Monday, April 7, 2014

The Pushmi-pullyu

You can take this one to work with you!

From a flight dynamics perspective, it worked!

There have been many push-me-pull-you attempts with varying degrees of success.

Counter-canoeing was a bust.
Doolittleisms did OK.
Cartoon characters were well received.
International program management, not so well, and not surprisingly, small scale projects had similar experience and results.

For example, if it costs $1500/year to treat one AIDS patient and $20/year to prevent one AIDS case, where should resources be focused?  The number of lives saved points one way and the current need points to another.  Then a third issue arises as we learn we can prevent the transmission from mother to unborn child ...  The overwhelming majority of top-down programs are focused on cure when prevention would be an order of magnitude more effective.  New on the scene, addressing both treatment and prevention in the same program.

We're learning, at least in some fields.  Commonly, there's only a tenuous connection between (1) the top-down management issues and (2) the bottom-up perspective on what is needed and what works here and now. Expecting the two perspectives to rigidly agree is a bit fanciful; they don't even exist in the same timeline.

One of the best organizational examples of getting it right is World Vision.  Organizationally, they support in-country and in-community teams that settle in and work locally for decades.  Importantly, they measure and adjust based on results over time, a rarity in international efforts that are commonly 'fire-and-forget' programs.

It's not uncommon for a government-sponsored international aid effort to be a 1 or 2-year project, transferring some technology or capability. Without life-cycle support, maintenance training, or transition planning, it gets delivered and dies within a few years. The African coastline is littered with externally provided ocean-surveillance systems, delivered and abandoned.  Success is rare for such short-scoped efforts, and the damage from the practice is troubling.  A receiving nation will reallocate personnel and resources to accommodate the change, and after years, discover that their scant resources have been wasted on another badly conceived assistance effort.

Effective organizations implement continual evaluation of target and effect.  A one-time-through by management is nonsense; continuing, insightful leadership determines success or failure.

It's an annoyance having to regularly verify that you're on target, but the alternative is major failure, wasted money, and harm done to the folks you're trying to help.

Worth remembering?  Absolutely!  Take it to work with you as a reminder that leadership stays well informed and sensitive to the goals.  Management, by definition, may not.

Note to the over-30, over-40, and over-50 folks; just because you're sure you know doesn't mean you couldn't modernize your thinking a bit (understatement of the decade).  A typical recent-graduate can show you how to streamline work by as much as a third without significantly affecting the risks involved; you can actually hit your targets. How are you with change and new and different?

  • One-off reports that take 20-60+ labor hours to produce but are of little benefit ... standardize and automate the report/deliverable.  
  • Large meetings to review what a few could resolve quickly ... insert asynchronous team tasks in process instead of the 'death by meeting' gatherings of all.  
  • Refine process to be exclusively goal focused.
  • Isolate programmatics from the work process. 
  • Protect the work effort from interruption and unnecessary redirection by well intentioned players.  The boss can walk the factory floor, but if he's smart, he'll keep his hands off the tools and won't presume to direct the machinists.  
  • If meetings are the norm, preload with agenda, action items, and decisions expected/required; if unable, cancel the meeting.  Etc., (and there are dozens more; like conducting meetings standing up, no chairs.)