All entries for April 2011

April 30, 2011

This is extended self–assessment

I've come to the realisation that this PMA is nothing more than an extended self-assessment. What we are doing is critiquing our own and our team's work, evaluating it all against what academics consider the best practice. I know that a lot of people (including myself) have been having difficulty with approaching the task. Perhaps viewing it this way might help you the way it has helped me; the task seems less complex this way.

In fact, it has also been helpful to me to look back at the self-assessment forms we filled in for the in-module work, to see what our thoughts were immediately after we had spent so much time immersed in the task. It is also interesting to compare these thoughts with the things I am able to notice now, having stepped back from the work after six weeks away from it. It makes it a lot easier to understand the system in which we operated in, the roles different people played in the team, the errors in the process that we made (see Ponthy's blog on bias for an example).

This highlights the importance of reflection as a final part of any decision-making process, extracting lessons learned both individually, and as a team, so that we can improve our own construct of the situation, and learn from each others'. Perhaps it would have been useful to have had a final team meeting in the run-up to this PMA submission, or soon after, so team members could discuss what they had found from their work? Maybe that is something that should be implemented in organisational decision-making processes: a longer-term self-assessment that allows for reflection at a later stage.

RDM-B, if any of you feel like conducting such a meeting in the next few weeks, let me know, and we can organise it over a few beers ;-) This offer is open to everyone actually. And we don't even have to discuss RDM :P


April 28, 2011

Variation in Decision–Making

Here is a link to an interesting BBC News Magazine article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-13213667

I think, by now, we are all quite familiar with the concept of variation, and how you need to get a system into a control before you start thinking about making changes to it (;-), so the material will not be new, and does not need to be explained. I do, however, want to think about the applications to decision-making. It is essential to be aware of natural variation, even with our intuitive System 1 decisions, or representativeness bias can come into play, and cause havoc. It can cause further problems through anchoring if later decisions are built on this.

The article cites the example of the movie boss who was fired after some poor films, only for the ones that came out soon after (which she had started) to do really well. Had her manager understood variation better, he would not have made the terrible decision to throw away a STAR, for pretty much no reason.

I'm glad we had the benefit of PIUSS (and pretty much all of the other modules) when we took RDM. Doing it this way allowed us to take advantage of what we have learned to date to understand the impact some of the heuristics and associated bias can have, and highlights the importance of knowledge in the decision making process. This links even further with the way we approached the KBAM in-module work. Coming back to RDM, I don't think that understanding of variation was particularly relevant to the decisions we actually had to make, especially since there was so little data, but the principle that you really need to understand something before you can do something about it carries over. Our approach to analysing the situation mainly involved TOWS analysis and the BCG Matrix, which may have had a strong impact on the systemic way we framed the three decisions.


April 19, 2011

I think I have grown

I was re-reading a part of The New Economics (Deming, obviously!) for some project work, and I read something that made me think of a blog entry that I wrote a reeaaally long time ago. In fact, it was my first proper CBE entry... I invite you to check it out: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/yanikjoshi/entry/and_so_it/

With all the talk of win-win environments we've had lately, it's particularly relevant, especially the comments section - feel free to comment on it if you like, it'd be fun to re-open that discussion. Reading back on what I thought at the beginning of this course, it made me realise just how far I have actually come in the last 6 months. It's quite astonishing actually! KBAM really did draw a lot of stuff together for me.


April 18, 2011

The end of KBAM (and MBE… kind of)

That's seven modules done now, and the last core MBE one as well. It seems amazing that we've done so much, and gone through so much, already. Where has the time gone? It was quite sad leaving the classroom after the presentations, knowing that there's a decent chance that all of us may never be in the same room again. I will definitely miss a lot of my MBE brothers and sisters - I'm a lot closer to you than I was to most people I did my undergrad with.

KBAM was easily the toughest challenge we've faced. From the start, when we clueless, right up until now, when we know just how clueless we really are! I enjoyed the leadership role that I got to play - frustrating as it was at times. I think I fostered a good working environment for the team, and the team paid me back big-time, with a lot of commitment, energy and enthusiasm when it was required. Thank you guys, it was a pleasure to work with you all!

As for the presentations - well, as would be expected with such a wide topic, different leadership styles in the mix, and everybody making wildly different assumptions, the variation in approach of each team was huge. Ede's team did a great job in terms of bringing linked solutions to the board, rather than just recommendations. Janet's team covered some content in great depth. Awal's team had a really nice approach, considering assets from the point of the view of those working in the company, as oppose to within the asset management areas. And we had a fine balance between theory, and practical suggestions, as well as a really dynamic vehicle for it, courtesy of Prezi (which I will be using almost exclusively as of now). We were lacking in having an integrated recommendation, and I think all but one of the teams struggled to fit their presentation in the time allocated, which is not something we've had a problem with before! I guess that gives some scope as to just how much there was to cover.

The feeling I have coming out of the module is one similar to that which I had at the end of LE. I couldn't possibly say what individual things I have learned - but instead, I have a profound sense of something having shifted in me. I'm not looking forward to the PMA - it's going to be LE all over again ;-)


April 14, 2011

Communication is key to teamwork

The title might sound trite, and obvious, but it has been an interesting cognitive realisation for me the last few days, working on the KBAM task. We were having real trouble for a while. We had all been working on the different parts, but when it came to linking it all together, there was a sense that we were utterly lost. How do you about combatting this, with such a huge task in front of you?

Happily, our approach soon became obvious to us. We really needed to TALK to each other. Like I said, that sounds obvious, but it can be really hard to do when everyone has different areas of expertise, and everybody is mainly interested in their own work. Once this became clear to me, I realised we were committing the ultimate sin - there was no systems thinking going on! We were going to end up with sub-optimised output.

Well, I'm the leader, so this was my fault, and I tried to set about correcting it. We wrote all the different areas that we were working on, on the board at once, so everybody in the team could see every area that we were trying to cover as part of our presentation to the board. At this stage, I told everybody to forget their sections, but look at the areas that everyone else was working on, and spend a few minutes asking each other person questions about what they were working on, and about areas of intersection between topics. In this way, we started to build up a picture of the system as a whole, and we could start making higher quality assumptions and deciding on plans together. The task became about the imagined reality of WaveRiders, and no longer about underlying theory. I feel like this was an important breakthrough, without which you would all have been facing a pretty disjointed presentation on Friday.

It is an important reflection for me. A criticism I have of LE is that every leadership opportunity was short-term, even in the mini-projects, because everyone was leading a project, and we switched between them quickly. This was why I was keen to take the role in KBAM - it's an extended, much more challenging test for me. You feel real elements of pressure when things are not going well, and as much as you might try to distribute leadership, you always feel the weight that little bit more.

So, in summary, goodbye Point 9, hello Point 14. If you're as much of an MBE geek as me, that will make perfect sense to you...:P


April 13, 2011

Asset Management and Lean

I was thinking earlier, that asset management is effectively everything you have to do in business, that isn't directly what you are trying to do in business! What I mean is, it is everything but the product or service that you offer, and the processes or functions that support it. It is one of the most important business enablers, and to do it well is something of a skill. In fact, the Institute of Asset Management has this to say:

"Asset Management is the art and science of making the right decisions and optimising these processes."

Also, "the management of physical assets (their selection, maintenance, inspection and renewal) plays a key role in determining the operational performance and profitability of industries that operate assets as part of their core business."

So with all this in mind, I started thinking about all this in the context of lean, which admittedly I don't know much about. The way I understand it, the purpose of lean is to minimise waste in the system, such that anything that is not directly adding value to your product in the eyes of the product should be avoided. My question is, does this have implications for excellent asset management, or are you having to compromise on an excellent approach because it is not directly improving products for the customer? If this is the case, what is the point of expending money on things like health and safety, or better security, which I happen to think ARE necessary, but don't seem to add value.

Maybe I have some misunderstandings about lean, but it seems like an interesting area of conflict. I feel like I must be wrong, because Toyota seem like a pretty excellent company to me, and were also of course the creators of lean production. But, I bet there are also plenty out there who are actually reducing their own capabilities too.


Situationally–aware leaders, and the reason I'm always late.

Yesterday's session made me feel a little uneasy about being a leader in the future. We all saw some of the terrible things that happened when people are not properly aware of their surroundings, and the bad decisions or poor judgement that this can result in. Obviously, these people are responsible for their own actions. However, we also discussed that leaders hold a great level of responsibility for the working environment they create. If the team fails from a business perspective, that is likely to be down to them to some degree. But, imagine if you were a leader, and someone working for you died on the job. How terrible would you feel? How scary a thought is that. That makes me question whether I want the responsibility of leadership. I know it's an extreme case, but we saw over and over again that these things can happen. What are your thoughts on this? I'm really curious.

Also, we spoke about the errors people can make, relating to: information gathering, interpretation, and anticipation. I wanted to apply this to myself, and decided to analyse why I am so often late by just a few minutes. There are probably a lot of reasons, and this is likely just a simplification, using this model, but I figure it's worth a shot! Is it about gathering of information? No, I don't think so - I'm quite organised, and I pretty much always know what time I am meant to be somewhere, or what time the train leaves, etc. Is it about interpretation? Well, no I don't think so, I always think about what I have to do, how it all fits together, what time I have to leave in order to be somewhere, etc. I think my problem is anticipation - not just for this, but for a lot of errors I make, I tend to be an optimist, and rarely think about the worse case scenario. This results in leaving things to the last minute, assuming things will take the minimum amount of time that they could, not being able to think ahead about sources of so-called 'randomness' in my day, like stopping to talk to someone on the street, or getting an important email, or the air in my bike wheels being low and requiring pumping, etc.

So why am I unable to learn this? To understand the upper and lower limits properly, rather than just assuming the lower limits will apply to me. I think it comes down to poor judgement, and there are perhaps a lot of different internal biases I can use to explain. For example, the representativeness heuristic - I don't seem to understand the underlying statistics, and always assume that lower limits apply to me. This could be due to overconfidence bias. I also seem to have a short memory when it comes to being late - I think that I'll learn, it won't happen again, and I make the same old estimates about how long things take. This is anchoring at play. And why don't I ever learn? Perhaps it is the curse of knowledge - maybe I tend to think looking back that it was a simple certain reason, that I won't make the mistake again, and that I don't need to change approach. Hopefully, developing this thought on the blog will help...

Linking back to leaders and situational awareness - I think that bias can play a part in all three types of error. I have only shown the ones that apply to me, and for anticipation at that.


April 09, 2011

It's just too big! I'm going to be selfish.

I'm not the first person to say it, and I doubt I'll be the last, but the field of leadership theory is just too huge! Much like KBAM, the challenge is to work out what is useful, relevant, or important, and ignore the rest. It's making this the toughest PMA to date, because it's just so open-ended that you end up feeling lost unless you have a really good ability to focus (I think I don't!). I know that this is meant to be representative of reality, but that doesn't make me feel any better about it. Unless, the purpose is to realise that we will always be confused and lost, and we'd better get used to dealing with it?! 

Also, it makes me think about my role in the PMA as a leadership coach. How can I coach anyone on anything, if I have so little experience with it. It is at times difficult to remember that we are also playing the role of the CEO and Director being coached in all this, and perhaps it is fair to say that their character and background are the ones that we are more easily able to identify with. With that in mind, the theories that I selected to help them improve were also the ones that I felt I most wanted to apply to myself, which is why I chose the likes of creative, strategic, transformational and servant leadership to work on. I think being selfish here is justified ;-)

I also came across this quote from Warren Bennis, which perhaps because of my musical background, I really like: 

"I used to think that running an organization was equivalent to conducting a symphony orchestra. But I don't think that's quite it; it's more like jazz. There is more improvisation."

That sums it up for me perfectly.


April 05, 2011

I'm seeing the connections

I have to learn to stop being surprised by things that Paul says to us, which then go on to be true. Some of you may remember that he mentioned in our introductory KBAM session, that last year's MBE group found that this was the module where everything came together for them. Maybe it is because he said this, and so my bias has taken over and I have been looking, but for the past week, I have been seeing the connections everywhere, and when least expected. I feel like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind (although hopefully a little less crazy - I'll let you all be the judge!).

For example, from CBE, the topic of organisational learning is vital to future asset management strategies. There's little point in getting assets in order unless you have developed the capabilities to continue to do so. From PEUSS, we are using the ideas of considering the product and our assets in a life cycle management approach, so that we can get the best possible use of them for ourselves and our customers. Risk management is also relevant. LE's influence is clear to everyone in all we do, particularly for those of us who volunteered to be leaders, but certainly also for everyone who has taken the time to consider the role they play within their team, and whether they want to be a star, fan, walking dead or urban terrorist. It also taught us about how to implement strategy. RDM has made us aware of our biases, and how assumptions we make impact our results, as well as methods for making the hard decisions on what to do with our assets, in an organised way. I could think of examples for the others, but I think you get the idea! ;-)

I think that the only EFQM enablers we haven't looked at directly are people, and partnerships. And people have been covered indirectly in pretty much everything we have done anyway; they are inseparable from the system! Not to mention we have OPP to look forward to... (and MOC still for me!) As for partnerships, well they haven't been ignored either exactly - there was the option in the CBE PMA, they featured in FACS and could well be a part of KBAM, especially if we decide to outsource. Not to mention that my project is focusing on them to a degree...

Ladies and gentlemen, we have the tools! It might only be April, but I feel it is incredible how good an overview we have of so many aspects of business and management. I've said it a lot, but I'll say it again - doing this MSc was the best decision I ever made.


April 2011

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