Thursday, February 26, 2009

Waiting for the World to Return to Normal [Kimberly Wiefling]

How many of you are waiting for the world to "return to normal?" I sometimes catch myself thinking, "Once the economy improves I can do this," or "As soon as the terrorist threat is dealt with I will do that." These thoughts amuse me. As a wise sage once said, "You can never dip your toe into the same river twice." The world has been forever changed by the events of the past year. THIS is the world we live in now. It certainly will change. But it won't change BACK.

I hear a lot about businesses that are "hunkering down", but I don’t understand why. I can't think of a less empowering stance at this time. If anything, now is the time for dramatic leadership, creativity and renewal. Rather than waiting to find the light at the end of the tunnel, how about exploring what new possibilities exist IN the tunnel? Let's realize that the light at the end is NOT necessarily an oncoming train, but IS often just a break BETWEEN tunnels. I say "learn to love the tunnel."

What can businesses do? How about creating a life-affirming company culture that becomes a competitive advantage? Roughly 60% of employees don't like their jobs and feel no commitment towards the goals of their company. What if corporate leaders decided to engage the enormous untapped power of their employees to create their next business opportunity, rather than merely waiting for the rising tide that lifts all boats?

The book, "First Break All the Rules," based on a Gallup Poll study of almost 200,000 workers, outlines very simply and beautifully how to help people bring their best efforts to the workplace. It costs businesses little time and almost no money. It can be as simple as ensuring that employees know what is expected of them, and then providing them with the tools they need to do their jobs. It also means expressing a sincere "thank you" for a job well done. Not rocket science.

We are all creating the world we live in each moment. What kind of world shall we create next? Let's make this moment count. As an insurance ad once said: "Life is a tornado watch. You can hunker down in the basement, or you can stand on the roof, let the wind give you rock star hair and yell "I KNEW you were coming, that's why I didn't rake the leaves!"

Kimberly Wiefling , author of Scrappy Project Management – The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces, hovering among the top project management books in the USA since launch in 2007. She is the founder of Wiefling Consulting, a scrappy global business leadership consultancy committed to enabling her clients to successfully tackle seemingly impossible goals. For the past 3 years she has collaborated with ALC Education, Inc., in Tokyo, working primarily with Japanese companies committed to becoming truly global through transformational leadership and execution with excellence. "


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Agile Management -- Principles and Systems [John Levy]

As we broaden the applicability of Agile principles from software to how we manage, I'm trying to encapsulate principles that apply in the wider context, and to develop "systems" or ways of conceiving of management that help us to visualize what we're doing. So the title above, Agile Management -- Principles and Systems (or AMPS as we will no doubt call it later), is the heading under which I'll put these encapsulations and visualizations.

Immediately I can think of some pitfalls to this process. First, "principles" and "systems" are very heady -- conceptual -- things. Yet one of the first principles we're trying to broaden is to emphasize individuals and interactions. So any principle that loses sight of the individual and impels us to act unilaterally (rather than interact) is moving in the wrong direction.

Let's take a concrete example. You have a set of projects you've asked a manager who reports to you to get done, but the results are not what you want. Not enough is happening, and sometimes the wrong thing is happening. What's the agile principle that applies here? First, direct interaction with the manager is necessary. Not only interaction, but respectful listening after you've asked the questions. There may be more impediments in the path of these projects than you imagined. Or the projects may be more complex than you believed. Then the manager may need coaching in certain areas, but hasn't asked for it. Or the manager may have ideas for getting the projects done that are simply not working. The only way to determine what's actually going on is to ask and to listen. Then, using your judgement and experience, you either coach, direct, or suggest to the manager ways in which things could work better. If you haven't done that, then you're not interacting with the individual in a useful way.

Too often, upper level managers, due to the press of time or overload from having too many direct reports, will severely shorten or skip over the step of listening to the responses of the individual. Or will jump to the conclusion that the individual is inadequate when a small amount of coaching would be very effective. In the old days we would call this incompetent management -- because the result is the waste of time and energy for both the individual and the manager far beyond the energy required to correct the situation. Today, we'll call it a failure to apply Agile Management principles. After all, it's the responsibility of the top manager to lead by example, and to make efficient use of everyone in the organization. That can't be done by applying pre-conceived ideas about people and their roles without listening to the individuals actually doing the work.

Maybe you'll find this old hat -- something we all knew from long ago. But we need to remember that management is primarily a matter of people interacting. What follows, if the interactions are effective, is productivity. And we all know that productivity underpins every aspect of being agile. Consider that statement a principle.

John Levy consults on Agile development and is an expert witness in computer & software patent cases. He has 30 years’ experience as a technology manager at Quantum, Apple, Tandem and DEC. His book on managing technology, Get Out of the Way, is due out in 2009. Check him out at


Friday, February 13, 2009

Three Sixty degree Review of Engineering Leadership [Jane Divinski]

Think of the 360 degree performance review of a person in an Engineering organization. It would involve gathering info from a variety of perspectives, including any direct reports of the individual, his/her boss as well as org-chart level peers and also peers from other functional groups, possibly including product management, sales, manufacturing/operations and customer support.

One objective of this Blog is to provide a 360 degree perspective on engineering leadership, ideally with specific positive and negative examples. In order to accomplish this I am reaching out to a variety of Silicon Valley professionals; I also welcome input from high tech professionals located elsewhere. Over the coming months I hope to have entries from engineers, engineering managers, managers of other functional groups, CEO’s, VC’s. I’ll even ask a few recruiters to share with us how they assess the engineering leadership capabilities of candidates they interview.

Most of such entries will include author attribution; occasionally it will make sense to simply provide the comments anonymously in order to encourage frankness.

There are many excellent engineering leaders though no perfect engineering leader exists . One person might do a stellar job of leading the actual product design and development but not be a strong advocate for the team during executive budgeting sessions. Some people would say that the only considerations for successful engineering leadership should be the ability to guide the team to well designed and implemented products. Other considerations, these people would say, are “management” as opposed to “leadership.”

How do YOU define leadership for the head of an engineering team? Does it involve only technology considerations or should success in navigating the corporate world, interacting with peers in order to accomplish the engineering teams goals etc also be factored into the equation?
Please express your opinion either in a comment to this Blog entry or by emailing your own Blog entry to

Jane Divinski has, since 1994, provided software engineering management expertise on a temporary basis, leading Silicon Valley teams as interim VPE, director or program/project manager. For more information see


Monday, February 9, 2009

Who needs social networking anyway? [Courtney Behm]

I was a latecomer to the social networking phenomenon. Following is the substance of my usual rant, which many of you may find familiar. “Already have too many emails I can’t answer, already have enough friends, already don’t have time to keep up, can’t be bothered, (insert your personal reason here).” I was the classic business ostrich, head stuck firmly in my own corporate sand, busy busy busy all day long and really really really not interested. But then a former colleague I hadn’t heard from in years sent me a LinkedIn invitation, and I grudgingly accepted.

The world proceeded to open up. As I sat there tinkering with the “find someone you know on LinkedIn” function, I discovered a few more lost comrades, and my list grew from 1 to 10…wow! Then LinkedIn did something brilliant. They sent out emails with their lists of people from the companies I used to work for and said, do you want to be connected with these people? Before you could say, click, I had 98 people in my list, and I was beginning to get it. Over the next year, I grew my list to more than 150, in part because of my efforts, but in great measure due to other people also beginning to see the advantage of collecting the folks they had worked with in one efficient database. My admiration of the technology knew no bounds when my use of LinkedIn’s job posting and referral service actually resulted in a new job. Wow! I became, and remain, a true believer in the power of online social networking to widen my horizons far beyond the normal “keep in touch” strategies. I now have nearly 300 people in my LinkedIn contacts, and I haven’t slowed down yet.

The business side of social networking is pretty easy to make a case for. Resume posting, and asking for introductions, and getting to the decision maker because your friend Steve used to be the VP in that organization…yup, yup, yup, no doubt about it. But Facebook? What’s that about?

I had classified Facebook as a tool for 20-somethings for whom virtual communities were the same as co-located neighborhoods, and a posting the same as a phone call. I lumped it into the same bucket as MySpace, and it held no appeal for me. My first invitation to Facebook came from a friend whose kids had insisted he join. He pinged me in some degree of desperation when they told him he had to have a bigger Friend list or he wouldn’t be cool. “Dad, you’re making us look bad!” We laughed about being Facebook geezers, and wondered what we were doing there. So imagine my surprise when last year, a former colleague, then a brilliant SVP at a very large, very successful company, said to me, “Are you on Facebook? Ping me and we’ll keep in touch.” I nodded sagely, with considerable aplomb and said, “Oh, yeah, of course. See you on Facebook.” Facebook? Sheesh! What’s up with this? When I signed on, I found that Facebook had become a 24/7 grown-up family reunion, complete with photos, inspirational stories, jokes, music clips, political brawls…who knew? I Friended like crazy. Now I had a window into Shari’s marathon and Candi’s experiences at the inauguration, Greg’s favorite recordings and Samantha’s running comments on the state of the world. I saw what Woody looked like in college, and giggled at Aaron’s new baby movies. I also learned to be very cautious about visiting the sites of my young relatives, and to remember that my boss was also a Friend! Despite my scoffing, I found that Facebook was an extraordinary bonding experience with people near and far.

So I’m converted. Who needs social networking? I’d go so far as to say, don’t leave home without it. Like many of you reading this post, I’m not a natural networker. OK, I’m gregarious and I love being around people but historically, I was not good at making new contacts and keeping in touch with old ones. And I’ll tell you true, it hurt me. Overly-focused on what was right in front of me, I allowed valuable business and personal connections to drift away, carrying unrealized opportunities with them. Not only had I not continued to let them know I cared, I didn’t even know where they were. Now I have a nearly painless way to reestablish, maintain and deepen those connections. As a result, I have a richer community that warms my heart at the same time it keeps me current with what’s going on in my profession. Go ahead, try it! Link! Friend! Your career and your life will thank you.

Courtney Behm holds a B.A. and an M.A. in Performing Arts and Communication, and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Graduate School of Business. In her corporate career, she has worked for wildly successful companies, and those struggling to stay afloat in the ocean of change. Through her consulting company, Viewpoint Solutions (, she has helped a diverse client base, including Sun Microsystems, Adobe Systems, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and the San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, find creative solutions to classic business problems. An accomplished speaker, Courtney uses a combination of language, humor, insight and front-line experience to offer a fresh perspective on life in the fast lane. In 2006, she returned to the corporate world, and is currently Senior Project Manager at i365, A Seagate Company. She is writing a book on how to lead effectively in a time of constant change, and collaborating on a book on Personal Career Management.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We wouldn't know a good system if we saw one [John Levy]

One of the keys to effective Agile development is having a customer as part of the development team. Yes, I really meant to say customer, not product marketing guru, executive officer, or VP of Engineering, because we don't know how to tell when a system is good for the customer.

There are a lot of reasons for this. The most prominent reason is that we're technologists, and we love engineering. That means we love to take things apart, understand how they work, and then design intricate and elegant solutions to engineering problems. It's even worse when it comes to engineering systems that will be used on (or consist of) a personal computer, because we're expert users of PCs. Therefore, we have no clue about how a non-expert user will regard the interactions offered by the system we designed.

As a result, enlightened companies have discovered that new breed called an interaction designer. And they trust the design of the interactions to these people. And what do they know? Well, they have a grasp of human psychology, human mechanics (haptics), graphic design, language and symbol semantics, and learning. An odd, but effective combination.

When all of our customers were engineers, we didn't need interaction designers. But watch out when the system is for a non-technical consumer. For an example of what happens when the engineers design the interactions, take a look at the GPS system in the Lexus. This system, in an otherwise beautifully designed car, has 13 ways to set a destination; and what's the button you press after selecting a destination, to take you there? It's GUIDE! In my vocabulary, "guide" is a noun before it's a verb.

OK, so we should not be designing our own product interactions. And that's a good reason to have a customer on the development team, so she can tell us when something looks right and feels right as we go along (every iteration). And what's our reaction supposed to be when we find out the customer wants something changed? Happy -- happy that we found out in 2 weeks that we were on the wrong track; happy that we can suggest some other possibilities directly to the customer and listen to the customer's reaction; happy that our development work, if it is allowed to continue to completion, will work the way a real user wants it to work.

And that's pretty happy.

John Levy consults on Agile development and is an expert witness in computer & software patent cases. He has 30 years’ experience as a technology manager at Quantum, Apple, Tandem and DEC. His book on managing technology, Get Out of the Way, is due out in 2009. Check him out at