Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Choice of Not Being an Elephant

Lou Gerstner described in his book Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?: Leading a Great Enterprise through Dramatic Change
how to make even a very large organization more agile, more adaptive to changing conditions. IBM had no other choice since some of their old business models stopped working. When I speak with people who were decision makers in the 1970s they unanimously told me that there was a time where the sales guys in dark blue dresses almost walked in to their customers and just said "sign down here". The customer had little choice.

Even if these stories are exaggerated - I'm not a sales guy but I'm sure their stories are always true! - there is one interesting aspect to this. I'm also mentioning this since I just came back from a trade show and there I spoke to a manager of one of the largest vendors in that particular industry. Somehow that person made me think of those stories from the past about IBM.

Like IBM in the IT industry this person's company is a key player in their industry. And the way the person came across was almost as if he was saying: "We know what is good for the industry, for you. Just do what we say, sign here and everything will be right." Sounds to me a little bit like "We are the center of the universe and all other companies better lign up around us."

The conversation left me wondering by when their CEO will write a book about how she had to turn their company around? Maybe they haven't noticed yet that the downturn in the industry probably requires them changing their attitude as well. But maybe I'm totally wrong and they still have full order books and the customers are lining up to the horizon. Not long ago, however the news were saying they are in the process to make a large number of people redundant.

That doesn't sound to me like full order books... The news of redundancies along with the attitude of the person I spoke to appear more like a company that isn't yet set up flexible and adaptive enough. Maybe reading Lou Gerstner's book helps.

Also check out "Manfred's DotNet Blog"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How Pair Programming Reduces Distraction

Pair programming is not for everyone. Some people love it, some people hate it. It almost seems there is nothing in the middle.

I'm more in the camp of people preferring pair programming. For many different reasons but I keep the discussion for a different post.

In this one I'd like to describe an example for what happened to me yesterday. I was working with one or my fellow software engineers, Jason, and while we were looking through a nasty C++ link problem we discovered a small item in an adjacent code area that we felt should be cleaned up. So I took a card and wrote it down as a story and returned back to the problem at hand.

Jason was surprised and made comment saying that by taking a note we would actually avoid being distracted. Although I have worked like that for years my colleague is newer to pair programming and that was probably the reason why he noticed what I did. For me it was just normal mode of operation. I did it unconsciously.

Based on my colleagues observation I think there is a lesson to be learned: First there is the specific case. When you come across something that should be done then just take a note (create a 'story' card). Don't let yourself get distracted. That way there is only a small interruption and then you are back on the problem at hand. Secondly, don't assume that the way you work is normal in the sense that everybody knows all the techniques you are using. It pays off to make yourself aware of this and sometimes it takes a good observer like Jason making a comment to become aware of what you are actually doing. So keep your ears open!

Friday, May 01, 2009

How fast do you adapt?

Here is a quote from today's online edition of The Wall Street Journal:

President Obama said that Chrysler has been "a pillar" of the industrial economy but that the company moved too slowly to adapt to a changing market.

(Source and more details: The Wall Street Journal, retrieved 01 May 09)

What caught my eye was the word "adapt". By the looks of it - I agree with the assessment - Chrysler didn't adapt fast enough. Now it has filed for Chapter 11, a bankruptcy process that protects it while going through a restructuring.

I'm not happy to see anything like that because many people will be severely affected in their personal lives. However, this is an (extreme) example of what can happen if you don't move fast enough as a company. Chrysler's product mix is no longer a good enough fit for what the market demands. The economic downturn just amplified that.

What can we learn from it? If we don't adapt fast enough to changing market demands and conditions it could mean very bad times for the company or the end of the company. Need any more incentive to adapt?
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