Management

One on One Evolution

Background

I’m a “middle manager” where I work, but that means a whole bunch of things. My everyday tasks primarily consist of programming, but I do a bunch of work to interface with other departments and teams, and I play a role in managing people on… well, the “people” side of things. For the latter part, I refer to that as people leadership.

I think it’s pretty easy to look at some of the aspects of people leadership and dismiss them as “fluffy” or needless… I consider myself a logical/technical thinker, so I have that frame of mind sometimes. However, I do see the value in actually being able to support my team so that they can operate at the best of their abilities. I try to find ways to do that without it seeming to them like I’m doing “fluffy leadership things”, and in turn, I don’t feel that way about it either. With that in mind, I had previously set out with ways to accommodate team feedback in a way that works best for them.

One on Ones: The Early Days

I worked with my HR manager a couple of years back to establish a one on one template that I could use with the developers on my team. The goal was to be able to identify points of conversation since the last time we met, the individual’s current situation (both positive and concerns), and then identify goals. Ideally, the individual is able to fill this out on the form in as much detail as necessary for us to be able to have a conversation about it later.

I didn’t want this to seem like a chore for people so I’ve tried to identify why this is useful for the individual and for myself. For the individual, it gives them an avenue to discuss anything that’s becoming a problem over the period of a few weeks (i.e. something not obvious all at once) or be able to identify successes in their work. It also allows them to reflect on their goals that they want to set in their career, current projects, or even things outside of work (because improving your abilities outside of work is a good thing too). For me, it provides better insight into the trend of problems people are experiencing, their contributions to their current projects, and even helps me see where people are at with their career goals. Both parties are able to benefit from these!

I’ve left it open in the past as to how people submit them. Written? Sure. Digital? Sure. Whatever is easiest for the individual provided I can get it a couple of days before we meet. I’ve also left it open ended as to how much of the form they fill in. Based on the trends, I think people see value in having more content but sometimes the goal setting is a bit of a grey area. People might be between setting different goals and want to wait to discuss those things. The best part is, I don’t need to hassle the team to fill in more… They just do a great job of providing information for me!

One on Ones: Continuous Improvement

I’m all for continuous improvement in our development processes that we have as well as our management processes. With that said, we’ve made a few tweaks to the one on ones recently that I think have had a great positive impact.

  • Digitized: I’ve got everyone on board with digitizing their one on ones. This is incredibly handy for being able to search for content later on (instead of sifting through paper), so I get a huge benefit from it. Each individual can probably benefit from this too if their ever looking for things we discussed. Archiving digital documents has so many benefits over the paper counterparts that it’s hard to imagine going back to these mostly being paper-based. I can easily print off copies for the individual if they lose them (or if I lose them) and it makes life easier for me at year end. I can quickly scan over documents on my computer to get a good overview of a person’s year right on my laptop.
  • Nick’s Notes: A little tweak to the one on one process is that with the digital copies, I can put in highlighted notes. This allows me to get down my feedback to the individuals before we meet. In the past, I requested documents a couple of days before we meet so I can try to action what I can ahead of time. However, adding my notes and getting it back to the individual before we meet let’s them know things I want to dive deeper on. It gives them an opportunity to prepare their thoughts, and from what I’ve heard, this is really beneficial for them. The other positive thing is that it let’s me provide them kudos on certain things that I don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of time talking about them with one on one. It’s improved the efficiency of our meetings, and I think it benefits both sides.

What’s Next?

I’ll be honest in that I don’t have any next steps planned for these one on ones. But that’s okay! I’m going to let a few more rounds of these go through before I try to tweak the process. This let’s me get a feel for how the changes are playing out and then from there I can see where I might need to make some improvements.

If you don’t have a semi-structured system in place for your one on ones, I highly recommend it! Make it something you can at least get a feel for how successful they are. If you can gauge their effectiveness, then you can try to tweak the process over time to improve it! You’ll benefit from the information, and your team will benefit from you providing support for them.


Continuous Improvement – One on One Tweaks (Pt. 2)

Continuous Improvement - One on One Tweaks (Pt. 2)

Continuing With Continuous Improvement

I wrote about continuous improvement before and how I’ve been trying to tie that into my leadership role through changes to my one on one process. To recap, at our organization we try to roll continuous improvement into most things that we do. We’re well aware that we’re not going to get things perfect the first time, so as long as we have a process in place to learn, reflect, and adapt, then we can make changes to better our situation. It’s something that’s ongoing and it doesn’t really have an end. So long as your organization is growing and changing over time, or the environment in which your organization is changing over time, having continuous improvement baked into your culture is key to success.

Previously, I mentioned that at Magnet Forensics I hold regular one on ones with my team members. I made a tweak to them that included summarizing notes before holding the one on ones and saw a great improvement. I felt that for now this would be a positive change that I’d like to continue on with. I’ll keep reflecting on whether or not this makes sense over time.

What’s next, then?

Recognition

Recognition is something that I think is fundamental to keeping people engaged, but it looks different for everyone. When I comment on things or share things on social media, I often reflect on how recognition is incredibly important. It’s been a goal of mine to try and do a better job at recognizing my team members for the hard work they’re always putting in.

That was my next hack for continuous improvement. How could I leverage my one on one time to do a better job at recognition? Well, if recognizing my team for things they do is high on my priority list, then it should fall high on the one on one discussion list. The first thing, actually.

So now that I create a summary of topics to go over in our one on ones, I reflect on what my team members say they work on and I toss in other stuff they may not have mentioned. Did they have big accomplishments in our sprint? Did they have things outside of work? Did they have tweaks they suggested for the team to try? Accomplish goals they set for themselves? I try to gather that information and comment on a couple of things at the start of our one on ones now.

I want the team to know that their hard work and their success does not go unnoticed and that they should all keep working to the best of their abilities.

Results?

I’ve only been doing this recently, so I can’t quite say that I’ve noticed big differences. In my opinion, the team has been entering a solid groove over the past few months but it’s hard for me to say whether or not these one on one changes had any impact. I like to think that they did. I’ve heard from several people that they’re really happy with where the team is at.

Has this brought about anything negative? Were there any cons to rolling out this change? I’d say no, not at all. It’s no extra effort for me to reflect on what accomplishments each team member has add. I mean, I’m not writing out lengthy documentation on each accomplishment, but I jot down a couple of points on what I want to call out. I think if anything, that quick exercise has been really positive for myself, if not for the other team member.

So, in the end, I think this small tweak has been a positive change for me in terms of doing a better job of recognizing the team. I also hope that the team has a better understanding that myself and others do see their hard work and efforts.

Keep on it, Team Magnet!


Continuous Improvement – One on One Tweaks

Continuous Improvement - One on One Tweaks

Continuous Improvement – Baby Steps!

Our development team at Magnet Forensics focuses a lot on continuous improvement. It’s one of the things baked into a retrospective often performed in agile software shops. It’s all about acknowledging that no system or process is going to be perfect and that as your landscape changes, a lot of other things will too.

The concept of continuous improvement isn’t limited to just the software we make or the processes we put in place for doing so. You can apply it to anything that’s repeated over time where you can measure positive and negative changes. I figured it was time to apply it to my leadership practices.

The One on One

I lead a team of software developers at Magnet, but I’m not the boss of any of them. They’re all equally my peers and we’re all working toward a common goal. One of my responsibilities is to meet with my team regularly to touch base with them. What are things they’ve been working on? What concerns do they have with the current state of things? What’s going well for them? What sort of goals are they setting?

The one on ones that we have setup are just another version of continuous improvement. It’s up to me to help empower the team to drive that continuous improvement, so I need to facilitate them wherever I can. Often this isn’t a case of “okay, I’ll do that for you” but a “yes, I encourage you to proceed with that” type of scenario. The next time we meet up, I check in to see if they were able to make headway with the goals they had set up and we try to change things up if they’ve hit roadblocks.

No Change, No Improvement

I had been taking the same approach to one-on-ones for a while. I decided it was time for a change. If it didn’t work, it’s okay… I could always try something else. I had a good baseline to measure from, so I felt comfortable trying something different.

One on ones often consisted of my team members handing me a sheet of past actions, concerns, and status of goals before we’d jump into a quick 20 minute meeting together. I’d go over the sheet with them and we’d add in any missing areas and solidify goals for next time. But I wanted a change here. How helpful can I be if I get this sheet as we go into the room together?

I started asking to get these sheets ahead of time and started paraphrasing the whole sheet into a few bullet points. A small and simple change. But what impact did this have?

Most one on ones went from maxing out 20 minutes to only taking around 10 minutes to cover the most important topics. Additionally, it felt like we could really deep dive on topics because I was prepared with some sort of background questions or information to help progress through roadblocks. Myself and my team member could blast through the important pieces of information and then at the end, if I’d check to make sure there’s nothing we’d missed going over. If I had accidentally omitted something, we’d have almost another 10 minutes to at least start discussing it.

Trade Off?

I have an engineering background, so for me it’s all about pros and cons. What was the trade-off for doing this?

The first thing is that initially it seemed like I was asking for the sheets super early. Maybe it still feels like I’m asking for them early. I try to get them by the weekend before the week where I start scheduling one on ones, so sometimes it feels like people had less than a month to fill them out. Is it a problem really? Maybe not. Maybe it just means there’s less stuff to try and cram into there. I think the benefit of being able to go into the meeting with more information on my end can make it more productive.

The second thing is that since I paraphrase the sheet, I might miss something that my team member wanted to go over. However, because the time is used so much more effectively, we’re often able to cover anything  that was missed with time to spare. I think there’s enough trust in the team for them to know that if I miss something that it’s not because I wanted to dodge a question or topic.

I think the positive changes this brought about have certainly outweighed the drawbacks. I think I’ll make this a permanent part of my one on one setup… Until continuous improvement suggests I should try something new!


Leadership: What Does It Mean? – Weekly Article Dump

Leadership: What Does It Mean? - Weekly Article Dump

Leadership

Everyone has their own variation of what leadership means. For me, leadership means empowering others to accomplish their goals and providing assistance when they need it. There were a few articles that came up on LinkedIn this week that I wanted to share with everyone and discuss how they fit into my perspective on leadership.

Articles

  • Does Your Team Work With You Or For You?Kwame Manu-Antwi opens up the article in an interesting fashion. When I read the title of the article, I figured this was going to be the typical leadership vs management debate. However, Kwame goes into describing a scenario where he had a humbling experience from one of his team that made some sacrifices for him. This was truly an example of working for him.

    The entire second half of the article shares a bunch of leadership traits that I think are really beneficial.  For example, being transparent and encouraging growth in your team members. I think the point that is being made in this article, although I don’t personally feel like it was made as obvious as it could have been, is that as a leader, if you want to feel like your team is willing to make sacrifices (for you, or for the team) then practicing being an excellent leader is the way to get there. Thus, the tips he provides to do so!I’d say there’s a lot of takeaway in his bulleted leadership points.

    If you’re an experienced leader then it’s probably mostly stuff you’ve heard before. However, it never hurts to be reminded of great leadership responsibilities!

  • How Do I Hire A Good Employee: Insights on Leadership Traits: In this article Kendall Matthews talks about the specific things he looks for when interviewing. It’s not about how picking the smartest person in the world or the most skilled person according to Kendall. It’s all about finding people that have that curious drive that can think on their feet. Have you given into the status quo?

    When it comes to leadership and hiring, your responsible for building out a well rounded team. In my opinion sometimes this will require hiring the smartest or most skilled person, but more often than not, you’re just looking for go getters. People that are curious by nature and always looking to push the boundaries make great candidates for your team because they’re adaptable. This means you don’t need to go finding someone with the perfect skill set because you can hire the person that’s willing to evolve into that person.

    Again, it’s not a blanket rule in my perspective. Sometimes your team will require that super-skilled person to be up and running from day one. Being a good leader in charge of hiring requires you to understand your teams needs though.

  • Can Skipping a Meeting Make You a Better Leader?: I find that Ilya Pozin always has some interesting articles up on LinkedIn. If you don’t follow him yet, I suggest you do! This article is all about shaking things up to align them to your leadership strategy (and not just accepting meeting invites and then not showing up).The first part of the article is really about taking charge of your daily routine. If you get into work and your ready to make a big dent in your todo list, then moving meetings until later in the day might have a huge  benefit. Similarly, it helps you plan out and prioritize the rest of your day. For me, I plan the night before and since I’m still largely a developer, I find that if I have meetings in the middle of the day when I’m in my groove then that’s when I have the biggest problems. Try tweaking when your meetings are to suit your leadership style.

    The second part of this article talks about the idea of a devil’s advocate and is personally my favourite part. I can’t stress enough how important healthy debate is for continuously improving. I had a colleague the other day say that he doesn’t like how often he hears “because it’s always been that way”. I jokingly responded, “because we’ve always said that”! But the point is, he’s not sticking to the status quo and doesn’t want to settle. I had another colleague argue against my perspective even more recently, and it really got me thinking about how our perspectives were different and where we might need to go next. Healthy debate is awesome. Your goal is not to put your “opponent’s” face in the dirt, but to understand their perspective as much as possible and ensure they get your perspective as much as possible.

  • Heisenberg Developers: In his article, Mike Hadlow talks about how a new (what seems to be scrum-based approach?) was introduced to a software development team and how it negatively impacted them. Mike’s argument? The process that was put in place took away autonomy from developers–they should be given free reign to implement a feature as they see fit.

    While the general consensus in the comments on his blog indicates that people agree, I actually don’t. I’m well aligned to the first two sentences in his closing paragraph (autonomy and fine grained management) being important, but I think direction is incredibly important. In an agile shop, often the customer proposes features to go into the product (and when the customer isn’t available, product owners acting on behalf of the customer propose the features) and the developers work to get them done. Maybe this wasn’t the implication of the blog post, but I don’t think it makes sense to just let developers randomly choose which of the features to work on next and decide on their own how to do it.

    What works better, in my opinion? Have product owners provide acceptance criteria for what would make the feature successful. Have software testers and software developers mull over the acceptance criteria and bounce ideas back off of the product owners. Did they think of how that would affect feature B? Do they realize it will be a support or regression testing nightmare unless feature C is in place? What’s my point? Collaboration. The article doesn’t even mention it. It’s only about how process takes away from the artistic nature of programming. I feel like people should stick to hobby programming if it’s art they want to express, but when it comes time to business, it’s about delivering rock solid features that the customer wants.

    Back to estimating and tasking out features. Why break a feature down? What’s good about doing it that way? If you hit road blocks or need to pivot, it’s great to have a part of a feature done and realize that in it’s current state it might be classified as acceptable for a deliverable. Maybe it doesn’t match the original acceptance criteria, but perhaps the pivot involves adjusting that and now it’s acceptable. Task breakdown brings insight to the people working on the feature. What’s involved in making it? How are you going to test it? How are you going to support it?

    Autonomy is important. But I think that there needs to be some level of process in place for leadership in management to have insight as to what’s taking place, and there needs to be enough autonomy for developers and testers to do their job to the best of their ability. Sometimes the time invested in collaborating is one of the best investments in your development team.

  • Why The Golden Rule SucksJoaquin Roca has an awesome article on “The Golden Rule” and why it doesn’t apply in leadership. Joaquin starts by discussing why building a diverse team is incredibly important and why you should take advantage of the tensions it can create. So why does The Golden Rule suck? Well… not everyone is like you and not everyone wants to be engaged the same way you are. Everyone is different and it’s important to adapt your ways to the person you are engaging with–especially when your team is diverse. There’s also a cool leadership quiz that he has posted at the top of the article!
  • Did I Make a Mistake in Promoting This Person?!: This article is about something that happens in the tech world all too often. Caroline Samne talks about how skilled professionals are promoted into leadership in management positions–except they don’t have any expertise in this area. I’m actually a prime example of this. I was hired on as a developer early on at Magnet Forensics, and before expanding the team, I was chosen for a leadership position without any past experience. However, like the article says, I had great mentorship through our HR manager and I was empowered to seek learning opportunities to grow in this space. The moral of the story is, just because someone is skilled at X, it doesn’t mean they’ll turn out to be a great (people) leader in this space. Leadership just doesn’t work magically like that.
  • Corporate Hackathons: Lessons LearntChristophe Spoerry‘s article is all about hackathons. It’s a great way to spur some innovation in your organization if you’re allowing it to happen naturally. He shares his learnings from past experiences such as having leaders with past experience in hackathons present and having teams and/or themes picked out ahead of time. Once the hackathon starts, you don’t want to be wasting time with logistics… You want to be participating! Discuss what the outcome of the hackathon will be. Who’s going to take ownership over what was created? How will the outcomes be shared with the other participants or the rest of the organization? Get hackin’!

Thanks for reading! Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week.


Happy St. Patty’s Day – Weekly Article Dump

Happy St. Patty's Day - Weekly Article Dump (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

I hope everyone who was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day was able to not only have fun but stay safe doing so. Of course, when there is drinking associated with a holiday it can be easy to get carried away. It’s always a great idea to have driving arrangements or the option to sleep at a friend’s place set up before you head out to celebrate.

This year I was able to celebrate with a handful of my university friends that I don’t get to see as often as I’d like. I haven’t been drinking much at all now for nearly half a year, so I stuck to my one Irish coffee to meet my liquor allowance. We all had a blast discussing where our lives have taken us so far, and it’s great to see everyone doing so well. I was excited to hear that more people are hoping to relocate into or closer to Waterloo!

Happy (belated) St. Patty’s Day everyone, and I hope the recovery has gone smoothly today.

Articles

  • Empower Your Visionaries: Steve Faktor talks to us about who the visionaries are in your company and why you should be empowering them. Steve says that the visionaries within our organizations are frustrated by bureaucracy and will often leave to go start their own Next-Big-Thing. So what should we be doing with them? What can we do with them? Well… challenge them! Challenge them to make their radical ideas a reality. Extend the boundaries you’ve placed on them so that they can try to make their vision a reality and make them feel comfortable with the possibility of failure. Wouldn’t it be great if they’re next big thing was the next big thing for your organization?
  • Don’t Forget Me! Ensuring Distributed Team Members Aren’t Left Out: In this article, Gary Swart touches on how to make sure remote employees are kept engaged. Working remotely can be difficult not only for the person offsite, but for the people that are supposed to interface with the person offsite. Timezone differences, cultural differences (i.e. different holidays, for example), and the fact that you can’t interact in person are all things that make remote team members a lot trickier to work with. Gary suggests using the ICE (Identify, Clarify, and Extend) principle, which he outlines in his post. He also suggests using things like video conferencing so that you can pick up more on body language when you’re meeting remotely and even ensuring that you try to keep your technology homogeneous so that information can be shared easily.
  • Inspire Creativity at Work With All 5 of Your Senses: A good friend of mine shared this with me the other day, and I thought it was worth passing along. Many people don’t pay attention to it, but if you work a traditional office job, you spend a lot of time in the office. Even if you can get a little boost from your environment, it can potentially go a long way over time. This mashable is an infographic about how different colors and ambience in the office can be used to enhance (or restrict) different aspects of your thinking and interaction. If your work environment isn’t playing into your senses, you may be missing out on a positive effect!
  • Great leaders aren’t afraid to take risks: According to Alex Malley, risk taking is a very important part of leadership. He has a handful of suggestions for gearing yourself up for taking risks in your leadership role such as separating the personal aspect of failure from your role. If you’ve set yourself up with talented people, you have open communication with your manager, and you’re prepared for the “worst case”, then you should feel more comfortable taking risks.
  • The complete guide to listening to music at work: I’ve personally given up on listening to music at work during core hours due to the nature of my role (I’ve been told this is “humblebragging“, but realistically I’m just making myself more approachable). However, when I’m cranking through some development work on my own and I know I’m not going to be approached by anyone, I love to turn up some tunes. I thought Adam Pasick had a pretty cool write up about the different aspects of listening to music at work. Essentially, different styles of music may be better for different tasks at work.  I think it’s worth a read if one of the first things you do when you get into the office is strap on your headphones!

Thanks for reading! Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week.


Snow Tubing with Team Magnet – Weekly Article Dump

Snow Tubing with Team Magnet - Weekly Article Dump

Snow Tubing

First off… If you haven’t ever gone snow tubing, get off your computer and get to your nearest snow tubing park.

Now that you’re back from that, we’re all on the same page. Friday was another one of Magnet Forensics‘ staff events and we were fortunate enough to go tubing at Chicopee Tube Park. I hadn’t been snow tubing before–only water tubing–and I haven’t even been on a ski hill or anything for years. To be honest, snow tubing to me seemed like a bit of a glorified crazy-carpet experience which would be fun, but get boring after a couple of runs.

I’ll be the first to admit I was dead wrong. Snow tubing was probably the most awesome way for the entire Magnet family to cut loose this quarter. Most people either love or hate the snow, so finding a big group activity for a company to participate in outside in the Canadian winter can be tricky. Snow tubing was perfect though. It wasn’t too intense that people had to shy away from it and it was exciting enough to keep us entertained for the few hours we were there.

Kelly, you did a great job coordinating the staff event! It was great to see everyone come out and have a blast. Thanks for being awesome, Team Magnet.

Articles

  • The Difference Between Managers and Leaders: In this article by Ilya Pozin, he touches on some of the differences between managing and leading. In my opinion, there’s often the idea that managing people is terrible and leading people is the best thing you can ever do. I get that kind of vibe from this article, so I wanted to point it out right at the beginning. I think that a good way to look at it is like this: Being a manager does not make you a leader, but being a good leader sets you up to be a great manager. Leading and managing are different things, and the better you get at leading the better you can become at managing. With that said, I think the article touches on a lot of great leadership points.
  • 5 Ways to Finish What You Start (and Why You Often Don’t)Susan Perry writes about something that a lot of us likely experience pretty regularly. You pick up something new only to end up abandoning it not too much later. Starting a new project or hobby is exciting and it can be really easy to dive head first into something for this very reason. However, if you find that you always start things and never finish them, it might be worth paying attention to some of Susan’s suggestions.
  • 15 Benefits Of Being An Intelligent Misfit: Isaiah Hankel talks to us about what an “intelligent misfit” is in this article. The idea is that swarm thinking is more about just reacting to things, and that’s not overly beneficial. By being unique and standing out, you actually attract others that are unique like yourself with shared interests. As a result, you end up building a network of people that are truly like you instead of conforming to a group. Isaiah goes on to list 15 benefits to standing out in his article and it’s certainly worth the read.
  • Build the perfect teamPeter Mitchell talks about what ingredients you need to build your perfect team. Establishing a common culture and attitude are things that are definitely among the top. Creating clear goals and objectives for your team will also help pave the way for success. One of the most important parts of creating a team is coming up with complementary skill sets. This can be difficult because you want to create a team with people that think alike but have different skills–and often this is hard for people to separate.
  • Fire, Being Tired.: John Hope Bryant gives us a different perspective on what it means to be tired. He says that it’s not just about lacking energy to do something or not getting enough sleep. Being tired is more about losing interest in something. Why? Well even when you’re run down or low on sleep the things that you’re truly interested in can get you excited. John’s suggestion is stick to things that truly interest you–be honest with yourself. Don’t stay in a job where you’re watching the clock for the end of the day. Find your drive and your motivation.

Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week. Thanks!


Recognition: One of Team Magnet’s Masterminds

Recognition: One of Team Magnet's Masterminds (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Background

At Magnet Forensics, I lead an awesome team of people with the mission of creating forensics software to help investigators around the world solve crimes. We’re stacked with incredible people–and not only on the team I’m on, but company-wide. We do a great job of recognizing our achievements as an organization and as a team, but also on an individual level. If someone has gone above and beyond, we don’t keep that a secret.

I’ve been trying to make more of a conscious effort to recognize the people I work with, especially in ways that are unique to my own style. I think recognizing people in person is important, but you also need to consider your setting. Sometimes recognition in a public forum isn’t actually appreciated or isn’t nearly as effective as appreciating in a one-on-one setting. I find even for myself that I get uncomfortable when being recognized in a public setting.

With that said, I wanted to recognize an individual I work with without shining too much of a spotlight directly her. Thank you, Christine, for all of your hard work.

Broken Retrospectives

At Magnet, we try to adhere to some agile philosophies.  It lets us pivot pretty quickly to customer needs–which keeps them quite happy–and still lets us deliver rock solid software. We develop in short cycles called “sprints” and at the end of every sprint we have a retrospective to look back at what worked well and what didn’t. That way in the next sprint we can make improvements. Keep the good stuff, drop the broken stuff and try out a thing or two that’s new. This is excellent for continuous improvement unless…

They don’t work.

We would run our retrospectives religiously, but it seemed like nobody really wanted to be there. It was a seemingly forced meeting where I felt a lot of the time I was trying to stir up conversation. By the end of the meeting, just about everyone would have chimed in, but there weren’t a lot of ideas being generated. It was long, boring, and didn’t accomplish any of the goals we wanted it to. Thus, our development cycles stayed basically the same for a while. They worked and they didn’t appear to be broken enough that people wanted to see change.

Things remained the same until I received some input from Christine. When Christine read an article on LinkedIn called I Like, I Wish, I Wonder, she thought it might have some positive carry-over to our development process. If Christine thought that it might spark a change in our retrospectives, that was more change than I was hearing from the team in general (including myself, to be fair). So I decided we’d give it a shot.

Annnd we haven’t looked back since.

I won’t go too in-depth on how I Like, I Wish, I Wonder has rocked our retrospective world because I want to save that for a separate write-up. The point is that it did, and it’s all thanks to Christine for digging it up for us. We’ve started to completely overhaul different aspects of our development process now that retrospectives are effective. I really started to realize just how big of an impact it had when I was explaining some of the development process changes to our CEO. I remember thinking “Wow… If we wouldn’t have switched our retrospective process, we’d be nowhere near as efficient”.

So, thank you for the retrospective idea, Christine. For anyone else looking to flip retrospectives around, try out the I Like, I Wish, I Wonder scheme.

Personalities

I can imagine a lot of people in the development world don’t think too much about personalities. I know I didn’t. Sure, everyone is different. Everyone has their own effective ways of communicating, things they like, things they don’t like, and optimal situations for working. I get it. Now let me go do my work and you go do your work. In an ideal world, you just assume everyone can figure out everyone else that they’re working with, and things will just be fine. Except things are never ideal, and it never hurts to put in a bit more effort to make sure you can get your team up to speed.

So we tried something out. I worked with my HR manager (read: communicated a potential scenario for our development team, let her run free with her awesome creative ideas, and then helped her where she needed it) to roll out a Myers-Briggs personality test for a small sub-team of our development team. If you aren’t familiar with the tests or the concept, check out the link and read up on it! We figured it would be best to try this kind of thing out on a small part of the team to see if they would find value in it, and if so, we’d try the whole team.

After we rolled out the Myers-Briggs results with the small team, the benefits were immediately noticeable. We didn’t even have to leave the room before seeing the benefits. We knew there was some potential here, so we were already excited to try it out with the rest of the team. With everyone being aware of how other individuals may act and react when communicating and working, it makes a big difference in how particular scenarios are approached.

Thank you, Christine, for making differences in personality something to be cognizant of and then supporting our roll-out of Myers-Briggs. For anyone reading this that manages a team or is part of one… Consider the personality types of the people you work with. Maybe you don’t need a formalized Myers-Briggs plan, but it’s worth raising awareness of it.

Thank You, Christine

Christine, you’ve made a lot of great contributions to the team and I’d like to thank you for them. Our development processes have been able to greatly improve thanks to your initial suggestion. I’m sure we would have adapted over time, but your suggested tweaks have certainly acted as a catalyst. Your furthered support with the personality type analysis and subsequent rollout was also greatly appreciated. You were able to participate in our mini-experiment and offered great feedback to turn it into a success for the entire team.

Thank you. I’m looking forward to what this year will bring!


Article Dump #24 – Weekly Article Dump

Article Dump #24 - Dev Leader (Image by http://www.sxc.hu)

Article Dump #24

Welcome to the 24th issue of my (nearly) weekly article dumps. I don’t have a theme or an update this week, so it’s kept pretty short. I hope you find the following articles interesting though! Leave me a comment if you have any opinions on these

Articles

  • The 7 Values That Drive IDEO: In this article, the CEO of IDEO Tim Brown talks about the various values that his organization embraces to have a creative culture. Some of the ideas in the slides seem really high level or like generic fluff, but try thinking about what they would mean in your organization. It’s one thing to glance at IDEO’s list and say “Yeah, yeah… That’s nice…” but when you actually think about how that fits in with your organization, you might actually realize you don’t embody those values. Do you learn from failure? Does your organization promote an ask for forgiveness not permission approach? Would this make sense in your organization? Just some food for thought, but I thought a lot of these values were interesting to think about and how embracing them might change the organization I work in.
  • The 15 Most Annoying Coworkers of All Time: Ilya Pozin put together a pretty funny article on different types of coworkers you’ll encounter in your career. I got worried that I might be #13 on the list… The office comedian who isn’t actually funny. Apparently this post got a lot of flack in the comments on LinkedIn. I guess people were expecting a really serious article on how to deal with these different types of problems in the workplace. I didn’t really have expectations when I read it, aside from not wanting to find myself on the list. Maybe the main take away point here is… don’t annoy your colleagues!
  • Companies Frustrate Innovative Employees: Gijs van Wulfen takes a different perspective on innovation. So many people now are writing about embracing failure (so far as you learn from it). I’m actually a big believer in that approach–take controlled risks and learn from things that don’t go as expected. Gijs’ perspective is a little bit different: forget embracing failure; boost the innovation effectiveness rate! Gijs goes through a workflow for trying to improve innovation at various steps in the process. Pretty interesting!
  • Your Boss is Happier Than You (But Shouldn’t Be): Jeff Haden tells us something we probably all (let’s say in the majority of circumstances) know: your boss is happier than you. Big surprise right? They get to make decisions, have fewer bosses than you, and they make more money. Sounds like a good reason to be happier, no? But if your boss is happier than you, those probably aren’t the exact reasons. Your superiors are likely happier than you because of autonomy. They get a bit more freedom to do accomplish goals in their own way. Jeff has a big list of reasons why your boss is probably happier… and none of them are about money.
  • When is it a Good Idea to write Bad Code?: Rejoice in the first programming article for this week! Tech debt. Ever heard of it? If not, it’s not likely that you’ve never encountered it in your programming career. I’d wager at least one of the last handful of big features you implemented in your code base either had to deal with some tech debt or perhaps even introduced some tech debt. Brad Carleton has put together a big list of different types of tech debt and what they mean in your project. I highly suggest you read it if your a programmer. There’s a lot of things to be aware of with tech debt but it’s important to remember that tech debt isn’t always the worst thing that could happen. Sometimes it’s okay to sacrifice a sub-par design now in order to get some software out the door. Your users might try it out and decide they don’t like the functionality anyway, and you’d end up re-writing it again!
  • “Happiness” vs “Meaningfulness” — The Surprising DifferenceAlex Banayan‘s article discusses the difference between happiness and meaningfulness. It appears as though often happiness and meaningfulness are not necessarily aligned. For example, it might be easy to chase a life of happiness that lacks meaning, or dedicate your life to something meaningful but not be very happy while doing it. The real question is, is it possible to achieve a balance where you’re leading a fulfilling life that keeps you happy? Alex talks briefly about five different categories and how each can sway to something more meaningful or something that provides more happiness. Are you living a happy and fulfilling life? Do you have to balance these five categories carefully?

Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week. Thanks!


Be a Better Programmer – Weekly Article Dump

Be a Better Programmer - Weekly Article Dump (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Be a Better Programmer

It’s a new year and that means it’s all about resolutions, right? Well, I’m not a huge fan of keeping around a resolution that needs to wait for a new year, but I am a fan of reflecting on your goals and your skills. If you’re a programmer like me, then maybe this will be a great starting point. In my weekly article dumps I usually would just provide a couple of comments on a link like this, but I felt I should dive in a little bit more. You can find the original article by Amy Jollymore over here. Please have a look! I shared it with the whole dev team at Magnet Forensics because I felt there was a little bit of something for everyone.

Number one on this list, and perhaps the one I’d personally like to focus on more out of this list, is checking your code before blaming others. Blaming other people–in general, not just programming–is an easy way out. When a problem occurs, it’s simple to assume that all of your work is right and that it must be someone else’s fault. But if everyone starts thinking like this, it turns into a nasty blame war. So next time the build breaks or your shiny new feature stops working as expected, don’t go blaming other people. Investigate what the problem is. See what your most recent changes were and if they could have caused the problem. As you start to gain confidence that your changes aren’t responsible for the issue, try sitting down with one or two other people you think might have been around the problem area recently–But don’t go accusing them! Putting your heads together to figure out the problem can speed up the process and might even shed some light on some miscommunication over a design or some assumptions in the code that don’t actually hold true. It’s a lot more embarrassing to blame someone when it’s actually your fault compared to putting in the effort and admitting you might have goofed up. Try it out!

Number two is also a great item. You should never put an end to your learning… especially as an individual in a technology space. There are so many great suggestions listed for this point that there’s no point in me repeating them. Just go read them! An interesting point worth mentioning is using podcasts for learning. This is a great option if you find you’re brain is still spinning when you lay down in bed or if you have a long commute to work (or something else you’re involved in). The author also mentions that you don’t need to be learning programming… What about domain expertise? If you’re writing code for banks, lawyers, or digital forensics… Why  not learn about that too?!

The last point I’ll touch on from the article is number three: don’t be afraid to break things. I love this point. If you’re working on a big piece of software, there are almost certainly areas that seem brittle, scary, or just plain incomprehensible. If your project is still small, it very well get to this point. It doesn’t mean that the code is bad or that you’re working with the worst programmers… It’s just something that happens when you’re continuously trying to build on your software. The real problem occurs when nobody is willing to take the time to go change things. If you have big scary brittle parts of code, then set aside some time, take a deep breath, and go refactor it! It might seem like hell at first, but once you get into it (and especially after it’s done) you’ll feel a million times better. Plus, now your code can continue to be built upon without people running in fear when you mention that section of code. Code can get nasty, but consider using a “tech debt” system or regularly set aside time for refactoring parts of your code base.

Again, the original article is located at: 7 Ways to be a Better Programmer in 2014. Check it out!

Articles

  • How to Manage Dynamic Tensions — and Master the Balancing Act: This was an interesting article on some parts of leadership that often oppose each other. Author Chris Cancialosi does an excellent job in discussing balance between internal and external influences as well as leading and managing. A good take away from this article is at least acknowledging that there are certainly some things to balance. You may want to have the most flexible team, but have you considered if there’s a “too flexible”? Just a bit of perspective that this article might bring to light.
  • A Crash Course In Leadership For 20-Something CEOs: Barry Salzberg‘s article is geared toward young CEOs, but I think that means we can apply the lessons to anyone looking to lead! A few of the points I’d like to mention include being tough on problems and not on people. Your people are the one’s who are going to solve problems and bring great ideas to the table. They’ll invest their time into your organization in order to accomplish great things–so don’t be hard on them. Instead, acknowledge that your problems and challenges are the things you want to crush, and work with your team to make sure you conquer every challenge that gets in the way of your goal. Another point is on taking risks. Never taking risks is a great way to stagnate. You need to learn from your failures, but keep pushing the boundaries. Finally, be ready to adapt. As your organization grows or as the market you’re working within evolves, you need to be ready to adapt and change. You might get lucky and things don’t change all that much over a long period of time, but the odds of that are pretty low. Be ready to adapt so when the time comes, you don’t need to worry about everything falling apart.
  • Leading at Scale with Agility: Brad Smith has a few great points on what leading a team should encompass. First, a team should have a goal that it is trying to achieve. If that team is part of a larger organization, the team’s goal should align with the goal of the entire organization. Secondly, decisions for the team should involve those on the team. It’s easy to sit back and speculate what might be best, but why not involve the people directly affected? Of course, this is more difficult for large teams but maybe that’s an indication your teams would be more effective if they were smaller. Next, empower teams to arrive at solutions on their own. If a plan worked out well, try communicating it to others to try out. Conversely, if the plan had some problems, let others on the team (or other teams) know about the hurdles. Finally, Brad has a point on trust. Trust is arguably one of the most important parts of leading a team. Each team member needs to be able to trust the others. There should be an easy assumption that everyone is operating with best intentions.
  • For Leaders, Today is History: In this article by Steven Thompson, he gives a high-level overview of his focus. Specifically, he focuses on the future and not right now. Steven says the teams he is in charge of are often looking at the problems of “right now” and perhaps a little bit in the future. It would be counter productive for him to try and butt-in to try helping with those problems because he’s so far removed from them. Instead, those individuals have been empowered to focus on those problems. Instead, Steven focuses on the future–the direction of the teams. As a leader, it’s important to try and be thinking at least one step ahead.
  • What If You Had to Write a “User Manual” About Your Leadership Style?: After I read Adam Bryant‘s article, I thought the idea of a leadership “user manual” would be pretty cool. Even if there isn’t a single other individual who would benefit from it, at least it would help reveal to myself some of my leadership quirks. That’s useful on it’s own! I’ll be sure to post up my leadership “user manual” when I have it complete… and I imagine I’ll have to keep updating it over time as my style evolves. It’ll be really interesting to see the evolution of my leadership style! Why not consider doing one for yourself?
  • What Bosses Should Never Ask Employees to Do: Jeff Haden‘s article was a little bit controversial in my opinion–and in the opinion of some of the commenters. I think I get the underlying message behind a lot of what Jeff is saying for each of his points, but as one commenter said, it sounds like a bit of a personal complaint the whole way through. Consider the topic of donating to charities at work. The feel I get after reading that segment is that your organization should not attempt to do fundraising through employees. While I don’t actually think that’s what Jeff is saying, that’s how I feel after reading it. I know that we’ve been able to do several charity events at Magnet, and we’ve always said that they are completely voluntary. I think that’s the crucial part. It’s the holiday season and your budget is a bit tight? How could anyone get mad at you for backing out of a completely optional charity donation? Busy with some personal matters or want to focus on finishing up something at work the day we’re doing a charity event? No big deal, it’s optional. Anyway, the point is that perhaps based on the wording in the article, I felt like some of the messaging will be misinterpreted. I think there are some good points buried in there. Check it out and let me know if you agree or not!

Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week. Thanks!


Happy Holidays – Weekly Article Dump

Happy Holidays – Weekly Article Dump

Happy Holidays

The holiday season is upon us, so I’d like to start by extending my best wishes for you to have a safe and happy holiday. I’ve personally been pretty busy the past few weeks wrapping year-end stuff up at work, so I’m looking forward to a few days of being able to catch my breath a bit. If you have some time off from work, I’m hoping you’ll get a chance to do the same over the holidays. I can’t sit idle for too long though. I don’t like not feeling productive, so once I’ve caught up a bit on some well deserved rest, I’ll be right back at it!

The holidays and end of the year are a great time to reflect on everything that’s happened in the last 12 months. Did you have goals that set you set and accomplished? What about things that you didn’t get to achieve or complete? Were you able to assist others in their goals? Maybe a year is too long for you to wait between points of reflection, but the holiday season provides the perfect opportunity for you to reflect–it’s at the end of the year, and generally you get some time off from your day-to-day!

At Magnet Forensics, we had a year-end review celebration and planning for next year. This was an incredible eye-opener for a lot of the amazing things we did this year. In fact, this last year was filled with so many exciting moments for our company that I thought around half of them were things that occurred in 2012. I was mistaken though. We’ve just been doing that much. I’m incredibly proud of the entire team and what we’ve been able to accomplish.

For my personal growth, this year certainly covered a lot of ground. I was able to work on some new exciting technologies like I had set goals for, and I had actually managed to take on more responsibilities in the workplace while reducing my perceived workload. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’ve also been able to identify a few areas that I’d like to improve in the new year. I don’t want to call it my “New Year Resolution” for fear of it never coming to fruition, but I think by acknowledging some areas I l’d like to improve I’m setting myself up to be constantly aware of them.

Try to get some personal reflection in this holiday season. Celebrate what you’ve accomplished and raise the bar even higher for next year!

Articles

I missed an update last week, so I’ll combine both of my smaller article summaries into one!

  • How One Company Replaced Meetings And Bureaucracy With Pairs, Ceremonies, And Storytelling: When I shared this article by Drake Baer on social media, I mentioned that there was one of the three suggestions that I felt might not be met as well. Any guesses yet?

    The first suggestion in the list is working in pairs. The notion of working in pairs has some popularity in programming (i.e. Pair Programming) because you get two sets of eyes and two brains behind tackling the same problem. Partners get rotated every-so-often and you can share knowledge really well this way.

    The second suggestion was about story telling. Story telling really let’s a company philosophy or mission get spread through the organization in a natural way. This also works for receiving customer  perspective and diffusing it as requirements from the user.

    The final idea presented in the article was regarding ritualization. Taking potentially boring or inefficient meetings and transforming them into rituals can provide more meaning and structure to them.

    If you haven’t guessed yet, I figured item #1 may be met with some resistance. I personally don’t enjoy pairing past the point of brain storming ideas together. After that, it feels inefficient to me. I also believe that certain individuals have a “comfort zone” for where they feel efficient in their work. So even if pairing works well for 95% of people (let’s pretend) then for that other 5% it might really be disruptive for them. I’m starting to learn that applying practices uniformly across a team often doesn’t make sense.

  • Some Workaholics Have More Fun: A quick one from Hiroshi Mikitani, but still very worth mentioning in my opinion. When people think of a workaholic, it’s often associated with a negative perspective. But maybe it’s not so black and white. Would you say there’s a difference between someone driven by external factors (e.g. meet deadlines for the boss, make more money, etc…) or someone driven by  internal factors (e.g. create something innovative, help or make a difference in the world, etc…)? I’m not claiming that these can never overlap or anything, but perhaps it’s just a bit of a perspective tweak. Take it or leave it 🙂

  • The Art of Listening: In this article by Gurbaksh Chahal, he touches on some really important aspects of listening. And yes, while listening is definitely important in the workplace, you can likely apply his principles to other areas in life. First, you want to engage people and let them know you’re actually listening. This can be conveyed will by eye contact and body language. For me, I like to lock my computer and turn to people when they come up to talk. It’s the perfect way to let them know they have my undivided attention. The next step is actively listening. Stop thinking of your response while someone is talking. Try actually listening to the speaker the entire time and interpret their words. There are no rules that say you’re not allowed to pause for thought to formulate your response when the other person is done talking! Gurbaksh has a few more pointers, and I strongly suggest you check out his article.
  • 8 Ways Using Humor Will Make You a Better Leader: I’m a big fan of using humour in the workplace, but sometimes I’m not sure if I use it effectively or take things to far. That’s why I always jump to these humour-in-the-workplace articles when they pop up. In this article by Kevin Daum, there are two key points I wanted to address. The first is that humour really does help disarm tense situations. Sometimes there are difficult situations at work, and using humour (properly) can really help break the ice. Of course, you still need to take caution that the humour you’re using isn’t going to make the situation worse. The second point is that humour helps build a bonded community. I think humour can have a similar impact to story telling in an organization when it’s used effectively. You can always related back to “inside jokes” when you were dealing with some high pressure times, some bad code, or just because something funny came up at work. You can always bring the newbies into the inside jokes too and make them feel completely welcome.
  • The 8-Hour Workday Doesn’t Really Work: If you feel like the typical eight hour work day really isn’t your thing… You might not be alone. Jeff Haden put together this pretty informative article about workdays and productivity you might find interesting. There’s tons of ground covered, including a few tips at the end for how you can optimize our work day. For example, try focusing on four or five things in a day that take up 90 minute slots. Certainly worth the read if you’re looking to hack your work-day.
  • The Hidden Danger of Success:  Another little article from Hiroshi Mikitani. So often we’re told to learn from our failures. But how are we supposed to learn from our successes? Hiroshi suggests we treat them equally. Sure, celebrate your success, but make sure you have take-away learnings from each of your successes. Don’t let them get to your head and always stay humble!
  • Keys to Resolving Conflict: Jim Sniechowski dives into some great points in resolving conflict. I think it’s a decent read for anyone who has ever been in some sort of debate or conflict. I imagine that’s most people! Anyway, two great points to start you off: Each side of the conflict needs to understand that there’s a mutual agreement that needs to be met and willingness to accept some of the other side is necessary for coming to a positive conclusion.
  • Four Principles to Inspire Innovation: Lockheed Martin’s CEO Marillyn Hewson provides four of her principles for innovation. Firstly, ensure there’s an environment that can cultivate innovation. Next, don’t treat innovation differently depending on the source. The final two principles I like to think of as one really. You want to innovate with a mission or goal that inspires and is driven by the values your organization embraces.

Please have a safe holiday season, but remember to relax and have a bit of fun too! Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week. Thanks!


  • Nick Cosentino

    Nick Cosentino

    I work as a team lead of software engineering at Magnet Forensics (http://www.magnetforensics.com). I'm into powerlifting, bodybuilding, and blogging about leadership/development topics over at http://www.devleader.ca.

    Verified Services

    View Full Profile →

  • Copyright © 1996-2010 Dev Leader. All rights reserved.
    Jarrah theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress