Tuesday, 30 November 2004

How to Stifle Teamwork – Part 2

“Rating and ranking engender competition, not collaboration” – Esther Derby, An Alternative to the Yearly Performance Review

I always felt annual performance reviews existed for disconnected management to reinforce hierarchy. To know that their prime purpose (in employees’ minds) of securing an individual salary increase actually incents people to not collaborate is doubly disheartening.

Compare this individual-focused structure against a work environment where: everyday at 10am the entire team, manager and all, meets for 15 minutes to review the previous day and prepare for the current day.

That simple, regular, act promotes collaboration among the team members and an engaged, connected manager.

In this new world, how do you determine an individual’s salary? The same way you did originally, compare what they’re doing against the market.

Saturday, 27 November 2004

Job Security is the Ability to Get a Job

My sister and I recently shared a phone conversation on the state of work. While she finishes her undergrad, she’s working for a temp agency. She’s continually negotiating with the agency on work; she calls the temp agency with her schedule, they call her with jobs. When there’s a match, there’s a match. If not, no harm, no foul.

She was forecasting life after school and lamenting the schedule flexibility with a full-time job. I offered that my near-decade “real world” work experience proved to be extremely similar to her relationship with the temp agency.

My mom has worked for the same organization for more than a quarter century. 25 years in the same building. Not something possible today. Today, employer-employee relationships is more akin to the Dread Pirate Roberts and Westley in the Princess Bride:

“Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.” – Dread Pirate Roberts

What is job security in this new world?
Having an active network of people to help you get the next project.

With that, all the benefits of traditional fulltime employment take care of themselves.

I want to thank Evelyn Rodriguez at Crossroads Dispatches for her recent Accidental Entrepreneurs post which inspired this post.

First Crack 11. Folk Music & Copyright Issues

Jeremy Piller and I discuss the Intellectual Property Protection Act and some other copyright issues. He shares the history of folk music and how it wouldn’t exist with copyright protection.


Thursday, 25 November 2004

Control vs Distribution

One of our current projects is with a client with a reputation of being extremely protective of their brand. They know the value of having customers distribute their brand message yet they’re struggling with the lack of control that entails. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle rearing it’s ugly head.

This is the same dilemma political candidates had this election season. Do you:

  1. control your message
  2. make your message easy to distribute

I lean on the side of distribution. Customers or constituents will mold your brand into what they want anyway – best you can do is help them.

For more on this dilemma, I highly recommend listening to the Election 2004 session recently held at BloggerCon.

More Slack Keeps Projects on Track

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of ’emergency’ is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Swap in “project” for “emergency” and Eisenhower’s statement is equally as true. Yes, projects are as unexpected as emergencies. If all the variable of a project were known ahead of time – processes, timeframes, resources – the project would already be complete. Projects are in fact the process for answering these questions.

When I was working for a WiFi startup a couple years back, my product manager spent a good chunk of his days in Microsoft Project. Every day, he would tweak the Gantt charts to reflect the current state of the project, and print out the revised plan.

Then as the plan came off the printer, some new information would arrive making the new plan obsolete.

Lately, I’ve been involved in a number of enterprise software projects all at the early planning stages. Project 1 is starting with a Gantt chart. Like all Gantt charts, it depicts a tiered, linear, hand-off process. This is inherently ineffective.

A more effective, collaborative, and true-to-life model is a weave [WorkingPathways_ProjectWeave.pdf]. The pdf illustrates the weave model I helped a design agency work towards.

Another effective planning model comes from Frank Patrick and has traction in the Agile Software development community: the Hurricane model for predicting uncertain futures. The crux – we know where the project is now and some notion of time it takes to get in any direction, but we don’t know exactly where the project will be at that time. That’s the classic quantum mechanics trade-off: you can measure velocity or precision. Not both.

The most effectively run projects I’ve observed are based 2 principles;

  • Slack:Project schedules should have 2 forms of slack built in – 1 day per week and 1 week per month. Only schedule work for 80% of the available time. That’ll keep the schedule flexible enough to adjust for all the unknowns you’ll discover along the way.
    Read more on slack in the excellent book Slack : Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency
  • Keep a loose association between work and resources:
    Define the pile of work and define the members of the team. Don’t define it in any more detail than that.

I think Steve Pavlina sums it up nicely:

“No plan survives contact with the real world.”

Saturday, 20 November 2004

Sunday, 14 November 2004

Thursday, 11 November 2004

Pajunas Hosts More Than Your Website

Like a midwestern version of Gate 3 Work Club, Allie at Pajunas is offering monthly office subscriptions.

That’s right, for a couple hundred dollars a month, you can move your start up out of your house and into downtown St. Paul’s fantastic Renaissance Box.

I spoke with her at the Pajunas open house tonight. We had a great conversation on the value of community, quiet, and internet access in getting a business off the ground.

If Pajunas doesn’t have the right space, check out the $50/month writer’s refuge elsewhere in the building. Perfect for your great american novel (breaks down to $1 / word) .

Wednesday, 10 November 2004

Find Failure Fast

“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” – Thomas J. Watson Sr, founder of IBM

“…fail faster so [you] can succeed sooner.” – David Kelley of IDEO

I’ve got any number of projects in the works at any given time (current count is north of 20). Last year, there was a different twenty. Some of the same, and I’ve found the sign of a good project is one that sticks with you for years. Some of the projects I started last year worked out extremely well (VINE360, MNteractive.com) others were obvious (in retrospect) failures.

Ultimately, my work is to capture and apply feedback to business strategy. Failure gives clear feedback – and it will persist until you listen. The usability evaluations and ethnographic studies I conduct are about listening for failure early. When it’s easiest to accommodate.

Failure will occur, whether you like it or not. As the earlier quotes illustrate, it’s better to find failure fast than procrastinate. For procrastinating failure only puts off success.