Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hiring for Diversity

Getting the right mix for your team can be a pretty difficult thing to get right.  Obviously your goal is always to have a team that 'clicks,' that meshes together well, can take communication short cuts and can share the hell out of a vision and deliver deliver deliver.  

There's a trap inherent in that path of thinking though.  It's not as simple as finding a bunch of like minded people that really gel as a group with high levels of camaraderie and etc.  OK, that's actually a way to pretty good results in a lot of ways, or at least it will seem like you're getting good results.  Your team can work together relatively well, perform smoothly and deliver deliver deliver.  What they won't really do, unless they're super-special is innovate.

Think of it like a troop of soldiers.  Once they've spent their 300 hours of training to march together, when they're going down the road together, that's where they remain.  There won't be the misfit who wonders off the road, runs to catch up, wanders ahead and has time to look at other things, kind of like a lost puppy.  Nope, they look really cool, marching in step, making progress, getting where you want them to go.  unfortunately, when they get there they're all still wearing the same clothes and saying the same things that they've been saying for the past 400 years.

Don't take this to mean that you should be going out and hiring a bunch of star performers either.  Plunk that idea into the same analogy.  Now what you have is an unruly bunch of puppies that are tearing off after every little thing that they can find and if, and that's a huge if, you can ever get them to the destination they'll still be an unruly mob with no real delivery.  the only way around this is a truly exceptional leader who can hold things together but that person is likely a super-genious, or in this analogy, has a pocket full of steak.

Here's where the diversity comes in.  Hire cross-spectrum.  Take on a few star performers and some solid but smart performers.  The smart performers are going to keep your troupe moving along to the final destination, keeping the goal in mind as they goal.  they're there to not only get the core work done but to hold onto the vision in the group mind so that your stars can be guided back to it by honest peer pressure.  Maybe not even peer pressure, that feels too directed of an action on the part of the team.  More of a peer gravitation.  the star performer should see what direction the team is going and be motivated to catch up and help it get there.

An exception here is the prima dona class of star performer.  For me, your general prima dona isn't actually a  star performer.  Because while they can be responsible for some pretty stellar results, they don't consistently perform for you, nor do they bring things forward as a general rule.  They are quite useful in cutting edge industries but most of us aren't working in such a place and don't really need amazing sometimes, we need great all the time.

The other benefit of the diversity is that the differences within your team are what help to drive the innovation.  When you put different people in a room and start to brain storm, the building of the storm of creativity comes because someone says something that triggers something in another persons mind and then true innovation can happen.  if you have over-alignment, then you don't get that spark of difference that helps the entire team create.   it will often be your star that gets sparked but it doesn't have to happen that way, idea generation can happen all around.  in fact, what your star performers do is help bring all of your core performers up a notch.  Now your entire team is producing something of even better quality.

The one caveat here is that fit is still important.  your team still has to be chosen so that a base level they can work together amicably.  You need some shared experience or like mindedness to keep everything moving along forward.  No one likes strife in the workplace.  As for mix - like everything else in life, there's a balance here that you have to find.  In my experience the mix has been about 70/30 core to star.  And indeed there's even room to discuss adding some grunts, juniors or under-achievers but i think that's a discussion for another day.

In the end though, you have to find the ideal mix for your team, maximizing fit where you can and then lead them forward, herding the puppies when necessary but allowing them the room to lift your team out of the doldrums.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Culture of Quality

I think that the biggest single thing that stands in the way of the so-called culture of quality having the impact that it desires is the fact that all-to-often the words are simply lip service.  It's far to easy to say to people that it's really important to have the highest possible levels of quality and yet it's not easy at all to actually back up that commitment.

I think that one of the largest things that have you end up in a place where you say one thing about quality and actually do another is the fact that saying you have a culture of quality is not quite the same thing as trying to make one happen.  I've been in countless releases where the QA time budget gets chopped due to timeline commitments and invariably you end up having a risk/benefit conversations.

A risk/benefit conversation is that conversation where you go in knowing that there is appreciable risk from moving forward with the release but the benefits, not only of the product to be released but to the relationships that it will feed are more appealing. The big problem with this conversation is that generally the way that the risk is mitigated comes around to a statement like this, 'sure we'll go, and if it goes badly or there's bugs, we'll figure out how to spin that so things are still ok.'

Simply put, that's not quality.  I don't disagree that you always have to do a risk analysis and weigh the pro's and cons of your remaining issues pre-launch.  That's obviously the way to go but when it becomes a battle between QA and pretty much the rest of the world to go live then you obviously haven't fostered a culture of quality.  You may, in fact, have empowered your QA to fight against the rest of the company but that's a hard battle to fight and it really doesn't help.

In order to achieve the culture of quality you have to give every participant in product design and delivery the idea that quality is the first and foremost goal of the organization.  That means that 'good enough' when figuring out your requirements is never the right answer.  I don't mean that you have to have feature upon feature or that each feature has to be the best possible feature that it can be.  Those goals simply aren't practical but the goal that is is complete requirements that truly define what the end product will be.  Going back to the well to figure out these complete definitions needs to be the norm.

Developers who write code and throw it over the wall to QA need to be schooled.  Take pride in your work.  Use test driven development, always build unit tests into your code.  Above all else, when you do your design work, think about the environment that your code will live in, how it will interact with other systems and the performance needs that will be met.

QA needs to consider usability where it may have been missed, analyse requirements properly to get the root needs and communicate clearly.  They also need to stick to their guns when quality isn't been met.

For all of these things to be possible, from the top down there has to be support to the concept that quality comes first.  That when things aren't ready they don't ship.  C'levels have to protect themselves from this possibility simply by having the culture supporting quality throughout the process.   You won't ever come to the hard question of 'should we ship' that's been guarded by an empowered gate keeper if everyone along the path has already spent their time and their empowerment producing the highest quality that they can.  (ok...won't ever might be slightly idealistic)

Culture of starts with you, and you, and you.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A dorky video about quality management

The Chartered Quality Institute put out a little video explaining what quality management can do for you.

It's kind of dorky and a little trivializing but it's still cute and informative.

The CQI link page