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Commitments – Making, Keeping, Revising

Back on October 20, 2012 I posted “Rants of a Madman – When 30 Day Syndrome Attacks – Planning Like You’re Goldilocks.”  It was a rant about software teams who go back to the well saying that they need another 30 days to finish a release, just to find out they need another 30 days, and perhaps even another 30.  It was also a rant as to how Agile can help solve this problem.  While traveling from Chicago to Wichita last week I was reminded about this post and thought I’d share my recent advice to my teams.

I earned the “Most Flight Delays For A Single Flight In A Single Day” Achievement this week. I think I’ll sew the badge onto my suitcase. 11 flight delays for my flight from Chicago into Wichita and I have the 11 text messages on my phone to prove it! It was just crazy. I was afraid that I was going to burn out my FitBit as I went back and forth between gates.

Although United tried to be very transparent with the delays, I think there is a lesson to be learned in one of the key mistakes they made: At one point they gave up, quit planning, and began issuing off the cuff, gut-check last minute updates. The last 4 delays were caused when somebody assumed “this surely cannot take longer than 5 more minutes” and updated the new departure time to be 5 minutes in to the future. Well, you can guess what happened — they missed their updated time. About 10 minutes after they missed their previous “this cannot possibly take longer than 5 more minutes” update, they decided again it couldn’t take longer than 5 more minutes. Yes, next update, next fail. And yes, they made this mistake 4 times in a row.

When it comes to updating expectations one of the worst things one can do is to fall in to this syndrome of simply tossing out a quick answer that “feels good.” When providing an update for a new date, many forget that this creates a new commitment. Yes, mistakes happen and sometimes a commitment needs to be reset, but when it is reset one needs to understand that is indeed a new commitment. It is perhaps even more important in some ways than the original.

Missing commitments over and over destroys any previously earned credibility. It doesn’t matter how smart one is or how hard one works, the continued miss on commitments creates mistrust not only to customers but with one’s team. United would have been served much better had they taken a pause to actually think through setting a new expectation.

Sometimes one feels pressure to come up with that new commitment immediately, even before the answer is known to themselves. Don’t fall for this trap. If one doesn’t know it is best to say so, then give a date for a date. That is make a commitment as to when others can expect to receive an updated prognosis and final commitment.

Don’t become Goldilocks… :D


Showing Initiative – A True Story

Although I was in Portland this week, I reflected over an experience I had last week while traveling. I went out for dinner and had similar things happen, but with totally opposite results. In the first case I wanted to order my meal and was told they were out of what I wanted. I then tried again, but received the same answer. I tried a third and fourth time and each time I received the same answer: “We are sold out of that and we don’t get our food shipment until tomorrow morning.” I ended up putting down some money for my iced tea and leaving to go someplace else. How can you operate a restaurant when you are out of meat, poultry, fish, noodles, and greens? And yes, my attempts were in that order <grin>. What was even more frustrating was each time I asked the waiter played the victim as he walked back to the kitchen, asked, and then came back to tell me “try again.” It wasn’t his fault, he explained, his “…manager hadn’t ordered enough produce this time around.”

Now, this very same week I went to another restaurant and thought I was going to have a déjà vu moment. I ordered and the waitress came back to tell me that they were out of what I had selected. Now here is where the story differs… The waitress went on to say “…our manager isn’t here, but the busboy decided to run down the block to get some groceries and should be back in less than 20 minutes. Would you like to order something else or would you prefer to wait?” She then went on to make a recommendation based on what she knew they had. In my case I decided to wait. I later saw the busboy sprint through the front door, rather winded, toting three to four plastic grocery bags. I also saw her bus some of her own tables while the busboy was out. I read some news articles and some of my current book on my Kindle while I waited and then went on to have a very enjoyable meal.

Why am I sharing this story? Based on my previous experience just a couple of days earlier I was inspired by the initiative shown by the employees at this second restaurant. At the first restaurant all of the employees had given up and were waiting for something to happen outside of their job descriptions. It wasn’t their fault they had run out of produce before their next deliveries for that week. As a customer asking them for things they were out of I was even beginning to become annoying to them. However, at the second restaurant, an employee who had nothing to do with food procurement or preparation decided to solve the problem to help his teammates out. Those employees at the second restaurant showed great initiative to do the right things for the right reasons to ensure that their company delivered the best product and experience possible to their customers.

I was really inspired by that busboy. So much so I made a note to share this experience with anybody who would listen. I hope you are inspired too.

In Agile it isn’t about job titles or job descriptions; it isn’t about tossing things over the wall via e-mail or ticket to some other team member, functional group, or department – it is about doing the right things for the right reasons in an effort to delight customers in a timely manner.

Agile is about real-time collaboration to solve a problem, divide the work, and push through it vs. waiting.

I’d like to thank all who understand and practice that across Agile teams today. You too are inspiring…  The rest of you?  Perhaps pretend you work at the second restaurant?  :D



One problem the software industry has is that it has been difficult for it to attract women to pursue Computer Science degrees and then go on to work in development, QA, or other software engineering positions. I believe this is kind of criminal given a woman, Ada Lovelace, wrote the first computer program in the mid-1800’s. A component of the issue regarding the lack of diversity in tech has been stereotypes that have been created and perpetuated throughout the industry. One woman, Isis Wenger of OneLogin, decided to address this head on with her #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign on Twitter. There is a good article on TechCrunch that explains why she did this. 

Some may find this to be a controversial topic— it shouldn’t be. Collectively, we need to further promote and aid diversity in the workforce. I believe that it starts with #STEM programs and encouraging school age girls to learn how to code and explore the career opportunities that exists within this industry. It continues with breaking down the perpetuation of stereotypes. For our female team members, you may wish to share your own post to #ILookLikeAnEngineer to help contribute to diversity education and the conversation.

It’s PI DAY!!!

Hey, this Saturday is Pi Day. Did you know that everything that has ever existed or will exist can be represented somewhere in Pi? Every book, every movie, even your unique DNA sequence. I know, it makes your brain explode thinking about it…
Pi Day Countdown

I managed to capture this screen shot at Pi time on Pi Day:

Will Portland Hear Our Innovative Spirit This Thursday?

This Thursday night the political gears will be grinding away. The transportation commission hosts their public hearing on Uber, Lyft and similar technology-based services. Sometimes our Portland tech community can be loud about what it believes in and at other times it can be quite passive and quiet. I believe this is a moment where Portland tech needs to be vocal about the entrepreneurial spirit and push back on legacy, protectionist policies that exist to block innovation. It isn’t Uber and other similar services at risk here; it is any tech startup who dares to challenge the status quo.

PDX Rides Community Forum
Thursday, February 26, 2015 | 6 – 8:30 p.m.
Portland Building, Second Floor, 1120 SW Fifth Ave.

RadioShack R.I.P.

I felt that I needed to write a eulogy for Radio Shack, given its demise this week.  Radio Shack is one of the reasons I’m in computers today.  It started in 6th grade with a Science Fair 150-in-1 Electronic Project kit in the 70’s that my parents purchased for me on a whim.  After that Radio Shack became the cool place you went to when you wanted to build or create something that none of your friends had.  It had all the instruction manuals, tools, and electronic components to allow you to build a variety of great things. I remember that AM Radio transmitter I built from scratch that let me pretend to be a radio DJ one summer. I built my first “robot” after reading an article in OMNI Magazine (also dead today) from parts purchased at Radio Shack: a gutted remote control car that was hardwired with electronics to either follow a flash light automatically or to scurry away like a cockroach and hide in the dark once a light was turned upon it.  Then there was the Trash-80, as we affectionately called their CPM-based early microcomputer.  I learned that it was easier to change code than to modify circuits by wirewraping or soldering new components.  I’m sad.  Today we have the Rasberry PI and similar escapes; if we could only get our kids to look up from their thumbs blurring away texting, Instagraming, and Facebooking to take a glance at them…  Radio Shack R.I.P.

Portland Political Leaders Say “Uber can go pound sand in our city”

The city has had ample opportunities, even back in September of 2013, to address 2-3 easy “issues” regarding Uber and similar services. Instead it decided to stonewall and delay while protecting status quo. Using lawyers instead of proactively managing the update of policy and regulations to those in line with the opportunities of this century is perhaps one way to govern. Congratulations to how the mayor and Transportation Board decided to prioritize and spend taxpayer dollars on something that should have never reached this point (I’m being flip). Now it seems like they are simply digging their heals in because “they can” vs. asking “what is the right answer for our citizens and travelers who visit our great city?”

I have no horse in this race other than that of being a business traveler who has been repeatedly delighted as a customer while using Uber when traveling to other cities across this nation. As a prior board member of the Technology Association of Oregon and former Chief Technology Officer of Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield I’m frankly embarrassed that Portland has sided with the Luddites as opposed to embracing what great technology can enable.

As a business traveler I will continue to vote with my wallet (and my Uber phone app) until I am no longer delighted by the service they and their drivers provide to me as a consumer compared to other available options. I suspect other consumers will decide to do the same.


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