ITW – interesting things this week # 2

ITW – interesting things this week # 2

by alexander roan

Welcome to the second edition of ITW – ‘Interesting Things this Week’ 🙌🏻

In this newsletter I’ll be sharing some content from across the web that I found interesting. It’ll be loosely connected to business strategy and operations transformation, and I’ll try to avoid duplication with mainstream media.

This weeks post is around 1,000 words and a 4 minute read.

1) Too many management books!

I enjoyed Bartleby’s brief post on business books at the economist. Particularly his description of the management books piled on the economist’s desks:

Admittedly, many of these books are hard to read. The authors use “architect” as a verb and “learnings” as a noun. They randomly Capitalise every Other word. And they are overly fond of PEAs (pointless esoteric acronyms).

I think that many of the authors of management books follow a pattern of reverse engineering an ‘approach’ or ‘method’ for success. They seem to do this based on their own anecdotal experience. They rarely consider probability or simply ‘being in the right place at the right time’. There are many ways to manage a business I’m personally wary of anyone that tries to codify it into a simple set of rules.

2) Investments in gaming and at home fitness

CB insights posted about funding increases in home fitness and gaming.

Considering these two industries together reminded me of Nintendo’s ringfit which attempts to combine the addictiveness of role playing games with the benefits of a home workout (personal note – if I had been exercising for those few years I played World of Warcraft I’d probably be like Hercules now!) I haven’t played ringfit, but I heard it’s surprisingly fun. As people have been spending more time at home in 2020, many have noted the benefits of not having to commute to work or gyms etc. Online fitness training videos on YouTube and other platforms are very popular. I wonder if there will be other ringfit-like products. There must be a lot of potential to apply motion sensors, peripherals, augmented reality, virtual reality and other technologies to various different styles of exercise.

3) Skills for remote managers

The ICAEW shared a useful and concise summary of considerations for those managing teams remotely. The advice also makes sense for simply being part of a remote team. The author writes about four skills:

  • Communicate effectively
  • Provide context
  • Create clarity
  • Focus on culture

In practice managers tend to communicate based on tasks. Context and clarity is often missing. I believe that this starts from strategy deployment. Many organisations fail to deploy strategy well, this leads to a lack of context across teams in an organisation. Remote working means contact time may be reduced and the ability to have nuanced discussions over a coffee may be missed.

5) The future of maintenance

McKinsey shared an interesting article on asset maintenance.

In 2019 I had the opportunity to work with Programmed; a maintenance business in Australia and New Zealand. If you don’t work in engineering or a related disciplines you probably don’t consider asset maintenance much. It’s a massive topic hidden in plain sight. Every element of the infrastructure around us has to be maintainted. There are a lot of challenges within the industry, including things like:

  • What’s the right frequency for maintenance
  • When should we do maintenance
  • How do we handle complex or aging assets that require unique skills
  • How do we deal with assets that are widely spread out

How well you can manage these factors has a big impact on cost and effort.

Maintenance is an industry with a high level of potential to benefit from new technologies. The addition of sensors and online connectivity; aka ‘internet of things’, coupled with increasing computational capabilities means that algorithms can now better predict failures and optimise maintenance schedules. Another example is using augmented reality which can help provide instructions on maintenance of complex assets. I highlighted this in my recent article about digital too. I also thought the mention of drones for assets monitoring was interesting.

5) OpenAI releases a commerical AI based text generator

I read a Wired article reporting that OpenAI were releasing a commercial version of their neural network based text generator technology via an API (application programming interface).

There are many text generators out there, but this is interesting as it represents a change of stance from OpenAI who previously cited ‘fears of misuse’ as a reason not to release this technology on an open commercial basis.

What is a text generator? – given a text prompt, it will return some text attempting to match the pattern you gave it. You can “program” it by showing IT examples of what you’d like it to do; its success generally varies depending on how complex the task is. Wired explained that if you give it simplified paragraphs written for school kids, then give it one unsimplified paragraph, it will then attempt to simplify it.

The technology doesn’t work perfectly yet, but it’s very close to passing for human.

The term AI may give a false impression of what this technology does. It’s easy to assume the text output is based on some human-like intelligence.

However that’s not correct. The neural network is trained a mass of web and digital book data. The transformations it makes are based on it’s training data. This means that any bias / style / innacuracies etc. in the training data will be present in the way the output is transformed. Think widely published racism, conspirancy theories, slang etc.

Philosophically; as a human, when we write content we have the ability to think about our writing in light of the context of current events and people around us, we can question what we write as we write based on our own intellect. A neural network cannot do that, it applies the patterns that were present in past writing.

In the current climate there is a lot of media focus on overcoming biases of the past. This is at odds with the way neural networks work.

What I’ve been up to this week?

This week I wrote an article encouraging project managers, program managers and PMO professionals to focus more on strategy and people. This was based around a lot of common mistakes and efficiencies I saw in change programs in recent years.

And finally, something fun…

Media seems to have gone a bit post-apocolyptic in the past decade. During this time I highly recommend the light hearted tropes of korean drama. Romance, comedy and the best cliffhangers!

I recommend ‘crash landing on you’ as a starting point, which is currently airing on Netflix.

I’ll also be sending this newsletter via e-mail in future, if you would like to receive it in you inbox please subscribe:

Improving project management by focussing on strategy and people

Improving project management by focussing on strategy and people

Many of projects I’ve come into contact with over the years run into problems that stem from a lack of focus in two areas. A lack of ability to effectively deal with people. And a lack of depth of knowledge of strategy.

I’ve been around projects for almost 20 years. Working in roles such as systems analyst, business analyst, project manager, program manager, management consultant and change manager. During this time I’ve seen a wide variety of methods and tools applied, but regardless of those there are consistent underlying problems.

The profile of the project manager is critical to a projects success. What experience do they have? what do they focus on? what tools do they use? how do they manage conflict? a good project manager needs a wide variety of skills.

If I were to estimate I would say around 1 in 5 projects that I come into contact with have good, multi-faceted project managers. The good news is we can all become better project managers and in this article I’d like to address one of the biggest opportunity areas for improvement.

Continue reading “Improving project management by focussing on strategy and people”