Archive for the ‘Success Skills’ Category

Well Managed Agility – Start With No

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

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

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

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?

Monday, July 7th, 2008

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

Missing the Date – Arriving Late to the Party

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

How many times have you shown up late to an event? Perhaps something came up at the last minute. Perhaps you encountered road construction. Or maybe you just failed to think ahead. Sometimes it all works out. But sometimes you miss something important – like your sister’s wedding vows or your child’s big performance.

In an earlier article, we talked about the importance of project planning and management. Although there are many aspects to success, let’s concentrate on the completion date for the next few minutes. A project that produces results after the decision is made has little value. And a project running over budget due to lateness may be cancelled before completion. Success requires appropriate attention to completion dates.

Late projects are a chronic problem in all types of software development. Let’s start by exploring some of the causes of lateness.

Expectations – Planning the Journey

In software development the constraints of Date, Resources, Features, and Quality are well known. You can specify or mandate any one, two, or possibly even three of those factors, but if you try to mandate all four, you will almost certainly fail. For example, I can say I want all features completed with high quality, in 90 days, but then I have to be prepared to allocate resources as necessary. Or if I want it done with a maximum of 3 people, then I must be prepared to slide the date or other constraints. These same aspects apply to most simulation projects – perhaps substituting the word Comprehensiveness for Features and the phrase Validation/ Verification for Quality.

Since many projects start off in an urgent, budget-constrained status, management often tries to mandate all four constraints. But can I really specify all four constraints (e.g. all features completed with high quality, in 90 days, with a maximum of 3 people)? NO – not unless I have started with a very loose schedule (unlikely with an urgent project). I have generally found that attempting to do so will just mean that I will have no idea, until near the end, by how much each of the constraints will be missed. Note I said “by how much”, not “if”. As the anticipation of missing the date approaches, the pressure will increase at all levels to “cut corners”. Then, to save the viability of the project there is often a last-minute attempt to add resources to “save the date”, but that attempt is usually too late to have much impact.

Road Construction Next Million Miles

Assuming that we have reasonable expectations up front, what are some of the other problems that can hijack the schedule?

Objectives – Poor project objectives, as we discussed last week, is a huge potential problem. If you start with a missing or inadequate functional specification and a poor understanding of project, it is unlikely that you can develop a realistic project plan.

Optimism – I like to be guided by Murphy’s adage “Anything that can go wrong, will.” Many people think that it is safe to base their project estimates on “reasonable” effort estimates. But “reasonable” often becomes highly optimistic when adjusted by real world situations.

Stakeholder Involvement – First of all, you need to know who your “customers” are. If you are working for a large organization it might be difficult to determine who all the people are who have a stake in your project. If you are a consultant, this may be a bit easier. But after you identify them, the stakeholders must be involved. If they are not involved then you may be missing the important resources and information, and your project priority may suffer.

Skills – We are all smart, resourceful people. We all like to believe that we know, or can quickly learn, whatever we need to know to complete the project. But quite often there are many things we don’t know. And even more dangerous, there are things that we don’t even know that we don’t know.

Of course there are many other areas where you could go wrong – I’ll talk about them in future blogs. For now, maybe give some thought to these concepts and in a future blog we will talk about dealing with this first set of pitfalls.

Happy modeling!

Dave Sturrock
VP Products – Simio LLC

On My Honor

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

On my honor, I will do my best
to do my duty to God and my country;
To obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake,
and morally straight.
Boy Scouts of America – Scout Oath

I haven’t really thought about those words in a few decades, but it’s funny how they came back to me in an instant. If you were ever a Scout, you probably repeated those words hundreds of times, like I did. These are certainly admirable words to live by. But what does that have to do with simulation?

On my honor – Make a commitment. Then take it seriously. Or in the words of Jedi Master Yoda “Do, or do not. There is no ‘try.’
I will do my best – Is “good enough” really good enough? What would happen if you really did your personal best?
To do my duty – A somewhat outdated concept, that each of us has intrinsic responsibilities and obligations. Or is it?
To self and company – OK, I took some liberties here. But when considering your specific project commitments, also consider the big picture of what the company (or your stakeholders) really need. And it should never be far from your mind, what do you and your family need?
To help other people – A team who works together can accomplish so much more than the sum of the individuals.
To keep myself physically strong – Keep a good balance in your life. Personal fitness takes time, but can return so much.
To keep myself mentally alert – Some types of wisdom require time to develop, but sometimes “wisdom” can be as simple as thinking things through objectively, along with careful attention to detail.
To keep myself morally straight – There is no substitute for personal integrity. Sometimes you have to make difficult choices to keep your integrity, but it is always easier to keep than to restore after it has been lost.

These concepts are valuable in your professional life as well as in your personal life. Think about them from time to time while doing your next project.

Dave Sturrock
VP Products, Simio LLC

Prove This

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

On my second professional model, now that I thought I was an expert 😉 , my manager came to me and said “Prove this…”. He had the very common situation where an associate wanted to make a major investment, but could not convince upper management. This is a perfect application for simulation – a model can provide objective information on which to base such a decision.

This was a much better situation than my first experience. This time I had a motivated, involved stakeholder. I had a clear objective. I had important meaningful work. Life was good.

For a while.

Until the model started to “dis-prove this”. Experimentation led me to believe that other alternatives might be better. I told myself that I must be wrong. I double checked but I could not find any errors. Then my boss and the stakeholder told me I was wrong. I triple checked but I could still not find any errors. Life was no longer so good.

What went wrong?

We started with the result. When I set out to prove a conclusion, I put my integrity at risk. The best I could hope for was that the model actually “proved” what they wanted. A typical client reaction to that situation is an empty “I already knew that!” feeling and the perception on his part that I provided very little value. Worse is when the model contradicts their conclusion. It does not support a “known fact“. In that case, stakeholders might think I am incompetent or that simulation offers no value.

But the worst case of all would have been if the model disproved what the stakeholder wanted, but I kept “fixing it” until it supported their conclusion. My client may be satisfied, but do you think he will ever bring me real work? Unlikely. I would have just proven to him that a model can be made to produce whatever result you want, and that my integrity is low enough to do that.

When similar situations arose later in my career, my responses were:

    –I will be happy to evaluate that situation for you, but I cannot promise what the results will be.
    –If what you really want is just a supporting statement, I cannot provide it without objective criteria on which to base it.

While the above does not always create good will, it does allow me to keep my integrity. As much as I hate to admit it, intentionally misusing a model to create invalid results is often easy. Integrity is often the most important thing that you and I can provide as simulationists. A simulationist without integrity should look for another line of work.

Dave Sturrock
VP Products – Simio LLC

Model This

Monday, May 19th, 2008

When I first started modeling, my boss came to me and said “Model this…” and then proceeded to describe an area of the plant that he thought “might benefit from having a model”. Unfortunately there were no specific objectives beyond that.

To me, a new simulationist, that sounded like an ideal project. Nothing to prove… Nothing specific to evaluate… No one waiting on specific results (because none were asked for)… It even sounded like a good opportunity to learn how to model. But it was not.

“Model this” generally results in a useless project. A waste of time. Without clients or clear objectives, I could not know what to model. Without clear objectives, I had little motivation to learn how to model tricky situations; I instead tended to bypass them to work on aspects more fun or interesting. In fact, for the same reason I often did not even recognize modeling challenges, so I never learned to deal with them.

Moreover, when it was all done, what did I have to show for my time? Perhaps a cool-looking animation. It probably did not have many aspects of reality to it. Reality is driven by close interaction with the stakeholders – oops, I did not have any of them. Why should anyone waste his or her time sharing domain knowledge with me, when I was basically just modeling for fun?

And worse, after I “finished” the model, I was overconfident of my modeling skills – after all, I modeled everything I set out to model, right? Of course I was never forced to really verify and validate against the real system, so I never really had any idea how good the model really was.

Avoid “model this”. Always push for clear project objectives. More on that next time.

Dave Sturrock
VP Products – Simio LLC

The Magic Formula for Success

Monday, May 5th, 2008

Many people new to simulation rightfully inquire how they can be successful. This first article will identify some of the issues associated with simulation projects. Later articles will explore these and other issues in greater detail.

So, to get started, here are five of the more important issues that should be considered.

Project Objectives – “Model this” is not a good objective. “Prove this” is not much better. A clear objective is essential to a meaningful project. Hopefully it would include the phrases “evaluate …” and “as measured by …”.

Know Yourself – What are your strengths and weaknesses? How about those of any other team members who will be involved? Be honest. Then come up with a plan to capitalize on the strengths and overcome the weaknesses.

Domain, Tool & Process Knowledge – It is not enough to be proficient in a simulation tool. Nor is it enough to have comprehensive domain knowledge of what is being modeled. While having project participants with both of those skills is a prerequisite to success, you also need to know how to conduct a simulation project and deliver validated, valuable results.

Project Planning and Management – A project that produces results after the decision is made has little value. And an over budget project may be cancelled before completion. You must pay appropriate attention to completion dates and project costs.

Team/Reviews – Even though “No man is an island”, too often simulation projects are conducted by a single person with little or no team interaction. Find a way to get others involved.

Look for five more success factors next time. Future articles will discuss these and others in more detail.?

Dave Sturrock
VP Products – Simio LLC

Success in Simulation Introduction

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Welcome!

We will be using this space to help each other become more successful in our simulation projects. We will be sharing information and initiating discussions that will prove interesting and helpful to both experienced and novice simulationists.

When I say “we”, it is because I cannot do this alone – I need active participation from the user community. Your comments, topic suggestions, and article submissions are welcome.

This blog is not about any particular product, nor is it intended to be in any way commercial or sales-oriented.

Success in Simulation is available to all simulationists in industry, service, military, academic and other application areas, as well as anyone who wants to become a simulationist or who just wants to learn more about simulation. While I intend to focus mainly on discrete event simulation, articles on the related fields of agent-based modeling, system dynamics, and emulation will also be included.

The articles will be intentionally be kept short for a quick read, and hopefully most will be written in an informal style for easy reading. I encourage you to subscribe to the RSS feed so that you will automatically receive new articles as soon as they are posted.

Dave Sturrock
VP Products – Simio LLC