Here’s my review of their performance at WOMAD US 2001.
This is part of a short series about the talk I gave at Product Camp Boston, entitled “Getting Better at Getting Better: A PM Kaizen.” A general introduction to the talk is here and you can view the slides.
The number one complaint I hear from PMs is the tyranny of the calendar. “There’s no time.” “I’m in meetings all day, all week.” “I’m staying until 8 to get work done.” “I’m logging in after the kids are in bed and staying up until 2.” “Let’s meet, two weeks from now when I have free time.”
The net result is a calendar like the above, with about three or four free hours scattered throughout a work week. There are all kinds of problems with this way of working. One of the worst problems is something I recognized first in working with building software for developers, and that I recognize in my own calendar: the time to build context.
Knowledge workers, like software developers and product managers (and marketers and others), rely on an understanding of the context in which they’re doing their work to be effective. As a software developer, you can’t effectively debug a problem unless you first build a mental model of how that part of the software works. That’s time-consuming, and if you’re interrupted you have to start all over again. (There’s a great illustration of this challenge for programmers by Jason Heeris.) And for some PM work—strategy, building roadmap, understanding user problems—you need that mental model time too. A half hour or hour here or there doesn’t really cut it.
But many PMs that I know are achievement oriented. We like to make lists and check off items. So what do we do? We spend all our downtime getting stuff done. It isn’t the strategic important stuff that needs a half hour of context building, because we don’t have time for that. It’s responding to email, putting out fires in inboxes, answering customer feedback.
The strategic, in other words, gets crowded out by the tactical.
There are many ways you can solve for this problem. One of them, which I heartily recommend, is becoming more effective at saying “no.” That has its own challenges. You can just say “no” and leave the requester with no way to fill that request. Unless you’re uninterested in the welfare of your customers and the bottom line of your company, that’s often not behavior that maximizes long-term outcomes. So you may find yourself trying to understand the breakdown in the system that led that person to your desk and left you as the only person in the organization that can help them solve their problem, and suddenly you’re back to square one.
If you’re good at saying no when you can, and diagnosing organizational breakdowns when you can’t AND taking steps to shift the permanent solution elsewhere in the organization, then that’s an effective way to keep your calendar clean. That means, though, that “just saying no” isn’t really within reach for most PMs.
So what’s the alternative? I would argue that we have to find a way to systematically think about our work, in such a way that we don’t constantly have to reconstruct our context before we can move the work to the next step. I’ll discuss this more next time.
Follow up reading: The challenge of being “the only person in the organization that can help solve the problem” is covered extensively in the writings of W. Edwards Deming; he calls the process of finding these “only people” identifying the constraint in a process, and recommends that you find ways to elevate the constraint by redesigning the process so that it is subordinate to the constraint. There’s some practical discussion about elevating constraints in the context of software development and IT in the classic DevOps novel The Phoenix Project.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted on Cocktail Friday, so to make up for it here’s a special holiday weekend cocktail post. The change in weather (however fickle) toward summer has me thinking away from my normal brown liquor based drinks and toward gin, and that’s the direction I went exploring this past weekend.
The immediate trigger for the exploration was a bottle of The Botanist, that remarkable Islay-based gin (from Bruichladdich Distillery). Far less sweet and more herbal than the Plymouth and Old Tom gins I’ve been experimenting with recently, there’s a lot going on in this bottle. I first tried it just directly with tonic and lime, but the mediocre tonic water I had in my bar just made it sweet and swamped the complexity.
Charles H. Baker Jr. to the rescue. We’ve sampled recipes from his A Gentleman’s Companion before — see the Remember the Maine — and this one does not disappoint either. The curaçao highlights the herbal flavors of the gin while the cognac and orange bitters. It’s not a mild drink, even after stirring over ice. Baker’s story says that when he and his wife, traveling in Bombay, met the good Commander of His Majesty’s Royal Navy, he noted that “We don’t prescribe this just before target practice.”
As always, if you want to try the recipe, here’s the Highball recipe card. Enjoy!
My other Hackathon mix is here. This is a true mixed-genre, anything-goes hour of stuff, with everything from Devo to shoegaze to Folkways to the late Philip Levine. I’m really enjoying this format, btw—though it’s hard to edit down to an hour, it feels like these come together much more rapidly than the bigger mixes I’ve been doing before. Enjoy!
- Time Out for Fun – Devo (Oh No! It’s Devo)
- Do You Like Me – Fugazi (Red Medicine)
- Blonde Redhead – DNA (“Fame” (Jon Savage’s Secret History of Post-Punk 1978-81))
- Junun – Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood & The Rajasthan Express (Junun)
- Exhumed – Zola Jesus (Okovi)
- Political World (feat. Keith Richards) – Bettye LaVette (Things Have Changed)
- Dry Bones – Delta Rhythm Boys (Historia de la Musica Rock: Locas)
- Police & Thieves – Junior Murvin (Police & Thieves (Expanded Edition))
- Lonely Still – Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter (Reckless Burning)
- Wine and Peanuts – Daniel Bachman (Daniel Bachman)
- You Got To Move – Moving Star Hall Singers (Sea Island Folk Festival)
- Location Recording (Unknown) – Peter Gabriel (Passion Outtakes)
- Melon Yellow – Slowdive (Souvlaki)
- Enlightenment Suite, Part 2: The Offering – McCoy Tyner (Enlightenment)
- Moon Flight – Rashied Ali Quartet + Quintet (Moon Flight)
- What Work Is – Benjamin Boone and Philip Levine (The Poetry of Jazz)
Still catching up from Hackathon. I put together a couple of hour-long radio shows that were a lot of fun to build. The first one is an hour of 1970s and 1970s-adjacent jazz. Lots of fun stuff in this, including some electric Vince Guaraldi, tasty jazz organ, some modern finds (Yussef Kamaal for the win), and a little Digable Planets. Enjoy!
- Birth Of A Struggle – Wax Tailor (Tales Of The Forgotten Melodies)
- Oaxaca – Vince Guaraldi (Oaxaca)
- Red Sails In The Sunset – Jimmy McGriff (Groove Grease)
- Everybody Loves the Sunshine – Roy Ayers Ubiquity (The Best of Roy Ayers (The Best of Roy Ayers: Love Fantasy))
- Mystic Brew – Ronnie Foster (Jazz Dispensary: Cosmic Stash)
- Joint 17 – Yussef Kamaal (Black Focus)
- Jettin’ – Digable Planets (Blowout Comb)
- Ayo Ayo Nene – Mor Thiam (Spiritual Jazz)
- Superfluous (LP Version) – Eddie Harris (Instant Death)
- Lady Day and John Coltrane – Gil Scott-Heron (Pieces of a Man)
- Early Minor – Miles Davis (The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions)
- Black Narcissus – Joe Henderson (The Milestone Years)
- Infinite Search – Miroslav Vitous (Infinite Search)
On Saturday I attended my first ever Product Camp Boston. This event, an unconference devoted to product management and product marketing, was massive in terms of attendance (over 500) and content covered (some 58 sessions). I was fortunate enough to nab a speaking slot. I debated what to speak about, and ultimately ended up giving a talk on applying agile scrum to the work of product managers to help a team improve their PM craft.
About now my non-engineering friends and family are looking at me with a little white showing in their eyes, and my engineering savvy readers may be skeptical as well. But I’ve written about this idea before in the context of agile marketing, that by committing to work up front for a limited period of time, documenting what we work on, publishing what you achieved, and being purposefully retrospective (what went well, what didn’t, what will we change), we can improve our effectiveness as individuals and teams.
For PMs the big payoff is in slowly transitioning out of firefighting mode and into bigger-picture thinking. It’s too easy to succumb to the steady pull of today’s emergency and tomorrow’s engineering release and lose strategic focus. Our kaizen has given me the ability to think farther ahead and be more purposeful about the work I take in.
I’ve posted the slides for the talk, and will write a little more about this topic soon.
I read with interest a UVA Today article about Andrew Ashcraft, a fourth year architecture student who has had the privilege of exploring attics and other hidden spaces at the University as an intern in the Historic Preservation team. Having been an inveterate explorer of the University’s nooks and crannies myself (with a particular fascination for Old Cabell Hall and the roof of Clark Hall), I envy Ashcraft his job. However, one paragraph caught my attention:
“His favorite view so far has been from the attic of Old Cabell Hall, where he could look down through an ornate false skylight into the building’s grand two-tiered theater.”
It may be a “false skylight” today, but it certainly didn’t start out that way. The evidence, as always, is the University’s collection of the photographs of Rufus Holsinger. In a collection of views of the Grounds dating to 1914 we get the photo below, showing the view of the stage but also the ceiling above:
That sure looks like a working skylight to me! The Library’s online exhibit on the work of McKim, Meade, and White (the designers of Old Cabell Hall) indicates that the skylight was eventually enclosed “to accommodate modern lighting equipment,” and from the stage you can see the lighting in the space that would originally have let natural sunlight in.
The University has a small tradition of enclosing skylights, apparently, or at least doubling them up. As an undergrad I learned from some of my older neighbors how to enter Clark Hall (originally the home of the Law School) at night and climb up to the dusty hidden room enclosed by the outer skylights and the inner skylights of the building. Yes, there are two layers of skylight. I haven’t been able to determine if this was the original design or a concession to weatherproofing. (You can see a hint of the double-layered design in this photo.)
Boston Globe: John Oliver, founder of Tanglewood Festival Chorus, dies at 78. I wrote an appreciation of John on his retirement some years ago, which still expresses most of how I feel about him.
And yet, there’s one important part of what he taught me that my essay didn’t include, which is apparent only in retrospect. Which is this: drilling and refining details of musical performance is important, but so is singing that is fully committed to the purpose and mystery of the music. Full musical commitment cannot be taught, only shown. I’m grateful for all he showed me in my ten years singing with him, and for how I feel I’ve continued to learn after.
Yesterday morning, I happened to take a different route to work and noticed a sign along the road (courtesy, it turns out, of Lexington’s Eagle Scouts) for Shaker Glen. This wasn’t just a fanciful developer’s name for the subdivision that’s there; it turns out there was, briefly, a significant Shaker presence in the Lexington area.
First, the subdivision. Peacock Farm was a postwar modernist subdivision, designed by Walter Pierce, that’s literally right down the road from my house. It turns out that the developers of Peacock Farm, Edward Green and Harmon White, replicated the Peacock Farm design in a couple other areas around Lexington, including at Shaker Glen. But why did it get that name?
Seems the area came by the name honestly. From the Lexington historic survey site:
The name Shaker Glen refers to part of the hemlock-lined glen which extends into neighboring Woburn. In the late 1700s Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers, settled temporarily at the Kendall Farm in Woburn, which included part of the glen. Nathan and Sarah Kendall were converted to the Shaker faith in 1781. But local residents were suspicious of the Shakers and the Kendalls sold the farm and left Woburn while Mother Ann Lee went on to establish a utopian religious community in Harvard, Massachusetts in 1791.
So not only is Shaker Glen named for a real Shaker settlement, it’s named because the founder of the Shaker faith lived there. Who says history is boring?
Yesterday was Easter, which around our house means that the food is a little more Southern than usual. In addition to ham and deviled eggs, I made a pimento cheese spread for the first time, an experiment I’ll be repeating. And the best beverage with all of the above is, of course, the mint julep.
But what is a mint julep? Turns out there’s a fair amount of confusion, stemming from the original recipe using brandy. The version we know and love is really the Kentucky mint julep; others used to exist, including the Maryland version (rye) and the Georgia version (peach brandy). Such heterodoxy, however, be damned: we seek the One True Mint Julep, and fortunately Virginia historian Virginius Dabney (author of the second history of the University of Virginia) has our back. In a 1946 letter to Life Magazine, he wrote:
And Life obligingly printed Dabney’s recipe:
No discussion of mint juleps could be settled so quickly, though, as the following letter from Harold Hinton showed:
He is risen!
Doom & Gloom from the Tomb: “Astral Weeks,” Van Morrison, Aquarius Theater, Boston, Massachusetts, May 19, 1972. With the impending release of Ryan Walsh’s Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968, finding a live performance of any of the songs by Van in Boston is an unexpected treat, even if it’s a few years after the event. But this performance is doubly a treat: peak Saint Dominic’s Preview-era Van Morrison, with much of the hazy adventure of the original performance supplemented by a forthrightness and confidence (and horn section) characteristic of the latter record. A fun listen.
I keep thinking about Jefferson and being afraid that I’ll forget something about him, so I’m posting these thoughts as I come to them. If you’re not a doggy person, you may want to check back in a few days.
From the time he came home, Jefferson made it clear that he belonged to the Jarrett family: by his propensity for naps, his heroic snoring, and most of all by his appetite for food. A few weeks after we brought him home, we were shaking down our newly installed oven in our Kirkland house, cooking a turkey for Christmas dinner, and he sat in front of the oven door and watched. Just watched. With a concentration bordering on the unshakeable, he sat in front of that oven door and took in the smells coming from it until he could no longer stand it.
That’s when he would start growling. And blowing out air in frustration (see the “fuffing” in the video above). And eventually, full-on barking at the oven.
The whole family could tell when I was cooking breakfast for the dogs—especially toward the end of Jeffy’s life, when a persistent canine digestive problem had shifted us to feeding him on home cooked ground pork or turkey and rice. He would stay upstairs with Lisa until he could smell the food cooking, and then he would head down the stairs (something he rarely did under his own power; as a doggy of leisure, he preferred to be carried) and sit under the kitchen table and watch me cook, usually at around 6:15am. And then as the meat started to brown, he would start barking at the food. And it wouldn’t stop until his plate hit the floor.
Jeffy would eat anything. And he would always try to steal his sister’s food. In his younger days, he would simply wait til she wasn’t paying attention and then voom on over and start wolfing it down. As his joints started giving him problems, he would move more subtly and slowly—or as subtle as a slightly rotund Bichon with arthritis can be.
I knew that we were in trouble with him when his fabled appetite finally started failing. We now know that he was suffering from a slow moving progressive kidney disease that impaired his digestion and generally made his life hellish, but it wasn’t until the last few weeks that it became a roll of the dice whether Jeffy would eat dinner (or breakfast). In those weeks he got to enjoy the full range of food left to him: poached salmon, ground pork, turkey and beef, grilled flank steak, pressure cooked and roasted turkey. I like to think that wherever he is now, he’s eating heartily.
On December 4, 2003, we brought home our second Bichon puppy, Jefferson. Today it’s time to say goodbye to him.
Before Jefferson and his sister and littermate Joy joined our family, I had never known dogs. I was always terrified of them as kids: the boundless energy and jumping, the sharp teeth, the barking. These puppies were an entirely different experience. They had boundless energy—Jefferson could bound through the grass like his legs were springs—but they also would curl up and go to sleep on our laps, next to us on the sofa, at our feet. They weren’t the dirty yard dogs of my childhood memories; they were fluffy and white and wagged their tails anytime they thought they could get some attention (or food). In fact, they seemed to be powered by love.
At the other end of Jefferson’s life, I know this to be true. Tens of thousands of years ago, the first dog decided to make a bargain, to give up independent life and settle as part of a human family. I always assumed the benefits were a more stable life and access to the food the humans would procure. But I think the real benefit was more mysterious and deeper than that. Somehow, I think, that first dog got part of our soul, a part that was made of pure love.
And these creatures of love have been bound to us since. They love unconditionally and incessantly, even when sick; even when old and in pain. They trust us to care for them, to share joy with them, to feed them and bathe them (albeit reluctantly). And they trust us with their lives.
Today we made that last decision for Jefferson. His pains and hurts were too grievous for him, and for us, and it was time for him to suffer no more. And time for us to honor our end of the bargain, because now we will suffer too and mourn. And I hope, in time, be glad that this creature of love was part of our lives.
Cavalier Daily: Sullivan announces commission focused on UVa’s history with racial segregation. Clearly President Sullivan isn’t completely playing the lame duck. I am grateful that the University of Virginia continues its commitment to exploring its original sins, and recognizes that those don’t stop with slavery. Other notes in UVA Today.
While the reckoning is long overdue at UVa, it’s worth noting that it isn’t the only university coming to grips with its history in this regard, and may even be ahead of some of its northern colleagues. As an MIT alum, I got an email from the president of the institute yesterday discussing MIT founder (and former UVA professor) George Barton Rogers’s slave-owning history, which is discussed in a Boston Globe article today. The fact that L. Rafael Reif could say “Quite frankly, it was shocking to me” and that he is still “reeling” simply means he, and the Institute, haven’t been paying attention.