A Project Manager's View on Branding Statements

On this #MusicalMonday, we explore Branding from the perspective of a Project Manager. For the past several years, many of us have heard the terms Personal Brand or Branding Statement. These terms are commonly used in the job market space, to be used by job seekers as a means of setting themselves ahead of the competition. This is done to lock in the focus of the company they wish to work for. This makes sense. Nothing new here. This is probably one of the best tools of a marketing campaign. Whether that campaign is to gain majority market share for a tangible product (automobiles), a service (tax preparation service) or a job (computer programmer), the campaign is a project and projects must have a detailed plan to ensure that risks are limited and opportunities are boundless. A good project manager will help see this through...identifying risks and managing them properly, while always keeping a close eye on the project schedule, the project budget and the project's scope.

In the world of job seeking, many job seekers are asked by career counselors "What is your brand?" or "What is your branding statement?". It's the second one that I am concerned with. My brand is me. Just like Ajax Powdered Cleanser is the brand of the company, Colgate-Polmolive. The brand, Ajax Powdered Cleanser is the brand of the company's product line of household cleansers. The Branding Statement is nothing more than a slogan. A slogan IS a form of intellectual property that, if the creator does their due diligence, they will protect that slogan through their government's patent and trademark office. In the United States, there is the United States Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov/trademark), where you can find enough information regarding registration procedures, fees and renewal steps and costs. 

Now, we take a look at, or take a listen to, Ajax's Branding Statement, "Stronger Than Dirt". On January 3, 1964, this Branding Statement was registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4806:3zhtje.2.2). In their radio and television advertisements, we can hear it being used (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToNNpP6DVsw). The comments in this YouTube video allude to The Doors' "Touch Me", which was heard a few years later (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPTBd6fJuso). There are enough similarities between to two "Stronger Than Dirt" musical properties (melody and arrangement) that it could have been subject to copyright infringement. 

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62456577

Whether The Doors were taken to court for this, I don't know, but in 1987, Nike, Inc. found themselves in a precarious position. Perhaps if they had a Project Management Professional managing their marketing campaign, they would have not violated the intellectual property rights that were owned by the Beatles and their heirs. In 1987, Nike, Inc. used the original recording of the Beatles' "Revolution" in their television advertisements. This resulted in the Beatles' filing a lawsuit against them for a sum of $15,000,000.00. As George Harrison said "the spot opened the door for the band's songs to be used to advertise everything from women's underwear to sausages". (https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-sports/story-behind-nikes-controversial-1987-revolution-commercial-192421/). By doing this, the Beatles' protected their brand and their reputation. This is an important lesson for all of us, as we need to protect our reputation in the marketplace. Your career, whether you are looking for new opportunities or living off of your legacy of proven work, requires that you protect it.

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62456568

Let's not forget the name "Apple" for a company. Who do you think of when someone asks about Apple? John, Paul, George and Ringo? Or Steve? Apple Corp, was founded by the Beatles in 1968, with their first single being "Hey Jude". In 1976, Apple Computers was founded by Steve Jobs. There was an ongoing case for years (https://sites.udel.edu/cisc356/2014/04/21/apple-corps-v-apple-computer-1978-2006/) which left the principals of Apple Corps vulnerable to other infringements of intellectual property.

Whether your Branding Statement is simple and benign, something to fill up a line on your LinkedIn profile, business card or resume, OR it is a clever, little sound bite that will capture the hearts and minds of generations to come, think like a Project Manager by understanding the risks and how to manage them. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office's YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHDRV2NTSEk), a company can take any intellectual property that you may not have registered and register it, as their own, with the USPTO and have legal rights to any product and marketing materials with that branding statement.

Through music, we as Project Managers can gain from the #lessonslearned about #risks, #riskmanagement, #scope, #compliance, #productdevelopment and #costmanagement by examining the things that went right and the things that went wrong. Hopefully, we'll save our clients' years, and perhaps decades, of unwanted legal entanglement.    

The Need for Agile in Corporate Finance

 As I continue to study, learn, understand and share my lessons on the value of the Agile framework, I realize that the journey's destination is a lot further away than I had expected. Well, that's Agile for you!

I recently had the experience of managing an infrastructure move project for a large financial services corporation. It was an experience that I won't soon forget as I realized that all of the tools that I've mastered in both the Waterfall and Agile methodologies don't really matter if the culture of the company, or any of its departments, are not ready to adapt them. This particular project was dormant for eight months before my arrival. Let me put it another way...the project was in a coma for eight months. I was the third project manager assigned to it and the project was still in the brain storming or concept phase, with no clear scope, schedule or budget agreed on by the stakeholders and the sponsors.

That's fine for me. This was my opportunity to apply skills, experience and insight to get this project out of its coma. I was able to do that within a three month period but not without a major realization of the topic of this post. We frequently hear of cultural transformations in departments, divisions and companies from Waterfall to Agile. When we drill down to the functional departments we hear about Agile methods or the Agile framework in software development, product development and process improvement delivering value early on. [What does that mean "...delivering value early on"? To put it simply, the concept of Minimal Viable Product is something that can be put to use and reap a return on investment as soon as it's put to use. This helps keep project costs down and also allows for the project to fund itself. The best example is the construction of a multi-tenant building which will have rentable/leasable units before the total construction is complete. In other words, complete one of six units and lease it immediately, which will help in recovering the investment and help finance the rest of the project. Each completion and renting/leasing of the six units can be considered as a Sprint and has the added benefits of a lower Internal Rate of Return and Minimizing Financial Risk.]

The project that I worked on was no different that most projects in that I had to be mindful of the triple constraint (Scope, Schedule and Budget). What I soon came to realize was that it was the Budget leg of that triangle which had the least agility. For this project, the Corporate Finance department, which feeds the project financially, was also its biggest threat by not "feeding" the project and starving it out of existence. To this day, there are many companies that have finance departments that are predictable and monolithic, meaning their budgeting practices are mapped to the fiscal year at the enterprise level. If a project's budget cannot meet the deadlines required of estimation, execution and management within a certain timeframe, then the funds are withdrawn and the project management team MUST go through the entire process to secure project funding again.

When I asked some of my Agile colleagues about this, they introduced me to the concept of "Beyond Budgeting" (https://www.toolshero.com/financial-management/beyond-budgeting/)    There are twelve principles of  Beyond Budgeting and Four Benefits. Two of those benefits are Shorter Response Time and Lower Costs. These two benefits would have also minimized an unforeseen risk, that became an issue having negatively impacted the Project Schedule as well as the Project Health/Performance. This unforeseen risk is the current pandemic that we are experiencing right now - COVID-19.

In conclusion, had the Corporate Finance department of this organization adapted the principals and practices of Beyond Budgeting when the rest of the organization went through their Agile Transformation in 2016, then it is reasonable to say that this infrastructure move project could have been completed in the eight months before my arrival and the organization would have reduced their exposure of financial loss once COVID-19 came upon us.


PMP Perspective COVID-19
Part II – Risk Event Mitigation

As I noted in the last article on this topic, when Project Managers evaluate potential risk events, the first step after event identification is Qualitative Risk Analysis, which is a Subjective evaluation of the event probability and event impact to the project. We perform this type of analysis so we don’t spend a large amount of time and money analyzing risk events that either are highly unlikely to happen or will have minimum impact on our project if they do occur. At that time, I noted that until recently, a project manager would have considered a pandemic to be a highly unlikely event and would not had implemented a Quantitative Risk Analysis where serious probability and impact analysis would be performed. In the US, until mid-March, the risk management strategy for a pandemic such as COVID-19 would have been an Acceptance Strategy, as the low probability associated with a pandemic would have precluded a proactive response plan. When project managers consider an Acceptance Strategy there are two choices, Active Acceptance and Passive Acceptance. When a project manager uses a Passive Acceptance strategy, the project manager just assumes that if the risk event occurs the repercussions will be addressed when/if the risk event occurs. When a project manager uses an Active Acceptance strategy, the project manager establishes a contingency reserve for the project including amounts of time, money, and resources to be used if the project’s acceptable variances are exceeded. Examples of how this activity is performed by government entities and project managers are disaster preparedness plans for hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes in areas that are prone to these events.

As with all disaster preparedness plans the trick is to prepare enough to mitigate the damage as much as possible while spending the least amount of money and time developing and maintaining the plans. Preparing for a 25 to 50 year flood is tricky enough, preparing for a 100 year pandemic event is even more challenging because:

  1.         Preparations will be very expensive even if they not robust
  2. Medical technology is constantly changing, so equipment will become obsolete
  3.  Equipment degrades over time, even if never used
  4. Very successful implementation can give people the impression the event was not that bad and probably should have been addressed through passive acceptance

So how can governments and project managers, prepare for ‘black swans’ or events that occur very infrequently? Some thoughts on these issues are…

Preparations will be very expensive even if they not robust – when a project manager knows a risk event has very low probability of occurring and that preparing for it will be very expensive, the key is to provide mitigation for a minimum period of time, until resources can be mustered to provide an ‘acceptable solution’. In this situation, not letting the ‘perfect’ be the enemy of the ‘good’ needs to be taken to the level of just keeping the damage to a level where the project can be brought back on track as the situation is assessed and a permanent resolution is developed.

Simply put, acknowledging the potential for a disaster and considering what resources would have to be in place in the short run to keep total disaster at bay.

Medical technology is constantly changing, so equipment will become obsolete – whether dealing with a medical emergency or some other risk, technology is constantly changing so any risk management plan should have reviews at least every year to ensure that technology assumptions are still correct. I would not want to be addressing COVID-19 with a plan based on state of the art 1918 medical techniques

Equipment degrades over time, even if never used – Any risk mitigation plan that will require the stockpiling of equipment must address the dual issues of technology change noted above as well as equipment degradation. The plan should address upgrading equipment and disposal of old equipment well before the equipment becomes obsolete. Rotating new equipment in and disposing of old equipment on a routine basis ensure the old equipment can be sold for a reasonable price and that equipment stored is always up to date.

Very successful implementation can give people the impression the event was not that bad and probably should have been addressed through passive acceptance – There is always the chance that the mitigation plan goes so well that people don’t realize there ever was a serious problem, and as such preparing for future risk events is hampered. When I was managing a LAN/Desktop Support team, I used to tell my internal customers that if you have good IT support, you don’t realize you have an IT team, because ‘things, work’ As always this is a management communication challenge, and as every good project manager knows communications is one of their most important jobs.

In closing, the key to managing risk is having people involved who are responsible, competent, and able to communicate the value of risk management.

The next article in this series will address Lessons Learned from the efforts of government in the United States to minimize the impact of COVID-19… from a PMP Perspective. Obviously, it may be a while before I write that one as we don’t know how long this crisis will continue.

Rules for comments…

  1.         I will never tell you how to vote, I just ask that you do your due diligence and vote accordingly
  2. I will never get ‘personal’, I will treat President Trump, Speaker Pelosi, and every other politician with the respect their office deserves, whether they deserve it or not
  3.  I will not be partisan, difficult though that may be for me, there is enough partisanship out there for people that want it
  4. I will not be a ‘hater’, if you want hate, there are plenty of writers who will give you as much as you can take
  5.  I expect commenters to behave the same, if you can’t abide by the rules I hold myself to, I will not respond to your comments, not because you have ‘convinced’ or ‘intimidated’ me, but because I choose not to go there

PMP Perspective - COVID-19 Is the Cure Really Worse Than the Disease?

PMP Perspective - COVID-19

Is the Cure Really Worse Than the Disease?

When Project Managers evaluate potential risk events, the first step after event identification is Qualitative Risk Analysis, which is a Subjective evaluation of the event probability and event impact to the project. We perform this type of analysis so we don’t spend a large amount of time and money analyzing risk events that either are highly unlikely to happen or will have minimum impact on our project if they do occur. In honesty, I must state that if I was performing risk analysis of a project in December 2019, I would have totally blown off the impact of the COVID-19 virus, unless my project was in Asia. Alas I would have been wrong. Although my analysis would have been incorrect, I would have had good reason for it, as the last Pandemic we had in the United States was in 1918 – over 100 years ago in other words,  low probability.

Another principle of Project Management Risk Management is that we review our potential risks often and adjust our plans when situations change. Obviously, the situation has changed and now governments worldwide are instituting lock downs of various severity to address the potential spread, and impact of COVID-19.

There has recently been a lot of discussion about whether the harm to the economy is worth the efforts being taken by state and federal governments in the US, to slow down COVID-19 spreading. First of all, let me be clear, NO ONE LIKES BEING RESTRICTED, it makes life less enjoyable for all, and downright depressing for some. Ask anyone who has taken on a major inconvenience for a long-term benefit whether it be cancer therapy or a serious weight loss diet, there are always times, especially early in the treatment when the need is questioned. Having stated the obvious. Let’s consider what’s really going on here and the alternatives.

This is not about stopping the spread of COVID-19, this is about ‘flattening the curve’ of the spread of the virus so that health care professionals do not get overwhelmed and we go from a serious inconvenience to a national disaster. In other words, a certain percentage of the population will probably get COVID-19, the genie is ‘out of the bottle’ now, that’s inevitable, the question is can we slow the spread down enough so that the health care system can absorb the incoming patients in a crisis manner, or will it be so overwhelmed that a number of patients will unnecessarily suffer and many die because care was simply not possible. Essentially this is ‘pay me now, or pay me later’ thing, we could do nothing and the virus would ‘burn itself out’ as the population gains natural immunity in a relatively short period of time, or we can flatten the curve and have the virus play out over a longer period of time so we have time to react to medical care needs. There is no ‘good outcome’ here, we are in the ‘minimize losses‘ mode.

Let us consider our choices from the impact on businesses, professional sports, hospitality, and society in general. According to Wordometer. Info https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/  as of April 1, 2020 there have been 207,535 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US and of that number 4,609 have died, and 8.762 have recovered. That means that approximately 2% of the people that show symptoms of the virus will die. I state it that way because you have a very hard time getting testing for COVID-19 right now unless you are showing symptoms, so probably more people are infected but less percent of people are dying.

Impact on business: right now the numbers don’t look too daunting, but as has been shown in many locations worldwide, this virus tends to ramp up very quickly, which means that if it hits a workplace that has over 50 people there’s a good chance that productivity will be severely hampered if not brought to a halt quickly. With the measures being put in place many occupations can be done remotely with minimal chance of infection. I am a big fan of working from home where possible to maintain productivity and minimize potential infection impact – slow it down so that the percent of employees sick at any given time is not overwhelming to the business. I realize not everyone has the luxury of working from home, but if we can get people who are able to work from home to do it, the numbers of those who must be on the streets gets limited.

Impact professional sports – most professional sporting events have an audience of at least 10,000 people. I am a serious NHL fan and go to about 13 games a year. I have noticed that my chances of getting a cold are a lot higher when I go to games during the ‘cold season’ and it is on my mind when I’m at games during those periods. Having said that, a cold is an inconvenience, it’s nothing like the flu or worse like what is being described for COVID19. I will not skip a game I have tickets to because I might get a cold, but I must say based on all that I read about COVID-19 I doubt I would risk going to an NHL game right now. I think the leagues made the correct decision, even though as a fan, I currently hate it. If people started to catch COVID-19 at professional sports venues, the impact would probably last longer than the current lock down will end up being.

Impact on hospitality industry – there is no way to sugarcoat this one, a lot of people will be out of work and many of them don’t have good benefits, this one will be on society – government aide – to help these people get through this crisis. If these businesses were to stay open, the long term impact of many people figuring out they got sick after going to a nice restaurant or theme park or concert, etc. would have a very negative impact on the industry’s economy that would last much longer than the lock down.

Impact on society in general – as noted earlier, this is no fun, and it’s going to go on for a while. It reminds me a lot of the emotional wringer we, in central Florida, were put through during Hurricane Irma a couple years ago where we were bombarded with news of the potential disaster for two weeks before it arrived, then endured a week without power after it hit. The longer it went on, the worse it got, and this will go on much longer, although for most the personal strain will be mainly economic, not mental and physical, it still going to be very hard.

The other impact is on the people who will get seriously ill and/or die, I have heard it said we shouldn’t let the 2% hold the rest of us hostage, I guess a ‘culling of the herd’ makes sense…UNLESS YOU OR A LOVED ONE IS AMONG THOSE IMPACTED, but I prefer to think we’re all in this together and should use this as an opportunity to let our best side shine, and I see that happening in a lot of places from a lot of people.

So, is ‘flattening the curve really worth it? Let’s consider the “Spanish Flu’ pandemic of 1918. The government was in the middle of ramping up a war effort and didn’t try to get people to ‘self isolate’ until way too late because rallies to support the effort were considered more important to national security – I will not judge this, it is a function of what was considered important by national and state leadership at that time. Also, there was concern then, as now of the impact of slowing down the economy, and of course, medical technology was nowhere near as advanced then as now. The result approximately 600,000 United States citizens died. To put that in perspective the US population prior to the pandemic was more than 103 million, that’s approximately .5%, but understand testing in 1918 was typically, you showed up at the doctors office incapacitated by the flu, so we don’t know what percent of the population was infected. The good news was that the flu 'burned itself out' in about a month... but at what cost in lives and to the economy - losing .5% of your population, not to mention the number of sick days that were missed but not noted in 1918, plays havoc on the economy too.

In 2020 the US population is approximately 330 million, and if the actions being taken by state and federal governments are effective in ‘flattening the curve’, worst case predictions are approximately 200,000 United States citizens will die (hopes are it will be significantly lower than that), that’s approximately .06% mortality rate. Again, this ASSUMES:
1) Government controls do indeed flatten the curve and
2) The health care system is able to absorb the people who get seriously sick with COVID-19 in an adequate manner

I prefer us not to have the national trauma that occurred during the 1918 pandemic, even though it means we will suffer economically.

Bottom line, this will not be enjoyable, but let’s allow the ‘lock down’ decisions to be made by medical professionals that will, after all, be the ones who will get the brunt of the impact of those decisions.

The next article will address the efforts government in the United States is taking to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19… from a PMP Perspective

Rules for comments…

  1. I will never tell you how to vote, I just ask that you do your due diligence and vote accordingly
  2. I will never get ‘personal’, I will treat President Trump, Speaker Pelosi, and every other politician with the respect their office deserves, whether they deserve it or not
  3. I will not be partisan, difficult though that may be for me, there is enough partisanship out there for people that want it
  4. I will not be a ‘hater’, if you want hate, there are plenty of writers who will give you as much as you can take
  5. I expect commenters to behave the same, if you can’t abide by the rules I hold myself to, I will not respond to your comments, not because you have ‘convinced’ or ‘intimidated’ me, but because I choose not to go there

Why We Need a PMP To Be President

In late 1969, the Project Management Institute (PMI) was formed after two men, Jim Snyder and Gordon Davis, came up with the idea in Philadelphia, PA. Through years of growth, research and education, PMI has set the global standard for Project Management worldwide. in various disciplines in the business world and academia, in both public and private sectors. The first certification for Project Managers occurred in October of 1984 when 43 candidates of 56 passed the exam and received the much-coveted Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. (Webster, F.M. (1994). Project management certification: the history. PM Network, 8(11), 24-25). Since 1969, we've had nine Presidents of the United States. Since 1984, when we saw the first PMP, we've had six Presidents of the United States.

What do both timelines have in common? Not one PMP was elected President of the United States. Interestingly, not one PMP was a party nominee for President of the United States! Still, since 1969 of the nine Presidents of the United States, four of them were attorneys and since 1984, two of the six were attorneys. While that might not seem a strong enough case for a PMP to run a successful campaign and be elected President, it should be noted that since 1776, the breakdown of previous experience for Presidents of the United States shows that an overwhelming percentage have been attorneys! According to the Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_presidents_of_the_United_States_by_previous_experience#By_the_numbers), twenty six Presidents were previously attorneys, four taught at universities, twenty two had previous military experience (with nine being Generals in the U.S. Army) and all but five held some form of public office.

It almost seems like it is a requirement to either be an attorney or be a Veteran. While both previous experiences and occupations are honorable, the skills and continuous training of PMPs must be considered. As a point of interest, you can look at the memberships of many PMI Chapters and see a significant number of Veterans that are PMPs or in the process of attaining PMP certifications. Lawyers, while their training and testing is rigorous, are often limited by the scope of the jurisdiction of the state where they practice, even if it's within the same industry.

In order to strengthen the argument of why a PMP should be the President of the United States, we should analyze some of the Knowledge Areas as defined by PMI's "Project Management Book of Knowledge" or PMBOK. Before we do that, we should look at the definition of a Project. As per PMI, a Project is an endeavor that is temporary with the expectation of creating a unique product, service or result. This addresses two of the ten Knowledge Areas; "Schedule Management" and "Scope Management". Since the Presidency is defined by the U.S. Constitution of consisting of no more than two terms, with each term being four years, we've addressed "Schedule Management". Keep in mind, that a second term is something that is approved by the "Sponsors", specifically the voters, provided that the first term's performance indicators shows positive value to the citizens, or "Stakeholders". A campaign promise by a candidate is the equivalent of the "Scope"; answering the question "What will the President do for the nation during their time in office?" 

These two Knowledge Areas require one more Knowledge Area to make up the "Triple Constraint" and that is "Cost Management". This is an area that can be a deal maker or deal breaker for a Project Manager, especially if that Project is being the President. In order to get elected, or re-elected, a candidate for the Presidency MUST identify the Scope and a high-level estimation of the Schedule. In many campaign promises the candidate may say "As your President, I will increase the funding for education!" Really? How? And how long before we see the results? (Raising taxes, fees and budget cuts to programs may be ways to fund such promises.) Something similar is also said during the State of the Union address - the Annual Status Report. Once the candidate is elected, they may say something like "I've got a five-year plan to increase funding for education!" The problem with that is the end of the term is the end of the project. Is the President forcing the voters to re-elect them so that the President can follow through on their campaign promise? This is similar to pushing out the project's deadline and increasing the budget as a result of poor Project Management.

A PMP would pay close attention to campaign promises (Scope), the plan to complete the promise on time (Schedule) and how that campaign promise is funded including managing the financials (Cost) through Earned Value Management. A PMP, as President, would also effectively manage two other Knowledge Areas that encapsulate the Triple Constraint; "Risk Management" and "Quality Management". Using the campaign promise of funding education, there needs to be a comprehensive Risk Management Plan around that campaign promise. How is the risk of funds going to the several states and counties managed so that the campaign promise isn't a failure? In 1975, President Gerald Ford identified the risk of federal funds being "...used to support administrative paperwork and not educational programs" when he signed Senate Bill 6- "Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975". The entire speech can be read here: https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/speeches/750707.htm. A PMP, would have identified the risk and managed the risk by working with the legislature on mitigating that risk. (This of course, would be two other Knowledge Areas; "Stakeholder Management" and "Communications Management".) To reiterate, there is "Quality Management" which works with "Risk Management". A President, who is a PMP, will understand that the campaign promises must be followed as closely to their plan as possible and will ensure that it is managed appropriately to ensure quality.

There are other Knowledge Areas that a PMP will address as well if they are the President. I've not addressed them here, but I would like to know what your thoughts are on "Resource Management", "Procurement Management" and "Integration Management". I'd also be interested in knowing your thoughts on what I've discussed here...until next time!

Welcome to the Project Management Blog of Nicholas Tufaro, PMP

Welcome to my blog! My intention is to offer an interactive experience for you, the visitor, where you will get the opportunity to read and comment on the project management experience. I will post on the attributes of project management, as defined by the Project Management Institute and applying my professional experience to it.
I strongly encourage robust comments! That means, you can strongly disagree with me, how I perceive things and how I present them. I just ask that we all be respectful.
Some of the areas that I will cover are the triple constraint

  • Scope
  • Schedule
  • Budget

Just to make it annoying...I mean interesting... I will also cover

  • Quality
  • Risk
  • Resources

To make it more fun, I will post articles, thoughts and documents that may not be easily categorized as one of the six constraints mentioned above.  The end game is that we can all edify each other's knowledge in project management.

 Thank you for stopping in... stay a while ... and come back soon!


Conflict: Confidentiality and the Collaborative Work Environment

🅸’ve been an Information Technology Professional for more than 30 years and I’ve noticeda significant change in the last 5 years that seems to be conflicting with the status quo that has developed during my entire career. That significant change is the change in office design, which has removed cubicles in place of workstations and lowered the walls separating these work stations from the cubicle height of at least 5 feet from the floor to 6 inches from the top of the desk. 

This, of course, comes at a time, when confidentiality needs are at its peak. With federal regulation regarding custodians of consumer information requiring that these custodians (major corporations being an example of such a custodian) have mandatory employee training on how to protect a customer’s private information, it amazes me that the collaborative work space has not become a violation of these mandates.

Allow me to be more specific. There are a number of corporations in both the financial services industries and health care industries who process large amounts of personal data which belong to their customers. This data contains identifying information such as the customer’s name, home address, phone numbers, account numbers and account balances. These corporations offer mandatory computer based training webinars for their staff (both employee and contract) that educates the staff on “clean desk policy” and how to discern if a fellow staff member has a justified “business need to know” personal information of a customer of yours. (This “offering” is mandated by federal law.) For instance, if you are in the Loan Processing department and are working on John Doe’s loan application, you are not allowed to share John Doe’s personal information with your fellow staff member from the Sales Department, so that your fellow staff member can upsell or cross sell some of their products to John Doe.

That’s easy enough to protect, but now with no cubicles and no walls, your fellow staff member can easily over hear your conversation on the phone with John Doe (“Let me repeat that back to you Mr. Doe, your account number is…”). High walls in a cubicle setting would act as a sound barrier, muffling your voice so that your fellow staff member could not get that information. In addition, regarding the “clean desk policy”, the Collaborative Work Environment is set up in such a way to maximize the seating capacity of the floor, thereby creating an arrangement of rows of work stations, where the staff member cannot see people walking behind them and… staring at their screen, where all of John Doe’s confidential information is displayed.

In the health care industry, we’ve got the 1996 law known as H.I.P.A.A. which “Requires the protection and confidential handling of protected health information” (http://www.dhcs.ca.gov/formsandpubs/laws/hipaa/Pages/1.00WhatisHIPAA.aspx), and in the financial services industry there are a variety of laws and industry regulations that also protect privacy, These laws and regulations stem, in part, from 2001’s P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act. While the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act doesn’t really protect a customer’s confidential information, if the customer John Doe, is up to “no good”, and you are collecting and verifying critical information that may lead authorities to his money laundering activities, that fellow staff member lurking behind you may have a personal relationship with John Doe and tip him off, just by reading that information off of your computer screen.

Confidentiality in the work environment is not limited to the unauthorized attainment of an individual customer’s information. It also includes unauthorized attainment of processing steps and/or algorithms. This is how hacking into major financial networks occur. Think back a few years when there was hacking into a major retailer’s credit and debit card system, which compromised the financial accounts of several of its card paying customers. There were a number of financial institutions who were negatively impacted by this as well.

In conclusion, I would like to offer up the discussion for your thoughts and opinions. I still can’t come up with a reasonable answer to this question: “In this day and age of heightened awareness of the need to protect the confidential information of customers, is the collaborative work environment a good thing?” Can you?

This article was originally published on my LinkedIn profile on April 13, 2017. © Nicholas Tufaro, April 13, 2017

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