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Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

THE ELEMENTS OF A GOOD FEASIBILITY STUDY

Posted by Tim Bryce on February 21, 2019

BRYCE ON PLANNING

– Let us look before we leap.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

“Those who do not do their homework do not graduate.” – Bryce’s Law

In its simplest form, a Feasibility Study represents a definition of a problem or opportunity to be studied, an analysis of the current mode of operation, a definition of requirements, an evaluation of alternatives, and an agreed upon course of action. As such, the activities for preparing a Feasibility Study are generic in nature and can be applied to any type of project, be it for systems and software development, making an acquisition, or any other project. It is equally applicable in business, nonprofit institutions, and at all levels of government. Frankly, if you are going to do anything of substance, it is wise to perform a Feasibility Study. Instead of looking at it as a series of a regimented steps, it is a thinking process for specifying needs, assessing risk, and making an intelligent decision. Basically, it is nothing more than common sense.

There are basically six parts to any effective Feasibility Study:

1. The PROJECT SCOPE which is used to define the business problem and/or opportunity to be addressed. The old adage, “The problem well stated is half solved,” is very apropos. The Scope should be definitive and to the point; rambling narrative serves no purpose and can actually confuse project participants. It is also necessary to define the parts of the business affected either directly or indirectly, including project participants and end-user areas affected by the project. The project sponsor should be identified, particularly if he/she is footing the bill.

I have seen too many projects in the corporate world started without a well defined Project Scope. Consequently, projects have wandered in and out of their boundaries causing them to produce either far too much or far too little than what is truly needed.

2. The CURRENT ANALYSIS is used to define and understand the current method of implementation, such as a system, a product, etc. From this analysis, it is not uncommon to discover there is actually nothing wrong with the current system or product other than some misunderstandings regarding it or perhaps it needs some simple modifications as opposed to a major overhaul. Also, the strengths and weaknesses of the current approach are identified (pros and cons). In addition, there may very well be elements of the current system or product that may be used in its successor thus saving time and money later on. Without such analysis, this may never be discovered.

Analysts are cautioned to avoid the temptation to stop and correct any problems encountered in the current system at this time. Simply document your findings instead, otherwise you will spend more time unnecessarily in this stage (aka “Analysis Paralysis”).

3. REQUIREMENTS – how requirements are defined depends on the object of the project’s attention. For example, how requirements are specified for a product are substantially different than requirements for an edifice, a bridge, or an information system. Each exhibits totally different properties and, as such, are defined differently. How you define requirements for software is also substantially different than how you define them for systems. (See, “Understanding the Specifications Puzzle”).

4. The APPROACH represents the recommended solution or course of action to satisfy the requirements. Here, various alternatives are considered along with an explanation as to why the preferred solution was selected. In terms of design related projects, it is here where whole rough designs (e.g., “renderings”) are developed in order to determine viability. It is also at this point where the use of existing structures and commercial alternatives are considered (e.g., “build versus buy” decisions). The overriding considerations though are:

* Does the recommended approach satisfy the requirements?
* Is it also a practical and viable solution? (Will it “Play in Poughkeepsie?”)

A thorough analysis here is needed in order to perform the next step…

5. EVALUATION – examines the cost effectiveness of the Approach selected. This begins with an analysis of the estimated total cost of the project. In addition to the recommended solution, other alternatives are estimated in order to offer an economic comparison. For development projects, an estimate of labor and out-of-pocket expenses is assembled along with a project schedule showing the project path and start-and-end dates.

After the total cost of the project has been calculated, a cost and evaluation summary is prepared which includes such things as a cost/benefit analysis, return on investment, etc.

6. REVIEW – all of the preceding elements are then assembled into a Feasibility Study and a formal review is conducted with all parties involved. The review serves two purposes: to substantiate the thoroughness and accuracy of the Feasibility Study, and to make a project decision; either approve it, reject it, or ask that it be revised before making a final decision. If approved, it is very important that all parties sign the document which expresses their acceptance and commitment to it; it may be a seemingly small gesture, but signatures carry a lot of weight later on as the project progresses. If the Feasibility Study is rejected, the reasons for its rejection should be explained and attached to the document.

CONCLUSION

It should be remembered that a Feasibility Study is more of a way of thinking as opposed to a bureaucratic process. For example, what I have just described is essentially the same process we all follow when purchasing an automobile or a home. As the scope of the project grows, it becomes more important to document the Feasibility Study particularly if large amounts of money are involved and/or the criticality of delivery. Not only should the Feasibility Study contain sufficient detail to carry on to the next succeeding phase in the project, but it should also be used for comparative analysis when preparing the final Project Audit which analyzes what was delivered versus what was proposed in the Feasibility Study.

Feasibility Studies represent a commonsense approach to planning. Frankly, it is just plain good business to conduct them. However, I have read where some people, particularly government legislators and people in the I.T. field, consider Feasibility Studies to be a colossal waste of time. In their haste, they will sincerely claim, “We don’t have time to do things right.” Translation: “We have plenty of time to do things wrong.”

First published: March 20, 2008, updated in 2019.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

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CRAFTSMANSHIP IS A STATE OF MIND

Posted by Tim Bryce on February 14, 2019

BRYCE ON MANAGEMENT

– It is also a universally applicable concept.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

I have been writing on the virtues of craftsmanship for many years now. I have also given presentations on the subject and discussed it at length with different types of companies. Surprisingly, I find few people truly understand the concept. Perhaps the biggest misconception is that it is reserved for certain types of work effort. Some believe craftsmen are limited to furniture makers, machinists, or watchmakers. And, No, we are most certainly not talking about a line of tools from Sears. People seem surprised when I explain it is a universal concept applicable to any job. My message is simple: “Craftsmanship is a state of mind.”

Years ago, Arnold Toynbee, the legendary historian and economist from the UK, made the observation, “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” Whereas some people like to separate their personal and professional lives, Toynbee rightfully makes the point there is physically only one person, and their personal and professional lives should be viewed as one and the same.

Craftsmanship is based on three rather simple principles:

First, in order to build self-esteem and give an individual a sense of purpose, we need to acknowledge, “Man must lead a worthy life.” This means people should be given meaningful work to perform, thereby creating the desire to master one’s craft. However, not everyone can be a wood worker, machinist, or watchmaker. Instead, they must find meaning in their chosen profession, which leads to our next principle…

Second, “There is dignity in all forms of work.” We should never look down our noses at anyone’s profession, assuming they are doing it competently and professionally. Regardless of the task, it is always a pleasure to be among people who know what they are doing, and perform it seemingly with little effort and a sense of class. In contrast, there are also workers who are apathetic, put forth minimal effort, and only watch the clock as opposed to the work product they are assigned to. Personally, it is difficult to respect such people.

Third, a simple recognition there are “right” and “wrong” ways for performing tasks. It takes discipline not to skip steps and put the work product in jeopardy. Understanding the differences between “right” and “wrong” is more than just training and experience, it also represents the morality of the worker. One reason craftsmanship is in decline is because of the eroding moral values of the country, such as the inclination to cheat.

These principles highlight the fact that craftsmanship is universally applicable. We can find it in any industry and any type of work, be it janitors, waitresses, programmers, managers, assembly line workers, hairdressers, teachers, engineers, athletes, musicians, the medical community, you name it. Craftsmanship is a state of mind. Think about it, who has impressed you not only by the job they did, but how they went about doing it? Inevitably, it is someone you respect, someone you will gladly give a reference to, someone you would like to emulate.

Craftsmanship requires more than just talent, it is a determination to be the best someone can be. Not surprising, there is a close relationship between craftsmen and the products they produce. Expressions such as “I built that” or “That was mine,” denote the pride they take in their work. Conversely, when someone makes a compliment about a product or service, the craftsman takes it as a personal compliment. The bond between craftsman and work product is so strong, the worker sees the product as tangible proof of their quality of work.

Years ago, people learned their craft through apprenticeship programs. Ben Franklin learned to be a printer at his older brother’s print shop. Likewise, young men learned a variety of crafts through such programs. Over the years though, we have drifted away from apprenticeships. Today, we rely on certification programs and college degrees, but this does not necessarily make someone a craftsman. It only denotes the student has learned something and passed tests and exams. Rarely does it give us insight into a person’s mastery of a craft, which cannot normally be evaluated until it is put into practice and studied over time.

In terms of skills, the craftsman must master several things:

* The resources used in the product. For example, a wood worker will know the differences between types of wood, their strengths and weaknesses, their suitability for the product, and how to work with it. Likewise, a machinist will understand the nature of the different metals he must use in his work.

* The methodologies to produce the product, representing the steps or processes of the project.

* The tools and techniques to be used in the development of the product, all of which may change over time. This means the craftsman is a student of his profession and possesses a sense of history to his craft.

Craftsmanship is something we have taken for granted for many years. Consequently, it has been fading from view. Interestingly, when I teach these concepts to students and business professionals, they are usually surprised by the simplicity of the concepts involved. I warn them though that craftsmanship requires a personality which includes such things as discipline, an intuitive mind, pride in workmanship, a willingness to be the best in your chosen profession, and some good old fashioned morality. Craftsmanship is not for everybody, but we should celebrate those willing to lead such an existence, for they are the people who create the products we admire and cherish.

For more information, see my earlier paper, “Craftsmanship: the Meaning of Life.”

If you want a presentation on craftsmanship, please do not hesitate to contact me.

First published: February 26, 2014

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

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WHAT YOUNG PEOPLE WANT & NEED

Posted by Tim Bryce on January 17, 2019

BRYCE ON LIFE

– What parents do not give too much of these days.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Not long ago, there was a ten part series on PBS entitled, “Carrier,” which provided a rare glimpse into life aboard an American aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz. There are approximately 5,000 people aboard this floating four acres of military weaponry, and although the ship and technology were interesting, it is the ship’s crew who were the real stars of the show.

Crewmen, both male and female, from all levels of the ship’s military hierarchy were profiled. Many were interviewed as to what their background was and why they joined the Navy. To me personally, I found the interviews with the younger members of the crew (ages 18-22) to be particularly enlightening. Many came from middle class broken homes where the other members of the family were socially dysfunctional, suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction, and consequently becoming pimps, prostitutes, thieves, and wife/child beaters.

Time and again, crewmen spoke of how the Navy gave them structure and a purpose in life. They found such things as discipline, organization, and accountability, to be some very powerful and beneficial concepts. They also thrived in an environment of teamwork where it was necessary to put aside differences and work towards the common good. As a result, they felt less like aloof individuals and more like a real family with a sense of belonging. They would frequently use the expression, “Work hard – play hard,” representing their philosophy towards teamwork. With this foundation in place, the crewmen found confidence in themselves, assumed responsibility for their actions, and confidently responded to challenges. Instead of drifting through life aimlessly, the Navy gave them the ability to chart a course in their personal lives, something their parents failed to instill in them. In other words, the military forced them to grow up by teaching them the meaning of adulthood.

Some time ago I discussed the need in business for “Parenting Management,” that due to a decline in parenting skills at home, teachers, coaches, and managers were being forced to play surrogate mothers and fathers. We may not like it, but unfortunately it has become a fact of life as many misfit parents have abdicated their responsibilities. Not surprising, I found “Carrier” to be an endorsement of my thesis that we have to do much more in the business world to help young people grow up and take their proper place in society. Since their biological parents have dropped the ball, it now defaults to the manager.

In a nutshell, the lessons from “Carrier” are simple; with rare exception, young people both want and need direction, organization, discipline, and accountability. Although they would never admit such going into the Navy, these simple parental skills are what the young crewmen actually respond positively to. By being treated as responsible professionals, they developed self-esteem, which led to pride in workmanship and a very tight ship.

In the final chapter of the show, the producers interviewed a young crewman who told a story of going back and visiting his recruiter following Boot Camp. “What did you get me into?” he asked the recruiter who, in turn, raised his hand and said “Where would you be right now if you weren’t in the Navy?” The crewman blurted out he would be hanging out with his friends getting high (“Did I just say that?” he said). He glanced back into the eyes of the recruiter who simply said, “You see?” And, of course, the crewman did.

Maybe there is something to the concept of having all young people serve in the military for a few years following high school.

First published: May 15, 2008. Updated 2019.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

Posted in Management | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

UNCOMMON SENSE IN BUSINESS

Posted by Tim Bryce on January 15, 2019

BRYCE ON BUSINESS

– Common sense is no longer common in the work place.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Probably the main reason why Scott Adams’ “Dilbert” comic strip enjoys the popularity it does is because it is a clever parody of the corporate world. It now appears in hundreds of newspapers around the world. As readers, we can relate to the corporate situations the characters are put in and the inevitable results. What is considered logical and practical is often sacrificed to suit petty personality traits. The underlying theme in the strip is that common sense is not common in the corporate world.

I have assembled a list of items as found in business and compare and contrast how they should be applied in practice (common sense) versus how they are applied in reality. This provides some interesting insight into the philosophy of our corporate culture. Who knows, this might be nothing more than fodder for Scott Adams.

APPEARANCE

Common Sense: Impressions make a difference as people react to our appearances. How we dress and act send subliminal messages to the people we meet and work with, but we must be wary of facade; an actor rarely assumes the characteristics of the people they portray. The same is true in business; looks will carry you for a while but you have to be able to produce results in order to achieve the confidence and respect you desire.

Reality: Appearances and conduct are no longer considered important. A lot of managers are grateful simply because employees show up for work on time. Slovenly looks are often not disciplined accordingly. Our appearances also influence behavior; if we look bad, we typically lack respect for ourselves and others and treat them accordingly; looking better promotes pride and self-respect.

BEHAVIOR

Common Sense: Our perceptions, right or wrong, dictate our actions. Whether we perceive a situation correctly or not is irrelevant; we will act according to how we see a situation. Knowing this, we should make every effort to correctly interpret a situation so we make the right decision and take the appropriate action.

Reality: We see only what we want to see. Little effort is made to clarify a situation and act on impulses.

BRAIN POWER

Common Sense: The brain should be fully engaged in order to strive to achieve.

Reality: Companies establish working environments that do not stimulate thought. They prefer to have human robots as opposed to encouraging people to exhibit a little initiative.

BUSINESS

Common Sense: The only good business relationship is where both parties benefit. The intent should be to create “win-win” situations where both parties prosper, not just one. This promotes cooperation and trust.

Reality: Its a dog-eat-dog world out there. Most companies have little regard for vendors and customers, let alone partners. “Win-lose” situations are still the norm today.

COMMUNICATIONS

Common Sense: Talk and write to communicate, not to impress. An eloquent vocabulary tends to alienate as oppose to recruiting support for your argument. As such, it is important to know your audience.

Reality: Pompous speeches using a seemingly cryptic language does, in fact, impress people. Your audience may not understand what you are talking about, but they will be buffaloed into believing you. Don’t have any new ideas? Just change the vocabulary and make people believe you have invented a new idea.

CORPORATE CULTURE

Common Sense: All companies have a culture, a way by which their people think and behave. In order for new employees to succeed, they must adapt to the culture or face rejection (e.g., people refusing to work with them).

Reality: New people care little for the thinking and behavior of others. They believe they know better and act like loose cannons.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Common Sense: The customer is treated like a king. By providing excellent service, the customer will offer referrals (new business) as well as repeat business.

Reality: The customer is treated like sheep. By creating bureaucracy, consumers have learned not to expect too much and realize objections are exercises in futility. By vendors creating an aura that their products are “state of the art,” people will react like Pavlov’s dog and purchase the latest gizmo upon its announcement (usually sight unseen).

DECISION MAKING

Common Sense: Business decisions should be based on sound logical facts, such as a Cost/Benefit Analysis with “return on investments” and “break even points.” People are typically not afraid of taking a risk if the facts are presented to them clearly.

Reality: Business decisions are based on emotions with an appeal to the frailties of the human ego, e.g., greed, stature, perks, etc. Politicians and marketers have known this for years, which is why Government initiates actions based on polls as opposed to what is really needed. People are not afraid of taking risks since they know liberal government bankruptcy laws will bail them out in case of failure.

DOCUMENTATION

Common Sense: If something is important, write it down. By doing so, we are providing the means for companies to carry on in the event of a catastrophe or a turnover in personnel.

Reality: Rarely is anything written down, particularly designs as it is considered a waste of time. Without documentation, people such as engineers promote job security; e.g., they cannot be fired since they maintain the designs in their heads.

INFORMATION

Common Sense: Information is not synonymous with data. Information is the knowledge or intelligence required to support the actions and decisions of a business. People act on information, not data. Data is the raw material used to produce information. Consequently, data should be cataloged so that it may be shared and reused to produce the necessary information.

Reality: Information and data are treated as being synonymous. Rarely is data shared and reused outside of a single computer program. As a result, data redundancy runs rampant in business causing end-users to question the integrity of information from which it is based.

INTEGRITY

Common Sense: Tell the truth; if you don’t you’ll eventually get caught in a lie which could potentially cost the company business.

Reality: Lying is considered an acceptable form of behavior. In other words, say or promise anything to secure a contract. Let the corporate lawyers figure out later what to do if entanglements ensue.

LEADERSHIP

Common Sense: Lead by example. Never ask someone to do something you are not prepared to do yourself. This will earn you the respect of your workers.

Reality: Most managers have little sensitivity for the type of work their people have to perform. In fact, they prefer a master/slave relationship thereby elevating their ego.

MANAGEMENT

Common Sense: Create an environment that empowers employees and treat them like professionals, thereby giving them a sense of purpose. An empowered employee will be more dedicated and loyal to the company.

Reality: Promise recruits anything, sweat them, then let them go at the end of the assignment. Let us also not forget, employees will jump from job to job. Free-agency saw to that.

ORGANIZATION

Common Sense: Insist on a clean work environment thereby forcing employees to be more disciplined and organized. By doing so, it will be easier to find and manage things, such as products, parts, and paperwork.

Reality: “A cluttered desk is the sign of a brilliant mind” is the normal cop out. By maintaining a pigsty, it is harder for managers to find out what the employee is up to.

PLANNING

Common Sense: Plan and set goals, but recognize that change is constant. As such, it is necessary to be flexible to adjust and adapt to changing conditions.

Reality: Plans are often cast in concrete thereby making it impossible to accommodate change. If a change is requested, blame the developers of the plan. Oh yea, don’t forget to print plans on fancy paper so it might impress others.

PROBLEM SOLVING

Common Sense: Treat problems, not symptoms. To get to the root of a problem, work backwards until you come to the starting point. Still can’t find it? Work forward, from start to end. Better yet, have a second pair of eyes look it over.

Reality: Treat symptoms, not problems. Apply Band-Aids where tourniquets are really needed (thereby pacifying the situation for the moment). Companies tend to develop a punchlist of symptoms and than take a shotgun approach to diagnosing them. Further, corrections are rarely delivered for free but, instead, are issued as updates (for a price).

QUALITY

Common Sense: Build quality into the product during development. By breaking the development process into stages, the product can be reviewed and inspected in increments. By doing so, it is rather easy to backup and correct the problem upon discovery. A quality-built product requires less time to maintain and, as such, reduces maintenance costs.

Reality: Companies inspect products after they have been built, normally by people unfamiliar with the processes and tools used to create the product. The rationale here is that it is seemingly cheaper to discard a product afterwards as opposed to during the development process. The cost of quality is normally bundled into the price of the product, thereby customers assume the price for corrections, not the company.

SHARING

Common Sense: Share and reuse parts of products. By doing so, it reduces development costs and promotes integration between products. Further, it simplifies maintenance of products through the use of standardized parts.

Reality: Sharing and reuse is avoided (primarily due to the “Not Invented Here” phenomenon). Consequently, considerable redundancy ensues, both in terms of parts and the labor required to redesign each part. The resulting overhead is buried in the price of the product.

SOLUTIONS

Common Sense: The best solutions are the simple solutions. Complicated solutions add to the expense of a project or a product (as well as the time to develop them). Do what is practical, not necessarily what is elegant.

Reality: Companies tend to prefer complicated solutions since they tend to pacify inflated egos or as part of a shell game in marketing the product. Complicated solutions inevitably add costs to the product (as well as markups).

TEAMWORK

Common Sense: A team of players can outperform any individual effort. As such, companies should be promoting teamwork and a spirit of cooperation.

Reality: Companies offer rewards for individual initiative (not teamwork), thereby resulting in a spirit of competition as opposed to cooperation. The thinking here is along the lines of “natural selection” as contained in Darwin’s theory of evolution whereby the individual with the strongest characteristics climbs to the top of the heap.

TECHNOLOGY

Common Sense: Technology should be applied in business on a basis of cost effectiveness. An elegant solution to the wrong problem solves nothing.

Reality: Technology is purchased by companies to “Keep up with the Jones” or as a status symbol. Rarely is it ever purchased for practical business purposes. Companies have been so conditioned to purchase technology, it is like taking their morning vitamin pill; a habit they believe is good for them. This train of thought is so pervasive today that technology often supersedes management. In other words, we do not try to manage our way out of a problem, we throw technology at it instead (this way, when something goes wrong, we can blame the technology).

THEFT

Common Sense: Do your own work. Give credit where credit is due.

Reality: Piracy is an acceptable form of behavior. It is quite common for employees to take intellectual property from one company to another as they move from job to job. Let the lawyers fight it out if a problem ensues.

WORK

Common Sense: Stay focused on the work product (the result or deliverable) and doggedly see something through to completion with your best effort, thereby creating pride in workmanship. Further, accept constructive criticism so that we can learn and improve. Our goal, as employees, is to become craftsmen in our area of expertise.

Let us also not forget that everything begins with a sale. Without a sale, there is no customer service, no development, nada.

Reality: People will only work on those items they deem important, in no particular priority. Further, people like to “rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic” and, by doing so, try to make things look better on the surface than they really are. This is usually done by juggling the books. Companies avoid tackling major projects for two reasons; first, they no longer possess the management skills to accomplish the work, and second; rewards and systems of remuneration are based on a short-term mentality.

THE HUMAN SPIRIT

Common Sense: Since the inception of our company in 1971, the underlying theme in our methodologies and writings is the recognition of the vital role the human being plays in business. You have heard us say on numerous occasions:

* Everything begins and ends with the human being.
* Systems are for people
* Business is about people, not numbers.
* Information is for people, not for the computer.
* We accomplish projects through people.
* Our corporate slogan: “Software for the finest computer – the Mind”

Knowing this, there should be greater respect for the human spirit and, as such, we should be sharpening our people skills as opposed to our technical skills. Technology will always have a role to play, but humans should never become subservient to it.

Reality: The human element is too often overlooked or forgotten. Technology is having an adverse effect on our social skills. For example, we can now electronically contact just about anyone anywhere on the planet, but we do not know how to effectively communicate or work with others. Some people believe the ideal business is one run totally by machines and not by people, thereby affording us more leisure time, a sort of “business in a closet.” But as long as we have people as customers, people as vendors, and need people to execute projects, we should always respect the dignity of the human spirit.

CONCLUSION

Some would suggest the Common Sense items listed above are naive concepts; that business doesn’t work this way. They are probably right, but then again, this is what makes “Dilbert” so funny. We all look for Common Sense in the work place, but are no longer surprised when things go awry. Consequently, these Common Sense items are considered “Uncommon” in today’s world.

I’ll close with one final Common Sense maxim admonished by my grandmother years ago which I have always found to be true, “In every person’s life, you must eat at least one spoonful of dirt.”

First published: September 18, 2006. Updated 2019.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

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HEIGH HO, HEIGH HO, IT’S BACK TO WORK WE GO

Posted by Tim Bryce on January 3, 2019

BRYCE ON THE NEW YEAR

– Now is the time for management to stimulate the work force.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Okay, the holidays are over, our friends and relatives should have returned home, the retailers had their way with us, we’re back in debt, the holiday decorations should have been stored away for another year, and a sense of normalcy should be returning. The holidays strangely reminds me of the Bataan Death March where we are forced to go through a perilous ordeal against our will. We’re worn out by the celebrations, large or small, gained weight, and live in a constant state of fear over our January credit card statements. Whereas the Death March was a one time event, the holidays come every year and we voluntarily subject ourselves to this torture over and over again.

Nonetheless, it’s a new year, and time to go back to work. January is when we reset the statistics, brace for a new year, and try to prove ourselves once again.

Some people have trouble getting back into the swing of work after the holidays; they’ve probably slept too much, partied too much, and ate way too much, which explains the five-to-eight pounds they’ve put on. This is why dieting and temperance are among the top New Year’s resolutions. Regardless, they are having trouble focusing on their work.

People tend to believe December is the worst month for productivity. Hardly. In addition to general retail, December is when companies try to finish spending the money in their corporate budgets thereby initiating a flurry of activity. Companies would much rather spend money on technology, office furniture, construction, or their employees as opposed to giving it to the government. Instead, January is more difficult as managers have to encourage lethargic employees back to work. The cold weather doesn’t help either.

Now is the time for some imaginative management techniques to motivate the work force. Basically, I’m suggesting some changes to the corporate culture. Physically, you might want to consider a new coat of paint, changes in lighting, some aromatic plants or flowers, new uniforms, new screen savers, a cleanup of office files and furniture, some changes in music, or perhaps something different to eat in the corporate cafeteria. In other words, consider changes affecting the five senses of the workers. It doesn’t have to be lavish either, just something subtle the employees will notice and appreciate.

You may also want to rethink meetings, including when they are conducted, location, and format. For example, instead of a boardroom setup, how about a u-shaped set of tables allowing the manager to easily move about? A change of dress code may also be wise; if you’ve been too lax and sloppy, perhaps it is time to become a little more formal. If you’ve been too formal, perhaps it is time to loosen things up. Believe me, employees notice and respond.

It shouldn’t be the manager’s objective to make radical changes in work habits. Such changes will be resisted regardless of the time of year. Instead, small changes will be noticed by employees who will see them in a positive light, that management appreciates them and is willing to invest in them. “Hmm…, a New Year, some new changes… I like it.”

Your objective is to demonstrate you are investing in your people, and not taking them for granted. Whatever the twist may be, January is the time for management to try it. In all likelihood, it will capture the attention of the work force and help reinvigorate them for the new year.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

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CHASING APRONS

Posted by Tim Bryce on December 19, 2018

BRYCE ON NONPROFITS

– What is more important, the institution or our vanity?

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As a follow-up to my recent column on “Do Just One Thing,” I want to describe another problem involving nonprofit organizations, and that is “Chasing Aprons.” This is an expression derived from Freemasonry, the ancient fraternity. For those unfamiliar with the Craft, it is customary for Masons to wear a plain white leather apron at our meetings, symbolizing the aprons worn by workmen years ago. We are admonished there is nothing more ancient or honorable than the plain white apron, yet there are other more decorative aprons awarded as gifts to Masonic officers. Over the years, such aprons have become coveted as a means of identifying a Mason of influence. Unfortunately, some Masons desperately pursue these ornate aprons only to denote their authority, not for accomplishing anything of substance, hence the expression “Chasing Aprons.”

The Masons are not alone in this regards as I have seen similar situations in other nonprofit groups. For example, I remember attending a party when I moved into my neighborhood and a man approached me with some swagger saying, “Hi, I’m John Doe, President of the homeowner association” (it was kind of like, “Hi, I’m the Head Raccoon”). He winked at me, then turned away to glad hand someone else. Frankly, I burst out laughing as he thought he was impressing me. In reality, this same gentleman ran the homeowner association right into the ground and nearly bankrupted it.

At some of the I.T. related associations I was involved in, there would be the usual officer titles, such as President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer, but then there are higher titles such as “Division Director” as you now oversaw several chapters as opposed to just one. There are other names for this, such as “District Deputy” or “Inspector,” but you get the idea. Such titles denote a loftier position and are either given to people to perform a legitimate responsibility or awarded as gifts to cronies.

I have seen people “Chasing Aprons” in just about every nonprofit group I’ve been involved in, be it fraternal, political, professional, educational, even in sports clubs, such as those related to baseball, softball, football and soccer.

I have found people who covet such titles tend to be more consumed with the title, and less about the responsibility associated with it. This is essentially no different than in business where people yearn for a job title for political reasons as it will look good on a resume. I tend to see such people as rather shallow. They never accomplished anything of substance in their life, so the appeal for recognition through titles and aprons is irresistible to them. Whenever I run into people like this, who obviously don’t know what they are doing, I tell others to give the person the title or apron and get them out of the way as they will only inhibit progress.

As an aside, I wonder how many people would volunteer their service if there wasn’t a title or apron involved? It would be an interesting experiment to see if people care more about the institution they belong to or are in it for themselves.

Obviously, this is all about the human ego. In Freemasonry, we are taught the importance of the title of “Brother” as it is a fraternity, a Brotherhood. There are many other impressive sounding titles associated with the Masons, but nothing more important than the simple designation of “Brother” and the plain white leather apron.

Just remember, being called a “thoroughbred” doesn’t change the fact that a jackass is a jackass.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2018 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

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WHO REALLY ASSUMES RISK?

Posted by Tim Bryce on September 25, 2018

BRYCE ON MANAGEMENT

– The employee or the employer?

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“The amount of risk we assume is proportional to the responsibilities we accept.” – Bryce’s Law

Not long ago I was meeting with some software developers from a small company who expressed their concern about the risk involved with a project they were working on. They weren’t so much concerned about the viability of the project in terms of its impact on the company as they were with the potential effect it might have on their professional careers. In other words, they saw this as a high risk project that could affect them for years to come. This may be true, but from their description I saw their risk as minuscule in comparison to what their employer was gambling which, frankly, was the company’s future.

This got me thinking about how we perceive risk in our professional lives. Most employees perceive risk in terms of how it affects them professionally, particularly as a source of income. In reality, it is the employer who assumes all of the risk. If something goes wrong, it will be the employer who will be sued, not the employee. It will be the employer who has to deal with government regulators and creditors, not the employee, It will be the employer who loses financially and faces bankruptcy, not the employee. In fact, most employees do not appreciate the risk required to simply open the company’s doors for business. Their life is rather simple as compared to the business owner who agonizes over the company’s survival.

Risk is not for everyone, it is for those entrepreneurial spirits who are not afraid of taking a gamble; who recognizes both the risks and rewards for taking it. True risk requires a “Type A” personality (which we have discussed in the past) who knows how to study variables, calculate odds and return on investment, and is willing to assume the responsibility for taking it. It is most definitely not for the faint of heart.

This brings up a point: The degree of risk increases the higher you go in the corporate hierarchy. Whether you are cognizant of it or not, as you assume additional responsibilities in a company, through a promotion for example, you are also being saddled with additional risks, and your success depends on your ability to assume the risks and conquer them. Some people rise to the occasion, others face the Peter Principle whereby they cannot rise above their level of competency. Nevertheless, true risk is assumed by the highest echelons in the corporate structure, regardless of the size of business. And it is this sense of risk that greatly influences our style of management.

We should also understand the difference between taking a risk and being rash in judgment. The two are not synonymous. I always exemplify it by using a game of Craps as found in a casino; the rash person simply throws his wager on the table without thinking, but the person who studies the game and knows the odds before he places a bet is the one taking the calculated risk. The higher you go up in business, the more you appreciate the need for studying the odds.

As any business owner will tell you, employees really do not grasp the concept of risk. I think the following quote pretty much sums it up:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails Daring Greatly so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”
– President Theodore Roosevelt

First published: December 7, 2007

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2018 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

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WHY DOES PROJECT MANAGEMENT FAIL?

Posted by Tim Bryce on September 11, 2018

BRYCE ON MANAGEMENT

– We tend to underestimate its scope and mechanics.

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INTRODUCTION

In addition to problems related to the activities of Project Management (e.g., planning, estimating, scheduling, reporting, and control), I often run into companies who ask the simple question, “Why can’t we get our act together? Why does Project Management routinely fail in our company?”

I do not believe a company’s overall problems in Project Management can be attributed to a specific tool or technique (although some certainly do not help matters). Instead, I believe it is based on how important a company considers Project Management to be. If they believe it to be a vital part of the company’s overall performance, it will be more successful than a company who considers it irrelevant. In other words, I view Project Management as an integral part of the corporate culture.

Let’s consider the indicators of how a company values Project Management:

* LACK OF KNOWLEDGE – employees simply lack the basic knowledge of the mechanics of Project Management. I do not run into too many companies anymore with a total absence of knowledge in this regard. The conceptual foundation of Project Management has been around for a number of years. There is a multitude of training programs in Project Management, both at the college and commercial level. There are also several discussion groups on the Internet and professional associations dealing with this subject (e.g., the Project Management Institute of Newtown Square, PA). Hiring or contracting people with absolutely no knowledge of basic Project Management concepts is becoming a rarity.

* LACK OF ORGANIZATIONAL POLICY – the company has not adopted a formal policy for managing projects. Consequently, informal and inconsistent approaches to project management are used with mixed results. This is a much more common occurrence than finding a company devoid of knowledge in Project Management.

* LACK OF ENFORCEMENT OF POLICY AND PROCEDURES – even though a policy has been established, it is not enforced. As a result, inconsistent results emerge. If a standard and consistent approach to Project Management is devised by a company, it must be routinely policed in order to assure accuracy and uniform results. It is one thing to enact legislation, quite another to enforce it.

* LACK OF CONSIDERATION FOR THE MAGNITUDE AND COMPLEXITIES OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT AND ATTACK IT IN PIECE MEAL – People seem to naturally underestimate the magnitude of project management. For example, project planning involves defining work breakdown structures and dependencies which is a precursor to estimating, planning, reporting and control; estimating is a prerequisite to scheduling; time reporting impacts project estimates and schedules; resource allocation is based on availability of qualified people (skills inventory) and current project schedules; etc. There is an overwhelming number of software packages on the market attacking various aspects of Project Management, but very few addressing it is an integrated whole.

It must be remembered that project management is first and foremost a philosophy of management, not an elaborate set of tools and techniques, nor is it an administrative function. Rather, it is concerned with managing human beings towards the accomplishment of work (it is a “people management” function). As such, project management will only be as effective as the people who use it.

Ultimately, project management represents DISCIPLINE, ORGANIZATION, and ACCOUNTABILITY; which are three areas people seem to have a natural aversion to these days.

DISCIPLINE – In the western world, people tend to resist discipline because some believe it inhibits creativity and personal freedom. As a result, teamwork is often sacrificed in favor of rugged individualism.

ORGANIZATION – Pursuant to discipline is the problem of organization. Again, in the western world, people prefer to maintain their own identity and organize themselves to meet their needs as opposed to the needs of the organization. There are also those who claim, “A cluttered desk is the sign of a brilliant mind.” Hogwash. In contrast, I am a believer of the Navy’s regimen whereby you either work on something, file it, or throw it away. This forces people to get organized. If we need more files, let’s get them. A cluttered desk is a sign of a disorganized person. Shape up, or ship out.

ACCOUNTABILITY – This is an area people tend to rebel against the most. The approach to project management, as advocated by “PRIDE,” ultimately represents visibility and responsibility to produce according to plan. Unfortunately, some people shun commitments and, instead, prefer to hide their activity, thereby they cannot be measured and evaluated. This is typically the reaction of people who are insecure. People who are confident in their abilities have no problem with the accountability issue.

REACTIVE VS. ACTIVE MANAGEMENT

The old adage, “If you do not make the decision, the decision will be made for you,” is valid. This also sums up the difference between an active and a reactive manager. True Project Management requires an “active” manager, not “reactive.” The active manager takes care of the problems before they happen. They plan on the future. The reactive manager deals with yesterday and waits until problems occur, then tries to take care of them. Today, more and more IT organizations find themselves in a constant “firefighting” mode of operation. Why? Because of a “reactive” management style. The “reactive” manager never seems to get ahead, yet probably enjoys the highest visibility in the company. As an aside, beware of your “firefighters,” they are probably your chief arsonists.

Managers don’t wait for things to happen, they make things happen.

HOW MUCH PROJECT MANAGEMENT IS NECESSARY?

Can the philosophies of project management be adopted and implemented by a single group of people for a single project? Yes. A department or division? Certainly. The entire company? Definitely. In fact, as the scope grows, communications improves and the philosophy is more consistently applied.

The scope of project management affects many people:

* The individual worker will prepare estimates and schedules, perform project work, and report on activities.

* The project manager will plan and direct the use of resources on projects, and solve problems.

* Department managers will administer resources and control projects within an area.

* Executive management will establish project priorities and monitor project progress.

Obviously, project management should not be restricted to a handful of people or projects. Dozens of projects may be active at any one time, involving hundreds of workers across departmental boundaries. Synchronization of the work effort is required to maximize effect and minimize confusion. Project management, therefore, should be viewed as a corporate philosophy as opposed to a technique used by a select few. Only when a standard and consistent approach to Project Management is adopted by a company will it become an integral part of the corporate culture. We will then hear less about why Project Management fails, and more of how the company is prospering.

First published: April 18, 2005

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2018 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

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HOW “EFFECTIVE” WERE YOU TODAY?

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 30, 2018

BRYCE ON MANAGEMENT

– There is an important difference between effectiveness and efficiency.

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“Productivity = Effectiveness X Efficiency” – Bryce’s Law

INTRODUCTION

Okay, you believe you had a great day at work today; that you accomplished a lot. Maybe you did. Then again, maybe you didn’t do as much as you might think. A lot of people believe just because they are a model of efficiency, they are being highly productive. This is simply not true. We have discussed the concept of productivity on more than one occasion in this column, but some trends in the business world have caused me to revisit it again.

Perhaps the biggest problem here is that people fallaciously equate efficiency with productivity. They are most definitely not synonymous. Efficiency is concerned with speed of delivery, reduced errors, and minimal costs or effort. In other words, how fast we can perform a given task, at reduced costs, without committing any substantial errors in the process. But what if we are performing the wrong task at the wrong time? Obviously this would be counterproductive regardless how efficiently we performed the task. I always use the example of industrial robots on an assembly line, whereby they can perform tasks such as welding very efficiently. However, if they are welding the wrong thing at the wrong time, they are counterproductive.

This means there are two variables involved with productivity: efficiency and effectiveness. Whereas efficiency primarily deals with speed and “doing things right,” effectiveness is concerned with “doing the right things.” In other words, working on assignments in the right sequence. Sequence can be defined for a single project by its work breakdown structure (WBS) and precedent relationships, or for working on multiple projects based on priority.

ANALYZE THIS

To better understand the differences between effectiveness versus efficiency, I have developed an MS Excel spreadsheet where you can test your own personal productivity. Click HERE to download.

In the first part, I ask you to assess your sense of efficiency for the day; for example:
– I was a dynamo today; worked fast, no errors.
– I did more than my share, not too many mistakes.
– I did my fair share, average number of mistakes.
– I was below average, some mistakes.
– Had a bad day; too many mistakes, a lot of time lost.

Next, I ask you to consider your current work assignments in priority order. In other words, consider the projects you worked on from the highest to lowest priority. In some cases, people may have only one work assignment, which is fine.

Following this, I want you to account for your time during the day; both the time spent on project assignments, as well as indirect activities (such as attending meetings, breaks, checking e-mail, etc.). In other words, the interferences or activities not directly related to your work assignments. Be honest now, everybody spends time during the day on such indirect activities. By the way, on the average, office workers spend 70% of their time on direct project work and 30% on interferences.

The spreadsheet will then calculate a productivity rating based on the time spent on projects in priority sequence, and taking into account time spent on interferences.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

The spreadsheet provides a convenient way to understand how productivity should be calculated. It is far from scientific (for example, the efficiency rating is crudely estimated without any level of precision). Nonetheless, the productivity number highlights the differences between efficiency and effectiveness.

I have seen companies who like to plot efficiency ratings on a graph, but as far as I am concerned the data is misleading as they only portray a glimpse of a much larger picture. Plotting the effectiveness rating is just as important as the efficiency rating and helps produce a realistic productivity rating.

CONCLUSION

Some workers, particularly craftsmen, understand the differences between efficiency and effectiveness. They appreciate the total process for building something and are acutely aware of the potential risk for cutting corners. Some simply don’t get it (and probably never will). For example, the Information Technology industry commonly misunderstands this concept and is obsessed with efficiency. As evidence, consider the use of “Agile Methodologies” today which are quick and dirty approaches for writing a program. Here, a rudimentary program is developed, then radically refined over time until the client signs-off on it. Proponents consider Agile Methodologies to be a quantum leap forward in terms of productivity. I don’t. True, they can write code fast, but because they are not well structured, a lot of time is spent revising designs and rewriting code, not just once but several times. Instead of getting it right the first time, Agile Methodologies rely on the efficiency of their power programming tools to make them look good.

So what is a good productivity rating? First, let’s dispense with the notion of 100% productivity. This is purely a myth. This would mean that everyone in a company is being both highly effective and efficient around the clock. This is simply not possible. Actually, 25% is considered a good rating and is typical for a lot of companies.

If this paper has done nothing more than raise your consciousness about the differences between effectiveness and efficiency, then it has served its purpose. Hopefully, it will cause you to refocus your efforts on “doing the right things” as opposed to just “doing things right.”

So, how “effective” were you today? Your answer will say a lot.

As a footnote; If you are familiar with my writings on “PRIDE” Project Management, you have heard me talk about “Effectiveness Rate” in differentiating the use of time. What I am describing herein is not the same thing; similar, but not quite. Under the Project Management scenario “effectiveness rate” is an availability rating which is used for estimating and scheduling, but not for calculating productivity.

First published: August 21, 2006

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2018 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

 

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CREATING A SKILLS INVENTORY

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 28, 2018

BRYCE ON MANAGEMENT

– It is wise to take stock of the talents of your people.

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Abbot: “Let’s see, we have Who on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third.”

Costello: “That’s what I’m trying to find out.”

INTRODUCTION

As I visit corporate clients, I am always amazed to see how out of touch Information Technology (I.T.) managers are in terms of knowing the talents and abilities of their staff. Such ignorance makes it difficult to properly assign staff to project assignments. Consequently, there is a tendency for companies to hire too many outside consultants or purchase training programs unnecessarily. Why? Because most I.T. organizations refuse to take the time to develop and maintain a simple “Skills Inventory” which catalogs and rates the skills of their human resources. You cannot capitalize on the talents of your staff if you do not know what they are.

WHAT IS A SKILL?

A skill is a developed aptitude or ability for performing a certain task. It represents specific knowledge or talents as developed by education and/or experience. Skills relate to the type of work we do and the tools and techniques we use. We can define skills as vaguely or as precisely as we so desire, but the real value of a Skills Inventory lies in precision. The following are categories of skills we have developed for IT organizations:

Basic Business Skills: e.g., Conducting a meeting, Interviewing, Speaking/presentations, Writing, E-Mail, Word Processing, etc.

Business Functions: knowledge of a specific corporate function, e.g., Marketing, Sales, Manufacturing, Inventory, etc.

Degrees & Certifications: e.g., Associates Degree, Bachelors, Masters, Doctoral, trade certifications, Notary Public, etc.

Languages: foreign – e.g., French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, etc. Programming – e.g., Basic, C, COBOL, Java, Pascal, etc.

Methodology: Listing the Phases and Activities of in-house methodologies, such as the “PRIDE” Methodologies for IRM.

Standards: corporate policies, writing standards, design and development, etc.

Tools & techniques: programming techniques (e.g., OOP), data base design, DBMS, CASE tools, program generators, workbenches, Office Suites, Graphics Packages, etc.

Some companies also use a Skills Inventory to track the talents of machine resources. Some have found it of value to inventory such things on a computer as languages supported, memory, program utilities, compilers, backup programs, and various other attributes about the operating system. This is useful for tracking hardware resources and determining when it is necessary to upgrade equipment.

Knowing a resource’s skill is one thing, knowing its level of proficiency is another.

WHAT IS A PROFICIENCY?

Skills and proficiencies are not synonymous, although they are complementary. Proficiency refers to the degree of knowledge or experience someone or something (a machine) possesses for performing the task.

Proficiency is normally based on some sort of scale, such as 1 (low) to 9 (high). In many organizations, the establishment of any proficiency rating is a highly sensitive subject as it is believed it is used for job performance review. In this situation, most people will use an “average” proficiency rating (5). Unfortunately, this will not help in analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of our human and machine resources.

After the list of skills has been prepared, they should be developed into a survey for each resource. Although the survey could be circulated, it is recommended human resources be interviewed individually to clarify intent and responses. Here, the resource is not asked how well they know a specific skill (good or bad). Instead, they are asked to qualify their response. For example:

FOR EACH SKILL, THE RESOURCE ... (PROFICIENCY RATING)

A. Could qualify as an INSTRUCTOR or EXPERT in this area (9)
B. Could act as an ASSISTANT INSTRUCTOR (6)
C. Has had formal training or experience (STUDENT) (3)
D. Is familiar with the CONCEPT or OBJECT (1)

This approach is much less intimidating to employees and tends to produce honest results. From this, a Skills Inventory can be developed to show the skills and proficiencies of each resource. Also, an average resource proficiency rating can be calculated for each skill which may indicate the need for additional training.

Determining the proficiency of machine skills can be far less painstaking. Depending on the equipment, an operator or product manual can usually describe the capabilities of the equipment.

CREATING THE SKILLS INVENTORY

There are many ways to create and maintain a Skills Inventory; e.g., a simple card catalog/index, commercial software, or even a simple data base package as found on most of today’s PC’s can be used. For a basic Skills Inventory, only two reports are needed:

1. Resource Profile – describing the skills of a single resource (see Figure 1)

2. Skill Description – describing all of the resources with a specific skill (see Figure 2). Please note the “Average Proficiency” figure at the bottom of the report; this is important figure for determining overall proficiency.

An optional third report can also be prepared, a “Resource/Skill Matrix” which gives a more global view of resources-to-skills (see Figure 3).



By analyzing these reports, it may become obvious there is a lack of talent for a particular skill or set of skills. Consequently, this may trigger the need for either some training to develop the skill or recruiting new resources with such talent, or both.

If the Skills Inventory has been implemented with computer software, be sure there are some adequate search facilities to quickly reference a particular skill or resource. Also be sure data entry is simple and clean. One last caveat if creating a computerized Skills Inventory, be sure it does not interfere or overlap with anything a Human Resources department might be doing. Ideally, there should be an interface between the two.

REVIEW

Whether human or machine related, skills and proficiencies will change over time; they will not stagnate. Because of this, they should be reviewed on a routine basis to keep them up to date. Maintenance of the Skills Inventory should be delegated to a qualified person who can safeguard such records.

OTHER USES

Up to now, we have described a Skills Inventory in its most fundamental form. However, if done properly, it can be used as a tactical corporate tool, such as providing assistance when performing an “Organizational Analysis.” Under this scenario, skills can be related to business functions (such as Marketing, Administration, Manufacturing, etc.). As such, assigned proficiencies should denote the minimum level required to perform the function. When compared to the average skill proficiency of resources implementing the function, it may be discovered that a function may not be adequately fulfilled. For example, a Sales function may require skills such as “Contract Preparation,” “Product Presentation,” etc. If we examine the personnel ultimately implementing the function, we may find they either have the wrong skill set, or are not as proficient as they need to be.

To implement something like this, we need something a little more sophisticated than the basic Skills Inventory described above. Instead, we need an enterprise-wide mechanism to track such things as business functions, organizational entities (jobs/titles/positions). For this, you will need an “IRM Repository” to catalog and cross-reference such objects as well as other information resources.

BENEFIT$

A simple Skills Inventory is easy to implement, yet offers tremendous assistance in terms of:

* Selecting suitable personnel for project assignments.

* Determining the need for additional training or recruiting new people.

* Evaluating the need to upgrade hardware.

* Career path planning – this is particularly useful when a resource masters one part of a methodology, and is ready to graduate to another.

* Interfaces with Human Resource Management.

* Holds future potential for performing such service as an “Organizational Analysis.”

Try it, you will either be pleasantly surprised to know the talents your staff possesses, or come to the realization your staff needs help. Either way, you will be taking a pro-active approach to managing your department.

First published: Mar 7, 2005

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2018 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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