J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

May, 2013

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Proven Practices for Improving Focus


    It’s time to share some hard-core skills for improving your focus and directing attention:

    Proven Practices for Improving Focus

    It’s a hard core set of more than 60 proven practices for improving focus.

    It also includes 8 things that work against our focus, and 10 strategies that shape our ability to focus at the macro level.

    When I originally created the focus guidelines, it was just a flat list.  Recently, I revamped my Focus Checklist to organize it into themes.   That helped a lot to make the information more consumable.  It only made sense to go back and update my focus guidelines accordingly.

    Here is a sampling of some of my favorite proven practices for improving focus:

    1. Use 20-minute intervals to focus with skill. A 20-minute chunk of time is a very useful slice of time and the productive possibilities are endless, if you can sustain your focus. The key is to know that sustained thinking takes energy, and it burns out. To address this, take breaks to recharge and renew. Five minute breaks are a great way to stay focused.
    2. Structure for success.  One of the best ways to structure your success is to make it easy to pick up from where you left off. You can also structure your success by structuring your information – have one place to look and one place to write things down, including your goals, tasks, and actions.’ You can also structure your environment for to improve focus.  For example, you can add visual cues and reminders. You can also optimize your workspace to support your focus. You can also structure your time to improve your focus. Your schedule is your most powerful tool. Use it to “design your time.” For example, you can adjust your schedule to account for your most productive time, your least productive time, the best time to interrupt you, etc.
    3. Focus on what you control and let the rest go. This is simple and effective timeless advice. It’s all too easy to fork your focus while you worry about things beyond your control. One way to get a handle on this is to simply get clarity on what you do control and act on that.
    4. Hold a clear picture in your mind of what you want to accomplish. Think of this as a simple flash card. Use it to summon your powers of concentration and direct your attention to the end in mind. Having clarity on this compelling picture will literally “pull” you toward it, and help you focus automatically while staying engaged and excited about what’s possible.
    5. Have a place to dump distractions. Everybody needs a virtual dumping ground. You need a place to dump distractions. You need a place to dump and store your “state.” All the ideas, reminders, distracting thoughts, etc. floating around your head, need a place to go. It needs to be simple. It needs to be accessible. One simple way is to use a sheet of paper if pen and paper is your thing. If digital systems are your way, the key is to simply have a place where you can quickly write things without having to look for it. A simple practice is to start a new list or dumping ground each day, and give it today’s date as the title. This way you can easily flip back through it.
    6. Shelve things you aren’t actively working on. Put it on the backburner, but make it easy to pick up from where you left off.
    7. Apply concentrated effort. If you spread your effort across too many things you can water down your impact. Concentrating your effort is a way to improve your results. You can concentrate your effort by consolidating the time you spend on a particular challenge. You can spend more time on it. You can increase the frequency. The most important thing is to apply enough effort in a concentrated form to get over whatever the hurdle or hump that’s in your way.
    8. Use mini-goals. Slice your big goals down to size. Small is the new big, and you can use size to your advantage. By slicing goals down to size, you can build a series of small wins to build momentum. You can also slice a challenge down so that you can divide and conquer it. This is especially helpful when you get stuck. You can also use mini-goals to create a sense of progress. One of my colleagues uses mini-goals to get over procrastination. Rather than have a goal of working out, they have a goal of getting to the gym and getting changed. He said he can choose whether or not to workout once he’s gotten that far, but the goal of getting to the gym and getting ready is non-optional. This little goal helps him complete more workouts than the bigger goal of working out or getting in shape itself. If your goals aren’t working for you, then chunk them down to create laser-like focus.
    9. Set time limits. Timeboxing and time budgets are you friend. How well can you focus for 30 seconds? What about 5 minutes? By using time limits, you can set the pace and sustain your focus, while giving yourself a break. Play with time limits both to make focus fun, and to create a rhythm of intense focus, then taking a break. This is a way to improve your engagement for short-bursts, as well as to chunk up your focus for the long haul, using little time limits along the way.
    10. Set quantity limits. Use quantities to help you deal with overwhelm or overload, and to help you stay focused. For example, come up with three simple ways to use these guidelines into your every day routine.

    To explore more ways that you can radically improve your focus, check out Proven Practices for Improving Your Focus.

    Be sure to share your favorite practices that work for you.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Focus Checklist v2


    It was time for an update.

    Here’s my Focus Checklist v2:

    Focus Checklist (v2)

    Here’s what’s new …

    I organized the checklist into more meaningful buckets.   It’s mostly the original list, but now they are grouped into better buckets to make it easier to turn into action.  After all, a great checklist is measured both by it’s value and how actionable it is.

    Focus is often the different that makes the difference when it comes to succeeding at work and succeeding in life.   Otherwise, we don’t see things to fruition, or we bi-furcate our potential in ways that undermines our effort.

    To make it easy to get to the Focus Checklist, I added a quick menu item to the feature menu:


    You can still get to the checklists from Resources, but the saying “out of sight, out of mind”, tends to be true.

    By moving Checklists to the feature bar, it will remind me to continue to turn insight into action in the form of simple checklists.

    I’ve long been a fan of checklists for building better habits and sharing and scaling expertise.   I’ve used them for security, performance, application architecture, and for personal effectiveness in a variety of ways.   There’s actually a lot of research and science behind why checklists are effective, but I like to think of them as simple reminders and automation for the mind, so we can move up the mental stack and focus on higher-level issues.

    If you’re a fan of Personal Software Process (PSP) or Team Software Process (TSP), you’ll appreciate the fact that checklists are one of the best ways to quickly, efficiency, and effectively radically improve quality, for yourself or for the team.  Of course, that depends on the quality of the checklist, and your focus on actually applying it, and treating it like a living document, and keeping it updated with your latest insights and actions.

    If you adopt checklists as your tool of choice for continuous improvement, you’ll be in good company.  It’s how McDonald’s and Disney spread best practices.  It’s how the best hospitals reduce errors and raise the quality bar.   And, it’s even how the Air Force keeps fighter pilots from falling prey to task saturation.

    Like anything, the value of the checklists depends on the user and the usage, and if you treat it as a static thing, that’s when problems happen.   Use it as a baseline and adapt it to your needs, and update it based on your latest learnings.

    If you do that, and you treat your checklists as continuous learning tools, and you continue to evolve and adapt them, then your checklists will serve you well.

    Ugh … it looks like this post ran into some scope creep.  This was supposed to be just letting you know that I have a new version available of my focus checklist.

    Luckily, my 5-minute timebox in this case, reeled me back in.


    PS – It’s worth noting that the practices behind this focus checklist are industrial strength.   Folks with ADD and ADHD have used the practices in this checklist to retrain their brain to focus with skill.  They learned to direct and redirect their attention, and to enjoy the process of focusing their mind on meaningful results.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    The Innovative Team


    I’m working my way through my massive book backlog, and doing reviews as a I go along.   Yesterday, I wrote my review of Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.

    Today, I read and wrote my review of The Innovative Team:  Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results.

    It’s perfect timing.  Just yesterday a friend ask me if there’s some science and proven practices that we could apply to create high-performance teams, especially when there is a lot of innovation involved and we need to be more agile in how we execute our projects.

    At the same time, we need to give enough time to really explore the problem domain and build some solid foundation to base our solutions on.

    The Innovative Team directly addresses this dilemma.  And it does so in a pragmatic way.

    It does do by framing out the 4 stages of innovation and the corresponding cognitive style preferences that people tend to have.  The book then shows you how to leverage these different cognitive styles that can often create conflict during the project cycle.  It includes specific proven practices for elaborating on ideas and then converging on solutions and keeping things moving forward.  At the same time, the framework is all about getting the best out of every one on the team and bringing them along.

    It’s a recipe for creating and leading high-performance teams that deliver high-impact, innovative solutions for big challenges.

    Here is a quick look at some of the things I found especially interesting …

    The Four Stages of Innovation:

    1. Clarify the situation
    2. Generate Ideas
    3. Develop Solutions
    4. Implement Plans

    The 4 ForeSight Cognitive Styles

    Here is a brief summary of each:

    1. Clarifiers – Analyze and clarify the situation
    2. Ideators – Blue sky or big picture thinkers, continuously generate big ideas
    3. Developers – Tirelessly focus on developing and perfecting the solution.
    4. Implementers – Implementing the plan and moving to the next project.

    Common Patterns of the 4 Cognitive Styles in Action (+ The Integrator Style)

    Here are some common scenarios that you might see, or see yourself in, when working on projects and going through the various stages of innovation:

    1. “For example, if you really like to generate ideas and also feel adept at clarifying the challenges, you are probably full of energy out of the starting gate, identifying and solving issues with ease, coming up with targeted ideas that you feel perfectly (and instantly) solve the problem at hand.  But because you do not devote much energy to later stages in the process, you might find that these solutions ultimately fall short of their mark because they are not properly developed or implemented.”
    2. “What if you really like developing an idea and putting it into action but had no energy for clarifying  the challenge or generating a bunch  of potential options for it?  This would mean that you enjoy the final steps of the process – seeing well-thought-out ideas come to fruition, and watching people welcome and readily adapt to the new solutions thanks to how thoroughly they were developed to fit the situation.  When your ideas have failed, it’s often not the fault of how well they were developed but because they were not well targeted.  They may have solved a problem or met a need, just not the right one.”
    3. “Some people may have nearly equal preference for three of the four stages.  For example, they may like clarifying, ideating, and developing but not implementation.  These people would be comfortable analyzing, coming up with ideas, and tinkering with them toward perfection, but they often can overestimate how much they can get done and you may see them step back when it’s time to put the ideas into action.”
    4. “There are of course many other combinations of types, each with their potential plusses and negatives.  In our story, the character Maya represents of the more common combinations of preferences – the integrator.  She was comfortable with all the stages in the process with no clear preference for one stage or another.  Integrators are indeed a special group.  If you are leading a team and are lucky enough to have an integrator in the mix, you may be able to leverage that person’s abilities strategically to move the team on to the next phase of the process or to act as a mediator between team members of different preferences.”

    As you can imagine, this is a powerful books, especially if you do project work.  It’s also powerful even if you just want to improve your own ability to innovate, either as a one-man band, or as part of a larger team, or leading a high-performance team.

    If you want a deep dive on the book and more highlights to get a better sense of what this book is all about, check out my review:

    The Innovative Team:  Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results.

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    Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes


    One of the smartest books I’ve read lately is Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova.  I wrote a deep review to include a bunch of my favorite highlights.

    It’s hard to believe I only scratched the surface in my review, but it’s a very deep book with tons of insight and proven practices for elevating your thinking to the highest levels.

    While I like the concepts and practices throughout the book, my favorite aspect was the fact that Konnikova references some great research and theories by name and illustrated how they apply in our everyday lives.  

    Some of the examples include:

    • Correspondence Bias
    • Scooter Libby effect
    • Attention Blindness
    • Selective Listening

    Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes includes plenty of surprising insights, too.  For example, we physically can see less when we’re in a bad mood.  We can do better on SATs simply by changing our motivation.  We can use simple meditation techniques to causes changes at the neural level, to increase creativity and imaginative capacity.

    If you’re a developer, you’ll appreciate the “system” view of how memory works.  Konnikova walks the mechanisms of the mind based on the latest understanding of how our brain works.  You’ll also appreciate the depth and details that Konnikova provides to help you really understand how to think and operate at a higher level.

    Basically, you’ll learn how to put your Sherlock Holme’s thinking cap on and apply more effective thinking practices that avoid common cognitive biases, pitfalls, and traps.

    By the time you’ve made it through the book, you’ll also better understand and appreciate how our mindset and filters dramatically shape what we’re able to see, and, as a result, how we experience the world around us.

    If you want a tour of the book in detail, check out my book review of Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.

    It might just be one of the smartest books you read this year.

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    30 Nuggets on Software Development from Shaping Software


    A while back, I started a site called Shaping Software.   The purpose was to create a collection of little nuggets on lessons learned from designing, building, and shipping software.

    I ended up writing more than 100 articles on software development (browse the archives for a quick view).

    The didn’t maintain the site.   For one reason, I wanted a timeless depot, and I wasn’t sure how timeless it could be.  Another reason is the site didn’t take off the way I expected.   For example, if my MSDN blog generates 1000’s of visits a day, Shaping Software was in the 10’s per day.

    Looking back, I think I learned important reasons why it didn’t take off.   I didn’t name titles very well.  It’s not always obvious what’s inside.  Also, I didn’t always elaborate on topics that needed more elaboration to better understand and appreciate the nugget of knowledge.  On a very practical, SEO side, I didn’t apply any SEO knowledge and I didn’t build any backlinks.   Given what I know now, I probably should have continued to groom and to grow it.  

    There will always be a need for learning how to shape software with skill and there is an “evergreen” body o timeless principles, patterns, and practices … that is not well known.   It’s an art and science and there is always a gap between the state of the art and the state of the practice.  Principles, patterns, and practices at our fingertips help us reduce that gap.

    Anyway, here are 30 nuggets from Shaping Software that you might find useful:

    1. 4+1 View Model of Software Architecture
    2. 5 Ways to Manage Complexity in Software Architecture
    3. Application Scenarios Model
    4. App Types, Verticals, and Scenarios
    5. Best Practices at Microsoft patterns & practices
    6. Constructive Criticism of the Waterfall Model
    7. Engineering Practices Frame
    8. Evolutionary, Incremental, and High-Risk
    9. How To Bring Experienced Engineers on Board
    10. How To Cure Optimitis
    11. Insourcing
    12. Key Project Practices
    13. Knowledge Areas, Capability Levels, and Ladder Levels
    14. Macro and Micro Software Processes
    15. Make a List of the Jobs to Be Done
    16. Microsoft patterns & practices Solution Engineering
    17. Mission Impossible
    18. MSF Agile at a Glance
    19. Organizational Structures to Support Product Lines
    20. Periodic Design Refactoring (How To Avoid Big Design Up Front)
    21. Personas at Microsoft patterns & practices
    22. Requirements Types
    23. Scenario and Features Frame
    24. Shifts of Power (Ward Cunningham's way of describing what drives the requirements)
    25. Software Product Lines
    26. Source Code Reuse
    27. Waterfall in the Large and in the Small
    28. What is Systems Architecture
    29. Why Do We Need Software Architects
    30. You Can’t Evaluate Architecture in a Vacuum


    Probably, the most important article to read (and re-read) is:

    Lessons Learned in Microsoft patterns & practices

    I find myself still using and referring to many of the ideas on a regular basis, whether it’s explaining to somebody why you can’t evaluate an architecture in a vacuum, or what shifts of power mean to software, or how to avoid Big Design Up Front, or what the different types of requirements are, etc.

    I have to wonder whether it’s worth reinvesting in it, as a true repository of timeless insight and action for the art and science of building software.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Simple Enterprise Strategy


    One of the challenges my General Manager put on my plate, was to tell a simple story, as simply as possible, about the essence of doing Enterprise Strategy. 

    Here is what I ended up with:


    The way I told the story is …

    • We use scenarios to scope meaningful chunks of change (vs. boil the ocean)
    • Big scenarios are actually chunks of organizational change.
    • We drive a program of change using a repeatable formula: Current State, the desired Future State, the Gaps, the ROI, and the Roadmap for Business Capabilities, People Capabilities, and Technology Capabilities.
    • The value is in the change, and this connects business and IT in a significant and meaningful way.

    He loved it.

    I elaborated.  

    I shared a simple Workstream Frame to show how when we drive Enterprise Strategy, we can use the following canvas as our backdrop:


    It’s a simple map but it helps chunk up and think about how you are making the changes:

    • Program Governance – This is the space of operational excellence and governance.
    • Business Value – This is where the business-led conversations and business-led changes flow.
    • IT People/Process – From a pragmatic perspective, this is where IT-led conversations, and changes to IT people and process happen.
    • Technology – This is where the fundamental technology changes happen – the IT platform for the business.  Again, dominantly IT-led conversations.

    To fully appreciate the simplicity above, below is what I first walked my General Manager through, and he said, while he could appreciate the essence of it, it was too complex:



    At the end of the day, I think he was right, and I was glad that he pushed me to find a simpler story and to be able to tell it quickly at the whiteboard.

    When people see that it’s all about driving a chunk of organizational change, and that it’s by changing the business, people, and technology capabilities, light-bulbs go off, and people get excited by how they can reshape the future of their Enterprise story, through Enterprise Strategy.

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    Xbox One


    image“Xbox One is designed to deliver a whole new generation of blockbuster games, television and entertainment in a powerful, all-in-one device” -- Don Mattrick, president, Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft

    Key Features of Xbox One

    • Integrates the cloud, voice control and gesture technology.
    • All-in-one entertainment solution: Live TV + video-on-demand + web chat.
    • Measure your heartbeat
    • Recognize your voice
    • Voice activation, motion, and facial recognition control the Xbox One
    • A new set of universal gestures to control your TV
    • Improved Kinect sensor will track wrist and shoulder rotations
    • TV on Xbox One“Navigate and watch live TV from your cable, telco or satellite set-top box through your Xbox One. Microsoft is committed to bringing live TV through various solutions to all the markets where Xbox One will be available.”
    • Snap Mode.   Offers a second screen and allows users to run two activities – such as watching TV and browsing the internet, or using Skype – simultaneously.
    • Home. Turn on your entertainment system with two powerful words, “Xbox On,” and a custom-tailored Home dashboard welcomes you with your favorite games, TV and entertainment.”
    • Skype for Xbox One. “Specially designed for Xbox One, talk with friends on your TV in stunning HD, or for the first time ever, hold group Skype calls on your TV.”
    • Trending“Stay on top of what is hot on TV by discovering the entertainment that is popular among your friends, and see what is trending within the Xbox community.”
    • OneGuide  “Find your favorite entertainment easily, searching by network or name, all with the sound of your voice and presented in a tailored program guide.”
    • Content maker + platform provider
    • Main camera can record 1080P RGB video at 30 frames per second.
    • Powered by 300,000 servers (more than the entire world's computing power in 1999)
    • 8 gigs of RAM, 8-core CPU and GPU SoC, and a substantial 500GB HDD
    • A Blu-ray drive as well as USB 3.0 and integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi.

    Microsoft Summary of New Generation of Xbox Live

    • Smart Match. “A new Smart Match matchmaking system virtually eliminates waiting in lobbies by estimating wait times and finding people you want to play with while you are enjoying other activities — reputation fundamentally matters and helps find best matches.”
    • Game DVR. “A dedicated Game DVR captures and accesses your magic moments, all saved to the cloud. Along with sharing tools, you will have the most amazing bragging rights with Xbox Live.”
    • Living Games. “Dynamic, living worlds evolve and improve the more you play, and advanced artificial intelligence can learn to play like you, so friends can play against your shadow.”
    • Expanded achievements. “A new and expanded achievements system captures video of your epic moments, continues to grow a game’s achievements over time and rewards you in new ways, and your Gamerscore carries over from Xbox 360.”
    • Xbox SmartGlass.“Xbox SmartGlass is natively part of the Xbox One platform, built in from the beginning with the ability to quickly render content directly onto your device, and now more devices can connect at one time for multiplayer and shared entertainment.”

    Microsoft Summary of Xbox One Look and Feel

    • “New Xbox One hardware is sleek and modern and complements any décor. The console is shaped in the 16:9 aspect ratio and employs a horizontal orientation optimized for its high-speed Blu-ray™ disc player. It is molded in a deep and rich liquid black color and includes a distinctive beveled edge.”
    • The completely redesigned, revolutionary 1080p Kinect is more precise, more responsive and more intuitive.”
    • “Xbox controller is refreshed with more than 40 technical and design innovations. Updated directional pad, thumb stick and ergonomic fit immerse all gamers in ways that are uniquely Xbox, and precision and control have been dramatically increased with all new vibrating impulse triggers.  The Xbox One Wireless Controller is designed to work in concert with the new Kinect, allowing the two to be paired automatically to create seamless player syncing.”

    Interesting Deals for Xbox One

    • NFL Deal - Integrate coverage of the sport with game-like elements such as a Fantasy Football app, allowing viewers to manager their own fantasy sides while watching the real thing in action.
    • Stephen Spielberg Deal - Stephen Spielberg will be producing a TV series based on the best-selling Halo game, exclusively available to Xbox One.
    • EA Games - Four new titles exclusive to Xbox:  FIFA 14, NBA Live, UFC and Madden.

    Analysts on Xbox One

    • Gartner: "The Xbox One really looks to advance the state of video game technology and entertainment in a way that we haven't seen before," said Brian Blau, a director of Gartner Research."
    • Greenwich Consulting: "The Xbox One is set to mark the beginning of a new generation of games, TV and entertainment." -- Fred Huet, a managing partner at Greenwich Consulting

    Key Links for Xbox One

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    How NOT To Make Money Online


    I mentor several folks on how to make money online, either because they are trying to supplement their income, or take their game to the next level, or simply trying to reduce the worry around losing their job.  

    An interesting pattern is that many of the folks that I know that make a second (3rd, 4th, 5th) income online, show up strong in many ways.     Their second source of income is always a “passion business.”   They find a way to monetize what they love in a way that’s sustainable and creates a ton of value for their tribe of raving fans.  

    They end up spending more time in their art, so they recharge and renew, and show up fresh at work because they found a way to spend more time doing what they love (it’s an interesting question when you ask the question, “What do you want to spend more time doing?”, and then actually do it Winking smile

    One of the most important success patterns I see is that people do what they would do for free, but pay attention to what people would pay them for.   This does two things:

    1. It forces them to figure out what they really do love and can do day in and day out (where can they be strong, all day long)
    2. It forces them to be smarter at business (otherwise, it’s not sustainable and it slowly dies)

    I see people succeed at making money online by doing lots of experimentation and continuous learning.  The ones that do the best, learn from success AND failures.   The ones that create truly outstanding success, learn the patterns of failure to avoid, and the patterns of success to do more of.

    Lucky for me, I got to see several people right around me making $10,000, $20,000, etc. a month online, and they happily shared with me what they were doing, including what was working and what was not.   The variety was pretty amazing, until I started to see the patterns.  As I started to see the patterns, what surprised me the most is how so many people fail to make money online because “they try to make money online” – it’s like chasing happiness, and having it always evade your grasp.

    How ironic.

    There are so many ways NOT to make money online.  In fact, they are worth enumerating because people still try them and get incredibly frustrated and give up.

    Here are 50 Ways How NOT To Make Money Online.

    It’s serious stuff.

    I took a pattern-based approach, so that it’s easy to see the principle behind each recipe for failure. 

    You can actually apply many of the insights whether it’s an online or offline business, and whether you are a one-man band, or a business partnership, or working in a corporation.  

    It puts a distillation of many business basics, great business lessons, and business skills at your fingertips.

    I’m hoping that more people can be entrepreneurs and create their financial freedom by doing more of what they love, in a business-smart way.

    Also, I’m hoping this helps more people get their head around the idea that we’re in a new digital economy and the ways to make a living are changing under our feet.

    The future is here and it belongs to those that create it and shape it.

    Own your destiny.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Daniel Cook on 8 Laws of Productivity


    Daniel Cook has a great PDF on the 8 Laws of Productivity.  The subtitle is “8 Productivity Experiments You Don’t Need to Repeat.”

    It’s the synthesis of Dan’s learnings and research over the years on how to create more productive teams.

    Right up front, Dan defines productivity as work accomplished, minus work required to fix defects, and minus work required to fix bad design decisions.   He adds that it’s possible for productivity to be negative when workers end up doing more harm than good.  Dan says, “People commonly measure ‘what was accomplished’, but often this is a poor measure of productivity. It is possible to check in code and design decisions that must be later fixed or removed at great cost. If you only measure work accomplished, you could generate great ‘productivity’ numbers but never ship a working product. The real measure of productivity is valued working code in customer hands.”

    Here are the 8 Laws of Productivity according to Cook:

    1. Law #1 - Working more than 40 hours a week leads to decreased productivity
    2. Law #2 - There is Always a Cost to Crunch
    3. Law #3 -- Repeat experiments on knowledge workers, not factory workers
    4. Law #4 -- Teams on overtime feel like they are doing more, but actually accomplish less
    5. Law #5 -- Productivity is maximized in small teams of 4-8 people
    6. Law #6 -- Seat People on the Same Team Together in a Closed Team Room
    7. Law #7 -- Cross-Functional Teams outperform siloed teams
    8. Law #8 -- Scheduling at 80% produces better products


    Law #1 - Working more than 40 hours a week leads to decreased productivity

    What happens if you try to improve productivity by working longer, either through more hours in a week, or more hours in a day?




    Cook summarizes the results:
    <40 hours and people aren't working enough
    > 60 hour work week gives a small productivity boost
    The boost lasts 3 to 4 weeks and then turns negative

    Cook tells us that according to Ford, and 12 years of experimentation, 40 hours was the most effective.  

    Interestingly, an early XP practice was 40 Hour Week, before it became Sustainable Pace.  The main idea is that "productivity does not increase with hours worked."

    A key point here is that "After a certain tipping point, teams tend to be more destructive than productive." (see InfoQ on Sustainable Pace)

    I've experience the benefits of a 40 hour work week and wrote about it in 40 Hour Work Week at Microsoft.

    An interesting data point is that 6 of the top 10 competitive economies prohibit employees from working over 48 hours/week.  (See MBA on Bring Back the 40 Hour Work Week.)


    Law #2 - There is Always a Cost to Crunch

    What happens if we work harder in bursts?  Can we take advantage of the burst that comes from working overtime?  What happens if we crunch for a week and then 'only' 40 hours for another week?  Are there other patterns of scheduling work that might be more efficient?



    Cook summarizes the results:

    Anything over 40 hours results in a recovery period, no matter how you split it up.
    35 to 40 hour weeks can be divided in a variety of ways, such as four 10-hour days on and three days off.
    These 'compressed work weeks' can reduce absenteeism and, in some cases, increase productivity 10 to 70%

    Law #3 -- Repeat experiments on knowledge workers, not factory workers

    Do the same rules apply to creativity and problem-solving as manual labor?

    Cook summarizes the results:
    Studies show that creativity and problem solving decreases faster with fatigue than manual labor.
    Grinding out problems by working longer on average result in inferior solutions.
    Lack of sleep is particularly damaging.

    Law #4 -- Teams on overtime feel like they are doing more, but actually accomplish less

    If many workers self-report that they are the exception to the rule and can work longer with no ill effects, and overtime workers report they are getting more done, is this true?

    Cook summarizes the results of measurements where Team A works overtime and Team B does not:
    Team A feels like they are doing much more than Team B.
    Yet, Team B produces the better product.

    Law #5 -- Productivity is maximized in small teams of 4-8 people

    Does productivity change for various team sizes and which size team produces the best product?

    Cook summarizes the results:
    Productivity for small groups is shown to be 30-50% higher than groups over 10
    Cost of communication increases dramatically for groups larger than 10
    Smaller groups don't have enough breadth to solve a wide array of problems well

    Interestingly, the Navy Seal create super teams with teams of 4.

    Law #6 -- Seat People on the Same Team Together in a Closed Team Room

    What is the most productive physical work environment?  Are cubes, individual offices or team rooms most effective?  Every individual has an opinion, but what is best for the team?

    Cook summarizes the results:
    Studies show 100% increase in productivity
    Being nearby means faster communication and problem-solving
    Few external interruptions to the team (not the individual) means higher productivity

    Law #7 -- Cross-Functional Teams outperform siloed teams

    How should workers of different disciplines be organized?  Should teams be composed of a single discipline? For example, all programmers or all artists?  Or should teams be mixed?

    Cook summarizes the results:
    Cross-functional teams produced more effective solutions in the same time
    Cross-functional teams have more likelihood of generating breakthrough solutions
    There is some negotiation of norms of front, but this is a short-term loss

    Law #8 -- Scheduling at 80% produces better products

    What percentage of team capacity should be officially scheduled?  110% to promote people to 'stretch'?  100% because that's what they can do? 80% because slacking is good?

    Cook summarizes the results:
    Scheduling people at 100% doesn't give space to think of creative solutions
    Not lost time: Passionate workers keep thinking
    The 20% goes into new idea generation and process improvements
    Producing 20 great features is usually far more profitable than producing 100 competent features

    Dan included some of his research sources:

    Crunch in the Game Industry
    IGDA - Articles - Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work: 6 Lessons - http://www.igda.org/articles/erobinson_crunch.php
    InfoQ - Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work, by Ben Hughes - http://www.infoq.com/news/2008/01/crunch-mode

    Best Team Size
    Is Your Team Too Big? Too Small? What's the Right Number? - http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/articles.cfm?articleid=1501
    Team Performance and Team Size - http://www.teambuildingportal.com/articles/systems-approaches/teamperformance-teamsize.php

    Sickness and Overtime Correlation
    Relationship between self-reported low productivity and overtime working - http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=15461524

    First Things First (book) - http:///en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Things_First_(book)

    4 Day Work Week
    Alternative Work Schedules and Work–Family Balance: A Research Note - http://rop.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/28/2/166

    Team Spaces
    "Rapid Software Development Through Team Collocation" IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, Volume 28, No. 7, July 2002

    Additional Resources

    INFOQ: Does Sustainable Pace Mean a 40 Hour Work Week?

    MBA on Bring Back the 40 Hour Work Week (Info Graphic)

    40 Hour Week (C2 Wiki)

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Any Activity Can Be Turned into a Game


    Any activity can be turned into a game, if it meets the right criteria.  Wise words from Dan Cook:

         “If an activity can be learned…

         If the player’s performance can be measured…

         If the player can be rewarded or punished in a timely fashion…

         Then any activity that meets these criteria can be turned into a game.”

    Gamification is hot.  I called it out in my Trends for 2013 roundup.   When all things are equal, fun is a differentiating factor.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Free Time Management Skills Guide


    30 Days of Getting Results is a hard-core time management course.   

    It’s a 30 Day Sprint with a lesson each day, but you can go at your own pace.   For example, I every now and then I scan through it in about 20 minutes to remind myself of the best time management skills to work on.

    Some of you have let me know that you can’t get to the site.   I’m not sure why.  

    Regardless, I have a free PDF version of 30 Days of Getting Results available.

    It’s powerful stuff.   If you want to master time management, productivity, and work-life balance, this short-course will help you do that.

    Time management and extreme productivity are a few of the things that I regularly mentor individuals, teams, and leaders on.

    It’s 129 pages, and very easy to flip through.

    Each lessons includes an exercise to make it real and drive it home.

    If you download and go through it, please rate it on Good Reads.


  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Chalene Johnson on Personal Development, Productivity, Motivation, and More


    To do great things, it helps to study people that do great things and show us better ways to do things.  It helps us build our reference library of what’s possible and it helps inspire us to new levels of success.

    Most importantly, it expands our capabilities.

    Chalene Johnson is a powerhouse when it comes to personal development.   She continuously pushes herself, while expanding and exploring what’s possible physically, mentally. and emotionally.   She’s a unique blend of entrepreneur, physical fitness expert, choreographer, author, life changer, and motivational speaker … and we can learn a lot from her approach.

    I wrote up 27 lessons from Chalene Johson, but my favorite lesson is actually Lesson #7 – Success isn’t magic, it’s a method:

    Chalene says, “It’s NOT luck — it’s KNOW HOW. There is a formula for everything.”   You have to study the people that have the results that you want.   Learn from their formula.   Study what made them successful.  If you can find the proven practices and the methods that work, you’ll speed up your success, and you’ll avoid the dead-ends.   Finding a formula helps you establish and practices routines that will help you get better and better over time.

    Personally, I’ve found this to be true time and time again.  Whenever I got stuck, it was my strategy or approach.  I just didn’t know the right formula or who to model from.  There’s always a recipe.  One of the most important things I learned on the Microsoft patterns & practices team is that if you look to the right sources, you’ll find the proven practices or the patterns that really work, even if it’s not well-known (in fact, part of our job on the Microsoft patterns & practices team was really to share and scale this knowledge more broadly.)

    I’ve shared my personal rapid results formula before in The Way of Success, and it helps elaborate on how to model success in a more effective way.  As Tony Robbins says, success leaves clues.  We just need to be good students of possibility to find them and apply them.

    Even if you’re not into working out, I think you'll enjoy lessons from Chalene Johnson on personal development, productivity, motivation, and more.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    What Do Customers Teach Us About Business?



    This morning I started and finished, The UnStoppables: Tapping Your Entrepreneurial Power, by Bill Schley.

    It’s a powerful book that brings us the essence and lessons of entrepreneurship, including what we learn from a band of Navy SEALs, Israeli investors, a branding expert, and a chairman of a multibillion-dollar tech company.

    But my favorite nugget is about what we learn from customers.

    Customers teach us how to be better.  

    They are our ultimate business mentor, if we listen and learn.

    Schley writes:

    “Customers might as well be air and water; your business has no life without them.  Success is something you must learn from them because only they can teach it to you, through what they need, where their pain and pleasure are, how they want to be sold to, what kind of relationships they want to have with a company in your category, and so forth.  Customers hold the answers to all your most important questions about your product, service, and brand.  The Wonderful Paradox is that the secret of getting what you want is to think most about what they want.”

    I’ve always been a fan of customer-connected development to build better software and ship better products.   Empathy for customers seems to be the difference that makes the difference when it comes to envisioning and creating great products and services.  (It works for education, too, when you put the learner-first, great things happen.)

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To Use Tasks in Microsoft Outlook More Effectively


    If you just have a long list of tasks in Microsoft Outlook, then it won’t help you focus on immediate actions.  The key is to organize your tasks in Microsoft Outlook by priorities.

    The challenge is that the first thing you’ll most likely want to do is sort by a custom priority.

    While it’s not very complicated, it can be incredibly frustrating if you just want a simple task list that sorts by your custom priorities, and you don’t know the precise steps to make that happen.

    Let’s do it.

    If you do want to use Microsoft Outlook for tasks, here’s the trick to making it more useful:

    1. Add Start Date (it’s often more important to know when to start something, than to know when it’s due – this helps you bubble up critical actions better)
    2. Add a custom priority field.  In the example below, I created a “Pri” field and used P0, P1, and P2 for the priorities.  Here’s the trick:
      1. Don’t use the “Custom Priority” field that’s readily available in “Field Chooser”.  (You won’t be able to edit the text and you’ll get frustrated.)
      2. Instead, add a custom field by clicking “New…” on the “Field Chooser” – see below.
    3. Group by your custom field.  After you add your custom field for priority, to group by it, you need to use the “Group By” option (it won’t be listed under “Arrange By”)
      1. Note -- You need to switch “Select Available Fields” from the default to “User Defined Fields in Folder”  (otherwise, you won’t see your custom priority field)

    Here it is visually …

    This is just a simple set of tasks in Microsoft Outlook, nothing fancy, so we keep our focus on the key thing – a list of tasks organized by priorities with a start date.



    When you right-click on the fields, you can click the “Field Chooser”, and then click “New …” to create a “New Column.”


    To group your tasks by your new custom priority field, you can again, right-click the fields at the top of the Tasks, but this time, click “View Settings.”  From there, click “Group By …” and then change “Select available fields from” to be set to “User-defined fields in folder.”  This will then let you set the “Group items by” option to your new custom priority field (“Pri” in my example above.)


    Remember, the key to effective task management isn’t managing your tasks.  It’s actually doing the most important tasks that achieve your goals, at the right time, in an efficient and effective way.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    7 Ways to Take an Outside-In View of Your Group


    I was helping a mentee take a new view on their business, so they could transform their business to compete in a new arena.   Here are the 7 ways I outlined for them to get a better view on their business to shape significant change:

    1. What are the key deliverables that the company cares about? (Who are the stakeholders and why do they care?)
    2. How does the money flow? (Who funds and why?   If they gave you more money, what more would you do? If you got less money, what would be cut?   This gives you a fast business sense)
    3. What is the cadence of your deliverables?  (Do you ship 3 big thingies or 30 thingies per year? .. what would a “fast” cadence look like?   More importantly, what would people value?  For example, can you focus on 3 big wins each quarter that have high impact?)
    4. What’s the roadmap look like?  (Can you put it on a one-slider to show the big impact in a way others get?)
    5. What are the critical few KPIs that tell you whether you are keeping up, falling behind, or changing the game?
    6. What is your unique set of capabilities of your product/service?
    7. What is the unique set of capabilities of your people?

    If you can answer those without a lot of work – congrats!

    The above lens gives you quick insight and a critical view into the customer, the value you provide, the cost, and the capabilities you can use to drive meaningful change and transformation.

    To put that into context and apply it, when business leaders look to shape a business, they tend to look at the capabilities.  They want to know what’s unique and what’s redundant.   If you can’t differentiate at your capabilities, then you have a problem articulating your unique value.

    Capabilities help give you a simple language for talking about value and unique strengths.  They are also a business tool for consolidating and improving efficiencies by maturing or outsourcing capabilities.

    Use them wisely.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Gartner Says Smart Organizations Will Embrace Fast and Frequent Project Failure in Their Quest for Agility



    In a new digital economy and a world of ultra-competition, it’s great to shape a smart organization.

    We learned this long ago.   Agile was part of the early Microsoft patterns & practices DNA.   We embraced agile methods and agile management practices.

    We learned that execution is king, and that shipping early and often gives you better feedback and a way to make changes in a customer-connected way.

    Here is what Gartner says …

    “Accepting higher project failure rates can help organizations become more efficient more quickly, according to Gartner, Inc. Gartner said project and portfolio management (PPM) leaders who take a "fail-forward-fast" approach that accepts project failure rates of 20 to 28 percent as the norm will help their organizations become more agile by embracing experimentation and enabling the declaration of success or failure earlier in a project's life.”

    Check out the article, Gartner Says Smart Organizations Will Embrace Fast and Frequent Project Failure in Their Quest for Agility.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Agile Downsizing: Why Agile Skills Improve a Project Manager’s Job Security


    In PM Network magazine, Jesse Fewell wrote a great article on Agile Downsizing? Why Agile Skills Improve a Project Manager’s Job Security.

    Here are a few highlights:

    “Agile wasn’t designed to improve the bottom line like that, but it’s a misconception that has some project managers worrying whether a move to ‘self-organizing’ teams would make their position redundant.  Even more concerning, many of the formal approaches, such as Scrum or Kanban, do not define a project manager role.”

    Project managers are in higher demand than ever.  Fewell writes:

    “PMI research shows the use of agile approaches tripled from December 2008 to May 2011, and 63 percent of hiring managers would encourage their project managers to pursue agile certification.”

    It’s not doing more with less. 

    Fewell shares a few skills that project leaders with agile experience can show on their resume:

    Delegating more work“Do you have a bent for process and facilitation?  Then create that well-oiled machine and groom an analyst to manage the business. The most successful project managers I’ve met have focused on their strengths, and found capable hands for the rest of the work.”

    Leading more“Agile approaches place a dogged focus on delivering business results by improving collaboration.  Once you’ve delegated the daily minutiae to the project team, you can invest in more strategic relationships.”

    Driving more improvement“… if you’ve equipped and trusted your team to handle the details and you’ve improved collaboration with stakeholders, then you finally have the energy and influence to brainstorm solutions to that quality problem, stabilize a more reliable delivery cycle than last year, or launch a product-strategy working group to mend some broken fences and get everyone on the same page.”

    The key take away is this:

    “The project manager with agile skills has evolved past a positional title babysitting details.  The new role is about building the capability of your teams, partnering with senior stakeholders and driving incremental improvements across the board.”

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Are You Used to Delivering Working Software on a Daily Basis and Changing the Software in Response to Emerging Requirements?


    That’s a pretty good question, and timeless, too.  

    I remember several years ago, when a vendor asked me that, and I remember laughing and thinking, “yeah, that’s what we try to show other people how to do.”

    What was great though, was the vendor followed up with a short-list of precise questions:

    1. What is your current software development process?
    2. Key milestones?
    3. Release frequency?
    4. Daily practices?
    5. Build frequency?
    6. Approach for getting / learning requirements?
    7. Approach for dealing with changing / emerging requirements?
    8. Approach for creating testable software? (e.g. you change the software for requirement X, how quickly can you make and verify the change)

    That’s actually a really good set of questions both to quickly get a handle on your software development process and to test how “agile” you really are.

    It also reveals your culture and how responsive to change and feedback you really are.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    10 Ways to Make Agile Design More Effective


    The key shift with Agile Design is to deliver quickly while handling changes smoothly.   Instead of doing long requirements phases, and heavy documentation up front, with Agile Design you focus on incremental and iterative delivery, going from low-fidelity to high-fidelity, while getting feedback and improving your design.

    Here are 10 ways to make Agile Design more effective:

    1. Avoid BUFD – Big Up-front Design.  Avoid it.  Whenever there is a big lag time between designing it, developing it, and using it, you’re introducing more risk.  You’re breaking feedback loops.  You’re falling into the pit of analysis paralysis.   Focus on “just enough design” so that you can test what works and what doesn’t, and respond accordingly.
    2. Avoid YAGNI – You Aren’t Gonna Need It.  Avoid bloat.  At the same time, avoid scope creep.   “Keep the system uncluttered with extra stuff you guess will be used later. Only 10% of that extra stuff will ever get used, so you are wasting 90% of your time.”Extreme Programming.org
    3. Embrace Occam’s Razor and KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).  Use the simplest solution.  Simplicity always win in the long run.  This will help you stay in the game before bogging your solution down and crippling it’s ability to keep up with evolving requirements.
    4. “Test-First.”   If you don’t know the criteria for what good looks like, you’ll have a hard time finishing.  You’ll also get lost among your designs, unless you clarify what your actual test-cases are.   If you keep a small set of useful tests, you can parse through a variety of designs, and find the diamonds in the rough.
    5. Deliver iterative and incremental solutions.   An iterative solution would be decorating the living room.  An incremental solution would be adding a porch to the house.   Deliver useful and usable increments, and then iterate on them to improve them based on real feedback.
    6. Cycle through alternatives.   Fail fast and fail often.  This is another good argument for being able to do rapid prototypes, and low-fidelity prototypes.   You need to cycle through competing solutions.   Do A/B testing.  Do the Toyota Way and create 3 alternative solutions.   Don’t get wrapped up in finding the “best solution.”  In many cases, your best solution will be found by “satisficing.”  This will keep you ahead of the game, and ready to respond to emerging requirements.
    7. Stay customer-connected.  Stay connected with the users who will actually use what you’re making.   Get 5 customers to stand behind it.  Don’t just throw it over the wall down the line, and hope it sticks.  Invite your customers to your side of the wall.
    8. Think Big Picture First.   Put the scaffolding in place.  Focus on the plumbing before the interior decorating.  Solve the big challenges first.   Get the big picture, before getting lost in the details.  Optimize the maxima before the minima.
    9. Get cross-discipline feedback early and often.    The better you can balance cross-discipline feedback, the more reliable your solution will be.
    10. Spike early and often.  Use technical spikes, functional spikes, and user experience spikes to get the risk out.

    The last thing you want to do is throw a solution over the wall, and nobody wants it, or you missed the basic scenarios.   That’s why delivering early helps get the risk out, and helps validate your path.

    If you’ve ever watched people argue over how they “satisfied the requirements”, but nobody wants to use it, you know exactly what I mean.  People don’t always know exactly what they want, or, even if they do, it’s hard to articulate in a way, that everybody gets it.  But people are way better at recognizing what they like, and knowing whether or not they like something when they actually use it.

    Embrace it.

    That’s what Agile Design does – it embraces the reality that people get more clarity over time of what good really looks like.

    Creating an early feedback loop also forces you to keep your solution easy to maintain and easy to evolve.  Otherwise, it’s very easy to cement your design, and no longer respond to emerging needs.  The key to lasting solutions is they are built to change.

    It’s a process of continuous learning and continuous delivery.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Inspiring a Vision


    One of my mentees was looking for ways to grow her prowess in “Inspiring a Vision.”  

    Here are some of the ways I shared with her so far:

    • Future Picture - One of the best ways that the military uses to create a shared vision rapidly and communicate it down the line is “Future Picture”  (See How To Paint a Future Picture.)

    The key with vision is, when possible –

    1. Draw your vision – make it a simple picture
    2. Use metaphors – metaphors are the fastest way to share an idea
    3. Paint the story - what’s the current state, what’s the future state
    4. Paint the ecosystem – who are the players in the system, what are the levers, what are the inputs/outputs
    5. Paint the story over time … how does time change the vision … and chunk up the vision into 6 month, 1 year, 3 year, five year

    And, a powerful tool we use at Microsoft is a Vision / Scope document.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Sinofsky on How To Analyze the Competition


    Sometimes the best way to do something well, is to know what to avoid.  In Ex-Windows Boss Steve Sinofsky: Here's Why I Use An iPhone, Nicholas Carlson shares some tips from Steve Sinofsky on analyzing the competition:

    1. Don't use the product in a lightweight manner
    2. Don't think like yourself
    3. Don't bet competitors act similarly (or even rationally)
    4. Don't assume the world is static

    Sinofsky elaborates, and says to use the product deep, and use it over time.  Use the product like it was intended by the designers.  Wrap yourself around the culture, constraints, resources, and more of a competitor.  And, don't take a static view of the world -- the competitor can always update their product based on feedback, or weaknesses you call out.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Microsoft Secret Stuff


    I’m a fan of anticipating the future, and creating the future.  Even speculation helps dream up what’s possible, and be ready for anything, when it happens.  And if you balance that with key trends, you can really stay on top of things.

    After all, what’s The Art of the Long View teach us?  While we can’t predict the future, we can better prepare for it by playing out the “what if” scenarios and possibilities.

    With that in mind, I did a search on Microsoft secret stuff, and found some interesting things.  After all, Microsoft spends more on R&D than Google and Apple combined.

    Here are some of the more interesting articles I found:

    Here are my key take aways …

    • Holodeck - transform your family space into a something like Star Trek’s famous holodeck.
    • Kinect Glasses (Fortaleza) - wearable peripherals and augmented reality.
    • Xbox Surface – a 7-inch Xbox tablet.

    Kinect Stuff

    • Kinect Fusion - create interactive 3D models.
    • KinectTrack - a new six degree-of-freedom (6-DoF) tracker which allows real-time and low-cost pose estimation using only commodity hardware.
    • SuperKid - Use Kinect to make movies: watch yourself against a virtual background, and interact with virtual props.

    Touch and Touch Screens

    • LightSpace - create interactive displays on everyday objects.
    • OmniTouch - displays graphical images onto virtually any surface and transform the projection into an interactive, multi-touch-enabled input.
    • Sidesight - expand a mobile device's multi-touch capabilities beyond the size of its screen.
    • SkinPut - beam interactive displays onto your hand and arm
    • Thinsight - a hardware and software product that allows ordinary LCD screens to become fully functional multi-point touchscreens.

    More …

    • Digits - translate a user’s hand movements directly into a virtual space.
    • Foveated Rendering - accelerate graphics computation by a factor of 5-6 on a desktop HD display, by exploiting the fallout of acuity in the visual periphery.

    What neat stuff do you see Microsoft working on?

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Creating Career Opportunities


    How do you create career opportunities?   You reinvent yourself.

    While you can always hope for things to land in your lap, there are specific patterns I see successful people do.  Among those that continuously create the best career opportunities, here are the key success patterns:

    1. They invest in themselves.  They’re always learning, and taking some sort of training, beyond their day job.
    2. They reinvent themselves.  As a result of investing in themselves, they grow new capabilities.   With their new capabilities, they expand the opportunities they can easily plug themselves into.  For example, a few of my friends started to focus on data science in anticipation of big data, as one of the key trends for 2013 and beyond.  As part of re-inventing themselves, they re-brand themselves to better showcase what they’re bringing to the table.
    3. They build connections before they need them.  It’s always been a game of who you know and what you know, but now more than ever, your network can be the difference that makes the difference when it comes to finding out about relevant opportunities.
    4. They know who’s job they want.   They have a role-model or two that already does the job they want.  The role-model exemplifies how they want to show up, how they want to spend their time, and through that role-model they learn the types of challenges they want to take on, and they get better perspective on what the life-style is actually like.  This not only helps them get clarity on the type of job they want, but it helps when they tell other people the kind of job they want, and can point to specific examples.
    5. They know the market.   They pay attention to where the action is.   They don’t just follow their passion.  They follow the money, too, to know where the growth is, and where there’s value to be captured.  As the saying goes, every market has niches, but not every niche has a market.
    6. They have a mentor, and a “board of directors.”   They use a circle of trusted advisors that can help clue them into where to grow their strengths, and how to find better opportunities, based on what they’re capable of.   It might be their “wolf pack”, but more often than not, it’s a seasoned mentor or two that has great introspection, and can see what they can’t, and they can help them to see things from a balcony view.  Most importantly, the sharp mentors, the wise and able ones, help them to know their Achilles heal, and get past glass ceilings, and avoid career limiting moves.
    7. They have a sponsor.  Like a game of Chutes and Ladders, skilled sponsors help them find the short-cuts, avoid the dead ends, and avoid sliding backwards.

    If you’re wondering where the best career opportunities are, sometimes it’s the job you’ve already got, sometimes you have to go find them, and sometimes, you have to make them.

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