Fascinated

In less than 15 minutes I have another meeting for work. My youngest juts asked me why I have a meeting on Sunday? The answer is pretty easy to understand. My project has team members in Seoul (S. Korea) and Hyderabad (India). Sunday afternoon is their Monday morning.

To conduct the meetings we use one of several apps that allow teams to communicate across the globe in real time, with video, and chat features.

I grew up in an era with rotary phones and long-distance charges.

I remember when we had a touch tone phone and one of my brothers accidentally called Japan. There as no forgiveness of the charges. The call was going to added to the bill and there was nothing we could do about it.

What we do on the calls is important, but sometimes I’m distracted from the work we have to do and I’m just fascinated that we can have the conversations.

Beethoven’s 9th was about uniting the world. Today we’re living as part of that when we use the technology we have to communicate around the globe.

I’m fascinated by the fact that we are communicating. What I’m doing was part of science fiction only a few years ago. Remember when we thought iPods were cool?

When we communicate we’re sharing information about cultures, shared understanding, and working towards a common goal.

While what we’re doing is really important, some days I find how we do it to be the most fascinating.

Trust the Designer

When I was a teenager I wanted to learn to rock climb. There were a few problems with this. One of the biggest ones is that I had no idea how to rock climb.

Sure I was pretty good at climbing things. Everyone grows up climbing trees. But I had taken climbing things to a bit of an obsession. I could scale some of the walls of my high school with reasonable ease. Going up seemed to be easy. Doing it safely was another matter.

Learning how to do something I’d never done before wasn’t necessarily new to me. Living in an area with few mentors on the subject I turned to the place where I could find good mentors on the topic, books. I read a lot of books about rock climbing, learned and practiced the necessary knots, and felt I had a pretty good grasp on the subject. Enough of a grasp that I invested a couple hundred dollars in gear and headed off to a cliff near our house with a buddy.

We had a great time rappelling.

When I came back from the adventure dad heard about what I was doing–probably from mom. He knew I was of the age where you don’t always see the risks you take in the choices you make. He engaged in a conversation to help me see those risks. It went pretty well, except that we disagreed.

He became more insistent.

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So did I.

When he asked me how I was sure I was going to be safe I told him I was using the equipment the way it was designed. Because I had taken the time to learn from books one of the things they covered was the math and engineering behind the equipment.

I didn’t pursue rock climbing as a serious hobby. Dad was right. There were some things that weren’t in the books that I was going to need a mentor to help me figure out. What I did do with the gear and with my interest was done safely though, because I trusted the designer.

What’s the Larger Lesson?

My current profession involves people using technology. In that space I’m often needed to play the mentor–a role I love–as people learn to stretch their skills and enjoy a more effective work flow.

Sometimes the people I work with don’t want things to change. They’ve grown comfortable with their work flow the way it is. This is a human condition. We’ve talked about this before on this blog. NOCZ isn’t just a cool looking acronym. It’s real.

How can we help people who don’t want to change, change their perspective?

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I go back to my discussion with my dad and ask them not to trust me, but trust the designer.

“Your workflow was based on the way the software was designed a few years ago. Things have improved since then, and I’d like you take the risk to trust the designer.”

It works. Mistakes are still made. Lots of mistakes. That’s where the mentor part comes in. It’s not helping to coach people from making mistakes (software these days is pretty durable) it’s coaching them in a way that encourages them to keep trying to find a way that’s effective and works for them. Once they’ve adapted to the new work flow the response is usually one of gratitude and appreciation.

Why do I do this? Because the older work flows are going to need to be retired out of necessity. The software will change and the current work flow will not be supported. I’d rather encourage change while there’s a long runway to practice and the user can feel like it’s their choice instead of it being something that happens when the user isn’t prepared for it.

I’m glad dad was right and taught me that people needed mentors. I’m glad I didn’t want to be wrong and in my defensive attitude expressed the value of trusting the designer. Combining both of our perspectives has lead to some wonderful experiences and helped me to add more value in the world.

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Rejected a year later….

In 2018 I made a career switch. I finished my time with the United States Army and began looking for a job as an IT Project Manager, because the role most closely matched my skill set, my training, and my degree.

I followed the formula of finding mentors, updating the resume and LinkedIn and applying for 2-3 positions a day. Some places wrote me back to tell me when I was no longer being considered a candidate. Most never provided any feedback. Eventually I landed a great position that is the start of a promising career and so I figured that phase of things was behind me. Then I got a letter from a position I applied for in August of 2017. 17 months later they told me that I did not get the position I applied for.

First off, let’s give the company credit for writing back. Most didn’t and the place where I currently work had to involve my manager initially rejecting my resume because it’s so “non-traditional.” He’s come to learn that my non-traditional experiences have allowed me to quickly adapt and be significantly functional.

I did find the situation humorous, but wonder what the talent situation was like at the company. I do hope they don’t have issues with maintaining a talent pool to be successful. I wouldn’t have applied had I not believed in what the shop did and the products they produce. I also hope I didn’t burn any bridges as I did write a bit of a tongue-in-cheek email in reply. Email is bad at conveying humor, so I’d like your (yes, you dear read) opinion on my response and any suggestions on how I could have worded this better. Here’s the exchange:

FROM: PETER

SUBJECT: Software Producer / Project Manager / Product Manager – COMPANY NAME

Jacob Roecker,

Thank you for your application! We are a growing company that is constantly on the lookout for new talent. That being said, we hire based on the needs of the company and we are always accepting applications. If we need an additional candidate for the Software Producer / Project Manager / Product Manager and we like your resume, we will contact you to set up an interview. Thank you for your patience. 

The COMPANY NAME Team

Here’s my reply:

Peter,

It’s good to hear from you.  

My records show I applied for the position in August of 2017.  That’s over a year ago.  In the meantime I did a 7 month internship with an agile software development company in Boise where I served as the Director of Leader and Organizational Development managing 5 different project managers and several million dollars worth of projects.  A

fter the internship I’ve been working on an SAP S4 implementation where I was in charge of the system integrations (including international integrations in China and Mexico).  I’ve also finished publishing my fourth book and graduated with honors in my Masters in IT and Project Management.

It strikes me as odd that it takes more than a year to reply back to a position especially since I’m the sort of person who can pack a lot of experience in a single year.

As your email states, if you need an additional candidate, please let me know.  I’d be happy to continue the dialogue.

What do you think? Too harsh? Leave a comment below.

Kanban in the Home

Those of you that haven’t read Dominica Degrandis’ book Making Work Visible are missing out. Over the years I’ve adopted the idea that I should be the same person at work as I am at home. I know plenty of people who have a work personality but then change it to meet the environment in their home. I couldn’t be that person. I tried, but it just didn’t seem to make sense to me.  I like being the same at work and at home.  I also like using the same tools when they make sense.

It’s not easy.  It takes effort.  I work really hard to make sure I’m the same person at work and at home. If there’s a technique that works to help organize the efforts among different stakeholders at work, I try to use it on the different stakeholders in the house.  A teenage boy and a teenage girl each have their own perspectives on life.  A distance education collegiate spouse has her own perspective. Then there’s an almost teenage boy and a nine year old who are both wonderful and full of energy—constantly inviting one slew of kids in the neighborhood over to play a game of school or make snacks.

With all of us doing different activities and having different perspectives the techniques in Making Work Visible help to keep us coordinated. On one non-prominent wall in the house I made a Kanban board. Nothing fancy, just some painters tape and a few typed titles for the columns. On this Kanban we’ve got three major columns with the middle being sub divided.  The major columns are In Queue, In Progress, and Done. In Progress is divided up into Preparation, Doing, and Feedback.

Feedback is used so we always have someone else check our work. If it’s me and yard work, my wife checks. If it’s my wife and school work, her professor checks (and grades) her assignments. For the kids one of us will check their work and so on. Not everyone in the family is required to participate, but those who do can easily see their accomplishments accumulate.

To help keep things organized we let each family member pick a color. Mine is orange. I’m not a fan of orange, but I do love how the bright color allows me to see the work I have on my plate and what I’ve been able to accomplish.

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At work the Kanban boards have been very helpful as well. I wrote a paper on it for work, but it’s still under review and because I produced it for my employer, I’ll have to ask for specific permission to re-post it here.

While I don’t have that permission yet I can tell you that many of the same techniques Dominica Degrandis uses in the book have applications in multiple settings. Using the tools in my work setting and in my home setting has helped me try different Kanban techniques. I’ve brought these lessons learned from one setting to the next and significantly reduced the amount of time it’s taken me to effectively use the tool.  I’ve been successful enough at it that the other day I got a photo from Mexico.  Someone whom I’d worked with snatched the Kanban format I was using in Boise and brought it to their office and was loving the way it made work visible!

Making Work Visible

It’s that time again. I’ve been reading a new book, and it’s time for the book list to get updated. This time it’s the book Making Work Visible by Dominica Degrandis. The book started with a story I could relate to. A husband working on the honey-do-list being asked by his wife to start an entirely different project. She was asking while he was atop a rotting roof to tear it and the out building it belonged to apart. That’s a bit more dramatic than any of the situations where similar things have happened to me, but it was certainly a moment I could relate to.

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Dominica does an excellent job in the piece discussing the need and techniques to make work visible in areas where work is less visible than a husband standing atop a roof. The IT sector contains many examples of areas where work is invisible to those who consume and appreciate the effort. Dominica’s techniques help to bring forth this work in ways that are digestible by the passer-by and those who deeply study the output.

This book is ideal for anyone who has done work or plans on doing work in the future.

While I’ll tell the full story another day, I can say that this book emerged in my life at the right time to help a very large project focus on the work that would add the most value and now it’s gotten the interest of the leaders who saw how effective its techniques were.  It sort of feels like having to get called into the principle’s office to explain myself, but in a good way.