Monday, August 28, 2006

Capable of Being

Sometimes I don't pay as much attention to my feelings as I should.  I'm not exactly the most empathetic of people at times, but I seem to find ways to sell myself short most of all.  Being senstive to kinesthetics is a huge aspect of being self-aware, but it's probably my weakest area.

From time to time, I'll find myself doing things I don't enjoy, backed into corners I don't want to be, supporting things I don't believe in.  As I wake up and look around and ask "why am I in this?" it seems that not tapping my feelings is one way I got off track.  For someone formally trained like myself, that's a harsh reality.  So I'm going back to the basics.

The first step is to Identify. What are the feelings and reactions that don't quite seem to fit?  What doesn't smell right?  If things are jumping out at you, look for those endeavors where you got started fine, but lacked follow through.

The second step is to Orient.  Is the feeling applicable to who you were, who you are, or who you want to be?  Is it something that is just familiar and habitual?  Once you understand which way the feelings are oriented, pushing you into something, pulling you away from something, you can respond.  It is just as common for a fear to be a good thing pushing you to commitment and intensity.

The last step is to Imagine.  Once you have opened your sensitivity to your feelings and intuition, and you have oriented that feeling with an action or a behavior or a decision, then you are free to imagine the results of your responses.  This most often takes the form of "What would happen if...?"

This little question, when built on the clues about what you want in your life given by your intuition and feelings, is the key to planning your response.  Start by sticking to what you enjoy.  What makes you happy.

The most common response to this, is that "I can't make a living doing that".  Do it anyway.  Do it in any way that you can.  The happier you are, the more you will accomplish.  The fuller your life will be.  It's surprising how little in life we really need when we are pursuing that which we truly value.

Sometimes the thing people are most frightened of is who they are capable of being. They are simply afraid of how powerful and brilliant they can truly be.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
- Return to Love by Marianne Williamson

This was the refresher I needed to listen to my own sense of self.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Start Stretching Early

Spent some time on plane today and while catching up on my reading I came across the following in a community posting:
Most evidence I’ve seen indicates that 30-40% of the resources on a project not in its early phases using MOST methodologies should be dedicated to rework – something most customers could not swallow if said literally.
This of course is a broad statement.  Factors that seem to affect this (the variables):
1) Flexibility of the architecture – can increase maintenance costs and developer learning curve, but rework can be minimized.  Might be a tradeoff worth considering depending on customer perceptions and requirements.
2) Elegance of architecture – If the architect can foresee changes and design for them, then rework is easier…but this requires a combination of experience and a crystal ball – by no means predictable and can only be measured successfully after the fact.
3) Cross-area development – if developers are constantly switching areas of the project where they are working, this increases the likelihood that they will do something in one area that is not as anticipatory of future changes and perhaps not as elegant as someone that knows the area better.  The tradeoff here is that you reduce the risk exposure to someone leaving, because there is likely someone else ready to step in.
4) Requirement Variability – duh
5) Early Requirement Finalization – duh, but does this ever happen?
The most insightful part of the post was the very first sentence.  The rest of it, was a reasonably insightful explanation of why this conclusion makes sense.  However, I find it refreshing to see someone address this issue so rationally and direct.  Usually, I find myself in the minority on this front.  In this case, it was an accomplished architect in response to a generic question about rework brought on my Agile-type methodologies.

In reality, most of the methodologies that are being pawned off as new are just re-organizations of old schools of thought.  The practices are given new names, sometimes combined for different purposes, but they exist in the same world.  They are subject to the same laws of science and the same volatility of humanity that every other methodology has been subjected to for quite some time.

If you have a reliable architect, following something resembling a clear vision, you will arrive at a destination using a methodology.  If the thing being built is poorly defined or inflexible, if the user volatility is not kept in check, then you will have rework.  Change is just the reality of working at the speed any business runs at these days.

Now that you know that change is emminent, you can fix your mind to adaptability, instead of clutching so tightly to any semblence of stability that happens by.  You are going to have to be flexible, and rewrite something as the vision evolves.  My advice is that it's best to get on with it then, eh?

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Common Denominator

As a consultant, I get called into projects in varying states of disarray.  Most of the time, things aren't nearly as bad as they appear.  As a sweeping generalization, there are only couple of a main issues that I encounter that repeat themselves to cause the downward spiral.

Chief among these issues is Fear.  Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of failure.  It manifests itself by an increase in artificial controls.  More status reporting, more censorship, less proactive vocalizations, more questions, less answers.  When the fear-response is high, accountability becomes cloudy and nebulous.  The answers become subjective and verbose.  Sometimes people shift to formality and process, others simply clam-up and stop interacting.

One tried and true technique to handling fear is using Information.  Clear and obvious transparency generates trust, removes ignorance, reduces fear.  When you encounter people showing a high fear-response, shower them with information.  Be transparent, open, and forthcoming.  The more people are aware of their situation, can validate their own perceptions with your clear words, the higher the trust for the unknown.  If you don't know something, tell them.  But make sure you tell them what you do know.  Share anything and everything you possibly can so that they can construct their own reality using that information.  The richer the detail, the less fear.  The more they participate in the process, by way of sharing in the information flow, the more empowered they will feel about the process, the situation.

Another key issue is Churn.  When a problem area arises, good people will try and handle it.  Once it becomes obvious that an issue is no longer just a simple problem, but a symptom of a larger issue, they tend to move on.  If you realize the rock you are trying to move is really a part of the mountain, you will think twice about your choice of rocks.  Sometimes we'll simply give up, other times we might choose a different rock.  It is pretty rare that someone will be willing to wear themselves down fighting to move a mountain that was supposed to be a rock.  The process of bringing in people to beat on the rock, who figure out it is not just a rock, give up, leave, and must be replaced, is called Churn.  In these situations, there can be a tendency to fault the various parties brought in to confront the rock.  After all, they were not able to move the rock, so they have failed, right?  If it is just once or twice, perhaps that would be an acceptable conclusion.  But once you've repeated this process a few times, you might need to examine the large situation.  The common denominator in those cases is the person trying to move the rock, who is unwilling to acknowledge the mountain.  They repeatedly insist on throwing people at the rock, watching them bloody themselves and shaming them for failure. All the while acting as instigators of the vicious cycle.

The hardest part of addressing churn is identifying when it occurs.  Sometimes only experience and objectivity can provide the insight required to back away from such a situation.  It is a lot like the old lady who points out her son who is marching in the parade.  She says "Look! My son is the only one in step!"

If problems on your project are repeating themselves, look around for the common denominators.  When everything changes except a few faces, and the problems then are surfacing as problems again today, you need to be realistic.  You can continue to blame the stream of resources who came, were bloodied, and left in defeat.  Or you can find those things that aren't changing and ask why.  If it didn't work before, and you've changed everything but X and it still isn't working.  It would be reasonable to presume that X might be the problem.

Once you've identified the source of your Churn, you need to handle it cleanly.  If you let any part of it remain, it will continue to reinfect your project unless completely removed.  Like a virus or a cancer, you have to sterilize against it or the old behaviors and patterns that once responded to the source will recreate a new source.

It's worth noting that while these are generalizations, there are specific guidelines for identifying both of these issues.  There are also very specific techniques that can learned for dealing with these issues and many others.  Feel free to ping me if you'd like to know more.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Getting The 'Yes'

How much of your day is spent trying to influence others positively? We have bosses, employees, our children, our clients, and so forth.  Every interaction is, to some extent, a negotiation. A meeting of influences.

To be successful it can help to remember some of the key reasons that people say 'Yes' in these encounters. By understanding some of the reasons that motivate us to agree, you can position your argument, your dialog, to expose or maximize those reasons. Let me walk through the reasons and give some examples.

One of the key reasons is that "We Give What We Get". We tend to return to others the same behavior, treatment, or attitude that we are given. If you are polite, others will want to return the politeness. If you are rude, we tend to want to respond with rudeness. So if you want someone to be respectful, start by treating them respectfully.  This sounds obvious, and is one of the easiest to provide.  It is also one of the most common that we fail to provide.

Another reason is that "Information Is Power".  When we acknowledge the credibility of another we are allowing them a measure of influence.  By becoming knowledgeable and maintaining your integrity with that knowledge you make it easier to be percieved as creditable.  Once you have the credit, spend it wisely.

This brings us to "Majority Rules".  The more popular a choice is, the more popular a choice becomes.  When we think that everyone around us is doing something, we tend to go along instead of analyzing.  We give a portion of our reasoning to the group allowing others to share in the successes and failures.  If you can demonstrate that the mob is heading your direction, people will want to fit in so as to be included.

Speaking of the mob, "It's Real when Written Down".  When people write things down, they are more inclined to follow through on their commitments.  When someone goes "on record" they are making a public commitment.  Getting that public commitment, either written or in front of others, is a great way to motivate people to come through.  This can be a tricky one, because of the delicate nature.  Personally, I tend to be wary of people who always write things in email because I never know where my words will end up. I wouldn't want to be making a public commitment that I didn't realize was public.  ;-)

When dealing with the mob, "The less Supply, the more Demand".  Anything that is capacity controlled or has limited availability will create a sense of urgency.  That urgency will override our natural tendency to analyze and instead nfluence us to make decisions quickly and then rationalize them later.  This one of the main reasons that the impulse shelves in the grocery store check-out lines are so successful.

The last one is very personal and is simply, Popularity.  When someone likes you, they have a natural tendency to want to say "Yes".

Remember that while these are ways to influence positively, they can also be abused.  If you consider how to apply the techniques, it should easy to develop the defenses against these techniques.