Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Things that work: Juggling multiple tasks

In the last couple of months, I’ve been doing some hefty juggling. Being a very disorganized person naturally, doesn’t really reconcile with managing multiple suppliers, following up, and making sure I don’t become a bottleneck.Wildcat Logo

For my agile viewers – I’ve tried post-it notes. I found out that this didn’t work when working with external resources that needed synchronization between them. The “done” definition was “done the sub-task”, not the “task completed”. If a post-it was for a “complete task”, the task could be in progress for a long time, sometimes without any way to move it forward. I decided to drop this method, although I like moving notes around.

Before that, I tried the “top three things for today” but it was either too granular or not enough granular. So I dropped that as well.

But it wasn’t just technical stuff. I’ve diagnosed my disorder (of not having any order) awhile back, and tried to find different cures. All looked good on paper (or virtual paper). But what was missing was discipline.

Discipline is at the core of agile practices. TDD is just a practice, but it’s useful only if you persist. Stand up meetings are just a couple of people talking, unless you persist. Discipline brings persistence. Not just personal discipline by the way – As more people want to play, it’s easier to persist because of peer pressure.

But back to my lone backyard – I needed to discipline myself. And for this to work, I needed the easiest way, the less imposing method.

I got me an empty word document, which I divided into columns. All my tasks are there, divided to who is the target of the task. Most of tasks are mine, don’t have a target person.

The trick here is to have a single page containing all the tasks. If it slides into a 2nd page, I’m in trouble. I should be able to look at all of them together.

Whenever I have a new task, it goes on the page. The neat part, is when I’m done with a task, I erase it (just like moving a post-it to a done bucket). If the result of the task is passing the responsibility to someone else, it goes up on a separate Excel file, with target person and date.

The discipline is is to review the lists everyday in the morning. Each morning I review the list and mark the ones I intend to do today in bold. When I’m going over the page during the day, deleting and adding items, I can’t escape the bold ones.

And that’s it. I think it’s working because:

  • The cost is low. Entering tasks, deleting tasks and reviewing daily.
  • All tasks are in view. I don’t miss them.
  • The success feeling of deleting tasks.

When does it not work? When I fall of the wagon. For example, if I come late to the office and decide to go through my emails first, there’s a good chance I’m working on urgent stuff, that may not be that important.

It’s all about discipline. Persistence. Successful juggling.

Gil Zilberfeld

Saturday, September 4, 2010

8 Thoughts from Alt.Net Israel

Every alt.net meeting is exciting for me. This time it was the 4th one since we started doing this three years ago in Israel.

The final discussion we had was how to get more people into alt.net. Here are a few points that came up during the discussion.

  1. The numbers of people coming really doesn’t change that much. It’s mostly the same people, and mostly the same people are active in the discussions.
  2. The name alt.net is a bit misleading. For one, it has acquired an elitist aroma,  which may rub people the wrong way. Most of the sessions were not on .net technology. They were about processes, lessons learned, ALM, architecture, leadership and motivation. We could have easily build a software conf, that would interest people from Java, C++. Ruby etc.
  3. Only, we don’t know who the leaders in the local Java/Ruby/etc scene. We don’t know about the communities there. We’re still in our .net pond community-wise.
  4. The good thing about small numbers is that we fit in a couple of offices. Bigger conferences would either lose the un-conference mentality, and would require bigger places, which requires money. Apparently, for IDCC, it was hard getting both space and sponsors. The sponsors should pay money, not just give give-aways.
  5. While having a couple of “superstars” in the community, having them is not enough to get people on a Friday morning to an all-day discussion about software development. Star power helps in bigger conferences, where people know what they’ll hear about in advance.
  6. We got some feedback from people who considered coming for the first time, and either didn’t or overcame the fear of entering what seems like a closed group. If people ever hear of alt.net, the exclusive club aura may keep people out.
  7. Who do we want in our community?  Ken, one of the organizers, described that we need more active people, who can contribute. These are the people who read blogs, especially of others in the community, like Ayende’s or Roy’s (or even this blog).I can attest to the fact that I’m always learning new stuff, and people are open and curious. I definitely want more of those around.
  8. Where are they? Do they come from user groups? Well, most of them don’t. When I gave the unit testing talk in the SharePoint user group a few months ago, the not so big crowd were definitely not there yet. Regular talks in the different Microsoft-run user groups sometimes draw some potential, but mostly not. People come to hear from Microsoft, not to discuss alternatives, raise questions, and get help.

Is it possible that the numbers we see are real? Maybe the community has peaked? That would be sad – as great as the members are, we may be building our own echo chamber. It didn’t do any good for the international alt.net scene.

Maybe the best way is to drop the alt.net name, start looking for people in other fields and rebuild it anew.

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