Category Archives: IT

Learn to Code to Help Your Career

I believe there are big benefits to knowing how to code (programing, software development). What is possible for your organization is often significantly impacted by understanding how to properly use software (and create it, coding, when needed). The lack of understanding of software is a significant problem not just for those wanting a job coding (that are available for those with the right skills) but also for those making decisions about what the organization should do.

The profound ignorance (meant not in a pejorative way but in the descriptive way) of software is a significant problem for managers today. The critical role of software in our organizations is only growing. And the importance of understanding software (which coding provides in a way no other learning does) is only increasing. My guess is a decade or two or three from now a understanding of coding will not be nearly as critical for managers. I am just guessing the nature of coding will be significantly changed and not understanding the details needed to code will not be as critical as it is today. Maybe I am wrong about the importance of understanding coding fading over time (it is more a feeling than a chain of logic I can clearly explain easily).

There are many indirect benefits of learning to code. In the same way that those with an education in engineering do very well in their careers overall, even if they take a path where they are no longer engineers a background in coding prepares you well for your career. Actually, similar to engineering, part of this effect may well be those that can graduate with an engineering degree and those that can be employed for several years as a software developer have skills and abilities that would have made them successful even if they didn’t pass through those experiences (still I think, those experiences to add to their success).

Good programmers have a strong tendency to think in ways that those interested in management improvement need (and, sadly, often lack): systems thinking, customer focus, efficiency focused [good coders often hate wasting their time and naturally despise non-value added steps], a willingness to speak up about things that need to be improved, a desire to make a difference, passion for what they do…

If you work along side good programmers these traits will be reinforced every day (this was my favorite part of my last job – working with great programmers that pursued these principles and re-enforced my doing so also). Yes there are also things you might have to temper in dealings with non-coders (being a bit kinder/less-direct about perceived failures, for example). Also some coders can be so engaged they expect an unsustainable commitment from peers (this is one of the great benefits of a good agile software development system – a focus on creating an environment for sustainable development [not expecting unreasonable effort/hours on the part of coders]).

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Agile Story Point Estimation

In agile software development tasks are documented as user stories. Then the level of effort for those stores can be estimated by assigning each story points. The velocity that can be produced in a period (called a sprint, for us 2 weeks) can be estimated. Thus you can predict what can be delivered in the next sprint (which can help business managers make priority decisions).

I have found estimation to be worthwhile. In doing so, we accept there is a great amount of variation but points give a hint to scale. They can help prioritize (if you have 5 things you want but 1 is much harder you may well drop that to the bottom). I have always accepted a great amount of variation in the velocity, worry about the variation I don’t find worthwhile. I do think trying to act as though the velocity is precise can lead to problems. At the same time having a measure of velocity, even accepting understanding variation was present, was useful.

Over time reducing variation (probably largely through better estimation and perhaps a few better tools, reduced technical debt, better documentation, testing…) is helpful and laudable. We made improvement but still lots of variation existed. The biggest help in reducing the measured velocity was breaking down large stories to more manageable sizes. The challenge of estimating user stories, I suspect, has some fairly high variation (even with good system improvements that can help reduce variation).

Large stories just can hide huge variation in what is really required once getting into implementing it.

The way we did estimation (discussing in a sprint planning meeting) did take some time (but not a huge amount). It was agreed by those involved that the time spent was worthwhile. Sometimes we did slip and spend too much time on this, that was an area we had to pay attention to. The discussions were educational and helped provide guidance on how to approach the story. The value of discussions around estimations was probably the biggest surprise I have had in implementing any agile ideas. The value of those discussion was much higher than I imagined (I basically anticipated them just as non-value added time to get the result of an estimate, but they were a source of learning and consensus building).

Related: Assigning Story Points to Bug FixesMistake Proofing the Deployment of Software CodeChecklists in Software Development

These thoughts were prompted by: Story Points Considered Harmful – Or why the future of estimation is really in our past…

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Pull Consulting: Immediate Management Consulting As You Need It

2013 UpdateNew method for by the minute consulting with John Hunter.

As happens in this fast paced world this service is no longer available. The company has shut down their web site.

I think the potential for consulting as you need it is great. I actually was looking into creating an application to support the ability to provide this service with someone else; but we just had too many other things going on. I have now made myself available for consulting you pull as you need it through MinuteBox. You can get consulting when you need it for as little time as you need.

So if you are trying to apply the ideas I discuss on this blog and run into issues you would like to get some help with connect with me and you can get some immediate coaching on whatever you are struggling with. I am offering a special rate of $1.99 a minute, for now. The graphic on the right of this post (any post on this blog, actually) will show if I am available right now (as does johnhunter.com). If so, you can connect and get started. If not, you can leave a message and we can arrange a time.

I am featured on MinuteBox with this cool graphic, isn’t it nice 🙂

home page of MInute Box with John Hunter graphic

John Hunter feature on Minute Box homepage

One advantage of this model is that those of you following this blog have a good idea of what topics you would like to delve into more deeply with me. If you have any questions on a particular topic you would like answered today or arranging coaching on specific topics over a period of time or help planning a project or someone to bounce your ideas off give this consulting as you need it model a try.

For those of you management consultants reading this blog (I know there are many) you can create your own Minute Box account easily and provide this service also. And even if you are not a consultant if you have advice worth sharing (and I know there are many of you also) you can also set up an account.

Related: John Hunter’s professional life timelineJohn Hunter onlineJohn Hunter LinkedIn profileTop Leadership blogsTop Management and Leadership blogs

Steve Jobs Discussing Customer Focus at NeXT

Video from 1991 when Steve Jobs was at NeXT. Even with the customer focus however, NeXT failed. But this does show the difficulty in how to truly apply customer focus. You have to be creative. You have examine data. You have to really understand how your customers use your products or services (go to the gemba). You have to speculate about the future. The video is also great evidence of providing insight to all employees of the current thinking of executives.

Related: Sometimes Micro-managing Works (Jobs)Delighting CustomersWhat Job Does Your Product Do?

Finding, and Keeping, Good IT People

Finding good IT people, wherever you located globally, is hard. Waiting for the good IT people to apply for positions, is not likely to gain enough good candidates.

To get really good IT people you need to actually manage your current IT staff properly. Then word will get out that your organization is not run by pointy haired bosses (phb) and good IT people will be open to joining. This obviously is not a quick fix. But this practice is the key. This is just respect for people with a eye on the special needs of creative IT people.

If you do this you will also reduce turnover. That doesn’t help in recruiting people, but it solves the underlying problem recruiting is meant to deal with – having staff to do the work. Making your environment tech employee friendly has the benefits mentioned above and will reduce turnover.

Like many issues when examined systemically the most important factors to deal with the recruiting problem are often not directly looking at the problem at hand. Now there are sensible actions to improve the recruiting process. Take a fundamental look at the hiring process and think about some real changes – how about trying people out first, not determining staffing primarily on judgments based on how well then interview. Don’t have silly prerequisites. Why do you need a college degree for an IT job? Or why require specific degrees, like a computer science degree, and exclude others, for example, an online IT degree. Might specific college experience be helpful? Yes. Might someone without it be a great employee? Yes.
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Innovation in Thinking and the Web

Investing time and effort to attract “the right kind” of contributors to a news site

He thought we needed to make the same shift with our users – instead of seeing having to engage with them digitally as a time-consuming and resource eating problem, we should be seeing our audience as an asset to the brand. Any online organisation that doesn’t include readers in the production chain is inherently inefficient.

I agree. And I think this is a good example of an organization needing to adapt to the changing environment. I thought about what I would do if I ran a news site and how I would try to take advantage of the possibilities to increase engagement using internet technology.

I do think if I was trying to increase engagement I would try to figure out how to highlight thoughtful commenters. I would probably try to look into something like the commenting system on Reddit (with Karma) and also the ability to follow commenters (like you can follow article contributers on Seeking Alpha). I would look at giving value back to good comments (maybe something like commentluv). I would definitely have a pages where you could view more comments by a commenter. I would try to set up categories and then list top commenters on local politics, local sports, health care… I would display in the order of popular comments (like Reddit) not just list in order made. There are lots of ideas I don’t see used (but I haven’t really thought about it until 5 minutes ago – maybe these are already widespread, or maybe I haven’t really though out why they wouldn’t work well).

I just remember a post here previously about a newspaper in Kansas that was taking some sensible actions, and seemed to get the value chain they were serving. I would also take a look at them if I were really going to do this for a news organization.

This blog has a failure miserable, engagement with readers. Hopefully I can work on improving that in the next year. My last post, Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search (is the effort of one of the 4 founders of Reddit).

Related: Joel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web ResourcesJohn Hunter online (Reddit comments…)Delighting CustomersPrice Discrimination in the Internet Age

Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search

The internet should make finding airline flight information easy. Instead it is a huge pain. Hipmunk has taken on the challenge of doing this well, and I think they have done a great job. This video provides an excellent view of both web usability and customer focus. This is a great example of focusing on providing customer value and using technology to make things easy – which is done far to little at most companies.

Related: Innovation Example (Farecast – which seems to have been bought by Microsoft and broken)Making Life Difficult for CustomersConfusing Customer FocusJoel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web ResourcesCEO Flight Attendant

Assigning Story Points to Bug Fixes

Agile software development has teams estimate the effort to deliver requests from the product owner. The estimates are done in points (in order to abstract away from hours – as estimates have plenty of variation in how long they will really take). Then the teams capacity (velocity) is determined based on looking at how many points they complete in a “sprint” (a set length, often 2 weeks). Then the product owner can prioritize all of the requests with an understanding of how much effort each is estimated to take and the historical capacity of the development team.

I think it is good to add point estimates to bugs. It may well impact how bugs are prioritized – if it is known to be simple a program manager may say, yes I want these 6 first then… If then know the first 2 are likely to take a bunch of time, they may think, ok, I am not going to get these 4 for awhile… They might just accept that, or may wish to shift more hours to bug fixes this sprint. Or they might say well if it is that big an issue maybe we could do x instead…

In practice I rarely has us estimate emergent bugs we are going to fix in the current sprint, but we do it for bugs that are in the backlog. I sometimes will have us estimate a current bug if I think it is may take significant time – to help determine what we really want to and what the impact may be on the teams output for the sprint. We do not have many emergent significant bugs so it isn’t much of an issue for us.

We do have more difficulty accurately estimating bugs, compared to new stories, but we still provide actionable estimates (they are not perfect, but are usable).

We use agile software development principles at work and they have been a great help in letting us be much more effective than we had been previously. The discussion of priorities and delivery expectations are much improved by such methods I believe. And unrealistic expectations can be reduced. For various reason, without adopting some form of agile/lean… software development methods the common pattern I see is software developers being frustrated by unrealistic expectation of their customers (project managers…) being frustrated by failure to communicate what it is reasonable to expect and status updates. A big part of this is the failure to acknowledge variation (and the related difficulty in estimation). Agile/Kanban… are systems that take the variation into account, and therefore the variation is dealt with as natural instead of leading to bad outcomes for developers and their customers.

Response to Should story points be assigned to a bug fixing story.

Related: Future Directions for Agile ManagementMistake Proofing Deployment of Software ApplicationsChecklists in Software Development

The Achilles’ Heel of Agile

Guest post by Jurgen Appelo

When I wrote this, I was working in a big open office space in the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam (see photo). About 100 people work in an office that was the first of its kind in Europe, when it was built in 1929. And more than 80 years later, architecture lovers from all over the world still come to admire it, take pictures, and make drawings. I sometimes waved at them.

photo of open office style at Van Nelle Office
Van Nelle office, reprinted by permission of Stephan Meijer

A big open office space has advantages and disadvantages. Advantages are flexibility and easy communication. The main disadvantage is that it is a shared resource for all who work there. Climate, sound, and light are hard to manage in a space like that, and the optimal configuration for the whole is never optimal for all. But our office manager did the best she could in trying to maximize pleasant working conditions, while maintaining tight rules to keep things under control. A shared open office is not the ideal environment to give people full responsibility over their own working space.

Self-organization is usually promoted in agile software development. But when shared resources are not managed by a central authority, self-organization often results in the Tragedy of the Commons. The name refers to a situation in which multiple self-organizing systems, all acting in their own self-interest, overexploit a shared limited resource, even when they all know it is not in anyone’s interest for this to happen. The impact that humanity has on CO2 levels in the air, trees in the forests, and fish in the sea, is right now the most debated and intensively researched case of the Tragedy of the Commons. Organizations also have shared resources, like budgets, office space, and system administrators. We could see them as the business-equivalent of the air we breathe, the landscape we change, and the fish we eat.

Research indicates that four ingredients (called the four I’s) are needed for sustainability of shared resources [Van Vugt 2009:42]:

  • Institutions [managers] who work on building trusting relationships between competing systems [teams] in order to increase acceptance of common rules;
  • Information that increases understanding of the physical and social environment, in order to reduce uncertainty (because uncertainty results in bias towards self-interest);
  • Identity, or a need for a social “belonging” that encompasses all participants, to improve and broaden one’s sense of community and reduce competition between teams;
  • Incentives that address the need to improve oneself, while punishing overuse and rewarding responsible use.

Research shows that it is imperative that there is some form of management (or governance) to protect these shared resources by working on these four I’s. (I realize that most modern day governments are not setting a good example of how to do that.) In the case of shared resources, whether it concerns money, space, or system administrators, someone outside of the development teams must keep an eye on long-term sustainability instead of short-term gains by individual teams.

The Tragedy of the Commons is the Achilles’ heel of Agile. It takes management to protect that heel, in order to prevent teams from depleting resources, and crippling the organization.

This article is an adaptation from Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders, by Jurgen Appelo. The book will be published by Addison-Wesley, in Mike Cohn’s Signature Series.

Related: Embrace Diversity, Erase Uniformitymanagement 3.0agile software development booksVW Phaeton assembly plant

Annual Performance Reviews Are Obsolete

Sam Goodner, the CEO of Catapult Systems, wrote about his decision to eliminate the annual performance appraisal.

the most critical flaw of our old process was that the feedback itself was too infrequent and too far removed from the actual behavior to have any measurable impact on employee performance.

I decided to completely eliminate of our annual performance review process and replace it with a real-time performance feedback dashboard.”

I think this is a good move in the right direction. I personally think it is a mistake to make the measures focused on the person. There should be performance dashboards (with in-process and outcome measures) that provide insight into the state of the processes in the company. Let those working in those processes see, in real time, the situation, weaknesses, strengths… and take action as appropriate (short term quick fixes, longer term focus on areas for significant improvement…). It could be the company is doing this, the quick blog post is hardly a comprehensive look at their strategies. It does provide some interesting ideas.

I also worry about making too much of the feedback without an understanding of variation (and the “performance” results attributed to people due merely to variation) and systems thinking. I applaud the leadership to make a change and the creative attempt, I just also worry a bit about how this would work in many organizations. But that is not really what matters. What matters is how it works for their organization, and I certainly believe this could work well in the right organization.

Related: Righter Performance AppraisalWhen Performance-related Pay BackfiresThe Defect Black Marketarticles, books, posts on performance appraisal