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Monday, June 20, 2011

Aspiring World-Class Universities: A Snippet On Clemson

As it becomes more challenging to compete in a global village, institutions of higher education look into their back pockets for ideas to differentiate and grow. These aspiring institutions do not need to replicate what top universities are doing, on the contrary their innovation in distinct new ways can unleash value and competitiveness.

A shining example is Clemson University in South Carolina. Clemson has been the traditional southern unviersity focused mostly on agriculture and mechanical engineering. Clemson has been able to transform its positioning and value proposition through a well articulated study of the regional economy. South Carolina had embarked on an economic development and conversion process to make the state one of the leading automotive regions in the US. Clemson formed a strategic alliance partnership with BMW [1] to recreate itself as the premier motor sports and automotive research and education university.

This transformation effort at Clemson was adopted and supported at all levels of the university - a key requirement for success - as was reflected in Clemson's vision statement [2], to be from among the top 20 public US universities. Clemson was 23rd in 2010 [3] up from 33rd in 2005 [4] and 74th when Clemson's President James Barker took office in 1999 [5]. Within a decade Clemson has been able to transform itself and achieve a new position through leveraging regional changes and collaboration with others outside higher education.

Each University will have a different catalyst for transformation and very different root-causes that challenges its aspirations. Leading universities are those who can carefully articulate their business challenges, understand the complexities of the societies and constituencies they serve, and apply the best strategies, approaches and frameworks to design an architecture that makes a lasting change.


[1] BWM, Clemson and the State Begin Historic Partnership, Clemson World, Fall 2002, available at

[2] Clemson's Vision Statement,

[3] Clemson Ranks 23rd Among Public Universities,

[4] Virginia Tech Undergraduate Engineering Ranked 14th in US,

[5] Clemson Civil Engineering in Top 20,

[6] Picture, courtesy of Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR),

To Read Further:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Responsibilities for Higher Education

In most nations across the globe, in particular the progressive ones, higher education has been driven by the societal needs and challenges. Both public and private institutions of higher education play a paramount role in the readiness of a nation to address its needs at a strategic level. While public policy play a major role in the direction of these institutes, many institutes also are on the forefront playing major roles in shaping the progression of technology, social sciences, life sciences and other major domains of knowledge, and in some cases even influencing public policy.

Today's challenges facing societies across the globe are of a new nature. They are complex, complicated and require in many cases a complete new paradigm of thinking and problem solving. Approaches to solve the economic crisis, unemployment, social ills, resource sustainability and many other new types of challenges require a new way of thinking and responsiveness. The transformation of many societies from product development to service development has introduced a major shift and position of higher education. It is no longer an option for many. As less manufacturing jobs become available more emphasis on knowledge-based economies becomes a key success element.

Optimized learning is a new responsibility on the shoulders of higher education [1]. Learning and knowledge delivery can no longer be one-size-fits all, nor can it be at an abstract level. Optimized learning allows students to become effective learners capable of meeting new challenges they encounter and allowing them to be effective workers and members of the society. Optimized learning allows for the achievement of learning outcomes that meets not only educational standards, but also the growing needs of society.

Optimized learning means that institutes take on the responsibility for :
  • improving learning abilities
  • increasing the number of students who persist and succeed in programs
  • closing the gaps in achievement while raising the bar.
  • developing curriculum and courses that directly reflect societal needs
  • engaging and leading partnerships with K-12, private sector, non-profits, government and other institutes
  • setting and developing standards that reflect how well an institution addresses societal needs and challenges
  • creating learning-centered environments

In addition to optimized learning, another demanding responsibility on institutes of higher education is their public accountability and its increasing scope. For example community colleges spending has increased more than 25% between 2003 and 2009 just to keep up with state and federal mandates and reporting requirements [2]. Most of this spending is reflected in information systems expenditures and satisfying legal liability.

Despite the fact that many of the challenges facing institutes of higher education are a result of decades of poor public policy and miscalculated strategic initiatives out of their control, they realize the need and responsibility to streamline business processes and offer learning centered capabilities to maintain their position as a driving force in shaping and developing local economies.

What other challenges do you believe higher education needs to deal with? How have you seen others address these challenges?

[1] "Partnerships for Public Purposes: Engaging Higher Education in Societal Challenges of the 21st Century", National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, April 2008.

[2] "Industry Profile, Community Colleges", First Research, May 16, 2011.

Monday, May 16, 2011

High Performance Teams: Got What it Takes?

Effective teams exhibit and embed in their daily activities several key elements of:
  • Trust and openness
  • Common purpose
  • Clear roles
  • Effective processes
  • Clear expectations
  • Leadership acceptance

Does your teams have these? Share with me your experiences in inculcating these elements into your team. What worked and what did not?

Friday, April 01, 2011

Achieving Team Excellence: Is an A Good Enough?

All it takes for a team to malfunction is for each of its members to score an average A in the team member's task. A grade of A is 90% or higher, so if we have a team of two people each scoring 90%, then out of 10 tasks they are working on, up to two could potentially have faults or defects in them. Pretty outstanding is in it! In reality if they are working on the same tasks and each team member had a defect in a task that is different from the one his peer reported a defect, we have an overall score of a B, and not an A.

Now imagine a team of five people working on a project, and each one of them has a set of tasks to accomplish, these tasks are intertwined and interdependent. With each one of the team members experiencing just one defect out of 10 activities means we have a total of 5 or less defects out of 50. If these activities are coupled and some could be common the actual impact is equivalent to more than just 5 defects out of 50, worse case is 5 defects out of 10 if all tasks are common across the team, which equates to an F.

Teams members need to not just achieve grade A quality, but reach above and beyond an A, to allow the team to strive for an A grade satisfaction and excellence.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Effective Listening and 139 Other Tips

My colleague John Estrella just published a book titled "Lessons Learned in Project Management: 140 Tips in 140 Words or Less". I contributed one of those tips in his book related to listening which I share below.

Effective listening is crucial, it avoids incorrect perceptions and ensures proper understanding. As I write this blog entry, I am part of mediating a large community fracture, the disagreements and conflicts started only because of poor listening skills by those leading this community, and that quickly developed in suspicion.

Tip 61: Listen more than you talk
Project managers are inherent leaders. You need to inspire your team to work harder to accomplish more work for less cost and
better quality. Listen to the team’s concerns, their understanding of
the value of the project, its significance and their role in the bigger
picture. Make sure your team is immersed in the mission of the

Listening skills for a project manager are crucial for effective
communication across the project. Make sure messages relayed to
the team by self or others are (1) clear, (2) accurate, (3) relevant, (4)
concise, (5) at the correct level of detail and (6) transmitted using
the most effective medium.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Demand for Business Architecture

As the business world and the impact of technology on our lives increases, the demand for an architecture governing how business gets done is of paramount importance.

A couple of months ago I gave a talk at the International Institute of Business Analysis on Business Architecture and one of the interesting observations I gained from the audience is that we have all become accepting of the fact that we can introduce some chaos and uncertainty to our business operations. I have seen this trend across the business spectrum recently, regardless whether the business is a startup or a multinational conglomerate. We are more accepting of delayed projects, loose guidelines, higher risks, less than optimum quality, rework, compromised rights and invalid solutions simply because we can not deal with the complexities of new challenges and complications.

Take for example the recent outcry by the public regarding the use of full body scanners across the nation's airports [1, 2, 3], or the European debt crisis [4, 5], or other failed technology and business initiatives such as the recent Indian Space Program [6] setback. All of these could have been mitigated, minimized or avoided should a business architecture existed which integrated well with other enterprise architectures of the organization.