A new way for politics?

Over the last month or two I have been paying a little attention to a newly formed group called No Labels. Simply put, they aren’t Democrat, Republican, Liberal or Conservative. The group touts itself as a group of Americans who are interested in putting America first over partisan politics and figure out how to compromise.

Interesting thought. I am going to continue to follow them for a while and see if they can get meaningful traction. I like the idea, but it flies in the face of today’s Washington culture which continues to promote extremism and division. I applaud the efforts of No Labels and hope they can change the tone in Washington and across the nation.


Coaches, What Are We Doing?

This video is a few years ago, but the message Coach Van Gundy delivers is spot on.  Our role as youth coaches is to teach skills. Period.

This year is my first season as an assistant coach on my son’s traveling basketball team.  We are a “C” level team which means most of the kids have developing fundamentals – bringing the basketball up the court is enough of a challenge, let alone dealing with zone defenses, presses and the like.

In our first few tournaments we encountered situations where pressing and zone were allowed. Unfortunately, we ran into teams that decided that it was more important to press as long as the tournament rules allowed, then fall back into a zone trap once they had established big leads. What is the purpose of doing that? I think it’s exactly what Coach says in the video – the coaches are more interested in bragging to their buddies about their coaching prowess, rather than building skills. Even in a 40 point win, I argue by employing pressing they are not building skills either. Stealing the ball becomes their offense.

The other part that stinks, is that to attempt to avoid potential embarrassment in a tournament we have to spend over 50% of our practice time on press breaking. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get away from that and teach the kids how to dribble, pass and shoot? I’d like to propose that at lower levels we ban everything but man-to-man defenses.

On a positive note, we did run into one tournament where pressing was banned. It was a much better experience for the kids overall. Why can’t that be the rule?

Some New (or Old) Advice

Mr. Ted Turner - November 9th, 2010

This week, I had the privilege of attending a conference at which Ted Turner (yes, THE Ted Turner) did a keynote session, which was conducted in an interview format.  The moderator asked a series of questions and Mr. Turner provided his insights on a variety of topics that were relevant to the conference.

Without going into the details of the discussion, he did share one nugget that stuck with me:

“Early to bed, early to rise, work hard, and ADVERTISE!”

I think this is going to be my motto as I go into 2011.  What struck me is that in order to move forward, whether it be my career, or my cause, it’s not enough just to work hard.  You have to be able to tell others what you’re doing and why it matters.

It may be the core essence of The Big Play.  Next, I am going to come up with some strategies to put this idea into motion.  Stay tuned for 2011.  My team and I are going to take our message to the streets.

Big Play: Raising Your Profile

I am not the kind of person that likes doing the same thing over and over again.  Add the expectation of a different result and then you define insanity.  Yes, I know, there are certain things we have to do repeatedly, like take out the trash.  I’m talking about the causes in life that really matter, like career, marriage and family.  As we evolve in these life journeys, there are times that some intelligent risk taking to move the cause forward with the intent of making for a better life for myself and others.  I had a situation a couple of weeks ago that I decided to try to raise the stakes a little bit.  Let me try to describe it a little bit.


Margo Relaxing in Her Favorite Spot


I was shopping at our local big-box pet store a couple of weeks ago.  En route to the register with sixty pounds of cat food on my shoulder, I ran into the principal of my son’s school, Shannon Park Elementary.  He has been a great supporter of my efforts to develop our Lego League program.  I decided to stop and ask him for some more support in my quest to transition the program leadership to someone else, so I could focus next year on building the competitive Lego League program.  He was quick to offer some great suggestions for ways to engage, and the best one was the idea to contact the local paper to do a story about what we accomplished.  Two emails the next day, and we got the interview scheduled.  This previous post talks more about the interview.

Here is the final story for the paper.  I am very proud of the coverage we got out of the experience, and I am hopeful by raising the profile of our program in Rosemount I can inspire more people to get involved to inspire science and technology pursuits with our children.

In this case, we will see if taking the initiative to raise the program’s profile will pay off for me to transition leadership of this program to the next person.  I have some more thoughts about profile raising — stay tuned for future posts.

Cool New Twitter feature: Who to follow

Who to follow on Twitter
New Twitter feature

I noticed a few days ago that Twitter has created a new feature that suggests people to follow on Twitter, much in the way Facebook does it.  I’ve found it to be useful to find people of interest in my work, as well as my personal interests.  On the Twitter web page, look on the right side of your home page, there you will find a “Who to follow” section which includes a few ideas for people to follow based on the people you are already following on Twitter.  If you click the “view all” link, you will find a much longer list of suggestions.  Furthermore, there is navigation on the right-hand side of that page listing major categories.  This is really useful.  A much more focused list follows where it becomes very efficient to pick and choose who to follow.  I found some real gems in these lists.  More is better, I believe.  Yes, it’s more information to process.  However, with a tool like Twitter it is very easy to quickly cull through information to figure out what is happening in the world.

Based on my earlier post on accessing thought leadership with Twitter, this is a great way to get a finger on the pulse of interesting external developments.  In my world, it’s about new technology developments around software and systems.  Most recently, I have used Twitter to follow Apple iPhone/iPad developments, which has proven to be useful.

Doing Offshore Development: My Key Success Factors

A little over two years ago, I took on the endeavor of offshoring development of my software project.  This was something new to me, from an execution point of view.  As I embarked on the process of engaging an offshore team, I got a lot of advice from colleagues.  Some of it was even solicited by me (rim shot).  To be sure, much has been written and said about this topic, but here are my key learnings that hopefully will help you as you start down the offshore path to software development.

Cost Savings Should Not Be Expected Early

Many firms go into this with an expectation that development costs will go down between 50 and 65% right away after deciding to do offshore.  This is an unrealistic expectation that needs to be managed.  My research revealed that it takes 1-2 years to fully integrate and optimize an offshore team into the local team.  In the interim, there are many hurdles to overcome such as language, cultural differences, understanding individual contributor technical expertise, shared understanding of the software process used and the like.  Overall, expect productivity to go down and costs to actually rise in the first 6-9 months (I think team size is the big variable here – Mythical Man Month rules apply) while the team figures out how to work together effectively.

Recognize That Optimizing Offshore Development Is a Journey

In my experience, integrating offshore is an exercise in maturing overall team performance.  It’s really no different than working with a team that sits in your midst.  Mistakes will be made, miscommunications happen and you get some downright bad results early on.  It may seem like nothing is happening because you can’t see people working on your software project.  In my experience, I had to manage the local offshore team’s expectations more than anything.  They had to adjust to working with colleagues who they perceived were not as strong technically.  My team early on overcompensated for what they saw to be as poor results.  This type of behavior actually proved to be counter-productive to the development of an overall working relationship and software engineering process.

My recommendation:  keep the process as simple and clear as possible and build upon successes.  At some point, you as the leader will need to inspire another evolution of process as the team matures.  There will always be room for improvement.  Don’t try to do it all at once.  We try to infuse internal process improvements into each development iteration to drive the most urgent improvement opportunities.

Agile Process Is The Way

In an offshore development model, I have come to embrace Agile as the only way to develop quality software.  We use the Scrum brand of Agile and I found that with two-week sprints I was able to frequently provide feedback and check in on progress.  I observed how the team interacted with each other, which people seemed to consistently step forward in sprint reviews and planning sessions as well as probing deeper on process improvements.  When there are gaps, I could provide advice and direction on what needed to change.  I also used these as opportunities to form opinions on which team members were top contributors and which were at the bottom.  In partnership with my offshore partner, we were able to replace the lower performers quickly and increase team effectiveness. 

HD Video Teleconferencing Equipment

The best technology investment I made was to outfit our team scrum room with high-definition video teleconferencing capabilities.  I vividly recall the day we enabled the system — it was so cool to see the people we are working with live and in person.  It didn’t take more than a few days for the programmers on both ends to get used to using the equipment — the daily scrums were much more compelling in HD video!  It seemed like the table became one, longer table that everyone sat around.  The names became people that we could talk to and laugh with even though we are a world apart geographically.  Picking up on non-verbal cues really helped.

Let’s face it, building software with a geographically dispursed team is really hard.  I don’t think you can get around it.  But, I hope these few ideas I have based on my lessons learned can help you create conditions on which to build successful software projects.  It is a journey indeed.