Archive for May, 2007

It’s not the number of people…

This is a relatively simple observation that some had last week; however, it took me a bit by surprise… Room size matters. When reserving a room for a meeting, party, or event put some real thought into what type of room will work best.

Rooms size controls energy. Vast rooms drain energy. Cramped rooms create it. Depending on your objectives, you might need one effect or the other. Not too much to the observation other than that. I just hope to remember this the next time I have a room to book!

It matters a whole lot more than i ever thought it did.

Lesson About Delegation

At one point or another in everyone’s career they come across a situation where they can delegate a job or task to another person. Delegation is a pretty hard skill to master. I have observed two trends in delegation that i believe share a common root cause:

1. Inability to ‘let go’
Humans being the ego-driven beings we are, everyone has a tendency to like ‘their’ way of doing something. This is only natural, and therefore, it is a natural tendency for people to resist delegating tasks about which they are passionate. Unfortunately, for many people, it is not humanly possible to personally complete all the tasks about which they are passionate; therefore, they make a very common mistake:

They delegate. But they delegate with requirements…

2. Delegate’s lack of commitment
There could be many reasons why a delegate doesn’t complete an assigned task. Perhaps it is a hard task, perhaps there isn’t enough known information, perhaps the person just doesn’t care. All of these are valid reasons; however, i believe a relatively common reason is that (as I said above) their delegator has handed them a prescriptive list of requirements. This is very likely to discourage the delegate’s feeling of ownership and drive him/her to sub-par performance.

Morale
If you are finding that members of your team or group are not performing at their highest capacity, stop blaming them and ask yourself a simple question: “Am i a good delegator? Am i being too prescriptive in my task assignments?” Remember that the only way for people to get excited about a task is if they feel a sense of ownership. Make sure you let them take ownership.

Being Agile

In the world of software, the word “process” sends chills down programmers’ spines. I believe that most engineers recognize the need for some sort of process; however, very few have actually seen process implemented effectively. They have become wary of false promises, lost schedules, and low quality.

Why is this? Decades after this problem was first recognized, why does industry still fall victim to poor or non-existent processes? Here is a look from my perspective. Granted, this is a perspective from someone relatively new to this industry; however, i have tried to listen and learn from the best. Here are some conclusions.

Engineers must *like* the process
A few months back, I took a PSP class at work. I am probably one of the few people that have ever admitted to enjoying the class. I thought the subject matter made a lot of sense. I found some of the tools to be pretty helpful. I even kind of enjoyed tracking my time.

Given all of these things, i came away from the class convinced why PSP/TSP will never live up to its promise. It has nothing to do with the subject material. It has everything to do with the lunch time conversations i had with other engineers in the class. They DON’T LIKE it. It’s that simple. If the engineers don’t like the process, they are going to disengage from the project. If they disengage, nothing gets done and you get no real lasting benefit. Now, if you had no engagement to begin with, you might see some improvement, but this certainly should not be the goal of a great software team.

If you find yourself meta-planning, you know you are in trouble
Meta-Planning is probably one of the most ridiculous things i have ever seen. This is the stuff that dilbert is made of, yet it happens in the real world. This can happen when people feel to attached to a particular process or status quo. If you feel obligated to complete some sort of process or checkpoint even if you are not sure you actually need it, you start meta-planning to get yourself there.

As soon as one finds herself meta-planning, she should stop right there and just make a decision. It’s better to make a decision and adjust than to plan around something that your aren’t sure is even important yet.

Keep process light, but don’t confuse this for no process
Process shouldn’t be a bad thing. It shouldn’t have a stigma. For the two reasons stated above, the concept of agile is really jiving with me. I am not going to be one of those people who claim to have worked on a good agile team or have been doing that “all along”. I haven’t; however, having seen some of the principles in action, agile makes a lot of sense.

I recently listened to a podcast from Scott Ambler. It does a great job of outlining some of his philosophies. I highly recommend it for those interested in agile. Its here.

Conclusions
– engaged teams are more important than process and deadlines
– over planning can lead to analysis paralysis
– keep process, but keep it light

eRiot

So the last two days have experienced a new kind of web phenomenon: the eRiot. this NY times article does a pretty good job summarizing the situation. I really find this fascinating. It really shows the power of the internet. In this case, the subject matter of the eRiot was something that is probably not going to change many lives or really make much of a difference to people. The only reason it took off was because DRM strikes a cord with the geek (and therefore web going) community.

However, what this really does is point to things to come. We have seen a much more positive manifestation of this phenomenon in the outpouring of support for James Kim late last year. As more and more people join the online community, and more and more people are plugged into the same news sources (aka digg, or other rapidly changing and evolving networks), we will only see a proliferation of these types of eRiots.

Whats more is the fact that the subject matter could very well begin to evolve. Now, all of these things are about technology in one form or another. The web has come a long way, but honestly, it is still dominated by geeks (author included :) ). I do believe that as the web becomes increasing user friendly, and as game-changing technologies like RSS become more ubiquitous, non-geek types will join these battle cries. So what will be the topic of an eRiot 5 years from now? Politics? Sports? Fashion?

I think its definitely a possibility. Its just a matter of finding the right trigger and the correct medium to disseminate the information. Something tells me that digg, youtube, facebook are only step one. More complex, global information networks will certainly emerge that may even begin to bridge the gap between the virtual and physical. wouldn’t that be interesting. a simultaneous virtual and physical event occurring on a global scale :)