Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Rule Of Ones

Working in one direction.

With a partner.

There is a basic rule: managers manage things and leaders lead people.

The world needs both. Which you need for a situation depends on that situation. Nothing is right everywhere all the time.

So, you think, that is very fine. Very fine indeed. Now how does that apply to me? I, for example, have a small business and don't need to worry about managing 1000 things or leading 1000 people. I am not in the thousands, just me and a few employees. The whole subject is academic, so what's for lunch?

Ah, lunch. Thank you for the reminder. We'll get to lunch as soon as we're done here, but first we must talk.

To start, let us divide the world another way, into Customer (that's you) and Developer (that's not you). Now, beyond this, let's also say that you need a piece of work done. Just for argument's sake let us say it's a web site.

Good. We are off to a fine start. Let's go another step. We have two parties and a piece of work. Now we need a relationship.

For a relationship we need the parties interacting. Luckily we have a good excuse, our web site. Our two parties will work to build one, and the working together will be the relationship.

To make a relationship work, really work, we need openness and honesty, and good faith. You don't get any more basic, or any more important. Besides this foundation you need a common goal, and responsibility.

Two parties, a project, working in tandem. Togetherness. Partnership. Check.

It's about adults cooperating, working alongside one another for a common goal. It's about going in one and the same direction. At the same time. Together. Even if you are working separately.

So here's the outline. First you agree to work together. Then you set the ground rules, and divide up responsibilities. After that you agree on a schedule (deliberate but flexible, with a set of milestones along the way). And then you get to work.

You work. And meet often. And adjust, and repeat until done.

And when you're done, you're finished.

This is all very nice, but there are those other details. The having two sides to this relationship. Two points of view. Two identities. Two separate worlds. And about leading and managing.

True, each party can be off working and temporarily out of touch. Not too far out of touch, but out. Customer and Developer each have specialties, and other things going on, and they tend to them. Capably.

Here's where flexibility helps because you can be both leader and the led, both manager and the managed, doing it all yourself, within your own sphere. You need (inside the relationship) to define and set your own goals, but you need minimal supervision. (None, in fact, except your contract.)

You must be good at self organizing, because you are it. You set the tone, prioritize, assign, and do. You are capable of building from scratch and seeing it through, and that's what you have to do.

You can work alone and not whine. You are fine with it because you have done it before and you know how. You have defined your own role. You have begun things and then finished them. You have initiative and an entrepreneurial spirit. You work hard.

You are smart.

Smart enough to listen and learn, and to share and inform. You adapt. You do things, which is what this is about.

Given these qualities, inside the relationship we've described here, you may have problems but not issues. Challenges but not disasters. Interesting times but not catastrophes. That's good.

In fact that's very good.

Let me know if you'd like to get together and cooperate on a project. You sound like my kind of folks. I think we could finish that web site just fine.


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Breaking Up

Hints that you may need to try elsewhere.From SVN by 37Signals

It's a relationship!

If you ever get the impression that you can aim your credit card at someone, sit back, and have a fresh, shiny, new web site delivered, then you are likely to have your feelings hurt. And see your bank balance drop while you pull out your hair in frustration.

It doesn't happen that way.

Truth is, it's hard to get anything done, ever, let alone correctly, in either of two web development scenarios:
  1. You try to avoid problems by working alone, doing everything yourself. Good luck with that.
  2. You work with others, and you depend on them while they depend on you.
In other words, it's always hard. Do expect to work up a sweat. And while working with others, if you are very, very lucky, it's only half as easy as it ought to be. Usually things are much less easy, but there you are.

Say you don't have a web site but want one, or you have one but it needs refreshing. Well, basically, to make things happen you must shackle yourself to others for a while.

There are at least two sides to every web site deal, the customer side and the developer side. And of course things can go wrong on either side or in the middle. You don't want that but it happens. But you don't want it.

When things do go wrong you try to make them right, but there are times when it becomes clear that it is not going to work, so you have to dig out the key and unlock yourselves and go separate ways. You have to break up.

The blinding obviousness of the value equation.

Every business deal is an exchange. If you buy then you expect your money's worth. If you sell you expect to profit. It's a dynamic balance.

But sometimes the balancing part is off.

Maybe quality takes a vacation, or too many deadlines sail past, unnoticed. Maybe the work doesn't look all that bad if you squint, but simply does not match the requirements, and the worth isn't there.

On the other side, the developer might experience delayed payment, or none at all.

Time to break up.

Contractually speaking...

So let's say that isn't it. Maybe you want to renegotiate the contract on the fly. If so, there is something seriously off.

Let's say that no one here can be described as a devious schemer. Let's pretend. It happens, but let's say it's not happening to us.

You the customer have your developer trying to fudge. So think. If the developer needs to fudge the contract on you, is that OK? Nah. You don't want to play this game.

But you the developer, you are working in good faith, and competently, and then your customer clears his throat and what? You're being asked to also do this, that, and the other, for the same pay? Or else? You don't want that. You had a deal, you thought. That's what deals are, isn't it, deals?

Time to break up.

No adult supervision should be required.

You are an adult, and you spent a lot of time getting there. And it wasn't easy. Now that you are an actual adult you expect to deal with other adults in a grownup way. That's reasonable.

No whining and no temper tantrums is also reasonable. Another way to say it is that, at least for the duration of your development contract, you have a business partner, and that partner should act like it. No one on either side gets a free pass to be aggressive, abusive, or a bully.

Business isn't running with scissors. It isn't screaming. It isn't throwing anything. (Hope not.) So you shouldn't expect to either do it or be the target of it.

So if it's going on? Time to break up.

No, seriously, this is business. Isn't it?

There. You have none of these problems. Good. You shouldn't expect to. But we're not done yet. Because, after all, we're discussing how things go wrong.


You know how it is on one of those days? You can't seem to get started? It happens. There are valid reasons for it. Everyone has a day like that, every now and then. It happens.

But no one should be moping around on you. You especially should not be standing there, with the clock ticking, on time, ready to go, with your partner not there.

Meetings can be big time wasters. No need for them to be bad, really. But no matter. It's much worse to stand there alone, wasting time, and not have a meeting at all.

Expect people to be there, and on time, prepared. Expect focus. Expect deadlines to be hit precisely. Expect the results you pay for, and prompt payment when you deliver results. Expect that things work, including your business relationship.

Do not train yourself to accept tricks or excuses. Be good and expect the same. You are on a team, and the team has to work. If not, no ball goes through the hoop.

Customers, well, some of them have trouble committing to firm specifications, or pulling content together. Extracting (or creating) content (usually the written word) is hard. At least five times harder than you think. Maybe 10 times harder. Expect to see the calendar grow old while you pull it together for your developer.

And you, the developer, you shouldn't need to be reminded that there are milestones, or of how important getting it done can be. Like, for example, how a working prototype is better than a hand full of sketches you've already reviewed. Seriously.

So if your partner isn't serious, guess what?

Time to break up.

Sheep in the wolf pack.

Sometimes it gets sad.

Say you're working with someone you like, someone you know, someone you've worked with before, and you want your project to unfold like an elegant rose. You really, really want that. You do.

And instead you get a wilted dandelion.

If you're the customer, the one who is actually putting up cash, then no matter how nice you are you will find that you can't afford to work with someone whose skills are almost but not quite there. Can you?

Think about it. Your business needs are ignored, or you get a product that fits a developer's limited skill set but not your business, will that be fine then?

We'll let you mull that one over while we look in from the developer's side.

So, developer. You know what you are doing. You are a pro. You made the grade. You have the chops, and here is this person, who has never built a web site or done any design or programming, overriding your professional and technical decisions?

How does that feel? Good? Or not?

Time to break up.

Legal issues? What are those?

Cutting legal corners, misrepresenting anything, padding bills, bouncing checks, plagiarizing or ordering it to be done, well, no. Shouldn't happen. Eventually you can expect to be in court, if not prison.

Of course you wouldn't think of it. Not you! The other guy did it. But, keep in mind that if the other guy is doing it and you are letting it happen, um, well, you are doing it too, because that's your partner there.

Don't get caught doing it or paying for it to be done. Back away slowly. You are too close to someone you should not even know. You're better off without each other.

Time to break up.

Oh, hi.

Wow. No, none of those problems. So we're in the clear. Should be OK, right?

Although, now that you mention how good things are, there does seem to be one more thing.

Not really a "thing". Hard to say. Hard to describe. Sort of a nagging. A feeling somewhere in the background, like a vague soreness in the throat that never actually becomes anything. But it's there.

Maybe you have this feeling that you are simply not in the same universe as your colleague. Somehow you talk but don't understand each other, never connect. Like conversing by semaphore. The old you say tomato and I say rutabaga thing. Right, right.

And even when we manage a little communication, it, well, doesn't...something.

If you always seem to be getting confused, or feel drained after work sessions, well, then why do it? Get away. A change will be good for you.

Time to break up.


The oddest thing is, the earlier you do this the better. Both parties get to move on to a better relationship as early as possible, with the least loss of time, money, dignity, and all those other things.

It happens.

Don't look forward to it, but please don't let yourself be surprised by it. Stay awake, stay hopeful, but remember as well to stay alert. Every now and then it's time to break up.