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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Confessions of a Confused User

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How to Improve Meetings When You’re Not in Charge

©2004, Esther Derby This column originally appeared on Stickyminds.com Are you tired of attending endless meetings where the conversation goes in circles and nothing gets done? Even if you can’t stand up and take control, you can nudge the meeting … Continue reading

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Hang Loose

© 2005 Stuart Scott I believe a man should change his underwear at least three times a year. If you wear briefs, switch to boxers. If you wear white, try colors. Mix it up. Take a walk on the wild … Continue reading

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Lullaby Language

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

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Not an Estimating Problem

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Real-Time Feedback

©2003 Esther Derby, www.estherderby.com Twice a week, I go to the gym and weight train with Brooke Darst, a Certified Personal Trainer. As I perform my exercises, Brooke provides a constant stream of feedback: Minor corrections, “Chin in! Lower your … Continue reading

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Software and Society: What it Means to Be Professional

©1998, 2002 Don Gray, www.donaldegray.com Man’s achievements rest upon the use of symbols. – Alfred Korzybski Why is our field struggling in its efforts to become and engineering discipline? The answers lies in our heritage as symbol processors and the … Continue reading

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Treaties to Deal with Communication and Conflict

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

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What to Do When Your Project Slips

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

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Consulting Lessons From My Shiatsu Therapist

© 2000 Becky Winant Shiatsu is a type of bodywork that involves stretching and applying pressure at points to release or contain energy. Before he practiced Shiatsu, Ron had a career as an audio engineer — he understands technology and … Continue reading

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Driving from the Back Seat

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Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

©2001 Naomi Karten, www.nkarten.com It was a gray and gloomy day when we pulled into the ski area parking lot, and decided to sit a spell to see if the sun would shine. A carload of skiers pulled in next … Continue reading

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Lunches, Looks, and Loops

©2004, Don Gray Michelle works as a software engineer. Recently we discussed the utility concept (Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations, Austin)1 and she asked, Cant we just measure for the sake of learning? Measuring for learning is a wonderful … Continue reading

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What’s On Your Not-to-do List

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

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Reasons

©2001 Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com [Note: In September, 2000, at the SEI’s Software Engineering Symposium in Washington D. C., Jerry was the recipient of the 2000 Stevens Award. The award recipient is recognized for outstanding contributions to the literature or … Continue reading

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Some Barriers to Team Coordination and Collaboration

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Twenty Years Ago

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

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Where Does Your Time Go?

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

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Convincing Management That Context Switching Is a Bad Idea

© 2005 Johanna Rothman (This article previously published in Better Software.) The last few times I’ve taught project management, I’ve explained that multi-project context switching wastes time. The project managers agree with me. But then they ask the question, “How … Continue reading

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Emerging

© 2001 David Irvine, www.davidirvine.com I recently had a conversation with one of my clients, a funeral director, who founded and owns a family business here in Canada. “It’s a strange thing,” he said to me. “Whether prostitutes or CEO’s, … Continue reading

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Hiring Testers

©2002 Johanna Rothman, www.jrothman.com This article originally appeared on stickyminds.com Summary: Whats the best way to wade through those thousands of resumes youve received for the new testing position? To start, you could ruthlessly weed out those who dont show … Continue reading

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Do We Have to Choose Between Management and Leadership?

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

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On Second Thought

© 2003 Dwayne Phillips, home.att.net/~dwayne.phillips I spend most of my professional life attempting to solve problems. I face some of these problems privately, but I face the rest with other people. Sometimes people working a problem will ask me for … Continue reading

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Rethinking Stand-Up Meetings

©2007 Steven M Smith Stand up meetings are popular in software development organizations now. What makes a stand-up meeting more effective than a traditional meeting to socialize status information? Nothing. The effectiveness of a stand-up meeting, like the traditional status … Continue reading

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So, Sue Me

©2007, Gerald M. Weinberg This morning’s news brings a story of a small manufacturer of add-on hardware suing large computer manufacturers for alleged illegal price-cutting. I was surprised. I thought the lawyers had finally learned the futility of suing hardware … Continue reading

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Two Left Feet

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You Can’t Test the Wings Back on an Airplane

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The Dismal Theorems of Contract Negotiation

©1999 Gerald M. Weinberg My friend Brad, a Los Angeles cop, mentioned that he regularly sold traffic tickets. “But it’s not what you think,” Brad smiled. “I work at night and go to school during the day. If I have … Continue reading

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Entomology

© 2003 Laurent Bossavit, www.bossavit.com Some words set alarm bells ringing in our heads whenever we hear them, because in the past we’ve repeatedly found them at the core of some problem or troubled situation. One of my alarm bell … Continue reading

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How 2 Buddy

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

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

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Overcoming Resistance

©2007 George Dinwiddie As a software development consultant and coach, I help software developers become more effective at developing software. Helping a team become more effective takes more than technical expertise. Sometimes helping does involve teaching technical skills. Sometimes, it … Continue reading

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Rethinking Stand-Up Meetings, Part 2

©2007 Steven M Smith I argued in my first article about stand-up meetings that the right participants were the key to a successful meeting rather than whether the participants were standing up or sitting down. Despite my dislike for forcing … Continue reading

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Spending As If There’s No Tomorrow

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Two Rights Make a Wrong

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Yielding to Pressure

©2005 Gerald M. Weinberg In a previous article, I wrote about the usefulness of treaties between technical teams, but I didn’t give much detail about the actual negotiation process that goes into making a successful treaty. To learn about such … Continue reading

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Creativity in Accounts Receivable

©2003 Gerald M. Weinberg, www.geraldmweinberg.com The introduction of the new $20 bill has me thinking about the Bureau of Printing and Engraving today. They’re one client I ever had who couldnt use the slow-payment excuse that they’re short of cash, … Continue reading

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Estimates: Precision vs. Accuracy

©2003 Johanna Rothman www.jrothman.com Jim, a new project manager, struggled to define the projects parameters: schedule estimate, people estimate, requirements outline, and necessary capital equipment. Jim proudly walked into his managers office, and proceeded to walk through his project plan … Continue reading

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How did This Happen

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

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Planning for Technical Management Time

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

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Incorporating Part-time Team Members

©2006, Esther Derby This article originally appeared on stickyminds.com. “Part-timers just don’t seem to fit in with the team,” a manager complained. “I do everything I can to impress on them the importance of team work and team spirit, but … Continue reading

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Rewriting the Story of Resistance

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Staying Sharp

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

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The Big Picture: Four Different Ways of Participating

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

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Danger: Couple at Work

I swore I wouldn’t write about consulting done by married couples. It’s a trite discussion, as far as I’m concerned. But then I read Dilbert on December 12, 1999. The Pointy-Haired Boss hired two new engineers — a couple. The … Continue reading

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The Exception is the Rule

©2005 Gerald M. Weinberg The other day, I was trying to help a client (let me call them “StartupCompany”) mired in conflicts, exceptions, errors, anomalies, lapses, modifications and other deviations from the norm. These annoying exceptions were playing tricks with … Continue reading

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How Much Work Can You Do?

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

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Managing the Group Meeting

©2003 Johanna Rothman, www.jrothman.com Does your staff look forward to flu season so they don’t have to attend your group meetings? Are you looking for ways to escape your manager’s meetings? Boring group meetings tend to be a result of … Continue reading

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Peer-to-Peer Feedback

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Starting With Rolling Wave Planning

©2006 Johanna Rothman Some project managers considering moving to iterative, incremental, or agile lifecycles, stumble when it comes time to move to rolling wave planning. They aren’t sure how to start it, how to continue it, or how to see … Continue reading

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

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Use All Four Parts of Project Estimation

©2004 Johanna Rothman. Project work estimation has three components: the initial first cut, commonly known as a SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess), tracking the estimate against the actuals, and using the schedule to see what’s happening in your project. If … Continue reading

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Decide As a Team

©2007 Steven M Smith Do some members of your team make agreements during meetings but fail to support them afterwards?If this behavior is happening, I suspect your team is using an obscure process to make decisions. Identifying Obscure Process An … Continue reading

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An Exercise in Ambiguity

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How to Kill a Software Company

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

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