What I learnt in my last role

Acknowledging your mistakes, allows you to learn from them #HoskWisdom

After 3 and half great years in my last role I have moved for a new challenge and I’m excited about joining PowerObjects.  I met some great people and leave better person with more experience than when I joined.

Looking back over the last 3 and half years, it’s been a great journey and team effort.  The key to it was hiring talented people with potential and let them do their jobs (e.g. don’t micromanage them).  The culture of the team is important because you want the team to collaborate and share information, experiences, mistakes and solutions.

When I joined there were a handful of people in the Dynamics team and when I left there are 10 times that amount.  Few people knew there was Dynamics team and now the team has a blog and social media presence.  It is one of the biggest Dynamics team I worked on until I started at PowerObjects 🙂

Below are some highlights I contributed to, as most things in life it was a team effort that made everything work.

DevOps

Enterprise projects means needs software engineers not developers because there is more to development than just writing code.  Having lots of developers working on a single Dynamics project is tricky, you need high standards and create quality customisations because you create lots.

With Enterprise projects the focus is doing things right, not doing things quickly.  DevOps shortens the feedback loop, allowing the team to find problems quickly with small code set.

DevOps automates boring tasks (reducing errors), automate quality checks and best practices.  The result is better collaboration on the project, higher quality and finding problems quickly.

I didn’t contribute to DevOps because I was a Scrum master/Solution architect and not directly creating customisations.  I helped with discussions, encouragement, making sure the software engineers understood it and used it.

Most of the DevOps changes were 2 years ago, DevOps didn’t seem as standard as it is today

The team could monitor Microsoft adding changes in the xml files, we noticed this because it sometimes broke the build, read more here Problems with Microsoft Dynamics 365 patches

DevOps is becoming more common in Dynamics projects, Microsoft created the solution checker and the PowerApps BuildTools.

It’s good to see Dynamics developers using the best practices from software engineering and increasing the quality of our processes and solutions.

People

The strength of a team is the people and the culture they work in.  I learnt not to lower my standards in hiring because a poor hire can be disruptive and slow the productivity of your good team members.

Only hire strong candidates, if you are not sure, don’t.

I did lots of interviews and it helped me improve and know what I’m looking for, below are numbers of phone/face-to-face interviews

  • 35 Interviews 2019
  • 28 interviews in 2018
  • 47 interviews in 2017
  • 27 interviews in 2016

I helped create digital interviews for 3 different roles and watched at least 60 digital interviews.  I attended 4 assessment days helping assess graduates/DA’s.

Recruitment was a priority for me because the key to building a good team is getting people with good character and right attitude.  This makes it easier for leadership to create the right culture.

Consultancy and delivering large projects is all about people.  When you have a team of capable people with the right attitude, you feel you can do what’s needed to make it successful. The goal is to have multiple people contributing to the team and many leaders.

The things I looked for in candidates
  • Passion – Be passionate in Dynamics, Power Platform and creating solutions, otherwise you will be average
  • Team player – IT Projects are a team sport and you must work well in a team
  • Drive – People who want to improve and progress
  • Curious – Curious learn how things work results in deeper knowledge and enables the creation of flexible solutions to changing requirements
  • Potential – Hire for what they will become, not just what they are now

Technical knowledge is a prerequisite, it’s stops someone from being hired but its not a reason to hire.  A talented person can learn technical skills but someone with good technical knowledge will find it very difficult to change their character.

An example is I would hire a good Cloud native/C# developer and teach them Dynamics if they had many of the traits above.

People with good character and mindset take responsibility and get the work done, they help the team and improve others.  These people deliver projects and make the team stronger by creating best practices, accelerators.

OnBoarding

I onboarded most the people who joined the Dynamics team; I felt it was important for people to start a new role well, give them the information they need and set expectations.

I improved the process but onboarding is about people, welcoming and introducing to them to as many of the new team as possible.  This is a challenge with distributed teams because people are on site and not available to meet people.

Team spirit and sharing knowledge

Teams should work as a hive mind with collective knowledge.  Dynamics, Power Platform and Azure is too big for any one person to understand all parts of it.  You want the team to learn from individual mistakes, solutions/limitations and successes.  Avoid everyone making the same mistakes individually on each project.

When you learn as a team and everybody learns faster.

Theoretical knowledge is useful but unproven, practical knowledge is invaluable because it’s tried and tested.  Learning when and when not to use a customisation or solution can save you weeks of effort/expense/time.

If everyone shares experiences, then the team can learn as whole without each individual needing to make mistakes.

I arranged a Monthly meeting where we shared solutions, showed new functionality, updated the team on projects, bids, certifications, blogs etc.  This was successful because everyone took their turn to present. If we all do a little, then no one individual needs to do a lot.

The challenge of distributed teams is project teams not feeling part of a bigger team.  It’s important to remind everyone they are part of a larger team.  It’s expensive to meet in person but a worthwhile investment.

It’s hard to work as a team and help each other if you have never seen each other.  Delivering IT projects are a team game and the better the relationships between people the more effective they will be.

The better you know other team members, the more fun you have at work.

Team profile

I raised the profile of the team, help the Dynamics community by sharing the approaches, best practices, problems solved, technical solutions and experiences of the team.  This encourages people to join if they see what we are doing and how we we do it.

I created the Medium publication and hassled people to contribute posts.  The start was mostly me writing posts and persuading others to help.  In the first 8 months we write 30 posts and momentum starting to grow.

The blog now has over 100 posts and 370+ followers, with many people contributing.

Other ways I helped promote the team
  • Attended Extreme 365 Europe for the last 3 years
  • I presented at CRMUG in Birmingham
  • I attended a Power Platform Hackathon this year

I raise the team profile using social media to share blog posts, job roles, celebrating new joiners, certifications and other achievements of the team.  The team is no longer a secret.

Improving

My goal was to create an atmosphere and culture where everyone is trying to improve the team, other people and themselves.

I encouraged individuals to share their knowledge.  When you explain something via a blog or presentation, it forces you to understand it, then you can describe how it works and the key points (not all the points).

One of my favourite sentences was – “That would make a great blog post”.

I improved over the last three years.  My experience in delivering large projects and leadership isn’t something you can prepare for, jump in the water and learn to swim.

Reading, doing and reflecting were the keys to improving.  I tried to work harder but you reach a limit where you can’t work any harder because there are only 24 hours in a day.  I had to learn to work smarter, delegate more and think how I could motivate others to contribute.

When leading a team you must have priorities and a plan, you want to act strategically or you can react to situations and not progressing.

Certification

I am a big believer in Dynamics professionals getting certified because it expands their knowledge of the out of the box functionality.  If you specialise in delivering Dynamics projects, then you should be an expert in Dynamics 365 and the out of the box functionality.

You need to know the out of the box functionality is so you can align the requirements to fit out of the box functionality.

Read more here – What are the benefits of CRM certifications

Fun

I have had a lot of fun over the last 3 years and worked with some great people and hired people who will progress well in the careers.

Delivering large IT projects is a tough and challenging.  It’s important to inject fun into the proceedings and create a good team spirit.  Happy workers work harder and have more fun.  Enjoyment at work comes from interacting with people, laughing and creating solutions that help people.

I have had lots of enjoyable meals and nights down the pub with the team, this improved relationships and made work enjoyable.

It’s the role of the senior people on the project to make sure you create the moments where the team can be together without thinking about work.

Based on my leaving present in the picture, maybe I didn’t do a good as job as I thought 🙂

Let go of thoughts, emotions and actions that weigh you down

If you keep picking up work, anger and emotions they will weigh you down and slow you down. The term letting go helps you visualise how your actions, thoughts and emotions can follow you around if you don’t let things go.

Let go of work

Leave your work at work, don’t bring it home with you.

The longer you hold on to problems, questions, tasks, tension, deadlines from work, the heavier they become. Burnout is emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive stress, work can be common cause. Work won’t stop coming and takes as much time as you give, you can control this by not bring work home with you.

Many jobs are creative and involve collaborating with people, these activities need energy, ideas and interaction with people to build solutions together. Turning requirements into solutions involves questioning to understand whats required, different situations, limitations and the goals of the business. Creative work isn’t a repetitive task that you can do mindlessly, the longer you work the lower the quality of your creativity. Creativity needs bursts of energy, ideas and trying and failing.

Holding onto work is like picking up a small weight, it isn’t tiring in the short term but the longer you hold onto it the heavier it gets, until the weight becomes unbearable. This is recipe for burnout, you keep holding onto work, day after day and you end up never being able to escape.

Don’t let work follow you home, do this is to do something enjoyable with family, friends or a hobby. Break from work by doing something enjoyable you are more interested in and you will naturally forget about work.

Switching off allows you to step back from work, helping you recharge and refresh mentally, emotionally and physically. When you come back to work you can view work from a different perspective and your brain has time to subconsciously think about your problems.

I worked on a busy project and took home with me and did work in the evening. The thing I noticed was there was always more work to do and often doing the work didn’t contribute much. I was super busy and some other people on the project weren’t. I learnt to embrace the saying “if you can delegate, you should delegate”. Not only did this mean less amount of work, allowing me to focus on more valuable work but it gave other people the opportunity to learn new skills and contribute.

Let go of anger

We get slapped in the face by life regularly but don’t hold on to anger, let it go and drop it. Anger creates more anger. Anger bypasses thinking and move to reaction, when you let anger control your actions it’s can lead to doing something you regret later.

  • Angry reactions from you, create anger in others, such as
  • When you shout at someone, people shout back
  • When you hit someone, they hit back

To stop anger growing, label the emotion, ask why someone would act in that way and see the situation from their point of view. Anger is a reaction, to break out of the cycle you need to pause and don’t waste your time and energy getting angry because it isn’t productive.

When dealing with an angry person or a bully, you can use this loss of control to your advantage as discussed here Anger in others is an opportunity not something to be feared.

I have been in many situations where anger in conversations has moved the focus from solving a problem to arguing their point, in the end we never got around to the problem and needed further meetings.

Another example of anger was I used to attend a daily meeting where the organiser would aggressively bully people on the call, some people responded angrily and the call would unproductive and go on longer (not to mention uncomfortable for those attending).

The attendees didn’t waste time getting angry and got through the meeting as quickly and quietly as possible. The organisers angry approach reduced the effectiveness of the meeting and people with holding information and reducing collaboration.

Let go of the past and the future

Spending time in the past or the future comes at the expensive of the present. Not being focused on the present reduces your ability to notice body language, what isn’t being said and the details of whats happening. If you do multiple tasks at once, you end up doing many things badly instead of one thing well.

We can pick up negative comments or actions from people and carry them round with us and like the other things we pick up, they weigh us down and influence future actions.

Chuck Noll an NFL coach who won the Superbowl 4 times gave this example to his team from the this article

“Let me tell you a story about two monks who are on a journey. Some time during their journey they stop at a clearing, and in the clearing is a stream, and they stop at the stream. On the one side of the stream is a fair maiden trying to cross. And the first monk, without any hesitation, crosses that stream, picks up the fair maiden and carries her across and sets her down. 

The two monks carry on in silence. Sometime later on their journey they stop at another clearing. The second monk says to the first, ‘You picked up that maiden. Do you know it’s against our beliefs and our religion to come in contact and touch a person of the opposite sex?’ The first says, ‘I set her down back there, but you carried her all the way here.’”

The story shows it’s easy to pick up events, opinions, work, anger, emotions and carry it with you and influence your future actions. We should learn from our mistakes and plan for the future but importantly focus on what’s in front of us, listen to what’s being said and be fully engaged in what we are doing.

Some times our thoughts can do this, captured by this Mark Twain quote

“I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

  • The past has gone and can’t be changed, learn from it and move on
  • The future isn’t here yet, plan and focus on the now until it arrives.
  • The present is happening now, make it as enjoyable and successful as you can.

Conclusion

You can’t control the world but you can control how you react to it. Don’t allow words and actions of others get you down, leave the problems with them. Nothing positive comes from anger unless you use it as fuel to propel yourself. Conflict doesn’t progress problems it distracts and makes them bigger.

Let go of work when you hours are done, spend time on rewarding activities such as family, friends, hobbies and having fun.

Recommended reading for software engineers

In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time – none, zero. Charlie Munger

Books allow you to delve deep into a topic, stop focusing on doing and think about your situation, your approach and effectiveness.  Spending time on design before writing code creates better quality code, thinking about how you code, run a scrum team, deliver a project, work with people helps you do these things better.

Reading a book is conversing with an expert on that subject, you learn from their mistakes, success and experiences.  You get that knowledge and apply your adventures and conclusions on top.

Read why developers should read books if you are still not sure. If you don’t like reading it’s because you haven’t found a good book but you have come to the right place.  Those who read books, get wiser.

Coding

Coding is a fundamental skill software engineers should try to master.  Improving your coding will have a significant impact on your career.

It shocks me the number of developers who don’t learn how to design, write, test and refactor  code to a high standard.  They are paid cash money to write code, so be an expert in it.   Not being a great coder is like a chip shop that doesn’t make tasty chips, it makes no sense.

Let’s start with books to make your code shine brighter than a full moon

Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship (Robert C. Martin)

I love this book, it’s short, concise and focuses on the fundamentals of coding.  Every developer should read this book and earlier the better.  Master the fundamentals and you have a solid foundation to build on

Code Complete (Developer Best Practices – Steve McConnell

This is a monster of a book at 960 pages and it goes deep into the details of coding.  When you read a chapter on how to write a method, it helps you realise the skill that top programmers have.

The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master

Great advice for programmers with common sense, down-to-earth advice.  Less technical than Code Complete but still a great book.  Everyone software engineer who reads this will learn something, it improves your code and your approach.

The Art of Unit Testing: with Examples in .NET

Unit testing is an art, you need to write your code in a testable way but writing unit tests isn’t straightforward but it reduces the feedback loop, allowing the developer to test their code.  Unit testing is something you should master and this book will help.

Head First Design Patterns

This helped me understand Design patterns, I still admire the simplicity of well design code and the patterns featured here are beautiful.  Design patterns are great for seeing examples of well-designed code and giving you a common language to use with other software engineers.

Design patterns are common solutions to common problems, it’s worth the time to read up on them.  Without unit tests changing code becomes risky because without unit tests you can’t be sure you have not broken any code.

Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code

All software engineers will spend time on legacy projects and looking after other developers dodgy code.  This book gives you a way to bring order to a legacy project and improve it.

Projects, Scrum and People

The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win

A story about a company who bring DevOps into their business, solving problems and adding drama with characters.  It’s useful to view a project from a different perspective because most people see little in their own projects because they are so focused on delivering the project.

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity

An interesting look at the insanity of IT Projects, teams, offices and all aspects of being a software developer.  You may have had an inkling you must be mad to be a software developer, this book will help you understand why you feel that way.  It’s funny and enlightening.

Scrum Mastery: From Good To Great Servant-Leadership

Scrum and agile is a tool, it’s great or terrible depending on who is using it and it won’t be going away soon.  They will use it on many projects you work on, so spend time on understanding how it works and the theory behind the concepts.

Agile projects done well are effective and enjoyable to work on but few people understand the theory behind Scrum\Agile.

Read it, master it, it will help you deliver scrum/agile projects to a high level.

Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean

The driving force behind any project is the people on it.  If you lead anyone, then this book will help you be honest with them and work more effectively.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It

This book contains great practical advice for communicating with people and using emotional intelligence.   The writer was an FBI hostage negotiator, so has experience dealing with pressure situations.  This was my favourite book from 2018.

Mastery – Robert Greene

This book gives many examples of people who devoted their lives to mastering something, it’s inspirational and motivating.

Being a software engineer needs people to master it with constant improvement, study, reflection.

Other recommended reading lists

Time is not wasted if you are reading a book

Hosk’s recommended Dynamics 365 and other articles November 2018

Quotes

IT projects are not about delivering technology they are about enabling users #HoskCodeWisdom

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. – Peter F. Drucker

Articles of the Month

awesome-1

Great Dynamics 365 articles this month

Programming/Scrum

Other/Business/Leadership/Management

The Hosk – currently reading

The Hosk – last 5 recommendations

Selected  HoskWisdom

  • IT projects are complex, difficult and all about people #HoskCodeWisdom
  • Released code hides problems, bugs magnify them #HoskCodeWisdom
  • The more problems you find in design , the less panicking you do in delivery #HoskCodeWisdom
  • Passion in developers is great but only when combined with competency #HoskCodeWisdom
  • Code is like a fart. You love your own and disgusted by other peoples #HoskCodeWisdom
  • An architects diagram without a developer, is just a dream #HoskCodeWisdom
  • Days writing code go slow, projects go fast #HoskCodeWisdom
  • A good plan implemented badly gets the same results as a bad plan implemented well #HoskWisdom
  • Time is limited but few people act that way
  • The shower is where ideas rain down upon you
  • If you can’t control it, don’t worry about it
  • The opportunity to over think things is only a decision away

Last months Monthly articles

Last months recommended monthly articles

Hosk’s CRM Developer Articles

A collection of my favorite CRM Developer articles I have written

Why avoiding being wrong is slowing your progress

You got to go down a lot of wrong roads to find the right one. Bob Parsons

Is your goal being right or getting to the right solution?  People go to lengths to avoid being wrong but tomorrow will it matter whose was right or who came up with the idea?

Being wrong is the path to success with a detour.  We seek out when we are wrong, understand why and move on.  Our ego demands we right, our feelings hate being wrong but the quickest way to improve is by failing and feedback from others.

Admitting you are wrong is short-term pain for long-term gain.

When you can handle being wrong, you end up being right.  An interesting TED talk being wrong by Kathryn Schulz
https://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong?

People spend time to avoid being wrong but it’s quicker to try, be wrong and move on. The time wasted on avoiding being wrong could be used on working on trying new ideas.

Being wrong is painful, you feel stupid, frustrated but this is your reaction to the event, when you reflect later its positive, you learned a lesson and corrected your path.

It’s difficult to admit being wrong because it‘s initially painful to admit being wrong publicly.  The goal is to do it right, how you get there isn‘t important tomorrow, so try to keep your perspective long-term.  You learn by doing and often learn more by doing it wrong because you stop to understand your mistake so you can avoid it in the future.

We  learn less from success because we don’t reflect on what we did right and assume we will do it again

Is it important to be wise? do you want to be right or do you want the right answer?  If being right means you personally are wrong, would you take it?

Code reviews

Code reviews are great for learning, an experienced developer checks your code, highlights bad code and suggest improvements.  Despite the benefits it feels like the reviewer is critising your code but attacking you as person.  This is an emotional reaction to being wrong and being critised, we have to overcome this with logic and understand this feedback is a great way to improve quickly.  It leads to a higher quality code base and developers write better code, helping individual’s long-term prospects.  It’s beneficial but not easy but it gets easier with practice.

Reactions are emotional, they happen quickly and bypass thinking, the reaction is to defend your code.  You respond by attacking, they defend and then they react and attack.  The topic of the discussion is lost in the emotional responses, defending and attacking the ego.  Time  on your ego and being right, short-term gains drive this behaviour.

The long-term logical view is to focus on learning, getting feedback and getting to the right solution.   Winning arguments come at the cost of learning , you learn when listening.  Winning an argument means you end the discussion with the same view as you entered, talked more than you listened and learnt nothing.  There is no winning when arguing.

Your goal as a software engineer is continuous improvement, being wrong, making mistakes and honest feedback are good teachers.  We learn more from being wrong because we stop to analyse, when we are right we assume we have done it right once and we will do it right again.

knowledge is powerful

Long lasting change comes from knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge effectively and to write better solutions. Static Code analyzers help highlight code which breaks best practice.  This is frustrating initially when lots of your code triggers error but learning the logic behind the rules helps grow your knowledge.

When you copy and paste code you bypass the learning and don‘t acquire knowledge.  Its like getting the answers to a test, you pass that test but you don‘t have the knowledge to pass other tests on the same subject.

Understanding allows you to alter solutions and adapt your knowledge to solve to different problems.  If you have copied the answer from the internet this brittle solution will break as soon as problem changes.  You can’t adapt solutions which you don’t understand.

Conclusion

Embrace being wrong, it’s a step on the path to understanding and developing a deeper knowledge of your area of expertise.  Our fear of being wrong is exaggerated, people respect someone for admitting and fixing their mistakes.

Mistakes occur when pushing yourself and doing things you don‘t have experience in.  Getting out of your comfort zone, working through mistakes is how to improve at a fast rate.  Playing safe and avoiding errors results in not learning and highlights you are playing too safe.

The focus should not be on being right but creating the right solution.  If you can avoid fearing being wrong, you will try harder things and push yourself to do more.  Admitting mistakes and avoid wasting time arguing or avoiding being wrong allows you to do more.

Building your tolerance for mistakes is the path for faster growth and improvement.

Change will make or break your project

“It is always easier to talk about change than to make it.” ~ Alvin Toffler

Change will make or break your project, changes can‘t be controlled your reaction can.  A fixed mindset breaks instead of bends when confronted with change.  Change is constant, some don’t adapt, others adapt enough to survive, a few use change to be successful.  The less rigid and more adaptable you are, the fewer times you get stuck.

Technology, resources, environment and tools change, it costs you time and effort to change but the cost of not changing will be higher.  What was successful in the past, might not be successful in the future.  By focusing on the past, you won’t be prepared for the future.  The past has gone and can‘t be changed but the future is yet to be defined, embrace change and improve your situation.

Code and change

The art of develop lies in the constant adjustments to change

Robust code is decoupled, ensuring it can adapt to the evolution of requirements and manage the effects of change.  Agile development leaves design decisions to as last as possible, giving more time to gather information and decide based on better understanding.

Requirements and solutions evolve, the more detail you uncover, the more feedback you receive the greater your awareness of the problem and the solution.   You can’t capture requirements up front and get a deep understanding without going through iterations of designs and problems.

Project change

A project won’t change but you can change yourself and the approach to be successful.  A project which does not adapt to the changes will fail.  We are servants of projects, they will tell you when it‘s not working.   Think about the pain points, how could this work differently.

Nothing is fixed, people, requirements, technology and politics change, be fluid, formless and adaptable.  Take a flexible approach, what was successful on previous projects might not be successful with these requirements, environments and people.  When you think requirements are certain, you risk creating brittle designs and brittle plans that will break when change happens.

It’s not if change happens but when and how you react.

Projects evolve, the design at the start is not the functionality in production.  This is because the requirements change with understanding and feedback.

Each projects rhythm is unique and the most efficient way of working different.  You have to adjust and keep improving, finding a smoother way to move functionality from requirements to production.

Conclusion

Don’t fight change and don’t wait for it to happen, embrace change and use it as an opportunity for improvement.  Change is not comfortable or easy and involves conflict but through this something better emerges.

Knowing change is coming won’t make it easier because you will need to move past the friction but it’s the only way to make progress

Hosk’s recommended Dynamics 365 and other articles October 2018

Quotes

Some solutions are so complex, only an architect could create them

There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why. William Barclay

Articles of the Month

awesome-1

Great Dynamics 365 articles this month

Programming/Scrum

Other/Business/Leadership/Management

The Hosk – currently reading

The Hosk – last 5 recommendations

Selected  HoskWisdom

  • To a developer, every problem looks like it needs code to fix it
  • All future development roads lead through CDS, PowerApps and Flow. So start heading in that direction now
  • Architecture is where the fun is, Development is where the pain is felt
  • You have to battle with code more than once, to make it maintainable
  • You’re only as good as the code you create
  • Projects approach methodology like people approach religion, they don’t implement all of it and use the bits they like
  • Write great code if you can, refactor when possible but get the job done
  • Technology should not dictate solutions, it should enable solutions

Last months Monthly articles

Last months recommended monthly articles

Hosk’s CRM Developer Articles

A collection of my favorite CRM Developer articles I have written