What a Poopy Weekend

Michael Kelly • May 22, 2017

This blog post is part of the Mike Kelly Email Series. Mike sends out weekly company emails to communicate, inspire, and explore ideas with the DeveloperTown team. We like them so much, we’re sharing them with you.


FALL ON THE FARM

For those of you who grew up on or around farms (and there's a surprising number of you at DeveloperTown), then you know that fall brings a bunch of not-fun tasks. This week's email looks at one of those not-fun tasks and attempts to relate it to work at DT.

Fall is awesome. Cool weather, campfires, animals filling the freezer, canning and freezing fruits and vegetables, and quality time with the chainsaw. Other than the feeling like there's not enough time to get everything done, the work is almost always enjoyable and satisfying. There's just one exception...

I spent my Saturday shoveling poo.

If you aren't aware, these guys make a lot of that stuff....

That's a compost bin. I decided to take a photo of it when it was empty… as to not offend any delicate sensibilities. :)


POO, POO, AND MORE POO

There's a lot of poo generated by those little birds. And all of that poo is captured in wood shavings. Throughout the spring and summer, I end up collecting between 12 and 16 cubic feet of compacted poo-waste. That's about four of those compost bins full.

Poo is a good thing. It's awesome for the soil. There are a lot of people who pay good money for it. I (mostly) consider us lucky to have it. However, poo doesn't move itself. You have to pick up a shovel and move it.

Shoveling poo involves gloves, a face mask, a shovel, a pitchfork, and a wheelbarrow. You take the poo from wherever it is, and you put it where you want it to go. For us, that ends up being our gardens. That means many trips to the garden, dumping the poo so you can later till it into the soil. If you're not tired when you stop shoveling, you're definitely tired after you're done tilling.

It's hard work, and none of it's fun.


WHAT'S THIS HAVE TO DO WITH DT?

I like most of the odd jobs that come with livestock and gardening. I don't like shoveling poo. While I was out there working yesterday, I started thinking about DeveloperTown and tried to figure out what our equivalent of poo shoveling is.

All of us have tasks or activities we don't love. But that's not the same. Poo shoveling - when you're doing it - feels like it has no redeeming values. While there's a lot of good that comes from it (hygiene for the animals, fertile soil, developing humility in the shoveler, etc), when you're doing it you aren't thinking of any of that. You're focused on trying not to breath, and keeping one foot moving in front of the other.

So in thinking of where that kind of work lives within DeveloperTown, I had to rule out all the tasks that - while not fun - don't really involve that kind of "put your head down and power through" mentality. All of us do some not fun stuff. Julie does invoicing, Ken has to negotiate contracts with legal/procurement teams, Barb washes dishes, Jason tries to fix wifi, etc. We could each list tasks that we don't like. But that's not the same.

I decided that the poo-work of DeveloperTown is a project that you've lost excitement for.


NEW STUFF IS EXCITING

If you've been a part of a project start at DT - it's exciting. The ink on the designs are still wet, the client relationship is still really positive, we haven't encountered any of the hard problems, there's no legacy code yet, and the team is excited to dig in.

If you look at one of our projects that's been running for over twelve months, you see a stark difference. You see designs that (often) look significantly different than where we started - because feedback and project realities took us in a different direction.

  • You see a client relationship (like any relationship) that has evolved to include tensions and conflict.
  • You'd find a team struggling to balance new feature development with support of the legacy code from prior releases.
  • You'd likely find that for most people on the project - the big picture vision that was front and center when we started has been lost.

I don't mean to imply that longer running projects always suck. I'm simply pointing out that the honeymoon period with the client is over, and that it takes real work to impress the client and to deliver value. It's hard work. And when you're in the middle of it - it can sometimes feel like you're just putting one foot in front of the other. And that's not a great feeling.


DEALING WITH THE GRIND

So how do you get through it?

  1. Put your head down and grind it out. If it's just a few more months, you can likely grind through anything. You want to finish the project you started, and enjoy the feeling of launching a successful product. But we don't want people to burn out. While grinding might be a fine short term strategy, it's not a great long term strategy.
  2. Speak up. Tell someone. Tell your EM. Tell your manager. Tell me. Don't complain about it. But let people know you're starting to feel the grind. If you wait until you're actually burned out to start talking about it - then there aren't a lot of options left to fix things. But if you're vocal about it as soon as you start to notice, the team around you might be able to provide insights into ways to turn it into less of a grind. Sometimes just talking about it is cathartic enough to make a short-term difference.
  3. Think in goals and milestones. Once you know it's a grind, you can try to find ways to bring back the excitement. Milestones mean celebrations. They bring a sense of accomplishment. They bring a small burst of energy back into the team. The best thing about milestones is that when you're working to hit them, the team often does a better job of working together. In my experience, you're more likely to collaborate with the team around you when you have a clear goal and a data to accomplish that goal. Goals and hard dates are far more motivating than an endless stream of sprints.
  4. Change up how you’re working. Do you normally work alone in your house? Then get out of your house and work next to someone else. When was the last time your team did a retrospective and changed the process you're using to manage the work? Get the team together and talk about maybe trying something new for a couple of sprints to see if it boosts productivity or focus. Have you been in the same role for the entire project? Ask if you can switch roles for a sprint or two.
  5. Know you’re not alone. If you're feeling the grind - so are others. Some of my favorite memories are working crazy 90 hour weeks with Wingate and Marc when we were in college. Or getting on conference calls at 3 AM with JV when we were at Interactions. Or sleeping under my desk while trying to get a release out the door at CTI Group. It's not because I love 3 AM conference calls or 90 hour weeks. It's because I felt like I was truly part of a team, trying to do something darn-near impossible. It's because I care deeply about Chris, Marc, and JV - and I wanted to share their experience. I wanted to help them as much as I wanted to deliver the project or solve the problem.

It's only a grind if I'm the only one who feels the pain (or if I think I'm the only one feeling the pain). If I were shoveling bird-poo with others - whom I care about - I bet it would suck a lot less. And if I were shoveling bird-poo with others I cared about, and we had a deadline we wanted/needed to hit - then I bet it would actually be fun. Anyone want to join?


UP NEXT

I'm off to clean the chimney. Another fall task that I don't enjoy. This task isn't hard, so much as scary. If I end up falling off the roof this year and this ends up being the last email I ever send, then it will have ended up becoming a truly poopy weekend.