Second partial exam [WIP]


Right now, I’ve only done one of the reviews from this period. I will try to catch up in the next few weeks. I have some ideas that can help me get through them all quickly.

I will update this entry once I’ve read every chapter considered for the second partial.

“Work is Going On” flickr photo by cogdogblog https://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/38065460945 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

First partial “exam”


The first partial covers the first eleven chapters of the book Deadline. I’ll summarize all of the things that I’ve learned from Mr. Tompkins during my reading. As I wrote every single review I tried to find websites that complemented the given information, either by stating different points of view on whatever subject was being discussed or by providing updated information. I will try to focus a little more on these.

“203” flickr photo by thecmn https://flickr.com/photos/97947597@N00/48057456022 shared into the public domain using (PDM)

Risks and risk management

Risks are threats that every organization has to deal with, not the kind of threat that others make looking for the company to stay out, but rather the ones that are caused by management errors, accidents or other factors.

Identifying and controlling these risks is what is known as risk management.

There are multiple processes, approaches and standards regarding this subject, and there are several things that have to be taken into consideration before opting for one of them.

Regardless of the chosen approach, the intention of risk management is making said threats do as little damage as possible.

Productivity

There are some common mistakes that managers make when trying to improve their employees’ productivity that actually end up being counterproductive. One of them is mentioned in the story: when employees are distracted or paralyzed by fear (sometimes caused by the manager).

Also, there’s no way of immediately improving productivity in the workspace, but after some time and effort, productivity improvement may be apparent in the long-term. It’s, in a way, an investment.

Gut feelings

One of the essential components of a good manager. It’s that little voice that tells you if you’ve found what you were seeking for or if you need to keep looking even if the opposite seems true. This may not be much of a technical term, but people with tons of management experience affirm that learning to identify and listen to those feelings can be very helpful.

Interviews

There are many techniques that can be used when conducting interviews that can let you know more about the candidates and help you find the best ones quicker. One of the most common tricks is to stay quiet for an uncomfortably long amount of time and see how people react. Apparently, this can tell you a lot about a person, and can allow you to see things that would normally be unnoticed.

Project failures

A lot of software projects fail. In 2017, 14% of all IT projects failed, but 31% didn’t meet their goals, 43% exceeded their original budgets and 49% were late on delivery. It’s a lot more common than it may seem.

Project termination

Sometimes it’s necessary to know when to terminate a project before it’s even delivered. The reasons for termination may vary from one company to another, but regardless of it, the decision by itself may help to not waste working efforts.

System dynamics

An approach that allows to model and simulate the behavior of complex systems by using several components, including loops, time delays and table functions. There are multiple programs that allow to create and test these models. They can be useful to predict and adjust some factors that may be too complicated due to the number of variables affecting them.

Bad bosses

There are some indicators that can tell you if your boss is not precisely the best there is. The most prominent one in the story is refusing to listening to logical reasoning from his employees and demanding certain things to be done just for the sake of it. This happens very often, and sadly some people have no choice but to get used to it.

Guest speakers

Honestly, even if they gave us lots of advice and information, I have to say that the thing that had the biggest impact on me was that I actually have a shot at working my dream job. It’s been a couple of years since I decided that my ultimate goal would be to work in the videogame industry. The first ~three guests had actual experience with videogame companies, and they motivated me to keep chasing my dream.

Mr. Tompkins’ journal helps me finding the keywords that I can use to search for new information and allows me to learn a little more.

“203” flickr photo by thecmn https://flickr.com/photos/97947597@N00/48057456022 shared into the public domain using (PDM)

As for the things I made during this period: I tried to create a simple RPG game using Google Slides because I thought that’d be an easier alternative than writing these entries (since they take me a lot of time to write). It didn’t work, but I’m still trying to figure out what else I can do.

Right now, I’m several assignments behind, so I hope I can make some time to catch up. I’ve read some more chapters of the book, but the reviews are still pending. I’m enjoying the reading, and I want to enjoy making the entries too.

¿Qué tan remoto es el futuro?


Me gustaría escribir esta entrada en español ya que tengo varias cosas que decir al respecto y quiero darme a entender completamente.

Hace ya casi un par de meses la contingencia por el COVID-19 llegó a México. Esta situación nos ha obligado a encerrarnos y seguir prácticas de seguridad para evitar ser contagiados o propagar la enfermedad. El Tec de Monterrey fue de las primeras (por no decir que la primera) instituciones en tomar medidas al respecto, y no solo hablo de instituciones educativas, pues actuó incluso antes que el propio gobierno nacional. Fue a mediados de marzo de este año que la universidad decidió suspender actividades presenciales y transicionar a clases en línea. Originalmente se planeaba seguir así por poco menos de un mes, pero debido al desarrollo de la situación hemos de terminar el semestre de manera remota.

“Closed as in Closed” flickr photo by cogdogblog https://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/26743273439 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

Este semestre comencé mis estancias profesionales en una pequeña empresa de Guadalajara. En cuanto supimos que ya había casos de coronavirus confirmados en México (muy poco después del anuncio por parte del Tec) se tomó la decisión de comenzar a trabajar en el formato de Home Office. También hemos seguido con el formato remoto desde entonces.

La tercera de mis responsabilidades este semestre es el servicio social. Estoy inscrito como tutor en un programa de preparatoria en línea llamado prep@net, donde me encargo de revisar tareas, resolver dudas y proporcionar retroalimentación a los estudiantes. Afortunadamente, esto ya se hacía de manera remota, así que esta parte no sufrió de graves cambios, o por lo menos de forma directa.

El episodio 469 del podcast de CBC Spark se grabó al poco tiempo de que la situación de contingencia afectase a Canadá. Tanto anfitriones como invitados cuentan sus experiencias y suposiciones respecto a lo que implica el cambio tan repentino de la forma de trabajar. Me pareció bastante interesante que tomaran una muestra significativa de las diferentes perspectivas en las que se puede encontrar la gente ante esta situación: aquellos que tienen suficiente experiencia trabajando desde casa, aquellos que no tienen nada de experiencia, aquellos que no tienen la opción de trabajar desde casa.

Me gustaría comparar mi experiencia personal con algunas de las cosas que se mencionaron en el podcast, y quisiera comenzar por la situación del repartidor de comida. Él menciona que se ve obligado a seguir trabajando y exponiéndose un poco más al riesgo pues tiene que continuar pagando renta y colegiatura.

Menciono esto porque, si bien no sería nada tan severo, originalmente pensaba quedarme en Guadalajara, lo que habría hecho que tuviese que gastar más, causarle más preocupación a mis padres y quién sabe cuántos problemas inesperados. Afortunadamente, decidí venir a mi ciudad natal con mi familia, lo que realmente me ha ayudado a sobrellevar estos tiempos tan inusuales.

“DiscussionImageFinal” flickr photo by spwam1 https://flickr.com/photos/pamrabin/33377172810 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

Otra de las cosas que se mencionan es el espacio de trabajo y cómo puede afectar el desempeño al momento de trabajar y, aunque no lo mencionan, también al tomar clases en línea. Cuando recién llegué a casa de mis padres mi espacio designado para usar mi computadora era un mueble donde solía estar una televisión en la sala. No tenía mucho espacio, ni mucha iluminación, pero creía que no me afectaría mucho, pues prácticamente todo lo que hago es en la computadora y no suelo necesitar escribir o leer en papel. No obstante, conforme pasó el tiempo vi que no era la manera más apropiada de trabajar. Ahora tengo una mesa amplia con una lámpara y acceso a un multicontacto. Ahí realizamos la mayoría de nuestras actividades tanto yo como mi hermano menor. He notado más comodidad.

En cuanto a mi experiencia con el trabajo, aunque no sea trabajo como tal, tengo un par de cosas por explicar. El proyecto en el que hemos estado trabajando este semestre es un videojuego. La empresa es muy pequeña y por lo mismo la comunicación y la colaboración son imprescindibles para conseguir terminar el producto a tiempo. El equipo del que formo parte es el de desarrollo de software, donde otro colega y yo nos encargamos de toda la programación del juego.

Cuando trabajábamos de manera presencial me sentía más productivo, pues cuando terminaba alguna o todas mis tareas del día solamente bastaba con moverme unos centímetros para ver en qué podía ayudarle a mi colega; cuando tenía alguna duda con cualquiera de los otros equipos también bastaba con levantarme e ir con ellos para preguntarles; mis superiores podían ver cuando estaba un poco perdido o no sabía qué hacer. En fin, era más sencillo trabajar continuamente por toda la jornada.

No creo que con el cambio a home office haya bajado el esfuerzo que pongo en el trabajo, pero sí pienso que me distraigo con más facilidad y que me cuesta extenuar mis preguntas hacia los demás trabajadores. Creo que estas cosas están relacionadas, pues utilizamos Discord para la comunicación y, contrario a lo que mencionan en el podcast, no tenemos restricciones para lo que escribimos en el chat, así que suele llenarse de memes, chistes o simples pláticas, lo que hace que perdamos un poco de tiempo. En cuanto a las dudas, cada equipo tiene su propio canal de voz, y por alguna razón, en este formato no me gusta interrumpir o molestar a los demás mientras trabajan. Ahora que lo estoy escribiendo, no suena muy lógico, pero creo que es debido a que cada equipo tiene su canal asignado y la intrusión se siente más de este modo.

“Distancing” flickr photo by GR167 https://flickr.com/photos/78423546@N06/49809408471 shared into the public domain using (PDM)

En cuanto a la escuela, originalmente pensé que esta transición resultaría positiva, pues podría dormir un poco más, no tendría que viajar a la escuela e incluso tendría más tiempo para dedicar a mis tareas y proyectos. Sin embargo, todo se ha sentido más pesado.

He tenido problemas para dormirme temprano, me he llegado a levantar tarde (cosa que normalmente no me pasa), me he estresado más ante las tareas, siento que apenas me alcanza el tiempo para cumplir con mis responsabilidades.

Afortunadamente, en la mayoría de mis clases se hicieron ajustes necesarios para disminuirnos la carga: clases de tres horas ahora duran dos, la carga de tareas es menor y algunos profesores son más permisivos. Por el otro lado, unas pocas de mis clases no sufrieron prácticamente de ningún cambio, solamente cambiaron formatos de entrega, pero la duración y entregables permanecen.

Relacionado con lo anterior, siento que se me ha dificultado prestar suficiente atención en clase. A diferencia de cuando era presencial, me distraigo constantemente y me conecto al celular o a alguna red social. Creo que esto tiene que ver con lo que se mencionaba respecto a los tiempos de descanso tras largos periodos de trabajo. Desde que entramos al formato remoto, paso una buena parte del día junto a la computadora, ya sea haciendo tarea, trabajo o en clases, lo que hace que me sienta muy exhausto y solo logre acumular estrés.

Pienso que la falta de interacción con amigos o el no poder salir a ningún lado también impide que podamos aliviar una buena parte de ese estrés. 

Uno de los factores de los que también quiero hablar y que no se mencionó en el podcast es la gran dependencia a Internet que ahora tenemos. Absolutamente todo lo que he de hacer para cumplir con todas mis responsabilidades implica el uso de Internet, así que cuando estás en una situación similar a la mía y no tienes muy buena conexión en tu casa, sumado a que tanto tus padres como tu hermano necesitan del Internet tanto como tú puede causar que se te dificulte comunicarte en el trabajo o en clases. En mi caso, la conexión durante el primer mes de cuarentena era muy mala en mi casa, así que tenía muchos problemas para mantenerme conectado durante mis clases y se me dificultaba escuchar y hablar durante las scrum meetings de mis estancias. Esto solamente añadía al estrés que ya había, así que agradezco que eso ya no sea más un problema.

Hasta ahora la experiencia de realizar mis actividades no ha sido muy placentera. Hay que tener siempre en mente que no estamos simplemente trabajando remotamente, sino que también nos vemos en medio de una pandemia. No obstante, me sigo esforzando para aprovechar mi tiempo incluso en estos tiempos difíciles. Espero que todos podamos salir adelante y volver a la normalidad muy pronto.

“Hope” flickr photo by racreations https://flickr.com/photos/racreations/2582419257 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

DEADLINE, chapter 12. How deep do metrics delve?


This chapter has another of those moments in which something or someone is introduced as mostly irrelevant, but turn out to be a big deal in our reality. It happened before with the introduction of the NNL (Bill Gates) and now it happened with a ’charming small company’ that turned out to be none other than IBM.

“IBM” flickr photo by Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine https://flickr.com/photos/opengridscheduler/22848635441 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

T. Johns Caporonus was the trigger this time. This man was the consultant of the company that created a unit that determines the size of a software product entirely from the outside. These units are called ‘function points’. Mr. Caporonus went to Morovia and had a long session of research and calculations with Webster and Gabriel which resulted in a little chart that displayed the sizes of each of their products in function points.

When Belinda showed up, she was amazed at how useful function points could be. She immediately made a correlation between those units and their simulation model. A lot of information can be retrieved from such measurements, for instance: how productive the company is or how much certain product will cost.

Function points are an actual unit of measurement that express the amount of business functionality, an information system (as a product) provides to a user. They were originally created by Allan Albrecht from IBM in 1979 and are currently accepted as a standard in the industry. As of 2013, there are five ISO standard specifications regarding function points, this website has some information about them, as well as a more detailed explanation of how FP work.

According to Mr. Tompkins, Caporonus spat out several statistics and pieces of information that could be useful to them. I found this document that takes data from years 2000 and 2006 and includes several charts that summarize some statistics regarding one of the five ISO specifications of FP: IFPUG. Some of the most interesting facts that I gathered are:

  • Japan had the highest average cost per FP: $1600 USD.
  • Mexico had the ninth lowest average cost per FP: $200 USD.
  • The book states that the average cost per FP was $1050 USD in America as of 1994. It hadn’t changed much, since as of 2000, it was $1000 USD.
  • The programming language with the highest average number of lines of code per FP is any Assembly Language with 320 lines, followed by C with 128.
  • The average cost per FP for implementation is as four times bigger than for development for the same project.
“Data-Analytics” flickr photo by learn_tek https://flickr.com/photos/153724200@N07/40932460914 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

Data is valuable, and this system of metrics could give them a lot of it. Belinda saw its potential and was eager to retrieve information from previous projects. In order to get it, though, a lot of research was needed. They needed somebody capable of digesting data and knowing whom to go after to get it: an ‘archaeologist’, as they called it. Waldo was chosen for this position and was promoted to manager of the metrics group. According to Wikipedia, even now the cost per unit is calculated from past projects, so this archaeology thing may be pretty helpful for them.

Belinda suggested that even if they hadn’t come across the function points from Caporonus’ company they could have created their own unit for measuring their projects. Maybe it wouldn’t be as precise or wouldn’t consider as much variables, but it would’ve definitely served its purpose.

A handful of other units of software metrics exist. Many of them have different approaches, and some others try to solve one of the FP’s main weaknesses and take algorithmic complexity into consideration when measuring a product. The one thing they all have in common is their main goal: see the whole picture and understand costs, analyze productivity, identify areas of improvement and determine the quality for certain piece of software. According to this article, having this kind of measurements can help a lot: 75% of the projects that use FPA are delivered on time, in contrast with 45% for the projects that don’t.

As Mr. T said in his journal: sizing products is a great practice. It doesn’t matter if completely objective measurements are available, subjective ones can work in the meantime. An idea of how well some product is doing in relation to its size can’t be a bad thing to have.

“ruler” flickr photo by shoadoadgth https://flickr.com/photos/185630370@N04/49113597878 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

DEADLINE, chapter 11. This situation we ought to leaven.


The plot of the book thickened in this chapter: Mr. T was having a great morning until Waldo came and told him that the NNL had to go to the US and put someone else in charge. “Allair Belok, Minister of Internal Affairs and Deputy Tyrant” is how he introduced himself. He made a strong first impression by joking with Mr. Tompkins’ countdown display and making it display ‘420’. By the way he was described, Belok seemed like an infuriating person. Mr. T got all sarcastic and the two of them started discussing about the deadlines, the teams, the managers, profit, among other things.

“Belted Kingfisher” flickr photo by YoungSue https://flickr.com/photos/95782365@N08/24419080976 shared into the public domain using (PDM)

Belok basically wanted to let Mr. Tompkins know that things would be different while he was in charge. He ordered to merge the three teams for each product into one bigger team, he set a new deadline six months earlier than the previous one* and didn’t seem to care about what Mr. T had to tell him. He just wouldn’t listen and turned out to be just the kind of boss Webster despised.

The NNL was gone, and so was Ms. Hoolihan. Mr. T, Belinda and Gabriel had no alternative: they had to do as Belok commanded and all of their efforts until then would go to waste. Or would they? They actually decided to obey their new superior, but not without making new secret teams to stick to their original plan and secretly work on three different instances for each of the products, as they initially intended,

This chapter was heavily focused on the story, so there isn’t much technical content for this entry. The only thing I can think of is the Pathological Politics mentioned in both Mr. T’s journal and the conversation with Belinda and Gabriel. According to Webster, pathological politics is the situation in which an organization’s goals are overridden by abuse of power and influence. It’s possible for pathological politics to manifest in any organization, and they only bring negative effects into it.

“There is no such thing as a job with no (pathological) politics”

I compared Belok’s behavior with some of the “20 most common signs of a bad boss”. Surprisingly, he doesn’t show many of them, but he definitely fits the description of number 20: arrogant. It looks like Mr. T and the rest may have a hard time from now on.

“Tough one” flickr photo by U.S. Army Europe https://flickr.com/photos/usarmyeurope_images/9556514998 shared into the public domain using (PDM)

*If we do the math: according to Mr. Tompkins, the countdown should’ve shown 606 days left. Belok shortened the deadline by six months, that’s roughly 6 * 31 = 186. By subtracting these numbers, we get the amount of days left until the new ‘d-day’. What does that give us? 606 – 186 = 420. Mind = blown.

Also, I wanted to mention: If you pay attention, you’ll see that all of my Deadline entry titles rhyme. This time I had to get really creative, because it seems like the only things that (actually) rhyme with eleven are heaven (which I already used in chapter 7), seven (the other part of the rhyme in chapter 7) and leaven (I didn’t even know this word).

DEADLINE, Chapter 10. “Run that simulation again!”


This chapter felt different from all the prior ones, so this entry will probably do too. Mr. Tompkins was staying in Rome for a few days and Johnny Jay, his old boss, wanted him to meet with somebody that also happened to be in Europe at the time. Since Mr. T respected Mr. Jay so much, he agreed to meet the guy.

“Rome” flickr photo by boklm https://flickr.com/photos/boklm/28815497551 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

Dr. Abdul Jamid had been working on management dynamics. Specifically, on a program that could translate the gut feeling that has been mentioned several times throughout the book into a controlled model that would be able to simulate different scenarios in a similar way to an algorithm. Mr. T was unsure about the viability of such a program, but after a couple of demonstrations and about two days of exchanging thoughts with Dr. Jamid he was convinced and acquired the software.

The book states that the software used by Dr. Jamis is a visual programming language that was marketed as ‘iThink’. Its actual name is a little longer: Systems Thinking, Experimental Learning Laboratory with Animation (or STELLA for short). It was introduced way back in 1985 as a program for system dynamics modelling.

I had never heard the term ‘system dynamics’, so after doing a little research I found that that’s the name given to certain approach that allows to model and simulate the behavior of complex systems by using several components, including loops, time delays and table functions. This small website explains that one of the main applications of system dynamics in business is, precisely, one of the topics from my last entry: improving performance over time. It also explains that when system dynamics is translated into the business/management context it is sometimes called ‘strategy dynamics’.

iThink includes four main building blocks that create the basic structure of the models. These are:

  • Flows: Measures change over time.
  • Stocks: Model simple inventories or process delays.
  • Connectors: Provide information flows.
  • Converters: Apply gain factor or other formulae to variables.

This kind of programs seem to be very useful and really complicated, but I bet it’s just a matter of getting used to it to understand what’s actually happening and learn something from the simulations. 

“Partial System” flickr photo by cogdogblog https://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/41089679865 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

This time, Mr. Tompkins’ journal got very few new entries. They all basically say that you should model your hunches, run simulations with it and tune it to get more accurate results. Nonetheless, it was a very interesting chapter.

DEADLINE, chapters 8 & 9. If nobody notices it will be fine.


At the start of chapter 8, Lahksa and Mr. Tompkins were wondering what the optimal way of performing the management experiments would be, how would they measure which methods are more efficient? They didn’t know how to answer such a question, but they knew who could be able to.

Dr. Hector Rizzoli was an important personality in the field who had run several controlled experiments in the past. Thanks to Lahksa’s shenanigans, the doctor was tricked into staying in Morovia for a few days. Mr. T took this opportunity to get his help for their big experiment.

“Experiments” flickr photo by r i i d o https://flickr.com/photos/riido/25031317738 shared into the public domain using (PDM)

Belinda, Dr. Rizzoli and Mr. T decided the main structure for the projects and their teams. Each of the projects would have three different teams working on different instances of the same product, every project would try to prove or disprove a particular effect set by specific learning goals.

Dr. Rizzoli and Mr. Tompkins got a chance to talk just the two of them. Mr. T told the doctor that even if they had three teams for each project there was no guarantee that any of them would create good enough products. He was scared of failing even if a lot of learning were to take place. This led to the two topics that Mr. T included in his journal:

First, productivity improvement. When Tompkins asks for a way to improve productivity in the short term, the doctor clarifies that there’s no such a thing. Productivity is improved by investing for the long-term. When I googled “How to improve productivity” all of the first results were articles with titles like “15 EASY ways of improving productivity in the workplace”, and they all seemed somewhat sketchy. After that, I googled “How to improve employee productivity” and found this article. At first, it looked just the same, but once I read it thoroughly I kept finding very good points. Right at the end there was this quote that pretty much states the same thing as Dr. Rizzoli:

“Put in some time and effort in the coming months, and you’ll start to see employee productivity on the rise.” 

“2019/365/124 Go Up” flickr photo by cogdogblog https://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/47924071771 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

The second topic was risk management. Dr. Rizzoli backtracked all the way from undesirable outcomes to risk detection when Mr. Tompkins asked what ‘one thing’ would he do to ensure success. Several points from this specific topic made it to Mr. T’s journal. I had previously shared this website in one of my entries, but I feel like it’s relevant enough to bring it up once again. One of the sections, importance, explains the benefits of risk management with similar points to those of Dr. Rizzoli. Risk avoidance, one of the mentioned approaches, has an objective that also resembles Mr. T’s.

Mr. Tompkins got what he wanted and Dr. Rizzoli eventually left Morovia.

In chapter 9, Belinda and Tompkins continued to conduct interviews, but this time the NNL was accompanying them. They can either have a third opinion on every candidate or can work separately to cover more ground faster. The NNL disguises himself to avoid being recognized, and I think that the idea of Bill Gates wearing Groucho glasses is very funny.

“skull with Groucho glasses and yarmulke” flickr photo by lisafree54 https://flickr.com/photos/136594255@N06/28268486903 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

After hiring some manager that wouldn’t stop praising his team, they went to the office of the next candidate: Gabriel Markov. Apparently, he was the only of the ex-generals that decided to stay in Morovia after the NNL acquired the country. He stayed to work as a manager and was in charge of everyone who wasn’t assigned to any of the six main projects.

Ex-general Markov had a ton of experience managing great amounts of people because of his prior position. The ex-general’s empirical knowledge could be very useful for Mr. T, so he didn’t hesitate to offer him the job right then and there. When Belinda asked Gabriel what the most significant lesson he had learned was, he answered with what Mr. T would then write in his journal.

Cutting your losses. Ex-general Markov states that maybe a quarter of all projects never deliver anything, are cancelled or deliver a useless product. I looked this up and found this very interesting article. According to its sources, 14% of all IT projects fail, but 31% didn’t meet their goals, 43% exceeded their original budgets and 49% were late on delivery. That’s much higher than I expected. The article also lists nine reasons for why this happens. Number 5 involves risk management and has to do with another thing that Gabriel said: it’s important to know when to terminate failing efforts. This website contains some information about that process, as well as some reasons that support what Markov said.

Most of the other points made are related to team-making. They are simple, yet effective: use teams that already exist, keep good teams together and think of forging a good time as one of your goals.

The last point made in the chapter is a quote that seemed too good for being original. I googled it and apparently the author DID come up with it:

“There are infinitely many ways to lose a day . . . but not even one way to get one back. “

“Passing Time. Christchurch NZ.” flickr photo by Bernard Spragg https://flickr.com/photos/volvob12b/47934046058 shared into the public domain using (PDM)

DEADLINE, chapters 6 & 7. It feels like this woman fell from heaven.


Mr. T starts chapter 6 in a tough situation. Not only is he afraid of how many people he’ll have reporting to him, but he also must choose each one of them. At least, eighteen, according to his calculations. How is he supposed to start deciding among 200-ish software managers? Well, Mr. Tompkins uses his secret weapon, a hidden ability that has been in his possession since his early years…the art of procrastination.

“Lazy Like a Sunday Morning” flickr photo by andymiccone https://flickr.com/photos/andymiccone/27058737722 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

To avoid facing the work he had pending, he started reading a book called Structural Cybernetic Management that Lahksa had given him. After a while, Waldo started a conversation which eventually led Mr. T to realize that he needed somebody to help him make decisions, to which Waldo suggested the person who was originally chosen to take Mr. T’s position: Belinda Binda.

After reading her resume and hearing about her from Lahksa, Mr. Tompkins was 100% positive that she would make for a great consultant, even if she was a bag lady living by the docks. He headed out to look for her and once she was found, they had a weird first conversation.

In a few words, they both agreed that the book Mr. T was reading didn’t seem to understand what management is about, to which Binda began to explain the essential “body parts” of a good manager. After a long conversation, Mr. T asked Belinda to work for him and she took the offer.

The body parts Binda mentioned were:

  • Heart. It is what people respond to. Leaders with no heart can lead, but people won’t follow them.
  • Gut. That little voice that tells you if you’ve found what you were seeking for or if you need to keep looking even if the opposite seems true.
  • Soul. Lets an atmosphere where intimate interconnections can happen exist.
  • Nose. Sniffs out rubbish.

We’ve all felt our gut trying to tell us something at some point. This article explains how gut feelings are some kind of natural algorithms that often compare to results thrown by data analysis and computing. There are many ways in which these feelings may manifest, but they won’t be very useful if we don’t learn to recognize them. The article may not be very scientific, but it includes the voice of experience and a few pieces of advice that may come in handy for any type of management.

“nose” flickr photo by aglehg https://flickr.com/photos/53285212@N02/5207995668 shared into the public domain using (PDM)

In chapter 7, the plot is very simple. Mr. Tompkins and Binda both go and interview several of the candidates for project managers. Since they are all located somewhere within the campus, Binda suggests that it’d be better if they got to meet them personally rather than just reading their resumes. It probably also helps with the gut part mentioned in the previous chapter.

On the first day, around thirty interviews were completed, but only three seemed to be important enough to capture most of the points Mr. T made on his journal.

During the first interview, they asked the candidate what his view of management was. He answered with an analogy with the movie Patton and how the first battle scene explained his understanding of management. Once it was finished, Binda explained to Mr. T that the Patton analogy that the candidate used was not what was actually happening in the movie. Mr. T wrote down the actual metaphor for management on his journal: “By the time the battle begins, the manager’s real work is already done”.

The second interview was an example of what they were looking for. Even if Binda insisted on hiring him right as the interview started, she had her reasons to. Elem Kartak -the candidate- had rearranged his office to better adapt to his and his people’s needs. Also, his people seemed to have very good opinions on him. Both of these facts were enough for Binda to tell that Elem was awake enough to alter his world to make it harmonize with their goals.

The most relevant candidate was the last of the day: Molly Makmora. Mr. T and Binda were witnesses of the semi-anonymous system she had for her people to confess to her any problems they were having. Molly explained how it makes it easier for the employees and how much it has helped them all. She was hired, but her relevance didn’t end there. When they were deciding what project she would be managing, Binda suggested a similar one to those she had worked on before, since she has already proven to be competent on that level. Mr. T also wrote about that on his journal.

Mr. Tompkins had previously scanned through the resumes and ordered them according to what he thought would be the best candidates. He felt like this probably helped throughout the day.

The rest of the important points are related to the interviewing process. These are advices for directing interviews and hiring new people:

  • Letting different gut feelings complement each other may be useful, so doing these processes alone is not the best option.
  • People that were already hired may have other great candidates in mind and may lead to new good hires.
  • Finally, the most important one, listen more than you speak.

I want to elaborate a little bit on the last point. Binda mentioned that it’s important to notice how people react to awkward silences since it may give you a clue about how they behave or what their thoughts are. This article lists 9 tips on conducting interviews, and number 8 is, precisely, “Listen, really listen”. It explains that, not only silence can help you understand people, but letting them drift off and explain as much as they want about certain topics when answering may also reveal some of their traits. Although it has a different approach, I recommend reading all 9 points in the article, many of them make sense on the management area.

“The Silence (only with some Ennio Morricone in the background..)” flickr photo by andymiccone https://flickr.com/photos/andymiccone/17079956731 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

These last two chapters didn’t include many technical terms, so it was a little more difficult to find information to back them up. Regardless, it’s interesting to see how several of the points made in the book still remain to these days.

DEADLINE, chapters 3, 4 & 5. We actually want to keep them alive!


I just read these three chapters and the story has already gained some more depth. I think that’s cool.

Chapter 3 is practically a big setup for how Mr. T is going to be working. We are informed about Morovia’s future plans and its current situation, as well as how Tompkins ought to be operating. He’s told that the country has way more capable and competent employees than they could possibly need, even taking into account all of the six projects that have been put under Tompkins’ administration. Ms. Hoolihan suggests running a big management experiment that could take advantage of the number of people at their disposal: they could create various different groups with people with different characteristic, backgrounds, ages, experiences and relationships among themselves to work on the same tasks so they could find out what kind of group turns out to be the most efficient.

“Business team” flickr photo by slon.pics https://flickr.com/photos/156723268@N03/31859775947 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

In chapters 3 and 4 we are introduced to some key elements:

  • Silikon Valejit: the area where all of the projects and operations take place. The name doesn’t ring any bells.
  • Waldo Montifiore: Mr. T’s personal assistant, he does everything a personal assistant does. This character is useful to provide information and apparently, he looks like Tin Tin.
  • *The Personal Journal of Webster Tatterstall Tompkins ◉ Manager ◉ : basically, where Mr. T writes about what he learns while running the controlled experiment. It’s also the way the author explains different management concepts.

In chapter 4, Mr. T faces his first problem and has to make a decision. A pressing-plant for CD-ROMs has to be built in Silikon Valejit, but the project is far behind of what was planned. While talking to the construction manager, Mr. T finds out that a granite ledge is the main reason for the delay, it’s obstaculazing the construction and will probably take a long time to get rid off, so Tompkins suggests moving the location of the plant somewhere else, but the manager refuses.

Apparently, the Nation’s Noble Leader (NNL) told him directly that the construction was to be made in that very place or else he would be publicly hung from a meathook, and was (obviously) too scared to defy the leader’s plan. Mr. T eventually found a way around it and convinced the construction manager to slightly modify the original plan to meet the original deadline.

Mr. T’s first addition to his journal explains some key ideas about safety and change. In a few words, these ideas say something like: Change is essential to success, but people can’t embrace it if they feel unsafe, which can be caused directly or indirectly. Lack of safety makes people risk-averse, which also prevents them from gaining new benefits.

In this website we can find the definition for risk in the management context. We can see that risk is often avoided and that it’s considered important to be prepared for it. There are many strategies and approaches we can take to make use of risk management, but one that caught my interest is very similar to one of the points Mr. T made in his journal. Risk retaining involves keeping a risk and dealing with the fallouts because the anticipated profit is greater than the cost of the potential risks.

“for safety reasons” flickr photo by georgetan_chapter2 https://flickr.com/photos/j0035002_2/49503583618 shared into the public domain using (PDM)

After hearing about the NNL’s threats to the construction manager, Tompkins decides to go meet the leader himself. Chapter 5 is all about their first encounter.

The NNL confesses that he DID threat the construction manager for the CD-ROM plant, but he did it only to prevent people from becoming, as he calls them, nay-sayers, so they couldn’t say no to him under any circumstances. He wasn’t planning on hanging the manager or anybody, but he was afraid he would have to do it to keep discipline going. This, clearly, backfired after the project got delayed and there was no intention of changing the original plans even if it meant a better outcome.

We find out that the NNL just recently became the tyrant of the country, and that he bought Morovia by using some stock. He thinks of Morovia as the ultimate software factory, and tells Mr. T that he’s particularly excited about one of the planned projects. They start talking about Quicken by Intuit, the “most successful software product of all time”. Honestly, I had never heard about Quicken, but after some research it turned out to be a pretty impactful product. Anyways, both the NNL and Mr. T discuss and make some key statements which I’d like to list below:


  • “Everybody who’s got a computer has a copy of it”
  • ”If everybody has already got a copy of it, how are we going to sell ours?”
  • ”That’s the same problem Intuit has. You might wonder where their future revenue will come from … it comes from new versions”
  • “Why would anyone buy from us?”
  • ”Price competition. We are going to give ours away!”

Mr. T writes about negative reinforcement in his journal and focuses on threats and their effect on people: They are an imperfect way to motivate. The work won’t get done on time if the time was never enough. You may have to make good on your threats if the target isn’t met.

Once again, I searched through some websites to find something that could have a connection with what Tompkins wrote in his journal. This time I got to this page, which contains some tips to increase employees’ productivity. I want to focus on the first common mistake: Make a lot of stupid rules. Just like with NNL’s, some of them turn out to have an opposite effect on employees and drive people crazy as they feel them as a burden.

The eighth point from the best ways to improve employee productivity also talks about a similar situation: you don’t want people to be paralyzed or distracted by any kind of fear, and you’ll obviously make them fear you if you tell them you’re going to hang them in a meathook if they don’t meet their goals on time.

“Threat” flickr photo by cogdogblog https://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/567051959 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

The way that Mr. T’s notes sum up everything is quite impressive. I have been able to see the correlation between the problems, the solutions Tompkins comes up with and what the journal shows us. The story still seems really interesting to me. I look forward to reading the next few chapters.

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