The Bat Phone

Do you have one of those executives that harasses you with status updates to projects, yet never attends the status update meetings?

Perhaps they call you, email you, stop in to your office, and want to know what the latest on project X is?

Is the behavior effecient?  What suggestions do you have about how to convey project status communication within your organization?

Mike J. Berry  www.RedRockResearch.com

Anti-Values

I was sitting in a KFC eating lunch, reading the slogans muraled on the wall.  This particular KFC is supposedly the first KFC in America.  Yes, it's in Utah.  Along with some chicken legs and a drink, you can enjoy a small exhibit showing Colonel Sander's original briefcase, white suite, shoes, etc.

One mural read, "Somehow we'll do it, by the principles of thrift, honor, integrity, and charity."

I thought for a moment.  Some of the financial service companies I've worked with would fail if they valued charity.  Then I thought about how trust is a wonderful interpersonal dynamic, but the companies I've worked with in the medical field allow no latitude for trust.  Everything must be written down and authorized by a credentialed physician.  Walk into a pharmacy and you'll need a signature on piece of paper to get a prescription filled.

Hmmm, just like charity is an anti-value in the financial services industry, trust is an anti-value in the medical industry.

I spent the day thinking about this new concept.  I owe the title of 'Anti-Value' to the Discovery-Channel documentary about Anti-Matter I was watching the night before.  I  guess I'm coining the phrase here, but it makes a lot of sense to me.  Normally, a value is something our society charish's, yet in a particular situation, or line of business--it becomes the wrong thing to do.

I started seeing how this concept can be applied all over to help clarify the decision making process.

I remembered taking third place instead of second in a Maryland school-district programming competition in high school because I let the guy from our rival high school cut in line in front of me to turn in his test.  When the results were announced we had both scored the same grade, but because he handed his paper in first, he won second place and I won third. (I beat him in the State programming competition the following month.)

I've never forgotten this experience, and actually now that I think about it, offering your competitor any leeway is an anti-value.

Some business meetings I've been involved in are a collage of participants cutting other participants off mid-sentence to make their point known.  Rude? Yes.  But, in fact, politeness may be considered an anti-value in these types of situations.

I think the concept is fascinating.  Just as a good value system should be in place to help an organization, department, team, or individual govern their decisions, an anti-value system can compliment a value-system by providing additional clarity for the decision making process.

One example of this is the U.S. government's policy on dealing with terrorists.  The government values having a "no negotiating with terrorists" policy.  As a disincentive to future terrorism, they have an additional policy to provide or produce exactly the opposite of what the terrorists are demanding.  The notion--to give them what they want--really becomes an anti-value, and is an additional input to the decision-making process.  So, in fact, their policy is set by values, and anti-values.

I hope you find this concept as fascinating as I do.  It was the best $7.79 I've spent on lunch in a while.

Mike J. Berry www.RedRockResearch.com

Your First Week as a Software Development Manager

Wether you are starting a new job, or you just got promoted, the first week as a Software Development Manger, VP, Director, etc, can be a dizzying experience.

Depending on your particular situation, you'll likely have to meet many new people, learn about new systems, and remember to smile often.

A good starting point is the be sure the following items are in place:


  1. Make a contact list of everyone in your department, your peers, you manager.  Include their desk phones, mobile phones, and email addresses.  Keep this list updated.  You will use it for a long time.

  2. Find or Create the 'Development Procedures Manual.'  Include in it the following:

    1. Corporate Mission/Vision Statement & Values

    2. Department Mission/Vision Statement & Values

    3. New Employee Hire checklist

    4. Development Workstation Setup checklist

    5. Software Development Procedures

    6. Coding Standards

    7. VPN Setup Instructions

    8. Weekly Meeting Schedules


  3. Create a 'Development Managers Log' containing the following:

    1. Employee Time Off Log

    2. Observed holiday list

    3. 3rd Party Software Licensing information

    4. Historical Release Log


  4. Be sure you have a source code repository

  5. Be sure you have an issue tracking system

  6. Review/Create the Disaster Recovery plan for all of your critical systems:

    1. Source Code Repository

    2. 3rd Party Code libraries

    3. Issue Tracking System & DB


  7. Make a 'projects list' containing an ever-updating list of projects and their status.

  8. Have a 'welcome meeting' with the group you oversee to tell them something about you.  Whomever interviewed you knows about you, but chances are the group you are now managing doesn't.  Tell them your past work history, your management style, communication plan, and something fun and personable about yourself.

  9. Ask your group what would make their jobs more rewarding.  Ask this question a lot at first because they won't believe you mean it until you have asked the question many times.


Good Luck!  You're off to a good !

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

What to Look For When Interviewing a Candidate

My sister was recently promoted to manage a team of software project managers for a large bank on the East coast.  She told me she gets to hire someone for the first time in her career.

I told her that hiring is always a bit of a dice roll, but I offered her some advice after having hired about 15 people at various times in my career:

1. The most important indicator of future success is past success.  Good interviewers know this.  Dig into people's past work experience and try to find out if they have been generally successful, or not.  Some indicators of this are whether they have changed jobs often.  If they jumped jobs on their way up the ladder of responsibility, this is OK.  If they jumped sideways, or sometimes down, this is a red flag.  Drill them about each job change.  You will get interesting results.  People will say they were fired, or had fights with their boss or coworkers.  These are usually not your desirable candidates.  If they fought with their previous peers and managers, chances are they will fight with your group also.

2. Look for enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm is a great sign of a star employee.

3. Examine their personal lives (you really can't do this in an interview).  But whatever they tell you can be a clue as to how they respond to accountability, pressure, authority, and responsibility.  If they hate police, or the government, or have been divorced five times, then they may have issues with authority or responsibility.  You have to be careful here because you cannot descriminate.

4. Call their references and ask their references if that person was successful, and if they would re-hire that person.  Ask how socially distracting they were inside the workplace, and what time they came in the morning and what time they went home.  Ask if they were a good team-member, and if they were typically dependable enough to get things done.  Ask why they left and compare their answers to the candidate's explanation.

5. Because software development is not always a 9-to-5 job, a good question to ask is if they have any extra-curricular activity that would prohibit them from staying late if needed.  I have hired people to discover that every day at 5:30 they need to pick up their kid from daycare.  This obligation makes them incompatible with leading a team that may require them to stay late and fix a critical problem.  This is a good thing to find out before you hire someone for a position like that.

6. Try to get them to express an opinion about something business related and that they are passionate about.  Pay attention to how they express their opinion.  Do they express themselves dogmatically, as if their opinion is fact and you must argue with them to object, or do they express their opinion in a collaborative way, where they would be more of an asset in a group discussion where others may disagree.

7. Pay attention to how they show up for the interview.  Are they on time, and dressed for the part.  Did they bring with them a copy of their resume? Are their shoes shiny?

8. Ask them several obvious question about your company to see if they did any research before the interview.  Find something on your website homepage that they would know if they looked there before the interview. This is a clue as to their proactive abilities.

9. Pay attention to how they describe their previous workplace, management, and executive staff.  This will likely be an indicator of what they will think of your staff.

10. If you sense an extreme level of dissatisfaction, high-maintenance, or lots of questions about what's in it for them---beware!  This is an employee that will likely perform the bare minimum and be unnecessarily needy.

There are lots of books and tips about how to be the interviewee, but not so much is written about how to interview.  I wish I could have read these tips years ago when I began hiring people.  I hope this helps others and I would be interested in hearing what readers have to add.
< ike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Great Mission Statements

Jack Welch, in his book, Winning, talks about how to create great mission statements.

He says most mission statements are dull, uninspired, and even unhelpful.  Most groups write their mission statement to describe only what they are in business to do.  While this is not wrong, it creates a whole bunch of mission statements that all look the same among competitors, and are not really valuable.

Welch suggests that a good mission statement not only describes what the company is in business to do, but how they are going to succeed at it.

For example, "We are going to sell lots of chickens," is not as effective as "we are going to sell lots of chickens by growing the largest free-range chickens and advertising their value to the industry."

Following his logic, I did some research and found some interesting comparisons:

Ford Motor Company in Europe's mission statement (couldn't find the U.S. mission statement anywhere online) is:

"Our Mission: we are a global, diverse family with a proud heritage, passionately committed to providing outstanding products and services."

OK, so Ford's mission is noble, but there is no explanation as to how they will succeed at their mission.  Compare this to Toyota's mission statement:

"To sustain profitable growth by providing the best customer experience and dealer support."

Toyota's mission statement expresses their intention to make money by providing the best customer experience and dealer support.

Indeed, their mission statement tells what they are doing and how they will succeed.  This is an example of an effective mission statement.

There is a business principle at hand here:  Ambiguity is the enemy to progress.  It's nice Ford wants to provide outstanding products and services, but there is no formula or direction given in their mission statement as to how they plan to do this.

Toyota states it will succeed by providing the best customer experience and dealer support.   Are they succeeding at this?

In 2007, Toyota became the largest seller of cars in America.  As customers, we vote with our money.  It seems then,  that they are providing the best customer experience, and are fulfilling their mission statement.

On a lighter note, Enron's mission statement is/was:

"Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence."

Mike J y
www.RedRockResearch.com

Book Review: The Four Hour Work Week

I just finished reading The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, by Timothy Ferriss.  Timothy Ferriss is a 29-year old self-made millionaire, TV actor in China, athletic advisor to more than 30 world record holders, Chinese Kickboxing Champion, first American to hold Guinness world record in Tango, speaker of four languages, and a four-world champion cage fighter.   This book now makes him an author.

Ferriss's book is about beating Corporate America, and becoming content and happy using the newer technologies available to us today.

He provides a formula for successful entrepreneurship.  One important point he makes is the need to find a market, before investing in building the product.  He suggests this successful pattern:


  1. Pick an industry you understand.

  2. Target a product you can Create, License, or Resell.

  3. Look at competition to see how you need to differentiate your product.  Examples:

    1. More credibility indicators

    2. Offer a better guarantee

    3. Offer a better selection

    4. Offer free, or faster shipping


  4. Micro-test your product (before you put any money into it), by using eBay, or Google Ad's.  Microtesting is "probing" customers to see if they would buy the product.  Some examples:

    1. Put an add on eBay, then cancel the add minutes before the auction ends, to see how much people are willing to pay.

    2. Build a dummy website, with item, description, pictures, and pricing.  After the user pressed 'purchase now,' display a "Thank you but this item is temporarily unavailable."  This enables you to test your conversion rate up front, without needing to invest in manufacturing, etc.



This way, you can determine up front if there is a market for your product.  He suggests putting the price on a separate webpage altogether so you can measure the effects that changing the price alone will have on your conversion rate.

Ferris goes on to explain how to transform managing a business into automating the business.  He suggests time management is a thing of the past.  The key to living better today is to remove distracting inputs from our lives.

He talks about outsourcing every part of you business and empowering the outsourcers.  He talks about only answering email one day a week, and having your cell phone message redirect people to you email.

The final part of Ferriss's book talks about what to do after you have successfully started and automated you business.  He talks about getting out of your comfort zone, travelling, learning new skills, and new languages.

I think this book is an excellent read, and surprisingly cutting-edge.  It's nice to read a business book about PPC, Google AdWords, and eBay microtesting.   Makes me feel understood.

Mi Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Book Review: Software Project Survival Guide

In Steve McConnell's book, Software Project Survival Guide, he describes the foundation and procedures for managing a successful software development project.

Researching from NASA, IEEE, and some other industry giants like Grady Booch  and Tom Demarco, McConnell summarizes software development into six stages:


  1. Planning

  2. Design

  3. Construction

  4. Testing

  5. Release

  6. Wrap-up


McConnell also offers some great ideas like keeping a project history to record lessons learned and actual project data (time to completion, lines of code, etc.)

He talks about Quality Assurance practices and team development.  Interestingly enough, his book starts with a diagram and commentary on Maslow's human needs heirachy, and how the needs of a software development group are similar.  He proposes a Bill of Rights for the project team, and a Bill or Rights for the customers.

He offers a project health quiz--allowing you to measure your project to see how probable it is at succeeding.

McConnell ends his book with a chapter on project do's and don't, borrowed from NASA.  These are:

Software Development Project Do's:


  1. Create and follow a software development plan.

  2. Empower project personnel.

  3. Minimize the bureaucracy.

  4. Define the requirements baseline, and manage changes to it.

  5. Take periodic snapshots of project health and progress, and replan when necessary.

  6. Re-estimate system size, effort, and schedules periodically.

  7. Define and manage phase transitions.

  8. Foster a team spirit.


Software Development Project Don'ts:


  1. Don't let team members work in an unsystematic way.

  2. Don't set unreasonable goals.

  3. Don't implement changes without assessing their impact and obtaining approval of the change board.

  4. Don't gold-plate (don't add features no customer asked for).

  5. Don't over-staff, especially early in the project.

  6. Don't assume that a schedule slip in the middle of a phase will be made up later.

  7. Don't relax standards in order to cut costs or shorten a schedule.

  8. Don't assume that a  large amount of documentation ensures success.


Overall, this is a great book for new software development managers, and software development mangers who have chosen SDLC, or other non-Agile development methods. Published in 1998, this book came out before the Agile software development movement.  Regardless, it's a good book to refer to occasionally.

Mike J Berry www.RedRockResearch.com

3 Dimensional Value Systems

What is a value system?

As of late, corporations have discovered that mission-statements are only somewhat helpful in providing direction to a company.  Being strategic in nature, they don't provide enough detail to govern tactical decisions made by the corporate employees on a daily basis.

To answer this need, value-statements, and value-systems have come into vogue.  Many companies have value-statements to underscore their mission statements.

Just as some mission statements are more effective than others, some value-systems are more effective than others.

The simple approach to establishing corporate, department, or team values is to get everyone together in a room and have them suggest values the team should adopt.  Voting happens, and the group committs to their agree-upon values.

After one of these sessions, the group might come up with a list like:


  • respect

  • trust

  • excellance

  • high performance


This list is a start, but only representative of a one-dimentional value system.  These values, by themselves, realy don't project any context or weight.

A more effective approach would be a two-dimensional value system.  A two dimensional value-system provides a greater context fabric.  For example, you could say your group values:


  • respect over cynicism

  • trust over hope

  • excellence over heroics

  • high-performance over sub-optimization


These comparison value statements proved direction and context.  This represents a two-dimensional value system, and is more effective that a simple list of values.

A three-dimensional value system is a prioritized list of these comparison statements.  For example, you could say your group values these statements in this order:


  1. trust over hope

  2. excellence over heroics

  3. high-performance over sub-optimization

  4. respect over cynicism


This list shows that trust is the highest factor in inter-departmental dynamics.  It shows that excellence is more important than high-performance (so no cutting corners!), and that the group values trust, excellence, and high-performance more than respect.

Every group will have their own values and differences in priorioties, but putting a three-dimensional value-system in place with your team is a great step forward in building functional team cohesion.

Once in place, a reward-systems can be built around your value system to promote it' ectivness.

Mike J Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Book Review: Good to Great

I just finished reading Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't, by Jim Collins.  This #1 bestseller is the best business development book I have ever read.  In fact--I would even say--I can recommend it with every fiber of my being.

Collins takes a team of 20 graduate students from the University of Colorado and dedicates roughly 15,000 hours of research to this book.

Collins's team explores why some good companies become great companies, and why the rest never do.   Their research subjects were companies that outperformed the stock market index by an average of seven times during a fifteen year span.  Their findings are novel and counter-intuitive.

The first major takeaway I got from reading this book is that great companies have learned to say "no."  They don't pursue opportunities that don't meet certain internal criteria.

The second takeaway is that achievements, although seemingly "sudden" when viewed by outside groups, are really a long set of disciplined decisions made over time by these companies.

The third takeaway is that leaders of these great companies were not magnanimous superstars, instead they consistently seemed to have a compelling modesty about them.

A forth takeaway is that these companies seemed to consistently put their best people on new opportunities, not on their biggest problems.

Another concept Collins introduces is the Hedgehog Concept.  This concept is that companies are most successful following opportunities that have three criteria:


  1. The team or corporation has a deep passion for the subject matter of the opportunity.

  2. The team feels they can become the best in the world at it.

  3. The opportunity is in-line with what drives the corporation's economic engine.


I think I could write a twenty-page review about this book.  Let me just say you need to go and read it.  If you read any business-development book this year, read this one.

Mike J Berry www.RedRockResearch.comWith a forward by Zig Ziglar, John C. Maxwell's book titled The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is an assured home run.

Maxwell breaks down leadership into 21 categories.  He then goes to great lengths to explain each category and give real world examples.

He describes the progression of leadership by highlighting great leaders who have created momentum in others around them.  For example, he explains that early in Michael Jordan's basketball career, he relied heavily on his personal talent to win games.  But as he matured, he turned his attention more to being a leader and making the whole team play better.

Jordan is quoted in the book as saying, "That's what everybody looks at when I miss a game.  Can they win without me? ...Why doesn't anybody ask why or what it is I contribute that makes a difference?  I bet nobody would ever say they miss my leadership or my ability to make my teammates better."  Yet, that's what made him such a great teammate.

Some of Maxwell's principles are predictable and conventional, but some of them are quite novel.  I enjoyed reading about the Law of Magnetism and the Law of Connection.

The Law of Magnetism states that you are who you attract, and the Law of Connection states that you must touch people's hearts before they will trust you.

This book is a great reference for leaders in all stages of their career.  A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week bestseller, I highly recommend you buy it, read it, and consult it often.

Mike J Berry www.RedRockResearch.com

Book Review: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

With a forward by Zig Ziglar, John C. Maxwell's book titled The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is an assured home run.

Maxwell breaks down leadership into 21 categories.  He then goes to great lengths to explain each category and give real world examples.

He describes the progression of leadership by highlighting great leaders who have created momentum in others around them.  For example, he explains that early in Michael Jordan's basketball career, he relied heavily on his personal talent to win games.  But as he matured, he turned his attention more to being a leader and making the whole team play better.

Jordan is quoted in the book as saying, "That's what everybody looks at when I miss a game.  Can they win without me? ...Why doesn't anybody ask why or what it is I contribute that makes a difference?  I bet nobody would ever say they miss my leadership or my ability to make my teammates better."  Yet, that's what made him such a great teammate.

Some of Maxwell's principles are predictable and conventional, but some of them are quite novel.  I enjoyed reading about the Law of Magnetism and the Law of Connection.

The Law of Magnetism states that you are who you attract, and the Law of Connection states that you must touch people's hearts before they will trust you.

This book is a great reference for leaders in all stages of their career.  A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week bestseller, I highly recommend you buy it, read it, and consult it often.

Mike J Berry www.RedRockResearch.com