Posts Tagged ‘business’

I was reading a fun book on public speaking, Scott Berkun’s “Confessions of the Public Speaker,”, and he referenced a TV series he contributed to, CNBC’s The Business of Innovation, so I checked out some youtube for it.

During the first few moments, one of the experts declares it’s all about getting the Business People and the Scientists on the same page. I agree, we need to amend to this “without violating those individuals’ personal 80/20 rule.”

The more you force business people to understand tech, and tech people to understand business-speak and bottom lines, the more you pull them away from the essential activities that make them valuable. You need a good communicator who can focus on both in the middle. It’s much easier for 3 people to run a relay marathon than 2.


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My ideal work day as a software developer would go something like this:

  1. I grab breakfast. During my breakfast, I transition from domestic life to work life.
  2. I go to work. When I arrive, I grab some coffee. It’s good coffee.
  3. While drinking the coffee, I have a conversation or two with people, some outside of my department, some inside. Maybe I even attend a weekly morning meeting and thumb through a catalog or magazine while I listen to the stakeholders discuss the health of my company.
  4. I head to my office and close the door.
  5. I spend the next hour checking out Visual Studio 2010, or reading an article, maybe a code example. This is more than likely information not directly related to the work I do.
  6. I attend a team meeting or Scrum. I don’t necessarily dig it, but during the meeting, I’m able to make a suggestion to someone with an obstacle. So that’s pretty cool.
  7. I return to my desk and pull up the tasks assigned to me.
  8. For the first task, I pull up the related use case. I read the user story and have a good understanding of how what I’m working on integrates with the system. I have a couple questions about the Normal Flow.
  9. I walk down the hall and have a converstion with a business dude and get the answer to my questions.
  10. I go back to my desk and spend he next few hours composing the prototype solution for the use case I’m handling. I start by stubbing it all out, hooking up my data connections, and maybe rolling the Repository. I may stop and scan the internet for some articles on the Repository Pattern just to stay aware of trends in practices, problems, etc.
  11. My daughter calls me. We have a 30-minute conversation about some event coming up at school, how excited she is about her soccer game this weekend, and how her sister can be annoying sometimes.
  12. Nobody gives me crap about my phone conversation, and nobody cares.
  13. I get up and go get a soda.
  14. On the way back to my desk, I notice Bob’s door is open. Bob is the CEO. I ask Bob about a idea he mentioned in the morning meeting. Bob and I talk about it. Bob is genuinely interested in what I have to say. I probably take that for granted.
  15. I go back to my desk and check in what I’ve worked on.
  16. I get in my car and go home.
  17. When I get home, I don’t even look at a computer. In fact, I go out on my balcony to check on my strawberry planter and watch the birds from my hammock.
  18. I do one or more of the following: I pursue a hobby, play music, cook interesting cuisine, read fiction, drink wine from San Luis Obispo, contemplate the dryness of it.
  19. I watch very little news.
  20. I do engaging things with my family members.
  21. I attend a speech club. I make a speech.
  22. I go to bed. I dream about pleasant things.
  23. The next day, I do it again. Nobody is expecting me to arrive at work with a volume of new knowledge I gained by spending my evening engrossed in something that causes me to lose sleep.
  24. I’m rested, at peace, progressing, and contributing. I have friends. And my family/kids don’t hate me for being a workaholic.
  25. What is your ideal day?

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My local Fox19 news had a great story this morning about Turner Medical, a company that once manufactured automotive parts but repurposed their organization to manufacture body parts. I found the brief news feature uplifting. Rather than completely giving up in the face of a plummeting economy and automotive industry, someone had a better idea.

Having just taken the Clifton Strengthsfinder 2.0 test, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison to the Strategy, Ideation, and Adaptability involved in formulating a transition like this.

Are you part of a company that has made a similar transition, or shifted focus from one area of competency to another?

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I remember going golfing once with my father and a couple of buddies. I had reached the first green in three with a two-foot putt for par. This was a rare occurrence. I’m consistently good for a bogey 5 off a first-hole par 4. I don’t have the talent to grab a par and there hasn’t been enough evidence for my inevitable frustration to come forth and push me into a double bogey. As I approached the green, my mind started flailing. It was slightly uphill, not really a straight putt. I considered jamming it in vs. trying something delicate and thoughtful. It didn’t help that my friend was egging me on. “You got that! Tap it in! Come on! Clean it up!” At that instant, I attempted to fool myself into relaxing by forcing a little lackadaisical in with my routine. I took a whack at it. Sure enough, 4 inches to the right, and 2 feet beyond the other side. My buddy, who had been chanting, “You got that,” now quipped, “Nope,” and laughed hysterically. Trying to get out from under the embarrassment, I hurried the next one and tapped it off the mark. More laughter. I finally pushed it in.

Everything I needed to make that putt was right there. I had the equipment, two arms, a brain and my eyes. Some luck may have been at play, but to a much larger degree, my mental approach had made the proverbial mountain from the mole hill…albeit a mole hill with an awkward slope. This experience has me wondering about our sour economic situation. Is our mental attitude contributing to our sour circumstances, or certainly exacerbating? If an economy falls in a forest, or improves, does anyone hear it?

How many companies are pulling funding on projects simply because they’re afraid to make the putt? Afraid of failure?

How much of the economic crisis is mental?

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In Chapter 1 of Alistair Cockburn’s “Writing Effective Use Cases,” which I have to believe is the book most often recommended when someone is seeking to learn about use cases, we are first presented with a few questions, the second of which really captures the tone of the tome, and frames what I’d like to discuss today:

“Why do different project teams need different writing styles?”

First and foremost, when I read questions like this, I hear all the upper-management types I’ve dealt with in the past whine the same question: “Ok. First you convinced us that we need to document requirements, and now you’re telling us that there’s going to be some work (a.k.a., money) to determine the style that’s right for our team?” This is, of course, a cup-half-empty perspective on the idea. After all, going through a process that would result in your organization achieving greater communication and efficiency isn’t a bad thing. Documentation alone is a hard sell, especially when budgets are tight (or “in this economy,” which I believe has recently replaced “in bed” as the most popular fortune cookie ender). And you can’t use hollow, stock phrases like “all successful projects start with good requirements.” All the people holding the purse strings hear when you give them that stuff is akin to the teacher from Charlie Brown. So it’s important, as analysts, that we have a pointed reply, something beyond “We’re just going to use the force.”

Step 1 – Identify the Levels.

Thank goodness, Cockburn points out the three levels of detail in writing use cases, which is good, because management likes short lists. If you tried to say “there are ten levels of detail we can use to write use cases,” this would cause wincing and grimacing.
Effective Grimacing

I’m not saying that it’s possible to explain the effectiveness of use cases to that guy. However, what comprises the three levels is as equally important as the fact that there are three. The “brief” use case is the short, one- or two-sentence statement that can fit in a table or spreadsheet. The “casual” use case can be a few summary paragraphs, and the “fully dressed” use case is the most thorough approach.

Step 2 – Identify which to use.
So now that we have presented our short list of methods from a reputable source, we will no doubt need to respond the next obvious question, “Which style do we use?” It doesn’t hurt anyone to take all the Use Cases identified and compose the “brief” style. Obviously this gives you a nice, informative list of work items to which you can append priority, frequency of use, or other tidbits. Whether the brief use case is a candidate for a more verbose explanation via the “casual” style can come down to a couple questions:

1. Have we done this before?
2. Is this a core piece of the project? Either from
a. a development/complexity perspective or
b. the client/customer perspective

If functionality has been developed on similar projects, obviously a very minimal amount of discussion is required to reproduce the same in the new project, so going beyond the basic is probably not warranted. What immediately trumps this for me is if either the development team or certainly the customer has any concern or gives the use case any weight. The “casual” style is both perfect in name and intent. The word “casual” plays down any notion that you’re going to go into some deep analysis that requires time and money, and yet you give the use case the treatment it deserves to create the communication baseline.

Last, but certainly not least, the “fully-dressed” use case. I like to think of these as “black tie” use cases.
Black Tie Use Cases

Here, we’re really thorough and detailed and maybe even looking for a degree of polish, as we would if dressing to go to the ballet or a dinner party. This method is called for if both the client and development team consider the functionality to be core to the product. Even if the functionality has been developed before on a previous project, if it is core to the new product, a full treatment is required because the core usefulness of the feature is directly tied to the client brand. If I can’t take money out of the ATM machine, the bank name suffers. In addition, fully dressing the core functions allows the uniqueness of the particular client/customer to come to the surface. It works like salt and pepper work to enhance natural flavors. Just like with ATMs, each bank has a different flavor on the same function based, at least in part, on their branding which leaves you with the ability to favor one over the other. So, functionality that represents a point of market competition, and thus a major business objective, must be fully dressed. I also use a metric to govern whether the use case needs the full treatment, such as if three or more questions arise from any stakeholder.

So that’s a two-step procedure for selling the idea of using use case analysis for projects to those in power. Two steps! Golly jeepers that’s easy! Here’s the kicker: the discovery process happens whether realized or not. Project teams, in order to achieve their highest degree of efficiency and productivity, require a discovery process to find the methods of requirements documentation that work best. This can either be recognized or not. It’s a matter of unconscious incompetency or conscious incompetency, not knowing what you don’t know, and knowing what you don’t know. Those companies that proactively engage in the process become successful, productive, and fun places to work. Those same companies have either established analysts or analyst consultants as key contributors. These people can also effectively throttle the amount of requirements practices exposed to a particular team. The result is you either have companies who understand the complexities before the project at an appropriate level, or are reflecting on them in the same – albeit more excruciating – detail as they close their doors forever.

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I often look through Rent-A-Coder, a website that attempts to marry coders and buyers through a bidding process, and I come away each time feeling…well…dirty. It reminds me of scenes from Miami Vice when Crockett and Tubbs used to roll through the alleys filled with prostitutes. “Hey, baby! I’ll give you a PHP/MySQL website for fifty!” Seriously, website bids for $300?!

It’s starting to remind me of the music scene in Cincinnati. For as long as I can remember, unless you’re in a stage act band, gigs come in two flavors: the $50 and under, and the $100 and over. Grant and Benjamin. It hasn’t really changed. The price of gas, food, clothes, and whatever will increase, but gigs will stay right at this level. If you’re making more than that, it’s because you’re doing a private party on a boat, or a wedding, but now that you can rent gear for those occasions, even those high money gigs are dying off. Musicians are willing to play for coffee if it means they can do their thing in front of a live audience of 5 people. When three digits are involved, they generally salivate and wearing a suit and tie becomes less of hassle. And if you let them drink free beer? Well, then. The music will certainly sound great….to at least them. Because of this, the rising cost of music education, unless you’re going to teach others how to become poor, is becoming largely unjustified.

This is exactly where IT is going if people don’t start valuing the services they provide, and tether themselves to a standard despite the hard times. First and foremost, knowlege and expertise are the essential component. Remember those tests in grade school that asked you to pick which thing you needed most for a football game? The referees, the crowd, or the football players? The quarterbacks are the analysts, the running backs and receivers are the developers, and testing is defense. But there is a different pay scale between high school and professional football, isn’t there?

Secondly, if someone hires you, then generally they’re going to make some revenue. I would contend it is the non-essential producers that should be trimming their margins, not the quarterbacks, running backs, and defense. So how much do you want to make? Take the net you want to earn and divide by 220 (working business days, minus holidays, etc.). $88,000 is $400 a day, $50 per hour. Charge it. Stick to it. Whatever the rate.

Why? Because lastly, who’s to say that companies aren’t going to take advantage of this economic downturn by attempting to control costs and enlarge profits for years to come after this supposed depression. Are they going to stop using the “because of the hard economic times” excuse when the hard economic times no longer exist? Heck no. You’ll be in a job making “hard economic times” rates for years. Do you think they’ll come to you one day and say “hey, buddy, the depression is over, here’s that $20,000 raise.” Heck no. It’ll be “file an evaluation request form and we’ll see if we can’t get you that 4%.”

Here’s the irony: companies searching frantically to control costs hire the lowest bidder, not the best qualified. They pass on hiring somebody who could actually provide long-term benefit to bring on Mr. Cheap Gig. In the music world, this results in BAD MUSIC. Guess what the result is in the IT world? To get over this, actually assess what the company is trying to do in numerical terms. Do the homework you’re supposed to do before the interview, golf-and-beer outing, or prospect lunch and get an understanding of the health of the company and your worth to them. If they can’t pay your per diem, pass. Yes, I said it. Pass. And stop earning $20 to design a company’s front-facing website. Unless that’s what you want all of us to earn some day.

And if companies don’t want to hire all of us at our deserved rate, well then they have assumed the captain’s position on the Titanic, we’re the musicians on the boat, and it has been a pleasure and honor to play with you on this night! What was the drinking policy for the band?

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I’d like your thoughts, so post some comments.

I’ve worked for several companies over the years and something I’ve come to recognize with each new opportunity is what I refer to as “New Guy Leverage.” This is the period of time where you are the golden child, the new baby, the fresh face, the person who has done no wrong…yet. Unless you threaten someone else by the very nature of the existence of your position, everyone generally loves you. Most importantly, the ideas you share are welcomed, whether based on your past experiences, your knowledge and expertise, or a combination. For a new, full-time employee, this lasts from two weeks to a month. For a new contractor hired from a recruiter, this could last from a month to three, and a certain sense of detachment or separation can remain throughout the engagement and grow as the duration increases.

I’m therefore puzzled as to why a company would elect to insist on hiring full-time employment, or hire only through recruitment. What happened to HR? I’ve seen placement firms charge as high as 100% margin per hour, and as low as 25% per hour. Why?

It also seems “consultant” or “contractor” have become bad words. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the meaning of “consultant” was lost long ago. If you’re a .NET developer, you’re placed in a position as a “Senior .NET Consultant.” Alan Weiss, the author of “Million Dollar Consulting,” proposes a pretty good definition of consultant in his book:

“A consultant is someone who provides a specialized expertise, content, behavior, skill, or other resource to assist a client in improving the status quo. This intervention focuses on a specific client need.”

Based on this, without a lot of heavy thinking, a “Senior .NET Developer” may present a specialized expertise or skill and indeed improve the status quo. But Alan further clarifies, “Consulting is not synonymous with implementing, delivering, instructing, or executing, although consulting may include any of these activities.” And what really hits the nail on the head for me in differentiating between a contractor hired to program and a consultant is “Only consulting can achieve the final bridge to unconscious competency and application of new skills to the job.” Consulting involves a high degree of communication skills. You must be able to communicate throughout the spectrum of personnel, from CEOs to junior developers and everywhere in between. This means you must have the personality of someone who would, for example, strike up a conversation with someone in line at the grocery. You must be tolerant, diverse, and generally excited about communicating with people. Technical proficiency in your area of expertise, and excitement about getting up in front of people to genuinely solve problems in a collaborative way, are requirements. Being able to say “no” to upper management or the head of the company is also important.

So an effective relationship between a consultant and a client requires new guy leverage to fan the flame of the natural communications talents that one might possess. By giving new initiative responsibilities to internal employees, companies might often create rifts between those that are given the opportunities, and those that believe they should have been given the opportunities. Thus, a natural resistance to proactive efforts is immediately present, like a polka-dotted elephant in the room. Why risk these politics? The overall effectiveness of the time investment is diminished, and certainly the risk of not meeting the business objectives is prevalent.

Let all your employees be exposed to a true independent consultant. If they feel threatened by this new entity in their workplace, guess what? They know he’s going to leave! They can all hate him together! It’s entirely up to the consultant to engender those relationships. But it starts with a company sending a message to those people it employs by bringing in that outside help and demonstrating a willingness to take the initiative and invest in improving their condition. What a sign of strength! Instead of remaining in a position of waiting until “things improve,” you tell your employees “we’re going to do some proactive things to improve your skills and the position of our organization.” It’s entirely on the new guy, the consultant, to engender repeat business.

I’d like your comments on New Guy Leverage and things your organization is doing or not doing that may affect your feelings of security.

Copyright (c) 2009 Adams Enterprises, LLC

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