Excellence over Heroics

I value Excellence over Heroics.

‘Excellence’ can be defined as “the crisp execution of established procedures.”  Think about that for a minute.

Do you know of a software development shop where several prominent developers often stay up late into the night, or come in regularly over the weekend to solve high-profile problems, or put out urgent mission-critical fires?

The thrill of delivering when the whole company’s reputation is at stake can be addictive.  I remember once staying up 37 hours in-a-row to deliver an EDI package for a bankers convention.  I was successful, delivering the application just before it was to be demo’d.  I went home and slept for 24 hours straight afterwards.

The problem with ‘Heriocs’ is that the hero is compensating for the effects of a broken process.  Think about that for a minute.

If heroes are needed to make a software development project successful, then really something upstream is broken.

Most problems requiring heroics at the end of a project stem from improper effort estimations, inability to control scope, inadequate project tracking transparency, mismanaged Q/A scheduling, unnecessary gold-plating, or inadequate communication between the development team and the project users/stakeholders.

A well-organized development group humms along like a well-oiled machine.  Proper project scoping, analysis, design deconstruction, estimating, tracking, and healthy communication between development and the users/stakeholders will bring that excellence that trumps heroics.

Hey, I hear that Microsoft is looking for some Heroes.

Mike J. Berry

Book Review: Motivating Employees

Employee motivation is an ever-present concern for most proactive managers.  Interestingly enough, motivation can come from both functional and dysfunctional sources.

I’ve seen employees motivated for many different reasons: recognition, financial incentive, empowerment, personal growth, tension release, fear, and finally there’s that weird Lord of the Flies thing where employees get motivated together against another employee.

In their book, Motivating Employees, Anne Bruce and James S. Pepitone describe the most effective ways to motivate a team.  They describe the three C’s which are vital to functionally motivating employees:

1. Collaboration: Be sure to involve employees in decisions and discussions where their efforts are involved.

2. Content: As they produce suggestions, act on those suggestions immediately.

3. Choice: Be sure to offer choices to your employees–even if you can predict what they will decide.

These three techniques actually empower your employees.   Involving employees in decisions that affect them, or the outcome of what they are working on produces a level of buy-in that is hard to match any other way.

Bruce and Pepitone continue with an examination of Theory-X and Theory-Y motivation and management styles.  These styles were originally presented in the 1960’s by Douglas McGregor.

McGregor states that Theory-X managers proceed from the assumption that their employees are uninformed, lazy, and needy of high-structure.

Theory-Y managers, however, proceed from the assumption that their employees are qualified, intelligent, and capable of making proper decisions provided they are given proper goals, accountability, authority, and resources to accomplish their tasks.

Although Theory-X is the most effective approach during some situations, if you consider the amount of college-educated employees in the workforce today, it’s easy to see how Theory-Y, if applied properly, yields much higher performance.

The authors continue with a formula for encouraging Entrepreneurial Thinking.   Their five-step formula is:

1. Explain the organization
2. Demonstrate how the organization operates and generates income
3. Help your employees understand the competition
4. Encourage intelligent risk-taking
5. Inspire innovative thinking

Another great idea the authors present is to link motivation to performance.  They suggest you develop a written-list of performance standards for meeting and exceeding the expectations you’ve agreed upon during collaborative sessions with them.

The authors talk about how important it is to weave fun into everything your organization does.   This may sound like a unusual suggestion at first, but the authors point out that there is a direct correlation between fun on the job and employee productivity, moral, creativity, satisfaction, and most importantly–retention.

The final few chapters in the book discuss de-motivating factors (or individuals), and how to deal with them.  There is also a good chapter on conducting effective employee-reviews.

Overall I recommend this book to any manager.   It’s a great book to re-read every so often.

Mike J. Berry

The Bat-Phone

Do you have one of those executives that harasses you with status updates to projects, yet never attends the status update meetings?

Perhaps they call you, email you, stop in to your office, and want to know what the latest on project X is?

Is the behavior efficient?  What suggestions do you have about how to convey project status communication within your organization?

Mike J. Berry

Book Review: The 360 Degree Leader

John C. Maxwell’s book,  The 360 Degree Leader, is an excellent field-guide for navigating the challenges of leadership at all levels of an organization.

Maxwell starts his book by dispelling many common dysfunctional myths that are found at line-level, or middle-level management.  Ideas such as “When I get to the top, I’ll be in control,” and “If I were on top, then people would follow me” are inaccurate adolescent attempts to understand the true nature of leadership–which is influence.

Maxwell continues by explaining the characteristics of influence:

  1. Position – Influence because people have to follow you.
  2. Permission – Influence because people want to follow you.
  3. Production – Influence because of what you have done for the organization.
  4. People Development -Influence because of what you have done for them.
  5. Personhood – Influence because of who you are and what you represent.

Maxwell gives examples of effective leadership in all directions: up, across and down.

To lead up well, he suggests you lighten your leaders load, anticipate your leaders needs and use their time wisely, and invest in Relational Chemistry–get to know what makes your leaders tick.

To lead across, Maxwell suggests you focus on completing your fellow leaders, instead of competing with them.   Be a friend, don’t pretend you’re perfect, and avoid office politics.

To lead down, Maxwell suggest you develop each team member, place people in their strength zones, model the behavior you desire, transfer the vision from above, and reward the results you desire.

Overall this is a good book worth reading and re-reading every so often.  I recommend it for managers at all levels.

Mike J. Berry

Great Mission Statements

Jack Welch, in his book, Winning, talks about how to create great mission statements.

He says most mission statements are dull, uninspired, and even unhelpful.  Most groups write their mission statement to describe only what they are in business to do.  While this is not wrong, it creates a whole bunch of mission statements that all look the same among competitors, and are not really valuable.

Welch suggests that a good mission statement not only describes what the company is in business to do, but how they are going to succeed at it.

For example, “We are going to sell lots of chickens,” is not as effective as “we are going to sell lots of chickens by growing the largest free-range chickens and advertising their value to the industry.”

Following his logic, I did some research and found some interesting comparisons:

Ford Motor Company in Europe’s mission statement (couldn’t find the U.S. mission statement anywhere online) is:

“Our Mission: we are a global, diverse family with a proud heritage, passionately committed to providing outstanding products and services.”

OK, so Ford’s mission is noble, but there is no explanation as to how they will succeed at their mission.  Compare this to Toyota’s mission statement:

“To sustain profitable growth by providing the best customer experience and dealer support.”

Toyota’s mission statement expresses their intention to make money by providing the best customer experience and dealer support.

Indeed, their mission statement tells what they are doing and how they will succeed.  This is an example of an effective mission statement.

There is a business principle at hand here:  Ambiguity is the enemy to progress.  It’s nice Ford wants to provide outstanding products and services, but there is no formula or direction given in their mission statement as to how they plan to do this.

Toyota states it will succeed by providing the best customer experience and dealer support.   Are they succeeding at this?

In 2007, Toyota became the largest seller of cars in America.  As customers, we vote with our money.  It seems then,  that they are providing the best customer experience, and are fulfilling their mission statement.

On a lighter note, Enron’s mission statement is/was:

“Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence.”

Mike J Berry

Improving Employee Morale

As a software development management consultant, I’m always looking for innovative ways to improve employee morale.

My friend and associate, Greg Wright, told me about an interesting process for improving morale that his company practices.

They have an appeasement committee and budget.   The appeasement committee is a group with one representative from each department.  Each month, a different member of each department is represented in the group.  If certain corporate goals are met, the committee plans an event for the company for that month.  The events are simple and not too expensive:  bowling, or mini-golf and pizza, etc.

What I find valuable about this example is that five important objectives are met:

  1. The individual employees are empowered by being able to participate in the suggestions to improve morale.  This personal involvement is more meaningful to them, and more appreciated.
  2. If a committee and a budget is in place, morale-building events won’t take a backseat to unexpected fires, or brand new deadlines.
  3. The effort-vs-reward principal is set in motion, which is one of the foundations of capitalism.
  4. Corporate goals get communicated, and emphasized, and are constantly on everyone’s minds.
  5. Team-building outside of the stressed work environment will occur.  This brings a fresh dimension to work-place teamwork.

Morale building is important because it separates the sweat-shop jobs from the career jobs.  This simple process can do wonders for your organization.

Mike J Berry

From The Trenches: Halo 3

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Development | Friday 7 December 2007 9:28 am

I finally finished Halo 3—in Heroic mode!  Heroic mode is one notch above Normal, and one below Legendary.   For those of you that have not completed the game, relax–there are no spoilers here.  I will offer some strategy advice, though.

Halo 3 is the third installment in Bungie’s highly-popular XBox video-game series.  The storyline takes place in a futuristic world that has been infested with an alien army.  Led by a creepy villain who calls himself the ‘Prophet of Truth,’ the alien onslaught will annihaliate the entire human race unless, of course, you and the space marines expel them.

Halo 3 is a little twist from 1 and 2 because you have an alien-defector who helps you during most of the levels, and well, it’s the Xbox 360 this time!

The graphics are outstanding and the playability is great.   I remember playing Halo 1 with my friend, Greg Wright.   He came to my house the day I brought the game home.   It was around 5pm when we started playing the game.  After what seemed to us to be about three hours, his wife called us to ask if her husband was ever coming home again because it was 2:30 am and she hadn’t heard from him.

With Halo 2, my neighbor Rob and I finished the campaign game in about two weeks.   We’d play every night until about 1 am.  By then, our brains were so fried we couldn’t speak properly.  We had to use hand signals to communicate ‘good-night’ and ‘same time tomorrow.’

My all-time favorite games were Bolo and Bilestoad on the Apple II, Doom and Klingon Academy on the PC, and 007 on the N64.  Ghost Recon is my most-played XBox game, and so far, Halo 3 is the best 360 game.

Heroic is a difficult level.  It took me about three months to complete, playing solo and moderately during that time.  The first few levels are pretty easy.  You basically shoot anything moving at you.  As the game progresses however, you start facing more difficult aliens and tougher challenges.

Here are some strategies that helped me:

1. Learn to be patient and lure the bigger aliens out one-by-one.  You have a much better chance of being successful facing them one-by-one.

2. Don’t feel compelled to annihilate every alien you come across.  Sometimes, the melee was so chaotic it was simply easier to run past everything and through the next door.

3. Discover your melee-punch attack.  This is where you run up on an alien, and punch them with your weapon.  I found this to be the best way to clobber a tough alien.  One or two hits and you can take down a Brute.  This works especially well inside a shield-dome.

4. Chieftains are the toughest opponents.  Wielding gravity hammers, and invincibility armor, they strike pure terror when they run at you.  There are three excellent techniques to use to defeat them:

A. Blast them with plasma cannons.  The continuous impact will stun and drain them of health.

B. If you have an invisibility shield, go invisible, quickly walk up behind the chieftain, and melee punch him in the back several times.

C. Learn to jump up over them when they run at you.  You can stay alive and shoot at them for a while doing this.

5. Attack the exhaust vent of the Wraith.

6. Attack the legs of the Scarab SuperTank, then jump on, run up to the top, and blast it’s power source.

7. This should be obvious to you– running over the aliens is easier than shooting them.

Halo 3 is a guys game.   It’s full of marines, monsters, lasers, rockets, jeeps, four-wheelers, space-ships and shooting.  There are only three women in the game.  A dispatcher who you never see,  the operations commander, and an attractive computer persona.

There are nine levels.  The environments range from jungle, to desert, to internal facilities, to inside creepy, fleshy-spaceships.  The final level is a unique racetrack-like experience.

I really liked the humor in the game.  The little grunt aliens see you coming and say “Oh, no!  A monster!”  Sometimes the little grunts poke fun at their bigger alien buddies by saying “Brute’s are jerks.”

The brutes have their own humor.  They are big, scary aliens that speak with deep voices.  Sometimes, when you die, one of them will say “All to easy…” which is a direct quote from Darth Vader.

The brute comment that makes me laugh the most is sometimes heard when you are unfortunate enough to come across a mass of Brute aliens marching towards you.  One of them will say, in their deep, Vader-like voice, “No inappropriate touching!”

I noticed a recent news snippet that Microsoft has released it’s seven-year hold on Bungie.  They’re now free again to wow us with more great games.

I really enjoyed playing this game.  I guess I’m ready for some Halo parties, now.  If you are having one, let me know.  Find me as MBER on Xbox Live.  I’d welcome some comments from others who have finished the game.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: Product Development for the Lean Enterprise

I finished reading Product Development for the Lean Enterprise: Why Toyota’s System Is Four Times More Productive and How You Can Implement It, by Michael N. Kennedy.  This book explains why Toyota’s internal product development process has enabled them to surpass the Detroit auto manufacturers production in both volume and quality.

If you haven’t heard already, Toyota now sells more cars in the U.S. than General Motors, as of 2007.  It’s also no secret that Toyota makes the highest quality cars you can buy today.

In his book, Kennedy contrasts the Detroit product development models with Toyota’s model.  He explains that the Detroit manufactures have concentrated on improving the manufacturing process by incorporating JIT (Just-In-Time) Assembly, and investing in Robotics.  He points out that although gains have been made, the Detroit manufacturer’s have really been missing the core of product development–the customer.

In contrast, Toyota has focused on the development process, not only the manufacturing process.  He explains that Toyota invests much more time up front studying customers and getting their insight about product features.  Moreover, Toyota product managers “catalog” various component options and make them available for other product managers to pick from and learn from.  Ever wonder why basically every Toyota and Lexus model car has the exact same window-up/down buttons?  This is why.

These tactics give Toyota both the flexibility and the insight to be able to deliver higher relevance and higher quality in their products.  Not only does Toyota now sell more cars in America, in terms of volume, but also has more vehicle models available for consumers.  This is a direct effect from successfully gathering the voice-of-the customer.

You can’t help but commend Toyota for getting it right.  You should always gather customer insight with any product being developed.

I think the Toyota model translates well to software development in the following ways:

  1. Gathering customer insight about a software product should be mandatory.
  2. Structuring code in re-usable formats (classes) will improve the effectiveness of the development group over time.
  3. Keeping a library of UI artifacts and ideas can help a development team make decisions faster, and have a more consistent look and feel across a large project, or across multiple projects.
  4. In the software industry, we often make the same mistake that the Detroit manufactures make by supposing quality is our final endpoint (ie: “Quality is Job One!”).  We need to understand that relevance is different from quality, and we need to structure our processes to maximize and measure relevance, along side of quality.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: Confessions of an UnManager

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Development,Agile Executives,Book Reviews,Leadership,Product Owner,SDLC Management | Thursday 22 November 2007 4:46 pm

Recently I read Debra Boggan & Anna VerSteeg’s book titled Confessions Of An Unmanager: Ten Steps To Jump Start Company Performance By Getting Others To Accept Accountability.

This is an interesting book that speaks to the great “divide” in corporate America.  The divide, they say, is the distinction between how management conducts themselves in relation to their teams they manage.

The authors suggest corporations function better with a “flat model.”  Their suggestions are:

  1. Leaders should never command or dictate change.
  2. Employees should always be involved from the very beginning.
  3. Executives should not get privileged parking spaces.

Well, OK, the third point was not emphasized heavily, but was mentioned.

The flat-management approach emphasized in this book relates well to Agile Development team dynamics.  In an effective Agile team, input and influence from all are needed to produce superior customer value in the software product.  In fact, this book is listed as a favorite read on the ScrumAlliance.org leadership reading list.

The most valuable takeaway I got from reading this book was to think in terms of how my actions, as a manager, can either emphasize or minimize the space between management and the team.  A great suggestion they gave was to hold a team meeting directly after the executive meetings, thus symbolically minimizing this divide.

I think this is a good book to read once.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: Integrating Agile Development in the Real World

Hooray, another book on Agile Development!

In Integrating Agile Development in the Real World, Peter Schuh explains in depth how to get your team to adopt the Agile Development Model.

Schuh covers several Agile Metholodogies including the problems to watch out for during the process.

I do have to say, this book seemed like a “whole bunch of everything” and so I didn’t feel, after reading it, that I was really any more informed about Agile Development.

I would recommend the book for a group just being introduced to the Agile Development Model.

Mike J Berry

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