J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

July, 2014

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    100+ Motivational Quotes to Inspire Your Greatness

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    I updated my Motivational Quotes page.

    I’ve got more than 100 motivational quotes on the page to help you find your inner-fire.

    It’s not your ordinary motivational quotes list.  

    It’s deep and it draws from several masters of inspiration including Bruce Lee, Jim Rohn, and Zig Ziglar.

    Here is a sampling of some of my personal favorite motivational quotes ..

    “If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” – Bruce Lee

    “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    “Kites rise highest against the wind; not with it.” – Winston Churchill

    “To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.” – Bruce Lee

    “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius

    “There is no such thing as failure. There are only results.” – Tony Robbins

    “When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.” -Henry David Thoreau

    “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” – Anonymous

    “Motivation alone is not enough. If you have an idiot and you motivate him, now you have a motivated idiot.” – Jim Rohn

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

    For more quotes, check out my motivational quotes page.

    It’s a living page and at some point I’ll do a complete revamp.

    I think in the future I’ll organize it by sub-categories within motivation rather than by people.I think at the time it made sense to have words of wisdom by various folks, but now I think grouping motivational quotes by sub-categories would work much better, especially when there is such a large quantity of quotes.

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    No Slack = No Innovation

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    "To accomplish great things we must dream as well as act." -- Anatole France

    Innovation is the way to leap frog and create new ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper.

    But it takes slack.

    The problem is when you squeeze the goose, to get the golden egg, you lose the slack that creates the eggs in the first place.

    In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel shares how when there is a lack of slack, there is no innovation.

    The Most Important Source of Productivity is Creativity

    Creativity unleashes productivity.  And it takes time to unleash creativity.  But the big bold bet is that the time you give to creativity and innovation, pays you back with new opportunities and new ways to do things better, faster, or cheaper.

    Via The Future of Management:

    “In the pursuit of efficiency, companies have wrung a lot of slack out of their operations.  That's a good thing.  No one can argue with the goal of cutting inventory levels, reducing working capital, and slashing over-head.  The problem, though, is that if you wring all the slack out of a company, you'll wring out all of the innovation as well.  Innovation takes time -- time to dream, time to reflect, time to learn, time to invent, and time to experiment.  And it takes uninterrupted time -- time when you can put your feet up and stare off into space.  As Pekka Himanen put it in his affectionate tribute to hackers, '... the information economy's most important source of productivity is creativity, and it is not possible to create interesting things in a constant hurry or in a regulated way from nine to five.'”

    There is No “Thinking Time”

    Without think time, creativity lives in a cave.

    Via The Future of Management:

    “While the folks in R&D and new product development are given time to innovate, most employees don't enjoy this luxury.  Every day brings a barrage of e-mails, voice mails, and back-to-back meetings.  In this world, where the need to be 'responsive' fragments human attention into a thousand tiny shards, there is no 'thinking time.'  And therein lies the problem.  However creative your colleagues may be, if they don't have the right to occasionally abandon their posts and work on something that's not mission critical, most of their creativity will remain dormant.”

    Are People Encouraged to Quietly Dream Up the Future?

    If you want more innovation, make space for it.

    Via The Future of Management:

    “OK, you already know that -- but how is that knowledge reflected in your company's management processes?  How hard is it for a frontline employee to get permission to spend 20 percent of her time working on a project that has nothing to do with her day job, nor your company's 'core businesses'?  And how often does this happen?  Does your company track the number of hours employees spend working on ideas that are incidental to their core responsibilities? Is 'slack' institutionalized in the same way that cost efficiency is?  Probably not.  There are plenty of incentives in your company for people to stay busy.  ('Maybe if I look like I'm working flat out, they won't send my job offshore.')  But where are the incentives that encourage people to spend time quietly dreaming up the future?”

    Are you slacking your way to a better future?

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    3 Challenges to Help You Set New Benchmarks in Innovation

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    If you want to change your game, you need to know what the key challenges are.

    Innovation is a game that you can play much better, if you know where and how to debottleneck it.

    In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel shares 3 challenges that he believes can help you unleash your organization’s capacity for innovation.

    1. How can you enroll every individual within your company in the work of innovation, and equip each one with creativity-boosting tools?
    2. How can you ensure that top management's hallowed beliefs don't straightjacket innovation, and that heretical ideas are given the chance to prove their worth?
    3. How can you create the time and space for grassroots innovation in an organization that is running flat to deliver today's results?

    According to Hamel, "Make progress on these challenges and your company will set new benchmarks in innovation."

    If I think back through the various teams I’ve been on at Microsoft, one team that I was on was especially good at helping innovation flourish, and we were constantly pushing the envelope to “be what’s next.”   Our innovation flourished the most when we directly addressed the challenges above.  People were challenged to share and test their ideas more freely and innovation was baked into how we planned our portfolio, programs, and projects.

    Innovation was a first-class citizen – by design.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Fearless Speaking

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    “Do one thing every day that scares you.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

    I did a deep dive book review.

    This time, I reviewed Fearless Speaking.

    The book is more than meets the eye.

    It’s actually a wealth of personal development skills at your fingertips and it’s a powerful way to grow your personal leadership skills.

    In fact, there are almost fifty exercises throughout the book.

    Here’s an example of one of the techniques …

    Spotlight Technique #1

    When you’re overly nervous and anxious as a public speaker, you place yourself in a ‘third degree’ spotlight.  That’s the name for the harsh bright light police detectives use in days gone by to ‘sweat’ a suspect and elicit a confession.  An interrogation room was always otherwise dimly lit, so the source of light trained on the person (who was usually forced to sit in a hard straight backed chair) was unrelenting.

    This spotlight is always harsh, hot, and uncomfortable – and the truth is, you voluntarily train it on yourself by believing your audience is unforgiving.  The larger the audience, the more likely you believe that to be true.

    So here’s a technique to get out from under this hot spotlight that you’re imagining so vividly turn it around! Visualize swiveling the spotlight so it’s aimed at your audience instead of you.  After all, aren’t you supposed to illuminate your listeners? You don’t want to leave them in the dark, do you?

    There’s no doubt that it’s cooler and much more comfortable when you’re out under that harsh light.  The added benefit is that now the light is shining on your listeners – without question the most important people in the room or auditorium!

    I like that there are so many exercises and techniques to choose from.   Many of them don’t fit my style, but there were several that exposed me to new ways of thinking and new ideas to try.

    And what’s especially great is knowing that these exercise come from professional actors and speakers – it’s like an insider’s guide at your fingertips.

    My book review on Fearless Speaking includes a list of all the exercises, the chapters at a glance, key features from the book, and a few of my favorite highlights from the book (sort of like a movie trailer for the book.)

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    The Drag of Old Mental Models on Innovation and Change

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    “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” — Howard Aiken

    It's not a lack of risk taking that holds innovation and change back. 

    Even big companies take big risks all the time.

    The real barrier to innovation and change is the drag of old mental models.

    People end up emotionally invested in their ideas, or they are limited by their beliefs or their world views.  They can't see what's possible with the lens they look through, or fear and doubt hold them back.  In some cases, it's even learned helplessness.

    In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel shares some great insight into what holds people and companies back from innovation and change.

    Yesterday’s Heresies are Tomorrow’s Dogmas

    Yesterday's ideas that were profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted, eventually become the norm, and then eventually become a belief system that is tough to change.

    Via The Future of Management:

    “Innovators are, by nature, contrarians.  Trouble is, yesterday's heresies often become tomorrow's dogmas, and when they do, innovation stalls and the growth curve flattens out.”

    Deeply Held Beliefs are the Real Barrier to Strategic Innovation

    Success turns beliefs into barriers by cementing ideas that become inflexible to change.

    Via The Future of Management:

    “... the real barrier to strategic innovation is more than denial -- it's a matrix of deeply held beliefs about the inherent superiority of a business model, beliefs that have been validated by millions of customers; beliefs that have been enshrined in physical infrastructure and operating handbooks; beliefs that have hardened into religious convictions; beliefs that are held so strongly, that nonconforming ideas seldom get considered, and when they do, rarely get more than grudging support.”

    It's Not a Lack of Risk Taking that Holds Innovation Back

    Big companies take big risks every day.  But the risks are scoped and constrained by old beliefs and the way things have always been done.

    Via The Future of Management:

    “Contrary to popular mythology, the thing that most impedes innovation in large companies is not a lack of risk taking.  Big companies take big, and often imprudent, risks every day.  The real brake on innovation is the drag of old mental models.  Long-serving executives often have a big chunk of their emotional capital invested in the existing strategy.  This is particularly true for company founders.  While many start out as contrarians, success often turns them into cardinals who feel compelled to defend the one true faith.  It's hard for founders to credit ideas that threaten the foundations of the business models they invented.  Understanding this, employees lower down self-edit their ideas, knowing that anything too far adrift from conventional thinking won't win support from the top.  As a result, the scope of innovation narrows, the risk of getting blindsided goes up, and the company's young contrarians start looking for opportunities elsewhere.”

    Legacy Beliefs are a Much Bigger Liability When It Comes to Innovation

    When you want to change the world, sometimes it takes a new view, and existing world views get in the way.

    Via The Future of Management:

    “When it comes to innovation, a company's legacy beliefs are a much bigger liability than its legacy costs.  Yet in my experience, few companies have a systematic process for challenging deeply held strategic assumptions.  Few have taken bold steps to open up their strategy process to contrarian points of view.  Few explicitly encourage disruptive innovation.  Worse, it's usually senior executives, with their doctrinaire views, who get to decide which ideas go forward and which get spiked.  This must change.”

    What you see, or can’t see, changes everything.

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    The New Realities that Call for New Organizational and Management Capabilities

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    “The only people who can change the world are people who want to. And not everybody does.” -- Hugh MacLeod

    Is it just me or is the world changing faster than ever?

    I hear from everybody around me (inside and outside of Microsoft) how radically their worlds are changing under their feet, business models are flipped on their heads, and the game of generating new business value for customers is at an all-time competitive high.

    Great.

    Challenge is where growth and greatness come from.  It’s always a chance to test what we’re capable of and respond to whatever gets thrown our way.  But first, it helps to put a finger on what exactly these changes are that are disrupting our world, and what to focus on to survive and thrive.

    In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel shares some great insight into the key challenges that companies are facing that create even more demand for management innovation.

    The New Realities We’re Facing that Call for Management Innovation

    I think Hamel describes our new world pretty well …

    Via The Future of Management:

    • “As the pace of change accelerates more, more and more companies are finding themselves on the wrong side of the change curve.  Recent research by L.G. Thomas and Richard D'Aveni suggests that industry leadership is changing hands more frequently, and competitive advantage is eroding more rapidly, than ever before.  Today, it's not just the occasional company that gets caught out by the future, but entire industries -- be it traditional airlines, old-line department stores, network television broadcasters, the big drug companies, America's carmakers, or the newspaper and music industries.”
    • “Deregulation, along with the de-scaling effects of new technology, are dramatically reducing the barriers to entry across a wide range of industries, from publishing to telecommunications to banking to airlines.  As a result, long-standing oligopolies are fracturing and competitive 'anarchy' is on the rise.”
    • “Increasingly, companies are finding themselves enmeshed in 'value webs' and 'ecosystems' over which they have only partial control.  As a result, competitive outcomes are becoming less the product of market power, and more the product of artful negotiation.  De-verticalization, disintermediation, and outsource-industry consortia, are leaving firms with less and less control over their own destinies.”
    • “The digitization of anything not nailed down threatens companies that make their living out of creating and selling intellectual property.  Drug companies, film studios, publishers, and fashion designers are all struggling to adapt to a world where information and ideas 'want to be free.'”
    • The internet is rapidly shifting bargaining power from producers to consumers.  In the past, customer 'loyalty' was often an artifact of high search costs and limited information, and companies frequently profited from customer ignorance.  Today, customers are in control as never before -- and in a world of near-perfect information, there is less and less room for mediocre products and services.”
    • Strategy cycles are shrinking.  Thanks to plentiful capital, the power of outsourcing, and the global reach of the Web, it's possible to ramp up a new business faster than ever before.  But the more rapidly a business grows, the sooner it fulfills the promise of its original business model, peaks, and enters its dotage.  Today, the parabola of success is often a short, sharp spike.”
    • “Plummeting communication costs and globalization are opening up industries to a horde of new ultra-low-cost competitors.  These new entrants are eager to exploit the legacy costs of the old guard.  While some veterans will join the 'race to the bottom' and move their core activities to the world's lowest-cost locations, many others will find it difficult to reconfigure their global operations.  As Indian companies suck in service jobs and China steadily expands its share of global manufacturing, companies everywhere will struggle to maintain their margins.”

    Strategically Adaptive and Operationally Efficient

    So how do you respond to the challenges.   Hamel says it takes becoming strategically adaptable and operationally efficient.   What a powerful combo.

    Via The Future of Management:

    “These new realities call for new organizational and managerial capabilities.  To thrive in an increasingly disruptive world, companies must become as strategically adaptable as they are operationally efficient.  To safeguard their margins, they must become gushers of rule-breaking innovation.  And if they're going to out-invent and outthink a growing mob of upstarts, they must learn how to inspire their employees to give the very best of themselves every day.  These are the challenges that must be addressed by 21st-century management innovations.”

    There are plenty of challenges.  It’s time to get your greatness on. 

    If there ever was a chance to put to the test what you’re capable of, now is the time.

    No matter what, as long as you live and learn, you’ll grow from the process.

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    Who's Managing Your Company?

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    One of the best books I’m reading lately is The Future of Management, by Gary Hamel.

    It’s all about how management innovation is the best competitive advantage, whether you look through the history of great businesses or the history of great militaries.  Hamel makes a great case that strategic innovation, product or service innovation, and operational innovation are fleeting advantages, but management innovation leads to competitive advantage for the long haul.

    In The Future of Management, Hamel poses a powerful question …

    “Who is managing your company?”

    Via The Future of Management:

    “Who's managing your company?  You might be tempted to answer, 'the CEO,' or 'the executive team,' or 'all of us in middle management.'  And you'd be right, but that wouldn't be the whole truth.  To a large extent, your company is being managed right now by a small coterie of long-departed theorists and practitioners who invented the rules and conventions of 'modern' management back in the early years of the 20th century.  They are the poltergeists who inhabit the musty machinery of management.  It is their edicts, echoing across the decades, that invisibly shape the way your company allocates resources, sets budgets, distributes power, rewards people, and makes decisions.”

    That’s why it’s easy for CEOs to hop around companies …

    Via The Future of Management:

    “So pervasive is the influence of these patriarchs that the technology of management varies only slightly from firm to firm.  Most companies have a roughly similar management hierarchy (a cascade of EVPs, SVPs, and VPs).  They have analogous control systems, HR practices, and planning rituals, and rely on comparable reporting structures and review systems.  That's why it's so easy for a CEO to jump from one company to another -- the levers and dials of management are more or less the same in every corporate cockpit.”

    What really struck me here is how much management approach has been handed down through the ages, and accepted as status quo.

    It’s some great good for thought, especially given that management innovation is THE most powerful form of competitive advantage from an innovation standpoint (which Hamel really builds a strong case here throughout the entirety of the book.)

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    100 Articles to Sharpen Your Mind

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    Actually, it's more than 100 articles for your mind.  I've tagged my articles with "mind" on Sources of Insight that focus on increasing your "intellectual horsepower":

    Articles on Mind Power and the Power of Thoughts

    Here are a few of the top mind articles that you can quickly get results with:

    Note that if reading faster is important to you, then I recommend also reading How To Read 10,000 Words a Minute (it’s my ultimate edge) and The Truth About Speed Reading.

    If there’s one little trick I use with reading (whether it’s a book, an email, or whatever), I ask myself “what’s the insight?” or “what’s the action?” or “how can I use this?"  You’d be surprised but just asking yourself those little focusing questions can help you parse down cluttered content fast and find the needles in the haystack.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Agile and the Definition of Quality

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    “Quality begins on the inside... then works its way out.” -- Bob Moawad

    Quality is value to someone.

    Quality is relative.

    Quality does not exist in a non-human vacuum.

    Who is the person behind a statement about quality?

    Who’s requirements count the most?

    What are people willing to pay or do to have their requirements met?

    Quality can be elusive if you don’t know how to find it, or you don’t know where to look.  Worse, even when you know where to look, you need to know how to manage the diversity of conflicting views.

    On a good note, Agile practices and an Agile approach can help you surface and tackle quality in a tractable and pragmatic way.

    In the book Agile Impressions, by “the grandfather of Agile Programming”, Jerry Weinberg shares insights and lessons learned around the relativity of quality and how to make decisions about quality more explicit and transparent.

    Example of Conflicting Ideas About Software Quality

    Here are some conflicting ideas about what constitutes software quality, according to Weinberg:

    “Zero defects is high quality.”
    “Lots of features is high quality.”
    Elegant coding is high quality.”
    “High performance is high quality.”
    ”Low development cost is high quality.”
    “Rapid development is high quality.”
    “User-friendliness is high quality.”

    More Quality for One Person, May Mean Less for Another

    There are always trade-offs.  It can be a game of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

    Via Agile Impressions:

    “Recognizing the relativity of quality often resolves the semantic dilemma. This is a monumental contribution, but it still does not resolve the political dilemma:  More quality for one person may mean less quality for another.”

    The Relativity of Quality

    Quality is relative.

    Via Agile Impressions:

    “The reason for my dilemma lies in the relativity of quality. As the MiniCozy story crisply illustrates, what is adequate quality to one person may be inadequate quality to another.”

    Quality Does Not Exist in a Non-Human Vacuum

    So many

    Via Agile Impressions:

    “If you examine various definitions of quality, you will always find this relativity. You may have to examine with care, though, for the relativity is often hidden, or at best, implicit.

    In short, quality does not exist in a non-human vacuum, but every statement about quality is a statement about some person(s).  That statement may be explicit or implicit. Most often, the “who” is implicit, and statements about quality sound like something Moses brought down from Mount Sinai on a stone tablet.  That’s why so many discussions of software quality are unproductive: It’s my stone tablet versus your Golden Calf.”

    Ask, Who is the Person Behind that Statement About Quality?

    The way to have more productive conversations about quality is to find out who is the person behind a specific statement about quality.

    Via Agile Impressions:

    “When we encompass the relativity of quality, we have a tool to make those discussions more fruitful.  Each time somebody asserts a definition of software quality, we simply ask, “Who is the person behind that statement about quality.”

    Quality Is Value To Some Person

    Whose requirements count the most?

    Via Agile Impressions:

    “The political/emotional dimension of quality is made evident by a somewhat different definition of quality.  The idea of ‘requirements’ is a bit too innocent to be useful in this early stage, because it says nothing about whose requirements count the most. A more workable definition would be this:

    ‘Quality is value to some person.’

    By ‘value,’ I mean, ‘What are people willing to pay (do) to have their requirements met.’ Suppose, for instance, that Terra were not my niece, but the niece of the president of the MiniCozy Software Company.  Knowing MiniCozy’s president’s reputation for impulsive emotional action, the project manager might have defined “quality” of the word processor differently.  In that case, Terra’s opinion would have been given high weight in the decision about which faults to repair.”

    The Definition of “Quality” is Always Political and Emotional

    Quality is a human thing.

    Via Agile Impressions:

    “In short, the definition of ‘quality’ is always political and emotional, because it always involves a series of decisions about whose opinions count, and how much they count relative to one another. Of course, much of the time these political/emotional decisions– like all important political/emotional decisions–are hidden from public view. Most of us software people like to appear rational. That’s why very few people appreciate the impact of this definition of quality on the Agile approaches.”

    Agile Teams Can Help Make Decisions About Quality More Explicit Transparent

    Open processes and transparency can help arrive at a better quality bar.

    Via Agile Impressions:

    “What makes our task even more difficult is that most of the time these decisions are hidden even from the conscious minds of the persons who make them.  That’s why one of the most important actions of an Agile team is bringing such decisions into consciousness, if not always into public awareness. And that’s why development teams working with an open process (like Agile) are more likely to arrive at a more sensible definition of quality than one developer working alone. To me, I don’t consider Agile any team with even one secret component.”

    The "Customer" Must Represent All Significant Decisions of Quality

    The quality of your product will be gated by the quality of your representation.

    Via Agile Impressions:

    “Customer support is another emphasis in Agile processes, and this definition of quality guides the selection of the ‘customers.’ To put it succinctly, the ‘ customer’ must actively represent all of the significant definitions of ‘quality.’ Any missing component of quality may very likely lead to a product that’s deficient in that aspect of quality.”

    If You Don’t Have Suitable Representation of Views on Quality, You’re Not Agile

    It’s faster and far more efficient to ignore people and get your software done.  But it’s far less effective.  Your amplify your effectiveness for addressing quality by involving the right people, in the right way, at the right time.  That’s how you change your quality game.

    Via Agile Impressions:

    “As a consultant to supposedly Agile teams, I always examine whether or not they have active participation of a suitable representation of diverse views of their product’s quality. If they tell me, “We can be more agile if we don’t have to bother satisfying so many people, then they may indeed by agile, but they’re definitely not Agile.”

    I’ve learned a lot about quality over the years.  Many of Jerry Weinberg’s observations and insights match what I’ve experienced across various projects, products, and efforts.   The most important thing I’ve learned is how much value is in the eye of the beholder and the stakeholder and that quality is something that you directly impact by having the right views involved throughout the process.

    Quality is not something you can bolt on or something that you can patch.

    While you can certainly improve things, so much of quality starts up front with vision and views of the end in mind.

    You might even say that quality is a learning process of realizing the end in mind.

    For me, quality is a process of vision + rapid learning loops to iterate my way through the jungle of conflicting and competing views and viewpoints, while brining people along the journey.

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