The Future, It’s About People..

We have been talking about concepts in software development for the last few years at Integrum getting back to humanity.  That the separation of goals and values between developers, product owners and users is out of control.  We have executed a grand experiment with Gangplank of restoring fellowship and collaboration back to the workplace.  Tearing down the context of work and ushering in a place of collaboration, connectivity, creation and innovation.

Recently, I was listening to famed economist Richard Florida talk about what he sees in store for us in 2050.  He ends with “But I think by 2050, we’ll have a much more urban, a faster-paced world, a hopefully a more diverse world, and a world that I think at the bottom not only treats the natural resources and natural environment better, but really for the first time in history, really values human creativity and human beings.  And, you know, if we can leave that kind of world for our kids and grandkids, we’ll all be better off.”

I am excited for the day where we celebrate the human spirit and all that it encompasses, seeing every person not as a cog or a stepping stone, but as a person that should be valued for their uniqueness.  I hope that is the world that my grand kids are able to enjoy.

Oblivious To The Things You Do

Sometimes when you are in the heat of doing things you become completely oblivious to how things are being perceived by others.  At AgileOpenNorthwest we were talking about Agile software development and started to talk about Where Are Your Keys.  The discussion quickly became about understanding how we learn is so important to the skill set of the new economy.  Everyone started talking about the current broken educational systems.  At one point someone blurted out “What are we going to do? Change the educational system?”.  I answered, “Yes, we are.”.  Everyone at the table looked at me like I had three eyes.  I had just got on a plane to come to the conference directly from leaving our first Educational Unconference to change the educational system, so this seemed normal to me.

Take Away

When challenging the norm becomes your norm expect people to look at you funny.

Dysfunctions of (Agile) Teams

Over the holiday break I read Patrick Lencioni‘s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable“.  The premise is that each dysfunction builds upon the dysfunction before it.  Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.   Below is an illustration of the dysfunctions with absence of trust being the building block of dysfunction.

Running multiple organizations and being part of an agile team gives me ample time to see team dynamics and participate in them on a regular basis.  This book really made me think a lot.  The information wasn’t particularly new, but it reminded me that much like agile, leadership of a team can be simple yet insanely difficult at the same time.

Absence of Trust
For some reason most teams think that if they all get along they have some super team work trust going on, but if there is any conflict what so ever that the team is some how not in harmony and that all is wrong with the world.  I remember early variations at Integrum where this certainly was the case.  The truth is that Trust is all about comfort in being vulnerable.  On an agile team this vulnerability is necessary because the only way to continually improve towards excellence is to be honest about your deficiencies.  If someone doesn’t feel they can be open and honest in their weaknesses and mistakes this can never happen.  What is your team doing to build trust and encourage vulnerability?

Fear of Conflict
The biggest smell of a dysfunctional team to me is one that agrees on everything and never has conflict.  Without conflict there are things being left unsaid.  In the end this is just unhealthy.  Willingness to have healthy conflict allows unfiltered and passionate debate about new and innovative ideas.   A good agile team is a “noisy” team.  I think the same goes for pair programming.  If a pair isn’t regularly in heated debate they probably aren’t trying very hard.

Lack of Commitment
I am starting to think that commitment is one of the most powerful words in agile software development.  Healthy teams don’t make excuses.  They don’t blame or shirk responsibility.  The get on the same page and drive towards completing the goal.  Deciding on what to commit to and then measuring to that commitment is key in building a strong team.  I have long thought that accountability was a major problem with no solution, but I am reminded that it’s probably a lack of commitment to blame.

Avoidance of Accountability
This is so so so so difficult.  As calling peers out feels so unnatural.  Who am I to tell you what or how to do something?  What authority do I have over you?  In reality if we have a shared commitment, I am doing both of us a disservice if I don’t speak up and hold you accountable.  It just never feels that way when it’s time to step to the plate and do it.  Recently I was told by someone to RTFM (Read The Fucking Manual) and it kind of stung.  It made me realize that I demand a lot, but at a bare minimum I wasn’t able to perform a basic function of one of the teams goals towards quality.  How embarrassing.  I wasn’t angry.  I was glad.  Their commitment to the goal and trust that I wouldn’t blow up over such a conflict ultimately improved what I was doing.  That’s how agile works right?

Inattention to Results
So often in the past people on our team were driven by ego, career development or recognition.  I childishly called them the “What about me’s?”.    Ultimately the one to blame is not them, but myself.  Failure to give them goals to commit to, left them no choice but to think selfishly.  It’s something that I painfully work on in everything that I am involved in, because frankly it’s hard work.  Guess I need to quit making excuses.

Patrick’s observation in the final summary seemed too fitting for an agile team to not share…
Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human.  By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and a focus on results so elusive.

For the first time I feel like Integrum has a team that is human.  It might just be that we are starting to achieve that right level of imperfection to function as a committed team.  Makes me feel pretty lucky and excited!

Regional Ruby Conference in Phoenix, Arizona

There was a call for conference planning for a Regional Ruby Conference on the Ruby AZ meeting list recently.   It was at the request of fellow local Ruby company DevFu that I decided to attend.  I showed up for the planning meeting and was impressed by the turnout. I think most of the regular rubyists were in attendance and all of the companies seemed represented.

I was turned off that it was at a coffee shop.  When there ended up being no room to sit, I admit I felt that I had wasted my time showing up.  Several people mentioned that using something like Gangplank was out of the question because then others wouldn’t attend in protest. I was disappointed that the maturity level was so bad in the community that I reconciled that this thing had no chance.  Out of frustration I even over reacted by calling the selection of the location as a cluster fuck.

The good news is that it ended up being a really good discussion. I think that if nothing else that perhaps the act of planning a regional conference will be the thing that finally gels the local ruby community.  I really felt by the end of the meeting that everyone was working and discussing things that will move this community forward. It left me with hope that perhaps the community is not too fractured or damaged to be taken seriously. Marc and Curtis thanks for taking the time to explore getting this off the ground. I genuinely look forward to helping out.

Looks like we are planning for something in Sept/Oct of 2010 as the date.  There are work groups actively working on venue, speakers, sponsorship, etc.. I started the day with a bad attitude about things and left pretty excited to help make this event happen.

Startups and Mind Camps and Crowd Pitches. Oh My

It is clear to me that we are not in Kansas anymore.  I expected today to be full of amazing as more days than not seem to be that way of late around Gangplank.  The morning got going by kicking off a new start-up that Integrum is working with from a group of Intel alumni.  The planning meeting for the kickoff was full of energy and was a setup for things to come.  Straight from that meeting had an Integrum retrospective that unveiled a new concept of transparent and accountable running of a company day in and day out.  I will probably make a separate post on the concept in the near future.

By the time we finished up there it was time for Mind Camp to kick off.  Four hours of heated debate on transportation, regional city planning and religion later it was time to break down and setup for Crowd Pitch.  I love the energy around Crowd Pitch and sitting on an investor panel is always fun.  By the end of the night I learned that Gnomedex is now part of Funding Universe and that there is a good chance we could see it coming to Chandler in the future.  Additionally, there is a reasonable chance that we could be launching Gangplank in a foreign country.  Possibilities are limitless when you stop putting boundaries on potential by planning too small.

Helping Find the Money To Make It

I read the Phoenix Business Journal every week as part of keeping up with business here in Metro Phoenix. I was floored when I read “Finding the money to make it“.  What was incredible to me were the connections back to Gangplank. Eleanor’s Garden is friends with StealthMode Partners who referred Eleanor’s Garden to Integrum.  Integrum brought Eleanor’s first e-commerce site online. Funding Universe did their last Crowd Pitch at Gangplank last month and is getting ready to do another Crowd Pitch at Gangplank this Friday. Funding Universe will be opening an office at Gangplank this month. It is absolutely awesome to see the community rising up in midst of a horrid economy to continue to see success! Entrepreneurship is alive and well in Chandler!

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Last week at the Arizona Enterpreneurship Conference (AZEC), a panel from AZ TiE titled “Who Got Funded and Why?” talked for nearly an hour about the dynamics of starting up.  Steve Swedler, Chief Product Guy at Gangplank asked finally stood up and asked,  “Who Got Funded and Why?”.  The moderator  turned the question over to a panelist who gave a jumbled answer that barely addressed why, but completely dodged the who?

Out of frustration I made a pretty knee jerk tweet and called this the same old bullshit investors in Phoenix hide behind.  As most of the groups haven’t funded anything in 12 months.  Later, Anil Jain one of the panelists let me know that they were not aware that was the topic and that was why they never covered it.  Fair enough.  It still would have been nice to hear which members of TiE had been funded or what the investors involved with TiE were funding.

At Gangplank in the last 18 months we invested in Authority Labs, Simple Seating and Date Designer. Additionally, many of us have put significant resources into 5th DimensionIntegrum has invested significantly for minor equity positions in various local start ups, trading equity for serivces. Additionally, we have launched two products that have been released to others in the community (Glen Garry and Back Tracker).

We currently have budgeted just over a $1 million to invest in the community over the next 5 years.  We have been working hard with others to make a home for Funding Universe and Sun Mountain Capital as well.  Between the two of them they could represent over $300 million in additional funding for the metro area. More information on this soon.

So you can see why it is frustrating to hear Angel “groups” time and time again ride their high horse about why we (the lowly entrepreneur) should respect them.  When in reality the community is finding ways to fund itself.  Which in many ways is how it should be.  We believe in the community and we are willing to put our money where our mouth is.  We hope that these other groups will as well.  We wish we could be doing more.  Providing capital to entrepreneurs is exactly what this economy needs to rebound.

Note:  The are companies receiving angel funding from individuals and there are some angel groups like ATIF that appear to be doing certain types of deals.

Metro Phoenix: Where Awesome Happens

The other night I was sitting at work finishing up some things and the Phoenix Rails Meeting was just starting.  After that meeting, we had a great discussion on MacRuby and some of what was in the future for that platform.  From there several of us headed to Liberty Market to meet up with NSCoders and had a great discussion on Apple‘s AppStore and various business models around it.  During the ride home I recorded the following in hopes of making a blog post.  Some how, it just says it better than bad prose ever could.

Isn’t It Awesome? (Audio Memo)

“Awesome getting work done while listening to a presentation about a platform you use for your day job.  Then have compelling discussion about platform being developed. Leave that discussion with a few other people to get a bite to eat at a top rate eatery.  While there have a phenomonal discussion about  the business side of deploying applications at various price points and dealing with ecosystems of platforms you deal with in the company of entirely different people.  Have it all be close to home, great food, great atmosphere, great people at both places. Something that is starting to happen EVERYDAY not just every once in a while.”

We don’t celebrate the victories enough.  On this particular night, I felt like I was in Silicon Valley.  I felt euphoric about the discussions, energy and passion that I had experienced as a part of a normal day.  I didn’t feel like I was attending the typical manufactured events.  I felt like I was just going about my day and awesome was surrounding me.  It reminded me that maybe, just maybe at times Josh Strebel get’s it right.