Tag Archives: People

Professor Pages and the Productivity Paradox

On a plane flying back from Boston (Mass.), eaten second breakfast of the day, watched a bit of “Where the Wild Things Are”, annoying, fractious kid who needs therapy (or a sharp slap) and a bunch of needy, fractious rather dopey creatures, disappointed, switched it off, didn’t even care to see if he was reconciled with his poor benighted mother, bored, listening to Muse, need a coffee, some battery life in laptop, here goes…

Recently, I was working with a colleague who exclaimed “You’ve got to be a professor to understand that page” when looking at a consulting 2×2.   Indeed there are some great pages in the world that capture some key thoughts or concepts so concisely that they can be expressed just on one page, but need a voice-over to talk through the layers of meaning embedded, maybe like one of those pointillist paintings or a fractal montages that is made up of pictures that are made up of pictures…(but perhaps not a Dali-esque or Picassoid other world view?).

This diagram below (not the one being commented on, I hasten to add), captures the entire eco-system of outsourced application development on both technical & commercial dimensions, ranging from the narrow individual project up to the strategic vendor relationship level

Very clever, of course, but it really deserves to be supported by 20 following pages to unpeel the layers and break out the key concepts, etc., etc.

(oohh, a quick round of orange juice…)

But it looks like this when you morph it Dali-style…


…but that is just plain silly, of course. (but an excuse to try out the Virtual Plastic Surgery Software, why don’t you give it a go on one of your favourite photos, and make your self look like your favourite film star, or the Bride of Wildenstein…)

Battery dying….break to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine, just another load of shouting and uber-angst


Down on the ground now…

However, there are some charts that are very easy to understand, but they do convey a message that is counter-intuitive, and so take a while to get your head round.

This chart is a good example


This shows the output of a model of software development productivity which paradoxically shows that total coding cost falls whilst the developer daily rate increases.  This is, of course, quite counter to the expectations of typical Aggressive Sourcing gigs which tend to focus on bashing down the daily rates.   The Old Wives and proverb writers of yore new about this since the principle of “Pay peanuts and get Monkeys” is well known.

This is what they used to say, but I do wonder if this phrase might be considered racist in these days of off-shoring, say maybe it should now be “Pay Peanuts, get Numpties” or something like that…

The twist in the tail on this analysis is that in the formula P x Q, where P is Daily Rate, and Q is the number of days needed to complete the project, some people (yes, them) are not aware that Q is inversely proportional to P.  This is the essence of the move to Agile development methods, which favours people over process (amongst other things).

Finally, I also offer you the 2×2 I wrote all by myself one day after an afternoon’s presentation by one of my erstwhile colleagues, a quite (self) important and entitled sort of chap who gave a long presentation from which I came out reeling with “Framework overload”, having survived the discourse from the evolution of Sailing Ships to Dell’s policy build to order policy and positive cash to cash resulting…

So I drew this…

Smoke_And_Mirrors (web)

So there you go…

Aristotle and all that

I have been away from my desk quite a lot recently cavorting around the motorways of England, racking up the miles on my poor hard-worked steed, but now I have a few minutes to sit down and pass on an interesting observation….

Just a momentary tangent before we head into the main meat, so to speak, there is another blog post that I have been meaning to write about Broadband Britain, Cloud Computing, the Innovators Dilemma, passing by the new statistic that the number of of old people in the UK now exceeds the number of young, and arriving finally at some as yet unthought pithy comment about Silver <read, Grey> Surfers. However, it is really just an excuse to create a comic juxtaposition alluding to the alleged practice of North American ethnic peoples (no longer Eskimo) to abandon their old folk on ice floes, whereas I have observed over the long miles I have travelled in the last few months that we British seem to abandon them at Cherwell Valley Services on the M40…so lets move on

Anyway, my recent revelation is related to this framework below plucked from the world of transformation consulting and change management as relayed to me some years ago by one of my erstwhile consulting chums.  The blobs relate to managing communication with people during significant changes on three dimensions: Rational, Political and Emotional.

rpe balls (web)

The ‘sweet spot’ is in the centre when all communications are most compelling as they appeal to all these three.

Coincidentally, whilst  trying to be a useful parent and reviewing a Classics essay, I prodded Google about some topic to draw back the veil of my ignorance on such topics and it popped up with Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion

  • ήθος – Ethos
  • λόγος – Logos
  • πάθος – Pathos

Thus, in seasonal form…

aristotles baubles (web)

Whilst equating Ethos to the Political dimension somewhat turns my stomach when I think of the more venal and self-aggrandising aspects of the political world, the three blobs of the R…P…E model are a pretty good match for what Aristotle laid down.

So there you go….

Phosphenes & Palimpsests…

About a year ago, I went though one of those few moments when I thought my normal powers of memory had somehow deserted me. It was not really anything important I couldn’t remember, just the word that describes the the lights you see when you squeeze your eyes tight shut. Like this…
So not very significant in the scheme of things: not one of the words I actually use very often in conversation or in Powerpoint presentations. Just annoying, because the word was just lurking on the edge of my perception, out of reach. But something that you can get a bit obsessed about when information normally falls to hand or mind quickly…

So I Googled and Wiki’d and all those searching jobs that normally count as work, and kept finding Tom, Nicole and Stanley and their film, and other flotsam and jetsam on the endless waves of Web surf.

But, eventually, I created a mega-whiz, sharp-as-a-scalpel, spot-on search string that gave me that Eureka moment…Ding!

The word I was looking for was “Phosphene

Mind you the Eureka moment was over quickly, as I came to that odd feeling that I had never known the word at all so how could I have semi-forgotten or demi-remembered it? But let us not confuse the story with such technical plot twists and devices.

Palimpsest is another word a bit like Phosphene, but in reverse, I know what the letters say, but the meaning slips my mind (a reused bit of parchment, in fact). It is however a word that I have read many times but never ever had the need to write down – until today. It is definitely a clever Stephen Fry sort of a word, or maybe a Will Self word

I wrote “normal powers of memory” at the top of this piece, though we Jungian Is “enjoy” the physical aspects of memory that are imposed by our brain chemitstry, being the dominant long acetylcholine pathway, compared the the short dopamine pathway of Es out there.

If you looked inside my head, it might look something like this…
…but brighter and probably in colour.

So I worked out many years ago that I should not waste my time remembering stuff, when a notebook works much better.

And so on into the Wonderful World of the Web, I have always found it useful to clip bits out and paste them into my digital scrapbook for longevity and to act as my long-term cyber memory. I gave up on browser Favourites early, as they quickly became useless signposts to where information was no more.

In my Adobe period, I printed bits of the Web to PDF files and stored them in a byzantine filing structure. But, eventually I settled on Onfolio and paid some brass for a real product…and then Microsoft bought it and gave me back my money because they were giving it away free in the Windows Live toolbar…then to become a zombie, twilighting product. The death knell was when they switched off the licensing servers last September.

RIP, Onfolio, you served me well

So I had to indulge in one of those distress-driven searches to find a new digital brain. I tried Ultra-Recall which can import Onfolio collections, but has the user experience of a broken lift. I tried TopicScape but that felt like I was in Castle Wolfenstein or Jurassic Park (the ” ‘I know this, it’s UNIX’ whilst looking at a mad graphical computerscape ” moment), and a host of other paraphernalia and arcana.

So I have ended up with MacroPool’s Web Research, which feels a bit like Onfolio…but German…so hopefully it will be most efficient. We’ll see…

Bedtime? Says Who?

Last week seemed to revolve around cars and driving, starting the week with long distance trips (to Canterbury and Salisbury), then fixing broken cars, a damaged engine undertray and nixed horns from an unwarranted attack by a particularly vicious piece of traffic calming, plus a petrol leak, culminating in thrashing my old M5 around Cadwell Park on a track day on Friday (a good way to end the week!).

Cadwell Park is mostly associated with bikers, but is also quite entertaining in a car, especially a tail-happy BMW – when I first enquired about track day insurance a while ago, the bod on the phone gave me a quote, and then when I said it was Cadwell, they said, ah, and added another 50%!

Here is the old girl in her war paint…


…none the worse for our trip into the bushes in the snow a few weeks ago.

In a mad moment of preparation before one of the long drives, we threw out the rubbish bag from the back of the car.  I later got a text from home saying that we had just managed to recycle 28 empty Red Bull cans: something of a record even for me.

Quite coincidentally, I was idly running my eye over two piles of books on the table in my study, all in the process of being read or passing through to the bookshelves…


On the right is a workaday pile of business books that show some current industry themes (Semantic Web, Information Security, Agile IT Organisations..).  The left-hand pile, however, reveals my recent predeliction for texts de-bunking mumbo-jumbo in all its irrational varieties, and I wonder if, maybe, this signals the start of the slippery slope to becoming Grumpy?

OK, Step forward, one and all, to tell me I’m already there…

Anyway, connecting Red Bull with grumpiness in any form, whether caused by lack of sleep, or too much blood in my caffeine stream, I was particularly exercised last week by an article in the paper – so, much so that I tore it out and carried it in my wallet, waving it at people, and saying “Says Who?”.

I have it here now and I am waving it at the screen in an agitated way.  It is entitled “Night-owl children ruin body clocks” from the Sunday Times, and the first sentence reads “Children who are allowed to stay up past their bedtime watching television or playing on a computer are at risk of late-night sleeplessness for the rest of their lives”.  To me this is grade A bunkum, as despite the strictest bed-times enforced by my parents, a thin gruel of educational TV and definitely no computer games (not invented), today I inhabit a nether-world of late nights, living in a time zone that is somewhere about GMT – 2 (“Mid-Atlantic” according to Windows clock) or GMT – 3  (“Montevideo/Buenos Aires/Georgetown/Greenland”).

I recall a moment during an interview many years ago with PWC Management Consulting, walking around the offices taking in the atmosphere. My escort said “We have hot-desking here, and starting time is 9-30am” (how civilised, I thought), “but if you don’t get in by 7am then you don’t get a desk” (ho ho, st&ff that for a game of soldiers, I thought)

Who are these mysterious people, “they” who dictate when we should sleep and wake? Who says what bedtime is and should be?  In a world of the Internet, Digital TV and 24hour opening at Tesco who needs to have a set bedtime?  Says Who?  Nanny? Granny? the NHS?

Alvin Toffler put his finger on this point in “Future Shock” many years ago, when he commented on the transition from cock-crow, to factory whistle and school bell – training us all to live, work and sleep to a rhythm of coordinated factory production.  Be a good little robot, and Thank Ford for the Brave New World. (OK, mixed literary allusions there, I know)

Well, ranting aside, I was pleased to see later in the week, another article in the same domain, but this one said  Teenagers improve grades with a lie-in…..    Unlike Matter and anti-Matter which annihilate themselves in a E=MC2 sort of way when they get mixed together, News and anti-News stories just sort of disappear with a slight “moo” and a whiff of fish.

And so to bed…
the worrying aspect is that the article quotes the sort of statistics about insomnia, sleep-walking and sleep-related breathing problems that some intellectually challenged politician might seize on to force us all to go to bed at 8pm…for our own good>

Crunchy Octopus, with Pesto Sauce

Life, media-style, is normally quiet in the nether regions of Lincolnshire, but having had an earthquake last year, it seems that the papers are thirsting for more excitements from the Wolds.  So we have started the year with an exciting story “Tentacled Alien Destroys Wind Farm Generator”, pictured below just after the accident (a genuine photo, for sure)…


I have commented before about the impact of global warming, but I think having an ocean-going octopus visiting now is rather premature, and in fact any, extra-terrestrial cephalopods foolish enough to embrace a windmill is going to end up as sushi.

Of course, the alien story is a good way of diverting attention from the otherwise suffocating Credit Crunch

I was going to write something clever about “interesting times” here but when looking up the origin of the phrase it turns out that the alleged curse has very little provenance – the quixotic and capricious Wikipedia suggest it might be related to the proverb “It’s better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period” (寧 為太平犬,不做亂 世人; pinyin: níng wéi tàipíng quǎn, bù zuò luànshì rén).

Bubbles are always predictable with 20:20 hindsight, and make a nonsense of some of the great prognostications and punditry, when all comes crashing to the ground.  Arthur C. Clarke summed up the dangers of prophecy as Failure of Imagination, and Failure of Nerve.  To which we could probably add Failure of Intelligence to make an unholy trinity.  Intelligence comes in many forms of thinking process as well as keeping a good look-out.  Previous major failures of forecasting include the dot.com bust, of the prior forecasts for commercial trends were spectacularly off:


… and which also makes me think that, in the terms of control systems theory, that the whole global commercial and financial system is large and complex enough not to observable, let alone controllable (although the jury is out as to whether it is quantum indeterminate).

Which brings me to one of the classic, but flawed frameworks that are often used in the crystal-ball gazing process: the PEST analysis which attempts to scan important trends in Political, Economic, Socio-Cultural and Technological  domains.  Variants posited include:

  • PESTLE/PESTEL – Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological, Legal, Environmental;

  • PESTLIED – Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, International, Environmental, Demographic;

  • STEEPLE – Sociodemographic, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Legal, Ethical;

  • SLEPT- Social, Legal, Economic, Political, Technological

  • FARM: Feudal, Agricultural, Religious, Magical (for medieval lords, thanes and serfs, etc..)

OK I made the last one up, but it demonstrates that PEST is a rather basic cookie-cutter analytical tool, and certainly not MECE  in its scope.  Inevitably, the framework you use for forecasting is influenced by the current frame of reference and warps the lens with which you look at and filter the trends.

In the spirit of improvement, albeit strapping wings to a pig, I can offer my own variant: PESTO.  The “O” stands for “Oh sh*t”, that category of all other things that we didn’t think about in the other four categories, or plain just aren’t under the microscope, or even do not yet exist, be imagined or people don’t think can happen, and so on.

The Red Queen trumps Karl Marx – change is constant and things always move on, become different. Change is, not dialectical, sorry Karl, you backed the wrong horse.

The solutions to long term forecasting problems, is to think/work in short cycles, and react/respond quickly to keep up with the changes, and adapt to events as they arise.  Be Agile!


Postscript: I cannot finish without acknowledging the death of my Uncle Edward in December, the last Gueritz of his generation, and remarkable with it. You can read his story here

SNIS – YAMFLA (Yet Another Meaningless Four-Letter Acronym)


The world of Information Technology overflows with its arcane jargon and acronyms, but it is by no means, the sole offender of creating inpenetrable and mysterious language.

I was recently driving along and saw this displayed on the dot-matrix on the back of a bus…

what does SNIS mean

…and whilst admiring the rendition of the letters on the display and pondering dot densities and the like, I then spent precious minutes attempting to work out what it was actually trying to say, and where was the bus going?

There is a lot of talk about reducing street clutter at one moment, and then, again, increasing confusion within the driver’s mind to make them slow down

coincidentally, Hans Monderman , the proponent of “Shared Space”, died earlier this year, but that is another tangent

but this new FLA certainly did the latter, and none of the former for me!

As I overtook and looked in my mirror, Eureka, the bus was heading for the depot, and proudly displaying “Sorry, Not In Service” on the long display at the front.

Yes, the transport types have invented a new word-thing and foisted on us unsuspecting general public who really didn’t need it and shouldn’t be spending our time working out what it means. This particular word-thing should really only be used amongst consenting transport types and anoraks, and I don’t really mind if the bus people use it as a verb,

“OK, guys, we’ll SNIS this bus and bring on the relief”

just as long as they don’t do it in front of the children.

In my humble opinion, this display below would have worked better, and would probably have meant more to a large part of the world that uses the Roman alphabet…

a better graphic

Fool Us? More Fool you!

I stayed in an bizarre hotel in Kensington last week and was rather struck by the immense length of the central corridor, and odd green-ness of the lights, creating an institutional, Soviet/Stalinist feel to the place, and the sense that you could walk and walk and never find your room…


…which brings me, of course, to carpets of which this place had many, many hectares.

Carpet stores have always seemed to me to be one of the last hangouts of stone-age man, well, stone-age marketing anyway.

Apart of the never-ending sales, and boring adverts, they seem to harbour troglodytes who have not worked out that it might just be better to treat their customers with a little bit of intelligence. The most insulting manifestation of this is the latest wheeze, the “cut, and then cut some more” sale pricing.

Carpetright have a great deal advertised at the moment at the local store…


An interesting aside is that if you go to the Carpetright website and right-click your mouse, instead of the normal menu, you get a big Copyright notice, not obvious what they have to protect so assidiously

50% and then 20% more is, of course, supposed to make us think they are cutting prices by 70%, but, no, by a clever trick of arithmetic it is only 60% (the 20% only applies to something already cut in half).

“Carpet Stupidity” more like…

Mobile madness

Over the weekend, I was very nearly forced to hand out an “Unhappy Voucher”  after a foray into Mobile madness.


Not quite in Norse saga territory, but after getting my daughter’s mobile phone replaced three times (cracked keys, random turning-off, etc., etc..), I finally gave in, consigned the not so old phone to Silicon Heaven, bought a new model on some cute subsidised deal, put the SIM in the Box of Many Identities, and handed over the new toy.

So imagine my surprise, when,  a week later, I was ambushed whilst staggering to the kettle for the first coffee of the day: “My phone’s dead, the display has gone”….. I said “Hnnh”

So there I was, standing in the shop, bristling……….it had all kicked off after the Sales Slug had rejected  my reasonable replacement request, and I asked to see the Manager, and  Dismal turned up…

Me: ….phone broken…..screen blank……Slug……packaging……not necessary…..in the bin.  Please could you replace it for me?
Dismal: Sorry,  we can’t replace the phone without all the original packaging
Me: …gone in the bin …
Dismal: Well we can’t replace the phone without the original packaging
Me: Yes, you can
Dismal: No we can’t
Me: Yes you can
Dismal: We could go on like this all day.  You’re not listening to me
Me: Yes, I am, I just think you’re wrong
Dismal: Are you calling me a liar?  – Great customer service, this, I thought
Me: No, just mistaken

(Dismal taps on keyboard)

I’ve typed here – advised customer of policy, blah, blah, .no packaging, need to order a handset and battery OK so they can replace the phone without the packaging, but he’s going to make me wait a long  time

(Tapping, more tapping, grunt, much more tapping, visit to the stockroom, more tapping, another visit to the stockroom – comes back with new phone in box looking unhappy)

We haven’t any handsets and batteries in stock, so I will have to take a new phone out of its box and send back the old one…


Humanity – 1, Forces of Customer Service Evil – Nil

The Maths of Pointless Numbers

In an idle moment in a place I cannot recall, but may have been the local takeaway, I read the Daily Express, an unusual event.  And I read an article entitled “CANCER RISK OF JUST TWO GLASSES OF WINE A DAY”  which demonstrated exactly why not the read the Daily Express if you wish to retain your sanity.

This is how the Express sensitively rendered the story…


The particular issue raised by this non-news story has been rolling around the back of my brain for a while, however the creative forces have been battling with perfectionist tendencies, fending off a full research project on the many different life risks, probabilities thereof, and the mechanisms of converting annual probabilities into life-time ones, and all manner of analytical delights.

So to break the log-jam (and get a life in between), I have crayoned  the issue, rather than the full Powerpoint…


You can find all sorts of stats around the web about the probability of different life risks if you look – here and here, for example, and tease out interesting, contrarian nuggets.  Such as,  drowning is much more likely than a fatal dog attack, yet  there are many strait-jacketing laws on dangerous dogs, but no UK inland rescue force to save people who fall in the water, which paradox seems to defy common-sense.

The issue in the case of the Australian report is that the risk that is being increased by 75% is diddly-squat to start with, and (Diddly-Squat * 1.75) = Sweet FA (in the Maths of Pointless Numbers).  It is undoubtedly bad if it actually happens, but the probability is not something you can, or should, let dictate your life.

I suppose headlines like “Medicos issue report about irrelevant statistical findings that don’t matter” don’t sell papers, so  there must be people who enjoy a little frisson of fear, panic and anxiety over their breakfast corn flakes, and prepared to read the Express to get it….

Middle Management: Muscle or Gristle?

Last year, I came across a couple of surveys about Middle Management that piqued my interest. The first said:

Middle managers emerge as a neglected, disillusioned and frustrated breed in research…a third say they are kept in the dark about company plans, almost two-thirds confess they are at a loss to understand their role   — jobs.telegraph, “Middle Managers are left in the dark”

And if you read the underlying report you see  that an astonishing 48% of middle managers do not think that communicating with their team is a key part of their job;

The second said:

…under performing middle managers are costing British business £220 billion a year in lost productivity.  Over half (54 per cent) of senior managers felt that middle managers were uncommitted to strategic goals, and 62 per cent criticized lack of management and leadership skills. — Hay Group,  “Alarming Performance Gap at Middle Management Level”

Whilst this is clearly a puff piece by Hay to sell all sorts of warm and fuzzy HR services, linking the two together, you can see why the senior managers and directors might hold those views.

Middle Management is possibly an endangered species these days, but does still seems to be hanging on in little niches,  according to these surveys, despite hating the job, and apparently failing in the eyes of their seniors, so you wonder why they stick it out?!

Wikipedia makes an amusingly naive attempt to define away the problem…

Middle management is a layer of management…whose primary job responsibility is to monitor activities of subordinates while reporting to upper management.  In pre-computer times < “What? Jurassic, maybe?”, dripping with sarcasm>, middle management would collect information from junior management and reassemble it for senior management.  With the advent of inexpensive PCs <“har, har”, choking on spittle>  this function has been taken over by e-business systems .  During the 1980s and 1990s thousands of middle managers were made redundant for this reason <“So simple?”>

…taking a Tom Peter’s-like knife to the whole layer, thus:

…with the backbone provided by those amazing “inexpensive PCs” and fantabulous “e-business systems”:  However, as a saving grace, the entry does at least refer to communication as a key job function.

I went through an epiphany on this topic some many years ago, when working as a development manager in a computer manufacturer.  I was sitting in a daily “War Room” session held during the torrid Beta trials of a piece of probably under-cooked software.  In the room were the luminaries of Technical and International Sales & Service divisions and assorted lackeys, acolytes, water carriers and coat holders.  In particular, on the Technical Division side was this management line:

  • The Technical Director
  • The Development Director
  • The Development Manager (Me)
  • The Project Manager

The Beta trials were displaying all the dysfunction of a classic “waterfall” software development project going to b*ggery, hampered also by a functionally aligned organisation, and all the attendant politics.  So we spent many a fractious morning in the cut and thrust of departmental politics, whilst attempting to alleviate the pain of the early Beta customers.

Outside that bun fight, the job of a middle manager was supposed to be to “put yourself about”, (be seen to) sniff out issues, especially the opposition’s dirty laundry, and inform on the organisation to the Directors in your line, in short – a communication role, pure and simple in concept, hellish in reality.

The War Room was, however, one shining light in the risk management firmament – and something that still features many years later in Agile development methods (e.g, as the daily stand-up).  The concept is cribbed directly from military usage and is all about shortening communication lines to improve responsiveness and to win battles.

And in this gladiatorial “circus”, whose job was mainly about communication?  Well, mine.

The fun started when discussing the approach to some issue and it came down to fixing some malfunctioning product feature, and the bullets starting heading my way.

It was a frustrating, no-win situation:

  • I could, for example, just nod the question over to the Project Manager and be seen as weak, but then, why have a dog and bark myself?
  • I could have taken the role as Project Manager from the meetings to control the information flow, but that made a nonsense of the whole War Room, and would have been a recipe for being blamed for everything wrong with the project (which was woven into the very fabric);
  • or other strategies which were all equally flawed, within the oxymoronic constraints of the project and the organisation, and most vitally, defied sanity and common sense!

Then, ding, the light went on!  This job is pointless!

Moving back to the current day, elaborating on the analogy of “organisation as anatomy” , then you can start to think that there are, at the very simplest,  two types of job:

  • useful, creative, purposeful roles that move stuff forward, onwards, upwards – like Muscle
  • other roles that are like the connective tissues, insulation, piping for insanitary fluids and other ugly bits that get left on the side of the plate of life, yes, Gristle

Visually, then the pure Middle Management communication role has to be seen in this light:


I made my decision on this years ago, but for anybody who is still uncertain, I offer this handy little decision-making 2×2 matrix:


Middle Managers
Career Game board
Want to be…
Gristle Muscle
Treated as.. Gristle Stay Move!
Muscle Retire Enjoy