Are They Easy to Work With Or Just Friendly?

It's easy to confuse friendly with competence.warmth-competence A lot of companies talk about being easy to work with. Fewer explain what they mean by that.

As a software architect, I worked with a lot of programmers who came across as distant, reclusive, gruff, or even angry but were super easy to work with. Despite their social skills, they could cut through business jargon and determine the core need of the user, design a solution, and implement it with minimal headaches.

On the other hand, I've also worked with personable, friendly, engaging programmers who seemed to add to the customer's problems instead of reducing them.

If given the choice, we'd all prefer to work with people who are friendly and engaging. But only if they're also competent and intelligent. When we can't have both, we demand competence over friendliness.

Researchers tell us that people judge a person's warmth before they judge competence (Fisk, Cuddy, and Glick, 2010):

Although warmth and competence dimensions emerge consistently,considerable evidence suggests that warmth judgments are primary: warmth is judged before competence, and warmth judgments carry more weight in affective and behavioral reactions. From an evolutionary perspective, the primacy of warmth is fitting because another person’s intent for good or ill is more important to survival than whether the other person can act on those intentions. Similarly, morality(warmth) judgments determine approach–avoidance tendencies, so they are the fundamental aspect of evaluation[8,9] and, therefore, precede competence–efficacy judgments.

In business, we sometimes judge ourselves as "easy to work with" because people tell us how nice and friendly we are. But if we can't deliver, people quickly see our warmth as smarmy and glib.

Friendliness isn't easy to work with; it makes easy to work with more pleasant.

 

Why I Am a Disloyal Jerk

I am a terrible, disloyal man. In 1994, I sent about ten letters to technology companies asking for free stuff. I was in the Navy then, but I wanted to get out and start a publishing company. I needed computers, printers, and software. I figured the easiest way to get that stuff was to ask.

One company came  through: Microsoft. I even got a personal letter from Bill Gates about a week after my shipment arrived. He commended my chutzpah but asked me to never tell anyone Microsoft gave me free software.

They sent me two licenses for everything they sold at the time. Windows for Workgroups, Windows 3.1, Office 4.3c, etc. I promised loyalty.

In 1995, my company was flailing, but I'd gotten a job as MIS Director for a small healthcare company. When our CEO agreed our mix-and-match technology needed to be standardized and upgraded, I repaid Microsoft. I had also learned VB, MSSQL, and rudimentary C++. I was a Microsoft developer.

For the next 15 years, I pumped Microsoft. I was coding with .NET before they called it .NET. As a programmer, DBA, architect, and software engineering director, I remained doggedly loyalty to Redmond.

But my loyalty to Microsoft has waned.

Have you searched in Outlook 2013? It sucks. And that's their latest version.

Have you seen Windows 8.1? It's terrible. And the market agrees.

Microsoft writes software for RFPs, not for people.

My coding today is all AngularJS JavaScript. I like APIs. And my desktop OS is Elementary, a Linux distribution.

I have many reasons for these changes, but they all boil down to simplicity. On the laptop I'm using right now (HP Pavilion), Windows 7 takes about two and a half minutes to boot. Elementary takes less than 30 seconds.  Business Insider's home page take about 15 seconds to fully load in Windows, just four seconds in Elementary. JetBrains WebStorm (my IDE) takes about one minute to open in Windows, but only 20 seconds in Elementary.

I just don't have time or patience for Microsoft.

If want people to be loyal, make their lives simpler. Don't make them wait. Don't expect them to enjoy your work. Instead, let them get done with it. They'll thank you.

Loyalty has its limits.

 

Microsoft Is In Worse Shape Than You Think

In 1994, I wanted to get out of the Navy to start my own publishing company. One of my enablers was Microsoft.

To get my enterprise off the ground, I needed a couple of strong desktops and some software. So I wrote letters to about a dozen companies asking for freebies. I offered only my future loyalty in return.

The only company that responded at all was Microsoft. They sent me about $3,000 worth of software and a letter of encouragement from Bill Gates.

I tell that story only so you understand that I’ve been a loyal fan of Microsoft for a long time.

windows-burning

A few months ago, I panned Windows 8. Hard.  Here’s my damning prediction from September 1, 2012:

Windows 8 sucks.  I am sorry I upgraded to it.  I feel bad for people who make PCs and the many programmers who imagine, design, and code desktop application for Windows. Microsoft’s utter contempt for design has put all these people’s jobs in jeopardy. This OS is so awful that I expect computer makers will give customers the option of Windows 7 to prevent a complete sales disaster at Christmas.

My post was a quick, gut reaction to new operating system based on two weeks of daily use.

As soon as I posted that blog, I started to feel bad. I felt bad for many, many great friends who work for or have worked for Microsoft. I felt bad for the hundreds of programmers and system administrators I’ve worked with across my 15 year career as a technologist.

I felt bad for two reasons. First, I knew my words would hurt them, and I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. Second, I knew my words were true and accurate. And I would not have written them if I didn’t think they needed to be written. (Microsoft will be better off if people don’t experience the ugliness of Windows 8.)

So what’s happened since my review of the RTM version of Windows 8? First, nothing has happened to change my mind about the OS.  Next, the market seems to agree with my assessment. 

Consider:

  • Usability guru Jakob Nielsen eviscerated the OS saying “Hidden features, reduced discoverability, cognitive overhead from dual environments, and reduced power from a single-window UI and low information density. Too bad.”
  • NPD Group released a report this week concluding that Windows 8 has done nothing to help the PC market.
  • From the NPD report, we learned that Windows 8 market share of new sales is only 58 percent. By comparison, Windows 7’s market share was 83 percent in its first month after launch. That’s a huge let down.
  • Worse, Microsoft’s big gamble on the Surface tablet—supposedly an alternative to the iPad—has been a disaster. Windows-based tablet sales “have been almost nonexistent, with unit sales representing less than 1% of all Windows 8 device sales to date,” according to NPD Group.
  • Last year, Business Insider’ Jay Yarrow mapped out a “nightmare scenario” for Steve Ballmer, but concluded that the scenario would not play out. Friday, he changed his mind, writing “Microsoft's nightmare scenario is actually starting to take hold.”
  • Henry Blodget took a look at the situation and concluded that talk of a big Microsoft comeback is “delusional.”  Blodget points out an amazing statistic that I didn’t know: Apple’s iPhone business alone is bigger than all of Microsoft.

Yes, Microsoft is a behemoth in the enterprise. No, CIOs won’t walk into work tomorrow and send the deltree *.* command to their servers.

But Microsoft’s principal OEM buyers were already in trouble because of the shrinking PC market. Developers are still hooked on building apps for iOS. Consumers seem to hate Windows 8. The most desired Christmas gift is anything from Apple. Young people are being raised on iOS. Companies let employees bring their own devices (BYOD) to work, sometimes paying them a monthly technology grant to do so.

That’s a long string of problems to overcome for a company now smaller than one department at Apple.

At this point, I think Microsoft’s best hope is for Bill Gates to come out of retirement. But don’t hold your breath.

     

Don't Make This Project-Killing Mistake

How many times have you added people (aka "resources") to help a project move faster?

dangerdeath

Anyone who's led a software development project knows the drill:

  • Scope the project
  • Define the requirements
  • Estimate the hours
  • Pick your deadline
  • Divide the hours among workers until the project fits under the deadline

It doesn't work. And when things go bad, when timelines shift, when the slack is gone, you do what?  You add more people, and things get worse.

Software development, by the way, is not the only discipline guilty of the Big Team fallacy. I see it in projects of every kind--from marketing to employee engagement, to cost-cutting projects.

Teams Don't Scale The Way You Think They Do

In 1975, Fred Brooks told us that adding more people to a late project can only make it later. Did we listen? Maybe we'll listen this time.

A new study, The Team Scaling Fallacy: Underestimating The Declining Efficiency of Larger Teams, researchers Bradley R. Staats, Katherine L. Milkman, and Craig R. Fox found that smaller teams outperform larger teams given the same tasks. 

When the researchers doubled the size of teams working on a task, the time to complete the task increased 70 percent. Specifically, a two-person team assigned to assemble 50 Legos required 36 minutes to complete the task. When teams of four attempted the same task, the time increased to 52 minutes.

Small Team Estimates Are More Accurate

What surprised me, though, was the estimates.  The researchers paid graduate students to estimate the time each team would require. They got a bonus if they were right. The students gave lower time estimates for two-person teams than for four-person teams. This seems to indicate that students with little or no work experience understand that larger teams take more time. (We seem to forget this when we take on a management job.)  Here's what the researchers observed:

[A]lthough estimators recognized that larger teams would require more time to complete the LEGO assembly project, they were still relatively insensitive to the impact that team size can have on the total amount of effort that a project requires.

In other words, people are terrible at project estimation, and adding people to the project only makes us worse.

Keep Teams Small

If you're going to miss the deadline, deal with it. Throwing more people at a project will only make it later. Plus, there are numerous benefits to small teams.

  • Small teams are easier to manage
  • Small teams cost less
  • Small teams are more productive
  • Small teams are more nimble

In The Mythical Man-Month, Fred Brooks said it best:  nine women can't produce a baby in one month. Keep the teams small and keep your deadlines reasonable. You'll save money and reputation.