Thursday, April 20, 2006

April 24, 2006


A few years ago I was managing a "crunch time" project involving a staff of eight programmers. The system design was well documented and very thorough (of course, we used "PRIDE"). Nonetheless, I found it important to start the day with a brief meeting where each person reviewed their progress and what kind of technical problems and interferences they were facing. From this, I developed a punchlist of action items to be resolved, and took the necessary steps to solve them. The meetings started at 8:00am and took no more than 30 minutes. It was brief, to the point and a good way to wake the staff up and put them to work for the day. It also allowed the staff to speak their minds, brainstorm, and share ideas. From this, they developed an esprit de corps and conquered a mammoth project on time. As the manager, I also saw it as a convenient vehicle to release stress and put the programmers in the proper frame of mind.

This story runs contrary to today's Theory X world of management where the opinions and ideas of subordinates are considered inconsequential. As for me, I saw it as a vital means to get everyone on the same wave length and solicit their support. What I learned from this experience was that if you are going to empower people, you must let them speak.

As an aside, even though this was a "state of the art" project involving new technology, we found there was no technical problem we could not overcome simply by putting the problem on the table and discussing it in a rational manner. Please keep in mind that I hardly consider myself a technical guru and, instead, allowed the staff to think aloud and explore alternatives. But such openness in today's corporate world is the exception as opposed to the rule. Many managers feel threatened by allowing their subordinates to think and, as such, suppress such discourse. Inevitably, this results in considerable frustration by employees who feel restrained by management.


Aside from a means to release pressure, open critical thinking in the workplace provides several benefits:

1. Fertility of Mind - Due to the repetition of the workplace, workers often fall victim to complacency. By forcing them to perform mental gymnastics, they must stay sharp and on top of their game. Open discourse actually becomes challenging and results in friendly competitive debate.

2. Commitment - By creating a think tank environment, the employee realizes their voice is heard by management and, consequently, enhances their commitment to the company and the project. It also helps to thwart apathy and promotes participation. As an employee is allowed to speak more, they develop a sense of ownership of a project and a greater pride in workmanship. As such, it has a positive effect on staff morale.

3. Teamwork - Open communications promotes teamwork by forcing people to realize they are working towards common goals and raises awareness of their dependencies on each other.

4. Problem Identification - In terms of problems, nobody likes surprises. The sooner a problem can be identified, the sooner it can be addressed and solved. Establishing a punchlist of problems allows a manager to preemptively strike a problem before it festers and worsens. Get the problems on the table as soon as possible and chart a course of action to solve them.

5. Communications - An open dialog provides a manager with the means to dispel rumors and misconceptions and keep the staff on track. Open discourse also allows the manager to easily spot a disgruntled employee.

Permitting critical thinking in the work place is a wise investment in your staff and provides for their continuing education. However, if you do not care what they think, you won't be permitting such debate. But then again, the staff will be talking regardless if you grant them permission or not. Then why not channel this discourse and turn something negative into something positive?


Establishing the proper forum for the exchange of ideas is important. Although there is a tendency today to implement such a forum through Internet Discussion Groups and Blogs, there is nothing better than face-to-face discussions. And because of the varied egos, interests, knowledge and levels of experience involved, it is necessary to establish certain operating rules regardless of the selected venue. Here are some suggestions:

* Keep the discussions positive and constructive. As Winston Churchill said, "Any idiot can see what's wrong with something, but can you see what's right?" Do not open Pandora's Box by allowing this to turn into a general bitch session. Further, a professional decorum should be observed. Do not allow personalities and politics to creep into the discussion. Members should respect all opinions, regardless who gives them. Because of this...

* The discussion must be moderated by someone who will fairly and honestly control the discourse. The one thing you want to avoid here though is full censorship which tends to alienate people. Be forceful in respecting the rules of discussion, but do not censor a person simply because you do not agree with him.

* Welcome all ideas, regardless if they are unorthodox or a bit avant-garde. Further, all ideas should be permitted without fear of ridicule or retribution. In other words, you do not want to inhibit participation. Even if someone is in the minority, allow them to take an opposing position but insist they adequately defend it (this inevitably results in some of the most stimulating debate of all).

* All persons must be identified, no anonymous feedback (this is particularly needed for blogs and discussion groups). You are looking for the participants to take a responsible role in the discussions.

* What is said here, stays here. This is a think tank for your group only. Their comments may be misunderstood by others. As such, privacy is critical.

Finally, if problems are identified and not addressed with no apparent reason, problems will inevitably ensue. If no action is taken based on the their input, the staff will quickly realize that this is nothing more than a colossal waste of time.


I learned early in my business career that you get things done through people; that a single person cannot do everything. As such, it is necessary to respect the human spirit and allow it to flourish. I also learned that we enjoy life through the help and society of others. I have not yet met that person on this earth who knows everything and, as such, it is vital to exchange ideas, form consensus opinion, and evolve. By allowing employees to discuss pertinent issues, we promote communications and teamwork, establish trust, and conquer the pressing problems of the day. But to make this all happen, critical thinking must be channeled in a structured and positive way.

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...
"I have never encountered a technical problem that couldn't be conquered with a little imagination, some concentrated effort, and a lot of good old-fashioned management."


Friends, I don't know if you've seen it yet, but we've added a Frapper map to the "Management Visions" web site. Frapper is a free mapping service offered by the folks at Rising Concepts, LLC, and allows you to plot yourself on a worldwide map. This is a great way to keep track of our listeners and I encourage you to try it out through our web page or by clicking HERE.


The Quality Assurance Institute will be holding its 26th Annual Quality Conference at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, FL on April 24th - 28th. For information, contact the Institute in Orlando at 407/363-1111.

The World Conference on Quality and Improvement will be held May 1st-3rd at the Midwest Airlines Center in Milwaukee, WI. For information, contact the American Society for Quality at 800-248-1946 or 414/272-8575.

The 15th World Congress on Information Technology will be held May 1st - 5th in Austin, TX. For information, call 512/505-4077.

The 17th International Conference of the Information Resource Management Association will be held May 21st-24th at the Wyndham Hotel in Washington D.C. For information, call IRMA headquarters in PA at 717/533-8879

The National And State CIO Association will be holding their 2006 Midyear Conference at The Capital Hilton, in Washington, DC on May 31st-June 2nd. For information, contact NASCIO headquarters in Lexington, KY at: 859/514-9153

If you have got an upcoming IRM related event you want mentioned, please e-mail the date, time and location of the event to


I remember an incident that happened to my wife years ago in the early 1970's, this was back when gasoline was selling for $.35 a gallon. At the time she was driving a Pontiac Tempest convertible, one of those great gas-guzzling V8's of that era. She needed to fill the car with gas and pulled into the Standard Oil station. Being somewhat in a hurry, she accidently said to the attendants at the station, "Can you give me $20 worth of gas?" (she meant 20 gallons). This resulted in gales of laughter from the attendants who said, "Lady, you can't put $20 worth of gas in that car, it would float away."

Well, here we are 35 years later and you know what? You still can't put $20 of gas in a car. Well you can, but it won't go very far. Now, its more like $40 or $50 to fill up your car.

I never expected gas prices to stay at $.35, but I never dreamed they would get to the levels they are today. Back in the mid-1970's we had our first jolt when gas prices skyrocketed from $.35 a gallon to $.55. I'm sure a lot of you will remember the long lines at the pump that snarled traffic, and how Nixon reduced the Interstate speed limit from 70mph to 55mph in order to save gas.

Well gas prices are now almost six times what they were in the 1970's. The speed limit is back up to 70mph, Detroit keeps building gas guzzlers, and all of our cash is going overseas to foreign oil producers and automotive manufacturers. Gee, what's wrong with this picture? Hmm.

Part of the problem is that we, as consumers, have experienced so many gas hikes that we have become jaded and feel helpless to do anything about it. I also like those people that say, "Well, its not so bad in the United States, overseas they are already paying $5.00 a gallon or more." These are also the same people that think two wrongs make a right. I call it the "Keeping DOWN with the Jones'" phenomenon. Just because one group is screwed up doesn't mean we have to follow suit.

I'm just wondering when the American public is going to finally get fed up with the gas hikes and do something about it. I guess its time to register a bitch with our Congressmen.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


I received an e-mail from a Martin Dimond in Cincinnati who wrote me regarding last week's essay on "Increasing Brain Power."
Martin writes:

"I was startled by your comments regarding the avoidance of technology in the workplace. Did I hear you right?"

Thanks Martin for your note,
Yep, you heard me right. The study by Kings College confirmed a lot of my suspisions about the use of technology in the office. People like to plug in, tune in and turn off the outside world. This is resulting in a generation of socially dysfunctional workers. Don't get me wrong, technology has its place but the intuitive manager should promote more social intercourse during break time as opposed to more technology. Human socialization does more for sharpening our thinking skills as opposed to technology, and that was the point of the study.

Again, Thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

Folks, don't forget to check out our BRYCE'S CRASH COURSE IN MANAGEMENT which is a free on-line multimedia presentation offering pragmatic advice on how to discharge the duties of a manager, whether it be for a commercial or non-profit enterprise. Frankly, for someone aspiring to be a manager or for a new manager, it will be the best 45 minutes you can invest in yourself. Check it out on the cover of our corporate web page at:

For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567.

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Management Visions is a presentation of M. Bryce & Associates, a division of M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. The program is produced on a weekly basis and updated on Sundays. It is available in versions for RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player, and MP3 suitable for Podcasting. See our web site for details. You'll find our broadcast listed in several Podcast and Internet Search engines, as well as Apples' iTunes.

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Copyright © 2006 by M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. All rights reserved. "PRIDE" is the registered trademark of M&JB Investment Company.

This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."



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