Archive for October, 2017

Behavior and Engagement Extinction

Posted on: October 16th, 2017 by admin No Comments

Behavioral Extinction

By: Shawn P Quigley and Jon M Quigley

Extinction

The Dodo, the Tasmanian Tiger and the Carolina Parakeet are extinct.  Extinction; however, does not just apply to animals but can be applied to behavior as well.  In the case of behavioral extinction we will be discussing things and/or actions that make motivation and positive employee behavior extinct.

A scary study on engagement

Before we go much further down this road, we should consider the information provided by the Gallup poll on employee engagement.  Those that are engaged in their work: in the United States, is approximately 30% according to the 2013 Gallup Poll. Globally, that number is much less; about 15%.  If that sounds bad to you, you have not heard the worst of it. In addition to (on average) a small percentage of our workforce being engaged, there are two other categories. The next category is for those people who are “Not Engaged”. This section of the poll yielded 52% of the total, which in-and unto itself is alarming. But when you add the final category: Actively Disengaged makes the poll even more disheartening. The Actively Disengaged section is for those personnel who deliberately take actions contrary to the interest of the company and the people that compromise it. Looking at the poll data this group (Actively Disengaged) compromises 18%, a percentage that should not even exist, much less be in double digits.

Gallup Engagement

Gallup Engagement (from Gallup Worldwide Report on Engagement 2013 page 83)

 

Long term malaise

Looking at the data provided by the Gallup Poll data and its’ trend over the past few years, we can only ask why people would be in either of the last two groups and not seeking employment elsewhere. Is it a function of the job market or economy that promotes people to stay with a job or company that they have no desire to see grow and prosper or are actively trying to destroy? Or is it something deeper, such as the job itself and/or the manner which they perceive the company is treating them? I was told once that; no one starts a job and intentionally plans on doing the wrong thing. Using this as our first point for discussion we would then have to surmise that some external force caused this apathy or disengagement. That would lead us to the question of; what could cause such an action or lack of action from such a large number of people?  Could it be a societal issue, a generational issue, or a corporate dynamic? Some of these questions could possibly be answered by knowing the generational composition of the Gallup Poll: which was very enlightening and indicates there are generational aspects to engagement. The Gallup Poll did venture across several different job levels and if we divide the jobs into three basic categories: Lower Income, Middle Income, and Upper Income or Worker, Supervision, and Management, this could also possibly provide some insight. If neither of these methods delineates a clear line of embarkation then this information will lead us back to job or company.

 

Gallup Engagement by Position

Gallup Engagement by Position (from Gallup Worldwide Report on Engagement 2013 page 84)

 

Nowhere to hide, low engagement is everywhere

As we can see in the figure above for the Gallup poll there is no actual change in data according to job position: Worker, Supervisor, and/or Manager. Assuming that on the average supervisors and managers make relatively good money, we can assess that it is not an economic issue causing this. At least not a pay related economic issue, anyway. It could however be that little to no other jobs are available to allow the individual to seek a job with more meaning to themselves and thus reducing the disengagement issue.

Engagement and Assumptions

Let us make a few assumptions to expedite the discussion:

  1. That no one possible category is greater than the others which could cause this lack of engagement.
  2. Three quarters of the entire work force is disenchanted with their current situation; this is directly supported by the data.
  3. No matter what the cause of this situation it is not conducive to a good working environment.
  4. All potential causes of this disengagement are interrelated and codependent.

We are using these assumptions to allow us to focus on one specific area of potential cause, corporate environment. By that we mean the atmosphere which a company presents to its’ employees.  We have discussed in previous blog post the effect of experiences on how well people perceive their current situation: see the Leadership Equation and Measures blog posts. We can also look at BF Skiner and behavior extinction.  Is it possible to get a perfectly engaged and motivated employee and turn those good attributes to bad?

Conditioning and extinction

BF Skinner and operant conditioning.  Operant conditioning is the modification of an individual’s behavior due to a stimulus.  This is not Pavlov’s dogs that experiment is in the form of respondent conditioning or classical conditioning.  For operant conditioning, the behavior is voluntary, and already exists in the present environment.  The behavior is a direct response to the perceived environment. Note that the word “Perceived” is used. It is used because our experiences tailor the manner in which we view the situation. This perception can be reinforced through both external and internal stimulus.

Conclusion

Every business, no matter the size should be concerned about employee engagement.  With about 30% engagement, the suggesting is business could be much more profitable if the remaining 70% of employees were moved to the engaged category.  A 30% engagement of your staff, suggests businesses pay more than what they receive. This reduces the profit margin for no good reason.  We will discuss potential methods or increasing engagement and determining who and why people are not engaged, and their impact on the 30% that are engaged, capitalizing on the initial employee engagement as a catalyst for longer term employee engagement.  We will write more on this study and BF Skinner and other motivational and organizational theorists.

 

Testing – End-To-End

Posted on: October 10th, 2017 by admin No Comments

There have been some twitter discussions going on about the validity of the term end-to-end (E2E) testing. I have been around this concept for many years and still see the validity in the term and the approach. To that end, I will describe as quick and briefly as I can since this is a blog post and not a book.

Behind the scenes.

Behind the scenes.

The various devices being developed (Device Under Test)

Vehicles are comprised of a myriad of subsystems. In this case we are going to look at the vehicle electrical / electronic architecture that consists of embedded electronic control units (ECU). These are component such as:

  • Instrument cluster
  • Engine ECU
  • Transmission ECU
  • Antilocking Brakes System (ECU)
  • Door control modules
  • Telemetry systems

Each of these consists of many analog and digital inputs and outputs, along with data link communications. Each have specific expectations under certain conditions and the developers will work to deliver these algorithms and software that will ensure the system works as desired.

How do the developers know who the subsystem feature content and how it is to be designed?
Often there is a hierarchy of specifications starting with the systems level specifications. These documents describe the interactions and performance expectations at the system level. The scope of the document ranges from the typical function partition, that is what electronic control unit is responsible for what part of the feature visible instantiation. Let us take an easy example. The instrument cluster is required to display the road speed information. Where does this information originate? The system level functional specification may indicate that road speed comes from the ABS ECU, in a specific message. So, the function partition is message originating from the engine, will be sent to the instrument cluster. Ah, but how does the ABS derive the vehicle road speed? Well, the ABS will calculate the road speed based upon the drive axle rotation rate. So the entire function looks like:

  1. ABS
    1. unit measures wheel speed rotation (PWM signal)
    2. Algorithm looks at the rate of the PWM and calculates the vehicle speed
    3. Converts calculation into serial communication format (CAN)
    4. Broadcasts this message using a specific period
  2. Instrument cluster
    1. Receives the road speed over the CAN link
    2. Strips data in the CAN message and converts it to corresponding angular displacement for the speedometer pointer
    3. Move pointer to that specific speed position (stepper motor)

Subsystem Development, Simulation and Testing

There will be software and hardware engineers working on each of these subsystems. The development and subsystem testing will include simulation of the external interfaces but not the actual interfaces to the subsystem. This is true for nearly all of the other subsystems, and this can get further confounded when the individual subsystems are being designed and developed by a multitude of suppliers. That is, the instrument cluster by supplier A, the ABS module by supplier B and so on. Therefore, each of the tests conducted by these suppliers via simulation of the rest of the system attached to their respective products, have assumptions on how the other portions of the system will work when the subsystems are assembled. These assumptions amount to risk for the product.

Sub-assemblies Unite!

At some point, these parts will need to come together and comprise the vehicle. This is where end-2-end testing happens. Each of these tested subsystems will be put together to comprise the entirety of the vehicle systems. The assembling of these sub-assemblies will make it possible for us to build a fully operational (death star) vehicle. Sorry about that, I just watched a couple of the Star Wars movies.

 

Collection of subsystem to build the entire vehicle.

Collection of subsystem to build the entire vehicle.

Having the entirety of the system, nothing simulated, makes it possible for us to test the entirety of the system. The real, and the entire system from which we can test, learn and adapt the product to meet the final expected solution. Now we have a system that we then test end to end. The ABS unit, receives and processes the actual signal from the sensor that transforms the mechanical rotation into the pulse stream, that is received by the ABS embedded unit, and the calculation of the road speed is made. These are all measured and compared to calculations to determine the systems capability – does this work as we know it to work. We follow that processed signal, through to the data link, to the instrument cluster and the pointer displacement. We follow every part of that string of the function via testing, to ensure that each of the elements of the system respond as expected.

Conclusion

This is a very simple explanation of end-to-end testing, it is essentially the testing of each segment of the system, through all transition points and inputs. This testing can be distribute or apportioned to many development entities, each testing their segments, or it can  tested as a complete system from beginning to end. There are much more complicated parts of the system. For example, think about the system as described along with vehicle telematics systems and perhaps of vehicle systems such as website, or other web-based interaction with the vehicle. End-to-end testing mitigates the risks associated with the subsystems development and testing that is performed using simulation. Additionally, this testing of the entire system, exploring the entire chain of events that deliver the feature, can help find inconsistencies in the system that may originate from many suppliers that are building these individual subsystems.

The Process vs. The Product

Posted on: October 3rd, 2017 by admin No Comments

I read the article Product Beats the Process and  felt compelled to respond

Product Beats Process

The author, Jeff Morris Jr. is right, the populous or customers at large probably do not care about how we arrived at the product. They do not care about the process. They do not care about the creative problem solving that went into bringing the product to life.  They do not care about specific Jira or defect report tickets.  They do not care about long hours, personality clashes, and design trade off curves.  However, I disagree when the author says they only care about how it feels in their hands and nothing else.  This disagreement is not based upon some statistical analysis so, perhaps he is correct. It is however, based upon my personal priorities and experience, and I find it difficult to believe that I am a singularity.

What matters is that we build products that make customers smile and realize something new about themselves.

Being an engineer type of person, oriented to working, practical and perhaps marginal aesthetics, I am not sure what matters is that the product makes me smile.  That is the reason for Tequila, Rum and Moonshine.  At my age, I think I know much about me (and not enough about everything else), and really do not expect a product to help me discover some inner truth about myself.  I especially do not want to learn that I am not fast enough to outrun the product that is trying to kill me because the people nor the process that delivered it had not considered key attributes or the quality of the product.

quality concept handwritten on blackboard

The quality of the product likely matters to the customer

What matters is that we build products that make life more fulfilling for billions of people by giving them access to education and new ideas.

Now we are getting somewhere, these things do matter from my perspective.  The things we build should make the customer’s life better or easier. That is the point.  The product should meet these expectations reliably and repeatable.  If our product makes education easier or more ubiquitous, or help create new ideas and innovation we can consider the product a success.  If it helps keep our company afloat and our employees taken care – that is great.  If the product is not so reliable or repeatable, well let’s say if I had purchased a product that worked only occasionally or gave me mixed results, sometimes good and sometimes errant, I would not be happy- and probably seek another supplier for the widget.  To be blunt, I will go to your competition, assuming your product did not kill me or cost me a fortune, or alienate me from this type of product for the near future.  These things can happen when the process is incapable.

Are there easy wins in our production apps that we could have discovered instead of seeking the perfect process?

I agree with the author on this regard, the process, is not the be all end all; delivering a suitable product within the business case cost confines is the objective.  That is, the process is not what pays the bills and retains customers when it is working.  However, what happens when the development is entirely adhoc, or non-existing, or the process is poor and we deliver a product late, after spending considerable resources?  What happens if the quality of the product in the field means virtually every unit is returned?  What about recalls? What happens if our product physically harms the customer?  This happens in the real world when there is no process or incapable process.

capability-maturity-model-integration

Does the process matter?

The point is, the process does not matter when it is capable and delivering. The moment we encounter the afore mentioned challenges, the process begins to matter, only it is too late. It matters to the developing organization.  It matters as your company loses business to the competitors, while you are paying restitution for the damage your product has done in the field.  Errant or non-existing processes can lead to these things.

The reason for a process (or collection of processes), is to provide measure of repeatable outcome and provide some understanding of the product and needed controls on the development.  It helps us control the maturation process for the product, and provides measurable results that let us know when the product is mature enough for launch. It provides a measurable baseline  from which we can make some quantifiable statements.  This quantifiable baseline can then be controlled  It helps partition the work among the teams within and outside of the organization, and yes, sometimes this apportioning of the work is part of the problem.

Process and Adaptability

There is often more than one way to achieve the objectives of a specific process, and sometimes, the primary, preferred or documented process approach may not work as described.  That does not necessarily mean abandon that process objective.  We first must review if that specific process objective is required for this product or project.   It can be that the objective did not apply to this product, and therefore this portion of the process can just be eliminated.  However, if we need to accomplish this process objective, and the documented approach is not possible, all is not lost.  This is when we use our creativity and collective intelligence to adapt to the situation, finding other ways to achieve the objective.  Product development is not prescriptive, the work often contains considerable learning about the product and the team as we move through the development life cycle.  We should neither advocate for the banishing of a process (Jeff Morris Jr. does not do that) nor should we stick to the process as if it had great sanctity.  We should use what we know, measure, learn, adapt and continue that process ever refining and getting better, knowing there are going to be times when the process will not be able to deliver and we will have to adapt to meet that process objective.

Capable Process

Capable Process

Conclusion

Product beats process only when the resulting product is capable, meets the customer’s needs and expectations, and can be economically produced.   The process is a base line from which a continuous and conscientious improvement based upon what is known about the present process – this is not possible with adhoc approaches.  If you are not getting these benefits from your process it is time to rethink your approach.   When the company loses money on the product (if we are a for profit entity), the customer is harmed, the company is in litigation, then the process absolutely matters, and it is not possible to retroactively fix.  This is especially true when it comes to litigation, and investigation as to how we delivered the product (what processes did we use).

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