Sunday, December 3, 2017

The idea of quality assurance is a profound concept, one can take it on one’s own or try to exercise it on a project, accountability, governance, self-governance (also known as cybernetics), and a curious relationship involving two opposites, present themselves. I’d like to state the very concise and accessible definition of quality (on projects environments) here: how to meet the future actualized performance of a system (a design, equipment or a plant), given an earlier set of requirements?  

In Project Management, we say, of course we can meet a given set of requirements of a client. So the commissioned contractor goes about work and comes at the end (or during the process) to the client and places the finished work on the table, this is what you asked. Cartoons and comics have been created to portray the amount of disconnect between what was asked and what was offered. Chances are you’ve seen a few examples or you know the irony of the process through your own experience. A contractor wants to deliver a job to the satisfaction of the Client, some contractors won’t, they just want to get through the contract, it’d be a transaction to them. The lessons to be learned from the industry is that contractors (I am speaking to project managers), want to keep stay relevant to the business and unless they have access to a big pool of new clients, they need to care about would this level of workmanship in the finished product keep this customer happy?

What we do in practice is that we inform the Client of how we will be performing the work, from the start to the end. We tell Client that we have an organized and well thought through management plan, reflecting how the job is going to be taken up and delivered successfully (or with success criteria) during the process and at the end. The finding of the world, plans and thinking through of the process is either cumbersome or sketchy. Or, the contractor commits to a written plan which looks like through and well thought off, but fails to meet their own self-declared plans. What to do?

Enter Quality Assurance: it is an accountability issue about will you be able to meet the promises made and have means and tools to measure how well, you’d be meeting those promises along the whole execution and delivery of project? It is a question for the project manager to self -reflect. I do think about these issues.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The System of Profound Knowledge

Ed Deming’s birthday, a deep thinker and innovator in what is called Quality Assurance, I find his quoted key principles of profound knowledge amazing. It is amazing once we could ‘appreciate’ the chasm between the normal definitive modes of business (industrial, engineering, management, services, etc.), and what he sees as the iterative connection of business, its people and the product.

He says all managers need to have the following attributes for their handling of the business:

Appreciation of a system,
Knowledge of variation,
Theory of knowledge,
Knowledge of psychology,

Let me distill these four principles in an as simple and as connected way as possible: a system, that is the set of elements pointing to a total structure (company building, people, assets, etc.) needs to be self-aware of itself, ie, to know what it does. In order to know what it does, a system, is in need of an external input (think of a happy or unhappy customer calling the company and gives a feedback), what does a system do with the feedback? Think of your own experiences in dealing with giving a feedback to a business. It’s a spectrum.  The system needs to know what to do with the feedback, as it also needs to know how the feedback was generated in the beginning. A system as a business makes products, Gmail, or tortilla. Now, there is a huge difference between offering Gmail service to a global user, and making tortilla be enjoyable on the palates of its savorers, the system needs to know how to use its knowledge of the product. Sometimes the product is a science paper, and the knowledge involved in its creation, is made public to all, let’s assume we continue on that good path. And also a product could be an engineered device, which its knowledge is not made public because it is the tribal culture of how Engineering can survive, it’s intolerant to competition. The intolerance is a symptom, and I am being literal by using ‘symptom’. The business and not the users of the business output, consider (ie view their product), as being a competition against others and to be guarded, the product has to stand alone, or stand out, like many of the iproducts! We find, and look at your own assessment, that the system rarely has an appreciation of the psychology of its own people, much of the emphasis is on special engineered knowing for the manipulation of its users, advertising industry is in this business, influencing people to buy. A system as a business can be in the business of giving sustaining, renewing and regenerative agenda, provide potable water to all. Or, the system’s products could be cigarettes, its uses with consequences is heavily conditioned.

I find Deming’s pointers (or pillars) of his Profound System of Knowledge as question marks for businesses that want to improve in a consistent manner: the knowledge of keeping the business in business has an organic link (my choice of word) with the users. I can image someone could use the same reasoning of Deming for broader (adverse) usability of its products, think of consumers mind control, ie, influence people at the receiving end to be susceptible to the product, and disconnected from the profound knowledge of how the product work, yes, consuming excessive alcohol as organic fuel, will do what it does to body. 

I think Deming's ideas is at heart cybernetic,  ie, how a system can self-govern, self regulate itself in the environment of other systems. Heinz von Foerster's Understanding Understanding comes to mind: what is system of system? What is writing of writing? The Quality Assurance ideas of Deming go deep in us.


Friday, May 5, 2017

The shape of the S-curve in resource utilization of project management is well established for its persistence. Adrian Bejan (a mechanical engineering professor at Duke University), has extended the applicability of S-curve as a logistic function to the spread of ideas, technology etc. I am thinking that because of its wide utility, this function and the shape it represents, can also show the evolving boundary of the dynamic of teaming process in a project. PM BOK, does not list S-curve as a subject index or as a key word though it references the term on p. 213-214, in its treatment of cost management plan, as cost aggregation.

The mathematical idea of S-curve is credited to Pierre Verhulst (1804-1849) who was mainly interested in the study of growth of the population of Belgium, and based on later analyses, he was very close to the actual evolution of that population. Today, that function is typically referred to as logistic function (with sigmoid function being a special case).  


Thursday, April 20, 2017

David Perkins in his interesting book, Knowledge as Design, proposes a thesis that there is an operational directive in the structure of design thinking as design knowledge. Designs are all around us and come in all sorts of formats and appearances. We design our careers to get to our objectives whatever they are, we design our family or social lives, we make certain decisions given a set of knowledge, in order to obtain what we desire. Design is not limited to engineering disciplines. There is a design in mathematical proofs, the way we manage our relations, tidy up our bed, or devise a management plan. It takes thinking. Design as a projection is profound, it cuts through mental models, templates of world structures and means of verification. After Perkins, I want to say that knowledge as design also contains the its process, that is how knowledge (making breakfast, develop a software code, or plan a new tax code) also contains the time backdrop (temporal direction, time axis) of the unfolding of knowledge, knowledge implies its process. This is a most fascinating connection that is almost surely left for cybernetic thinkers, it is their assertion and not mine (Heinz von Foerster, and others).

In this sense, writing, like this posting, is showing a knowledge based structure while I spend a bit of time to show what it is, it takes time to make my point! That ‘taking of time’ is the process of the structure of knowledge in my mind that shows itself bit by bit. We take these for granted. An editing of s text, like double checking of a message, or a letter or report to someone, is quality control of the design in the structure of the writing. In this view, writing as design, as structured knowledge, presents a different perspective, this is what a job seeker tries to do by crafting a strong resume: I can do what I say as I wrote.

A management plan, like a project management plan, is a structural design directive for the way the entire body of a project tries to show itself for its fulfillment, how it will be conceived and realized. Project management is a very young discipline, and like all young and novel disciplines, they are not recognized, or taken seriously. It has taken us time to allow for many of the engineering or science disciplines to find their places. This time taking aspect of a discipline to find a proper foothold extends even to mathematics. I hear one of the founder of computer science could not get a tenure position at Cal, because that discipline did not fit into the established mathematics department! Of course, it seems easy to look back and assess the narrow thinking of others at that time. I think knowledge as design and design as process is a powerful thesis that can help many of our fragmented areas of activities become integrated. Project management is a form of design integration thinking. Ali

Sunday, April 16, 2017

In my read of (2003 edition) AI, Norvig-Russell, the authors say, bounded optimality offers the best hope for a strong AI theory. They define aspects of artificial intelligence as:

1.      Problem solving,
2.      Knowledge and reasoning,
3.      Planning
4.      Uncertain knowledge and reasoning,
5.      Learning,
6.      And communicating,

The above, are strongly aspects and agenda of project management practice. The field is new, and being elaborated of what is and is not, and its present reach, the strongly normative body of knowledge in PM BOK, 5th edition is an example of the vast area of the field. In my practice, with engineering and construction on certain performance contracts (EPCM mostly), I have seen management practice as either based on the procedures of the enterprise (we tell you how to do it), or progressive tribal knowledge (project have their own ideas of how the practice should look like, right or wrong), I’d see many opportunities for refinement, if these two cultures could check themselves against PM BOK, the latter has its own limitation, since it is still growing, it is a consensus model, a different name for tribal knowledge. Now, would a field like mathematics (with its strong tribalism as much as it is effective specify parts of nature), contribute to the PM BOK? I hope there will be cross pollination among the fields, I guess there are. I loved noticing the above authors’ hope for strong AI as bounded optimality, it is strongly reflective of what a project manager does or tries to do, irrespective of their domain, building a power plant, or launching a space telescope. Ali