A Faster Workstation

MacPro

Like many things, the Antimatter Principle appears easy to understand, and, to me, even easier to misunderstand.

What could be easier as a coherent and comprehensive set of guiding principles than “attend to folks’ needs”, right?

And as a starting point, seeing folks actively engaged in attending to folks’ needs, any needs, makes my happy.

Digging Deeper

One of my needs is to help folks realise more and more of their innate potential – to use the old cliche “to become all that they can be”. And so I’m happy when seeing folks getting progressively more and more out of the Antimatter Principle.

As an example, consider this scenario:

Scenario 1a

A developer says “I need a faster workstation”. Sounds very straightforward. In many cases this might trigger defensiveness and/or analysis on behalf of the person who has to write and/or sign the purchase order. Setting aside this can of worms for the moment, let’s suppose we can get past this and the developer gets their new, faster workstation. Joy! Of a sort.

Let’s run through this scenario again. But this time we’ll take just a little more time and effort in the hope of maybe uncovering some deeper needs.

Scenario 1b

A developer says “I need a faster workstation”. Someone hearing this – at least, someone who is tuned-in to attending to folks’ needs – might respond with a question like “I guess you’re feeling stressed about not getting stuff done?” (NB Empathising).

Let’s follow a possible evolution of this dialogue:

“Sure am”.

“How’s your workstation for speed at the moment?”

“Well, I’m working on a Clojure module and the REPL startup times are interrupting my train of thought.” (Observation)

“I could get much more done if my workstation was faster.”

“So, how do you feel about that?”

“Quite frustrated, actually. I know folks are waiting on this module, and I feel like I’m letting them down.” (Feelings)

“Sounds like you have a need that’s not getting met?

“Yes. I guess I have a need to be seen as reliable and diligent and competent, and sharing in the customer-focus values of my team.” (Needs)

“So, needs for appreciation and belonging?”

“Yes. Sounds plausible.”

“I’ll go and ask Leslie about getting a new workstation and see what’s possible.” (Refusable request)

Let’s assume the basic outcome remains the same – our developer gets their new, faster workstation.

In this case, they’re still likely to find joy in being able to work faster, or more productively, or whatever. But it’s also possible that they might find much more joy in the situation, realising via the earlier dialogue that their needs for appreciation and belonging are what’s really better in their life. Not to mention the joy accruing to the person who helped them through the dialogue.

How do you feel about this? Does the explanation meet any of your needs?

- Bob

Further Reading

Words That Work In Business ~ Ike K. Lasater

Antimatter Workshops

No, this post is not about workshops on the topic of the Antimatter Principle – although I’m happy to discuss with you the possibility of conducting one with your team, group, or company.

And it’s definitely not about workshops on the topic of Antimatter.

This post is about using the Antimatter Principle to create better workshops – on any topic.

I’ve been to more than my fair share of workshops and the like over the years, and I’ve never been to one that was worth even the time it required to attend, let alone the cost in terms of hard cash. No, wait. Let me restate. I’ve never been to a workshop that was worth the time for the learnings it provided. I have been to many workshops where the social dimension – getting to meet people, doing things in concert, sharing a common interest, etc. – has been wonderful.

I don’t think it’s just me, either.

Aside: This post is about workshops, that is, events where groups of people come together, bounded by time, space and subject matter, ostensibly to learn together by doing. I contrast this with “training”, where the doing element is mostly conspicuous by its absence. I have no enthusiasm at all for the idea of training per se.

Workshops, at least, I feel may be redeemable as learning events, albeit with some major overhaul of the basic framework.

Here’s some of the problems I have with workshops as they currently exist:

  • The expert
    Most workshops get led by a subject matter or domain expert, eager to share their knowledge and experience.
  • The agenda
    Most workshops follow an agenda laid down by the “facilitating” expert. This (detailed) agenda is derived from the broader agenda of the sponsor. For in-house workshops this generally means a senior manager. For public workshops this generally means the expert, or the organisation for which he or she is working.
  • Passive engagement (i.e. little to no engagement)
    Many folks attend workshops with little interest in the subject and little enthusiasm for being there. The reasons for this are various but can include being told to attend, having spare training or professional development budget, and wanting to accrue CPD credits.

All the above lead to workshops having a low correlation between the needs of the participants and the content of the workshop. And to outcomes which fall short of expectations, and way short of what might be possible, given a different approach.

What is a Better Workshop?

For me, as a facilitator, a better kind of workshop would be one where folks had a real opportunity to meet their own individual and collective needs, be that for learning, for social interaction, or for other things.

And for me as an attendee, much the same criteria seem relevant too.

Applying the Antimatter Principle

So, to the application of the principle:

“Attend to folks’ needs.”

 

Firstly, do the prospective attendees have needs which correlate with the headline subject matter / topic? If not, maybe it’s better those folks don’t attend.

Then, there the agenda itself: Does it include a list of expected “learning outcomes”? Maybe it’s better not to do that. At least, unless the prospective attendees have created the list themselves prior to the event. And in those cases where this prior work is problematic, maybe it’s better to defer creation of the list until the event itself.

Yes, I suspect many people would prefer to have someone else set the agenda, structure the workshop, list the outcomes. And yes, it’s harder to sell workshops absent an outline, agenda or list of expected outcomes.

I do wonder if better workshops that no one gets to attend are any kind of improvement over what we have already. Maybe you’d be willing to share to view on this dilemma?

- Bob

Further Reading

Conferences That Work ~ Adrian Segar
Training From the Back of the Room! ~ Sharon L. Bowman

 

Seven Changes To Improve Flow In Your Software Development Process

Many folks drinking the Lean coolade seem to believe that removing waste is at the heart of the Lean approach. I beg to differ. I’d say that improving flow is the heart of Lean.

Here’s seven ways in which your team or, preferably, your organisation as a whole, might go about improving flow:

  1. Adopt a small thing as the universal unit of work. And by universal, I mean some unit of work that everyone across the whole organisation can recognise and adopt. This could be Use Cases, User Stories, or something else. Just keep the “small thing” small (never more than a couple of days work for a couple of people). cf Heijunka, FlowChain.
  2. Make flow visible. In particular, make e.g. queues, queuing times, and end-to-end cycles times visible for all to see.
  3. Know your WIP (work in progress) and work to reduce (limit) it. Cf. Little’s Law.
  4. Use demand to “pull” units of work through the system (as opposed to “pushing” work through).
  5. Eliminate – or at least minimise – hand-offs. That is, having work pass from one specialist to another. Each hand-off typically introduces another queue, with the inevitable costs and delays. One way to do this involves multi-disciplinary teams, or better still, up-skilling individuals so each person can competently take on a variety of specialist tasks.
  6. Identify the goal; understand demand (by various means – for example follow individual “demands” through the system, end-to-end;) identify the constraint; and apply the Five Focussing Steps (repeatedly). Cf. Theory of Constraints
  7. Experiment continually: trial possible improvements to flow, one by one, to assess their actual efficacy, in isolation from one another. Cf. PDCA a.k.a. the Shewhart Cycle.

And of course, none of the above suggestions will do much good, or even get acted on, unless and until the folks doing the work internalise a basic appreciation of the very notion of flow. And that’s unlikely to happen unless and until the work environment supports and nurtures folks’ curiosity and innate desire to do a good job.

Further Reading

The Principles of Product Development Flow ~ Donald G. Reinertsen
Seven Changes To Remove Waste From Your Software Development Process ~ Cecil Dijoux
Product Development Flow ~ FlowchainSensei

Antimatter Standup

Many aspirationally Agile teams adopt a daily ritual called the “standup”. At each such event, typically lasting some ten to fifteen minutes, each person in the team, in turn, gets to answer three basic questions:

  • “What did I accomplish yesterday?”
  • “What will I do today?”
  • “What obstacles are impeding my progress?”

Teams that make it past the aspirationally agile stage, sooner or later come to regard this ritual as trite, mechanical, and adding little value to their efforts.

As an example of how the Antimatter Principle can bring more joy – and thus, more effectiveness – into various aspects of software development practices, here’s an outline of applying the principle to the daily standup.

Empathy

Each person might choose to begin their part by expressing empathy for someone in the standup, for themselves (very important, from time to time), for some other stakeholder not present, for the team itself, for the work, or for the outcome.

Examples

“I’d like Josh to know I’m here for him this week.”

“It’s a tough sprint, but I’m still all-in.”

The Basic Four Steps

Following on from empathy, each person then has the option to run through the four steps of Nonviolent Communication and call to mind, and answer, four questions:

“What did I hear, see yesterday that was of note?”
“How did I feel about that?”
“What needs (of mine, of others) were, are not getting met?”
“What refusable requests might I make of those here (including myself) right now?”

Context

And maybe then reflect on context:

“What needs of mine, other folks were met yesterday?”
“What needs of mine, other folks will I be attending to today?”
“What do I need?”

There are several needs to which a daily stand-up meeting might choose to attend:

  • To help start the day on a positive note.
  • To align folks’ attention on the immediately most important stuff of the moment.
  • To bring folks’ needs to mind.
  • To attend to the needs of the team-as-a-collective-entity.
  • To communicate what is going on.

As a mnemonic device, think of PANTS:
Positive start, Alignment, Needs, Team, Status

Of course, if these are not the need of the folks, in the moment, then maybe a daily standup is not the most effective means by which to attend to them.

If you’re needing to find more joy in work, to have a more effective standup, or just want to experience the Antimatter Principle in action, would you be willing to conduct an experiment with this approach?

- Bob

Further Reading

The Empathy Exercise – New England NVC Group

Principles WTF

rock
“Hey. Why don’t we write down some principles?”
“Why?”
“Why not. It might help.”
“Help who? With what?”
 
I regularly see folks, in what I assume is their eagerness to help and communicate, invest what can amount to considerable time and effort in discussing and, moreover, writing down sets of principles, manifestos, and the like.
 
This all without asking:
“Who needs us to write down some principles?”
“What do they need them for?”
“How will they actually get used?”
“How will we know if they’ve been of any use in e.g. meeting folks’ needs?”
“Could we spend the time and effort on doing something else more useful?”
 
- Bob

17 Ways To Piss Off New Hires Before They Even Start

pissoff

I’ve hired a lot of folks in my time, and been through quite a few hiring experiences too. I’m always amazed that hiring organisations seem utterly oblivious to the tone they set for their relationship with new employees – even before they make the job offer.

Here’s a list of some seventeen ways I’ve seen organisations piss off their new hires even before those folks turn up for their first day:

17. Give the impression that mistakes are not tolerated in your organisation.

In particular, make it clear to candidates that hiring mistakes are career-limiting, and you and your organisation take great pains to avoid such mistakes. From this, candidates can easily infer what to expect when they actually start work.

What to do instead: Convey your willingness to take risks, and attribute that to encouragement from the organisation, rather than to any personal heroism. In particular, express the organisation’s willingness to stick it’s neck out for what it believes might be good hires, even when not at all obvious.
See also : Make Bad Hires

16. Make sure your communications are garbled through one or more intermediaries.

When little hiccups happen, make sure the explanation is garbled to the extent that any fair-minded person might interpret it as ineptitude, or even better, mendacity. This can go a long way to setting the tenor of all subsequent interactions with a candidate.

What to do instead: Communicate clearly to intermediaries that they are NOT expected to sugar-coat or otherwise alter the messages they relay from either party. Ensure all communications are available for inspection by all parties. In particular, don’t communicate by phone, and follow up face-to-face conversations with a written summary of what was said.

15. Talk exclusively about the current situation.

Assess candidates on the present needs of the organisation – after all, things aren’t going to change at all, are they?

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

~ Wayne Gretzky

What to do instead: Focus on the future. Any useful candidate will be looking to build a future with your organisation. Talk about how things are likely to evolve, and the challenges everyone will face coping with that. Explore how the candidate’s mindset, talents, skills and abilities will be useful in that possible future.

14. Appear uncertain as to why you’re hiring for this position.

If you know the value-add of the position, refrain from mentioning it. Better yet, talk with candidate from a position of genuine ignorance.

What to do instead: Realise that candidates would prefer being given “a good job to do” – i.e. one where the value-add of the position is clear and achievable. Go out of your way to gain an understanding of how filling this opening contributes to the goals of the organisation. And then communicate that. Better still, explore the value-adding possibilities jointly with the candidate.

13. Give candidates cause to believe you and/or your organisation are not serious players.

Don’t make any mention of established know-how, or initiatives to make things better. Skip over topics such as personal development, morale, continuous improvement, and such like. Never mention the “giants” in your industry (e.g. in software don’t mention folks like Deming, Ackoff, Seddon, et al.) and feign ignorance of bodies of knowledge relevant to your industry (e.g. Coaching, Team-building, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, TPDS, etc.). Gain bonus points by appearing oblivious to management-related bodies of knowledge too (cf. Buckingham/Gallup, Drucker, Deming (again), Hamel, Google, etc.)

What to do instead. Briefly touch on the bodies of knowledge the organisation has taken on board, and make a few mentions of specific cases of how the way the work works has been influenced by these bodies of knowledge.

12. Imply candidates will stand a better chance of getting the job if they lie.

Candidates who want the job will says what they think you want to hear. They will “creatively” tailor their CV or resume to the job specification if they believe that will improve their chances of getting hired. Never make this implication explicit! It, like so many of the assumptions and unwritten laws governing hiring, are undiscussable.

What to do instead: Act with integrity. Folks can recognise that, as they can a lack of integrity, dishonesty, and dissembling.

11. Keep asking them to come back time and again.

Make it seem like you couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. Fail to line up in one session all the folks who the candidate will need to meet. Have them come back three, four, five times just to see another face who, most often, will make it clear through their demeanour and body-language that they were not so interested in meeting the candidate anyway.

What to do instead: Arrange all meetings, conversations, etc. for the same visit. Realise that more meetings and conversations add little to the validity of hiring decisions, and can give candidates the impression the organisation is risk-averse (see point 17. above).

10. Make the hiring decision appear arbitrary.

Make it clear to the candidate that it’s your decision who gets hired, and you have certain opinions which any candidate must match up to. After all, you’re in charge of your little piece of the organisation, and hiring folks on the basis of what’s good for the organisation just wouldn’t do at all.

What to do instead: Explain the criteria the whole organisation uses to assess candidates, and the special exceptions you (or the hiring manager or group) make to those general criteria.

9. Use formal interviews.

Don’t fall for all that scientific malarkey which shows how fallible humans are at e.g. making hiring decisions, and the research which highlights the universally poor results obtained through any formal interview process.

What to do instead: Skip directly to having likely candidates come in and do real work with real people, to gauge their fit. Pay them for this – and pay them to leave if they feel they don’t fit in.

8. Have an insane amount of paperwork.

Make sure that there’s a mountain of paperwork for each candidate to fill in. Make sure as much of it as possible is obviously unnecessary. After all, candidates would like to realise that 80% of their time is being wasted even before they start the job – just as it will be after – wouldn’t they? And stress them out even before the job starts with worries about their references, etc. being good enough.

What to do instead: Work with e.g. HR to ruthlessly prune the prerequisites for candidates down to a bare minimum. Provide them with a third-party service, similar to a concierge or such, to do the lion’s share of that bare minimum. Make it policy that no candidate may start before these prerequisites are completed. Place a time limit on how long such work can take – with a “free pass” after the cutoff.

7. Appear inept.

Look as if you’ve never interviewed before. Have a list of “typical interview questions” that sound like you found them online. Give the impression that you and your organisation are doing the candidate a great favour by even deigning to speak with them.

What to do instead: If you really have never interviewed before, admit to it. See if the candidate can help. If you do have some prior experience, appear to have learned from it.

6. Fail to understand or explore the candidate’s value-add.

Candidates are ten-a-penny these days. You’ve got a slot to fill, and you need a warm brain to fill it. Simples. No one is going to criticise you for not getting the best out of the folks you hire – at least, not if you appear to drive them hard.

What to do instead: Just about everybody wants to do a good job. Which means just about every candidate has put a deal of effort into developing their skills, learning things, and making the most of their talents. And they’d really, really like to apply as much of that as possible to the benefit of your organisation. So explore what they can do, and more importantly what they could do, given sufficient support and encouragement.

5. Don’t prep. Don’t help the candidate to prep.

If your interactions with a few of the candidates go awry through your being unprepared, well, who’s ever going to find out?  And if a candidate objects, well they’re obviously not of the right stuff, are they? And hiring is a bit like school, isn’t it? “Sit still. Don’t talk. Do you own work. Don’t copy.” So don’t help them to be best prepared, either. After all, if they’re really interested they’ll spend days of their own time doing their own preparation, won’t they? Besides, it’s a good introduction to what working here is really like. Best be honest, eh?

What to do instead: Show that you and your organisation respect people by being obviously prepared for each candidate. Not just having a prepared list of questions or check-list, but being prepared for each individual candidate, like they were a human being or something. And help each candidate present themselves in the best possible light by helping them prepare, even before meeting you and others.

4. Exclude the CEO.

God forbid your higher-ups taking any kind of interest in who you hire. That could be career-threatening. Better by far to keep all hiring activity to yourself. What possible benefits could there be to either the candidates or the organisation in being open about these things?

What to do instead: Invite your CEO to spend a couple of minutes, one-to-one and in private, with each candidate. See “The Four Obsession Of An Extraordinary Executive” for a passle of reasons why this might be a good idea.

3. Involve HR.

You’ll need someone to blame if things don’t work out. HR makes the perfect patsy, so get them involved as early as possible, and make sure they have a real say in the hiring decision – and not just as administrative support.

What to do instead: Make use of HR as administrative support, to ensure all the ‘I’s are dotted and ‘T’s crossed, but for god’s sake keep them away from hiring decisions, and from the candidates.

2. Don’t involve others such as potential colleagues and peers.

Show your cojones by appearing to take all the risks of the hiring decision upon yourself (but see also point 3.) Real managers don’t work via consensus, in any case. And the successful candidate is going to be your boy (or girl), aren’t they? Why would they need or want to meet anyone else before joining?

What to do instead: Solicit the opinions of some or all of the other folks involved. Have them meet the candidates for a chinwag over a beer or a pizza.

1. Ignore the candidate’s blog, twitter feed, LinkedIn profile, etc.

Social media? Pah! What possible use could that be? Besides, you’re busy – too busy to read all the lame stuff that candidates have been writing. Much better to ignore their paltry attempts to present themselves, their value-adds, their ideas and their personalities. Your innate talent to gauge an individual’s merit needs no supporting information. Besides, the best candidates are insular, uninformed, anti-social, inarticulate, unopinionated and easily influenced, aren’t they?

What to do instead: See if each candidate has a blog. Read a few posts which catch your interest and discuss them during your face to face conversation(s). Dip into their Twitter stream, if they have one, to get a feel for their personality, sociability and standing in their professional communities. Check out their LinkedIn and GitHub profiles and community contributions. And invite others in your organisation, that may also meet candidates, to do the same.

Of course, there are dozens more ways you can piss off folks once they have joined, but here we’re just talking about before that first fateful day. Why not use some or all of the above tricks to sour the budding relationship and set folks up to fail from the very outset? Millions of companies can’t be wrong!

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

~ Peter Drucker

Did I miss any ways that have pissed you off?

- Bob

Further Reading

Eight Hiring Mistakes Employers Make: From Application to Interview ~ Susan M. Heathfield

Insane

After a protracted series of interviews and aborted interviews, I was recently offered a three month contract in London with an organisation professing much in the way of becoming Agile. Despite some number of reservations, I had decided to give it a go. Imagine my reaction, then, when this email turned up…

———————————————————————————-

[Preamble - redacted]

Here are the documents we need returned. The ID and Proof of Address must be verified by a professional (preferably your solicitor) who has known you for more than 2 years with their full name, occupation, dated and signed.

· Verified copy of ID (passport, photo driving licence etc) Please have the front cover, first page and photo page verified – each with a statement saying ‘Certified to be a true copy of the original seen by me’. If you choose the driving licence we need both the photo card and counterpart verified.

· Verified copy of Proof of Address – Issued within the last 3 months (1 of the following: Utility bill, bank statement or similar from home address) – Please state ‘Certified to be a true copy of the original seen by me’.

· Criminal Declaration Form (Signed)

· Confidentiality and conflict of interest form (Signed)

· Declaration of Interest Form (Signed)

· Basic Disclosure Scotland Check – http://www.disclosurescotland.co.uk/disclosureinformation/basicdisclosure.htm – Please apply ASAP and let me know the reference number

· References- A full 3 years work references are required. If only one role has been worked over the 3 year period then a personal reference will be required also. If a limited company has worked many assignments then an accountant’s reference specifying that between two dates work was solidly carried out on various assignments would be acceptable but as that would only count as one reference, a personal reference would be required as well.

· Gaps in work- Any gaps of more than 28 days in the last 10 years need explaining by evidencing what happened during that time. A personal reference specifying the dates is required, if this is not possible then other evidence would be considered i.e. receipts etc.

· CV containing previous 10 years employment/education history with no gaps

· Tax Assurance Forms (Signed)

Ltd Company documents – if you don’t have them: http://www.hiscox.co.uk/business-insurance/insurance-products/
Certificate of Incorporation
VAT Registration Certificate
Professional Indemnity Insurance – Minimum of £1m
Public Liability Insurance – Minimum of £1m
Employers Liability Insurance – Minimum of £5m

Government guidelines on Certifying documents:

https://www.gov.uk/certifying-a-document

To certify documents, ask a professional person or someone well-respected in your community (‘of good standing’) like a:
· bank or building society official
· councillor
· dentist
· police officer
· solicitor
· teacher or lecturer
The person you ask shouldn’t be:

· related to you
· living at the same address
· in a relationship with you
Check with the organisation that needs the certified copy – they may have specific rules for who can certify a document.
How to certify a document
Take the photocopied document and the original and ask the person to certify the copy by:

· writing ‘Certified to be a true copy of the original seen by me’ on the document
· signing and dating it
· printing their name under the signature
· adding their occupation, address and telephone number
The person certifying the document may charge you a fee.

[Post-amble - redacted]

———————————————————————————-

This was, of course, the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Needless to say, I have declined to be a party to this madness.

“If the company looks inept to you, you might assume everything else they do is inept.”

~ Daniel Kahneman

I have a forlorn hope that my “protest” might provide someone with some argument to oppose the policy.

Never mind. Onward and upward! :)

“There’s no shortage of talent – only a shortage of organisations that talent wants to work for.”

- Bob

Further Reading

No More Stupid Punts ~ FlowchainSensei

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