Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
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 …
“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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“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.
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.
I think Hamel describes our new world pretty well …
So how do you respond to the challenges. Hamel says it takes becoming strategically adaptable and operationally efficient. What a powerful combo.
“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.
Simplicity is the Ultimate Enabler
Who’s Managing Your Company
“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 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.
“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.”
Success turns beliefs into barriers by cementing ideas that become inflexible to change.
“... 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.”
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.
“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.”
When you want to change the world, sometimes it takes a new view, and existing world views get in the way.
“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.
The New Realities that Call for New Organizational and Management Capabilities
“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 …
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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Effectiveness Blog Post Roundup
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.
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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Well, she wasn’t my grandmother, but you get the idea.
I was trying to explain to somebody that’s in a very different job, what my job is all about.
Here’s what I said …
As far as my day job, I do complex, complicated things.
I'm in the business of business transformation.
I help large Enterprises get ahead in the world through technology and innovation.
I help Enterprises change their capabilities -- their business capabilities, technology capabilities, and people capabilities.
It’s all about capabilities.
This involves figuring out their current state, their desired future state, the gaps between, the ROI of addressing the gaps, and then a Roadmap for making it happen.
The interesting thing I've learned though is how much business transformation applies to personal transformation.
It's all about figuring out your unique service and contribution to the world -- your unique value -- and then optimizing your strengths to realize your potential and do what you do best in a way that's valued -- where you can both generate value, as well as capture the value -- and lift the world to a better place.
Interestingly, she said she got it, it made sense, and it sounds inspiring.
What a relief.
Time really is the great equalizer.
I was reading an article by Dr. Donald E. Wemore, a time management specialist, and here’s what he had to say:
"Time is the great equalizer for all of us. We all have 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week, yielding 168 hours per week. Take out 56 hours for sleep (we do spend about a third of our week dead) and we are down to 112 hours to achieve all the results we desire. We cannot save time (ever have any time left over on a Sunday night that you could lop over to the next week?); it can only be spent. And there are only two ways to spend our time: we can spend it wisely, or, not so wisely."
And what’s his recommendation to manage time better?
Work smarter, not harder.
In my experience, that’s the only approach that works.
If you find yourself struggling too much, there’s a good chance your time management strategies are off.
Don’t keep throwing time and energy at things if it’s not working.
Change your approach.
The fastest thing you can change in any situation is you.
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Productivity on Fire
"All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved." -- Sun Tzu
If it feels like strategy cycles are shrinking, they are.
If it feels like competition is even more intense, it is.
If it feels like you are balancing between competing in the world and collaborating with the world, you are.
In the book, The Future of Management, Gary Hamel and Bill Breen share a great depiction of this new world of competition and the emerging business landscape.
Strategy cycles are shrinking and innovation is the only effective response.
“In a world where strategy life cycles are shrinking, innovation is the only way a company can renew its lease on success. It's also the only way it can survive in a world of bare-knuckle competition.”
What previously kept people out of the game, no longer works.
“In decades past, many companies were insulated from the fierce winds of Schumpeterian competition. Regulatory barriers, patent protection, distribution monopolies, disempowered customers, proprietary standards, scale advantages, import protection, and capital hurdles were bulwarks that protected industry incumbents from the margin-crushing impact of Darwinian competition. Today, many of the fortifications are collapsing.”
Any startup can reach the world, without having to build their own massive data center to do so.
“Deregulation and trade liberalization are reducing the barriers to entry in industries as diverse as banking, air transport, and telecommunications. The power of the Web means upstarts no longer have to build a global infrastructure to reach a worldwide market. This has allowed companies like Google, eBay, and My Space to scale their businesses freakishly fast.”
There are global resource pools of top talent available to startups.
“The disintegration of large companies, via deverticalization and outsourcing has also helped new entrants. In turning out more and more of their activities to third-party contractors, incumbents have created thousands of 'arms suppliers' that are willing to sell their services to anyone. By tapping into this global supplier base of designers, brand consultants, and contract manufacturers, new entrants can emerge from the womb nearly full-grown.”
With smarter consumers and ultra-low-cost competition, it’s tough to compete.
“Incumbents must also contend with a growing horde of ultra-low-cost competitors - companies like Huawei, the Chinese telecom equipment maker that pays its engineers a starting salary of just $8,500 per year. Not all cut-price competition comes from China and India. Ikea, Zara, Ryanair, and AirAsia are just a few of the companies that have radically reinvented industry cost structures. Web-empowered customers are also hammering down margins. Before the Internet, most consumers couldn't be sure whether they were getting the best deal on their home mortgage, credit card debt, or auto laon. This lack of enlightenment buttressed margins. But consumers are becoming less ignorant by the day. One U.K. Web site encourages customers to enter the details of their most-used credit cards, including current balances, and then shows them exactly how much they will save by switching to a card with better payment terms. In addition, the Internet is zeroing-out transaction costs. The commissions earned by market makers of all kinds -- dealers, brokers, and agents -- are falling off a cliff, or soon will be.”
You can build your own fan base and reach the world.
“Distribution monopolies -- another source of friction -- are under attack. Unlike the publishers of newspapers and magazines, bloggers don't need a physical distribution network to reach their readers. Similarly, new bands don't have to kiss up to record company reps when they can build a fan base via social networking sites like MySpace.”
Customers have a lot more choice and power now.
“Collapsing entry barriers, hyper efficient competitors, customer power -- these forces will be squeezing margins for years to come. In this harsh new world, every company will be faced with a stark choice: either set the fires of innovation ablaze, or be ready to scrape out a mean existence in a world where seabed labor costs are the only difference between making money and going bust.”
What’s the solution?
Innovation is the way to play, and it’s the way to stay in the game.
Innovation is how you reinvent your success, reimagine a new future, and change what your capable of, to compete more effectively in today’s ever-changing world.
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If you already use Agile Results as your personal results system, you have a big advantage.
Because most people are running around, scrambling through a laundry list of too many things to do, a lack of clarity around what the end result or outcomes should be, and a lack of clarity around what the high-value things to focus on are. They are using their worst energy for their most important things. They are spending too much time on the things that don’t matter and not enough time on the things that do. They are feeling at their worst, when they need to feel at their best, and they are struggling to keep up with the pace of change.
I created Agile Results to deal with the chaos in work and life, as a way to rise above the noise, and to easily leverage the most powerful habits and practices for getting better results in work and life.
Agile Results, in a nutshell, is a simple system for mastering productivity and time management, while at the same time, achieving more impact, realizing your potential, and feeling more fulfillment.
I wrote about the system in the book Getting Results the Agile Way. It’s been a best seller in time management.
Agile Results works by combining proven practices for productivity, time management, psychology, project management, and some of the best lessons learned on high-performance. And it’s been tested for more than a decade under extreme scenarios and a variety of conditions from individuals to large teams.
Work-Life balance is baked into the system, but more importantly Agile Results helps you live your values wherever you are, play to your strengths, and rapidly learn how to improve your results in an situation. When you spend more time in your values, you naturally tap into your skills and abilities that help bring out your best.
The simplest way to think of Agile Results is that it helps you direct your attention and apply your effort on the things that count. By spending more time on high-value activities and by getting intentional about your outcomes, you dramatically improve your ability to get better results.
But none of that matters if you aren’t using Agile Results.
Simply ask yourself, “What are the 3 wins, results, or outcomes that I want for today?.” Consider the demands you have on your plate, the time and energy you’ve got, and the opportunities you have for today, and write those 3 things down.
That’s it. You’re doing Agile Results.
Of course, there’s more, but that’s the single most important thing you can do to immediately gain clarity, regain your focus, and spend your time and energy on the most valuable things.
Now, let’s assume this is the only post you ever read on Agile Results. Let’s take a fast walkthrough of how you could use the system on a regular basis to radically and rapidly improve your results on an ongoing basis.
Here’s a summary of how I do Agile Results.
I create a new monthly list at the start of each month that lists out all the things that I think I need to do, and I bubble up 3 of my best things I could achieve or must get done to the top. I look at it at the start of the week, and any time I’m worried if I’m missing something. This entire process takes me anywhere from 10-20 minutes a month.
I create a weekly list at the start of the week, and I look at it at the start of each day, as input to my 3 target wins or outcomes for the day, and any time I’m worried if I’m missing anything. This tends to take me 5-10 minutes at the start of the week.
I barely have to ever look at my lists – it’s the act of writing things down that gives me quick focus on what’s important. I’m careful not to put a bunch of minutia in my lists, because then I’d train my brain to stop focusing on what’s important, and I would become forgetful and distracted. Instead, it’s simple scaffolding.
Each day, I write a simple list of what’s on my mind and things I think I need to achieve. Next, I step back and ask myself, “What are the 3 things I want to accomplish today?”, and I write those down. (This tends to take me 5 minutes or less. When I first started it took me about 10.)
Each Friday, I take the time to think through three things going well and three things to improve. I take what I learn as input into how I can simplify work and life, and how I can improve my results with less effort and more effectiveness. This takes me 10-20 minutes each Friday.
Use it to plan your day, your week, and your month.
Here is a simple recipe for adopting Agile Results and using it to get better results in work and life:
There are lots of success stories by other people who have used Agile Results. Everybody from presidents of companies to people in the trenches, to doctors and teachers, to teams and leaders, as well as single parents and social workers.
But none of that matters if it’s not your story.
Work on your success story and just start getting better results, right here, right now.
What are the three most important things you really want to accomplish or achieve today?
Business model innovation has a couple of myths.
One myth is that business model innovation takes big thinking. Another myth about business model innovation is that technology is the answer.
In the book, The Business Model Navigator, Oliver Gassman, Karolin Frankenberger, and Michaela Csik share a couple of myths that need busting so that more people can actually achieve business model innovation.
Business model innovation does not need to be “big bang.” It can be incremental. Incremental changes can create more options and more opportunities for serendipity.
Via The Business Model Navigator:
“'Business model innovations are always radical and new to the world.' Most people associate new business models with the giants leaps taken by Internet companies. The fact is that business model innovation, in the same way as product innovation, can be incremental. For instance, Netflix's business model innovation of mailing DVDs to customers was undoubtedly incremental and yet brought great success to the company. The Internet opened up new avenues for Netflix that allowed the company to steadily evolve into an online streaming service provider.”
It’s not technology for technology’s sake. It’s applying technology to revolutionize a business that creates the business model innovation.
“'Every business model innovation is based on a fascinating new technology that inspires new products.' The fact is that while new technologies can indeed drive new business models, they are often generic in nature. Where creativity comes in is in applying them to revolutionize a business. It is the business application and the specific use of the technology which makes the difference. Technology for technology's sake is the number one flop factor in innovation projects. The truly revolutionary act is that of uncovering the economic potential of a new technology.”
If you want to get started with business model innovation, don’t just go for the home run.
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“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.” – Peter Drucker
I’m diving deeper into patterns and practices for innovation.
Along the way, I’m reading and re-reading some great books on the art and science of innovation.
One innovation book I’m seriously enjoying is Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of building Breakthroughs by Larry Keeley, Helen Walters, Ryan Pikkel, and Brian Quinn.
Right up front, Larry Keeley shares some insight into the journey to this book. He says that this book really codifies, structures, and simplifies three decades of experience from Doblin, a consulting firm focused on innovation.
For more than three decades, Doblin tried to answer the following question:
“How do we get innovation to succeed instead of fail?”
Along the journey, there were a few ideas that they used to bridge the gap in innovation between the state of the art and the state of the practice.
Here they are …
Larry Keeley and his business partner Jay Doblin, a design methodologist, always balanced three dimensions of innovation: a theoretical side, an academic side, and an applied side.
Via Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of building Breakthroughs:
“Over the years we have kept three important dimensions in dynamic tension. We have a theoretical side, where we ask and seek real answers to tough questions about innovation. Simple but critical ones like, 'Does brainstorming work?' (it doesn't), along with deep and systemic ones like, 'How do you really know what a user wants when the user doesn't know either?' We have an academic side, since many of us are adjunct professors at Chicago's Institute of Design and this demands that we explain our ideas to smart young professionals in disciplined, distinctive ways. And third, we have an applied side, in that have been privileged to adapt our innovation methods to many of the world's leading global enterprises and start-ups that hanker to be future leading firms.”
Innovation is a balance and blend of analysis and synthesis. Analysis involves tearing things down, while synthesis is building new things up.
“From the beginning, Doblin has itself been interdisciplinary, mixing social sciences, technology, strategy, library sciences, and design into a frothy admixture that has always tried to blend both analysis, breaking tough things down, with synthesis, building new things up. Broadly, we think any effective innovation effort needs plenty of both, stitched together as a seamless whole.”
Game-changing innovation is an orchestration of the ten types of innovation.
“The heart of this book is built around a seminal Doblin discovery: that there are (and have always been) ten distinct types of innovation that need to be orchestrated with some care to make a game-changing innovation.“
The main idea is that innovation fails if you try to solve it with just one dimension.
You can’t just take a theoretical approach, and hope that it works in the real-world.
At the same time, innovation fails if you don’t leverage what we learn from the academic world and actually apply it.
And, if you know the ten types of innovation, you can focus your efforts more precisely.
Management Innovation is at the Top of the Innovation Stack
No Slack = No Innovation
The Myths of Business Model Innovation
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …
It’s not A Tale of Two Cities. It’s a tale of the Innovation Revolution.
We’ve got real problems worth solving. The stakes are high. Time is short. And abstract answers are not good enough.
In the book, Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of building Breakthroughs, Larry Keeley, Helen Walters, Ryan Pikkel, and Brian Quinn explain how it is like A Tale of Two Cities in that it is the worst of time and it is the best of times.
But it is also like no other time in history.
It’s an Innovation Revolution … We have the technology and we can innovate our way through radical transformation.
We’ve got some real problems to solve, whether it’s health issues, poverty, crime, or ignorance. Duty calls. Will innovation answer?
“People expect very little good news about the wars being fought (whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or on Terror, Drugs, Poverty, or Ignorance). The promising Arab Spring has given way to a recurring pessimism about progress. Gnarly health problems are on a tear the world over--diabetes now affects over eight percent of Americans--an other expensive disease conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and cancer are also now epidemic. The cost of education rises like a runaway helium balloon, yet there is less and less evidence that it nets the students a real return on their investment. Police have access to ever more elaborate statistical models of crime, but there is still way too much of it. And global warming, steadily produces more extreme and more dangerous conditions the world over, yet according to about half of our elected 'leaders,' it is still, officially, only a theory that can conveniently be denied.”
Innovation has been answering. There have been amazing innovations heard round the world. It’s only the beginning for an Innovation Revolution.
“And yet ...
We steadily expect more from our computers, our smartphones, apps, networks, and games. We have grown to expect routine and wondrous stories of new ventures funded through crowdsourcing. We hear constantly of lives around the world transformed because of Twitter or Kahn Academy or some breakthrough discovery in medicine. Esther Duflo and her team at the Poverty Action Lab at MIT keep cracking tough problems that afflict the poor to arrive at solutions with demonstrated efficacy, and then, often the Gates Foundation or another philanthropic institution funds the transformational solution at unprecedented scale.
Storytelling is in a new golden age--whether in live events, on the radio, or in amazing new television series that can emerge anywhere in the world and be adapted for global tastes. Experts are now everywhere, and shockingly easy and affordable to access.
Indeed, it seems clear that all the knowledge we've been struggling to amass is steadily being amplified and swiftly getting more organized, accessible, and affordable--whether through the magic of elegant little apps or big data managed in ever-smarter clouds or crowdfunding sites used to capitalize creative ideas in commerce or science.”
The pace of change and the size of change will accelerate exponentially as the forces of innovation rally together.
“One way to make sense of these opposing conditions is to see us as being in a time of radical transformation. To see the old institutions as being challenged as a series of newer, more agile ones arise. In history, such shifts have rarely been bloodless, but this one seems to be a radical transformation in the structure, sources, and nature of expertise. Indeed, among innovation experts, this time in one like no other. For the very first time in history, we are in a position to tackle tough problems with ground-breaking tools and techniques.”
It’s time to break some ground.
Join the Innovation Revolution and crack some problems worth solving.
How To Get Innovation to Succeed Instead of Fail
I’m a fan of monthly plans for meaningful work.
Whether you call it a task list or a To-Do list or a product backlog, it helps to have a good view of the things that you’ll invest your time in.
I’m not a fan of everybody trying to make sense of laundry lists of cells in a spreadsheet.
Time changes what’s important and it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, among rows of tasks that all start to look the same.
One of the most important things I’ve learned to do is to map out work for the month in a more meaningful way.
It works for individuals. It works for teams. It works for leaders.
It’s what I’ve used for Agile Results for years on projects small and large, and with distributed teams around the world. (Agile Results is my productivity method introduced in Getting Results the Agile Way.)
A picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s just look at a sample output and then I’ll walk through it:
What I’ve found to be the most effective is to focus on a plan for the month – actually take an hour or two the week before the new month. (In reality, I’ve done this with teams of 10 or more people in 30 minutes or less. It doesn’t take long if you just dump things fast on the board, and just keep asking people “What else is on our minds.”)
Dive-in at a whiteboard with the right people in the room and just list out all the top of mind, important things – be exhaustive, then prioritize and prune.
You then step back and identify the 3 most important outcomes (3 Wins for the Month.)
I make sure each work item has a decent name – focused on the noun – so people can refer to it by name (like mini-initiatives that matter.)
I list it in alphabetical by the name of the work so it’s easy to manage a large list of very different things.
That’s the key.
Most people try to prioritize the list, but the reality is, you can use each week to pick off the high-value items. (This is really important. Most people spend a lot of time prioritizing lists, and re-prioritizing lists, and yet, people tend to be pretty good prioritizing when they have a quick list to evaluate. Especially, if they know the priorities for the month, and they know any pressing events or dead-lines. This is where clarity pays off.)
The real key is listing the work in alphabetical order so that it’s easy to scan, easy to add new items, and easy to spot duplicates.
Plus, it forces you to actually name the work and treat it more like a thing, and less like some fuzzy idea that’s out there.
I could go on and on about the benefits, but here are a few of the things that really matter:
I find a plan for the month is the most useful. If you plan a month well, the weeks have a better chance of taking care of themselves. But if you only plan for the week or every two weeks, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, and the next thing you know, the months go by. You’re busy, things happen, but the work doesn’t always accrue to something that matters.
This is a simple way to have more meaningful months.
I also can’t say it enough, that it’s less about having a prioritized list, and more about having an easy to glance at map of the work that’s in-flight. I’m glad the map of the US is not a prioritized list by states. And I’m glad that the states are well named. It makes it easy to see the map. I can then prioritize and make choices on any trip, because I actually have a map to work from, and I can see the big picture all at once, and only zoom in as I need to.
The big idea behind planning tasks and To-Do lists this way is to empower people to make better decisions.
The counter-intuitive part is first exposing a simple view of the map of the work, so it’s easy to see, and this is what enables simpler prioritization when you need it, regardless of which prioritization you use, or which workflow management tool you plug in to.
And, nothing stops you from putting the stuff into spreadsheets or task management tools afterwards, but the high-value part is the forming and storming and conforming around the initial map of the work for the month, so more people can spend their time performing.
May the power of a simple information model help you organize, prioritize, and optimize your outcomes in a more meaningful way.
If you need a deeper dive on this approach, and a basic introduction to Agile Results, here is a good getting started guide for Agile Results in action.
Some people specialize in a narrow domain. They are called specialists because they focus on a specific area of expertise, and they build skills in that narrow area.
Rather than focus on breadth, they go for depth.
Others focus on the bigger picture or connecting the dots. Rather than focus on depth, they go for breadth.
Or do they?
It actually takes a lot of knowledge and depth to be effective at integration and “connecting the dots” in a meaningful way. It’s like being a skilled entrepreneur or a skilled business developer. Not just anybody who wants to generalize can be effective.
True integration specialists are great pattern matchers and have deep skills in putting things together to make a better whole.
I was reading the book Business Development: A Market-Oriented Perspective where Hans Eibe Sørensen introduces the concept of an Integrating Generalist and how they make the world go round.
I wrote a post about it on Sources of Insight:
The Integrating Generalist and the Art of Connecting the Dots
Given the description, I’m not sure which is better, the Integration Specialist or the Integrating Generalist. The value of the Integrating Generalist is that it breathes new life into people that want to generalize so that they can put the bigger puzzle together. Rather than de-value generalists, this label puts a very special value on people that are able to fit things together.
In fact, the author claims that it’s Integrating Generalists that make the world go round.
Otherwise, there would be a lot of great pieces and parts, but nothing to bring them together into a cohesive whole.
Maybe that’s a good metaphor for the Integrating Generalist. While you certainly need all the parts of the car, you also need somebody to make sure that all the parts come together.
In my experience, Integration Generalists are able to help shape the vision, put the functions that matter in place, and make things happen.
I would say the most effective Program Managers I know do exactly that.
They are the Oil and the Glue for the team because they are able to glue everything together, and, at the same time, remove friction in the system and help people bring out their best, towards a cohesive whole.
It’s synergy in action, in more ways than one.
Anatomy of a High-Potential
E-Shape People, Not T-Shape
Generalists vs. Specialists
“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” -- Voltaire
With New Years, coming, I think it's a good time to remind you of a technique you can use to increase your success exponentially.
It's 30 Day Improvement Sprints. If you have a goal in mind that you seriously want to nail, then 30 Day Improvement Sprints might be exactly what you need to help you knock it out of the park. I've talked about 30 Day Improvements Sprints here on this blog, but I've also shared them in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.
What You Need to Know About 30 Day Improvement Sprints Here's what you need to know about 30 Day Improvement Sprints
Born Out of Necessity I originally created 30 Day Improvement Sprints as a way to deal with the fact that I had competing priorities. I had a lot of things I wanted to focus on, but then I was constantly hopping back and forth, and not making enough progress on any one thing. Then I stepped back and look at my year as a portfolio of possibility. I have 12 months to invest and play around with. I then asked the question, what if I used each month as a way to focus on something I really wanted to learn or improve? Then each month, I could either pick the same thing again, or choose something new. Finally, rather than do everything at once, I could focus on one key theme for the month, knowing that next month, I could then focus on my next big thing. The side benefit of this is peace of mind. When you have a time or a place for things, you can put them to rest. Otherwise, they keep competing for your attention, until you finally say, next month is when I’ll focus on XYZ.
Benefits of 30 Day Improvement Sprints 30 Day Improvement Sprints turned out to be one of my biggest game changers. Here are some of the benefits I experienced:
Examples of 30 Day Improvement Sprints I used 30 Day Improvement Sprints for everything from learning Windows Azure to improving roller blading to experimenting with eating living foods and getting 10 years younger. One of my most memorable 30 Day Improvement Sprints was a focus on 30 Days of Getting Results. Each day, for 30 days, I took 20 minutes to write about one thing that really helped me achieve better, faster, and simpler results. The results was a large body of insight and action with mini-lessons for getting your groove on and changing your game. (I ended up creating a free 30 Days of Getting Results eBook to put it all at your finger tips. If there’s enough interest, I’ll figure out how to put it on the Kindle too. It’s the perfect thing to help you start the New Year with some of the best patterns and practices for getting results on your side.)
Results at Work I’ve also used 30 Day Improvement Sprints to focus and energize teams at Microsoft. For example, when I first joined the Enterprise Strategy team at Microsoft, I made one of the themes a focus on “simplicity.” This theme caught on, and soon our General Manager was driving action and focus on simplicity. This helped us take a fresh look at one of our products and find ways to dramatically simplify the experience. As the simplicity focus gained momentum, more and more breakthroughs started to show up, all in the name of a simplified experience.
Use 30 Day Improvement Sprints as Your Unfair Advantage in the New Year I’m a fan of Voltaire’s original quote, but I would twist it a little … “Few challenges withstand the assault of sustained action.” Using 30 Day Improvement Sprints really does put the advantage of time on your side, as well as the power of focus and motivation. It also creates an incredible learning loop. Your little actions and feedback loops each day teach you distinctions you can use each new day to keep improving and getting over the humps.
Here are a couple ways you can use 30 Day Improvement Sprints to get exponential results in the New Year:
Think about it … A New Year. A fresh start. Twelve months in which you can choose a new theme or focus each month. Maybe you learn a new language? Maybe you learn the Tango? Who knows. There are a lot of opportunities and potential when you have a system on your side.
If you’ve used 30 Day Improvement Sprints, I’d love to hear how you’ve used them. I’ve had various folks send me their stories on their breakthroughs and changes. I always enjoy reading the stories, so keep sending my way.
My Related Posts
I love one-liners that really encapsulate ideas. A colleague asked me how work was going with some new projects spinning up and a new team. But she prefaced it with, “Your book is all about making sure your life energy is well spent. Are you finding that you are now spending your energy on the right things and with the right people?” (She was referring to my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.)
I thought was both a great way to frame the big idea of the book, and to ask a perfectly cutting question that cuts right through the thick of things, to the heart of things.
… Are you spending your life energy on the right things?
This is one of the rules that has served me well, as a Program Manager at Microsoft: Carve out time for what’s important.
You don’t have time, you make time. If you don’t make time for what’s important, it doesn’t happen. This is where The Rule of Three helps. Are you spending the right amount of time today on those three results you want to accomplish? The default pattern is to try and fit them in with all your existing routines. A more powerful approach is to make time for your three results today and optimize around that. This might mean disrupting other habits and routines you have, but this is a good thing. The more you get in the habit of making time for what’s important, the more you’ll get great results. If you’re not getting the results you want, you can start asking better questions. For example, are you investing enough time? Are you investing the right energy? Are you using the right approach? Or, maybe a different thing happens. Maybe you start accomplishing your results but don’t like what you get. You can step back and ask whether you’re choosing the right outcomes for The Rule of Three.
Here are some things to think about when you’re carving out your time:
This is a tip from my book, Getting Results the Agile Way (now on a Kindle), a time management system for achievers. You can test drive the system by taking the 30 Day Boot Camp for Getting Results, a free time management training course.
This is a simple hack, but a powerful one. I call it “Sticky Stuff.” It puts information at your finger tips, such as To Do Lists, in a sticky way.
Here’s what I do. In Outlook 2010, I create a folder called “Sticky Stuff” and I add it to my “Favorites” short list:
In that folder, I create a new “Posts.” In Outlook 2010, the way to add posts to a folder is to “New Items”, then “More Items”, then “Post in this folder.” You can then add your To do Lists or any key reference information that you need at your finger tips. If you constantly get a barrage of information, and you need to have quick access to your action items, or if you need to have quick access to information that you constantly look up, this little hack should help a lot.
The beauty of this is it’s another pillar of helping me keep an empty inbox or a zero inbox. At Microsoft, where many of us get a few hundred emails per day of stuff we have to stay on top of, that’s a very big deal.
Note, when you need to edit a Post, you have to open the post, and click “Actions”, then “Edit Message.”
Agile Results is the name of the system I talk about in Getting Results the Agile Way. It’s a simple time management system for meaningful results. The focus is on meaningful results, not doing more things. There are three keys to the Agile Results system:
The Rule of 3 The Rule of 3 helps you avoid getting overwhelmed. It’s also a guideline that helps you prioritize and scope. Rather than bite off more than you can chew, you bite off three meaningful things. You can use The Rule of 3 at different levels by picking three wins for the day, three wins for the week, three wins for the month, and three wins for the year. This helps you see the forest for the trees since your three wins for the year are at a higher level than your three wins for the month, and your three wins for the week are at a higher level than your three wins for the day. You can easily zoom in and out to help balance your perspective on what’s important, for the short term and the longer term.
Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection is a weekly results pattern. This is a simple “time-based” pattern. Each week is a fresh start. On Mondays, you think about three wins you would like for the week. Each day you identify three wins you would like for the day. On Fridays, you reflect on lessons learned; you ask yourself, “What three things are going well, and what three things need improvement?” This weekly results pattern helps you build momentum.
Hot Spots Hot Spots are a way to heat map your life. They help you map out your results by identifying “what’s hot?.” Hot Spots become both your levers and your lens to help you identify and focus on what’s important in your life. They can represent areas of pain or opportunity. You can use Hot Spots as your main dashboard. You can organize your Hot Spots by work, personal, and the “big picture” of your life. At a glance, you should be able to quickly see the balls you are juggling and what’s on your plate. To find your Hot Spots, simply make a list of the key things that need your time and energy. Then for each of these key things, create—a simple list, a “tickler list” that answers the question, “What do you want to accomplish?” Once you know the wins you want to achieve in your Hot Spots, you have the ultimate map for your meaningful results.
You can use Agile Results for work or home or anywhere you need to improve your results in life. Agile Results is compatible with, and can enhance the results of, any productivity system or time management you already use. That’s because the foundation of the Agile Results platform is a core set of principles, patterns, and practices for getting results.
The simplest way to get started with Agile Results is to read Getting Started with Agile Results, and take the 30 Day Boot Camp for Getting Results.
From the Archives Avoiding Do-Overs – Testing Your Key Engineering Decisions - From what I've seen, the most important problem is failure to test and explore key engineering decisions. By key engineering decisions, I mean the decisions that have cascading engineering impact.
Why 30 Day Improvement Sprints - I get asked this often enough that I think I should distill the keys.
From the Web Time Management Tips for Taking Action - Taking action is skill. It's one of the best skills you can use in conjunction with time management. The trick is to combine your time management skills in a way that helps you take more action. Here are 10 ways to take more action and improve your time management.
Time Management Tips on the Job – How To Be More Productive at Work - Time management is a skill you can use to be more effective at work and life. The trick is to focus on the vital few time management tips that keep improving your time management skills over time. This article shows you the key time management tips to apply to work and life that will keep improving your time management skills over time.
Meaningful outcomes are the backbone of meaningful work. Meaningful outcomes help guide and shape your meaningful work.
If you have a vision for the end in mind, then you have something to work towards. To figure out meaningful outcomes, you ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Another simple way to do this is to ask yourself, “What will the wins be?”
One of the challenges is when it feels like your work has no meaning. Keep in mind that you are the ultimate filter for everything that happens in your life. You assign the meaning to your work. Make the work meaningful. One way to create meaning is to master your craft. Do so by focusing on continuous learning and improvement. Teaching your craft and being a mentor for others is another way to both amplify your learning and your impact.
Work on stuff that’s valued, and remember that value is in the eye of the beholder. This makes work more meaningful. You should be aware whether it’s valued by you, by your employer, or by your customer. It’s fine if it’s valuable to you but nobody else, but be aware of it, and make it a mindful choice. You may be in the wrong line of work or working on the wrong thing.
OK, after testing multiple iterations against 7 competing designs, I’ve updated the Getting Results.com site and the Getting Results Knowledge Base. It should now be a lot easier and friction-free to learn about the Agile Results Time Management System.
Here are key changes:
Hopefully you find the site a lot easier to use and to find your way around. I’ll continue to simplify, test, tune, and refine … after all, that’s the agile way
Many thanks to Alik Levin, Paul Enfield, Steve Andrews, Tobin Titus, and Will Kennedy for inspiration and ideas on how to take Agile Results and Getting Results the Agile Way to the next level.
Trying to plan for a month can be a challenge, especially if you don’t have an approach. I’m going to share with you a very simple way to plan your month. It’s simple, but powerful. You can use Agile Results as a way to simplify your monthly planning. Agile Results is the system I talk about in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.
To plan the month using Agile Results, simply do three things:
The best part is that each month is a chance to turn the page and start fresh. You are the author of your life and you are always writing your story forward. Use each month as a way to add great chapters to your life. When things don’t go as planned, carry the lessons forward, and use each day, each week, and each month, as a fresh start on your path of meaningful results.
According to Christopher Alexander, "Each pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice."
I think the value of patterns is two key things: 1. Concise solution descriptions 2. A common vocabulary
I also think the best way to think about patterns is that they are a simple way to share strategies and principles. By naming them, you give them a simple handle.
Recently, a colleague asked me for a simple pattern template, and I didn’t have anything to just point to, so I did a quick roundup of some examples.
Pattern Templates Here are example pattern schemas and pattern templates from a few key sources:
Pattlets Pattlets were used in Enterprise Solution Patterns to briefly summarize a pattern, without fully documenting it. Here are a few samples:
A page of pattlets is available on MSDN.
Here is a quick map of the process groups, knowledge areas, and processes in the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge). Regardless of the PMI certification, I think it’s useful to know how the knowledge for project management is organized by experts and professionals. This will help you more effectively navigate the space, and learn project management at a faster pace, because you can better organize the information in your mind.
If you are a program manager or a project manager, the categories are especially helpful for checking your knowledge and for thinking of projects more holistically. You can also use the knowledge areas to grow your skills by exploring each area and building your catalog of principles, patterns, and practices.
Process Groups and Knowledge Areas Here is a quick map of the process groups and knowledge areas in the Project Management Body of Knowledge:
Knowledge Areas and Processes Here is a quick topology view of the Knowledge Areas and the processes:
Project Integration Management
Project Scope Management
Project Time Management
Project Cost Management
Project Quality Management
Project Human Resource Management
Project Communication Management
Project Risk Management
Project Procurement Management