This Week Online – Saturday, May 7, 2011

Here’s a mixed list of some of the things I appreciated online this week. They might turn out to be useful to you as well.

Fake and Shapes

Randy Rice published a blog post that listed different testing tools that came up during a tutorial session he hosted at StarEast 2011. I don’t work as a tester, but I’m fascinated by the field, and like to follow it from the sidelines. Plus, I love a smart tool.

One of the tools that stood out on Randy’s page was Fake (USD 29.95), an application that wraps a web browser with some Automator-like automation. I probably won’t be using it to automate tests, but I’m already keeping my eyes open for some boring web-related task to automate.

Lots of Mac software is made by small and creative software shops, so when I find a nice piece of software, I always look for other interesting offerings from the same developer. This time, I found Shapes. As with Fake, I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks interesting. I needed to help a client with some diagrams a year or so ago, so I bought a license for OmniGraffle. I can’t stand it. I will never learn to master it’s cluttered interface. Shapes might be what I need for those occasions where a napkin sketch isn’t enough. We’ll see. It’s only USD 4.99, so I could afford trying it on for size.

Balancing action and reflection

Esther Derby’s writings are thoughtful and balanced. This week, Esther published a piece called ”Fixing the Quick Fix”. In it, she argues for a balance between deciding and act fast and decisively, and not acting before you have understood the underlying problem.

I know from my own work with clients that this can often be hard to discuss. It’s not uncommon for organizations to be in constant conflict over this. On one side of the battlefield, department A wants to see higher speed in execution. They are wondering why nothing is happening. On the other side, department B wants things to slow down. They wonder why the organization has to spend so much time fire fighting, and so little solving the true problems.

What makes it hard to discuss this? Well, depending on where we’re coming from, we look at speed in different ways. An experienced and skilled agile team, for example, will think it perfectly natural to execute in high speed. They can move fast, in controlled formation.

A less experienced, less skilled team, will struggle to move fast. They don’t yet have the knowledge and understanding they need to speed up. Asking them to ”just move faster” is a recipe for disaster.

Do you know which of these situations most resemble your current workplace? This is where the questions Esther poses in her article come in handy. They are about uncovering the facts of the situation, so that you can take appropriate action. This too, is hard work, and follows the same laws of speed as everything else. If you’re skilled at asking them and if there is trust between you and those you ask the questions to, then gathering this information will be less of a struggle. When you do it for the first time, there is some risk that other will see you as the one slowing things down: ”If it weren’t for all your questions, we’d already be done with this”.

Esther’s article also goes into what you could do once you have a better understanding of the current situation. Specifically, Esther advises us to see if we can back up our ideas with hard data. This too, is often challenging, in my experience. Many organizations won’t be able to produce the numbers you need, because they do not yet operate in a way that makes extracting such numbers possible. Still, trying to get some data and finding out it can’t be done, is also valuable. It tells you a little bit more about the organization.

By now, you might you’re ready to decide. Hold it for just a little longer. Take Esther advice one more time, and generate at least three options. Generating options is a key part of any creative process. We don’t always have to be super creative, but we do need creativity at all times. Without creativity, companies end up being about as good as, or worse than, their competitors, and that’s no fun way forward. One of your options now is to escape from this weekly summary and dive into Esther’s excellent article.

Innovations in Management

Via John Seddon’s regular news letter, I found a blog called ”Gary Hamel’s Management 2.0”. You might have read it already, because apparently Hamel is a big management guru in the States. Somehow, I’ve managed to miss him completely. By the way, if you’ve already read Jurgen Appelo’s ”Management 3.0” book, it might seem that Hamel is running behind, version number wise. I’m sure Hamel will upgrade soon. Probably to 4.0.

Anyway, the reason Seddon mentioned Hamel was that one of Seddon’s clients – Owen Buckwell – has been awarded a prize instituted by Hamel, for his work in transforming the housing services organization he manages.

Apparently, Hamel has started something called the Management Innovation eXchange, which aims to highlight potential game changers in the field of management – and that’s what I wanted to tip you about. Pay a visit to the Management Innovation eXchange site, there’s bound to be something there that can inspire you.

How to Start Up …

Speaking of management, I have to share this link to a blog post that contains, essentially, a checklist for how to start a web company. All you have to do is follow the steps. I might try that some day. In a way, it still managed to inspired me a little bit, even though it reminded me of Paul Davies’ absolutely wonderful book How to Build a Time Machine. It’s pretty easy if you know how to do it.

… and how to start starting

Finally, for this time, I learned about the book ”The War of Art”. I believe I read about it in Kent Beck’s Twitter stream. This book is about resistance, specifically the kind of resistance that rears it’s ugly head whenever we want to start some kind of creative endeavor. I bought it for my Kindle, or rather for my iPad’s Kindle app and started reading last night. It’s a very smooth read, which is kind of funny considering the topic of the topic. There’s no resistance in reading this book about resistance.

I guess the advice in the book gave me a little push, since I sat down to write this Saturday morning post, just as planned.

Also, speaking of resistance, I found my way back to one of many great pieces by Dale Emery on the topic. It’s called ”People Resist Change?”, and deals with how we related to change. An absolute must read if you ever deal with change. I guess you do.

I’ll let that be it, for this week.

Published by Tobias Fors

I'm a software management consultant. I help other people succeed with software development. In my work, I help teams and organizations be more effective and ship software.