Monday, November 7, 2016

The King-men vs Freemen Battle Continues

As we approach election day tomorrow, a scriptural story comes to mind of a military and religious leader who was trying to protect his people. Factions within the country would overturn their freely elected government and establish a king. Of course those in favor of a king were those who had royal blood (whatever that means) and would be able to take power over the people.

At the same time, enemies from another country were attacking. Rather than give in to the King-men and settle things internally after taking care of the outside enemies, the Freemen took care of the internal threat first. Only having cleansed the inner vessel could they have the strength to stand up against external forces.



It's important not to take the comparison too far, since we do live in a different day and time. We settle disputes in a different way than they did two thousand (or even two hundred) years ago. But watch how those in power spend more time trying to keep themselves in power than they do truly governing according to the will of the people and with the people's interests in mind. It seems that half of what incumbent politicians spend their time doing is raising money and campaigning for themselves and their friends. They set up systems where the longer they have been in office, the more power they have.

From term limits to random committee chair assignments to instant runoff voting to abolishing closed door meetings to publicly funded rather than donor funded elections, there are many steps that could be taken to level the playing field. But as much as the two major political parties fight against each other, they know that they both need to maintain the status quo of an uneven playing field and collude to maintain power between the two of them. As long as legislators can create their own rules, which right there is your biggest conflict of interest, the field will remain uneven.

Not Just a Water District

If a vacuum salesperson comes to your door, would you write a blank check, leaving it to the experts to select the best vacuum and what to charge you? As a smart consumer, you would make the decision yourself after reviewing their proposal and competing options, even when they tell you the offer expires if not accepted immediately.

Regarding the water district for Cache County, shouldn’t we do the same and analyze the proposal? Surprisingly, there is no binding proposal. We are only voting on whether there will be a water district. Like a contract that says you can’t hold them to anything the salesperson just told you, we are voting for the creation of a water district which mirrors Nancy Pelosi’s defense of Obamacare, “we have to pass it to find out what’s in it.” Contrary to the claim in a recent letter to the editor, voting no is not doing nothing but rather actively looking for the best proposal.

There are draft bylaws, which will only be finalized and approved by the appointed board after the district is created. The initial board will be appointed, not elected, and they may or may not choose to allow boards in the future to be elected. Future boards will likewise be able to change their own bylaws. They will assuredly not place term limits on themselves.

I don’t think anyone is acting maliciously, but there are no protections in place in case that happens in the future. We can hold future boards accountable by not reelecting them, if the board chooses to open themselves to elections and if we are willing to vote them out. Lyle Hillyard, a signatory in favor of the district, has yet to be held accountable for being the Senate sponsor of the 2011 bill that would have hidden a significant portion of legislators’ electronic communications from the public. This was at the same time that Hillary was running her private email server to hide her communications from the public, which she has not been held accountable for either. Hillyard has not utilized his seniority to push the legislation that would allow the county a seat at the table on water issues without a water district, which should be a simple option.

Proponents of the district are downplaying the new dam that the water master plan calls for. Why not discuss it openly? If we need Fourth Dam in Temple Fork up Logan Canyon, and the water district is what will pay for it, let’s say that, so we can make decisions with all available information instead of allowing elected and appointed officials to give us only part of the story and so we can have necessary protections ensured rather than hoped for.

As long as Utah political leaders continue to make decisions in closed-door meetings, do not build in protections against conflicts of interest, take money from loaded special interest groups, and hide information from their constituents, we will continue to see trust in our government degraded. This isn't about a water district. This is about true leadership, or lack thereof.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Misplaced Modifier

Misplaced modifiers are one of the more fun grammar errors, since they can turn a normal sentence into something awkward or silly to those in the know but sound perfectly normal to others. Basically, the rule is that you want to have a modifier, such as an adjective or adverb or prepositional phrase, as close as possible to the word or phrase it is describing. If it's too far away with other things in between, it can be misunderstood to describe the adjacent word or phrase instead.

Just yesterday, a radio DJ was doing a trivia question. The answer went something like this:

One third of American children are forced to play musical instruments by their parents.

Can you spot the mistake?

The misplaced modifier above is the prepositional phrase "by their parents" which is presumably meant to add context to the verb "forced" since it is the parents doing the forcing. The way it comes across is that we don't know exactly who is doing the forcing, but it appears that they are being required to stand right next to mom or dad while practicing or performing. They're probably not being required to play their instruments right next to their parents but rather are being forced *by their parents* to play musical instruments. At least anyone who has had a budding band or orchestra student hopes as much.

Another good example is the following:

The doctors repaired the boy's leg that was broken during surgery.

So was the leg broken while in surgery and then later it was repaired? Or was it repaired during surgery after being broken elsewhere? If instead it was stated that during surgery the doctors repaired the boy's broken leg, that would clarify that it was repaired during surgery as opposed to being broken during surgery.

The biggest deal with this type of grammar error is that it doesn't seem like it's an error. In fact, from a syntax perspective, there's nothing wrong with it. It's the logical perspective that turns this type of unclear writing into a grammar issue.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Parking Lot

I'm not one for having meetings just because there's supposed to be a meeting. There should be a purpose.

Now, that doesn't mean you want to overly plan every meeting. Sometimes you just need to get together as a group to talk, and you may not need an ultra-detailed agenda, because the point is to have some time to just see how everyone is doing.

But there are times where it's important to stick to working through specific problems and close out lingering issues. How do we know what type of meeting we're headed into? Well, we have an agenda.

Ideally, the agenda is sent out in advance, so everyone can prepare for it. This is important for the introverts, so they can think of what to say in advance and for the extroverts to have a chance to get past their knee-jerk reactions and filter themselves a little to what is most relevant to the discussion. Otherwise, the extroverts process out loud, while the introverts process silently, and by the time the introverts have decided what to say, the discussion has already taken place and we're on to the next topic.

In addition to publishing the agenda in advance, an important tool for facilitating discussion is called the parking lot. For those who have coworkers who like to hijack the agenda and take the meeting in a direction other than what we planned, the parking lot allows the meeting facilitator to acknowledge that there is further discussion that may need to happen on a different topic, while still keeping us on the published agenda topic.

The idea is that discussion circles around a given agenda item, and when someone mentions something that is off topic, no matter how important it may or may not be, the facilitator acknowledges the comment, thanks the commenter for it, and then either asks permission to place the comment/topic in the parking lot or just simply states that they are going to put it in the parking lot. Then, the important part, is that with a bit of a flourish, the facilitator writes it down. This can be on a white board up in front of the room or just on a piece of paper on the conference table or even a note window in a virtual meeting.

By acknowledging the off topic comment both verbally and in writing, there are two results. The first is that it is made clear that the agenda will not be hijacked and that particular line of conversation is over for the moment. The second is that it is made clear that you care about everyone's needs. Maybe that item will be on the agenda for next week's meeting. Maybe it will be taken care of in a one on one with just that person later. Maybe there will be a few minutes at the end of the planned discussion to circle back to it. Because it is written down, it won't be forgotten.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Design

Light bulbs burn out, so we make them replaceable. You don't have to buy a whole new refrigerator or light fixture just because the bulb is out. It's called failing gracefully.

Cars used to have two brake lights. In 1986, the law changed to require a third brake light, which makes the brakes more visible and also gives you two working lights if one is out. Very graceful.

Brake lights have two elements in them - one for when the brakes are engaged and the other slightly dimmer one when you have your lights on at night. Most bulbs either only have one way they can be inserted or the connectors are such that however you have inserted it, it makes the appropriate connection.

My car has a brake light that has two ways it can be popped in. Depending on which way you put it in, you have a 50/50 chance that you have it backwards and one of the two lights doesn't light up. The brake light will engage, but the other one will not.

Why?

This design had to get through both the engineer that built it and the QA personnel who double checked it to ensure it would function properly. You're telling me none of the QA team ever popped the light in the wrong way and was surprised that it didn't work properly?

Obviously it was caught at some point. The real question is who didn't care so much that they approved that design when a slight rotation of one of the guide tabs would make it so it only goes in the correct way?

What do we do with our customers, students, coworkers, or others we work with that creates a similar problem that a tiny one time adjustment would fix forever? What were we too busy doing that prevented us from making that change?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Goals

Over the past 9 years or so since starting this blog, I have had a goal of publishing at least once post per month. I totally missed July, so I'm posting this with a July date to make up for it. Cheating? Maybe.

Probably.

I have missed a few months here and there, some at the beginning when I didn't have as firm of a goal of publishing every month, and other times when the time has just gotten away from me. I always make a backdated post a day or two into the next month to make up for it. Other months I have written at least once a week and probably more.

July was just crazy busy, and so was the first half of August. Here's what I was doing in my day or two grace period when I could have been late posting for July:

That's my thinking spot on a cliff overlooking the shore of Shoshone Lake, the largest backcountry lake in the continental US (in Yellowstone), which we accessed with an 11 mile canoe trip in to our camp site. Preparing for and going on the scout trip took precedence.

So did my goal fail? It depends on how you define your goal.

Too often our goals are some massive accomplishment that we have less control over than we like to think. Hint: if your goal requires that someone else do something, it's a bad goal. If you set a goal to climb Mount Everest, is that a bad goal? I'll say that it is. There is too much you don't have control over, even in the best of circumstances. A better goal would relate to physically preparing yourself to be in shape to climb and to learn the skills necessary to pull off such a feat.

Scott Adams talks about goals as being bad and suggests replacing them with systems instead. He tells the story of failing multiple times to climb a certain mountain near his house. When he instead focused on a system of getting in shape, less on the specific goal of hitting that particular summit, he was actually able to achieve the goal.

I tell students all the time in my classes that when they get overly focused on the fact that they are having a hard time learning the concepts they are studying that they need to focus less on memorizing the concepts and more on how they might use or currently do use those concepts in their daily life. I've had students tell me that they don't care about learning - they just need to know what to do so they can pass the test. Thus, as they focus too much on what they need to do to pass the test, they fail the test. When they embrace the concepts and think about how to use what we're talking about and really learn it, the side benefit is that they will be able to pass the test, because they have learned it better than trying to study it out of context.

But I think Scott Adams makes an artificial distinction in contrasting systems and goals. I know why he does it. By branding it as something different, it's easier to accept a different definition than what we traditionally think of. A goal is traditionally always something big at the end, so focusing on the steps along the way needs a different name to make it stick (and to sell books).

Call it a system or whatever you want, but it's still a goal. It's just a good goal instead of an unattainable goal. It's not that climbing a mountain or having all your students pass a class is unattainable in that there is a 0% chance of those things happen. It's that there's not a 100% chance of those things happening, because things out of your control may prevent them. There may be a snowstorm when you plan to summit, or a student may not study as thoroughly as they should have.

The steps along the way are, or should be, the goals in the first place. Providing a study hall session the week before the final exam won't guarantee everyone will pass, since not everyone will attend or do their due diligence. But you can accomplish your goal by providing the session and inviting everyone to it, thus giving the opportunity to others. Scott would call that a system. I just call it an attainable and relevant goal.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Risk TO a Project vs Risk OF a Project

In discussing project risk, particularly the difference between the initial risks that are documented before the project begins and the risks based on events that occur while carrying out the project, an interesting point is often raised. Risks can be anything that have a chance to slow us down, make us spend more money, or cause us to turn out a product that is either poor quality or doesn't do everything it was supposed to do.

The point is a poor one, and it is that as a project manager, it's not my job to muddy the waters with risks OF completing the project in a way that could somehow damage the organization. My job, supposedly, is only to identify things that could keep the project from completing. If I can get done, I've succeeded. If someone else didn't take the time to scope things properly and do their research, then it's not my fault if the project causes the company to lose all their customers and close their doors.

That's great, but if the company has problems due to an ill-advised project that you knew about, should you not have at least mentioned it to someone? As I've said previously, you should be willing to take a stand and cancel a project if it truly will make you better off not to complete it. But it's a different situation if the project itself has just become too expensive compared to its benefits than if the project can finish as you've planned but doing so will cause the organization long term harm.

For example, we are seeing a lot of fast food restaurants, due to minimum wage laws, replacing traditional employee-facing POS machines rotate the screen to create customer-facing order machines. The machines are basically the same, with a few minor changes, just that they are now operated by the customer. Between self-checkout at the grocery store and the Coke machines with the touchscreen for choosing flavors, this has been coming for a long time. But the Coke machine offers a more customized experience since it includes flavor add-ons like cherry and vanilla that some restaurants don't offer. And customers have always had to take their food out of their cart and put it on the conveyor, so it's not much of a stretch to swipe it across the bar code reader instead and bag it how you like things bagged.

That's just an example, but let's say that the switch to a COM (customer ordering machine) instead of a POS (point of sale) machine is in full swing, and the techies that are working on setting things up for the new system hear several people complaining and stating that they won't eat at that restaurant anymore if they have to put in their own order. What do they do? Talk to the customers right then and there? Tell someone higher up that there may be a concern they hadn't recognized? Ignore it and go get a drink out of the fancy Coke machine (extra vanilla, please)?

The thing is, it really isn't their job to deal with the problem directly by confronting those customers right there. But ignoring it completely could mean sales drop and the restaurant folds and the techies lose their jobs along with everyone who works there. The key is to bring it up and add it to the risk register. Let it be passed up the line and assigned to someone to do some additional market research and analysis. Perhaps they continue on as they were planning. Perhaps they modify the system slightly to allow for customers to choose either a real person or to put in their own order on the COM. Or maybe they do something totally different. What they end up deciding to do doesn't really matter, as long as someone looks at the risk and rates it properly and determines the best action to take.

Ignoring it as a not-my-job problem isn't a good way to approach things. There's usually an awkward silence in the discussion when we get to that part of the conversation, and I tell a student that if they ignored something like that as a business problem, not their project problem, and it caused some damage to the company, that I would fire them. Whether or not I actually would doesn't matter, since it's a hypothetical situation anyway, but the point is that if every member of the project team isn't both doing their job on the project itself and also looking at things in the big picture, long term view, then we are going to have a problem.

Fixing the issue or making the decision about what should or shouldn't be done about it may be above project team members' pay grades, but identifying the risk and getting it up in the sight of those who can make those decisions does belong to everyone. It's not just your job as a project team member or manager to identify risks TO the project that could make the project itself fail. It's also your job to identify risks OF the project as currently scoped to the company and that could cause the company to fail. Especially since there's going to be a glut of job seekers on the market soon with all the POS systems replacing people for you to now compete against.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Problem with Facebook

I did a quick count of the most recent 50 items on my wall. It's an interesting look at why Facebook is going to fail, even if they don't know it yet. Now, I'm not a member of as many groups as some people that I know have some significant interactions through that platform. Also, I consistently load my wall with the Most Recent view, not the Top Stories view, to try to do my part to skew the numbers in that direction, since their analysis shows that people who use the Top Stories view spend significantly more time using FB than those who use the Most Recent view. I think it's because it takes so long to find what you're looking for.

Here is what I found:

There's 6 out of 50 that are text-based posts from someone I know, and 3 out of 50 that are images that weren't also posted to Instagram. 4 of the 50 were photos I've already seen on Instagram. Three-fourths of what is on my wall consists of news stories, viral videos, things posted by people I don't know (but by someone who knows someone that I know), celebrity posts, supposedly motivational messages that end up being just sappy, and advertisements.

A colleague of mine described the difference between Twitter and Facebook like this. Twitter is for connecting to random people to talk about specific things. Facebook is for connecting to specific people to talk about random things. The problem, then, is that FB has lost this differentiation in that the majority of what is there is not actually posted by the specific people I know, or even when it is, it's just a re-post of something created by a big news or content company.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

More Disturbing than Donald Trump

Start spreadin' the news
I am leaving today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York...


Such a great song. I hear it and I'm transported to Yankee stadium and Frank Sinatra playing over the loudspeakers after back to back home runs by Matsui and Posada to come from behind and beat the Blue Jays.

One recent disturbing trend to come out of New York, of course, is Donald Trump, but this is something perhaps even worse than that. This is something that, while it didn't necessarily come from NYC, could have drastically changed the classic New York theme song forever if it had been common a few decades ago.

The song above is correct, and I don't know that I've seen the lyrics themselves written incorrectly, but the error I've been seeing more and more of lately in many different places would change the third line of the song to "I want to be apart of it..." which results in the exact opposite intended meaning, that the singer is leaving old New York.

You still have to deal with a non-matching preposition, since it would make more sense to be apart "from" it, but the point is that there is a huge difference between "a part" and "apart" that no one seems to recognize. To be a part of something means you're a component of the whole, integrated into a well-oiled machine that you can be proud of. Apart means you're separate, distinct, different, non-matching, and otherwise not a part of something.

So next time you want to be a part of something good, remember old New York. Remember Frank. Don't be apart like The Donald. Be a part of what's good in America.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter

With everything going on around the world, our country, and even closer,

With wars and rumors of wars, attacks of the physical and verbal kind,

With disagreements, idleness, avarice, and overconsumption,

Isn't it great to know that He lives,

And because He lives so will we?