Vernon Hockley Remembers
NB caution !! ... I only keep these notes on my website so I don't lose them !
This is an initial draft of musings & gleanings which contain many omissions, errors, inaccuracies & misinterpretations ... but it is only a story, just for a bit of fun ... written, before it was all forgotten ... a story for our great grandchildren's children ... just in case they ever ask; who was great great grandpa? They will now have a clue ... Grandpa was a beer drinker!
Our decade 1984-94, at the Warrington Factory involved an exciting and rare confirmation of project design and implementation ... done proper. Vernon was a unsung destroyer of vanity projects and he taught anybody who would listen all about successful project management. Perhaps most didn't listen ... but for us bells rang and chords chimed ... we had had our fill of vanity projects imposed from above. We were suspicious of all 'professionals' who became fellows of the Institute and always seemed to regurgitate their theoretical, rather grandiose designs.
Vernon passed his 11 plus and went to Macclesfield Grammar School where he was big and burley enough to survive and bright enough to prosper. He went on to physics at Imperial Collge and then became fascinated by 'coalface' control problems with the National Coal Board before joining IC&A Department in Unilever.
He was responsible for the computing and process control side of the URL spray drying tower, and learnt that you needed to know, not only how to programme the early Ferranti computers in basic, but also how the process worked ... and furthermore how the of the bits of mechanical, electrical & instrumentation pieces fitted together ... everything depended on everything else. The process control group in research were a great bunch of mates and all wrestling with the technology of the future ... long term friendships developed from the linking of like minds with convivial pints!
Having earned some spurs and acquired some independence he assimilated the freedom bug, and was rewarded with a secondment to Gessy Lever in Brazil to cover the control sides of all product group rocesses. There he successfully installed some of the early PLCs (Programmable logic controllers), which had small memories and so demanded the building of simple modules ... 'keep it simple stoopid' was the mantra. With no internet and only faxes, learning was about self-sufficiency and getting things to work! There was always a backup plan, as everyone made mistakes, always, but only a fool didn't recognise and learn from mistakes ... how else to learn? Deadlines were always around and once there was some evidence that the project worked, it was 'balls down and go for it' ... forget all the bar charts.
Vernon built the Indiaituba powders factory in Brazil and followed this epic with a new powders factory in Canada. The technology moved on but the basic lessons remained the same.
As schemes got grandioser and grandioser, as pontificators pontificated VFH stuck to his guns -
Life Lessons -
All the questions we should have asked when the wrinklies were around and kicking went largely unanswered as the Cheshire Record Office at Duke Street and even the National Archives at Kew did little to clear the mists. Like so many of our mates VFH was the first Hockley to go to University and he felt an obligation to make the most of opportunities. Over the aeons the Hockleys must have learned a lot ... because they survived to have kids ... what a tragedy if most of the 'know how' went to the graves with them? ... but it didn't ! ... not all was forgotten some nuggets did survive ... 'know how' survived and was communicated across the generations in the Hockley family culture and in the cultures of the 'clubs' they joined.
With one girl and three boys as grandchildren, helping to tune the brains of the youngsters involved identifying some of life's lessons. Vernon contributed to brain tuning (he called it bog standard learning) by identifying his own life's lessons -
each generation doesn't have to reinvent the wheel - life lessons ended up in the grave unless they became ingrained into cultures, it was cultures which communicate across the generations ... there was hope, successful cultures survived ...
youngsters must learn from the experience of failure - science & 'know how' progressed funeral by funeral ...
trade your specialised trade - specialised knowledge of the real word secured some 'power' to contribute ... there were always buyers for needs which could be satisfied ... even the bureaucrats, eventually, had to cut the mustard ... after all Gosplan only survived for a couple of generations ...
build from the bottom up ... from acorns mighty oaks were grown ...
freedom bugs - bureaucracy stifled opportunities for improvement - P&G orchestrated the world from Cincinnati and was naively revered in DC but this model was an inflexible monolithic bureaucracy which worked in some maturing markets but missed the opportunities for new customers in emerging markets where all the action was ... at its heart Unilever culture was different as Ken Durham explained Unilever was best described as a multi local multinational ...
As schemes got grandioser and grandioser, as pontificators pontificated Vernon stuck to his guns -
Project Management -
Project Management was not about plans but about outcomes. Performance payment was a balanced judgement on risks (innovation or recklessness) and rewards (pay/costs and promotion/repeat purchases).
keep it simple stupid - right first time - projects must be effective, reliable, robust and profitable
simple robust modules - a motor or valve is either on, off or bust
maximum process & product flexibility - things will always change ... the standard approach to project specification was to minimise flexibility to make the control engineers life simple ... think about the NHS NPfIT specification?
know the processes - skill is required to select, audit and deal with trusted contractors with a track record of understanding the processes and offering realistic costings for our specifications ...
speed & flexibility - specifications & associated cost were never fixed as customers & contractors grabbed improvements and software engineers constantly tinkered as there was always a better alternative ... software engineers were prone to vanity projects same as everyone else ... no software contract should last more than 12 months ! ...
clear project ownership - folk at the coalface have to operate the systems ... technical directors and operators must be on board ... so implementation was always a pain ... vanity interference, fighting fiefdoms, bureaucratic kluge, not invented here ... the inspired solution involved everybody pulling on the same rope in the same direction with copious convivial pints ...
In this way VFH confirmed how the global process worked; bottom up not top down, innovative not bureaucratic, simple not complex ... simple and proven at the start but systems then build up into the complexity of an interactive system as reality always evolved into a nested set of sets of Complex Adaptive Systems.
Darwin would be smiling ... his simple process built immense complexity with 'emergent' properties, difficult to grasp and impossible to command & control by macho managers from the top ...
2016 Noble Laureates in Economics
Real life contract theory from Oliver Hart & Bengt Holmstrom - there was no such thing as a free lunch and incentives mattered ... so what's the deal?
The economics of contracts involved co-operation & synergies ... contracts were necessarily incomplete and always seemed to involve conflicts of interest. Institutions needed carefully designed contracts in areas like bankruptcy & constitutions, shareholders & executives, insurance companies & car owners, public authorities & suppliers -
trust & loyalty - develops long term, it is impossible to specify everything and to cost everything so contracts are always incomplete ... a new realism on economics, political science, ownership, control and law ... and efficiency of mergers, proper mix of debt and equity financing, and when institutions such as schools or prisons ought to be privately or publicly owned
moral sentiments - some individuals are self-interested and take advantage of economic opportunity but some people naturally work together and find ways to align their interests so securing synergies
moral hazard - ameliorated as excess payments help reduce free riders on other team members
payment by results - sounds fine but some individuals focus only on their part of the mix so a blend of bonus for motivation with salary for effort security
skin in the game - ownership rights resolve differences & disputes
power - price fixing can come from restraint of trade and restrictive practices
short termism - the gig economy recognises that cost & quality are not alternatives but neglects innovation
The Nobel Laureates and VFH stirred things up ...
Build from the Bottom Up and Keep it Simple
The era of the ZX Spectrums, BBC Micros, Amstrad PCW, Commodore 64s, and the first PCs together with Basic code provided the route to the action on the breadboards which created excitement for the youngsters. The timing of our learning experience was fortunate for we grew up with this early computing where folk learned to carefully plan simple programming, in this way the eternal basics of control were acquired ... in those days it was impossible to throw loads of code and loads of memory at problems ... sophisticated complex automatic control simply did not exist ... there was no wherewithal.
Later youngsters like young Daniel Whelan were whizz kids on their 'xbox' black box controllers but short on the basics inside.
We remembered how geeks in URL Vlaardingen had wrestled from first principles with the theoretical equations involved in the spray drying process ... a massive effort which poured cash into a bottomless pit as they attempted to measure everything that moved ... including the colour of the operators socks ... in a vain hope of modelling, describing and specifying the production of a free flowing powder which readily dissolved ... as the desired alternative to the often seen clotting demerara sugar like. But at the coalface each batch of sticky slurry seemed to have a life of its own and sometimes did and sometimes didn't ... how could slurry be as fickle as folk?
It seemed the water necessary for intimate ingredient mixing and powder consistency interacted both physically & chemically with both the heat for drying and each of other ingredients in the mix ... these sometimes mysterious interactions were often absent from the equations of theory ... sodium tripolyphosphate was a particular threat to sanity as it was deemed by some to react physically & chemically ... to the colour of the operators socks?
As more and more elusive and arcane interactions were measured
further complexity was added to the unmanageable model. And then cycles were
discovered ... everywhere ... it seemed to be the way the world worked, cycles on
cycles within cycles and all the cycles were -
- and then new new happenings emerged quite unexpectedly
Soon the sophisticated control model itself was out of control as layer upon layer of requirements from the hierarchy were imposed on hapless heat and water and ingredients ... everything interacted with everything else with surprising results ... read that again - 'everything interacted with everything else with surprising results'.
We experienced all of the frustrations of failing to cope with the numbing theoretical detail of Complex Adaptive Systems ... we needed to keep it simple and start to understand the process as simple building blocks ... modules we could bet on ... even though complexity mushroomed thereafter ... after all a motor was on, off or bust ... until stepper motors came along ...
David Sandoz, a control engineer from the University of Manchester, applied some simple heuristic trial & error principles to the spray drying process. Detailed theoretical control algorithms had failed to model the complexity of the real time thermodynamic spray drying process, but breakthrough success was achieved with moisture control & powder quality with an adaptive statistical control package based on the experimental manipulation of inputs and the discovery of outcomes that worked ... trial & error ... measure what you can, experiment with inputs, observe the outputs and keep what works.
Grandson Daniel did this all the time ... he pressed buttons and watched ... if it worked he did it again ... if it didn't don't !
We had become embroiled in the truly frightening world of complexity ...
But, not only the rather mundane business of spray drying ... there were lessons to be learned in economics.
All this raised a hairy spectre ... maybe the over complex models of economic activity peddled in the Treasury and No 11 Downing Street were barking up the wrong tree and needed a dose of 'keep it simple stoopid'?
As always, folk groped their way forward out of their ignorance ... slowly, by learning from their mistakes. It was a hit & miss affair, nobody knew what was happening as economic activity ebbed & flowed ... just like the convection currents in the spray drying tower which ebbed & flowed unpredictably ... there were booms & busts, 'Kondratieff Waves' as well as Business Cycles, runs on banks, stock market crashes, asset bubbles, currency crises, sovereign defaults ... and lynch mobs, riots and crowd trouble ... how many cycles? ... all cavorting in a mad dance one on another, one with another ... crazy bewilderment in a blaze of action ... in different places with different outputs at different times at different speeds ... as cycles interacted there were amplifications & suppressions, combinations & displacements ... big booms & busts and small booms & busts ... overshoots of exciting experimental discovery ... undershoots of frightening experimental failure ... one damn cycle after another ... prices of coffee influenced prices of tea ... and some even suspected the price of potatoes influenced the price of holidays in Benidorm ... prices seemed to be all over the place ... especially after a failure of the rain dances ... and what of the stupendous puzzle of money itself, and credit, and new cowry shells and coin clipping inflation? ... no wonder it all went wrong so often?
Eben Upton, a Computer scientist from Cambridge, developed the Raspberry Pi in 2012 ... a $35 full blown computer ... his objective was to teach the basic bottom up skills of programming complexity ... EB had become distraught when student recruits to Computing courses at Cambridge were whizz kids with the buttons of black box controllers but had little experience of simple code writing.
EU was well aware the whizz kids were masters at manipulating inputs and discovering outcomes that worked ... but for certain they still needed to write code? Basic skills for a new era ...
We were all embroiled in the challenging
world of living with complexity ... both these guys, David Sandoz & Eben
Upton gave us endless
food for thought ... and fun ... even though we
never bought them a single pint of beer!
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