Pitfalls From Put-Offs

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Banks and building societies are still unwilling to lend to all but the safest borrowers, while a new wave of regulations at the end of April means customers will be placed under more scrutiny than ever. Borrowers need to work hard to put their finances in order and give themselves the best chance of securing a mortgage. Here are 10 things that could put the brakes on your mortgage hopes, and how to try and fix them. Self-certified loans previously offered a way for the self-employed to buy a home, but abuse of these mortgages — dubbed "liar loans" because they required no proof of income — brought about their demise during the financial crisis.

The Financial Conduct Authority will officially ban self-cert mortgages in April when the mortgage market review rules come into place, but this has left some self-employed borrowers struggling to access finance. If you do have a few years behind you, you might find that you are not able to borrow as much as you hoped, he warns. Harris says Investec, Kensington, Leeds, and Saffron building societies are the most sympathetic to self-employed applicants. Lenders want to see a settled financial picture, so any recent major changes in your circumstances could affect the amount you're able to borrow.

Having a child or switching jobs right before an application is likely to lead to increased scrutiny and, if you are currently renting, you could face problems if you have moved home on a regular basis. Mark Dyason of brokers Edinburgh Mortgage Advice says: "A client with over three years at one address is in the best position. Mortgage providers are unlikely to accept people who have significant outstanding debts, so prospective borrowers should look to pay off as much as possible.

If you have large unpaid debts, the amount you can borrow will be severely restricted. Even if you have no major debts, lenders will take into account how much credit you can access to see how much debt you could rack up, so close any credit cards you no longer use. What is its competitive vulnerability? We decided to try a pilot program. We selected six division managers to develop prototype scorecards for their operations. Each division had to perform a strategic analysis to identify its sources of competitive advantage.

The 15 to 20 measures in the balanced scorecard had to be organization-specific and had to communicate clearly what short-term measures of operating performance were consistent with a long-term trajectory of strategic success. We definitely wanted the division managers to perform their own strategic analysis and to develop their own measures. That was an essential part of creating a consensus between senior and divisional management on operating objectives.

Senior management did, however, place some conditions on the outcomes. First of all, we wanted the measures to be objective and quantifiable. Division managers were to be just as accountable for improving scorecard measures as they had been for using monthly financial reviews. Second, we wanted output measures not process-oriented measures.

Many of the improvement programs under way were emphasizing time, quality, and cost measurements. Focusing on T-Q-C measurements, however, encourages managers to seek narrow process improvements instead of breakthrough output targets. Focusing on achieving outputs forces division managers to understand their industry and strategy and help them to quantify strategic success through specific output targets.

You have to understand your industry well to develop the connection between process improvements and outputs achieved. Take three divisional examples of cycle-time measurement, a common process measure. For much of our defense business, no premium is earned for early delivery. And the contracts allow for reimbursement of inventory holding costs. Therefore, attempts to reduce inventory or cycle times in this business produce no benefit for which the customer is willing to pay. The only benefits from cycle time or inventory reduction occur when reduction in factory-floor complexity leads to real reductions in product cost.

The output performance targets must be real cash savings, not reduced inventory levels or cycle times. In contrast, significant lead-time reductions could be achieved for our packaging machinery business. In this case, the cycle-time improvements could be tied to specific targets for increased sales and market share.

And in one of our agricultural machinery businesses, orders come within a narrow time window each year. The current build cycle is longer than the ordering window, so all units must be built to the sales forecast. This process of building to forecast leads to high inventory—more than twice the levels of our other businesses—and frequent overstocking and obsolescence of equipment. Incremental reductions in lead time do little to change the economics of this operation. But if the build cycle time could be reduced to less than the six-week ordering time window for part or all of the build schedule, then a breakthrough occurs.

The division can shift to a build-to-order schedule and eliminate the excess inventory caused by building to forecasts. In this case, the benefit from cycle-time reductions is a step-function that comes only when the cycle time drops below a critical level. So here we have three businesses, three different processes, all of which could have elaborate systems for measuring quality, cost, and time but would feel the impact of improvements in radically different ways.

All of our senior managers, however, understand output targets, particularly when they are displayed with historical trends and future targets. Benchmarking has become popular with a lot of companies. Does it tie in to the balanced scorecard measurements? Unfortunately, benchmarking is one of those initially good ideas that has turned into a fad. And the difference between benchmarking and the scorecard helps reinforce the difference between process measures and output measures.

With the scorecard, we ask each division manager to go outside their organization and determine the approaches that will allow achievement of their long-term output targets. Each of our output measures has an associated long-term target. We have been deliberately vague on specifying when the target is to be accomplished. We want to stimulate a thought process about how to do things differently to achieve the target rather than how to do existing things better.

The activity of searching externally for how others have accomplished these breakthrough achievements is called target verification not benchmarking. Well, the division managers did encounter some obstacles. Because of the emphasis on output measures and the previous focus on operations and financial measures, the customer and innovation perspectives proved the most difficult.

These were also the two areas where the balanced scorecard process was most helpful in refining and understanding our existing strategies. But the initial problem was that the management teams ran afoul of both conditions: the measures they proposed tended to be nonquantifiable and input- rather than output-oriented. Several divisions wanted to conduct customer surveys and provide an index of the results. We judged a single index to be of little value and opted instead for harder measures such as price premiums over competitors. We did conclude, however, that the full customer survey was an excellent vehicle for promoting external focus and, therefore, decided to use survey results to kick-off discussion at our annual operating reviews.

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At first, several divisional managers were less than enthusiastic about the additional freedom they were being given from headquarters. They knew that the heightened visibility and transparency of the scorecard took away the internal trade-offs they had gained experience in making. They initially interpreted the increase in visibility of divisional performance as just the latest attempt by corporate staff to meddle in their internal business processes. To offset this concern, we designed targets around long-term objectives. We still closely examine the monthly and quarterly statistics, but these statistics now relate to progress in achieving long-term objectives and justify the proper balance between short-term and long-term performance.

We also wanted to transfer quickly the focus from a measurement system to achieving performance results. A measurement orientation reinforces concerns about control and a short-term focus. By emphasizing targets rather than measurements, we could demonstrate our purpose to achieve breakthrough performance. But the process was not easy. In the end, we were successful. We now have six converts who are helping us to spread the message throughout the organization. I understand that you have started to apply the scorecard not just to operating units but to staff groups as well. Applying the scorecard approach to staff groups has been even more eye-opening than our initial work with the six operating divisions.

We have done very little to define our strategy for corporate staff utilization. We have just started to ask our staff departments to explain to us whether they are offering low cost or differentiated services. If they are offering neither, we should probably outsource the function. This area is loaded with real potential for organizational development and improved strategic capability. My conversations with financial people in organizations reveal some concern about the expanded responsibilities implied by developing and maintaining a balanced scorecard.

How does the role of the controller change as a company shifts its primary measurement system from a purely financial one to the balanced scorecard? Historically, we have had two corporate departments involved in overseeing business unit performance. Strategists came up with five- and ten-year plans, controllers one-year budgets and near-term forecasts. Little interplay occurred between the two groups. But the scorecard now bridges the two.

The financial perspective builds on the traditional function performed by controllers.


In our old environment, division managers tried to balance short-term profits with long-term growth, while they were receiving different signals depending on whether or not they were reviewing strategic plans or budgets. This structure did not make the balancing of short-term profits and long-term growth an easy trade-off, and, frankly, it let senior management off the hook when it came to sharing responsibility for making the trade-offs.

Perhaps the corporate controller should take responsibility for all measurement and goal setting, including the systems required to implement these processes. The new corporate controller could be an outstanding system administrator, knowledgeable about the various trade-offs and balances, and skillful in reporting and presenting them. This role does not eliminate the need for strategic planning. It just makes the two systems more compatible. The scorecard can serve to motivate and evaluate performance. But I see its primary value as its ability to join together what had been strong but separated capabilities in strategy development and financial control.

I think we will ask group managers to review a monthly submission from each of their divisions, but the senior corporate team will probably review scorecards quarterly on a rotating basis so that we can review up to seven or eight division scorecards each month. I see the scorecard as a strategic measurement system, not a measure of our strategy. The monthly or quarterly scorecard measures operations that have been configured to be consistent with our long-term strategy. We have pushed division managers to choose measures that will require them to create change, for example, penetration of key markets in which we are not currently represented.

We can measure that penetration monthly and get valuable short-term information about the ultimate success of our long-term strategy. For the most part, however, the measures are calculated monthly. I sense that a number of companies are turning to scorecards in the same way they turned to total quality management, high-performance organization, and so on. It gets worse if you think of the scorecard as a new measurement system that eventually requires hundreds and thousands of measurements and a big, expensive executive information system.

These companies lose sight of the essence of the scorecard: its focus, its simplicity, and its vision. The real benefit comes from making the scorecard the cornerstone of the way you run the business. It should be the core of the management system, not the measurement system. Senior managers alone will determine whether the scorecard becomes a mere record-keeping exercise or the lever to streamline and focus strategy that can lead to breakthrough performance.

Robert S. He is a coauthor, with Michael E. David P. Balanced scorecard. Kaplan David P. September—October Issue Explore the Archive. What makes a balanced scorecard special? Four characteristics stand out: 1. The Idea in Practice Linking measurements to strategy is the heart of a successful scorecard development process.

The three key questions to ask here: 1. I even told my wife, I wasn't sure if I could keep up. I really had to up my game, but I did find a lot of their code really wasn't the highest quality and they tended to write more code than they needed. I learned a lot from the situation, and every team since has been even more low performing.

It makes it really easy to excel in the typical, Dilbert, Fortune development team. A lot of people hate it but I actually find the daily standup a good motivator to help getting shit done. The desire to be able to report something the next day helps keep me focused. I think the accountability is why a lot of people hate it. No, it's because you're being treated like a child and it's micro management.

No-one should have to justify their job every single day.

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The daily stand up concept was popularized by Scrum which is pretty opposed to micro management and treating people like children. Maybe it gets used that way in some companies practicing cargo cult agile but it's not the purpose. I've been the person not liking the accountability in the past as I've struggled with very 'bursty' productivity and so the original article resonated with me. I've also come to appreciate the accountability as the parent commenter has. SCRUM is micro-management and treating people like children.

That's the core of scrum. The reality of scrum is so far divorced from its claims it's a joke. Scrum is anti-agile, the antithesis of every agile principle. It's managers micro-managing their staff. Fundamentally it's process and tools over individuals and interactions. Scrum doesn't even have managers and doesn't specify any particular tools so I'm not sure what you're basing these claims on.

By "the reality of scrum" do you mean that the way it's actually practiced in some teams is "far divorced from its claims" probably often true or do you mean that the framework of scrum is inherently flawed even if practiced as designed? You haven't made a case for that.

Why not? The advice is not all bad. I certainly agree that slicing a problem into small, concrete steps that can be achieved in less than a day and then less than an hour, and then in the next five minutes I think what is missing is the exploration of how thinking of ourselves as "smart guys" makes us worse at our jobs. Intelligence isn't a substitute for being a good programmer. Churning out lots of useful, dependable, maintainable code involves a large body of acquired skills, habits and knowledge.

When we pretend what matters is how "smart" we are, we get defensive when we get advice that we could do better, because "what, are you calling me dumb!?!! Study after study shows that a growth mindset leads to better outcomes: programming should embrace it. I tend to think all the time in a coding problem, even while eating, going to loo, sometimes even in dreams. There is no bigger problem solver than a walk off the cold white screen.

So productivity cannot be really measured in keyboard time. Oh yeah, Rich Hickey's famous: "hammock time". I think there's a distinction to be made with stepping away from the keyboard and thinking idly about a problem while doing something else and what Hickey means by "hammock time", which is a more dedicated application of thought to the problem domain, analysis, and design.

Both can be useful, but I think they're different. I've been writing code for long time. No tool or methodology has helped me to become more focused, organized, productive and predictable as Org-mode.

Pitfalls From Put-Off's

I do not start a task without clocking in or starting new org-pomodoro cycle. I take notes whenever I encounter a problem, get an idea or discover something new. Every morning I read my notes from the previous day, check how I spent my time. I'm not the smartest developer in my team nor the most productive.

However, without Emacs and org-mode I don't think I would be even working in the same team. I'll second that. And before anyone asks, it doesn't have to be org mode although org mode is the best tool I've used. I have approximated the same with markdown when I've been trying to show how to do it to people who don't like emacs. One thing I'll say is that it might not be for everyone. I attempted to show several people how I use org mode to organise myself and quite a lot of people are uncomfortable organising themselves.

They seem to get distracted when they think too much about what they are doing and have trouble maintaining their concentration. It is actually the opposite for me. If I don't have my notes, I'm off thinking about what I want to have for dinner, how to save the world, wondering why you can't make a hard cheese from yogurt, etc, etc. Speaking of which Biggest take away here is that working hard pays off. Not a huge surprise, but it does seem like our industry has forgotten that.

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The increasing acceptance of allowing remote work is a contributing factor. Many remote people are great, but not everyone should be allowed to do it. I've spent almost my whole career as a remote worker.

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  8. You're definitely right that not everyone can handle it, but my experience is that most of the time, unproductive remote workers get cut much faster than their co-located counterparts. We all know people who are allowed to coast solely because they're friendly with a lot of people in the office. Many employees depend heavily on this halo effect, and expect to be able to wink and nod their way out of what is sometimes sickening incompetence -- and the kicker is that much of the time, this works well. It's psychologically easier for people to trim non-productive remote workers because there is no physical absence to miss, and the people in the company are less likely to have a deep personal bond forged over years of lunch breaks and the like.

    It's a purer professional context, at least as far as our profession is concerned. Declaring yourself a remote worker is a declaration that your work product stands on its own as a representation of the value you provide, and that you don't need to depend on niceties like "he tells really funny jokes by the water cooler" to stay employed. Working hard can pay off. That doesn't mean it always does. Needs here.

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    Bookofhook is a really good blog though! I just subscribed to rss, then saw the last post was so I think is dead. I started running RescueTime in the background on my work machine, and I like it as a reality check mechanism. It's not enforcing anything or firing off crazy alerts if I get off task, it just silently records. I've been wondering if there is an open, light alternative to RescueTime for some time. My productivity hack is to disconnect from the Internet.

    Being extremely focused and isolated can mess me up if my work requires external feedback. I can go way off on the wrong tangent. But, if I know precisely what needs to be done, disconnecting is the way to go, for me. I always work with a picture of my gravestone in front of me engraved with the immortal words "I wish I'd spent more time at the office" You are old a long time.

    Don't waste your youth on stuff that will be forgotten by the end of next year. Demiurge on Mar 6, I think 'mechanical' solutions can also help. I have been lucky that over the years when I felt like "slacking" instead of news or media, I would read technically relevant articles, or discussions. Speaking of which, harray for HN! I would be coding now except that I'm travelling in Japan and have not figured out how to replicate my usual "visit Starbucks" pattern yet - they have cafes but not with power outlets, generally, so I have gathered that coming to one tends to mean phone or paper work only.

    What I have noticed about my coding habits is that I need a cyclical approach. For a lot of features the task is in fact smaller than I think and just needs an initial direct attack. When it isn't, even if I know what has to be done additionally, I can usually add a stub in the right places and fill it in iteratively. Stubbing often breaks me out of experiencing friction. This works up until the relevant code stops fitting in my head.

    Then productivity slows to a crawl and I'm far more likely to wander off. I don't have a direct solution for that. Rewriting the module in question sometimes works, but it seems to work best after I let the existing code "mature". The rewrite tries to preserve the inner parts while changing the context to unlock some more potential. And there is a hard limit on what I can do before my brain shuts down. There is an aspect of training to it, and energy conservation too. Familiar problems are easy to spam out high quality solutions for - pages of code that just work on the first try.

    At a higher level of evolution - more edge cases, synchronization logic, and state to track - the code tends to require more activation energy, which compounds slowing productivity.