Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Team Building with LEGO Towers: Part 1

The opening premise was that I needed a hands-on activity for my semi-annual staff meeting. Such activities are not my bailiwick; hand me clay and ask me to make a vessel for my feelings and I'll make a crude ash tray, surpassed easily by almost anything coming from the hands of a toddler. So I embarked on an epic quest to find a tactile team-building exercise that I wouldn't hate myself for thrusting upon my team. "There must be something with LEGO," I thought, and commenced Googling... Thankfully salvation came from a fellow by the name of Nick Heap.

It had everything I wanted: team work, project management, ROI, and LEGO. Naturally, I created a PowerPoint deck to guide the morning.

The rules:

  • Build LEGO tower with positive Return on Investment (ROI)
  • Tower must be able to stand freely for 1 minute
  • 20 minutes maximum time from starting horn
  • No other materials can be used in the construction
  • Two phases: Planning and Construction (important cost implications below)
  • You can manipulate bricks (sort, count) during Planning, but Construction begins the moment two bricks are joined together
  • Each team will report its strategies and lessons learned during the post-build debrief
How to calculate ROI:
As demonstrated above, Revenue is driven strictly by the height of the tower (in centimeters). The complexity comes with the expenses (doesn't it always?). Materials are priced at a straight $0.50 per brick, whether it's a 1x1 stud or a 2x8 brick. Labor costs differ during the Planning vs. Construction phases -- which makes the honesty of the time-keeper much more crucial!

The Raw Materials

What should your shopping list be? I must admit that I spent 30 minutes at the LEGO Store in Burlington, Mass., puzzling over this challenge. Knowing I would have four teams, the decision to buy four green plates was easy. At first glance, the obvious answer seemed to be LEGO 6177, the "Basic Blocks Deluxe". You might think that in a kit like this the distribution of pieces by color would be roughly equivalent. Nope. Not even close. In this kit, the yellow, red, blue, and white bricks have nearly equal distributions -- except for the 1x6 and larger. The lime green, green, black, orange, and brown bricks are many fewer but almost align (but not quite -- for some odd reason the brown have four fewer 2x2s; the black and green have 3 additional 1x2; the lime and orange have 5 extra 1x1...) If you are truly concerned about absolute parity across the competing teams, you'll have to do a fair amount of counting and sorting. Ultimately, my shopping list was:
  • 3 LEGO 6177 (650 pieces each)
  • 4 gallon-sized ZipLoc bags (for the yellow, red, blue, white)
  • 5 quart-sized ZipLoc bags (for the other colors)
  • 4 32x32 green base plates
We only used the yellow, red, white, and blue bricks, although I also crafted a trophy for the winning team by adapting this pattern. Total cost, roughly $115. But with revenue (measured in fun) nearing infinity, I feel pretty good about the return on investment!

Will be back soon with Part 2 -- results and lessons learned.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012: A Preview + Resolutions

All signs point toward a crazy/incredible year.

At work we remain on track to complete upgrades to PeopleSoft 9.1 HCM in April and E-Business Suite 12.1 Financials in November. We are plumbing the depths of the new functionality in Oracle EPM 11.1.2 for planning and budgeting (in production since mid-November, but with a host of unknowns). Later this week I am supposed to gain admin privileges on an OBIEE 11g sandbox—there are only a thousand things I want to do with that shiny new toy. We have active projects in research admin, student financials, treasury, and more. And that’s only the stuff we know about; new requests are coming in so fast and furious that in the calm before the holidays I built a new application using Intuit QuickBase (starting from one of their many great template apps) to manage intake and prioritization; I expect to deploy it to my leadership team this week. And on Monday I will be putting QlikView 10 in action to analyze time-tracking and productions support metrics from last quarter. Yessir, it should be an exciting year.

My 2011 was a crowded with professional development and networking activities, in addition to the normal daily grind. I attended five national conferences (presenting at four of them) across the spectrum of higher education and IT. I finally ticked off the PMP box on my resume and started my ITSM/ITIL journey. 2012 should bring more of the same. I am already on the agenda for the HEUG Alliance in Nashville (March) and formulating proposals for EDUCAUSE Annual Conference (due by Feb 12!) and Open World. I am off to Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) training in two weeks. And just before the recess a copy of Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 landed on my desk. So if the projects don’t keep me busy… There is always something new to learn.

I established a host of resolutions for 2012, mostly of the personal-life and health varieties. I won’t bore you with them here, although I feel compelled to mention the robust Excel model I built to track my progress (and my wife’s): naturally, everything rolls neatly into a tri-color dashboard!

More pertinent to this space, I also defined a bunch of work-oriented resolutions. Here goes:

  • 1000 Tweets
  • 100 New Followers
  • Follow 100 New People/Companies
  • Post 26 Blogs to jasonshaffner.blogspot.com
  • Post 100 Blogs to internal department blog
  • 2+ Conference Presentations
  • 1+ New IT/PM Certification
  • Update our departmental Confluence Wiki at least once every business day

See you again soon; I have at least 25 more blogs in 2012!