Category Archives: Book Notes

Book Notes : Remote

Remote: Office Not Required by David Heinemeier Hansson, Jason Fried
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book provides an overview of remote working and provides suggestions on how to overcome some of the common problems and also highlights the potential problems of people over working.

  • The time is right for remote work
    • Why work doesn’t happen at work – there are far more distractions at work than at home
    • Stop commuting your life away – 45 minutes each way is 7.5hrs per week in a car
    • It’s the technology, stupid – for quite a few jobs technology means we are no longer stuck in the office
    • Escaping 9am–5pm – its the work that matters not the clock time, you need to adjust but working asynchronously has some advantages
    • End of city monopoly – there is now no longer a need to live in expensive cities for work
    • The new luxury – flexibility means that people don’t have to work at home but can travel etc
    • Talent isn’t bound by the hubs – this means you open yourself up to more talent from more places
    • It’s not about the money – any financial savings are a bonus but not the motivator
    • But saving is always nice – savings on commuting etc for both the individual and the company
    • Not all or nothing – remote does not need to meet fully remote but could just mean a day or part of the day working from elsewhere
    • Still a trade-off – there are advantages and disadvantages which should be weighed up
    • You’re probably already doing it – its likely you have external accountants or lawyers who already work remote from yourselves.
  • Dealing with excuses
    • Magic only happens when we’re all in a room – there are some times when being together is useful but delivering the work is really the aim
    • If I can’t see them, how do I know they’re working? – you have to hire people you trust and then it does not matter if you see them or not if they are delivering the work
    • People’s homes are full of distractions – so are offices
    • Only the office can be secure – there are now tools to let you work remotely which are likely to be more secure than office based ones
    • Who will answer the phone? – remote does not mean there are no commitments, such as the phone being staffed 9-5, this just takes coordination
    • Big business doesn’t do it, so why should we? – big businesses are slow and set in their ways
    • Others would get jealous – why not let everyone do it
    • What about culture? – this does not just spread by in person communication so it will still exist
    • I need an answer now! – your likely to have a better response time than before without the office distractions
    • But I’ll lose control – this is very Theory X thinking and if that is the type of organisation you wan this won’t work anyway
    • We paid a lot of money for this office – sunk cost fallacy
    • That wouldn’t work for our size or industry – it has and does work in different size and type of industry
  • How to collaborate remotely
    • Thou shalt overlap – to ensure there is cover when needed
    • Seeing is believing – there are tools which you can use to collaborate remotely which are different but the results are as good as in office collaboration
    • All out in the open – tools make it open for people to see what is going on
    • The virtual water cooler – this is a quality break with your co-workers, everyone needs it
    • Forward motion – there needs to be more explicit communication which would happen by osmosis in regular organisations but this can be overcome by a weekly email or similar
    • The work is what matters – it is easier to compare based on what is being produced
    • Not just for people who are out of town – everyone can be remote, even if it is just from the coffee shop down the street
    • Disaster ready – this is distributed by design meaning that things such as power cuts impact very few people
    • Easy on the M&Ms – meetings and managers – working remotely reduces the pressure to fill a day with meetings
  • Beware the dragons
    • Cabin fever – people feeling isolated and alone
    • Check-in, check-out – its very easy to work too much and so its more important to limit working time
    • Ergonomic basics – having suitable office desk etc for your posture etc
    • Mind the gut – its very easy to put on weight working remotely
    • The lone outpost – having a single remote worker makes it very hard for them, its better to do it by team or department
    • Working with clients – let your clients know where you are so they don’t expect you to be near their office
    • Taxes, accounting, laws, oh my! – hire a specialist to help you deal with this
  • Hiring and keeping the best
    • It’s a big world – remote working opens you to hiring people from all over the world
    • Life moves on – remote working allows people to move without having to change job
    • Keep the good times going – if you have a bad character employee you should treat them the same if they were sat next to you
    • Seeking a human – helping people do things in a human way, like hobbies or sightseeing
    • No parlor tricks – its the work that matters to look and hire for it
    • The cost of thriving – you should not pay people less who work remotely
    • Great remote workers are simply great workers – remote working makes poor performers more visible
    • On writing well – good and clear written communication is very important when hiring a remote worker
    • Test project – give people a test project to see how they actually get on
    • Meeting them in person – its still important to meet people important as part of the job interview
    • Contractors know the drill – they are used to remote working
  • Managing remote workers
    • When’s the right time to go remote? – start early in the company and if you are already passed that then start small with a team
    • Stop managing the chairs – this is actually managing on results rather than on time spent on a chair
    • Meetups and sprints – meeting in person is important 2 or more times per year
    • Lessons from open source – intrinsically motivates, out in the open, meet up regularly
    • Level the playing field – treat remote and local workers equally, not as second class
    • One-on-ones – are really important, perhaps video or telephone call
    • Remove the roadblocks – just let people get on with working their own way
    • Be on the lookout for overwork, not underwork – because getting to work is easy people can easily over work and care must be taken to prevent too much of this
    • Using scarcity to your advantage – by having less time together (e.g.) this makes the time more precious and people use it more wisely
  • Life as a remote worker
    • Building a routine – so that you don’t over work
    • Morning remote, afternoon local – make a routing that works for you
    • Compute different – to separate work and home life
    • Working alone in a crowd – such as in a coffee shop to give you a community
    • Staying motivated – is sometimes hard but one to ones should support and sometimes a break helps regain focus
    • Nomadic freedom – with great internet everywhere you can move around quite freely without any problems
    • A change of scenery – gives you a different perspective on things
    • Family time – with less commute and flexibility means more time with family
    • No extra space at home – use a cafe, co-working space or a shed in the garden
    • Making sure you’re not ignored – people who produce quality don’t get ignored

Book Notes : Up the Organization

Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits by Robert Townsend
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is from 1970 but there are things which most organisations don’t do today even though they are trying to build “Theory Y” type organisations.  The book is also novel as each chapter is presented in alphabetical order.

  • Advertising – fire your existing agency and find a new one and make it fun
  • Assistants-to and make-working – fire them, they just get in the way
  • Big wheels in little companies – great leaders of big companies can kill small ones
  • Boss, How to retire the – say your going to retire multiple times a long way out so that the organisation can prepare and structure itself.  When they retire make sure they don’t spend a lot of time at head quarters.
  • Budgets – should be decided by the people who have to deliver them.  Use terms such as better or worse than budget, not higher or lower which can be confusing.  Include a contingency in your external budget so that you have room to move.
  • Call yourself up – pretend to be your own customer but don’t call rank, listen to how things work for real customers.
  • Chairman of the executive committee – it means nothing, so use it – a complaint handled by the “executive committee” will be taken better than “customer retention”.  The executive committee and the chairman can play very useful role.
  • Compromise and king Solomon – When you give in give in all of the way and when you win try to win all the way so responsibility lies squarely on you.
  • Computers and their priests – Computer technicians are complicators not simplifiers.
  • Conference board: what others did, don’t – when big businesses agree then it is already old news so look for something better.
  • Conflict within the organisation – a good manager does not try to eliminate conflict but does try to prevent it wasting too much time.
  • Contacts – if you want to make a contact just approach them directly instead of going via someone else
  • Controllers and accounting – don’t change the accounting system as this change produces inconsistency.
  • Conviction vs. ego – “are you trying to do something worth while here?” or “are you trying to just build another monument to some diseased ego?”
  • Decisions – all decisions should be made as low in the organisation as possible.
  • Delegation of authority – when negotiating pick someone two layers lower than you who would be more impacted by the bad contract, set an acceptable bounds for this person, tell the company who you are negotiating with that what ever your chosen person negotiates is what you’ll agree to (so there is no going over their head).
  • Directors, board of: the backseat drivers – they have never done anything useful as they can’t know enough about the business.  Have a mix of outsiders and insiders on the board.  Keep lawyers, bankers, investment bankers off the board where possible.
  • Disobedience and its necessity – any manager who conducts a plan which he feels is defective is at fault – he must put forward his reasons, insist on the plan being changed and tender his resignation instead of causing the downfall.
  • Do it – sometimes its best not to tell people in advance as people will kill your idea, sometimes its best to just get on and do it.
  • Employment contracts and why not – they loose the people they are designed to hold and keep the people you want to get rid of.
  • Epaulets for the chief executive – a good chief executive will knock off the niceties, a bad one will accept all the kudos as ego massage.
  • Excellence: or what the hell are you doing here? – if its not excellent it won’t be fun
  • Excuses – eliminate peoples excuses for failure.  Go out and ask how you can help.
  • Expense accounts: Theory X disease – Be honest, even if everyone else is not.  Fire the people checking and start to build a Theory Y company.
  • Fairness, justice and other oddities – Judge base on performance alone.  Reward outstanding performers, don’t reward underachievers.
  • Family Baggage – Spouses who are pushy for their partner to get promoted or earn more.  Money, if sought directly, is almost never gained but as a byproduct of some worthwhile objective or result which is sought and achieved for its own sake.
  • Firing people – Some times it needs to be done for the good of the organisation
  • Geography, respect for – Absentee management if fatal.  The larger the distance the more difficult it is to support.
  • Gifts from suppliers – don’t accept anything
  • Going a little bit public – the value based on a small volume of stock traded is fictitious and is not worth the hassle.
  • Headhunters – provide a large amount of feedback on each candidate to help them find more suitable candidates for you.
  • Hubris, The sin of – This is the sin of acting cocky when things are going well.
  • Incentive compensation and profit sharing 
    • Employees must have sufficient salary to not need to worry about making ends meet.
    • Using Unsatisfactory = 0%, Satisfactory = x% and Outstanding = 2x% distribute the discretionary salary.
    • Bonus checks should be handed out by the line manager.
    • No one should be penalised for things outside of their control
    • Fat cat perks should not be deducted impacting bonus calculations
  • Indirection: Don’t neglect it – Give people flexibility to get things done their way
  • Institution, On not becoming an – For any form in the company the chief executive must be the first to use it personally.  Have someone who is responsible for highlighting pointless processes.
  • Investment bankers – Keep at least one spare lined up so you are not stuck.
  • Investors: Keeping them informed – A nominated investor is allowed to come in one day and ask any question of anyone who they wanted, including the chief.  The investor would return a report which was then corrected and sent to all the directors and investors.  This saved time and produced a good internal document as well.
  • Job descriptions – strait jackets – job should be able to continually change
  • Killing things, V.P in charge of – It is easy to start, hard to stop so its best to have someone who can stop things when they are no longer a good idea.
  • Labor unions – create a Theory Y organisation so they are not needed.  If you have one deal with them openly and honestly.
  • Lawyers can be liabilities – a good lawyer will give you his home phone, travel and work weekend when needed but an unsuitable one wont.
  • Leadership – True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not the enrichment of the leaders.
  • Management and “Top” management – Top management should be like owl – hooting when management heads in the wrong direction.
  • Management consultants – one person shows are effective the institutions are disasters.
  • Marketing – take a group of top employees and some from the ad agency and spent some time away talking with them and relaxing.  This will give time and space for important conversations.
  • Mars, Man from – Think about problems like someone from a different planet to give you a better view of what you should do.
  • Meetings – should be as few as possible with as few participants.  If a meeting is important enough to have one meeting it is likely to be important enough to have two so people get time to think.
  • Memorandum, The last – don’t have any
  • Mergers, conglobulations, and join failures 
    • Joint ventures are always bad.  At worst both parents neglect the stepchild.  At best one parent does all the work and gives up half the reward and feels cheated.
    • Acquisitions and mergers should be avoided.  If they do then continue to run your bussiness as if no change will happen (as it might not).  To set up a committee to come up with a proposal which will exclude the chief executive until the last minute to prevent distractions.
  • Message to chief executives – Your people aren’t lazy and incompetent.  They just look that way.  They’re beaten by all the overlapping and interlocking policies, rules and systems encrusting your company.
  • Mistakes – Admit your own mistakes openly and joyfully.
  • Mistresses – results in creativity in peoples expense account
  • Moonlighting – usually mean the salary isn’t enough to cover living expenses
  • Moving the head office – Get someone to arrange this for you and give them the task to make it standardised,  If it is on time, works reasonably well and cries die within 30 days it will have been a success.
  • Nepotism, The smell of – keep family out of the work place
  • No-No’s
    • Reserved parking spaces
    • Special stationary for the boss
    • Bells and buzzers
    • Company psychiatrists (unless they only report to patients)
    • Outside directorships and trusteeships for the chief executive.
    • Company plane, golf club, big office, three secretaries…
    • Conning people
    • Social relationships within the firm
    • Hiring unless people are already over worked
    • Trade associations (could lead to price fixing)
    • Conventions
    • Greed
  • Objectives – what is the organisation aiming to do, simply
  • Office hours – whenever you want
  • Organisation charts : rigor mortis – don’t you need to be nimble
  • People – Try to build a Theory Y organisation where there is freedom and responsibility.
  • Personnel (People vs.) – fire the department and just have the paperwork with payroll
  • Planning, Long-Range: A Happening – Planning is handled by the boss, not a “planner”
  • Policy manuals – Don’t bother.
  • P.R. Department, Abolition of – let the top ten people speak for the company if needed.  They are just honest, pretend your ablest competitor is listening, don’t forecast earnings.
  • President’s salary (Is he really worth $250,000?) – take a modest salary and with shares if the company grows it is win win.
  • Promises – keep them
  • Promotions, From within – As long as there is someone 50% then promote internally and they will grow the other 50% quicker than an external hire.
  • Public accounts and the audit committee – the audit committee should ask things such as “Has anyone pressed you to do anything you-re reluctant to do?” “Is there any subject or incident that for any reason you didn’t include or didn’t give proper weight to in the audit report that you’d like to discuss orally now?”
  • Purchasing department – fire them, trust people to get what they need
  • Putting on weight – a sure sign of frustration
  • Racism – stamping it out is a process and not an act, it takes effort over time
  • Reorganisaing – should be done rarely, be well planned and swift.
  • Retirement, Mandarotry – retire the chief executive every five or six years.
  • Salary review: Annual encounter group – between annual reviews you have to acknowledge that at all times people are either over or under paid and there is nothing which can be done about it right then.
  • Salesmen – 20% always produce 80%.  Have a commission structure which is fair.
  • Secrecy : A child’s garden of diseases – What I’m doing is so horrible I don’t dare tell you or I don’t trust you (any more).
  • Secretary, Freedom from a – have a good pool of staff services rather than a dedicated secretary as this produces much more value for all.
  • Small companies – don’t take on big company structure too early it is a burden
  • Staff services – great service different people can use to get things done
  • Stockholders – turn as management and employees into stockholders because this makes the customer important.
  • Stock options and democracy – Give everyone options
  • Tax advice – you are looking for someone passionate not some suit
  • Teams, Two-Man – Good and Bad – Sometimes a pair of people are the right for a single role as they will have different strengths.
  • Telephone operators – make them feel special
  • Thanks – a really neglected form of compensation
  • Time: Three Thoughts on it – companies should be fun, new people need time to learn and systems take time to bed in – people are quick with torpedoes, some meetings should be leisurely and some brief stand for the latter.
  • Titles are handy tools – these are physiological promotions and good sales for menial jobs
  • Too much vs too little – space should be on the tight side, people should be a bit over stretched, money should be tight.  Constraints breed creativity.
  • Training – only way to learn is on the job
  • Underpaid – resign with the reason underpaid, reapply for your old job with the salary you feel you are deserved – you will be the best applicant.  If you can’t be rehired because of regulations this is not a company you would want to work for.
  • Vacation policy: go when you please – no reasonable person will abuse this freedom, your worst job will be making sure people take the time off they need.
  • Wearing out your welcome – if the chief executive doesn’t retire gracefully after five or six years throw him out

Rate your boss

  1. Available – If I have a problem I can’t solve, he is there.  But he is forceful in making me do my level best to bring in solutions, not problems.
  2. Inclusive – Quick to let me in on information or people who might be useful to me or stimulating or of long-term professional interest.
  3. Humorous – Has a full measure of the Comic Spirit in his make-up.  Laughs even harder when joke’s on him.
  4. Fair – And concerned about me and how I’m doing.  Gives credit where credit is due, but holds me to my promises.
  5. Decisive – Determined to get at those little unimportant decisions which can tie up organisations for days.
  6. Humble – Admits his own mistakes openly – learns from them and expects his people to do the same.
  7. Objective – Knows the apparently important (like a visiting director) from  the truly important (a meeting of his own people) and goes where he is needed.
  8. Tough – Won’t let top management or important outsiders waste his time or people’s time.  Is more jealous of his people’s time than he is of his own.
  9. Effective – Teaches me to bring him m mistakes with what I’ve learned and done about them.  Teaches me not to interrupt him with possible good news on which no action is needed.
  10. Patient – Knows when to bite the bullet until I solve my own problem.

Book Notes : Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The main learning – write everything you have to do down unless the task takes less than 2 minutes in which case do it immediately.  Get it all out of your head.

The five steps to mastering work flow

  1. capture what has our attention
  2. clarify what each item means and what to do about it
  3. organise the results
  4. reflect on the options
  5. engage in chosen result

Book Notes : The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is in a story form following someone who has just been promoted and he is trying to deal with a whole lot of different problem but the biggest in The Phoenix Project.  Ignoring the plot the book looks at the following:

The four different types of work

  1. Business projects
  2. Internal projects
  3. Operational changes
  4. Unplanned work (the silent killer which is usually very urgent and very important displacing planned work)

The three ways

The First Way : System Thinking

Here it is about looking at the system as a whole and realising that value does not exist until something is available to the customer.  Thinking at the whole level it is important not to pass known defects downstream, not to let local optimisations make the whole system worse, allows you to look at increasing flow and achieve a full understand of the system as a whole value chain.

The Second Way : Amplified Feedback Loops

Here the aim is to produce learning and build up knowledge, by shortening and amplifying the feedback loops as well as understanding and being able to respond to customers both internal and external.  Realising that value is only delivered when they get to the customer.

The Third Way : Culture of Continuous Experimentation and Learning

This is to build an organisation which is able to take risks and thus experiment.  This learning can build a more resilient and dynamic organisation.  This allows time for the improvement of daily work, creating rituals that reward the team for taking risks and introducing faults into the system to increase resilience.

Theory of Constraints – The Five Focusing Steps

  1. Identify the current constraint
  2. Exploit, make quick improvements to the throughput of the constraint using existing resources.
  3. Subordinate, review all other activities in the process to ensure that they are aligned with and truly support the needs of the constraint.
  4. Elevate consider what further actions can be taken to eliminate it from being the constraint.
  5. Repeat, once one constraint/bottleneck has been removed then another point will start being the bottleneck.

If a task does not add any of the following benefits why is it being done? Improvements to:

  • Capacity of a constraint
  • Scalability
  • Availability
  • Survivability
  • Sustainability
  • Security
  • Supportability
  • Defensibility

Work centres consists of 

  1. Machine
  2. Operator
  3. Method
  4. Measure

Book Notes : Primal Leadership

Primal Leadership: Unleashing the power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Leaders have the highest power to sway our emotions, this can be maximised when their leadership resonates with the people who they lead. This is because there is an open loop between leaders and the people who follow them, this results in a mirroring of the leaders because people pay more attention to what they say and importantly what they do – their emotional reaction has a huge impact. These leaders don’t need to be the formal leaders, but could be the teams emotional leader. This emotional watching results in a contagion of whatever the leader says or does. An emotionally positive mood has significant impact on the group and on results, and because of the impact a leader has this is generally stems from them.

Emotional Intelligence Domains and Associated Competencies

  • Personal
    • Self-Awareness
      • Emotional self-awareness: Reading one’s own emotions and recognising their impact; using “gut feel” to guide decisions
      • Accurate self-assessment: Knowing one’s strengths and limits
      • Self-confidence: A sound sense of one’s self-worth and capabilities.
    • Self-Management
      • Emotional self-control: Keeping disruptive emotions and impulses under control
      • Transparency: Displaying honest and integrity; trustworthiness
      • Adaptability: Flexibility in adapting to changing situations or overcoming obstacles
      • Achievement: The drive to improve performance to meet inner standards of excellence
      • Initiative: Readiness to act and seize opportunities
      • Optimism: Seeing the upside in events
  • Social
    • Social-Awareness
      • Empathy: Sensing others’ emotions, understanding their perspective and taking active interest in their concerns
      • Organisational awareness: Reading the current, decision networks and politics at the organisational level
      • Service: Recognising and meeting follower, client or customer needs
    • Relationship-Management
      • Inspirational leadership: Guiding and motivating with a compelling vision
      • Influence: Wielding a range of tactics for persuasion
      • Developing others: Bolstering others’ abilities through feedback and guidance
      • Change catalyst: Initiating, managing and leading in a new direction
      • Conflict management: Resolving disagreements
      • Building bonds: Cultivating and maintaining a web of relationships
      • Teamwork and collaboration: Cooperation and team building

These result in the following leadership styles

  • Visionary
    • How it builds resonance: Moves people towards shared dreams
    • Impact on climate: Most strongly positive
    • When appropriate: When changes require a new vision or when a clear direction is needed
  • Coaching
    • How it builds resonance: Connects what a person wants with the organisation’s goals
    • Impact on climate: Highly positive
    • When appropriate: To help an employee improve performance by building long-term capabilities
  • Affiliative (relationship building)
    • How it builds resonance: Creates harmony by connecting people to each other
    • Impact on climate: Positive
    • When appropriate: To heal rifts in a team, motivate during stressful times, or strengthen connections
  • Democratic
    • How it builds resonance: Values people’s input and gets commitment through participation
    • Impact on climate: Positive
    • When appropriate: To build buy-in or consensus or to get valuable input for employees
  • Pacesetting
    • How it builds resonance: Meets challenging and exciting goals
    • Impact on climate: Because too frequently poorly executed, often highly negative
    • When appropriate: To get high-quality results from a motivated and competent team
  • Commanding
    • How it builds resonance: Soothes fears by giving clear direction in an emergency
    • Impact on climate: Because so often misused, highly negative
    • When appropriate: In a crisis, to kick start a turnaround or with problem employees

Jumping between all four resonant leadership styles Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative & Democratic can prove a great mix for a leader.  If a leader constantly uses the Pacesetting or Commanding style this can have very negative impacts on the team and can cause toxic organisations.

CEO Disease : The information vacuum around a leader when people withhold important and sometimes unpleasant information.

Self-directed learning through the five discoveries:

  1. My ideal self: Who do I want to be?
  2. My real self: Who am I?
    1. My strengths: Where my ideals and real self overlap
    2. My gaps: Where my ideal and real self differ
  3. My learning agenda: Building on my strengths while reducing gaps
  4. Experimenting with new behavior, thoughts and feelings
    1. Practicing the new behavior, building new neural pathways through to mastery.  Bring bad habits into awareness, consciously practice a better way and rehearse that new behavior at every opportunity
  5. Developing trust and relationships that help, support and encourage each step

Listening to peoples feelings people tend to come to a consensus and paint a picture of an organisation.

When looking to spread a new culture it has to be championed widely, else the people who are evangelised the new culture first could be shot down by other parts of the orgsanisation who have not been informed about the new direction.

Book Notes : Leading Snowflakes

Leading Snowflakes: The Engineering Managers Handbook by Oren Ellenbogen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Overall this is an ok book but there are a couple of nuggets in it which are quite useful.

Initially there is the highlight the difference between makers and managers – the role of the manager being to amplify the team. It highlights the importance of balancing making and managing and the need for concentration in the making zone. The key for managers is not to measure your output but the output of the team.

When making something we can review it quickly, such as by running unit test on our code. As a manager we rarely review the decisions we make to actively learn from them. The book highlights the importance of this and proposes a template to achieve this and get more continuous feedback. These decisions could be to postpone a decision, but this itself is a decision. There are no right or wrong just different takeoffs between different approaches.

The importance of feedback is discussed and this being hard as a transition from a team mate to a team leader. I diverge from the book here as we should not only be getting feedback from the leader, all members of the team should feel comfortable providing feedback but it might be that the team leader needs to deal with harder situations. Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO, uses the term “The Leader’s Paradox” – as managers and leaders, we need to care deeply and thoroughly about our people, while not worrying about what they think of us. It is key to share your own lessons learned, to summaries and share written feedback, using the wrong medium to present a message and delaying feedback.

Getting things done by extreme transparency, reducing risk (releasing smaller chunks etc), planning, leverage peer pressure, retrospect & delegate. Using the Must, Delegate and External lists – where Musts are absolute musts that as a manager we must do, if it is not a must then we can delegate it. External are things which are outside of your sphere which impact you.

When moving from maker to manager people approach it with a view of productivity. In reality building trust should be a higher importance, both inside the team but (crucially) with other teams.

Optimise for value. Depending on the product phase this could be focusing on Acquisition – how to bring in more users, Activation – increasing the usage of the product, Retention – keeping the users using our product, Referrer – having happy customers who recommend our product, Revenue – making more money or gaining more customers. When we are uncertain optimise for getting answers fast, “If you can’t make engineering decisions based on data, then make engineering decisions that result in data.” (Kent Beck). When we have business certainty, optimize for predictability and optimise bottlenecks. “Companies fail when they stop asking what they would do if they
were started today, and instead just iterate on what they’ve already done.” (Aaron Levie) this statement is a bit contentious as there are many re-writes which have failed so this is not a proven answer but reviewing what you would do with what you know now is a very important task to undertake.

“Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.” (Dharmesh Shah). This is what attracts employees and keeps them. Building an inbound feed of candidates by showing what you are doing, exposing your culture and demonstrating your tech to attract people to work for you.

To build a salable team requires an alignment of vision (Will it move the company into a winning position? Is it big enough as an engineering challenge?), alignment of core values without which the team will self-destruct as such it might mean loosing some key individuals (e.g. Never let someone else fix our own mess, Loyalty to each other above all), distributed responsibilities (What can you expect of me? What can you expect of being part of this team?), sense of accomplishment.

You can’t empower people by approving their actions. You empower by designing the need for your approval out of the system (Kris Gale)

Book Notes : Great Boss Dead Boss

Great Boss, Dead Boss: How to exact the very best performance from your company and not get crucified in the process by Edgar H. Schein
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
This is a book written in a story style which presents the idea of tribes and how these are how people in a business operate.

The book presents tribal dimensions:

  1. Individuals are socially, emotionally, and psychologically defined by their tribal membership.
  2. Individual Security (IS): Individuals act to reinforce their security when under threat.
  3. Individual Value (IV): Individuals act to reinforce their self-worth when their security is not under threat.
  4. Tribal Security (TS): Tribes act to secure their self-preservation if their security is under threat.
  5. Tribal Value (TV): Tribes act to reinforce their self-worth when their security is not under threat.

Though the book various things happen which are then evaluated against the dimensions in a positive or negative way.  Initially the idea of positive tribal and individual security is presented as a bad thing resulting in complacency, process focus, rules and regulations, in fighting and backstabbing, taking no risk or innovation however during the rest of the book TS+ and IS+ are presented as good things – to me security is more nuanced than positive or negative.

The book presents a continuum from corporate failure at TS-IS- up to TV+IV+, as follows, with actions to progress to the next stage.

Status Action
TV+ IV+ Maintain the status quo.  Set new just cause.
TV- IV+ Work to improve TV+. Reinforce super tribe.  Emphasis just cause.
TV- IV- Reaffirm individual’s capability.  Define common enemy.
TV+ IV- Identify source of IV-, create new source of IV+
TS+ IS+ Define and create new source of TV+ Create new superordinate tribe.  Create source of IV+
TS- IS+ Reinforce the rite of passage.  Reinforce common enemy.  Reinforce just cause.
TS- IS- Redefine source of power, just cause, common enemy.  Replace leadership.
TS+ IS- Reaffirm IV+, beware of sub-tribes, seeing others as common enemy.  Replace leadership or reeducate leaders.

The book presents tribal attributes:

  1. A strong tribe must have a common enemy.
  2. A strong tribe has clearly defined symbols.
  3. A strong tribe offers a super ordinate identity to all sub-tribes.
  4. A strong tribe has a credible, just cause for its continued existence.
  5. A strong tribe has an accepted rite of passage.
  6. A strong tribe has clear external measures of success.
  7. A strong tribe understands and protects its source of power.
  8. A strong tribe knows how it compares to the “untouchables.”
  9. The criteria for tribal membership are clear and credible.
  10. Tribes communicate in a non-traditional, subjective, and intuitive manner.
  11. A strong tribe develops its own unique language.
  12. Tribal roles are fundamentally different from accepted functional roles.
  13. Strong tribes record and celebrate significant events that reinforce their identity and value.
  14. A strong tribe has a clearly defined and well-known justice mechanism.
  15. A strong tribe has a clearly defined icon that embodies the tribal value.
  16. A strong tribe has a walled city–a place of refuge where things of value to the tribe are kept.
  17. A strong tribe possesses objects of value that embody the tribe’s value.
  18. A strong tribe has a revered figurehead.
  19. A strong tribe celebrates and cares for the skills, tools, and implements required for its prosperity.
  20. A strong tribe expects unquestioning loyalty.
  21. A strong tribe has clearly defined roles, responsibilities, values, authority, power structure, and chain of command.
  22. A strong tribe has a leader dedicated to the tribe’s success.
  23. Strong leaders have capable mentors whose psychological limits exceed their own.

The book provides a grid detailing communication between tribes and individuals and their impact.

Communication Result
Enemy Tribe to Tribe Potential to harm or destroy the tribe, creates TV- or TS-
Ally Tribe to Tribe Has potential to strengthen the tribe. Creates TV+ or TS+.
Enemy Tribe to Individual Expulsion, eviction, discipline, creates IV- or IS-
Ally Tribe to Individual Promotion, join inner circle, seat on the board creates IV+ or IS+
Enemy Individual to Tribe Company sabotage, leak secrets, spread rumours, creates TV- or TS-
Ally Individual to Tribe Supports the just cause, attack common enemy, creates TV+ or TS+
Enemy Individual to Individual Dislike one another, threats and accusations. Creates IV- or IS-
Ally Individual to Individual Good friends, supportive creates IV+ or IS+

The book presents a list of tribal and organisational roles, this is not very well explained and magically the book restructures the organisation by magic.

Tribal Role Traditional Organisational Role
Hunter Sales person
Farmer Manufacturing
Care giver Human resources
Cheif CEO
Elder Board member
Herder Accountant
Story Teller Advertising
Witch doctor Financial analyst
Spy Public relations
Builder Maintenance

 

Book Notes : Humble Inquiry

Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar H. Schein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The book introduces three types of humility basic humility – the status in society you are born with, optional humility – the way we feel when in the presence of someone who has done great thing and here-and-now humility – when you are dependent on someone else. The humble inquiry comes from a place of interest and curiosity with here-and-now humility, this maximises the interest in the other person and minimises bias and preconceptions.

The book talks about espoused values, the values which we openly talk about e.g freedom, equality, etc, however these are sometimes in contradiction to tacit assumptions which are the values which are actually in action, e.g. poor education, discrimination. The problem with the humble inquiry is that cultures which value task accomplishment over relationship building and telling over discussing means there are cultural forces working against it.

The Johari Window contains four sections:

  • Open Self – things we know about our self and others know too
  • Concealed Self – things we know about our self but we hide from others
  • Blind Self – things we don’t know about our self but others know
  • Unknown Self – things which are known neither by our self nor by others

Through the use of the Humble Inquiry we can expand the amount of Open Self which a person feels confident to display, reducing the Concealed Self.

Book Notes : Product Mastery

Product Mastery: From Good To Great Product Ownership by Geoff Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

  • A good Product Owner delays when they can.  A great Product Owner decides when they must.
  • A good Product Owner trusts themselves to make the tough calls.  A great Product Owner knows when to call for help.
  • A good Product Owner knows what is needed.  A great Product Owner knows what can wait.
  • A good Product Owner takes calculated gambles.  A great Product Owner also knows when to walk away.
  • A good Product Owner trusts their instinct.  A great Product Owner finds data to test their ideas.
  • A good Product Owner knows enough to make a decision.  A great Product Owner knows enough to ask questions.
  • A good Product Owner is reliable and dependable.  A great Product Owner knows  flexibility is essential to strength.
  • A good Product Owner defines a cohesive vision for the product.  A great Product Owner empirically evolves the product.
  • A good Product Owner leads from the front.  A great Product Owner leads from within.
  • A good Product Owner writes good stories.  A great Product Owner tells great stories.
  • A good Product Owner represents many different parties.  A great Product Owner knows they can’t please everyone.
  • A good Product Owner avoids bad mistakes.  A great Product Owner makes good mistakes quickly.
  • A good Product Owner knows how to use agile tools and artifacts.  A great Product Owner are driven to develop their subtle, softer skills.

Book Notes : Extreme Programming Explained

Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change by Kent Beck, Cynthia Andres
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Values
  • Communication – important for creating a sense of team and effective cooperation
  • Simplicity – eliminating unneeded work the simpler things are the easier communication is
  • Feedback – this is a vial form of communication contributing to simplicity
  • Courage – to speak the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, fosters communication and trust; to discard failed solutions encourages simplicity; and seek real, concrete answers in feedback.
  • Respect – the contributions of each person on the team needs to be respected, I am important and so are you
  • Team values – this is adding extra values which the team feel are important and by having them explicit means they are important e.g. safety, security, predictability, quality-of-life etc
Principles
  • Humanity
    • Basic safety – freedom from hunger, physical harm, threats, fear of job loss.
    • Accomplishment – to be able to contribute
    • Belonging – to identify with a group from which they receive validation and accountability
    • Growth – to develop skills and perspectives
    • Intimacy – to understand and be understood deeply by others
  • Economics – delivering bussiness value, meeting business goals and serves bussiness needs.  For software development the economics are that the sooner there is delivery the sooner there is value.
  • Mutual Benefit – help me now, in the future and the customer
    • Automated tests – help design and implement better solutions today, in the future this benefits people maintaining the system
    • Refactor – removes additional complexity giving me satisfaction today and fewer defects, in the future it makes the code easier to understand
    • Names – makes code coherent and explicit which speeds up my development, in the future the cleaner code is better for new programmers.
  • Self-Similarity – try to keep the same structure even at different scales, such as the processes you do in a week you might do at a larger scale every month (e.g planning, demo etc)
  • Improvement – things are never perfect, starting with something and evolving it in the right direction to provide a solution which is good enough
  • Diversity – this brings creativity and different perspectives to the problem
  • Reflection – exposing mistakes and learning from them after the action
  • Flow – aiming to produce value quickly with new features flowing through the team at the highest possible rate
  • Opportunity – taking each problem and using it as an opportunity to learn
  • Redundancy – this might be needed to ensure the product is correct, it should not just be removed immediately but work should be done to improve the process until it is not needed and then removed
  • Failure – this could be the cheapest way to learn given the option for weeks or research compared to a similar time trying things the latter might result in multiple failures but result in a good solution quicker
  • Quality – quality can not be cut to save time or cost, for software quality needs to be improved to identify defects early, enable new joiners to get up to speed etc.  If time or cost need to be cut then feature scope is the only leaver that can be pulled.
  • Baby Steps – and grow in the right direction rather than a big bang approach
  • Accepted Responsibility – a person should be responsible for the whole feature from estimate it, designing it, implementing it and testing it.
Primary Practices
  • Sit Together – to boost communication
  • Whole Team – all the skills needed to complete the project, everyone in it together
  • Informative Workspace – such as whiteboards, stories on the wall etc
  • Energised Work – actually getting quality work done, not just clock time – if you are unable to sustain working more then stop working rather than burning yourself out for the next few days
  • Pair Programming – keep each other on task, brainstorm refinements, clarify ideas, support each other, hold each other accountable for the team’s practices
  • Stories – plan units of customer-visible work and estimate them as soon as they are written, the estimate gives more visibility for prioritisation
  • Weekly Cycle – plan the work a week at a time, review progress, select stories and break them down into tasks
  • Quarterly Cycle – reflect on the team, the project, its progress and align with the larger goals.
  • Slack – it is important to meet your commitments to build trust with stakeholders so including minor tasks which can be dropped if needed could be beneficial
  • Ten-Minute Build – produce the shortest feedback time possible and certainly less than ten minutes aka the time to get a coffee
  • Continuous Integration – ideally in a synchronous way get the whole system built, integrated and deployed (even if only into a test environment)
  • Test-First Programming – write failing tests first so that you can prevent scope creep, improve the loose coupling and high cohesion of the code, improves team trust and produces a rhythm focused on delivery
  • Incremental Design – regularly reviewing the design and then allowing for refactoring so that the design emerges as more is learnt about the way things need to work.
Corollary Practices
  • Real Customer Involvement – this is to increase the value produced by the system
  • Incremental Deployment – when replacing something gradually take it over small piece by small piece as early in the project as possible
  • Team Continuity – keep effective teams together and move them to other projects
  • Shrink Teams – try to get the team as small as possible to deliver the work required
  • Root-Cause Analysis – the aim is that when an issue occurs that it is not just fixed but a similar type of issue can not occur again
  • Sharing Code – the team should own the code so anyone on the team can make changes to it
  • Code and Tests – should be the only permanent artifacts other documentation should be generated from them
  • Single Code Base – there should only be one code stream and short lived branches
  • Daily Deployments – getting the code to generate value as soon as possible but this needs the support of sufficient tests etc which take time to build up
  • Negotiated Scope Contract – have shorter contracts with fixed time, cost and quality but negotiable on scope
  • Pay-Per-Use – this is a great feedback for which features are actually used, should be developed further or removed