Tag Archives: LinkedIn

Buddy, can you spare some time?

The husband of an on-line friend of mine is doing a PhD, part of which involves the relationship between software and the law.   What goes around comes around, so I’m asking any software-type people to drop by his blog to read all about it and to give the 10 minutes it takes to fill in the survey.

Here is an extract from Tom’s blog about his research:

Legal systems have evolved over centuries to codify rights and obligations in societies. Throughout history law and technology have interacted, modifying each other along the way.  It is often an uneasy relationship…

I want to ask as many software people as possible about what they understand of the law that can impact software, and what their attitudes are towards a couple of legal concepts in a software context.

It is designed to gather information about the knowledge, education and attitude of software developers towards the law related to software, and how law is or isn’t built into software. My goal is not to just have a small survey of a couple of hundred developers, but to really survey lots of them.

To do this, I want to tap as many of my readers  as I can to spread the news of the survey, and for as many of you to take the survey as possible. The more answers I can get from around the world, the richer the results will be. I will also be following up with telephone interviews with a much smaller sample group.

In this survey I have used the term software developer rather broadly. I define this to be anyone working professionally to design, build or maintain software (information technology). So if you are a product manager, solution manager, implementation consultant, systems architect, business analyst, or a systems tester, for instance, then we would be just as interested in your responses. The survey isn’t just aimed at those who code, but those who make a living from its construction and maintenance. Much of this group would fall under that definition. The Germans have a rather nice term,informatiker, but it doesn’t really translate very well.

Those links again:   Blog and survey.  Go on… you know you want to.

A psychologist, a geneticist and a neurologist walk into a bookshop

Irrationality - Stuart Sutherland

I am currently reading “Irrationality” – an excellent book in which Stuart Sutherland describes the mechanisms by which we leap to conclusions, confuse and deceive ourselves.

I am deeply amused by the publisher’s cynical use of the techniques that Sutherland describes to promote the book.  Sutherland discusses the halo effect (when we assume a person’s good or bad characteristics apply more widely than they do), and they way we give more credence to authority figures than perhaps we should.  It’s a book about cognitivie processes, right?  So you’d have to be a psychologist to give authorative recommendations, right?  Now, Richard Dawkins is a hero in his own field and Oliver Sacks is another, but how come a geneticist and a neurologist suddenly have expertise in psychology?  It can only be the halo effect and that pesky deference to authority.

These ironies aside, it’s an excellent book and if you think, evaluate evidence or make recommendations for a living then it will keep you awake at night.

In a good way.

And the question is…

Tony Robbins has a slick one-liner in one of his self-help books.  He says:

Questions are the answer.

For a Business Analyst that is certainly true.  We are members of a profession like law and journalism, where success is built on asking the right questions, in the right way, at the right time.  I’ve spent most of my professional life consciously trying to improve my ability to ask questions.

I’m discovering just how important this is in academia too.  I’m doing a Research Methods course as part of my MSc at Bristol and I have to think about questions and answers in a whole new way: I must think of them as the set-up for a piece of research, and the research has to be doable.  

Now I thought I was reasonably clear on what I want to do for my dissertation.  Something along the lines of “What mitigates for success or failure of a corporate Knowledge Base, and is it worth the time and effort?”  -Sounds nice and crisp and – hey – how cool is that use of “mitigates” eh?  

But when you pick it over, you find it’s as full of holes as a crunchie.  Let’s define a few paramaters here: what do I mean by “success” and “failure”?  And scope: what is a corporate Knowledge Base anyway, and what things aren’t corporate knowledge bases?  And metrics, let’s define some metrics: how do you measure what’s “worth it” and what isn’t?   

My usual stand-bys don’t work in this context.  If I was running a workshop and put this question to the team, I’d supplement it with “what does good look like?” and “what do you mean by… success / failure / corporate knowledge base” etc, etc, and put the answers up on the whiteboard.

Maybe what I’m learning is that it’s much harder to answer questions than to ask them.

Fell running to conclusions

At what point to you stop looking for patterns and start drawing conclusions?  Or to put the question another way, if someone’s out of signal range for their mobile phone does that mean  they are “stranded”?

There was much news last weekend about overwhelmed emergency services in the Lake District scouring the mountain-sides in atrocious weather for 1700 fell runners lost on the moors.  And commentators took it a step further and seethed with outrage that they organisers went ahead with the event despite advice from the police not to.

One of my bug-bears is organised events getting a free ride from the emergency services, so this was just the sort of story I notice.  Confirmation bias did the rest and by mid-day Sunday I was steaming at the selfishness of the organisers and the folly of the entrants.  I wanted to know if the event’s organisers or its insurers would pay the costs of the call-out.  So I went to the OMM website and from there to the discussion boards and asked – very politely – about it.

I was enchanted and fully won over by what I found on their discussion boards.   The people posting had clearly had a great time because of the atrocious conditions.  They reminded me of great big wet dogs who have just had the most enormous fun getting really cold and really muddy and who have no idea why you might not want them bouncing around inside your car.

Aside from that, they clearly know what they are doing – a fair number of them were members of the Mountain Rescue teams doing what they love best, and scores of them were members of the armed forces.  The rules required that they should be equipped with food, a tent and appropriate clothing and entrants who weren’t properly equipped were not allowed to start.

Something else that came through again and again was that they took individual responsibility for their actions despite the fact they were entering an organised event.

Regarding the funding, I’ll quote the relevant post that I found by lurking their boards:

Police- Came to block honister pass and borrowdale road, to the general public, because they were flooded then decided to get unnecessarily involved in assisting with the OMM. They actually thought that because people were camping out for the night that they were missing, which they weren’t. They were just being safe and not trying to get off the hills in the dark.

M[ountain] R[escue] – No cost there to taxpayer as they are entirely volunteers, many of whom were actually doing the race. A small number of injured people needed assistance. Only 0.004% went to hospital. Have a look at stats on those injured on Fun runs etc

Ambulance services- I think a couple of guys got transported to hospital, it wasn’t really a disaster zone.

RAF Heli- The CAA require the RAF to undertake a certain amount of training and they use Mountain Rescues as a training exercise. If there are not enough call outs they have to make up the hours with “dummy” rescues etc.

Salvation Army- say no more…..

Since then they have donated several thousand pounds to the Cumbrian Mountain Rescue.

So I left their boards convinced by their case and with considerably less respect for the BBC journalists.  It was a salutory lesson in the dangers of making assumptions, jumping to conclusions and accepting at face value the analysis of the first person you speak to.

Which is are lessons in “how not to do it” that every BA should learn.

Podcast Reviews – Business Podcasts

There are any number of business related podcasts out there and more every week.  Many are too pompous to listen to: universities use them to advertise expensive masters degrees and consultancies use them as infomercials.  Me, I like more grounded company on my drive to work.  

Here are are some of the regulars I spend a couple of hours with each week.  

Lucy Kellaway

5 minutes of infuriatingly intelligent common sense.  Lucy Kellaway writes for the FT and is a bright cookie with a degree in Philosopy, Politics and Economics from Oxford.  She’s ruthlessly sarcastic whenever business or business people get above themseves, and is particularly hot on language, bulls***, and self-regarding egotism.  I frequently disagree with her but she’s always thought it through.  She can sound like the celebrity old-girl speaking at a school prize-day day, but get past that and listen to what she says.  She’s funny too.

Peter Day’s World of Business

Superb 30 minute programmes from the BBC.  Peter Day tackles a specific topic each week, looking at it from several perspectives within different organisations.  Day gets insightful and illuminating answers out of the people he interviews, which says a lot about the questions he asks.  Topics in autumn 2008 are: branding, risk management in casinos and banking, agriculture, the future of the internet, and biotech and medicines. Wide-ranging, meticulous, insightful and fascinating.

The Bottom Line

Another 30 minutes from the BBC.  Ewan Davies invites some of the UK’s most senior executives to kick-off their shoes and compare notes.  It feels like listening to experienced friends at a Sunday afternoon barbecue talking relaxed and slightly theoretical shop. Davies directs things with a light hand on the conversational tiller.   Superb.

The Businessweek Cover Story

Another conversational programme: John Byrne, the executive editor of Business week, spends 15 or 20 minutes chatting through the week’s cover story with whoever wrote it.  It’s a painless way to keep informed about the forces in American Business as well as the occasional headline news item.  These podcasts were my first introduction to terms like “sub-prime”, “credit crunch” and “toxic title”.  These are often recorded late at night as sub-editors add the graphics and finish the layout.  On a couple of occasions Byrne and the magazine’s chief economist Mike Mandel were clearly a couple of drinks over a headline, but most of the time everyone concerned is on the tips of their well-researched and analytical toes.  An additional treat is Byrne’s baby-boomer taste in intro tracks.  

The Cranky Middle Manager

A show by and for pragmatists with nothing to sell, its for those of us trying to keep our heads above water and below the parapet.  It’s engaging, conversational, informative and oddly comforting.  Oh, and funny.  I like Wayne Turmel’s energy and enthusiasm too.  The podcast is long on experience which makes it a good counterpoint to the journalists’ analysis and the academics’ theorising.  And it’s got one of my favourite words in its title.

Towards a corporate hierarchy of needs

Most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which suggests that we prioritise bodily needs over security, our sence of belonging over our own self esteem (which is how peer pressure works) and that we won’t tackle the things that fulfil us until the rest of our needs are met.  

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

What is discussed less frequently is that organisations have a similar hierarchy of needs, and that organisational focus shifts in turbulent times.  

As I understand it, Donald Marchand suggests that organisations focus their attention on information like this:

  1. Minimise risks
  2. Reduce costs
  3. Add value
  4. Create new reality

This is a sequence I recognise, in large organisations at least.  Mind you, it seems to me that small organisations and entrepreneurs run the sequence in the opposite direction.   Maybe that is what makes them entrepreneurs.

Marchand presents it diagramatically thus:

Marchand's strategic information framework

I’ve not yet read Marchand on the subject (I came across the idea in an excellent book on Taxonomies by Richard Lambe).  I need to go to the source to understand the details of he is saying, why he has drawn it like that, and whether or not I agree with him, but this a useful thought-provoker, and may also be helpful tool for working out where strategic attention is or should be focused.  I’m tempted by the tabloid thinking which suggests the banks’ sudden attention to risk is because they spent too much time in the previous years creating a new reality in terms of mortgages-repackaged-as-“securities”.   It’s tempting, but I think there’s more to it than that.

Marchand’s framework is about knowledge.  Lambe, who references it, thinks it misses out two important areas of corporate knowledge, specificially: strategic planning and talent management.    As I said, I’ve not yet played with the framework, so I’m reserving my final judgement.  

However, translating the hierarchy of needs from people to organisations is something well worth doing in these interesting times.


Lambe, Patrick Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness. Oxford: Chandos Publishing. 2007.  

Marchand, Donald, (ed) Competing with Information: A Manager’s Guide to Creating Business Value with Information Content. Chichester: John Wiley. 2000.

Wikipedia: Abraham Maslow.

The Good, the Lean and the Ugly

My car was written off a few weeks ago.  The insurance claim made an ironic conterpoint to a Lean course I went on the same week.  

“Lean” isn’t an acronym, though it sounds like one.  It’s a description of how Toyota make their cars.  They don’t waste a thing: not time, not effort, and certainly not materials.  No fat: it’s all lean.  Lean is about a lot of things, but ultimately it’s about cutting out waste and making sure that each step in a process explicitly adds value for the customer.  

There’s a lot that I really like about Lean, for instance it assumes that the people who operate a process know more about it than anyone else.  Who’d have thunk?  

I don’t want to turn this into a whinge-fest about my insurance claim.  You’ve been there, you know what a nightmare it is if your car is totalled by three unknown lads in a stolen transit.  

However it seems entirely ludicrous that I ended up with the notes from 15 phone calls made to four different companies on my pad, and those were only the calls when there was something worth noting down. And why four companies? Why was I  the one co-ordinating the insurance claim itself, the legal claim for uninsured losses, the loss-adjustor’s valuation, the purported hire car while the claim was settled and the other purported hire car while the claim was settled?  Actually, that’s five companies, isn’t it?

Breathe in, two, three

Breathe out, two, three

Think of Calm Blue Light

It made an interesting case-study on the Lean Course, and I wonder if there is money to be made creating a “Lean and Mean” accreditation for organisations.  If an insurer could prove they had a Lean Claims Department, it would make me choose to use them.  

Just one phone call to sort out a claim?  Who wouldn’t go for that?

More on Lean: 

The medium is the model

One cardinal sin of requirements gathering is to discuss the solution during a meeting arranged to understand what the Business wants.  Traditionally, the Business tell you their requirements and you go away and build them.  You don’t bother their pretty little heads with technical limitations, you overcome them.   You are custom coders, geeks and gods.

I’m not so sure.  I think discussing what is and isn’t possible is an essential part of the requirements process, one you should introduce into the debate early on. The “no solutioning” rule may have been valid when every system was hand crafted from scratch by guys with PhDs  and leather patches on their elbows.  In those far off days better IT systems gave you a strategic advantage which could last for years.  But as Nick Carr reminds us, IT Is a commodity now, and our systems are customised rather than custom-built.

I believe it can be appropriate to touch on solutions during a requirements gathering exercise, so long as the discussion doesn’t suck all the time out of the room.  Technical limitations provide constraints, sure, but constraints don’t have to be a bad thing:  necesity is the mother of invention, and all that.  I would argue that the medium is the model.  You can only push the boundaries once you really understand them.  The Business don’t have an unfettered imagination; they want what they’ve already got but faster.   But maybe there’s a completely different way that’s better, and they need to be shaken up a little to be able to think of it:  I’m trying not to say ‘break the mould’ or ‘paradigm shift’ here.

Here’s a concrete example: Wikipedia and a BBC site called H2G2.  As you know anyone can correct an error in a Wikipedia entry at any time.  It’s hard now to remember how new this shared authorship model actually is.  No encyclopedia could be written like that before the Internet.  A few years before Wikipedia was launched, Douglas Adams created H2G2 as ‘The Earth Edition of the Hitch Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy’.  It’s an online encyclopedia, but to get an “edited” entry on H2G2 takes months or even years.  Correcting one takes even longer.  This is because H2G2 has a print-based model with locked-down page ownership and a process of peer review with sub-editors and editors.  This model perpetuates constraints imposed by typescripts, compositors and printing presses.  It’s sad, but the only thing that stopped the team from building Wikipedia was their own imaginations.  They focused on what they wanted to build (the same thing, but on-line) and then built it.  They could have broken that mould and shifted that paradigm if they had let themselves riff off how it could be built and let that influence what they wanted (a new way of people to work together to create an encyclopedia).  I don’t blame them: it was 1998 and the web was new and no-one really understood it.

This is why I think it helps to introduce solutioning to the conversation because it helps the Business move on from the-same-but-faster (or larger, or pinker, or whatever) and in to areas that really are different and new.  You may introduce constraints, but you also open up new avenues and spark brand new ideas.

So I don’t think it’s wrong to talk about solutions in requirements meetings.

Heretic that I am.

Corporate Culture – more than just yoghurt

The Character of a Corporation

I’m sifting through books I’ve bought for my MSc, sorting the ones I’ll keep from the ones I’ll resell on Amazon.  One of the keepers was part of my Change Management module, and is a book by Goffee and Jones and called The Character of a Corporation.

It’s about the glue that holds teams together – is it friendship, or is it vision?  Goffee and Jones consider it’s a combination of both.  For some teams, departments and even companies what holds them together is sociability: friendship, chit-chat, and helping out because you know and like the person who asked and they’ve helped you out in the past.  Other teams, departments, companies are glued together by a shared focus on goals and objectives, on hitting deadlines and targets, on getting the job done.  Goffee and Jones call this solidarity.

I’ve worked on every kind of team they mention, on “Networked” teams, “Mercenary” ones, a couple of “Communal” ones and the odd “Fragmented” team that isn’t really a team at all, so the book was full of “ahah” moments from start to finish.   It explained how some of my previous bosses thought, not to mention the odd colleague.  The very odd colleague, in some cases.

It’s got a good academic pedigree, but it’s an easy read.  What more could a girlie-swot want from a book?  Definitely a keeper.