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Category Archives: Business

RAIDI

Robot and Human hands touching

I have no doubt I am a very lucky person. Although I do not have an education in any science, I was able to spend approximately two decades working on the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) program at Rocketdyne (through four major aerospace corporations). I spent a lot of time working with some of the brightest rocket scientists (for realz) as well as world-class engineers and scientists in literally dozens of disciplines.

Since my retirement from (what was then) Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, I have worked intermittently with Quantellia, LLC, an artificial intelligence / machine learning software development firm. Needles to say, I have no formal education in any computer field, with the exception of two Visual Basic classes I took at a nearby Junior College. I was introduced to one of the co-founders of Quantellia shortly after my retirement. She showed me a tool they had been developing called “World Modeler”. It was the most exciting thing I’d seen in a long time, and I was especially impressed with how it brought a highly systemic approach to modeling and forecasting in complex situations. I ended up writing several papers and a bunch of case studies for them.

In 2015 I returned to work at what was then Aerojet Rocketdyne (still is, for now) where I worked on a small rocket engine program for a little over two years. After leaving, I started doing some selling for Quantellia and, beginning in March of 2018, I became the company’s Business Manager, a position I’m still working at.

Last year we held a summit, in conjunction with SAP Global Services, at their Labs in Palo Alto. It was called the “Responsible AI/DI Summit.” In this context AI stands for “Artificial Intelligence” and DI stands for “Decision Intelligence.” One of the main purposes of the summit was to discuss how we can develop artificial and decision intelligence such that we concentrate on using them to solve humanity’s most “wicked” problems, rather than merely work at developing apps, the main purpose of which is to make money for the developers, investors, and entrepreneurs involved in the business.

Below are some of the folks who worked on the Summit, including me (the long-haired guy in the middle of the back row). Also, here’s a link to this year’s second Summit – Responsible AI/DI Summit 2019, as well as a link to the RAIDI Blog.

Quantellia and SAP folks who worked on putting it all together

As I learn more about machine learning, artificial intelligence, and decision intelligence, I will work at sharing my knowledge and understanding of these tools, and the issues they raise. I know the people I’m working with are dedicated to serving humanity, not merely milking it for profit. That pleases me and I hope we’ll be able to prove we’re doing the right things to ensure such service continues to exist and grow.

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Dimple or . . . ?

I wore a suit and tie for many years. I’m not super vain, but I do like to present a sharp image when called upon to do so, and one of the most important things is how you dress. Many years ago I read a book by John T. Molloy, called “Dress For Success.” If memory serves, one of the most important items in any man’s wardrobe is his tie. The tie must be silk, it must be of a certain pattern and color (though there are numerous styles considered acceptable), and it should have a well-tied knot with a dimple which, believe it or not, takes a bit of practice to execute well. Below is an example of a well-tied (looks like) four-in-hand knot. Actually, it’s so symmetrical, it looks a bit like a Windsor knot, but I’m pretty sure it would be thicker if it were.

The Perfect Dimple

Another thing I learned from Molloy’s book, again if memory serves (I read it right after it was published, in 1976 – the year I graduated Law School), is that young men wear their collars too tight and old men wear them too loose. Then there are men who can’t admit how old they are and who hang on to images of their self that may enhance their self-esteem, but which make them look a bit ridiculous. In the below case we have such a man. Note how he has no dimple in his tie, but his collar is too small for him, creating a classic, oblivious man’s neck dimple (or neck vagina, depending on how uptight you might be).

The Perfect Neck Vagina

I’m not entire certain what this says about a man, but I have my ideas. You, of course, are quite free to develop your own opinion of what this says about any man, let alone this particularly egregious example.


Preserving My Past

The time has come for me to simplify . . . to apply some feng shui to my collection of old (ancient?) paperwork, some of which is more than several decades old. Paper is the one thing I seem to be a bit of a hoarder with; that and old clothing, I guess.

I am coming across papers, letters, and notes I’ve written over the years, many of them from my over two decades of service at Rocketdyne, where I was privileged to work on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program. In that time I worked for (without changing desks) Rockwell International, The Boeing Company, and the Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies. After I accepted an early retirement package in 2010, I returned as a contractor to work for Aerojet Rocketdyne in 2015, where I worked for a bit over two years.

Recently, I purchased a small, portable Brother scanner and I am slowly scanning old papers I’m finding. Inasmuch as I’m now publishing far more frequently to this blog, I’ve decided to save some of these things so I can throw the paper away and still have a record. It’s been over nine years since I retired and I find I’m forgetting what working in a large organization was like. Reading some of the documents I created helps me to remember what I did, as well as to feel reasonably confident I wasn’t just spinning my wheels.

What follows should be somewhat self-evident. It’s a letter I wrote to my manager in 1994, now over 25 years ago. I think I sound pretty reasonable, and I’m gratified to know I was pushing—pretty hard, I think—for positive change back then. I’m not an IT person; never went to undergrad and, besides, the earliest PCs didn’t come into existence until I was nearing my thirties. However, I did recognize the value such tools brought to managing and operating a business and I have always been a big promoter of technology in the office. At any rate, this is more for me than my readers, but some may find it “amusing.”

PS – I scanned the original “memo” in .jpg format and the accompanying Lotus presentation materials in .pdf, which you’ll have to click on if you’re interested in what Lotus was doing 25 years ago, before its acquisition by IBM.


Hey! Long Time, No See.

QuantelliaLogoPaleI know it’s been quite a while since last I posted here. I’ve been continuously active on Facebook and have begun tweeting quite a bit as well, but that’s not why I haven’t posted to this blog in the past nearly three months. As of March 1 I began a new career, probably not the kind of thing you hear about 70-year-olds doing all that often. Since then I have been working as the Business Manager for Quantellia, LLC. You may recall I’ve done work for and with Quantellia on and off for the past six years.

Quantellia is a small AI/ML software development house and, until now, one of the co-founders has been running the business. Inasmuch as she is also the organization’s Chief Scientist, and a well-known pioneer in Machine Learning, this was not exactly the optimal thing for her to be doing. I had been touching on the subject and, since she was having such a hard time getting someone competent to run the business, I pressed my offer to do so. She finally relented and things have been going swimmingly, although there have been times I was swimming against the current. I’m definitely climbing a steep learning curve, which sometimes has me questioning if I’m losing my edge.

Actually, at times I can’t quite tell if my intellect is slipping a little bit, or if I just don’t care as much as I used to and I’m not quite as arrogantly sure of myself. My memory seems to be intact, along with my ability to learn and adapt. I’m going to go with the “I just don’t care as much about things as I used to; I’m more sanguine about life, work, and the need to control everything.

At any rate, I’m having a lot of fun. I was once partnered with two CPAs, doing royalty accounting for some big acts: Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, The Cars, Dollie Parton, Ronnie Milsap, The Commodores, even Jimi Hendrix’s estate. I learned a fair amount about accounting back then, and now I’m getting the opportunity to revisit what I learned, applying it in different circumstances. I’m also learning about artificial intelligence and machine learning, and hope to convey some of what’s going on in these fields. Although not a data scientist, I am quite capable of seeing where AI can be applied in business to assist with all kinds of issues. I’m sure you can as well.


What (Who) Is An Expert?

Sometimes Expertise is Clear

Sometimes Expertise is Clear

I originally wrote the following in January of 2012, less than two years after my departure from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. For some reason it got a bit out of control for me and I never posted it. I’m either breaking it into two separate posts, or removing some notes from the end and posting it as a standalone. Actually, I’m doing the latter for now – maybe working the removed notes into a second post at a later date.


 

How Do We Know?

Are you an “Expert” in anything? How do you know? If you say you are, how do we know it’s true? Furthermore, what is the difference between being an expert and having some – or lots of – expertise in a particular subject or field of knowledge? I was reminded of this problem a while back while talking to a friend and former colleague about the situation at my old company and, especially, how the tool I was the project manager for and had introduced back in 2002 was doing. I got the impression the issue of expertise was still a hot one and the situation hadn’t changed much since we first tackled it.

Some background

In 2001 I was a member of the Knowledge Management team for my former employer. One of the big problems we were grappling with was how to create an online directory or “Yellow Pages” of employees, including a way to search by expertise. The IT department had gone through at least two, possibly three, iterations using HTML as the basis for creating and presenting the information. Unfortunately, people moved around too frequently and the job of keeping it up-to-date was daunting; actually pretty much impossible. We were looking into other ways to achieve the results we thought were necessary to improve our ability to find the right people at the right time.

When the member of our KM team who was working on it decided to retire in the Fall of that year I volunteered to take over the effort. I soon came to the conclusion we were never going to be successful doing it the way we had been. Due to policies I had no control over, there was no way to connect what we wanted to create with HR’s database, which would have simplified the effort somewhat. Even more important, I realized what we needed was far more than just a directory. We needed a way for people to truly communicate with each other; a way to ask questions, receive answers, and conduct discussions on the appropriateness and efficacy of proposed solutions. This wasn’t what a mere directory of names and titles would give us. I set off to discover something better.

In my quest I came across a few tools that began to address the problem. The two that stood out back then were Tacit’s KnowledgeMail® and AskMe Enterprise. In fact, I ultimately conducted a trade study of both, as well as a home-grown (we were part of the Boeing Company back then) system that was designed to help Airplane Mechanics share what they knew and learned about the airplanes they worked on and their various intricacies. I quickly eliminated the latter of the three and concentrated on the two others. In the end I presented my findings to our Chief Engineer. Based on the criteria I used, AskMe was the winner as it addressed our security concerns in a manner far more to our (and our Lawyers’) liking.

What does “Expert” mean?

The Experts Are InHaving decided on a platform we then had several important issues to deal with before we could feel comfortable rolling it out to the entire organization. The first of them, which is related to this post, was:

Do we Control The Assignment of Individuals as Knowledge Providers &, if so, How do we Qualify And Present Them Within AskMe?

We developed a set of responses for each of these issues, the first of them being the most important and the one that was at the root of our disagreements, e.g. we decided to let everyone register and self-select as “having expertise” or knowledge in any field we provided a category for.

The biggest bone of contention was that some of our senior technical staff were worried people would overreach and end up providing bad information which might be acted upon. When you design and manufacture products that can easily kill a half dozen people and cost tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of loss, you tend to be a little cautious. This was understandable. However, many of us felt the likelihood was next to nil, as we expected the internal equivalent of crowd-sourcing would likely take care of it. In fact, in the over nine years I led the project there was only one instance in which I was asked – by a panic-stricken Manager – to remove something from the system. I was able to do so immediately, though I took pains to copy and retain the information in case of a dispute.

We decided to take a few more steps to help users decide for themselves who were the most authoritative people in the organization, among them the labeling of members of the Technical Fellowship, Process Leads, and others in recognized positions of authority.

Recently, I had lunch with my former Manager, the Director of the Program Management Office where I last worked, and where this all happened, and he offered me some valuable insight I’d like to include in this post. Here’s what he suggested:

“I think that our biggest issue wasn’t the overstatement of expertise that was much discussed and worried about; it was the problem that people were reluctant to claim expertise and document it in a profile.  Whether this is an engineering cultural thing, mass humility, fear of ridicule from others or insecurity, I’m not sure, but it’s something that must be considered in making a breakthrough in this area.”

So . . . how do we determine what constitutes expertise? Here’s the problem we had with AskMe. Do we only allow recognized “Experts”, formally organizing our expertise, or do we allow it to become more organic and emergent? In a culture that actively encourages hoarding knowledge through its exalting of patents and intellectual property rights in general, it’s hard to get people to share. Yet feedback to the sharing of knowledge connects people and their behavior to the world around them. It gives everyone the chance to realize how their behavior influences the success of their organization. Effective feedback will reinforce positive behavior and correct negative behavior. The ability to give and receive feedback is a must for leaders who wish to have honest and direct relationships with employees.

Ultimately, it became obvious that the real power in what we were doing was not the listing of “experts,” but rather the facilitation of conversation and discussion. It also became apparent to me that what we had was not so much an expertise location tool in AskMe, but a powerful social media platform that allowed us to securely share information and knowledge about our products and processes. It was an excellent system, a precursor to the types of platforms most enterprise size organizations are currently using, and collapsed within a few years of my departure. To say it was disappointing to see nearly a decade of work be allowed to just fade away and disappear was deeply disturbing, and disappointing. Now, as Aerojet Rocketdyne it’s been several years they’ve had a project to create a front-end that will allow the remaining database (not experts) to be queried, but it’s still on the back burner as far as I can tell. Maybe if I live another 50 years (not likely, since I’m 70) I’ll hit the jackpot with an organization that truly understands the value of these kinds of platforms/utilities. Nah!


Just A Little Reminder To Me

Sometimes I forget the work I’ve done. I mean . . . it’s over, lessons learned have been internalized and generalized . . . time to move on to something else, right? So I move on. My entire career has consisted of learning, sharing, and moving on. I’ve known people who held onto their knowledge like a life vest, scared silly for anyone to even know precisely what they do or how they do it. In my corporate experience there’s a phrase that perfectly embodies that kind of attitude: “Knowledge is Power.”

I’ve never agree with that concept. In fact, when I was doing Knowledge Management work for Rocketdyne, I used to say “If knowledge is power, then knowledge shared is power squared.” Unfortunately, becoming a sharing and learning organization requires a major cultural change and — especially in aerospace and other conservative industries — change is difficult to effect; certainly not within a short window of time.

At any rate, I was looking at the blog and web sites I am an admin for and realized I had written a couple of blog posts for a local business that was a client of mine for a very short while. I thought I would share it, only because I want to preserve as much of my work as possible. I want this in large part because almost everything I did at Rocketdyne is the intellectual property of the organizations that were the mother ship for Rocketdyne in the over two decades I was there.

I have a few presentations I did that are on SlideShare, but they don’t come close to the amount of content I produced over that time, and that includes a couple of years worth of monthly newsletters that were researched, written, and published almost entirely on my own. I even did the graphics for them. As I said, I don’t own them and, frankly, they were written for my colleagues and much of it wouldn’t make a great deal of sense to anyone outside the organization. Nevertheless, it’s a bit sobering to know you did a lot of work you cannot now take credit for . . . at least not easily. What follows is the blog post I wrote for Choice 1 Cleaners.


Your Tortured Garments

Red Wine Stain on White Blouse

Oops!

Many things in this world are a lot more complex than first meets the eye. Dry cleaning happens to be one of them. Actually, when it comes to today’s garments, any kind of cleaning is far more complex than one might imagine. This isn’t true of all garments, but it is true of garments in general.

Take, for instance, the variability in both materials and the things that stain them. There are basic differences, e.g. fabrics are made out of plant-based (cotton, linen), animal-based (silk, wool, leather), or synthetic (polyester, acrylic, nylon) materials. Stains come in different varieties as well; they’re either plant, animal, or synthetic. Proper cleaning requires an appreciation of the science involved when trying to remove those stains without harming the fabric.

In addition to the variations in material and the things that stain them, consideration needs to be given to the method of construction and the existence of adornments or embellishments, such as pearls, beads, chains, etc. Each of these creates different challenges that need to be addressed before the garments they’re attached to can be safely cleaned. Some require gauze to be hand-stitched over them in case they come loose. Some designer clothing can contain materials that need four to six different treatments to be thoroughly cleaned.

In order to get your garments truly clean – as clean as you expect them to be – we need to test spots as well, many of which you aren’t aware exist. For instance, sweat, alcohol, and perfume stains may not show up for a while. Your skin’s oils may leave stains you don’t notice either. However, when we clean your clothes we will discover them.

Rest assured, no matter how difficult the challenge, our mission is to clean your garments so they look and feel brand new. We can’t do much about the effects of time, but we can do an awfully good job removing the things that get on your clothing and render it stained and dirty. We pride ourselves on being the best and we think you’ll agree we are!


A Day With Edward Tufte

 

Graphic of Napolean's March

One of the more iconic images Professor Tufte uses in his presentations. I have a mounted, autographed poster of this one.

 If you create reports, presentations, info graphics, or are in any way involved with presenting data of any sort, I hope you’ve heard of Edward Tufte. Even better if you’ve heard of his work, especially what I believe is his seminal book, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.”

As part of my job at Rocketdyne, I was privileged to attend an all-day seminar of his in Los Angeles in the Spring of 2007 or ’08. Upon my return, I wrote down some notes and impressions for my colleague who paid for the day. There’s some really good stuff in here. As a knowledge management professional, I’m a bit chagrined it’s taken me this long to share it. I truly hope someone finds Tufte’s words useful. 

Bill:

Here’s a quick recap of Edward Tufte’s presentation last Thursday. What I did, for the most part, was enter points he made as numbered bullets. Therefore, I’ll do the same here with the addition of some extra comments if I feel they are necessary.

1. Professor Tufte refers to the nature of the work he does as “escaping flatland”. He believes dimensionality is extremely important when using visualization to represent quantitative data.

2. Another aspect of visually presenting data which he emphasizes is data density, i.e. resolution. He repeatedly stressed the need to drive for greater and greater resolution when presenting data.

3. With respect to items such as run charts, histograms, etc., he believes it is far better to label the data directly, avoiding the use of keys, which he feels are distracting.

4. He presented a copy of Euclid’s Elements, which included many “pop-up” graphics used to illustrate his points. The copy of the book he had an assistant bring around (wearing white gloves) for us to view is 432 years old. It was awesome just to see it. He refers to these pop-ups as the “brute force” method of escaping flatland.

5. A key point he stressed is to enforce visual comparisons. The terms he used (should sound familiar) were, “it depends” and “compared to what?”.

6. The visual representation of data should show mechanism, process, or dynamics, i.e. they should present causality as an aide to understanding and clarity.

7. He also stressed the importance of showing more than 1 or 2 variables when preparing a chart.

8. Presentations must be content driven, i.e. they must embody the three elements of quality, relevance, and integrity. Integrity was a big theme of his and one I don’t believe most of us would find fault with.

9. Design can’t rescue failed content, which he referred to as “chart junk”. This is another point which relates to integrity, and one which he continually stressed throughout his presentation.

10. Whether it’s drawing or words, it’s all information. Don’t be afraid to use words to make your point.

11. I’m not entirely certain of what he meant by this point, but what I wrote down was the following: “Better to show info adjacent in space as opposed to stacked in time.”

12. He stressed that you should use small multiples, i.e. strive for high resolution of the data.

13. Another point which he used to continue driving home the importance of integrity was to show the whole data set. At the same time he stressed that one need not show the zero point, i.e. context is what’s important in making a useful, accurate presentation.

14. Detail does not mean clutter. If you can’t present your data in sufficient enough detail without making it difficult to understand, rethink your design; it’s probably faulty.

15. When presenting data always normalize, adjust, and compensate to provide greater clarity and integrity. The example he gave for this involved a situation where it was impossible to know the real changes in costs of consumer items without taking into consideration the rate of inflation over a period of time. Absent this adjustment, the changes appeared to be far greater than they actually were.

16. Perhaps this next point was specific to financial charts, but it seems appropriate for many others. Don’t trust displays which have no explanatory footnotes. Generally speaking, Tufte believes one should annotate everything. His philosophy appears to be to always err on the side of accuracy and completeness (see integrity).

17. He made a point of explaining the human mind’s tendency to remember only the most recent (recency bias) data it perceives. I don’t remember the exact context in which this statement was made, but I think it is related to Ed Maher’s assertion that we tend to focus on the out-of-family (I can’t remember the exact phrase he used) experiences rather than the steady state.

18. He used a word I thought was interesting to describe people who create fancy charts which don’t actually say much – “chartoonist”.

After going into some detail regarding how the Challenger disaster occurred or, more accurately, how it was allowed to happen, he suggested there were three moral lessons to be learned from the experience. He posed these lessons in the form of three questions one must ask oneself when producing information of this nature.

1. Where is the causality?

2. Is all relevant data included?

3. What do I really need to see if I’m going to decide this?

He guaranteed if these three questions were adequately addressed, the chance of getting the decision right were greatly increased.

He then went on to lay out a list of rules for presentations, as follows:

1. Get their attention (he gave an example of what he called the “stumblebum” technique, where a presenter purposely made a mistake – which the audience was more than happy to point out – in order to insure everyone was paying attention (presumably to see if they could catch him again; which they never did.) He made a point of suggesting this probably wasn’t the best technique, unless you’re really good.

2. Never apologize – don’t tell the audience how you didn’t sleep well the night before, etc.

3. PGP – Start with the particular, move to the general, return to the particular.

4. Give everyone at least one piece of paper; something tangible they can leave the room with.

5. Respect your audience’s intelligence.

6. Don’t just read from your charts.

7. Forget K.I.S.S. – Be thorough and accurate, not simple and vague.

8. He stressed the importance of humor, something he was excellent at. He did caution appropriate use (duh?).

9. If you believe what you’re presenting, make sure the audience knows it.

10. Finish early

His final points to improving one’s presentations were directed to the presenter and the presentation, respectively. The first point was to practice or rehearse so the presentation goes smoothly and you are able to get through it without stumbling or going over your allotted time. The second was to have better, stronger content.

Professor Tufte’s presentation was extremely engaging, from my point of view. He knew his stuff and made it interesting, fun, and funny. I confirmed that most of what he discussed is contained in one or more of the three books I took from the seminar, and I’m looking forward to reading again what I think I learned from him. Much of what he had to say was common sense, which I have encountered previously from the years I’ve spent putting together presentations. Nevertheless, I believe he had a great deal to offer which will ultimately improve my ability to present information, whether in a briefing or on a web site. I really enjoyed seeing and listening to him. Thanks for the opportunity.

Rick


Program Management By Ouija Board

image

Going back to work after nearly five years of “retirement” has been both interesting and instructive. When I was asked if I would be willing to do scheduling, which is something I had done many years ago, I happily said “yes”. I would have probably agreed to almost anything they wanted me to do, as I was anxious to supplement my meager retirement income. Actually, I first learned scheduling software using a mainframe tool called Artemis. Shortly afterward, we were introduced to a PC version of Artemis which, if memory serves, was called Schedule Publisher and, within another very short period, it was spun off into a product from Advanced Management Solutions, called AMS REALTIME Projects.

This was somewhere around 1994 and, at the time, Microsoft Project was comparatively bare bones and nowhere near as useful (in my opinion at the time) as REALTIME Projects. Having long been very much a visual person, I find the visualization provided by Gantt charts to be particularly useful when looking to see how the logic in a schedule affects downstream activities as time, and the work contemplated in the schedule, moves forward. Until Project introduced the Timeline view, which allows quick zooming and panning, I was not terribly happy with it compared to the AMS product, which offered a useful timeline capability.

So . . . since I had done scheduling for a few years during the 90s, I readily accepted the challenge and, upon my return on January 19, 2015, I was amused to see the company was still using Project 2002 which, although newer than the version I had struggled with, was still well over a decade old. The main reason for this, I was told, was because a set of macros had been developed over the years that allowed schedules to be matched up with the organization’s earned value management system, which is Deltek MPM.

Unfortunately, using such an old piece of software presented some interesting problems. One of the most egregious, from my point of view, was its inability to run in any of the conference rooms in my building. This was — and still is — due to an IT rule put in place that won’t run software in conference rooms if it’s more than two versions older than the most current one available. In the case of MS Project, the latest version available when I returned was 2013. Also, MS had released a 2007 and a 2010 version, which put the one in widespread use more than two versions behind and, as a result, clicking on the tool (which was installed in all the conference rooms) invoked Project but, instead of seeing the tabular data alongside a Gantt chart, all one got was an empty box with a small red “x” in the upper lefthand corner.

In my experience, scheduling is an activity that absolutely must be done collaboratively. A good, useful schedule requires (at the very least) a great deal of understanding of not only the work to be done, but the ways in which the logic of its progression needs to be modeled in order to accurately reflect how downstream activities are impacted by small changes as work progresses . . . and changes are absolutely unavoidable, especially in large, complex projects such as rocket engine design, manufacture, and test.

Since it was impossible to use the tool in a conference room, where I could sit with the Program Manager, one or more Control Account Managers, and various Engineers (Design, Quality, Manufacturing, etc.) developing schedules became somewhat difficult and inordinately iterative, requiring dozens of communications back and forth between me and the Program Manager, as well as others who we needed input from. As work progressed, I was able to get IT to agree to allow me to log into my computer remotely from any one of the conference rooms, which made working on the schedule much easier. However, the resolution in the conference rooms was far less than that available to me on my Dell all-in-one. Its screen is 23″ diagonally, plus I have an extension display that gives me another 19″ off to the side. What I see on screen in conference rooms is not as inclusive as what I normally work with and it takes a bit of adjusting, which cuts into the speed with which I can get things done.

As I both refamiliarize myself with the scheduling process and learn how the tools have advanced, I’m learning a lot about how best to do it. Perhaps more importantly, I’m also learning how little most people know of the power of a good piece of scheduling software. There are people here who still use Excel spreadsheets and date functions to create schedules. Maybe I’m missing something, but MS Project and other similar tools provide not only calendaring functionality, but also the kind of logic necessary to accurately model the interplay between design, quality, procurement, operations, testing, and numerous other ancillary and important processes that make up the entirety of a program.

Inasmuch as Project also provides for highly detailed resource loading (quite literally down to the gnat’s ass, if one is so inclined), I’m unclear as to why we don’t use it for at least first cut proposal activity. Were we to do so, I’m convinced it would not only speed up the initial process of pricing a decent proposal but, when completed, there would be no need to then create a schedule from scratch, which is generally the way it’s done now. I suspect there are some people out there who actually do what I’m suggesting but, for all I know at this point, my perception could be wildly innacurate.

So . . . I’m kind of hedging my bets and, while I’m agitating for people to consider using MS Project more widely and for deeper resource planning, I’m mostly looking to understand the tool a little more each day. It, like many tools available to organizations of all kinds and sizes, is far more powerful than most individuals understand or are interested in learning. I’m constantly finding myself believing we are crippling ourselves by not using it far more extensively but, as many have pointed out, changing direction in a reasonably large organization, especially one which depends largely on government contracts and oversight, is like turning an aircraft carrier with a canoe paddle. On the bright side, it could keep me working for another decade, the prospect of which does not bother me in the slightest.


With My Thumb Up My . . .

Experimenting with some short form blogging. 
I’m sitting in a conference room where I was supposed to meet with a couple finance people to go over our integrated master schedule. Nobody is here except me.

It’s kind of nice not having to deal with anybody, and I log onto my computer at my desk, but it’s just not the same and I’m bored.

Now I’ve moved into another conference room and it looks like I’m gonna be doing the same thing. At least I’m being taken out to lunch today, by one of the very people who’s supposed to be here right now. He will hear about this.


Déjà Vu All Over Again

I’ve been giving some thought to why I blog, what it is I’m trying to accomplish. As it turns out, I have several motivations that are, in no particular order: Share my observations of the business world; discuss politics; wonder about space, time, and infinity; wax philosophical about religion and spirituality; share my experiences with aging as a point-of-the-spear baby boomer; complain about assholes and assholishness; and blabber on about anything that intrigues me. I guess that pretty much covers everything.

Deja Vu

I could swear I’ve thought about these issues before!

I feel fairly confident in my ability to write about most of these things, but I do have one area in which I’m somewhat reluctant to hold myself out as knowing anything. That subject is business. This isn’t because I haven’t picked up anything useful in the past 52 years since my first “real” job at McDonald’s, but rather because I’ve spent the vast majority of the last three decades working at an organization that is a government contractor and I have a tendency to think we’re very different than other, commercial organizations.

It recently dawned on me or, perhaps after nearly five years of retirement and a return to the organization I retired from, it came back to me the success of the comic strip Dilbert should make it abundantly clear most all reasonably big organizations are very much the same when it comes to bureaucracy, organizational stupidity, and waste. So . . . I’ve now come full-circle I believe and should have no trouble writing about my observations.

Not perzackly. When I first returned to work in mid-January of this year, I ran up against the reality that a large portion of the business, thanks to an acquisition by Aerojet, was now defense and missile related and our work on space exploration was more developmental than production oriented. In fact, I am currently working on what used to be referred to as a “Star Wars” program, a ground-based intercept vehicle designed to “get in the way” of incoming ballistic missiles. As a result, one of the first training modules I was required to take and pass an exam on was regarding Operations Security.

The material wasn’t all that comprehensive, so it requires some real judgment to decide on what I can talk about and what I should not share. It gave me pause – still does, actually. However, I am coming to the conclusion I can speak about any part of normal organizational issues that others (for whom Dilbert continues to resonate with the “truth”) struggle with as well. I think this means issues of communication, knowledge sharing and retention, organizational silos, and cultural constructs that block meaningful progress are probably available targets. Let’s see how good I do.


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