On Development Teams

Earlier today Amy Stephen and I had an interesting discussion on development teams, I thought it worth organizing and preserving. Because it’s a bit of a threaded conversation it takes a little work to follow the flow, but there’s no easy way to sort it out.

One of the most interesting things here is that even though I tend to take a bit of a hard-ass “no prisoners” approach to the problem, and Amy is fairly close to my polar opposite, we actually look at the fundamental problem in nearly the same way.

AmyStephen Wondering about the market potential of the promise of a 1 day workshop that can turn a dysfunctional group into a high performance team. It’s puzzling to watch a dysfunctional group where members keep barriers to entry high and engage in intense, private battles within.
FxNxRl Lets see… the seminar starts with a real-time attitude and teamwork survey, then lists who should be retained and who fired.
AmyStephen That might do it – if management would so empower. Typically, you’ll find spineless leadership behind dysfunction.
FxNxRl Indeed. I have done consulting assignments where I had to tell the person who hired me that they were the main problem. Awkward.
AmyStephen So, how would you sort out the understandably frustrated’s from those who might be, shall we say, squelching innovation?
FxNxRl Most of the time it’s pretty easy to tell one from the other by simply talking to them face to face.
AmyStephen I used to think that I could tell quickly but now I am doubting my early instincts. It’s a bit unsettling, in fact. I can’t tell.
FxNxRl What’s difficult is to unmask the passive-aggressive ones. Usually high-value team members who kill things by “contributing”.
FxNxRl It is impossible to tell when there’s distance involved, and it can be difficult in person too.
FxNxRl I once managed a team where I had to use source code control metrics to track project progress. Every time a project was really doing well, the lead developer would step in to “help” and the project would nearly stop. There was no way to fire him…
AmyStephen Yes, it’s tricky when the one causing the problem has a great deal of authority. You have to control the process to figure it out.
AmyStephen Source code control can be a great tool for lots of challenges simply because people who are traumatized can see justice/hope
AmyStephen That is, provided they can commit to it, of course. Otherwise, it’s just another situation where they have to face this barrier.
FxNxRl Yup, and it’s hard data in an environment where everyone has some emotional involvement no matter how hard they try not to.
FxNxRl Development without revision control is art, not engineering.
FxNxRl The very first thing is to put proven development methodologies in place. If there’s strong resistance, fire the dissidents.
AmyStephen lol – I definitely do not agree, but I understand. Many times, your skeptics are simply people who think for themselves.
AmyStephen In fact, you can bag anyone who’s onboard with change too quickly. Everyone should resist process changes if they are moving forward.
FxNxRl I realized, at about age 45, that I had become the “asshole manager” I loathed at 25. Team results trump individual brilliance.
AmyStephen In general, I think it’s a bad idea for mgmt to plunk a set of “productivity tools” on an engineer’s desk. Best to let them pick.
FxNxRl Well yeah, you can’t say “effective Monday everyone is using SVN and methodology X”. The *method* of change is critical.
AmyStephen I’m a HUGE believer in team. I think, though, the strongest teams are built from a complementary collection of individual brilliance.
FxNxRl But the guys who say “never did it that way, ain’t gonna start now” and then dig in? Well they can do it “their way” elsewhere.
FxNxRl So am I… and I have seen effective teams operate in mayhem. It’s all about getting complimentary characters.
AmyStephen That’s why it’s important to involve them. Good engineers know what productivity aids are needed and welcome it. They resist “silly”
FxNxRl I have seen highly effective teams with vastly different cultures. You could NEVER take a person from one of those teams and put them in the other. It’s all about getting people who work well together.
AmyStephen Absolutely! I’ve worked on a team like that 2 times in my life. When you have tasted it, you know what it is & why it’s worth having
FxNxRl I’ve also become friends with people who I’ve let go as a “parachute in manager/jerk”. They found teams where they fit & r happy
AmyStephen Yes – there’s a chemistry that cannot be ignored. In MBTI, it’s the middle 2 indicators that can sometimes predict compatibility
AmyStephen Yes. That’s best. A self-directed work team w clear boundaries and focus and empowerment. It’s how “grown-ups” should be treated.
FxNxRl Dated though it may be I’m a huge MBO fan. Here’s what we need to do, tell me what you need to do it, then get it done.
FxNxRl as long as it’s legal and ethical I don’t care how it gets done, just that I can measure progress and that there is progress.
AmyStephen I don’t think common sense is ever dated. Keeping a focus on “what this is really about” is always good.

Plug for SpeedTest.net, Raspberry for Bell (revised)

[Updated: watch my line speed improve over time!]

There’s not much to say, these numbers speak for themselves. I figure I’m about 3Km from the nearest CO.



Okay, I lied 121ms pings?? Give me a BREAK!
I may just give up on DSL.

Hey my line went dead for about half an hour today (no dial tone even) and look:

Moving from “effectively non-functional” to “pathetic” Way to go.

More news… 7:40 on a Saturday morning, and finally things seem to be up to par:


Now we know the connection is definitely up to snuff, although the ping times are a little pathetic. The next question is how well does this hold up during peak demand. Even though the line isn’t shared, there’s network hardware at the other end that needs to keep up with peak loads. We’ll see…

Amazing Code Repository Visualization (Joomla)

This is amazing stuff. The description from the YouTube page says it best: “This Code Swarm provides an animated visual representation of the changes made to the Joomla! source code since 2005. The names that appear are the users who have made changes to the source code. The stars/highlights represent commits made to the Subversion repository. The histogram to the bottom left displays activity. Look out for the date displayed in the right hand corner.”

That “instance” floating around in there is me. Even without the “holy cow, that’s me!” factor, this is a wonderful visualization tool.

Idea: Typo Swap Key

This one is simple. Keyboards need a key that means “swap the characters on either side of the cursor”. I type words like “htis” all too often, and I suspect I’m not alone. Instead of positioning the cursor, deleting a letter, moving the cursor, and re-typing the letter, how about positioning the cursor between the offending letters and pressing “Swap”. While we’re at it, make variations such as Control-Swap to switch the two letters immediately behind the cursor, and Alt-Swap to exchange the two letters at the beginning of the latest word.

Now there’s something I could use. A lot.

Let’s Just Call it the Canadian Conference Board of Incompetence

In The Conference Board of Canada’s Deceptive, Plagiarized Digital Economy Report Michael Geist attacks the Conference Board for a variety of faults that call its claims of objectivity into question. Subsequently, in Conference Board of Canada Responds, Stands By Its Report he comments on their inadequate response.

What is perhaps most informative is this quote from the response “The Conference Board regularly produces custom research. Our guidelines for financed research require the design and method of research, as well as the content of the report, to be determined solely by the Conference Board.” [Note to conference board: that is how you cite sources.]

This quote suggests that they take full responsibility for the incompetence, sloppy methodology, poor fact checking, and many other faults in their work. They appear to either be completely disconnected from reality or to be fully aware that they have no credibility whatsoever.

I suppose it doesn’t matter which.