Paul Ford: [00:00:00] hey, rich.
Rich Ziade: Hey Paul.
Paul Ford: Are you ready to launch our new software product?
On, I know, and we have a date for it all picked out, and we, we have a, we have Scope. We’re about to have a big long scoping meeting.
Rich Ziade: Visit
Sign up for the beta.
Paul Ford: So related to that, I saw a tweet that. Uh, made me think of you.
Rich Ziade: Oh,
Paul Ford: yes. And it’s by a, uh, an engineering lead who goes on Twitter as artificial Nicks, n I X. And she wrote the following, and I thought of you immediately After being a manager in tech for like four years.
Now, I don’t understand what everyone is saying about how, how hard it is to estimate timing for products.
That’s tweet one. Tweet two is My team always ships on time. Our KRS are always green. People act like we’re superheroes, but we just have our shit together. So we should talk about this.
. Thank you Nicks Sophie for, um, [00:01:00] giving us, uh, a good topic for this podcast. Let’s talk estimation, my friend.
Do you have any good tips or tricks?
Rich Ziade: I sure do, but it’s not what you think.
Paul Ford: Okay. All right. Let’s do it.
Rich Ziade: There is something really brutal about not. Being held accountable to someone outside, if I tell you you can pick up your Super Mario birthday cake on Saturday for your kid’s birthday party Saturday afternoon. As a bakery owner, I should probably have the cake done.
Paul Ford: You ruined the birthday.
Rich Ziade: You ruined the birthday.
Paul Ford: That’s right. Don’t ruin the birthday. We should. We should point out, there’s a context here and there’s a context for that tweet. Software products are notoriously late. Teams deliver, [00:02:00] late, consultants deliver late. Nothing ever lands.
And so one of the reasons people would come to us is they would finally get their thing.
It would be expensive and it might be less of a thing than they were open for. Mm-hmm. But they’d get it.
Rich Ziade: Yes. I’m a pilot and for a 7:00 AM J F K New York to Charles Dugal Paris. Flight. I have to check in to my airline and be at the airport at 5:00 AM
there’s paperwork, there’s whatever I have to do.
Paul Ford: big checklist,
Rich Ziade: big checklist, and you know the check the checklist for the plane and all that. So I gotta be, I gotta, I’m on the plane at six. We’re gonna get outta there at seven. I gotta be at the airport at five. Those are, Very clear external commitments that can things happen. Can I have [00:03:00] kidney stones and be doubled over in pain?
Can the oven
Paul Ford: No, but I need to be up by 3 45 and shaving.
Rich Ziade: Yeah, look, things can happen. The oven can break. in, in, uh, at the bakery. And maybe that kid will have to take a fudgy, the whale
Paul Ford: There can be a thunderstorm at the, at the airport or the, the, the flight attendants can all get covid. Like, there’s all sorts of things happen.
Rich Ziade: What’s really, really hard about, uh, software, but also other industries. We always talk about software, but there are other industries that have this
Paul Ford: No, there are, there are no other industries.
Rich Ziade: I have one more, uh, industry that has this challenge. Um, the book is due,
Paul Ford: Oh boy.
Why’d you do this to me, man? Why’d you have
Rich Ziade: the article, the article’s due and again, course
Paul Ford: as bad, but, okay. Okay.
Rich Ziade: the article has an advantage over the book, which is
Paul Ford: shorter.
Rich Ziade: we’re going to print, we’re going,
Paul Ford: The problem with the book is they’ll [00:04:00] wait. They’ll wait. And the book, actually, when you turn in the book, it’s nine months before the book actually goes, goes on the shelves.
The article, it might be going up on the web the later that day,
Rich Ziade: And I think editors have come to understand that you can’t pick up the phone and scream at the writer. It doesn’t work. Just doesn’t
Paul Ford: Oh no. Editors live. So editors, it’s, it’s a pure structure of, I, I live this. Right? So it’s a pure structure of passive aggressiveness and, and manipulation.
So the, first of all, they lie to you about the due date. And then as you get older and more serious in your career, you, you realize when you’re being lied to and you’re like, oh, well then it, it’ll be the Thursday after. That’s fine. More time.
Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You start to figure out the game.
Paul Ford: Then they invoke the managing editor and the other editors.
And so that’s, it’s never them, they never, they’re, they understand that you’re an artist. But the managing editor just can’t, they gotta get it in their
Rich Ziade: I, I think there’s a, I think why it’s a challenge. Read the first part of that tweet again, cuz the, it’s a [00:05:00] two-part tweet. It’s an observation and then a declaration. Read the observation again
Paul Ford: After being a manager in tech for like four years now, I don’t understand what everyone is saying about how hard it is to estimate timing for products.
Rich Ziade: Period. Stop there. Mm-hmm. Okay. What they are really saying is that, uh, the leadership who expect the product to be done at a certain time. Refuses to hold everyone accountable to a commitment and tries to simp, sympathize and empathize with the team and the complexities around it. And so what you end up with is a really snugly dynamic, but no one knows.
Where success is anymore. And by success I don’t mean
Paul Ford: a dynamic where people are all snuggling together.
Rich Ziade: People [00:06:00] assert themselves.
Paul Ford: Sure.
Rich Ziade: Engineers say, no, you don’t understand. I once sold a piece of business, um, and I didn’t architect it out. I didn’t go looking at libraries and seeing, but.
In my cursory understanding of technology, I sold the piece of
Paul Ford: That’s what a salesperson does.
Rich Ziade: My head of engineering said I need to talk to you as soon as
Paul Ford: possible.
Rich Ziade: Right.
Paul Ford: Ah,
Rich Ziade: And he’s like, what you, what you sold isn’t possible. I was like, really? And then I, I, I sat in a very ignorant place. I was like, and it wasn’t a time constraint, what he was doing.
And, and we worked it out and I was like, why don’t you just do it this way? He’s like, is it okay to do it that way? I’m like, when did it become not okay to do it that way? Of course you could do it that way. They don’t know anything. They don’t know technology. Go do it that way. And we did it and we delivered it and we, it was one of the most profitable projects we ever worked on.
And so what was going on there? What was going on There was, uh, the head of engineering, asserting control and [00:07:00] wanting to be in the room. When we arbi arbitrate, what
Paul Ford: is. You know what, I always think of this as, by the way, the AUR theory of software
Rich Ziade: development. There’s your title,
title of the podcast.
Paul Ford: is. It’s just like this sort of
Rich Ziade: explain, that.
Paul Ford: so there’s a, a famous, there are theories of what makes a movie and what, what art is and where it
Rich Ziade: Sure.
Paul Ford: And so film in particular is really interesting because there’s the concept of the director and is the director the artist of the movie or is the movie. A combination of all the efforts involved manifesting together, prob led by the
Rich Ziade: director. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Paul Ford: And so the director and software would be the product manager in the,
Rich Ziade: the mm-hmm.
Paul Ford: the magazine world would be the, the editor-in-chief, et cetera, et cetera.
So the Aura theory is that like the director is the artist and everyone else. Falls, uh, you know, in their wake they are. And, um, there are other theories and other concepts that say that no, it, [00:08:00] it’s actually much more the sum total and that person just kind of receives all the glory. So when you talk about the art and, you know, French cinema in the sixties was very like, There are con, there are spaces where like the director exercised total control made these little films.
People like Godard or, or, or Vees, you know, not French, but um, where they, it was really their vision. And then it’s like Steven Spielberg on War of the World has a team of 1500 people and you watch the credit troll. Is there an Altura behind Mar, you know, Avengers Endgame?
Rich Ziade: Yeah.
Paul Ford: Uh, and so there. The Arturo theory of software development, is the engineer going,
Rich Ziade: Yeah,
Paul Ford: probably French accident. Smoking a, uh, what, what is the oa? The, the cigarettes. How do you pronounce that? Do you know?
Oh, there’s Like
Rich Ziade: really long
Paul Ford: like a French cigarette that’s really
Rich Ziade: It’s really long. Yeah. I
Paul Ford: I think it’s G A L O I. I
Rich Ziade: let’s just say Virginia Slims and get on with
Paul Ford: [00:09:00] whenever I get, uh, whenever I pronounce anything French, I get yelled at. So there we go. Yell at me. Um, anyway, so yes, here you are. The engineer has said it’s not possible. You’ve said it’s possible.
Rich Ziade: Here’s what’s counterintuitive today.
What’s counterintuitive today. And today, you know, there’s a lot of, um, there’s a lot of, um, sort of pausing before you assert yourself in the workplace and in a work in a team environment. There’s a lot of like, Don’t assert your power, don’t be, um, don’t disenfranchise your teammates. Like there’s all that, even if you’re the boss, right?
There’s like, how do you get people aligned? How do you inspire people? Let me, he, let me say something that’s gonna sound counter to a lot of
Paul Ford: well, well hold on.
The dominant and, and sort of positive assessment of management is that you should be a servant leader and that you should come in and you should empower your team.
Rich Ziade: I never heard that phrase before. I want you to never say it
Paul Ford: servant
Rich Ziade: Yeah. [00:10:00] Here’s it. Turns out, it turns out that you will actually have a happier team if you say to them, when I tell you I want something.
a certain date and we can have some dialogue about it. I need you to take it seriously.
And it’s like, okay, wait. That sounds like a jerk.
you could see it through that lens. Uh, you should always be respectful and always have a dialogue about what’s at stake. But here’s the thing, when you do that, There may be a little bit of friction, a little bit of pushback there, but believe me, down the road, they really want it.
They actually really want it because there is nothing more painful than spinning and spinning and spinning and trying to do something perfect, um, and not being able to ship.
People who are great at what they do want leadership. A, to keep the bullshit out. That’s meaningful. That’s part of being a leader. And [00:11:00] B, clear goals.
That’s out of fashion today because that sounds like power or money or
something. Power Power is out of fashion, but clear goals should not be out of fashion.
Respect your team. Communicate, have a dialogue.
Paul Ford: Here’s, here’s the irony of all this. This is one of the trickiest things, and you learn this from pretty senior execs, is that by being demanding and making hard calls, you are actually advocating and protecting the careers of the people who work for you.
More than if you empower them to have control when they’re not ready.
Rich Ziade: Yeah.
I have a terrible tell.
when people, when I’m like, so what do you think? And you say that because you actually want to hear what people’s perspective [00:12:00] and, uh,
wanna be heard.
People want their 2 cents. And they’re telling you about things that can go wrong and you’re hearing them out, and then there you should hear them out. But there is a point where that dialogue. You lose your bearings and it overwhelms everything and you’ve lost which direction you should even go or where the ending is, and you’ve lost control of it. And I have, one of the things I’ve, one of the skills I’ve built over the years is that when someone seems to be taking me away from that goal, And is taking me on their own adventure.
On some other adventure. I literally tune them out. I will nod my, I’ve learned to like use my neck muscles to nod, but Karen Carpenter is singing in my head,
Paul Ford: why do birds
is it that song
Rich Ziade: and obnoxious, but it, and it isn’t me like giving them the middle finger. What it is is me like, [00:13:00] Man, these are smart people who are making sense and they’re taking me off.
My bearings bad
and I need to come out of it.
Paul Ford: Uh, you know, one of the things that happened is people are anchored to their disciplines.
Their disciplines are their, their sense of power and control. And so they advocate for their disciplines. You’re in that meeting and you’re running the product and, and sort of people are like, well, I need this because of this and this is how this works and this, what happened that was weird in the last few years is.
All the disciplines kind of took their eye off of the product and got into themselves in a really specific way. Like
Rich Ziade: it’s, it’s a product of just the demands of a job market, which is softening now, but it was
Paul Ford: right. So it’s like,
Rich Ziade: absolutely impossible to get great talent,
Paul Ford: will only use framework X to program.
Oh, well, o. O, okay. I will only design this way.
Rich Ziade: had this project 10 years ago, like, closure was like hot.
Paul Ford: Oh yeah. Closure is a language that’s based on lisp. For the people out there listening who even understand what that sentence means,[00:14:00]
Rich Ziade: they couldn’t get logged in done after like four months.
Like, I couldn’t log into And so then, then, and I, I’ve, I’ve learned just enough about tech to understand it. Right? So I went into GitHub.
Paul Ford: Oh, that’s not true. You actually, you know the stack pretty
Rich Ziade: I know the stack
Paul Ford: can
Rich Ziade: program. Yes, yes, yes, yes. So I went into GitHub and I was like, let me see what’s going on here.
And I looked at all of it, and then I called you. I remember I was in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Paul Ford: was an awkward one.
Rich Ziade: And I said, Paul, I need you to do me a favor. I’m looking at this. I don’t think there’s anything in here. And you’re like, okay, I’ll call you back in an hour. You called me back and you’re like, there’s kind of nothing in
Paul Ford: I remember once I did a project and I was the only programmer, I was the only anything on it. And I was off on my own and I made every decision and every decision I made was wrong. I used the wrong database, the wrong data model, the wrong programming language.
Every, everything I did was wrong and I slept on the floor to get it done by myself. Yeah. And, and I paid the price for, and then later someone came [00:15:00] in and replaced me and about two years later, but I shipped working
Rich Ziade: Okay. but you went astray,
Paul Ford: I went to Stray, but. I, I would, and I would, I adopted everything cool before it was ready, but I shipped the thing. And what had happened is they had gotten like, oh, you need this kind of logging database.
And so, and they architected for a world that didn’t yet exist, and then they forgot to build the product. They built everything around the product.
Paul Ford: See, and I thought I was gonna be like estimation. You’d be like, here’s the five estimation points. You went very meta.
Rich Ziade: Well,
no, I, I estimations that’s a, that’s a. That’s a straw man.
Paul Ford: See that’s the thing.
Rich Ziade: a straw
Paul Ford: so this is the thing you’re actually saying, which is that estimation is usually presented as a set of tips and tricks for how to like define scope.
Rich Ziade: bullshit.
I’ll tell you why it’s bullshit. There’s gimme a login and then there’s industrial strength SSO two [00:16:00] factor off that sends you a set of 10 codes in case you forget your two factor off. Estimation is useless without leadership, keeping everyone focused through scope. If you can’t help them say, look, I know you know the best way to do it in the world, but I need it Friday.
Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.
Rich Ziade: Right. And that can sound. That’s, that can sting a little.
Paul Ford: Well, it also people, it, it’s not just sting, people feel that they’re betraying their discipline.
Rich Ziade: Yes. And they feel that you as a leader are minimizing their, their
Paul Ford: and their value expertise. Yes,
Rich Ziade: So how do you get around that? You get around that three ways.
Paul Ford: Okay. Now we’re finally tips and tricks.
Rich Ziade: Tips and tricks. First, tell them why. You’re not doing it because you wanna flex. There’s, you are connected to the world. I hope, unless you’re a nonprofit that just makes nonsense software, that [00:17:00] may be, but even then, tell them why. Sometimes you have an externality, like an event or a presentation that you’ve, you’re scheduling against, but sometimes you don’t. So first, be transparent about why you’re, you’re, you’re making them take a shorter filthier path
Paul Ford: Let me let me make, I’m gonna pause. So that’s number one. Number one, there’s a thing I wanna say that I, I, it’s a hard thing to say,
I am increasingly convinced as I get older and I see people in their careers and I talk to people and I mentor people and so on, most people don’t know what business they’re they just don’t, they, they know their discipline. They know that they have a kind of a job. They know that they get a paycheck and they know that they did okay on the annual review.
Rich Ziade: you know who, who’s like that? Tax attorneys. Tax attorneys get like their own wing that looks like a daycare center at the law firm.
Paul Ford: Cause they’re so valuable.
Rich Ziade: so valuable, but they’re also so weird and they’re so awkward.
A lot of the time
Paul Ford: Yeah. These are, you’re, no one goes into tax tax law because they’re like, ah, I’m just having too much sex.[00:18:00]
Rich Ziade: They’re not the rainmakers, right? They’re not social. Some are, I’m not gonna stare, but most are like, they’re almost like quant, like
Paul Ford: Yeah.
So they’re sort of famous in the law firm. Like who’s that guy that never comes out of his
Rich Ziade: Someone else is worrying about the p and l of the law firm, the tax expert that really enjoys the problem. They’re not usually the same person who goes to the cocktail parties to, to be the rainmaker for, for the firm. So, number one, be transparent about why you’re telling them to take path B instead of path
Paul Ford: which might actually mean explaining what business you’re in.
Rich Ziade: Yes, yes.
Paul Ford: I, I, I know that sounds awful and reductive, but it’s literally like we have only this much budget and therefore we must prioritize in order to achieve the goals so we can get more budget.
Half your employees have never thought that way.
Rich Ziade: That’s right. That’s right. We’ve had employees tell us, why are you making getting more business?
Paul Ford: Yeah. Why do you keep growing?
Rich Ziade: They think it’s [00:19:00] greed and they don’t know it’s
Paul Ford: Well, they they don’t realize that all the other business could go away, because once you hit that state, no one assumes that everything will just implode on any given day.
Rich Ziade: is static. Right.
Paul Ford: Well, it, especially with a small startup or an agency. that’s two. Okay. One. One. That was one. Let’s get the two.
Rich Ziade: tell ’em why. Be transparent about why you’re putting certain kinds of pressure over our why. You’re saying you need
Paul Ford: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Are you
Rich Ziade: that outta thin Air number two, um, is probably the most important thing and is the hardest thing to pull off, which is if they trust you, you don’t even have to tell them why.
If they trust you and they trust your judgment, And there is a, a respectful dynamic. They will get it. And you don’t have to explain it every time,
Paul Ford: But that’s only earned by shipping.
So you gotta solve the fundamental problem first.
Rich Ziade: It’s only earned by shipping. It could be earned by you being a great business development person.
It could be [00:20:00] a, it could be earned a lot of different
Paul Ford: ways. Yeah. But that’s a kind of shipping,
Rich Ziade: what you’re
Paul Ford: earned by delivering what you’re
Rich Ziade: you’re essentially saying is this, what you’re essentially saying is, You are amazing at what you do, and we have an amazing team at a board, like it is really a world class team. It’s like what?
Probably the best team I’ve ever worked with.
But what we’re also saying is, You are a practitioner and a and and as good as it gets in your bus, in your craft. I know you don’t think I have a craft. I know you think I put on a shiny suit, but trust me, I’m gonna go talk to the world about this.
You’re gonna do what you’re gonna do. Now I’m talking about our example, but there is. If people there, it is the, it is the, the, the heart, the pinnacle of being a leader is that you don’t have to put pressure and stress on people to do it. They believe in you and they trust you to do, to go in a certain
Paul Ford: let, let me add one caveat, and this is universal.
Everyone thinks that [00:21:00] everyone else’s discipline is essentially fraudulent.
Rich Ziade: O what a cynical way to, it’s not close out. This
Paul Ford: Not not our team, our teams, our team has worked together and so on. But in general, designers are like, ah, engineers and engineers are like, ah, marketing. And everyone is like, ah, managers. And so.
Rich Ziade: a great way to, I mean, it’s a great observation. It’s real,
Paul Ford: when you’re earning that trust, you have to have, I mean, look, I’ve learned all these lessons. The hard way, trust, building trust with engineers is not like, I understand how hard it is can can be to write code cuz they’ll look at you and they’ll be like, yeah, it’s hard.
And that’s all they wanna talk about. You actually have to have a little, it’s not fear, it’s just the sense of like, yeah, I know you can get it. I know you can do it. Yeah, you can ship this. I, I see it, I can see part of it, but you can see the whole thing. And I’m counting on you to take it the rest of the
Rich Ziade: yes. It’s a, it’s a great point. I’m, I’m oversimplifying it. You’re right. Everyone is convinced Their own discipline is the most important
Paul Ford: [00:22:00] It, it’s the only thing that matters because without you, if you sub, if you subtract any of the disciplines, the whole thing does fall
Rich Ziade: It does. We need everybody. Everybody.
It’s a team,
Paul Ford: It’s just, it’s humans are very, very funny. Okay, so that’s 0.2. Yeah.
Rich Ziade: Uh,
Paul Ford: Did you have a 0.3 or did you just like the number
Rich Ziade: No, no, I have it
Paul Ford: have a Okay.
Rich Ziade: I have a 0.3. Um, you can’t do this all the time. You can’t do it all the time. You have to exhale. You have to let them exhale.
Sometimes you’ll be like,
Paul Ford: wait, you mean let the schedule slip?
Rich Ziade: No. What you have to do is you gotta, you want your thing by Friday? Get it by Friday. But the following week, when you see a practitioner who is just hangar in a fold out new librarian, you kind of gotta let ’em do it. You gotta let them.
Paul Ford: Oh yeah. No little cognitive treats are very important. They are, no, it’s like Absolutely try
Rich Ziade: by way. It’s not just letting them [00:23:00] kind of, you gotta give people a sense of autonomy.
Paul Ford: Yes. And you do that, you
Rich Ziade: the boot on the neck the whole time.
Paul Ford: NPM installed dog biscuit is what you just
Rich Ziade: Look related to that. Also, even when they come outta the other side, you ask them to do something, they’re, it’s not the proudest moment cuz it’s the junkies login they’ve ever put together. You say, look, I really appreciate what you guys did here. It looks great. Right? You gotta make them feel good even about the stuff
Paul Ford: Have an after eight mint.
Rich Ziade: Um, no, but this is real. Like if, if a designer says, I need, uh, can I think about it and come back to you with some ideas? You can’t. Every, sometimes you’re gonna say, I look yes, but tomorrow, like sometimes you’re gonna put the pressure on and be like, look, I, I, you do whatever you want. I need it by Friday.
Other, you gotta have some other times where you let the engineer do the refactor. You let the designer think bigger thoughts. You gotta let them exhale because. Especially if they’re good, cuz if they’re good, it, [00:24:00] it’s a huge part of who they are and they are not assembly line workers.
Paul Ford: know what we’re getting to at the end, at the end here, and I. Let me, let me take a breath and articulate this. People are loyal to their disciplines in their careers, and one of the, one of the jobs of shipping a product is actually getting people to come off of Discipline Island and come to Product Island and focus on the
Rich Ziade: to Pragmatism
Paul Ford: Yes, but Pragmatism Island, Is actually a dangerous place for people to spend all their time because then they, they lose the, the sort of rootedness and the connection to the things that they care about and the matter to them. And actually they don’t charge their batteries up to bring good ideas back to product island.
Rich Ziade: You gotta let ’em come out and come back
Paul Ford: so there’s an oscillation, and this is
Rich Ziade: I call it exhaling, I call it, it’s like breathing.
Paul Ford: right. It’s a sine wave. You’re going, sometimes they, we all gotta get on a product island and sometimes we go back to discipline island and do the things that we love and care about and we think [00:25:00] are really fun and then we gotta bring those to the other place.
It’s import export all the time. I learned something on Product Island and I learned that the big idea I thought I had was a bad one.
Rich Ziade: Nobody liked
Paul Ford: it. Nobody liked it, the users didn’t care. So I’m gonna take that back to Discipline Island and I’m gonna internalize it along with all the other work I do.
Rich Ziade: Uh, let, let’s end it with a bonus tip.
All. If you’re in a Fortune 1000 company and they have absolutely no sense and all they see is like billions of dollars flowing through the windows, they’re always on discipline island for years.
Paul Ford: Oh. Discipline Island is where they live. And in fact, you know what they do?
What, what you do in a Fortune 1000 is you go shopping for new disciplines. You know? Hey, how about content architecture? Yeah. Right? Or, or information. Um, I don’t know.
Rich Ziade: talked about this, by the way. There was a previous podcast, you should listen to all of our podcasts, but there’s a previous one, where’re, like why can’t big companies ever do anything? Uh, and that’s this, right?
They are only on
Paul Ford: discipline. [00:26:00] They’re on discipline island. And when, and to get everyone on a product island is, is a thing of fear. So, uh, alright, rich. Well, if people want to get in touch, what do they do?
Rich Ziade: They hit us up at email@example.com. Uh, we’re also on all the popular podcast networks and apps and whatnot. Um, give us five stars when you can.
We’re Zdi Ford on Twitter
Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.
Rich Ziade: zdi. Z I a d e f o r d. I’m Lebanese, that’s the ziti part.
Paul Ford: And who Spon? Yeah. I’m for it. I’m for, it’s the Irish part who sponsors
Rich Ziade: This podcast and probably a lot of the future ones sponsored by a board. A board is a killer new tool that’s coming out in May of 2023 in case you’re listening to this five years from
Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.
Rich Ziade: Um, that, uh, lets you organize your passions on the web, beautiful apps coming, and mobile apps and whatnot.
So check it firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul Ford: We love it. We love it now. Um, okay, let’s get back to work.
Rich Ziade: Have a wonderful week. [00:27:00]