Tuesday, July 26, 2005

So, I became a product manager.

It happened in an unexpected way – I won’t go into the details but about 6-8 weeks ago I had an opportunity to move from the development side of things to the product side of things.

Has taken me a while to get my head around it all – I still am in fact. I spoke to a couple of the product managers here to get a better idea of what I should be doing but it wasn’t until I spoke to my long time friend Richard Hall that I really made progress on understanding what I was doing.

Richard’s been a Product Manager for many years, when I decided to do an MBA a couple of years he said:
“You’ll become a Product Manager, all MBAs become Product Manager!”
And I said:
“No I won’t! I’ll still be a developer.”

Well, I got my MBA and I stayed a developer. Now he’s been proved right, for a while I didn’t want to admit it to him – silly of me I know. I spoke to him at the weekend and yes he laughed when I reminded him what he said – note, I had to remind him, he’d forgotten.

I picked his brains a bit and I got some good information. In particular he pointed me at the Silicon Valley Product Group (http://www.svproduct.com.) They have some really good papers on their website, I recommend them to any new (or existing) PMs.

And this reminded me of something else. When I went to Silicon Valley I discovered all these Product Managers. Not marketing people, but people concerned with what should be in the product.

In the UK you never meet a Product Manager. You meet lots of “Business Analysts” but they aren’t the same. Over time I came to appreciate their role and I saw that the existence of this role, and good people to fill it, was one of the differentiating factors in the Valley.

Now I’m working for a company in London which is doing well, and guess what? Unlike most British companies they actually have Product Managers. Actually, Richard is back in the UK too and is a Product Manager for another successful British technology company. So maybe the idea is spreading.

I think I’m going to like being a Product Manager.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Blog at 2 months, the National Theatre and food

I’ve been writing this blog now for nearly 2 months. It doesn’t feel like it but I have. It still feels new. I guess that’s because I haven’t written very many entries. I suppose I started with a feeling that a blog should be updated every few days and well, it just doesn’t work like that!

I have lots of ideas for blog entries but just finding the 30 minutes or so to write them up can be difficult. It hasn’t helped that during these last two months I’ve had to do final preparation for EuroPLoP (preparing my paper, shepherding), being shepherded for VikingPLoP, finalising my chapter in the PLoPD5 book (due at the end of 2005 or start of 2006 I’m told), co-ordinating work on the ACCU website and holding down a full time job!

Luckily my girlfriend likes me being active like this but I’m sure she’d like me to spend a little more time with her :)

Personally I like being busy, I can’t imagine it any other way but it does tax you, and its is stressful keeping all the commitments you make to people. The only way is to constantly try to reduce them - still the list grows.

The other thing I always want to do more of is culture: theatre, opera, ballet, art galleries, music and so on.

For some reason the Proms programme has been difficult to get hold of this year so the season has started and I’ve hardly got any booked.

With all this in mind it was especially nice to go to the National Theatre last night for “The UN Inspector” - a “free” interpretation of Gogol’s “The Government Inspector” by David Farr.

It was a good play, it had some not so good reviews when it opened a few months ago and I can see what some of the critics where saying but like most plays the first few nights are not the best, I guess it has changed a little and tightened up a bit. If you get the chance go and see it, it is very enjoyable.

Its a while since I’ve been to the National and in that time the Royal Festival Hall has closed for refurbishment. Which means one of my favourite restaurants in London is no more. I hope People’s Palace will return in time but until then I need to find somewhere else.

Now, it might be that my memory is faulty but I don’t recall the National Theatre being a place for restaurants but it now has three. Or rather, one cafeteria and two restaurants.

We went to the Terrace Cafe last night. The weather was OK but not great so we where inside not on the Terrace. What is obvious is that this Cafe has been squeezed into a bit of surplus space. This could mean something pretty awful but it isn’t, it was actually very enjoyable and hit the spot.

The secret is that the designers of this Cafe have integrated the food, service and space. The product offering (to use a marketing term) is tailored to the space and confines. So, there is no starter menu but a salad bar is included. The main courses are stock items (beef, duck, salmon fish cakes) but are prepared well, simple but tasty. The price doesn’t break the bank and the service is great - they know everyone there is going to the theatre so you don’t have to wait long for a waiter and the bill arrives ASAP.

If you want a lesson on how to integrate your service offering with your operational constraint go and have a meal at this restaurant and look at how it works.

And if your going to the National Theatre and want a not-too fancy pre-theatre meal you could do a lot worse than try here.

By now you can see my problem. Even when I’m not working my mind is racing.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The opposite effect

Sometime you do something and it has the opposite effect of what you intended. This is a problem at the best of times, and its a problem when your dealing with change.

Maybe you want someone to do something. But actually asking them to do it can bring about a defensive reaction. For example, someone changes to a new role in your organisation. They start working with different people, it makes sense for them to move desks, they may even know it. But when someone suggests they move desks they ask “why should I?”

This happened to a friend of mine recently. He’s not really been seeing eye-to-eye with his manager for a while. He’s got a new role in the company, a role he’s actually quiet glad to have taken on – and a new manager too. Yet he had a feeling he’d been shunted out of his old role, that the old manager didn’t want him there.

And this kind of manifested itself with his desk. He knew he should move desks but it wasn’t clear where he should sit, nor was it ever the right time, and in truth moving desks signalled an identity change, a move away from one team. Yet every time his former manager mentioned moving desks he felt less included to. Every time it was mentioned he was reminded of this feeling of being pushed out of his old department.

So, actually by mentioning the change it became less likely because he became defensive. This was minor for my friend and his desk but think about an organisation undergoing radical change. People can feel unwanted, threatened and scared.

To finish the story, my friend recognised this within himself and realised the managers requests where the reason he was not doing what he himself thought was the right thing. Finally he moved desks because he knew it was right and was just not moving because of the requests to move desks.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Return from EuroPLoP 2005

I’ve just returned from the EuroPLoP conference in Germany. For those who’ve never been to a PLoP conference you don’t know what your missing - get along now!

Anyone will do - except for the fact that I hear the original PLoP (outside of Chicago) has changed its atmosphere in the last couple of years so maybe that is not a first choice. VikingPLoP is a great little conference but it is small. Still EuroPLoP isn’t that big, about 45 people this year, much less than the 65 when I first went in 2003.

I return from EuroPLoP as usual, exhausted physically (too much beer, too many late nights) and mentally (so much to think about, so much to read, so many good conversations) but also inspired and ready to move on to the next year.

(Unfortunately while I was at EuroPLoP some bombs exploded in London - you’ve probably heard about this already. London is my home town, I was born close to Liverpool but I now consider London home. It feels like someone has attacked a member of my family. Still, I didn’t let it ruin my conference too.)

A few things deserve mention here.

First, much to my surprise, I was award the 2005 Neil Harrison Shepherding Award. This is a great honour for me, although I feel “I’m not worthy”. I look at the names on the Staff and they include great people: Norm Kerth, Joe Bergin, James Noble and Frank Buschmann. Thank you to the programme committee, I am honoured.

Second: I ran a long focus group (5 hours over 2 days) with Lise Hvatum on the subject of Conway’s Law. This was a fascinating exercise that opened up all kinds of ideas and insights. We learned too much to write it all here. We will be writing a report for the conference proceedings in the near future. For now lets just say Conway’s Law isn’t necessarily a Law.

Next: there where several analysis patterns at the conference, including a couple in my workshop. Didi Schutz asked me: “Are Analysis Patterns really Patterns?” I think we all tend to accept Analysis Patterns as Patterns but I’m no longer sure they are Patterns.

A pattern should tell me what to build, it should tell me how to go about building it, the pattern is named after what you build. The activity of Analysis is not about building, it is about understanding, decomposing and deconstructing. Therefore, how can you have a pattern about this?

Because patterns are about building they are about synthesis. Obviously, analysis is not synthesis. In fact, I’m in very close to revisiting Henry Mintzberg’s argument about strategic planning. (I recommend The Rise and Fall of Strategy Planning for more detail.)

Finally: I’m conscious that there is much pattern lore that is handed down by word-of-mouth, and in a somewhat random fashion. If you have the right conversation you will learn about “the but form of forces” but if your unlucky nobody will tell you about the “noun phrase” rule for pattern naming. At a time when individual patterns are becoming less important and pattern sequences more so I feel there is a need to get this information to new pattern writers.

Writing a pattern should not be hard. You should not require years of learning. Patterns are usually written by domain experts, if you need to be an expert pattern writer too then we are going to loose a lot of opportunities for patterns.

I could write more but I’m going to draw the line there for today.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Getting ready for EuroPLoP

Well it is time of year again. On Wednesday I’m off on my annual pilgrimage to Munich - or rather a town about 80km West of Munich, all I’ll see of Munich is the airport.

It is the annual European Patterns Language Conference - otherwise known as EuroPLoP. The original PLoP conference still happens outside Chicago in September every year, and yes the name is deliberate - Pattern Languages of Programming but they chose something that sounded a little funny, thus “Plop.”

This is the third year I’ve been to EuroPLoP and it is going to be my busiest. As well as having my own paper work shopped I’ll be the work shop leader for my group, plus I’m co-leading a focus group on “Conways Law” with Lise Hvatum, and if that weren’t enough I’m shepherding a paper face-to-face.

Although EuroPLoP takes place in a conference retreat (formally a monestry, they kept the brewery and all drink is free) the energy levels are outstanding. Mentally I’m going to be challenged, emotionally I’ll learn to trust a whole bunch of people - most of whom I’ve never met before and physically I’ll be exhausted.

The focus group might be the most exciting bit of the conference. I'm expecting to learn a lot. However, as I'm the facilitator I'll have to keep on my toes - a great challenge. Already this session has created a lot of interest.

I’m looking forward to shepherding a paper face-to-face. As a shepherd it is my job to help the authors make their paper better. Its a kind of coaching role, it is still their paper I just give them advice and help them improve it. The real trick is to help them make the discoveries themselves. The authors know the patterns best, my job is to help them with the “pattern” bit in such a way that they tease out a better pattern.

As to my own patterns, well, they have nothing to do with programming any more. My early pattern(s) did but the ones I’ve written for the last couple of years are focused on business issues. I’m trying to establish the pattern form as a useful tool in the business domain.

I really think patterns have a place in business education. So much of what I learn on my MBA could (should?) be expressed would patterns. That should make things a little easier to understand.

Anyway, enough for now, I have to pack...