środa, 4 lutego 2015

Engineering Miracles

miracle: a very amazing or unusual event, thing, or achievement

miracle in a corporate world is an unexpected and unlikely turn of events that brings solution to a technical or organizational problem

No plan survives contact with the enemy.
– Napoleon (paraphrased)

Over the years I have been numerously involved in corporate activities that had sound resemblance to miracles and I begun to see the patterns emerging. Please note this article is a pseudo science in its purest form, mainly drawing conclusions from a limited dataset, and is no different than any other attempt to understand the world, such as eg. economy, psychology or art.

There are three approaches to miracle engineering:

Classical approach: waiting for a miracle

Proactive approach: asking for a miracle

Modern approach: planning for a miracle

Each approach has its distinctive characteristics, and without knowing the context of the situation, one shouldn't assume there exists an intrinsic advantage of one over the others.

  1. Waiting for a miracle is the simplest concept to grasp, as one should do nothing, but to wait for an unexpected turn of events that will bring the solution for one's problem, however unlikely it may seem.

    Miracle example: Build an engineering team in 4 weeks time frame for the upcoming project. In this approach one should do nothing but to wait 4 weeks, and then escalate to upper management that one needs an existing team from within the organization in order to fulfil business objectives. (example implies there exists a spare capacity within organization)

    Classical approach is also probably the most overlooked in the corporate world. Some organizations are refraining from using it as obsolete, or even harmful.

    Nothing is further from the truth, as waiting for a miracle to happen, does specifically imply then NO WASTEFUL ACTIVITY is performed in the meantime. In a business world obsessed with LEAN philosophy this clearly should be the preferred solution. Especially when you confront this approach with the harsh reality, where almost 50% of corporate activities which started to soon, lead to failure, as the outcome is no longer expected after a short but finite period.

    Waste example: team assembled in 4 weeks for the project that fails before it even starts due to contract negotiations going south

    Waiting for a miracle is usually preferred by low to medium level management with high seniority in  an organization, as their experience enforces their confidence. They instinctively feel that waiting long enough brings forth one of the two outcomes. Either a miracle is no longer needed (most cases) or a miracle does actually happen.

    One shouldn't mistake Waiting for a miracle with wishful thinking, which is a common term for Planning for a miracle, explained in section 3 below.

    To summarize, Waiting for a miracle in a corporate world is a dying animal in a very contrast to our personal lives, where we choose to believe that big money, happiness and love is coming our way. All we need to do is wait.

    Scholars suggest to use it as mechanism of choice, initially when confronted with any business challenge, but only for a limited duration, eg. a day, or a week. Then it is advantageous to turn into a more sophisticated technique of Asking for a miracle - see below.

  2. Asking for a miracle implies verbal statement that defines the boundaries of a miracle both in terms of requirements and time.

    Miracle example: Business unit director, during a meeting with his managers states: "We will increase our sales this year by 50%" (this example implies sales forecast is as flat as a pancake)

    Asking for a miracle GREATLY improves the chances of it happening due to a well known "Pygmalion effect" , as majority of miracles need human effort in conjunction with a divine intervention.

    Please note that besides the verbal and preferably very vocal statement in a public setting (other people need to be listening)
    , one should refrain from performing any other activity due to the wasteful nature of such behaviours as described in section 1.

    So far I have not been able to construct a valid dataset providing quantifiable results to support the absolute advantage of this approach, but I have witnessed it bringing outstanding results. Furthermore, since the relative cost of employing it is relatively small, (it lies in between Waiting for a miracle and Planning for a miracle), I would suggest that it should be the preferred approach in most corporate situations, where hierarchical structure exists.

    You are welcome to try it yourself!
    Please invite people for a meeting and Ask for a miracle, then see what happens afterwards. I'd love to hear your story, so don't hesitate to write me.
    Please do allow some time for a miracle to materialize, as all miracles are heavily time dependent, but do not exceed the time window, where outcome is still a miracle. See graph below.

    Expectation ---> [miracle window]----->Just an extraordinary but not miraculous outcome

  3. Planning for a miracle is a fairy modern approach in engineering miracles but is already widespread in most medium and large organizations across the world.

    Miracle example: CEO sets the goal for the company to increase its turnover by 30%, while maintaining the 20% margin. 
    Goals are distributed downwards hierarchically all the way down to lower level managers. This example assumes company employs a 70's "Management by objectives" system and even more importantly goals are unrealistic, which cannot be guaranteed, but may be expected in majority of large organizations.

    As one may conclude from the example, some wasteful activity already occurred as effort was spent on constructing, distributing and communicating the expected miracle.

    Planning for a miracle requires more effort and is definitely more costly, but it does further increase the chances of a miracle happening by additional 5% to 7% according to our in-house research.

    Foremost, establishing miracle friendly environment in terms both of readiness and utilization of a solution is crucial. In simple terms, organization needs to be 100% prepared for a miracle to happen, and immediately turn miracle opportunity into a quantifiable outcome.

    Note, that still the physical effort is outside the locus of control of a given organizational entity and the density of probability of success is perceivably low. It is essential in such approach, that one works backwards from the expected result of a miracle.

    Coming back to the example, let's say one manager needs to hire and train 30 new engineers in 3 months. Planning for a miracle means he secures working space and computers for 30 engineers, he orders suitable trainings for the newcomers ahead of time, assigns mentors and expected competence levels, puts the add in the paper, and invites his current staff for a meeting where he vocally states how everyone should get involved in finding suitable candidates. Only then his job in Planning for a miracle is done.

    As you see the cost of generating waste and frustration if no miracle happens is greater than in the case of  Waiting for a miracle or Asking for a miracle, so one should definitely carefully analyse the particular situation using SWOT analysis or other firmly established technique.

    Even though there is substantial cost associated with this approach, more and more organizations adopt it, as it formalizes and visualizes engineering miracles.

    Employing Planning for a miracle in a systematic manner into a corporate strategy formulation and transposing it onto a "management by objectives" gives a simple, elegant and powerful tool for the higher management and owners to bend the reality curve in their favour.

    As it traverses downwards the corporate ladder, the modern approach to miracle engineering is applicable on every level.

    Don't be afraid to try it yourselves.

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