Monday, February 06, 2006

Broken Windows

Many researchers have discussed broken windows. This was first noted by psychology researchers who were discussing urban decay. It basically means that if you let a broken window or graffiti remain, it has a tendency to lead to other social decline in the neighbuorhood.

Look around the office. How many broken windows are there? Does it mirror the broken windows in the software? Are your clocks working? Do you have broken computer equipment sitting against a wall for years? How about the whiteboard with outdated project information on it? A door that doesn't properly shut? Urinals that leak? Chairs that are broken?

What message is being given to employees when the physical plant is in such a state? Is it a "Quality is Job #1" message? Or is it, a "Cheap as Possible" message?

So, what does it say about a company when the clocks don't work? That they don't have the money to fix it? Perhaps it's a reflection of what staff are seeing from further up the chain. Are either of those messages you want to pass on to your staff? Imagine the message that would be given by your CEO coming downstairs and changing the battery in the clocks. It would certainly be a powerful one.

I find it funny that management sends out these messages and then hounds staff for better quality. No wonder teams are always confused.

We expect high quality work from our software developers. To get that level of quality, we need to show them that we consider quality to be important.

Put batteries in the clock, find offsite storage for the unused equipment (hint, it's very, very cheap!), get rid of the equipment that is broken and generally fix things as they break.

Your staff is watching.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Teamwork and Coaches

I went and saw "Chicken Little" a couple of months ago. In the middle of the movie, Chicken Little joins a baseball team. It was the final game of the season, bottom of the ninth, two out. Chicken Little is finally up to bat, with their star player on deck. The coach tells him to take the pitch - no matter what. The coach explained that his strike zone was so small, the pitcher could never hit it. What does Chicken Little do?


After missing twice, he manages to get a base hit. The first base coach tells him to stop at first.... Nope. The third base coach tells him to stop at second. Nope. Third? You guessed it, he doesn't stop. There is the standard huge pile-up at home plate, and luckily for him, he is safe.

I sat there very angry and disappointed with the writers. They had Chicken Little completely ignore how teams work. From the start of the movie to the end Chicken Little complains about not being listened to, that nobody takes him seriously. Yet, at the first real opportunity, he ignores the people he wants to impress. He goes his own way, regardless of what is best for the team.

In baseball you are frequently asked to sacrifice yourself for the team. You take a pitch to test the pitcher, you hit a sacrifice fly, you hit a sacrifice bunt. It's all about getting people in position to score. Chicken Little was perfectly placed to get into position to score. It wouldn't have been as glamourous as the in the park home run on errors, but it would have won the game.

Team sports require sacrifices. They require people to occasionally "take one for the team".

So, how does this relate to work? Teamwork is just as important in business. Probably more so. Yet again, it's a lesson that we should have learned when we were children, but we somehow manage to forget.

How do we forget it? We forget it by ignoring the coach. If we don't like how we're told how to do the work, we ignore them and do it our own way. We only look at how the request affects us, without considering how it affects the rest of the business.

This behaviour is very contagious. If one person starts to act in a greedy fashion, others will tend to follow, especially if the greedy individual manages to get away with it.

We always see that the team is more important than the players. Consider what happens to All Star teams at olympics. The team that plays as a team wins. Ignoring the USA Basketball team. :)

In high school I used to be on the swim team (among others). Swimming is usually considered an individual sport. You swim your events and succeed or fail on your own. However, in Colorado Springs it doesn't work that way. The schools have swim meets, and are ranked based on their performance. Our swim team consistently won meets that it wasn't expected to. We won for the simple reason that coach would change what events we swam. Pretty sacrilegious in swimming. He would look at the prior performance of the opposing team, and put us in events where we would perform the best against them.

For example, you're a butterfly swimmer going up against a team that specialises in fly with a freestyle time that will put you in the top 3? Tonight, you swim freestyle, end of story.

It was that flexibility, that sacrifice for the team that won us events. It will win in the business world too. Perhaps the jocks do have something right, and us nerds should learn from them.