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Planning: Managers need to sell their trucks.

Posted by malcolmdavis on September 2, 2004 at 10:01 AM PDT

Not too long ago, I worked for a large IT shop that required their employees to wear an electronic leash called a BlackBerry. At all hours of the day, day or night, the customer, the manager or other developers could contact me. This form of instant communication lead to constant fire drills and little "flow time".

"Flow State is a relaxed state of total immersion in a problem that facilitates understanding of it and the generation of a solution for it." - Steve McConnell. In "Peopleware", DeMarco and Lister determine that there are several factors in developing world-class software. One of these factors is the ability to be in an environment that supports the "flow state" and allows developers to minimize interruptions when desired. Another is scheduling which allows members to "have a life" outside of work. DeMarco and Lister wryly note, "they will anyhow."

Many years ago I considered building a house. To help with the process, I took a contract seminar from a leading homebuilder in the Atlanta area. The seminar focused on patterns and anti-patterns, (or as he referred to it, "the mosquitoes that bite you").

"Sell your truck" was the number one recommendation of the 2-day seminar. [An odd thing from a southern good ole boy.] He mentioned that the key to his success was planning, and he did not really start planning until he sold his truck.

For many builders, the truck is a convenience item that allows for quick trips to the lumberyard, plumbing suppliers or flooring outlet. A truck was the only requirement for getting items to the job site. However, time in the truck was time not supervising, working on other homes, or meeting with new customers.

Even though selling his truck was extreme, it forced him to plan. He found that vendors would deliver products to the job site. He developed checklists and scheduling timelines, and found ways of handling one of the biggest problems on a project, the plumber. Good plumbers are difficult to find, are never on time, under-estimate jobs, can be temperamental, and generally charge too much for their work. [Managers can make their own plumber analogies.]

Planning is a difficult task, and it is human nature for people to rely on every crutch possible. However, some times the crutch needs to be removed for people to learn to walk. One of my top recommendations for this mammoth IT, with thousands of developers, is to eliminate BlackBerry's from the development staff. Eliminating the BlackBerry’s would not only help the development staff by providing flow state, but also force the mangers to become better planners.

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