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.
As an employee it’s quite easy to become cynical about the role your company takes in society. Most companies seem to focus on making money within the legal limits – not minding ethics, even less being a positive force in society. One example is the recent TeliaSonera leadership meltdown in Uzbekistan, where management defended from allegations of bribery by claiming to follow local legislation. That’s far from enough today for a major company. In a transparent world, you have to do what’s right, not just what’s legal.
More and more people think it’s important how their suppliers, and by extension their own company, behaves but very few have the power to influence that behaviour. This incongruence creates a feeling of unease, or even resentment. You want to be able to proudly present your company – not excuses.
I recently blogged about Adaptiv’s peer performance conversations, or PPCs. As a comment to that post, I received a great question from Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei), which was: “Please tell me how this in any way makes sense in the context of Deming’s 95/5?”. This is my response.
I’ve had mostly poor experiences with performance reviews. They often left me feeling slightly dirty; like I wanted to take a shower and forget the whole thing ever happened. I am not alone, it seems. Some people call them a joke. Some say they’re tayloristic, elitist or even evil. Very few enjoy them. It’s just one of those things that you “have to do” in business. Or is it?
What I have experienced as an employee is the Swedish form of performance review, most often referred to as a “development dialogue”. They are similar to their Anglo-Saxon counterpart, the “performance appraisal”; typically a little bit more coaching and a little bit less assessing, but only by a margin. At heart, they’re the same. The supervisor assesses the employee and indirectly or openly link that to their yearly compensation adjustment.
At Adaptiv, we wanted to get away from the negative stuff. But how could we? Just skipping performance reviews (I’ll use that term to mean all forms) would be one way, but why throw the baby out with the bath water? To me, there is clearly some value in getting honest feedback on your performance from your colleagues at least once in a while.
Would it be possible to set things up so that you could get that without the dirt?