J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

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    The Key to Agility: Breaking Things Down

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    If you find you can't keep up with the world around you, then break things down.  Breaking things down is the key to finishing faster.

    Breaking things down is also the key to agility.

    One of the toughest project management lessons I had to learn was breaking things down into more modular chunks.   When I took on a project, my goal was to make big things happen and change the world. 

    After all, go big or go home, right?

    The problem is you run out of time, or you run out of budget.  You even run out of oomph.  So the worst way to make things happen is to have a bunch of hopes, plans, dreams, and things, sitting in a backlog because they're too big to ship in the time that you've got.

    Which brings us to the other key to agility ... ship things on a shorter schedule.

    This re-trains your brain to chunk things down, flow value, chop dependencies down to size, learn, and, move on.

    Best of all, if you miss the train, you catch the next train.

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    Getting Things Done with SWAT Mode

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    Getting things done during a big project can be a real series of humps and hurdles.  You can quickly get overloaded and overwhelmed if you don’t have a way to stay on top of things and to outpace your problems.

    I wrote a post on SWAT Mode for Extreme Productivity

    “SWAT Mode” is the term we used on one of my early teams in patterns & practices.  When we would start falling behind and our backlog was out of control, we would go into SWAT Mode.   In SWAT Mode, we used extreme focus and high-energy to get things done.  We would swarm our problems as a team, in an “all hands on deck” sort of way, and blast through our backlog like it was nobody’s business.

    What I didn’t realize at the time, but later appreciated, was how these short-bursts of extreme focus and energy created momentum that helped us complete our projects time, on budget time, and high impact, time and time again.   During any significant project, it’s easy to fall behind, and gradually get overwhelmed by a lot of little things that add up.

    Going into SWAT Mode, really starts with a mindset.   You drive from a sense of urgency, with the intention of getting things done.  You switch gears into overdrive and you plow through the pile that stands before you.

    The beauty of going into SWAT Mode is not just the fact that you get back on top of things.  It’s also that while you are in SWAT mode, you often experience states of flow.  You’re fully engaged.  You’re not distracted.  You’re challenged and putting your skills to the test at a faster pace.  You’re fully engaged.

    It can be hard to get people into SWAT Mode if they haven’t done it before.  One of the simplest ways is to take the team offsite, and focus for the day.   Changing the environment makes it easier to try something new.   The best way to start off is to put a short list of the high impact outcomes you want to achieve.   These are the things that have eaten away at your energy and bogged you down.  It’s time to tackle them and blast through them, or at least put a serious dent in them.

    The worst case scenario is that you don’t make as much progress as you wanted.  The best case is that you’ve gotten rid of the things that were starting to hold you back and wear you down.   Instead of you getting overwhelmed, you overwhelmed your problem.   Sometimes, that’s exactly what it takes.  The more you learn to outpace your problems, the more you learn to stay on top of things in simpler and more sustainable ways.

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    How To Build a Foundation for Execution

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    A strong foundation for execution for your company includes an operating model, an enterprise architecture, and an IT engagement model. If your company builds a strong foundation for execution, you can experience higher profitability, faster time to market, and lower IT costs.

    In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson share how a company can build a foundation for execution.   

    According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson, the operating model is the vision of how the company will operate.  The enterprise architecture is the key architectural requirements for the foundation for execution, as defined by the Business and IT leaders, and based on the operating model.  The IT engagement model specifies how each project benefits from, and contributes to, the foundation for execution.

    The key benefits for building a strong foundation for execution include better profits, faster time to market, and cheaper IT costs.  But, those aren't the only reasons you would want to build a strong foundation for execution.  Additionally, growing complexity in a company's systems can create inflexibility in the systems, and excessive costs, without added value.  Also, business agility depends on a strong foundation for execution. More agile companies have their core processes digitized.  Changes in regulations are another reason to have a strong foundation for execution so that you can increase the likelihood that necessary data is available or can easily be obtained.  Lastly, building a foundation is less risky than the alternative.  You can use ongoing projects to steadily build your foundation for execution, while decreasing IT costs, and increasing business efficiencies.

    3 Keys to Building a Strong Foundation for Execution

    According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson, the three keys are:

    1. Operating Model
    2. Enterprise Architecture
    3. IT Engagement Model

    Operating Model

    The operating model is the level of business process integration and standardization for delivering goods and services.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

    “The operating model is the necessary level of business process integration and standardization for delivering goods and services to customers.  Different companies have different levels of process integration across their business units (i.e., the extent to which business uits share data.)  Integration enables end-to-end processing and a single face to the customer, but it forces a common understanding of data across diverse business units.  Thus, companies need to make overt decisions about the importance of process integration.  Management also must decide on the appropriate level of business process standardization (i.e., the extent to which  business units will perform the same process the same way).  Process standardization creates efficiencies across business units but limits opportunities to customize services.  The operating model involves a commitment to how the company will operate.”

    Enterprise Architecture

    The enterprise architecture is how you organize the business processes and IT infrastructure to support the operating model. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

    “The enterprise architecture is the organizing logic for business processes and IT infrastructure, reflecting the integration and standardization requirements of the company's operating model.  The enterprise architecture provides a long-term view of a company's processes, systems, and technologies so that individual projects can build capabilities - not just fulfill immediate needs. Companies go through four stages in learning how to take an enterprise architecture approach to designing business processes: Business Silos, Standardized Technology, Optimized Core, and Business Modularity.  As a company goes through its stages, its foundation for execution takes on increased strategic importance.”

    IT Engagement Model

    The IT engagement model helps align business and IT, and ensures that individual solutions are guided by the enterprise architecture.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

    “The IT engagement model is the system of governance mechanisms that ensure business and IT projects achieve both local and companywide objectives.  The IT engagement model influences project decisions so that individual solutions are guided by the enterprise architecture.  The engagement model provides for alignment between the IT and business objectives of projects, and coordinates the IT and business process decisions made at multiple organizational levels (e.g., companywide, business unit, project).  To do so, the model establishes linkages between senior-level IT decisions, such as project prioritization and companywide process design, and project-level implementation decisions.”

    If you want to stay in your market for the long-haul, exploring how to build a strong foundation for execution, if you don’t have one already, can be one of your best moves.

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    5 of the Best Books I’ve Read Recently on Getting Jobs, Doing Leadership, and Presenting with Skill

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    I read a lot.  I read fast.  I go through a lot of books each month.  Books help give me new ideas and ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper.   Books are one of the best ways I get the edge in work and life.

    Here are the 5 of the best books I’ve read recently, along with links to my reviews:

    1. When Can You Start? How to ACE the Interview and Win the Job, by Paul Freiberger
    2. Advice is for Winners: How to Get Advice for Better Decisions in Life and Work, by Raul Valdes-Perez
    3. The Power of Starting Something Stupid: Make Dreams Happen, and Live without Regret, by Richie Norton
    4. Stories that Move Mountains: Storytelling and Visual Design for Persuasive Presentations, by Martin Sykes, A. Nicklas Malik, and Mark D. West
    5. It’s Already Inside: Nurturing Your Innate Leadership for Business and Life Success, by Robert Murray

     

    When Can You Start?, as the name implies, is all about turning interviews into job offers.   It’s a quick read and it tackles many of the common pitfalls you can run into during the interview process.  Best of all, it provides a methodical approach for preparing for your interviews, by using your resume as a platform for telling your story in a relevant way.   If you’re trying to find a job, this is a great book for helping you get your head in the game, and stand out from the crowd, during the interview process.

    Advices is for Winners is a cornucopia of insights and actions for creating an effective board of advisors to help you in work and life.   I thought it would be a fluff book, but it was actually a very technical guide.  It's written by an engineer, so the advice is very specific, and very data-driven.  It includes a lot of lists, such as 6 benefits of getting advice, 22 questions for scoring a scenario, and 28 reasons why people resist advice.  Mentors are the short-cuts and getting better advice is how you get ahead.

    The Power of Starting Something Stupid is all about how to crush fear, make dreams happen, and live without regret.   In the forward, Stephen Covey wrote: "It reminds each of us that all things are possible, that life is short, and to take action now."

    Stories that Move Mountains introduces the CAST system for creating visual stories.  It’s a powerful book about how to improve your presentation skills using storytelling and visuals.  I ended up using some of the ideas in one of my presentations recently to senior leadership, and it helped me prioritize and sequence my slides in a far more effective way.

    It's Already Inside directly addresses the question, "Are leaders born or made?"  The book is a really great synthesis of the leadership habits and practices that will make you a more productive and more effective leader.

    Each of these books has something for you in it.  Of course, the challenge for you is to dive inside, find the gems that ring true for you, and apply them.

    Happy reading.

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    Dreamers and Doers

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    Edward de Bono wrote that scientists and engineers had proven that man-powered flight was impossible because a human couldn’t generate enough horsepower to raise a plane off the ground.  Then Paul MacCready did it successfully because he didn’t know it was impossible.

    What would you do if you didn't know it was "impossible"?

    As Walt Disney said, "It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”   Disney was a dreamer and a doer.  He was a man of action.  He said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”   Walt Disney turned dreams into reality.  According to Walt Disney, the secret of turning dreams into reality is the four C’s: Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy.  (See Walt Disney Quotes for a more comprehensive list of Walt Disney’s mantras and thoughts.)

    When you study success, “action” is the active ingredient.   Edward de Bono agrees that there are "describers" and "doers", where describers are happy enough just to describe or explain something in detail, while "doers" use action to test their ideas and get feedback.

    Edward de Bono is fan of combining thought with action: “… there is a continuous synergy between though and action.  The suggestion is that you cannot smell a flower at a distance – you have to get up close to it.”

    Walt Disney was a fan of combining imagination with action.  As Walt Disney said, ““I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.” 

    Even the best laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry, when the rubber meets the road.  You fall down, you get back up, you learn, you change your approach, and you try again.

    And that’s where Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy come into play.

    It’s how you make your dreams happen.

    In the words of Walt Disney, ““If you can dream it, you can do it.”

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    Leadership Development in a Box

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    “Managers help people see themselves as they are; Leaders help people to see themselves better than they are.” — Jim Rohn

    Actually, it's leadership development in a book.  The book is, Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential, by John Mattone.

    Intelligent Leadership is seriously a breakthrough book.

    You should be able to tell from my book review, that it's one of the best books on leadership development.

    It works the inner and outer you – in a very deep and skillful way.  It’s among the best self-paced leadership development books available (and ultimately leadership is powerful personal development in action, as you learn to groom and grow your capabilities, and the capabilities of others with skill.)

    It's the real deal, and the book includes significant leadership tools for helping you make the most of what you've got.   Mattone is an executive leadership coach and it shows.  His book is deep and his leadership tools are powerful.   The beauty is just how much he's packed into an actual book, so the tools are right there at your fingertips.

    I like the fact that Mattone organizes leadership styles into a set of 9 leadership types:

    1. The Perfectionist
    2. The Helper
    3. The Entertainer
    4. The Artist
    5. The Thinker
    6. The Disciple
    7. The Activist
    8. The Driver
    9. The Arbitrator

    He says we're a mix of all of them, and that's where our power comes from -- if we know how to harness it.  To harness our personal power and to mature our leadership capabilities, we need to learn how to sharpen our strengths, and address our weaknesses.  We can use these leadership types to see ourselves and to see others, and to better integrate our strengths when we interact with others.

    Another powerful aspect of the book is how Mattone connects your inner goo with your outer you and shows the flow and relationships:

    Self-Concept and Character (values, beliefs, and references) -> Thoughts -> Emotions -> Behavioral Tendencies -> Tactical/Strategic Competencies -> Self-Concept and Character.

    This is a book that can be your short-cut for getting ahead in today's super competitive world.  You don't have to hope for somebody to identify you as high potential.  You can own this.  You can take your leadership abilities to the next level, using Mattone's prescriptive guidance and leadership tools.   You can immediately use his leadership tools to assess where you are, and to identify a very specific leadership development plan.

    I would put this book up there wither Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and Tony Robbins’ Unlimited Power.  It's more than a book.  It's a framework.   It's a playbook for building your personal leadership dojo.

    When you read the book, John Mattone's 30+ years of experience, and his insight as a leadership coach, will quickly become apparent.

    For a "movie trailer" style review of the book, and some of my favorite parts, check out my book review of Intelligent Leadership.

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    Change the World by Changing Behaviors

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    If you have an understanding of types of behavior change, you can design more effective software.

    Software is a powerful way to change the world.

    You can change the world with software, a behavior at a time.

    Think of all the little addictive loops, that shape our habits and thoughts on a daily basis. We’re gradually being automated and programmed by the apps we use.

    I’ve seen some people spiral down, a click, a status update, a notification, or a reminder at a time. I’ve seen others spiral up by using apps that teach them new habits, reinforce their good behaviors, and bring out their best.

    To bottom line is, whether you are shaping software or using software on a regular basis, it helps to have a deep understanding of behavior change. You can use this know-how to change your personal habits, lead change management efforts, or build software that changes the world.

    We know change is tough, and it’s a complicated topic, so where do you start?

    A great place to start is to learn the 15 types of behavior change, thanks to Dr. BJ Fogg and his Fogg Behavior Grid.   No worries.  15 sounds like a lot, but it’s actually easy once you understand the model behind it.  It’s simple and intuitive.

    The basic frame works like this.   You figure out whether the behavior change is to do a new behavior, a familiar behavior, increase the behavior, decrease the behavior, or stop dong the behavior.   Within that, you figure out the duration, as in, is this a one-time deal, or is it for a specific time period, or is it something you want to do permanently.

    Here are some examples from Dr. BJ Fogg’s Behavior Grid:

    Do New Behavior

    • Install solar panels on house.
    • Carpool to work for three weeks.
    • Start growing own vegetables.

    Do Familiar Behavior

    • Tell a friend about eco-friendly soap.
    • Bike to work for two months.
    • Turn off lights when leaving room.

    Increase Behavior

    • Plant more trees and local plants.
    • Take public bus for one month.
    • Purchase more local produce.

    Decrease Behavior

    • Buy fewer boxes of bottled water.
    • Take shorter showers this week.
    • Eat less meat from now on.

    Stop Doing a Behavior

    • Turn off space heater for tonight.
    • Don't water lawn during Summer.
    • Never litter again.

    When you know the type of behavior change you’re trying to make, you can design more effective change strategies.

    If you want to change the world, focus on changing behaviors.  If you want to change your world, focus on changing your behaviors. (And, remember, thoughts are behaviors, too.)

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    Tell Your Story and Build Your Brand

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    No, this isn't about "Once upon a time."  There are ways to know and share yourself with skill.  You can combine stories and branding to reveal the truths that help you stand out in the marketplace or workplace, and play to your competitive edge.

    But the challenge is this -- unless you're a skilled marketer, how do you reveal the power of your brand in a more compelling way?

    I'm not a marketer, and I don't play one on T.V., so I have to work at it.  The way I work at it, is I pay attention to the people that are outstanding at what they do.

    So what do the people that are outstanding at this do? 

    They focus on values.  Finding shared values is the key to building brands and building stronger relationships in everything you do ... in work, and in life.  Brand building is largely about creating clarity around the values the brand stands for.

    A simple way is to start by just figuring out three attributes that you want your brand to be about.  For example:

    1. Simplicity
    2. Excellence
    3. Freedom

    It needs to be believable.  You need to believe it, in your heart of hearts and soul of souls. 

    Related to that, you need to know who your brand is for.  What are the values they share?  What are the boundaries of those values, and at what point, do you have polar opposites or create conflict?

    Find the intersection.

    That’s where the magic happens.

    If you want to be relevant, you need to find the intersection of the values. 

    Values are the ultimate lightening rod.

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    Innovation Quotes

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    What do Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Walt Disney teach us about building a culture of innovation?

    A lot.

    I put together a comprehensive collection of innovation quotes.   And by comprehensive, I mean more than 100 of the greatest thoughts on innovation, all at your finger tips.   You’ll hear from Edison, Mozart, Michael Porter, Peter Drucker, Seth Godin, and more.

    And, to make the innovation quotes more meaningful, I’ve grouped them into useful categories, so you can flip through the sections you care about the most.   There’s a section on Action, Birthing Ideas, and Continuous Learning and Growth.  You’ll also find a section on Fear and Failure.  After all, success in innovation is often a numbers game.  Remember what Edison taught us.

    Just because it’s a comprehensive collection of innovation quotes, doesn’t mean it’s complete, or that it’s a done deal.  There’s always room for improvement (and innovation.)  So if you have some favorite innovation quotes that I’ve left out, please let me know.  I want this collection to be truly insightful, and most importantly, actionable.

    After all, what good are good ideas, if you can’t turn them into results.

    And that’s the truth about innovation.

    Enjoy.

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    Creating Career Opportunities

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    How do you create career opportunities?   You reinvent yourself.

    While you can always hope for things to land in your lap, there are specific patterns I see successful people do.  Among those that continuously create the best career opportunities, here are the key success patterns:

    1. They invest in themselves.  They’re always learning, and taking some sort of training, beyond their day job.
    2. They reinvent themselves.  As a result of investing in themselves, they grow new capabilities.   With their new capabilities, they expand the opportunities they can easily plug themselves into.  For example, a few of my friends started to focus on data science in anticipation of big data, as one of the key trends for 2013 and beyond.  As part of re-inventing themselves, they re-brand themselves to better showcase what they’re bringing to the table.
    3. They build connections before they need them.  It’s always been a game of who you know and what you know, but now more than ever, your network can be the difference that makes the difference when it comes to finding out about relevant opportunities.
    4. They know who’s job they want.   They have a role-model or two that already does the job they want.  The role-model exemplifies how they want to show up, how they want to spend their time, and through that role-model they learn the types of challenges they want to take on, and they get better perspective on what the life-style is actually like.  This not only helps them get clarity on the type of job they want, but it helps when they tell other people the kind of job they want, and can point to specific examples.
    5. They know the market.   They pay attention to where the action is.   They don’t just follow their passion.  They follow the money, too, to know where the growth is, and where there’s value to be captured.  As the saying goes, every market has niches, but not every niche has a market.
    6. They have a mentor, and a “board of directors.”   They use a circle of trusted advisors that can help clue them into where to grow their strengths, and how to find better opportunities, based on what they’re capable of.   It might be their “wolf pack”, but more often than not, it’s a seasoned mentor or two that has great introspection, and can see what they can’t, and they can help them to see things from a balcony view.  Most importantly, the sharp mentors, the wise and able ones, help them to know their Achilles heal, and get past glass ceilings, and avoid career limiting moves.
    7. They have a sponsor.  Like a game of Chutes and Ladders, skilled sponsors help them find the short-cuts, avoid the dead ends, and avoid sliding backwards.

    If you’re wondering where the best career opportunities are, sometimes it’s the job you’ve already got, sometimes you have to go find them, and sometimes, you have to make them.

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    Microsoft Secret Stuff

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    I’m a fan of anticipating the future, and creating the future.  Even speculation helps dream up what’s possible, and be ready for anything, when it happens.  And if you balance that with key trends, you can really stay on top of things.

    After all, what’s The Art of the Long View teach us?  While we can’t predict the future, we can better prepare for it by playing out the “what if” scenarios and possibilities.

    With that in mind, I did a search on Microsoft secret stuff, and found some interesting things.  After all, Microsoft spends more on R&D than Google and Apple combined.

    Here are some of the more interesting articles I found:

    Here are my key take aways …

    • Holodeck - transform your family space into a something like Star Trek’s famous holodeck.
    • Kinect Glasses (Fortaleza) - wearable peripherals and augmented reality.
    • Xbox Surface – a 7-inch Xbox tablet.

    Kinect Stuff

    • Kinect Fusion - create interactive 3D models.
    • KinectTrack - a new six degree-of-freedom (6-DoF) tracker which allows real-time and low-cost pose estimation using only commodity hardware.
    • SuperKid - Use Kinect to make movies: watch yourself against a virtual background, and interact with virtual props.

    Touch and Touch Screens

    • LightSpace - create interactive displays on everyday objects.
    • OmniTouch - displays graphical images onto virtually any surface and transform the projection into an interactive, multi-touch-enabled input.
    • Sidesight - expand a mobile device's multi-touch capabilities beyond the size of its screen.
    • SkinPut - beam interactive displays onto your hand and arm
    • Thinsight - a hardware and software product that allows ordinary LCD screens to become fully functional multi-point touchscreens.

    More …

    • Digits - translate a user’s hand movements directly into a virtual space.
    • Foveated Rendering - accelerate graphics computation by a factor of 5-6 on a desktop HD display, by exploiting the fallout of acuity in the visual periphery.

    What neat stuff do you see Microsoft working on?

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    Sinofsky on How To Analyze the Competition

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    Sometimes the best way to do something well, is to know what to avoid.  In Ex-Windows Boss Steve Sinofsky: Here's Why I Use An iPhone, Nicholas Carlson shares some tips from Steve Sinofsky on analyzing the competition:

    1. Don't use the product in a lightweight manner
    2. Don't think like yourself
    3. Don't bet competitors act similarly (or even rationally)
    4. Don't assume the world is static

    Sinofsky elaborates, and says to use the product deep, and use it over time.  Use the product like it was intended by the designers.  Wrap yourself around the culture, constraints, resources, and more of a competitor.  And, don't take a static view of the world -- the competitor can always update their product based on feedback, or weaknesses you call out.

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    Inspiring a Vision

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    One of my mentees was looking for ways to grow her prowess in “Inspiring a Vision.”  

    Here are some of the ways I shared with her so far:

    • Future Picture - One of the best ways that the military uses to create a shared vision rapidly and communicate it down the line is “Future Picture”  (See How To Paint a Future Picture.)

    The key with vision is, when possible –

    1. Draw your vision – make it a simple picture
    2. Use metaphors – metaphors are the fastest way to share an idea
    3. Paint the story - what’s the current state, what’s the future state
    4. Paint the ecosystem – who are the players in the system, what are the levers, what are the inputs/outputs
    5. Paint the story over time … how does time change the vision … and chunk up the vision into 6 month, 1 year, 3 year, five year

    And, a powerful tool we use at Microsoft is a Vision / Scope document.

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    10 Ways to Make Agile Design More Effective

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    The key shift with Agile Design is to deliver quickly while handling changes smoothly.   Instead of doing long requirements phases, and heavy documentation up front, with Agile Design you focus on incremental and iterative delivery, going from low-fidelity to high-fidelity, while getting feedback and improving your design.

    Here are 10 ways to make Agile Design more effective:

    1. Avoid BUFD – Big Up-front Design.  Avoid it.  Whenever there is a big lag time between designing it, developing it, and using it, you’re introducing more risk.  You’re breaking feedback loops.  You’re falling into the pit of analysis paralysis.   Focus on “just enough design” so that you can test what works and what doesn’t, and respond accordingly.
    2. Avoid YAGNI – You Aren’t Gonna Need It.  Avoid bloat.  At the same time, avoid scope creep.   “Keep the system uncluttered with extra stuff you guess will be used later. Only 10% of that extra stuff will ever get used, so you are wasting 90% of your time.”Extreme Programming.org
    3. Embrace Occam’s Razor and KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).  Use the simplest solution.  Simplicity always win in the long run.  This will help you stay in the game before bogging your solution down and crippling it’s ability to keep up with evolving requirements.
    4. “Test-First.”   If you don’t know the criteria for what good looks like, you’ll have a hard time finishing.  You’ll also get lost among your designs, unless you clarify what your actual test-cases are.   If you keep a small set of useful tests, you can parse through a variety of designs, and find the diamonds in the rough.
    5. Deliver iterative and incremental solutions.   An iterative solution would be decorating the living room.  An incremental solution would be adding a porch to the house.   Deliver useful and usable increments, and then iterate on them to improve them based on real feedback.
    6. Cycle through alternatives.   Fail fast and fail often.  This is another good argument for being able to do rapid prototypes, and low-fidelity prototypes.   You need to cycle through competing solutions.   Do A/B testing.  Do the Toyota Way and create 3 alternative solutions.   Don’t get wrapped up in finding the “best solution.”  In many cases, your best solution will be found by “satisficing.”  This will keep you ahead of the game, and ready to respond to emerging requirements.
    7. Stay customer-connected.  Stay connected with the users who will actually use what you’re making.   Get 5 customers to stand behind it.  Don’t just throw it over the wall down the line, and hope it sticks.  Invite your customers to your side of the wall.
    8. Think Big Picture First.   Put the scaffolding in place.  Focus on the plumbing before the interior decorating.  Solve the big challenges first.   Get the big picture, before getting lost in the details.  Optimize the maxima before the minima.
    9. Get cross-discipline feedback early and often.    The better you can balance cross-discipline feedback, the more reliable your solution will be.
    10. Spike early and often.  Use technical spikes, functional spikes, and user experience spikes to get the risk out.

    The last thing you want to do is throw a solution over the wall, and nobody wants it, or you missed the basic scenarios.   That’s why delivering early helps get the risk out, and helps validate your path.

    If you’ve ever watched people argue over how they “satisfied the requirements”, but nobody wants to use it, you know exactly what I mean.  People don’t always know exactly what they want, or, even if they do, it’s hard to articulate in a way, that everybody gets it.  But people are way better at recognizing what they like, and knowing whether or not they like something when they actually use it.

    Embrace it.

    That’s what Agile Design does – it embraces the reality that people get more clarity over time of what good really looks like.

    Creating an early feedback loop also forces you to keep your solution easy to maintain and easy to evolve.  Otherwise, it’s very easy to cement your design, and no longer respond to emerging needs.  The key to lasting solutions is they are built to change.

    It’s a process of continuous learning and continuous delivery.

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    Are You Used to Delivering Working Software on a Daily Basis and Changing the Software in Response to Emerging Requirements?

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    That’s a pretty good question, and timeless, too.  

    I remember several years ago, when a vendor asked me that, and I remember laughing and thinking, “yeah, that’s what we try to show other people how to do.”

    What was great though, was the vendor followed up with a short-list of precise questions:

    1. What is your current software development process?
    2. Key milestones?
    3. Release frequency?
    4. Daily practices?
    5. Build frequency?
    6. Approach for getting / learning requirements?
    7. Approach for dealing with changing / emerging requirements?
    8. Approach for creating testable software? (e.g. you change the software for requirement X, how quickly can you make and verify the change)

    That’s actually a really good set of questions both to quickly get a handle on your software development process and to test how “agile” you really are.

    It also reveals your culture and how responsive to change and feedback you really are.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Agile Downsizing: Why Agile Skills Improve a Project Manager’s Job Security

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    In PM Network magazine, Jesse Fewell wrote a great article on Agile Downsizing? Why Agile Skills Improve a Project Manager’s Job Security.

    Here are a few highlights:

    “Agile wasn’t designed to improve the bottom line like that, but it’s a misconception that has some project managers worrying whether a move to ‘self-organizing’ teams would make their position redundant.  Even more concerning, many of the formal approaches, such as Scrum or Kanban, do not define a project manager role.”

    Project managers are in higher demand than ever.  Fewell writes:

    “PMI research shows the use of agile approaches tripled from December 2008 to May 2011, and 63 percent of hiring managers would encourage their project managers to pursue agile certification.”

    It’s not doing more with less. 

    Fewell shares a few skills that project leaders with agile experience can show on their resume:

    Delegating more work“Do you have a bent for process and facilitation?  Then create that well-oiled machine and groom an analyst to manage the business. The most successful project managers I’ve met have focused on their strengths, and found capable hands for the rest of the work.”

    Leading more“Agile approaches place a dogged focus on delivering business results by improving collaboration.  Once you’ve delegated the daily minutiae to the project team, you can invest in more strategic relationships.”

    Driving more improvement“… if you’ve equipped and trusted your team to handle the details and you’ve improved collaboration with stakeholders, then you finally have the energy and influence to brainstorm solutions to that quality problem, stabilize a more reliable delivery cycle than last year, or launch a product-strategy working group to mend some broken fences and get everyone on the same page.”

    The key take away is this:

    “The project manager with agile skills has evolved past a positional title babysitting details.  The new role is about building the capability of your teams, partnering with senior stakeholders and driving incremental improvements across the board.”

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    Methodologies at a Glance

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Gartner Says Smart Organizations Will Embrace Fast and Frequent Project Failure in Their Quest for Agility

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    Beautiful.

    In a new digital economy and a world of ultra-competition, it’s great to shape a smart organization.

    We learned this long ago.   Agile was part of the early Microsoft patterns & practices DNA.   We embraced agile methods and agile management practices.

    We learned that execution is king, and that shipping early and often gives you better feedback and a way to make changes in a customer-connected way.

    Here is what Gartner says …

    “Accepting higher project failure rates can help organizations become more efficient more quickly, according to Gartner, Inc. Gartner said project and portfolio management (PPM) leaders who take a "fail-forward-fast" approach that accepts project failure rates of 20 to 28 percent as the norm will help their organizations become more agile by embracing experimentation and enabling the declaration of success or failure earlier in a project's life.”

    Check out the article, Gartner Says Smart Organizations Will Embrace Fast and Frequent Project Failure in Their Quest for Agility.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    7 Ways to Take an Outside-In View of Your Group

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    I was helping a mentee take a new view on their business, so they could transform their business to compete in a new arena.   Here are the 7 ways I outlined for them to get a better view on their business to shape significant change:

    1. What are the key deliverables that the company cares about? (Who are the stakeholders and why do they care?)
    2. How does the money flow? (Who funds and why?   If they gave you more money, what more would you do? If you got less money, what would be cut?   This gives you a fast business sense)
    3. What is the cadence of your deliverables?  (Do you ship 3 big thingies or 30 thingies per year? .. what would a “fast” cadence look like?   More importantly, what would people value?  For example, can you focus on 3 big wins each quarter that have high impact?)
    4. What’s the roadmap look like?  (Can you put it on a one-slider to show the big impact in a way others get?)
    5. What are the critical few KPIs that tell you whether you are keeping up, falling behind, or changing the game?
    6. What is your unique set of capabilities of your product/service?
    7. What is the unique set of capabilities of your people?

    If you can answer those without a lot of work – congrats!

    The above lens gives you quick insight and a critical view into the customer, the value you provide, the cost, and the capabilities you can use to drive meaningful change and transformation.

    To put that into context and apply it, when business leaders look to shape a business, they tend to look at the capabilities.  They want to know what’s unique and what’s redundant.   If you can’t differentiate at your capabilities, then you have a problem articulating your unique value.

    Capabilities help give you a simple language for talking about value and unique strengths.  They are also a business tool for consolidating and improving efficiencies by maturing or outsourcing capabilities.

    Use them wisely.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Inspire a Vision with Skill

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    One of the most important skills of an effective Program Manager is to inspire a vision.  If you can’t paint a story of a better future, then all bets are off.

    Change is tough enough.  People need a good reason.  They need to see a better future in their mind’s-eye.   They need to believe in the challenge and the change.  The cause has to make sense.   And, it needs to inspire.

    Sure you can throw facts and figures at people.   For some, this is cause enough or inspiring enough.  For most people, it’s not.   They need something that they can latch on to with their minds and their hearts.  In fact, if you win the heart, the mind follows.

    I’ve put together my thoughts on How To Inspire a Vision, based on what I’ve learned as a Program Manager at Microsoft.   Metaphors, stories, and pictures are all powerful ways.   That said, you really need to step into the future and walk various aspects to pressure test your vision, and make it real.  Not just for yourself, but for your various stakeholders and for their various concerns, which will range from innovation to market position to financial impact to insider perception, etc.

    If you have a proven practice for articulating your vision in a way that works, I’d love to hear about it.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    What Keeps Leaders Up at Night

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    One of the best books I’ve read lately is, What Keeps Leaders Up at Night, by Nicole Lipkin.  I wrote my review at:

    What Keeps Leaders Up at Night

    The book is all about how to be at your best, when things are at their worst.

    By learning a core set of leadership skills and psychology tools, you equip yourself to deal with the tough stuff, no matter what’s going on.

    It covers a huge amount of space in terms of psychology theories, terms and related concepts.   Here’s a sampling: 

    Confirmation Bias, Transactional Model of Stress, Social Exchange Theory, Norm of Reciprocity, Extrinsic Motivation, Intrinsic Motivation, Cognitive Dissonance, Group Conformity, Social Identity Theory (SIT), Social Loafing, Collective Effort Model (CEM), Polarization, Groupthink, Shadenfreude.

    Lipkin also covers communication styles, stress coping skills, dealing with envy, how to build better group dynamics, how to resolve conflict, how to build better self-perception, how to build constructive core beliefs, and more.

    Overall, the book is a great guide on how to keep our cool when things get hot, and Lipkin reminds us that others only see our behavior:

    “To paraphrase an old adage, ‘We see ourselves as a combination of our thoughts, fears, and intentions, but others just see our behaviors.’”

    Aside from learning how to be more influential, another bonus of the book is that it will help you recognize and label thinking errors and cognitive distortions, which often lead to bad behaviors.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    3 Personal Development Programs that Give You an Edge in Work and Life

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    “We must become the change we want to see.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    I’m a fan of continuous learning and skills development.   The challenge, though, aside from figuring out which training is worth it, is to first and foremost build a foundation that makes all the rest of your training actually worth it.

    The key is to first build a rapid learning foundation that helps you absorb all the other training in a more effective way.

    I’ve wasted a lot of money over the years testing and trying out various programs that made great promises.   But, during my trials, I’ve also found programs that really do produce outstanding results.   Of course, like anything, you get what you put into it, but some personal development programs are clearly based on better principles, patterns, and practices.  

    That’s the gold, and we have to dig deep to find it among the sea of mediocre personal development programs.

    Just last night, I was sharing with a friend, how to read 10,000 words a minute (I’m not there, yet.)   I was explaining the process of training to read without subvocalizing (which slows us down, big time … after all, you don’t want the voice in your head to sound like a chip monk, but you don’t actually have to internally vocalize words for your mind to absorb the content.)   Another key is developing high speed imaging skills, where you glance at information and absorb it.  Again, this doesn’t come naturally to most people so you need to train for it.

    I realized this personal development program alone has paid me back so many times in so many ways and saved me so much time over the years, whether it’s processing email or devouring books.  I shared with my friend that I don’t have a lot of time to read books, but I’ll use a few hours to read 3-5 books a week, as well as often write up in-depth reviews.  He was amazed, and commented that he’s got a large book pile that he’d like to chomp through.

    That’s just one of my secrets that has helped me leap frog in terms of rapid learning and saving massive amounts of time on a daily basis, and being to use my brain for other things than getting mired in walls of text.

    But there are more.  

    In fact, today I decided to share 3 personal development programs that give you an edge in work and life.    I’ll bottom line it for you here, that the three personal development programs are 1)  Personal Power, by Tony Robbins, 2) The Personal Mastery Program, by Srikumar S. Rao, and 3) Lead the Field, by Earl Nightingale.

    In my write up, I shared quick stories on how each of them has helped me gain specific advantages in work and life.  In fact, some almost seem like unfair advantages because of the results they produced.

    If you are looking to find the difference that makes the difference, or get an extreme advantage in our ultra-competitive world, then these 3 personal development programs should really help you out.

    BTW – here is a tip that I often share when it comes to competition.   While you can draw inspiration from your “competition,” the best way to compete is to actually compete with yourself.   Whether that means pursuit a path of relentless excellence, or simply pushing yourself to higher ground, that’s where your breakthroughs happen.

    Here’s to you and your ability to be awesome at life.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    3 Ways to Accelerate Business Value

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    I was talking with a colleague recently about the following question:

    “How do you accelerate business value?”

    One of the key challenges in today’s world is accelerating business value.   If you’re implementing solutions, the value doesn’t start to get realized until users actually start to use the solution.

    THAT’s actually the key insight to help you accelerate business value.

    It’s adoption.

    When you are planning, if you want to accelerate business value, then you need to think in terms of pushing costs out, and pulling benefits in.  How can you start throwing off benefits earlier, and build momentum?

    With that in mind, you have three ways to accelerate business value:

    1. Accelerate adoption
    2. Re-sequence the scenarios
    3. Identify higher value scenarios

    Before you roll out a solution, you should know the set of user scenarios that would deliver the most business benefits.

    Keep in mind benefits will be in the eyes of the stakeholders.

    If the sequence is a long cycle, and the adoption curve is way out there, and benefits don’t start showing up until way downstream, that’s a tough sell.   And, it puts you at risk.   These days, people need to see benefits showing up within the quarter, or you have a lot of explaining to do.

    1.  Accelerate Business Adoption

    So one of the ways to accelerate business value is to accelerate adoption.    There are many change frameworks, change patterns, strategies and tactics for driving change.    Remember though that it all comes down to behavior change and changing behaviors.  If you want to succeed in driving change in today’s world, then work on your change leadership skills.

    This approach is about doing the right things, faster.

    2.  Re-Sequence the Scenarios

    Another way to accelerate business value is to re-sequence the scenarios.   If your big bang is way at the end (way, way at the end), no good.  Sprinkle some of your bangs up front.   In fact, a great way to design for change is to build rolling thunder.   Put some of the scenarios up front that will get people excited about the change and directly experiencing the benefits.  Make it real.

    The approach is about putting first things first.

    3.  Identify Higher Value Scenarios

    The third way to accelerate business value is to identify higher-value scenarios.   One of the things that happens along the way, is you start to uncover potential scenarios that you may not have seen before, and these scenarios represent orders of magnitude more value.   This is the space of serendipity.   As you learn more about users and what they value, and stakeholders and what they value, you start to connect more dots between the scenarios you can deliver and the value that can be realized (and therefore, accelerated.)

    This approach is about trading up for higher value and more impact.

    If you need to really show business impact, and you want to be the cool kid that has a way of showing and flowing value no matter what the circumstances, keep these strategies and tactics in mind.

    The landscape will only get tougher, so the key for you is to get smarter and put proven practices on your side.

    People that know how to accelerate business value will float to the top of the stack, time and again.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To Use Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection to Triple Your Productivity

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    Agile is hot.

    Especially, the Agile Way.

    I wrote up a new step-by-step How To use Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection:

    How To – Use Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection to Triple Your Productivity

    The goals is to help you master motivation, time management, and personal productivity with a simple approach that you can use instantly.

    The Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection pattern is probably one of the most important concepts I introduced in Agile Results, and explained in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.  (Getting Results the Agile Way has been a best seller on Amazon in the categories of Time Management and Business Life.)

    It’s a powerful productivity pattern that can easily triple your productivity.   It does so by eliminating noise from your work, to help you ruthlessly focus, and relentlessly execute.    It helps you create extreme clarity by focusing on a short-list of top priorities.   By adding “the fun factor”, and turning results into “wins”, you improve your motivation and momentum for unstoppable results.

    There’s another key to Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection that makes it work.  It’s based on a week on the calendar.  It’s a specific recipe for what to do on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.   It’s easy to remember.   It’s easy to do.

    And, with Friday Reflection, you get better each week, so the whole system keeps improving.

    The other reason Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection works so well is because it’s optimized for the productive artist.   Rather than a rigid system, it’s flexible by design.   You can choose how big or how small to make your wins.   You can choose what to focus on when you identify the results you want to achieve.   For example, you can focus on the impact, or you can focus on how you achieve your results. 

    Most importantly, it’s a healthy reminder to connect your results to your values, so you can take your productivity to new levels.

    I’ll be adding more How Tos in the near future to the Agile Results How Tos page on Getting Results.com, so if you have any special requests for How Tos, be sure to send my way.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    50 Life Hacks Your Future Self with Thank You For

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    I’ve put together 50 life hacks to help you get ahead in work and life:

    50 Life Hacks Your Future Self with Thank You For

    This is a serious set of game changing strategies you can use to level up in life.   These aren’t your ordinary life hacks.   These are 50 of the best life hacks that go beyond and help you adopt proven practices for life for key topics, including:

    • Finding your purpose
    • Living your values
    • Measuring your life
    • Dealing with perfectionism
    • Continuous improvement
    • Finding true short-cuts in life
    • Building better habits

    I’ve included one of my favorite life hacks here to give you a taste …

    Do the Opposite

    Sometimes the best thing you can do is to “do the opposite” of what you’d normally do, to periodically surprise people and have them see you in a new way.

    It’s easy in life to fall into routines that don’t serve us.

    The fastest way to change our game is to rattle our own cage and shake things up.

    If you’re always late, try being early.

    If you’re always slow, try changing your pace.

    If you’re always fast, then try slowing down.

    If you’re the person that always says, “No” to things, try saying more “Yes.”

    If you always find what’s wrong with things, try finding what’s right.

    If you lack your confidence, try strutting more of your stuff.

    Doing the opposite of what you normally do, might lead to your next best breakthrough.

    Worst case, you’ll learn more about you, you’ll learn more about balance, and you’ll put more options under your belt for how you show up or how you respond in life.

    For more life hacks, check out 50 Life Hacks Your Future Self with Thank You For.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Visual - Backlogs with User Input

    • 0 Comments

    One of the first things to help a business to gain agility is to connect the product development to the actual user community.  A simple way to do this is to connect the backlog to user input.  If you can show the users your backlog of scenarios, and they can help you prioritize and validate demand, you just gained a great competitive advantage.

    A picture is worth 1,000 words, so here it goes ...

    image

    The development team manages the backlog.  Using input from users to help prioritize and identify gaps, the backlog is then used to drive the monthly development sprints.

    It looks simple and it is, but it's not the knowing, it's the doing that makes the difference.

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