Technology and food. As I sat eating lunch today, I recalled a conversation with one of my mentors years ago about technology and food. More specifically, technology teams.
At the time, I was a Program Executive with a reputation for having project teams who would go the extra mile, make those difficult target dates, and have a great time. My mentor asked me what the secret was, and I responded without pausing ‘sugar and salt’. This was 20 years before people started using the phrase ‘sweet or savoury’ in everyday life.
He asked what I meant and I shared that you can make almost any technology team happy with food. The food is typically easy to eat, small pieces, and fairly ‘dry’ so they can grab it, eat, and keep on typing. Pizza is the exception, it’s not bite size, you might need a napkin, and people usually don’t keep typing while eating pizza.
The pizza is therefore, saved for when the whole team needs a break. 2:00 am on implementation nights, celebration lunches, and wishing a team member well who’s moving to a new job.
But sugar and salt – chips, M&Ms, cashews, cookies, muffins (not healthy ones), and maybe crackers and cheese – these food items can keep a technology project team going for 48 hours.
We had a new project manager join our team. She said we should make sure there was a healthy mix too. She ordered salad with the pizza, and veggies and dip with the chips. Nobody ate it.
I’m not saying these people only eat junk food. I’m saying when they are working overnight, implementing a major system, working on a tight timeline, jazzed with the power of the creation, and a bit stressed as they keep getting asked for status, this is when the sugar and salt work best.
I’m getting nostalgic just remembering those days. One fantastic week-end when I was the one running the project and knew my main job was to motivate and support these talented people, I was standing on a desk so I could see across 6 cubicles. I’d say “Phil, Elias is done with his step 22, go!” And “Joanne, the code is in for the initial functions, start the testing”. They sat in their own cubicles because they liked their space. It was comfortable, it was familiar, it was messy, it was theirs.
And when we ran into a major issue, everyone jumped up and we went into Ken’s office to ‘whiteboard the solution’. The whole team, all the brains, people talking on top of each other, building on ideas, and drawing in different colours on the board. When the answer was clear, someone started circling it. It was like a Eureka Moment. We got it! And back they all went to their own spots to keep things moving.
Today it’s different. Everybody’s running Agile projects. We tell people to do ‘stand-up’ meetings. Get together, talk about the problem, come together to understand where everyone stands and what tasks are next.
Hmmm. Maybe it’s not so different. Just more structured.
As I had this memory over lunch, I took a photo of my food and laughed. Tandoori Chicken Salad. I’d probably get kicked out of the club if I ate this during an implementation. 🙂
Technology and food. Over the years, my teams have gotten larger, the processes more formal, check-point calls required to inform 100 people how things are going. But one thing hasn’t changed. I can still motivate a team to give just that little bit more with some food and appreciation of all their talents.