Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
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:
I’ve included one of my favorite life hacks here to give you a taste …
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.
10 Big Ideas from Getting Results the Agile Way
30 Day Improvement Sprints: The Key to Making Impact, Changing Habits, and Rapid Learning
How To Use Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection to Triple Your Productivity
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 ...
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.
Enterprise Library 5.0 Product Backlog Prioritization Survey
Portfolios Programs and Projects
Spend $100 to Prioritize Your Opportunities
Scrum Flow at a Glance
Structuring Your Personal Backlog to Make Things Happen
By using Agile Results, you give yourself an extreme advantage in terms of mastering motivation, productivity, and time management.
The simplest way to start using Agile Results is to adopt the practice of 3 Wins. Simple identify the 3 wins you want to achieve for the day.
Crafting your 3 wins for the day is part art and part science.
Here’s a quick tip on how to do the art part a little better …
One of the things I do is scan my calendar at the start of the day to internalize it. Rather than react to appointments, I want to design my day as much as possible for maximum impact and spend more time in my strengths. It also informs me of my non-negotiables or specific windows of opportunity.
For example, today I have a few key meetings with influential people. To make the most of the opportunity, I need to carve out some time to
So my short-list of "3 Wins", or "stories", for today are:
I’ve got a bunch of stuff that's below the line that supports the above, but the above short-list of wins helps me rise above the noise, and claim victory for my day. If I scoped my "wins" too big, I'll quickly know when I’m in the thick of things, and then I'll re-frame the "win" to better express more incremental progress.
One-liner stories work perfectly well. All you need is a quick prompt or reminder of what you're trying to achieve, before getting lost in your tasks. It's how you put a bow on your results, and it’s how you guide your focus, energy, and action throughout the day.
They are "stories" because they reflect a "challenge" and a "change." You are the hero in each one-liner story, where you do something to create the change. And, most importantly, the "value" is in the change (otherwise, it's just same-old, same-old, and you're stuck on the treadmill of life.) Tip – A good way to think about value is to first figure out who it’s for, and then think in terms of benefits they care about, and express it in terms of “better, faster, or cheaper.”
By practicing these one-liner stories, these "3 Wins" for the day, you get better at articulating your value and unique contribution, both to yourself, and to others.
It's not only the secret of getting results, but also the secret of getting better performance reviews.
Note Agile Results is fully explained in detail in Getting Results the Agile Way, a best-seller in Time Management on Amazon.
Agile Results On a Page
Think in Three Wins
The Guerilla Guide to Getting a Better Performance Review
A while back I was asked to do an interview on timeboxing for a Harvard Business Review book. They didn’t end up using it. It might be just as well since I think it works better as a blog post, especially if you have a passion for learning how to use timeboxing to help you master time management and get great results.
One of the interesting points is that when I originally responded to the questions, I gave myself a 20 minute timebox to answer as best I could within that timebox. So my answers were top of mind and pretty much raw and real. I simply wrote what came to mind, and then offered to follow up with a call if they needed any elaboration.
With that in mind, here’s the secrets of using timeboxing to master productivity and time management …
I use timeboxing as a way to invest my time and to set boundaries. It’s probably one of the most effective tools in my time management toolbox for making things happen, as well as enjoying the journey as I go.
Parkinson’s Law teaches us that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” I find this to be true. I often use timeboxing to set boundaries because when something is unbounded, it’s easy to make it bigger than it needs to be. And when it’s too big, it’s easy to procrastinate. To overcome procrastination, I simply ask myself, “How much can I do in 20 minutes?” (20 minutes is an effective chunk of time I learned to optimize around in college.) Using 20 minute timeboxes helps make it a game, and it gives me a chance to improve my efficiency. I’ve learned to tackle many problems using 20 minute chunks. On the flip side, I also use timeboxing to defeat “perfectionism.” To do this, I focus on “What’s good enough for now, within the timebox I have?” versus chasing the moving target of perfection. To bake in continuous improvement, I then “version perfection.” So I might do a quick version within a timebox to be “good enough for now”, but in another timebox I’ll make another pass to take it to the next level. This way I am learning and improving, but never getting bogged down or overwhelmed.
Timeboxing is probably one of the best ways I know to find balance. When we’re out of balance, it’s usually because we’re either over-investing in an area or under-investing in another. For example, I like to think of spreading my time across a few key areas of investment: mind, body, emotions, career, money, relationships, and fun. If I’m underinvesting in an area, I’ll set a minimum. For example, let’s say I’m under-invested in body, then I’ll add a timebox to my week and set a minimum, such as 3 hours a week, or “run for 30 minutes each day.” Maybe I’m over-investing in an area, such as career, in which case, I might cut back 60 hours to be 50 hours or 50 hours to be 40 hours, etc. for the week.
Setting these minimums and maximums when I need them help me establish better boundaries, even if they seem arbitrary. They are way more effective than going until I run out of energy or burn out or get too tired, and they are way more effective than when I completely ignore or forget about an area to invest in. Even just asking the question how much time are you investing in one of the areas helps you start to pay more attention to what counts.
Timeboxing can help you stay focused, as well as set a better pace. For example, maybe I can sprint for a minute, but not for five. When you put a time limit in place, you effectively designate the time to be fully focused on the task at hand. If you use small timeboxes, then you can effectively treat your task more like a sprint versus a marathon, because you know it’s short-burst.
One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that it’s easy to fatigue the deliberate thinking part of our brain. If you’ve ever felt like your brain hurts or you need a break from concentrating on something, then you know what I mean. Rather than “march on”, in general, you are more effective by thinking in bursts and taking little breaks. Some people say take breaks, every ten minutes, others say take breaks every twenty minutes or forty minutes. I’ve learned that your mileage varies, and what’s important is that you have to test taking breaks at intervals that work for you, and you will likely find that it largely depends on the type of task and your level of engagement.
The beauty is that with timeboxing you can turn any task or goal into a game. Going back to my earlier example, where I see “How much can I do in 20 minutes?”, I can treat this like a game of improvement. I can try to do more each time. That’s the quantity game. I can also play the quality game. For example, I tend to use a timebox of 20 minutes to write my blog posts. If I’m playing the quantity game, then I might see how many little ideas I can come up with to say about the topic. If I’m playing the quality game, I might see how I can take one little idea and elaborate on it, and give myself enough time to wordsmith and tweak the fine points.
On a daily basis, I tend to use my “power hours” for getting results. My power hours are the times in the day in which I am “in the zone” and firing on all cylinders. I find that I tend to be my strongest at 8:00am, 10:00am, 2:00pm, and 4:00pm. I use these power hours, these one-hour timeboxes, to tackle my toughest challenges and to move the ball forward. Once I realized these are my most powerful hours, I started to guard them more closely and use them to produce my greatest results within the shortest amounts of time. Using my power hours to get results helps me exponentially improve my productivity. Rather than something dragging on, I can blast through it pretty fast. Simply by using the same time I already spend, but by reshuffling my work around, has been one of the greatest game changers in my personal productivity. I’ve also extended this to teams as well. I do so in two ways. First, I make sure that people on the team know their power hours and use them more effectively. Second, I use the natural rhythms and energy of the day to plan and execute work. For example, one of the practices I use I call “Ten at Ten.” At 10:00am, our team takes ten minutes to touch base on priorities, progress, and blockers. We go around the team and ask three simple questions: 1) What did you get done? 2) What are you working on?, and 3) Where do you need help? It sounds simple, but it’s highly effective for keeping the team moving forward, embracing the results, and using their power hours. I’ve experimented with longer meetings and different times of the day but I found this “Ten at Ten” strategy to be the most effective. Following this meeting, since I’m in my natural “Power Hour”, I can then throw my energy into debottlenecking the team or moving some of the tough rocks forward, or pairing with somebody on a key challenge they are facing.
I think when it comes to getting others to get done what we need, we hit on things more than timeboxing. For example, one key to getting something done from others is to have them “sign up” for the work, versus “assign the work” to them. If they are part of the process, and you have buy-in then they will naturally want to do the work versus resist the work. It’s also important to have the person that will do the work, estimate the work. This helps set expectations better as well as account for how long the work actually takes. Sometimes there are deadlines of course, but if it’s about having somebody sign up to do their best work, it’s important they have a say in how long it should take. This improves personal accountability if they internalize the schedule.
If we assume somebody wants to do the work, then the next thing to focus on is when will it be done? This is where timeboxing comes into play. If you’re working within a timebox, then you can work backwards from when it’s due. For example, aside from timeboxes within the day, I also think of timeboxes in terms of a day, a week, and a month. Beyond the month, I tend to think in terms of quarters. If I need somebody to do something for me, I now make it a habit to tell them when I need it by. I used to make the mistake of just asking for the work. This makes it easier for them because they see what timeframe I’m operating within. Here is the art part through. Sometimes people think they can’t do the work justice within the timebox, so what I do is I set reset expectations and help them see the minimum types of things they might do within the timeframe. For example, if I need quick feedback on something, I’ll let somebody know that I just need high-level or directional feedback at this stage, otherwise, they won’t think it’s reasonable to do a detailed, comprehensive review, which is not even what I want at that stage. That’s another reason why timeboxes can help. They force you to put expectations on the table and get clarity on what’s good enough for now versus what’s the end-in-mind, and how to chunk up value along the way.
I do think one of the most powerful tools for any longer-term project is milestones. Chunking up the timeline into meaningful milestones helps everybody see key dates to drive to. Effectively, this also chunks up the project into smaller timeboxes or windows of time. It then becomes easier to focus on identifying the value within a particular timebox to reach the milestone. The other advantage of this approach, when it comes to driving results from others, is that you can do milestone reviews. People like to look good in front of their peers, so it naturally encourages them to do the work, to be seen as reliable and effective.
That’s really timeboxing in a nutshell. It’s simply treating time as a limited resource, and setting limits (both minimums and maximums) to help you stay balanced, stay focused, and get great results.
How To Use Timeboxing for Getting Results
Timebox Your Day
Time-boxes, Rhythm, and Incremental Value
Crafting Your 3 Wins for the Day Using Agile Results
If you’re into change leadership or persuasion, you might know David Straker from ChangingMinds.org, where he’s put together a massive knowledge base of concepts, techniques, principles, and theories on the art and science of change leadership.
David is also the master mind behind CreatingMinds.org, where he has put together an arsenal of content and tools on the art and science of creativity and innovation.
I’m very honored to have a guest post from David on 10 Tips for Better Design.
It’s a fast read, and insightful. David says a lot with so little. He’s a master of precision.
Aside from tip #9 – Start at Goats, my favorite is tip #1 – Start with a Brief, Not Requirements. It reminded me of how many years I suffered through bad requirements gathering exercises, until I learned some proven practices later in my career. I still can’t believe how many bad requirements documents I’ve seen over the years, and how so many had completely failed to capture any sense of the end in mind. The analogy I often used was that it’s not even obvious whether we were talking about Frankenstein’s head or his foot or his arm. In fact, it was so bad, that after a while, I flat out stopped accepting any requirements documents. Instead, I found other, more effective ways to capture and express the goals, requirements, and constraints.
I wish I had been exposed to the “Start with a Brief” concept long ago. It would have served me well. I actually think as more businesses go through their transformation and re-imagining, that this technique will prove even more useful. I’m seeing business-first design really reshape how IT gets done.
Your ability to capture, assert, and express design intent will serve you well for the years to come.
Enjoy David’s article and challenge yourself to walk away with at least one new tool you can use in your design toolbox, or one thing you can do differently from how you do your design thinking today.
I was reading a nice little eBook on Opportunities and Challenges with Agile Portfolio Management.
Here’s the part that caught my attention:
“Johanna Rothman, an Arlington, Mass., consultant and author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects, said understanding the value stream of an existing product or ongoing project is key. ‘If we stop talking about people as resources and start talking teams, we have a better way of managing the portfolio,’ she said. ‘If we flow work through teams, we’re much more likely to be successful; teams get things done in software.’”
Well put, and that it matches my experience.
Here’s what I’ve seen in my travels to different organizations …
I see a common mistake the team level when it comes to effective execution and productivity:
Teams of capabilities vs. teams of one.
Individuals work problems instead of the team works shared problems.
It’s the resource vs. team mentality.
In other words, the team gets split into individuals working individual problems instead of the team working on shared problems together.
In that case, it’s not really a team effort. It’s individuals doing mini-projects as a one-man band. Instead of a team of capabilities, you get teams of one, and capability varies. Worse, because it’s individuals driving projects as an individual, they wear many more hats, and spend less time in their strengths. So you end up with individuals performing sub-optimal, and you never experience the benefits of an actual high performance team.
When you work problems as teams, and have people spend more time in their strengths, you can better optimize for the strengths on the team. You can also balance better for the weaknesses. You can also put simple systems and processes in place that lift everyone’s performance to new levels. Ultimately, individuals on the team can spend more time on their unique value, and less time reinventing wheels and re-solving basic execution challenges.
5 Questions for Capability and Capacity for High Performing Teams
How To Lead High Performance Distributed Teams
Kanban: The Secret of High Performing Teams at Microsoft
I was reading a nice little eBook on Opportunities and Challenges with Agile Portfolio Management.
“In her report, Visitacion suggests organizations adopt Lean to drive their portfolios and Agile to drive their activities. ‘Lean supports the disciplines necessary to select high-value, high-need investments, while Agile provides the path to optimize how you work,’ she wrote.”
I’ll need to take a better look at this. In my experience, I’ve used a variety of approach for selecting high-value, high-need investments, and not particularly Lean. And, when it comes to execution and optimizing how work gets done, I like a combo of Lean + Agile + Scrum (what can I say, I’m a Bruce Lee fan, “absorb what is useful”, and I like to integrate and synthesize the best tools for the job.)
Choosing Where to Invest
Models for Competitive Advantage
The Four Gears of Competitive Advantage
I especially like this part on “Work About Work” and how Agile helps avoid it:
“Agile software development is all about eliminating overhead. Instead of establishing hierarchies and rules, Agile management zeros in on what the team can do right now, and team leaders, developers and testers roll up their sleeves to deliver working software by the end of the day. Put another way, Agile software development favors real work over what I call "work about work." Work-about-work is that dreaded situation where creating reports about the project is so time-consuming it prevents you from actually working on the project.”
Agile helps you make things happen, and focus on work, versus “work about work.”
Team Execution Patterns and How the Work Gets Done
Are You Used to Delivering Working Software on a Daily Basis
I wrote a guest post for Dumb Little Man on Agile Results:
How You Can Instantly Improve Your Productivity and Focus with Agile Results for Extreme Productivity
You can read it in 5 minutes, but you might save yourself 5 hours this work, or even better, you might 10X your impact.
Agile Results is a simple system for meaningful results.
It’s the productivity and time management system I teach individuals, teams, and leaders to get more done in less time, and amplify their impact. It’s all about working smarter, not harder, by spending the right time, on the right things, with the right energy, the right way.
It’s effective, and it’s balanced. In fact, early on I referred to it as “The Zen of Results.”
For many people, it’s helped them find their work-life balance and get better performance reviews.
In my guest post on Dumb Little Man, I share how to get started, as well as a few of my favorite practices that really crank up your productivity, while enjoying the journey:
Worst Things First
Play to Your Strengths
Perhaps the most important tip I share is actually the bonus tip. It’s how to use 30 Day Improvement Sprints to get a fresh start each month, build better habits, find your breakthroughs, and experiment and explore new ways of doing things.
If you want a jumpstart for Agile Results so you can get better, faster, more efficient results, this post will do just that. Please note, my guest post is split into three parts:
Enjoy, and if you like the article, share it with your friends (and whoever else you want to have an extreme advantage in work and life.)
Agile Results: It Works for Teams and Leaders Too
How I Use Agile Results
One of the ways to be awesome at work is to create roadmaps that lay out the big “projects” or “initiatives” for your team. This helps you easily plan in a visual way, get your team on the same page, and communicate to other teams, both your impact and what’s going on.
Roadmaps smash the perception that your team is a “black box” or that your team is just a random bunch of activity.
Roadmaps are also a great way to help build high performance teams because you can rally the team around the initiatives, and keep everybody focused on the most important outcomes. Another beauty of a great roadmap is that you also instantly set yourself apart from all the teams that don’t have one. You instantly demonstrate strategic thinking and execution excellence (assuming you plan for a healthy cadence, deliver on your promises, and demonstrate great impact.)
I’ve talked about the power of Visualizing Roadmaps for Execution Excellence before, and I gave some good examples. Here I want to share another way to visualize your roadmap. Here’s one of my favorite samples of a team roadmap at a glance:
Here are the key design points:
If you have a roadmap in place already, good for you. Practice telling your story of impact, and see how simply everybody on your team can internalize it, and how well understood it is by your partner teams.
If you don’t have a roadmap in place already, now is a great time to put your plan on paper for how you will do great things for the year.
Visualizing Roadmaps for Execution Excellence
Portfolios, Programs, and Projects
Lessons Learned in Execution
How To Build a Foundation for Execution
Team Execution Patterns
“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
Here is a map of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) v3. ITIL v3 is organized by ITIL stages, processes, and sub-processes. According to Wikipedia, “ITIL describes procedures, tasks and checklists that are not organization-specific, used by an organization for establishing a minimum level of competency.” You can find an explanation of the ITIL processes at the ITIL Wiki.
If you’re doing any sort of IT work, it helps to know the lay of the land. What better way to know the lay of the land of the IT landscape that to know the map of the minimum competencies that IT is supposed to perform.
Stages and Processes Here is a map of the ITIL Stages and the ITIL Processes within each.
Continual Service Improvement
Processes and Sub-Processes Here are the core ITIL v3 Stages:
Here is a map of the ITIL Processes and Sub-Processes organized by ITIL v3 stages:
Strategy Management for IT Services
Service Portfolio Management
Financial Management for IT Services
Business Relationships Management
Service Catalogue Management
Service Level Management
IT Service Continuity Management
Information Security Management
Project Management (Transition Planning and Support)
Release and Deployment Management
Service Validation and Testing
Service Asset and Configuration Management
IT Operations Control
Definition of CSI Initiatives
Monitoring of CSI Initiatives
If you’re familiar with Gartner’s Magic Quadrants, you’ll recognize Ability to Execute. “Ability to Execute” is a powerful concept. Here is a quick mental model to picture Ability to Execute:
Ability to Execute is a quick way to help prioritize ideas worth acting on. After all, what good is a bunch of ideas you can’t do anything about.
In the world around us, there are too many ideas, and not enough action. I’m a fan of making things happen. My strategy is aim big, but flow value along the way. The little wins build execution muscle. The trick though is to act on things that have value. Otherwise it’s just noise. It’s thrashing or churning and burning. A better approach is to focus on meaningful results and high value.
In the spirit of Garter’s Magic Quadrants, here is a view of Ability to Execute and Value:
One thing to keep in mind is that value is in the eye of the beholder.
The cycle of change is short in the knowledge age and digital economy. Jobs end. We create new ones. Do we create new ones fast enough? Do we have the durable and evolvable skills to make it in our emerging landscape?
The cycle of change used to be longer. One reason is the cycle of resource technology change used to be slower. With a slower rate of change, you could go to school, learn a trade, do that job, maybe change jobs once or twice during your career, and then retire. That cycle fundamentally changes when jobs are anchored to a different backbone, and the rate of change outpaces the skills you learn in school.
A colleague sent a great article from Strategy + Business on The Jobs Engine. From the article, these are my favorite nuggets:
One of the things that’s always on my mind is the question, “What value can I create?” In parallel, I’m always asking, “What value am I flowing?” I hope the ideas or projects I work on, lead, or in some way contribute, to job creation. I like to be a springboard and a platform or a catalyst for business. In fact, several of the projects I’ve worked, have helped people grow or start businesses, create value, and create jobs. I like to be a platform that empowers.
Personally, the way I find my way forward in the changing landscape, is to anchor to skills that should serve me well for the foreseeable future: strategy, project management, and entrepreneurism. As a program manager at Microsoft, I actually see the job of a program manager as a technical entrepreneur, where the goal is to bring new ideas to life, make things happen, and shape user, business, and customer goals into high impact, high value, results. Strategy is a key skill because it’s about what I will do, won’t do, and why … along with how I’ll differentiate, while playing to strengths. Project management is a key skill because it’s about making things happen as you explore and execute an idea from cradle to grave, while orchestrating teams towards a vision, while dealing with risks, and playing within the boundaries and constraints of time, budget, and resources.
I share these thought because I’m finding myself mentor more and more people on the art and science of effective program management. I firmly believe that effective program managers (or technical entrepreneurs) play a key role in shaping the future.
You can drive your week or your week drives you. One of the ways I add sanity to the chaos of my week is the Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection pattern. It’s a simple way to setup a rhythm of results for the week.
Monday Vision – Three Wins for the Week On Sundays or Mondays, I identify three wins I want for the week. For example:
Power Hours for Exponential Results Some of the work requires “heavy lifting” in terms of extreme concentration and focus. To do that well, I make sure that I allocate some of my “Power Hours” to these problems. This will help me take cover more ground in a better, faster, and simpler way. For me, my best hours tend to be 8am, 10am, 2pm, and 4pm. I’ll use these to move the big rocks each day, or at least chip away at the stone.
When I make the mistake of working on a tough problem during a non-power hour, I end up wasting time, unless it’s exploration and creative work. If I need to make significant progress, my single best move is to use my Power Hours. That’s how I do ten hours of work, within a single hour. It’s me at my best. It’s firing on all cylinders. I can do mental sprints during those hours, and deal with the worst setbacks, and still make the most ground.
Stories to Light Up Meaningful Work I use simple, “one-liner” stories to make my goals or tasks more meaningful. I try to connect my goals back to my values. For example, I value customer impact, so instead of “call a customer”, I “win a raving fan.” I also value adventure, so instead of just driving my project, I’m “leading an epic adventure.” It takes practice to frame work in terms of more meaningful achievements, but the key thing to remember is …
You are always the most important meaning-maker in your life.
The story is in the change. You are the actor. That’s the empowering part. Whether it’s achieving a private victory, or making great things happen in your world of work, it’s about inspiring yourself with skill. You do that by connecting what you do to your values, and making a story out of it. This also helps when you have to tell and sell the value of what you do, and for yourself when you need to recap what’s going well.
Daily Outcomes – Three Wins for the Day Each day, one of the best things you can do is write down three wins you want to achieve. It’s not activities. It’s outcomes. Focus on the end-in-mind, and you can use these three outcomes to help prioritize and focus throughout your day. This is the best way that I turn laundry lists and end-less “To-Do” lists into more focused results. It helps me deal with information overload and task-overwhelm. It’s a very simple way to step back and see the forest for the trees, at least for the day.
When you combine the idea of three wins for your day with three wins for your week, you can easily zoom in and out to keep perspective. When you need to focus on what’s in front of you, zoom into your day and focus on your immediate win. When you need a little more perspective, step back, and look at the wins you want for your day. When you need even more of a balcony view, simply step back and look at the three wins for your week.
Friday Reflection – Three Things Going Well, Three Things to Improve On Friday, simply carve out an appointment with yourself, and ask the tough questions. Ask the questions that will help you bring out your best. Ask the questions that will help you continuously improve and take your game to the next level. To do this, simply ask:
They are simple, but revealing questions. This gives you a chance to celebrate your wins. It gives you a chance to formally acknowledge what’s going well. Maybe things aren’t going the way you want them, but congratulations for making the effort and taking the steps, and doing the tough stuff. Catch yourself doing something right. This is how you build momentum and carry the good forward.
When you ask yourself what are three things to improve, use this as a chance to really identify some actionable things you can do to make things better. You can think of big changes, but I think little ones work just fine, if you actually do them. The beauty is, you can use all next week to try out your little changes. Each day is a new chance at bat. Repetition and practice are the best ways to improve.
If you follow this recipe for results, each week you should notice that you improve your focus, you achieve more wins, and you get better results. Another way to put it is, this recipe will help you spend the right time, on the right things, the right way, with the right energy.
And that is how you flourish, while flowing value, and achieving meaningful results.