Manual Work is a Bug

My own personal story:  A long time ago, I was a farm kid on my grandfather’s farm.  The neighboring town decided to outlaw the carbide noise makers (like this one) that we used to keep crows off the corn…at peak harvest.  Understandable, but we would have lost the commercial value of the sweet corn crop for the year.

So 14-year-old me got to be a walking scarecrow for a week, in 100 degree heat and 95+% humidity, with a big straw hat and a gallon jug of water that became disgustingly warm as the day went on.

What I learned from this:

  1. Sometimes you have to take one for the team.
  2. In the long run, there are some tasks that human beings shouldn’t do, that should be automated.  (In this case, I was the stopgap in going *backwards* away from an existing automated solution).  We dropped sweet corn as a crop after that year.
  3. The small family farm is a dead end; the margins are too small to make a decent living, so I was the last of 10 generations of family to work that farm.  It wasn’t practical to aggregate the farm with others, as the state had run two highways through it, but that, as they say, is another story.
  4. Corollary: You have to move on from time to time and refresh your approach if you want to succeed.  This is a good general lesson.

Given this, and my history in software development and IT operations, I wholeheartedly agree with the article below.

Every IT team should have a culture of constant improvement – or movement along the path toward the goal of automating whatever the team feels confident in automating, in ways that are easy to change as conditions change. As the needle moves to the right, the team learns from each other’s experiences, and the system becomes easier to create and safer to operate.

Source: Manual Work is a Bug

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A great way to make quality important in your organization

There’s really only one key practice for quality:  continuous improvement, and its dual, continuous learning. For continuous learning, many practices that help; one of my personal favorites is ‘Lunch and Learn.’  It’s easy to get started, allows the team to ‘opt in’ to shared practices, and is an amazing opportunity for growth.

One example that quickly springs to mind is “Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship” by Robert Martin. This was one of the featured books in our lunch and learns at EVault. We’ve also done this at Pharmatrust, and I think we’re about at critical mass to do this at MedAvail.

On a side note: I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from the teams I have worked with over the years; it’s one of the greatest pleasures of my professional life.

Ed Catmull on why innovation and sustained vision matter

If you are in a software leadership position, this is worth your time.

A Conversation with Ed Catmull – ACM Queue.

Key quote:  “When computer graphics became practical, it reintroduced technical change into this field and invigorated it.
Continue reading “Ed Catmull on why innovation and sustained vision matter”

Why your customer service is the most important thing for your business…or for YOU personally.

This article (a summary of Ken Blanchard’s Raving Fans, with what appears to be material from a subsequent interview), may be the most important thing you read today.

Ken Blanchard: Save your firm from a customer service crisis.

Are your firm’s customers, or YOUR customers, raving fans?

Happy reading,
Dak

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

There are two countries in the world that officially celebrate Thanksgiving (and that have a substantial population of people descended from the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony). As an American in Canada (and, as it happens, a descendant of those Pilgrims), I thoroughly enjoy both Thanksgivings.

Whether this is a religious holiday for you or not, I hope that you can take a few minutes to stop and appreciate what you have.

Best holiday wishes to all; may you count your blessings and share with your friends and loved ones.

Best regards,
Dak

Building teams: Developers, not Programmers

If you aren’t in the software development business, this post is not for you.  These aren’t the droids you are looking for.  Move along!

Once upon a time, it was Good Enough to have wicked good coding skills.  Master programmers would hand out assignments to the rest of the team, who would code up the concepts and go their merry way.  However, those times are long gone; not only are coding skills regularly taught in high school (all over the world), but even the higher level skill of programming to specifications, not designs, has become a commodity.

I personally believe that the best answer to the commodification of skills is refactor jobs and skill sets.  With this in mind, I am thoroughly convinced that people who were once content to be “programmers” need to be “developers”– consumate professionals able to solve the “whole problem” and take a design task from concept to production.

The fundamentals of business and career growth remain the same: find a need and fill it.  However, there’s no longer a need for 100% code jockeys.  That’s OK; solving the real problem is more fun, and pays better.  (Anyone who I have worked with over the years will recognize that I’m consistent on this point…and most of them have moved on to bigger and better things.  If you are reading this, do drop me a line or post a comment.)

As always, best regards,

Dak

Why morale matters

The McKinsey Quarterly has a good interview with Brad Bird (director of The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille). I’ve been following Pixar with great interest over the years, partly because I have a couple of old friends who work there (Hi guys!), and partly because I really believe in what they are doing (changing from being a software vendor in a niche market to being a major motion picture studio: brilliant!). In my opinion, Pixar is the poster child for the “eat your own dog food” school of management, and deserves their success. (How good is Renderman? Well, it’s good enough that we’ve won Oscars with movies we’ve built on it!)

In my experience, THE key issue on the performance of teams is to get the morale and the synergy of the teams going. This involves selecting the right people, keeping the great players in the team, and keeping the ideas flowing.

Here’s a great quote from the interview:

The Quarterly: It sounds like you spend a fair amount of time thinking about the morale of your teams.

Brad Bird: In my experience, the thing that has the most significant impact on a movie’s budget—but never shows up in a budget—is morale. If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale.

Brad is being very low-key here; the emphasis is mine. In my experience, this is exactly correct.

Read the rest of the interview for how and why Brad worked on morale.

What are you doing to increase the morale of your team (and your family, and the broader group of people you work with) TODAY? I’m talking about hugs and compliments; what are you doing to recognize people as individuals, to listen to them, and to make them feel listened to?

More later in the blog, on building a team of “Developers versus Programmers.”

Have a great weekend,
Dak