Author: Bogdan Muresan

When First Impression We Create Sucks … There Is Still Hope

It’s late and I am a little tired. My family is sleeping and I am working on my computer. A nice movie is playing somewhere in the background. The truth is that I don’t know exactly what am I doing on my computer and I don’t know what movie plays on the TV. It wasn’t one of my best days and despite my incurable optimism, I feel a little down. I am raising my eyes and I look at the library. And there, in front of the books,  it’s him. The master. The always distracted newbie. The underdog. It’s Po.

A gift from the heart. I’m smiling and my mood is back up in an instant. It’s one of the best gifts I ever received. Returning from one of the business trips, Dan, one of the most respected people in the community and one of my best friends gave me this figurine. He thought that represents me. To quote him: “sometimes people are looking at you and they don’t give you too much credit. Do you remember when Po was trying to get some food from the top shelf in the kitchen? He was clumsy … he was flipping things over. And suddenly he was focused. And in a couple of jumps and perfect moves he took the food. That’s you”. He told me that I’m fat.

The first impression matters … but how much?. That was not an accidental discussion. We had some cool brainstormings because there were some situations when the first impression I ‘created’ was not top five … or ten … or top. And this is not self-criticism. The feedback I am getting sometimes directly or indirectly is clearly stating this. I was told that I don’t have gravitas. I am working on it. My posture is not always the best. I am working on it. And sometimes I look unfocused, not interested and I don’t say smart things. I am working on the first two and I am still looking for a dictionary for number three. And yet, I can’t complain about my achievements at all. More, I know that a lot of people appreciate me.

All the books are stating very clear: first impression matters. A lot. Jordan Peterson states that we should walk tall, like a lobster. The power of the first impression. And there are o lot of techniques to help us work on that. But what happens if we still don’t get our gravitas from the moment zero? is it the end of the game?

Work hard … and then be patient … and then work harder. If we take these theories to ad litteram we might fall into a big trap. We might think that without the proper first impression, we are doomed. At least this is what I started to believe after feedback like that. And then I realized that if we have patience time works in our favor. I work hard to get results. I work hard to achieve my goals. And I wait for my moment. And I work harder. And guess what. Then the magic happens. I get the food from the top shelf.

All I know is that for sure, at a moment in life anybody feels like an underdog. Or somebody tries to make us feel like that. I don’t have a magic recipe and I don’t have magic advice on how to fight this. But I know for sure that not creating the top first impression doesn’t need to be the end of the game. Of course, it helps when we succeed. For those who don’t, like me, for the underdogs, remember this: hard work and tons of patience will get you to the top shelf. And to stay focused and motivated … find your Po. Thank you, Dan.

Learning Humility The Hard Way … Yet a Constructive One

One of the hardest things in life is to acknowledge our failures. Even harder is to talk about them. If we don’t talk about them … well … they don’t exist. Yet, what we learn from our failures are lessons that stick with us for life. Since I am a grown-up now (not according to my parent of course) I can share one of my biggest fails and what I learned from it.

In my second year of university, I got my first job. I was recruited as a research assistant at the University research laboratory. The laboratory team was led by a brilliant professor and the team was formed by some of the best students in the university. And me. We were working at a CASE tool for the analysis, design, and implementation of software systems using object-oriented technologies. That was my first encounter with an application of such complexity. I felt kind of lost but my teammates were great. One of them become one of my best friends and he mentors me even today.

The hiccup. All good things come with a price. Sometimes it’s big. Sometimes it’s small. Or at least it seems small.  During my year in the laboratory team, I learned a lot of things from my teammates, which was awesome. It started to build my knowledge base which started to build my confidence. Which sadly started to build my ego.

Have you ever noticed that every time a handyman comes to your house the first thing he does is to criticize the work done by whoever was there before? Something similar was happening in our team also. We worked on a very complex application with hundreds of classes. The solution was developed by great students who have been part of the team in the past. So, when somebody worked to fix a bug, instantly that portion of code was crappy, pitiful, and much more. Unfortunately, through the many good things I learned, I got also this small unwanted behavior in my repertoire.

The cold shower. Close to the end of my year there I received a big assignment: to implement a reverse engineering module. Having the trust of our professor to do this was a big deal. The overexcitement resulted in three weeks of intense work, between fourteen and sixteen hours per day. And then the big day has come. As I was presenting the solution, the face of the good professor started to change. The disappointment on his face could be seen from the moon. But he was too nice to say directly that my solution was from another movie. A very bad movie. He explained what was expected. He pointed to some different solutions. And I felt like crap. I felt like I let down the professor and my team big time. I felt like the sky was falling on my head. And suddenly I was thinking how many times in the last year I called somebody else’s code “crappy”.

Easier to destroy … harder to construct. That day our awesome professor taught me much more than how to think to a good solution for the technical problem: he taught me humility and how to be constructive.

When we disassemble a solution, in fact, any solution, there are so many things we don’t know. We might know the context, but we don’t know how a person thought in that context. I bet that in eight out of nine situations if we look back at our code from three months ago we will say: what the hell was I thinking at that time? There is nothing to gain when we dissemble.

What if instead of “destroy and re-build” we just “expand the pool of solutions”? That’s exactly what our professor did. No yelling at me, no critiquing. Just pointing out different alternatives. Identifying problems is easy, providing solutions and alternatives is what makes our life complicated. When we dissemble somebody’s opinions, we put that person in defensive mode. The chances that our alternatives are heard are close to zero. Even if they are brilliant. That’s human nature. If we acknowledge the problem that needs to be solved and we layout the solutions, we have a chance that these solutions are taken into account.

The two lessons I got can be summarised very easy:

  • Whenever we find a problem we should lower our ego and think twice before dissembling somebody for that. There are more than enough situations when we are on the other side of the problem.
  • Humbleness is the golden key for constructiveness. This key allows our solution to be listened to. It allows us to move from critiques to solvers.

My ego dropped big time that day. Since then I am trying not to destroy a solution to have a door open for my alternatives. I am not succeeding all the time. At the end of the day, I am also human. But this is happening more and more. And sometimes when I’m hearing teams falling into the bad path, I’m just telling the story …

A Picture, A Gift, Three Leadership Thoughts

After twelve years and a half in the same place (I know it sounds crazy but it’s not) I recently made a change in my life. New job, new adventures. New challenges and new things to learn. Of course, there was a goodbye party which was a blast. Ok, it wasn’t actually a goodbye party, it was the company end of the year party, and it happen to be as I was leaving. Best timing ever. And besides the tons of fun I had, there were two things which strike me: the number of hugs I got (which means that I did something right in all these years) and the goodbye gift. The gift is a picture and is one of the best compliments I ever received at work.

I literally stared at the picture for days. I retrospect at my life and my work. From all the connections I made, there are three leadership thoughts which relate to my experience and I want to share with you. Because of these thoughts I am looking at this gift as a great compliment.

A good leader is not mandatory the expert in the team, the best in everything … He is the best in leading the group to its best. For a long time, I didn’t understand this. In my mind, and probably for many people, a leader needs to be the best of the bests in what he’s doing. Now I consider it a myth. That’s not necessary a leader, that’s the ultimate expert.

  • Curry is not the best in the paint in the team – Cousins is;
  • Curry is not the best defender in the team – Green is;
  • Curry is not the best scorer in the team – Durant is;
  • Curry has the crown for three-point shooting but even there Klay is very close to him;

But Curry is the engine.  Curry is the glue which keeps the team together and pushes it forward. He is very strong at many of those skills, but that’s not what makes him the leader. What makes him the leader, the glue, the engine, is a mix of many factors and the next two are playing a big role.

Elevate your team and together you will get to the top … I played basketball for many years. In all these years I was an emotional disaster on the court. I yell, I cried and I argued all the time. Somebody can say that I put a lot of soul into the game but that’s not an excuse. Still, I noticed that people were gathered around me. Despite my craziness on the court my friends were enjoying playing by my side. I was keep asking myself why. It was clear that I was leading the team. Even if I wasn’t the best. So why were they enjoy playing by my side despite my craziness?

At work, I like to think that I’m infinitely calmer. I am much better on what I do than I’m a basketball player. Still, I was not the best for all the skills our team needed. And yet, I was leading the team. And yet, it seems that people did enjoy follow my lead.

The answer has started to shape a while ago. Curry doesn’t care that Durant scores more, Green is a better defender and Cousins rebounds more. More than that, he enjoys that. He elevates them with any occasion. When Klay is open for a three-point shot, he passes. When Durant is open, he passes. He loves creating plays for the others to shine.

I realised that I was doing something very similar. I always trusted my team and their skills. If they were open, I was passing the ball. I created plays for my teammates to score. I always involved everybody from the team. I put my soul into the game, and as a response, the team has done the same. I love the game, but it wasn’t about me. It was about succeeding together. I get them the ball in the best positions for them to score. And that happens even in my craziest moments. I always encourage my team to make the shot. To take the chance.

At work, I live by the same rules. I love creating opportunities for my teammates where they do the best. I recognise where they do better than me and I am not afraid to learn from them. I love involving everybody. That makes people enjoying my leadership and enjoying working by my side (even in the crazy times). That and another important thing.

No obstacle is too big to stop us from helping our team … When we lead, our team relies on us. And when the times come, a leader needs to make the play to help the team.

In the picture, Curry takes the shot against LeBron. And LeBron is exactly like the song says: bigger, better, stronger. Yet, the team relies on Curry to take the challenge. And he does that without fear. Challenges are actually the triggers which helps us grow. The obstacles we fight to remove are our next lessons to learn. We cannot grow with a vanilla game. And we cannot help our team with a vanilla game.

These obstacles are scaring the hell out of me. But now I know that when they appear two good things will happen: I have the chance to help my team, which always makes me feel good, and I have new lessons to learn. Six months ago my team needed me in a difficult moment. I did the hard thing and one of my team members, a great person with a lot of experience, told me that he wouldn’t had the courage to have that conversation (I know he would, it was a nice way to say thank you). I smiled because courage didn’t mean that I was not scared … I was scared as always. But I learned not to hesitate. And now I am more convince than ever that when we don’t hesitate and we face the challenges for the team … our team will go through fire with us.

 

This gift was an awesome trigger for retrospection. I hope these thoughts are a small gift back:

  • We don’t need to be the best in every aspect in our teams to lead … we need to enjoy working with stronger people and learn how we can complete each other
  • Elevating our team members is crucial … trusting them and creating them opportunities to use their strengths will get us the best results
  • No obstacle is too big to stop us from helping our team … these are the moments which are teaching us the most and are giving us as leaders great satisfactions.

Thank you, my friends, for this.

 

Leadership From Life: See The Rose Not The Thorn

There is no doubt that positive thinking is an asset that shouldn’t miss from our lives. It is a mandatory tool that shouldn’t miss from any leader toolbox. But to be honest, it can spin the life for anybody, not only for the ones who lead. We hear this all the time but how does this really work? A recent, quite funny, event made me aware of this much more than before. I was so thrilled about my ‘Captain Obvious’ like discovery as I am when I’m eating pizza: I displayed a huge dumb smile on my face and I totally ignore the little tinny voice far away in the background who’s asking if there is any drawback to this. Usually that voice is expelled by an instant yell from my entire body which says “No, just enjoy the pizza dude”. Note to readers and myself: do not ignore the voice, there is always a drawback.

 

Short unrelated history event. Romania, Baia Mare, year of 1996, early spring. I was in the twelfth grade and for the ones who are not remembering those times, in the entire Baia Mare city there were only 2 cinemas. GoldenEye, the newest 007 movie was just released. Pierce Brosnan and Izabella Scorupco were staring for the 007 fans, which were us. It was the first day of second trimester and obviously the entire cinema was full of students. We got tickets in the first raw which was awful. But the experience turned out to be priceless. I was sitting near my good friend Ovi. Right next to us was this guy who had figured out what life was. He was making comments very often about things that happened in the movie. “Captain Obvious” like comments. He was not ill intended or had an urge to look smart. He was literally caught in the movie’s nets. 30 years later I still remember many of those remarks. One of them was absolutely brilliant. Brosnan and Isabella’s plane crashed on an island. So there were only the two of them. Him, unshaved, dirty but still with his 007 manly macho look. She a gorgeous young woman, as beautiful as the first sunshine in a winter morning. They were laying down on the ground after the crash. The camera zoomed on his eyes and slowly it started to zoom out while the suspense riched  alarming levels in the big cinema room. The guy near us literally stopped breathing. When the entire Brosnan face was fully visible he cleared up the suspense for the entire cinema. He literally yelled: “this is him”.

 

Short unrelated current event. With two small kids the free time for me and my wife is very limited. Kids are growing and it started to be better and better. In a desperate urge to get back in control of our lives, we took adventure into our own hands, left the kids with the grandparents for a couple of hours and we went  to the cinema. This happened last week and we saw “Cool Daddy”. A nice and easy french comedy. Very relaxing. And as we were enjoying the movie I slowly started to switch my focus from the movie to the guy near me. Thirty years later he was there again. Not the same guy of course. But the same pattern. I have started to enjoy more his comments than the movie. It might have been a couple of scenes where I was the only guy laughing. This guy had the same behaviour: fully caught by the movie’s nets he was full of comments on board with close to zero understanding on what was actually happening on the screen. There was this scene where the cool daddy was trying to protect the honour of his ex and act like he was afraid of the current partner of his ex. The new ‘Captain Obvious’ was totally disgusted: “I can’t believe that he is afraid of that loser”. I instantly texted Ovi that our GoldenEye guy is back and he strikes again.

 

The thorn is part of the rose. It all depends what you choose to see. So the movie is getting closer to the end. The Cool Daddy and his ex were giving up on any chance to get back together and they were close to sell their old apartment. A pretty nice one with small stairs inside which lead to a cool upstairs office room from where one see the rest of the area. So they were on the verge of selling it.  The entire apartment was empty and ready to be forgotten. They threw  a last nostalgic look back. In that moment I was thinking about how the apartment looked before, how different was the empty apartment and how much potential the place had  to look even cooler than before. That instant moment I heard the guy near me: “What a dump”. Being focused on the guy’s remarks this hasn’t gone unnoticed. It really stroke me how big was the difference between the two ways of thinking. So simple and yet so powerful.

 

“Too much love will kill you” states one of Queen’s song, one of the best rock bands ever. So is there anything bad in a slice of pizza? Is there any drawback in seeing the glass all the time half full? It might be. We see the potential, we see the good part, but if everything is ok and if everything is perfect, we might stop asking questions. This is definitely a way that affects our capacity to be open to more possibilities. It is awesome to consider the positive aspects and see the potential of something. Adding to this the attention to details and the capacity to not be blindsided by the greatness of the pizza opens thousands of possibilities.

 

Being intentional about this is a way to model our way of thinking. If it doesn’t come natural it definitely can be educated. And it is very easy to switch from a negative thought to something bigger. A simple question like “how can we make the apartment look better” can change the entire dynamic of the thinking process. It can switch from seeing the dark in things to a positive constructive attitude. This is a must, if as leaders, we want the other to follow us.

 

In the end, I challenge you to think of a recent event in your life. Think of the natural reaction that you have had. Think of  your first reaction. If it was a negative one then just ask a turnaround question and see how do you feel when you find answers to that. I bet on a slice of pizza that the feeling is awesome.

Who Am I …

So … this is me. Uncensored. I asked my very talented niece to draw me a character. A character to represent me. My good side and my dark side together. She asked me the simplest question in the world: who are you? And my surprise was that maybe for the first time in my life I answered to this question in a second.

 

It took me some time, about 40 years. But as an old saying states, it’s never too late. If until now my thoughts were going back and forth when I was asking myself “Who Am I” recently things have changed. I was trying to answer this question because every time I am writing a blog post or an article, like any good self-reviewer, I was looking at the text and I was starting to as ask the right question: “who on earth do you think you are?” “are you for real?” “can you find a decent idea and upgrade the text at least to sixth grade level?”. So I had to answer to the first two of them and hope that the third resolution will come in time. It wasn’t easy. And it might change in the next 40 years.

 

So … I am Bondan. I am somebody who likes to be serious and also likes to joke. And to joke when I’m serious. And also to be serious when I’m joking. I am shy but I treat myself. I do things with passion and determination. But small doses of fun cannot miss under any circumstances. I like to win, but not without a team. Having no one to share the victory with makes it useless. I do enough mistakes so I am continuously learning. And what I learn I love to share. And now I learned enough to do that. Because until yesterday … I was a newbie.

 

And you … who are you?

Beyond the code … beyond the output

Outcome does not equal output. I hear this statement again and again in Agile world and I must admit that I like it a lot. Between the two concepts there is a significant difference  which is not that easy to digest. Understanding the outcome of what we are doing can have at least two major benefits. Firstly, where there is a why, there is a strong will. We all feel much more motivated when we understand why we are doing what we are doing. Secondly, the value that we add on the table increases significantly when we understand the outcome.

 

The “revelation”. Lately, I had a “I wish I was 20 again and know as much as I do now” moment. Who hasn’t had moments like that? And it wasn’t one of those when you think “this time I would be cool.” I would probably still be a geek, but a much wiser one I hope. This moment took me back in time and gave me a story which I am using now every time I try  to explain the difference between outcome and output and how the two benefits work. Either it’s an Agile training I’m holding, or I am talking about Product Mindset, this story really seems to help. And I want to share it with you in the hope that it will bring a little more clarity into the matter.

 

The first company I worked for almost twenty years ago had an integration pattern for newbies which was really cool. I received in my care an ongoing project. It was a desktop application written in C++. Using the application, you could register everything that happened on the desktop and playback it. And if something didn’t happen exactly like it was recorded, the differences were logged. If a button opened a window and the window was not in the same position, or didn’t have the same color or the window was in a different mood (how cool would be if this really exists) an error would be logged. Does it already sound familiar? It was one of the first automated testing tools I had my hands on. Almost twenty years ago. Nowadays this is a must have in every software development team and there are tons of tools for people to play with. Back then, not so much.

 

My mission was to clear the tools from bugs. And that’s what I’ve done. Windows hooks, low level programming, digging into the roots of the operating system – that’s how passionate people define heaven. Even today, after almost twenty years, I remember one of the most nasty bugs I had ever solved. It took me about three days, but when I solved it, the joy was so high that I could throw a party. And when somebody asked about what I’ve done I started to talk about window hooks and events and keystroke messages that didn’t register. And in my passionate errant speech I always missed the other person’s look. That look that says “duuude shut upppp. When is the food coming?”. Because those were things which were important only for me . For my passion for technology.

 

The output. What I’ve missed is to understand why I did what I did.  I didn’t care.  So, at the end of the day what I provided was output. Pure output. I fixed bugs. I didn’t add any additional value. I didn’t care why I fixed those bugs. I was so caught in the technology that nothing else mattered. And there is nothing wrong with that. But now I want a little more.

 

The outcome. Now I am thinking of what would have changed if i haven’t missed all that. I had in my hands an automated testing tool. The outcome was there in front of me. The value of what I was working was huge. Automated testing. Huge time reduction of running repetitive tests. Faster validation of completed work. And much more. But I wasn’t focused on outcome at all. Motivation stopped at the bug fixing level. Value added stopped at solving technical challenges. I wish now I could have come with at least one idea. Or ten. In order to bring my contribution. I cooked an awesome dish but I forgot to add the flavours.

 

Businesses today don’t allow us to just cook the food without flavours. Adding to our passion for technology the right focus on the outcome and on the business value, will definitely boost our game. And it will definitely move us much closer to the Agile mindset. It took me a while to understand that.

Mammoth For a Day – An Agile One

Thursday March 9th. Mammoths are in town. And not any kind of Mammoths, the Agile ones.

And once again I was one of them. Agile Mammoths Games, organised by Colours in Projects is the coolest Agile conference in Cluj-Napoca. It has a certain vibe which makes you start the year off on the right foot.

My focus this time was only on the Agile Talks, but the Mammoth Games have everything that is needed for both fun and learning: good speeches, nice workshops (and not only) and a very interesting gamification for the participants.

I don’t know what the others are expecting when participating in an event like this, but my goal is  always to have fun. Not in the terms of laughing all day long, but enjoying the event. When somebody forgets in the backstage a mike open while Jeff, the keynote speaker, has a very interesting speech on how to Excel at Change it’s just a bonus for the good time. I listen, I do analogies with what I know, I take what I find useful and I am just enjoying being there. Due to my constantly newbie state I find it very hard not to acquire valuable info during such an event. It is like entering a good restaurant and you know that  there is always a steak somewhere in the menu.

Listening, talking, learning.

I had the chance to deliver a speech about something which I am really fond of. I talked about Product Mindset,  a concept we have defined in our company over the years and which we proudly wanted to put it out there for everybody to digest it. I was involved in many stages of the process and I also was a part of the small team that worked on the latest refinement.

Dan had a very original approach on what Agile Mindset is, Matei presented just enough from Design Thinking for people to want to dig more into it and Cipri had a very interesting view on how to grow heroes in our teams. Alex spoke with considerable passion  about product owner role and the conference ended in a high note with Chris talking about the product manager samurai.

Takeaways.

  • Focus on product. If there was something which struck me this year then it was the high focus on the product. It seems that people are becoming more and more aware of the fact that Agile is focused on the outcome and not on the output. By focusing on the value of what the IT is delivering it brings the Product into the centre stage. This is an aspect which has changed a lot lately once we all started to feel more and more the actual meaning of Agile Mindset.
  • Gamification rocks. Being there for the 3rd or 4th time, it was a pleasure to see that the conference is becoming better and better each year. One of the key changers is the gamification. I watch people being caught up in the game frenzy. I looked at the people I didn’t know and I paid even more attention to the people I knew I was curious about how they would react. . Cheerfulness,  high involvement and the joy of playing are only some of the benefits that learning through gaming brings to the table. Everybody seems to be all in.

Mammoth for a day is definitely a cool thing. An Agile one is even better. I am already looking forward to next year.

It’s time to share

I was waiting for years to pass the “newbie” state. It seems at one point that will never happen, but finally happened yesterday. I was so glad that I knew in an instant that I need to share what I learned. And that is how this project got in place.

My thoughts are coming out through blogs, articles, speeches and are fuelled through events I’m participating to. I will link all of them here and if anybody at any point wants to ask me something you are more than welcome to do it.