Elle

The Sandle vs. The Work Boot

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Recently I had a great conversation with my boss about how to get managers to think strategically and look into the future so that they could do proactive things. He used metaphor he had learned in a recent leadership class about the sandle and the work boot.

The sandle represents the greek philosopher, who sits and reflects on the knowledge he has and tries to make plans and decisions that will benefit him and his team in the long term. The work boot represents the layman who goes to work each day and does his duties but does not look past the immeditate future.

Both of these roles are crucial to the success of a business, just as both the philospher and the layman are crucial to the succes of a culture, but because the layman deals with concretes and gets the immediate gratification of completing his tasks it can be almost addictive to stay in this role. Often, managers rise to a position of responsibility because they were incredible operational workers - but once they are there sometimes the adjustment to think and writing instead of completing operational tasks can be challenging.

I am currently in my 5th month of making the transition from an operations agent to a project manager - and I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has given the process of this kind of transition much thought. My first question, of many to come, is how do you measure your productivity when it is no longer task oriented?

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My first question, of many to come, is how do you measure your productivity when it is no longer task oriented?

Work is always task oriented. The difference is, as a project manager, it is up to you to define the tasks and the subtasks and to how to measure them in terms of time (Are we on schedule?), money (How does this compare to the budget?) and various qualitative factors (defects, customer satisfaction, company standards, etc).

I've been managing projects for over three decades and my current job is typical. I was given a one-page statement of work with the name of the person requesting the project, the budgeted amount for it, the delivery date, and a general description of what they wanted done. I had to fill in all the specific details.

I interviewed business users to get detailed requirements, determined what needed to be done with what resources to meet those requirements, and then planned, scheduled, and am now monitoring the entire process of creating and delivering the computer system that will meet those requirements. This involves making and continually revising a Project Plan (I used MS Project), resource allocations, project and task milestones, etc.

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...

The sandle represents the greek philosopher, who sits and reflects on the knowledge he has and tries to make plans and decisions that will benefit him and his team in the long term. The work boot represents the layman who goes to work each day and does his duties but does not look past the immeditate future.

...

I find it very frustrating to be only either - a greek philosopher or a layman.

When I wore work-boots, I always needed to know the overall project goal to gather the motivation to do the task at hand. And although I am not a solely sandal-wearer yet, I can imagine feeling unsatisfied at the end of the day if I cannot list concrete tasks that I completed.

The key of course would be to define/quantize/capture all the more-abstract (higher-level) work that I will be doing as a sandal-wearer. So that at the end of it all, I can say I don't have to wear work-boots because I can get away with doing my tasks with sandals.

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The sandle represents the greek philosopher, who sits and reflects on the knowledge he has and tries to make plans and decisions that will benefit him and his team in the long term. The work boot represents the layman who goes to work each day and does his duties but does not look past the immeditate future.

I'm not crazy about this metaphor. This represents a mind-body dichotomy: the impotent thinker and the mindless drone. What is required to get work done is integrated thought and action, and that means more than just switching from mind to body and back. And, the metaphor implies that thinking is done at just the most abstract level.

To be more precise, thought and planning is required at several levels, from as long-term as one can to the most immediate details, and action is required to implement those plans at those levels as well. There is also a need for feedback between levels of abstraction, between theory and observation.

And the type of thinking required varies not just with the range of planning, but with the type of job. I've seen very good engineers get promoted to management and fail miserably. Management is not simply a matter of increasing the level of abstract thought and placing employees under your responsibility. Nor is it entirely a field unto itself, where an automobile industry management veteran can pick up and switch to semiconductors or soda. The industries have so many distinctive features that one needs to be intimately familiar with it, not just organizational psychology or the latest MBA-school management fads.

Being a manager means knowing how to do the job of the people you direct. You don't need to know every detail or be as good as the people you direct, but you do need a solid foundation in the field. For instance, a semiconductor manager may have a brilliant circuit designer working for him, and though the manager could never create designs as good as that designer, he knows enough about design to create the right environment for him to get the job done well.

It also means learning new skills, as Betsy points out. After directing a few engineers for a several months, I found that I wasn't interested in going into management, as a significant portion of my time was spent managing other people's tasks, schedules, and budgets. I was happy to get back to focusing on technical and scientific work. I don't doubt I could be a good, effective manager, but my heart isn't in it, and until spending the time in the role, I didn't know whether I wanted to direct my career along a management or technical track. Now I know. And I've learned to appreciate having capable people who are interested in being good managers. They are hard to find, but great to work for.

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I'm not crazy about this metaphor. This represents a mind-body dichotomy: the impotent thinker and the mindless drone. What is required to get work done is integrated thought and action, and that means more than just switching from mind to body and back. And, the metaphor implies that thinking is done at just the most abstract level.

To be more precise, thought and planning is required at several levels, from as long-term as one can to the most immediate details, and action is required to implement those plans at those levels as well. There is also a need for feedback between levels of abstraction, between theory and observation.

And the type of thinking required varies not just with the range of planning, but with the type of job. I've seen very good engineers get promoted to management and fail miserably. Management is not simply a matter of increasing the level of abstract thought and placing employees under your responsibility. Nor is it entirely a field unto itself, where an automobile industry management veteran can pick up and switch to semiconductors or soda. The industries have so many distinctive features that one needs to be intimately familiar with it, not just organizational psychology or the latest MBA-school management fads.

Being a manager means knowing how to do the job of the people you direct. You don't need to know every detail or be as good as the people you direct, but you do need a solid foundation in the field. For instance, a semiconductor manager may have a brilliant circuit designer working for him, and though the manager could never create designs as good as that designer, he knows enough about design to create the right environment for him to get the job done well.

It also means learning new skills, as Betsy points out. After directing a few engineers for a several months, I found that I wasn't interested in going into management, as a significant portion of my time was spent managing other people's tasks, schedules, and budgets. I was happy to get back to focusing on technical and scientific work. I don't doubt I could be a good, effective manager, but my heart isn't in it, and until spending the time in the role, I didn't know whether I wanted to direct my career along a management or technical track. Now I know. And I've learned to appreciate having capable people who are interested in being good managers. They are hard to find, but great to work for.

Hi Ed,

I certainly am not a fan of the mind-body dichotomy but I am happy with this metaphor because it provides a differentiation for managers that is simple and helps them think about their role as a long term thinker and planner. This is definitely just that, a metaphor, which is undoubtably high-level and somewhat oversimplified -- but I still think it serves an important purpose. It is useful in response to a part of our culture which sends the message, "if you don't look busy (physically) you aren't being productive". Now, if my boss comes to me and says, "Danielle, what percentage of your time do you think you are wearing sandals right now?" we can have a dialogue about how much time I am spending thinking and being pro-active instead of frantically reacting to tactical issues.

There are certainly workers who do not need to do any sort of long term planning beyond the next few days, often because they do not even know what the volume of their work load may consist off. These people entirely where the work boots and are okay with that; many of them are like me and did that work in order to pay their dues and to get a deep understanding of the industry. As one moves up the hierarchy of responsibility long range thinking becomes more and more necessary. Even at the lower levels of this hierarchy, those who DO choose to think and plan usually move up quickly. From what I have seen so far, moving up the ladder actually requires a greater amount of thought overall - and not just abstract thought. I have to learn more concrete things in order to better understand all the different product lines I am working with.

You mentioned a need for feedback between these levels of abstraction and I agree - and I think this feedback is happening regardless of whether the manager explicitly sets out to plan or is forced to plan by the circumstances of the moment (because he has no plan). This communication takes place in the form of how the manager delegates his team's work load, and what he views as important for measuring their success. I think placing emphasis on the sandal and letting him know that being physically busy is not the only form of productivity is crucial to improving this feedback loop and getting the manager to make proactive choices based on long-range thinking.

I do not know what the current MBA-fads are, and I am only barely familiar organizational pysch. I am not a college graduate, I chose working as my education. What you said about what makes a good manager is perfect:

"Being a manager means knowing how to do the job of the people you direct. You don't need to know every detail or be as good as the people you direct, but you do need a solid foundation in the field. For instance, a semiconductor manager may have a brilliant circuit designer working for him, and though the manager could never create designs as good as that designer, he knows enough about design to create the right environment for him to get the job done well."

This is what I want to be. There is no replacement for this kind of knowledge and the ability to create the environment that allows individuals to be productive is an achievement I admire in others and am learning to create.

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Hey :D

I think it's a great metaphor (like all metaphors, it is not to be taken literally, but only serves to essentialize some crucial points). Why would being in a more managerial role mean no longer being task-oriented? Tasks just get bigger, e.g. projects. I don't know what kind of projects you have to deal with in your industry, and some might not have concrete achievement goal-posts, e.g., "keep good relations with customers". In those cases, you can use timeline as your goal-post -- are customers happy in this quarter? Success. How about the subsequent quarter? Etc. As Betsy said, there are always tasks that you can orient your job by; else, you can organize productivity around sub-tasks, etc. If all else fails, ask your supervisor what kind of benchmarks he expects from you, and use that.

Btw, congrats on getting into a manager's position! That didn't take long :)

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Why would being in a more managerial role mean no longer being task-oriented? Tasks just get bigger, e.g. projects. I don't know what kind of projects you have to deal with in your industry, and some might not have concrete achievement goal-posts, e.g., "keep good relations with customers". In those cases, you can use timeline as your goal-post -- are customers happy in this quarter? Success. How about the subsequent quarter? Etc. As Betsy said, there are always tasks that you can orient your job by; else, you can organize productivity around sub-tasks, etc. If all else fails, ask your supervisor what kind of benchmarks he expects from you, and use that.

Btw, congrats on getting into a manager's position! That didn't take long :)

Oops, I accidentally hit post (3 times apparently) while I was still putting my thoughts together. Here is the rest.

Projects and tasks are not the same thing. Keeping good relations with customers isn't even a project, it is more of an iniative that could have many different projects under its umbrella such as developing customer satisfaction metrics, creating a training program for customer service reps, etc.

A task is just one step whose completion will move you incrementally closer to the goal - which is the completion of a a project, but a task is at a lower level of abstraction than a project, and a project is at a lower level of abstraction than an initiative. Tasks are simple - they are black and white - done, or not done. Projects and initiatives can get a bit more grey if one isn't very careful because it can become very difficult to determine when something is done. A project is simply a collection of tasks, and an iniatives is simply a collection of projects. While this is simple enough, it is certainly not easy to determine whether the right tasks and projects have been completed, in order to make the judgement that something is done or not.

With each level of abstraction there is a different context you are dealing with and you have to be able to operate in all of these levels, and move between them seamlessly, while keeping in context with what each level requires. For example, in my work I am responsible for understanding the company's overall goals and direction, developing a set of initiatives I define and own, managing projects to move the branch towards those initiatives, and tasks to move those projects towards completion, and even subtasks required to complete the main tasks. Each of those things is at a lower level of abstraction than the previous one - and as I move towards tasks and subtasks I am moving towards the tactical and away from the strategic, as far as my actions are concerned.

Of course, I can maintain an overall view of this hierarchy as I am working on tactical things (tasks) to remind me of why they are important in the big picture, and when I am making strategic decisions and planning I must also keep the tasks in mind in order to keep my projects and ideas grounded in reality. There is still an important differentiate between the strategic and the tactical, especially when one is trying to figure out how to allocate productive time. How much time should I be spending thinking, reading, planning, writing? (Strategic) How much time should I be spending coding, emailing, talking, meeting? (Tactical) And of course some writing is tactical and some meetings are strategic - so what is really essential to whether something is strategic or tactical is the content of the action, not the action itself.

Just as an update, I answered my original question about measuring productivity by taking the montly P&L and making some calculations about time savings to particular groups - based on their profit contribution and my projects impact to their productivity - and my boss was very pleased. When I said "measure", I meant objectively measure with numbers. I am confident that I can get a realistic general "feel" for how I am doing with productivity improvements, but even soft things like customer satisfaction should be given objective metrics and I've found that people don't trust "feel" around here (which is great).

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Just found this thread.

What do you do in my situation: I've got my work boots on, and I've been marching in place for 2 and a half years now. The managers are.... well... barefoot. :)

2 and a half years ago, our company got bought, and the sandal-wearers who hadn't already left were laid off. We have NO PRODUCT MANAGERS. My product has one software developer (me) and several marketing guys (salespeople, really).

You guys are going to tell me to quit, aren't you. Maybe that's what I need to hear. God, the pay is good though. And I'm telecommuting.

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2 and a half years ago, our company got bought, and the sandal-wearers who hadn't already left were laid off. We have NO PRODUCT MANAGERS. My product has one software developer (me) and several marketing guys (salespeople, really).

You guys are going to tell me to quit, aren't you. Maybe that's what I need to hear. God, the pay is good though. And I'm telecommuting.

It sounds like your job has no future, but it definitely has a present: good pay and working from home.

Is the actual work you are doing personally satisfying right now? Is it a good "day job" that provides you with time or money for the work you really want to do? If so, it might be worthwhile sticking with this job as long as it lasts and/or until you find something better.

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Wow, so nice of you to answer so quickly. :)

Well, the work is OK I guess. I'm maintaining a big application written in C++. But I am getting the feeling of being left in the dust technologically. I am still using Visual C++ 6.0, which isn't even supported anymore. Partly because of being on this old platform, I am worried that my code is becoming hopelessly outdated. Currently we are trying to get it to work on Vista, and having some problems because the product routinely writes to its own directory under Program Files. For now, we are going to tell our users to always Run as Admin. We had several file reading/writing problems that turned out to be caused by using the "old" fstream headers <fstream.h> etc., as opposed to <fstream> etc. This is a problem I would have discovered if we were on a modern development platform. They're having me fix the problems piecemeal as they present themselves. Oh - and this stuff was supposed to have been thoroughly tested on Vista by our QA department (one girl, I think). I don't think they tested it at all.

I had fun recently, figuring out a timestamp mismatch problem caused by our wonderful Congress' change to the Daylight Saving Time dates, compounded by the fact that the timestamp functions are implemented in multiple libraries and DLLs, and each behaves differently depending on how old the library is and depending on whether you have the TZ environment variable set. Bottom line - we will always compute timestamps on the server rather than hoping that server and client-computed timestamps will match, because you can never count on that.

I keep hearing that our next version is going to be rewritten from scratch in C#. But I'm wondering how they expect one person to do this in a reasonable amount of time, when the C++ product has been evolving since 1995, with a dozen or so programmers contributing to it along the way. I am literally the only one who has touched this codebase in 2 and a half years. I think it's about 300,000 lines of code.

More than you wanted to know; I'm probably boring you Dilbert-style by now... Anyway, these are the types of issues I deal with, which is why it seems like "marching in place."

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I keep hearing that our next version is going to be rewritten from scratch in C#. But I'm wondering how they expect one person to do this in a reasonable amount of time, when the C++ product has been evolving since 1995, with a dozen or so programmers contributing to it along the way. I am literally the only one who has touched this codebase in 2 and a half years. I think it's about 300,000 lines of code.

Based on the very little I know of your situation, this sounds like the road to burn out to me.

What motivates you to stay?

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What motivates me to stay? Oh, $110K a year... :) (and the fact that local programming jobs seldom pay that well)

Actually, I'm in a little better mood now; boss is letting me move the codebase to Visual Studio 2005, so at least I won't feel quite so stuck in the dark ages.

I kinda hijacked the thread into whining about my job; sorry about that. :)

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I am currently in my 5th month of making the transition from an operations agent to a project manager - and I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has given the process of this kind of transition much thought. My first question, of many to come, is how do you measure your productivity when it is no longer task oriented?

Elle

I dislike this metaphor for the same reasons others cite. But what bothers me most about your post is your focus on productivity.

Productivity is a measure of output, relative to input. Even if you were able to quantify your output, what is your input?

'Time', would be the obvious answer. If so, the inevitable consequence of you attempting to maximise your productivity will be that you strive to keep yourself busy.

This would make you a BAD project manager (and a bad manager, in general).

The role of a manager is to make resource-allocation decisions. Organisations need managers for two reasons (1) all resources have finite capacity (2) in a traditional environment (particularly a project environment) division-of-labour results in workers lacking the context required to determine which tasks to perform, and when.

Accordingly, the manager is responsible for synchronising these resources so that they subordinate to the goal of the organisation (or project). In the absence of the manager, resources would all strive for local optima, resulting in chaos. (Imagine a bunch of oarsmen in a skull, all attempting to row as fast as possible.)

So, as a manager, you bring to the team, that one critical thing that the team members all lack: context.

You can only maintain the necessary contextual awareness if you ensure that you are NOT constantly active. In fact, to be an effective manager, you should be idle most of the time. (Or at least appear to be so.)

The most effective managers I know are never busy -- and the fact that they are idle is evidence of their effectiveness.

I think you should strive to be effective, not productive. And idle, not busy.

Justin

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You make some good points, Justin. In my organization, the managers are busy busy busy. Hence, the worker-bees find themselves shouting "Helloooo! Can anybody tell me what the plan is?" and we get nothing. Context! That is what we want and need from management.

My old boss from 2 1/2 years ago was "not busy". I knew what the plan was. He got laid off by our new owners, though, because he was "not busy". Actually, all project managers and program managers were laid off. They didn't see the need. So, if you're about to be bought out, be sure you look busy even if you're a big-picture manager!

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Justin,

I have been thinking about this for awhile, mainly because I find myself a bit mystified by your condemning response and then I had a bit of an "aha!" moment. I should have used the word efficiency instead of productivity, because I am talking about efficiency and using the word productivity is much less precise and is confusing the issue.

My original question, how to measure my productivity, was the one I was trying to figure out at the time. How to measure my overall output (When there is no P&L behind it) and create a useful, consistent, objectve scale to calculate impact of various projects. But the only reason I wanted to measure that is because ultimately I wanted to determine, and show my boss, how effective or ineffective I have been at meeting the goals we set regarding operational efficiency (which it is my job to maximize and which is the over-arching goal of all my projects).

It's wonderful when your input is time ($) and your output is... more time ($$)!!

I forwarded your website to our sales manager.

Cheers,

Danielle

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My original question, how to measure my productivity, was the one I was trying to figure out at the time. How to measure my overall output (When there is no P&L behind it) and create a useful, consistent, objectve scale to calculate impact of various projects. But the only reason I wanted to measure that is because ultimately I wanted to determine, and show my boss, how effective or ineffective I have been at meeting the goals we set regarding operational efficiency (which it is my job to maximize and which is the over-arching goal of all my projects).

I forwarded your website to our sales manager.

Elle

If your goal is to maximize operational efficiency, both you and your manager would benefit enourmously from reading The Goal (Goldratt). The key point -- that this book dramatises magnificently -- is that you do NOT maximise the efficiency of a business by maximising the efficiency of it's parts (departments, workgroups, individuals, etc).

In fact, the opposite is the case. If you strive for local efficiencies you will definatelly reduce the output of the business as a whole. Remember the example in my previous post: you don't increase the speed of a skull by maximising the speed at which each oarsman rows.

It may well be that increasing the efficiency of your project environment WILL improve the output of the business, but this will only be the case if your project environment is the currently the organisation-wide bottleneck. But if the bottleneck is elsewhere (downstream from you, perhaps), increasing your team's rate of work will simply cause more work-in-progress to accumulate in front of the bottleneck (causing an increase in raw-material costs, re-work, and other negative effects).

Where your team is concerned, the same logic applies. If you try to maximise the performance of your team by maximising each individual's efficiency (as you are seeking to maximise your own) you will significantly reduce the efficiency of the team as a whole.

So, in addition to it being healthy for you to have plenty of idle time, it's healthy for your subordinates to spend quite a bit of time idle too!

When you read The Goal, you'll discover if you really want to keep all your team members busy all the time, you must be prepared to have an INFINITE amount of work-in-progress. If you do the maths, you'll probably discover that a finite amount of idle time is preferable to an infinite amount of WIP!

Justin

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Justin, I do not understand your premise at all. If I want to make a million or more dollars I should strive to do nothing or as little as possible and I will become more efficient and wealthy? I would like to see where in history this has ever worked. I have studied many of the greatest wealth creators through biographies, lectures or other resources and I have not once seen any of them gain extreme wealth by trying to be idle.

I will allow that I might be totally misunderstanding your premise though.

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Justin, I do not understand your premise at all. If I want to make a million or more dollars I should strive to do nothing or as little as possible and I will become more efficient and wealthy? I would like to see where in history this has ever worked. I have studied many of the greatest wealth creators through biographies, lectures or other resources and I have not once seen any of them gain extreme wealth by trying to be idle.

I will allow that I might be totally misunderstanding your premise though.

Ray, you appear to totally misunderstand my premise!

Number one, I'm arguing that some idle time is beneficial. This is not the same as arguing that the people in question should be entirely inactive!

Number two, we're discussing a project environment, which is a complex system, consisting of many resources (people), with numerous relationships beween these resources (workflows). You are not a complex system (unless we consider you at a biological level!)

Please reference my skull example. If you have a skull with eight oarsmen, you do not maximise the speed of the skull by maximising the rate at which the individual oarsmen row. If you were to do this the skull would move at a small fraction of it's maximum speed (if at all).

What you do do, is get the oarsmen to row together. What this means, in practice is that seven of the oarsmen must regulate their rowing rate so as to ensure that they row in time with the slowest oarsmam. There will always be a slowest oarsman, yes?

So, to maximise the speed of the skull, you must convince seven of the oarsmen to row slower than they possibly could. This means that seven resources, out of eight, have unutilised capacity -- or what we're referring to as 'idle time' in this thread.

If I were to make my premises explicit, they'd probably include the following:

1. The project environment is a complex system

2. The output of the system is more a function of the synchronisation of resources than it is of individual outputs

3. The reources that make up the project environment do not have identical capacities. (Even if management has attempted to balance capacities, natural variation will ensure that capacities differ.)

Justin

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Justin,

Just because I work for and by myself does not mean that I have not worked in groups and or a project environment. I spent the last two years of my Marine Corps career as an administrator in charge of 25-30 people at a time. In that same time span I earned two Navy Achievement Medals for turning around two seperate and failing units, I think I have a good idea on how to lead.

I have put in much time and thought on leading a company, group or a project as I intend to someday be a much larger company. With all that time and thought over the last 10 plus years I have come to a few conclusions on how to properly run a company, group or project. I think you will need a top notch management team that will communicate to their subordinates the vision of the business. I also think that leaders/management must put together teams that work effectivley or they will not be very efficient/profitable. But, I also think that leaders must support subordinates that are not up to par in certain areas, not by being idle but by providing training to bring them up to the next level. To get people to do this I think you must get the team players to work together and educate other slower team members by implementing individual and group rewards that are inline with the companies vision. By implementing this reward system everbody is working for themselves and their company without conflicts as some of the rewards would or could be company stock.

After many years of study of business and wealth creators I have found that almost all of them stimulate their personnel to continously enhance themselves. For the group, team or project personnel that cannot keep up with this constant demand of enhancement another job in another company awaits. For example at GE they have a policy for creating great leaders of teams by constantly judging their personnel and putting them into three groups. Those three groups are the top 10%, the middle 70% and the bottom 20%. Those that are in the top 10% percent have shown that they are real go-getters and quickly get promoted and sent to GE's executive leadership courses. The personnel that are in the middle 70% are possiblly go-getters but are not there yet. The personnel in the middle 70% get middle management courses and can and should strive to get to the executive leadership courses. For those that are in the bottom 20% their days at GE are limited. To become the best one must set standards that drive everyone to the next level not standing idle to the ones lower than you.

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Justin - there's another way to look at your boat (skull) example. At any given point in time, the fastest rowers are limited to the slowest rower (for maximum boat speed). For the purposes of management, there are at least a couple of possibilities for immediate improvement:

1) For future activities, find faster rowers to replace the slowest rowers.

2) Push the slowest rowers, via exercise and motivation and proper goal setting, to row at a faster rate.

The under-utilization, in other words, may be necessary at any given point in time, but not necessarily to be taken for granted.

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Just wanted to pop in to second Justin's endorsement of Eliahu Goldratt's book, "The Goal". I have also read Goldratt's "It's Not Luck". They are unusual in that they express his views on business management in the form of novels. They're a lot more fun to read than a Tom Peters book, and interesting even to non-managers. The author takes you step-by-step through some useful reasoning processes applied to business problems. Presenting his ideas in fiction enables him to completely integrate his ideas with examples, making it a lot easier to grasp, and easier to stay interested in.

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Justin,

Just because I work for and by myself does not mean that I have not worked in groups and or a project environment. I spent the last two years of my Marine Corps career as an administrator in charge of 25-30 people at a time. In that same time span I earned two Navy Achievement Medals for turning around two seperate and failing units, I think I have a good idea on how to lead.

Ray

I have no doubt that you are a talented leader.

However, that does not in any way diminish my contention that you do not maximise the output of a system by maximising the efficiency of the system's parts.

By the way, the US Navy has been an early adopter of the Theory of Constraints. Both the Navy proper and the Marines have applied Critical Chain (the TOC project scheduling method) in a number of applications, with impressive results (http://www.realization.com/casestudies.htm).

What this means -- in practice -- is that the Navy has increased (significantly) the output of a number of its project environments by actually slowing-down the work-rate of most resources.

Justin

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Justin - there's another way to look at your boat (skull) example. At any given point in time, the fastest rowers are limited to the slowest rower (for maximum boat speed). For the purposes of management, there are at least a couple of possibilities for immediate improvement:

1) For future activities, find faster rowers to replace the slowest rowers.

2) Push the slowest rowers, via exercise and motivation and proper goal setting, to row at a faster rate.

The under-utilization, in other words, may be necessary at any given point in time, but not necessarily to be taken for granted.

Phil

Both of your suggestions will increase the speed of the skull.

But neither change will invalidate my example. The boat will still travel at a finite speed. And this speed will be -- at any point in time -- determined by the slowest oarsman.

Even if, through careful selection and training, you end up with oarsmen who have identical capabilities, you will still have -- at any point in time -- a slowest oarsman.

Imagine we were to put one of your highly-conditioned oarsmen on a machine that measured his output. If the machine graphs his output on a run chart (like an ECG machine does), what do you think the line would look like? Would it be dead-straight? Or would it vary over time?

Obviously, the latter. This is what we call natural variation. All natural processes exhibit natural variation -- and it's stochastic (unpredictable) in nature.

What this means is that if we have 8 carefully-selected oarsmen in our skull, they may all row at the same average rate. But they will NOT row at the same absolute rate. There is negligable liklihood of their individual outputs varying in perfect time with one another.

Furthermore, because the performance of the individual oarsmen impact on one another, tiny variances in individuals' output will have a disproportionately large inpact on the performance of the skull.

Therefore, irrespective of your choice of oarsmen and irrespective of their individual capabilities, your skull will still move fastest when at least 7 of the oarsmen row at less than their maximum rate.

Justin

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Regarding boats being compared to business, Gary Hull has a great lecture called: "Metaphor: The Mirage of Reason."

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Justin,

As a lot of people do, you have taken an abstract of a study and without knowing the full context of the study come to a conclusion of what the cause and effect was or is. In your link there are many examples that show some improvements in the productivity of a certain project or unit. No where in your link does it explain the variables that were controlled or not controlled (the method), such as the money to back a project before and during or even something as simple as setting rational goals before and during.

The Marine Corps example from your link is a good example to use to demonstrate my premise. While I was in the Marine Corps, which could be the same today, I was given funding quarterly to buy the resrources I needed for that time period. The money was never enough to even get us close to the whole 3 month period without always running out. So we would always have projects that would have to be put on the "back burner" while we waited for more funding.

While I was in I also had many colleagues in the "Air Wing" (aviation), side of the Marine Corps and I heard their complaints very often. Some of their complaints were the same as mine, they never had enough funding to efficiently do their jobs. An example is that they would have very little funding to properly repair their jets. A jet has to fly a certain amount of time during the year for it to be considered operational and recieve funding from the government. But, these men never had enough funding to fly and repair all the jets in their squandron so they would always put one to the side and cannablize it's parts for the other jets. When the time was coming close to the one cannablized jet to lose it's funding for the year they would set aside another jet and cannablize the new jets parts for the other jet. So speed up in productivity could be that some high ranking officer got behind the study you mentioned and without much more thought decided to back it with enough men and money to make sure it came out just as he liked. I have seen this happen a lot while I was in the Marine Corps and else where.

In a study on setting goals and increased productivity Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Latham found an increase in productivity of 20-80%, an average of 50% more productivity. This was done just by having the management and their subordinates set and agree on goals. What was also shown in this study is that unless the personnel reset new goals when the old ones were obtained, they would go back to their old lower standards.

What I am asking for from you, and anyone else for that matter, is where in reality do you see a company that is held down by their least productive person ever accomplish greatness. I am not asking for a one time short increase from a study that controlled unrealistic varialbles, but a real-life company over many years. Even in the military they discharge those that cannot keep up with a set standard. The military has and evaluation system that is called "Pros and Cons" for E-5 and below and "Fitness Reports" for E-6 and above. Those that cannot keep up will be looking for a civilian job and most likely not at GE as they also set high standards.

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