Racing to nowhere

There’s nothing like a dose of humility to remind us all that even the best plan can wind up a disaster if we aren’t careful. Take my own personal example of a 5K race I recently “ran”. This is a very hilly 5K race I’ve run in the past, but to make a short story even shorter, the picture below tells the tale. The green line represents the actual race course, and the red line represents the scenic tour that I decided to add to the race this year.

The 5K race

Besides more than tripling my normal time with a 60 minute 5K record, I learned a few things along the way. First, taking frequent checkpoints of where you are cannot be underestimated. If you are an Agile purist, this means short iterations – two weeks preferred. Second, just because you’ve been there before doesn’t mean this time will be the same. To emphasize this point, I like the quote ‘if you feel comfortable, you should be uncomfortable’ (author unknown), and my discomfort was only compounded when I had to stop and ask a local resident for directions on how to get back to the finish (twice). And last, the hare doesn’t stand a chance against a tortoise that knows about the first two lessons.

Scary management

Have you recently told someone on your team to do something? If so, there’s a good chance that some management training may be in your future. (Disclaimer: This blog post doesn’t just apply to software development.) We often hear that the command-and-control style of management is the “old way”, and removing roadblocks is the “agile way”. While this sounds like a good thing every time we hear it, there isn’t a quick and easy way to determine how to adjust. I often find that it’s difficult to take many of these self improvement suggestions and act on them, so I prefer internal triggers that can shape behavior in an ad hoc manner.

Trick or treat

In this case, the key trigger is simple asking/telling someone to do something. What?! Our internal voices may find this proclamation to be borderline-insane as this is method by which we get almost everything done. But wait, there is a better way that creates self-empowering teams and removes the management dependence. The alternative approach, simple and elegant, involves explaining the expected result and trusting the teams to accomplish the resulting tasks. In some cases, the difference is a subtle change in the wording and intentions, and in others, there may be political reasons why specific commands are given. In the later, this is a trigger in itself that the political issues (often elephants in the room) should be tackled head-on instead of being obfuscated.

It’s true that since childhood none of us have liked being told what to do, and each of us wants to feel that we had some say in the planning. Using the method above solves both of these common psychological dilemmas. The bottom line is that if you can’t trust people on a team to know the intended result, there could be a problem with having the right people on the team or managing the team.

Picture, pictures everywhere, but not a one to find…

If you are like me and capture digital pictures in almost every circumstance, the frustration of organizing all of these has crossed your mind once or twice. Two common options are (1) installing software on your computer to help keep track or (2) uploading all your pictures to an Internet site like Flickr. With the first option, the software to organize your pictures is likely to require you to open its user interface (i.e. application) to manage your pictures, and you will be responsible for transferring this application to another computer when you upgrade. With the Internet upload option, which I partially use, the idea of having all your pictures labeled, grouped, and constantly backed up does have its advantages; however, I’m not a big fan of uploading every picture I’ve ever taken out on the Internet. (Call me old-fashioned.) In both cases, there’s likely to be a license or subscription to purchase.

To alleviate this image nightmare, I’ve created a simple and free system for organizing and tagging pictures that allows for easy searching and backing up. This involves creating a directory/folder structure in Explorer similar to the following.

Directory structure for pictures

Each year has a folder, and within each year, there are groups of pictures with keywords as the name of the sub folder. Note that the beginning of each sub folder is a number, which indicates the month the picture was taken. This provides chronological searching, since the folders are sorted in order.

Setting thumbnails in Explorer

To group the pictures in Explorer, you can see a small preview of the picture on your hard drive or the memory chip from your camera by setting Explorer to show the Thumbnails view. If the preview isn’t enough to determine which folder to place the picture, moving your mouse pointer over the picture in question will provide additional details. If you are like me, I often have a set of pictures with the same date and relative time, which makes it easy to figure what goes where.

Picture properties via mouse-over

The benefits of this system are that it’s super easy to do while moving the pictures from the camera’s memory chip to your computer. Just create the folder on your hard drive with some memorable words, and drag the pictures into the folder. In addition, it makes backing up the pictures easy as well, since you can backup via the date/year. This is especially important once you have more pictures than can fit on one DVD. What’s best about this model is the ability to take the system to different computers without additional software or Internet access.

Project managing scrum