Killing Your Darlings

And why having to is probably down to you

American Writer and Nobel Prize laureate William Falkner originally proposed that ‘in writing you must kill all your darlings’. A simple enough line that has been subjected to much analysis. Falkner’s line is taken to mean that a writer must let go of the elements of their work that they love, but are clinging to due to emotional attachment and not because they are progressing the narrative in any way. Those ‘darlings’ may have suited at their conception but as the story progressed it is plain that they no longer fit.

This same concept has morphed into many leadership articles as you can see here, here, here and most recently trending here.

The rationale is sound, and in many cases these articles emphasise the need for a strong or courageous manager to fire their ‘best’ people, but they often fail to mention where that same manager may be complicit in bringing about the conditions where such radical action is required.

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How we’ve always done it

How many times have you sat in a meeting where the final answer to why something is being done a particular way is ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’? Every time I hear this statement I’m reminded of a story that was related to me some time ago.

A number of monkeys are put in an enclosure by a group of scientists. In the centre of the cage, attached to the roof by a rope, hangs a banana. Looking ripe and delicious, it’s too much for the monkeys to resist. As soon as the first monkey reaches for it, all five are sprayed with freezing cold water causing them to rapidly retreat. Each time one of them approaches the banana, all five are subjected to the same drenching. Very quickly the group learns not to reach for the banana.

After some time, the scientists replace one of the monkeys with a new monkey. The new entrant, unaware of the consequences starts to move towards the banana. It is immediately attacked by the other four, and continues to be attacked until it two no longer approaches the banana.

Over time, the scientists continue to replace the monkeys one at a time until eventually all of the monkeys have been replaced. Each new monkey coming into the enclosure sees the banana, each time they make a move towards it, each time the other monkeys attack until it too learns not to approach the banana.

Whilst the attacks continue for every new monkey, none of the original monkeys remain in the enclosure; none of the current group have ever been hosed down and none actually know why they need to attack when the banana is approached.

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Fixed Bid Projects and Estimation – Part 2

If managed not to slumber through Part 1 on estimation, then you find yourself waiting with bated breath for the dramatic climax of our tale of estimation and fixed bid projects.

For the sake of this discussion, a fixed bid project is a project that has a fixed price based on a defined timeline. Of the fixed bid projects that I’ve seen, the timeline often has a 10%-15% leeway on the timeline. The cost almost never does – so you can be late, but you’re going to swallow the cost. Also common, just to twist the knife a little bit more, is the penalty clause. If you miss the date, not only are you going to pay for the additional time and resources, but you’re also going to have to pay the customer for the privilege.

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Fixed Bid Projects and Estimation – Part 1

I promised I’d post something on the curious case of agile and fixed bid projects. These two concepts don’t often find themselves sitting side by side, which is a bit of a curiosity to me.

As I wrote this post, it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to make it in one post. Technically, it would fit in a single post, but you’d lose the will to live before you finished, so you’ll find a part 1 and part 2 to this topic (this is part 1 if you’re not paying attention). This post will deal with the estimation factor, the next will deal with Fixed Bid projects.

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Slow Agile Project

I recently delivered my ‘Introduction to Agile’ presentation to a client that is in the process of transforming from a very structured SDLC / Waterfall model to Agile, specifically Scrum.

The presentation is deliberately short; it is intended to spark conversations and questions rather than a detailed workshop on agile practices and processes.

The company in question has had some challenges in transitioning to agile, which is why I got a call to come in and help. I often use the introduction presentation as a tool to explore where there may be challenges. It has the extraordinary effect of opening people up, revealing numerous avenues to be explored.

On this occasion, one of the comments that came up completely took me by surprise.

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Building High Performance Development Teams

There are countless processes published that purport to deliver maximum effectiveness from a development team. What they really mean is that the process will maximise the effectiveness of the team as it currently exists. As the old adage goes:

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

The foundations for high performance teams are laid long before we overlay a development process. Technology organisations as it turns out are generally good at hiring top talent, but unlike other high-performance teams and organisations we are not good at sustaining that performance.

What’s the difference then between a high performance technical team and say a top-flight sports team? Well there are a few. Coincidentally we tend to start from the same place, but the approaches diverge as the process continues.

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