I work mainly freelance or as an independent consultant, so I picked this book up to see what it had to say about the lifestyle of an itinerant IT worI work mainly freelance or as an independent consultant, so I picked this book up to see what it had to say about the lifestyle of an itinerant IT worker. It's actually primarily aimed at permanent employees of consulting firms who are developing for the consultancy's clients. As it's very broad, it's useful for anyone involved with consultancy/agency development in some way.
The Nomadic Developer is basically the distillation of years of experience working as an employed consultant. There are three chapters especially useful for analysing consultancy businesses.
There's a useful description of the Seven Deadly Firms, archetypes of consultancies you want to avoid. These are BOZO Consulting, FEAR Consulting, The Body Shop, CHEAP Consulting, Personality Cult Consulting, Smelzer and Melzer Accounting, and "Push the SKU" Consulting. Without describing them further, you can probably get the gist of these. (I'd add to this list, Print Agency Turned Web Dev Consulting.) It's a useful guide if you're likely to walk unawares into a dysfunctional company.
Looking at the inside, there's a field guide to the roles in consulting firms (account managers, engagement managers, sales, marketing, management, admin, even "the industry guru"), and how best to deal with each. This is fitted into the work pipeline of consultancies, explaining who interacts how and when.
The remaining chapter on consultancies on businesses is a fantastic checklist of questions to ask in interviews to create a better assessment of the company. These related to the financials, the way the sales pipeline is managed, the development process used, and the way consultants are treated. ("Interviews Are Not Just for the Employer")
Much of the rest of the book is advice targeted at consultants themselves. The Ten Unstated Traits shows how to be marketable beyond the mere technical skills that go on a CV (appearance, being active in the tech community, being easy to work with, etc). Discussions on Surviving and Thriving explain how to manage not only day-to-day issues, but career paths too. Most of the advice is phrased positively, but Avoiding Career-Limiting Moves lists the seven deadly sins of consulting, ranging from drinking too much at the office party (gluttony) to browsing porn at work (lust) to just doing bad work (sloth). This chapter is quite hard-lined, but the book's four annotators temper it slightly.
Reading this felt like two books intermingled into one. On the one hand, it feels like a clear and insightful map of consulting firms, showing how their pieces fit together. On the other hand, it feels like a wise old man standing over your shoulder offering advice on how to navigate the maze of a career in IT. Much of this doesn't apply to the places I tend to work, but I was still grateful for the author condensing so many years of experience, should I find I need it. If you're young in an IT consulting career, or would like another perspective on your job, I would say this is essential reading, even if you choose not to follow all the advice....more
Clear and concise guide to the Critical Chain application of Theory of Constraints for project management. Summarises the reasons behind the human behClear and concise guide to the Critical Chain application of Theory of Constraints for project management. Summarises the reasons behind the human behaviours that cause projects to massively overrun, and provides practical implementation tips. This book also contains useful explanatory material for some of the things Goldratt was not explicit about in his original business novel....more
I was disappointed by this. The first part is brilliant, and describes the conflicting parts of the personality of anyone setting up in business (theI was disappointed by this. The first part is brilliant, and describes the conflicting parts of the personality of anyone setting up in business (the entrepreneur, the manager, and the technician). But what follows is a poorly written prescription of how to prepare a static, non-improving business model. The fictional "case study" is almost vomit-inducingly cloying.
The tone of this book is that it has all the answers, and is a complete recipe for success. But it doesn't, and isn't. Read The Toyota Way as a starting point instead. It's not directly comparable, but puts the concept of Standard Work (which is all E-Myth really is) in context. ...more
I ignored this for a long time, based on its title alone. It must be, I thought, only of interest to anyone working with Prince2. Then I flicked throuI ignored this for a long time, based on its title alone. It must be, I thought, only of interest to anyone working with Prince2. Then I flicked through a copy at a conference and realised I was completely wrong.
The best description is actually the first paragraph on the back cover:
Too many projects. Not enough time. There's an avalanche of requests and requirements coming your way, and you need help.
This is a book for people stuck in scheduling hell, where fighting fires takes up so much time that there's not much left to improve the way the organisation works. In fact, a good chunk of the first half is much like a project-centric version of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity: collect your projects, evaluate and filter them, prioritise them, and finally, do them. A key part of this is to use the plan to avoid the multi-tasking that cripples so many teams. There's a wealth of tips for making the whole process effective, with some unexpected ones thrown in. The sections How to Kill a Project and Keep it Dead and Discover Barriers to Collaboration are little gems. The ideas pair well with Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency (which may actually be a more compelling argument for getting away from scheduling hell).
The real purpose of this book, is to get lean principles - eg those described in The Toyota Way - into software project management (development). There's a brief summary on p14, and only one more notable reference, until chapter 9, when the book completely turns around. The first half is Johanna Rothman's way of creating visible, rational, project management. Chapter 9 is her way of evolving into a fully lean (and by necessity, agile) organisation. In this sense, Rothman's "project portfolio" is a tool to highlight problems and put a team on a course. And in this sense, it's a set of training wheels, much like Scrum (same endpoint, different route). But the reason I'm infinitely more excited about this than Scrum is that it targets the economic and political issues directly, upfront. User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development is the best book I know on specifying work in a suitable form for this style of development.
The final main aspect of the book is leadership and collaboration. The penultimate chapter is about defining the mission of your organisation. This defines the principles that let you commit to projects effectively. Both The Toyota Way and The Goal are good explanations about why this matters. Teamwork-related ideas permeate the book, though. Pretty much every chapter has advice on navigating political waters.
It's also amazing that all this has been fitted into just 170 pages. You could read it in a day.
Essential reading for software managers, and extremely valuable to anyone in working software who is committed to helping their team deliver customer value while staying sane in the process....more
This book goes way beyond its title: Slack is not just about the myth that working at 100% capacity is effective. In fact, I think "Slack" was just anThis book goes way beyond its title: Slack is not just about the myth that working at 100% capacity is effective. In fact, I think "Slack" was just an excuse to tie together a raft of ideas. Other key topics are: systems thinking, communication, leadership, fear in organisations, flawed project management accounting, organisational learning, ineffective processes, empowerment, scheduling, trust, change, risk management, and the observation that in the modern world, no organisation can afford to remain in stasis.
There are two forms of slack in the book: individual and organisational (my terms). Individual slack is setting a sustainable workday. Overtime leads to wasted time on unnecessary activities - which is supported with data. Organisational slack is the reserve of time and money that is needed to ensure a project can succeed even if it is hit by obstacles and failures along the way.
The situation without slack is this: An over-optimistic, aggressive schedule, set by managers afraid of showing weakness. An ignorance of uncertainty caused by a can-do attitude. Staff torn between projects as an anomal of cost accounting, with no regard for the nature of their work or their larger contributions to teams. Increasing use of overtime leading to tired, disillusioned staff, who eventually quit and take their knowledge with them. And then, no capacity to train the replacements, or fix the problems that caused it.
The book is more of a critique than a training manual. But it has one key message: it's critical to use slack to learn. Perhaps, then, the only failing of this book is the absence of a bibliography to say where to go next.
I didn't know what to expect from this - and it turned out to be one of the strangest reads I've had for a long time. The tone of the whole book readsI didn't know what to expect from this - and it turned out to be one of the strangest reads I've had for a long time. The tone of the whole book reads like the translation I have of The Art of War.
Despite being brief, Deming covers a huge amount here. The key topics are: * systems - treating organisations as wholes rather than bags of parts * variation - understanding why the output of a system is not perfectly uniform, and the impact this has on correct management * knowledge - building theories to predict the future over merely consuming information noise * competition - why it is harmful to systems, and how it can be avoided * leadership - and the importance of human psychology in this
Deming draws on many powerful anecdotes to explain his point. I prefer, however, the more coherent approach to describing systems found in The Goal. Where Deming gets real leverage is in his descriptions of the Red Bead and Funnel experiments. The Red Bead experiment is more famous, and illustrates the futility of judging people according to their part in a system they are largely helpless to control. But I found the Funnel experiment even more enlightening - illustrating not only the terrible consequences of naively managing by results, but how this can distract from simple solutions to improve a process.
Slightly disappointing is the emphasis on manufacturing/repeatable process over design/creative process. Deming makes one reference to design but does not directly tie this into his management style.
Deming has an agenda. He wants to replace the current system of management - isolated, competing business units; reward schemes; ignorance of theory, variation and psychology - with one of co-operation, intrinsic motivation and understanding of systems. And he wants to replace it in all forms of organisation. But as a social manifesto it has one alarming omission: biology. Deming appears to think that the problem of growing larger and larger co-operative systems is just one of more difficult management. But this assumes that all people want to co-operate in this way, that nobody has a personal, conflicting agenda. While a monopoly may be more efficient than a marketplace, and while it may be in the long-term harmful to abuse a monopoly position, that doesn't stop someone manipulating their way into a position of power and taking short-term advantage. The weakness of Deming's vision is, in my opinion, that it does not contain the assumption that some people will always be selfish and/or evil.
Overall, The New Economics is an immensely valuable collection of ideas for anyone in management (or suffering mismanagement), or with an interest in social change. But I suggest having some skepticism for its idealism....more
The best book on lean product (incl software) development I've seen. All the underlying principles of Lean and Agile are broken down in to roughly pagThe best book on lean product (incl software) development I've seen. All the underlying principles of Lean and Agile are broken down in to roughly page-long descriptions, with background theory and practical examples. This is probably the most important book I've read after The Goal and The Logical Thinking Process: A Systems Approach to Complex Problem Solving....more
Seth Godin defines a tribe as a group of people connected to each other, to a leader, and to an idea. He claims that people have realised that workingSeth Godin defines a tribe as a group of people connected to each other, to a leader, and to an idea. He claims that people have realised that working on enjoyable things gives a better lifestyle, and that the factory model for work is no longer as profitable. Our improved communication technology now enables tribes to form, see Clay Shirky, who Godin is influenced by, eg Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.
The key distinction between management and leadership is that the former is manipulating resources to do known tasks; the latter is creating change. Godin has al least two clear agendas in this book: to move people from a management mentality to a leadership one, and to prescribe ways of leading. He argues that fear is now the only obstacle to leadership, and encourages his readers to question how bad the consequences of criticism are.
His principles and actions to create micro-movements sound very much like steps to an insurgency, and probably a century or more ago would have been considered as such. But when he talks about the proliferation of heretics, it's clear he is only interested in attracting people who want to lead.
An interesting comment he slips in is to call Six Sigma a "charade" because makes people hide from change. Maybe, but that is just an abuse, because leadership and process quality are not in conflict. High quality work is cheaper to produce, and makes change easier by removing aberrant variation. See eg The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education - 2nd Edition or The Toyota Way. I'll ignore the possible irony that in laying out a process to lead a micro-movement (and also in his "most important practical idea", below), he may be describing a way to manage leadership.
It would make sense Godin had written this with a deliberate bias towards non-repeatable, high leverage activities. His self-stated "most important practical idea" is: find the positive deviants; encourage them; encourage them to lead. His agenda is clearly to create a tribe of leaders, a sneaky bit of meta-leadership that made me smile when I saw his plan laid out. So if you don't want to be a heretical leader, that's fine, because I doubt very much he wants you to follow him....more
This is a straightforward business novel that sets out a three-part process for management. First is concise goal setting (especially for inexperienceThis is a straightforward business novel that sets out a three-part process for management. First is concise goal setting (especially for inexperienced staff); second is specific praise to initially encourage progressively good behaviour; third is specific reprimands to highlight failure that a person knew how to avoid. The key at all points is to create a rapid feedback loop about behaviour, not a long feedback loop about personalities.
Disclaimer: this book is effectively a training manual, and therefore its value is in giving you skills to practise. On that basis I can only review iDisclaimer: this book is effectively a training manual, and therefore its value is in giving you skills to practise. On that basis I can only review it (currently) having just finished reading it.
I'd put off reading this for a long time because of its apparently intimidating size and demanding. I was wrong on both counts: this book is not at all intimidating (extensive use of diagrams mean the text is much shorter than it looks), and the content is made extremely accessible.
TLTP teaches you to use logical reasoning and a system of "tree" diagrams, first shown in the business novel It's Not Luck. They are presented in the order they are intended to be used:
* Intermediate Objectives Map - to determine your goal and what you need to fulfil it * Current Reality Tree - a watertight, logical breakdown of why you are deviating from your goal (gap analysis) * Evaporating Cloud - one way of creating new ideas to resolve conflicts preventing you from achieving your goal * Future Reality Tree - a rigorous way of determining if your new ideas will further your goals, and finding ways to make them positively reinforcing * Prerequisite Tree - a planning activity that identifies tasks to implement your new ideas, and work around potential obstacles
What makes this book so accessible is that Dettmer gives a detailed description, with many examples, of how and why to apply logical thought processes. He has a great sense of written humour and uses this to break up some of the more difficult or dry points.
It is also entirely pragmatic. Dettmer seems almost pre-occupied with the idea that logical solutions to problems must include all parts of the solution - and if part of the problem is not boring your boss to death with logical reasoning, then that too must form part of the Logical Thinking Process. While I haven't tried, I have great confidence that all of the supporting ideas could be (or have been) worked through logically as problems in themselves.
The culmination of this is the priceless chapter Changing the Satus Quo. TLTP is littered with great quotes (which also serve to make the pace more manageable), but this starts with one of (IMHO) the most significant:
There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things - Niccoló Machiavelli
This is where the various theories of leadership and motivation are tied together. It's intended only as a primer, and has an extensive list of references. Despite that, it really completed the book for me. It's apparent by combining personal experience plus examples from this book, that the most common and significant problems in achieving organisational success are about the policies people either put in place or default to. Therefore, success hinges on understanding the combination of the logic, emotion, needs and wants of the people in the organisation. ...more
I was disappointed with this. First off, the title is really misleading. It should actually be called "Strategy for the Professional Service Firm andI was disappointed with this. First off, the title is really misleading. It should actually be called "Strategy for the Professional Service Firm and the Fat Smoker". I really hoped to get from this some generally applicable strategies for taking steps towards business or personal goals. It's actually geared very specifically for the type of organisation David Maister specialises in.
Second, the subtitle, "Doing What's Obvious But Not Easy", is misleading. Most of the ideas are fundamentally counter-intuitive to a lot of business people. "Doing What's Obvious To People Who Have Read David Master But Not Easy" might be more accurate.
Parts 1 and 2 are better explained in Maister's other books, such as those co-authored with Charles green, eg The Trusted Advisor.
Part 3 (Management) is more useful. Why (Most) Training Is Useless is a concise explanation of why training is valuable only as a last step in organisational change. A Great Coach in Action is a detailed anecdote that explains points elsewhere in the book. And Accountability: Effective Managers Go First is similarly valuable. However, none of this explains the ideas as well as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.
I found the article The Trouble with Lawyers interesting as a description of a pathological case of mistrust, narcissism and risk-aversion in organisations. You can get that on the web though.
You might enjoy this if you've not read similar things on the topic. But overall, I recommend instead reading the other books I linked to here, Maverick!, which is a case study of an organisation that lives (coincidentally) by many of Maister's principles, and also It's Not Luck, which is a more rigorous look at organisational change....more
This is an engrossing story about how Semler turned his father's company from an antiquated, authoritarian business to one based on democracy, fairnesThis is an engrossing story about how Semler turned his father's company from an antiquated, authoritarian business to one based on democracy, fairness, transparency and trust, where change is the only constant. It's full of anecdotes about how conflict and pressure (both internal and external) drove him to abandon most of the received wisdom about how companies should be run.
While I was reading the book I made a list of the changes Semler instigated - forty-three altogether. They range from the simple, but still significant such as allowing workers to vote on uniform colours, and the one-page memo limit; to the profound, such as circular organisation (as opposed to pyramidal) and managers setting their own salary.
Two of the subtler themes raised throughout that caught my eye are attuning organisations to our nature, and letting go of leadership ego. Semler mentions more than once the organisation of hunter-gatherer communities (including the human limits of working in teams of 5-20, and in tribes of 150). From this he derives the phrase "diseconomy of scale". He also shows a slow letting go of growth-for-the-sake-of-being-big, and the desire to have dictatorial power over Semco.
Priceless reading for anyone with even a passing interest in organisations....more
This is by far the most unified, coherent look at inter- and intra-personal development I've read. All of the ideas are available elsewhere, but thisThis is by far the most unified, coherent look at inter- and intra-personal development I've read. All of the ideas are available elsewhere, but this is the first time I've seen them assembled into a practically applicable system. I've read and distilled the ideas, but I haven't worked through all of the exercises yet. I'll give my interpretation and describe the benefits I've derived so far.
Most of the ideas rest on the distinction between personality (superficial behaviour) and character (fundamental drivers of behaviour). Covey's model is that there are fundamental principles/"natural laws" that people should adhere to to be effective - things such as honesty and integrity (reliably meeting commitments) that are essential to long-term relationships. He doesn't claim to have discovered or invented any of these, merely documented them.
The starting point is (Habit 1) a pro-active model of action: don't react like a Pavlovian dog to the world, but hijack the brief moment between stimulus and response to choose your action based on your principles. To do this effectively, you must focus only on the things you have control over, your "Circle of Influence", rather than your "Circle of Concern". It's actually misnamed - by "influence" he refers to things you can affect directly. I prefer the term "Span of Control" used by Dettmer in The Logical Thinking Process: A Systems Approach to Complex Problem Solving (which is a good follow-on to apply the inter-personal habits below).
With the ability to act on things in your control you are in a position to choose your values and goals - to (Habit 2) Begin with the End in Mind. This is actually quite mechanical - although Covey is probably fair to claim it's a "whole brain" activity (involving the emotional as well as logical sides).
The practical advise really starts to form in (Habit 3) Put First Things First. This is, effectively, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity with an emphasis less on taming the flood of noise and tasks in the modern world, but balancing the important and urgent tasks with the important, but non-urgent, ones that contribute to the long-term development of your goals. This is balancing "production" with growing "production capacity".
The goal of all this is to lead to personal independence. From there, the leap is into inter-dependence - not a negative, unbalanced dependence but a (Habit 6) synergistic one based on (Habit 4) Win/Win solutions. This rests on the ability to have listen, to have genuine empathy, to (Habit 5) Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood. The Trusted Advisor makes a good companion here, with another perspective on the value of listening to understand people.
Now, almost all of these ideas are available in self-help books the world wide. But, this is the first systemic model I've seen that integrates everything, and with many practical exercises to demonstrate and apply them. It's also refreshingly unapologetic for the difficulty in actually implementing them - there's no PMA here.
To Begin with the End in Mind is very much like the message in The Goal - that you have to know the ultimate purpose of any person or organisation to have any hope of tackling the issues that matter. To think Win/Win is fundamental to breakthrough solutions, best described in It's Not Luck. Here, however, Covey's concern is more the emotional independence needed to propose Win/Win over Win/Lose or Lose/Win, than the process of finding the solutions. Synergy is little more than the inevitable result of all this.
There's one big downside to this book. Although he restrains it to the end, Covey imposes a Christian religious/spiritual agenda to the principles. Renewal (Habit 7) is really just a commitment to practice and review the other habits... because they are somehow "godly". There are some words that have to be read in a very analytical way all through the text, namely "principle" and "conscience". Principles are the laws of nature and human nature - they don't need any religious explanation to be true. Conscience is the ability of a persan to sense deviation from principles - there is nothing "divine" about replacing "Will I be found out?" with "What is right and wrong?". The more general form of "Will I be found out?" is "Will I get lucky despite ignoring principles I know to be true?". I have to knock one star off for this religious noise pollution, but if you can read it without that colouring your view, you may want to add that star back on...
That said, I'm already deriving a lot of value from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people. I've done many of the exercises, and I'm continuing to do some of the longer-term ones. I have already found practical benefits to my productivity, my senses of priority and contentment, and my sense of self awareness. That's a pretty impressive return given the short time I've been reading it. The process is one of constant improvement, so I fully expect this to continue.
I highly recommend this to people who know they want to stick to their principles consistently, but need a holistic model to keep them focused. Anyone working freelance or entrepreneurially will benefit from the first three habits. I also recommend it to people who feel they are not getting the maximum benefits from their relationships with other people.