Tag Archives: Kanban

The Death of Brainstorming? Say it isn’t so…


I love the articles in the New Yorker, and the following one caught my eye because of the Brainstorming topic. In leadership courses, I’ve espoused the value of brainstorming when done right (without judgement and analysis) – and I’ve seen positive results.  Could it be that the creative process might actually work better when criticism is allowed to fly?

Say it isn’t so

When I teach brainstorming techniques, I always find it interesting that the creative (right brain dominant) thinkers in the group really love and contribute more during the “Brainstorming” free flow of ideas phase (before analysis sets in), while the linear, engineering style (left brain dominant) thinkers in the group can’t wait for the second phase where the ideas are analyzed and critiqued.  Divergent thinking followed by convergence of ideas.  Made perfect sense to me and the students demonstrated how safe each group felt – depending on which side of the brain dominated their idea flow.

So now, it appears that the “Steve Jobs” style of criticism before acceptance, domineering boss-like, judgment first ways of working have merit, or do they?  Read the article then read on and comment (please!)

Here’s the link to “Groupthink” if you cannot reach it above.

I’m conflicted…

about this latest “research” and given my international experiences in presenting in over 30 countries to technical audiences, I have to say that Information Technology and software development are as much about the people and psychology (trust and communication) as they are about technology and engineering problems.

I’ve seen success with collaborative approaches like Kanban, agile, Rational (Use Cases) – which I believe succeed because we bring disparate viewpoints of the customers and suppliers together and address various learning styles (visual, audio and kinesthetic) to gain the highest levels of understanding.  Brainstorming is one such technique whereby the most dominant (i.e., typically the most critical of all ideas except his/her own) no longer gets to direct the problem solving.

What’s BEEN your experience?

I look forward to your comments – do you agree with these findings? – and to further research… and to hopefully announcing that Brainstorming is NOT dead, in fact, it just needed a wake-up call to re-energize the benefits for a new iPad generation!

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Trust and Verify are the (IT) Elephants in the room


As a party involved in some aspect of software development, why do you think projects are so hard?  Millions of dollars in research work to solve this question, with the result being new models, agile approaches and standards, all intended to streamline software development.

What do you think is the core reason for project success or failure?  Is it the people, process, requirements, budgets, schedule, personalities, the creative process or some combination?

Sure, IT (information technology) is a relatively new industry, plagued by technology advances at the speed of light, industries of customers and users who don’t know what they want, budgets are preset, schedules are imposed, scope is elusive, and, ultimately computer scientists and customers still speak their own language.  Some people argue that it boils down to communication (especially poor communication).  After all, isn’t communication the root cause of all wars, disputes, divorces, broken negotiations, and failed software projects?

I disagree.

I believe that TRUST and VERIFY are THE TWO most important factors in software development

These two elements are the IT elements in the room (so to speak!) I could be wrong, but it seems like the commonly cited factors (including communication) are simply symptoms of the elephants in the room – and no one is willing to talk about them.  Instead, we bring in new methodologies, new tools intended to bring customers and suppliers together, new approaches, and new standards – and all of these skirt the major issues: TRUST and VERIFY.

Why are these so critical?

Trust is the difference between negotiation and partnership – trust implies confidence,  a willingness to believe in (an)other, the assurance that your position and interests are protected, and the rationale that when life changes, the other party will understand and work with you. A partnership means that there is an agreement to trust in a second party and to give trust in return.  Trust is essential in software development.

BUT… many a contract and agreement have gone wrong with blind trust, and that is why VERIFY is as important as trust. Verify means to use due diligence to make sure that the trust is grounded in fact by using knowledge, history, and past performance as the basis.  Verify grounds trust, yet allows it to grow.

President Ronald Reagan coined the phrase “Trust, but Verify” – but I believe it is better stated as “Trust and Verify” because the two reinforce each other.  This also suggests the saying:  “Fool me Once, Shame on You… Fool me Twice, Shame on Me.”

Proof that Trust and Verify are the Elephants in the Room

Software development has a history of dysfunctional behavior built on ignoring that Trust and Verify are key issues. It is easier for both the business (customers) and the engineers (suppliers) to pretend that they trust each other than address the issues once and for all.  To admit to a lack of trust is tantamount to declaring war and accusing your “partners” of espionage.  It simply is not done in the polite company of corporate boardrooms.  And so we do the following:

  • Fixed price budgets are set before requirements are even known because the business wants to lower their risk (and mistrust);
  • Software development companies “pad” their estimates with generous margins to decrease their risk that the business doesn’t know what they want (classic mistrust);
  • Deadlines are imposed by the business based on gut-feel or contrived “drop dead” dates to keep the suppliers on track;
  • Project scope is mistakenly expressed in terms of dollars or effort (lagging metrics) instead of objective sizing (leading metrics);
  • Statements like “IT would be so much easier if we didn’t have to deal with users” are common;
  • Games like doubling the project estimate because the business will chop it in half become standard;
  • Unrealistic project budgets and schedules are agreed to to keep the business;
  • Neither side is happy about all the project meetings (lies, more promises, and disappointment).

Is IT doomed?

Trust is a critical component of any successful relationship involving humans (one might argue that it is also critical when pets are involved) – but so too is being confident in that trust (verify).  Several promising approaches address trust issues head on, and provide project metrics along the way to ensure that the trust remains.

One such approach is Kanban (the subject of this week’s Lean Software and Systems Development conference LSSC12 in Boston, MA).

Kanban for software and systems development was formalized by David Anderson and has been distilled into a collaborative set of practices that allow the business and software developers to be transparent about software development work – every step of the way.  Project work is prioritized and pulled in to be worked on only as the volume and pace (velocity) of the pipeline can accommodate.  Rather than having the business demand that more work be done faster, cheaper and better than is humanly possible (classic mistrust that the suppliers are not working efficiently), in Kanban, the business works collaboratively with the developers to manage (and gauge) what is possible to do and the pipeline delivers more than anticipated.  Trust and verify in action.

Another promising approach is Scope Management (supported by a body of knowledge and a European based certification) – a collaborative approach whereby software development effort is done based on “unit pricing”.  Rather than entertaining firm, fixed price, lose-lose (!!!) contracts where the business wants minimum price/maximum value and the supplier need to curtail changes to deliver within the fixed price (and not lose their shirts), unit pricing actually splits a project into known components can are priced similarly to how home construction can be priced by square foot and landscaping priced by the number of trees.

In Scope Management (see www.qualityplustech.com and www.fisma.fi for more details or send me an email and I’ll send you articles), the business retains the right to make changes and keep the reins on the budget and project progress and the supplier gets paid for the work that the business directs to be done.  Project metrics and progress metrics are a key component in the delivery process.  Again TRUST and VERIFY are key components to this approach.

What do you think? 

Please comment and share your opinion – are TRUST and VERIFY the IT elephants in the rooms at your company?

P.s., Don’t forget to sign up for the SPICE Users Group 2012 conference in 2 weeks in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. See www.spiceconference.com for details!  I’m doing a 1/2 day SCOPE MANAGEMENT tutorial on Tuesday May 29, 2012.

Common-sense Leadership: Respond not react…


A big benefit to teaching leadership and communication workshops to adult professionals is continuous learning: every time I teach a class, new revelations come into focus.

One such “aha” moment (where one realizes something that may not have been obvious before) is that Leadership is really about learning to Respond to a situation or stimulus instead of automatically Reacting.  Why is this important?  Responding is the thought intensive process of actively listening, pausing, and then gathering ones “thoughts” before speaking.  Gathering of one’s thoughts involves the neocortex (center) of the brain whereby we override the reptilian (instinctual) brain and the limbic (emotion-induced) brain, and hopefully create a response less prone to immediate and autonomous reactions (based on instinct or emotion).

Considering how eastern cultures (such as Japan) seem to habitually pause before asking questions at a conference or before coming to an agreement gave me “pause” to reflect on how this practice conveys power and respect – and is one often used by practised politicians at press conferences.  This results in less “eating one’s premature words” and less damage control as opposed to when one speaks too hastily or without due thought.

This is a common-sense tip on how to practice better leadership in your own workplace no matter your position:  remember and practice active listening (if you are thinking of what you are going to say – you are not listening!), pausing, gathering your thoughts (and perhaps even saying “please give me 15 seconds to gather my thoughts”) and then thoughtfully responding.

Food for thought – what do you think?  Could this be helpful in your workplace?

Carol

The Most Critical Skills in the 21st Century – are they Hard or Soft?


The past few months I’ve found myself instructing a series of Leadership and Communication workshops for adult professionals across the United States, together with delivering a series of Keynote Conference addresses in Europe on similar topics.

At one particular address in Dublin, Ireland, I emphasized that the beauty of modern software development approaches (such as Kanban) is that the development team can lay bare their work pipeline and ultimately collaborate (through effective leadership and communication skills) with the business. After a series of illustrative exercises (yes, at a keynote address!), attendees by and large embraced the principles of collaboration along with the concept that we need to refrain from treating each other as “machines” at work (formulated along the lines of Margaret Wheatley‘s ideas.) By treating each other as human beings from the kickoff meeting (at least), projects can achieve resounding levels of success.

One particular conference on Quality Assurance and Testing featured not only my keynote (A Soft Skills Toolkit for Testers!) on Leadership and Communication,  but at least three others of similar slant: presentations that emphasized teamwork, respect, and collaboration.  I believe that these are essential components to the success of any project!

One key point I bring home in all of my training and keynotes is that as engineers and computer scientists, we tend to minimize the emerging importance of soft skills such as leadership and communication (I have an entire 16-piece toolkit for this) as “fluff” in favor of what we often see as superior technical “hard skills”.  As an engineer myself, I see the pitfalls of a technically competent workforce that cannot talk outside of its own niche – and many others agreed.

But, it came to fully illustration the evening after one keynote.  A group of us had gathered at a local pub to sample the local beverages when the wife of a conference chair (a science based PhD herself) approached me to comment on what she had heard about my morning keynote:

“Carol, I heard that you gave an entertaining keynote presentation today, “

she started,

“…but it was “entirely without substance.”

What she was in fact saying was that my keynote, in her and her husband’s opinion, had some redeeming entertainment value, but the lack of research-data based charts and advanced equations, rendered it “entirely without substance.”

I did suppress my inclination to applaud and say “thank you for illustrating my point so eloquently” when she said this because I realized it might be a futile discussion.  Instead, I simply smiled, thanked her for her comment, and turned back to the business and beverage at hand.

Now that I am contemplating a series of workshops for future conferences (technical software engineering and quality conferences) to continue the discussions on Leadership and Communication, it occurs to me that calling these skills “soft” may actually diminish their importance – regardless of proof that Leadership, Communication and Collaboration are some of the most important and hardest skills to teach our industry leaders in the 21st century.

What do YOU think?  Are Leadership skills (such as managing to relationships, emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, diversity, and working with teams and people) considered more as Soft Skills or as Hard Skills (akin to programming in dot net or Java) or a mix of both?

As a technical professional – how important do you think are Leadership and Communication skills to the success of your projects?

I will be awaiting your comments!

Happy holidays!

Carol

p.s., Send me an email if you’d like to see more about the Soft Skills Toolkit for Testers presentation I did in October. I would love feedback and recommendations.

Technology at the Speed of Sound… Catch up at Light Speed at LSSC11!


I have to admit that I have not programmed a computer for many years and I have no idea how to write Visual Basic or Java or dot net.  (Yes, I have done raw html and could still manage in SAS if I had to!)

And I can also admit that the proliferation of models and methods from Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Six Sigma, Xtreme Programming, CMMI(R) (Capability Maturity Model), to manifesto driven systems development,  has me daunted.

Which ones are interchangeable, which are compatible, which are contradictory, and (OMG) where should one start to learn how to avoid the pitfalls?

It’s all a matter of diving in to each and learning the ins-and-outs and best practices — except I know that there are as many opinions about best practices as there are models.

Okay, I can already hear you saying:  “Carol, as a software measurement/Function Point Analysis and PMP (Project Management Professional), you probably don’t need to know much about any of these” — except that I do!

My clients will ask me about these and other emerging topics – and expect that I know the best course of action they should take with Lean/ Kanban/ Agile methods for their company.  And I simply do not have spare time to read all the books, experiment, fail, try again, and then decipher what is hype and what is real in this space!

So what is a sane, intelligent, forward thinking IT professional like me to do when faced with an overwhelming mountain of information like this so I can properly advise my clients?

The answer is: ATTEND the Lean Software & Systems Conference 2011 (#LSSC11)!

There is no other conference in the same timeframe that offers more than this growing conference!

Being held 3-6 May, 2011 at the Hyatt Long Beach in Southern California, this annual conference boasts over 90 speakers over a 3 day period on topics ranging from:

See the full program at http://lssc11.leanssc.org

All given by practitioners and experts for practitioners!  And the majority of presenters have real world, hands-on experience in the trenches with Kanban, Lean, Agile and Scrum and lived to tell about it!

Why not catch up to technology racing at the speed of sound by accelerating your learning Light Speed with LSSC?

There is no similar conference offering the breadth or depth of topics, experience sharing, or real case study results in the Kanban and Lean software development space.

And the May 5, 2011 Brickell Key awards for excellence in the advancement of Lean in software development will recognize some outstanding nominees working in the area – some of which are professionals just like you!

I know that I will catch up on these major topics and more – in record time – by attending LSSC11.  If you are an IT professional, don’t you owe it to yourself to check it out?

Read about the Program and the Speakers at LSSC11 and register today!

Wishing you an eventful and productive week and I hope to see you in Long Beach on May 3, 2011!

Regards,
Carol

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Whose job is IT anyways?


The title was a purposeful play on the acronym “IT” (information technology) because there is often no one person who takes responsibility for failed IT projects. In addition, it is not as if there are not project failures everywhere.

Notwithstanding one of my least favorite (but often quoted) research studies, the Chaos Report cites that about one-third of projects are successful when it comes to IT.  What gets in the way of project success?  Lots of circumstances and lots of people!

When a software intensive project fails, there is no lack of finger-pointing and blame sharing – yet seldom do teams stand up and confess that the failure (over budget and behind schedule and failing to meet user needs) was due to a combination of over and under factors, along with fears:

  • overzealous and premature announcements (giving a date and budget before the project is defined);
  • over optimistic estimates of how quickly the software could be built;
  • under estimation of the subject complexity;
  • assumptions that the requirements were as solid as the customer professed;
  • under estimation of the overall scope;
  • under estimation of how much testing will be needed;
  • under estimation of how much time it takes to do a good job;
  • under estimation of the learning curve;
  • under estimation of the complexity of the solution;
  • under estimation of the impact of interruptions and delays;
  • over anticipation of user participation;
  • over optimism about the availability of needed resources;
  • over optimism about hardware and software working together;
  • over optimism about how many things one can do at once;
  • risk ignorance (“let’s not talk about risk on this project, it could kill it”);
  • over optimism of teamwork (double the team size doesn’t half the duration);
  • fear of speaking up;
  • fear of canceling a project (even if it is the right thing to do);
  • fear of pointing out errors;
  • fear of being seen as making mistakes;
  • fear of not being a “team player”;
  • fear of not knowing (what you think you should);
  • fear of not delivering fast enough;
  • fear of being labeled unproductive;
  • fear of being caught for being over or under optimistic.

Therefore, I ask you, on a software intensive IT project, whose job is it to point out when there are requirements errors, or something is taking longer than it should, or it is costing more than anticipated. In traditional waterfall development because there’s so much work put into the planning and documenting of requirements, pointing out errors are  either no one’s job or the team’s (collective) job which really relates to no one’s job.

Often it is easier (and results in less conflict) to not say anything when the scope or schedule or budge go awry on a software project. Yet it is this very behavior that results in so much rework and so many failed projects.

Agile and Kanban projects are different

Several of the advantages to using Kanban and Lean and Agile approaches to software and systems development is that the methods address the very items outlined above.  Building better software iteratively becomes every developer’s job rather than no one’s:

  • Fear of pointing out errors is removed because the time that goes into a scrum is days and weeks not months (so participants don’t get defensive about change);
  • Over and under optimism remains but is concentrated on smaller and less costly components of work (i.e. days instead of months or years);
  • Risk is not avoided or ignored because we are no longer dealing with elongated and protracted development cycles (spanning seasons);
  • Assumptions come out with better and more frequent discussions;
  • Over optimism about how many things one can do at once is removed because Kanban limits the amount of work-in-progress;
  • Under estimation of the impact of interruptions and delays is minimized because such factors are addressed in Kanban;
  • Over anticipation of user participation is managed through direct user involvement.

What do you think?  Join us at the Lean Software and Systems Consortium conference LSSC11 from May 3-6, 2011 as participants and speakers address the best ways of advancing software and systems methods including Lean, Kanban, Agile and other exciting new ways to deliver high quality software more efficiently and effectively.

These newer approaches make it easier for everyone in IT to make it their job to build better software.

Wishing you a productive week!

Carol
@caroldekkers (twitter)

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The importance of Being There (at work)!


Did you know?

Only 26 percent of IT employees in North America are fully engaged at work, while 22 percent are actually disengaged, according to a global study by consulting firm BlessingWhite.

Being there…

At a time when unemployment is at an all-time high, only one-quarter of IT workers are fully engaged or Wowed by their work, while the remaining 75% just go through the paces or don’t care at all.  When you consider specific industries fraught with frustrations of rework (exceeding 40% in some areas) and impossible deadlines such as in waterfall development, I would bet the excitement factor of going to work is even less.

#Kanban, #Lean, and #Agile communities are exceptions

The Agile Manifesto recently celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, and Kanban, Six Sigma, Lean, and Agile methods now share space with waterfall as leading methods in the software and systems development space.  Agile (in my humble opinion) was one of the first to restore a sense of sanity in software development.  In earlier times, a group of  business customers with rapid fire changing requirements would challenge software developers (tired of the constant change and “jello” like demands) for amorphous software products.  The result too often – failure.

It makes sense, in this type of environment, to do iterative development.  It was illogical to do the opposite: long development cycles to produce products already obsolete before they hit desktop computers.

Approaches like Kanban, Lean, Agile, Personal Kanban and others continue to transform our industry and inspire software developers to become “fully engaged” in the work.

Less head banging… but you have to engage

Certainly there is head banging and more job satisfaction in this new world (if “tweet volume” is any indication, the Kanban/ Lean/ Agile communities are a happier lot!) but it takes commitment to show up and be part of the action.

I believe that the Kanban and Lean and Agile communities know the importance of really being present and engaging at work.  We also know it is critical to create a community of like-minded people who meet in-person – at conferences, local meetings, at social events.

LSSC11 is coming soon!

The landmark Lean Software and Systems conference is only 10 weeks away in Long Beach, CA on May 3-6, 2011.  Make your choice of conference to attend in 2011 the LSSC11 (especially if you can only attend one!)  See my related post Top 10 Reasons to attend LSSC11.

Join the movement of people who know the Importance of Being There in software and systems development: The Lean and Kanban and Agile communities.  I hope I will meet you at LSSC11!

Have a Wow! and engaging week at work,

Carol

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Pre-flight email checklist: THINK before you click…


I AM OVERWHELMED BY EMAIL!

There I said it, I am overwhelmed with email and I can’t stand it!

I thought I was the only one until I read Tim Tyrell-Smith’s post today: How to reduce the Quantity of Incoming Email and realized that there should be a pre-flight email checklist to save our sanity… and to encourage Thinking before Clicking!

Since joining the world of social media I realize my “connectivity” has grown exponentially, but not all in a good way. Even with my SPAM filters set to high, I get so much email that it is overwhelming!

I feel like I must have ADD (attention deficit disorder) because my day is interruption after interruption (sorry TweetDeck!) and I need help (and I know I am not the only one!)

Pre-flight email checklist (THINK before you click):

  1. If it takes longer to write an email (to one person) than it does to walk across the hall / call the person, don’t write an email. Pick up the phone or get up from your desk.
  2. If multiple people are involved and you need responses, consider whether a one hour meeting would work better than filling up in baskets with back and forth threads for the next 2 weeks.  If so, schedule a tight meeting and solve the issue in one fell swoop.  (Just because it doesn’t take paper doesn’t mean email is green — it can litter cyberspace!)
  3. If 1 and 2 are not possible, consider other options: Twitter or a blog post or an update at a staff meeting might be better than email.
  4. You’ve thought through 1,2 and 3 and decide your message needs an email.  Never negligently click “Reply all!”  unless you’ve gone through these same steps:Make sure you set aside a dedicated time (10 minutes minimum) to THINK before you click:
  • Consider your recipient: Walk for a moment in their shoes and think: what would be your response to this email? Make sure to emphasize the key points (i.e., make the reason for the email crystal clear). Do not “assume” that everyone shares your knowledge so give necessary background.  In the words of Peter Drucker:  It is important to state the obvious otherwise it may be overlooked.
  • If you expect/need a response, be clear about it. Tell recipients what you need from them (each), by when, and how (call, email, comment, decide…).
  • If it is an information only email, say so. No one has time to read your mind.
  • Consider using the subject line as a filing cabinet: Use tags to identify topics and intent. E.g., ABC Department meeting notice, Feb 17, prep material attached; or Dekkers: Blog Marketing draft – comments needed by Feb 20, 2011.  In this way, recipients can quickly find YOUR email from a pile in their in basket.
  • Consolidate information! If the email is about a meeting: include dial-in information (top and center for easy access!), meeting date and time, and  attach all preparatory material all together in a single email. There is nothing worse than having to pull up 3 emails to get ready for a single meeting!
  • Preview before sending: Spellcheck, attach files, check all recipients are included.
  • If there is emotion involved save the draft email and wait a full day (or at least an hour) before doing the doublecheck and send step below.
  • If it’s a regular email (non-emotional), take a one minute break – stand up, look out the window, anything to clear your head. Then go back and re-read your email, double-check attachments, recipients, bcc’s etc.
  • When you are sure it looks right consciously hit “send”. NEVER hit send when you are multi-tasking (i.e., on the phone). Once an email has been sent it is in cyberspace FOREVER (regardless of rescinds!)

I plan to follow this checklist starting today! What do YOU think? Do you have any additions?

p.s., DON’T forget to sign up for my Feb 17, 2011 (11am – 12:30 pm EST)  FREE Webinar:  Navigating the Minefield – Estimating before Requirements.

Register here: http://tinyurl.com/6flgjwr

To your increased productivity!
Carol

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Superheroes in IT, come down to earth…


Are you a technology superhero?  Then you might want to read this (and even comment!)

Information technology is a widely misunderstood part of business:  executives view us as a necessary evil, yet do not understand  IT is an investment.  As technology professionals, we lament our treatment as suppliers (or even servants) instead of business partners, and spin our wheels trying to prove that we add value to the business. What we fail to see is that we unwittingly contribute to the dysfunction with a superiority complex that we project on the business.

We view ourselves as technology superheroes, while the rest of the world sees us as overpaid intellectuals lacking in social skills.  There is no right or wrong here, just misunderstanding on both sides of the relationship.

The Superhero World

As software engineers, it is hard to imagine that the world thinks any differently than we do.  We take for granted how we learn, digest and embrace new concepts, so much so that we assume it is universal.  Certainly, we recognize genetic individuality, but we assume thought patterns are common. When we assimilate new ideas easily, we assume that others can too. We reinforce our beliefs by seeing co-workers behaving the same as we do.

This is a major issue in IT and engineering (and other professions as well) where success hinges on clear communication and a shared understanding of business needs. As software engineers and product developers, we live in an insulated world – one laden with technical terms and concepts, and life as we know it can be exciting!  We are the superheroes in IT – we use Kanban, Lean, and Agile to get close to our customers and we develop advanced software solutions that make the world better in a single bound.  Or so we think…

The world would be perfect if we could concentrate on doing what we do best – building great software solutions – without interference from the outside world. The problem is that we have to deal with “mere mortals” in business, and for some reason we are simply not on the same page. Herein lies the problem:  our assumption that the world thinks the same way that we do.

As superheroes in the IT world, we ARE different, but we need to function in the real world.  We are addicted to technology but others are not… so who has the problem and what can we do about it?

First steps…

The first step in solving any problem is to admit that it exists and take responsibility for our part.  This means taking a hard look at our role and what we can do to change the dynamics of the business / IT relationship.

Here are a few ways that we can take responsibility for improving the relationship:

  • Realize that the way we look at the world is not universal. As software engineers our passion for technology is hardwired, just as others are hardwired with passion about banking or marketing. My professors (and maybe yours) taught that everyone aspires to engineering and computer science, but few can make it, and this created an elitist view of the world.  I now know how this attitude projected a sense of superiority and entitlement to special respect that is simply, undeserved. Recognizing these differences is the first step to humility and true communication.
  • It might sound impossible but… technology IS intimidating.  Moreover, the subject can be boring to others. The world does not share our zest for IT English – we may be superheroes when it comes to creating technology solutions, but that does not make it interesting to others. While it might seem like “dumbing down” when we translate IT English into business English, there is no other way.  If we continue to talk our talk without consideration of others – well, we sound unintelligible.  (Just watch an episode of the TV show “Big Bang Theory” for a glimpse of how techies seem to the world).
  • There is no base level of idiocy. Many technical professionals believe that there is a base level of knowledge idiocy.  In IT, we dismiss anyone as an idiot whose technical knowledge is below this “line” and then treat him/her as a lesser being. While we do not necessarily do this consciously, it comes across in the way we talk down to non-technical people.  Sure, doctors do this, lawyers do this, and software engineers do this, but it does not promote good relationships on projects. The sooner you realize that your basic level of knowledge (such as knowing about the software development life cycle or communication protocols) is above the general population, the better off you will be.  While you and I might be aghast to realize how little most people know about software concepts, they do lead successful and productive lives without this knowledge.  We are the idiots if we cannot translate IT English so our customers can understand, not the other way around.
  • Read outside your world. If we want to understand how our customers think, we need to explore outside the world of technology. Find out what journals your customers read, and pick up a copy. When you start to understand what your customer’s world is all about, you can start to solve their problems.
  • Accept the world that is. Engineers are known the world over as being great at technology and poor at communication.  Instead of denying this fact and defending ourselves, we ought to accept it, improve it, and move forward.  Communication and soft skills can be learned, but we first have to admit that we need help.  I know many software engineers who behave as ostriches by burying their heads in their work and avoiding customer contact.  Why not accept the world as it is and improve on it through education?  Ignorance is bliss except when it comes to communication – and the good news is that communication can be learned.

If we want to garner respect for the IT superheroes among us, we need to come down to earth and live among the “mere mortals” (non-IT).  Only then can IT save the world.

What do you think?  Agree or disagree? Comments?

Carol

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Separated by a common language… IT English is different


I am not a stupid person, but I simply cannot keep up with all the new information technology (IT) terminology!

I know that every industry has acronyms and terms, but it seems that IT artifactis unique: every time a new methodology comes in, English words are redefined.  Today, IT English is expanding.

For example IT English uses Scrum (but not for rugby), Ruby (not for birthstones), Java (without caffeine), and Artifacts (but not from Egypt).  Certainly, English English is different from American English and Australian English, but IT English is a dialect unto itself.

If I, as an engineer with experience in IT, am daunted by the ever-changing IT English, how much worse is it for laypersons who work on software projects?  It can be intimidating.

I read an “introductory article” written by an IT colleague today and had to read and re-read it several times before I gave up. Despite visual aids and process flows, I felt I needed a geek-to-English dictionary to make sense of it.  (Yes, it was written in English.)

Most of us are not bilingual, so it should be no surprise that many technology professionals only know IT English. In fact, some do not even realize that there are other English dialects. When engineers find a new way to do things, you can expect a flurry of new acronyms and variations on IT English.

This happened with “waterfall”, client/server, web development, agile, lean, and Kanban. Once you understand that old words get new meanings, it all makes sense, but it is a learning curve every time.

Do you know that everyone (outside of IT) asks

Why can’t IT just speak English?

Outside IT, it’s no mystery why software projects fail (to meet user needs).  Just when users and the business learn enough IT English (technology) words to converse, a new method comes in and the dialect changes.

In my post earlier this week (IT’s all about the people, stupid), I touched on the need for “soft skills” in technology, and mentioned the communication factor.  Soft skills or EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) covers more than communication (such as empathy, consideration, mutual respect, cultural sensitivity, communication, and a host of other people skills), but communication is the linchpin.

My first IT English “encounter”

I’ll never forget my first engineering job in Alberta, Canada working for a pipeline engineering company. During the first week, a colleague suggested that I should “sign on” to the mainframe.  I gave him that “are you nuts – why would I want to do that and have to call IT?” look and walked away shaking my head. No one in his/her right mind would purposely “interface” with IT unnecessarily.

monitorAs luck would have it, I found myself working in IT a year later. On my first day, I had to sign on and predictably, the system crashed within an hour.  I became the network operations’ comic relief when they asked me my terminal address and I responded that I was on the eighth floor. Over muffled laughter, they told me they needed the 16-digit number on the side of my terminal (monitor)… and added that they were also on the 8th floor.

I had no idea that my English fluency would be so tested in IT.  While I knew that English is the language that separates so many across countries, I didn’t know it also was true with IT.

What is the solution for IT English?

misunderstandIf we truly want to make progress with technology, we need to recognize the walls that IT English puts up around us.  It’s not enough to know that there are walls and to converse with each other – we need to care about the misunderstanding that arises whenever we redefine English words and expect the world to understand.

IT needs to stop talking in acronyms and start translating our IT  English into English English or American English (a dictionary or savvy translator can help) so that when we talk technology, others will listen.

That is, if we truly want to communicate with the business.  It reminds menapoleon of the English Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) project:  did you know that it was originally started by Napoleon over a hundred years earlier?  The project stopped when Napoleon realized that the tunnel would not be a one-way deal…

What do you think? Am I being too cynical about IT?  Is there hope for IT English to become mainstream or vice versa?

(Fade to black with the strains of Dr. Doolittle’s “I want to talk to the animals…” )

Have a productive week!

Carol

P.s. Don’t forget to register for the #LSSC11 FREE Webinar series – Feb. 2, 2011 (noon-1pm PST — 3 -4pm EST!)  Session #1: INTRODUCTION TO KANBAN with Janice Linden-Reed. Register here: http://tinyurl.com/69ae36w

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