The value of Degrees

Harvard Business review just published a post called “Stop Requiring College Degrees” and I couldn’t agree more with what they are saying.  Just because you have an MBA or a degree from a college or university, doesn’t mean you are the best person for a job.

In my opinion, experience trumps education every time. If you have a masters degree in project management but have never managed a project with a team larger than 5 people, you will fail compared to a person that has no formal degree but has experience working on 10 projects of various size and complexity and leading a group of people through any endeavor. Age doesn’t matter either but of course, experience does come with age.

“One of the most productive things an employer could do, both for themselves and for society at large, is to stop placing so much emphasis on standard undergraduate and graduate degrees.”  Andrew McAfee

To me, having academic credential can sometimes provide a false sense of security both to the employer and the person with the credentials. If you’ve only ever studied project management and never really got your hands very dirty, chances are your project will fail.

Obviously it’s not just me that thinks this. HBR is talking about and so are many others. The author of the PersonalMBA  asks the question; “Is it worth it to get and pay for an MBA?”  The answer author Josh Kaufman concludes is that you don’t.  He says and I agree that you can learn everything you need without spending $100K+ on school. In today’s world of online education and the proliferation of readily available knowledge. There are better options out there.

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Lean Startup Principles are not just for startups

leanstartupI just finished listening to The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It’s a great book that’s targeted at startup entrepreneurs but I think the information also has great appeal and value for those that work and manage in large enterprises. Intrapreneurs could gain some wonderful insight into new ways of thinking and tackling problems of change, innovation and growth by learning from the experiences in startups.

I’ve been working in large organizations for many years and the same problems persist.  Projects take too long, cost too much and don’t deliver on the original objectives. What I’ve noticed is that the same “solutions” continue to get suggested and applied with limited success.

The Lean Startup methodology is simple. Build -> Measure -> Learn.
The Lean Startup methodology is simple. Build -> Measure -> Learn.

The lean principles are a scientific approach to product development mainly borrowed from lean manufacturing made famous by Toyota.

After listening to the lean startup principles, there’s a lot that management could learn to help evolve their organizations to become more agile and innovative.

The principles aim to eliminate uncertainly, work smarter not harder, develop a minimum viable product and validated learning. The most interesting to me is the validated learning principle which is the opposite to large batch work that involves long drawn out analysis, planning and execution cycles. Here’s what Eric has to say about validated learning.

Validated Learning – Progress in manufacturing is measured by the production of high quality goods. The unit of progress for Lean Startups is validated learning-a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when one is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty. Once entrepreneurs embrace validated learning, the development process can shrink substantially. When you focus on figuring the right thing to build-the thing customers want and will pay for-you need not spend months waiting for a product beta launch to change the company’s direction. Instead, entrepreneurs can adapt their plans incrementally, inch by inch, minute by minute.

That last sentence is the take-away; “adapt their plans incrementally, inch by inch, minute by minute.”

In an ever changing uncertain world, you are almost certain to miss the mark if you spend months and months analyzing and planning as the world beneath your feet is constantly changing.

The Lean Startup is a great book and one I suggest any entrepreneur, manager or executive should read or listen to.

How to lose $10 million a minute

That’s what it can cost when you implement technology systems poorly. A news story today about Knight Trading losing over $440 million dollars due to “a computer glitch” from a recent implementation of a new trading system reminds me of the resistance I have often experienced from leaders of organizations on how to implement new technology systems.

Like I’ve talked about before, Enterprise change needs to be executed in the order of the People, Process, Technology. This concept has been proven over and over again, yet many of today’s old school executives think “it’s just a technology upgrade” and proceed to implement it without focusing on the people and processes that will change due to the upgrade. They don’t dedicate the right type and amount of resources and think you can just muscle in a new system. I’ve seen it many times from inexperienced Sr. executives that don’t understand technology, don’t embrace project management best practices and don’t have a good working relationship with the IT department. They think project management, governance, business analysis and documentation add too much cost to a project and therefore discount it’s usefulness. The thinking that using a project methodology adds too much red tape to the process of implementing technology is a clear sign that you’re in way over your head.

Knight Trading’s experience highlights a great example of what can go wrong on technology projects when poor leadership, planing and governance are not in place. I don’t know the details of exactly what went wrong but having been apart of many large software implementations I would bet this “glitch” had more to do with leadership, planing and governance than it did with technology.