Leaders, follow the bright spots

Follow the bright spots. The previous sentence contains four words. Only four words. Leadership advice should be simple. The sentence is indeed simple, but it includes a profound message for day-to-day leadership. In my opinion, leadership is too often problem-focused. We have issues, problems, situations, and concerns with which leaders must work. Managing a fast-growing company exposes the paradox quite often. For example, to increase a company’s profitability, leaders can tackle the problems of a low-performing unit or give more resources and personnel to a well-performing team. Amplifying a well-performing business is often easier than solving problems of a low-performing operation, and it is likely to produce better bottom-line results.

Initially, the advice struck me in Switch, which is a book by Chip and Dan Heath about how to improve change leadership. The authors explain bright-spot focus; they relate a lovely story about how personnel assisting malnourished children in Vietnam studied the local families and found healthier kids compared to the typical situation. They found the bright spots. After reviewing the differences in parents’ behaviour, the personnel taught the locals how to prepare better food with the same ingredients they already had. Excellent. The book was published in 2010, and I guess I read it just after the publication. The book made an impact on me because I still remember the four words and the malnourishment story. If you’re one of the impatient, you can read or watch Dan Heath’s interview from FastCompany website. It conveys the bright-spot message in short form by another example.

When managing, problems are mostly the focus. Controversially, when leading, bright spots are central to the action. So when you gather the agenda for your next meeting, are you amplifying the bright spots, or are you having only problems to be resolved?

 

 

Diary-like blog posts about the ShipIt Days

A couple of months ago, Ambientia’s marketing team decided that our blog should be incorporated into the website of the company. Old blog content was not going to be transferred to the new site. From a company perspective, it was a natural decision to take. Controversially for me, it was an uncomfortable moment personally, because my old ShipIt Day posts were still somehow valuable for myself. Therefore, I scavenged the texts from my old files and decided to open this blog for the archiving purpose of my early writings.

In a marketing sense, a blog post is just food for Google. Most of the texts aren’t even read if the title of the post isn’t compelling enough. Also, one should be able to crank out a blog post in an hour and move on to other tasks at work after that. If one is doing marketing with a blog post, the situation is so. Then again, if the purpose of the text is more personal, the writing is entirely valid even if there aren’t any readers.

The ShipIt Day blog posts have a certain diary-like existence for me. The ShipIt days that were organised at Ambientia between 2011 to 2015 were quite essential happenings for me. I invested the time and the effort to persuade the organisation to permit and then attend [sic] such an endeavour. Therefore, the posts document the situation at the time. Also, the posts are important to me.

Programmers often talk about how learning is one of the critical aspects of their jobs. They need and want to learn new ideas related to their profession regularly. For me, ShipIt Days had a similar purpose. Organising the days was a critical learning possibility. So, the posts are essential for me and are published on this blog today.

Ambientia’s ShipIt Day XI: Clients’ Sponsorship of ShipIt Day

In November, our Tampere office organised Ambientia’s 11th ShipIt Day. Colleagues from our Turku office joined the event as well. Because we were familiar with the event formula from past experience, we only needed one preparation session to select the ShipIt Day projects. When work began, the following projects emerged:

  • Clustering support for a substantial Grails project
  • RPM packaging for Magento Enterprise Edition
  • GitHub Page implementation to our internal network via Jekyll
  • New Jira and Confluence Conference site with a Brikit theming add-on
  • New UI for the server list software that we are using to report and modify virtual machine properties
  • Improved toolbox for UX concept work
  • Splunk JavaScript API demonstration
  • Splunk integration to the server list
  • New UI and implementation for the blog this text first appeared in

Failures and Successes

Most of our previous ShipIt Day projects were successfully completed. This time, however, we encountered real shortcomings. The reasons for these failures were evident to experienced IT professionals: specific licences were not delivered, causing projects to be delayed, and the work required to accomplish enterprise-software packaging was grossly miscalculated. Fortunately, we learned much from these mistakes—that is, after all, one of the leading objectives of ShipIt Day.

Actual Work

On Thursday morning, the day began as a typical ShipIt Day. There were concentrated programmers and occasional talks, but there was nothing of interest to report—just coding. By Thursday night, the programmers’ excitement had grown; kids didn’t need to be picked up from day-care, and wives gave their men permission to code late into the evening. The programmers consumed their food quickly, treating it as necessary fuel for the coding work. A couple of the programmers remained at work almost until midnight but still reappeared at the office quite early the next morning. When the projects were presented, two failed, but the others were evidence of real achievements.

Billable ShipIt Day Time

This ShipIt Day had an interesting twist! A couple of our developers had informed our clients about ShipIt Day and the ideas they were going to experiment with. The clients thought found the ideas so valuable, they allowed the programmers’ time to be billed to their accounts. Now that is a development partnership—the Ambientia’s private investment in ShipIt Day was partially covered by the clients! I did not influence the discussions in any way; the developers and clients reached the decision on their own.

The Winner

We again held a company-wide vote to determine who had presented the most outstanding project. The results were clear: Jarkko and Konsta’s new layout for this blog received most of the votes.

Conclusion

Again, ShipIt Day XI was worth all the effort and time. We learned plenty, and we were able to experiment with the many ideas that had been floating in the backs of our minds. Therefore, we plan to organise at least three ShipIt Days for 2014, which I am confident will yield similarly successful results.

Ambientia´s FedEx Day VIII: Successfully Integrating Ambientia teams across Finland

The eighth FedEx Day at Ambientia was a successfully orchestrated exercise in team integration. Our UX team in Turku may be quite small in number, but it’s definitely not small either in experience or in ego size. We have also got a talented programming team in Joensuu. – Therefore, we decided to import the guys from Ambientia´s Turku office over to Ambientia´s Joensuu office to let the two groups blend together.

The team from Turku started their day with quite a long train trip from the west coast to Joensuu. The teams have done a lot of remote work together, but on this occasion, it was time for them to share the same hot, sweaty office space and collaborate on ideas face to face…

The Turkuboende and their Macs on the move

One of the principles of a FedEx Day is that the team members are able to choose with whom they’d like to work. The guys from the different sites blended quite naturally into FedEx Day teams. One of the groups that were formed contained UX developers from both sites; that team was enhanced with programmers from Joensuu. At least one of the FedEx Day goals was apparently accomplished.

The output from Ambientia´s FedEx Day VIII contained the following projects:

  • A Model Logger Portlet with which to log and compare changes in a Liferay model
  • A layout for the Ultimate Functional Training Challenge site, to be announced later
  • An awesome ESB Tool script to add queues and services as one-liners to JBoss Enterprise SOA Platform
  • The concepting and implementation of an Awareness Feed to Ambientia’s upcoming website
  • The translation of XMLPortletFactory into Finnish and the contribution of the language files to the community and to our Liferay template
  • A new extremely simple Web Content Portlet

Lauri in action doing his FedEx Day presentation.

It is Midsummer’s Eve now in Finland and working life halts for a long weekend. I will leave the vote for the winner of FedEx Day VIII open on our Confluence and ditch IT stuff in favour of a bonfire. Thanks, guys! It was an excellent learning experience once again. Have a happy Juhannus!

FedEx Day VI: Playful mobile development

Ambientia’s sixth FedEx Day took place at the Hämeenlinna site again. Two teams invented ideas which they had hacked together. Most of the participants were already seasoned FedEx Day gurus because they had participated in at least a couple of these events before. This time, we also have three interns working with us at the Hämeenlinna office. The interns got the chance to code with us at the event as well. As far as I’m concerned, participation in a FedEx Day is a great way to learn from more experienced programmers.

More teamwork

At the earlier FedEx Day sessions, the participants mostly were mostly engaged in solo efforts,”i.e. worked on individual efforts. They invented, coded and presented their work by themselves, on their own, rather than in teams. Now the structure is different. We basically have one relatively simple library application that will have three different interfaces: one for Android devices; one with Phonegap for multiple platforms; and one for the Web. In light of the intertwined nature of these projects, the guys felt it would be more conducive to creativity to assemble three teams all involved in related work. The idea of teamwork here makes excellent sense to me. After all, one of the original points/intentions of a FedEx Day was to allow the participants to select the most synergistically dynamic combination of teammates.

The projects of this 6th FedEx Day session were:

  • Using KML files with Google Maps in Liferay
  • Simple book reservation application as a Proof of Concept of the Play Framework
  • Mobile interface to the POC with Phonegap.
  • Ambientia’s Sonar environment tweaking
  • Kanban board development
  • Responsive design for a web site

Skippers

This time, there were a couple of developers who wanted to skip the intensity of the FedEx Day exercises to devote their creativity to current work projects. I totally understand that rationale because, frankly, it is a godsend sometimes when a meeting gets cancelled. And indeed, this whole issue of how time is best spent emerged as one of the key topics covered at Ambientia’s 6th FedEx Day. In conclusion, at this event, the time was well spent for Ambientia staff whether they chose to strengthen their skills and inspire creativity in the workplace, or whether they decided more practically to address the real-life needs of our customers.

The Winner

The winning team was evident. The guys that worked with the simple book reservation application and PhoneGap got about 45 % of the votes. Therefore, they were awarded more project time to complete the work.

Thanks to all of the participants for the great work you did!

Atlassian blogs about Ambientia’s ShipIt Days

Annelise Cappy from Atlassian interviewed me to their blog about Ambientia’s ShipIt Days. It is a story how we have been trying to motivate people and reinvigorate the working environment at Ambientia. The interview quite well summarises the idea and the current situation.

You can read the whole interview from Atlassian’s blog at https://www.atlassian.com/blog/archives/case-study-ambientia-galvanizes-employees-shipit-day

 

 

 

 

FedEx Day V: Joensuu Office rocking Ambientia

Ambientia has five offices in Finland and one in Sweden and also a couple people working from their homes. Because of the distributed nature of Ambientia’s offices, we have decided to do FedEx Days one office at a time. This is new territory now! It was the very first time we organised a FedEx Day at our Joensuu office. It was the fifth time Ambientia was arranged a FedEx Day…

The significant projects the team in Joensuu has been based on Liferay for a while now. Therefore, it was quite natural that most of the ideas were related to Liferay also. Only one project associated with JBoss SOA Platform was able to resist the Liferay dominance. The developers at Joensuu are quite experienced. Therefore, the ideas were also reasonably advanced.

The projects were:

  • Liferay, Adding code generation scripts to Liferay development environment
  • Liferay, Improve Liferay’s Image Gallery to match Ambientia Content Manager’s features
  • JBoss SOA Platform, Expose monitoring interfaces to BaseN Platform
  • Liferay, Extending Alloy UI Tag library
  • Liferay, Templates Based on Responsive Design Principles

During the evening I saw really concentrated programmers focusing on their code. The guys even refused to eat away from the computers to maintain flow state. To me, that was a prime sign of dedication and one of the points of FedEx Days! Excellent!

The picture below is a bit shaky and stirred but I wanted to include it because it shows quite well the feeling during the FedEx Day presentations Friday:

Everybody at Ambientia can vote for the FedEx Day Winner via an online form. The Winner was evident because about one-third of the votes vent to Laura who did the Responsive Design Templates. Laura received a bottle of Bollinger and loads of fame about her work. See, it is easy to smile when posing as a winner: