« May 2004 | Main | July 2004 »

June 30, 2004

And they say tube strikes bring misery...

We have a big client coming in today. From overseas. Their flight was already booked, as was their taxi. So sadly there was no loafing at home for me today.

As (a) I had 18 tons of work to do for the client, and (b) I absolutely had to be at the meeting, I decided to bite the bullet and get in early. Really early. As in "I've been here nearly an hour already" early.

This wasn't so hot when the alarm clock went off at 4:45am (probably earlier than the overseas client's) but I have to admit to a certain decadent thrill when I saw that the 5:24 bus from the end of my road was still a *night* bus.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 07:23 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 28, 2004

Don't Worry Be Happy, Check Out This Kid, and You have one voicemessage

Dear "Matt", whoever you are. "Matt" of the emails with "unknown date".

Somehow we seem to have reached a disparity of opinion. As I'm a good project manager, I feel it is my duty to manage your expectations.

So please, do try to understand that even if you send me over 50 of these arsing emails a day, I am not going to open them.

And I'm definitely not going to click on any links.

So please, do us all a favour and fuck off.

Sending 100 isn't going to be more likely to work.

Or were you the misguided person that invented popup advertising?

Posted by Tom Dolan at 03:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 24, 2004

Wigging Out.

Today, I finally cracked it.

Stick her in a booffy blonde wig and make her actually smile, as the director of the "Everybody's Fool video chose to do, and the whole world will realise that Amy Lee from Evanescence is actually Charlotte Church.

Pay attention at the back, please.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 08:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 21, 2004


This weekend, two important things happened in the life of young Daisy.

1) She started on her first solid(ish) food.
2) We discovered she's not allergic to wasp stings.

One of these was discovered the hard way. The other is just the beginning of lots of ongoing hard - well splatty really - way...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Always the last to know...

So why oh why oh why, has nobody told me about Joel on Software? How can I have been stumbling around the web for so damn long and never come across it? A person after my own heart, taking knowledge and experience, and turning it into approachable wisdom. (Only, I suspect, slightly better knowledge, and as a result, better wisdom.) And, to be honest, it's only tangentially about software!

I particularly enjoyed this ancient piece on Fire and Motion. I've noticed that customer-facing teams within organisations sometimes use this approach internally as a way of keeping the production/development team so busy they never get to have the ideas - becoming the painters and decorators for the salesmen, who then question why they need these 'creatives' anyway. But then there are also the coders who use the same techniques to ensure the spec is never signed off and the project never happens while the development bill grows ever bigger.

Anyway, one for the 'hypothetical people to have a pint with' list...

And thanks to Andy and Yoz for the link double-whammy.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 20, 2004

Saving me from myself

Thankfully, I think, the iTunes music stores keeps telling me that I need to upgrade to the latest version, even though I already have it.

And, as I don't have the time to reinstall every other day, or figure out what's playing up, I guess that's that for now. Still, a few bob saved.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Responsibility by remote control

I'm not a big stats-watcher, not least because I don't ever get big stats. However, I'm caught in a strange mixture of troubled and proud as the powerpoint of "Shit I'm A Manager" has been slowly moving up my stats summary - and today broke 200 downloads.

If I'd done it for fame (and sadly the other two talks *were* proposed to show how damn clever I was - perhaps Dave et al spotted that) I'd be running round the house going "yessssssssss-ah!".

Instead I just sit here hoping it wasn't all bollocks and that I haven't sent everyone to their various dooms.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 01:15 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 18, 2004

Well, we know it's worth it, but...

My head hurts from reading how Simon plans to master the new Fatboy Slim album.

I'm sure that to him it's the equivalent of when I go off on one about character motivation in interactive formats, but to me it's like when Paul or Yoz get excited about Perl - it feels tantalisingly like I *should* understand it, but it remains just out of reach in the realm of white noise.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 01:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 15, 2004

iTunes UK launches

Damn. there goes Daisy's child benefit... :-)

Posted by Tom Dolan at 03:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Haven't we been here before?

So, with make-ourselves-ugly makeup and clothes, complex time signatures and abrupt texture changes Do Me Bad Things seem to be picking up where Cardiacs left off before they ditched the scary makeup and started looking a *bit* more sensible.

(Lots of other nice portraits on Steve Payne's site though.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 14, 2004

Vortices Through Time

On Friday, under the advice of super piano teacher Seb, we moved our 4-and-a-half-month-old daughter into her own room.

His take was that there's a huge gap in perception between the age she is now, and six months - when we'd planned to move her. If we move her now, it's just a thing that has changed, like most things change. In a month and a half, however, she'll know she's moved *away from us*.

That evening, after she'd gone to bed, I was sitting on the loo, looking across the landing at the door to her new bedroom, and realised that we'd taken the first step to giving her her own identity. She has territory in the house. Suddenly, a huge great swathe of time seemed to flash by and I felt this strange vision of the sixteen-year-old version of her, still coming out of that door, still being in our house, being an ever-bigger and realer part of our lives - through the living of her very own and particular life.

I must remember to shut the toilet door properly in future.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 12:06 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 13, 2004

Ah, God I love the EuroKick, Ted...

The whole nation is going through a strange roleplaying experiment at the moment.

Up and down the country, people who would normally only show the faintest interest in football are getting to find out what it's like to be a football fan.

Because we're slowly realising that something we thought was entertainment is actually an elaborately constructed set of big-business deals to get us to part with our cash.

Go to the supermarket and get your official EuroKick lager, EuroKick charcoal briquettes, and negative-factor EuroKick sunscreen to make sure you look like a boiled beetroot. On the way from the retail park, stop off and pick up your official EuroKick carpet tiles from an Allied Drive-thru. Don't forget to take off your Engerland EuroKick plastic flags from your car as you take it through the EuroWash.

I can see the beauty of football played well, but football fans used to put me off football. Now it's the infrastructure and policies of football itself - things constructed around the game - that make me want to avoid it.

In which case I guess it is the national religion after all.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 11:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 10, 2004

How many posts?????

What follows is my NotCon talk broken out as a set of blog posts, so people can discuss the individual slides, or add more useful advice if needed. If they feel like it. Which I hope they do as it was a bit of a faff... :-)

[Update - as some people are coming directly to this page, there's a powerpoint of this you can download over at http://www.sparklefluff.com/siam]

Posted by Tom Dolan at 06:02 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Shit, I'm A Manager - The Talk

Shit, I'm a Manager
An introduction to the soft skills of
people-management for the
previously proudly unmanageable.

This talk was originally intended as a 45-minute talk at NotCon 04, but there wasn’t time for that. It also wouldn’t fit into a standard lightning presentation, so after a bit of begging Dave Green let me have twenty-minutes-and-no-more-including-questions. This is about the limit of what I thought I could get through in that time.

Anyway, quite often, when I’ve been talking to now-getting-on-a-bit techie friends about work, the thing that seems to strike terror into their hearts is the day-to-day work of people management. And yet, when I dig down a bit further, the problems aren’t quite so hard after all, and with some nudging they can actually turn out to be positive benefits.

The only reason I can say this is that I used to be one of the crappest people managers I knew, and over the course of a few years I became one that people actually wanted to work for.

So this talk is a heavily-edited mix of that pub advice and my own bitter experience.

I’m assuming that you’re someone technical who’s either about to start managing people, has just started managing people, have been managing people for ages and it’s all going tits-up, or just want to know why your boss is acting so weird.

Anyway, lets begin by looking at some of the things nobody tells you you’ll go through when you first become a manager...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Becoming a Manager is Cack Because...

Becoming a Manager is Cack Because...
  • This is a new job
  • It is harder than the old one
  • You are answerable and taking blame
  • You’ve probably had no training for it
  • Your confidence may be shot

The fundamental thing that nobody tells you is just how different this new job is from your old one. You have pretty much changed career. Instead of being judged on how well you code, design or write copy, your job now revolves around the entirely new set of skills around managing people.

And it’s horrible, and hard,particularly at first, and everyone will give you shit. But then that’s why the money’s better.

The other thing to bear in mind is that you’re unlikely to get any training for your new career until things start going wrong. (And if you’re wondering why your boss has to go on a week-long residential course, just think how many bad habits need to be fixed in *them*!)

As a result, you may end up thinking that they’ve made a mistake, and everyone’s expecting you to fail, and that you’re shit.

But take heart, we’re going to get you through this. Let’s take it back to basics…

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

So What Is This 'Management'?

So What Is This ‘Management’?
  • Working out what you want staff to do
  • Telling them it so they can do it
  • Making sure they are still doing it
  • Working out how to do it better next time

This seemingly simplistic definition of management is actually incredibly useful. There are a number of times when I’ve been going into meetings where I’m feeling uncomfortable for a non-specific reason, or where I feel like things are getting out of control, and coming back to this list makes me realise I’ve missed one of the key stages out.

If you can get to number 3 on this list, then chances are the project will happen in something like the timescale you planned.

If you can get to number 4, you’ve reached the holy grail, because this is the point where Your Job Gets Easier. So that’s something to aim for.

Of course, what I’ve documented here is the craft of management. The ‘art’ is to do this without pissing your staff or boss off. So let’s have a look at them for a moment…

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Who Measures Your Success? (And at what?)

Who measures your success?
(and at what?)

 Management skillsPrior skills
Your staff80%5%
Your Boss15%0%

I wanted to look at how the people above and below you think about you and the work you do. So I’ve taken a view of the intellectual effort the organisation expends on you over any decent period of time.

And it breaks down, in my experience, roughly like this:

Most of the time spent thinking about you is your staff worrying about how well you are managing them - keeping the plates spinning to maximise the value of what they’re doing.

They’re also a bit worried about your previous experience, but only because they don’t want to write code you could just tear apart. But hey, that’s good, it keeps them on their toes.

Your boss is thinking about lots of other things, but when he does think about you, the only thing he thinks about is how well you’re managing the team. He’s not interested in your coding skills at all. This is even true in hybrid management jobs where you’ve kept some day-to-day work. From the top, the management is the bit that matters.

There’s an important corollary of this…

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


When the going gets tough
you should do
is your old job

God, we’ve all done it. Things are grim, I’d better muck in…

No. That’s the last thing you should do.

You can delegate the coding work - pay people overtime if you have to. But you can’t delegate the management part. If you stop doing that, then *nobody* is managing the team, and things will spin out of control.

The other consequence of “oh, I’ll just look after the design of the homepage” is that you instantly lose your perspective.

And Perspective Is One Of The Most Important Things A Manager Needs To Have.

Do everything you can to hang on to it - your staff need you to make sensible decisions while they’re in the thick of it.

Also, if things are that damn busy that you feel the need to get involved, it goes to show there’s even more stuff that needs you to have perspective on.

Okay, lets take a look at some of the real howlers in people management…

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The General Traps

The General Traps
  • Doing what you pay your staff to do
  • Managing your staff’s staff
  • Being the weak link in the business chain
  • Having to win
  • Slagging off other teams/managers
  • Sticking to your own (new) kind
  • Wanting to be liked
  • Too much email

Some of these are things I’ve heard about, some are things I’ve done. You may be able to tell which are which.

Anyway, let’s get onto things you don’t have to worry about…

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Myths of Management

Myths of Management
  • The perfect manager
  • You can’t ask for help
  • You must have the solution
  • Geek knowledge isn’t power
  • Budgets are hard and scary

Time to move on to some of the softer skills…

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Empowering Staff
  • “That’s unfortunate. So what are you going to do about it then?”
    (Jon Lewin 1959-1999 RIP. He was fab.)
  • “You have to give producers something to produce”
    (Anthony Pugh)
  • “If you can let people do the thing they really want to do, they will do a good job”
    (Mark Cossey)

Empowerment eh? Yadda yadda yadda management newage wankspeak eh?

Well, often, yes. But here are three important quotes that did make a difference to me. The first comes with a story attached.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


  • Behaviour not people
  • You are giving the feedback
  • Stick to facts
  • Avoid ‘the praise sandwich’
  • Empathy: Drill down to root causes, weaknesses and interests.
  • Is it actually you?
  • Start small, and do it immediately
Okay, the conflict slide. At which point I’d like to point out it’s okay to be a bit scared when doing this. If you’re scared *all* the time however, something is wrong and you need to work out what you’re going to do about it.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


  • Team meetings - for team-wide info only
  • Routine meetings - for each staff member, not you
  • Task-setting meetings - do your homework!
  • All other meetings - is just chatting?

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hire, Sire, Fire

Hire, Fire, Sire.
  • Don’t hire in your own image
  • Prepare your staff for moving on
  • Appraisals
  • Training requirements

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

So What Can I Do?

So what can I do?
  • Acknowledge it’s new
  • Stop buying technical books
  • Develop your skills
  • Talk to other managers about the process
  • Ask your staff where weak spots are
  • Debug your management
  • Lead by example
So, hopefully you’ve had a lot of useful information here, so lets look at what you can do when you go back to the office on Monday:

So where does this leave us?

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Payoff

The Payoff
  • This starts off hard
  • Remember what your job is
  • Improve your skills one day at a time
  • One day, you’ll stop missing your old job

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Any Questions?

Any Questions?
For negotiation, skim the first few chapters of
  • Willam H. Ury - Getting to yes
  • Susan Jeffers - Feel the fear and do it anyway
Borrow from your parents/boss
  • Blanchard & Johnson - The one minute manager
Be inspired by
  • Andy Law - Experiment at Work
  • Eddie Obeng - The Project Manager’s Secret Handbook
Get your life in order with
  • Mark Forster - Get everything done and still have time to play
  • Mark Forster - Make your dreams come true
Admire the extreme machiavellianism of
  • Andrew Rawnsley - Servants of the People
  • Neal Stephenson - Cryptonomicon - the Epiphyte strand.
Perhaps buy (I’ve got no idea if it’s any good)
  • Paul Glen - Leading Geeks

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Full talk now available online

The annotated version of the "Shit, I'm A Manager" Powerpoint is now available online.

For those without Powerpoint viewer, I'm also going to put it up here as a huge set of blog posts so you can link to particular slides or add comments and discussions on the individual items. Just need to play with CSS a bit first to get it to look nice...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 01:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Broadband - lets get this in perspective...

One of the guys from the Moscow office came in yesterday. His english was really good, but had holes, and so when he said "I have a gigabit connection at home" we quickly picked him up.

"You mean megabit?"

"No, Gigabit. It is our new service. Everyone has it. It costs about thirty pounds a month"

BT, NTL, Telewest, you have so much to learn...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 01:11 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 09, 2004

So what *don't* I have to leave behind?

After my NotCon talk, one of the questions that was asked was

"So you seem to be saying that everything I currently know I have to ignore. Is there anything I take with me?

I'm not entirely happy with how I answered the question, and it's been bugging me slightly since. My answer was basically

(*Remembering to read it, so you don't violate the golden rule: Never Piss Away Your Staff's Work)

What I should also have reinforced is that you bring with you a huge bunch of mental models of problems and scenarios, and also a million mistakes you've made where you've applied them wrong. So you take the broad generalisations of many different techniques, and how to focus on the differences between them.

Again, this comes down to perspective, the key skill of managers - spotting the assumptions your staff have made and, rather than relishing their failings, leading them into better solutions.

There's also the fact that, while you are often deal with bigger chunks of things, your background knowledge means that you can explain your assumptions clearly to the people below you, and drill down to find out whether things will work. If your staff can't explain the how and why to you in terms you can still understand, then the solution is probably a bit suspect and they can be encouraged to fix it, rather than poper over the cracks and hope you won't notice.

Also, there is plenty of new knowledge to be gained from books about managing technology and technology people. You still get to soak up those overviews and build the macro-bricks of knowledge, rather than focussing on the individual pieces of lego. I remember the joy of reading a book on interactive TV and realising that I could skip the rest of the chapter on the fine detail of how MPEG encoding worked because it very definitely *was* someone else's problem.

All this doesn't mean that you *must* give up technical knowledge, just that you shouldn't use it as a distraction from your day job. Wait till a personal project comes along that you need them for, and enjoy the fun of learning without the pressure that the business needs you to deliver a solution.

Now, where's that PHP book again?

Posted by Tom Dolan at 02:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 06, 2004

It may be just because I can finally relax...

But I think Richard Holmes talk on Island Blogging was one of the finest pieces today. It was like listening to the wistful moments of a Looper or Belle and Sebastian album.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 05:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Phew. Talk over.

low bandwidth, so will make this brief.

The powerpoint of the talk is now available at http://www.sparklefluff.com/siam/.

Detailed version is coming soon.

16 minutes, the fastest ever, so not quite as rich as it could have been, but I hope the attendees found it useful.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 05:32 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

So, here we are

So NotCon is settling down nicely. Tom Coates' initial-thoughts description is great and sums it up nicely.

It's both techier and friendlier than I thought, but it means that the talk is either going to go much better or much worse than I thought. I'm feeling *incredibly* untechnical, but then I guess that's why I'm there.

A blank version of my presentation will be going up just beforehand for people to make notes. A full version will be available in a couple of days when my hangover has worn off. email siam@sparklefluff.com to find out when it goes live.

Oh, or just read this blog. Which you were already doing.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 12:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 05, 2004

Powerpoint Paradox

One of the ideas I'm kicking around at the moment is to put a copy of my presentation online for download just as tomorrow's talk starts. It would have the 'notes' section cleared out so that people can make their own notes on what I've said and keep the annotated PPT on their machines (or posted on their blogs) so that the 'formal version' and their annotation will stay in sync.

Aside: Bizarrely this would be kind of like a streaming-media chat application I'd envisaged a few years back (1999 - a *few*?), where user comments were stored on the server tagged with the timestamp of the relevant point in the media stream. So when someone else replayed the streaming media, the comments of others would appear in sync with when they had started typing. (We took the view that the time the thought was *had* was more relevant than the time the enter key was pressed after a message of arbitrary length had been entered.) Had forgotten about that - can't remember if the wierd combination of synchronised and asynchronous failed to capture the imagination in an ahead-of-its-time sort of way, or if people decided it was just a fundamentally stupid idea that nobody would use.

Anyway, there are two problems with this.

1) It involves writing a public-key style presentation, where it doesn't make sense if you peek ahead - which then ruins the point of allowing it to be downloaded to roam free.

2) It means that some people will be distracted by trying to get a feature of Powerpoint going they may have not used before, when they should be concentrating on listening rather than technology.

Still undecided.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 03, 2004

Is this the worst sitemap in the world?

The Site Map on the Thames Water site doesn't actually have links to any of the sections. The only hrefs anywhere are the 'close' button and stylesheet link.

It is literally just a map.


Posted by Tom Dolan at 11:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

No pressure...

The extremely discerning Stuart Mudie is the first person to blog my talk "Shit, I'm A Manager" at this Sunday's NotCon.

This is timely, because it wasn't until 12:30am that it finally started to stand a chance of coming in under time. (It was about fifteen minutes over till then. For a fifteen minute talk.)

Piers, this is all your fault.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 10:41 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 02, 2004

NotCon fallout: I could have planned this better

I am now fourth in google Searches for "shit manager"

Posted by Tom Dolan at 03:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

I spy...

Rumblings and movement back over on Naomi's Blog

I have to admit I'm rather taken with the idea of the bookblog. I've occasionally wondered about taking the whole linklog/books/cds thing that is miked in among the left-hand nav and turning it into a set of SSI'd sub-blogs.

Of course, this was before MovableType announced their new pricing structure...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 03:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jakob. Grave. Spin.

This is now...oooh....almost three weeks old, so ancient by our standards, but I really enjoyed Design Eye for the Usability Guy - a take on applying some modern brought-round-to-the-usability-way-of-thinking design principles to Jakob Nielsen's old site.

I can't help feeling the 'putting it in Flash' was a troll that worked, but a lot of the other stuff in there is great - little icons to explain the concepts etc.

Oh, and do make sure you read the comments - by about number 80 it's settled into a good old usenet-style barney about xhtml v html4, fixed width columns and a whole bunch of other cool stuff.

From no 109:
>I’ve got an idea… why don’t you and Orion go do your own redesign
> and publish it and see if people like your version versus something like ours.
> I’m sure it would be an eye-opener.

There’s something that always seems to be missed when talking about re-design.
I believe that once the knowledge is gained, people tend to skim over the
content. It’s familiar to them.

Which has to be one of the best cop-outs I've heard in ages....

Posted by Tom Dolan at 10:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 01, 2004

Paternal Pride

Yesterday afternoon, I did a thing that is deeply and profoundly 'dad'. Not 'dad' as in 'being a father and caring for a child', but as in 'being like you remember your dad being'.

For the first time in my life, I went down to the bottom of the garden, and burnt loads of stuff. For two hours. I came back into the house smelling of smoke and had a big cup of workman tea.

My pillow still smelt of the smoke this morning. It felt, well, comfy.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 05:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Like a flat-eared cat

This is the first of two old-man posts.

Last year, I went to one of the best gigs of my entire life. Peter Gabriel live is one of those magical experiences that if you have even the faintest interest in his music will win you over utterly. His staging is fabulous, and the performances blow away everything on the albums. Just shockingly wonderful.

He's playing again on Monday and Tuesday at Wembley.

And everyone I'd go with is either going with someone else, out of the country, or moving house.

It's even pretty tricky to go on my own as most tickets on eBay are pairs.

So if any of my regular readers are closet Gabriel fans and fancy a wallow next Monday or Tuesday, do get in touch...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 05:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack