“Distributed” ER#8 now available!

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“Distributed” Early Release #8 is now publicly available, about Book Cover for Distributed6 weeks after the last EarlyRelease came out.

This ER#8 includes a significant reworking and trimming of both Chapter 1 (“The Real Cost of an Office”) and also Chapter 5 (“Organizational Pitfalls to Avoid”). I know that might not sound glamorous but it was a lot of slow, careful, detailed work which I believe makes these chapters better and also helps with the structure of the overall book.

You can buy ER#8 by clicking here, or clicking on the thumbnail of the book cover. Anyone who already bought any of the previous ERs should have already been prompted with a free update to ER#8 – if you didn’t get updated, please let me know so I can investigate! And yes, you’ll get updated when ER#9 comes out.

Thanks again to everyone for their ongoing encouragement and feedback so far. Each piece of great feedback makes me wonder how I missed such obvious errors before and also makes me happy, as each fix helps make this book better. Keep letting me know what you think! It’s important this book be interesting, readable and practical – so if you have any comments, concerns, etc., please email me. Yes, I will read and reply to each email personally! To make sure that any feedback doesn’t get lost or caught in spam filters, please email comments to feedback at oduinn dot com. I track all feedback and review/edit/merge as fast as I can.

Thank you to everyone who has already sent me feedback/opinions/corrections – all really helpful.

John.
=====
ps: For the curious, here is the current list of chapters and their status:

Chapter 1 The Real Cost of an Office – AVAILABLE
Chapter 2 Distributed Teams Are Not New – AVAILABLE
Chapter 3 Disaster Planning – AVAILABLE
Chapter 4 Diversity
Chapter 5 Organizational Pitfalls to Avoid – AVAILABLE
Chapter 6 Physical Setup – AVAILABLE
Chapter 7 Video Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 8 Own Your Calendar – AVAILABLE
Chapter 9 Meetings – AVAILABLE
Chapter 10 Meeting Moderator – AVAILABLE
Chapter 11 Single Source of Truth
Chapter 12 Email Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 13 Group Chat Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 14 Culture, Conflict and Trust
Chapter 15 One-on-Ones and Reviews – AVAILABLE
Chapter 16 Hiring, Onboarding, Firing, Reorgs,
Layoffs and other Departures – AVAILABLE
Chapter 17 Bring Humans Together – AVAILABLE
Chapter 18 Career Path – AVAILABLE
Chapter 19 Feed Your Soul – AVAILABLE
Chapter 20 Final Chapter
Appendix A The Bathroom Mirror Test – AVAILABLE
Appendix B How NOT to Work – AVAILABLE
Appendix C Further Reading – AVAILABLE
=====

“Distributed” at trad.works

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A couple of weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to speak at the TRaD.works conference, here in Washington, DC. This featured a great mix of industry leaders and change agents from startups to multinationals to government agencies to non-profits… across all sorts of industries. All swapping tips-and-tricks on what did/didnt work for their organizations as they transitioned into more distributed organizations… warts-and-all… and doing this in very down-to-earth, approachable way. The trust, respect and tone between everyone here was great, and helped make the entire conference special. It was exciting to see the enthusiasm for all things Telework-Remote-And-Distributed across this wide range of organizations and industries.

I was on a panel discussion about supporting managers of distributed teams – a topic that is obviously near and dear to my heart! I enjoyed the lively interactions between Amy Freshman (ADP), Jeanne Meister (Forbes and FutureWorkPlace), Nicole McCabe (SAP), myself and the entire audience. The lively discussions continued long afterwards, first in corridors and coffee breaks then after in emails and video calls. Excellent, excellent stuff.

Big thanks to Sara Sutton Fell at FlexJobs for making this happen, and to Mike Gutman for handling a million-and-one details with calm grace and humor. Well done. Very well done.

Highlights of some press coverage so far:
https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/274702

http://www.hrdive.com/news/panel-reveals-the-keys-to-creating-a-strong-remote-work-culture/420965/

“Distributed” ER#7 now available!

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“Distributed” Early Release #7 is now publicly available, a Book Cover for Distributedmonth after ER#6 came out.

This ER#7 includes a significant reworking of the first section of this book. Some chapters were resequenced. Some were significantly trimmed – by over half! Some were split up, creating new chapters or merged with existing sections of other chapters later in the book. All slow, detailed work that I hope makes the book feel more focused. The format of all chapters throughout were slightly tweaked, and there are also plenty of across-the-board minor fixes.

You can buy ER#7 by clicking here, or clicking on the thumbnail of the book cover. Anyone who already bought any of the previous ERs should get prompted with a free update to ER#7 – if you don’t please let me know! And yes, you’ll get updated when ER#8 comes out.

Thanks again to everyone for their ongoing encouragement, proof-reading help and feedback so far – keep letting me know what you think. Each piece of great feedback makes me wonder how I missed such obvious errors before. And makes me happy, as each fix helps make this book better. It’s important this book be interesting, readable and practical – so if you have any comments, concerns, etc., please email me. Yes, I will read and reply to each email personally! To make sure that any feedback doesn’t get lost or caught in spam filters, please email comments to feedback at oduinn dot com. I track all feedback and review/edit/merge as fast as I can. And thank you to everyone who has already sent me feedback/opinions/corrections – all really helpful.

John.
=====
ps: For the curious, here is the current list of chapters and their status:

Chapter 1 The Real Cost of an Office – AVAILABLE
Chapter 2 Distributed Teams Are Not New – AVAILABLE
Chapter 3 Disaster Planning – AVAILABLE
Chapter 4 Diversity
Chapter 5 Organizational Pitfalls to Avoid – AVAILABLE
Chapter 6 Physical Setup – AVAILABLE
Chapter 7 Video Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 8 Own Your Calendar – AVAILABLE
Chapter 9 Meetings – AVAILABLE
Chapter 10 Meeting Moderator – AVAILABLE
Chapter 11 Single Source of Truth
Chapter 12 Email Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 13 Group Chat Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 14 Culture, Conflict and Trust
Chapter 15 One-on-Ones and Reviews – AVAILABLE
Chapter 16 Hiring, Onboarding, Firing, Reorgs,
Layoffs and other Departures – AVAILABLE
Chapter 17 Bring Humans Together – AVAILABLE
Chapter 18 Career Path – AVAILABLE
Chapter 19 Feed Your Soul – AVAILABLE
Chapter 20 Final Chapter
Appendix A The Bathroom Mirror Test – AVAILABLE
Appendix B How NOT to Work – AVAILABLE
Appendix C Further Reading – AVAILABLE
=====

Human etiquette for more effective group chat

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Group chat is a tool that helps people communicate, just like email, phone calls, and meetings. Used correctly, these tools help people work more effectively. Use incorrectly, they hamper work. Jason Fried’s post about group chat as yet another interrupt generator started a lively discussion — some interesting posts are here and here and here, but there are many others. This is clearly a topic people care about.

Group chat imageGroup chat, in various forms, has been used by specific groups for literally decades. However, as this technology goes more mainstream, the human etiquette is still evolving. Here are five guidelines on group chat etiquette that I found helpful me over the years, and which I hope help others:

1. Ensure everyone is using group chat. Email and phone calls are successful because they are ubiquitous and interoperable technologies. For group chat to work, everyone should be using the same shared group chat. After all, the idea is to reduce barriers to cross-organizational communications. Find a chat system that most people in your organization like and standardize on that. Once this is done, you can easily and quickly message someone in a totally different part of the organization, be confident they will see your chat message and be able to reply.

2. Carefully create a minimal viable set of channels. Having too many channels, or too few channels, encourages interruptions. Too few channels means each channel has a lot of unrelated cross-chatter noise. Too many channels make it hard to figure out where to post about a particular topic, leading people to use whatever channel feels close enough — which in turn means others cannot tell which channels to monitor.

Here is a “Goldilocks” arrangement (not too many, or not enough, but just the right number of channels) that has worked well for me:

  • Private group channel: Membership is restricted to employees reporting to a specific manager. Each group has its own private channel. This channel is the pulse of the team, where you all talk about various internal team projects, as well as the socially bonding small talk that happens normally within a group throughout the day.
  • Public group channel: This public channel is where other co-workers, in other teams across the organization, can reliably expect to find your entire group. People from other groups will join/leave as they need. The name of this public channel should be posted on wiki pages and distributed widely, so everyone in the company clearly knows where to find your group when needed.
  • Public cross-group role-specific channel: This is a separate public channel for each recurring cross-group event. For example, channels here could include topics like production outages, release-day-logistics, recurring weekly company-wide meetings, and company-wide social chit-chat. Even if there is no production outage right now, having these channels created and well-advertised in advance means everyone knows where to go when an emergency suddenly arises.

3. Moderate the channels. Once these channels are created, they need active moderating. Small amounts of social banter is normal in any work environment (including meetings, conference calls or group chat) and helps us to remember we are all human, build a sense of community, and defuse tensions in high-pressure situations.

However, if social chatter starts to get in the way of doing work, politely and firmly move the off-topic chatter to another channel, so work can happen in the appropriate channel. Consistently moderating like this raises everyone’s overall awareness of group chat etiquette. Once the social norms are well understood, most people will do right by default, reducing the need for future moderation.

4. Remember that group chat is transient. If a discussion in a group chat channel reaches a decision that others may care about, that decision needs to be clearly communicated to all stakeholders. You’d do the same thing with an important decision reached over lunch, on a phone call while driving, or chatting at the coffee machine. Summarize the decision into a group-wide email, a project tracking system, or whatever is the single-source-of-truth for your organization. Sometimes, a quick copy-paste of the group chat discussion is good enough, but sometimes the act of summarizing a brilliant impromptu chat will uncover crucial missed assumptions. The important point is to keep everyone informed, without requiring everyone to continuously read every group chat channel for possible decisions that might be of interest later.

5. Mention people by name when appropriate. If you have a topic you want a specific human to read soon, then mention them by name. This will ensure they get notified and can quickly find where they are needed. However, be careful when you do this. This is almost like calling someone’s cellphone — you are choosing to interrupt without knowing the importance of what you are interrupting. Consider the urgency of your discussion, and consider if using another, less intrusive, medium might be best.

If you aren’t careful, group chat can become yet another endless stream of interruptions that people struggle to keep up with. However, with a careful combination of good technical organization and good human etiquette, group chat can speed up internal discussions, reduce email churn, and reduce the need for some meetings. A recurring daily gain for everyone, especially people in distributed organizations!

There are, of course, other things you can do to make group chat more effective… If you have suggestions for other ways to improve group chat, please let me know – in the comments below or by email. I’d be very eager to hear about them.

John.

(Modified from my post on medium.com, and my forthcoming book “Distributed”, published by O’Reilly later this year.)

“Distributed” ER#6 now available!

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“Distributed” Early Release #6 is now publicly available, just Book Cover for Distributed25 days after ER#5 came out.

Early Release #6 (ER#6) contains everything in ER#5 plus:
* Chapter15 was renamed from “Joining and Leaving” to “Hiring, Firing, Reorgs and Layoffs”. As you might guess, this chapter covers the various mechanics around joining and leaving a group or organization. Hopefully, this new title makes the intent of the chapter more clear!
* There are three new appendices – one on decision making with partial data, one on how not to behave in the office and one on further reading.
* The preface is finally coming together – I found this much trickier to write than I expected.
* Chapter1 got a significant restructure and trimming thanks to some great suggestions. And of course, there are plenty of across-the-board minor fixes and tweaks based on feedback and reviews.

At this time, 16 of 19 chapters are available – specifically, Chapters 1-9,11,12,14-18. I hope you enjoy them!

You can buy ER#6 by clicking here, or clicking on the thumbnail of the book cover. Anyone who already bought any of the previous ERs should get prompted with a free update to ER#6 – if you don’t please let me know! And yes, you’ll get updated when ER#7 comes out next month.

Thanks again to everyone for their ongoing encouragement, proof-reading help and feedback so far. I track all of them and review/edit/merge as fast as I can. To make sure that any feedback doesn’t get lost or caught in spam filters, please email comments to feedback at oduinn dot com.

John.
=====
ps: For the curious, here is the current list of chapters and their status:

Chapter 1: Distributed Teams Are Not New – AVAILABLE
Chapter 2: The Real Cost of an Office – AVAILABLE
Chapter 3: Disaster Planning – AVAILABLE
Chapter 4: Mindset – AVAILABLE
Chapter 5: Physical Setup – AVAILABLE
Chapter 6: Video Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 7: Own your calendar – AVAILABLE
Chapter 8: Meetings – AVAILABLE
Chapter 9: Meeting Moderator – AVAILABLE
Chapter 10: Single Source of Truth
Chapter 11: Email Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 12: Group Chat Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 13: Culture, Trust and Conflict
Chapter 14: One-on-Ones and Reviews – AVAILABLE
Chapter 15: Hiring, Firing, Reorgs and Layoffs – AVAILABLE
Chapter 16: Bring Humans Together – AVAILABLE
Chapter 17: Career path – AVAILABLE
Chapter 18: Feed your soul – AVAILABLE
Chapter 19: Final Chapter
Appendix A: The Bathroom Mirror Test – AVAILABLE
Appendix B: How NOT to Work – AVAILABLE
Appendix C: Further Reading – AVAILABLE
=====

Finding the tone and structure of “Distributed”

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As many of you know, I’m writing Book Cover for Distributedmy first book. While I just jumped in and start typing, people with a lot of experience in this area started asking me questions like: What is your writing tone? What is the book structure? Who is your intended audience?

Figuring out the answers to these questions felt even more daunting then the idea of “just” writing a book!

The book has evolved as I write and as I learned what was important to me in answering those original questions. Now that I’m into the swing of this, I thought it would be interesting to describe how I figured out the tone and structure of this book, and the logic behind those choices.

Over the years, I’ve bought many weighty management books that only get half-read before I give up, leaving them to gather dust with a bookmark somewhere in the middle. I wanted my book to be a book that I would make time to read. Not just a book by John for John – most people I worked with had similar time constraints. With a busy work life, an immediately helpful, practical, book felt important.

I kept these realities in mind and with a fresh set of eyes, went back looking at books I did and didn’t like. I studied how those authors structured their books and how their use of English changed the tone and feel of the book. I discovered some common patterns in terms of structure and language, which became important criteria for this book:

  • I use very casual, readable english throughout. No formal management or textbook english. Yes, I know enough pointy-haired-boss management words to play Dilbert Bingo, but I felt that language would only get in the way. I want this book to be something easy to read after a long tiring day at work, not a management-speak IQ test.
  • Each chapter is very short, typically 10-20 pages. Intentionally short enough to be read in one sitting in one evening after a busy day, over lunch or during a long commute!
  • Almost every chapter is self-contained, so if a reader has a specific pressing need, they can jump to that chapter for immediate practical help. If this happens often enough, hopefully they’ll keep the book close to hand.
  • Each chapter has simple, concrete, practical “takeaways” to put into use immediately to help make your life better today.

This book is designed so you should be able to just open a page on a specific topic you are dealing with today and just dive in. Having said that, if you are not sure where to start, the carefully chosen sequence of these chapters, and the way they are arranged in sections is a good default path:

  • Section One: Why are geo-distributed teams and organizations good for business, good for the economy and yes, good for humans? This section should help anyone justify building a distributed team/organization using cold, hard, financial business justifications – not just a touchy-feely “trust me, it makes people happy”.
  • Section Two: Most companies have day-to-day organizational inefficiencies that are so commonplace they are considered “normal” – or even worse “just the way it is”. This section details mechanical tips and tricks which make organizations more efficient. Becoming very, very crisply organized on those basic everyday mechanics improves efficiencies of an all-in-the-office team and make effective distributed teams possible.
  • Section Three: How do you handle the humanity in your distributed team? This section covers hirings, firings, one-on-ones, reviews, cultural issues and conflict. Also, some advice for long term “remote” workers on staying sane, healthy and planing a career path.

My first management job came with no training, so I had to make it up, learning as I went along. Same for each management role I’ve held since. This is true for most leaders I know. The lucky few got formal on-the-job training or mentors, but most don’t get any training until they’ve already been doing the job for a few years. Those initial years as a manager are formative and can shape what you perceive as possible in future management jobs.

It so happened, that my first job as a manager was in a company with people in multiple locations. Since then I’ve worked, as an engineer and leader, in many different geographically distributed companies. This book is coming together and I can honestly say I wish I’d had a book like this when I started.

John.
=====
As of now, the list of chapters is as follows:
Section1
* Chapter 1: Distributed Teams are Not New – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 2: The Real Cost of an Office – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 3: Disaster Planning – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 4: Mindset – AVAILABLE
Section2
* Chapter 5: Physical Setup – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 6: Video Etiquette – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 7: Own your calendar – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 8: Meetings – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 9: Meeting Moderator – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 10: Single Source of Truth
* Chapter 11: Email Etiquette – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 12: Group Chat Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Section3
* Chapter 13: Culture, Trust and Conflict
* Chapter 14: One-on-Ones and Reviews – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 15: Hiring, Firing, Reorgs and Layoffs – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 16: Bring Humans Together – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 17: Career path – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 18: Feed your soul – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 19: Final Chapter
Appendices
* Appendix A: The Bathroom Mirror Test – AVAILABLE
* Appendix B: How NOT to Work – AVAILABLE
* Appendix C: Further Reading – AVAILABLE
=====

“Distributed” ER#5 now available!

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“Distributed” Early Release #5 is now publicly available, just Book Cover for Distributed23 days after ER#4 came out.

Early Release #5 (ER#5) contains everything in ER#4 plus:
* Ch.12 group chat etiquette
* In Ch.2, the section on diversity was rewritten and enhanced by consolidating a few different passages that had been scattered across different chapters.
* Many tweaks/fixes to pre-existing Chapters.

You can buy ER#5 by clicking here, or clicking on the thumbnail of the book cover. Anyone who already has ER#1, ER#2, ER#3 or ER#4 should get prompted with a free update to ER#5 – if you don’t please let me know! And yes, you’ll get updated when ER#6 comes out later this month.

Thanks again to everyone for their ongoing encouragement, proof-reading help and feedback so far. I track all of them and review/edit/merge as fast as I can. To make sure that any feedback doesn’t get lost or caught in spam filters, please email comments to feedback at oduinn dot com.

Now time to brew more coffee and get back to typing!

John.
=====
ps: For the curious, here is the current list of chapters and their status:

Chapter 1: Remoties trend – AVAILABLE
Chapter 2: The real cost of an office – AVAILABLE
Chapter 3: Disaster Planning – AVAILABLE
Chapter 4: Mindset – AVAILABLE
Chapter 5: Physical Setup – AVAILABLE
Chapter 6: Video Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 7: Own your calendar – AVAILABLE
Chapter 8: Meetings – AVAILABLE
Chapter 9: Meeting Moderator – AVAILABLE
Chapter 10: Single Source of Truth
Chapter 11: Email Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 12: Group Chat Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 13: Culture, Trust and Conflict
Chapter 14: One-on-Ones and Reviews – AVAILABLE
Chapter 15: Joining and Leaving
Chapter 16: Bring Humans Together – AVAILABLE
Chapter 17: Career path – AVAILABLE
Chapter 18: Feed your soul – AVAILABLE
Chapter 19: Final Chapter

=====

“Distributed” ER#4 now available!

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Book Cover for DistributedTo start off the new year on a good note, “Distributed” Early Release #4 is now publicly available.

Early Release #4 (ER#4) adds five (yes, five!) new chapters:
* Ch.3 disaster planning
* Ch.5 physical setup
* Ch.6 video etiquette
* Ch.19 career path (around choosing the right employers)
* Ch.20 feed your soul (around mental sanity for long term “remoties”)
…as well as many tweaks/fixes to pre-existing Chapters.

You can buy ER#4 by clicking here, or clicking on the thumbnail of the book cover. ER#4 comes just over one month after ER#3. Anyone who already has ER#1, ER#2 or ER#3 should get prompted with a free update to ER#4 – if you don’t please let me know! And yes, you’ll get updated when ER#5 comes out at the end of the month.

As always, please let me know what you think of the book so far. Is there anything you found worked for you, as a “remotie” or person in a distributed team, which you wish you knew when you were starting? If you knew someone about to setup a distributed team, what would you like them to know before they started?

Thank you to everyone who’s already sent me feedback/opinions/corrections – I track all of them and review/edit/merge as fast as I can. To make sure that any feedback doesn’t get lost or caught in spam filters, please email comments to feedback at oduinn dot com.

Thanks again to everyone for their ongoing encouragement, proof-reading help and feedback so far.

Happy New Year!
John.
=====
ps: For the curious, here is the current list of chapters and their status:

Chapter 1: Remoties trend – AVAILABLE
Chapter 2: The real cost of an office – AVAILABLE
Chapter 3: Disaster Planning – AVAILABLE
Chapter 4: Mindset – AVAILABLE
Chapter 5: Physical Setup – AVAILABLE
Chapter 6: Video Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 7: Own your calendar – AVAILABLE
Chapter 8: Meetings – AVAILABLE
Chapter 9: Meeting Moderator – AVAILABLE
Chapter 10: Single Source of Truth
Chapter 11: Email Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 12: Group Chat Etiquette
Chapter 13: Culture, Trust and Conflict
Chapter 14: One-on-Ones and Reviews – AVAILABLE
Chapter 15: Joining and Leaving
Chapter 16: Bring Humans Together – AVAILABLE
Chapter 17: Career path – AVAILABLE
Chapter 18: Feed your soul – AVAILABLE
Chapter 19: Final Chapter

Increase growth and revenue by becoming distributed

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In my recent blog post about the one-time-setup and recurring-costs of an office, I mostly focused on financial costs, human distraction costs, and the cost of increased barriers to hiring. This post talks about another important scenario: when your physical office limits potential company revenue.

Pivigo.com is a company in London, England, which connects companies that need help with data science problems with Ph.D data science graduates who are leaving academia looking for real-world problems to solve. This 2.5 year old company was founded by Dr Kim Nilsson, (ex-astronomer and MBA!), and as of today employs 4 people.

For Pivigo to be viable, Kim needed:

  • a pipeline of companies looking for help with their real-world Data Science problems. No shortage there.
  • a pipeline of Ph.D graduates looking for their “first non-academic” project. No shortage there.
  • a carefully curated staff of people who understand both Academic and Commercial worlds are essential to help keep things on track, and make sure the event is a success for everyone. Kim has been quietly, diligently working on growing a world-class team at Pivigo for years. Tricky, but Pivigo’s hiring has been going great – although they are always interested to meet outstanding people!
  • a physical place where everyone could meet and work together.

Physical space turned out to be the biggest barrier to Pivigo’s growth and was also the root cause of some organizational problems:

1) Venue: The venue Pivigo had guaranteed access to could only be used once a year, so they could only do one “event” each year. Alternate venues they could find were unworkable because of financial costs, or the commute logistics in London. Given they could only have one course per year, it was in Pivigo’s interest to have these classes be as large as possible. However, because of the importance of creating a strong network bonding between the participants, physical size of venue, and limits on skilled human staffing, the biggest they could do was ~80 people in this once-a-year event. These limits on the once-a-year event puts a financial cap on the company’s potential revenue.

2) Staffing: These big once-a-year events were super-disruptive event to all the staff at Pivigo. Between the courses, there was administrative work to do – planning materials, interviewing candidates and companies, arranging venue and hotel logistics, etc. However, the “peak load time” during the course clearly outscaled the “low load time” in between courses. Hiring for the “peak load times” of the courses meant that there would be a lot of expensive “low load / idle time” between each peak. The situation is very similar to building capacity in fixed cost physical data centers compared to AWS variable-by-demand costs. To add to the complexity, finding and hiring people with these very specialised skills took a long time, so it was simply not practical to “hire by the hour/day” a la gig-economy. Smoothing out the peaks-and-troughs of human workload was essential for Pivigo’s growth and sustainability. If they could hold courses more frequently, they could hold smaller, more frequent, courses and reduce the “peak load” spike. Also, changing to a faster cadence of smaller spikes would make Pivigo operationally more sustainable and scalable.

3) Revenue: Relying on one big event each year gives a big spike of revenue, which the company then slowly spends out over the year – until the next big event. Each and every event has to be successful, in order for the company to survive the next year. This makes each event a high-risk event for the company. This financial unpredictability limits company long term planning and hiring. Changing to smaller, more frequent, courses make Pivigo’s financial revenue stream healthier, safer and more predictable.

4) Pipeline of applicants: Interested candidates and companies had a once-a-year chance to apply. If they missed the deadline or were turned away because the class was already full, they had to wait an entire year for the next course. Obviously, many did not wait – waiting a year is simply too long. Holding these courses more frequently make it more likely that candidates – and companies – might wait until the next course. Finding a way to increase the cadence of these courses would improve the pipeline for Pivigo.

If Pivigo could find a way to hold these courses more frequently, instead of just once-a-year, then they could accelerate growth of their company. To do this, they had to fix the bottleneck caused by the physical location.

Three weeks ago, Pivigo completed their first ever fully-distributed “virtual” course. It used no physical venue. And it was a resounding success. Just like the typical “in-person” events, teams formed and bonded, good work was done, and complex problems were solved. Pivigo staff, course participants and project sponsors were all happy. Just like usual.

This maps shows everyone’s physical location.
Map of locations

To make this first-ever fully-distributed “virtual” S2DS event successful, we focused on some ideas outlined in my previous presentations here, here and also in my book. Some things I specifically thought were worth highlighting:

1) Keep tools simple Helping people focus on the job-at-hand required removing unnecessary and complex tools. The simpler the tools better. We used zoom, slack and email. After all, people were here to work together on a real-world data science problem, not to learn how to use complex tools.

2) Very crisply organized human processes. None of these people were seasoned “remoties”, so this was all new to all of them. They first met as part of this course. They had to learn how to work together as a team, professionally and as social humans, at the same time as they worked on their project which had to be completed by a fixed deadline.

3) As this was Pivigo’s first time doing this, Kim made a smart decision to explicitly limit size, so there were only 15 people. This gave Kim, Jason and the rest of the staff extra time and space to carefully check in with each of the remote participants and gave everyone best chance of success. Future events will experiment with cohort sizes.

4) Each participant said that they only applied because they could attend “remotely” – even though *none* of them had prior experience working remotely like this. Pivigo were able to interview, and recruit participants who would normally not even apply for the London-based event. The most common reason I heard for not being able to travel to London was disruption to parents with new children – successful applicants worked from their homes on real-world problems, while still being able to take care of their family. The cost of travel to/from England, and the cost of living in London were also mentioned. The need and demand was clearly there. As was their willingness to try something they’d never done before.

5) I note the diversity impact of this new approach. This cohort had a ratio of 26% female / 74% male, while prior in-person S2DS classes typically had a ratio of 35% female / 65% male. This is only one data point, so we’ll watch this with the next S2DS event, and see if there is a trend.

The Virtual S2DS programme was a success. The project outcomes were of similar quality to the campus based events, the participants felt they got a great experience that will help their careers going forward, and, most importantly, the group bonded more strongly than was expected. In a post-event survey, the participants said they would reach out to each other in the future if they had a question or a problem that the network could help with. Interestingly, several of them also expressed an interest in continuing remote working, something they had not considered before.

For Kim and the Pivigo team, this newly-learned ability to hold fully distributed events is game-changing stuff. Physical space is no longer a limiting factor. Now, they can hold more frequent, smaller courses – smoothing down the peaks and troughs of “load”, while also improving the pipelines by making their schedule more timely for applicants. Pivigo are investigating if they could even arrange to run some of these courses concurrently, which would be even more exciting – stay tuned.

Congratulations to Kim and the rest of Pivigo staff. And a big thank you to Adrienne, Aldo, Christine, Prakash, Nina, Lauren, Gordon, Lee, Christien, Rogelio, Sergio, Tiziana, Felipe, Fabio and Mark for quietly helping prove that this approach worked just fine.

John & Kim.
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ps: Pivigo are now accepting applications for their next “virtual” event and their next inperson event. If you are an M.Sc./Ph.D. graduate, with a good internet connection, and looking for your first real-world project, apply here: http://www.s2ds.org/. Companies looking for help with data science problems can get in touch with Kim and the rest of the Pivigo team at info@s2ds.org.

“Distributed” ER#3 now available!

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Book Cover for DistributedEarlier this week, just before the US Thanksgiving holidays, we shipped Early Release #3 for my “Distributed” book-in-progress.

Early Release #3 (ER#3) adds two new chapters: Ch.1 remoties trends, Ch.2 the real cost of an office, and many tweaks/fixes to the previous Chapters. There are now a total of 9 chapters available (1,2,4,6,7,8,10,13,15) arranged into three sections. These chapters were the inspiration for recent presentations and blog posts here, here and here.)

ER#3 comes one month after ER#2. You can buy ER#3 by clicking here, or clicking on the thumbnail of the book cover. Anyone who already has ER#1 or ER#2 should get prompted with a free update to ER#3. (If you don’t please let me know!). And yes, you’ll get updated when ER#4 comes out next month.

Please let me know what you think of the book so far. Your feedback get to help shape/scope the book! Is there anything I should add/edit/change? Anything you found worked for you, as a “remotie” or person in a distributed team, which you wish you knew when you were starting? If you were going to setup a distributed team today, what would you like to know before you started?

Thank you to everyone who’s already sent me feedback/opinions/corrections – all changes that are making the book better. I’m merging changes/fixes as fast as I can – some days are fixup days, some days are new writing days. All great to see coming together. To make sure that any feedback doesn’t get lost or caught in spam filters, it’s best to email a special email address (feedback at oduinn dot com) although feedback via twitter and linkedin works also. Thanks again to everyone for their encouragement, proof-reading help and feedback so far.

Now, it’s time to get back to typing. ER#4 is coming soon!

John.

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