No-one’s fault

We have a ‘no blame’ culture here

Oh really?! So it is no one’s fault that everything went tits-up?!

This is part of an interesting trend, of either blaming no one, or decapitating them.

It’s no-ones fault

In the 2010 six nations Rugby tournament Wales performed badly. The grand-slam winners of 2008 were fighting not to finish last. One of the games which saved them from the wooden spoon was the game against Scotland. Wales didn’t win the game so much as Scotland lost it, stupidly.

I don’t want to talk much about the game, but rather about Ryan Jones’, Wales’ captain, interview a few days later. “Do you treat this game as a win or as a loss?” he was asked. His answer was brilliant – “…it doesn’t matter… we treat all games the same way… we talk about what was good, and what was bad. And we name names because that is what you expect at this level“.

Yes, they point a finger.

They don’t point a finger because it personal, but because it is professional. Because it what you expect at this level of professionalism. You expect a player to be able to handle “you did that wrong”.

Otherwise, how would you expect people to learn? “oh we lost, but we all were great. Better luck next time”?! or maybe “someone forgot to follow the process”… who’s that someone? A garden gnome?

A rugby team, just like any other organisation is a learning organisation. Experience is important part of learning. Professionals are allowed to make mistakes. But not to repeat them – otherwise they are not so professional.

A clever man learns from his mistakes. A smart man learns from other people’s mistakes. Not everyone is as smart. And someone has to make a mistake in-order for others to learn from.

You’re fired

So now to the other trend, the opposite one – blaming and decapitating. A lot of organisations fire people for their mistakes. This includes army generals and politicians.

But if you fire them… how would they learn?! That army general won’t repeat that mistake. A new general might. That project manager would’ve absorbed the knowledge and build on it. A new one would need to ‘acquire’ new knowledge, in order to learn. Only to be fired.

I think Machiavelli said that an army general who made a mistake needs to be promoted – because he gained important experience.

Well, maybe he went a bit far, but the idea is right. As long as people are in-charge, as long as people are involved – errors would happen. You should do everything you can to avoid that. But the most important thing is to learn. To avoid hiding behind political correctness. To allow people to learn.

So next time you have a retrospective, or a lessons-learned session – put it all on the table. Don’t take it personally.


The trick of getting places

At quite a young age I realised that in order to get somewhere, I need to walk. And, to walk, I need to start by placing one foot in front of the other. At one time I’ve become so good at it, that I could run and get there fast.

A few observations I made during my lifetime, with regards to walking and getting places.

  1. Sometimes I’d start off in one direction, but change my mind and end up in another
  2. It was easier to start and change the direction slightly, than to try to rush off in the exact direction.
  3. Once I’ve gotten used to walking, doing it again and again has become easier.
  4. Once you sit down for a long time, it is harder to get off the sofa

Looking at the above points, I realise that they are right also when it comes to other things in life. And at work.

Sitting on the sofa, or stagnation happens. I know because I see it every day. Brilliant people who’d just rather continue doing their 9-5 ritual rather than start walking/running and look for a better, more challenging work. Even in the same company. And it happens to companies.

If you stagnate - you may find it hard to get up again

Should I stay or

If it works – don’t fix it is a common school of thought. A few posts ago I said if it works – refactor it. Keep the product alive and moving. Keep your company’s mind working and the legs running by constantly improving. Keep encouraging innovation.

Innovation doesn’t happen. It is a product of hard work. First and foremost by management as an enabler.

When stagnation happens, there is no other way out of it, other than just starting. The direction may not be perfect, and you probably will stumble. You’ll find you’re unfit and use too much energy on the wrong things.

But, just like when you were a toddler and learnt to walk, there is no other way. Expect the odd bump on the head.

Because if you don’t; obesity, high-blood pressure and possibly early death await.

Note: keeping active and improving doesn’t guarantee longevity, but they sure help.

WDMP Championship – Agile vs Waterfall

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, I’d like to welcome you all to the World Development Method Paradigm championship match, coming to you live from Snail Arena.

Two boxers. One very large...

Wait 'till I fall on you!

In the red corner: Towering at 9’5″ it is daddy’s favourite – “The Waterfall”. He big, he’s strong. When he starts something – he sees it through. You just got to love his ceremony. How he walks in all-knowing what’s the job on hand. He’s in it to win it. He as an aura of confidence only someone with utter knowledge of lies ahead can have.

He’s been here before. He’s visualised this battle over and over again. In the press conference before the match he promised to take this all the way to the 13th round and win it by points. He’s planning to use the first rounds to gauge his opponent and plan his attack.

In the blue corner: He’s short, he’s quick he’s, aham, agile it is mum’s favourite, the new kid on the block it is Agile. Judging from the pre-match interview he has only a rough idea of what’s going to happen. He knows his opponent but says he’ll take it one round at a time. He too expects this match to go all 13 rounds, but he expects to knock out his tired and old and grumpy opponent.

We can now reveal that Agile has taken a new trainer lately. He’s been tipped to win many matches before but ended up in a total blunder. He lost his way mid-way through the match even though he was making superb progress early on. We hope to bring you more on this later.

Both opponents are ready and we’re just waiting for the referee to start the match.

Round 1

And we’re off. Both opponents eye each other, but Agile starts punching first He is throwing small punches at his rival. I have to say the punches are directed all in one place. Oddly, Agile keeps asking his rival “does that hurt?” every few punches. Is this a new type of trash-talking? Because he can learn from the Italians.

At the same time Waterfall, as he is renowned for, is just walking around Agile seemingly gazing or evaluating him. He just seems content taking the punches while understanding the task ahead. This is what he calls “the planning stage” I just hope for him that he starts dealing some punches before it is too late.


Well, I am not going to list the next thirteen rounds. But the text so far, I hope, provides a good intro to this post. Take a cup of tea now, it is going to be a long one.

The question Is Agile just a hype is quite a relevant one. So I’ll start with just a bit of background.

Agile ain’t new

Nope, everyone who studied computer science was shown two diagrams… one describing a waterfall and another an iterative process, with a shape of a snail

An agile or iterative processs

A waterfall development process

Both of these development process existed since the dawn of man kind, let alone computers. They both represent two very different ways to achieve a goal.

If something’s worth doing – it is worth doing right

Both agile supporters (some call them evangelists) and opposers would agree that you can mess up even the most fool-proof solution. You could break the unbreakable. Definitely in the world of software. So if you are going agile you’d better do it right, otherwise you’d end up no better than you’ve started.

Now, I am not going to go into why is waterfall bad. Because it’s not. People delivered and will deliver working software with it. I know – I did it more than once. It has its problems.

The Agile Revolution

Evolution in a company is something that comes from the top. The company works at evolving and improving. But many times in order to adopt agile you go through a revolution as it comes from the ‘people’. Where a team starts breaking the current process and doing something different. This is referred to, sometimes, as ‘staircase’ agile as teams meet in the staircase not to draw attention to the change they’re going through.

Other teams notice something is working better in that other team. All have issues but somehow that team broke the mould. But how? So they start to do the same. Soon enough a revolution took place and the company re-adjusts its processes to support agile.

When I say soon enough I mean anywhere between immediately and never.

Et tu Brute?

No, I am not an agile evangelist. Though this post may make me appear as if I am. I just know that to me it appears much more natural to software development.  Most, if not all, good developers develop iteratively. No one writes a thousand lines of code and then tests them. No one builds ten different features and then checks if the first one works, let alone compiles. We all write a bit, test, write more etc’.

But if waterfall, or any other way of developing software works for you – do it. If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it is a phrase that holds quite firmly in our business. But I want to tweak it a bit – if it ain’t broke, maybe just refactor it.

See what I’ve done there? I said all good developers and included myself in them. That is the benefit of writing this blog. I can lie as much as I want to.

We all want guarantees

Yes, we all do. Our clients want them, our bosses want them and our employees want them.

So how do you guarantee that you won’t fail with agile? I won’t be presumptuous enough to claim I have the answer. I will say that like anything in life you need to try, try harder and then some more. You need to learn. Learn from your experiences and from other’s. And then do it again and improve. In other words – be agile learning to be agile. Agile is a state of mind, not a full-blown process. It is up to you to fill it with enough process. Not more, and not less. Keep evaluating and learning.

So is Agile a hype?

Yes. If it is a hype. But not just. It has substance. If you provide the substance. You could follow other’s substance – use SCRUM or RUP or anything else. But remember to keep learning.

You’ve gotta let go

Contrary to what Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) said – you’ve got to learn how to let go. It is true if you are a parent or if you are a manager. It is true when you look at all those things you’ve accumulated over the years in the shed ‘just in case’.

All the stuff

Looking in the shed you’ll always find lots of useful things

  1. A spare wheel for a bike I owned 10 years ago.
  2. 10 boxes of cardboard in case I move.
  3. A spade which was left in the house when I moved here. Made of two very rusty pieces which used to make a spade.
  4. About thirty inner-tubes for my bikes. Punctured, and waiting to be fixed
  5. About 10 new inner-tubes for my bike to use until I fix some of the previously mentioned 30
  6. A few 12″ nails. Some of them straight.
  7. An old print-writer. I think the last time it worked was in the 50s, and probably then it was regarded as old crap.

And the list goes on. A better list exists for the missus’ belongings. But I’d be dead to list that.

When we moved house last time we ended up with about ten large black bags of clothing for charity. I’d say three were in mint condition. The rest just good. And it’s not like we are big on shopping for clothes. Quite the contrary. Yet we’ve managed to accumulate a nice surplus to requirement.

But such earthly possessions are easy to let go of.

Let your kids fly

Much harder is to let go with respect to your kids. No parent wants to see their child hurt or suffer. But sometimes you have to stay away and let them make their own mistakes, and sometimes suffer the consequences. It is quite a natural process to see your kids grow and have a mind of their own. If you do things right you might even earn yourself the esteemed role of advisor. Meaning they will appear to listen to you, only to ignore your advice. But it’ll make you feel better.

Some parents can let go earlier some later. Some believe that their kids are not ripe enough and so they shelter them and hold them close.

Letting go at work

Oddly enough everyone lets their kids go. More or less. Eventually. But at work many people never let go. Even though our kids mean more to us than our careers we know we have to, and that if we won’t they’ll just cut us off. But at work many people cannot let go.

How do you let go at work? Simple – delegate. Teach. Coach. Advise. To a certain degree – do the same thing you do with your kids. Try to cushion but still let them feel the heat. I’ve encountered many managers who just won’t let go. The result is not just that they are overworked. The biggest impact in my opinion is the lack of motivation amongst their employees. If your manager is boxing you and doesn’t let you learn and experience new things. If she doesn’t challenge you with more interesting or difficult issues, then you are bound to start plodding. And nobody wants a plodder.

In order to let go, to delegate you need to actively decide to do it. Because sometimes it is just easier to do it yourself. To teach someone, to coach, to be ready to take the heat for their mistakes you need time and commitment. To properly delegate you need to shield the person you’ve delegated a task to. They need to feel that they are safe. That though they shouldn’t make mistakes – that they’d have their backs covered by you, just in case they do. That they’d have your full advice and attention to prevent or even fix a problem.

But once you did delegate, once you’ve let go you can stand back and enjoy the view. How people flourish. How excited they get about work. How much more time you have to harass your manager to delegate stuff unto you.

To be a good manager you have to delegate. To be a good parent you have to let go. To find your screwdriver in the shed – you need to throw some junk out. Life’s ain’t easy, is it?

Tactical genius or leader?

What is the role of the manager?

Bear with me while I get to the point. Please.

Rafa Benitez was hailed tactical genius. He was considered a leader that can always motivate his Liverpool players for that big match. After last season finishing second in the Premier League everyone thought Liverpool will take their 19th title this (2009-2010) season.

As this season draws to a close it is obvious that Liverpool would not only not win the title, it will almost definitely be outside the champions-league spot for next season. Whilst having all it takes to succeed – Liverpool failed. Sounds like a couple of software projects I know.

During this very troubled season I tried to find differences in the approach, as it is visible through the media, between the best managers of the premier league. And I think I have cracked it. It is all about leadership.

No one can doubt that Rafa knows football. Nobody can say he can’t get results. But this season it all broke down and he was left without answer. He has won plenty and after all did give Manchester United a good run for their money more than once. To be pipped to the title by the 2009 version of Manchester United, featuring Christiano-the-hair-Ronaldo is nothing short of great.

So where did Rafa go wrong? Well, his style of leadership is my belief. When all is good – he is a genius.

Footballers, like everyone else, need to be confident about what they do and about themselves. Wayne Rooney wears the same black gloves this season for good luck. Yes, even when it is warm. Wayne Rooney, one of the best strikers in the world is superstitious. Why? Every ounce of confidence counts. Even if it is irrational.

Enter stage left – Ryan Babel. A Dutch striker.  His period in Liverpool seems like a waste of time. Times of utter brilliance, and times of complete despair and shocking performances.

The point (almost)

Well, the point is leadership and motivation. A manager is not a bureaucrat. A manager has to also be a coach. Someone who motivates his people and gives them the ground they need to flourish. Setting up brilliant tactics and plans doesn’t do you any good if you are unable to get your team to execute. If you can’t create a system which feeds back to you to help you understand what is good and what is bad.

Examples? I’ll go back to Ryan Babel. One game he scored a brilliant goal, only to follow it two minutes later with a free kick that would make my mother say “I could do better”. Yes, my mother. What did Rafa say to the press? “Well, this is Ryan. He needs to be more consistent”. While this is correct analysis – it is absolutely the wrong thing to say to the press. He needs to shelter Ryan Babel from the press and fans and help him believe in himself, to achieve this consistence.

If a player of Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United) or Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) was in Babel’s place, these two managers would have given complete backing to their player. At least publicly. Wenger especially. He’d blame the pitch, the press, the other team, the length of the grass. Everything except his brilliant player. He’ll big the player even more. Fergie would blame the ref. The time keeping. And make the player the best in the world.

Fergie doesn’t mind getting fined by the FA as it shows his players that he is fighting with them. That he will do the fighting off the pitch, but it is with/for them.

Wenger is especially interesting in this respect. Two examples really stand out. Eboue was booed by his own team’s fans. The fans have done all the fans could to make him leave. What did Wenger do? He stood behind him. Helped his confidence. Publicly, not just in the dressing-room. He said to the press how great Eboue is. A season later and Eboue is one of the best players and all the fans love him. He turned around. He worked hard instead of sulking. Another example is Bendtner. The fans just now turning after he is slowly growing to be the striker Wenger always says he already is.

Both Fergie and Wenger appear to be the broad-shoulders their players need to hang on to. Looking at the team when a goal is scored or an opportunity is missed it is easy to see for which manager the team would gladly go to battle. Looking at Liverpool – it is easy to see that the team would let Rafa die alone in the tranches.

The point (really)

Well it is simple. Different managerial styles result in different results. ’tis a no-brainer. In my opinion for a manager to succeed he needs to take all that knowledge he has, and the belief he has, and hand it down to his team. To think only about his team, as his success is derived from their success. There is no success of a manager if the team has failed. Be it in football or in software. He needs to be a facilitator rather than a plan maker. The success of the team IS the managers success.

Is this all that was wrong for Liverpool this season? Well, obviously no. It is never this simple. But I believe that a different style of manager would have been able to regroup and motivate his team, to cross those obstacles.

Like a preacher without a parish

Today I’ve attended a conference by Rally software. Driving there from Wales together with the development manager formally known as P provided me with plenty of opportunities to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the way things are done in our company.

The conference is part of the Agile Success Tour which Rally are organizing. I will leave ‘is agile a good thing or just a hype” to another post. Promise.

But I will say that I really like Rally Software. They sell a software to manage agile projects and consultancy. But they do it in a very smart way, I think. They realise there are impediments that prevent them from selling these. Reluctance to adopt agile I assume is the biggest one. So how do they go about it? Brilliantly if you ask me, though only the future will tell. They support a community, the encourage it and they provide free seminars, with good food. If you want to learn – you just need to either attend or go to their website. If you’re not converted, they’ll talk and help and coach. So if I weren’t clear so far – I like their proactive approach.

So why do I go on about Rally? Well, this takes me back to the 3 hour car journey in each direction, and me preaching. It’s not that P is not a good audience. Actually he is good. Too good. We agreed about too many things. Well, that is not entirely correct; we’ve agreed about everything.Church of snail

I only feel that I have all that preaching to do… but no one to preach to. Occasional victim aside, no parish.

It is not that I always right. Lord knows I am extremely smart, as my mother once told me, but I can’t be always right. Can I? Every time I preach that we are doing something wrong I never get someone telling me that I am wrong. Which makes me wander if this is how it feels to be a woman.

It is not that I want to be a preacher. Quite the contrary. I want to have nothing to say, though if you know me it is unlikely. I want to look around and maybe just be able to comment on a few things. Not on everything. If someone would give me a parish to lead to salvation then I’d do it. Preaching the gospel of my vast knowledge and ability. And good looks. And flowing hair. Ahh, you get the point. Or at least let me try to not fail.

I want management to lead. I want to look up and say “wow”. I want to feel I can follow them through think and thin. I want them to look me in the eye and have a spark, a testament to the fact they are no plodders. I want development managers to actively manage. Not just give tasks. I want them to develop their people. I want team leaders to lead. To show the way. To push, to pull to shout “follow me, I know the way”. To coach.

I want the tendency to gold-plate everything to disappear. To get some sense of humility. Just because something can be done on paper doesn’t mean it should be done. Let alone by us. If it is not our company’s business, we should avoid doing it. If it doesn’t promote our business – let someone else do it. If we write a server and all our clients have their own web-screens, then it is ok to write several neat web-screens to showcase our genius server. We don’t need to write the most advance infrastructure that would enable my mother to add screens. My mother isn’t going to. And frankly, I don’t want her to as she lacks knowledge of our business. Let’s put some pretty screens in three months and not develop an infrastructure for two years.

By the way, my mother, even if she wanted, still cannot add screens as the result was, aham, complicated. And no one needed it.

I want our company to start learning from one another. The silo culture is killing us. No need for everybody to bang their heads on the very same bumps. A thousands times. My team – we scream and shout about these bumps. But no one listens. Heck, our managers ignore us instead of making sure knowledge cascades. We show by example and not just state claims.

In our team we believe that an Agile approach is good for our company. We turned a client that hated us to one that loves us. We adopted Agile concepts. We did it under the radar gritting our teeth to adhere to ‘protocol’. It worked for us, and it saved money and the client is happy after god-knows how long. So why is everyone so happy to ignore us?

I want to shake a rattle stuff and people. To take the group of extremely capable people and throw them out of their comfort zones. To take the comfortable sofa they’ve been sitting in and burn it. Make them stretch their limbs.


Feel better? A little. Another session of preaching is over.

’till next time.

Beware of stinkers

Every project needs plodders

I’ve been debating this with co-workers. Do we really need plodders?

Up to your neck in mud

Serious Plodder

Let’s define ‘plodders’: These are the people who come to work to do their 9-5 thing and go home. They’ve got a job to do, and they’ll do it. No ambition to be better. No ambition for promotion.

Let’s see what are the benefits of a plodder

  1. Dependable – you know what to expect from them. Be it 5 lines of code or 10 apples.
  2. No need to worry how to keep them happy – just give them more of the same. They don’t want promotion. They don’t want ‘different’.
  3. As long as there is work – they are unlikely to quit

But there is a danger here. A plodder can easily become a s(t)inker. Someone who under performs. On the one hand, the company is getting what it is paying the plodder to do – his job. But my personal view is that I want my team to be made of non-plodders. I want to be challenged by my team. I want them to be hungry. Hungry for challenges, hungry for promotion and hungry for getting better.

Yes, I know that it means the ambitious type is more likely to quit looking for greener pastures. But what is management if not trying to provide your people with challenges and stretch their abilities, therefore giving them the greener pastures within the company/team?

I’d also like to introduce the semi-plodder. That person that doesn’t want to rule the world. She is content at being a programmer or tester and doesn’t want to be a team leader. She wants to do her 9 to 5 and go. But she wants to better herself professionally. To be the best programmer or tester. She will keep providing high quality work. That is a plodder I don’t mind having. On the contrary, this is the kind of person that gives the team a core stability.

The semi-plodder can be an important part of the team, providing you with all the benefits of the plodder, but with without the danger of turning a into sinker. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish the plodder from it’s better type – the semi-plodder.

So, how do you tell the sinking plodder from the semi? I’ve found I can tell them apart in a training session or when suggesting something new. A book to read maybe. One of them will get a spark in their eye. The other one won’t.

It is important to have the high-flyers and the semi-plodders. You’ll be challenged by both types, as both would strive to better themselves. Each in her own way. Just beware of stinkers