Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Go with the flow

Today we're talking about process flows. And really, I think it's about time that someone thought about this for a while, don't you?

Who doesn't enjoy thinking about process flows? I know that I do. When I'm standing in line at Starbucks waiting for my third Venti Bold Roast Selection of the Day, I think, "Isn't there a faster way to get this coffee into my system? Why can't they just set up a series of feeder tubes and credit card machines right by the entrance? Better yet, why can't they just pipe it into the office? We already have that special spout for 'filtered' water, so why not another for Starbucks Bold Roast, and another for the Light Notes? And who drinks the Light Roast, anyway? What's the point? I mean, you might as well go to McDonalds and order the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, large fries, and a Diet Coke and tell the cashier, 'I'm trying to lose weight.' You know, I could really use some coffee about now. WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG?!?!?"

My point here is that, if Starbucks had used a better approach to process flow modeling instead of their patented Barista Flow (TM) modeling technology, I might have received my coffee before I punched the stockbroker in front of me, thus starting a rumble that drove half of the customers out of the store and sent a caffeine-deprived mob into the Au Bon Pain across the street, where they rioted over the weak brown water that is sold under the label of "coffee" in that establishment, thus causing a whole rack of sticky buns to be flung into the street, interrupting the Patriots Day parade and leaving a whole battalion of kilted bagpipers covered from the thigh down in sticky cinnamon and pecans.

All for lack of a good process flow.

I'm not saying that this kind of chain reaction could happen at your workplace, but why take the chance? Do some research, ask questions, and save yourself from potential catastrophe.

Wikipedia: Business Process Modeling Notation
BPM Institute: BPM: Where do we Start?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Evil Mutant Attack Squirrel of Death

The Rodent's Burrow: Evil Mutant Attack Squirrel of Death

How can you not be entertained by something with that title? We have a LOT of squirrels around our house, living on a wooded lot and all, but I've never managed to tick one off quite like this. There was that time at Penn when a squirrel decided that I wasn't sharing enough of my muffin and tried to take it out of my hand, and then he fastened onto my thumb until I threw him across the courtyard, but at least he had the sense to run off after he landed.

The best part of this story: "And now he has a patrol car...."

(Thanks to Miss Snark for the link)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Think you're smart? Prove it on Motley Fool CAPS

Think you invest better than anyone else? Prove it on the Motley Fool's new tool, Motley Fool CAPS. If you want to take me on, then you can start at my CAPS page (login required). I'm not in the top 100 yet, primarily because I only rate companies that I have an informed opinion on (as opposed to that Eldrehad guy), but I'm beating the market rather respectably. So bring it on, smarty-pants!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Death by PowerPoint

There are two groups of people who need to review the following links: those who think they need help, and those who don't. For those who don't think they need help (you know, the PowerPoint junkies huddled out by the dumpsters swapping illegal clipart), I'll make sure you understand me by speaking in your own dialect, Bulletese:

You need to read this information if:

  • The thought of putting together a presentation and then standing up in front of a group of people to deliver it makes you physically ill, or at least a little woozy
  • You hate Microsoft with a towering purple passion, not because they stole the desktop platform from IBM and Apple, not because they're an evil empire, but merely because they foisted PowerPoint upon the world
  • On those rare occasions when you are forced to speak in front of a group, you never see them because you spend the entire time facing the screen and reading your slides

You also need to review this information if:

  • You feel naked if you leave your desk without a slide deck
  • You have forgotten what a conjunction is
  • You wish that PowerPoint had more animations and slide transitions, because your signature Boomerang and Exit/Newsflash combination doesn't wow them like it used to, even with the monkey sound effects
  • You actually believe that "Actionable roadmap/Go-forward plan" constitutes a coherent thought
  • You respond to everyday queries like, "How's it going?" in Bulletese: "Doing good. Family fine. Kids were sick - better now."
Whether you're a PowerPoint junky or a public speaking neophyte, this information can help. One of these authors - this is a little-known fact - was one of the finalists on the short-lived FX reality series Toastmasters: Survival of the Glibbest. And while that competition was cancelled after a freak formatting accident left one of his competitors with only seven fingers, the fact remains that the man knows how to talk (and how to sharpen the edge of a serif font so that it cuts like a scalpel, though nothing was ever proven and he was acquitted on all charges).

Come and learn at their feet and go away a more articulate and enlightened speaker, or face the wrath of their Baskerville 40-point.

Presentation Pointers
Death by PowerPoint
Avoiding Death by PowerPoint

Some entertaining presentations:
Very Bad Hotel
Imagine 2.0
Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint

And of course, the best option is probably not to use PowerPoint at all.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Crack the (use) case

Today, boys and girls, we're going to talk about use case modeling. Now, I don't want you to make the same painful mistakes that I did when learning about this topic a few years ago, so let me just set a few things straight right now:

  1. There is nothing funny about Use Case Modeling. Even if you think that "RUP" sounds like somewhere Scooby Doo might tell Shaggy to look if there were a ghost above his head, please keep your levity to yourself. This is serious business, people.
  2. UML does not, apparently, stand for the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Nor is it an acronym for Unsafe Military Landing, even though that *would* be a cool name for a band.
  3. Even though we spend a lot of time talking about "actors," no real actors will be present at the session. Not even Ben Affleck, though he's probably available.
  4. Use cases are not a special kind of suitcase for carrying only useful clothes, and no one will actually be modeling any clothing. Therefore, bringing an expensive camera to a use case modeling training session in the hopes of getting your picture taken with Heidi Klum is a complete waste of time.
  5. Finally, while it is an effective tool for modeling and improving business processes, use case modeling should not be used in the home. It is especially unsafe as a tool for explaining to your wife why all of the crap your mother-in-law brings from her house should be shipped off directly to the Salvation Army. Unapproved uses of use case modeling such as this may result in serious personal injury. Trust me on this one.

I don't actually have any useful suggestions about use case modeling. I just wanted to share these thoughts. The smart people at Wikipedia, however, can get you started if, despite my warnings, you still want to pursue this challenging topic.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thoughts on Lean Six Sigma

Here are some random thoughts that plague me about this whole Lean Six Sigma thing. I think that these are the burning questions that I think keep all of us up at night, especially if we have eaten a double dark chocolate espresso sundae while reading a Six Sigma textbook right before going to bed.

  • Why do we need so many sigmas? Wouldn't two or three do the job? Is it just because it makes the name so nicely alliterative?
  • What's a KPI (pronounced "Kippy"), and why is everyone so excited about them? Is it any relation to Skippy, Alex P. Keaton's nerdy friend on the 80s sitcom Family Ties?
  • What is the difference between Lean Six Sigma and regular Six Sigma? Does it involve Splenda?
  • Is it possible to discuss Six Sigma while eating without spraying food on your neighbors? (Go ahead: try it.)
  • If you were to use Lean Six Sigma for BPR to create a TQM SDLC and become ISO 9000-compliant while raising your CMM level, would your head explode?
All very important questions, I think you'll agree, and all critical to success whatever your chosen field of endeavor. If you have ever thought about, heard about, or known someone affected by Lean Six Sigma, I urge you to think long and hard about these issues before you return to work. It might just save your life.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Meeting Addiction

Do you have a Meeting Dependency? To find out, take this little test (which, out of sensitivity to our more heavily afflicted readers, avoids the use of the trigger word, "meeting")...

  • Do you frequently find yourself in a small room with a bunch of other people during work hours and wondering why you're there, especially since there is no food anywhere in sight?
  • Have you ever sat for an entire hour with a group of semi-strangers who all seemed to care passionately about something you didn't understand and never said a word?
  • Do you ever come out of a mandatory non-social work gathering and realize that, despite an hour of intense talking -- to the point that the temperature of the room has actually been raised by several degrees purely due to the amount of hot air expelled -- nothing was decided?
  • Do you find yourself ending even your social gatherings with, "I'll schedule a follow-up so that we can continue this discussion, and hopefully come to a resolution by next week"?
  • Have you come to the realization that your desk is just the place you go to look at your schedule and find out where you're supposed to be now?
  • Have you memorized the exact position, attractiveness, and seating capacity of every conference room in your building, even though it's 24 stories tall?
  • Are you unable to communicate with people unless they gather into groups of four or more and carry notepads?
If you answered, "Yes," "Sometimes," or "I have a friend like that, and he needs help" to any of the above questions, then please, STOP!

Turn off that Outlook Calendar reminder.

Stop asking people to meet you "for a quick brain dump."

Immediately cancel all recurring weekly meetings for projects that ended months ago.

Start asking, "Why do you need me at that meeting?"

Above all, learn to say NO to the urge to schedule one more "quick check-in" that lasts an hour.

I'm not going to try to bribe you with ice cream or free bagels (though I think we still have some in the freezer from the last meeting). This isn't an intervention, where you need to be tricked into paying attention. You need to admit you need help and seek it out. It's the only way to achieve true healing. Trust me, your life will be better for it.