14 April 2017

Sustainable Success with Sun Zi's Operation and Project Managements

In Sun Zi's Art of War, he said that warfare is nothing but the use of two types of forces in endless variations against the enemy. We can apply such a concept in any business. Any business has two types of systems at work. One is the operation management to keep the existing system running and the other is the project management to do new things or to make an improvement to the operation systems. The new project that produces a new product or a service will eventually become the operation systems when the new offerings are successful with the existing operation systems replaced. The new has become the main. Then there is the good time to start a new project again. Such will keep the organization successful.
Sun Zi's Original Text
[5 兵势篇]  Chapter 5 Army Dynamic Power

All warfare is about using the main/direct force to meet [the enemy] and to win with the special/indirect/surprising force.

The dynamic power from warfare is nothing but main and special (direct and indirect), the ever-changing direct and indirect is without end.

奇 in Chinese has two meanings:

  • pronounced as qí meaning strange, odd, surprising, weird, unusual
  • pronounced as jī odd (number) which implies an extra
 So, it is best to always divide an army into two types of forces, the main force and the extra or reserved force. Sun Zi tells us to use the main force to meet the enemy and the extra/reserve force to surprise and win against the enemy.

Operation Management
Operation management is about keeping the existing system working in good order. It is about doing the same thing over and over again while maintaining the quality and efficiency. The knowledge and the working of the existing system are all well defined and know by the staff running the system.

Project Management
Project management is about doing something extra. It's a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It is a new grouping of people getting together to accomplish a new thing. It tends to cut across functional divisions. It usually starts off as one off thing. But when it is successful, it will become the new operational system. Consider any new innovation. Either a dedicated team from the R&D or transferring people from the various existing functional divisions to form the new team. Once the innovation is successful, it will be scaled up and adopted as the new operation system, replacing the existing one. The new has become the main.

Operation and Project Management Interchange without end
The key to sustainable success is then to start a new project and then make the success new project into the operation to make it repeatable and scalable. It is always about making the strange familiar, operationalising a new thing, and then making the familiar strange, by starting a new project. Interchange of operation and project will keep the organization in a healthy state always.

Lim Liat (c) 14 April 2017

11 April 2017

The Attitudes & Principles from the Art of War for Successful Projects Always - A Mini-skirt Presentation

This is a summary of the above talk given to the Project Managers Chapter of Singapore Computer Society on 29 March 2017. It serves as a good precise introduction to Sun Zi's Art of War and how to use it in our work and life.
I have tried often to write a concise yet comprehensive paper on Sun Zi's Art of War. It must be like a mini-shirt, short enough to be attractive and yet long enough to cover the essentials. I think this talk can be qualified as a mini-skirt presentation on Sun Zi's Art of War.

Sun Zi's Art of War is the globally recognized as the best bible for winning. But its wisdom is applicable to accomplishing projects successfully with maximized benefits and minimized costs and risks.  It teaches us the right attitudes and the right principles for such endeavors.

The Winners’ Attitudes
  • Kiasuism
    • Foresee and manage threats first and then exploit the opportunities
    • Always go for Maximized Net-Returns at Minimized Risks
  • Be cool, calm and objective – The Essence of Project Management
    • Calculation & Evidence-based decision making. 计划,计算
    • Collect intelligence and information to find out the hidden intentions and agendas besides the observable facts.
  • The bad attitudes to avoid
    • Never be proud, but be humble and prudent to examine all factors objectively.
    • Never go for fortune telling, but by the evidence and reasoning.
    • Never hope for the best nor be too optimistic, but by calculation and logical deduction only.
    • Never do it for the glory, but choose to do those that you can succeed easily.
    • Never go for revenge or for the wrong reasons.
    • Never be easily angered, which leads to irrationality and failure.
    • Never be tricked nor be tempted by the benefits, desires, disguises, hearsays, distraction etc. Watch out for scope creeps a little by little due to the above wrong attitudes.
The Winning Principles: The 5 C's of Strategies & 5 M's of Leadership
  • C1 Calculate, Measures & Compare:
    • Know the factors of Philosophies (Mission, Visions, and Values), Seasonal Trends, Terrains Advantages, Leadership, and Methods.
    • Measure to validate the strengths of such factors.
    • Compare against the competitors in the eyes of the customers to know whether you can win or not.
  • C2 Complete - Make sure all factors, benefits, and harms are considered.
    • Foresee the threats and overcome them first before exploiting the opportunities.
  • C3 Compounding - Create and Ride the Waves.
    • Try to achieve 天时地利人和 the right time at the right place and the support of the people with the right methods and objectives.
    • Productivity comes from riding the trends of the seasons, positional advantages and peoples' desires.
  • C4 Creativity and Innovations.
    • See the opportunities in threats and the threats in opportunities to convert harms to benefits.
    • Do the unexpected to out-smart the competitors and delight the customers.
    • Understand the strengths and weaknesses, the truth and false, in the situations. By passing the strongholds and go through the gaps.
  • C5 Change - Follow-up the successful innovations with more innovations.
    • Always innovate without end and do the unexpected. There are sixteen stratagems to learn from.
  • M1 Management & Leadership
    • 5 Leadership Attributes areWisdom,     Trust,   Love,   Boldness, Strict Discipline and they are to be held in balanced.
  • M2 Morale - Maintain high morale, the energy, and vitality of the people.
  • M3 Mollification - Calmness to weather the storms and overcome the challenges.
  • M4 Magnification - Productivity from riding the waves of the trends and the power of the group.
  • M5 Movement - Never stay still, the people must learn without end in a learning organization.
A case study based on Breadtalk strategies using the common SWOT analysis is compared with Sun Zi's TOWS analysis. It shows the effectiveness and power of the TOWS approach.  The General Principle is to know to plan first, be agile in execution, and do better than others. Take the Outside-In, Situational dependent threats before opportunities approach. The best summary is given by George Yeo's comments on Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's understanding of Sun Zi's Art of War.

Every war is a large and complex project. Sun Zi's victories show that he is indeed one of the best project managers from whom we can learn much from.

Lim Liat (c) 29 March 2017

How to Manage Large Organization according to Sun Zi's Art of War

How to manage a large project or a large organization, or even a large church?

The answer also provides the explanation for a small organization that cannot grow big, i.e. how to scale up?

Divide and conquer is the typical suggestion. Break a large project into smaller manageable sub-projects.

That is half of the answer.

Do you want to know the full answer?

That is found in Sun Zi's Chapter 5 [兵势篇] 孙子曰:凡治众如治寡,分数是也;斗众如斗寡,形名是也;

Sun Zi said, "Managing many is like managing little, divide and count. Fighting many is like fighting little, shapes and naming.

Part 1 is well understood by all. Divide into small enough size to be manageable.

Part 2 is the key but often forgotten part. It is about communications. There must be a common language, of symbols and naming, and common vocabulary, to prevent misunderstanding, to gain agreement for effective co-ordination.

That is also the key design principle for multi-processors CPU. There can be many processors, common and specialized ones, but they must know how to communicate, coordinate, with the dividing and assignment of tasks, signaling of completion etc.

In any organization, besides the division of functions, there must also be the common vocabulary to link them together. That is found in your mission, visions, values, policies etc, now commonly known as the culture.

Do your managers and staff think alike? Do they have a common language? Please think about it and you can find the answers to build a better engaged and successful organization. The organization can act as one person as in 

7 军争篇《军政》曰:“言不相闻,故为之金鼓;视不相见,故为之旌旗。” 夫金鼓旌旗者,所以一人之耳目也。人既专一,则勇者不得独进,怯者不得独退,此用众之法也。
Chapter 7 Competing: Could not hear others speaking and hence use drums and gongs. Could not see one another and hence use the flags and banners. The gongs, drums, flags and banners are to unite the ears and eyes to that of one person. As the group acts as one, then the braves do not advance alone and neither the cowards withdraw alone. This is the way to manage a many.

Lim Liat (c) 8 Apr 2017