Tag Archives: Leading & Following

Followership IV: How to criticize your boss

ObamaAndMcChrystalThis is the latest entry in an occasional series on followership. The premise, as stated here, is that not everyone gets to be a leader, and most leaders are also followers in their own right. The project manager follows instructions from the project sponsor, the CEO from the board, the politicians from the polls, and so on. Whoever you are, you spend a lot more time following than leading. As Bob Dylan put it so well, “you gotta serve somebody.”

The good follower is not a “yes man“. In the professional world I inhabit those who move “up” the hierarchy tend to retire technical skills in favor of architecture, proposal writing, and management. The relationship of manager to employee becomes more like agent to actor or musician, where the supervised employee is the “talent”.

In these conditions the old concept of top-down decision making seems quaint. Important choices require information from all perspectives, and organizations shut out those with knowledge of the details at their peril. The best decision makers search out diverse ideas before choosing a direction. Continue reading

What Driving Dogs Tell Us About Learning

Recently the BBC posted this video. On first view it is just funny, but watching those dogs learn to drive really reminded me of personal experiences with IT teams making big learning transitions. To represent those real situations let’s consider a fictional team of SQL developers facing the daunting task of deploying a functional Hadoop-based analytics prototype in two months. The video parallels their critical learning success factors: (1) set audacious goals, (2) learn bit by bit, and (3) know your limits.

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Learning to learn

“A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five!”

– Groucho Marx

Recently my colleague Sara Shelton posted an article listing non-technical things we IT specialists need to do to maintain our careers. Each of the nine items on Sara’s list is a key to IT professional success. One particularly worthy of a drill down was learning:

“It is critical for the technical professional to hold themselves accountable…to learn new languages, new tools, emerging technical trends, and best practices.  With technologies changing more than ever, technical professionals need to focus on their own learning to stay on par with or ahead of the curve.” Continue reading

So Agile/Scrum Really IS Like Rugby

OK, I’ve lost a five-metre scrum, my pack has been overrun, and the ref has raised his arm between the sticks for a penalty try.  My colleague Margy Thomas, with support of fellow rugger Billy Tilson, has convincingly argued that agile development in fact is very like rugby union. Margy cleverly fended my meager one-point case with a point-by-point list of the ways that agile projects and rugby are similar. I’ll hold on to my view that sports analogies are generally weak in describing application development, but I’ve come to observe a fundamental similarity between rugby and agile/scrum. Continue reading

Double test efficiency and build app dev culture at no charge

What if you could double the efficiency of your software testing process, and substantially reduce errors found during the test, deployment, and maintenance phases, without purchasing any tool or method? The November 28 InformationWeek offers just that in a reprint of a recent Dr. Dobbs article on formal inspections by Capers Jones and Olivier Bonsignour.  They call formal inspections the “defect removal tool of choice” and back up their claim with lots of hard evidence, but I think they are still selling short. Continue reading

Project managers: is yellow the new green?

I’ve never understood the obsession with “green” status among IT application development project managers, and the intense pressure put on them to “stay green” by the program management offices (PMOs) they report to. We would benefit from a cultural shift away from avoiding yellow status.

For those not in the field, it is in vogue to express IT project status using a stoplight analogy, where green means things are going well, yellow indicates some quality, schedule, or budget risk, and red means there’s imminent risk of failure.

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Thoughts after agile training: strengthening values, reducing the cost of honesty, and growing apps

I recently completed ScrumMaster training ably presented by Lyssa Adkins. Throughout the two-day class we appreciated Lyssa’s Zen-like, enabling, style. If her name is familiar, it’s because Ms. Adkins is the author of the book Coaching Agile Teams, one of the leading texts on the subject.

I’ve participated on agile projects, but so far only in a piggish/chickenish role, once in a three-week stint as a consulting architect and twice as the project manager serving as interface to the non-agile organization.

To me Ms. Adkins rocks at making students very introspective and critical of their past project experiences.  These lessons stand out:

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But is it art? Skills of the next generation BI professional

There’s a data explosion going on and perhaps the strangest result is that business intelligence analysts need to become more artistic.

Recently my friend Ben Harden directed my attention to a post from Steve Bennett of Oz Analytics on the future of BI. One challenge to analysts that Mr. Bennett cited was the unprecedented explosion in data quantity to “an almost inconceivable 35 trillion gigabytes” by 2020.  Part of the solution, according to the post, is “actionable insight”, as illustrated by Harry Beck when he created the now-iconic map of the London underground network from the previous rather spaghetti-ish version.  What Mr. Beck did was to distinguish significant from insignificant detail for the intended audience and present that detail in a clear and appealing way.

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Building a writing culture in application development

One of the key skills needed in today’s IT shop is communication, and one of the best ways to improve ability to communicate is to write blog posts and articles.

In spite of “IT guy” stereotypes, communication and analytical thinking about business are among the most important skills in application development. Developers, analysts, and managers require ability to interact effectively with business people, to conceptualize solutions that match business needs, critically evaluate those solutions, and effectively make the case for one of them. Of course this is true of the overall project business case, but more importantly it applies to the daily “IT guy” to business person conversations that happen throughout analysis, design, development, and testing. Continue reading

Followership III: Real projects for real people

I recently read a fascinating article in the New York times but I zoned out in the middle of it several times, as the article predicted. The article was Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind by John Tierney.  To sum it up, our minds wander about 30 percent of the time, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This kind of daydreaming is an essential skill for managing mundane tasks and keeping our eye on the ball while juggling complex agendas, and furthermore may be important to creativity. Our minds may keep cranking on complex creative challenges in the background while we’re peeling cucumbers or filling out status reports in the foreground. Continue reading