Monthly Archives: November 2009

Managing Technology Means Being Wrong a lot

A friend yesterday twittered and posted into FaceBook a status update about Kanban and programming teams:

“list of electronic tools for lean and kanban teams http://bit.ly/6WW8cS #kanban”

(Kanban is a way of doing work where you use a board to show a “flow” of work and limit the number of activities in any one stage to a certain number)

To which a friend of his replied:

“Yeah, the whole idea of managing the pipeline in a structured way makes a lot of sense. In fact, strange as it sounds, I can see how you could apply the principles to a larger enterprise waterfall of iterative project[s]. You could use it to focus the team on the immediate pipeline…

Yikes!

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There is no do, only try

I was reading a technology forum the other day when somebody asked a question that kind of went like this: “I am a programmer. I’ve noticed lately that my attention span is getting shorter and shorter. Could you guys provide me with quick advice on how to make my attention span longer?”

I suppose something in the form of a XKCD comic or a couple of sentences might not be too much?

On one hand, I really feel for the guy, as evidenced by my own struggles with distractions. But on the other hand, something’s out of whack.

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Work at Home Heaven

People look at me strangely when I tell them I run my own business from home. Mostly they smile and go on with our conversation, but there’s this little look of concern that passes over their face for just a minute. It’s like I’ve said something that just doesn’t fit into their mental model of how the world should be.

If you’re 24 and working on your startup with a couple of other college friends in a garage in SV the world is your oyster. But it gets complicated at 30, or 40. A lot of that has to do with being a high-tech worker living in a rural area. A lot of it has to do with having a family. When I talk about startups, or web applications, or SEO, or link arbitrage, or Angel capital, or social media, or hosting, or functional programming — I might as easily be speaking in Greek for all the good it does. I simply don’t live in a 21st century business culture.

So I play along.

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The Lure of the Paycheck Stub

Got a paycheck stub? Then consider yourself lucky, or at least some folks say. With that little piece of paper you can purchase cars, get loans for unforeseen expenses, apply for jobs — even play paycheck poker.

I was thinking about this magical piece of paper today as I worked on my start-up. It’s a beautiful day here today — temps in the mid 60s (15C), low humidity, clear blue skies, and gorgeous autumn views. It’s Saturday. All my “normal” friends are out shopping, spending time with their family, hiking, or otherwise enjoying the day.

I’m up at my office, with the flu — a fever, sore throat, and stomach ache — banging away at a hunk of code that, if I’m lucky, might one day show somebody sometime that somehow, someway, I have an idea that’s worth pursuing. If I’m really lucky, it might actually provide some value to some users somewhere. But most of the time getting to profitably isn’t as simple as hacking out some code; it’s a multi-step process, of which an piece of code is only a very small and replaceable part. So it’s extremely unlikely that one piece of code I write today is going to change the world. It’s as absurd as working at a pig farm hoping to breed flying pigs.

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I’ve Changed My Mind

The advice for people with startups has always been “ideas don’t matter, teams do” — that means that great ideas with bad teams will always tank while even bad ideas with really great teams have a chance at becoming extremely successful. Or think of it this way: good teams always change and adapt and end up figuring out what works. Bad teams have a hard time adapting to the customers.

So I’ve always been very generous with ideas. Whenever I have a good idea (about startups) I share it with others. Who knows? Maybe somebody can do something with it. I know I can’t — I have a dozen ideas a year and, because of my location in the woods, have so far been unable to form any team at all, much less a good or bad one.

But this past week I had a good idea. I mean a really, really good idea. This thing could rock! It’s one of my top 3 ideas of the last ten years and I don’t fall in love with ideas that easily.

So I thought about it: should I share my idea over on, say, HackerNews, where other startup founders can come by and critique and offer a helping hand? That’s what I usually do — I love the atmosphere over there where everybody (mostly) is trying to help each other out.

But then I thought — heck no. My problem is that I can’t execute at all, not a lack of ideas. If I share my ideas all I’m doing is throwing away ideas that I might be able to execute to teams already formed who can execute immediately. That’s like making bullets and giving them to your enemies to shoot at you.

So I’ve changed my mind: at least about this one idea. This time I’m developing a prototype, then slowly sharing the idea with folks in an ever-expanding circle. If there is an execution gap between me and my possible competitors, I’m not about to give them a head-start.

Maybe I’m wrong — maybe I’m just being short-sighted and looking at this the wrong way. But from my vantage point if I don’t build it and somebody else does and it really takes off, I’ll feel a lot better if I didn’t help them doing it. At least not until I give myself first shot at it.

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For Today

For Veteran’s Day

Half a league half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred:

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns’ he said:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’

Was there a man dismay’d ?

Not tho’ the soldier knew

Some one had blunder’d:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do & die,

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volley’d & thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell

Rode the six hundred.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,

Flash’d as they turn’d in air

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging an army while

All the world wonder’d:

Plunged in the battery-smoke

Right thro’ the line they broke;

Cossack & Russian

Reel’d from the sabre-stroke,

Shatter’d & sunder’d.

Then they rode back, but not

Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

Volley’d and thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

While horse & hero fell,

They that had fought so well

Came thro’ the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of Hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wonder’d.

Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!

The Charge Of The Light Brigade

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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