Dr. Dobb’s Journal Shutting Down

For those of us who started out as programmers, Dr. Dobb’s Journal has long been a touchstone. Beginning as a newsletter, then a monthly magazine, and finally a web site, it has been a revered source of design principles, algorithms, and sample code demonstrating excellent practice for nearly forty years. But United Business Media is “sunsetting” DoctorDobbs.com. It certainly wasn’t due to a decline in the relevance or quality of the content. Editor Andrew Binstock’s farewell makes it clear that advertising revenues were sinking below the point necessary to survive, even in a year with a record number of page hits. It was a business decision that reflects what’s happening across the internet: vendors moving their spending from website ads to more fruitful options.

The Dr. Dobb’s site will still be up, and all of the links will still work, but no new content will be generated after the end of 2014. A tip of the hat goes out to all of the programmers who shared their knowledge for so many years, just for the joy of coding and the bragging rights of a DDJ by-line, and the editors who kept it all together. I won’t say that you were doing God’s work, but you sure made my work easier. Peace be with you.

How to Retain the Living

Retain No ZombiesThis is the third of a series of four posts based on my interview for the Conscious Software Development Telesummit, conducted by Michael Smith, The Zombie Apocalypse is Not an HR Product: How to Recruit, Hire, Retain, and Develop the Living.

A certain amount of turnover is normal and necessary, especially in the information technology specialties. But that’s no reason to lose skilled team members you could otherwise retain.

Once you hire someone, how do you start them out right?

If you do on-boarding poorly, you’ll increase your short-term turnover rate. Don’t waste the first week by not being ready! It’s the little things: know where they will sit, have their computer and other assets ready, and so on. There is no silver bullet, but there is silver bird shot – lots of little things. Set up a buddy system for the newbies – don’t depend on the supervisor to do it all. Just like the new kid in school, the new hire needs to be accepted. Pairing an introvert and an extravert is probably not the best approach – try to understand the candidate’s preferences and needs during the interview process, and select a buddy accordingly.

Then interview again, two to three weeks after the new hire starts. Make sure their first pay check is correct, benefits elected, and so on. Get the compensation right, or you are wasting all of that effort involved in recruiting and getting that new worker on board. Find out what might be keeping that new hire from doing their work, or being efficient, and get it sorted out. Not every problem requires intervention, but move quickly to intervene when it does.

Finally, monitor your short-term turnover rate, and do whatever you have to in order to get exit interviews with everyone involved. The departing employee, their manager, colleagues, and whoever else had a meaningful contact with them. Take a look at the help desk records, to see if they had a bad experience. Even the receptionist can be a source of information. If you see a problem, or a growing trend, fix it!

What is the key to retaining solid team members?

Plainly, you retain individuals, rather than groups. But know your organization’s turnover rate, and why people leave. If you have a lot of voluntary terminations, find out why. Especially if certain departments have higher or lower rates.

First: People don’t leave jobs – they leave bosses. Good workers deserve good managers. Better still, they need leaders. The Servant Leader model is becoming the ideal in many organizations, and it has to flow from the top. Have zero tolerance for bullies, oppressors, and exploitation. Harassment is just a lawsuit waiting for an attorney! And pay attention to the Dilbert metric: if you see lots of Dilbert cartoons posted around the office, you are a Pointy-Haired Boss. There is no “probably” about it.

Second: Not everything is about money. You need to pay enough to take the issue of money off the table. Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive,” has upended the traditional motivation models. He points out several research studies confirming that where cognitive skills are required, higher incentives led to worse performance (which probably says nothing good about sales people and their compensation models). Pink notes that autonomy, mastery, and purpose lead to engagement.

  • Autonomy leads to innovation. Some examples of this in the real world include Atlassian’s quarterly “ShipIt days”, hackathons, and so on. Giving people the power to act on what they believe to be opportunities for improvement frequently leads to real improvement.
  • Mastery is not a result of training, but of application. Opportunities for doing new things provides learning on the way to mastery. This isn’t to say that routine work should be avoided, but that job enrichment opportunities should be identified and pursued.
  • People want a transcendent purpose. The Open Source movement has arisen from very smart people needing an outlet that will let them “put a ding in the universe,” as Steve Jobs so famously put it.

Retention and Affinity

Good teams tend to stay together, if the managers make it possible. As an employer of creative, skilled people, you are always in competition with that other bunch of smart people working somewhere else. Not that company, but that group. Smart people want to be around other smart people, and they’ll change jobs if they have to, in order to be around their peers. Retention frequently comes down to affinity – whether or not people feel like they fit in. You can’t make handcuffs golden enough to keep highly effective people in the company of colleagues that they feel are not in their league.

Of course, one size does not fit all. For some employees, retention hinges on the potential for promotion. For others, especially the skilled creative types, it’s just the search for more interesting puzzles. There are also generational trends. Millennials seem to have internalized the idea of brief tenure more than Gen X or Boomers, but you can retain them. You simply have to be mindful of their goals, and how they expect to achieve them.

In Part Four, How to Develop the Living, we’ll look at what’s required in order to make that new hire the person who can replace you.

New PM Articles for the Week of December 8 – 14

Ballon Over the TreesNew project management articles published on the web during the week of December 8 – 14. We give you a high-level view so you can read what interests you. Recommended:

PM Best Practices

  • Elizabeth Harrin interviews author Jeff Furman on what’s changed in the second edition of “The Project Management Answer Book.”
  • Allen Ruddock reminds us that project problems are nearly always people problems.
  • Kelsey van Haaster explains the hierarchy of laws, theories, and hypotheses, and thus why Conway’s Law is no such thing.
  • Bruce Harpham addresses a persistent form of workplace evil: reports. Well, the ones that no one ever reads are evil, if you have to prepare them.
  • Nick Pisano refines the thoughts on extracting and analyzing data across projects that he expressed in a recent post.
  • Michael Ipsaro identifies three key knowledge resources for those engaged in either procuring or delivering IT services to the U.S. federal government.
  • Ryan Ogilvie points out the need to begin a service level management initiative with the development of a service catalog.
  • Saar Bitner demonstrates the problems of using Excel for data analysis, and proposes BI software as the more sustainable alternative.

Agile Methods

  • Mike Cohn notes that, although the team needs to select their own sprint duration, sometimes the Scrum Master has to step in and make the decision.
  • Johanna Rothman suggest that there are times when you need to move away from iterations, and toward flow. Insert Kanban and Scrumban advocacy remarks here.
  • Charles Settles summarizes three popular team collaboration products, for non-traditional projects.

Looking Ahead

  • Paul Baumgartner speculates on how project management, as a practice and a profession, will evolve over the coming years.
  • Jelani Harper identifies the business drivers for the Internet of Things in 2015.
  • Brad Egeland shares his “wish list” for project management in 2015.

Risk Management

  • Glen Alleman explores managing in the presence of uncertainty, as expressed in Tim Lister’s statement, “Risk Management is project management for adults.”
  • Kailash Awati defines internally generated risks, and explains why they make risk management more difficult.
  • John Goodpasture shares the mixed metaphor of Black Elephants.
  • Eric Anderson summarizes the diplomatic aspects of enterprise risk management, as outlined in an article by Lawrence Quinn.

Being Effective

  • Adriana Girdler lists her guiding beliefs, and argues that our beliefs drive our decisions and behavior.
  • Harry Hall notes the common reasons that people avoid goals, and tells us why we should set new ones and try once again to reach them.
  • Smita Mishra advises other women: forget about a mentor, and find yourself a sponsor.
  • Rich Maltzman shares a discovery: TuneIn.com, a site which allows you to discover and listen to radio content and podcasts from anywhere in the world.

Pot Pouri

  • Scott Berkun notes that what you say is more important than what you think.
  • Adam Shostack addresses a pernicious trend: “It’s easier to snark than to contribute.”
  • Adrian Fittolani recalls how he learned to work long hours. And how he learned not

Enjoy!