Five whys – Joel on Software

Five whys – Joel on Software: After some internal discussion we all agreed that rather than imposing a statistically meaningless measurement and hoping that the mere measurement of something meaningless would cause it to get better, what we really needed was a process of continuous improvement. Instead of setting up a SLA for our customers, we set up a blog where we would document every outage in real time, provide complete post-mortems, ask the five whys, get to the root cause, and tell our customers what we’re doing to prevent that problem in the future. In this case, the change is that our internal documentation will include detailed checklists for all operational procedures in the live environment. [Joel ran across the checklist article in the New Yorker and is putting it to use. Smart. So is understanding the value of service and where it makes sense to live on that continuum. Anyway, all this ties in nicely to the thoughts about system failures and people, with further proof that you cannot engineer out the occurrence of a collapse.]

Doing bold things, part deux.

More from Gonzales: Heraclitus said that every time you step into a river, it’s a different river. Every time you walk a [mountain] it’s a different mountain. It’s a boundary condition, a phase transition zone. Because of that it can make a mockery of the most thoughtful plan. Experience is nothing more than an engine that drives adaptation, so it’s always important to ask: Adaptation to what? When the environment changes (a given) you have to be aware that your experience might be inappropriate.

People are always part of the system. And people love forward motion. It’s very hard to get them to disengage once a course has been set. Add to this that people “normalize” risk. If something feels less risky they’ll take more chances; more risky and they’ll take less. “We’ve been through a similar situation and emerged just fine.” It’s easiest to assume it was your skill and savvy, your adaptations that saw you through. That’s why accident preventative engineering always fails. Add anti-lock brakes to a car and people push the limits of their driving skills. They feel safer, so they increase the risk until it matches their risk comfort zone. And of course, they get into more accidents since they no longer understand the level of energy in the system, and worse, feel protected from it.

Apply this to business. A project owner will increase risk until the level matches their risk comfort zone. If they fail to understand the amount of energy in the system, if this project represents a “different project” than the one they managed the last time, their adaptations (business experiences) no longer match… and the project is at risk from the outset. One disturbance will eventually lead to a failure cascade. As they say in mountaineering “A rope without fixed protection is a suicide pact.” A project that is not self-aware, that does not introspect, that does not provide a voice to all the participants is a suicide pact.

Doing bold things

Laurence Gonzales in Deep Survival writes about “Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why”. There are some clear lessons in the study of physical survival in the wilderness.

We all operate in failure mode… all the time. All. The. Time. Most failures are small ones, a dropped bit of food, a spilled drink, extra traffic, a burned-out light, the glitches we dismiss as normal.

These system failures are the outgrowth of the tightly coupled complex nature of our lives — self-organizing complexity of astonishing proportion.

These small failures are normal, and unfortunately, so are large failures. The small things are like the temblors in an earthquake zone, the quiet harbingers of the larger collapses that must eventually happen. Large accidents or failures, while rare, are normal too. Efforts to prevent them always fail.

Failure processes happen very fast and can’t be turned off. Recovery from the initial disturbance is not possible; it will spread quickly and irretrievably for at least some time. These interactions were not designed into the system by anybody.

Doing bold things is not about engineering risk to zero. Failures happen, and if we restrict ourselves to where they can’t… we’re not going to do anything very interesting.

We’ll all have good idea of how our system behaves with it’s more frequent smaller failures. But we rarely understand how much energy is in the system… and how quickly things will go critical.

If we can’t “engineer” it out, and we can’t predict anything beyond that a failure will happen, what do we do? We trust, we risk, we embrace failure when it occurs and try to understand how it fits into the system, and like the walkers on the wire, we accept that at some point, everything may suddenly and irrevocably change. We also join and build teams of people, which are far more resilient than an individual. And from a business sense, can produce far more consistent results, with higher quality, and greater speed. And do bold things.

How much for digital?

How much for digital?: It’s important to charge something, because the act of paying fundamentally changes the dynamics of the relationship. The question is this: at the start, is your goal to maximize profit or to build a platform that scales? The fact is that the market is too small right now for the price to matter. What matters is whether you can build an audience that is in the habit of paying you, an audience that wants to hear from you, an audience that you can build a business on.

At fifty cents a rental, all desire for piracy goes out the window, replaced by convenience, ease of use and a clear conscience. More important, entire new services show up, habits are built and the studios end up with a direct relationship with consumers who want to hear from them. If they don’t get greedy at the start. [I think Seth nailed this one.]
Source: Seth’s Blog

People to People

The annual Bikes for Kids program that the Rockland Bike Club runs every year got some kudos in the local paper.

It’s January and another Santa Project has come and gone here at People to People and we would like to thank those responsible for making it a great success.

At present, we’ve estimated approximately 3,000 children received gifts through Santa Project 2007. That represents about 1,100 families, all of them your neighbors right here in Rockland. There were 750 “Dear Santa” letters adopted and enough toys, checks, clothing and food came rolling in to help approximately 350 more families. I wish I could share all the hugs and blessings I received on your behalf. You lit up the faces of children young and old and gave hope to families who have, in one way or another, felt the tides of hopelessness in 2007.

[Nice. A touch more ecumenicism on the part of People to People would be nice… but helping people is helping people. Bring on the Solstice Project! Heh.]

McDonald’s Is Doing Coffee? The rule of opposites

McDonald’s Is Doing Coffee?: I can’t quite process the idea that McDonalds is getting into the latte biz. After living in the PacNW for a while, Starbucks is already my version of slumming for coffee. I can’t image going lower than that. PC load letter? Say what?[As Seth has pointed out it’s about what you are really competing against. McDonalds isn’t the opposite of Starbucks, but it might become one for Duncan Donuts.]
Source: James Duncan Davidson

Watchdogging Blogging

Watchdogging Blogging: I think the best way to bring change about, is not by any cyclists’ rights movement, but by individual riders, clubs and small groups of friends who ride together setting their own rules and codes of behavior.

When I’m out riding, I expect sloppy and poor driving from some people. I see it all the time when I drive my car, so it is not going to change just because I am on a bike. I stay alert; I ride defensively, and try not to let it spoil my ride. [First, I’d like to thank Dave for being thoughtful and writing about these issues.

Cyclists, when driving, often act/drive very similarly to car only folks with the common exception of usually treating other cyclists with courtesy (although amazingly, not always!). Same high speed, low courtesy, me first, doing too much at once behind the wheel, stuff (to generalize) that I find so obviously dangerous when on my bike. If everyone who rides a bike would drive as if they were on their bike it would be a great start, and would “put money where their mouth is”.]
Source: Dave Moulton’s Bike Blog

What I Do – onward flows the meme perpetuated

What I Do – a meme perpetuated: Far be it form me to break the chain… so here goes.

My Day Job

I work as a software developer at Oxygen Media, which was recently bought by NBC/Universal. I’m still not sure how all that will shake out for me.

Frankly I hate the term “day job” because it implies drudgery or sysiphisian tasks to me — that the only reason I do what I do every day is because I need to pay bills. That’s not something that I see as “life affirming”. And truly, life is too short to spend so much of it doing stuff you don’t like. I try not to. So while I don’t commute to Chelsea because of any love for commuting to Chelsea (1.5 – 2.25 hours one way on average), it has been, for the last year or so, a chance to work, learn, and play with some very talented, creative, and energetic people, and it certainly remains my plan to continue to place myself in situations where those qualities are abundant and appreciated.

My “Contribution”

I’m not as organized about this as some. I’ve sent a pile of recordings and equipment to my former college. I’ve supported some folks with debilitating MS with other gear that they couldn’t afford. I’ve sent money to various cancer fighting institutions, and done a bunch of fund raising recordings for folks who’ve ask. I’ve spent a little time building bikes for kids who otherwise would’ve gone without. I prefer my giving face to face as it were. It’s harder to bear the pain, shame, embarrassment, and need, but it increases the chance of real good occurring (I should add that the pain and embarrassment etc. is *mine* for paying so little attention to the needs of others and society, and so much to myself. (And even this is all about me. Sigh.)) I’ve authored some software and formats that are used by a large segment of the public and those things were free for the enjoyment of all from their very inception… but in all these cases I get way more out of it than the folks at the other end. So who’s contributing to whom? I dunno. But there it is.

My Night Job

I don’t really have one. I always figured that if I was so amped about something that I wanted to do it in the precious non-work hours, that I should do it fulltime. I can’t always make that happen, but I try. I still consult for some folks because they’ve maintained an ongoing relationship. I still play on recordings for some folks when they ask, or to cover for some particularly egregious personal situation. That’s about as close as I come.

Other Stuff

I’m a member of a number of wonderful communities. There’s a bike club that has got it’s heart and wheels in the right place. I’ve been making music with the same folks for well over 20 years, and have been part of of an informal group of developers that have worked alongside each other for a almost as long. It has never been easier for people to share their stories and form communities on the internet. It’s a great gift. But there’s nothing like getting in a room with other folks, or going for a bike ride with a group, or spending a night in a recording studio with a few friends. People are the most powerful magic the world has to offer.

My Family

I have a very tight knit family. It’s not large, one older brother, one younger sister. My wife’s family is small as well, she has one older sister. Fortunately, all our parents are with us and celebrating anniversaries well into the 40th decade. My wife Lisa and son Noah are the joys of my life. Noah is extremely sunny and bright and can’t help but brighten the lives of others, mine especially, the proud father. Our busy professional lives means that Noah spends his weekdays at school/day care. They take good care of him and he’s learned a lot. But I leave my heart in that place every day.

Who Next?

This was the hardest part. I hope the burden isn’t too great…
Jenni you’re up. And how about Seth?

[Onward!]
Source: Luke Melia