Monday, December 10, 2012

Personal E-mail Policy

I treat E-mail as a non-urgent, semi-important mode of communication.  If you have urgent communication, please call me at: 205-924-3472.  I respond to most email messages within 2 weeks. If you feel your E-mail message cannot wait 2 weeks, please wait a day, then call me.

I do this because I am excessive unitasker.  I am incapable of doing multiple things at once.  I focus on singular problems, and I do that well.  Most of the time, E-mail gets in my way of effectively working.

If you just want to chat, please call me: 205-924-3472.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Must-Have Skills : "Productivity Improvements"?

While cruising WSJ, I ran across an article "Must Have Job Skills in 2013."  Written like a Horoscope, the skills listed could have applied for any year from 5 A.D. to 3000 A.D.  However, the one that jumped off the page was "Productivity Improvement".  I rallied around it because we judge employees on their productivity.

In our knowledge-centric atmosphere of software, productivity isn't making widgets faster and moving the production line.  Productivity is choosing the best of an ambiguous set of desired outputs.  Achieving that output with minimal effort.  Finally, minimizing future effort required to persist the output.

Skills required for productivity are decision making and systems design.  Assisting influencers are: understanding of the system and consumer and previously crafted tools to leap frog from.

The more I thought of it, I doubted the ability of one individual to unilaterally affect the productivity of an organization.  It must be a cultural, cumulative shift.

Improve Everyone's Decision Making Ability

Do you know how to achieve 100% productivity gains right now?  Choose not to perform a non-productive task.  Productivity gains in the US workforce haven't come because we've gotten better at doing.  Productivity improved because companies have only enough workers to do important tasks.  Fellow employees felt the pain of individuals not doing the most important tasks and corrected the person.

Improving decision making in a corporation happens by answering the following question: How can everyone in the company answer the question 'what should I do now?' with the correct answer quickly and with as little effort as possible?

Isn't that the purpose of the business crap we learn about?  Goals, visions, values.  Give everyone a common target, and people and teams will self correct.

Understanding the System, Future of the System, and Consumer of the System

Edwards Demming emphasizes the idea of Systems Knowledge.  He says, every action in a company has a person consuming the output of that action.  The key to understanding what to do and quality of output is to understand the needs of that person who is accepting the output.

YC alumni have the motto: "Make something people want."  The depth of the motto is the lack of definition of product and the consumer.  Something can mean actions, products, ideas, processes, art, performance, knowledge, or a life.  People can mean end-consumers, direct-customers, sales team, support team, business owners, or spouses and families.  "Make something people want" means different things to the consumer of the organization.

To my wife, "make something people want" means "make [a life] that will be fulfilling for our values."

To most of our customers, "make something people want" means "make a database platform that enables me to do what I do best."

Brandon Mathis is the UI Expert at MongoHQ.  He is a good designer, but he is amazing at understanding the consumers of our tool.  He asks the overlooked questions that differentiate the output of our product.

When designing and development for a system, the next visible step is not always the best step.  Understanding the system allows you to take confident steps toward the best outcome.  When designing a system, don't forget the hidden element of time: are you designing your system for current consumers or future consumers?  Will your decision today stand the test in two months?

Emphasis on Internal Tools and Rewarding Improvement

The US is individualistic.  I am individualistic.  I like to think my single action affected the output more than 50% so that I can claim ownership of the win.

Corporations, by definition, are not individualistic.  There are room for heroes, but the ability of people derives from the system are bound.  Dysfunctional systems can kill the output of heroes.  Well oiled systems enable super-human output from everyone.

Building the culture of improvement and the tools for understanding a system isn't a phrase that sounds sexy and productive.  Github, a company by which all young companies measure themselves, has made "internal tools" sexy.  "Internal tools" for Github are:

  • Dashboards that display previously unknown information that is concise, actionable
  • Improved communication tools that distribute knowledge to all employees
  • Scripts and code that turn a 30 minute task into something no human ever has to think about again

With the "internal tools", Github is optimizing output for every consumer in the organization.  They are also building a culture of improvement.

. . . I've re-read this post.  It appears, I too have been as generic as a horoscope.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to Commute on the Bus in Birmingham, Alabama

Over the past 2 weeks, I have been commuting in Birmingham on the bus.  I've used it for a couple of pleasure trips and some business trips.

My first trip was a Saturday exploratory trip.  I live in Cahaba Heights, so I peddled my bicycle up the hill to the Summit. The 280 Limited Stop route leaves the Summit for downtown hourly weekdays at 20 minutes after every hour, and weekends at 40 minutes after every hour.  There are two stops at the Summit, one on the road and one with a covered shelter.  The first go of it, I didn't know about the covered shelter.  When I showed up, I was glad to see others also waiting.  It meant something was coming.

My first trip started with the 2:41pm Inbound Saturday bus.  The other two gentlemen waiting were employees from the shops at The Summit.  I could tell by their attire, with logos of local companies.  Honestly, on this trip, I was as fresh as it gets.  I didn't know what was about to happen, and I had many questions on my mind:

  • What am I going to do with my bike?
  • Will the bus get here sometime today?
  • How will I pay to ride the bus?
  • Where will I get off the bus? As the routes and stops are sparse on the website.
The guys at the bus stop answered a couple of my questions about fares and bikes.

As the bus arrived, I am sure I stuck out like a sore thumb to the other men waiting.    I popped up like a jack-rabbit, grabbed by bike, and waited for the bus to navigate the final 200 yards.  The other two men calmly let the bus meander.

I could see the bus had a bike rack on front.  The bike rack was in the up position.  Great! I had to figure out how to use this puppy.  So, I just started pulling levers and finally found the silver bar that lowers the rack just after the bus driver rose from his seat to assist me.  Then, I placed my bike on the rack and affixed the restraint to my bike.

Walked around, boarded the bus and it was packed--easily 25 people on the bus.  Looking around, they were from the shops up and down 280 and they were heading back home.

The bus made it to Five Points South in just 12 minutes.  I chose to get off the bus at Five Points South because I had no idea what I was doing.  So, I got off the bus as Five Points.  Then I rode my bicycle down the hill all the way to 2nd Avenue.  I found Urban Standard and worked there until my outbound bus departed at 6:10pm.

I arrived at 5:55pm at the Central Station on 1st Avenue N.  This time, bording the bus was old hat. My only surprise on the outbound bus was the number of stops in downtown before heading to The Summit.  I learned the bus stops actually have bus route numbers on them, and those bus route numbers  are important to navigation.

Best thing about the bus?

First, let me get this out of the way: the bus is better than most people think.

Secondly, it is different. I've started to feel good about the capability of someone to live in Birmingham without an automobile.  As I'm riding the bus, I've realized I could leave my house, get on the bus, go to the downtown station, board an Amtrak train, and head to New Orleans or New England.

Third, coldest air conditioning in the South.  ~ 72 degrees.

Worst thing about the Bus?

It is the website.  It is impossible to read.  Sometimes, it is impossible to know what is about to happen without having prior experience.  To overcome this, you should take some exploratory trips.

Why is the bus always empty?

The bus is empty when it is going to same way most of the cars are going.  Generally speaking, the bus is full of people when it travels the opposite direction of rush hour traffic.

One morning, I caught the 7:20am inbound bus at The Summit.  The outbound bus was standing room only, with a full bike rack on the front.

What are the must haves?

  • $1.25 fare cash (dollar and a quarter)
  • General idea of where you want to travel (know some of the routes).  iPhones wouldn't load the terrible Flash based maps on the site -- so you can't make adjustments easily while mobile.
  • Newspaper and a hat a-la Mad Men
  • (Optional) My bike has made it easy to get where I want to go.  Also, it has made it easier to recover from boarding mistakes.