Process Archive

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Hawthorne Effect Coaching Dilemma

The Hawthorne Effect is something I wrote about over a year ago.  Previously as a Project Management Adviser and now as an Enterprise Agile Coach, I’ve seen it numerous times.  To all those currently advising or coaching, do you tend to see clients trying to impress you? The Hawthorne Effect refers to the tendency of some people to modify their behavior, when they know they are being watched, due to the attention they are receiving from researchers, auditors, or coaches.
hawthorne effect

This effect was first discovered and named by researchers at Harvard University who were studying the relationship between productivity and work environment. Researchers conducted these experiments at the Hawthorne Works plant of Western Electric. The study was originally commissioned to determine if increasing or decreasing the amount of light workers received increased or decreased worker productivity. The researchers found that productivity temporarily increased, regardless if the light was increased or decreases. They then realized the increase in productivity was due to the attention given the workers by the research team and not because of changes to the experimental variable.  (Thanks Wikipedia)

This is one reason short term engagements can be challenging.  People are on their best behavior, until they get used to you being there.  This is also why I don’t believe in annual reviews.  How do you, as managers, leaders, coaches, or auditors get past the effect?  How do you ensure you get a true representation of individual and team behavior and not suffer from the Hawthorne Effect?

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1

Optimize the Whole

I know we talk about self-organized and empowered teams being at the heart of agile practices.  But sometime I see that focus from individuals and teams going a little too far.  Sometimes people forget about the big picture.  I believe everything we do needs to map back to organizational visions and goals.  If you can’t do that, what you are doing is wasteful.  For some organizations, everything needs to map back to increasing profits or lowering costs.  But we have to be careful not to fall into the “local optimum” trap.

A local optimum of a combinatorial optimization problem is a solution that is optimal (either maximal or minimal) within a neighboring set of solutions. This is in contrast to a global optimum, which is the optimal solution among all possible solutions. (Thank you Wikipedia)

You can read more about local optimums in the late Eli Goldratt‘s book, The Goal.  To the layman, you should consider activities and efforts that will benefit the organization or process flow as a whole, not necessarily what is best for you or your team.  I know it sounds counter-intuitive but hear me out.

You’ve probably seen this local optimum in action in one way or the other.  If you have a process flow, it’s happened.  With a traditional waterfall application development flow, have you ever had a development team deliver features without any concern of the impact to their QA counterparts or others downstream in the process?  The release is dependent on the other teams but what do they care?  They were very efficient at getting their work done.

Have you ever had that boss who was utterly obsessed with keeping everyone “100%” busy rather then being focused on ensuring the greatest amount of value flowed through the system in the shortest possible time?  Both instances are bringing attention to practices that happen and we just accept them.  One example is focusing too much on the localized efficiency. The other focuses too much on utilization.

My Freeway Analogy

When I get on the freeway, I don’t care that I can go the speed limit for 5 miles out of my 50 mile commute (localized efficiency).  I really don’t care how many cars the freeway can hold (utilization).  What I care about is that I can go as fast as I can for my overall commute.  That should be the goal.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes by Eli Goldratt

A system of local optimums is not an optimum system at all

I’m curious if others out there can give me some more examples of local optimums and how they addressed them.  How did you optimize the whole?

 

Image Source: Awesome DC

 

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0

When a Standard is a Distraction

I stopped off to get some gas and found myself spending way too much time analyzing the user interface, trying to figure out how to pump my gas.  I don’t want to sound so negative but gas pumps rank right up there with Adobe products, when it comes to non-intuitive UI.  At first glance, the UI was comprised of two areas.  One, there was a monochrome screen with four button on either side.  I’ve seen this layout at other gas pumps so I was ready for visual queues to come from that.  The other area was a 16 button keypad.  Fortunately, there was a slot for me to insert my credit card, otherwise, I think I would have just driven to another gas station.  The problem started 10 seconds after I inserted my credit card.  It actually took roughly 10 seconds for each action to be registered on the screen, leaving me feeling frustrated throughout the process.


The first text to appear on the screen was In Payment Card. I complied and 10 seconds later the text Debit Card or Credit Card? appeared. I expected the choices to align to one of the 8 white buttons flanking the screen. I then looked at the keypad. Nope, no Debit or Credit keys, which I’ve seen on other gas pumps.  Just before cancelling the purchase, I noticed two unassuming grey buttons to the right of the receipt dispenser. They were labeled Outside Debit and Outside Credit. I grumbled to myself and selected the Outside Credit button. Ten seconds later (I’m not kidding) Enter Zip Code appeared on the screen.  I typed in my zip code via the keypad.  I waited a solid 10 seconds before Press Enter If OK or Clear appeared. I located and press an Enter OK button on the keypad. The text Authorizing then displayed for an additional 10 seconds. Just as I thought it would tell me to select my grade of gas, Would you like to print a receipt? appeared.  I located and selected the Yes Receipt button on the key pad.  The screen then took an additional 10 seconds to state please see cashier inside for receipt. I stood there dumbfounded (for an additional 10 seconds) when the screen then changed, stating Select your Grade.

Here comes the comparison.  Simple processes like buying your gas should not be this painful.  The same goes for your business processes.  Don’t put so much emphasis on things that you’re not going to need.  They become wasteful distractions.  In the case of the gas pump, the most important steps of the process were hard to locate and navigate.  I wasted a lot of time just trying to figure out how to do the next step, when I already knew what I needed to do.  On the gas pump, the two unassuming buttons were critical to move forward in the process but weren’t even in my line of sight.  You need to think about this when customizing your business processes.  Standards (and processes) are good, as long as they provide value, either by increasing quality or lowering risk.

 

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10

Smoke Detector Battery Replacement Process

Why am I writing about replacing smoke detector batteries?  It’s all about process improvement. Every six months, we are tormented by our home smoke detectors chirping after we replace the batteries.  As a rule, we know we’re supposed to replace smoke detector batteries at daylight savings time (twice a year). Also, if the smoke detectors start chirping or beeping off and on, we know it’s time to change the batteries.  Six months ago, I decided I was going to put an end to the chirping once and for all.  I planned to document the battery replacement process and find out how to consistently replace the batteries with no chirping.  I created a decision table to help me get it all out on paper.  I then spent a few hours writing test procedures and testing the outcomes.  If you want to drive yourself a little crazy, listen to smoke detectors screaming in your ear for a few hours.  After all was said and done, I had a successful process documented.

You may ask yourself why I didn’t check Yahoo Answers or eHow for the answer to my problem.  Well, I did and they sucked!

I searched on:
How to Change the Batteries in Your Smoke Detector
Chirping Smoke Detectors
Stop Chirping Smoke Detectors…

So, if the planets align and there is some poor sucker out there suffering from the same problem, I hope you find this post and it works for you.

Scenario:  We live in a three level home.  Each of the smoke detectors is wired into a single circuit and they all use 9volt batteries.  We are using standard First Alert smoke detectors.  In the past, if we replaced any or all batteries, the smoke detectors would chirp randomly.

How to avoid the annoying smoke detector beeping

  1. Replace the battery and make sure the + and – are facing the correct direction.
  2. One smoke detector at a time, replace the battery, connect the electrical plug, then push the test button.
  3. Let the detector cycle through the screaming load test.
  4. If there is more than one detector, move on to the next.

What was the problem?

The problem I was running into was the hush button.  The detector was so loud, I would push the hush button before it was allowed to run it’s test cycle.  I included the action on my decision table and was able to isolate the problem there.

Just in case, in the event I forgot the process, I saved it in Evernote.  I just replaced all of the batteries and it worked perfectly.  I was so excited, I just had to blog about it.

 

2

Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne Effect is something I’ve seen numerousness times on projects.  When auditing or introducing a new process, do you tend to see people doing a better job than you expected? The Hawthorne Effect refers to the tendency of some people to work harder and perform better when they are participants in an experiment. Individuals may change their behavior due to the attention they are receiving from researchers, auditors, or coaches.

hawthorne effectThis effect was first discovered and named by researchers at Harvard University who were studying the relationship between productivity and work environment. Researchers conducted these experiments at the Hawthorne Works plant of Western Electric. The study was originally commissioned to determine if increasing or decreasing the amount of light workers received increased or decreased worker productivity. The researchers found that productivity temporarily increased, regardless if the light was increased or decreases. They then realized the increase in productivity was due to the attention given the workers by the research team and not because of changes to the experimental variable.

Do you audit your processes?  How do you ensure you get a true representation of project efficiencies and not suffer from the Hawthorne Effect?

HT: Wikipedia

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