Skip to main content
Category

People

Is this why your boss wants to be Agile?

By Agile, People, Strategy4 Comments

There are 2 words in business more loaded with double meanings than an entire season of Benny Hill – agile, and lean.

No pointy headed boss worth their MBA (or salt) is going to ignore someone who says they would like to try to become more lean. That simply translates in their mind to ‘do more with less staff’, and focusing on cost reduction – ergo, more shareholder value and bigger bonus for the boss. If you’re not more explicit, they’ll be adjusting their Excel budget and 5 year plan PowerPoint while you’re still in their office explaining the actual guts of your idea being about changing work practices.

And in terms of agility, the PHB misinterpretation most common is that you will help them change direction in their strategy all the time. Agile = limber = flexible = ability to dance about randomly.

If you’re suffering from executive miscommunication over agile in particular, I suspect this article from the McKinsey Quarterly a few years ago (you’ll need a login to see it I’m afraid, but they’re free – search for ‘Building a nimble organization: a McKinsey Global Survey) might also be a contributor to your pain. Here’s the key issue of misinterpretation of ‘agility’ in a diagram:

Now, those things are all good, but the bottom of the ladder finishing spot of employee satisfaction and innovation is a disaster in understanding what and how agile really works. It works by creating a good system for people to work within. If you’re good at doing that, and learning in short cycles, then you might well see the benefits of higher revenues, customer satisfaction, market share and operational efficiency.

Bizarrely, if you built your organisation focusing on the stream of benefits being read in reverse order from the bottom up, I’m certain you’d have a good chance of winning. Yet these are the things CEO’s expect to be of least value in their lives.

A bad system will defeat a good employee every time. Focus on the system – people, machines, knowledge working in unison for end customers. Stop obsessing and reporting solely on revenue, efficiency and market share. They’re only a by-product of a great system.

Luna BAHA Award nominee #1: “Implementing Scrum in your project will certainly be a cakewalk after this training”

By Agile, People2 Comments

Picture credit: Dan Abramson

We’d like to present our first nominee for the Newt Gingrich ‘Lunar Colony 2020’ bullshit agile hubris award (the Luna BAHA).

Ed Cortis, the lucky recipient of the email below, is CIO at Lonely Planet, and has a pretty decent knowledge of how  challenging it is to upgrade from the organisational equivalent of Microsoft Windows 3.11 (using commands to control!) to a more Mac OSX agile-like culture – for 4 years he built and ran Lonely Planet’s agile – ITIL – DevOps operational teams, before taking over technology overall in 2011. It is an organisational transition that not many people pull off – but once an Apple agile convert, you’ll never go back.

Ed consequently knows a fair bit about Scrum, plus XP and even Kanban, and the resulting hybrids that the couple of dozen teams at LP now use every day to get things done.

It wasn’t the email’s bizarre spelling and grammar, or the screwy mail-merge that started it off with ‘Dear Cortis’ that sent the numb feeling to Ed’s legs – it was the suspicion that within Australian business’s desperately scrambling to ‘see their business grow at an amazing pace like never before’, too many IT departments would fall for an email like this and leap on the vendor’s international Scrum certification bandwagon, believing the hyperbole. I mean, they’ve got Mike Beedle, world-renowned Scrum guy!

I can hear it now – “Off you go to training, and then come back to make us live by the values and practices of agile please!” As we say in NZ – “yeah right”. It would be a funny joke, if it weren’t horribly true.

Are we being too literal, harsh and grumpy? You decide:

Oddly the  main benefits quoted are about you getting a certificate, not a team successfully transforming to a top agile modus operandi. Resume driven development then.

So sorry to disappoint anyone, but:
a) The simple task of ‘just getting rid of conventional ways of working’ will take most of the organisation to change their ways, and that won’t come with this certificate;
b) Implementing Scrum in your project will never be a cakewalk, no matter how many credits you collect, or exams you pass; and
c) Once you’ve finally grasped that, and you’re certain Scrum is the one for you, why not just club together the cash you and your mates might have dropped on a certificate each, and get someone like Kane Mar at Scrumology, Martin Kearns at SMS-Renewtek, or Sandy Mamoli in NZ (or plenty of other good local people) to show you hands-on how Scrum actually works on an actual business or product problem you have.

Hell, they even do certification training, but I don’t think you’ll find them ever promising a cakewalk.

A moon walk maybe…

LUNA CASE STUDY: A health insurance start-up.

By Agile, Development, Disruption, Lean, People3 Comments

Luna Tractor has had the great pleasure of working with a small health insurance start-up here in Melbourne this year. This is their story.

The competitive landscape for health insurance in Australia is dominated by a small number of large incumbents that have been in business for many years. Below that are about 30 smaller players who have as little as <1% market share. Many of the business practices of these players are rusted on through highly proscriptive regulation, legacy systems that are common across players, and old mindsets. New brands pop up now and then, but they are bolt-ons to older players and typically somewhat contained by old practices. Even when new products come out, the bulk of an insurer’s book remains “old school” on the former products. There has not been a material new entrant since Medibank spun out of the HIC in 1975.

A small team of innovators came together in 2011 to break into this oligopoly. Setting themselves a tough deadline to be in the market in 2012, the main business challenge that emerged was to develop an effective operating model – a way for a group of seasoned insurance executives and subject matter experts to collaborate at high speed to reach their goal.

We set the company to work using the principles of Agile and Systems Thinking from the start. Instead of each subject matter expert retreating to their office to write board-level strategy papers to present to VCs and partners, they settled into their future headquarters around large Ikea tables with laptops and built a war-room. They defined themselves by this highly collaborative, communications-heavy set of business practices.

The rhythms of Agile serve them well. Daily conversations about everyone’s work-list (from CEO to office support) help avert risk and surprises. Weekly demonstrations of achievements, most of them not software at all but related to building online distribution, new products and governance, get everyone on the same page, and are platforms for the one-hour retrospectives and planning that follow every Friday.

Everyone has cards on the wall, separated into swim-lanes that reflect the key business objectives such as license approval and product development. The board is constructed using a customised ‘Hurricane’ model, ranging from 6 months out to today, in ever increasing levels of certainty and detail.

There were initial doubts about the suitability of Agile from some of the seasoned professionals on the team – having only ever worked in command and control businesses at senior levels, some perceived they were being asked to trivialise their work with index cards, scissors and coloured dots. There was a strong desire to see Gantt charts and more traditional sources of comfort. These concerns soon vanished when the blunt accountability of speaking to their peers every morning about their achievements and work for the day became apparent as the main purpose of the system.

Any concerns that the new way of working was ‘soft’ were dispelled in the many tough discussions about progress at stand-ups. As the team often reflected, it was far better to have many smaller moments of debate, receive timely feedback and correct their course than have a big ‘oh shit’ moment a month later.

In no time new boards sprang up around the walls, developing products in a shared way, and to the team’s delight their distribution partners, new IT team, Board of Directors and the industry regulators expressed their support for this ultra-transparent and interactive way of working.

With time pressure obvious, everyone focuses on delivering the minimal viable product that can be brought to the table for discussion, or validated with customers and experts. That ‘product’ might range from an actuarial analysis, to a regulatory document, competitive information, or a set of accounts – a desire to boil the ocean and deliver a gold-plated answer when 80% would enable an informed decision has long gone from the culture.

The whole business is now being built on this foundation, to be customer-focused and fast-moving. The team’s ability to collaborate, solve problems and correct their course in short cycles is a major competitive advantage they will never lose – and it is clear they will take these into the operational phase of the business in 2012.

Time to competency at working this way? Eight weeks, with one Luna Tractor Partner coaching four mornings a week initially, eventually only dropping by on Fridays for demo, retro and planning sessions.

The new company estimates their return on the investment in Luna Tractor’s executive coaching to be at least 10x.

Luna Guest: “Talking to Your Customers” by Justin French

By Development, PeopleNo Comments

Talking to your customers is crucial to the success of your product. Call it Customer Development, User Centered Design or Market Research, just make sure you’re doing it.

It’s not hard to do

Find a customer, or a potential customer, and start talking. If you’re nervous or lack the confidence to do this one-on-one (you’re absolutely not alone), grab your product manager, designer, tech lead, CEO or anyone else in your team and do it together. Reduce the formality and ceremony over a coffee or a beer. Start over email, on the phone. Invite your most trusted customers to talk among themselves in a private email group.

Starting is far more important than how you start. I don’t need to prepare too much either – it’s pretty easy to get people to talk about themselves and their work.

What not to do

Don’t talk about features. Asking them what features they want (or letting them push the conversation that way) is a complete waste of time. There’s two predictable outcomes, both of which should be considered negatives:

  • You walk away with a checklist of stuff you need before they’ll buy
  • The customer walks away with a list of reasons not to buy your product

What to do instead

Ask them about their job, tasks, workflow, process and constraints. Ask them how they get stuff done. Ask them what they do, not what they need. The outcomes from this are far more positive:

  • You know if this is the sort of customer you want to help.
  • You build empathy for this customer.
  • You have a much deeper insight into the customer’s true needs.
  • You have real scenarios to draw upon and real problems to solve.
  • The customer builds a relationship with you and your product far beyond the software.
  • The customer talks directly with someone who can shape the product.
  • The customer invests time in your product, and has an interest in it’s success.

If you must talk about features, always dig deeper. Shift the conversation away from the implementation to the reasons behind it. Instead of talking about that epic reporting widget they need, talk about why they need it, and how that helps them get stuff done.

Push them to articulate the problem, rather than prescribe the solution. It’s your job as a product designer to aggregate and consider the problems from many customers and design your own solution. Yes, it’s your product, you design it.

After listening to the problem, you may already have features that can help. This is awesome! You’ve just avoided a conversation about “missing features” and showed them how your product can help them right now.

If you find a real gap in your product, don’t instantly promise a feature to fill it. Instead, promise to spend time thinking about it. Ask them if they’d mind a follow-up conversation (if this is important to them, they’ll be excited to help).

“What they do” is far more valuable and interesting than “what they want”.

(Re-posted with thanks to Justin from http://www.justinfrench.com)

Agile Roadmaps, Agile Planning and Topical Storms

By Agile, Development, People, TechnologyOne Comment

All plans are educated guesses, and in truth the futher into the future we try and gaze the higher the likelihood that our plans are really just guesses. We often use an analogy to cyclone or hurricane forecasts when we are explaining this.

Meteorologists can forecast that a big tropical storm (please insert hurricane or cyclone in your mind depending on whether you’re reading this from the top or bottom of the world) is coming 4 or 5 days out, but it’s not clear at that point where it’s going to land.  Instead they predict a wide potential path.  As the storm moves closer and closer to landfall the accuracy of the storm’s path increases until about 8 hours out when we know within some 10s of km where the storm is going to end up.

Planning for large projects is just like this; we can have a good idea of the major direction of travel but working out the fine details of what is going to happen in a few months is unrealistic.  This is one of the key reasons that so many Waterfall projects run into trouble; to continue the analogy, the wind changes direction, customers’ demands and desires change, the regulatory environment changes or perhaps a competitor enters the market etc.

So this is not to say you shouldn’t plan; you need to plan.  Just understand how far away the storm is. If you’re thinking about next week, it’s valuable to plan in detail (stories, tasks, detailed estimates and wireframes etc).  If you’re worried about next month, break it down into the major tasks, but don’t get too worried about the details yet. When you’re looking at what you’ll be doing in 3 months, remind yourself that this is just your best guess is; know that it will change.

Having these longer term plans is still very valuable, but often not for obvious reasons. Having a plan gives you something to push, pull and test alternatives against.  We humans are very very good at comparative value calculations and very bad at abstract ones.  So the plan in place gives you a benchmark against which to decide whether a change will be an improvement or not. It also gives your team a framework around which to make bigger decisions about platforms, architecture and longer term expenditure – again just tell your teams and yourself:

“This plan is just our best guess right now, and we promise to keep talking about it and keep updating where the storm is going to land as we go.”

Rugby and the origins of agile

By Agile, Lean, People4 Comments

A recurring challenge we face when discussing the transformation of 21st century organisations to more agile and lean ways of working might be paraphrased as:

“My boss has never heard of it and thinks it must be a fad – does this agile thing have any history to fall back on?”

Having just spent a week at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand with plenty of time to reflect (kiwis don’t go for half-time extravaganzas), it occurred to me this FAQ – which might better stand for ‘fairly annoying question’ – should be a blog post, suitably peppered with rugby metaphors.

RWC 2011, Georgia v Romania

The long history of agile goes back to the emergence of mass production from a world of ‘craft’ industrial production in the 1800s. Around 1908, Henry Ford, with management theorist FW Taylor (and later AP Sloan albeit Sloan worked at GM, not Ford) developed moving production lines in huge factories focusing on economies of scale (make more of the same thing, use semi-skilled labour single-tasking and doing what the boss commanded of them, and unit cost comes down), building any colour of Model T as long as it was black.

When a new product was finally demanded (the Model A), Henry and son Edsel Ford simply abandoned the old factory at Highland Park in Detroit and built a new one at River Rouge, as land and labour were plentiful – the factory and re-tooling reputedly cost up to $100m in 1927 dollars!

The next great leap forward in industrial production methods was not developed in America, but in Japan with America’s help, emerging after World War 2 under a rather unique set of circumstances as the Japanese economy was rebuilt – limited capital, limited land, and limits set on labour by the USA including the bizarre ‘job for life’ laws which forced employers to develop systems of working that enabled 60 year-olds to be productive alongside 16 year-olds.

The system that emerged is now known widely under the tag of lean, but also as the Toyota Production System (TPS), and in Deming’s writings ‘systems thinking‘. By the second half of the 20th century, there was no capacity for constraining consumer demand to only 1 model of car – variation in consumer demand and the increasing speed of change were the key challenges for Toyota to respond to as it set up for business. It was within the cradle of this 40-year period that Agile was born as the next great model of organising work.

The happy coincidental crossing of national obsessions: rugby and lean.

Rugby came to Japan in the 1890s from England. In 1987, built on over 100,000 grassroots players in their corporate leagues and competitions (including imported players from NZ and Australia), Japan qualified to play at the first Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. (Note: Japan actually only lost the hosting of the 2011 RWC by 1 vote – so they will certainly be hosts in the next decade). The national coach for Japan is of course John Kirwan, a kiwi hero of the victorious 1987 All Blacks team.

Just a year before that first Rugby World Cup, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka of Hitotsubashi University in Japan wrote an article for Harvard Business Review titled ‘The New New Product Development Game‘ that is recognised as the source of a stream of innovative thinking that first rolled into smarter ways of developing software in the 1990s.

Clearly Takeuchi and Nonaka were rugby fanatics, meticulously documenting the way a good rugby team can flow up the field as a team in a series of overlapping phases of play (like option C in the diagram above)- and using that analogy to describe the way successful product development was happening in Japanese companies. Remember the Honda City and the stir it created in the 1980s? That’s one of several great examples they document in the article.

Ultimately Jeff Sutherland‘s coining of the phrase ‘scrum’ in the 1990s to define a wide-reaching agile method was inspired by that article. Personally, I feel ‘scrum’ somewhat misses the overall point of their work, as a scrum is a tiny fraction of the game’s flow, but we’ll go with it. We’re not all rugby-nerds or kiwis.

The most important thing you (the reader) can do right now is to buy a copy of the 1986 article and read it. It is only $6.95, and yes, there is a frustrating paywall thing on HBR.org, but it will be worth it.

For the 99% of you who are non-readers, here is the HBR summary of the article:

In today’s fast-paced, fiercely competitive world of commercial new product development, speed and flexibility are essential. Companies are increasingly realizing that the old, sequential approach to developing new products simply won’t get the job done. Instead, companies in Japan (and the United States) are using a holistic method—as in rugby, the ball gets passed within the team as it moves as a unit up the field.

This holistic approach has six characteristics: built-in instability, self-organizing project teams, overlapping development phases, “multilearning,” subtle control, and organizational transfer of learning. The six pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, forming a fast flexible process for new product development. Just as important, the new approach can act as a change agent: it is a vehicle for introducing creative, market-driven ideas and processes into an old, rigid organization.

And when you’re done with the article, pass it quickly down-field to the captain of your team. Remember, companies have been using and refining this way of working to beat you since the 1980s, so what are you waiting for? It will cost you 200 times that amount of money to go to the RWC final in Auckland and see the world championship of agile in action for yourself.

My thanks to Marcus Fazio, multi-national consultant extraordinaire, and Japanese expert who reminded me of this all important link between two of my favourite things. I’m sure Marcus, Takeuchi and Nonaka would all have enjoyed this fabulous moment from the RWC last month.

Japan's winger Hirotoki Onozawa runs to score a try during the 2011 Rugby World Cup pool A match New Zealand vs Japan at Waikato stadium in Hamilton on September 16, 2011. (Photo credit: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

 

The real legacy of Steve Jobs

By Agile, Development, People, Technology

It’s not like the internet doesn’t have enough people regurgitating old Steve Jobs stories right now and despite personally being a shameless fan boy and wanting to give my little tip of the hat to Steve I’ve held back, until now.

There is a huge myth about Steve, that Apple = Steve Jobs. Of course he was a very clever guy, and from the outside looking in he seems like a much more hands on CEO than most. We get blindsided by the stories of his individual touch on products, as if the hand of God had reached down and then it was done. I don’t believe it though, not for one minute.

Steve’s major contribution was and is a culture, an ethos and a way of thinking about the world. The intersection of liberal arts with technology. The obsession with thinking differently, as a marketing catch cry and a way of working. He knew what great looks like and he set the bar, demanding that standard.

The thing is, with rare exception, at best teams and individuals only perform at the level of the ‘greatest’ work they have seen done. It’s a big part of how we learn – we mimic, we imitate and finally we own things. It’s why having one or two gurus in a development team can lift the level of the whole team. It’s why going to conferences, reading books and being actively involved in your industry outside your own company is so important. This is also why stagnant teams and organisations need new blood, new ideas and dramatic intervention to effect change.

Steve created an environment, a culture, where being obsessive about the little details was rewarded. Where it was ok to scrap things and start again. Where it was just assumed that even the best ideas would be iterated on, over and over again before they might finally see the light of day. Even then, very often we see a lean minimum marketable feature set in version 1.0 Apple products.

Steve’s real legacy was in creating a whole company of people who know what’s remarkable and what insanely great really means. That’s the lesson for the rest of us: make sure you really know what great looks like.

This post was inspired by Steve Jobs and the Eureka Myth at HBR. Also, if you haven’t seen it, make sure you check out the Stanford Commencement speech Steve gave in 2005.

A new orbit – thoughts on leaving Lonely Planet

By People

Last Friday my work at Lonely Planet was completed. The new website team, led by half a dozen energetic founders from Melbourne, re-started in London after an intense 100 day transition program that was judged a great success.

The opportunity to take to the wider business community the radically lean, agile and kanban ways of working that have been developed in my time at Lonely Planet has begun – here’s my parting thoughts from the big day.

When I joined Lonely Planet in April 2007, the world was somewhat different.

  • YouTube was only 18 months old, and we all wondered how the world’s largest collection of dog and cat videos would ever survive given it had no way of actually making money.
  • Facebook had about 40m users, and we all kindof assumed it was destined to be a pale imitation of the dominant MySpace with 120m users.
  • Rolling up American trailer trash mortgages into great big bundles of fiscal shit, polishing those turds and selling them to Asian retirement and investment funds was a great business to be in.
  • Some guy called John Howard was the Prime Minister of Australia, and the nation’s primary policy focus was turning back small boats full of refugees.
  • There was no iPhone.
  • There was no iPad.
  • There was no Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, or other digital book platform.
  • http://www.icanhazcheeseburger.com  was yet to be registered.
  • There was no such concept as Groupon, or 4Square.
  • Rupert Murdoch didn’t own the Wall Street Journal.
  • Lonely Planet believed outsourcing, enterprise software and waterfall delivery were ‘the shit that killed’ (a favourite Lance Armstrong quote that one).
  • I couldn’t play the guitar at all, and certainly wasn’t cool enough to be in a band.
  • Popular music was dominated by the unashamed ass-waving of Fergie, Gwen Stefani, Rihanna, Keisha, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Gwen Stefani and Nelly Furtado.
  • Drugs, betting and schoolgirls were the dominant news headlines relating to the AFL; and…
  • We had no idea what would happen to Harry Potter.

It is good to know only some things change then.

Those things that did change, changed quite dramatically in that short time.

Since 2007, I have spent millions of Lonely Planet’s dollars of hard-earned income (running IT, then helping run Digital) trying to figure out our strategic response to some of the more radical challenges thrust upon us. That’s thousands of dollars an hour in the average working week. So, if like our CFO, you’re you’re all wondering what the Retro on a transformation project of that scale looks like:

What worked?

  • Being agile, not just DOING agile: most organisations only ever get to ‘doing agile’, somehow our culture, our business crisis facing the GFC and our challenges of new media have led us to BEING agile. We talk daily. We learn weekly. We adapt to change. We are transparent about the work and priorities. This capability of moving fast will serve Lonely Planet well.
  • And as I have said before – if you don’t like change, you’re going to enjoy irrelevance even less.
  • The caring: not so much in the ‘gives a shit’ sense, we know people at LP give a shit (it’s a hiring filter). Just the raw humanity of the place:
    • You eat food and drink coffee from the Mad Dog cafe made with LOVE, and you can taste it. And James, I don’t for one moment hold your pork roast crackling responsible for my open heart surgery.
    • When something bad happens, the wagons are circled and it is sorted out.
    • There is music, and humour, and art. Everywhere.
    • The individuals all know who they are. Too many to mention, or thank.
    • It is so special I shall be partaking in the social aspects that are extended to people beyond the walls of this golden cage in Footscray – the musicians especially, but also the agilists, the innovators, the emerging lean leaders, those who I have spent a lot of time with. We should all try to make our alumni more comfortable with coming back, for lunch, drinks, or a catch-up. Help them to get over the embarrassment and discomfort and get them out here.
  • The smartness. No doubt, with an agreed strategy, 20 people randomly selected from Lonely Planet could leave here, start and succeed in a new business venture in the travel space. It’s a good thing, and a sign of the glue that binds this place that they so rarely do!

What didn’t work?

  • Needing open heart surgery part way through the website relaunch. This event, potentially life-changing for me, showed Lonely Planet and BBCW’s mettle, depth of talent and support for its employees beyond the call of duty.
  • The result however, was coming back from a mid-life disaster with a focused passion on transforming the entire organisation’s capability – not just IT, but everywhere. The result is the most agile enterprise I know – from finance, legal, sales, product development to HR.

What puzzles me?

  • Those people who can still be heard murmuring to themselves about all this damned change stopping or slowing down. Well folks, Google bought Zagat this morning so the madness continues as we sit here.
  • Why don’t you read? You have the best business book library of any business I have ever worked in, and better than most bookshops I have been in. It is a treasure. But it’s dusty. As a brand new writer myself (as opposed to the shitful celebrity agile blogger I might be described as by my friend Amy Gray ;-), I can attest to the amount of thinking that you have to do to make an argument cogent enough to justify a book. Use that sweat wisely – read the result… books.

What would I do differently?

  • Go beyond our walls! My 4+ years at LP has now given me the chance to co-found a small business doing what I am deeply passionate about – teaching others that there are better, smarter ways of working, which can also result in a better quality of life. That business (based on this blog) opens on Monday 12 September, and will be blown along by the support of many of you, not the least of whom is Matt who I thank greatly for giving us the courage to follow our passion.

Not just an IT thing

By Agile, Development, Lean, People, TechnologyOne Comment

Derek Sivers says we shouldn’t share our goals, or make them public, that the act of sharing our goals makes us less likely to achieve them. However, our experience with the teams we’ve worked with is that making public commitments to each other is a powerful motivating force.

With all things Luna Tractor we try to practice what we preach, plus eat our own dog food, so today we went public and launched a project to share the stories of agile and lean transformation at Lonely Planet.  At a lunchtime briefing with our friends at ThoughtWorks, we started to share some of the stories and photographs we have been collecting as the basis of an ebook about the remarkable business transformation at Lonely Planet in the last 5 years.

The book’s title, ‘Not just an IT Thing’, was inspired by Thoughtworks’ Lean business strategist David Joyce, who in early discussions with us was lamenting that so little progress has been made outside of software development with systems thinking, lean, agile and kanban methodologies, and that all too often agile was dismissed as “just an IT thing.”

To continue this, and share our progress in an agile way, our goal is to publish some of the photographs of Lonely Planet’s remarkable workplace on a regular basis as the content comes together.  Stay tuned to the blog for snippets and the team’s stories, and most importantly tell us what you think.

A note of thanks must go to everyone over the last 5 years who told us to ‘write it down!’ Well, your exhortations have been heard, and this time we’ve actually started.

Luna Links – Clay Shirky on why the future of the internet is safe

By People, TechnologyNo Comments

Who hid the mouse? A wonderful question posed by a 4 year old child trying to interact with the television that her boring Dad is insisting on watching 1970s sitcoms on.  It is wonderful because it portends a generation of people who will not tolerate passive consumption of broadcast information jammed at them on a fixed schedule every evening after the news has finished.

This world is coming faster than we think, with the launch of smart (read internet connected) television in the next few months from mainstream manufacturers. Anyway, we commend this pair of videos to you as well worth investing some time watching:

Never employ someone who left their last job because they stopped learning

By PeopleNo Comments

Imagine a typical job interview situation. Bright young thing (BYT) in the chair opposite you (as the hiring manager) with a resume to die for, 2 open source hackapps in the local market, they’ve survived the pair programming test with your wiliest developer, and you’re secretly very happy with the skills and experience you are about to steal from a rival in a limited pool of technical talent.

So you pop one final question: “tell us why you are thinking of leaving your current employer?”

If they shoot back “well, I’ve really stopped learning there”, the interview is over. Do not hire that person.

Now in the current over-cooked Australian market for tech and product talent, you’d say I was crazy and irresponsible to offer that advice. Let me offer my defense.

People leave their education and take the skills they have gained to their first employer. The mixture of their personal traits (intelligence, customer focus, self-motivation etc), skills gained from academia, and background enable them to slowly master the work at hand with plenty of guidance. Soon enough though, the job gets stressful, repetitive, and money becomes an issue. So they jump. First job syndrome.

At job number 2, the workplace is different. Nobody knows precisely what our new hire doesn’t actually know, and with the likely change in corporate culture, along with expanded duties and responsibilities (to justify that pay rise) they will likely get along meeting expectations on the skills they brought with them. They will spend a lot of energy just fitting in with the new people, and may well apply their limited skills to the new tasks and environment and think they are learning new stuff. But they get tired, are a bit too busy with their social life to read much, and the work starts to feel a bit repetitive.

Soon enough, maybe a year later, maybe two, they jump ship to you for more money and ‘opportunity’ (or whatever you put in that job advert ;-). And they give you the dreaded line “I stopped learning there”, making them sound ambitious and intelligent all in one go.

Now, when did they actually stop learning stuff? Last week? Last job? The one before that? Or at University? For me, ‘I stopped learning’ is a lame-ass excuse and a mealy-mouthed  defense to a recruiter. Learning starts with the individual, it is their own responsibility. In this world, it is almost impossible to stop learning give universal access to information. It is cheaper than ever through e-books, blogs, tweets, and ahem web pirates. And if they’re from an agile employer, something is badly wrong – they should be learning every time they have a retro or pair program.

Past behaviour  is definitely the best predictor of future behaviour.

I suggest a follow-up question, which gets to the heart of the problem in a tight labour market might be ‘what have you read lately that helped you in your job?’ or ‘what have you found interesting on the web lately in your field?’

No good answer, no hire.  Nerf them on the spot.

Subscribe to the Luna Newsletter

Close Menu

Quote of the week

The new competitive advantage is the ability to anticipate, respond and adapt to change.

Recent Luna Posts

Become Remarkable.