The Garbage Man Stan Complex

(3 minute read) – The Garbage Man Stan complex is that moment when you’ve crossed the point of no return and failure is imminent. You have to be aware of your own limits and make the right decisions to avoid getting trapped into that situation.

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There are times when you have to disconnect mentally just to handle all the things in front of you to keep them from blowing up. Eventually this becomes a game that you will inevitably lose. I call this the Garbage Man Stan Complex.

Garbage Man Stan?
I’ve participated in a handful of game jams (i.e. developing a game from scratch over a small set of hours) in my past. I don’t get too as often since career, family and side projects dominate my life now. But, every once in a while, I make a concerted effort to join a community of indie developers and create something tangible, maybe even presentable, within an impossible timeframe. The sense of accomplishment of turning something in within time is rewarding enough considering my side projects take years to complete. For more reasons why, Martijn says it best in his post, The Many Benefits of Speedhacking.

There’s one game that I made during TINS 2007 (yes, an exact decade ago) that I’m particularly proud of. It was called, you guessed it, Garbage Man Stan. Marvel at its next gen level graphics:

gms

The randomly generated rules (it’s a game development competition…are you surprised?) called for a theme about garbage, using current news events and utilizing smoke and flame effects. I started with the following synopsis:

The player, playing the part of Garbage Man Stan, will maximize their revenue by incinerating a steadily increasing flow of delivered garbage for as long as possible until one burner inevitably overflows thus ending the game.

The most exciting game ever, right? That is quite literally THE game. Everything else I did beyond that point was to add a factor of fun or make it more of a novelty. The trucks bounced like they came straight out of a 1930’s cartoon classic. Side note, who’s playing Cuphead right now? Anyway, proud to say I placed in the top three in Technical, Genre and Artistical in a group of 20-ish people with this game.

The Complex
Getting back to the day-to-day, it often feels like stuff is being dumped on my plate faster and faster and it is up to me to address it before it overflows and I lose the game, so to speak. I am not talking just work or life, but everything, the “a billion and one things” conundrum. I’m sure most can relate. I know my strengths and I am better at depth than breadth. I prefer to focus in, consume all the data and think deeply about what something means and what should be done about it. I am also happier when this is what I get to do. Nonetheless, life for me currently is more about how well I can package up chaos and make it look beautiful. It’s taken a while to adapt to this, but discovering I can do this, and do it well, has been very rewarding in itself.

The Garbage Man Stan complex is that moment when you’ve crossed the point of no return and failure is imminent. You have to be aware of your own limits and make the right decisions to avoid getting trapped into that situation. Failure to do so can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, mistakes and/or poor project outcomes. Not to mention the overflow is just that: a negative impact to others’ lives.

While we’re on the theme of games, consider the Sims. A Sim has needs that are constantly depleting at different rates based on the Sim’s personality. This is true of work too, but at a more abstract level. How long have you sat on that email? How long have you been ignoring that co-worker? How long have you let a bug live in production? Even though you’re hitting the highest priority items as fast as you can, inaction on another can also cause you to lose the game.

Summary
If you’re in an impossible situation and there’s too much to do, the best you can do is all you can offer. Even if you end up in checkmate, the good thing about life is that it does go on. Expel the feelings of defeat, learn from what went wrong and go on as a better version of yourself. That’s called experience. You’re going to be just fine, but you have to keep going.

Speaking of game competitions, I’m participating in TINS 2017 coming up on October 20th! If you’re a developer, whether you’ve done any game development or not, you should consider joining! The last competition I did was in 2015, so I’m a bit rusty. And my time to “just code” has also taken a significant hit recently. I’m excited to see if I’ve still got it. Follow me on twitter @supersilvey and cheer me on!

9 Deadly Sins Causing Your Software Estimates to Fail

(6 minute read) – Estimating technical projects is difficult. Tech is expensive and complex. I’m guilty of so many mistakes. Learn from me.

“What’s the level of effort?”

The dreaded question.

School taught you how long you could procrastinate before starting an assignment…and then starting just a bit beyond that point. Early on, it’s an innocent enough question. Those with a few wrinkles on their head know the underlying evil associated with The LOE. My team gets a good chuckle when I skim over their technical explanations and then not-so-subtly request, “So…what’s the level of effort?” They see me as a developer no more.

Developers tend to work on projects for a fairly long time. As time passes, passionate, devoted developers become personally invested in projects. They want to see it succeed and do well. Projects are like a relationship and estimates are the first impression. Nothing saps a human being’s spirit more than a volatile project built on a poorly constructed estimate. Let’s look at several common offenses that can doom your project from the start.

1. Rushing
We live in an age where technology is being pumped out. We, the tech industry, have set the precedent of high competitiveness and capability to build quickly. So are we really surprised that our non-tech coworkers have quick turnaround expectations on estimations? Doing an estimate the proper way without commandeering others’ busy schedules takes time. And, typically, tech projects require the largest piece of the pie. So why not slow down and do it the right way?  Rushing makes you miss important details that will haunt you later on.

2. Sloppy or nonexistent requirements
Technology does not infer anything; every logical step is explicitly instructed to execute. The more ambiguous a project is defined, the greater risk the project will miss the target and/or vision.

Sometimes requirements have to be left open to allow creative flexibility during the design phase of the project. If that’s true, tech needs to be re-estimated afterwards or aimed unnecessarily high upfront to compensate for the unknown functionality that has to be implemented. Let’s not mix goals/desires with requirements.

I had a good Dilbert comic strip to share here, but I didn’t want to pay the license fees for it.  Just google “Dilbert Estimate” and get quite a few “I’m laughing because it’s true” moments.

3. Weak assumptions
One would think the contract defines what you are going to do and if not explicitly written, it’s an easy discussion. Wrong. The funny thing about words is people imply so many things from them. Having to explain your estimate didn’t account for something because it was not explicitly written and your stakeholder thought that it was covered is still an unpleasant conversation. Suddenly, your client either feels like they had been deceived or they feel ignorant for not understanding. That’s not the goal! You’re setup for success if they are setup for success. Get into their head and write down explicit assumptions that protects your scope and their integrity.

4. Forgetting Life
Bathroom breaks, vacation, administrative work, emergencies, etc.. Life happens (a common theme of this blog!) and to not figure that into your estimates and timelines puts one or all of your goals at significant risk. Tech is expensive and many forces want to cut down estimates, but neglecting to consider incorporating contingency hours is eventually going to cause the train to go right off the tracks.

5. Shotgun Estimating
Building a large project in haste without proper planning or requirements (see everything above) in the hopes of it sorting itself out during the course of the project has historically not worked well in my experience. Large buckets of money can disappear very quickly when you get deep into highly complex software projects. It’s better to break projects down into more consumable portions and put down wide ranges for the future phases noting that they’ll have to be re-estimated once you get the current phases done. If you’re dealing with a large budget, start breaking it down into milestones as quickly as you can. Continue the estimation phase even if it’s already done.

6. Percentages
Using percentages is a crime. It’s an insult to the people who have very real, day-to-day, time-consuming objectives throughout the course of the project. Every resource should have X amount of hours for each and every task they are planning to do. At the end, you want to compare how close you came in on each task. You gain nothing from a having a resource that’s 15% of some arbitrary number.

7. Going Solo
I have my weaknesses and my strengths, as does each and everyone on my team. The strongest estimate is one that is done divvying up the various tasks to best fit the team’s strengths accordingly. If you are filling in hours for another resource or team, you could be greatly missing the mark. Let them have a say and furthermore, let them take ownership of hitting/missing their hours. If they miss the random hours you put in, it’s really easy for them to put the onus on you.

8.Estimating in Silos
Estimating processes often turn up like Jr. High dances: no one goes across the room to talk to the other side. Stop that. Gathering details of what creative, UX, strategy, marketing, copywriting, etc. are envisioning can only help your team bolster hours to ensure they can meet the expectations. Also, providing feedback to those other disciplines can shed light and make them compromise accordingly to ensure a sound scope.

9.Taking it Personal
Estimates are always negotiations. It amazes me how many people get personally offended when their hours are questioned. There needs to be push and pull for the betterment of you, your team AND your stakeholders. Don’t let this drag you down or threaten your numbers. A reduction of your hours should always come along with stronger, more limiting assumptions and requirements. You need to take this hardline stance to ensure your project’s success.

Summary
I was taken aback a few months ago when I was complimented on how well I do estimates. Quite honestly, it’s hard to feel like this is a skill given how non-scientific it is often approached. Nonetheless, I’ve refined my approach through countless experiences and missteps. I’m guilty of all the “sins” above. I’ve tracked all of this closely and made sure to learn and grow each time. The one thing I know is estimates are often a very, VERY small portion of the overall project and doing them wrong can make long, drawn out projects incredibly taxing. It behooves me to fight the good fight up front no matter how unpleasant any conversation may be. Because a good estimate often leads to a happy team, satisfied stakeholders, a quality project and a reasonable budget that can be done within a reasonable time.  You’ve heard this before.

Priority is Everything

Prioritizing wisely is extremely important for maintaining your sanity.

When the pressure is on, turn to The Mighty List. I did a post a while back about how to maximize balancing an overwhelming amount of things. Prioritizing wisely is extremely important for maintaining your sanity. Some things can just wait…even if they disagree.

And on that note, my originally planned post for August will do just that. After taking PTO like a boss back in June, we decided to look into options for a new house. I had no intentions of moving quickly on this (pun intended), but sometimes moving carefully and methodically lets an opportunity slip by. In the span of a month, we sold our old house and moved into a new one.

I’ve been enjoying reading, researching and writing this blog, more so than I thought I would. I revisit some of the articles and challenge myself: do I really do this or do I simply say I do? Writing it all down forces me to dissect how I approach things and discover ways to improve. I want to take the time to shape and craft the next post such that it truly captures what I want to say. With the move this past month, some time is needed for the next article.

In the meantime, please enjoy this article from Billionaire Richard Branson. He is an avid promoter of the importance of To Do Lists and keeping priorities straight. Passion, Fun, Priorities: How I have Avoided Work-Life Balance Burnout

8 Ways Basketball Helped My Career

Basketball is one of my Digital Disconnects.  Shooting hoops is cathartic and brings back fond memories of shooting hoops with my friends around the neighborhood.  Not to mention, it gives me an opportunity to exercise.  On the flip side, reclining to watch a closely contested NBA classic whilst indulging on some over-the-top 8-meat pizza of some sort is equally welcome.

But as I play, watch and study the sport, I noticed some parallels that I’ve used to inspire and elevate my own professional game.  Why not take your personal hobby and apply it in a way that bolsters your career?

And without further ado…

1. Master the Fundamentals
Whatever career you take on, know the fundamentals.  Master the fundamentals by always being a student of them.  Your college education and your professional experience are not enough.  Actively practice them everyday.  When you execute the basics of your position with a monk-like zen, success follows (just ask 5-time champion, Tim Duncan, aka Mr. Fundamental).  Others will take notice and might even be inspired themselves to refresh on the basics.

2. One Game at a Time
It’s easy to overwhelm yourself with the future.  Coaches continually have to hone their team to the game in front of them.  Not the games they’ve already played nor the ones they’re going to play afterwards, just the immediate one in front of them.  I want my team laser-focused on the milestone we’re trying to accomplish.  And if that’s too far out, what’s the goal for the week?  Or the day?  Goals, projects, life…they’re marathons and each step along the way matters so don’t get lost looking too far ahead.

3. The Clock is Always Ticking
I am meticulous and methodical in how I operate.  But life is in constant motion and if you dribble for too long, the 24 second shot clock will go off.  It’s important to be aware of this pressure so you’re managing the clock to your favor and not vice versa.

4. Don’t Dwell on Missed Shots
It’s so easy to swirl on faux pas’ and embarrassing missteps.  There’s a negative energy there that degrades your ability to execute causing more mistakes.  You shot an air ball, so what?  Laugh it off and be a factor that helps your team on the immediate next play.  Life is too short to be thinking about how short it is.  I have to remind myself of this one a lot.

5. Adjust Accordingly
A well-timed 20 second timeout can shift the momentum of a game.  Bake in a halftime in your project to assess if you are on track to meet your goals.  If not, why not?  How do you correct it?  How do you get your team to operate differently?  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen teams come out after halftime with a brilliant new plan and dominate the second half.

6. Make Everyone Better
There’s a stat called BPM, i.e. Box Plus/Minus.  It measures how a team performs when a player is on/off the court.  Regardless of how you feel about LeBron James, the dude tops the BPM charts and that has led to significant results, namely six straight trips to the NBA finals.  He literally makes everyone around him a vastly better player.  So I ask myself, how can I mimic this in my day-to-day?  What can I do to make each of my team members reach and exceed their potential?

7. Never Underestimate the Heart of a Champion
What is more awesome than the force of shear willpower?  Against all odds and doubt, the ability to rise like a phoenix and fight through blood, sweat and tears is incredibly inspiring.  When I believe “I can do this”, I often find that I can.  Here are some recent feats in the basketball spectrum:

  • The Golden State Warriors, led by Stephen Curry, beat a 20 year record by winning 73 of 82 games during the 2015-16 season.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, were the first team ever to win the NBA Finals after getting into a 1-3 hole in the series, bringing the city its first NBA Championship.
  • Russel Westbrook averaged a Triple Double throughout the regular season, the first person to do so since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62.

As Russel’s motto goes…“Why Not?”

8. Have Fun
I have no hard statistics to backup this, but high-drama, dysfunctional and/or frustrated teams tend to be doomed for early exits.  When players are enjoying and savoring every moment, they light up and that energy is noticeably contagious.  I can’t say this enough, bad days are in each of our futures.  For how long and how bad I can’t say, but I can bet on the inevitability of them.  So have some fun!  Love what you do or find ways to. I’m also willing to bet surprising opportunities will open along the way if you choose to do this.

As this post rolls out, the first round of the NBA Finals will be wrapping up.  It’s a great time to be a fan.  Also, my son recently finished his first foray into team-oriented basketball which was an awesome experience as a parent.  And I put together my best March Madness bracket to date.  If you can’t tell, I could spend a lot time talking about Basketball.  There’s a lot more going on here then simply throwing a ball through a hoop!

Inspiring and motivating are key skills of a solid leader.  Know what inspires you and take it to heart, whatever it may be.  Use it to craft your approach and set an example.  Why Not?