Wednesday, September 28, 2005

      Smart Resource Management

Just a few days ago, my wife was indicating an article in ‘Dilbert’s Management’ about how weak managers like to assign out meaningless tasks to their subordinates. The article goes on to point out how people sitting nearest the boss usually ends up with the ‘shit jobs’, and a few other points which are really funny, yet very apt as well. This is one issue that I can affiliate with very well; given that I have been managing people for a few years now.

In this blog, I wish to talk about focusing our resources (money, time, people) at 2 levels of perspective; at a company/organization level, and at an individual’s level.

The Problem (in a Company / Organisation)

You see, the issue with management is that it is very much soft-skill based, and they are not readily measurable, unlike engineering-based jobs. Mistakes in wrong management are also not readily observable and are always subjected to arguments. I have seen managers and bosses who throw out meaningless assignments without concern for the subordinates ability to handle the tasks, and committing budgets to capabilities with little business value.

For subordinates, the person to action on the tasks is always someone other than the manager. Miraculously, these workers always manage to ‘complete’ the assigned tasks (after endless over-times). However, I have to point out the damages these meaningless tasks caused do exist, and they are tangible, albeit less observable. By flooding our industrious subordinates with meaningful tasks, we reduce their concentration and focus away from tasks that REALLY matters to the well-being of the company.

One common issue we can find with managers is that they failed to prioritise. Ask your boss that out of the 10 assigned tasks, which are more important and needs attention first, chances are that he will tell you all are important (faint…).

Indeed, in this fast-paced world today, we are increasingly hearing the buzzword ‘multitasking’ as a requirement from hiring managers. Managers are faced with many business demands from multi-faceted dimensions, and they try to comply with all these demands. Hence they end up ‘fire-fighting’ on a daily basis, responding to events as and when they occurred. The result is stretched resources spread amidst myriad disconnected issues that do not contribute significantly. Weak managers fail to realize that if they try to be everything to everyone, all the time, then the end result is that they are nothing.

Staying Focus (in a Company / Organisation)

In ‘The World is Flat’, Thomas Friedman talks about one way for companies to cope with the new demands of today’s world is to “… get regular x-rays and then sell the results to their clients”. What this means is “to constantly identify and strengthen their niches and outsource the stuff that is not very differentiating”.

Indeed, the fact of life is that resources are ALWAYS LIMITED. No matter how big your organization is, there are always more demands than the resources you have to do it. Other than using technology to automate, managers still must prioritise betweens tasks that matter and tasks that don’t. It is usually easier to say ‘yes’ and take on meaningless tasks, then it is to say ‘no’ that those demands that doesn’t match the organization’s aim. [You have to ] “... let go of the things that you can outsource, and free up those resources and focus on the projects that could one day be part of your core competency.

Personally, my experiences say that if you focused your people’s actions. They are able to deliver values beyond what is expected. In addition, you don’t overwork your people, provides them with a better work/life balance. This translates into better job satisfaction, and talent retention. It’s win-win.

The Problem (for an Individual)

In terms of personal development, the same issues can be mirrored onto individuals as well. If we try to be able to do everything, for everyone; chances are we will end up achieving much lesser, compared to someone who knows their goals, and focused their time and money resources into its development.

I have an analogy for this that I like to quote: Role-playing games (RPGs). Yes, you heard me right, role-playing games.

In RPGs, we take on pseudo characters with a certain class (or career), and related skill trees. As we advance our character, we can develop the skills in the skill tree to develop our characters. Usually, there is more than one path for a character’s development, and the points (resources) put into the skill trees will determine how the character will evolved. For example, a mage can have 3 skill trees to choose from; fire, ice and lightning. As usual, the number of skill points is not infinite, and players have to decide on how to spend the skill points to develop their characters.

Now let’s reflect this onto our life. Our time is limited (we will die someday), so we will need to decide how we wish to spend our time to achieve the maximum development out of it. People lament lack of meaning in their life, and not achieving as much as they would hope. Yet, we find people trying to achieve everything, only to end up failing, frustrated and disillusioned; despite all the hard work. Doesn’t make sense!

Staying Focus (for an Individual)

Again, the basis of my argument is that an individual’s time and money resources are limited. We have only 24 hours a day, there’s only some much money you can have. So we must priorities our resources on things that matter in our life.

To do this, individuals must know what they want. Sounds simple, but many people don’t. The 2nd habit, ‘Begin with the end in mind’ by Stephen R. Covey is a true reflection of this point.

Learn to focus your efforts and to say ‘no’ to things that does not contribute to the personal development that you would want. But that only happen if you first know what type of character you want yourself to be; a famous star, a good parent, the best soccer player, a wise philosopher? It’s just like deciding if you want to be a fire mage, ice mage, barbarian or arrow-searing amazon. Once you have decided on what character to build, deciding on where to throw your skill points is almost a no-brainer.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

      Seminar Review: 'The World Is Flat' By Thomas Friedman

I attended 'The World Is Flat' Seminar held at Lee Kuan Yew's School of Public Policy at NUS on 9 Sep 2005.

Having read his book, and greatly impressed by his insights and ability to place perspectives on globalisation that is happening around us in this century, I was really anticipating this event.

Friedman displayed great flair and convictions in his arguments; a polished presenter who captured the attention of some 1000 audience attending the seminar throughout the 1 hour talk.

He argued that the world we are living in is undergoing a flattening phenomenon due to advances in technology and key events within the last 2 decades. He termed these, 'The 10 Forces that Flattened the World' as follows:

9 Nov 89 - Fall of Berlin wall, which also concides with the launch of Windows Operating System 3.0. Significantly, the launch of the PC and Windows spearheaded the ability of content digitalisation into the individuals' hands.

9 Aug 95 - Netscape's IPO. The browser provides ease in accessing web sites regardless of geographical barriers. It was also the harbinger of the DotCom bubble and over-investments in fiber optics technolgy. This laid the physical infrastructure for our Internet today, and connecting individuals across the world. Now digital content are no longer limited to individual's PC, they can be access via the Internet.

Work Flow Software - A cumulative termed that includes all software applications, standards enabling collaborations regardless of vendors or implementations e.g. TCP/IP enables Novell to talk to Windows via HTTP, which our Internet is based on. Now PCs are truly able to 'talk' to one another, bringing global collaboration to a higher level.

The next 6 forces which he termed Genesis, are spinoffs based on the first 3 mentioned as follows:

Open-sourcing - the ability to collaborate puts many genius minds together to produce quality software comparable to those produced by professional corporations like Microsoft. Apache web server, Firefox browser and LINUX operating system were cited as examples of freely available software that compete head-to-head with products from Microsoft.

"With their strong financial backing, Microsoft can undercut their competitors in prices; but they cannot undercut open source, which is free" cited Friedman during the seminar.

Outsourcing - As a result of the DotCom Burst in late 1990s, companies faced tighter budget constriants while still required to perform functions like call centers and IT maintenance. Coupled with the Millenium Bug in 2000, this resulted in the great outsourcing trend.

Offshoring - Just think India and China today. One key enabling force is the global connectivity that only exists today.

On this point, Friedman cited "When I was young, my parent would tell me to finish my food. People in China and India are dying of hunger. But today, now, I would tell my children to study hard, or people in China and India will be getting their jobs."

Supply-Chaining - Friedman cited Wal-mart's success as an example. The largest company in America, which does not produce any products sold in its Wal-Mart stores. This is made possible by a global supply chain system that tracks product on item level from the manufacturing to its sales from the shelves in Wal-Mart stores; end-to-end accuracy. Again, this was made possible by Wal-Mart approach in embracing enabling technologies.

Insourcing - UPS was cited as an example in this case, where companies no longer handle their processes, and products' life cycle end-to-end. A large part of these functions are 'insourced' to companies like UPS. For example, a Toshiba laptop repair request was collected by UPS, repair by UPS engineers, billed by UPS and money collected by UPS. Toshiba has no hands in this entire process. The resulting efficiencies create greater economy of scale (for Toshiba) and satisfactions (for customers).

Informing - Think Google. Yes, the knowledge of the world available within a few mouse clicks. Individuals today (thanks to Internet again) are empowered with a global knowledge pool that is free and easily available. Encarta had to be purchased. But Wikipedia is free, and it has more articles than Encarta can ever hope to produce.

The last force, Friedman termed it the 'Steriods'. These are advancments in micro/nano, wireless and mobile technologies that 'turbo-charged' the earlier 9 forces. Information is then truly freely accessible, anywhere, anytime. No longer will we be constraint to a PC terminal; In the near future, a pocket PC, smart phone will carry as much information; and its mobile.

During the question and answer, when asked on 'How does South-east Asia stand in this new flat world', he answer that countries like Singapore, are 'blessed' with no natural resources. This, he termed as 'high coefficient of flatness '.

"Countries with a high coefficient of flatness are forced to always digs into themselves for innovations, entrepreneurships and to change with moving times to survive."

Just remains me of what PM Lee has been emphasising about in the remaking of Singapore, introduction of IRs and education system reforms.

In another question on the importance of education to kids in this new global economy, Friedman opined that the most important skill in this flat world is to 'learn how to learn'. Bottomline is that changes will be so fast and so frequent, individuals will have to constantly upgrade themselves to stay relevant. He also opined that this can only happen if individual loves their work, in order for the learning process to be enjoyable and consistent.

"Loving your job is no longer a plus. It is a survival factor".

Friday, September 09, 2005

      The Rise of the CPO

In 'The World Is Flat', Thomas Friedman, explains the flattening of our world today due to various political, technological and business advancements. The global playing field is being reshaped, allowing people in developing countries like India, China to be able to pursist a better life and compete heads-on with people in developed countries like the USA. Individuals have to move on with the waves of innovations or risk becoming obselete.

In his forecoming book, 'Extreme Competition: the 21st Century Business Reformation', Peter Fingar, an expert on business process management (BPM), builds on the foundations laid by Thomas Friedman, and explains the evolution of CIOs into CPOs - Chief Process Officers, an individual who has an overview of the entire company from the enterprise's process standpoint, based on enabling technologies like real-time collobrations, system-to-system realtime data exchanges, the ubiquitious Internet. He also coined the term 'The Real Time Enterprise', an enterprise whose every step of every functional processes, HR, finance, manufactoring, sales & marketing, retail, inventory all can be inspected in real-time; enabling highly informed decision-making at all levels. To corporate behemoths like Dell, Wal-Mart, HP, this level of information sharing cut downs on inefficiencies, and enable them to react and reshape themselves with high agility to changing market trends and demands.

CPO, a new role in the new flat world. this is an important reference for every CIO-wanna-be.

In this article, 'Competition Gets Extreme', we get a preview of what will be covered in this forecoming book. I quote two relevant paragraphs here for tasters:

"In the future, Fingar sees more and more companies emulating the business model of Dell, where design, manufacturer, assembly and even customer support are all outsourced. Operational connectivity under this model is not just about organizations and individuals being able to talk to each other, but about organizations being able to orchestrate the operations of an ever-expanding web of suppliers. That will be the real significance of BPM into the future, Fingar says, and that is why CIOs will inevitably morph into CPOs.

The first thing I would say is that a lot of people who are CIOs today came up through the technical route: they might be Java people at heart. Well, if you want to stay being a Java architect, do what David Chappell suggests: move to Bangalore, because that's where your job is. On the other hand, if you want to do what companies need you to do and work where the budgets are going to grow, you had better get directly involved with process. We've got plenty of applications. You know, we've been doing that for the last 50 years."

So CPO, anyone?

Monday, September 05, 2005

      Self Motivation

"People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents."
Andrew Carnegie

      Be a Light, a Model, a Solution.

"Make small commitments and keep them. Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem."
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Friday, September 02, 2005

      Book Review: Tuesdays with Morrie

"Tuesdays with Morrie", by Mitch Albom. A true story about how Mitch found his dying colleage teacher Morrie who was diagnosed with an incurable disease. They spent the remaining months of Morrie's life together, meeting every Tuesday to discuss about life and what's important.

It is very enlightening and offers a good counter-perspective to what the society has moulded us into. In the face of death, does the new sports car, new house or promotion seem as important? What about your spouse, parents, siblings or friends? Ironcially, we spend the majority of our time, thoughts and energy on the less important stuffs.

It talks about the importance of death in our life. For in the face of death, even the grandest of all riches means nothing, as you cannot take them with you; and it is only with this perspective that we can focus on what are the things that are important.

"When you learn how to die, you learn how to live."
- Morrie

Indeed, no one escapes death; no matter how great or how rich, it doesn't matter.

People inherently wants recognition and acceptance; and the society has moulded us to believe that by being more successful, more beautiful, slimmer or richer, we can command the respect and acceptance that we seek. Look at the slimming ads advocating greater confidence with a slim figure, the fame of the rich and famous commanding great love and respect from fans. But no one advocates the importance of respecting your elders, understanding your friends, and loving your family. Sadly, the materialistic facade gets us nowhere as Morrie says:

"... if you're trying to show off to the people at the top, forget it. They will look down on you anyhow. And if you are trying to show off to the people at the bottom, forget it. They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere. Only an open heart will allow you to float equally among everyone."

Live each day like its your last. That will help us to put things into proper perspective. We all know that we will die someday, but we never truly believe it. Look at the response when a doctor announce to a patient that he is diagnosed with an incurable disease; most probably, a typical reaction will be, "Are you sure? It can't be me. I am NOT dying."

Seldom do we see a response like "Oh, it's my turn? It's about time."

Inherently, we want to believe and we bluff ourselves that there is always a tomorrow. So we keep procastinating the important stuffs to 'tomorrow'. Just think of how many times we have said we will do something important 'tomorrow' but never really get to doing it.

Fact is, we may never have a 'tomorrow'. My friend, Wei Loon did not have one. He collapsed during a run and never woke up from it. Another ex-school mate Chrissy, pregnant, looking forward to migrating to a better life in Australia with her husband; both died in a car accident. There's no 'tomorrow' for them. I guess there must be many things that they wanted to do 'tomorrow'. So many regrets and sorrys that's left to be said. So many 'I love you' that's not expressed.

When will my last tomorrow be?

      I Quited.

At last, after many months of internal struggle, I have tendered my resignation.

I have decided that this is it; there is fundamentally, a very strong mismatch. It is not a software company. Indeed, as I have discovered today, my boss took a job description that I wrote when looking for a developer and reused it to look for my replacement (talk about code reuse, lol...) All that he added to the JD was 'Manage application team and infrastructure'. So that was what my work was worth to him. Sigh... How sad.

I am glad that I have made the right choice.

My only regret is that the Team that I have built up is still in its infancy. Now that I am gone, they will have to transit through a difficult period before things stablised again. I feel sorry towards them as I have always taught them to be solution-oriented, to give their best in their work. But now I am leaving them behind to fight the war on their own... It feels like betrayal.

They are a good lot; hardworking, earnest and dependable. I hope they come out stronger after this. Someday, we will meet again.