All entries for October 2008

October 27, 2008

Creep (Radiohead) by SodaGreen

One of my favorite songs of all time is Creep by Radiohead. This is different version of the same song by a Taiwanese band but performed in a very different style... very powerful and creep me out when I first hear it. Enjoy!

[media] [/media]


October 25, 2008

SPC and Deming's leadership

Writing about About the imperial discussion from Francisco's blog

Leadership

Yesterday during Lila's presentation there was a rather heated debate by Francisco on whether the word "imperial" was accurate to describe Deming's idea of leadership.

After reading the chapter on "Some New Principles of Training and Leadership" from Out of The Crisis, I thought I could reflect  a bit on what his idea of leadership is about. The following is an extract from page 248

"The aim of leadership should be to improve the performance of man and machine, to improve quality, to increase output, and simultaneously to bring pride of workmanship to people. Put in a negative way, the aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures of men, but to remove the causes of failure: to help people to do a better job with less effort." (Deming, 1982; p.g. 248)

If we take that to be Deming's idea of leadership, then it seems clear that there isn't anything remotely suggests Deming's ideal leadership style is imperial, commanding, and one above all e.t.c

Further, Deming lists three things which he considers to be the responsibility of a leader and they are 1) remove obstacles 2) improve the system and 3) achieve consistency.

What does this mean?

Firstly, leaders should identify what causes the worker to perform at sub-optimal level (not in statistical control) and try to remove it. Then through improving the system, the leader creates an environment where workers can fully perform to the best of capability (therefore in statistical control) and generate greater satisfaction. Lastly , leaders should find ways to reduce differences in performances between people and/or occurence.

From the above explanation we see the idea of statistical control come up quite often. Why is that? Isn't statistical control something is is used in ensuring quality of products is consistent? I too, found this puzzling at first but I soon realised Deming has moved a step beyond using SPC for quality management of product and applied it in all sort of management practice including the management of people.

Training

Using an example of golf student, he says , "before the lessons (the golfer's score) were obviously not in a state of control: There are points outside the control limits. Then came lessons. His scores thereupon showed a state of statistical control with the desired result... Here, lessons changed the system."

His points, I think, is to use statiscal methods to understand the variation in worker's performance, and find ways to test for the effect of any improvement measures. Such as lessons to improve performance.

This tool also useful in identifying which worker is worthy of of management attention. An unlearned worker in a state of chaos has potential to improve and whilst a learned worker performing sub-optimally yet is in the state of control must be removed from the system.The following quote should illustrate this idea.

"Anyone, when he has brought his work to a state of statiscal control, whether he was trained well or badly, is in a rut" (Deming, 1982; p.g. 249)

Note: Rut= a usual or fixed practice ; especially : a monotonous routine

"He has completed his learning of that particular job. It is not economical to try to provide further training of the same kind. He may nevertheless, with good training, learn very well some other kind of job." (Deming, 1982; p.g. 249)

Critique

Is this method suitable for application in the management of people? I for one hold a more reserved view. One of the concern I have is how it go about establishing the upper and lower control limits because these are crucial in deciding whether a process is in state of statistical control. Furthermore, whether such limits when constructed from a small sample size such as in the author's examples, accurately reflect the control limits when derived from a much larger sample. As I understand it, there is usually a minimum required sample size for a conclusion drawn from statistical tool to be reliable. This point wasn't really discussed in the book. Unless the examples in the book are for illustrative purposes only rather than the orthodox way to carry out this procedure. 



October 19, 2008

Greed

According to a columist on Financial Times, the total US spending on buying bad debt is something close to 1.4 trillion (1400 bn) which equals 10% of US GDP. And since a huge chunk of this mortgage is shared by the rest of the world (bank selling bonds to other banks) , the "total loss are now only 5% of US + EU GDP..."

Once again the Americans have let us down

Lately there has been lots of articles written about the financial crisis , not only on the Western media but also in the Taiwan Financial Weekly. In the latest edition is a special article titled "Confession of a Wall Street trader" which detailed a rather intereting story different from the one we have been hearing in GBE class. Instead of focusing on the credit crunch, it tells the stories of how "bright young mathmatical geniuses on Wall Street" jointly created these complex credit default swaps which they then sell to banks and subsequently sold onto general consumers who end up taking a big hit on their investment. Of course,  the poor customers were unaware of what they were buying into, they had great confidence in the investment advisors, the bank reputations and bought these investments thinking they would be getting a 6% rate of return (terms saving is 3%). The bank investment advisor on the other hand, has their bosses on their ass to sell as much of these financial derivatives as possible, regardless of means. Those who had some business ethics in them, left the job because they knew what kind of dodgy business this was. Others, stayed and carried on business as usual, justifying their action somehow... human nature.

All salesperson at somepoint during their career face the dilemma of having to sell something even when they do not have the slightest confidence in them. When I worked in retail, I remember my bosses often pushed us to sell these financial packages to customers, "Ask us for easier finance options, 12 month finance, 24 month, 36 months" usually the longer it is the more you end up paying because what they don't tell you is the 19%- 24% interest ... Oh heck~ if I knew pushing for these packages will mean bigger pay check for me , should I do it? and how do I get that guilt over my conscious  ? maybe the feelings of guilt will subside the more contract I make ... who knows

While I am writing this, an economic concept come to mind, "law of diminishing returns", I wonder if that apply to money or not.


October 09, 2008

Most expensive book ever bought !

If the value of a book is determined by the following formulae;

                   Cost of the book

Value = -----------------------------------

                  Number of book pages

Then I just purchased the most valuable book in my collection

At 45 pounds and 90 pages, the EFQM twin set has a value of 50p / page !!

================================================================================

Seriously though, I am begining to see this as good investment...At the first glance, it is just a book with some meaningless boxes. But the real gem of this EFQM is in the inter-relationship between each boxes. Like for the Measurement of Result (II) project, if I imagine myself as a company manager in a automobile part supplier company, supplying parts to Toyota. With the matrix on page 10 , I can quickly find that partnership is related to leadership 1C, Policy 2A & 2C, Partnership 4A, and Process 5C and 5E, and Result 9A & 9B, flick to relevant pages and find more information about how to manage that. It's like an encyclopedia for business success. Haha... maybe I am exagerating a little bit XD


October 08, 2008

Class blogging

I was scrolling through my teamate's blogs and found links to everyonelse's blogs. To be honest I am totally amazed by the quantity and quality of blogs that are being created by my classmates. Everyone is very energised about our tasks and the uncertainty (in a good way) that lie ahead of us. Thankfully, our course leader Paul Robert has designed such a brilliant learning environment where all of us is able to learn from each other's experiences. It feels wonderful when you're trying to learn something and see that same topic being discussed by another member who may have looked at it from totally different perspective.

This is going to be a wonderful year!



Traditional Performance Measurement

TPM- Traditional Performance Measurement

BSC- Balance ScoreCard

What is TPM, to me it is simply a comparison between  Present (NOW) and the Past (BEFORE) or an arbitrary projected figure. This is known as a paired comparison. Why is it that we need to compare? Well, like everything we do, we would like to compare it with somone or something else to see if we are doing better or worse. It may be our exam result, we would compare this year's grades with previous's. We want to see if we improved or became worse at something. As production or any services is concerned, a comparison between now and the past can give indication whether the Curent Practices fares better or worse than the previous ones. This allows manger to decide whether a new technology is functioning well, whether a new employee is performing as expected, or on the company level, did the revenue increase as we thought  it would, and if not , why not? This links in with the Deming's idea of natural variation and the search for a special cause (Theory of Profound Knowledge (Deming, 1992)). I remeber when I worked in retail, industry, the store manager would check our daily, weekly and monthy sales volume and determine if we met the target or not. Usually the target is an arbitrary figure . This figure is usually adjusted depending on season if it's a yearly target (summer people would do more shopping than in winter) , on days of the week if it's a weekly target (apparently it used to be the case that shops are opened for longer on Wedneday so our target for Wednesday is usually higher than othe weekdays, but then the Wednesday shop open hours became the same as other weekday but our target for Wednesday still remained higher. I used to wonder why no-body changed it since we never meet our target on Wednesdays!!).

Obvious advantage with the TPM approach is that it is simple and straightforward. It can be done quickly and any period (week, month, year) of performance can be evaluated quickly be simply comparing it to another period of interest.

Some disavantages with this approach
1. As I implied in my little story as a shop keeper =) TPM after a while may become just a procedure without any meaning to go along with the numbers.

Some of the other disavantages suggested by Paul are
1. Paired comparison provides no context to the management data (i.e. historical data, operational data, human resource data e.t.c) , we do not know whether an observation is simply a natural variation or a special case caused by other things (since TPM does not measure other thing, we have no way of knowing what kind of things are those "other things").
2. Overemphasis on financial data - a point I explained in the above
3. laggin measurement- this part I am not sure exactly... something about measuring what is the the past but not the future...

Given the short-comings of the TPM approach, one can understand how other approaches such as the BSC complement and improve the management of performance measurements . Mainly the idea is that business decisions cannot be based on figures and numbers alone, the amount of output or size of revenue does not provide a complete picture of organisational performance. Certainly, the shareholders and investors may be pleased that their stock prices are increasing, but it may be a result of many possible causes (i.e. booming economy, focus on short-term gains, sell-off of a potentially profitable business unit), this does not mean the business will continue to grow into the future. On the other hand, if management has Knowledge of the four BSC perspectives (customer needs, internal process, learning capability, and fincancial data) , it can predict the future trends in consumer tastes and allocate resources to add value of its product and services to the consumers accordingly.

As I am writing up this entry I am reminded by a SONY personal digital assistant (PDA) that I bought years ago. At the time Sony was in the business of making PDA to cater the needs of businessman, students, and anybody who has a keen interest in digital portable diary. It was one of the market leaders at the time, making PDAs that had more functionality than its competitors. However, as the technology progressed, people are begining to integrate various technology products into one simple solution,  for example, mobile phones with in-built camera. At that time , some people speculated the inevitable integration of mobile phone, digital camera, and PDA's but others were more reserved about that speculation because of technological barriers. Some companies were able to see the shift in consumer trend and began investing in the 3 in 1 solution. Simplicity, it seemed, was going to be the next idea. Sony however, continued making PDAs that comes with more and more functionality and lesser and lesser user friendly. Eventually, Sony stopped its PDA production due to dwindling sales. I can still remember seeing a picture of the final and last generation of SONY PDA which looked a a huge rectangle metal box with lots of little keyboard button. the review I read championed the functionalities but rated poorly for it's ease of use and staggering ticket price.



October 06, 2008

Leadership? still much to learn

After today's group meeting my feelings were mixed, confused, and feel quite unsure about myself. I welcome our new member Apollo, seem like a nice guy, looks like we will get along just fine.

We have agreed each of us will get one chance to lead a mini project, but I don't know how that will pan out. Since we won't necessarily will have a meeting about every topic. Perhaps it is best to roate leader on the basis of meetings.

Naturally , I have always felt the urge to stand out the crowd and make a difference. At the same time,I worry about wrting something which I still have little idea about. So to save you the boredom of lengthy blog, i will cut things short this time

Back home, I have been invovled in numerous group situations, most of the times group resolved into some sort of consensus decisions making which is nice, no one is hurt, no hard feelings, but it was inefficient, sometimes it seems like people would just follow the dominant opinion.

Being a part of MBE and living in a new environment, I feel I must make some changes to my old habits. To take more risks, be more up front, stand my grounds, and tackles confrontations with grace and respect.

So today ... was our first group meeting

Having been involved in several group project prior to Warwick, I understood the importance of preparation. Valuable time can be easily wasted away in a group without clear objectives. So last night I spent sometime reading Paul's materials to make sense of our assessment, then brained-stormed some ideas on team work including some key points about leaders, thinking this would make today's meeting go smooth-as. 

To my surprise, the meeting was far from smooth. Admittedly I am not always comfortable with confrontation. As the group leader I felt I was able to observe the group dynamics yet I struggled to adapt to it. For example, I went into direct confrontation with my group memebers. Mei and Ally especially disagreed with me that leader have the power to delegate tasks. My understanding differs radically with Ally and Mei. To me, leader should have a reasonable amount of power which comes inherently with the position. So this means even if members do not agree with what the leader says, part of being a follower, and in a group is to listen to their leader.  I mean, don't get me wrong, different voices are welcomed and I'd be happy to listen to them, but still at the end of the day without a leader to make a decision , people with different opinions may find it impossible to cooperate, and hence the group progress is hindered.

Personally I feel leader is more than a manager, it is someone who concern him/her self with directions, strategies, and objectives. To Mei and Ally, the idea of leader is someone who manages things. For example, we disagreed strongly on whether the group leader should also be the note-taker, time keeper. Just a minor thing and maybe it was simply a misundertanding of the meaning of words but the tension was a little much, for me. 

Well, even with the ups and downs, I feel today's session was more a success than anything else, we settled on some housekeeping issues, made everyone aware of their obligation to the group, and ensured the meeting was completed just over 1 hour.

I am thankful for a such active and dynamic group. Toon is excellent, she brings with her great consulting experience from the industry. Her explanation of how groups actually work in workplace settings were immensely valuable. Gilbert is also as great, thankfully he corrected me when I tried to give a elaborate explanation about sampling bias. Ally and Mei each have their own opinion and experience to contribute. I'm still yet to learn a bit more about Apollo though but I believe he too is an important member of this group.

See you guys tomorrow



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