bookmark_borderStop the conversations

In the New Year we are instituting a No Talking rule in my office. If anyone has a question, they have to write it down and pass it to a colleague who will then write down their response. This should cut down on the amount of chatter and conversation that, obviously, is having a huge impact on productivity.

There will be no more talking in our office, the conversations will stop!

I am, of course, joking.

What I’m actually pondering is how to extract the casual knowledge that currently exists in the heads of the development team. The little snippets of information that take seconds to utter when prompted by a nearby colleague, but which remain out of the grasp of the product documentation and thus are invisible to anyone not sitting in our office. You know the type of thing:

“Hmmmm, hey Alice, my build failed with error 4932, any idea how to fix it?”

“Ohh sure Lewis, just set property 73 to false and it should run just fine.”

The above names have been changed to protect the innocent.

This kind of conversation happens everyday, across the breadth and depth of our (very large) product and, as we have development teams around the globe, it is a real problem and one we need to solve.

The No Talking rule might sound ridiculous but it may be one way to help people realise just how much information they impart to each other, face to face, that isn’t captured anywhere else. That’s the theory at least.

I work with smart people, they are friendly, helpful and professional. They go the extra mile and genuinely want to do a good job. I’m not just saying this but they are one of the best groups of people I’ve worked with, but that doesn’t change the fact that they way they work is flawed.

Ultimately the challenge will be to change the culture, just enough, to be more info-centric. For example, if the software build system breaks, the developers fix it, yet it seems obvious to me that our information channels are broken and my perception is that they don’t care enough to want to fix it.

How do I get them to invest in this idea? Talking to my girlfriend she rightly suggested that one method that might work would be to pitch it as a time-saver. If every developer was to count the number of questions she was asked over the course of a week, I think they’d all be surprised at the number. Whilst not all of the questions would be something that needs documented, I’d warrant a fair number would be. As I said to a during a discussion with a couple of team leads last week, I’d much rather my team was inundated and overrun with requests to add information to the product documentation, at least that way we’d know the size of the problem.

So maybe I will suggest a no talking day, or maybe there is another mechanism out there that the developers will buy into. Maybe the first step should be to ask them what they think, are they even aware this problem exists (I’m sure they are, it’s just not the most pressing problem in their day to day list).

Regardless, one way or another, it’s something we need to fix, preferably without stopping the conversations.

bookmark_borderHappy New Year (almost)

It’s snowing. Again. It’s the middle of March and I’m getting really bored of this weather.

That said, as ever, there are worse things that could be happening. Given the recent events in New Zealand and Japan it does feel somewhat churlish to complain about some snow.

That said, life continues. Mum is doing really well, and has definitely entered the final stages which will result in her getting home. She can stand, walk with a cane, and the movement in her right arm is slowly coming back. She’s getting stronger and stronger (you can hear that in her speech) and is her usually, bubbly, giggly, cheeky self for the most part. The house has had extra handrails installed and tomorrow she will be visiting the house, alongwith the Physio and Occupational Therapist, to see how she gets on.

My own little flat is getting there as well. Just waiting on my new sofa to be delivered and it’ll be as complete as it can get (it’s rented). Alas my car is a different story…

About 5 weeks ago (7th of February) I drove through a puddle that was deeper than I expected and managed to flood the engine. It was a stupid thing to do, and entirely avoidable if I’d been paying full attention. But I wasn’t.

So the car got towed off to the repairs garage my insurance firm use. After a couple of weeks with no updates I phoned them and was told that the garage had been ordered to strip the engine to check for damage and they were waiting on the results of their investigation. A further week passes and I end up speaking direct to the garage who, apparently, didn’t receive the instruction to strip the engine until about 8 days after the ‘incident’. He said that they’d stripped the engine and recommended a replacment engine be ordered.

A further week passes and, again when I phone them, the insurance company tell me that they’ve ordered the engine to be further stripped down so they can see if the water made it all the way to the sump. The findings of that were passed back to the insurance company on Friday last week. I am awaiting a final decision today.

Nicely, the terms of my insurance state that I get a courtesy car. For two weeks.

So I’ll take a moment to thank my mate Stuart who kindly offered me the run of his car for a couple of weeks as he was on holiday in Australia (and hadn’t been able to drive it as he broke his arm), and to my mate Ian who has now kindly let me use his car for the next few weeks (he’s got a hire car from his company for the next few months). It’s been a weird few weeks of driving, from my car, to a base model Toyota Aygo (courtesy car) to Stuart’s car (Mini Cooper S convertible) to Ian’s car (Jaguar XJ6). I’d really really like my own car back though (Ford Fiesta batmobile).

Mind you, there was a period where I thought my car might be written off and, as it’s less than a year old, it would actually find me ‘up’ in monetary terms. I had a nice wee second hand Audi TT all picked out too… oh well.

So, all in all, the next few weeks should see the ‘beginning’ of this year. My Mum will be home, my car returned, my sofa delivered and a raft of gigs (music and comedy) are lined up, oh yeah, and I’ll be getting divorced (amicably).

Maybe THEN, 2011 will start to behave and be the year I was expecting it to be!

bookmark_borderWords and books

I’m blaming Stephen Fry.

I tried, I really did try and read his autobiography but it just didn’t flow for me. As wonderful a wordsmith as he is, it just didn’t read well, the flow and cadence was wrong and I found myself slowing down to read things in his voice. Whilst I like Stephen Fry, taking him to bed every night got a bit taxing.

So I gave up. I stopped. I admitted defeat and stopped reading which isn’t something I’ve done before.

Actually that’s a lie, I’ve given up a several books after faltering in the first few pages but that’s different. That’s like taking the first bite of a meal before realising it’s not what you wanted, or isn’t sitting kindly on the palate, and so you call over the chef (cook, wife, whatever), send the meal back and ask for something else.

No, this was different and it took me a while to realise that, although I’d read over half of the damn thing, I just wasn’t enjoying it.

That got me thinking about things I do enjoy, things I don’t enjoy, and which things I would have to change in my life to get more of the former and less of the latter.

And before my mother pitches up, yes I know life includes things you don’t enjoy but need to do but gosh darnit I’m all grown up now and if I can’t sway things more in the favour of enjoyableness then… well… that’s just not fair! Or some other slightly more reasoned argument that I can’t quite think of at this time of the morning.

With that in mind, one of my New Year resolutions (and I’m very aware of such things, setting yourself up for failure and all that) is to read more. Like my resolutions of last year, I’ve written it (and two others) on a piece of paper and wedged it in the frame of the mirror I use everyday, so I have a constant reminder of such things.

I am now reading, and enjoying, Empress Orchid. A tale of the last Empress of China, a story with characters, intrigue, passion and no small amount of gorgeous imagery. It’s nice to find myself enjoying the act of reading again, and perhaps I’ve dwelt too long on “professional” books in the past couple of years. I need to make more time for the novel.

Which means my rather quiet Goodreads account should start seeing a few more regular updates. It also tells me I have 34 books in my ‘to-read’ pile but don’t let that stop you recommending me more.

bookmark_borderThis is not Friends

If it was, this would be the “one where nothing that interesting happens because, you know, life is mostly like that”.

Or perhaps it would be the “one where all anyone seems to be talking about is the snow and ice”.

Or, most realistically, it would be the “one where he spends all day doing nothing much despite the fact he has two websites to design yet can find no inspiration whatsoever, so instead he’s been reading Empress Orchid which he is quite enjoying”.

Which basically means that one of my quieter, unspoken, New Year resolutions has kicked in (read books), where as the ones I spoke out loud have faltered already (exercise and lose weight). Not that I take these things seriously, they are more a passing curiosity to be honest.

And it’s not like I don’t have other things on my mind.

Like the fact our boiler packed up on Friday. Well, it didn’t pack up, per se, more just stopped working and, it seems, I won’t be the only person suffering as it’s a ‘known trait’ of the modern condensing boiler for the very mechanism it uses to fail in cold weather.

I’d be less miffed about this if we’d been allowed to choose the type of boiler we got fitted a couple of years ago but we didn’t, the government chose it for us. So we have a condensing boiler, which includes a condenser trap which, in very cold weather, freezes. It’s a common complaint, apparently. Which helps us not a jot.

Although it’s fair to say the government did help me find out that we have cavity wall insulation in the house, something I didn’t know already but which the nice man who came round to talk about the government grant figured out after drilling a hole in the wall.

Ohh and I’ve had a haircut.

Yup, life doesn’t get much more interesting than this people!

bookmark_borderNew Challenges

A new year and a new set of challenges await me both here on this blog, and professionally.

I’ve signed up to Project 52 in the hopes that it will help me maintain at least a regular level of content here. With quite a few side projects on the go this year I’m fearful of my time being sucked elsewhere so hopefully it’ll help keep things trickling along.

Professionally my team and I are keen to move things to a more web-centric output, and I want to get us more hooked into our Developer Community website and try and factor in some social media services as well. I’ve just finished writing an article for a supplement which will be published with the next issue of the ISTC Communicator magazine and it made me realise that it’s time to stop talking and start doing.

From that point of view it should be an interesting year as I truly believe that, for those of us who can, we need to start utilising the benefits of social media and really start to change how our profession is perceived. Social media is driven by information, and without doubt we are the best people to step in and adopt social media practices for the best of reasons.

I have an even greater interest in this area as, in the coming months, I’m going to be planning and creating a community website for the ISTC. I have many ideas already, and I’ll be canvassing ISTC members and all the technical communication professionals who I’m lucky enough to have visit this blog.

All in all it should be a big, busy year. Just as I like it.

Although why I chose to make my New Year Resolution “read more fiction”, I’m still not quite sure.

bookmark_borderThe year ahead


It’s a New Year.

Better join that gym, line up all the books I WILL read, and put away that silly Playstation thing that sucks so much of my time.

I will watch less TV, write more both here and my other blog (ohh and that other place too).

First things first though, a new haircut.

Who knows what this year will hold. Much as I try not to plan too much, as ever my head is full of thoughts and, as ever, I’ll probably mention them here.

I hope 2010 (that’s Twenty Ten, right?) is a good one for all of you!