[Note from Daniel: This guest post, from my friend Steve Tolman, is part of an occasional series about important career role models. I also worked with Steve Jackson, and I agree with Tolman that his energy and dedication instilled many great skills in those who worked on his teams.]
While I worked at PowerQuest, and Symantec after its acquisition of PowerQuest, I worked with a man named Steve Jackson. He started somewhere around 1999 or 2000. In our organization we had about seven or 8 Steves so we all went by our last names. I was simply, “Tolman” and he was “Jackson.”
Jackson was the director and VP of all software engineering. He was my manager and quickly became my friend. He took his job very seriously and I learned a great deal from him.
By the time I left the team in 2008, I had learned how to run a team, how to build and release software, and how to work well with people. One of my peers, Lane Johnson (one of the best managers I have ever known, who left the team at the same time) asked me what it was that made Jackson so dang good. We thought about it for a while and concluded that there was not that proverbial one-thing-you-need-to-know that made him great, but more along the lines of about a bazillion qualities. A little time brainstorming gave us a list of 45 different skills, techniques, or approaches. Here are just a few of the highlights.
Believe in the individual
Jackson’s default mode was to trust people. Trust them to fit into the team and trust them to do their job, but expect them to do a stand-up job for you. Get the right people on the bus (read the book Good to Great for more info), give them an assignment, then get the heck out of their way and let them shine. Continue reading
Project management 101 teaches that, when managing outcomes, you cannot alter scope, schedule, or cost (resources) without affecting at least one of the other dimensions. This interrelationship is known colloquially as the “Iron Triangle.” Sometimes we put “quality” in the middle to show how it is unavoidably shaped by choices on the other constraints:
Image credit: John M. Kennedy T (Wikimedia Commons)
Lots of Dilbert cartoons derive their humor from the unwillingness of the Pointy Haired Boss (PHB) to acknowledge this relationship. These cartoons are funny because they are so eerily similar to conversations we’ve all had, where someone wants us to deliver ultra-high quality, on a limited budget, in an aggressive timeframe, with a boatload of features.
It ain’t gonna happen, folks. We engineers are clever, but we’re not magicians. Triangles don’t work that way.
You’ve learned some good principles when you can articulate this geometry lesson.
But there’s more.
Truth 1: Scope is a trickster
Many well meaning managers and executives understand this trilemma, and they distance themselves from Dilbert’s PHB by acknowledging that something has to give. “I pick scope,” they’ll say. “We absolutely must have the product before the summer doldrums, and we only have X dollars to spend, but I’m willing to sacrifice a few features.”
This can give product management heartburn–feature sets sometimes hang together in ways that make slicing and dicing dangerous. An airplane that’s good at takeoffs but that can’t land is unlikely to be a commercial success. Good product managers will point this out, and they’ll be right.
Friday morning I was at a seminar taught by Jason Taylor, CTO at Allegiance. We were discussing how dev team velocity and product quality can compete for our attention; sometimes we trade one for the other. Jason mentioned that he’s a fan of competing metrics, and some neurons connected in my brain.
Plumb line suspended from the center point of multiple balancing legs. Photo credit: suttonhoo (Flickr)
I’m a big believer in measurement. As the old adage goes, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Next time someone urges you to change a behavior, or tells you she’s going to, ask what measurement of change is being proposed. If you get an unsatisfying answer, I predict you’ll also get an unsatisfying outcome.
I’m also a big believer in balance, as I’ve written about before. Good software balances many considerations.
Besides these existing predispositions, I’d recently read a blog post by Seth Godin, cautioning about the need to choose wisely what we measure. And I’ve been digesting The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge, which advocates wholistic, systemic thinking, where we recognize interrelationships that go well beyond simplistic, direct cause-and-effect.
All of these mental ingredients Continue reading