Please visit our sponsors:
You've caught me; another blog about things that I have recently read.
The first is a note from Mike Cohn, who founded Mountain Goat Software. I don't, nor have I ever worked for Mike or his company. To be honest, I cannot recall how I first heard about him, but I've followed his blogs for years. He is a straight-shooter and calls 'em like he sees 'em. Most recently, he offered the following thoughts about estimation:
"I ask a team to estimate a product backlog item only when having the estimate will lead to actionably different behavior. So, for example, I might ask a team for an estimate on a user story so that I can decide if I want that story soon or perhaps not at all. Or I might ask for an estimate so I can make a commitment to a client or partner.
But I don’t ask a team to estimate just so I can later yell at them if they’re wrong. I don’t ask a team to estimate just so they feel pressure to meet that estimate."
(Yes, I know he's using some software lingo, but we all understand requirements, functionality and 'wish lists.' That's what he's talking about.)
I took a moment and thought about this. Granted, I'm frequently asked to estimate effort. We are all asked to provide estimates. But are these estimates used properly or, as Mike suggests, do they come back to bite you?
Maybe the article struck too close to home? On a recent project, I was hounded for a count of test cases. I have no problem telling anyone how many cases I've created, but if you aren't going to review them - and the requirements - the numbers don't mean anything. 'More' does not always equal 'good' (or 'better') in these situations.
In fact, it reminds me of the so-called 'good old days' of software where developers were paid by the line of code. Really. Have you ever heard of 'code bloat?' I assure you that many developers from that era have. Simply put, you cannot judge anything by the number of components. In other words, if 'some' is good, 'more' is not automatically better.
In his note, Mike goes on to add:
"Why not estimate everything?
Estimating can add a lot of value. It can lead to better decisions. For example, I’ll make a better 2016 budget with the estimates I’ve asked for than if I don’t get them. Right now, that’s important to me. But, if an estimate will not lead to an actionably different decision, time spent estimating is wasted."
He's right. You can spend a lot of time on tasks - estimating, metrics, even solutioning - that never come to fruition. His point is valid; if it means better decisions, it's not wasted time. And I would argue that sometimes we don't see better decisions coming from our efforts, and that can cause some frustration and even distrust.
As managers, we're often asking our teams to perform such activities. Sometimes we have to do them ourselves. Is the 'Why?' so hard to follow, or even question? Most of us can handle a situation once we have the appropriate information.
As Mike says, we can make better decisions. Working smarter, not harder, is the name of the game. So it's worthwhile to ask yourselves 'Why?' before requesting or performing the activity. If it leads to understanding and appreciating the goal, then it's time well spent. If you don't have a suitable answer, then you can determine that it's a wasted effort... and then the other questions start to form.
Because I cannot leave well enough alone, I also checked in with Johanna Rothman's site. I've referenced her work here before. She had a related but different topic recently, on 'resource efficiency.' Here is what she uncovered in a recent meeting with a client that was concerned about expertise and productivity:
"I want everyone fully utilized--how else will I know if people are productive?"
(This is a hot topic for me, particularly as a consultant. A freeway at full capacity, for example, means that no one is moving. Do managers really want that?!)
Johanna makes an important point in her note. "Measuring utilization is measuring effort. Your customers don't buy your efforts. They buy your products/features/releases. They buy the results of your efforts."
So estimation, measurement, expertise, utilization don't matter to your customer; make the best product and sell them what they asked for. Granted, pricing and delivery factor into the equation, but the message is clear. The buyer wants your best output, and you have to figure out how to deliver that.
Johanna concludes with this (a point that I agree with 100%):
"Use management to set the context and create an environment in which people can solve most of their problems. Measure the projects or features you finish, not the ones you start."
Your take-away is your own, and I suspect there are a few nodding heads in Reader Land. I tossed a lot of thoughts your way that made sense to me, but maybe not to you? Post your questions and thoughts below and let's see if we can get to a good place with estimates and measuring results. I look forward to the conversation!
Image credit: https://loribonfitto.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/raking-leaves.jpg
Tricia Simo Kush is a certified Professional Engineering Manager with a background in Information Technology and a goal to take her career to a higher level through Engineering Management. She graduated from the MEM program at St. Cloud State University in 2010. To her, Engineering Management is a fascinating mix of technology and business, people and process. She is constantly seeing the ways that Engineering Management spans industries and helps everyone to become effective leaders. Follow her on Twitter (@TSimoKush) or check out her profile on LinkedIn.
In my current residence, the 2010 model furnace is unreliable due to intentional engineering decisions. It has a safety feature that shuts the fuel off if there is no flame. Good idea, but the flame sensor is temperamental and cannot tell it is in the middle of a hot flame when a thin film of oxide is present. I cannot see any buildup, but a quick wipe with steel wool gets it working again. If I am away when the sensor quits, the house may freeze - because the engineers could not think of a better way to tell if something is extremely hot other than this finicky sensor.
Secondly, my furnace shuts the burners off if it believes the flue is plugged. This is a good feature, except that it can be triggered by many different scenarios. When triggered, the furnace shuts down and will attempt to restart when the thermostat signals low temperature. The plugged-flue sensor needs a neutral pressure to reset as would normally happen if the flue was not plugged. As part of another system, there is a small fan that creates negative pressure while the burners are on to prevent combustion gas escaping into the house. If the plugged-flue sensor shuts the burners off and the furnace tries to restart before the small fan stops spinning because of inertia, the combination keeps the fuel shut off and the flue fan starts and keeps running until it is manually rebooted by cutting the power. Again it makes it difficult to leave the house in winter for more than a day for fear of requiring a manual reboot.
The motives behind the improved furnace design are admirable such as safety and energy efficiency, but the unintended consequences of an unreliable system introduce more safety and efficiency concerns. Design engineers are often not good at establishing the bases for their designs, or rather it is typically not their job to do so. The requirements are set by the stakeholders. These stakeholders can benefit from people knowledgeable in EM fundamentals and who believe in the value of systems that work fine. In operations management courses EM’s are taught case studies where one company may succeed and grow by building upon systems that work and others are run into bankruptcy by the unintended consequences of changes based on good intentions without a solid history of success.
Image credit: http://www.nachi.org/gravity-furnace-inspection.htm
Dr. Kennedy spent most of his career on heavy industrial projects in the fields of oil & gas, pipelines, electrical power generation and mining. He has also lectured at universities on financial and project management. He has written two books and dozens of articles on the practical application of management theories, with special interest in how our own misperceptions often lead us down paths of fantasy.
Last week was, as usual for the annual conference, a whirlwind. It's a good kind of busy, to be sure. Meeting new people, catching up with colleagues that you haven't seen since the last conference and hearing all of the presentations can quickly add up to a full program.
The 2015 IAC was, in my opinion, a success. The city of Indianapolis is a terrific site and The Alexander is a premier location. The host committee and ASEM staff did a great job of seeing to every detail. A tremendous amount of work goes into these events and it seems so seamless to many of us in attendance.
The conference also serves as a turning point for many in ASEM leadership positions. Service terms are often one year in length and the conference signals when there are changes in these roles. I'd like to thank Gene Dixon for his work and energy that he brought as the President of ASEM. His humor and good nature often disguised how much work was taking place. Geert Letens, the new ASEM President, has quite the act to follow.
Another new yet familiar face in the leadership is Ganapathy "Gana" Natarajan, who is the new Communications Director. He has held this position before and is already acquainting himself with the new website format. Brian Smith is the outgoing Communications Director and will be missed. I enjoyed working with him. Brian's attention to detail and friendly demeanor helped the committee to deliver so many effective communications, such as the eNews, webinars and practice periodicals.
With these changes - and others that I've not mentioned - there is much to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead. What would you like to see from ASEM? What can we do or improve to better serve your expectations? Now is an excellent time to voice your suggestions or become involved in making change happen.
Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe
Seth Godin wrote an eloquent blog titled Tires, coffee, and people in which he reminds us that we as consumers tend to skimp on the wrong things in an effort to make things better. For instance, we seek to buy better cars without understanding the benefit that the right tires have on performance. We seek out newer and better coffee machines while ignoring the fact that the right coffee bean is arguably more important.
We as a society also view people the same way. Take two companies of exactly the same size with exactly the same capital resources. What makes the organizations operate differently? It is the people that allow an organization to use the resources towards a company’s goals.
Yet systems do not operate that way. Problems within a system tend to be caused in places other than where the problem can be seen. A loss in sales can be caused by factors in which the sales team has no control over. I have personally seen how strategies such as reducing spares affect the ability to build products on time (or repair them in a timely manner). Most managers also have no fundamental concept of variation and how to both identify it and address the causes.
Image credit: https://images.unsplash.com/
Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.
Author: Gene Dixon, ASEM President
The final Pres. Release for my term of office. Somewhat bittersweet. The relief on the impact on my schedule being President is welcome. The constant awareness of leading this organization has been energizing. The fact that it is time to move over and make room for someone new is exciting. For me. For the Society. Geert Letens, the first, truly international president will be stepping in. I look forward to what he will do as President. He really understands growth, value and retention.
What if the term of office was longer, is a question I am sometimes asked. To a person, each of the members of the Executive Committee—Past-president, President, President-elect, Secretary, Treasurer and our Executive Directors—recognize that the term of office for President is really 4 years, and only one of those is with the official title. It truly is four years. Not much happens as President that is focused on one person. It is the Executive Committee that leads the ASEM. Each step in the leadership progression, from Secretary to President-elect is a process of preparing and supporting the President for her/his term of office. Once elected to Secretary, the process of being President begins. Once you've served with the title of President of ASEM, the following year continues with the work of making the President efficient and effective (thanks, Beth). And, to continue the work of promoting growth, value and retention. You continue to work as Past-president because growth, value, and retention are really the fundamental principles of ASEM as a member society. I think the rotation system works, and works well.
In EM, I think we call that either participative leadership, mentoring, training, or even a systems approach. In part or in whole, each is applicable. We try to practice EM in ASEM.
So, congratulations to Geert our 2016 President. And congratulations to Frances Alston, the 2016 ASEM Secretary. Frances won a very close election—the margin was ~2%.
And thank you to all our candidates. Stepping out for election takes a bit of courage. Being willing to serve takes passion for the ASEM. Serving as an elected officer takes a will to work. Thank you again all of our director leaders, elected and appointed, for your desire to move ASEM forward.
And thank you. Each member. Each contributor. Each sponsor. Each author. Each IAC registrant. When you were asked, you responded. Effectively. Efficiently. And thank you also to those who support your involvement in ASEM. Each of you have supported the growth, value and retention that is ASEM.
And a special thanks to all those who called or emailed in response to questions I've asked in past issues of Pres. Release. It is rewarding to know you read these. And, for what it is worth, I had a student who found one of the Pres. Release in blog form and read it. Thanks Trish, et al., for making that forum available.
You know management and leadership is not always lily pure in execution. If I've strayed from lily pure execution, I'm sorry. Engineering management/leadership is a process of smoothing bumps, jumping crevices and backing up and going around when you've hit a roadblock or done something stupid (is it okay to use that term?) and stretching yourself and those you manage or lead. It is a process of collaborating. No doubt I've not always done the right thing; not every 't' has been properly crossed. Not every 'i' has been properly dotted every time. I've always believed I've had the right motives.
2016 ASEM Past-president
Image credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/popular-images.php
As someone who views life - work, in particular - as an opportunity to watch and learn, I've noticed that some things consistently grab my attention. Often it's how a manager leads a project or team; whether or not it was actually successful, how the people around that person interact or even how the effort is structured and planned. Everyone does things a little bit differently, which can affect the outcome. I've had my share of positive and negative project experiences, as have most of us. Sometimes you know right off the start that the project is a train wreck waiting to happen, and other times you can almost watch the project avoid the collision and get back on track. If you aren't too deeply embedded in the project, it can be fascinating to see all of the parts come together.
What comes after the project is often a character-defining process. One example where I've seen this is how the project is evaluated after the work is completed or canceled. I have participated (grudgingly at times) in post-project reflection sessions, also known as Lessons Learned or Project Post Mortems. Don't get me wrong; I believe in the power and value that these exercises can bring. Can bring, as in potential results. However, it has been a rare occurrence in my experience to actually see these sessions executed effectively. Some of these meetings have been too high-level, too 'fluffy,' too "I don't want to cause waves, so I'm holding back" in tone for any real evaluation. There is nothing to learn, of course, if the details aren't communicated and shared.
That said, I'd still rather have a session like that, versus some of the more abrasive and almost combative meetings that I've attended. In those exercises, blame is assigned and punishment is meted out. When that pattern is more of a trend than a fluke, it's no wonder that attendance can be light. People generally avoid painful confrontations, particularly when it comes from familiar sources.
Imagine this: What if the project leader stepped forward, accepted responsibility and maybe even apologized for the project's outcome? We have all read the articles where great leaders are defined as giving the team credit for success and solely taking blame for failure themselves, but does that really happen? OK, sure, I've had project leaders thank the team and outwardly acknowledge the team's role in the success of the project, but rarely - nay, never - have I experienced a leader taking the heat for a poor performance. Like many of us, there are excuses (see the previous ASEM blog post) that are put up as valid reasons to explain shortcomings and mistakes. It happens and it's not surprising. After all, leaders - like the rest of us - are human.
The wheels started turning for this blog after I read a posted article about apologies and great leaders. It was an interesting piece; well written and thoughtful. But I had a hard time finding an example in my experience where any of my leaders had sincerely and wholeheartedly apologized in a way that made me think of them in a positive light. I can think of a number of times where an apology was warranted. There were also a few mumbled attempts at apologizing. The behavior that I've seen most commonly has been little more than a shoulder shrug and an offhand "Hey, it happens" sort of retort that does little to build relationships or garner respect.
As you face down a new workweek, maybe it's time to think about what you see and wish to see from the people leading your work. Are you waiting for the admonishments to come rolling down on your team? Or maybe you won't hear anything - positive or negative - and you'll be left wondering how your work is perceived? Perhaps you have a manager that needs to be the bigger person, to own up to the responsibility for the outcomes? And what, dare I ask, if we are the manager where this critical eye should be pointed? Are we ready to shoulder that burden and make the hard decisions?
I'd love to know more about your experiences. Please share your comments below or reach out via social media. I'll close with this thought: "Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility. In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take on responsibility." ~ Michael Korda, Editor-in-Chief, Simon & Schuster
Image credit: New Old Stock (http://nos.twnsnd.co/)
I spent some time today looking through blogs from some of my favorite writers. The blogs I follow are an eclectic mix that lean toward technology and management. Sure, I have a few knitting blogs that I read, as well as one that my friend - a California naturalist - posts to regularly, but most are related in some way to management. Go figure, right?
Today's message popped out for me while reading Johanna Rothman's blog, "Create an Adaptable Life." She writes about management consulting and coaching, as well as other interests in her life. Like many of us, she has encounters people and things that provide challenges to overcome. While reading her most recent post (26AUG2015), I came across this nugget that resonated with me.
"I make excuses for myself when I doubt my actions. I suspect other people do, too. For me, that's time to change my mind."
Hmm; yes, I can agree with this. What I can't always do is identify that I'm doing it, which is why Johanna's words struck a chord with me. I mean, some of us *raises her hand sheepishly* are veritable excuse-making machines. But it hadn't occurred to me WHY I'm making the excuses. She continues making her point, adding to my understanding:
"I often think about whether my actions are congruent with my values. I find I get angry (mostly with myself) when I’m not living according to my values. I suspect that when people feel they need to make excuses to me, they are not behaving in a way that is congruent with their values."
Wow. There's a lot of truth in those statements. I mean, no sooner is the excuse out of my mouth and I start to feel a bit off. It's almost like a lie, which, at its foundation, it is. You are lying to yourself when you aren't embracing and espousing your convictions. Why is the truth so hard, particularly to myself? Her next lines are where it really comes home for me.
"Doubts (or excuses) can be useful for us. They tell us when we are not being true to ourselves. We can listen to our doubts and select a different action. We can adapt. We can change our minds and then our actions."
How very empowering! By listening to yourself, you can actively address the situation and make the change(s) necessary to bring our ideas into alignment. In fact, I suspect that the more this exercise is performed, the better we can become at recognizing the excuses that others make toward us as well.
Not to drift too much from this topic, but I recently read Dr. Carol Dweck's book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success." I have been thinking about how a change in mindset can affect a person, and that is likely how I was drawn to Johanna's ideas about truth and making excuses. It's pretty neat how those concepts come together at a few points to reinforce our abilities to see, make and appreciate change.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more reading to tackle. In fact, you can join me, because the 2015 IAC schedule is up and ready for you to review. Just looking over the itinerary, I'm already looking forward to being in Indianapolis in October!
Image credit: http://www.gratisography.com/
Tricia Simo Kush is a certified Professional Engineering Manager with a background in Information Technology and a goal to take her career to a higher level through Engineering Management. She graduated from the MEM program at St. Cloud State University in 2010. To her, Engineering Management is a fascinating mix of technology and business, people and process. She is constantly seeing the ways that Engineering Management spans many industries and helps everyone to become effective leaders. Follow her on Twitter (@TSimoKush) or check out her profile on LinkedIn.
The deadline for early registration has passed, but there's still time to register for the ASEM International Annual Conference (IAC). The theme is "Driving Change: An Engineering Imperative. I hope to see you there, enjoying all that the city of Indianapolis can provide while spending time with fellow engineering management professionals.
Proud to have these Sponsors/Members