Category Archives: Articles

Why Not Ask Why?

 © 2011 Don Gray It all started with a tweet I posted: “Why” questions trigger feelings bypassing data input and thinking. #dontdothat As this got retweeted, interesting questions started coming my way: What about the Five Whys? Do you have … Continue reading

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Stop That Mole Now

©2010 Steven M. Smith Do you have a mole undermining the work of your team? Someone who constantly complains privately to any teammate who will listen but refuses to bring that same complaint publicly to the team? Someone whose actions … Continue reading

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Self-Facilitation Skills for Teams

(c) 2004-2010 Esther Derby Self-organizing teams don’t just organize the technical work. They make technical (and non-technical) decisions. Not every situation requires facilitation, but when a team faces an important decision, applying facilitation skills to the problem saves time and … Continue reading

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Skills for Software Smoke Jumpers

©2007 Don Gray Do you know about smokejumpers? They’re brave, self-sufficient firefighters who parachute into remote areas wearing eighty pounds of gear and ready to fight a forest fire. If the jump goes well, they land safely. After extinguishing the … Continue reading

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When Your Projects Are a Program

©2009 Johanna Rothman. I was supposed to start coaching with a project manager, Trish. She postponed our weekly coaching call–for the third time. I said, “Trish, are you postponing again because you have too much work to do?” “Yes!” “Then … Continue reading

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Framing Your Thoughts for Management

©2009 Steven M. Smith, www.stevenMsmith.com You have what you believe is an important thought to share with management. You’re concerned though that management may dislike what they hear. How do you assess how safe it is to share your thought … Continue reading

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Coaching Whiners

Ban whining. It’s destructive communication inside organizations. Read this story about how a manager coached an employee to transform a whine into a complaint with recommendation. Continue reading

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Temperature Reading

©2009 Steven M. Smith, www.stevenMsmith.com Virginia Satir developed this method for discovering a group’s temperature — what we in technology often call the system’s state. A facilitator leads the discovery. He or she keeps the group focused on each agenda … Continue reading

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The Virtual Cyber Cudgel

by Gerald M. Weinberg In 1977, Tom Gilb and I published a book called Humanized Input: Techniques for Reliable Keyed Input. We hoped to improve the pitiful state of input design for computer systems, and ten years later, we imagined … Continue reading

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Make Your Mission Possible

Copyright 2008 Johanna Rothman, originally published in Better Software Janice strode down the hall and made a sharp right at a cubicle decorated with dragons. “Hey, Steve, got a minute? I need your help with a problem.” “Janice, the last … Continue reading

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The Blame Game

©2007, 2009 Don Gray and Jerry Weinberg Engelbert watched Pam nervously chew on her knuckle as she stood in the door of his office, answering his call. “Come in and close the door.” He motioned her to a seat, then … Continue reading

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Drawing Out the Facts: The Art of the Discovery Interview

(c)2007 Steven M. Smith “What?” raced through Janet’s head as she read the email. “Now that’s a surprise.” The message was from Jack Johnson, vice president of development. It said she would receive a meeting request from Rajan Alak, an … Continue reading

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No Exit

Always have an exit strategy. ©2005 – 2009 Don Gray, Gerald M. Weinberg “The thought that disaster is impossible often leads to an unthinkable disaster.” – The Titanic Effect, The Secrets of Consulting, pg 95 Engelbert, the Software Engineering VP, … Continue reading

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Is Collaboration the Right Way to Work?

©2008-2009, Esther Derby As a manager, your job is to organize people and work for success. That includes work design–figuring out whether you have a group or a team, and creating an environment where people can do their best work. … Continue reading

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Catch Them Doing It Right

(c)2008 Steven M. Smith A smile formed on Eleanor’s face as she saw me approach her doorway. She and I were meeting to discuss her views on recognizing and rewarding employees. She had been my manager for three years when … Continue reading

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Transitioning to Agile in the Middle of a Project

©2008 Johanna Rothman. This article was previously published on stickyminds.com “My company has decided to transition to agile after the team and I started this project,” Gina complained. “I know what agile is, but I still don’t understand how I’m … Continue reading

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The Technology of Cooperation

©2009 Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com IT professionals must be good team players, but what does that mean? For one thing, it means they must know how to come into a situation and quickly cooperate and gain cooperation, but cooperation takes … Continue reading

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How Much Building Is Too Much?

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Becoming a Better Estimator

(c)2007, Dave W. Smith As software developers, and managers of software developers, we have a reputation for making pretty lousy estimates. Part of that rap is unfair; many times the requirements that we’re asked to provide estimates for are vague, … Continue reading

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Approaching a Conflict in Style

©2006-2007 Esther Derby This column originally appeared on Stickyminds.com. Conflict is inevitable at work. Sooner or later, you will disagree about what to test, when to test or how long to test software. How you.and the person you disagree with.approach … Continue reading

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Building a Requirements Foundation Through Customer Interviews

© 2004 Esther Derby “Our customer doesn’t know what he wants,” complained Sandy. “I try to get him to talk about the product and tell me what he wants, but it’s like pulling teeth.” Whether you are building a brand … Continue reading

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An Appreciative Retrospective

©2007, Diana Larsen, FutureWorks Consulting “Our retrospectives have become so repetitive,” Fran told me over lunch one day. “We seem to cover the same ground no matter what problem-solving approach I try.” “Have you tried AI yet?” I inquired. He … Continue reading

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Communicating Up

© 2004 Esther Derby This column originally appeared on Stickyminds.com Imagine this scene – you’ve just gotten back from lunch and you’re checking your email. The first email you open is from the VP: Effective immediately, starting with the release … Continue reading

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Communicate Early and Often

©2002 Naomi Karten, www.nkarten.com Have you ever had an experience where you gave your all for your customers and still they were unhappy? One possible reason for their reaction is that you implemented a major change without preparing them for … Continue reading

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Collaborating With Other Consultants

©2004, Johanna Rothman This article was originally published in Diamond Harvard Business Review, May 2003. – I’m so busy, I barely have time to think. I don’t have enough money to hire on someone full time, but I’d like to … Continue reading

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Climbing Out of Technical Debt

© 2002 Johanna Rothman, www.jrothman.com Have you ever had a conversation like this one? Vice President: In the last release, you were able to bring the release date by over a month by cutting the testing. Do that again, ok? … Continue reading

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Client 101

© 2001 Sherry Heinze I work as a test analyst for a consulting company. Every 6 to 12 months, I start on a new project for a new client. I love the variety and the opportunity to learn about a … Continue reading

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Choosing Facilitation

© 2003 Johanna Rothman, www.jrothman.com Meetings are a fact of our lives. Most of the time we don’t need a facilitator to help move our meeting along; we can manage to accomplish the goals of the meeting without a formal … Continue reading

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Chinese Contracts

© 2003 Jim Bullock Several cultures contain a fable about a horse, a Farmer, and a wolf. After a time both plagued by the wolf the Farmer and horse agree to work together to defeat their common foe. The horse’s … Continue reading

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Charting a Course for Requirements

© 2002 Becky Winant, www.beckywinant.com This article originally was originally published on www.StickyMinds.com Projects are like voyages; they both start with a launch. Ever wonder what happens before we get into the boat and it pushes off from shore? I … Continue reading

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Change That Fits

© 2003 Esther Derby, www.estherderby.com Cedric moved through his office packing up his personal belongings. His boss, Sheila, stood in the doorway, looking uncomfortable. As he started the last box, Cedric sat down in his chair. “How did it come … Continue reading

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Change is a Disease

© 2000 James Bach, www.satisfice.com “That idea won’t work here, because we’re different.” is a refrain familiar to the ears of consultants everywhere. Some people respond to this defense by using evidence and argument to persuade their clients that they … Continue reading

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The Black Hole

© 2003 Naomi Karten, www.nkarten.com A black hole is a place in the cosmos where things get swallowed up, never again to emerge. Although I love to travel, it’s not the sort of destination I’m eager to visit. This is … Continue reading

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Bi-Quinary Search

© Gerald M. Weinberg, 2004 www.geraldmweinberg.com “1,073,741,823 lines of correct code, but one unknown bug is going to send us into that Sun.” “Do not panic.” Peri said, using Calming Voice. “We have adequate time to find it.” “Peri is … Continue reading

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Beyond Blaming

© 1996 Jean McLendon and Gerald M. Weinberg, www.satir.org and www.geraldmweinberg.com “England, though at present enjoying a very high state of prosperity, still shows some symptoms of a decaying nation. Propose to an Englishman any principle, or any instrument, however … Continue reading

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Beyond Belief

(c) 2001 Esther Derby, www.estherderby.com This article originally appeared in STQE, March/April 2001. Let me tell you a little story, a true story, about how our beliefs influence what we see in the world and affect our ability to solve … Continue reading

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Beware of the Quick Fix

© 2003 Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com P.T. BARNUM said there’s a sucker born every minute, but Barnum was a conservative estimator — or else he didn’t know any IT managers. For more than 45 years now, I’ve watched an endless … Continue reading

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At What Cost?

© 2002 Esther Derby, www.estherderby.com This column originally appeared in STQE magazine, July/August 2001 Not long ago, I reread a discussion about Internet Time on Jerry Weinberg’s SHAPE Forum (www.geraldmweinberg.com), and it got me wondering: Now that many dot-coms have … Continue reading

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Are We Solving the Real Problems

© 2001 Nynke Fokma, The meeting had been underway for about half an hour. Our departmental and quality assurance managers were debating what specifications should we measure against and what database would we need to keep the data in. … Continue reading

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The Appreciation Gap

©2004 Esther Derby In a recent workshop, I described an exercise for expressing appreciation. “That won’t go over here,” stated Patty, one of the managers in the workshop. “These are engineers; they don’t want that mushy stuff. Besides, they know … Continue reading

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Always Be Second

© 2002 Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com These days, with all the talk about “internet time,” professional workers are always trying to be the first with new ideas. But is that really the only path to success? Is it, indeed, a … Continue reading

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Multiprojecting: The Illusion of Progress

©2005 Johanna Rothman This article was originally published on Stickyminds.com Your CIO has two projects he wants finished in the next month. “We can share this project manager and that test team on both of these high-priority projects,” he declares … Continue reading

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What’s on Your Not-To-Do List?

©2005 Johanna Rothman If you’re like most of my clients, you have too much to do. Recently, an Engineering Director, Stephanie, explained all the things she “had” to do: monitor the projects, participate in the requirements sessions, draw up a … Continue reading

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Designing Useful Metrics: Using Observation, Modeling, and Measurement to Make Decisions

©2000 Esther Derby www.estherderby.com Originally published in STQE magazine, May/June 2000 As a manager, you want to increase effectiveness and improve the quality of software. Using measurement as a tool for accomplishing this, however, may be something you’re skeptical about. … Continue reading

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Plan to Re-plan

©2003 Johanna Rothman, www.jrothman.com Do you sometimes feel partway through a project, that you now have some key information that would have helped you plan the project’s tasks better? If so, you’re not alone. Software projects typically unfold in unforeseen … Continue reading

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An Exercise in Ambiguity

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The ROTI Method of Gauging Meeting Effectiveness

©2003 Esther Derby. This column originally appeared on Stickyminds.com If you lead meetings, you can make improvements starting tomorrow. For a small investment of your time, you can return time to your staff by eliminating unnecessary meetings and improving the … Continue reading

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How 2 Buddy

©2004 Johanna Rothman www.jrothman.com Introduction If you’ve hired new people or transferred people into your group, you know that they’re not immediately productive when they start. If you’re lucky, they start to be useful in a month, but you most … Continue reading

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Spending As If There’s No Tomorrow

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Lullaby Language

©2004, Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com Late one summer, I was called in to help an IT client learn to work better with their customers. I don’t ordinarily travel in the summer, but this sounded like a real emergency, one where … Continue reading

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Treaties to Deal with Communication and Conflict

©2002 Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com On a typical day, I get 100-200 email messages, and some of my clients in large projects receive even more. Though emails improve my ability to communicate clearly and quickly, they may also prove a … Continue reading

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Multiuse Model

©2007 Donald E. Gray Models are like kitchen utensils. You need a variety of them, and you should know when and how to use them. They should be useful for more than a single task. I recently started exploring the … Continue reading

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What’s So Special About Software?

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A Different Kind of Conference

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Playing Hooky

© 2005 Robert (Mike) Melendez Software testing provides a wealth of tall tales, some of them true.  If we bury ourselves in our work, we can tell the tales, but not see their significance.  Sometimes we need a break.  Sometimes … Continue reading

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Extreme Testing

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Safety Check

©2005 Steven M Smith He is wearing his traditional garb — dark suit, white button down shirt, red tie, and black tasseled shoes. The glare off his wire rimmed glasses makes it difficult to see those steely blue eyes. Harry … Continue reading

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How did This Happen

©2005 Don Gray It was Saturday afternoon when the house phone rang. “Don, this is John. I know we haven’t talked in 10 years, but I have a client who has a problem.” In 20 years I’ve never had a … Continue reading

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Staying Sharp

©2003 Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com I’m not the kind of person who hangs out in nightclubs. In fact, the last nightclub I can remember visiting was in Miami Beach in 1957. What I remember about it is what the stand-up … Continue reading

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Lunches, Looks, and Loops

©2004, Don Gray Michelle works as a software engineer. Recently we discussed the “utility” concept (Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations, Austin)1 and she asked, “Can’t we just measure for the sake of learning?” Measuring for learning is a wonderful … Continue reading

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Twenty Years Ago

©2000 Steven M. Smith I’m forty-five, with a mainframe background. I often hear complaints from colleagues — associates who are my contemporaries — that younger workers with experience in hot, new technologies are getting paid as much or more then … Continue reading

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Communication Disconnects

©2007 Don Gray “Why doesn’t my manager listen when I explain the details?” “Why doesn’t the developer just give me what I ask for?” If you’ve ever heard these complaints-or made them-you’re not alone. Questions like these are a symptom … Continue reading

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My Company Won’t Pay! How To Get Approval To Attend Conferences or Training

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What’s Wrong With Wednesday?

©2005 Johanna Rothman Many of the project schedules I review contain milestone completions on Fridays and new task or phase beginnings on Mondays. With a Friday or Monday milestone, what you’re really saying is that people can work overtime all … Continue reading

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A Different Kind of Family: Reconstruction Lessons for the Participants and the Guide

© 2000 Eileen Strider, www.striderandcline.com I first experienced a family reconstruction in the 1989 Congruent Leadership Change Workshop. I was stunned by its power. It was as if a special key had been oh-so-gently inserted into this man’s lock box … Continue reading

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Predictions

©2003 Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com People are always asking me to make predictions, especially predictions about their financial future. Which stocks will grow? Which dot.coms will fold? What jobs will be best? What should they study to prepare for their … Continue reading

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Facing Up to the Truth

©2002 Esther Derby www.estherderby.com This column originally appeared in STQE magazine November/December 2001 “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act II, Scene 2 The other day I was … Continue reading

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Schedule Chicken

©2005 Johanna Rothman I perform project and process assessments as part of my consulting work. During one assessment, a senior manager took me aside, and said, “I want you to tell me what you think of our testers.” “All of … Continue reading

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How Much Work Can You Do?

Developing and Managing Your Project Portfolio (c) 2005 Johanna Rothman This article appeared previously on stickyminds.com. I meet many managers in the course of my work, and they all share a common complaint: They have too much work to do. … Continue reading

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Humor and Stress, or How the Universe Gave Me an Opportunity to Practice

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Do We Have to Choose Between Management and Leadership?

©2006-2007 Esther Derby This column originally appeared on stickyminds.com In a recent discussion on the state of a software company, a programmer declared, “We don’t need managers around here, we need leaders!” I’m always puzzled by statements like this. “How … Continue reading

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Two Left Feet

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Communication Gaps

©2003 Don Gray, www.donaldegray.com I just got off the phone with Joel. We worked a project 12 years ago where he was the client’s technical rep, and I supplied some specialty software to his company. As we renewed acquaintances, he … Continue reading

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My Days As a Barber

© 2000 Jim Batterson I shall take advantage of this opportunity to unburden myself on you with a little story. You know, before I was a programmer, I was a barber. One day I was sitting in my shop when … Continue reading

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What’s Your IQ?

©2002-2003 Esther Derby, www.estherderby.com People who work in software are smart people. We take pride in our ability to understand complex information and solve difficult problems. What about that other IQ, our Influence Quotient? To some of us, influence is … Continue reading

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Disposable Programs

©2005 Gerald M. Weinberg We hear a lot these days about “reusable programs,” but we seldom hear about programs that shouldn’t be reused. Most programmers know what it’s like to be forced to reuse code that was supposed to be … Continue reading

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Project Pitfalls

©2000 James A. Ward, www.jamesaward.com Despite the best efforts of the project manager and the project team, organizational forces may work against project success, especially on projects with tight time constraints. This column normally deals with issues of applying Total … Continue reading

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A Guide to Fine Whines

© 2001 Mark Manduke In teaching software process improvement and discipline, I sometimes encounter a phenomenon I describe as "The Tsunami of Whining." (Tsunami is a Japanese word for "Tidal Wave.") Some students complain about certain issues and often do … Continue reading

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Should a ScrumMaster Give Performance Appraisals?

©2006 Esther Derby A ScrumMaster recently asked me if he should take over responsibility for year-end performance evaluations since he was closer to the work than the functional manager for the team. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this … Continue reading

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How to Kill a Software Company

©2002 Don Gray A Software Project By Any Other Name Most software practitioners and managers are aware of a project’s three legs. These legs are features, schedule and quality. (1) While all of these are important for a successful project, … Continue reading

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Safety Margin

©2005 Steven M Smith Jake tossed and turned. He looked at the bedside clock. 3 AM. “I need sleep,” he thought to himself. But sleep would not come. Only worry about tomorrow’s meeting. Edmund, Jake’s manager’s manager, enjoyed probing managers … Continue reading

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Our Management Process Can’t Tell us How to Get From "Repeatable" to "Defined"

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Two Rights Make a Wrong

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Confessions of a Confused User

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Not an Estimating Problem

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What to Do When Your Project Slips

©2001 Johanna Rothman, www.jrothman.com You’re not going to meet schedule. Maybe requirements have taken longer. Perhaps in the middle of implementation, you uncover something requiring redesign. Maybe developers haven’t met one milestone yet and you’re worried about the test time. … Continue reading

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Don’t Tell Doreen

©2005 Steven M Smith Jarrett, Doreen and I were on the verge of a closing a big sale. We had crafted the Statement of Work (SOW) for two weeks and had finally reached the point where it satisfied both the … Continue reading

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Purrfectly Obvious

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Five Frequent Feedback Flaws

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Advice for Software Development Managers

© Gerald M. Weinberg, 2004 www.geraldmweinberg.com Software Development Magazine recently interviewed Jerry. Here are some of his answers. Q: What’s the most important piece of management-related advice anyone has ever given you? GW: If you blame your employees, you’re a … Continue reading

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Humor and General Systems

© Michael Bolton Jonathan Miller is one of the great Renaissance men of popular culture. He has been a medical doctor, an opera director, a television documentary writer and producer, but he first gained prominence as a performer in the … Continue reading

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Tao of Communication and the Constancy of Change

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Planning for Technical Management Time

©2005 Johanna Rothman I recently spoke with a manager who’d just incorporated another group of four people to his original three. “I was doing fine with my three people before I took over this group. I had time to manage, … Continue reading

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The Big Picture: Four Different Ways of Participating

©1999 Gerald M. Weinberg External consultants are seldom sent to classes by their customers, but often pay for their ownprofessional development. As such,they’re eager to get full value for their time and tuition. Moreover, external consultants often find themselves as … Continue reading

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Consulting Lessons From My Shiatsu Therapist

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What’s On Your Not-to-do List

©2005 Johanna Rothman. This article originally appeared on stickyminds.com. I’ll bet you’re one of those people who have too much to do. (I haven’t met anyone in the past few years who didn’t have too much to do, so it’s … Continue reading

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Where Does Your Time Go?

©2003 Esther Derby, www.estherderby.com Last week I visited a development team working on the company’s next big product. As I talked to one of the team, I could hear phones ringing, pagers beeping, and see people popping up to talk … Continue reading

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Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!

©2003 Don Gray, www.donaldegray.com I remember when I first started solving problems for a living. I would leap down the stairs three at a time, race to the computer room, and stare at the line printer (yes, it was that … Continue reading

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Put Confer Back in Conference

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