Shape Up quote: decouple your product definition

Second, we shape the work before giving it to a team. A small senior group works in parallel to the cycle teams. They define the key elements of a solution before we consider a project ready to bet on.

Shape Up: Stop running in circles and ship work that matters (R. Singer)

People working on Product definition should define the product.

Development teams should be given work to develop.

There are plenty of decisions that must be taken BEFORE development starts.

There are plenty of decisions on how to develop the product that will be taken by the DevTeam.

Confuse both responsibilties to your own peril.

You don’t need to be busy to be working (II)

A modern productive worker is someone who does a great job in figuring out what to do next.

Seth (Redefining Productivity)

Whether you work on an orchestra or on a high-profile software development team, you don’t need to be busy to be working.

The lead times for their tasks had been shortened, and the throughput of their system was higher than ever before. So did it really matter whether people were fully utilized?

Stop Starting, Start Finishing, Arne Roock

If you need to be able to react to change, you should allow create slack time for your team.

“It’s better that people wait for work than the other way around”, he thought […] The team members used their slack time to help their colleagues and to think about general system improvements”.

Stop Starting, Start Finishing, Arne Roock

Focusing on finishing each task as soon as possible (and not sooner) is crucial.

Stop looking on how much busy you are.
Start focusing on how much work you get done.


Related:

  • Redefining productivity (Seth). The new high productivity calculation, though, is very different: Decide what you’re going to do next, and then do it. […] Innovation drives the connection economy, not low cost.
  • The Goal: to sum it up. Having inventory is bad. It’s not an asset, but a liability. Until the very moment you manage to turn it into money. Having lots of inventory makes it harder to uncover problems.
  • Great bosses will want you to work less. And all of this leave great bosses with the only strategy able to let them increase productivity. […] More work done in the same time.

A powerful combination to impulse best work

First. Applying the Prime Directive by default usually pays.

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review (Thorough Anne Weise, Thoughtworks)

Not only for your retros but for every interaction. For every piece of work.

Second. As a manager, as a leader, as a boss or simply as someone accountable for something, applying Leffert’s Law is also handy.

The Lefferts law of management: It is your fault. As a person with more power than the people who work for you, there are probably a dozen excuses in any situation for why things are not going well: don’t use them.

Scott Berkun (Berkun’s blog)

Don’t use it as a way to avoid root-cause analysis. But as a first step to keep the team in motion and to start looking for continuous improvement and for a better outcome.

Third. Finally, assume goodwill. Because, yeah, you guessed it, it usually pays.

In just about every industry (except electronic money transfer, apparently), assuming goodwill is not only more productive, it’s also likely to be an accurate forecast. Trust pays.

Seth’s blog, Assuming goodwill

My new rule of thumb is to always assume goodwill and ignore any perceived sarcasm. Call it a Type II sarcasm-detection error. It’s hard to imagine a situation where sarcasm is the most effective way to make your point.

Seth’s blog, The problem with sarcasm
A powerful combination

What a powerful combination! Trust your team and your customers. Be as accountable as possible. Leave behind all feelings that prevent good communication from happening.
And then, take advantage of this lever to show up and keep doing your best work.

Defending waterfalls

Agile hype has turned “waterfall” into a synonim for “worst practice”

It’s not.

You should never be religious about methods of any kind. The only sane way to work is to let the project define the plan. Only a fool chooses tools before studying the job to be done.”

Berkun, A year without pants

Let me tell you a story.

Still there? Ok! Thanks. Let’s begin.

It was the end of the century. Like 1998 or something. I was trying to get my degree in Software Engineering. I was enrolled in Project Management 101. For the course you must form an ensemble with other four fellow students to create a windows (3.11!!) desktop application. But making a great application was not going to give you an “A”.

Things were so different at the End of The Century

What was important was how you managed the creation of the application. Your team should do it using a structured methodology.

Guess what was the methodology?

It was Iterative Waterfall. Requirements, analysis, design, coding, testing, release. And some feedback loops between each stage and the previous one.

Guess what? It was marvellous. And it worked.

The professor told us to take it as a real opportunity for learning by doing, since “perhaps it’s the last time you are going to work on a project with a requirements document or a testing strategy“.

You know what? He was somehow right.

Back in the Old Days, working with no clear requirements statement could be common practice in some markets and some companies. Start coding just having a vague set of wishes mentioned by some salespeople while having a coffee was not rare. Testing manually on an ad hoc basis by the same person doing the coding was quite normal in many environments too.

So what? You ask. Well, my point is that Waterfall gave you a structured approach to build software. And it works. Sometimes.

Does it work for all? Nope.
Should I use it for every project? Nope.
But it works. And, by the way, it’s very far to be a “worst practice“.

Waterfall, in its many flavours, is as every framework, ruleset, procedure and methodology a tool. Just a tool.

Know it, learn it, master it, and then you would be able to apply it when you need it. When it fits best.


Related: I would build a bridge with Agile: You need detailed planning for building a bridge, right? Right? RIIIIIGHT?No. Not right. I would build a bridge using Agile techniques. Sometimes.

Skin in the (cooperative) game

Games have traditionally been competitive. Ancient olympics were war in disguise. Throwing weapons. Jumping over fences. Wrestling.
New olympics get their original spirit from them. Modern pentathlon consisted of the five skills needed to be a good officer, that is, riding a horse, shooting a gun, fighting with a sword, swimming and running.

People can only be social friends if they don’t try to upstage or outsmart one another. Indeed, the classical art of conversation is to avoid any imbalance[…] You’d rather have dinner with your friends than with your professor, unless of course your professor understands “the art” of conversation

Skin in the Game (Nicholas Taleb)

Games have been traditionally competitive. Conversation has not.

Conversation is one hundred per cent cooperative. If the other person is not willing to do it, there is a zero per cent chance of a good conversation to happen.

What if next time you enter a negotiation meeting, you do it as if you were starting a conversation instead of doing it as if it is a competition?


Related: Cooperative Jenga: With Cooperative-Jenga you get longer games, cooperation and team building and a way of working based on sustainability and on helping others.

Related: Management lessons from Gears of War 2 (Scott Berkun): Like real life projects, where you can can only survive by working together, the HORDE mode is based on co-operation. You can’t get very far without working as a team.

Being under pressure

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for

Queen, “Under pressure”

Sometimes we are under pressure at work.

It usually happens as commitments or needs of us or other people, like customers, colleagues, suppliers, need to fit within time or budget constraints.

It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about.
Watching some good friends screaming, “let me out”.

Queen, “Under pressure”

As a general rule, we’ve been educated to avoid pressure. At school, during peak times, you’ll only need to meet the deadline for the exam, and then the pressure fades away for weeks or months.
Besides you are rewarded for compliance, not for breaking the norm. When you are not forced to perform over your comfort zone, chances are you won’t feel much pressure.

But pressure in real projects can keep high for weeks or months.

Many major product launches in the world have their final schedules defined by the advertising campaign, not product development. Products can slip at low costs, but the high costs of rescheduling marketing often provide the final friction that forces shipping.

The year without pants – Scott Berkun
Steam locomotive (crooped) by Collywolly

Pressure can be a motivator. You could turn this pressure into fuel to meet a deadline, in the same way a steam-powered engine turns pressure into motion.

But no piece of machinery can overwork for a long time. Too much pressure and the engine will break.

Managing the pressure you put on yourself, recognizing whenever you’re putting on more than you can turn into motion, is a hard thing to do, specially in cultures where overwork is thought as a good work habit.

Sailboats on Cíes Islands

Control the pressure. Deciding when to take advantage of it, and when to release it. Think of a sailboat’s crew, striking sails or raising them depending on the winds.

Managing the pressure it’s hard but it’s useful.

Hint: you can always resort to Tewksbury’s four step mantra. Slow down. Breathe. Motivate. Focus.

——————————

Related: The gains in productivity and faster delivery created by time pressure are real. But they’re minor. And if too much schedule pressure is applied, quality could drop dramatically, as shown in the second chart above. – Mike Cohn (Time pressure improves productivity and quality…up to a point)

Related: You can’t make a good job if everyone is feeling too pressured, but you can’t make a good job if there’s no pressure at all. (Quotes on time pressure)

Related: I see that deadlines serve quality, rather than being an obstacle to it. […] Deadlines help you ship, and as Steve Jobs liked to say, “Real artists ship.” […] A fixed deadline and a flexible scope are the crucial combination. (Jason Fried, How to make deadlines actually work)

The Five Questions

Why?

Before you start working on something, You always need to know why. Is it for accomplishing something? Is it just for being busy? Are you a believer or do you think it’s not the right thing to do? Are you trying to do something new and so, you are more prone to fail.

If you don’t know why you are doing it, or if you don’t think it’s a good reason to do it, you should start thinking why you’re doing what you are doing.

Knowing the reason behind each task will allow you to make the right decissions, the best tarde-offs, to get the better results.

Who?

Are you the one doing the task. Do you have the right skills? Would you need anyone to lend you a hand? Who would do the task if you’d quit?

How?

Are you competing in a zero-sum game? Or are you cooperating to create something new or to improve something already existing? Is there a way to turn competition into cooperation?

Did you need to pause or to get back to the drawing board?

Is the methodology you are using the best fit for the task at hand?

Are you really committed to get the thing done? Are you sure you are putting all requested effort? If not, you should review the Why section.

What?

Are you building a connection (with your users, with partners, with supplier…) or are you building a firewall (protecting your business, your product, your customer base…)?

When?

Is the right time to do it? Are you working under pressure? Are you just trying to put out a fire?


When are you going to know you are done? Hint: maybe you will never be done.

What is an “effective” meeting? (A “The Culture Map” quote)

Western culture has a cronic complain about meetings. Everyone is upset with meetings. There are too many of them. They are long. They are not interesting.

So we try to make more effective meetings.

But, what does an effective meeting look like?

In order for you to feel a meeting was a great success, which of the following should happen?

A. In a good meeting, a decision is made.
B. In a good meeting, various viewpoints are discussed and debated.
C. In a good meeting, a formal stamp is put on a decision that has been made before the meeting.

The Culture Map (Erin Meyer)

What option would you choose? A? A meeting is for making decisions? B? A meeting is for debating? C? A meeting is for comfirming alignment?

Depending on your background, your origins and the culture in your company, your answer would be different. In fact, there is no correct answer to what makes a meeting effective.

The large majority of Americans […] choose option A. The French, however, largely choose option B. And most Chinese and Japanese selected option C.

The Culture Map (Erin Meyer)

From my experience, Spain is closer to B than to A. And current trend is moving closer to A, probably guided through advice like Elon Musk’s.

But once you are working in a multi cultural environment, it’s important to remember that there is no right answer to what does an effective meeting look like.

It’s relatively easy to make this cultural preference work for you. Before your next team meeting, try calling your Japanese colleague for a casual offline discussion. You are much more likely to hear a frank opinion […]

The Culture Map (Erin Meyer)

Let me say it againg, just in case. There is no great one-size-fits-all way to make your meetings effective. Meetings are a tool.

And, as with every tool, the important thing is being able to use it effectively in several ways depending on the context… THAT, is EFFECTIVENESS.

Your team is not yours (A Private Ryan quote)

Your team is not yours.

Sergeant Horvath : But what about the company?
Captain Miller : We take the pick of the litter and the rest get folded into Baker.
Sergeant Horvath : Jesus Christ. They took away your company?
Captain Miller : Wasn’t my company, it was the Army’s. So they told me, anyway.

Saving Private Ryan (through IMDB.com)

You are part of your team.

Do your best to help your team grow. So every teammember can thrive if they leave the team someday.
Do your best to increase your team’s cohesion, so the team doesn’t get disbanded easily.
Work for your team not depending on you. So the team can thrive even when you leave.

Your team is bigger than you.

And it’s not yours. You are theirs.


Related: Saving Private Ryan on how to complain creatively. “Reiben, pay attention. Now, this is the way to gripe. Continue, Jackson.”

Related: What I learned from Real Madrid about career and companies. “Raúl, Casillas, Zidane and Gento went in and out of Real Madrid. They did their best effort to win, both for themselves and for their teammates and the club.”

Be like Amazon. Set expectations. Exceed expectations. Repeat.

Underpromise. Overdeliver.

No one offers as much as the one who won’t fulfill

F. Quevedo (via wikiquote)

I bought two books from Amazon last month. They announced two quite different arrival dates for each of them.

“It doesn’t have to be crazy at work” would not be delivered until March, 13th
“If you want it done right, don’t do it yourself” would be delivered in just a week

While I ordered the two books in the same day, the delivery dates were sooooo different that it hurts. 5 days for one. 5 WEEKS for the other.

What happens is that Amazon controls the whole supply chain for the first book, but has to rely on third-parties for the second.

So they set clear (different) expectations for different situations. “We will deliver in a week this one, but we will deliver in a month this other”.

Besides, they add a clear warning sign for uncertainty with the second. Original delivery was sometime between three to five weeks. This two-week period is a signal for the customer. ”We are not very sure. We will do our best for delivering as soon as possible, but we can’t promise”.

Expected delivery date is provided with a two-week buffer, clearly showing an expected ammount of uncertainty in the process

So Amazon is doing two different kind of promises:

  • Fast deliver on a certain date, if I control the whole chain.
  • Normal deliver with an uncertainty level, if I don’t. Uncertainty is then progressively reduced once you start solving it.

This is setting clear expectations.

Second step. Exceed expectations. BOTH books were delivered BEFORE due date. First book was delivered two days before expected. Second book was delivered two WEEKS before expected.

First step. Set clear expectations.

Second step. Exceed expectations.

Hint: the first two steps are hard to do. But the third is even harder.

Third step. Repeat.