Author's Posts

In 1943 the Army Air Force met with Lockheed.  They needed a jet fighter to counter the rising German jet fighter threat.  And they needed it fast.  Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson and his team of engineers designed and built the XP-80 aircraft in only 143 days.  They went on to become famous for developing aircraft such as the U-2, SR-71, and F-117.

Kelly had 14 rules for how this new team of engineers needed to operate.  At first glance it reads like good program and project management practices.  Upon closer inspection you see how it changed the game in terms of collaborative problem solving.

Continue reading Kelly Johnson’s Rules

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Yesterday I heard an intriguing illustration.  A pastor had visited Africa and during his stay he visited a river.  He sat high above the river on a hill overlooking the river and the plain beyond.  He saw wild crocodiles, elephants, impala, and even lions.  Now I’m not sure that he actually saw all of those beasts at the same time but nevertheless it was a mouth-opening, frightening, awe-inspiring experience.  Now he was using it to make a point in his sermon, but it got me thinking about problem-solving (not during the sermon of course).

Continue reading On the Hill? Or in the Water?

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A not so excited team

A popular model for performance improvement is:

  • People
  • Process
  • Technology

It appears to have first appeared in Leavitts “diamond model” from 1964 and states that you have to address all three if you expect any long-lasting results. We’ve been working with clients for a long time – almost all of which included our software as part of their plan to improve processes and performance. Based on that experience I can tell you that getting your hands around all three elements is daunting.

So start with People.

Why? Because when you get that right, the other two fall into place easier. Ignore it and it is very difficult to see long-lasting results that transcend your time as a leader.

Great!  We’ll start with people!

Wait a minute.  How exactly do you address People and what does that even mean?

Let’s keep it simple to say it means getting everyone dedicated and aligned to the improvement effort. Easy, right? Don’t worry, all you need to do is to get your people to think differently, behave differently, truly work together, give discretionary effort, and push past their fears. Right.

If you’ve been trying to do that for a while with mixed results, the problem might be with your own thinking.  It may be time to take on a different mindset.

Let me give you two ideas:

  • Focus your time on problems not symptoms. If you are a professional services group and people are not adopting a new process, that is a symptom. It’s not the real problem. Why are they not adopting it? What is under the surface? What are they thinking?  What is motivating their behaviors.  Focus your energy here.
  • Co-create instead of seeking buy-in. Most of us develop a process and then seek buy-in from our team to adopt it. Michael Stallard in his book “Connection Culture” describes shifting your mindset to co-creation. How can you co-create a solution with your team?  That doesn’t necessarily mean co-create the desired result – but the solution.

These two fundamental shifts in thinking are excellent starting points to address the People side of the equation.

Note: Contact us to learn about our new Interactive Case Study process. Our Interactive Case Study process is an evidence-based problem-solving process to help your people discover what’s wrong and collaboratively produce data-driven solutions.

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Tire information

Did you know that the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle is located on the inside of the door frame?  After all these years, no one had ever told me that.  I used what was listed on the tires.

Today I had the air pressure checked at Discount Tire.  The technician politely told me that the air pressure on the front tires was too high.  He then commented on how “these oil changing places will often set the air pressure too high”, followed by a simple question:

Have you had the oil changed recently?


In reality, I am the fool that put too much air in the front tires.  Do I fess up?  Or do I blame it on the oil changing companies, even though that’s not entirely accurate?  I chose option three – I simply said “no”.  With a deliberately confused look on my face.  After all, I’m just answering his question honestly.

What’s behind that?  I didn’t want to be embarrassed.

No, wait.  Let’s go deeper.  I value the approval of others and want them to think that I know what I am doing — that I have it together.  If you dug even deeper, you would discover how this thought process stems back to my youth, when due to circumstances I felt like I had to lead my siblings.

The desire for approval runs strong and when that becomes my thought process:

  • It prevents vulnerability and transparency
  • It inhibits learning
  • It covers up problems
  • It restricts innovation
  • It increases resistance to change

Think about your team and share your experiences.  How have you seen the desire for approval manifest itself?  What impact is that having right now?  How have you seen this desire in yourself?  And what impact is that having on your organization?


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