The big fundamentals

basketball-pick-up

Fundamentals. Ever since I developed the maturity to self-learn, I always insisted on getting the fundamentals right early on. Bad habits are hard to break and simply winging it can impede progress later on.

For some reason, the PBA doesn’t quite sit well with me. I was a fan of the old Alaska team with Johnny Abarrientos and Tim Cone’s triangle but I lost interest after that when the league regressed into all that personality-driven “Baranggay” Ginebra fanfare.

Whenever I stray into watching PBA games, it really strikes me how fundamentally unsound many PBA players are. Just take a look at stats. We consider someone who shoots field goals at 40% and threes at 30% a good shooter. That’s poor in the NBA. And how unfit players can be. Just take a look at Beau Belga. I don’t think any decent team would let their players remain 70 lbs overweight for his entire career.

Perhaps because I’m spoiled by NBA-level basketball where being fundamentally unsound is the exception. There’s also a certain aesthetic with how great teams like the Spurs play. Sure there’s the individual talent. But there’s also that certain something with the kind of basketball they play for fans and students of the game.

This got me into thinking whether or not it’s a Pinoy thing.

The problem with this is, if you hadn’t had any proper coaching, you’d probably carried over some pretty bad habits growing up with the game. Many Pinoys just pick up the game on the streets and in neighborhood/baranggay courts. Personally, I never had any formal basketball training and coaching growing up. I picked up the game through neighborhood play and studying in an all-boys school. And knowing how I play, I know how crappy my movements are on the court.

Just take shooting mechanics as an example. We play with guys who have nasty looking jumpers . Some end up like Shawn Marion who had a f*ck-ugly shot. We’ve seen those tambay sa laruan manongs who are just “good shooters” because they’ve memorized their shot for that particular rim. Never mind if they have a nasty hitch their shot.

It wasn’t only about three years ago when I lived by myself and had access to a court in the mornings was I able to practice a proper jump shot form. While I don’t lapse into my old form, I still am inconsistent especially without regular practice.

We only play pickup games with people at the office so there’s no real pressure in being a stud on the court. There are no titles to be won. Not even a bottle of Coke for pustahan. Still, it was pretty satisfying if you know you did a few things well. I forget to keep scrimmage scores at times, but my mental counter logs my box score stats.

We’ve been playing basketball on a weekly basis now and we’ve converted Mark (one of our software developers) to the sport. Amazingly, he’s a bit outside the norm in terms of growing up and not picking up the sport.  Mark’s a pretty good student as shown his coachability at work.

He’s shown the same in basketball where he’s always asking for pointers, tips, and tricks. We taught him some shooting fundamentals and with his height (he’s about 6 inches taller than me) and soft touch, I’d say he’s starting to be a more consistent shooter. Better than guys who had more than 10 years of basketball “experience” than him.

I guess it’s not even about starting  young. Michael Jordan delved into this in one of his interviews. That it’s more important to let young kids love the game first then teach them about the technical things later.

The thing is, many of us never “grew up.” We stuck to our playground routines and convinced ourselves that all that herky-jerky style of play we got from watching young Kobe would carry over 10 or 20 years down the line. For us, not that it matters now. No one really cares in our office pick up games. We play for fun and exercise.

But how about our future kids? Maybe when it’s time for us to share our love for the game knowing the right thing would mean we’ll get to teach them the right thing. never mind if they’d end up playing varsity or even professionally.

As for the PBA or Philippine basketball, that’s a different thing. I’m quite excited with the upcoming FIBA world championships. Team Gilas would be there and I’d be interested in how they’d be able to stack up especially against the fundamentally sound Europeans.

Why not a project team draft?

Image Source: TNT

Image Source: TNT

We’re about to start a new development cycle at work and my fellow project leads and I were discussing how to we’d like to form our project teams.

While we all desire a balanced matrix, one function head insists on going strong matrix where her team would function as their little “agency” with the head serving as the gatekeeper for all tasks that need to be done. We strongly disagree with such a setup since we all believe that it’s highly inefficient as her gatekeeper function impedes collaboration between project team members . We’ve had great success implementing a balanced matrix but somehow, insecure managers insist on full control and internal politics meant brats had their way.

So us project leads got to talking (as a sidebar) how ideally we should be building our project team. We’d all want to handpick the people we know have the skills that the project need combined with their gel factor with the rest of the team. However, since we’ll be trying to handpick the strongest performers, we’d probably end up doing trial by combat just to get those resources.

As is common with some organizations, there are weak performers that we would like to avoid getting assigned to our projects. So for the sake of equity among leads, we floated the idea of doing it like a sports team draft. Kind of timely too with the 2014 NBA Draft and all and we’re huge NBA fans at the office.

Here are some ideas on how we’d go about doing it, if we had the chance.

  • All resources across all function teams are part of the draft
  • Lottery to determine draft order
  • 15 second clock
  • Trades are welcome

We feel that there are just innate advantages to doing it draft style. At least in our specific context, it gives project leaders a level playing field in tapping  the skills and talent that are needed for the project. Currently, the authority of assigning resources lie on the function head. It would’ve been tolerable if the head had a pretty good feel and view of the project needs and the skills portfolio of each of the staff. That isn’t the case. So, instead of just succumbing to some pretty arbitrary whim, with a draft, the decision who to draft anchors on some organized decision-making on the part of the project lead.

Going last would definitely have disadvantages especially if you are going last. But thinking positively, we could always think of these as cleverly veiled opportunities. While I personally would want to avoid the untrainable ones (the ones I’d fire if only we had a culture of letting people go), I am still comfortable getting unskilled ones. I always believed in doing the whole Gregg Popovich thing and make less talented people over-perform and work hard in developing skills. Also, you can hope that someone messes with their first pick. (“Wow. Are you serious?” -Reggie Miller)

So, why not hold a draft then?

Tunnel of uncertainty

Image Source: blog.karmona.com

Image Source: blog.karmona.com

Here’s the context. A project’s deadline is being moved up and it was decided that more of the shared resources (artists) will be  shifted to work on it. Another project is ongoing but it only demands a couple of days a week of select people.

A project leader asked, “How many artists are you really putting to task at my project? I want to project how long would for us to finish.”

The head artist replied, “We can’t say how many and when. There are too many projects going on.”

Needless to say, projects are failing – a key reason as to why there’s a reshuffling of resources going on. Still, for any decent project manager, it’s quite disappointing when people always say it’s impossible to estimate, anticipate, or simply monitor what’s going on when it comes to resourcing and scheduling at work.

True that there are some innate challenges to things like estimation, particularly at the start of projects when requirements are still hazy and all you can come up with is a rough ballpark. This case is different though since these are active and ongoing tasks.

Sure, simultaneous projects might be failing but the last thing that all of these need is to have shared resources not having any real idea of what’s going on. It is not even about estimation any more.

Here’s my take on what has gone wrong with the situation.

First, there seems to be a poor understanding of how matrix relationships work. It appears that this organized as a balanced matrix organization, meaning the project leader determines the skills needed for the task and the function manager (the head artist) assigns those resources.

If one are tasked to manage your resources functionally, then one has to accurately know if they have the skills to work on particular projects (and augment them if need be) and what active projects they are working on. Function managers still need to be involved and informed of projects. It isn’t just the project manager’s work.

Second is the problem of monitoring. The tasks are ongoing and you can therefore observe how much work is coming in and how long is it taking each resource to complete. This can already serve as a basis for computing how much it would take the tasks to be completed that is if baselines have been a challenge to establish at the start of the project.

Third is not controlling. It’s a common pitfall of this phase of a project – monitoring always comes with a sibling – control. Projects are inherently volatile and, as such, changes need to be managed especially when they are needed to get the project back on track.

One key problem is when some simply accept delays like that is the way things are. Perhaps one of the nasty Filipino habits when it comes to deadlines – that they often are treated as optimistic estimates.

The result of the failure to understand how teams should work and failing to monitor and control is exactly this – a tunnel of uncertainty instead of it being a cone. A project supposedly in the home stretch should not bear that much uncertainty.

Trial by wombat

Image Source: Toys R Us (Socker Boppers by Big Time Toys)

Image Source: Toys R Us (Socker Boppers by Big Time Toys)

I really find it amusing to hear stories of people losing it at work. Table flipping episodes and berserker breakdowns are quite rare. I personally have yet to witness such outbursts. I’ve seen shouting matches, finger pointing, and cursing but no violence yet. There’s something intriguing about witnessing something primal. Probably why Game of Thrones is such a hit.

It’s not even surprising to find that professionalism is overrated in workplaces today. If there’s tension and friction, many try to deal with it in other ways aside from dealing with conflict head on which I have always preferred. High school did teach me that. If you need something resolved or at least, out in the air, don’t be chicken. Tell it to each other’s face. No backbiting and backstabbing. Passive-aggression is bullshit.

A key problem with conflict in the workplace is how many view debates as attempts to personally attack a person. Sure, I do believe that everything is personal (and that whole “trabaho lang, walang personalan” thing is bullshit).

I love playing devil’s advocate, and for the most part, I’ve tried to learn how to provide constructive criticism. The smarter people at work can dig it, too bad the non-performers who suffer from Dunning-Kruger always believe that criticism about their work is a slight to their souls.

I’ve personally experienced people acting like teenagers when it comes to workplace conflict regardless of organization size. Gossip is a weapon and poisoning the well and ad hominem “arguments” serve one best. I’ll take table-flippers versus backbiters any damn day.

Unfortunately, being head-on is often times considered as being too confrontational and aggressive. You confront someone and you end up being labeled the workplace bully.

Harvard Business Review has a great article on why we fight at work and it points out some very interesting points. One of the key pieces of advice is to “admit that conflict at work is real and pervasive, and just as painful as fights and struggles in other areas of life. Let’s stop pretending that somehow it is more rational, more sterile than conflict elsewhere in our lives.”

The bastard in me says, that fighting is as real as it gets, then how about resolving things by combat? Why not invest in those huge boxing gloves and inflatable ring and have people slug it out until they’ve beat the conflict out of each other? Sure, fights don’t really get resolved that way but at least we get a spectacle.