That light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train

While I’ve been busy in school, there have been a number of other things I haven’t done, such as laundry, and my wife is starting to notice.

Fortunately for her, I graduate in 10 days. But now I have run out of excuses to do all those things I have been putting off.

There is a big pile of books on my night table that I intend to read, and a whole bunch more on my Amazon wish list. (Can you suggest any more?)

Every once in a while I hear a song on the radio that I’d like to learn how to play. I should have kept of list of those, but I didn’t. But from now on, I’ll actually look them up and learn them.

I’m going to start running again, at least three days a week, and run another marathon, but do it right this time (6:45 was painful).

I will finally build that jungle gym in the back yard (even through summer is almost over).

I will repaint the ceiling in the kitchen where my wife hired someone really inexpensive to do it last time.

I will actually evaluate and plan one or more of the remodeling jobs we have been talking about pretty much forever, but I’ll probably hire someone else to execute it.

I will make upgrades to my on-line services business and actually market the thing.

I will join a CSA because now I have time to figure out how to cook all the weird vegetables they give you.

I will spend more time with my kids. I hope they recognize me.

I will take the family on some sort of vacation.

I may actually do some laundry once in a while.


What you been putting off? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Multitasking considered harmful

I saw an interesting quote on a technology blog that I follow called Slashdot:

To do two things at once is to do neither. — Publilius Syrus

(As a nerdy aside, Slashdot always has some random quotation at the bottom of the page, mimicking a traditional program on Unix systems call “fortune” that does the same thing when you log in on the terminal.)

As a project manager, and as a student with a job and a family, the question of multitasking comes up often. Personally, I don’t believe you can do a good job on two things at once. You may be able to do an adequate job, but I would find it depressing to go through life merely being adequate. I want to be excellent. I want everything I produce to be excellent. I want the people around me to strive for excellence.

When I tell people that I go to school, have a job and have a family, they ask me, “how do you do it?” And my reply is, “I cheat.”

Because I know I’ll never do my best at any of them. I constantly have to make decisions about who to shortchange and who to put off. Last quarter I skipped my youngest daughter’s kindergarten graduation and took a final exam instead. Several times I’ve handed in papers I knew weren’t my best because I chose to spend the extra time playing with my kids. My long-time business partner and friend has put up with me and my reduced workload, but has at times been frustrated by my decision to return to school for a master’s degree. My wife has picked up pretty much all of the kid’s doctor’s appointments, social occasions, laundry, dishes, etc.

As a project manager I wear several different hats on several different projects, constantly switching between them. And the other people staffing those projects are also working on multiple projects, perhaps wearing their own sets of different hats. More often than not, this causes the schedule to slip and the quality to suffer as we spend more time trying to pick back up where they were than we spend doing quality, productive work.

I fondly remember the days when I only had one job. I could lose myself for hours at a time perfecting a system build script, testing various storage configurations or planning the procedures for a big migration. I did good work and felt good about it. It got done quickly, and I could move on to the next challenge.

I’ve been studying a software development methodology known as “Agile”. Once of its core principles is focus: the team working on a particular product works only on that product for a certain length of time. They are immersed in that product and able to do a better job of it faster. I’m trying to apply this technique, but it will take a cultural shift within the whole organization for it to work.

Anyway, I have to get back to what I was doing.

WPMBA Mini Orientation

Congratulations! You’ve made a good choice to pursue your MBA at Fisher. An MBA will help you develop the skills to succeed in a wide variety of situations, and Fisher is a great place to do it, bringing both academic rigor and real-world experience to the mix.

But attending as a ‘working professional’ is a little bit different from the traditional college experience. I’ve tried to address here some of the issues that are unique to the WPMBA experience.

Core Classes

In most cases, the professors that teach the core classes in the WP program do not teach the same classes in the full-time program. That may mean that the class content is very different, particularly the Marketing and Organizational Behavior curriculum. If you have flexibility during the day, you may find a better fit taking the full-time version of the class. Talk to other students to see what they though of various classes to help you decide.

Don’t take this to mean that there is anything wrong with the WPMBA professors; they are fantastic. I only want to emphasize that you have choices most people don’t realize they had.

GPA and Level-of-Effort

People like to say that GPA doesn’t matter much for an MBA, particularly if you have good work experience. But keep in mind that the extra effort it takes to get an A will also help you get the most out of the class and fully develop your skills.

On the other hand, only you can decide what your priorities are. You also have a career and possibly a family. Seeing baby’s first steps, or a family vacation, may be more important than the several hours it would take to raise your B+ to an A-. Similarly, if you work long hours or travel you should set your expectation appropriately. Just make sure your teammates have a clear understanding of your priorities.

On the third hand, you should take the challenging classes, that may be outside your personal comfort zone. You should do so even if you fully expect it to reduce your GPA – the learning and experience is more important in the end.

No Major

WPMBAs do not have a ‘major’ as such. This is because we take fewer total credit hours, which translates to fewer electives. This makes it all the more important to find and take those classes, seminars and experiences that offer the most enrichment. Several classes have travel as part of the curriculum, some even international. Some classes give you the opportunity to learn from a very skilled practitioner in the field. You can supplement this with participation in some of the many clubs and communities of practice at Fisher (more on these below).

Competing with the Full-Timers

As I advised above, you should seek out and take the most challenging classes available, taught by the most exciting professors. This means that you will be in classes with full-time MBA students (‘Day Kids’) doing the same. Since classes are graded on a curve, you are competing with them, and they have the advantage of having more time available. Additionally, professors that primarily teach classes during the day have different expectations of how much time you should spend on papers, reading, etc, so their assignments may be more time consuming.

Accept the challenge and grow from it. Breaking even in a lopsided competition is its own victory.

Honors, Awards and Opportunities

If you are like me, you don’t spend much time on campus. This means you may miss knowing about the clubs, societies and activities available. Many of them confer special honors in the from of cords worn during graduation and can make for good conversation topics during a job interview.

Go to a Fisher graduation ceremony and listen to the awards and honors that are bestowed. You may find that an activity that sounded kind of interesting is even more compelling if you get an honor cord for it.

Similarly, there is recognition for various forms of leadership and for academic achievement. Find out about them. It may turn out to be easier than you think to pad your resume.

Social Activities and Networking

You may find it difficult to get away from work during the day for the social activities that Fisher College organizes. Similarly, you may find it difficult to break away from your family for evening activities. But it will serve you well to get to know and interact with your colleagues outside of class.

One option, more or less peculiar to WP students, is a standing meet up at the Varsity Club Thursdays after class. Even if you don’t drink, it’s a good opportunity to get to know people.

Another is the Marginally Below Average golf outings for WP students and alumni. Even if you don’t golf well, its a fun time – just let me know when you are teeing off so I can get out of the way.

Lastly, once you are eligible, make sure to get the student season football tickets. It’s a great deal at $170 for 5 home games.

Also, make sure you are on Linked In to connect with your classmates and professors.

Career Services

Placements, internships and career counseling are a bit more low-key in the WPMBA program because of the assumption that we all have jobs already. However, in informal polling, I have found that about half of WPMBA students intend to change employers or even fields when they graduate. So just know that there are services available if you want them; contact the career services office. Special for WPMBA students is Career Beam, which caters more to established professionals and can help you create a killer resume, research potential employers and decide what you want to be when you grow up.

So welcome to the club, I hope to see you around.

What is an MBA?

There are many misconceptions on what an MBA is – what the degree involves, and what kind of people pursue it. MBAs are sometimes perceived as simply being pushy, arrogant, entitled, greedy and unethical, as strictly ‘Type A’ personalities. But we are all that and more.

The MBA candidates that I attended school with come from a diverse set of backgrounds. There was a reverend who just graduated Spring quarter and wants to continue helping the world. Others come from public service and non-profit management. A bunch of us come from IT backgrounds. Others come from traditional business areas such as finance, accounting, HR and logistics. I am certainly not a Type A.

But what really makes an MBA stand out from most other academic programs is the large breadth of disciplines one has to master: quantitative and verbal reasoning, organizational and consumer psychology, ‘hard’ skills such as statistics and calculus, and ‘soft’ skills such as communications and marketing. On top of that, you’ll need a solid understanding of economics, political science and law.

And you can’t just be a greedy jerk: successful business people know to leave a little on the table for others so they are willing to work with you again, and also know that you can’t lead as a jerk because nobody will want to follow you.

The best part is, you don’t have to come in already knowing all this. Chances are, you are missing at least a couple now. Don’t worry: if you are willing to put the work in, you’ll learn it all here.

So whatever discipline you are in now, if you want to advance your career and want to keep the maximum quantity and quality of options open, an MBA is a good bet. Then you can help me fight the stereotyping.

What is Teamwork?

There has been much talk of teamwork in business and therefore in business schools,  but what is it?

I think most people get a warm and fuzzy feeling when they hear the word “Teamwork”. (Although there are others who get stomach ulcers from anxiety.) But teamwork is one of those words that doesn’t mean anything by itself because everyone imagines it differently. So here are a couple examples of teams:

– With Navy Seals having been in the news lately, we’ve heard about the part of their training regimen where the platoon ‘adopts’ a telephone pole and must carry it with them where ever they go. This is a task that is impossible to accomplish unless each member of the team pulls his weight.

– On a manufacturing line, each person has a specific task to perform that builds on the work of each previous person. The product is not complete until each person has contributed his or her role that day. If some task was missed or not performed well, the unit will be left flawed and will need to be reworked.

– In basketball teamwork often means not taking every shot you get, but passing the ball on to someone who may have a better chance. Ball hogs run up their own stats, but drag down their teams. Sometimes the most effective players are those who draw defenders away from the guy who actually scores.

– In a modern industrial corporation the company is made up of many functional units which almost never interact with each other – Accounting, IT, Marketing, R&D, Finance, Shipping etc – plus some unit that does the actual work of providing a service or building a product. Enticing them to all work together as a team is very hard.

– In building the pyramids, there were kings, engineers, taskmasters and slaves. The org chart was probably shaped pretty much like a pyramid itself, with all of the rewards accruing to those at the top.

– In your particular functional group, you probably have a few people who perform more or less the same types of tasks, with a manager there to evaluate your individual performance. You probably call it a team.

But what characterizes team work?

In the Seals example, it’s a shared fate and everyone contributing. In the manufacturing example, it’s divvying up the work into manageable pieces. In the basketball example, its making personal sacrifices for the good of the team.

But the other three show very different definitions of teamwork. The industrial model is based on specialization, just like the manufacturing line, but any link to the ultimate goal is hard to see. In the pyramid example, most of the people on the team don’t gain anything by being on the team. In the functional group, it looks more like a random collection of individuals who happen to share similar backgrounds.

So here’s the takeaway: there are some things you just cannot accomplish without a team. And being a part of a good team feels really good. But when forming a team, you have to make sure everyone understands:

  • What the ultimate goal is
  • What the team should look like
  • How each person is expected to contribute
  • How their contribution will be judged
  • And how the rewards will be divided.

In my opinion, if you don’t have those, you don’t have a team. You might have a gang, a group or an assemblage. But if you need a team, build a team.

Unfortunately, as are most of the things in life worth doing, that’s easy to say but hard to do.

Two Years

The other day I put in the paperwork to graduate Summer quarter 2011. I mentioned this to Marie, my wife, and she said, “Wow, that went quick.”

Quick? I don’t think so. Only two years on the calendar, but those two years were made up of some pretty long days.  Two or three days a week, for two years, I was busy straight through from 6am to 11pm: get up early to get the kids ready, work a job all day, spend another four hours in class, flop into bed long after everyone in the house was already sleeping.

Weekends were for homework, so were a few hours in the evening during the week when there were no tennis games, school concerts, parent-teacher conferences or community obligations.

School has been at least another part-time job on top of the full-time jobs I have at home and work, plus the other part-time jobs I do.

Two years of deferred home improvement projects, fascinating books not read, magazines piling up and friendships put on ice.

But I did it, and I liked it, and it was worth it. It was only two years, but I feel a lifetime wiser.

And thanks to Marie for putting up with my absences all that time.

Worst Golfer Ever

The other night at the VC, Walt came over and gave me this shirt. I had ‘won’ it for being a part of the team that came in last at the WPMBA Golf Scramble that Walt organized with Tim and the WPMBA Council.

We really never stood a chance; our team consisted of:

  • A guy who grew up on a golf course, but had not played in years
  • A guy who had only held a club one other time
  • Myself, who had played a little, but ten years ago
  • A guy who didn’t show up to the scramble at all, leaving us down a man

I concentrated on short, conservative drives, mostly hitting the fairway (and a few times the water) while Chris (who grew up on a golf course) walloped the ball and got some really good drives. He won the longest drive competition, as well. (I think he got a shirt for that one, too.)

I had one really good chip shot, but it was about the sixth time I’d tried. I did get onto the green from the fairway a few times as well.

But none of this could rescue us from the bottom, especially considering there were some really good golfers on several of the other teams. The best team’s score was 63 for the day.

They’re planning another event for Spring, and are trying to make it a more regular event. I hear alumni are welcome as well.

So if you’re a good golfer, you can be on my team next time – I need all the help I can get. If not, you’re still welcome to join in, and you may even come away with a shirt like mine.

Comparative Advantage – applied and ignored

Over the course of the spring I have been ever-so-slowly building a playground in the backyard for my kids. Economically, this is a very silly thing for me to do.

The theory of comparative advantage states that when each of us spends time doing the things he or she is more productive at then everyone benefits: if I can earn a higher wage elsewhere, I can pay someone to build the playground. I keep the difference between what I make and what the landscaper charges; the landscaper earns a wage; and my kids have a playground that is built better and done sooner.

Unless you factor in that I enjoy spending the time outside, working with my hands. And the pride I’ll get watching my kids enjoy the playground Daddy built them.

Of course I can’t spend all weekend on this, because I still have to study once in a while. But it will be done soon, and then I can move on to the next project.

Friday Night Lights

You might think I’m just some kind of party animal. But last Friday night I went to help out at the concession stand at the football at my daughter’s high school.

She plays tennis, but since football gets a much bigger crowd, that is where they sell the popcorn and hot dogs.

This is run entirely but volunteer parents.

I worked the popcorn machine, and thanks to my education in operations management I could calculate the production time at approximately one box of popcorn every 30 seconds, with the popping machine as the bottleneck – I could box up the popcorn faster than it could pop.

I don’t know what the average demand was, because I worked the first shift, before the game actually started. But we did build up a lot of inventory pretty fast, and had a hard time figuring out where to keep it all.

Childhood League and the Merry Go Round

The Childhood League Center is a small preschool near the Columbus Children’s Hospital that specializes in serving at-risk children and their families, where that definition includes children with physical and developmental disabilities and those who are eligible for Head Start due to low income or other family situations. (“Peer models” – typically developing children – also attend.)

Tuition and therapy at the school are free; all expenses are provided by private donations and the efforts of the Childhood League. Their largest single fundraising event is the annual Merry Go Round, a dinner, variety show and auction. This year’s event (May 2011) set a record.

My wife and I have a close relationship with the loving people at the center because two of our girls went there, and because we were asked to speak at the Merry Go Round this year. But there is a Buckeye connection too: Professor Tony Rucci has consulted pro-bono with the League to help restructure the organization for growth, and uses examples from that engagement in his classes.

The current school only has space for about 400 students, whereas there are an estimated 500 to 700 additional students in the area who need the special services that the Center provides. They are working to grow to satisfy some of this demand.

The Childhood League Center is a special and unique place in Columbus that needs and deserves our support. Congratulations to them on another successful Merry Go Round.