Archive

Author Archive

on the fail fast principle


For most of us we have become used to the fail safe way of working. I am old enough to remember a time when air brakes failed off leaving you with the best way of stopping being to find something soft to drive into. We don’t allow that these days.

Failures are things to be avoided and we work hard on our processes to find ways of doing it right first time, every time. If you are failing your KPIs it is career threatening, a thing of shame. No wonder that so many people are afraid of failure.

Yet we all know that we learn more from our failures and something that I adopt is based on a way of thinking that is called fail fast. The principle is to have something monitoring the system that warns of potential failure somewhere and puts things into a safe mode. It is similar to the Limp Mode that you may have found on your car. Some engineers are using it to push for failures, to encourage them to enable their eradication and this type of thinking is used in high pressure areas like Grand Prix motor sport to find and eliminate potential weak spots in any system or component.

Forty years or so ago we were doing something like this with software testing. The classic test was to take historic data and run that through the program to check that it was doing its sums correctly, but we mixed in erroneous inputs to see what happened. We would also overload the software beyond its specified capacities again to see what it would take, or otherwise.

With more manual processes this approach can also be tried and it will tend to show where the flow starts to fail. Critical Path Analysis is a good companion tool here and using the two can show how the CP can change user different circumstances.

These things can start as desktop exercises, but there is no substitute for doing them in real time because the the working environment will often through up things that would otherwise be missed; the story of my old boss and his M1 traffic jam has been told here before, but it was a classic case of the real world making a bugger’s muddle of what looked like a great plan.

The key message here is to always look at what other people in unrelated industries are doing. It is time rarely wasted because everyone has a need to make things happen as efficiently as possible. How they do it and the way that they think about their problems can often through up an idea that you can adopt or adapt. Take time to look around; you never know what you might find.

the lockdown log 18


Last week the garden project took a big step forward and I needed to stop faffing about and get a new shed. My problem is that when I started all of this off about four months ago I could have had a shed delivered within two or three weeks, but now three to four months seemed to be the norm. Where am I top to now; plan K perhaps?

A local tip off suggested that there was someone across town who might be able to do better and so it proved, but it meant a drive pout to a garden centre where the company had a sales office. After all this time of masking up and going to supermarkets you might think that this would be no problem, and I have been to a garden centre once already this lockdown, but this trip made me feel uncomfortable for some reason.

I could have just ‘phoned, but I wanted to see the product before buying as I want to be sure about the quality of the product, so a personal visit was essential. All was fine and a new shed is on order for delivery in early September, not ideal, but six weeks is better that twelve. On my way home I stopped off at one of the out of town M&S food stores we have here and ended up doing what will be the main shop for this week, so a double win.

We have seen a surge in Covid-19 cases here in Swindon over the last week and people are getting a bit twitchy again. There is the usual claptrap on social media; one comment about several cases at a local distribution warehouse blamed it on casual workers there claiming that “they come to work and then go home”. Don’t we all do that? I have been trying to look at Facebook and Twitter less lately as even the hypocrisy of my Lefty friends has become boring rather than a source of daly amusement.

The Berkshire Belle had begun to make encouraging noises about possibly venturing out, but with a new surge of cases she has retreated into her shell and I know better than to try and prod her out of it. We are coming upon on the twin anniversaries of 29 years married and 31 years together so I might, just, be getting her worked out.

The problem with this mental health thing is that it is all in the mind. As long as I can keep a bit of mine behaving itself I can usually overcome the negativity in the rest of it, but what works for me doesn’t;t necessarily work for everyone. It helps that I am a natural optimist, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming forces I am always looking for the solution. The BB’ glass is always half empty though and maybe that is what we are still together after all this time; we balance each other.

In other news my lockdown diet has seen me drop 5 kg in four weeks so I am happy with progress there, especially as many others have gone in the opposite direction during lockdown. I am also drinking less alcohol and am down to a couple of glasses of wine a week, although that is not much of a reduction; I have just cut our the odd bottle of beer here and there.

Another week done. I hope that you are all staying safe and well too.

on attitudes


People are strange. We all are to some degree or other, but there are times when one or more will just be contrary; they will not accept the common belief in something. How you overcome that as a leader is something that you will have to come to terms with.

Take the current position on wearing masks whilst shopping. It was plain from the start that it was a good idea in general. Yes there are some problems, but if you wore a mask correctly and observed the readily available advice on wearing and disposing of same then you were going to be at less risk than without and were less likely to spread the plague if you didn’t know you had it.

Now it is compulsory unless you have genuine reasons for not wearing one, but there are plenty of people taking the “I’m not wearing one” stance. They all have their own reasons, but why defy a requirement, especially one that makes sense?

The internet, social media in particular, does not help for it is hardly the place for sensible debate let alone good advice. But if someone wants to believe something they will do so and will not be easily persuaded otherwise. I recall a case where we had found funds to refurbish the restaurant at a building that served around 1300 people daily. The original layout and furnishings were around 25 years old and very much on the lines of a 1950s works canteen, so a refresh was long overdue.

We did some consultation with the users and from that the architects came up with a new style. A display of the proposals was put up in the restaurant for people to see and comment on and I went along that day to get some direct feedback. “Where are we going to eat when all this happens?” was the first comment, so I asked what they meant. Surely it was obvious that everyone would continue to eat in the refurbished restaurant, but no, there was a strong feeling that the new layout was “too posh” and only designed for the select few; the “ordinary workers” would have to eat at their desks or find somewhere else to have their lunch. There was also a firm belief that prices would go up to levels that they could not afford despite a clear assurance that they would not.

Around 200, of the 1300, were convinced that they would not be allowed to come into the new restaurant and, once it opened, about 50 declined to use it in case they were refused service. They would not believe the evidence before their very eyes and you can do nothing about that sort of bigotry.

As a leader you try to take people with you, but you cannot allow yourself to be distracted by minorities. Spend time on them by all means, but don’t forget the majority who are with you all the way. If they think that you have lost interest in them you will loose them too. Attitudes can be changed and good leaders can do it with ease, but never forget the law of diminishing returns; spend your time one the people that are worth the investment and don’t waste too mucho in those that are not.

the lockdown log 17


This week I escaped from my regime of work and weekly shop. My eldest daughter had sent me a voucher for a driving experience day and so off I went to a public event.

Social distancing was in place, although you can’t stay 2 metres apart from someone sharing your car. The organisers did try hard though and as soon as a car came back to the staging area after a run once the driver was out one of the crew was straight in with anti-viral spray and wipes to clean the controls, door handles and everything else that might have been touched. Masks were compulsory and any silliness like not keeping your nose covered was challenged: Behave, comply or you don’t drive.

I have also had a husband and wife local team in for a few hours each day doing some of the heavy work in the garden that, for various reasons, I was not going to do. We have kept our distance, refrained from shaking hands on the deal and, in some ways, it has seemed like a return to more normal ways.

Whilst my small crew have moved the garden project forward massively it seems that so many others have been at similar projects during lockdown and that, combined with factories having been shut down, has seen a shortage of some materials. I had planned to buy a new shed once I knew how much space I had available, but, now I know what I can do, I can’t have one for 3-4 months. Plan F looms perhaps.

It has been a big frustration to go onto a website, select a product with all of its options and then get to the payment page before being told that the item is not in stock, That is not just the shed, I have had the same problem with a range of DIY products and it has been a blot on an otherwise easy period of internet buying during lockdown.

Today we went over to the requirement to wear face coverings in shops. Some, mostly the smaller shops, are refusing admission to those who refuse to comply, but the larger chains are taking the view that their employees are at risk if they challenge non-compliance. Why people have to be stupid about this is beyond me (I have been waring a mask whilst shopping from the start of the plague), but there is the usual bleating about infringement of ‘uman rights. Personally I feel that it is a shame that Daleks are not real; a few of those around to deal with miscreants would soon sort the problem.

The position in some other countries seems dire. America has lost the plot entirely and those who have bemoaned the UK, at one time, leading the world in deaths per capita have gone strangely quiet now that we have both lost that position and begun to understand that our own stats are flawed.

Here in Swindon we have had a little surge in reported cases, but that was to be expected as we try to get people back to work. In one case it seems that a company allowed an employee from Leicester, which is in lockdown because of the number of cases there, to come to their office here. If it is true it is mindbogglingly stupid.

Anyway, another week has gone by and me and mine still seem to be thriving and surviving so I can’t complain. Stay safe out there one and all.

on the SISI principle


In good teams there is a focus on individual goals; if everyone delivers their part to the best of their abilities then the team will succeed. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a very good basis for success, but in executing such a way of working it can go wrong.

Where it goes wrong is that you have a group of individuals and not a team and there will be none of the synergy that real teams enjoy. The foundation for good, and possibly great, teams is to ensure than everyone understands what the organisations goal is and focuses their attention on their part of that, but also working for each other as the day goes by.

You want people who have each other’s backs, who will think of the common good and not just of their own targets. It is about helping the team succeed and not individual glory. It isn’t about baling out lame ducks; that is your job as the leader, but it does include putting things right when there is a problem.

The SISI principle is built around the old adage; Everybody was sure that somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but although it was everybody’s job everybody thought that somebody else would do it. In the end nobody did what anybody could have and somebody should have done.

SISI stands for See It Sort It. If it needs doing then do it. If you can’t do it find someone who can, but get it sorted now, don’t leave it for someone else. If a colleague is in trouble help them. If you are struggling seek help. If you see a problem then sort it. It can be the most trivial of things; leaving the photocopier without paper, not putting a new toilet roll onto the holder or not tidying up. All of these things are the grit in the gearbox that wears people down, but if you can get them to just fix these things as they go you get that synergy.

It comes from team spirit, but it also builds team spirit. Once you get a group working as a team you will find that they can absorb pressure like a sponge. They are all confident that someone has their back and develop a belief in themselves as a team that can do anything.

SISI, it easy. It cost nothing and pays back in volumes. Why not try it?

the lockdown log 16


A bit of a rant to start this one off and the topic is face masks. I have worn one to shop from the early days of the plague back in March. Yes it is a pain at times, especially when it fogs up my glasses (and yes, I have tried all of the remedies with little success so far) and it makes it hard for shop assistants to understand me when I ask for help finding something, but it seemed like a sensible precaution so I have worn one, mostly to protect others in case I have the lurgi and don’t know it yet.

Now the Mask Stasi have emerged, with brigades both for and against. The pro lobby are virtue signalling with gusto, posting photos of their disguised selves on-line and, often, being very patronising to those not wearing masks. The anti lot are just being obnoxious and both camps sicken me.

I wear a mask whilst shopping because, as I said above, it seemed sensible to do so. I don’t need the government to tell me to do it, but now they have. I am a big bloke with a big pair of lungs and can easily soak a mask in the course of a 20-30 minute shop. That makes it more risky for me, but if everyone is wearing a mask it brings that risk back down somewhat.

As someone who wears hearing aids both sides I have sympathy with those who need to lip read. Even with my assisted hearing I can rarely understand anything that someone wearing a mask says to me. OK, that is, in part, because so few people make any effort to enunciate well these days, but there is a bigger problem here that we are trying to fix.

So, bottom line, wear a mask in public, wear it properly and try to contribute to society. Rant over.

Back in lockdown mode I am back from the weekly shopping trip this morning and looking forward to spending some time on garden projects. One of the problems of ordering on-line has shown up this morning when the postman brought me the garden gate hinges that I ordered. For from the robust look that they had in the photo the pair that have slid out from the Jiffy bag look far from strong enough for my needs. I could have made a trip around two or three stores, but I don’t want to expose myself to more people than I have to. Perhaps the gate improvement project will have to wait.

I am emerging from the slough that I slipped into a couple of weeks back. I have tried to be positive throughout (my glass is always half full), but sometimes it takes a bit more than just telling yourself to buck up before it works. In my case I have had one job that I cannot do solo, at least not fast enough, and have been let down by contractors. Now I have that sorted and work starts next week so I have some hope of being able to make significant progress over the back end of the Summer.

It is nice to be planning things again. Whilst I have been a bit down I have been working one day at a time and trying to end each day with a summary of having achieved something. It works for me.

Stay safe all.

on “I told you so”


It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, there will always be someone who thinks that they know better and you can always rely on them to say so. Said to your face is one thing, but if you are in any position of responsibility the likelihood is that they will tell everyone that they can just how badly you got it wrong.

For anyone who is leading making decisions is a problem. Whatever you decide impacts on others and their families; your own people, suppliers and customers can all suffer if you screw up and bring the business down. If you are the one in the hot seat then you try to make sure that all of your decisions are made based on the best information that you have at the time and the consequences of your decision are well thought through.

Over the years I have made hundreds of big decisions for the businesses that I have worked for or owned. The beast majority of them didn’t turn out too badly, there were a few spectacular failures and about the same number of decisions went so well that they kept me employed and well paid. I would love to claim credit, but the reality is that luck played a part part in almost all of the outcomes, good, bad and middling.

It would be easy to control the outcomes if you could control the environment that you are working in, but you can’t. The world is a dynamic place and things around you are changing all of the time. Any advice that you can get on the future is based on the past and it is not uncommon for results to work out to be the opposite of what was confidently predicted. Research is constant and can also show results that swing like a pendulum so if you catch the swing going the right way you are fine, but if you catch it at the end off a swing you look a chump. And you can safely bet there will be those who delight in pointing that out.

You learn from mistakes, but a decision that doesn’t work out as well as it ought is not a mistake and I would always accept constructive criticism from people who has also been in the hot seat. How you react to failure is important and adds to your experience as you face the next big decision and the one after that. The armchair critic and the Monday morning quarterback can, and will, have their say, but you can largely ignore them, simply because they did not have the decision to make. In any case they are working with hindsight and any fool can say a decision was wrong then.

The other thing about the “I told you so” mob is that they rarely can explain what they would have done or why that would have worked. Look at politics; the opposition will always criticise the lot who are in power, but they rarely come up with any credible solution and, should they gain power, are rarely any better with their own decision making.

As a leader you will find the world a lonely place, but that is how it should be. You take on the responsibility and you do your best. If you are good enough you will make decisions that work out well most of the time. Let your team take the credit for delivering those because it is them who will be doing the work. Take the failures on the chin yourself regardless of why the idea failed, and let you critics take a running jump.

the lockdown log 15


Here we are again, one week older and, in my case, a couple of kilos lighter. Yes the paid up member of the carnivore and pudding clubs is on a diet.

It is nothing to do with the current plague, just a change to lifestyle brought on by being diagnosed as having slipped into type 2 diabetes. It all started with a prescription review back around the start of lockdown. These reviews are now done by a pharmacist rather than the doctor and, due to lockdown, was going to be over the ‘phone.

When the call came the lady on the other end was quite agitated and wanted me to come in for a blood test, but would not say what for (my last one was in early 2019). I declined on the basis that I did not want to go to the surgery at that stage of the Covid-19 outbreak and asked to defer the test for 3 or 4 months.

The surgery rang me last month and in I went. The results came back and I was asked to come in for a second test and was told that my blood sugar was too high. I had actually passed the threshold in the 2019 test, but no-one had made any contact to tell me and now I had gone up again. I provided the second blood test and have to assume that it confirmed the first one as I have not had a call to discuss what they found.

It was a wake up call. I am annoyed that the surgery knew that I had a problem eighteen months ago because, had they told me, I could have addressed it then, but I can do nothing about that. What I can do is to change my diet and exercise regime and that is what I have been top to for the last 10 days or so. Carb intake has been more than halved, sugar intake likewise and I have started banging in at least a 1k walk every afternoon after lunch (except for Sundays).

When I was weighed at the surgery I was a bit down on what I had expected, but have paired off over 2 kilos since then which is pleasing, but, as we consultants would say, that is the low hanging fruit and an easy win. I have not set any targets here besides the one about power walking for at least the 1 kilometre on 6 days out of seven (I already walk 8-10k per day on average anyway, but that is not exercise, it is to do with work). I have to go back for more tests in 3 months and just aim to be in as better shape as I can manage by then.

In other news I am trying to get back on course with some of the projects around Bowen Towers. The recent bad weather, along with the news from the NHS, has knocked me off course a bit on the outside jobs and I need to get my focus back. I am slightly hampered by a couple of things that I cannot influence too much and my afternoon walks, whilst not that long at the moment, do interrupt my day. What I have done to overcome the weather issues is to switch focus to indoor projects and am making good progress on things like my internet based business activities.

Time seems to be flying past and it is hard to accept that we are on the downward slope in terms of daylight hours already. for me the lockdown has not made time drag in the slightest. I am lucky in having so much that I can occupy myself with. Away from work I can just enjoy not having to interact with anyone other than the Berkshire Belle and am very happy in isolation.

We do have to face up to the fact that we will almost certainly not be going back to America this year. Apart from Covid-19 being rampant over there we would also be due to be around for the presidential elections and have a feeling that things might get a little nasty. It already looks as though this will be a year without flying anywhere, only the second time since I first flew back in 1986, but there seems no point in taking any such risk at the moment and we will start to look at what we might be able to do in 2021.

That’s all for this week. Stay safe out there.

on back to normal


We are living in strange times, certainly here in the UK, but also in many other countries and we are all looking forward to an end to the restrictions that have become our current norm. But will we go back to what we had before?

Certainly there seems to be a political desire for us to get “back to normal”, and I can understand a desire at that level to try to be reassuring, but I am not sure that we will ever get back to where we were in, say, February 2020.

Change is inevitable and you can never really go back. I can remember my parents and others of their generation talking about how different things were before and after WW2 although I could not image it myself. Now as I approach my eighth decade I can look back and see change fairly clearly; it is not that long ago, for me, that as a salesman out on the road I carried a bag off coins so that I could call the office from a telephone box. I can also remember programming mini computers to run programmes through 1k of memory. The last sentence would probably take up 1k in a word processing programme of today and my mobile ‘phone has more processing power than we could have dreamt of back then.

But even the more dramatic changes that I have lived through pale in terms of what we have seen in the last three months and I cannot believe that whatever we get next will be less than a quantum change. Businesses are going to fail, especially in retail and hospitality, and the knock on effect through distribution to production will ripple across. All of this will affect the way that money flows through the economy and whilst we have been through recession a few times in my life I feel that this is going to be different.

Shopping patterns have changed, attitudes have changed and all of what the last few months have brought is going to make it a different world. I have no doubt that the economists are doing their best to predict the future, but I have. no idea what awaits us once Covid-19 fades from our priorities (assuming that it does).

This is not meant to be a doom and gloom post, far from it. We will come out on the other side and make the best of what we have; we always do. Change brings a level of excitement, it brings out the competitive urge and opens doors for those brave enough to walk through them. There is much that I do not like about 2020 so far, but it is what it is and I can’t change it. I can just look forward to doing my best with whatever hand I get dealt. If we all do the same we will be fine.

the lockdown log 14


Our lockdown regime continues, albeit that the Berkshire Belle will be having her hairdresser call next week for the first time since February and I can stop calling her Rapunzel.

The varied weather is not helping with any of my DIY projects and so I have found myself back at the keyboard more working on blogs and internet business. This afternoon the wind is gusting hard and my plan to be up a ladder has been postponed for example and I have contented myself with breaking down cardboard boxes for recycling. It is surprising how quickly all this stuff mounts up when you shop on-line.

Also eating onto my time is a new exercise regime. Not content with walking six or seven miles at work on five days of the week I have now added in an afternoon exercise walk. This on top of being back on a diet. It isn’t that I have been overeating (or drinking) during lockdown, more that I have been overeating for at least a year and the annual check up at the doctor’s triggered action.

It is a little ironic because we are probably eating better that ever lately with our new fish and fruit and veg box suppliers, but the damage is being done by treats and puddings so they have gone as has about 50% of my normal carb intake. I have set no targets beyond walking at least 1k every afternoon six days a week (I am allowing one day off for weather, but only one and, if weather permits, walking every day). So far this week in five days I have racked up 8.19k just in the exercise walks (my overall average over the last week is 12.3k per day).

Currently I have my head in the right place for losing weight and that is obviously good, but dieting has distracted me from some of the other things that I am trying to get done. This isolation has its benefits, but it also tends to make me less focussed and I find that I am easily distracted from what I had intended to do each day. Time management has fallen by the wayside to some degree (this blog is a day late), but much is getting done regardless. It is just that it is all a bit scattergun.

Still, this is another week done and the BB, our cats and I are still here. We are thankful for that.

Stay safe one and all.