Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
One of the most common questions I get with Getting Results the Agile Way is, “What tools do I use to implement it?”
The answer is, it depends on how "lightweight" or "heavy" I need to be for a given scenario. The thing to keep in mind is that the system is stretch to fit because it's based on a simple set of principles, patterns, and practices. See Values, Principles, and Practices of Getting Results the Agile Way.
That said, I have a few key scenarios:
The Just Me Scenario In the "Just Me" scenario, I don't use any tools. I just take "mental notes." I use The Rule of Three to identify three outcomes for the day. I simply ask the question, "What are the three most important results for today?" Because it's three things, it's easy to remember, and it helps me stay on track. Because it's results or outcomes, not activities, I don't get lost in the minutia.
The Pen and Paper Scenario In the Pen and Paper scenario, I carry a little yellow sticky pad. I like yellow stickies because they are portable and help me free up my mind by writing things down. The act of writing it down, also forces me to get a bit more clarity. As a practice, I either write the three results I want for the day on the first note, or I write one outcome per note. The main reason I write one result per sticky note is so that I can either jot supporting notes, such as tasks, or so I can throw it away when I've achieve that particular result. It's a simple way to game my day and build a sense of progress.
I do find that writing things down, even as a simple reference, helps me stay on track way more than just having it in my head.
The Evernote Scenario The Evernote scenario is my high-end scenario. This is for when I'm dealing with multiple projects, leading teams, etc. It's still incredibly light-weight, but it helps me stay on top of my game, while juggling many things. It also helps me quickly see when I have too much open work, or when I'm splitting my time and energy across too many things. It also helps me see patterns by flipping back through my daily outcomes, weekly outcomes, etc.
It's hard to believe, but already I've been using Evernote with Getting Results the Agile Way for years. I just checked the dates of my daily outcomes, and I had switched to Evernote back in 2009. Time sure flies. It really does.
Anyway, I put together a simple step-by-step How To to walk you through setting up Getting Results the Agile Way in Evernote. Here it is:
OneNote If you’re a OneNote user, and you want to see how to use Getting Results the Agile Way with OneNote, check out Anu’s post on using Getting Results the Agile Way with OneNote.
"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." -- Douglas Adams
I wrote a step-by-step How To on How To – Set Goals and Achieve Them on Getting Results.com.
I find setting goals and achieving them is a blend of art and science. The art part is knowing how to frame the goal in a way that inspires you to action on a regular basis. The science part is breaking the goal down into actionable steps that you can measure against targets.
Over the years, the three most important things I learned about goals are:
Factor the Inspiration from the Perspiration Dream big. Don’t hack up your dream into little insignificant parts right off the bat. Inspire yourself with skill. Find your buttons and push them until that little part of you that wants more from life wakes up and says, I want me some of that.
Goals are among the best way to change your life or change the world or simply move forward versus slide back. Create inspirational goals, the kind that light your fire. That’s your starting point. That gets you ready for the tough part.
The perspiration of the goal, or the tough part, is translating the end-in-mind into action. This is the part where you break the goal down into sub-goals, steps, and actions. This is the part where you make the goal SMART – specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timely. This is the part where you get clarity on what success looks like along the way, and how you will map out your path to get to your destination.
The simple lesson here is, dream up compelling goals first and get excited before you start applying the rigor and discipline of making them happen. Then use the rigor and discipline of making them happen to inspire you along the way, as you make progress toward your goal.
The Why Behind the Goal is Everything There are many ways to kill a dream or kill a goal. The longer it’s spread out over time and space, the more hurdles and challenges you might have to deal with along the way. But some goals are dead right out of the gate.
If your goal lacks life and has no compelling “Why” to drive it, it’s dead in the water. It doesn’t stand a fighting chance. If you want your goal to stand the test of time and to help you stay the course, then you need to have a compelling “Why” behind it. The “Why” is the generator of your juice that makes you go. You know it’s working when you simply remember “Why” and you are back on track.
You Can Achieve Big Goals by Taking Little Steps Over Time The surprise is that consistent action really does pay off. It’s a case of slow and steady wins the race. The trick here is not to go intentionally slow and not to depend on baby steps. Instead, it’s to find the way forward, and to keep taking action. Sometimes that means taking little steps. Those little steps add up over time.
I integrated these lessons into my How To – Set Goals and Achieve Them to stack the deck in your favor and to help set you up for success in achieving your goals.
I created a Time Management Checklist on Getting Results.com.
I’ created time management checklists before, but this is probably the most comprehensive. It was also the most difficult one. I wanted to keep it scannable, while sharing the best wisdom, insights, and lessons learned around time management. Most importantly, I wanted to make it actionable.
To make it more actionable, I chunked the checklist into the following categories:
Here is the checklist so far:
If you see key strategies missing, sent me a note. I want to have a one-stop shop of time management strategies at a glance.
On an interesting note, my book, Getting Results the Agile Way was #2 in Germany for Time Management for a while according to Amazon. I hadn’t really thought of it as a time management book – I thought of it more as a personal empowerment system, but now that I think about it, time management makes perfect sense. At the end of the day, mastering your time is the key to effectiveness. (Note that you can read Getting Results the Agile Way for free online. I want everybody to have the best patterns and practices for making the most of what they’ve got.)
It’s that time of year when folks are busy with reviews. Here is a time-tested template for writing your results in a way that’s easy to defend, while making both your results and your approach shine through:
This is no ordinary template, and don’t let the simplicity fool you. It’s evolved over time under the collective scrutiny of many reviewers and people that have used this template to better articulate their impact in a more objective and holistic way. Here’s why. It explicitly frames out the following:
“Results” creates space to write about your bottom line results. This answers the question, “What did you deliver?”, but more importantly, frames it in the context of outcomes and impact. It’s less about whether you did X, Y, or Z, and more about the actual impact you delivered. Your results.
“How” creates space to write about how you achieved your results. This is especially important if you are trying to highlight and show how your approach demonstrates skills or competencies at a higher level. This is where you can highlight things like teamwork, cross-group collaboration, leadership skills, etc.
“Evidence” creates space to share all the quotes, quantities, and qualitative feedback about your impact. This is the place where you can truly make it obvious that your results and impact are more than just your subjective view. Nothing speaks stronger than a few powerful quotes from a few of the right people.
“Analysis” creates space for you to write about the highs and lows. A simple way to target and frame this is to think in terms of three things going well, and three things to improve.
Check out the Performance Review Template and I’ll be interested to know what tips or tricks you have for articulating your impact and making your review do justice to the work you’ve done throughout the year.
One of the first things I do to get a handle on execution is to map out the work in flight in the form of a roadmap.
When there are multiple teams shipping stuff, one of the best ways to improve coordination, collaboration, and planning is to make a simple roadmap.
Just even putting the roadmap together is an exercise in clarity.
The simple roadmap of key events is a great way to set expectations and communicate what’s going on. When there is a lot going on, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose track of the various trains leaving the station. A simple one-page view helps you stay on top of the trains and anticipate where focus and energy will be.
When you have multiple workstreams and dependencies, such as with vTeams and initiatives, it’s also helpful to put together a simple roadmap of the workstreams to illustrate the interactions.
One of the key points of creating effective visualizations of roadmaps is to keep them simple. You can always drill into details with detailed schedules or detailed Gant charts. The point of the visualization in this case is to have a very simple, “at a glance” of the work in flight across multiple teams.
You know you’ve done a good job when you can “glance and go” vs. “stop and stare.”
This is a collection of user stories for the cloud. This collection is a simple way to share the most common scenarios that Enterprise Architects, business leaders, and IT leaders will be facing as they adopt cloud technologies.
I decided to kill two birds with one stone. First, I wanted to share a simple example of how to share user stories. User stories are a powerful way to identify and enumerate the problems, wants, and needs within a given domain. Having a bird’s-eye view helps you see the forest from the trees so that you can better prioritize as well as see trends and patterns. Second, I wanted to share a real example that’s relevant and easy to relate to. In this case, I’m sharing cloud user stories. I can’t think of a more relevant body of knowledge for this significant inflection point in our industry.
There are two key outcomes from this post: 1) You can effectively share user stories for a problem space, and 2) You have a good understanding of some of the key challenges facing Enterprise Architects, business leaders, and IT leaders in terms of cloud technologies.
An example is worth a 1000 words, but one of the things I want you to notice in the user stories below, is the wording. The secret to wording effective user stories is to use persona-based scenarios with goals. For example, “As an Enterprise Architect, I want to …” or “As an IT Leader, I need to ….” Yes, this looks simple, but this phrasing is powerful. It makes it easy to collect user stories in a fast way. The mistake is to have a bunch of user stories that are over-generalized and over-loaded. With user stories, the key is to be clear, simple, and straightforward. Clever is the enemy. It should be easy for anybody to read the user stories and easily make sense of them without having to do a bunch of mental gymnastics or parsing. The simpler the better.
If you see key stories that I’m missing, feel free to share in the comments. The beauty of having a map of user stories is that it’s easy to add or reshape the map. This is the key to being able to leverage multiple smart people in an organized way.
Cloud Enterprise Strategy Scenarios Map
Awareness / Education
Governance and Regulation
Service Levels / Quality of Service
I created a Leadership Checklist to distill and share practices for effective leadership.
I created this checklist a little bit differently to try something out. I used a “user story” approach and I wrote each checklist item as a mini-story you can use for self-reflection. In a way, they can act as unit tests for leadership. Here are some examples:
It’s a work in progress, but so far the feedback has been positive. Feel free to share your favorite leadership practice as a one-liner reminder in the comments on the leadership checklist page.
Execution excellence as a one-man band is one thing. Execution excellence for a team or group is another.
One of the best ways to improve execution excellence for a team or group is to map out the portfolio, programs, and projects.
Having clarity on the portfolio, programs, and projects is a starting point for mastering execution.
In patterns & practices, what we did is create a visual roadmap to share the big ticket items. This helped set expectations with stakeholders in terms of what would ship when. It also helped build awareness for our internal teams to improve coordination and alignment.
The Portfolio We managed our portfolio in a very simple way. We simply kept a backlog of projects and initiatives grouped by themes and programs. At this level, we would do two key things:
In general, we could manage budgets and resources at the program level, as program level investments. This helped simplify planning.
The Programs We used programs as organizing themes to group related projects, streamline planning, and simplify communication. For example, in patterns & practices, we organized our projects into the following programs:
By having a backlog of programs and projects, we could establish our “cut line.” The “cut line” was the line where we’d need more resources and budget in order to execute. This made it easier to both share what we were working on, as well as push back on demands that exceeded our capacity. It also facilitated discussions with stakeholders in terms of priorities. The impact of prioritizing one project over another made it very easy to see the impact in terms of the Roadmap or what would be pushed below the cut line.
At the program level, we could use high-level user stories and scenarios to get a sense of the size and scope of key projects. We kept the scenarios high-level so that it was easy to tell the story and paint a quick picture of why the particular project, program, or initiative was important, in a way that stakeholders could relate to.
The Projects At the project level, we got way more specific. At the project level, we had to get clarity on the demand and the scope. To do so, we would map out the user stories. The user stories were collected and prioritized with customers and stakeholders. The user stories were important because they created a very specific way to scope the project. They also helped see what skills and experience were crucial to project success. They also created a way to cut scope at a more atomic level. They also created a way to flow incremental value throughout the project life cycle.
As you can imagine, when you have clarity on your portfolio, both in terms of a backlog of programs and projects, as well as expressed as roadmap, and you have clarity on your programs in terms of big bucket investments and themes of work, and you have clarity on your projects, in terms of priorities as well as the actual user demand and how the projects relate to one another, you are moving up the stack in terms of execution excellence, organizational maturity, and most of all, simplicity.
When it comes to people, underutilized does not mean squeeze out more hours, it means unleash more strengths.
When people have the chance to give their best where they have their best to give, this has an automatic way of taking care of utilization, motivation, impact, etc. When somebody is in their element, effective managers co-create the goals and get out of the way. It’s among the best ways to get the best results from teams or individuals. If you want to optimize a team, then unleash the strengths of each individual.
The power of people in a knowledge worker world is that you get exponential results when people are playing to their strengths. The simplest way to do this is have people in roles where they spend more time in their strengths and less time in their weaknesses. Another way to unleash their strength is pair them up with people that compliment their strengths or balance out their weaknesses.
On the flip side, the simplest way to create low-performing teams is to have people spend more time in their weaknesses and very little time in their strengths. While this is simple and obvious, the real trick is looking for it and finding ways to bring out people’s best.
While it’s not always easy, and you often have to get creative, one of the best things you can do for you, your company, the world, is to spend more time in your strengths and help others do the same. It’s the fittest and the flexible that survive, and it’s your unique strengths that crank up your fit factor.