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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Memorial Day For Pope Saint Sylvester I

Pope Saint Sylvester's Miracle
Maso di Banco, fresco c. 1340
Cappella di Bardi di Vernio, Santa Croce, Florence

(Women for Faith & Family)



Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sixth Day of Christmas 2009

Church of the Nativity, Bethelem



Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Feast of St. Thomas a Becket 2009

St. Thomas a Becket
(Revd. Fr. Edward Tomlinson SSC)



Monday, December 28, 2009

Feast of the Holy Innocents

In lieu of an image of innocent babies being killed by Herod's troops, here's a painting of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus escaping into Egypt . . .

The Flight into Egypt,
by William Hole (1846 -1917)




Sunday, December 27, 2009

Feast of St. John the Apostle 2009

St. John the Apostle, with his Gospel
(Greek Orthodox Diocese of America)
[Note that the Greek Orthodox Church
celebrates St. John's feast day on September 26]



Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day 2009

Tree on Boxing Day 2004
(P Smith)



Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

(The Happy Helms)



Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

Children Playing in the Snow on Christmas Eve



Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"The Great Influenza" VI: Keeping the Public Informed

In a 2009 afterword to his 2004 book, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M. Barry reiterates one of his main themes:

... of all the lessons from 1918, the clearest is that truth matters. A specialty among public relations consultants has evolved in recent decades called “risk communication.” I don’t much care for the term. It implies managing the truth. You don’t manage the truth. You tell the truth.

In the first months of this [2009 H1N1] pandemic that does not seem to have been a lesson well-learned, The U.S. government and the World Health Organization have told the truth candidly, as soon as they have learned it. But other countries have been less forthright. Perhaps the worst offender has been China, whose Health Minister Chen Zhu declared, “We are confident and capable of preventing and containing an H1N1 influenza epidemic.”

This impossibility brought to mind uncomfortable echoes of 1918. Fortunately, as the pandemic has progressed, even China has at least incrementally approached telling the truth, and perhaps Chinese citizens read between the lines. [p.460]



Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"The Great Influenza" V: Washing Up

There is a little parable in The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M. Barry, that I particularly like:

… a young graduate student entered a laboratory and saw a renowned Harvard professor at the sink washing glassware while his technician was performing a complex task at the workbench. The student asked him why the technician was not washing the glassware. “Because,” the professor replied, “I always do the most important part of the experiment and in this experiment the most important thing is the cleanliness of the glassware.” [pp. 286-287]


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Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice 2009

In honor of a friend who just moved back to Oregon, and whose birthday falls on the Winter solstice . . .

Winter Solstice
Coos Bay, Oregon Coast, December 21, 2007

(Michael Dorausch)



Sunday, December 20, 2009

"The Great Influenza" IV: Interpreting Experiments

In The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M. Barry devotes considerable attention to the challenges faced by the scientists trying to identify the pathogen behind the "Spanish flu" of 1918.

At one point, Barry notes:

Not all scientific investigators can deal comfortably with uncertainty and those who can may not be creative enough to understand and design the experiments that will illuminate a subject — to know both where and how to look. Others may lack the confidence to persist. Experiments do not simply work Regardless of design and preparation, experiments — especially at the beginning, when one proceeds by intelligent guesswork — rarely yield the results desired. An investigator must make them work. The less known, the more one has to manipulate and even force experiments to yield and answer.

Which raises another question: How does one know when one knows? In turn this leads to more practical questions: How does one know when to continue to push an experiment? And how does one know when to abandon a clue as a false trail?

No one interested in any truth will torture the data itself, ever. But a scientist can — and should — torture an experiment to get data, to get a result, especially when investigating a new area. A scientist can — and should — seek any way to answer a question: if using mice and guinea pigs and rabbits does not provide a satisfactory answer, then trying dogs, pigs, cats, monkeys. And if one experiment shows a hint of a result, the slightest bump on a flat line of information, then a scientist designs the next experiment to focus on that bump, to create conditions more likely to get more bumps until they become either consistent and meaningful or demonstrate that the initial bump was mere random variation without meaning. [pp. 263-264]


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Saturday, December 19, 2009

"The Great Influenza" III: The National Library of Medicine

The National Library of Medicine is one of the notable developments in US medical research capabilities that John M. Barry highlights in The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.

Barry explains:

[John Shaw] Billings lay behind America’s first great contribution to scientific medicine: a library. This library grew out of the detailed medical history of the Civil War ordered by the army surgeon general. The army also created a medical “museum,” which was actually a library of specimens.

Both the museum and the history were remarkable. In 1998 scientists at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, a direct descendant of this museum, used specimens preserved in 1918 to determine the genetic makeup of the 1918 influenza virus. And the medical history was extraordinarily precise and useful. …

Billings did not write that history, but it did inspire him to create a medical library of comparable quality. He built what one medical historian judged “probably the greatest and most useful medical library in the world.” By 1876 it already held eighty thousand volumes; ultimately it grew into today’s National Library of Medicine. [p. 45]


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Friday, December 18, 2009

"The Great Influenza" II: Thomas Huxley at Hopkins

John M. Barry begins the first chapter of his 2004 book, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, with the story of the founding of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, a school expressly established to bring European standards of scholarship to the United States.

Barry notes that the renowned British scientist Thomas Huxley gave the keynote address at the September 12, 1876 ceremony marking Hopkins' opening. Below is an excerpt from Huxley's speech, in which he explains what he thinks a medical school's curriculum should include, and the importance of academic support of original research.

At present, young men come to the medical schools without a conception of even the elements of physical science; they learn, for the first time, that there are such sciences as physics, chemistry, and physiology, and are introduced to anatomy as a new thing. It may be safely said that, with a large proportion of medical students, much of the first session is wasted in learning how to learn — in familiarizing themselves with utterly strange conceptions, and in awakening their dormant and wholly untrained powers of observation and of manipulation. It is difficult to over-estimate the magnitude of the obstacles which are thrown in the way of scientific training by the existing system of school education. Not only are men trained in mere book-work, ignorant of what observation means, but the habit of learning from books alone begets a disgust of observation. The book-learned student will rather trust to what he sees in a book than to the witness of his own eyes.

There is not the least reason why this should be so … There is not the slightest difficulty in giving sound elementary instruction in physics, in chemistry, and in the elements of human physiology, in ordinary schools. In other words, there is no reason why the student should not come to the medical school, provided with as much knowledge of these several sciences as he ordinarily picks up in the course of his first year of attendance at the medical school.

I am not saying this without full practical justification for the statement. For the last eighteen years we have had in England a system of elementary science teaching carried out under the auspices of the Science and Art Department, by which elementary scientific instruction is made readily accessible to the scholars of all the elementary schools in the country. Commencing with small beginnings, carefully developed and improved, that system now brings up for examination as many as seven thousand scholars in the subject of human physiology alone. I can say that, out of that number, a large proportion have acquired a fair amount of substantial knowledge; and that no inconsiderable percentage show as good an acquaintance with human physiology as used to be exhibited by the average candidates for medical degrees in the University of London, when I was first an examiner there twenty years ago; and quite as much knowledge as is possessed by the ordinary student of medicine at the present day.

[. . .]

I rejoice to observe that the encouragement of research occupies so prominent a place in your official documents, and in the wise and liberal inaugural address of your president. This subject of the encouragement, or, as it is sometimes called, the endowment of research, has of late years greatly exercised the minds of men in England. It was one of the main topics of discussion by the members of the Royal Commission of whom I was one, and who not long since issued their report, after five years' labour. Many seem to think that this question is mainly one of money; that you can go into the market and buy research, and that supply will follow demand, as in the ordinary course of commerce. This view does not commend itself to my mind. I know of no more difficult practical problem than the discovery of a method of encouraging and supporting the original investigator without opening the door to nepotism and jobbery. My own conviction is admirably summed up in the passage of your president's address, "that the best investigators are usually those who have also the responsibilities of instruction, gaining thus the incitement of colleagues, the encouragement of pupils, and the observation of the public." [The full text of Huxley's speech is available at http://www.fullbooks.com/Science--Education4.html.]


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Thursday, December 17, 2009

"The Great Influenza" I: The US Was Not Always a Leader in Medical Research

I have finished reading The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M. Barry and have selected a few passages (and speech Barry refers to — see tomorrow's post) that offer historical perspective and useful insights concerning advances in US medical education, healthcare practice, and protection of public health.

The first excerpt relates to the utter absence of medical research in the US as recently as the early 1870s:

Many American physicians were in fact enthralled by the laboratory advances being made in Europe. But they had to go to Europe to learn them. Upon their return they could do little or nothing with their knowledge. Not a single institution in the United States supported any medical research whatsoever.

As one American who had studied in Europe wrote, “I was often asked in Germany how it is that no scientific work in medicine is done in this country, how it is that many good men who do well in Germany and show evident talent there are never heard of and never do any good work when they come back here. The answer is that there is no opportunity for, no appreciation of, no demand for that kind of work here. … The condition of medical education here is simply horrible.” [p. 33]



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Ode to Joy"

In honor of my sister's birthday today . . .

[Part 1 — 9:26]

[Part 2 — 9:50]

Herbert von Karajan is conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The soloists are Lella Cuberli (soprano), Helga Müller-Molinari (alto), Vinson Cole (tenor), and Franz Grundheber (baritone). The chorus is the Vienna Singverein, led by chorus master Helmuth Froschauer. The filmed performance was released in 1983.

Below is the text of "An die Freude" by Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805), as modified by Ludwig van Beethoven (December 16, 1770 – March 26, 1827) for the final movement of his Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (1825):

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere
anstimmen und freudenvollere.

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!

Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, all Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muß er wohnen.

An English translation (not the same as the video's subtitles):

Oh friends, no more of these sad tones!
Let us rather raise our voices together
In more pleasant and joyful tones.

Joy, thou shining spark of God,
Daughter of Elysium,
With fiery rapture, goddess,
We approach thy shrine.
Your magic reunites
That which stern custom has parted;
All humans will become brothers
Under your protective wing.

Let the man who has had the fortune
To be a helper to his friend,
And the man who has won a noble woman,
Join in our chorus of jubilation!
Yes, even if he holds but one soul
As his own in all the world!
But let the man who knows nothing of this
Steal away alone and in sorrow.

All the world's creatures drink
From the breasts of nature;
Both the good and the evil
Follow her trail of roses.
She gave us kisses and wine
And a friend loyal unto death;
She gave the joy of life to the lowliest,
And to the angels who dwell with God.

Joyous, as his suns speed
Through the glorious order of Heaven,
Hasten, brothers, on your way,
Joyful as a hero to victory.

Be embraced, all ye millions!
With a kiss for all the world!
Brothers, beyond the stars
Surely dwells a loving Father.
Do you kneel before him, oh millions?
Do you sense the Creator's presence?
Seek him beyond the stars!
He must dwell beyond the stars.

[Source: EconomicExpert.com]


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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"The Peter Principal Revisited"

The Peter Principle, whose fortieth anniversary arrived this year,1 has diminished relevance in our era of flattened organizations.2

The Peter Principle, devised by Laurence Peter, an education professor at the University of Southern California, is geared to hierarchical organizations. It states that employees in such organizations are promoted until they reach a level at which they are unable to perform well. In flattened organizations, opportunities for upward career moves are, by definition, limited, so the scope for misquided promotions is also limited.

All the same, it would be interesting to know how to counteract the Peter Principle in an organization which still has numerous levels to which people can be promoted. Alessandro Pluchino (a professor in the physics and astronomy department of the University of Catania in Italy), Andrea Rapisarda (ditto), and Cesare Garofalo (a member of the Chaos And Complexity Theoretical University Study Group at Catania) have recently published a paper (pdf) that addresses this question. Its counterintuitive results have attracted considerable attention.3

The model the researchers use is illustrated in the graphic below.

(click to enlarge)

Pluchino, Rapisarda, and Garofalo's hierarchical organization model.
There are 160 positions, 81 at Level 6, 41 at Level 5, 21 at Level 4, 11 at Level 3, 5 at Level 2, and 1 at Level 1.

The numbers in the lefthand column are responsibility factors for the respective levels. The responsibility factors increase as one moves up the pyramid, meaning that an individual's impact — positive or negative — on the organization's efficiency increases as the individual rises through the ranks.

The Competence distribution at the upper right indicates that competence is distributed normally. Rising competence is represented by deepening color of the employee figures in the pyramid — from pink to dark red. Emply positions are yellow.
Pluchino, Rapisarda, and Garofalo (PRG) use an agent-based simulation to show that, if an organization promotes people to positions whose skill requirements are independent of the skill requirements in their previous positions (the "Peter hypothesis"), the organization should make a point of choosing the most incompetent person at a given level for promotion to the next level up.

Although PRG do not state this explicitly, the idea behind this "Worst" promotion strategy is that the organization moves someone out of a position where he/she is creating minimal value (what I call "value" PRG call "efficiency"), while retaining all those at the same level who are doing a better job. Over time, this strategy is optimal (again, assuming skill requirements of jobs at the various level are independent of each other), as shown in the graphic below.

(click to enlarge)

Organizational efficiency in the PRG simulation model.
Efficiency over time is plotted for each of six cases, three based on the "Common Sense hypothesis," in which a promoted employee is assumed to be roughly as competent in his/her new position as in his/her previous position; and three based on the "Peter hypothesis," in which a promoted employee's competence in the new position is independent of his/her competence in the previous position.

The three variants for each hypothesis are (1) the "Best" strategy for promotion, in which the most competent person is the one promoted to the next level; (2) the "Worst" strategy, in which the least competent person is the one promoted; and (3) the "Random" strategy, in which the choice of whom to promote is made randomly.

The greatest positive impact on efficiency occurs if the Peter hypothesis is correct and the Worst promotion strategy is adopted. Next, in descending order of impact on efficiency are: the combination of Common Sense hypothesis and Best strategy, the combination of Common Sense hypothesis and Random strategy; the combination of Peter hypothesis and Random strategy; the combination of Common Sense hypothesis and Worst strategy (negative impact); and the combination of Peter hypothesis and Best strategy (negative impact).
Note that if skills in the new position do reasonably closely match those in the previous position — the Common Sense hypothesis — the best promotion strategy, as you'd expect, is to pick the strongest performer, i.e., to adopt the "Best" promotion strategy.

I'd further note that if an organization follows the rational approach of promoting people whose skills match the requirements of the new position (with a plan to fill manageable gaps through appropriate training), they should realize their intended value creation more often than not.

And, as pointed out at the beginning of this post, in a flattened organization promotion is less of a focus than assembling teams with complementary skills. Effective organizations will plan individual employees' development so that people are assisted in filling new roles and responsibilties competently.

To follow PRG's suggestion of promoting randomly, or else alternating between promoting the best performers and the worst performers, would not only be unnecessarily defeatist, but would also generate disgruntlement that would have its own serious negative effects on value creation.

1 Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong (William Morrow, 1969).

2 For an opposing view, see Robert Sutton, "A New Look at The Peter Principle," Business Week, March 31, 2009.

3 Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo, "The Peter Principle Revisited: A Computational Study," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Vol. 389, No. 3 (Feb. 2010), pp. 467-472.

If you want run the PRG simulation yourself, you can do so here.

I was made aware of this article by an item in the "Ninth Annual Year in Ideas" feature published in the New York Times Magazine on December 13, 2009: "Random Promotions," by Clive Thompson. There is also a short write-up at Technology Review.


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Monday, December 14, 2009

Paul Samuelson, 1915-2009

Paul Samuelson

... let me give you a bit of boring autobiography. I came to the University of Chicago on the morning of January 2, 1932. I wasn't yet a graduate of high school for another few months. And that was about the low point of the Herbert Hoover/Andrew Mellon phase after October of 1929. That's quite a number of years to have inaction. And I couldn't reconcile what I was being taught at the University of Chicago — the lectures and the books I was being assigned — with what I knew to be true out in the streets.

My family was well off but not rich. I spent the four years I was an undergraduate working on the beach. And it wasn't because I was lazy; it was because my freshman class would go to a hundred different employers and wouldn't get a nibble. That was a disequilibrium system. I realized that the ordinary old-fashioned Euclidean geometry didn't apply.

And I applauded when the major members of the Chicago faculty — maybe even a few years before Keynes's general theory [published in 1936] — came out with a petition to have deficit-financed spending without taxation in order to create a new increment of spending power. And I was for that. And Franklin Roosevelt, who was not a trained economist, and who experimented and made a lot of mistakes, in his first days, by good luck or good advice got the system moving. It was in a sense an easier problem because the pathology was so terrible.

He would go to Warm Springs, Georgia. And that county — a pretty sizeable one, this is the old south — there were maybe three to ten people with enough income to file an income tax return. So, when along came the WPA, the PWA, and a little later the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, you could be very sure that those monies spit out by government — not from airplanes in the air, sending newly printed greenbacks, but essentially the equivalent of that — would be spent.

I don't know if you know the name, the professor E. Cary Brown wrote kind of the definitive article in the American Economic Review on what had been accomplished by deficit spending that was sustained. And his numerical findings were that there were no miracles — it was about what you'd expect — but it worked. And so I developed a guarded admiration for Keynes. And I say guarded because I don't think he understood his system as well as some of the people around him did.

Anyway, this swept the field for a number of decades. And then, when the 1970s came, with very heavy supply side shocks — the quadrupling of OPEC oil prices overnight, a rash of bad harvests, and the terrible price/wage control system contrived by Arthur Burns and Nixon 17 months before the election in order to ensure that they won. All these things added up. And Keynesianism, if it was thought to promise perpetual prosperity, became disparaged.

[Excerpted, with a few copy-editing changes, from a June 16, 2009 interview with Paul Samuelson conducted by Conor Clarke and published at theatlantic.com]

The New York Times obituary is here.



Sunday, December 13, 2009

Santa Lucia, the Queen of Light

Today is Santa Lucia Day, celebrated throughout Scandinavia as part of the Christmas season.

Lucia Morning
Carl Larsson, 1908

(House of Sweden)

The story of "Lucia Morning," as told by cowboyannie . . .

In Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Norway, and Finland, Saint Lucy is venerated on December 13 in a ceremony where a girl is elected to portray Lucia. Wearing a white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head, she walks at the head of a procession of women, each holding a candle. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Lucia's life when she was sentenced to be burned. The women sing a Lucia song while entering the room, to the melody of the traditional Neapolitan song Santa Lucia; the Italian lyrics describe the view from Santa Lucia in Naples, the various Scandinavian lyrics are fashioned for the occasion, describing the light with which Lucia overcomes the darkness. Each Scandinavian country has lyrics in their native tongues. After finishing this song, the procession sings Christmas carols or more songs about Lucia. A similar version occurs in Scandinavian communities and churches in the United States. In the Lucia procession in the home depicted by Carl Larsson in 1908, the oldest daughter brings coffee and St. Lucia buns to her parents while wearing a candle-wreath and singing a Lucia song. Other daughters may help, dressed in the same kind of white robe and carrying a candle in one hand, but only the oldest daughter wears the candle-wreath.

To hear a performance of "Sankta Lucia" in Swedish, see this post from a year ago.


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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Components of Capacity Building

I'm always on the lookout for materials that clarify central concepts in the training area. One such concept, important in work aimed at reducing poverty in developing countries, is capacity building.1 The training materials placed online by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) mentioned in my last two posts include a paper (pdf) on policy processes that has a helpful section on the components of capacity building in irrigated agriculture.

Olivier Dubois, an FAO consultant, explains the three levels of capacity development:
Level I, the enabling environment, represents the broad national and international context within which irrigated agriculture can develop. It is concerned with policy at the highest levels in government, the socio-economic conditions that enable or constrain development and the legal framework that provides, for example farmers with security of tenure for land and water and the power to seek legal redress when contracts are broken. This level can have immense influence over what happens at the lower levels. It is often given insufficient attention, particularly in project interventions, because it is seen as too difficult and diffuse to address.

Level II is the organizational level, which refers to the wide range of organizations involved in irrigation such as water user organizations, research groups, government extension agencies and private companies that share common objectives such as improved livelihoods at the farming level, improved water management or increased agricultural productivity at a national level. The capacity of an organization is embedded in the ability of its individuals to work together within established rules and values and to interact with other organizations.

Level III, the individual level, is the most structured and familiar part of capacity development and includes education and training of the various stakeholders, from farmers to local professionals.
Dubois goes on to enumerate the components of each level:

Level I — Environment
  • Policy framework

  • Legal and regulatory framework

  • Management accountability

  • Resources

  • Processes and relationships
Level II — Organization
  • Strategic management

  • Culture/structure

  • Processes

  • Human resources

  • Resources – financial

  • Resources – information

  • Infrastructure

  • Interrelationships
Level III — Individual
  • Job skills and needs

  • Professional development

  • Access to information

  • Performance/incentives

  • Values/attitudes/motivation

  • Relationships/interdependence

  • Professional integrity

  • Communication skills
With this enumeration of the levels and components of capacity development, policymakers have a schema for analyzing where significant gaps exist that need to be addressed in order to achieve real progress in improving agriculture in poor areas of the world.

Dubois' section on capacity development includes additional guidance, e.g., on conditions that make it difficult to develop capacity and conditions that are favorable to capacity development. The section is well worth reading in its entirety.

1 Some previous posts touching on capacity building are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


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Friday, December 11, 2009

A Review of the Literature on Negotiation

Among the training resources the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) offers online (a full list is here) is a thirty-page summary (pdf) of the literature on negotiation. The authors are Tanya Alfredson, an FAO consultant, and Azeta Cungu, an FAO development economist.

As explained at the end of the paper, it
was prepared in the framework of a capacity building programme that FAO organized to address major strategic issues and policy challenges for agriculture and rural development, in developing countries. The programme aimed at enhancing the capacity of senior officials by providing cutting-edge knowledge, facilitating exchange, and reviewing practical mechanisms to implement policy changes in a context where policy space is increasingly limited by regional and international agreements and treaties. Owing to the increasingly important role that negotiation plays in policy-making processes, policy experts are becoming more and more aware of the need for mainstreaming negotiation into the policy cycle. ...

This paper is intended as ... easy-to-read reference material on negotiation. It presents an overview of the defining theoretical perspectives, concepts and methods that are central to the theory and practice of negotiation.
The paper is available in English, French, and Spanish.

A central topic is five approaches to negotiation discussed in the literature:1
  • Structural approaches — "consider negotiated outcomes to be a function of the characteristics or structural features that define each particular negotiation. These characteristics may include features such as the number of parties and issues involved in the negotiation and the composition (whether each side is monolithic or comprises many groups) or relative power of the competing parties. Structural approaches to negotiation find explanations of outcomes in patterns of relationships between parties or their goals. They can be deterministic in that they often view outcomes as a priori once structural factors are understood."

  • Strategic approaches — "have roots in mathematics, decision theory and rational choice theory, and also benefit from major contributions from the areas of economics, biology, and conflict analysis. Whereas the structural approach focuses on the role of means (such as power) in negotiations, the emphasis in strategic models of negotiation is on the role of ends (goals) in determining outcomes. Strategic models are also models of rational choice. Negotiators are viewed as rational decision makers with known alternatives who make choices guided by their calculation of which option will maximize their ends or 'gains', frequently described as ‘payoffs’. Actors choose from a 'choice set' of possible actions in order to try and achieve desired outcomes. Each actor has a unique 'incentive structure' that is comprised of a set of costs associated with different actions combined with a set of probabilities that reflect the likelihoods of different actions leading to desired outcomes."

  • Behavioral approaches — "emphasize the role negotiators’ personalities or individual characteristics play in determining the course and outcome of negotiated agreements. Behavioral theories may explain negotiations as interactions between personality ‘types’ that often take the form of dichotomies, such as shopkeepers and warriors, or ‘hardliners’ and ‘soft liners,’ where negotiators are portrayed either as ruthlessly battling for all or diplomatically conceding to another party’s demands for the sake of keeping the peace."

  • Concession exchange — approaches that "share features of both the structural approach (power) and the strategic approach (outcomes), [but] they describe a different kind of mechanism that centers on learning. ... negotiations consist of a series of concessions. The concessions mark stages in negotiations. They are used by parties to both signal their own intentions and to encourage movement in their opponent’s position. ...

    "The risk inherent in this approach is that participants engaged in concession-trading may miss opportunities to find new, mutually beneficial solutions to their shared dilemma and end up instead in a purely regressive process which leaves both sides with fewer gains than they could have had if they had pursued a more creative approach."

  • Integrative approaches — "frame negotiations as interactions with win-win potential. Whereas a zero-sum view sees the goal of negotiations as an effort to claim one’s share over a 'fixed amount of pie,' integrative theories and strategies look for ways of creating value, or 'expanding the pie, ... so that there is more to share between parties as a result of negotiation. Integrative approaches use objective criteria, look to create conditions of mutual gain, and emphasize the importance of exchanging information between parties and group problem-solving. Because integrative approaches emphasize problem solving, cooperation, joint decisionmaking and mutual gains, integrative strategies call for participants to work jointly to create win-win solutions. They involve uncovering interests, generating options and searching for commonalities between parties."
Once Alfredson and Cungu have outlined the above five approaches to negotiation, they concentrate attention on integrative negotiation, the approach taught by the the Harvard Program on Negotiation.

1 References are omitted in the quoted passages. There are also a few unmarked copy edits.



Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Negociatrix Policy Game

The Project on Negotiation for Agriculture at FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) has, with partners, developed a pair of simulations that illustrate judicious application of the simulation methodology.

Specifically, in working through the Negociatrix simulation (2005) or the Negotiatrix Policy Game (2007), participants get a good sense of what they need to know and do in order to effectively handle the complex process of managing agricultural policy in a global market environment.

The audience the FAO negotiation project targets consists of:
  • Main negotiators of agricultural policy related agreements, especially those from developing countries, a number of whom requested help from the FAO in beefing up their negotiating capacity.

  • Staff working on bilateral and multilateral negotiations from national administration or Regional Economic Organizations such as the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) or the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU).

  • Civil society and professional organization representatives involved in bilateral or multilateral negotiations.
In this post, I will mostly talk about the Negociatrix Policy Game (ftp:pdf) since it has more day-to-day applicability than the Negociatrix simulation (ftp:pdf), which is designed to emulate participation in periodic World Trade Organization conferences.1

The Negociatrix Policy Game aims to help participants improve both their negotiation skills2 and their ability to analyze trade policy impacts on such social welfare variables as farm income and net exports (exports less imports).

The linkages between agricultural policies (e.g., tariffs, price supports, and subsidies) and the variables that measure social welfare are complex. Participants quickly become aware of the difficulty of pursuing multiple objectives simultaneously in a global agricultural and food market environment, especially when the objectives are not entirely compatible. They are also confronted with the need to manage both their relationships with other parties and the negotiation process itself in order to arrive at a more-than-satisfactory and reasonably stable outcome.

There are up to twelve countries in the Policy game:
  • Benglapal, modeled on Thailand and Vietnam

  • Esperantia, modeled on Brazil

  • Federatio, modeled on the US

  • Imperia, modeled on China

  • Ketanya, modeled on Tanzania and Kenya

  • Insula, modeled on Mauritius

  • Mabu-Fabe, modeled on Mali, Burkina Faso, and Benin

  • Neosaxy, modeled on Australia

  • Osterland, modeled on Japan

  • Pali, modeled on Haiti

  • Uniona, modeled on the EU

  • ROW, i.e., the rest of the world
Note that the game can be played with fewer countries if desired.

There are three agricultural commodities in the simulation:
  • a cash crop modeled on cotton

  • a basic food crop modeled on rice

  • a processed crop modeled on sugar and coffee
Each country is a producer and/or a consumer of at least two of these products and sometimes of all three.

For each country, the simulation designers have created a policy context (a set of current agriculture- and food-related policies) and a virtual economy (specifying such things as government expenditure and demand for and supply of food crops). All of this is modeled in a set of Excel worksheets.

An individual or, preferably, a team is assigned to each country. In what follows, let's assume that teams of two are used.

The team's job is to make policy choices for their country (e.g., by setting tariff levels) during each round of the game. Their objective is to raise the country's national welfare, as reflected in an index built from five components:
  • farm income

  • food consumption per capita

  • government spending on agriculture

  • agricultural trade balance

  • GDP
How much weight is given to each of these components is determined by a particular country's policy priorities. For instance, here are the weights for three of the countries:

Goal Federatio Imperia Pali
farm income 0.23 0.06 0.14
Incr per capita
food consumption 0.21 0.12 0.22
govt spending 0.08 0.27 0.24
Improve ag
trade balance 0.41 0.51 0.35
Incr GDP 0.07 0.03 0.05
After each policy-setting round, the software displays the impacts on social welfare (farm income, food consumption, etc.) of the policy choices, impacts that reflect the interdependence of all the countries' economies. Because the participants can see the impacts for all countries, they can undertake an informed analysis of what happened during the round.

During any round, teams are free to enter into informal negotations with each other to try to improve results in a mutually beneficial way. I.e., teams can look for ways to increase the overall social value generated in the food and agricultural sector, and then negotiate how to share whatever increased value they've agreed it's feasible to achieve.

The outcome of the game will depend, to a large extent, on the negotiation strategy adopted by each team and on the quality of the team's analysis of the linkages between changes in national policy measures and changes in agricultural and food markets.

Because of the game's complexity (several countries, several policy instruments which must be balanced in order to achieve multiple goals), it's important that facilitators be ready to assist participants in understanding the impacts of policy choices on world and local markets.

1 The Negociatrix simulation includes issues to be addressed explicitly by participants that are approached informally or not at all in the Negociatrix Policy Game. Some of these issues are: managing the process of conducting complex international negotiations, dealing with power asymmetry among countries, building and using coalitions, overcoming deadlocks, and managing information and communication channels.

2 FAO recommends that participants in the simulations first receive some training in these skills and concepts: active listening skills, the three tensions of negotiation (between cooperation and competition, between empathy and assertiveness, and between what principals want and what agents want), the process of creating and distributing value, preparation for negotiation, managing a mandate, handling difficult negotiations, handling multiparty negotiations, managing the negotiation process, team negotiation, relationship mapping, understanding the life of coalitions, dynamics of international trade, and trade policy instruments (e.g., tariffs).


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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

John Baldoni on Leading Up

Earlier this year John Baldoni, a leadership consultant, published Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up. If you were to read the book, you wouldn't find anything astonishing or entirely novel. Baldoni's strength is in making the case for this key point: middle managers need to be willing and able to take initiative.

For instance, in the prologue (pdf) to his book, Baldoni argues:
Leading up is a form of managing up, but with a difference. Managing up denotes administrative work; leading up implies initiative. Both are essential to leading your boss effectively. Both practices are focused on helping the leader do his job better. But in leading up, the person leading up demonstrates a degree of selflessness so that the organization can benefit.
Baldoni addresses himself to senior leaders, too. He tells them:
You should encourage leadership from the middle ranks. Skeptics may think that leadership from below will undermine a CEO’s authority. Reality dictates the opposite. When managers in the middle are taking ownership of issues, making decisions, and becoming accountable for results, then senior managers have the freedom to think and act strategically without getting bogged down in tactical matters. Organizations must be filled with people who can think for themselves as well as act with initiative and make good things happen. Such behaviors allow each level of management to engage strategically as well as execute tactically. Developing leaders who can lead from the middle is sound management practice. Not only does it create a stronger organization in the short run, it prepares emerging leaders to be more equipped for senior leadership positions. This practice time and again gives people more room to employ their talents as well as to hone their skills.
In addition to reading the prologue to Lead Your Boss, you can familiarize yourself with the themes of the book by watching the 2:32 video below, in which Baldoni outlines his main points.



Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Testing Effect

On October 20 Henry Roediger, a psychology professor at Washington University, and Bridgid Finn, a post-doc at the Memory Lab that Roediger heads, published a short article at ScientificAmerican.com reporting on recent research that provides further evidence of the power of the testing effect, defined as "improved performance on a later retention test arising from an earlier test."1

Roediger and Finn outline the findings from two sets of experiments aimed at determining if testing people on material they have not studied boosts their recall of the material on a subsequent test even though the testees, understandably, get most of the answers on the initial test wrong.

The first set of experiments is described in a paper (pdf) by Nate Kornell, a psychology professor at Williams College, Matthew Hays, a post-doc at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies, and Robert Bjork, a psychology professor at UCLA.2. As the abstract explains:
Taking tests enhances learning. But what happens when one cannot answer a test question — does an unsuccessful retrieval attempt impede future learning or enhance it? The authors examined this question using materials that ensured that retrieval attempts would be unsuccessful. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants were asked fictional general-knowledge questions (e.g., “What peace treaty ended the Calumet War?”). In Experiments 3–6, participants were shown a cue word (e.g., whale) and were asked to guess a weak associate (e.g., mammal); the rare trials on which participants guessed the correct response were excluded from the analyses. In the test condition, participants attempted to answer the question before being shown the answer; in the read-only condition, the question and answer were presented together. Unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhanced learning with both types of materials. These results demonstrate that retrieval attempts enhance future learning; they also suggest that taking challenging tests — instead of avoiding errors — may be one key to effective learning.
In sum: the read-only condition emulates someone sitting down and reading a portion of a textbook. How much does the person remember? Not as much as if he/she had been quizzed in advance on the material, even if the answers he/she came up with were largely wrong.

A key point is that the unsuccessful retrieval attempts need to be followed by feedback providing the right answers in order for enhanced learning to occur.

Kornell, Hays, and Bjork (KHB) also found, as have previous researchers, that the benefit of testing increased as the delay between study and the final test of the material increased. The reason seems to be that testing is more effective at preventing forgetting than is a read-only/no-initial-test approach to learning.

KHB offer three conjectures concerning the reason for the testing effect:
  • Testing enhances deep processing (elaborated thinking about the material), which, in turn, enhances learning.

  • Retrieval strengthens retrieval routes from the question to the correct answer. And "it could be that exploring incorrect retrieval routes actually weakens, rather than strengthens, those routes."

  • "... information generated from memory during a retrieval attempt, even if it is incorrect, can serve to cue future recall attempts. In other words, incorrect information can serve as a mediator, connecting the question with the correct answer. ... unsucessful retrieval attempts are likely to produce related information that can serve to mediate recall of the correct answer." [reference omitted]
KHB close their paper with the advice that "educators and learners should introduce challenges into learning situations, including using tests as learning events, even if doing so increases initial error rates."

The second set of experiments is described in a paper (pdf) by Lindsey Richland, an education professor at the University of California, Irvine, Nate Kornell, and Liche Sean Kao, a graduate student in education at Irvine.3 As explained in the abstract:
Testing previously studied information enhances long-term memory, particularly when the information is successfully retrieved from memory. The authors examined the effect of unsuccessful retrieval attempts on learning. Participants in 5 experiments read an essay about vision. In the test condition, they were asked about embedded concepts before reading the passage; in the extended study condition, they were given a longer time to read the passage. To distinguish the effects of testing from attention direction, the authors emphasized the tested concepts in both conditions, using italics or bolded keywords or, in Experiment 5, by presenting the questions but not asking participants to answer them before reading the passage. Posttest performance was better in the test condition than in the extended study condition in all experiments — a pretesting effect — even though only items that were not successfully retrieved on the pretest were analyzed. The testing effect appears to be attributable, in part, to the role unsuccessful tests play in enhancing future learning.
What this research suggests is that if you have a chunk of time available in which students can get themselves "in gear" for a class session on a new topic, it's better to use the time for testing — even if the students give a lot of wrong answers — than to adopt a "study hall" approach of having the students spend the time reading about the topic.4

Richland, Kornell, and Kao emphasize the importance of following the pre-testing with instruction that provides answers to the tested questions. They go on to say that
... our data suggest that instruction following testing need not be individualized to learner errors. Rather, instruction that appropriately draws attention to key content may build on the previous cognitive acts performed when attempting to answer a test question. This implies that standardized tests, or other test situations where it is difficult to provide timely item-by-item feedback, could still provide learning benefits for successful and unsuccessful test takers, as long as those test takers are given an opportunity to learn the information on which they were previously tested.
For an overview of research relating to the testing effect, you can see a survey paper published by Henry Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke in 2006.5 In the paper Roediger and Karpicke argue:
The testing effect cannot be explained by additional exposure to the material. This suggests that retrieval processes engaged in during a test are responsible for enhancing learning. More specifically, elaboration of encoding [processing of sensory input into memory], more effortful or deeper encoding, and creation of different routes of access can account for the basic effect. ... The concept of transfer-appropriate processing is also congenial, albeit at a general level, to explaining the testing effect. [As explained earlier in the paper, "The idea behind transfer-appropriate processing is that performance on a test of memory benefits to the extent that the processes required to perform well on the test match encoding operations engaged during prior learning."]
They also note that the testing effect can be exploited with more complex learning than memorization — such as the learning required in college-level courses or at business firms — by adopting an approach of frequent assignments. In other words, "testing" should be interpreted broadly; it's not just multiple choice, true/false, and fill-in-the-blank testing of memory.

In closing, let's return to the Roediger/Finn article. The authors offer this practical advice, reflecting all the insight that has accumulated concerning the testing effect:
By challenging ourselves to retrieve or generate answers we can improve our recall. Keep that in mind next time you turn to Google for an answer, and give yourself a little more time to come up with the answer on your own.

Students might consider taking the questions in the back of the textbook chapter and try to answer them before reading the chapter. (If there are no questions, convert the section headings to questions. If the heading is Pavlovian Conditioning, ask yourself What is Pavlovian conditioning?). Then read the chapter and answer the questions while reading it. When the chapter is finished, go back to the questions and try answering them again. For any you miss, restudy that section of the chapter. Then wait a few days and try to answer the questions again (restudying when you need to). Keep this practice up on all the chapters you read before the exam and you will be have learned the material in a durable manner and be able to retrieve it long after you have left the course.

Of course, these are general-purpose strategies and work for any type of material, not just textbooks. And remember, even if you get the questions wrong as you self-test yourself during study, the process is still useful, indeed much more useful than just studying. [emphasis added]
The key take-away from all of the testing effect research is that testing is useful not only for assessment but also as a tool to promote learning.

1 Mark McDaniel, Henry Roediger, and Kathleen McDermott, "Generalizing Test-Enhanced Learning from the Laboratory to the Classroom," Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Vol. 14, No. 2 (2007), pp. 200-206.

2 Nate Kornell, Matthew Hays,and Robert Bjork, "Unsuccessful Retrieval Attempts Enhance Subsequent Learning," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, Vol. 35, No. 4 (2009), pp. 989-998.

3 Lindsey Richland, Nate Kornell, and Liche Kao, "The Pre-testing Effect: Do Unsuccessful Retrieval Attempts Enhance Larning?" Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Vol. 15, No. 3 (2009), pp. 243-257.

4 It should be noted that Richland, Korness, and Kao did not find that their pretesting slowed the rate of forgetting.

5 Henry Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke, "The Power of Testing Memory: Basic Research and Implications for Educational Practice," Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol. 1, No. 3 (2006), pp. 181-210.

At his Memory Lab, Roediger oversees the Test-Enhanced Learning in the Classroom (TELC) project, which is based on these four principles: "(1) Testing enhances learning (better than repeated studying), and students should be tested frequently; (2) Production tests (short answer or essay tests) produce better retention at delays than do recognition tests (multiple choice, true/false); (3) Multiple tests are better than single tests in enhancing learning; and (4) Immediate feedback improves the effect of testing, especially for facts missed on the tests."


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Monday, December 07, 2009

TRIZ aka Reverse Brainstorming

There is a group problem-solving method included in the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit — discussed in a post of a few days ago — that I found particularly intriguing. The method in question goes by the name TRIZ (pronounced "trees" because it is the tranliteration of a Russian acronym), or "theory of inventive problem-solving."

The TRIZ method was originally developed to help people creatively solve engineering problems. The method has since, in simplified form, been adopted for a whole range of situations in which people need to get beyond conventional thinking (or even a state of denial) that is impeding their efforts to improve how they work.

The Knowledge Sharing Toolkit webpage outlining TRIZ directs readers to an example documented at the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT) blog. This particular case, presented in an eleven-minute video, involves exploring how to improve delivery of primary care to patients. The discussion is facilitated by Keith McCandless, a long-time TRIZ practitioner.

The process McCandless follows has seven steps, as shown in the graphic below:

(click to enlarge)
(CIMIT blog)

Steps 2 through 4 indicate why the TRIZ technique is sometimes called "reverse brainstorming."

It's easy to get immersed in lots of technical detail about the TRIZ approach, but you probably don't want to unless you're working actively in an engineering-intense field. Still, if you're inclined to learn more about how TRIZ has developed since it was first conceived in 1946, you can visit Ideation International and The TRIZ Journal.


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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Saint Nicholas Day 2009

St. Nicholas (c. 1554,1555)
Jacopo Tintoretto (1519-1594)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna




Saturday, December 05, 2009

A Rubric for Knowledge Management Self-Assessment

Among the knowledge-sharing tools outlined at the Information and Communications Technology and Knowledge Management (ICT-KM) Program's website (see yesterday's post) is a knowledge managment (KM) self-assessment.

This particular self-assessment rubric (.doc) is based on an approach developed by BP for their operations excellence program. You can find additional details in Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations, by Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell, both of whom worked on BP's knowledge management team.

The assessment includes five dimensions:
  • KM strategy

  • Leadership behaviors

  • Networking

  • Learning before, during and after

  • Capturing knowledge
Five levels of organizational performance are defined, using behavioral indicators that are specific to each particular dimension. The five levels are:
  • The way we work (highest)

  • Consistently apply

  • Act

  • React

  • Awareness (lowest)
To give you an idea of what the rubric identifies as the highest level of knowledge management performance, here are the Level 5 characteristics for each of the dimensions (somewhat edited):

KM strategy
  • Clearly identified intellectual assets.

  • KM strategy is embedded in the business strategy.

  • Framework and tools enable learning before, during and after.
Leadership behaviors
  • Leaders recognize the link between KM and performance.

  • The right attitudes exist to share and use others' know-how.

  • Leaders reinforce the right behavior and act as role models.
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

  • Networks have a clear purpose, some have clear deliverables, others develop capability in the organization.

  • Networks ensure time is set aside for social interaction.
Learning before, during and after
  • Prompts for learning are built into business processes.

  • People routinely find out who is knowledgeable in particular areas and talk with them.

  • Common language, templates and guidelines lead to effective sharing.
Capturing knowledge
  • Knowledge is easy to get to, easy to retrieve. Relevant knowledge is pushed to you.

  • Organizational knowledge is constantly refreshed and distilled.

  • Networks act as guardians of the knowledge.


Friday, December 04, 2009

The CGIAR Knowledge Sharing Toolkit

As with any wiki, the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit launched in March of last year by the Information and Communications Technology and Knowledge Management (ICT-KM) Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is a work in progress. Though there are still plenty of blanks waiting to be filled in, the wiki already is a valuable compilation of tools and methods for facilitating knowledge sharing (KS).

Examples of the tools for which the wiki currently has templated pages are blogs, intranets, language translation technologies, mobile phones, Skype, social media, tagging and social bookmarking, video, and, of course, wikis.

Examples of methods (processes) covered are after action review, appreciative inquiry, critical moments of reflection, impact pathways, mediation, mentoring, Samoan circle, storytelling, speed geeking, and the World Cafe.

The designers of the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit offer help to users in identifying tools and methods of particular relevance to their needs by making suggestions for a number of contexts (not mutually exclusive) in which knowledge sharing is important:
  • Planning, monitoring and evaluation

  • Listening, gathering input, stakeholder involvement

  • Supporting communities and networks

  • Working, researching and collaborating together

  • Meeting

  • Creating, publishing and sharing content

  • Advocacy

  • Learning and training

  • Improving impact through knowledge sharing in research
The page devoted to each of these contexts lists the sorts of questions that typically arise, and suggests tools, methods, and tags of likely relevance. (Each tool and method can be tagged by users. The list of tags is here.)

As an example, you might look at the page for people undertaking advocacy. You will see these four questions and the associated lists of tools, methods, and tags suggested as likely to lead to good answers:

How do we get input on our issues from key constituents?
Tools and Methods: The World Cafe, Listening
Tags: relationship, collaboration, alliances

How do we make our issues visible to the people we want to reach? Internally and externally?
Tools and Methods: Storytelling, Knowledge Fairs, Intranets, Blogs, Microblogging, Workplace Knowledge Sharing Tips, Rural Radio, Wikis
Tags: content, dissemination, information, offline

How do we use the web to inform our key publics on issues?
Tools and Methods: Blogs, Microblogging, Frequently Asked Questions, Language Translation Technologies, Ritual Dissent
Tags: content, dissemination, information, offline

How do we make it easy to get people to act on issues and spread the word themselves?
Tools and Methods: Blogs, Microblogging, Mobile Phones, Online Surveys, Rural Radio, Social Media, Social Networking Sites, Yellow Pages, Samoan Circle, Wikis, Peer Coaching, Peer Assists, Graphic Facilitation, Good Practices, Community Interactive Theater, Chat or Talk Shows
Tags: relationship, collaboration, online, offline

To polish off the guidance on sources of knowledge about how best to pursue advocacy, the page concludes with a list of additional tags with a decent probability of leading to useful pages in the wiki — namely, advocacy, alliances, collaboration, content, dissemination, information, networks, offline, online, relationship, and stakeholders.

For more of an overview of the thinking behind the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit, you can read a June 2008 report written by Gerry Toomey, who has worked as a consultant for CGIAR and the Knowledge Sharing Project.


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Thursday, December 03, 2009

HP Intermediate Excel 2007 Course

I have now worked my way through the Intermediate Excel 2007 course mentioned in my post of a week-and-a-half ago outlining the content of the introductory Excel course offered at Hewlett Packard's Learning Center.

The intermediate course matches the introductory course in terms of quality. It is well-organized, offers plenty of well-designed hands-on examples, and provides learning checks at the end of each lesson.

The four lessons are:
  1. Functions — Reviews some of the most commonly used Excel functions (e.g., SUM, AVERAGE, MAX, COUNT, PMT,ROUNDUP, TODAY, and NOW) and explains the Help functionality that eases use of any of the innumerable functions available in the program. The lesson also covers absolute cell referencing and its role in formula copying; and creating named cell ranges.

  2. Working with multiple worksheets — Teaches use of multiple worksheets within a single workbook. Covers naming, creating, and deleting sheets; displaying and arranging sheets; copying and moving sheets; formating sheet tabs; creating formula and function references to cells on multiple sheets; and linking to content from other workbooks.

  3. Finding, sorting and filtering data — Covers Excel's most commonly used sorting and filtering capabilities. Other topics include using Excel to create a flat file database, importing data from other applications, finding and replacing data, splitting data into multiple columns, and concatenating data.

  4. Advanced formatting — Topics include themes, cell styles, sharing custom styles between workbooks, (e.g., by creating a template), creating conditional formatting (e.g., showing a number in red if it is negative), and using custom number formats.
Once you're done with the intermediate tutorial, you might be looking as I am, for the next level of instruction. HP promises that a two-part advanced tutorial is on its way. The first part deals with data analysis, and the second with creating charts and graphics.

You can sign up to be notified when the advanced tutorial becomes available here (Part 1) and here (Part 2). (Judging from what Google turns up, it appears that this course is already available from other sources, but not on-demand and for free.)



Wednesday, December 02, 2009

MIT Course on Project Management IV: Online Textbook

The final item from Fred Moavenzadeh's course in Project Management that I want to call attention to is its use of an online textbook by Chris Hendrickson, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

The book is Project Management for Construction: Fundamental Concepts for Owners, Engineers, Architects and Builders. The most recent updating to the text was done in the summer of 2008.

Prof. Hendrickson and Tung Au, a former professor of civil engineering at Carnegie Mellon who was Hendrickson's co-author for the original 1989 edition, emphasize that the book is written from the project owner's point of view. They explain that
Some profound implications for the objectives and methods of project management result from this perspective:
  • The "life cycle" of costs and benefits from initial planning through operation and disposal of a facility are relevant to decision making. An owner is concerned with a project from the cradle to the grave. Construction costs represent only one portion of the overall life cycle costs.

  • Optimizing performance at one stage of the process may not be beneficial overall if additional costs or delays occur elsewhere. For example, saving money on the design process will be a false economy if the result is excess construction costs.

  • Fragmentation of project management among different specialists may be necessary, but good communication and coordination among the participants is essential to accomplish the overall goals of the project. New information technologies can be instrumental in this process, especially the Internet and specialized Extranets.

  • Productivity improvements are always of importance and value. As a result, introducing new materials and automated construction processes is always desirable as long as they are less expensive and are consistent with desired performance.

  • Quality of work and performance are critically important to the success of a project since it is the owner who will have to live with the results.
In essence, adopting the viewpoint of the owner focuses attention on the cost effectiveness of facility construction rather than competitive provision of services by the various participants.
I've reproduced the table of contents for the book below. The first three chapters provide an overview of construction project management, while the remaining chapters cover specific project management functions and techniques.1

Chapter 1. The Owners' Perspective
1.1 Introduction
1.2 The Project Life Cycle
1.3 Major Types of Construction
1.4 Selection of Professional Services
1.5 Construction Contractors
1.6 Financing of Constructed Facilities
1.7 Legal and Regulatory Requirements
1.8 The Changing Environment of the Construction Industry
1.9 The Role of Project Managers

Chapter 2. Organizing for Project Management
2.1 What is Project Management?
2.2 Trends in Modern Management
2.3 Strategic Planning and Project Programming
2.4 Effects of Project Risks on Organization
2.5 Organization of Project Participants
2.6 Traditional Designer-Constructor Sequence
2.7 Professional Construction Management
2.8 Owner-Builder Operation
2.9 Turnkey Operation
2.10 Leadership and Motivation for the Project Team
2.11 Interpersonal Behavior in Project Organizations
2.12 Perceptions of Owners and Contractors

Chapter 3. The Design and Construction Process
3.1 Design and Construction as an Integrated System
3.2 Innovation and Technological Feasibility
3.3 Innovation and Economic Feasibility
3.4 Design Methodology
3.5 Functional Design
3.6 Physical Structures
3.7 Geotechnical Engineering Investigation
3.8 Construction Site Environment
3.9 Value Engineering
3.10 Construction Planning
3.11 Industrialized Construction and Pre-fabrication
3.12 Computer-Aided Engineering
3.13 Pre-Project Planning

Chapter 4. Labor, Material and Equipment Utilization
4.1 Historical Perspective
4.2 Labor Productivity
4.3 Factors Affecting Job-Site Productivity
4.4 Labor Relations in Construction
4.5 Problems in Collective Bargaining
4.6 Materials Management
4.7 Material Procurement and Delivery
4.8 Inventory Control
4.9 Tradeoffs of Costs in Materials Management.
4.10 Construction Equipment
4.11 Choice of Equipment and Standard Production Rates
4.12 Construction Processes
4.13 Queues and Resource Bottlenecks

Chapter 5. Cost Estimation
5.1 Costs Associated with Constructed Facilities
5.2 Approaches to Cost Estimation
5.3 Type of Construction Cost Estimates
5.4 Effects of Scale on Construction Cost
5.5 Unit Cost Method of Estimation
5.6 Methods for Allocation of Joint Costs
5.7 Historical Cost Data
5.8 Cost Indices
5.9 Applications of Cost Indices to Estimating
5.10 Estimate Based on Engineer's List of Quantities
5.11 Allocation of Construction Costs Over Time
5.12 Computer Aided Cost Estimation
5.13 Estimation of Operating Costs

Chapter 6. Economic Evaluation of Facility Investments
6.1 Project Life Cycle and Economic Feasibility
6.2 Basic Concepts of Economic Evaluation
6.3 Costs and Benefits of a Constructed Facility
6.4 Interest Rates and the Costs of Capital
6.5 Investment Profit Measures
6.6 Methods of Economic Evaluation
6.7 Depreciation and Tax Effects
6.8 Price Level Changes: Inflation and Deflation
6.9 Uncertainty and Risk
6.10 Effects of Financing on Project Selection
6.11 Combined Effects of Operating and Financing Cash Flows
6.12 Public versus Private Ownership of Facilities
6.13 Economic Evaluation of Different Forms of Ownership

Chapter 7. Financing of Constructed Facilities
7.1 The Financing Problem
7.2 Institutional Arrangements for Facility Financing
7.3 Evaluation of Alternative Financing Plans
7.4 Secured Loans with Bonds, Notes and Mortgages
7.5 Overdraft Accounts
7.6 Refinancing of Debts
7.7 Project versus Corporate Finance
7.8 Shifting Financial Burdens
7.9 Construction Financing for Contractors
7.10 Effects of Other Factors on a Contractor's Profits

Chapter 8. Construction Pricing and Contracting
8.1 Pricing for Constructed Facilities
8.2 Contract Provisions for Risk Allocation
8.3 Risks and Incentives on Construction Quality
8.4 Types of Construction Contracts
8.5 Relative Costs of Construction Contracts
8.6 Principles of Competitive Bidding
8.7 Principles of Contract Negotiation
8.8 Negotiation Simulation: An Example
8.9 Resolution of Contract Disputes

Chapter 9. Construction Planning
9.1 Basic Concepts in the Development of Construction Plans
9.2 Choice of Technology and Construction Method
9.3 Defining Work Tasks
9.4 Defining Precedence Relationships Among Activities
9.5 Estimating Activity Durations
9.6 Estimating Resource Requirements for Work Activities
9.7 Coding Systems

Chapter 10. Fundamental Scheduling Procedures
10.1 Relevance of Construction Schedules
10.2 The Critical Path Method
10.3 Calculations for Critical Path Scheduling
10.4 Activity Float and Schedules
10.5 Presenting Project Schedules
10.6 Critical Path Scheduling for Activity-on-Node and with Leads, Lags, and Windows
10.7 Calculations for Scheduling with Leads, Lags and Windows
10.8 Resource Oriented Scheduling
10.9 Scheduling with Resource Constraints and Precedences

Chapter 11. Advanced Scheduling Techniques
11.1 Use of Advanced Scheduling Techniques
11.2 Scheduling with Uncertain Durations
11.3 Calculations for Monte Carlo Schedule Simulation
11.4 Crashing and Time/Cost Tradeoffs
11.5 Scheduling in Poorly Structured Problems
11.6 Improving the Scheduling Process

Chapter 12. Cost Control, Monitoring and Accounting
12.1 The Cost Control Problem
12.2 The Project Budget
12.3 Forecasting for Activity Cost Control
12.4 Financial Accounting Systems and Cost Accounts
12.5 Control of Project Cash Flows
12.6 Schedule Control
12.7 Schedule and Budget Updates
12.8 Relating Cost and Schedule Information

Chapter 13. Quality Control and Safety During Construction
13.1 Quality and Safety Concerns in Construction
13.2 Organizing for Quality and Safety
13.3 Work and Material Specifications
13.4 Total Quality Control
13.5 Quality Control by Statistical Methods
13.6 Statistical Quality Control with Sampling by Attributes
13.7 Statistical Quality Control with Sampling by Variables
13.8 Safety

Chapter 14. Organization and Use of Project Information
14.1 Types of Project Information
14.2 Accuracy and Use of Information
14.3 Computerized Organization and Use of Information
14.4 Organizing Information in Databases
14.5 Relational Model of Databases
14.6 Other Conceptual Models of Databases
14.7 Centralized Database Management Systems
14.8 Databases and Applications Programs
14.9 Information Transfer and Flow

1 In the table of contents above, I have omitted (1) the section for references that appears in every chapter, (2) the section for footnotes that appears in every chapter except chapter 6, and (3) the section for problems that appears in chapters 4 through 14.



Tuesday, December 01, 2009

MIT Course on Project Management III: Project Uncertainty Management

Prof. Fred Moavenzadeh follows his lecture on construction risk management (pdf — see previous post) with the culminating lecture of his course on project management.

This lecture 24 (pdf) deals with what he calls project uncertainty management, giving credit for his presentation of the subject to Odmund Granli, a Norwegian expert in project management who got some of his training at MIT.

The basic point Prof. Moavenzadeh addresses is the way attention to managing uncertainty, as opposed to looking only at risks — negative eventualities — enables project managers to focus on value creation over the full life cycle of a project.

Uncertainty in this context is defined as the degree of a project manager's
ability to predict the outcome of parameters or foresee events that may impact the project. Uncertainties have a defined range of possible outcomes described by functions reflecting the probability for each outcome.
Uncertainty exists concerning both risks (negative outcomes) and opportunities (positive outcomes), and arises from variability and ambiguity, the latter due, e.g., to values conflicts among project participants.

Prof. Moavenzadeh outlines four types of uncertainty management challenges, one of which, somewhat confusingly, is itself called uncertainty, for which precautionary strategies, such as limiting the range of effects, are appropriate. The other three challenges are complexity, addressed by strategies that reduce the damage potential and limit the overall risk level (e.g., through establishing appropriate standards and procedures); dynamic processes, addressed by strategies that, e.g., reverse adverse trends and break vicious cycles; and ambiguity, addressed through consensus-seeking dialogue of advisory committees, citizen panels, etc.

The bulk of Prof. Moavenzadeh's lecture discusses how project organization and contracts can be structured to optimally manage project uncertainties — both risks and oppportunities. However, since the slides supporting this portion of the lecture are hard to absorb without the benefit of Prof. Moavenzadeh's in-class commentary, I would suggest that someone wishing to learn more read something like Uncertainty Management for Systems Planning and Design (pdf), a 2004 paper by Richard de Neufville of MIT's Engineering Systems Division.


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