There was a lot to unpack from the 45-minute information session. After all, three different governmental units evaluated the issue for over three years. We had not had a debriefing on the issue in a year. And the issue was an emerging one, ripe with complexity and uncertainty. Effective communication can be difficult in these types of information sessions.
There are a lot of keen insights in the 2022 FINESSE guest articles for improving communication skills. Looking back on this bold collection reminds me that much good work, and systems thinking, is still needed for as we move into the future.
Effective Communication is a System
Is there a single theme that we can gain from the 2022 guest articles that makes it easier to communicate information related to work-related decisions with complexity and uncertainty? Is there one thing we can do to be an effective trusted advisor? The answer to both is “not really.” [Read more…]
Sometimes it is easier to start with what not to do. That is often the case for technically trained professionals who are often not the best natural communicators. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and international standards for the visually and hearing impaired provide good guardrails.
These are five basics that should be considered as a minimum standard.[Read more…]
Reliability and systems engineers are in it for the long game. Their work feeds big decisions that take months or years to evaluate and must pass through many levels of management. Big decisions are filled with complexity (many interrelated parts) and uncertainty (unknown beyond doubt or not clearly defined). This article provides several key observations about uncertainty and five tips on how to drive out uncertainty with FINESSE.
Knowledge (and the degree of its validation)
Uncertainty refers to situations involving imperfect or unknown information. It applies to predictions of future events, to physical measurements that are already made, or to the unknown. Uncertainty arises in partially observable environments and is due to ignorance, indolence, or both (Norvig and Thrun).
Technical professionals drive toward collecting more data – more knowledge – but is that really what decision-makers care about?[Read more…]
Technical professionals are often asked to “lead” teams through the application of assessment tools such as failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA), Root Cause Analysis (RCM), and Reliability Block Diagrams.
In some cases, you may be a department manager. In other cases, you are the subject matter expert. Sometimes senior management simply knows you are willing to do it.
The issue is not whether you are smart enough or the most personable engineer in the group. The problem is that you may have all the hard skills required to do the assessment, but you lack formal training in the soft skills. Most of us do the best we can.
This article provides some insights for doing better rather than just being adequate.
The utility had an excellent opportunity to implement a green initiative. Energy could be created from excess digester gas at the wastewater treatment plant. There seemed to be a full range of feasible options after an engineering analysis.
“We can convert the gas and use it to either heat the building or reuse it to make the wastewater treatment process more efficient,” explained the chief engineer. “it is a 10- to 15-year payback, but the regulators love it so it is easy to get approved. It will buy us some goodwill too.”
“Can we reduce the payback if we sell the energy to the electric grid?” asked the chief financial officer.[Read more…]
It is easy to get caught in this trap. After months of working on an issue, you are asked to provide an informational update to a group of senior decision makers. You understand that no decision will come from your presentation. And there is not much on the agenda, so you are free to make as much as 30 minutes to provide your update.
Your presentation can be a little less formal and use the entire time, right? Wrong.
The Board of Adjustment was having a hard time making a decision. The property owner’s new woodworking shop extends six feet into the required side-lot setback. Even worse, it blocks the scenic view of the neighbor, who paid a premium for the lot.
“So, whose fault is it that the building was built in the wrong place,” asked the board chairman. “Clearly, it was shown on the approved drawing in the right place.”
“I am still trying to figure it out, “replied the property owner.” I hired the best surveyor in town and one of the best contractors. I know it will cost me over $30,000 to move it over six feet. I paid a premium to make it look good like my house, and I am afraid it will look worse after the move. And I don’t have the $30,000 to move it.”
In rebuttal, the neighbor explained, “right is right.” The building location violated the town’s planning and zoning codes. The correct location had been formally approved by town staff, and there was no relief they could provide because this was clearly wrong. Leaving the building in the wrong place would devalue his property much more than $30,000. If the Board of Adjustment did not uphold the ordinance, he would be the victim of something he had no control over.
The comment is a common one.
“It does not surprise me that they do not want to save $60,000,” quipped the second-in-command of the electrical department. “They are more concerned with being popular and helping their friends.”
“By ‘they,’ I assume you mean the Board and me as the interim Town Manager?” I asked.“Well, not really you, but them – yes,” came a frustrated response.
I decided to move to a more productive line of discussion.
“So, what did you think about the most recent five-year management assessment?” asked the Agency Director.
I knew it was a loaded question. If the executive team had agreed with the assessment, the chief operating officer would not have asked me to review it before the report was presented to the Board of Directors.
“I had some issues with the report,” I responded. “Out of the gate, they lost me and will probably lose your Board with that multi-colored, busy graph.”[Read more…]
“I have a question,” stated the Chief Financial Officer. “The second data point from the right end of the line the drastically different than the others. How do you know that the line should be straight? Should not the cost line be curved between the last two data points?”
“Well, when we look at the correlation of the best-fit line with and without the point you reference, we obtain a nearly ideal fit when we treat the second point from the end as an anomaly,” stated the highly educated, high-brow consultant was discussing the agenda item before mine. His second sentence was equally long as he started launching into details about correlation and how the computer program cyphered through all of the data.
“I just got through with a telephone call,” stated a concerned voice on the other end of the line. “We addressed the wrong issue. I am not saying you. It was collectively all of us. They wanted to sell all parts of the business unit and completely get out of that aspect. We addressed them retaining ownership but having someone else operate it.”
“That is not right,” I replied. “We solved the problem they wanted us to solve, and they bought off on it. “We can develop some solutions for the other problem, but that will take some time and effort.”
“How do you know we solved the right problem?” my client asked. “They have gone over everyone’s head and say we didn’t.”
Every written or verbal communication needs a structure. The three-act structure stands the test of time because it is a straightforward, efficient structure that works effectively with our human thinking processes. An example of the three-act structure is the series “Communicating with FINESSE” on Accendo Reliability.
There is still time to jump into the second act if you have not followed from the beginning.
Reliability assessments require all of the previous six facilitation good practices in the “Five Ways to More Effectively Facilitate…” series. This article discusses five ways to effectively facilitate reliability assessments by conducting pre-session exchanges, asking powerful questions, using exercises that engage, anticipating disruption, and controlling the tempo.
The foundations of systems thinking apply to facilitating reliability assessments because the analysis requires a group to establish the nature of separate and inter-related components. Facilitation is defined as a structured session(s) in which the meeting leader (the facilitator) guides the participants through a series of predefined steps to arrive at a result that is created, understood, and accepted by all participants.” For reliability assessments, predefined steps, definitions, and prioritization of implementation actions are three key aspects.
Facilitating Reliability Assessments
A reliability assessment is a decision-making tool that assists in making trade-off decisions related to system performance and financial investments. The major benefit is a comprehensive understanding of the interrelated physical parts, human aspects, and interfaces. In the least case, reliability assessments will indicate a system’s single points of failure and generate mitigation actions that make success more probable. In the greatest case, a reliability assessment will quantify the probabilities of success and failure.[Read more…]
The foundations of systems thinking and facilitation apply to business cases because the analysis requires a group to establish the nature of separate and inter-related components. This article discusses five ways to effectively facilitate business cases by conducting pre-session exchanges, asking powerful questions, using exercises that engage, anticipating disruption, and controlling the tempo.