New Articles posted to the Web #35

BeaverWe have been busy beavers updating the PM Knowledge Index on our website with White Papers and Articles.   Some of the more interesting uploaded during the last couple of weeks include:

And we continue to tweet a free PMI style of exam question every day for PMP, CAPM and PMI-SP candidates: See today’s question and then click through for the answer and the Q&As from last week. You are welcome to download and use the information under our Creative Commons licence

The100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management

RecognitionTimeCamp, the developers of TimeCamp online time tracking software that measures time spent on projects and tasks has created a list of the 100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management; congratulations to many friends and colleagues who’ve made the list.

While we’re not sure of the process used to develop the list (the links are mainly to Twitter), it’s great to see Lynda at #12!  And it’s good to know her work promoting stakeholder engagement, effective communication and team development is being recognised globally.

Self Correcting Processes

Ooops1Far too many of the processes set up by business and government are designed to fail, or at best rely on altruism and trust to get the ‘right thing’ done.  A typical example is safety or quality check lists;  its not unusual to see people spending an hour on a Friday afternoon filing in the sheets for the week and then sending them off to be filed. A complete waste of time! The problem is not the people, it’s a system failure; causes of the observed symptom may be:

  • The process is unnecessary (the work was done safely or to standard anyway);
  • The process is excessively bureaucratic forcing people to choose between getting the job done or getting the paperwork done; or
  • Undetected errors occurred.

Regardless of the cause, the system has failed!

The first question to ask comes out of ‘Light’ and ‘Lean’ thinking; is the process needed at all, and if it is needed can it be made easier to do properly?  A key element in this part of the redesign is asking the question does the process add more value than it costs?

Assuming the process is needed the next area of redesign is making the system self-correcting, in other words designing the system so that it is easier to comply with the process than to circumvent it.   This requires some imagination.

A good example is the visiting security guard at some of our local shops. In the ‘old days’ the guard was required to slip a card under the door to let the shop owner know the check had been done – if 2 or 3 checks were scheduled overnight, the equivalent number of cards were to be found in the morning.  The flaw in the system was no one knew if the guard had visited at the designated times or had called once and slipped several cards under the door……..

The new system has a small RIFD tag fixed to the shop wall and the guard as a reader. If this system is exploited fully, not only is the timing of each visit recorded, but the safety of the guards is enhanced because a failure to ‘read’ the tag at the correct time can trigger an alarm in the guard’s organisation that something has gone wrong, a simple phone call can check if he’s held up in traffic or a more serious situation has occurred.

Every situation is different, but one example of a seriously flawed government process that could easily be improved is the issuing of 457 visas.  The Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457) allows skilled workers to come to Australia and work for an approved business for up to four years. The key requirements of the scheme include paying Australian wages and complying with the law. It costs about $2,000 for a visa.

The purpose of this class of visa is to overcome temporary skills shortages in the Australian job market whist local workers are trained; a highly desirable purpose. There are significant penalties for defrauding the system but for reasons discussed in Lynda’s post on Making Ethics Effective, far too many people are prepared to ignore the low risk of prosecution to make money. 457 workers are employed as shop assistants and waiting staff in food outlets in cities with 6% unemployment. The system relies on trust and the department is understaffed to adequately enforce the rules.  So how could this defective system be redesigned to make it self -correcting??

Step 1 – look at the fundamental objectives – skilled workers, temporary employment, and the training of permanent Australian workers.  Skilled workers are paid between $50,000 and $100,000 per annum.

Step 2 – price the visa properly, the 457 visa is an alternative to training, training a worker costs at least $6,000 per annum – price the visa accordingly.  Set the fee for the visa at $6,000 for the first year and allow 4 or 6 extensions of 6 months each at $6,000 per extension. This cost will focus company management on the desirability of training local workers!

Step 3 – price the risk properly, 457 visa holders are supposed to go home at the end of their work, require a $10,000 bond payed at the time of approval (ie, before the worker arrives) that is released once the worker permanently leaves Australia. This sound a lot but reputable businesses can obtain bank guarantees at around 0.75% of the amount guaranteed = $75 per worker per year and all that is needed is a couple of tweaks to the visa control processes to record a permanent departure.

Step 4 – eliminate some of the obvious areas of abuse; eg, make it illegal for a 457 holder to change employers. If the employee is terminated and does not leave the country, the $10,000 bond is forfeit.

Step 5 – compensate the legitimate businesses to help offset these additional costs. Legitimate businesses that comply with the law will pay their superannuation guarantee for most 457 visa holders.  For a worker on $75,000 per annum this is about $7,000 a year.  Temporary workers who are leaving Australia have no need for a statutory superannuation fund – exempt all 457 visa holders from the payment (some are already).  This will offset the cost for most legitimate organisations in the first year. By the second year they should be starting to bring trained workers into play.

What this proposed redesign of the system does is minimise the impact on legitimate businesses that are using 457 visas for their intended purpose and are complying with the obligation contained within the scheme to train people. But the revised system will really hit the dodgy operators who are using the 457 visa to import cheap unskilled labour, particularly if they are underpaying wages and not paying statutory entitlements.

Fixing 457 visas is fairly simple and can be introduced for new applications to minimise complications, the old visas will expire in due course; and as an added bonus the government will have additional revenues to help stamp out malpractice in other classes of visa.

Fixing the other ‘headline making fraud’ of the VET training subsidies will be more difficult, but a shift towards payment on successful completion of the training (backed up by audits) would go a long way towards eliminating the dodgy operators……. VET FEE-HELP is supposed to encourage people to become qualified for work, not enroll in courses!

Enrollment is a key step towards qualifying, but pay for what you want (qualified people in the job market), not an interim step that is of no value in itself. At present 100% of the money is paid on enrollment – driving dodgy course providers to focus on maximising enrollments, no one worries too much if people don’t finish the course,  don’t qualify or don’t get a job.  Why not pay 75% of the money on successful completion and the remaining 25% on the person achieving employment?   This would encourage education providers to only engage people who are capable of completing the course and only provide courses that are likely to lead to employment – the government pays for the results it says it wants.

We’ve looked at some problems that are making headlines locally, now there’s the question of your organisation’s systems – how many rely on trust and goodwill to be implemented properly with the remote possibility of sanctions if someone is caught not complying, and how many have self-correcting checks and balances in a lean and light framework that drive correct behaviour? Good Standard Operating Procedures improve consistency and reduce costs, but only if they are used (see: The value of Standard Operating Procedures).

As Lynda concluded in Making Ethics Effective, achieving ethical and proper behaviours requires more than hoping for a good outcome, intentional design is needed – hope is not a strategy!

New Articles posted to the Web #34

BeaverWe have been busy beavers updating the PM Knowledge Index on our website with White Papers and Articles.   Some of the more interesting uploaded during the last couple of weeks include:

And we continue to tweet a free PMI style of exam question every day for PMP, CAPM and PMI-SP candidates: See today’s question and then click through for the answer and the Q&As from last week. You are welcome to download and use the information under our Creative Commons licence

Making Ethics Effective

EthicsAn organisation can espouse the highest ethical standards but if these are not supported and enforced they are simply nice statements that look appealing. The challenge is to have the right levels of support and just enough enforcement.

Headline news in Australia over the last couple of weeks (with months to run) is the appalling treatment of franchisees and their staff by the 7-Eleven chain.  To survive (and in some cases profit) many 7-Eleven franchisees resorted to underpaying staff by a standard 50%.  The TV expose and press reports indicate multiple breaches of employment legislation, occupational health and safety legislation, corporations law and taxation legislation.  Most of the focus at the moment is on the students who allowed themselves to be trapped into the wages scam.  This post will suggest these people are not the ‘biggest losers’.

The whole 7-Eleven chain was benefitting from the scam.  Head office made more profit, the franchisees reduced their wage bill by up to 50% (their primary cost under the franchise arrangements) and the students received their reduced pay.  Whilst in some cases there may have been elements of coercion used to keep the students employed, everyone got into the deal voluntarily.

The major losers in this scam were people who rely on the workings of the law and run their businesses honestly.  Two major groups are the corner shop-keepers who paid the lawful minimum wage and saw their businesses destroyed because the 7-Eleven ‘model’ undercut costs illegally and the unemployed people who did not get jobs because they had the audacity to expect to be paid their legal entitlements.

People in these groups faced a major ethical dilemma, go out of business (or remain unemployed) or ‘bend the law’ to survive in completion with chain that was prepared to allow widespread malpractice.  Not an easy decision!

I would suggest the major failing was not the ethics of the 7-Eleven chain: the erosion of ethical standards is usually slow and insidious. The real problem appears to be the government agencies tasked with enforcing the law.  Over several decades government departments have been steadily stripped of resources and these days can only adequately respond to ‘major issues’ –  they are forced to assume ethical behaviour by most people most of the time and even when advised of blatant breaches will generally ignore the issue if it is considered minor.

One example we confront regularly is breaches of the Australian Competition and Consumer Act 2010 – one of the Act’s primary requirements is honesty in advertising, the advertised price of any goods of services should be the minimum price the consumer has to pay.  We routinely see Google advertisements targeted at our training market in Melbourne offering ultra cheap prices.  Click through to the related web page listing the training courses in Melbourne and the price increases, spend 15 minutes filling in registration forms and you eventually see the price you are required to pay (with all of the taxes and changes now added)!   This is a deliberate strategy by unethical organisations – the low price gets people onto their web site, and inertia keeps them there (particularly after spending effort on filling in the forms) so they end up paying far more than is necessary for an equivalent course.  The practice is so widespread, particularly with overseas based training providers, we regularly find people asking us if our prices are ‘real’ and ‘how much will they actually pay’ – the answer is simple, we conform to the law and charge the advertised price.

However, this was not an easy decision to make! We have had to reduce prices and increase advertising to attempt to off-set the illegal practices of others. Complaints to authorities go unheeded because they simply do not have the resources to deal with a relatively minor issue and business suffers.

When ethical standards start to slip several things tend to happen, ethical people move away to somewhere where their standards are not being challenged, less-ethical people move in and further degrade standards and many other people simply learn to ignore the problem (see The normalisation of deviant behaviours ). And once unethical or corrupt behaviour becomes normalised, reversing the situation is extremely difficult. Press reports suggest that some 7-Eleven franchisees who have been forced to pay proper wages are now using extortion to demand 50% of the money back from the employee (outside of the premises so the extortion is not recorded), or the worker loses his/her job.

At a national level one hopes the 7-Eleven furore when added to the construction of a refuelling wharf in the Tiwi Islands without environmental approval (the government agency did not have the resources to investigate in a timely way), the blatant abuse of the vocational training scheme by some commercial organisations and numerous other failures will cause a re-think of the way business and government approach regulation.

Certainly the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy, regulations and other forms of red tape is to be encouraged. However, if the government decides a regulation is desirable, proper and comprehensive enforcement should be automatically provided. The failure to enforce regulations penalises the honest, ethical organisations who feel obliged to comply; and advantages the dishonest who chose to breach the regulation and balance the low cost of getting ‘caught’ against the additional profits garnered from ignoring the provision. Prosecuting a few ‘rule breakers’ 5 or 6 years after the event is not an appropriate way to govern – the damage is already done.

What does this mean within organisations and projects?  Effective governance sets the ‘rules and objectives’ for the organisation (see: The Functions of Governance). Management and staff operate within those rules to achieve the objectives. A key element in a well designed governance framework is the feedback loop providing assurance of management accountability and compliance.  This loop needs three elements:

  • A clear articulation of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours at all levels of the organisation, with senior leaders ‘walking the talk’.
  • Proactive surveillance to identify issues and opportunities as early as possible backed up by effective improvement processes (see: Proactive Project Surveillance.
  • Rigorous, but fair, enforcement processes to deal with breaches.

The last point is the most difficult to get right.  The system needs to be open and accountable, apply both natural justice and the ‘presumption of innocence’, deal with the root cause of the breach, avoid scapegoating, and be trusted.  One element is ensuring effective reporting and ‘whistle blowing’ processes are available so that people (both internal and external to the organisation) who believe there is an issue can raise the matter safely – its impossible to enforce rules if people in authority don’t know (or don’t want to know) about the breach.

The good news is that if these types of system are in place, the organisation will develop a self-reinforcing ethical culture.  Unethical people will leave to find somewhere easier for them making way for people who want to work in an ethical environment.  Fairly soon, everyone holds both themselves and other accountable.

However, this situation cannot be taken for granted! The presence of the surveillance and enforcement processes underpin these highly desirable behaviours.  If the organisation makes the same mistake the Australian governments have repeatedly made over the last 10 years of deregulation and simply ‘hope’ everyone will do the right thing it won’t take long for the slide into unethical behaviour to start.  Hope is not a strategy, good governance requires assurance that the organisation’s objectives are being achieved, and effective assurance needs both surveillance and enforcement capabilities.

New Articles posted to the Web #33

BeaverWe have been busy beavers updating the PM Knowledge Index on our website with White Papers and Articles.   Some of the more interesting uploaded during the last couple of weeks include:

And we continue to tweet a free PMI style of exam question every day for PMP, CAPM and PMI-SP candidates: See today’s question and then click through for the answer and the Q&As from last week. You are welcome to download and use the information under our Creative Commons licence

A New Force in ADR.


At the beginning of 2015, Australia’s two major organisations focused on delivering ADR services merged.  LEDAR was the larger of the two with a strong emphasis on mediation and conciliation.  IAMA (Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators Australia) was the older body with a history based in Arbitration and Expert Determination, more recently expanded to include Adjudication and Mediation.

Merger talks had occupied the latter part of 2014, culminating in a large majority of the members of both organisations approving the merger which was formalised by the merger and then the hard work of integration began…… A ‘working name’ of LEADR&IAMA was adopted for the merged entity until a process to define a new brand image for the organisation could be worked through.

As readers of this blog will now one of our major themes is stakeholder engagement, change management and communication.  I must say, for an organisation that largely consists of lawyers, augments with engineers, builders and assorted mediators from many disciplines the path to a new name and brand image has been remarkably well managed.

For any organisation, its name and logo are cornerstones of presenting professionally and connecting business, government and the broader community with its members. Dispute resolution through any of the options offered by the merged entity is no different. But rather than jumping to a ‘name’, the board took its members on a journey to find a name that will enable the organisation to promote excellence in dispute resolution and provide an identity for members, the organisation and current and future clients. Professional help was engaged from Uberbrand to help on the journey.

The Board began by brainstorming and collecting 34 different potential names, some contributed by members (including a couple from me). When reviewed, the 34 names varied in their relevance, their effectiveness in conveying the function and purpose of the organisation and their potential appeal to members, the public and allow an appropriate domain name (URL) to be registered.

The next step was a survey of the joint membership looking at opportunities, values and services and growth opportunities. The survey encouraged involvement in the process as well as helping derive a consensus.

From all of this input, the Board members distilled core features of the organisation as follows:

Our members

  • Have extraordinary depth and range of experience and expertise
  • Work across the full suite of dispute resolution types
  • Have reputation, influence and status
  • Are highly professional

Our values

  • Integrity
  • Innovation
  • Excellence
  • Collaboration
  • Diversity

Our methods

  • We champion the practice of dispute resolution
  • We support members
  • We promote excellence in dispute resolution

Our purpose

  • Through our members, we provide people with the means to resolve disputes

Our aspiration

  • For people to think of the members of our organisation
  • For resolution to be embedded in the way that people settle disputes, manage conflicts, make decisions and grow collaborative relationships

From all of this the new name and logo emerged:


The name Resolution Institute was chosen for the following reasons:

  • the name as a whole, focuses current and future users of dispute resolution to think highly of our members, and conveys the gravitas of both resolution and of the people, our members, who practise dispute resolution
  • it contributes to ‘resolution’ being fundamental to the way people settle disputes, manage conflicts, make decisions and grow collaborative relationships
  • the word “institute”  encompasses different features of the organisation. Its meanings include, an organisation that is established to promote a cause and also that delivers educational programs. The Board noticed that it is also sometimes used by not-for-profit organisations which have a membership base. In addition, the word “institute” connotes gravitas. For these reasons, the Board chose this word, rather than others such as “association”, “society” or “council”.

The logo was chosen as it represents coming to a resolution from different starting points. The arcs, as parts of a circle, suggest inclusiveness and belonging. As well as resonating with our values:

  • the pattern of woven lines reflects collaboration
  • the colours represent diversity
  • the modern, forward movement conveys innovation
  • the clean crisp lines align with integrity, and
  • the blend of colours on a clear white background suggest excellence.

The dinner to celebrate IAMA’s 40th anniversary in a couple of weeks time will be an interesting transition celebrating 40 years of history (for me 30 years of membership), the passing of IAMA and the opening up of a new and interesting future in the development of ADR in Australia. There’s certainly a new and distinctive ‘brand’ in the marketplace.

The re-branding work has a way to go,  contact details: