Thursday, March 18, 2010

Unlocking The Key Principles

I've been doing a ton of writing lately and throughout the drafts I reference many different concepts which I refer to as the Key Principles. I've written about many of these at length, but I've never publicly shared my personal list. Even after this entry, I still haven't. But I'm publishing a small sample that will show up in many upcoming posts so they can be used as a reference. I'm including just a small description of each for context. Perhaps I'll find time to cross-reference them with the larger posts on each topic. (uh huh) This entry will get updated if needed to reflect the links in the upcoming posts.

This also introduces a couple of conventions I've started using in my drafts. An example is the use of [subtext]. This tag will summarize and restate the previous section, usually in axiom form or slang.

Manage Up, Drive Down
The people you are responsible for should be aware that you take responsibility for them. How their actions reflect on you should be a significant part of their decision-making. Keeping them focused on following your agenda as foremost will recursively embed this principle.

The people you are responsible to should be aware of which responsibilities you are taking on and those which you are not. Focus on understanding and following their agenda. Clearly articulate when you see conflict in their agenda and support them in resolving it (read: time, attention, information). If it fails to be resolved, be clear about the implications of not addressing that conflict.
[subtext]The things which interest my boss, fascinate me.
Praise in Public, Criticize Quietly
This only applies to personal accomplishment or growth. Performance that affects a team or behaviors that can be observed by people you wish to influence are excepted. When you are trying to influence others (for example teaching), you need to acknowledge individual performance in view of those who need to learn. See: Communicate Consequences Clearly.
[subtext] Allow people to save face and time to absorb bad news privately.
Often Wrong, Never In Doubt
Leaders who are indecisive aren't leading. If you don't have a vision, you need to get one quickly. Ask for help, solicit options and opinions, then make decisions. Once you've committed, stick to what you've decided. If it becomes evident that a wrong choice was made, own the decision and fix it promptly. But until that point, you need to act like you have the answer.
[subtext] The more confidence you have, the more confidence others will give you.
If It Isn't Written, It Isn't Real
[alternative] If you didn't measure it, you didn't do it.
[alternative] If you didn't write it down, it didn't happen.
Talking and waving hands is fun and easy, but is not a replacement for writing things down and having people review it. When it comes to setting down standards or communicating expectations, having a written record will flush out conflicts and allow individuals to preemptively check their standing so they can save face. Because writing takes work, it encourages you to focus on efficient communication. To avoid challenges to your writing, focus on quantifiable metrics and hard facts.

Trust, But Verify
We need to trust to move quickly. But blind trust is another word for an unverified assumption and it can set us up for failure. Give your resources the benefit of the doubt, but don't hesitate to ask for proof of the facts. If you ask others to trust you, give them ways to check your facts independently and without a having to ask. When it comes to successful collaborate, most of trust is perception. If you display a lack of trust in someone (say, by second-guessing) be prepared to find that the reciprocal trust is eroding as well. See: Rely on Tests, Not Opinions.
[subtext] The more trust you show towards others, the more trust others will show towards you. But don't be stupid.
Everything Temporary Becomes Permanent
Change always has a cost, and we only make temporary things to save costs today. We usually underestimate the future costs because we forget about the costs of dealing with the temporary until the future arrives. When it does arrive, we've usually sunk so much cost into it and built so much around it, that it becomes cheaper to simply leave things alone. Don't fight this, just plan that any road you go down, you will likely stay on for a while. This means don't show things to users or customers unless you are willing to ship or start supporting them as they stand.

Communicate Consequences Clearly
Always be broadcasting your expectations so that those you work with know how support you. For those who work for you, ensure the examples of consequences (positive and negative) are frequent and obvious so they will factor into their decision-making. If you reward generously, this should be well understood. Make sure the results of bad behavior are well understood. This is not always the same as explaining the outcomes from failure, because there are many times that failure is an acceptable result. See: A Process Is Not An Outcome.
[subtext] Always show the horse the carrot and the stick. Which to show first, depends on the horse.
Something Is Only As Simple As Its Explanation
[alternative] You only know that which you can teach.
[alternative] If you have to write it down, it is too complicated.
[alternative] If you can't explain it simply, you can't simply program it.
[alternative] The likelihood of failure is equivalent to the ambiguity of your expectations.
There are several versions and applications of this principle, because the concept is so foundational. When you need something done, you should be able to explain it in clear terms to the uninitiated. If you can't do that, don't expect them to understand your expectations. If you are working with someone who can't explain their expectations succinctly and clearly, you should be careful.
[subtext] Don't expect people to be successful at a task that you can't easily explain.
Rely on Numbers, Not Opinions
When possible, make decisions with objective information not subjective perceptions. Asking someone if they are making progress is different than asking what percentage of the tasks are complete today. Instead of saying the build is complete, publish the number of projects compiling/components deployed/tests passing. We all have good days and bad days, we guess with varying degrees of accuracy, but numbers are precise. The way to get numbers is by using tests and quantifiable metrics, anything else is just opinion.
[subtext] One good test is worth a hundred opinions.
A Process Is Not An Outcome
In the age of commodity, this is borderline heresy. If the desired outcome can be obtained by a rigid process, it should likely be automated. When it comes to anything requiring higher intelligence and creativity, blindly following a process is a quick way to fail. This is not to say that intelligent and creative individuals do not need boundaries, conventions, and standards; they surely do. But following a process is only managing to failure. Only the least creative and the unskilled will tolerate a process that mandates how those skills are applied. Allow individuals to find their own way by giving them clear criteria for success. They will likely surprise you and surpass those expectations.
[subtext] Choose good people, give them clear criteria to succeed, and stay out of their way.

There are quite a few more and much can be written about each of these, but that is for another time.

Comments welcome.

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