!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: November 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

MIT Course on Project Management II: Construction Risk Management

In lecture 23 (pdf) of Prof. Fred Moavenzadeh's course on project management, he takes up the subject of managing contruction project risks.

Prof. Moavenzadeh emphasizes six points:
  1. Risk management should be handled on an integrated basis, combining attention to risk financing (e.g., purchase of insurance), loss prevention (e.g., establishing good site security and doing thorough disaster planning), and agreement on how disputes will be resolved.

  2. Take a systematic approach to risk identification. Consider project type and site, project participants, the project delivery method (e.g., design-bid-build), budget and financing, scheduling, legal issues, and political risks (e.g., risk of expropriation).

  3. Aim for a fair allocation of risk. Consider which party can best control each risk, which can best finance each risk, which can best manage each risk, and which can most easily accept the consequences if a particular risk is realized. The outcome of the risk management analysis should be an integrated program that protects all parties.

  4. You need to stay up-to-date on the most economical ways of managing construction risk. Costs can be lowered by investing in loss control and safety programs, providing limited indemnity to contractors, reducing dependence on insurance in favor of risk management, and using controlled insurance programs (see next point).

  5. More and more players in the construction sector are utilizing controlled insurance programs (CIPs). A CIP involves the purchase of the following insurance coverages by one entity (owner, developer, or contractor) for all firms working at the jobsite(s): workers' compensation, general and umbrella liability, professional liability, and builders' risk. The advantages of this approach include cost savings, organized control by the purchasing party, and good PR from the evidence of concern for protecting participants in the project.

  6. Professional insurance (e.g., for architects and engineers in a design firm) presents pitfalls to be avoided, namely low and aggregated limits on coverage. Solutions include obtaining a good certificate of insurance backed by contract requirements, buying project professional insurance on larger projects, and buying owners' protective insurance to increase coverage limits.
If you'd like to see a real-world example of construction risk management (in the public sector), you can visit the California Department of Transportation project risk management webpage.



Sunday, November 29, 2009

MIT Course on Project Management I: Training

This past spring Fred Moavenzadeh, a professor of systems engineering and civil and environmental engineering at MIT, taught a course in Project Management whose PowerPoint lecture notes (along with other materials) are now available at MIT's OpenCourseWare website.

In this and a few subsequent posts, I'll highlight items that I found of particular interest that are also understandable to someone accessing the PowerPoint slides online without the benefit of hearing Prof. Moavenzadeh talk about them in class.

The graphic below, from lecture 22 (pdf), shows a three-tier program for training engineering, procurement & construction (EPC) project managers.

Training for EPC Project Management
(click to enlarge)
(Infrastructure World LLC,
via Prof. Fred Moavenazdeh)
If I were in Prof. Moavenazdeh's class, I would ask for details about the curriculum for Tier III, a matter of some importance since moving engineers more or less smoothly from technical roles to general management is a notoriously


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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Positive Deviance Initiative

Since I first wrote about the Positive Deviance Initiative (PDI) a year ago, the organization's website has been enriched with a range of additional resources.

The most important, dating from May of this year, is a Basic PD Guide (pdf), consisting of twenty-seven slides detailing the steps in the positive deviance (PD) process. Those looking to try the process themselves will find summaries of:
  • When to use the process

  • Guiding principles

  • General advice on how to proceed

  • Effective facilitation techniques

  • Types of questions to ask at each step of the process

  • Self-evaluation questions for facilitators

  • Preconditions for success

  • The six basic steps in the process
The diagram below is an example from the guide showing how the PD process was carried out in a project aimed at improving maternal and newborn care in Pakistan.

(click to enlarge)
(Positive Deviance Initiative, Basic PD Guide — pdf)

The guide concludes with reproduction of some sample PD tools. Those and additional tools (all pdf) are available at the PDI website, including:

General Tips for Good Facilitation

Tips for Asking Questions

Discovery and Action Dialogue (DAD) Cheat Sheet (geared particularly to looking for ways to reduce hospital-acquired infections)

Generic PD Presentation (22 slides)

Feedback Questions after Discovery and Action Dialogue (action planning, building momentum, assessing the degree of success of the dialogue in terms both of producing actionable ideas and of adhering to a healthy PD process)

There are several tools specifically geared to education projects:

Sample Group Discussions

Identifying Positive Deviants

Household Visit and Interview Guide

The above lists are only a small sampling of the material available at the PDI website. Anyone interested in delving into the details of how the PD process works, and the stories of real-world examples of how it has been carried out in practice in numerous projects used around the world, will find time spent browsing the site produces a wealth of insight.



Friday, November 27, 2009

The Moral Sense Test

The Moral Sense Test (MST), sponsored by the Cognitive Evolution Laboratory at Harvard's psychology department, is "a Web-based study into the nature of human moral judgment." Researchers at the lab use the MST as part of an effort to understand how people decide what is right and wrong. As the researchers explain:
To answer this question, we have designed a series of moral dilemmas to probe the psychological mechanisms underlying our moral judgments. By presenting these dilemmas on the Web, we hope to gain insight into the similarities and differences between the moral judgments of people of different ages, from different cultures, with different educational backgrounds and religious beliefs, involved in different occupations and exposed to very different circumstances.

. . .

Our aim is to use data from the MST, as well as other experiments, to characterize the nature of our moral psychology, how it evolved, and how it develops in our species, creating individuals with moral responsibilities. The MST has been designed for all humans who are curious about that puzzling little word “ought” — about the principles that make one action right and another wrong.
You can take the test yourself here. The lab promises strict confidentiality both for the demographic information you provide (age, sex, etc.) and for your responses to the test items.

Those test items are moral dilemmas (when I took it, there were twenty-one), for which you are asked to indicate your assessment of the moral course of action.

There is no immediate feedback. Instead, you are able, if you wish, to browse through the lab's publications to see which of the publications referencing the MST might be of interest.

For instance, I read "The Role of Conscious Reasoning and Intuition in Moral Judgments: Testing Three Principles of Harm" (pdf) by Fiery Cushman (a post-doc in psychology at Harvard), Liane Young (now a post-doc in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT), and Marc Hauser (professor of psychology, organismic and evolutionary biology, and biological anthropology at Harvard). To give you an overview, here is the abstract:
Is moral judgment accomplished by intuition or conscious reasoning? An answer to this question demands a detailed account of the moral principles in question. Here we investigate three principles guiding subjects’ moral judgments and then ask whether they are invoked to explain those judgments. Across a variety of moral dilemmas, subjects’ judgments about the permissibility of harming an individual aligned with three principles: (1) harm caused by action is worse than harm caused by omission, (2) harm intended as the means to a goal is worse than harm foreseen as the side-effect of a goal, and (3) harm involving physical contact with the victim is worse than harm involving no physical contact. Subjects generally appealed to the first and third principles in their justifications, but not to the second principle. This finding has significance for the methods and theories of moral psychology: the moral principles used in judgment must be directly compared to those articulated in justification and, when they are, evidence emerges that some moral principles are available to conscious reasoning while others are not.
The article appeared n Psychological Science in 2006 (vol. 17, no. 12, pp. 1082-1089).


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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009




Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Tugboat Captain's Competencies

I am always on the lookout for sources of information about the skills required for specific jobs because such detail helps in visualizing what training requirements are likely to be.

Most recently, I came upon the US Coast Guard's listings of tasks and duties required of captains of tugboats. As you might imagine, the requirements for tugboats used on inland waters and the Great Lakes are somewhat different, and generally less extensive, than those for tugboats used in near coastal and ocean waters. (There are also some special requirements for captains of towboats on western rivers — defined as those between North Dakota and Louisiana and between the Appalachians and the Rockies — mostly relating to navigating in rivers whose level can change substantially and to maneuvering in locks.)

I've reproduced the Coast Guard's model Great Lakes/Inland task listing (pdf) below. The model listing for Near Coastal/Ocean towing is here, while that for Western Rivers is here (both pdf).

Towing Officers' Assessment Record:
Great Lakes/Inland

A. Vessel Familiarization
  • Locate and demonstrate use of fire-fighting equipment

  • Locate and demonstrate use of life-saving equipment

  • Identify and describe:
    • main engine or propulsion system

    • steering system

    • auxiliary systems
  • Describe and follow vessel's fuel-transfer procedures

  • Identify physical characteristics of vessel and tow

  • Conduct safety orientations for new crewmembers

  • Use vessel's internal-communications system or equipment
B. Navigation and Piloting
  • Describe the effect of tide or current on vessel's position

  • Allow for draft and clearances in navigation of vessel

  • Conduct pre-voyage tests and inspections [in accordance with the applicable Federal regulations]

  • Describe and comply with reporting requirements for VTS [Vessel Traffic Service]

  • Communicate using VHF radio

  • Provide radio or whistle notice of getting under way

  • Make security calls

  • Initiate appropriate actions in reduced visibility

  • Identify and maintain required charts or maps and

  • Use required charts or maps and publications

  • Determine vessel's position on chart or map

  • Maintain heading using magnetic compass

  • Incorporate information on forecast weather conditions in preparation for voyage
C. Watchstanding
  • Operate and use all electronic equipment in pilothouse

  • Use compass or swing-meter (as applicable)

  • Make appropriate entries in logbook

  • Maintain proper lookout

  • Communicate navigation and vessel-status information to the relieving watch officer
D. Maneuvering
  • Maneuver light boat

  • Maneuver tow in high wind

  • Make tow

  • Break tow

  • Get under way, pushing ahead

  • Get under way, towing alongside

  • Maneuver loaded tow in narrow channels

  • Maneuver empty tow in narrow channels

  • Maneuver tow around sharp bends and turns

  • Maneuver tow with following current

  • Maneuver tow against current

  • Maneuver in channel with deep-draft traffic

  • Maneuver through bridge

  • Land with current

  • Land against current

  • Moor to piling, cell, or dock
E. Rules of the Road
  • Apply the Rules of the Road in the following situations:
    • Meeting while pushing ahead, or meeting while towing astern

    • Crossing while pushing ahead, or crossing while towing astern

    • Overtaking another vessel while pushing ahead, or overtaking another vessel while towing astern

    • Being stand-on vessel

    • Being give-way vessel

    • Operating in restricted visibility

    • Properly lighting towing vessel and tow while pushing ahead, or properly lighting towing vessel and tow while towing astern

    • Provide proper sound and light signals (passing, fog, danger, etc.)
F. Safety and Emergency Response
  • Describe procedures to be followed in response to:
    • Steering failure

    • Loss of electrical power

    • Loss of propulsion

    • Collision/allision

    • Grounding

    • Personnel injury

    • Oil or hazardous substance spill
  • Conduct man overboard drill

  • Conduct fire drill and instruction [in accordance with the applicable Federal regulations]

  • Describe procedures for abandoning ship

  • Describe procedures for use of general alarm

  • Describe procedures for use of all on-board safety equipment
G. Environmental Protection
  • Describe procedures for disposal of:
    • Garbage

    • Sewage

    • Bilge slops

    • Regulated waste
1 A Towing Officers' Assessment Record (TOAR) is a document that lists tasks to be performed or explained (as appropriate) in the presence of a "designated examiner," i.e. a towing-vessel officer or other person who meets specific Coast Guard requirements (see the FAQ the Coast Guard provides to accompany its model TOARs).

If an individual will be working on a towing vessel in a limited geographic area, such as a fleeting area or harbor, he/she can complete a Limited TOAR, of which a model is here (pdf).



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Telling It Like It Is

There is a sidebar in an article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review that offers an intriguing approach to helping company executives improve the way they conduct discussions in which internal disagreements need to be aired.

Saj-nicole Joni and Damon Beyer, both business consultants, explain that the exercise begins with their observing an executive team "in action as members debate important agenda items or strategies."

Having taken copious notes "about who said what, when it was said, how long a particular conversation took, what the group's reaction was, and so on," Joni and Beyer then ask for a pause in the meeting so they can discuss between themselves, with team members as their audience, what they have observed.

Joni and Beyer do not pull punches.
We discuss what the established norms of the group are and whether people are adhering to them. We examine the role of the leader. We note evidence we've seen of informal influence techniques and of efforts to go out on a limb and try new things. We mention the contributions, strengths, and weaknesses of individual team members, including the leader. We keep our comments as objective and factual as possible, quoting team members directly and reporting specific reactions from the group ...
Joni and Beyer report that once people recover from the shock of hearing their behavior played back to them so frankly, they almost always respond constructively.
By objectively calling out problem areas we can give people permission to try new behaviors with their peers. Invariably, after one of these sessions, quiet people will speak up, someone new takes a pen to a flip chart, individuals catch themselves in behavioral quirks, and everyone has a good laugh. But the meeting almost always becomes more productive.
Joni and Beyer encourage their readers to try the exercise in their own organizations, perhaps using trusted outsiders as the commentators in order to reinforce the sense that the feedback participants are getting is objective.



Monday, November 23, 2009

HP Beginning Excel 2007 Course

If you want a well-structured introduction to Microsoft's Excel 2007, I can recommend the course Hewlett Packard offers at their online learning center.

The course consists of four lessons, which you can complete in just a few hours (or, if you wish, tackle at a more leisurely pace). The lessons are:
  1. Getting started with Microsoft Excel 2007 — spreadsheet basics.

  2. Creating your first worksheet — entering data, editing existing data, entering repeating data efficiently, selecting and manipulating ranges (groups) of cells, and moving and copying data within a worksheet.

  3. Formula and function basics — introduction to use of simple math formulas (involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and exponentiation) and Excel's built-in functions (e.g., calculating an average).

  4. Formatting basics — simple text, cell, and page formatting.
Having worked through the course myself, I can attest to its clarity, intelligent choice of material to cover for beginning learners, good illustrations, and accuracy.

Once you have finished the introductory course, the HP Learning Center has several options for learning more about Excel, including an intermediate course. (Several of the Learning Center's Excel offerings are brief video clips showing how to complete specific tasks, such as creating a pivot table.)


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Sunday, November 22, 2009

"The Origin"

A few weeks ago I made a point of attending a talk the composer Richard Einhorn was giving at Smith College. His topic — in my paraphrase — was ways in which working scientists and working composers resemble one another. The ways Einhorn discussed were basically two: an experimental approach and, for many contemporary composers, use of digital technology.

Richard Einhorn at the Academy of Music in Northampton MA. Einhorn's "Voices of Light" had its world premiere at the Academy in 1994. The composition for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra is, in Einhorn's words, "a meditation on the life and personality of Joan of Arc," an "opera/oratorio" that takes place during a screening of Carl Dreyer's 1928 silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc.

In his talk, Einhorn offered numerous examples from his own compositions, including his most recent major work, "The Origin," a multimedia opera/oratorio celebrating the life and work of Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

The performers at "The Origin's" premiere in February at the State University of New York at Oswego were the SUNY Oswego Festival and Community choruses, the Eastern European vocal ensemble KITKA, soprano Jacqueline Horner, and bass Eric Johnson. The video below offers an 8:17 sample.



Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Der Abschied"

The video below is a beautiful live rendition of the closing portion of "Der Abschied" ("The Farewell"), which is the last of the six parts of "Das Lied von der Erde" ("The Song of the Earth") by Gustav Mahler. The singer is Janet Baker. She is performing in Munich in 1970 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rafael Kubelik.

As explained in notes by the BBC, Mahler based the text of this portion of "Der Abschied" on a poem by the Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei ...

Er stieg vom Pferd und reichte ihm den Trunk des Abschieds dar.

Er fragte ihn, wohin er führe und auch warum es müßte sein.

Er sprach, seine Stimme war umflort:

Du, mein Freund, mir war auf dieser Welt das Glück nicht hold!

Wohin ich geh? Ich geh, ich wandre in die Berge.

Ich suche Ruhe ... Ruhe für mein einsam Herz.

Ich wandle nach der Heimat, meiner Stätte.

Ich werde niemals in die Ferne schweifen.

Still ist mein Herz und harret seiner Stunde!

Die liebe Erde allüberall blüht auf im Lenz und grünt aufs neu!

Allüberall und ewig

Blauen licht die Fernen!

Ewig... ewig...
Ewig... ewig...

Below is the English translation provided in the video, slightly edited:

He dismounted and handed him the drink of parting.

He asked him where he would go, and also why it must be.

He spoke, his voice was choked:

My friend, on this earth, fortune has not been kind to me!

Where am I going? I'm going ... I'm going into the mountains.

I seek peace .. peace for my lonely heart.

I'm making my way towards home, where I belong.

I shall never roam to foreign lands.

My heart is quiet and awaits its hour!

All around the dear earth blooms in Spring and grows green afresh!

Everywhere and forever

Blue shines in the distance!

Forever... forever...
Forever... forever...



Friday, November 20, 2009

Laughter is the Best Medicine XXVII: In the Alps

Finally ... a joke about economists that actually made me laugh:

A party of economists was climbing in the Alps. After several hours they became hopelessly lost. One of them studied the map for some time, turning it up and down, sighting on distant landmarks, consulting his compass, and checking the location of the sun in the sky.

Finally he said, "OK, see that big mountain over there?"

"Yes!" answered the others eagerly.

"Well, according to the map, we're standing on top of it."

[adapted from ahajokes.com]



Thursday, November 19, 2009

Laughter is the Best Medicine XXVI: A Mathematical Proof

In the process of checking out a particular website, I drifted off to a collection of business jokes, most of which are fairly lame, but some of which caught my fancy. For instance ...

Engineers and scientists will never make as much money as business executives. Now a rigorous mathematical proof has been developed that explains why this is true:

Postulate 1: Knowledge is Power.
Postulate 2: Time is Money.

As every engineer knows,

Work = Power x Time

Since Knowledge = Power, and Time = Money, we have:

Work = Knowledge x Money

Solving for Money, we get:

Money = Work/Knowledge

Thus, as Knowledge decreases, Money increases, regardless of how much Work is done.



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

21st Century Journalism XXXVII: Newspaper Next

The American Press Institute, a training organization for journalists founded at Columbia University in 1946, has in recent years been giving focused attention to investigating what sort of viable future newspapers can create for themselves.

API's Newspaper Next initiative, launched in 2006, "provides the industry with new business models, non-traditional ways to see opportunities that produce sustainable growth, and ways to reshape organizations for consistent innovation."

The Newspaper Next project team worked with Innosight, headed by Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, to develop a recommended approach to innovation for newspapers. The "job to be done" is one of the central concepts of the Innosight approach. The thinking is that
... customers don't buy products, they hire them to get important jobs done. Understanding the jobs that customers care about but can't adequately get done with existing products can point to new paths for growth. ... One challenge for the newspaper industry is that many of the information-related jobs that people used to hire newspapers to get done are now done better by emerging competitors.
Newspaper Next developed three one-page interview forms that newspapers can use to identify the "jobs" they can profitably do for their customers — consumers and businesses.

The questions suggested for consumers — readers and prospective readers — are:
  • What are some things (for example, related to local information) that you have most trouble trying to do at the moment?

  • Why and when do you typically seek to do this?

  • Where did you look for help? Describe the process you followed.

  • What frustrated you most?

  • Describe a perfect solution. What will it do?

  • What are the emotions that the perfect solution would make you feel ("emotional hiring criteria")?
The suggested questions for businesses — currently served by newspapers mostly through advertising — are:
  • How do you make money?

  • What are the things about running your business that keep you up at night?

  • What are some things ("jobs") that you are having problems getting done?

  • Under what circumstances do you usually try to do these things?

  • What do you currently use to help you?

  • What other options have you considered? Why did you use or reject these?

  • How would you describe the perfect solution?

  • What are the most important characteristics of this solution?
There is also a questionnaire for employees with these suggested questions:
  • What are some things that customers have asked us to do in the past that we could not do?

  • What types of customers typically ask us for this?

  • Why couldn't we deliver what they wanted?

  • What alternatives did they use instead?

  • How well did these alternatives meet their needs?

  • What would the perfect solution for them look like?

  • What would be the most important characteristics ("hiring criteria") of this solution?
Newspaper Next preaches what they call their "gospel":
Innovation requires structure and resources. Companies hoping to transition from the old, monolithic newspaper business model to a diverse and growing portfolio of products need to create clear innovation processes and allocate resources to support promising projects.
Though not all industries will necessarily be best off if their companies focus their innovation efforts on developing "a diverse and growing portfolio of products," the Innosight approach to innovation, and specifically the sorts of questions suggested for customers and employees, can provide a model for how to get headed down a productive path toward long-term growth.


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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Best Practice in Use of Scenario Planning

One of the more useful articles that has come my way from McKinsey & Co. appeared this month. Charles Roxburgh, a director in McKinsey's London office, writes about "The Use and Abuse of Scenarios."

The article is around pages and well worth reading in its entirety. As a sample of what you'll find, I'll note the don'ts Roxburgh discusses:
  • Don't become paralyzed, unable to act because you don't know which of the possible scenarios you've defined you should plan for. Roxburgh's advice is "to pick the scenario whose outcome seems most likely and to base a plan upon that scenario. It should be buttressed with clear contingenices if another scenario — or one that hasn't been imagined — begins to emerge instead."

  • Don't let scenarios muddy communications. Instead of sharing all the scenarios with employees, "communicate a single, bold goal convincingly."

  • Don't rely on an excessively narrow set of outcomes. You need to think through how you will respond if and when an unlikely scenario comes to pass. For instance, Roxburgh advises, "When the economy is heading into a downturn, pessimistic scenarios should always be pushed beyond what feels comfortable. When the economy has entered the downturn, there is a need for scenarios that may seem unreasonably optimistic."

  • Don't chop the tails off the distribution. "Because the risk of an event is equal to its probability times its magnitude, a low-probability event can still be disastrous if its effects are large enough."

  • Don't discard scenarios too quickly. Scenarios do need to be revised as the environment and circumstances change. Roxburgh recommends swapping in a new scenario whenever an existing one is dropped because it has lost relevance.

  • Don't use scenarios when uncertainty is too great. Sometimes uncertainty is so high that it is simply impossible to build reliable scenarios.

  • Don't use a single variable. "At least two variables should be used to construct scenarios — and the variables must not be dependent, or in reality there will be just one spectrum."
The final portion of Roxburgh's article offers do's — Rosburgh's suggested rules of thumb. For example:
The scenario that is highest in probability should always be identified, and that ought to become the base case. If that proves impossible, it should at least be feasible to fashion a “central” case — but there must be crystal clarity about the degree of certainty attached to it, the alternatives, and the resilience of any strategy to those alternatives.
For a view of scenario planning complementary to Roxburgh's (cited in an earlier post), you can go here.



Monday, November 16, 2009

Clay Shirky on Sorting Content

An earlier post discussed what the Internet guru Clay Shirky thinks about the future of newspapers. Now I've come upon another essay of Shirky's that provides food for thought for anyone interested in how tags are used to characterize and sort digital information.

Shirky's essay is based on a pair of talks he gave back in the spring of 2005, so when you read it, you'll find many of the points he makes are old news. What I found particularly useful was his analysis of the conditions under which a traditional pre-set taxonomy, such as the Dewey decimal system, is appropriate and, on the other hand, when we are well-advised to adopt a user-generated, free-form taxonomy.

Shirky argues that a traditional hierarchical taxonomy works well if the domain of information to be organized has these characteristics:
  • Small corpus

  • Formal categories

  • Stable entities

  • Restricted entities

  • Clear boundaries (i.e., no items that can arguably fit more than one category)
Shirky offers the Periodic Table of Elements as a prime example of a domain with the above characteristics.

Shirky goes on to list the characteristics that those participating in the catorizing must have in order for a pre-set taxonomy to be appropriate:
  • Expert catalogers

  • Authoritative source of judgment

  • Coordinated users

  • Expert users
Not surprisingly, Shirky argues for a user-generated taxonomy when the converse sets of characteristics hold:
  • Large corpus

  • No formal categories

  • Unstable entities

  • Unrestricted entities

  • No clear boundaries
  • Naive catalogers

  • No Authority

  • Uncoordinated users

  • Amateur users
The above characteristics fit the Web.

Shirky enumerates the advantages he sees in adopting a tagging system for information stored on Web pages. For example, one is able to develop an informed opinion of the likely value of a particular set of tags by paying attention to who did the tagging and how long ago the tagging was done.

Shirky's concluding thought is that "by letting users tag URLs and then aggregating those tags [across users], we're going to be able to build alternate organizational systems, systems that, like the Web itself, do a better job of letting individuals create value for one another, often without realizing it."



Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Pharmer's Market

A group of researchers — Ragu Bharadwaj, Eric von Hippel and Fiona Murray at MIT's Sloan School and Peter Coles at Harvard Business School — have spearheaded development of a prediction market at Crowdcast.com that focuses on questions relating to the pharmaceuticals industry.

The current questions on which individuals with pharmaceutical knowledge are invited to weigh in, deal with drug candidates for breast cancer treatment:
  • Will AMG 706 make it through Phase 2 Trials to Phase 3 by July 2010?

  • Will ABT-869 make it through Phase 2 trials to Phase 3 by March 31, 2010?

    When will Phase 3 Trials for breast cancer be announced?

  • Will AZD2281 make it through Phase 2 trials to Phase 3 by March 31, 2010?

    When will Phase 3 Trials for breast cancer be announced?

  • Will BIBW 2992 make it through Phase 2 trials to Phase 3 by March 31, 2010?

    When will Phase 3 Trials for breast cancer be announced?

  • Will BMS-599626 make it through Phase 1 trials to Phase 2 by March 31, 2010?

    When will Phase 2 Trials be announced?

  • Will BMS-690514 make it through Phase 1 trials to Phase 2 by October 2010?

  • Will Cediranib make it through Phase 2 trials to Phase 3 by Jan 1, 2010?

    When will Phase 3 Trials for breast cancer be announced?

  • Will Dasatinib make it to Phase 3 trials by July 1, 2010?

  • Will Lonaprisan make it through Phase 2 trials to Phase 3 by Jan 1, 2010?

    When will Phase 3 Trials be announced?
The goal is to predict progress through clinical trials more accurately than is possible with alternate methods (e.g., spreadsheet modeling).

For more about the context of hugely expensive drug development into which the Pharmer's Market fits, you can read an article by Natasha Singer published in today's New York Times.



Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Expert Summarizes Adam Smith's Views

As a follow-on to last month's Adam Smith Retrospective, I'd like to call attention to a ten-minute overview of Adam's Smith's work that Chris Berry, a professor of political theory at the University of Glasgow and an expert on Smith, has put together.

Statue of Adam Smith in Edinburgh

Professor Berry covers both The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, the two books from which the Retrospective quotations were taken.

Of Adams' first book Prof. Berry says:
The Moral Sentiments is a leading example of a particular approach to moral philosophy — one that regards it not as sets of rationally or Divine ordained prescriptions but as the interaction of human feelings, emotions or sentiments in the real settings of human life. In many ways it is a book of social and moral psychology. What we can call economic behaviour is necessarily situated in a moral context. But more than that the key theme of the book is an opposition to the view that all morality or virtue is reducible to self-interest. Indeed his opening sentence declares that everyday human experience proves that false, he writes: "How selfish soever a man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derive nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it".
About the later book, Prof. Berry notes:
When Smith came to write the Wealth of Nations he made it clear that the ‘wealth’ lay in the well-being of the people. This covered not only their material prosperity but also their moral welfare. Accordingly he thought to be in poverty is to be in a miserable condition and commerce is to be praised for improving human life.

The great achievement of the Wealth of Nations was to discern the principles of order in the seeming chaos of commercial or market behaviour — it wasn’t random, it could be reduced to some simple principles. It was for this reason that Smith was described as the Newton of political economy. ...

He identifies basic principles such as the human propensity to ‘truck, barter and exchange’ that he argues underlies the division of labour but says that this depends on a market and that requires some institutional structures like those that uphold justice such as government and how that in turn mutually relies on principles of public finance.
It cannot be overemphasized that Adam Smith had a sophisticated and humane view of how people's economic interactions play out and of how those interactions should be regulated.


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Friday, November 13, 2009

The Long Run

I often wish people would view distressing situations in the light of eternity, since today's hysteria is so often rather quickly forgotten.

John Maynard Keynes,
with his wife Lydia Lopokova

William Roberts, exhibited 1932
National Portrait Gallery, London

(Smithsonian Institution)

On the other hand, it is certainly a mistake to think that one should always simply sit and wait for grim circumstances to pass. John Maynard Keynes view on this point is famous . . .

But this
long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too uselss a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.

— from A Tract on Monetary Reform, Ch. 3 (1924)


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Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Kirkpatrick Model at 50

It was in 1959 that Donald Kirkpatrick published the first of four articles in the Journal of the ASTD elucidating his four-level model for evaluation of training.1 Krikpatrick had initially defined the model — though not with the levels' current names — Reaction, Learning, Behavior, Results — in his doctoral dissertation, "Evaluating a Human Relations Training Program for Supervisors."

Fifty years have elapsed, and the four-level model has held up well. The anniversary is being marked by various review articles and interviews with Kirkpatrick himself and with his son, Jim, who has been carrying on in his father's line of work for some years.

Jim Kirkpatrick, along with his wife and co-author Wendy, has provided a fresh overview of the model in a white paper (reg req), the highlight of which is the diagram below. The diagram shows the Kirkpatricks' take on the flow of activities involved in developing and evaluating a training program.

(click to enlarge)

(from a white paper by Jim & Wendy Kirkpatrick)

ROE = Return on Expectations,
i.e., the degree to which the training's results meet management's expectations concerning what the training should accomplish.

KSAs = Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes,
i.e., competencies.

The bulk of the ten-page white paper is devoted to explaining how the Kirkpatrick Model embeds the four levels into the planning of the training, as well as its evaluation. There is considerable attention to the practical details of the process, which makes reading the white paper in its entirety worthwhile.

As a quick summary, here is an example of the process in practice that Jim Kirkpatrick lays out in the interview with him and his father that Training Magazine published in October:
Let's say an executive in your organization asks for a new program on leadership. Instead of conducting a cursory needs assessment, and putting together and delivering a program, start with the concept we call "the end is the beginning." You must begin with a clear picture of what a successful leadership program ultimately will bring to the organization in terms of Level 4. This means you first negotiate your stakeholders' expectations so they are satisfying to them and achievable for you, then you convert those expectations to observable, measurable success outcomes by using various forms of the question, "What will success look like?" (Level 4, Results). Then you determine the critical new leadership behaviors training grads will have to perform on the job (Level 3, Behavior) to bring about those success outcomes.

Also crucial at this stage is to determine, implement, and monitor the required drivers of those behaviors — the processes and systems that will serve to get grads to perform those critical behaviors on the job. Next, it is important to identify and reinforce pre-training necessities for success, for example, a culture of support and accountability, coaching guides, and job aids. Then, and only then, you develop and deliver the training that will produce competent employees (Level 2, Learning, and Level 1, Reaction) who will be able to perform the targeted, critical behaviors. In other words, start with Level 4 and work backward.

It is also important to monitor not only Levels 1 and 2, but the required drivers and critical behaviors at Level 3, and the outcomes at Level 4. This will allow for a good system to make sure learning to behavior transfer occurs, and also provide you with a compelling chain of evidence at the end to demonstrate the impact of the initiative.
As you can see, there is nothing obscure about the process. Using the four levels effectively is a matter, as the Kirkpatricks emphasize, of strong partnership between training professionals and organization management, accompanied by excellence in implementation.

1 Donald L. Kirkpatrick, "Techniques for Evaluating Training Programs," Parts 1-4, Journal of ASTD, Vol. 13, No. 11 (1959), pp. 3-9; Vol. 13, No. 12 (1959), pp. 21-26; Vol. 14, No. 12 (1960), pp. 13-18; Vol. 14, No. 13 (1960), pp. 28-32.



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day 2009

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
National Mall, Washington DC




Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is that report actionable?

In a world in which managers are typically flooded with information, it's essential to regularly evaluate what's helpful and what isn't.

The November 2009 issue of Chief Learning Officer has a helpful article in which Chris Moore, president of Zeroed-In Technologies, offers a tool for assessing data reports, such as those presenting metrics a company is using to track the results of training.

Moore suggests asking these questions for each report:
  • What do you do with the report?

  • What decisions does it help you make?

  • What is the norm or target for the metrics on the report?

  • What actions do you take if the report deviates from the norm?

  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how important is this report to your work success?

  • How quickly can you refresh the report with current data points?

  • Is the report too granualar or not granular enough?

  • Who are the other consumers of the report? What do they do with the information? How would they answer these questions?
The idea is to ensure that metrics managers are (ostensibly) monitoring provide information that can actually guide their decision-making.


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Monday, November 09, 2009

Simplified ROI Measurement for Training

The November 2009 issue of Chief Learning Officer has an article by Howard Prager and Susan Vece, Directors of Corporate Education at Lake Forest Graduate School of Business, that offers a practical method for calculating the ROI for a training program.

The process has seven steps, details of which you will find in the article. The steps, in edited form, are:
  1. Identify the one or two key skills or competencies that most directly relate to the business driver you need to impact in order to achieve desired improvement in business performance.

  2. Tie the key skills or competencies to one or two metrics that are reliable indicators of success. For example, a training program intended to help increase sales to current customers might focus on customer satisfaction and sales per account.

  3. Create an ROI survey to get needed data from training participants, their managers, and clients quickly and simply. Prager and Vece emphasize the importance of keeping the survey short in order to encourage response and to shorten the time required to analyze the results.

  4. Conduct the survey.

  5. Calculate the costs of the training program. Measure costs as fully as possible in order to strengthen the validity of your reported results.

  6. Analyze the quantitative and qualitative information on training impacts produced by the survey. Measure impacts net of cost.

  7. Calculate the ROI for the training program by dividing net quantified program impacts by program costs.
Note that the final step involves quantified impacts. It is important to take due account of all impacts, including any that do not particularly lend themselves to quantification.

For example, the training program might encourage more interaction amongst employees in communities of practice. It's hard to put a dollar value on this outcome, but bolstering of such communities is likely to be a significant plus. The key is to identify in some detail how the more robust communities of practice are contributing to business performance, so that when management are briefed on what their training investments are producing, they find the reported qualitative impacts credible.



Sunday, November 08, 2009

Writing that Makes a Winning Impression

Back when I was in fourth grade, I got a homework assignment that involved writing about Abraham Lincoln. I loved Mr. Lincoln and plunged right in.

The result was a nice long text, largely cribbed from our family's encyclopedia, that I proudly showed my mother. Instead of being bowled over by my dedication and industry, she read the first few sentences and then looked at me and said, "Karen, you know, when you write something, it's supposed to be interesting."

I was mightily taken aback. The idea of being interesting had never crossed my little nine-year-old mind. However, as soon as my mother brought it up, it became firmly implanted. I've been highly conscious of the "make it interesting" criterion ever since.

This idea applies to just about everything one writes, including, for instance ... cover letters.

At the beginning of the month, Dan Heath wrote a brief column, "How Do I Make My Resume Stick?" for FastCompany.com. The whole half-page is worth reading. Let me just note his key point:
... the cover letter is the hero of our story. It's the place where you can make yourself memorable. Ideas stick because they are full of concrete details, emotion, surprises, etc.
Heath provieds a two-item checklist:
  1. Give headlines.

  2. Defend the headlines with stories.
Clearly, the task confronting a jobseeker trying to create a sticky cover letter / resume combo is not conceptually difficult. What's needed is plenty of practice in meeting the requirements for stickiness.

You can think of such practice as a convenient by-product of the job search process itself. The important thing is to set a firm standard for yourself of being not only responsive to individual employers' job specs, but also of presenting your match to those requirements in compelling fashion. Dashing off formulaic cover letters is not going to do make you stand out. Presenting a vivid, concise, and engaging pitch for yourself will.

Another, somewhat longer set of guidelines for making winning pitches is available in a short Hewlett-Packard Learning Center course called Marketing Writing Tips: Five Mistakes to Avoid. Though the course is addressed to product marketers rather than job seekers, much (not all) of the advice it offers is applicable to written communications with prospective employers.

There is a short section for each of the five mistakes alluded to in the course title:
  1. Writing headlines that fail to lead
    (Recall that headlines are item 1 on Dan Heath's checklist.)

  2. Taking the wrong tone
    (The course text reinforces Heath's advice to combine use of a prospective employer's preferred vocabulary — even if it includes buzzwords — with concrete detail concerning how you fit the employer's needs.)

  3. Creating content without focus

  4. Using too many words, too few details

  5. Failing to include a clear call to action
    (Something to be appropriately restrained about in a cover letter to an employer.)
I'd mention that there are a couple of typos to overlook in the course text, and a quote attributed to Einstein that is usually credited to Edison, but these are minor miscues. In terms of overall quality, I rate the advice in the course as well-presented and well-modulated.


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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Marina Poplavskaya, soprano

A friend and I went to a local cineplex this afternoon to watch the simulcast of the Met's matinee performance of Turandot. The Franco Zeffirelli production, which dates to 1987, is lavish, as you would expect. There were unfortunate hiccups in the satellite transmission, but it was still very clear that Marina Poplavskaya, the Russian soprano playing the slave Liù, is a special talent.

Instead of a clip of Poplavskaya singing as Liù, something I think is not available outside of the Met's paid service, below is a 7:54 clip of the "Willow Song" from Act IV of Verdi's Otello, as Poplavskaya, playing Desdemona, sang it last year at the Salzburg Festival.

The scene is based on dialogue between Desdemona and Emilia in Scene 3 of Act 4 of Shakespeare's play. Barbara Di Castri plays the role of Emilia.

The clip has German subtitles. The original Italian lyrics and an edited English translation are reproduced beneath the clip.

Mia madre aveva una povera ancella
Innamorata e bella;
Era il suo nome
Barbara. Amava
Un uom che poi l'abbandonò, cantava
Una canzone: la canzon del Salice.

– Mi disciogli le chiome. –

Io questa sera ho la memoria piena
Di quella cantilena:
"Piangea cantando
Nell'erma landa,
Piangea la mesta.
O Salce! Salce! Salce!
Sedea chinando
Sul sen la testa!
O Salce! Salce! Salce!
Cantiamo! cantiamo! il Salce funebre
Sarà la mia ghirlanda."

– Affrettati; fra poce giunge Otello. –

"Scorreano i rivi fra le zolle in fior,
Gemea quel core affranto,
E dalle ciglia le sgorgava il cor
L'amara onda del pianto.
O Salce! Salce! Salce!
Cantiamo! cantiamo! il Salce funebre
Sarà la mia ghirlanda.
Scendean gli augelli a vol dai rami cupi
Verso quel dolce canto.
E gli occhi suoi piangevan tanto, tanto,
Da impietosir le rupi."
Riponi quest'anello.
Povera Barbara! Solea la storia
Con questo semplice suoono finir:
"Egli era nato per la sua gloria,
Io per amar..."
Ascolta. Odo un lamento.
Taci. Chi batte a quella porta?
– È il vento.
"Io per amarlo e per morir ...
Cantiamo! cantiamo!
Salce! Salce! Salce!"
Emilia, addio. Come m'ardon le ciglia!
È presagio di pianto. Buona notte.
Ah! Emilia, Emilia, addio, Emilia, addio!

My mother had a poor maid,
In love and beautiful;
Her name was
Barbara. She loved
A man who abandoned her, and she used to sing
A song: The Willow Song.

– Undo my hair. –

This evening my memory is filled
With that song:
"She wept, singing
On the lonely heath,
The sad girl wept.
O Willow! Willow! Willow!
She would sit with her head
Drooping on her bosom!
O Willow! Willow! Willow!
Let us sing! Let us sing! The mournful willow
Shall be my garland."

– Hurry; Othello is coming soon. –

"The brooks ran through the flowering fields,
That broken heart would moan,
And from her eyes her heart poured out
A bitter wave of tears.
O Willow! Willow! Willow!
Let us sing! Let us sing! The mournful willow
Shall be my garland.
The birds came flying down from the somber branches
Toward that sweet song.
And her eyes would weep so much, so much,
That the stones were filled with pity."

Put back this ring.

Poor Barbara! The story used to
End with this simple sound:
"He was born for his fame,
I was born to lo..."
Listen. I hear a lament.
Quiet. Who's knocking at the door?

– It's the wind. –

"I was born to love him and die ...
Let us sing! Let us sing!
Willow! Willow! Willow!"
Emilia, farewell. How my eyes burn!
That bodes weeping. Good night.
Ah! Emilia, Emilia, farewell, Emilia, farewell!

[Source: Famous Italian Opera Arias: A Dual Language Book, by Helen E. Bleiler (Dover, 1996), pp. 92-93]



Friday, November 06, 2009

Realizing Maximum Return from IT Investments

Productivity is in the news these days as people take note that it is rising impressively in the US even as unemployment remains high. What lies behind the ability of companies to maintain needed output levels with fewer employees?

One known source of productivity gains is investment in information technology. But some companies do markedly better in realizing productivity gains from IT than others. Why?

Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management and Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, and Adam Saunders, a lecturer at UPenn's Wharton School, have been investigating this question. The answer they offer in a recently published book is that
companies with the highest level of returns to their technology investment are doing more than just buying technology; they are inventing new forms of organizational capital to become digital organizations. These innovations include a cluster of organizational and business-process changes, including broader sharing of information, decentralized decision-making, linking pay and promotions to performance, pruning of non-core products and processes, and greater investments in training and education.
You can access the introduction and first chapter of Brynjolfsson and Saunders' book here.

[Earlier reference to the points Brynjolfsson and Saunders make in their book can be found in a post from July of last year. Brynjolfsson's views (along with those of co-auther Andrew McAfee) concerning measurement of economic activity that improves on the standard GDP measure are discussed in a post from last month.]


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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Tracing Risk Cascades

The Autumn 2009 issue of McKinsey on Finance contains an article by Eric Lamarre, director of McKinsey's Montreal office, and Martin Pergler, a consultant in the Montreal office, that does a good job of elucidating the types of indirect risks companies should include in their risk assessments.

(click to enlarge)

Cascading (i.e., interconnected) risks

(McKinsey & Company [pdf])

The above graphic illustrates the types risk triggers in the business environment (outer circle) that lead to:
  • Changes in a company's competitive position

  • Changes in the company's input costs due to changes along its supply chain

  • Changes in the health and/or performance of the company's distribution channels

  • Changes in the ability and/or willingness of customers to buy from the company
The company needs to identify the ways in which risks may cascade from external events to changes in the competitive picture, the supply chain, distribution channels, and customer behavior, and thence to such internal operational and financial factors as productivity, product and service performance, and costs (inner circle).

A complete risk management process will include assessing the likelihood and significance of a range of relevant risk cascade scenarios. Lamarre and Pergler provide well-chosen examples of what this process would look like in practice. An extended example explores how new carbon regulations would affect aluminum producers, both directly and indirectly.



Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Increasing Emotional Intelligence

Thanks to the Greater Good blog, I have been alerted to a study that suggests people can learn to be more emotionally intelligent.

The study was conducted by four Belgian researchers — Delphine Nelis, Jordi Quoidbach, Moïra Mikolajczak, and Michel Hansenne. Nelis, Quoidbach, and Hansenne are at the University of Liège; Mikolajczak is at the Université Catholique de Louvain.1

As the researchers explain in their abstract,
The construct of emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the individual differences in the perception, processing, regulation, and utilization of emotional information. As these differences have been shown to have a significant impact on important life outcomes (e.g., mental and physical health, work performance and social relationships), this study investigated, using a controlled experimental design, whether it is possible to increase EI. Participants of the experimental group received a brief empirically-derived EI training (four group training sessions of two hours and a half) while control participants continued to live normally. Results showed a significant increase in emotion identification and emotion management abilities in the training group. Follow-up measures after 6 months revealed that these changes were persistent. No significant change was observed in the control group. These findings suggest that EI can be improved ...
Because the text of the study is not available for free online, you might want to turn for additional detail to the description of the research Timothy A. Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University, provides at www.PsychologyToday.com:
The EI training intervention consisted of 4 sessions of 2.5 hours each over 4 weeks with participants divided into two smaller groups (10 and 9 participants, respectively). The training was based on Mayer and Salovey's model of EI,[2] with an emphasis on: 1) perception, appraisal and expression of emotion; 2) emotional facilitation of thinking; 3) understanding and analyzing emotions; 4) reflective regulation of emotion. During the program, particular emphasis was placed on techniques to enhance emotional regulation and emotional understanding. These sessions were based on short lectures, role plays, discussions and readings. Participants also completed a daily dairy of emotional experience that they analyzed in light of the theory explained in class as part of their learning.
The moral for corporate trainers is that well-designed coaching and training in the interpersonal skills that reflect emotional intelligence can equip people to do a better job of communicating with each other and managing conflict — assuming training participants are willing to learn.

(I will be on the lookout for further information on the exact nature of the training the Belgian researchers used in their experiment. I am also interested in anything I can find about their thoughts concerning how to improve the specifics of their training in light of their experience with their initial group of subjects.)

1 Delphine Nelis, Jordi Quoidbach, Moïra Mikolajczak, and Michel Hansenne, "Increasing Emotional Intelligence: (How) is it possible?" Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 47, No. 1 (July 2009), pp. 36-41.

2 John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey, "What is Emotional Intelligence?" (pdf) in Peter Salovey and David J. Sluyter (eds.), Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Educational Implications (Basic Books, 1997), pp. 3-31.


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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Well-Rounded Chef

A post from about a year-and-a-half ago details the task competencies a student of the culinary arts is expected to acquire, at least as planned in the curriculum of Long Beach City College.

Now I'd like to note the possibility open to culinary arts students to develop complementary skills in restaurant management. As explained in a November 1 New York Times article by Elaine Louie, a number of avenues for formal training in the business side of operating a restaurant are available.

The offering I've looked at most closely is a collaborative degree program offered since May 2006 by the Cornell School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca NY and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), based in Hyde Park NY.

Students in the program earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in hotel administration and an Associate in Occupational Studies (AOS) degree in Culinary Arts. For students enrolled at CIA for the AOS degree, five or six semesters are required at Cornell to earn the accompanying BS. For Cornell students, the AOS and BS degrees can both be earned in four years, during which time about nine months are spent at CIA. (Students can also opt for an AOS in Baking and Pastry Arts, in which case they must spend a bit of additional time to complete the collaborative program's required coursework.)

At Cornell, students learn about how to lead foodservice operations, taking such courses as Culinary Theory and Practice; Restaurant Management; Specialty Food and Beverage Operations: Guest Chefs; Catering and Special Events Management; Introduction to Wines; and Contemporary Healthy Foods. By the time they complete their coursework, they have covered as key areas restaurant design and development; foodservice in hotels, resorts, spas, stadiums, and institutions; and restaurant entrepreneurship.

At CIA, the courses cover culinary knowledge (e.g., of various national cuisines) and the culinary techniques and skills required for foodservice in restaurants, hotels, resorts, and other hospitality settings.


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Monday, November 02, 2009

All Souls Day 2009

"Le Jour des Morts"
after William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 - 1905)
Photoglyptique proof

(You can see the original painting here.)

(French Ministry of Culture and Communication)



Sunday, November 01, 2009

All Saints Day 2009

All Saints Day in a Spanish Cemetery:
Illumination of the Graves (1913)