J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

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    patterns and practices WCF Security Guidance Now Available


    Our patterns & practices WCF Security Guidance Project is in progress on CodePlex.  This is our first release of prescriptive guidance modules for WCF Security. 

    How Tos
    Our How Tos give you step by step instructions for performing key tasks:

    Our videos step you visually through key guidance:

    About WCF
    Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) is a service-oriented platform for building and consuming secure, reliable, and transacted services.  It unifies the programming models for ASMX, Enterprise services and .NET Remoting.  It supports multiple protocols including named pipes, TCP, HTTP, and MSMQ.  WCF promotes loose coupling, supports interoperability, and encapsulates the latest web service standards.  With WCF, you get flexibility in choosing protocol, message encoding formats, and hosting.   For more information, see the MSDN WCF Developer Center.

    About the Project
    WCF provides a lot of options and flexibility.  The goal of our patterns & practices WCF Security Guidance Project is to find the key combinations of security practices for WCF that work for customers and share them more broadly.  At a high-level, you can think of the project in terms of these main buckets:

    • Application Scenarios - These are whiteboard solutions for common end-to-end application scenarios.
    • How Tos - These are step-by-step instructions for performing key end-to-end tasks.
    • Building Codes - These are our sets of rules and practices.  This includes Guidelines, Checklists, and Practices at a Glance.
    • Reference - This includes Explained, Cheat Sheets, and Q&A guidance.

    The plan is to incrementally share our guidance modules on CodePlex as we go, then build a guide, then port the guidance to MSDN once it's baked.

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    Tests for Success


    How do you identify the bull's-eye among your stakeholders?  Nothing's worse than finishing a project and missing the mark you didn't know was there. At patterns & practices, one of our effective project practices is to use "tests for success" to help avoid this scenario.

    What are Tests for Success
    "Tests for success" are the prioritized success criteria that the stakeholder's agree to.  It's basically a set of test cases, that if the project passes, the project is perceived as a success.  They help clarify outcomes and priorities.

    Example Tests for Success
    Here's an example of "tests for success" from one of my projects:

    • Single multi-dimensional information model?
    • Single unified perspective of the product model?
    • Single unified perspective of the content model?
    • Backlog is mapped to the information model?
    • Capability to do comparative analysis and produce “Consumer reports” view of the catalog and the proposed work? (e.g. What’s customer demand? ... What’s our coverage?)

    Stakeholders for the project created and prioritized this list, with prompts from the project team.  This exercise helped clarify a lot of ambiguity as well as do a level set for the team.

    How Can You Use This
    Whether it's a personal project or a project at work, you can create your own tests for success.   I think a small list of the vital few works better than a laundry list.  Phrasing the tests as one-liner questions makes them easy to create and use.  Here's some prompts to trigger your own tests for success:

    • How will the world be a different place when the project is done?
    • How will we know we did a good job?
    • What's the most valuable outcomes for the project?
    • In order for the project to be successful, we need to .... ?

    When you're in the thick of things, you'll appreciate having a small set of criteria to go back to and help keep you and everyone involved on track.

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    Turning Chickens into Pigs


    Have you ever been on a project where key stakeholders don't have skin in the game, but they have a controlling vote?  This is a bad situation.  It's like multiple backseat drivers, except they won't be there if the car crashes.  What's the solution?  You turn chickens into pigs!

    The Chicken and the Pig
    You may have heard the story about the chicken and the pig.  The chicken says to the pig, "We should should start a restaurant."  The pig asks, "What would we serve?"  The chicken responds, "Bacon and eggs!"  The pig says, "No thanks!"

    The point in the story is the pig's "committed" while the chicken's "involved."

    The Solution
    Recognizing the situation is more than half the battle.  When you've identified that chickens have controlling votes over pigs, your options include:

    • Avoid the situation where chickens are controlling the votes for pigs.
    • Make sure the chickens don't have controlling votes and make it explicit.
    • Turn the chickens into pigs.  You need to move them from involved to committed.  Have them take commitments or dependencies (skin in the game and committed to your success.)
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    How To Differentiate


    How can you differentiate what you do?  This can be particularly difficult in problem spaces that seem over-crowded.  It helps if you have a frame.  One of my mentors gave me a useful lens for differentiating that helps solve this problem.

    Problem, Approach, or Implementation
    You can differentiate based on problem, approach or implementation:

    • Problem - What problem do you address?
    • Approach - What strategy do you use to solve the problem?
    • Implementation - How do you implement your solution?

    If you differentiate at the problem you solve, it's good to be able to call that out.   If you solve the same problem, but use a different approach, unless it produces a big difference in results, it's probably not worth it.  If you differ only by implementation and the experience or results aren't valued by the customer, again, it's probably not worth it.

    Using the Frame for Differentiation
    First identify whether you differentiate at the problem, approach, or implementation.   Next, determine whether the level at which you're differentiating is worth it.  For example, consider safety among automobile makers.  Volvo's approach to safety stands out.  They work the same problem but differentiate by approach.

    By having clarity around where you differentiate, it's easier to communicate your deltas in a meaningful way to others.

    At Microsoft, when I tackle a problem that's been "solved" before, I use the frame as a lens to quickly find the useful differentiation.  For example, doing security reviews wasn't a new problem.  However, changing the approach by using inspections and building a set of reusable criteria from a team of experts changed the game.  By using criteria based on principles and patterns, and then organizing the criteria within a frame of actionable categories produced exponential results for all of our customers that adopted the approach.  Old problem, new approach, great results.

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    Life Frame


    What is your life frame?  What are the key buckets in your life that you need to balance across?  If you have a frame, you can balance your life through thick and through thin.  If you have a life frame, you can more thoughtfully allocate your time and energy for maximum results.  More importantly, when things aren't going well, you have a tool to help you spot where you are not investing enough.

    Life Frame
    This is a baseline of your personal portfolio of your most important assets:

    • Mind
    • Body
    • Emotions
    • Career
    • Financial
    • Relationships
    • Adventure

    Note - if those buckets don't work for you, change them.  It's a starter set.

    I've been sharing this life frame with those I coach, and some colleagues and they've found it helpful, so now I'm sharing it more broadly.  It's a great starting point when you're not getting what you want out of life.

    Spread Your Energy and Time Across Your Buckets
    Spread your energy and time across them.  If your current investment's not working, turn up the dial on some.  If your stuck in one area, then try turning up another.  For example, if you're not getting the results you want at work, then crank up your relationships dial.  Remember that with this portfolio, the sum is more than the parts.   It's the net effect.

    What Can Happen When You Don't Use the Frame
    When I first got to Microsoft years ago, I didn't have this frame.  Sure I knew about these areas of my life, but I didn't have the mental model of a portfolio.  Instead, all I knew was that I would throw all my energy and hours at my career bucket.  To put that in perspective, 80, 90, 100+ hours a week.  The problem is I consistently got rated highly and produced results.  But at what cost?  Well, if you spend 100+ hours in one bucket, guess how much energy you're spending in others?   Granted some buckets overlap, but I'm talking about when you really shine the spotlight on them.

    Improve Your Approach Over Spend More Time
    Time is a limited resources.  So is your energy.  Interestingly, while working on performance modeling, the light bulb went off.  If I carve out a minimum for some buckets and a maximum for others, it would be a forcing function.  What's the maximum I would throw at my career bucket?  60? 50? 40?   Timeboxing my career bucket forced me to identify the real value of all my work and to heavily prioritize.  It also forced me to find the most effective principles, patterns and practices for project management, personal productivity, running high-performance teams, ... etc.   Which is better ... more time at the problem? ... or better techniques, more value, and a sustainable pace?  

    Set Boundaries (Minimums and Maximums)
    The real lesson is that if you don't first set your boundaries, then you never really have a way to prioritize.  For example, if you allocate fifty hours to your career bucket weekly, now you know how much to bite off at a time.  Otherwise, you'll just work until everything's done, but there's always something more to do.  Priorities, focus, and value are your friends.

    As another example, I now continuously invest in my relationships bucket.  For example, each week I have lunch with an old friend, and lunch with someone new.  At Microsoft, and in life, it's what you know and who you know.

    How To Use This
    To get started, just put these categories on your whiteboard or a pad of paper.  Take a look across your portfolio and figure out your current investments in time and energy.  Look at your results.  How well are you balancing?  If you're on track, great.  If not, try increasing your investment is some areas and lowering another.   The goal is to improve the quality of your life.  If you want to really put some focus in an area, try a 30 Day Improvement Sprint.

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    Success is When the Response Meets the Challenge


    I know success means a lot of things to a lot of people.  My favorite definition is "success is when the response meets the challenge."

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    Adapt, Adjust, or Avoid


    How do you make the most of any situation?  Figure out whether you need to adapt, adjust or avoid.

    Adapting to the Situation
    Adapting to the situation, means changing yourself for the situation.  While flexibility is good, you need to be careful.  You can trade your less effective behaviors, but don't adapt to the situation in a way that takes away your strengths.  You'd be better off finding a situation where you can play to your strengths.  

    Adjusting the Situation
    Adjusting the situation, means changing the situation to suit you.  Sometimes this is the best option, particularly if you can set it up to play to your strength.  For example, when you take on a project, can you get the right people on board that compliment your ability?

    Avoiding the Situation
    Sometimes this is the best path.  Learn to spot the situations where you don't do well.   This is my caution.  Because I turn any situation into a learning opportunity or challenge, I need to know when it's low ROI.  Life's too short to spend energy in low ROI situations.

    Self-Awareness is the Key
    If you know your personal strengths and passions, this is your key to success.  You avoid adapting to situations that take away your strengths.  You learn to setup situations in a way that you succeed.  You learn the situations that you should avoid.

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    Win the Heart, the Mind Follows


    How do you get the people on your side or inspire a vision or change the world?  First win the heart.  I'm blogging on this because it's a lesson I've learned that shows up in so many ways, time and again.  I see it in thought leaders.  I see it in people leaders.  I see it in everyday, conversational exchange.  This is one of those ah-ha's that when it sinks in, you find opportunities to apply it every day to improve your effectiveness.

    Connecting at the Heart vs. Connecting at the Intellect
    If you connect at the heart, the mind follows. Interestingly,if you connect at the intellect, you may not necessarily get the heart to follow. 

    Go For the Heart
    If you have great ideas, but people aren't on board, chances are you've been ignoring the heart.  Change your approach.  One way to invoke the heart is to address core values: loyalty, commitment and contribution, individual worth and dignity, and integrity.

    One of my former leaders is known for inspiring people.  For example, whenever I would tell him about a project, he would first ask me how I was going to change the world and who the dream team would be to make it happen? 

    While he couldn't always get me the dream team, he first focused on a compelling vision and that was inspirational.  Where the heart goes, the mind follows.  In fact, in many cases I was able to get the dream team, because of the emotional commitment to make it happen.  Inspired visions trump purely intellectual ones.

    Posts with Pictures
    While studying effective blogging practices, I noticed a success pattern.  The pattern is to start your post with a picture.  Ironically, I fought this pattern because the engineer in me wants efficient, effective value in text.  So do a lot of engineers.  However, many don't. 

    Choosing the right picture can cause your readers to have an emotional reaction to your information, and draw them into your post.  If you don't believe me, take a look at Alik's post Glue Audience To Your Presentation With ZoomIt.  Tell me that picture doesn't get you curious?  While your picture should be relevant, it should also cause your readers to feel something, and have a reaction.  An extreme anti-pattern is to use pictures to trick readers into your posts.

    It Works On You
    If you know this, you can inspire yourself.  Rather than smart talk yourself into something, try winning over your heart first.  How can you get leverage on yourself?  What inspires you?  Win your heart and your mind will follow. 

    Additional Resources

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    How To Choose an Effective Blog Template or Theme


    How do you pick the right theme for your blog?  The challenge is that it's not a linear decision and it requires satisficing to balance content,  function, and design ("look and feel").  As part of my research on effective blogging, I've been analyzing themes.  I’ve literally evaluated more than 2,000 themes and heavily modified more than 20.  I see a lot of patterns now.  I've decided to share my lessons learned, since they might save you considerable time.

    Summary of Lessons Learned
    Here's a summary of my key lessons learned:

    • Know your purpose.  You need to know what your optimizing for.  This shapes all the rest of your decisions, so if you know this, it helps.  For me, my portfolio of blogs will be online personal knowledge bases to share my learnings.  For me, that means putting a premium on organizing, browsing, searching, and sharing posts.
    • Start with a two column theme.  If you don't know where to start, start with a two-column template for your blog.  Three column templates have more moving parts and are trickier to create a clean reading experience.
    • Your content drives your theme choice.  Will you use images?  How long is your content going to be?  What types of posts will you have?  Will they vary?  Test the variations because this can have a big impact in the look and feel in your theme.  Your posts are the wood behind the arrow.  While your theme is the initial impact, your posts should be very readable and scannable.  Test the readability of your posts for different scenarios (skimming, in depth, long, short ... etc.)
    • Test how you'll use images.  Some of the themes I tested completely changed simply by adding images in the banner or in the posts.  The two main patterns are whether to use pictures in your banner or pictures in your posts.  The benefit of the picture per post approach is that your feed readers will get them.  If you use pictures in both your banner and your posts, it's tougher to help your users know where to focus.  Using a good picture at the front of your post, helps draw your reader in, particularly if they are scanning and sick of text.
    • Test key scenarios.  This includes users reading your feed, commenting, scanning your posts, reading your posts in detail, searching your blog, and browsing your blog (using your tags and categories.)
    • Choose simplicity over complexity.  You can evaluate the complexity by walking your key scenarios.  Do your eyes know where to focus when you first pull up your blog?  How tough is it to find a particular post? ... etc.
    • Trust your gut.  If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.  You just might not be able to put your finger on it, so ask others who might know.  Sometimes intuitively recognizing a problem is more effective than trying to logic your way through it.
    • If it's not working, change it.  As tough as it is to let things go, it's important to cut the deadwood or change things that don't work.  Experimenting opens new doors.  Some days after a long customization session it was really tough to drop the theme entirely, but I stayed focused on making my focus group happy.  That helped me keep going and continuously throw out what didn't work and carry forward lessons learned.
    • Ask your users.   While I had built up my own internal references of what good looks like, using a personal sounding board was invaluable.  I really enjoyed the surprises the most.  They forced me to challenge my thinking and test new ideas.
    • Know you can't make everybody happy.   This was really tough in the beginning.  I couldn't believe how I couldn't get any critical mass down any particular path.   What changed was I found the common denominators and patterns.  Once I chose themes that shared these patterns, then it was easier to spiral down on agreement.
    • Beware if you have to modify a template too much.  If you have to modify a template too much, something might be off.   While you can dramatically reshape a template to your liking, I think the base theme is a reflection of the designer's style and expertise.  If you find that your changing a lot of the theme, at some point you might be adjusting the theme too much and working against the theme.  In some themes, it starts to become obvious whether the designer knows SEO very well or knows how to bullet-proof their layouts or is good with overall look and feel, including typography.  That's why I paid a lot of attention to live examples and user comments to see what sorts of changes people were making, and whether they were just personal style or represented real structural or significant changes.  Spotting the patterns saved me lots of time, once I knew what I was looking for.
    • Leverage the Internet Explorer Development Toolbar.  The Internet Explorer Development Toolbar is your friend.  I couldn't have analyzed as many themes as I did without it.   The ability to quickly point at themes and reverse engineer them was invaluable.  For Firefox users, you can try FireBug, but I haven't tried it myself.  The key is to find a tool that helps you analyze the CSS HTMl, and JavasScript.

    Vital Factors in Your Blog Theme
    It's the sum of the parts that creates your overall blog theme impact.  Part of the problem that cost me so much time is I didn't know what to look for at first.  I had to go through hundreds of themes before I started to see patterns that made some themes more effective than others.  The other thing that cost me so much time is that it's a combination of factors over any one thing.  The overall look and feel is the sum of the parts.  Here's what I found to be key factors in overall look and feel:

    • 2 Column vs. 3 Column Templates.  This is a good macro-level decision because it helps divide your theme choices.  While there's exceptions, my readers told me that in general they prefer two columns over three.  They said it's a cleaner reading area, easier to know where to focus and it's simple to scroll the full page and see posts/pages on the left and the navigation/ads on the right.  If you go with a three column theme then there's a few issues.  Overall, try to find a theme where the column for posts is around two-thirds of the page and the two sidebars add up to around one-third.  In general, for three columns, my users preferred a column on the left and a column on the right with posts in the middle, versus two columns on the right.      
    • Color Patterns.  Colors and color combinations have a big impact on your blog's look and feel.  This includes your background, banner, text and links.  Your best judge is how you and your user's feel when they see the color combinations.  They may not to explain the reaction, but they'll feel something.  One of the guys on my team knows some science behind colors so he helped me better understand different reactions.  You can check Crayola's America's 50 Favorite Colors and Kuler helps you explore, create and share color themes
    • Font combinations for titles, body, and sidebar.  According to my users fonts and typography matters a lot.  This includes font size, family and colors.  This ones tough and can vary a great deal.  You need to evaluate both Initial impact and readability over time.  Again, unless you're a designer, you'll need to compare your gut reaction to different examples and test with your users.  For the main post text, What I did find was that, in general, my users preferred a white or off-white background, with dark gray font (versus black) and Verdana font.  They also prefer the post titles to clearly stand out, at least in size and style (for example Trebuchet or Ariel.)
    • Post readability.  Width is a big factor.  My users told me that when the post column is too wide, scanning is more difficult, and that when it's too narrow, they have to scroll too much.  Overall, they expect the post column to be two-thirds of the template width.  Once the width is right, then the next issue is the          
    • Effective sidebar design.   It seems like the features my user's cared about the most on the sidebars were: subscribe to RSS, search, categories, tags, recent posts and recent comments.   There was a definite preference for search and subscribe to RSS to be at the top.   
    • User experience patterns for searching/browsing.    If you have a large collection of posts this is particularly important, and pretty easy to test.  If you know your posts, you should first test how quickly you can browse and search for specific posts.  Then test the theme with your users.  They won't have the same inside information you do, so this could be very revealing how well the patterns are working.   I think the biggest factor here is using a "Read More" feature and showing just the first part of your posts when browsing categories or in search results.  The longer your posts are, the more important this becomes.
    • Effective use of images.  Choosing images for banners and posts made a dramatic difference in how my focus group responded to some themes.       
    • Effective banner design.  This can make or break the initial impact of your theme. 
    • Comment support.  Some themes host user comments better than others.  It really helps when you find a live example with many comments.  That way you can see how well it scales while maintaining readability. 
    • Effective use of whitespace.   My users pretty consistently commented on how effective whitespace really made some themes seem cleaner than others.  I think the biggest factor here was spacing between blog sections and elements.
    • Links.  My users told me they prefer links that are easy to spot versus get lost in the text, but that don't steal the show.  They also told me they prefer underlined links in posts, but don't underline in the sidebar (for example, categories, tag cloud, recent posts, ... etc.)
    • Search Engine Optimization (SEO).   I did notice that some themes seem optimized for SEO more than others.  While my user's didn't notice this, search engines will.  I think the main thing to pay attention across templates is how they use the title, description and header tags.  You can tailor how your results will show up in search results.  For categories, you should use permanent links.  This improves your URLs for the search engine using more meaningful words.  You should put your posts in only one category to avoid duplicate content from the search engine view.  You should also only show parts of each post when browsing categories, to also avoid duplicate content (as well as make it easier for a human to quickly scan all your posts in a category.)  See The Blogger's Guide to Search Engine Optimization - by Aaron & Giovanna Wall and Search Engine Optimization for Blogs - SEO.

    Key Blog Features
    Here's a quick list of the features that my focus group seemed to care about the most:

    • Title  and purpose.   The test is - do your user's quickly know which category in their RSS reader to put your blog in?
    • About page.  Your about page can quickly help clarify the promise of your blog and setting expectations.  See Skellie on How to Write the Perfect ‘About’ Page (by Numbers).
    • Categories.   Categories help your user's browse your catalog of posts in terms of key themes, as well as help clarify what your blog is really about.  It's another visual cue.
    • Search your blog.  Even if you don't have a bunch of posts, users tend to rely on search.  Once you have a bunch of posts, your search is vital.  It's like a chicken and egg scenario though.  If your search is tough to find, user's wont use it much.  If it's easy to find and convenient, they'll use it more.  Because there's so many ways to customize your search feature, the most important thing is to make it obvious that it is a search feature (and not a subscription form) and that it is scoped to your blog.
    • Tag Cloud.  Tag clouds are  nice way to provide a topical browsing experience for your blog.  There's two types -- internal and external.  Internal tags (Wordpress 2.3 has built in support) help you slice up your body of posts in a more fine-grained way.  External tags, such as Technorati tags, help showcase your posts in those social circles.  For more information, see my post, Tags vs. Categories.
    • Recent Comments and Recent Posts.  Using Recent Posts and Recent Comments is an effective way to improve your user's experience and help user's discover your other posts, as well as show signs of life.
    • Browse your posts.  Your user's will browse your posts either by categories, tag clouds, searches, or related posts.  Another entry point is Recent Comments and Recent Posts.  Another approach is to create pages that organize your posts in alternate ways.
    • Subscribe by RSS.  If a user likes your blog, it should be easy for them to subscribe.  Most blog themes I experimented with either exposed RSS in the right place, or it was easy to add.
    • Subscribe by email.   None of the templates that I experimented with exposed this by default, so it can be easy to forget about.  Some of my users pointed this out, so I tested adding subscribe by email.  
    • Comments.  One thing that my user's pointed out to me was how they like when they can scan posts and quickly see the comment information beneath the post titles, rather than at the end of the posts.  A few users pointed this out so this seems to be a common preference.  I noticed some themes did a better job than others of showcasing the comments for each post.  The key decisions are whether to show links above the post or at the end of the post, along with what font and color.  Once you're actually looking at the comments, the quick scan test will tell you how readable the comments are.  Actually add some comments yourself so you can find any surprises.

    How I Did My Research
    My research was pretty basic, but time consuming and challenging, particularly because there's a lot of variables and not much prescriptive guidance that I found actionable.   Here's what I did:

    • Searched for patterns.   I could recognize when a template looked and felt good, but I couldn't reliably figure out why.  To fix this, I filled my head with as many patterns as I could by evaluating hundreds of blogs, then evaluating thousands of templates and then by spiraling down around the vital few variables (once I figured out what they were.)
    • Set up multiple test beds.  I setup multiple test sites for testing with users.  Each test bed was a full blown blog with theme, so that I could do fast comparisons between theme A and theme B. 
    • Tested with Wordpress.  I've done testing before with Community Server and Blogger, so this time I focused on Wordpress.
    • Evaluated free templates.  I explored multiple, free template galleries to build a foundation for recognizing effective blog theme patterns.  I tried to find templates that were actively used, so I could see live implementations.
    • Evaluated templates you buy.   I ended up buying various blog theme packages so I could explore them too, to see if I could find any clear quality differentiations.
    • Modeled from effective blogs and bloggers.  I evaluated the top 100 bogs in Technorati.  I also explored lots of blog examples that my friends sent during my research.
    • Created a focus group.   I selected a subset of my users that were able to provide multiple rounds of in-depth feedback.  This helped tons and I can't thank them enough!
    • Used the Internet Explorer Development Toolbar.   The toolbar helped me quickly analyze various blog themes on live sites and then tweak my own. See Alik on using the IE Development Toolbar.

    Key Galleries I Explored
    I explored several galleries, but here's a few of the key ones:

    Key Themes I Tested
    While I tested a lot of themes, her's a few key ones that stood out:

    • Deep Blue.  Here's a live demo of Deep Blue.  I found it very clean and functional.  Some of my users liked it too for the same reasons, but I didn't get critical mass with it.
    • Easy Wordpress.   Who is Jon Ray is a good live example.  I like the theme and I like what Jon's done.  I think the theme really optimizes both browsing and reading content, and pictures work really well.  Even though it's a three column template, it's well organized.  The majority of my focus group preferred this theme.  One user thought the post column is too wide, but they read using a feed reader, so it's not a show stopper.  The majority of my focus group really liked the width and balance of the theme across the columns, and it would scale over time.
    • Grid FocusWrite To Done, Skelliewag.org, Anywired, and Six Revisions are really good live examples.  I was very partial to this theme, particularly because it has a similar look and feel to my Guidance Share Wiki (particularly after I added baby blue bullets instead of the default dark bullets.)  However, my users told me to choose otherwise. This surprised me.  I imagined I was going to be using Grid Focus.  I still think it's a great theme, but my user feedback says it's not the right one at this time for me.   
    • NeoclassicalOpen Education and Schaefer's Blog. This theme had universal appeal across my users particularly at first glance.  In fact, for a while, I thought this would be my theme of choice.  However, after more analysis, user's eventually told me the post column was too narrow, the typography was tough for extended use, and that browsability across a large body of posts might not be as effective as they would like.  The key thing I learned from Neoclassical was that images are important.
    • MistyLook with Two Sidebars. Cheap DJ Systems and Gluten Free Cooking School are live examples of the two sidebar version, and here's a live demo of MistyLook with one sidebar.   This theme is very clean and very easy to customize.  I really like the pattern of a prominent image in the banner with clean, readable posts.  The sidebars are compact too which really helps for navigation.  While most of my focus group liked the theme, they didn't like it enough to make it the final choice.   One of my focus group members really liked this particular theme, enough that it made it tough during final eliminations.
    • My April ReloadedMe, Myself, and I and Market Associates.com are good live examples.  This theme really is spectacular.  Posts are incredibly readable and scannable.  Depending on how you structure the layout, you can make it very, very clean.  There's plenty of room in the third column to fit full post titles without scrunching.  My focus group really liked this theme, but ultimately prioritized Easy Wordpress.
    • StudioPress and GreenTech.  I found these themes very clean and functional.  However, I didn't get enough critical mass to spend a lot of time investing in them.

    How I'll Use This 
    This has definitely shaped my perspective on blog themes.   It's night and day from when I first evaluated themes.  Knowing what to look for helps me test and experiment faster.  I now have a more systematic way of figuring out why some blog themes work and why some don't.  I'll be helping some colleagues with their blog themes and I'll be using what I learned as I launch new blogs.

    Additional Resources

    My Related Posts

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    Tags vs. Categories


    What's the difference between tags vs. categories in your blog?  A lot.  Knowing the difference between tags and categories can help you better structure your blog for browsing and SEO.  Personally, I hadn't noticed the issue before because I only have tags on my MSDN blog.  As part of my research on effective blogging practices, I hit the issue.  Now that I've experimented with a few blogging platforms, the difference between tags and categories is more obvious.  For example, WordPress 2.3 supports tags in addition to categories.

    Categories, Internal Tags and External Tags

    • Categories. Categories are your high-level buckets.  You should be able to chunk up your blog by a small, mutually exclusive set of categories.  Imagine a user trying to browse the broad themes of your blog.  Categories can also become part of your URL.
    • Internal tags.  Internal tags are for finer-grained slicing and dicing and hopping across your categories.
    • External tags.  External tags, such as Technorati and del.icio.us are for showing your conent in the relevant topics and niches at Technorati and del.icio.us.

    Tag Clouds
    I think the big benefit of tags is creating browsable tag clouds where you can discover related content.  Whereas categories are just one topic, you can use tags to find related content.  For example, you might browse a "security" tag and then browse a "performance" tag to find the intersection of content tagged both "security" and "performance".

    Notes from Lorell
    In Categories versus Tags - What’s the Difference and Which One?, Lorelle makes the following points:

    • "Categories help visitors find related information on your site. Tags help visitors find related information on your site and on other sites."
    • "Categories generate a page of posts on your site. Tags can, too, but often generate a page of off-site posts on an off-site website".
    • "Tagging gives you topical search capabilities for your site that are a middle ground between categories and all-out search, but it shouldn’t replace categories entirely."
    • "Should tags replace categories? Absolutely not."
    • "I use categories as broad groups of posts and tags as micro-groups of posts, helping narrow down the interest."
    • "Tags shouldn’t replace categories, but they can help the user and search engines and directories find and catalog related information on your site."

    Notes from Problogger
    In Using Categories and Tags Effectively on Your Blog, Michael Martin makes the following points:

    • "The number of categories should be small."
    • "Each post goes into one category."
    • "Use the same tags over and over again."
    • "The tag cloud is easy to scan."

    The End in Mind
    In the ideal scenario, to use tags and categories more effectively (assuming your blogging platform supports it), you would have the following in place:

    • A small set of categories for browsing the key themes of your site and for helping SEO (by having relevant category names in the full URL.)
    • A nice tag cloud that helps users browser your site more like a topical search -- using words that your users would know and be looking for.
    • Posts tagged with Technorati and del.icio.us tags that match the most relevant niches.

    Turning It Into Action

    • Use categories to divide your blog into a small set of mutually exclusive buckets.
    • Use internal tags for slicing your content in more granular ways and to create tag clouds for your users.
    • Tag your posts with external tags for Technorati and del.icio.us to reach the relevant social circles.

    Additional Resources

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    patterns and practices Complete Catalog


    What's the full patterns & practices catalog?  I created a quick index of the patterns & practices catalog since I've needed to hunt down a few things.  I figured this might be useful to share.



    Enterprise Library





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    Patterns and Practices for Visual Studio Team System


    I thought it might be helpful to walk through a deliverable so you can see my current approach for building prescriptive guidance in patterns & practices.

    Stage 1: Knowledge Base
    We start by building the knowledge base:

    In this stage, we do a lot of solution engineering.  This includes framing out the problem space using Scenario Frames.  After all, you can't fix a problem if you don't know what it is, and you don't know when you're done, if you don't know what good looks like.  It also includes creating repros for problems and solutions.  I think of this as Test-Driven Guidance. 

    At this stage, we create what I call "guidance modules."   These are focused nuggets.  At a high-level, we factor reference from action.  Our key types include guidelines, checklist, how-tos, and practices.  I think Weinberg's term, the Fieldstone Method, applies to what we do.  

    We also publish our modules to Guidance Explorer at this point so you can build your own guide on the fly.

    Stage 2: The Guide
    At this stage, we build the guide.

    The guide helps put the story together.  The guide is divided into roughly two parts.  The first part is a series of fast-paced chapters that paint the broad strokes and highlight key concepts.  The second part is the hard-core reference section.  This gives us a combination of top-down and bottom up.

    We share the guide in HTML and PDF.  This ways it's easy to share URLs and play in the community, or download and read the guide offline.

    Stage 3: MSDN
    At this stage, we port the guidance to MSDN:

    Stage 4: Amazon
    At this stage, we partner with Microsoft Press and we bake the printed book:

    Team Guidance
    One of the things you'll notice about the guides is the breadth of participation.  I'm a fan of integrating customer perspective, product perspective, field perspective, and expert perspective.  I think the best way is to involve key folks that represent those perspective.  Here's an example of the contributors and reviewers for the TFS guide.   For a more extreme example, see the team behind our Threats and Countermeasures Security Guide.

    Measuring Success
    At the end of the day, I measure success of the guides based on how well they improve your effectiveness.  I think our best guides improve your confidence and competence.  As much as I'd like you to enjoy reading the guides, I assume you're reading the guides to get your job done.  That's why they are dense with insight and action.

    Why Guides?
    Not everybody is a fan of the guides.  Personally, I see them as a way to share expertise.  You don't get the benefit of working alongside all the product team members, the field, our various customers, subject matter experts, ... etc.  That's what the guide is for.  It's a way to consolidate and share the expertise.  While they won't solve your every problem, you don't have to start from scratch.  I think the best guides help you bootstrap your success and avoid reinventing wheels.  Why go it alone, when you can stand on the shoulders of giants and learn from what works?

    Related Guides

    Key tips -- if you want to become a security and performance expert, learn the principles, patterns and practices for security and performance from Improving .NET Application Performance and Scalability and Improving Web Application Security.

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    Lessons Learned from the Most Successful Innovators


    What practices can we learn from the leaders in innovation?  How can you improve the success of your R&D efforts?  In "Smart Spenders, the Global Innovation 1000," an article in strategy+business magazine, Barry Jaruzelski, Kevin Dehoff, and Rakesh Bordia write about the key practices that the most successful innovators use.

    About the Study
    In the study, Booz Allen Hamilton set out to find which companies have been getting R&D spending right, and then to identify common attributes.  They analyzed the data for the Global Innovation 1000 using seven performance screens: sales growth, gross margin percentage, gross profit growth, operating margin percentage, operating income growth, total shareholder returns, and market capitalization growth.   They analyzed the following industries: Aerospace & Defense, Auto, Chemicals & Energy, Computing & Electronics, Consumer, Health, Industrials, Other, Software & Internet, Technology, and Telecom.

    Lessons Learned
    Jaruzelski, Dehoff, and Bordia identify some of the key practices for successful innovation:

    • Deep pockets can be dry wells.  Money simply cannot buy effective innovation.  There's no significant statistical relationships between R&D spending and the primary measures of financial or corporate success.  Gross Margin is the single measure for which a relationship between R&D expenditures and corporate performance can be statistically demonstrated.  The 500 companies  that have the highest rates of R&D spending as a percentage of sales are more likely than other companies in their industries to achieve superior gross margins.  
    • Less than 10 percent of companies are high-leverage innovators.  Only 94 of the companies in the Global Innovation 1000 produced significantly better performance per R&D dollar over a sustained period.
    • Companies are getting better at squeezing benefits from R&D spending.  Spending rose, but revenues rose more.
    • Bigger can be better, even if it doesn't boost break-throughs.  Scale provides advantages to R&D spenders.  For the largest 500 companies, ranked by revenue and indexed by industry, median R&D spending was only 3.5 percent of sales in 2005, compared with 7.6 percent for the 500 smallest firms.
    • Patents generally don't drive profits.  Boosting spending can increase the number of patents that a company controls, but there is no statistical relationship between the number of patents that a company controls, but there's no statistical relationship between the number or even the quality of patents and overall financial performance.  Very few patents are truly significant -- just as only a handful of books become bestsellers.
    • Master of the innovation chain have an edge.  The typical problems are good ideas get stuck in developmental bottlenecks and promising innovations never get to market because of flawed understanding of customer's needs, and poor marketing and investment planning.  The high-leverage innovators and the companies with best overall performance distinguish themselves not by the money they spend, but by the capabilities they demonstrate in ideation, project selection, development, or commercialization. 

    There's No Silver Bullet
    Jaruzelski, Dehoff, and Bordia dispell the idea that there's a silver bullet:

    "How did they do it?  There's no silver bullet; we found examples of many different models and approaches.  If these high achievers have one thing in common, it seems to be a focus on building multifunctional, company-wide capabilities that can provide them with sustainable competitive advantage.  They design their innovation investment for the long run, and create superior growth and profitability over time."

    Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector
    Jaruzelski, Dehoff, and Bordia shine a spotlight on St. Jude Children's Research Hospital as both a success story and to compare and contrast with corporations.  Here's a rundown of the key points:

    • Many nonprofits spend significant amounts on R&D, and although the metrics they use to measure performance are different from those of corporations, the challenges their leaders face in maximizing the benefits of innovation investments are often similar.
    • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is widely recognized as an innovation leader in catastrophic pediatric diseases such as leukemia.  It's overall cure rate is 70% up from 20% in the 1960's and it's current goal is to raise the rate to more than 90%.
      Innovation in St. Jude is intimately linked to delivery of service.
    • Strategic decisions  on R&D are made by St. Jude's executive team and are based on an assessment of where the hospital can be most productive.
      "I think we can do things that other places can't do because of our focused mission." - Scientific Director James Downing
    • At the ideation phase, researchers are given wide latitude.  "In this business, the worst thing you can do is try to direct basic science and discovery, because you really don't know where the advances are going to come from." - William E. Evans, CEO
    • St. Jude is also an innovator in breaking down silo mentalities.  Conscious effort is made to cultivate people in cross-disciplinary collaboration.  The hospital has been designed so that employees in different disciplines -- researchers, clinicians, pharmacologists, nurses, and geneticists -- all work interactively and in close proximity.
    • One result is that St. Jude is recognized for its skill at translating medical research into effective treatment.
    • The bottom line for a nonprofit research hospital is different from that of a corporation.  Instead of gross margin, net profit, and shareholder returns, St. Jude tracks such results as the decrease in mortality rates for specific diseases, the reduction in harmful side effects of treatments, and the number of times that studies by St. Jude researchers are cited in other research.
    • "The most important thing we do every day is to provide unsurpassed care for kids who come here.  The most important thing we do for tomorrow is our research, which will change that treatment to something better.  Innovation, in and of itself, is the ultimate product of this organization." - William E. Evans, CEO

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    Innovation Life Cycle


    What are the key stages in the innovation life cycle?  What is the end-to-end value chain for bringing innovation to market? In "Smart Spenders, the Global Innovation 1000," an article in strategy+business magazine, Barry Jaruzelski, Kevin Dehoff, and Rakesh Bordia write about the four key stages of innovation that the 94 high-leverage innovators have in common.

    Four Stages of Innovation
    According to Jaruzelski, Dehoff, and Bordia, the four key stages of innovation are:

    • Ideation - Basic research and conception.
    • Project Selection - The decision to invest.
    • Product Development - Building the product or service.
    • Commercialization - Bringing the product or service to market and adapting it to customer demands.

    High-Leverage Innovators
    Jaruzelski, Dehoff, and Borida write:

    "Based on press coverage and interviews with executives, we conclude that each of the 94 high-leverage innovators has built sufficiently strong capabilities in all four links of the value chain, and has seamlessly integrated them, to provide a high level of performance over time."

    Key Take Aways
    Here's my key take aways:

    • Use the frame to analyze improvement opportunities.  I found this frame helpful for thinking about the end-to-end cycle for innovation.  After all, what good are ideas if you can't bring them to market.  A lot of ideas get stuck in the ideation stage. 
    • Walk your innovation cycle.  By walking your end-to-end system for bringing your ideas to end-users, you can find ways to reduce friction or find places to build synergies.  
    • Optimize your system over a stage.  Debottlenecking your end-to-end system is more effective than optimizing just a single stage.

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    High-Leverage Strategies for Innovation


    What are the high-leverage strategies that the leaders in innovation use?  In "Smart Spenders, the Global Innovation 1000," an article in strategy+business magazine, Barry Jaruzelski, Kevin Dehoff, and Rakesh Bordia write about the successful strategies that the 94 high-leverage innovators use.

    Example High-Leverage Strategies
    Here's a sampling of the high leverage strategies:

    • Have systematic ideation processes, including involving senior management in the conception and definition of new ideas.
    • Have competence at all stages of your value chain.
    • Involve end-users in your innovation strategy.  Spend a lot of time focusing on  where they work, where they play, where they buy, and where they learn.  This helps to increase your efficiency of your new product introductions.
    • Favor flatter and nimbler management structures that make the innovation process more transparent to your executive team.
    • Keep R&D costs down by keeping R&D focused and closely aligned with your business units.  This allows you to target your R&D efforts to meet specific customer needs versus doing a great deal of early-stage, academic research.
    • Keep an internal innovation engine running efficiently through a core engineering team that designs and developers a variety of product lines (this helps provide common engineering and design as well as actual code reuse.)
    • Place greater value on economies of speed, scope and skill rather than simply economies of scale.
    • Look outside your organization for partners, suppliers and customers for new and innovative ideas.
    • Build capabilities along the innovation value chain to generate significant improvements in return on your research and development spending.
    • Pick the elements to generate a competitive advantage based on your industry, competition and internal capabilities.
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    Top 100 Blogs in Technorati


    I created a snapshot of the top 100 blogs according to Technorati.   I'll be starting with these blogs to identify patterns and practices for effective blogging.   I'll be analyzing blog design, user experience patterns, key features, content, style, frequency, information management, community interaction, impact ... etc.   I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned.

    Top 100 Blogs
    This is the list I see in Technorati as of 02/23/2008.

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    5 Keys to Improving Your Reading Speed


    How can you read faster while improving your comprehension?  A few of my colleagues who follow my Book Share blog asked me how I read books.  Simply put, I don't focus on reading faster.  I focus on learning faster. 

    5 Tips for Reading Faster
    Here's the five things that help me read and comprehend faster:

    1.  Skim the book end to end.  This is your dry run.  Your goal is to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land (chapter names, key headings, key concepts).  Think of this as mapping the terrain.
    2. Start with key questions.  I find good questions by reading the back of the book or the cover and the indexes.
    3. Read to answer your questions.  Questions help you focus and they tell you when you're done.  You're done when you've answered your questions.
    4. Use posts as you go.  As I make it through the book, stick post its in pages that have an insight or action.  Write a note or two for any ah-has on the sticky.
    5. Don't slow down for speed bumps.  If there's stuff you want to drill into more, just write it on a sticky and then revisit.  This way you don't slow down for speedbumps and then you can give your speed bumps more focused time.  Sometimes moving past a speed bump will help you understand it once you have more of the book under your belt.

    Additional Tips

    • Use Word.  If it's a fairly complicated or complex book, then Word is my friend.  I turn on the document map feature and I use the Heading1 and Heading 2s.  I dump notes as a I go.
    • If you get tired or you're not engaged, stop.  if I get tired or distracted, I just stop.  Otherwise, I read a bunch of pages but miss all the points.  It's better to just take a break and come back when I'm ready.

    That's how I read insightful, informational or technical text these days.

    Stop and Smell the Roses
    If it's pleasure, then I slow down and focus on experiencing the author's story and world.  Savor the moment.

    Additional Resources
    Here's a couple of relevant posts:

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    Start With Something Simple


    What's the best way to build momentum and get results?  Start with something simple.  Seriously.  I get to see folks who get results and those who don't.  The difference nine times out of ten isn't smarts.  It's simply action.  The smart folks who don't get results, either get stuck in analysis paralysis or add too many dependencies up front.  The folks who get results start taking action and adjust along the way.

    Why This Works
    Starting with something simple works.  It's not that thinking up front doesn't help.  It certainly does.  The problem is, three things can happen along the way:

    • At some point, your thoughts are based on way too many assumptions and you don't know what you don't know.  You then find out too little too late.
    • Somebody faster came along.  While you're thinking, they're doing.
    • In the absence of results, your idea slowly dies inside.

    The best way to fuel your fire is to incrementally get results.  Start with something simple.  Results feed on themselves.  If you start with something small, you'll learn faster and you'll start to adapt.  You'll inform your thinking.

    How To Start
    Start with the smallest thing you can personally do.  If you don't know where to start, here's key questions to help:

    • What's the simplest thing you could do?
    • What could you do today?

    Personally, I find asking what I can do today to be the most effective.  Time is a great forcing function.  It's very easy to cut scope using time.  If you don't respect time, then it's very easy to add way too many things that will never happen.

    Fail Fast
    While starting with something simple helps build momentum, you'll also want to quickly spike on your risks.  You can do this separately, after you have some success under your belt. 

    To fail fast, cut your idea into thin end-to-end slices and test your results.  For example, take one story or usage scenario and try to instantiate it.  Even before you build the solution, simply doing a dry run will reveal a lot of questions you can use to shape your approach.

    The purpose of failing fast isn't to fail.  It's to uncover your risks and pick better paths.

    Self-Start Techniques for the Action-challenged
    If you know your pattern is to think a thought to death before daring make a move, then here's a quick way out.  Here's two proven practices:

    • Find reference examples.  Using time as your friend, and a proven technique as your guide, challenge yourself to find three working examples of your idea, or at least things you can model from.  Reference examples will both speed your learning and keep you inspired.
    • Find a way to share your idea.  Can you share your idea on a slide?  Can you whiteboard your idea and take a picture?  Show it to a friend or two and get some quick, honest feedback.

    Once you get in the habit of just getting started, you'll wonder how you ever got stuck in the first place.

    Success Snowballs
    At the end of the day, nothing succeeds like success.  Success is a snowball, so build on your successes.  Good luck, and get started, on whatever it is that you've been thinking about starting.

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    2007 Post Roundup


    I'm in the process of analyzing my blogging strategies and practices.  As part of the process, I'm doing a post roundup for this blog.  I did a 2007 post roundup for my Book Share blog and it helped me get a bird's-eye view of my post content.  Seeing my posts at a glance, helps me both rekindle the year and spot patterns for improvement.  With the benefit of 20/20 hind-sight, I then carry the lessons forward.  Here's my 2007 posts at a glance:

    January 2007

    February 2007

    March 2007

    April 2007

    May 2007

    June 2007

    August 2007

    September 2007

    October 2007 - Posts

    November 2007

    December 2007

    Technorati Profile
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    The Change Frame


    How do you improve your results?  How do you consistently increase your success?  Have you ever wondered why somebody's *advice* was useless for you at the time?  Maybe, they were giving you ideas to change your thinking when what you really needed was better techniques.  Have you ever spun your wheels and churned all your energy, only to realize later that you needed to think differently about the problem and change your approach?  The first thing to figure out is where you need to change. Here's a simple frame I've been using to help colleagues understand where to change, so they play their best game.

    The Change Frame

    • Thinking - do you need to change your strategies, thinking, or thought patterns?
    • Feeling - do you need to change how you feel?
    • Doing - do you need more effective techniques or take more action?


    • Adapt - do you need to change yourself for the situation?
    • Adjust - do you need to change or tailor the situation to set yourself up for success?
    • Avoid - do you need to avoid the situation (if it's not right for you)?

    How To Use the Frame
    As simple as this frame looks, it's very powerful.  If somebody gives you advice and you feel a tug in your gut that it's not helpful, there's a good chance that it's not the advice itself, but it's at the wrong level.  Telling you how to think about a problem won't help when you really need a technique and action for the problem.  You can use this frame as a vantage point and to analyze your approach to be more effective.

    Changing You
    The fastest and most effective thing you can change is yourself.  You should also know that changing your thinking, changes your feelings, changes your actions.  If you know this, it's a powerful concept.  If you don't have the energy you need to get results, then you might have to start with changing how you're thinking about it.  If you're stuck in analysis paralysis, then you might just need to start taking action and tuning your results.

    Changing the Situation
    Some people spend too much time trying to change for the situation that's not right for them.  They ultimately change, but at the expense of their strengths or passion.  Another approach is to get better at figuring out up front where you can play to your strengths. 

    While you want to be flexible and adaptable, you also need to be self-aware.  If you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can either avoid situations where you won't be successful or you can set situations up for your success.  If you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can also be more deliberate about how you change for the situation and whether you are giving up your strengths. 

    Adapting, Adjusting or Avoiding
    For example, if you are used to position authority for getting results, then you'll want to either find those situations where it works or you'll want to avoid them.  If you want to be more effective across a wider range of projects, situations and roles, then you'll want to learn how to influence without authority.  The key to remember is that it's not a question of can you change for the situation -- of course you can.  It's really a question of should you, or is there a way to set the situation up for your success, or is another situation a better fit for you.

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    Use the System to Educate


    Hitting a wall?  Sometimes pushing an idea from the inside-out, doesn't work.  Sometimes you need an outside-in approach.  One of my mentors has a simple way to phrase this -- "Use the system to educate."


    • Use customers to educate your product teams (argue the customer data).
    • Use your manager's peers to educate your manager.
    • Use surrounding teams to educate your team.
    • Use other companies to educate your company.
    • Use a consultant to change your group's perspective.
    • Use analysts to educate your domain.

    It's along the lines of "you can't be a prophet in your hometown" ... sometimes the change agent needs to be external.

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    The Zen of Results


    Are you ahead of the game, or falling behind?  Are you getting the results you want?  As a follow on to The Zen of Zero Mail, this post is about task management and personal productivity.  It's simple by design, but proven effective over time.

    Based on the feedback, I decided to use slides again. Here's a short deck that steps you through and highlights the Zen of results:

    Note: In the slides I use Outlook 2007, but I've also used the same approach with simple text files and directories.

    Keys to Results
    You already know this stuff, but here's the main ideas:

    • Frame out key categories for results (life, work projects, personal projects).
    • Start with outcomes over tasks (Identify what you want to accomplish).
    • Factor actions from reference.
    • Carve out time for what's important.
    • Set Boundaries.

    Back at Work
    Does this approach work?  Microsoft tests me daily.  Since I use this approach at the start of my week and every day, I have a good sense of priorities.  This also helps me deal with potentially randomizing scenarios.  I can also batch my work.  There's always more to do than time in the day.  By using time-boxing and setting priorities, this helps me figure out what to eat first, what to push to the side, and what to let slide off my plate.

    Lightweight By Design
    Since I use this every day, it's very light-weight.  It's also a system where if I fall off the horse, it's simple to get back on.  There's no heavy start-up cost and there's no expensive overhead.   I didn't want a system that has a big learning curve or penalizes me if I fall off track.  It's really about just doing the fundamentals well.

    Share Your Stories
    I'm always interested to hear how people improve their effectiveness.  After all, I'm a patterns and practices kind of a guy.

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    Don't Tell ... Ask


    If you coach others or you need to encourage change or if you need to change yourself, the key is to use questions.  Lead others to their own insight or your advice may fall on deaf ears.  Here's a few of my posts I've been referencing lately that explain the point:

     Bottom line -- people don't like to be told what to do and we're wired to resist change.

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    Monthly Results


    It’s mid-year at Microsoft. In the past it would take me a bit of work to figure out what I had accomplished and where I want to go. Not this time. For the past several months, I’ve been using a practice I’ll call Monthly Results. Each month, I create a short-list of results in a Wiki and send a link out to our management team as an FYI.

    Benefits of Monthly Results
    Creating a Monthly Results list has a few benefits for me:

    • At a glance, I can quickly see the forest from the trees.
    • It helps keep management in the loop on results.
    • It helps keep my teams focused on results over activity.
    • I can see interesting patterns.

    Most importantly, it's my portfolio of results.  If I don't like the portfolio, I can see at a glance where my time went and how I need to shift focus.  Thinking in terms of a portfolio of results helps me quickly rationalize things like "Do I have my sure bets?" ... "Do I have a set of riskier projects to learn, grow and innovate with?" ... "Am I working on meaningful problems?" .... "Am I delivering value?" ... etc.

    Example of Monthly Results
    Here’s an example of my monthly results list. It doesn’t have to be fancy. In my case, I  just create a Wiki page that lists results by month along with any relevant links:



    • MSDN tree-view design for patterns & practices Catalog.
    • Testing Center launch features patterns & practices Widget
    • Project Practices documented (see Wiki)
    • Performance Test Scenario Frame published to CodePlex
    • Performance Test Scenario Frame for VSTS draft complete
    • Performance Testing Videos published to CodePlex (Video: What Is - The Core Activities of Performance Testing; Video: What Is - The Core Activities of Performance Testing in Agile Projects;  Video: What Is - The Core Activities of Performance Testing in CMMI Projects; Video: What Is - The Distribution of Data for Performance Tests Results; Video: What Is - The Reporting Fundamentals for Performance Test Data; Video: What Is - The Success Criteria for Performance Test Projects; Video: What Is - The Mathematical and Statistical Principles for Performance Testing ; Video: What Is - Modeling Application Usage for Performance Testing.
    • Initial Catalog Sweep assessment
    • MSDN process improvement (TFS Guide experiment)


    • Software Inspections write up completed for Testing Center launch
    • TFS Guide to MS Press
    • Performance Testing Guide to MS Press
    • MSDN process improvement (Performance Testing Guide experiment)
    • Guidance Explorer Security Fixes implemented
    • Visual Studio Guidance Modules published to Guidance Library (Checklist Items: 257; Guidelines: 121; How Tos: 16; Explained: 10; Practices at a Glance: 129; Questions and Answers: 64)
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    Success Strategies


    As part of my improvement sprint focused on leadership, I'm making my way through The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins.  In a nutshell, it's a guide for how new leaders can be successful.  I think it's actually relevant for any new role or situation.  It's a very practical guide, full of real-world lessons learned.  In this book, Watkins basically studies the failures and success of people on the job and turns them into patterns and anti-patterns for success.

    I'm finding that the book is full of gems of insight. In order to share with my friends, family, co-workers and mentees, I've been posting bite-sized nuggets on The Bookshare.  The Bookshare is simply where I chunk information from my favorite books, down into bite-sized nuggets that are fast to read and easy to turn into action.

    My latest post is a distillation of the recipe for success from The First 90 days, along with my key take aways.  If you're a new leader or dealing with change, or simply want to be aware of key strategies for success at work, read my post on Ten Key Success Strategies.

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