Feedback – the Candy Crush Way!

If you have lately been unproductive, there is a good chance that you are addicted to Candy Crush.

Well if it’s any consolation, you are joined by millions of others around the world. If you need more consolation, the addiction was recently a multi-page article in TIME magazine.

For those of you who are living in caves, Candy Crush Saga is an online game available on mobile and web platforms. It has various ‘levels’, each level cleared by busting three or more same colored candies present adjacent to each other on a grid. Your mission is to complete the level by busting candies to meet a particular target in a finite number of moves.

CandyCrush copy

Seems simple – so why the addiction?

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“You cannot set field for bad bowling”

If you are a Cricket fanatic, you definitely would have heard an analyst say the following during the course of a match:

“You cannot set field for bad bowling”

badfieldIf you don’t understand Cricket, here is a quick summary. There are 11 players a side. The batting side has two of his players out there to well – bat – and score runs. The bowling side has all 11 of their players on the cricket ground – placed strategically around the cricket pitch (the 22-yard rectangular area where the bowlers bowl and batsmen bat) to stop the scoring shots. The bowler has to deliver the ball in the right place – with the right line and length – to make sure that the batsman is forced to play where the fielders are. You set the field with a bowling strategy and plan based on the batsman’s strengths and the match situation. The side which scores the most runs wins.

There are just 10 players on the cricket field (other than the bowler). The ground is huge. Larger grounds are circular with a radius as large as 90 yards. If you don’t deliver the ball in the right places, the batsman has plenty of opportunity to hit around the ground – away from where the fielders are standing.

That is when the analysts say – “You cannot set field for bad bowling”. A bowler bowls a bad ball, the batsman hits at his will and everybody on the ground, other than the batsmen, look rather stupid!

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Communication is Part of the Task

In project management world, here is typically how communication about tasks takes place.

A team member completes a task assigned to her, and then makes an additional and distinct effort to communicate that she is done with it. She can do so by email, updating a project management tool or by simply shouting out loud in the team hall.

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While the shouting-out-loud may not be fun, what is worse is that she can potentially skip the shouting (or sending the email).

The stage of working on the task assigned to her, and her communication about its completion, are treated as two completely independent and distinct items. The communication requires proactive and explicit effort – sometimes very much an after-thought event!

This has the obvious failing of missing out on the communication part. After all, it’s the task that is more important, right? And you are doing a favor by additionally letting others know about it.

So imagine the day when she forgets to shout out in the hall that she is done. While you may not miss the shouting, you will certainly miss out on the communication. You would never know that you can now start something which was based on she being done. Even more, she may be wondering why you are not starting what you were supposed to. After all, she is done!

Interesting!

The problem is that communicating about something we are responsible for has always been kept separate – and worst even secondary and less important – than the actual work being done. Project managers consider it their responsibility going around actively asking for statuses. Team members consider updating the project management tool an unnecessary chore – better left for end of the day or when pounded on by the project manager. Software programmers simply ‘check-in’ their completed code but don’t intimate others they are done. And the list goes on.

This has the obvious failings of everybody in the team being at different levels of understandings. You may be waiting for something which is already done – which is obviously a productivity loss. There may be duplication of effort. There can be chaos and confusion. There can be a lot of shouting – but all for the wrong reason.

Common sense, right? We all know these problems. Unfortunately, this is how we fix it. We motivate more active communication. We keep enforcing it as a distinct post-work activity.

We need to merge the ‘working’ and ‘communicating’ parts.

Communicating to relevant people about what you are doing needs to be part of the task itself – not separate from it. The task is not done until it is completed and communicated to whomever it needs to be communicated to. It is not a post-activity, afterthought or favor. It is the final step of what you are doing.

Updating your project tracking tool needs be part of the work – not separate from it. Sending an email intimation should be done before you can say you are done. Telling your fellow programmers that you have checked in the code, and they can proceed, is part of your work – not a bonus item you add.

There is no such thing as no communication – you are always communicating. If you are not shouting out in the hall – all you are saying is that you are not done!

My Boss is an ‘Idiot’

“President Kennedy faced a foe more relentless than Khrushchev, just across the Potomac: the bellicose Joint Chiefs of Staff argued for the deployment of nuclear weapons and kept pressing to invade Cuba. Kennedy’s success in fending them off may have been his most consequential victory.”
From JFK vs. the Military

President John F. Kennedy was one of the youngest US Presidents – he was only 43 when he took the oath in 1961. He was also one of the youngest senators in the 1950s. He never held any executive office before he became President.

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Contrast it with his predecessor – President Dwight Eisenhower. He had been a five-star general in the US Army during WWII, Supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe and head of US Army before he became President. He was a WWII hero. He was President for 8 years. He was known to be a strong leader, ready to show military muscle as and when required and known for being the tough guy.

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Happy Birthday Thinking Spirits!

So, finally it’s a year of blogging. Happy Birthday to all of you!

My first real post was It Depends. It shows I was confused from the start. I had to even write a It Depends – 2 the following week.

And interestingly, this post is the 50th on the blog – almost 1 post per week. Good, but can be better.

And though Change Sucks, but change is good – so you can see a new theme for the blog!

In the spirit of last two posts on value of measurements, I decide to do some measurements of my own for the blog. And since Appearance Matters, I put them into infographics.

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I have managed to consolidate all writings into 5 core themes – Knowledge Work, Leadership, Communication, Productivity and Time Management. The 50 posts are distributed like:

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Know Thy Time

“Time is what we want most,but what we use worst.” 
         ― William Penn

Earlier, I wrote about the importance of measurement and data that represents reality. The main idea was that any improvement, personally or professionally, can only be effective if it is based on fact based measurements. In God we trust; all others bring data.

ImageThe article used the Global Slavery Index report as an example for defining the process of measurement.

That’s useful – but how about a measurement example that can be applied personally and has value? How if we measure where our time goes.

Our daily discourse is filled with clichés about time:

  • Time is money
  • Time is our greatest asset
  • Time is a great leveler

Yet, we abuse this great asset with impunity. We become unproductive at the very core asset that makes us productive and effective.

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In God we trust; all others bring data

“In God we trust; all others bring data.”
                              ― W. Edwards Deming     

Recently, the Walk Free Foundation released their inaugural annual report on global slavery – the Global Slavery Index. It is a detailed report defining what constitutes slavery, estimated number of slaves in the world, a ranking of countries based on estimated slaves, and detailed socio-economic analyses.

ImageWhat is relevant here is not the content of the report (which is not to say that it is unimportant), but the process and value of measurement and data. Peopleware, an all-time classic for knowledge workers, lays out a two-stage theory of measuring things:

1 – What cannot be measured, cannot be improved
2 – Any measurement is better than no measurement at all

Our decisions are generally based on heuristics, rules of thumb, hunches, gut feelings, personal experiences, cultural norms and our opinions about things. While all of these have their place, they more often than not are developed by circumstances and experiences, rather than data that represents reality. That is why most interventions, whether at policy, strategy or tactical level fail. That is one of the reasons Change Sucks.

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