Sunday, September 26, 2021

Braess's Paradox, of why tampering never works.

My comment on

And this paradox is why randomly adding more people to a process (project, workflow, etc.) often fails to improve performance or output. It amounts to what Deming calls 'tampering' with the system. To change the result of a system, e.g. produce more quickly, the system needs to be redesigned.

The problem is?

Comment I posted on: entitled The First Problem Every Architect Faces

Good review of the factors that go to siting a building. My practice has been that good buildings come from a thorough understanding of the purpose the client has, at a strategic level, the program (what the client needs/wants/is interested in) developed to achieve the purpose, the place and the people (client, users, customers, servicers, builders). Of course, what flows from this is the performance the building is to achieve. The 5 Ps of architecture!

But all that aside, I want to comment on the title: the 'first problem'. At uni my tutors always referred to architectural design programs as 'problems'. My colleages still tend to do so. Engineers, bless them, solve problems, and sometimes very creatively. Architects go further. We organise new potentials for people. So, the problem a city has is that there's no library in a neighborhood? Problem? The idea of 'problem' is reductionistic and turns architects into solution preparers -- like chemists?. This is a triviality compared to what we really do: find opportunities and make places for people to invent their futures. We expand, we don't reduce. We create what has not yet been conceived. Doing that we solve a myriad of problems, or we avoid the problems, or we redefine them to exploit the benefits in an opportunity. A design commission is never a problem, it is always a challenge, an exploration, an opportunity, a desire.

Thursday, December 3, 2020


I'm coming late to this topic I guess, but a couple of friends have recently been dragooned into participation in 'leadership' training by their employers.

The courses, from what I was told, were high on affect and light on actionable content.

So, what would be the 'actionable content' on leadership?

I find John Adair's triad of Team, Individual and Task useful, and Jans' model of  Representing (role model), Relating (the 'supportive' people manager) and Running (the team). Good in an Army context, but needs to be broken down into civilian life.

So, what is 'leadership' and what are its dimensions.

Firstly, 'leading' is one of the activities of a manager. A manager has formal authority to manage a business or activity unit to achieve its mission. This covers people, purpose and production.

One of the limbs to the manager's activity is influencing people to confidently achieve their goals. How?

1. Managing the context: this involves providing information, judgement and advocacy for the unit to direct and guide staff to understand the strategy and deliver the mission.

2. Coaching staff: ensuring the right match between job and person, with a good (this varies greatly) mix of relevant challenge and routine maintenance at the limits, with the core job well defined and connected to the mission with clarity and sufficient precision to enable goals to be achieved (providing necessary resources is a component of managing, along side the 'leading' component).

3. Managed genuineness. This doesn't mean a warts and all expose. We are talking context-relevant genuineness. Honest and sufficiently open with staff and colleagues, to enable frank (and polite) conversations that honour others and self to produce mission outcomes.

What 'leaders' don't say:

  • 'don't bring me problems, bring me solutions' [sometimes you need to work up an approach with the person to help them come to new experiences]
  • 'you've got to step up' [if 'stepping up' is not happening, check your own behaviour and demonstrated attitude]
  • 'it's your baby, you fix it' [no, a team exists for mutual effectiveness, use the team both to build capability and support development - sometimes its a team of two: the manager and the staff member]

Finally, the core job of the leader: drive out fear. One of Demings 14 rules.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Manage the 'inner' stakeholders

Stakeholder management, like most things in popular literature, is often reduced to a set of rules of thumb. Often good as far as it goes, but there are some stakeholders that need extra care.

I call them the inner stakeholders.

Who are they, and how do you find them?


First, find the project sponsor. That's probably easy, but not always. The real sponsor.

Next find who the sponsor has dependency or supply relationships with.

That's them, then. These are the 'inner' stakeholders.

Because of their relationship with the sponsor, they have a stake in the project in some way. Maybe even a way they don't see or fully appreciate.

It's your job as the PM to find out what their stake is and how they conceive it.

You need to meet them and ask about the links to the project, and the links to the things and people, functions and customers, the project is linked to. The relationship of the 'stake' to the 'holder' can be a second or third-order relationship, and those relationships might then have similar links to other inner stakeholders. They all need to be found, named, and analyzed.

This is the group you need to get in a room and identify the interconnections and how their influence can be useful to the project (and therefore to them). A 'rich picture' can help do this.

Then keep them updated. Maybe weekly sometimes, maybe monthly or quarterly at others.

But keep them updated somehow, and keep your sponsor in the loop as an ally, a facilitator and a power and information broker.

No matter what. Do it.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Projects are for people

Thirty years ago I was involved in a resort project north of Sydney, overlooking a vast expanse of water. It was about 200 rooms, offered mooring for about 100 boats, included a couple of restaurants on the top level of the main building, one large enough for large functions, an 'oyster bar' to the north and a more family orientated 'Brooklyn Room' restaurant at water level.

It didn't get approval. The claim was it represented 'over-development. It was at the edge of about 20 square kilometres of bay, hundreds of hectares of virtually untouched bushland, probably hundreds of kilometres of undeveloped bush water-front. Over development?

It would have provided jobs for as many of the Brooklyn township as wanted them, provided professional opportunities in hospitality and catering, facilities management and marina services. But, forget the people who might get jobs, the people who would enjoy the resort - ranging from families to young couples to the wealthy. Forget the economic multiplier for the local economy, forget the supplier businesses in the locale. No, forget all that.

It was 'over' development, according to some planner and a local government that just liked the word 'over', I guess.

It didn't get built.

Recently a small restaurant opened on the site. It provides a small number of jobs, caters for a modest number of patrons, has a small economic footprint. Nearby is a yard for all to look down on containing uncapped waste bins, scavenger birds, waste on the ground (no paving), and tired very pedestrian outdoor areas.

Access is by a road with crumbling pavement edges and dusty shoulders (muddy in wet weather).

It could have been great, but I guess the locals put their own selfish objectives ('just leave us alone') ahead of the enjoyment and jobs for the northern outskirts of Sydney.

Development is about people. It only works if it provides value for people. Every development frustrated by bureaucratic obstruction is a blow against people, because the developer only makes a dollar if he or she meets the needs of people.

Resort site today

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Safe balustrades

A balustrade should not be confused with a hand rail. They have different functions.

A hand rail is a support, at convenient hand height, to assist someone to safely use stairs or ramps.

A balustrade is a barrier to prevent falls from heights on balconies or stairs. The effective height for a balustrade is based on a person’s centre of gravity, not their hand height.

Balustrades also play a part in preventing the discomfort and feeling of danger that some people feel at height.

A hand rail is best positioned for most people between 700mm and 900mm above floor level, or step nosing.

A balustrade at a minimum should be 1100mm high, but preferably 1200mm. At heights above two stories the balustrade should be 1300mm high.

At 1200mm falls due to pivoting around a person’s centre of gravity should be impossible; at 1300mm falls due to other factors, including accidental or intentional collisions should be largely eliminated.

 The male 95% centre of gravity is about 1100mm, based on a height of 188cms.

Below is an illustration from Sutherland Council's rules about protective railing around swimming pools and at retaining walls.


These rules  pay attention to the reality of people's height and the implications for falls prevention of the centre of gravity.

I've another piece on this topic related to high rise commercial buildings.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Project as system

The ubiquitous model of the project is the static 'triad', either mine or the unhelpful 'time cost quality/scope' abstraction.

Projects are a set of flows of information and value (effort in terms of dollars). Below I attempt to demonstrate a model of this.