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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Using the Theory of Constraints & Six Sigma to Fix Critical Components of the Economy


Constraints are all around us. The theory of constraints is a lean problem-solving concept based on a simple concept, that a process can not move faster than the slowest part of the process.

Our economy as a complex enclosed system has constraints and it will respond to stimulus as quick as the slowest link in the economy. The chart on the left illustrates some major components of the economy. They all need to be improved for the stimulus to realize benefits, otherwise it will be a temporary patch.


The root of the problem lies in three areas:

1. The concept of printing money and the process followed to release cash into the market. The Federal Reserve Bank - which is not a government entity - is provided the authority to distribute the nation's currency and supervise banks which are members in the system. When the US releases currency into the market it requests the Federal Reserve Bank to print dollar bills in return for an interest payment on the amount. No real assets are provided as collateral to backup the value of the printed currency. The value of the currency is only backed up by the reputation and promise of the US government to accept the currency as a form of payment. As users of the currency lose faith in the governments ability to keep the promise the value can drop significantly. One reason for the poor confidence in the currency, is the automatic depreciation of the currency the day it was printed. For every US dollar printed a small percentage is due to the Federal Reserve Bank as interest on that printed dollar, in a sense every dollar released into the market is really worth 0.98 of a dollar, if we assume an interest rate of 2%. Add onto this, the fact that the US government is running into a non-stop deficit in social security, and other areas leading to increase in bond issuing to countries such as China and India, further diminishing the value of the US currency.

2. Interest rate or usury is another problem in the overall system. The fact that currency value depreciates today based on some future value determined by an interest rate automatically leads to inflation, and future depreciation of natural resources. Charging interest is like pumping steroids into a body builder, eventually at some point the body will collapse.

3. Selling what we don't own. The idea that goods and services can be sold without actually owning them creates a virtual commodity system, not backed up by real commodities or assets.

Unless these areas are fixed no stimulus package can work on the long term. Some simple steps to address this issue are:

a. Identify the constraints of the financial and monetary systems
b. Exploit the constraint or re-engineer
c. Subordinate other steps in the overall process to the improved constraint
d. Revise the constraint if it has not been eliminated by steps b and c
e. Repeat the steps above for other constraints

Applying this into practice can be as follows:

a. Identify the constraints of the financial and monetary systems
- Currency not backed by a true tangible asset (some natural resource like gold or silver)
- Currency being depreciated the day it is printed, solely due to interest
- Distribution and sale of products that do not exist (example lending money to a business when the bank does not have the exact cash reserved, selling a commodity that one does not own and has not yet paid for)
- Using interest rates to discount projects, assets and commodities to a future value, leading to valueless future assets, commodities, natural resources

b. Exploit the constraint or re-engineer
- Re-engineer the monetary system that issues a currency based on a true asset and not just a promise
- Re-engineer the concept of future valuation
- Re-engineer the concept of wealth circulation

c. Subordinate other steps in the overall process to the improved constraint
- Use a sustainable natural resource to backup the value of an issued currency
- Use joint partnerships, gifting (0% loans) and entrepreneurship, moving away from interest bearing loans of money that is not owned by lenders.
- Base future valuation on true-value (value proposition) provided to global society rather than a discounted interest rate.

d. Revise the constraint if it has not been eliminated by steps b and c
e. Repeat the steps above for other constraints

Monday, April 27, 2009

One Way to Ruin a Great Product Idea - When Design and Implementation Miss





A friend of mine sent me some interesting pictures for projects that might have seemed successful on paper, when in implementation they failed. This is where a systems engineer comes in handy, in cases like these.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Financing System for Prosperity, Growth and Social Justice

My dear friend Mohamed El Habashy sent me a link to an interview that he was part of on PBS. He was one of several experts interviewed on hot topic of Islamic financing. It seems that the World suddenly woke up to realize that a system that was revealed to mankind some 1430 years ago is now all the sudden a good choice.

The Islamic financing system is based on one of three main models:

- Mosharaka (joint ownership through stocks, capital partnerships)
- Qard Hasan (good lending, a loan with no interest (0%) regardless of amount and maturity date)
- Mudaraba (entrepreneurship or partnership with effort and experience)

Several key concepts in Islamic financing are

1. Joint sharing in risk and reward (property/asset price increase and decrease) - is part of the definition of ownership in Islam, and it provides responsibility and fairness to all parties.

2. The concept of selling money (lending with interest) is prohibited. In Islam lending money as a form of investment is prohibited and not in compliance with the Islamic Shariyah.

3. Sales are only acceptable on items owned. This means someone can not sell an item (product, service, shares, commodity, etc..) unless he has paid for it in full and has full control on it. In Islam a person selling stocks that he never paid for is prohibited and not in compliance with the Shariyah.

As of today there are no 100% Islamic compliant financing vehicles in the US, the efforts mentioned above in the PBS article are good and trying to strive to get close to the fair and just Islamic financing. However due to regulations and other factors there are some gaps, such as the joint risk sharing in a partnership model. Islamic financing has been around for 1430 years from the days of Prophet Mohamed and it is implemented in many parts of the World (UK Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) we in the US are just behind. There is a US institution that has started offering some Islamic vehicles.

There is no question that Islamic financing is fair, just and solid, providing fair social rewards to all parties involved, unlike other means of financing. Islamic financing can be used by non-Muslims as well whether they decide to fund or use the system.

Usury/interest was prohibited not only in the Quran, but Jesus and Moses were ordered to tell the people to not engage in usury. (proverbs 28:8, Ezekiel 18:8, Exodus 22:25)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Finally America Might See a High Speed Rail System, or Might It Not

It's not about time that America gets a high speed rail. It is way past due. Japan had one for decades, and Europe has been there, did that ages ago.

These days there are discussions about two impressive high rail initiatives worth mentioning. In the West Obama is pushing for $13 billion ($30 billion total cost) high speed rail system (links 1) in California and the heart of America's Mid-West, Chicago, my favorite city. In the East King Abdullah is launching a high speed rail route between Makkah and Madinah.

Wikipedia has compiled a list of high speed rail projects across the globe. The Saudi project is impressive as it has the least cost / mile worldwide. The American is impressive because it is the first in the Western Hemisphere and second fastest worldwide reaching a little over 150 miles / hr.

Now here is the big project. China's high speed rail, the longest worldwide reaching over 800 miles and exceeding the American train speed. A really neat chart showing the world's top high speed projects can be found at infrastructurist.com by Yonah Freemark.

So the questions that pop up are: Why did it take America too long to initiate such a project? Will it be a success or another Acela (links 1, 2) Successful system development is contingent on many factors some of the critical ones are policies, supporting infrastructure, overall cost, stakeholder value proposition.

So why do I consider Acela a failure (1) Well, for one it was a very expensive system, secondly, it did not take away much volume from other modes of transportation. If it takes me an hr to drive from my home to get to an Acela station in Washington DC so that I can get to New York City in a couple of hrs, I might be better off driving up to New York in 2.5 hrs and pay less in gas and have the convienence of my own transportation in all the other pockets of cities and suburbs that lack public transportation. Just one of many aspects of the overall system that needs to be considered.

The boundary of a high speed rail system does NOT stop at the tracks, it goes beyond the tracks and stations to the supporting infrastructure that will allow people to get to the high speed stations, use the facilities and services within the service levels and value proposition a stakeholder will expect.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New PMP Practice Book Released Today



I just received a proof copy of my new PMP practice book today. The book is a great tool for those who prefer the self-study route. It comprises of 15 chapters covering the concepts of project management, a project's life cycle phases, process groups and project domain areas (scope, schedule, cost, risk, communications, risk, procurement, quality, human resources and integration). It also includes a chapter on professional responsibility, and a chapter with extra 130+ questions. The whole book offers over 420 practice questions very similar to the exam. The book is not a study guide (it does not have content to study, just problems to practice), it does have a chapter on how to prepare for the exam and various tips ranging from "how to get to the test center" to "how to respond to questions"

It can be purchased online from https://www.createspace.com/3380201 or from Amazon.com

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tools Alone Produce Fools

Managing a project or defining a complex system requires the knowledge and skills of appropriate methodologies and processes to realize the objectives. An individual who only knows how to use a project management tool (see selected list of tools in the sidebar), but lacks the understanding of the iterative and progressive nature of projects and how to manage the different processes within each phase will not be able to lead a successful project.

There is a big difference between developing a schedule that works and a schedule that looks good in a tool. Expert project managers need nothing more than a pencil and sheet of paper to lead a project. Tools help automate calculations and enable updates and corrections easily, allow tracking of changes and ensure a controlled environment that is agile and flexible. Tools do not defie methodologies, approaches, strategies, or plans. Tools do not execute, monitor or control and tools do not communicate, coach, inspire, motivate and collaborate. Only project managers do.

Are your pencils sharpened?

Friday, April 03, 2009

High Availability Systems Failure


Does your business require availability capabilities? In today's complex business landscape and the demand for high accountability and transparency, high availability becomes a basic requirement in operations, information access and decision-making.

Interestingly most high availability environments that fail are unable to deliver the expected results no because of technology immaturity, but mostly due to poor management and oversight. A publicly known example is the State of Texas data loss as a result of invalid checks and balances and inappropriate technical management. In this particular case according to the article in the Dallas Morning News IBM has been fined $5.4 million. Of that, $2.7 million was for failing to resolve problems quickly and $1.2 million was for server outages. Data backup breaches, missed mail deadlines and taking more than 15 minutes to respond to serious incidents accounted for the rest, according to department records released this week.

Next time you implement a high availability solution, do not get fooled by the latest server technology, data backup system or disaster recovery tools. A high availability technology with a staff member who can not use it makes it useless.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Maryland is First in the Nation to Reach Recovery and Reinvestment Act Milestone


States are required to meet certain federal guidelines and requirements to be eligible to use recovery funds allocated to the State. On March 23rd, Maryland reached this milestone. According to the State of Maryland Governor's website, "Phase I of Maryland’s ARRA funded highway projects totals more than $224 million and has the potential to support up to 10,000 jobs".

On the top of President Obama's priorities are business integrity and fiscal responsibility. Vice President Biden has been assigned this responsibility. This will drive the need for certified project managers and professionals by contractors to ensure best compliance possible with sound business practices and accountability standards.

This is a great time to get PMP certified for professionals interested in pursuing recovery act projects. I am offering several workshops soon.