Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Burst management (versus steady push)

The Orion Project*
This is recognising why bursts of management may be better than a steady approach

A start-up company is a little like a control experiment when it comes to management.  It's rare in management careers that you can so quickly devise, implement and review changes to a company as a whole, if ever. So whilst we've been working at our start-up I've noticed a few interesting management effects, and want to talk about one of them here: Bursts.

It seems natural as a manager that you should be steady and consistent. You should be the ground upon which your teams can settle and then grow. I wouldn't dispute that.  The question is, how much should you do as a manager to achieve that, and when should you do it?

During the last couple of weeks, I've noticed that we are able to function without very much management for several days, but then efficiency begins to drop.  We need intervention at these times to re-establish priorities and clear issues, and the net effect of these interventions is positive. Conversely, when we know our priorities and have no major issues, we're better being left alone to beaver away, and any interventions here can become interruptions and reduce effectiveness.

Although this might seem straight forward, it isn't a practice I've seen well implemented.  In general, I see managers scheduling fixed amounts of time, irrespective of the condition of their teams. Following the burst approach, the manager would withdraw as much as possible until they see the efficiency beginning to tail. Only at that point, would they intervene, but do so in a comprehensive way so that all members have clearly defined objectives and tasks, and feel confident to proceed again.

As a management technique, this would put the burden on managers to know the right amount of intervention and the right time for it, but for managers, shouldn't that be a goal anyway?

* The Orion Project from the 50's was a rocket program based on propelling a rocket through a series of small nuclear explosions. Get the right amount of bang at the right time, and you can launch a rocket with less energy.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Understanding and building relationships with peers

This is about why it's important to openly discuss the relationships with your peers

Our start-up is just three guys. I've worked with Roger for seven years in a previous start-up, and I've been friends with Mike for over ten years.  No matter how long you've worked with people or known them, when you move to being equal partners in a new business, the relationship is going to change, and how you manage that change is going to be a major factor in your success.

Mike and I had an exchange last week to discuss the marketing site.  I had my opinion and he had his.  They weren't the same, but it wasn't an argument.  It reached a kind of stalemate, with me saying Mike should go with what he thinks, and Mike feeling uncomfortable that I didn't agree with his approach.

Mike quickly saw that this was a key point in our new forming work relationship.  He opened up a conversation about how we each have our own, well established ways of doing things, and we'll need to work all the time to establish new "ways" that work for us as a pair.  Just the act of having that conversation has helped improve our recent work together, and I think returning to that principle of building this new relationship will keep us on track.

It was a great chat, and one I'm thankful we had this early in the company.  I wondered afterwards, how many other work relationships could improve if they had a similar conversation.  My hunch is that peer relationships in all types of companies could do with a little open conversation and mutual admiration.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Can our choice of recreation affect our performance at work?

This is a speculation into our choice of recreation affecting our brains and making us better at work.

I'm currently reading a sci-fi novel.  I alternate between sci-fi and non-fiction and that's pretty much it. I've known for a long time that the books I'm reading affect how I am. When I'm reading clever non-fiction I feel clever. When I read old novels I use longer words. Until now I hadn't given it too much thought, but then it struck me; sci-fi is making me a better programmer.

When I read sci-fi novels, I find my mind switches into a more futuristic mode, and it seems to stay there even after I put the book down.  Similarly, whilst I'm reading, I find that my thoughts flicker into programming, much more than when I'm doing other things, and it makes me want to be in front of my screen tapping out beautiful new code. It occurred to me that if I feel like this, do other people?  I googled it.

My brief research showed a lot of sites explaining the benefits of reading fiction; relaxation, escapism, stimulation of the right side of the brain, role-playing your own reactions through simulation etc.  I don't think any of these are what I experience.

I think that what I experience could be this: I love programming because it is a blend of creativity, expert knowledge and problem solving. I think that when I'm in a development cycle, the parts of my brain that manage these skills are more active. I think it's possible that sci-fi novels excite similar parts of my brain, and kind of keep them revved up. So when I read sci-fi I think about programming, and because I've kept that part of my brain revved up, it's easier to motivate myself to get back in front of the computer.

OK. So I'm clearly no neurologist and I have absolutely no foundation other than what I think I'm thinking. But imagine the implications if this were even half way true.  If we were able to identify the parts of our brain that are firing when we are performing well at work, and we were able to match it with an enjoyable past time that did a similar thing. We could help ourselves, and our teams, perform better and with more ease by getting them into recreational activities that kept them revved up.  Of course, I'm not advocating telling people what to do in their spare time, but I wonder how many people would find it useful to know how their recreation affected their performance and enjoyment of their work.  For my part, I'm going to stick with sci-fi until our software is written and see how it goes.