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:


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. 


Here’s my reply:


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.


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.


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.


Afternoon Narration

It’s 4:35pm. Chrissy leaves to be early for work. She says good-bye to us for the night and kisses her boys goodbye. Eliza is already come, done her homework, and gone. She’s old enough to go to her friends house without being escorted. Every chance she gets, she takes. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve gotten considerably less cooler, or if I just haven’t been putting the effort into having a better relationship with her. Maybe the relationship is fine; it’s just one of those stages where you wonder. In any case there’s no time to think about it.

Daniel is hammering a nail into a piece of wood nearby. The more he pounds, the more it bends. The nail and hammer are both small, but his 3 year old frame isn’t quite ready for this test of coordination. Rainey is wandering around ‘helping’ as well. He’s actually pretty good when he’s around, but the moment he’s not: you have to worry. While contemplating my relationship with my daughter, saying goodbye to Chrissy, and wondering about Rainey I’m constructing a bird feeder out of wood lying around the house.
It’s not going so well.

Chrissy can’t quite see the finished product in her mind, and I’m too embarrassed to share the details. I’m wondering if it’s the fact that I’m totally winging it. I’m wondering if working with tools is a genetic thing and somehow I misplaced my skills. After all we grew up with three boys at home–there was a lot of testosterone. Growing up I thought the A-Team was the way life really worked in the real world. Now I wonder why you would ever throw down your gun so you could punch someone instead. I wonder with as many montages on building a ‘tank’ that I saw I didn’t get more out of it. Maybe a birdhouse isn’t a ‘tank.’

Maybe I’m just not good as solving problems that involve wood and a barely used table saw. I considered myself technically smart until this morning when I realized that I wasn’t good at manually gunnery and failed. One more thing to think about. Now I’ve got to re-study and spend Saturday morning in uniform taking the test over again. What were those mistakes again? I wasn’t allowed to take notes during the test review this afternoon.

What’s Rainey getting into in the van?

Oh, he’s got those hot-sauce covered pistachio nuts. How the heck can my kids eat those things and like them? What’s this cut supposed to be? I hope this thing doesn’t look too ugly when it’s finished. I’m putting effort into it, but it all goes down the drain if Chrissy doesn’t like the way it looks. She’ll never let me put it up in the yard.

Done with the bird feeder.

Where’s Rainey? He’s moved from the nuts to a bag of honey roasted peanuts he found in the door. Hey, those were in Chrissy’s door, and I was really hungry the other day when I was driving. How come I didn’t get to snack on those on the way home?
It looks like it might rain. The garage is still covered in stuff from the move. My workshop is outdoors and needs to get packed inside.

Daniel’s tired. It’s that time of the afternoon. Tired or not he’s the only consultant I’ve got on where to put this thing up. First we talk about hanging it. He wants to put it where you can’t see it unless your outside. I want to be able to stay inside and watch the birds eat. Hanging it means that you end up with weeds in the grass near the house. That’s the only good grass we’ve got in spots. Wait a second! We got a picket and I can put it on that. Daniel doesn’t like the idea. He let’s me know. I wander around the yard holding a picket and a hammer. Rainey’s out of sight and Daniel is protesting in pure 3-year-old fashion. I’m wondering where I want the weeds to grow.
Do I really want one more thing in the yard I have to mow around?

Bird seed is nothing more than weed/wildflower seed mixed together no matter where I put it I’ll end up with weeds. Maybe here near this pipe sticking out of the yard. Yeah, that might be good ’cause then I’ll only have one thing to work around. Wait, that pipe marks a sprinkler for the septic. How far down were the piped dug again? Do I really want to be watering weeds?

“Daniel, we’re done.” Best to wait and ask Chrissy. Let’s go in and eat. Bad idea. Eliza showed up with her friends. They’re leaving someplace and Daniel wants to go. He runs into to get his shoes. The leave while he’s inside. I’m the only adult left and so it’s my fault. Where’d Rainey go again? He’s crying outside ’cause I left him. It’s a good thing it doesn’t take too hands for any one kid. I can carry Daniel upside down with one hand and Rainey upside down in the other. Grab tight just above the ankles. Daniel’s pants are sliding off–gotta hurry. Dropped them both on the couch.

Two growly children. Ok, outdated church video said distract not discipline. Today I’m doing good. I thought of a distraction on my way home. Paper bag costumes are not a good enough distraction–but since they were so keen on the costumes in Wal-mart (curses and blessings be upon it) the idea seemed to have some merit. Discipline’s still not an option–what’s next?

LIFE: This is the egg-beater on “low.” Eliza comes home and it’s time to clean house and the setting gets changed to “high.” Sure Chrissy does it all day. Lots of moms do it all day, but when it’s my turn it’s not just “not mom’s,” it’s mine. It’s me on the wrong end of the three-to-one ratio. I’ve never been able to compete in an argument about how it’s ‘tougher’ for dads. Most times I can’t finish a significant sentence. The reply is generally: “No evidence will be considered in the case of mom’s vs. dad’s watching kids. We’d appreciate if you didn’t try to bring this up at all.” They should have a warning on conversations like that: “Please deposit 5 happy relationship points for every 30 seconds you try to have your opinion on this subject heard.”

It’s now 9:00pm. Rainey’s lying next to me. He’s being quiet so I don’t mind. Chrissy told me this afternoon that he’s done with his bottle. I discovered the last two hours before bed that he’s also managed to loose both of his pacifiers. She’s not answering my text messages. I’m really hoping she’s got a spare stashed away somewhere. She was supposed to be home a half hour ago.

This kids going to be unruly tomorrow. He pooped in the toilet tonight before bath time. He pooped in the bathtub tonight during bath time as well. If Chrissy reads this before looking at the birdhouse I’ll get to put it up out of sympathy instead of success. This spring I want to build a chicken coop for my birthday. The idea has shifted from fun present, to an ominous project.
When it’s all done I wouldn’t trade today for anything. Some stupid inkling of faith tells me I’m going to miss days like this one. I still need to put my mind at ease–there’s poop residue in the bathtub I need to take care of still. Although the memories of today will be nice in the future, the memories of yesterday ring a bit sweeter for now. I wonder what Matt Lammie is doing?

I miss hiking in Utah.