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Tom DeMarco: Quick or Dead

I attended Tom DeMarco's presentation at Boston SPIN on 21 February, 2006. Here are my thoughts.

His main point was that organizations and workers waste too much time and energy that don't contribute to the custmer's purpose. Email and poorly conceived meetings have taken over. He blames this on what he calls addicitive behaviors.

An addictive behavior is an activity that relieves some pain for the short term but has a long term effect of increasing the pain. We're kept in slavery to them by a defect of reasoning that sess the behavior as the only answer to the pain.

Reading email is a defensive action, not a productive one. People feel they have to read and reply to all emails in order to avoid giving implied consent by their silence. Of course this makes for ever more email to reply to.

Most meetings are empty ceremony. Groups meet for the sake of meeting as opposed to meeting in order to make a decision. Tom calls typical meetings the 'dinner with Dad' model. The boss interacts with oen person at a time, serially. He propses a better model, the 'West Wing' model, where individuals interact informally in the corridors to arrive quickly at a consensus on a well defined problem.

In the Q&A segment, we discussed telecommuting, and the possbility that it was an addictive behavior. He didn't come out against it categorically. He ceded that it could be real solution to the inefficiency of commuting. But he was concerned that you can't 'have lunch together' over the Internet, because the 'pipe is too narrow'. You need too see the other person's face in detail, to gauge his mood, make eye contact, etc.

My thoughts are that collaboration over the Internet is a must. It's just not practical to do things the old way, with gas prices and commute times what they are. Travel is the problem. But he's got a point about the human interaction. I asked if a wider screen would help provide a more satisfactory telepresence experience. He didn't object ot the idea, but he didn't have an answer ready.

A lot of groups I'm involved with are dying off because they can't get together for meetings. But collaboration over the Internet definitely has a 'narrow pipe' problem to it. I've been in the worst of both worlds where a project leader tried to have 'dinner with Dad' over the Internet and teleconferencing. At least I didn't waste any gas money that way.

I think what we urgently need is a more immersive version of online presence. Make the pipe fatter somehow.
Rowland Send private email
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Aren't SPIN meetings addictive behavior?
son of parnas
Thursday, February 23, 2006
"He propses a better model, the 'West Wing' model, where individuals interact informally in the corridors to arrive quickly at a consensus on a well defined problem."

Maybe, maybe not. The need to CYA often prohibits such informality. Someone has to make the decision and be responsible for it. Decisions made during meetings are more public. You can't deny what happened when everyone was there.
MBJ Send private email
Thursday, February 23, 2006
I agree with MBJ. I company I worked in had a full-staff meeting each morning, with about 30 developers and other staff pressent. The team leaders would give a (very quick) report of their respective projects and the management would report everyone on any important developments, like new big clients, introduction of new hires etc.

The point is that while many people didn't actively participate in the meeting, everyone participated at least passively, getting information about the state of the whole firm and their place in it. And anyone could raise any question, in front of everyone.
Berislav Lopac Send private email
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Isn't IM the 'West Wing' corridor of telecommuting?
Spinoza Send private email
Thursday, February 23, 2006
If the internet can replace the need to meet face-to-face, then you didn't need to meet face-to-face anyway.
Sassy Send private email
Friday, February 24, 2006
Ah, but face-to-face meetings are so expensive, that lots of companies would rather they WEREN'T needed, whether they are or not.

Thus the push to make them web-centric.

You can get into a lot of trouble that way.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Tom was spot on.  We have been able to -elminate- weekly status reports, cut account meetings by 2/3'rds and increase work time up to 90 minutes a day per person by employing agile techniques such as Scrum.  The impact has moved us back into the time where people spend most of their time in 'huddles' or working alone.  Business is aware daily of where we are, where we plan to be by tomorrow and what is holding us up.  Every 5 or ten days business looks at their book of work, decides what is most important to them and then collaborates with us to see what and how much we can get done on their hot buttons.  bad business decisions are executed as thoroughly as good ones.  Darwin takes care of repeated bad decision makers.
Mike Dwyer Send private email
Friday, March 10, 2006

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