There is a coffee shop in southern Stockholm where I have taken the habit of procuring my morning shot of coffee. There’s nothing special about the place, devoid of charm and located at the busy entrance of a metro station, but the coffee’s pretty good. I always order a double latte with an additional carrot-and-orange juice. One nice touch is that they put cardboard holders around hot paper cups, making them less uncomfortable to hold.
The coffee shop is managed by a middle-aged man, often working in the back room. The best thing about the place is probably not the coffee, but the young, female shop-assistant, who’s very service-minded and efficient.
This morning routine of mine hummed along nicely until one day a couple of weeks ago when, to my concern, I was met by two girls behind the counter. The new girl looked very confused. During the following weeks, the training period I assume, the new and old assistant worked side by side, but after that, the one I was used to was gone.
When Ian told them what he’d done, they couldn’t believe their ears. He had what!? He had erased every document in the company database concerning hiring and retaining staff. Joan’s deep thoughts on “talent management” simply gone. Gone! “Hey, what about the backups?”, Helen asked. Ian just smiled, “Those too”.
The Pledge of the Sheriff
In the movie The Pledge (2001), directed by Sean Penn, a weary police chief, played by Jack Nicholson, investigates the murder of a young child. In the pivotal scene, on the day of his retirement, he promises the mother of the murdered girl to find the killer.
The sheriff gradually goes to extremes to fulfil his promise. He dedicates all his time to the case. He moves to a small town in the mountains, where he suspects the murderer could be found. The pledge he made propels him to forsake everything else. His mental health starts to decay. The guilt and shame of the unfulfilled promise lie heavily on his shoulders.
This movie reveals how incredibly powerful a promise can be, even today. Human beings can become very preoccupied in their quest to fulfil a promise.
In my last post I described a project restart, a simple, generic process for handling a software project when there are too many things left to do a few months before deadline. In this post I’d like to get more hands-on and talk about what actions you might actually consider in this unpleasant situation.
My experience is that some ideas that people consider sound great but are really, really bad ideas. And some suggestions, that many people may be unaware of, could have a positive impact.
Be warned, though! There is no magic dust you can sprinkle on a team to make them considerably faster in the short term. If you can help them become just 10-20% more productive you should feel proud. You have more leverage reducing scope on every level and modifying the system in which they work.
Before the Storm
Storm is coming (Roberto Pagani)
Projects have a way of distorting people’s perception. When the seductive promises have been made to the almighty directors to get funding, the deadline is closing in (fast), and the development team is not nearly as productive as you’d expected, then desperate measures certainly are close at hand.
I think we’ve heard all the variations by now:
- The Ostrich: We need this by June, you figure it out!
- The Compromiser: What about quality? Can’t you fix the bugs later?
- The General: How many more troopers do you need?
- The Virgin: Why can’t you just… well, work faster?
- The Blackmailer: If you won’t come through, we will get shut down.
- The Pleader: There’s no turning back. We’ve promised this to the higher-ups.
- The PM/Cruncher: OK, listen up! Everyone is on overtime until we’re back according to plan.
Recently, I retweeted an item from Neil Killick and I was surprised to see a response from Tom Gilb, legendary software methodologist. The tweets can be viewed in the picture below (read from bottom up).
Talking to Tom
Apart from the honor of getting some of his attention, I was a bit concerned with the response. I seemed simplistic and categorical to me. Quite frankly, it sounded like something out of a schoolbook in software engineering from the 80s. I find myself in disagreement with it. To disagree with Tom Gilb is scary so I needed to write down why.
Is this your idea of a manager?
We’ve all seen them; the crappy managers. Those who seem to care mostly about themselves and not particularly for their employees. But this is not about them. Most managers I have met care a lot. Which is great. Until it isn’t.
You can care too much, you see. Or perhaps better put, care in the wrong way.