All posts by tmackey

Government spending taken to the ultimate

Tom Mackey (TMMBA alumnus, Class of 2009)

I ran across this well done article telling the story of entire Chinese cities being built, just to “grow the economy”:

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/amazing-video-emerges-of-chinas-ghost-cities/

The video is about 15 minutes long, but well done.  In it, a Hong Kong housing expert estimates that there are 64 Million (and growing) empty apartments and homes in China.  They are asking prices roughly equivalent to what you would expect to see in the Seattle area, require a 50% down payment, and loans must be repaid in three years.  The draconian interest terms have so far prevented a hyperactive mortgage bubble, but they certainly have a glut of housing that no one can afford.  In addition, they are tearing down the places where people are actually living in order to build yet more apartment buildings — which is contributing to growing social unrest.  When you consider the relatively small amount government spending contributes to Aggregate Demand, it is obvious that the Chinese government is spending money by the boat load in order to prop up their economy.  When this housing construction bubble bursts, there is no telling what will happen.  Remember that C = Consumers propensity to spend, I = investments (Mostly in *our* treasuries, by the way), G = Government purchases (the ghost cities), and NX = Foreign exchange (Also huge for China).  What they do not have is much “C” — the thing that is required to really grow an economy (i.e., true creation of wealth where money is created out of thin air through the fruition of ideas into goods and services).

Interesting — if they sell our securities to continue the building, they will collapse our economy, leading to a sudden drop in their NX, which will collapse their economy.  Mutual Assured Destruction of the economic kind.  Yet, at some point, something has to give.  I saw a Twilight Zone episode one time where we had latched on to something in another dimension, and both sides were pulling so hard that neither side could release without destroying everything, or let up for fear of turning that dimension inside out — Tiger by the Tail, I think, was the name of it.  Pretty apt description of what we have with China.  Below, the Aggregate Demand vs. Y (Goods) chart from one of Karma’s lectures:

 AD_Curve

 

 

 

 

 

 
Tom Mackey, TMMBA Alum (’09)

tom.mackey@gmail.com

Summer after TMMBA Graduation

Tom Mackey, TMMBA Alum

Some of you current TMMBA students are probably wondering what you will do with all that free time after graduation. In my case, at least, the question is “What free time?” Heh — it is amazing how fast it gets filled in with bits of vacation, household tasks, the J.O.B. that helped fund your studies, and both new and old personal pursuits. Two weeks after graduation found us in Eastern Washington, specifically, taking a tour of the Hanford Site. They open up tour dates in April and the slots fill up in just a few hours. We have wanted to take a tour for several years, and this was our “post-grad” treat. Our roses and other landscaping had really suffered for the last 1.5 years, and this summer I have spent a lot of time getting things pruned, watered, fertilized, and watered some more. The hot spell this year made it extremely challenging to keep things alive without running up the water bill too much. It seems I’ve spent just as much time on the computer as before, only now instead of writing papers, I’ve been researching more personal interests and discussing possible business ideas with Marilyn. And finally, I’ve started back into painting the final interior pieces of our house, and I’ve already been informed that the laundry room, one of the first things I painted when we moved in, will have to be painted a different color soon! It reminds me of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco — when they finish painting it they shift back to the other end and start all over!

So what bits of knowledge from the TMMBA program have I been using lately? The things that come to mind, in no particular order are:

Macro Economics — the knowledge we got from Karma helps every day in understanding what I hear and read in the news. It’s nice to be able to explain what is really happening when we hear that the “Fed is printing money”. And did anyone see the article in the March 21-22 Wall Street Journal titled “Fed Doesn’t Need a Press to Print Its New Money”? I now keep it at work to show folks the difference between Federal Reserve notes and the overall money supply.

Wall Street Journal — I renewed my subscription on the student rate. If not offered next year, I’ll switch to electronic. I try to read it every day, but often have to skip all but the first section and then try to skim through the rest on the weekends.

Negotiations — I have to say that the Negotiations class was only a primer — I am getting my real education from Marilyn as we plan a purchase of an Airstream Travel Trailer in which to further explore this great country we live in. The one thing that she has made clear to me that the class did not is that as soon as you make contact with a new car or RV dealer, you have engaged in a war over the contents of your wallet. Pure and Simple, everything you say, and the way you say it, will be used against you if at all possible. Luckily we have some time before we get serious, so with one possible exception, my initial dealings have not had an impact on our wallet. In that one case, we will probably choose to exclude that dealer from our possibilities as he will probably remember a comment I made and know that we have a vulnerability in one area. More on this topic in a later post…

Leadership — Well, that’s something we can all improve upon, right?

Managerial Accounting — Has helped convince me even more that getting our home paid off is the best use of any extra cash we happen to have. Where else can you get a guaranteed 5% return on your money right now? And it sure is nice to see that “Interest Charged” amount go down with each extra payment made!

Marketing and Entrepreneurship — Every day Marilyn and I discuss possible business ideas — does it play to our strengths? How would we market the goods or service? Is it worth the time and effort required to make it work? So far, we have not come up with a winner, given our particular circumstances, but it could happen on any given commute, our normal “brainstorming” time.

Hi to TMMBA Alums. Happy Summer break to Class 9. Welcome to incoming Class 10+. Comments welcome!

-TomM

Spring Break: Haircuts, Grand kids, Miatas, Death, and Taxes

Tom Mackey, TMMBA Student

The Winter quarter officially ended yesterday when Anjani dropped off our marketing plan at TMMBA HQ. He’ll be on his way to Las Vegas in a few days for some R&R. The Friday before we submitted our business plan for our Entrepreneurial course, just in time for Rick to wing his way over to Prague — he’s doing the foreign study trip. The only final this quarter was in Strategy, and that was due closer to the middle of the quarter. The two final projects, and a branding paper, more than made up for finals, but in my not so humble opinion, also were much more valuable in terms of solidifying what we learned. Class 9, on the other hand, is in Finals Hell this week — my co-worker is done with his Stats final and is now pounding his way through Accounting.

I’m sitting here in the Backstreet Salon in Monroe (a great little place that Marilyn found through a friend of her’s) listening to Tami and Marilyn yakking about all the things that men are not usually privy to. Tami found time to give me a quick shearing while waiting for Marilyn’s perm to cure, something sure to bring a certain amount of joy to my class- and work-mates. This brings to mind an old limerick:

As a beauty I’m not quite a star…
There are others more handsome by far.
But my face, I don’t mind it
Because I’m here behind it.
It’s the ones out in front get the jar!

OK. Enough of the bad poetry. While I was getting my hair cut my cell phone rang — it was my daughter Debbie and she had some good news. She is expecting again, due in mid-July, and pretty excited about it. And so am I, of course. Soon-to-be big brother is looking forward to a playmate and dad is looking forward to having the family together during maternity leave. It was a little tough to talk and get a haircut at the same time, so we will have to chat again pretty soon.

(3/20/2009) Got a note from my sister in Michigan that our Uncle had passed away. While I had not ever gotten the chance to spend any time with him or my cousins, I know she had and was pretty saddened by his death. The last, and for me, practically the only time, we had seen our cousins was at our mom’s funeral back in 2000. Our cousins have done well with their lives — some are retired, some have risen through the ranks of one or another of the Big Three, and one has several patents related to the glass shelves we all have in our refrigerators.

(3/23/2009) Marilyn and I went on an over-nighter with our Miata club over the weekend. We had a great time and got re-acquainted with some folks that we hadn’t seen since before the TMMBA program started. Now, with one quarter to go, we are starting to look forward to re-engaging with the Puget Sound Miata Club and some other activities as well.

So it was pointed out to me by my sweetheart that I’ve managed to fritter away two weeks of this three-week break and I still haven’t cleaned out the office nor have I done any painting, nor have I done my taxes. Hint to fellow TMMBA students, both Class 8 and 9, if you don’t get your taxes done in this break between quarters, you will surely have a tough go of it between now and April 15th!

(3/24/2009) Rick is back from Europe, and we are all puzzling over our grades from Entrepreneurship — 75% of the grades are supposedly team grades, yet we have managed a 0.6 point spread based, evidently, on our class participation. The funny thing is that the person on the team that claimed to not have “drunk the Kool-Aid” got a 4.0, and those of us who IMHO contributed quite a bit got 3.5 and 3.6. Go figure… In the final analysis, grades don’t matter so much as what each of us was able to take away from the program.

As for me, I’m sipping a “Satan’s Whiskers”, one of the many new cocktails I’ve learned to make reading the “How’s Your Drink” column in the Saturday WSJ. With the global financial system rearranging itself faster than the trees on Lavalite World, could it be that I’ve stumbled upon the most valuable learning experience of them all?

What a difference a quarter makes

Tom Mackey, TMMBA Student

This post is mostly personal, and medical related; I’m posting in hopes that some of the lessons learned and pain experienced may spare someone else down the line. No TMMBA content — You have been warned.

After my annual physical in September, I started experiencing increased shortness of breath, momentary dizziness, momentary chest pains, irritability, and extreme fatigue. By the time Quarter Four was underway, I was getting worse, and I also started to experience rather severe back pains. My physician called me back into the office and told me my blood pressure was going up and she wanted to put me on a mild med to bring it down. She also told me to get more sleep. Between the worries over my health, and a conscious decision to limit my stress and anxiety level, I pulled back some on my studies and tried to get more sleep. By late November, my blood pressure had started to come down to just a little over optimum.

I was told to track my BP daily if possible, and since we have one of those BP measuring stations in my building, I could do that. Of course, I could not resist keeping track of my BP in a spread sheet, and then running stat pad on the results and creating a plot of Systolic, Diastolic, and Pulse along with date and time. That confirmed to my physician that I was a Class-A Nerd! But it also showed that the med and lifestyle changes were working.

While shuffling Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations down from and back into the garage attic, my back ache got progressively worse. I was starting to wonder if this was it and I would be reduced to hiring someone to do the work for me. Then about two weeks before Christmas I woke up one Saturday and could not bear to even sit on the bed. I could not stand, could not walk for sure. I had to crawl on my hands and knees to the toilet, and finally a full 30 minutes after I awoke I could finally stand and sort of shuffle around. The next day was much better — just a bad back ache mostly on my right side.

The Sunday before Christmas I woke and sat straight up in bed, with incredible pain. It felt like someone had stuck a spear in me. It was in my lower right abdomen. Marilyn looked up symptoms on the internet and there was a possibility that it was acute appendicitis. Another possibility was a kidney stone, but I did not seen to have the kind of pain over my kidney that seemed indicated. Now I warned you there would be medical content. After a bout of diarrhea I felt much better. By lunch I felt well enough to eat, so I did. Immediately the pain returned, worse than before, and radiating all the way through me, still centered in my lower right abdomen. It was well below freezing outside, and after trying and failing to install tire chains (I had been sold the wrong size, but that’s another story), we headed out into eight to ten inches of snow to get to the hospital. The pain was so intense that I came close to blacking out several times. Once there, the triage nurse told me that it was probably not a burst appendix, but was probably a kidney stone. I said that of the two, a kidney stone was probably less serious, and she agreed, but said the appendix would be less painful After five hours, chucking my lunch, three morphine drips, and a cat-scan which verified a 3mm stone two thirds of the way towards my bladder, they sent me home with a prescription of “Good Drugs” ™ and a filter funnel to catch the stone.

I think I paced a mile in the house that night, as anything else was too uncomfortable and the pacing seemed to make the pain more bearable. The drugs, by the way, when you have “Real Pain”, don’t really do that much. The ER doc said every six hours, but the effects were wearing off in three and I was hanging on until four. He also said to drink extra fluids to “flush it out”. My doctor was out on Monday so it was not until Tuesday that I could talk to her. She called her Urologist and then called me back with more bad news. It turns out that once a stone is moving, drinking more fluids just increases the pressure behind it, causing the duct to balloon, and thus causing even more pain. She sent in a prescription that would relax the ducts and I ceased fluid intake as much as possible.

Christmas Eve morning I awoke drenched in sweat but to no pain. I figured that the stone had passed into my bladder as I mercifully slept through the final burst of pain. Sure enough, the little bugger was captured in the funnel filter — a little black BB was all I was able to show for my efforts. The next day was the best Christmas I ever had: pain free!!!

So where are the lessons learned? Interestingly enough, my Blood Pressure is now within the “good” range. My back ache has also disappeared. I put all the Christmas stuff back into the attic without any problem. Turns out that pain can increase your BP, as well as stress, lack of sleep, and diet. Also, in further reading, “flank” pain like I had is an indicator of kidney stone issues. I suspect strongly that the Saturday I could not move was the day the stone started it’s journey and the back pain was the result of its movements through and out of the kidney. If passing a kidney stone, reducing, not increasing, fluid input may be best. And in the case of the type of stone I had, which is most typical (calcium oxalate monohydrate), drinking more water and some minor diet modifications (the same in many respects that help lower blood pressure) will help prevent future stones.

Finally, I hope that this nasty week-long cold that I just shook is the last of the medical challenges I face for some time to come. This getting old stuff really bites

Looking back over the past year: Winter Quarter 2008

Tom Mackey, TMMBA Student

The TMMBA class 09 has begun their journey, and our class is into our 5th of the six quarters in the program.

I’d like to share some thoughts, some memorable moments, and some tips.

The Residential was both intense and enjoyable. We left with a draft team charter, and the start of a good team working relationship. I understand that this year’s residential lasted an extra day and took place right before classes started. Our’s was the first week of December, then we had the stats workshop sessions, Christmas break, and then our classes started. I’m not sure which I like better.

Stats Workshop:

Speaking of the stats workshop, ours was given by Russ Fish, and he gave me permission to share the web site he maintains.

Russ Fish home page: http://faculty.washington.edu/rfish/
Stats workshop: http://faculty.washington.edu/rfish/tmmba_stats/

In the tmmba_stats page, near the top, you will find a tips and tricks link, and a keyboard shortcut link. There is a lot of good info there and I thank Russ for making my everyday computer work much easier. If you haven’t loaded and started using stat pad yet, do so now. I find that I use it regularly in my job, and even for personal use such as tracking and graphing blood pressure readings (More on that in my next post).

Statistics:

Martha is a great stats instructor and I am grateful for her efforts and help. I downloaded all her notes from blackboard and refer to them fairly often.

In general, take advantage of everything that the instructors post on blackboard. Some of the text books come with a CD or a web site where you can download extra information. Again, if you load the info on your laptop, you can appear a lot smarter than you are in meetings and so forth… Ask me how I know

Hint: In both Stats and Micro Econ you might find yourself needing to write complex equations in MSWord. Here is a link that explains how to add the Equation Editor toolbar into MSWord, and use it to make techie looking output. Sweet!!

http://www.ele.uri.edu/Courses/ele343/tutorials/word.equations/wordequations.html

Micro Econ (and Strategy)

Micro Econ is an interesting class, and much more math-intensive than I had expected. Since I like math, that was a good thing. But since I was a bit rusty on derivatives, especially partial derivatives, I made sure I attended all the Thursday study sessions. Hint: Micro Econ concepts form the basis of Business Strategy — but we didn’t hear that directly until this quarter in Global Strategy. It makes sense, and I think it would have helped in both classes if I had started to make that connection earlier.

Memorable moment with Ali: The morning he came in after taking his wife out for their anniversary dinner, and then going out for a night cap after — he made some mention of his indifference curve going higher and higher — until they decided to take a taxi home!
More fun with Ali: try counting how many times he uses pizzas as examples in class

Financial Accounting:

I’m not an accountant, nor based on my grades in this and the later Managerial Accounting class, will I ever be one! That said, I really enjoyed the class. Frank does a great job of trying to cram his vast experience into our heads in a short amount of time. The course is a lot of work. It is the first time that many of us experienced the time warp that occurs while taking an accounting exam. What warp is that you ask? Well, when Frank and his TA say that the exam should take you 6 hours, plan on a lot longer than that in real time. A lot longer. It will be interesting to hear what Frank has to say about the planned demise of GAAP in light of the recent scandals here and abroad. I know he has championed GAAP, and according to what I read last fall, IFRS is the coming thing. Web search GAAP vs. IFRS if you are interested in seeing lots of people argue about the differences. Hint: Pay special attention to the discussion on WIP. I came away not really understanding how to handle WIP and paid dearly on my exam…

Well, except for Teamwork, which I more or less covered in an earlier post, that wraps up my first quarter of the program.

“I did it myyyyy way”

Tom Mackey, TMMBA Student

I called the program late;
And almost missed the final end day,
One week, to GMAT take,
I did it myyyyy way.

(With apologies to Frank Sinatra)

…but maybe not the best way.

So how is it to get revved up and into an MBA program at an age that not long ago would have been considered “over the hill”? And what if you’re up against a deadline? A quick aside, first.

I was five, and my sister just born when my family took a vacation to Florida to visit former neighbors who had just moved down there, and to visit some of the places that my dad had seen while stationed there with the army sixteen or so years earlier. The year was 1958, and my dad would have been just a few months shy of 40. It was my first visit to the South and even to my young eyes, there were signs of racial discrimination everywhere. Florida was still pretty much unspoiled, not the sea of mobile home parks and strip malls it is today. There were still quiet little fishing towns on the coast and I remember my dad and his friend going out for a day charter. I recently ran across a tourism magazine and a picture he had from his army days, and I remember the coast looking pretty close to this image:

WPalmBeach1940_t

I had a great time — it was my first exposure to Southern cooking and I really took to the hush puppies, scallops, grits, and other tasty treats. My mother was miserable. It was hot, humid, and she was struggling with caring for a new-born while on the road. I remember arriving back home after a few weeks and seeing the yellow envelope on the door. Now in those days, if you had a message that you had to get to someone, and know they got it, you used the Western Union Telegraph company. When the Western Union man came knocking on your door, it was rarely good news. I imagine the message went something like this:

MR MACKEY STOP YOUR POSITION ALLAN CASH REGISTERS ELIMINATED STOP PLEASE PICK UP TOOLBOX AND FINAL PAYCHECK EARLIEST

My dad had been laid off while we were on vacation.

For two years he struggled to find another job. He took a series of odd jobs, but none paid very well — he even worked on the road crews for awhile, literally, digging ditches. With a shovel. He took me out a few times to help light the smudge pots alongside the construction sites. No one wanted to hire someone who was over 40. In the end, it was Southern California that providing him a chance to reinvent himself — he was hired by a company supplying precision gyros and other electro-mechanical devices to the aerospace industry, perfectly fitting his expertise in complex electro-mechanical devices filled with tiny parts.

These days, we have it much easier, since the passage of various anti-discrimination laws. And, generally, we are in much better health today. Even after nine months of the siren call of the ice cream freezer in TMMBA HQ, I still regularly hoof it nearly a mile from my front door to catch my preferred bus downtown, then make the two-and-a-half block dash to the bus tunnel for a connection down to SeaTac. And, having spent a good part of my career in various SW development roles involving applied mathematics and logic, I figured I could keep up with the academic challenges.

By the way, I found that one of Google’s StreetView cams recently caught the same scene shown above. Sixty-five years can certainly change the look of a place… Check out the aerial view showing the area from the water side!

WPalmBeach2006_t

WPamBeachOH2006

For an entire summer I watched the buses with the TMMBA ads and wondered if I could hack it. Then, with a boot from a co-worker who got interested in going for his MBA, I decided to call the program to find out what it would take to apply. I sure cut it close. My completed application, and a late fee, with transcripts from my undergrad degree, a written “personal statement”, and a passing grade in something called a “GMAT” test, had to be received at the TMMBA HQ the following Monday. Well, having nothing to lose, I decided to go for it.

A visit to the Western Washington University web site, with credit card in hand, got my transcript on its way and an extra small fee ensured that it would be sent out that day. Then off to MBA.com to register for a GMAT test. That would take three business days, meaning I could not download the practice material until Thursday at the earliest, nor register for the test. I did a little web surfing to find out what I could about this “GMAT” test and started writing my personal statement.

As soon as I had a sign-on to MBA.com, I downloaded the practice test and started registering for a test. Hmmm….. No test spots available in Seattle for several weeks out. Not good. Now what? OK. How about other cities? None in Western Washington. OK. How about Eastern Washington? Super! I snagged a spot first thing in the morning on Friday in Yakima. A call to the TMMBA HQ verified that as long as I took the test by Monday, the results would be accepted. This is Thursday afternoon. I can do this! I have a few hours to look at the practice test, see what kind of math I need to review, and bone up on my written work, hit the road at oh-dark-thirty and be in Yakima in time for the test at 0900.

So let’s take a look at the sample test. The essay part I figured would be easy — long ago I learned to write an acceptable 5-paragraph paper, you know — introduce 3 topics, write a good paragraph on each, conclude by tying the three topics together. So what about the language usage and comprehensive parts? Yikes! I would have blown those questions. They are way-tricky and I will need to pay very close attention to parts of speech, punctuation, verb conjugation, and such. Sure glad I took a look before I got there.

Now the math part. First crack open my old calculus text. Let’s see… 2-D geometry is pretty cake. 3-D not too much harder. Heck, I’ve written graphics sub-systems so once the synapses start firing again, should be no problem. Now areas and volumes. Pi-D, 1/2 base*height, pies are square, Pythagoras Theorem, factoring polynomials, FOIL, Cramer’s rule, oh dear… What have I gotten myself in to??? Let’s try some sample problems. First three, pretty easy. Then number 4 takes 10 minutes, then number 5 stumps me. I’m tired. I have to get some sleep so I don’t fall asleep driving over the pass. Worst case, I fail the GMAT and try next year.

I’m probably not the only one who has ever crammed math by dawn’s early light while watching for wayward deer and elk driving over the pass at 70 mph; I am reasonably certain, however, that the club is rather exclusive!

The essay part was first. They give you what is essentially a little white board to use for notes and I scribbled an outline, then started writing. I didn’t leave myself quite enough time and the system cut me off about 3 1/2 words from the end. Would it at least take what I had typed? I can’t let that question bother me. On to the next section. When I came to the math part, I was pretty wiped emotionally, but I was also revved up mentally. Then, about 1/2 way in, I came to a problem on which I spent way too much time. I had to really move if I was going to finish the test. With 5 minutes to go I still had 10 problems. Now on the GMAT, and other adaptive tests, if you miss a problem, the next one is easier, and if you get one correct, the next one is harder. If you guess, and get it wrong, the test will magnify that error by leading you back to easier problems. I also knew that some of the problems, up to four, if I remember correctly, are “candidate” problems, meaning that they are not counted. Weighing my options, I decided that to get a score high enough to get into the TMMBA program, I would need to finish the math portion as best I could. So, I eyeballed each of the last problems and if I couldn’t solve it within 30 seconds, I took my best guess — hoping if I guessed wrong, it would be a candidate problem. The clock ran out and the last two problems went unanswered. Completely drained, I filled out the list of programs to which I wanted my score reported, retrieved my belongings taken during the pat-down search, and took my time driving home. I still had to write my personal statement; that is a story I told earlier.

In the end, I scored 600, which is at the high end of the dome of the bell curve. That is, 2/3 of the test takers score between 400 and 600 out of the 800 possible. It still irks me that I did worse in math than language, but I can live with that. Several weeks later, I received my acceptance letter. I was in the program!!!

Posting a picture — May be of interest to other bloggers

Tom2

Marilyn, my life partner, and I like to go on road trips and we like finding interesting roads, old town sites, historical sites, and such. Two years ago we took a 6000 mile trip around a large part of the US, and I started a personal blog, “Travelers-Traces”, to record our impressions. If I did this right, here’s a picture of Chimney Rock in Nebraska, on the Oregon Trail route.

Tom1

The main site is here: http://travelers-traces.blogspot.com/

And if you are interested, you might want to start with my first post: Preamble: Natchez Mississippi

And work backwards to the most current. I have not had time nor been motivated enough to continue, yet, but working on this one may get me in the mode of continuing where I left off. Last year we took a trip to the Canadian ghost town of Barkerville, which is run as a tourist destination during the summer. Later, and again this year, we took trips into Eastern Washington and Oregon and I have a lot to share. Again, if interested, set up an RSS notification thingy and when I post new stuff to Travelers-Traces, you will be notified.

I also have a set of missives I wrote back in 1999 when we did a Europe Through the Backdoor Tour — at least I hope I can find them. When I do, I’ll add them to Travelers Traces.

Other things I plan to add someday:

  • Trip from Michigan to California in 1971 on a Kawasaki 250
  • Trip from Washington to Michigan and back via US 2 and US 30 (mostly) in our brand new 10th Anniversary Special Miata
  • Trip from here to Moab Utah to attend a Miata gathering (over 200 other Miatas from all over NA attended)

I have not used many different blogging applications. Just the internal Boeing blog, Google’s blogging, and this. If any of you have experience with others, or tips or tricks for doing a good job of blogging, please let me know. I would like to be interesting and informative and not bore you all to tears.

Later,

-TomM

Scheming and Teaming

Tom Mackey, TMMBA Student

Our team met each other for the first time at the welcome reception. For our class, it was held at the Burke Museum on the UW campus, and our significant others were welcome to attend, too. That was a nice touch, but it was also an opportunity for the staff, through a guest speaker from the previous class, to help level-set expectations for the following 18 months. I remember our speaker going through a series of lessons learned, and things not to do, including conceiving a child during the Fall break which meant dealing with child birth during Finals week the following June! Yeah — “Don’t do that!”

It was during the opening Residential that we really started to get to know each other. The staff tries to give the teams a good head start for the Winter quarter through a series of team building exercises and social time. Early on, our team decided we wanted to get the most out of the program that we could, and we all wanted to get good grades. It was a consensus, meaning, we would each support the decision, and none of us would act contrary to the decision. This is important, as the program is structured such that individual scores in most classes are comprised of a “team score” and your individual score. For our team, this means that the work done to earn the team score is most important. If one of us chooses to relax their standards for a particular class, then it means that our individual work is what we would allow to slide a bit; we are all expected, and held to, doing the best we possibly can for the team. The side effect is that for the most part, our individual scores are probably higher than they otherwise might be, because we are all fully engaged in order to support our team responsibilities.

The usual four steps of team building occurred (Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing) — starting in the Residential and continuing during the Winter quarter. It is the nature of the program that it attracts mostly professional people with well-established careers, so working in teams was not new to any of us. What was new, at least for this writer, was the depth of teamwork we were able to establish so quickly. Again, I attribute a good part of this to our decision to be a high-performing team, but I give kudos to the TMMBA staff for giving us the tools to make it happen.

What do we do to make this happen? I know that some of the other teams are also high performers, so I am sure that ours is not the only way, but here is what works for us.

The “people” aspects are probably most important.

1: For each team deliverable, we choose, mostly through volunteering, but sometimes by suggestion, a project manager. The PM is responsible for calling the meetings and setting meeting agendas, and for assigning and assembling the work into a coherent work package. The PM is not responsible for writing or doing the project on behalf of the team, but rather is responsible for keeping the rest of the team on track in producing the required work to assemble the final product.

2: It happens that our self-professed “type-A” personality likes keeping track of all the deliverables for each quarter, so he acts as a “quarter master” and makes sure we all know of key due dates for individual homework, group assignments, and tests.

3: We rotate the PM role so each of us gets to experience the leadership role for a variety of deliverables. We try not to let anyone get overloaded, and also try to let team members with particular interests take projects that will help them grow in their careers. We acknowledge that taking on a particular project may be a challenge, and will pitch in to help the PM be successful.

4: At the end of each quarter, we meet and do a de-brief, sometimes called a “post-mortem” and discuss what went well, what didn’t, and figure out what needs to be done to correct course before the next quarter starts. If one of us has not lived up to expectations, we are sure to hear about it in this meeting, if not earlier, but we strive for constructive criticism — we are all in this together and we really do need and depend on each other in order to be successful in the program.

Tools are less important, but are still necessary for collaboration and communication. Most of us have work or personal email that we prefer to use, so we all forward our school email to our favorite place. Once again, what I am about to describe is what works for us — it may not be optimal or even feasible for other teams.

1: We don’t use Blackboard for collaboration. It quite frankly sucks blue mud. We tried Google Sites and found that it gives us pretty good functionality. Docs can be uploaded through a web interface, it is secure, and there is a rudimentary version control system built in. As a Config Mgmt guy, I like that. We can also arrange our work in folders that match our classes, and there is effectively no limit so we can keep past quarters’ work for reference in an archive area.

2: We use Google Groups for email accretion. We can each choose to have email to the group account bounced to our favorite personal account, and by replying to the message, with the original sender being the group account, the reply reaches each of us. Plus, messages are archived at the group, so there is no need to store them in our personal accounts unless we want to.

3: Along with Google Groups and Google Sites, we use Google Calendars to track our deliverables. There is one for individual assignments, one for group assignments, and we can have our personal calendar for tracking vacations (hah!, like that ever happens…), business trips, and so forth. We can then combine what is important to our personal calendar and have a one-stop look at what we need to do.

4: For conference calls and virtual meetings, we use freeconferencecall.com and Microsoft’s SharedView. SharedView works as well as WebEx, but is free. Can’t beat that! The conference call number we have is long distance, which is no problem for those of us that have unlimited long-distance cell plans. But for the rest of us, and speaking for myself, I bought a calling card from Costco and pay about 3 cents per minute.

For the Summer quarter we decided that we weren’t getting enough accomplished in virtual meetings so we decided to meet every week on the other section’s class night. That was quite a hit for those of us with long commutes or who usually take the bus, as the bus service late at night to anywhere other than Kirkland, Redmond, or Bellevue is so bad as to not be an option. That committed us to 2 or 3 nights per week, depending on whether or not there was a TA session scheduled on Thursday. This is one thing we will have to look at during our debrief session next week, because after Fall quarter the next TMMBA class will provide competition for the meeting rooms at TMMBA HQ. I’m hoping we can find a way to be effective utilizing virtual meetings.

I would be quite interested in hearing from the other Bloggers and how their teams work — both in the People and Tool realms.

That’s it for now.

-TomM

What do you mean, “Juvenile”?

Tom Mackey, TMMBA Student

One of the things that must be included in your admissions packet is a personal statement explaining why you want to enter the TMMBA program. There are a number of questions that you need to respond to, and a page limit — I won’t get more specific than that. Now I fancy myself as being pretty good with prose, so I figured that this would be a no-brainer.

By the time I was done, I would prove my preceding opinion wrong — twice over…

I wrote the essay and showed it to Marilyn. She wanted to see the requirements. I showed them to her. She tossed my paper back to me and said, “It’s juvenile — if you want to be rejected, go ahead and turn it in like that.” Ouch. Oh, my ego. Juvenile? But look how clever I was in weaving the information they wanted throughout my paper! I had written what I thought was a nice “hook” that would be a compelling reason to read the paper. “What about the hook?” I asked. “The hook is fine. But the rest is garbage. Do you really think that someone reading a hundred papers for the information they want is going to be willing to look all over your paper for what they need? If I were reading the papers, I’d want to see each response in a concise paragraph, in the order in which they were presented. Yours I would reject after one glance!”

Yikes. The application packet is due the next day. The next day is the absolute last day I can submit it (more on that later….) and now I have to re-write the whole dang paper. Hours later, I ran it by Marilyn, again.

“Well, it’s better, but your points aren’t being made very clearly. If you want to get accepted, you’ll have to re-write it.”

I argued, I pleaded my case, and as you can imagine, this ended up with me shouting what it was I was trying to say.

“I need to go to my meeting now. Just write it like you were yelling at me. I’ve had it!”

Double Ouch!! — Well, at least she didn’t toss my sorry butt out of the house before she stomped off to her appointment. She had every right!

So I did another edit, then tightened it up even more, so it said what I wanted to say, directly, and stuffed it in the packet. The hook? That was the only part I didn’t have to re-write.

Key take-aways:

1: Show your personal statement to someone you trust to be objective, critical, and a stickler for details.
2: If you think you are done, edit it again. Be ruthless with the pruning, like you should be with roses.
3: Even with a tersely written paper, there is room to show your creativity.

Did it work? When I had my interview I was told that they enjoyed my paper and had passed it around the office. ’nuff said.

-TomM

We live in interesting times…

Tom Mackey, TMMBA Student

The market fell 504 points yesterday, and last night I didn’t sleep too well. I’m a TMMBA geezer; I’ll hit double-nickels on Friday. I know my Boeing VIP fund took a huge hit yesterday. I think my early retirement plans fell out the window right along with the market.

Yesterday was also my first day back at work after a short vacation. The week before that was Finals week, which capped off the third quarter of the TMMBA program. I was looking forward to this first blog entry and had composed a lot of it in my head as my life partner Marilyn and I traced a path to the Eastern Washington wine country, then back along the Columbia River, and finally to the Long Beach peninsula. This morning, as I ride the bus in to work, my mind is a jumble of disconnected thoughts — bits of composed blog entry, worries about the economy, the upcoming elections, factoids gleaned from our vacation and other road-trips, memories of the past three quarters, things I need to do at home, the difficulties at work where the machinists’ strike and an SEI-CMMI assessment have combined to make things even more hectic than usual, all spin together in my mind, each vying for attention. Suddenly a bumper sticker I saw once comes to mind: “Visualize Whirled Peas”. Peas in a blender — now that’s an apt description of my mental state right now! World Peace? I think recent events have not helped in that quest…

I volunteered to write because I thought I might provide a unique perspective on the TMMBA program. I’m a “late boomer”, and my parents were close to 40 when I was born, Especially in my mom’s case, her memories of the Great Depression were still vivid and so sometimes it is almost as if I had lived through that as well. My early years were shaped by the Mercury Seven, the tragedy of the Kennedy assassinations, race riots, sit-ins, and Kent State. The fabric of society was being torn asunder by multiple forces, and I was an awkward age — too young to participate and too old to not notice. The Viet Nam war was winding down during my draft year and I drew a high number. Looking back, entering the military would have been good for me. I could have used the discipline.

17-Sep-2008
So it’s the next day — the fur was flying when I hit the office yesterday and the pace didn’t slow until I got home — late. Marilyn had some kabobs for me to BBQ, and by the time we ate and told each other about our day, it was time to go to bed. The market recovered about 140 points, but the Fed announced after the close that it was putting AIG into conservatorship. Who knows what today will bring. The market opens in 15 minutes, which is about the time this rattling bus will let me off at the airport.

I did take a quick look at the blog site yesterday, and this entry has definitely taken a different tone than the rest. I didn’t see any place for comments like a normal blog; you are welcome to email me: tom.mackey@gmail.com if you wish to comment. I’ll incorporate relevant feedback in future postings.

Discipline, among other things, was what drew me to the TMMBA program. I was working as a lead Configuration Management specialist at The Boeing Company, and a young man was hired for my team. It was my first leadership position, and he is a Marine. He had served as a tank commander in Desert Storm, and although easy going and laid back, there was a quality about him, a steely self-confidence, that I deeply admired. I noticed his discipline in completing his tasks; this, too, was expressed in a quiet and laid back manner. When his grandmother passed away, he inherited a modest sum of money that she hoped he would use to further his education, and he started looking into MBA programs. I had been noticing the TMMBA ads on the buses downtown and something clicked. If he could be considering an MBA, why not me?

I have a decision to make w.r.t. my career — Boeing has both a technical path (the Technical Fellow program) and a management path. The nice thing is that you can move back and forth, within reason, so neither path is permanent. Regardless of which I choose to take, I recognized that I needed an advanced degree, or more specifically, the skills learned in obtaining such a degree, if I wanted to do well. This program, which has evening and weekend classes, and finishes in 18 months, seemed ideal. Once in the program, I found additional benefits — we are placed in teams by the TMMBA staff, and we progress through the program as a team. Since nearly every facet of today’s high-tech industry involves working in teams, the experience is both natural and instructive. A large part of what we do is making our team work more efficiently. I am lucky to be part of a great team. Our personalities both contrast and compliment, as do our backgrounds and interests. I’ll be writing more on the team aspect later.

Well, I am about to get off the bus, so once I get to my desk I will submit this entry and get to work. Future posts will touch on the various classes, lessons learned, teamwork, and of course, personal and interesting tidbits that hopefully will pique your interest.

PS: Well, the market is tanking again, as feared. We are in for a rough ride and I am glad to be in high gear learning mode again.

I have a saying: “If you stop learning, you might as well start dying.” The TMMBA program is a Fantastic place to keep learning!

-TomM