Early in my career, I discovered that I worked best when I had a firm grasp of the issue I was dealing with. While this may seem obvious (now), it was a revelation. And, I will go out on a limb and say that most people never have this ah-ha moment. That said, mine came from the most unexpected place.
A book by George Brakeley called Tested Ways to Successful Fundraising. I was part of a team building a system to support the fundraising activities of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. The books provided a neat (in both, orderly and clever, meanings of that word) framework upon which we developed the system.
The book outlined principles (like the idea that volunteers who were both peers of the targets were very effective as fundraisers), that contributed to an efficient understanding of our requirements in the context of a complete framework. The framework (a framework for fundraising) ensured that we understood what we were and were not including in the build and the decisions, both to include and exclude were affirmative actions that were well considered.
Over time, I came to recognize that the Brakeley book was just one of many frameworks that provided structure and rigor to my efforts. I also recognized three separate but related structures that would be important to me as I moved through my career:
The Worldview: This is by far the most comprehensive and outlines the rules by which I live and do business. Some people’s worldview is based on religion, some on science and some, like mine are based on a good dose of each. This means that neither can dominate, and I don’t take a fundamentalist view of either. There are five principles that define my worldview:
- Integrity is an anchor— This one comes first because it is the most important. If you can’t trust the people you are dealing with, it is not likely that optimal outcomes are going to occur. People do not put their best offers on the table and do not deal in the best of faith when they have questions about the integrity of the person they are dealing with. These leads to less than straightforward communications which are at best inefficient and worst totally ineffective.
This doesn’t just apply to your truthfulness of your statements or fidelity of ones’ commitments but also the way you approach the preparation and thought processes associated with your interactions with others.
- A belief in rationality— I approach the world believing that the rules of science apply, and that people will make rational decisions. This is obviously not always the case (even when the players intend that they will) but I think that: 1) people should understand my approach to decision-making; and 2) the world would be a better place if more people approached the world this way, or at least have the integrity to honestly telegraph their alternative approach to decision-making so that we can both understand the perspective we each take as we work towards decisions;
- A belief in the concept of meritocracy— since I was a tyke, I was taught to believe that if you worked hard and produced good outcomes, you would succeed. A corollary I have always believed is that you get what you deserve—for good or bad. And, while I understand (am not naïve enough not to believe) that circumstances (where you are born and what kind of education you are afforded) have a big impact on how well you do, I firmly believe that if we all supported the idea of meritocracy (like those who provide microcredit, to very good results) the world would be a much better place;
- A belief that outcomes should be I would note that one of my mentors (a person who I greatly respect) pointed out that the world is not fair. I have never believed that this had to be the case. That said, my view of the situation has become more sophisticated (some will say complicated or maybe cynical) over time.
I believe that people should deal with other the way they want to be dealt with themselves and that dealings between people should whenever possible not be seen as a zero-sum game. And, when they have to, refer back to the thought that you would treat others like you would like to be treated yourself. And, finally, as my father is fond of saying (and this is the cynical view), when everyone is equally unhappy, you can be pretty sure the outcome is “fair”.
That silliness aside a belief in fairness, balances the (what can be cold) rational approach to decision-making. So, I see my support of both fairness and rational decision-making as being consistent and necessary if sometimes, by design, somewhat contradictory and frustrating; and finally
- That the work I produce should be of the highest quality— it really doesn’t make sense to do something unless you are going to do it well. The quality attribute should permeate everything, including the preceding four principles. It means setting standards and objectively measuring your performance against them. And, if you take the quality principle seriously, makes it difficult to sidestep your responsibility produce inferior work product/outcomes.
These principles at a most basic level define my worldview and underlie/determine my decision-making. While I use frameworks and methodologies (coming up next) at a tactical and operational level to guide my actions, my worldview ensures the overall integrity and consistency of my thoughts and actions.
I am not suggesting that they need to be yours. But, I suggest that they are (if they are well thought out) beneficial if you want to produce consistently good outcomes and that everyone should adopt their own. Your worldview provides a strong foundation for good decision-making.
The Framework: Frameworks, while much smaller in scope, provide a structure for achieving useful outcomes. In the computer industry, the basic framework for the design and implementation of computers was defined by John von Neumann. It was first written down in 1945 and still (at least for a little while longer) directs computer designers today. Frameworks are useful in almost any discipline where structure provides either:
- A foundation upon which you can repeatedly (efficiently and effectively) implement work products that will reliably work and interact. Examples of frameworks include the concept upon which most computer networks and high speed mobile phone (both voice and data) networks are based. Both computers (through their network connections) and mobile phones are as ubiquitous, functional, high performing and evolving because of the well-understood framework known as packet switching;
- A well-defined structure against which challengers can test alternate frameworks. Once a framework is well defined and commonly understood, it provides the perfect foil against which alternate (possibly better) frameworks can be tested. It keeps the current champion on its feet and provides a rigorous process by which alternatives can be tested. The most famous framework challenge of all time was the model that posited that the earth was at the center of the universe (the Ptolemaic model) which was eventually superseded by the Copernican system. The challenger, in this case Copernicus, provided a simplified model to explain the movement of celestial bodies in the heavens. And, a rigorous, critical analysis proved him right and the Ptolemaic model fell.
Frameworks are not just strictly technical in nature. There are frameworks for thinking about accounting. The US framework is based on hard and fast rules while the European framework rests on principles. This makes for very different methods of complying with and enforcing regulations. And, many say greatly affects the cost of dealing with the respective regulatory frameworks.
Even the “door” is a framework and yes, I am trying to be clever here. But, all manufacturers in the US of both doors and things that need to get through doors are very cognizant of the 36” standard for door widths in the US. And, those that don’t live within that framework, often pay a heavy price. If your product won’t make it through that 36” doorway very few people are going to be buying it.
Like the worldview, frameworks provide a structure around which one can critically evaluate (and thereby affects) the actions they are about to take. They suggest implementation choices that are consistent and will interact well with others who adopt the same framework.
The Methodology: Finally, I have found methodologies hugely useful. They allow me to reproduce good outcomes more consistently and with less effort than any other way I have tried. A methodology is a set of principles, rules and checklists that describe what you need to consider when you undertake a project. On small projects that methodology can be in your head but on larger, complex endeavors, time and effort should be expended to carefully review and document the approach and steps incorporated into the methodology. Methodologies are particularly helpful for projects that are going to be repeated many times by practitioners who vary in their level of familiarity with the effort at hand. They have also served me well when I need to deal with an effort that I have not dealt with in some time. In the second case, it helped to refresh my memory and shorten the ramp time as I re-familiarize myself with the subject of the effort.
I have been involved in the development of several methodologies. The most rewarding (both intellectually and monetarily) were the ones that Price Waterhouse produced to help the firm scale its consulting business. We essentially produced “how to” guides for system integration. They allowed the firm to scale up from several hundred practitioners when I joined to better than 30,000 when the consulting practice was sold to IBM. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that a methodology is a checklist, because it is not. The checklist is a component, the real value is the approach that is embodied in the methodology and is aided by the use of a checklist.
You have probably figured out that I believe that worldviews, frameworks and methodologies are related, but it is more than that. The worldview provides a foundation (to anyone who needs to work with others) upon which the more focused (to a particular subject area, whether it be software engineering or negotiating a contract) approach to problem solving, building things and generally getting things done.
Copyright 2017 Howard Niden
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