J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

October, 2012

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Never Be Defeated


    “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” -- Japanese Proverb

    What does it take to build an indestructible mind?   In a world of setbacks, defeats, and failures, how do you stand up that eighth time?   Sure, you could watch Rocky, and other inspirational moves from the 25 Inspiration Movies list … but what if you could get science on your side?

    Well, you can.  Dr. Alex Lickerman wrote the book on it.  The book is, The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self.  

    I wrote a book review of The Undefeated Mind, but it gets better.  I was lucky in that Dr. Lickerman was kind enough to write a great guest post for me.  It’s titled Never Be Defeated.  It’s actually the story of Dr. Lickerman’s journey in writing his book, his personal transformation, and how he learned the true meaning of what it means to never be defeated.

    Whether you’re trying to get your code to compile, or pay your mortgage, or recover from a not so great performance review, or just get back up on your feet again, there is power in persistence, and power in resilience.  We can all benefit from building an indestructible self.

    I know a lot of people struggling with many challenges, from finding a job, to keeping their job, to fixing their health, to dealing with loss, and, recently, dealing with the after math of hurricane Sandy.

    I hope that Dr. Lickerman’s story helps remind you of the power of resilience, and what it means to fall seven times, and stand up eight.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Why So Many Ideas Die or Don't Get Adopted


    I didn’t know whether to call this why adoption fails, or why ideas die, but regardless, they are deeply related. After all, one of the main reasons ideas die is that they don’t get adopted, so they fizzle out. It’s usage that gives an idea enough legs to blossom and bloom.

    I see the same recurring patterns again and again around why ideas don’t get adopted, so I thought I’d share some.

    You Didn’t Share It

    One of the most common patterns is somebody thinks up an idea. That’s as far as they get.

    You Didn’t Test It

    This is related to the first pattern. You thought up a potentially neat idea, but you didn’t try it out or test it to find out where, or if, the rubber actually meets the road. This is where some Agile approaches have had an advantage in bridging the reality gap. I’m a fan of “spiking” and exploration. Why “spiking”? Because, you can focus on the high-risk, and test it end-to-end with a thin slice (and thin slices reveal a lot.)

    You Threw it Over the Wall

    The pattern I see here is somebody or some team comes up with a great idea. Then somebody decides that it’s another person or team’s job to implement it. So the idea gets “thrown over the wall.” Sure, people might write up a bunch of specs or a bunch of docs about how somebody is supposed to adopt it, but that just about never works in the early stages of an idea. It’s the startup stage. That only works when you’ve matured an idea to the point where it’s a “transaction.” In the early stages, the idea usually requires a “relationship” play, because you have to transfer a lot of tribal knowledge. You have to get the kinks out. You have to learn what you didn’t know, and you have to build some empathy around the adoption pains. This is how ideas flourish.

    Not Invented Here

    There is a surprise here. Usually what I see is somebody or some team comes up with the best thing since sliced bread. Then they want others to adopt it. Others don’t adopt it. So the person or team with the idea, concludes, oh, they won’t use it because, it’s “not invented here.” What I see behind the scenes though is that other people or teams would love to adopt the idea, but they don’t know how. The person or team with the idea threw it over the wall. They expect the other people or teams to figure it out, because it’s such a good idea, that it speaks for itself. The devil is in the details, and the friction or barriers to adoption wear most people out. People don’t have all the time in the world to keep playing with other people’s ideas until they figure them out.

    It’s sad, but that’s how so many ideas idea.

    The lesson I learned long ago is that if you want somebody to adopt your ideas is that you have to do it for them or with them. It’s a small price to pay for getting over the humps of adoption. It’s not an ongoing thing either. Once people “get it” they run with it, but only if you’ve helped them get that far to begin with.

    And that’s how ideas flourish and bloom.

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    Personal Development Quotes


    I’ve finally put together an extensive collection of personal development quotes.   It’s a big collection of personal development quotes and I organized it by key themes: Character, Effectiveness, Emotional Intelligence, Empowerment, Influence and Impact, Learning and Growth, Productivity, Self-Awareness, Strengths, and Thinking.

    Microsoft is a strong culture of personal development, so the personal development quotes are particularly relevant.  Software development often reminds of personal development, and I think we learn a lot about personal development from software and software practices, especially if you practice continuous learning.  For example, we can test ourselves with “unit tests.”  We can shape our “quality attributes.”  We can use principles, patterns, and practices to improve what we do, and expand what we’re capable of.  You get the idea.

    Here is a sampling of the personal development quotes collection …

    1. “Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.” — Bruce Lee
    2. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Viktor Frankl
    3. “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” — George Bernard Shaw
    4. “The only journey is the journey within.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
    5. “They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” – Confucius
    6. “We must become the change we want to see.” — Mahatma Gandhi
    7. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” — Will Durant
    8. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
    9. “What we think, we become.” – Buddha
    10. “What ever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” — Napoleon Hill

    For more personal development quotes, see the personal development quotes page.

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    The Guerilla Guide to Getting a Better Performance Review at Microsoft


    “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” ― Charles Darwin

    I'm helping one of my mentees get the edge in her performance review this year.  I thought it would be helpful to share the insights and actions that I’m sharing with her, with a broader community, so more people get a chance at getting better performance reviews. 

    One of the things I should point out is that I had a 100% success rate for helping the people I mentored achieve the review score they set their mind on.  I’ve helped several people achieve the top and elite ratings at Microsoft.  While I don’t focus on this anymore, it was an interesting challenge and I learned a lot along the way.

    This is a no holds barred, hard-core guide to getting a better performance review.  As the game gets tougher, you need to get better.   I know a lot of people not happy with their reviews.  They thought that if they did a good job, everything would take care of itself.  That’s the same fallacy as, “If you build a great product, they will come.”, and all the variations along that theme.

    To get a great performance review, you have to design for it, and make it a project.  It can be one of the most “rewarding” projects you do.

    The Formula for Better Performance Reviews

    Let’s start with the formula for better performance reviews which includes a few cornerstone concepts:

    • Don’t luck into a good review.  You have to be deliberate.  You have to get intentional.  You have to put in the effort.  Don’t hope for it, make it happen.
    • Identify high value work.   You have to identify the work that is the highest value that you can do.  Value is in the eye of the beholder.  You might be surprised by which work is actually valued.  Usually, you can find the high-value work by asking the right people.  Who are the right people?  Your manager, your manager’s manager, your manager’s peers … take the balcony view, and get a good map of the landscape.  You will hear some words over and over, and some priorities over and over.   Latch on to that and find ways to connect what you do to the high-value.
    • Build credibility and influence.  If it’s all you, you’ll be limited.  Be an authority, but don’t be a jerk.  You become an authority by being the a “go-to” person for something.  Be the person that people go to and rely on for knowing your area.  You gain influence by building competence and bringing something to the table.  You gain influence by learning how to speak in terms that people understand.  You gain influence by learning what motivates and drives people.  You gain influence by helping people get what they want, and by building a better picture of the end in mind.   If you can create compelling goals where everybody wins, then you improve your influence.  It’s about building coalitions.  If you take the flip side and compete, you can easily build a coalition of the willing that will work against you.   Find ways to help others win, and find the “win-wins”, where you achieve your goals as part of their success.  Lift others up, and they'll lift you.
    • Flow value.   Are you the one that works on science projects or has lots of ideas that will never happen?  Are you the one that people roll their eyes over knowing that you will never deliver?  Are you the one that when somebody gives you something to do, you go dark for ages, and keep promising something far off in the future that never seems to come?  Flip it around.  Find the quick wins, and flow value faster.  Find the smallest, useful chunk of value, and get it out.  Find ways to improve flowing your value.  Work the big things, while you flow value with the smaller things.  The smaller things will inform the bigger things.  The smaller wins will also create serendipitous opportunities that you can’t predict.  If you build the muscle to flow value, you improve your execution.   If you improve your execution, then you can change your direction as necessary to flow more relevant value.  Ready-fire-aim.  It’s an iterative and incremental process.  While others are still planning, you’ve shipped value and you are using the learnings to ship the next best thing.
    • Give visibility to high-value work.   You have to tell and sell your  value.  This can be one of the worst things, especially if you value humility and you don’t like to toot your own horn.  The problem is, you are the most intimate with your work.   If you can’t express the value simply in ways that others get, then how in the world will they root for you, or praise your work.  The key here is to talk about your work in ways that are meaningful to others.  What’s in it for them?  Why is it important?  Why is it even relevant?   This takes practice.  You can improve this quickly by framing and naming your work.  Give your work a catchy name that is simple and sticky.  It’s not whether you can say the name, it’s whether others remember it and tell and sell it to others.  Get others dog-fooding your stuff and get real feedback on what works, what’s awesome and what sucks.  Don’t fear the tough feedback, savor it … feedback is a gift and it’s how you rapidly improve.  It’s also how you build credibility if you actually make the improvements that people suggest and you circle back with them to show how they helped make a difference.  Get their fingerprints on it.  They will help promote your work if they can stand behind it … otherwise, they might shoot it down.
    • Validate high-value work and impact.   Just because you or your Mom thinks you did an awesome job, doesn’t mean your peers or manager do.  Check in.  Validate it.  Put numbers to it.  On a scale of 1-10, is this a 7, 8, or 9? (Where 10 is awesomus maximus.)  The rule of thumb here is “impress yourself first”, but don’t stop there.   OK, so you think you did an 8 in terms of impact, but one of your peers says it’s more like a 6.  Uh-oh.  No problem.  Ask the simple question, “What would make it an 8 or 9?”.  Get the feedback and do it.
    • Build rapport, leadership, and influence with peers and beyond.  You can try to be a rock, or try to be an island, but today’s world is about connection and ecosystems.  As John Maxwell says, leadership is influence, and influence is how you amplify your impact.  The better you are at shaping the impact of the bigger tribe, the more impact you will make.  The more impact you make, the better you get at flowing your value.  If you are not skilled at influence and rapport, there are many great leadership books, interpersonal books, and conflict books.
    • Eliminate your dissatisfiers.   If you know the Kano model, the big idea is that dissatisfiers can hurt more, than satisfiers can help.  What that means is that all of the great things you do, can be undermined by the few bad things.  The key then is to find the vital few things that get in the way of others becoming your advocate or fighting for you or promoting for you.  Again, this is where the tough feedback comes in, but if you get the tough feedback … don’t fear it, embrace it … you can rapidly make the changes that will get you over your humps or past your glass ceilings or help you leap frog to new levels.  One of the best ways is to find a mentor that is the best at what you want to master, and learn from them.  Mentors are the short-cuts.
    • Anticipate a changing landscape and have “cuttable scope.”   The landscape is always changing.  If you success is heavily depending on the one-egg in your basket, then find a way to round out your portfolio.  Have your flagship thing, but also have a few things you can really count on, and have a few wild cards that might lead to your next best thing.
    • Play to your strengths.  Give your best where you have your best to give.  You have to use your strengths as your competitive advantage.  What can you uniquely do better than anyone?  You have unique experience, perspectives, and strengths, but you have to find ways to apply them.   It’s not the cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play your hand.  If you are not spending more time in your strengths, then you will have a hard, if not impossible time, of producing outstanding results.  It’s that simple.  (See Find Your Strengths)


    Priority Zero Personal Improvements

    Identify your handful of personal improvements.  These are your Priority 0 improvement opportunities.  What are the three things that you really need to improve to eliminate your naysayers and build a coalition of supporters?   Chances are you already know.  But knowing and doing are two different things.  Don't make it a major project.  Instead, make it a 30 Day Improvement Sprint.    Do a little for 30 days and it will add up.

    To recap, make your short list of key things to improve, and execute your list.

    Your Action Guide for a Better Performance Review

    Here is a summary of the big steps to getting a better performance review:

    1. Decide on the Rating You Want
    2. Do the Right Work
    3. Find out What Counts
    4. Tell / Sell the Story
    5. Identify the Key Influencers
    6. Collect Feedback Throughout the Cycle
    7. Write Your Review Using a Framework
    8. Send Feedback

    Step 1. Decide on the Rating You Want

    In the words of Bruce Lee, “Aim past your target.”   The idea is that if you want to break the wood, then aim past it.  If you fall short, maybe you’ll still reach your target. 

    Decide on a number or rating.  Believe you can do it.  The first and worst person to block you from getting a better review is always you.  Start from the inside out.  Set your eyes on the prize, and decide that you are going to achieve it (or give it your best shot, enjoy the process, and learn a ton along the way.)  Don’t sell yourself short here.  Stretch.

    Ask your manager to help you get that number.   If you don’t have a number in mind, then you’ll have a tough time asking for help.  Ask your manager for the work that will help you get that number.   As you can imagine, this really forces you and your manager to pay a lot more attention to what’s on your plate, and what it’s actually worth … to you, the team, the organization, to Microsoft, to the customer, etc.

    This is an important place to start.  I’ve seen too many people sell themselves short, right from the start.  They didn’t believe in themselves.  And if you don’t believe in yourself, then why should anybody else.  That’s why getting a better review starts here.  It challenges your self-imposed limits and puts your beliefs to the test.

    You’ll be surprised what you’re capable of, but sadly you have to first believe it, to achieve it.

  • Step 2. Do the Right Work

  • Quick quiz – Can you list off the work that’s on your plate?
  • If you can’t, you are at risk.  You are at risk in many ways, because you don’t have clarity around what you should spend your time on.  You don’t have clarity on the value of what’s on your plate.  You don’t have a simple way to tell and sell the value of what you are doing.  You don’t have the ability to negotiate with your manager about the work that is on your plate.
  • The simple fix is to write down the top five things on your plate at work.  The big things, not the minutia.  Think of them as your projects or deliverables.   Think of them as the things you do that you get paid for.  If this is your restaurant, what’s on the menu?  What do you actually do?
  • Once you have your list of work, you can rate it.  Rate it on a scale of 1-10 in terms of potential value.
  • Have your manager rate it, too.  Maybe you thought this would be worth an 8, but they think, even if you did a great job, it’s really only worth a 5 or 6.
  • The goal here is to eliminate the low-value items, and add or trade-up for higher-value items.
  • Go for a plate of high-value.   Have five things on your plate, where one is your moon shot, three are “in the bag”, one is for extreme growth, and another is an innovation that will change your game.
  • There is no guarantee that you will be able to get your plate to look like this, but what I can say with confidence is that if you don’t try, it won’t happen.
  • Fight to fill your plate with great work.  Great work is a key to great reviews.  To put it another way, if you don’t great things on your plate, you will be limited in getting a better review.   See why this is worth fighting the good fight?
  • Step 3. Find out What Counts

  • This is an ongoing thing.  You have to stay connected to what counts.  To stay connected to what counts, you have to find out what counts.  It comes down to filters and priorities.

    People use filters all the time to make meaning.  It’s the lenses they use to look at the world.  It’s the language they use.  It’s the values they latch on to.  If you know the filters that people use, then you can be more relevant by using the same language (note that, sadly, sometimes even “similar” language is too far apart for somebody to connect the dots.)

    Priorities are the backbone of value in the workplace.  The problem is there is often a gap between what people say the priorities are, and what they show the priorities are.   But the better that you can see the priorities and work with the filters, the better you can connect (or change) what you do, to be relevant and on the radar.

    Find out what’s on your manager’s plate and your manager’s plate, and so on.

    For example, in your 1:1s with your manager, ask your manager what’s top of mind?  What are the things keeping them up at night?  What’s their short-list of priorities?

    You can test yourself by asking yourself, do you actually know the top three things on your manager’s radar?  If you don’t, then don’t be surprised if what you do is not relevant, and don’t be surprised if they don’t champion your work at mid-year or end-of-year, and don’t be surprised if they can’t even tell anybody what your work is or how it’s valuable.

    You can also use Agile Results to help you rise and shine the spotlight on your best work.  Think in three wins:
    Three wins for the day
    Three Wins for the week
    Three Wins for the Month
    Three wins for the year

  • Step 4. Tell / Sell the Story

  • Practice telling and selling your story.  Name your stuff in simple and sticky ways.  The easiest way to downplay your value is to come up with really weird, names of your work, that nobody, but you, can ever remember.

    Do brown bags to build awareness.   Show a colleague or two what you’re working on, and how it might help them out.   Find the people who would benefit from your work, and share it.  The goal is to help others benefit from your work, and, as part of the process, you build awareness of your work.  You also simplify the story of your work, the more you practice it.  You also improve the value of your work, through the feedback you get as you tell and sell your story.  Be on the hunt for identifying crisp, clear, and compelling benefits for the work you do.

    Here is the most important part, and another key to getting better performance reviews …

  • In your 1:1s with your manager, ask your manager how they would tell and sell the value of your work.  What are the wins?  How would they say it in the hall?  How do they tell and sell the story in a simple way?  Is it simple and sticky?  Do the big ideas pop?
  • As you can imagine, by having your manager articulate your wins, you start to find out what sticks and clicks, and what falls through the cracks.  I am constantly surprised by how a lot of the value of the work that I do, gets lost in translation.  The beauty though is that once you start to pay attention to it, you can start to surface more value in ways that more people understand.  The other beauty is that at some point, you don’t have to flow more value.  Instead, you simply have to drive more awareness and adoption of your value.  “Value leakage” is the enemy.

    It will always come down to either flowing more value, or getting more impact out of the value you delivered.  On one of my teams, we called this “perception engineering” and we actively invested in helping others realize the value of the work we did.  After all, if a tree falls in the woods …

  • Step 5. Identify the Key Influencers

  • Identify the short-set of influencers.  Influence the influencers.

  • Guess what?  Your manager thinks your work is awesome, but what about their peers?   They get a vote or a chance to weight in.  So do your colleagues and peers.
  • But not all votes are equal.
  • Some people are way more influential, either because they’ve been around the block, or they express great judgment, or because they play politics well, or because they read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.  Either way, your job is to sniff out who these people are.  There is almost always a key opinion leader, the person at the head of the dominoes.  The short-cut here is to tip the lead domino.  The surprise is, that one of the ways to tip the lead domino, is to first find out who do they trust, and who do they turn to.  If you do your homework here, you can do a great job of getting the people on your side.  If you don’t take the time to do this, then the resistance you end up facing, will work against you in multiple ways.
  • The key to remember is that it’s “rapport before influence.”
  • If you can build rapport, then you can open doors and opportunities at a faster pace, and get more out of the time you already spend.
  • A great book on the top of how to get people on your side is called, Get Them On Your Side.  I like recommending this book at Microsoft, because it’s a very systematic and “engineering” type view to “building and designing” rapport and influence.
  • The key take away here is to turn critics into coaches, and build a tribe of raving fans, especially the people with influence.  Tip the dominoes in your favor.  Get the votes that count on your side.

  • Step 6. Collect Feedback Throughout the Cycle

  • Start paying attention to the good things that people say about you or your work.  Capture it. 

    One of the best tips a colleague gave me years ago was to create an email folder called Kudos and to drag a copy of acknowledgements or praise into it.  If you gather it as you to, it’s a lot easier to leverage it down the line. 

    It’s also a great forcing function.  If your Kudos is empty, maybe you aren’t showing your stuff to enough people, or getting enough feedback.  Sometimes you have to ask for feedback.  Keep in mind that people are usually better about complaining and providing negative feedback, than they are about sharing praise.   So if you think that it sucks that you have to ask for people to share their appreciation, acknowledgment, or praise … yep.  It’s the nature of the beast.

    The key take away is that it’s one thing for you to say great things about your work, and it’s another thing for others to say great things about you or your work.   Since you have a vested interest in you, and your opinion is automatically biased, it’s better to have a cornucopia of kudos from others.

  • Step 7. Write Your Review Using a Framework

  • I like to structure my review using the following frame:

    • Results
    • How
    • Evidence
    • Analysis

    When you structure information, you can make it more powerful.  You can surface the good stuff.  You can give focus to key information.  Also, the process of collecting and structuring your information transforms the information.  You will start to see patterns.  You will start to see themes.  You will start to see the bigger picture.

    I’ve actually written a post about this performance review template.

  • Step 8. Send Feedback

  • What goes around comes around.  Praise the good things the people you've worked with have done.  Reciprocity is a powerful thing.
  • Put these tips into practice.  They aren’t easy, but they are worth it.  Regardless of what you get on your review, this process helps you achieve more, and grow your capabilities, so it’s actually a “can’t lose” approach.

    If you really want to change your game, including master motivation productivity, and time management, and get better performance reviews, check out Getting Results the Agile Way at http://GettingResuts.com

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    Think in Three Wins


    “Great acts are made up of small deeds.“ – Lao Tzu

    Agile Results is spreading as a productivity and time management system around Microsoft.  I’ve done five talks on Getting Results the Agile Way over the past two months.   Some teams are using it to build high-performance teams.  Other teams are using it to improve their work-life balance and overall happiness at work.  It’s spreading because it’s a simple and time-tested approach that scales down to individuals and up to large distributed teams.  Most importantly, it works at Microsoft, under extreme scenarios, and in extreme chaos.  The crazier things get, the more it helps.


    Because it’s focused on driving three wins …

    Three wins for your day …
    Three wins for the week …
    Three wins for the month …
    Three wins for the year …

    To adopt Agile Results, simply ask yourself, “What are three wins that I want for today?”“What are three wins that I want for this week?”

    What happens when you do this is you create a way to focus and succeed.  You add “the fun factor.”  Winning is fun.  You make it a game.  More importantly though, when you think in terms of wins, you rise above the noise of tasks, activities, and actions, and instead, focus on the outcome. 

    You create clarity by envisioning “the end in mind.”

    You empower yourself to focus and prioritize when you adopt this simple habit:

    Think in three wins for the day, the week, the month, the year.

    If you think that sounds simple and easy, good.  It’s not the knowing, it’s the doing.  You probably did a bunch of stuff yesterday … can you rattle off your three wins?  How about last week?  I bet you did a ton of stuff.   Out of everything you did last week, what were your three wins?   What about last month?  I bet you put in a bunch of time and energy … maybe even a bunch of extra hours.   What were your three wins for last month that made it worth it?

    If you’d like to spin circles around the competition, and if you’d like to rise above the noise, or if you’d simply like to acknowledge and appreciate the time and energy you spend on things … then think in three wins.

    BTW – if you think in three wins, you can much easier tell and sell your value to your manager, your peers, and to whoever else might care.   If you want to get better performance reviews or stay relevant and flow more value, use three wins to drive your day, drive your week, and drive your year.

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    Agile Results in Evernote with One Notebook


    imageAgile Results helps you achieve “Agile for Life”, which means flow value, while you learn, and adapt to change.

    I’ve written about how to use Agile Results with Evernote before, but some of you wanted a simplified version.  In this post, I’ll share an approach with you for using Agile Results with Evernote, using just one Notebook and six simple notes.   With this approach, you’ll have all of your vision, mission, and values at a glance, your daily and weekly goals, your list of work and personal projects, and all your ideas at a glance. 

    And you can set it all up in under three minutes.

    All of the information you need to master motivation, time management, and productivity will be at your fingertips, with one place to look.

    I’ll also share some new insights that I’ve learned around dealing with lists to help you manage them more effectively.  And I’ll also share some insights on how you can get a much better performance review, and compete in today’s world more effectively by focusing on higher-value things.

    What is Agile Results

    But first, let’s take a step back and recap what Agile Results is all about.  Agile Results is a simple system for meaningful results.  It helps you do less, but achieve more by combining proven practices for motivation, productivity, and time management.   It works by helping you focus your time, energy, and skills, using a few key concepts.  The big ideas are:  1) it’s outcomes, not activities, 2) it’s value, not volume, and 3) it’s energy, not time.  (Tip – Value is the short-cut in life.  If you know what’s valued, you can target your efforts.  Here is another tip – Value is in the eye of the beholder.)

    Agile Results helps you flow value to yourself and others, while responding to change, and taking the balcony view.  It helps you thrive in change.  It helps you learn new things.  It helps you adapt to our ever-changing world, and come out on top.  It helps you win, and it helps you go for the epic wins in life.

    Agile Results is not just a personal productivity system.  It works for teams, too (I’ve used it to lead high-performing, distributed teams around the world for more than ten years.)  That said, if you want to use it as your personal time management system, it does help you get the edge.  Part of the power is that it synthesizes many principles, patterns, and practices for high-performance, down into a small set of proven practices.

    The simplicity of the system is important.  It helps you spend more time doing, and less time planning.  The simplicity also helps you adapt the system to you and to any situation.  It also makes it easy to get started with Agile Results (you can use it right now, simply write down three wins that you want to achieve today.).

    You can find out more about Agile Results (and everything you need to know about mastering personal productivity, motivation, and time management) in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.  It’s been an Amazon best seller for Time Management (it was #1 in Germany several time, and in the U.S. it’s been in the top 5, but floats around within the top 100.)

    Now, let’s see how to use Agile Results with Evernote in a simple, but highly effective way …

    Agile Results Notebook in Evernote

    Here is a look at Agile Results in Evernote:


    As you can see, it’s one Notebook called “Agile Results”, and it contains six Notes.  The six notes are:

    1. Note #1 – Firm Foundation
    2. Note #2 – Monday Vision
    3. Note #3 – Daily Wins
    4. Note #4 – Friday Reflection
    5. Note #5 – Projects
    6. Note #6 – Ideas

    I’ll walk through each Note below, but first I’ll summarize the big ideas behind the notes.  The Firm Foundation is meant to give you a quick reminder of your vision, mission, and values at a glance, as well as your strengths.   It’s a way to help you get “on path” and stay on path.

    The Monday Vision, Daily Wins, and Friday Reflection will look familiar if you know Agile Results.   This is the little weekly rhythm of results.  The beauty is that this little combo helps you flow value on a daily and weekly basis, as well as continuously adapt and improve.  On Monday, you identify the three wins you want to achieve for the week (notice that I said “win”, not “tasks.”   A task might be “call a customer”, but the win would be “win a raving fan.”   Rather than just doing tasks, you focus on value and making a difference.  This is the secret to getting better performance reviews, flowing more value, moving up in the world, and getting off the treadmill of life.)

    Daily Wins is where you list your three wins that you want to accomplish for the day, and then all of your tasks or top of mind things.  While Monday Vision helped you set three priorities for the week, your Daily Wins helps you set three priorities for your day.  By keeping these three priorities front and center, you define your success for the day.  It also helps you focus and prioritize throughout the day.  If you have to keep changing these, then you will start to notice whether you are trading up, or just getting randomized.   You will also start to notice whether the tasks you do actually support meaningful goals.  You will also get better at defining three wins for your day.

    See the pattern so far?   Identify three wins for the week and identify three wins for the day.   By having two levels of wins, you can zoom out or zoom in.  Your little wins will add up each day, and your wins for the week will help you stay on track.  As you an imagine, by the end of the month, you have created significant momentum and impact.  Oh, and by the way, you will rapidly improve your personal productivity along the way.  How? … with Friday Reflection.

    Friday Reflection is just like how it sounds.  On Fridays, you reflect.  You review your results.  To do so, you simply ask yourself, “What are three things going well?”, and “What are three things to improve?”   Both question are important.  The one helps you identify your personal habits and practices that are working.  The other helps you identify specific areas you can improve.  For example, if you are not achieving your wins, are you biting off the right things?   Are you biting off too much?  Are you trading up for things or getting randomized?  You will see patterns and opportunities for improvement.  And the beauty is that you can take what you learn and apply it next week.  And you get to practice each day.  That’s the big idea in Agile Results … little wins with continuous improvement add up to big, bold changes in work and life.

    The Projects Note is simply a list of your work projects and your personal projects.  This is an important list.  If you can’t name the things you are working on, then you really can’t prioritize.  Worse, you can’t really focus.  Even worse, you won’t be very effective at telling or selling your work to others, whether that is your manage or your team or more.  When you have a list of what’s on your plate, you instantly have the bird’s-eye view.  You can now see whether you are splitting your time across too many things, or whether too many unimportant things are getting in the way.   As a sanity check, how would you rate the value on a scale of 1-10 of each of the items on your plate, where 10 is most awesome, and 1 is the pits?  This can be a real wake up call.  If all of the things on your plate are low-value items, your next win is to get high-value things on your plate, and squeeze out the low-value stuff, with more high-value stuff. 

    The Ideas Note is actually your Backlog, from an Agile Results perspective.  I’ve found that more people tend to prefer thinking in terms of “ideas” than “backlog”, although, the reality is many people actually have a Backlog of ideas.  That said, this is Agile Results, and it’s flexible, so whatever you want to call that works for you is fine.  What’s important is getting the concept right.  In the Ideas Note, you simply list your ideas for work, and your ideas for personal projects.  By getting things out of your head and down on to “paper”, you can free up your mind to do better things, and you can better analyze your lists of ideas, when you can see it right in front of you, versus swirling around in your mind.

    The big difference between the Ideas Note and the Projects Note is that the Projects Note is a list of your active projects.  It’s stuff that’s really on your plate.  The Ideas Note, on the other hand, is your list of things that are not yet active (That’s why I often refer to it as a Backlog.)

    One thing worth calling out is that it’s a good idea to make a list for each of your projects so that you have one place to look for all the work associated with each project.  What I’m showing here is the “master” list of your projects.  An additional step would be to have a list for each project, which contains the details.  I’m focusing on this master list of projects here because it’s where many people get lost among the sea of tasks, and lose sight of their bigger map.  If you can keep clarity of what’s on your plate, then this has a ripple effect that helps you better manage your time, energy, and focus to make things happen.

    All this might seem like a lot of work, but it’s actually pretty light-weight.  These are simple lists to help you focus, prioritize, and organize your work.   Each week, you simply refresh your Monday Vision.  Each day, you refresh your three wins.  Each Friday, you refresh your three things going well, and three things to improve.   It’s a simple habit, and if you fall off, simply pick up from wherever you are.   On any given day, simply ask yourself, “What are three things I want to accomplish today?”   Getting back on track is easy, and friction-free by design.

    Now, let’s take a quick, visual tour of each of the notes to help really make things concrete …


    Step 1.  Firm Foundation

    In the Firm Foundation Note, I simply write down my Vision, Mission, and Values, and my key strengths that help me differentiate and flow unique value.


    It’s a simple list, but it helps me stay on path, and it helps remind and inspire me in all that I do.  Whenever I get off track, I simply go back to my Firm Foundation.  The process of thinking through my vision, mission, and values, also helps me take the balcony view of my life, and helps me head in a direction, even if I don’t know the exact target.  It gets me paving a path forward with skill.


    Step 2. Monday Vision

    In Monday Vision, I simply list my three wins for the week.  Below that, I create some whitespace, and then I list anything else that’s top of mind or pressing for the week.  The three wins are my most important.  After that is bonus. 


    It’s my minimum list that helps carve out maximum value.   One thing to note is that I keep the list very simple and flat.  Also note that when I list things beyond my three wins, I list them in alphabetical (thus, the A-Z heading.)  I do this for a few reasons.  First, it forces me to name things better, and the better I name things, the better I can manage them, or tell my boss about them, or share them with my team or whoever.  Second, it makes it very easy to see if something is on the list, or not.   This becomes increasingly important, such as those weeks where I have 50+ items on the list.   Believe it or not, 50 items is actually very easy to deal with when it’s alphabetical and you name things in simple, friendly terms.


    Step 3. Daily Wins

    In Daily Wins, you write down the three wins you want to achieve for today.  It’s simple, but powerful.


    As you can imagine, it’s easy to create an overwhelming list.  That’s the beauty of this approach, and why I actually like paper or any application that will let me create whitespace.  What I do is I list my three wins at the top, then I list all the other top of mind things or tasks or actions in an A-Z list below that.  This helps me keep my mind free and focused, while keeping my three wins front and center throughout the day.

    Here is the other beauty of this approach … It’s easy to add three wins to any existing “To Do” list.  No matter how you already track your daily “To Do” list, you don’t have to change it.  Simply add your three wins to the top.  I wanted Agile Results to be inclusive of existing systems, and to ride on top, without getting in the way, and ideally, help you make the most of any system that you already use.  It’s a way to amplify your results and help you get more out of the time you already spend.


    Step 4. Friday Reflection

    In Friday Reflection, you simply list three things going well and three things to improve.


    What I do is add a recurring 20 minute appointment to my calendar on Friday mornings.  I used to take 20 minutes, now it’s closer to 10 minutes or less (you get faster, better, and deeper with practice.)  

    The power is in the process.  By asking yourself what’s going well, you take the time to identify and actually acknowledge what’s working for you.  This will help you see some things to keep doing, or potentially do more of.   It is also good for your motivation and momentum.  If you don’t take the time to call out what’s going well, you will more than likely beat yourself up for all the stuff going wrong, and that’s  just a downward spiral if you don’t balance it out. 

    The best way to balance is to first get clear on what you are really doing well, and take the moment or two to really acknowledge and appreciate that.  Maybe it’s as simple as doing what you said you would do.  Maybe it’s that you did a good job of starting your day with a  focus on three wins.  Maybe it’s that you are getting better at making time to execute.  Maybe it’s that you are doing a good job of working on high-value things.  Maybe you are getting better at finishing what you start.  It can be any number of things.  It’s personal.  It’s real.  It’s your chance to shine the spot light on your best performance, and to highlight your personal victories.  Soak it up.

    When you identify things to improve, try and get specific.  For example, if you know that when you write down one of your wins, you aren’t going to even come close, then your “challenge” and “improvement opportunity” is to choose a more achievable win, and to hold yourself to that.  Then you can practice that each day when you write down your Daily Wins.


    Step 5. Projects

    In Projects, you simply list your work projects and your personal projects.


    In the ideal scenario, you never list more than five, top level projects.  The reason is this:  you want to use the 80/20 rule for maximum impact, and minimum effort.  You can reasonably spend 20% of your time, and achieve 80% results.  What you don’t want to do is spend less than 20% of your time on a bunch of things, where all you’re doing is administration and context switching.

    Name these things in a way that make sense to you, and ideally to others in YOUR world.  For example, find a good name to refer to your favorite project so that your manager knows how to refer to it (and even better, have them help you name it so that it’s sticky.)   If you have a maximum of five meaningful projects on your plate, and they are all high-value, you are setting yourself up for success.

    Personally, I try to go for three meaningful projects at any point in time, as well as an experiment.  The experiment is my wild card and potential game changer.  It can often lead to a breakthrough for me, either in what I create, or how I create things.  It’s how I keep improving my ability to flow value to myself and others.  Innovation is the key to sustainability, both for businesses, and for us, as individuals.

    Step 6. Ideas

    Ideas is where you simply list the ideas you have for work and personal.  If there is one list that can help you stay on track, this is the list.


    It helps you stay on track, because it reminds you that these are “ideas.”  They are not your active projects.  This is your dumping ground of all the cool things you hope to do, and all your neat ideas on how things can be better.    By carving out all the ideas and potential projects into a separate list, you keep your other lists, simple and focused.  Your Projects Note is clean and crisp.  It only lists your active projects.  That’s important.

    Your Ideas list is your romping ground.  Feel free to dream up big, bold ideas.  But don’t confuse your dreaming with doing.  Use your weekly wins and daily wins in your Monday Vision and Daily Wins notes to stay grounded, and to stay focused on flowing value.  This will help you keep your head in the clouds, but feet on the ground … which is a beautiful blend of strategy + execution.

    It’s important to note that I keep my Ideas list in alphabetical order, and I bubble up the top 10 items to the top, and then add whitespace to break it up from the longer list.   This bubble up the vital few, and then list everything else is an important productivity pattern.  It will help you get better at focusing on value, not volume.  It will also help you deal with information overload and overwhelm by whacking lists down to size.

    You might be asking, how come you don’t put the list in just one big priority order?  Here’s the thing I’ve found.  It’s very easy to scan a list and know the priority.  But it’s very difficult to scan a list that’s not alphabetical.  Your eyes have to go up and down, again and again, checking to see if you already have it on the list.   When you have a simple, flat list of alphabetical items, you can very quickly add or remove things, and very quickly create priority lists, and quickly pluck the high-value items from it.   This was not obvious, but I learned this in having to deal with many, many extreme lists.

    That said, Agile Results is not rigid in the approach, so if the alphabetical does not work for you, then change it to find what does.  The goal with Agile Results is to shape the system to support you in a way that brings out your best.  It’s a flexible system for results, so feel free to bend it in ways that help you make the most of what you’ve got.

    Snippet View to Show Agile Results at a Glance

    It’s worth mentioning the “Snippet View” in the latest versions of Evernote.  You can find the “Snippet View” under the “View” menu.  Here is an example of the Snippet View and how it shows all of the notes under Agile Results “at a glance.”


    What I like about the “Snippet View” is how it very compactly creates a narrative that I can easily scan.  I can quickly see my vision, mission, and values, as well as my Daily Wins and Weekly Wins, and my top Projects and Ideas.

    It’s a very powerful way to put the big rocks in my life, front and center.  It’s like the big picture view, but with enough of the details that bring it to life and make it real.   It’s effectively, “elegance in action.”

    Test Drive Agile Results

    Take Agile Results for a test-drive and see for yourself, if it helps you master motivation, time management, and personal productivity.  You can try it in three different sizes:

    1. Try it for the day.   Simply write down three wins that you want to accomplish today, and see if you improve your focus, motivation, and productivity.
    2. Try it for the week.  On Monday, write down three wins for the week.  Each day, write down three wins for the day.  On Friday, write down three things going well, and three things to improve.
    3. Try it for the month.  Use the practice of 30 Day Improvement Sprints (or Monthly Improvement Sprints) from Agile Results to test-drive Agile Results.  With this approach, you simply set a theme for the month, such as “Master time management” and then each day you do something small to help you towards this goal.  You then use the Monday Vision, Daily Wins, and Friday Reflection to support you.  (Tip – Agile Results is a powerful way to change habits or adopt new ones by using 30 Day Improvement Sprints.)

    If you want to try the 30 day challenge, I have 30 Days of Getting Results, which is a free collection of thirty little lessons that you can do at your own pace.  Each lesson includes an outcome, a lesson, and exercises.   If you commit taking this, you will learn some of the most advanced practices for rapidly and radically improving your personal performance, your motivation, your time management, and your personal productivity skills.

    I love what you’re capable of when you know how to make the most of what you’ve got.   Dig in and really make some thunder with your knowledge, skills, and experience.   The world is ready for you to flourish.   Rise and shine.

    By the way, I should mention that even though I showcased how to use Agile Results in Evernote, it’s a platform agnostic time management system.  I know lots of people that use pen and paper or Outlook or One Note or you name it.   (My favorite tool of choice for a while was my whiteboard.)    I should also mention that Agile Results was originally born as a way to organize your mind so that you didn’t need any tools or applications … just your mind.   That’s why The Rule of Three was important … it was a simple way to organize the most important things, and keep them top of mind.

    Best wishes on making a difference … for yourself, for others, for the world … in your way.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    ALM Categories at a Glance


    I'm reviewing some ALM (Application Life-Cycle Management) work for a colleague, so I thought it would help to rehydrate a map of the ALM space.  I’m a fan of having simple maps to find my way around.  By map, I simply mean topics and categories, and ideally sub-categories to help see the lay of the land, at a glance.

    This map is based on rationalizing work with the field, our patterns & practices work, and input from a lot of smart people that are intimately familiar with the ALM space.  What I like about it is that it’s simple, intuitive, and it really does help map out the ALM domain into meaningful buckets and categories.  If you can map out a space, you can always dive deeper, than if you don’t have a map.

    ALM Categories

    1. Architecture and Design
    2. Configuration Management
    3. Data Management
    4. Deployment and Release Management
    5. Development
    6. Governance
    7. Maintenance and Operations
    8. Project Planning and Management
    9. Requirements and User Experience
    10. Testing and Quality Assurance

    ALM Frame and Sample Activities
    This is a sampling of some of the activities that would fall under each ALM category:

    Category Items
    Architecture and Design

    Architecture Framework
    Analysis and Design

    Configuration Management

    Build Management
    Change Management
    Collaborative Development
    Release Management
    Version Control and Repository

    Data Management

    Database Change Management
    Database Deployment
    Database Modeling
    Database Testing

    Deployment and Release Management

    Environment Management


    Code Analysis
    Code Reuse
    Code Reviews
    Code Writing
    Quality Metrics


    Application Portfolio Management
    Compliance Management
    IT Governance Maturity

    Maintenance and Operations

    Customer Support
    Designed for Operations

    Project Planning and Management

    Project Close
    Project Initiation
    Project Monitoring and Control
    Project Planning
    Risk Management
    Stakeholder Management

    Requirements and User Experience

    End-User Documentation
    Requirements Analysis
    Requirements Elicitation
    Requirements Management
    UI Design and Prototyping
    UI Implementation
    User Experience Envisioning

    Testing and Quality Assurance Test Management
    Test Planning
    Test Resource Management
    Test Types

    Overlay:  Configuration Management Overlay
    Configuration Management is a cross-cutting concern.  Here is an overlay of Configuration Management activities across the ALM categories.  It is just a sample set and it’s extensible.

    Category Items
    Architecture and Design


    Configuration Management  
    Data Management  
    Deployment and Release Management Release Management

    Build Management
    Configuration APIs

    Maintenance and Operations Change Management
    Project Planning and Management

    Collaborative Development
    Source Control Management

    Requirements Engineering and User Experience

    Database (physical) Modeling
    Domain Modeling

    Testing and Quality Assurance

    Build Verification Testing
    Cross-Configuration Testing

    Overlay: Data Management Overlay
    Configuration Management is a cross-cutting concern. Here is an overlay of Data Management activities across the ALM categories. It is just a sample set and it’s extensible.

    Category Items
    Architecture and Design  
    Configuration Management  
    Data Management  
    Deployment and Release Management  

    Data Evolution Strategy
    Enterprise Data Governance

    Maintenance and Operations

    Database Change Management
    Database Tuning and Performance Optimizations

    Project Planning and Management

    Data Migration / Integration Planning
    Data Platform Selection

    Requirements Engineering and User Experience

    Data Requirements Gathering
    Validation, Rule Sets, Constraints

    Testing and Quality Assurance

    Database Testing
    Database Performance Testing

    Overlay: Security Engineering Overlay
    Configuration Management is a cross-cutting concern. Here is an overlay of Security Engineering activities across the ALM categories. It is just a sample set and it’s extensible.

    Category Items
    Architecture and Design

    Security Design Guidelines
    Threat Modeling

    Configuration Management  
    Data Management  
    Deployment and Release Management Security Deployment Inspection

    Security Code Inspection
    Static Code Analysis


    Legal Compliance Alignment
    Privacy Policies

    Maintenance and Operations

    Control Tuning
    Security Patching

    Project Planning and Management

    Risk Management

    Requirements Engineering and User Experience

    Security Goals Identification

    Testing and Quality Assurance

    Fuzz Testing
    Risk-Based Testing

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