Bryan Pflug's blog

Incremental refinement of our mental models

imageOne of the starkest contrasts between the practices of science and those of politics can be seen in how decisions are formed and how feedback is incorporated into decision making over time. Science relies on the progressive refinement of a body of knowledge, and incorporation of these results into a deeper understanding of how things really work over time. This iterative exploration is achieved by making observations, developing theories which propose robust explanation for those observations, formulating models which incorporate hypotheses that can be used to test this theory, designing experiments which can serve to validate these models (and by implication, their hypotheses), and testing the model within a controlled environment so that results are tied to facts and data and can be reproduced.. 

Processes, Lenses, and Capability Improvement Dynamics

image​Capabilities define the methods and tools that enable resources to be used in accomplishing a specified course of action. Capability management strives to balance the expenditure of available resources across the demands of operational requirements. In the immediate and near term time horizon, this involves using existing capabilities within current operational environments. Over longer time horizons, new and enhanced capabilities typically require concurrent development and deployment that will meet strategic and anticipated operational objectives. The effectiveness of each individual capability in  these situations are crucial to performing and improving these capabilities systematically.

Designing effective meetings

imageUnless meetings are appropriately structured and managed, they are an inefficient means to share information, coordinate action, or reach decisions. The costs and time for this coordination and collaboration escalates exponentially with number of people involved. We are often blind to the impacts these meetings have, yet they can quickly spiral out of control - in the worst case, everyone demands to be involved in every piece of information, and each decision is held hostage to the demands of intermediaries.

A one hour meeting may not seem all that expensive. But meetings act as cost multipliers that consume scarce time, resources, and motivation. For example, say ten people are involved in a one-hour meeting; just holding that meeting will consume ten person-hours. But if four of these one hour meetings are held every week, they tax 10% of the team's working hours - and likely affect an even greater portion of the time the individuals can be productive. When meetings are scheduled at the last minute, they drive an additional cause of inefficiency: multitasking.

Calibrating credible expectations for performance improvements

My daughter goes to college at the other end of the state. It’s 280 miles of freeway, and I consistently make the trip in less than 4 hours. I can accurately project a time of arrival based upon the conditions for that trip (like whether my wife is coming with me, and what the road conditions are).

I have experienced many situations in which traffic jams, weather, illness, mechanical breakdowns, or not paying attention resulted in the trip taking longer than I expect. My own behaviors have only limited impact on the outcome compared to the effects of these other factors. For example, on one trip, I experienced construction traffic delays which added nearly two hours to the trip, and alternative routing would not have improved the situation. Should I claim a 2 hour savings from this baseline for other trips? Projecting such savings would be stretching credibility - more realistic expectations for average speed, road conditions, and vehicle reliability would be more reasonable.

The specific interventions (clear priorities, automated testing, focused attention) are legitimate improvements that clearly can contribute to improved performance for a team, especially when they are contrasted with the alternative behaviors. But I believe there are several questions to ask about such claims:

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