Value vs Commodity/ Matt Landheim, Object Systems International

To some people having friends all over the world, sharing knowledge, and building a company that spans continents is more than just a job. To Matt Landheim, founder and principle Architect of Object Systems International, it’s a lifestyle. While Matt lives with his family in Salt Lake City, he has used his love and understanding of Bulgaria to great ends. He lived here and speaks fluent Bulgarian.

Good morning Matt. Since you travel so much, what stays in your luggage?

I carry as little luggage as possible because it's faster and easier overall. I've almost always got my computer, though, since that's the tool of my trade. And toiletries--I can handle wearing the same clothes for a few days if I have to, but I don't like not being able to brush my teeth at night if I can avoid it.

Around how many meetings do you attend every day?

Too many. I'm looking at my calendar from last Monday and there are six meetings on it just from 6:00 - 8:15 a.m., with four of them overlapping at one point in time. When you're working at a customer in the US and multiple offshore teams in Bulgaria, a lot of the meetings get compressed into your mornings and they start early! Don't let my calendar fool you, though, I prefer fewer and smaller meetings--most of the meetings on my calendar were put there by others, not by me.

In your experience, what’s the best way to effectively communicate with teams 7,000 miles away?

In person around a whiteboard, so, if you've got teams 7,000 miles away, make frequent trips. As that's not always possible, the next best thing is over the phone with a screenshare and Visio. And it's best to minimize and optimize the communication before it happens to reduce misunderstandings and waste, so both sides have to consciously prepare for the conversation.

Did you meet a friend in an unexpected place?

It happens all the time. Recently, I made several new friends at a funeral/memorial and I think we'll be lifelong friends. I make friends with colleagues at OSI and at customers when I have the opportunity to spend time working or traveling with them. I love people. I must get it from my mother. She'll meet someone on an airplane and still be sending them Christmas cards 20 years later. I'll tell you where I don't make friends: Facebook. Don't look for me on social media, you won't find me there; I prefer to catch up in person.

How much trust do you like to put in your team?

As much as they can handle. It's been my experience that most employees and most teams are trustworthy. They want to do the right thing. They don't always do the right thing, but neither do I, so intent matters. Wanting to do the right thing is the foundation of learning to do the right thing and that's the foundation of trust.

Have you worked on any projects that you are especially proud of?

Many. Any time I'm able to participate in adding value--to customers, to end-users, to whomever--I'm proud of the work I did. The size and complexity of the project doesn't matter much to me and I don't necessarily measure value by the revenue the project produces. Any time I get to work with a team that succeeds, I'm proud of them. There are too many projects and teams to list and I'd be afraid of leaving out people I'm proud of if I started enumerating them here; I hope the people I'm proud of already know who they are.

More rules mean less productivity and efficiency. As an example, imagine if rugby players are playing with more referees than players on the court, and with more rules than anyone can remember. How would you be able to score and what would be the effect?

You're right, at some point it leads to entropy. The larger and more complex the system, the faster this happens, so it's self-perpetuating, too, if we don't get on top if it (which isn't always possible to do). It applies to a lot of things, like sports, organizations, and projects. It also applies to software architecture. To me, software architecture is all about constraints--we're going to do these things for these reasons and we're not going to do these things for these reasons. Figure out what your constraints and reasons are and keep them to the bare minimum required to get the benefit you want to get. This will have a positive, simplifying impact on your project, process, and organization.

Explain to people outside of the industry the roles and responsibilities in a Scrum team.

By-the-book scrum has a product owner, team members, and a scrum master. The product owner is a subject matter expert who tells the team what to build. The team members figure out how to get it built. The scrum master teaches process, helps everyone involved continually improve that process, identifies things preventing everyone from getting the job done, and figures out how to resolve those things so the others can stay focused on their core jobs. Once the people are in place, the team sets short goals, works to meet those goals, then does it again and again, adjusting along the way as variables and requirements change, until the product owner has what she needs.

Using scrum, how would you explain making banitsa (баница)?

Find a lelya or baba who knows what great banitsa is; she'll be the product owner. Find a baker who has access to the tools and ingredients needed to get the job done; she'll be the team. Find someone to who can get the product owner and team to think differently about making banitsa than they usually do; she'll be the scrum master. Our first order of business is to bake something people can eat that will keep them alive. Use whatever you've got in the kitchen; if you've got nothing in the kitchen, use whatever you can get right away. While you're doing it, the scrum master is out finding something edible to put inside the next batch. Next, bake something people can eat that has whatever the scrum master found inside of it. While you're doing this, the scrum master is out sourcing sirene. Next batch, bake the same thing with sirene in it. While you're doing this, the scrum master is out finding the right dough. Next batch, bake your first real banitsa. While you're doing that, the product owner is setting up channels to talk to the people eating your banitsa to get feedback. From there on out, the product owner is adjusting the requirements based on consumer feedback (pun intended), the team is investing some of the profit in better tools, and the scrum master is stabilizing the supply chain. Taka! Banitsa-by-Scrum.

How do you try to exercise good judgement in managing your company?

I strive to put people first. Employees, customers, and even vendors. In order to do this, you have to truly care about people. You can't be looking at them as tools to help you get something or impediments standing in the way of things you want you've got to look at them and love them as people. I strive to be honest in everything I do. Contracts, taxes, effort, feedback, introspection, and everything else benefits from honesty. I strive to always do the right thing. Exercising good judgment means doing the right thing and it isn't just about the bottom line. Ethics and morality are deeply important to doing the right thing. I strive to foster a culture that aligns with my beliefs on these matters. Culture is all about what people do and why they do it. Our people are great and are doing great.

When was the last time you wrote with a pen?

What's a pen? Seriously, almost never. I write about 30 words a minute and I can't read my own handwriting. I type about 115 words a minute and I can read everything I type. I don't write with a pen unless there's no way to type something.

How much time a day do you spend on your phone?

Very little. Mostly, I use my phone as a productivity tool--i.e., phone calls, email, and messaging. I use very few apps. I don't surf the Internet. I prefer live interaction with people to living in my phone.

How many squares of pizza would fit into your desk?

  1. (I hope Bulgarian geeks, not just American geeks, will get this reference.)

A developer walks through that door right now wearing pajamas. What does he say and why he is here?

He better says, "Happy Halloween!" or go home and change his clothes.

Who do you turn to when you need advice?

My wife and closest friends. My wife and I think radically differently, but she's a superstar and her EQ is off the charts. The older I get and the longer we've been married, the more I am learning to listen to her and to appreciate the way she thinks. On most issues, if I take the middle point between her position and my position, it's the optimal answer. The lesson to me here is that sincerely held opinions that are different from (even opposite to) my own are very valuable when I take the time to understand them. My closest friends are helpful, too. They naturally validate my position because they think and communicate very similarly to me. When thinking aligns and communication is effortless, it's easy to be around someone. Both are nice to have.

What kind of conversations do you have at the dinner table?

A lot of our conversations are logistical. With four kids, everyone's busy with their own things and we use the time to coordinate our schedules. We also discuss school, work, news, politics, religion and spirituality, science, family, friends, and other things other families discuss. Sometimes we argue. I've got a daughter who is full of facts. One time at the dinner table, she asked if the rest of us knew that apple stickers are edible. We probably spent 15 minutes arguing the point. It turns out, she may be right, at least in the US.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I love Bulgaria and I've got high hopes for the Bulgarian people. In all things, helping other people be better is the best way to be better yourself, so it's important that we remember to be good people, not just good professionals. Bulgarians have helped me be a better person (and professional), so I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to be connected to Bulgaria for so many years and I'm looking forward too many more years to come.