Rob Farley

Rob Rob Farley has been consulting in IT since completing a Computer Science degree with first class honours in 1997. Before moving to Adelaide, he worked in consultancies in Melbourne and London. He runs the development department in one of Australia's leading IT firms, as well as doing database application consultancy and training. He heads up the Adelaide SQL Server User Group, and holds several Microsoft certifications.

Rob has been involved with Microsoft technologies for most of his career, but has also done significant work with Oracle and Unix systems. His preferred database is SQL Server and his preferred language is C#. Recently he has been involved with Microsoft Learning in the US, creating and reviewing new content for the next generation of Microsoft exams.

Over the years, Rob's clients have included BP Oil, OneLink Transit, Accenture, Avanade, Australian Electorial Commission, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the Royal Borough of Kingston, Help The Aged, Unisys, Department of Treasury and Finance (Vic), National Mutual, the Bible Society and others.

Did you mean to come here? My blog is now at

07 September 2005

Getting the honest answer

A few years ago I worked in London. After I'd worked there a few months, the company bought a pool table. I don't really remember the reason for it - it was just something they did. It was the kind of thing that would've been more commonplace in 1998 than in early 2001, but either way, I didn't mind.

It took 20p pieces (small seven-sided coins for those people unfamiliar with English money), and it was in use more often than not. In a company of 3 people, that's not bad. Haha. Only joking. There were 30-40 of us working there. I was a Project Manager then, so you can imagine my concerns about how having a pool table in the office would be recorded in the risk logs of my projects, and about how I should adjust my project plans accordingly. However, to this day I like to keep a 20p coin in my pocket, and I really miss those days for various reasons.

As a Project Manager, the main thing you need to know from your people is how the project is actually going. If you can apply eXtreme Programming (quick shout-out to Dr Neil!), then great. In that case, you probably have each item in your project plan broken down into tiny tiny pieces, such that your project plan is actually quite accurate. But I wasn't doing that in those days. Don't get me wrong - my project plan was quite well broken down, but either way, I wanted to talk to my team and find out what their concerns were.

Talking to developers at their desk never works, in my opinion. You're distracting them from their task. They feel distracted. They want to give you their time, but they feel compelled to get on with their work. They can't get past looking at that line of code they're half way through, or that form they're designing. So having a pool table in the office was a fantastic opportunity. You could walk up, put 20p next to them, and within 5 minutes, you'd have them away from their desk, without them feeling like they needed to be finishing off their current task. Of course, sometimes they would say "Don't have time, Rob" - in which case I would either decide to postpone it or insist - but on the whole, it had the desired effect.

Once away from their computer, they would be more relaxed, and feel more comfortable talking about what was going on. I took the role of ally, of friend, of brother-in-arms. As we put down our mice and keyboards and picked up the pool cues, it made us equals for a while. They could beat me (occasionally) on the pool table, and that helped too. And I could find out what was bothering them, and take appropriate steps to help resolve that. It showed that I cared (I really did - I'm not just saying that), and the fact that they knew that helped deliver the project on time. Taking 20 minutes out for a game of pool was a great way of having a meeting with them. And for the benefit of the project, it really helped a lot.

I still talk to some of those guys on Msgr. I've lived in Adelaide for over three years, and most of those guys don't work at the same place either. But the relationships were forged there, and we made a good team.