Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Space speaks! That's a wild thesis as it's also expansive in our mere act of entertaining the concept. More to the point, space possesses syntax as Space Syntax, the legacy of Bill Hillier. I came across this interesting work (Space is the Machine, 1996) in architectural theory while thinking about the analogs of natural construct of a project graph based schedule, the so call bare project works precedence diagram, basically a directed graph of project works. A project graph also resembles a building architected by the project total flow of works. That all projects ultimately will be realized in forms of a constructed facility (like a power plant) or a product (an instance of materialized configuration of requirements -to -performance) are all examples of a commensurate aspect of architecture: there are architectures within this main architecture (software residing on a controller system serving a special machinery). Hillier talks about architecture as a space of externalized configurations on interior space, our mental constructs of relations among other relations (his abstract but intuitive definition of Configuration). We project our notions of space and its inner relations into constructed buildings within environments. How would two different engineered constructs like the Suez Canal (in news lately for its human caused choking) and the San Francisco Gold Gate compare? The latter is relatively modern (commissioned in 1937) whereas the Suez Canal has been an elaborative and progressive causeway for more than 2000 years. Both of these systems are communicating an idea of connectivity with their own variations and specific internal relations, the aesthetic space of Golden Gate should overwhelm Suez Canal...! Hillier's thesis in Space is the Machine (discussing his Space Syntax) is also addressing the dual of syntax, the semantics in terms of configuration. These are fine and the subject matter experts will debate. Hillier’s thesis of configurational space or a theory of configuration of architecture is very close to Von Foerster’s idea of eigenform. I wonder if Bill Hillier was aware of this (second order) cybernetic concept? Ali

Saturday, April 3, 2021


Communicating an idea that I have encountered in practice: contracting theory. Heinz von Foerster’s witty remarks are well quoted among his fans and colleagues, I give the man (already departed) the credit. Please see his take on the dual opposite role of soft and hard sciences.


The hard sciences are successful because they deal with the soft problems; the soft sciences are struggling because they deal with the hard problems.

(Heinz von Foerster, Understanding Understanding) 

In being awarded a prize to one or a few of its contenders (take Nobel Prize for instance), the eyes are on the newly awarded. Interestingly, there’s a Nobel Committee of the already winners (or Laureates) deciding the merits of awarding the prize to the next member of the family also dealing with the Nobel Committee rate of turnover (the rate of Laureates passing away)! Let's leave these aside. 

Enter contracting theory: In the context of contracting and agreeing on a contract we arrive at the contract agreement, let’s say two parties A and B agree on a set of clauses (rules, laws, codes, provisions, etc.). The two bodies having entered in a contracting agreement are two separate bodies, organizationally and business-wise speaking. In this sense, the instrument or medium of the contract agreement is the obligatory binding element (which is very complex, complex here is a many faceted simplex) bringing the two bodies together to achieve what was required to be realized in the ways stated by the agreement. In this review, I am taking a role as an observer from outside and purely and conceptually appraising the formation (and deformation) of the contracted parties.


The thesis: the contract agreement carries its opposite within itself called expansive disagreement.


This is not a playful take on the term contract rather an indirect and structural viewing of the resisting bodies of both parties A and B having been contracted into a unifying agreement. The parties are functioning bodies and generally at ease as they are and as they persist in their baseline business operations. This much is granted and is normal. What is not granted is the tension area in and around and within the contract agreement 'space' which brings these two bodies together. The obligatory rules of the agreement despite the name are actually intimating causing-effecting lines of force that repels the two parties and at the same time pulls them back in within the agreement because they chose to do so: we say that we signed on this contract so we are obligated to fulfill the promises as agreed else there will be consequences. This is the fear or business risks of what could go wrong that are at normal (or perpendicular direction) to the direction of the contract realization. The contracting agreement is trying to bring two bodies together that are foreign to each other. At the same time, as the contract time goes on, each party within the organization is used to its normal business practices while both parties after having been contracted in by the Agreement mechanism, experience tensions at the boundary of the contract. I call those contract interactions as tension as pulling apart since the two parties interact (for their performance) at the boundary of the contract as two entities each trying to come as close as possible while in essence (the organizational entity) they are separate and foreign to each other for what they do and what they are used to. Worded differently, the two parties have disparate operations which by the mechanism of the contract, each experiences the reaction within its own organization, sometimes as ripples and sometimes as shock waves. This way of viewing is tried and true: people who have managed substantial contracts (let’s an engineering and construction contract) can attest to the tensions at the contract periphery and as each party faces the other. This analysis of a contract agreement as a dialectic object (two objects A and B communicating with each other against a medium) may sound strange but it has a very simple mechanical model with deep insights: the contract agreement is the envelop of two rolling (non-rigid) bodies on each (rubber meets the road!) producing local interface deformations called Hertzian stress, so the stress experienced by a manager of a complex project trying to support the fulfillment of a contract agreement. 


By Lord, this is so true!


Sunday, October 11, 2020

I came across Conway's law on 9/18/20. The note has a personal significance and not necessarily for a would be visitor of this post. I will state it anyway. What's the noteworthy about Conway's law? Let the author, Melvin Conway speak for himself:

Conway’s law stated in 1968 says: Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure. 

I could not find any hint to this law (it's in my view a curious recurring fact and less of a law as laws are either ecumenical or subject to repeated empirical observations/testing.) in the PM BOK. Perhaps in future we could open up a small corner for Melvin this reference model of project management norms. 

In his 1968 brief paper (here's a link) published in Datamation journal, Conway suggested a link, a map, or a bridge from the way people (in a design organization/department) communicate with each other to the way the product is actually put together. In a broad respect (in a wider view) this law says that if you see a design (a specification, a machine, etc.) it's an indication of the way of communication among its designers. The indication in Conway's words (and assessment) had a stronger (mathematical) requirement: that the communication across the design team was preserved in the structure of the configured design. We really need a mathematician (with enough insight into both design theory/practice and graph theory) to tell us if the technical term used by Conway does really hold, ie, the homomorphism. A homomorphism for visual depiction is like an arrow! It is a pointer from A to B which by so doing also induces a path and direction, 'from A to B'. I am not stating the graph theoretical notion of the homomorphism as it might scare away the non-mathematical reader. 

Through practice and in my opinion, I am inclined to take sides with Conway and see enough of topical/historical/indicative evidence for his formulation. I see he had a fine and deep point about the bridging of two vastly (if not total separate) realms of sciences: the communication among people which is a social science topic, and the configuration of a design which subsumes a few disciplines under this name (system science, design theory, engineering design, and pattern theory). I love Conway's paper! 

I began this post to suggest an extended version of his observation that there is a mirroring relationship between the design team collaboration and the performing design. I've been looking into this relationship for sometime. More on this later. 

Now if there’s a direct relation between the communication structure and the structure of the designed product of an organization, could one look at this model the other way around and let's say design a communication structure that could be copied in the designed product? It’s tempting to say yes, That's WWW! The communication on the Web is based on the TCP/IP protocol. Jon Kleinberg depicts (Networks, Crowds, Markets, 2010) the Web as a bow-tie structure with a strongly connect component. As he says:

 Taken as a whole, then, the bow-tie picture of the Web provides a high-level view of the Web’s structure, based on its reachability properties and how its strongly connected components fit together. (p. 391)

What about the (inter-nodes) communication structure, the TCP/IP. This is something that may not readily lend itself to such exercise. To be continued. 



Wednesday, October 7, 2020


Back to the S curve: while we have great math machinery to discuss the form and functional properties of the logistic equation, despite my research, there’s no phenomenological explanation of why the shape of the curve is as it is! The applied math literature discusses the application of the equation to various cases and even literature review like the paper by the late Dutch statistician, JS Cramer (2002), does not reveal the inner working of the equation. If the equation applies to a wide array of population phenomena, it’s puzzling to explain why we have three distinct phases of the growth phenomena: the slow start, fast ramp, and the slow demise or end. To attribute the three aspects to the form of the equation does not explain how come this behavior? I have been working on a conceptual explanation of this behavior where the background to this growth curve needs to be considered. In this sense, it is indeed the interaction with the background to the foreground growth that modulates the overall form. Ali

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 for! 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 just another transaction for them. The lessons to be learned from the industry is that contractors (I am speaking to project managers), want to 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 satisfied?

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 thorough and well-thought but fails to meet their own self-declared plans. What to do then?

Enter Quality Assurance: it is an accountability issue about how you would 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).