All posts by Richard

Book Notes : Slack

Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency
Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book looks at how making businesses more efficient is impacting businesses.

Where as before a secretary might only be utilised 40% of time time now they are put into pools so that this utilisation can be 100%. The impact of this is that where as a secretary might have previously been very responsive to any needs now there is a buffer of work going which the pool of secretaries will work through. The result of this is that the responsiveness to completing the work is reduced. For those people who are not 100% utilised people reduce their speed so that they fully use their time.

This pooling only works if the resources are fungible between different tasks. The challenge is that context switching between tasks can be up to 20% = mechanics of moving to a new task + reworking because of having to stop and move on to other tasks previously + immersion time + frustration + loss of team binding effect.

Direct communication is key, there should not be a restriction in requiring communication to go via their manager.

Focusing on bussiness not busyness. The benefits of slack include:

  • Flexibility for the organisation to reform
  • People retention
  • Capacity to invest

The cost of staff turn over = Time to get up to speed X (Salary + Overhead) X 0.5 X Number of employees X % Staff turn over

You can optimise for time or cost, not both – you can try to balance the two but if you want things done at the minimum time for the minimum cost this just results in stress.

Ways managers apply pressure:

  • Aggressive scheduling
  • Loading on extra work
  • Overtime
  • Getting angry at disappointment
  • Praising peoples extraordinary efforts
  • Being severe on below average performance
  • Expecting great things from all workers
  • Railing against apparent waste of time
  • Setting an example – when a boss labours so much it does not give slack to others
  • Creating incentives to encourage desirable behaviour or results

Lister’s Law – “People under time pressure don’t think faster”

All people can do are:

  • Eliminate wasted time
  • Defer tasks that are not on the critical path
  • Stay late – introducing exhaustion and reducing creativity

Increasing pressure is in three phases.

  • Workers respond to increased pressure by trimming any remaining waste by concentrating on the critical path.
  • Workers feel tires, pressure from home, and starting to take back some time during the regular day
  • Workers are exhausted and are looking to move elsewhere

Aggressive scheduling can cause waste – by having people with particular skills arrive earlier than they can actually start the work. Additionally blame is put on the lowest employees and there is no accountability for the scheduling.

Sprinting can be an effective way to get to the finish line but this should be used sparingly. In contradiction continued overtime has negative consequences:

  • Reduced quality
  • Personal burnout
  • Increased turnover of staff
  • Ineffective use of time during the normal working hours

With an extra time, generally, extra work is done however the productivity of each hour is reduced. Regularly accounting uses the contracted hours not worked hours to calculate productivity.

Face saving is not labour saving – such as getting a manager to do clerical tasks (e.g. photocopying, document formatting etc) which could be done by a more junior individual. This would then free the manager up. The challenge is that such a gofer is seen as overhead so is always under pressure to be removed.

Over worked managers are doing things they shouldn’t be doing. It is quite common that these people are actually doing multiple roles – the management role as well as the role of someone in the team. The result is poorly completed lower level tasks and no management at all. The reason people do this is that if people have to look busy then doing doing a subordinate job as well provides job security and management is difficult where as the subordinate role is easier and instantly rewarding.

The culture of fear results in

  • People stop saying things which needs to be heard
  • Goals are set so aggressively they can’t be achieved
  • Power trumps common sense
  • Anyone can be abused for failure
  • The people who are fired are generally more competent than the people who aren’t
  • The people who survive are particularly aggressive

Over-stressed organisations are always understaffed. In fearful cultures people are challenged to deliver more for less and people don’t like to hear things they don’t like to hear.

When third parties are involved fearful companies will prefer to litigate rather than admit internally that they made a mistake. There is never a good outcome for either company from litigation but from an employee perspective in a company of fear blaming another company means that they save face for the manager inside the company.

Process standardisation removed empowerment and people don’t feel ownership for the results.

Quality (both defect free and features) takes time, you can’t have both quality and quantity with the same quantity of people. “Quality” programs can often result in quality reduction, e.g. pushing things to the customer.

Directing an organisation is hard. Seeming to direct and organisation is easy. All you have to do is see the drift and tell people to go that way.

Managing by objectives gives you exactly what you task people to do – however in reality it is rarely what you actually want. As such these objectives regularly turn out to be counter productive. This promotes the idea of the company generally being in stasis and not prepared to take on new challenges which might result in huge growth.

Trust is a difficult thing to earn but it is important for managers to give more trust rather than less, generally in advance of it being earned. There is a risk that as a result the person could fail however without giving sufficient trust there would be no way for the person to learn and grow.

If you have to make a change it is much better to make a change while a company is growing, rather than when it is in decline. In the latter people will already be nervous and scared. When a company is growing people are happier to make a change if these see how this ties in with the company vision, which must be authentic.

The key role of middle management is innovation. If these managers don’t have sufficient slack they will not be able to spend the time innovating and the company will suffer. To achieve this these managers need to work together. “Healthy competition” is never healthy, when people are competing people are not collaborating and are in-fact working against each other.

When people are learning new things you can not expect people to work at the same rate as they were before. There is a natural slow down as people learn new skills and it would be foolish for companies to not take this into consideration when scheduling.

It is usual for people to only consider the earliest date and promise this to the business or clients. The delivery date will always be within a range of time – of which people should be fully clear on the range of possible dates or costs. There can be ways to reduce the potential risk for delay – the work to do this needs to be estimated at the start this way an informed decision can be made to do the risk reduction work as part of the project or not, this work will have an impact on the earliest delivery date but will reduce the latest delivery date.

Is risk management being effective in the organisation if you pass the 9 question test:

  • Is there a published list of risks?
  • Is there a mechanism to elicit the discovery of new risks?
  • Are any of the risks fatal?
  • Is each risk quantified by probability, cost and schedule impact?
  • Does each risk have a transition indicator to spot if it materialises?
  • Is there a single person responsible for risk management?
  • Are there tasks on the work breakdown which might not need to be done if the risk does not materialise?
  • Is there both a schedule and a goal?
  • Is there significant probability of completing before the estimated date?

View all my reviews

Book Notes : TED Talks

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking
TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris J. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Your number-one mission as a speaker is to take something which matters deeply to you and rebuilds it inside the mind of your listeners.
The only thing which matters is having something worth saying.
Use speaking as a motivator to get things done
Everyone has a story to tell, their own life is unique
You must only describe things in a way your audience will understand
The talk is a journey, focus on where the audience starts and where you want to take them to.

Common traps

  • sales pitches. People don’t want to hear them and switch off
  • be prepared. If people are giving up their time to listen then it is only fair that you invest time preparing
  • the organisation. People have no interest in how your NGO/company is organsied, focus on the products which people can get excited about
  • content is king. Although a good presented can make a dull topic interesting if there is no substantial content the audience will feel cheated

The key is to present one idea thoroughly – overstuffed = under-explained. Look to find something which is bigger than you and your organisation as your throughline – Show why it matters!

  • Only cover as much content as can be compelling.
  • Is this a topic I’m passionate about?
  • Does it inspire curiosity?
  • Will it make a difference to the audience to the this knowledge?
  • Is my talk a gift or an ask?
  • Is the information already out there?
  • Can I explain the topic, with examples, in the time?
  • Do I know enough about this to take up the audiences time?
  • Do I have the credibility to talk on this topic?
  • What are the 15 words I would use to describe this?
  • Would those 15 words persuade someone to want to listen to the talk?

How to actually present:

  • Make a connection
    • make eye contact
    • show vulnerability
    • be humorous – if possible. If you can’t then no joke is better than a joke which goes badly
    • loose the ego, ever: name dropping, stories to show off, boast, talking about you not the idea, politics is divisive


  • Narration
    • characters you can empathise with
    • build tensions – curiosity, intrigue or danger
    • the right level of detail – too little and people can’t imagine it and too much slows things down
    • parables – stories with meanings which relate to your topic can be a powerful way to engage an audience
  • Explanation
    • Start where the audience is
    • Make it intrigue/curiosity
    • Introduce concepts one by one
    • Use metaphors – take the concepts and make them understandable
    • Use examples – apply the concepts to lock them in place
    • It is key to string things together in such a way that people can follow you from where they start to where you want them to get to. These sequence of steps need to be built in such a way that everyone can follow the path and no one looses the way.
    • Check for jargon and remove or explain it.
  • Persuasion – take something in peoples mind, take it apart and rebuild it
    • prime then reason
    • explain why people think the way they do or a situation which people can relate to which can be used to support the point
    • reasoning
      • if x is true then y will be too
      • reduction ad absurdist – take the counter argument to a point where it created a contradiction, but be careful not to fall into mud slinging
    • be a detective – follow a curiosity trail of evidence to come to a conclusion
  • Revelation
    • Wonder walk
    • Dynamic demo – tease, context, reveal/demo, implications
    • Vision/dreamscape, paint a picture of the future. Do so such that others will desire that future


  • Visuals
    • 1/3 of TED talks don’t use visuals
    • Revelation. Ideal for presenting things which are difficult to explain. Set up the audience then let the images inspire.
    • Explanatory
      • Limit a slide to a single idea
      • people read ahead – slides can steal your thunder
    • Aesthetic
    • you don;t need to talk about every image. Let them delight people
    • Hints
      • it is better to have three slides with a single image than one slide with three
      • don’t use bullet points
      • no underlining or italics only bold to accent
      • reveal the slide slowly with a few click to explain how it builds
      • don’t do year book team photos, if you want to include such a photo then just one organic team shot works best
      • videos should not exceed 30 seconds and not more frequent than every 5 min
      • use only basic transitions
  • either following a script or not, whichever suits you – don’t try to do something you aren’t comfortable with
  • Scripted talks
    • Know the script so it does not sound scripted
    • Look at the audience at least each sentence
    • You could script the talk as bullet points and expand on each as you talk
    • Motorisation is time consuming – a memorised talk gets worse through memorisation before it gets better. You should memorise it to a level you can deliver the talk while you are doing other unrelated tasks.
    • Spoken and written language are different – if you are giving a talk you must use the language you would speak.
  • Unscripted talks
    • Consider having a bulleted list of flow
    • Know where you want to start and end then you feel safe to free form in the middle

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. If it is worth peoples time to listen it is worth your time to practice.

  • Did you grab attention from the start?
  • Was there eye contact?
  • Did the idea get built
  • Could you follow the journey?
  • Were the examples useful/sufficient?
  • How was the tone? Was it varied? Was it conversational?
  • Did it sound like it was being recited?
  • Was the humor natural or awkward? Was there enough of it?
  • Did the visuals help or get in the way?
  • Were there annoying traits?
  • Did you keep to time?
  • Were there sections you were bored? That should be cut.
  • Do the rehearsal in the exact outfit you are going to wear. This would pick up noised from earrings etc which you might want to change.
  • Wear things which boost your confidence
  • Use confidence monitors just to show your slides, don’t try to use speakers note or a script as this distances you from the audience

Maximising impact

  • Keep it short – if it can be shorter make it shorter, people will better remember it.
  • Grab peoples attention right away (don’t thank people for being there etc) the first 10 second and minute are key.
  • Deliver drama – a dramatic preview of what is to follow.
  • Ignite curiosity – as a surprising question which people want to know the answer to, but it must not be too broad to keep interest
  • A compelling slide, video or object – ideal for designers, architects etc
  • Tease – but don’t give away the punchline
  • End with power
    • Show the possibilities for what you’ve presented
    • Call to action
    • Personal commitment
    • Values and vision
    • Brief re-frame – repeat the talk in a paragraph
    • Narrative symmetry – linking back to something from the start of the talk
    • Poetically – not always an option but sometimes the topic allows it
    • Voice – volume, pitch, pace, timbre, tone, prosody


  • Use fear as a motivator to practice and prepare
  • Let your body help – take deep breaths
  • Drink mater, about a third of a bottle 5 min before the talk
  • Eat about an hour before
  • Find friends or sympathetic viewers in the audience and present to them
  • Have a backup plan – perhaps a bullet point notes or a story to tell if there are technical problems
  • Focus on the talk – “This matters!!”

View all my reviews

Book Notes : Smart and Gets Things Done

Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent
Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky’s Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent by Joel Spolsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book proposed that if you have the Best Working Conditions => you get the Best Programmers => to develop the Best Software => which results in Profit!

The preface for this is the the quality of the work and the amount of time spent are simply uncorrelated. Productivity is 5 to 1 or 10 to 1 between programmers. You can’t afford to be number two, or to have a “good enough” product. It has to be remarkably good, by which I mean so good that people remark about it. Having really, really, really talented software developers is your only hope for remarkableness.

Candidate sourcing

The great software developers, indeed, the best people in every field, are quite simply never on the market. The average great software developer will apply for, total, maybe, four jobs in their entire career. Whereas bad people are on the market quite a lot.

How to find people who are not on the market:

1. Go to the mountain

  • What conferences do they go to? Top end conferences or up and coming technologies
  • Where do they live?
  • What organizations do they belong to?
  • Which websites do they read?
  • Avoid advertising on general-purpose, large job boards as the bad people who are all over the market will apply and swamp you.

2. Internships

  • Students are lazy, with lots of options so can roll out of uni into a job. For the good ones try to attract them a year or two early – they might need some training but it is beneficial for both sides. You will likely need to have a contact at the Uni to find the best students.
  • If they are great make them a good offer for after graduation

3. Build your own community

  • Referalls
    • Tend to be from former companies tent do be from the same company which can be risky
    • Nobody wants to persuade their friends to apply for a job at their company only to get rejected
    • If you pay too much for referrals then they will coach people through the interview process


  • Private offices make programmers more productive and programmers prefer it
  • Putting on headphones with music to drown out the ambient noise reduces the ability of programmers to have useful insights
  • Office location
  • Does the office look exciting?
  • Good chairs don’t cost that much more over their lifetime and if you take the cost per week it is cheaper than most other office facilities
  • People want to work with good, cheerful and happy people – Smart, and Gets Things Done and not a jerk
  • Managers can advise but they must be extremely careful to avoid having their “advice” interpreted as a command

Thing which annoy programmers

  • being told to use a certain programming language
  • people being promoted because of their ability to network rather than being promoted strictly on merit
  • being forced to do something that is technically inferior because someone higher than them in the organization, or someone better-connected, insists on it.

People want to work on something cool, exciting new languages attract people.  Young programmers, especially, are attracted to ideological companies

  • open source or the free software movement
  • social causes
  • benefiting society

Developers don’t really care about money unless you’re screwing up on the other things – it means people aren’t really loving their job. If potential new hires just won’t back down on their demands for outlandish salaries, you’re probably dealing with a case of people who are thinking, “Well, if it’s going to have to suck to go to work, at least I should be getting paid well.”. That doesn’t mean you can underpay people, because they do care about justice – you do have to pay competitively, as long as the salaries are basically fair they will be surprisingly low on their list of considerations. Offering high salaries is a surprisingly ineffective tool in overcoming problems

Resumes filtering

  • Be selective about how we advertise jobs to limit the amount of poor CVs
  • Use a strictly objective system of reviewing and sorting them, this is not a filtering criteria it is just to sort a big pile of CVs to find candidates who are most likely to be suitable so they get interviewed first
  • Passion
    • Jobs with computers or experience programming going back to a very early age
    • People who love programming often work on their own programming projects (or contribute to an open source project) in their spare time.
    • Sometimes certain programming languages or technologies indicate evidence of someone who loves to explore new technologies
  • Pickiness
    • Specific covering letter to the company, a custom cover letter is a sign that if we do make this candidate an offer they’re likely to accept it
    • programmers who can communicate their ideas clearly – so neat, well structured and gramatically correct CVs
  • Brains
    • Math camp, programming competitons etc
  • Selectivity
    • Have they been through a rigorous review process before either for Uni or another company
  • Hard-core
    • Some development work is just harder than others, if they have the harder work then they stand out.
  • Diversity
    • Trying to bring new ideas into the team – to break people out of group-think and their own echo chamber
  • Great developers are likely to have enough options of places to work that any extra hoops will put them off bothering to apply.
  • Any technology you know right now might be out of date in a year, you are looking for people who pick things up quickly and can learn new things – so don’t filter CVs on key words.

Phone Interview

  • Get the candidate to describe their career history and basically tell me about themselves. Looking for:
  • Technology: How did they do things. What was their role. CV validation
  • Politics: How the candidate handles challenges. Looking for people who got things done, even in the face of opposition. I’m looking for people who challenged the status quo, who overcame objections, and who made things happen. Whose idea was it? Who convinced whom? Who did what? Did it work out? Why not?
  • Get the candidate to solve a technical problem. This should take something the candidate is familiar with but are unlikely to have implemented themselves. The aim is to look at their approach rather than getting them to speak code over the phone.
  • Get the candidate to ask questions about the company. This shows if they have done any research and what they are interested in.


  • 6 interviewers, at least 5 peers not managers
  • If two people would reject the candidate end the interview at that point
  • Don’t interview multiple people at once
  • There are three catorgories
    • Nos
      • “Hire, but not for my team.” is a no hire
      • “I’m a little concerned about” is a no hire
      • “Perhaps” is a no hire
      • It is much much better to reject a good candidate than hire a bad one
    • Maybes – never hire maybes
    • Superstars
  • Is the candidate Smart will the candidate get things done?
  • Bad interviwers
    • Interviewers who just talk the entire time
    • People who are just looking for trivia e.g. “What’s the difference between varchar and varchar2 in Oracle 8i?”, smart does not mean knows trivia, aptitude is more important. Any skill set will be out of date in a couple of years
  • Good practice
    • Know as little as you can about the candidate in advance so it does not bias your opinion.
    • don’t listen to recruiters opinions, don’t ask around about the person before you interview them, never talk to the other interviewers about the candidate until you’ve both made your decisions independently. This provides the least amount of bias for or against the candidate.
  • Good candidates
    • are passionate, they might be passionate in favor or against but passion is key. Bad candidates just don’t care.
    • can explain what they have done in a way a normal
    • look for signs of leadership, how have they pushed forward to get things done
    • write code and discuss it
      • Fundamentals – if they don’t know these then they won’t get very far
        • pointers
        • recursion
        • data structures
      • ask them to find bugs in their code, even in the unlikely event there are none, to see how they approach it
      • Even if they are a bad candidate, you want them to like your company and go away with a positive impression.
      • Don’t ask questions such as are they married, have kids etc even in a conversational way as this adds nothing and the candidate might feel this has been used against them which is likely illegal.
      • “Back of the envelope questions” e.g. How many piano tuners are there etc are a good way to provoke a conversation.
      • Do feedback instantly before you forget about the candidate
      • If 4 or 5 people think this person is worth hiring then you likely won’t go wrong
      • If you do have to say no to someone, do it quickly and respectfully
        Great people are much, much more valuable than average people – three to ten times as productive, costing 20% or 30% more


  • Why don’t they work?
    • performance measurements and incentives – devastatingly ineffective
  • Remove the parts which are not working.
    • Anonymous peer ranking with the options:
      • Great developer
      • Needs specific improvements
      • Hopeless
        • Firing poor performers can increase moral because poor performers are taking time away from the good performers. If you can’t fire them move under-performers to a place where they can’t cause any impact.
  • Putting in things which do work
  • Three approaches to leadership
    • The Command and Control Method
      • Tell people what to do and tell them off if they don’t do it
      • Disadvantages for developers
        • Smart people rebel against doing what they are told without good reasoning
        • Micromanaging would require a huge amount of managers to micromanage everything. That or you hit and run not seeing the consequences of your decisions.
        • The management have the least knowledge so are ill placed to make decisions.
    • The Econ 101 Method
      • Give them financial rewards and punishments to create incentives, aka replaces intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation.
      • When you stop paying the bonus, or when they decide they don’t care that much about the money, they no longer think that they care, even though they might have cared before you started giving them a bonus for it.
      • They’ll find some way to optimize for the specific thing you’re paying them, without actually achieving the thing you really want.
      • You’re encouraging developers to game the system.
      • You can’t abdicate your responsibility to train your people by bribing them.
    • The Identity Method
      • Make people identify with the goals you’re trying to achieve
      • The Identity Method is a way to create intrinsic motivation.
      • Make a point of of eating lunch with my coworkers. It’s hard to understate what a big impact this has on making the company feel like a family, in the good way.
      • by sharing information people will do the right thing

View all my reviews

Book Notes : Work Rules!

Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead
Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really interesting book, they take the HR concept and expand it into being everything to help the people side of the bussiness work more efficient. The results sound simple, by the challenge is how to apply them for which the book gives some stories including things which go bad as well as things which go well.

1. Give your work meaning
We all want our work to matter. Nothing is a more powerful motivator than to know that you are making a difference in the world.

2. Trust your people
The book highlights that if you feel like a founder then you will be more invested into the work, you will want everything to improve and you will feel empowered to get things changed. If you trust people to want to make things better then you have to make space and support to allow them to do it. Additionally if you trust people then you should not be afraid to share information with them. By simply sharing data and being transparent performance improves. The book has the point “Give people slightly more trust, freedom, and authority than you are comfortable giving them. If you’ve not nervous you haven’t given them enough.”

3. Hire only people who are better than you
People are the most important part of your bussiness. Without them you have nothing. Peoples abilities are not a normal distribution, it is a power-law as such the best performers perform dis-proportionally better.

4. Don’t confuse development with managing performance
Personal development is key to improving your workforce, however if this is ties into performance management then people shut down to constructively improving things. It is only possible for people to be receptive to development if there is no consequence on pay etc.

5. Focus on the two tails
Focus on the worst performing 5%, by helping them they might be able to become average employees. If they continue to struggle then they either the position or the company which is not the right fit for them. Study your top performers and see what they are doing which others can learn from – get them to teach others, if they teach they reflect on their own work and can actually learn from themselves as well.

6. Be frugal and generous
There are many things which companies can provide with no cost to the company but help the employees hugely – e.g. a barbers van, which saves the people time outside of work, or speakers which just generally require a space to present. However there are times when people need support, such as the birth of a baby or the death of a partner – at these times the company should be generous to support during these times.  Celebrate success with gifts and experiences as people will remember them longer.

7. Pay unfairly
The benefit from your top performers dis-proportionally more than the average so you should pay people based on the value they add.

8. Nudge
There are ways to get more of what you want, e.g. aiding new starters get up to speed quicker by giving the manager a checklist. Use data, surveys and checklists to get the improvements you are looking for.

9. Manage the rising expectations
The more you give the more people expect, but when you are trying things out brand them as temporary or as a trial so that you set the expectations and people know what to expect and to know that things don’t last forever.

10. Enjoy! And then go back to Number 1 and start again

The challenge to all of these is that things might go wrong – this is a risk that they knowingly make and although things do go wrong the amount of good far out weighs that. The book spends a long time talking about culture and that what you do should reflect your values.

View all my reviews

Book Notes : Start with Why

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book presents the Why, What, How model and how this applies to businesses. Businesses where the products that they produce and how they produce them echo the why the company exists have a much clearer and easier to understand message for customers and employees to understand and to be passionate about. The book presents an easy way to imagine this which he terms the celery test.

The Celery Test – the example presented is if you go to the supermarket and have celery, rice milk, Oreos and M&Ms in your basket if someone looks at this they would have no idea why you are buying them. If your why was to be healthy then you would only buy the celery and rice milk. Now imagine that these different items are products or ideas, if you have lots of different products but they don’t follow your why then people will have no idea why you are making all of these products where as if you start with why and if everything reinforces your why then it is extremely clear to people what your companies Why is.

There were a number of interesting stories in the book talking about people such as Steve Jobs and Apples why of revolutionising through technology, Martin Luther King and his I have a dream not I have a plan speech, and more.

One thing which was really interested was how commodity products only differentiate each other on the smallest of additional features. People are not passionate about companies which produce commodity products, they buy them purely on a comparison basis next to another product. This is a fine bussiness but it will never be an amazing business.

The most interesting thing for me was why bussiness succession often fails. If you think about Bill Gates stepping down and Steve Ballmer taking over, Bill is strongly a why person but he needs what and how people around him to succeed. Steve appeared to be a natural successor, knowing the bussiness inside and out but Steve was not a Why person, he was a what and how person and as such when he took over he was not someone who was able to take on the role Bill provided at Microsoft – the why the company existed and its motivation for the future.

View all my reviews

Book Notes : Zone to Win

Zone to Win: Organizing to Compete in an Age of Disruption
Zone to Win: Organizing to Compete in an Age of Disruption by Geoffrey A. Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Businesses are designed to be stable – shareholders want predictable growth and returns. However for a bussiness to catch the next big wave this is counter to stability. To internally grow a new bussiness it is likely to result in a reduction of the current results. To facilitate the growth of a new bussiness line extreme care needs to be taken to prevent innovation stagnation or from competition from other companies.

The book presents four zones.

Zone to win diagram

Performance zone

Most of the revenue and profits are generated in this zone. The aim of this zone is to drive the top line sales numbers. Here products are stable and customers are relatively loyal. Each bussiness here constitutes > 10% of the total enterprise revenue. Here if our current plan is failing we can do one of three things:

  • Change the product or service we are offering
  • Change the manager in charge of the function that is under-performing
  • Change the market segment we are targeting

When a new fledgling bussiness comes along it is critical that this becomes the number one priority. It has to scale to >10% within a maximum of 3 years else it will be suffocated by the other bussiness lines. This means hitting targets is now the second priority as failing to scale the new bussiness line will mean that you will have missed the opportunity and all of the work to get it to this stage will have been wasted, additionally this bring on of a new bussiness line is a temporary upheaval which should return higher profits in the future.

The first principle of zone defence is that you must never attempt to disrupt yourself. As an established enterprise, your number-one asset is the inertial momentum of your installed customer base. Your number-two asset is an ecosystem of partners that makes its living adding value to your established offerings.

“Successful disruptions disrupt other companies’ bussiness, not their own.” If you are being attacked your target should be to neutralise the opposition (e.g. taxi firms using ride haling apps to counter Uber). These neutralisation assets could come from work you are doing in the incubation zone.

Performance Matrix

Source of revenue vs channel of revenue.  Each cell must be accounted for, not just the rows and columns.  The rows must be >10% of the revenue to be taken seriously. As such only things in the performance zone are present here.

Productivity zone

The aim of the productivity zone is to improve the bottom line numbers. Here all of the functions which do not have direct accountability for revenue – such as Accounting, marketing, supply chain. The aim of the zone is

  • Regulatory compliance – Culture, values and tone set the direction of compliance with oversight, detection and remediation to correct. You have to design compliance in and monitor it vigilantly.
  • Improved efficiency (“doing things right”)
  • Improved effectiveness (“doing the right things”)

When budgeting these functions should be separate from the budget for other bussiness units since all other zones use their function – each bussiness unit should not need to estimate how much of the shared service they will use.

One key thing in this zone is to consider the end of life of bussiness units when it would be better to use the internal resource on something which brings the company more value. The best way is to have an end of life shared service since killing products is a specialist task.

Incubation zone

This is the place for ideas which are several years out. The ideas in the incubation zone should not be incremental of what you have currently (this is for the performance zone), these are for things which could grow into being their own credible disruptive innovation delivering billions of dollars of revenue within a decade. In the incubation zone it should build a highly competitive product into a bussiness with between 1-2% of the companies revenue, so this needs the best people. These are businesses in their own rights with specialist sales, marketing and competitive services to compete against other startups.

The businesses in this zone are overseen by a venture board, here they decide on investment into independent operating units. Each unit is run the same way as a startup with venture-funding and milestones. Space in the incubation zone is limited so if a unit fails its technology should be assimilated into existing products and the team moved on. Successful units then have the option to move to the transition zone, if it is not already occupied, the technology could be introduced into an existing line of products, the unit could be spun off as a start up, sold (though seeking buyers might be a distraction) or shut down.

Transformation zone

When bringing on a new bussiness unit into the main bussiness it will cause problems for your existing bussiness. As an example your sales teams don’t have the contacts to sell these products. Things in the transformation zone will under-deliver in the short term, but the aim of this is long term gain and bussiness stability.

The majority of the time the transformation zone is empty, a bussiness can not cope with such huge change very often. The most important thing to do is to complete the transformation than to make the current numbers – the growth of this bussiness unit is the businesses future, not its present. A company can only undertake one transformation at a time, taking on two at the same time will be too much for the company to bare. For the transformation to be successful every leader in the company must be aligned with the transformation.

From the moment a unit enters the transformation zone until it gets to 10% of revenue it will be a very destabilising forces within the company – above 10% it starts to stand on its own.

View all my reviews

Book Notes : Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book a really interesting read, partially as it is a familiar story to us but from the inside you get a very different perspective. The focus on success never being a guarantee and that everything is random are two particularly powerful points. Without a random sequence of events Pixar would not be what it is, Disney animation studio would still be struggling and the world would be a much worse place as a result.

The book starts with the story of how Pixar came into existence from being part of Lucasfilm then being sold to Steve Jobs. At the time the company made hardware then evolved into software until the movies it is famous for today. The challenges the book go through are similar to any growing company or one which stagnates but it also tells the personal stories of Ed Catmull (the author), John Lasseter and Steve Jobs.

Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, pay attention to anything that creates fear. Doing all these things won’t necessarily make the job of managing a creative culture easier. But ease isn’t the goal; excellence is.

The book has a chapter with the following points, but I have added some of my own notes from the book to the end.

  • Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right the chances are that they’ll get the idea right.
  • When hiring people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today.
  • Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.
  • If there are people in your organisation who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you loose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.
  • It isn’t merely to be open to ideas from others. Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.
  • There are many valid reasons why people aren’t candid with one another in a work environment. Your job is to search for these reasons and then address them.
  • Likewise, if someone disagrees with you, there is a reason. Our first job is to understand the reasoning behind their conclusions.
  • Further, if there is fear in an organisation, there is a reason for it – our job is (a) to find what’s causing it, (b) to understand it, and (c) to try to root it out.
  • There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.
  • In general, people are hesitant to say things which might rock the boat. Braintrust meetings, dailies, postmortems, and Notes Day are all efforts to reinforce the idea that it is okay to express yourself. All are mechanisms of self-assessment that seek to uncover what is real.
  • If there is more truth in the hallway than in the meeting room, you have a problem.
  • Many managers feel that if they are not notified of a problem before others are or if they are surprised in a meeting, then that is a sign of disrespect. Get over it.
  • Careful “messaging” to downplay problems makes you appear to be lying, deluded, ignorant, or uncaring. Sharing problems is an act of inclusion that makes employees feel invested in the larger enterprise.
  • The first conclusion we draw from our success and failure are typically wrong. Measuring the outcome without evaluating the process is deceiving.
  • Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
  • Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capability to recover when unexpected events occur. If you don’t always try to uncover which is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
  • Similarly, it is not the managers job to prevent risk. It is the managers job to make it safe to take them.
  • Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.
  • Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up – it means you trust them even when they do screw up.
  • The people ultimately responsible for implementing a plan must be empowered to make decisions when things go wrong, even before getting approval. Finding and fixing problems is everyone’s job. Anyone should be able to stop the production line.
  • The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal – it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.
  • Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you show them to others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way. And that’s as it should be.
  • A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organisational structure. Everyone should be able to talk to anybody.
  • Be wary of making too many rules. Rules can simplify life for manager, but they can be demeaning to the 95% who behave well. Don’t create rules to rein in the other 5% – address abuse of common sense individually. This is more work but ultimately healthier.
  • Imposing limits can encourage a creative response. Excellent work can emerge from uncomfortable or seemingly untenable circumstances.
  • Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently.
  • An organisation, as a whole, is more conservative and resistant to change than the individuals who comprise it. Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change – it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.
  • The healthiest organisations are made up of departments whose agenda differ but whose goals are interdependent. If one agenda wins, we all lose.
  • Our job as managers in creative environments is to protect new ideas from those who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge, there must be phases of not-so-greatness. Protect the future, not the past.
  • New crises are not always lamentable – they test and demonstrate a company’s values. The process of problem-solving often bonds people together and keeps the culture in the present.
  • Excellence, quality, and good should be earned words, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves.
  • Do not accidentally make stability a goal. Balance is more important than stability.
  • Don’t confuse the process with the goal. Working on our processes to make them better, easier, and more efficient is an indispensable activity and something we should continually work on – but it is not the goal. Making the product is the goal.

Some of my notes:

  • Being on the lookout for problems is not the same as seeing problems.
  • Stick to your beliefs – if you pride yourself in producing quality products, don’t let anyone make you make a low quality product.
  • Never say things won’t change – things will this is inevitable.
  • Trust, candor and respect are very important thing to develop,but they need a focus as they can disappear without people realising. A group of people who highly respect each other and are prepared to be completely open and honest results in a product which is of a superior quality – in Pixar this includes the Brain trust.
  • From an early age in life people are taught that failure is bad – this is not the case failure is learning, and you will learn more from failure than you will from accidentally being successful.
  • “You’ve got to feed the beast” – for Disney these were animators, these are the people who your paying to do the work so people keep them busy doing stuff. Controlling the beast is important and sometimes ideas need to be protected.
  • People at Pixar don’t have contracts, they are there because they want to be and can leave at any time. This also means that instead of waiting for peoples contracts to expire, and to not renew them, conversations between management and employees happen as soon as they are needed.
  • Peoples brains are wires in a manner than things need to be explained. Humans don’t like the idea of randomness but ran random events happen all of the time. It is natural to assume that your product was a success because the team was great, but it could just have been you were lucky.
  • As people move higher up they see less. The position you are in means that people act differently around you and the issues you are looking for are hidden from you. You don’t understand what is happening on the “shop floor” as it is complicated, it is not possible to understand everything but additional view points should be considered additive and not dictatorial.
  • Even though people like getting a bonus they enjoy being shaken by the hand and appreciated as much or more than the money.
  • Hindsight is not 20-20, we know more about the past but we still interpret things differently as shown by two people recanting the same story. These are based on our own internal models. We also fill in the gaps and try to draw conclusions – some of which will be too sweeping.
  • Research is key – the best way to be in a creative world is to be immersed into the environment you need to be creative within. So in Pixars case if you need to animate a flamingo the best way is to go to the zoo to observe one. This also prevents derivative work and not new creativity.
  • Postmortems
    • Consider what we learned – but be careful not to construct learning which did not exist.
    • Teach others who were not there
    • Don’t let resentment foster
    • Use the schedule to force reflection
    • Pay it forward – what questions should we ask in the future?
  • Pixar University
    • Built connections between desperate teams
    • People were free to be goofy, relaxed, open and vulnerable
    • It encouraged people to become accepting with mistakes and imperfections
    • Sent a clear message that people should keep learning

The book has details of Steve Jobs role with Pixar. Other than taking it over from Lucasfilms he ensured that it was strong against Disney which was many times its size. One of the key achievements was its flotation – right after its first full length film. Steve knew that once the film was launched Disney would want to renegotiate soon after the success of the first film, to ensure that Pixar had a strong hand he needed to build up the finances and do this by floating the company at a very astute time.

The book has a very interesting description of the process of the merger between Pixar and Disney. How Steve Jobs wanted to ensure the survival of Pixar and he could not see it being independent since it lacked distribution and marketing ability. Disney was the perfect match but the risk was Pixar would be subsumed into the Disney animation studio and squashed – Steve knew this and to protect Pixar he ensured that the management of Pixar took a lead at Disney Animation.

View all my reviews

Book Notes : The Goal

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The goal talks though the conversion of a manufacturing plant which had been running using cost accounting and its embracing of Lean manufacturing. The way the book is presented is quite novel in that its presentation is as a story where you go on a journey with the plant manager as he faces being closed down.

Through the course of the book Kanban is presented and applied to the plant. The book covers things such as challenging the productivity views of robotics, showing how the entire productivity of the plant is dictated by its bottlenecks, that you need excess capacity and you can’t run everything at 100% without building up large amounts of inventory which may or may not be sold.

The production line approach, made famous by Ford for the production of cars, was an extremely efficient form of production because of the flow of work but for such a system you need large volumes to warrant a dedicated line. The aim of lean manufacturing is to take the idea of flow and apply it in environments where the volumes are not sufficiently large to warrant their own production line.

Flow is key to shipping products to costumers – the key is to reduce the time from when a customer places an order to the point where we get the money for it.

This does not work with traditional local optimisations. This usually means large batch sizes since the set up of the machine is likely to be significant and traditionally people then try to produce as much of the parts as possible from the single set up. This results in large amount of in progress inventory which adds no value in its current form. Additionally the larger the batch the longer the parts need to wait – 99% of the lead time to produce a product can just be it waiting to be processed. To facilitate flow it is key that the focus on these machines is to improve the the efficiency of the set up time so that the machine is able to produce smaller batches which reduce the amount of over produced inventory and the waiting time thus reducing costs and lead time.

When there is an issue with flow inventories accumulate and the order lead time increases and reduces bussiness cash flow. One way to improve flow is by limiting space, this prevents the building up of large inventories. This is counter to previous approaches since limiting space means that not every worker will be busy all of the time, only bottlenecks will have the high levels of utilisation. By stopping people work it quickly highlights any issues in the flow and these can then be resolved. This means that the focus is always of making the bottlenecks more efficient – which is key since any time lost at a bottleneck will impact the output/productivity of the entire site. Things such as putting quality control before the bottleneck will improve the throughput since the bottleneck won’t work on parts which will be rejected later. Ensuring the bottleneck is able to run none stop, such as by splitting breaks so that people can cover it continuously.

The challenge of small production quantities and small buffers is that gridlock could happen where parts are not available for assembly when the space is already filled up. A solution for used in Kanban is instead of restricting buffer space between manufacturing steps the amount of products which can be produced are. The Kanban system uses the idea that when you want to ship something to the customer this triggers all of the preceding steps required to manufacture the product. The way this is achieved is through the use of cards, these cards are passed from the end of the production line towards the beginning each one triggering the manufacturing of the parts required to produce the product which is trying to be constructed.

Lean can not be applied to all industries, because of the time it takes for Kanban to produce an efficient manufacturing process it only works for products which do not change for a significant period of time – this works better in a car plan where new models are only released once a year. Additionally Lean does not work where the products are produced sporadically – because of the buffers the product needs to be being produced on a continuing basis. Lean also only works where the mix of products being produces are fairly consistent. Any of these three will reduce the effectiveness of lean.

View all my reviews

Book Notes : How to Recruit and Hire Great Software Engineers

How to Recruit and Hire Great Software Engineers: Building a Crack Development Team
How to Recruit and Hire Great Software Engineers: Building a Crack Development Team by Patrick McCuller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You should be hiring people with the right attitude and the capability to learn, master and teach since although you know what you are doing now you don’t know what you’ll be doing 1,3,5 or 10 years from now.

Hire top performers, hiring anything less than the best will hurt your bussiness. Talent bring talent, incompetence repels talent. A mediocre or low performer will not aid the team and will actually diminish its performance though having to deal with messed up projects or missed deadlines. It is generally easy to identify low performers and exceptionally high performers, the challenge comes with the mediocre ones – once hired these people are very difficult to remove because they are not doing anything wrong they are just not capable of performing at the high levels which you need. Top performers perform between 10 to 16 times more than an average one.

Understand your current pool of talent, ask them to periodically update their CVs to map out the teams current knowledge and experience. Knowing who is in the team will identify holes in the team if they need filling and will help you focus your recruitment if you need to replace someone. Critically the profile needs to look at leadership, experience (tenure, technologies etc), style (cautious, quick, adventurous, perfectionist) and roles (build engineer, tool engineer, user interface developer etc). Engineers have two preferences, either creators or optimisers. As a project changes from the start-up/creation phase into the optimisation phase this might mean that the people in the team needs to change to ensure that the engineers are still being suitably challenged.

Hire ahead where possible – the pressure of hiring someone urgently to fill a role will always lower quality through subconscious if not though concious bias.

First hires on a team are critical – you need engineers who are leaders and great communicators, who inspire the team both technically and on a personal level developing and coaching them.

Its a race – how quickly can you hire? because if someone else can hire quicker the candidate might be off the market before you have got very far through your process. Look at the process, the barriers and try to reduce the process to as short a time as possible – could you go from candidate to decision in one day? Can you speed things up, remove steps or reject candidates earlier? There are ways to make things quicker without lowering the quality of the candidates.

Candidates as customers. Candidates will be more likely to work for a company with a simple and enjoyable hiring process. If your candidates experience is exceptional, they will notice, talk and refer others to you. You will turn down a lot of candidates so if they are treated well rejected candidates can still spread the word about your company. So ask the candidates how they found the process, see what they say and improve things. By being as open with the candidate as possible they will know what to expect and so can perform at their best – provide a guide for the candidate to know what the steps of the process are. During the interview the words chosen should be straightforward – uncommon or complicated words should be avoided, not just for people for who the interviewing language is not their first language but for all candidates. There are some people who should just not be allowed to interview – for whatever reason they are not the suitable, these people should not be forced to interview as these people will leave a bad experience with the candidates.

Passive candidates need wooing – this might be extra steps such as a getting to know you phone call, speaking with developers, pre screening etc. Reduce the barriers to entry – such as not requiring a fully up to date CV however all candidates should be treated fairly. Don’t make exceptions for one if you are not prepared to make exceptions to all.

Active candidates contain a large number of people who can’t hold down a job, don’t have sufficient skills (e.g. new graduates). These sort of candidates gain a lot of experience at being interviewed.

Job descriptions are not inspiring – why would anyone work for a company based on a job description. If your target is passive candidates especially then they will either ignore or not care for the job description, so how can you attract such people but still provide them with the details of what they will be doing? A passion statement, this shows the passion for the company – Why are they doing what they are doing? Why should people work for you? and don’t present it in a dull form.

Great software engineers know other great software engineers, tapping into their network is immensely powerful but engineers themselves are usually not very good at seeing or networking. Additionally it is likely that their immediate group of contact are not looking for a job but encouraging them to speak about your company both to their immediate network and their wider network (friends of friends) is a great way to spread the word about your company.

Recruiters want to make money, if you reject all of their candidates they will not send you any more. The best way to improve this is better explain the candidate you are looking for to them, to explain the company, to help them better understand what you are looking for. The more information they have the more suitable candidates they will send to you and thus the better the candidates the more you will hire and the more money they will make. So spending time with recruiters is a great way to improve the quality of the source of candidates. Just remember that because the recruiter is incentivised to hire people they are likely to do whatever they can to help the candidate get the job (such as leaking interview questions etc).

Contract hires, instead of a long laborious interview process hire more freely on a short term contact then if they are performing well look to give them a permanent contract. To the author this has always turned out to be counter productive and a distraction rather than a benefit.

Unfortunately it is part of the concious for people to want to hire people “just like them”, this introduces bias be it sexism, ageism, universityism etc these are a challenge so when people say why they should not hire someone try to get to the root of it. For new starters working in another country it is likely that this bias is even greater. Don’t bother searching the internet for details about a candidate – it is as likely that you will find out irreverent information as relevant information, as such the risk of bias is greatly increased. Consider if the interviewer actually needs to have seen the CV or not – if the interview is competency based then there is no need for a CV then they should not see it since this will introduce additional unneeded bias. The HR team should redact any information which is not important to the hiring process and could introduce bias – such as gender, age, marital status etc.

Identify the source of the candidate, where you get a good source spend more time getting candidates through that source. Different recruitment companies and even recruiters have different approaches so try to focus on the ones which work best for you.

Lower the barrier to entry. Do you really need 6 years of Java experience? CV screening is quick simple and cheap – but this drastically reduces your pool of candidates for no good reason. Someone doing the same project for 6 years gaining Java experience is very different to someone working for 2 years on a variety of projects. Interviewing is expensive but it is better to look at your interview process, such as telephone interviews, rather than being harsh on CV content. When going through CVs look for positive points, negative point and neutral points. If the positive outweigh the negative then the candidate is worth interviewing. Positive items are things such as length of experience, relevant experience, variety of experience, education, computer science experience (such as university but specifically computer science rather than just Java courses), patents and publications (though reading these is not recommended), responsibility. Negative items are “wall of words” but not saying what the individual did, lengthy CV and quickly changing companies. Things to discard when reviewing a CV, things such as breaks in service, irrelevant information, small spelling or grammatical errors – especially when dealing with people who’s first language is not English.

Telephone screening provides its own challenges because of the unnatural narrow band of communication. A simple problem can become difficult and a tricky problem can become impossible over the phone. Asking open questions such as about recent projects can just use up valuable interview time because the power is passed to the candidate. Posing coding questions should be short, typically 30 seconds and can be conveyed without confusion and the answer to which are just a few lines long. An alternative is to use a shared screen so that there is no room for confusion.

To maximise the use of interviews ensure that there is some coordination over who is going to ask which questions to prevent repetition. Four or five experienced interviewers are the optimal number. When handing over the candidate don’t discuss the candidate to prevent bias. Gain feedback from interviewers independently before discussing the candidate.

If the candidate says that they are suffering from outside stress offer to reschedule the interview for a time when they are better able to focus on the interview process. During interviews candidates will be at their best. As an example if the candidates English is a challenge it is likely to be worse once they are hired, however a thick accent should be forgiven since after a day or two of working with the individual you will quickly get used to the way they speak. If the candidate makes inappropriate jokes or comments these are likely to be more prevalent once they start. If the candidate has strange mannerisms (such as restless legs etc) these can be medical conditions or stress induced and should be ignored. If there is silence then let it happen, this could be the way the candidate thinks and so you should be happy to let a little time pass for the candidate to focus. A large number of candidates lie, if you suspect a lie push it a bit to find out more – it is likely the candidate will admit to a misunderstanding however if the candidate gets caught up in their own lie the author has highlighted the issue and contradictions and then ends the interview process. Candidates expect certain questions, if you ask questions which are similar to these but are not the same then the candidate might inadvertently answer the wrong question in which case you should highlight the difference to clear the confusion up for the candidate. Where possible get them to do the job you will expect them to do and see how they get on, for jobs where you can’t do this ask them questions about their past jobs but remember it is likely the responses will be on the positive side. The book goes into many more details about interview questions than I am going to cover here.

Interviewers are only able to asses people of a similar level – it is very hard for a junior developer to asses the difference between a senior and a principle developer. This can be a real issue where you are looking to recruit a competency into a team that you don’t currently have as people will be recruiting outside of their field of expertise. Training interviewers through shadowing, classes and workshops, documentation and guides, coaching, practice interviews and then once they are actually interviewing candidates to continue to provide feedback so they are always improving. It is especially important to get interviewers to understand between domain knowledge and capabilities, if the candidate does not have the knowledge but has the capabilities then they will quickly pick up the knowledge.

Hire the best engineers you can afford and keep going till you run out of money/budget. During hiring there is always a margin of error. Hiring a poor performer is quickly correctable, you can just let them go. It is difficult to fire someone for doing just and “all-right” job. Hire the candidate is all of the things you want and nearly none of the things you don’t. “Nice” people are not enough, they need to have capability the nice people who are pleasant to everyone but when they start have no capability to do the work are the hardest to let go. You should never hire people who: slam former employers, severely irritates anyone, lies or deceives, ignores goals. Never hire below your standard, the hire will have impact for their entire tenure at the company which could exceed your own.

Feedback can give the option for a candidate to argue about an already made decision and potentially could give the option for a legal challenge. As such, if the HR team do not already have guidelines of what you say, the author recommends giving more generic feedback such as “You were not a great match today. Gain some more experience, hone your skills-coding, design and so on and consider applying again in a year or two”.

Keep and analyse records – not just of the candidates but of the recruiters. Review the data regularly. If you hire someone then let them go, was there any data which could have given you the information earlier? If a candidate performs really well were there things which you could pick up on to help identify this earlier? etc.

The amount you pay developers falls between the bounds of local market rate at the lower end up to creating golden handcuffs at the top. If you want great developers you need to pay them appropriately but over paying people will mean people who should not take the job take it only for the money and get tied in so they can not leave. Decide what your offer is and make it, this should be the maximum which you feel would be appropriate and explain this to the candidate so they know their is no room for negotiation. Make sure that you hire at the appropriate level, someone being interviewed for a developer role who is at a principle level will sail through the interview but they are not right for that role. Let the candidate speak to others on your team, even after the interview process, by being open and honest with them they are more likely to feel that they have made the right choice. If the candidate does not respond within a week don’t assume that they are not interested, instead get the highest person in the company you can to call to speak to the candidate as a sell call – this will set your company apart for a candidate who might get a couple of offers and your CEO has phones to speak to them.

The recruitment process is not over until the candidate is settled into their new job. Once they accept send a welcome email to them, giving them details about the work they will be doing – a large number of candidates will be passionate to know about some of the technologies they will be using before they actually start and will do some investigation at home. For people who relocate they will need even more help with things which you take for granted, e.g. where to rent a place or where shops are etc speak to them before they begin to see what help you can give them. Think about the first day – make sure they have a desk, their network account is set up, arrange for people to go out for lunch – everything you can do to make the new starter fell welcomed and part of the team. Try to arrange things for their first week to get them to start settling in this should cover the team, bussiness and technologies. Perhaps give them a peer mentor that they can chat to, someone who is an aspiring leader will usually enjoy taking on this role. Everyone is different and so will need to be treated a little differently to help them fit in.

Top talent want top talent requiring jobs, if you hire top talent make sure that the work they are doing is suitable. The things which turn off top talent are incompetent developer and low quality work.

View all my reviews

Book Notes : How Google Works

How Google Works
How Google Works by Eric Schmidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book lifts the lid a little on what goes on at Google. There are a number of insights which I found particularly interesting and a number of interesting anecdotes (such as the Google withdrawal from China).

There are a couple of over arching things in this book.

Bussiness plans are out of date as soon as the ink dries. Although it is good to think about where you are going, having a fixed and ridged plan of how you are going to get there is never going to suceed.

Hire great people, pay them well and let them get on with it without standing in their way will lead to creativity which you did not expect. The best smart creatives have the potential for disproportionate impact.

CEOs should make or be involved in product launches, acquisitions, public policy. The key skill of a CEO of senior leader is to know which decisions to make and which to let run their course.

Make sure you are working on the right things – spend 70% of time on the thing which is making you the money (not the thing which might in the future), spend 20% on what you think the next thing will be and 10% on speculative ideas which may or may not pay out.

Product, product product.

The best products are successful because of technical factors, not business ones. This explains why products such as Google Reader got closed down (which just presents RSS) and Google News (which aggregates data sources and identifies similar stores) was not.

Never think, we have put a lot of time and money into this so we have to make is a success. If something is not going the way it should kill it as soon as you realise it. Since there should be technical insight it is not likely to be a complete waste, it is likely some of the components are still useful for different projects.

Competitive advantages don’t last long. As such for companies to last a long time they need a “grow fast strategy”

The book refers to defaulting to open a large number of times. They explain how they feel this drives better products and that allowing people to build on the success of open tools, platforms etc drives innovation and improves things much quicker than if things are closed.

The defaulting to open also refers to not locking people in – if you lock people in so they can’t leave then it does not encourage you to innovate and as such a competition can come along and produce a much better product. This is clear from Google search where people can easily go to a competitor so by having a low barrier for the customer to change forces the company to focus on product quality.

Don’t follow competitors but do use them as motivators to keep you focused on product improvements. They gave the example of Bing and how this encouraged them on to innovate even more in search such as Google Instant Search.

If you want to know what you can do to change the world (or even your own career) think about where things will be 5 to 10 years in the future. How are things going to get from here to there, what is missing and what opportunities does this present. Thinking 5 to 10 years into the future self driving cars are extremely likely, but when Google kicked off their autonomous driving program there was not clear way how or who would get there.

View all my reviews