Tuesday, March 7, 2017

On the Reduction of Meetings

A common complaint in many modern work environments is the sheer number of “meetings.”  Collections of individuals that inevitably interrupt creative “maker” work.  In general, there are good faith attempts have at the leadership and team level to indiscriminately “reduce” the number of meetings as well as “improve meeting hygiene.”  On reflection, the issue may not be so much a meeting issue, as it is a communication problem within the organization.  That is to say, meetings have a tendency to be one-sided--the person calling the meeting needs something from the attendees--and therefore feel interruptive and unimportant by some subset of the attendees.  By exploring a taxonomy of internal communication needs, we may be able reduce meetings through improved communication options rather than gross reduction and/or shaving minutes through hygiene.  External meetings are not yet included.

Taxonomy of Meetings:
  1. Approval
  2. Decision-making
  3. Problem-solving/Advice
  4. Working session
  5. Collaborative Creation session
  6. Informational/status update

Approvals:
  • Who calls: Decision-maker with responsibility for a decision but not authority
  • Who attends: One or more approving managers
  • Agenda: Clearly disclaim that this is an approval meeting, send the decision up front if possible to avoid the meeting.
  • Length: 15 minutes
  • Benefits accrue to: Generally no one, meetings of this nature are often avoidable and reflect poor decision making process.
  • Opportunities to reduce: Delegation of authority by role (staffing plans, budgeting, etc.)  
The Approval meeting exists whenever we have set up managers with responsibility to solve a problem but without the authority to do so.  These meetings are often the result of insufficient up-front planning (including budgeting) that would allow pre-delegation of authority to a trusted manager.  In general, these meetings should be reserved for novel situations and should be generally reduced through appropriate work planning and clear decision-making authority granting.

Decision-making:
  • Who calls: Decision-maker with responsibility and partial authority
  • Who attends: Peer decision-makers, usually of different functional areas with the remaining authority
  • Agenda: Inform the participants ahead of time that a decision is to be made by the end of the meeting.  Send point of decision and any initial options ahead of time, but do not present initial options as constrained choices.
  • Length: 30 minutes
  • Benefits accrue to: All parties as long as this decision-making pattern exists
  • Opportunities to reduce: Not clearly a positive.
The Decision-making meeting is different from the approval meeting in that peers with partial authority for decision-making come together to discuss multiple options. One member is not necessarily trying to get buy-in from others, but rather using the diverse functional experience of peers to choose together between a series of options.  As long as our business remains complicated and novel, these meetings will persist.  Reducing these meetings should not necessarily be a goal as we believe unilateral decision-making is less likely to produce superior decisions.

Problem-Solving/Advice
  • Who calls: Decision-maker with responsibility and authority, but insufficient information
  • Who attends: Functional experts from different disciplines
  • Agenda: Inform the participants ahead of time that a you are seeking input on a decision that you will make. Try and determine if you need factual input or judgement input. Send point of decision and any initial questions ahead of time
  • Length: 30-90 minutes depending on topic.  
  • Benefits accrue to: Decision-maker & judgement giver (to help organize their own functions)
  • Opportunities to reduce: Functional experts can maintain knowledge bases to reduce the factual input-style meetings.  
Problem-solving/Advice meetings are similar to Decision-making except the attendees are there to advise rather than decide.  The meeting caller can accept or reject any input, and should make this distinction clear so as to not confuse or offend the attendees whose input is not incorporated in a final decision.  Fact-seeking type meetings may be avoidable if functional areas are able to invest in transparent knowledge bases.  This leaves the bulk of these meetings to be judgement related which are incredibly beneficial for both the caller and the attendees.  The caller gets advice to make a better decision.  The attendees have an opportunity to verbalize and potentially re-organize their thoughts about their area of expertise, which can often lead to breakthroughs elsewhere.  

Working Session
  • Who calls: Decision-maker with responsibility and authority, but insufficient skill or labor
  • Who attends: functional experts, skill experts, labor from own team
  • Agenda: Inform the participants ahead of time that a you are trying to complete a fairly well-described task together, which will likely be complete at the end of the meeting. Send a great description of the problem at hand and initial broadly sketched solutions and/or previous solutions.  Time and task management is crucial.
  • Length: 60-240 minutes (with breaks)
  • Benefits accrue to: Company & Customers
  • Opportunities to reduce: Build functions for commonly occurring tasks/problems.
The working session is when you have to get things done, often early in a small company's life cycle.  A great example is board-book preparation, or customer mailers.  Any time that a project is important or complex enough that more labor and/or special skill are required in parallel, call a Working session to get things done. Regular working sessions to solve the same problems repeatedly may be call for creation of a function with new positions to handle new regular work.

Collaborative Creation Session
  • Who calls: Decision-maker with responsibility and authority, but insufficient skill or labor
  • Who attends: functional experts, skill experts, labor from own team
  • Agenda: Inform the participants ahead of time that a you are trying to complete a complex, poorly-described task together, which will likely NOT be complete at the end of the meeting. Send a great description of the problem at hand and initial broadly sketched solutions and/or previous solutions.
  • Length: 90-240 minutes (with breaks)
  • Benefits accrue to: Company & Customers
  • Opportunities to reduce: Not a goal.
The Collaborative Creation session is used when multiple disciplines are required to solve a new, complex problem. Our Cross-functional teams are an example. Unlike the working session, your goal is not to “get things done” but rather build something new and different.  This is generally hard, messy, takes more than one meeting, and is exactly why many of us come to work every day.  We have plenty of internal skill, specifically on the Operations Development, Talent and Culture and Product teams at how to facilitate creative meetings so I will defer to them. Managing these meetings over time is often a necessary skill as the work will spill from meeting to meeting and participants will not always be available.

Informational/status update
  • Who calls: Functional area/Team leader, Someone who wants to know something
  • Who attends: functional experts from one or many teams
  • Agenda: Clear agenda of topics to be covered, either ad hoc or regular agenda. Inform the participants ahead of time of what is to be covered so they can prepare their updates.  Make it clear that the goal here is to inform and not necessarily advise or decide.  Allow for Q&A (to distinguish this meeting from what could have been an e-mail). Time management key to cover all areas.  Will likely spawn additional other types of meetings.
  • Length: 10-60 minutes (with breaks)
  • Benefits accrue to: The need-to-be-informed. This is generally a cost for the informers unless they learn as well.
  • Opportunities to reduce:
    • Any unilateral information dump of non-contentious nature could be converted to a written communication, e-mail, knowledge base, snippets, tweets, etc.  
    • Smaller sized meetings also more likely to be universally beneficial.
    • Ask yourself if there is another way to learn the information that takes less of your participants time
    • Find ways to bring additional content that is useful to the attendees 
The status meeting.  On the positive side, these meetings allow very sensitive or nuanced information to be discussed, access to senior leadership decision-making thought process rather than facts.  They help keep everyone synchronized and working together and on the right things.  Done well, these meetings are crucial to a healthy organization.  
Perhaps the greatest paradox is that we do not have any time to do work, read notes/updates, because we are always in informational or status meetings.  These are the biggest potential offenders for wasted, interruptive time.  Because they tend to be large, they are often scheduled at a time that is optimal for no one.  Also, it can be hard to make these meetings sufficiently beneficial to everyone as the benefits often accrue to the uninformed, who call the meetings, and then continue to call them causing a downward spiral.  These meetings tend to be regularly occurring without clear need or agenda.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

HIMSS 2017: Buzzword Roundup

Greetings all!

Glad to be back from a dizzying couple of days at HIMSS 2017, the annual see and be seen conference in the Health tech world, where prestige is measured in convention floor square footage and carpet depth (at least one vendor area felt awfully reminiscent of a bouncy house).  Having not been in about 10 years, HIMSS has become a rather dizzying affair.

This year the buzzwords seems to coalesce into 4 related concepts, neatly placed on nearly everyone's marketing materials:

  1. Value-based care
  2. Population Health
  3. Big data
  4. Machine learning/AI
One gentleman I met on the floor suggested that all of the presenting companies could have agreed on one booth with one pattern of signage given the convergence.

Anyhow, if you look deeply into those four buzzwords (buzz phrases?), it would seem that the direction of clinical care is artificial intelligence supporting groups paid to take care of populations.  Individual clinicians and patients were nowhere to be found. Not entirely surprising for a tech conference, but as another colleague pointed out-- this isn't really tech, these are tech enabled services.

Hold that thought in one hand for a moment while we try and square it with the rise of personalized, relationship-based, individualized medicine as all the rage elsewhere in the healthcare world.  

So then, are the two ideas: care for populations driven by machine intelligence and care for individuals driven by personal genomics in conflict, competition or concert?

I'll add a third one into the mix-- behind the high gloss of hi tech (computational or biological), the problems of health care are actually extremely messy, mundane, and human. Accurate lists of names, getting clinicians and patients to do the things we already know work, organizing emotional narratives from which to drive decisions; these are the problems of today that each of us ignore at our own peril. 

So maybe I'll put forth a possible litmus test for evaluating any new health technology:

Does said technology (medicine, reminder app, clinical decision support tool, diagnostic coding suggester, etc., etc.) require conscious human effort and therefore adds complexity to a chaotic system, or does it remove conscious effort and reduces complexity in a chaotic system?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mind-blowing Lessons from the past 5 years

So today I celebrated 5 years working in my current organization, which means I have been doing this longer than anything I have ever done before, except elementary school.  As is our tradition, I wanted to share some of the mind-blowing lessons I've learned since starting work.

Mind-blowing: adj.: Anything that has fundamentally and irreversibly altered my experience of the world

  1. “Just because we think they are wrong, doesn’t mean we are right.” 
  2. There is no substitute for being there: get up early, get on the plane and be present
  3. Patterns keep repeating through medicine, software development, management, parenting
  4. The quality of technology reflects the quality of decision-making
  5. Decided is not Done, and Done is what matters
  6. Perfection is anathema to survival, and probably so to success 
  7. Help will only arrive after you have taken responsibility for solving your own problems
  8. When others try and convince you of your own ideas, smile, you have succeeded
  9. You must be your own harshest critic AND yet you must know your own true worth
  10. Perform first, negotiate second
  11. “You are too young to think you are bad at things yet.” 
  12. Get a life, your work depends on it



Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Stan Schutzbank Slide System

So I find myself presenting often these days, and making lots and lots of slide. My father, the eponymous Stan Schutzbank, warned me this would happen to me as it happened to him. Except he used to do it in the $3-per-physical-slide-better-get-it-right era.  I remember opening up our practice screen and gleefully helping him install the slide carousel as he would practice his most important presentations with his family.  In some ways, presentation is our family business.  Other people learn how to build tables, install furniture, mow the lawn.  I learned how to present in the...
Stan Schutzbank Slide System

What is the purpose of your talk?

Why are you presenting?  Are you there to teach or to guide a group to a decision?  Do you need to lead them to a specific decision (sales) or just ensure one is made? What must your audience know before they leave the room. Put your important points first, repeat them often and repeat them often.  

Remember your tortured audience.

No one really wants to hear your presentation, so remembering your audience matters. They aren’t really paying attention either, they are thinking about lunch, or if they left the stove on, or who they should be talking to, or a million other more interesting things than you.  Plus phones…
Are they forced to be in the room or there voluntarily? Large or small?  Are they visual, auditory, kinesthetic? Comfortable room, uncomfortable room? What time of day is your presentation?  Hungry? Sleepy? Tired? Bored? Overwhelmed? Keep this in mind as you craft your presentation and match your flow of ideas and energy to what you expect in the room.

You are the presentation, not the slides.

When it comes to the creation of any presentation, you should assume that they are designed to be presented. Your words, gestures and stories, should do more than half of the communication, leaving the slides to be light.  Let the slides guide the conversation, reinforce main concepts, provide figures, explanations of terms and acronyms.  No walls of text.

Note: If your presentation slide deck is meant to be a "leave behind" that has to be a self-sufficient document, consider making an actual handout as the flow works more seamlessly and you can take time and words to express ideas more completely.  Your audience may be handcuffed to slides, free them from this prison.

Now to the slides themselves:

  • If you have a background and color template to follow, use it.  If not, KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid)!  Simple is better-- busy logos, busy colors and busy slides distract from your message.
  • Avoid letting text wrap to the next line. It confuses your audience and will trip you up.
  • When in doubt... 
  • Break up sentences into bullets 
  • One idea per slide and be sure drive it home
  • Organize your points visually to convey this one point.
  • Limit abbreviations and always define them the first time with an asterisk and footnote.
  • Use animations sparingly, and only to convey motion and flow
  • Always consider how your animations will print-- overlays are unintelligible
  • Slide transitions are rarely called for and add little.
  • Video and Audio are unreliable, if you MUST, test, test, test.
  • Pictures are incredibly powerful, but only powerful to teach/instruct, not as art.
  • Never apologize for a chart being too small.  Either make it bigger, cut it up, or don't use it.
  • Appendix: Make slides you might need (usually with data), but save them for requests.  You will look incredibly well prepared.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Birth of Chirp: Why we built our own Electronic Health Record (x-Post from Iora Health)

Check out a post I did for our blog at Iora Health.  Once again answering the question of why we made the tough decision to build our own medical record.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

So you wanna be a Powerballer?

Powerball, for those of you who are even more disciplined about news consumption, is an interstate American lottery that has not had a winner since November and currently has a jackpot of $806 million (reported confusingly as 1.3 billion).  It is literally all that anyone is talking about.

Like millions of other Americans, I have been roped into a pooled buying situation with some friends.  If anything, it allows us a new venue to insult and mock each other for the roughly the same reasons we have done so for the last 30 odd years.  To that end, I have been putting these tickets under the Recreation budget line, as opposed to Investment, as one friend advised.  We played on Saturday and shockingly, we failed to win anything.  So here we go again for Wednesday, slightly bigger pool, more intense discussions on exactly how to divide up and spend our winnings.

But here's the thing about all of lottery madness-- it is winning actually terrifies me.  All I can think about is some dystopian, Hunger-games-Victor-misery type situation. Enough to consider not playing again.  Seriously? Am I that risk averse?  Here are some issues going through my head:

Annuity or Lump Sum?

Classic question.  I have to go lump sum here.  Time value of money, don't trust the solvency of the lottery commission, better return on my own, etc.  About $480 million after taxes can buy a lot of things that can generate a return sufficient for today's expenses.

However, the major advantage of annuity would be that it is much easier to learn how to handle $26,000,000 (rough calculation) at a time than $480 million all at once.  Kind of like not taking out too much cash from the ATM, it is just less to lose.  That sad, after 1-2 years it would be really nice to take out the lump.  Is that an option?

How do I receive the money?

Simply put, where does one put half a million dollars received all at once?  Big mattress?  Several thousand savings accounts? Large brokerage?  I don't even mean an investment strategy, I mean, you get a check tomorrow, where the hell do you cash it?

Taxes?

So everyone complains about their huge tax bill on found money.  Honestly, this is found money, this is not where you complain about over taxation.  Taxing wages on labor is far more cruel than government taking a bite of money you didn't have yesterday and did almost nothing to earn.

Tax consequences of Splitting?

That said, how does splitting work, tax-wise?  If my friends and I do split, do we have to pay taxes on each successive transfer?  That is-- does the winner give Uncle Sam his 40% cut as does each subsequent recipient?  If so, taxes will eat a massive amount of winnings.  Do we incorporate before buying tickets?  How about gifts to friends and family (separate issue)?  Does the "lucky" winner just have to keep to the gift limit and start a bunch of 529s?

Keeping it?

How the hell does one hold on to that much money, acquired that quickly, without having developed any of the financial muscles to hold on to it.  How does one avoid the temptations of travel, frivolous or extravagant purchases, the claims of creditors (real or imagined), long lost relatives and old friends suddenly in need, sycophants, leeches, and hangers on?  How does one avoid the attention of thieves and con artists?

How does a winner spending wisely, take care of friends & family without ruining them?

The most conservative and thoughtful of us assume that we would make a series of rational purchases-- debt reduction, homes, set up financial products to assure the security of our loved ones.  But how does one do this without all of the potential pitfalls of found money-- how to not alienate friends and loved ones through too much or too little generosity?  How to avoid fueling drug, alcohol and gambling addictions in those around you?  How to make every interaction in your life, the way you process every conversation with every person, not entirely about this huge pot of money you effectively found?  How to raise children well, avoid the spoiled-sociopath continuum?  How to disprove the axiom that wealth never lasts more than 3 generations?

Growing it?

This has a little to do with how to receive the money, but one wonders how to effectively grow that much money.  I guess this is why we have really large financial institutions who would line up to "manage" that money for our lucky winners.  (See "Keeping it")

Giving it all (or some) away?

So then people think about to what charities or other causes they ought to contribute?  Whose student loans would you pay off?  For those of you in the Give it away camp, is it just because you don't have really good answers to the questions above?  Is there a responsibility that a lottery winner has to distribute found wealth?  To what end?

So that's what I am thinking about while everyone else is plotting their island escape.  Maybe I'm just boring, I don't know.  So I'll ask again, given all that-- You still wanna be a Powerballer?


UPDATE:  I did not win.