Working Up

Working Up in Project Management, Systems Engineering, Technology, and Writing

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DevOps: Born of Managers Managing Poorly

May 30th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Yet another new occupation comes from yet another bad practice.

For the past several years surveying the job market, I kept finding ads for a position called DevOps. Some reading and discussions sort of brought me to an understanding of what that is.

Once again, I learned that I did this new job some 25 years ago. Back then, however, it was known as managing the work. It seems that a number of managers managed the work so poorly that someone created an occupation to do this work properly so the managers wouldn’t have to try in vain to do it.

A generation ago I managed the work of two dozen persons who were swirling all day. Some were developers, some were system administrators, while some were users of the computers and software. I recall pacing all day behind the cubicles off all these persons asking some to wait a minute or two while someone else set up the system for them. Then I would ask an administrator to wait a minute or two while a user’s task finished. Then I…eight or ten hours went by quickly.

This managing the work wasn’t easy. I felt unprepared to do this, but I did it, and we all worked together to do our jobs.

What happened? Why did we create an occupation to do the job of the managers?

My guess is that managers didn’t want to manage so we whined enough that senior managers hired someone to do our job for us. Eventually, a new occupation was born. These new DevOps persons do our job for us. If they fail, we can fire them and hire someone else to do our job for us.

Perhaps we could just do our job ourselves no matter the difficulty. Then again, I am somewhat naive about all this.

→ No CommentsTags: DevOps · Management · Work

Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan (even in Agile)

May 26th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I emphasize fundamentals in my work. One such fundamental is the old cliche about planning and working (see title). I find it still applies—even with “new” methods like Agile.

Plan your work, work your plan

I heard that a lot in the 1980s. I find it to be one of those things that are just true or “no duh.” If you pour water on something, that thing will be wet.

“But,” some say these days and the past 15 years, “we are Agile, we don’t plan.”

The Agile Manifesto states, “We value responding to change over following a plan.”

That statement is itself a plan. The plan is to have a plan, but be ready for change and respond to those changes. The plan is to be flexible or agile.

The “work your plan” part of Agile is to actually respond to change. Don’t just say you will respond to change, respond.

Plan your work, work your plan. Still true.

→ No CommentsTags: Agility · Culture · Lifecycle · Management

There ARE Stupid Questions

May 23rd, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Forget the old cliche about stupid questions. There ARE stupid questions, and hiring managers have asked me a bunch of them.

I’ve been interviewed for jobs a dozen times There are stupid questions, and hiring managers ask them all the time.

First, don’t ask the person to solve your problems. This is a job interview, not a free consulting session. If the person solves your problems, pay them. If the person gives you alternative ways to attempt to solve your problems, pay them. If you aren’t going to pay them, don’t ask.

Second, don’t ask puzzle questions.

“But, I want to see if they can think on their feet.” That is a tired, lazy, cliche. What do you want? Ask about that.

Here are a few, specific, STUPID questions (so stupid they are not in the form of questions):

  • Describe a situation where you had to communicate with difficult people and what you did.
  • Describe a situation where you had a complex problem and what you did.
  • Describe a meeting with a brain-dead interviewer and what you did (oops).

Let’s talk substance about the job. For example, “What methods, tools, and techniques do you use?” If they answer something like, “Gestalt round-trip development” and you don’t know what that is. Pause and look it up on your own personal Google machine before you move on to the next not-so-stupid question.

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Adults · Questions · Reaction · Work

Our Bad Customer

May 19th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes we are stuck with a bad customer. We still choose how we live and work.

Alright, our customer is bad. They gripe all the time, show no appreciation for our efforts. They are, however, our customer and they pay our bills. So now what?

We will:

  • work everyday
  • work smart
  • have a good attitude
  • do our best
  • be respectful
  • smile and be happy regardless
We will not
  • ruin a vacation
  • work weekends
  • work more than 40 hours a week for 40 hours pay
  • get divorced
  • get sick
  • get hi blood pressure
  • die
Pollyanna? Living in LaLa Land? Maybe, but it is better than fear at work. Believe me, I’ve been there and suffered that.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Culture · Work

But is that Your Job?

May 16th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

There are many almost insurmountable jobs out there. Are any of them, however, your job?

I my current search for employment, I talk to people here and there about jobs. Several of the people I have met describe their jobs as the most impossible in the universe. The jobs they describe are truly daunting, yet I have one question for them:

But is that your job?

Let me try to illustrate this with a conversation I have heard:

Mr. A: Gosh, we have so much work to do. We’ll never get it done.

Mr. B: Really?

Mr. A: Yes, our customers are killers. If we don’t do everything they want, why, they’ll, well, you don’t want to know what they’ll do.

Mr. B: What does your contract require you to do for the customer?

Mr. A: The what?

Mr. B: The contract. You have a contract with your customer. What does it require you to do?

Mr. A: Contract? Contract!? You don’t understand our customer.

Mr. B: What does your contract require you to do for the customer? There is a contract. Let’s read it and see what we have to do.

…the two look at the contract and find a list of 12 things do to…

Mr. B: Well, only 12 things to do. Can you do them?

Mr. A: Sure, but, you don’t understand. Our customer wants us to do a lot more than that.

Mr. B: We should do what the contract requires. It was agreed to by us and the customer. It is their wishes.

…end of conversation

Of course this is a simple situation. Of course we can find lots of things our customer wants us to do that is not in the contract. Of course we can find lots of things on planet earth that should be done. Of course many of those things are practically impossible. Of course we can try to do them…

But is that your job?

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Management · Scale · Scope

Deep Learning: Today’s Hot New Programming Language

May 12th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

New deep learning tools have turned a technology field into a general-purpose programming language.

I worked with neural networks 25 years ago (yes, I am that old). Recently, big, big neural networks have returned to favor as deep learning. Clever techniques have reduced this to a programming language instead of an area of technology.

For example,

FORTRAN: crunch numbers in banking, image processing, signal processing, etc. There are many different things you can do with the language.

Deep Learning: “learn the computer” to recognize things in images, understand speech, recognize faces, understand text, play chess, etc. There are many different things you can do once your have your deep learning system created. Point it a large data sets, and viola.

Perhaps those who are at the forefront of deep learning made a mistake in making it so easy for everyone else to use.

→ No CommentsTags: Knowledge · Learning · Technology

Me, and Something from Me

May 9th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Life is much easier when I distinguish myself from things that I produce.

I write. I write blog posts, books, magazine articles, and lots of documents at work. People tear up some of the things I write. That can hurt, if I don’t know the difference between me and something I wrote.

Things I write are just that—things I write. They are not me. People shred things I write. People don’t shred me (that would be quite painful). If someone hates something I write, that is okay. (If someone hates me, that is okay too, but not quite as okay.)

Life is much easier when I understand this separation between myself and the things I produce.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Communication · Differences · General Systems Thinking

Solution Collapse

May 5th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

If we work hard enough and smart enough to the solution, we often find the solution collapses to something small and simple.

At the end of all the work, we find the solution. The solution is messy, but it is a solution.

Then we go home.

Then we come back to work on Monday and see the heart of the messy solution—the real solution.

The real solution is small, simple, and much better in many ways.

Why didn’t we see the real solution in the first place? Why did we spend so many resources to find a messy solution when the real, small, and simple solution was right in front of us? We aren’t smart enough to do that. No one is.

The real solution is far more simple, small, brief, clear, understandable, manageable, etc. The real solution only comes after we work hard all the way through everything.

There is a trick to this: work all the way through the problem without burning many resources so we find the real solution cheaply.

That, however, is a trick, and I for one don’t know how to do tricks.

→ No CommentsTags: Problems · Process · Systems

3D? I Want 2D

May 2nd, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Call me too literal, call me too geeky, but I want to have actual 2D anything.

3D! 3D! 3D!

Everybody wants 3D everything. We want…

  • 3D printing
  • 3D user interface on the smartphone
  • 3D movies
  • 3D gestures for control of computers
  • 3D integrated circuits

The list goes on.

Silly me, I want to have 2D. Give me a printer that actually prints in only two dimensions. Yes, actual, real, true absolutely flat print with a height of Z E R O. When we can do that, we will really have something. We will be able to build computers with zero height. We can then fold these flat computers over and over again and still have zero height.

Can you imagine what we would have if we had computers that are as thin as, well, as thin as nothing? That would be something!

Sorry, sometimes I wax into the ridiculous.

→ No CommentsTags: Computing · Expectations · General Systems Thinking

My Customer and Me, and Our Difficult Problems

April 28th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

When confronted with a difficult situation with a difficult customer, it is often better to step back and ask a few fundamental questions.

The setting: I am a developer. I am building a system for a customer. The work is going poorly. We seem to make progress on some days, but most of the time we restart the work with great angst.

Let’s ask a couple of questions so that we can then ask better questions and possible work our way into a better situation.

  1. Are we discussing the developer’s problems or the customer’s problems?
  2. Are we discussing the problems or the symptoms of the problems?

The first question: My customer is not me. I cannot say, “My customer’s problems are my problems.” No, they aren’t. I can say that to try to establish a relationship with my customer, but it is not a true statement. We are different persons, we have different problems.

The second question: This one often confuses me. For example, “My problem is that I’m not getting enough sleep.” That is not a problem; it is a symptom. What is causing me to not sleep at night? The answer to that will point me closer to the actual problem.

Here is the summary advice. When I’ve been in these situations I hated hearing this advice because it caused me to think. Instead, I wanted quick, miraculous solutions. Too bad as quick, miraculous solutions rarely exist. Instead:

Get questions (1) and (2) straight, and then talk, but not before.

→ No CommentsTags: Problems · Reframe · Work