March 22, 2019

Technocrat Meets MBA - With NLP Thrown In

Bob Tuttle, MBA

Bob Tuttle, MBA
Owner/President/Bob Tuttle Associates

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Technocrat Meets MBA - BACKGROUND: I started my electronics technology life in the Navy as an aviation electronics technician and CICS crew trainer. Then thru work and school I became an Electronics and Computer Engineer and technocrat/geek. I taught bleeding edge electronics and computer technology in college where the text books had not been written yet.

I started in an MS Computer Science program and after less than one quarter, was board. I went to the counselor and she recommended that I move to the MBA program since I was in Management by then. All I could think about was taking classes that I didn’t have much interest in - but I changed anyway.

BUSINESS APPROACH: Prior to starting my MBA, I had always presented projects for their technical merits. The technical advantages outweighed everything else. While many of these projects succeeded, some had the rug pulled out from underneath them by senior and executive management.

While in the MBA program, I started presenting projects that had advantages to the company. If the technology didn’t have a business advantage and I could not find one, I didn’t pursue it. Surprisingly, 95% of the projects were completed. I even created a new way of doing software development to speed up the project and bring them in on budget and on time. Kaiser ended up having me do in-house consulting for projects in trouble. The objective was to redirect the project or close it down.

OTHER EDUCATION: While working for a government research facility in the 1970s, I attended Sensitivity Training classes and courses on group dynamics. Early at Kaiser, I attended and was certified in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). These and other human communications learnings have significantly improved my life and ability when tech talk or MBA speak isn’t working.

EXAMPLE 1: I was called in to work on a Preterm Birth Prevention project with Dr. Dyson in Santa Clara. The project was using newly created computer hardware and software, and new technology created by outside companies.

Some facts about Preterm Birth are that out of the 36,000 births in Kaiser Northern California in a year, between 11-12% are Preterm. At an average of $125,000 per preterm birth, reducing this by 1-2% could save lives and millions of dollars, as well as providing higher quality care.

One of the companies we worked with was Corometrics (now owned by GE Healthcare) who made the contraction monitor. They asked my to fly to their East Coast facility to speak to their Board of Directors about the project. My presentation focused on the financial and long term benefit to the company concerning their product (zero tech talk - almost pure MBA). The Board seemed to be impressed.

The Chairman of the Board asked if I could talk to the Sales and Marketing staff who were in for a quarterly meeting. While I had not prepared for this, I said yes. My white board presentation focused on the benefits to healthcare organizations to reduce Preterm Birth by using this technology. The ideal situation would be to have some Obstetricians, Neonatologists, and Perinatologists write papers in medical journals that mention this technology as an integral part of the treatment modality. They might also consider writing articles in women's publications pointing out the benefits of this technology for women at risk for preterm birth.

After that talk, Pat, my contact person, asked if I could give one more talk to the engineering staff working on the project. I walked into a room of all men and started by asking them to be silent for 60 seconds and listed to every sound they could hear. Most of them looked at me like I was crazy. At the end of the 60 seconds I asked for what they heard. On the whiteboard I wrote down the 12 or so things they heard. I then wrote down 20+ more things that I heard.

From there I took the engineering staff on a journey of how a pregnant woman feels while having contractions and how technology might impact that. I asked a key question: How many pregnant women have the engineering staff talked to - directly - about this technology. You might have the best transducers and the most accurate and sensitive electronics, but if a pregnant woman is even more uncomfortable, you have lost. This was 80% human talk mixed in with 20% tech talk.

Pat took me off to the side before dinner and said “I have never seen a person give three different great talks in one day to three different groups.” He also said “ I recognize that you were only asked to give the one talk where you really impressed the Board.”

PS: The project yielded preterm birth numbers in the low 7% range - you do the math.

EXAMPLE 2: A group of Business Analysts had been working with the Kaiser Genetics department to see if automation could be of benefit. The Genetics department had been using card files for decades to match patients with syndromes. With newly emerging DNA testing, the thought was that, if they could computerize all of the data on the cards, they could improve treatment and outcome. The business model was primarily focused on the doctors for this project.

I had just created and written a paper on a new software development process called IIRAD (Iterative Integrated Rapid Application Development), which theorized that moving the Change process to the beginning of development instead of at the middle or end would yield a project that would be done on time and in budget. I assembled a team of developers and started with the ground rules: 1) Users only know what they see on the glass (screen), 2) The sooner you find out about change the easier it is to make the change (reduce reverse engineering), and 3) Surprises are opportunities to make a better product. On the User side, I told the doctors that I needed to have staff input from day one of development. There was a great deal of push back on this one.

We started the project by having a database expert create a test database with all of the known data items and fake data. Some of the developers were replaced because they didn’t want people seeing their unfinished code. After one week, we had the first set of screens done and started showing them to the staff. Immediately the doctors said it looked good, but the rest of the staff said it didn’t. We found out that, in reality, five different groups within Genetics would be using this system, and they had very different views about the type of data and how it should be viewed. We quickly went back, added to the database and split the development group into five sub-groups. Another week later we presented again, and we had a much better discussion.

Since we already had the home screens for each of the 5 areas plus the sample database, I had the staff add a light bulb graphic in the upper right corner of every screen. A user could click on this and up would pop a dialog box asking for their comments. The dialog box was targeted to the developer working on that screen, so they saw it right away. I then went back to the doctors and said that it was time for the staff to start looking at screens for at least 10 minutes every day, and make comments through the light bulb.

Our next meeting was a teleconference, and I had all the staff in the room with computers. I asked each of the 5 groups for their feedback, and while people made comments, developers were making changes to code. I would say to the users: “re-fresh your screen and see if that is what you want”. Not long after that, users were spending as much as an hour testing and commenting.

This project got completed way under budget and time, and all of the users were very happy, and required very little training - since they were involved in the development process. When the database went live, you could count the issues on one hand - virtually unheard of.

A TRICK OR EXPERIENCE: I like to think it is experience. As a technologist, business person, teacher, trainer, documentarian, and innovator, I like to think that there are multiple ways to attack problems, and that you need to be open to change. As an IT professional and researcher, I also say that understanding data and process is key to any projects success. I want to close with something I tell all of the people who I work with: 1) Learn, Use, then Teach something all the time, and 2) Learn something new every day - and stop long enough to recognize it.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my public profile.

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