Dec 16, 2014

Book Review: Today Matters by John C. Maxwell

Once in a while I like to read self help books. Today Matters by John C. Maxwell was highly recommended book by many. The full name of the book actually adds to the Today Matters a second title, 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow's Success, which actually tells quite much about the book.

Book explains a simple way to succeed tomorrow - make every day count. The whole idea of the book is to understand to concentrate to today. Make the right decisions every day to support your growth to whatever you wish to be in your life.

John C. Maxwell is author of many books, priest and teacher of leadership. He has been given many rewards about leadership and management. He seems to be interesting character, who gives quite easy and straightforward advice.

I've read some self help books about success and in a way there wasn't that much new in the book for me. Still the idea, which is so simple, concentrate to today, is something that easily gets lost in the busy world we live in. Every day counts. You shouldn't care too much about the past and definitely not think too much about future. You need to make the right decisions every day to help you to become who you want to be.

The idea in the book is to concentrate to the 12 Daily Practices. These are basically values or point of views that should be taken in to account every day. I did write my own Mission Statement after reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and I think the ideology behind is similar. That's the reason I'm not taking this in to daily use for now. For many people those 12 practices definitely will be valuable.

Once a year it is good to read a classic like this about personal development. If you haven't ever read one or haven't read one for a while, I recommend this book. It's a good book and it did change my behavior a bit already. I enjoyed it and it was quite easy to read. So go ahead and read it.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Dec 8, 2014

Book Review: 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People

Presenting, selling ideas to people and training has been part of my job for the past few years. Presenting as such is something I've always been comfortable with, but I know I could be much better. That's the reason I read 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People by Susan M. Weinschenk.

The author has Ph.D. in Psychology and has a strong background on behavioral psychology. This shows a lot in the book. I originally had different thought what the book would have inside. I wasn't expecting that much science and actual proof behind the things that presenters need to know. So the surprise was positive and made the subject more interesting.

The idea in the book is to explain and benefit from the behavioral psychology. Maybe it was because I had read quite a lot about behavioral psychology in the past years, that the psychology parts as such weren't that new to me. Some of the ideas how to use those in presentations where the ones that brought me the value.

Book is well structured. It was fun to read. It worked especially well for bus or train trips which I use when I visit our offices in Helsinki central. Like the title tells it has 100 of things that every presenter needs to know. Those things are short and backed up with a proper research. I have to admit that book would have been at least good enough with 91 or 93 things, but maybe 100 is just much more effective. Few of the things were there just to fill the hundred.

I highly recommend this book to everyone who wants to understand people's behavior in presentation situations. If you are presenter, you facilitate meetings or meet people for sales, this is a good book for you. It also reminds about many important psychological studies from the past decades. It's a good book and quite easy and enjoyable to read.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Dec 1, 2014

Work Needs to be Fun - Happy people are more Effective

We spend every week around half of our time awake at work or travelling to work. Already from that perspective work needs to be something you are happy on doing. At least in my thinking being happy every day is something I wish from life.

That's still not all. There's research backing up the facts that happier people are more productive at work. Study from University of Warwick showed that happy people are 12 percent more productive than others.  That's of course just one study, but there's more data for similar results. In Gallup's State of the Global Workplace study (over 200 000 respondents) they found that companies which had engaged employees had significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings.

Even though I believe we need lot of other studies on the subject to be really sure about how the causation goes, there is definitely something in happiness at work place. Happiness at work place also might have a positive effect on company image and that way make it easier to recruit new talented people. On top of the previous one's there's also evidence that happiness has a strong effect on intrinsic motivation. And intrinsic motivation affects productivity.

My purpose wasn't in going to the academic discussion about what is proven and what is not. From personal experience, from my own workplaces and places I've seen as a consultant, this correlation is true. The happier people are, the better results the company will get.

In the State of the Global Workplace study, the engagement level in companies was surprisingly low. Overall in the world in average only 13% of the people were engaged to their jobs and 24% were actively disengaged. That's quite huge. Almost two times more people are disengaged than engaged.

In my interests there's of course the numbers of Finland. Here the numbers where 11% engaged and 14% disengaged. We were almost the worst in Western Europe, only France and Netherlands behind us. Maybe it tells a bit about our overall nature of being unhappy about almost everything, but still it's really worrying and we should do something about it.

I unfortunately don't have a list of "5 things that will improve your work place happiness" in my mind. There are lot of good articles about the subject existing and I recommend to read some of those to get the ideas. What I think is important is first to approve the fact that this actually matters. Happiness and engagement are important in productivity of the company. I believe these are not something that HR can do (at least not most of it), but this is something that operational leaders and other key people in organizations need to take under their radar.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Nov 23, 2014

Estimates or #noestimates

Everyone working is Software industry have been involved in estimates in a way or another. Most of the people have known for ages that the one thing that's sure for estimates is that those are wrong. More complex the software or organization creating the software, more difficult it has been to estimate how long creating software takes.

There's been buzzing around for some time the #noestimates movement. The basics of it, as I understand, is that software teams should get rid of making estimates, since those do more harm than good. But I think there goes so much discussion under #noestimates, that I'm not fully sure what all it contains.

I've seen estimates to do lot of harm in many organizations. Estimates have caused poor quality, unhappy people and lot of unnecessary waste on creating those and reacting to those. But then on the other hand, I couldn't see organizations to live without any estimates on software.

Value of estimating versus the time used to it


Value of the estimates versus the time used on creating the estimates is one of the key questions on estimating. Too often estimating takes lot of time. People use hours or easily even days to figure out how much time creating some software takes.

I guess it's not valuable to discuss too much about what's wrong with estimating. People are known to be terrible at estimating. One excellent source to understand more is Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow which introduces at least WYSIATI, anchoring effect and lots of other reasons we can't estimate. So I'm not going to use more time on arguing about the subject, but use is as a given fact that people are bad at estimating.

So what is the reason estimates still exist. Why estimates are still done, even though those are always thought to be wrong. I believe estimating goes to the same category as planning. As Eisenhower said: "Plans are worthless, but planning is everything", there's something similar with estimates. Estimates as such are not accurate, but the journey is valuable and some figures are always needed.

Sometimes the time spent doing the estimates doesn't match the value that estimates can give. Estimates should be used as a tools for decision making. Most often the decision is that should something be tried to do or not. The decision should be about the start, not about the completion. That's what Agile and iterative thinking should help on, there should come multiple decision making points and clarifications about the completion when knowledge increases during the development.

Companies can't live without estimates


Liked it or not, companies can't live without estimates. Most of the companies have limited resources in developing software (and everything else too). Those few who currently seem to have unlimited resources, still need to serve their customers quite often to keep their positions.

In real life, there are customer commitments and internal commitments that need to be handled somehow. Most of these are based on estimates, things that are most probably not accurate. Still those don't change the fact that sometimes these commitments need to be given. Think about yourself, would you be willing to purchase a house building project, if your contractor would say that we don't really know how much it will cost, when it will be ready and what it will contain. Of course you want to get an estimate, or even a fixed price with fixed timeline and features.

Many companies actually are in estimating business. They estimate the costs of development, they estimate their sales, they estimate the timelines and then take known risk with price and profit margin. This is how most of businesses still work. The luxury of making fixed profit is with fixed hour rate businesses. So basically some of consultants, lawyers and couple of others. There the risk is in not getting clients and not in making bad estimates.

Other than actual businesses relying on estimates, many companies have internal dependencies to SW development estimates. Product marketing for example, can't wait for product to be finished before marketing activities can start. They might need easily few months head start to get all the activities ready when product would be ready to ship. There easily are tens of these dependencies inside companies to the software team estimates: sales , marketing, documentation, hardware creation, operations, training, partners and so many others.

Software estimates, as much as software teams hate those, and as much those are wrong are mandatory part of all businesses. Those of you who still hesitate, think about Lean value stream map. For customer, software is just a small part of product. Even a plain software product. I can't even invent a software that wouldn't need other activities to go parallel to software creation to shorten the full cycle.

What's the solution then


Estimates are problematic. Sometimes estimates cause waste, sometimes lack of estimates cause waste. When sales uses SW development estimates as promises, those can create business, but at the same time those might cause quality issues, stress and unhappy people. So what could be done to estimating, when to do estimates and how.

I can reveal already now, that I'm not a believer of black or white solutions, so I don't think there is a one solution for all. But here's couple of thoughts how situation with estimating could be improved.

Estimated targets and predictions


One possible solution is to go towards having targets from early estimates and then predictions separately. At least when estimates are not in the team level, but in the project or feature level, it would be beneficial to have a target and then constantly update the predictions based on progress. Both of these figures should be always visible and that would give to everyone else idea what is the real situation.

In this approach there are many potential problems also. People tend to keep the first estimated targets as the goals and then predictions as a follow-up of the situation. This might give the feeling of failure, when the first estimates will most often be wrong. Still this approach should give everyone the idea, that decisions are made with something that will most probably be wrong.

Software aided and fact based estimating


As discussed, people are terrible at estimating. In a way it's easy to say that computers can't be worse. Saying this, I've never seen a good software that could do this properly. There are quite many variables that needs to be taken in to account to have a proper estimate. Still I believe that it would be possible to create framework that would give rough estimates of projects or features.

This framework should benefit from the historical data that has been stored to many software tools that has been used in the organizations. As an input, the framework would need to get software components that require changes. Then based on throughput times in past and historical progress of projects estimating software could give an idea how long something will take. Even thought these estimates would be quite rough ones, still it would give valuable data for human made estimating. And I believe it still would be closer to the truth than many other estimates. As said, unfortunately I haven't seen system like this yet in place. I would be surprised if there wouldn't be any software projects ongoing in this field. I just haven't bumped in to those yet.

It's ready when it's ready


There are few companies who have been good on preventing the harm what bad estimates have on markets. Apple is the prime example of this. I'm hundred percent sure, that even the guys in apple are bad at estimating. They concentrate on the product quality, so they can't guess when they are ready. They have taken the approach on telling when things are ready when those are ready. In Apple case it works for their benefit, but many other companies need to be able to have some timelines beforehand.

Still the approach it's ready when it's ready has something to learn from. It starts with understanding, that estimating software project length is difficult. When this is realized, then companies should build their activities based on this. Sales shouldn't be selling exact dates too early, handovers and dependencies between different teams should be minimized and people shouldn't be rewarded or punished because the estimates they have given.

Software, even the minimum viable product, won't be ready before it's ready. There isn't any amount of estimating activities before hand which can tell for sure when the ready will be. Activities in companies need to be able to react to each others timelines and not work with fixed timelines.

Summary


Estimating is a key aspect of business in software business (and basically in any other business). There are too many aspects and ideas to improve estimating for a one blog post. Some people believe in time boxed development, others think Minimum Viable Product will help and some believe tools will be the thing that will fix the issues. I don't believe there is one solution to fix it. I see the key thing to be that people start to understand that estimating is really hard and people are bad at it. Most businesses need estimates and can't live without those.

As a feedback to many of Agile and Lean discussion ongoing in different forums, I have to say that too many people forget the business behind software. It's so easy to talk about no estimates thinking, Agile practices or Lean values without understanding the effects of it to the businesses. Software is a key part of many businesses, but it won't make money without the other activities in the companies.

Everyone involved in the estimating processes should acknowledge what is the decision estimates are used for. Minimum Viable Estimate could be a good guidance for everyone. What is the minimum level of estimate we need to know in order to make the decision in hand. And as reminder to everyone, estimates don't get better with estimating, those get better with implementing.


Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Nov 19, 2014

Book Review: End This Depression Now! by Paul Krugman

Wow, wow, wow. That was the feeling I got from reading the book. Nobel Prize winner from Economics Paul Krugman, gives in the book his view what should be done to End This Depression Now! His view is quite contradictory to the politics that have been ongoing. He rates himself to be New Keynesian and he brings many views from old Keynesian macroeconomics.

First of all, as the best influencers, he knows his stuff well and has the ability to explain those entertainingly and easily. Book about macroeconomics and recession doesn't sound like the most interesting topic, but I wasn't bored even once with this book. He uses examples well and still backs up his stories with hard cold facts.

I don't even think that I would be capable of arguing against any of the ideas he presents in the book. His main idea is that markets do not work perfectly and increasing government spending would help economy (at least US) out from depression.  He brings lot of historical and scientific proof that solution could be so simple.

Other than recession, book is an excellent source to get more understanding about macroeconomics. He is such a good to explain things, that I at least had couple of aha! moments reading the book. It increased my understanding of macroeconomics.

Book is concentrates to US, but is has few chapters to Europe also. I admit being quite supportive for our common currency Euro, but Krugman was able to explain what has been so risky on it. Also he explains why Euro has been one of the main reasons for the recession in Europe and also in Finland where I live. Still he doesn't recommend of getting rid of Euro, but believes that bit higher inflation and few different moves from European Central Bank should do differently to get us out from recession.

I'm so glad I read this book. Few previous books I've read have been good, but this was an eye-opener. These are the feeling you get with best books. You feel that your thinking has changed after reading it. I highly recommend the book to everyone. It's essential book about essential subject.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen