Changes in the Wind, Part 1: Leadership Advice

[box]Note: This is the first part of a three part series. Part 2 is for designers, and Part 3 is for developers.[/box]
 
After more than 18 months working as the “Implementation Team Manager” (a developer and project manager) with Delta Defense, LLC I have left to join WebDev Studios. I’m making this transition so I can focus more completely on WordPress development. It sounds like a fun thing to do and, though I’m sad to leave Delta, I’m very excited for this opportunity.

In my final days as an employee and team manager at Delta I took some time to impart my limited amounts of wisdom with my teammates. Most of my advice was very personal and specific to the person with whom I was sharing. Some of it, however, surprised even me and I thought it best to share it here with you, too (mostly as a reminder to future-me that past-me was a pretty smart guy).

Being a Leader

Being in the leader seat carries a certain amount of weight and responsibility. It basically means that you’re solely responsible for every single project the team produces, and that you won’t be the person building the majority of them. It means a lot of time spent jockeying emails, and not a lot of time actually creating. In short, it means than if you really like to build and tinker, and don’t like to spend most of your day in email and Basecamp, you need to seriously consider whether or not you’d actually want to climb into this seat.

To help you with a decision like that, I wanted to offer you up some things that I’ve learned from my position and over the course of many, many years doing all the things that we do.

1. Everyone is important, Everyone is Replaceable

Each person on my team, myself included, is tremendously important because of their unique knowledge, perspectives and experience. Their ability to understand how things work, along with a passion for learning more and doing better, makes each person a tremendously valuable asset. Still, it’s important to realize that, even as the most important person on a team, you’re no less replaceable than any other person. So, never forget that and never rest on your laurels.

2. It is HARMFUL to both you, and the company, to work more than 8hrs per day, 5 days per week.

It’s okay to break this rule every once in a while, for things like large launches and the like, but you should absolutely NOT standardize your work life around putting in more hours than that. In fact, your goal should invariably be to work as few as possible without decreasing throughput.

The more hours you work the less effective you will become. I’ve experienced this to be true in my own life and witnessed it to be true in the rest of my team. On a whole, a company that has employees who work more than 40hrs per week on a consistent basis will run into innumerably more problems than a company who does not.

You should train the very core of your being in a way that it will react strongly and passionately against working past 5 or on the weekend. Alarms and warnings should go off in your mind when you decide to work any extra hours (UNLESS the payoff is leaving early or starting late a different day, or simply clearing your plate so you can be mentally renewed the next day. Even then, it should be rare that you put in any extra time).

The simple truth is this: nothing in this (or any) job is worth more than that, especially compared to your marriage, family and personal well-being. You prove yourself more valuable by your ability to accomplish much in little time than you do by your willingness to work long hours.

3. Remember Your Role as a Manager

As a manager, any time you’re personally doing a task that we pay someone else to do, you’re doing it wrong.

In other words, always offload every (and I mean every) project and task you get to someone else on the team. Do this until your inbox is absolutely empty and every single task has been assigned to another person with decent instruction and a specific deadline. Then, cycle through each project (starting with those due soonest) and ask questions about their progress, provide additional context or instruction where necessary, and only assist with a build when someone really needs help.

I was definitely worst at this one. Any time you think you need to spend personally working on a build is always better spent demonstrating to someone else how to build it. There are certainly times where you can solve an issue in 60 seconds that would take 5 minutes to explain, and even in those cases where you fix it yourself you should still take the 5min to explain what you did and why. That way, the next person is better equipped to handle similar situations in the future and you’ve removed yourself as a bottleneck.

The role of a leader is to remove barriers and communicate effectively. You communicate with the project requester so that you fully understand their needs, then you communicate with the project executers so the build is done to specification. In between request and delivery you should be maintaining communication with both sides to ensure everything stays on-track and, if things fall behind, they’re caught immediately so everyone can plan accordingly.

In other words: your team is your greatest asset, you should trust, enable and rely on them to do everything.

This brings me to my fourth and final point:

4. You are always wrong.

Always give the other person the benefit of the doubt and ask them to explain things from their perspective. Assume you’re wrong or that you misunderstood first and foremost. This helps you to remain humble and avoid unnecessary conflict. Conflict is good and healthy for resolving problems, but putting someone else at fault is never the correct course of action and is almost always non-productive. If someone else has failed to deliver you what you expected or needed, first ask yourself how you could have explained it to them better. Did you not emphasize the importance of timing? Did you not explain another piece of context?

If a project ever falls behind deadline it’s either because (i) the deadline wasn’t clear, (ii) the project was less important than something else, or (iii) the importance of this project wasn’t clear. Much of what you’ll be doing as a project manager is assessing project progress and renegotiating deadlines, so try night to get too put out by how frequently things change.

When someone fails to deliver something you needed (either when you needed it or how you wanted it), instead of getting upset with them try to understand what they thought you meant and learn how you could have gotten them what they needed to hear.

Your mileage may vary…

This is what worked for me as a leader. It might not work for you, but I had a lot of fun following these four principals. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, so please drop me a line in the comments, as @rzen on twitter, or via my Contact form.

Weirdest Incident Yet…

Here at the Richards Manor, we don’t get a lot of foot traffic. We’re a young married couple with no kids, surrounded by retirees, 10+ miles from our nearest friends.

Despite this, however, our doorbell rings at a surprisingly regular rate. Not daily, mind, but almost certainly weekly.

It’s a game I like to call “Doorknob Roulette”

Lately, I’ve taken to making a game of things. See, I never know who is going to be at the door (except that I can guarantee it’s never a package delivery man, because they seem to be of the mind to toss our package in the garage and go… I almost never know when something has been actually delivered).

Usually I’m greeted by a solicitor of some kind (cut your heating bill!, paint your home!, get new cabinets!, need a new roof?). Once in a while it’s a neighbor who needs technical assistance (usually with their printer, or scanner, or email). On the rarest occasions, it’s a neighborhood kid asking to shovel our sidewalk or mow our lawn.

If it’s clearly a solicitor I’ll sometimes let them ring the doorbell and then leave without answering, never admitting that I’m home (after all, it’s 2 in the afternoon… who is home at that time of day?)

Today’s incident, however, is the weirdest I’ve encountered on my doorstep…

The person on the outside was a teenager, probably 14 or 15 years old. Standing a ways behind him on the sidewalk was (I suspect) his mother. He rang the doorbell at least twice before I could get upstairs to answer, and I think a third time as I was getting to the door.

When I opened the door he asked, “Does a kid named Angelo live here?”

When I said, “No, it-” he cut me off and said, “Cuz a kid named Angelo threw a rock at my little brother… cut his head open. And he said his house was over here in this area…”

I interjected again, completing my thought, “No, it’s just my wife and I… sorry.”

Then he and his mother both said, “Okay, thanks for your time!” and trotted off.

Uh, what?

I wasn’t really sure what to do with this tiny glimpse into someone else’s life I was given so, naturally, I thought the only logical conclusion was to share it with everyone en masse.

I wonder what will happen to poor ole Angelo in the event that these two ever catch up with him. Vigilante street justice? Perhaps… If they wanted to have words with young Angelo, I wonder why his mother was in the background and not the person knocking at the door. Really, I wonder why she was even coming along at all if the boy was the one doing all the knocking… That’s the most bizarre part.

Have you ever had anything this strange at your door?

The Future of Cell Networks

Several years ago (3 or 4) I conjectured that we would soon see the day that cellphone networks would drop their complicated plan archetypes that melded limitations on voice and text and data (which are all just fundamentally data, by the way) in exchange for a simpler, singular [Plan]. Well, it sounds like that day is nearly upon us. Looking at the graphic above, and clicking through it to the story on Engadget, it’s clear that Verizon, at least, agrees with me.

They are adding a “Share Everything” plan, in which your only limitation is how much data you want to allot to your devices collectively. You have “unlimited” text and voice (though they’ll probably count the data you use on both), AND you cas share this allotment with up to 10 separate devices simultaneously. Granted, they’re not eliminating all their other plan offerings, but I suspect in time they will wain in popularity to the point of extinction.

Friends, the future is upon us.

P.S. The first company to simply call them the “[Company Name] Plans” wins

(Source: Engadget)

Streaming media from a Drobo FS to PS3 or iPad or iPhone

After months and months of grueling searches, annoying config files, and very little success, I’ve finally uncovered the solution to streaming media from my Drobo FS to other devices in my home (e.g. my Playstation 3 and my iPad).

I’m posting the solution here in hopes of helping others in my situation, because I cannot believe how difficult it was to find, and how dead-simple it was to implement. It’s simply maddening I spent six months living with the problem and only 5 minutes to finally solve it.

The solution?

Install Media Tomb on your Drobo FS. That’s it. I’m not even joking.

You can read on to learn the backstory and hear additional details about my debacle.
Continue reading “Streaming media from a Drobo FS to PS3 or iPad or iPhone”

Back to UI Basics

I want to take a moment to rant about something I really hate. I hope that this gets a lot of attention because I would really love to see this standard changed. Maybe (hopefully) you feel the same way…

Has this ever happened to you?

The built-in mobile browser...You’re reading through your Twitter timeline on your iPhone and you tap a link to some article. That article links you to another article, then another, and then one which links you to a couple of photos. After looking at one photo you decide to go back to the article, so you reach up and tap the back button.

Only, the back button isn’t “up”, it’s at the bottom of the screen.

Now, instead of going back to the article you were only half-finished reading, you’re all the way back to your Twitter timeline, with only a faint recollection of how you got to the article you were reading in the first place.

Great.

Now you’re left with two options: click back through the tweet and articles to hopefully find where you were and continue reading, or, abandon the article forever and convince yourself it really wasn’t all that interesting.

Don’t tell me it’s the “Standard UI”

After years of surfing the internet we’ve been conditioned to look to the top-left corner for a back button. Of course, there are shortcuts and other methods available as well, but the top-left corner back button has been a staple of browser UI for as long as I can remember.

That, of course, is not the case with the iPhone. Because of its limited screen real estate, the designers opted to place the back button at the bottom of the screen along with some other navigational controls. It’s different, but not unusable. And when using mobile Safari, it’s not even uncomfortable.

This all changes, however, when an app incorporates Safari and it’s controls within the app. Using the standard Safari controls is not the best option, I think, so let me take a moment to explain why.

The reason this sucks

Not only have we been conditioned to seek the top-left corner when browsing back using a desktop web browser, but we’ve been conditioned this way by mobile apps as well to browse back through their many in-app pages. This is especially true within Twitter clients because there are innumerable means to reach any content. After you’re deep within the app, it makes perfect sense to hit the back button in the top-left corner until you’re back to the beginning.

My Proposed Solution (listen up App Devs)

An alternative to the built-in mobile browser UIMove the back/forward buttons to the top bar, replacing the “back to timeline” button.

If someone only browses through to the original link, the back button remains as the “back to timeline” button. But, as soon as they go beyond the first page the button becomes a standard browser back button.

This way, it continues to function exactly as the user would expect. No confusion, no problems. The end.

If you’re concerned that this method will make it too difficult (or take too long) for the user to get back to their timeline, incorporate a touch action where the user can swipe across the back button from left-to-right and be returned to the original tweet/timeline. I’m fairly certain one of the apps incorporated this method for browsing back within the app, because I remember using it.

If you really hate that option…

I would settle for a contextual menu that appeared when the user taps the first link within the linked page they’re viewing. Instead of dutifully opening the link like normal this contextual menu would ask the user whether they want to continue using the in-app browser or open the link separately in mobile safari. It’s not as graceful as my requested option, but it certainly provides a pattern interrupt that would remind me “if you continue browsing in-app, don’t use that top back button”.

So, what do you think?

I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this way. If this bugs you too, take action! Show your solidarity by sounding off in the comments, alerting the makers of your favorite Twitter app and generally helping spread the word. Together we can defeat troubling UI!