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How To Run A Company With (Almost) No Rules

February 28, 2015 Leave a comment

  • Set your own salary
  • Vote your leaders in/out
  • Come and go when you please
  • Take vacation whenever you want
  • If you finish your work by Wednesday, go to the beach and come back on Monday
  • If you have to give back, you’ve taken too much
  • Ask “why” three times and then stop
  • Design for wisdom

A brilliant and emotionally moving talk from my favorite CEO of all time, Mr. Ricardo Semler.

Please, please, watch it. I guarantee that some, if not all, parts of the talk will fill your heart with joy! Well, maybe it will. If you’re an average, run-of-the-mill, anointed, business leader, it will either piss you off or strike fear into your bones.

If you want some more seminal Semler to whet your appetite, check out these two MIT-sponsored videos:

Managers Not MBAs

Leading by Omission

Make no mistake about it, Mr. Semler’s radical ideas are not a mess of pie-in-the-sky, Utopian psychobabblings. They’re the real deal, and they’ve been in play… in the real world… for over 20+ years at Semco.

Semco List

The RGR Prayer

February 26, 2015 5 comments

I recently watched an agile training video in which the sage on the stage made the audience repeat after him three times, the RGR prayer: “red, green, refactor“.

As I watched, I wondered how many of the repeaters were thinking “uh, this may be bullshit” while they uttered those three golden words from the sacred book of agile. It reminded me of those religious ceremonies my parents forced me to attend where the impeccably dressed, pew-dwelling flock, mindlessly stood up and parroted whatever the high priest dictated to them.

RGR

Let’s digress, but please bear with me for a moment and we’ll meet up with the RGR prayer again in short order.

I know it’s not much to go by, but assume that you’re given the following task:

“Given this input, design and build a box that produces this output.”

Your Box

Rising to the challenge, you concoct the following three design candidates upfront (OMG!) so you can trade them off against each other.

ABC

Which design candidate is “better“? The monolith (A), the multi-element network structure (B), or the two element pipeline (B)?

As always, it “depends“. If the functionality required to transform “this input” into “that output” is tiny (e.g. a trivial “Hello World” program) then the monolith is “best” in terms of understandability and latency (time delay from input to output). If the required functionality is large and non-linearly complex, then the multi-component network design is most likely the “best“. Somewhere in between lies the two element pipeline as the “best” design.

Hard core agilista consultants like our RGR priest and those dead set against the “smell” of any formal upfront requirements analysis or design activities would always argue: “all that time you spent upfront drawing pretty pictures and concocting design candidates was wasted labor. If you simply used that precious time to apply the RGR prayer through TDD (Test Driven Development), the best design, which you can’t ever know a-priori, would have emerged – IT ALWAYS DOES.”

TDD Improves

See, I followed through on my commitment to weave our way back to the RGR prayer.

Categories: technical Tags: ,

Where Specialists, Dependencies, And Handoffs Are Required

February 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Take a minute to look around yourself and imagine how many interdependent chains of specialists and handoffs were required to produce the materials that make your life quite a bit more comfortable than our cave dwelling ancestors.

Specialists

Total self sufficiency is a great concept, but if you had to do all the work to produce all of the things you take for granted, you wouldn’t be able to. You simply wouldn’t have enough time.

In software development, above a certain (unknown) level of complexity and size, specialists, dependencies, and handoffs are required to have any chance of getting the work done and the product integrated. Cross-functional teams, where every single person on the team knows how to design and code every functional area of a product, is an unrealistic pipe dream for anything but trivial products.

Obsoleted By Modernity

February 20, 2015 2 comments

While sifting through my desk at work, I stumbled upon a gadget that triggered some fond memories:

embosser

Do you know what it is? It’s a Royal Mark page embosser; a meaty and well built device that I used for many years until the onslaught of modernity made it obsolete.

Before the advent of e-books and safaribooksonline.com, I used to buy lots of “real” technical books. I would stamp them with my trusty Royal Mark embosser and stick them in my bookcase as soon as they arrived. But alas, since I don’t buy many dead-tree books anymore, I haven’t used my lovely Royal Marker in decades.

seal

What gadgets or tools did you use heavily in the past, but have been obsoleted by newer technology? If you’re young enough, probably none; but eventually you will.

Categories: miscellaneous Tags:

The Repo Of Shared Understanding

February 17, 2015 Leave a comment

Documentation can be organized, structured, archived, searched. Verbal communications can’t.

Check out these two communication system configurations for developing software.

Shared Repo

The system on the left, which depends (almost) solely on face-to-face collaboration, is the “agile” way. The system on the right, designed around a living, breathing, Repository Of Shared Understanding (ROSU) and supplemented by face-to-face conversation, is the “traditional” configuration.

As the previous paragraph implies, “agile” doesn’t recommend no documentation generation. It simply relegates the practice of document creation to the back of the bus. The idea, premised on the myth that documentation isn’t a required deliverable (in my industry it is) and the truth that programmers hate to write anything but code, is to supplement face-to-face communion with temporary, discardable, napkin scribblings and incomprehensible whiteboard snapshots.

WB Sketches

Which system configuration do you think is more scalable? Which is more effective for long-lived, software-intensive products? Which do you think is better, more accommodating, for onboarding future team members? Which do you think is more effective for investigating/understanding/debugging system level failures (not unit level failures)?

Agilists will often bolster their “minimal documentation” approach with the assertion that requirements and design documents become obsolete as soon as the ink dries. Well yeah, if the team doesn’t continuously update its ROSU, then they’re right. But why is it such a big deal to keep the ROSU in synch with the code?  The big deal is that it’s tough to sustain the discipline and resolve to so.

Categories: technical

A Blast From The Past

February 14, 2015 Leave a comment

One of the first from-scratch products I ever worked on was named “BEXR” (Beacon Extractor & Recorder, pronounced “Beck’s-uhr“). I proposed the name BEVR (Beacon Evaluation & Video Recorder, pronounced “beaver“), but it was shot down by the marketing department immediately for who knows why :)

BEXR was a custom hardware and software combo that connected to the raw, low-level, return signals received by FAA secondary surveillance radars from aircraft-based transponders. The product allowed FAA maintenance personnel to observe and evaluate the quality of radar and transponder signals in real-time – much like a specialized oscilloscope. In addition, it supported recording and playback capabilities for off-site analysis.

Despite it’s utility to the FAA, BEXR was politically controversial. Since non-conforming aircraft transponders were relatively expensive to fix and reinstall, owners of small aircraft did not like being “spied upon“. They did not want to know if their equipment was out-of-spec. Thus, BEXR’s mission was limited to troubleshooting only radar issues.

BEXR was comprised of two, custom-designed, 16 bit, PC-AT bus cards. They were packaged in a portable PC that was carted to/from the radar site under investigation. I was the BEXR product manager and the GUI developer. I wrote the GUI Operator Control Software (OCS) in C using Microsoft’s Quick C IDE. The software directly used the Windows 3.1 C APIs to display application-specific windows, dialog boxes, target positions, and control buttons/lists. Compared to today’s GUI tools/API’s, it was the equivalent of writing assembler code for GUIs, but I had a lot of fun writing it. :)

The reason I decided to write this post is because I recently ran across a pack of sticky cards that we used to market the product and hand out at trade shows. It was a blast from the past….

BEXR

Categories: technical Tags: , ,

It’s That Time Again….

February 12, 2015 3 comments

…time to put my day-to-day responsibilities on hold and make my annual trek to New Orleans LA to celebrate Mardi Gras 2015.

At the time this post auto-publishes, I:

  • will have arrived in NOLA with my best buddy Reno,
  • checked in to the Crowne Plaza hotel on the corner of Bourbon and Canal Streets
  • headed out into the night to join the party-goers on Bourbon St.

If you’re in NOLA anytime through Fat Tuesday, post a comment here or tweet me. Perhaps we can hook up for a fun time throwing and catching beads, eating cajun food, cruising the banks of the mighty Mississippi river, watching outrageously gawdy parades, and smiling our asses off. Life is too short for me to miss the greatest party on earth.

According to historians, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the raucous Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge on all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese that remained in their homes, preparing for several weeks of eating only fish and fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.”

Who Dat

Categories: miscellaneous Tags:
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