Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why do you do this?

If you want to check how effective the change you brought in is or want to test the grounds to bring in a change to your place of work, I suggest the following.
Go around, talk to the people closer to the ground and ask them the question ‘Why do you do this?
It need not always be this question , but can be a variant of it.

I have given below a software example.
Question: Why do you do prepare RCA (Root Cause Analysis) documents and have Causal Analysis Meetings?

Answer 1: It allows us to analyze root cause of defects and prevent the defects, document it and hence prevent the defect from occurring again. It also helps us to be at CMM level 5
Answer 2: Worse: we were asked to do and that is why we are doing it :-(. Better: We are at CMM level 5 and hence we do this. :-

If you hear Answer 1, great and congratulations. Your changes are effectively implemented and shouldn’t have much problem bringing changes to your work place.

But, as much as you like to hear Answer 1 more often, it is answer 2 that you will hear majority of the time. Though this may sound simple, this is the difference between understanding and following vs blindly following. This also makes a whole lot of difference to the way anything new is perceived/welcomed.

When we get a response like answer 2 or something similar to it, we need to look at the problem from the user perspective and system perspective. The terms are defined as follows

User perspective: how the user (the person impacted by the change) views the change.
System Perspective: How the system sees the change brought in. Here system means the set of people in charge of conceptualizing and implementing the change.

User Perspective: we must try to find out why the person responded in the manner he/she responded. Some of the suggested questions, for continuing the conversation, are
  • Was enough information/training provided to the person to understand the necessity for the change?
  • Does the person feel if the change adds value?
  • Did the training communicate the value added by the change?
  • Are people not able to perceive the advantages brought out by the change?

The system perspective: The following are the suggested questions to be asked to them.

  • How does the change really add value?
  • How is/was the advantage of the change clearly articulated?
  • What kind of dissemination was done to educate people about the value-add by the change?

By asking the question to the person closer to the ground (from implementation and user perspective), I see the following advantages.

  • We will know how effectively the change we wanted is getting implemented.
  • By implementing lessons learnt from the responses to these queries, we bridge the gap between the User and System Perspective.
  • It also gives insights into fine tuning our implementation if we want to bring in something new.

And by the way, a good non software example can be the question to you, the reader “why did you read this article? “ :-) From a system perspective, I want managers to question what their team members do, to understand if the team is knowingly are blindly doing their jobs . If you understood that, then my job is done. Else let me know why not. :-)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Uncertainty is not Risk...

People tend to mix up the terms Risk and Uncertainty and use it interchangeably. They think that if there is uncertainty related to some task or some element of the project, then it is Risk. Some times yes and some times ‘No’ and it actually depdends.

Before getting into the details, let us define ‘Risk’ and ‘Uncertainty’.

"Risk is defined as what we stand to lose or gain, if certain events occur."

"Uncertainty refers to the lack of confidence that we express w.r.t events that we want to observe".

Risk is typically calculated using the formula “Risk = Probability of happening X Impact of the event” – when ‘the event’ happens. i.e. Risk is a function of Probability and Impact.

Expressing mathematically, Risk = f(probability, impact).

Probability has an element of Uncertainty Associated with it. Probability and hence uncertainty, is a factor in arriving at Risk.

This relation can be expressed mathematically as Risk = f[Probability(uncertainty), Impact]

People usually have this in mind when they mix up Uncertainty and Risk. But if we look into the equation above, we will see that it is not only the uncertainty, but also the impact, that determines whether a particular event that will happen in the future, qualifies to be a risk.

So while Risk definitely has an element of Uncertainty Associated with it, all Uncertainty translates into Risk, only based on the impact.

That is why it is not right to use Risk and Uncertainty Interchangebly.

Let me know what you think.