Thursday, May 29, 2008

Some highlights from Waltzing with Bears part 3

The "meat and potatoes" section of the book. Here we're getting into the details of how TDM and TRL recommended we carry out risk management. There's a lot in here, the majority of the book, and I won't be going through all of it - buy the book if you want it all.

Risk management is about learning to live with uncertainty and having some degree of quantification of this uncertainty. Rather than saying "We'll get there some day", say "There is zero percent chance by next month, but 50% in 3 months, 75% in 5 months". (Putting bounds around uncertainty made me think of having clearly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty, Douglas Adams did some serious damage in my formative years.)

"Yesterday's problem is today's risk" but what if I bothered to do a root cause analysis, and solve the problem once and for all. Ahhhh haha, this is IT there's very little chance of that happening, and greater than 75% chance of coming across the same problem again. (Note the great use of the percentage.)

Use the knowledge of projects in your organisation to work out what the risks will be, and what the chance of these risks occurring is, so don't just make up a number like 75% (damn!).

Calculate budget and schedule reserves for the risks in the project. Spend time to examine the risks and how you will deal with them, how you will know you need to deal with them, can you actually deal with them.

Have a formal risk discovery process. Make sure that talking about risk is acceptable, maybe even admirable. Don't do this once, make it a continuous process.

Finally deliver incrementally. WHAT! It was all leading up to this. The best way to keep you risk under control is to do bits of the project, rather than big bang, one pass, all at once delivery.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hiring Pregnant Women

An interesting little conversation starter Hiring Pregnant Women - Christina Bielaszka-DuVernay

Would you hire someone if you knew you had to give them long-term leave soon after starting? There is also the chance that they will not come back to work. What if the child has special needs and the parent never returns? Maybe they will decide that parenting is more important than the success of your company - crazy notion. Some children can really suck the life out of parents with lack of sleep, so even though you have your employee back they are less than effective. The urge to discriminate would be extremely high.

This is particularly relevant in Aus right now as the government is looking into paid maternity, paternity and parental leave. Are we opening the doors to an increase in discrimination, or do we accept that as a potential negative for a stronger positive? Is this a question of values? Do we value parenting higher than paid work?

I would hope we are going to back parenting, but then I am biased.

Unfortunately I suspect most organisations hire with a very short term need. We need this person to start doing this job right now, and we hope there will be more work for them in the future. If this type employer has a pregnant (or likely to soon be up the duff) candidate and they must give this person maternity leave then they are looking at hiring a liability and will reject the candidate. So there are a few perspectives on this the first is that this is discrimination that is not based on poor fit of candidate (as the recruitment process is all about discrimination) and the second is that the candidate is lucky to avoid working for such fools.

Should we help the employer see the light and hire the right people, or just hope they make enough stupid decisions they have to close? Harsh and off topic, kinda.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Getting down in the Dip

Seth Godin - The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)

Is there anything to learn in such a short book? Especially when the author repeats himself so many times? It's good to quit, to succeed you need to quit because you can't do everything, people will tell you to never quit, quitting is good, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit. I get it.

I've never been one to listen to advice and I have quit many things, some of which have been significant some of which haven't
1 - Destructive relationships - close and not so close
2 - Studies - there's part of a PhD out there somewhere
3 - Books - what is so good about The World According to Garp.
4 - Games - Rayman Raving Rabbits, total crock.

I'm a quitter, and I do sometimes feel I shouldn't have quit. Sure it would be great to have a PhD, but I'd never use the knowledge, so why bother.

I have previously worked for a company that completely failed to understand when to quit. They stayed with appalling clients, getting paid well below market rate, doing lousy work and losing people because of all this. The strong belief that a customer, any customer must be kept at all costs was and is foolish. For example I asked the directors if they made any money out 3 years with one customer, as it seemed inconceivable and was assured (by one director) that they certainly had. A few days later the MD had done some useful book-keeping and showed me that at best they broke even. So they had a cliff rather than a dip and they should have quit and put their energy into something else.

I guess you can learn something from such a small book. (Or if you prefer, There are significant take aways, structured as learns, from this diminutive publication.)

And now I am quitting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Commitment test at Zappos

Bill Taylor has posted a neat little article at Discussion Leaders on about
Why Zappos Pays New Employees to Quit—And You Should Too

If you're too lazy to read the whole thing here are some nice bits...

After a week or so in this immersive experience [training], though, it’s time for what Zappos calls “The Offer.” The fast-growing company, which works hard to recruit people to join, says to its newest employees: “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.” Zappos actually bribes its new employees to quit!

Why? Because if you’re willing to take the company up on the offer, you obviously don’t have the sense of commitment they are looking for.

Companies don’t engage emotionally with their customers—people do. If you want to create a memorable company, you have to fill your company with memorable people.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Some highlights from Waltzing with Bears Part 2

Part 2 describes 99% of the software industry in Australia

In "The Case against Risk Management" I particularly enjoyed these little snippets...

"Some organisations are so desperate to believe they are in complete control that if they realise the aren't they settle for the illusion of control. The most common symptom of this is ridiculous precision (a very narrow window of uncertainty) attached to estimates that subsequently turn out to be very inaccurate."

Working in Agile Land we face up to the inaccuracy of our estimations everyday. We avoid trying to make precise estimates as we know this is just an illusion. So we use story points or ideal days or gummi bears or dog sizes. We assume an estimate is well an estimate, and for most people in software this is a strange idea, a confronting idea, even a stupid idea.

The whole section on Risk management in isolation is significant - ok lots the book is significant, maybe not the Library of Congress bits, and the advertising. If you start down this road to finding risks and acknowledging uncertainty but you are working in a land of happiness where uncertainty is not acknowledged you are sunk. "The worst organisations penalise unappealing forecasts, but not unappealing results". A friend working for a rather large telco told me the story of the three program managers, the first two were fired as they said the plan was impossible, the third kept their job because they agreed to the plan. Number three gave Churchillian motivational speech to his team "The schedule is impossible but we are going to stick with it anyway".

The Indy Car analogy is excellent.

"When you challenge your subordinates to pull out the stops and bring the project home on time (even though the schedule is ludicrous ... they will take every chance ignoring every imaginable downside, in order to preserve - at least for the longest time possible - any thin, little chance of winning."

I remember discussing one of the side effects of this behaviour 12 months ago with the director media company. He was (and is) a very savvy guy in all things online, but not really in software development. We talked about how in online news it's great to have stories that have long tails ie people keep coming to read the articles after the initial burst of interest. In software development there is a long tail too, but it's not a nice one. If we have a flurry of activity trying to complete some work to a foolishly short schedule we cut corners - either intentionally or unintentionally - the long term effect is when you come back to that code it takes longer to change, the changes are riskier, and the long tail is what looks to be a small cost but it's one that adds up every time you hit that bit of code. Add to this fun that 40-60% of code is developed after release you have created for yourself a serious problem.

How can we avoid this kind of stupidity? <agile rant goes here>

Thursday, May 15, 2008


"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."
W. Edwards Deming

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Some highlights from Waltzing with Bears Part 1

A rip snorting book full of horror stories and help to avoid them. Title of chapter 2 says it all:


Other highlights...

Ok so I get a project that is going to fail and I have to believe in the schedule, despite the impossibility. When it fails we all go "oh dear, what a shame, but we tried". Using Clifford's argument about the ethics of belief is interesting, you need to have some evidence for your belief. Of course people will believe the crazy schedule anyway, as Cialdini points out in his book on Influence, once you make a public commitment to something you create reasons for that commitment, so this is part of being human. Wow this was going to be highlights and I am babbling.

back to the other chapters

If a project has no risks don't do it

Obviously the authors are nuts. But wait it's Tom DeMarco, he seemed sane before. "Risks and benefits always go hand in hand", phew, that seems more sane. So if I don't take a risk I don't gain anything. The risk elevator is nice analogy, a business that is standing still - ie not taking risks - goes backwards.

"Taking explicit note of bad things that can happen (risks) and planning for them accordingly is a mark of maturity." Where as technical proficiency is not a sign of maturity.

Denver International Airport disaster sounds like a great application of the 5 who's. Ask who five times and you can find the best person to blame.

The case for risk management is well put. The first one sounds wonderfully exciting "Risk management makes aggressive risk-taking possible", gosh. I hope I can remember this and the others next time I need to be "negative" on a project.

In the eyes and ears