Engineering, Management, Posts

Between Waterfall and Agile – The Grey Area

What is the development theory that Steve Jobs used to develop the Apple II computer? Do you think that when Thomas Edison invented and mass-produced the light bulb, and many other inventions, he was thinking about what project development model to apply? What model was on the mind of Henry Ford when he revolutionized the automotive industry (besides the model T)?

If you have great visionary leaders who have a good understanding of the market, and talented people who master the state-of-the-art technology, with a bit of luck, you can develop a best-in-class product, and disrupt the market, without the need for any management/development theory. Following your success, people (not as smart as your people) will try to extract lessons from your good practices, theorize them, and sell them to other companies as remedies to their problems. Good practices will always help to improve the outcome, but will never fix the problem of narrow-minded leadership and unmotivated people.

This sets the ground for the sequel.

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Product/Software Development

The development of a product/software comprises the following key activities:

Continue reading “Between Waterfall and Agile – The Grey Area”
Management, Posts

Beware the Bandwagon Effect

Management, Posts

Checklists: where the Disciplined Outperforms the Genius.

Checklists are a simple, powerful, yet often ignored, business tool. They provide a reliable and quick shortcut that improves our performance in the task at hand with less mental effort. Whether flying a plane, operating a surgery, troubleshooting a system, or making big decisions, checklists are always useful.

This post gives the reasons why checklists are paramount in some situations and emphasizes their importance in the process of decision-making.

What is a Checklist?

A checklist is a pre-defined standard operating procedure to follow when performing a specific task. It is a proven business tool that improves performance and minimizes human errors and mental effort.

How to build Checklists?

Both knowledge and experience contribute to checklist definition, in a closed feedback-loop fashion, where the checklist definition contributes to the knowledge and experience too.

Build_Checklist

Checklists are useful for frequent routines, which reduces the cognitive effort needed to perform them. Nevertheless, we can use them in any other task, profession or industry.

Why do we need Checklists?

Image result for checklist manifestoSimply put, we need to use checklists to perform some tasks because we cannot be sure we have considered all the details of the task at hand. Our brains have blind spots. Sometimes, we overlook even the most basic fact of the problem, which may lead in some circumstances to catastrophic results. In a hospital, for example, a nurse may treat the wrong patient if the name is not verified. Worse, a surgeon may operate the wrong patient! Yes, it happened and may happen again even for the highest skilled nurse and surgeon.

Here are some reasons why we are often unable to consider all the facets of the problem at hand:

  • We simply forget: as human beings, we are prone to forgetting. This is why we often write things down in the form of to-do lists and checklists.
  • Complexity: as human knowledge and technology grow in complexity, so does our professional tasks (finance, software design, hardware design, etc.). The memory alone does not help.
  • Limited attention: pay attention to something, and you’re almost sure you are missing something else. It is a scientific fact that our conscious mind can handle only one object at a time, and leaves rest for the unconscious autopilot. That is why we may forget the pizza in the oven if we engage in an interesting discussion. This is also the principal cause of car accidents, medical errors, etc.
  • Expertise: an increasing number of professions require super-specialized experts. A domain expert is prone to both complexity and overconfidence and may overlook basic facts.
  • Cognitive biases: our cognitive biases, such as the confirmation bias, the planning fallacy, the availability heuristic, etc. are the major cause of errors.

Continue reading “Checklists: where the Disciplined Outperforms the Genius.”

Management, Posts

Outsmart The Planning Fallacy

Projects go over-budget and over-schedule; small ones, like renovating your kitchen, and huge ones, like constructing the Sydney Opera House. One main reason is our overconfident optimistic approach to planning. Behavioral psychologists call this the “Planning Fallacy“.

This post defines the concept of planning fallacy, gives examples of its consequences on some global projects, and provides some tips to mitigate it.

The Planning Fallacy

The planning fallacy is when we underestimate the time and resources needed to complete a project. We are often optimistic about our performance and the outcome of the project, so we take our desires for real plans.

The planning fallacy is a cognitive bias that fools our decision-making ability into considering the best-case scenario. It has a somewhat positive side, which is risk-taking. This cognitive bias allows us to take both small risks, such as opening a small business, and huge risks such as starting a war.

Catastrophic Project Plans

The following chart presents some major projects around the globe that went catastrophically over-budget. Notice the trend; the bigger the project, the higher the overbudget.

Sans titre

Mitigate the Planning Fallacy

Among the methods to mitigate the planning fallacy, we present the major three: Continue reading “Outsmart The Planning Fallacy”

Management, Posts

6 Tips for New Managers

Becoming a manager is a stressful, yet rewarding, experience. Beginners in management often fail in their first role. This is mainly because of their misconceptions about what it means to be the boss. In this post, you will find the main misconceptions about management, reality, and tips for successful leadership. The main misconceptions of the new managers are:

  1. I can rely on the same skills that led me to the management role.
  2. Being a manager means I am more independent.
  3. Formal authority is a source of power.
  4. Results delivery requires controlling people.
  5. I must build relationships with individual subordinates.
  6. I will make sure that the operation will keep running smoothly.

1 – Be a leader. Don’t be a star.

  • Myth: I can rely on the same skills that led me to my new role.
  • Reality: The required skills to be a successful manager are completely different. You learn them mostly by experience. You need to put your emotional intelligence at work.
  • Tip: Prepare yourself for the management role before you take it. If you already are a manager, it is never too late. Learn and practice.

2 – Stay humble, you can’t do whatever you want

  • Myth: Now I can implement my brilliant plans. I can change everything.
  • Reality: You are tied with a complex chain of interactions. You discover that someone who works for you could get you fired.
  • Tip: Build your network inside the organization. Learn how to negotiate and influence. Understand the interdependencies and stay humble.

Angry boss yelling at his assistant secretary

3 – Don’t rely on your formal authority. You must earn it.

  • Myth: My position is a source of power. 
  • Reality: You can’t be more wrong. It will surprise you that people will not give you respect and trust you for your formal authority, you need to earn it.
  • Tip: Demonstrate competence (listen more than talk), character (your willingness to do the right thing) and influence in the organization.

The more talented the subordinate, the less likely he/she is to follow orders.

4 – Don’t seek compliance. Seek commitment.

  • Myth: I must get compliance from my subordinates. I am in charge; I control.
  • Reality: More often than not, direct reports will not respond when you tell them to do something.
  • Tip: Build commitment by empowering individuals to achieve team goals. Don’t use orders.

Continue reading “6 Tips for New Managers”

Management, Posts, Quotes

Plans are worthless, but Planning is everything.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Management, Personal Development, Posts

The Optimal Level of Stress

Stress is the response of your body to challenge. Your level of stress predicts your performance in your job and your relationships. On the one hand, high levels of stress would cause strong anxiety, exhaustion, and impaired performance. On the other hand, low levels of stress would result in boredom, inactivity, and disengagement.

You need an optimal amount of stress to perform at your best. In psychology, this is known as the Yerkes–Dodson law, depicted in the figure below.

The Optimal Level of Stress

If you are a manager or a leader, make sure that your people are experiencing the optimal level of stress to stay engaged, motivated and at their best performance.

Management, Posts

Set SMART Goals

Do you struggle with new year resolutions? Do you find it difficult to achieve your goals? And by the way, how do you set your goals?

Failing goals may have negative consequences on one’s well-being and self-confidence. To achieve goals, we should first know how to set them, then how to work towards them. If you set a non-realistic goal, you are bound to failure. This is why you should learn how to set SMART goals.

SMART is the acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. These are the characteristic your goals should have to make it possible to achieve it. Whether you are setting personal goals such as new year’s resolution, or you are setting goals for your company or your team members, make sure that each goal satisfies these 5 characteristics.

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal setting

Management, Posts, Quotes

Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Alan Lakein

Book Review, Management, Posts

The Personal MBA – Josh Kaufman

The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business audiobook cover art
Audible Audio-book

  • Title: The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business
  • Author: Josh Kaufman
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Recommendation Score: 5 / 5

Book Review

The author, Josh Kaufman, argues that MBA programs are too expensive, with a low return on investment. Especially that the best MBA programs are highly selective, they will pick the candidates who have promising profiles, and who would climb the ladder with or without an MBA. He suggests that business school is unnecessary, and that reading books and gaining real-life experience is a better option.

“The Personal MBA” book as a distilled summary of a huge number of business and personal development books. It gives a boost of knowledge about business, but you need to complete it with further readings and practical experience. As the author puts it: The Personal MBA is a “Do-It-Yourself” approach to business education, but “Do-It-Yourself” does not mean “Do-It-By-Yourself”.

The book comprises both the technical and emotional skills needed for a successful career. The chapters pursue the following outline:

  • Value Creation
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Value Delivery
  • Finance
  • The Human Mind
  • Working With Yourself
  • Working With Others
  • Understanding Systems
  • Analyzing Systems
  • Improving Systems

Continue reading “The Personal MBA – Josh Kaufman”