Apr 23, 2006

Gladiator sings for his supper

This is completely unrelated to anything technical, but I just noticed that Russell Crowe (yes the actor from Gladiator) is now singing in suburban shopping centres. The one he graced is only about 15 minutes from where I live.

I just find it funny/strange that someone who is such a great actor (let's forget his offscreen performances) can be sooo fixated on something he's not all that great at. Then again... if we had his sort of income and spare time we'd probably end up wasting it on something we had no hope of being great at, like motor racing, basketball, first-person shooters, etc :-)

Apr 22, 2006

Difficult people in a scrum

There was a post recently on the scrum development group about how to handle a difficult person in a scrum who was causing the team to fail on delivery. While that particular post is about someone who overestimates it led me to think about difficult people in general.

Under traditional methods of managing software development, difficult people are a source of angst for both the team members and the manager, and the manager is typically required to spend a lot of time trying to keep the difficult one in line and manage the negative impact on morale, team spirit and productivity that this type of person usually causes. It has a real defocusing aspect on the team and is a source of delay and poor results in projects.

If the manager is unable to bring about behavioural change a team will often lose respect for the manager and undesirable staff loss may occur (ie the good ones get frustrated and leave) or an irrevocable and undesirable culture shift can occur wherein the good staff learn to live with their frustration and just start "phoning it in".

Under scrum, a difficult person is usually a lot easier to deal with. Not because the person is any different but because the pressure on the individual to work well in the team is not brought just from above but from the side as well (ie by the team members). Now this happens in normal project management as well, but because scrum gives the team the right to self organise and the authority to do what they need to to get the job done, they typically figure out a way to deal with the difficult person and they know that they can make the changes they need to in order to make the team work. Traditional teams have the ability to pressure their peers but lack the authority to do anything about it.

In scrum a team will usually opt for isolation and/or marginalisation of the individual. The team doesn't enjoy working with the person, so they give them the crappy tasks or the trivial ones that need no assistance from the rest of the team.

It's the teams right to do this and the scrum master should interfere as it disempowers the team. However, as a scrum master this is not something that should be left to continue for long and if it continues some intervention may be required. The difficult person could be moved to another team or shown the door, or they could be coached in improving their behaviour, or the team might just have personality conflicts and should be broken up.

Remember, as the scrum master, the management of difficult individuals to ensure a positive result is not your responsibility, it is the teams. Taking your hands off the wheel is a hard thing to do when transitioning from traditional project management to scrum, but it is something that will free you up to do the more important aspects of your job (ie mentoring and building up your team, instead of directing and limiting them). Leave it to your teams to sort it out and see what happens.

A few minor site changes

I finally got around to setting up a del.icio.us account for keeping track of my bookmarks - they're shown on the left.

Also, now that the blog is getting a little larger, I've added Google site search to make finding older posts a bit easier.

If there's something else you think I should add, let me know.

Apr 19, 2006

Different audiences for presentations

I've been mulling over presentations and how to communicate messages in general. One of the things I'm trying to come to terms with is how to create a presentation that works well as a live show and also works as a not-live show.

By live I'm talking about those presentations where you stand up in front of an audience and present. These presentations should be simple, clean, light, content filled but not wordy, distracting or (most importantly) as boring and mind numbing as a treatise on tax law and it's effects on carrot growers in Peru.

Not-live audiences are those people who will open your presentation after the show is over and read through it at their leisure and follow along at their own pace. Powerpoint is being used more like a documentation tool than a presentation tool.

I'm starting to think that one of the reasons most presentations are hideously flawed and as much fun a root canal while having ingrown toenails pulled is that people try to create one presentation to cover both audiences - it's less work after all.

Why do we do this to ourselves and our fellow human beings? We don't try to use reference manuals as marketing brochures, we don't try to use our offices for our bedrooms, we don't try to use our toothbrushes for our toilet brushes, so why do we try to use one powerpoint show for both live and offline audiences.

Bite the bullet. Create one presentation for your live audience and one for your not-live audience. Even better, use something else for the not-live audience. Record the voice over and make a movie of it, use Flash, use whatever, just don't try to cover both audiences at the same time.

Oh, there is one other reason why presentations suck, and that's because the presenters don't know their own material so the presentation is written as a way to prompt the presenter on what to say. I'll leave that for a different subject...

Apr 11, 2006

More on presentation style

Continuing my kick into improving how I deliver presentations and communicate messages to groups of people I ran across a blog entry at PresentationZen describing the differences between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Jobs is widely regarded as a great presenter and Gates as somewhat mundane and tedious. This helps explain why.

P.S. I know which style I prefer :-)

Apr 10, 2006

Powerpoint done right!

I hate powerpoint presentations. They're typically boring, information crowded and lack any real punch. I also have to use powerpoint as a regular part of my job in order to convey information in either pre-sales presentations or to communicate with the rest of the department or business.

I've just stumbled across the Beyond Bullets web site which has a number of useful tips, however the thing that blew me away was a link to a presentation about Identity 2.0 that shows how powerpoint can be used to it's maximum. Have a look at this link http://www.identity20.com/media/OSCON2005/ and be inspired.

Apr 8, 2006

Do you have personal goals?

Every 6 months or so I try to spend time with my staff to review their performance over the past 6 months and to spend some time talking about the stuff that doesn't normally get talked about in the day-to-day of the working life. With 15-odd staff (including contractors) it took three days to get through everyone but it's a worthwhile exercise.

Apart from the performance related parts of the review I talked to them about their own personal goals and development. It's not normally something that gets covered in the workforce as the focus is more on career goals and professional development (since that can directly influence the bottom line).

The thing I found interesting was that there is a fairly strong correlation between positive attitude and emotional stability and having personal goals. Those people who have a consistently good outlook on situations and who take a long term view of things instead of being swayed by the various challenges and problems of work and life seem to be those with goals firmly in mind.

Most people have some sort of career goal, you know, things like career progression, improving technical skills, being a better analyst, etc and that is something that should be encouraged and expected from my staff.

Personal goals are things like wanting to be a better father/mother or being able to improve your relationships, learning leadership abilities (not management skills), learning to interact better with people, being at peace regardless of circumstances, and so forth. Basically the things that improve your life both in and out of the working environment.

For tech people and male techo's in particular, it's not something that is typically considered and it can be difficult to get a good handle on these types of goals. After all it's easy with programming since code either works or it doesn't - personal goals are much more nebulous and harder to define, so how do you know if you've achieved them. In short - you don't. Instead what you do is build into yourself the habit of always improving in areas of your life. For me, I have aimed over the years to keep my temper under control since letting it go just causes more problems than it solves. I am constantly striving to lengthen my fuse and to keep reducing the powder keg that it's attached to. Whilst I've made plenty of progress I don't think I'll ever achieve it, but I will always keep pressing on towards it.

For yourself, try to identify character flaws or areas of weakness you would like to eliminate and work at doing so. The easiest way to do this is figure out what parts of yourself you don't want your (potential) kids to inherit. Why? Because kids will learn from your behaviour and character - not from your words.

Similarly staff in the office pick up and respond to your character and responses in stressful situations. You will always replicate behaviour in your staff that you exhibit yourself. I can point to this directly in my staff - I have a slightly irreverent attitude to others around me and my staff have picked up on this and behave in the same way towards me - ie respectfully disrespectful.

If you've never set personal goals or thought about developing yourself then do so. The benefits to yourself and the improvements in the way you relate to your family, friends and your work colleagues will only make your life more enjoyable and fruitful.