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Archive for the ‘Work: General’ Category

Lessons Learned in Leadership – You shouldn’t treat everyone the same

Posted by Steve on September 16, 2008

So I am on a ‘write about my leadership experiences’ kick lately! I have had these thougths/ideas floating around in my head for a while and its definitely due time for them to get written down.

This edition is based on the observation that you cannot treat every person you manage the same. For some reason I feel this to be counter intuitive, I think to myself that you would want to treat everyone the same, it is fair that way… right? Not so much.

The ‘issue’ is that everyone: works differently, has different goals, is motivated in different ways essentially everyone needs something else from a manager. I found that when I was first in the leadership role, I tended to treat my team as I would want to be treated by a leader, basically I would give general instructions, lay out my expectations, and then leave them to my own devices (it should be clear that I am not a proponent of micromanaging!). Now this leadership approach would work well with me, that does not mean it would work well with everyone, and I learned this through experience. One of my team members needed (and not necessarily in a bad way) a little more guidance and a little bit more micromanaging, so I had to modify my leadership style to accomodate for that. It was a very interesting revelation for me.

The main point of this post is to illustrate that everyone is different (this is extremely important to not only realize but really understand), and if you look at it that way, its not surprising that everyone needs something different from a leader. So here’s the question… are you a uniform leader or do you modify your style to better suit your various team members?

–Steve

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Posted in leadership, People Problems, Work: General | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Lessons Learned in Leadership – A leaders vocabulary and opinions matter!

Posted by Steve on September 16, 2008

In my last position I was the team lead for a release cycle of a product at PlateSpin, Forge (a web based disaster recovery application). The experience was very interesting, challenging and often entertaining, in short it was an incredible experience. I learned quite a bit form it, and from the conversations I had about the postion with my mananger Adam White. What follows are just a few of the things that I have learned

Be Careful of Your Vocabulary
This comes from a conversation I had with Adam. Many times in meetings with my team members (who I was managing) I would say that we ‘should’ do something, for example I said that we ‘should’ do 3 sessions per day (session based testing is a method of testing, one which I am definitely a supporter of, for more info, look at anything James Bach has written). The issue here is my choice of words, I said ‘should’. This comes from my past experiences of interacting mainly with peers. In the peer situation, I would use the word should because we were equals and everything was up for discussion. When you are in a leadership position you must be authoritative in situations where you want things to happen. Continuing with my above example, instead of using the word ‘should’ I began to use the words ‘we will be…’ ‘we have to’, ‘we must’ and so on. Previously I never realized how important the vocabularly I used was

Be Careful of Your Opinions
How many times have you heard the phrase “I know it sucks to have to this, but we have to ok.”? I am guessing its at least once, and even if it is only once, it is too many times! Your attitude towards the things that you HAVE to do (even if you do not like doing them) is incredibly important. If you are negative towards these tasks, your team will pick up on that and they will therefore (in general) also have a negative opinion on these tasks therefore if you want people to do the things that are, at times, annoying to do, you have to have a positive opinion on them, at least on the outside!
So those are just two of the lessons I learned in leadership, there were obviously many more, and some of them I’ll be sharing!

–Steve

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A Personal Experience on the Difficulties of Giving and Accepting Advice

Posted by Steve on July 14, 2008

So it has been a little since I posted a good ‘thinker’ of a post but luckily for those of you have been just dying to read one, here we go. This post has actually been with me for a few weeks now, it is a continuation, in the form of a personal example, of why it is SO difficult to give advice. I am going to layout the events of what happened, then I will go into what I was thinking and feeling during the conversation in the following paragraph.

I was at the gym doing dead lifts, possibly one of the more difficult exercises to self monitor as far as form goes. I guess when I was doing the exercise my form was a little off, and with the amount of weight I was doing, it could have possibly gone poorly. So this was when one of the personal trainers who works at the gym comes up to me and says something to the effect of “Hey man, now I don’t mean to intrude or anything, but I think you need to focus a little more on your form.” I tell him that I was unaware that my form was off, he goes on to explain how I should be doing (like I don’t know), he also acknowledges that I am pushing a lot of weight, and that he does not want to diminish that fact. I simply say yes thank you, I will keep closer look in the future. He must have picked up on the fact that I wasn’t listening that closely because he kept going on about the dangers of not doing the exercise properly, and that if I focused on form, I would get the same benefits with less weight. I concluded the conversation by saying thank you and that I would make sure to try that next time.

So during this whole conversation, I was very very defensive, I acknowledged the fact that I probably did have bad form for the last few reps, and then thats all I wanted to hear. I stopped listening about 5 seconds into the conversation, and kept getting more and more agitated as he kept pushing at it; I was even aware that I was doing it, but that didnt matter! The most interesting thing is that I felt that way despite the fact that he did almost everything right:

He apologized for interrupting me,
He was in a position to know better (he is a personal trainer)
He tried to stroke the ego by mentioning the weight I was pushing
He provided reasoning behind why I should focus on form and how it wouldn’t effect my workout

He did almost everything right, yet I was still not receptive to anything he really had to say. This to me was very interesting, especially since I was aware of what was happening when he was telling me this. I then did some introspection, and I did find what it was that I took exception to, and it did have nothing to do with the personal trainer guy, it had to do with me, I don’t like to be wrong, even if I may be aware of it. I was proud of the weight I was doing, and then he came that I was doing it wrong, I was the wrong and in a public setting to boot. If this had been a private one on one training sessions and he had said I needed a little correction that would have been fine, but he pointed out that I was wrong in front of many people.

This was an interesting experience for me, because it demonstrated that there are times when you can do everything “right” but still not get the result you desire, even if you have the best intentions. The trainer guy just wanted to help me out, but I was having none of it, despite the fact he approached the situation almost perfectly. I would love to here other personal examples of when you got defensive when receiving advice or you noticed someone that was being difficult when you were giving advice because I find this topic very interesting, and every bit of experiential information helps to put this, sorry for the lame analogy, puzzle together.

–Steve

Posted in People Problems, Work: General | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Adventures With An Espresso Machine

Posted by Steve on May 23, 2008

The kitchen near my desk had a new coffee machine put in yesterday (May 22nd) and I decided to give it a whirl. I place my cup under the dispenser a see that there are four buttons to press, I was able to ascertain that one was for steam, one for an espresso, one for a full cup and one where it will fill until you tell it to stop. I decided that I wanted a full cup, so I press the full cup button… but a full cup does not come out, I get about a half cup of coffee; I was a little disappointed to say the least. Since the cup was still only half full I decided to try the fill until you stop button. I grab another cup just in case my first one overflows. So the machine starts piping out the coffee, and of course it does overflow, but not very much, maybe by an ounce or so. From this I ascertain that this button won’t give me a full cup either. Now I have used espresso machines before, in fact my parents own one and I used it consistently for 2 years before going off to University, and I KNOW there is a way to set the amount of liquid that comes out on any decent machine, but at this point I don’t know how, there does not seem to be an menu button.

Since I was stuck at the machine, I decide to check the internet, after a few pages, I find out that the amount of water that comes out can range from 2-12 ounces, but it doesn’t tell me how! So I start searching some more and low and behold I find an 2 page PDF of instructions, it tells me that I can access the menu by holding the large coffee button when the machine is turning on, Perfect! So I race back to the machine, after finishing the first coffee of course, eager to try to get a full cup of coffee out. I go into the menu, I get to the doses menu, and access the alrge coffee, the level is set at 425… I think to myself 425 whats? My first thought is that it is 4.25 ounces, so I try to set it to 800, but when I confirm that, it flips back to 425; hmmm seems I have hit a maximum. So I try 550, that works so I decide to see how much coffee comes out now. I take my cup hit the button… still only 3/5 of a cup.

I decided at this point I must have missed something in the instructions, so I go back to it a notice something peculiar under the instructions for setting the doses, it stated “Note: Dose values don’t refer to any measurement unit but the counts of the flowmeter”. I thought to myself, this machine has a computer in it, why could they not have converted this to Milliliters, or ounces!!! I really get riled up about this, especially because I have just finished that second, well third, (because the first one had 2 coffees in it) cup of coffee, knowing that the units are meaningless to me I decide to go back to the machine and do a few more tests. The first was to find the maximum, I did so by going up in increments of 100 and seeing if it would accept the value, I got to 725, and then started going up by 10s (knowing already that 800 was too much) I eventually find the max is 750 flowmeter counts of course. I place the cup, and press the button in anticipation, the coffee starts coming out, and keeps coming, and coming, and coming… It gets within a centimeter from the top and is STILL coming out, I realize I have definitely set it too high, I press the cancel button to avoid a mess. I have at last succeeded in getting a large cup, but one that is a little too large, therefore I go back to the menu and set the value to 700, this is my final adjustment!

I actually didnt test the 700 counts because I felt if I had another coffee I might be awake until the next day, so I left that till this morning, where when I got a coffee, the cup was filled right to the brim, which was a little bit too much. So I set it down another 50 counts, and there we have it the perfect cup of coffee, the cup fills to 7/8 the way, leaving just enough room if I want an extra shot of espresso.

So this may seem like just a mildly entertaining story, but in fact it reveals a lot about my thought process and how I approach problems.
My first attempt was to try all of the buttons to see if they would give me the desired volume
I then went on to trying to set the volume myself without instruction, since I couldn’t do that…
I then tried to find instructions, and once I did I looked for the key piece of information
I went to set the volume, but I was confronted with the unknown units
I then dug deeper into the instructions to find out the units were meaningless
I finally got the desired volume through a series of tests

This is in fact how I approach most problems, I first see if there is a solution already, I then try to find the solution myself. If that fails I go onto documentation, and if that fails I proceed to trial and error. Now if I could only find the person who set the units to flowmeter count and them just what they were thinking, my adventure would be complete.

–Steve

Posted in Testing, Work: General | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Giving and Accepting Advice… it shouldn’t be this hard, should it?

Posted by Steve on May 11, 2008

I have had thoughts on this topic for a while, and have had them surface recently because I have been reading the book “The Secrets of Consulting” by Gerald Weinberg and am about 50 pages into it. The book, as the title suggests is about consulting, which is in effect giving advice to people who say that they want. The reason I highlight say, is because the book discusses that even if someone says that they want your advice they rarely actually want it. I am going to go into my thoughts on firstly receiving advice, then I will go into actually giving it.

Receiving Advice
I have two questions to pose first, think about these two questions for a bit:

How often have you reacted adversely to someone trying to help you?
How often have you reacted adversely to someone giving advice?

From my personal experience I would rarely have an adverse reaction if someone is trying to help me, but as soon as someone offers advice, of any kind, I sometimes become defensive, discredit what they are saying or simply ask myself ‘why should they know better than I do?’. It is an interesting occurrence since the difference between the two is very minor. When someone gives advice, are they not trying to help you?

Maybe the difference is that if someone offers to help you, thats all it is help. But when someone gives you advice, perhaps you are admitting to yourself that someone else knows more than you, that they know better than you. I think that that is exactly where the problem lies, just because someone gives you advice on something, it does not mean that they necessarily know better.

Since I have had these feelings of defensive towards receiving advice, I have actively tried to be receptive to all advice, because it can never hurt to hear someone’s advice, the worst case scenario, it is not good advice and you choose to ignore it. I really feel that your attitude to receiving advice is what really matters, so to try to be more receptive to advice, I actively try to listen and be open to any advice people are willing to offer, and then if it does turn out that I feel it is not pertinent or good advice, I simply file it away and do not act on it, as stated above hearing the advice cannot hurt.

Giving Advice
I wrote a little more than expected on receiving advice, so I will only state the most important thing I have learned about giving advice, something that my dad actually taught me: Always ask if someone wants your advice before giving it. I always ask someone, “would you like advice” before giving any, and will actually not proceed to give them any if they say no. That is actually the most difficult part, not giving advice when you want to, but it is important to know unwanted advice will usually have a neutral or negative impact. Furthermore if someone refuses your advice, it feels a bit like a personal insult, like they think you do not know what you are talking about; that is another thing that is difficult to get over, but is still very important, often times someone not wanting advice has very little to do with you specifically, often people want to work through things on their own.

There you have it, a few thoughts on receiving and giving advice. This is definitely a topic I am looking to expand on and these are just some first thoughts.

Advice, good or bad, should always be heard but need not be acted on.
–Steve Swanson

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The Search for Perfection and the Fear That Motivates it.

Posted by Steve on February 19, 2008

It has been a while since my last post. This was a combination of two things, firstly I had a busy few weeks in my personal life, but secondly because of the recent increase in traffic I have been feeling like I want to make a really good post, something really insightful, therefore when I would get ideas for posts, I would question them… ‘is this really good enough to put up’, and I would often answer no. In this situation the search for perfection, was holding me back; so I began to consider where else this may apply to life, and realized it occurs in many areas.

I began to look at the reasons behind why I wanted a perfect post and came to the realization that the real root motivation was fear; fear of posting something that would have people say ‘wow that was a waste of my time, why did I read that?’, or that it would be ‘worse’ then my other posts; thus I was somewhat unable to act because of these feelings of fear. I began to think how the fear was a fear of not being good enough, that the next post I made would be inadequate. This lead me to think of where specific examples when fear has held me back in the past and the present. Here are a few quick examples:

In the fall I played a few indoor soccer games with my two friends, I wasnt officially on the team, but I filled in whenever they knew they were going to be shorthanded. It was a fairly skilled team, so I felt nervous about my own skill level because I didnt want to disappoint my friends or let down the team. This nervousness lead to fear of making mistakes and being inadequate. Once this fear was in place I never made any risky plays, over thought my moves, and was generally nervous. All these things led to me playing worse then I usually would, I was acting reserved, holding back, which when playing a quick game like indoor soccer is detrimental to over all play. So it was the fear of inadequacy that held me back, if I had been confident in my abilities and not worried I would have played much better.

Another example is from my classroom experiences at University. There are many times when I will know the answer to questions, or at least be 90% sure of the answer, and yet not answer it, because of the fear of being wrong.

I got a little off topic, but its an interesting area to explore, all of the things that we are missing out on because we fear doing them. Maybe its that project at work that you are not sure you can tackle, or that girl in your book club that you’ve had your eye on for a while, it could really be anything. The longer we let fear hold us back, the longer we will be thinking of what could be, instead of living in that reality. I am getting a little philosophical here, but my point is that if something is really worth pursuing, there is most likely a chance that failure will ensue. These chances have to be taken, its the life experience (whether it is a success or a failure) that we get out of these events that really make a difference, and help to shape our futures.

If it is worth doing, it most certainly is worth failing at. I try not to think of the failures that might happen, but instead think of the lessons taht I’ll learn (even in failure), I also think of the the rewards I’ll receive in success.

–Steve

Failure is but another vessel where knowledge can flow.

Posted in Personal, Work: General | 3 Comments »

Positive Feedback – Thoughts

Posted by Steve on December 11, 2007

Assessing the Validity of and being able to accept Positive Feedback
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Maybe I am alone in this, but based on my observations of others I am guessing no, but I feel that it is difficult to accept positive feedback. Personally I find it pretty easy to accept negative feedback (if I ask for it). I analyze the feedback to see if I think the comment is valid, if I deem it valid then I go about doing my best to incorporate it into whatever activities it applies to. Accepting positive feedback is another matter; what do you say when someone praises you. On one hand it appears obvious; accept the feedback and thank them for it. But for some reason I have this gut instinct not to do that, as if if I do accept and acknowledge the feedback I am boasting, or something along those lines. When I do accept/acknowledge positive feedback I feel like I am saying ‘Ya I know, I AM that good’ or ‘I know I did an amazing job, so what?’, for some reason I feel as though accepting the feedback invalidates it. Again I feel as though this is a very incorrect feeling, but from what I have observed of people, how they get very awkward when someone compliments their work, I feel I am not alone in this. Therefore I feel like its worth delving into feedback and see what makes it so difficult to receive.

So continuing on to the accepting of positive feedback. I find that there is a huge difference between accepting feedback in a one on one situation then there is when in a group of people; I find the latter to be much more difficult. I feel that this goes back to my feeling of boastfulness when accepting the positive feedback. I cannot put my finger on why, but I feel that being a showoff or boastful in group settings give off a negative impression to your coworkers (or those around you). It may stem from my observations that people do not seem to like people who are conceited and always telling everyone how great they are. But from the other side, in life you have to look out for yourself, so should you not then tell people how good you are (if its true) and they do not seem to be noticing. Being humble is supposedly a good policy, but if you are humble all the time will you not then go unnoticed?

I also want to take a quick look at what I see as the different situations in which positive feedback is given:

There is the spontaneous(or immediate feedback) that is given right after something happens ie: (and excuse the sports analogy) hitting a home run, all your team mates would give you a high five (this is pretty much instantaneous feedback). I see this to a certain degree as the most genuine kind of feedback as they have no time to really think about, they just know that you did a good job, and really want to let you know that you did.

There is prompted feedback. This is a situation where you directly ask someone to give you feedback. In this case two things go through my mind. Firstly since it is prompted, how is one to know if the feedback is truthful; this thought gets validated one way or the other based on the trust you have in the other person. Along the lines of the if the feedback is true, is whether or not the person giving feedback would have given it without you prompting. This leads into my second thought, I start to wonder if this feedback would have been given without me prompting for it. For some reason I feel that prompting someone to give you feedback invalidates some of the meaning it has; for some reason feedback that is given naturally without asking feels more genuine.

There is also scheduled feedback. Scheduled feedback manifests itself, for example, in the form of a yearly performance review; it is feedback that has to be given. I feel this as the worst feedback of all to a certain extent, since in most cases people are forced to give both positive and negative feedback no matter what. Therefore despite the fact that they may have no real opinion one way or the other on you, they are forced to come up with someone. This really brings the validity question into focus; how valid can feedback be if it has to be given? I do see some benefits for this case; it forces the giver to put some thought into the feedback they give, therefore they may be able to think about and bring up points from a few months ago that would not have come up unless they had the time to think about it. But in playing devils advocate, if they really had to think to give you feedback is that really a good thing?

Beyond the situations there is also feedback given in a group vs. one on one. Personally, receiving feedback and acknowledging it accordingly is much easier one-one. When in a group I feel like when I am given positive feedback, EVERYONE ELSE is not getting that positive pat on the back, it is almost as though I feel bad that they are not being acknowledge. I am however aware of why I feel this way when I receive the feedback, it is because when others receive positive feedback in the group setting I at times feel the ‘How come I am not being acknowledged’ feeling. That is I think one of the trickiest part of giving feedback, not pissing anyone else off. You have to give it enough so that people stay motivated, but you have to make sure its done in a manner that doesn’t piss others off, because you also want them to do work.

I think the giving feedback is a whole other topic, so I will shy away from it for now, plus I think this has gotten a tad lengthy, so I am going to cut it for now. I plan on revisiting these ideas and refining them, but for now its enough just to put them to pen (so to speak).

–Steve

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Dealing with Bugs…

Posted by Steve on November 21, 2007

Filing Bugs / Bug Scrubs
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I have been giving thought to how bug scrubs go and it seems like there is some room for improvement. From what I have seen bug scrubs are done every day and they last about an hour, and have ~4-5 people in them. Say at an average of 40$ an hour, it wastes about 1000 dollars a week (which I guess isnt terrible) but there are bug scrubs for each product, so say 3-4 products we are up to 4000 dollars a week, which equates to about 200K a year, now we are talkin! Other then the money this wastes TIME, time that could be spent testing, developing, getting the product out the door etc… It just seems that there is a more efficient way to go through bugs. So I gave it some thought and came up with a possible algorithm.

The plan I came up with is as follows:
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At the beginning of the test cycle introduce a few key things. I am going over what to introduce and what I think that would accomplish

The Testers and developers should know each other.
–> Face to face communication(encourage through a meeting with all developers and testers) can save a lot of misunderstanding and time.
–> When people know who they are working with they are more likely to work harder (because they know what they are working for).
–> Might result in more collaboration and idea sharing. Also a better team environment.

Testers should also know what area each developer works on.
–> This will allow a tester to assign a bug to a certain developer, and skip the bug scrub step for that bug
–> Less bugs in bug scrubs means less wasted time.

The Developers should know the testers
–> If a tester files a bug that they think is by design, they can face to face with the tester to find out if that is correct or not
–> If there is a disagreement, it can be placed in with other cases to be scrubbed.

How to assign Priority of Cases should be clear
–> If the priority of cases is clear, testers can assign priority on their own.
–> If the tester is not sure they can assign it to the developer and he can assign priority based on his thoughts
–> If the developer does not know, then it can go to the unscrubbed pile

Developers should be clear on what they desire in Bug reports
–>when are diags needed, when are stack traces needed, is a video always good?, should there always be screenshots?, what level of detail is needed?
–> This will allow for greater efficiency because no information will be missed (for example, I missed a stack trace that was needed once, simply because I didnt know I needed it)

I think that putting these processes in place could help do the following

–>Build a better sense of fellowship between developers and testers

–>More efficiency in bug resolution and bug scrubs

–>Less bugs to go through in bug scrubs

Any comments are always welcome

–Steve

Posted in Testing, Work: General | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »