Saturday, June 30, 2007


Understanding Tier Classifications

When mission-critical applications fail, so can its owner. Every measure should be taken to try to prevent this from happening. Protecting the technology that run the applications is one of the first things that must be done. This task is made much easier when the technology is housed together. Housing them in a secure environment is the function of a data center. Servers, storage devices, networking gear, and the people who keep them running operate out of these facilities.

A data center, to sum it up, is the physical home of the IT capabilities of organizations.


The Uptime Institute, an independent association, developed the tier classification of data centers. There are four tiers. Tier-1 refers to a basic facility and Tier-4, to the most reliable and sophisticated type. Institute certification is recognized as the industry standard. Anyone can claim Tier-4 status but unless it came from The Uptime Institute, it should be viewed with skepticism.

The institute grants a data center its tier classification only after a rigorous evaluation of the facility’s design and sustainability. That the institute is a third-party and is the body that developed the standards give its determination a credibility that self-proclaimed claims just don’t have. Institute certification provides an objective basis for judging the capabilities of a data center.

In my experience, this is important. Between 2001 and 2003, I helped clients colocate at a large local data center that advertised its Tier-1 classification.
This was the former Exodus data center in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. Exodus went bankrupt in Q3 of 2001. Cable & Wireless USA bought it in Q1 of 2002. C&W, in turn, also went bankrupt and sold it to Savvis in Q1 of 2004. Savvis, to my knowledge, still owns it.


The institute’s summary of the high-level characteristics of each tier is presented below.

  1. Has a single path for power and cooling distribution
  2. Has redundant components
  3. And has a mean uptime availability of 99.671% (equivalent to 29 hours of downtime a year)

  1. Has a single path for power and cooling distribution
  2. Has redundant components
  3. And has a mean uptime availability of 99.749% (equivalent to 22 hours of downtime a year)
  1. Has multiple paths for power and cooling distribution but only path is active at any given time
  2. Has redundant components that make it concurrently maintainable
  3. And has a mean uptime availability of 99.982% (equivalent to 1.6 hours of downtime a year)
  1. Has multiple paths for power and cooling distribution that are all always active at any given time
  2. Has redundant components that make it fault-tolerant and concurrently maintainable
  3. And has a mean uptime availability of 99.991% (equivalent to about 13 minutes of downtime a year)

Note how small the improvement in uptime increases from Tier-1 to Tier-4. Meanwhile, the investment required to become Tier-4 is many times greater than Tier-1. In short, moving from 99.671% to 99.991% costs a disproportionate amount of dollars. Is it worth it? That’s the question for many data centers: is it? And I suppose the answer depends upon the customers that’ll use it.

  • Concurrent maintainability refers to the capability of being able to perform all scheduled work without adversely impacting the end-user.
  • Fault-tolerance is the capability to sustain a worst case, unplanned event without adversely impacting uptime. Two major requirements for achieving fault-tolerance are redundant equipment and multiple active paths.
  • Single points-of-failure refers to the location or equipment that will bring the entire system down (downtime) if that location or equipment fails. Tier-1 and –2 have many single points-of-failure. Tier-3 has several. And Tier-4 is supposed to have none.
  • Site Infrastructure refers to the data center taken as a whole. A typical data center has at least 20 major mechanical, electrical, fire protection, security, HVAC, and other systems.
  • Sustainability refers to the ease, convenience, and cost of operating the Data Center. A well-designed site will cost less to operate and be easier to maintain. As a group, sustainability factors account for 70% of all infrastructure failures. Human decisions and activities primarily account for sustainability factors. Two-thirds of all failures result from management errors. The remainder arise from errors made by operations staff.
  • Useable capacity refers to the maximum load that the center’s systems can support. This is less than the non-redundant capacity since allowance must be made for aging components, installation errors, and the size of the desired buffer to accommodate surges in demand. Tier-3 and -4 sites are typically the ones that limit their total load to 90% of the aggregate capacity

This precedes two posts about the general attributes of Tiers. Click here to read Part-2 and here to read Part-3. A new tab or window will open for each post.

This also precedes a post about the business factors that should be considered in selecting a Tier. Click here to read it. A new tab or window will open.

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Monday, June 25, 2007


A tip when learning a new language

Tony Buzan, in his book ‘Use Your Perfect Memory: Dramatic New Techniques for Improving Your Memory; Third Edition,’ points out that just 100 words comprise 50% of all words used in conversation in (most) languages. Learning this core 100 words gets you a long way towards being able to speak in that language, albeit at a basic level.

The 100 basic words used in conversation are listed below:

1. A/an

2. After

3. Again

4. All

5. Almost

6. Also

7. Always

8. And

9. Because

10. Before

11. Big

12. But

13. (I) can

14. (I) come

15. Either/or

16. (I) find

17. First

18. For

19. Friend

20. From

21. (I) go

22. Good

23. Good-bye

24. Happy

25. (I) have

26. He

27. Hello

28. Here

29. How

30. I

31. (I) am

32. If

33. In

34. (I) know

35. Last

36. (I) like

37. Little

38. (I) love

39. (I) make

40. Many

41. One

42. More

43. Most

44. Much

45. My

46. New

47. No

48. Not

49. Now

50. Of

51. Often

52. On

53. One

54. Only

55. Or

56. Other

57. Our

58. Out

59. Over

60. People

61. Place

62. Please

63. Same

64. (I) see

65. She

66. So

67. Some

68. Sometimes

69. Still

70. Such

71. (I) tell

72. Thank you

73. That

74. The

75. Their

76. Them

77. Then

78. There is

79. They

80. Thing

81. (I) think

82. This

83. Time

84. To

85. Under

86. Up

87. Us

88. (I) use

89. Very

90. We

91. What

92. When

93. Where

94. Which

95. Who

96. Why

97. With

98. Yes

99. You

100. Your

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Saturday, June 23, 2007


IBM's midrange workhorse

First of all, why should you care? The venerable AS/400 is three generations old. It was supplanted by the eServer iSeries in 2000. These upgrades have extended the useful life to the AS/400 platform. Consequently, there is still a large base of installed AS.400s. IBM estimates there are about 700,000 operational AS/400 systems all over the world.

Second, what can you expect? Practically all existing machines have newer Operating Systems and play new roles. They can be found acting as web servers, dedicated firewalls, database servers, application servers, and the like.

Finally, what’s the use of this overview? It will fill you in on the history and features of the AS/400 hardware. It’s useful for providing background information.

The AS/400 is the main system in the IBM midrange line. It was introduced in 1988 and is the continuation of the S/3x line. The latter began with the original S/3 (1969) and followed by the S/32, S/34, S/38, and S/36. Yes, the S/38 preceded the S/36. Collectively, these models are called the System/3x family.

The AS/400 systems offer more compatibility, portability, performance, expansion capability, and usability than the S/3x family.

Compatibility: Originally, only two operating systems ran on the AS/400. Today there are four: IBM® AIX®, IBM i5/OS®, and Linux® operating systems. This is also the first computer to use IBM’s Systems Application Architecture (SAA). This architecture allows application programs (“apps”) to be exchanged between different IBM models like the PS/2, S/3x, AS/400, and S/390s. This compatibility means that custom-written S/3x applications can be moved to the AS/400 without modification. In addition, the AS/400 can run apps written for IBM and non-IBM computers. This capability is referred to as portability.

Performance: The AS/400 is constantly being upgraded with faster processors, more efficient architectures, more storage, and improved disk units.

Expansion: The AS/400 family is fully compatible from its smallest to largest systems. Expansion towers for additional storage and more communication lines enhance the expansion capability of the family. Each system has expansion slots as well.

Usability: The regular OS is preloaded and its user interface conforms to IBM’s Common User Access (CUA) standard. This makes it consistent with other SAA environments, such as the OS/2 and PS/2.

AS/400s are multiuser machines. They are also application-centric systems. This means that it will execute and support an app and its data regardless of its origin (e.g., Windows, Macintosh, Unix, Java, etc.). This support may include network-centric systems. In this type, the apps and/or data may reside on separate systems, e.g., web servers. To repeat, an application-centric systems will run apps that were written for another vendor’s system.

AS/400s also support open systems, client-server, distributed, and host-centric computing.

Open systems do not just refer to Unix and Linux systems. Any operating system that are interoperable and portable are, by definition, open systems. Interoperability means that hardware and software from different vendors will work together. Portability refers to the capability to move apps, data, and users from one vendor or computer architecture to another. What are the benefits of open systems?

  1. Freedom of choice. The business is not limited to a specific vendor.
  2. Flexibility and change management over time. The business can recombine and redeploy their open systems apps and infrastructure as their needs dictate.
  3. Investment protection. New software and retraining is not required if the hardware platform is changed.

Client-server systems use workstations or desktops to access a server that holds the apps and data. The server provides the computation power and serves the clients with the results of their requests.

Distributed computing systems are similar to client-server systems. Instead of keeping a full copy of all the data and apps on the server, the data is segmented or partitioned and reside in various servers in the network.

Host-centric computing is the old computing platform paradigm. Users use dumb terminals for data interface. All computational capability resides in the host.

For more information, you may refer to these links:


The IBM eServer brand replaced the AS/400 family. The eServer brand has four lines:

The zSeries. This replaces the S/390 mainframe family. These machines are designed to run mission-critical enterprise applications.

The pSeries. This replaces the RS/6000 Unix server family. This series is designed for both traditional business apps and high-performance scientific computing. The pSeries can scale up considerably by upgrading to more powerful models and by clustering multiple pSeries systems together to achieve supercomputer performance. These systems can run AIX or Linux.

The iSeries. This replaces the AS/400 mid0range family. It continues to use the OS/400 operating system. The OS/400 is well-received since it includes many built-in apps that would otherwise have to be purchased separately. A major built-in app is the Universal DB2 database system.

The xSeries. This replaces the Netfinity family. These are the Intel-based servers that use from one to 16 processors.

eServer Clusters and Blades are not separate product lines but are considered extensions of these four series families. Clusters are configurations of multiple eServer systems connected together through high-speed links. Clusters have the advantage of combining the performance and capacity of multiple eServer systems while retaining the simplicity of managing them as if they were a single system.

eServer Blades utilize Intel microprocessors to make server blades that can be clustered together to deliver high performance in a modular and dense rack-mounted package.
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Friday, June 22, 2007


How bad management destroyed an American icon.

Our personal accountant was (and, may be, still) married to one of the manufacturing executives of Schwinn Bicycle Co. She was our accountant from 1989 until they moved to Colorado in 1994. She was our accountant for both our business (printing) and personal affairs. We had several good discussions about Schwinn’s decision to outsource practically all of its manufacturing to China.

It began with the decision of two generations of Schwinn family descendant. The first descendant inherited a bureaucratic and complacent company. He decided to stay the course and that must have contributed to Schwinn’s failure to recognize the BMX craze that began in the 70s. This was followed by hybrids (road and off-road models). Schwinn missed that too. Then, the market started looking for more exotic metals (like titanium and much later, carbon fiber) to use for bicycle frames. Schwinn also missed that.

Schwinn lost market share and, worse, visibility among the younger generation. Management decided to look overseas for a solution. They decided to downsize and outsource manufacturing. (Of course, terms like “downsize” and “outsource” did not exist at that time but they accurately describe their activities.) Along the way, they antagonized their suppliers and dealers. Their suppliers entered the U.S. market themselves. Their dealers defected. Good grief, what a mess!

Their moves were all band-aid solutions. Schwinn’s decline continued. At about this time, the second (and final, as it turns out) generation took over.

(FYI: New tabs or windows will open for each hyperlink.)

As this Wikipedia article states, this descendant was a great believer in MBAs. (This degree was in its ascendancy at that point. I recall reading an article questioning whether the management of business could really be taught in schools.)

At any rate, the vicious cycle continued. In addition to quality and supplier problems, engineering and marketing were slow to catch up with trends. I suspect that the centralized decision-making had a lot to do with their lack of nimbleness.

As the Wikipedia article states, the firm declared bankruptcy in 1992 and Zell (the Chicago billionaire who now owns The Tribune Co.) bought it. Zell moved corporate to Colorado and that’s when our accountant relocated with her husband to Colorado.

In 2004, another Schwinn descendant, was featured in an article by the Washington Post.

This last one is a beauty. It features a timeline. Read the entries from 1975 on.

This story has many business management-related lessons. Most of them, in my opinion, stem from
fossilized management.

Just in case, those links no longer work, I saved archive copies:
  1. The Washington Post article
  2. The Wikipedia entry

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Thursday, June 21, 2007


There's a fine balance between protecting information and making it accessible, on the other hand, to the authorized users.

Does it surprise you that InfoSec’s primary component—the one that can make or break it—is people?

Let’s examine the major elements of InfoSec first. As we go down the list, visualize the role that people will play in each one. InfoSec should support the mission and business objectives of the enterprise while protecting what is arguably its second most important asset, information.

  1. InfoSec program and procedures must be communicated and communicated frequently to its stakeholders—notably the organization’s employees.
  2. InfoSec must be cost-effective. By its very nature InfoSec’s practices run counter to the natural business process. Before any security rule is implemented, the nature, likelihood, and magnitude of the risk that the rule seeks to prevent or mitigate must be weighed against the potential disruption the rule will cause to the natural business process. If the rule’s implementation’s cost outweigh the disruption’s cost, then that rule is probably cost-effective (keep in mind that other non-financial aspects might alter the equation).
  3. InfoSec will inevitably extend outside the organizational boundaries. Consider the obvious—field employees equipped with company laptops. A leading security institute, SANS reported that 630,000 laptops were lost in airports (alone) last year. Clearly, unless infosec practices do not extend to mobile devices, there will be a multitude of gaping holes that, for all practical purposes, defeat all infosec practices at corporate. SIDEBAR: You may or may not know that most of the organization’s valuable information resides on employee computers. Why? Employees are on the front line. They deal mostly with current information. And information is generally most valuable when it is new or at the beginning of its life cycle.
  4. To be effective, InfoSec must be comprehensive and ideally integrated into all business processes that pose a security risk (which covers most processes, unfortunately).InfoSec should be periodically assessed and updated. It might work better if there were major and minor reviews. A sensible rule for determining the frequency of these reviews could be based on the introduction of new technology into the organization.
  5. Business units must have some latitude to determine the extent of InfoSec’s involvement in the unit’s business processes. This is necessary for both political and practical reasons (e.g., if it’s a multinational, then it must consider cultural implications).
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Saturday, June 9, 2007


This is not the entire process. Please contact Alex Pronove,, if you are interested in contracting work from the Federal Government.

Your business must have a DUNS number (Data Universal Numbering System). Dun & Bradstreet, created DUNS in 1962 as a means of identifying business entities on a location-specific basis. The DUNS number is widely used by commercial and federal entities. In 1994, it was adopted as the standard business identifier for federal electronic commerce . In 1998, the Federal Government adopted DUNS as its contractor identification code for all procurement-related activities.

The DUNS number is a unique and permanent nine-digit identification
number that remains with the company location to which it has been assigned even if the company closes or goes out-of-business.

It must also know its NAICS ("nakes") code. The
North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). It was developed jointly by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to standardize the collection and processing of statistical data about business activity across North America. It is an economic classification system based on the economic concept of similar processes. Entities that follow similar processes to produce goods or services are grouped together. You determine the NAICS code for your business. There are a number of tools and references available to help you to determine the most appropriate NAICS code for your business:
  1. You can use the search feature at In the 'NAICS Search' box on the left side of that page, enter a keyword that describes your kind of business. A list of primary business activities containing that keyword and the corresponding NAICS codes will appear. Choose the one that most closely corresponds to your primary business activity, or refine your search to obtain other choices.
  2. Rather than searching through a list of primary business activities you may also view the complete 2002 NAICS structure with codes and titles at Click on the codes to see the corresponding definition, cross-reference, and index item. With the hypertext version, you can select the category that applies to your business, and drill down through the more detailed levels until you find the appropriate 6-digit code.
  3. If you know your old SIC code, you can use the 'NAICS Search' box to locate the corresponding NAICS code. Enter the SIC code in the form "SIC 1234" in the NAICS search box, and click on the 'NAICS Search' button. The corresponding NAICS code(s) will appear.
  4. If you know your old SIC code, you can also find the appropriate 2002 NAICS code by using table 4, 1987 SIC matched to 2002 NAICS at
Armed with your NAICS code and DUNS number, you are almost ready to apply for a CAGE code when you register your company with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) department. The CCR is the primary registrant database for the U.S. Federal Government. Anyone (sole proprietors, corporations, partnerships and governmental organizations) desiring to do business with the federal government must register in the CCR. CCR registrants are required to submit detailed information on their company in various categories. Additional, non-mandatory information is also requested. The CCR Handbook defines and details specific informational requirements. The handbook also provides guidelines on how to obtain the information, if unknown. Categories of required and requested information include:
  • General Information – Includes (but is not limited to) DUNS number, CAGE code, company name, Federal Tax Identification Number (TIN), location, receipts, and website address.
  • Corporate Information – Includes (but is not limited to) organization or business type and SBA-defined socioeconomic characteristics.
  • Goods and Services Information – Includes (but is not limited to) NAICS code, SIC code, Product Service (PS) code, and Federal Supply Classification (FSC) code.
  • Financial Information – Includes (but is not limited to) financial institution, American Banking Association (ABA) routing number, account number, remittance address, lock box number, automated clearing house (ACH) information, and credit card information.
  • Point of Contact (POC) Information – Includes (but is not limited to) the principal and alternate points of contact and the electronic business, past performance, and government points of contact.
  • Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Information* – Includes (but is not limited to) the EDI point of contact and his or her telephone, e-mail, and physical address. (*Note: EDI Information is optional and may be provided only for businesses interested in conducting transactions through EDI.)

Users will be unable to submit their registration online unless all the mandatory information is provided.

In addition, you have to provide your TIN [31 U.S.C.7701(c)] and to include the TIN in vouchers submitted for payment [31 U.S.C. 3325(d)]. Having the correct TIN in CCR will improve data collection eliminating multiple requests for this data by agencies.

About the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Book

All procurement and acquisition activities of the Federal Government are governed by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) book. The book is maintained by the General Services Administration (GSA), Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA). It has 53 sections and numbers about 16,000 pages. The FAR is the "bible" of Federal Government's procurement process. The table below shows how the book's contents are organized.

FAR Section(s)




General Contracting Information



Acquisition Planning


Simplified Acquisition Procedure (SAR)



Procurement procedures for contracts over $100,000





Procedures and regulations affecting Small & Small Disadvantaged Businesses (SDBs)



Labor Laws, Contract Cost Principles, Contract Administration, Standard Clauses

The example below illustrates how to understand the sections of the FAR.

FAR 29.401-1(a)(1)
  • 29 refers to the Part. Part 29 concerns Taxes.
  • 4 refers to the Subpart. Subpart 29.4 refers to Contract Clauses.
  • 01 refers to the Section. 29.401 refers to Domestic Contracts.
  • -1 refers to the Subsection. 29.401-1 refers to Indefinite Delivery for Leased Equipment.
  • (a) refers to the Paragraph.
  • (1) refers to the Subparagraph.
Do not make the mistake of drilling down expecting a logical hierarchical flow. Take a look at these Subsections.
29.401-1 refers to Indefinite Delivery for Leased Equipment but
29.401-2 refers to Construction performed in North Carolina and
29.401-3 refers to Federal, State, and Local Taxes while
29.401-4 refers to New Mexico Gross Receipts and Compensating Tax.
As you can see, the subsections are not arranged by any kind of class.

About the
Federal Acquisition Circular (FAC)

FACs are amendments (i.e., updates) to the FAR. These amendments are published in the Federal Register. FACs are numbered sequentially.
FAC 01-17 amends the 2001 edition. This FAC is the 17th revision to the 2001 edition.
  • 01 is the Edition Year
  • 17 is the Revision number
The Federal Register is the official daily publication of the rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations. It also contains all executive orders and other presidential documents.

Every federal agency can issue FAR supplements. In 2007, more than 20 agencies issued supplements. Some of these agencies were:
  1. DOD (DFARS)
  2. GSA Acquisition Regulation (GSAR)
  3. VA (VAAR)
  4. Dept. of Agriculture (AGAR)
  5. Dept. of Energy (DEAR)
  6. Dept. of Transportation (TAR)
  7. Dept. of Commerce (CAR)
  8. Dept. of Health & Human Services (HHSAR)
  9. Agency for International Development (AIDR)
Every year, the complete list of supplements appears in Title 48 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

In 1994, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) was passed. This law simplifies and streamlines the process of federal acquisition by maximizing the use of commercial sources before turning to government-specific buying practices. It requires contracts between $2.5 to $100k to be reserved for small business unless the Contracting Officer (CO) cannot obtain at least two offers from this sector (small businesses) at competitive market prices.

About the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA)

This agency performs the contract audit functions required by the DOD and many civilian agencies. They typically do not audit smaller contracts (under $100k) or contracts awarded under sealed bidding procedures.

There are about 4,500 DCAA auditors throughout the U.S. and Europe spread among 300 field offices.

Guide to Codes

This chart may help you sort out some of the major codes used within CCR. Please also see below for specific questions often asked about some of the codes.

CODE Definition Description Where to find the right one for your company
DUNS Number Data Universal Numbering System Unique identifier assigned by D&B. Mandatory to begin CCR registration. 9-digit numeric code, no spaces Dun and Bradstreet
MPIN Marketing Partner Identification Number Password created by you in CCR. Allows you to access other government systems such as PPIRS, FedTeDS, etc. 9-character alphanumeric code; must include at least one alpha and one numeric character, no spaces.
TPIN Trading Partner Identification Number Confidential number assigned to you. Serves as your password to access your CCR registration. This number is only given to the CCR POC listed in your registration.
Confirmation Number N/A Temporary password that allows you to access a saved, but incomplete CCR registration. Once registration is complete, this number is deactivated and a TPIN is assigned.
CAGE Code Commercial and Government Entity Code Unique Identifier assigned by Department of Defense. 5-character alphanumeric value, no spaces. Must be in uppercase format. It is not necessary to have a CAGE code before registration. If you do not already have a CAGE code, one will be assigned to you upon activation of your CCR record.
NCAGE Code North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) CAGE code Unique Identifier assigned by Department of Defense. 5-character alphanumeric value, no spaces. Must be in uppercase format. It is required for all foreign vendors working for a department under the Department of Defense umbrella. NCAGE Code Application form
NAICS Codes North American Industry Classification System Mandatory codes that classify the type of business an organization offers. Created to replace SIC codes. Census Bureau
SIC Codes Standard Industrial Classification Code Codes that classify the type of business an organization offers. Used for an EPA certification. Safety & Health Administration(OSHA)
FSC Codes Federal Supply Class Codes Optional, 4-character, numeric code used to describe the products your business sells. FSC Codes
PSC codes Product Service Codes Optional, 4 character, alpha-numeric code that describes the services your business offers, no spaces. PSC Codes
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Project objectives are usually negotiable. It’s not always a situation where, as the saying goes, “it’s not for me to reason why but to do and die.”

Most conflicts about objectives occur because of multiple stakeholders. Each stakeholder wants his/her objectives included in the project. If you know it’s not possible, say so! If you don’t, you’ll suffer a thousand deaths.

I know because that’s what happened to me the first time. Fortunately for me, the second time this situation confronted me, a more experienced PM (Project Manager) came to my rescue and taught me the following techniques.

Begin by identifying the disparate objectives. Categorize them by type, purpose, stakeholder, and any other salient attributes, e.g., duration, cost. Most of all assess each objective’s feasibility according to your project constraints. For each project objective, distinguish between what’s being asked as opposed to what’s feasible.

You may find that it’s actually possible to accomplish all the objectives but not within the original constraints. This gives you a good reason to approach your project sponsor or customer, explain the additional objectives and how achieving them will add value. Then ask for their decision. If they want to proceed with all those objectives, request for the additional resources. Either way they know the situation and must live with the consequences of their decision.

If you don’t receive the additional resources and they still insist on all the objectives, you have to let them negotiate with each other. Explain very clearly that you can’t do everything that everybody wants given the constraints you have. Explain, therefore, that some stakeholders will not see their objectives included in the project.

For specifics, try taking these steps:

1. Convene the stakeholders who are most likely to be affected. Let them negotiate with each other. Request them to tell you their decision. If they won’t or can’t, then…

2. Rank the conflicting objectives according to the value that will accrue to the customer or your organization. Select the highest value objectives. If the highest value objective isn’t clear, then…

3. Bring your project sponsor into the situation and request him/her to help the stakeholders resolve their conflict. If that doesn’t work, then…

4. Select the objectives that will satisfy the greatest number of stakeholders. If that doesn’t work, then …

5. Escalate it to your sponsor or superior and request them to make the decision. If that doesn’t work, then…

6. Select the objectives according to their duration (faster wins over slower), difficulty (easier over harder) and simplicity (simple over complex).

Credit for helping me develop some ideas go to Mike D.
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Tuesday, June 5, 2007


From their website: McKinsey & Company is a global management consulting firm. We are the trusted advisor to the world’s leading businesses, governments, and institutions. They advise leading companies on issues of strategy, organization, technology, and operations. Their alumni account for a decent proportion of the heads of American industry.

This is an overview of their problem-solving methodology. It is a summary of a series of informal conversation I had with several friends, one of whom is a former "McKinseyite."

When a team of McKinsey (MK) consultants are given an assignment, they begin by creating an Initial Hypothesis with the facts they have on hand. The hypothesis is a result of brainstorming that starts with the problem(s) to be solved and end with one or more hypothetical solutions.

The hypothesis is guided by two rules:

  • What are the key drivers or factors that drive the problem?
Knowing these drivers or factors ensures that the hypothetical solution will address the drivers that cause the problem and not the symptom that is the problem.
  • What actionable recommendation can be made for each driver or factor?
The proposed solution for each driver must be able to be turned into action to be useful.Second, the MK team rigorously tests their hypothesis. They gather more facts, ask more questions, and then
gather even more data.

Obtaining facts is important to the testing process since facts always trump gut instincts and since their actionable recommendation(s) depend upon factual assumptions.

Next, the team turns its attention back to its hypothesis. During this stage, they follow these guidelines:

  • Major issues are continually divided until they reach the level of being separate and distinct. In other words, each issue can be addressed individually and that solution will fix or mitigate that issue and that issue, alone.

  • Every aspect of the business problem falls under one and only one issue. This is analogous to the first guideline. The following illustration clarifies this:

The pentagons represent the specific drivers that cause the issue to arise. Note how the three drivers that create the broad issue have been identified into two groups. The upper specific issue was caused by the two pentagons. The lower issue was caused by one pentagon.The deliverable, or end result, of this stage is a conceptual diagram of the different parts of the business problem. It is important to note that these parts do not overlap with any other. These parts are, therefore, clearly distinct from each other. Furthermore, each distinct part will have its specific drivers identified with it. Returning to the previous illustration, the correct solution to the two pentagons will eliminate the upper specific issue. The lower specific issue, on the other hand, will be eliminated if the correct solution to the single pentagon were found and applied to it.

The goal of these guidelines is summarized by a McKinseyite acronymn: MECE.

MECE stands for Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive. It means that each problem and solution must be mutually exclusive (no overlapping) and collectively exhaustive (everything, be it problem or solution, has been included).

Our friend, the ex-McKinseyite, surprised us after he claimed that practically all problems—regardless of their complexity and scale—can be distilled into two to five major issues.This is the framework of their methodology.

I can see that it has value. It's a welcome addition to the rest of my tools. It can be applied to anything it seems—even to human relationships!

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Monday, June 4, 2007

Creating a Client-
centered Proposal

To create a client-centered proposal, a client-centered solution must be
first developed.

Uncover the answers to these questions. Base every proposal and sales presentation on the answers. These questions will help you develop the client-centered solution. The payoff: a better chance at landing the client's business.

What is the client's problem?
Look at it from the viewpoints of the major stakeholders. An IT manager sees the lack of online access to customer account information as a database integration problem. The VP of Sales sees it instead as a revenue problem since it hinders the sales force from identifying the profitability of clients.
Why is it a problem?
Who is affected and how are they affected? Trace this up the organizational ladder. This will give you a sense of the extent of the pain and the stakeholders.
What objectives does the client perceive constitutes a successful solution?
How will the client measure success? In terms of business, financial, organizational, or technological improvements?
Which are the two most important objectives?
Which one matters the most? This prioritizes your presentation of key outcomes. Put the client's most important outcome first. Knowing the most important objectives clues you in on the way to develop the value proposition.
What are the ways to solve the client's problem?
Brainstorm. Determine the "best" way since there are usually several.
What are the probably outcomes from each potential solution?
While any of the potential solutions may fix the problem, you want the outcome that will most closely match the client's expectations.
Which is the best solution?
This should be obvious if the previous six questions were answered.

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