Category Archives: Business

All Hail The Beneficent, Ubiquitous Keyboard

There’s a little sort of game going on in Facebook lately. Someone is challenged to list three things they’re thankful for for seven days, at the same time tagging a friend each day (or something like that) to do the same. I haven’t been asked to do it, and I have no plans of doing it either, as it just seems to spread out and broad to do justice to the recognition of those things we might be thankful for. Nevertheless, it does give me pause and I have been thinking about what I would say should I choose one or two specific things for which I’m thankful. There is one seemingly mundane thing that keeps popping into my head. My ability to type.

I can’t imagine how different my world would be if I had to use what an old girlfriend of mine called the “search and destroy” method of typing. Most people use the more pastoral term “hunt and peck”, but she spent several tours with the USO in Vietnam and her life was colored by her exposure to that war, the military, and her involvement in the movement to end it. If I were hampered by that inability, my social presence and my ability to communicate would be virtually non-existent.

I was fortunate. In Junior High School I took a typing class; instead of what I haven’t the faintest, but I recall it seeming to be the most useful option at the time. As a result, I learned to touch type. Later on, when I was in Law School, I secured a position as a legal secretary for a sole practitioner who did a lot of contract and property damage work for several of the largest car rental agencies in the country. We were very busy and my workload was challenging enough that my speed increased. I’ve never been as prolific as the best, but I was up to a little over 80 wpm, with few if any errors. That’s not quite as fast as the average person can speak, but it’s a respectable clip.

IBM Memory Typewriter

The IBM Memory Typewriter

The job turned out to be a major turning point in my life, as I was introduced to the early stages of office computing and word processing. We ended up getting an IBM Memory Typewriter, the one built on the correcting Selectric, but with a dial providing memory for 50 separate pages. We moved up shortly to an Artec Display 2000, which used two 8″ floppies and had a scrolling display of approximately 30 characters. I don’t remember if it was LED or LCD, but the characters were red. We used it for pleadings, and wills and trusts.

Back to typing speed and how critical it is to communication in today’s world. I don’t really have to imagine what it would be like, because I had an experience with a colleague that pointed it out rather clearly, though it took months for me to recognize what was happening. I was working with the Director of our newly formed Program Management Office at what was then the Rocketdyne Power & Propulsion business unit of The Boeing Company. We were at almost opposite ends of the main office building in Canoga Park and I was upstairs in what was called The Annex. The distance between his office and my cubesickle was around 400 yards; not a huge distance, but it took time to walk back and forth. Plus it meant passing through the Executive Office area and there were always distractions.

I can’t recall the exact dates, but it was very early in our use of Instant Messenger; so early that I had to point out its value, as most of the older staff (which meant all of the Executives) perceived it as only a toy their kids used to communicate with each other. I kept sending IMs to this Director, but he never answered them, nor did he respond in anything resembling a timely manner to emails, so I was forced to walk to his office repeatedly during the day.

It wasn’t until a couple of months had passed that I happened to be sitting with him in his office and he was answering an email. Watching him type . . . ever so slowly and painfully . . . made it clear why he never responded to me. He had to hunt anew for each letter and, with his two index fingers, peck them out in a long, excruciatingly difficult session. He clearly hated it. I know I was cringing as I watched. I never sent him an IM after that day.

I’m thinking the ability to type is one of those essential tools we seldom think about — perhaps take for granted — without which our world would be far less rich and fulfilling. I can type this post, tweet, post to Facebook, engage in lengthy, spirited debates with dozens of widely dispersed people, and participate in a plethora of other forms of communication or collaboration relatively easily, all because of my ability to type quickly and accurately. I imagine this is true for almost all, if not all, of my friends and acquaintances.

For this I am deeply thankful.


Tweaking Facebook

Facebook Like Icon

Use the Like, Luke.

I am — at least, I was — a Knowledge Management professional. It’s what I did for over a decade at Rocketdyne, starting when it was a business unit of The Boeing Company, up through my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a division of United Technologies. Pratt & Whitney paid for me to earn a Masters Degree in KM online from CSUN’s Tseng College. It’s such an exclusive degree they don’t offer it anymore. :)

I mention this because it affects how I share information, especially here on my blog. One of the tenets we tried to drill into people’s heads, and follow ourselves, was to avoid reinventing the wheel. That is, make it a habit to reuse information and knowledge that’s already been won at some cost to one or more individuals and the organization in which it was produced. This means, among other things, I am not interested in rewriting what others have written, while adding my own twist to it. This doesn’t apply when how I perceive an issue is substantially different than others, but it does when I’m sharing things I mostly agree with.

Yesterday and today brought me two great, and related, examples of things that need sharing and for which there’s little for me to do than announce them. The first I will actually place second, below, as it’s the subject of the second, which is a post by Dennis Howlett, which he published today in diginomica. What Dennis discusses is a Google Hangout Robert Scoble conducted, wherein he described what he has learned in thousands of hours of tweaking Facebook’s algorithms — primarily through his educated use of lists, likes, shares, etc.

Both Dennis and Robert are still far more embedded in the business world than I am and, rather than attempt an explanation through my eyes, I want to leave it to both of them to help you out. If you are using Facebook for your business or profession, or even if you just want to have a much better experience when using Facebook personally, I suggest reading the post and watching the video, which I am also including here. As Dennis points out, Robert is very generous with sharing his knowledge, something this KM pro really admires. You really should take advantage of it.


Chasing Earned Value

Recently, I was given the task of writing a short (4 – 5 page) paper on the basics of Earned Value Management (EVM), and why it’s useful for medium to large organizations in managing their projects. The idea was to deal with the “why”, not the “how”. I worked in a large aerospace organization for over two decades and we used EVM extensively. It is, after all, a requirement for all government contractors.

Earned Value Terminology

A Plethora of Acronyms Revealed

Having retired from that industry a little over four years ago, I was a bit rusty. However, you can’t have that stuff drummed into your head without it engraving itself fairly deeply on your consciousness. It didn’t take me long to come back up-to-speed. In fact, the biggest problem I had was knowing where to stop. EVM is full of acronyms and formulae (BCWS, BCWP, ACWP, SPI, CPI, etc., etc., etc.), all of which I’m fairly certain are useful . . . when used intelligently. As with most things, how valuable they are depends a great deal on what you’re trying to accomplish, how prepared and disciplined you are, and how well you execute over time.

Now this brings me to a somewhat vexing problem and the reason I’m sharing this. I could swear there’s a good argument somewhere as to why EV is not a very good method for managing a project. However, when I searched for problems or reasons not to use EV, all I could find were lists of where organizations go wrong because they don’t plan properly, they don’t pay attention to detail, or they don’t use tools as they’re designed to be used.

So I have a question, which I am now going to throw out into the aether. Assuming some who read this actually know about, and have experience with, Earned Value Management and maybe one or more of the systems used to facilitate its proper application, are you aware of any reasons NOT to use EVM and, if so, could you point me to a resource or school me on the subject? Thanks.


The Crowd, The Cloud, & Working Out Loud

A couple of years ago, in response to a request from the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce, I conducted (as I recall) twice-monthly seminars on the use of social media for small businesses. They were called “Facebook Fridays” and you’ll never guess what day of the week we held them on. They started out as presentations on various aspects of the technology and the philosophy behind their use. However, after a short while it became clear that people had lots of specific questions they wanted answered. In response, I changed the nature of what I did and started each session off by opening it up to questions.

It worked quite well for nearly a year but, toward the end, attendance dwindled and I grew somewhat weary of doing the necessary preparation and having to show up twice a month. The Chamber found someone else willing to continue the work and I moved on. By that time I was becoming disenchanted with the direction I had chosen to attempt building a useful business and was looking to other areas of endeavor as well.

Recently, I had lunch with the CEO of the Chamber and we decided it would be useful for me to bring back what I had done before, the difference being the subject matter would be a little less focused on marketing and a lot more focused on business model, business process, technology, and cultural transformation. Today was the first of what I hope will be many such events.

I used a vehicle I have not used before to conduct this 50 minute webinar – Google Hangouts on Air. I’m not sure it’s the best way to conduct something like this, but viewership is unlimited and the session is both recorded and automatically placed on my YouTube Channel. I’m embedding the session below. This really was somewhat of an experiment and the subject was quite broad. I’d love to get some feedback. Don’t be shy now.


Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

 

In an effort to improve my “working out loud” chops, I’m learning from a friend who has begun sharing the text of (not links to) his blog posts on Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as on the blog he’s had for a very long time. <Light Bulb!> This one’s a kind of reverse emulation, as this is something I shared on Facebook first.

Simplicity - Da VinciI have found an interesting difference of opinion on the subject of simplicity versus complexity, but it seems to hang on what dimension of endeavor we’re looking from. From an engineering design perspective – especially wrt products for the consumer market – there’s evidence complexity (think shiny objects) is actually a better seller than simplicity.

It seems to me, however, that da Vinci was looking a little deeper than marketing prospects and was more interested in the aesthetics of design . . . all kinds of design.

So . . . I’m thinking of it in terms of this software tool I am now representing, called World Modeler, which is used to model the elements required to make important and quite likely expensive organizational decisions to better . What we (Quantellia, LLC and I) can do is transform highly complex decision models (involving numerous decision levers, external factors, intermediate effects, interconnections, and even qualitative assumptions) to graphically (and quite simply) show how they will play out over time given certain values. The goal is to render the complex simple, not to simplify that which is complex.


What Is Decision Intelligence?

World Modeler Logo

World Modeler adds a Systems approach to Project Management

In my last post I took a stab at defining, and explaining, the concept of Decision Intelligence. I’m willing to bet you’re going to be hearing a lot about it in the not-too-distant future. So you don’t have to click back and forth, I’ll copy over what I wrote about it in that post:

This is the term Quantellia now uses to describe what it is we do. NB – The term is not “Decision Analytics”; there’s a reason for this. Perhaps it is best understood when one looks at a part of how decision modeling is accomplished. Part of the raw material available today for making decisions is what we call “big data”. There’s an awful lot of attention being paid to the field of predictive analytics, which uses big data as its raw material. We at Quantellia prefer the term predictive intelligence. This is because predictive analytics uses past performance (data) to project trends into the future. We like to think we take the concept a bit further.

While we believe analytics are useful and important, they lack the dimensions of human knowledge and understanding that can more completely predict how the past will play out in the future. A subtle distinction? Perhaps, but I find it a valuable one. Unless we’re talking about the future activity of a machine designed to perform a very limited set of instructions or actions, our activities involve human understanding, emotion, and interpretation. There are times when these attributes can dramatically change the course of an organizational effort, rendering previous decisions moot or, at best, only partially useful or correct.

By providing a method whereby human understanding, intuition, and wisdom can be incorporated into the decision model itself, we believe we can more intelligently predict the future. We are well aware there is no such thing as infallibility. However, we also know the more useful and actionable information and knowledge we have available to understand what has happened − and is likely to happen − the better our decisions will be.

Now, having had some time to think about it – it’s been over a month since that post -and having discussed it a bit with Quentellia’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Lorien Pratt (@LorienPratt), I’d like to add a little something to both the definition and the description of what World Modeler has to offer. Keep in mind, as with many things, perhaps even more so with something truly emergent and reasonably new to my experience, both my understanding and my ability to explain are evolving; developing structure and nuance as I learn more theory and encounter more examples of real-world situations.

I consider systems thinking, or the ability to see systems — and systems of systems — as the most effective way to understand what is happening within any one or more of those systems, as well as have a chance at affecting the outcomes of the ones designed to produce value and realize valuable results or consequences of their workings. The more elements of a system that can be modeled, the more likely you will be able to understand downstream effects of your decisions, and the more likely you are to see the unintended consequences of actions before you take them.

Here’s where Quantellia’s World Modeler™ excels as a decision modeling — and making — tool and enabler. Consider Predictive Analytics, the practice of extracting information from existing data sets in order to determine patterns and predict future outcomes and trends. PA usually returns fairly simple, pairwise relationships, e.g. these customers in this demographic, with this amount of revenue, etc. are likely/not likely to churn or devoting a certain amount of energy to customer retention is likely to affect/not affect customer churn.

World Modeler, on the other hand, allows you to create a highly complex systems model. This means you can look at numerous elements and their interrelationships to see how they work together, e.g. customer characteristics, customer retention efforts, likelihood to churn, total customers, revenues, and even business rules that might have to be taken into consideration if certain levels of activity are reached. Furthermore, when you don’t have data for one or more of these elements, you can use human expertise, the tacit knowledge of your employees or the group to fill in the gaps. When you have real data, if you later are able to gather it, you can then plug it into the model and continue going.

One more thing. World Model is a highly flexible, iterative navigation mechanism. It allows you to predict without complete or perfect knowledge, then pivot and change the model as new and/or different knowledge, information, and data are gathered or encountered. You can do this repeatedly over the course of months or years, whatever’s necessary to help you make the best decisions for achieving your desired outcomes. So success doesn’t depend on long-term predictions. Rather, it depends on navigation and alignment between the organizations systems, processes, and the humans that employ them.

Now . . . having learned all that, aren’t you interested in seeing how this tool works? You can get a free evaluation copy and all you’re giving up is a little contact information. There’s no obligation. Click on this the link to download a fully-functional two-week evaluation copy of World Modeler. Give her a Whirl(d)!


What Did I Say I Did?

Biz Card

You Read it on the Internet, so it Must be True!

Anyone who knows me, knows I am quite the stickler for clarity and correctness in communication. I have proudly held myself out as a Senior Inspector in the U.S. Grammar Police, as evidenced by this card I created only halfway in jest. Actually, the card’s creation (I shared the process publicly) led to a couple of paid editing gigs. I’ve also been called a Grammar Nazi, which has caused me to momentarily flash a slightly sheepish smile, accompanied by a sparklingly demure blush.

Recently, I began a new engagement with a company I’ve wanted to work with for some time, Quantellia, LLC. As of the beginning of the year, I am what they call a referral partner. As such, I am contracted to Quantellia to sell their product, World Modeler™, and their services, which include training, workshops, etc. designed to help organizations make better decisions. In learning about my new venture, I have come across a few phrases that are similar, yet different enough to cause me to dig a little deeper in search of clarity as to their meaning. I want to very briefly share my understanding of the meaning of four separate phrases, each of which begins with the word “decision”.

At first, I thought one of the terms was kind of a catch-all; an umbrella term that encompassed the others. However, I no longer believe that to be the case, at least not fully. Keep in mind, all four of these phrases are relevant to what it is Quantellia and I are doing. At the same time, my understanding is quite likely imperfect and incomplete. As I gain a foothold in the discipline, and become more proficient, I have no doubt my definitions and my understanding will need refinement. 

Decision Science – at first I thought this term was one into which the others neatly folded. However, having done a bit of research, I can no longer say that’s the case. As I currently understand it, Decision Science concerns itself not so much with the process of making business decisions, but with the psychology of making any kind of decision. In other words, why do people make the decisions they do; what are the factors they take into consideration; how do they weigh them; how emotional are people in reaching decisions, etc.

Originally constituted in late 1968 as the American Institute for Decision Sciences, and later named the Decision Sciences Institute, this organization had its first annual meeting on October 30 – 31, 1969 in New Orleans. If interested, here’s a history of the organization written in July of 1989 by the then President, Bernard W. Taylor III. According to Wikipedia, the Institute is a “professional association of university professors, graduate students, and practitioners whose interest lies in the application of quantitative and qualitative research to the decision problems of individuals, organizations, and society. Many of the members of this academic organization are faculty members in business schools.”

It seems that Decision Science is a relatively new discipline. This conclusion is backed up by the history of its presence in some of the Universities and Colleges in the United States. For instance, Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Social and Decision Sciences finds its roots in 1976, as part of what is now the Marianna Brown Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.” The Harvard Decision Science Laboratory opened its doors much more recently. According to their website, they’ve only been around since January of 2009. I couldn’t find the date George Washington University’s Business School’s Department of Decision Sciences opened its doors, but my hunch is it was sometime in the last decade, at most. The Columbia Business School’s Center for Decision Sciences, formerly part of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, appears to be fairly young as a separate discipline as well.

Decision Modeling – Although at best an inexact science, decision modeling can be a highly effective tool in helping an organization better predict the outcomes of its decisions. This is made more likely if the model is comprehensive, based on not merely data and analytics but also the knowledge of the people involved in the organization for which the decision is being made, and if the model is iterative and capable of incorporating newly discovered information and relationships. Furthermore, the structure of the model becomes more and more effective as it accurately models the complex relationships it seeks to help understand. World Modeler™ is capable, despite it’s seemingly simple interface, of modeling highly complex relationships. I’ll post more in the future about its capabilities, including embedding some excellent videos showing what it can do.

Decision Engineering – This is a term I don’t believe we are using any longer to explain what Quantellia does. Frankly, as someone who spent over two decades working with aerospace engineers and rocket scientists (quite literally, on the Space Shuttle Main Engine, Delta, and Atlas engine programs), I’m kind of partial to engineering. I can, however, understand how it may sound a bit intimidating or dweeby to people without my background, so I won’t dwell on it here.

Decision IntelligenceDecision Intelligence – This is the term Quantellia now uses to describe what it is we do. NB – The term is not “Decision Analytics”; there’s a reason for this. Perhaps it is best understood when one looks at a part of how decision modeling is accomplished. Part of the raw material available today for making decisions is what we call “big data”. There’s an awful lot of attention being paid to the field of predictive analytics, which uses big data as its raw material. We at Quantellia prefer the term predictive intelligence. This is because predictive analytics uses past performance (data) to project trends into the future. We like to think we take the concept a bit further.

While we believe analytics are useful and important, they lack the dimensions of human knowledge and understanding that can more completely predict how the past will play out in the future. A subtle distinction? Perhaps, but I find it a valuable one. Unless we’re talking about the future activity of a machine designed to perform a very limited set of instructions or actions, our activities involve human understanding, emotion, and interpretation. There are times when these attributes can dramatically change the course of an organizational effort, rendering previous decisions moot or, at best, only partially useful or correct.

By providing a method whereby human understanding, intuition, and wisdom can be incorporated into the decision model itself, we believe we can more intelligently predict the future. We are well aware there is no such thing as infallibility. However, we also know the more useful and actionable information and knowledge we have available to understand what has happened − and is likely to happen − the better our decisions will be.


 

Mild Disclaimer – I hope I didn’t rattle anyone’s cages too much with these definitions/explanations. They represent my current thinking and, being somewhat of a newbie to the science/craft of decision making as a discipline, my understanding is necessarily incomplete and in a state of flux. Nonetheless, this is a first attempt at explaining some of the concepts that are informing my work with Quantellia and World Modeler™. Consider it an ongoing process.

At the same time, I would like to make it clear that Quantellia has been doing this for approximately eight years and has a track record of helping organizations both large and small to make decisions and manage programs successfully. Dr. Lorien Pratt, co-founder and Chief Scientist, as well as her team, know their stuff and are the biggest part of my team. We are looking for people who have “wicked problems” they need to solve; people who are facing highly complex decisions involving lots of time and money, and for whom the wrong decision could be very costly. If you fit that description, or know of someone who does, you could do a lot worse than contact us for an initial discussion of your needs. We begin with the end in mind and believe we can help. Only by understanding what it is you face can we determine whether or not that’s possible.


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