Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Durability, The Environment and Convience

Is there another way other than sacrificing our environment for convenience, one little drink at a time?  
I took the picture from Fast Company, go read the article.

Taking care of our environment is critically important.  No question.  I have to say that because I actually had someone tell me they didn't care about throwing out cups, like it was a badge of honor not to care. A story for another day.  From a Christian world view, taking care of the planet is super important.  But I get ahead of myself...

Starbucks sells between 3 to 4 Billions cups of coffee per year.  And it's not just Starbucks, as much as I like to pick on them.  There's Tim Horton's, DD, the local coffee shop, etc.  That's a lot of cups being thrown in the trash and this has been acknowledged as an environmental issue by the company.  So I decided to do an experiment: how many times can I reuse a disposable coffee cup?  Different cups are made differently, for example, Wegmans uses a cup that's thicker than others and some local coffee cafe's use one that's thinner than Starbucks.  I was able to use the cup 8 times, filling it with hot liquid and washing after each use, until two things happened.  First, my wife was mortified that I would reuse a paper cup, "It's so unsanitary!"  Second, I threw it away since I was in a place where I couldn't carry it around, figured leaving a cup that had milk in it sitting in my car wouldn't be good!  I could have kept going and probably could have gotten 10-15 uses out of it.  Pretty durable!  So here's the problem: we have a cup that is durable, unsanitary after 1 or 2 uses, and convenient for me and the store.  Convenient for me because I don't have to carry it around and convenient for the store because they don't have to clean up.  But someone has to clean up the mess, right?  Just because someone throws it in a hole in the ground out of sight doesn't mean it's not a problem.  Move convenience, right?  It just becomes someone else's problem later on.  Kind of a bad pay it forward.  So we gotta think about this.

Go ahead and throw it out.  Feel bad about what you did.

Don't buy the coffee.  'How will I EVER survive without my Starbucks????'  Yeah...  Maybe buying a cup from Starbucks, Tim Horton's, Dunkin, etc. every day isn't good for you or the environment.  Buy less.  Cut it back to once per week.  You might even have to make some at home.  Wow.  You'll live.

Innovation: someone is going to figure this out and maybe even make a lot of money.  Starbucks is looking for ideas, maybe they'll buy yours.

Make Art: okay, this sounds goofy, but why not?  Think outside the box.  No, really, maybe art isn't your thing, but try doing something with it.  Take the cup home, wash it (don't use it again or my wife will get you), and stare at it.  Maybe an idea will come.  Do something goofy with it.  Com'on, just try it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Risk Management: The Dentist Question

Risk Management is about predicting the future and we're really bad at predicting

It's a running joke with the secretary at my dentist's office: "Mr. Donath, can we see you at 8:00 am on Tuesday in 6 months?"  "Well, I'll have to check, not sure what I'm doing them."  "Oh, I know what you'll be doing, you'll be here!"  Usually when she asks this question the season will be the opposite of what it is now.  If it's summer, there will be 2 feet of snow on the ground then.  That's the trick right?  The context then will be totally different.  Heck, I could have a different job, could be living in a different, house,...  Hey, I could be dead!  Crazy?  It happens.  Predicting the future is tricky.  In the book, The Black Swan, Taleb cites an example where some government agency was predicting the price of a barrel of oil for 25 years.  If I'm not sure what I'm doing at 8:00 am on Tuesday 6 months from now, how is someone going to predict the price of oil 25 years from now?  Stop for a moment and catch the seriousness of this: here's a government agency with a bunch of very smart people who are paid to know oil and the US energy sector is watching these predictions closely (and there probably a whole chain of people watching the energy sector).  So what these guys say has a big impact.  They said that oil wouldn't go over $27 a barrel over that 25 year time period.  Wait for it.  The price went over $27 in the first 6 months.  We are really bad at predicting.

Which leads me to risk management.  I'm speaking of risk management on IT projects.  We're told to predict (1) the probability of occurring, (2) probability of impact, and (3) timeline for impact.  There are other things to capture, but let's start with that.  Let's just pick one, probability of occurrence.  In the oil example above, they gave the probability of occurrence of going over $27 / barrel in 25 years as low.  It turned out to be very (VERY) high.  We are really bad at predicting.  If we are, how do we perform risk management?  There's a lot to talk about here, but let's start with who should do the predicting.  Don't confuse this with who can identify a risk, anyone on a project can identify a risk.  We'll talk more about that in another posting, but let's talk about who should do the predicting.  Apgar's book, Risk Intelligence, has five criteria for assessing someone's ability to identify risk and the first is "How frequently do your experiences relate to the risk?"  Let's say the risk has to do with system performance on a cloud solution.  Do you have experience with cloud solutions?  Do you have experiences with performance problems?  Do you have experience with measuring performance in a cloud environment?  If your a project lead, then finding someone who scores higher on this assessment will be important.  If you have the experience, go for it.  If you have a general feeling about the technology, better find someone who has more experience.  Yes, experience can be hit by a black swan too, but it is a step in weeding out possible error and refining the risks.