sharp bites

standing on the shoulders of giants

I've read: Peopleware

‘Peopleware’ is one of those classic books of our profession, a must-read. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to grab a copy of it on the stores (it may have been discontinued, I’m not sure). After a failed attempt to borrow it from Jose Manuel Beas, a few weeks ago, I finally got the chance to read it (thanks RubĂ©n!).

All I can say is, if you have the chance, read it! Just so you can have a glimpse at it, here are some notes I took from it. Most are direct quotes, although I reworded a few to synthesize.

As long as workers are crowded into noisy, disruptive space, it’s not worth improving anything but the workspace.
Experiments showed projects without deadlines had the best productivity.
Better performance can be explained entirely by more effective ways of handling people, modifying the workplace and corporate culture.
Developers main work is human communication to organize the user’s expressions of needs into formal procedure.
People won’t work better under a lot of pressure.
The manager’s function is not to make people work, but to make it possible for people to work.
Best people outperform the worst by 10 and the median performer by 2.5.
Years of experience are not correlated to productivity.
Interrupting flow not only causes disruption but frustration.
There are two types of work: Individual work is noise sensitive and needs flow. Group work is noise producing. Adapt your workspace to make both kinds of work possible.
Measure and try to maximize flow time, but don’t let managers access to data.
Ignoring the phone must be accepted by corporate policy.
Ask people about their workspace conditions, what affects their productivity.
Listening to music uses the right part of the braing, which is responsible for creativity.
Encourage teams to customize their space.

People who work for you will be more or less the same at the end as they were at the beginning, so they better be right for the job from the start.
Find the right people, make them happy, turn them loose.
Success or failure is in the cards from the moment the team is formed and the initial directions set out.
Corporate pressure is pushing towards the company average, encouraging you to hire people that look, sound and think like everybody else.

(Tell about hiring a juggler) ‘Don’t you want to see me juggle?’
Make people bring their code portfolio for interviews.
Make candidates prepare an audition with the team 10-to-15 minute presentation on some aspect of past work.

Good organizations
Late promotion is a sign of health.
With a low and flat hierarchy, people at the lowest level have, on average more years of experience.
Strive to be the best
Grow a community feeling.
Focus on long term benefits.
Widespread sense that you are expected to stay
Invest in personal growth
Retrain your people
When you automate a system, you make it deterministic, so it looses its self-healing ability. A Methodology (capital ‘M’ here) can produce the same results on you organization.
To achieve convergence of methods, use training, tools and peer review.
Don’t declare something a standard until it is a de facto standard.
Hawtorne effect (experiment of raising and lowering the light) People perform better when they are trying something new.
You have to make non-standard approaches to the rule. Whatever standard there is should be brief and gentle.
Let a hundred flowers blossom and let a hundred schools of thought contend. (Mao Tse-tung)

Jelled teams
Productive teams = challenge + team interaction
They have momentum.
They have a goal
The purpose of a team is not goal attainment but goal achievement.
People on jelled teams are often so involved you have to remind them that what they are trying to accomplish is not winning a war.
Jelled teams have low turnover and strong sense of identity.
Money, status and position for advance matter a lot less. Enjoyment is an obvious sign.
You can’t make teams jell, just act to improve the odds.
Teamicide techniques:

  • Defensive management
  • Bureaucracy
  • Physical separation
  • Fragmentation of people’s time
  • Quality reduction
  • Phony deadlines
  • Clique control

Good managers provide opportunities for the team to succeed together. The best success is the one in which there is no evident management. The best boss is the one who can manage without the team knowing they’ve been managed.

Growing jelled teams:

  • Give people autonomy and responsibility
  • Let them work alone, without constant supervision
  • They break the rules when they believe in it
  • Let them choose mates and projects
  • Let them exercise their natural authority in their area of expertise.

Chemistry for team formation:

  • Make a cult of quality
  • Provide satisfying confirmation
  • Build a sense of eliteness
  • Allow and encourage heterogeneity
  • Preserve and protect successful teams.
  • Provide strategic but not tactical direction

Chaos (it is not that bad!)
Small amounts of disorder are benefitial
Pilot projects, war games, brainstorming, provocative training experiences, training, trips, conferences, celebrations, retreats,…

If your corporation is fortunate enough to have a self-motivated superachiever on-board, it’s enough to say “Define your own job”
“Free electrons” have a strong role in choosing their own orbits.

Being a Change Agent
Focus on one thing to change. Raise people’s consciousness of it, so they help you change it.
Be careful with motivational posters, they can have the opposite effect.
Fuck overtime.
Competition inhibits coaching.
Any action that rewards team members differently is likely to foster competition.
The success of the individual should be tied to the success of the whole.
People hate change. Any change.
Your enemies are blindly loyals and militantly opposed to change.
The fundamental response to change is not logical, but emotional.
Celebrate the old as a way to help make change happen.
Be aware that chaos is an integral part of change. Otherwise, you mistake it for the new status quo and will want to change back.
Change always involves chaos, it is necessary and can’t be shortcut. The more painful the chaos, the greater the perceived value of the new status quo.
Change won’t even get started unless people feel safe when they know they won’t be demeaned for proposing or trying a change.
Change only has a chance of succeeding if failure is also OK.

Organizational learning
Learning is limited by an organization’s ability to keep its people.
If the retrained people leave, investment is lost and learning is gone.
Successful learning organizations are always characterized by strong middle management. In order for a vital learning center to form, middle managers must communicate with each other and learn to work together in effective harmony.

The ultimate management sin is wasting people’s time.
Organizations have need of ceremony.
Ceremony is good when it fulfills a need for appreciation by the team.
Early over-staffing is waste.
Fragmented time is waste, it breaks flow.

Building a community makes a difference, but requires talent, courage and creativity. And an enormous invest of time, to be, at best, the catalyst.