I just finished watching this rather stark warning about coming change from Peter Senge, author of the fifth discipline, about globally distributed systems. In particular the changes to the global food system affecting climate change. It’s a long talk but worth watching to be informed about what we are doing to our planet.
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“The secret to building large apps is never build large apps. Break your applications into small pieces. Then, assemble those testable, bite-sized pieces into your big application” -
It made me think the same is true of organisations, so to riff on the original:
“The secret to building large organisations is to never build large organisations. Create or break your organisation into small pieces. Then, teach those small bite-sized pieces to self organise into one large emergent agile whole.” - Simon Kenyon Shepard
If I read another article like this one: my-best-mistake-getting-fired-and-then-crawling-back-from-the-dead about a narcissistic CEO who needed extreme feedback to have an epiphany that he needed to stop being an arrogant dickhead and change his ways. I will probably vomit, all over my nice LED the screen.
Don’t get me wrong now, feedback is important, every parent knows that there are some circumstances where you have to use corrective feedback to stop a child hurting itself or hurting something else, but these cases are the exception not the rule.
If you are a CEO and you need to be almost fired to realize you are doing something wrong then you need THERAPY not corrective feedback from the board. Most normal people should have the ability to survey the real sentiment to events and pick up when you are doing something wrong versus right. You don’t need to be hauled in front of the board, just ask the person sat next to you - can you give me some feedback?
The problem with all these articles is that they lead to this image that a leader should be a mini-hitler, marching around giving orders, eviscerating people who don’t perform and setting people against each other in a display of darwinian primalism designed to get the best product ever made. The only thing this results in is a team of broken, fearful, demoralized employees and a leader wondering why his team isn’t working when he’s read all the latest articles on the web about leadership and corrective feedback.
Peter Senge has some more thoughts on what real leaders do best:
If you’re really interested in the relative value of collective feedback on your employees vs. other improvements in your company I suggest you read W.Edwards Deming’s “Out of the crisis” first.
I was thinking on the way up the stairs to my flat. What are the most important industries of our time? Let’s say a top six. Mine would be:
- Energy production
Have I missed anything important? What do you think?
Here is an amazing resource, about Deming’s 14 points of management and questions to ask every team.
Some of my favourites:
What actions cause fear? What keeps people from raising issues, proposing solutions, and working with others?
For educators, inspection is the Final Exam. At the end of the semester, it is too late to help the student. The only purpose for the Final is to decide which students are to be “rejects.”
When forging a team, stories are the the underlying anvil that supports the form taking it’s shape.
But why is this and what makes some stories result in a better outcome than others?
According to new research into strengthening the family unit, it turns out that there are underlying principles at work when story telling during family bonding.
The first core finding is the effect of having a heritage on children, it seems that heritage is more than just the older generation indulging in nonchalant reminiscing.
The study involving a scale based on some family history probing question of children, measured how much they knew about their parents and grandparents lives:
The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.
So the more your team knows about the history of your product, infrastructure, company, people the more likely they are to be able to weather the stresses and strains of modern corporate life.
The insight doesn’t end there however. Further details show there is a specific type of story telling that’s most effective in giving people a head start in stress control.
Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.
It seems that a balanced story, in both positive and negative, are the most effective in translating to a healthy approach to problems, somewhat similar to the Hero’s story style of Hollywood screen writing.
“The most healthful narrative,” Dr. Duke continued, “is the third one. It’s called the oscillating family narrative: ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. but times were tough…
So it seems that a bias to overly negative or overly positive story telling, is not as good as telling a story of overcoming adversity. Which, when you think about it is the challenge that will most of your team is likely to face in modern lanscape of work. The ability to resolve these types of issues being at the core of keeping your business moving.
There’s a lot of talk at the moment, about boot camps, at various large companies and scaling them in a Lean start-up fashion. For the research on stories, I think it’s clear that most companies should at the very least teach new employees about the history of the company to give them a chance to feel part of something larger.
Every day brings new victories, new adversity overcome and new rewards gained. Make sure you celebrate and tell those storys for the sake of generations to come.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Works for adults too!
Several year’s ago, I wrote a post about tablets coming to steal market share from smartphones, I was half right, but I missed the main target, which was netbooks.
Net books and laptops were really the main causality of the tablet not smartphones, they adapted by just getting a bit bigger.
Now, it’s happening again.
Things are changing but this time, the main casualty will be the humble desktop computer.
This christmas, I was fortunate enough to receive a (alright I admit, I asked specifically for it, alright I admit, I sent them the link to the web page, alright I admit, I ordered it myself…) a new Miniand MK802 PC. Android on a stick.
I didn’t have the greatest expectations, to be honest, I had read bad things, but I wanted to know if I could use it as a home server.
To my surprise, I could, it was actually quite easy, and it had some great capabilities that I did not expect.
So the question becomes, when this get’s popular - who needs a real PC for anymore? Gamers, perhaps, but not for long when OnLive figures it’s stuff out. Power graphics and video users. That’s it. Every normal person, every pleb, just gets a screen and a stick to carry round with them.
So what does this have to do with Dell? Well, they recently announced they are going back to being private, why? Well read this article :
Suddenly it makes sense, they’ve woken up to smell the coffee, microsoft have woken up to smell the coffee, everyone’s realizing the days of massive profits from consumer driven PC hardware sales are coming to an end.
The future is Pc’s on a stick and they are cheap as chips. Time to find another revenue source.
I just wanted to tell you a quick story.
About six years ago, I was working with Thoughtworks for the first time. One evening a senior developer whom I respected gave me a shinny purple unmarked dvd just before I was about to leave for home. It was the video of some usability tests that had been done on the software we were working on.
He told me to watch them.
Usually I didn’t pay much regard to usability tests. My overriding experience of usability tests was someone forcing all the developers into a room for an inordinately long time to show them a mind numbingly boring powerpoint about what they’d done wrong. Each slide an uncomfortable reminder of inadequacy in the form of a bullet point list of things to change. Things that we had already spent a long time working on that no-one really wanted to revisit. What did ‘usability’ experts really know anyway? It’s just their opinion, so I thought. We were the ones using the product everyday and we knew how it should be made.
These sessions felt more like some kind of time travel punishment, more of a condescending reminder of what it was like being trapped back in school. They certainly felt a million miles away from the process of working on a cutting edge software design, everyone apart from the presenter hated them.
However, as a respected peer had recommended it, I suspended my disbelief and went home and while eating dinner, put on the dvd.
It was one of the most insightful things I learned about software development to this day:
Always, always, watch virgin users try your new features.
It made me angry that I had not spoken up when I saw these problems during development. It made me angry that the users did not understand what we had built. Most of all, it made me angry that I had wasted so much time on someone else’s incorrect assumptions.
I went in the next day and deleted half the code that had taken me three months of hard work. I had realised overnight what we had done was to actually make the user experience worse.
It was a painful lesson, but fortunately due to the chance watching of the usability dvd, the user experience and the product improved, which in the end is more important than anyones ego.
Being a developer is not just about writing the best, cleanest, most reliable code, it’s also about building the right things. It takes courage to test what you’ve been working on and courage to stand up and ask other potentially more senior people to test their assumptions.
In the end, every test, even if it fails, moves you one step closer to success and one step closer to being a better developer, all you have to do it open your eyes and watch it.
Sometimes, you experience moments of realisation, which bring clarity to behaviours and patterns, that you have seen over and over again, but haven’t until that moment, clearly crystallised as a thought in it’s own right. Like when you go into a trendy restaurant and realise the back wall is really a mirror and doesn’t in fact stretch as far as you’d thought. You’re not looking for it but once you know it you can’t stop seeing it.
I had one of these moments a few years ago, which still plays true today.
It was early autumn in London, and after a night out with a friend in a bar celebrating his birthday, I had ended up staying at the house of a young lady I had met that night. We met on the dance floor. We both shared a passion for drinking and dancing to the band Pulp. Anyway, you can fill in the rest of the story with your imagination, the important thing happened the next morning.
As she came back from the shower wearing a dressing gown, she went to her wardrobe to get some clothes to change into for the day. This in and of itself was not very exciting or revolutionary, the interesting part came when I saw what was in the wardrobe.
Not very much.
The wardrobe had space in it.
Space to put more clothes. Space to move the clothes along the rail.
The wardrobe had slack.
Wow. I was impressed.
“Where are the rest of your clothes?” I asked, assuming she had some other store hidden about the house in order to maintain this illusion of space.
That’s it. They are all I need. She retorted with a smile.
My disbelief grew, “Really? a young lady your age with your fashion sense, only needs half a wardrobe?”
“Well, I have a philosophy, that my dad taught me.”
“Everytime I buy a new piece of clothing, when I bring it home, I go through my wardrobe and find a piece that I haven’t warn for six months and then I give it to charity or sell it on eBay.”
“One in, one out.”
WTF. My mind was blown right then and there.
That actually worked?
All you needed to keep a clear functioning wardrobe was this one behaviour?
It was like her wardrobe had a WIP (Work-In-Progress) limit, or a CIP (Clothes-In Progess) limit that kept it from getting out of control. Furthermore the only simple rule you needed to manage this was : If you want to add something, you have to remove something first.
I didn’t believe it. Nevertheless I went home that evening and decided to try it.
I went through all my wardrobe and removed any clothes I hadn’t used in six months. Sure enough without these extra unworn clothes, my wardrobe became a lot easier to operate. It even became easier to find new combinations of clothes I liked. But what about the clothes I hadn’t worn? I couldn’t throw them out or give them away? Some of them had meaning and memories attached, regardless of them being totally out of style or massively too small. I left them in a bag next to the wardrobe and went to bed.
The next morning I took them to the charity shop. Any sentimentality had faded with a good nights sleep. There was no rational reason to keep these clothes. My wardrobe and my flat was clean and if I followed the principle of “One in, one out” then it would stay that way.
Once I discovered this principle had worked for my clothes, I started applying it to other areas of my life.
It started with washing up, every time I took a plate out of the cupboard, I made sure to put one from the washing up back. Suddenly I had much less ‘big’ washing up sessions.
Then I tried it with code.
Every line of code I added, I made sure to also go though and refactor some other code to remove another line. It became a game, to keep things from growing, to keep things in balance.
I even find myself using it now, on a product level, every time I hear of a new feature we have to implement, I ask what feature doesn’t get used that we can remove so as to keep the application in balance.
The “one in, one out” principle is a daily practice that can help you keep processes and systems running smoothly. Maybe there is a build up of something on your project that the principle could aid in restoring some slack…