When everything is a priority

There was a time when learning css one of my friends told me a clever hack, use the ‘!important’ flag which will override all the other precedences. It was a boon for me when deadline was screaming down at me, for any css issue when I used the priority override and bam the bug was fixed. My joy was short lived, I was creating havoc in the css code and tough debug issues within a few days that I had to revert all the flags I had used and spend time fixing it properly. A big lesson learnt that stays with me, never abuse powerful tools.

I meet some managers who employ this trick in their day to day life. They take pride in answering questions like ‘When do you want this done?’ as ‘YESTERDAY’ and follow with a grin. The communication is limited to only deadlines and urgency, not the intent of what the task or the project is supposed to do. These people are high up in the power chain and use their coercive power to get things done.

What they don’t realise is the amount of things that pile up as priority items and how when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. There is only so much that can be done with the amount of time and money in hand; with that judicial balance of outcome and effort gives a great returns compared to a series of high priority and urgent tasks that are done for the sake of being done.

I liked what I read at this link https://basecamp.com/books/calm

Great projects and products can get going with sane pace and working style. Don’t misuse the priority tag.

The whole should be greater than the sum of the parts

Too often I run into people who are way too concerned about velocity in software development and do a lot of math jugglery to make a plan look great to them and their bosses. The task breakdown in software development projects are empirical, it is not that scientific enough to drill it down to plain numbers and apply optimisation techniques on it or swap people like machines between tasks.

But many managers break down the tasks as if there is no communication or sync up required between people and if at all there is some communication, then people have to communicate over formal structures and contracts. If you trace these back to what it is, you get waterfall process with rigid contracts and control structures.

Teams are built with people; people get bored, fall sick, need vacations and skills vary between individuals. Planning needs to take into account task rotations, interactions between teams, contingencies, people skills, training & staffing issues, context and above all requirements that can change entirely or scope that increases a lot after deep understanding.

The result of managers treating work division in software like labour work results in unrealistic expectations which produces an output that is always on fire and setting self fulfilling prophecies that software teams don’t deliver hence need to be micromanaged.

Software development is a dynamic systems with a ton of moving and evolving parts, in a dynamic the system the whole is much more than the sum of the parts. A plant as a whole is much more than when seen as leaves, stems, branches, seeds, flowers, trunk and root.

Do not erase

I was very surprised to note that in paper based offices there was nothing like erase a mistake or throw out the original, it was always an append over the previous ones. Be it land records, mark sheets or accounts. The end state was always calculated and consolidated than written, erased and rewritten.

Why do you need an eraser when you can always create a new version?

This is very different in the software world, it is always wipe out old values and put the latest unless there are transactions which have to be recorded each time they happened. In real world everything happens by events yet in software we were always saving end states until recent times where having a common shared state became a huge problem when the systems started scaling and no one can have a claim to be the source of truth.

The problem with saving the projections is that we have to constantly erase and rewrite the projected truth, it was inconvenient in paper based ones so people stuck to append only. Since software makes erasing and writing easy, projections were always created during events instead of storing the events.

Why this becomes a problem? The problem is when there are lots of actors and they have to share the truth between them. Not everyone is interested in the entire projection and transporting that data also becomes painful. The solution is to keep events/transactions as it is and let each of the actors compute their projections when they want.

This is how we work in the real world, the events keep happening whether we observe or not, we try to make sense of it only when we are interested in it to do something with the events; else it just gets journaled somewhere unless someone wants to go through them. I am glad that more and more technology solutions are taking a cue from the biological and social world which had taken 100s and 1000s of years to evolve, instead of discarding them as old way of doing things.

Sweet price, Bitter quality

I often encounter people who deal only with false promises and a lot of people fall for it and yet take it easy as if it is normal.

Consider the following scenario.

There are two tailors who have setup shops side by side, during the festive season you go to store ‘A’ and request to tailor your suit in a week which is made of very expensive cloth. The tailor informs that due to the workload you will not be able to get the suit in a week but in about 10 days which is cutting too close to the day of the festival. In the past this tailor has delivered with good quality on promised dates but this is too close for you to take a call.

So you visit store ‘B’ where they also have a similar workload and backlog but promise to deliver to you within 5 days. They cost a little bit less and you are happy with the deal. 5 days later you turn up to collect your suit and you are in for a shock that the cloth has not yet been put in the queue for cutting and stitching. After losing your cool and talking to various people who play bad and good cop finally you are promised to get the delivery in another 5 days. 

5 days later, you have to be ready for the event in the evening so you drop by the tailor to collect your suit. You notice that the tailor is still stitching in a hurried manner and makes you wait for a few hours before giving it to you. On getting the suit you notice that it has a lot of glitches like double seams, improper creasing, misaligned pocket flaps etc. Only a few of them gets somehow masked and you end up late for the event in a spoiled suit. 

After the event you take it to Store ‘A’ and they tell you that they can fix it but it will take 10 more days and cost the same as a new suit as there are extensive repairs to save the expensive cloth. You reluctantly agree and at the end of 10 days you are surprised with on time delivery and the quality of the suit. You leave the place with a regret that you did not place the order with Store ‘A’. 

The scenario is similar at all levels even where the deals run into millions. The lure of a sweet price is so much that no one takes a look at the feasibility. Only in some cases the person making the deal is the same person getting the bad quality; but most of the cases the person making the deal gets good benefits for the sweet deals and the brunt is borne by someone else often many steps down the ladder. This leaves no room for direct observation and hence the feedback loop is never closed; the sweet deals and bitter quality output keeps going on rounds. 

One of my friends tweeted this recently

The bitterness of poor quality lingers much longer after the sweetness of a cheap deal has disappeared. 

Image courtesy: rawpixel on Unsplash

No added sugar

Marketing is quite powerful and can impact us so much that we take many decisions based on the biased knowledge we have been imparted with. A recent experience with diet made me find a lot of loopholes exploited by the food industry and how it is the same product that had been there for many years with just some labels and some phrase changes. The biggest one is ‘No added sugar’. I have been believing this label until I found out the truth the hard way by cutting down on refined sugar in the diet. The number of sick days in a year went down considerably when the refined sugar in the diet came down to near zero.

spoon-2426623_640.jpgNo added sugar test

Take this following test – Try drinking fresh fruit juice without sugar, if you had been accustomed juice with sugar, this is unpalatable. But if you continue doing this for about a week your taste buds gets adjusted (caveat: Cut down sweets as well for that week to make it easily observable). The craving is hard to resist but promise yourselves a cheat treat if you pass one week.

By the end of a week or so the taste buds would have adjusted such that you begin to appreciate the subtle flavours and natural sweetness in the fruit juices. At this point of time, have two fruit juices of the same fruit side by side, one freshly prepared without sugar and another with a popular ‘No added sugar’ brand. Try the difference in the taste between them, see that the ‘No added sugar’ is significantly sweeter.

Why is that even with ‘No added sugar’ the branded drinks appear to be sweet? They have the following marketing tricks up their sleeve to substitute the word sugar. 

Dehydrated cane juice – Excuse me, isn’t that sugar. This was the most outrageous disguise I have found. Dehydrated cane juice is apparently not sugar for many people. This helps in adding the same amount of sugar as a sugared juice.

Some juice concentrate – This is pure genius, If you take apple juice, the label will often read ‘apple juice concentrate’ which helps to boost the per ml sugar content in the juice from the natural sugars in the fruit. We end up taking the same amount of sugar dose for a sugared juice which can be as high as two teaspoons for every 100 ml.

While a lot of people are trying to fight lifestyle and overconsumption related diseases there is a group of people who are working hard to trick people into making poor lifestyle choices. By doing so they are getting rewarded big at the expense of a unhealthy greater good. There is no big difference between an adulterer and these marketing gurus in the way they trick people to become wealthy.

There are a lot more, try to find what ‘No added preservatives‘ mean.

The trouble with gig economy

I grew up in a social setting such that people once they earn a bad name, it was very difficult for them to recover and be back in full swing in the society. They have to rebuild their reputation either in a new place or the same place. Why did people try to associate themselves to a society?; because living together was easy and people helped each other a lot. If one falls sick, there were people who helped the family of the sick member to help them get back upto speed.

The labour market also did the same, governments across the globe came up with a lot of guidelines and laws to employ people such a way that there was social security in the form of sick time, paid leaves, bonuses, retirement funds, insurance and gratuities. We were able to advance as a society very well with these elaborate social structures, though someone can earn a lot of money doing small gigs many people avoided for the predictable life of an established company.

The lure of quick money is always there, especially when people are young the cash in hand always triumphs the long term survivability. People don’t see far ahead and not many are aware of saving for the rainy days when they are strong, healthy and ignorant. This makes a lot of people take up gigs to survive, a gig means – ‘a job, especially one that is temporary or that has an uncertain future’. Gigs offer a lot of money in hand for a given skill and experience to compensate for the uncertainty in the future.

The money component alone lures a lot of people into the gig economy where people with less or no skills can immediately get going and even get paid within a day of commencing work. The trouble with gig economy is

  1. There is no social net in it, sort of a medieval system where the strongest and fittest survive. If people fall sick or meet with an accident they lose all the savings, they earn no money during sick time and end up with a perpetual high cost debt.
  2. You can get away doing bad work or behaviour, and if things go bad you can leave a system and join something else fresh. If you did bad job in a food delivery system, you can leave and make money driving cars for sometime. Though the same is possible in full time employment, the scale at which this can happen is big in the gig economy and you can change identities easily or mask your past performance easily

It is hard to address point number 1, the gig economy is new and it is giving jobs to a lot of people and many of them get a lot of money which they think is disposable and end up spending it.

The second point is bad from a consumer point of view, if there is no repeat business from a customer there is no incentive to give good product or service. Uber does it through its rating system, but what if that person decides to create a new profile altogether after a messed up profile or switch gigs to something else.

In the short run it seems a lot of people will have new jobs and people in college can do part time work for delivery services, but in the long run it will tune people to settle for a life where they think that they can earn a lot than full time employment but companies will do all sorts of tactics like ‘bait and switch’ which has happened to cab drivers in India and keep them hooked on to the system even when it turns damaging for them.

There will be a point in time that governments have to intervene to make sure exploitation of its citizens don’t take place else our society will slowly regress into a medieval feudal system.

Public opinion is fickle

We generally go by ‘The Spotlight Effect‘, we always think about what others think about and assume there is a greater chance of people noticing each and every thing we do and form an opinion about it. On the contrary, every one else has very less time to think about others and often think about themselves.

As observers we do notice a lot about things and give our opinions on it, but generally we lack the expertise and we are not the person in the arena facing the situation. Nevertheless our opinion as an observer gets voiced out, but most likely our opinions will change given our experience changes.

Change the tables around, the public has a lot of opinion on us. Some of us go way too much that we go about changing a lot about ourselves to make sure the public opinion about us is good, but the public opinion is fickle. People have a lot of other work to do and many at times they don’t even remember the opinion they had on us when we meet them.

Remember the story of the deaf frog who emerged victorious, learn to listen to yourself than spending energy on what others should think about you.