Sunday, December 25, 2011

Jon Daniels - Part IV: Rangers' GM Attacks a Diseconomy of Scale

This is the final installment of the March, 2007 interview Jon Daniels did with me. He'd gotten his first G.M. job as the nexus of a team that had never gone to a World Series, and now with him in place, they've achieved enough excellence to get to two Series in a row.

This part deals with an issue more and more managers have to deal with in a globalized business world -- communicating effectively and keeping people on course and pulling together in a system where the work is distributed over more remote workplaces -- a Diseconomy of Scale that is both common and usually fatal.

And, btw, my arrogance knows few bounds...I suggested in this 2007 piece that it would be interesting to see how much difference his extremely bright approach would help achieve five years hence (that is, this season). I think I was pretty prescient, though DANIELS was he one with the focus, execution and relentlessness to bring the achievement home. He is to be congratulated again for both his leadership and his being such a great team-mate to his team-mates.

In Part III, Daniels explained how his first big initiative on getting the
Texas Rangers' GM job was to push for better organizational cohesion through a
couple of methods -- organization-wide meetings to integrate people who, while
dependent on each other for success, didn't have opportunities to meet face to
face, and personal notes to people on noteworthy occasions to reinforce their
view of how the organization valued them.

NOTE: The first issue he addressed, face-to-face meetings, is a critical
ingredient in large organizations and one, in a globalized world, is
decreasingly present. From cohesion to clear communication to sharing of
common mission/values, face-to-face interaction is close to indispensable for
success, an issue I dependency on what I call "proximity". I won't
elaborate on this here: I've written a lot about the failure to achieve
Proximity and its costs here
and here;
I wrote an
recently for Redmond Magazine about the a
creative software company, eProject, skillfully balances its choice to
offshore some of its development against the need for Proximity.

He let me read one of the letters he was about to send out as an example.

{he let me take a minute to read the letter}

Jeff (MBB): I especially like the part where it says “Be creative, don’t hesitate to experiment”. You’ve worked outside of baseball, so you know how much more experimental baseball is than most lines of work. Business should be that way.

Jon Daniels (JD) : There’s no doubt about that. And even in Baseball, unless it’s really well-defined, explicit expectations, then people are hesitant.

A hypothetical example… you have a hitting coach in A ball. He’s got a top prospect there and you’ve been handed a program to use…these are our hitting drills and these are the things we do, and you have a prospect wh’s not responding. The coach knows he’s a top prospect, maybe he represents some top money, he’s in the Carolina or Midwest or the California League…kind of out on an island, and not connected to the big club. He’s thinking like “Yeah, yeah, these are the drills I’ve been given. I’m not going to mess with it. I’ve seen something, I’d like to try it, but I’m not going to be the one to stray from the program.

I’ve been encouraging these guys to try. I say, “you know our general belief system, you know what we’re about…don’t stray from that. But within the parameters defined, innovate. I say “You played this game a long time. You had a coach somewhere along the line who got through to you. What did that coach do? Are you trying those things? We hired you because you’re an intelligent guy – you’re not a robot. You want to try some new drills? Do it. You want to try something drastic? Call the farm director, call the coordinator. Let them know – let’s not get crazy, but at the same time, I’m going to hold you accountable if he doesn’t get better so if you’re seeing this isn’t working, he’s not responding…well, everybody responds to things differently.

One of the things I’ve really tried to drive home is don’t be afraid to try something different. I expect you to put your stamp on the organization.

MBB: “Everybody responds to something differently”. That’s another piece of consciousness that seems intrinsic to baseball but not so much beyond it – so much so in baseball, a lot of people take it for granted. But for someone managing a doughnut shop, for example, it should be the same principle. A manager of a customer service department, for example, might luck into a whole group of people who respond to the same practices and drills, but baseball knows a lot more about your principle than most lines of work.

I loved you making it explicit, too, in your letter. What kind of people do you send them to?

JD: This letter is going to everybody in the organization. The works.

It’s just a little thing to recognize we’re about to kick off this season. I try to personalize each one with a little note at the bottom, rather than just having copies.

And the message I’m stating is: everything we are facing is a competition – how are you going to help us win today. I want to empower them.

I haven’t been an area scout. When I talk with those guys, they think I’m joking, but I think I’d want to be an area scout one of these days… to me it’s one of the more exciting jobs in the game. Say you’re out in Idaho looking for players every day…you couldn’t be more removed from this thing. You might feel like “what am I really doing to help us win every day.” It’s the Fall, there’s no baseball going on…are you going to that basketball game, that football game, meeting that two-sport star. You can sit in the stands, hear what his friends are saying about him. That gives you and advantage…especially if you’re the only team there and there’s no Angels or Oakland scout there, you just beat them. So we’re really trying to empower these guys.

And we haven’t done it, but we’ve talked about a financial reward if a guy (you scouted) gets to the big leagues should that scout get something. During the draft a scout is going to fight for his guy over someone else, they all are; would it make sense to have the whole scouting department get something if you get a guy up to the Big Leagues. And how about development? We haven’t done anything there yet but we’re trying.

MBB: Have you heard of any organization trying to re-design traditional incentive systems around scouting and development?

JD: I think some have. I don’t have any
details for you.

Anyway, That’s the biggest non-player/personnel impact I’ve tried to have. Stability, family, we’re in this together, Ranger Pride, and you’re part
of something special. And it’s critical for me to spend time with people like our minor league coaches. Touch base with or amateur scouts have a phone call with them every once in a while.. This Winter I had Barbara, my assistant, put the name and cell phone number of somebody different in front of me every day, both Thad & I. One day it was an A-ball trainer, the next a Dominican scout, the next day a major league coach, a AA pitching coach. Whatever it was…somebody every day was getting a call. I’m just trying to connect the organization.

MBB: Management by calling around.

JD: I know I play a little harder when I have a personal relationship with the guy I’m working for. It’s “we care. How are you doing? How are the kids?”

MBB: That is a fantastic method.

His idea, not fully explored yet, that scouting and development should get an
incentive bonus for the success of the individuals who went through their
personal workflows, is one I've advocated for organizations beyond baseball for
a long time. It's a little easier to implement in Baseball than beyond because
Baseball takes measurement seriously and executes.  Most non-baseball
organizations have little idea of the output of their staffers, and wouldn't do
it if they knew how. But if H.R., in part as a department and in part as
individuals, saw a significant part of their compensation depend more the on
high performance of the people they recruit and get into the organization and a
little less on avoiding error (what Daniels here put in his letter as "Be
creative. Don't hesitate to experiment") and a lot less on just feeling
like they're feeding a boiler -- they shovel it into the system and never see it
again, I believe H.R. would perform better through immediate behavioral shifts
and over time by attracting more entrepreneurially ambitious folk to the
discipline. The mechanics of the system would be imperfect, as all compensation
programs are, but I've built a few context-specific proposals, and it's not hard
to come up with one that's significantly better than the status quo with less
risk than the status quo has.

And the personal involvement he talks about is a vital advantage small
organizations have over large ones which suffer the Diseconomy of Scale that
comes when the executives at the top of the organization don't run into every
staffer every day. Daniels is doing what's doable to address it.

He's top-flight to have noticed it makes a difference and even better in that
he sets aside time to attack the limits scale imposes. It'll be fascinating to
see what the Texas Rangers will doing in the 5th year of his regime, because it
takes a while to turn around diseconomies of scale.

¿Why are you waiting on it?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Jon Daniels - Part III: Lessons in Changing Direction (A Reprise from 2007)

In the last entry, I continued the conversation Texas Rangers' general
manager Jon Daniels had with me in March, 2007. In this segment (one more to follow), Daniels talks about his initial moves on first inheriting management of a organization that has plenty of room for improvement. First moves are, as I try to hammer home, critical and usually set the limits of what a manager can achieve in the organization. His approach worked well enough that three years later (the planning/change horizon in major league baseball is usually six seasons, sometimes five) his front office team participated-in/led a very unusual accomplishment -- having a franchise get to the World Series in back-to-back years.

In the previous two entries that resulted from the interview Jon Daniels
worked with me in Spring Training this year, we covered a couple of lessons from
him. This part of the interview covered his approach to his early moves.

I asked him how he looked at his personnel and what kinds of moves he thought
might need to occur. The reason I asked was partially too try to reveal how his
management mind operated.

Jeff (MBB): Last year in Spring Training, the Rangers had one of those Hollywood disaster movies. You guys had an extraordinary string of injuries. This year, it seems more in the normal range. Given that, is there any spot on your roster that’s at the top of your list as a place to be looking for reinforcements? Or is it too early (March 20)?

Jon Daniels (JD): We don’t have a ton of depth in position players. And long-term, we don’t necessarily have a slam-dunk heir apparent center fielder. Those are things I’ll be looking out for.

I think in the past, we’ve always erred on the side of bats. As an organization, we’ve redefined ourselves, what we’ll be about. We going to clearly err on the side of pitching. It’s why I think we’re fine this Spring anyway. We’ve got some depth there – we have more guys who deserve to make the club than we have spots. 

But I’d much rather be in that position than I was last year.

I counsel managers to make a big (but thought-out) splash early on in
starting a new management gig because one never again has as much chance to act
unimpeded, ever. Daniels had a factor that might have been either a severe
constraint, or perhaps liberating: his relative chronological youth. If he had
chosen to let it be a constraint, it could have made him err on the side of
caution ,- but as you can see, it didn't. BTW: there's a long aside here that's
not classic MBB material -- Jon's relating to me how that first press conference
he did came about. I left it in because I thought it was interesting to me
personally, and I thought it might be to some readers, too..

MBB: {SNIP} On the subject of starting a new job...I always say when a manager starts a new job, it’s critical to have some serious achievements right away. There are some GMs, Doug Melvin and Bill Bavasi for a couple of examples, who view themselves more as stewards, less inclined to tear things up than I usually advocate for my (non-baseball) clients. When you took the GM promotion with the Rangers, you were quoted as saying something like “we’re going to do many different things”. I don’t know if the reporter munged the quote…if perhaps you had said “we are going to do some things differently”. When you took the promotion, had you already developed ideas on which you had wanted to execute?

JD: I did have a few things…but first, I want to say, I’d take that first press conference with a grain of salt.

A quick chronology for you.

Season ends on a Sunday. We have a staff meeting with ownership on Monday. John (Hart), Buck (Showalter), me, one or two guys from the staff, Tom Hicks and his son Tommy, who’s involved in the business. We go over a lot of things – I’d prepared a good amount of information for the meeting. And John throughout the meeting is constantly deferring to me. A couple weeks back John had told me he was going to come back for another year. We get up and we go to leave and John take my hand and says, “hell of a job today”. A little differently than usual. So I leave, fight through traffic, get back to the office about 6 o’clock. And I have a 7 a.m. flight to the Dominican Tuesday morning, and I have an e-mail message from Tom Hicks saying please call me when you get back to the office. He doesn’t usually do that, but he has contacted me directly before.

So I call Tom, and he says, “Jon, what do you have planned for tomorrow,” and I told him about my trip to the Dominican…we were working on opening a new academy there and I’m overseeing the project. He said, “I’d like for you to cancel your flight and come to the office tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.” When the owner tells you to cancel, you cancel. I said, “No problem. Is there anything I can prepare?” and he said, “Just be prepared to talk about the future direction of the franchise”.

So I called John, and I asked him what was going on, and John said, “When you left, I went in to tell him I was going to step down and I recommended to him that you get the job.” It’s now 8 p.m., I call my wife and tell her I’m not going to be home, that I’ve got some preparing to do. Including thinking “am I ready?” You may get one shot at this…do you want to blow it? Or, you may never get another shot at it.

Prepare. Don’t sleep much that night. Walk the dog at about 4 in the morning. Go into Tom’s office at 10. And at 11:30, he’s extending his hand to me and offering me the job. About 45 minutes into the meeting the questions stop being “If you were to get the job what would you do,” and the tense changes to What are we going to do? How are we going to handle this situation?” Offers me the job. At 12:30, we have lunch. At 1:30 we call a press conference, and at 5 o’clock, we’re in front of the cameras. 

There wasn’t a lot of time for me to prepare my thoughts.

MBB: So the things you had in your toolbox you thought you might introduce, what have you done, what have you put off that you may or may not do, and what were the ideas you had planned on acting on that you decided not to?

JD: I think that there are two global or philosophical changes things that I have really tried to introduce. The first is I’ve tried to gear the organization more towards pitching – that’s more a result-oriented, tangible difference.

The other one is something I did in response to the fact that the organization had become too fragmented. I think in the previous six years, I’m the 3rd GM since Doug (Melvin), Ron
(Washington) is the 4th manager, we’ve had four scouting directors and four farm directors. That’s way too much change. And we talk all the time about success being the result of stability and ability. We didn’t have the first, and the other was lacking because of it.

So we had our first organizational meetings this past
off-season…the first, I think, since Doug left…seven years. 

MBB: Wow. That long?

JD: Yes…as a whole organization. We’d had met as departments.

MBB: So the organization-wide meeting…that was your initiative?

JD: Yes.

One of the things I want to do is create more of a family atmosphere. Yes, accountability, and goals and deadlines. But…we’ve done a lot of little things. The front office, we write little cards to everybody on their birthday on their kids and wives birthdays, their anniversaries, Mother’s Day. Here…here’s an example of the kind of letter we’re sending out….we’re looking to build that khnd of ethic.

{he let me take a minute to read the letter}


On the field, the Rangers had tried, and failed to get back into the playoffs,
as an offensively-driven team in an offensively-lush home ballpark. (Though it's
important to note, Don
Malcolm realized
the offensive-boosting park has at times actually --
pre-Daniels -- fooled the team into thinking its offense was better than it
actually was and undervalued its current pitching.) Daniels has made a
commitment to try the other side of the equation. 

Off the major league team's field, the Texas Rangers had become a
quaquaversal organization, radiating out in all directions simultaneously:
geographically, departmentally, and as a result, socially, too. 

This Diseconomy of Scale is near-universal in large organizations beyond
baseball. As the size increases, the likelihood of quaquaversality increases,
the Scylla and Charybdis of Us-Them-ism and lack of coordination increases. How
can you maintain the mission, support goals, keep generating objectives in
harmony as this happens?

Conscious effort applied to connecting people and methods across the
organization, showing each individual how they matter and how other individuals
they don't yet know matter. Every organization is going to need its own plan for
the creating a centripetal force to hold counteract the Diseconomy of Scale as
best they can. Daniels' initiatives here make excellent sense, and we'll pick up
more of them in the next part of this interview, in a subsequent entry.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Jon Daniels - Part II: Rangers' GM Gives a Lesson in Resource Management (A Reprise from 2007)

In the last entry, I started covering the conversation Texas Rangers' general
manager Jon Daniels had with me in March, 2007. In this segment (more to follow
later), Daniels talks about the process of making decisions. Specifically the interplay
of managing resources, here an apparent excess capacity of good relief

Most managers beyond baseball have a hard time knowing what to do with excess
capacity, especially how to choose among what look to be equal options. I asked
Daniels about what he might do to resolve the apparent surplus.

MBB: Let me get away from a chronological approach here for a bit.

There was a story recently about relief pitching. Apparently you have this bullpen that other people think is strong enough that you should be trading some of those arms. And your response was something like, “We’re keeping an inventory of others’ interest”. 

So I’d like to get your insights on decision-making in general from this example. If the time comes that you’re going to trade, how will you go about deciding who in your bullpen you are most open to trading?

There seem to be a number of possible ways to anchor a decision. You want to keep the widest range of “looks”; last year you seemed to have a wide number of looks out of your pen. Choosing who you keep or let go might be based on pure ability…who’s the “best”. There’s who might offer you the best return. Or would you base it on what you can get back. Or something I haven’t thought of.

JD: It’s a little bit of all of the above. That might seem like a cop-out.

MBB: Do you try to anchor it on something though?

JD: It’s really a balance of two factors. It’s building the best bullpen we can right now, and measuring what the return is, even if that means giving up one of your seven best guys. 

After my experiences in the last couple of years – I think in this game, we have a tendency to overthink sometimes – I do anyway, try to get too cute. Will I consider trying to do something with one of our best seven guys? Sure. I’ll never just say “no” to any offer – I’ve got to consider everything, weigh all our options. At the same time, I put a lot more emphasis on putting our best club out there, protect our depth. We do have some guys with options. It’s inevitable we’ll need more than the seven relievers we have right now. I’ll put more emphasis on our own needs. Unless the return for one of our best seven is overwhelming to the point where it’s a deal you couldn’t turn down.

So Daniels' model (which should be your own, too, in most cases) he's going
to balance the present against the future. He gives a slight extra nod to the
present "I put a lot more emphasis on putting our best club out there",
but without ignoring the future "It’s inevitable we’ll need more
than the seven relievers we have right now
". But this is not an
absolute. If Daniels gets a return he couldn't ever match with present value,
he'd go for the "overwhelming" return.

The balance of present against future is specific to the 2007 Rangers, and
for them, today is a little more important, But as with all baseball
organizations, both are taken into consideration -- you have to win today, and
you have to win in the future..

At the same time he knows, he's prepared himself for the idea, that in spite
of his initial setting (leaning towards the present against the future) there's
some level of return at which , because if its magnitude, he can shift his
balance to garner the better part of a deal.


Beyond Baseball you should internalise this Daniels method. 

Balance the present and the have to win today and win
tomorrow. Know if your organization/workgroup needs to emphasize one a little
more than the other in the current context. Be prepared to be flexible, to slide
along the now/future spectrum if an opportunity that's so juicy
comes along it just outweighs your current balance objective.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jon Daniels - Part I: Rangers' GMGot Mentoring From a Star(A Reprise from 2007)

A reader asked me last week if I had any idea why the Texas Rangers had been able to make it into the World Series two years in a row, and if it has anything to do with their management. It certainly does, I believe. When Jon Daniels was selected as G.M. five years ago, he was very young, but already very, very astute. He had been generous with his time and we spoke for a long while about his background in and Beyond Baseball, and his approach for building a franchise that had been in the middle of the pack for performance. I'm going to reprint the results of that interview piece-by-piece, because I think you'll be able to see what he was doing that led to this level of success.

In the 40% of management jobs that require a significant element of
domain-specific craft to achieve excellence, it's normal, and usually necessary
to have one or more identifiable mentors.

That doesn't mean there aren't successful self-made managers in these
positions. The self-made, in fact, can be the most brilliant innovators (someone
had to invent the Baseball GM job as it exists, in this case Ed Barrow, and he
was, by definition, self-made as a GM). But running without inetrnalised
standards leads more often to underperformance, and that underperformance is
usually a result of the self-made nature of the manager, the using up of
cycles/energy/ergs/torque trying things the standards "know" are no-
or low-return. I read a circa 1983 study that confirmed this logic -- it found
the managers who scored in the highest and lowest quintiles in independence were
disproportionately represented in the least-successful and most-successful
achievement quintiles. (I've been looking to find that old study now for about a
decade with no luck -- all leads welcomed).

A Baseball GM with one of the most interesting backgrounds generously gave me
a ton of his time this Spring. Jon Daniels of the Texas Rangers is usually
thought of as being inexperienced because he is young, and generally regarded as
the youngest person ever to get a Major League team's GM job. While his ascent
was rapid, that thought is off-kilter for a couple of reasons. The first is,
he'd taken on diverse responsibilities in multiple organizations.

The bigger one is, he had activist mentoring in systems from a team of people
who trained under a management leader who actively mentored (that is, made a
serious point of it, deliberately carving out time and resources to see that it
was done), and who delegated and built of a team of talented people who would
take on that deliberate mentoring model and apply it.

The mentor is John Hart, who built the management that grew the Cleveland
Indians into the 1990s powerhouse they became, and produced innovators who
played and play significant roles in the development of other franchises'
competitive theories and action: Oakland, Arizona, Colorado, San Diego, the Los
Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles, Boston and of course, even after several years,
Cleveland itself.

Beyond Baseball, this approach, selfless on the surface, can lead to great
results, if not always recognition. More about that later. Here's the beginning
of an interview that will end up being a multi-parter, thanks to Daniels'
generosity in sharing his insights and time.

Jeff Angus (MBB):
Jon, you were brought into the Rangers organization by John Hart. So many roads in today’s baseball management lead from his regime in Cleveland. Was that an important part of your decision to come to the Rangers? 

Jon Daniels (JD):
(laughs) That would imply I had a lot of options. 

MBB: You were working in Colorado… 

JD: …yes, and Dan (O’Dowd) had offered me a chance to stay on there as an intern. It was right after 911, my family was in New York and I had been long-distance with my wife (then my girlfriend) for quite a while. There were a number of reasons I didn’t stay in Colorado.
The lure, the idea of working for John was very attractive. I had worked in Colorado, so I had specifically worked with Dan and Josh (Byrnes) who had spent a good amount of time with him in Cleveland. And they have had a great deal of success, as well as others from there – Paul DePodesta, Mark Shapiro, Ben Charrington, Ruben Amaro Junior, Bud Black. 

A lot of quality people started under John.
He’s a critical person in my career development. He’s one of the most dynamic and engaging personalities you’re going to find. I have told John my only regret is that I didn’t get to work with him when he was building Cleveland…there are so many great stories that came out of there.
I’ve learned a tremendous amount from John. 

MBB: Cleveland was the most important innovator from that time. 

JD: Well, there are a few different trees. You’ve got the Pat Gillick tree, to some extent the Dave Dombrowski tree…the John Schuerholz tree. 

MBB: I consider the Pat Gillick tree comes from, as the Schuerholz one does, from Baltimore. John, I think, worked for Harry Dalton, who was his mentor. 

JD: Pat’s tree is really dynamic from the standpoint of scouting. You’ve got Gord Ash, you don’t necessarily have a
ton of front office types, but you do have a ton of scouting types. 

MBB: True. 

JD: You have Don Welke and Bobby Mattick, Al LaMacchia, even some more recent guys…Logan White worked with Pat. He was a cross-checker in Baltimore. Some guys in Seattle…Ken
Madeja who’s now a special assistant over there.
He drafted John Smoltz, Derek Lowe, JJ Putz, Ryan Feierabend...he’s got a tremendous track record.
There’s no doubt that’s it’s a great thing on your resume that you learned under John. 

MBB: When you came here and started working for him, what were the most important things you learned from him? 

JD: Well, everyone in the game now wears a label. You’re a “stat guy” or a “scout guy” or “new school” or “old school”. You’re a “this” or a “that”. John, having played a little, having managed in the minor leagues, he’s easily accepted into the old school ranks. Very easily accepted into the scouting ranks and the on-field culture. But some of John’s strongest relationships in the game are with the Mark Shapiros and Chris Antonettis…Paul DePodesta, Josh Byrnes and me, who didn’t play professionally and guys who are labeled the stat guys. 

John embraces it all, he wants all the information: medical, make-up, on-field, off-field, statistical, objective, subjective and that’s an ethic I’ve really tried to embrace. From my background, what used to come more naturally is looking at things objectively…statistics. That’s why I’ve surrounded myself with guys like John and Don Welke, Jay Robertson, Mel Didier, Gary
Rajsich on down the line.
Ron Washington…he wasn’t the kind of guy the industry expected me to hire with my background. 

It’s critical for me to get information from every possible direction.
John Schuerholz had a great quote…I’m going to butcher it… “He with the best and most information wins”. 

That’s true. 

{SNIP, for now}

Key lessons here.

  1. Winners embrace everything. That's not saying every component is
    equal -- but no shred of potentially useful knowledge is to be ignored up
    front. Winners further balance their weightings of various forms of
    knowledge in response to context.

  2. Embracing everything is not a contained strategy in itself. There are a
    number of ways to act off of an embrace-everything strategy -- Daniels
    points out several trees and branches off a tree. As managers who've been
    mentored work with it, they tweak the rules or make some new ones. That
    intellectual process is precisely parallel to cultural evolution of other
    domains. Daniels may end up making a branch or entire new tree of his own
    (Jon thinks Schuerholz has started his own tree). 

  3. Note how people-centric his knowledge/apprenticeship is. A couple of
    these names come up multiple times. In a The Talent Is The Product
    endeavor, that is, a value-added and not a commodity one, people are not
    only the key (immediate) production asset, but the key long-term growth
    (capture, organization, refinement & dissemination of knowledge)
    asset, too.

  4. ...and this is less clear from this interview than what I've gotten
    from other Hart protégés
    ...taking personal credit is less important
    to successful players in this kind of management environment that making
    sure the things for which credit could be taken get delivered and shared.

In the next part of the interview, we'll talk about multi-factor decision
trees and on how you make (or avoid making) a big splash on starting a new job.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Management By Wishful Thinking #163: Kurkjian's Krazy Kwack-Up

Making a prediction on significant events that have significant unknowns that
play into the outcome, and you're likely to be made a fool. Beyond Baseball you
see this a lot, most often in the corporate world, more often than not in
corporate social structures where the system doesn't hold people accountable.

Virtually all organizations need to apply analysis to strategy. The most
transparent billion-dollar endeavor is Baseball, so Baseball makes for some
pretty clear examples of strategic planning and allocating resources from the

Major league baseball teams, with rare exceptions, use advance scouts to
capture and analyze data about upcoming opponents. The scouts summarize this
into information that their team uses to plan for immediate series, as well as
keep it archived as part of a baseline of information for later tussles.

For teams that are likely to make it into the playoffs, this effort starts
being more critical around mid-September. In most years, it's becoming obvious
which opponents are the most likely. This'll sound like a big "duh",
but playoff-bound (or still-playoff hopeful) teams have access to a limited pool
of skilled advance scouts, so allocate them to the games/teams stochastically:
They neither choose a single-most likely opponent and put all their resources
into one (a deterministic approach), nor do they allocate an equal fraction to
every single team that hasn't yet been eliminated (a random approach). With
their stochastic approach, they are most likely to pay some attention to
all possible opponents, but invest proportionally more in scouting most likely
opponents (tweaked by how much they've been playing against them recently and
have on hand immediate intel) . 

Well, yes, that is a big "duh", but in the corporate world,
this tends not to work as elegantly. There's an entire field of study on this,
and some useful, applicable research, such as the paper "Detecting Regime
Shifts: The Psychology of Under- and Over-Reaction" by Cade Massey &
George Wu, available here.
Over- and under-investment in allocating analysis is a daunting problem
in corporate social structures, because of Angus'
First Law of Organizational Behavior
: in general in corporate
systems, accumulated leadership tends to be individuals who diminish
accountability (something Baseball can't allow).

If the probabilities are murky because there are a lot of uncertainties
operating or if the events are based on a small number of binary outcomes, or
both (for example, any October best of 5- or 7-game baseball series; think, for
example, of the 1995
Cleveland Indians
, the strongest team of the previous 20 years, getting
shredded in the Series that year by a perfectly-fine-but-not-exceptional
Atlanta Braves team
) corporate analysts tend to "freeze up". The
risk becomes high of choosing incorrectly, and more often than not in the
corporate world, leadership's cognition will devolve into MBWT (Management By
Wishful Thinking) as an energy-conservation tack -- that is, why invest a lot of
intellectual effort when the outcome is uncertain -- just go with your gut...and
your gut is driven by hopes and wishes.


You won't see a lot of this in Baseball management. But there was a
howler last week when, thanks to fate and relentless baseball practice, both the
American League's and National League's wild card teams, and therefore all four
playoff set-ups, were in flux going into the 162nd (last) game of the season. So
there's a great example of it around Baseball.

One of the most experienced and bright Baseball pundits, ESPN's Tim
Kurkjian, talked about going into the last day of the regular season
, with
the extraordinarily strong finish of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays  (behind by 9
wins for the wild card with 26 games to play) tied for the wild card with the
Boston Red Sox in the A.L., and the Struggling Atlanta Braves tied for the same
pseudo-honor with the surging St. Louis Cardinals. 

Neither league's wild card contenders were playing against each other, so the
results of four different games would decide the regular-season outcome. If in
either league both contenders had the same game outcome (a win or a
loss), they would have to play a one-game head-to-head tiebreaker, but if one
league contender lost while the other won, that would be the decider.

In all four games, the contender's opponent had zero "incentive" to
win, except as a spoiler, so Kurkjian's assumed they'd be easy pickings, that
all four contenders would win. And in the corporate world, or even in other
endeavors that are less competitive than Baseball, say the NFL, that might be
probable. In Baseball, though, Jocketty's Law applies: Whatever doesn't make
you stronger, kills you

Really, though, what the pundit was hoping for was that all four
contenders would win so there could be an additional day of intense,
winner-take-all baseball. Not a bad would have been fun, but the odds
were against it

The Red Sox faced their division's "doormat", the Baltimore
Orioles, so Kurkjian was probably as safe in choosing that outcome as in any of
the four contests. But there were two factors he chose to ignore: Baltimore was
playing at home where they had been 5-4 against the Sox during the season
(certainly not roadkill), and O's manager Buck Showalter's relentless
determination to squeeze every possible gain/win out of every moment/game. He
didn't exactly ignore a third factor, the Sox' 17-27 play since August 10th, but
he dismissed it as ephemeral. The O's refused to play dead, and came back in the
9th inning with some serious heroics.

Kurkjian didn't under-rate the quality of the Devil Rays' opponents, the New
York Yankees, but he did grossly underestimate two factors that affected the
Yanks' determination to win. First, the Gothamites were already in the playoffs,
meaning if they lost to the Devil Rays and the Tampa team faced them later in
the championship series, their opponent would have a psychological advantage,
perhaps not massive, but in a system where whatever doesn't make you stronger
kills you, not to be ignored. Second, the Yankees, from both a pride and profit
position, practically prefer playing the Red Sox (a legendary rivalry with both
richer revenues and blood lust at stake). So the Yankees weren't going to roll
over, even if they weren't going to compromise their playoff chances by
squandering their best starting pitcher or reliever in the effort. The Yankees
put away the Devil Rays early but Joe Maddon's relentless and loose squad came
back and won it in 12 innings.

In the National League games, he did the same, presuming the Braves' 11-19
record since August 24th was a short-lived swoon and that they would rise to the
occasion. The Braves were certainly an appealing and skilled team, but they were
playing the team with the best record in Baseball, the 101-61 Philadelphia
Phillies (and you don't get to 100 wins without playing every pitch for keeps).
The Phils, further, had the same incentive the Yankees had; the need to win for
psychological advantage in case the Braves would make it into the championship
series against them. The Phils wouldn't lie down and they beat the Braves in 13

It was certainly the most exciting last day of regular season baseball in my
lifetime, with four games that absolutely counted, three of which were decided
in the 9th or later inning.

But in his MBWT, the pundit ignored completely the Baseball precept he
absolutely has every reason to know and internalize: Jocketty's Law.

The next time you have to engage in strategic planning, don't fall into
Kurkjian Kraziness. Do what analysis you can do, and be prepared that
with a lot of competitive uncertainty, you could be wrong. Just because the
outcome is fuzzy, do not allow yourself to surrender to Management By Wishful
Thinking because it's much easier than serious analysis.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Revelation From Fred Claire: How to Negotiate With a Competitor

In closed or limited organizational ecosystems, you have to be able to
negotiate with competitors. Not all of us work in closed systems, but unless
you're the rarer than rare person who has so much power he can force his will on
everyone (say, Saparmurat
or  Lloyd Blankfein) sooner or later, you'll be negotiating
with a competitor. It could be external...a company that's a direct competitor,
or internal, a territorial manager of an adjacent department or a department you
are competing with for resources.

Baseball is an almost-entirely closed system. Whenever you make a deal with
another team, you are pushing hands with an antagonist who, in a zero-sum
system, is seeking the exact same end goals you are: a World Series trophy. So
any asset to your side of the equation is most likely a debit on her side. In a
zero-sum system, it's pretty rare to get to a win-win outcome. (Bill
told me this, btw, is one of the reasons some GMs far prefer free
agent signings -- it doesn't collide with the zero-sum nature of trading in a
closed system.


Well, if it can be done anywhere, it will happen in the most vibrant, flexible,
advanced management arena in the world, Baseball. And the way you do it is to
analyze the situation in agonizing depth, or at least to a level considered
agonizing in the bush league management arenas that are the ones Beyond

I'll give you a great example I read recently in Fred Claire's 2004 book My
30 Years in Dodger Blue
. The situation is this: In 1998, the Bums'
catcher and primo team star, Mike Piazza, and coming off arguably the best-ever
offensive season a catcher had ever had, was to become a free agent. Claire and
the Dodgers fiercely wanted him to stay, but new corporate ownership (Fox) was
focused elsewhere, and enforcing the normal post-takeover budgetary tightness,
while Team Piazza was indicating they were seeking the fattest contract in
Baseball history. Pre-season negotiations had failed to close the deal, so
Piazza entered the season unsigned, an indicator to other teams that he might be
traded (since a team that holds on to a good player who leaves for free agency
& signs w/another team is very unlikely to recover "full" value
for the loss of services). Other General Managers, such as the Florida Marlins' Dave
a leading practitioner of negotiating arts, would float offers, in the hopes of
adding immediate wins, or adding wins and signing the star, or alternatively,
flipping him to another team looking for immediate wins in exchange for a
handful of promising cheap youngsters.

So, this excerpt from Claire's book:

In that call, on April 10, our negotiations
with Piazza on hold, Dombrowski had inquired about Mike. His approach was
very direct -- "Fred, would you trade Mike Piazza and a young,
low-salaried pitcher for Charles Johnson, Gary Sheffield and Jim Eisenreich?"

I knew Dombrowski was under orders from
Florida owner Wayne Huizenga to unload payroll after the Marlins had won the
World Series the previous season and yeat had lost money in the process.
Sheffield was at the top of the Marlin salary list in that he had just signed
a six-year deal that paid him $61 million from 1998 through 2003.

Dombrowski figured if he could trade
Sheffield for Piazza, the Marlins would be free of the bulk of their future
payroll obligations. Furthermore, Dombrowski would be in a position to
acquire young players for Piazza in that Mike was in the last year of his

I went to Graziano
[Claire's boss] and told him {snip} I wanted to reply
to Dombrowski that we weren't interested in discussing Piazza because we
wanted to sign Mike, but we were interested in Sheffield.

My reasoning: I felt that as long as
Sheffield remained the focus of trade discussions, Charles Johnson would
remain a Marlin. The two made an attractive trade package, the high-priced
slugger paired with the lower-priced but highly-valuable catcher. If Fox
decided Piazza had to go, Johnson would be just the replacement we needed.


A subtle, masterful playing of the chess board that can only happen because
Claire's workgroup has come to a blisteringly thorough understanding of the
other side of the negotiating table. The Dodgers still want to sign Piazza, but
they may not be able to, for whatever financial or corporate-political or
personal reasons. The Dodgers would like to keep the Marlins' younger, cheaper catcher
(and not as fine a player, but already Johnson was an All-Star and had won a
Gold Glove) in the trading pool so the Dodgers might snare him as a contingency
if Piazza left. But Johnson was a most-attractive player beyond his on the field
value; he was a logical pairing with Gary Sheffield, the personally difficult
but extremely productive and extremely expensive slugger in a trade.

So to keep Johnson from leaving the Marlins, Claire hoped to pin
the Marlins by expressing more interest in Sheffield than the Dodgers really
had. Getting Sheffield's and Johnson's prowess and payroll obligations wouldn't
necessarily be a tragedy, but why not try to get the sweeter benefit/cost
pairing alone (in Johnson)?


To attempt this required nothing less than the striving for total data

Claire and his group needed to:

  • examine the dollar and playing values,

  • learn and interpret the other side of the table's motivations and short-
    and long-term plans,

  • interpret the Marlins' valuation systems and measuring factors as well as
    their own, and

  • come up with either a win-win match-up, or, barring that,

  • a ploy that would freeze the Marlins pursuit of other deals as long as
    possible .

And, oh yeah, without totally burning the other side of a table, because
(especially) in a closed system, you don't want to set off a neutron bomb (a
deal so bitter that it guarantees one side will never again do business with the

In your own management, consider how complex the preparation for this
negotiation was. Are you good enough for Baseball (that is, do you prepare this
way)? You can in most cases, of course. It requires a level of research most
managers Beyond Baseball are unwilling to take on.

Maybe you can't be as skilled as Fred Claire, but I promise you it's worth

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Yellow Dandelions Trump Black Swans & Blue Oceans

"Luck is the residue of
opportunity and design." 

John "The Bread Street Bomber" Milton & Branch Rickey

The global Business of Business Advice is an odd industry. People write
articles or business publications on a theoretical idea. They try to spin the
idea in an original-sounding way, and if a publisher thinks the sound resonates,
it becomes a book. If the book and the publicity around it becomes widespread
enough, becomes a cult. Hundreds of thousands of readers, some of whom have a
lever, a fulcrum & a place to stand, think they might apply the theory in their own
workgroup or organization.

Roughly, for about every 1,000 copies sold, I estimate there are about 1,500
people who learn enough about the underlying principle to talk about  the
one sentence description of the core theory. I estimate 600 of the books get
read through, maybe 30 people try to implement a project, initiative or makeover
based on the theory, and of those 30, you can count on the normal rate of
success (Angus' Second Law: 85% of corporate projects fail absolutely or are
euthanized (or forgotten) before completion, 10% deploy based on their original
goals and 5% deploy based on original goals and succeed). So for
every 1,500 people who can relate the core idea, 2 (rounding up so as to be a
bit optimistic) turns Business Advice into useful action. For the other 1,498,
it's just plaque, perhaps entertaining or diverting, but nothing that delivers
on the mission -- the explicit promise of business, leadership or management

Two of 1,500 is only an average. It can go up (or, more likely, go down) from
that proportion. There's an underlying reader trend that undermines the chance
for implementation. As a mass, readers would rather read about big ideas than
small ones, and they'd rather read about theory than practice. So the largest
readership goes to the big theoretical idea books than the practical (something
you do that creates positive action). And there's another factor that literary
(book) agents will tell you, too: Readers don't want to act on any of
this Business Advice - they just want to be entertained and feel good.

Here are two favorite examples of fun best-selling global Business of
Business Advice that are pre-destined to never reach the 2-in-1,500 successful
implementation norm: The
Black Swan Theory
and Blue
Ocean Strategy
. They are both giant ideas based that are probably quite true
but close to impossible for any individual or team to apply to anything bigger
than a lemonade stand. The Black Swan is based on the giant idea that, "A
black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet
causes massive consequences." Blue Ocean, "explains
how to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant while
charting a new path to capture new market space that is ripe for growth".

Well, Yellow Dandelions
trump Blue Oceans and Black Swans...not for popularity and sales, but on two

  1. You can actually
    implement this idea in any organization, and

  2. The net benefit of
    deploying it will give you actual (not just theoretical) returns.

The Yellow Dandelion was
second-sacker Fred
, one of the first baseball players to write a book on
"scientific baseball". As explained in Paul Dickson's exquisitely
informative book The
Hidden Language of Baseball: How Signs and Sign Stealing Have Influenced the
Course of Our National Pastime

In 1889, N. Fred Pfeffer, the bare handed infield star and tactician with the
Chicago White Stockings of the 1880s...published a manual called Scientific
{snip} At the heart of his defensive science was a "Code of
motions so perfected" that every man on a club knew what kind of ball was
to be pitched next. "Knowing this in advance, the men can so place
themselves so as to give the man in the box [the pitcher] the most effective


"Pfeffer believed that the fielder's job was to move at the very last
moment, when the pitcher was in his delivery, and that once a play had begun it
was imperative that the players knew how to back one another up. "Failure
to 'back up' players and positions has probably been as disastrous a feature of
losing clubs as any other which can be specified," he wrote. "Because
of this fatal weakness, scores of otherwise well-played games are needlessly
sacrificed each year."

The Yellow Dandelion
Deployment is one that, because Baseball is so transparent and overwhelmingly
meritocratic (both useful attributes wholly missing from corporate workplaces)
you can just plain see works out.

The teams that grab the
every-event, small but attainable advantages (in baseball parlance,
"execute") tend to win more games because they don't leave games'
outcomes as much to chance. If you watch a game for Yellow Dandelion Deployment,
watch the fielders "cheat" on many pitches, cover each other on
defense in a variety of ways based on the situation, you can see how absolutely
effective this is. Sadly, televised games, while great to watch, rarely expose
the Deployment. But I urge you to watch a major league game live (preferably
from the upper deck as close to directly behind home plate as you can) and watch
the extraordinary clockwork of a skilled major league team that has mostly
veteran players. Pick one non-catcher fielder out for each two-inning span and
try to follow what they do on every pitch, every ball in play. You'll see 120
years of refinement beyond Pfeffer's actionable principles, a level of teamwork
and management acuity beyond everything in the non-MBB management world.


Unlike Blue Oceans and Black Swans, you can absolutely apply Yellow Dandelion
tactics to your benefit in the workplace.

Make sure that on tasks
that must succeed for your organization to succeed, each responsible person
knows she has one or more teammates to back her up, own some responsibility for
overall success. You have to start this overtly, not with a memo. Good managers
always take on the responsibility themselves of each contributor's success,
being there to back him up, but once a manager can break out beyond merely
taking on that backing-up personally and deploy it to the contributors nearest
the task-owner (not all others -- the right fielder can and will back up plays
to 1st base but it's a waste of energy to have him try, futilely, to back up
plays at 3rd) the useful contributors will learn the right back-up moves through

What's the best way to
kick this off?

By both explaining the
back-up theory in advance and then starting to assign back-up contributors to
every task. These back-ups can be "editors", or "timers" or

are most useful when a task is multi-departmental and the contributor assigned
to the task needs to enlist allies or try to push through work happening outside
her span of control; the ambassador helps with that external pressure.

"Editors" I use
to be the second pair of eyes for quality control; the editor is someone the
task-owner can bounce ideas off of and who can check deliverables for conceptual
or trivial kinds of accuracy.

What I call
"timers" are teammates who help the contributor stay on schedule and
co-own the deadline. The timer is not a non-com issuing orders or
applying pressure. The timer relieves pressure by being equally responsible for
knowing the task schedule and helping out the task-owner without having to be

You probably won't have
to delegate each rôle on each project. You can certainly invent other rôles
that make sense within the context of your own endeavour, but invent a one- or
two-word name for each, so you can use the name as a shorthand. But you should
make a habit of assigning one or more back-up rôles to most every task.

At the completion of
every meaningful task with an assigned back-up, you should get the participants
to talk to the team about winning moves, or problems that would have been
smaller with new back-up ideas.

After a series of
successes, you invite contributors to deploy themselves as back-ups or invite
back-ups on their own. (In Baseball, it's terribly inefficient -- that is, a
losing strategy -- to have the manager assign every back-up on each pitch or
every play in the field; players need to be able to do this for themselves based
on established principles refined by their own practice and experiences.)


There are two common problems in Yellow Dandelion Deployments: non-accountable
or otherwise anti-team oriented contributors, and over-or under-management.

Some contributors resist
help, being too egocentric or believing teamwork shows them to be weak. Some of
these people are tractable, for example, if you point out how hard it is for a
single person acting alone to execute a double-play. But some are simply too
insecure or introverted to be comfortable having back-ups. You have one of two
solutions to this problem: if the person is a great contributor with great
success (think Barry Bonds) then exempt her from the routine; if he's not, get
rid of him.

And you can control the
over- or under-management. Over-management is removing from the contributors the
chance to have rôles delegated to them (which is the equivalent of a major
league manager trying to coordinate all players on the field with every pitch).
Under-management is not selling the teamwork benefits hard enough, re-deploying
people to the rôles they seem to best while still giving them chances to be
good at other rôles, or not monitoring the evolution of the system and its

The odds of you becoming
enriched through successfully identifying a Black Swan and then deploying a
counter are not 2-in-1,500, rarer than a no-hitter. The odds of you identifying
and deploying a Blue Ocean Strategy are no better.

But 1,500-in-1,500
managers in any organization that has seven or more employees can apply Yellow
Dandelion Deployments with success. Not only does it work, but it's actually

You may not actually ever
have three hits in an inning, like Fred Pfeffer had in a game on September 6,
1883, but you can knock out a bunch of hits everyday using his "scientific
baseball" principles.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Peavy Principle: Every Technology Enables New Abilities & Disables Existing Ones

Clarke's Second Law of New
Technology (paraphrased):

For every human capability a technology creates,

it disables what exists; this may net out as progress or retardation.

In Baseball (and Beyond Baseball), new technologies that create the
capability to do things we've never been able to do before (say, Field
which can measure infinitesimal speed and trajectory and rotational measures for
a batted ball) tend to add to human knowledge and  "ability".

New technologies that merely make it easier to do the things we can already
do (broom-->vacuum cleaner, for example, or texting instead of voice
telephone), change the things we do in foreseeable and unforeseen ways, and they
don't always represent net progress. Author Arthur C. Clarke wrote a
classic sci-fi story that illustrates this counter-intuitive reality
from a
military/industrial perspective.

There's a great Management By Baseball example that happened recently that
makes this effect, what I call The Peavy Principle, very easy to understand.


According to Adam Kilgore's story
in the Washington Post

CHICAGO — The answer to how the
Washington Nationals would achieve their latest win seemed to reveal itself
in the second inning Saturday afternoon. Chicago White Sox starter John Danks
walked off the field, a strained muscle having ended his day after six
batters. The Nationals could feast on Chicago’s bullpen and chalk up
another win. Just the usual.

“I thought we got a break,” interim
manager John McLaren said. “I thought we were going to hit their bullpen.”

But after spending two weeks convincing
themselves they can’t lose, the Nationals lost to the White Sox, 3-0,
before 23,008 at U.S. Cellular field, just their second defeat in 14 games.
The Nationals managed two hits and struck out 11 times over 7-1/3 innings
against the White Sox’ bullpen, which received a dominant cameo by veteran
ace Jake Peavy, making the first relief appearance of his career. {SNIP}

 Peavy dominated for four innings,
allowing a single and no walks while striking out seven.

Before each series, the Nationals’
hitters gather in a small room adjacent to their clubhouse. With hitting
coach Rick Eckstein, they watch video and study tendencies of each starter
they will face and the relievers. Peavy, who started Wednesday for Chicago,
fit neither category. “I didn’t see Peavy’s name on that list,”
McLaren said.

Though the Nationals never mentioned Peavy
in their hitters’ meeting, they still gave credit to his pitching. “The
bottom line is, we just didn’t swing the bats well today,” third baseman
Jerry Hairston said.

In the last fifteen years (depending on which team, a little earlier or a
little later), video library software has given coaches the ability to create,
with just a few hours of assembly by the coach or other team aides, wonderfully
organized and informative video tutorials on how opponents play, their biases
and tendencies and quirks and tells. This new technology replaces a prior,
non-technological way of doing it; word-of-mouth verbal sharing of information,
three-ring binder collections of data points, exchanged tips in the batting cage
before the game, exchanged tips in the dugout during the game.

It's not that none of that pre-video library software information
happens; it just has become secondary, delivers less impact than the new way
and, therefore, becomes relatively devalued by most of the participants. By
making a high-tech system THE WAY to get 'er done, the other ways seem to be
"old fashioned" or lower yield.

But for every ability an augmenting technology increases, it undermines an
existing capability. By being able to hyper-focus intense information about the
White Sox relievers, that attention gets invested, and so a resting starter,
Jake Peavy, who comes into a game as a reliever, is glossed over in the chosen
techno-path to success. ¿Did the Nationals have three-ring binder back-up? I'm
not sure; when interim Manager McLaren skippered in Seattle, I saw him carrying
two. But as a recently-appointed interim, he would work with the protocols the
team had already worked out. Even if they did have it, the batters would
have already tapped their cognitive investment in other, more fluidly-acquired
accustomed ways of getting data. They cannot have helped but instinctively
valued the video information over the old-fashioned.

In Baseball (an endeavour much
more brutally zero-sum competitive than the easier work domain you manage in
a Jedi Master of finding a cognitive edge like White Sox manager Ozzie
, undoubtedly knew there was some tiny (not giant) advantage in
putting on the mound an unscheduled reliever, but in Baseball, because
it's zero-sum, tiny advantages loom large. The reality that Jake Peavy is a
monster pitcher when he's healthy had to have been a consideration as well. And
Guillen is as prepared as any manager in any field; he and pitching
coach Don Cooper
would always, every game have a Plan B for who would
come in early in a still-close game if the starter is injured or blown out.

In Baseball, technology that replaces manual + verbal methods may enable
people to do what they did before faster or cheaper, but it makes the knowledge
more brittle, less hands-on, more shallowly textured. Technology eats some of
the nuance while spitting out better volume...what I call The Peavy Principle.

THE PEAVY PRINCIPLE BEYOND BASEBALL... actually quite wide-spread. The most wide-spread example is cell phones
replacing land-lines. It's not technology that gives us unprecedented abilities,
but does augment the span of places we can use a telephone or type messages or
play games or execute frozen pork-bellies futures contracts. Mobile gives us
mobility, the capability to call from most anywhere (unless you're a Sprint user
in suburban Chicago or an AT&T victim in San Francisco). But the quality of
communication goes down as the degraded fidelity eliminates audible intonation
and voice affects. Is the trade-off worthwhile? For most users, I suspect the
answer is probably yes, but for communications that require clarity (business,
romance, intelligence), the loss is palpable and costly.

I'll give you a concrete example from my own practice. I was one of the
earliest users of project management software, but I didn't learn on it. Before
there was software, PMs worked with a surprising range of physical tools. I used
mechanical pencil  on graph paper and, of course, had to do trial and
error, making copious use of the Eberhard
Faber Eraser Stick
(known in the trade as a "poodle penis"). I
wouldn't describe this as "the good old days"; it was truly
challenging, and I welcomed my SuperProject
and later my TimeLine
(a now-gone package that was at least 4x as productive as anything on the market
today). I was project director on a USEPA contract that had 23 people who through
the project worked asynchronously in 10 cities...a massive logistic effort that
additionally required a lot of knowledge about the individual talents (no two of
whom had the same strengths and weaknesses) and concurrently was an attempt to
prove to the agency that a co-op could deliver comparable quality at lower cost.

Setting up a project was faster this way than it is using even good project
management software. Recalculating in software is much faster than
erasing/rebuilding-by-trial-and-error. Getting the first draft done is much
faster in software. But woe to the software-only solution when the plan veers
away from the original plan enough that it requires resequencing, or re-applying
the individual talents of non-commodity labor from one sequence to another.
Because project management software "believes" people are commodities,
and it's almost impossible to program human interdependencies or stored
knowledge into the database that sequences decisions.

I could actually do this significantly faster by hand. So can most
professionals who did or do it by hand, because the physical drawing and erasing
of lines, not delegating that to a machine, gives the PM a much stronger and
more textured understanding of the interdependencies.

People who learned on software (most contemporary PMPs) and at the same time
never do it by hand tend to undervalue the aspects of project management that
the software is counter-productive for or simply doesn't do. Most
learned-it-using-software suffer from The Peavy Principle, that is, they can do
it fast, but by delegating the knowledge to a
, they can overlook
details the technology ignores, filtering out valuable information simply
because the software developer didn't value it, or because it was costly or
perhaps impossible to embody in software.

By stuffing the data into a digital container, removed from the visible and
manipulable world of physical artifacts, they master technology, but undermine
the fullness of their craft -- as my associate Athena explained to me when she
was taking a PMP certification course, they were teaching people how to operate
software, do effective data entry and report their results thoroughly, not how
to manage projects.

I'll give you a another equally-painful example, in case you have no
experience with project management. Handling data.

Many of us who analyse data for a living actually comb through the raw data
before we start analysing it. It's time-consuming, and doesn't always have big
rewards, but we find that the exploration gives us a better handle on it and
makes it easier to track the exceptions that indicate valuable insights or dirty
data. Some of our peers, though, trust data enough to make it an unseen artifact
that's hidden in a digital container. Even when they use other software to flag
exceptions or pinpoint certain kinds of out-of-scope points, they can miss
subtle flaws that the technology helper wasn't programmed to recognize.

Even famous and brilliant scientists who don't respect the data (the noun,
the reason for the analysis) as much as the tool used to analyse it (the verb)
are missing a key piece of the grammar of data analysis. A few years ago I read
a serious clever baseball researcher's article on platoon splits (the ability,
for example, of a right-handed batter to hit left-handed pitching overall better
than right handed), and he had come to the conclusion that it was not a skill
(not a repeatable event, but one driven by luck or other external factors). His
results were quite unequivocal.

I was surprised but interested, because platoon splits are a piece of
unquestioned protocol and I love to question the unquestioned protocol. I'd
fiddled with this problem before without coming to useful conclusions, and he
had taken a very different tack in the analysis and had compiled a great swathe
of data. I asked him if he would give me a copy of the data to work with, and he
generously shared it.

I opened the file with great anticipation and started combing through the
individual rows, associating codes with the players they referred to, their
seasons, all artifacts I'd never had the pleasure of examining as consolidated
numbers. But you can imagine how disappointed I was when I saw that much of the
data was flawed, the result of a bad transform routine, one that repeated two of
the fields every so many rows (not all rows, not all fields, but regularly
making false certain rows in a predictable sequence). Each one of these rows was
within scope, and every one, taken alone, was feasible. There were no out of
scope characters or out of scope row lengths -- it was a giant pile of broken
data that smelled fresh to data cleaning routines, and turned the research
conclusions from significant to not. Only a human eye and brain considering
patterns would detect the underlying errors.

I did send the deck back to the mathematician with a note, and thanked him.
His push back was that I must be mistaken and that errors would have been caught
by his technology. He had evolved out of being a scientist and into a technology
midwife. If he ever opened his file and looked at it line by line (honestly, an
exhausting task), he would have known. The technology that enabled him to adsorb
vast piles of data and clean and analyse it and deliver insight by a thousand
slices had left him exposed to intellectual death by a thousand cuts. It had
enabled vast quantity while degrading critical quality.

What technologies do you use that threaten to impose the Peavy Principle on
your efforts? If Baseball, the most productive and accountable user of
technology can get screwed up by the Peavy Principle, I'm telling you it can
mess you up, too.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Umpires Go Lean; Deming Does Baseball

I'm not the smartest batter in the blogosphere, but I'm blessed by having the smartest readers. My perpetual high-performing cloud teammate
Joe Ely, an implementer of Lean
Manufacturing practices and other management & process refinements, is a
noteworthy example. I already know he's a student and a renderer and a teacher
of the genius of W. Edwards
who also blends in a panoply of other lessons he's absorbed and
knitted together to create his own toolbox.

What I didn't know until this week is he's an umpire, as well

I knew that he and I both use continuous improvement techniques along with
staff knowledge and morale-building processes to try to simultaneously increase
productivity through quality and employee-customer-employer satisfaction. And we
are both deeply into Baseball as a process and as an entertainment. 

But a note from him this week about the umpiring win-now-while-setting-yourself-up-to-win-later-too
process I wrote about in the previous entry has set me to thinking more about
our parallel interests. Perhaps a large part of the reason both Baseball and
Lean/Deming appeal to us is that Deming is really a lot about Baseball or that
Baseball is really a lot about Lean, or both. ¿What if there's a continuous
refinement loop that Baseball embodies that approaches the ideal form that each
of us, in somewhat different configurations, is trying to embody in our
management implementation practices?

A wild-axed thought. Perhaps errant, but if so, only as errant as the long
liner that just wraps itself on the wrong side of the fair pole.

As you may remember from the Genius of Umpire Process entry, the Umps have
worked out a most-elegant process of assigning talent to provide arbiters for
the Playoffs and World Series, blending senior, other veteran, and relatively-young
umps, and then rotating them so the youngest are guaranteed the opportunities to
get experience at the most important spots on the field, but when the stakes are
relatively the lowest. And this reserves the most likely to be pressure-filled,
intense spots on the field for the games that are most likely to be the most
pressure-filled and intense.

Joe Ely at work knows how to do this, but it turns out that Joe Ely the
Umpire does this Lean-like process on the baseball field, as well. Here's a
lightly abridged version of his note:

The insight on World Series umpire
rotation is all makes sense if you think about it.  Get the
most experienced guys progressively behind the plate as the pressure builds.
 Game 2 just isn't that tough, relatively speaking.

And a further example, from Little

Last Wednesday, I was assigned to work
the plate for our District finals for the 11-year old division.  I had
three other guys assigned to do bases but the assignor did not tell me who to
put where.  So, when I got to the field, an hour ahead of time, I made
my decision and put the least experienced guy at first base and two equally
veteran guys at 2nd and 3rd.

When the guy working 2nd, a good friend
of mine for many years now, arrived and learned who was working first, he
pulled me aside and said "Joe, do you know what this guy will do at
1st??  That's crazy!"  I explained I felt it was key he get
some good experience and we had to do this sometime to develop new umpires.
 We stayed with the assignments.

Well, the game progressed.  The guy
did make one out and out blown call at first, calling an out on an obvious
safe situation.  But he got everything else right.  He was in the
frying pan on one check swing I had to go to him for but got it right (though
not for the right reason).  He also made two less-than perfect movements
on balls to the outfield.  No one noticed but the other three of us,
though and we discussed it during and after the game.  And his one blown
call ended up not being a factor.

Following the game, he thanked us for
the assignment, having learned a lot. He'll do better next time.   Both
coaches thanked us, as a team, for a good game.  It all ended well.

Gotta do this to build a future.  Weber
was right.  And it works in a hidden corner of Indiana Little League as
well as the bright lights of the World Series.

You have to respect the vitality of Joe Ely's thinking, incorporating with
variation his work improvement methods to this avocation. This requires
understanding the context and incorporating without a rigid copy process.

But Ely's process -- overwhelmingly harmonic with Deming, is pure baseball,
as well. I wonder how much Deming consciously borrowed from the National

PS: A few of my own favorite Joe Ely insights, always actionable,
insightful and stuff that has hard, measurable value:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Baseball Umpires' Staff Development Genius: Balancing Winning Today With Winning Tomorrow

Baseball is sharper about managing in competitive environments than corporate
or military or government arenas are. It's zero-sum (for every win there has to
be a loss) & transparent, both of which mean failure can neither be hidden,
denied, or without consequences. So if you manage Beyond Baseball, learn this
lesson about one of the hardest things to do in Baseball and Beyond.

You need to balance your resources and staff time/energy not only to win today
but in all the tomorrows coming up.


...managers do it, front offices do it, even the Umpires do it. The manager in
the dugout needs to win this game unfolding today. You put up your best
available rested pitcher, skipping anyone else even if it's their turn. You save
your best pinch hitter for the most important situation you intuit may come up.
You try to put out on the field your best line-up of today's available talent,
and craft the line-up for the best possible immediate results. At the same time,
in the same game day, you need to give your other players chances, because if
you don't, you're going to end up late in the season with rusty skills and when
some key player gets injured or tired or slumping, not only are you slotting in
a lesser talent, but one who's not tuned to succeed at even her own level.
Further, by not using your subs, you're losing valuable chances to see what they
are best at, where they succeed and fail, and the chance to refine their game
through coaching informed by observation.

Front office management has to assemble winning rosters right now and for the
future but they will not be in their jobs long if they trade too much of their
future for some immediate this-season advantage. And the irony of it is, if they
do the reverse, build a sensible plan for an elevated long-term success without
winning enough right now, they may be cooked before the planned schedule for
improvement gets to the intended results (case in point, Seattle Mariners GM
Jack Jack Zduriencik's attempt to turn around a team that unwise ownership has
undermined now for close to a decade, an effort that looked on the surface like
a four- or five-year plan that's now in year 2.5, is in
a hazardous position
because the team on the field today has a truly sorry
present and at the 2.5 year mark, unsurprisingly, hasn't gotten to Year 5 of the
Five Year plan yet

And, I just found out Umpires do it, too. I've been reading Bruce
Weber's fantastic book on Umpires, As
They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires
(Scribner, 2009).
On the surface, it sounds like a marginal topic, but the New York Times' Weber
is not just a good writer and insightful observer, he went through one of the
two official schools for pro umpires, so he understands the work as an insider.
I'll write a review of the book in a later entry (if you are already convinced, his
Fresh Air interview
was cool, too), but the joy of it is the same frisson a
management person gets on an industrial plant tour (like the Rainier Brewery
tour or the Tillamook Cheese factory tour or the -- now decommissioned -- IBM PC
factory tour). It gives you a ton of insight and knowledge about an everyday
"object" or endeavour you think you understand, but from such a
different -- and intimate -- perspective, that it opens up your eyes to a big
world you thought you pretty much understood.

One of the great moments of this book is a Management By Baseball one: How
the Umps balance putting their best product on the field today without
strip-mining their future.

Playoff and World Series umpiring crews are balanced with more-experienced
individuals and promising younger professionals. Okay, well that's normal
throughout Baseball and one of the reasons Baseball is the most effective
endeavor in North America at professional development. But the mechanics of
how the umpires deploy the talent
is worth thinking about and a wonderful
example for anyone who manages staff and wishes to deliver best effort today
while not undermining best effort tomorrow.

Weber explains how they do it with the six umps in a World Series crew (one
at each base and two added umps for the outfield lines), all top notch talent in
a field that has been hyper-winnowed already, so they are Seven-Sigma, at the
very top of the top notch of a top notch.

Generally, the crew the opening game,
dealing with the initial spectacle; then the crew rotates in order of reverse
seniority, so the younger umps get their experience, and the older ones take
their turns as the stakes get higher. In a seven-game series, the crew chief
returns to the plate for the ultimate game.

Sounds reasonable as a way to balance opportunity, but for the minority of
managers who read this blog who haven't already noticed it, it's a perfectly
staff development scheme.

Game One...everyone has butterflies (yes, even the umps), so the crew chief
handles the most calls by being behind home plate. You don't know where the
toughest calls are going to be (Weber explains why), but you do know the
home plate arbiter will have the highest quantity and the most eyeballs for the
most time, so they go with the chief talent. Then, the rotation puts the least
senior ump there and as the games progress (and are more apparently
consequential) the experience level gets higher until, if it does get to the
ultimate zero-sum crucible, a seventh game of the World Series, the most
experienced talent, the crew chief, is at home plate to take the pressure and
deliver the needed work.


I'll know I'll get mail (I always do when I write on balancing winning today
with tomorrow) pushing back (usually it's from finance people or sales managers)
that try to convince me I'm wrong & that corporate management is wiser and
that this balancing thing is over-rated.

Not close, IMNSHO. Most people who work inside publicly-owned corporations
labor in shops that almost never preserve their resources for some later date
and overlook testing/training opportunities for the less-experienced talent to
get their cuts at what they haven't mastered while observing,
measuring and analysing their performance
so the manager can deliver
targeted coaching. So the best stay the best, even if their skills decline,
because the prospects don't get built up as a matter of course. They may develop
on their own, but can you imagine what would happen in Baseball if management
never provided targeted coaching and opportunities for prospects? Exactly,
they'd be the 1981-86 Pittsburgh Pirates or the 2004-2008 Seattle Mariners,
dreadful teams dominated by older talent simultaneously getting neither younger
for the future nor better for immediate wins.

Upper management can make line management act this way even when line
management knows it's counter-productive. If every project/effort is sold as the
Most Important Thing Ever, if every Pet
is sold to employees and stockholders as The Pyramids
at Giza
, no one ever gets a test or a rest. The trend, therefore, is Gene
Mauch 1964
...your best get worn out, becoming less good, but it becomes
(realistically) scarier to take a chance on the other talent because they are
untested. So the best may still be the best, but they are not as good, and the
others are not as good because they haven't been studiously developed, so (and
I'll get push-back on this conclusion because, amazingly I always do, especially
from the innumerate people who dominate both finance and sales management) the
composite average performance of the workgroup goes down. And simultaneously,
the options for the future are diminished, too, because of the lack of

It's a corporate habit that's lose-lose: In trying to be stronger right now
and ignoring the future, they undermine their present so they can be weaker in
the future (hey, maybe it'll be someone else's problem).

Learn from the umpires, a much more difficult and transparent craft than your
own. Be meticulous with staff development to be great fright now and be
great for the future.

This play-for-today-only ethic is a form of strip-mining, to heck with the
future. It's bad business for Baseball, and it's bad practice for your own organization