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Archive for June, 2010

MAKING DO WITH LESS

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 7, 2010

Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky recently took a lot of heat for trying to hold up a $10 billion bill to pay for extended unemployment benefits. Basically, he had the audacity to ask Congress how they intended to pay for it. His point was that Congress, at some point, has to learn to stop borrowing and spending money they do not have, that it is a violation of their fiduciary responsibilities. Bunning has a point, an unpopular one, but valid nonetheless, and I think it foreshadows the shape of things to come.

As parents, we all admonish our children not to spend money they do not have, or to incur debt. Inevitably, our offspring discover credit cards and a drunken spending spree ensues followed by debt and plummeting credit ratings. The concept of seemingly free cash is irresistible to people, be it a teenager or a Congressman. Unfortunately, it is what generates votes and elects public officials. As voters, we do not elect people based on their management or leadership skills, nor their decision making capabilities, but rather by the “freebies” they promise to give away. It is an addiction that is essentially no different than drugs.

I am reminded of when Gerald Ford went before the American people in a State of the Union address and said in effect, “My fellow Americans, I’m afraid the state of the union is not very good…” It was honest, it was truthful, it was forthright; but it also cost him the 1976 Presidential election as it was something the American public didn’t want to hear.

Our refusal to face reality and not live within our means has caused a drop in our standard of living. To illustrate, a U.N. report points out our standard of living continues to decline (we’re now 10th in the world with countries such as Norway, Iceland, Australia, and Canada ahead of us).

At some point, we are going to have to face reality and curb our appetites. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and it is us.” This means, whether we like it or not, we will all have to make sacrifices in both our personal and professional lives. No, we may not be getting that bonus we routinely expect each year. In fact, we may have to take a pay cut or a lower level job. No, we may not be able to afford to send our children off to college. No, we may not be able to afford to retire when we wanted to, and have to work several more years. And, No, we may not be able to afford certain luxuries, such as opulent gifts, vacations, or dine out at restaurants as often as we like. We may also have to downsize our residences and transportation requirements. This will all test the character of the American people.

Unless we learn to live within our means as a country, I’m afraid the recession of 2008-2009 will be nothing more than a sneak preview of what is to come. A redistribution of the wealth won’t work if there is no wealth to redistribute.

I had a friend recently tell me Americans were nothing but “mules.” He explained that a mule is a hybrid of a female horse and a male donkey. “A mule has to learn he will never run as fast as his mother, or be as obstinate as his father, instead, he has to learn to accept who he is and live within his means, not more, not less.”

It may be a strange analogy, but he’s got a point.

By the way, I was a big fan of Bunning when he was with the Phillies and remember his perfect game against the Mets in 1964.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

COMING IN JULY: “Tin Heads” – What is Bryce up to this time?

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REGRETS

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 4, 2010

Many years ago, when I was still in college, a good friend and myself came up with the wild idea of spending a summer vacation as smoke jumpers out West. We had heard about the forest fires plaguing the West at the time and, as able bodied young men, we wanted to help. Unfortunately, we found it difficult to find anyone in authority who could answer our questions and tell us how to join. You have to remember, this was at a time well before the Internet where such information would have been readily available. Consequently, we abandoned the idea in frustration (much to the relief of our parents). Even today, many years later, we talk about it and wish we had been able to experience it.

Just about everyone has some sort of opportunity they wish they had handled differently, be it in love, a business opportunity, an adventure or experience, or a way to improve one’s self. Life is full of missed opportunities. It is difficult to know when to grasp the brass ring as opposed to holding back and assuming less risk. Some people are bolder than others. I think it is either a matter of self-confidence or the ability to formulate the odds for success. Regardless, life is full of “could’ves,” “would’ves” and “should’ves.”

Some people have difficulty living with regrets…

“If only I had married Bob instead of Bill…”

“If only I had invested in the ABC company…”

“If only I had taken that job…”

“If only I had gone to school instead of …”

Some people dwell on regrets too much, allowing it to eat away their self-esteem and confidence, to the point of making themselves physically sick. They just cannot let go of a bad decision they made. As I see it, mistakes are a natural part of life and hopefully our decisions do not harm others, but every now and then, they do. I’m not talking about the vicious acts of criminals as much as I’m describing the regrets of everyday decisions.

Regardless if a bad decision affects only yourself or others, we have to learn to live with our mistakes. We have to accept it, not deny it, accept responsibility for it, and learn from it so that hopefully we do not make the same mistake more than once. What is done is done. Do not dwell on the past. In most cases, there is no way to correct it. Let’s move along. In addition, we cannot live in a state of perpetual fear of making another mistake because, in all likelihood, we will. After all, we are only human.

Part of the problem in our decision making process is how we rely on others for advice. If you haven’t guessed by now, people are quick to tell you what you cannot do in life. Nine times out of ten they are dead wrong. If you can think it through, you can do it. Mindpower is where it’s at. More than anyone, you know your strengths and weaknesses, and what limitations and capabilities you possess. True, we should respect the advice from people we trust, but we should ultimately be guided by our wants and needs, coupled with our ability to calculate risk. Let it not be said it was someone else’s decision, let it be our own. You will then have nobody else to blame if it fails.

“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.”
– Andrew Jackson

I still think smoke jumping would have been an exciting way to spend a summer over thirty years ago, but I look back with no regrets. It just wasn’t meant to be. Instead, I think of all of the other things I accomplished since then which were meant to be.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Life | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

RETURN OF CHECKLISTS

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 2, 2010

I recently read an interesting book review in “Business Week” magazine regarding “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Dr. Atul Gawande. Evidently, Gawande has discovered the beneficial use of checklists, not only in the operating room of hospitals but elsewhere. He observes that due to the unusual complexity of today’s tasks, such as performing major surgery, something as simple as a checklist can greatly reduce accidents, both large and small, which kills thousands of Americans a year.

The concept of checklists is certainly not new, as they have been used in the aerospace industry for years. However, they have sharply diminished over the years as computers have crept into just about every aspect of our lives. Nonetheless, as Gawande points out, this low-tech approach is a viable cost-effective solution for attacking complicated procedures.

The late Les Matthies, the “Dean of Systems,” is generally regarded as the father of the “Playscript” procedure, an effective writing technique. “Playscript” had a profound effect on creating people procedures and the development of checklists. To understand “Playscript” one has to understand Les’ background. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley during the Depression with a degree in Journalism. Being a writer, he tried his hand at writing Broadway plays. However, work was hard to come by during this period and when World War II broke out, Les was recruited by an aircraft manufacturer in the Midwest to systematize the production of aircraft. Relying on his experience as a writer, he devised the “Playscript” technique for developing procedures. Basically, Les wrote a procedure like a script to a play; there are three parts to a Playscript procedure:

1. PURPOSE SECTION – Containing the Business Purpose of the procedure.

2. SETUP SECTION – Listing all of the inputs, outputs, and files to be used during the execution of the procedure.

3. OPERATION SECTION – Listing all of the instructions required to perform the procedure. Each operation is described using action verbs and nouns. Les stressed the following guidelines:

    • COMPARE the value of “A” to “B”:

      A. If “A” is greater than “B”, go to step 4.

      B. If “B” is greater than “A”, go to step 16.

  • * Avoid needless complexity in word choice and sentence structure. Express an idea in the simplest possible way.

    * Begin each Operation with an action verb.

    * DO NOT begin the first sentence of the operational step with a conditional clause, such as “if,” “when” or “should.” Begin the sentence with “compare” or “evaluate” as a verb, followed by sub-clauses; for example:

Here is an example of a set of operations using “Playscript”:

    • A. Enter your PASSWORD when prompted by the computer.
      A. If you wish to enter a customer’s order, select the “Orders” pull-down-choice from the “Customer” action-bar-choice. Go to step 6 for additional instructions.

      B. If you wish to query the status of a customer’s order, select the “Status” pull-bar-choice from the “Customer” action-bar-choice. Go to step 8 for additional instructions.

      C. For all other queries, proceed to the next step (5).

  • 1. Logon to computer using the standard logon procedure.

    2. Access “Order Processing System” screens by double-clicking on the “Order Processing” icon on the computer desktop.

    3. Select the “Order Processing Maintenance” icon to invoke the “Order Processing Screen.”

    4. Select the type of data entry you wish to perform from the window’s action-bar:

    In the end, “Playscript” represents an effective checklist for performing complicated procedures. For details on “Playscript,” see my article, “The Language of Systems” from Aug. 22, 2005

    As an aside, it is a little known fact that Matthies’ “Playscript” was the technique used to devise computer program procedural languages such as COBOL, FORTRAN, and PL/1.

    I find it rather amusing Les’ work is resurfacing again. Then again, maybe the lesson here is not everything has to be conquered by the computer, that simpler less-expensive solutions are available to solve complicated problems. As for me, I guess what goes around, comes around.

    “Systems will fail more for the lack of administrative procedures than well written computer procedures.”
    – Bryce’s Law

    (A tip of the hat to Dick Webster in Columbus)

    Keep the Faith!

    Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

    Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

    For Tim’s columns, see:
    http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

    Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business, Management, Systems, Technology | Leave a Comment »