The Project Quality Conundrum

In the early 1980’s the video games were seeing their first round of widespread acceptance.  The growth of a technology with such rich visual feedback had captured the attention of a wide range of investors and analysts.  It also caught the attention of visionary producers in other mediums among them Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.  In 1981 the pair released Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The movie grossed over $389 million at the box office.  Lucas had set an example in the industry with regards to marketing that did not go unnoticed by other producers.  As Raiders was clearly establishing itself as a hit with audiences Atari was finalizing the rights to adapt the film’s story to a video game for it’s 2600 series console.  The assignment was handed off to Howard Scott Warshaw.

Warshaw’s titles up to that point included the highly popular Yar’s Revenge where the player operates as a bug that has to shoot through a barrier to destroy an enemy creature.  The graphics are simplistic by today’s standard but both the graphics and gameplay are now considered a classic of the genre.  The title’s popularity put Warshaw in good enough graces that when a programmer had to be assigned to Indiana Jones he was selected for the task.  When Raiders was complete it was presented to Spielberg who repliedepi “It’s just like a movie. I feel like I just watched a movie.”  

Spielberg was impressed.  

A marketing norm was beginning to be established.  From now on movies (and at least Spielberg movies) would be accompanied by a video game release.  Spielberg’s next film was E.T. and executives wanted to capitalize on its popularity for the 1982 Christmas shopping season, but negotiations for the licensing of development to Atari ran longer than expected.  By the end of July the legal framework was in place, but there was no game, no code, and no design.  Impressed with the complete but as yet unreleased Raiders game, Spielberg requested Warshaw take on the task of game design.  Warshaw accepted.

799px-atari2600aThere of problems with this project.  The largest among them was that in order to get the game code loaded onto the hard cartridges for the Atari 2600 console the code would have to be complete by 1 September 1982.  This gave Warshaw only five weeks to write and test the code.

In project management one of the early steps involves identifying the requirements of the project deliverable.  This requirements form the checklist to be completed.  According to our earlier definition, if the checklist is complete then the project has achieved its necessary quality.  Warshaw did everything on the checklist.  He designed and programmed a game that resembled the characters of the movie.  It had a plot that resembled the basic struggle of the film; help E.T. build a communication device so he can phone home.  The concepts were novel, the execution of those concepts made for poor gameplay.  Warshaw had completely fulfilled all the requirements with Spielberg calling him a “certified genius” in the process.  Spielberg was right.  What Howard Warshaw pulled off was absolutely remarkable and he deserves to be credited with the  praise reserved for champions.   Unlike the movie though, the game was a flop.

The term epic fail has been traced to video game inspirations, but not this one.  Zak Penn, who grew up with an Atari 2600 during this time period remarked his surprise that somehow after 1983 the Atari system, that was king of the industry, all but disappeared.  In 2014 he would tell his story and complete a quest to explain what was known as the Video Game Crash of 1983.  E.T. the game received a lot of the blame for the crash.  The New York Times summed up the sentiment about the game with a quote from an unidentified ten year old, “it wasn’t fun.”  The game sold a few copies, but far below the predicted expectation.  If ten year olds weren’t buying it, then who was?  Atari themselves answered that question, grandmothers.

Why were grandmother’s buying something typically associated with a much younger and much more male audience?  The answer to that question ties directly into the real meaning of quality.

In his book, The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman gives a brief history of Aristotle’s understanding of physics contrasting the Greek’s perspective with Newton’s.  One of Aristotle’s arguments was that “continuation of motion depends on continued action of a force.”  From an observational standpoint this makes perfectly good sense.  Push a box and it moves until you stop pushing the box, but it flies in the face of Newton’s first law: objects in motion stay in motion until moved upon by an outside force.  Aristotle’s explanation for this part of the physical world remained the dominant theory for nearly 2,000 years of human history.  It would not have survived past his lifetime had it not been contributing to some part of humanity, but Newton’s laws clearly contributed more as they increased the accuracy and application of physical concepts.  Few of our modern conveniences would exist were it not for the adoption of Newton’s law’s over Aristotle’s.

Each one of these great men created ideas that were perceived to have value to those that consumed them.  This is our definition of quality.  

Quality is “the level to which the stakeholders value the product or service produced.”

The quality of Aristotle’s work was perceived to have value by those who consumed it.  Newton’s laws were also perceived to have value and such a higher state of value that few schools today teach the heritage of physics as a discipline and skip right to Newton’s contribution.  If it’s true that the apple hitting his head truly inspired Newton, then it wasn’t just a natural occurrence.  It was the start of a revolution of ideas that changed the world.

800px-atari_e-t-_dig-_alamogordo2c_new_mexico_281403609779229In our E.T. example we saw the completion of the project, in conjunction with the epic fail of the project’s output and the epic fail of an $3.2 billion industry.  Understanding the failure is as simple as understanding the difference in perceived value by the stakeholders.  Kids weren’t buying the game, or they were buying it and returning it because it wasn’t fun to play.  The value perceived by the kids was in the gameplay.  The value perceived by the grandmothers was in providing a gift for their grandkids that contained all the marketing material of a movie extremely popular with children.

A project’s checklist should translate to stakeholder perceived value.  After all, the checklist is likely the very list of requirements the stakeholder requested, but we can see from Atari that this doesn’t always match up.  There are other dimensions at work in the process of creating value.  When a PM begins the project it’s important to clearly define his or her scope of authority.  Do they have the ability to conduct the project to improve quality for the customer or just deliver on the checklist?  

That’s the sort of question that lives as a double edged sword, but it’s a sword that can’t be avoided.  Talking about change and value earlier on make a big difference in project quality and the quality of the process for delivery.  As a PM your name is directly associated with the success of the project.  It’s a good idea to take charge of your legacy.

A Step Closer to IPO

The rumors aren’t verified, but they’re not really hiding either. The tech press at ZDnet ran an article last year, and Bloomberg even noticed in December. Something’s brewing over at Canonical and the game just got another push forward.

Canonical Ltd. is is a British company that creates the most popular server software in the world (Ubuntu) enabling large portions of the internet to function. The company’s strategy for software releases includes long term support (LTS) versions and shorter release versions of its software. The LTS versions are supported for security and features for 5 years. Ubuntu 18.04 (due in April of 18) is projected to be a significant LTS release incorporating new technologies and positioning the company towards a more productive future. It’s owner, Mark Shuttleworth, is rumored to be taking the company to an IPO and 18.04 is rumored to play a significant role in the IPO process.

Ubuntu has been operating nearly blindly not knowing who their customers are. It tracks metrics for full software and patch downloads, but does not know how many systems those downloads are associated with. They recently announced the release of their latest update and a new feature to collect user data to better understand their consumers and how to precede. They are interested in collecting data on the preferred “flavor” or variations, the versions, hardware specifications, country of origin among other statistical data.

This data collection will give Ubuntu answers it needs to be able to answer future investor’s questions. One of the big questions with this feature roll out is whether or not the users will play along. Ubuntu and the open source community is known for being more security aware than the average user. Whether or not they see this as an invasion of their security remains to be seen.

Where We Disagree

Have you ever disagreed with someone?

If the answer is no, then this post is not for you.  If the answer is yes, then you’ll want to keep reading.

There are topics out there for all of us that trigger deep feelings.  We picked a side and plan on sticking to that side believing that our previous understanding was right and therefore so are we.  All of us do this and live our lives this way.  It’s healthy and normal.  People like to believe their logical, but that doesn’t mean they are.  Besides, it’s generally not bad for us to go around rethinking things we already know.  It wouldn’t be very helpful to my marriage to dedicate time to wondering if my wife still loves me.  My time could be better spent thinking about how I can show her that I love her.

I’m rather impressed at how terribly unpersuasive our conversation is right now.  Each side talks, but they seem to be talking in a way that only persuades those close to their beliefs.  Of course, there will be a few anectdotal stories of those who significantly change their beliefs, but on the whole, when it’s done, people will still believe close to what they want to.

I believe we need to have a better way of having this discussion.  All we have to do is ask people to explain their thinking for their beliefs and be prepared to explain ours.  At some core we all agree.  Where we disagree isn’t simply just a phrase about our different beliefs, its identifying the moment in someone’s logic tree where we disagree.

This sort of thing happens all the time amongst libertarians.  I started following these guys years ago and they’re a pretty interesting group.  In general the group believes that individual agency is paramount and all things should be legal as long as they are not harming someone else.  Beyond that they don’t agree on much.  As a group their take on economics is all over the map.  They see abortion as an ongoing conversation about self determination and the rights of those who need external protection.

The discussion is (for the most part) healthy.  I’m not advocating for libertarianism in this post, but that as a model they know how to discuss heated topics with civility.  They’ll notice disagreements and take the time to listen to the other side as it explains how they came up with their position.  They’ll also use that as a platform to explain where they disagree.

Agreeing to disagree is hard when you wrap emotion around a particular subject.  Taking the time to understand each other’s emotions and how those emotions feel like reality is key.  It requires a deeper conversation than the format of our news programs will allow, and I’m afraid we may have programmed ourselves to avoid making social media as effective in this arena as I’d like.  It’s still worth the effort though.

We don’t have to agree in the end, but it’s worth it to find out where we disagree.

One place we often find disagreements is in our work environments.  I’ve never perfectly agreed with anyone I’ve worked with or worked for, but when I take the time to understand I can appreciate (while still disagreeing) where the other person is coming from, and I can support them in their goals.

I onced worked with a manager named Frank.  One day he remarked how frustrating it was that the people he was supervising kept asking why.  “I don’t need them to know why, I just need it done.”

I replied, “Frank, who’s going to take your place as a supervisor one day?”

“They are.”

“Don’t you think it’s important to teach them why (provided there’s enough time) so they can learn from all of your hard work and effort the best way to do things?”

Frank realized that he was being asked to be a mentor and was missing it.

So, if you find yourself passionately heated on a particular subject, ask the other side why they’re similarly passionate as well.  Take the time to have a mentor with a different point of view.  When the time comes to share your logical tree please do so with civility and kindness.  When you get asked why, you’re being asked to mentor someone.  Be the sort of mentor they can respect and come back to later on.

Migrating From Squarespace

Squarespace is a great platform for photographers and other creative people.  I’ve had this site hosted on Squarespace for years, but today I decided to pull the trigger on moving the site away from Squarespace.  The choice was made largely out of a desire to reduce the costs and gain more control over the website.

You’ll notice here that the site is now hosted by WordPress.  I could have saved quite a bit of money by hosting it myself, but chose not to do this.  Self hosted solutions put all the requirements in my lap to maintain the site and ensure it stays current and secure.  I’m more of a fan of letting someone else do the work of protecting the site in case of an attack, so self-hosting wasn’t what I was looking for.

The migration process was smooth.  Squarespace had an export feature.  WordPress had an import feature.  I’ll give credit to both sites for being rather classy.  It’ll take Google a while to populate my links on the new site, but for the most part the work is done.

Another neat thing is that WordPress has a single app for android that does what three apps were doing for Squarespace.  They also have an app (although it’s just the website) for Ubuntu.

Squarespace still has a home, but for my simple blog I was able to find a home elsewhere.

Apply Your Core Knowledge

Everyone knows something and in order to know something they must have studied what they know.  There’s a wide variety of ways people acquire information and knowledge.  I work with some extraordinarily smart individuals and some of them hate reading.  They find themselves suffering through the four-page zone.  I have another friend of mine who’s a helicopter pilot and is terrific with advanced mathematics but finds himself performing best as a tactile learner.  He’s in his 30’s and always carrying his fidget spinner.

All of these people are high performers.  But sometimes their quirks appear to be their Achilles heel.  As life forces us to get stretched outside of our comfort zones it can be easy to hyper-focus on the problems in front of us instead of focusing on the formulas we’ve used for years to overcome similar problems.  I’ve recently found myself coaching people through this sort of situation and my starting point in the conversation is to ask them about their hobbies.

Hobbies are different than our academics.  All too often necessity has forced us to use multiple-choice tests in academic settings.  They’re a great format for getting people to pass because you’re giving them choice that includes the single right answer.  They’re also terrible because they’ve programmed us to believe in life that we’re looking for a single right answer.  Those who believe in the single right answer syndrome have never had someone they love asks them if an outfit makes them look fat.

The outward expression of our hobbies varies, but the inward process is very much the same.  At first glance, every hobby appears to be a study in that particular discipline.  This isn’t an untrue statement, but it’s not a complete one.  More importantly, a study of a hobby is the study of oneself.  To the individual practicing a particular discipline, the hobby will reveal certain things about themselves that they enjoy learning.

Golf is an apt example.  It involves a very brief interaction with the ball and a metal striking surface of a club.  The contact occurs over a very small surface area and yet the ball can fly towards its target and land over 200 yards later.  The mechanics are amazing, but it’s also a fascinating field to study oneself.  The discipline involved to learn to adjust one’s muscle coordination to impact the angle and speed of impact of the ball.  Golf is not just a study of physics and strategy, it’s also very much a study of oneself.

LARPing will strike most individuals as a bit of an odd past time, but it’s not too far off from the same motivation that has turned Halloween into one of the most popular holidays.  Those who participate in LARPing find themselves developing skills in crafting costumes and writing out scenarios for your characters.  Unlike a book where the reader is only a passive participant, LARPing requires the participant to explore their own emotions and problem-solving skills when faced with the obstacles of the scenario.  While it shouldn’t replace reading, it should be easily recognized as a scenario-driven activity that trains its members.  Its environment may be fantasy, but its exploration of the human condition is very real.

From a leadership perspective, you don’t have to enjoy the same hobbies, but you need to well versed in what’s respectable about each one.

It’s been interesting to see this same thing play out in the home as well.  My oldest boy loves Minecraft and will spend hours watching videos about how to play and build complex things.  Every few months I try to have a conversation with him about his learning patterns for the game and get him to realize that if he applies those same learning patterns to other subjects in his life he’ll be just as successful.

I was a terrible student in high school.  Now I have a Masters in IT & Project Management.  During my 18 months finishing up my bachelor’s at Utah State University I was awarded the Man of the Year award.  What changed?  My parents would attribute it to becoming more mature, but having lived through it the reason seems to be a bit more tangible.  Once I was out of school I had time to think about how I liked to learn.  In college, I chose classes that would allow me to apply my techniques for learning and be successful.  

Now, it’s easier to do new and hard things because instead of following someone else’s prescription for learning I can apply my own.  I know it’s effective and I know it’s fun.  When it needs mentors I know how to find them.

When you take the time to look at the things that are part of your core, that you love to learn take the time to look at how you learn those things.  The how is more likely going to be your method for all your learning and if you can take the time to write it down you might just see how easy it is to follow.

Cost-Effective Mentoring

We’ve all had mentors growing up but don’t often think about our own transitions to becoming a mentor.  When freshly stepping into any role there can be a lot of wasted effort.  In this post, I’d like to share a couple of insights to help make that transition smoother.

Learn About A Person’s Past Mentors

In both jobs I work at I get to interview candidates for available positions. One of my favorite questions to write is “We’ve all had mentors to help us grow in life, can you tell me about a valued mentor, and how they impacted your life?”  I love the question because it’s so universal.  We ask it of all the candidates and the responses are perfectly helpful to make an informed decision.

First, it’s important to remember that the job interview’s purpose is to close the gap between what you already know about an applicant from their resume/LinkedIn etc. to what you don’t know.  The questions are supposed to be revealing enough to close that knowledge gap.   In response to this question, an applicant will usually tell about a time when they were humbled and overcame the obstacle in their life.  In their narrative, they usually reveal the situation, the challenge, the mentor’s attributes, and the plan of action to overcome the obstacle.  This provides me with several key insights to distinguish the applicant among the others applying.

Firstly, I get to understand what work environments they’ve been in in the past.  Secondly, I get to see what sort of situations they’ve found challenging.  Then I get to learn what type of mentorship they respond to and how much effort they put into overcoming the challenge.  Calling someone a mentor who does the work for you isn’t mentorship.  Mentorship is the process to increase the person’s capacity to overcome their own struggles.

We don’t often choose when we enter the mentorship role.  It’s one of those things in life that’s thrust upon us.  How do you know you’re mentoring?  When someone asks for help and you’re the person who responds.

Know How to Read People & Ask Questions

That request for help will sometimes be overt and other times it’ll appear in a person’s body language.  You can see people physically struggling with their responsibilities.  Whether they need external help or not asking them what’s going on will help them communicate their challenges so they can create their own solutions.  This is probably the most cost-effective mentoring situation.  Too bad that’s not the only way life happens.

It’s Not Your Job To Do The Work

I’ve seen plenty of young mentors be asked for help and want to help and end up doing the work for the person needing the assistance.  While there is a time and a place to step down and be a catalyst, that style of response can become a slippery slope that doesn’t lead to the person being more capable going forward.  Generally, it leads to burn out. 

You’re Always Mentoring

Jacqueline Van Pelt, PMP recently shared some of the insights she’s garnered from her mentors over the years.  One of them was the idea that each interaction with people is like training a horse.  Either you’re training them or their training you, but there’s never not a moment where training doesn’t occur.

Develop Your Style

Since every situation involves some amount of learning and from different levels, mentoring is likely occurring from multiple levels as well.  This means that everyone has or will be a mentor.  It’s not a rare occurrence.  It’s a common one.  The lack of mentoring isn’t for a lack of possibilities.  In my opinion, it’s because we aren’t taking the time to develop our style.

Like anything else developing one’s mentorship style follows the same learning pattern as many other things in life.  You need to increase your awareness of the subject, evaluate the available information, and incorporate the parts that allow us to improve.  Some part of this process should feel like you’re doing it the hard way.

My own style has developed the hard way over many years.  I can see mentoring opportunities on a daily basis and leverage them to help others confidently move to the next step in their development.  Somewhere along the way I’ve moved past the point where I just help them through their challenge.  Now, when I interact with others I work to help them through their challenge in a way to make it memorable for when they need to mentor the next generation.

CYCOPEDE: Erinaceous

Do you ever have a conversation that’s been difficult because no matter how hard you try you can only see the person as being prickly?  Of course, we know that the right thing to do in those circumstances is to step away from the conversation and re-engage later.  The hard part is that usually, we’re so passionate about what we’re discussing that stepping away is hard to do.  This is one of those times where you can win and the dictionary can help.

Just accuse the person your talking to of being erinaceous.  The word is obscure enough it will likely get their attention and in their moment of being caught off guard by your superior vocabulary you can suggest that the conversation pause until both parties look up the word and agree to not be so erinaceous.

What does erinaceous mean?  It’s a delightful sounding word (Erin-A-she -us) that means “like a hedgehog.”  With such a lovely sounding and apt description, it makes you wonder why this word isn’t used more often to describe people’s behavior online?