Category Archives: Leadership

Projects on time on budget

The problem with many projects is that the measures of success are often simply "on time-on budget."

Safety and rework often fall outside of that scope, and are accounted for out of other budgets rather than the project's budget.

There is no incentive to do the work in a more effective or efficient manner. In fact, there are often disincentives

I get paid to solve these kind of problems, but that brings up another problem:
The motivation and interest in having these problems solved is nobody's problem. Why should V.P.1 care about V.P. 2's budget or resources, particularly when the leader of the two V.P.s is nowhere to be found, disinterested, or conveniently blinded by half truths?

That is the reality for many organizations

Posted in Leadership, Moving to Work of Higher Value | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

Are You Delivering a Service or Simply Focusing on Systems?

Mid summer and I was sitting in a sweltering downtown office space. The organization that I was visiting has a policy that in order to save money and conserve energy they will not run the air conditioning systems on the weekend. The policy makes good sense. Conserve energy by not providing climate control during unneeded times, but the implementation of that policy lacks a few considerations:

1. Are the hours for use of the environments known?
2. Is the implementation focused on the systems or the outcomes?

Availability system vs service faulty
Availability system vs service faulty

At end of day Friday this organization shuts down the air conditioning for the weekend, and then brings the air conditioning systems back on line Monday mornings. The problem is that workers arrive to an unbearably hot work environment Monday morning, and it doesn't cool down until later afternoon.

Good policy
Conserve energy by not providing climate control during periods whe it is not needed.

Bad interpretation of policy
Conserve energy by not running the air conditioning system on weekends.

The differences in the two statements above are very subtle but important when put in practice. In the figure above, the bad interpretation results in lost worker productivity. I'm sure that it was never the intent to create a sweat shop.

Focus on customer service. If you are going to move to work of higher value, you really do need to identify what the resultant value is in terms of services received not simply systems operated.


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Please Sign Here…

 Please Sign Here:

How many times have you signed a document without reviewing it, simply because someone said the phrase “sign here?”

When I work with my clients to help improve their ability to deliver services (which spans all levels from the customer on down to design and production), I encounter many contact points were someone requires a signature from a manager before the next step can be taken. My question is always “WHY?”

Most answers focus on the act of signing.
Getting a document signed should be viewed as part of a process, not a singular event.

Sometimes I am told that a signature is required because that is the way that they have always done things around here, and other times I am told that no one is allowed to do anything until the boss signs off on it. Neither of those responses are good reasons at all. Simply putting ink to paper does nothing to provide value, and often just slows down the delivery of services.

The next question I ask is “what does the manager’s signature signify?” Often when I dig deep enough, the response sounds like a Shakespeare soliloquy, making the entire charade sound like a scene from Macbeth.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
-William Shakespeare’s MacBeth

This all leaves me wondering the motive behind the need for a signature?
• A manager’s need to feel important?
• A manager’s desire to exercise control over otherwise capable folk?
• A policy analyst’s empty description that everything must be signed for because that is the policy?
• A cut and past from someone else’s way of doing things without examining why?

If the reason is any of the above, then off with your heads!

A signature is simply evidence signifying that the appropriate steps have been followed appropriately.

I once had a boss that required any purchase order to be passed to him for his signature. He swore that he reviewed these and that nothing ever got past him before placing his signature at the bottom of the form.

He and I had a good working relationship, and on my last day of work, my colleagues held a party in my honor. It was actually more of a roast. When it was my turn to speak I produced a stack of purchase orders signed by him that I had created, had him sign and then stored in my desk drawer for such an occasion. Here is the list of items that he approved for purchase:
• 100 sea monkeys $2500.00
• Sea monkey aquarium $6000.00
• Sea monkey food $200.00
• Swing set to entertain sea monkeys $3325.00

Signed by fools…

When you stand back far enough and examine the intended value of a signature, what the signature is properly meant to be is evidence to support one’s assertion that an evaluation was performed, risks assessed, and approval was given, with acceptance of those risks and accountability for any negative outcomes by the person signing. (Fortunately for my boss, I never processes any of the sea monkey orders that he signed).

If things are going off the rails, find signatures and work back from there to determine which steps in the process are not being performed effectively. At no point should a career become but a walking shadow. It should have meaning and our actions must provide value. We should learn from our yesterdays to understand why signatures are required, and examine our motives to ensure that those actions are just.

Rather than simply creep along in this petty pace from day to day requiring signatures unnecessarily, or rubber-stamping those that require proper evaluation, perform the prerequisite duties.

If signatures are not truly required, then out, out damned process step. If they are required, then perform the analysis that your signature signifies evidence of.

Posted in Leadership, Moving to Work of Higher Value | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

Corporate Communications and Awareness Programs

In response to my last blog posting regarding acceptance criteria and the role of people in the testing function, I will answer the questions I received from quite a few readers. I am combining those questions and paraphrasing it as “How does the last example apply to my industry or field of expertise?” (Some claim that it does not since they do not develop software).

Let me begin with a direct answer that yes, the same applies to each of you in each of your industries.

What I had hoped was clear in my example is that products have consumers, and even if those products are reports or processed invoices, the output is value to someone.

Lets take a second example. This time I will use a person in corporate communications launching a campaign as an example.

Does it provide business results?
You might be measuring this in terms of modified behavior such as improved compliance with new regulations. It may be measured in terms of the right people showing up to an event. In the case of a school board, increased enrolment.

Can I use it?
If it is a billboard, do I receive the message as I am speeding by? If it is a directive, do I comprehend the message?

Can I support it?
If you are a service desk can you answer questions related to the campaign?

Can I install it?
Can the mailroom handle the size of the packages? Can the magazine fit the ad within the confines of the page?

Does it work?
This is the developer or writers self-assessment (as well as a second set of eyes) to determine if they are finished the development of the message. Does it make sense or has something been left out.

When I am working with teams in corporate communications or other services divisions such as health, safety and security, I begin with their communication strategy, but when it comes to supporting that strategy with tactics, this discussion is just as important for them as it is for the other development teams that I work with in technology or manufacturing. 

You can view the graphic that I created at the bottom of this post:

Posted in Leadership, Moving to Work of Higher Value | Click Here to Share Your Thoughts

Who Accepts Your Value?

Acceptance Criteria2

I often work with internal development teams who are struggling to improve their value to the organization. Individually they each have a job to do and most of them work very hard at it. As a team, the results are not always as valuable as the effort would indicate. I believe that the problem centers on the perceived value of work and the focus on the people doing it.

In a Hospital the focus is on the doctors, in a school board the teachers, in an airline it is the pilots, and in a development shop it is the developers who are regarded as the highest value providers. This solitary view diminishes the value of the contributors to that value. Value must be viewed holistically. Lets be clear that I am not simply stating some old hackneyed saying that everyone is valuable and that we have to treat them that way. I’ll leave that for a different discussion. What I am saying is that if that solitary view is taken, then the doctors, pilots, teachers and software developers taking that view will find themselves less able to maximize their own value.

Within teams the same thing happens where certain members are viewed as more valuable than others. In the case of an internal product development shop within an organization, many of the developers that I have worked with tend to view others and their roles rather simplistically and the business analyst or business relationship manager/customer representative role is often regarded as unnecessary. The role of a tester is often seen as nothing more than icing on the cake or a coat of paint at the end of the production line, yet those two roles are key for ensuring that what is developed provides maximum value to the customer.

Aside from the developers, the business relationship manager AND a representative from testing should be present at all stages of development, though some organizations will have dedicated quality control people in place with overlapping responsibilities.

It may sound counterintuitive to involve testing before you have anything to test, but recognize that they have to be involved early enough to at least develop the tests if nothing else. I view early involvement of testing even more critically however, not necessarily because they will know what tests to run, but because they are less likely to be satisfied that the acceptance criteria has been established. Other roles do not tend to focus as much or push so hard for clear acceptance criteria as those whose role is to generate the evidence that the criteria has been met.

What do I mean by acceptance criteria?

When organizations buy software they typically perform an evaluation to make sure that it meets their needs by comparing one product to another, or at the very least checking to see if a single product meets their requirements. They don’t simply test to ensure that the screen functions work correctly.

Why is it then that in developing in-house products for their own consumption, companies (and specifically development teams) often overlook such an evaluation? Sure requirements are gathered, but aside from providing a guiding direction for development, the requirements are never seen again. Instead, usability is considered the main success criteria and clicking through screens is the test.

When I see these projects I wonder then what are the chances that what is usable can be deployed, supported or even provide any business results? Many do not consider any of those criteria, but they would if the testing group was involved in helping establish acceptance criteria with each of the stakeholders from the outset. Your test team is not simply people with just enough low level skills to move a mouse or click a button, their value is in the advanced skills that they possess in helping you establish acceptance criteria.

Acceptance Criteria2
Acceptance Criteria

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Change Management – the organizational kind

 One of the key elements of any change initiative is to create a sense of urgency.

Without urgency, two things tend to happen:

1. People tend to focus on things that are higher priority in the short term

2. Workers who do not fully agree with the new direction, or who have self interest in seeing the status quo prevail will chose to “wait out” the change initiative, believing that this too will blow over and they will have saved themselves all kinds of work.

You could name five other things, but in my consulting work I frequently see these two. You may correctly recognize these two issues as leadership issues. Strong leaders with experience in change know how to overcome these and other obstacles; however, I don’t fault the leader if they themselves have been rewarded for years for maintaining the status quo. Where would they get the experience leading change, or how would they keep their skills sharp if those skills are never needed? As a consultant I am at a distinct advantage because in working with different clients, I am able to practice these skills everyday. In my experience a leader who is good at managing stability is not as well suited for managing change without some assistance.

It is also easy to blame the workers for not wanting to change, but again, how often have they had to change? They must have received some reward for functioning the way they do, or they wouldn’t be doing things this way. True, the rewards may not be the officially sanctioned rewards identified by the business, but rather emotional rewards of some sort, but no less rewarding to the worker. Finding these hidden rewards and assessing their impact is challenging but it is part of creating change.

The real question boils down to why do people do what they do, and how can you get them to do something differently when the old way felt successful, and the new way represents an unknown leap of faith?

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The Experience Pipeline

 I have created this process visual to demonstrate how new experiences can be used to flush out old experiences thereby creating a better outlook for the future. 

If you don't seek new useful experiences, you will be stuck with the ones you have already had. If they were good experiences that you hold on to, that may not be that bad particularly when it comes to predicting the future, but if they were bad, that's really bad...

Experience pipeline
Experience pipeline

The current lens
Psychologists believe that one will tend to view that which is currently being experiencing as well as very recent experiences, through a lens determined by past experiences. If past experiences are all bad, then one is likely to predict that future experiences will be bad as well. In fact, even current and very recent experiences that may well have been positive can become tainted. The lens becomes murky and one may perceive otherwise good experiences as bad or negative.

Polishing your outlook and that of your employees
You’ve probably heard the expression that pessimist see a glass as half empty and that optimists see a glass as half full. In my first job I was told that realists know that if you stick around long enough someone is going to have to clean that glass.

What we need is a tool for keeping that glass clean. Psychologists have tools for helping people through past experiences, and the skills to employ them in ways that can help people deal with negative or traumatic experiences of their past. If you truly have something that is holding you back, traumatic or otherwise, these are good people to talk to, and my simple model does not attempt to replace them. It simply takes the work of good people such as Dr. Martin Seligman, and others, and depicts one of the key concepts into something that can be understood quickly and easily.

My view is that if our brains are computers, we need to flush out the memory buffers. I believe that on a daily basis we can maintain our own looking glass. While preparing for day-to-day interactions, a person can benefit from simply stacking the deck in their favor by lining up enough sure-fire successes and positive experiences intended to displace past experiences of negative outcomes.

Simplistically this means that in addition to our regular routines, planning in advance a few things that are easily achievable, and then reflecting on the positive aspects of each event soon after. From a management perspective this may mean moving away from compliance metrics (perfect or not) and towards progress metrics (are we moving in the right direction).

The goal is to pad the past with positive experiences thereby flushing out the bad. As more challenging things come along, the likelihood that one will predict their outcome as negative, will be reduced, and we can take on more challenging situations more readily.

As we continue, in addition to no longer spinning otherwise good experiences as bad, I maintain that even the negative events will be perceived as not so bad. You can’t do this easily if your past experiences are all negative. The dog that was rescued from an abusive owner may no longer remember why it flinches when a hand is raised, but eventually that negative subconscious memory in the distant past just might be flushed from the queue to make room for the positive experience of an outstretched hand containing a treat.

If you are a manager it might just be worth looking at how your outstretched hand is perceived. People don’t need treats to perform, but they do need positive experiences. Are people moving towards or away from the outstretched hands in your workplace?

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Black Rapids to Manotick – Proposed No Wake Zone

Over ten years ago we moved from the crowded suburbs to a dream location on the Rideau waterway just outside of Ottawa. Between 1826 and 1832, our particular stretch of river became part of the Rideau Canal system that links the Ottawa to Kingston. (In fact you could travel all the way to Florida from our back yard without ever going in the ocean).

Kingston, located on Lake Ontario where it meets the mighty Saint Laurence River, was the capital of Canada at the time. The route from By-Town (now Ottawa) was constructed as a supply route to Kingston. (The route was identified as a good idea during the war of 1812 between Canada and the United States).

Cargo could travel from Montreal, up the Ottawa River, down the canal systems of lakes and rivers, and in to Kingston. This was to be a much safer route than taking the Saint Lawrence River, with American shooting at the steam vessels during the war.

The Canal system was not finished (in fact, not even begun) until after the war.

Our stretch of river has been the home of a water ski club since the 1970s or earlier. It was a perfect place to move to and raise our kids.

This year we found out that our enjoyment of the waterway is threatened. Parks Canada is proposing a no-wake zone for our stretch of the river. No more skiing off of our dock.

The majority of the homeowners that I have spoken to in this area have commented that they enjoy seeing the boats and kids enjoying themselves on the river. There are also a few who do not. This issue has pitted the swimmers, the canoers, the boaters the kayakers and the fishermen against each other. People who have never been in a kayak complain that the boats are disturbing the kayakers. We have canoed and kayaked here for years. In a canoe boat waves are a nuisance. In a kayak the waves are a non-issue.

Kids tubing

There is a lot of mis-information around this issue, and my fear is that we will see another law in place as yet another example of a knee jerk reaction to a perceived situation that could be resolved other ways. There are already laws. There is also common sense that could be applied.

While many boaters are responsible and alert, a simple swim buoy anchored by a home owner at a reasonable distance from shore is a simple way to protect swimmers from the few careless boaters, just like swim areas have been using for years.

People also complain about big off shore style race boats. In my experience, they come by once a year, usually around Canada Day on their way back from the down town festivities. Some find this troublesome, while others find this once a year event exiting.

One of my roles in my consulting business is to advise senior management on how to assess risk. Let's be clear, this is a separate discussion from personal likes and dislikes.

The two primary factors in risk management are likelihood and impact.

Risk Quadrants
Risk Quadrants

So what can be done?

The two primary options for dealing with risk are not just elimination, but also simply risk reduction. In other words reducing the likelihood or the impact to an acceptable level. Too many times total elimination is seen as the only way, and one person’s personal preference is often regarded as more important than tolerance for each other.

As for the tools, enforcement is often seen as the only way, when awareness could be used as a tool to provide positive results.

One example

In order to reduce the risk of a canoe being disturbed by a boat, here are some potential ways of mitigating that risk:


  • Eliminate the boats
  • Eliminate the canoes
  • Force people with green canoes to paint them safety orange for better visibility
  • Educate the boaters and the people with canoes of existing regulations, common sense and courtesy 

This is just one example, but the same approach can be applied to any issue, weather those issues are on the river, the shop floor, or the executive suite.

Kids getting along and working together

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No problem, just fire Bob and buy a tool!

If only the resolution to any problem was as easy as this simple knee-jerk reaction.

Do we know the reason that Bob is underperforming? Could it be that we ourselves have set Bob up to fail by giving Bob a bad process to follow, or a weak link in Bob’s supply chain?

And what of this magic tool? While it might be clear that we could benefit from the output that such a tool might provide, will we get that output from this tool in this environment used in this way?

When faced with a problem, the knee jerk reaction used by many is to solve it by treating the symptom and jumping to solutions.

Working on the assembly line, Bob trips and bumps into a car, causing a dent or scratch. Bob has done this more than once, so the natural conclusion is that our fictitious Bob is a clumsy oaf who is not careful enough. Bob gets replaced without first considering the cause of Bob’s apparent clumsiness. Did we check to see if Bob has a habit of going out for a liquid lunch and returning to work inebriated, and what about that loose cable that lays about the floor haphazardly? Then there is the assembly line process set up in such a way that Bob has to remember to duck each time a part moves along the conveyor system. No, the problem is Bob. He is the one denting cars, so he needs to be removed.

In another instance we have an organization that has implemented a change management system for assessing risks before approving a change within the environment. Any functional group that wants to make a change has to submit their plans for approval, so that other functional groups are aware that the change is coming and can asses its impact on their area. Some groups are not following the process, but the solution is obvious. We must need a software tool that we can all use to enter change requests for all to see.

That certainly will solve the problem….or will it? Never mind those who are supposed to be seeking approval for their changes that view the requirement to seek approval as an unnecessary waste of time. Too much red tape to bother with. Then there are the people reviewing the changes for approval who see themselves as enforcers rather than trusted advisors, able to so no, and unwilling to say yes.

So, while my colleagues may advise buying new tools, and avoiding the hiring of a person named Bob, Robert, William or Bill, when I am asked what to do about the situation I will lead with my typical consultant answer – refined by me over many years of working with Bob’s and Tom’s and Sally’s – "It depends. Lets begin by looking at the process."

© Wayne McKinnon, 2011

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Why Service Improvement Initiatives Fail to Deliver ROI

If project Managers are hired to control costs, and technical specialists work in silos, then who carries the products through the project?

In many cases the answer is no one.

The executive needs to work with a project manager early in order to identify outcomes and project tolerances (BEFORE the project begins or the budget is set), and then make THAT the main focus of the project manager.


Far too many executives leave this up to the technical teams, and then bring in a project manager to act as a project administrator for reporting purposes only.

To make matters worse, if outside experts are brought in to deliver, then why do organizations often prescribes how these experts should do their work? Doesn’t this beg the questions “why hire experts in the first place if you don’t intend on learning from their expertise and experience?”

Could it be that too many experts don’t know how to deliver value, or is it the organization that doesn’t know how to receive it?

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Are senior managers managing or just going through the motions?

When I roam the halls of the executive suites where I consult, what I often discover is that many senior managers, V.P.s (and even CEOs in some cases) are more focused on the monitoring and maintenance of the reports, scorecards and dashboards that are meant to help them make strategic decisions, rather than standing back and understanding what the report is trying to tell them.

If a poor technician responds to a blinking red indicator light on a piece of equipment by taping over it or removing the bulb, the poor manager will respond similarly to an indicator on a performance report.

The strategic manager will instead see this as an improvement opportunity and look for root cause rather than simply addressing the symptom.

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