Saturday, 27 December 2008

WikiLeaks - Oops!

Wikileaks is a very interesting little web site that came to my attention because of some sensitive documents that were leaked in/by South African affairs recently. Some very interesting cartoons, names and documents, from some the most ?unlikely? people and countries I would not have guessed at.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Disk Defragmentation Tool

Thank you Jaksa (my colleague) for this invaluable tip for a great Disk Defragmentation Tool! I've been a believer in defragmenting my hard disk drive on an annual or bi-annual basis (or major file system upheaval event) for many years.

The problem I started experiencing over the past 5 odd years, is that as my hard drives became bigger, "defragging" took longer and longer. Worse, the tool provided with Windows only works properly when 30% of the hard drive is available! Now 30% of 120MB is only 36MB and is not such a bad temporary sacrifice. 30% of 100GB is a huge sacrifice that I just cannot afford! Not on my development workstation, nor on my personal home machine(s)!!

Jaksa pointed in in the direction of independent evaluations listed on Donn Edwards' web site. Or you can simply download the winning defragmentation tool (JkDefrag) here.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Brain Rules

Brain Rules is quite a fun little web site that gives one possibly plausible explanation for how the human brain evolved over time and how it works for humans today. A collection of short entertaining videos and some writings.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 12

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 12 rule: Test your own site with multiple web browsers!

These days it takes just a few minutes to download and install different web browsing possilibities and I recommend you do it to test your own site. Nothing compares to a quick visual check that your web site still looks okay, or better, than doing so in a browser that you maybe do not often use.

Analyse your web traffic analysis reports to check which browsers account for 90-95% of your traffic and then make sure that 90-95% of the time your site renders/displays as you wish it to.

Also using your traffic analysis reports, you can verify which of your visitors turned into form submitters and became potential customers. Make sure your forms work correctly in their browsers before you publish changes!!

Reasoning:
1. It is just so darn tricky to know for sure that even if you are following the standards perfectly, the web browsers may not be. Best to check it out visually, using the tools that your clients use.
2. It is very quick and simple to do - so do it. You will also see your site in new ways that might lead to further design benefits.

And that is my Rule 12. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 11

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 11 rule: Do not use JavaScript for navigation effects, especially not dynamic menus

JavaScript is a small very powerful programming language for programming web sites in order to give them more functionality than is available in straight static HTML. It is a fantastic language from many perspectives that I will not go into on this entry. People use it to do form validations, image manipulation, dynamic menus and other miscellaneous bits that need to respond to whatever the visitor is doing, or where the visitor comes from in order for the visitor to have an interactive experience with the web site.

Read more about JavaScript at wikipedia.

I follow the mantra "Use as little JavaScript as possible, whilst still making the web site look good, and work well." I use CSS as much as possible to make it look good, and as little JavaScript as possible to provide a little tasteful motion, and to do some form validation in order to partially constrict the flood of the requests that could otherwise be submitted via the contact forms.

Reasoning:
1. Search engines can not follow dynamic Java Script menus, thus large parts of your site will go unindexed.
2. Your site will appear smaller and less important to the search engines when they rank you against your competitors.
3. Your site will appear badly organised and less usable to the search engines when they rank you against your competitors.
4. Different versions of browsers treat JavaScript differently, meaning even more testing and "fiddling" in order to get your JavaScript to work correctly and consistently across all your targetted browsers.

And that is my Rule 11. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Getting around in a "locked down" environment

I probably should not really be blogging this little entry, but I just can't help myself! Please continue reading or using these little details at your own peril.

Recently I discovered myself in a "locked down" environment, yet I still had a tonne of software to install, and I desperately needed it installed "today" rather than after 1 month. (the contract in this case was for this primary purpose - installations, configurations and support) (something completely different to what I've been doing for many years now, but not so different from what I was doing 10 odd years ago, so I had the skills)

My first step in any new site is to meet as many people as I can, and then to make friends with those that I desperately need, in the order that I need them. It is a hard cold fact, and they know it, and I know it. I am ... for want of a better word ... using them. By doing this though, I suddenly start avoiding official processes, official documents filled out in triplicate, and actually get things done rather quickly. Which makes me look good, compared to the rule followers.

So with enough friends on my side, around day 2, I learned 1 useful tidbit about the so-called "locked down environment".... it is not so locked down as made out to be. Thanks to XP's security model, the thing that really enforces lockdown policies is done via LDAP ... when you login or logout of the domain.

And again, with enough friends on my side, I managed to secure just a slightly better than completely useless level of workstation usage. And here comes the fun bit. Many of the GUI widgets for changing a workstation are stripped out of your view, and some that could not be stripped throw you an error message if you try to access them.

So ... you find the command line equivalent and use that instead. No security to stop you. Thank goodness for XP! I have no idea what I'll do if I find myself in a Vista or better security modelled domain with the same deadlines - probably make even more friends instead, and take them to the pub every other lunch!

Here are the 4 that I am using frequently:

regedit - reg.exe
Data Sources (ODBC) - odbcad32.exe
RemoteDesktop - mstsc.exe
Add/Remove programs - MSIexec

I am sure there are others, but fortunately I have not needed more than these so far!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 10

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 10 rule: Create a web site/shortcut icon

This is one of the simplest and most overlooked goodies in a web site's "bag of tricks"!

Ever wonder why some web sites have a little icon in the address bar? For instance the little white-on-orange background "B" in the address bar right now? It is because they have created a "favicon.ico" in the root of their web directory. Not only is it displayed by the browser in the address bar when your visitor visits, but if the visitor bookmarks it, it is displayed in the bookmark view as well - which makes your site stand out from all the others without favicon.ico's! (and vice-versa, makes your site stand out stand out negatively, if all the others do)

The favicon.ico's that I have created were all based on the old specification of 16x16 pixels in the icon format. These days it is possible to use bigger images, with different formats, but I am still preferring the older specification as it is a very small overhead for your visitor and whatever old browser they may be using 5 years from now. Read more on wikipedia's Favicon entry!

Reasoning:
1. This is more a marketing and branding tool/optimisation than a search engine optimisation. It is extremely subtle in the world of too many messages and by using it, you have an opportunity to reinforce your company/site's brand in the visitor's mind - a very good thing. In the world of marketing, brand awareness is key - no one is going to buy "you" if they don't even "know you" - so first seek to build awareness, then start your "trust campaign".
2. It looks professional and is becoming expected these days
3. And a reminder waiting for each bookmarker is a great place to be

And that is my Rule 10. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 9

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 9 rule: Use these 9 Meta Tags

These are probably "over kill" as far as Meta Tag usage is concerned, but I prefer this approach to lesser, until I learn something concrete that differs from my experience which has seen some rapid and sustained visitor rate growth where I applied them.

Place Meta Tags in all of your page header sections. There are smart tools for generating the content-related ones, but it is better if they fit into your whole marketing and supporting web site design approach, making them very manageable in a manual way on static web sites. On dynamic, use a clever algorithm to assist you in carefully crafted statements.

Make sure the web page content, including words, links, image names - everything where you can specify text, all aligns with the Keywords, Description and Abstract Meta Tags!

<META name="Keywords" content="[5 comma separated keywords that are present at least twice or more on the page!]">

<META name="Description" content="[enter a short statement containing as many of the keywords as possible]">

<META name="Date" content="[last update date]">
- NOT STRICTLY meta tag legitimate or required but I use it to track the date I last made a change to the page - and use this date to facilitate track which page version search engines have in their cache

<META name="abstract" content="[enter a short statement containing as many of the keywords as possible, possibly reusing the Description meta tag]">

<META name="revisit-after" content="[a number that is tuned to the amount of maintenance you do on the site - initially I use 7 because I perform so much tuning and generally I roll out content in a staged approach to ensure high quality and maintain control over the site's visitor growth] days">

<META name="rating" content="general">
- there are a number of options here for instance "adult", but I only use general

<META name="next" content="[choose or use your site metrics to research the next web page from your site that most visitors normally go to]">
- some web browsers (Firefox) will pre-cache the html page you specify here, making the user experience of your web site seem quicker, if they actually follow your "directions". Very difficult to get right without careful web site design, and if wrong actually wastes your visitors' bandwidth and makes their internet experience slower unnecessarily.

<META name="robots" content="index,follow">
- instruct search engines to index this web page, and follow all links on the page
- in the old days of restricted bandwidth, and depending on what I was marketing on the site, I would instruct the search engine to "noindex"

<META content="text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1">
- very important to clarify to the web browsers what the page content is, and which character set is intended otherwise some foreign visitors could end up with strange symbols unintentionally, making your web site difficult to use

Reasoning:
1. By using Meta Tags at all the search engines will rank you higher
2. By using the correctly completed Meta Tags, the search engines will rank you even higher
3. They should repeat your key messages you are trying to convey to your visitors - they serve as a check point for detecting if your message is clear and the page is correctly aligned to achieve maximum impact at the search engines AND visitors
4. Search engine spiders, web crawling bots, web caching servers and even web site blocker software use the tags in their "decision" software to decide whether to analyse, cache, or allow the page to be displayed.

And that is my Rule 9. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Light Motivational Relief

Despair.com for wonderful miscellaneous motivational posters and sayings....all twisted into a very cynical viewpoint. It is a really good laugh!

Friday, 15 August 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 8

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 8 rule: Register on Web Directories

Web Directories are huge databases of links and brief descriptions of web sites, and usually are maintained by actual humans. They are not Search Engines, but in some ways they are similar because they try to get (encourage web masters/site owners) to register on them so that they become ever bigger repositories of information that is similar to library catalogues.

To be accepted, your site needs to be up to a certain standard - which is a good thing! The editors of these Web Directories see 1000's of sites and it should be reassuring to you that someone has assessed your application form, and your web site, and found you/your idea/your web site acceptable to the rest of the world!

For more up to the date information of the Web Directories, access wikipedia's List of Web Directories and get registered everywhere suitable!

Your time is obviously limited and therefore over time it is apparent that in general the most important one is the Open Directory Project. Be very careful to select the right categorisation for your web site. VERY CAREFUL! Like all good information clustering, and all good search engine ranking systems, things need to be as aligned as possible for optimal benefit. Be as specific with your categorisation as possible, and make sure your web site is reflecting that profile!!

Reasoning:
1. All of the major search engines use the web directories as a starting point for their "entire web crawl".
2. Search engines rate sites that are reviewed by real human editors of various Web Directories and accepted in them, quite highly.
3. Search engines will use the web directory classification of your web site to create a cluster for your site, and clustered information/sites rank more highly than complete "unknowns" for search engines.
4. While you are registering, and you are accepted, you will find competitor web sites that you can examine for marketing insights.
5. After you are accepted, it should be possible for you to form alliances (link swap) with some of the other sites registered in the same area, or in similar but alternate categories of the web directory - a very good thing!

And that is my Rule 8. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Monday, 4 August 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 7

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 7 rule: Use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to configure your site's look and feel and store in separate files

Most of the target audience of these rules I am writing up, commission web sites from friends, or friend-of-friends, or recommendations of small web site development shops ... who don't seem to know, or know enough about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

The basics are that with your CSS stored in a separate file, you can edit the look and feel of your entire web site, without having to know much about what you are doing. CSS is a very simple and easy to understand configurable set of options for which there are a large number of cheap (and free even) tools to help you make your site exactly the way you would like - independently of some technical person. (I once taught a very busy CEO just enough about CSS for him to take ownership of that aspect of his 1000 page web site!). You name the different sets something useful which makes them easier to use throughout your site such as "ProductDescription".

People who implement web sites typically are more interested in the underlying functionality and more technical aspects than about how pretty it looks, or how well it matches the site owner's evolving branding efforts. By making use of CSS, anyone can be placed in charge of actually experimenting and figuring out ideal combinations of colours and font styles, text sizes, margins, borders and spacings that work in harmony together to create a truly unique and excellent user web experience.

To see what you can do with CSS's, have a look at The CSS Zen Garden. This site contains beautiful samples of completely different CSS competitive entries for the same web page...and it is completely amazing with what the entrants have come up with - radical differences!

In some ways this CSS rule is related to my rule 5: Comply with web standards - html as CSS's are also governed by W3C standards! You can teach yourself about them by following the CSS Tutorials from the W3C.

And, because there is a standard for them, the W3C have once again provided an online checking facility for you to use to validate your own, or your supplier's efforts: simply submit your HTML or CSS web document to the Online Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) Checker.

Reasoning:
1. With CSS you can evolve really really very good looking web sites! It is almost impossible to get a web site perfect in just 1 attempt!
2. Anyone can configure and maintain them - making your site's look and feel very easy to update and preferably maintained by someone who really cares!
3. Separate your CSS definitions from your HTML web pages by placing them in separate files that you include in your header tags. Web browsers cache the CSS definition files and thus your HTML pages are smaller, easier to maintain, faster to download and even more focussed for search engine optimisation strategies.
4. By using CSS's it is possible to test updates of the look and feel against the production web site without having to go live first! It is possible to configure modern web browers to use alternatve CSS definition files against any web site!

And that is my Rule 7. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

3 Keys to Getting Your Projects Under Control

I had a little free time over lunch so I browsed on over to to the latest CIO articles quickly and came across a series of three that I quite enjoyed: "Three Keys to Getting Your Projects Under Control"

Part 1 (Plug Leaks)
Part 2 (Have an Idea)
Part 3 (Go Granular)

The series attracted my attentions as I recently attended the BCS miniSPA event which is a summary of the 6 most highly voted sessions from the real SPA event held in March earlier this year.

At the miniSPA, I attended Marina Haase's workshop on Best Practices for Finding your way into new Projects - quickly....

Other than the ?obviously huge? amount of good ideas that attendees put forward during the individual brainstorming slot, Marina also introduced us, during the group work, to Analogy/Metaphorical Brainstorming techniques which I had heard about and practiced a little privately on some problems, but never in a group. The effects were pretty amazing and I definitely recommend you find out more about the technique and try it!

Edward De Bono also promotes using analogies for creative thinking in his books on Lateral Thinking and The 6 Thinking Hats. Although he advocates random selection techniques for the selection of the scenario that needs to pull/generate ideas.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 6

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 6 rule: Find valuable reciprocal link partners, manage them and the relationship!

The reason why it is called the World Wide Web rather that the World Wide Collection of Islands - the connections/links between web sites! It is most important that you get your site connected, and preferably with partners that you treat as the valuable partners they should be, provided you choose wisely!

A good process is to scour the internet for sites that meet your criteria, and then make contact with their web master very politely. This is hard work and you will need to approach each target, depending on the target, with a customised strategy.

You will need to manage those that you find as potentials, those that you have tried to contact and are waiting for a respone, those that rejected you, and those that accepted you, for a long time. I used a spreadsheet that I updated every time I found a useful looking partner, and once per month or every three, I would actually do the work of checking links and emailing web masters.

The problem with those web sites/masters that accept you, is that you need to check back on them from time to time to ensure that they have not dropped you silently (and are thus receiving web visitors from you, for free). It is very bad practice when this happens. Another reason you need to check is that sometime web sites are sold, or change focus....and the changed focus is not something you wish to be associated with.

You can (and should regularly anyway, for your internal links will change forever) use the W3C (remember the W3C from my Web Site Optimisation Rule 5?) Online Link Checker. Simply enter the page name you would like to check for broken links.

I have used Xenu Link Sleuth in the past, which is easy to use, easy to install, and very fast to run! And it is free!

Reasoning:
1. Reality - Even though you build it - no one is going to come ... by random chance! Links are what makes the WWW work. If you want to be a part of the working WWW, you have to be a part. :)
2. Brand awareness - You have to be in the "market place" for potential visitors to even know you exist. In the online world, this means you need to be seen, and preferably with the right people!
3. Information clustering, horizontal - People looking for particular kinds of web sites tend to look for them! By this I mean they will follow any potential link that looks similar to what they are looking for, at that moment in time. So if your site is focussed on selling bananas, you should like to link up with related sites that might be focussed on selling other fruits. Depending on what you're selling, you may wish to actually link to other sites selling bananas - especially if your regions do not overlap!
4. Information clustering, vertical - Similar to horizontal, but this time looking for upstream/downstream (vertical) industry partners. So the banana farmers, the distributors, the retailers. Each of these partners could tell a very good story to their web site visitors - imagine a visitor to the "farm's site" following a link to the "distributor's site" and then to your site, and buying bananas from you!
5. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) - The more links that are pointing to your site, the better your SEO ranking will be - thus giving you a better chance at appearing earlier in the search results for instance Google would return to queries that match your site. Combining this reason with the Information Clustering reasons, and you have an even more powerful effect that you will benefit from!
6. Market space - By following how visitors find you, and where they go from your site, you will get a better idea of your online market space. If it does not match what you expect or want, then, using reciprocal links, you can shift your online market space more favourably towards where you want it to be.
Rarely. New source of income - Check your reports to see which of your reciprocal link partners are more valuable to you, and which you are more valuable to them - perhaps, if the volumes of traffic you direct to the other site(s) are truly massive, you can even establish a new (small) source of income.

And that is my Rule 6. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Scaling Software Agility by Dean Leffingwell

Dean is the former founder and CEO of Requisite Inc, responsible for the Requirements Gathering and Analysis Tool: Requisite Pro. It seems like his vast experience from startup to merging with IBM has touched on a number of key software development issues and he is now consulting very successfully and writing good books!

I picked up Scaling Software Agility at a book store/stall at SPA 2008 as it seemed to have a couple of new things to say, or at least say them in new ways - and I was very pleased with my choice!

I believe there is something for everyone in this book - wether you are new to agile or an experienced practitioner. The book touches on a number of topics and leads you from brief "beginner" chapters through to more interesting ones that are very relevant in today's software development arena - the scaling of agility.

Things that stand out in my memory of this book are the application of valuable software quality and management metrics, and the many strategies that Dean suggests can be used to counter the arguments typical organisational "police" will use to counter the attempt to "go [more] agile" and potentially inadvertently lead to "acceptable failure" or worse, "death march".

Usually corporations do not react to the infiltration of agile practices as they are kept within [small] team perimeters, thereby "flying under the radar". If you have a requirement to scale agile, then by definition you clearly have more people and teams that you are concerned about. There is more visibility and attention from the people who might strategically oppose the changes they do not understand, and/or department(s) or programme(s) it is being attempted in - key strategic people that you never previously even knew existed, nor what their concerns were, are now watching your every move.

amazon.co.uk



amazon.com




Why I recommend Scaling Software Agility:
Reason 1: Part 1 covers the essentials of Agile, Waterfall, XP, RUP, Scrum, Lean Software, DSDM, FDD in 85 pages!
Reason 2: Part 2 follows with more depth about the 7 Agile Practices that work: Agile Component Team, Agile Planning and Tracking, Iterations, Small Frequent Releases, Agile Testing, Continuous Integration, Retrospectives.
Reason 3: The 7 practices Dean recommends for Scaling Agile:
- "Intentional Architecture": Approaches on how to tackle large software systems with Agile Architecture
- "Scalable Lean Requirements": Three simple topics that avoid analysis-paralysis failure mode: vision, roadmap and just-in-time (JIT) elaboration
- "Systems of Systems and the Agile Release Train": how to plan, and deliver, complex software components with interdependencies
- "Managing Highly Distributed Development": It is very difficult, and is a problem all successful software programmes face. Sooner or later the team is too big to fit in 1 room, on 1 floor, of 1 building, of 1 city, of 1 country. Inevitably practices have to be developed that can assist software that is developed by many different people, in different locations
- "Impact on Customers and Operations": How marketing, or product owners, or programme owners, will be convinced that Agile is a good thing for them
- "Changing the Organisation": How to address the arguments and fallacies that the corporate immune system is going to throw around as things become more agile
- "Measuring Business Performance": Real, usable, useful management metrics that can be used to control and manage large scale [agile] software development efforts

Building Scalability and Achieving Performance

This is a short and very useful read on scaling architectures - InfoQ got 3 key architects with backgrounds in Twitter, eBay and Betfair to share their experiences, some approaches they take, and some tool recommendations. Practical advice! Building Scalability and Achieving Performance.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 5

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!


My number 5 rule: Comply with the web standards - html

It is pretty amazing to me that there are many "professional" web site developers that do not know that there is actually a consortium of key organisations behind a set of standards for the technologies and protocols used on the internet. The World Wide Web Consortium (w3c) has created, ratified and published standards for HTML and related protocols for years and years!

For the purposes of web sites, in the past, I standardised web pages on an intermediate/transitional standard (HTML 4.01 Transitional Specification) as web browsers I was testing with (Opera, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Netscape) generally rendered (displayed) the intended result as I designed/implemented or acceptably close to that (or the client's requirement).

While researching this entry, I noticed that the W3C have just released an "Editor's Draft" of the latest specification on 17 July 2008. Check it out at HTML 5. I would not consider standardising on this one just yet though.

So how do you know if your web developer has even attempted to create standards compliant web pages or web site for you? You could do it the hard way - use your browser's functionality to view the HTML source of your web page and look for the "DOCTYPE" tag on the first line, for example:
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">

But verifying that your page is supposed to be complying with one of the standards is not good enough! The wonderful W3C provide very useful and usable online Quality Assurance tools! Use the HTML Validator - simply enter the page name you would like to validate (your page has to be publicly accessible), and see what results you get back!

Alternatively there is a little program you can run, also via the W3C, that will give the same results. It is freely available, and its name is "tidy" or "HTML tidy". It actually is running behind the scenes of the online W3C HTML Validator link above! You can get information and download details from here.

I recommend, if you are interested (this is not difficult actually), that you get a little training in the subject matter! Again the W3C delivers and you can follow the W3 Schools Online Web Tutorials!

Reasoning:
1. If your web pages comply with the standard, the greater the chance that your site will render as you intend in your visitors' different browsers - an excellent idea!
2. If your web pages comply with the standard, the greater the chance that your site will be scraped by the search engine bots - a very good thing!
3. If your pages are NOT COMPLIANT, your search engine RANKINGS will be NEGATIVELY AFFECTED - a VERY BAD thing!
4. If your pages are NOT COMPLIANT, they will take longer to render in a browser as the browser will do its best to guess at correcting the page and this takes extra processing time - a VERY BAD thing!
5. By complying with the standard, you gain tool and developer freedom should you one day decide to maintain your site in a different tool or by a different developer (no lock-in) - a good thing.

And that is my Rule 5. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Ethical Office Politics

I have been meaning to read this article for about a month now, and finally got the time this morning! Adrian, the author of the article, covers quite a few topics throughout the piece and I found it an insightful and well thought out argument.
Ethical Office Politics

I think he does a good job of most of the issues I have studied, heard about, thought about and/or experienced.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 4

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 4 rule: Analyse your site traffic

If you are hosting your site at a basic web hosting ISP, you should have been supplied at least a basic (or advance) traffic reporting system. Use the system! Figure out what reports are useful (I will also be providing some of my ideas in this post) and monitor them!

If you do not have the luxury of being supplied with a traffic reporting system to help you with your analysis, then I recommend using Google Analytics. It is free and does give you quite a bit of useful basic information, and it is all accessible online. There is however the issue of privacy, but this is something that every responsible person should evaluate for themselves and decide on - I am not getting into that debate here!

Inbetween the easy, the free, and the raw examination of the log files, you have a range of commercial tools that will process your raw log files and present them as very very sophisticated and valuable reports! Personally I am not going to recommend any of them as my exposure is very limited, and also, if you're planning on using these tools yourself, you've probably moved into a "NON Basics of Web Site Optimisation" categorisation. :)

The final option is to actually take the raw web server log files and read them. As insane as this may appear at first glance, they are actually fairly interpretable, although you have the high risk of "not being able to see the wood for all the trees" - you may be overwhelmed! You will need some non-basic editor and ability to do complex searches, and regular expression based searches are a real win!

The kinds of reports these tools, or this analysis provides you with are listed below in my reasoning section.

Reasoning:
1. How else are you able to run little experiments with different pages, with different site structures, with different little things you are going to do, unless you can measure and verify the effect?
2. Visitors - daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. NOT VISITS! Visitors are physical entities (people or webbots) looking at your site. VISITS gives you an indication of how exciting they found your site, but not a good one
3. Bounce Rate - how many people found your site and instantly did not like and left. Gives you an indication that your Search Engine Optimisation strategy might be bringing you the wrong visitors, or that you should change your content to give these visitors something to stick around for!
4. Average Time on Site - is interesting. Search engine web bots normally "read" a lot faster than humans, but they are coded these days to be "sensitive" to the web server and act more like a human reader. But keep an eye on the average trend and work out if your pages are too long or complicated.
5. Pages/Visit - anything greater than 1 is good obviously. Compare this figure with the Average Time on Site though and again work out how fast or slow your visitors are reading. Check what your market is. Make sure it is consistent to have people reading detailed technical information slowly and carefully, versus quick brochure type information which can be gleaned in seconds, especially if there are "pretty pictures"
6. Top Content - monitor your top 10 pages, or top 20% of all your pages. Make sure 80% of your traffic is going to them. Make sure most of your best income-spinners are on these pages. Do not ever ever ever "break" these - everyone loves them, the search engines love them. Be VERY CAREFUL with them
7. Top Landing Pages - check that your new pages fall into this list as well as your Top Content
8. Top Exit Pages - it may make sense for you to think about deleting some of the really bad pages you have, except if you actually have had sales from them or need them to compete in a "me too" market place
9. Keywords - of course! How are people finding your site - give them more of what they want, or change the pages you have in order to make them more findable by searchers. This is in effect your market place competitive effort - make sure you are attracting your intended market with your offering! Alternatively (or additionally) identify an under-served market niche you are already attracting customers for, and could easily move into potentially. (there will be some rules about this in the future)
10. All Traffic Sources - here you want to compare the traffic you get directly (people who know and love you or are recommended to your site by their friends), versus your top "reciprocal link partners", versus your top search engine traffic suppliers. Make sure you have balanced your risks. Search engines change algorithms all the time and you could be dropped for periods. Same with link partners. And if you are not getting any direct traffic - you should definitely do some more off line marketing and public relations campaigning - think about loyalty clubbing and newsletters, etc!
11. Where your visitors are geographically dispersed - make sure your target region is correctly reflected as it is no good attracting visitors from Timbaktu if you are trying to sell items in London (and vice-versa) etc.
12. New Visitor versus Returning Visitor - new is always good - you are getting new traffic and new potential customers. Returning is very important though - this is your loyalty and/or "love" factor. If you are not getting "repeat business" then you are doing something very wrong potentially - it depends on what you are using your web site for though. Check how many pages the repeaters view, how much time they spend, and compare against your new visitors. Get a feeling for your "market"
All of these reports are about trend analysis. It is not useful to get excited or depressed about a spot measurement you do randomly. You need to see the changes over time! There are times however, once you become very familiar with your traffic patterns (eg you know when the Google web spider indexes your site), when spot analysis can get exciting - eg you just timed and launched a new section of your site and Google has finally located it and is indexing it. (believe me this is exciting if your site is dynamic and you just published 800 new pages, on an existing 100 page site...)
13. Use combinations of the above reports to check how many times your enquiry form was opened, check how many times it was submitted, check how many visitors and repeat visitors you had, check how many new visitors actually submitted on their first visit (rare, but does occur)

With a bit of thought and enquiry monitoring in your office, and the above reports, you should be able to verify where your income is actually coming from. Many people are very surprised to learn the truth. Make sure you know!

There are many more reports, and combinations of statistics you can look at - it all depends on what your needs are. These above I find sufficient for mine usually, and most small to medium businesses I have helped in the past can use them to improve their offering, to improve their processing, to improve their web site, and above all to improve their business.

And that is my Rule 4. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Best Practice Applied In Wrong Context - Example 1

A friend of mine was ranting the other day. He had just done an iteration retrospective with his development team wherein they took a look at their quality metrics and discovered that "quality" had actually dropped off even though his team had spent more time than ever before on the client's official Quality Process.

I discussed this further with him and we agreed that quality is a mostly subjective concept when it comes to software ... we agreed that it can't be objectively meaasured ... we agreed that it can't be artificially injected "to meet the required metric" ... we agreed that it is something that Software Quality Assurers infer based on monitoring the various metric trends that make sense in the particular environment/context that the software is being developed in/for.

So with all this agreeance I asked him to explain further.

This story is probably a symptom of why I think there is so much cynism in the software industry. Read on if you dare!

It turns out that the client has a well worked out, well defined Quality Process that they are extremely happy with. This Process is guaranteed to prevent massive loss of life/income/spiralling out of control costs/etc etc - you can imagine why a large company invests huge amounts of time and money in creating a bullet proof Quality Process: manage risk, whatever that risk is.

Okay ... so why is my friend ranting? His team followed the process, passed a bunch of procedural milestones apparently and everyone was happy. Yet when he and his team look at the metrics they defined for how they measure quality, they noticed that the number of issues had risen, that some important tests had not been run early enough in the iteration to find issues that they could then respond to before the end of iteration. There were known open issues, and there issues that were addressed, but had not been signed off. There was wastage accumulating that had not been a problem before.

How did this happen? The people whose responsibility it was to run the tests, to provide the early feedback had been too busy ensuring the team met the Quality Process requirements - they had been documenting, and reviewing and getting documentation reviewed and spending a large amount of time away from the product they were responsible for delivering. They were going on a tangent from users' needs.

And it showed.

There is no happy ending here - key client representatives (project stakeholders, but not users) have to ensure that their organisation's process is followed. Even if they know, and everyone else knows, that the process is not adding value, and that indeed, as above, the process is actually diminishing value. And it appears often that several times a group of client representatives need to experience failure and pain before they will attempt to address a badly formulated, or in the example above, placed, process. Sometimes, regrettably, these lessons are learned during retrenchment phases.

Yuck!

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 3

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 3 rule: Choose or move to a good web site/domain name

Reasoning:
1. A great deal of emphasis is placed on web site / domain names by search engines when they rank your site
2. A great site name is easy for visitors to remember, to type, to tell their friends about, and their friends will also be able to spell!
3. A great name does not get easily confused with another site
4. Choose carefully when choosing .com or .co.uk/.za/.ch/.etc! Where are your visitors? What are you providing? Where would your visitors EXPECT you to be? Your domain name suffix also sets up expectations for visitors who do not know you at all and are trying to distinguish you from your millions of competitors!
5. Similar to my previous rule regarding good page and sub-directory names, the closer to English and your "market speak" your site name is, the better it will do, eg, bad:
http://www.baddayatwork.com, versus
good:
http://www.good-day-at-beach.com
6. Try and make sure each of your web pages' content somehow relates to your domain name - you do this by either creating very small web sites that are very focussed, or by choosing broader domain names that can be more easily applied to the different types of content on each page
7. One day when you busy swapping links with valuable online partners, the closer your domain name is aligned with theirs (or broad enough) the better it will be,
eg, bad:
valuable partner's site is all about pencils, eg http://www.pencils.com, your site is named:
http://www.erasers.com, versus
good:
http://www.pencil-erasers.com
best:
When the search engines look back from pencils.com to your pencil-erasers.com and vice-versa, they will identify a cluster of related sites, and thus rank both your sites higher!

As a final note - it does matter, and it does not matter what domain name you eventually choose. But in the initial stages it helps to have a good one. After your site is well known, after you are receiving enough enquiries as you can cope with, then it really does not matter. How many sites have "bad" names yet are now household names - yahoo, google - these are not (or were not) common English words before they became very well known web sites! And in my industry it is common for the "guru's" to create site names based on the concatenation of their first and last names - just look at the list I read on the right of this page to see what I mean!

And that is my Rule 3. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 2

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 2 rule: Good page & sub-directory names

Reasoning:
1. What is "good"? Good is quite hard to explain concisely. It is a collection of decisions that combine to effectively target your audience, as well as search engine spiders. "Good" should align as closely as possible to how your target audience would think, and how they would submit keywords and phrases in order to find your content, in order to find what you are offering. This is very hard to do - there is a branch of study called "Information Architecture" that is working on this, as are the real search engine scientists. It is simplist for me to illustrate with clear examples..

2. Examples of bad names:
http://your.site.com/i.html
http://your.site.com/b/a/d.html
http://your.site.com/bestpracticeagilesoftwaredevelopment.html
http://your.site.com/agilesoftwaredevelopmentbestpractice.html

3. Examples of good names:
http://your.site.com/best-practice/agile-software-development.html
http://your.site.com/agile-software-development/best-practice.html

4. I chose the good example carefully as I also wanted to illustrate some of the subtleties involved in choosing good names. And this is where Competitive Advantage and a bit of luck truly takes its course. I can imagine someone using a search engine would enter things like:
"best practice for agile software development"
"best practices of agile software development"
as well as
"agile software development best practice"
"agile software development best practices"

Depending on your research, depending on how you interact with your industry, depending on how you speak to your clients and how they in turn speak to you, these are factors that determine how you should name your pages and sub-directories. Of course, if you have a new web site, and you have not had much exposure to your target client base, then you are playing the guessing game, which is okay! Do not panic - make sure that you realise that, and reduce your risk by running experiments and monitoring the results! (see my previous rule about how to measure your web site ROI very simply)

5. Did you notice above that I also replaced the spaces in potential search phrases with "-" in my page and sub-directory names? As much as possible your web site structure must reflect natural language usage....

6. Did you also notice that well chosen sub-directories quickly give visitors insight into what other content might be in a particular sub-directory? Make sure your themes in each of your well structured sub-directories are consistent. Consistency, relating things that are similar, linking them, and linking to external related sites and external related sites linking back to your pages are things that all add up and count in your search engine rating against your competitor web sites. (synergy!)

And that is my Rule 2. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Monday, 7 July 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 1

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 1 rule: No email addresses on the web site

Reasoning:
1. SPAM, SPAM, and more SPAM. Any email address on the web site, which is not sitting on some kind of island (most people with a web site actually want to be found...right?), will be picked up by the email scraper web bots that spammers (or their suppliers) use and will subsequently be mail-bombed by them (even though it is illegal)
2. If it happens to be a personal email address, then frequently all the above spamming, or other events such as the person being on leave, or being absent, or leaving the company, will result in potentially very important emails lying in an Inbox for an unacceptable amount of time, and result in a bad image of the company (unacceptable web time is getting less and less almost daily it seems - I would say 1/2 hour these days is pushing the limit for modern web users). The result of closing a spammed-to-death email address account is also a very painful IT process, especially if it is tied to the user's LAN account as frequently is the case.
3. If it happens to be a organisational email address (eg info, help, request), this is slightly better than number 2 above, at least more than 1 (non-administrator) person can access the account should they need to, and such "1 way" email accounts can be created and deleted and easily replaced as they become spammed-to-death.

So what is the better way? I recommend using a standard HTML form (or a handful of them, as per your needs - based on the categorisation of queries that you are hoping will be submitted via your site)

Reasoning:
1. Forms, via the web server behind them, can be set up to email a organisational email address very easily - same benefit as having an email address on the site!
2. You can put a few very simple fields on the form that will help with eventual processing of the query (very useful once things start getting busier, trust me I have a couple of T-shirts on this one - things, if they go as planned, get very busy much quicker than someone can be found to assist!)
3. You can add some very lightweight validation to the form to assist clients to give you the information you need in as few correspondences as possible (again, the busier you get, the less time you have for this, the more time clients need to wait between first submission, and final conclusion)
4. Forms can be submitted by anyone who is browsing your site, whereas email facilities might not be available to someone browsing your site from their phone, internet cafe, library, free kiosk for instance
5. Many people are using web based email accounts these days, and it requires some effort to get your email address over into their web mail client
6. The fastest way to actually get a client to submit something usable to you has to be a competitive advantage - fewer distractions, fewer potential glitches, fewer context switches, fewer Window switches, etc!
7. You get automatic Return On Investment (ROI) tracking as forms can have unique names, and submitted forms can also have unique names. This allows you, by hand, or with basic web traffic reporting systems, to see how many visitors (not visits!) your web site received, how many times your enquiry form was opened (= number of people who considered sending you a query) and compare those figures with how many actually submitted the form - how many times the submitted form was opened. (= visitors that wanted to become your client). e.g.: 1000 visitors, enquiry form opened 100 times, submission form opened 10 times would mean that 1% of your traffic resulted in sales leads. Possible interpretations would be that SEO is attracting the wrong kind of visitor, and/or the enquiry form is too difficult to be used or does not inspire sufficient confidence to be submitted, etc.
8. In all online systems I have worked with or advised, there is always a manager who also wants to have some idea of the amount of work coming in, and how quickly it is processed, and an ability to be able to do something if something goes wrong. Forms can be posted to multiple email addresses - or the email server can create backups and/or copies - all online, all at the manager's finger tips: in his/her Inbox (or rule-based sub folder)
9. The email server can also send auto-responses to the client so long as an email address is entered into a field that can be easily processed (this is good as the potential client will then give you more time than average to follow up with a real response, especially if you send the vital information that the submitted form has been received, will be processed, as soon as possible, between office hours of 8:00 to 18:00 GMT+2, for instance) (and thank you for your submission, we appreciate you, very very very much! thank you, thank you, and by the way, here is another backup email address you can reply to if you do not hear anything within 1 working day, quoting this reference number) (the email server and/or script doing the emailing can also generate the reference tracking number for you)

Nice, I think. This approach has always worked very well for me. Perhaps for you to.

What to do if you absolutely still must have an email address on the web site? And, to be honest, everyone using the forms method above, still does..
1. Create a tidy image of an organisational address, and use that instead
2. It is possible to get "clever" with some javascript to essentially fake or provide the user with a clickable html version of the email address on demand which spam bots can't get to, or less "clever" to generate and then paste into their email client. (there are plenty of places to download and customise such scripts or any javascript programmer could put it together (or download it) for you in a few minutes)

That's the way I do it. There is another way some use:
3. Obfuscate (lightly scramble) the email address so that the scraper-bots can not detect that it is an email address and use that. People try all sorts of techniques, but I am unsure how effective they really are - eg joeATsoapDOTcom, joeRemoveThis@soapRemoveThisToo.com

And that is my Rule 1. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

Wabi-sabi

I stumbled onto "wabi-sabi" and thought "Yes!" that's a new saying for me, that would fit in nicely with this blog! It has apparently even been used in Agile and Wiki discussions! (no guessing where I found it!)

According to dear wikipedia on the matter, it has Japanese origin. According to the entry, a 'Richard R. Powell' summarized its meaning by saying "[wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."'

Furthermore, the deeper meaning is also expressed by 'Andrew Juniper' as "if an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi."

I like it!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Cool way of visualising Eclipse's history

Here is a little video visualising the various Eclipse players over the years checking source files, documents and images into the repository. It makes for a few minutes interesting viewing! Eclipse Code Swarm (short version)

Monday, 23 June 2008

What does it really take to secure a chip-n-pin debit card?

I've just had my second chip-n-pin debit card blacklisted within a year due to failed overseas fraudulent cash withdrawal attempts!

The fraudsters are stealing enough of my highly secure chip details, plus identifying my darn PIN when I enter it (VERY) carefully. Luckily for me, I have not changed many of the places that I normally use chip-n-pin in the past year so I have to only stop using it at 2 large trusted and very popular retailers, 1 local convenience retailer, and 2 places where I occassionally get food.

My instinct at the moment is that the theft is occurring inside 1 of the 3 retailers. Lovely stuff!

It occurs to me that the only thing left to do, is not to use chip-n-pin anywhere but at a highly secure ATM, and the cashier inside a bank, on a floor or two above ground!!

But what I don't fully understand is that it seems the thieves are happy to walk away with just 1 entry per location per day/week/month, thereby leaving the bank investigators no pattern that they can use to crack these networks. And these networks must be very well connected with some tiny electronic goodies, some fairly secure channels of communicating with each other in some non-pattern-recognisable manner, and some even more intricate chip programming and card producing facilities. There must surely be some way of looking at enough of the data the banks hold on these things and discovering some patterns - humans are just not capable of not having patterns!

Anyway, whatever the banks are doing so far is working - they apparently rejected these 2 withdrawal attempts due to the fact that they were not consistent with my usage pattern.

Hmmm ... "pattern" has now come up 4 times in this entry. Perhaps the recommendation for chip-n-pin users is actually: create a distinct very small pattern of usage - I do not believe at this time that the law will stop the thiefs, and it is only a matter of time before they're generating all the valid numbers and PINs they can dream of (maybe they already are...then I can actually use mine again!!??!?).

Grrrr!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Some Peter Drucker Management/Leadership/Society Ideas

I stumbled on this 5 Things William Cohen Has Learned from Peter Drucker CIO "taster" article a couple of days ago and realised that now is the time when people are going to start talking less and less about what Peter Drucker used to say and what he used to stand for.

From my perspective, his name has appeared in almost every management text book (about 25) I studied during my BCommerce. I even bought 1 of his books from a bookstore once purely because I recognised his name and just knew the sales price was a bargain!

I really hope some truly controversial "new ideas" person starts challenging the status quo once more - it seems like there is a great deal of regurgitation of management thought process going on.

4 Ideas I took away from quotations of his that gave me much to think about:
1. During the early 80's he argued that CEO compensation should not be more than 20 times what the bottom earner in the company was earning.

Imagine what the world would be like if this thought had held...just imagine... all the people ... living for today ... living in peace ... sharing all the world. *sigh*

2. The most useless thing to do, is do something that should not be done at all efficiently.

Efficiency takes time and money - it costs A LOT! The absolute waste that goes into doing something that should not be done at all, and then making the process more efficient - awful! I guess this is one of my influencers for always trying to find the fundamentals of what I am doing and why.

3. "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."

Actually this quotation has been driven home repeatedly throughout my limited exposure. I am unsure if my current thoughts are more influenced by study or by experience: There are a huge number of managers (title) without leadership skills, and there are a huge number of leaders (personality) without management skills. When you find yourself in the rare (in my humble opinion) circumstance that there are layers of management with leadership skills all around you, magic is very likely to occur, not only during times of crisis, but also during times inbetween.

4. "The best way to predict the future is to create it."

Strange that one of Peter Drucker's core concepts was Management By Objectives (MBO). Or perhaps it is once again a case of Best Practice being formulated and applied without customisation to the circumstance/environment, and without empowering people to do the right thing as they are being measured on the wrong thing. Regardless - about this quotation - imagine a company culture where everyone is an opportunity seeker. When combined with radical and forward looking MBO, things get interesting, but most companies seem to base current MBO plans on past experience/objectives/successes/failures which is all data driven decision making and does not allow for much innovation and active workforce participation.

Like all people who get used as sources of education and inspiration he had/has many proponents and many opponents. You can read more briefly about him on Wikipedia - Peter Drucker and on the Drucker Institute which houses many interesting articles.

Anyway - I hope you read the CIO "taster" article and perhaps some of the ideas spark your further interest! (let me know if they do!)

As for book recommendations - I can't find the 1st/2nd year text I purchased years ago, but I did look around and find these good looking "professional" sources that I will be buying in the near future:

amazon.co.uk


1.
2.
3.

amazon.com


1.
2.
3.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Simple Feedback for 1-1 sessions in professional environment

Last year in early October our company went on its annual training camp. This is quite an event in the year as we (the people who work here) get to decide what we would like to train on, and as the different opinion groups form to propose to our management, if the groups are big enough, we're actually able to afford professional trainers out of our combined training budgets also!

My first training camp (I've been with Zuhlke Engineering since 21 May 2007) was actually in Marrakech in the Kingdom of Morocco. Some say the choice in location was because it was cheaper to fly all of us to there, stay in a good hotel with decent food, and hire their conference facility for the week, than do anything remotely similar in the UK or on the European continent. And I can believe this!!

Our camp was divided into 2 parts - soft skills (presented by a really excellent pair of facillitators (married husband and wife team!!) from Top Banana), and erlang (presented by our resident expert Ben Nortier)!

This blog entry is about just one topic Top Banana taught us - "Simple and effective 1-on-1 Professional/Personal Feedback". It is a darn difficult thing to give a colleague feedback, and it is a darn difficult thing to receive feedback from a colleague. Really.

Basically the "scene" is set with just 2 questions, and relies on sufficient trust to be effective. Sufficient is subjective but if (in my experience) one takes a deep breath and relaxes, and never begins a sentence with "You" (rather aim for "I") that is actually enough. This kind of relies on most humans actually not wanting to hurt (physically or emotionally) others. (reminds me of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you")

The 2 questions are:
1. What do I do that helps you in your work?
2. What do I do that hinders you in your work?

After that generally floodgates open if people are extremely comfortable discussing issues, and if not, at least both sides part the session having either aired a problem or discovered at least 1 thing they did not know about themselves previously that they need to digest and possibly later revisit or forget ... until the next 1-1 feedback session :)

It is that simple!

After the trip where each of us actually did these feedback sessions with everyone else, I have actually initiated this with all the people I work closely with, and as time allows I do it with my other colleagues in the office, whom I interact with significantly less. Of course this lesser interaction means that understanding relationships take a lot longer timewise to form, and the chances of problem-causing miscommunications exponentially rise!

Some lessons that I have learned that are VERY interesting:
1. I have blind spots that others definitely see and adjust themselves to!
2. Different people, depending on my conscious mindset or context adjustment I make mentally before I see/talk to them, give me COMPLETELY conflicting feedback!
3. Some feedback that I receive that I consciously do try to think about and incorporate in my behaviour/style goes COMPLETELY out of the window when pressured situations arise!
4. Realisation that I need to detect earlier when I am feeling "pressured", take a deep breath, a walk maybe, and realise life is not that serious! :)

Anyone can do this, but the first time definitely requires dynamic facillitation to help get over the uncomfortableness that generally exists amongst work colleagues, to explain and prepare the people involved for the new, prepare them to listen in order to change, and accept a challenging proposal - be honest.

"Seek first to understand, then be understood" was one of the strongest messages I took away from Marrakech ... which reminds me of the funniest insult I've heard in a long time (outside of a South African context where verbal insults are an art form in parts of the country) - this was between 2 food sellers in the Marrekech [fast] food market: "... AND YOUR MAMMA WORKS IN McDONALDS!!"

Feedback welcome!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Mastering The Art of War

I have just finished a rather quick and easy to read book about some of the subtleties of life, people, strategy, change and organisation. A good start to a blog to changes and challenges and embracing all of life!

Mastering The Art of War touts itself (or its authors - Liu Ji and Zhuge Liang, or its translator Thomas Cleary does) as exploring some of the wisdoms of two books of ancient Chinese origin: Sun Tzu's The Art of War (a book about strategy) and I Ching - (the Book of Changes containing 360 insights to help people deal with change - 1 for each day of the lunar year). I have not read either yet, but now am more than ever looking forward to the time and place!

amazon.co.uk




One of the extracts from Mastering the Art of War I keep thinking about (especially in terms of "things no one taught me at school!")

"Hard though it may be to know people, there are ways:
1. Question them concerning right and wrong, to observe their ideas
2. Exhaust all their arguments, to see how they change
3. Consult with them about strategy, to see how perceptive they are
4. Announce that there is trouble, to see how brave they are
5. Get them drunk, to observe their nature
6. Present them with the prospect of gain, to see how modest they are
7. Give them a task to do within a specified time, to see how trustworthy they are"

Why I recommend Mastering The Art of War:
Reason 1: It is really short, condensed, well written and edited, and reads very quickly
Reason 2: It has been 2 weeks since I finished it, and I am still thinking back to some of the wisdom from some of the pages, hence I am "forced" to blog about this book now (when I really don't have time!)
Reason 3: There are many pearls and interesting historical stories of China's history and ancient ways of life - such as the one I extracted above.

This one seems to be the most popular amazon.co.uk seller for I Ching (ranked 28632 today) . According to Mastering The Art of War, the I Ching is not supposed to be used for divination purposes at all - a rule that was once stricly adhered to in ancient times when it was decreed forbidden to do so!


Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Insight into industry leading companies Strategic Human Resource Management

Go through this quiz and rate yourself/your company as well as you can (ignore for the time being what this quiz is supposedly about!)

CIO Ones To Watch Quiz. When you get to the results (only takes a handful of minutes) see how your company is doing against what supposed industry leaders are doing.

Monday, 19 May 2008

My latest saying!

All good things come to an end...to make way for more good things!!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Lean Software Development

I've been working in "officially" agile environments now since 2000, mainly influenced by Scrum. A while ago a I did a course on Lean Management amongst other topics and was struck by how some similar concepts (just in time, prioritised work queue, continuous reduction of waste, skilling people, empowering people) seem to be in agile.

The chance to get into my copy of Lean Software Development by Mary and Tom Poppendieck finally came along a few weeks ago after seeing it being referred to in high regard on the web and liking the essays I found on their web site: The Poppendiecks. Basically - "WOW"! This is just really really good stuff. For me it is the kind of jump (up or forward I am not sure) that Scrum makes from Agile fundamentals to real world tools that are completely understandable and easy to try.

The great thing is that they concentrate on fundamentals and then supply thinking tools to help you apply them in your context - ie, they KNOW the lesson that Best Practices are awful as it is the fundamental that must be understood and copied from one context to another to be successfully applied in the new context. Too many Best Practices have resulted in failure and too much waste for my liking!

They touch on some fundamental concepts that are important in modern software development:
- waste
- learning
- last responsible moment
- fast turnaround
- team empowerment
- perceptual and conceived integrity
- holistic view

amazon.co.uk



amazon.com




Why I recommend Lean Software Development:
Reason 1: Identify the value chain from point of need to point of delivery - it is strongly argued by some that anything but coding for that need fulfilment is just a waste of time. IE - as per Agile - lighter weight documentation, lighter weight project management, focus on delivering real value to the client!
Reason 2: Collaboration is better - cross disciplinary people working together are more efficient AND enjoy their work more AND result in a better product AND it is cheaper AND AND AND!
Reason 3: Specific facts, graphs and examples that you can refer to when justifying reasons why you would want to try something different in your own environment, all with a firm basis in Lean Management Theory and which has been studied, well understood, and implemented by some very successful organisations ranging from Toyota to 3M for between 60 and 100 years!!

Monday, 12 May 2008

7 Things CIOs Should Know About Agile Development

I've been reading CIO articles for a number of years now - it is one of the sources that I find does a lot of integration for me between the domains of business, software development and IT system management - ie technology for business.

7 Things CIOs Should Know About Agile Development is an example of this integration. Often I find myself a little too focussed on my local project's agile process, and not neccessarily on what the "business drivers" are really after, or the Agile messages that might sell them on Agile more effectively. This is a little gentle reminder.

BTW, the shortcut to follow to get a glimpse of this site's value (IMHO): CIO's 50 Most Popular Articles. On this page articles that will definitely entice me back later:

- "You Used Perl/Python/Ruby/PHP to Write WHAT?!" (4 articles for the 4 languages)
- "Windows vs Linux vs OS X"
- "How to Get Real About Strategic Planning"

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Scot's Newsletter Best Firewall Recommendation Made!

After 1.5 years (!!), Scot's Newsletter has reached a conclusion on the Best [Personal] Firewall Software ... (drum roll) ... (more drum roll) ... Online Armor! Read all about it in detail at Scot's Newsletter!

This blog entry by Scot makes for very interesting reading, not just from an interested-in-firewall-software point of view, but also I believe there are some other big concepts clearly "in play":
- the power of online marketing,
- the power of a respected industry leader,
- the influence a key client has over a product's development,
- the ability and agility with which the 2 final contenders were responding to user requests
- and in the future we'll have to see what happens to both companies!

For now, I am still on the previous version of Comodo as I really have not had the time or requirement to migrate, upgrade or change anything else on my home system.

Scrum and Organisational Patterns

Jeff Sutherland has posted a short entry linking some sources together about how 33 Organisational Patterns that James Coplien and Neil Harrison formulated actually underlie Scrum. Read his post for further details: Agility and Organisational Patterns.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono

One of my most influential recent reads: Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono. His books have been recommended to me by various people since I was back in first year university. Writing this blog entry has also inspired me to check for his web site and find the Edward De Bono Portal which makes it easy to access other online resources related to him/his thinking creations.

amazon.co.uk



amazon.com




I read Six Thinking Hats directly after reading Lateral Thinking. Both are really excellent reads, but I discovered that I knew quite a bit about lateral thinking already having been exposed to that mode of thought through many people I know socially and have worked with over the years, in some respects it is a natural way for me to approach problems already. Whilst I highly recommend Six Thinking Hats, it contains many references to a number of thinking concerns, thus I believe you need to read at least one of his others, of which I believe none are better choice than Lateral Thinking.

amazon.co.uk



amazon.com





Why I recommend Six Thinking Hats:

Reason 1: Increase in productivity, both my own, and during team based activities such as meetings or workshops.
Reason 2: I, and many software industry people I have met, pretty much rely on a single very useful and relevant style of creating solutions for problems - namely extreme pragmatism. This works well, but is very limited for a future vision, and business people (aka clients) generally are more interested in the future and the environment created for their people.
Reason 3: Increased knowledge of how I think and how others think is invaluable as we are all knowledge workers - aka thinkers.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Psychology of commuting in London - thank you Transport for London

Okay, on one hand, I am totally amazed by how good and useful the http://www.tfl.gov.uk site is for travellers planning their route from point A to point B. Coming from South Africa where one has to drive everywhere because the public transport system is not reliable or completely too unsafe to use, this facility for using a rather complex system of very good public transport is awesome!

However - onto my real point of cleverness on their side. Whenever I am especially bombarded by frequent public announcements of "We are pleased to report that all services are running well / There are no problems reported on the Transport For London services" I have started watching the time pass more closely. And I have started to take greater notice of the uncommented /non-excused pauses that occur during such journeys. And more often than not, my journey time is 20-50% longer on such days, than when such public "All is well" announcements are not as frequent.

This amazing little simple psychology trick works so well: telling people what they want to hear. I have noticed how people on the platform, crowding around waiting for the train to arrive are not as irritated by the fact that they are CROWDING and pushing each other for a place or a seat to sit down on. I have noticed how people are so much more at ease when they are jammed in like sardines and stepping on each others' £5-£500 shoes, and bashing each other with bags or newspapers. It really is amazing for me!

Whereas on a real "normal" day, the trains are less crowded, the platforms are less crowded, and my journey is over almost in a blink of the eye.

Interestingly enough, today was the first time I have noticed another commuter who was clearly irritated by the pauses, the crowding, the sardines, and the personal effects damage. And more noticeably, the fact that they too were going to be arriving late for work/wherever they were going, and they knew this even before the train had departed "as scheduled".

London provides so many little things like this - even the daily free newspapers - that make for easier fulfilment of my motto since arriving in London nearly 1 year ago - "every day an adventure"

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development by James O. Coplien and Neil B. Harrison

Covering a very wide spectrum of software team related issues from distributed remote team participation to architecture, to project control and team building.

amazon.co.uk



amazon.com




This great book is highly relevant and useful in my team lead and architect roles yesterday, today, and I am 100% sure tomorrow also!

James Coplien is quite an interesting guy. I've read a bunch of his essays in the past which have been quite enlightening. You can find them on "Cope's" web site.

Why I recommend Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development:
Reason 1: It is based on a great deal of research which looks to be scientifically thought out, hypotheses were created, samples statistically selected and information collected and then analysed carefully. So its fairly safe to refer to it and the cases/patterns mentioned that worked or failed.
Reason 2: In my studies of Organisation Behaviour, Industrial Psychology, Business Management and Human Resource Management, there were a number of consistent themes that were delved into deeply in this book, which has a great deal of real world emphasis and quick illumination, whereas the theory texts are more verbose and not as readily applied.
Reason 3: It is also consistent with my past experiences of organisation behaviours that were dysfunctional as well as those cases where organisations were extremely functional.
Reason 4: Like the Gang of Four's Design Patterns, this book now somehow "lives" in the back of my mind (knowledge was deeply absorbed and incorporated into my thinking without conscious study) so that when I encounter situations I can either more clearly identify what's going wrong, and what possible patterns could be applied, in which possible sequences, in order to address the problem(s), or simply refer to this reference book and delve deeper into the issues and solutions effectively and efficiently.
Reason 5: People I have already referred it to have come back to me and been as astonished by it.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Agile Project Management - a place to start

Over the past 2 years whenever anyone has asked me "What is Agile Project Management"? or "What is Scrum?" I have been pointing them at Ken Schwaber's talk at Google. Don't get me wrong I am not trying to get into a debate about Scrum, nor about Ken Schwaber, nor even about my Scrum Master Certification.
I do however like the video as it is a clear and concise summary related (closely) to Agile Project Management that can be absorbed within an hour of time.

Scot's Newsletter nearing decision about Personal Firewall Solution!

I have been following Scot's Newsletter for a couple of years now and have especially been following his reviews of personal firewall solutions. I like his reviews because he tests the products from a usability perspective as well as actual firewall security. At the moment the 2 leading providers are pushing Release Candidates faster than he can make a decision because they keep making changes that he has suggested or complained about! (competition is a great thing!)

His 2 leaders at the moment are: Online Armor Personal Firewall and Comodo Personal Firewall. They are both free for personal home use and as a current happy Comodo Firewall user I am watching to see if I should jump ship again. His previous recommendation was Jetico which I also liked.

The latest independent firewall leak test results are really enlightening. Make sure you are safe!