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A first look at “Rework” – Json and DHH [37 signals]

June 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I have been a fan of DHH, ROR, the 37 signals, the basecamp stories and have read the book “getting real” partially. [unfortunate, since I left it once to do some important work that came up and could never back to it, till date]. But I do aim to complete it sometime soon.

Today I got my hands onto the freely available 19page excerpt of Json and DHHs’ latest – ‘Rework‘. I read it and ordered the full book right away, but that will take 2-3 days to come. However, I thought of putting up my immediate reaction to the book, from whatever I could get to know about it from the free excerpt, into a small post up here. So here goes.

Workoholism:
Rework talks about workoholism, why its an excuse to compensate for lower levels of competence and why its bad and should be discouraged for the good of all. I agree partially. The truth is, this is highly subjective.

However, taking a rational and somewhat objective look at it, workoholism is bad if its comes unnaturally to the person doing it and/or if it is done too often . There are different kinds of people, they have different working styles, some need a break after every hour to be productive, some need hours of solace, its just a matter of how they work and be productive.

Some, JUST DON’T GET SLEEP if the work they were doing is not complete or is not at a logical conclusion or there is a bug that has become an eternal challenge in the face of their brain. Forcing them to leave office/work in such a situation is far more dangerous than letting them work, coz even if they lie on bed for the whole night their brain will not sleep, the body might. As a result you will have a fresh body in the office next morning but with a zombie brain. In such cases, do the lesser evil, let them just do what they want to, however the frequency of this, should be kept under control.

On the other hand, a perspective on people who need a break every hour, to say keep themselves productive:
The objective theory says, ‘interruption’ is the single biggest killer of productivity. Guess what, if you tell this to a person who practices hourly break and munching and is very satisfied with his performance this way and he has got even a few admirers of his work and style and performance, he will just confront you on this and blow the lid off your objective opinionated mind.

The bad effects of too frequent show of workoholism on health are well known, thats where I am in complete agreement with the authors. One should not push his body beyond limits, he ain’t got a spare one. 🙂

Meetings:

I agree, meetings, in their current form, achieve far less than what they are aimed for and most of time they end up in a negative sum, in terms of achievements-(time invested in hours*sum(productivity of attendees per hour)).

I compare meetings with a vinyl record [the old gramaphone stuff], there is a record made of plastic/vax with tracks on it and there is mechanical hand that goes over it in spirals, and there is a traction mechanism which keeps the head in the right track. But since the whole system is mechanical, and if its a bit old many a times the head goes avary and jumps tracks, goes diagonal, etc. But there is an external agent, the person who is listening to it. Wonder why people use to sit very near to old gramaphones, even when they had huge speakers? To reset the head to the track. Coming out of the analogy, meetings need to have two controls, a traction to prevent them from going off topic/carried away and secondly a hard resetter who has a “point black focus” on the agenda, and obviously he should be given rights to interrupt anyone and everyone in the meeting, irrespective of his post/rank.

Meetings, are a necessary evil and could turn out to be lesser and lesser evil if the traction/prevention and the resetting mechanisms are in place.

Pick a fight.
This is a good one, I like it, as is.

Be bold, have high integrity, be confrontal if need be to defend what you speak and believe. Pick a fight even if its not a necessarily required element to move ahead. It will give you a better direction, improved speed, a killer instinct. 🙂

Planning is guessing:

No or very-little planning is as bad a long or very long term planning. No planning means you will never be proactive, only reactive. You will never be creating opportunities out of probabilities, coz probabilities are required to be sighted from a distance and than some preparation is required to convert them, by the time they arrive in your face. If you are the guy who just takes things as they come, you might never achieve what you could have, but just achieve what you did.

Whereas long/very-long term plans are pure guesses, assuming a lot. There are too many variables around us that we can only predict with certain reasonable accuracy only when we reach within a certain reasonable distance (in time) from them. Predicting what you will be doing tomorrow afternoon is very easy as compared to predicting what you are going to do on one specific afternoon in 20 weeks from now.

So, do plan, but,
* do not plan for more than 90 – 120 days at any point. [inspired by Eric Ries from the startuplessonslearned ]
* put a concrete plan for the next 1 – 3 weeks.
* put an amorphous and flexible plan for 4th week – 90th day.
* the planning for the period of 3 weeks – 90 days should be a linear gradient, moving from concreteness(4th week) to amorphous (85th-90th day)

Under-do your competition:

I agree and disagree with this one, in two different contexts.

Its good to under-do your competition, in the sense that, if they are doing a lot of things, spreading themselves too thin and are not able to manage it nicely, than you should find the most critical pivots of your business, find how your competitor is delivering on these critical pivots and concentrate more where he is weak. This is will enable you to take the earth from under his feet.

On the other hand, if you keep under-doing all the time, you risk innovativeness. Not all your marketing research is bullet proof. There might be things, other than the ones’ that your research has established, as the most critical pivots, that might turn the game around. Sometimes its one silly feature from a foolish competitor, who is spreading too thin, over too many things, that ‘just works’ for him. He just turns lucky ‘coz he allowed one lousy coder/manager to put his ego driven feature into the product, even when all the odds were right out against it. Its a risk with a low probability, but its there.

So, the propensity to keep a check on doing only the things that are necessarily needed sometimes hurts innovation and a probable crazy hit.


Woh, I wrote quite a lot for an excerpt. I am eagerly awaiting the book, hoping it has atleast 30% more then the Signal vs Noise blog. Will update this post with new insights from the book soon.

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