Khaos

Archive for June, 2007

Not Coping with the Heat

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

I’m finding it very hard to cope with the heat. It’s making me tired, grouchy and uncomfortable. It’s been about 33 degrees celsius today but the high levels of humidity mean that my body thinks it’s quite a bit hotter than that. I’ve never lived in a country before where I needed to pay attention to the heat index but I’m going to need to here. I’m trying to drink enough but I still occasionally get a headache that’s probably related to dehydration.

Yesterday afternoon I fell asleep whilst working on my talk for YAPC::NA and today I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything. I should go shopping but I really don’t want to go outside.

On the plus side I’ll probably cope with the weather much better than I had expected to at next week’s conference as Tokyo is every bit as hot as Houston.

Communication Problems in Virtual Teams

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

I was reading a paper [pdf] by Valentine Casey and Ita Richardson in which they list some of the lessons they learned from observing two virtual teams. One of the things they noticed was that the team members used email to publicly attack their colleagues. When I first read this I thought of all the problems you get on mailing lists when team members say negative or nasty things about each other. But they were actually talking about the problem of cc’ing. They observed that team members would copy in management on trivial matters when they wanted to put blame on someone who was in another geographic location. This practice not only alienated the person who got sent the message but also annoyed all the other team members in the same geographical location as the recipient. To make things worse the managers then got involved in things that really didn’t require management input and they also tended to take sides with the people who were in the same location as them.

I have come across this problem before but it was in the context of teams with competing priorities. For example the marketing team have a new campaign that they want to get out by a certain date but the programmers don’t have the time to code it. So, the marketing team start to cc their manager when writing to the developers in the hope that this will somehow help to make the developers find the time to do it or at least provide a good excuse for the missed deadline. And then the developers cc in their managers and before you know it the whole company is involved.

But I hadn’t thought about it in the context of virtual teams. I suppose I was thinking that virtual teams would have one manager. However, after thinking about this a bit more, I realise that the team may have one project manager but each team member may have to report to a manager in their own location. The paper suggests using a documented email policy to get round these problems but I suppose I don’t really like the thought of this. This is probably because I usually work with pedantic programmers who enjoy finding unexpected ways to manipulate a policy.

Don’t Cargo Cult Extreme Programming

Friday, June 15th, 2007

I went to hear Dave Thomas speak recently. He spoke for around 2 hours but I was really struck by his comments on cargo culting.  Extreme Programming (XP) was developed to overcome the problem with cargo culting methodologies yet it’s now being cargo culted. I hadn’t really thought about before this but I have heard people dismiss XP because they can’t faithfully follow one component. I have also had fellow programmers tell me it just doesn’t work because they’ve been forced to faithfully follow a set of rules laid out in one of the many XP books.

Dave clearly stated that the point of XP is to allow you to be agile and that if something in the 12 principles doesn’t work for you then modify it so that it does. The important thing is not his, Kent Beck’s or anyone’s recipes for making a project work but understanding the reasons behind XP.

As an example he mentioned the XP principle of having an on-site customer. Is this really practical? Having an on-site customer clearly shows how important it is to have the customer’s input on a project but when this is not possible there are other ways to make sure that the customer is committed and available to answer questions. Virtual teams are also problematic as you won’t even have the programmers in the same room as each other. But that doesn’t mean that a virtual team can’t be agile.

The Agile Manifesto states that we should value “responding to change over following a plan“. This principle should also be applied to our agile methodologies.

Pepsi Gone Mad

Friday, June 15th, 2007

It’s surprising how quickly you can get used to being in a new place. I no longer find the food and drink selection in the supermarket that strange and I expect there to be vending machines on every other street corner. But I’ve had visitors for the past week or so and they have helped me see again just how foreign some of the things here are.

The new drink in our local supermarket is Pepsi Iced Cucumber. Who would want to drink that? Norwin decided that we all did and bought some. Mind you he poured it into shot glasses which gives a good indication of how much he expected anyone to like it. It tastes strange. I think it’s supposed to taste of cola and cucumber but I thought it tasted a bit like melon with a strange green watery cucumber aftertaste. Apart from the novelty factor I really wouldn’t recommend it though I might have fun serving it to unsuspecting guests in the future.

Grocery Shopping Confusion

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

In the local supermarket they like you to give them change if you have it. Today my bill came to 3,109 yen. They have a tray that you set your notes in and I put down a 5,000 yen note. They then wait till you try to find coins to make up the 109. I hoked about in my purse and was able to come with 110 yen (a 100 and a 10 piece) or 107 (a 100, a 5, and 2 1s). As the 107 wasn’t very useful I put 110 on the tray. The shop assistant looked at it and started to point at my purse. I quickly looked at the till to make sure I had understood how much the shopping was – which I had. I then looked at the purse as I thought that maybe she could see 2 single yen pieces that would allow me to make up 109. At this point I became aware of the queue building up behind me. It always takes me longer to find coins than the Japanese as I still get these mixed up.

I started to look in my purse again but I just couldn’t come up with a better amount of change to give her. I looked at the assistant and told her that I didn’t have 9 yen. But she kept pointing and talking. Just when it was getting to the stage when I was going to hand my purse to her I realised that she was pointing at the pieces of paper in my purse. I know I shouldn’t keep paper in the coin part of my purse but sometimes, when I’m shopping in that supermarket, they give me these green coupon like things with my change. I usually just shove these into my purse as I want to move my shopping out of the way of the next person. I’ve never known what these are for. They have a number written on them and then lots of writing that I can’t read. I did ask Marty at one point but he didn’t have a clue either. I found out today. These are coupons that give me money off my shopping. So while I was frantically trying to find change in my purse the assistant was trying to tell me that I had coupons worth 150 yen in my purse.

I’m going to have to see what I did with the rest of them as I think they’ve been giving me these since January.

Are Virtual Teams Less Suited to Men than Women?

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

I was reading a paper today by Emmeline de Pillis and Kimberly Furumo that considered the hypothesis that men are more likely to be “deadbeats” on a virtual team than women. Deadbeats are described a “free riders” – people who are content to take credit for a group effort without doing any work.

They carried out an experiment with 201 people who were randomly assigned to either a face-to-face or virtual team of three people. They were trying to show that virtual teams have less cohesion than face-to-face teams and also that virtual teams have a higher percentage of non-contributing members (these were described as either deserters or deadbeats). Their results did show that there is less cohesion, less satisfaction, more time spent on a task, and more deadbeats within a virtual team. Most of the deadbeats were male but their results didn’t have statistical significance. The only deserters were male but again this didn’t have statistical significance.

I was aware that most studies show less cohesion in new virtual teams but I hadn’t really thought about gender issues. I’m going to have to read more papers on this area because Pillis and Furumo believe that virtual work is a particularly poor fit for the average male student. This concerns me. Most of the virtual teams I’m aware of are in the I.T. industry and they are predominately male. I want to know what it is about men that makes it harder for them to work in this environment and what can be done to improve their experience.

People to See, Places to Go

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

Things had been quite quiet here for the past couple of weeks but that’s all changed. I’ve been busy getting the apartment ready for our first guests. They arrived yesterday evening and managed to get up bright and early this morning to go to DisneySea.

Marty and I spent the weekend in Nagahama and had a great time catching up with Simon. Tomorrow I’m going to go and hear Dave Thomas speak. I’m also planning on travelling to Hiroshima and to spend some time showing my friends around Tokyo. It’s going to be fun.

Simon Cozens and Marty Pauley in Nagahama

Weekend Trip

Friday, June 1st, 2007

Marty and I are heading down to Nagahama this weekend to visit Simon. Should be fun. It’s also the first time that either of us have travelled on the Nozomi which can apparently reach speeds of up to 300 km/h.