Monthly Archives: August 2016

The London Airport

With the government procrastinating to make any decision after the publication of the Airports Commission: Final Report it seems that there is no apatite for airport expansion by the government.  This is an important issue as highlighted in the report.

At the end of this extensive work programme our conclusions are clear and unanimous. While London remains a well-connected city its airports are showing unambiguous signs of strain. Heathrow is operating at capacity, and Gatwick is quickly approaching the same point. There is still spare capacity elsewhere in the South East for point-to-point and especially low-cost flights, but with no availability at its main hub airport London is beginning to find that new routes to important long-haul destinations are set up elsewhere in Europe rather than in the UK. Other UK airports are increasingly squeezed out of Heathrow, with passengers from the nations and regions obliged to transfer through other European airports, or Middle Eastern hubs. That costs them time and money, and is offputting to inward investors. Without action soon the position will continue to deteriorate, and the entire London system will be full by 2040.

There is, however, an option which the report did not consider – instead of building a new runway why don’t we better connect the ones we have?

A high speed train line linking Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Stansted and Southend such that passengers could land at Gatwick and catch a connecting flight from Stansted.  This sounds expensive, but in reality an elevated train line could run most of the route above the M23 and M25 and costs could be further reduces by utilising existing train services from Redhill (to get to Gatwick), St Albans (to get to Luton), Cheshunt (to get to Stansted) and Brentwood (to get to Southend Airport) – though there are some benefits of an airport express service connecting all (or some) of the airports.

The advantage of the airports being connected is that baggage could be transported between airports as well meaning that people would not need to collect their baggage for a connecting flight from a different airport – similar to the Hong Kong system where you can check in in the center of Hong Kong or at Kowloon Station and your baggage is then transported for you to the airport.  In the utopian version of this idea you could go to your closest airport and check in for your flight then take the train round to your actual departing airport, as such each airport now becomes like a terminal to each other – though the take up of this would be airline dependent.  This also has the possibility to transport freight between terminals as well, so that cargo arriving at one airport could easily leave through another.

There are two additional connections which add a very small detour which each add an extra airport.  Woking and Watford.  From Woking you can get to Southampton Airport and from Watford to Birmingham Airport, both Woking to Southampton Airport and Watford Junction to Birmingham International are less than an hours journey.  As well as allowing quick connections for people traveling to Manchester arriving into a London airport via Watford.

M25 Train

A high speed train in the UK can travel at 186mph, if we have the line follow the M23 and M5 it would be, theoretically possible, to get from Gatwick to Heathrow in about 13 minutes, to Luton in about 25 minutes, to Stansted in about 35 minutes and to Southend Airport in about 37 minutes.  So this would link together 7 runways within 40 min and 9 within 1 hour and 20 minutes.  These numbers are overly optimistic, since they do not allow time for people to change trains but with clever scheduling of services that would not add too much time to the journey.

By running the line above the existing motorways it means that we don’t need to buy any more land, we already occupy it.  The technology of elevated trains is nothing new. though based on other elevated trains it might be wise to employ some created architects to make it look amazing!! And much more like…

Nice Elevated Train

and less like…

Elevated Train

Sorry Seattle.

The advantages are:

  • No need to build any extra runway capacity
  • Increased runway utilisation of existing runways
  • Better for the environment (I’ll come back to this one)
  • No need to relocate anyone, the land is already used for public roads

Finally the environmental impact – if we assume that people have to fly the way we can reduce the impact of these people on the environment are by reducing the number of flights either by increasing the size of the plane or by reducing the number of flights to a given destination so that the remaining flights are fuller.  By having better connected airports the number of flights which people can access increases.

As an example there are 45 flights from London airports to Edinburgh on a Monday (randomly chosen day as an example).  12 of these fly from Heathrow and 8 from Gatwick.  If Heathrow and Gatwick were both better connected would all of these flights be needed?  I doubt it.  (The sad fact that flying to Edinburgh is usually cheaper than taking the train I will not dwell on, on this occasion).

BA Flights to Edinburugh

Another environmental improvement would be that if you could check in and drop your bags at your closest airport.  For those people who drive they will not have to drive so far and hopefully not at all by using other public transport.

It might seem a bit odd to be concerned about the environment when talking about air travel, surely this is a juxtaposition.  If a journey has to take place flying in a modern plane is as efficient as taking a very small car for the same journey – but things are moving fast in this area with airplane manufacturers  currently working towards fully electric flight.  As such in the future flying could be powered from renewable energy.

Anyway, lets go back to the train line… If we take this idea one step further and instead of just a single high speed line in each direction we also run a slower stopping line we would be able to provide a way for people to use this on a regular commuting basis – many people already commute using the M25 but they need to have a car as there is no viable train alternative.

Additionally another advantage would be to reduce the number of people who have to travel through the crowded central London network.  This will ease pressure on existing terminus stations and the connecting underground links which are already under strain.

As an example, people traveling from Oxford to Cambridge currently have to change from Paddington to Kings Cross via the underground.

Oxford to Cambridge train

If we include Gerrards Cross and Potters Bar then this line would connect the vast amount of train lines which leave London.

Train Connections

The elephant in the room is that expanding an airport is using private money and building railways is using public money.  Although the costs of an elevated train on already owned land will be cheaper than tunneling a train the costs of which are still likely to be substantial.  Additionally for the service to be as short as possible some of the selected stations do not have sufficient capacity so they will either need to be expanded or new stations build elsewhere allowing customers to transfer between lines.

This post is just to get people thinking, it might be viable or it might not but I do feel that the number of advantages show that this is an idea which should be discussed further.

Responsibilities of a team

The product owner, development team and scrum master have distinctly different roles.  The product owner is clearly the person responsible for building the right thing but sometimes the development team just think they are there to build what they are told – this is not the case at all, the development team has many more responsibilities such ensuring reliability, scalability, alerting, monitoring, and many more.  The scrum masters role is to remove impediments and to make sure the development team is able to work as fast as they can.  All three roles are responsible for the product being functionally appropriate, technically competent and delivered without delay.

Scrum responsibilities
Product Owner – Build the right thing; Development team – Build the thing right; Scrum Master – Build it fast. Everyone is responsible for the product.

AWS Lambdas Action Routing

I have been playing with AWS lambdas for a few weeks trying to create a project.  One of the complications which the standard approach to lambdas is that each handler is its own lambda.  This mean that for any shared models meed to go into a separate but for DAOs this is a little problem as you need to import AWS SDK into the separate project then exclude it before using it in your different lambda functions and it all gets a bit messy.

I have just come across a talk (included at the end).  Here he uses the AWS API gateway to append an action parameter to the JSON.  Using a little code within the app (here on GitHub) these requests are routed within the application to the relevant action to be performed.  This approach might not be best practice, as he highlights, but for a small prototype application this will allow applications to be developed much quicker and at a future stage it would be quite straight forward to split off the different Lambdas if the prototype is successful.

Review: Zone to Win: Organizing to Compete in an Age of Disruption

Zone to Win: Organizing to Compete in an Age of Disruption
Zone to Win: Organizing to Compete in an Age of Disruption by Geoffrey A. Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Businesses are designed to be stable – shareholders want predictable growth and returns. However for a bussiness to catch the next big wave this is counter to stability. To internally grow a new bussiness it is likely to result in a reduction of the current results. To facilitate the growth of a new bussiness line extreme care needs to be taken to prevent innovation stagnation or from competition from other companies.

The book presents four zones.

Zone to win diagram

Performance zone

Most of the revenue and profits are generated in this zone. The aim of this zone is to drive the top line sales numbers. Here products are stable and customers are relatively loyal. Each bussiness here constitutes > 10% of the total enterprise revenue. Here if our current plan is failing we can do one of three things:

  • Change the product or service we are offering
  • Change the manager in charge of the function that is under-performing
  • Change the market segment we are targeting

When a new fledgling bussiness comes along it is critical that this becomes the number one priority. It has to scale to >10% within a maximum of 3 years else it will be suffocated by the other bussiness lines. This means hitting targets is now the second priority as failing to scale the new bussiness line will mean that you will have missed the opportunity and all of the work to get it to this stage will have been wasted, additionally this bring on of a new bussiness line is a temporary upheaval which should return higher profits in the future.

The first principle of zone defence is that you must never attempt to disrupt yourself. As an established enterprise, your number-one asset is the inertial momentum of your installed customer base. Your number-two asset is an ecosystem of partners that makes its living adding value to your established offerings.

“Successful disruptions disrupt other companies’ bussiness, not their own.” If you are being attacked your target should be to neutralise the opposition (e.g. taxi firms using ride haling apps to counter Uber). These neutralisation assets could come from work you are doing in the incubation zone.

Performance Matrix

Source of revenue vs channel of revenue.  Each cell must be accounted for, not just the rows and columns.  The rows must be >10% of the revenue to be taken seriously. As such only things in the performance zone are present here.

Productivity zone

The aim of the productivity zone is to improve the bottom line numbers. Here all of the functions which do not have direct accountability for revenue – such as Accounting, marketing, supply chain. The aim of the zone is

  • Regulatory compliance – Culture, values and tone set the direction of compliance with oversight, detection and remediation to correct. You have to design compliance in and monitor it vigilantly.
  • Improved efficiency (“doing things right”)
  • Improved effectiveness (“doing the right things”)

When budgeting these functions should be separate from the budget for other bussiness units since all other zones use their function – each bussiness unit should not need to estimate how much of the shared service they will use.

One key thing in this zone is to consider the end of life of bussiness units when it would be better to use the internal resource on something which brings the company more value. The best way is to have an end of life shared service since killing products is a specialist task.

Incubation zone

This is the place for ideas which are several years out. The ideas in the incubation zone should not be incremental of what you have currently (this is for the performance zone), these are for things which could grow into being their own credible disruptive innovation delivering billions of dollars of revenue within a decade. In the incubation zone it should build a highly competitive product into a bussiness with between 1-2% of the companies revenue, so this needs the best people. These are businesses in their own rights with specialist sales, marketing and competitive services to compete against other startups.

The businesses in this zone are overseen by a venture board, here they decide on investment into independent operating units. Each unit is run the same way as a startup with venture-funding and milestones. Space in the incubation zone is limited so if a unit fails its technology should be assimilated into existing products and the team moved on. Successful units then have the option to move to the transition zone, if it is not already occupied, the technology could be introduced into an existing line of products, the unit could be spun off as a start up, sold (though seeking buyers might be a distraction) or shut down.

Transformation zone

When bringing on a new bussiness unit into the main bussiness it will cause problems for your existing bussiness. As an example your sales teams don’t have the contacts to sell these products. Things in the transformation zone will under-deliver in the short term, but the aim of this is long term gain and bussiness stability.

The majority of the time the transformation zone is empty, a bussiness can not cope with such huge change very often. The most important thing to do is to complete the transformation than to make the current numbers – the growth of this bussiness unit is the businesses future, not its present. A company can only undertake one transformation at a time, taking on two at the same time will be too much for the company to bare. For the transformation to be successful every leader in the company must be aligned with the transformation.

From the moment a unit enters the transformation zone until it gets to 10% of revenue it will be a very destabilising forces within the company – above 10% it starts to stand on its own.

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Review: Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book a really interesting read, partially as it is a familiar story to us but from the inside you get a very different perspective. The focus on success never being a guarantee and that everything is random are two particularly powerful points. Without a random sequence of events Pixar would not be what it is, Disney animation studio would still be struggling and the world would be a much worse place as a result.

The book starts with the story of how Pixar came into existence from being part of Lucasfilm then being sold to Steve Jobs. At the time the company made hardware then evolved into software until the movies it is famous for today. The challenges the book go through are similar to any growing company or one which stagnates but it also tells the personal stories of Ed Catmull (the author), John Lasseter and Steve Jobs.

Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, pay attention to anything that creates fear. Doing all these things won’t necessarily make the job of managing a creative culture easier. But ease isn’t the goal; excellence is.

The book has a chapter with the following points, but I have added some of my own notes from the book to the end.

  • Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right the chances are that they’ll get the idea right.
  • When hiring people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today.
  • Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.
  • If there are people in your organisation who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you loose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.
  • It isn’t merely to be open to ideas from others. Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.
  • There are many valid reasons why people aren’t candid with one another in a work environment. Your job is to search for these reasons and then address them.
  • Likewise, if someone disagrees with you, there is a reason. Our first job is to understand the reasoning behind their conclusions.
  • Further, if there is fear in an organisation, there is a reason for it – our job is (a) to find what’s causing it, (b) to understand it, and (c) to try to root it out.
  • There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.
  • In general, people are hesitant to say things which might rock the boat. Braintrust meetings, dailies, postmortems, and Notes Day are all efforts to reinforce the idea that it is okay to express yourself. All are mechanisms of self-assessment that seek to uncover what is real.
  • If there is more truth in the hallway than in the meeting room, you have a problem.
  • Many managers feel that if they are not notified of a problem before others are or if they are surprised in a meeting, then that is a sign of disrespect. Get over it.
  • Careful “messaging” to downplay problems makes you appear to be lying, deluded, ignorant, or uncaring. Sharing problems is an act of inclusion that makes employees feel invested in the larger enterprise.
  • The first conclusion we draw from our success and failure are typically wrong. Measuring the outcome without evaluating the process is deceiving.
  • Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
  • Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capability to recover when unexpected events occur. If you don’t always try to uncover which is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
  • Similarly, it is not the managers job to prevent risk. It is the managers job to make it safe to take them.
  • Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.
  • Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up – it means you trust them even when they do screw up.
  • The people ultimately responsible for implementing a plan must be empowered to make decisions when things go wrong, even before getting approval. Finding and fixing problems is everyone’s job. Anyone should be able to stop the production line.
  • The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal – it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.
  • Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you show them to others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way. And that’s as it should be.
  • A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organisational structure. Everyone should be able to talk to anybody.
  • Be wary of making too many rules. Rules can simplify life for manager, but they can be demeaning to the 95% who behave well. Don’t create rules to rein in the other 5% – address abuse of common sense individually. This is more work but ultimately healthier.
  • Imposing limits can encourage a creative response. Excellent work can emerge from uncomfortable or seemingly untenable circumstances.
  • Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently.
  • An organisation, as a whole, is more conservative and resistant to change than the individuals who comprise it. Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change – it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.
  • The healthiest organisations are made up of departments whose agenda differ but whose goals are interdependent. If one agenda wins, we all lose.
  • Our job as managers in creative environments is to protect new ideas from those who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge, there must be phases of not-so-greatness. Protect the future, not the past.
  • New crises are not always lamentable – they test and demonstrate a company’s values. The process of problem-solving often bonds people together and keeps the culture in the present.
  • Excellence, quality, and good should be earned words, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves.
  • Do not accidentally make stability a goal. Balance is more important than stability.
  • Don’t confuse the process with the goal. Working on our processes to make them better, easier, and more efficient is an indispensable activity and something we should continually work on – but it is not the goal. Making the product is the goal.

Some of my notes:

  • Being on the lookout for problems is not the same as seeing problems.
  • Stick to your beliefs – if you pride yourself in producing quality products, don’t let anyone make you make a low quality product.
  • Never say things won’t change – things will this is inevitable.
  • Trust, candor and respect are very important thing to develop,but they need a focus as they can disappear without people realising. A group of people who highly respect each other and are prepared to be completely open and honest results in a product which is of a superior quality – in Pixar this includes the Brain trust.
  • From an early age in life people are taught that failure is bad – this is not the case failure is learning, and you will learn more from failure than you will from accidentally being successful.
  • “You’ve got to feed the beast” – for Disney these were animators, these are the people who your paying to do the work so people keep them busy doing stuff. Controlling the beast is important and sometimes ideas need to be protected.
  • People at Pixar don’t have contracts, they are there because they want to be and can leave at any time. This also means that instead of waiting for peoples contracts to expire, and to not renew them, conversations between management and employees happen as soon as they are needed.
  • Peoples brains are wires in a manner than things need to be explained. Humans don’t like the idea of randomness but ran random events happen all of the time. It is natural to assume that your product was a success because the team was great, but it could just have been you were lucky.
  • As people move higher up they see less. The position you are in means that people act differently around you and the issues you are looking for are hidden from you. You don’t understand what is happening on the “shop floor” as it is complicated, it is not possible to understand everything but additional view points should be considered additive and not dictatorial.
  • Even though people like getting a bonus they enjoy being shaken by the hand and appreciated as much or more than the money.
  • Hindsight is not 20-20, we know more about the past but we still interpret things differently as shown by two people recanting the same story. These are based on our own internal models. We also fill in the gaps and try to draw conclusions – some of which will be too sweeping.
  • Research is key – the best way to be in a creative world is to be immersed into the environment you need to be creative within. So in Pixars case if you need to animate a flamingo the best way is to go to the zoo to observe one. This also prevents derivative work and not new creativity.
  • Postmortems
    • Consider what we learned – but be careful not to construct learning which did not exist.
    • Teach others who were not there
    • Don’t let resentment foster
    • Use the schedule to force reflection
    • Pay it forward – what questions should we ask in the future?
  • Pixar University
    • Built connections between desperate teams
    • People were free to be goofy, relaxed, open and vulnerable
    • It encouraged people to become accepting with mistakes and imperfections
    • Sent a clear message that people should keep learning

The book has details of Steve Jobs role with Pixar. Other than taking it over from Lucasfilms he ensured that it was strong against Disney which was many times its size. One of the key achievements was its flotation – right after its first full length film. Steve knew that once the film was launched Disney would want to renegotiate soon after the success of the first film, to ensure that Pixar had a strong hand he needed to build up the finances and do this by floating the company at a very astute time.

The book has a very interesting description of the process of the merger between Pixar and Disney. How Steve Jobs wanted to ensure the survival of Pixar and he could not see it being independent since it lacked distribution and marketing ability. Disney was the perfect match but the risk was Pixar would be subsumed into the Disney animation studio and squashed – Steve knew this and to protect Pixar he ensured that the management of Pixar took a lead at Disney Animation.

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Review: The Goal

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The goal talks though the conversion of a manufacturing plant which had been running using cost accounting and its embracing of Lean manufacturing. The way the book is presented is quite novel in that its presentation is as a story where you go on a journey with the plant manager as he faces being closed down.

Through the course of the book Kanban is presented and applied to the plant. The book covers things such as challenging the productivity views of robotics, showing how the entire productivity of the plant is dictated by its bottlenecks, that you need excess capacity and you can’t run everything at 100% without building up large amounts of inventory which may or may not be sold.

The production line approach, made famous by Ford for the production of cars, was an extremely efficient form of production because of the flow of work but for such a system you need large volumes to warrant a dedicated line. The aim of lean manufacturing is to take the idea of flow and apply it in environments where the volumes are not sufficiently large to warrant their own production line.

Flow is key to shipping products to costumers – the key is to reduce the time from when a customer places an order to the point where we get the money for it.

This does not work with traditional local optimisations. This usually means large batch sizes since the set up of the machine is likely to be significant and traditionally people then try to produce as much of the parts as possible from the single set up. This results in large amount of in progress inventory which adds no value in its current form. Additionally the larger the batch the longer the parts need to wait – 99% of the lead time to produce a product can just be it waiting to be processed. To facilitate flow it is key that the focus on these machines is to improve the the efficiency of the set up time so that the machine is able to produce smaller batches which reduce the amount of over produced inventory and the waiting time thus reducing costs and lead time.

When there is an issue with flow inventories accumulate and the order lead time increases and reduces bussiness cash flow. One way to improve flow is by limiting space, this prevents the building up of large inventories. This is counter to previous approaches since limiting space means that not every worker will be busy all of the time, only bottlenecks will have the high levels of utilisation. By stopping people work it quickly highlights any issues in the flow and these can then be resolved. This means that the focus is always of making the bottlenecks more efficient – which is key since any time lost at a bottleneck will impact the output/productivity of the entire site. Things such as putting quality control before the bottleneck will improve the throughput since the bottleneck won’t work on parts which will be rejected later. Ensuring the bottleneck is able to run none stop, such as by splitting breaks so that people can cover it continuously.

The challenge of small production quantities and small buffers is that gridlock could happen where parts are not available for assembly when the space is already filled up. A solution for used in Kanban is instead of restricting buffer space between manufacturing steps the amount of products which can be produced are. The Kanban system uses the idea that when you want to ship something to the customer this triggers all of the preceding steps required to manufacture the product. The way this is achieved is through the use of cards, these cards are passed from the end of the production line towards the beginning each one triggering the manufacturing of the parts required to produce the product which is trying to be constructed.

Lean can not be applied to all industries, because of the time it takes for Kanban to produce an efficient manufacturing process it only works for products which do not change for a significant period of time – this works better in a car plan where new models are only released once a year. Additionally Lean does not work where the products are produced sporadically – because of the buffers the product needs to be being produced on a continuing basis. Lean also only works where the mix of products being produces are fairly consistent. Any of these three will reduce the effectiveness of lean.

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