Good, amusing or short?

Hey Kalle,

I’ve been a bit unhappy with some of my recent blog posts. (The post about Rule of Three comes to mind, took forever to write and ended up really mediocre…)

From now on, I will aim to make all my posts accomplish at least one of these three criteria to make sure that you don’t have to waste your time on crap:

Good.

This is obviously the best one. Nothing beats quality. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen, so if I can’t accomplish that, at least I should aim for…

Amusing.

Hey, I might not have anything interesting to say, but at least I made you smile and that kinda makes up for it, right? However, if I can’t accomplish either good or amusing, I should aim to reduce the pain of reading my crap by making it…

Short.

The less time wasted, the more time you can spend on other more important and fulfilling activities than reading bad posts by yours truly.

If these criteria are good and true, you can also make the following interesting conclusions:

If I always keep it short, any bad posts that I write will cause the least amount of discomfort for you.

The holy trinity is obviously good, amusing AND short. That hasn’t happened yet.

Tweets are rarely good in themselves (links don’t count), often amusing and always short. Is this why Twitter has been so successful compared to all those other failed blog platforms?

I’ll stop now before this becomes too long, for obvious reasons.

Enjoy your weekend!

Mattias

 

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Loose leadership – Lavasoft lessons learned

Hey Kalle,

it’s read-an-article-and-then-read-what-Matte-thinks-so-we-can-discuss time!

Here’s the link:

http://h30565.www3.hp.com/t5/Feature-Articles/Lead-Leaders-Why-Loose-Leadership-Matters-Most-in-the-Coming/ba-p/1910

I’ll give you a few minutes…

Back? Good!

This post from mr Brogan obviously ties into my previous post about The “Jack of all trades” department. He might have even read it. Or not.

Anyways, the idea about leader employees is pretty exciting. Pretty much a situation where you have succeeded with empowering everyone to be decision-makers, something that we worked hard on at Lavasoft if you remember (succeeding in some cases, failing miserably in others).

Brogan had four points that can make this style of leadership possible, I’ll illustrate with some examples from our shared time at the web department of Lavasoft for your reading pleasure (ah, the memories):

1. “Bumpers” to keep your team from making any grievous and irreparable mistakes. 

At Lavasoft, this would be the peer reviewing of design decisions and the sanity checks in stand-up meetings. Also, the whole back-up support from a manager in tricky communications with partners and other departments. When it comes to expenses and being able to drive parts of the budget themselves, we never came that far – I mostly took advice on which licenses and office equipment we needed and mad decisions based on that. That would have been an interesting thing to try, putting people in charge of different parts of the budget and managing that all by themselves.

2. Production- and results-based metrics versus “butt in seat” metrics.

We were never much about metrics for performance at Lavasoft, and we didn’t need to be since we had such a small team (about 5-6 members) and good daily communication that I knew what you guys were doing and how it was going. Not much need for metrics then, but in a larger organization they might form a good starting point for discussion and a fairly unbiased measurement (the bias, of course, lies in what you measure though).

Putting in the wrong measurements though might lead to everyone managing their own pet projects, the success of which they’ll be measured by, and competing for resources for these – not my favorite kind of workplace.

One solution might to be set metrics for the group instead (hewwow SCRUM sprints!) that are better indicators for if people are performing. And then coach the group to figure out what needs fixing.

I’ve heard example of real estate brokers (of all things) that get provision based on how they are doing as a group, which encourages them to send prospective buyers to other brokers properties as well which benefits everyone in the group – something that a straight bonus system based on individual performance traditionally discourages.

3. A more open communication stream. 

Hopefully you’d agree, but I tried hard to give you guys as much information about what was going on in the company as possible, barring sensitive information about co-workers and such that wouldn’t benefit you and actually would hurt someone else.

I think this is just common sense – the more information you guys have, the better you can make decisions on your own. You will always be more knowledgable about the technology than me anyways since that is your speciality so if I can impart as much relevant information about the business as possible, we’ll can cut out me as the middle-man in decision-making, making us less vulnerable.

This stream should always be finetuned constantly so only relevant and interesting information is passed on both ways (“I don’t think I need these numbers anymore, they are useless to me and I never take any action based on if they are high or low since I have better indicators if the application is performing as it should or not. If you say we’re doing fine, that is enough for me and more efficient.”).

4. An active learning culture and mistake-learning path.

It’s always healthy to question how things are done at the company. It’s important to keep this constructive though. The “What puzzles us?”- question in the heartbeat retrospective after sprints was a good way of catching organizational flaws that needed adressing by someone with a bit of clout with the rest of the organization (“Why does marketing always deliver their stuff a few days late?”). I guess if you have a group of leaders, you should coach them in optimizing these things themselves (advice them a bit on how to approach Marketing in a constructive way on this subject that might be a little bit touchy).

We had a lot of shifts in how we did stuff (build-your-own vs adapt-your-own, figuring out what the web department should focus on, adopting SCRUM) and most of these were results of employees pointing out flaws in the way we worked and suggesting that we examine alternative approaches.

So, did we have loose leadership at the web department at Lavasoft?

More so than some other departments I would say. We were a long way from embracing it completely I feel, but the aspects of it that we implemented (without ever labeling them “loose leadership” per se) worked pretty well and were beneficial to us.

And that is the key take-away for me:

If you are constantly trying to get better, you’ll never be fully optimized and content, ever.

So make sure that each step is a goal in itself and makes you happier, more efficient or more powerful by itself, while at the same time bringing you closer to a goal or vision of how you want things to work.

Let’s do lunch some day,

Mattias

Rule of Three and the stuff that don’t make your board

Hi Kalle,

As you probably have noticed over the years, I have a tendency to get really absorbed and fascinated with some of my hobbies during a time period.

Since I have limited time and focus available, a sort of Kanban-like system has evolved for this without me actually thinking about it – I can really only focus on three hobbies at the same time.

Right now, my three are:

  • League of Legends
  • Civilization 5
  • Skyrim

Past examples of these include previous versions of Civ, Starcraft 1 and 2 (both as a player and a spectator), a crappy Facebook game called War Metal:Tyrant, another crappy Facebook game called Farmville, Fallout, NBA basketball, Wrestling (the fake WWE-kind), Magic: The Gathering and various other card games and surprisingly enough, front-end development (the XHTML/CSS Web Standards days). Yes, a lot of games on that list – what can I say, I like games more than most people.

What’s more interesting though is that this list only includes the things I’ve perceived as major hobbies and time-drains over the years. There are obviously a lot of other things that have both taken up time and energy and given me great fun, that I haven’t thought of in terms of this system.

These fall into a couple of categories:

Family and friends.

These are in a class of their own, since the “system” is mostly for the part of my free time that is usually “Matte time”. It would be weird to think I’d have to bump a friend in order to have time for another. In reality though, this is probably closer to the truth than I would like to admit (just ask Jeff and Mark…).

Things that are too small to register.

Right now, that would be this blog, Puzzle Quest on the iPhone, reading books, reading magazines and playing board games.

Things that aren’t easily categorized as “hobbies”.

Ironically, this might be work items that bridges the gap between work and freetime (like reading work-related articles or improving a mostly work-related skill).

Here is the point:
Your Kanban or SCRUM board only holds what you think about and label as stories or tasks, which probably isn’t all activities that your team performs (like maintenance, meetings, bug fixing, software installation etc).

Everything else, you still need to have a plan for – either that part of your work automatically flows into your day and is part of your velocity, or you have to make it visible in some way so you can track it, manage it and improve it (always improve everything, right?).

Can you remember how we did this at Lavasoft? It seems like a blur to me now… 😉

Have a great weekend,

Mattias

How Bret Victor changed my life

Hi Mattias,

Do you know who this Bret Victor guy is? Actually I barely do, I heard he made the Al Gore iPad book amazing, that he did some cool stuff over at apple and yeah… more cool stuff somewhere else. But most important, after watching a video recording of him speaking at some conference I got renewed hope.

He speaks of a choice between Craftsmanship, Passion and Cause. Where most people choose craftsmanship, many speak of passion but few speak of or live by a cause. The later is of course what he describes; you can choose to live by a cause even if your work is not related to social activism or politics. He himself want creative people (like himself) to have a direct latency free connection to their work. He says: If I get an idea and make an adjustment to my work with the intent to realize that idea I need to see the result immediately! Without this ideas die. He hates when ideas die.

Do you have a cause? Do you want one?
I want one, I’m probably that type of person. I even think I have one but I can’t distill it to words, can you?

Written but not Read,
Sincerely yours,
Kalle

PS. Perhaps the title should have been: How Bret Victor potentially changed my life, but that just isn’t as catchy.

How to earn loads of money

Pick up a peice of technoligy, like a phone or a computer. Locate the most frequently used applications, usually found on a home screen, in a dock or perhaps in a start menu. Now go through the applications and ask yourself if you like them or if they annoy you, are they a bliss to use or do they suck? If the answer is “no” you must be doing something wrong, you need to enter a state of critical thinking.

Now, take your pick from the (presumably) steaming pile of applications. Build your own, let it be great, simple, easy to use and a bliss to interact with (to be honest you might even make it whitout the bliss; bliss is’t mandatory but highly recommended).

Make it available for purchase and tell a friend.

Now repeat from the begining until satisfied.

What do you think Mattias? An option to consider?

Take care,
Your friend, The Rant Machine

The value of perfection

Hi!

I thought that this would be a good subject for a post written on my thirteen minute ride from the city to my home. During thirteen minutes there is no time for perfection (there is not even spell checking in the interface that I am using) which makes this pretty meta in a potentially uninteresting way.

I try to accept that perfection isn’t an omnipotent solution. I accept that, I am perhaps willing to accept that it is not the answer to anything. Despite this I think the asspiration has great value. This is what I want to talk about; the balance between perfection and what you think is needed from what we might refeer to as reality.

I have almost never created something that I think is perfect, as I set out to I usually try but it never happends. But trying hard and being persistent and “failing” (but really sucseeding) will make you better at what you do. That is the essence, that is the value of aspiring perfection.

I didn’t get deep into the core of this issue and if I were to read it from the begining I probably wouldn’t like it much. Anyway, this was my practice beta post; a first attempt at battling the need for perfection and in deed a controdicting meta post. Look forward to the follow up on thw value of inperfection…

Good night,
Kalle

Are you working on a train or on a plane?

Tomorrow I will take the train from Gothenburg to Stockholm with the rest of my department to visit our company HQ.

We ride by train primarily because it is cheaper than flying, but people often say that they like trains because you just get on the thing, find your seat and five minutes later you are on your way. It’s a calm environment (you can even ask to get placed in a silent carriage), you have access to phone, wi-fi internet and power outlets, and more space to stretch out than on a plane. And no disrupting co-workers either. In some ways, it is better than working in your office.

Why don’t people like working on planes then?

Well, for starters you have to get on the damn thing. Travel to an airport that can’t be placed in the middle of the city (unless of course, you fly from Gibraltar – the runway actually intersects the city center and you have to cross it to get from one part to the other, trust me – I’ve been there). Then you wait in line to check in and / or drop your bags, take of your shoes as you go through security (and you have to wait in line for that joyful experience), wait until the staff decides you waited long enough and lets you board the plane, wait in the tunnel to the aircraft since everyone wants to get on at the same time, wait while the guy in front of you struggles for ages stashing his enormous coat and hefty carry-on luggage (which he obviously bribed someone to get onboard, since that thing is massive) in the overhead compartment, only to squeeze into a seat that is slightly too small for comfort.

And then, finally, you get to open your laptop and get to wo…

“Sorry sir, no computers during landing or take-off”.

Ok, pick up your iPhone and…

“Sorry sir, no phones either. You have to turn it off.”

“But I have flight-mode on so it’s not connecte…”

“Doesn’t matter.”

Now sit through a safety demonstration demonstrating things you already know since you heard them a thousand times before – information that you probably never will have use for and if you do you certainly won’t remember to kick off your high heels before you jump down into the inflatable slide since the plane is now on fire and what shoes you are wearing is the least of your concerns right now (and yes, I always fly in high heels).

Takeoff! Now wait for the sign with the seatbelt to switch off. That is your sign that you can now start working. No seatbelt = work. Obviously.

Flip open your laptop, eager to get to work. Discover that you have no wi-fi, you forgot to charge your laptop so it has a whopping 8% power left (and you can’t plug in anywhere since all electricity is obviously used to keep the plane airborne) and you can’t call anyone (or even see if they called you). Now take out your pad and pencil and try to remember what you were supposed to work on, and struggle to remember facts that you could easily find the answer for in your inbox or by Googling if you only had internet access.

Then by divine intervention, mysteriously get into the groove and actually enter a state of flow where you are coming up with some of your best ideas ever (probably because of your retreat-like experience of media isolation on this airplane) – only to be interrupted by a stewardess asking if you want to have some bad coffee or some equally bad tea. Get your cup of useless coffee, look down on your notes trying to gather your thoughts again while chewing on your pencil, give up after five minutes and close your notebook in disgust.

Now, as a thought experiment:

Imagine that the plane is actually your office that is more than an hour away from your home,

the security check is all the times you need to swipe your card or show your tag to get inside,

all the waiting time is the friendly banter with co-workers that takes up half an hour at the beginning of each day,

the safety demonstration is the useless cross-department morning meeting that you have to attend each morning,

your undersized flight seat is your crappy office chair that hasn’t been adjusted to fit your work posture and should really have been replaced three years ago but the company was going through a rough patch that year so the chair budget was scrapped (and then management forgot to put it back in every single year after that),

the rule of no devices during take-off or landing is your company’s outdated IT policy that prevents you from using your iPad at work,

the lack of wi-fi is the routine update that your IT department performed last night that killed your internet access and won’t be solved until 4pm today

and the stewardess is that hypersocial girl from sales that ask everyone if they want to have coffee at 2:15pm each day and you feel obligated to drop everything and get in on the gossip to not get left behind.

So, are you working on a train or a plane?

Goodnight,

Mattias

PS. Next blog post: Snakes on a plane – how to survive in a hostile workplace… 😉