money and time

August 11th, 2010

Today some colleagues were talking about a recent meeting they had with CxO-level executives of this very large company. One part of this meeting involved a several-hour discussion on one specific, relatively small topic (an outlay of less than $20K). They noted that at the very high nominal salary level of the participants, if the per-hour values of the execs’ time were considered, the meeting discussion quickly ‘cost’ the company WAY more than the outlay being discussed.

I have seen this at so many companies: they know to the penny the ‘time value of money’, but disregard the ‘money value of time’. For instance, they:

  • “Reduce expenses” by instituting administrative policies and review procedures that drain their people’s productivity in ‘death by a thousand cuts’. (For instance, by putting knowledge workers in noisy, unsupportive, cubicle work environments to save office space costs)
  • Use broad, time-consuming meetings to communicate and manage, instead of investing the effort to convey and handle essentials in a more focused, efficient way.
  • Cut lower-salaried administrative support or buy cheaper, harder-to-use tools, then tell their highly-paid, scarce-skilled staff to handle those things for themselves in their spare time. (One company even dismissed the janitorial staff and told employees to take care of their own office trash and cleaning.)

These companies often say publicly that people are their biggest asset, but privately cause accelerated devaluation of those assets by draining their people’s morale and productivity, and accelerating attrition. Of course, expenses and budgets can creep, and reviews can be useful or even essential to survival. But if their balance sheets and ROI calculations included the true monetary value of their people and their time, many sub-optimal ‘cost-saving’ proposals would never get off the ground.

In reflecting on this tonight, I realized that the only organizations  — entire companies or intrepreneurial islands — where I haven’t seen this happen (much) are the ones that are succeeding financially even through difficult times. (Admittedly, I don’t personally have experience observing a statistically representative sample of businesses, so I’m not trying to assert any universal truisms; just noticing a possible pattern among those I have observed.)

Have you see this too, or do  you know of counter-examples?

Which do you think is the chicken, and which is the egg – considering the money value of people’s time, or being financially successful as a business?

culture and process

July 20th, 2010

Today I found this thought-provoking blog post by Jeff Patton of Agile Product Design: “Agile development is more culture than process: Why thinking of agile as culture and not just process explains resistance and difficulty in teaching and learning the approach“. To me it makes sense; it fits with the “values, principles, practices” framework we’ve used for:

  • thinking about and comparing software development methodologies (e.g. TSP and agile), in theory
  • examining the impact of culture and value mismatches when tailoring development methods with an organization, in practice

I don’t think the applicability of the insight is limited to agile, though. Rather, I think it’s true that adopting any significant software development process change (like piloting TSP, or changing how the organization handles sustaining engineering) affects, and is affected by, culture and values. (Of course, I happen to believe that TSP is pretty compatible with agile values.)

What do you think? When you have learned (or taught) agile, did you learn/teach culture, process, both?

If you have introduced agile into a team or organization, did you observe cultural mismatches which impacted acceptance of the process transition?


May 22nd, 2010

A very full week at SATURN 2010 is now over. I’ll be summarizing the sessions I attended on our WordPress blog shortly, but in brief: it was an excellent conference offering great networking opportunities and bringing much-needed attention to effectively combining architecture with agility.

Our AHEAD tutorial on Tuesday morning was well-received, and several enjoyable, thought-provoking discussions with participants ensued later in the conference week. Following Linda Rising‘s good keynote advice on using the Just Say Thanks pattern, I’d like to publicly thank Aldo for co-presenting it with me, and express my deep appreciation to Elizabeth for her extensive preparation work and thoughtful support as we developed the tutorial together.

SEMAT and diversity

April 22nd, 2010

Recently I saw an article lauding the diversity of the participant group for the Zurich workshop on SEMAT. That bothered me for two reasons. One, the post seemed to assume that the gathered group was sufficiently diverse in viewpoint to solve (SEMAT’s current view of) the software problem. Two, the group didn’t seem that diverse to me in many important regards other than methodological viewpoint.

This creates risks which are, ironically, far from uncommon to software development. Assuming that you know your customers well enough (or that you are them), and know what they need, can be a recipe for building a technically sound product that doesn’t “sell” and won’t be used. I don’t want to see that happen to SEMAT. Here’s why I’m concerned that it might.

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see you at SATURN?

April 13th, 2010

SATURN is coming!

In May I’ll be co-presenting a half-day tutorial at SATURN 2010 on “Efficient Software Technology Evaluations Leveraging ADD” with a colleague. We’d love to have you join our tutorial (T2), so if you haven’t yet registered, please consider signing up! Or even if you’ve already registered, you can still add our tutorial at the early bird rate (deadline is Friday).

Either way, if you’re going to SATURN too, drop me a note here – or send me a tweet and I’ll add you to my SATURN list on twitter. We look forward to meeting you in Minneapolis in May!

SEMAT’s challenge: carts, horses, and drivers

April 13th, 2010

I have been following SEMAT since its inception, yet hesitated to sign as a public supporter, even though the vision is lofty and I agree that the underlying issue is critical. The list of signatories and supporters is truly impressive: it’s filled with people I respect and follow (although some of those I admire most, eg Laurie Williams, are missing). So why have I, still, not yet signed?

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adventures at SEPG 2010

March 24th, 2010

I’m at SEPG North America in Savannah this week, and at the halfway point it’s already exceeded what I expected when I tweeted via LinkedIn that I was “ready for #SEPGNA, and looking forward to [re]connecting with interesting people there.” Here are some links you can use to see what’s going on:

Blog posts by some of the interesting people I’ve met up with here:

It’s already been a great week for reconnecting – with Beth Layman (, more than a few TSP colleagues from SEI and other companies, and someone I enjoyed working with (but last saw/spoke with) 15 years ago in another state.

I’ve been taking a few pictures and some softcopy notes, which I’ll upload later; I’ll be updating this entry with additional names and links during the rest of the week, and I’ll summarize my key takeaways and recurring themes when it’s over.  Enjoy – comments and questions welcome!

Logan’s Run and measurement dysfunction

March 11th, 2010

The other day I heard a story on the radio about the US initiative for controlling health care costs. Someone had studied various health conditions and tried to measure which ones, if controlled, would reduce our country’s total health care costs.

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Practical Software Development

February 28th, 2010

I had a great time participating in the “Practical Software Development” discussion at the Eastern NC IEEE Computer Society chapter meeting on Feb. 16 with Bob Galen and Andy Hunt. Since I was one of the panelists, my notes are somewhat incomplete, but I’ve summarized some of the key questions from the audience and moderator John Baker, as well as the panelists’ opening  point-of-view statements.

An unexpected highlight of the evening was our discovery that Dr. Frederick P. Brooks (yes, THAT Dr. Brooks, of Mythical Man-Month fame!) had honored us by joining the audience. His comment to me afterward on why he came: “You always need to keep learning.”

(Added Feb. 28: event photos, including one with Dr. Brooks, are now included at the end of the post.)

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February 14th, 2010

I’m underwhelmed by Buzz for several reasons: (1) big hype, (2) little privacy, (3) harder to kill than a zombie. At the end of this post, you’ll find some tips on how to undo what Google did.

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