Monday, October 12, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
So... since this is a very nice feeling, I started thinking. How to bring more harmony into the workplace when the vacation is over - to elongate the effect of the holidays? I came up with three bullet points that I will test when I have spent a few more weeks doing absolutely nothing but reading, swimming and relaxing;
- add some physical activity during the work day (my job is very far from manual labor...), like a walk during lunch time (I know this is a classic, I've just never made myself do it).
- plan for procrastination... or plan for meaningful breaks duirng the day. Like reading a poem. If you plan for it, it won't make you stressed out.
- cut through during stalled meetings such that you don't have to spend your time there.
When I am back to work I will start to practice this and try to devise a way to judge the effect of it on my own well-being as well as my work day productivity.
Enjoy the holidays!
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
It is from this point of view I am thinking of fundamentalist perspectives; these are terms used to describe stock brokers. A fundamentalist among stock brokers is not likely to support a large black beard and be carrying sables around. He us much more likely to be wearing something from Gucci and talk about taking the fundamentals into account when valuing stocks. With fundamentals we understand such things as financial standing of the company to be traded, general market conditions, the weather, season, the company's manager's ability to implement change and so on... On the other hand, there are other stock brokers, the socalled technical analysts. They try to value stocks and predict the future by looking at how the stock value and some other KPI's have moved in the past. Both of these groups tend to think that the market is not efficient on the short term. The fundamentalist typically thinks the market is efficient in the long run, whereas the technical analyst will tend to explain the market from past trends and mention behavorial finance and the like. We'll save more on this for later.
I think that both these types are fundamentally wrong - but both types of analysis can be useful. In our assessment of general progress we should sometimes move from the technical analysis kind of thinking to thinking in terms of fundamentals - how have my actions effected the important things for me? Am I feeling more happy now, or are the KPI's fooling me to believe I am making progress when I am not? If the KPI's are astray when you start considering fundamentals - you need to select new KPI's that are better aligned with your true goals. One should perform a fundamental walk-through now and then on all projects one is working on, to make sure everything is allright. And, of course, by thinking in qualitative, conceptual terms, bright ideas may even be born!
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Do you have ambitions to climb to the top, or at least to higher altitudes? Most organizations are somewhat hierarchical; only so many positions are available at the top and the number of broilers trying to climb is large... How can you avoid bumping your head against the glass ceiling?
As always - it boils down to strategic thinking. First of all, you need a career vision, a goal. You need to know where you want to end up, why you really want that, and what you are willing to pay to get there (in whatever currency is relevant; time, money, work, lost friends, whatever..). Then, when you know, identify all necessary career steps to get there and make a realistic plan to get there. Identify locations of possible obstacles. Typically, getting from mid-level management to top-level is hard and time consuming. When your plan is clear cut, start implementing it and monitoring progress. With fixed time intervals, ask yourself survey questions such as:
- Am I at the level I planned to be at the current time?
- How did I get here: according to plan, or did something else happen?
- Are the obstacles still the same?
- How can I go around or avoid obstacles?
- Is my goal at all reachable at an acceptable cost from my current standing?
If keeping focus is hard - you may resort to tracking numbers. Create your own performance indicators and savor those informal reviews from your subordinates as well as your managers. Always be self-promoting, but also easy going. Get the point? Good luck!
Sunday, June 14, 2009
- close your e-mail program
- close the office door
- close all applications you are not using on your computer
- do one thing offline: keep an offline to-do list and check each task when its done
- drink high-quality coffee while working
- do not use the computer mouse - the keyboard keeps your attention at work
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Most of the large software providers have some business intelligence related offerings. Microsoft offers the Microsoft Dynamics package. IBM is the largest provider of such software. And there are many other smaller options. These software packages share several features:
- they are providing graphics for managers with overviews of key performance indicators
- they aid in selecting KPI's
- they include options for database queries
Let us first take the issue of alignment with strategy. Most of these systems include the concept of balanced scorecards in some form or the other. The concept of a balanced scorecard is well-known among managers because this is now standard material at any business school. The balanced scorecard is supposed to be a snapshot of an organizations current "operating state" and was developed at Harvard in the 1990's by Prof. Kaplan and co-workers (Kaplan, 2001) . The idea is as follows. Any company must be very clear on what its purpose is in order to succeed in a harsh and competitive environment - in other words, you need to know what you want and what you are doing to survive in a free market. When this "company mission statement" is clear and agreed upon, a strategy must be laid out on how the company is practically going to achieve these goals. A very common approach in determining the strategy is to select some business areas to focus on - and then to formulate performance measures within each category. This makes the strategy more manageable and is also the foundation of a scorecard. A typical scorecard looks at the company from a few different angles:
- the shareholder view,
- internal business processes,
- customer view,
- innovation and learning view.
If such a formal procedure is going to be implemented together with a balanced scorecard system, a performance measure must be established for each of the four categories above (or, generally, the categories in use in the managment system). This could yield a better scorecard implementation.
The day will surely come when model based KPI designs arrive - a situation longed for by auditing firms - imagine the profits that are possible if you can produce a continuous auditing system: a highly specialized and craved-for software which reduced the need for expensive-to-hire specialist accountants. Continuous auditing is definitely coming, and principal component analysis, database analysis and optimization theory will surely play a big part in this very exciting future of business intelligence systems. Maybe these systems will actually be intelligent, some day. What is needed to reach this situation? Research in applied mathematics, database conversions and a lot of software development.
Therefore, if you are considering buying a business intelligence system, make sure you are not ending in a vendor lock-in situation with one of the big software houses; the future may come from an entirely unheard-of company: small startups are often the more innovative ones.
Kaplan, R. S. "Transforming the Balanced Scorecard from Performance Measurement to Strategic Management: Part I." Accounting Horizons 15.1 (2001): 87.
- Business intelligence systems are not intelligent
- KPI selection can be automated and aligned with company strategy
- Continuous auditing is possible in the very near future
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
- seek a therapist (will often be dangerous to your financial stability....)
- pick up a new hobby to get your thoughts on something new
- find a replacement for the "lost item" (e.g. a new girlfriend/boyfriend)
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
A good time tracker is a very simple app. It should be manual, and each employee should manually enter time spent on each task. And then, talking to the new intern for an hour by the coffee machine is still OK. It really is. For "manual" time tracking software, take a look at portablecommandline.blogspot.com .
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
- Get a new job that's better paid?
- Cut some expenses?
- Change the savings plan?
Monday, May 25, 2009
- debt-free before retirement
- to have $ 1 million in savings when I retire
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
- time for work-outs
- quality time with friends and family
- time for reflection and intellectual build-up
- healthy diet
- time to relax
Thursday, May 21, 2009
- The value of the variable must say something about your performance with regard to the relevant property/task
- It must be easy to measure/record
- You should be able of adjusting it by performing relevant actions
- Is its ideal value sensitive to external happenings outside of your control?
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
- serious impression
- being well informed
- a good friend
- Dress well
- Use polite and articulated language
- Appear confident
- Read newspapers (I have a fair selection at home)
- Use RSS feeds from online news sources
- Talk to people at work about happenings
- Read work-related literature every day
- Listen more than you talk
- Invite people out when they are not doing well
- Do fun things together with others
- Have confidence in others, show that you trust them
- Telling your friends to go away (bad move)
- Have meetings all the time to discuss with colleagues (even worse move?)
- Define your important goals
- Find a KPI that captures these goals as well as you can
- Find out how to change the KPI without conflicting your true goals
- Find a good value of the KPI to maximize happiness
- Use the actions you identified to change the KPI to adjust it to its "optimal" value
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Management and implementation philosophy for your life - how it started out
My professional background is as a control engineer. In addition to engineering, I have an interest in business management and how we can organize our lives to ensure happiness. In periods, especially in university, I have felt stressed about fulfilling my own expectations. I have been worried I would not be able of achieving my goals. Towards the end of my Master's degree in control engineering, I found it more challenging to determine how to stay in control of my life and my own happiness, than to solve the technical problems related to my research. Unfortunately, the research did not look good, most likely because of my stressed out state of mind. I had to deal with my inability to focus on what's important. I had to lay out a system.
Deep down, as I was, in the theories of control engineering and performance of industrial machines under uncertainty, the natural approach for me was to take inspiration from process control when setting up a self management and motivation system. In a typical industrial process, there are several layers of decisions, separated by time (how often decisions must be made). First I explain how this system works, then how we can adapt it to less technical problems.
At the top level in managing an industrial process is economics. Economics can be translated into a profit function, and we seek answer to the question: "how should I set up my production to maximize profit"? Using a model of the process, we can then calculate how much we should produce of our product per time (say 1000 gallons / day of diamond extract) and at what quality we should do so. This doesn't say how to do it.
An industrial process may have certain elements that are unstable. Before anything else is done, these elements should be stabilized. This is usually done using automatic control. One example of an unstable element is a tank with a drain. If we do not control the level in the tank by adding more contents, it will eventually go empty. To remedy this, in industry, we measure the level in the tank and adjust addition of more diamond extract accordingly, to ensure the tank level is within acceptable limits.
After stabilizing all unstable elements we need to start thinking about out true goal: profit. We know how to set all decision variables (feed rates, temperatures within process equipment, etc.) to achieve optimal profit for an assumed set of conditions. Reality is, however, very uncertain. Making a plan once is not enough. Unforeseen events are going to hit our production machinery, and the question is, what to do then? Such unforeseen things can be change in the ambient temperature which can give more or less heat loss, a change in the feedstock to the process, making it necessary to add more cryptonite to get the diamond extract, et cetera. The point is, when external things change, so does the process. And the optimal way of making profit.
There are two fundamentally different ways of looking at this:
a) we can try to estimate what all of these conditions truly are and optimize again, and then implement the new plant. Then we wait a while and repeat. In industry, this is commonly done and is known as model predictive control. It requires good understanding of the connection between our actions and their outcomes.
b) An alternative we can try, is to find things to measure that do not change much in their optimal values when the environment changes. We find something to hold constant, and when we do so, the inputs (flow rates and so on) will automatically take on their new optimal values, or at least, almost so. This strategy is often used by businesses. They call such measured variables key performance indicators (KPI).
We are going with the KPI approach. We thus have three layers;
Optimal planning --> Adjustment based on KPI values --> Stabilization
Let us consider how we can apply this to managing how we live. Our optimal performance is most certainly related to profit, but not profit alone. The overall optimum is happiness. However, it is very hard to see the relationship between our daily decisions, and our long-term, overall happiness. We therefore divide the problem into separate problems that we hope to work with independently. When I first started thinking about happiness, I came up with a few categories that seemed important to me. Those were:
- Love (I did have a girlfriend)
- Money (being poor is tough)
- My Master's thesis
- How others see me
I have kept all of those, and added a few more. Let us stick to those four and see how we can apply the management philosophy of industrial process to them. Let us start with the bottom one; building a reputation and adjusting your branding strategy when the social climate changes. This will be the task of our next posting. Hope to have the post ready shortly.