Sunday, February 27, 2011

On working well DreamWorks Studios

This weekend WSJ Magazine has an insightful article on how Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider lead and manage a the highly successful and creative DreamWorks Studios. Leaders of cretaive groups will enjoy how they view each other and hence work well together.

"If you took our names off of our schedules, you would think that we were VPs of production," says Snider on a recent cool, gray day in Los Angeles. "Reading the scripts, taking story meetings, looking at the location-scout materials—there's just not a lot of hierarchy at the company. We're all production execs."

I can count on one hand the people I felt I had a creative brotherhood or sisterhood with. Stacey is one of those people. We do most everything together. There are no bosses here. We worry every thing to death and we hope everything to life.

...there are five guys in baseball hats and jeans. There was no indication in the seating, nor was there any indication in the flow of conversation, of hierarchy. And yet it is there in the room all the time. It doesn't intimidate because of his manner. What it does do is prompt you to rise to his standard so that if he asks your opinion, you are as thoughtful as you can be. And that's thrilling.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Visualize That Data

Leaders of large programs and projects need to find better ways of explaining their work to sponsoring executives, their teams, and their customers. Rows of numbers rarely tell the story that needs to be told. IBM's Many Eyes Experiment and the associated blog provide a wide variety of ways to visualize data and let you upload data sets and explore options.Try it for your next strategy session or program briefing.
Many Eyes Visualization options include:

See relationships among data points
       Network Diagram
       Matrix Chart
Compare a set of values
       Bar Chart
       Block Histogram
       Bubble Chart
Track rises and falls over time
       Line Graph
       Stack Graph
       Stack Graph for Categories
See the parts of a whole
       Pie Chart
       Treemap for Comparisons
Analyze a text
       Word Tree
       Tag Cloud
       Word Cloud Generator
       Phrase Net
See the world
       Massachusetts Map
       World Map
       US County Map
       New Jersey Map

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Culture Matters...Just Ask Zappos

In our Stanford Advanced Project Management Program (on campus courses available at Stanford March 21-25), we address the importance and centrality of culture to effectively executing strategy.  Zappos, the online retailer recently bought by Amazon, has made its culture a central part of its strategy for how it serves its customers and its employees. A recent Financial Times Case Study summarized key aspects of the Zappos model.

  • The combination of corporate culture, customer service and supply chain make Zappos stand apart.
  • The organisation lives and breathes customer service, which stems from its unique corporate culture.
  • Zappos understands it must recruit people who can deliver customer service. As well taking care to hire the right employees, it provides every recruit with the same basic training.
  •  It not only focuses on customer experience at the front end, but delivers its promise from the back end.


  • Company culture stems from intrinsic factors and needs to be established early rather than reverse-engineered.
  • Customer service excellence starts from a commitment from the top and must be "lived into" by every employee.
  • Core values are underutilized tools. Set them collectively, authentically, and make them committable.
  • Ultimately it's all about the people and their own belief in themselves. might a leader of a large, complex new product development project think about culture.  Consider the following:

  1. Does your team have a culture, how it does things, how it works together, what distinguishes it from other teams?  Is it more that team shirts? 
  2. Is the culture of the organizations involved in your project different (by discipline, by country, by part of the company, from prior acquisitions?
  3. Map the different cultures involved on your project to better understand where the critical touch points are and to improve overall understanding among team members.
  4. Openly discuss these different cultures in project team meetings and actively work to increase understanding of how those differences in culture impact how the team works together and shares information.
  5. As new team members are added, make sure they learn how culture is important to the team and the criticality of understanding different ways of working among the diverse team members.

Multitasking...Address It Now!

A recent McKinsey Quarterly article provides insights for the multitasking dilemma we all face in leading globally distributed teams and organizations. First the downside of multitasking:
 The root of the problem is that our brain is best designed to focus on one task at a time. When we switch between tasks, especially complex ones, we become startlingly less efficient: in a recent study, for example, participants who completed tasks in parallel took up to 30 percent longer and made twice as many errors as those who completed the same tasks in sequence. The delay comes from the fact that our brains can’t successfully tell us to perform two actions concurrently.
  • Slows us down
  • Hampers creativity
  • Makes us anxious and is addictive
Address multitasking directly by:
  • Focus 
Create times when you focus on the specific decisions and problems that you need to address--no email, no phone, no text
  • Filter
Establishing an effective, day-to-day information-management support structure is a critical success factor for leaders. Work with those you lead so they know when you need to be involved and follow the old strategy of delegating those decisions that do not require your input directly.
  • Forget
Downtime is important. Plan for exercise, personal time, and other non-work activities to re-energize and restore energy.

Leaders of large programs and initiatives can take the lead for their teams and organizations by considering the following:
1. ...acknowledge and reevaluate the mind-sets that attach us to our current patterns of behavior. We have to admit, for example, that we do feel satisfied when we can respond quickly to requests and that doing so somewhat validates our desire to feel so necessary to the business that we rarely switch off. .
2. ...become more ruthless than ever about stepping back from all but the areas that they alone must address. There’s some effort involved in choosing which areas to delegate; it takes skill in coaching others to handle tasks effectively and clarity of expectations on both sides. But with those things in place, a more mindful division of labor creates more time for leaders’ focused reflections on the most critical issues and also develops a stronger bench of talent.
3. ... redesign working norms together with your teams. One person, even a CEO, cannot do that alone—who wants to be the sole person on the senior team who leaves the smart phone behind when he or she goes on vacation? Absent some explicit discussion, that kind of action could be taken as a lack of commitment to the business, not as a productive attempt to disconnect and recharge. So we encourage leaders and their teams to discuss openly how they choose to focus, filter, and forget; how they support each other in creating the necessary time and space to perform at their best; and how they enable others, throughout the organization, to do the same.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Helping Knowledge Workers Succeed

Tom Davenport, with extensive experience in knowledge management, provides a strategic approach to rethinking knowledge management in recent McKinsey Quarterly.  The following is quite insaightful for leaders of large project-based knowledge work and initiatives. He notes:

...the matrix in the exhibit very useful when planning technology strategies for knowledge workers. It is based on my experience that knowledge work generally falls into one of four clusters, each with its own characteristics. These four knowledge work classifications are shaped by two factors: the work’s degree of complexity (x-axis) and the level of interdependence among workers who carry out a task (y-axis). Leaders can use this taxonomy as a guide to determine whether a structured, free, or hybrid approach best fits a given job.

The transaction cell of the matrix describes knowledge work requiring relatively low amounts of collaboration and judgment, such as employment in call centers, claims processing, and other administrative-intensive roles. Structured-provision approaches fit this type of work well—indeed, it is the only type where they are commonly applied.

As the degree of collaboration required for a job moves up into the exhibit’s integration cell, free-access tools become widely available. It is common to find work circulating by way of e-mail and voluntary collaboration and much less common to find structured-provision technologies. Yet there are some semistructured exceptions, including lower-level roles in software development, engineering, and product design and development.

In the exhibit’s expert cell, the goal is to apply expert knowledge to tasks or problems. The relevant knowledge traditionally is stored in the expert’s brain, but today many organizations want to supplement it with online knowledge. Although free-access technologies are typically the chief means of accessing it, in some instances structured approaches can be applied, particularly when productivity and online-knowledge access are equally important.

Finally, work in the exhibit’s collaboration cell—which involves knowledge activities such as those of investment bankers crafting big deals, financial analysts creating corporate plans and budgets, marketers developing major marketing plans, attorneys working in teams on large cases, and scientists playing a part in large scientific projects—is usually iterative and unstructured. Typically, the only tools that succeed in such environments provide free access to information and are used voluntarily by the worker. Publish


Talk...and your team now!

In his newsletter, Productive Living, David Allen, of Getting Things Done (GTD) fame, noted he had talked with all of his team individually over the past few months and was amazed at what he learned.  Leaders of large programs, projects, teams, and initiatives, typically cross-functional and distributed, can benefit from this as well. As part of your leadership strategy in 2011, make listen & learn a periodic focus:
  1. Talk to everyone...preferably face-to-face. Yes that may be hard but face time shows this is important to you and the value you place on them not you.  Exclude no one no matter where they are in the "hierarchy".
  2. Don't just talk...listen. Talk is really the wrong word--listen and engage them. This is about your team member not you.
  3. No boundaries. Explore potential insights and "out-of-the box" suggestions. I am always amazed at the great, innovative ideas simmering below the surface that have no outlet. Set the tone by your listening and being open to what evolves in the conversation.
  4. Look for synergies and potential connections. By talking with everyone you will have a broad range of insights and pieces of information about your team and its work
  5. Focus on your learning not their performance. This is not a performance review but your chance to listen and learn.  Emphasize this is for you to learn and in so doing help the team to learn and grow both as individuals and as a team.
  6. Share what you learn.  There is no learning without sharing.  Let your team know the insights and creative ideas their fellow teams members have.