, listen for meta messages, not the message as the messenger is clearly confused.

Sometimes the best thing to do is stop listening—for now. And also, don’t waste time and energy wondering about what the message the messenger is sending. I hesitate with this advice.

I encourage listening; what’s more, I encourage noticing, i.e., using all the senses when receiving messages.

Often, however, the message is, “I don’t know what I am saying or writing.”

The better response is learning and teaching. Learning what the messenger desires to say or write and teaching them what to say and how to say it.

This learning and teaching requires a closer conversation. If that closer conversation is not yet available, wait until it is. Stop listening, for now, and don’t waste and time or energy wondering what the person is trying to say. In my experience, my wondering will be incredibly wrong—so wrong that it hinders my understanding of the true message.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication

The One-Person Silo

November 30th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We all like to have something we can call our own. We like to work on something and say, “I did that!” We have to decide if one of us is smarter than all of us.

In Agile Development, somehow the team meets and decides on a new feature or fix for the system under consideration. Now we decide: who will work on that new feature? One of the choices is assign (a) the team or (b) one person.

When we choose (b) one person, we are creating the one-person silo or one-person stovepipe or whatever cliche you like to use. The one person contemplates, designs, builds, names, tests, and integrates the new feature. Someone else may do some other testing, but one person does 90% of the work.

When we choose (a) the team, several persons participate in all the steps.

(a) The team is not a popular choice. We all like to have something to call our own. I want to work on this by myself. I have a unique insight into this. I can do it! Those are all correct statements. Are they, however, the better statements? Is it better to say, “Each member of the team has unique insights to contribute?” And, “The team can do it!”

I guess we have to decide question zero: Who is smarter, me or everyone (including me)?

This is not one of those inspirational posters about synergy. And it isn’t one of those posters that poke fun at those inspirational posters (Synergy—all of us are dumber than each of us).

I don’t want to be bogged down by all those other people asking questions and offering suggestions. I want to just do it!

Fine, Mr; Genius. Go home after my paycheck-earning work. Do something at home by myself that I can call all my own. Perhaps that at-home, I-did-it-all-by-myself system will be better than anything the team did at that paycheck-earning job. Good for me.

But for now, while I am at that paycheck-earning job at work, I’ll just have to humor the rest of the team and let them work with me. Who knows, maybe I will learn something.

→ No CommentsTags: Adults · Respect · Synergy · Trust · Work

On Second Thought

November 27th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Often it is not the thought that counts but the second thought that really counts.

I got a great idea! Wow! Here we go.

Two days later…well, that wasn’t such a great idea. It was a good idea, but after a good meal, a bit of exercise, some time doing something completely different, and some rest…I have a much better idea.

I guess there is something about the subconscious mind working all the time or maybe it is problem solving while sleeping or dreaming or maybe something to do with how the digestive system bone connects to the head bone. Perhaps some one will explain this some day, but that would ruin all the fun.

This seems to have happened to me a lot of times in life. I think it would have happened a lot more if I had allowed it to.

In writing,

it isn’t the writing but the editing that counts.

In thinking, perhaps

it isn’t the thought but the second thought that counts.


→ No CommentsTags: Thinking · Time

Systems Engineering and Social Media

November 23rd, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The recent rash of misuse and abuse of social media reminds us of that old, boring practice called systems engineering and limiting systems to do only what they are supposed to do.

Recent news reports point to all sorts of “misuse” and “abuse” of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These companies, as well as Google, just had their top lawyers sit in front of our elected representatives’ lawyers to discuss things that top lawyers discuss.

It seems that some people used these social media outlets to push their propaganda on folks. Little credit is given to folks to discern anything about propaganda. Let’s not delve into the subject of elected representatives having a dim view of the persons who elected them. That is for another day…

Facebook was created so that friends could stay in contact and communicate. Cool. I like that. I have found many of the persons who went to tiny Loranger High School the same time periods as myself. I keep in touch with many relatives who live a thousand miles away. This is great. Facebook fulfills its purpose.

Facebook also has capabilities that perhaps were not intended. (see my post on Unintended Capabilities). Persons have exploited those. For example, Facebook Live allows me to show my adorable grand kids roasting marshmallows live to relatives far away who would love to see that. That is an intended capability. Works great. Persons can, however, use Facebook Live to broadcast “I HATE MY NEIGHBOR” to the world for free $0. That is an unintended capability.

Enter good old, bad old, neglected in the post-modern world practice of systems engineering (SE). When practicing SE, a system will do everything it is intended to do (all requirements are built, tested, integrated, and delivered). Also when practicing SE, a system will not do anything it is not intended to do. Only the requirements are implemented AND functions are in the system to prevent other capabilities from being capable.

It is obvious that Facebook, Inc. did not use SE. If they had, you wouldn’t be able to stand in front of the world and spend $0 to yell, “I HATE MY NEIGHBOR” to the entire world. That was not a requirement. Something in the system should not implement that. My guess is the folks at Facebook knew how to prevent that unintended capability, but didn’t want to spend the money on it.

Gosh, isn’t it great that they saved that money?

Systems engineering pays for itself.

→ No CommentsTags: Engineering · General Systems Thinking · Requirements · Systems

Scope and Influence

November 20th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Regardless of the size and scope of an organization, we all have to opportunity to learn from and pass along learnings to the few persons we meet each day. Naive? Perhaps, but worth a try.

I currently work for an organization that has over 100,000 persons in it. Of course that size and scope is too large for anyone to manage effectively. Of course there is duplication and ignorance and all sorts of inefficiencies everywhere. And I am happy that I am not “at the top” trying to fix this.

So now what?

Back to basics. I meet a few persons face-to-face on any given day. I have the opportunity to influence those in a positive manner. And, what is more important, I have the opportunity to learn from each of those persons.

One of the best things I can pass along is the previous paragraph. I think this is one way to create a learning and influencing organization—even one that has over 100,000 persons. Who needs to be “at the top.”

→ No CommentsTags: Influence · Learning

We Don’t Need Permission…

November 16th, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Some of us don’t want to stretch things at work. Stretching can create tension, and tension is, well, tense. It is okay. Go ahead and do it.

I wish I remember where I was when I first heard or read the statement,

You don’t need permission to do your job well.

I am pretty sure it came from Larry Constantine. (Google search on, you don’t need permission to do your job well Larry Constantine, as it reveals a number of places that Constantine wrote it and others qouted him).

Some people (used to) call this “guerilla tactics” at work. We know we could do better if we had someone’s permission to make changes. No one wants to commit to change. So, just do it anyway, because we don’t need permission…and so on.

I have been trying this for several decades. It usually works—no guarantees, but it usually works. Just do it.

Something that helps me: “If those people who are authorized to authorize changes in what I do were to understand what I understand, they would authorize me to try…” And then I try it. I don’t tell anyone about what I am doing differently. Perhaps someone will notice the different work product, but probably not.

A key to having this change spread is that people have to see that I am happier at work.

When they ask, “Why are you happier?” I have an answer.

If I am not happier at work by doing things differently, why did I do them differently?

Rats, it all comes back to me. This is tougher than I thought.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Management · Permission