Archive for April 2007

PC Computer History 101   1 comment

Have you seen Bob Cringley’s Triumph of the Nerds?

If you haven’t, and you claim to be a geek/nerd, you should. Coworker Dave loaned me his copy and watching it reminded me of some of the quirks of the history of the personal computer that I had forgotten.

Posted April 30, 2007 by padraic2112 in hardware, software, tech

KM Article of the Week   Leave a comment

What’s Your Strategy for Managing Knowledge?” by Hansen, Nohira, and Tierney.

I found it lacking.  Some of the links here are to the (non-public)  class wiki for my knowledge management class, if you’re reading this post and you’re curious about the references, feel free to comment as such and I’ll post the references.

Reference Information

Summary

The authors studied several knowledge management consulting companies and real-life knowledge management projects as a basis for this paper. They separate knowledge management techniques into two classes (codification vs personalization) and discuss which approach is most viable given an organization’s culture, purpose, and competitive strategy. They discuss some lessons learned and properly aligning incentive programs with knowledge management projects.

Issues

Brief History

Hansen and Nohira talk briefly about the adoption of Knowledge Management from the early 1990s until the present, discussing how advances in technology have opened up the ability to capture and codify knowledge.

Codification vs Personalization

Hansen and Nohira compare codification to personalization by explaining that codification occurs when knowledge is stored and quantified in a collection where it can be retrieved in an easy fashion by members of an organization, and personalization occurs when information technology is instead used to facilitate communication between knowledge sources, rather than storage and retrieval. Codification, then, involves taking existing explicit knowledge or capturing implicit knowledge and storing it in a system which is referenced by users, and personalization involves social networking or other methods of reducing barriers between users to enable them to better transfer knowledge between each other.

KM in the Context of Business Strategy

Hansen and Nohira posit that different corporate drivers dictate different approaches to knowledge management. The three big drivers they examine are:

For each driver, they discuss the implications of the different approaches (personalization vs codification).

Internal Project Examples vs Consulting

Several KM project examples are presented to illustrate the approaches in relation to the business context. In each case, the advantage of the approach given the business context and the particular problem is illustrated well. For example, Dell Computer’s codification strategy to maintain machine configurations is shown to be a particularly apropos use of codification for the purpose of turning a profit. In contrast, the example of Hewlett Packard’s personalization strategy works for creating value for customers due to a more complex level of knowledge that does not lend itself to codification.

Disadvantages of Straddling

Hansen and Nohira summarize their examples as, “companies that use knowledge effectively pursue on strategy predominantly and use the second strategy to support the first. We think of this as an 80-20 split: 80% of their knowledge sharing follows one strategy, 20% the other. Executives who try to excel at both strategies risk failing at both” (Hansen 112).

Aligning Incentives

Regardless of strategy, the authors stress that “real incentives – not small enticements” (Hansen 113) are required for knowledge management to succeed. However, the method of providing proper incentives should be linked to the codification or personalization strategy. A codification strategy must reward people for creating useful content, and a personalization strategy must reward people for communication skills.

Choosing Strategy

The authors provide three questions to assist executives in choosing the right strategy:

  • Do you offer standardized or customized products?
  • Do you have a mature or innovative product?
  • Do your people rely on explicit or tacit knowledge to solve problems?

Standardized and mature products benefit from a codification approach to KM, by leveraging reuse. Customized or innovative products, on the other hand, benefit more from personalization strategies.

Isolation

Knowledge management is considered isolated when it takes place in a business unit rather than part of a coordinated effort on the part of HR, IT, and the corporate strategy with CEO leadership. The authors argue that “only strong leadership can provide the direction a company needs to choose, implement, and overcome resistance to a new knowledge management strategy” (Hansen 116).

Critique

Although the article itself has several interesting points, it seems to suffer overall from an implied emphasis on top-down decision making, which is not wholly surprising in an article from Harvard Business Review. Although virtually all of the articles we’ve reviewed thus far have agreed that CEO-level support is required for knowledge management initiatives to succeed, a great many of them have as well pointed out that top-down design in KM projects leads to failure. This article seems to be written partially with the intent to “sell” the concept of knowledge management to C-level executives, and as a result there are areas where one can argue too much emphasis is placed upon executive leadership vs executive support. In particular, the section on “Isolation” with the quote given above, suggests that KM needs to be something that is guided by the CEO, as opposed to something that is designed from the bottom up with CEO support.

In addition, the section on Corporate Strategy is too limited and focused mainly upon bottom-line short term results. There are several other corporate strategies that could be major drivers for KM initiatives; for example, a company may want to establish an industry position as an innovator, or they may want to establish themselves as an industry leader in quality. It could be argued that these fall under the same strategic vision as “creating value for customers” or “turning a profit”, but there is a subtle difference in emphasis that can lead to a major difference in corporate tactical decision making in the short run.

Finally, there is little in the way of discussing the practical methods of KM adoption. As we’ve seen in other articles, knowledge management can succeed quite well on the small, business-unit or community of practice scale, which in turn can lead to an atmosphere of acceptance of KM principles organizationally. Here, however, there is a quite vivid and stark stance that KM’s best value is at the organizational level. While true, this discounts the process of adaptation and acceptance, and focuses entirely on the end state of a knowledge-enabled organization.

Posted April 25, 2007 by padraic2112 in is371, management, msis

Bad Management, 101   Leave a comment

From Dumb Little Man:

  • Assign enough projects with tight deadlines so that your team has no choice but to work a 60 hour week while you only work 30 hours
  • Cap overtime pay.
  • Do not offer project pay.
  • Constantly underestimate the time it takes to get things done and then penalize employees’ bonuses because they didn’t hit the goal.
  • Talk more than you listen.
  • Tell the team to begin planning for tons of deployments but never obtain the budget to actually implement any of them.
  • Don’t trust written time cards. Make employees email you when they get to the office so you can see a timestamp when they get in.
  • Avoid looking people in the eye.
  • Reprimand employees in front of the entire team.
  • Hire someone that is very weak to take the place of a veteran and expect the same results from the team.
  • Reprimand Mark but don’t reprimand Tony when he makes the same error.
  • Consistency is good. Never ask you employees if they are challenged enough or want to take on more responsibility.
  • Make promises to internal customers but have no idea on the elements involved in getting the task done.
  • You know that Tony is a slacker, but he is really cool to hang out with so keep him around and give him good reviews.
  • Give your employees 2nd tier systems to work with but expect top tier results.
  • Never cross train anybody on anything. The skills they walked in with are the skills they are leaving with.
  • Mandate a new policy without consulting a single person that will have to live with it.
  • Give employees low raises because the more you save, the higher your bonus.
  • When talking to an employee on the phone, type away at your email. That’s a great time to catch-up!
  • When someone comes to you with an issue regarding another employee, use a lot of big words to explain the situation but really take no interest or action.
  • Create a desk cleanliness policy.
  • When Suzy comes in late and leaves early, and we complain, do nothing about it.
  • Mandate that the entire team use a single to-do list application simply because you think it’s best.
  • Make your best employees train the newbies for weeks at a time but insist that all deadlines be met.
  • Never answer your cell phone.
  • Never be the on-call guy to share in the team burden.
  • Have a group of employees that you get a long with and go out to lunch with while those that you don’t like get left out.
  • Send employees lots of chain letters, poems and other crap spam when they are hard at work.
  • Refuse to upgrade a system after the entire team asks for it and then be sure not to give a valid reason.
  • Blame everything on your boss because no one will ever call you on it.
  • Make all men wear ties.
  • Do not let employees expense cell phone use but require a cell phone number for the on-call guy.
  • Shut off access to Google and Ebay because it’s not “required for work”.
  • Never let employees hangout and use the corp. network to play games after hours.
  • Tell employees to do plan B because you will save $11 even though plan A is the safer, more efficient way to go.
  • I don’t care what they are working on. No one should get a monitor larger than yours
  • Insist employees come to your wife’s silly Barbecue.
  • Give advice on topics you are only partially educated in.
  • When the kudos are handed out, you should take the credit because you managed the team. Do not give credit to anyone else.
  • Monitor all phone use.
  • Charge someone .25 days off for a dentist appointment.
  • Lecture the team at least weekly.
  • Hold team meetings to provide updates even though the updates only pertain to one-third of team.
  • Buy the team lunch and always forget that Vegan in the corner…he’ll come around.
  • Make the team fill out self evaluations but provide very vague feedback on what they type.
  • Sleep with that girl Suzy on the team. No one will suspect she’s getting preferential treatment.
  • Call the redhead guy on the team Rusty. Everyone will laugh and you are sure to win their hearts.
  • Make sure the cubicles are as close to each other as physically possible. The open areas surrounding the group will be used eventually.
  • Make the entire team read a book and then set aside 3 hours to discuss it. This is sure to increase productivity.
  • Let a couple people work from the house, but provide no reason for it or ways for others to obtain the right.
  • Insist that employees complete projects that even you admit are worthless.

I actually disagree with a couple of these in certain circumstances, but the list on the whole is pretty good at being bad (and it’s certainly entertaining).

Posted April 24, 2007 by padraic2112 in management

The Hive   Leave a comment

An interesting idea for a business model.

Collaborative working environments certainly have their place, and can be effective physical environments for certain working models.  I don’t know that I find the idea of renting out such a space to be overly compelling, however… you either have a team and a process that will work in this environment (in which case you probably want to replicate it in your regular facility), or you don’t.

Reminds me of my days at Idealab.

Posted April 24, 2007 by padraic2112 in management, tech, work

Better than YouTube!   Leave a comment

Videos that actually have content that affects your life!

Unfortunately, they’re all Windows Media Player files.

Posted April 19, 2007 by padraic2112 in news, noise, politics, social

Abandoned Backpacks as Domestic Terror   6 comments

From Bruce Schneier’s blog.

As a public service, let me now inform you, gentle readers, of some statistics.

Between 1988 and 1997, a ten year period, 427 people were killed by explosive devices, a rate of 42.7 per year. By comparison, 5,702 people died due to fatal occupational injuries in 2005. The American Cancer Society estimates 564,830 deaths in the US from cancer in 2006. Stroke killed 150,147 people in 2004. Coronary heart disease gave another 452,300 victims to the reaper in 2004. Ah, you say, but I’m in pretty good health, I work out and eat healthy (which makes you a rare citizen of this country), and I’m totally paranoid, so I’ll just park it at home and I’ll be safe, right?

Sorry, nope.

3,030 people killed in home fires in the U.S. in 2005 (not counting the firefighters actually trying to put the things out). 3,306 unintended, non-boating related drownings in 2003. 13,700 people over the age of 65 died in 2003 from injuries sustained in a fall. 23,157 accidental poisoning deaths in 2003. All in all, 2,487,415(.9) people in the US are projected to shuffle off their mortal coil in 2007… which means (assuming that the 42.7 number is a reasonably accurate guess for 2007) that explosive-related deaths represent .00017% of the overall fatalities in the US every year.

Or, yet another way of looking at it, the population of the US is 301,139,947 (according to the aforelinked CIA factbook) which means one out of every 7,052,458 people will die from an explosive device, so the probability that you’ll be hoisted by someone’s petard is approximately .00000001418.

Now, this isn’t strictly speaking a rigorous analysis, because I’m grabbing statistics that are easily accessbile with a web search instead of doing a proper year-by-year correlation study, but any way you want to look at it, the likelihood of you being killed by an explosive device is so fantastically small in comparison to the thousands of other ways in which you can have your ticket punched that worrying about it is… well, actually, probably doing nothing more than increasing your likelihood of being one of the 65 million people in this country who suffer from high blood pressure (which leads to those stroke and heart disease fatalities as well as kidney failure and other things that also will make you dead as a doornail).

So, if you see an abandoned backpack, don’t lose your mind and call the bomb squad. Just check it for identifying information and turn it into the lost and found.

Posted April 19, 2007 by padraic2112 in news, security

On the Nightstand – The Road   Leave a comment

By Cormac McCarthy, the first book of his that I’ve read.

This is not the feel-good book of the year. It is psychologically and spiritually heavy, especially if you’re a parent. It is also an excellent book.

My wife just read this for her book club and she really wanted me to read it, so I pounded it out last night in about 4 hours. It’s a very quick read once you get into the author’s writing style. Here’s a link to the New York review, but I would advise reading the book before the review, as there are a couple of spoliers in there.

Although I don’t agree with everything in that review, I find myself nodding along with Michael Chabon’s summary:

What emerges most powerfully as one reads The Road is not a prognosticatory or satirical warning about the future, or a timeless parable of a father’s devotion to his son, or yet another McCarthyesque examination of the violent underpinnings of all social intercourse and the indifference of the cosmic jaw to the bloody morsel of humanity. The Road is not a record of fatherly fidelity; it is a testament to the abyss of a parent’s greatest fears. The fear of leaving your child alone, of dying before your child has reached adulthood and learned to work the mechanisms and face the dangers of the world, or found a new partner to face them with. The fear of one day being obliged for your child’s own good, for his peace and comfort, to do violence to him or even end his life. And, above all, the fear of knowing— as every parent fears—that you have left your children a world more damaged, more poisoned, more base and violent and cheerless and toxic, more doomed, than the one you inherited.

Interestingly, I found myself wondering (after I read it) if the book was longer than it needed to be, or shorter than it needed to be, or just the right length. My first impression was that it could have been merely a short story, because I was struck by the same feeling Chabon summarized in that paragraph -> that the book was about parental horrors, and really that story can be told by taking the first 90% of the book and condensing it into 5 pages and then tacking on the last dozen or so. On the other hand, the book is also about the nature of courage and resolve, obsession, hope and dispair, and compassion and pragmatism … and for those purposes, you need the entire work. However, it isn’t really what I call science fiction, and really isn’t entirely post-apocalyptic fiction either. Obviously McCarthy is using a post-apocalyptic setting for his story, but there are a number of questions (normally answered in post-apocalyptic fiction) that are left unresolved… but the lack of them didn’t leave me frustrated or dying of curiosity, because that wasn’t really what the book was about. The end of the world is a plot device in this story, which gives the author a means to channel horror and dispair into the reader, but its not the plot *of* the story.

In any event, I recommend it if you like dousing your psyche in a chilling bath every once in a while.

** Edit **

The book won the Pulitzer today.

Posted April 16, 2007 by padraic2112 in books