Guiding Quote

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Einstein

Friday, May 29, 2015

Discretion is the better part of a prosecution: Ask the Bankers

Those pesky little rascals, aka Bankers, have been at it again. In London a group of them are on trial for allegedly rigging the LIBOR interest rate market, that’s the interest rate upon which a large part of the finance industry uses to set their rates for credit card and car loans and the like. Also an elite group of international banks have been fined a total of $6B by various national regulators for rigging the foreign exchange market, this is not allegedly since they have admitted the crime, that’s a first. 
The level of malpractice is so widespread that these million and billion dollar fines are now common place. One bank, JP Morgan Chase, has agreed to pay around $27B in fines etc over the past two years. This is serious money, money taken directly from their shareholders, so much for increasing shareholder value!
One of the recurring themes in all of the investigations is the number of times these sharp practices are uncovered through emails that detail not only the actions but the mind set of the conspirators; “Lets put some lipstick on this pig!” being one of the more memorable phrases. The arrogance of these correspondents is so large that they don’t appear to even consider that these messages will be seen by anyone outside of their close circle. That someday these inelegant phrases will see the light of day and that they will be asked to justify them. 
There is a saying, attributed to an old time Boston Politician, “Never write if you can speak, never speak if you can nod, never nod if you can wink”. To this has been added, by a NY State Prosecutor, the modern day admonition, “Never email”. 
This guidance should be used by all project managers in their correspondence. Not that I expect you’ll be involved in criminal activities. But we do discuss work and our work colleagues in emails. So we should NEVER write anything that we would be ashamed to defend to a person’s face. If you wouldn’t say it to a man’s face or in a public meeting then don’t put in a note. Also avoid adjectives, subjective judgements, and hyperbolic statements. An earthquake in Nepal is a disaster, a failed QA test is not. Let the facts speak for themselves and let the reader make her own judgement. Your emails may be more boring but you will be able  defend everyone of them. 
Remember words are like bullets, once they are launched they can’t be recalled and you don’t always know where they will end up: Make discretion your watchword. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Election Results and Polls: You ‘herd’ it here

The British General Election has just finished and one of the principal losers was the opinion polling industry. Yes, those people whose projections politicians invest such faith in screwed up again. The polls had been showing that the two main parties, Conservative and Labour, where basically tied, From these poll figures the pundits, really the classic example of fools with tools, estimated that no party would have an overall majority and that some form of cooperation with other parties would be required in order to form a government. With both parties having a credible chance of actually leading the next government. With Labour having a better chance, as they would be leading the supposed anti-austerity majority.

Well the pollsters got it wrong. The Conservatives won a slim majority and the Labour party had a horrible night, not least in their previous Scottish strongholds. Scotland on election night resembled a pretty gory episode of Game of Thrones, with long time favourites and strongmen dispatched with brutal suddenness.

But not all of the pollsters got it wrong one of them did have a poll that reflected the actual result.  And their case gives us an object lesson about filters and biases. The pollsters, Survation, conducted a poll the day before the election and their results were very close to the actual vote count for each party. However they did not publish the results. Why?

Well here are the actual words of their CEO:
The results seemed so “out of line” with all the polling conducted by ourselves and our peers – what poll commentators would term an “outlier” – that I “chickened out” of publishing the figures – something I’m sure I’ll always regret.
Survation fell foul of the bias that is “herd” mentality; that behavior were by members of a group feel safer going along with the thoughts and actions of their peers , the“ herd”, rather using their own analysis. They would rather be wrong together than take the risk of being wrong individually no matter what their evidence reveals. Like lemmings they’d rather jump off the cliff rather than be in the minority safe above ground. They don’t want to be the child that exclaims that the Emperor has no clothes.
The lesson here for PM’s is that when we are in the Orient stage of the OODA Loop we have to be careful of the biases that can impinge on our analysis. And also we have to trust our methodology and have the courage to call it as we see it. If the results appear to be an outlier then by all means check and double check but eventually you have to release them. Playing it safe by following the herd often isn’t right, just ask the lemmings.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Managers: love them or hate them, the key is to survive them!

Our bosses can be the bane of our lives, always judging, demanding, worrying, and complaining. (Is there a class in management school that covers worrying?) They are not genetic traits as there incidence crosses all races, geographies, and genders, rather it's something they are burdened with when they enter the hallowed halls of management.

Project managers with impeccable records become, almost over night people who can believe three stupid things before breakfast and repeat them to their skeptical subordinates with a straight face. And that is just the good promotions. It is not only cream that rises to the top. There is plenty of crap that floats to the top and gets promoted. We all know of too many examples to believe the bromide about living in a meritocracy. Too many Whiskey Tango Foxtrot appointments with sides of "can you believe" and "what were they thinking".

Kings of old were anointed with holy oil, and given a crown, an orb, and a scepter as a sign of their God given right to rule. The three wise men brought with them Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Maybe when as managers they get their first briefcase, or their promotion letter, it's impregnated with oils of paranoia, and they receive the gifts of gullibility, fear, and stupidity. Whatever happens it is very potent. Snake venom is like herbal tea in comparison.

Or maybe they are given rings and unbeknown to them those rings are, in Lord of the Rings style, subservient to a master ring; a ring that rules them all from the executive equivalent of Mordor!

Whether we know what happened or how it was done we have to deal with the jellyfish they have become. We have to make it work, or at least give the impression that we are. Bosses need to be supported, but from a safe distance. We don't want to go down with his ship when he fails.

Always be cultivating networks within and without of your department or company. If you work remotely this takes more work than if you are in a traditional office. For once the dreaded matrix management can help since it requires you to report to a wider range of people, thereby forcing you to network. Always have your manager as an element in the Observe and Orientate sectors of the OODA loop until it is time to Decide and Act. Just make sure that you dont swap a jellyfish for the incredible boneless wonder. You don't want to move from the frying pan to the fire!