A systems consultant looks at the glass half empty/full

First of all, what is the volume of the glass? How much liquid is actually in the glass? What is the liquid? Start with data, people. Has anyone even verified that it is indeed a liquid in the glass? Geez.

The problem statement is vague, but I sense that both the “optimists” and “pessimists” are looking to maximize liquid volume with respect to the volume of the glass, except the pessimists have a higher target volume.

Has a stakeholder analysis been performed? What is the Voice of the Customer? How much liquid is actually needed?

Couldn’t the glass simply be too big, making an adequate amount of liquid look unsatisfying relative to the glass? Is there focus group data on perceptions of fullness using different glass sizes?

Is this a closed system? Can’t just we get more liquid? Or dump some out? What about evaporation?

Would a full glass be desirable under all user conditions, such as walking and drinking? Under what conditions will the liquid/glass system be used? What slosh tolerance levels are required?

What other factors affect customer satisfaction? Potability, purity, cost, taste, potency, health effects? This can’t be just about volume.

A pessimist sees the glass half empty. An optimist sees the glass half full. The systems consultant sees .5 EP over four months billable utilization.

Meeting Lunch

I swore when I started blogging ten years ago that I’d never have posts like “What I ate for lunch.”

But I’ve never had the unique experience of eating a healthy locavore’s lunch of cheese and crackers at my desk while at the same time meeting the very animals who provided it to me.

Cheesy Girl. Makes the world a better place. Bought it at the Clear Lake HEB. Tell your friends.

Drink Dogma

I want to drink with this guy. Or at least buy a drink from him.

Not that I am a big drinker or bar-goer, but I am a big fan of people who are passionate and thoughtful about stuff that folks like me don’t think that much about, like beer tap pressure. I want to support their projects. Bonus if supporting happens to involve a tasty sip of something stiff and smooth. (stop it, you.)

This guy is also hands down the best writer about mixology I’ve ever read. His post on Old Overholt Rye had me fishing out my dusty bottle from under the cabinet and staring intently at it with new eyes. Heck, I’d say he is one of the best writers I’ve read recently. Period.

Exhibit one — his description of Bourbon:

You know Bourbon, that down-home, play you an old song until you admit you like it too, Red State voting, will get you drunk and lecture you the next morning for having a hangover, only seen him get really upset like three times but when it happened it was really bad, retired fellow that compensates for it by mowing the lawn three times a week. He owns a tractor that he parks in his front yard that hasn’t moved in fifteen years that people use as a landmark when giving directions, and he is an uncle to 23 kids without having any of his own.

Spot on.

So I propose a guy’s “research” night. To see if tap pressure regulators customized to each beer makes a difference in the quality of the pour. All in the interest of science, of course.

Here I am, God. Now what?

I have been admitted into discernment for the diaconate program of my archdiocese. I can truly say that I am open to whatever I am led to. I have no attachment to either outcome. All I want to see is what God wants me to do.

Scratch that. I am pretty sure I know what God wants me to do. The question is how He wants me to get there.

On the face of it, the idea is just crazy. I must be nucking futs. Diaconate formation and service is an intense, five year process. Anyone who knows me and my family knows that there’s just no place in our family’s life for any such thing. It makes absolutely no sense to even consider this.

But I can also see how diaconate service could fit into the long term vision that God has placed on mine and Heidi’s hearts. I just can’t see how it’s possible to get from point A in 2009 to point D in 2014 and then beyond.

So I’ll show up at the orientation night and say, “Here I am God, now what?” I am going to rely on Him, His son, and the Holy Spirit to clear some roadblocks for me.

When I submitted my application back in 2008, I was living the crazy life of a consultant. I was sure that my job would not let me have the kind of schedule I needed to enter the program. God took care of that. In rather traumatic fashion, I might add.

And so I can look to the other problems and say, “Okay God, if you want me serve you this way and stay employed and be a Husband and Dad you’re going to have to clear some roadblocks. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have in mind.”

The biggest hurdle is our family logistics. Diaconate formation requires one night a week and one full Saturday a month of mandatory attendance. We don’t have money for a nanny, but we will need something like that. A mere babysitter would not be able to handle the homework, the activities, the eldercare, mealtimes, and general nurturing that a family with three special needs kids and an alzheimer’s patient needs. (told you the whole thing sounds crazy)

But my ace in the hole is God’s hands, the body of Christ, my Church family. I figure that if we enter this diaconate program we are putting ourselves at the service of the church. The Church will pay for my formation and She will get my vows of service as a result. So I am looking for how the Church will step up and help us clear some roadblocks. I am praying in particular for a small support group of local families to help us with the family logistics while we do this. God may come up with another way, as He often does, but this is my opening bid.

The day I found I was laid off, I was overwhelmed. In penance that night I actively doubted God and my pastor told me to lean on my family and community. He told me not to be “strong” and self-reliant. God, my family, and my community came through for me in so many incredible ways.

So today I am overwhelmed by yet another daunting prospect. But I look forward to how He will make this diaconate thing happen. Or not. Whatever He wants.

Birth of Adorkable

Act I: Coining a Term

Gracie: “Oh Aaron, I love you. You’re so adorkable!”
Mommy: (laughing) That’s a great word. Where did you hear that?
Gracie: I made it up.
Daddy: The irony! You are our most adorkable kid by far.

Act II: Case In Point
(Daddy passing through the living room, noticing Gracie standing in front of the TV holding an open empty ziploc bag to the seat of her pants. Daddy stops.)
Daddy: What. What are you doing?
Gracie: I’m catching a fart.
Daddy: (sigh) Just wash out the bag after you’re done. I’m packing your lunch in that tomorrow.
Gracie: (offering bag) Want to smell?

Adorkable. Contact Webster and company. I have a picture of Gracie for them.

Why do you ask?

Fresh: Mommy, how long does my medicine last?
Mommy: What do you mean?
Fresh: My morning medicine. How long before it wears off?
Mommy: About 12 hours, more or less.
Daddy: Why do you ask, buddy?
Fresh: Mr. Vaughan. He was asking me today.
Mommy: (exchanging smile, nod, and sigh with Daddy) Oh. I see…
Daddy: So we should be expecting to talk with Mr. Vaughan soon, I assume.

The Prudent Idea Monster

This is my latest new-to-me find — The Project Shrink.

The post that caught my attention is about the care and feeding of new ideas on an agile project team. Something that is very work-related for me right now. As an idea guy joining a new agile team in progress, I am experiencing concerns of proper assimilation and acceptance because those are critical to my role. So I try to assess:

  • Are they aware of the various Belbin Roles and their value?
  • Who are the “Plants” on the team and how are they cultivated?
  • Do they understand DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats, even if only intuitively?
  • Are all hats represented and respected? Even the Green Hat Guy (e.g yours truly) ?
  • The post admirably makes the care and feeding of ideas the PM’s job. Yeah, I can see that:

    Someone who is scared of an idea will question it, devalue it, and try to steer it to mediocrity, whether they mean to or not…As a PM you have to know who you can bring into an ideas discussion and who you can’t… It is your responsibility to know “who” to include at “what” stage of the development of an idea… Using this technique will hopefully lead to less persecution of “idea monsters” during the project lifecycle…

    But we idea people have responsibility here too. An important contributing factor in this “persecution” of “idea monsters” is Hollander’s Theory of Idiosyncratic Credits. Introducing a new idea threatens group norms, so the effective “idea guy” needs to be aware of his credit “balance” with the group and spend wisely. I am just such an idea guy one month into a new job on a technical team. From my observations of what’s going on, I have some ideas about communication, knowledge management, and standards that I find important to the project goals. I have been testing the waters for those ideas, but have had very little time to grow enough credits to really get them out there. I have to balance my sense of urgency with patience and find the kinds of quotidian credit-earning norm-complying I can do for the team to get to a level of trust where I can make suggestions.

    We idea people seem to be always on the group fringe in certain respects, spanning boundaries, horizon watching, etc. So to be effective, we need to watch out for the team’s perception of our own compliance and support.

    Meanwhile the Project Shrink goes in my Daily Read list.

    "Turn the other cheek" and other systems engineering principles

    In prayer this morning, God revealed to me what a good Systems Engineer His son Jesus is. As I can identify with wanting to brag on your kid, I followed that direction in my morning meditiation. I let God lead me into considering how Jesus gave expert advice for defusing dysfunctional systems.

    Jesus’ “Turn the other cheek” is not just about non-violence, but about defusing escalation, addiction, fixes that fail, shifing burden, and all the other archetypical dysfunctional systems dynamics.

    Let me back up. I was moving my daughter’s car out of the driveway early this morning when I caught a line from a song on the local Christian Schmaltz Station that struck me. Something about how its the second look that binds you and brings the darkness over your eyes.

    The second look. Yep, I can identify with that. Sin, for me, starts with the second look, the second bite, the second unkind word. The “justified” response to evil. I tell my kids all the time that the second hit, the hit-back, is a worse offense than the original hit. The second hit elevates a bad incident into a bad pattern, which when unchecked can become a self-sustaining system dynamic with its own equilibrium that resists change.

    Jesus, in Matthew 5:38-41, is telling us to resist the kinds of responses that lead to those kinds of dysfunctional traps. He wants us to be aware of our role in the dynamic and rise above it, be creative, and refuse to “play along” in the old predictable ways.

    MIT’s management and strategy guru Dr. Peter Senge, gave very similar advice in the Fifth Discipline for every one of his archetypical system dysfunctions. Be aware of the system, be aware of your role, change your response. Know the game and refuse to play it by the “rules.”

    I’ve posted about turning the other cheek before. But now I see this scripture in a new light. Jesus as Systems Engineer giving straight on systems advice centuries ahead of its time.

    But right on time for me. My prayer today is to examine the systems I participate in, knowingly or unknowingly, my role, and how I can lovingly, creatively, and if possible playfully, refuse to play along.

    Green Grocers and Numeracy

    Very interesting analysis in Slate Magazine analyzing the environmental impact of various crops. It turns out it is very hard to determine exactly, even for organic products, whether this fruit or vegetable or that one is better for the planet. An organic crop may use less fertilizer and pesticide but require a larger number of acres per calorie yield than its non-organic counterpart. So can we say that organic is better for the earth? Most probably more certain than a maybe.

    I was not so interested in his conclusions as I was impressed by the savvy numeracy skills on display. First of all he realized he needed to normalize his variables, putting them into the context of enviornmental impact per unit yield (calories, eg). Anyone who fails to provide context for their stats sends my BS meter into the red zone. That’s why I don’t watch TV news of any political persuasion.

    Another thing I liked was that he also analyzed the definition of “good for the environment” in terms of metrics. Is it a mesure of fertilizer use, pesticide use, land use, water use (per unit yield)? Usually an abstract good like environmental footprint is a function of many things — y = f(x1,x2,x3,…,xn) — and the function itself can only be approximated through statistical analysis. What you embrace as your significant measure of success tells a lot about you and your own personal bias. Anyone who presents you with one statistic to make a case for a social good is, intentionally or not, misleading you.

    That’s the problem with trying to use statistics in advocacy of any kind. If you want to catch and keep people’s attention, you cannot do justice to the data. You have to pick and choose what and how you present, which means that you are required to spin whether you like it or not. That’s why you should never ever trust a short persuasive article that includes statistics. It’s also why I am a moderate in all matters of the public sphere.

    The sad fact is that many advocates and leaders have to choose between being persuasive and being thorough. And we as followers must choose between being informed and bored or entertained and clueless. And I think you know which options win out most of the time.

    I would love to see Numeracy and Critical Thinking, not just mathematics skills, taught in every secondary and post-secondary school. Of course, if you made it to the end of this post, I’m preaching to the choir. Bored, aren’t you?