Friday, December 5, 2014

Show Up Every Day

I was just reading this article by James Altucher.  The gist of the article is that you need to show up, at whatever endeavor you're undertaking every, day.  Each and every day.  I also like that it doesn't say that you need to show up ALL day. 

It started me thinking that there are a number of ways in my life where this advice holds true.  


When you're working on a project, be it for work or at home and you don't have a set deadline and you're being self-motivated you should put extra effort into showing up every day.  By making sure that you accomplish something real towards your goal each and every day you build a habit towards working on that project.  Habits that you build in that way will build their own momentum and happen on days when you don't have the motivation to make them happen.  Not to mention, when you continuously work on something every day progress happens and before you know it, you've achieved your goal.


I find that motivation is very much a momentum kind of thing.  If you have momentum forward you don't have to think about your motivations so much.  You just move forward with the momentum and accomplish things.  As you accomplish things you are motivated by your success and produce even more forward momentum.  This is why the end of projects, especially very long all-consuming ones can be dangerous.  Suddenly your momentum is halted because you don't have a path forward in the same direction that you have been following all along.  This is why it's good to run with multiple projects, some in the design stage, some in the kernel of an idea stage and some in the mainstream.  As soon as you finish one you can refocus on another. 

Some of my least motivated days are when your large project ends, all the loose ends are tied up and you set yourself to just tackle the things that were left around undone while you were on project.  Those things were never going to be very satisfying to undertake or you would have made the time to do them.  I find myself doing parts of each task before I'm distracted by another more interesting task.  By having another project to move towards with a goal, I can spend 10% of my day on that and the rest doing the clean-up and still feel pretty motivated.


I discovered a number of years ago that staycations can be pretty awesome but that they had an inherent risk.  If you don't make a plan for a staycation you run the risk of diddling away your time and then at the end of it when you're back at work you'll find yourself thinking, 'I didn't do anything.  The time was just wasted.'  This seems counter-intuitive because the very act of staying home and doing nothing was probably what you wanted to do but without any defining events within that time everything will have just sort of blended together into one giant blob of dis-accomplishment.  It will feel good during the staycation but you won't have as much durable satisfaction afterwards.  (or you might, we're all different people). 

I came up with a strategy that deals with this though.  Each day of your staycation you plan one event.  For me it often meant leaving the apartment to go to a movie.  The rest of the same day could have me lying on my apt floor staring at the ceiling, the point was simply to have the one planned event each day.  The event could even be within my home, such as painting a wall.  As long as it was a unique event that wouldn't normally exist in a lazy stay-at-home day.  The event could even be something extra lazy like sleeping in the hammock all day but then you'd have to put just a little bit of extra pageantry around it to make it special. 

It may all sound a little strange but I found it really worked for me.  By spending two 'productive' hours in a day the whole day was remembered as bring successful.  I could have spent the rest of the time sitting on the couch watching reality TV (not that i did, ew) and the day would still feel later like it was a worthwhile day. 

Of course there's those people with boundless energy that take a staycation to accomplish things around the home.  Well, if you're going to do that, you'd best make sure that there are tangible re-livable results because that's the only way you're retain the sense of time well spent after the fact. 

Show Up Every Day

By showing up every day you build habits that maintain motivation, giving you momentum so that the next day you can achieve the same thing, only perhaps even better.  It's self-fulfilling and it's moderately eternal.  You'll feel better about yourself and what you're accomplishing which will give you the verve to continue doing so.   It's a very simple formula that just requires you to show up, every day.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Build Your Own Terminology - Knowhole

We've got a history of creating new terminology when we need it in my team.  Sometimes this goes well, sometimes not so much.  One of the most successful instances of this is the term Resolution Testing, referring, of course, to the validation of the resolution to a bug that has been fixed.  (or our vernacular term for same Babooning)

More recently we've come up with another term.  

The term is Knowhole.
It is defined as an odd hole in a person’s knowledge that would be considered in general to be common knowledge.

An example would be not knowing that unicorns had horns.
It evolved from the term Noah hole, for a co-op on my team who didn’t know that unicorns had horns.

The usage has expanded.  Here are some practical usages that I’ve heard:

You’ve never heard of the Ukraine?  That’s a pretty big knowhole.

Shove this in your knowhole.

Take this book and stick it in your knowhole. 

English is a beautiful language, let's help it blossom and grow. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rules and Process, Process and Rules

Recently my old boss transitioned out and my new boss transitioned in.  The new boss, is for the most part a pretty good guy.  Head firmly on his shoulders with brain intact.  So far I've enjoyed working with him and expect that trend to continue. 

He has brought with him a skill/habit that I haven't encountered very often.  He's been consulting at the VP Eng level for a while now and as such, with his multiple engagements he's had to build up a skill set around figuring people out quickly.  He is well versed in a number of frameworks of personality assessment and uses these as tools of his own for understanding.   As far as I can tell, so far, he allows these to provide a snap profile for people that he then uses judgement and experience to evolve into a more accurate and true picture.  

I do know that there are people out there that loathe this type of approach, of pigeon holing people instead of treating people as individuals.  Loath might, in fact, be too light of a word for it, I've watched people start foaming at the gums with glowing red eyes over the entire notion. I, however, think that it's a moderately reasonable approach to your interactions as long as you're fairly open to allowing ongoing evidence to alter your opinions.  I've been pretty happy with this aspect of the new boss as well.

By way of an example - I found out that this boss had tagged me as a person who pretty closely tracks to rules and processes.  This highlighted itself in our meetings as we've started transitioning the team to agile in comments that indicated he believed that I would be the person being a stickler to following process.  And indeed in some ways I am, not so much in that I insist that we follow a process but rather in that we acknowledge that there is a process that has been set in place for a particular situation before we proceed down a different pass.  But within the objection itself, he believed that I was trying to keep us on the path.  After some discussions about these facts he no longer believes that I am so stuck on the process trail. 

 I am a firm believer in the value of having process for anything that you do that is repeatable.  Whether it's in your personal life or in your business world.  Process isn't necessary defined, for me, as 'the best way to do something.'  Process for me can rather be defined as 'a way of doing something such that you are getting a reasonably high return value from your actions, each and every time that you do it.  It must also be a way that is effectively follow-able by each team member without being so complicated as to be a barrier for compliance."  It's not necessarily the best way, every process can be improved. It's more important to find a reasonable process and implement it rather than wait for the best way.  It is essential to make sure that your process isn't super complicated as well because if it's too hard, people simply won't do it, or at least won't do it right.  There's nothing saying that you can't improve process after you've declared one, they should be considered to be living entities, ready to evolve...with the right process being followed. 

Process is important because it's the thing that helps you perform something correctly when you're not really paying attention, or you're a little sleepy that day, or you don't perform a task on a regular basis, or you're just new and don't understand things completely.  Process is the thing that tracks the little things when you don't want to so that the whole is accomplished with a greater level of success.  Process also helps define success so you know when you're done.  

So OK, now that I've made it seem like my new boss was right and that I'm a rules Nazi there's an extension to what I've said above.  It's only when you understand a process that you can make a decision to remove yourself from that process, go another way and still hope for success.  More often than not when we're doing something that doesn't quite match up with process I find myself asking the question, 'This is what the process says we should be doing, if that's the case, should we be doing what we ARE doing?'  If you have a reasonably intelligent answer and can field my follow up questions that start with, 'have you considered...' (questions that flow from the actual process themselves) then I'll be your biggest backer in going off the reservation. 

If everyone thought the same, worked the same, made decisions the same and went into everything fully aware of all the factors in play then we wouldn't need process because every time you'd still get the same result.  So that's what process does, it helps you to success when people aren't aware of all the factors or aren't thinking clearly.  By asking the questions of whether you should be breaking the process you're ensuring that you are thinking of the important factors and it's OK to move off process.  

You might still be dooming yourself. 

temporary difficulties

My apologies. It would appear that my site stopped working late last week.  Something to do with the auto-forwarding to qaisdoes.  After attempting to self troubleshoot with no success I put in a trouble ticket.  Today it miraculously started...well, behaving differently which allowed my self-troubleshooting to be more successful.  

We're back up now.  I apologize for the absence. 
Additionally, I have an actual entry near post-able - it will be up soon. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Scrum Challenge - Little White Lies II

This scrum challenge is pretty closely based upon a team building challenge I found off the internet in a number of places.  Sometimes it is called Two Truths and a Lie.  In fact this was the second time I ran this challenge - the first time was last year.

The challenge is pretty simple. Each person 

During Scrum
  1. Each person is handed a piece of paper.  (they've been told to bring pens)
  2. Each person has 2 minutes to write down three statements about themselves and their name on a piece of paper.
    1. the statements can be things like their shoe size, their birth place etc.
    2. one of the statements will be a lie.
    3. that statement should be marked as a lie.
  3. The judge reads out each person's statements anonymously, randomizing statement order for each person.
    1. going around the table each person votes on who wrote the three statements.
      1. the judge records the people that get it write, anonymously.
      2. a person voting for their own entry gets that point.
    2. going around the table again, each person votes on which statement is a lie.
      1. the judge records tallies against each statement.
      2. a person voting on their own lie doesn't get counted.
  4. At the end the judge tallies up the scores.
    1. one point for each person's vote for the right person.  ie if Joe has 3 people pick his entry, that's 3 points for joe.
    2. one point for each person's vote for the right lie.  ie if Joe has 3 people choose the statement that was actually a lie that's 3 points for Joe,
  5. Winner is the entry with the fewest points.

The Results

I'm adding in the results from my team, although i am changing the names to protect the innocent from payback from the less innocent.  These results aren't really going to be that interesting to you I don't think, however they are indicative of the types of things you're going to see in a challenge like this.  

​​​Statements (red is lie)
1.     I've done ballet
2.     I play the flute.
3.     I'm a black belt.
1.     I am a good swimmer.
2.     I am a good dancer.
3.     I am a good snowboarder.
1.     Star Wars is my favourite movie.
2.     I've been to Belgium.
3.     My legs have been shredded by kittens.
  1. I play the piano.
  2. I play the saxaphone.
  3. I play the trumpet.
1.     I was born in German.
2.     I lived in Germany until i was 2 years old.
3.     I have been married twice.
1.     I don't wactch TV.
2.     I don't drive
3.     I have 4 cousins
1.     I lived in Alberta when i was younger.
2.     I think some hip hop bands are really good.
3.     I used to compete in skateboard competitions..
1.     I was born in Hong Kong 43 years ago with a bad weather morning.
2.     I had my first car which was a Toyota.
3.     I joined DPT 5 years and 8 months ago.

Maybe it's the challenge of writing down things that other members of the team aren't going to know or being given permission to write down a lie but this game has gone over quite well both times that we've played it.  People get into writing down their statements and seem to enjoy the process. 

What Went Right
The right level of statements came out right.  People were able to tell lies sometimes and not other times.  People learned things about each other.  It seems to have all worked rather well. 

What Went Wrong
We ran out of time on this one so the review of the statements was a little rushed.  A little more haste in the early parts would make things work better. 

Lessons/Team Benefits
There's always a benefit from a team strengthening their bonds and forming stronger relationships. This challenge does that directly through passing information about people back and forth.  It also provides good interaction as a team, solving problems, laughing at the situation and one-another and providing that bit of stress around being caught out in a lie that makes you a little more open in the situation. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Scrum Challenge - QA Couplets - Random Style

The other day while the team and I were watching Test Bash 3 from Ministry of Testing we discovered as a team that the best entries were the ones where the testers recited 60 seconds of poetry about testing.  We were watching this video during our bi-weekly 'Team Learning Panel,' which I should tell you about some time.  

Towards the end of the same day, a Thursday, one of the team members sent me the question that I am invariably asked on the day before Scrum Challenge.  "Is there any hint?"

Scrum Challenge hint is as much a tradition around here as the scrum challenge itself.  I don't always give hints, based more upon knowing what challenge will be when asked than being secretive, but when I do they are cryptic, strange and difficult to relate to anything challenge-like.  This does not stop the question from getting asked. 

Once again I didn't really have any idea as to what the scrum challenge would be on the next day but I provided the following hint.  "I’m thinking that today’s learning panel will be a hint to tomorrow’s challenge."  Not knowing what the challenge was actually going to be about, I had now given myself some boundaries in which to create.  I do enjoy this type of challenge.   Gets my creative/nefarious juices running. 

I still hadn't come up with anything by the time I was getting into bed that night and mentioned such to my wife.  Five minutes later the two of us had come up with the following challenge. 

QA Couplets - Random Style

The Rules:

Phase I

  1. Choose coupled rhyming words, one per person in the challenge.
    1. If you have an even number of participants, MC stays out.  If you have an odd number, MC plays.
  2. On a long thin strip of paper, write on the right hand side one of your rhyming words.
  3. Repeat until all of your words are on pieces of paper.
  4. Shuffle.
  1. Each person is given a random piece of paper and asked not to speak about it. 
  2. Each person is asked to write a sentence ending in the word on their piece of paper.
    1. you may not change the word in any way (tense or pluralizing)
    2. the sentence should be about the over-arching theme.
    3. today's theme was 'Testing'
    4. the sentence should be a complete thought.
  3. After 2-3 minutes, collect all the pieces of paper.

Phase II 

  1. Take the first shuffled piece of paper.  Write the sentence on the white board.
  2. Find the piece of paper with the sentence that rhymes and write that sentence next.
  3. Take the next piece of paper and write it up.
  4. Find the rhyming sentence and etc.
  5. When all the couplets are up - voila - a QA poem.

The Results:

The beautiful of testing is how much bugs you CAUGHT!
I'm working on verification of fixed bugs that developers BROUGHT!
After a while testing goes like a BREEZE.
When I find a bug I start to SNEEZE.
Great product is not deliverable if QA's lazy!
Too many bugs makes function HAZY.
Testing is like a FLOWER
QA gives developers all the POWER

Through work the bug count SHRANK
Monster Trucks give QA the highest RANK.

This was received well by the team.  It is not the first time we have tackled poetry and even with a fairly nebulous direction at the start it was not questioned too much.  People just dug in and wrote their line.  

What Went Right
We ended up with a poem that while not great, was amusing and fit the bill. 

What Went Wrong
Oddly enough it was difficult to get the length of the sentence kept at similar lengths.  Much re-explanation was required and it still didn't' really work out.  It did not, however, end up being that important for the results of the challenge, the quality of the poem just didn't care that much. 

Lessons / Team Benefits
The big lesson in this challenge was about how difficult it is to produce a cohesive, high quality product when the project members are not able to coordinate their efforts and collaborate on a solution.  What you get in the end might be technically correct (although ours wasn't really) but will not really be beautiful.  The team readily accepted this lesson from the challenge, it quickly made sense.   

We will definitely play this game again.
On a side note, our new VP of Engineering sat in on our scrum this day, on his second day with the company.  He was a great sport and played the game well. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

service announcment

Sorry for the little blip there for the past few days. 
In doing some fiddling with some of the hosting configuration I have set up I ended up buried in a morass of hosting confusion for the better part of a week.  

We're all better now and qaisdoes points back to where it should. 

My apologies. 

Someday we'll talk about quality of instructions and how to's around hosting. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Put a little laugh in it.

"There is little success where there is little laughter." ~Andrew Carnegie
(this entry inspired by this other blog entry over here)

You ever work in a place where people didn't laugh?  Did you enjoy it?
I never have worked in a place that didn't have laughter.  I guess in some ways I turn down opportunities where i know that laughter is even a little bit less likely.  I mean there are other reasons that I shy away from stodgy financial companies but the formality of their situations which can reduce the freedom for fun or laughter is one of them.  

One of the best professional compliments that I've ever received came at the end of the era where the railroad company i worked at was breaking up and the entire IT dept was going their separate ways. The Director I worked under thanked me personally for my time, telling me that I had brought life back to the department.  Even in those days, starting as a junior employee and leaving years later as a lead, I worked hard at bringing joy and laughter to the work place.  This doesn't just mean being friendly and jovial, always having a joke at the ready, although that is also an important factor in workplace enjoyment.  No, I was definitely an instigator of hi-jinks.  Pranks on people's cubicles, roasts when people were leaving, awards for silly things - these were all things that I was a major driving force behind. 

I have maintained this habit throughout my career.  I have had to dial some of it back a little as I became a more senior manager but even my scrum challenges bring laughter to my teams and to other teams either through through-the-wall laughter contagion or in hearing the war stories of the last challenge. 

"What's the benefit really?" you might ask.  Isn't laughing in the work place a sign of low productivity due to frivolity?  I couldn't disagree more.  To my mind, laughter is the grease that keeps things moving.  It fosters stronger team building, it builds positive relationships that allow for easier to trading of favours, it pulls your brain out of the rut that it falls into after staring at the same screen for too many consecutive minutes and allows it to refocus in a more positive way, it leaves you in a better mood, allowing to have higher more positive energy towards your work  and most importantly of all, it helps you love your job.  

Having a good time during your work day means that you're going to enjoy going to work every day.  When your job has dreary parts, as they all do, getting a laugh here or there helps you through those parts and makes them not so bad. People who like their job are more pleasant to be around, get more done and make the jobs of others around them more pleasant as well.  In fact, they are the type of contagion that you most want in your work place. 

Maybe every workplace doesn't need the distraction of nerf-gun wars but a little laughter certainly makes the day go by a little faster. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Quality Context.

I was reading the qaisdoes twitter feed and the following post from @ASQ came across:
            Quality Quote: "Quality is everyone's expectation!" - Jeffrey S. Schiopota, vice  president of operations, Aspire Brands

And my automatic response was to argue (to be fair i'm reasonably certain that 80% of my friends, acquaintances and family would not be surprised at my willingness to argue) the point.  After all, if you buy something from the dollar store, quality is not necessarily what you expect.  But after further reflection i think that you do expect quality from items that you buy at the dollar store but the quality has a context.  

For example, if i go to McDonald's I don't expect the food to taste like what i'd get at a sit down restaurant.  Mcdonald's has built a worldwide brand based upon the fact that they can build a consistent brand that looks, feels and tastes the same no matter where you go.  So if you consider their quality of process and product, it's pretty high within the context of your expectation.  I don't expect my Big Mac to taste like the burger that my grandpa used to BBQ on those warm summer evenings of my childhood, i expect it to taste like every other Big Mac i've ever had.  If it doesn't then they aren't adhering to their quality standard. 

Part of the problem is the word quality and how it's used.  Quality didn't always mean good, quality started out its life requiring a qualifier so that you would know what usage it was entailing.  This product is of high quality, this is a low quality widget, etc.  But these days if someone just says, 'quality is everyone's expectation' there's an allowed context within of 'high quality is everyone's expectation.'  It's not a very exact statement but it's the intent behind it. 

Of course coming back around to not arguing with the statement due to context i had another thought - I'm not sure it is what the pessimists amongst us do expect.  I don't think that i really expect quality in general anymore.  The bigbox discount stores of the world have started to train us that you get what you pay for.  When i look at the dollar store example in my second paragraph you really do get the quality that you expect, as long as you're looking at things reasonably and rationally.  Every product you buy at that dollar store is built with a particular probable failure rate due to material and manufacturing process.  You've paid a buck, it'll last longer than a use or two but after a dozen uses, count your blessing for having a usable product every use thereafter.  In general, if you know what you're looking for, then the dollar store is a great place to go.  I really don't need gift bags that are higher quality than a dollar store provides.  They will have the quality i expect, for the most part.

For the pessimist however, i think that there is also a belief that the pervasiveness of the bigbox prices that has brought quality overall down in an attempt to compete.  "things don't last like they used to."  Everyone's heard this from a person of an older generation.  If you grew up in the 60's you had a different concept of the quality to expect from things.  Your phone isn't going to last 15 years, you know that, you buy it and expect a quality product that will last until a year or two after your contract runs.  At that point you're probably going to buy a new phone anyway.  This is how products are being designed, because manufacturers want you to pay the bill for new product again and again.  If i buy a big ticket electronics product like a TV or receiver and i pay for the higher quality product, i do have an expectation of quality.  You'd think that for an $800 phone we could expect the same thing but i believe we are being conditioned to really put the quality context into play.  You expect it to work well for the length of the contract and then you start counting your blessings for every year you get past that. 

But even in this example we are trained for quality context.  You expect the quality you receive from such a product.  It's a shame that we're giving up quality for price and are becoming doomed to live in a throw-a-way society and often i try to convince myself that spending the quality dollar to buy a higher lifespan product is the way to go.  Most of the time i even succeed.  But it's not always easy either.  It's hard for a person of my generation who looks at TV's or phones or things in that price point and automatically has an expectation of higher quality.  People older than me, they rail against the machine, people my age grumble and complain, millenials...they just live easily with the concept that two years from now they'll need to replace their everything.

Quality Context is becoming everything.  To rephrase the quote a little, "Contextual quality is everyone's expectation."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Distractable Me...

This post stems from thoughts i had reading an article on linked in by Ilya Pozin called Why Distractions are Actually Good.  The article discusses why distractions within your work-life can actually lead to increased problem solving and creativity.  

It really drove home the lesson that i learned these tricks (as he discusses) back in University but had maybe dropped them from my conscious mind since then.  Mostly i'm referring to the concept that if you let yourself be distracted from an important problem then your subconscious will continue to work on it in the background coming up with a solution when you least expect it.  

I think that in our workplace world that we've been conditioned to work on an important problem in a dedicated fashion until you've reached a solution.  I've watched far more than enough developers embroiled in thought, indicating any distraction would be disastrous to the process, to know that this is really a prevalent thought pattern. i'm not really saying that it's the wrong way to go, for some, but it doesn't really reflect the way things work for myself. 

Back in university after Metallurgical Engineering and myself were done with each other i shifted into Philosophy.  This move caused a monumentally different shift in the way i was going to have to approach my work and studies.  In engineering every problem would take a certain amount of time to solve and you just had to work through it to get to the solution.  Even extended problems that would include lab work were a series of interconnected steps or tests that would be plodded through methodically (by definition they have to be stepped through methodically) to achieve your end goals.  

It's like night and day from what philosophy meant for me to do.  In philosophy i was expected to read things and think about them.  I was to grow my own concepts and investigate within themselves what they might mean.  Assigned readings didn't just make the thoughts that you wanted to have happen happen, you might need thought percolation or even group discussion to bring them about. 

I was relatively successful in Philosophy, like i never had been in Metallurgy and part of the reason was that i left my work alone.  I achieved a methodology for dealing with papers.  As you might imagine Philosophy was all about the papers.  In general the way a paper would go is about a month or so before the assignment was due you'd be given a topic and some idea of the readings that would help you achieve direction for your topic.  The further you advanced, the less direct the direction on what to read but the concept remained the same.  

I started being a last minute guy, do the readings, write the paper, hand it in.  I noticed that often this resulted in papers that weren't all that well conceptualized or thought-out, a definite success killer in Philosophy.   As with most people, trying to trouble shoot the problem i decided that i needed to get on the work earlier so that i wasn't last-minute guy.  Obviously i needed more prep time.  And again, as with most people this worked the first time but follow through on such decisions is really difficult.  I was lucky though as i failed in succeeding on this track i discovered something about myself, or i should say re-discovered. 

If i really read the assignment right around when it was due and then within the next few days of that i did some of the readings (let's be reasonable, no one does all the readings do they?).  As i did those readings i would think about the problem.  When i got to the point where i wasn't going to read about it anymore, i just let it go.  From that point something every week or so would remind me about the assignment.  Most of the time a professor reminding us about the assignment or a classmate asking a question.   other than pondering a little bit as these reminders occurred no active work would be done.  As i tweaked my process i found that interim work was mostly wasted effort and time.  Then, a day or two before the due date i'd be reminded again and suddenly i'd be driven by terror to commence working on the paper.  

in the early days before i figured out the system i would pick up the assignment, be reminded of the readings and tackle them again.  But eventually i learned that really all i had to do was read the assignment again and sit down to start my paper.  And voila, suddenly i would have one, or two ideas that were mostly baked, in my brain just waiting to be written about.  My work habits may have been poor but my brain was sitting there waiting to rescue me.  

Throughout school i tweaked this system.  I was willing and able to make the effort to do the readings early as long as i didn't have to tackle the daunting paper itself.  As a reward, my brain would do the work while i wasn't thinking about it and feed the ideas back to myself when i was finally spurred by terror to get it done.  it's a system that worked very well for myself and i honed it to a powerful machine. 

Do i use this system today?  Not really.  I rarely get assignments that are more than a few days out that really need percolation of concepts in the same way that my papers did.  I like to let things like test plans gestate in my brain for a while before i start them but i've found that so much that i do is so similar that if i don't write the ideas down as i get them that they will get overwritten by other ideas before i get a chance to get them down.  I guess i'm slowly honing a system here were i do allow percolation of these ideas and have the rigor to take notes when the ideas that will work pop into my head but this system is by no means yet mature and i lose a lot of ideas still. 

I guess that's the point of this paper that i'm writing, why the original article i read meant so much.  I need to remember that this is a successful way for me to work and i have to give my subconscious the power to do it's work and my conscious mind the time to utilize the tool. 

I mentioned above that even in university that this was a re-discovery of the phenomena.  Years before, in middle and high school i had learned that i was a very creative person but that i didn't always have the 'great' ideas at my finger tips.  I developed a minor system of saying to myself, 'i need a name for this project/paper etc,'  or 'i need an idea for this project' and then letting it go for a period of time.  Almost without fail within a few days, out of the blue the idea would come to me.  With the system in university, i added timelines and pressure to the system and it still worked.  And today in my personal life, i've taught my spouse and myself that when we put hard ideas that indicate a need for big change that i instantly resist, giving it a few days for my brain, without my conscious involvement, to chew on the idea will generally provide a much more reasonable response rather than the auto-defense mechanism of no. 

one last note, I think in some ways, these days, my work itself creates this distraction path that allows me to be more creative.  As a manager, most of my career has been filled with distractions, whether they be true emergencies (which my last job was filled with) or just intense context shifting all of the time.  That's part of my job, and in general, part of my job that i like.  But i think that one of the things that it does for me, is takes the problem i'm working on right now and gives myself the time for my subconscious to do it's work while i'm the the 3 hours of meetings that distracted me.  The only challenge with this system is remembering to get back to the original problem when i come out of the meetings. 

do you have any tips or tricks to use the subconscious to solve problems in the current business world?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Are random webinars worth it?

What's a random webinar you might ask?  As you progress through your career different organizations that offer training are going to add you politely to their mailing lists.  (and politely i mean whether you want them to or not).  

A common practice amongst these organizations is to have lost leader training webinars.  They generally fall into one of two categories;  The first is from an organization shilling a product that relates to the subject that they are teaching about.  The model is generally to have an 'independent' expert talk about the product for approximately half of the time, how to approach it, recognize it, deal with it, etc and then the second half is reserved for a discussion of how their product could help you with the topic at hand.  Understanding the adage that you don't get anything for free, myself and my team have sat through a fair number of these webinars trying to learn something new and different about topics that we encounter on a regular basis. 

Generally we get a firmer understanding of the topic that we're looking into; system monitoring, performance testing, mobile testing, etc but rarely do we truly learn something new and interesting.  It's good, perhaps that we learn what kind of tools are out there and can help us with our tasks.  Generally the tools offered by the vendors hosting these talks are pretty expensive and won't be something that make the business case for us but not always and we have at least been lured into a free trial or two to experiment with the tools.  It's also good to round out your knowledge in a specific area to give you a better understanding of standards on a more industry-wide basis. 

The second type is an organization that specializes in training.  Their goal is generally to find a topic that is interesting and most importantly topical (or filled with buzzwords) such that you're going to be interested in logging in to listen.  They will generally have a 'guest' expert that will walk you through the topic.  for the most part the webinars that i've attended have been interesting but too general and cerebral to be of real practical use.  And there's a reason for this as well, they're running a business and want you to come to them to take a day's training on the subject to really understand.  They might show you the tip of the iceberg of a tool that can help you to cope with the issue at hand but there isn't really time to understand the tool or have practical implementation steps for it. 

In effect they are using the lure of education to put your butt in a seat to get you to absorb the marketing that is throughout these presentations.  To be fair, it's pretty subtle marketing.  They get to plaster their company name and logo all over the place and mention themselves a few times throughout as well as talk about the possible avenues for further training in the subject that can be taken.   The problem is they can't load very much content into an hour while showing you all that you could possible learn in a day's session (or longer) of training and without giving away the core lessons that you would be gaining in a paid session.  So while it isn't exactly practical and useful training it generally brings you a good solid grounding in the subject and if you've had some thoughts and were doubting them it can bring them into focus.  

On the other hand, if you want to learn things you can use...put into action as soon as the webinar is finished, they're pretty much not the place to be.  I've seen the faces of many a participant glaze over and they start reading their email on their phone, hoping not to miss it if the presentation turns 'good.'  they rarely do that, they rarely start super slow and suddenly become filled with practically useful knowledge. 

So why do i keep sitting through them?  Am i just a glutton for fluff?  I maybe see one a month.  I get the advisory, put it in my calendar, invite other potentially interested parties to join me  and then wander off to watch it when it happens.  I generally learn something.  But it's not like it changes my world, rather it just adds to the knowledge base that i work with. 

And sometimes i'll watch something that isn't really in my bailey wick and have more to learn.  For instance this week i sat through, 'Assertiveness for Women - Finding the Right Balance' not so much because i want to be an assertive woman (ie, i'm a guy) but because i have female reports and i work with other female managers and i want to understand enough of their situation to interact well.  I learn some things but yeah, mostly fluff to me. 

To make a solid statement as an answer to the question i posed in my subject - they're only worth it if you can spare the time and you are willing to not have immediately implementable practical solutions. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Scrum Challenge - QA Nickname Generator

Sometimes we have scrum challenges that are more about fun than learning a specific lesson.  For my team, i often think that they feel that the scrum challenges are mostly about fun.  This is ok for a few reasons.  

Firstly, not all lessons you learn are consciously learned.  If i can build a situation that provides a learning experience, either by understanding their own actions and reactions or by observing the actions of their the peers then there will be lessons learned, whether the team realizes it or not.  most of our learning is experiential and not known until you start to apply the knowledge.  Or heck, most people may never consciously understand much of the knowledge that they've gained.  That's the fun part about experiential learning.  Your experiences guide who you become to the point where you don't question it and just be.  Now, to be a more complete, balanced happy individual i believe that you should be self-aware enough to understand these things but that's not a very easy target to reach. 

Secondly, any challenge that engages your brain or even just your involvement is good exercise for you on many levels.   Getting the old brain juices moving from a direction different from normal is powerful and useful tool to keep you brilliant.  

Thirdly, fun challenges without learning are still exceptionally good team building exercises, or can be.  Having interaction with healthy laughter and people working as a team builds the bond that help foster useful communication as well as the tolerance buffer for requests for help and against annoying habits. 

A couple of weeks ago i came up with the idea that QA should have it's very own nickname generator.  If you're not familiar with the concept it's been a pretty prevalent internet meme as long as there's been internet (or so it seems).  It's a set of rules, or an app that allows you to determine what your nickname would be, pursuant to any particular theme without having to do work on your own.  Just googling 'define nickname generator' brings back links to produce a nickname themed on; hobbits, smurfs, pirates, gangsta, real <sic> japanese name, chinese name, wu-tang name, stripper, jedi, and etc.  So with all those options, why not a QA nickname generator?  

As with most weird thoughts i have, i try to figure out how to roll it up into a scrum challenge.  Thereby alleviating my need to be creative that week and giving the team something fun and/or educational to work on.  Giving it some thought i decided that what the scrum challenge would be is the team itself would come up with how the nickname generator would actually work.  I went in with the potential seed idea of using a thesaurus and types of testing and we went into a free-form brainstorming session.  

Below is what we arrived at:

The QA Nickname Generator

The Rules
  1. Alpha position of the first letter of your last name = Y 
    1. ie a = 1, b = 2, c = 3
    2. If your Y is already represented in the team, Y = Y+N
    3. repeat 2 as necessary
  2. Number of letters in your first name = N
  3. Pick your favourite testing type (ie regression, functional, smoke...etc)
  4. Put the testing type into a thesaurus ( for example) and your core nickname is the Nth choice in the list of synonyms.
    1. If the list is shorter than N, wrap in counting through the list.
  5. Count 'Y' positions through the hero type list and that's your hero nickname.
  6. Your nickname is FirstName 'the core nickname hero nickname' LastName
    1. you can swap the core and hero if it makes more sense.
    2. you can modify the core and/or hero words slightly as long as they remain the same root, to make them sound more appropriate.

The Hero Type List

PositionHero Type
​1​   Kung Fu
​2​   Sword Master
​3  ​ Cyborg
​4​   Singer
​5   ​Guru
​6   ​Gunfighter
​7   ​Zombie Lord
​8   ​Sleeping Beauty
​9   ​Dwarf
​10   ​Dinosaur Tamer
​11   ​Were Lion
​12    ​Bear Puncher
​13    ​Communist

The Results

So my nickname came out to be  Mike 'the courageous sleeping beauty' Hrycyk  which is pretty awesome. 

some other examples; (with the people's names trimmed for their privacy)
'the drinking sword master'
'the soot bear puncher'
'the zombie lord verdict'
'the mechanization guru'
'the industrialization singer'
'the substantiation bear puncher'
'the constancy communist'
'the ​administration cyborg'
‘the Kung-Fu Operative’

We haven't really done a brainstorming session per se looking for an actual targeted end product before in scrum challenge.  we've done brainstorming but the end target isn't defined at all - ie One Uppers.  There was a bit of confusion and scrambling at the start but in the end, with a bit of prodding and guidance we came up with a useful and viable product.  Fast enough that we are able to use the tool to figure out 4 or 5 nicknames in the challenge.  which gave us some fun conclusions.  

We do these challenges in a meeting room every friday and there's a manager scrum and then a development team scrum in the room following our scrum.  Every friday members from both teams have taken to looking to the whiteboard to see what our scrum challenge has produced.  often there are things and when they aren't they turn to me in askance.  I've even had a manager or two take some of my scrum challenges and do them with their team, on occasion.  This challenge was the first time that i had random team members from groups go through the challenge on their own and send out the results.  So that was cool. 

What Went Right
  • good end product. 
  • team worked together to produce ideas. 
  • had time to actually produce some nicknames. 
  • the team enjoyed the challenge quite a bit. 

What Went Wrong
  • some of the team was left out of the collaborative nicknaming process although we followed up later with the entire list.  

Lessons Learned
Brainstorming isn't easy.  You need a path to really guide people along to have an end product that you can use.  i struggled working on this challenge to produce a brainstorming session that i thought would be useful.  in the end i had to provide a pretty healthy seat to the storm.  A large part of this, however, was the length of the challenge, 15 minutes is just very short. 

I want to see your nickname if you make one please - in the comments!

Signing off.... Mike 'the courageous sleeping beauty'