Been thinking a lot about goals and motivational structures recently and I am not quite there when I express my thoughts. This is probably down to the nebulous way in which my brain works, there are not really superhighways of communication more a wool jungle that’s infested with kittens. But the area itself is a little flimsy.
Mostly, probably because of the yearly Nanowrimo competition, I have been thinking about how people face down a challenge or a goal that is an externally originated condition.
There are many people who crave structure, and even some who prefer an imposed structure no matter how abstract or arbitrary as it focuses them on a task. I look at this and think that they are using this to supplement, or maybe supplant, a different desire. It isn’t really a goal that this gives them as they themselves have constructed a different goal, that of completing a challenge. So it is an external challenge that forces them to perform. It always makes me think that this is more to do with an internal desire to combat an expectation.
This expectation might be a self imposed world view that they are unable to perform from some devaluation of themselves, or a perceived devaluation in the society they operate within. It is a combative approach to a challenge, it is about overcoming.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What are goals for if they are not for forcing us to achieve. Whether that is a placebo for the addressing of some other inner narrative or need is probably irrelevant.
Of course there are some darker emotional waters here. There are people who need to address a challenge not to satisfy internal structures of accomplishment but to rail against some perceived injustice or appraisal.
I see people who use a global competitive challenge, that is based in personal achievement, as a method by which to control others. I also see them manipulate people into seeing the goal not just as an achievement but as a challenge for proving their worth.
So they use an arbitrary goal of numbers as a method of distinction not by personal achievement but by the reduction of others. It is even veiled as friendly challenge. There is a certain value in being mildly competitive, there is value in supporting others and spurring them on. But for some people their cheerleading of others, whether conscious or unconscious, is actually being used to highlight their own achievement.
‘Don’t worry that you only managed two thousand words, there are still two weeks to go. I found the first five thousand words super hard and have struggled to get to thirty thousand so I know how you feel. You can do it. I think I will fail every year but somehow I manage it. So if I can do it you can.’
The above sentence is a commonplace style of this mentality. It looks supportive, but read deeper and what is actually being said is that they have turned their attention to how hard things are for them, how much they have achieved, how difficult it is for them each time, but yet they still succeed. It is a me-me focus statement.
The last sentence, which is more commonplace than you think is the painful twist of a knife. Put simply it tells the poor sod who is far behind in the challenge that you are going to complete, which means you have to now, if you don’t then you are not as good as me and I struggle every year.
Of course not everyone who enjoys sharing their numbers has this in mind. There is a certain buzz you get if you have achieved a good push with writing. I know lots of people who are just being friendly and sharing their hard work. That’s actually positive and I love seeing how surprised and happy they are. There are even those who are juggling multiple challenges and supporting others And many who are genuinely happy to hear what your word count is and to indulge in a friendly word sprint (word war).
Don’t confuse that with the harsh focus of the word-self who uses every opportunity to make the focus them. Also don’t assume they even know that they are doing it, it could be for deeply sad reasons. Maybe what we should feel is pity instead of anger at their desire to turn it all into their story.
Their goal, therefore, is perhaps to be recognised, maybe to be admired, maybe loved or respected. Or maybe they don’t care about other people as they see themselves as the principal reason that existence spirals around. The only shame is that this can be a drag on emotional equilibrium to those inside their social group.
So their goal is actually to give themselves attention. Again know what your goals are and how they fit with others. It isn’t wrong t want attention, respect or adulation, we all have an ego, it is just bad to achieve that at the expense of others.
Back in March, in my last post, I mentioned that I had been doing a writing challenge in 2015 where I would write at least a page for each day in a small journal. It’s the start of 2016 and I haven’t really blogged much here (though i have managed to blog significantly to my company blog and news pages). I can happily report that I completed my challenge.
So the three things I set out to do (not resolutions but goals) in 2015 that I completed:
Write a page for each day in a journal; Completed.
Write one Haiku for each week; Completed.
Complete 50,000 words in november for Nanowrimo; Completed.
I didn’t complete the two other writing goals I had set myself, but I had a feeling that I wouldn’t as the whole wish list was pretty large. However i do feel very proud of what I have done.
So what now? Well I have already announced to some friends that I have at least one goal for 2016 and I will let you all have another here. I will be publishing the Haikus I wrote in 2015. They need a little editing and a little cleaning but I will publish them as an eBook. I will likely make this available for free to download with a donate if you like link. The idea of a pay what you want appeals to me for the poems, there are at least 52 of them with a few others spread around. This is on the list for release sometime around Easter to Summer. I hope to let you know more soon.
It was a call to action to all of us who want to write and sometimes have an issue in finding the time or the motivation.
The basic story is that a few years ago Leigh decided to fill a page of a diary each day with writing for a single year. Life, of course, didn’t make things easy and it took her more than the one year to finish the diary. The important part is that she finished the diary. The really important part is that in doing so she not only achieved a goal but she built up good habits about just writing.
Writing isn’t easy and it isn’t natural and people who say that it is are generally not telling a whole truth. It can become more practiced but it is not easy, and I am not so sure it should be. In order to write you need a lot of motivation, you need to make time and you have to be prepared to keep at it. Like any skill it generally improves with practice. Sure, there are some people who find it easier than others, some natural advantages from evolution, upbringing and attitude perhaps, but even they say probably don’t say it is easy.
I have had some issues with my motivation. I haven’t been writing fiction or even wanting to write. I haven’t felt like even writing my diary entries. All of that was not making me happy.
I did motivate Leigh to publish her call to action to inspire people and I know it has done so as they responded and I have spoken to some about their efforts (keep at it guys, if you miss days don’t stress). If you missed the 1st January don’t worry. I would say that you can start anytime in the year and now is likely a good time to start as you can pick up a diary for less cost.
As for me. I don’t generally use my diary except for work appointments and the formal tasks that I live my life by. I don’t really find the format of a diary condusive to writing for me. It reminds me too much of my structured work and community life.
I like note books.
I like journals.
I like mixed media.
I like the book I bought to try and write every day this year.
I have done so every day this year.
I write a page each day, probably less than 200 words so fairly light. Sometimes I write a little more, sometimes a couple of pages. I write poems and draw sketches in there as well. I have wrote every day so far. Sometimes I have written more than once a day.
On the one day I missed, I wrote twice on the following day to catch up. That was once, I don’t feel it was a fail, but I made sure to think about what I would write before going to sleep even though I was too tired (and a little drunk) to write, and then wrote it the next morning. If I don’t have my journal with me I write in any A6 book I can find and then tear the pages out and put them in the journal later (yes I am bloody odd, thanks for asking).
I was inspired, you see by these words:
“If the diary challenge has taught me anything it’s how to get over that fear of the blank page.”
I am not really scared of a blank page I got over that, but I am for sure tired of never filling one of them. I got tired of looking at a blank page and just not caring if I wrote on it. I wanted to kill my de-motivation. Also, I kinda liked the idea of somethign as crazy mad as this:
“It would be difficult for me to give a break down of exactly what is in the damn thing. At least 1 complete script, 50,000 words of a novel, and many many many short stories, flash fiction, ideas, characters, bits of novels, plots and poems. There are zombies, pirates, aliens, apocalypses, angels and demons, bond villains, parallel universes and a lot of weird Christmas stories. Sounds like the best book ever, right? Well it wasn’t all fun. There’s at least one page describing my fishtank, some shockingly bad poetry, and some filler days that are just my RPG characters having arguments with each other, just to mention a few of the pages I’m less proud of. But it’s done.”
So I want to thank my beautiful, and slightly bat-sugar-insane, wife for inspiring me. I am one sixth into this crazy challenge and I am two thirds through my first A6-ish mixed page journal. For the curious types I use these journals for writing and sketching in, love them.
I love it because my mind is rarely in a state of preparedness, or at least that’s how I feel about it. However this is misleadibng as i know it is, to at least some degree.
take today. After a great week of good behaviour Ben has a mood on him this morning. We ended up rushing out of the door to get to drama on time. Oh drama on the way to drama!
I normally have a laptop, an ipad, a phone and my journal with me. I always use the 90 minutes Ben is at drama to do some writing on blogs and news items. Today I have the bags for them. Today I should not be able to work.
I left the laptop plugged in and the ipad on charge. I went out of the door with the bags but not the stuff they carry. Derp.
But chance favours the prepared mind…
I do have my phone, and it has lots of Apps including two intended to help me blog. I also have my portable keyboard (mini) that I keep in my journal bag.
I got the keyboard out for the first time in three months and discovered I had left it turned on, the battery is dead. No matter as I have a small power brick in my laptop bag for emergency phone problems – I actually have two but one of those is also on charge at home. Derp.
Oh no, I have left the cable in the other one on charge at home. No worries I have spare cables and a spare multi-head cable for those times that I have the wrong cable.
So, while my son is at Drama and I am remembering that I have to re-pack some stuff into bags and re-charge power bricks. I am also still writing articles and news. This was the third.
This specific post was created using WordPress for Android on a mobile phone. This explains but not excuses any incorrect or unusual typography, brevity or formatting.
Amongst the tools I use on a variety of projects is Trello. To be honest I use others that are similar to Trello as well dependent on the client requirements but a default tool is Trello because of my familiarity with it.
One of the things I like about Trello is the column view and I like it as I can set the same column layout for almost every project. I want to tell you what they are and why they have the headings they do.
The five standard headings I use in any project are:
In this column we stick the cards that describe technologies used; team make-up; user stories; and anything that isn’t a direct feature or task. I like this column to be a sort of document hub that carries on with the project.
This is the first of our feature lists and it is everything the project needs. If it is a new project the elements on here will most likely make up the Technical MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
Want to Have
This is a list of features that the product owner, or supervisor, feels it cannot be brought to market, or first stage completion, without but which has been identified as not really MVP.
Like to Have
The features that don’t fit into the other two columns of features.
When the task/card is done it is in here. Essentially an archive, we keep them around as they may get re-opened.
What the headings mean
I feel that I should explain the MUST-WANT-LIKE relationship a little more as people often do not see a difference between what is a ‘must have’ and what is a ‘want to’. Regular readers of this blog are familiar with my use of car metaphors, so let’s use one to describe the three column headings.
Imagine we are building a car and we are using the above process to prevent the construction of a ‘Homer Mobile’ what fits into our three headings?
What you get if you don't prioritise wants, needs and likes
This would be the essential components that make the car functional.
Engine and transmission
Simple battery and electrical system
1 Basic Seat
Notice that I have been broad in my terms so that ‘steering mechanism’ would include steering wheel, steering column, rack-and pinion setup (or similar) but doesn’t include power assisted steering, or traction assisted turning etc..
The car needs little more than this to be a functioning device and it will help our engineers to build this as the MVP as it focusses on core elements. There is no gearbox at this time, so parking will be a challenge and no lights or indicators so night time driving will be fun. There is also no frame, panels, windows, doors, seat-belts etc. The car doesn’t need them for basic functioning and we can test our vehicle without them. It is a pure first stage.
Want to Have
So what fits into our want to have? What rounds this car out into something that you can not just use but sell a lot easier. This would represent a different part of an MVP, it is a sellable product.
Lights and Indicators
Gearbox (with reverse gears!)
Now we have a car more resembling the basic model you might see on display in a showroom. The difference between our functional MVP and Saleable MVP is clear. These are the elements that are commonly associated with the product, and may in fact be an exterior imposed requirement. This is our want-to-haves. They are close to being an absolute must-have without being the core essentiality.
Like to Have
So what is left, what represents the like to have? Well these are the added extras. The elements that may represent a USP or add to the overall feeling of luxury, comfort or quality without being an essential need for a sale.
Anti-lock brakes, airbags etc
As you can see these elements are not necessary but they are amongst the first things that are listed in car sales brochures. In other words the ‘like to haves’ may not be core components to the build but that doesn’t make them unnecessary, they may have specific strong value.
We separate these items off as although they may add our USP they are not necessary for core functionality. We cannot focus on the air conditioning or alloy wheels if the vehicle transmission doesn’t work. So they stay important but not initially essential.
A like to have can also be a persons individual preference. I don't personally like lime green metallic cars. I think it is an awful colour. However they do sell and so some people must like them. This option is firmly in the like to have. The same with fluffy items hanging from mirrors and furry steering wheel covers, plastic trim, silver stickers and the whole host of other bling that you find in almost every motor retailers.
You can use it?
That’s it, thanks for staying around and reading. I find this method useful and most of the people I work with grok it and use it as well. If you want to use this method, or a personal variant of it, yourself then please do. I don’t claim it is original as I have adapted it from working on a number of projects and studying Project Management.
If you find it useful or would like to add a variant that you think would enhance it then please add a comment or your own blog. ttfn.
 Those of you familiar with different Agile techniques will see some similarities, but I should make it clear that this is not part of one of the more formal Agile processes or an attempt to partially implement an Agile ecosystem.
 Occasionally I use boards that do not have this layout but that detracts from this article.
 These are best wit new projects than established ones, though a large refactor or feature push will share many of the same elements.
 This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive metaphor, it is just enough for us to understand the process.
 Such as in the case of seatbelts and lighting.
 There remains the possibility that they are humouring me.
In what has become a yearly tradition some members of the Shadowcat Team decamped to Brussels for a long weekend in the early months of the year for the annual FOSDEM event.
FOSDEM is arguably one of the largest, if not the largest, open source developers conferences held each year. Attracting over eight thousand developers with hundreds of talks across multiple tracks and rooms. The event is a registration free and cost free, to attend, offering whose aim is to broaden the interaction across the many open projects and languages.
Each year Perl manages to be well represented by both a table and a day of talks in a developer's room. This is organised by the powerhouse team of Claudio and Wendy who spend the entire weekend making sure the experience at both the booth and the room is as seamless as possible. Shadowcat have made it a tradition to help with both of these initiatives. Mark spends the weekend behind the Perl booth and Tom spends the Dev. Room day helping with the video. This year is no exception. Part of the expenses for the event are borne by the Enlightened Perl Organsiation and the Perl Foundation who add to the level of free marketing stuff.
Stickers and freebies
A Whole host of goodies for sale
The booth this year was once again a double table (we are one of the only projects that get two tables) and we filled it with free swag of stickers, t-shirts, twist, leaflets and booklets. At the same time WenZPerl (the small company managed by Wendy to promote Perl selling books and materials) filled a table with Camels, Camelias, books and wine to sell.
One of the best sellers on the weekend was the new Perl6 book, Perl6 at a Glance, written by Andrew Shitov. This is a whistle stop tour, with example, across many of the new features in Perl6. Andrew was on hand during Saturday to sign books which may be part of the reason we shifted between thirty to forty copies.
The biggest test of the popularity was how many we sold on the Sunday. Though the two nights of drinking with one day of multiple talks, for the attendees reduces their enthusiasm by the time Sunday crawls around. There is also the fact that Sunday is a shorter day, the event only runs until 17:00 which pulled down sales as we were forced to start packing up at 16:45 when many attendees were making last minute passes by the booths. The figures from Wendy suggest that Sunday was slower but proportionate to the time we had available the figures seem to match with Saturday’s sales.
Wendy with the mascots
Mark manning the stall
There was a good deal of help from volunteers again this year. It was particularly good to have the same faces at the booth like Sue and Ovid and also wonderful to be joined by Ann Barcomb for the whole of Sunday and part of Saturday. The speakers from the dev room also made time to come to the booth and to answer questions, so we are grateful to them for doing this and helping represent Perl, this list includes Jeff, Stefan, Liz, Upasana and JJ. The time is aso filled with greeting many old friends and new faces to the booth. Because of our great looking display and friendly nature we manage to attract a regular group of people who want to say hello.
Meeting old friends
For me I enjoyed being with all the Perl people and to meeting new faces and old. I also enjoyed everyone who came slightly negative or dismissive of Perl as I could put on my best smile to greet them warmly to the land of Perl. We may not change minds or opinions but we can change hearts with our welcoming attitude.
 A small confession. I wrote some of this while sat at the booth early on Sunday morning. So the frequent diaspora betwixt tone and tense is a reflection of that.
 Fosdem is held on the last weekend of January or the first weekend in February dependant on where the end of the month falls.
 Wendy confirmed after the event that we sold 60+ Perl 6 at a Glance books and that it was the best selling book at a conference for her. It sounds like a small number but language books do not traditionally sell well at events, sixty copies is a moderate success. We moved well over a hundred booklets of the Introduction to Perl6 at the same time.
 The annual event at Delerium is always busy and accounts for a good number of bleary eyes for the next two days.
 No doubt I can correct this figures on Social Media later when Wendy gets some final figures.
There’s that phrase, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ which is (overly) (ab)used in English, I guess the idiom has become the cliché. However I maintain there is a good need for pictures, in fact a rather intrinsic one to humans, and I will explain why I think so.
You’ll probably be aware, or overtly saturated, by the use of infographics, video and pictures across the interwebs. Depending on your nature you’ll either be stimulated, bored or aggrieved by them. However, no matter your personal feelings, it is true that they grab your attention far faster than a line of text. This isn’t accidental it is genetic.
Human beings are a visual animal, it’s why our eyes face forward we are a predator. We are triggered by visuals and we are further stimulated by movement. We track to it without any conscious intervention. Visual input is generally our primary, or initial, information and categorisation source. So using that mechanism has a stronger impact as the relationship is primal whereas language, and more specifically text, is a formal system that was artificially created.
Text as a form of communication comes from the semiotic relationship we have with knowledge transfer. This is also part of our visual makeup. The first text was ideograms and the cave paintings that formulated stories to our primitive ancestors. We created a formalised system as a method of relating and learning across generational divides. It is not a wholly natural skill. Text is constructed and probably a few thousand years old.
So we respond well to visuals and they are a good way of engaging people.
What’s your point…?
For this reason I like to start projects, and get people engaged with, the use of flowcharts and diagrams. They are a quick way that most people will react to with a more positive attitude. Because they stimulate our visual processors first and then we add a semiotic/linguistic interpretation they fire up our minds to thinking.
However there is an issue. This is best summarised by Fred Brooks in the Mythical Man Month. Diagrams and graphics are ambiguous. They can be interpreted and therefore misinterpreted by people. Fred prefers the pure data in a formatted manner. The relationship can be easily seen and precisely quantified/qualified.
But for me the image is a starting point and a method by which to transfer understanding across the skills range. Their ease of interpretation, although adding vagueness, at least allows people without the specific skill to infer from structured data a method to understand relationships.
They are a starting point, a reference point, and a method for integrating the stratified levels of understanding. They shouldn’t be used as the only source though, and they should never replace a well written piece of text.
I have used metaphors before of making sure you specify a little more clearly what you want otherwise you’ll end up with exactly what you asked for. I am going to add to that with sometimes it is wise to tell people what you are actually trying to achieve.
So why is this important? Why not just say what you want? Why not just express preferences and an end product?
Well let’s think about this for a moment with my story of the chocolate teapot, it goes like this:
You get asked to build something...
“We really love chocolate, we love the taste and the colour, so everything should reflect that in our brand. We need a system that delivers drinks to all our customers, using some container, that reflects our brand.”
The developers go away and then they come back with what they have built, they deliver a chocolate teapot and the wheels start to loosen on the bus.
The teapots will go into production and pretty soon a conversation like this will happen:
“We used the teapots. However when we tried to serve hot drinks, like in winter, they melted. Also they were unusable in summer as the weather was too warm. People needed to use tongs to pick up the teapots as they then were covered in chocolate. Other people complained they didn’t want chocolate flavour as it wasn’t nice with their Bovril…” and on, and on.
The problem was simple. The developers didn’t know the end user. They didn’t know the products. They didn’t know how you wished to use it.
It’s fairly easy to build chocolate teapots, in fact in software development it feels like it is almost the default state.
So keep the conversation going between designers, owners, users and builders. Make sure that if you occupy one of those roles you speak to the others to get their understanding of what you are collectively trying to deliver.
Don't forget to think of these two things: What do they want to achieve? How do they see themselves doing it (what's the method?).
Before I start I should invoke one of these as yet again I am going to discuss something that irks me. This particular itch is about language, or more specifically about a naming convention. You have all seen it, and I am sure there are one or two of you out there who it also irritates or grates upon.
I should also point out that I am something of a language freak, as in I love words and I love obscure meanings and I can be often pedantic about words.
It is a such a strong passion that my friends have bought two different language t-shirts for me in my life. One of these is based on a saying I used a lot and the other a suspicion they all have held for a long time:
“I am silently correcting your grammar”
“I am only responsible for what I say and not what you understand.”
Back to the point!
So what is the issue, well it is in the title. It is the number of blog posts, infographics and others who use the same format to promote their advice.
It is too much and it's getting on my chest.
They use hyperbole to a high degree of distraction, they promise more than they deliver, and it is to such a degree that the claim isn’t just unjustified it is akin to lying. You have seen the type of title I mean:
‘7 Amazing ways to blog better’
‘6 Fantastic cakes that are good for you’
So ‘amazing’, really are you in some form of religious stupor? No. Are you Amazed? No. Are you even mildly surprised? Well...maybe.
And ‘fantastic’, it’s a mythical cake as found by Perseus and delivered to Odin on Hera’s best crockery.
The worst part about this is when they pad the figure to get a higher number. They have 5 tips but somehow that turns into ‘9 life-saving crochet techniques’.
There should be a return to less astonishment in the titles. Really, I want to see ‘7 methods I use to Write Good Blogs’ or ‘6 tasty cakes with balanced ingredients’. I would be more likely to read those, I would at least believe them.
You are biasing my expectations, your desire to be noticed is creating a world that decries such elements as truth in favour of ersatz. In a world filled with much that is good content you are the cheese in a can.
I am instantly sceptical now of the claim, the number and even the thing they are seeking to discuss. There is a practice and a method to this to get high initial clicks on multiple social media sites. It is a balloon filled with empty promises and broken expectations.
And this is one of the major questions of our lives: how we keep boundaries, what permission we have to cross boundaries, and how we do so.
(A. B. Yehoshua)
I have a quick gripe to share with you, and it concerns the asking of permission.
This morning I was updating some applications on my phone, I noticed one of the applications asked for a lot more information than previously (it is why the phone didn’t auto-update it). The reason for the asking of these permissions is clearly for the application to build out its community features and grow their market share. But I have an issue with this.
Let me explain a little about the app without saying who it is as that isn’t relevant.
It is a companion application to a piece of hardware;
As such the makers pronounce it to be a ‘free’ supplement;
It has some tracking of activity so needs access to location;
It needs access to Bluetooth and some connectivity services.
The previous version of the application had those rights (Bluetooth/location/connectivity) but the makers have added a whole group more as you can see from the following screenshot.
So I have no issue with in-app purchases, Identity, Location, Bluetooth; it is the fact that they also want Contacts, SMS, Photo and media, Camera and most importantly Device ID and Call Information. The last one I find the most troubling. I understand it is so they can pass through the information from the phone to the hardware, however they don’t explicitly state that will be the only usage.
It set me to thinking. It shouldn’t matter whether you are in a Windows, Android, Mac or Linux environment, or developing for such doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter if you are developing for mobile, web or desktop/server. You should be better about asking for permission and allowing the user to dictate how that is used.
Instead of forcing me to comply with a set of access permissions or deny me an update you should have a greater access control in the application, so I can set what it uses, how it uses it and change those at any time without disabling the upgrade, hardware or application.
We should, as an industry, be seeking to allow our users greater control over their privacy, permissions and usage of data. That is an essential part of open rights that we should be championing.
 Yes I have my device set to auto-update, the phone will warn me if there is a permissions change and most updates are for security, stability and/or new features so it is generally something I’d want to happen.
 Of course it is a loose understanding of the word free, like BOGOF, it isn’t free as it has a condition, you have to have the hardware for it to work properly.
 I did check and there are no permissions inside the app. Except for allowing some data to be shown on a public league table/chart. It doesn’t state what the other data will be used for at this time.
The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.
Each year FLOSSUK holds an AGM where we discuss the shape of the organisation and deal with the legal duties of electing representatives from the membership. As such there are usually a few changes to the council and this year was no exception. At the AGM itself and at the Council Meeting that followed the following changes were made or recognised:
Jane Morrison will continue as Secretary and will provide Administrative Services.
Quentin Wilson will act as Treasurer and Director.
Ian Norton has resigned from the Board as of March 2016.
Gavin Atkinson has stood down after completing one term and was then re-elected to the board for a second term.
Kevin MacDonald will continue as a board member.
Barry O’Rourke was co-opted onto Council.
Rick Deller was co-opted onto Council.
Kimball Johnson retired from the Board and Chairman position after serving two terms of three years. I can personally state that he will be missed by the council and FLOSSUK as a whole will feel a little more empty without him in such an active role.
Mark Keating will continue on council and has been elected as the new Chairman, Mark will also take a position as Director.
For the coming year FLOSSUK Council will also take on specific roles to push forward the agenda items and manage our responsibilities across the whole council. The current roles are:
Membership – Kevin MacDonald
Website content – Mark Keating
Technical Infrastructure – Barry O’Rourke (Paul Waring will continue with his role and report to Barry)
Newsletter & Publicity – Mark Keating
Events – leader of Spring conference – vacant
Social organiser – vacant
Sponsorship (Membership & Events) – Rick Deller
Administration - Quentin Wilson
I have a public statement that follows my election as Chairman:
There are a lot more changes planned for FLOSSUK as it evolves to suit the needs of the modern world. There are new frontiers in open systems with the focus grown from being principally a software movement with legal rights campaigning to encompass hardware, data collection, electronic rights and digital freedoms.
FLOSSUK now more than ever stands for Libre Systems, the idea of a free system without bounds or restrictions and hopefully the way we hold events and support communities will reflect that.
FLOSSUK is ethically composed to represent the need for a balanced approach to the Open Technology arguments that will shape our future. Membership, participation and out-reach is now even more relevant than twenty years ago and the FLOSSUK Council are determined to address this need. We hope you will join us now and in the future.
I recently attended an Innovation Clinic as part of UCLAN which crammed an incredible amount of detail into a very short series of lectures and practical workshops. This series of posts is based upon that Clinic.
‘Friends will be friends, Right to the end’
Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it's all over.
(Octavia Butler: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_friendship.html)
Find a Friend
There are two good reasons for finding a friend when you are creating a new thing, whether it be hardware or software, never before seen or an upgrade to an existing process.
1. The Honest Response
The first reason is fairly obvious you need someone to give you their honest response. It is best in this situation to choose someone whose opinion you trust and who you know will give you an unbiased opinion.
2. How Does it Work?
This is perhaps the most important use of your friend.
So you just created something new, or changed something to make it better. How do you know if it is going to be useful? How do you know if someone will understand how to use it? Pass it to your friend.
If they can use it without your input, if they understand it without an explanation and if they find it useful then you have a winning idea. If anyone of those areas fails then you have work to do.
It’s that simple.
Great innovation relies on an honest response and an ease of understanding, so find yourself a friend.
I recently attended an Innovation Clinic as part of UCLAN which crammed an incredible amount of detail into a very short series of lectures and practical workshops. This series of posts is based upon that Clinic.
The Gap in the Market
There are a number of elements that people attribute to making a product that is desired and successful but we can distill this down to three simple questions.
Is it a good idea?
Is there a gap in a market?
Is there a reason there is a gap in the market?
While the first two of these are simple yes/no answers question 3 is a little more complex. You need to think about that gap in the market, why does it exist, why has no-one used it and is it a good gap to bring a product into.
The gap may be a trap, there might be a good reason that the gap exists in that there is no demand and no value gained by anything in that gap. You should be wary, so do a little research to so if anyone has previously looked into a similar solution and use feedback from trusted friends and colleagues.
I can assure you that it is possible to build scooters for chickens, I can assure you that there is a gap in both the poultry transportation and the scooter market for such a product. I can also assure you that aside from the comedic or surrealist value there would be few willing to invest in a Scooticken(™).
In the following articles we are going to talk a little bit about making informed decisions and some of the metrics that might be used to make them. Throughout the series I am going to rely on you understanding one thing, Innovation might be a singular experience but it shouldn’t be a singular journey. You are going to need people to help you and you are going to have to trust them with your ideas and believe in them for their feedback.
As a sort of precis I am going to give you the tl:dr, the less you pay in planning the less accurate the result. It’s that simple. Unfortunately it is the probable underlying cause of all the woes I have seen in running projects.
They want us to guess but be accurate. They want a breakdown of stages, costs and deliverables with a scoping of what is involved.
This isn’t an advocacy for any type of method structure like waterfall or agile, it isn’t a rant about needing to have oodles of precision to the n(th) degree. It is quite simply that a high percentage of the work is not the construction, it is the plan.
Time for some explanation and maybe another car analogy.
Why does an Estimate Take so Long?
An Accurate Estimate is Going to Cost Money?
I have heard this response a fair time as well and I am afraid the answer to both of those is in the opening. But let me show you using images and allegory. When we are asked to estimate on building a project there is an expectation, and some might believe is, that this should have no cost to prepare; be broadly accurate; have a upper, or fixed, price that can be clearly defined and adhered to.
Now, we can do broad costs in time and money. We can listen to the idea and the 50,000 foot view and say yeah that’s going to take about this long, with this many people and cost around this much. The broad guess, for that is what it would be, cannot be relied upon as guide to the eventual cost, it just frames a rough idea.
That’s not what the client, or person who is asking, actually wants. They want us to guess but be accurate. They want a breakdown of stages, costs and deliverables with a scoping of what is involved. Most important they want this scoping done quickly and without cost to them.
So step back and think about this. If we use the car metaphor for a moment. You are asking us to build a car. Sure we all know what a car looks like. Sure we know the technologies that are involved in construction. Sure, we have built a car before. Our car might look like the following picture and I can say it will cost £90,000 and take 9 months to build:
But this is just a picture of a car with a guess at price and time. It might be good enough to show to people as the end product, but you couldn’t give it to an engineer.
There are no details. We don’t know:
How many people it carries? What’s the minimum? Is there a maximum?
Does it go off-road?
How fast does it go?
How much fuel does it use? What type of fuel? How clean is that fuel?
How many cylinders? How many gears? How many wheels?
What length of time will you use it? How often?
And we can go on and on. The issue is that we are not creating something from an existing manual or schematic. The car is unique, it has your constraints and needs.
In addition we have to build this car with no idea of how all of those things affect it while it moves. We also usually have no precise idea how you want to use the car? How will your clients use it and for how long? We also have to allow for changes to be made to the car, while we build it, that will either add new features or adapt to circumstances or failures in the new thing we are building. We have to draw schematics and write instructions as we go along so that the engineers know what they are building, and yet also have them in advance so that we can give you a more accurate price and time to build.
If you want to this to be done with any modicum of success you have to plan and consider. You have to build in stages and use the information learned as you build to modify your approach. To have flexibility you have to account for the time that takes to understand how to be flexible. Essentially to have any degree of accuracy what you are actually producing starts to look like this:
Plans can be worked out in advance, but think of them as a schematic. Like an engineer or an architect creates. The more accurate they are the more they cost in time and money to prepare. Not only that, but the level of good understanding, long term skill, and previous expertise in doing plans well is a requirement. This is a professional task that can only be done well by someone with a high degree of proficiency.
So don’t fixate on precision if you want a broad estimate. Everyone is happy at giving a general sense of time and costs as long as there is an understanding that they are just that, broad, without any specificity. If the truth diverges, and it will, usually widely, then don’t hold anyone to account for that. If you want a cost and a time estimate for free, understand that it will be a guess, it might be an educated guess but it isn’t something you can plan on.
And therein lies the nub of the problem, broad and inaccurate guesswork is often not what is asked for. Companies need a more accurate expectation of costs and time and they need this to plan their other activities. So they should expect to invest time and money in the drawing of plans. Don’t expect a high level of accuracy or understanding if you are not willing to pay.
You must also consider in the possibility for increased costs throughout the development process. This isn’t an excuse to spiral any of them, it is an acceptance of the advantages to flexibility, adaptability and change. If you want any element of variation then you must incorporate that variability, you can’t just have variable requirements without a variable cost.
So don’t fixate on a final goal, focus on stages, plan and cost for those and expect to pay for the planning if you want to do this well.
...is married to Leigh and has two sons called Benjamin Connor and Elliott James, they all live in Lancaster, UK with a cat called Darwin and several tropical fish. He stumbled sideways into the magnificent world of Perl by way of linguistics, literature, a publishing company and an undefined close association with Matt Trout. He is a neophyte evangelist of modern Perl and an advocate of Enlightenment thinking.