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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LGBT films on the Watford Big Screen

An open letter sent to the Major of Watford:

In past years Watford Borough Council have ran a big screen on the parade. This is a really nice initiative to bring together the community.

I am writing to ask that if the Big Screen is to return to Watford this summer that the showing of an LGBT film is considered. I realise that the majority of films shown are popular and family friendly, although an LGBT film might not be as popular there are many family friendly LGBT films ( ).

The reason I feel it would be good to include such a film is because being LGBT is not a persons choice; they might be with family or friends who don’t really understand it or be accepting of it, as such an LGBT person can feel very isolated. Studies have shown that between 30 and 40% of LGBT people have attempted suicide which is vastly higher than from the non-LGBT population ( ). As such I feel that it is important for us, as a community, to visually show our open, accepting and supportive side and small acts, such as showing an LGBT film, would be one such step in this direction.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this and if I can be of any help then please just let me know.



Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey trains are over priced

From Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey there are six stops (St Albans Abbey, Park Street, How Wood, Bricket Wood, Garston, Watford North & Watford Junction).  The sum of the distances between these stations totals 10.1 km.  I looked at all of the London Midland network and identified the following routes with the same number of stops and a similar distance and compared their price of a single off peak ticket.

  • Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey, six stops 10.1 km 18 min £5.10 = £0.50/km
  • Lidlington to Bletchley, six stops 13.4 km 23 min £4.50 = £0.34/km
  • Birmingham Moor Street to Solihull, six stops 10.5 km 11 min £3.50 = £0.33/km
  • Birmingham New Street to Northfield, six stops 10.5 km 18 min £3.30 = £0.31/km
  • Birmingham New Street to Coseley, six stops 14.9 km 13 min £4.30 = £0.29/km
  • Shenstone to Chester Road, six stops 11.8km 15 min £3.40 = £0.29/km
  • Danzey to Shirley, six stops 10.3 km 17 min £2.80 = £0.27/km
  • Birmingham New Street to Bloxwich, six stops 19.3 km 31 min £4.00 = £0.21/km

As you can see Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey is the most expensive base on price and price per km.  In fact the price per km nearly 50% more than the second most costly journey per km. Based on the other routes the price for Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey should be in the range £2.10 to £3.41 with an average of £2.91, not the £5.10 which it currently is.

One thing to note is that Lidlington to Bletchley is on the Bletchley to Bedford branch line which makes it very similar to the Abbey line – so why is it so much cheaper even though the distance is further?

One final note is that Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey is about the same distance as Wembley Central Rail Station to London Euston Rail Station (which is 11.6 km) and on Oyster this journey costs £2.80 off peak.

Living medical donations while working – Organ Donors (Leave) Ten Minute Rule Motion

Back in July 2016 I was proud to highlight the issue of living medical donations from people while working, see the previous post.

Living medical donations while working

The result from this was 2,292 signatures on the government petition
“Living medical donors (e.g. kidney) should be eligible for statutory sick pay” and in addition to this Louise Haigh MP for Sheffield, Heeley raised a Ten Minute Rule Motion for Organ Donors (Leave) which today was read in the House of Commons.


The speech highlighted the amazing work which is going in to promoting donations after death but with donor levels so low we should do everything we can to support living donors.

We are already chronically short of donors and we should be breaking down every conceivable barrier put in the way of these potential life savers.  Recovery time can often be long for living organ donors and they should be able to concentrate on getting back to normal, not rush back to work because they are unable to afford the time off or fearful that their job may be at risk.

Young people, in particular, will be fearful that if they take as much as the recommended 12 weeks off work, they may be disadvantaged and this will put off many of the most healthy from becoming a living organ donor. My Bill will send a clear signal that if you are prepared to give an organ to save a life, the law will back you up every step of the way.

You can find the full text here.  Following unanimous support the bill will go to a second reading on 20th January.


Review: Work Rules!

Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead
Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really interesting book, they take the HR concept and expand it into being everything to help the people side of the bussiness work more efficient. The results sound simple, by the challenge is how to apply them for which the book gives some stories including things which go bad as well as things which go well.

1. Give your work meaning
We all want our work to matter. Nothing is a more powerful motivator than to know that you are making a difference in the world.

2. Trust your people
The book highlights that if you feel like a founder then you will be more invested into the work, you will want everything to improve and you will feel empowered to get things changed. If you trust people to want to make things better then you have to make space and support to allow them to do it. Additionally if you trust people then you should not be afraid to share information with them. By simply sharing data and being transparent performance improves. The book has the point “Give people slightly more trust, freedom, and authority than you are comfortable giving them. If you’ve not nervous you haven’t given them enough.”

3. Hire only people who are better than you
People are the most important part of your bussiness. Without them you have nothing. Peoples abilities are not a normal distribution, it is a power-law as such the best performers perform dis-proportionally better.

4. Don’t confuse development with managing performance
Personal development is key to improving your workforce, however if this is ties into performance management then people shut down to constructively improving things. It is only possible for people to be receptive to development if there is no consequence on pay etc.

5. Focus on the two tails
Focus on the worst performing 5%, by helping them they might be able to become average employees. If they continue to struggle then they either the position or the company which is not the right fit for them. Study your top performers and see what they are doing which others can learn from – get them to teach others, if they teach they reflect on their own work and can actually learn from themselves as well.

6. Be frugal and generous
There are many things which companies can provide with no cost to the company but help the employees hugely – e.g. a barbers van, which saves the people time outside of work, or speakers which just generally require a space to present. However there are times when people need support, such as the birth of a baby or the death of a partner – at these times the company should be generous to support during these times.  Celebrate success with gifts and experiences as people will remember them longer.

7. Pay unfairly
The benefit from your top performers dis-proportionally more than the average so you should pay people based on the value they add.

8. Nudge
There are ways to get more of what you want, e.g. aiding new starters get up to speed quicker by giving the manager a checklist. Use data, surveys and checklists to get the improvements you are looking for.

9. Manage the rising expectations
The more you give the more people expect, but when you are trying things out brand them as temporary or as a trial so that you set the expectations and people know what to expect and to know that things don’t last forever.

10. Enjoy! And then go back to Number 1 and start again

The challenge to all of these is that things might go wrong – this is a risk that they knowingly make and although things do go wrong the amount of good far out weighs that. The book spends a long time talking about culture and that what you do should reflect your values.

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Review: Start with Why

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book presents the Why, What, How model and how this applies to businesses. Businesses where the products that they produce and how they produce them echo the why the company exists have a much clearer and easier to understand message for customers and employees to understand and to be passionate about. The book presents an easy way to imagine this which he terms the celery test.

The Celery Test – the example presented is if you go to the supermarket and have celery, rice milk, Oreos and M&Ms in your basket if someone looks at this they would have no idea why you are buying them. If your why was to be healthy then you would only buy the celery and rice milk. Now imagine that these different items are products or ideas, if you have lots of different products but they don’t follow your why then people will have no idea why you are making all of these products where as if you start with why and if everything reinforces your why then it is extremely clear to people what your companies Why is.

There were a number of interesting stories in the book talking about people such as Steve Jobs and Apples why of revolutionising through technology, Martin Luther King and his I have a dream not I have a plan speech, and more.

One thing which was really interested was how commodity products only differentiate each other on the smallest of additional features. People are not passionate about companies which produce commodity products, they buy them purely on a comparison basis next to another product. This is a fine bussiness but it will never be an amazing business.

The most interesting thing for me was why bussiness succession often fails. If you think about Bill Gates stepping down and Steve Ballmer taking over, Bill is strongly a why person but he needs what and how people around him to succeed. Steve appeared to be a natural successor, knowing the bussiness inside and out but Steve was not a Why person, he was a what and how person and as such when he took over he was not someone who was able to take on the role Bill provided at Microsoft – the why the company existed and its motivation for the future.

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Increasing the frequency of the Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey train

There has been talk about increasing the frequency of the Watford and St Albans Abbey trains from their current frequency of every 43 to 60 minutes to every half an hour.  Hertfordshire County Council did an investigation into the costs of installing the frequency to every 30 minutes however the proposal estimates the cost to be around £15-35m.  However there is a way that we could get close to the same performance without any expenditure on a passing loop.

It would be possible to increase the frequency of the trains from Watford to St Albans, and back again, to ever 30 minutes with no infrastructure investment if we make one assumption – that people are happy to get off the train and back on another train – bare with me….

St Albans Abbey Line

Using the existing train timetable to use for the time between each station.  The vast majority of these times are the same all day – the only exceptions being that sometimes trains wait for 5 or 6 minutes at St Albans Abbey before returning and the trains at Watford Junction wait between 6 and 23 minutes before leaving.  To make the math simple I will assume that we wait 6 minutes at both St Albans and Watford Junction stations.

The Hertfordshire County Council proposal was to put a passing loop at Bricket Wood which is 8 minutes from both Watford Junction and from St Albans Abbey.  In this example instead of their being a passing loop one of the trains, we will call Train A, will arrive at Bricket Wood before the other train, Train B – Train A it will terminate at Bricket Wood station after everyone has disembarked.  It will then pull out of the station before Train B arrives, Train B will also terminate at Bricket Wood but will immediately pick up passengers to take them in the reverse direction.  Once Train B has departed Train A will return to collect the passengers looking to complete the remainder of the journey.

The following diagram shows an example with Train A being shown in red and Train B being shown in green.  It should be noted that Train A and Train B will alternate each time because of the train leaving from Bricket Wood earlier the previous time.

St Albans Abbey get of proposal

To be able to turn around a train at Bricket Wood, get it out of the station so the other train can come in then turn the train around again to turn it around a third time there are two variables.  Firstly how long it takes for the train crew to swap over and secondly how long it takes the train to move away from the platform.  To keep things simple we will assume that we can move the train out of the station in 1 minute and back in in 1 minute as well.

The second time, the time it takes the train to turn around (i.e. the train crew to swap ends of the train), this is unknown.  We know that they can do this at St Albans in 5 minutes – but is this 5 minutes also used as a buffer in case the train is delayed?  As such we will look at how the turn around time impacts the average journey duration from Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey where the journey duration is the average time to wait for a train (aka half of the waiting duration) plus the train journey duration.


(you can see the spreadsheet with the details here in case I’ve made a mistake)

Here we can see if the train turn around time exceeds two minutes then the average journey duration is no better than it is currently of 37 minutes.  If it were possible for the train driver to turn the train around instantly (perhaps because he can drive the train backwards) then the average journey time drops to 28 minutes – which is not far from the 26 minutes which would be achievable if there was a passing loop all without the required £15-35m just with an extra train and passengers happy to briefly get off the train at Bricket Wood – perhaps someone selling coffee on the platform would make them suitably happy for the minor inconvenience.

To highlight, I don’t think this is an end solution to the problem but it might be a good next step so we can increase the frequency of the trains with no major costs and then at a later stage a passing loop could be installed to allow the trains to run directly through and thus removing the swapping over half way.

Save money by not using an Oyster Card, a paper ticket with a Railcard is cheaper

We have always been told that traveling with Oyster is cheaper, but the key words in their adverts are “single journey”.


If you need a Zone 1-6, 1-9 1-9+ Watford Junction, Broxbourne, Hertford East or Shenfield then traveling by Oyster is not cheaper if you make (generally) make more than a journey from the end of the line to Zone 1 and back again Off Peak.


A journey from Watford Junction to a station in Zone 1 is £6.50, so a return (£13.00) would already exceed the reduced Travelcard fare (£11.50) with the Railcard discount but would not hit the cap without it.  A journey from Zone 9 to Zone 1 is £4.10 so you would start saving after your second journey.


You can load 16-25, Senior, HM Forces or Disabled Persons Railcard onto your Oyster but not Two Together Railcard, Family & Friends Railcard or Network Railcard.  It is easy to understand why Two Together Railcard and Family & Friends Railcard can not be easily applied to Oyster automatically because this covers more than one person but I find it impossible to fathom why they don’t allow Network Railcards to be used.