This Is the Work

Early in my career (OK, a really long time ago), I was a hall adviser at Iowa State University. I was responsible for providing support services to students, primarily 800 women who lived in Maple Hall. Our staff had all kinds of plans for programs we wanted to implement and activities to engage students in optimizing their development. Yep. We were a pretty idealistic bunch.

But when you bring 800 people together, things happen. Some of them get sick. Some have really tough break-ups with their boyfriends. Some get engaged. Some lose their parents. Some fail a class. Some get scholarships. Some make poor choices, like the ones who decided to rappel from the top of the hall.

One frustrating and long day, one of my staff said it would be nice if we didn’t have so many distractions so we could just get our work done. But here’s the thing: this is the work. That’s true in ISU Extension and Outreach too. We really are about the people and people change, people have emotions, people have unexpected things happen to them, people have lives. This is the reason Mike Kruzeniski, director of experience design at Twitter, says it is so important to make sure you are thinking about how you want to build your organization while you are designing whatever great things your organization builds.

Kruzeniski says “we all just want to focus on designing and making great things, but building the company is what will support you to do the work you aspire to do … and it takes a long time. When company stuff gets complicated, it’s easy to complain, to point at the people you think are responsible, or to just quit. But it’s your job to help. Your role in a company isn’t to just be the designer of products; your role is to be a designer of that company, to help it become the company that has the ability to make the products you aspire to make. When you joined your company, you probably didn’t think you signed up to help build the company too, but you did. By helping to make your company a better place to work, you make it a better place to design and build things.”

Kruzeniski also says “don’t just think about that one product you need to design in the next three, six, or 12 months. Consider the skills, relationships, and tools that you and your company will need for the next two, five, seven, or 10 years and start working on them now. Don’t just measure yourself by the output of your very next project; Measure yourself by how you’re improving quality over the course of your next 10 projects. Measure yourself by the quality of the projects of your peers. When you see problems, go tackle them, even if nobody told you to. Put it on yourself to make it better, so that your current and future colleagues won’t have to deal with that same problem. Your job is to be the shoulders that the next generation of designers  —  and perhaps your future self  —  at your company will stand on.”

At ISU Extension and Outreach, we all have very busy days conducting needs assessments, developing programs, managing finances, delivering educational programs, managing people, collaborating with key partners — and designing the future Extension and Outreach. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Let’s Celebrate

Sometimes, it’s time to assess the situation and plan. Sometimes, it’s time to dig deeper and try harder. This past week, however, it was time to celebrate. I had the privilege of representing all of us in Extension and Outreach as we celebrated the achievements of some dedicated people at the University Awards Ceremony.  These awards recognize excellence, but more importantly, they also celebrate the role Extension faculty and staff play in engaging the resources of our institution with our citizens.

Angela Rieck-Hinz, as an Extension Program Specialist for Agriculture and Natural Resources, has coordinated statewide training programs for over 3,000 manure applicators. Her leadership style fosters teamwork and collaboration on environmental stewardship programming across all levels within Extension, and soil health and water quality stakeholders. (Angela now serves as an Extension and Outreach field agronomist.)

Daniel Loy, Professor of Animal Science and Director of the Iowa Beef Center, was recognized for pioneering the use of microcomputers in data management for cattle feeding operations. He was also instrumental in the transition by beef producers to cattle diets that include corn co-products.

Darin Madson, Assistant Professor of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, is internationally renowned for his diagnostic medicine skills and outreach efforts. The discoveries made in his research have had a major impact on developing new approaches for assurance of the health and well-being of Iowa’s $12.5 billion animal agriculture industry.

And Mary Beth Kaufman, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach Specialist in Family Finance, is on the cutting edge of emerging issues such as flood recovery, mental health, and poverty reduction.  A nominator called Ms. Kaufman a “gifted teacher,” and says her “presentations at educator and youth conferences represent Extension and Outreach at its best — grounded in research and focused on the learner.”

Just four people. Doing their jobs. I’m pretty proud of them and encourage you to join me in congratulating and thanking them. But here’s what makes me proudest – I know that in addition to these four, their 1,000 ISU Extension and Outreach colleagues across the state all have stories like Angie’s and Darin’s and Mary Beth’s, and Dan’s. All making a difference for Iowans. Every day. Congratulations. Thank you. See you there.

— Cathann

Good, Fast, Cheap: Pick Two

If you’re familiar with Spaghetti Westerns, then you’ve probably heard of the old Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” No matter what you think of the movie, you must admit it has a great title. The title might even be better known than the movie. As I write this, I can even hear that theme song in my head, although I can’t recall much about the movie itself. 

There’s a variation on that title that’s popular as well — “The Good, the Fast, and the Cheap.” It’s been called a marketing rubric, a project management rule, even the designer’s holy triangle. It goes like this:

People want things good, fast, and cheap. But unfortunately, you can have only two of the three.
• Good (or high quality) and fast isn’t cheap.
• Fast and cheap isn’t high quality.
• High quality and cheap takes time.

The “good, fast, and cheap” mantra is a sign of the complexity that is present in any project — or any educational program. Of the three, we should aim for the good — high quality in our educational programs and materials — and understand that getting it will either take time or cost money. Then we need to make the appropriate commitment. See you there.

— Cathann

The Barney Factor

Recently, I travelled with President Leath to Black Hawk County, to tour a CIRAS partner company. Power Engineering and Manufacturing (PEM) specializes in custom design and manufacturing of heavy-duty gearboxes. While touring their line, Dennis Schilling, Quality Assurance Manager, shared that one of their greatest challenges has been something they call the “Barney Factor.”

A former plant manager, nicknamed Barney, attempted to resolve issues quickly and efficiently. If a gear didn’t fit over a pinion, instead of taking time to determine the root cause and resolve the issue properly, Barney would have the machinists make the internal dimensions of the gear larger, so when it got to assembly, all the parts fit. He did this so often in fact, that he eventually required machinists to do this for ALL gears produced at PEM.  Barney did this so often, in fact, that the “Barney Factor” eventually became an accepted and management approved method of problem prevention.  There are two problems with this approach. First, by making gears larger, Barney reduced their strength, which led to a higher rate of failure in the field. In other words — and this is important — Barney solved his problem in the plant by, essentially, pushing the problem down the road to the customer. Second, by solving the immediate problem and not investigating the root cause, Barney wasn’t able to discover fundamental engineering errors. So the company never knew where the problem originated and would never improve the quality of the final product.

This particularly impacted the company when it came to “endplay,” which is the amount of clearance designed into a stack-up of parts in an assembly. According to Dennis, you usually want some endplay, because it allows parts to spin freely, which reduces wear. But with too much endplay parts can move around, crash into each other, and create damage and wear.  So, all assemblies are designed with a pre-determined, acceptable amount of endplay. When PEM operated with the Barney Factor, machinists were instructed to always take bores deeper than the drawings called for, and then simply shim additional endplay back to specifications. It sounds like a workable solution to the numerous endplay issues they experienced over the year, until you factor in the amount of resources Dennis estimates was spent measuring for shims, creating shims, and purchasing material for the great number of shims they needed for each gearbox. Furthermore, this manufacturing “solution” also hid fundamental engineering errors that led to them needing a solution in the first place.

This is not how they do it anymore. Now, PEM uses sophisticated quality control measures to evaluate each part and determine errors prior to and during assembly. Not only has this sped up the line, but it also takes fewer resources (no more shims) and results in a higher quality product with an increased service life, for the customer.  As I listened to Dennis tell his story, I wondered: Does Extension and Outreach operate with our own version of the Barney Factor? Rather than getting at the heart of a problem, do we sometimes push the problem down the road, or let immediate solutions generate more problems?  Do we create more work with fixes which require greater resources or are inefficient?

Dennis reports that when they first started to implement the quality control measures, there was tremendous resistance from machinists, assemblers, and others, because initially, things got worse. Dennis attributes that to pulling the problem back from the customer to the plant and that, frankly, people were resistant to change. A very common phrase heard throughout the plant was, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  He says he knew what they were doing was right, but it helped to have the support of others who understood that making things easy on us internally doesn’t always help us build a stronger, longer lasting product overall. In other words, PEM moved from a corrective action system that created more problems to really solving their problems. See you there.

— Cathann

High Quality Programs

For years, those of us working in Extension and Outreach have hung our hats on being able to tout our programs as “high quality.” We’ve typically defined that as research-based, unbiased, and relevant. Essentially, our programs do what they are supposed to do: provide research-based education and extend the resources of Iowa State University to our state.

What we haven’t kept up with is the proliferation of quality. Think about the last time your car broke down. It happens so seldom to most of us that we find it surprising, which is a lot different than my first car, a Chevy Vega that habitually left me stranded on the side of the road.

Why does this matter? Because the proliferation of quality across educational organizations, across private or nonprofit companies, across even the Internet means that our claim to quality is not so unique anymore. If I can get quality knowledge from here or there, how do I choose? Most of us would go with convenience, and let’s not forget — cheapest.

What this means is that we no longer get to sail along on quality, but have to dig deeper to understand what other criteria our constituents want and will seek out. We have to talk about convenience, cost, responsiveness, connectedness, and new — all while maintaining quality.

Our streamlining of Extension and Outreach Administration includes a functional unit for Program Leadership. This unit will guide our efforts in educational program development. A team, with John Lawrence as temporary lead, is developing plans to carry out what we began during our leadership summit. We’re going to be digging deeper.

This functional unit will

  • Clarify and lead a system-wide program development process, including a system to identify emerging and current needs. 
  • Focus citizens’ advisory efforts at the programmatic level.
  • Create guidelines and criteria for successful program partnerships.
  • Strengthen connections to campus units and departments to enhance the outreach function of ISU colleges.
  • Increase cross-program interaction and coordination.
  • Improve connections between researchers and ISU Extension and Outreach faculty and staff.
  • Create and implement a professional development plan for ISU and county personnel on content and research associated with ISU Extension and Outreach educational programs. 
  • Identify and monitor the impacts and quality of programs.

We have to spend some time reconsidering the components of our high quality programs and recognizing that the components might be different, depending on the program or the audience. In other words, we have to redefine quality. See you there.

— Cathann

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