The Last Lecture

I am taking a break from the normal simulation topic this week to mention a significant current event – the passing of Dr. Randy Pausch. Dr. Pausch was a tenured professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has become widely known for not only his life’s work, but also his recent activities.

What is significant is not the event of his death, but rather the celebration of his life. He was a very admirable person and he “retired” in a particularly admirable way. When diagnosed with an incurable and rather fast acting cancer, he chose to spend much of his final time sharing life lessons that he had learned and did so in a very upbeat and inspiring manner.

Among other things Dr. Pausch gave a very insightful, entertaining, and inspiring talk entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” in which he talked about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals.

I was personally very moved by this lecture; enough so that I am using this blog post to urge you to listen to it. It is just over an hour long and I encourage you to set aside the time to listen clear to the end, because even those last minutes are enlightening. This is not new – it was originally presented in September 2007 and has been viewed an estimated ten million times. If you haven’t watched it yet, please do.

And don’t watch alone… if you have a teen or college student in your life invite them to watch with you – I think you will both find this hour to be very well spent.

You can find it at Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.

Dave Sturrock
VP Products – Simio LLC

Well Managed Agility – Start With No

Last time we talked about a definition of agility: The capability of being flexible and responsive to changes in the world around you. And I suggested that Well Managed Agility is one part of the solution for the question of “How much agility is enough?”

Is Managed Agility an oxymoron? It can sound like one. And some people equate agility with a lack of management, a free-for-all. That can be true when agility is taken to the extreme and poorly implemented. But agility certainly can be managed in many ways.

The first step to managing agility is simply acknowledging that agility can and must be managed.

I once joined an organization where there was major project in process that was getting later every day. The later it got, the more the stakeholders realized that the originally planned results would no longer meet their needs. So the stakeholders insisted on changes. The organization, who felt bad about the late delivery, almost always said yes in a futile attempt to placate the customers. Unfortunately, the more changes that were accepted, the later the project became. My job was to bring the project back on schedule.

One aspect to getting a project back on schedule (we will discuss others in future blogs) is learning to say no. In this case I changed the process so that all major decisions, and all communications with the stakeholders, went through me. This was not because I was any kind of an expert. Quite the contrary – I was a novice at the subject matter. But I did know how to get the right people involved to exercise good judgment. And I did have the guts to say no when it needed to be said.

The salesperson involved was livid – “You CAN’T say no to a major stakeholder.” My response: “Watch me!” The alternative of saying “yes” with the knowledge that delivering is not possible, is just flat out lying to your stakeholders. While no one wants to be told no, I think that most people would prefer an honest “no” to a dishonest and meaningless “yes”.

As expected, the primary stakeholder was initially angry when he was first told no. But he soon realized that this was the first time he had been given an honest answer. And this was actually the start of what later became a great and very positive relationship. The salesperson also became a friend for the same reason.

Next time I’ll talk about other steps to managing agility. In the mean time, if you are working on a project that is behind schedule, start practicing the word “no”.

Dave Sturrock
VP Products – Simio LLC

Just Enough Agility

Agility is the capability to be flexible, responsive, and adaptive to the changes happening around you. When a stakeholder asks you to deliver something you had not planned on, your response is a measure of your agility. But how much agility is enough?

I was once part of an organization that was extremely agile. Whenever anyone in the organization had an idea, it would send the developers off in a new direction – quite often before they were half done implementing the previous idea. It was like a rudderless sailboat. Although we had an intended course, we never followed it and were instead at the mercy of the wind to see where we were headed that day.

I have also been in an organization where they wanted detailed plans for two years ahead, and any deviation from the waterfall plan required an “act of God”. In this organization we generally knew exactly where we were going. Unfortunately, we also knew that if and when we eventually got there, we would be in the wrong place. The world never waits. A goal set to satisfy stakeholder needs today will rarely match stakeholder needs two years from now.

Obviously each of these extremes has its pros and cons. I often wonder why so many organizations seem to live at one extreme or the other. I think neither is the right answer for most organizations.

So how much agility is enough?

There is no absolute right answer. Each organization and project will have its own right answer, and even that is likely to change over time. But I believe for most organizations and projects, the answer should involve what I call Well Managed Agility.

Next time I’ll talk about what I mean by well managed agility and how you can achieve it. In the interim, I’d love to hear about your experiences with agility or lack of agility.

Dave Sturrock
VP Products – Simio LLC

Wood You Simulate?

I split a lot of firewood.

I get most of my firewood in 18”-48” diameter logs that must be split lengthwise to about 6” thickness.

Years ago when I first moved into a house with a fireplace, I started cutting and splitting my own wood. I used to split wood with an 8 pound maul (a maul is like a thick-bladed axe). I frequently had to supplement that with a wedge or two driven in with a large sledge hammer. Over time, I learned to “read” the grain in the wood, so that I could split along natural cracks and save myself some effort.

A few years later I bought a wood stove to supplement my heating. As my wood demands (and my muscle tone) increased I upgraded to a 14 pound maul. What a difference. Sure it was a lot more demanding to swing, but as my aim improved just about every swing resulted in the desired division of one piece of hardwood into two. Life was good.

Ten years ago I moved into the oddity of an all-electric house in the cold Northeast and shifted even more of my heating to my woodstove. After a while I started finding it hard to manually split enough wood to keep my house warm, so I bought a hydraulic splitter. Sweet! While it is still a bit difficult to manhandle a 200-300 pound log onto the splitter, once I get it there, the hydraulic ram pretty much takes care of the rest. Sometimes with badly knotted wood, I still have to “read” the wood and be a bit creative at how I direct the splitter to get through it.

Today while I was splitting some logs my mind started to wander to some parallels between splitting firewood and doing simulation projects.

Doing it yourself is definitely not for everyone. If you don’t enjoy it, and don’t have the time and skill for it, you are probably best off buying the service from someone else.

It is amazing what a difference the right tool makes. No single tool is right for everyone. For some jobs, a lightweight tool is perfect. For other jobs, nothing less than a high-end tool makes sense.

No matter what tool you use, having the good judgment to “read” the problem can make solving it a lot easier. And the more you practice, the better you will be able to determine the best approach to solving the problem.

Until next time, Happy Modeling!

Dave Sturrock
VP Products – Simio LLC