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Category Archives: Management

Have you ever applied for a job? Were you hoping to actually get an interview and then maybe a job – or was the application process just something you were going through to “prove” to someone that you were “looking”, “making an effort”?

I know it sounds crazy, but I think that some people have such a great fear of an interview, or maybe of actually getting a job, that they ensure that their application has no chance of getting noticed (in a positive way)! By doing so, there is no chance they will get contacted for an interview and no way they are actually going to get a job. I would hope this is their motivation but just in case there are people out there who are accidentally making a couple of common mistakes, I am sharing my observations.

I have been responsible to hiring technical professionals many times. No matter what the technical specifications of the job there are two  personal characteristics I always expect of anyone that I will be working with:

  1. Attention to Detail and
  2. Analytical Ability

A lack of attention-to-detail personality characteristic, jumps out at me when in reading the cover letter and resume, I see things such as:

  • spelling mistakes (including incorrect capitalization – even in an address)
  • incorrect punctuation
  • incorrect job (or company!) referred to (no doubt a result of a copy and paste from a previous application) – BAD!

I may overlook one little typo, but usually if there is a big stack of applications to go through, there are no second chances. I would expect candidates to be showing their absolute best through the hiring process but if they are not paying attention to details here, they are going to end up costing me time and money if they were ever hired!

The second must-have characteristc for any job is analytical ability. I need someone who can look at a situation , analyze something and then take action. I am amazed by the number of applications that I have reviewed where the candidate appears to have not even read the full job description. It seems that they have read just the first two words of the job title, and decided the job fit them perfectly. I expect someone to have read the job description fully (a number of times). I expect the candidate to demonstrate their understanding of my job’s requirements by  showing (in their cover letter and resume) how they meet each of the requirements. If the candidate doesn’t meet each of the requirements (and rarely does any candidate meet them all), then the applicant must analyze the job requirements, analyze their experiences and make a case that they can/will come close to meeting the job requirements.

These two characteristics, attention-to-detail and analytical-ability, won’t guarantee you a job offer, but believe me, an obvious demonstration of a lack of these characteristics will fast-track your application to the “Reviewed, will NOT interview” pile.

So, if you are going to bother to apply for a job, do it right or else don’t waste your time and that of the Human Resources department and hiring manager!

I’ve been listening to an audiobook this weekend and it has struck a chord with what I think about job satisfaction, so I want to share it with you.
The book is not new, in fact it came out in 2007. The book is The Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni. As with five other books by Lencioni, this one is presented in the form of a fable, a fictional tale. This makes the content immensely listenable and therefore the message is easy to absorb  . Lencioni follows up the fable with a summary of the key points.

The three factors which make a job miserable are:

  1. anonymity – the employee  feels unknown by their manager and not personally recognized by the organization.
  2. irrelevance – the employee does not know who their work impacts or how.
  3. immeasurability – the employee does not know how to assess their own progress or success in the job

While I agree with what this book says there is one aspect which I feel worth emphasizing. When it comes to making a job measurable it is very important to have meaningful metrics. The measures must pertain to the service the job offers to those who are served. I believe that the counting of  meaningless things just because they can be easily counted could indeed be counterproductive and indeed contribute to an employee’s feeling of irrelevance.

Lencioni makes the point that  all these factors seem to be just common sense, but nonetheless they are largely ignored even thought dealing with them is relatively straight forward.

This book is directed mainly at managers and it applies equally to all managers of people, from frontline supervisors to CEOs. The content is however also of interest and valuable to anyone who works in a job. If all else fails, if your managers aren’t looking out for you, you can and have to take your job satisfaction onto your own hands as best you can – and if that means finding another job, this book will give you ideas of what to look for so you don’t end up in another miserable job.

You can learn more about Lencioni’s theory by:

As I opened off saying, I liked this book and fully expect I will be giving it a repeat listen in the not too distant future.

In two previous blog entries I mentioned that I had started listening to an audio book by Jim Collins and that as much as I like the freedom that an audio book provides to me, there are times when I want or need a hard-copy.

The Jim Collins’ 2009 book How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, is a case in point. It was a very good listen and I will listen to it again but in the meantime I have ordered the book. Not only do I want to slow down and think more about certain passages but I also want to read some of the appendices that were not narrated in the audio book.

In this book Collins relates his research findings about seemingly invincible companies that can and have failed. Some of the companies used as case studies for this book include Bank of America, HP, Motorola, Scott Paper and Zenith. Collins has identified 5 distinct stages that a failing company will go through on its demise. These stages are:
1. Hubris Born of Success
2. Undisciplined Pursuit of More
3. Denial of Risk and Peril
4. Grasping for Salvation
5. Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death
Collins points out that by recognizing these stages and the associated warning signs, it is possible to pull out of a dive before crashing into stage five.

I am very interested in thinking through how these same stages might be applied to public sector organizations, to groups within an organization and to individuals. My gut tells me that much of what Collins has identified for the large profit-driven entities will apply. Stay tuned for future discussion on these topics.

I might add that I like Collins’ writing style and will be checking out his very successful earlier books: Good to Great and Built to Last (co-authored with Jerry Porras).

Jim Collins website

Along with the previously discussed Shannon-Hartley theory, I consider traffic theory to be one of the most useful concepts in Telecommunications engineering. It is more than just useful, it is one of those cornerstones that is a “must know”. It is also known as queuing theory which is a more general description that hints at its versatility. Traffic Theory is one of those topics with a lot of math behind it but let me try to simplify in this very brief discussion.
The original application for this theory was in Telecommunications traffic analysis to allow engineers to determine the number of “trunks” that needed to be provided, so that a number of users generating a certain amount of telephone traffic ( a certain number of calls of a certain average durations) would receive a specified probability of service (i.e. not getting a busy signal because all of the circuits are busy). There are just three key variables in this theory:
• The amount of traffic (measured in Erlangs)
• The number of trunks or circuits or what ever that is “carrying” the traffic
• A grade of service, which is the probability that a “trunk” (or whatever) will be not be available when required
Unfortunately there is not a nice simple equation relating these three variables but there are tables or computer algorithms that can be used to determine one of the variables given the other two.
I consider this theory so valuable because its use is not limited to just calculating the number of trunks required for traditional telephone traffic. I was first exposed to this theory to use it for determining the number of spare circuit packs required to keep telephone switching equipment working. To do this we considered the traffic to be the failure rate of the circuit pack relating to the MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) and the MTTR (Mean Time To Repair). The number of trunks required simply became the number of spare cards required and the Grade of Service is another way of expressing the probability that you run out of spares.
You could also use this theory in an operations situation – for example how many cashiers are required in a retail environment. In this example, the amount of “traffic” would be the number of customers times the time it takes to process each order. The grade of service would be your target for the percentage of time in which the customers would be queued up waiting for service and the number of trunks translates to the number of cashiers. It is that simple and the theory is that versatile!
Article on use of queuing theory in operations management
If this theory is new to you I encourage you to search out a book or a course to learn more. It really is an essential tool in any engineer’s toolkit, in fact it is useful to anyone managing anything.
Queuing Theory Tutorial (a PowerPoint presentation):

I find it very useful to have a model, a big picture to keep things in perspective. In particular, I am referring to three key aspects of management.  I will describe now the simple model I use to relate ongoing daily operations to strategic planning to projects.

Operations are the day-to-day activities. An individual, a workgroup, an organization of any size, has a purpose and without exception that purpose is to deliver something to someone. There is a product; there is a customer! The labels applied to the products and customers are many and varied, but it really is that simple. That is what day-to-day operations are about. There are most likely set, defined operational processes and resources used for these operations and not much changes – or so one may assume and count upon.

Strategic planning recognizes that indeed things changes and operations must adapt. Strategic planning had to operate at a higher level than the day-to-day operations by recognizing that there is a greater purpose or driving force behind what the organizations does. Ultimately the current operations are just one way of delivering on this ultimate purpose. Customer demands, environmental changes, wear and tear on resources etc. may all point to the fact that the current operational model cannot continue indefinitely. Tweaking of the existing operational model or a substantially new model may be necessary. Strategic planning gives thoughts to these realities, projecting the current models against future demands, to identify the gap. Strategic planning then goes on to develop a means to close the gap so that future operations will continue to meet the greater purpose of the organization.

Once you have a plan to close the gap, the next step is to implement that plan. The activity which does this is a project. A project is the change process which delivers a new operational delivery model.  We won’t go through all of the steps and considerations, checks and balances of project management. The key in terms of this cyclic model that I am describing is to recognize that the project is complete when what was a plan is now the normal day-to day operations.

Having a new normal model for operations, the cycle continues. While you continue to deliver services and/or product under the new operational model, you immediately (if not sooner) go back to the strategic analysis process. Again you identify the gaps between the new current model and future requirements and then initiate a new project to close that gap too. The cycle never ends – for any organization which does not want to end itself.

Everything into one of four categories?  That’s how I look at the world

I find it very convenient, when I am managing or planning, to consider four classes of resources for getting a job done. I use these four categories as a sort of checklist to make sure I haven’t overlooked something.

With no further adieu the four type of resources are:

  1. Human  resources
  2. Material resources
  3. Information resources
  4. Financial resources

Let’s use a very simple project example to illustrate – baking a cake.

Its obvious that a cake is not going to bake itself (well not yet anyway). The person making the cake, the baker, is the human resource.

Material resources are the physical things, the tangible assets. This will include the input materials and the processing equipment. In the example of a cake, we have the ingredients – the flour, eggs, milk etc. and in terms of the processing equipment we have things like a bowl, measuring cups, a mixer and of course an oven.

What is the information resource? Well of course it is the recipe. This brings up an interesting differentiation. The recipe could be in a book in which case the book would be a material resource that you might want to gather together before beginning the project. However the recipe itself is pure information – it needn’t be in a book, it could be on the back of a box or on a computer screen or perhaps it resides wholly in the mind of the baker!

The final resource I find interesting too. Of course financial resources could be physical money ( i.e. a material) or it could be credit (essentially just information). In most cases though your financial resource is more than either of those and has more “value”. I consider a financial resource to be a wildcard in the realm of resources. The value of the financial resource is that it can be converted into any of the three other resources. If you need a human resource you hire a baker. If you’re short on some of the material resources you buy them. And if you lack the information, the recipe, you can buy that too – and your wild card financial resource has magically turned into information.

Can you think of anything else, any other category you could possible need?  I have thought about this for years and have yet to come up with an example of anything that is not a human, material, information or financial resource. I find these four to be a useful high level check list to consider when planning out a project or considering management requirements. Simple, but I hope you will find it useful too.

So what does it mean to manage, what is the role of a manager?

My experience and study has taught me a couple of truths about the role of management. The first truth (and this is probably no surprise to anyone) is that management must ensure that you provide your service or product in the present. The second responsibility (and one which some might miss) is that management is also responsible to ensure that the service will be provided in the future.

The management of the present service is operations management, and that comes down to managing resources. I find it convenient to see all resources as falling into one of four categories: human resources, material resources, information resources and financial resources. In a future blog I will elaborate on the management of these resources.

The second truth is that management is responsible for ensuring future service delivery. This future service may be well not be identical to the present. Things change, but you want to be in a position to provide the service or product that your current service will evolve to. For example a producer of incandescent light bulbs should have positioned themselves to provide fluorescent light bulbs and then planned to provide LED-based light sources.

How do we get from our present product or service to the future? Strategic Planning! A lot can be said about strategic planning but the basic idea is to know where you are and know where you want to be. A bit of crystal ball gazing or educated guessing will be required to predict the future but somehow a future direction must be arrived at.  The difference between the present and future states, the gap, is what you must plan for and what you must develop tactics for bridging.

Given the plan, the next step is to implement it. This implementation to change a current state to a new state is a project. This introduces a management specialty that is a field of study in itself – Project Management!

Depending on the size of the organization and the operations, these management responsibilities may fall on the shoulders of one person or be shared by a team, but one way or another, they have to be done!

To summarize – You’ve got two eyes – keep one on the present operations and one looking towards the future.

April 16th was the 2nd (and final) day of the “Strategizing Your Way to Success” professional development seminar put on as part of the 2010 APEGGA annual conference.

Again there was a lot of good information presented, ranging from the Three Dimensions of Self, to Team Thinking Skills to Strategic Business Planning. Today I would like provide food for thought by providing the Four Key Questions to ask when you are business planning.

Question 1: Where are we now? This is such an obvious question that it might easily be overlooked. However, if you don’t know where you are now (on probably a number of different parameters) you may not be able to measure success and may have great difficulty in even defining where you want to be.

Question 2: Where do we want to be? Think carefully about this one but do set a clear goal, a clear description of the new state in which you expect to end up. The answer to this is one of the endpoints in the classic “gap analysis”.

Question 3: How do we get there? This is the essence of strategic planning – coming up with the way to bridge the gap between you present and desired state. You don’t need all of the details at the strategic planning stage – you can get to that when you are laying out your tactics, but you should have a general idea

Question 4: How do we Measure it? How do you measure success, how do you know that you achieved your goal? Your measure of success may be easily measured base don some financial measure or it may require something like a customer satisfaction survey, but the whole change process will be  meaningless if you can’t measure success after implementing you plan.

A  lot more can be said about strategic business planning but I think anyone asking and arriving at good answers to these 4 key questions will be well on their way to planning a successful strategic change.

On April 15th I attended the first day of a 2-day seminar entitled “Strategizing Your Way to  Success”. This session is one of the professional developments offering that are part of the APEGGA (Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta). This session was facilitated by Patrick Doyle, of Canadian Professional Management Services (www.cpmnational.com ).

The seminar has been one of those great events that kick-starts my mind and gets me thinking – thinking about thinking – metacognition!  Metacognition was one of the topics of the day. The key point I took home on this topic was that there are a number of ways of thinking, so by being conscious of your thinking and what you are thinking about, you can choose the thinking style that best suits the problem that you are addressing.

We talked about strategic thinking – that is how we can approach a problem to bridge a gap between a current state and where we want to be. We talked about convergent vs. divergent thinking – both valid but suited to different type of problems.  In simple terms, convergent thinking should lead you to the one “best” answer and divergent thinking should open you up the world of possibilities. Although very much related to strategic thinking, we also “system thinking” and “critical thinking”.

There is too much to get into right now. but I will come back, in future blogs, to a number of the topics introduced in the seminar. I really enjoy this type of thinking and learning and I am eager to share it with others.