Review: High Output Management

High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book defined a managers rate of output as:

Ax, activities : information gathering, nudging, decision-making, role model. These can be internal to your organisation or these can be influences onto external organisations.

Lx, leverage : a high leverage might be where a large number of people are affected by the action, where peoples actions are effected over a long period of time, providing a unique piece of knowledge or experience. It is important to note that leverage is not always positive, e.g. managerial meddling which can be solved by ensuring people have a sizeable team to manage. It is possible to reduce the organisations output by doing something as well as increasing it.

Tx, time : reducing the time it takes to do things will improve output. e.g. context switching is a proven production killer, as such batching of similar tasks together improves efficiency by reducing the time taken to complete the activity. Reports are more a medium for self-discipline than a way of communication. Writing the report is important; reading it often is not.

Improving output can be by increasing the rate of work, increasing the leverage associated with an activity or shifting the mix of activities from those with lower leverage to those with higher leverage.

The book highly advocated one-to-one meetings and notes – this should be considered the subordinates meeting, they should last an hour, should be near the subordinates location of work, potential problems are key to cover, both participants should take notes – which acts like a commitment from the subordinate that something is going to happen, keep a list of topics to be discussed, personal issues usually get brought up at the end of the meeting (I, not the author, keep the half hour after a one-to-one free just for such occasions).

Decisions should be made in a way where there is a free and open discussion about the problem and potential solutions, a clear decision is made which everyone then fully gets behind. There are challenges with the discussion part because of personal emotions such as pride, ambition, fear, embarrassment and insecurity. Having a chairperson in a group can help ensure that the discussions are suitable and pull the group together to make a decision yet it is key to ensure that not too little or too much time has been spent on the free discussion. There is a strong temptation for the leading officers to make decisions themselves, without the sometimes onerous process of discussions, however if this produces the best result it will only be because of a fluke as opposed to a properly considered range of options.

Organisational structure – mission verses function. It is likely that there are elements of both in an organisation but also having people people dual report to both a mission and function e.g. the security guard might need to report to both the site manager but also a global head of security.

Modes of control – free-market forces, contractual obligations, cultural values. If the problem is well defined (in terms of complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity) and people are only self interested then the free-marked provides a mechanism of you getting what you want (e.g. a toaster). If the problem is well defined but you need to operate as a group then a contract can be formalised (e.g. renting an office). If the problem is not well defined and you have to work as a group then cultural values are key to getting what is required to be produced (e.g. software product development).

When issues are identified with subordinated they tend to go through the following stages – ignore the issue, deny the issue, blame others, assume responsibility, find solution. The key transition is to assume responsibility – from the previous stages this is a physiological one, after this the solutions are purely logical.

There are two ways that someone can produce more – they either need to be better motivated or they need to receive more training. Both of these are key responsibilities for managers.

Separately to general management there are also some specifics for detailing with production management.

For manufacturing there is a difference between market demand and production capacity – it is important to forecast the two separately as using production capacity to drive market demand will result in either too much being produced or not enough when you could have sold more. Different sides (marketing and production) can look at how they can meet the others sides numbers which can then be used for bussiness decisions.

Metrics provide windows into the black box which is production.

The sooner you can identify a problem the better since this will be at the lowest cost.

Review: Drive

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Traditionally carrot and stick type management has been used as a way to get employees to do what the company wants. This might work fine for routine mechanical tasks but not creative ones.

Carrot and stick motivation can extinguish intrinsic motivation, diminish performance, crush creativity and dissuade good behaviors such as unethical behavior create addictions as well as encourage short term thinking.

There are tasks which really must be done where people might be “bribed” to do them, for these tasks explaining why the task is important, acknowledging it is boring plus giving people autonomy to do it as they want makes the task less painful.

Giving bonuses for work reduces intrinsic motivation where as giving random rewards afterwards does not reduce intrinsic motivation.

To boost the intrinsic motivation there are three elements.

  • Autonomy :
    • over task – what they do,
    • over time – when they do it,
    • over team – who they do it with and over technique – how they do it
  • Mastery :
    • is a mind set where you believe there are always things to improve on and is linked to when people are in flow – doing tasks which are slightly more challenging than you are capable of.
    • To achieve mastery requires:
      • effort,
      • grit and
      • deliberate practice.
    • Mastery is an asymptote, the closer you get to it the harder it is.
  • Purpose :
    • people want to contribute to a cause greater and more enduring then themselves.
    • The goal is to make the world better – profit is just the catalysis rather than the objective,
    • what words do people use – if people say words like “we” when referring to the company they feel ownership unlike using words such as “they” and
    • policies such as allowing people to decide how they give back to the community or allowing people time to peruse their own interests

The book presented a few tools of which two of them particularly jumped out.

Flow test

  • Which moment produce a feeling of “flow”? Where were you? What were you working on? Who were you with?
  • Are certain time of the day more flow-friendly than others? How could you restructure your day based on your findings?
  • How might you increase the number of optimal experiences and reduce the moment when you feel disengaged or distracted?
  • If you’re having doubts about your job or career, what does this exercise tell you about your true source of intrinsic motivation?

Autonomy audit

  • How much autonomy do you have over your tasks at work – your main responsibilities and what you do in a given day?
  • How much autonomy do you have over your time at work – for instance, when you arrive, when you live and how you allocate your hours each day?
  • How much autonomy do you have over your team at work – that is, to what extent are you able to choose the people with whom you typically collaborate?
  • How much autonomy do you have over your technique at work – how you actually perform the main responsibilities of your job?

Review: Good to Great

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t by James C. Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really interesting book for people who are in a senior leadership position, it shows that any company can be great if they identify what they are good at and they focus solely on that. The book also highlights that this is not an easy of quick transformation taking year (or decades) to get the company doing the things which its good at and improving on it.

The 6 stages (then repeat to gain momentum) of:

  • Having a Level 5 leader

    • These are people who are passionate about the company and not about themselves.  Prepared to make the right decisions for the company no matter how hard.
    • Set up their successors for even greater success
    • More “plow horse” than “show hours”
    • Looks at windows to praise others and mirrors to blame themselves – taking full responsibility.
    • Attribute success to good luck than to personal greatness
  • First who then what
    • Getting the right people in the right places and getting rid of the people who are not right
    • A genius with a thousand helpers model does not scale or provide longevity
    • Three principles:
      1. If in doubt don’t hire
      2. When you know you need to make a change act
      3. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems
    • Teams who debate productively in search of the right answer and once they find it commit to it, regardless of personal interests.
    • Compensation is only to keep the right people and not to motivate meaning that great companies did not pay more than good ones.
    • “People are your most important asset” is wrong, “The right people are your most important asset” is
    • The “right” person is more about character traits and innate capabilities than with specific knowledge, background, or skills.
  • Confront the brutal facts
    • Confront your reality, honestly and with diligence to uncover the truth.
    • People need to have a tremendous opportunity to be heard and, ultimately, for the truth to be heard
      1. Lead with questions, not answers
      2. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion
      3. Conduct autopsies, without blame
      4. Build red flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored
    • “Retain absolute faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be”
    • Charisma can be as much a liability as an asset for a leader
    • Confronting the facts and act on the implications
    • Ignoring the brutal facts of reality is demotivating
  • Hedgehog concept

    • The hedgehog is an understanding strategy of what the company can be the best in the world at, not necessarily what it wants to be the best at.
    • If you can not be best in the world at your core bussiness then that can not be your hedgehog concept.
    • The “best in the world” understanding is a much more severe standard than a core competence.  You might have a competence but not necessarily have the capacity to be truly the best in the world at that competence.  Conversely, there may be activities at which you could become the best in the world, but at which you have no current competence.
    • Identify your economic driver e.g. profit per x which has the single greatest impact
    • Good to great companies base their strategies on understanding, not bravado
    • Getting the hedgehog concept is iterative and not just a single meeting to decide it – on average taking 4 years
  • Culture of discipline
    • Keeping to the three circles is key
    • Bureaucratic cultures arise to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline
    • Within the circles it gives people freedom.  Disciplined people engaged in disciplined thought who then take disciplined action
    • These companies can look dull from the outside but are incredibly diligent and with stunning intensity always trying to make things better to the nth degree
    • Culture of discipline is not a tyrant who disciplines, the latter being extremely dysfunctional
    • The more a company stays in the circles the more opportunity it will have to grow
    • A “once in a lifetime” opportunity is only worth it if it is within the three circles
    • Budgeting against the hedgehog concept identifies which activities should be fully funded and which should not be funded at all
    • “Stop doing” lists are more important than “to do” lists
  • Technology accelerators
    • Good to great companies avoid technology fads, they are only interested in ones which can build on the hedgehog model
    • Technology is used as an accelerator, not as a creator
    • Mediocre companies react and lurch about, motivated by fear of being left behind
    • “Crawl, walk, run” can be very effective during technical change

After following the steps it is key to keep doing them, small increments add to big benefits.  The companies which keep changing direction effectively keep growth down where as if they kept the fly wheel going they would have achieved far superior results.

Review: Turn the Ship Around!

Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by L. David Marquet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was presented in a very easy to read way. Showing how the leadership model can work in quite a challenging environment. The book lists a lot of questions which are useful and worth thinking about. These are:

  • Why do we need empowerment?
  • Do you need someone to empower you?
  • How reliant is your organisation on the decision making of one or a small group of people?
  • What kind of leadership model does your organisation use?
  • In your organisation, are people rewarded for what happens after people leave?
  • Are they rewarded for the success of their people?
  • Do people want to be “missed” after they leave?
  • When an organisation does worse after someone leaves, what does it say about this persons leadership? what does this say about the organisation?
  • How does the perspective of time horizon affect our leadership actions?
  • What can we do to incentivise long-term thinking?
  • What are you willing to personally risk? (Sometimes taking a step for the better requires caring/not caring.  Caring deeply about the people and the mission, but not caring about the bureaucratic consequences to your personal career)
  • What must leaders overcome mentally and emotionally to give up control yet retain full responsibility?
  • What;s the hardest thing you experience in letting go of micromanaging, top-down leadership, or the cult of personality?
  • How can you get your project team interacting differently but still use the same resource?
  • What can you, as a subordinate, do to get your boss to let you try new ways of handling a project?
  • Do you give employees specific goals as well as the freedom to meet them in any way they choose?
  • Do you have to be the smartest person in your organisation?
  • To what degree does technical competence form the basis for leadership?
  • Is that technical competence a personal competence or an organisational competence?
  • How do you know what is going on “at the deck plate” in your organisation?
  • Is there a call to action in your organisation?
  • Do people want to change, or are they comfortable with the current level of performance?
  • Are things too comfortable?
  • Is there a feeling of complacency?
  • Do people take action to protect themselves or to make the outcome better? Does leadership in your organisation take control or give control?
  • Why is doing what you are told appealing to some?
  • Do people really just want to do as they are told?
  • If a snapshot of your bussiness went viral on the Internet, what would it reveal about your workers?
  • Do your procedures reinforce the leader-follower model?
  • Are your people trying to achieve excellence or just avoid making mistakes?
  • Has your organisation become action-adverse because taking action sometimes results in errors?
  • Have you let error-reduction programs sap the lifeblood out of initiatives and risk taking?
  • Do you spend more time critiquing errors than celebrating success?
  • Are you able to identify the symptoms of avoiding errors in your workplace?
  • When you ask people what their jobs are, do they answer in terms of reducing errors?
  • When you investigate the criteria that went behind decisions, do you find that avoidance of negative outcomes far outweighs the accomplishing positive outcomes?
  • What is the primary motivation of the middle manager and rank an file?
  • How can you minimise errors but not make that the focus for the organisation?


  • How can you prepare your mid-level managers to shift from holding a “position of privilege” to one of “accountability, responsibility, and work”?
  • What procedure or process can you change with one word that will give your mid-level managers more decision-making authority?
  • When thinking about delegating control, what do you worry about?
  • What do you as a proponent of the leader-leader approach need to delegate to show you are willing to walk the talk?
  • How do you respond when people in your workplace don’t want to change from the way things have always been done?
  • What are some of the costs associated with doing things differently in your industry?
  • Do we act first, and think later? Or do we think first, then change our actions?
  • How would you counter any reluctance on the part of your team to have early, quick discussions with you, the boss, to make sure projects are on course?
  • To what degree is trust present in your organisation?
  • Is your staff spending time and money creating flawless charts and reports that are, simultaneously, irrelevant?
  • What can you do in your organisation to add “a little rudder far from the rocks” to prevent needing “a lot of rudder next to the rocks”?
  • What commonplace facts can you leverage to make information more valuable and accessible to your employees?
  • Have you eve uncovered a “reason why” akin to being a random decision?
  • What causes us to take control when we should be giving control?
  • Can you recall a recent incident where your subordinate followed your order because he or she thought they learned the secret information “for executives only”?
  • What would be the most challenging obstacle to implementing “I intend to …” in your place of bussiness?
  • Could your mid-level managers think though and defend their plan of action for the companies next big project?
  • How deeply is the top-down, leader-follower structure ingrained in how your bussiness operates?
  • Do you recognise situations in which you need to resist the urge to provide solutions?
  • When problems occur, do you immediately think you just need to manage everything more carefully?
  • What can you do at your next meeting with senior staff to create a space for open decisions making by the entire team?
  • Are you underutilising the ideas, creativity, and passion of your mid-level managers who want to be responsible for their department’s work product?
  • Can you push tasks to a lower level rather than having high level demands for things to be done?
  • How many top-down monitoring systems are in play within your organisation? How can they be eliminated?
  • Do you ever walk around your facility listening solely to what is being communicated through informal language?
  • How comfortable are people in your organisation with talking about their hunches and their gut feelings?
  • How can you create an environment in which mean and women freely express their uncertainties and fears as well as their innovative ideas and hopes?
  • Are you willing to let your staff see that your lack of certainty is strength and certainty?
  • To what degree does trust factor in the above?
  • How do you use outside groups, the public, social media comments, and government audits to improve your organisation?
  • What is the cost of being open about problems in your organisation and what are the benefits?
  • How can you leverage the knowledge of those inspectors to make your team smarter?
  • How can you improve your team’s cooperation with those inspectors?
  • How can you “use” the inspectors to help your organisation?


  • How do you react when an employee admits to doing something on autopilot, without deliberately thinking about the actions or its consequences?
  • Do you think that by implementing a system of taking deliberate action you can eliminate errors in your company, or within certain departments in your company?
  • Will employees in your workplace revert to acting hastily and automatically in a real-life situation?
  • How effectively do you learn from mistakes?
  • Are you aware of which areas in your bussiness are marred by mistakes because the lower-level employees don’t have enough technical competence to make good decisions?
  • Ho could you implement a “we learn” policy among your junior and senior staff?
  • Would you consider writing a creed for your organisation?
  • Are people eager to go to training?
  • How do you shift responsibilities for performance from the briefer to the participants?
  • How much preparation do people do prior to an event or operations?
  • When was the last time you had a briefing on a project?
  • What would it take to start certifying that your project team know what the goals are and how they are to contribute to them?
  • Are you ready yo assume more responsibility within the leader-leader model to identify what near-term events will be accomplished and the role each team member will fulfil?
  • Are there employees who are going to quit because they are overworked and underappreciated?
  • When is it right for the leader to overturn protocol in the effort to rescue a single stressed-out subordinate?
  • What message do you need to keep repeating in your bussiness to make sure your management team doesn’t take carer of themselves first, to the neglect of their team?
  • Have your processes become the master rather than the servant?
  • How can you ensure adherence to procedure while at the same time ensuring that accomplishing the objectives remains foremost in everyone’s mind?
  • Have you reviewed your operations manual lately to replace general terminology with clear, concise, specific directions?
  • Are your staff complying with procedures to the neglect of accomplishing the companies overall objectives?


  • What would you and your team like to accomplish?
  • How can you, as a leader, help your people accomplish it?
  • Are you doing everything you can to make tools available to your employees to achieve both professional and personal goals?
  • Are you unintentionally protecting people from the consequences of their own behaviour?
  • What is the legacy of your organisation?
  • How does that legacy shed light on your organisations purpose?
  • What kind of actions can you take to bring this legacy alive for individuals in your organisation?
  • How can you simplify your guiding principles so that everyone in your organisation understands them?
  • How will you communicate your principles to others?
  • Are your guiding principles reference in evaluations and performance awards?
  • Are your guiding principles useful to employees as decision-making criteria?
  • Do your guiding principles serve as decision-making criteria for your people?
  • Do you know your own guiding principles? Do others know them?
  • Do you have a recognition and rewards system in place that allows you to immediately applaud top performers?
  • How can you create scoring systems that immediately reward employees for the behaviours you want?
  • Have you seen evidence of “gamification” in your workplace?
  • For how far in the future are you optimising your organisation?
  • Are you mentoring solely to instruct or also to learn?
  • Will you know if you’ve accomplished your organisational and personal goals?
  • Are you measuring the things you need to be?
  • Have you assigned a team to write up the companies goals three to five years out?
  • What will it take to redesign your management team’s schedule so you can mentor one another?
  • How can you reward staff members who attain their measurable goals?
  • How do we create resilient organisations where errors are stopped as opposed to propagating through the system?
  • Will your people follow and order that isn’t correct?
  • Do you want obedience or effectiveness?
  • Have you built a culture that embraces a questioning attitude?


Don’t do this Do this
Leader-follower Leader-leader
Take control Give control
Give orders Avoid giving orders
When you give orders, be confident, unambiguous, and resolute When you do give orders, leave room for questionning
Brief Certift
Have meetings Have conversations
Have a mentor-mentee program Have a mentor-mentor program
Focus on technology Focus on people
Think short-term Think long-term
Want to be missed after you depart Want not to be missed after you depart
Have high-repetition, low quality training Have low-repetition, high quality training
Limit communication to terse, succinct, formal orders Augment orders with rich, contextual, informal communications
Be questionning Be curious
Make inefficient processes efficient Eliminate entire steps and processes that don’t add value
Increase monitor and inspection points Reduce monitoring and inspection points
Protect information Pass information

A better Abbey Line for everyone

We have been pulling together the details for a crowd funding campaign to help fund a study to show what the impact of a passing loop on the Abbey Line.  I have set up the crowd funding campaign on SpaceHive and popped together a promotional video.  Having spoke to local councillors we already have support for £1.5k from them as well as a number of private donations so hopefully we will make it to the required £6k by our deadline of the end of the year.

Review: Peopleware

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco , Timothy R. Lister
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bigger projects have a higher probability of failure, typically 25% compared to 15% for smaller projects.  The biggest cause of failure is sociology.  We worry about the technical but rarely about the sociology issues.

In a production environment, it’s convenient to think of people as parts of the machine. When a part wears out, you get another. The replacement part is interchangeable with the original. You order a new one, more or less, by number.

This might be the case in a production line but this is far from the case in creative or knowledge based industries.

Easy management

  • Get the right people
    • Aptitude tests can be good at screening out unsuitable individuals
    • Get people to audition, don’t hire someone because they say they can do something
  • Make them happy so they don’t want to leave
    • If you have low turnover people tend to be happier and do a better job
    • Loosing people results in more than just a loss of a replaceable resource – knowledge, experience etc are all lost too which take time for it to be recovered from.
    • An organisation that succeeds in building a satisfying community tends to keep its people. When the sense of community is strong enough, no one wants to leave.
  • Turn them loose


  • Defensive management
    • Open Kimono attitude is the exact opposite of defensive management.
      • You take no steps to defend yourself from the people you’ve put into positions of trust.
      • And all the people under you are in positions of trust.
      • A person you can’t trust with any autonomy is of no use to you.
  • Bureaucracy.
    • As organisations age they become more standard and the sameness pervades, meaning lack of excitement and enjoyment.
    • Self healing systems – you can over systematise your work which removes flexibility
    • Big M Methodology is for teams that you don’t trust, these don’t work in creative environments and always result in paperwork and bureaucracy
      Better ways of methodology – training, tools and peer review tend towards to consistency
    • Pilot projects should change just one aspect to see how that changes things.
    • Hawthorne Effect – people perform better when they are doing something new
    • The purpose of a team is not goal attainment but goal alignment
  • Physical separation
  • Fragmentation of people’s time
  • Quality reduction of the product.
    • Developers enjoy producing a high quality product, getting them to produce a lower quality product will be demotivating and reduce productivity.
    • Should developers be able to veto deployments if they were not happy with the quality?
  • Tight deadlines.
    • Who is pushing for things to happen quicker and what are the implications?
    • The manager should not be pushing for dates, if this is really needed it should be motivated by the team.
    • People are more productive when there are no estimates and as such no scheduling pressure.
  • Phoney deadlines.  The reasons that some people don’t perform are lack of competence, lack of confidence, and lack of affiliation with others on the project and the project goals.  In none of these cases is schedule pressure liable to help improve performance.
  • Clique control
  • Motivational posters
  • Overtime – getting people to do extended hour is equivalent to fraud, it results in under-time and disgruntled employees
  • Competition
  • Annual salary or merit reviews
  • Management by objectives
  • Praise of certain workers for extraordinary accomplishment
  • Awards, prizes, bonuses tied to performance, in fact performance measurement in almost any form

Keep an eye on staff turn over is one way to identify if Teamicide is happening.

Office environment

A key impact on performance

  • If you want better workers you need better work space which they enjoy working in.
  • People need space, 9.3 m2 minimum
  • Noise plays a part of flow and thus errors
  • People want to work, so will hide or book meeting rooms so that they can
  • Everything can be measured
  • People spend 30% of their time working alone, 50% working with one other person, 20% working with two or more people.
  • Flow is key to people concentrating on things.
    • One measure of flow is E-Factor = Uninterrupted hours/Body-present hours
      • Measuring the E-Factor improves the E-Factor
  • Phones are interrupting and break flow, use them as a last resort
  • Even worse then phones are tannoy announcements
  • Treating noise means choosing isolation in the form of noise barriers—walls and doors
  • Group offices make sense and improve performance
  • Give people ownership of their space and arrange it as they want
  • Natural light keeps people awake and motivated, it is perfectly possible to have an office where each team has access to a window in the same way as hotels
  • The challenge is that office space costs are very visible and the benefits are much less tangible
  • Communal space is important
  • The idea that people will stick with you if you move the office is dead, your best employees need to consider their partners and their careers, children etc and all of these are not easy to move

Jelling a team

Jelled Team

  • Low turnover
  • Strong sense of identity
  • Sense of eliteness
  • Joint ownership of the product
  • Obvious enjoyment

People use team when the tight bonding of the jelled working group is pleasing to them. And they use clique when it represents a threat. Fear of cliques is a sign of managerial insecurity.

Someone who can help a project to jell is worth two people who just do work.

When it comes to management practices, if it sounds too good to be true it likely is – there is no silver bullet.

Chemistry-building strategy for a healthy organisation

  • Make a cult of quality.
  • Provide lots of satisfying closure.
  • Build a sense of eliteness.
  • Allow and encourage heterogeneity.
  • Preserve and protect successful teams.
  • Provide strategic but not tactical direction.
  • There is too much order.
  • Constructive reintroduction of small amounts of disorder
  • Pilot projects
  • War games
  • Brainstorming
  • Provocative training experiences
  • Training, trips, conferences, celebrations, and retreats


  • If there are changes or things wrong in your organisation then there is a “sleeping dragon” which will be woken which is the voice of sensibility.
  • Risk aversion kills creativity and ultimately your bussiness.  People who are blindly loyal or military opposes are both bad at change, the people in the middle “Believers but sceptical” are those who will buy into things once they are convinced but won’t blindly follow or oppose ideas “just because”.
  • Changing to a better Status Quo always goes via chaos while people adjust, but care has to be taken not to go back to the previous Status Quo before the new one has actually reached stability
  • Wall Street care about short term gains not long term one and as such don’t like larger changes as they might impact the results for the next quarter etc.
  • Some organisations learn and some don’t either by: Instilling new skills and approaches in its people and/or the organisation redesigns itself to operate in some different manner
  • These learning happen in the middle management, in the white space between teams and people – getting teams to compete kills this creativity and learning plus if companies down size these middle managers are first to go – which strips the organisation of learning.

The ultimate sin

is wasting people’s time

  • Status meetings are about giving senior managers status and wasting other people time.
  • Staffing projects incorrectly – over staffing at the start in the hope it will speed up the project. This is political because if the project does not finish on time and externally people see the team being small then there will be blame.

Review: Black Box Thinking

Black Box Thinking: Why Some People Never Learn from Their Mistakes – But Some Do by Matthew Syed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book starts off contrasting two industries – health care and aviation, it shows that in many areas of life, such as health care, we just don’t put the effort into learning from our mistakes. It contrasts these to environments where learning is critical to feed back into making future issues less likely. The book also highlights how blame for accidents in aviation are unfair just because the person accused just randomly happens to be the first person to have experienced that issue, not that they were actually any worse than any other pilot.

The book presents a number of challenges in fostering an environment where learning is the primary motivator and how this environment is extremely difficult to foster and protect, especially in position where peoples reputations are built on not looking too deeply into mistakes.

People don’t like to be wrong, it is almost hard wired into our brains. Through cognitive dissonance we even rationalise to ourselves or change our own interpretations so that we are not wrong. This means it is very difficult to be self critical, no one like to have done something wrong so re-framing things makes us feel better but it does not help us learn.

To ensure that we are properly learning gathering data is not enough, randomised control trial (RCT) are critically important. If we don’t do this we can still gather data which shows improvement but we need to contrast that against not having done something to prove that we did actually make an improvement and we did not just pat ourselves on the back. This combined with experimentation can lead to incremental improvements which add significant value.

Stories are powerful, to the point where people believe stories more than they believe data. If a story sounds logical and people want to believe it they will, even if there is evidence that it is wrong if this data contradicts the story in a way that the reader/listener can not comprehend or believes.

Review: Slack

Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency
Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book looks at how making businesses more efficient is impacting businesses.

Where as before a secretary might only be utilised 40% of time time now they are put into pools so that this utilisation can be 100%. The impact of this is that where as a secretary might have previously been very responsive to any needs now there is a buffer of work going which the pool of secretaries will work through. The result of this is that the responsiveness to completing the work is reduced. For those people who are not 100% utilised people reduce their speed so that they fully use their time.

This pooling only works if the resources are fungible between different tasks. The challenge is that context switching between tasks can be up to 20% = mechanics of moving to a new task + reworking because of having to stop and move on to other tasks previously + immersion time + frustration + loss of team binding effect.

Direct communication is key, there should not be a restriction in requiring communication to go via their manager.

Focusing on bussiness not busyness. The benefits of slack include:

  • Flexibility for the organisation to reform
  • People retention
  • Capacity to invest

The cost of staff turn over = Time to get up to speed X (Salary + Overhead) X 0.5 X Number of employees X % Staff turn over

You can optimise for time or cost, not both – you can try to balance the two but if you want things done at the minimum time for the minimum cost this just results in stress.

Ways managers apply pressure:

  • Aggressive scheduling
  • Loading on extra work
  • Overtime
  • Getting angry at disappointment
  • Praising peoples extraordinary efforts
  • Being severe on below average performance
  • Expecting great things from all workers
  • Railing against apparent waste of time
  • Setting an example – when a boss labours so much it does not give slack to others
  • Creating incentives to encourage desirable behaviour or results

Lister’s Law – “People under time pressure don’t think faster”

All people can do are:

  • Eliminate wasted time
  • Defer tasks that are not on the critical path
  • Stay late – introducing exhaustion and reducing creativity

Increasing pressure is in three phases.

  • Workers respond to increased pressure by trimming any remaining waste by concentrating on the critical path.
  • Workers feel tires, pressure from home, and starting to take back some time during the regular day
  • Workers are exhausted and are looking to move elsewhere

Aggressive scheduling can cause waste – by having people with particular skills arrive earlier than they can actually start the work. Additionally blame is put on the lowest employees and there is no accountability for the scheduling.

Sprinting can be an effective way to get to the finish line but this should be used sparingly. In contradiction continued overtime has negative consequences:

  • Reduced quality
  • Personal burnout
  • Increased turnover of staff
  • Ineffective use of time during the normal working hours

With an extra time, generally, extra work is done however the productivity of each hour is reduced. Regularly accounting uses the contracted hours not worked hours to calculate productivity.

Face saving is not labour saving – such as getting a manager to do clerical tasks (e.g. photocopying, document formatting etc) which could be done by a more junior individual. This would then free the manager up. The challenge is that such a gofer is seen as overhead so is always under pressure to be removed.

Over worked managers are doing things they shouldn’t be doing. It is quite common that these people are actually doing multiple roles – the management role as well as the role of someone in the team. The result is poorly completed lower level tasks and no management at all. The reason people do this is that if people have to look busy then doing doing a subordinate job as well provides job security and management is difficult where as the subordinate role is easier and instantly rewarding.

The culture of fear results in

  • People stop saying things which needs to be heard
  • Goals are set so aggressively they can’t be achieved
  • Power trumps common sense
  • Anyone can be abused for failure
  • The people who are fired are generally more competent than the people who aren’t
  • The people who survive are particularly aggressive

Over-stressed organisations are always understaffed. In fearful cultures people are challenged to deliver more for less and people don’t like to hear things they don’t like to hear.

When third parties are involved fearful companies will prefer to litigate rather than admit internally that they made a mistake. There is never a good outcome for either company from litigation but from an employee perspective in a company of fear blaming another company means that they save face for the manager inside the company.

Process standardisation removed empowerment and people don’t feel ownership for the results.

Quality (both defect free and features) takes time, you can’t have both quality and quantity with the same quantity of people. “Quality” programs can often result in quality reduction, e.g. pushing things to the customer.

Directing an organisation is hard. Seeming to direct and organisation is easy. All you have to do is see the drift and tell people to go that way.

Managing by objectives gives you exactly what you task people to do – however in reality it is rarely what you actually want. As such these objectives regularly turn out to be counter productive. This promotes the idea of the company generally being in stasis and not prepared to take on new challenges which might result in huge growth.

Trust is a difficult thing to earn but it is important for managers to give more trust rather than less, generally in advance of it being earned. There is a risk that as a result the person could fail however without giving sufficient trust there would be no way for the person to learn and grow.

If you have to make a change it is much better to make a change while a company is growing, rather than when it is in decline. In the latter people will already be nervous and scared. When a company is growing people are happier to make a change if these see how this ties in with the company vision, which must be authentic.

The key role of middle management is innovation. If these managers don’t have sufficient slack they will not be able to spend the time innovating and the company will suffer. To achieve this these managers need to work together. “Healthy competition” is never healthy, when people are competing people are not collaborating and are in-fact working against each other.

When people are learning new things you can not expect people to work at the same rate as they were before. There is a natural slow down as people learn new skills and it would be foolish for companies to not take this into consideration when scheduling.

It is usual for people to only consider the earliest date and promise this to the business or clients. The delivery date will always be within a range of time – of which people should be fully clear on the range of possible dates or costs. There can be ways to reduce the potential risk for delay – the work to do this needs to be estimated at the start this way an informed decision can be made to do the risk reduction work as part of the project or not, this work will have an impact on the earliest delivery date but will reduce the latest delivery date.

Is risk management being effective in the organisation if you pass the 9 question test:

  • Is there a published list of risks?
  • Is there a mechanism to elicit the discovery of new risks?
  • Are any of the risks fatal?
  • Is each risk quantified by probability, cost and schedule impact?
  • Does each risk have a transition indicator to spot if it materialises?
  • Is there a single person responsible for risk management?
  • Are there tasks on the work breakdown which might not need to be done if the risk does not materialise?
  • Is there both a schedule and a goal?
  • Is there significant probability of completing before the estimated date?

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Review: TED Talks

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking
TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris J. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Your number-one mission as a speaker is to take something which matters deeply to you and rebuilds it inside the mind of your listeners.
The only thing which matters is having something worth saying.
Use speaking as a motivator to get things done
Everyone has a story to tell, their own life is unique
You must only describe things in a way your audience will understand
The talk is a journey, focus on where the audience starts and where you want to take them to.

Common traps

  • sales pitches. People don’t want to hear them and switch off
  • be prepared. If people are giving up their time to listen then it is only fair that you invest time preparing
  • the organisation. People have no interest in how your NGO/company is organsied, focus on the products which people can get excited about
  • content is king. Although a good presented can make a dull topic interesting if there is no substantial content the audience will feel cheated

The key is to present one idea thoroughly – overstuffed = under-explained. Look to find something which is bigger than you and your organisation as your throughline – Show why it matters!

  • Only cover as much content as can be compelling.
  • Is this a topic I’m passionate about?
  • Does it inspire curiosity?
  • Will it make a difference to the audience to the this knowledge?
  • Is my talk a gift or an ask?
  • Is the information already out there?
  • Can I explain the topic, with examples, in the time?
  • Do I know enough about this to take up the audiences time?
  • Do I have the credibility to talk on this topic?
  • What are the 15 words I would use to describe this?
  • Would those 15 words persuade someone to want to listen to the talk?

How to actually present:

  • Make a connection
    • make eye contact
    • show vulnerability
    • be humorous – if possible. If you can’t then no joke is better than a joke which goes badly
    • loose the ego, ever: name dropping, stories to show off, boast, talking about you not the idea, politics is divisive


  • Narration
    • characters you can empathise with
    • build tensions – curiosity, intrigue or danger
    • the right level of detail – too little and people can’t imagine it and too much slows things down
    • parables – stories with meanings which relate to your topic can be a powerful way to engage an audience
  • Explanation
    • Start where the audience is
    • Make it intrigue/curiosity
    • Introduce concepts one by one
    • Use metaphors – take the concepts and make them understandable
    • Use examples – apply the concepts to lock them in place
    • It is key to string things together in such a way that people can follow you from where they start to where you want them to get to. These sequence of steps need to be built in such a way that everyone can follow the path and no one looses the way.
    • Check for jargon and remove or explain it.
  • Persuasion – take something in peoples mind, take it apart and rebuild it
    • prime then reason
    • explain why people think the way they do or a situation which people can relate to which can be used to support the point
    • reasoning
      • if x is true then y will be too
      • reduction ad absurdist – take the counter argument to a point where it created a contradiction, but be careful not to fall into mud slinging
    • be a detective – follow a curiosity trail of evidence to come to a conclusion
  • Revelation
    • Wonder walk
    • Dynamic demo – tease, context, reveal/demo, implications
    • Vision/dreamscape, paint a picture of the future. Do so such that others will desire that future


  • Visuals
    • 1/3 of TED talks don’t use visuals
    • Revelation. Ideal for presenting things which are difficult to explain. Set up the audience then let the images inspire.
    • Explanatory
      • Limit a slide to a single idea
      • people read ahead – slides can steal your thunder
    • Aesthetic
    • you don;t need to talk about every image. Let them delight people
    • Hints
      • it is better to have three slides with a single image than one slide with three
      • don’t use bullet points
      • no underlining or italics only bold to accent
      • reveal the slide slowly with a few click to explain how it builds
      • don’t do year book team photos, if you want to include such a photo then just one organic team shot works best
      • videos should not exceed 30 seconds and not more frequent than every 5 min
      • use only basic transitions
  • either following a script or not, whichever suits you – don’t try to do something you aren’t comfortable with
  • Scripted talks
    • Know the script so it does not sound scripted
    • Look at the audience at least each sentence
    • You could script the talk as bullet points and expand on each as you talk
    • Motorisation is time consuming – a memorised talk gets worse through memorisation before it gets better. You should memorise it to a level you can deliver the talk while you are doing other unrelated tasks.
    • Spoken and written language are different – if you are giving a talk you must use the language you would speak.
  • Unscripted talks
    • Consider having a bulleted list of flow
    • Know where you want to start and end then you feel safe to free form in the middle

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. If it is worth peoples time to listen it is worth your time to practice.

  • Did you grab attention from the start?
  • Was there eye contact?
  • Did the idea get built
  • Could you follow the journey?
  • Were the examples useful/sufficient?
  • How was the tone? Was it varied? Was it conversational?
  • Did it sound like it was being recited?
  • Was the humor natural or awkward? Was there enough of it?
  • Did the visuals help or get in the way?
  • Were there annoying traits?
  • Did you keep to time?
  • Were there sections you were bored? That should be cut.
  • Do the rehearsal in the exact outfit you are going to wear. This would pick up noised from earrings etc which you might want to change.
  • Wear things which boost your confidence
  • Use confidence monitors just to show your slides, don’t try to use speakers note or a script as this distances you from the audience

Maximising impact

  • Keep it short – if it can be shorter make it shorter, people will better remember it.
  • Grab peoples attention right away (don’t thank people for being there etc) the first 10 second and minute are key.
  • Deliver drama – a dramatic preview of what is to follow.
  • Ignite curiosity – as a surprising question which people want to know the answer to, but it must not be too broad to keep interest
  • A compelling slide, video or object – ideal for designers, architects etc
  • Tease – but don’t give away the punchline
  • End with power
    • Show the possibilities for what you’ve presented
    • Call to action
    • Personal commitment
    • Values and vision
    • Brief re-frame – repeat the talk in a paragraph
    • Narrative symmetry – linking back to something from the start of the talk
    • Poetically – not always an option but sometimes the topic allows it
    • Voice – volume, pitch, pace, timbre, tone, prosody


  • Use fear as a motivator to practice and prepare
  • Let your body help – take deep breaths
  • Drink mater, about a third of a bottle 5 min before the talk
  • Eat about an hour before
  • Find friends or sympathetic viewers in the audience and present to them
  • Have a backup plan – perhaps a bullet point notes or a story to tell if there are technical problems
  • Focus on the talk – “This matters!!”

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Review: Smart and Gets Things Done

Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent
Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky’s Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent by Joel Spolsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book proposed that if you have the Best Working Conditions => you get the Best Programmers => to develop the Best Software => which results in Profit!

The preface for this is the the quality of the work and the amount of time spent are simply uncorrelated. Productivity is 5 to 1 or 10 to 1 between programmers. You can’t afford to be number two, or to have a “good enough” product. It has to be remarkably good, by which I mean so good that people remark about it. Having really, really, really talented software developers is your only hope for remarkableness.

Candidate sourcing

The great software developers, indeed, the best people in every field, are quite simply never on the market. The average great software developer will apply for, total, maybe, four jobs in their entire career. Whereas bad people are on the market quite a lot.

How to find people who are not on the market:

1. Go to the mountain

  • What conferences do they go to? Top end conferences or up and coming technologies
  • Where do they live?
  • What organizations do they belong to?
  • Which websites do they read?
  • Avoid advertising on general-purpose, large job boards as the bad people who are all over the market will apply and swamp you.

2. Internships

  • Students are lazy, with lots of options so can roll out of uni into a job. For the good ones try to attract them a year or two early – they might need some training but it is beneficial for both sides. You will likely need to have a contact at the Uni to find the best students.
  • If they are great make them a good offer for after graduation

3. Build your own community

  • Referalls
    • Tend to be from former companies tent do be from the same company which can be risky
    • Nobody wants to persuade their friends to apply for a job at their company only to get rejected
    • If you pay too much for referrals then they will coach people through the interview process


  • Private offices make programmers more productive and programmers prefer it
  • Putting on headphones with music to drown out the ambient noise reduces the ability of programmers to have useful insights
  • Office location
  • Does the office look exciting?
  • Good chairs don’t cost that much more over their lifetime and if you take the cost per week it is cheaper than most other office facilities
  • People want to work with good, cheerful and happy people – Smart, and Gets Things Done and not a jerk
  • Managers can advise but they must be extremely careful to avoid having their “advice” interpreted as a command

Thing which annoy programmers

  • being told to use a certain programming language
  • people being promoted because of their ability to network rather than being promoted strictly on merit
  • being forced to do something that is technically inferior because someone higher than them in the organization, or someone better-connected, insists on it.

People want to work on something cool, exciting new languages attract people.  Young programmers, especially, are attracted to ideological companies

  • open source or the free software movement
  • social causes
  • benefiting society

Developers don’t really care about money unless you’re screwing up on the other things – it means people aren’t really loving their job. If potential new hires just won’t back down on their demands for outlandish salaries, you’re probably dealing with a case of people who are thinking, “Well, if it’s going to have to suck to go to work, at least I should be getting paid well.”. That doesn’t mean you can underpay people, because they do care about justice – you do have to pay competitively, as long as the salaries are basically fair they will be surprisingly low on their list of considerations. Offering high salaries is a surprisingly ineffective tool in overcoming problems

Resumes filtering

  • Be selective about how we advertise jobs to limit the amount of poor CVs
  • Use a strictly objective system of reviewing and sorting them, this is not a filtering criteria it is just to sort a big pile of CVs to find candidates who are most likely to be suitable so they get interviewed first
  • Passion
    • Jobs with computers or experience programming going back to a very early age
    • People who love programming often work on their own programming projects (or contribute to an open source project) in their spare time.
    • Sometimes certain programming languages or technologies indicate evidence of someone who loves to explore new technologies
  • Pickiness
    • Specific covering letter to the company, a custom cover letter is a sign that if we do make this candidate an offer they’re likely to accept it
    • programmers who can communicate their ideas clearly – so neat, well structured and gramatically correct CVs
  • Brains
    • Math camp, programming competitons etc
  • Selectivity
    • Have they been through a rigorous review process before either for Uni or another company
  • Hard-core
    • Some development work is just harder than others, if they have the harder work then they stand out.
  • Diversity
    • Trying to bring new ideas into the team – to break people out of group-think and their own echo chamber
  • Great developers are likely to have enough options of places to work that any extra hoops will put them off bothering to apply.
  • Any technology you know right now might be out of date in a year, you are looking for people who pick things up quickly and can learn new things – so don’t filter CVs on key words.

Phone Interview

  • Get the candidate to describe their career history and basically tell me about themselves. Looking for:
  • Technology: How did they do things. What was their role. CV validation
  • Politics: How the candidate handles challenges. Looking for people who got things done, even in the face of opposition. I’m looking for people who challenged the status quo, who overcame objections, and who made things happen. Whose idea was it? Who convinced whom? Who did what? Did it work out? Why not?
  • Get the candidate to solve a technical problem. This should take something the candidate is familiar with but are unlikely to have implemented themselves. The aim is to look at their approach rather than getting them to speak code over the phone.
  • Get the candidate to ask questions about the company. This shows if they have done any research and what they are interested in.


  • 6 interviewers, at least 5 peers not managers
  • If two people would reject the candidate end the interview at that point
  • Don’t interview multiple people at once
  • There are three catorgories
    • Nos
      • “Hire, but not for my team.” is a no hire
      • “I’m a little concerned about” is a no hire
      • “Perhaps” is a no hire
      • It is much much better to reject a good candidate than hire a bad one
    • Maybes – never hire maybes
    • Superstars
  • Is the candidate Smart will the candidate get things done?
  • Bad interviwers
    • Interviewers who just talk the entire time
    • People who are just looking for trivia e.g. “What’s the difference between varchar and varchar2 in Oracle 8i?”, smart does not mean knows trivia, aptitude is more important. Any skill set will be out of date in a couple of years
  • Good practice
    • Know as little as you can about the candidate in advance so it does not bias your opinion.
    • don’t listen to recruiters opinions, don’t ask around about the person before you interview them, never talk to the other interviewers about the candidate until you’ve both made your decisions independently. This provides the least amount of bias for or against the candidate.
  • Good candidates
    • are passionate, they might be passionate in favor or against but passion is key. Bad candidates just don’t care.
    • can explain what they have done in a way a normal
    • look for signs of leadership, how have they pushed forward to get things done
    • write code and discuss it
      • Fundamentals – if they don’t know these then they won’t get very far
        • pointers
        • recursion
        • data structures
      • ask them to find bugs in their code, even in the unlikely event there are none, to see how they approach it
      • Even if they are a bad candidate, you want them to like your company and go away with a positive impression.
      • Don’t ask questions such as are they married, have kids etc even in a conversational way as this adds nothing and the candidate might feel this has been used against them which is likely illegal.
      • “Back of the envelope questions” e.g. How many piano tuners are there etc are a good way to provoke a conversation.
      • Do feedback instantly before you forget about the candidate
      • If 4 or 5 people think this person is worth hiring then you likely won’t go wrong
      • If you do have to say no to someone, do it quickly and respectfully
        Great people are much, much more valuable than average people – three to ten times as productive, costing 20% or 30% more


  • Why don’t they work?
    • performance measurements and incentives – devastatingly ineffective
  • Remove the parts which are not working.
    • Anonymous peer ranking with the options:
      • Great developer
      • Needs specific improvements
      • Hopeless
        • Firing poor performers can increase moral because poor performers are taking time away from the good performers. If you can’t fire them move under-performers to a place where they can’t cause any impact.
  • Putting in things which do work
  • Three approaches to leadership
    • The Command and Control Method
      • Tell people what to do and tell them off if they don’t do it
      • Disadvantages for developers
        • Smart people rebel against doing what they are told without good reasoning
        • Micromanaging would require a huge amount of managers to micromanage everything. That or you hit and run not seeing the consequences of your decisions.
        • The management have the least knowledge so are ill placed to make decisions.
    • The Econ 101 Method
      • Give them financial rewards and punishments to create incentives, aka replaces intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation.
      • When you stop paying the bonus, or when they decide they don’t care that much about the money, they no longer think that they care, even though they might have cared before you started giving them a bonus for it.
      • They’ll find some way to optimize for the specific thing you’re paying them, without actually achieving the thing you really want.
      • You’re encouraging developers to game the system.
      • You can’t abdicate your responsibility to train your people by bribing them.
    • The Identity Method
      • Make people identify with the goals you’re trying to achieve
      • The Identity Method is a way to create intrinsic motivation.
      • Make a point of of eating lunch with my coworkers. It’s hard to understate what a big impact this has on making the company feel like a family, in the good way.
      • by sharing information people will do the right thing

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