Chaos Monkey with People Instead of Software

The Seahorse writes code for a living so, in the same way that I am obliged to follow sports ever so casually (for instance the Chicago Cubs have hired a new, adorable player) I follow some software/dev/tech blogs so as to be able to hold my own in conversation–at least enough to return the ball back over the net (see? sports metaphor!) So a big h/t to Jenn Webb at O’Reilly who clued me in to the notion of using Chaos Monkey on people.

Kind of Like a Fire Drill
Software isn’t one thing, it’s a lot of inter-connected little ecosystems that all communicate with each other. Chaos Monkey randomly selects one of these systems and terminates it. This happens during the normal work-week, not at 3 a.m., so presumably you have the staff available to troubleshoot and correct the problem. It’s a way to force weaknesses to the surface so that you can plan to mitigate them when you are fully-resourced and at your best.

People are Interconnected Too
So what happens if you send somebody (anybody?) from one of your teams away on short notice? Would the team figure out how to fill the gaps? Could you test this tomorrow? What would happen if you picked someone at 9:47 a.m., whispered in her ear, “Take the rest of the day off without pay. Do not respond to any messages from anyone at work. See you tomorrow morning.” What would happen if you whispered the same thing in a second person’s ear at 10:32 a.m.?

This Sounds Terrifying
I know, right? And yet doesn’t that point to the need to actually try it?


Making Something from Nothing–Deadlines and Templates

I assigned a small writing job to one of my colleagues. She’s normally very fast with producing a draft for my approval but this time? Nothing.

Two things are helpful in a situation like this (“like this” means someone is creating something from scratch and it involves an amount, however small, of creativity.) One is a deadline. A deadline should be clear enough that there is agreement about whether or not it has passed. Soon is not a helpful deadline, but before lunch tomorrow works.  If this is someone you aren’t able to boss around, it’s still good to include a deadline–my favorite is My request is for your feedback in time to finalize the document before lunch tomorrow.

And the other thing that is helpful in a situation like this is a template. Here’s where I blew it. This colleague drafts lots of correspondence for me, therefore how difficult could this be–it’s a letter! Easy as pie, right?

Except the letter needs to say, “I’m sorry to hear of  your devastating illness and I accept your resignation from this group.” And also I’m not sure this person has indicated that they are going to resign but there is some urgency towards getting things wrapped up so I’ve also asked for a second version of the letter that says, “I’m sorry to hear of your devastating illness and although you haven’t submitted a resignation, you gotta resign anyway.” See the letter is going out under someone else’s signature and we don’t know if the guy has actually resigned…I mean you can see her point in not drafting the damn thing. What exactly is the template for that?

Still, someone has tackled this sort of thing before, right?  I started to search for something that I could use as a template. Then I realized that my colleague should do that searching. We’ll discuss tomorrow.


Internal Resistance

It’s all so much, isn’t it? The waking up, then making a pot of coffee without aligning the carafe properly so as to cause the whole mechanism to distribute a slurry of hot water and coffee grounds throughout the device.

This is what Sisyphus did, if I’m remembering this correctly, he labored to rinse out the wet coffee grounds from every orifice of the goddamned coffee maker and yet there were still tons of wet coffee grounds lurking everywhere like I haven’t been doing anything.

Also one of my socks is developing a hole in the toe even though they cost almost $9 and are less than one year old. 

Worse, the sun is incredibly bright, making it uncomfortable for me to sit at my favorite spot at the dining room table, forcing me to choose a different chair, one slightly farther away from the electrical outlet thereby causing the cord of my a/c adapter to extend more than I am accustomed to therefore possibly creating a scenario where The Seahorse will come along and, in his haste to kiss me on the forehead, trip over the cord and send the Chromebook crashing to the ground.

So you see, it’s the combination of terrible things that have happened, along with the terrible things that could happen, that are preventing me from making any forward motion on my important-but-not-urgent-quadrant.

PMBOK and Boy Bands

PMBOK stands for Project Management Body of Knowledge and folks tend to pronounce the acronym as PIM-bawk.

It’s all captured in a book full of jargon, diagrams, and math formulas. In other words, it’s kind of intimidating.

The best approach I’ve found is to pretend that PMBOK is like a fussy baby, a scared dog, or other savage beast that might be soothed by singing to it.  Fortunately Hanson is here to the rescue!

You’ll find that singing  PMBOK to the tune of “Mmmbop” will soon have your computations of earned value, planned value, and actual cost moving forward in harmony.

Management is not a science

Loving this interview between Scott Berkun and Phil Simon, author of the new book Message Not Received: Why Business Communication is Broken and How to Fix It.

Berkun starts by asking why jargon exists, and Simon blames a number of folks:

We can start with management consultants, arguably some of the worst purveyors of jargon. They try to make business and management more complicated than it is. Management is a discipline, not a science. There are no immutable laws of management. Period.

later on, when discussing solutions:

…remember that most people aren’t actively trying to confuse others. They just don’t realize that they’re bloviating.


When someone is routinely confusing others, don’t be afraid to call bullshit on jargon. At a minimum, say, “I don’t follow. Could you please explain what you mean by that?” In the words of Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Remember that the word communicate means “to make common.”

“Making common” is tough. I spend a lot of time at work trying to do just that. I don’t have any hacks to share.

Self-Organizing Teams and a Magic Question when you Get Stuck

I’ve been reading Galina’s post about self-organizing teams, and while she illustrates her thoughts with a picture of a unicorn, she has several thoughtful ideas about self-organization, including a realistic appraisal of what is reasonable and what is unreasonable to expect from a self-managed team.

Ever been in a romantic relationship? Congratulations; you’ve been on a self-organized team of two. Did you guys magically achieve consistent harmony, no matter what the situation, through the sheer force of your luuuuuuv? No, of course not; you had to communicate, and you had to rehash familiar territory over and over again.

That last part sucks, no? Here’s a tip for when when you are feeling stuck and keep talking past each other:
I’m concerned that I don’t fully understand your point-of-view, so I’m going to say what I think your p.o.v. is and I’d like you to please correct me where I’ve gotten it wrong. Then we’ll trade places.

Here’s why this works:

  • We repeat ourselves because I want to hear you but I want to be heard first. Making the turn-taking explicit (and giving them the first opportunity to be understood) breaks that cycle.
  • We repeat ourselves because we fear we aren’t heard, so the reflecting makes your listening tangible.
  • We repeat ourselves because we fear we aren’t understood, so accepting the correction (I assumed you were concerned about the budget, but it sounds like the deadline is a much bigger concern for you. Do I have that right?) helps us to move from adversaries who have opposing points of view, to allies searching together for a win-win solution.


How to Facilitate a Meeting when you have Skin in the Game

We are planning a series of projects at work that will bust silos and work cross-divisionally and so forth.

I’m facilitating an upcoming meeting, and I am not neutral–I will be directly affected by the outcome of this meeting. So the people in the room will be right to wonder if I am steering the conversation towards a result that suits me.

Here’s the plan:

  1. I’m going to be transparent with the group at the beginning — while I intend to be neutral facilitator, I have skin in the game and I will include my point of view in the discussion as a participant. I will ask the group to please keep me honest and let me know if they think I am not facilitating fairly.
  2. I have asked a meeting attendee, JP, who represents a different point of view, to please be a back-up facilitator if I get caught up in the discussion and need to step out of my facilitator role.