Thursday, February 28, 2008

Deadwood is Dead-on Agile (Part Two)

Elizabeth SarnoffProducer/Writer talking about being in the writer's trailer when David Milch is "writing" a scene (meaning he's slumpped over a pillow on the floor looking at a screen, dictating dialogue to an assistant who types the lines for display).

There's no way to know what's going on unless you're in there, because everything here changes 600 times a day. We change the actors that we need on an hourly basis, we change the scenes that we're doing, who is in the scenes, and if you're not in there with him you don't know. You're just helplessly behind.

One principle of Agile is "co-location"--meaning rather than the business sponsor staying in one office building and the developers staying in theirs and possibly the testing team and/or DBA's are in another set of cubicles on another floor, everyone moves her/his desk to a common "war room" or conference room or at least adjoining desks. It's not for everybody. But traditional barriers between silos (e.g., marketing vs. IT) come down, a team begins to form with a common purpose, symbiosis occurrs as you overhear challenges another member of the team is encountering, etc. It's very similar to the quote above--if you're not in the room, it's very difficult to grasp the complexities, the iterations, the need for changes, etc.

4 Questions to ask for any technology implementation

Taken directly from speech by the founder of the Theory of Constraints (ToC) Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt:

Dr. Goldratt based his entire speech on the premise that technology is only valuable to the extent that it eliminates or diminishes a limitation. He argued that the following four questions should be explored before any technology implementation:

1. What is the power of the technology?
2. What limitation will the technology diminish?
3. What rules, business processes, procedures, etc. have we put in place in order to accommodate the limitation?
4. What should the new rules, business processes, procedures be after the technology is in place.?

He also argued most software vendors, business sponsors, and members of the IT implementation team stop at question two.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

30 Second Book Summary: Confronting Reality: Doing What Matters to Get Things Right

Success in business comes down to being able to properly adjust one's internal operations and strategy in order to meet one's financial targets within the realities and texture of one's current environment--over and over again. It all starts with being able to clearly see what's so about one's situation--to "get real" about the landscape, challenges, and opportunities one finds oneself in. There are six main reasons people can't confront reality:

  1. Filtered information
  2. Selective hearing
  3. Wishful thinking
  4. Fear
  5. Emotional over-investment
  6. Unrealistic expectations of capital markets

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thanks for the opportunity

For many months I have been reading this blog. Ok, well there was a break in posts that left me wanting more, but that was because Randy was moving across the country- so understandable. I have had the great privilege to work with Randy and I am fascinated by the way his mind works and his passion for understanding and improving process. Sometimes I am convinced he is the Yin to my Yang when it comes to working with groups- but more often than not we are aligned in thought. I can remember one of my first "real" interactions with him after a few team meetings- he looked troubled. When I asked him about this, he shared with me that he thought a lot of the meeting was a waste of time as it was not focused on specific project work. Disclaimer- I am sure that this is not exactly what he said- but this is what I heard. I believe very strongly in the power of a team and I feel that a team that shares work and personal experiences grows closer together, is more prepared to be a strong team if good and bad times, and generally creates an atmosphere where people want to work. However, I have thought many times about what I heard from Randy and use his observation to ensure that I am balancing soft meeting agenda/discussion and specific project work. To be fair- this interaction occurred very early in our working together. I cannot write about his observation of my meeting style once he lived it for a good period of time. What I can say is that I was impressed by his honesty and ability to communicate his position (which seemed opposite to mine at the time) in a way that did not make me feel like I had to go on the defensive.

I want to thank Randy for the opportunity to be a guest poster on his blog. I am currently reading the book, "Death by Meeting" by Patrick Lencioni and will have a review shortly.


Friday, February 08, 2008


If I were an 11-year-old kid wandering around what is now Utah a century ago I could take some basic tools to a nearby rock wall and begin chipping away a picture--what we now call a petroglyph.  Let's say it took me an afternoon.  I'd do it once, and it would last for over 1,000 years.

11-year-olds today may take an afternoon to make and upload a numa-numa song to YouTube.  But how long would that last?  Back it up to an external hard drive?  Temporary.  Put it on a CD or DVD?  Temporary.  Is there anything we're doing today that will last 1,000 years?  Guess I could go grab a chisel.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The trick to amazing photos

I was listening to Robert Scoble talk about the genesis of his photowalking project on a recent podcast. He said he was at a party of about 500-600 people and there were maybe four or five people walking around taking pictures. He looked at several of the photos online afterwards and right away noticed one photographer's work clearly stood out. This intrigued Robert, so he asked to trail the photographer, Thomas Hawk, with a video camera to document his process ( you Robert for the comment/clarification). One thing stood out about Thomas: he took a friggin' ton of pictures--like 2,500 per hour! Yes he was talented. Yes he had the best equipment. But it was also a numbers game. He'd load up several 8GB memory cards on any given shoot and then go back to the studio to find that literally a handful were worth keeping.

The same principle seems to apply to finding the right political candidate or pop star, picking a winning investment portfolio, or lining up a winning roster for a professional sports team. We tend to forget or diminish the work behind the talent.

Incidentally, one of the reasons Robert is so interesting to listen to is he scans/"imprints" 1,300 feeds a night (not a typo, 1-3-0-0 a night!).

Thomas and Robert remind me of a quote from Hyrum Smith--one of the founders of FranklinCovey:
"Success is the willingness to do that which unsuccessful people are not willing to do."

Hiring advice from Google

I was just listening to remarks from Google's Irene Au about her hiring philosophy on the IT Conversations podcast: hire "T" people--meaning hire individuals who demonstrate a broad interest in a variety of fields and disciplines and an intense curiosity (the top, horizontal part of the "T") and also have a demonstrable, deep competency in a given area (obviously the vertical down stroke of the "T").   

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Creativity begins when a zero is cut from your project budget.

- Maverick designer and urban planner, Jaime Lerner in a 2007 TED speech.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Objective Criteria

I've just completed the fantastic book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Within a few days of finishing the book I was listening to Stanford's Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast and came across a speaker who had trained with Mr. Fisher at the Harvard Negotiation Project (which was the body of work from which the book was derived). One of the key principles that struck me was the value of using objective criteria. This hit home at about 4 AM a few nights ago when my two-year-old son had woke up for the second or third time (it was a blur) and my wife suspected he had an ear infection. She placed her hand on my son's forehead and said he had a fever. Knowing that she likes to sleep with approximately eight vertical inches of goose down comforters and is still cold I suspected any reasonable body temperature probably felt warm to her. I naturally placed my hand on his forehead and he felt fine to me (but I acknowledge I'm probably at the other end of the temperature spectrum [we've yet to find a happy medium temperature while driving in our van]).

My wife thinks my son has a fever and wants to take a logical course of action based upon that assumption: give him some Motrin. I think he's fine and that we should all just go back to bed. The solution? Appeal to an objective standard: take his temperature. Turns out he did have a minor fever and so I was able to adopt my wife's course of action without losing face.

I know this is a trivial example, but the principle is powerful and nuanced. The obvious take away is to attempt to have a meta-conversation about the structure of the negotiations before actually beginning to discuss particular issues. One point to attempt to find agreement on is that both parties would acknowledge and abide by objective criteria and standards. Then you could engage in a conversation on what those might be.

A more subtle take away is that we often are guilty of criticizing someone's intended course of action--assuming that they see the situation the same as we do and are recommending something that just doesn't make sense. We are sometimes even guilty of thinking that by suggesting something so illogical the other party is revealing a flaw in or limits to their intelligence. For instance, it would be illogical for me to suggest we give my son Motrin if I think he does not have a fever. It is much safer to presume that the course of action, or position the other party is taking is, in fact, a logical conclusion to draw from how they see the situation. If their position doesn't make sense, it's a red flag that you need to dig deeper to understand their paradigm.