Category Archives: Process

Deploy the infrastructure for sustained excellence.


Returning from a recent business trip, like most folks, when my plane landed and rolled off the active runway I dug into my pocket and fired up the cell phone. The text message awaiting me from my wife was interesting: “Careful coming in. Watch for burfs” followed immediately by “birds.” Ah, the joys of autocorrect.

Puzzled, I called to find out what was going on. Turns out that a couple of young birds had flown the nest while I was gone…only one of them didn’t get very far. It was in the back yard, bouncing around and trying to learn what to do. Its parents were staying close by, observing and trying to ward off predators. We have quite a few stray cats in the neighborhood; at least one was close by, but so was Junebug, our youngest pit bull.

Junebug fascinates me. She wakes up every morning with one mission in life: she has a lot of love to give and a short time to give it! (Except to cats.) She’d love to be friends with the chipmunk that lives under our air conditioner (so says the wife), but this morning she was standing guard over a little bird on the ground, still learning to fly.

Who’s learning to fly in your organization, and who watches out for them? In the US military, all the officer rank insignia are silver except for second lieutenant and major, which are gold. As a 2LT you’re new to the officer corp, and as a Major you’re new to management: I was told long ago that there’s nothing you can do in those two grades that someone else can’t fix, so go have fun and explore! Learn what your limits are, then push…hard.

Growth requires challenge; challenge risks failure.

Who’s growing in your organization? Who’s watching out for them? How are they treated when they fail?

Driving Performance

A friend asked on the company facebook page how to interpret my “Leading Change. Driving Performance.” tag line…did that mean I was now in the business of changing oil in sports cars?

No, but without additional context it’s certainly a valid question. And speaking of driving performance, I observed a gentleman driving to my church yesterday morning. Maybe he was running a few minutes late; perhaps he had been delayed en route. In either case he was traveling rather quickly, very focused on getting to church on time.

Don’t get me wrong: focus is good. Focus enables us to bring the necessary attention to make progress and solve problems. Likewise I admire the gentleman’s desire to be punctual and meet his commitment to be at church on time. Sometimes, though, focus can blind us to other considerations.

As a resident of that neighborhood, a parent and pet owner, I ask myself if he’s considered how he would feel if he hit someone’s pet or child that ran into the street in front of him?

The focus on getting to his destination means it will take him longer to recognize and deal with the unexpected. The higher speed means it will take more distance to stop. Both of these things have consequences. Sometimes we focus so much on a goal that we ignore the risks, assuming, “That won’t happen to me!”

Over the years I’ve worked with several organizations for whom schedule was the overriding concern. Meeting the delivery date trumped all other considerations.

Some organizations dealt with that constructively: utilizing scrum, for example–a highly effective approach to work management that focuses on regular, frequent delivery of functioning product while maintaining excellent, near-real-time visibility into progress, risks and issues, enabling an empowered team to address them.

Some organizations acted like the driver speeding through my neighborhood: blinders on, pushing full speed towards the delivery date, repeating (in staff meetings, management reviews, etc.) all the ways in which those problems won’t happen to us, without explaining why (hope is not an effective risk mitigation strategy, but that’s for another post); expending significant energy explaining away increases in staff turnover or customer reported defects.

How does your organization perform? Do you deal effectively with a changing reality, or do you have your blinders on?

How do you think your leadership would answer that question?


NPR aired this story on the way home today, and I had to find out more about it…I’d heard of the scandal, but didn’t realize so many people would be indicted on criminal charges.

The last statement in the article quotes a couple of folks bemoaning “…the unintended consequences of our test-crazed policies.”

While I don’t want to delve into the world of educational evaluation systems, it does bring up an excellent point: you get what you measure, whether you want it, or not.

Scott Adams had a Dilbert cartoon years ago, where the pointy-haired boss announced a bounty on defects: every problem found in the software would be turned into cash! Sounds great, right? Well, right up to the last frame, where Wally walks out of the meeting saying, “Woohoo! I’m gonna code me a minivan!”

Does your organization have any dysfunctional behavior driven by measures mandated by management?

Does your organization have any measures that are collected, but absolutely no one knows why, other than, “We’ve always reported that”?

People are smart and know how they’re graded…it’s incumbent upon leadership to understand how the questions they ask and the information they request will drive behaviors in the organization…good and bad.