Archive for November, 2018

Tools and Teams

Posted on: November 29th, 2018 by admin No Comments

I recently saw a post on Twitter from the Great John Cutler on allow the team to pick the tools that they use to do the work.  Generally, this is not a bad idea, but not necessarily a great idea either.  It sort of depends.


John Cutler - Tools and Teams

John Cutler – Tools and Teams


My experience in companies that also have hardware parts associated with the software, each group selecting their tools comes at a great disadvantage when it comes to understanding the various work products as it moves through the organization.  It is not possible for one team to see what the other team has done, when the tools are not connected, or each group selects what that individual group needs without consideration of the departments that are depending or associated with the work.  In these cases, a product life cycle management tool that connects the various work departments and work packages can help tie all of these together. Consider a vehicle manufacturer that develops hardware along with software (not net based stuff but embedded real time applications on a hardware platform).

For an example, let’s consider a company as described above, and the test and verification department is using some specific tool, that nobody else has access.  There is no way to see what has been completed, what has been found, and the severity unless somebody distills what their tools holds and sends this information to other departments. Contrast that with an enterprise level tool that connects the various work stations with the work, and any department or person with access can see the state of the work at any given time prior and after the work is done.

I think the one size fits all approach seldom works regarding team tools. To be sure the members of the individual teams should contribute to what the tool should look like, and how they would use that tool. However, we should not optimize one function area of the organization at the expense of the whole of the organization.  The answer is it depends.

Check out PTC’s product life cycle tool – I do not own stock in the company, and have no monetary connection with the company but I have used their tools so many years ago.

Kanban and Visual Management

Posted on: November 26th, 2018 by admin 1 Comment

Kanban and Visual Management

Kanban is a lean method for identifying and managing the work and the flow, and it does so by creating a pull through environment.  We will start by identifying the work we need to do. Each work item we need to do will end up on an individual card.  The cards will be “pulled” as we have the time and talent to commence that specific work element. The card then moves from the backlog of work items, to the WiP or Work in Progress section of the visual management board.  The visual board may have headings such as:

  • Backlog
  • Work in Progress (WiP)
  • Work for Review
  • Work Completed / Demonstrated
Trello Example

Trello Example

We will pull items from the backlog and place the card in the state that corresponds to the work, for example, the work moves from backlog to work in progress as the work commences.  It is easy for anybody to see the status of the work. Thus, the name a pull through system is one in which the items to be worked, will be taken when there is appropriate talent (team member) and time to do so rather than schedule-based work.  We will also have rules that define and limit the amount of open work in progress to maintain focus and not overwhelm the system.  The work items are prioritized but that priority is not based upon a fixed time when a specific work item is to be undertaken as for example as may be seen in conventional projects in the Gantt chart (more later).

We have written on the connection between throughput and capacity, but we will write just a bit more, and we do so with some reference from Factory Physics (Spears and Hopp, 1996)

  • Law of batches (move batching): Cycle times over a segment of a routing are roughly proportional to the transfer batch sizes used over that segment, provided there is no waiting for the conveyance device.
  • Law of Variability corollary (placement): In a line with where releases are independent of completions, variability early in a routing increases cycle time more than equivalent variability later in the routing
  • Law of Utilization: – If a station increases utilization without making any other changes, average cycle time will increase in a highly nonlinear fashion.
  • Law of Variability: Increasing variability always degrades performance of a production system.

To control the work, we must understand what is presently in the work queue, and how much we can handle at any given time of open work items.  The laws mentioned above, impact the work underway and how the work moves through the work process, and leads us to queuing theory.

Contrast Kanban with the Gantt chart for tracking and managing the project.  On the Gantt chart, we record specific tasks, the dependencies of those tasks to other tasks both before and after a specific task, along with the start and stop date for the work.  The approach generally means the work starts on the date identified for the work to commence though previous work elements may take longer than expected and we may need to adjust or schedule to accommodate.  Our plan is to start the work per the schedule. With kanban, we have no such delusion that the specific work task has a specific date to start, it is not even implied.


Gantt Chart

Gantt Chart


We see the Gantt plan has dates associated as well as the responsible individual (not shown in this short example).  The Gantt chart represents a schedule driven approach to the work.  To be sure it is possible to take on the next task on the Gantt chart when an item is completed, but what is more noteworthy is when a specific work item runs long, and now the expectation from the project management often results in pressure to undertake the work item with other resources, or over load the system and disperse the attention of the team to work on this item within the schedule defined.

Like most choices, there are positive and negative ramifications for making the decisions that we do.  There could even be an advantage to doing both, one at the operations level (kanban) the other at the planning and projection level (Gantt).  In this way the system is not overwhelmed, but we have some way of visualizing the consequences of the rate of work being accomplished on the prospective project deliver or end date, facilitating a range of prediction as to the conclusion of the project.

Evolution of the Horseless Carriage

Posted on: November 21st, 2018 by admin No Comments

In preparation for our trip to Eindhoven University of Technology to lecture on Configuration Management, we provide a brief excerpt on the evolution of the horseless cariage.

New Configuration Management book

New Configuration Management book

Traditionally new market segments open due to the need to solve a problem. Such problems may be real as in the case of the environmental crisis solved by the automobile or the need may be concocted. New markets and products are rarely developed through the inspiration of a single individual. The automotive market came about through a synergy of the existing body of knowledge and other environmental conditions both in the marketplace and in the nature.

One topic of discussion at the world’s first international urban planning conference in 1898 was the growing health concerns due to horse excretions and the creatures that accompanied them. As the primary means of locomotion for wagons and other forms of transport, horse populations exceeded human population in cities.*

Manufacturers of “horseless carriages” using steam, electric, and internal combustion engines as the motive force attempted to meet the challenge. Gasoline was found unsuitable at first as a fuel for combustion engines so Henry Ford’s Model T was designed to use ethanol. Steam- and electricpowered vehicles held an early advantage but were eclipsed in the market by the combustion engine. Nicolas Joseph Cugnot built the first steam tractor in 1769. By 1881, Amédée-Ernest Bollée’s La Rapide achieves the impressive speed of 62 km/h. Electric cars improved to the point that in 1899 Camille Jénatzy’s electric automobile “La Jamais Contente” set a world record for land speed of 100 km/h.

The success of the combustion-powered vehicle is no different than three species competing for the same ecosystem, where one develops an advantage over the other two. Eventually, the species with the greatest advantage gains a dominant position in the ecological environment. A similar struggle in the automotive environment is going on today. Due to the changes in the current environment, ethanol and electric are again in competition or being combined with the internal combustion engine as viable competitors in the automotive market segment.



* Morris, E. (2007). From Horse Power to Horsepower. Berkeley, CA: University of California Transportation Center—ACCESS number 30.

My Career Part 2

Posted on: November 20th, 2018 by admin No Comments

Career; of Motorcycles and Trucks

This blog continues from my last post describing the first part of my career.  We continue with the tire pressure monitoring system.  In those days, and for many years before that, my preferred form of transport was motorcycle.  I had an accident a few years before taking this job that broke some bones in my wrist (not my first nor last set of broken bones), in fact I got the bike fixed and was riding it through the winter with my right hand in a cast, and with multiple socks on to keep my hand warm.  I should mention that my preferred transportation was motorcycle, at least in part, because it was my only source of transportation.  Eventually, my fourth job before my professional career started, the manager of the U-Haul at which I worked during my undergraduate education came across a wonderful, and old, Toyota station wagon complete with the fake wood siding, which had slowed up my motorcycling.  By the time I had broken my wrist in that motorcycle wreck, I had already had a couple of other accidents and thought perhaps it was time to stop riding motorcycles. There is an old saying about motorcyclist, there are two kinds, those that have fallen or wrecked, and those that will fall and wreck.  I mention this, because by the time I was working at this tire pressure monitoring company I had been off a motorcycle for probably 8 years.  Beside working on truck systems, they also wanted to develop a system that would work on motorcycles, at least a very good, durable prototype to explore the concept.  This meant that I was once again going back into motorcycle shops, and those of you that are motorcycle enthusiasts, probably know there is a unique smell associated with these places, a combination of gas, oil, leather and who knows what that is magic.  It suffices to say that I ended up getting a motorcycle before many months passed.  My time working on motorcycle system development produced an interesting systems for a US based motorcycle manufacturer, and we did some test runs in Talladega , that was great fun and wonderful opportunities for learning.

Working on a system for a class 8 vehicle would lead me to the pacific northwest.  I had gone out to Washington state with an radio frequency engineer to take measurements of signal strength around the cab, as we were working on tire pressure monitoring system to be available for the Mid-America Truck Show or MATSMount Vernon was a beautiful place, and that is where I would eventually meet gentleman named Rick B, or as we call him Sasquatch because he is a very big man, I am about 6-foot 1 inch tall, and he dwarfs me.  Anyway, as I am working outside moving the antenna array around the vehicle, large snow flakes falling on my, and the sound of an eagle screeching, I could not help but be entranced.  We worked on the system for some time, some portions of the system in Mount Vernon Washington, some in Monroe North Carolina, and some in Antrim Northern Ireland.  Eventually we brought the parts together in Louisville Kentucky for the show a day or so before the show to test the system out and work out any bugs, so that the show would go off without a hitch.  The show was successful.  I had asked Rick, if there is ever an opening at the Technical Center in Mount Vernon, please let me know. I would really love to work at such a cool place and learn.  After some time, a position came available and I applied. The interview process was very long. But I got the job.  When it was time to negotiate the salary, I said, I want to be here, I will take the job if my salary was the comparable to m east coast salary – adjusted for the cost of living and after 6 months, we can talk about the salary.  I wanted to be there, and the money was not the driving mechanism, and it would not be the driving mechanism if I were to find myself back there.  The accepted this idea, and in 3 weeks, I went to find a place to live with my then girlfriend and now wife, went back to North Carolina, planned a wedding, got married, and flew out to Mount Vernon to start our new married life, new geography, and new job.  While working for this company I obtained one of my master’s degrees and ceded 3 United States patents as we multiplexed the truck.  This was another develop right up to the last minute for the demonstration.  I remember writing code, just hours before the event when things started working, the last moments fixing code, compiling running the specific test on the correction and the other features close to that I had just fixed, then put it on the vehicle.

We eventually moved back to the east when my son was born, thinking it is good for a young one to be somewhere close to the family.  This is where I received my other master’s working for another OEM Truck company.  I ceded 4 US patents at this company, as well as being part of the team that received a couple of technical awards.

Is there a point to this post? Not really.  Only that where I have gone in terms of my “career” is more due to curiosity than some monetary driven or long-term career viability, or objective.  Perhaps this is more a commentary on how things can grow from humble beginnings  with curiosity and persistence.  Along the way I have learned more of what is required to deliver a product to market, it is not just the product or service idea, it is the engineering (design and manufacturing), it is the competency of the project management and it is the marketing and sales.  It is the quality of these organizational parts and of the product or service that matter.

Unintended Consequences – Career

The unintended consequences of my two master level degrees turned into a renewed verve for writing see the table below (well that and some observations about how the product development and project management work was getting done).    Both of my master level degrees were through City University of Seattle, and both were writing intensive which at the time seemed daunting.  Besides the collateral effect from the degrees, I had worked for years with a tier one supplier to the heavy truck industry, and Kim P.  I had also a number of difficult experiences with tier 1 project managers when it came to what was often needed to develop embedded products for an industry like heavy trucks.  It bothered me so much that I started writing a book on this using a ubiquitous document writing program but it kept crashing.  I knew Kim P. had written a book and asked for his input on how to proceed, not just on the technical part (what tool – LaTex by the way), but also what publisher and how to approach.  The result was the first book Project Management of Complex and Embedded Systems.  So, the first book was out of a desire to have the project management of the tier one suppliers to the OEM at which I worked, to have better understanding of how and why things are done in developing embedded products.  Kim and I went on to write many more books an magazine articles (some at the organizations below).



Magazine, e zines, blogs, journals and other written contributions from Value Transformation

Magazine, e zines, blogs, journals and other written contributions from Value Transformation


On this journey, I have seen beautiful soft rain on black faced sheep in Ireland, giants causeway, and dramatic cliffs with castles perched on the edge.  I have been caught in a gully washer of a thunderstorm that knocked out the power over dinner in Guadalajara.  I have consumed great beer in the Black Forest of Germany and seen old Roman ruins.  I have had RÄKSMÖRGÅS, and felt the sting of Bäska Droppar and Aquavit in Sweden and visited castles there as well.  I have also fallen, slipping on a sheet of ice as I walked across the street to work one of the first winters there, and it was witnessed by the only person (Carl M.) I knew in the whole of Sweden at the time.  I have witnessed the seemingly forever extended tulip fields of the Skagit Valley as well as have eaten some very tasty BBQ salmon.  On a ferry to the San Juan islands I saw an eagle snatch a salmon from the sea.  I have camped near and hiked in the Ho Rain Forest (very wet camping indeed) as well visited Deception Pass and so many other wonderful places.  There is so much more but this is not a tourist magazine.  I have truly been lucky and fortunate.

It is as much about the journey, the experiences, and the learning, as it is about any specific objective. I have followed, for better or worse, where my curiosity and opportunity have lead me.

My Career Part 1

Posted on: November 19th, 2018 by admin No Comments

My Career

I have been very fortunate in my career, and that really means very lucky.  Upon graduating from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, I had two job offers after sending my resume to more than 100 companies.  That is not a very good yield, but it would be good enough.  I selected the smaller company, but I selected that company because they created new things.  The company I started at developed embedded industrial control systems.  It also turns out the people with which I would be fortunate enough to work, were very friendly, and as I would say, were a hoot to be around.  Some of my other blog posts describes shenanigans.  To this day we still have secret words, that mean something to us but nothing to anybody else (R4).

What drives me

My interest or objective has never been one thing when it comes to product development.  In the beginning, I was interested in the creative part, “how do I technically do what the client needs”?  In the early phases I knew less than I know now and would spend time in the small company library just trying to determine where do I start?  What parts do I need, and why would I select those parts?  The company had an older gentleman that consulted periodically, Tony S.  I would work my day at the company, do what I could select the micro-controller lay out the schematic, and go to his house about 45 minutes from my work, and start my evening shift with him. His wife always had a nice meal for me when I got there, and after eating, we would retire to workshop, which was reasonably appointed.  He is the guy that taught me how to wire wrap (yes, this story is that old).  Anyway, he would review the design and provide me with some good pointers and show me the things I did not know.  He also showed me the value of wire wrapping for prototype parts.  Then, after a few hours of working with him, I would drive to my house, another 45 minutes to an hour in Charlotte NC, and go to bed, to get up in the morning and back at it.  It did not feel like work, at least as I recall, it was learning, exploring and creating – long hours, but too engaged to see it that way.  Sometimes I would come into work a little late, but never thought of things as a burden which I chalk up to youthful exuberance.

Time to move on

After a time, it became obvious it was time for me to find something new.  I applied to a company that was close by, but it turned out I was their second choice and their first choice accepted the position.  I would eventually work for this company and with their first choice Fred S. more on that later. I eventually found a position at a skunk works for the heavy truck industry (VES).  I worked on interesting projects and field quality problems.  For example, I was a part of exploring the superimposing a signal on the power line from the tractor to the trailer (J560 connector) and several other projects / products.  At VES I worked with a brilliant engineer – especially when it came to software – Bob W.  In addition to a very talented engineer, we both enjoyed fishing and where we worked was not far from a wonderful lake in which to fish.  We would go to a store over our lunch time, purchase some interesting equipment and after work (or before and sometimes during) we would take his boat to the lake and see if we could catch anything.  A talented engineer, he was an exceptional fisherman, where I caught not much, I recall him catching more and more interesting fish than I did.  We were catch and release for the most part.  Working with this seasoned engineer in a single office we shared was another wonderful learning experience, not that he told me stuff, he asked a bunch of questions and pointed me to interesting text to consult or help me ask the right questions.

The company at which I had applied a couple of years earlier (when I was their second choice) called me and wanted to know if I would be interested in discussing a position they had open.  It turns out they kept my resume, and their business had grown sufficiently to add another engineer. It also turned out, the things I had been doing for more than a year would apply to the work they were now doing and the direction they wanted to take the product. The company was developing tire pressure monitoring systems and wanted to explore creating a truck system and I had been working with both J1587 / J 1708 and the CAN protocols writing embedded (RISC based) products that communicated over these data links.  In addition to working on this platform and exploring what it would take to make a motorcycle platform, I would work on some automotive platforms like he Plymouth Prowler, the Dodge Viper, Cadillac platform as well as carrying some testing load for the C5 Corvette.  It was during this time that I discovered project management and testing.  The job had small amount of writing software (usually for test fixtures), and more with generating specifications and design concepts as well as managing the technical portions of the development process, not quite project manager but some mash up of technical project manager.  This job presented so many opportunities, to learn and see different things, including learning about testing of automotive products, as well as the role of the supplier quality assurance on the way to full scale production.

The next blog post will cover the second half which will bring us up to date.

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