May 25, 2015

In Honor of Veterans

Woke up this morning thinking of my late Uncle John and the calm character this Korean Veteran had with his little sister’s kids. He kept living with mom in his house, even after marrying the love of his life. He grew two good kids of his own, was a leader in the state insurance department, affected by trench foot & circulation issues in his feet. Uncle John was a beacon of calm in a family that often did not have it.
My late great uncle Bob who I barely remember was a Green Beret.
Uncle Bill married into the family was a Navy man in the Pacific for WW2. He lived to 88, outlived 2 wives, and refused to buy Japanese cars or products. Just enjoyed spending time with him when visiting my family in Florida.
My first job was with several veterans of the Seabee’s (We Build. We Fight) WW2 vets Charlie, Phil, Stan, and many others in the large office of 100. Their kindness with fresh out of college kids, working hard, telling jokes, and occasionally singing the Seabee’s anthem for no reason at all. They are part of the reason I never feared growing old.
At worked with Stan who was a German prisoner of WW2. Mistreated, tortured and starved. Stan came back and his military doctor told him not to hold it in. So instead Stan told everyone the truth and even shared it with school presentations. He always had a smile and truly enjoy life, family and work.
At my age have a lot of Vietnam veteran co-workers and friends over the years. Remember the stories Tom told being an aircraft mechanic. His friends being tunnel rats or taking small boats up the river to bring the fight. Tom was most proud of his kids.
Thinking about the men and women vets have worked with it is not their discipline that stands out. Not their contributions to work. It is the humanity, caring, charity, faith and their confidence if something went wrong, they had been through worse, and had faith all would thrive.
The greatness of this country came from ordinary people who were willing to do the extraordinary, and then come home to raise families, work hard, and enjoy life. They are also the reason I mentor others and believe things will always get better.

May 16, 2015

The Liar’s Club: Concealing Rework in Concurrent Development

MIT posted this interesting article about the issue of hidden rework in the development cycle. Your project can crash with surprise delays that destroy delivering on time, much less on budget.

Firms seeking competitive advantage to increase market share, profit, and growth have turned to concurrent development to speed the introduction of new products and beat their competitors to market. However like any other improvement process there are weakness and difficulties. Human nature does not want to be the bearer of bad news, and the managerial attention does not always help resolve the issue.

The F-35 is an example of concurrent development. While it looks like the development is now progressing well, the program looks like a money pit. The idea was instead of doing all the development on test planes, they could start production while still testing and writing the software necessary. Several years into the program design changes are still being made which require existing models to be changed, and the software is years behind schedule. The software on this program is critical to be able to use all the technology and weapons available.

The cost of the F-35 was getting close to breaking the Air Force budget before recently turning the program around. Some critic wondered if the day would ever come. (Don’t ask my thoughts on building one airplane to fill the needs of 3+ airplanes though) 

Did work with a smaller company that successfully implemented concurrent engineering in their development cycle. Why did it work? Reality was included with the plan, and being flexible enough to realize meeting schedule with an inferior product was worse than redesigning the product again.

On our first project we were working on the development schedule. The initial proposal was the standard design, prototype, testing, order machines & tooling, then start production. I asked, “Has any design worked the first time after testing?” The answer was no one could remember that happening. We need to plan for at least one redesign after testing and have a contingency plan for a second redesign. Including normal contingencies with average lead times in standard planning processes made the concurrent engineering process work. We used it both for new product development and product line extensions.

Back to fudging and hiding rework during development. This is a dangerous practice that can come back to hurt the team and the company. The natural tendency this setback is a small problem, and management does not need to know. What you don’t realize is your sponsor and other leaders may have more resources available that can speed up the redesigning and keep your project on schedule. Second the later a problem comes to the surface, the bigger the consequences for everyone involved.

Worked for a company that taught about Malpractice and the dangers to your career and the business. They made a video and repeated it yearly. Such danger for fudging, and little reward for doing it. We had one customer, the US Navy, and could have lost the business without their trust.

Leadership is doing the real work of getting things out of the way of your teams so your people succeed. Leaders have to make sure teams know they have your support to be comfortable to innovate. Besides only about 40% of software development project complete all features, on time, and within budget. Projects failing should not be a crisis but a normal situation to be handled calmly.

The quote jumped out at me ‘‘... don’t tell someone you have a problem unless you have the solution. You’re supposed to solve it—and then tell them.’’ This thought limits the chance to get more suggestions, ideas and develop more alternatives.

Found it helped if I showed up with the bad news, with some suggestions of my own or my teams, and was prepared for getting feedback & suggestions. More productive engagement came from being prepared and open. Make sure you are ready to deliver bad news and have leaders engaged when necessary.

May 2, 2015

Be a Real _____

My friend Kelly Meloy wrote an interesting and thoughtful piece asking, “Are you a REAL (fill in the blank)?” Thought he made a great point -  doers do their craft. Don’t hold yourself back.

You should go ahead and read Kelly’s piece below first.

I disagreed with him a little over his final line, “if you get paid…” then you are REAL professional. Getting paid is NOT the right judge if you are an artist, athlete or a professional.

Have not made a lot of money from writing books, but the quality of my work is professional. My writing skills are used on my paid profession. Are you any less of a professional if you give away work to a charity? The time and materials are still tax deductible.

It is the quality and effort you put into your work that makes you a professional. The pay and/or rewards come later. Rewards are not always cash.

To be one, get started now. Act like you are already the real craftsman or artist you desire to be. Be the artist or athlete. Fake it until you make it. It won’t be announced when the day comes. Later realize you already crossed the line by being one first.

By Kelly Meloy

Are you a REAL (fill in the blank)?

REAL Artists make art
REAL Cartoonists cartoon
REAL Photographers direct and capture Images
REAL Writers write
REAL Hikers hike
REAL Skaters skate
REAL Sculptors sculpt
REAL Musicians play music
REAL Composers compose
REAL Singers sing

If you get paid then you’re a professional REAL (fill in the blank).

April 25, 2015

Advice for Young Engineers

What would help you succeed in your career and life?

  • Seeing the big picture on projects.
  • Executing your tasks on time & budget.
  • Developing people skills.

Or you can destroy your career.

It is great you have a technical degree. But what will advance your career are people skills. Be 10-15 minutes early. Meet people and find out about them. Work with customers and co-workers on their (or your) bad days to still get things done. Try to understand what the customer and your management really needs.

Be disciplined at work. Show up, work urgently, make promises conservatively, deliver early, be human, take feedback and adjust.

Learning how to communicate, marketing, project management and problem solving skills are great investments. My best contributions have often been asking good questions, not having all the answers.

Understand finance and accounting. Decisions are made based on value.

Protect your career by continuously learning. Get a Master's degree at night. Especially if your company pays for it. If they don’t, get the Masters at the lowest cost possible. Who needs more student loans?

Live within your budget. There will be times you can’t find a project and will have to live off savings. 40 years of working for the same company does not always work out. Planned to stay in my hometown, but actually working in state #7. Savings also lets you buy houses and make investments to retire or start your own business.

Have a life outside of work. Volunteer, make friends, raise good kids, help others, and give back. This is why you work hard, and what you will value in life.

April 18, 2015

Better way to manage your teams - Ask Better Questions

Doug Krug ( is challenging my focus on problem solving. He teaches managers to Ask Better Questions.

1.     “What is working now?” “Where are we already getting the result(s) we want?”
2.     “What is causing the results we are getting?”
3.     Re-clarify the desired outcome with questions like, “What is the goal/objective we want to accomplish?”
4.     “What will be the benefit(s) when we achieve the goal or outcome?” Or, “What will be the cost if we don’t achieve our goal?”
5.     “What can we do more of, better or differently to get closer to the goal?”

Instead of starting with "What is the problem?", start positive and build on what already works. It focuses your team to build on strengths and look for more ideas to combine.

Results come much faster.