J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

August, 2012

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    The Microsoft Story

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    “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” – Peter Drucker

    What is the Microsoft story? 

    Is there more to the story, than a “lost decade”?  (BTW – if you were a developer during the time, you probably experienced some of the most intense transformations … *wild ride*, feels more like it.)

    I was listening to one of our gifted storytellers at Microsoft a while back.   Sometimes, story tellers are about making up a bunch of stuff that never happened.  In this case, this storyteller was doing the opposite.  He was putting together the bigger picture, and putting things in context, to help us fully appreciate the story of Microsoft.

    It’s always different when you know the story.  The story changes everything.  People remember stories.  When people know what you are about, and why you do what you do, you are more predictable, more understandable, more believable.

    And in the absence of a story, people make up stories.  (And fiction is often more fun than fact.)

    I took a lot of notes as the story teller worked his magic, but I had lost them.  I found them, and I may have lost some things in the translation, but I figure now is a good time to share my notes.

    The storyteller framed the Microsoft story around three key things:

    1. Who are we?
    2. What drives us?
    3. What is our unique approach?

    Story Pillar #1.  Who Are We
    Who are the people behind Microsoft?  It’s not just who you see in the news.  It’s the people you don’t see. 

    Who don’t you see?  The diverse community of several thousand employees spread over 190 countries.

    There are computer scientists, engineers, teachers, ethnographers, musicians, designers, and even rocket scientists (Ironically, I had one on my last team.)

    The beauty here is the "Breadth of Experience.”  It’s different points of view coming together to reflect the communities.  On one hand, it’s a global view.  On the other, it’s a very localized view.  For example, if you want to make something as Norwegian as possible, it helps to have a presence in Norway.

    Another beautiful thing at Microsoft is the ecosystem.   It’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself.   The power of having a diverse presence makes it possible to build out local software ecosystems, and local partner ecosystems that really know and live the culture.

    But what is is that brings everyone to the table? 

    Compelling missions … and in this case, “power to the people.”

    The Mission at Microsoft
    The mission at Microsoft, simply put is:

    Help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.

    Values at Microsoft
    Values bring people together.  They are the lightening rod that binds us.  Here are the values at Microsoft:

    • Accountability
    • Big Challenges
    • Constructive Criticism (Bring it)
    • Continual Self-Improvement
    • Customer and Partner focus
    • Execution (See things through.)
    • Honesty
    • Integrity
    • Openness
    • Passion for Technology
    • Personal Excellence
    • Quality
    • Results

    Diversity is a big deal.  Check out the “diversity” vision and mission statements:

    • Diversity and Inclusion Mission - Microsoft’s global diversity and inclusion mission is to be the world’s #1 provider of innovative technology solutions that help realize the full potential of its diverse customers and partners around the world.
    • Diversity and Inclusion Vision - To be led by a globally diverse workforce that consistently delivers outstanding business results, understands the various cultural demands of a global marketplace, is passionate about technology and the promise it holds to tap human potential, and thrives in a corporate culture where inclusive behaviors are valued.

    In my experience, Microsoft is bunch of people with a passion for more from life who want to change the world.

    Story Pillar #2. What Drives Us
    Is it fame?  Is it fortune?  No.  It’s impact.

    Actually, it’s three things:

    1. Big, bold goals.
    2. A PC on every desk.
    3. Empowering everyone.

    "I'm here because I think I can change the world."

    "Even when we were small we dreamed big."

    The PC on every desktop was a moonshot.

    "Empowerment for everyone." (around the world)

    It’s not just people who can afford technology

    BUT -- it's no longer a PC on every desktop ...

    "It's devices connected to services to do what they want, when they want around the world."

    Actually, I think of this as personal computing at your finger tips -- a machine to do your dirty work so you can innovate and create more wonderful things for the world.  We now live in a world where a developer can spin up a datacenter at their fingertips and create the next best service the world has ever known.

    Story Pillar #3.  What is our unique approach?
    What makes us different

    1. Personal – People are at the center.  It’s a people-centered approach.  It’s not a one-size fits all.
    2. Partnerships – It’s an ecosystem of ecosystems.
    3. Persistence – Microsoft is a learning company.

    It’s about the ecosystems:

    1. Software ecosystem (Writing code, developing solutions)
    2. Hardware ecosystem
    3. Partner ecosystem

    There is power in persistence.  After all, if you take on big problems, you have to be persistent.  For example, take Xbox.  Nobody would connect a game device to the Internet, right?  And let’s take scalability.  Microsoft doesn’t get scalability the way  a few Oracle, Sun, or IBM does, right?

    And how ironic.   When you succeed, the focus changes.

    OK – so now you're an Enterprise company – but you don't understand the consumer.

    Ah, it smells like another learning opportunity and a chance for the power of persistence to rise and shine.

    Where are We Going?
    You’ve seen XBox SmartGlass.   You’ve seen Microsoft Surface.   You’ve seen Windows Azure.   You’ve seen Outlook.com.   You’ve seen Office 365.  You’ve seen Windows 8.  You’ve seen Kinect (But have you heard the stories of how doctors are using it?)

    Getting the user experience right is a big deal.   You don’t want big Windows on a little device -- that’s how Windows CE happened.

    You’ve seen where things are going with the user experience and the UI.  (How many people like to play with their tiles, when nobody is looking?)

    Just think “3 Screens and a Cloud” … connected to services.  At the end of the day, you can keep things really simple when you think of three screens and a cloud … little screens, medium screens, and big screens.  Screens change things, and that’s where user experience can make or break the day.

    Think “The Right Cloud for the Job” -- Public Cloud, Private Cloud, Hybrid Cloud -- It’s great to have choices.  The power of choice means you can put the processing where it makes the most sense – and that’s a timeless principle.   Choice means customers can choose the Cloud approach that works for them, not a “one-size fits all” option.

    When you have passionate people and that kind of power of the platform on your side, from the software to the ecosystem, you can’t help but to think in a Dr. Seuss way, and imagine … Oh, the Places You’ll Go.

    Now, I can’t help but to ask …

    Where do YOU want to go today?

    You have a tribe of many thousands of Softies strong on your side, with a passion for more from life, and ready to change the world with you.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    25 Books the Most Successful Microsoft Leaders Read and Do

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    This is a list of 25 of some of the best books that the most effective Microsoft leaders read and do.   They don’t just read the books.  They actually learn the material.  And more importantly, they actually do what’s inside. 

    I mentor a lot of people, and I have a lot of mentors.  The list below is a compilation of the key books that keep coming up time and again, that really make a difference in the success of the most successful leaders at Microsoft.

    If you want to lead at a higher level, these are the books that help you take your game to the next level …

    25 Books that the Most Successful Leaders at Microsoft Read:

    1. Blue Ocean: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne
    2. Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
    3. Consumption Economics: The New Rules of Tech, by J.B. Wood, Tood Hewlin, and Thomas Lah
    4. Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
    5. Dealing with People You Can't Stand, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner
    6. Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman
    7. Flawless Execution, by James D. Murphy
    8. Get Them on Your Side, by Samuel B. Bacharach
    9. Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, by Marcus Buckingham
    10. Good to Great, by Jim Collins
    11. Influence without Authority, by Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford
    12. Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
    13. Leadership and the One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi
    14. Leadership on the Line, by Martin Linsky and Ronald A. Heifetz
    15. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
    16. Managing the Design Factory, by Daniel G. Reinertsen
    17. Six Thinking Hats, by Edward de Bono
    18. Thank You for Arguing, by Jay Heinriche
    19. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
    20. The Art of the Long-View, by Peter Schwartz
    21. The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins
    22. The Future Belongs to Those Who Are Fast, by Jim Carroll
    23. The Leadership Challenge, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
    24. The Perfect Resume, by Tom Jackson
    25. What Got You Here, Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter

    I kept the list above simple and trim so you can scan it fast.    Below I provided some brief notes on each book, to help you better understand why these are the books that really make a difference:

    1. Blue Ocean: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne – How to compete by changing the game and going to where there is no competition.  Rather than compete on features, compete on new experiences, and scenarios in an entirely different arena.   I’ve seen Microsoft leaders use this approach to innovate in their process or their product, and to change the game rather than chase after the competition.
    2. Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur – How to adapt your business and organization to harsh new realities, and changing drivers, forces, and trends in the market.    The beauty of this book is it puts your business model down on paper.  Even if you know what it is, don’t assume others do, or understand it at the same level.  I’ve consistently seen magic happen when people share models.
    3. Consumption Economics: The New Rules of Tech, by J.B. Wood, Tood Hewlin, and Thomas Lah -- How to respond to the Cloud platform, change your business model, and flow business value to your customers.   If you build, ship, or shape products, or lead teams that do, you really need to read this book so understand how your world changes, as the world around you changes.  The cloud platform is an inflection point.  You can embrace it, or, to put it in a Darwin standpoint -- “Adapt or die.”  Survival of the fittest is real when you’re exposed around the world on the Web.  Flowing unique value aligned to your strategy and melded with user demand is the key to success.
    4. Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler – How to make it safe to have the tough conversations, keep things real, and collaborate more effectively, especially when there is a lot on the line.  I’ve seen people that master this, completely change their game in work and in life.  The beauty is it’s contagious, and the principles, patterns, and practices are sticky.  The vocabulary of Crucial Confrontations is a great way to reshape organizational trust, and authentic communication, and to help people connect in ways that bring the best information and knowledge forward.
    5. Dealing with People You Can't Stand, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner – How to bring out the best in people including yourself, and master interpersonal skills.  Learn a very simple model for understanding why people do what they do.  I’ve seen Microsoft leaders instantly perform at a higher-level by understanding the key causes of interpersonal conflict, and what to do about them.  The book is prescriptive in how to change behaviors in yourself, as well as provides specific guidance on dealing with patterns you encounter with other people.
    6. Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman – How to master the five essential skills of emotional intelligence: handling relationships, managing emotions, recognizing the emotions of others, self-awareness, and self-motivation.   Emotional intelligence is one of the areas that either holds people back or propels them forward.  You can be the best thought leader or people leader, but without the emotional intelligence, you will hit a glass-ceiling.  I’ve seen Microsoft leaders focus on emotional intelligence and open new doors in their career, and accelerate their personal growth, and improve their experience on a daily basis with those around them.
    7. Flawless Execution, by James D. Murphy – How to deal with overload, how to learn and respond as a team, and how to share a vision, and streamline more effective execution.  The real beauty of this book is how it shows you how to take what the Air Force has learned about extreme execution, and translate that into the workplace.  Whether you are dealing with overwhelm or overload, or simply need proven practices for sharing visions, building a high-performance team, and streamlining your execution this book is a gold-mine.
    8. Get Them on Your Side, by Samuel B. Bacharach – How to get people and organizations working with you instead of against you.  The beauty of this book is that it provides a system for building your network and gaining support for you and your ideas.  It’s not a touchy-feel-goody book.  It’s a simple book that exposes how coalitions are formed, and how people win support, or lose friends, and build enemies.   Microsoft leaders that have to build their network beyond their immediate teams and organization especially benefit from the knowledge in this book.
    9. Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, by Marcus Buckingham – How to bring out the best performance by having people do what they do best.   This is a big deal when it comes to Microsoft leaders who bring out the best in people and create high-performance teams.
    10. Good to Great, by Jim Collins -- How to apply the Hedgehog principle to your organization and blend what you are passionate about, what you can be best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine.  The big deal here is that several Microsoft leaders have used this book to help shape highly effective execution engines, and organizational cultures.   Specifically, they have created learning organizations that embrace excellence, execution, and empowerment.
    11. Influence without Authority, by Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford – How to get things done through others that don’t report to you or aren’t in your organization.  Learn how to effectively get buy-in and support from people that you need, that you have no authority over.  How to get smart people to sign up for work vs. vote with their feet, and walk away.
    12. Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler – How to use the Six Sources of Influence to drive significant change.   This book is truly a breakthrough in terms of providing an effective model for systematic change.  Change leadership is a skill that the most successful Microsoft leaders do well.  This book dives deep into the mechanics and how you can use the proven methodology and practices to drive and shape great changes.
    13. Leadership and the One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi – How to use Situational Leadership to adapt or adjust your leadership style, based on motivation and ability of those you manage or lead.  Many Microsoft leaders that fail have a one-size-fits-all approach to their management style.  They come across as micro-managers or clueless managers.   What the most successful Microsoft leaders do is dial-up or dial-down their level of directing, and their motivating, based on what people actually need or want.   You can’t lead if people won’t follow, and people will only follow you if your leadership style is effective for them.   The beauty of Situational Leadership is that the model is simple and intuitive.  Once you see it, it makes sense, and you can instantly improve your ability to lead and manage people.   The reverse is true – what you don’t know, can and will hurt you (and the people you manage or lead.)
    14. Leadership on the Line, by Martin Linsky and Ronald A. Heifetz – How to balance conviction and connection, and drive the big, hairy changes and challenges.    This is one of those rare books that actually tackles the tough stuff.  Even better, as you read it, you can relate, because the stories and experiences demonstrate depth and insight.   It’s a powerful book.  I’ve seen several Microsoft leaders rise to new levels by learning and practicing the art of Leadership on the Line. 
    15. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath --  How to tell and sell ideas with six principles of sticky ideas: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.   If none of your products or features seem to stick, you might just find out why.   I’ve seen some of the sharpest Microsoft leaders, up their game by telling and selling sticky ideas in the hall, and inspiring people around visions that have legs.  Made to Stick is also a great way to get others telling and selling your story for you and gain the benefit of “word-of-mouth” marketing.
    16. Managing the Design Factory, by Daniel G. Reinertsen – Shows you a methodical approach to consistently hit the "sweet spot" of quality, cost, and time in developing any product.  This is probably one of the most insightful books on organizational design, and streamlining execution.   It’s hard-core.  It exposes and explains many of the common bottlenecks, and it provides very insightful and actionable ways to take your organizational game to the next level.  Not as many Microsoft leaders know about this book, but the ones that do have a tremendous advantage in how they shape their execution capabilities.
    17. Six Thinking Hats, by Edward de Bono – How to switch perspectives, leverage perspectives, and deal with conflicting views and viewpoints using the Six Hats: Black Hat – the “devil’s advocate”, Blue Hat – the organizing view, Green Hat – the creative side, White Hat – the facts and figures, Red Hat – the emotional view, Yellow Hat – the positive side.   I’ve seen Microsoft leaders use this both to improve their own ability to look at a problem from multiple views and viewpoints, and to help others do the same.  It’s a great book to help you balance out any weaknesses in how you make decisions.  It’s also a great way to help reduce conflict during heated debates and intense decision making, where strong opinions are in the air.
    18. Thank You for Arguing, by Jay Heinriche – How to argue without anger.  Learn how to explore ideas, challenge assumptions, and stay connected while doing so.  Learn how to avoid common influence pitfalls, and learn how to avoid common logic traps.  There are people who argue by trying to yell the loudest.  And there are leaders who argue by asking the right questions the right way, while staying calm, cool, and collected.
    19. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey – How to improve your personal effectiveness in work and life with the 7 habits:  Habit 1: Be Proactive, Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind, Habit 3: Put First Things First, Habit 4: Think Win-Win, Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood, Habit 6: Synergize, Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw.  The power of this book is that it’s a foundation for personal growth and greatness.   You can always identify the effective Microsoft leaders that have read the book and live it.  They actually focus on what’s important, and they respond versus react or over-react to things.  They fight less fires because they keep priorities straight, and they are able to communicate what counts.
    20. The Art of the Long-View, by Peter Schwartz – How to use scenarios to plan and prep for potential changes to reality.  Rather than bet on one reality, the idea is to prepare for multiple potential realities and be ready to respond with skill.  It’s an oldie, but a goodie, especially now.  While many leaders just focus on how to survive the changes, others learn how to thrive, and embrace the changes.   The Microsoft leaders that do the best are the ones that anticipate and plan for the possibilities.  This keeps them ready for anything.   This book is your key defense (and offense) for “disruptive technology” and “disruptive innovation.”
    21. The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins – How to survive and thrive in a job transition.   This is really more than just about transitions.  It’s really about being super effective as a leader in an organization.  It’s hard-core and amazing insight.   I’ve seen leaders at all levels instantly change their game by adopting some of the key principles, patterns, and practices in this book.  One of the most important insights in the book is how to go about mapping out your network, and building a more effective team of personal advisors, including technical Advisers, Cultural Interpreters, and Political Counselors.
    22. The Future Belongs to Those Who Are Fast, by Jim Carroll – How to use what’s happening in the market and around the World to be better, faster, cheaper, and more relevant in the emerging digital economy and the changing landscape.  This book really provides great insight into how to think about the blending of the technology trends into business verticals.   For example, could you be a car manufacturer and not wonder what you can leverage from Google’s self-driving cars?   Could you be in health, and not pay attention to what some of the biggest software companies are doing that’s relevant?  Big data, BI, and analytics present significant challenges and opportunities … and those who are fast, will exploit them.   The most effective Microsoft leaders I know, are in the know, when it comes to trends, seeing patterns, and priming the pump for new possibilities.
    23. The Leadership Challenge, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner – How to lead at a higher level.  The most effective Microsoft leaders demonstrate the five practices of leadership from The Leadership Challenge:   1) Model the Way, 2) Inspire a Shared Vision, 3) Challenge the Process, 4) Enable Others to Act, 5) Encourage the Heart.  It’s truly a great and powerful book on the art and science of leadership.
    24. The Perfect Resume, by Tom Jackson – How to drive your career. While this is a great book on how to create a more effective resume, it’s really a book on how to design and drive your career around a meaningful work-life.
    25. What Got You Here, Won't Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter – How to give up and let go of things that can hold you back as you climb the ladder.  It’s really about how to change your paradigms and mental models to be more effective as you change roles and positions.  It’s a guide on how to let go, so you can grow.

    Additional Resources
    If you’ want more extreme lists on the best books that help you improve your success in work and life, check out these book lists:

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Agile Performance Engineering

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    In this post, I’ll share the model we used successfully for years in Microsoft patterns & practices to bake performance into an Agile Life Cycle.

    One of the key challenges with building software, is how to bake quality into your process.  Some teams try to do it all up front.  Some try to do it all at the end.  Some try to do it all in the middle.  Some only do it when something bad happens.

    The real key is to do some up front, more in the middle, and some in the end.    Anything you do up front is about reducing high risk.  So the up front exploration, testing, and spiking should concentrate on the significant usage scenarios that are high risk, or will be used often.

    When it comes to baking performance into the life-cycle, teams tend to struggle with the how -- how do you actually do this in the real world?  They especially struggle if they are using Agile methodologies.  The reality is it’s easy, *if* you know the model.  If you don’t know the model, you can be lost in the woods forever.  We struggled early on, but found a groove that served us well, and we tuned and improved the approach over time.

    Here is how we did Agile Performance Engineering in patterns & practices:

    Agile Performance Engineering - v1
    What's important about the figure is that it shows an example of how you can overlay performance-specific techniques to an existing life cycle.  In this case, we simply overlay some performance activities on top of an Agile software cycle.

    Rather than make performance a big up front design or doing it all at the end or other performance approaches that don't work, we baked performance into the life cycle.  The key here is integrating performance into your iterations.

    Key Performance Activities
    Here is a summary of the key performance activities and how they play in an agile development cycle:

    • Performance Objectives -- This is about getting clarity on your goals, objectives, and constraints so that you effectively prioritize and invest accordingly.
    • Performance Spikes -- In Agile, a spike is simply a quick experiment in code for the developer to explore potential solutions.  A performance spike is focused on exploring potential performance solutions with the goal of reducing technical risk.  During exploration, you can spike on some of the cross-cutting performance concerns for your solution.
    • Performance Stories -- In Agile, a story is a brief description of the steps a user takes to perform a goal.  A performance story is simply a performance-focused scenario.  This might an existing "user" story, but you apply a performance lens, or it might be a new "system" story that focuses on a performance goal, requirement, or constraint.  Identify performance stories during exploration and during your iterations.
    • Performance Guidelines -- To help guide the performance practices throughout the project you can create a distilled set of relevant performance guidelines for the developers.  You can find tune them and make them more relevant for your particular performance stories.
    • Performance Modeling -- Use performance modeling to shape your software design.  A performance model is a depiction of potential threats to the performance of your solution, along with vulnerabilities.  Think of a threat a s potential negative effective and a vulnerability as a weakness that exposes your solution to the threat or attack.  You can threat model at the story level during iterations, or you can threat model at the macro level during exploration.
    • Performance Design Inspections -- Similar to a general architecture and design review, this is a focus on the performance design.  Performance questions and criteria guide the inspection.  The design inspection is focused on higher-end, cross-cutting, and macro-level concerns.
    • Performance Code Inspection -- Similar to a general code review, this is a focus on inspecting the code for performance issues.  Performance questions and criteria guide your inspection.
    • Performance Deployment Inspections -- Similar to a general deployment review, this is a focus on inspecting for performance issues of your deployed solution.  Physical deployment is where the rubber meets the road and this is where runtime behaviors might expose performance issues that you didn't catch earlier in your design and code inspections.

    The sum of these performance activities is more than the parts and using a collection of proven, light-weight activities that you can weave into your cycle help you stack the deck in your favor.  This is in direct contrast to relying on one big silver bullet.

    Integrating Performance into Iterations
    There are two keys to chunking up performance so that you can effectively focus on it during iterations:

    1. Performance Stories
    2. Performance Frame

    In terms of stories, you should focus on both user and system stories.  Stories are a great way to chunk up and deliver incremental value.  Each story represents a user or the system performing a useful goal.  As such, you can also chunk up your performance work, by focusing on the performance concerns of a story.

    A performance frame is a lens for performance.  It's simply a set of categories or "hot spots" (e.g. Caching, Communication, Concurrency, Coupling/Cohesion, Data Access, Data Structures / Algorithms, Exception Management, Resource Management, State Management).  By grouping your performance practices into these buckets, you can more effectively consolidate and leverage your performance know-how during each iteration.  For example, one iteration might have stories that involve caching and resource pooling, while another iteration might have stories that involve data and storage strategies.

    Together, stories and performance frames help you chunk up performance and bake it into the life cycle, while learning and responding along the way.

    For more information on performance engineering, see patterns & practices Performance Testing Guidance for Web Applications.

    Additional Resources

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Agile Life-Cycle Frame

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    As a program manager, it’s tough to shape a process with the team, if the team can’t “see” it.  When you have a mental model you can share with the team, things move a lot faster.   The problem with life cycles and end-to-end processes, is that people don’t usually know what the end-to-end actually looks like.  When you can show people the end-to-end life cycle on a whiteboard, and you can show how the different activities fit together, the light-bulbs go off, and people get down to business.  It empowers them.

    One of the most important mental models I developed was a visual frame for Agile development.   For lack of a better name, I’ll just call it the Agile Life-Cycle Frame.   While it looks simple, that’s its power.  I was able to use the same frame to illustrate how to bake in security, performance, and customer-focused activities, into Agile development using the same frame over and over again.

    Agile Life-Cycle Frame
    The power of the Agile Life-Cycle Frame is that it helps people that don’t know Agile, very quickly follow the intent.  The frame also helps bridge the gap between the project cycle and the product cycle.  Here is what the Agile Life-Cycle Frame looks like:

    Agile Life Cycle

    What makes this frame useful and simple to use is the backbone of it:  Exploration, Iteration 0, Iteration N, Release Preparation, and Release.  Those phases are easy to identify with, and then it’s easy to plug-and-play different activities within each phase, as appropriate.

    Agile Security Engineering
    With the Agile Life Cycle Frame, we can simply “overlay” key security activities to bake security into Agile development.  Sometimes I call this the “Security Engineering Overlay.”  Here is what Agile Security Engineering looks like:

    Agile Security Engineering

    Agile Performance Engineering
    With the Agile Life-Cycle Frame, we can also “overlay” key performance activities to bake performance into Agile development.  Sometimes I call this the “Performance Engineering Overlay.”  Here is what Agile Performance Engineering looks like:

    Agile Performance Engineering - v1

    Customer-Connected Engineering
    With the Agile Life-Cycle Frame, we can also overlay specific customer-focused activities, that bring Customer-Connected Engineering to life.   Here is what Customer-Connected Engineering looks like:

    Customer-Connected-Engineering

    How To Use the Agile Life-Cycle Frame
    You can use the Agile Life-Cycle Frame to show, share, and shape your current Agile development processes.   Your frame might vary.   The first step is to put your process down on paper.  Keep things flexible, but at the same time, keep in mind what should be durable.  If you can’t articulate your process with any sort of repeatability, it’s tough to get folks on board, or to change things in any meaningful way.

    I kept these frames simple on purpose to help illustrate the power of having a model.  But, the model is only useful if the model is simpler than what it is actually modeling.  I did use a more complete set of activities in the Customer-Connected Engineering Frame so that you can see an alternative example, that might help prompt ideas for your own Agile Life-Cycle model.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Agile Results on a Page

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    Agile Results is a simple system for getting meaningful results.

    It's a systematic way to achieve both short- and long-term results.  It works for all aspects of your life, from work to fun. The key to achieving results in our ever-changing world is learning and responding to change.

    Traditional methods of planning and goal setting are heavy and static, and they just aren't working anymore. Agile Results provides just enough planning to get you going, but makes it easy to change your course as needed.

    With Agile Results, you are in control. You shape your days and weeks so you can flourish and amplify your impact. It’s a way to make daily progress, follow YOUR path of fulfillment, and spend your time and energy on the most meaningful things.

    Three Wins

    Think in threes to focus your time, energy, and your actions. Identify three wins that you want to achieve:
    1. Three wins for the day.
    2. Three wins for the week.
    3. Three wins for the month.
    4. Three wins for the quarter.
    5. Three wins for the year.

    Bonus – Three wins for your decade, and three wins for your life.

    These wins act as your tests for success and they focus your tasks, while making it a game. Focusing on three wins also helps you reframe problems into challenges. At the same time, it helps you identify, acknowledge, and appreciate your personal victories.

    Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection

    This is a simple way to get started with Agile Results:
    1. On Mondays, identify three wins that you want for the week. Ask yourself, “If this were Friday, what are three things I would want to have achieved or accomplished?”
    2. Each day, identify three wins that you want for the day. Ask yourself, “What are the three wins I want for today?” Say them out loud. Write them down on paper. Saying them out loud simplifies them, and writing them down on paper helps them stick.
    3. On Fridays, identify three things going well, and three things to improve. Make a recurring appointment with yourself on Fridays. In your appointment, ask yourself, “What are three things going well?.” Follow up with, “What are three things I want to improve?” Identity three things you can do to carry the good forward, or change your approach so that you can make next week, a better experience.

    It’s all about driving a better experience, each day, and each week. By identifying your wins for the week, you give yourself the ability to zoom out from your day. By identifying your three wins for the day, you get to zoom in to where the action is. By thinking in terms of wins, you jump ahead to the end-in-mind. By focusing on what’s going well each week, you learn your personal success patterns, and what to keep doing, or what to do more of. By focusing on three things to improve, you improve your personal performance. This personal process helps you continuously learn and improve day over day, week over week, and your little wins add up for exponential results.

    3 Keys to Agile Results

    These are three keys to adopting Agile Results:
    • The Rule of 3. This is a simple guideline that helps you focus and prioritize. Bite off three things. You can use The Rule of 3 at different levels. For example, you can use The Rule of 3 to pick three outcomes for the day, the week, the month, and the year. This helps you see the forest from the trees. For example, your three outcomes for the year are a higher level than your three outcomes for the month, and your three outcomes for the week are a higher-level than your three outcomes for the day.

    • Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection. This is a simple pattern for weekly results. Each week is a fresh start. On Mondays, you think about three results you would like for the week. Each day you identify three results you would like for the day. On Friday’s, you reflect on lessons learned. On Friday, you ask yourself, what three things are going well and what three things need improvement. This weekly pattern helps you build momentum.

    • Hot Spots. Hot Spots are your heat map for work and life. They help you map out and prioritize your results. Hot Spots are your lens to help you focus on what’s important in your life. They can represent areas of opportunity or pain. It helps to organize your Hot Spots by work, personal, and life. At a glance, you should be able to quickly see the balls you’re juggling and what’s on your plate. To find your Hot Spots, simply make a list of the key things that need your time and energy. The goal is to easily answer the question, “what do you want to accomplish?” for each of these key areas. Most importantly you should have scannable outcomes for your Hot Spots. Scannable outcomes are simply a tickler list of what you want to accomplish. When you know the results you want in your Hot Spots in your work and personal life, you have a map for your results.

    Time-Based, Flexible and Resilient

    • Time-based. Time is one of your most precious and unique resources. By using time to set boundaries and establish a rhythm of results, you will manage your energy more effectively and improve balance in work and life. both timebox and scaling to day/week/month/etc.
    • Flexible. fresh start every day, dynamically adjust to changing reality
    • Resilient. tolerates falling down, feedback to learn, incremental versioning

    From This to That

    These are some drivers that set the stage for Agile Results:

    • It’s a system over ad-hoc. Don't luck into success. Trust a system over make things up as you go or hope for the best. Agile Results is a system for daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly results. With Agile Results, you have a proven system for sustainable results and improving your results along the way. Most importantly, you have a reliable way to get back up, time and again. When you have routines for how you produce results, you can learn and improve. It’s one thing to produce results randomly, while it’s another to have a system you can count on. When you have a system, you can tune and prune what works for you.
    • Focus on approach over just focus on results. Enjoy the process. How you accomplish your results is more important than the results themselves in the long run. Your approach is your foundation. It’s what you fall back on when you don’t know the way forward. Your approach should be sustainable. You should also be able to improve your approach over time. Your approach should be consistent with your values. Your approach should play to your strengths and limit your weaknesses.
    • Focus on outcomes over getting lost in activities. Outcomes provide a lens for focus. Outcomes are the results you want to accomplish. Just doing more activities and throwing more time and energy at problems won’t necessarily produce the results you want. By starting with outcomes, you define what good will look like and you give yourself a compelling path to work towards. Working on the right things to produce the right results for your current situation is a recipe for success.
    • Focus on quality over quantity. Bite off what you can chew instead of spill what’s on your plate.
    • Focus on strengths over your weaknesses. Rather than spend all your time improving your weaknesses, spend your time playing to your strengths. While it’s important to reduce your liabilities, you’ll go further, have more passion, and produce more effective results by spending more time in your strengths. In areas that you are weak, one of your best moves is to partner or team up with others that supplement you. If you can’t outsource your weaknesses, you can find more effective mentors or pair up with other people that help you amplify your results. Teamwork is the name of the game and remember that one person’s weakness is another person’s strength. Also remember that your strengths are a valuable asset for yourself and others. It’s a skills-for-hire economy.
    • Fresh starts over baggage. Get a fresh start each day, each week, each month, each year. Do more of what’s important, do less of what’s not. Drop what’s not working for you, do more of what is. You get a fresh start each day, each week, each month, each year. Gone are the laundry lists of to dos that will never get done. Make room for your next best things and travel light.
    • Meaningful results over just doing tasks. Choose your best results as you go that match your goals, your desires, your dreams, and the way you want to live your life. Invest your time and energy on your path, while dealing with change, and responding to your basic needs of the day, the week, the month, or year. Achieve meaningful results instead of throwing time at problems or focus on productivity for productivity’s sake.
    • You drive the system over the system drives you. You're not a slave to the system. You're the driver. Your tools and lists as input – you drive your action.

    Cornerstone Concepts

    These are some basic concepts that underlie Agile Results;

    • Boundaries. Boundaries are simply minimums and maximums. Setting boundaries is a key to success. You’ll produce more effective results by spending the right time and energy on the right things. You can set boundaries with time. For example, I’ll spend no more than an hour on that. You can set boundaries in terms of energy, for example, I’ll stop when I start to feel tired. Most people trip up by not setting boundaries. They’ll work on something until they crash. They throw all their time in one area at the expense of other areas. Setting boundaries is how you can add balance to your life. You can spread your time and energy across the important hot spots. You can more thoughtfully invest in your results. It’s also as simple as adding little breaks in your day to recharge.
    • Continuous Learning. The world’ not static. Skills aren’t static. You’re not static. Learning is a first class citizen. It’s about learning what’s important to you. It’s about taking action, getting the feedback, and changing your approach. It’s about letting go what’s not working, and testing new ways to achieve your results. It’s about personalizing your approach and continuously refining it to meet your needs. Your weekly reflection will help you learn more about yourself in terms of your strengths, your weaknesses, your passions, your bottlenecks, and ultimately your results. While improving your results, you’ll improve the way you produce results. Improving the way you produce results, will improve your enjoyment and fulfillment no matter what you work on.
    • Fix Time, Flex Scope. By fixing time, you set yourself up for success. The main things to set a fixed time for are eating, sleeping, and working out. You can also fix time within work. For example, you can decide that work is an 8 hour day. Within this, you can set timeboxes to produce results. For example, you might allow yourself an hour for administration. You might allow yourself 4 hours for execution. You might allow yourself 2 hours for think time and a minimum of an hour on communication and relationships. At a high level, you might fix time to be a 40 hour or 50 hour work week. Within that time frame, you will bite off the work you can do. What you won’t do is flex time. You won’t throw more hours at the problem each day. You’ll gradually learn to bite off what you can accomplish and manage your plate more effectively.
    • Get back on your horse. It’s easy to get on your horse, or get back on your horse, if you fall off. Just ask yourself, "What three results do I want for today?
    • Hot-spot driven. Achieve work-life balance by investing in yourself across your most meaningful areas. By using a set of hot spots, or areas of focus to invest in, you create a simple heat map for investing your time and energy where it matters most.
    • Story-driven results. Use stories, not tasks to guide and direct your life. Identify your three most compelling stories of results for the day, the week, the month, and the year. You can start right now by asking, “What are three results I want for today?” … Tell yourself three stories for the day about what you’ll accomplish – kill’em with kindness, draft my raving review, and have the time of her life with my wife.
    • Test Your Results. Have a bias for action. Rather than do a bunch of analysis and commit to a big plan up front, start taking action and testing you results. Testing your results is a way to find the risks and surprises earlier versus later. Test your assumptions against the real-world. Use the feedback to improve your plans. It’s this learning loop that will help you improve. A simple way to remember this is “do it, review it, improve it.” One of the surprises for a lot of people is that action creates inspiration. A lot of people wait for their moment of inspiration before they start, but what they don’t realize is that simply by starting, the inspiration can follow. It’s like going to see a movie and then enjoying it more than you expected. Give things a chance. Test yourself. Test your results.
    • The Rhythm of Results. Ride the day, the week, the month, and the year and make them work for you. Think in terms of daily results, weekly results, monthly result, and yearly results. It's a rhythm. Iterate on your results. Version your results over time. The rhythm of results is your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly results. This is about flowing value incrementally. Think of it as a set of trains that leave the station. If you miss a train, you can catch the next one. At the same time, you want to catch certain trains because of your time frames and windows of opportunity.
    • Time, Energy and Technique. You don’t want to just throw more time at problems. You also don’t want to burn yourself out, just throwing your energy into things. Your results are a combination of time, energy, and technique. By using more effective techniques, you can amplify your results. This is how you use your time and energy more effectively.
    • Use your best energy on your best things. Spend less time and make more impact. It's not the time you spend, it's the energy you leverage. Use your best power hours for results, and your best creative hours for your creative impact. Agile Results focuses on living your values and playing to your strengths, improving your energy, passion, and results. The strength of your results is a product of your time, energy and technique. So while the path is flexible, it’s about playing to your strengths, using power hours effectively, and scheduling time for your results … and using timeboxing for focus and engagement …. Fully engaged results. Work less, accomplish more meaningful results with the least amount of effort and the maximum impact.

    12 Core Practices of Agile Results Defined

    At the heart of any system is a set of practices. It’s the practices that make or break a system. Combined with the 10 values and 10 principles, the 12 core practices complete the foundation of Agile Results:

    1. 30 Day Improvement Sprints. (aka “Monthly Improvement Sprints”.) Pick one thing to improve for the month. Each month, pick something new; this gives you a chance to cycle through 12 things over the year. Or if necessary, you can always repeat a sprint. The idea is that 30 days is enough time to experiment with your results throughout the month. Because you might not see progress in the first couple of weeks while you’re learning, a month is a good chunk of time to check your progress.
    2. Action Lists. Track your actions with tickler lists. Consider the following action lists: Daily Outcomes, Weekly Outcomes, Queues, and Scripts.
    3. Daily Outcomes. Each day is a new chance for results. Use daily tickler lists for action items; create a new list each day. Each day, decide on three things you want to accomplish (The Rule of 3). Always start your list with your three most important outcomes for the day. The key to an effective Daily Outcomes list is that you keep your three outcomes for the day at the top, while listing the rest of your to-dos below that. This way you have a reminder of what you want to accomplish.
    4. Growth Mindset. Your mind is not fixed, it’s flexible. It’s always growing. You are expanding your capabilities. This is simply a decision. You decide that you will continue to learn and grow. If you get knocked down, you’ll get up again. You decide that no problem is personal, pervasive or permanent. Life is not static. Neither are your results.
    5. Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection. Decide three results you want to accomplish for the week. Decide what three results you want to accomplish each day. Make progress each day. At the end of the week, reflect on your results.
    6. Reference Collections. Some information is not actionable. Yes, it might be helpful information, and yes, it might be good to know. But if it’s not actionable, then it’s reference. You can store your reference information as tickler lists or notes. Here are some example reference lists you might keep: Ideas, Notes, Weekly Results, Monthly Results, and Yearly Results.
    7. Scannable Outcomes. Think of this as what’s on your radar. At a glance, you should be able to see what you want to accomplish and what you’re spending your time and energy on. Outcomes guide your actions. Keep your outcomes scannable at a glance. Organize outcomes by your work, personal, and life Hot Spots. For example, create a list of outcomes for your Life Frame Hot Spots: body, career, emotions, financial, fun, mind, and relationships.
    8. Strong Week. Each week focus on spending more time on activities that make you strong and less time on activities that make you weak. Push activities that make you weak to the first part of your day. By doing your worst things first, you create a glide path for the rest of the day. Set limits; stuff the things that make you weak into a timebox. For example, if the stuff that makes you weak is taking more than 20 percent of your day, then find a way to keep it within that 20 percent boundary. This might mean limiting the time or quantity. Sometimes you just can't get rid of the things that make you weak; in that case, balance it with more things that energize you and make you strong. Apply this to your week too. Push the toughest things that drain you to the start of the week to create a glide path. Do the same with people. Spend more time with people that make you strong and less time with people that make you weak. Be careful not to confuse the things that make you weak with challenges that will actually make you stronger. Grow yourself stronger over time.
    9. The Rule of 3. This is the heart of your Daily Outcomes. The Rule of 3 will help you stay focused on the vital few things that matter. Identify your three key outcomes each day, each week, each month, and each year. This helps you see the forest from the trees. The three outcomes for the year are bigger than the three outcomes for the month which are bigger than the three outcomes for the week which are bigger than the three outcomes for your day. This also helps you manage scope. It’s all too easy to bite off more than you can chew. Instead, first nail the three items you want to accomplish, and then bite off more. Think of it as a buffet of results and you can keep going back—just don’t overflow your plate on each trip.
    10. Timebox Your Day. Set boundaries for how much time you spend on things. If you keep time a constant (by ending your day at a certain time), it helps you figure out where to optimize your day and prioritize. To start, you can carve up your day into big buckets: administration, work time, think time, and people time.
    11. Triage. Triage incoming action items to either do it, queue it, schedule it, or delegate it. Do it now, if now is the time, or it’s the next best thing for you to do; or it’s the most opportunistic time, or it will cost you more pain, time or effort to do it later. Queue it (add it to your queue) if it’s something you need to get done, but now is not the right time. Schedule it if you need a block of time to get the work done. Delegate it if it’s something that should be done by somebody else.
    12. Weekly Outcomes. Create a new list each week. Each week is a new chance for results. Always start with your three most important outcomes for the week (The Rule of 3).

    Test it For Yourself

    The simplest way to see if Agile Results is right for you, is to take it for a test drive. Here is a simple way to test-drive Agile Results:

    1. Write down three wins that you want for today. Congratulations – you’re doing Agile Results! The preferred approach is to you a sticky note pad, but anything works – even a napkin.
    2. Test-drive the Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection pattern. On Monday, identify three wins you want for the week. Each day, identify three wins you want for the day. On Friday, identify three things going well, and three things to improve.
    3. Test-drive a 30 day improvement sprint. Use a practice from Agile Results, to learn Agile Results. Decide that this month will be about changing your game, changing your results, and changing your experience in work and life. Do something small each day for 30 days to build momentum. Each day is a new chance. At a minimum, each day, you can identify your three wins that you want. For 30 days of little lessons, check out 30 Days of Getting Results at http://30DaysOfGettingResults.com

    Additional Resources

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    It’s Not Volume, It’s Value

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    Are you doing too many things for the sake of more, without enough space for the sake of value?  Are you producing more stuff, but not necessarily producing more value or making more impact?

    Less is often more, and less often works better in a lot of cases.  This is especially true when less means:

    • Less things to distract from the true value.
    • Less things that get in the way of what you care about or need.
    • Less features that nobody wants to begin with.
    • Less wasted effort.
    • Less overhead of doing things that nobody cares about.
    • Less distractions that get in the way of the focus.
    • Less forking your focus so you can give your best where you have your best to give.
    • Less diluting your effort so you can amplify your impact where it counts.

    When you have less of the stuff that doesn’t matter, you make more room for the stuff that does.

    Bigger doesn’t make it better.  More volume doesn’t make it more valuable.   Small things come in good packages, and sometimes it’s the little things that mean a lot.

    One good thing trumps the many things that are just getting in the good thing’s way … perhaps even blocking a great thing.

    Before you mass produces something or do more of anything, you need to check if it’s even worth it.

    But when you do get it right, streamline and scale the heck out of it … that’s the beauty and the power of systems and platforms.  And it’s the true power of any effective productivity system.  This is true whether you are scaling you, others, or the value you flow.

    This is what the masters of productivity know that others don’t … it’s not volume, it’s value.  And value is the short-cut.  When you apply the 80/20 rule to the most meaningful value, you amplify your impact and you get exponential results.  It’s better, faster, cheaper in action.

    This is one of the core tenets in Agile Results, and expressed in the book, Getting Results the Agile Way.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    The Values of Agile Results

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    I’m a big believer that values are the lightening rod.  Values can repel or attract, and like attracts like (opposites attract, but similarities bind.)   Values are the fast way to know whether something is right for you, or if you feel a conflict (and sometimes you can’t put your finger on it.)

    I’ve been teaching Agile Results to more teams at Microsoft.  With the spread of Agile Results, I have to think more about what the values really are.  The values are the life-blood of the system.  They give it juice.

    Off the top of my head, when I ask, “What are the values of Agile Results?”, the first few that come to mind are:

    Fulfillment, flexibility, and focus.

    Agile Results was born to help more people find a path of fulfillment in a practical way.   It’s designed to help you live your values in work and life.  It’s also designed to be flexible.   I’m a fan of Bruce Lee’s philosophy of, "Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own".   Darwin also taught us that nature favors the flexible.  There’s truth in the saying, “adapt or die.”  Focus is also at the heart of Agile Results.  Focus helps us engage with work and with our life.  It brings out our best.  You’re the director of your life and you can choose what you point your camera at.   Voltaire also comes to mind: “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”  And again, Bruce Lee reminds us of the power of focus, when he said, ““The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”

    When I think a little more on the values that drive Agile Results -- the values that breathe life into the Agile Results system -- I think of the following values:

    1. Adventure
    2. Balance
    3. Congruence
    4. Continuous learning
    5. Empowerment
    6. Focus
    7. Flexibility
    8. Fulfillment
    9. Growth
    10. Passion
    11. Simplicity
    12. Sustainability

    Adventure is a powerful metaphor for life.  It adds the fun factor and it turns problems into challenges.   In life, you can choose a lot of things, from your attitudes to your actions.   Choose your own adventure.

    Balance is a way to blend the best of both worlds, such as the game of business, or the business of life.   It’s a way to meld our minds and our bodies and our emotions to bring out our best.  Balance your great up time, with great down time. 

    Congruence is about living our values and staying true to you.  It’s building a firm foundation versus a house of cards. 

    Continuous learning is about finding the lessons and turning insight into action. 

    Empowerment is about putting the world’s best insight and action at your fingertips to help you unleash what you are capable of … in an exponential way. 

    Focus is about setting your eye on the prize and going for it.   Focus is also about choosing to find the opportunity in any situation.  Focus is about directing your attention to things that empower you, whether it’s focusing on strengths over weaknesses, the future over the past, or the positive over the negative. 

    Flexibility is ready for anything.  It’s rising above habits and practices that don’t serve you.  It’s about staying open to new ways of looking at things.  It’s about adapting to new situations as the world changes under your feet.  It’s about being an acrobat for life.  

    Fulfillment is about writing your story forward in a way, where you give your best where you have your best to give, and play to your strengths in a way that shares your gifts with the world. 

    Growth is about continuously expanding your capabilities.  You grow your ability to take on bigger challenges, and you become something more in the process. 

    Passion is about being bold, pushing the envelope, and chasing the dreams that make your soul sing.  Passion is the value that races through your veins when you wake up in the morning, ready to face the World, and ready to make your mark. 

    Simplicity is about the essential.  It’s elegance in action.  It’s economy of motion.  It’s reductionism in action.  Simplicity is about useful, relevant, and intuitive.  Simplicity is about the truths … the timeless principles, patterns, and practices that are enduring over time.  It’s the part that sticks with you, when everything else fades away. 

    Sustainability is about finding a way forward in a way that is durable and evolvable over time.  Sustainability is about finding your downtime, and responding to “always on” in a way where you can turn it off.  It’s finding your flow.   Sustainability is about fresh starts.   Sustainability is about doing the things that reward, renew, and revitalize you.

    I think that those are the values of Agile Results. 

    When I peel everything else away, and really look under the hood at what makes it tick, it’s those values that bring it to life.  It’s the very fact that the system embraces and lives those values that make it sustainable, durable, and evolvable over time, and with the people that embrace the system.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Why We Feel Unproductive

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    “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do." -- Lucille Ball”

    I was reading Scott Hanselman's post on Productivity vs. Guilt and Self-Loathing.  In his post, Scott shares what he does when he feels unproductive.  If you know Scott, he's the opposite of unproductive.  So the question then is ...

    Why do we sometimes feel unproductive?

    I played with this question on my way to work, and then a few dots connected.

    We See the Work
    I connected the dots when I was surprised by a few people that said they didn’t really see all the work ahead.  They were working on a few things, but there was not an amazing forest of challenges and opportunities ahead of them.   Instead, it was just a tree here or there.  It baffled me, but then it clicked.  Not everybody looks to see the forest.

    As a Program Manager, I'm constantly breaking work down.  I need to map out paths from A to B. I'm constantly sorting massive lists of work to be done.  I'm always looking at the system.  I need to find the bottlenecks in our system and ecosystem and unblock them.  I need to orchestrate people to bring out their best.  I need to foresee and anticipate humps and hurdles and have a game plan to get around them.

    It's not that the job of a Program Manager is never done (It isn't BTW.)  It's that some people see the task at hand, while others see the bigger map.

    Any idea that comes my way, I have to start breaking it down into experiences, scenarios, features, requirements, timelines, milestones, etc.  I always see the work.

    Some people don't "see the work."  I've run into this pattern multiple times, where somebody looks like they have nothing to do.  In their mind they don't.  Nobody told them to do anything.  They aren't a self-starter.  If nothing is assigned to them, then there's nothing to do.  For others, they are looking for work, but they can't see the work.  They haven't done work-breakdown-structures, or iteration planning, or any sort of planning, so they just aren't familiar with how to look for work ... and more importantly, they don’t know how to identify meaningful and game-changing work.

    When you see the bigger map, it can feel like people are re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Your job then becomes to educate people on the why, the what, and the goals of the work, so people can put the deck chairs down, and re-focus their efforts.

    So when I measure myself against the work to be done, I always fall short.  When I get to the top of the mountain, I see more mountains.

    The solution?   Set milestones, identity tests for success, and stop to smell the roses.  Look back on achievements, to balance always looking ahead.

    We Have Ideas
    When you constantly flow ideas, you are brutally aware of missed opportunities, and worse, missed windows of opportunity.  The backlog of ideas just keeps growing, and, it's not a shortage of good or even great ideas, there is a shortage of execution.

    It's OK for bad ideas or lesser ideas to die a slow death, but it's a real shame when the game changers die due to lack of love.

    It's amazing how many ideas can flow when you know how to debottleneck your mind.  When I learned that Thomas Edison had an idea quota, I thought that was interesting.  You get what you measure, and you get more of what you focus on.  When I learned how to clear my head by dumping my state, and to capture ideas with a thought catcher, my speed of ideas outpaced my execution by a long shot.  As a Program Manager, I'm skilled in making things happen and going from idea to done ... but my pace of ideas outpaced what was possible within time, resource, and budget constraints.

    The solution?  Focus on the whitelist of great ideas, versus the blacklist ... Hit more windows of opportunity, ruthlessly prioritize, trade bad, good, or great for oustanding, and really focus on wins ... three wins for the day, three wins for the week, three wins for the month, three wins for the year. 

    We Feel the Impact
    This one is tough.  When you know what's possible from excellent execution, and when you know the power of productivity, it's actually painful when opportunities slip through your fingers.  When you can step into the future and you know how the world could be a better place, and yet at the same time, you know that without the right things happening, it's not going to happen ... it's tough.

    When you know that a lack of execution or lack of effective productivity will translate into businesses going under, or people losing their jobs, or evil winning the day, it's tough to rest.  On the flip side, when you know that giving a little more, and then a little more, can create powerful transformation, it's tough not to fight the good fight, and march onward and updward.

    Again, it can be tough to stop and smell the roses, and it can feel like the weight of the world on your shoulders.

    We Don't Always Keep Score
    We learn in school to focus on what we got wrong, not what we got right.  We forget to ask the simple questions like:

    - What's on my "Done" list?
    - What were my wins for the day?
    - What were my wins for the week?
    - What were my wins for the month?
    - What were my wins for the year?

    One of the people I mentor asked me if it was important to keep her "Done" list.  (A "Done" list is simply a list of things you completed during the day.)  I said, "Absolutely.  It's a reminder of what you achieved during the day.  And you can balance it against your three wins that you identified at the top of your list."

    The idea here is that, as simple as it sounds, a little progress can go a long way toward feeling productive, and feeling fulfilled.  Little lists help, even as simple as having a "Done" list for your day.

    We Have to Trim the Tree
    Periodically, we have to “Trim the Tree.”  We have to put the bags down, and start with a clean slate.  We need a fresh look, and a fresh perspective.  We need to recharge and renew.  We need to let our “mighty mounds of work-to-be-done”, crumble and fall, so we can build better, more meaningful mounds.  

    The reality is that time changes what’s important, and if we keep carrying the weight forward, it holds up back or holds us down.  We have to cut the dead wood.

    I like using a “Trim the Tree” metaphor because I think of trimming branches, beyond just leaves.  My goal is always to get back to the essential that matters … here and now … and to shape what will matter … so that the way forward is sustainable, inspiring, and lifts us in ways we know are possible.

    The goal – at the end of the day – is this …

    You need to be who you want to be, and create the experiences you want to create. 

    Your best strategy for that is to follow your personal strategy for work and life, including your vision, mission, and values, and playing to your strengths, and differentiating through your unique experience, capabilities, and approach.  We also know three paths of happiness you can follow:

    1. The Pleasant Life – Do more stuff that feels good now.
    2. The Good Life – Spend more time in your values.
    3. The Meaningful Life – Follow your personal path of fulfillment by doing great service for the greater good, giving your best where you have your best to give, and living your vision, mission, and values.

    When you combine strategy with your productivity, you help not only life your meaningful life, but you help lift the life of others, by bringing your unique value to the world.  Or, to put it another way, it’s a great way to build skills to pay the bills and lead a better life.

    I’ve baked many of these strategies and techniques from hard lessons learned in the most challenging scenarios into a simple system for meaningful results.  It’s Agile Results, and it’s introduced in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.   You can read it free online, or get Getting Results the Agile Way on Kindle and take it with you wherever you go.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips #18 - Do It Now

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    Untitled

    A little bit now, saves a lot of time later.

    One of the worst ways to bury yourself with endless tasks is to keep postponing.  Every task you postpone means follow up.  That means overhead.  It's like constant paper shuffling.

    You've heard the saying, "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today."  If tomorrow is for everything you didn't do today, is that what you want tomorrow to really be about?

    Time management tips #18 is do it now.  It's really a shift in mindset.  Rather than automatically push things to later, start trying to get things off your plate now, as fast as possible.  Think of it as "getting the ball out of your court" or "clearing your plate."

    What makes this work especially well, is when you combine it with effectively prioritizing, identifying what is important, working on things that will be valued, and focusing on the essentials.

    What you don't want to do is keep the flood gate open.

    Doing a little now, is often better than a lot later, or none later, or being overwhelmed later. Another key is practicing the 80/20 rule.  Focus on the 20% that's the most important.  Focus on the essentials.  If you do the minimum really well, you will learn to improve your quality.  You will also learned what is truly valued.  You will then create more time for improving things, instead of getting mired in things up front.

    This approach of "Do It Now" works well for a few reasons:

    1. You stop the constant task shuffling
    2. You build your confidence by completing tasks
    3. You feel your progress, and this builds momentum.
    4. You practice doing the essential now, versus over-engineering it later.
    5. You practice the art of "prioritizing on your feet."

    Trim tomorrow’s “To-Do” list by doing things today.

    For free time management training , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.

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    3 Calendar Reminders for Agile Results

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    Agile Results is an simple system of proven practices to focus, set goals, find your motivation, improve your productivity, master time management, and achieve work-life balance.   It’s a way to get your game on.

    This is a simple way to add Agile Results to your calendar.  It’s the best way to “easily do”, and “remember to do”, Agile Results:

    1. Add a Monday Vision Reminder (My Three Wins for the Week)
    2. Add a Daily Outcomes Reminder (My Three Wins for the Day)
    3. Add a Friday Reflection Reminder (3 Things Going Well, 3 Things to Improve)

    That’s it.  It takes under a minute.

    Simply create a recurring appointment for Monday Vision on Mondays, create a recurring Daily Outcomes reminder for each day of the week, and create a recurring Friday Reflection reminder on Friday.

    In the Monday Vision reminder, I would add the following question to the body:

    “What are your three wins for the week?”  (Write them down.)

    In the Daily Outcomes reminder, I would add the following question to the body:

    “What are your three wins for TODAY?”

    In the Friday Reflection reminder, I would add the following questions to the body:

    “What are three things going well?”

    “What are three things to improve?”

    The beauty of this approach is that it helps you build the muscle, until it’s a habit.  You can also add notes to each of your appointment that help you remember how to do it well, or you can add your learnings.  For example, let’s say on Friday Reflection you realize that you are biting off more than you can chew each week, then in your Monday Vision, add a simple self-check question – “Are you biting off more than you can chew?”

    The possibilities are endless, and the power is yours.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips #16–Unscramble Your Day

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    Untitled

    Do you know what you want to accomplish today?  Did you actually make the time for the things that you want to do today?   Are you task switching like crazy?  The single most common pattern I see when somebody’s day is scrambled, it’s because they didn’t make time for the things that they wish they did.  Again.  And again.  And again.

    Let’s stop the insanity.

    Time management tips #16 is unscramble your day.    The idea here is to take a few moments in the morning, to make your day go better.    It’s a quick and simple exercise that immediately pays off.  It pays off by immediately by clarifying what you will do, what you won’t do, and what you need to make time for.  It helps you quickly structure your day, just enough so that you can focus where it counts.

    This is a big deal because your day can change right under our feet.  No matter how you planned it the day before, the week before, or the month before, it changes.  When we make up in the morning, and our day has arrived, it’s where the rubber meets the road – and it’s amazing just how different reality can be from our initial plan.   Things change, and time changes what’s important. 

    But the good news is -- today can be THE best day to re-plan your day to make the most of it.

    Here’s how to re-plan your day with skill:

    1. Do you know your priorities for the day?  Did you identify your three wins for today?   Just doing that quick exercise, can instantly help you refocus your day, and make time for what’s important, and let the rest go.
    2. Do you know your most important appointments for the day?  Review your calendar for the day.  What are your main appointments?  Now is a great chance to internalize them.  I do two things here, I write a quick list of my appointments on paper, and I get a quick idea in my mind of where I will be spending my hours.   Sometimes, this simply helps me feel on top of my day, instead of reacting.  Other times, it prompts me to do more prep or to shuffle things around to unscramble my day.  It’s a very fast look from the balcony, before falling into the trap or the routine of just going from appointment to appointment.
    3. Can you let things go?   Are there any things that you didn’t make time for, that now you can?  You might have last minute cancellations.  Or now that you really know what you want to accomplish today, you can reprioritize your schedule for the day.  Are there things you can bump off, push out, or let go, to make space for what’s most important for you?  (Don’t do this for unimportant urgent stuff, do this for important stuff.)
    4. Can you batch stuff?   Maybe there are some things that you can consolidate on your calendar.   Now is a great time to look at your game plan for the day, and find some ways to really consolidate.   One of the best ways to consolidate is to push all your random little things into a focused hour, where you can plow your way through them.   Rather than task-switch or thrash throughout the day, you can consolidate them and deal with them as a batch.
    5. Did you bake in the right breaks?   If you don’t have any deliberate breaks in your day, add some.  Even little ten-minute breaks can help you recharge and renew.   With knowledge work, your energy is your force multiplier for making things happen.  Bake in breaks throughout the day so that you can keep your energy strong.

    There is only so much time in the day.  You can feel good about your day if you know that you have identified your priorities, you are keeping the most important appointments, and you are making space for the things that count, and taking the time to recharge and renew.

    The more you can reduce your task-switching and the more you can give yourself larger chunks of time for focus, the better off you are.

    For free time management training , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Getting Results.com.

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    Be the Next Microsoft Employee Finale

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    Here’s a little fun …

    … Are you the next Microsoft employee?

    Here is the final episode of Be the Next Microsoft Employee, where the winner gets the grand prize -- a job at Microsoft.   It really happens too – the winner started July 30th, 2012.  Check out the finale episode of Be the Next Microsoft Employee:

    (Note – If the video doesn’t play for you, try watching directly on YouTube at Be the Next Microsoft Employee.)

    It’s a great little video.   One of the contestants even poses the question – “To Azure? … or Not to Azure?”

    If you think just being technically strong is the name of the game, that’s not so.

    I couldn’t help but think of shtick by comedian Mitch Hedberg where he complains that to be a comedian, you have to be more than a comedian to be successful. “So you're a comedian, but can you act? … It's like asking a cook, OK, so you're a chef, but can you farm?”

    I liked this comment by judge, Tim DiMarco:

    “In addition to technical skills, your ability to communicate your ideas effectively, collaborate across teams, and be able to sell your ideas is critical to long term success at Microsoft.”

    I also liked these other comments and pointers by the judges:

    • Have an explicit tie-in between WHY you do something, so people can follow WHAT you want to do.
    • Don't make big bold claims or guarantees in a technical conversation.   And watch for technical accuracies.
    • Start with the positive.  If you lead with the negative of the technology, you lose people.
    • Review and summarize what you're doing and why up front to set the stage, and keep it simple.
    • Actually show the priority in how you want to address the requirements.
    • Connect what you are doing back to what the customer wants or needs.   Make it relevant, and don’t’ make them have to make the connection.   Make the connection between your solution, and their problem, for them.

    Here are some of the folks involved in making this happen:

    • Creator/Executive Producer - Mark Protus
    • Host/Director - Fred Northup, Jr.
    • Judges:  Buck Woody, Tim DiMarco
    • Guest Judges: Karen Lopez, Pete Harris

    You can explore the Microsoft Learning team’s Be the Next Microsoft Employee Home Page where all of the episodes are available, as well as more information about the show.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips #17-Identify Outcomes

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    Untitled

    One of the best ways to win back time is to use outcomes.  An outcome is simply an end-result, or an end-in-mind.  You identify outcomes by asking, "What do I want to accomplish?" or "What do I want to achieve?"

    Time management tips #17 is identify outcomes.  When you know your outcomes, you know your target.  Now you can focus on that.  You can shave everything else off.  By knowing the outcomes, you can focus on the most essential activities or steps to achieve the outcome.  Or, as Bruce Lee would say, "Hack away at the unessential."

    For example, consider these scenarios:

    • Before you start the meeting, what are the outcomes?
    • Before you dive into the code, what do you want to achieve?
    • Before you start that task, what's the outcome?
    • Before you start your slides, what are the three outcomes you want?

    As a quick test, take any activity that you are about to do, and identity the outcome for it.  This becomes your little test case.  Now, when you execute, you can check yourself with your test case -- have you satisifed your test case yet?

    If you get lost in asking about outcomes, simply start asking, "What's the goal?"   By asking, "What's the goal?", you can quickly get back on track.  Similarly you can ask, "What are you trying to accomplish?"

    In either case, the point is to identify your target so that you can narrow your focus, and optimize

    Outcomes help you hack away at the unessential, and they are your piercing lens of value.

    For free time management training , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Getting Results.com.

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    Time Management Tips #21 - Create an Achievements List

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    You need to take stock.

    Stopping to smell the roses, includes reviewing your achievements.   You can review your achievements very simply:

    • Achievements for the day
    • Achievements for the week
    • Achievements for the month

    Simply write down a list of your achievements for the day.   Write down your achievements for the week.  Write down your achievements for the month.  If they aren’t worth writing down, then they probably weren’t worth doing.  If you are doing things that aren’t worth doing, that might be a problem – unless you have infinite time, and your boss or your customers reward you for doing things that don’t matter.   Usually, the real problem is you did a bunch of valuable stuff, but you haven’t stepped back to identify it, label it, and put it down on paper in a useful way.

    It’s a simple thing to do, but the key is to write them down, and say them out loud.  Say them out loud?  Yes.  When you speak them, you learn to simplify them.   When you simplify them, they start to stick.  When they stick, now you are learning how to tell and sell your value both to you and others.

    On paper, I might write the following:

    • Created a set of end-to-end scenarios that show how to use the Office 365 capabilities in ways to improve productivity, and how to make more business impact, in measurable ways.

    Yuck.  It’s descriptive, but it’s not sticky, and my manager won’t remember that, and I won’t remember that in the hall, if I wanted to give a quick summary of my impact.

    Let’s try again, and let’s say it out loud:

    • End-to-end scenarios for Office 365 that showcase business value in the Enterprise.

    It’s simpler.  It’s easy to say.  It’s sticky.  It’s more benefit focused, than on the “how.”  I’ve just given my manager an easy way to talk about the work without getting tongue-tied.  I’ll drill into the details where he wants to, but now he has a mental “hook” and a label for the work, and can easily express it as a win.   When you find a sticky way to say your achievement, write it down the simpler way.  You can always elaborate, but don’t let elaboration get in the way of your short and sweet wins.

    If you don’t review your achievements, then a few things happen:

    1. You lose touch of your impact.  The potential impact of your achievements gets lost, while you chase the next thing.   You do more, but feel appreciated less.  
    2. You start to lose the ability to articulate the value you delivered, both to yourself and others.
    3. You fail to appreciate your effort.  Effort is a big deal, and it doesn’t always appear to pay off.  The problem is it always pays off, but only when you reward yourself internally.   You have to reward yourself for making the effort.   You will win some and you will lose some, but for the long haul, your game winning strategy is to reward yourself for the effort.   That’s the part you control.  When you stop acknowledging and appreciating your effort, you start depending on the luck of the Gods and you start hoping the wind will blow your way.   Gradually, you erode your ability to produce outstanding results, because you erode your ability to put in the effort.

    Simply having your lists of your achievements and wins is good for you and good for others.  It helps you tell and sell your work, and it helps others tell and sell your work.

    Most importantly, having your simple list of achievements helps you acknowledge and appreciate your effort, and that’s your edge.

    For work-life balance skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a work-life balance system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.

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    The Mission of Microsoft Enterprise Services

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    I've heard it before, but it's good to put down on paper.

    The mission of Microsoft Enterprise Services:

    “Our mission is to lead and serve our customers and partners as they realize their full potential through software and services.”

    It sounds like servant leadership in action.

    I found this blurb that describes Microsoft Enterprise Services:

    “Microsoft Enterprise Services is the consulting, support and customer service arm of the world’s leading software company. Microsoft Services focus on top enterprise customers in each of the 82 countries where we operate. The organization includes 17.300 employees in Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) and Microsoft Premier Services (Premier).”

    What's your company's mission? 

    Does it inspire you to give your best where you have your best to give?

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips #22 - Close the Flood Gates

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    UntitledIf you are really behind, and want to dig yourself out, and get back on top things, then close the flood gate.

    Don't take on new things.

    Time management tips #22 is close the flood gates.  It's all too easy to reopen the door, let things slip in, and keep taking on new things, without first finishing what's already on your overloaded plate.  Closing the flood gate simply means stop randomizing and churning on new work that you don't have the time, capacity, bandwidth, attention, or energy to focus on.  If you keep taking on more, it's not a service to anybody, especially yourself.

    Whenever I find myself buried among a sea of open work, unfinished tasks, and things to do, I close the flood gate.  I stand guard at the door of incoming requests, and I put all of my focus on the open work.

    It's easy to stretch past capacity.  You say yes to things you think will finish a little faster than they actually do.  Things come up.  You didn't have a buffer for when things go wrong.  The key is to recognize when you're past your capacity, and to take decisive action.

    No new work.  Full focus on the work that is wearing you down, or blocking your ability to flow value. 

    The problem is work will still come your way.  Have a place to put it.  A simple list is fine.  You can review it and prioritize it when you're read to take on more things.  The trap to avoid is dabbling in new work, dabbling in unfinished work, and throwing more balls in the air, than you can possibly juggle.

    Don't create your own problem by taking on work past your capacity.
    If somebody assigns work to you, do them a favor, and let them know you're at capacity, and when you expect to free up.
    If you see new work as higher value than what's already on your plate, consider trading up for it, and letting your open work go.
    If you have so much open work that you're spending more time managing it, than finishing it, then consider shelving the lower priority work.  Put it on the shelf for another day.  Temporary let it go, while you concentrate your focus on a vital few things to complete them.

    You'll be surprised what you're capable of with focus and priorities and concentrated effort in small batches of time.

    Close the flood gate, narrow your focus, flow your value.

    For work-life balance skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a work-life balance system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.

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    Time Management Tips #19 - Just Finish

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    Sometimes you need to Just Start.  Other times, you need to Just Finish.

    One of the best ways never to finish something, is to spread it out over time.  Time changes what's important.  People lose interest.  Changes of heart happen along the way.  Spreading things over time or pushing them out is a great way to kill projects.

    Open items, open loops, and unfinished tasks compound the problem.  The more unfinished work there is, the more task switching, and context switching you do.  Now you're spending more time switching between things, trying to pick up where you left off, and losing momentum.

    This is how backlogs grow and great ideas die.  This is how people that "do" become people that "don't."

    Time management tips #19 is just finish.  If you have a bunch of open work, start closing it down.  Swarm it.  Overwhelm your open items with brute force.  Set deadlines:
    - Today, I clear my desk.
    - Today, I decide on A, B, or C and run with it.
    - Today, I close the loop.
    - Today, I solve it.
    - Today, I clear my backlog.

    If you want to finish something, then “own” it and drive it.  To finish requires ruthless prioritization.  It requires relentless focus.  It requires putting your full force on the 20% of the things that deliver 80% of the value.  It requires deciding on an outcome and plowing through until you are done.

    Stop taking on more, until you finish what's on your plate.  If you want to take on more, then finish more.  The more you finish, the better you get.

    The more you finish, the more you will trust yourself to actually complete things.

    The more you finish, the more others will trust you to actually take things on.

    The more you finish, the more you build your momentum for great results.

    For time management skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.

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    Time Management Tips #20 - Priorities List

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    “Action expresses priorities.” -― Mahatma Gandhi
    “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” -― Stephen R. Covey
    “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” -― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Your priority list is not your To-Do list.  It's not your backlog. (Although, you should prioritize your lists.  But, how do you prioritize them?  Hint – this is where your priorities list comes in.)

    Your priorities list is your little list of what’s most important.  It’s your little list of the most important things to achieve.

    How important is your little priorities list?  Let's put it in proper perspective.  A lack of priorities, or the wrong priorities, are one of the leading causes of failure in management, leadership, and otherwise highly capable employees.

    Time management tips #20 is priorities list.  If you don't have one, make one now.  What else could be more important than having a list of priorities list at your finger tips? (If you had your priorities list you would know the answer to that.)

    When you have your little list of priorities, you can say "No" to things.  When you have your little list of priorities, you can check with your manager, or team, or your customers, or your spouse -- are these really the priorities?  Most importantly, you can check with yourself.

    Have you identified the little list of the things that are most important to YOU?  If you know you are working on the most important things, it's easier to focus.  It's easier to give your best.  It's easier to stop the distractions.  It's easier to say, "No" to all the little things that tug at your attention, or compete for your time.

    It's also where peace of mind comes from.  It's instant.  When you know you are working on the right things at the right time, you are on path.

    Conflict of priorities is one of the leading causes of churn, procrastination, and every other productivity killer you can think of.  The only thing worse is having nothing that's important.  And you know what they say, if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.

    Resolving conflicts in priorities has been known to part the clouds and make the sun shine brighter.

    In general, you can think of your priorities as your "Why" or "What", while other lists tend to be the "How."  That's a generalization since obviously things will bleed, but what's important is that you have a short, explicit list of your priorities.  When they swirl around in your head they get distorted, so get them out in the open.  When you are in the thick of things, be able to give them a glance, and know whether to about-face or march on.

    As Scott Berkun says, "Priorities are the backbone of progress."  It's true.  After all, if you are making progress against anything else, does it matter?

    Here is an example of a set of my priorities for a month:

    Three Key Wins

    1. High quality Service Description pages for Library
    2. “Run State” IP well defined
    3. “the platform” IA for IP – minimum critical set complete

    Pri Short-List

    1. Service Delivery of Services in Library
    2. IP Collection (Learning Lab Refresh)
    3. Project Plan with Milestones
    4. Sweep Timeline (convert existing to be right and useful)
    5. Knowledge Base Refresh
    6. User Stories – New / Existing (“3-Frame Set”)
    7. Cloud Vantage Framework Update

    We can ignore the details, and focus on the structure.   I had three wins I identified with my manager for the month, and a list of seven outcomes that were top priority.  Did I have a backlog a mile long, and a laundry list of hundreds (if not thousands) of things to do?  Yes.  Did I also have short lists of rated and ranked items for the month?  Yes, that's the list above.  Did I also have rated and ranked items for each week?  You bet.   And did I have short-lists of rated and ranked items each day?  Absolutely.

    While priorities aren't the silver bullet, they are your way to "push back."  They are your "push" when you need it most.  They also are your "pull", that you can ignore at your own peril.  They are also your "peace of mind."

    If you haven't prioritized your priority list, you're missing out.

    For work-life balance skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a work-life balance system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.

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    How To Scale as a One-Man Band to Improve Your Productivity and Amplify Your Impact

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    Getting better, faster, simpler, and more meaningful results is the name of today’s game.

    What you don’t know can hurt you.  Your own and other people’s productivity issues can get in your way.  This is especially true if you don’t know what good looks like.  This is especially true, if you don’t know what’s possible.

    There are many ways to take your game to the next level.  Everything from eliminating bottlenecks to focusing on the right things to flowing more value to reducing friction.    If you are a one-man band and really need ways to scale yourself more effectively, I have written a deep post on how to scale yourself as a “one-man band” to flow more value, get more things done, and free up more time for yourself:

    Note – I wrote it in 40 minutes, so hopefully it only takes you five minutes to read it.  Normally, I limit writing a post to 20 minutes or less, but for this one, I figured the value of it, is worth if I had to spill over.  I see too many people bogged down, losing sight of value, and not knowing how to get off the treadmill.  I figured a pointed post on how to free yourself up and flow more value would be worth it.

    Enjoy – and feel free to share your own proven practices for scaling yourself with skill.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips #15 - Make Lists for Action

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    Untitled

    Every time you have to remember what’s next to do, you waste your time.  You've heard of "paper shuffling."  This is like "thought shuffling."  You spend a lot of time shuffling your thoughts around, but not actually doing anything.

    Enter stage right … the power of lists.

    Time management tips #15 is make lists for action.  Use lists to organize and take more effective action.  Lists are your friend.  They help you organize your thoughts and ideas into action.  Pilots use checklists.  Sure they know what to do, but they also know that having the checklist helps free up their mind (specifically, their prefontal cortex).  Teams use inspection lists to drive quality, share processes, and share work.  Companies large and small use checklists for quality control and streamlining performance.

    You can use lists to streamline yourself, improve your own quality, and simplify your work.

    When you make your lists, test them against effectiveness.  Keep them as simple as possible, but make sure they help you.  Never become a slave to your list.  If your list gets too big, start a new one and carry the good forward.  Let things slough off.

    Here are some of the most useful lists to have, when it comes to organizing your work and guiding your action:

    1. TODO for Today.  List your goals and tasks for the day.  Tip – Add your Three Wins for Today at the top)
    2. TODO for the Week.  List your goals and tasks for the week.  Tip – Add your Three Wins for the Week at the top)
    3. List of Projects.  List of the actual projects you are working on.  Give them a name.
    4. One List Per Project.  Have one list for each project to dump outcomes, goals, insights, actions.  This gives you one place to look.
    5. Backlog.  All the stuff you think you need to do.  Tip – Organize this by A-Z so you can quickly scan and find duplicates, and it forces you to name things better.  Name your work so you can refer to it, talk about, and think about it more effectively.
    6. Ideas.  Your nifty ideas to change the world, or your world, or whatever.
    7. Irritation List.  List of the things that bug you.  Get it out of your head, and down onto paper.

    Another useful list is a quick list of the steps for a given task.  This can help you stay on track, or remember where you are, or easily find the next step.  The trick is not to over do this, or over-engineer your steps, or worse, forget to be flexible in your approach.  Focus on the goal, but stay flexible in how you achieve it.

    Goals are always your guide.

    Use lists to organize your work, organize your actions, and simplify your work and life.

    For free, self-paced modules on time management training , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for more time management tips check out Getting Results.com.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To Rate Your Job

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    This is a very simple frame I use to help people rate their jobs:

    image

    It’s nothing fancy.  It’s just a quick way to get a good sense of job they’ve got.  Here are three quick checks:

    • Career – Does your job have career trajectory?  Will it expand your capabilities?  Will you get the experiences you need to grow in levels?  Does it grow you in the discipline that you want to grow in?  Does it have portable equity?
    • Charter – Does your job have the right scope?   Is it a compelling mission?  Do you have enough whitespace to make meaningful impact?
    • Coalition – Do you have the network?  Do you have the support of your manager?  Do you have the support of your peers?  Do you have friends in high places?  Can you build a coalition of the willing to help you make things happen?

    If I were to expand the set, I might include a Competencies check, and a Culture check.  Most importantly, I would include a Values check.  The best job you can have, is the one where you can find a way to spend more time in your values.   Notice how I said “find a way” – it’s rare that your dream job falls into your lap … it’s more of an exercise of shaping and transformation, both of the job, and of yourself.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips #14 - Dump Your State

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    Untitled

    When it comes to time management, one of the most common questions I get is, “How do you dump your state?”  Meaning, how do you dump what's on your mind to a place you trust, and how do you pick up where you left off?

    Time management tips #14 is dump your state.  Dumping your state helps you pick back up where you left off, and it frees your mind to focus on the tasks at hand.  It also helps you move up the stack.  After all, if your mind is filled with little unclosed loops, you are not at your most resourceful and creative best.

    When you have baggage of the brain, it's tough to focus. Your mind is busy circling back on the loops it hasn't closed.  It's also buzzing endlessly in the background to remind you of the things you should not forget.  All the mental chatter gets in the way of you having peace of mind, clarity of thought, and focused attention ... right here, right now.

    That's one scenario of why dumping your state matters.

    Another scenario where dumping your state matters is when we want to pick up from where we left off.  We spend all day working on a problem, building up state, but then we can't finish, so we have to park if for the day.  The problem is we want to be able to pick back up the next day, from where we left off.  Worse, sometimes we can't pick up back up the next day, and then all the state we built up starts to rot on the shelf of our minds, or decays in some place that we may never find again.

    So what can you do?

    It's very simple, and I call it brain dumps or "Session Dumps."  To do a “Session Dump”, just dump what's on your mind, down onto paper or onto a page, using your favorite system.  For me, sometimes this is an email that where I will dump my whiteboard fast, or I use Onenote to dump, or I use EverNote to dump plain text.  In most scenarios, I have notepad open on my desktop, and I constantly dump to it ... so instead of little insights or actions floating in my head, they are jotted down to where I can see and organize them.

    It might seem like an endless list in your mind, but you’ll be surprised that the more you dump, the less it is.  It gets faster too.   And thinking on paper is powerful.   When you see the list in front of you, you may very quickly realize what you can let go, and what you really need to hold on to.

    Here's the real trick though.  Since I do this daily, I found that the best approach is to simply "dump state" to a clean sheet each day, and to name it the current date.  For example, for today, I would title my Session Dump as follows:

    2012-08-02

    Naming my Session Dump by date means I never need to figure out a good title, and by keeping all of my dumps in one folder, it's easy for me to always find them.  I use that simple format because I can easily flip through in sequence.

    I have to let a lot of things go, so I can focus on the best opportunities and challenges that lie before me.  Time is always changing what’s important.  Having a rapid way to dump state or pick up where I left off is a big deal.  Now I never have to wonder where I dumped straggling ideas, or things that were percolating on my mind.

    At the end of the day, dump your state before you go home and see how much it frees you up.

    For free, self-paced modules on time management training, check out 30 Days of Getting Results.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips # 12 - Do Something Small

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    Sometimes small is the best way to make progress.  In fact, sometimes it's the only way.

    If you don't have time to do something big, do something small.  Don't make a major production out of it, don't make a mountain out of a molehill.  Chunk it down.  It's a skill you can practice daily. 

    What's one small thing you could do … today?

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    7 Practices for More Effective Meetings

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    Here are seven practices I’ve experienced that worked well with meetings:

    1. Let a person finish their point
    2. Answer the question asked.
    3. Say what you mean, mean what you say.
    4. No leading questions or asking questions you know the answer to (see #3)
    5. Answer the question simply, and only elaborate if asked (this saves on long answers to the wrong questions or misunderstandings.)
    6. Make it safe to explore an idea and play out a thought -- help each other express/understand/be understood.
    7. Ask questions at the end – this builds momentum.

    It’s really about momentum … we can spiral up or spiral down.  Energy is our best asset to spend on the right things.

    On #7 -- Any time I've seen meetings have momentum (and I can think of multiple vignettes), it’s when somebody put their thoughts out on the table first, without being sliced and diced along the way.  I also think of examples, where somebody finishes painting the broad strokes of their picture  ... and we get the bigger picture, before needling at the fine points, and fracturing great ideas in the making … or at least getting the bird’s-eye view before chasing the rabbit down the hole.

    When we practice #7, it builds trust, people are heard and understood, and people will be less long-winded, and defensive, etc.

    Bonus --- Have a skilled facilitator, manage the shot clock, set time for things (timebox), take decisive actions, and have a parking lot to put things.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To Read Blogs More Effectively

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    Too many blogs, not enough ROI?   Is your backlog of posts to be read, wearing you down?

    No more.

    I’ll keep this post short or it defeats the purpose, so let’s cut right to the chase …

    There is a secret to reading blogs more effectively, and it’s not reading faster.  It’s adding a strategic lens on top, so that you get back the most value, from the reading time you put in.   The strategic lens helps you trim your blog list down to size, and focus on the blogs that give you the most bang for your buck.

    I’ll summarize the steps to do so, but I’ve elaborated here at How To Read Blogs More Effectively

    The short answer is:

    1. Identify your strategic objectives.
    2. Build your portfolio.
    3. Review your portfolio.

    If you want the details, and to improve your ROI from blogs for life, check out:

    How To Read Blogs More Effectively

    You’ll even see how I pare down Michael Hyatt’s blog posts and turn insight into action.  (Note – and if you really just want to know how to read faster, I’ve included a link to that too.)

    Minimally, you’ll learn another approach for ruthless prioritization of the blogs you read.  Best case, I help you find more “priceless” blogs on the Web.  Happy hunting.

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