#145: Business Ecosystems

Business EcosystemsThis week on CIO Playbook with Jeffrey Hurley, we discuss how business ecosystems are coming of age. Using work done by Deloitte University Press and their online content Business Ecosystems Come of Age I will cover what this could potentially mean to the emerging technology capabilities and its impact on the corporate technology space. Some of the highlights from this week’s talk include:

There is a fundamental shift created by globalization and the rapid expansion of access to technology that is influencing societal expectations and as a result there is a radical transformation of how we do business. These periods of disruption present a chance for businesses and people to find new opportunities to serve markets in a new and innovative way. While at the same time disruption presents issues for the companies and individuals that cannot change rapidly enough to meet the new demands.

An Ecosystem is Organisms Interacting

British botanist Arthur Tansley introduced the word ecosystem when describing a localized community of living organisms interacting with each other and their environment. The organisms in this environment are influencing each other through competition, collaborations, evolution, and resource utilization.

James Moore felt there were parallels to how the business world works and introduced the concept of a business ecosystem to describe the connected world that, with the help of technology, has become ever more dynamic.

To quote the articles reference of the 2014 reference of the Softbank CEO,

“By providing all manner of services and content on our platforms, we are aiming to create a comprehensive ecosystem that other companies will never be able to rival”

The CEO of Nokia recognized that his company was losing the battle of the business ecosystem with his comments,

“The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems…our competitors are not taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem.”

The Emerging Business Ecosystems

Understanding the business ecosystem and its dynamic, collaborative, interdependent demands is key to organizational success in the future; if not now. We can use our sports analogies and military analogies to describe the business world however these analogies are increasingly becoming out-dated as they do not properly reflect the symbiotic nature of the business world we operate in today.

“The Art of Possible” is now an expanding pie. It is easier than ever to deploy assets that you do not own or control to engage a larger client base and have more customized interactions with your customers.customers. Networks, relationships, alliances, collaboration, and innovation are the new business value metrics that drive business ecosystems.

Eamonn Kelly says that business ecosystems enable and encourage participation from:

  1. A Diverse group of organizations who come together to create, scale, and serve markets beyond the capabilities of the individual organization.
  2. There is dynamism and latent potential for participants to realize increased productivity.
  3. Participants bonded by a combination of shared interest, purpose, and values.

In the marketplace the opportunity already exists for businesses to benefit from forging, serving, and growing within these emerging business ecosystems. We are observing opportunities for insights to arrive from almost every possible location. Crowds, clouds, collaborators, competitors and co-creators are defining our future.

Change is Almost Certain

If your organization seeks to be successful in this world of business ecosystems you will have to think and act differently than you are today. Your Strategy, leadership, business model. value proposition, and fundamental organizational structure will all have to change.


  1. Kelly, Eamonn. “Business Ecosystems Come of Age.” Deloitte University Press. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2015.
  2. Photo Credit: Jarvis, Dennis. “DGJ_4743 – Great Bras D’Or Front Range Light.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 17 Sept. 2011. Web. 10 May 2015.

#144: Part IIb Organizational Values Bridgewater

Organizational Values - BridgewaterThis week on CIO Playbook with Jeffrey Hurley, we continuing where we left off on episode 143. Thus our discussion on organizational values Bridgewater. I cover the remaining six highlighted values and then continue the discussion on what it means to implement them in your organization and the impact they can have. In addition we ask the questions, “do these make sense?”,  “can we get the same results?” and “are we will to do what it takes?”. The values practiced by Bridgewater and Ray Dalio are not easy, however, that is part of their success equation. This week I am covering highlights from Ray Dalio’s management principles some of which are listed below. For a comprehensive list of Ray Dalio’s 200 plus principles visit the Bridgewater website and download the PDF.

  1. Design a goal achieving machine
  2. Do what you set out to do, say what you do and do what you say
  3. Recognize the power of know how to deal with not knowing
  4. Make all decisions logically
  5. Remember the Pareto Principle (80/20)
  6. Synthesize




  1. Photo Credit: Levine, Alan. “Bridge Span.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 7 Mar. 2009. Web. 03 May 2015.
    1. Ray Dalio and Bridgewater: Dalio, Ray. “Principles.” (n.d.): n. pag. Bridgewater. Bridgewater, 2011. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.

#143: Part II Organizational Values

organizational valuesThis week on CIO Playbook with Jeffrey Hurley, we are continuing our discussion on organizational values. What are the values practiced by some of the most successful companies and can you adopt them into your organization. Bridgewater and Ray Dalio’s Principles will be the foundation for today’s talk. Can you adopt these and achieve the same level of success that Bridgewater has achieved using them? Organizational values come in at all levels and are core to an organization’s culture. Looking at your organization, can you readily identify what is valued? This week I am covering highlights from Ray Dalio’s management principles some of which are listed below. For a comprehensive list of Ray Dalio’s 200 plus principles visit the Bridgewater website and download the PDF.

  1. Trust in truth
  2. Create a culture in which it is ok to make mistakes
  3. Constantly be in synch with your team
  4. Recognize the most important decisions you will make are who you choose to be on your team
  5. Recognize that people are different
  6. Hire the right people, because the costs of hiring wrong are very high
  7. Manage as a designer of a goal achieving machine
  8. Probe deeply and continuously to “learn”
  9. Evaluate your people accurately
  10. Tran and test your people through experience
  11. Remove poor performers quickly
  12. Know how to perceive problems
  13. Diagnose and understand what the symptoms are that cause problems
  14. Keep things in perspective



  1. Photo Credit: Cleaver, Alan. “Rule of Thirds.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 28 June 2008. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
  2. Ray Dalio and Bridgewater: Dalio, Ray. “Principles.” (n.d.): n. pag. Bridgewater. Bridgewater, 2011. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.


#142: Part II Success Profile Ray Dalio’s Principles

Success Profile Ray Dalio's PrinciplesThis week on CIO Playbook with Jeffrey Hurley I am continuing my success profile of Ray Dalio’s Principles. This is the second part in a multi-part series. Ray Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater one of the most successful hedge funds. Mr Dalio’s personal principles that have contributed to his success are worth reviewing as a leader looking to make an impact in your organization.

This week we continue focusing on Ray’s personal principles and how to set and achieve goals. While there are numerous books, articles, and shows dedicated to goal setting and achievement it is worth analyzing how Ray Dalio’s views on goal setting and achievement. From here we will have a foundation for exploring how Bridgewater is able to achieve success through Ray Dalio’s management principles. I am hopeful that you will find nuggets that you can apply right away toward changing your goal setting and achievement and then when we cover his management principles you will be in a position to adopt what makes sense to you and gain the potential to radically alter your organization.

Success Profile Ray Dalio’s Principles

Below is a link to the Bridgewater website where you can find Ray Dalio’s principles for further research on your own:


Photo credit: Sunter, Craig. “Your Goals Are Bigger than Ours !” Flickr. Yahoo!, 24 Mar. 2013. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.
Ray Dalio and Bridgewater: Dalio, Ray. “Principles.” (n.d.): n. pag. Bridgewater. Bridgewater, 2011. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.

#141: Part I Success Profile Ray Dalio’s Principles

Success Profile Ray Dalio's PrinciplesThis week on CIO Playbook with Jeffrey Hurley I am doing a success profile Ray Dalio’s Principles. This is the first part in a multi-part series. Ray Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater one of the most successful hedge funds. Mr Dalio’s personal principles that have contributed to his success are worth reviewing as a leader looking to make an impact in your organization. Ray Dalio covers his personal principles and the principles he uses in the management of his organization. I do not recommend the wholesale adoption of his principles, because each of us is unique. Ray Dalio also does not make that recommendation, throughout his principles he ask you to ask yourself , “Is it true”. I am summarizing his principles and my take on them because he has achieved a tremendous level of success and by discussing his ideas you and I both have an opportunity to adopt the ones that make sense to our situation and as a result gain value.

Below is a link to the Bridgewater website where you can find Ray Dalio’s principles for further research on your own


Photo credit: Pshegubj. “The Pareto Principle.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 31 Mar. 2009. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
Ray Dalio and Bridgewater: Dalio, Ray. “Principles.” (n.d.): n. pag. Bridgewater. Bridgewater, 2011. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.

#140: The Best Interview Questions

best interview questionsThis week on CIO Playbook with Jeffrey Hurley I am discussing some of the best interview questions you can ask as an interviewer. Last week we discussed Glassdoor.com’s top ten oddball questions for 2015. This week we go old school and look into some of the best interview questions that you should have in your repository. As leaders recruiting talent is the most important thing we do and these questions are part of that selection process. You can find the full list on glassdoor’s site. The link to the page is in the notes selection below. I am providing the list of questions used in today’s show below as a reference, however, to get more color please listen to the audio version of the show.

I hope you enjoy the show, I had a lot of fun producing the show this week. These questions truly are value added and hopefully you will gain some questions for your interviews. I can say that hiring the best talent has always been my priority.

  1. What are your top strengths?
  2. what are your primary weaknesses?
  3. why are you interested in working for this company?
  4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
  5. Why do you want to leave your current company?
  6. Why was there a gap in your employment?
  7. what can you offer us that someone else cannot?
  8. Are you willing to relocate?
  9. Are you willing to travel?
  10. What is your dream job?
  11. How did you hear about this position?
  12. What would you look to accomplish in the first 30 days, 60 days, 90 days on the job?
  13. Discuss your resume from the perspective of what the job requirements are.
  14. Tell me more about your background.
  15. Tell me how you handled a difficult situation.
  16. How would you deal with an angry or irate customer?
  17. Who are this company’s competitors?
  18. Do you have a mentor or did you have a mentor?
  19. What do you do outside of work?
  20. What gets you up in the morning? What is your ideal day?
  21. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.
  22. What are your career goals?
  23. What were your boss’s strengths/weaknesses
  24. What type of people do you like to work with?
  25. What type of people do you not like to work with?
  26. What type of boss do you like to work for?
  27. What type of boss do you not like to work for?
  28. Are you a leader or a follower?
  29. What are your pet-peeves? what gets you wound up?
  30. What are your hobbies?

I hope you found several questions in this list that you haven’t used before and can incorporate into your interview process. I also hope that you are already using many of these questions and can see how others are applying them in the candidate selection process. I think these are the best interview questions.


Photo credit: Michel, Christopher. “A Few of My Best Memories as a Photographer.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 20 Jan. 2014. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

“50 Most Common Interview Questions | Glassdoor Blog.” Glassdoor Blog. Glassdoor, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.


#139: GLassdoor’s Top Ten Oddball Questions for 2015

oddball questionsThis week on CIO Playbook with Jeffrey Hurley I am discussing Glassdoor.com’s top ten oddball questions for 2015. You can find the list on their site along with several answers to these questions. The link to the page is in the notes selection below. I am providing the list of ten questions below as a reference, however, to get more color please listen to the audio version of the show. Today is a simple list for the purpose of show notes.

I hope you enjoy the show I had a lot of fun producing this week. These questions truly are oddball and hopefully you will gain some insight into what is the motive behind asking oddball questions. I can say that catching an interviewee off guard and getting a real answer over the prepared or coached answers they have to the standard interview questions.

Oh, and on the next show I am going through a lot of the standard interview questions and I am looking forward sharing them with you.

  1. “What would you do if you were the one survivor in a plan crash?”
  2. “What is your favorite 90s jam?”
  3. “If you woke up and had 2,0000 unread emails and could only answer 300 of them how would you choose which ones to answer?”
  4. “Who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman?”
  5. “If you had a machine that produced $100 dollars for life what would you be willing to pay for it today?”
  6. “What did you have for breakfast?”
  7. “Describe the color yellow to somebody who’s blind.”
  8. “If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jelly beans what would you do?”
  9. “How many people flew out of Chicago last year?”
  10. “What is your favorite Disney Princess?”

Have a great week and see you next time.


Photo Credit: Nancy. “The Odd Ball.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

“Top 10 Oddball Interview Questions for 2015.” Glassdoor. Glassdoor, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

#138: The Magic of Scrum

magic of scrumThis week on CIO Playbook with Jeffrey Hurley, we are talking about the magic of scrum, Scrum is a methodology used by most of the world’s top technology companies to consistently deliver superior software and systems to the ever changing and demanding marketplace. Having completed reading Jeff Sutherland’s, the co-creator of the scrum methodology, book, “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” I was inspired to share some of the highlights with you.

Your organization can adopt the scrum methodology to accomplish more than technology projects and I highly recommend reading Jeff’s book and exploring the scrum methodology in deeper detail. I know from experience as a technology professional that the scrum approach is very effective at delivery superior software solutions to our customers. This week is focused the scrum methodology and the book and several other contributor’s work is referenced in the notes below.

Does Effort Correlate to Quality?

Joel Spolsky in his blog post titled, “Hitting the High Notes” researched students at Yale University taking computer science class 323 from Professor Stanley Eisentat. This course is notorious for the difficulty of the assignments and therefore a good subject for analysis of whether spending a lot of time working on the programming assignment or spending very little time resulted in an A grade for the assignment.

The results of his analysis demonstrated that with the only difference between A students being the time spent. As in if a student worked quickly or worked meticulously and completed the project the and the result was an A.

In this study the fastest students outpaced the slow students by a ration of 10:1. Thus they were ten times faster and got just as good a grade.2

So we should conclude that as a leader we should hire the quickest people, however, there are other factors to consider.

Why Do Leaders Focus on Individuals?

  • We want better performance and performance bonuses tend to be given to an individual over a group
  • Promotions tend to be awarded to individuals showing some leadership promise
  • It is easier to hire an individual over an entire team
  • When we are looking for additions to staff we seek the best people available in the marketplace
  • It is “obvious” that people are different

We Should Look at Teams Over Individuals

  • We are making a critical flaw in focusing on individual performance when all of our workplace effort involves team work.
  • We cannot simply extrapolate that an individual’s 10:1 performance would result in similar high performing teams being ten times better than the lower performing teams
  • The reality is there is a larger difference in team performance. Many studies prove there is a 2,000:1 difference in high performance over weak performance at the team level.
  • The conclusion here is, as a business leader, our focus should be on improving team performance over improving individual performance

The Best Teams Tend to Be:

1.Transcendent: They have a sense of purpose beyond the normal enabling them to be extraordinary

2.Autonomous: A self-organizing and self-managing thus able to make decisions on how to do the work

3.Cross-Functional: The team possesses the skills needed to complete the work (planning, design, production, sales, distribution, etc.)3

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Research demonstrates that high performing teams are what we should be focused on over attempting to improve individual performance. Yet, managers, team leads, project managers and so on continue to make excuses as to why they cannot get overall team effectiveness improved,

  • I have no real power
  • No one answers to me
  • No one has to do what I say

Yet there is power in transparency and moving teams and team members toward common goals.

Team Size Does Matter

  • The correct formula is seven people plus or minus two.
  • Studies show that if you have more than nine people on a team the team velocity will slow down
  • Studies also demonstrate that as team size increases, the impact of each team member decreases. Even individual high performers will perform at a reduced level.

Ironclad rule of human nature is, “very large groups do less” ~Jeffrey Sutherland4

The Rule of Seven

George Miller demonstrated in a 1956 study that the average person can hold seven items in short-term memory at any given time. Nelson Cowan proved that short-term memory can only handle four items. Thus as the number of communication channels increases the effectiveness of the team members drops.

Communication channels = number of people on the team multiplied by that number minus one and divide by two

Add the tendency toward Fundamental Attribution Error and we create an environment that contributes to reduced team effectiveness. Fundamental Attribution Error: is the tendency to place an emphasis on an individual’s internal characteristics to explain their behavior in a situation, rather than considering the impact of external factors.

It is only what you plan to do in the future, only the solutions to the problem matter. Finding someone to blame is just wasting valuable time.

The Sprint4

    • Commit to what will be accomplished
    • Tasks are locked in (no additions can be made)
    • Work all out
    • Stop and evaluate

Daily Stand-Up Meeting4

  • Ask three questions
      • What did you do since the last time we met?
      • What are you going to do before we talk again?
      • What is getting in your way?
  • Lasts no longer than 15 minutes
  • Everyone must participate
  • Like a football team in a huddle

A team must demand greatness from itself. “Do you really want to suck forever? Because it’s a choice” ~ Jeffrey Sutherland4

Waste: a Toyota Production System Concept7

    • Transportation: Each time a product is moved is there is risk. Most important, this does no transformation that a consumer would pay for
    • Inventory: raw material, work-in-process (WIP), finished goods all represent capital tied up
    • Motion: Damage on the entities producing the product, wear and tear
    • Waiting: Time spent idle while awaiting feedback, product, raw materials, etc.
    • Over-Processing: Work done outside of what the customer seeks
    • Over-Production: When more output is produced than is required by the customer
    • Defects: cause rework, rescheduling, and added cycles increasing cost of the product

Deming’s PDCA Cycle

  • Plan: focus on what can be accomplished not what you hope to accomplish
  • Do: set about getting the work done
  • Check: evaluate the planning, doing, and quality
  • Act: Make corrections for the next cycle

Assemble the Work Using Stories: INVEST8

    • Independent: The Story must be actionable and “completable” on its own
    • Negotiable: There is allowance for change until it is complete
    • Valuable: It delivers real value to the customer or stakeholder
    • Estimable: Can you size the work effort
    • Small: Is the story sized for realistic estimation
    • Testable: Is there a way to demonstrate that the work has successfully met the story

Fibonacci Sequence

  • Each number in the series is the sum of the two previous numbers:
  • 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55….
  • This sequence is how nature lays itself out
  • It is also called the “Golden Ratio”
  • Humans are programmed to find the ratio attractive
  • Use the Fibonacci Sequence to drive your estimation process

Planning Poker

  • Each team member is given a deck of cards with the Fibonacci numbers on them
  • Each member then pulls the card that represents the effort they think is correct, placing it face down on the table
  • If everyone is within two cards of each other then a simple average of the cards will suffice for the estimate
  • If more than three card apart the high and low card explain their reasoning and a everyone is given a new pull
  • A simple and effective way to get your estimates established

Kaizen: Continuous Improvement9

    • One a scale from 1 to 5, how do you feel about your role in the company?
    • On the same scale, how do you feel about the company as a whole?
    • Why do you feel that way?
    • What one thing would make you happier in the next Sprint?
    • Select the one top improvement and incorporate it into the next Sprint with an acceptance test


  • Observe: Move outside of yourself to see the whole picture
  • Orient: Understand not only how you are seeing the whole picture, but what you are capable of seeing
  • Decision: Make a choice based upon your observation and orientation
  • Action: Move forward executing on the decision you made
  • Start the loop all over again. By structuring you process via scrum you have the opportunity to see the “market” reaction and change what the team will do in the next Sprint

“Society rewards results, not processes; arrivals, not journeys” ~ Tal Ben-Shahr


There is much more to scrum than the highlights I have covered here. I would suggest that if you are interested in learning more about scrum you start with scrum.org. The magic of scrum is the ease of its execution and the continuous improvement built into the methodology. I hope that you can take away some of these concepts and apply right away.


  1. Photo Credit: Gardiner, Eoin. “Scrum to England.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 26 June 2009. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
  2. Spolsky, Joel. “Joel on Software.” Hitting the High Notes -. Joel Spolsky, 25 July 2005. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
  3. Takeuchi, Hirotaka, and Ikujiro Nonaka. “The New New Product Development Game.” Journal of Product Innovation Management 3.3 (1986): 205-06. Linkoping University Department of Management and Engineering. Linkoping University. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
  4. Sutherland, Jeffrey Victor. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. New York: Crown Business, 2014. Print.
  5. Brooks, Frederick. “The Mythical Man Month : Frederick Brooks : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive.” Internet Archive. Archive.org, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
  6. Usher, Marius, Jonathan D. Cohen, Henk Haarmann, and David Horn. “Neural Mechanism for the Magical Number 4: Competitive Interactions and Nonlinear Oscillation.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24.1 (2001): 151-52. Lancaster EPrints. Lancaster University, 2000. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
  7. Ōno, Taiichi. Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-scale Production. Cambridge, MA: Productivity, 1988. Print.
  8. Sutherland, Jeff. “Plan Reality, Not Fantasy.” Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. New York: Crown Business, 2014. 137. Print.
  9. Sutherland, Jeff. “Happiness.” Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. New York: Crown Business, 2014. 155. Print.

#137: Part I Organizational Values

organizational valuesThis week on CIO Playbook with Jeffrey Hurley, we are talking about organizational values, what are the values practiced by some of the most successful companies and can you adopt them into your organization. Can you adopt them and achieve the same level of success that the company using them has achieved? Organizational values come in at all levels and are core to an organization’s culture. Looking at your organization, can you readily identify what is valued? Reed Hastings of Netflix says, “The actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.” This week will be focused on the presentation Reed Hastings placed on www.slideshare.net and is referenced in the notes below.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea” –Antoine De Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince

The Power of Content vs. Control


  • Strategy
  • Metrics
  • Assumptions
  • Objectives
  • Clearly defined roles
  • Knowledge of the stakes
  • Transparent decision-making


  • Top-down decision-making
  • Management approval
  • Committees
  • Planning and process valued over results

Mode of Team Work: Tightly Coupled Monolith

  • Senior management reviews nearly all tactics
  • Lots of x-departmental buy-in meetings
  • Keeping other internal groups happy has equal precedence with pleasing customers
  • Mavericks get exhausted trying to innovate
  • Highly coordinated through centralization, but very slow, and slowness increases with size.

Independent Silos

  • Each group executes on their objectives with little coordination
  • Work that requires coordination suffers
  • Alienation and suspicion between departments
  • Only works well when areas are independent

 Highly Aligned, Loosely Coupled

  • Highly aligned
    • Strategy and goals are clear, specific, and broadly understood
    • Team interactions focused on strategy and goals, rather than tactics
    • Requires large investment in management time to be transparent and articulate, and perceptive
  • Loosely coupled
    • Minimal cross-functional meetings except to get aligned on goals and strategy
    • Trust between groups on tactics without previewing/approving each one – so groups can move fast
    • Leaders reaching out proactively for ad hoc coordination and perspective as appropriate
    • An occasional postmortem on tactics necessary to increase alignment

A Lot Like Baseball: Majors and Minors

  • Very talented people usually move up, but there is always competition for the top spots
  • Some luck in terms of what positions open up and what the competition is for those open positions
  • Some people will move to another team to get the opportunity they want
  • Great teams find ways to keep their best talent
  • Some players keep playing even though they don’t move up because they love the game


High performers are generally self-improving through experience, observation, introspection, reading and discussion.

It is not enough to talk a good game when it comes to great ideas. The best team members can break down an idea into parts, overcome opposition, execute on the idea an at the same time promote a positive feeling among the team while doing it.


  1. Hastings, Reed. “NetFlix Culture: Freedom and Responsibility.” SlideShare. SlideShare, 1 Aug. 2009. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
  2. Stillman, Jessica. “LinkedIn CEO: The 3 Qualities That Make Someone Great to Work With.” www.Inc.com. Inc., 9 Sept. 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
  3. Photo Credit: Cleaver, Alan. “Rule of Thirds.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 28 June 2008. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.


#136: Be a Great Programmer – Team Player

programmerThis week on CIO Playbook with Jeffrey Hurley, we are discussing what it takes to be a great programmer: being a great team player! The reality of programming is you will work in a team environment on existing systems and solutions looking for incremental improvement for greater business opportunity. Which is great, because you are a contributor to bettering your organization and advancing the business its competes in. How do you become a better team player and a better programmer? I am going to give you eight ideas that you can put to work today and move further down the path toward personal excellence.

Learn to Communicate

Contrary to the images we see on TV and in the movies of computer programmers being loner geniuses. The image that comes to my mind is that off Jimmi Simpson playing Gavin Orsay the “Hackivist” in Netflix’s House of Cards. One of my favorite shows, however, not really relevant to being a great team player, though I could have some fun with the lessons learned from three seasons of House of Cards.

If you are a programmer, you probably had to learn to program on your own even when you took programming classes. The first level of learning to code is often on an individual basis as you begin to understand the requirements of the language you are learning and thus the projects tend to be stand alone and very point focused to aid in the learning process.

The next level of programming is not an individualist’s domain. When you begin solid project work you will need to be a part of a broader team and will be expected to work well as part of this team. Learning to communicate effectively with your co-workers and teammates is vital for a programmer to be successful. I have had numerous times when I have had to work with my programming teams on communication skills, working toward getting everyone to explain their work effectively.

If you can write and speak clearly you will accomplish much more as a programmer. Much of the communication challenges you, as a programmer, will face in the work environment is explaining something that you “just get” and others seem to not be able to follow the analysis and conclusion. This will of course be frustrating because the ideas in the programming space probably come very easily to you, however, it is the ability to share your ideas effectively that will be the measure of your success.

How can you go about developing your communication skills, especially, when they don’t come as naturally as your programming skills? I highly recommend Toastmasters as a safe environment to develop your communication skills and get feedback on how to improve. Communication is something you will have to work as hard on as you do your development skills.

Now that we have discussed the importance of communication let’s move into some more tactile items

Exercise Your Problem Solving Skills

Programming is really about problem solving. Yes, you are coding in a particular programming language, however, anyone who has coded for period of time will agree that most of our time is spent thinking through a particular approach to solving a problem. This is often figuring out how to connect to an API, a database table, a socket, etc.

Problem solving is a skill that is developed. None of us are born with fantastic problem solving skills, however, they can be developed and honed over time. Focusing on the logic behind the program code, especially when you are reviewing the code of others will help breakdown the approach and begin altering your thought process.

Version Control, Version control, Version Control

I cannot say this enough, version control. The only way to be effective both as an individual programmer and as a team programmer is to use version control tools. GitHub is a great start for your projects and if you are working for a company they should have some version control tool. These can include GitHub, Windows SVN Subversion, Apache SVN, and so on.

The steps for using version control are pretty consistent and LifeHacker has a great post on how to use GitHub here and they have a cheat sheet link here. It will take some practice to learn these tools and GitHub has a huge number of users and open projects to explore and learn from. In addition as you are learning your language I suggest working with GitHub as your personal source control tool, it is free for use as long as you are willing to keep your work public. If you want to set up a private environment you can purchase the capability.

Lifelong Learning

Of all of the professions technology is the one that requires the most consist lifelong learning construct from those who chose it. Information technology is dynamic and thus as a developer you should also evolve. Programming languages, software, and hardware are updated regularly and thus to remain relevant (employable) you will want to keep up with the changes in your field.

This does not mean memorization, rather you should have a good system for acquiring information and then cataloging it for future reference. Yes, this does require a knack for reading technical documentation, which can be “dry”.

Learning new languages, technologies, tools, and hardware will give you the ability to adapt to new opportunities and lead innovation in your organization. Grasping the essence of technology is what has enabled you to get to where you are today. Continue to embrace your curiosity and absorption of new information and you will be able to translate these new developments into your organization.

Learn to Quickly Consume Documentation

There are two types of documentation that I am referring to in my statement. The first, is the documentation you place inline while coding. Learning to effectively document your code is needed. I was, for the most part, a self-taught programmer and learned about the importance of documenting my code the hard way. I started out in finance and wrote budgeting systems, which we would rewrite every year and then leave alone for a year until the next budgeting process. Thus I started the new budgeting year and pulled out my code base to begin making the updates for the new season only to wonder what the heck was going on in my code. Effectively, losing critical development time to re-learn what I had already written. There are numerous articles written on how to document your code all of which are beyond the scope of this episode. You can start with stackexchange or stackoverflow.

The second, is documentation on how to do things in the code. It is impossible to memorize every aspect of a particular coding language, however, there is loads of documentation on every aspect of the coding language. Thus learning to quickly locate information will give you the ability to implement complex algorithms through the discovery of work already done on them. Every language has official documentation and then there are forums where you can search for specific needs or ask for help in solving complex questions. In episode #129 I identify numerous forums you can leverage as a programmer.

Accept Change

There is a saying that even the best plans do not survive the first encounter with the enemy. Thus you should be adaptable and flexible if you want to succeed. As I have already brought up, you will need to consume documentation, be a lifelong learner, use version control, communicate, and be problem solver. All of these relate to the need to accept change.

The most common refrain I hear when talking with business leaders is they want a flexible and adaptable organization to meet the emerging demands of the marketplace. As a programmer you will find that no matter how much testing you do and no matter how much testing your users do, when you officially roll into “production” things will change. These changes shouldn’t be critical, as in no one can get their work done, because that should have been tested for. However, often the real world problems can be missed no matter how effective your pre-development analysis was. People forget things and thus there will be capabilities missing when you deliver your code. This is no one’s fault it is a reality of the environments we work in. Thus it is important to accept that change will happen.

In the entrepreneurial space they have a term called minimum viable product (MVP). This is what you should work for knowing that market opportunities in the modern world are limited because without a doubt your organization is not the only one to have identified the potential. Thus getting to market and maximizing the benefit early can be a significant difference maker for your organization. Working with your business partners in this manner will deepen your relationship and improve overall performance. To get there you will have to accept a lack of perfection to gain a measure of speed.

Be Adaptable

Programmers will most often spend their time working in existing environments. This is as true for the Google, Facebook, and Twitter programmers as it is for the corporate programmers. In 100% of these environments you job will be to add a feature or fix a bug. You have to be able to work within the existing architecture and framework even if you can write a better one or there appears to be no rhyme or reason to it. I can say with certainty you will not get an opportunity to rebuild the entire system.

I still get programmers today who tell me they can write a better solution than the one we have or the one we are buying. My answer is always the same, “Then quit and go write the better system. When you have it I will buy it from you.” The answer I get in return is always the same aren’t you going to pay me to develop it? And the answer is no, that is why I am paying to buy a system or why we are using our current system, because it already exists. In the industry a system that solves all my problems and has yet to be built is called “Vaporware”.

If you want to be a great developer become adaptable and learn to make incremental improvements in existing systems and frameworks!

Be Creative

Finally, my last recommendation is to be creative. The most successful companies set aside time for developers to work on new projects that may or may not see the light of day. The reason we want our developers doing this is to provide them a creative outlet. Some of the best tools in the marketplace started out as side projects. If you are a programmer and you want to increase your value to your organization, take some personal time to explore for the sake of exploring and you may find you have invented the next great opportunity for your business.

In addition to setting aside time for personal creative time the use of hackathons is another creative outlet. A hackathon is an event that focuses on a specific problem for an intense couple of days to a week. Usually a number of graphic designers, interface designers, and software developers will come together and work on a software project. Venture capitalists tend to be the most common sponsors of these events though regular companies are adopting the idea more often as well. These events are powerful ways to develop new software and technologies and explore innovative ideas rapidly and at a fixed cost and time.

In Conclusion

Slinging buzz words, arguing frameworks, or languages was not my objective in this episode. There are numerous forums where we can argue the nuances of development environments. What I hope you take away is that programming is not just knowing the programming language, it is about solving business problems. Programming is a tool to get a job done, pick the right tool for the job and often that means working with the tools you already have in your repertoire. Yes, we have to continuously learn and grown, that is for your personal projects or the throw-away projects that solve point problems are for. Do not use your learning path to experiment with your organization’s mission critical systems. But do make time for having fun learning the new technologies and testing them with real business problems.


Photo credit: Iversen, Daniel. “Top Programming Languages.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 31 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.
Dachis, Adam. “How the Heck Do I Use GitHub?” Lifehacker. Lifehacker, 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.