Thursday, December 22, 2011

Performance Appraisals

I believe it is important to evaluate performance not only based on absolute results, but rather on results put in the context of that person: what was his level of understanding at the moment for which we are evaluating him, his know-how, visibility, what kind of help did he receive, how was the team he worked with. Given the context, would he have been able to do better? Is he willing to learn from past mistakes? Did he have the proper means to act differently? Many environmental factors are not under the direct control of the employee nor does he feel he has control over them. Did I, his manager, do enough to provide him with the tools to take the right decisions?

Some people shine in a certain environment only to fail later when the factors they relied on change. Do we take this into consideration? Do we allow them to fail to grow or do we leave them to be failures? In order to perform, one needs to focus on strengths rather than weaknesses and learn from mistakes. What kind of example do we set when we evaluate performance? Do we apologize for our mistakes? Are we really encouraging trial and constructive failure? What do we measure? We should never  forget that the performance appraisal is one of those moments when managers show their true self: what they value and what kind of behaviour they expect from their teams.

Appraisals should be done from the heart, with true empathy. It is a very much needed and powerful moment that can affect employees for years to come (in their career path, self esteem, salary revisions, role in the company, perks). It can give them wings or it can break their wings. How much heart and care do we put in that moment? How much responsibility do we take for that moment? Do we try to level people or do we set them performance targets so that they can surpass themselves? Do we customize the appraisal to the individual and his strengths or do we try to fit everyone in the same measures? Do we work toward a Gaussian distribution for performance or do we give recognition and celebrate uniqueness? Do we really care for our men to give them feedback way in advance for them to have a chance to improve before the official paper is signed? Do we explicitly set individual performance targets that can, eventually, be exceeded?

Performance evaluations can be painful if not properly performed. They can impact morale and careers for years to come - even a lifetime. They impact salary, mobility, advancements, perks, assignments, everything. This is why we should care more about giving our guys an honest, customized feedback and set up correct performance objectives for the next appraisals rather than to look good in the eyes of our supervisors. We should try to deliver bad news in advance, verbally. We should try to give people time, space, guidance to improve or surpass our expectations. As Jack Welch put it, a good appraisal is one in which no one finds anything new.

Monday, November 14, 2011

On Leadership

(This post has originated as part of an interview for a summer school on the topic of leadership)

When I think about my leadership experiences I would say that probably there is none that may qualify as out of the ordinary if seen from outside. I would say that the most difficult battles I have fought were within myself. From outside, it is an everyday process of being there, standing for something, not quitting and encouraging others to continue when they are about to quit.

I have not experienced myself major acts of bravery, I have not saved lives, I have not taken life or death decisions. I have not seen anyone doing this around me. I have experienced though moments of triumph and set backs, I have experienced fear but also pride, I have experienced self confidence, self doubt, attacks, challenges, failures to lead and moments of courage. I have failed my team sometimes but I’ve also managed to inspire them some other times and keep them focused on shared goals. I have learned that being there for them feels good even if it means giving bad news or signaling difficult problems. I have learned that, although sometimes extremely scary, being true to yourself is the only way to feel peace inside. And I have seen others going through the same processes.

When I think about leadership the first thing that comes to my mind is the phrase “keep on going”. In this context, if I were to pick a single most relevant leadership experience I had I would pick a tough project when, although we were able to keep it afloat and ship it within the deadline, I made two mistakes: I forgot that leading meant not only ensuring product acceptance but, above all, people and relations and, secondly, I was too eager to meet the deadline at any cost, tramping upon my values. What followed were six months of “what if”’s, of soul searching. I had to rebuild team’s confidence in me. I had to be humble to compensate for my former arrogance. I read books, I met people, I asked for advice. Although emotionally challenging, it was one of the most transforming experiences I had and the hardships did not stop me.

When I had the chance to return to project leadership I promised myself that things will change. I believe that there’s nothing more intrinsic to leadership than constant learning - either from past mistakes, either from others.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Transactional Thinking vs Generosity

My feeling is that too many people enforce too often and too soon transactional patterns in their relation to others and their needs. By "transactional pattern" I mean a conversation that can be summed up to "if you do this, you get that".

Even if the balance seems right at first, in many circumstances such a transaction may have a demotivating, un-involving effect, diminishing the trust between the two parties.

The opposite would be to offer generously, not expecting anything in return (or expecting very little), assuming the risk of some taking advantage of you, but building relations in return - not to mention the feeling of fulfilment that comes from giving. From the receiver side, I remember my strong feelings of respect for the people that offered more than I asked for, unconditionally.

While transactions mean insurance, generosity can be seen as a risky investment in others. By giving a helping hand unconditionally and showing trust and appreciation for other's needs and personality, we raise the bar for development and commitment. While some will take what they were offerend and never look back, others will take the challenge and become better persons themselves, giving back or giving forward to others in return.

This brought me thinking back to a book I read several years ago "The Generous Man: How Helping Others Is The Sexiest Thing You Can Do" which argues that generosity is one of the most revealing signs of strength one can show.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tools And Perpectives On Time Management

Saturday, Alina held a seminar on time management at the British Council, in Bucharest. I was invited to talk about the tools I use and about my perspective on the subject.

The why's of time management:
  • Freedom
  • Productivity: accomplish something of value by staying in the flow
  • Peace of mind
  • Time to learn and think - secure your future
  • Focus on the important

  • The tools I use.
  • Scalable vs non-scalable. Take time to think.
  • Some pictures from the event.

The tools I use:

I prefer tools that give me the freedom to work from anywhere anytime and that are well designed (easy to use, simple, very good performance, nice looking). The idea is to gain time by focusing on what I want to do rather than on the "how"'s, and to leverage the moments of inspiration. For everyday use, I find very useful:

     - Evernote
     - Google docs
     - Google calendar

Always connected. I prefer tools that have the ability to sync across multiple devices: iPhone, Windows desktop at work, my Mac at home,  the Mac I use in Kyiv. They give me the freedom to work and spot opportunities wherever I am, whenever I choose, without having to carry a big luggage with me - most of the time, the iPhone should be enough.

I want my data with me all the time, yet I don't like carrying it around. Luckily, in the world of today, it is easier than ever to have access to my important documents from anywhere; much easier  than it was 3 or 5 years ago. Because of the interconnected devices (phones, tables, laptops, desktop computers), hard drives and local storage are technologies that fade out in the past, in favor of the new cloud model. Cloud or web-based applications allow me to travel light yet instantly take notes whenever something interesting crosses my mind.

Usability and beauty. I like to be surrounded with easy to use hardware and software so that I can focus more on the "what"'s instead of the "how"s and spend more time in the flow. I also like to be surrounded with things that look good and feel right. Beauty is important as it makes work more pleasurable - the environment where I spend my time, my computer, my phone. Simplicity, beauty, usability, speed are all in the same pool of features that make my day brighter.

I don't like to be surrounded by too many objects.  Complexity makes life sluggish. It stops me from focusing on the important. 

When I have too many objects, applications or documents to manage, I waste time. Being disorganized wastes time and frustrates me. It is much easier and less time consuming to maintain order when I have only a few things around. It gets me productive, helps me stay in the flow, reduces the activities I have to perform. Simplicity is key to focus for me.

Take notes. Remembering stuff is extremely time consuming  and inefficient. I gather all my thoughts, ideas, plans, in a note taking app (Evernote) or in a calendar to be reminded later. I see that stress comes from trying to remember what I have to do. If I keep the list only in my head, the only thing I accomplish is to be stressed that I will forget something. Taking notes keeps my peace of mind. Fortunately, today I can take notes anytime, anywhere: my iPhone, my laptop, my computer at work are great devices to sketch ideas for future review. And if I have them all interconnected and synchronized, then I am not bound by location.

Plan your week. A powerful tool I use is the calendar - it helps me plan the week ahead and also keep track of the activities I want to perform. It allows me to free my mind to execute what I have planned - the important items on my checklist - and eliminate the noise of urgency. A hidden advantage of the corporate calendar (Outlook) is that, if I plan my work week ahead using it, I can add there my own free slots for meetings, thus securing non-interrupted spans of time for important tasks. Also, having the week ahead organized in advance helps me say NO - another very powerful tool for managing my activity. Having a plan makes it easier for me to understand why say NO and explain it to the people around me. Of course, like any other tool, planning is useful if it is used on a regular basis.

Although I am a huge fan of communication technology (I have 2 phones, facebook, linked-in and twitter accounts, at work I use instant messaging, emails, etc, etc), I see technology as a double edged sword: on one hand it simplifies communication yet, on the other hand, it makes people consider that others are always available to interruptions. Answering all the requests on the spot, although rewarding in terms of instant gratification, have only the result of fragmenting time and put me out of flow - google "why work doesn't happen at work" on TED. Also, it places me in the "urgency" spot, in reactive mode. This is why sometimes, in the evening, I get home tired yet, when I think back, it seems that I have done nothing relevant that day. Managing interruptions is part of the time management routine and it is very important for me to consider flow when I plan my day. 

Scalable vs non-scalable. Take time to think:

Very few people are constantly aware that consistently increasing their output does not come from working more but from working smarter. Ask yourself "if I want do double my value on the labour market, is it smart to work twice as much or find a different way of doing things that would allow me to work the same amount of time but produce twice the result?" That is the difference between scalable and non-scalable. 

Many jobs, like ditching, are not scalable - that is, of course, until someone invents the excavator which renders every professional ditcher obsolete. Today, the hunt for scalable is fiercer than ever, as we need to be more productive, smarter, faster, more creative. 

For managers it is handy to ask people to work more because it is something that can easily be measured - it can produce some foreseeable results NOW, whereas investing in planning, brainstorming, learning and thinking ahead for each member of the team are more difficult to estimate in terms of practicality. However, on the long run, working long hours daily does not generate a boost of productivity - maybe only a 10% increase which, for sure, does not sound at all impressive.

Why this talk? Because the underlying purpose of time management is to get more stuff done which, in terms, is linked to finding time to think deeper, learn more, search for new ways of doing the old in more productive ways. Time management is about making your work become scalable.

Many people say "I don't have time to plan or learn". Well, they don't because they are caught up in urgency. Ask yourself: how valuable is the work you do NOW? To whom? Is it really needed? Does it really matter? I believe that, because of frequent interruptions, emails, poor planning, a lot of the work we do is useless as it only creates noise, generates chaos and bad decisions - in a word, waste. 

Plain execution is not scalable unless it is done by a machine and not a person. For the average employee, he or she simply cannot work twice as long as there is no daylight time to do so. Important is to work smart and say NO to the unimportant so that he or she can concentrate on adding true value. 

Execution takes large amounts of time, most of the time underestimated. (I've heard "it is easy" so many times that I just can't believe it anymore). The best advice I could give someone, is to SELECT HIS EXECUTION WISELY and make sure it is, indeed, the most valuable thing he can do. To do this, she needs to think and learn - to reinvent her job.

People expect us to do some factory-style labour all the time because it is something that we are used to see. School teaches us to be busy and it surely is tempting to think that this is the easiest thing to do to increase productivity - work more. This is the "factory" culture and we need to find a new frame of mind to scale our work.

Today, perfect execution is more important than ever. The polish and quality needed to create products that sell is obtained through intellectual sweat and long hours put into them, in addition to passion and knowledge. I am a huge fan of perfection when it comes to execution. Learning also comes from doing and communication is extremely important although it adds another layer of complexity. So pick your battles wise, so that most of the effort is put in the right place.  To do this, one needs constant thinking, planning, learning, reflection - to actively manage his or her time.

Some pictures from the event:

Alina Buzatu, my host and trainer at this event held by Empower
Myself, discussing the subject 
Showcasing some tools: Google Calendar and Evernote

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Small Things You Can Do To Keep the Nature Clean

Last weekend: short escape in the Bucegi Mountains with my girlfriend, Alina.

View from the road to Piatra Arsa chalet

Unfortunately, the closer we got to easily accessible places of interest, like the "Babele" chalet, we were stroke by the increasing number of beer cans and plastic bottles that were thrown away in the field.

Gathering Plastic Bottles, near the "Babele" Peak (1st round)

Many people think that either a solution cannot be found to having tourists not throwing garbage in the fields or that it is not their responsibility to find a one. I don't think so.

Plastic bottles left behind by tourists

Probably most people believe that it lies with someone else, like with authorities that should increase penalties for garbage disposal in non-specifically arranged locations, have enough law enforcement officers in the field to apply the law, install trash bins in these areas and collect the garbage frequently. NGOs. Students. Army. Somebody else. And up to a point they are right: authorities should maintain public spaces clean, as we pay them to do so and it lies within their area of responsibility.

Others simply don't care.

Plastic bottles gathered from the fields, near the "Piatra Arsa" chalet (round 2) - unfortunately we couldn't carry more with our bare hands

What is often forgotten is the role that each individual has in maintaining the environment pristine. It is within our grasp to have an attitude. Yes, I believe in the power of small individual action applied on a large scale. I believe in the power of small personal effort multiplied by a large number of people:

  • When you see a plastic bottle thrown down in the grass or in the street, collect it. Collect as many as you can. Other people will see you and might do the same. Yes, I honestly believe that many people don't know that they can collect these bottles. 
  • Invite others to follow. Many people are afraid to make the first step. Show them that it is ok.
  • Explain what you are doing. Explain the power of collective action. If 10 people collect 10 bottles each, that is 100 bottles - a clean field, without much hassle. 10 people is very few for a location like "Babele" where hundreds  of people go there every weekend. Explain the power of personal example. Spread the word! Take a stand!
  • When you see someone throwing a cigarette on an empty bottle in an un-arranged location, approach him, look him in the eyes and ask why. (yes, it is scary at first, but what would you do if that person throws trash in your own garden - yes, the streets, the mountains, the parks are our own collective gardens)

View from the top

I believe that many people are reluctant to act because they don't trust that their effort has an effect on the long term. But it does and it extends beyond their mere action. I believe that cleaning up the environment is contagious and invites others to follow. It passes the message further. It creates waves. It creates a trend. An individual, by himself, does not have enough power to clean up the whole planet. But he can empower the people around him to do so by his personal example. If 10 people watch and follow him in the course of his life, and if another 10 people follow each of the 10 people, we have already 111 people cleaning up our fields, our neighborhoods, our streets. And it grows exponentially. And where it is clean and tidy, it is less likely for others to throw trash back in.

Tourists at the "Babele" Chalet - if each of them would pick one bottle...

Yes, I believe that it lies within our power to act locally. It is scary at first but after that it feels great. Don't wait for the weekend. Tomorrow, when you see a plastic bottle on your way to work, pick it up! You do it in your living room, right? Why not extend to your street, your nearby park, our forests?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Entrepreneurship - Notes

GRASP Start-up Weekend - Bran (July 2011)

Here are the notes I took while participating in the GRASP Start-up Weekend meeting this July. I believe they apply to any person looking to take control over his or her (professional) life, not only to those who we commonly refer to as entrepreneurs. For instance, one can have an entrepreneurial spirit in pro-actively managing his education, his career or act as an intrapreneur by employing resources from an organization to develop new ventures inside it. For me, all of the elements below define a free, action and growth oriented spirit.

1. What kind of profiles does a business need? 

All three:
  • Entrepreneur - breaks the rules, risks
  • Manager - predictable improvement
  • Administrator - keep it working
As nobody is perfect, always work with people who are better than you at least in one area.

2. What does an entrepreneur need? 

  • Business plan:
    • More than a business plan it needs a market analysis (simple: Google, ask  for information and feedback wherever you go. Test your product before you do it). Niche! Segment market!
    • Start slim. Favour contractual relations:
      • Don't have employees
      • Don't have co-owners
      • Own 100% as long as possible
      • Worst: 50%-50% due to lack of decision power
    • Write your business plan like you want to sell your business
    • Elevator pitch - brief and clarity of ideas
    • Don't overestimate revenue and don't underestimate costs
    • Write then get feedback - test it before you implement it
    • Bring an idea from outside - if you can copy, don't reinvent the wheel
    • Define your product, your market, your network, your selling and your growth strategy
    • Don't stick with the business plan but have it handy as a baseline
  • Credibility:
    • Most important: business today is done based on trust
    • Built in time
    • Who is your mentor and who is your advisor? Board of trustees.
    • People you want to know always talk to you when you are a student. When you are in business, they think you want to sell something - the true value of an MBA is access to these people.
    • How to build and maintain credibility:
      • Keep people informed of what you do. Send emails from time to time to cultivate relations, not necessary to ask for something.
      • Send information that might be useful to them
      • Say thank you
      • Reply immediately to emails and phone calls
      • Send emails to people after you meet them

"Tell me what you have done and who you are associated with and I'll tell you who you are".
  • Money:
    • Cultivate relations with bankers and lawyers.
    • More important than a refusal is to know why you were refused. Ask for feedback.
    • Sources of money:
      • Personal funding
      • Angel investment
      • Venture Capital
      • Banks
  • Think big and global:
    • How would it transform your business by growing it not by 30% but by 1000% or 10000%. Bringing ideas to the extreme reveals marginal forces and ideas one may not take into consideration. Forces prioritization.
    • The world is not only Romania or Western Europe. It is also USA, the Arab countries, Russia, China, India, Japan, South America, Africa. How can we extend to these countries? Distant worlds may need my expertise more than the people around me.

3. Personal traits:
  • Self disciplined
  • Curious. Quick learner.
  • Writes ideas down - get into the habit of writing down everything you think about. Plan your week, plan your day, plan your next year. In writing. Write names. Calendar meetings and activities. Ideas. Catalogue sources of information. 
  • Thinker and doer - think first and prototype quick. Rework. Incorporate feedback. Prototype and deliver something fast.
    • Who are my early adopters?
    • Who can benefit immediately? (company / person)
    • Develop in collaboration
  • Courageous
  • Passionate
  • Forward thinker: how can this concept work without me? 
  • Servant mentality: not what I want to do but how can my business help others? This gives purpose which, in terms, helps people self propel in times of hesitation. It helps define the mission which, in terms, is the goal for strategy and tactics and a major motivation factor. Who are we? - What is my motivation? Leader = agent of change.

4. True value of an MBA:
  • Understand the language of business
  • Know and network with business people who wouldn't talk to you unless you are a student
  • Create mental models for reality checks

And since we also took pictures there, here is another one:

Bran, Romania

What Means to Be Sure of Yourself

Yesterday I was putting my papers in order when I stumbled upon some notes I wrote during a leadership training I participated in few years ago. It was about what it means to be sure of yourself. I thought I'd share them with you as a short sum-up of the subject.

A person sure of herself:

  • Speaks loud and clear
  • Expresses his feelings
  • Expresses her wishes loud and clear
    • An unspoken wish does not exist.
    • An unsure person is afraid to express his wishes because of fear of criticism or refusal.
  • Knows how to say NO
    • Personal note: I've discovered that it is much easier to say NO when you are prepared. By that, I mean you know your objectives and you have a course charted to accomplish them. If you have a plan, it's easier to estimate your resources and availability and whether what you are asked to do benefits you as well. 
  • Is capable of criticism
    • Positive statement + criticism
    • Express emotion + criticism
    • Express solutions + criticism
    • Descriptive and precise
  • Reacts positively to criticism
    • Criticism is seen as information
    • Asks for more details and rephrases to make sure he understands
    • Asks for advice
    • Expresses her emotions when critics is overwhelming
    • Can decide whether to use the other person as mentor
  • Allows himself to make mistakes
    • Any mistake is seen as an experience that can be overtaken
    • Any mistake does not say about me that I've embarrassed myself forever
  • Is capable of asking for help
    • Only the strong ones ask for help
    • Hiding a weakness and not asking for help attracts attention
  • Is capable of self-presentation
    • Visual contact, distance between individuals, movement, speed of speech, loudness of speech, content of speech

Monday, August 29, 2011

Books That Shaped My Last Year

I thought I'd share with you some books that shaped my view of the world in the last year (2010 - 2011). It's not only the book that mattered, it's also the moment when I read it so, here is my personal perspective:

Most mind-shifting: 

Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship

Agile programming philosophy. Emphasis on intrinsic software quality. Test driven development. Shows what it means to be a professional programmer and to see your profession as a form of art that you have respect and dedication for. Continuous improvement.

I read this book in a period of soul searching, while coding for HAWX 2, few months after SH5 release. It really got me thinking about how to build intrinsic quality in our products and how to support my colleagues to not compromise when it comes to "clean code" and bugs.

Here on Amazon

The Toyota Way

Probably the best management book I've ever read. Focus on intrinsic quality, continuous improvement, respect for people, engineering led organization - here are the principles.

To put it in a few words, "The Toyota Way" is more than management - it's a philosophy of work rooted in a deep respect for the human being - the engineer inside the organization, the customer, the supplier and even the competition.

Here On Amazon

Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose - The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership, 4th Edition

The GROW coaching method. Inspiring. Art of asking the right questions. Trust in people potential. Strong leadership model.

I knew before reading this book that imperative management style is not suiting me nor that it produces good results in creative teams. I had no idea, though, on how to proceed. This book gave me a jump-start, courage and a tool to be a more people oriented manager, not only in attitude and mindset, but also in practice.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Personal development, personal leadership. From inside-out. Collaboration,Win-Win, Synergy, Proactiveness, End-in-mind, Prioritize, Listen and understand.

For me this book meant putting into words a series of unstructured thoughts, patterns, behaviours that I intuitively felt were right but I didn't know how to define or explain them. On the other hand, it helped me understand some wrong behaviours that I had, like not knowing how to act in a Win-Win fashion. Reading it, felt like a big relief.

Other mind-shifters since September 2010:

  • Tribes - Seth Godin 
    • In simple words, what it means to be a leader. Am I a leader? Reading this book got me thinking about this question, porting me from yes to no and back several times. 
  • The One Minute Manager - Kenneth H Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
    • A simple pattern for being a high performance manager.Goal settings, praising and reprimands. A very short must read for anyone (manager or not) - 2 hours at maximum. Has some very funny explanations about the formal appraisals and the average mentality that is so common in corporations. 
  • The World is Curved - David Smick
    • My introduction to the global world of finances. This book gave me some very cool insights on the current financial crisis and on how the entrepreneurial world is financed and by whom. 
  • If You Are Clueless About Starting your Own Business - Seth Godin
    • After reading the "The World is Curved", I wanted to know more about entrepreneurship. That combined with my girlfriend working to start her own coaching business, led me to getting this book. It took me through all the steps of starting a small business, from writing a business plan, testing the market, creating a marketing strategy, financing or finding a mentor to selling and growing your business. Short, very insightful, useful both as an overview and as a practical framework to follow when you take the big step. 
  • Superfreakonomics - Stephen D. Levitt
    • I had fun reading this book. If I were to compare it, I'd compare it to Blink, The Tipping Point and The Outliers by Malcom Gladwell (one of my favourite thinkers and writers) - the same kind of example-based explanations. 
  • The Inner Game of Work - Timothy Gallway
    • Again coaching, from the creator of professional coaching. More philosophy oriented than "Coaching for Performance" but, nevertheless, a must read. A nice and practical theory about how, sometimes, conscience blocks performance and how coaching can help removing these mental barriers. 
  • Clever  - Rob Goffee, Gareth Jones
    • I've never had any doubt that truly creative spirits need the resources of the larger organization, a space in which they can prototype their ideas, that they are rebellious and that they hate management for imposing restrictions on them. Therefore the manager should position himself/herself in such a way that he/she can actually provide visible value to his team in order to gain their trust and cooperation. In short, this is what this book is all about, with examples from Google, Microsoft, EA, Apple etc, etc.
  • The Myths of Innovation - Scott Berkun
    • THE tool to use when the team doesn't know what to do to generate new ideas and everyone is hoping for divine intervention. 

And some literature, for the heart and soul:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

John Maxwell in Romania

I had the great opportunity to participate together with some of my colleagues from Ubisoft (thank you, Ubi!) to the John Maxwell's conference, "How To Be A R.E.A.L Success". John, an amazing speaker, described in simple words powerful truths about what it means to be successful. The conference was hosted in the Romanian Palace of the Parliament and over 1000 people attended. 

Here are my notes from the conference:

- R.E.A.L stands for: Relations, Equip others, Attitude and Leadership.
- Recommended reading: How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)
- A great free resource: A Minute With Maxwell - everyday a few words about leadership.


  • Treat other people the way you want to be treated (Golden Rule); always treat people fairly.
    • Winning with people: people can trace the failures or successes to the relationships in our lives.
    • Working with people - more challenging than working with equipment.
    • Who we are determine the way we see people - don't try to fix people, fix yourself. People see me the way I see myself and the way I see them.
  • The elevator principle: some people lift us up, some people leave us down. Am I taking people higher?
    • People that lift us up encourage us.
    • In the life of other people you are either a + or a -.
  • People practices:
    • Remember names! The sweetest sound for someone's ear.
    • The first 30 seconds rule: call by name and say something to connect with the other person (something positive).
    • People don't care about what you know, they care about what you care.
    • Law of buy-in: people buy in to the leader before they buy in to the vision. Sell yourself first.
  • Add value to people:

    • Add value -> influence -> leadership
    • If it's lonely at the top, nobody is following you - leaders take people with them because they value people.
    • Add value means: knowing and valuing what people value; walk slowly through the crowd.
    • Listen, learn then lead.
    • In the process of running a race, the leader never wins. He is where the people are.
  • Grow yourself!
    • What am I doing to develop myself? Am I growing?
    • Success is not automatic!
    • A successful life is an intentional life.
    • What am I doing to develop other people? Success = teach, train, mentor, coach.
    • Those who are closest to you will determine the level of your success.
    • In the history of mankind, nobody did it alone.
  • You have to like people and have the desire to help them.
  • Leaders discover their strengths first.

Equip people:

  • Work on their strengths.
  • I don't work on my weaknesses because I am weak at my weaknesses.
  • People don't pay for average. Successful means ABOVE average.
  • What are my strengths?
    • Help people find their strengths.
    • Help them understand success.
  • The secret of success: the daily agenda. What do I do daily? 
  • Everyday: preparing or repairing.
  • Discipline. Prioritize.
  • Take good decisions then Mange your decisions. Follow through daily.
  • Rule of 5:
    • Everyday (even on Christmas, even on my birthday) what are the 5 things I do everyday? What are MY 5 things? Discover my strengths!
    • John Maxwell's: Read, File, Write, Ask Questions, Think.
    • Secret of success: the daily agenda.
  • How to prioritize my life:
    • Requirements
    • Return of investment
    • Reward
  • How much time and money am I investing in my own development?


  • Successful people think differently; I have fallen much more then I've succeeded.
  • When I fail, how do I respond to the failure:
    • Learn?
    • Leave my failure?
  • Learn is the way.
  • It's easier to go from failure to success then it is to go from excuses to success.
  • Change before you have to! Fall forward!
  • Successful people don't stay down. Attitude is a choice. The attitude you have in your mind today you have chosen.
  • The only person in the world to make me happy is me.
  • Attitude is not enough. Competence is needed. If you don't have the competence but you have only a good attitude, you will only be happy when you're fired.
  • It is not true that if you believe it you achieved. If you believe in your strengths you will achieve it.


  • Successful people lead themselves and lead others.
  • You can grow and learn to lead.

Tools: leadership coaching, mentoring.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

AIESEC Bucharest Training

Yesterday, I had the unique pleasure to speak to the AIESEC students during a training on how to become a true leader. My topic was about how to employ coaching techniques when leading teams and I sustained it as complementary to my girlfriend's speech, Alina (she talked about one-on-one coaching fundamentals and practices, from the perspective of a professional coach (link in Romanian) ).

Here are my slides - thank you Google for the images!

The main, undeclared, purpose of the presentation was to get the participants to understand the attitude that a coaching manager should have toward his team - that is to feel 100% that he/she is part of the whole and that there is a strong interdependence between him/her and each team member. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Empowering Organization

On an additional note, the longer the command chain from the upper management to the people, the more managers will try to find a way to justify their power positions and the more the people from the lower levels will be demotivated and will take less risks. The organization becomes stiff, focused on processes and conformance.

In an empowering organization, the command chain is short, people from the lower levels of the hierarchy come with suggestions, ideas, improvements that are passed upwards to higher management which acts upon them. After all, engineers know best what is capable from the technology they have at hand, have ideas on what should or can be improved, designers and marketers know more about the latest trends on the market and thus know how to innovate in their areas, and so on. Competitive edge lies in the hands of people who are passionate, eager to perform and have the power to act upon their knowledge. From this comes motivation, trust, commitment, involvement, attachment, and self fulfilment. 

How does an organization become empowering? 

First of all, it all starts with a company culture that has trust in their own strength and is willing to trust its workforce. From such a culture emerges a trend to focus more on strategy and future and let go the control on people. Management then focuses on improving the processes and removing the impediments from the face of their men and women, so that everyone can concentrate on what they know and love to do. Instead of giving directions, managers will ask their people how they can help them achieve higher performance. People will feel that they have the power to control the outcome of their work and will want to prove that they are up to the trust they are given. The more they have control on their own work, the more they will get aware of what their impediments and limitations are and they will want to improve on that. A creativity and learning loop is then created that propagates throughout the organization - better products, happier workforce, more innovation, better processes, better strategies, more awareness and more involvement. 

Instead of having one brain working for the entire team to define what each one does, you have the benefit of having 10-15 brains working all together and cooperating. This comes from trust and it is all ignited by a culture in which people have faith in each other, have the power to define choices and choose for themselves, a culture in which manager's role is to propagate awareness and communication throughout the organization. Unfortunately, it  takes a lot of courage for an organization to change as the process of changing a culture is painful and will trigger a defence reaction in most of its employees who may feel that their security and privileges may be compromised.

Building High Performance Teams

Building a high performance team: (quick ideas)

a) Create a safe environment where people can express themselves. Empower engineers as the main driving force of the project.
  • Define expectations and roles. Management is a role and not a power position. Respect.
  • Management manages processes, not people. Create the true sense of interdependence.
  • Involve everyone in decisions that affects them and the project. Let the team define its goals and objectives.
ACB Bucharest core team in Kyiv to help move ACR there

b) Make sure that commitments are respected. No matter how small they are. Agile planning is a great tool for this.
  • Plan in iterations. Adapt. Communicate. Make sure that, in the end, no debt is left for the following iteration.
  • Honest failure is OK and safety is restored through re-planning.
  • Visibility and clarity on common goals. 
  • Celebrate successes.
  • Management is fully involved in respecting the commitments it makes.

c) Build a learning environment. Learning is rewarding and involving. It increases cohesion, communication, commitment, involvement.
  • Encourage learning. Learn from everything. 
  • Promote initiative.
  • Safe, enjoyable environment. Management is part of the team. Always. Common goals.
  • Increase knowledge sharing, encourage diversity of thought and know-how.
  • Increase productivity through new, innovative ways of doing things. Challenge the way things are done. Agree with the team on common variables to measure improvement. Celebrate improvement.
  • Discourage repetitiveness. Encourage lateral thought.

Always respect a) if in b), a) and b) if in c).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Agile Planning

Getting more agile:

In a word, agile methodologies are about acknowledging at the most inner level that change happens: and

Agile methodologies still need planning. After all, I doubt that many commercial software projects are started without at least a partial visibility on the budget and the scope involved. They need a vision, a goal to reach for and the steps to get there in order to convince.

These methodologies welcome and favor change and their practitioners are not afraid to modify plans if needed. The tendency is to keep things simple and manageable, keep the team happy and focused for undetermined periods of time and minimize risk on quality through constant releases. Stakeholders are informed about what happens in the project by directly experiencing the results, rather than getting through tons of reports. Yet still reports and accompanying documentation may be needed for proper understanding, but the focus is on the product.

In a sense, the planning methodology described in a previous post has agile traits. Early planning is kept to a minimum, refinement is achieved throughout the course of the project, flexibility in terms of vision and features exist. It's just that we need to go beyond that and add new elements to get where we want: high quality within budget and a happy, proud team.

Improving processes and optimizing workspace:

First of all, let's start by ripping off the authoritative aura of the traditional manager, making him part of the team and adding him a new role: that of the facilitator. His/her goal when acting in this role is to find creative ways to improve team performance by removing obstacles and clearing the path ahead. Let's quote from the agile manifesto:

"At regular intervals, the team reflects on how 
to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts 
its behaviour accordingly"

Then, let's add some means to find out what the blockers are: the best I could find (yes, it was not my idea;) ) is to have a daily 10-15 minutes meeting to find out what the current problems are and have people discover if the problem is local to them or more common. The purpose of this meeting is to create an urgencies agenda for the day:

Action plan for the manager
Find out who has encountered the problem before, if any, and gather some quick suggestions
Schedule more detailed meetings with people that manifest interest in the problem, after this meeting completes
Celebrate success when the project advances
Update the plan - where we are, where we are going

Software development and management are continuous, iterative processes of self improvement. While the goal for the agenda is noble and visibly useful (and fun), the actual meeting may not succeed from the first. It is important to keep the goals in mind, have patience and iterate. At first, it may become boring or too long but, as experience grows, it should get more and more successful and to the point. Just like anything else, the process is under continuous scrutiny by the team and suggestions for improvement should be made and always taken into consideration.

A second meeting should be considered; a longer meeting this time, one hour for instance, scheduled once a week or two, to discuss how we can improve and streamline our activity on a more macro level. While the daily meeting usually touches hot subjects, blockers that have just appeared, the longer meeting should take the form of a coaching or a brainstorming session, where more subtle issues can be discovered and action plans are laid to overcome them. Ideally, this meeting should be lead by a more experienced person or set up at first under less stressful periods so the people will be more eager to iterate.

Quality enforcement:

The second level of transition from the normal waterfall method to agile should be the quality enforcement. We need this because, in order to gain approval, we need success stories fast. We need a build that gets visibly better. People should feel first hand that something has changed such that, instead of focusing on putting features in as fast as possible, we now shift our attention to details, quality and, thus, self-esteem:

Bugs have a higher priority than features.
Quality is enforced early through smoke testing (daily builds) and code review. Additionally, the dev tester should be called in to verify the feature before check-in as, if the daily build fails, this is a dramatic event - part of the team may not work!

To have this, we need two prerequisites:
A working pipeline and a daily build process that is checked continuously.
Visibility, like play the version once a week, an hour, in an organized manner, with an emphasis on new developments.

The most important aspect of development is to keep the version clean and working smooth. This has higher priority than anything else and all the team should focus on this and find ways to improve and secure the daily build.

Planning in a more agile way:

Planning is a little bit more tricky because it has to deal with uncertainty. I think it should have three levels:

1. Macro level should contain top level components, with allocated times and budgets. Unlike imperative planning, where tasks are assigned and fixed, this level is maintained as a general baseline, a guideline for communication and for risk estimation.

2. Second level is created by adding user stories. User stories are the requirements. Their scope ranges from "the game should have a crew management system with an interface" (along with a rough estimation) to "when the player clicks on the crew icon, it should change colors". These user stories should have a time estimate (given by team) and value (given by the requirement owner) and they become more and more detailed over time, as implementation moves forward. They can be changed or deleted easily.

3. Refinement is done by the team, in a planning meeting, before the iteration begins. The team chooses what to do in the iteration based on the value and the dependencies of each user story. Then, each story is split into tasks.

Agile planning should be an on-going, forward looking process. User stories should be detailed ahead of the iteration so that, when iteration begins, the team knows exactly what they can commit to. Important: 1st step to develop a team: make everyone stick to their commitments fully, no matter how small they are. This increases self-awareness and self-pride.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hosting the Public Speaking Support Group Meeting

Today I had the pleasure to host the Public Speaking Support Group meeting held at the Orange Concept Store, in Bucharest (thank you Razvan Daba!). It was an incredible experience to be among friends and listen to their presentations about what they love to do.

Here are the slides I used to support my intro to the meeting. I hope they will give you a hint about how cool this project is (Romanian).

BTW, the project is open to anyone! Looking forward to meeting you!