J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Mon 16 May 05 09:55
Heh, true. The interesting thing is the explicit focus on human factors. I think your book is part of something that's going on - a shift in PM thinking where more emphasis is being placed on the interpersonal aspects of the work, and that is a good thing. It is becoming more acceptable to recognize that people have feelings and to explicitly take those into account in highly technical environments.
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Mon 16 May 05 10:13
Matisse: Yes - There are two books, each more than a decade old, called Peopleware by Tom Demarco, and the psychology of computer programming, by Weinberg, that hit on most of these major points. Peopleware really seems to be an inspiration for XP, given how many of the central ideas are in the same ballpark (shared workspaces, collaboration, working evnironment, etc.). Both of these books are referenced in XP explained. I mention this only because i'm still shy about identifying movements or shifts - I really don't know enough different people working in enough different places to have a sense for shifts that large - you know? It's one thing to gauge interest, or how certain kinds of books/websites are popular or not. It's another thing entirely to see actual change happening inside organizations - change is super slow. Molasses slow. Especially when you're dealing with corporations and big organizations. Making change happen is an entirely different kind of socio/political challenge from managing people/projects - it's a much harder thing. I wanted to have a chapter on leading change but it didn't make the cut (as close as I got was a reference to John Kotter's leading change, at the end of Chp 16).
J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Mon 16 May 05 10:49
That's a very important point - about the difficulty of change. I think a lot of us here on The WELL are people who want to see change happen, and often try to help it happen, and I bet most of us have been very frustrated at times about how hard it is. Some problems cannot be solved by better Project Management, they might be easier to endure with good PM, some things require broad change to really be fixed. I was a manager for a company where one of the two owners has some serious psychological problems - I think it's called narssistic personality disorder (adult child of alcholics most likely) and although I could reduce his impact on my team an dprojects, I could not "fix" him. And when it is the culture, or society that has the problems, not just one person, it's even more daunting in some ways. Still, making change is an essential human activity, without it we wouldn't really be what we call "human".
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Mon 16 May 05 10:58
It's a funny thing that I think we all share - the belief that revolutions occur (or should occur) quickly. I don't know if it's the way ideas are presented in the media, something we're taught in school, or something about human psychology or American culture, but we really believe that change happens fast, despite overwhelming evidence that it doesn't. The joke is that even revolutions take an enormously long amount of time to take place - we fixate on the moment when the change happens, but 9 times out of 10, a group of people were pushing for that change for months, or years. I don't want to slide into political theory, but this is one of arguemnts you'll hear *against* deomcracy. The ability for leaders in democracies to make change happen is very slow compared to more authoritarian systems with more fixed sources of power. Of course your typical dicatorship has it's own problems, but the ability to make change happen quickly isn't one of them. On a smaller scale, and getting back to software development and leading projects, clear authority is essential to make anything happen. If you can't make any decisions without approvals, you can't possibly fuction at a pace fast enough to lead anyone or anything. Change at the local scale, changing a bad decision into a good one, or a bad bug fix into a satisfactory one, requires some degree of local authority to make it happen. In a way making any kind of decision is a a kind of change.
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Mon 16 May 05 12:27
Matisse wrote: "I was a manager for a company where one of the two owners has some serious psychological problems - I think it's called narssistic personality disorder (adult child of alcholics most likely) and although I could reduce his impact on my team an dprojects, I could not "fix" him. And when it is the culture, or society that has the problems, not just one person, it's even more daunting in some ways." This a great point - I think there's something about unfixables that's important. When you're managing anything, there are some things you have the ability to fix, but many you can only maintain or contain. The more things you have to spend your time maintaining, the less time there is to get out in front of the project and lead the way. So getting back to the process/methodology talk, adherence to some kind of system for doing work can help maintain certain tasks by trying to do them in a repeatable, systematic way. When a team has too many problems that can't be fixed, or can't be easily maintained, the team is guaranteed to fail - or at least be late, or struggle and suffer in getting work done. When people say "my team is sooo dysfunctional" this is usually what they mean. I guess I feel that the nature of problems leaders deal with stretch from technical, social, organizational, political, and (like your former boss) psychological. When thinking about change, the only way it works is if you can see the project and team from many of these different perspectives. I think if someone put a gun to my head and said "Berkun you must create a methedology", I'd end up with something that tried to capture the many different perspectives leaders have to be aware of to lead or manage anything.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Tue 17 May 05 11:26
Interesting stuff here. I'm not a project manager, but I've found myself managing projects from time to time. My favorite step is in the very beginning -- talking to the people who know stuff you don't know. Take IT, for example. I'm a plenty good enough techie in various fields, but I don't know IT, networks, etc. from a hole in the ground. So rather than saying "For my project, the following IT things must be done, task1, task2, task3..." I will first go to the IT guys, more or less hat in hand, and say "here's what we're trying to accomplish, what do you think our best options are and why?" This avoids the famous "I could have told them that wouldn't work, but nobody asked me" disaster and it makes everyone feel like they have a stake in things. When it comes time to do the IT tasks, they aren't just doing work, they are doing work that reflects their own input. As a training manager, I'm often on the other side of that equation. People will ask me for something in the training domain, and will be surprised (and sometimes really annoyed) by the number of questions I ask in return. Still waiting for the first person to walk in and say "Here's what I'm trying to accomplish -- is there any kind of training program that would help me do that?" And since you're a former training manger, any suggestions on reading or resources would be much appreciated. I will read your book, especially the chapter on how not to annoy people!
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Tue 17 May 05 14:36
Carl: You hit two very important points: 1) Admit to things you don't know 2) Ask people questions. If you combine these two things life, and projects, become much easier. Beyond the good reasons you mention for doing this, it changes the relationship you have with someone if you are acknowledging that they may have information or knowledge that may be useful. Even if you don't follow their advice, if you truly listen to them, they'll notice, and respond to you differently. But you've set me up here with your question: I can't give you a good answer unless I knew more about what you're trying to do, or what you want to learn :) The first name that comes to mind is Peter Elbow - any of his books are a good place to start (though more about the art of teaching, than the science). You won't agree with everything he says, but that's part of the learning process :)
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Tue 17 May 05 17:59
Hah, good point! But I will check those out. :-)
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Wed 18 May 05 10:33
Ok, I slept on it and came up with a real question, and then I'll clam up and let you get back to talking about project management. I just took over a very traditional face-to-face class type of software training operation. Zero e-Learning. Having been around the industry for a while, I want to do e-Learning effectively, not just do it so I can say I'm doing it. What should I read to get up to speed?
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Thu 19 May 05 15:15
E-learning is a tricky thing - You have to come to terms with the fact that it's a cost/reach choice. You can't replace the value of a good teacher face to face with people. But you can save costs, or reach people you can't through other means via e-learning. Sadly I can't think of a single book on e-learning. I've read several but I found them all to be, well, trash :) Seriously - they were all about hyping different technologies, and not at all about how to develop a strategy for using e-learning, or pairing e-learning with traditional face to face courses - something I suspect is what you need. My best advice to you: Do a pilot program. Pick a specific need your customers have that seems best suited to some kind of e-learnning(see below), and pilot a small sample size of those customers using whatever e-learning tools you have available. IF you start small (pilot) you'll give yourself and your customers a chance to learn together without much risk, and make a better set of choices when you roll things out on a broader scale. The kinds of things best suited to e-learning: obtaining knowledge (e.g. studying the history of WW II), and individual skill development (learning C++). Learning more social or interactive skills, such as how to do brain surgery or how to run an effective meeting don't work well through most e-learning tools. Anyway - I could ramble on and on. If you're still awake and reading this, and have more questions, I'm glad to continue to throw advice at you - just follow up with me through my www.scottberkun.com.
J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Thu 19 May 05 15:19
plat-o-shrimp, I happen to be enrolled right now in an online intro to Java course through UC Berkeley Extension. So far I like it. The material has been presented in reasonable (for me) size chunks, and I like having full access to my own computing environment while working on the assignments.
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Thu 19 May 05 20:58
Excellent - do you know what software they're using? It might be a good place for Carl to start. I'm not familiar anymore with who the big players/vendors are. If you think about it, e-learning is just a smart kind of book. A well written book on a subject, with good exercises and good explanations, can be used to teach most kinds of things. With e-learning you get the benefit of interactivty, real-time feedback (quizes/tests), and in some situations, distributed classroom type experience (chat rooms, or actual virtual classroom). I think where e-learning goes wrong is when it's used in ignorance of the roots of good teaching. Even books emulate what would happen between a teacher and student. So you'll see all kinds of technologies and features thrown around in the name of e-learning that leads to just awful experiences. Whenever you're not sure how to apply e-learning stuff Carl, step back and consider how a good teacher would try to teach the topic/skill to a student. Then see how you can use the technologies you have at hand (pens, paper, websites, supercomputers, whatever) to help get towards what that good teacher would do. When I wrote this book, I stopped in many places and asked myself: "how would I teach this to someone sitting next to me?" if I couldn't find a way to do that, I probably dropped the concept entirely - there was no way I was going to pull it off with words and pictures alone. But if I could figure out how to teach it in person, I could then try to break it appart into pieces and see how well I could use the technology at hand (words and pictures) to convey the same thing. So I guess I see all these different tools as being in service to the same core idea of teaching and communicating.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 20 May 05 12:02
What a great, thoughtful conversation this is. I don't want to interrupt it, but I wanted also to thank Scott both for writing this amazingly useful book and for joining us for the past couple weeks to talk about it. Also big thanks to David for being such an able moderator. We've just turned our virtual spotlight onto a new interview, but that doesn't mean this one needs to stop. The topic will remain open indefinitely, so please feel free to continue if you can. And thank you for being such great guests here, Scott and David.
J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Fri 20 May 05 14:26
It is a good conversation. To answer Scott's question above, I think UC Berkeley is using a home-=grown PHP-based system, with templates. It's pretty well thought out though and more importantly the instructor has provided the material in good-sized chunks, with good examples and excersises. A really big deal about teaching stuff is that the instructors usually talk too much - in my opinion less that 20% of the time should be lecture, the rest should be exercises and testing that you got it. These can be run in 15-minute iterations in a face-to-face class: Present idea, do exercise, take mini-test, but total lecture time should be small - otherwise just get the audio tape. More on Project Management - first off, Scott you should join The WELL :-) Secondly, I really do think that project managers (not just of software) should take a look at XP, and see what they can learn from it - I certainly want to study some groups doing it (and of course try it myself in groups), there really does seem to be a shift towards more human-centered process.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Fri 20 May 05 16:35
(Matisse susses out my hidden agenda for asking Scott to come in and discuss his book :-) I just want to cut in here and thank Scott for joining us and for engaging in such an interesting discussion. It's always nice as a moderator to have the conversation sustain itself :-)
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Mon 23 May 05 16:39
Thanks Cynthia and David for having me - its been fun! Matisse: I agree about teachers talking too much. The brutal truth is that they don't know what else to do - few are confident enough to go more interactive since it feels, at first, like a giving up of control. Teaching is scary and the old world says when scared, tighten your controls. So here we are in a lectured driven education system :) I do agree about XP - and that it will be the first exposure that many people have to human and communication centered models for work.
J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Mon 23 May 05 17:12
It's interesting that XP is supposed to kind of sort of do the kind of development and project management that is implicit in the work of the Center for Environmental Structure ("The Timeless Way of Building", "A Pattern Language", etc.) I moved to California in 1987 to apprentice with Chris Alexander and the reality of working with him was, well, perhaps not so so centered on the same values.
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Wed 25 May 05 03:20
Interesting - It's always fascinating how writing about something is so different from actually doing it. I remember reading about certain philosophers who's lives were entirely in contradiction to the philosophies they wrote about. Humans are funny creatures - we have a hard time not breaking our own rules & beliefs. Of course I'm super curious about your experience with the Center for Environmental Structure - as I think I mentioned earlier on, I'm familiar with Alexander's work and have read a couple of the books (Notes on synthesis of form, and timeless way). Tell me more :)
J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Wed 25 May 05 08:44
This was in 1987. Basically, Chris is brilliant, at times very generous in ways, but often simply an asshole, having little or no regard for the feelings of others. An anecdote: I had gotten into some sort of argument with him, and the issue came up was it important to admit you are wrong when you are wrong, and Chris asked me why is it important to admit being wrong? At first I was tempted to just stop talking to him, it was so ridiculous, but I realized (all in an instant) that he was serious, he really didn't know why, so I thought about it and said "Because when you admit you wrong it creates a kind of vulnerability, an intimacy that enables levels of communication that are not possible without it." My experience with Chris was that he really, truly did not "get" that - the idea of opening himself, being vulnerable, was so hard for him, and he felt (feels?) so isolated and so often "right" where others are "wrong" that it interfers in a major way with his ability to form lasting and efective relationships. Now, look, the guy is like 60-something, I was 25, he has two daughters (who must be almost 20 now), and so what do I know? But I can tell you that whenever we talked about Chris, and I mean *whenever*, these themes came up, and this is among people who were working really hard with him, really liked him, but were sooo frustrated with him personally. Ask anyone who has worked with him.
Uncle Jax (jax) Wed 25 May 05 13:53
>Because when you admit you wrong it creates a kind of vulnerability, >an intimacy Probably true, but there is a more fundametal point of game theory. If parties to a contractual relationship (i.e., a software team) agree to admit when they are wrong it sets the rules in a way that is more productive. You don't have to tiptoe around imaginary boundaries, which is time consuming and diverting.
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Thu 26 May 05 16:28
Thanks Matisse for that story. It seems pretty basic that in any kind of relationship what you said is true - if you can't admit you're wrong, how can anyone trust you intimately? Admitting to mistakes is a kind of honesty, and just like other kinds of honesty things the absence of it limites relationships. Jax: I'm familiar with game theory, though not that particular point coming from it (I agree with the point, so I'm pleased :) I think that beyond game theory, it's leaders that have the most responsibiltiy to eliminate imaginary boundries and reinforce the real ones. In my own experiences, no matter what the posted rules are it's the behavior of leaders that creates or avoids the imaginary boundries your talking about. I don't know if there's a name for the theory, but I think there's a lot of truth to organizations inhereting, or being heavily influenced by, the personality (and biases) of their leaders.
Uncle Jax (jax) Thu 26 May 05 16:32
>it's leaders that have the most responsibiltiy to eliminate >imaginary boundries and reinforce the real ones. We're in total agreement there.
J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Thu 26 May 05 16:35
Reminds me o a definition of a "good parent", who stands in a new place and says "It's safe to go here."
Scott Berkun (scottberkun) Fri 27 May 05 09:30
Ooooh - I like that definition. Where's that from? It works for any kind of leadership role. Excellent. (Assuming of course they actually make it safe :)
J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Fri 27 May 05 19:21
Yer gonna laugh, but I first heard it from Timothy Leary. There was a matrix that was something like this: Dominant ^ | | Tyrant | Good Parent "Do it or I'll hit you" | "It's safe to come here." | | Hostile <-----------------------+------------------------> Friendly | Victim | Good Child "Please don't hurt me" | "Please tell me what to do" | | | v Submissive (I know some people will object to the labels "domnant" and "submissive", feel free to fix it.)
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