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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Liar or Bully

July 21st. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

Adrian Walker (At home, in control, Boston Globe, July 21st. Page: B1) in discussing the Governor's new found credibility as manager of the Big Dig recovery quotes Mitt Romney as saying "I've had no involvement."

Mitt Romney is either a liar or a bully.

If he is telling the truth, then he has been trying to remove Matt Amarello from the Highway Board for the past couple of years without any information that could justify removal. In my book, that is bullying.

If he did have the information to justify removing Amarello then he and his advisors have been deeply involved in the Big Dig and the Massachusetts Turnpike and he did nothing until a fatality occurred. That does not add to his credibility; in fact he's been caught in a barefaced lie.

Either way, we need an independent investigation.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Big Dig and Flexible Hours

July 19th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

Flexible Working Hours:
A solution to the forthcoming commuter chaos
One date looms over the engineers involved in reconstruction of the Big Dig tunnels: September 5th. 2006. It´s the day after Labor Day when traffic in Boston returns to its normal volume after the August doldrums. If the tunnels are not back in service by that time, then gridlock on the Boston streets is virtually assured. Unless … .
Unless city officials and employers sit down and develop a time shifting strategy: Flextime.  Most people do not have a choice in their hours of work. Hours are usually inflexible and are set by the employer.
The most recent survey, undertaken by Boston College, of Flexible Working Hours (Flextime) in the United States suggests that about 30% of employers allow at least some employees to work flexible hours. The type of flexible hour system varies from complete flexibility with the hours chosen by the employee, through complete freedom with the choice jointly made by the employee and her/his supervisor, to a set of core hours when the employee has to be at work (say between 10.30am and 3.30 pm­with time for lunch) together with a flexible band when the employee can be at work (say 6.00am to 10.30 am and 3.30 pm to 11.00pm). Which of these will be suitable will depend on the characteristics of the firm and the job.
If Flexible hours were widely adopted in Boston in the coming month,  I suspect that we could cut the peak commuter times by about 15% and spread that traffic into the shoulder periods.
We have six weeks for the firms and the city and the State to make the plans to put a city-wide Flexible working hours scheme. It will require intense cooperation between firms and government agencies.
The problem must be addressed through a solution requiring a systemic change involving Boston firms and the public services provided by the MBTA and the police. The solution is the widespread adoption of flexible working hours. In addition to firms increasing their flexibility in working hours, infrastructure changes will have to occur simultaneously with the changes in working hours. The MBTA will have to change its train and bus schedules: rush hour schedules will have to be extended for an hour or two each side of the morning and evening peak hours. The police department will have to put more police on the street during these extended commuting hours. Only if commuting is made easier in these off peak hours will there be a major shift in individual commuting behavior.
Can Boston´s firms, police and politicians muster the energy required to make such cooperation work?
Martin Evans has been a student of organizations for over 35 years. He undertook one of the first evaluations of the impact of Flexible Working Hours in 1973.

Jacoby on the Big Dig.

July 19th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

How strange.

In Jacoby's fulmination against government projects (O'Neill's crumbling legacy, Boston Globe, July 17th. 2006. page: A9), the only evidence of corruption that he cites is the, as yet unproven, charges against managers of a private sector concrete provider. Yes, that is a private sector potential delinquent, not a public sector one.

Jacoby argues that the problems of the big dig were due to the lack of government oversight. I would remind him that oversight and inspections are only a second line of defense. The first line of defense is having the work done properly in the first place. The people doing that work were the private sector contractors hired by the government to do the work -- and the oversight was also carried out by private sector firms.

It is not government that is at fault. It is the culture of greed and "me first" that pervades top management in the private sector these days.

It is a pity that Jacoby cannot see that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Management ignorance and the Big Dig

July 18th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

Managerial lessons from the Big Dig

We learned today that, back in 1999, workers on the Big Dig project expressed concerns to their managers that the bolts holding the roof panels might not be up to the task.

There are a number of managerial lessons to be learned from this episode.

Lower level employees have a wealth of tacit knowledge; knowledge that is not codified and written in engineering manuals but that is based upon experience with the tools and materials in their interaction with other materials on the work site. Both codified and tacit knowledge are valuable. In combination, the two types of knowledge provide a formidable underpinning to enable the manager to make correct managerial decisions.

Inexplicably, this information seems to have been discounted in the decision to continue to use the epoxy based bolts. Even more surprising, given that managers had this information, we are informed that the decision was also made to stop testing the epoxy to make sure that it was being mixed correctly. If this is true, this is cost cutting at its worst. Surely spot checks on the viability of the epoxy bond should have continued throughout the construction phase.

This may also illustrate the effect of uncertainty absorption. As information is passed through several levels of the hierarchy it is changed. Some information is dropped or smoothed, other information is sharpened. It is likely that as information passed up the line to ratify these decisions that the employees concerns were given less emphasis than the codified engineering knowledge.

In 1999, employment in Massachusetts was quite high (an unemployment rate of about 3.3%). When Labor Markets are tight, employers are usually forced to treat workers well and allow them some empowerment in order to retain high quality employees. Workers respond, as in the Big Dig case, with constructive criticism. They respond to commitment by the firm with commitment to the firm.

The good times continued until the recession of 2001 when the unemployment rate almost doubled from 2.8% to 4.7% in a single year. During that year, over 70,000 Massachusetts residents lost their jobs – a dramatic illustration of the unwillingness of managers to show any commitment to their employees when they no longer needed to do so in the new Labor Market conditions. There are after all alternatives to layoffs. For example for a company to share the pain by having all members of the organization take a 10% cut in both hours of work and pay rather than firing 10% of the workforce would be a vivid statement that the top management was truly committed to their work force.

If managers show a high level of commitment, then employees will reciprocate in kind. If the 1999 problems had occurred in 2002 or 2003 in firms that experienced big layoffs, it is unlikely that constructive comments would have been made – rather the attitude would be, “It´s management´s problem, let them solve it!’

It is a truism to say that organizations are systems. All the parts are important. Managers and executives may be more important, but lower level workers are also needed to do their part – and their part is more than just following order unthinkingly as those workers in 1999 showed at the Big Dig. What a pity their views were discounted.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Romney: Engineer?

July 17th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

Mitt Romney really should stick to what he knows and not mouth off on things about which he is uninformed.

He was quoted today, speaking of the Ted Williams Tunnel, as saying "The panels are much narrower .. They are not 4-inch thik slabs of concrete. There are many more fasteners holding them up, the beefiness of the fasteners is much more substantial, and there is no indication of movement."
Romney has no credibility saying that.

The person saying that, if it is to be convincing, is a trained structural engineer -- or did Romney play at being a structural engineer when he did "a job for a day" during his election campaign four years ago.

Another version:

July 18th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

This gets sillier and sillier.

When Mitt Romney was running for Governor he held a weekly 'work day' when he played at being a fisherman and being a hamburger cook at a Red Sox Game.

In the past year, he hasn't had many 'work days' at the Governor's job, as he's been out on the stump quite a lot.

Now with his takeover of the Big Dig, Mitt Romney is playing at being an engineer. Your picture (Big Dig Ceiling Must be Modified, Governor Says, New York Times, July 17th. page:A17) shows him with his sketches of the tunnel ceiling supports.

I wish he would step back and let the experts get on with their job. His ill informed interventions could be dangerous. But, as when he ran for governor, he needs the photo-ops.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Model for Israeli Restraint

July 16th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

A number of world leaders have called for Israel to engage in restraint and a proportionate response to recent terrorist attacks.

What would such a proportionate response look like?  It should be based on two major principles. First the Rabin principle that Israel should negotiate as if there was no terrorism and deal with terrorism as if there were no negotiations going on; that is terrorist attacks should not be allowed to derail negotiations. The second principle, flowing from that, is that Israel should make a scrupulous distinction between terrorists and the governments of the countries that harbor them. In the long run, negotiations will have to take place between governments so demonizing those governments will only make negotiations more difficult.

From these principles, we can derive a three step process of dealing with terrorist attacks like those from Gaza three weeks ago and those from Lebanon this week.

I will apply these to the specific example of the Hezbollah attacks. First Israel should go to the Lebanese Government and demand that it fulfill its responsibilities under UN Resolution Number 1559 to disarm the Hezbollah militias and have the regular Lebanese army take control over the Lebanon-Israel border. Israel should have given one week for Lebanon to do this.

In the likely failure of this first step, Israel should go to the Security Council and the Arab League and request that both bodies authorize the dispatch of a Peace Keeping Force to Lebanon to control the border betwee4n Israel and Lebanon.and disarm the Hezbollah. Israel should have given a three day timetable for the passage of one or other of these resolutions and some evidence that deployment was commencing.

Only if these two steps failed, would Israel have the right to take matters into its own hands and try to deal with Hezbollah unilaterally.

The problem is that such a long drawn out process would require almost unbearable restraint from Israel. Restraint in international affairs is a commodity is short supply these days.

The adoption of similar steps in future attacks of this kind would reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic outcome occurring.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Big Dig Investigation

July 14th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

The Big Dig Investigation

Those politicians calling for an independent review of the Big Dig catastrophe are absolutely correct. It is a mistake to allow those responsible for creating the situation to have a major role in investigating the problems.

One of the more pervasive phenomena in human decision-making is “escalating commitment to a losing course of action.’ This occurs when early investments in terms of money, resources, energy, and time have been committed to a project. At a later stage, the expected pay-offs from the investment have not materialized and the person or organization has to decide whether or not to “cut their losses’ or to make an additional investment. Almost inevitably the person or organization “throws good money after bad.’

This occurs for a couple of reasons. People are very good at identifying external causes for the initial failure and do not expect those causes to recur so they can justify an additional investment in the project. Secondly, success in the project becomes inextricably tied up with their desire to prove themselves competent so the desired outcome has shifted from a successful project to that of a successful project PLUS a successful organization or individual. Te initial objective is swamped by the personal objective.

I said earlier that it is “almost’ inevitable for good money to be thrown after bad. The exception occurs when a different person makes the second decision whether or not to make an additional investment. Successful Banks demonstrate this when they turn non-performing loans to a “work-out’ unit rather than have the original loan officer attempt to resurrect the deal with the client – that way you get escalation!

If the engineers and officials of the Turnpike Authority are to be responsible for the inspection process, we run the danger that – despite their undoubted professionalism – they will be concerned about justifying their prior decisions and work at developing rationalizations rather than reasons for the problems with the tunnel.

It is essential for new eyes, with no emotional commitment to the past decisions,  to investigate the problems.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Withdraw the Hayes Nomination

July 12th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

The President should withdraw the nomination of William Haynes for a judicial appointment.

If appointed he will prove to be the Judge Jeffries of American jurisprudence.

He is really too stupid to serve on the bench. Unlike his military lawyer colleagues, he did not grasp that for the US to adhere to the Geneva conventions in all dealings with prisoners and detainees is not simply to protect those prisoners. American adherence to the rules also protects, or should, Americans who fall into enemy hands.

To the extent that we fail to live up to the tenets of international law, our opponents are encouraged to do likewise.

This pattern of activity by the administration, beginning in the early months of its accession to power clearly shows a contempt for international law, a contempt for the Geneva Convention (encouraged by Mr Haynes) and an arrogance that is stupefying in its stupidity. All of these decisions will come back to haunt the United States as other groups and other nations start to play by the US rules. We will come to regret the day we turned our back on the world.

The administration has taken one step in the right direction by declaring itself bound by the Geneva Conventions, let it take another by withdrawing the nomination of Mr Haynes.

Romney, the Big Dig, and Matt Amorello

July 12th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

What a pathetic, petty person our Governor is proving to be.

At a time when the Turnpike Authority and its leaders should be putting every ounce of their energy in to finding out what led to the tragedy of Tuesday evening, and how the situation can be rectified, and what other hidden problems are waiting to happen, they are being distracted by the Governor's attempt to unseat the Chairman of the Turnpike Authority, Matt Amorello.

Instead of rolling up his sleeves and promising all the State help he could provide to deal with the Engineering and Construction issues, Mitt Romney is putting his energy into reviving his feud with Matt Amorello. What a leader!

The day may come when Matt Amorello should step down but now is not that time. The best chance for an independent inquiry to find out the truth is if it has knowledgeable insiders to deal with. If Amorello steps down before the inquiry is over, his replacement will not have the information the inquiry members need to do their job.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Hospital Deaths

July 5th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

Today's editorial on Hospital Caused Death (NYT, July 5, 2006, p: A18 omitted another important step that Hospitals could take to improve patient health: washing hands between patients.

Hospital born/borne infections may not cause death but they do greatly prolong hospital stays. It is unbelievable that almost two hundred years after Semelweiss discovered how germs were transmitted in hospitals, many doctors and nurses do not wash their hands between patients. As a result it has been estimated that about 1.8 million patients contact hospital induced infections each year (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

In the fast based hospital of today with the emphasis on throughput, there must be time given for doctors and nurses to wash their hands, even if gloved, between patients.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Healey, Drugs, and Needles

July 1st. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

Shame on Kerry Healey!

Her support of the Governor's veto of over-the-counter needle sales legislation is, by her own admission, not based on facts (Boston Globe, July 1, 2006, p. B4).

If ever there was a field in which evidence based decisions are needed it is in the fight against substance abuse. For Kerry Healey not to have considered the evidence from studies showing no increase in drug use after the passage of needle sale legislation in other jurisdictions is appalling.
She is an educated woman with a social science Ph.D. so she is trained in the ability to "review the 'methodology'" of the studies. For her to have neglected to do so is an abdication of her responsibility to serve the Commonwealth by making the best possible decisions based on factual evidence.

She must be held to account for this failure.

Martin Evans is Professor Emeritus at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto where he taught research methodology for many years. He also volunteers for the Deval Patrick Campaign.