B628 Week Five

Week five was all about managing information. Again, this is something I’m pretty much used to doing, but it was nice to get a stronger theoretical understanding of my day-to-day duties.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to learn much this week, but I ended being surprised.

First of all, I learnt about the difference between data and information. A fundamental concept, and an obvious one when pointed out, but one I wasn’t aware of!

Learning all about information flows was interesting. I liked the diagram that gave a visual representation of information flows up, down, and laterally across the hierarchy of an organisation. I also found it useful to consider the types of information I might need to obtain from others and disseminate to others, and how my effectiveness in managing this information can be critical to the team.

The explanation of how different people can have different perspectives of information was particularly enlightening. The different between the technician’s view and the general manager’s view was astonishing!

I learnt about hard and soft information, and looked in detail at the 10 criteria we can use to determine the quality of information for decision-making:

  1. Its relevance
  2. Its clarity
  3. Its accuracy
  4. Its completeness
  5. Its trustworthiness
  6. Its conciseness
  7. Its timeliness
  8. Communication to the right person
  9. Communicated via the right channel
  10. Less costly than the benefit it provides

The chapter then moved into management information systems. I was intrigued to note that this isn’t necessary a description of computer-based solutions! Components of a management information system can be manual involving paper, or even purely verbal.

One of the most important ideas was that the collection and processing of management information should to some degree happen as a by-product of everyday work.

I then looked at how to represent a management information system in a diagram, including feedback loops.  People factors were also considered, in particular how the effectiveness of a management information system depends on whether the staff producing the information are aware of and understand its relevance and importance to the organisation.

A 7-step framework for improving information management was then presented, and as part of the weekly activities, I looked at how I could improve an information management problem I was experiencing. This became my TMA 01.

Finally, the chapter ended with a look at information overload, and some techniques for dealing with information addiction.

B628 Week Four

Planning and control is the theme of week four. Something I’m quite familiar with already to be honest. However, it doesn’t hurt to get a theoretical understanding of what I do on an almost daily basis as part of my job.

I learnt about the transformation model this week, and how it applies at both a macro and micro level. I also learned about performance indicators, and how they can give a measure of performance in different ways.

On the subject of planning, I learnt about the management control loop:

  1. Set objectives
  2. Plan, identify markers and carry out tasks
  3. Monitor progress
  4. Act on results of monitoring

Each of these stages were examined in detail, and it was explained how the process is an iterative one, a continuous learning opportunity.

I then learnt about how to deal with complexity, including potential problem analysis and contingency planning, two amazing techniques I now use regularly at work.

The importance of getting people’s agreement during planning was described. This is something that makes sense, but isn’t necessarily considered when preparing plans. Too many people draw up their plans without consulting stakeholders, which results in opposition later, often when plans are already well under way.

The rest of the chapter looked at evaluations, and how they too are an iterative process involving the following steps:

  1. Asking questions
  2. Answering questions
  3. Drawing conclusions
  4. Making necessary changes

Various types of evaluation were explored, including strategic, impact, performance, process, and composite evaluations. A framework for designing an evaluation was then set out, together with some potential issues often encountered during evaluations.

All in all, an enjoyable chapter with some material that’s highly useful in the real world!

B628 Week Three

Week three was another interesting one, although to be honest, I’m already familiar with a lot of the concepts.

It’s been all about problem solving, and by the end of it apparently I should be able to understand the problem solving process, understand the decision-making process and how to decide between options, identify the effectiveness of my approach to problem-solving/decision-making and understand how to make improvements, and understand the organisation context in which problems are solved and why solutions are often less than ideal.

I’d say I’m pretty au fait with all that. I’ve already done a lot of problem solving and decision making during my career, but it was interesting to see the process documented, and I’ve identified some ways I can improve, namely:

  • Considering my assumptions when analysing the problem
  • Making SMART recommendations
  • Considering implications/advantages/disadvantages
  • The importance of communicating with, and involving others
  • Setting decision criteria before coming comparing options and coming to a decision

So this week I’ve covered:

  • The concept of bounded and unbounded problems
  • The problem solving matrix (known problem/known solution, etc.)
  • A framework for problem-solving (analyse the problem, consider assumptions, draw conclusions, set the criteria for a solution, identify appropriate solution via SMART recommendations, develop an action plan, consider implications/advantages/disadvantages)
  • The importance of communicating with others to gain cooperation and avoid opposition
  • A framework for decision-making (set objectives, set SMART decision criteria, compare the options, select the preferred option, plan a SMART implementation, consider the limitations of deciding between options)
  • The ‘less than ideal’, ‘intuitive’, ‘negative’, and ‘changing circumstances’ approaches to problem solving.
  • Problems with problem-solving and decision-making (bounded rationality, satisficing, decisional bias, organisational culture)

Learning workload

So far, I’m not finding the workload too bad. Apart from the online activities which I can’t do yet as I have to wait for everyone else to get up to speed, I’ve now completed week three. According to the course plan, I should be finishing off week one around now, so good progress so far!

I’m lucky in the sense that I do have a couple of hours spare every evening, and a few extra hours spare in the mornings at weekends. It’s also proving to be a good thing that I commute a lot, as I can listen to the course materials in the car while driving to work.

I’ve been forgetting to keep the learning diary, but hopefully I’m going to get back on track with this.

Shame I don’t seem to have much more time for the Critical Thinking book – I was really enjoying that.

B628 Week Two

The second week of my course already seems like a distant memory as I have now finished week three, and already skim read week four. However, it’s now time to back track a bit and reflect on what I learnt during the second week.

Week two was all about communication, and seeing as I’ve never really considered myself as the world’s best communicator, I always knew I was going to learn a lot of new things. Some of the most useful things I’ve learnt are the concepts of open and closed communication climates, barriers to communication, and questioning techniques.

Let’s look at the week in detail:

  • What you can do to improve the communication climate
  • The information theory model of communication
  • The constructivist model of communication
  • Understanding communication (locution, illocution and perlocution)
  • Barriers to communication (physical, perceptual, emotional, cultural, language, gender/status, interpersonal)
  • Paralanguage and non-verbal communication
  • Listening skills (support, responding, retention)
  • Questioning skills (closed/open, direct, probing, leading, loaded, hypothetical, mirror/reflective)
  • Understanding meeting types and styles (informal/formal, adversarial/consensual)
  • How to make meetings more effective
  • Improving chairing skills

The course learning outcomes from the module activities guide suggest I should now be able to understand the importance of effective communication as well as the process, identify barriers to communication and help to lower them where I have control or influence, communication more effectively, improve communication in situations where communication is poor where I have control or influence.

I’d say that pretty much covers what I’ve learnt!