Category Archives: Articles

Who Decides What Done Means for a Program?

2012 Johanna Rothman When I start working with new-to-agile teams, one of the first things we do is to discuss what done means. Chances are good they have not discussed what done means before. The developers dont agree with each … Continue reading

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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: Should you Commit, Kill, or Transform?

2012 Johanna Rothman If youre working on more than one project at a time, or if your managers are asking you to do so, its time to make some decisions. You shouldnt start every project. You shouldnt even finish every … Continue reading

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Always Ask the Zeroth Question About Your Projects

2012 Johanna Rothman Sometimes, you wonder why you are doing this project. You spend all this time on it, you’re sure there isn’t much value from the project, and still, the project is on the top of your manager’s list. … Continue reading

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Why Not Ask Why?

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

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Stop That Mole Now

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

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Self-Facilitation Skills for Teams

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

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Skills for Software Smoke Jumpers

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

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When Your Projects Are a Program

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

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Framing Your Thoughts for Management

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

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Coaching Whiners

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

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Temperature Reading

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

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The Virtual Cyber Cudgel

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

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Make Your Mission Possible

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

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The Blame Game

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

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Drawing Out the Facts: The Art of the Discovery Interview

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

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No Exit

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

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Is Collaboration the Right Way to Work?

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

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Catch Them Doing It Right

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

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Transitioning to Agile in the Middle of a Project

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

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The Technology of Cooperation

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

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How Much Building Is Too Much?

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Becoming a Better Estimator

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

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Approaching a Conflict in Style

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

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Building a Requirements Foundation Through Customer Interviews

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

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An Appreciative Retrospective

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

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Communicating Up

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

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Communicate Early and Often

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

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Collaborating With Other Consultants

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

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Climbing Out of Technical Debt

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

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Client 101

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

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Choosing Facilitation

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

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Chinese Contracts

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

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Charting a Course for Requirements

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

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Change That Fits

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

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Change is a Disease

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

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The Black Hole

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

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Bi-Quinary Search

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

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Beyond Blaming

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

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Beyond Belief

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

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Beware of the Quick Fix

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

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At What Cost?

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

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Are We Solving the Real Problems

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

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The Appreciation Gap

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

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Always Be Second

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

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Delivering Effective Feedback

©2003, Esther Derby, www.estherderby.com Josh was dumbfounded when his boss, Brad, fired him. As far as he knew, his work was just fine. But Brad believed hed given Josh ample warning that his work and work habits werent up to … Continue reading

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Facing Up to the Truth

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

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Move Past Distractions: Give Yourself an Ice Cream Cone

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Managing the Interview

This article is an excerpt from Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People, (Chapter 9: Planning and Conducting the In-Person Interview, p. 182-184) by Johanna Rothman. Published by Dorset House, 2004. … Continue reading

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Planning for Delays

©2000 Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com As some of you know, a group of consultants are producing a conference for our colleagues and clients. It’s called AYE, for “Amplifying Your Effectiveness.” One of the main goals of this distributed project is … Continue reading

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Schedule Chicken

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

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Tell Him?

©2006 Steven M Smith It’s ironic that the Baseball Writers Association of America named Joe Girardi the National League’s 2006 Manager of the Year. Giardi was recently fired by the Florida Marlins despite managing a young, low-rated team into contention. … Continue reading

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Watch for Falling Rocks: Unpredictable Risks

©2000 Johanna Rothman, www.jrothman.com I was recently driving on some back roads in New Mexico, and saw the sign “Watch for Falling Rocks.” I turned to my husband, Mark, and said “Now, why do they tell us to watch for … Continue reading

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

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

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A Guide to Fine Whines

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

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The Identified Patient Pattern

©2006 Don Gray and Jerry Weinberg Engelbert frowned, trying to understand why Pamela had been acting strangely. Her programming skills were among the best in the company. She had a way of getting things completed. That’s why he made her … Continue reading

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Measuring Up

©2003 Esther Derby, www.estherderby.com This column originally appeared on Stickyminds.com It’s 10 a.m. You’re about to ship to five beta sites. You’ve met the date, you’re within budget, and the defect counts have been steadily declining for the last four … Continue reading

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Plan to Re-plan

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

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Should a ScrumMaster Give Performance Appraisals?

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

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Test Trimming: A Fable about Testing

©2007 Gerald M. Weinberg Throughout my career, I’ve watched in dismay as one software manager after another falls into the trap of achieving delivery schedules by trimming tests. Some managers shortcut test work by skipping reviewing and unit testing in … Continue reading

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Welcoming New Hires

©2000 Johanna Rothman, www.jrothman.com You’ve hired a candidate. She starts on Monday. What will she think at the end of her first day? Will she be in the “honeymoon” phase, or will she be disappointed with your organization? Being a … Continue reading

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A Different Kind of Conference

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Five Frequent Feedback Flaws

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Implement by Feature

©2007 Johanna Rothman This article was previously published in Better Software, May 2005. Brent and Deidre, both technical leads, poked their heads in Myrtle’s door. “Myrtle, we have a problem.” “OK, come on in. What’s up?” Deidre started. “Remember on … Continue reading

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Meeting Customer Requirements, First Time, Every Time

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Playing Hooky

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

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Advice for Software Development Managers

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

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Thank You Less Thank You’s

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What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

©2002 Esther Derby, www.estherderby.com A software project is a complex thing. It involves many players, many tasks, and lots of things that could go wrong (and often do). If not for dogged optimism, some projects might not be tackled at … Continue reading

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

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

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Focus Your Project

©2003 Johanna Rothman www.jrothman.com Do you ever wonder what you’re really supposed to focus on for your project? Companies create a variety of products, and different releases of those products, for many reasons. Some product releases can tolerate glaring defects; … Continue reading

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Improving Productivity

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Mistakes and Insights Found at a Sale

© 2001 Becky Winant Recently my partner and I had a garage sale. Well, not a typical garage sale, but an office version. We were moving our office from the first floor of a building, which included a storefront, to … Continue reading

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Predictions

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

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The Secret of Agile Development

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AYE: There Be Magic [1]

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What Is It You Want from Management?

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Disposable Programs

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

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Getting To Know You: Using A Roundtable To Start An Event

©2005 – 2006 Adrian Segar  

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I Want It, I Have It, I Hate It

© Naomi Karten, www.nkarten.com (This article originally appeared in Perceptions & Realities newsletter, www.nkarten.com/newslet.html). The weather seems to have gotten colder as I’ve gotten older. As a result, the ski jacket that once kept me warm became too skimpy. Sensible … Continue reading

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Multiprojecting: The Illusion of Progress

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

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Project Pitfalls

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

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The Secret Ingredients of High Morale

©2004 Esther Derby This column originally appeared on Stickyminds.com Jessica and Sean scowled as they headed back to their cubicles after the company spirit meeting. “I can’t believe they wasted two hours of our time with that award ceremony and … Continue reading

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The Risk of Embellishment

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What’s on Your Not-To-Do List?

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

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Don’t Tell Doreen

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

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Getting Ahead

©2005 Johanna Rothman. This article was previously published in Computerworld, April, 2005. I was talking to a relatively young developer the other day. I asked him about his career plans. “Oh, I don’t do career planning myself. I wait until … Continue reading

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Keep Your Eye on the Prize

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Multiuse Model

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

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Purrfectly Obvious

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Seeing the Other Person’s Big Picture

©2000 Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com You’re entering a new situation, and you’re ready to gather the Big Picture of the other people involved. Whatever you do, don’t try the following process without first getting a Big Picture of yourself, as … Continue reading

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An e-mail to Jerry Weinberg, Paul Coyle and others who may contemplate systems from time to time

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What’s So Special About Software?

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Communication Disconnects

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

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Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!

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

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Going the Distance: Five Tactics to Compensate for Distance on Distributed Teams

2006 Esther Derby When people communicate face-to-face, they not only hear words and inflections, but also see facial expressions. This helps each communicator understand what the other is saying and gives clues to assess when people are mad, sad, or … Continue reading

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Learning What You Don’t Know

©2005, Don Gray “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” — Mark Twain Working on hardware projects requires incredible attention to detail. Design time can take … Continue reading

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

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Put Confer Back in Conference

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Seeing Your Own Big Picture

©2000 Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com The editor of Contract Professional chose the name for my column there, “The Big Picture.” He told me he chose the name “because you (Jerry) look at the business of contracting and consulting and the … Continue reading

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