An anchor in a sea of change

Standard

Every situation in life is subject to change. Economy, health, career, relationships… Just like the temperature in my home town, they can change dramatically from one day to the next. What helps me, and what I hope will help you, is maintaining a constant sense of self.

A constant sense of self is driven by identifying and adhering to consistent values. These values are at the core of your being, regardless of circumstance. Core values define who you are and drive how you behave. They draw a clear line between what you can control and what you can’t. And they help you separate behaviors from results, the journey from the destination.

I’ve spent the last several years developing my core values. I review them daily and use them as a checklist to make decisions of all sizes. When I learn of a change beyond my control, I look to my values to guide my reaction. When everything is running smoothly, I let my values drive changes and improvements in my personal and professional life.

Being a lifelong geek, I built an acronym out of my values. It’s not a requirement, but it sure helps in communicating them to myself and others. For me, FAITH is the foundation, so it made natural sense to build my values around it.

Focus. Time and attention are liquid assets and you can choose whether to spend or invest them. There will always be distractions and competing priorities, but valuing focus helps you invest in the activities that bring the most value to your life.

Accountability. Accountability always makes people think of consequences. That’s not how I see it. Accountability is a two-way street. In my decision-making process, it ensures that I’m thinking of impact to others. In relationships, it ensures that I am open about my expectations. I believe we’re all in this together, and I behave accordingly.

Investment. Think like an owner. As a value, investment helps me in two ways. In making decisions, I evaluate as if I’m taking ownership — is the return worth committing my time, attention, money? Once committed, investment helps keep me on track, willing to make sacrifices. Investment means that it’s never “just a job”.

Thankfulness. Realizing that life is a gift elicits a response of gratitude. Sometimes it’s easy to be thankful, other times it’s not. In times when appreciation is difficult to come by, truly valuing Thankfulness forces me to take pause and look for the good in any situation. The big picture always shows me the blessings I’ve received and I can’t help but respond with thanks.

Helpfulness. The great Zig Ziglar used to say “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Truer words have never been spoken. Putting others’ needs first is the mark of a leader and an example I try to set every day. For my children, my team, my friends and my community.

“None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have Faith.”
― Paulo CoelhoBrida

Focus… Accountability… Investment… Thankfulness… Helpfulness… F-A-I-T-H

There you have it. My core values are the ideal me. They are not one-size-fits all, but I hope they inspire you to examine your own and build healthy habits to reinforce them daily. Paying attention to what is truly important to you will keep you honest with yourself and provide you with clarity in uncertain times. If there’s one thing in this world that’s worth understanding, it’s you.

The Best Defense

Standard

How do you keep users happy with your production code?

Users are happy when your code works, so your team (rightly) focuses on quality. Best practices are followed and many hands are involved in ensuring quality software makes it to production. Surely, conventional thinking dictates, we can avoid production bugs if enough people pitch in to help.

Except you can’t avoid production bugs. You can, however, delay software deployment and disappoint your users. User experience, at its core, is about handling the complicated bits behind the scenes, so your users can simply use your software (or use your software simply). Your users don’t care about your quality control processes or compliance policies. Your users care about using your software. In production.

So, the question becomes: How can you deliver quality software faster?

I’ll assume, for the purposes of this article, that you’ve already implemented the common sense development practices of Test-Driven Development, Peer Reviews and Quality Assurance testing of all sorts. Those are table-stakes for this game. Unfortunately, along the way you’ve likely also implemented rigorous change control processes, complete with checks, balances and hoops through which you must jump before you can make go from development to production. Are you ready for the three-step recipe to delighting your users?

  1. List the people, processes and technologies that stand between development and production.
  2. Eliminate everything that is not required by law.
  3. Automate the rest.

All software has bugs and all production systems have corner cases that can’t be tested in QA. Start with that realization. Continue with a passion for excellence/quality. Arrive at a decision to take a leap of faith.

keepemlaunching

We aren’t shipping diskettes with each new production version (if you are, I’ll accept your scornful comments). We’re capable of making changes at Internet speed. Write your tests first. Develop software with healthy paranoia. Engage deeply in consistent code reviews with your expert peers. Execute a clear QA plan. Communicate changes with stakeholders. Then… Push. The. Button.

The best defense is a good offense.

  • Question the necessity of every step between development and production.
  • Attack the status quo with a vengeance. There is no fear in this dojo.
  • Automate everything that slows you down. Computers love well-defined, repetitive tasks.
  • Ship it. Again and again. Just keep making your software better.

Your users are counting on you responding to their needs. They are going to deal with bugs. They just might not deal with a delayed response. Show them you care, and ship it.

Today I…

Standard

Today I had a big project turn south. An upcoming change to critical IT infrastructure got delayed. My team was disappointed by the setback, and it was my fault. Sure, the project had many variables spread across a sea of shifting priorities, but it was mine to manage. The communication with our stakeholders was mine to own, to drive, to execute. And I failed.

As we worked through our options and lamented the myriad complications, my mind drifted back to a conversation I had earlier this year with my middle daughter. She was worried about starting a new school year. She felt like a failure and said she “would never be good at school”, that she was “stupid”. These are fighting words in our house, as I don’t tolerate anyone speaking like that about my children… even the children themselves.

At that time, I told her what would become a rallying cry for her in school and many other pursuits in life: ”We all have bad days. Today sounds like it was one of those. We can’t go back in time and work harder or learn more or change anything at all to avoid this bad day. All we can do is start right now, making every day a little bit better than the day before. If we do that, before long, our bad days become good days.”

The more I recalled that conversation with my daughter, the more I realized that the real failure of today was to focus on the bad day. I took my own advice to heart and went a step further… I vowed to start making every day a little bit better and to track my progress. Every day, I will make an intentional effort to improve my leadership, my organization and my company. I will make a difference and I will tell the story. By tracking each improvement on a daily basis, I’ll be able to articulate each small change that led to every significant improvement.

I challenge you to do the same. Make a difference. Don’t focus on failure. Focus on getting better. I started today.

Today I forgave myself. Today I started what I’ll finish. Today I practiced what I preach. Today I led by example. Today I got a little bit better at getting a little bit better.

Tomorrow, I’ll do it again. Will you?