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What My Dysfunctional Family Taught Me About Business Communication

Triangle: A three sided figure. Also, how my family communicates

Growing up my family was pretty dysfunctional. Don’t assume by that, that we didn’t love one another. It’s just there were marriages, divorces, adoptions, siblings, half-siblings, five schools in the fifth grade.

Anyway, one of the ways we learned to cope was by communicating. Or, ratehr not communicating. We avoided direct confrontation. If I didn’t like something my mother did, I’d wouldn’t mention it directly to her. I’d tell my brother. And then he’d tell her. If my sister was annoyed with me making too much noise in the bathroom in the morning as she tried to sleep in, she’d mention it to my brother who in turn would talk to me about it.

Come to think of it, most of us talked to my younger brother.

Anyway, we got really good at that three-way communication. In fact, we got so good that I didn’t even realize it wasn’t normal until I married my lovely wife and my methods of communication kind of screwed up our marriage for a while. Eventually, I figured out how to talk to her. And even to talk to my family.

But, like riding a bike, you never forget a useful skill, even a dysfunctional one once you learn it.

Our team has a big presentation to the client next week. It involves a dozen people and over two dozen slides. I’m the IT guy, so my parts of the presentation have to do with IT. It’s only a couple of slides. I didn’t even realize that they were waiting on things from me until a few hours before our online phone conference to review the slides.

My parts were pretty simple. The client meeting is really about operations. If nothing goes too wrong with IT, there’s not much for me to share.

During the call, I realized there was more information that the team wanted from me. The senior director was asking about it.

I think I saw Rodney on the call. Rodney, are you here?

Yeah. What do you need?

Can you see my screen?


See this slide here? I need the data for this slide from last quarter.

Sure. I can probably pull that together before we get off the phone. I don’t remember seeing that in the email. Sorry if I missed it.

To be honest, I knew the request for more data hadn’t been in the email. After all, the information took less than 15 minutes to compile. I would have send it as soon as I read the email. But, you won’t accomplish anything by contradicting a senior director.

And, it didn’t really matter to me. I just wanted to be sure I hadn’t missed a different email, or more subtly, I wanted to let whoever asked for the data realize their mistake without calling them out on it.

It was a great plan except for Garry. Garry is one of the managers. Not mine, of course. I’m in IT, these people are all operations. Anyway, Garry wouldn’t let it go.

Yeah, Rodney, you missed it. But, that’s okay. The important thing is we caught it now.

No, that wasn’t the important thing. Well, it was, of course, but calling me out on it in front of the team was kind of a lousy thing to do.

The original email I recieved had come from Bryan. I opened a chat window with Bryan.

Did I miss something? Was that request in the email you sent me?

No. I was covering for Zeke and I didn’t know they wanted that information included.

Okay. Thanks. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing an email request somewhere.

No, you’re good. I let Garry know as well.

Really? Gee, I never even considered him. 😉

Of course I considered him. And I absolutely wanted Bryan to clear it up. And thanks to my dysfunctional family communication methods, I was able to get exactly that.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Sure We’ll Test. It Won’t Make Any Difference, Of Course

Software development involves three important phases or roles.

Program manager: Designs the software

Developer: Writes the software

Tester: Tests the software

It’s interesting that Tester is the only one of those roles that’s name describes its role.

Working for Microsoft, the Program Manager set the schedule. Part of the responsibilty of a PM was to figure out how long it would take to create the software. The PM would also be responsible for deciding what features could be in the software. Every feature had an associated “cost” in time. The PM got to decide which ones made the cut.

Developers, of course, would make their best guess in telling their PM how long creating a particular feature would take to code. Every PM had their own formula for translating “dev estimates” into the schedule. I joked that the formula should be

Double the initial estimate and then move to the next unit of time

If a developer said something was only going to take an hour, figure it would take two days. I was right was more than I was wrong. Anyway, the development process was an ongoing conversation between the PM and the developer as features were added, or more often, cut from the software.

At some point the software was turned over to the testers. The schedule had an allocated amount of time for testing, of course. But, at Microsoft at least, once the testers had the product, the Test Manager owned the schedule. In other words, the product wouldn’t ship until the testing team announced they were done.

To Microsoft’s credit, they were relentless in empowering the testers. It didn’t matter if the entire world was expecting a product to ship at a particular date. If testing said it wasn’t ready, it didn’t ship. Of course, testing did everything they could to make the date. “Death March” is a phrase that often discribed this stage of the development process.

I don’t work in software development any more. But, the process is similar for other “project” based inititives. My current company is setting up a team of people to be our first line of support for outages.

Our current process for our first line of support outages is: Call Rodney. That’s been pointed out as a non-scalable, inefficient process. And Rodney’s wife is getting a little tired of his oncall status.

This new process isn’t anything radical. We just set up an 800 number that rings into a group that is staffed 24×7. Often there are two people on call, but during certain hours there is only one.

This shouldn’t be too different than our current process. After all, I’m just one person. So, how different could it be right?

Yeah, that’s what testing is for. We worked through the process prior to bringing the group online. We’ve been online for a couple of days, and it’s clear that testing prior to launch is not a 100% effective method for predicting what the launch will go like.

It’s not uncommon for me to be on two calls at once. One internal, one with the client. We discovered today that the way we’ve set up our new team only allows them to be on a single call at one time.

That’s okay, I’ll go ahead and run this one and be on both calls.

Occasionally, if we have multiple outages at the same time, I need to be on three calls at the same time. I use Skype for one on a headset that goes over my left ear. I use my cell phone for the second in a heaset that goes over my right ear, and I put the third one on speaker on my deskphone. All three phones have a mute button and so long as everyone doesn’t talk at once, I can make it work.

Yeah, that is way beyond what our new group is set up to handle. They didn’t even know it might required so they didn’t design the system with that in mind.

The advantage I have now is that I’m not running a software project that needs to ship to customers. We can “soft launch” our new support model with me still doing my role. But, I’m just reminded again that no amount of testing catches 100% of your use cases.

So, sure, you can test. Just realise it’s not going to make a difference.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Training My Replacement

It’s typically a horror story, right?

Employees forced to train their offshore replacements.

I’m not losing my job. I’m not even changing my job. But, I am getting replaced. And I have to train my replacements. And I’m pretty excited about it.

My job involves a lot of different roles. One of the most time consuming is managing outages. I’m sort of the on-field general who directs the call when something goes wrong.

Hey, it’s an easy gig. . .if nothing goes wrong. And sometimes it will be weeks without an outage. Other times, they come multiple times per day. And they are the most important thing I do. By that I mean they take precedance over any other activity.

So, if I was on a date, or a camping trip, or at a wedding reception, I had to take a call. Courtroom? Yep. Hiking up the side of a mountain at 7,000 feet? Yep. I’ve been doing it for over six years.

And for years I asked for help. And finally, we’re doing putting it in place.

The good news is that management decided it needed 8 people to cover for me. That’s not bad. I mean, if they’d pay me eight times what they are paying me. . .

The team we created, the Diamond Team, was staffed with experienced Incident Managers. But, they weren’t experienced with my account. They didn’t have six years of support and troubleshooting experience. I did.

Rodney, now that the new Diamond Team is active, it shoudl free up a lot of your time, right?

Not really. I used to just manage the calls. Now I have to manage and teach.

Have you ever asked a child to help you with a task? I mean a small child. It’s easier to simply do the work yourself than let a toddler “help.”

Have you ever asked a teenager to help you with a task? I mean one who wasn’t required to help as a small child? It’s easier to simply do the work yourself than try to get an untrained teenager to “help.”

And that’s the irony. Getting help requires more work than simply doing it yourself. But, eventually the payoff comes later. When, you have teenagers who know how to clean up after themselves, cook an edible meal and separate the white clothes from the colors.

I expect my job to get harder not easier over the coming weeks. We took our first outage call today with the new Diamond Team. It took almost twice as long. Before I could make a decision, I had to explain to the Diamond Team member what I was doing and why.

Eventually the outage was resolved and I collected the requisite records. I didn’t have the Dimaond Team go through the data recording process. I was already burying them with a lot of information in a short time.

So, for the next several weeks or months, I’ve taken on an additional task of trainer. But, just like my teenagers who know how to clean a room, eventually, I’ll get to reap the benefits and start leaving my phone at home when I go camping.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

A Problem Not Seen In 101 Years. . .Safe For Another 101

You know those internet memes that say,

This year the month of May has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays in a month.

This only happens only ever 823 years. the Chinese call it “silver pockets full.”

This doesn’t just happen every eight centuries. It actually happens a lot more often than that. In fact, if you’re curious it will happen again in May 2026. Not as often as February 29th, which also happens this year.

Most things that have to do with calendars follow predictable patterns. Just like Christmas or your birthday is on Wednesday last year. And next year, it will be on Friday. (Due to the leap years.) The next year, 2021, Christmas and your birthday will be on Saturday. Then, Sunday and eventually, it will be back on Wednesday in 2024.

So, just about everything in a calendar is a pattern.

This year, 2020, has a unique pattern that has not occurred for over 100 years. And it won’t have this problem for another 100 years.

I worked for Microsoft in 1999. I can tell you with assurity that Y2K was a real problem. Your digital life didn’t blow up because computer people are really good at what we do. . .sometimes.

Y2K was a problem because early programmers, back in the 1960s and 1970s used two digits for the year. So, instead of recording 1964, they only recorded 64. You might think they were just being lazy, or stupid. But, in the early days of computers, memory was expensive. Like super expensive. Literally you would count the bytes. And no one would “waste” two bytes to keep track of the “19.” It was assumed.

Later, of course, memory got cheaper and those old systems stayed around. And programmers had to go back and fix it. And we did. . .sort of. We started using four digits to record the year.

But, we actually left a bug in the system. In the year 9999 they are going to have to go through the process all over again to fix the Y10K bug.

Computers use four digits for the year, but people don’t. We often are “too busy” to write those extra two letters. So, my twin sons were born in 02. Oh sure, it was really 2002, but you know what I mean.

It’s fine. Everyone understand it. And accepts it. But, this year, there’s an actual bug in the system. Our system. Yours. Mine. Everyone’s.

Never use a two digit year this year.

Like me, your probably write the date like 1/14/20. Unless you’re in Britain or the rest of the world where for some strange reason it’s 14/1/20.

You write that when you date a letter, or a sign a check, or sign a contract. (Actually, who am I kidding? No one uses checks any more.)

Anyway, the danger is that 1/14/20 isn’t a very exact date. You think it’s today? It might be. Of course, if it’s signed on a contract and I have a pen the same color as your pen then

1/14/20 == 1/14/2020 == 1/14/2000 or 1/14/2021

You might think it’s silly. So did the programmers who were told in 1970 that they were designing a bug that would show up in 30 years. That was silly.

But, dates, especially written dates in the internet age are vital.

And be aware, your great grandkids are going to have the same issue come up 101 years from now in 2121.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Agile Cars Headed Over The Waterfall

Do you know Waterfall or Agile?

Yeah. I have some experience with both.

Any examples?

Well, I work on cars.

Agile and Waterfall are not car repair terms. They are software terms. But, they track pretty well to cars, too.

Waterfall software development is the way software used to always be developed. It’s how programs like Word and Windows and just about any software purchased before the turn of the century was made.

The idea is you design your software and then you build it. You build it from scratch. And then one day you turn it on and it works.

Okay, it doesn’t work. In fact, it probably doesn’t even start up. Instead, you start working on the compile errors. After you’ve fixed all the errors getting it to compile, it will finally start up. At that point, you now need to start fixing the runtime errors. You know, when you are supposed to put in a number and it only accepts letters? So, you fix the runtime errors. Finally, you move on to the logic errors. Those are where your programmer added 2 instead of 1 to a value.

Eventually, you get the logic errors fixed, at least the ones your testers find. And finally, you’re ready to send it out to real users as a Beta test. They will find a whole bunch more bugs for you.

Finally, you’ll get tired of fixing bugs and decide, like the movie guys say, “We’ll fix it in post.” Microsoft never shipped a program with a known bug. Of course, we had to redefine what the definition of a bug was.

Agile programming is a different approach. In Agile, you design your program, but then you figure out the least amount that you can build and make it run. It won’t have all the features, of course, but it will run.

And every couple of weeks you make a new build with a few more features. And it runs. You keep doing that cycle until you have enough features to actually ship your product.

Waterfall was the standard for years. Agile has come into vogue in the recent years. I’m not saying one is better than the other. I have my suspicions that there are some operations that cannot be completed in a 2 week sprint.

I work on cars a lot. Generally in the summer. Living in Utah, Winters are strictly an emergency fixes only time of year. I realized that I’ve done both waterfall car projects and Agile projects.

I owned a 1996 Lexus ES300. When I got it, it didn’t run. There was lots wrong with it. I approached it like a waterfall project. We rebuilt the engine. We worked on the fuel pump. We repaired body work. We had to fix almost every aspect of the car. And just when one thing was fixed, another would break. It was a long project.

I don’t have the Lexus anymore. I have a 1996 Toyota Corolla. It’s actually not that different from the 1996 Lexus. They are both Toyota products.

Anyway, the Toyota is more an Agile product. It ran when I got it, but had a lot of issues. The windshield leaked. The radio was missing. One rim was bent. The seats weren’t bolted down. (But only the passenger one. Found that one out when I was teaching my daughter to drive.

Anyway, every repair on the Toyota has had two goals. One, fix the issue. Two, make sure the car still runs. There are still about a dozen things left to do on the Toyota. But, in the mean time, I’ll keep driving it.

Maybe there are some advantages of Agile over Waterfall after all.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Help And Help. . .It’s Not Always the Same

I flew home from Florida today. I like flying, but it’s also stressful. The flight was pretty turbulant. I had the flight data displayed on the seatback monitors. At times we had a 104 MPH tailwind and then a few minutes later we had a 75 MPH headwind. At 36,003 feet, those winds toss around even the largest plane.

At times, it was almost like a rollercoaster. But, that wasn’t the part that was stressful. The turbulance was a known quantity. I was nervous about the unknown.

I didn’t know if our sites might have an outage while I was on the plane. Starting today, we have a full team backing me up. But, that doesn’t mean my job is any less stressful. In fact, in addition to managing outages, I now am responsible to teach my replacements.

But, if there’s an outage, they’ll manage without me. But, then, I’ll spend days filling out the reports. Their “help” would also mean additional work for me. In fact, more work than if I’d simply managed the outage myself.

It’s mid January and time to put away the Christmas lights on our house. My neighbor and I have coordinated our Christmas lights. It’s one of those where you tune your radio to a local station and the lights are synched to the music.

My neighbor did all the hard work. He did the programming. He told me what to buy and he runs the radio broadcast. I just put up the lights the way he tells me. . .exactly the way he tells me. If I get two of the 30 extension cords swapped, the display won’t look right.

We’ve done the Christmas light display for several years. I am just as careful when putting away the display as when putting it up. Because I know that next November, I’m going to need to put it back up the same way. Exactly the same way.

But, not this year. This year, I had help. While I was enjoying the inside of my windowless call center and the 73 degree weather, my lovely wife and family were removing the Christmas decorations ahead of an approaching snow storm.

So, my garage has my Christmas decorations and lights strewn randomly. Like my outages, it will take longer to put them away than it would have taken me to do the work myself. But, they wanted to help.

And while I dread following up after an outage that I wasn’t able to manage, I can’t help smiling at the thought that my family stepped in to help.

Nope, help and help aren’t the same thing.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Breakfast (And Dinner) Of Champions

Salad, yogurt, Quaker granola bars, orange juice, sliced watermelon, popcorn and some fresh fruit. Oh, and some plastic silverware.

I’m not really a foodie.

I like salmon, if it’s fresh and hasn’t ever been frozen. I travel with people who are foodies. At one point my friend Marcus called me from a vacation in Seattle. I grew up in the Seattle area about 40 miles south in Olympia, the capital. We fished for salmon in Puget Sound. My dad’s friends used to drop off whole salmon at our house after they’d spent the day fishing. To say it was fresh doesn’t do justice to the word fresh.

We’d broil salmon steaks with lemon juice. We’d mix the salmon up with mayonaise and eat it on fresh baked bread.

I know the difference between fresh salmon and . . .well, anything else.

Anyway, I’d told the story to my friend Marcus. He really was a foodie. He lived in Utah but went on vacation to Seattle. He called me one night,

Rodney, I’m at a place called Anthony’s on the waterfront in Seattle.

Yeah, that’s a nice place.

After all your talk about how fresh salmon tastes so different, I decided to order it.

How was it?

Well, it was good enough that I’m calling you to say, ‘You’re right.’

But, if it’s not fresh salmon, I’m not much of a food guy. If there’s no one to go to dinner with on a trip, I typically don’t want to bother with the hassle. I’d as soon go back to my hotel room and write.

But, I need to eat, of course. And my company reimburses $35 per day for food. My solution is to find a Walmart, or a Kroger’s or a Publix and buy my dinner. The funny thing is that when I buy it at Publix, I typically eat healthier than if I eat at a restaurant, or even at home.

I’ve found I like salads if someone will make them for me. I like fresh fruit. The granola bars I can take on the plane. The yogurt and orange juice are for breakfast the next morning.

I would buy more orange juice or maybe even water except, of course you can’t take that on the plane.

You can get a very nice dinner at most restaurants for $35. Or, you can get several meals worth of salad and fresh fruit at Publix.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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