Month: June 2007

How Belbin am I?

Recently, as part of my induction, I completed a simple questionnaire as part of a Belbin team role analysis exercise. This sounds much grander than it really is, although the simplicity of these things always amazes me. Who would have thought that by taking a few minutes to consider ten different questions, each with eight possible statements, and ‘scoring’ yourself against three (or less) of those statements, you’d be able to see which role you typically take when working in a team environment. And who would have thought that, mostly, the damned things would be so accurate.

It’s the second time I’ve taken this particular test (the other common one is the Myers-Briggs personality test… I used to be an INTJ for that one, but that’ll have changed by now) and it’s proved itself to be accurate on both occasions. This is despite the fact that I’m not the same type of ‘person’ that I was when I first took the test. Impressive stuff.

The Belbin definition of a team role is:

“A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way.”

Briefly, during the 1970s Dr. Meredith Belbin ran several experiments to try and determine what types of people, when combined in a team, produced the best results. One of the key principles he found was that every team needs a mixture of roles, and that every team member, as well as bringing a set of strengths to the team dynamic, also brings a set of ‘allowable weaknesses’. The idea being that not everyone is perfect and you need to accept that. Dr. Belbin discovered that every team needs a mix of around nine different types of team role, and that there should be at least four people with a mix of roles (some roles are interchangeable before any of you math heads leap on that).

Based on his findings, he devised a series of questions, the answers to which help to pinpoint your typical team roles, with each person having a primary and secondary role within a team environment. These typically aren’t things you can plan or cheat, they are reflections of your personality, manifest in the workplace, and whilst they will change over time, they can be hard to influence.

Yes, it’s one of those things that, to many, seems obvious and the very fact that a test exists to try and “theorise” about this kind of thing is tantamount to management-wankery. I disagree with that notion though, as it’s only because of the early-thinkers about this are of business (and life) that we have ended up with the idea of teams in the workplace (to a degree).

Obviously every team needs a good mix of the right kind of people. You need someone to provide ideas and excitement at the start, to organise and motivate people, you need people who will take that idea and question it, pull at it and delve further into the roots of the problem, you need people who will help keep things on an even keel, and you need the people who will sit and churn away until the job gets done. Those people are not one in the same.

Me? I was, primarily, a co-ordinator, a chairman, the type of person who gets all excited about new ideas and helps organise and motivate people at the start of a project. Unfortunately, coupled with my secondary role (resource/investigator) my “allowable weakness” amounts to the fact that I tend to drop things after the initial excitement has died down. I wish that weren’t true but it’s an easily identifiable trait. Hell, you need look no further than this website for an example. There are still things I had planned to do here that I haven’t gotten around to, and likely never will.

But what really got me was that, the first time I took this test, the outcome was completely different, but equally as accurate. I was still enthusiastic, still excited about new things but lacked the ability to organise and motivate others. Which would be true as the last time I took the Belbin test I was still very much a team member, not a team lead.

Is Belbin analysis useful? Yes. From a personal point of view, it was a timely reminder of my weaknesses and helped me to focus on them in the past few months. From a team point of view then, again, yes. Knowing that you are working with someone of, say, a similar nature to you allows you to realise, and plan to deal with, the potential conflicts that may arise.

As most technical communicators work with a variety of different people, in different parts of the organisation and almost by definition, those people have widely differing personality and team types, then any information which can help you to tailor your contact methods is surely a good thing.

All this and more…

A little ‘achy’ after yesterdays run but none the worse really. Looking back I know that I started too fast, the kilometre long hill took more out of my legs than I thought, and ultimately it was just too hot as the clouds parted the minute before the race began and I reckon it was hovering around the 24C mark (possibly higher). Typical.

The timing was chipped (a little plastic dongle strapped onto your laces that records when you pass the start and finish lines) and my ‘offical’ time as opposed to the ‘time on my watch’ was 1:06:09, and I finished 671st out of.. umm.. I dunno actually but I’d guess at 800 or so entrants. I received my time by text message, and it’ll be up on the website within the next couple of days I guess. Clever stuff.

And yes, I did get to find my old B.B. captain and shake him by the hand. He was somewhat bemused mind you but I did say to him that he probably wouldn’t remember that conversation we had a year ago.

Well, that’s the first one done and I now have a time to aim for in the future. I’ve already agreed to do another 10K on 28th of October, and I’m looking at two more (10Ks) this year; the Great Glasgow Run on the 2nd Sept and possibly the Loch Ness 10K on the 7th of October. We’ll see. Suffice to say that I’m determined to get my time under an hour before the year is out!

After my extertions, we headed to my parents to celebrate Father’s Day and as it was so nice we ended up having a lunchtime BBQ. Steak burgers and ostrich steaks. Yum. A quick pit-stop to visit my Gran on the way home and pretty soon I was flat out on the sofa watching TV.

First up I watched that Mr. Hamilton whizz around a racetrack in his Formula One car. He’s quite good, isn’t he, or at the very least the car underneath him seems quite good. Mind you as the current World Champion has the ‘same’ car and he’s holding him off, then yeah, Lewis Hamilton seems to be pretty on the money. AND he seems like a nice guy. How very British.

In between that finishing and the Real Madrid game starting I even managed to get my Windows box and my MacBook talking. Now I just need to get the whole ‘aliases in Front Row’ thing sorted out and I might be able to stream stuff from the big box (Dell) upstairs to the little white slab (MacBook) downstairs. And if I can get THAT working then next stop is to hook up my MacBook to my 40″ LCD TV and… ohhh my… my inner geek just wet himself.

Right, I think the coffee has finished brewing, time to stretch the legs. I don’t want to be seizing up… I’ve got a 5K run tomorrow night to get through.

10 kilometres

A little over 6 miles, and the last in the series of Polariod 10K races.

It was this time last year that I started jogging, but one thing I’ve never mentioned is who spurred me into action. It was someone I bumped into at the end of last year’s race and if I seem him today I will be shaking him by the hand to thank him. I have contemplated a quick kick to the shins at the same time but I’m past that. Almost.

This time last year, as we turned up to visit the Farmers Market at Lomond Shores we realised that it was also the finish for 10K race. As we walked past the finishing area I bumped into my old Boys’ Brigade captain. We chatted for a bit and on asking him why he was there he revealed that my old company (1st Dumbarton) help out with the marshalling of the race. He then said something which has driven me on for the past year.

Now, I know it was meant in that jokey, friendly way that blokes use, and I took it in that spirit. I have not spent the last year brooding and harbouring a grudge, and you don’t need to watch for TV headlines of how a man “mysteriously” drowned in Loch Lomond today. But don’t get me wrong, I was kinda ‘piqued’ at first.

“Yeah, we’ve been helping out here for years now. What about you, you should be out there running it… ohh perhaps not eh?!” he said, before slapping my belly with the back of his hand. Point made.

And that was it, that is what inspired me to start jogging. Not much to it really, is there. I was almost 3 stone heavier than I am now (and I’ve just realised that I hardly mention my weight loss anymore, funny that) so he was right. I was too fat and unfit to run 100 metres let alone 10 kilometres.

A week later I spotted the advert in the local paper that took me to jogScotland and the rest, as they say, has happened in the past.

I really do hope I see him there this year as I owe him a huge thank you. Weird thing is, he probably doesn’t even realise what kind of effect he had and whilst I don’t usually buy into the whole “tough love” thing, it certainly seemed to work.

So, if you happen to be in Balloch or the Vale of Leven today and you see a tall, balding, slightly podgy guy with the number 1066 pinned on the front of his top, plodding and panting along please give him some encouragement as he’s gonna need it!!

Anyone want to take a guess at how long it’ll take me?

Are you in Linkedbook.. um.. FacedIn?

There appears to be a surge in the number of… hmmm… not sure what they are called so let’s refer to them as ‘meta information website thingies’ which are being adopted by bloggers but which, surprisingly, are really flying above the radar of the masses. That doesn’t sound right. Suffice to say these sites are flipping past my peripheral vision at best. Let me explain.

I’ve been aware of Twitter since just before SXSW (a gathering of geeks which really pushed Twitter forward in a big way), and I’ve been using it sporadically since then. I can understand the appeal but, as I haven’t fully bought into it, it has yet to permeate into my ‘online flow’. Whilst that sounds vaguely rude (or just plain pretentious) it’s probably more telling that the main reason I’ve not “gotten into” Twitter is the lack of a nice, subtle interface. In other words, whether ‘tweeting’ via the website or using any of the 3rd party applications I’ve tried to date, it’s impossible to hide what you are doing. That’s fine at home but, whisper it, I occasionally access the internet for personal reasons whilst at work so it’s very off putting to have all those huge badges flashing up on the screen everytime I decide to mention that, say, we’ve just got a new ‘proper’ coffee machine installed in the canteen (machiatto anyone?).

Ultimately though, Twitter seems to be spreading largely by word of mouth of the indirect kind. A mention here, an example there, and you suddenly realise how many people are using it and wonder “maybe I should look into this Twit thing?”. The really interesting thing is the way these sites propagate, with only a few posts and the sudden appearance of little boxes on some sites. Even then you don’t realise just how widespread it is until you sign up and start using it.

In the same vein, sites like LinkedIn and Facebook seem to be fairly widely adopted but no-one seems to publicise that fact. At least not overtly, which for these services seems a bit odd. Surely the entire point of a networking style site is to, you know, help you network? God I hate that term. I don’t “network”, I maintain contacts, I chat to people at conferences, in mailing lists and blogs. I am not a computer, I will not be assimilated!!

Ahem.. sorry.. where was I?

I’m a member of both LinkedIn and Facebook, and consider them fairly useful. However, like a lot of the “Web 2.0” websites, they depend on you investing some time in maintaining and updating your profiles, manage your links/network and so on. Hence why I’ve not yet “fully leveraged” these sites and my network remains “incomplete”. The more time I spend visiting these sites, the more I’ve come to realise that I may never really use them to their full potential.

That may just because I’m a lazy bugger, a point I’ll happily concede, but it’s also because I struggle to see the advantages of these sites (and I include Twitter in this as well) beyond the obvious and immediate ones, e.g. as a glorified contact list.

One of the main reasons I moved this blog to the current domain was to free up my name domain (gordonmclean.co.uk for those arriving late) to act as a central point of contact. If you know me from a conference or meeting, or see my name in a publication or mailing list, then googling for me should take you there. From that point you can easily contact me, or head to one of my websites.

That’s all I (currently) think I’ll need. Of course I’m not stupid enough to completely rule anything out… so with that in mind, feel free to “add me” if you use either Facebook or LinkedIn. If nothing else, it’ll help me confirm who is using those sites… my gut feel is that they are used by more of you than I realise.

Update: Maybe I should’ve read this first?

To ad or not to ad

This blog has, and always will be, a hobby site. It will always be free. I won’t ever charge you for reading the content, and if I’m honest even those bad people who are scraping my content and posting it elsewhere, don’t really get me mad enough to be bothered with them (some days they do, some days they don’t).

In the process of setting up my other blog, I have been considering putting in adverts (on single pages only, not the front page) as it has been shown that successful blogs can make a decent amount of money. Now I’m not sure I have the time nor inclination to spend a huge amount of time on promoting and selling this blog, but I’ve always wondered if I could, at the very least, break even.

It was with some interest that I read this post from Matt over at Fortuitous which mirrors some of my thoughts. I certainly don’t want to bombard my dearest readers with flashy whizzy adverts that pop and bang every time you load the page.

But you know me better than that of course.

What Matt has found, and my stats are eerily similar, is that the large bulk of visitors to this site don’t ever return. They are delivered by Google searches, obviously don’t find what they are looking for, and leave, never to return. As such, targetting adverts at those readers might be a solution, and with a little bit of Javascript cookie magic I can serve up an advert for first-time visitors only.

That does mean that you will see text based adverts on this site, but if you maintain your cookies* you will only see them once. The next time you visit they will have disappeared. I’m expecting some teething problems and I’m sure someone will object but consider it an experiment. If it works, and it doesn’t piss people off TOO much then they’ll stay. If not, they go.

Thoughts? Are adverts evil and the first step towards all out commercialism? Or are they tolerable as long as they remain non-intrusive (un-intrusive?)?

I’ll guess that most of you probably aren’t bothered as long as the adverts aren’t annoying.

* If you don’t know what that means then chances are you are doing it already, even though you don’t know it. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe, and I will never dunk your cookie in room temperature milk, or anything else equally abhorrent. Promise.

On switching

I received my MacBook some weeks ago, but decided not to post immediately and try to get a better feel for both the new hardware and operating system before posting my thoughts. What follows has been written up over the period of a few weeks.

It’s official. I am now cool. I must be because Matt said so, in a roundabout way admittedly, and in case you have no earthly idea what I’m blithering on about now, I’ll first refer you to this post, and then get to the point and confirm that yes, I am now the owner of a shiny white MacBook. I am cool.

As is my wont, I had spent some time researching, reading articles written by those who had ‘switched’, and compiling a small collection of free applications that I figured I’d need at some point. So, with several PDFs, a folder of software, and several AVI files (for watching on the plane), I was all set.

There are a myriad of articles and blog posts written about switching from Windows to OSX, and I’m not going to add to them, instead I’m going to attempt to give you how I feel about becoming the owner of a Mac, because that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it?
Read More

On commenting

A couple of weeks ago I asked if everyone who visited my site would leave a comment, and quite a few of you did. Thanks to you all, even the cheeky ones who decided to buck the trend and email me. It was all quite overwhelming and lovely and.. well.. ta! I do appreciate you taking the time to both visit and comment.

When I wrote that post I knew in the back of my mind that every blog goes through a lull, as does every blog reader, but I was genuinely curious to see who responded. It wasn’t JUST about stroking my ego, honest.

As ever some of you posted some very insightful comments and with some consideration I’ll admit that it was incredibly cheeky of me to “call you out” when my own commenting ratio has been slowly plummeting for some months now, but that was another reason for the post, could I ‘force’ people to comment? (guilt, what a wonderful tool).

There does seem to be a consensus though, and this is backed by my increasing use of Google Reader to read other blogs (on that note it’s very much a case of “if you don’t have an RSS feed, you ain’t getting read”), that we read too many blogs to be able to keep up. It’s hard enough reading the damn things, without having to visit each and every one to add a comment, presuming that you are moved to do so at all.

Is this the demise of blogging? No, I don’t think so, but I do wonder if it’s shifting from being a discussion or conversation, to being an open window or voyeuristic opportunity. You’ll happily stand there for days on end, soaking up the events and words as you peer in, only responding if prompted. No?

I guess it’s one of those things that ‘depends’ (ok ok EVERYTHING ‘depends’ but bear with me) on the number of blogs you try and keep up with. Beyond a certain point the basic logistics of commenting becomes too hard so you just stop trying to comment at all. “I suspect that people are reading more blogs than they used to, which leaves them with less time to comment. Which is a shame.”

And it is a shame, after all, it’s not very fair if you only comment on certain blogs but not others. I do find myself looking at my ‘blogroll’ and trying to remember who I last commented on, and whether I should ‘spread my comments’ around like they are rationed or something. Then I give myself a shake and remind myself that this is a hobby and certainly no-one will be offended if I don’t comment on their site as often as I do on others, right?? Ohh but I do hate to offend… and so on and so forth.

Thinking about it, this internal dialogue may be the REAL reason I don’t comment on as many blogs as I used to, “I don’t leave comments anywhere anymore. I’m shit at it. Busy things – sorry. Do read everything on GoogleReader though. But I suppose that doesn’t count. Boo.”

“Do you leave comments as much as you used to?” Is a valid question (although it’s “as many” not “as much”) and the answer is no. How can I? I’m far too busy to read AND comment, sheesh.

Perhaps the way that comments work is to blame then, after all if their primary aim is to create and further ‘conversations’ then surely it should be much easier to see what has been said, how far along the debate has been moved, before you delve in to add your own opinion. Or perhaps that is a little too grandiose a view of the content of most blogs, the ones I read anyway.

Ultimately I’ve reached the point, actually I reached this point sometime last year, where I don’t really care what my readership stats are, nor do I care if they are new people or the old faithfuls who’ll return here just because I’ve posted something (bless, they don’t get out often). I know people are visiting, and I understand why comments are down, and yes I’m taking the ‘summer lull’ into consideration.

My own habits have changed, my approach to this blog, and others is different today and it will be different tomorrow. The fun part is trying to figure out where it’s going to go next. Is twitter setting a new ‘micropost’ standard that blogs will head towards, or will it allow us to be free to write longer posts? Will comments die and discussions end? Or will we continue to observe and share, collaborate and discuss and reach the utopia some think this part of the interweb holds? Have I started wittering on and should stop drinking so much coffee first thing in the morning?

As the bloke with the funny accent who does the voice-overs for Big Brother says: “You decide”.

Skill Set

Without meaning to I seem to have taken some inspiration from this post, whilst I’m not directly offering a counterpoint, it’s worth a read.

~

Every trade or profession has a skill set, a unique set of talents that make one role different from another. For most people in the IT industry we all have some amount of ‘business-led’ skills such as time management, a little project management perhaps, and so on.

As a profession, Technical Communications covers a wide range of skills and some people, depending on their role or the company the work for, can end up being a jack of all trades (master of some?). However, there are some skills that are easily identifiable as being part of our core job and apply to most, if not all, technical writing positions, for example:

  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Indexing

After that we can look to other areas in which some technical writers dabble, either because of company need or personal curiosity, such as:

  • Graphic design
  • QA/Testing
  • Coding
  • Usability
  • Information Architecture

All of these skills are professions in their own right, and whilst I would never suggest that a technical writer could replace like for like, we do tend to inherit a few additional skills as we bumble along. The specifics and amount vary from person to person, situation to situation, and whilst that means that no two jobs are the same it does present a small quandary.

How do we come up with a generic job description for our profession?

Even if I was to limit the scope of that question to my own personal experience, having worked in 5 different software companies with each having a slightly different view of what my role should be (and with each role being developed in a different way once I had joined the company), it’s still hard to get a single, generic, job description.

This all sparks another question, why do we need a generic job description for our profession?

Well put it this way. A software developer will have a set of skills, but I’d warrant that their list of core skills far outweights the list of their secondary skills. There is an understanding that a software developer will know certain things, and that list is far longer than that of a technical writer yet we have the potential to bring so much more than ‘just writing’ to a company.

To help publicise our capabilities, and the benefits of having a dedicated technical writing team within your company, a generic job description is an ideal starting point to make sure the hiring managers of the world know what we CAN do, if given half a chance.

I know that a generic job description will never match any one role, but I imagine it like a pie chart, with each slice (skill) growing or shrinking to meet the job specification. But before we can bake that pie we need a full list of ingredients.

So, what have I missed? What other roles and skills do you bring with you to a company? Let us build our generic technical writer, we can call her Tina… (or maybe not)

What time is it?

A question for any readers from the U.S.A. that are in the audience.

I have a question about the American education curriculum … I’m fighting the urge to suggest that’s an oxymoron, but only because it’s be a bit cheeky of someone from the ‘worst small country‘ in Western Europe, a certain case of the pot calling the kettle an uneducated and unwashed boiling implement.

I digress, quite often as it happens and it usually ends up with me trying to figure out how best to punctuate such digressions. Should I move them to their own paragraph, or perhaps enclosing them in parenthesis? Dashes maybe? Or ellipses? (which are grammatically incorrect I know but we are more about style than substance here). Ahh yes, the joys of the English language are many and manifest themselves constantly, no wonder it’s so bloody hard to learn comprehensively (do they still have comprehensive schools or do I mean ‘completely’? See, I’m doing it again!). Now, where was I?

Ohh yes, can any of my esteemed American readers confirm whether or not they are taught ‘timezones’ at school?

An example, if I’m ‘attending’ a webinar or some kind of online event or meeting, it is invariably with American colleagues and they invariably set the time using a timezone in America. Now, coming from a country which only uses one, this continues to baffle.

PST, EDT, MST… none of which seem tied to a city or state and leave me flummoxed and late… or early… depends.

Apparently, to use one of my examples above, MST equates to “Mountain Standard Time”. What the HELL does that mean? Are your mountains so high that the timezone at the top is different to that at the bottom, thus defying the very premise of establishing timezones based on longitude?

Does this confuse other Americans? Do you too have to check your time zone abbreviations or do you mostly know the different zones in your country?

And whilst we are on the topic, can anyone tell me what happened to GMT, when did it become UTC? What bloody timezone is that!! Honestly, it’s a wonder that I get to work on time… although I guess I could use timezones to my advantage, I mean, as the old saying goes, “it’s always beer o’clock somewhere on the planet!”.

What timezone are you in?

Post at 10.26 am (GMT). Or should that be 1026 GMT… UTC?? AARGH!

A tale of woe

Bit old this but it’s been sitting unpublished and getting lonely…

OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, it’s more a rant and a moan, than a story of distress.

The tale begins several weeks ago when I ordered my MacBook, with the hope that, by the time it was built and delivered, we would have been to Spain and back. I happily meandered along on that basis until a random check of the order status raised my hopes that it might appear the day before we flew out, and the Monday before we flew out I confirmed with TNT that it would be at their Linwood depot on the Thursday, the day before we headed off.

I had arranged for the delivery to be made to my office, to make sure there would be someone there to sign for it, and so having phoned the courier in the morning to confirm that it was on the van, I spent the Thursday dotting about doing last minute bits and bobs, with the plan being to swing past the office (which is on the far side of Glasgow from where I live) and pick up the MacBook before heading out for dinner with my mates.

Of course the courier, TNT, had other ideas.

Now the conversation I had with the Linwood depot was quite straightforward. On the advice of my wife, who deals with couriers every day (and who had high praise for TNT), I phoned them first thing on the Thursday morning to confirm that my ‘package’ was on a van to be delivered, and was told that yes it was and the lovely lady from the depot even confirmed the address “just to make sure”.

So I’m sure you can imagine that I was, and please let me pause to choose my words carefully… COMPLETELY FUCKED OFF when, having arrived in the office, all I received from our receptionists when I enquired to the whereabouts of my package, were quizzically blank looks.

Straight on the phone to the depot and I was told it would be delivered before 5.30pm and as it was only 5.10, it should be with me within the next 20 minutes. With a sigh, I grabbed a coffee and the paper, and sat down to wait. I gave them until 5.35pm before phoning back and after navigating through their call system I managed to get to speak to a real person, who quite happily confirmed that my package was right there in the deport, waiting for me to pick it up.

Yup, it was in the depot where it had been ALL FUCKING DAY!!! A depot which, due to the mass of roadworks on both the local roads and nearby section of the M8, would have been a damn sight easier to get to than my office and which I could have visited in the mid-afternoon, before the rush hour traffic kicked in.

And breeeaaatthhh.

Anyway, that’s in the past now and the main thing was, after all that hassle, that I would have the MacBook to take with me to Spain. And we did, and it was pretty damn good to sit on the plane and watch an episode of House, even if I did forget myself at one point and really did LOL..