Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
Lifehacker is hot.
Just when I forgot about how hot it is, I noticed that I got 31,000 page views in a day for 30 Days of Getting Results.com
I got curious what the buzz was about.
It turns out that Melanie Pinola of Lifehacker, wrote an announcement:
This 30 Day Program Teaches You to Get More Things Done the Agile Way
After all, 30 Days of Getting Results is my ultimate self-paced training program to help you master time management, master productivity, and master work-life balance.
That’s quite the tall order.
Anyway, I noticed some interesting comments in the post, so I thought it would be worth elaborating on some of the big ideas, important concepts, and points of confusion.
30 Days of Getting Results is based on the book, Getting Results the Agile Way.
Getting Results the Agile Way is not about how to do Agile development. It is an “Agile for Life” guide. The time management and productivity approach inside is Agile Results. Most importantly, Agile Results is a personal results system for work and life.
It will help you do things better, faster, cheaper, and most importantly … it will help you focus on meaningful results and impact, not just getting things done. It’s also a continuous learning system, so if you are a lifelong learner, this will help you learn things better and deeper.
(Note to insiders – the “enso” on the cover of the book is actually a symbol of enlightenment, but I went with the loop to imply a loop of learning and continuous improvement, which Agile Results is all about.)
I’ve used various names, but the big idea is to focus on something for a month. Behind the scenes, I went from calling it a 30 Day Improvement Sprint to Monthly Improvement Sprint back to 30 Day Improvement Sprints and sometimes just 30 Day Sprints.
Two things are important:
I really have to elaborate on point #2 – how 30 days AND a month are both important. Let’s start with, why a month? Originally, I suffered from “shiny object syndrome.” I wanted to dive into too many things at once. As a results, I dabbled in too many things, and lost focus. Yet, I wanted a simple way to experiment or try new things. I had found that spending a week or two on something, wasn’t enough to give things a fair chance. I really needed to try something for about a month.
I basically decided that I wanted the chance to focus on something new each month, or to go back and try something again for another month. But I very clearly wanted a theme or focus for the month, and where at the end of the month, I could decide whether to continue or not. It’s like a “try it for 30 days” sort of program, or like a ��30 day challenge.” I used this approach to try out new things and to brush up on old hobbies and to learn new skills. I used it for everything from trying a “living foods” diet to roller blading many miles a day to learning the guts of WCF and other technologies.
I really, really, really liked the idea of getting a fresh start each month. And, I liked the idea that over the span of a year, I could invest in 12 significant things, on top of what I already do. Basically, each month, I could add something new under my belt, or replay a previous focus. At the same time, this made my months more meaningful. I could focus on a 30 Day Sprint for work or a 30 Day Sprint for something personal.
I also learned that starting at the beginning of a month and ending at the end of the month was more important than I thought. If you ever tried starting something part way through a month and losing track where you are, and trying to do it for a set numbers of days, you know what I mean. In fact, I found my success rate at sticking with something was lousy if I randomly started somewhere within a month.
So to make this point super crisp, I deliberate renamed 30 Day Improvement Sprints to Monthly Improvement Sprints. And to keep things simple, periodically, I would just say a 30 Day Sprint or a Monthly Sprint, which helped, especially those that didn’t want to “improve” but rather just focus on something for a month.
And then I learned something. Even though you should really start at the beginning of a month and end at the end of the month, and turn the page, people prefer to call it 30 Day Improvement Sprints or 30 Day Sprints over Monthly Improvement Sprints or Monthly Sprints.
I get why. Quantity is precise. 30 days is specific.
Agile Results is insanely simple. In fact, one of my first early adopters said the big deal was how to get started:
Write 3 things down today that you want to achieve.
That’s it. You're doing Agile Results.
The mantra to remember is this, and this is how you get the ability to zoom in to your day, or zoom out to the balcony view:
Think in terms of 3 wins for the day, 3 wins for the week, 3 wins for the month, and 3 wins for the year.
Again, it’s super simple. But, it’s super powerful.
Behind the scenes, I had stumbled on this pattern out of necessity. I had to stay on top of big teams spread out around the world, and I needed a very fast way of knowing what matters. I didn’t want to focus on all the negative (that was natural for me and easy for everyone else, too.) Instead, I wanted to focus on value and flowing value. But, to make it significant, I wanted to boil it down to 3 things.
3 significant things.
3 significant things could easily be remembered. I could use the 3 significant things to focus and prioritize all time, energy, and attention. What a powerful tool. And, it worked both at the individual level, and the team level. I wanted a way to easily tell the story of 3 wins for the team each week, so management could appreciate the value, and, most importantly, so the team could feel good heading out into the weekend.
Working backwards from the end of the week, I realized that I could ask a very simple question:
“What are 3 outcomes you want under your belt, if this was Friday, and you were looking back?”
No more regrets. No more wasted efforts. No more frantic scrambling. Just simple clarity of what would be great to achieve before we go through a bunch of time at things. And, it was a great way to make for more meaningful weeks.
This is how the Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection pattern was born.
On Mondays, identify 3 wins you want for the week. Each day, identify 3 wins you want for the day. On Fridays, set aside 20 minutes to reflect on 3 things going well and 3 things to improve.
That pattern alone changes lives (and it’s been used to change businesses and transform execution capability.)
I should point out that I’ve also called it Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection, which is accurate. But, to inject some gamification and add the fun factor, I started going with Daily Wins and focusing on 3 Wins for the Day, the Week, the Month, and the Year.
People like to win. Agile Results is a way to do that.
Ergo, you can win, the Agile Way. (Aren’t you glad I said, “ergo”, and not “thus”?)
So, if somebody wants the minimal, bare bones implementation of Agile Results, or “how to get started”, then I say, just write down 3 things you want for today. Instantly, you just put into focus what’s valuable, what’s worth spending time on, and you’ve given yourself a way to focus and prioritize against your laundry list of incoming time thieves, fire drills, action items, and other priorities competing for your attention.
It’s a very practical way of putting First Things First, in a Stephen Covey kind of way, and giving yourself a mini North Start for the day.
And, if somebody wants a sticky way to both remember Agile Results – then I tell them, just remember the Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection pattern. If you get each day right, you get your week right, and if you get your weeks right, you get your months and years right. And yet, it’s perfectly OK to adapt and adjust along the way. In fact, Agile Results is designed to help you adapt.
… but here’s the ultimate trick to using Agile Results. Add 3 recurring reminders to your calendar (1 for Monday Vision, 1 each day for Daily Wins, and 1 for Friday Reflection.)
I won’t claim to be a Getting Things Done expert. That said, I’ve mentored many (many, many, many) people over the years who struggled using Getting Things Done to get things done. It was ironic, but the true irony is that it was not Getting Things Done’s fault. It’s a perfectly good system. Instead, people were breaking themselves against the system (and I couldn’t help but remember when Stephen Covey said don’t break yourself against the laws … you have to know the principles.)
So when I designed Agile Results, I used everything I had learned from doing process and methodology development, and what I had learned from writing about principles, patterns, and practices for years.
The most important thing I did was rather than get mired in the details of a deep process or methodology explanation, I focused on a few key things:
With that in mind, I have had many, many, many GTD’ers show me how they use Agile Results + Getting Things Done. Like I said, I’m a fan of “better together” and blending the best of the best in a Bruce Lee sort of way.
Like I said, Getting Results the Agile Way, is not about how to do Agile software development methodologies (though, interestingly, I’ve used Agile Results to get more out of Agile methodologies
But, I have learned Agile methodologies and practices from some of the world’s best practitioners, including Ward Cunningham (father of Wikimedia, which is the platform that Wikipedia runs on.)
While there is a lot of information out there about how to do Agile development, I still see a lot of people struggle when they try to get started. If you haven’t made the journey from early on, it can be tough to figure out how to get started now. Worse, if you aren’t living in software, it’s not always obvious to know how to adapt Agile practices. The other challenge I see is that people are trying to adopt more Agile ways, but they are in environments that don’t have dedicated teams.
It’s the worst-case scenario of v-Teams or ad-hoc teams of limited and chaotic availability.
So, while I always thought there was plenty of great Agile resources for people to use to get started, I still see a gap.
I’m finding myself spending too much time ramping people up on things that I thought were more mainstream than they really are yet.
I suspect I will do my part to try and fill this gap in the near future.
My first and foremost goal was to help people learn how to be “Agile for Life”, and that was the driving goal behind Getting Results the Agile Way.
My next step will be to help professionals learn how to be “Agile at Work.”
… and, in that case, I will be able to draw from my experience over the years, and share even more on what I’ve learned over the past few years, especially as it relates to helping startups and helping businesses undergo major transformation and change … the Agile way.
10 Big Ideas from Agile Results
40 Hour Work Week at Microsoft
The Values of Agile Results
JD, can't wait to read more about "agile at work" :)
I can't recommend your website/graw enough to people! Use it myself every week with amazing success. You know you mastered it when people come back to ask you "how do you do it?". My answer is simple: "just buy and read this little blue book". Sometimes it's that simple, for some things "there's a book for that".
What if getting more out of smarter people means breaking them? I mean, there are a lot of them out there; like a stack of tissue paper waiting to be used.
I'm not saying i'm smart, in fact, i'm saying quite the opposite. What if someone expects you to break all the rules of software development and then are confused why you are breaking their rules of culture. Really, is it not a balance ?
It's like there is a thirst for fresh thinking but when it doesn't conform to the "Business Standards" you are considered liability.
Have you ever been in a position J.D Meier where you have had to cut your losses ?
I would like to hear of those stories too...
@ Ricardo -- Thank you.
It sounds like you're hitting your stride. It's great when we move up the stack and spend more time creating value, than struggling with the basics. But, we don't learn the basics in school, which is ultimately why I wrote the book. It's the playbook I wish somebody gave me when I started.
@ Dragan -- I have to cut my losses all the time.
In fact, fighting for higher-ground is more like a dilemma to be managed than a problem to be solved.
It's not static.
You have to continuously grow your capabilities, take on the right challenges, fight to spend more time in your values, your strengths, and new experiments. Experiments are the key to expanding your capabilities.
Meanwhile, you need to treat your relationships like a river, not a lake, and continuously surround yourself with people that catalyze and lift you.
But when you embrace that as the continuous challenge, and not the finish line, it helps. Just like when you get to the top of the mountain, you're not done. There are other mountains, so enjoy the journey.
I've always found it's easier to influence smart people by setting the example, paving the path, and getting great results. It's a monkey see, monkey do world. And for good reason. People need to know the change is worth it, and they often need the details, of how to change, too.
When you get smart people focused on outcomes and results, and ask the right questions, and model the right behaviors, they usually trend in the right direction.
When that does't work, I put enough buffers and boundaries around me so other people's productivity issues don't break me.