• Communication with the team
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    The Language of the Receiver: Why best intentions are not enough

The Language of the Receiver: Why best intentions are not enough

When you are project manager, you are like the conductor of an orchestra. You must have talent yourself and you need the talent of others. But to make a success, you not only need everyone to have the same score sheet, you also need everyone to share the vision of what the group is trying to achieve. This Vision might very well not be coming from you. You can have been hired to implement someone else’s vision, but in all cases everyone needs to understand the goal. You can be producing Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies, but there is quite a gap between a version for a cartoon and a version for illustrating the way it could have been played at the time of Liszt. Still the same score and the same artists in the orchestra, though.

Sometimes, sharing a Vision sounds trivial but it is not always. The reasons can be numerous. Here is one of those situations…

I once was working on a pretty big software project for a customer that had some of these communication illnesses I like to cure (I mean the project has illnesses, not the customer ;-) ). Let me tell you about the symptoms and how they exemplify some of the language challenges topics I have presented in this blog.

The IT project team has over 20 people. This project is absolutely key to the business and there is no question about the status of “flagship project”. The project is presenting a double challenge to the organisation, not only they are starting one of the biggest project they ever had, but they have also decided to adopt a new software development process. They have decided to adopt Scrum [...]

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    Human dynamics: 3 IT Project Common Human Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Human dynamics: 3 IT Project Common Human Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

 

We often talk about common problems occurring on a Software project such as not having the business executives on board, recruiting the wrong Project Manager, having too many projects running at once, etc. These problems are true and valid. But what I want to talk about today is a small list of more Human oriented problems; the kind of problems that are happening without anyone really noticing, and for that very reason, very dangerous ones. For simplicity matter, I will stick to only three Software Project Management Mistakes in this article.
Making too many assumptions

Human beings are communicating with unique and extraordinarily rich medium: natural language. We use it every day in every circumstance to sort out any problem. But using words to communicate ideas and concepts is also very time consuming. As a result of that, because we are efficient, we make many assumptions about what the people we communicate with already know. For instance, if I say to a friend that I was driving 50km/h on the motorway or 180km/h, I do not have to explain that it is very slow or very high speed. With the slow speed, this person will immediately imagine that I must have had a good reason for doing so: traffic jam, fog, heavy rain, car problems, etc. I can assume that the person I am talking to knows that there is a speed limit on the motorway and that the speed limit is say 130km/h. I can also assume that this person knows how drivers would usually drive in the country I am, if speeding is common practice or very rare. I could even make assumptions about the knowledge the person I am talking to, has [...]

Fear and Trembling – Book Review

For once, I will not review a technical book or a study but a fiction. Not that I intend to become a reference in literature, there are far better reviewers than I for that, but this book is well related to a topic that I often talk about: cross-cultural communication. This book was given to me by my wife who knows very well my work on communication, especially cross-cultural one. I thank her for that. It is always extremely pleasant to have people around you capable of offering you the perfect book. I would probably have missed that one, had I been on my own.

The context is the following: a young woman, living in Japan, speaking Japanese fluently and knowing the country extremely well is getting a job in a Japanese company. She is not expecting the most fascinating job on earth but she clearly intends to do her best and integrate perfectly inside the company.

I won’t tell you about the story much more than that but I will comment on how this story appealed to me. The author is describing the daily life of someone who believed she could blend into a culture because of her excellent knowledge of the language and the country. She believes that she understands customs, habits, and practices well enough to become invisible inside the group. Of course, nothing goes as planned and her journey inside the company is fascinating. She is not Japanese and it is made very clear to her that she will never be. When I say clear, I mean she understands what is not necessarily said. She does indeed know the culture well enough to get these messages, but not well enough to achieve [...]

Does one size fit all?

No later than a few hours ago (I am referring to the time of writing this text, not its publication), I have written a rather unusually short blog titled “Are you a positive rule breaker?” If I say unusually short, this is because if you compare to what I have published in this blog so far, this was a dwarf of a blog. Why was that?

The answer is that I have written it under the “influence” of my Marketing Director and excellent friend Scott. Although I take full responsibility for the content of that blog, I shall admit my weak attitude towards his strong pertinent and professional advice to make it shoooooort. I said to him that I used to expose my ideas and thought more expansively. At this he replied that I was almost obsolete and that the trend is Twitter-like communication with 140 characters max. I then replied that this is all rubbish and that I actually don’t give a sh*** of Twitter’s constraints and that I will even take time in the future to write a blog about my level of contempt for this famous trend. I do not believe that you can indeed always express proper ideas in 140 characters with satisfactory result. To this answer Scott made two comments:

1à Twitter would pretend that they did psychometric researches that have shown that an idea is writeable in less than 140 characters.

2 à This is great. Do not forget to write this blog (he loves controversy and provocation as much as I do).

Well, here I am. I’m going to keep my words!

First of all, I do not believe a single second that Twitter has chosen 140 characters on any psychological research. [...]

The Story of Writing – Book review

I love the British Museum! When I go to the British Museum I always visit the book store. The book store used to be a mine of great books. It is now much smaller and quite disappointing to say the truth. Nevertheless, I bought this book at the British Museum. The title “The Story of Writing” was appealing to me as I am very interested in language and how humans have created the possibility to communicate while not in a face to face situation. When we are on a project, we often rely almost exclusively on writing for communicating. I have covered this question several times and my position is that it is totally foolish as writing was never intended to communicate so precisely in the first place. Anyway, I will stick to my topic today: reviewing “The Story of Writing” by Andrew Robinson.

First impression
When you take this book in hand you notice the weight immediately. It is made in very thick high quality paper due to the numerous photos and illustrations. When you scan it, the impression is excellent and you want to stop at every page to have a better look.
In details
The whole book is organised around sections of 2 pages: left and right. So, in a way, wherever you open the book, you are in front of an end to end story. This construction is clever as it gives to the reader a nicely manageable pace for the reading. Each topic is generously illustrated with photos, diagrams, tables and all things necessary to make the point. The range of topics covered is simply amazing. I’ll give you a few: origins of writing; sign language; pictography; cuneiform; Mayan alphabet; [...]

  • Dealing with a Serial Killer
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    Dealing with a Serial Killer: the Develop Magazine #116 article

Dealing with a Serial Killer: the Develop Magazine #116 article

Here is the content of the article I have published in Develop Magazine, issue #116 that you can read and download on the following links:

Read online: http://issuu.com/develop/docs/dev116_web.

PDF Download: http://www.develop-online.net/digital-edition. Look for the issue #116 in May 2011 page 47.

The version in the Develop Magazine is obviously nicer to read with diagrams. The magazine is definitely worth reading as a whole!

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“Dealing with a Serial Killer”
 

We all know that “requirements” quality is a major factor in developing a hit title. The subject has been covered at conferences for years and books have been written on how to model and improve them. But to my mind, the deeper and root cause of many trans-project bottlenecks is often intrinsic and completely missed – namely the subject of “ambiguity”.

The first challenge faced by games designers is to accurately convert your “world of ideas” into a “world of words”, i.e. into a games design document (GDD). This exercise is essential for scope, but will also create issues for the following reasons: (1) Some ideas are not conscious enough to be converted into words so about 30% are lost; (2) A further 20% of the ideas that can be converted are partly “damaged” on the way; and (3) When the written document is received by others for implementation, ambiguities remain that require interpretation and some of these interpretations will be wrong, resulting in 20% being badly implemented.

To formularise: For every 100 ideas or features desired only 44.8% (100×0.70×0.80×0.80) are implemented accurately in the natural world of software. Yes, less than half and a major cause of change requests.

Why? Because written language is treacherous! It was originally invented to calculate how many cows or slaves we bought and sold at [...]

Multicultural Thinking: the Develop Magazine article

Here is the content of the article I have published in Develop Magazine, issue #114 that you can read and download on the following links:

Read online: http://issuu.com/develop/docs/dev114_web.

PDF Download: http://www.develop-online.net/digital-edition. Look for the issue #114 in March 2011.

The version in the Develop Magazine is obviously nicer to read with diagrams. The magazine is definitely worth reading as a whole!

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“You cannot work with these guys!…”
 

We all know that games development has gone global. This globalism is in line with the trend of developing offshore, in less expensive or more competent countries, creating in fine a multicultural project. In places like London, you’ll find people from all over the world in the same workplace. At first, this multicultural approach may seem to present real cost efficiencies, but what is the real price we pay? Team human dynamics are a complex issue and looking at the outsourcing savings alone can prove to be a false economy. Unfortunately, this little gremlin will only show himself late in the project, costing ridiculously high amounts of money.

We all know that if you are British and work with a Japanese, an Indian or even a Frenchman, the nature of the relationship might be more or less fluid and smooth. As Richard Lewis, one of Britain’s foremost linguists and author of “When Cultures Collide” summarises it: “A working knowledge of the basic traits of other cultures (as well as our own) will minimize unpleasant surprises (culture shock), give us insights in advance, and enable us to interact successfully with nationalities with whom we previously had difficulty.”

 

What does it mean to be British, American, French, German, etc.?

Cultures have been studied by anthropologists for a while, but the analysis of what a culture [...]

Off-shore development: why can’t “they” get it?

What is culture and what does it mean to be a foreigner? Don’t worry; I will not give a detailed answer to these two questions; that would need 100s of pages to do so. These 2 questions, I had to ask them to myself when I married a foreigner and when I moved to live in London-UK. In fact, it is crucial to be able to answer, at least in part, to these questions to live happily with different cultures.

In short, and I’ll come back to that, living in harmony with a different culture than yours is difficult and there are so many good reasons for that that you should not feel bad about it. At the same time, we have seen in the recent years enthusiasm for off-shore outsourcing. Depending on what country you are based in, the elected off-shore country is always one which is more or less speaking your language. I’ll take two examples: United Kingdom will outsource in India due to their English heritage. France will outsource in North Africa for the same reason. Of course, other parts of the world are heavily used, like Russia, Eastern Europe, China, etc. But anyway, for at least UK and France, I can say that common language is seen as the way to work together.

Now what happens? Every day, we hear more and more about disappointed companies regarding the success of their off-shore outsourcing. And most of the time, the complains are the same and turn about inability to understand each other, deliveries that have not much to do with expectations and in the end, some managers recognise they would be far happier if they could stop dealing with “this lot over there”. [...]

“I’m going to kill you!”

John von Neumann, the “father” of computers as they are now, has said: There’s no point in being exact about something if you don’t even know what you’re talking about. I like that quote and I’ll tell you why.

I have delivered again and again courses about requirements management and requirements gathering. There is no surprise to that, as bad requirements are the main reason for failing projects. The ways to get “bad requirements” are countless. I am not going to detail them today. Today, I am interested in an interesting phenomenon about natural language. It happens that I had to work with the topic of natural language during my PhD and since then I keep an eye on it. As I am also interested in learning languages (I have learnt Hungarian out of curiosity and intellectual challenge) I keep a second eye on it. So, what do my eyes tell me?

I bought the other day “The Story of Writing” by Andrew Robinson at the British Museum (I love the British Museum and its library is killing my wallet every time I go). In the introduction it talks about the different writings over the world. We all know that learning Chinese is far more difficult than learning English. Of course, it is obvious but the explanation why is still interesting. I quote:

All scripts that are full writing – that is, a ‘system of graphic symbols that can be used to convey any and all thought’ (to quote John DeFrancis, a distinguished American student of Chinese) – operate on one basic principle, contrary to what most people think, some scholar included. Both alphabets and the Chinese and Japanese scripts use symbols to represent sounds (i.e. phonetic [...]