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Has Worker Productivity peaked? October 13, 2010

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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A recent report from the Labor Department indicates that worker productivity may have peaked and actually be in decline. That can be good news for the economic recovery as companies will need to hire more workers to maintain growth.  Companies are beginning to realize they simply cannot get more work from current employees and they need to be aware of the burnout effect. To maintain growth then, companies will need additional workers.

This is good news for job seekers and will have a positive impact on consumer spending.

Are you as efficient as you can be? Has “doing more with less” been played out at your company? Do they plan on hiring?

Unlimited mobile data plans are changing June 3, 2010

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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As the cell phone market matures, the major cell phone carriers are looking for ways to keep/increase revenue streams. We are witnessing this evolution in the latest move by AT&T to migrate away from unlimited data usage. If the usage based pricing model is successful, expect the other major carriers to follow with their own plans. Similar to pricing changes in the airline industry, this move will be watched closely by competitors and analysts. The NY Times has an article that talks about AT&T plan to use tiered pricing.  It is not surprising that companies are looking to introduce usage based pricing plans. The carriers are seeing revenue streams plateau or even drop on the current pricing for phone plans. So, carriers see growing demand for data access and that can easily be converted to a revenue stream. Price points can be tricky though. How much is cloud access worth to you? What part of your disposable income are you willing to spend on getting email anywhere, anytime? Checking stock prices or sports scores?

This is a clear signal that the market is sorting out and defining what types of consumers we are. There is no one data plan for all users. Think of business travelers, sales reps., soccer moms and college students – each has unique reasons to access the web for information. I expect there will be a price plan for each based on their needs and budget.

I don’t take full advantage of the flat rate services I use. I know that and it’s OK. I favor the flat rate plan for service. It is predictable and a constant. It also is up to me to use the service as much, or, as little as I need it. My cable company provides a flat rate for video and I hope it stays that way. I know about  cable offers with premium packages, like the NFL network. But, that is a niche, not the mass consumer.  As this plan rolls out, people will become more aware of their usage for a short time. However, I don’t think usage rates will change much. In fact, the usage may increase as people find more ways to access the cloud to stay connected.

On the technical side, I understand the argument but do not agree that a few users can ‘hog’ the bandwidth on the network. Come on AT&T, you’ve been in the network business a long time. You have automated processes and tools to balance and manage the traffic with equipment in the network that is smart and programmable. Routers and switches can be tuned to give priority to specific types of data packets. Load balancing is not just for the data center anymore and has been used in network management for a long time. I don’t buy the argument anymore that a few users impact the response rate for everyone. Even if less than 2% of your customers are ‘heavy traffic users’, the network response can be managed smarter. I hope folks managing data centers aren’t watching this and think it can be used with their service. Wouldn’t that be a change?

I think it is an opportunity missed by the carriers. Network data usage is sporadic for most people; it is not a constant demand. There are peak times and I’m sure the trends on network demand are charted and known. Think business hours and prime time hours – there is a predictable level of usage and different parts of the network can be idle at times. The network is not routinely saturated at all points with traffic causing congestion and slow downs.  We cannot use all the bandwidth provided 24X7. It comes down to capacity management based on demand aligned with load balancing.

Have all the ways to reduce cost in the current system been exhausted? Has all the waste and redundancy in process been removed? Perhaps an opportunity to use Six Sigma and lean manufacturing tools here…give me a call and we can talk about it. 😉

Peter Principle – Fact or Fiction? October 5, 2009

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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This basic management  principle states that people rise in an organization to a level of incompetence. Every working professional can relate to this and may have experienced it already (or, will given time) by working with someone who has been promoted to a position that is beyond their capacity. At which time you ask ‘How did that person get his/her job?’

Whether fact or fiction*, the Peter principle is a fundamental reason why the Dilbert comic strip is so popular.  We all can relate to those situations where incompetence reigns despite our hope that logic and reason will prevail. Many people feel the situations depicted in Dilbert are unique to their company. But, that is why it is universally popular – it happens in lots of companies.

Over the course of my career, I have worked with people who demonstrate the Peter principle quite nicely and even have had a boss or two like that. Thus far, I believe I have avoided being a data point to validate this concept. I’m not sure but there may be some detractors about that.

Competence is also related to my last post on capacity. Possessing the knowledge and skills to do the job required and meet deadlines is a learned skill. Being a consistently solid performer that can also exceed expectations requires focus and dedication. Career advancement is based on past performance and potential to manage more complexity and extend capacity.

Would you admit it if you are an example of the Peter principle? Know someone who is? What signals do you watch for to ensure you are working at a high level of competence?

*Actually, while highly plausible, the Peter Principle is but a work of fiction. See the wikipedia entry which describes the authors and the related book.

Capacity for Spinning Plates October 2, 2009

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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Ever see the variety act where someone is spinning plates?  Briefly, this starts off with a guy (usually) putting a plate on a stick and spinning it. He then successively adds more and more plates while keeping the originals plates spinning.  In a short time, he gives each plate another spin to prevent it from slowing down, falling off the stick  and breaking. Dating myself, as a wee lad, I have seen this act on the Ed Sullivan show a few times. Good performers end up literally running between the two rows of sticks of spinning plates but all reach a point where he can’t keep all of them spinning.

maxed out multi-tasking

maxed out multi-tasking

This is a great visual to determine your workload capacity. You know have reached that point when the plates start to break.  I think this analogy aptly illustrates when you have just that much more on your plate that you can manage. If you can keep the current set of plates spinning, that equates to some extra, unused capacity. A clear sign to add some more!

Well, maybe not.  Seems odd that we strive to work to the point where we start making mistakes. Having more plates than you can keep spinning is not good business practice. Mistakes are bad – lost time, cost of goods, re-work and so on.

Of course, I appreciate the other extreme – barely working on tasks when you are capable of much more. You want to keep every plate spining while avoiding  having any one break. Good communications with your peers and management is key to working at or near capacity. 


 To help keep your plates spinning, I offer some suggestions :

  1. Establish and document clearly defined goals – they should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timed).
  2. Be honest about what you can and cannot manage. Do not over-promise and under deliver.
  3. Control what you can by assuming the best while preparing for the worst.
  4. Ask help for support when you need it. You are not alone; ask for expertise when it is beyond your skill set.

If you have buy-in from your manager on this approach, you can keep all plates spinning. If not, you have some work ahead of you. As a manager myself, I want to have my team on average working as close to capacity as possible. Taking the long view, this implies there are peaks and valleys in the workload. I’m OK with that knowing that there are ebbs and flows in the workload. And, I monitor progress to committed goals (see above) during the year and review this with each report on a regular basis. 

I don’t like the sound of breaking plates (or, glass either).  Disrupts the workplace, requires getting replacements and then there is the clean up also. Keep your plates spinning and when they start to fall off and break, dial back a bit!

How do you measure your capacity? How many ‘plates’ are you spinning?