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Heroics and Process Article Timely

Thanks to Capt. Quaid and Capt. Ward for their latest article on heroes vs. process (Defense AT & L, September-October 2004). I believe the people side of projects, particularly heroes vs. process, is a critically important issue. We are zealots in NAVAIR on process improvement--capability maturity model (CMM) and capability maturity model integration (CMMI)--and this article is very timely.

In the ongoing struggle between heroes and process, I think there is an answer: After the heroics, the heroes should document/improve the process based on their act(s) of heroism. Many years ago, I worked in a large computer facility. The computer operators were required to call the systems analysts--at home when necessary--to diagnose and authorize restarts of the computer. The heroes (the systems analysts) were getting tired of calls in the middle of the night for recurring routine problems where all they said was, "Okay, restart the computer." We worked with both the computer operators and systems analysts to define routine vs. non-routine situations and documented under what conditions the computer operators could restart the computers without having to call the systems analysts. This worked well, and everyone was happier.

It reminds me of the Lone Ranger. He rescued people, but never left them better off to defend themselves against new bad guys. Lone Ranger was absolutely a hero, but maybe he could have helped with process by also giving the poor helpless ranchers guns and bullets and teaching them to shoot!

The authors respond: We think you're definitely onto something about the need for heroes to share their knowledge (i.e., the old saying about teaching a man to fish ...). One of the best things heroes can do is spread their heroic attitude and establish more heroism. One thing to keep in mind; There is something special about a hero that often can't be reduced to a process or checklist. We just need to be careful that our attempts to document and imitate heroism don't end up creating a less effective, watered-down version.

Management Fads Resonate

I also enjoyed very much Wayne Turk's "Management Fad of the Month" (Defense AT & L, September-October 2004). I had to chuckle when I read through the list of fads you mentioned, as I do remember most of them. Right now, my command is into "lean" thinking and "Six Sigma." It has worked well with materiel and production, and we are hoping it will also work well with knowledge workers.

The article reminded me of Dr. Stephen Covey's time management matrix and how different activities are based on urgency and importance in different quadrants. All the management fads mentioned were in Covey Quadrant II: important, but not urgent. These are the hardest activities, since we must act on them, not have them act on us. They are also the hardest activities to sustain since the results are not usually immediate, and thus they must be long-term activities.

Perhaps the reason management fads don't seem to work is just that: Managers don't sustain them long term. Before seeing good results, another fad comes out, and they restart the cycle. Thanks for codifying this important issue. Hopefully it will help managers make these valid techniques really work rather than just wasting time and effort with them.

Al Kaniss, Naval Air Systems Command
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Title Annotation:FROM OUR READERS
Publication:Defense AT & L
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:552
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