Fuza end of year update

2016

This year, being the first year of Fuza’s operation, has seen a lot of change. Especially as December marks not only the end of the calendar year, but also Fuza’s financial year, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the past course and future direction. Some key features of this year:

  • Guy starting work full time
    • Fulfilling 3 successful contracts, delivering great value
    • Being happier overall, running and cycling more than ever
    • Maintained resilience in tougher times, where it was compelling to take an “easier” course
    • Continued to act in the interest of customers over Fuza, despite commercial pressures
    • Turned a respectable profit, enough to confirm Fuza as a good idea
  • Built, and was able to spend time maintaining, excellent relationships
  • Ticked some things off my bucket list:
    • Visited the battlefield at Austerlitz
    • Built a PC
  • Learned lots. The key things that come to mind are:
    • The importance of maintaining a work pipeline
    • The difficulty of engaging small businesses with the benefit of mathematics

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support, particularly those of you who have given me your time to provide contacts, feedback and even contracts. You have all really helped: not just to have the courage to take the plunge, but to make this year fulfilling.

2017

In the coming year, I am intending to refocus Fuza around the mathematics and science of agile, and establishing the groundwork for success in that area. This includes topics such as Lean, data driven decisions (especially regarding decisions around people), and the thoughtful application of neuroscience and psychology directly to agile toolkits.

  • In January, Fuza will be continuing the exciting work as part of a contract with Tesco Supply Chain.
  • From February, Guy will be joining the team at Waters in Wilmslow, in an agile evangelist capacity. As part of this, he’ll be getting out and about in the agile community in Manchester.
  • Alongside this, Guy will be continuing his commitments as a Councillor of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications. Highlights are expected to include helping to organise the IMA Strategy Review, and stepping up to write Council Reflections for Mathematics Today.
  • Finally, the personal side of these decisions will inevitably bring some substantial changes, not least the move of my business (and my family) to Manchester in February. I also hope to be ticking more things off my bucket list..!

Thank you all for your continued support and I look forward to sharing more of this journey with you!

 

Blogging pause

I’ve decided to take a bit of a pause from blogging, to reassess how I’m investing my time.

Thanks to everyone who has been reading and commenting. I hope that you found it as interesting and enjoyable as I have! I especially appreciate the time you’ve taken to share counterarguments.

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A friendly robin helping itself to chicken food

If you have any feedback or comments on what format of information sharing you enjoy, please let me know at guy@fuza.co.uk . I am particularly interested in:

  • Whether you think blogging is a smart way of me spending effort (compared to say speaking at conferences, attending meetups, writing whitepapers, tweeting, or whathaveyou)
  • How long/detailed you like blog posts to be
  • Whether weekly (or at least regular) matters to you
  • Content: I’ve tried to put lots of different topics in, do you think I should focus more on any one? For example, mathematics, psychology, agile theory or agile techniques

With your feedback making it more awesome, I hope to be back in the new year with a fresh lease of life!

In the meantime, feel free to reread some of my favourite posts…

 

Lean Manufacturing: Limiting innovation?

I’ve been running a “lean” business for 6 months now, and I’ve noticed that Lean Manufacturing principles applied to software development could lead to bad business. Let me explain:

Primarily, my concern centers around the lean manufacturing principle of waste reduction. The constant strive to reduce waste makes sense in an industrial production line, but does it make sense in a startup or exploratory environment?

An example

Let’s say there are 2 possible features you can work on. Feature 1 has a 90% chance of delivering £1 value, and Feature 2 has 10% chance of delivering £100 value.

Let’s say that the features take the same time to develop. From the maths,

Feature 1 “value” = 90% of £1 = £0.90

Feature 2 “value” = 10% of £100 = £10

And yet even with this understanding, because of the implicit risk and waste aversion of lean, we would say “there’s a 90% chance Feature 2 will be wasteful, whereas Feature 1 is sure to not be wasteful, therefore Feature 1 is a better idea”.

Good outcomes, but not as good as they could be

The waste reduction aspect of lean manufacturing gives us a local optimisation, much like gradient descent. Imagine a ball on a hill, which will roll downhill to find the bottom. This is ok, and it will find a bottom (of the valley), but maybe not the bottom (of the world, maybe the Mariana trench).  In that sense it is locally good, but not globally optimal.

The way mathematicians sometimes get round this is by repeatedly randomly starting the ball in different places: think a large variety of lat-longs. Then you save those results and take the best one. That way you are more likely to have found a global optimum.

So I’m wondering about whether this kind of random restarting makes sense in a startup world too. I guess we do see it in things like Google’s acquisitions of startups, Project Loon, etc. Perhaps we/I should be doing more off-the-wall things.

Closing commentary

Perhaps it isn’t so odd that Lean Manufacturing has “reduce waste” as a principle… In a production line environment, reduction of waste is the same as increasing value.

Still, if the optimisation problem is “maximise value” this leads to different outcomes than “minimise waste”. I would argue we should, in almost every case, be focusing on maximising value instead.

As we’ve seen with following the rituals rather than the philosophy and mindset of agile, it is beneficial to actually think about what we’re doing rather than applying things without understanding.

Comments below please, I know this may be a bit controversial…

 

Working from home?

I’m often asked “How do you manage to ACTUALLY work from home so often?”.

Well, for me the answer is simple: routine and adapting.

Thanks to reading lots of psychology/sociology books, I also think I have a reasonable handle on what makes humans happy: things like Social Connectedness for example. That means I build them into my rituals.

My schedule:

6AM: Wake up. Yes, every day same time. Apparently this is better for you. I also get out bed immediately, no snooze-button. I have always been a morning person, and appreciate this doesn’t work for everyone. My wife is now almost adjusted to this schedule (we find sticking to it works much better if we both want to sleep at the same time).

6:05AM: Go exercise! I follow a training plan as I’m normally on autopilot this time in the morning, and I find it keeps me motivated. This can be anything from a 30 minute light cycle to a 2hr run. Currently I’m following this half marathon plan. On my way out I let out the chickens (and if everyone else has bins out, I do that too. I can lose track of what day it is).

 

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7 days behind… I can’t keep up.

After this, I stretch, have a protein shake and
shower, then read the news over breakfast (which invariably involves eggs).

 

9AM: Depending on how long the workout has been, this might be a hour or on a rest day even two hours earlier: but I will definitely have started work by 9AM. First up I write down the stuff I’ve thought of during my workout – I often am like “oh yeah I must do XX”, for example today as I am about to go on holiday it was to look up the best way of exchanging Czech Republic Koruna. I add these as kanban cards to my board. I then check the priorities for the day look right: if I’m lucky I can catch my wife before she goes to work and see if she has anything she wants my help with. An important part of this process is that I’m blending “work” and “home” things together as part of the same list.

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Today’s board. The high WIP is due to waiting for replies to emails.

This allows me to flex onto whatever is more important, reducing the amount of “work” I do for “home” if that is what is needed. These tasks might me anything from “Do laundry” to “Write a blog post” to “Find out if data.gov has usable, open Littering Data”: I think the variety of these tasks keeps me engaged throughout the day.

 

9:15AMish: Crack on! Picking up either what was in progress yesterday, or whatever is more urgent today, I do it. And repeat. During these large work periods, I break it up with water breaks and whenever my Garmin Vivoactive watch tells me I need to get up and go for a quick walk round the block (around every hour).

12AM: Early lunch. No resting, just refueling. Usually leftovers or steamed veg.

12:30PM: Back to work. At around 3-4PM I am likely to start flagging, so I’ll probably change what I’m working on. I’ll also try to speak to a friend or family at some point.

6PM: Stop work. Sometimes if I’m not feeling in the mood this will be earlier. Make dinner. Eat with my wife (usually not chatting as she doesn’t like “eating air”).

6:30PM: Go for a walk with my wife (usually 5km, in the countryside). We talk about our days etc.

8PM: Home, get ready for bed. Read (currently”A song of ice and fire” and “Chase one rabbit“).

10PM: Lights out.

You might be thinking that anything like “going out” or requiring a late night would throw everything out of whack: and it does. I try to see friends on nights before I’m having a rest day for exercise, and I allow myself to wake up later if I need on that day. I ran several experiments where I reduced sleep, and it led to much less being done during that day. Seeing people is really important, and as such I try to go to one work-related event (eg Agile Meetup) and one friend-related event (eg pub) a week.

I make sure I top-up my social connectedness at weekends: like many young professionals I don’t have “free weekends” very often. The biggest thing I miss about working in an office is the social connection I found with colleagues, and indeed I am consider going to a co-working space, or even choosing to take on a full-time contract that would require me being in an office for several months.

I am also not fixed in this way of working, I am always trying new things. I tried a month of 5am starts in July, and did evening work sessions in August. Again, Inspect and Adapt is king.

 

 

The oldest profession?

Apologies for the late sharing last week, the integration between WordPress and Linkedin/Facebook was more login-dependent than I realised! I hope you managed to catch up when it was shared on Tuesday instead.

And-now

Accounting

As a novice small business owner, one of the first things I did was find an accountant, so I could make sure I was legally compliant and not doing anything silly in terms of the way I was doing my finances. I am not an accountant, so clearly the contents of this blog does not constitute advice, may be incorrect, relates to UK specifically, and is for general interest only :p.

I visited a local accountancy practice, who did a free 1hr no-commitment consultation. This was useful in terms of answering my immediate questions, which were around how to extract money from the company and how to not-mess-up dealing with “The Taxman”. This materialised as questions like:

  • Should I pay myself a salary?
  • Should I register for VAT?
  • How should I do “expenses”?

The answers to these were:

  • Salary yourself as little as you can afford, and as soon as you start paying yourself ensure it is at least the minimum wage. Once you start paying yourself, you will have to do this monthly and tell HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) about it. HMRC  are the tax department of government in the UK.
  • VAT register as late as possible (since it requires yet more paperwork) unless you have big capital expenditure (which I don’t). You only have to VAT register after something like £83,000 turnover.
  • Expenses should make things look obviously like the legitimate business expenses they are, so it doesn’t matter too much whether it is paid on a company bank card or on personal bank card, as long as you keep it all logically separate. The problem is when you buy something using entirely company money and use it for non-company things.

I decided, as part of my ever-continuing education, to complete my first set of accounts myself (with a little help).  As a result of this, I also learned:

  1. Accountants are charging a lot for what are simple activities once you know how to do them. For me, from scratch, it took about a day to put together my first set of accounts. My local accountant was charging over £500 for the same thing (which I guess would take them much less than half the time it took me).
  2. There are lots of tricks to legitimately avoid paying tax, which can be found on online forums or by paying accountants (if you are interested in reducing tax payment).
  3. Micro-entity accounts really do make things easy for very small companies, since they don’t ask for too much detail. [1]
  4. The “government gateway” website, which links nicely with Companies House, is actually pretty usable.
  5. Double-entry bookkeeping is almost a millennia old, the oldest complete set coming from the Republic of Genoa in 1340 [2]. Accounting itself may be from around 5000BC, pre-dating even money as Babylonians used it to keep track of livestock.
  6. It is definitely worth copying someone else’s spreadsheets (google or ask around) for cashbook, expenses and accounts templates.
  7. Little bit of lean: I’m now getting some sense of “flow” from my expenses. When I get home after a day out on business, I get all my receipts and (before I even have a cup of tea) I put them into my expenses spreadsheet, numbering and filing each receipt. Not only does this mean I get it “Done” and remove the activity of finding  and sorting receipts, but it means that I don’t dread spending hours once every few months doing expenses.

I’m really glad to have done a set of accounts so I know how it works, and if I decide to pay an accountant to do it in future I will know what I’m paying for. Overall I’d say doing this once is a highly recommended experience, much like having a vaccination.

tl;dr; Accounting is pedantic but not hard.

 

[1] https://www.gov.uk/annual-accounts/microentities-small-and-dormant-companies

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_accounting

My first… business proposal

Several months ago I had my first ever formal pitch to a company where I didn’t know the people at beforehand, and I found my notes on it which I thought I’d share! It was actually not that intimidating, as they were really nice and I’ve had more practice now.
The bit that kinda stressed me out was writing a formal Business Proposal, which they asked for afterwards. Whilst I have been on the receiving end of these sorts of things, I’d never written one. To make matters slightly more pressured, they wanted it within a week.

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I didn’t actually use this

Things that helped:

  • I secured an “in” to be able to talk more to their techie, who was awesome and really helped me get to grips better with their problem
  • I gave several thought-through options, given that it would be a new relationship I wanted to make sure I explained my preferences to them, and gave them a better understanding of my expertise
  • I asked for feedback several days before the deadline from their Project Manager, to make sure I was providing what they wanted
  • I used LaTeX to write it, which meant I didn’t need to muck around too much with making a custom stylesheet, since it looks great without effort

Things that were hard:

  • I had no idea really of timescales (#noestimates), and from initial conversations this was very important to the client. I made sure to give an option to be more lean about it: by which I mean take the most important small chunk and do that as fast as possible
  • Deciding on pricing, for a customer used to having free work done for them :/

If you’re doing a Business Proposal, don’t panic, it’ll be fine: just get as much feedback as you can so that you have an engaged, happy customer.

More Happiness!

One of the things I’m trying to optimise for is my happiness. Hopefully it doesn’t come as a huge surprise that this is a pretty complex thing to do. In my time as an Agile Coach, I’ve read a lot of literature of varying quality on this, and indeed hopefully have helped others to use this to find increased happiness for themselves.

From the studies supporting “Thinking fast and slow” it is clear that present happiness and “remembering happiness” are two very different things, both of which would need to be considered. [1]

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A happy (in the present) panda

Through my reading of several studies, there is one key thing that I want to call out in this post: social connectedness. It turns out that social connectedness is a better predictor of happiness than any other variable (such as money or education).[2]

As someone going from full-time employment (with a built-in 5-day-a-week social) to self-employment, I was worried that I’d lose a lot of the social connection I had in my life.

To combat this, I agreed to spend 2 days a week in an office coaching teams. I also joined a few local clubs, and committed to myself that I’d go to some interesting meetups.

I’ve also been measuring my happiness day by day, and reflecting on it, in order to cover both “types” of happiness. I draw smileys on my calendar each morning, and do a monthly check on how I feel the last month was.

2016-05-15
With thanks to Tung Chun Food Manufacturing Ltd.

I know this isn’t very advanced, or even scientific. By using this basic data, I’m trying to understand just a bit more about how I feel, and see whether changes I make (such as joining a club, or doing more running) make a measurable difference to my happiness. Also, through the mere fact that the data exists, I ensure I focus on it more, which is what I want anyway! [3]


[1] Kahneman’s TED talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgRlrBl-7Yg

[2] http://www.hks.harvard.edu/saguaro/communitysurvey/results4.html

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect