I've known Denny Georg for nearly 20 years and he always made time to provide insight on my projects and to read and comment on my blogs. I've been impressed with his ability to highlight ways that my projects (or my blog suggestions) could deliver more value. I decided to interview him on that topic - Accelerating Value - and provide you some of his insights. I hope you find his answers helpful for your projects.
Annette: Denny, thanks so much for taking time to share your experience in Accelerating Value with my readers. Accelerating Value has always been important for business success and seems even more so today. I recently wrote a blog on “Bold Transformation”, providing some tips to guide teams to design and deploy transformation solutions that deliver greater value. This interview topic of Accelerating Value is a nice complement to that blog.
Annette: Let’s get started with you telling my audience a little bit about yourself and your experience.
Denny: I started out as a Computer Engineer in the Engineering Division for Procter & Gamble, then as a Research Assistant at the Atomic Energy Commission. My greatest experience in this area of value acceleration was my 25-year career at Hewlett Packard with roles from Member of Technical Staff to Vice President and General Manager of several Divisions and finally, the Business Sector CTO for HP Services. For most of my career, I led technical teams with a focus on driving innovation and accelerating value delivery in technology and product development. I’ve also been able to share some of that knowledge with students as an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at CSU and Associate Dean in the College of Natural Science at CSU. Since leaving HP, I have continued to pursue my broad interests in technology with emphasis on risk assessment and management.
Annette: That’s a great summary. We’ve known each other for nearly 20 years and some behaviors I consistently noticed in your leadership was a sense of urgency and a focus on delivering value.
Annette: In what ways has this concept of Accelerating Value been especially important to the initiatives that you have led?
Denny: In general, accelerating value requires a strong focus on delivering a product or project that will make a difference for the customer who is buying the product. If that customer can deliver a better 3D design or improve their supply chain and reduce inventory or build an industry leading new product then the customer will be successful and the product or project developer will be successful. Keep a strong focus on competitiveness. Success in that dimension results in profits and for teams, future opportunities.
My work experience gave me the perspectives of both procuring and using advanced technology solutions, doing research to enable, lead creation and then build next generation technology solutions. Among my HP experiences that provided the most significant learning experiences was the set of projects leading to the first CMOS RISC chip sets, the program that led to a highly competitive workstations called the “Snakes” Program, and the program to build more highly effective data base commercial application computer systems. In all three of these experiences, it would have been easier to do less and it would have been less risky to set the schedule later. It would have also been simpler to not stretch to include newer technologies. The consequences however would have been to deliver products that might be just competitive and not competitive for very long and hence be poor values for the HP customers. The products would have also been harder to sell and less profitable to HP. Based on my own experience as a user, I have always thought that it was important to make sure that the customer who bought your product would be successful and competitive in their endeavors. If the customer met their goals using your products they would come back for more.
Annette: I like the focus on understanding and then Accelerating Value in areas most important to customers, which of course drives greater revenue growth. I know from my experience as a Finance Controller, that isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Annette: How have you tackled that challenge of selecting the most profitable areas to Accelerate Value?
Denny: Delivering more whether in a single project or the complex integration of multiple projects starts with an understanding of the marketspace, technology evolution, development and delivery capacity, and most importantly where choices make a difference in the final product. It is a challenge to balance taking only those risks that have the potential to be impactful and then managing those risks so that they deliver value and enable competitive products to be delivered on schedule. My biggest challenge as a leader was assessing the relative risks of the various components and working with my teams to choose and manage the critical paths to delivery. In almost every case there were multiple risks and a key was to reduce the number of those risks that were schedule or resource concerns. As a leader, I felt it was important to stress building the best components and products possible with the goal of setting the competitive standard in the product space that was the focus. I believe it was a source of pride for the development teams to see their efforts be reported on as leadership products and even better to hear customer testimonials.
Annette: What is fascinating to me is this dance between deciding what would deliver the most value; against the risk of the team trying to deliver that value in the time available. Obviously, areas of greater customer value might not be as easy to develop and will introduce their own set of risks to the schedule. So, do you deliver the sure thing that has less value or take the schedule risk of delivering something of higher value? When I think about internally focused transformation projects, I’m not sure we’re always good at understanding what work drives the greatest value in a process, system or service delivery chain. There's a tendency to deliver as much as you can in an internal transformation project and just hope you address the most important areas. But, back to our discussion.
Annette: How do you create that sense of urgency and keep teams focused on Accelerating Value?
Denny: In more complex product projects, for example in the Snakes Program, teams doing some of the software and hardware components were almost competing to see who could stretch the furthest. The urgency to win in the marketplace can be infectious, if it is managed effectively. Listening carefully and seeking to understand the realities among the potentials was always fun. I'm sure that I frustrated some teams. They only needed one more miracle and a doubling of resources to make an even more spectacular contribution. Frequently, I had to be selective in saying that we would have to do some of the contribution in subsequent product evolutions. Not now. I always thought it was important for each project team to understand the resource and schedule assumptions and the impact tradeoffs. Stated more bluntly understanding where the risks and tradeoffs were and having transparency so the controls to manage the risks and the assumptions had exposure and discussion.
Annette: You have told me a little about the importance of rapid learning and adjustment in the context of Accelerating Value. Can you explain that further?
Denny: Staying focused on competitiveness, asking questions and carefully listening are all in aid of learning and helping teams to make adjustments as quickly as possible. Understanding requires a lot of answers and getting those answers requires a commitment to being as a leader and a team hard on the challenges and open to discussion. Change in the execution of complex programs is a reality. Making changes quickly in the light of new information leads to better outcomes. Being the most aggressive at learning has the benefit of leading to better execution, better projects outcomes, and in most cases more competitive products.
Annette: You mention the importance of asking questions. I’ve noticed that good leaders have lists of questions that they ask in various situations. It’s almost like a play book. Do you have a list of questions that you use for Accelerating Value?
Denny: Besides listening to details, asking questions to seek a deep understanding of each of the delivered projects is key. Some the questions that I asked included: If you had more time what further contributions could you make? If you had more time for testing and integration what would you do to improve the quality? What assumptions are you making with regard to the delivery of components you are dependent on? How are you managing those assumptions? How are you measuring your delivery capacity? What tools are you using? Is your delivery capacity and the assumed estimate of the amount of work consistent? What is your fallback technology if the new technology you are dependent upon becomes an issue? What is your first three critical paths to project delivery? Who on your team is responsible for each of these critical paths? What is the gap in the skills on your team and those that are required? How are you addressing those gaps?
Annette: I appreciate you sharing these. It gives my audience some tangible questions to ask and helps all of us think about what questions need to be asked in our specific project to Accelerate Value.
Annette: Before we close, do you have other thoughts that would help my audience Accelerate Value in their projects?
Denny: Humility is a must. Confidence is a must. Finding the balance between these has been a personal challenge. As a leader you want to trust your teams and at the same time you want to help them and the set of teams working together to be successful. Balancing the reality of very complex projects, with the humility to learn, and the confidence to adapt or make adjustments is a route to achievement. It can be a bumpy road. It can also lead to making a difference in delivering projects and products that make a difference.
Annette: Denny, I appreciate you sharing your expertise with my readers. Your career has been focused on delivering technology solutions but I think many of your leadership practices can be applied to any project. Thanks again for your time today and for your mentoring and support over the years.