Friday Jan 12, 2007

The Best Way to Determine LOE

The only way to estimate LOE, I've decided, is to actually do the work. Then you can get back with your manager and say, "I estimate that it took four days." This method is nice because it gives you a high degree of confidence in the correctness of the estimate. There remains, of course, the problem of finding out how long it will take to come up with the estimate. Hopefully they wouldn't ask for that.

Sunday Jan 07, 2007

Making an effort to understand

This is a corollary to my last post. You can't tell people anything, but what about yourself? Can people tell \*you\* anything? Do you catch on when strange new ideas come along?

Say someone is blabbing at you about some keen new concept. It's obvious they've got a wild hair about it. Do you: a) glaze over and think about sandwiches? b) reflexively contradict whatever they say, as a defense mechanism? c) nod vigorously while memorizing the list of words they're using that seem the most important, so that you can seem smart too? d) get over yourself, and make an effort to comprehend, even if it means astonishing the other person by firing back questions?

The problem is that, especially in technology, so many ideas are zapping around that we develop a hull. We see the world through slits in the armor, and ideas ping off it like small-arms fire against M1 Abrams battle tanks. This has the benefit of allowing us to not go insane, but has the side effect of making it unlikely to catch on to the rare \*good\* idea until somebody else implements it.

I think everybody owes it to themselves--not to the people spouting new ideas, but to themselves--to catch on to new ideas. It takes effort. It means balancing skepticism with eagerness. It means not just the ability, for example, to say the phrase "web two point oh," but to understand which 5% of that concept is is interesting and useful, and which 95% is BS. If you can do that, you are helping yourself, not the person explaining it to you.

Wednesday Jan 03, 2007

You can't tell people anything?

I almost cried when I read this. Okay, I didn't almost cry, but I was 11% of the way toward crying. Had there been tears, they would have been those bittersweet kind that come when you realize the world is more complex and crazy than you're capable of dealing with, and that you should just let that burden slide off your back and sink into the swamp. Or something.

A Hopeful Vision

Here's the scenario: you look at the world around you and you see so much that's wrong. But the solutions are simple, elegant, and staring you in the face. If idea X and idea Y were implemented, things would improve. Nay, the world would open up like a flower and utopia would descend on us all. All you need to do is implement X and Y.

The Harsh Reality

Unfortunately, there's the minor detail of other people. They have to get on board with things. Okay, so you just explain your idea. Hmm, they seem hesitant, even a little defensive. That's weird. So you write up a bunch of proposals and examples and exhortations. Perhaps you even chide a little. Pain ensues. Years of pain. Then you realize, after your spirit has been broken and the fires of your creativity have all but gone out, that people don't get it. And by "it" I mean whatever you're trying to get them to understand. People heart-wrenchingly, bone-headedly, refuse to get it. Nay, they dig their hooves into the dirt and resist, at all costs, getting it. It's all explained much better here: You can't tell people anything.

The upshot is that a good talker, that guy who can "sell the idea," can coax people, by sheer force of personality, to play along. When the idea begins to unfold, then people start getting it. Unfortunately, I'm not the most charismatic person on the planet, so I'm often relegated to the role of hoping charismatic people have good ideas.

Thursday Nov 17, 2005

Four Radical Ways to Improve Communication at Sun

At Sun, employees deal with information overload on a daily basis; many of us receiving in excess of a hundred new messages a day. Improving how we deal with this flood of information will require changing the way we think about intra-company communication. Here are four ideas to get us started.

1. Disband the email aliases.

Once upon a time aliases may have been a good idea, but in 2005 superior platforms exist for announcements, articles and group discussions. Reading email at Sun is like drinking from a firehose, and a noisy inbox is a distraction from our work and bad for Sun's bottom line. Ultimately, better options exist to do mass communication than spamming ourselves.

2. Syndicate our information.

At any given time in a company of Sun's size, a large number of important things need to be communicated to a large number of people. How do you get the right messages in front of the right people? The options are:

  1. Send a mass email. Disadvantage: It's less than ideal and it's killing the email system (see above).
  2. Publish it to an intranet website or tool. Disadvantage: Keeping track of all the different intranet websites and tools is a terrible thing to have to do.
  3. Hold a series of meetings. Disadvantage: Meetings are transient, disruptive and expensive, and full attendance is not feasible.

Syndication is an option for getting information in front of people that can either complement or supplement these other methods. It's as much a concept as a technology. On a micro level, it simply means that our tools publish and consume information in a standardized way. On a macro level it means that I can subscribe and organize my feeds in a way that suits my interests. This is important because it's driven by my interests rather than whomever happens to be sending an email, publishing a web page or holding a meeting. The interests of individual employees driving a company's success? What an outrageous idea!

3. Embrace team blogging.

A lot of our internal email usage approximates blogging. Why not move en-masse to an actual blogging platform? We'll get the benefit of a built-in comment system, the ability to plug into a feed aggregator (syndication), the ability to archive, tag, search, link and trackback posts. In addition, we'll benefit from the global information sharing culture that blogging creates.

4. Send email directly to, and only to, those who need it.

Someone who isn't a direct recipient (i.e. not in the TO: field) of an email ought to be able to safely ignore the entire message. This practice makes email more impactful and focused as a communication tool. It also allows modern email clients to highlight direct emails so the user can see at-a-glance which items need action.


My name is Greg Reimer and I'm a web technologist for the Sun.COM web design team.


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