Information gathering.....?

Subject: Information gathering.....?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L Whirlers <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Al Geist <al -dot- geist -at- geistassociates -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 28 Jul 2008 17:08:47 -0400

Al Geist reports: <<... my writing staff has been reduced by half,
the project load has grown and the deadlines are shrinking... My
department head has decided that the problems with us falling behind
is because our information gathering is inefficient.>>

Of course you wouldn't expect a manager to be able to do simple math:
cut the staff by half, therefore total productivity remains the same
or even increases. Right. I can see how that would work. <g> Have you
considered asking him why he believes you should suddenly be able to
double your productivity? Were the other 50% of your group laid off
because they spent their entire day playing Solitaire?

<<The department head is pushing for us to incorporate video taping
into the information gathering process.>>

Of course. Instead of spending 15 minutes having an engineer answer
your questions, you should be expected to watch an hour of video
(possibly several times). That's going to reduce your productivity
(for that specific example) by 75%. (Fill in real numbers and repeat
the calculation.) On the other hand:

<<His idea is to have the engineers videotape the setup/alignment
process so we won't have to bother them with questions.>>

This can occasionally work remarkably well if your goal is to show
that you're smarter than the engineers -- which happens surprisingly
often, not because we're really smarter but because we see things
they don't. Patrick Hofmann ( has presented some
remarkable statistics on the kinds of insights this process can
provide. See, for example, my summary of his trademark presentation: (scroll
down to the heading "Pictures and profits"; you're looking for the
bit about computer setup documentation). In brief, Patrick
demonstrated quite convincingly (using videos) that sometimes people
who are less emotionally invested in a product's design can spot
obvious design flaws and propose ways to fix those flaws while
simultaneously saving tons of money.

If you can do this in your own situation, there are two benefits:
First, your documentation requirements decrease significantly.
Second, respect for you among the engineers may increase
significantly. (Another data point: I've done this myself with
programmers. So that's two cases where it worked.)

<<Those same engineers would discuss the various components making up
the systems. (These systems use pneumatics, hydraulics, and
electronics to align and bond silicon wafers and are extremely
precise.) We would take the tapes and write the books.>>

If watching an hour of video gains you the same amount of information
you'd gain from an hour working with the engineer, there's no net
productivity loss. So it might not be a bad solution. But if it takes
substantially longer, clearly it won't work. The only way to be sure
is to try it once or twice.

<<Reviews would be accomplished by training as they train the field
service staff. (How they would know what is correct or what is and
error was not part of his proposal.)>>

<Fe> Point out to him that the great advantage of this approach is
that when the service staff destroy a million-dollar machine by
following incorrect instructions, at least they'll save you a few
hundred bucks in documentation time. Plus, when you "go live" and
start shipping the documentation, think of all the field service
calls your technicians will have to make, at $100 per hour plus
expenses paid by the client. So the economics are very favorable! </Fe>

<<We have a new CFO who is in cost cutting mode and is only looking
at bottom line. My Department Head is a long-time employee, but in a
new position. He wants to look good.>>

If you can borrow some of Hofmann's techniques to find ways to
improve the design and reduce the amount of documentation required,
you can make a really good friend in your department head and gain a
lot of respect. But if he's not willing to work with you, now might
be a good time to start looking elsewhere for employment. You can
lead a stupid person to thought, but you can't necessarily make them
think. And really... isn't life too short to be trying? You only
waste time and annoy the idiot.

-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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Information gathering.....: From: Al Geist

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