Monthly Archives: January 2015

Prioritizing features and requests

As an engineer we often get approached by a PM, or other teams members, for features, update in requirements, or any other changes. Some change will sounds really exciting, either because they are intellectually challenging or because their outcome looks obviously great.

However, before getting too excited there a few questions we can ask that will help us stay grounded and keep priorities clear and in order. This is especially important for PMs but I believe that all engineers, disregarding their role title, should always understand why we are doing things and how it will translate in increased consumer satisfaction.

  • Who is the consumer for the feature?
  • What are the e2e use-cases?
  • Why do we need it?
  • Why is it important?
  • What are the data proving the need and the importance?
  • Will it impact other team?


The beauty of these questions is that they help us and the requestors having clarity on the feature.
Knowing the consumer, help to refine the requirements with the right stakeholder.
Knowing the e2e use-cases, help understand and scope the feature(s).
Understanding the ‘why’ is powerful to set the priority and to understand how it impact our consumers.
Proving the needs and its importance by data is generally the best way to prevent throw away work and to increase the return on investment.
Finally, identifying the impact on other team, especially external one, will help aligning the plan for dependencies.

This methodology is a shorter way to define specifications and will help in taking decisions.

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The Happiness Advantage

Short before the holiday break, I watched a video titled “happiness as a competitive advantage” where Shawn Achor talk about happiness and how it can help to be more successful at work. I obviously like being happy and I have a pretty competitive mindset, so I really enjoyed the talk. Something really struck me, he said something along this line: “people are trying to be successful as a mean of being happy, instead, studies shows that happy people tends to be more successful”. At that time, I was focusing on the next step on my career, thinking how better everything would be once I would be there. This made me thinking about the fact that I should focus a bit more about how to sustain and increase my happiness level!

So, I rented the book at the library and below write-up is what I learned and what I will try to keep practicing.


Principle #1: The happiness advantage

Happiness is the center around which success orbit and gives us a competitive edge. Practicing some techniques (find something to look forward to, commit conscious act of kindness, infuse positivity into your surroundings, exercise, spend money on experiences (not on stuff), exercise a signature strength) can help our brains be more positive, which makes people more intelligent, more creative, more healthy and more successful.

Principle #2: The fulcrum and the lever

Focus on all the reasons you will succeed, rather than fail. A specific and concerted focus on your strengths during a difficult task produce the best results.

Principle #3: The Tetris effect

Train your brain to focus on the positive, which makes your brain more skilled to noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth. A simple exercise to practice daily: write down three good things that happened that day.

Principle #4: Falling up

With every setback (mistake, obstacle, failure, disappointment, suffering, …) comes some opportunity for growth that we can teach ourselves to see and take advantage of. As said Tal Ben-Shahar, “things do not necessarily happen for the best, but some people are able to make the best out of things that happen”. Most successful people see adversity not as a stumbling block but as a stepping stone to greatness.

When people perceive an event in their life, our brain generate a “counterfact”, an alternate scenario used to help evaluate and make sense of what really happens. However, the counterfact is hypothetical, we should force ourselves to pick a positive one.

One practical way of seeing the path from adversity to opportunity is to do the ABCD model of interpretation:

  1. Adversity – the event we can’t change
  2. Belief – our reaction to the even (why we think it happened and what we think it means for the future)
  3. Consequence – if we see some solutions and the temporality of the belief, it can be positive, otherwise we might become helpless
  4. Disputation – only if we have negative belief and consequence, tell ourselves that our belief is not a fact, dispute (challenge) it: what are the evidence of the belief, are they airtight?

Principle #5: Zorro circle

When people believe that the power lies within their control, they have higher achievement. Knowing that our actions determine our fates in life can only spur us to work harder.

Zorro circle, is a technique to scope on a controllable piece of a problem, fixing it, being proud of it, and creating a new zorro circle (in algorithmics we call this divide and conquer).

Identifying what part of the problem we have control over and what we don’t have control over also help reduce the stress. A simple exercise is to have a 2 columns table (what we control and what we don’t control) and to classify any stresses, daily challenges, and goals within.

Principle #6: The 20 second rule

Habits forms because our brain changes in response to frequent practice.

By adding barrier (batteries out of the remote control, at 20 sec away) to activities we want to stop doing, we are likely to be more successful. Same for activities we want to do more, making sure we remove as much barrier as possible (within 20 seconds reach), decrease the ‘activation energy’ required to start it.

Willpower is a limited resource, that get weakened every time we use it (activation, choice).


Principle #7: Social investment

Social connections (family, friends, colleagues) have a correlation of 0.7 with happiness. It is actually the biggest factor influencing happiness.

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