J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

September, 2013

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    The Exponential Results Formula


    It’s time for another take.  Here it is:

    The Exponential Results Formula

    I made a mistake when I first named it.  I called it, The Way of Success (sort of Bruce Lee style.)

    While it certainly is the way of success, it really is more of a specific technique for getting exponential results.

    I grew up in a world where results talk and BS walks.

    And, time is a limited resource.  

    While I like learning, I don’t like wasting time, unless it’s by design.  (And, sometimes it is.)

    As a patterns and practices kind of a guy, I’ve studied and tested many, many, … many ways to find the keys to getting better, faster, and cheaper results.   Cheaper can mean all sorts of things, but in this case, I mean it to be less cost, more efficient, and less wasteful. 

    In other words, I want more from the time and energy I already spend.

    Don’t we all.

    I also want to know “the map” and where I am on the map.   This is especially true if it’s a long journey.   As Zig Ziglar said, “People do not wander around and then find themselves at the top of Mount Everest.” Similarly, they don’t wander around into being a doctor.  Or wander around and write a book.

    Making great things happen usually takes great effort.   That’s why passion and purpose are important.

    But passion and purpose only get you so far.  There’s a saying here that’s pretty relevant:

    If all you have is motivation, but you have no technique, or the wrong strategy, that’s a recipe for failure.  Or, it’s at least a recipe for a lot of wasted time and energy, and lackluster results.

    Strategies, techniques, and mentors are the short-cut.  

    They help you find more effective paths and avoid dead-ends.

    And that’s where the The Exponential Results Formula comes in.

    It frames out a way to model success and amplify your impact.

    After all, if you’re going to go for it, then why not go big.

    As they say, go big or go home.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Dive Right In: The Art of Menu Design in Action


    I’ve updated my menu at Sources of Insight to make it easy to dive into hot topics including Innovation, Leadership, Personal Development, Productivity and more. (here is the full Topics pages.)

    I made them front and center on the top menu bar:


    I’ll be testing the effectiveness of this new menu for the next 30 days.

    Here was my previous design:


    There are pros and cons to both.  

    I’ve struggled with my menu, so I’ll share some of my learnings.

    On My Previous Menu Design …

    With my previous design of the top bar, Home | Archives | Explore | Topics | Resources | Store | About | Contact, it was easy to see the site navigation at a glance, and make sense of it.   Another advantage is that the idea of Great Books, Great People, Great Quotes, was simple and clear, and it was easy to see Special Guests, including Best-Selling authors. The challenge is that it buried some interesting topics, under Topics.

    So it was simple, but relatively generic, and some of the most interesting topics were nested under Topics.

    On My New Menu Design …

    With my new menu, Innovation | Leadership | Productivity | Personal Development | Fun are right in your face.  Better yet, when you click More …, you have additional interesting topics right there, including Emotional Intelligence, Happiness, Intellectual Horsepower, Motivation, Strengths, and Time Management.   This has several advantages.  The main thing is that it puts hot topics at your fingertips.  It also helps you get an instant sense of the scope of the site, and variety of coverage.   It also makes it easy to showcase some interesting topics.  Related, I can easily shuffle some of the popular topics to see which ones readers are hungry for, as well as test new topics.  But a big downside is, my sub-menu looks more complicated now.   I didn’t want to give up the Great Books, Great People, Great Quotes, or the Special Guests, since they are key features of Sources of Insight.

    I’ve studied menus.  Many menus.  Many, many, many, too many menus.   And, I’ve played around with my own menus for many years.   Menus really are a living thing (or they die, and information starts to die.)   That said, they are powerful when they are simple, intuitive, and help users achieve their goals, or explore and find interesting things (I’m a fan of supporting both River AND Goal people.)

    Great Menu Guidance

    I finally stumbled on a really good menu design article that clicked for me:

    How To Design Effective Navigation Menus

    What I liked was the simple flip through of many menu designs at a glance.  This made it really easy to compare and contrast across multiple designs very quickly, as well as explore designs I hadn’t seen before.  

    What caught my attention though, was the following section on how the BBC has enormous information, but slices into a simple set of seven categories:



    There’s more to the story than that, but I liked the idea of a “Hot Button Bar” at the top, where, without thinking, you could simply “Dive In.”

    While my site might not qualify yet as an enormous amount of information, it is getting there.   I have more than 1,000 blog posts, and many of them are significant in size. 

    Here’s the most interesting thing to me, though.  As soon as I chose this particular set of categories, I found myself wanting to produce some highly-targeted articles to really create a compelling experience for somebody drilling into these categories.  I also want to create “Getting Started” articles for these Hot Spots as well as some Overview types articles, and definitely more How Tos, and more Checklists.

    I think my driving philosophy behind my design is:

    Think less, explore more, and yet make sense of the site at a glance.

    I’m a fan of simplicity.  On one hand, I feel like a lost some simplicity on the sub-menu.  In fact, specifically, I just don’t like having too many options visible.  I also don’t like that some of my most significant pages feel a little buried on my Resources page.  My Trends page feels really lost and yet it’s my trends posts that change lives and companies.  On the other hand, even though it’s more categories at a glance than I like up front, it does make it easy to dive into some very different parts of the site.

    While I may not have “nailed it”, at least I think I’m trending in the right direction, and most people I think will quickly find information they need or want.

    Site Navigation and Information Navigation at a Glance

    I’m also hoping that I stumble on additional design moves for my menu that I don’t expect.  I actually didn’t expect to put the current set of topics on the main menu.  But, I like it.   It’s effectively:

    1. Information Navigation on the top bar
    2. Site Navigation on the bottom bar

    My open issue to solve is how to consolidate my sub-menu, while keeping the simple story of Great Books, Great People, Great Quotes, and making it easy to dive into key resources that are buried under the Resources page, including Checklists, How Tos, Lists, etc.

    Keep in mind, as much as I’m complaining, all you really need to do is just click on the Resources page and you have bunches of resources at your fingertips.

    But, like I said, I’m a fan of simplicity, and yes, I want my cake and eat it, too.

    If you get a chance, dive in, take a look around, and let me know your thoughts.

    There are articles in there that have helped people do amazing things.

    If you just want some quick inspiration, take a stroll through my inspirational quotes collection.

    Here is a sampling to get you started:

    • “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” — Winston Churchill
    • “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” — Mary Anne Radmacher
    • “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” — George Bernard Shaw
    • “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson
    • “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” — Napoleon Hill

    Explore for more.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    The Collaboration Economy


    Is collaboration the new competitive advantage?  Possibly.   I do know that those at work that pair up on things, and combine their capabilities can outshine those that go it alone.  And, I do see how people with better networks tend to have an easier time making their ideas happen.

    I wrote a book review of The Collaboration Economy: How To Meet Business, Social, and Environmental Needs and Gain Competitive Advantage, by Eric Lowitt.  Eric is an HBR.org columnist and the best-selling author of The Future of Value.

    What happens when the world competes for water, food, and energy? 

    Take a guess.

    What happens when the world finds new ways to collaborate and innovate around limited resources?

    Sustainability is the new advantage, and collaboration is a key competitive advantage.

    Visionary CEOs are embracing sustainability, not because it’s politically correct, but because their businesses depend on it for revenue, innovation, and competitive differentiation.

    In a global market, hyper-competition, and increasingly connected world, your portfolio of partnerships can make or break you.  If you have the right collaborative partnerships, you have a competitive advantage.  Similarly, if you lack collaborative partnerships where it counts, you’ll be at a disadvantage.

    Companies like Unilever, Coca-Cola, GE, and Nestle Waters North America are leading the way.

    How’s that going?

    That’s what The Collaboration Economy is all about.

    Throughout the book, Lowitt shares stories and data, as well as actionable guidance on how you can help shape the future of the economy and of the sustainability of the world.

    What I like is how Lowitt paints a big picture.   He walks through the five primary natural resources used for power: coal, natural gas, nuclear, water, and renewable resources.  He gives his take on the pros and cons of each, as well as some interesting stats.

    It's not an easy read, but it is pragmatic at multiple levels, for leaders, and consumers, by showing how certain things can play out.

    For example, as a leader of a business, you have to know when to compete and when to collaborate.  As a consumer, you vote with your purchases. But there are also gate-keepers at various points in our system (such as those who gives you loans, etc.) that could very easily shift towards more eco-friendly ways and change consumer behavior.

    Eco-friendly will vary.

    I especially like that Lowitt addresses the topic from a business perspective, rather than just a “good intentions” or “greater good” perspective.  He shows how “the great good” will make business sense for the long-haul.   He is also clear that it’s not an easy road.  There are very obvious choices and challenges along the way.  But he also points out that this road can lead to very interesting innovations, new organizational designs, and will make or break some of the biggest companies that depends on global systems that sustain our daily life.

    It’s both a thoughtful book and an actionable book.   Lowitt provides a framework for action as well as guiding insights to help you challenge and change the status quo.

    For a deep dive into the book and a sampling of the nuggets, check out my book review on The Collaboration Economy.

    If changing the world is something you’ve always wanted to do, now might be a great time to do so.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Now Available: Trends Page at Sources of Insight


    One of the most important things I learned long ago is the power of trends, and how they can help you anticipate. 

    Now, each year, as a habit, I put together a serious and significant roundup of trends.  

    Here are my trends collections at your fingertips:


    (If you read nothing else, read the Trends for 2013 post.  It’s hard-core.)

    If you can see things coming, you can prepare for them.   Sometimes you can really embrace them and ride a wave.  I use them to help me play out possibilities and to inspire new ideas and create new value.   I also use them to avoid being surprised, or at least surprised less.  In the arena that I’m in, it’s easy to be left behind if you don’t skate to where the puck will be. 

    That’s true for many businesses, and it’s true for many careers.

    While I had always paid attention to trends, in 2009 was really a turning point for me.  I was working on the Microsoft Application Architecture Guide (you can think of it as playbook for building applications on the Microsoft platform.)   As part of the effort, I needed to know where the IT industry was going.  I also needed to know how the Enterprise landscape would change.

    I remember the exercise of mapping out the trends.   What’s obvious now was not as obvious then, since some things were just starting to take off in the Enterprise, or early in the market.  One of the big shifts was to REST.   Another big shift was to more virtualization.  In fact, a few big Enterprise shops that I know, were using virtualization and calling it their private “Cloud.”  

    Here is the Mind Map of trends I created back in 2009:



    Behind the scenes, what I was doing was effectively polling many development shops around the world to see what was hot and what was emerging.  Meanwhile, I was cross-checking on where CIOs were putting their money.   I was cross-checking that with analysts and trend spotters.  I paid a lot of attention to where big companies were placing their bets.  I expected rippled effects in the industry.

    I needed to have a good handle on the trends and emerging patterns because I needed the book to be ahead of it’s time, or at least not dated out of the gate.  (A key pattern I learned here is to create “evergreen” and durable frames so that as technologies churn, the main frames stay the same.)

    The big things that popped for me on the map, at the time, were:  Agile, Business Intelligence, Big Data, Cloud, Rich-Internet Apps, and User Experience.   And, the shift to REST was disruptive.  I was starting to notice how some customers that were embracing the Cloud were leap frogging ahead.   I also noticed how customers who invested in user experience as a first-class citizen were building higher-quality applications that people wanted to use.  With too many choices, user experience wins.  The apps that make you feel good, make you personally effective and connect with others win.

    I learned a few valuable lessons from the exercise:

    1. The future doesn’t need to surprise you.  The future isn’t as mysterious when you know how to map out the system.
    2. Consumer patterns really shape Enterprise patterns.  After all, people are people, and the lines blur between work and life.
    3. You can use the future to shape your path.   If you connect trends to the pains, needs, and desired outcomes of your customers, you can very much anticipate where likely sources of value will be. 

    On a personal level, you can also use trends to help you decide your bigger decisions in life, including your career path.  For example, I know some colleagues that saw Big Data as the place to be, and they started working on their data scientist skills, and are now seeing it pay off.

    I’m starting my trends research a little earlier this year.   I’m paying attention to examples of things like m2m (machine to machine) scenarios and possibilities in the real world.  I’m especially interested in Television 2.0 — The $2.2 Trillion War for your Living Room.  I’m also paying attention to more wearable computing scenarios, as well as innovations in education, health, and manufacturing.   I’ve heard some amazing stories of 3-D printing as a disruptor.   And, I’m hoping for some really surprising possibilities with phones.

    As Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it”, and Alan Kay said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it!”

    If you’re not shaping your future, someone else is.

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    High-Performance Teams Happen When It All Hangs Together


    “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.” -- Patrick Lencioni

    To create high-performance teams, you don't need the best people in the world.  But you do need people at their best.

    To bring out their best, you first need simple alignment on the team in the form of vision, mission, values, and identity.  I wrote a step-by-step article on How To Create a High-Performance Team with Vision, Identity, and Values.

    Alignment at that level creates a foundation and platform for high-performance teams.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

    Vision, Mission, and values

    Here's a recap of vision, mission, and values:

    • Mission - who are you? what do you do?
    • Vision - where do you want to go?
    • Values - what do you value? what's important? (your corporate culture)

    Alignment at this level helps you accelerate your path through Forming -- Storming -- Norming and Performing.  It also gets work going in the right direction, so people can spend more time where they shine, and less time bifurcating their focus.

    You Don't Need the Best People, You Need People at Their Best

    Of course, having the best people is great.  But what you really need is people at their best, in a system that supports them.

    In fact, there are a lot of high-performance people all around in systems that break them.   So if you simply create a team system that frees people up, right off the bat, you are ahead of many teams.  You free people up when you create shared goals, focus on the outcomes, and paint clear pictures of how to be successful.  You unleash people when you make it safe to take risks, and create a rapid learning environment.

    The easiest way to break an otherwise high-performing team is to micro-manage.  The more you focus on what seem to be otherwise good tools, like accountability, process, etc., the more you get the opposite.  Accountability, process, etc. happen as a by-product of doing specific things well, like having clear goals, letting people work the way they work best, having people spend more time in their strengths, and encouraging learning.  When people have a goal, and they are in their passion, and they are free to use their strengths, they get resourceful.

    Remember that people are creatures of habit, and they form habits (and, as a result, process.)  When you create a continuous learning environment where people can afford to fail and take risks, they learn faster, improve faster, and out-execute the competition.

    If your team is not a high-performance team, before you poke at the people, poke the system you create on a daily basis.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Mark Bestauros on Value Realization


    This is a guest post by Mark Bestauros on what he’s learned about Value Realization at Microsoft.   You can think of Value Realization as simply the value extracted from a process or project.  Mark is the Microsoft IT Principal Business Value Realization manager, and a member of the Microsoft IT Portfolio Management Team, where he is responsible for the optimization of a significant IT spend across the Microsoft businesses.   Mark is also responsible for the Value Tracking for projects in scope, and that has led to some big breakthroughs in terms of reporting the value of IT investments back to the business, and demonstrating the power of Value Realization.

    I’ve asked Mark to share some of his key insights and lessons learned from his adventures at Microsoft in the art and science of Value Realization.

    Without further ado, here is Mark Bestauros on Value Realization …

    Two Main Purposes of the Value Conversation

    The Value conversation serves two main purposes in IT:

    1. Objective and Value Driven Portfolio Planning
    2. Provide Evidence to the argument that IT is not a cost center, but a corporate Propulsion Engine enabling it to reach its objectives through: Informate, Transformate and Automate processes and businesses within the company.

    To accomplish the first goal, the organization need to have the Value conversation tied to the Personal Commitments for all those involved in IT work, and equally importantly, making sure that the a mutual understanding of priority positioning of the “Value” focus in the Conditions of Satisfaction conversations that usually take place between IT organizations and the benefiting business partners from the IT effort.

    Without having the Value activities reflected in the commitments and missing in IT native processes, almost all involved in project work automatically de-prioritize the Value work, starting with turning a blind eye on a missing business case analysis at the inception point and ending with walking away immediately after a project Pre-deployment sign off meeting, washing their hands from any commitment to measure and evaluate the actual benefits hoped for at the Envision or “Plan” phase.

    Planning and Prioritizing with Value Experts at the Business and IT Borders

    The key to success is to embed Value experts at the business and IT border checkpoints.  You need Value experts who are well versed in understanding how to sell the Value argument.  You also need professionals who can guide the average IT professional through estimating effectively (versus guestimating).   You also need to embed the most cost effective, and time effective, means to measure baselines and project logical improvement deltas at the business and IT border checkpoints.  This will help you facilitate effective Portfolio Planning and  prioritize demand more effectively, prior to having the all up IT/Business Leadership Team Planning marathons.

    “Tests for Success” for Value Realization

    Evidencing the argument about the viability of the IT organization in any company with actual Realized Value is very compelling only if the Value reported passes these tests:

    1. Executive Support.  Wins the support of the executives who will benefit from the IT effort in the organization through proven and measureable results.
    2. Simple and Executable.  Uses “Simple to Understand and Execute” measures and algorithms.
    3. Logical Correlations to the Intangibles.  Exhibited logical correlations between intangible results (e.g. Customer Satisfaction) and monetary KPIs (or P&L report line items).
    4. Conservative.  It needs to be conservative in nature (not bullish and not overly bearish either, but provides a credible range of the benefit that aligns with a proven proxy measure).
    5. Sustainable.  It needs to be a sustainable approach.  It can’t be a one-off, or a heroic work effort. 

    Characteristics of a Successful Value Realization Practitioner

    There are few characteristics or knowledge areas that makes a value practitioner successful in changing the culture and move the Value Organizational Maturity in the right direction:

    1. Financial Intelligence.  Financial, able to understand the common financial metrics a CFO can relate to, able to shine the light on merits and risks using the common financial terms acceptable by the Finance community.
    2. Measuring and Estimating.  Understand the measuring and estimating techniques and able to reach deals with ultra-busy business teams (who typically consider IT organizations as suppliers or order takers), to provide reliable data, and know who to substitute the lack of reliable, large sample size data for example, with conservative measures factoring in an agreed on discounted deltas for lack of higher confidence levels.
    3. Interpersonal Skills.  A seller and artist in the art of crucial conversations, since Planning is a very competitive arena, and convincing those involved in Envision phase to dedicate time to obtain reliable data, not planned for in the original budgeting.
    4. Expertise in the Art and Science of Value Realization.  A person who can hit the ground running in quickly earning the “Trusted Adviser” title by all stakeholders due to his/her knowledge of the tools, methodologies, and acting as the defense attorney with the business case versus the classic perception of the “Auditor” or “Critic” of the spend!
    5. The Value Lens.  Understanding the role of Business Architect and being ready to provide the Value Lens cut to architectural analysis through “Value Stream Mapping”, and capturing measureable problem statements round the process bottle necks in addition to translating a Premise of benefit to a measureable ROI.

    A value practitioner can’t achieve that alone, while overcoming organizational undisciplined Value approaches if any exist at all, lacking individuals Value commitments and the unwillingness of the business customers to engage in meaningful Value (BCA, VRF or BVR efforts), he/she needs air cover and a value sponsors (usually are found in the Finance Community or if lucky, a CIO or a member of two of the senior leadership) to facilitate the conversation and help open the doors.

    Executing Value Realization

    On the tactical and execution level the Value practitioner needs to:

    1. Make it simple. Use technology to share the “Know How” in a very hands on, simple to understand and direct way.
    2. Train the Trainer. Spread the gospel of Value through providing visual illustrations, visually appealing training modules making it easier to grasp the concepts by non-financial individuals. Etc.
    3. Lead by example.  Show willingness to roll the sleeves and help.. show them by doing.
    4. Lean the process. BCA, BVR (VRF) and ROI are the “Trinity of Value”, explain the meaning of each, and how they relate to one another. Lean the process part and standardize the ROI estimation approaches to make it easier for them to improve their Gage “R&R”: Repeatability and Reproducibility in doing the process for every engagement they have and produce the same sustainable results.
    5. Stay Connected to Decision Makers.  Stay connected to the decision makers, they are ultimately the benefactors of the Value work… they are the ones who will have the crucial conversations with their CEO, CFO and senior leaderships.. explain the approach, by simple and clear about it and be upfront in earnestly stating the time commitment. Be sensitive to the politics in each organization, for the last thing you want is to lose support and endorsement you desperately need for something that is totally unrelated to the Value work.

    Three Technical Challenges to Be Aware Of

    The three technical challenges are primarily:

    1. Isolating the effect of the IT project.  When there are multiple efforts going side by side, one of which happens to be the project in question for Value, to achieve a preset goal.
    2. Monetizing the intangibles.   For example, how to quantify and put a dollar amount to customer satisfaction.
    3. How to sell Soft Dollar.  For example, how do you sell the soft dollar (soft savings, potential cost and risk avoidances) side by side with the hard dollars, without over-selling, inflating the estimates, or creating audience rejection?

    There are known techniques that address each, and there are some that I had to improvise to make them fit the maturity stage of the target organization. In all cases, getting stakeholder agreement to the assumptions, transferring functions, and using the Dollar as an IT solution provide horse power to go a long way.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Cloud Scenarios at Your Fingertips


    If you don’t know the scenarios for the Cloud, it’s hard to make the case for the Cloud.  Whether you’re a Solution Architect, Enterprise Architect, Business Leaders, IT Leaders, CIO, analyst, etc., you need to know the pains, needs, and desired outcomes so that you can rationalize the technology more effectively.

    What you’ll find below are collections of scenarios large and small that will help you see the full landscape of the Cloud within the Enterprise landscape.  When you have the scenarios at your fingertips, you can better evaluate business strategies or technical strategies, as well as create more effective business cases, because you understand the pains, needs, desired outcomes, as well as the benefits that go along with each scenario.


    Business and IT Scenarios for the Cloud


    Category Scenarios
    Business Scenarios

    Achieve cost-effective business continuity
    Create new revenue streams from existing capabilities
    Decrease power consumption
    Decrease the time to market for new capabilities
    Easily integrate new businesses into your organization
    Improve operational efficiency to enable more innovation
    Improve the connection with your customers
    Provide elastic capacity to meet business demand
    Provide Enterprise messaging from anywhere
    Reduce upfront investment in new initiatives

    IT Scenarios

    Business Intelligence
    Cloud Computing
    Consumerization of IT
    Corporate Environmental Sustainability
    Innovation for Growth
    Low-Cost Computing in the Enterprise

    For details on each of the scenarios, including a description and key benefits, see:


    Cloud User Stories for Business Leaders, IT Leaders, and Enterprise Architects

    Here is a robust collection of User Stories for Cloud Enterprise Strategy.

    To do a deep dive on the pains, needs, and desired outcomes from around the world, I created a round up of user stories for the Cloud, from the perspective of business leaders, IT leaders, and Enterprise Architects.  I included many CIOs from several large companies in different industries to get a broad perspective.    I ended up with more than 50 user stories of the pains, needs, and desired outcomes for the Cloud in the Enterprise.  Note that while the list is a bit dated, many of the core user stories are still highly relevant and actually evergreen.

    With a prioritized list of the user stories for the Cloud, I then grouped them into a simple set of categories:

    • Awareness / Education
    • Architecture
    • Availability
    • Competition
    • Cost
    • Governance and Regulation
    • Industry
    • Integration
    • Operations
    • People
    • Performance
    • Planning
    • Risk
    • Security
    • Service Levels / Quality of Service
    • Solutions
    • Sourcing
    • Strategy
    • Support

    Cloud Scenarios Hub on TechNet (Public and Private Cloud Scenarios)

    If you haven’t seen it, TechNet has a Cloud Scenarios Hub.

    I like the focus on scenarios – it’s a great way to bring together a problem and a solution in context, while pulling together all the relevant guidance.  It’s a focusing anchor-point in action.

    I created a simple index to the Public and Private Cloud Scenarios.

    Key Links

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Program Management Blog Posts at Your Fingertips


    “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra.” — H.E. Luccock

    Welcome to my roundup of blog posts from across Microsoft on the art and science of Program Management.

    The Program Manager role is a very powerful one.  I think of it as a technical entrepreneur that blends customer focus, with technical skills, and business acumen.  It’s the blending of those three domains that makes it so powerful for bringing ideas to life.

    Great PMs make things happen by setting a vision, bringing a team together, creating an execution engine, and shipping ideas that change the world.

    What exactly is a Program Manager?  At Microsoft it’s a role that means many things to many people.  In general though, when you meet a PM at Microsoft, you expect somebody who has vision, can drive a project to completion, can manage scope and resources, coordinate work across a team, bridge the customer, the business, and the technology, act as a customer champ, and influence without authority.  From a metaphor standpoint, they are often the hub to the spokes, they drive ideas to done, they take the ball and run with it, or find out who should run with the ball.  Some PMs are better at thought leadership, some are better at people leadership, and the best are great at both.

    One of my favorite quotes that helps distinguish program management vs. project management is by G. Reiss:

    “Project management is like juggling three balls – time, cost and quality. Program management is like a troupe of circus performers standing in a circle, each juggling-three balls and swapping balls from time to time.”


    Start Here

    What is a PM

    Getting Started



    Tips for Program Managers

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    NLP Patterns and Practices for High-Performance Teams and Achievers


    “The winners in life think constantly in terms of I can, I will, and I am. Losers, on the other hand, concentrate their waking thoughts on what they should have or would have done, or what they can’t do.” – Dennis Waitley

    One of the ways I set better goals and achieve them at Microsoft is by using well-defined outcomes.   It’s a way to begin with the end in mind.  An outcome is simply something that follows as a result or consequence.

    Maybe the best way to think of an outcome is that it answers the question: “What do you want?”

    (If you want to just jump to the recipe and full expanded explanation of how to set better goals, go here: How To Set Better Goals with Well-Defined Outcomes)

    Outcomes are the Key to High-Performance and Outstanding Results in  Work and Life

    NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) has popularized the use of outcomes over the years to help people achieve better results.   You can think of NLP as a way to model excellence and replicate it from one person to another.  It’s a way to program your mind, body, and emotions using advanced skills for high-performance.   (Tip – if you don’t’ program yourself, somebody else will.)

    Imagine if you could model what the most successful people think, feel, and do, and get that on your side.

    If you like languages or the idea of language to share and express concepts, you’ll especially appreciate the power of NLP.  NLP helps you create a lot of precision in how you see things, how you articulate things, how you filter information, and how you distill feedback into actionable insights.

    NLP is for Continuous Learning, Agile Personal Development, and Business Results

    NLP is like Agile Personal Development where continuous learning is fundamental to its core.

    NLP is probably the most powerful set of techniques I’ve ever come across for personal development, personal effectiveness, leadership, and high-performance.   The techniques effectively help you find better, faster, easier ways to accomplish outstanding results, while helping you bring out your best.   Tony Robbins popularized NLP back in the 80’s, but it’s more mainstream today.

    In fact, I know a lot of executives and highly effective Softies that use NLP to get the edge in work and life.   I also know a lot of developers that have NLP under their belt and it helps them clarify what they want, set better goals, take more effective action, and communicate more effectively to themselves and others.  In fact, some say that NLP is simply a set of advanced communication techniques.

    Developers Love NLP When They Stumble Upon It

    Developers often find a special place in their hearts for NLP because of its precision and how it helps to “codify” behaviors.   Specialists often use NLP to model high-performance behaviors and break them down into a recipe.   These recipes for results help guide your thoughts, feelings, and actions in a more powerful way.

    Anyway, what makes NLP powerful when you are setting goals is that it helps you really identify the end in mind.  It brings your full senses to bear, so instead of imagining a fuzzy scene of what success looks like with loosey-goosey language, it forces you to get specific and use precision, and to really get clarity on what you actually want to achieve. 

    After all, it’s a lot easier to get to where you are going, if you know what you really want to accomplish.

    In addition to helping you create compelling scenes of success, or mental movies of your future victories, NLP also helps you break your goal down into actionable chunks.  It also sets you up for success by teaching you to focus on feedback as a way to improve, not a sign of failure.  In this way, you keep refining your actions and your outcome until you achieve your goal.

    Patterns and Practices for High-Performance and Personal Development

    What most people don’t know about NLP is that it’s been an effective tool for years for building a great big body of knowledge around high-performance patterns for individuals, teams, and leaders.  The NLP framework provides a way to capture and share very detailed patterns of behavior that help people improve their performance.  Whether you want to improve your leadership skills, or your relationship skills, or whatever, there is a bountiful catalog of very specific patterns that help you do that. 

    And, the beauty of patterns in NLP is that they tend to be very prescriptive, very specific, and easy to follow and try out.  This makes it easy to test and adapt until you find what works for you.  (I’m a fan of don’t take things at face value – test them for yourself and judge from results.  I’m also a fan of Bruce Lee’s timeless wisdom: “Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.")

    One of the best books I’ve found is the book, The Big Book of NLP Techniques, by Shlomo Vakni.   Surprisingly, it actually delivers what it says on the cover.  There’s more than 350 patterns at your fingertips.   I wrote about one of the patterns, Well-Defined Outcomes, in my post on How To Set Better Goals with Well-Defined Outcomes.   You need to see it to believe it.  It really is detailed, so if you’ve ever struggled with setting goals, this might be your big breakthrough.

    The Big Breakthrough in Goal Setting

    Here’s the real breakthrough though in goal setting.  Aside from making sure you have goals that inspire you, and that they are aligned with what you really want, the power of the goal is ultimately in moving you in the right direction.   It’s not a perfect or precise path where you can simply do A and get B.   In fact, the irony is, that if you really want B, your best strategy is to first act as if you already have B.   This will help you think, feel, and act from a more effective perspective so that your actions come from the right place, and help you produce more effective results (or at least guide you in the right direction).

    That’s why you often here people say that you have to BE-DO-HAVE, not HAVE-DO-BE.   With HAVE-DO-BE, the idea is when you get what you want, then you’ll start doing the things that go with it, and finally you’ll act the part.   This is like saying that you won’t show up like a leader or act like a leader until somebody appoints you in a leadership role.   This creates a negative loop, since why should anybody put you in a role that you don’t act the part.

    The right thought pattern is BE-DO-HAVE because then your thoughts, feelings, and actions support your end results.

    Are you acting like what you want? 

    If you’re not getting what you want, what does your feedback tell you to change?

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    7 Metaphors for Leadership Transformation


    “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” — Publilius Syrus

    Change is tough.  Especially leading it.

    Whether you are leading yourself, others, or organizations through a change, it helps to have tools on your side.

    Recently, I read Leadership Transformed, by Dr. Peter Fuda. 

    It uses 7 metaphors to guide you through leadership transformation:

    1. FIRE
    4. COACH
    5. MASK
    6. MOVIE

    It might seem simple, but that's the point.   Metaphors are easy to remember and easy to use. 

    For example, you can use the Movie metaphor to increase your self-awareness and reflection that allow you to first "edit" your performance, and then direct a "movie" that exemplifies your leadership vision.

    The other benefit of simple metaphors is they allow both for creative interpretation and creative expression.

    I appreciated the book the further I went along.  In fact, what really clicked for me was the fact that I could easily remember the different metaphors and the big idea behind them.   It was a nice brain-break from memorizing and internalizing a bunch of leadership frameworks, principles, and patterns. 

    Instead, it’s just a simple set of metaphors that remind us how to bring out our best during our leadership transformations.

    The metaphors are actually well-chosen, and they really are helpful when you find yourself in scenarios where a different perspective or approach may help.

    Even better, the author grounds his results in some very interesting data, and aligns it to proven practices for effective leadership.

    Here is my book review:  Book Review: Leadership Transformed: How Ordinary Managers Become Extraordinary Leaders

    I included several highlights and “scenes” from the book, so you can get a good taste of the book, movie trailer style.

    If you end up reading the book, I encourage you to really dive into the background and the anatomy of the Leadership Impact tool that Dr. Fuda refers to.  It’s incredibly insightful in terms of leadership principles, patterns, and practices that are fairly universal and broadly applicable.


  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Asian Efficiency on 6 Ways Agile Results is Better than GTD


    “If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.” – Bruce Lee

    Aaron Lynn and Thanh Pham of Asian Efficiency wrote a thoughtful and interesting post about why they like Agile Results over GTD:

    6 Ways Agile Results is Better than GTD

    Here's the opening blurb:

    “Here’s a short, fun article about why I prefer JD Meier’s Agile Results as a foundational productivity system more than Getting Things Done (GTD).   Not that GTD isn’t awesome, it just misses a lot of things given the complexity of our lives nowadays. If you’ve been on the edge about switching to Agile Results, here are 6 great reasons why.”

    What I like is that they are fans of GTD and are familiar with both systems.

    I used to get asked how Agile Results related to GTD.   My most common response was … “better together” and “to each his own” or “absorb what is useful”.   Of course, Bruce Lee was an early influence on me:  “Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.”

    That said, I never had a snappy unique selling proposition, other than Agile Results is a personal results system for work and life.   For many folks, they liked when I said that it’s a “simple system for meaningful results.”   For other folks, they said the big deal is “outcomes not activities.”

    I actually think that’s the key:  meaningful results.

    A lot of Agile Results was born out of a desire to achieve 3 key things for as many people as I could:

    1. Help people make the most of what they’ve got (operate at a higher level, unleash their potential, and hit their high notes)
    2. Help people master time management, productivity, and work-life balance, and enjoy the journey.  Sometimes the journey is all we’ve got.   Let’s look back and say it was worth it.
    3. Help people get back up, when they get knocked down.   I wanted to help people keep bouncing back, keep moving forward.


    On #3, I always think of the line from Rocky 6:

    “Nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain’t how hard you can hit. It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It’s how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning’s done.” – Rock Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)

    I also think about my last visit to one of the Block Busters that was closing.   The lady there had spent the last several years of her life.   For her, Block Buster was her life.   With Block Buster closing, she didn’t know what was next.  She was scared.  She was feeling the struggle of each day, and wondering how to keep going.

    I confidently gave her a copy of my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.   I was confident that it would help her figure out how to write her story forward.   I was confident that she could use it to help her find her strength each day.  I was confident that she could use it to help her figure out what’s important in her life and spend more time on that. 

    In that instance, the last thing I wanted to do was to show her how she could use Agile Results to get more things done.   Instead, I wanted Agile Results to help her get back on her feet again and bring out her best, and to help her write her story forward.

    I wanted help her to hit her high notes.

    And, I wanted her to have better endings, brighter beginnings, and better adventures along the way.

    Ultimately, I wanted Dr. Seuss's timeless wisdom to ring true for her on multiple levels:

    “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

    I hope with Agile Results, I help people smile more.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    The Gift of Adversity


    “If the road is easy, you're likely going the wrong way.” ― Terry Goodkind

    If you know struggle, you know adversity.  If you know loss, you know adversity.  If you know setbacks, you know adversity.  If terrible things have happened to you, you know adversity.

    But do you know what to do with adversity?

    You can turn adversity into a gift.  It's not easy though.  In fact, if it was easy, it probably wouldn't be called adversity.

    I wrote a book review on The Gift of Adversity: The Unexpected Benefits of Life’s Difficulties, Setbacks, and Imperfections, by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D.  Dr. Rosenthal is the same guy who first described winter depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and he pioneered the use of light therapy for its treatment.

    It's a hard-core book with some grim stories, and some lighter tales, all about dealing with adversity.  Dr. Rosenthal is a powerful storyteller and he does a great job of sharing his insights and actionable things you can do to embrace adversity. 

    In fact, according to Dr. Rosenthal, embracing adversity is how we can live more authentic and meaningful lives.

    Dr. Rosenthal divides adversity into 3 flavors:  

    1. The bad things that happen to us
    2. The adversity we bring about ourselves
    3. The adversity that we seek out

    This works well because the book is written memoire style and Dr. Rosenthal draws from family, friends, and colleagues, as well as his own experiences, to share memories, personal anecdotes, and vignettes about the multiple categories of adversity.

    Be the Architect of Your Own Destiny

    Here is one of my favorite nuggets from the book ...

    “Many people enter psychotherapy for problems they see as the result of repeated bad luck or the misbehavior of others.  Such chronic failure to take responsibility leaves people like victims of fate rather than architects of their own destiny, which is not an empowering state of mind.  Why do they think this way?  Because it is painful to admit errors and shortcomings.    It is generally far more painful, however, to suffer the consequences as they play out over time.  That’s what happens to people who habitually fail to take responsibility for their actions.”

    The key take away is -- don’t be a victim and don’t play the blame game.  Rise above your circumstances and design a new story forward.

    I share several more nuggets in my book review.

    If you want to turn adversity into an advantage in work and life, check it out.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    7 Habits of Highly Effective People at a Glance


    Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is one of the greatest books on personal development.  Why? Because it provides a firm foundation for personal effectiveness.   Even better, it provides habits and skills you can build to realize your full potential.

    Here are the 7 habits of highly effective people, according to Stephen Covey:

    1. Be proactive
    2. Begin with the end in mind
    3. Put first things first
    4. Think win/win
    5. Seek to Understand, Then to be Understood
    6. Synergize
    7. Sharpen the saw

    I’ve provided a summary of each of the habits in my post, Adopt the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Here, I simply wanted to provide the habits at glance, as a reminder of some of the most useful habits that can help you throughout life.

    Interestingly, the habits serve me well at Microsoft.  I’ve always been a self-starter, which is critical for the Program Manager role.  Similarly, whenever I set out to do significant work or put any time into significant things, I begin with the end in mind.  A big part of project success, product success, or personal success comes down to putting first things first.  I very naturally go for the win/win because it’s the key to influence without authority.  I learned long ago that you have to first seek to understand, then to be understood, or you’re just fighting for air time, and without rapport, there is no influence.  Synergize also comes naturally to me because I want more from the whole than the parts, and I want more out of the time I and energy I invest.   As a life-long learner, sharpening the saw is how I continuously re-invent myself and stay relevant as the game changes under my feet.

    Of course, it’s one thing to “know” the habits, it’s another thing to do habits.   Here are some tips on how to change habits and making them stick.  If you want to get hard-core about habit change, here’s how to use Agile Results to change a habit.

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