Are You Sure You Don’t Have Enough?

I often hear people say, “I don’t have enough time.” Or, “We don’t have enough testers.” Or, “I don’t have enough authority or influence to do what I want to do.”

That’s scarcity thinking.

You’re right. You don’t have enough to do things the way you always have done them or would like to do themWhat else can you do?

I meet people who tell me, “I don’t have enough time to write as much as you do.” I ask them how they write. They tell me they need hours to sit in from of their computers or a notebook. I tell them I write in 10-minute chunks. I like writing in longer chunks, but I often don’t have those longer time blocks available. Only when we’re on vacation :-) They look or sound astonished. I have had to adapt how I write to the time I have available.

If you don’t have enough testers, what else can you do? Can you change the way you organize the projects or the teams? Can you sit down with the team and say, “Look, I’m the only tester and I’m worried about the testing. If we do the testing the way we always have, we’ll have a bottleneck.” Maybe you create a kanban board to show the flow of work and let people see the backup of work. You could say, “Is there another way we could work? Could we do reviews or pair or swarm or change something else about the way we develop our product? I’m open to suggestions. I’m quite worried.”

I meet leaders, projects managers, and managers who tell me they want to change things. Then they say, “I don’t have the influence or authority to change things.”

I’m a do-first, ask-permission later person. That has its own problems. But what you can do is the same thing when you don’t have enough people. You can gather some of the people affected by the problem, and say, “We have this problem. Here’s the manifestation of it. I’d like your help fixing it. Can you help me think of ways to fix it that are acceptable here?” Now, you’ve involved people so that they will help you build influence with you.

You don’t have to think of “The Solution” by yourself. That’s scarcity thinking, too.

There is never enough time for everything you want to do. You never have enough people for all the work you want to accomplish. You never have enough influence to do what you want to do.

You need to squiggle your way around the solution you originally considered.

What will you do?

Scarcity thinking prevents us from living full lives. This week, dear adaptable problem solvers, our question is: Are you sure you don’t have enough?

Who Makes the Choices in Your Life?

I spoke with a fellow consultant a couple of weeks ago. She asked for some coaching about rates. A potential client asked about a keynote. Then it turned into a workshop. Then it turned into a potential series of many workshops. Maybe even an entire agile journey for this organization. How awesome is that?

She was thinking of a modest keynote fee. I suggested she raise her fee. “I don’t know. That’s not what I normally charge.”

“I know. What do you normally consider?”

“Well, I normally keynote in driving distance of my home. Oooh. I won’t be, will I?”

“No. You won’t be. You’ll ‘lose’ the entire day.” We spoke more about the economics and the potential upside, downside, and what the client would expect. I’m not sure what she’ll do. Yes, I have made my colleague anonymous to protect her identity. This situation happens to men and women equally.

We make choices based on what we were, where we were, not where we are now. It’s as if we are allowing our four-year-old, twelve year old, twenty year old, 40 year old or whatever year old selves to make choices for us, instead of our current selves.

Don’t worry, we all do it.

You don’t have to be a consultant to do this. You can be a manager, a parent, any human who makes choices.

I do this with jeans and pants. It takes a lot for me to buy a new kind of jeans and pants. Why? Because sizes are not normalized across manufacturers. If I find a size and style that fits, I buy it, regardless of whether it still fits the situation, my age, or the context. Ouch. Yes, I just realized that. Oopsie. Might be time for a change, eh?

Sometimes, it’s difficult to say, “I am in the here and now. My context has changed. I need to change how I make my choices. I’m not in the there-and-then. The old rules don’t apply now.”

The old rules have been useful for so long, we forget we have them. My colleague has rules about keynotes. But those rules don’t apply when she has to fly to a keynote, and when the keynote is part of a package consulting deal, do they? Well, they might. But they might not. She developed those rules about ten years ago. The rules might have outlived their usefulness, at least for this client.

I talked about turning rules into guides in Do Your Rules Prevent You From Solving Problems?

I talked about being in the present in Are You In the “Here-and-Now” or in the “There-and-Then”?

This post is recognizing who you are. Sometimes, I want to retreat, to go back to the person I was. It’s easier. It’s more comfortable. That’s because I’m in a little chaos. No surprise there.

Satir Change ModelLook at the change model. Chaos is a time of uncertainty for many people. Certainly for me. I suspect for my colleague, too.

When I’m in chaos, I find it difficult to make great decisions. Or, I try to make a good decision and I’m not sure if it’s a good decision. I try something, I may or may not succeed. When I write proposals for clients with tough problems, I’m often in chaos until I get the transforming idea. Then, the proposal almost writes itself. (As I drafted this post, that happened last night :-)

It’s easier to retreat, to go back to something I already know and am good at. There’s a problem with that—I don’t grow. I don’t provide my clients my best possible work. Sure, it’s risky. But I know how to manage risk. This is the growth mindset at work: I may not know what to do right now, but I can learn it.

This is why you need to know who makes the choices in your life: you in the present, or you in the past.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question of the week. Who makes the choices in your life?

Can You Ask for Help?

I had a different post scheduled this week. But in memory and in honor of Robin Williams, and for everyone who suffers from depression, today’s question of the week is “Can you Ask for Help?”

Everyone struggles with feeling down at different points in our lives. I blogged earlier about some of my ups and downs in How to Have a Pity Party and Riding the Emotional Rollercoaster of Change. I’ve had plenty of ups and downs in my journey so far. Each of us have.

One thing we need to remember:

You are not alone.

If you feel alone, call someone. Reach out, and ask for help. That is the most adaptable, the most problem-solving thing you can do. You are asking from a position of strength, not weakness.

It takes strength to say, “Please, I need help. I can’t do it alone.” Whatever your “it” is.

That is your first step towards building your emotional resilience, towards solving whatever problem you have. Asking for help.

Please call someone. Please.

In the US, this is the phone number for the National Suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Each of us needs a support system. You can find your support system. People can help you.

That’s this week’s question of the week. You don’t need to be desperate. You don’t need to be alone, whether it’s depression or any other problem. If you are overwhelmed, can you call a friend? Can you ask for help? I hope so.

What Makes Your Heart Sing?

I was at Agile 2014, the big conference in my field last week. I had a blast. For my readers who are not software people, agile is a way to integrate change into a software project and make the project successful. I’m a Big Name, although a short person :-) BTW, there are many Big Names. I’m not buying into my own press.

Doc List, @athought, made me laugh the zeroth day, before things had gotten started. I was rolling by. He said, “Johanna! I have to say hi.” He walked over. Then he said, “I was just telling my friends I had to run over and say hi, but then I said, I could walk over. You wouldn’t move fast enough to get away from me.” I cracked up, laughing. The two of us were standing there, hysterical.

You need friends to laugh with you.

The conference got even better.

I happened to sit with Lyssa Adkins, @lyssaadkins, for Sam Guckenheimer’s, @SamGuckenheimer, keynote. I have known Sam since at least the late 90′s. I later discovered that Sam had only 3 days to prepare for his Monday keynote. Yes, 3 days. Well, at one point, I tweeted that Lyssa and I were ROTFLOL. For those of you who are too young to know, that means Rolling on the Floor, Laughing Out Loud.

During the week, I had breakfast with Woody Zuill, @woodyzuill, Clare Moss, @aclairefication, Linda Cook, @lindamcook1, and Benny Bagott, @bennybaggot some of the days. Don’t ask me which days. They have all run together. What do I remember? Explaining how #Noestimates work, learning some of Linda’s program management work, and laughing with Benny. Now, why was I explaining how NoEstimates work when Woody was right there? I do this to make sure I understand things. If the guy who started the hashtag is right there, he can explain to me when I’m wrong. BTW, the idea behind NoEstimates is that you break the work down small enough that the team can swarm around it and finish it so you don’t need estimates. I met other lovely people for breakfast. I was not awake enough to ask for their twitter handles.

I met Pawel Brodzinski, @pawelbrodzinski, in person. We had dinner with a bunch of people one night. We laughed about a number of things together, too.

I remember cracking up with Linda Cook, @lindamcook1, at some point in the Agile Alliance lounge. I no longer remember the topic or when that was.

I had lunch with many new people. I try to sit with people I don’t know at lunches. I’m awake then and won’t make a fool of myself.

Lori Priller, @indyagilista, and I coached each other. I suggested some writing tips for her. I asked her for help on titling the management myths book. That night, I woke up at midnight, and wrote down what might be right title. Thanks, Lori! Oh, yes, we laughed together, too.

I did not have lunch this year with David Bulkin, @Davidbulkin. For the last several years, I have plunked myself down next to him, not even trying to find him. This year, we made jokes about this in email, and I missed him. Boo. But, he teased me about it! Yay! David, it is your animal magnetism that got us into the same session. It must be.

I had a lovely coffee with Shane Hastie, @Shanehastie, one of my pairing colleagues.

I had dinner with Don Gray, @donaldegray, and George Dinwiddie, @gdinwiddie. Well, Don and I ate. George joined us after we ate. At one point, I remember laughing at something one or the other said.

I had a great conversation with Mark Levison, @mlevison. We laughed, too. Yes, Mark, I still owe you pictures. On the way.

I recorded a podcast with Gil Broza, @gilbroza, another pairing partner for Dave Prior, @mrsungo. We had to do this twice! The first time, we had technical difficulties. Oh well. I laughed.

I gave a talk on the Bootcamp track about project, programs, and the project portfolio. I was a little worried. People kept leaving. I’m an experienced-enough speaker to not let things like that bother me normally, but I was a little worried. Later on that day, a woman stopped me in the hall, and said, “I loved your talk. We’ve been doing agile for a while, but I thought I would hear you to see if we missed any of the basics. Sure enough, we had. I’m so glad you gave that talk.” I did my little happy dance inside. Then she said, “My phone kept buzzing, so I had to leave. I stayed as long as I could.” Oooh. Maybe that’s why people left. Maybe it wasn’t all about me :-)

Later on, several other people stopped me and told me the same thing—that they loved my talk. I realized something. I was talking to project, program and portfolio managers. Light dawns over marble head (mine). I bet the reason these people left was because they had work to do back at their offices. Face-palm.

I caught up with Linda Rising, @rising_linda. While we talked, another pairing partner, Rebecca Wirfs-Brock, @rebeccawb, stopped by. The three of us hung out for a while. What do you think happened? We laughed. I had a chance to go to Rebecca’s  awesome session on thinking fast and slow.

Jutta Eckstein and I paired on a workshop this year, which turned out great. (Happy dance!) I loved the way we worked together. I am very happy about our leanpub book, Diving for Hidden Treasures: Finding the Real Value in Your Project Portfolio. I had a chance to meet Bob Woods, @mindoverprocess, the reviewer who helped us think about a title for our session and the book.

I had dinner the last  night with Troy Magennis, @t_magennis, and Israel Gat, @agile_exec. We talked. We laughed. We ate. We laughed more.

On the last day of the conference, I talked to Woody Zuill again. His wife, Andrea Zuill, @badbirdsart, does all of his drawings. He offered me one. I chose this one:

LittleRabbitPicksFight.300 Don’t ask me if I’m the little rabbit or the big bear. You know the answer!

My heart sang all week. Why? I had the opportunity to do some great work, reconnect with colleagues, meet new ones, and laugh.

When you are with your good friends and wonderful colleagues, and especially when you laugh, your heart sings.

This is the question of the week: What makes your heart sing? Are you doing work, creating an environment, putting yourself in a place that makes your heart sing? If not, what do you need to do to make your heart sing?

Are You Trying or Experimenting?

I experiment a lot. I attempt something, measure my results, use those measurements to see what’s going on, reassess and change my attempt for the next time. I do this with my weight training at the gym, my writing, my book writing and production, and my work. When I experiment, I can inspect and adapt. I can refine. I can improve.

I did this when I was a developer. I noticed the kinds defects I wrote. I kept a log. What kinds of infinite loops did I write? I used a log to keep a list. That is a kind of measurement. As a writer, I notice what my copyeditors notice. I keep a list. As a speaker, what kinds of feedback do I receive? I keep a list. These are measurements. I can experiment with my work, get the feedback, and try something else.

As a writer, I experiment “internally”, too. I’ve experimented with writing fast and writing slow. I discovered that writing fast, getting the words out without editing is faster and better for me. I do a better job at getting my ideas across to my readers when I write in Markdown, just getting the words out. When I write in a text editor, I am slower, and I tend to edit as I go. My results are worse.

At the gym, I often think, “I can’t.” That’s my default position. (I keep saying I’m a work in progress :-) But I have learned that I probably can. I have learned to think of the first set as an experiment. “If I experiment with this first set and see what happens, I can use these results to inform my second and third sets.” That’s also the growth mindset.

But notice, I said experiment, not try. I said I measured, and used the results of those measurements to reassess and change, based on the results of my measurements. That’s how I know I’m experimenting.

If I was “trying,” instead of “experimenting,” I wouldn’t be measuring. I wouldn’t be adapting based on my measurements.

When we solve problems, sometimes we try—an effort-based approach. Sometimes we experiment—a measurement-based approach. I find it useful to discriminate between the two.

Trying is an attempt without measurement behind it. Experimenting adds the idea of measurement. We will inspect, measure, assess what we have completed. We might even adapt what we do, before we abandon it.

If you’re eating, trying is fine. You don’t have to experiment when you eat. But to learn, to change, to grow? You need to experiment. How else do you know what works, as opposed to what you think works?

This week, I’m at Agile 2014, the big conference about agile. Some people are confused about whether they are trying or experimenting. They call what they do experimenting, but they aren’t measuring anything. They aren’t using measurements to assess and change, based on their results. They try something, declare it a success or failure, and continue. But they have no data.

The problem is, you can’t inspect and adapt without knowing your data. Well, you can. That’s called randomness. You can do anything you want. But if you want to experiment, based on reality, you need data.

Trying new things is great. Experimenting is great. Let’s not get the two of them confused. When you try, you make an attempt. You don’t necessarily have any data to back you up. With experiments, you have a hypothesis, you collect data will explain your hypothesis. Let me rephrase Yoda, “There is no try; there is only experiment.” Okay, my geekiness is showing. Experimenting is a form of doing.

I met someone briefly yesterday who said, “Our developers always lowball their story estimates for an iteration. They can’t break their tasks down enough. How can we help them to not do that?” (For my non-software readers, stories are the requirements, and the iteration is a one- or two-week timebox.)

I asked, “Did they talk about this in the retrospective? Because this is not an estimation problem. Well, it might be. But it’s almost always a story-is-too-big problem. I would start by looking at the stories, and not by breaking down the tasks. What experiments have you tried?”

She looked at me with that Oooohhhh look. You know that look, the one where someone says something to you that you know you should have thought of yourself, but you didn’t. One of the big transition problems in agile is that teams have trouble making small stories. We know this. Teams need to experiment with their right way to break the stories down.

Try is one way. Without data, you cannot win. Experiment is better. Measure and improve. Inspect and adapt.

So, gentle readers, the question of the week is: Are you trying or experimenting? If you know the difference, your adaptable problem solving could improve.

Are Your Default Choices Costing You More Than You Think?

I just read this article about drivers on the Tobin bridge. There are still 28% of the drivers who do not have the E-ZPass, to pay the automated tolls.

I got my pass at least ten years ago, back when it cost me $20 to buy a transponder. It was worth it. My time, to avoid the toll lines, was worth the money. I chose to automate. In case you are wondering, you can use the E-ZPass all over the toll roads in New England, and—I believe—wherever there is a toll road in the US. Don’t quote me on this, because I haven’t done the research. But in New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New York,  these states have reciprocal agreements with the E-ZPass. In this case, it’s worth automating. Your time is literally worth the money.

Not all automation is worth it. For example, I bake my own baked goods. Partly because I low carb, and what I can buy that I am willing to eat is too processed, too expensive, and frankly, what I cook tastes better. The time I invest is worth it. Yes, even with my vertigo. I choose to not automate my baking.

But, I want to consider the value of my time against the value of the end product. Will I receive the value that is worth my time investment?

We think about this a lot when we think about test automation, certainly at the system test level. You have to think hard about when is the right time to automate a test, and where. I say, automate everything underneath the GUI. I know, not all of you will agree with me. So be it.

But what about at a personal level? What is the cost of automating your gutter cleaner? How about your electronic toll paying? How about having your house cleaned for you? That is a form of automation.

I’ve automated part of my backup strategy. I have an automated backup that backs up to a site on the internet whenever I’m connected to the net (Backblaze). I don’t have to think about my backups.

Once you do the hard work of automation, it works for you repeatedly. It’s the decision and setup that’s difficult.

Not making the decision is a decision. And, that is the problem. If you have a default mode of not making a decision, you might never automate.

I wonder about those people who drive the Tobin Bridge, day after day, who don’t have an E-ZPass. Oh, sure, some of them might be from out of town. Maybe some of them are car rentals, where the rental agencies want an arm and two legs, and maybe somebody else’s first born child as a deposit just so you can pay the toll. It might be easier to see if you can skip on not paying the toll. Or see if you can pay cash.

But, I bet a bunch of those people just haven’t made the decision. “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” “Maybe someday.” “I’m kinda busy.”

It’s a default choice to do nothing.

So, I spent $20 a decade ago, to not have to wait in line at the tolls. I have more than made that return by not having to think about cash for the tolls, by not having to think about the problem. I have prevented this problem from occurring.

I have prevented the backup problem from occurring. I have risk insurance if my hard drive dies. I hope I never need it. But if I do? I have it.

When we solve problems, we don’t always solve a problem that occurs right now. Sometimes we solve problems that have not occurred yet. We manage risks that might happen.

When we don’t think ahead—just a little—and make the same default choices, they can cost more than we think. We don’t automate. We don’t manage risks. We don’t give ourselves choices. We just take the same old ways, the same defaults that we always have been.

Gentle readers, this week’s question of the week is: What are your default choices? Have they cost you more than you think?

Have You Updated Your Mental Map?

When Mark and I moved, we didn’t move far. Less than two miles, to the “other” side of town. But those two miles has changed how we drive everywhere.

Our routes have changed: to the grocery store, to the Post Office, to the gym, you name it.  We changed everything about the default way we started and ended our drives. That means we have to update our mental maps of the town we have lived in for the past 30+ years.

You might think this is easy. Ha! We might as well have moved 50 miles away instead of the under two miles we moved. We are on the “wrong” side of my map for everything. I need my GPS to know the right ways to get places. None of the  landmarks in this neighborhood are “right” yet.

Does this sound like one of your projects, or does this sound like you, when you are deep in learning? It might. You don’t have your bearings yet. You don’t yet know what to expect. All you know is that the old ways don’t work. But the new ways aren’t comfortable yet.

That’s exactly where we are. The new ways aren’t comfortable yet. But going back to the old ways? That would be nuts. It would add much more time to my driving. I don’t want to do that.

We have to update our mental models, our maps of our problem solving. We have to adapt our old rules to integrate new ones. We are learning to do so. We are still in practice and integration.

Satir Change ModelHow long will it take until the driving is second nature? I don’t know. I suspect I will just drive one day, realize I didn’t think about how to get to where I was going, or how to get home, and say, “Oh, I did it!” I will know then, that I have finished learning my way around this neighborhood.

Learning a new map takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Learning any new skill takes time. How long? As with any really good question, the only adequate answer is, “It depends.” It depends on how often you practice. It depends on how purposefully you practice.

Esther Schindler once told me that once you had written 100,000 words, you were a writer. I have amended that to once you have written and received feedback on 100,000 words, now you are a writer. For those of you who are not sure, 100,000 words is about the size of one published novel or 100 short articles. Either one of those will make you a writer.

When people transition to agile, my rule of thumb is that it takes 5-7 iterations. It doesn’t matter how long the iterations are. Why? Because it’s all about feedback. That’s why I urge teams to use two-week iterations. Short iterations provide you feedback that much more often.

Are you trying to learn a new natural language? Practice with another person. You get the feedback.

Trying to learn a new computer language? Write short programs. Compile often. I tell you this from my experience. Once you have mastered short programs, then you create longer programs. Even better, integrate practices such as test-driven development or behavior-driven development. Why? Because those practices are not about testing. Those practices are about design and thinking in the language. If you do those with other people and pair or mob/swarm, you will get more feedback even more often. Why? You have the benefit of more people suggesting “Do this here, do that there.” Or, “What about this here or that there?” It’s constant design and code review. Feedback, all the time. It’s your programming GPS talking to you, all the time. And, you talking back. Much better than your car GPS.

Here’s a link to the article that says we make ourselves into experts (HBR registration required). I like that article, because it says we use the growth mindset. It’s all about feedback.

And, the 10,000 hour rule? What Malcom Gladwell said was if you have the innate talent and interest, and you deliberately practice, then 10,000 hours seems to be the right amount of preparation. Maybe. Here is a quote from Outliers: The Story of Success that I think is even better:

Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

It takes time for us to update our maps. I don’t think it will take me 10,000 hours for me to learn how to drive to and from our new house. But, it will take longer than a week. BTW, I started drafting this post a couple of weeks ago. I now have updated my mental maps.

So, dear adaptable problem solvers, the question of the week this week is: Have you updated your mental map?

What Does “Have It All” Mean?

I read Ann-Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All a while ago. I was stunned. Why does anyone think they can have it all, at the same time?

I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.

I have never believed that. I don’t believe in nonsense such as “work/life balance” either. I say this in Manage Your Job Search:

There is no such thing as work life balance. There is only life. Live it.

You need to decide for yourself what “having it all” means to you. You have to have your own personal definition of success.

When we decide on success, when we know what “having it all” means, then we can make our choices. Each of us has to decide on our personal project portfolios. We have to decide when to say yes and when to say no. Many of those decisions are difficult.

What you need to decide for yourself is what you want for your career, your family, and your legacy. These are not easy questions.

What do you think is your legacy?

I work hard enough that my books and articles will be my legacy, in addition to my family. However, it was clear to me, that my family was my primary legacy. I am ambitious. My achievements matter to me. I want to do the best job I know how. And yet, what matters the most to me? My family.

When it came time to make decisions about what to do for my jobs, I made decisions that would allow me to be able to give my babies their baths. I helped with homework. I only volunteered once in the classroom, because I don’t have the patience. (You’re not surprised, right?) I volunteered to be on the after school program board. I walked/drove the girls to the camp bus and picked them up.

In the 22 years that both of us traveled and the girls lived at home, we had three times that we had to get someone to stay with them, because the work was too important for one of us to say, “No” to the travel. Just three times. Those were our choices. They are not yours. These choices were difficult, at times.

My choices are mine, and not yours.

Could I have been a different consultant? I’m sure. What if Mark had made different choices? My goodness.

We chose to live our lives so that we maximized our family life, and still had great careers while we raised our children. It wasn’t fashionable to do it that way in the last 20-25 years. It won’t be fashionable in the next 20, either. But here’s one thing I have learned:

You cannot have it all, not at the same time.

I have leaned in, as Sheryl Sandberg says, my entire life. I’m still leaning. (Yes, that’s a vertigo joke :-)

If we want to have great careers and great families, we all need to adapt—businesses, families, marriages. And, we definitely need to adapt our expectations of ourselves and what is reasonable.

Over your career, you will want different things at different times. You can think of your career as a problem to solve, a little at a time. Don’t think you will want the same thing over the course of your life.

In my 20′s, I learned about software engineering, software development, bicycling, and kissed many frogs. I found Mark, and married him just before I turned 30. In my 30′s, I learned more about the dynamics of software project management, software program management, software management, how to raise children, how to be a partner and spouse. In my 40′s, I learned how to balance my needs as a person with my family’s needs (which was not easy!) when I started my business. In this decade, I am learning how to balance my condition’s needs with my desire to work.

Life is a balancing act.

So, think about what you want. Only you can define success for yourself. Do you know what “it all” is? Do you know why you want it? Once you do, you can make your choice, for now, and re-evaluate later. Doesn’t this sound like project portfolio management?

Gentlewomen, gentlemen, you fine adaptable problem solvers, there are two parts to the question for this week: What is “it all?” Do you think you can arrange your life so you can have it? That is the meaning behind “What does “have it all” mean?

Where Is the Manual?

We are still learning the ins and outs of our new house, including the HVAC system. We have a nifty heat pump system.

Now, I know what you are thinking, because I thought it, too. “You live in New England, Johanna. A heat pump? What are you thinking?” We have backup radiators for when the temperature gets below the teens in the winter. This would not work for northern New England, or the midwest. But it should work here. (Famous last words.) The people who installed it assured us it would work. (Famous last words.)

One of the things they told us is that the house would be balanced. The entire house would be the same temperature. I looked the guy cockeyed. “How are you going to do that, with all three bedrooms on one zone, the kitchen/family room on one zone, the living room/dining room on one zone, but all those zones are only for the radiators? The heat pump is all one zone for the entire house, right?”

“Of course. The heat pump works on the entire house.”

“We have windows all over the house. We have different size rooms all over the house. But each room has the same size vent and we have three returns. I’m not an HVAC person, but I do not understand how the same size vent and three returns in different size rooms will create the same temperature in each room.”

The guy gave me the “little woman is too stupid to understand look.” He said, “Believe me, it will work.”

I read fantasy. I read science fiction. I read paranormal romance. I suspend belief for those. I want to live in this house and not believe in magic.

I didn’t tell him I have a Master’s degree in Systems Engineering. Maybe I should have. But I don’t have any courses in HVAC. I don’t understand HVAC. I do understand flow and return. I do understand systems. I am a terrific problem solver. I don’t understand if you put the same amount of coldness or heat in the same pipe into different size rooms, how the system “understands” how to cool or heat them. It’s magic. Yeah, right.

Our first two weeks here, I had a terrible head cold, so I walked around with my winter jacket, because the house was so cold. In my office, the temperature was 70 degrees. (Everything here is Fahrenheit. Sorry, my Celsius readers.) But, the kitchen/family room was 75 degrees. The thermostat was set at 73. Something Was Wrong.

Mark and I started to fight about the temperature. I kept turning it up, because I was freezing. We finally closed the vent in my office. My office was still freezing, if I left the door open.

We went on a family vacation to Key West last week, where I finally got warm. (Ah, the temps were in the high 80′s, low 90′s, and it was humid. I felt great. Everyone else said it was oppressive, but I only felt oppressed in the sun. My cold finally cleared up. Ahhhh.)

When we returned, the house was at 69. 69!!!! Clearly, the magic thermostat had magically gone haywire. It’s not just me being cold. It was Broken. Mark agreed. The Magic thermostat was Broken!

That night, the AC stopped working, and I woke up at 2:30 am hot. Great, the one time I need to be cold, and I wake up hot. The program was not working. Darn software.

I decided the thermostat that was supposed to determine the temperature was not calibrated. I was either going to calibrate it, or I was going to take it offline. I was going to reprogram the thermostat. I took control. (You are not surprised, are you?)

I sent an email to our builder, asking for the manual. Mark had been programming the thermostat, but it wasn’t working. “Auto” was clearly not working. What happened if we used “Cool”? The thermostat has Auto, Cool, Fan, and Heat. I want the manual, so I know what I’m doing.

The very nice guy calls while we are eating dinner. Mark thinks he’s going to intercept the call. Ha! No chance. I’m the one who works out of the house. We both need to be on the call. I want the manual. Believe me, I want this manual.

First, this nice guy talks us through bypassing the thermistor in the thermostat. He has the manual. Of course. I want his manual. But it’s the tech support manual. I can’t get it. But his manual is so bad, we get an error code. He has to call the manufacturer tech support.

Ten minutes later, we get a call back. Here is the right way to change the settings to avoid the thermistor.

We think we have a handle on the thermostat now. We think we have programmed it correctly, although, I’m not sure. I still think the thermostat is out of whack. The thermostat is located in the internal hallway. That hallway might be the coldest part of the house. I have a travel clock with a thermometer, which I will set out later today, to see. The thermostat is acting as if it’s the warmest part of the house. Why? Because there are no vents. (Aha!) There is one return.

We could have avoided all of this craziness with a fine manual. (As in “read the fine manual”.) Those of us in the software business will recognize this as RTFM. Some of you may choose to translate the F as something else. That is your choice, of course. This is a G-rated blog.

If you have embedded software, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. If you sell a product to a consumer, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. If you are a product owner or a product manager, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. If you are a product development team, agile or not, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. I hope you heard me.

I have a scale that allows me to choose up to four people to record their weight. It comes with a manual. I have a food scale, so I can decide how much food I consume. It comes with a manual. (Yes, I have those manuals. I read them.) I paid a lot less for those products with embedded software than I paid for this HVAC system. I have a new Viking oven and microwave. They are embedded software products. I have been reading the manuals (and enjoying them!).

There is no excuse for not having a manual.

If you are a product owner or a product manager and your product team has convinced you that your product does not need a manual, they are Wrong. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong. If I had a manual, I would be singing the praises of this system. Right now, I’m pissed. It’s the middle of summer, and I’m wearing a winter coat in my office because in order to keep the rest of the house cool, my office is still freezing. Why? Because we cannot figure out how to use our own HVAC system. This is nuts.

If you are a product development team, and your product owner thinks you don’t need a manual, show him or her this post. Every consumer product needs a manual. It doesn’t have to be a large manual. I shouldn’t have to mess with the field settings, as I did this week. We still have some problem solving to do. But, with a manual, I could do some, before I call the manufacturer or the sales rep.

Do you develop software? Do you develop embedded software? Keep the customer happy. Where is your manual?

Do You Have Something to Share?

Last week, I had a chance to talk at Boston SPIN. I’ve been involved at Boston SPIN for more than 20 years. So, speaking in front of a home-town crowd is a great thing.

I had a chance to try my new version of my Creating An Adaptable Life talk. (The link goes to my new slideshare.) Here’s the talk:

I was pretty funny in person, telling stories about why single sided deafness is socially awkward, but I’ve slept better now since I’ve had it. Just roll over onto the hearing ear. I never hear Mark snore. (Go ahead, laugh! I do.) You can’t tell the stories from the slides. Oh well.

One of the participants asked me why I’m so open about my deficits/handicaps now. I’m paraphrasing what I said, but this is the gist of it:

We all understand what it’s like to have broken legs or arms. Even with a problem broken bone, you set it, and it’s better in a few months. At the outside, maybe a year. With a traumatic injury, you often better inside of a year. But with a brain problem, you are almost never the same. You are changed, forever.

Vertigo is a brain problem. I don’t have cognition problems, but because I sometimes use all of my energy to maintain my balance, I sometimes appear to have cognition problems. I slur my words. I have trouble walking (that’s the “vertigo waddle.”) With my medication, I can choose between the vertigo stupids and the Topamax stupids.

I sometimes need help knowing when to drink water. Or, sometimes to stand up or move. I get stuck.

As a society, we have trouble responding to brain problems.

Let me add this now:

As a society, we don’t know how to respond to permanent loss, ours or others. If I can help people understand and empathize—not sympathize—with people who have permanent loss, then I will have made the world a better place.

We all change in the face of permanent loss. We can survive. We can thrive. We can become more resilient. Maybe not on the very first day. There is no timeline for dealing with permanent loss. But, if we don’t start discussing these issues, we can’t have much empathy with each other.

I know how to take a small step, get some feedback and learn from it. It is my hope that you do the same.

This week’s question of the week is a little different. Do you have something to share?