Category Archives: life

A Lesson Learnt, It’s Not Just About Creating the Right Environment

Following a discussion with members of one of the teams that I work with this week and given a little time to reflect, I think I’ve learnt an important lesson which will help me re-focus myself going forward.

I learnt that it’s not about creating the right environment for a team as you perceive it to be; it’s about providing that team with the necessary support so that they can create the right environment for themselves.

I’ve used “it’s” a couple of times in that statement so firstly let me quantify; I hold the belief that my role within a team is to help them be more effective and that in actual fact I work for the team as opposed to them working for me. Since joining my current company, amongst other things I have been striving to build an environment in which the development teams can work at a sustainable pace. One in which they are afforded the ability to strive towards creating better quality software. I want the people that work within the team to be able to have some fun and also to be able to take pride in the work they’re doing. One of the key things that I’ve been selling for example is that the teams should feel comfortable in their ability to be able to take a requirement from a stakeholder and wrap up in the associated body of work any refactoring they deem necessary.

What I’ve realised since the conversation and following a subsequent one, is that all of that has been seen to be largely hollow talk and that the team in question actually felt that they didn’t have the support, particularly given their burgeoning pipeline of work. I found the last point particularly frustrating at the time, I couldn’t understand why the team members weren’t just going ahead and operating in the manner in which I thought that I was allowing them to. I was convinced that it really was simple; I’d said that they had the capacity within themselves as a team to operate in a certain way and yet their behaviour suggested otherwise. I got to a point in fact where I felt almost depressed that all of my efforts to create something that I believed would yield wonderful results hadn’t been realised and in that respect, I’d not done as well as I could.

Importantly to me, what I’ve realised now is that I’m not spending enough time with the people doing the work, listening to them and understanding the way in which they are working and seeking opportunities to learn from them and ultimately, gaining a better understanding of how I can help them more.

And what of my renewed focus? I’m not going to stop doing what I was doing before. I still think there’s a need to be doing that. It’s time to compliment that with actions as well though.

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It’s like trying to get home when you’re drunk

I met some friends for lunch the other day and when asked how it was going in my new role, I said to them that it was all a bit like doing the Hokey Cokey at the moment. To put that in context, there are a number of changes that I want to see happen here which are superficially, very simple. In attempting them though, and as anybody else who has attempted to implement any type of change will know, you take a step forward, you take a step sideways and sadly, you even take steps backwards.

One of the friends that was at lunch with me summed this up a little better when he suggested that it was rather like trying to get home when you’re drunk. Let’s face it, getting home is a relatively easy thing to do (I’m assuming that you’ve not ended up in another country here…), you often come a cropper though, you might fall asleep on a bus and go past your stop; You might even just be so wobbly that when you’re walking you actually cover 3 times the amount of distance that is actually necessary. The thing to remember though I suppose, is that you get there in the end. You might even learn something along the way. Like for example, to get a taxi next time.

Having had time to reflect on the time I spent at my last company, one of the things that I’ve realised is that for me personally, it’s important to recognise the small wins. If you don’t and you spend your time just raging against the machine at large, you’re not going to do yourself any favours and really if it’s that bad, take some time away, come up with another plan and approach and start again.

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It Was A Stone Groove…

And so it was. Somebody left that message in the leaving card that I received last week when I left BBC Worldwide. I spent an incredible 4 and a bit years working there and have many fond memories of the place and people.

So what now? Well, I’ve started as a Development Manager at 7digital, a start-up based in Shoreditch (Apparently now known as Silicon Roundabout), which promises an exciting opportunity to be part of something as they look to expand their development capabilities. Expect more of the same from this blog (that is, irregular updates and occasional rantings) as I endeavour to help them with things to come.

Now, off to go and do some research on this Waterfall thing, I’ve heard that it’s all the rage.

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The Stretchy MonkeyThis has been overdue for some time now but I should announce to the wider audience that Charlie Rough was born on the 23rd May at 10.40 weighing in at a healthy 8lbs 13oz. Mother and baby were doing well then and still are, we’ve had a few issues as I’m sure most new parents do but thankfully everything seems to be settling down a little now.

We’ve had a bit of time so far for GeekDadding though all we’ve managed to do is create him his blog and email address. More soon though I’m sure and with the recent update to the Lego Digital Designer I think that’s where we’ll be starting.


Let The Inmates Run The Asylum

One of my colleagues recently sent me a quote from this site which tickled me a bit.

“Those who do not have a clue are still debating about the process.
Those who know, just do it. (56)”

When reading through the rest of the quotes on the page I find the following one more interesting though:

“If you want to be a great leader, stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts and the team will govern itself.
The more prohibitions you have, the less disciplined the team will be.
The more coercion you exert, the less secure the team will be.
The more external help you call, the less self-reliant the team will be. (57)”

I must confess, I’m no Taoist, nor (other than having read The Tao of Pooh, which is another story) do I know that much about it, particularly in the context of Software Development, but in the respect of what a manager can do to establish a well functioning team or department, I agree with a lot of the points above.

I’ve witnessed my fair share of change in what is a relatively short career, I’ve seen it instigated by managers and I’ve also observed it come from the people on the ground. Each approach has it’s relative merits in any given situation, in my opinion though, the act of facilitating change will tend to success more than a command and control structure.

Self organising teams need to be nurtured, they need to feel as though they are empowered to make change, furthermore and perhaps most importantly they need a clear vision of their remit as well as some parameters to operate within.

I think that it is relatively easy to define the vision and parameters for a development team; they should seek to deliver value, aggressively tackle waste and to do both of those continually.

One of the things that is starting to interest me more and more though is business transformation and how some of the agile techniques such as self organisation can be applied. I believe that self organisation can be used as a mechanism to deliver enterprise change however, I think it is even more important to ensure success that a clear vision is communicated and that some definite parameters even if these may change later, to work within are stated.


Motion vs. Progress

A friend of mine that I used to live with, who was working as a consultant at the time, once told me about a meeting that he was in (if I remember correctly.) where somebody had used the phrase “Let’s not confuse motion with progress”.

I’ve long been campaigning for a change to take place here and, during my absence last week, plans were put in to action to make some within the department and another department that we work closely with. I tend to think that change is a good thing (as long as it’s not change, for changes sake), certainly I’m an advocate of continual change or at least, continual improvement. It’s the latter part of that statement where the difference lies and the reason behind this post.

Continual Improvement would suggest that you are striving to understand the issues that you have and that when you change, you are looking to adapt to the learnings you have taken, or try new methods that will potentially afford better results (with a general acceptance that you’re only as good as your last mistake). Think Agile, think Inspect and Adapt or from a Lean perspective, Amplify Learning.

When change comes down from the top you have to question the sensibility of it, there’s no doubt that it will be informed but just how accurate is it? I likened the way in which the changes are taking place here yesterday to somebody to something I read in Mary Poppendieck’s book – Lean Software Development – An Agile Toolkit. Whereas the traditional armed services in the U.S. (Army, Navy and Air Force) plan everything and then pass down commands through the chain of command, their Marine Corps plan up to a certain point and then rely upon the people on the ground to use their training and more importantly, their understanding of the issues that they are faced with to make the right decisions. I’ve just finished reading The Wisdom of Crowds which also suggests that as long as you meet some conditions, the crowd (i.e. many people) are more likely to come up with the right solution than the few.

Change is good, even making the wrong change isn’t a bad thing, as long as you have a mechanism in place that allows you to accept that you’ve made a mistake and to (if necessary) make another change which may completely contradict the change you have just made.


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