“Need to Know Framework” derived from the PRISM

Trying to work out what you need to know and which information is most relevant at a particular time is like trying to hit a moving target. Not impossible but many factors play a role in the result. We all know that things change, yet we can fortify ourselves by becoming aware of which factors can impact us either directly or indirectly. Even factors out of our control can be planned for and risks mitigated.

The idea of a “Need to Know Framework” is actually an acknowledgement of how things used to be. The traditionally small groups of people working and existing together, organically gave rise to a sharing of information and knowledge, each person knew what the other person was doing and a network of awareness of the whole developed naturally. In the modern workplace the scale actually prevents the easy flow of information between indirectly but still connected groups. The recent ideas of tribes, regularly scheduled meeting and intranets etc. all are modern devices to try and replace the paradox of increasing isolation in larger groups.

So the only way forward is to begin at the level of the individual and instil a sense of “the Whole”. It is only when we appreciate the perspectives and requirements of others in the group that the greater good of “the Whole” moves forward. Some of the greatest advances in human history have only occurred when a discipline is examined from another perspective.

The need to understand the interconnections and dependancies that impact our tasks, is crucial to the understanding of the environment or “ecosystem” that our body of work will exist in over time.

It is essential for us to examine and determine which information and facts we will require. The resulting maturity that will develop, if we attain this perspective will be essential in helping us to reach our goals. The byproduct of striving to this end will be an increase in “Transparency” and a Need to Know Framework where each piece of information, can easily be prioritised into impact and according to our specific needs.

So how do can we get to this point?

Well it is only when we realise that just focusing on the immediate and specific task at hand, although seemingly efficient is actually detrimental to the ultimate whole. When any one thing is focused upon solely the result is always that the whole suffers. This does not mean that concentration on a particular task is bad but that any task no matter how small must and should be considered as part of a larger system. It doesn’t matter if your API is perfection, well coded, efficient and a masterpiece if it can not interact with its larger ecosystem.

So how do you generate a Need to Know Framework” ?

The inspiration for this comes from newtonian physics, in particular Refraction of light through a Prism.

Using the PRISM we can utilise the colours as indicators of the Importance, Directness and Impact of Information.

Centrally at Level 1 (RED) would be the direct and immediate information required for you to do the task, and the task only with little or no appreciation of where your task fits into the larger landscape. This is the equivalent of just in time management.

Next at Level 2 (ORANGE) is the knowledge required to perform your task and deliver it.

Level 3 (YELLOW) is information which helps you locate and position the task at hand, within a slightly broader framework. Such as knowing how it will impact and interact with its immediate neighbours or dependences.

Level 4 (GREEN) is information which is not usually considered required but when obtained frames and allows the project or task to comfortably sit within the broader landscape. This type of information aids in allowing you to grasp the interconnection between your task or project and those not directly involved, the first cousins to your work.

Level 5 (BLUE)  this level of information frames you task or project in the broader environment, with awareness of interconnection and nuance between the up stream and down stream relationships.

Level 6 (INDIGO) this level like the colour is between BLUE and VIOLET, the interconnection and interdependencies of all the tasks and projects, yours included and the information required to distill the over arching “5 Year Plan” or Vision..

Level 7 (VIOLET) this is the highest level of separation from your work, and as such is not often seen as essential or even required. Yet, it is the guidance under which all your tasks and projects have been organised to function within. This is the “5 Year Plan” or Vision developed from the Level 6 (INDIGO) information when evaluated and seen in the light of the company in the Global Economic and Social Ecosystems.

TRANSPARENCY; the Emperors New Clothes and You can’t handle the Truth

The very term Transparency as used in the modern world of Management and IT is at best ridiculous and at worst dangerous and an unsettling endeavour.

Harsh words but think about it; few of us could actually deal with knowing every detail about everyone or everything. The human animal has not evolved to store and process billions of bits of data and analyse them without bias or errors. The terms “Option Paralysis” or “Information Overload” spring to mind.

Despite our modern life styles, which are information saturated, we actually only skim or glance over the actual information by taking other people’s narratives as easily digestible chunks. The fact that, very few of us even try to understand the complexities of our own environment natural or man made, socially and biologically is testament to millions of years of evolution which has resulted in our ability to filter and categorise.

This same ability to group similarities and make inferences from them is the very same reason we find the simple task of analysing data, without bias very difficult.

We often extrapolate from only a few data points and behave as if the presented data is “True” because it supports our previously held beliefs. We even find the weight of truth behind an unsubstantiated and sample of one (statistically irrelevant) as highly engaging and important :-Anecdotes.

So is it any wonder why, as a general rule we find true Transparency difficult. We actually don’t want transparency; like the Emperor, once he realised he was naked, we feel exposed; naked for all to mock and find fault. So is it really Transparency that we crave or is it actually the ability to access the information that we need or may need to complete our tasks well and in a timely manner, without any foreseeable obstacles or errors.

So instead of Transparency we actually require a “Need to Know Framework” that would allow us to recognise and highlight important information in concentric layers of Impact and Importance from you the Epicentre. This framework would be derived from the PRISM – a topic for another blog.

How much Transparency?

The picture is an analogy about transparency – I want to see the person step out from behind the pillar – but I really do not want to see into them (their skeleton – or even worse, through their clothing). I’m also quite confident that other people do not want to expose such an extreme level of transparency.

So what is the ‘right’ level of transparency and why to we seek it?

I’m sitting in my lounge room and I can see out the window – it is a frictionless way for me to observe the front yard (through the transparent glass). If there was no window, I would need to go out the front door and walk around the corner to see the front yard – it requires effort and I would need to justify doing it.

At the risk of abusing the window analogy, perhaps what we mean by being transparent about things in the workplace is that we reduce the effort to find out and we also eliminate the need to justify why we want to know. It can be very useful and pleasant to observe things – we can feel happy seeing that the environment is as it should be – and we can take action when things are not ‘right’. If my cat starts to growl looking out the window – there is probably another cat in the front yard and I can choose to chase it away or not. If neither of us could see it (due to the lack of a transparent window in the wall), we would never have known the other cat was there and we would have lost the choice to act.

We need to be careful about where we seek transparency – I do not want my whole house to be made out of glass – and we have curtains over windows when we want privacy.

In the workplace, it would be great if we could see everything without any effort and justification – but it can feel very threatening. When we feel threatened, we want to protect ourselves – so reducing effort in one way (frictionless observation – transparency) can increase effort in another way (trying to close the curtains or cover up our skeletons).

Be careful what level of transparency we ask for – it can be a good thing, and just like other good things (such as water and oxygen), too much of it can cause damage.

What the Culture? Chicken or the Egg

Since the late 90’s and over the last decades we have been bombarded with buzz words, “hipster” ways of working and living etc. Our workplaces have undergone numerous changes in both managerial and social spheres, all under the banner of increased efficiency and improving the work environment. Yet regardless of what the goal is we often hear the term “Culture”.

So what is culture?

Culture is a pivotal concept in anthropology, which includes a range of phenomena that are transmitted through human societies by social learning.

Evident in the social behaviour and norms of human societies, culture is “the way of life” for groups of people which has been passed down through generations, often tightly linked and specific to the groups environment, history and even genetics (sickle cell anaemia). Their shared ideas, customs, procedures and their shared world view or perceptions.

In our modern lives, the most invasive and under-defined term used would have to be culture.

So why is this a problem?

The issue is that when most people use the term culture, they seem to regard it as a lever to effect change. The idea you can simply, enact new procedures and change the “Culture” of a company is flawed at best and potentially dangerous.

So why and how do people truly change?

Like evolution, Culture is the product of a change based in advantage. The better suited a species is to its environment, the more likely it will have an evolutionary advantage. Similarly Culture is gradually developed and evolved over time with the underlying driving force being an advantage, better social cohesion, support, robustness etc.

So if you wish to enable true and lasting changes such as “Culture” there must be a definite advantage. In the workplace this could be more pay, job security, better and clearly defined processes and therefore roles, better management and a greater sense of self worth in the companies landscape both socially and economically.

The idea that “culture” can be changed from the top down is doomed to failure because if the advantages of the changes are not obvious, why would anyone adopt them.

“What’s in it for me,” is the driving force behind all change, even Altruism. Without an advantage why would anyone change the way they do anything.

Culture is not a lever or process but the goal to attain an improvement and lasting change for the better which is reflected in the mechanisms we perform.

PROCESSES LEAD TO CHAOS, DEFINED PROCESSES LEAD TO SUCCESS.

To help understand the idea behind the statement that processes lead to chaos and defined process lead to success, consider a trip to any location say Healesville. We could drive, catch the bus, walk, run or ride our bicycle, even fly or parachute in to Healesville, these are all modes of transport. Next we could go via Lillydale, Kinglake or Yarra Glen, these are the three most direct routes possible from our location, these are the routes of journey.

Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue trying to work out who will go, who will stay; who drives, who rides etc and lastly the route we wish to take. You can see the inefficiency of the process if we allow it to go undefined. If leave it undefined we have issues with Who, What, How and When. The when is not only dependent upon the time we choose to be in Healesville but also the mode of transport taken by the people going and the route taken. So by not defining the process, we can easily end up in a state of option paralysis, which results in nothing being done.

Now if we define the process by saying “We are going to drive to Healesville via Yarra Glen, to be there by 1:00pm next Saturday, for lunch (2hrs).” The organisation of the task becomes infinitely easier because many high level decisions have been removed as options and this has forced a focusing of intent. Now finding the answers to Who, What, How and When has been simplified, to much simpler and more logical questions, such as:

Who has a Drivers License?
Who wants to drive? Influenced by road familiarity and road and car conditions.
Who wants to go to Healesville? Influenced by total time and other commitments.
How big a vehicle do we need? Influenced by how many people.
How many vehicles do we need to take? Influenced by how many people.

Be defining the Mode of transport, Route and Time of the Event, departure times and the total time required for the round trip can be defined. If we drive we can say 1hr to get there and 1hr to get back plus 2hrs at the lunch roughly. These estimates also allow us to understand how much of our Saturday afternoon/evening will be taken up and if we will be traveling at night. These factors will influence who may wish to come.

So the better we define the processes we wish to take to get where we are going the higher our chances of success. You may also of noted that high level defined parameters does not remove all freedoms when planning and in fact with this high level guidance we are often liberated to achieve our goals.

Personal Philosophy 101: No Solutions, just Tools

Personal Philosophy 101: No Solutions, just Tools.

In a world driven by a culture with a need to compete, complete, deliver and rapidly produce. I put forward, the simple personal perspective that there are no solutions, only tools and choices.
The need we all feel to deliver a “solution” for our customers and ourselves is admirable but it also has a much darker side and consequences. The unspoken idea that we can give people and organisations a solution, can be very harmful and blind us to the true solutions. The cold hard truth is that we can not give anyone a solution to anything, we can only provide them with tools, which they can use to help find their own solutions.
The underlying premise is that only “self” can find the “true solution” because only self can know the factors needed to solve anything often with many conflicting needs and consequences. To complicate the process even further, often these factors specific to attaining your true-solution are partly or mostly unknown. Therefore, if the self doesn’t know the required factors to attain the true-solution required how can a third party give them a solution?
It is this philosophical viewpoint, which leads me to the personal view that regardless of saying we deliver solutions, we actually can only ever provide tools so the client (“self”) can determine their own solutions.
We can provide options, opinions, advice and other tools but we can not actually quantify completely their requirements and the level of “hardship or discomfort” the client would find acceptable. In actual fact, they themselves, often are unaware of some or most of these factors, when they engage you to solve their “issue”.
The “solutions” we provide often become band-aids because of this very fact. If we do not know the complete environment, how can we provide a solution? If the customer is not aware or educated about the options, constraints, and issues how can any “solution” they ask for be anything but a band-aid? Just like a band-aid, these solutions sit on the surface and never actually become part of the “self” or culturally absorbed. The true-solutions are derived from “self” only when awareness of the goal and the issue matrix surrounding the goal are realised.
This may seem an unbeneficial viewpoint, yet if you and your staff understand this, then this acceptance will liberate and empower them to focus on the why and what-ifs.
Consider the developer asked to provide a solution for a customer, the first step is to usually focus on the constraints of the solution, not the issue matrix for the customer. In this step we immediately become solution focused not customer focused. Then we focus upon the constraints of the individual technologies we force upon ourselves to be used, not the evaluation of the best technologies or processes for the particular case. Again solution focused and constrained.
If we see our job as to provide tools we more easily embrace the path of discovery through discussion, communication, advice, options, and opinions and avoid the pitfalls of assuming the responsibility of a flawed band-aid solution.
The old saying “The customer is always right” always annoyed me, even when I worked retail. The simple fact is that if the customer knew what they needed, they would not need you. Your role is to help them make a good well-informed decision, your job is to give them the tools to do so! It is then up to them to decide their appropriate course. Some customers only focus on cost and then complain, others focus on brands and then become frustrated (you can’t complain when you spent that much). A few customers realise they need help and trust you will do the right thing by them. They are the customers you want and need to try and develop through education and together we may move a little further towards a better outcome, a true relationship.

OFFICE SPACE AND SEATING ARRANGEMENTS HAS IT GONE FULL CIRCLE.

Nowadays most of us spend most of our lives in an office type environment.

The idea of an effective work environment has always been present and yet often rarely discussed or analysed by most of us, myself included. I just know what I like and often modify my surroundings to make the best from a less than ideal situation.

The old school office/cubicles strategy, was rooted in hierarchy and even class structure. The “us and them” school of though between “management” and “labour”, yet it did allow for personal and private spaces which meant an inherent feeling of safety and ownership.

The open plan strategy, has its ideology based in the “we are a team” and “we are all the same” mindset. These ideas have issues in a work place; the bigger the team the more difficult to find harmony and we are not all the same. The funniest thing about the open plan office space is that a major reason for its popularity is not to develop an effective work environment but that its cheaper per headcount by easily fit more staff into smaller spaces and also that you can see everyone, giving the illusion of control.

The simple fact is that we often ignore or actively block out our environment be it work or otherwise. Details of our environment and how they effect our mental state, often go unnoticed and therefore are allowed to impact us without being monitored or adjusted.

How many of us remember the office spaces of our past and television sitcoms, cubicles, isolated offices and founded in the “us and them mentality”. Nowadays, we have the antithesis, being touted as the best option, the open plan, no partitions idea of office space. The driving force behind each extreme model, is only partly based in trying to allow for effective work.

The irony is that, as humans we need interactions with others and also our private space. Much like marine fish in a fish tank, I’ll get back to this later.

The traditional office space of the decades past, was one of higher management nested in largish offices around a space of partitioned cubicles. This lay out although not great had it’s merits. The physical barriers allowed the occupants to have a sense of private space and belonging. The ocean of cubicles provided a pocketed approach to office space, reminiscent of battery hens. Each isolated and working to produce, under the watchful eye of the farmer/manager.

As time and ideas changed the partitions got smaller in height and less common, the offices reduced in number and common areas began to spring up. The idea of this was to remove the barriers physically and hopefully mentally from the work space to allow for communication and a sense of community and partnership, to hopefully evolve.

The interesting fact is that different cultures behave differently but people tend to require the same things.

Ironically as the physical barriers, like walls and partitions, have been reduced or completely removed others have been erected to fill a need. The partitions have gone but the need for private spaces has meant that isolationist devices have become common place. The modern office space is open plan and headset isolated. The human need for self-space has replaced the partitioned cubicles with the modern cultural equivalent of isolation tanks.

The supposedly open office to encourage freedom and so we can have a sense of community and belonging has gone full circle to the isolationist mentality of boxes.
The mental isolation in the modern open plan work space is, far more detrimental than the cubicles of old and more difficult to see.

Personally I felt happier in cubicles, with lowish partitions and one glass partition so natural light could be allowed further into the room. The partitions were set out in blocks of four or six and sometimes even eight, allowing for team groupings and interactions.

The partition walls were low enough to see over, when you were standing but high enough to utilise them as extra work surfaces for charts and the tracking of work in progress. The sense of privacy was there and you also had a sense of belonging. You could hear others if you wished to focus or easily ignore the office murmurs.

If you have ever kept a marine aquarium or any fish tank for that matter there is a paradox which occurs when stocking your aquarium.
“The more hiding places there are the more you see your fish and the less stressed they are.”
In a marine environment fish are constantly on the look out for predators and prey alike, always aware and highly observant. The fish in a tank are no different, being exposed is stressful and a bad thing. A stark and barren environment, is a terrifying place and that is why fish kept in these conditions are rarely seen and often found cowering in what few corners or hiding spots there are. An aquarium with lots of hiding spots and ample swim throughs will make the inhabitants feel safe since they can always dart into a secluded spot, when danger is felt.

Maybe we should bare this in mind when designing work spaces.

A final thought is that traditionally homes are designed with common areas, lounge and living rooms, common rooms for eating and cooking and most importantly private zones the bedrooms.

 

 

 

The thing that holds the thing that the Stakeholders were holding

So we all know about stakeholders…those people that care about what we are doing and should have a say in what happens.

Are there also people that care about the thing that the stakeholders care about that we would not call stakeholders?

What does the ‘stake’ mean when we refer to the stakeholder? According to Wikipedia, the term originally referred to the person who temporarily held the stakes from a wager until the outcome was determined. Business has since co-opted the term to mean people interested or impacted by the outcome of a project.

Tobbe and I were having burgers for lunch today…they were so tall that they had skewers in them to keep them together. So the chef held the skewer (stake) and we held the skewer when we ate the lunch, but the person serving us never touched the skewer…just the plate that supported the burger with the skewer in it.

That got us thinking about what supports the interests of the stakeholders, and yet, is not a stakeholder of a project or outcome?

It may be what we call governance. The scaffolding in an organisation that ensures that business interests are looked after…ensuring that our burgers arrive safely and without toppling over onto the floor.

LIGHTNING BLOGS – THE RULE OF THREES, OR THE RULE OF THIRDS.

LIGHTNING BLOGS
Welcome to the first in my lightning blog series. This series is for the ideas and observations we all make during our daily lives and rarely share or have time to explore them.

THE RULE OF THREES, OR THE RULE OF THIRDS.


The rule of threes is an observation I made while trying to save energy and money by examining and swapping light bulbs and the mode of generating the emitted light.
Sounds great and very intellectual but as usually happens you do something and then upon reflection realise there appeared to be a pattern. I actually was just trying to swap over to the newer 6 Watt LED bulbs, I had recently found in my local supermarket, to save money because my energy bills are creeping up there and starting to hurt (mother of invention).

I had swapped all the lights in my house with these 6 Watt LEDs, except for the two main lights in my kitchen and the dinning area. The reason these two lights hadn’t been swapped over, was that they were 18 Watt Fluorescent tubes. Well, finally the day came and I had decided it was time to do the swap. When I began to remove the fixtures, I noticed that they were not the original fixtures but had themselves been replacements for the type of light that was there previously. The original light fixtures were actually lamp holders, just like the type of fixture I was installing, great less touch up work.

Then it struct me, when the house was built the dominant form of lighting was incandescent bulbs. Incandescent bulbs ranged usually from 100 Watts to 60 Watts in your typical single light fixture for a room. Yes they made smaller bulbs 40 Watts and even as low as 20 Watts, but these were usually the bulbs used for bedside lamps or in chandeliers. The most likely scenario was that the original lamp holder would have held a 60 Watt bulb due to the small room size.

So what we had was a situation where if they had put a smaller bulb than 60 Watts the room would be poorly lite, however at the time, the more cost effective technology of fluorescent lighting would have meant a 20 Watt florescent tube would have given more light than the 60 Watt incandescent for a third of the cost. In fact the florescent tube would have probably given out the equivalent light from a 75 Watt bulb or more.

Now the fluorescent tube I was replacing was in fact, a newer more efficient 18 Watt florescent tube. Yet it struck me that I was now installing a 6 Watt bulb that was one third the wattage of the one I was removing. I also realised that the fluorescent must have been replacing a bulb at least three time the wattage as itself.

The rule of threes or thirds was born.
So did this mean that only when something became three times better or more efficient or used a third of the energy or effort, that we actually muster enough motivation or pressure to change?

Can the rule of threes be seen in other areas or even help us to decide when retooling or changing the way we work is most beneficial?

Like I said observations and ideas only in the Lightning Blogs. Food for thought and I hope the rule of threes or thirds may help in some way to guide you in your decision making.
Yes I know wattages do not equal Lumens but for simplicity, I didn’t go into that.
From Wikipedia : The luminous efficacy of a typical incandescent bulb is 16 lumens per watt, compared with 60 lm/W for a compact fluorescent bulb or 150 lm/W for some white LED lamps.

PS. Careful how you pronounce, The Rule of Thirds, it could be misunderstood as something else.

Comfort and Privacy

How could something as simple as a stand-up be a potential invasion of privacy?

What if someone feels a bit unwell on the day and standing up in the same place for 15 minutes or more is very hard for them to do? What are their options?

They could stay silent – after all, we want to be seen as part of the team and not a ‘party pooper’ by asking to sit down.

They could make an excuse – ‘apologies – I need to dash to another meeting’ – or something like that.

They could tell people what is wrong (which could range from a mild illness to something more severe).

We need to consider this when we lead teams. We should not expect people to share private information – there is no need for us to know some of these things, and in a normal workplace, it’s not a problem.

Many Agile ways of working and workshop facilitation methods, fail to fully consider  diversity and inclusion. When we do consider diversity, we will offer ways for people to opt out of activities in ways that allow everyone to ‘save face’ and maintain their private information.

My ask of the Lean and Agile communities is to take a moment, pause and consider the above – let’s ensure that our ways of working are fully inclusive and not causing discomfort to anyone.