Organization and humans

Most of the principles which hold good for an organization will also hold good for a human.

As a human, you can take a leap from Good to Great the same way an organization can. You can embrace Stockdale paradox, or find your Hedgehog concept . You can go for a quest In Search of Excellence.

Man’s search for meaning can easily be organization’s. 7 highly effective habits will do as well for organization as it does for people.

No brainer, but why one hardly sees any evidence ( at organization level) of it?

Offbeat books for software development

  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Be in zone and you will work the best
  • ‘Man’s search for meaning’  by Viktor Frankl – you need to search for the meaning
  • ‘Getting to Yes’ by Roger Fischer, et al – won’t you like to discuss the estimates?
  • Influence by Robert Cialdini  – seminal book on influence and persuasion
  • ‘Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert Pirsig – what is quality, after all?
  • ‘Soul of a new machine’ by Tracy Kidder – rapid read through the adventure
  • Body Language by Barbara Pease – words come later, body language first
  • Elements of Style by Messrs Strunk and White  – write better, please
  • Emotional Intelligence by Danial Goleman- you need it. How can you think for a user if you don’t have empathy?
  • Alice in wonderland by Lewis Caroll – radical thinking and fun with words
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell – how money, power can corrupt many (there is also a prison experiment to prove it
  • ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie – people work better with you when you are likeable, it’s old but not outdated
  • ‘Design of everyday things’ by Donald Norman – on commonsense and elegance in design
  • White Tiger by Aravind Adiga – to get it done, no matter what

Tackling the productivity beast

With all budget gone in vapour, everyone now is talking about productivity.  In software development ‘Productivity’ , per se, is a difficult beast even to  measure. More often, productivity improvement  is  basically plugging holes or innovative data presentation.

Still, few things you might like to do to improve productivity, which can save you the trouble and embarrassment of talking in terms of frameworks and datasets.

– Buy a whiteboard and place it well. Build a culture that short quick decisions are made over whiteboard, and encourage people to do that. Studies proved that communication over whiteboard is extremely effective. Not to mention efficient.

– Lot of time goes away in arguments and debates, which in itself is not bad, but should move towards something. Learn how to deal with arguments. A good place to begin are Roger Fisher’s books.

– Discourage, or better still, eliminate multitasking. Particularly for developers.  Which might mean no phones on desk; expectations to check mails only a few times a day; no ad-hoc meetings or status collection. Of course, planned work without frequent change of assignments is the bare minimum, without that better don’t do the project. Again, many studies and research illustrate the perils of multi-tasking and context switching for knowledge workers. Tom De Marco’s ‘Peopleware’ is a good reference, the Poppendieks’ (Mary and Tom) Lean books too. This NY Times study or this says it can take as much as 20 minutes for person to switch context back to his development work.

– Select all tools so that they give rapid feedback. Software development is all about  ability to change course; and that is impossible without feedback mechanism. Select tools that don’t make developers to switch context frequently.

– Give developers access to some noise free work environment. Private offices are more productive, though communication might suffer. Educate all to respect open space etiquette.

– Write documents in easy, readable style. Avoid jargons. Avoid needless words. Read and reread Strunk and White’s ‘Elements of Style‘. From what I see around, most of the documents meant for even programmers are too heavy. And needlessly.

– Get training in speed reading, without compromising with comprehension.

– Get training in increasing typing speed. Learn all hotkeys and shortcuts. Use relevant plugins. For all the tools you use.

And of course, there is peopleware.

Values: soft vs hard

You can’t ‘manage what you cannot measure’. Or so it seems.

If there is a choice, I will go for soft values over hard values.  But then they are not supposed to be mutually exclusive. As long as you are careful of what and how you measure.

The problem with soft values that is soft values cannot be measured directly. Tell me – how on earth will you measure attitude; or a warm smile; or leaving behind a legacy; or making people feel better.  And if you can’t measure, you start doubting, which in turn makes you feel insecure. But the problem’s here is you, not who or what you measure. Remember ‘Blink factor’?. Given enough experience and talent, you develop a kind of gut factor. Kind of trained gut feeling. And you have a hunch you are right. Mostly you will be right. And if you fail? So what.

Then why do we feel afraid. Because we don’t have either the expertise or talent to have developed that gut factor. Neither passion.

Let’s take hiring. In some industries, I am told that the use of gut factor is common, like in arts, like in music. But somewhere it is a poor dilbertian. In software, if you are not working for Joel, some MBA who never compiled a piece of code will interview a star programmer.  Peter’s principle at it’s best.

Or good companies will have detailed process and metrics (nobody can be hired less than score 10!) based on interview results. Or worse, a filled in questionnaire, complete with a macro to spit out the final score. Good, it tells us a lot. But don’t replace the need for intense communications, the need to feel good, so on.

Or let’s say a software development project. There might be 100 metrics to measure every aspect of work  – how much are we doing with money, how many days have gone by, how long are the defects, so on and so forth. How many time we felt safe looking at the numbers when there were dark clouds behind is. Or other way round – false alarms. You need to check the terrain as much as the map.

Tom Peters, the management guru, seems to be a long time advocate of soft values over hard values. Here he takes on a rant against Peter Drucker(yes), Taylor, Robert McNamara, Xerox.  Here he goes on to say:
…and they spent all of their time and energy arguing about “cross-elasticities of demand.” Meanwhile, they were content to make crappy copiers (albeit the first copiers). But they didn’t care about the product or the people or the customers. It was all about the numbers. The numbers, the numbers, the numbers. I was fed up with the numbers.

Search said, It’s not all about the numbers. Profits are cool. They give you room to invest in cool stuff. But somebody has to bleed. Somebody has to show some passion. Search, I like to think, put the blood back into business….”

Numbers are good and beautiful but don’t kill the gut factor; the ingenuity to know what’s behind the wall; passion to develop gut factor – all the softness around. They go long.