J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips #9 - Pair Up

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    Untitled

    What's the best way to do it?

    Together.

    Pair up.

    Time management tips #9 is pair up.  Paring up simply means find somebody that will work with you on something, rather than go it alone.   When you pair up, you create a team of capabilities and you learn how to love the things you might otherwise hate.  Worst case, you at least make doing what you don’t enjoy, more fun.  Best case, you find a new passion for something you didn’t know you had.

    We all have things to do that we're not great at, or slow us down.  Maybe it's because we don't have talent for it.  Maybe it's because we hate doing it.  Maybe it's because we just don't know a few tricks of the trade. (Sadly, I find the that it’s missing the tricks of the trade, that holds us back the most … and learning the tricks, actually unleashes a passion in us, because we no longer suck at it … it’s such a chicken and an egg scenario time and time again.)

    Chances are you know somebody who is great at whatever it is that you need to do, or at least better than you.  Just because you might hate to do something, doesn't mean that somebody else does not live for it.  One person's trash is another's treasure.  And that's a good thing. 

    Pairing up is the fastest way to transfer tribal knowledge.  It’s visceral.  You *feel* it.  You immerse yourself in it.  You get to see how somebody that likes doing this activity, actually goes about it.  It's your chance to learn everything from the mindset they have, to the questions they ask, to the short-cuts they use, or how they make it fun.

    One of my favorite phrases at work is, "Show me how."

    So many experts love to show and share how they do their magic.  It puts them in their element.  Sometimes they will genuinely want to help you succeed.  Other times, it's just so they can show off.  Either way, it doesn't matter.  What matters is that you make the most of it.

    One of the best pairing situations is where you find a "workout buddy" for work.  Maybe you are good at doing slides, and maybe they are good at technical details.  When you pair up, you can both look good, and you both have something to gain.

    Pairing works best when it's a mutual gain, so it's always helpful to bring something to the table.  Sometimes, all you bring to the table is appreciation for their amazing skill, and sometimes that is enough.

    Another great pattern for pairing is if you are a "starter" -- you like to start things, but you aren't a strong "finisher."  A strong "starter" and "finisher" pair is like a dynamic duo in action that amplify each other's success.  One's strength is another's weakness, and your goal is to build a mini-team of capabilities over a one-man band.

    It's not just effective, it's strategic.  By doing what you do best, and supplementing where you are not, you maximize your ability to make things happen in the most effective way, while staying true to you.

    In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the time management exercises to be a more effective starter or finisher and get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis.  You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com

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    Crush Your Overwhelming List of Things to Do

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    Everybody has too much to do, too little time.  Yet, some people have a way of spending their time on things in a way that yields better results.

    What’s the key to crushing an overwhelming list of things to do and getter better results?

    3 simple steps:

    1. Write down all the things you need to do
    2. Bubble up Three Wins to the top
    3. Prioritize the list

    I elaborate on this approach in 3 Steps to Crushing Your Overwhelming List of Things To Do.

    Why does this work?

    It dumps what’s on your mind.  We tend to think better on paper.  At least, it’s easier to be more objective when you are looking at your list of things to do on paper, right in front of you.  Instead of swirling it around in your mind, you can look at each item and ask better questions, whether it’s worth it, and whether it’s the right thing to be working on now.

    When you bubble up Three Wins, you’ve identified the three most valuable outcomes that you want to achieve.   These instantly help you focus and prioritize all of your other efforts.  If it feels off, then you carved out the wrong things.   You have to get real and be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve (or can achieve) with the time and energy you’ve got for the rest of the day.   Given the time you’ve got left for today, and the energy you’ve got left, what are the three most valuable things you could possibly achieve?

    The beauty is you can do this at any time in the day, whenever you are overwhelmed.   Simply stop, and remind yourself what your Three Wins will be for today, and refocus on those.   It takes practice to get the level-right, and to not confuse outcomes, wins, or results with tasks, but you’ll get the hang of it, the more you do it.

    With your wins at the top of the list, you can then prioritize the rest of your list, to support your wins.  It’s perfectly acceptable to have a bunch of tasks and reminders, whatever you need to help you take better action, but do yourself the favor, and guide all your actions with Three Wins.

    You’ll be amazed by how much better you can trim an overwhelming mound of things to do, down to size, and how easily you can focus and stay motivated, even when you are doing the heavy lifting.    If you know you are going for a win, and not just doing a bunch of stuff, you will inspire yourself with skill, and bring out your best, time and again.

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    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.

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    Time Management Tips #22 - Close the Flood Gates

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    UntitledIf you are really behind, and want to dig yourself out, and get back on top things, then close the flood gate.

    Don't take on new things.

    Time management tips #22 is close the flood gates.  It's all too easy to reopen the door, let things slip in, and keep taking on new things, without first finishing what's already on your overloaded plate.  Closing the flood gate simply means stop randomizing and churning on new work that you don't have the time, capacity, bandwidth, attention, or energy to focus on.  If you keep taking on more, it's not a service to anybody, especially yourself.

    Whenever I find myself buried among a sea of open work, unfinished tasks, and things to do, I close the flood gate.  I stand guard at the door of incoming requests, and I put all of my focus on the open work.

    It's easy to stretch past capacity.  You say yes to things you think will finish a little faster than they actually do.  Things come up.  You didn't have a buffer for when things go wrong.  The key is to recognize when you're past your capacity, and to take decisive action.

    No new work.  Full focus on the work that is wearing you down, or blocking your ability to flow value. 

    The problem is work will still come your way.  Have a place to put it.  A simple list is fine.  You can review it and prioritize it when you're read to take on more things.  The trap to avoid is dabbling in new work, dabbling in unfinished work, and throwing more balls in the air, than you can possibly juggle.

    Don't create your own problem by taking on work past your capacity.
    If somebody assigns work to you, do them a favor, and let them know you're at capacity, and when you expect to free up.
    If you see new work as higher value than what's already on your plate, consider trading up for it, and letting your open work go.
    If you have so much open work that you're spending more time managing it, than finishing it, then consider shelving the lower priority work.  Put it on the shelf for another day.  Temporary let it go, while you concentrate your focus on a vital few things to complete them.

    You'll be surprised what you're capable of with focus and priorities and concentrated effort in small batches of time.

    Close the flood gate, narrow your focus, flow your value.

    For work-life balance skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a work-life balance system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.

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    One-Man Band vs. Pairing Up On Problems

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    How you split the work is one thing.  How you team up on work is another.

    This is one of those patterns that can be counter-intuitive, but is one of the single-biggest factors for successful teams.  I've seen it time and again, over many years, in many places. 

    When I compare the effectiveness of various organizations, there's a pattern that always stands out.  It's how they leverage their capabilities in terms of teamwork.  For the sake of simplicity, I'll simply label the two patterns:

    1. One-Man Bands (or Teams of One)
    2. Pairing Up (or Crews of Capabilities)

    In the One-Man Band scenario, while everybody is on a team, they are all working on seperate things and individual parts.  In the Pairing Up scenario, multiple people work on the same problems, together.  In other words ...

    • One-Mand Band -- One person works on problem 1, one person works on problem 2, etc.
    • Pairing Up -- 5 people work on problem 1, then problem 2, then problem 3, etc.

    The Obvious Answer is Often the Wrong Answer
    The obvious choice is to divide and conquer the work and split the resources to tackle it.  That would be great if this was the industrial age, and it was just an assembly line.  The problem is it's the knowledge area, and in the arena of knowledge work, you need multiple skills and multiple perspectives to make things happen effectively and efficiently.

    Teams of Capabilities, Beat Teams of One
    In other words, you need teams of capabilities.  When you Pair Up, you're combining capabilities.  When you combine capabilities, that means that people spend more time in their strengths.  You might be great at the technical perspective, but then lack the customer perspective.  Or you might be great at doing it, but not presenting it.  Or you might be great at thinking up ideas, but suck at sticking with the daily grind to finish the tough stuff.  Or you might be great at grinding through the tasks, but not so great at coming up with ideas, or prioritizing, etc.

    The One-Man Band Scenario Creates Bottlenecks and Inefficiencies
    As the One-Man Band, what happens is everybody bottlenecks.  They spend more time in their weaknesses and things they aren't good at.  Worse, the person ends up married to their idea, or the idea represents just one person's thinking, instead of the collective perspective.

    Crews Spend More Time in Strengths and Gain Efficiencies
    If you've had the benefit of seeing these competing strategies first hand, then it's easy with hind-sight to fully appreciate the value of Pairing Up on problems vs. splitting the work up into One-Man Bands.  For many people, they've never had the benefit of working as "crews" or pairing up on problems, and, instead, spend a lot of energy working on their weaknesses and meanwhile, spending way less time on their strength.

    When people work as teams of capabilities, and are Pairing Up on problems, the execution engine starts to streamline, people gain efficiencies, and get exponential results.  Several by-products also happen:

    • Individuals end up with shared goals instead of bifurcating effort and energy
    • Collaboration increases because people have shared goals
    • Individuals start to prioritize more effectively because it's at the "system" level vs. the "individual" level
    • Individuals grow in their core skills because they spend more time in strengths, and less time in weaknesses
    • Employee engagement goes up, and work satisfaction improves, as people find their flow, grow their strengths, and make things happen

    There are Execution Patterns for High Performing Teams
    Of course there are exceptions to the generalization (for example, some individuals have a wide variety of just the right skills), and of course their are success patterns (and anti-patterns) for building highly effective teams of capabilities, and effectively pairing people up in ways that are empowering, and catalyzing.  I learned many of these the hard way, through trial and error, and many years of experimenting while under the gun to bring out the best in individuals and simultaneously unleash and debottleneck teams for maximum performance and impact.  I’ve also had the benefit of mentoring teams, and individuals in reshaping their execution.  This is probably an area where it’s worth me sharing a more focused collection of patterns and practices on leading high performance teams.

    If you have a favorite post or favorite write up that drills into this topic, please send it my way.  In my experience, it's one of the most fundamental game changers to improving the execution and impact of any team, and especially, one that does any sort of knowledge work, and engineering.

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    Anatomy of a High-Potential

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    Dr. Jay Conger has a must see presentation on The Anatomy of a High-Potential:

    The Anatomy of a High-Potential

    I’m always on the hunt for insights and actions that help people get the edge in work and life.   This is one of those gems.  What I like about Dr. Jay Conger’s work is that he has a mental model that’s easy to follow, as well as very specific practices that separate high-potentials from the rest of the pack.

    In a fast-paced world of extreme innovation, change, and transformation, it pays to be high-potential.

    Anything you can do to learn how to perform like a high-potential, can help you leap frog or fast track your career path.

    Here are some of my favorite highlights from Dr. Conger’s presentation …

    High-Potential Defined

    High-potentials consistently out-perform their peer groups.  Dr. Jay Conger writes:

    “High potentials consistently outperform their peer groups in a variety of settings and circumstances.  While achieving superior levels of performance, they exhibit behaviors reflecting their company's culture and values in an exemplary manner.  They show strong capacity to grow and success throughout their careers -- more quickly and effectively than their peer groups do.”

    Baseline Requirements

    According to Dr. Jay Conger, high-potentials distinguish themselves in the following ways:

    1. Deliver strong results credibly and not at other's expense
    2. Master new types of expertise
    3. Behave in ways consistent with the company's values and culture

    Moving Up the Stack – From Value Creator to Game Changer

    High-potentials are game changers.   Here is a snapshot of Dr. Jay Conger’s pyramid that illustrates how high-potentials move up the stack:

     

    image

    What I like the most about the model is that it resonates with what I’ve experienced, and that it frames out a pragmatic development path for amplifying your impact as a proven game changer.

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    Elizabeth Edersheim on Management Lessons of a Lifelong Student

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    I’m always on the lookout for the best insight and action you can use for work and life.  I especially enjoy when I find somebody who is truly a thought leader, a giant in their space.

    After all, I’m a big fan of helping everyone “stand on the shoulders of giants.”

    Elizabeth is a giant (actually, more like a Titan) in the field of management.   She brings to the table more than 30 years of experience in the art and science of management.  She’s a former McKinsey partner, a holds a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, and she is the author of McKinsey’s Marvin Bower, and The Definitive Drucker.

    She knows her stuff.

    So I asked her to share her stuff.

    Elizabeth has written a powerful guest post for me on her best lessons learned in the art and science of management:

    Management Lessons of a Lifelong Student, by Elizabeth Edersheim.

    She reveals the secrets of the best managers and best leaders, and puts it right at your fingertips.  Every now and then you read something that changes your breadth or depth on a topic.   This is one of those posts.

    It’s a wealth of insight and action.

    Keep in mind that Elizabeth operates at multiple levels of management, so whether you are a line-leader or a CEO, Elizabeth has distilled some key insights you can immediate apply, or refine your thinking, or perhaps lead to a new “ah-ha” moment.

    Enjoy, and may the best practices for management serve you well, whether you’re shaping your own business or the business around you.

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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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    Strategic Talent Acquisition

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    "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships." -- Michael Jordan

    I've been asked recently about competitive talent acquisition strategies.  I'm not a recruiter and I don't play one on T.V., but I thought I would share what I've seen work in the real world.

    People are the life-blood of any company.  They generate new ideas and find new ways to create value.  I’ve seen teams, orgs, and companies grow or die based on the people they acquire, and their talent management strategies.  Brain drain, as we call it when top talent leaves, is a very real threat to any otherwise big, bold, goals and initiatives.

    Here is my five-minute brain dump on what works when it comes to attracting top talent:

    1. Be the company people want to work for.  You’re effectively building a tribe whether that’s Amazonians, Googlers, Softies, etc.  People want to belong to something that’s worth it.
    2. Have leaders that people want to work for.  People really do “follow the leader.”  In fact, a career strategy for many smart people is to “ride the coat tails” of people that make things happen.
    3. Live the values that create compelling work environments and world-class leadership.
    4. Do work that matters.  People spend way too much of their life at work to work on things that don’t matter in some way, shape or form.  Nobody likes to be a cog, unless it’s a meaningful cog for a wheel that matters.
    5. Map to business strategy, objectives, priorities, and outcomes.  When you get a bunch of smart people on the bus, with nowhere to go, people get used or abused or neglected.  Aligning talent to the future business is a great way to skate to where the puck will be.
    6. Evaluate against ROI.  This forces thinking through the value and what good looks like and how to measure, which are all good things.
    7. Recruit from academia and try-before-you-buy with internships and temps.
    8. Provide flexible work styles so anybody can work from anywhere, anytime.  It’s a digital economy and there’s a new world of work.
    9. Set a high bar.  Top talent likes to work with top talent.  People love the chance to work with other great people.   Just watch how many great directors and actors stick together, or how many actors took a role for the chance to work with XYZ.
    10. Surround them with smarties.  Smart people are addictive.
    11. Provide competitive compensation, but differentiate through the promise of unique work experience and by working on the world's top problems for your niche in the market.
    12. Co-involve hiring managers reduces surprises on both ides.
    13. Do pro-active sourcing.
    14. Work with top talent recruiters.  They’re tapped in.  It’s a business where capability, results, and reputation shine through.
    15. Make employment branding more than lip service.
    16. Draw from a holistic talent pool.
    17. Reach around the world to find the world's best at what they do.
    18. Drive from an integrated talent management technology platform.
    19. Dive deep on marketing intelligence and leverage smart social networking.
    20. Connect to succession and workforce planning to align to growth plans.
    21. Make on-boarding as hassle-free as possible, whether that includes relocation, or whatever.

    Note, I didn’t plan on 21, but I’m glad I landed there. 
    How lucky.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Praveen on Getting Results the Agile Way

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    People like to hear stories about how other people are adopting Getting Results the Agile Way.    Meet Praveen Rangarajan.  He’s a developer with a passion for more from life.

    Praveen is not a "process" guy, but Agile Results gave him just enough structure to support his everyday things. Using Agile Results he learned to improve his results at both work and life in a more systematic way.

    Here is Praveen telling his story of how he adopted Getting Results the Way …

     


    For a majority of my life, I had never been a "Process" guy except when it came to work. I always believed order was meant for the military. I wanted to be a free bird - doing things my way at the time of my choosing.

    When JD briefed me on his new book and the process he was working on, I volunteered and said I wanted to be a part of it. I am quite successful at work and wanted to improve it further. However, I wasn't too keen on adopting it for life. I thought it would restrict me a lot and clip my feathers. So, I adopted it at work and did a trial run for a month. It was much more successful than I thought. The Agile Results process has in more ways than one made me a responsible individual. The most important realizations for me at the end of it was

    • do not misuse time or take it for granted.
    • your mind is your best friend and your worst enemy.
    • the ideal world does not exist. You cannot achieve the best. There is always room to make it better. But the trick lies in identifying what works best for now. Be agile in determining the best.

    Starting with The Rule of Three
    I started by applying the Rule of 3. On the way to work, I decide on the three things I want to get done for the day. I restricted myself to one day only. I get distracted if I start thinking too far ahead. For the first week or so, I had trouble identifying the three best things for a day. I would either achieve it in the first hour of work or wouldn't be able to complete even 1 out of the 3. For example, I wanted to complete a module that would have been possible had it not been for a CR [change request] flowing in. Now, it would take me more than 2 days to finish it. My plan for the day went down the tube. Slowly, I began to realize that I had to be more granular. The granularity had to be such that it was independent enough to be completed in isolation and at the same time wasn't too small a puzzle to solve. For example, "complete and check-in functionality ABC in module XYZ". This way I'm assured of completing the three activities I want to perform. Also, I can add more if time permits.

    Timeboxing to Get a Handle on Time Management
    The next most important pattern was the Timeboxing a week. In other words, scheduling results for a week. Its a pretty simple yet strong pattern. Again, I misunderstood its importance when I started off. I used it more like a calendar. A reminder of bucket lists of sorts. Although it helps, there is something more that this pattern offers. JD was kind enough to point it out to me. He said to think of it like a strengths and weaknesses chart. It triggered a new way of thinking in me. I was now also looking at a week gone by and identifying times of the day, or days of the week where I was strong or weak, and displayed efficiency vs. laziness. And if this behavior was repetitive, odds are you have just plotted a pattern map. Ultimately this chart helps you make better use of your "Best" time, and look to improve upon your "Idle" time. Complementing the pattern above is the Mindsets pattern. JD uses the term switching hats or changing personas. This basically allows you to maximize the returns on "Idle" time by using them effectively in other ways. For example, I would be annoyed when someone disturbed me with something really stupid when I was doing great work. I would lose 10 minutes in the conversation and another 20 cursing the moron who started it off. After using the Mindsets pattern, I now use the 20 minutes of previously wasted time to walk out of my cubicle and stretch and relax. What it has allowed me to do is to concentrate on my exercise rather than the worthless discussion. Also, both my mind and body get a mini-refreshment.

    It’s How You Apply It
    I began to admire this [Agile Results] process because it was so flexible that I could take, leave or modify certain steps so that they fit my profile better. The goal is to understand the essence of the process and modify it to one's needs. I was pretty satisfied with the results and decided to do a trial run for life as well. A week later, the results came. It was a disaster. The worst part was when I couldn't figure out why it failed. I thought I must be doing something wrong and worked out the whole thing again. Another week went by and it was still not working. After giving it some thought and asking the right set of questions, I realized one fundamental part that I completely ignored in the application of this process to life - and that is setting minimum and maximum time to activities right from the most granular to the complete. Now, I re-did my strategy of application. In two weeks time I could see improvement. It was far from the final outcome. But bottom line, it had started to work. Now, it is unto me to make it successful. Like they say, success or failure lies in not what you have but how you apply what you have.

    Changing the Game a Practice or Principle at a Time
    Like I had stated earlier, the process works well even if I pick 1 out 10 steps as long as I believe it is going to be my game changer. You can add/remove steps any time. At the end of the day, you want your life to be better. And only you know what's best for you. In my case, the most important game changers were:

    1. Rule of 3.
    2. Monday, Friday reflection pattern.
    3. Timeboxing a week.
    4. Weekly results.
    5. Reward for results.

    Work Backwards from the End in Mind
    A very important by-product of this process is quick feedback. You get to know if you are on-track or tangential almost immediately. You can alter the course of your activities midway so long as you understand what you are doing and targeting. This is one of the very few processes that works its way backward, i.e. you look at the end and work your way back. This means you have a vision for what you want to achieve even before you start. This is a very positive way to look at things. The problem with thinking the other way is that my mind will give up very soon. It [Agile Results] is designed to choose the most optimal Traveling Salesman Problem (TSP) algorithm. And if the time to achieve is long, it will deem it unimportant and a waste of my time.

    It Starts the Journey
    In summary, this process has not turned my life upside down in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. But it has paved a path. Adopting it has not been easy at all, at least for me. But the ROI has been well worth it so far. There's no denying that it will only improve as time goes by and I continue to keep doing things the right way. If there is one thing I have to tell others about this process, it is that do not follow it like a horse. It is a guide, a mentor. Like my mother always tells me, God will help you get you good grades in your exam only if you prepare well for it and put all your energy into it. You cannot expect him to perform miracles out of nothing. Same goes to this process as well. Put your best foot forward and the rest will follow.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips #19 - Just Finish

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    Sometimes you need to Just Start.  Other times, you need to Just Finish.

    One of the best ways never to finish something, is to spread it out over time.  Time changes what's important.  People lose interest.  Changes of heart happen along the way.  Spreading things over time or pushing them out is a great way to kill projects.

    Open items, open loops, and unfinished tasks compound the problem.  The more unfinished work there is, the more task switching, and context switching you do.  Now you're spending more time switching between things, trying to pick up where you left off, and losing momentum.

    This is how backlogs grow and great ideas die.  This is how people that "do" become people that "don't."

    Time management tips #19 is just finish.  If you have a bunch of open work, start closing it down.  Swarm it.  Overwhelm your open items with brute force.  Set deadlines:
    - Today, I clear my desk.
    - Today, I decide on A, B, or C and run with it.
    - Today, I close the loop.
    - Today, I solve it.
    - Today, I clear my backlog.

    If you want to finish something, then “own” it and drive it.  To finish requires ruthless prioritization.  It requires relentless focus.  It requires putting your full force on the 20% of the things that deliver 80% of the value.  It requires deciding on an outcome and plowing through until you are done.

    Stop taking on more, until you finish what's on your plate.  If you want to take on more, then finish more.  The more you finish, the better you get.

    The more you finish, the more you will trust yourself to actually complete things.

    The more you finish, the more others will trust you to actually take things on.

    The more you finish, the more you build your momentum for great results.

    For time management skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.

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    Satya Nadella is All About Customer Focus, Employee Engagement, and Changing the World

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    I’m still learning about Satya Nadella, our new CEO at Microsoft (but a very seasoned Softie.)

    He’s been around here a while, but I never really got to meet him.

    So far, I really like his style.  He’s a quiet leader.  He focuses on three things that matter a lot to me:

    1. Customer Focus – Satya focuses on the end-to-end customer experience and wants to light up experiences that matter to make life better.
    2. Employee engagement – Satya wants people to have passion and purpose and to do work that matters.
    3. Changing the world -- As I was listening to Satya talk to us, it was all about “the future we're going to invent together” and how we’ll “express ourselves in the most creative ways.”   It’s about building a better world and software is our way.

    So then, let’s invent the future together

    And, in an Enterprise Social world, that includes Softies working with fellow Softies, in a “One Microsoft” way, and it also, includes working with our customers to co-create our future.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Life Lessons from the Legend of Zelda

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    A fellow Softie, and performance improvement architect extraordinaire, Walter Oelwein, wrote a fantastic article on Life Lessons from The Legend of Zelda and Zelda Theory.

    It’s all about how to apply what we learn from The Legend of Zelda to real life.   If you are a gamer, you will especially appreciate this insightful piece of prose.  Even if you are not a gamer, you will appreciate Walter’s wit and wisdom, as well as his systems thinking.  If you are a continuous leaner and you find yourself always on a path of exploration and execution, this article will directly speak to your heart.

    Check out Life Lessons from the Legend of Zelda and get your game face on for life.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Stephen Kell on Value Realization

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    This is a guest post by Stephen Kell on Value Realization and how it can help IT organizations stay relevant through changing times, as well as become a strategic partner within the organization.  For background, Stephen is a Microsoft Enterprise Architect with extensive experience in Telecoms, Manufacturing, Financial Services and government sectors.  Over the course of his career, he has played various roles including CTO, IT Director, Enterprise Architect, and Principal Consultant.

    Without further ado, here’s Stephen on lessons learned in Value Realization …

    IT: Valued Partner or Costly Infrastructure Provider?

    During my time working within IT, I have found that business value is something that project teams worry about at the beginning of the project in order to justify initial investment but then is often forgotten as the project goes into the build and implementation phases. During these phases the emphasis is placed on the budget and timescales of the project. Scope changes are made to fit in with the budget and timescales without any thought as to the effect on the business value delivered. ‘On-time and on-budget’ is the project managers’ mantra whereas it should be ‘on-time, on-budget and business value delivered’.

    A Lack of Business Value Results in Side-Lined IT

    This lack of emphasis on business value delivered gives the business the view that IT is a cost center which provides an essential service rather than seeing IT as a valued business partner. This view is reflected in the position of IT departments under the CFO rather than as a valued member of the board reporting into the CEO or even as part of a business strategy group. The way technical people tend to communicate does not help. Often there is a long explanation of the technical merits of a solution followed by ‘it will save the user 2 hours per day’. This is where value models come in which allow the conversation to have some structure in order to attract and hold the attention of the business community.

    IT is so important to the business but they often get frustrated with the IT department’s perceived inability to deliver and thus set up their own Business Unit IT departments, side-lining the IT department to acting as the provider of infrastructure only. This trend was highlighted in the recent MIT CISR 2013 Annual Research Forum in Boston.

    Know What the Business Values, Measures, and Reports to Stay Relevant

    In order to be able to communicate the value of IT to the business, the CIO and his team need to know what the business values and how these are measured and reported:

    • Financial – what are the financial measures that need to be met?
    • Business strategy – what aligns to the current business strategy? Is there an IT based disruptor that needs to be factored into the business strategy such as enterprise social?
    • Market and industry trends – what are the trends and how can the organization exploit them using technology?
    • Regulatory changes – what regulatory changes are coming to which the organization needs to adhere?
    • People – what are the values of the organization and what will attract, retain and engage staff? Will using 10 year old technology on a system that takes 10 minutes to boot up attract and retain the right staff, or do they want the latest technology similar to the technology they use at home?
    • Social responsibility – does IT align to the social responsibility and ethical business agenda of the company?
    • Business Decision Maker’s personal drivers – what is important to the internal customer? What is he/she measured on: Revenue, margin, market penetration, expanding to new markets, acquiring new companies, changing the demographics of the customer base, other?
    • Ability to execute – can the organization put the necessary changes in place to realize the value? Has the required change management been taken into account in the project costs and plan?
    • Time to value and windows of opportunity – how long does it take before the value starts being realized and is there a window of opportunity which needs to be hit?

    Use Value Models to Bring a Level of Maturity to the Value Discussion

    How many people in the IT department know and understand the above value dimensions? Most of this information is readily available internally (and often externally). Taking time to understand what the organization values will mean that the IT department becomes much more relevant to the business and the business will start to listen and value the insights that the CIO and his team can bring, enabling them to be at the core of the decision making process and not side-lined.

    By using value models the CIO can bring a level of maturity to the value discussion which might well be missing from the business. The CFO will have some financial models but these will not necessarily cover all of the dimensions of value. This can also be a challenge for the CIO; if there are not mature value models within the business then it is difficult to articulate the value of IT.

    It’s Difficult to Model and Measure Value

    Having said that, it is difficult to model and measure value. Other blog entries on this subject have covered the Observable, Measurable, Quantifiable and Financial categorization of value so I won’t go into detail here but would point out that financial models do not cover all the goals and drivers of certain organizations. Public sector organizations and charities are about delivering social value to the countries/communities that they serve and therefore the Social Impact has to be taken into account as well as the financial aspects and indeed the Social Impact can be much more important than the financial measures. Even commercial companies are now putting emphasis on value other than pure financial such as environmental impact, or helping the unemployed back into work.

    Whereas there are some fairly mature models for modeling the financial side of a business, there are very few models for modeling the Social Impact of an organization. I have discussed this in more detail in the following blog post:

    Understanding How To Measure the Value of Public Sector Projects

    Learn Value Models and Frameworks to Play a Strategic Role Within the Organization

    So in conclusion, business value to the organization is a very important concept for IT leadership teams to get their head around if they want to play a strategic role within the organization. Without a good understanding of business value there is the risk that they will be relegated to the side-lines as the provider of the infrastructure whilst the business units set up their own IT departments. Researching the different value models and frameworks should be a priority for IT leaders who have not already done so. Understanding what the business values and delivering to increase that business value keeps the IT department at the heart of the organization as a valued partner.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Mark Bestauros on Value Realization

    • 2 Comments

    This is a guest post by Mark Bestauros on what he’s learned about Value Realization at Microsoft.   You can think of Value Realization as simply the value extracted from a process or project.  Mark is the Microsoft IT Principal Business Value Realization manager, and a member of the Microsoft IT Portfolio Management Team, where he is responsible for the optimization of a significant IT spend across the Microsoft businesses.   Mark is also responsible for the Value Tracking for projects in scope, and that has led to some big breakthroughs in terms of reporting the value of IT investments back to the business, and demonstrating the power of Value Realization.

    I’ve asked Mark to share some of his key insights and lessons learned from his adventures at Microsoft in the art and science of Value Realization.

    Without further ado, here is Mark Bestauros on Value Realization …

    Two Main Purposes of the Value Conversation

    The Value conversation serves two main purposes in IT:

    1. Objective and Value Driven Portfolio Planning
    2. Provide Evidence to the argument that IT is not a cost center, but a corporate Propulsion Engine enabling it to reach its objectives through: Informate, Transformate and Automate processes and businesses within the company.

    To accomplish the first goal, the organization need to have the Value conversation tied to the Personal Commitments for all those involved in IT work, and equally importantly, making sure that the a mutual understanding of priority positioning of the “Value” focus in the Conditions of Satisfaction conversations that usually take place between IT organizations and the benefiting business partners from the IT effort.

    Without having the Value activities reflected in the commitments and missing in IT native processes, almost all involved in project work automatically de-prioritize the Value work, starting with turning a blind eye on a missing business case analysis at the inception point and ending with walking away immediately after a project Pre-deployment sign off meeting, washing their hands from any commitment to measure and evaluate the actual benefits hoped for at the Envision or “Plan” phase.

    Planning and Prioritizing with Value Experts at the Business and IT Borders

    The key to success is to embed Value experts at the business and IT border checkpoints.  You need Value experts who are well versed in understanding how to sell the Value argument.  You also need professionals who can guide the average IT professional through estimating effectively (versus guestimating).   You also need to embed the most cost effective, and time effective, means to measure baselines and project logical improvement deltas at the business and IT border checkpoints.  This will help you facilitate effective Portfolio Planning and  prioritize demand more effectively, prior to having the all up IT/Business Leadership Team Planning marathons.

    “Tests for Success” for Value Realization

    Evidencing the argument about the viability of the IT organization in any company with actual Realized Value is very compelling only if the Value reported passes these tests:

    1. Executive Support.  Wins the support of the executives who will benefit from the IT effort in the organization through proven and measureable results.
    2. Simple and Executable.  Uses “Simple to Understand and Execute” measures and algorithms.
    3. Logical Correlations to the Intangibles.  Exhibited logical correlations between intangible results (e.g. Customer Satisfaction) and monetary KPIs (or P&L report line items).
    4. Conservative.  It needs to be conservative in nature (not bullish and not overly bearish either, but provides a credible range of the benefit that aligns with a proven proxy measure).
    5. Sustainable.  It needs to be a sustainable approach.  It can’t be a one-off, or a heroic work effort. 

    Characteristics of a Successful Value Realization Practitioner

    There are few characteristics or knowledge areas that makes a value practitioner successful in changing the culture and move the Value Organizational Maturity in the right direction:

    1. Financial Intelligence.  Financial, able to understand the common financial metrics a CFO can relate to, able to shine the light on merits and risks using the common financial terms acceptable by the Finance community.
    2. Measuring and Estimating.  Understand the measuring and estimating techniques and able to reach deals with ultra-busy business teams (who typically consider IT organizations as suppliers or order takers), to provide reliable data, and know who to substitute the lack of reliable, large sample size data for example, with conservative measures factoring in an agreed on discounted deltas for lack of higher confidence levels.
    3. Interpersonal Skills.  A seller and artist in the art of crucial conversations, since Planning is a very competitive arena, and convincing those involved in Envision phase to dedicate time to obtain reliable data, not planned for in the original budgeting.
    4. Expertise in the Art and Science of Value Realization.  A person who can hit the ground running in quickly earning the “Trusted Adviser” title by all stakeholders due to his/her knowledge of the tools, methodologies, and acting as the defense attorney with the business case versus the classic perception of the “Auditor” or “Critic” of the spend!
    5. The Value Lens.  Understanding the role of Business Architect and being ready to provide the Value Lens cut to architectural analysis through “Value Stream Mapping”, and capturing measureable problem statements round the process bottle necks in addition to translating a Premise of benefit to a measureable ROI.

    A value practitioner can’t achieve that alone, while overcoming organizational undisciplined Value approaches if any exist at all, lacking individuals Value commitments and the unwillingness of the business customers to engage in meaningful Value (BCA, VRF or BVR efforts), he/she needs air cover and a value sponsors (usually are found in the Finance Community or if lucky, a CIO or a member of two of the senior leadership) to facilitate the conversation and help open the doors.

    Executing Value Realization

    On the tactical and execution level the Value practitioner needs to:

    1. Make it simple. Use technology to share the “Know How” in a very hands on, simple to understand and direct way.
    2. Train the Trainer. Spread the gospel of Value through providing visual illustrations, visually appealing training modules making it easier to grasp the concepts by non-financial individuals. Etc.
    3. Lead by example.  Show willingness to roll the sleeves and help.. show them by doing.
    4. Lean the process. BCA, BVR (VRF) and ROI are the “Trinity of Value”, explain the meaning of each, and how they relate to one another. Lean the process part and standardize the ROI estimation approaches to make it easier for them to improve their Gage “R&R”: Repeatability and Reproducibility in doing the process for every engagement they have and produce the same sustainable results.
    5. Stay Connected to Decision Makers.  Stay connected to the decision makers, they are ultimately the benefactors of the Value work… they are the ones who will have the crucial conversations with their CEO, CFO and senior leaderships.. explain the approach, by simple and clear about it and be upfront in earnestly stating the time commitment. Be sensitive to the politics in each organization, for the last thing you want is to lose support and endorsement you desperately need for something that is totally unrelated to the Value work.

    Three Technical Challenges to Be Aware Of

    The three technical challenges are primarily:

    1. Isolating the effect of the IT project.  When there are multiple efforts going side by side, one of which happens to be the project in question for Value, to achieve a preset goal.
    2. Monetizing the intangibles.   For example, how to quantify and put a dollar amount to customer satisfaction.
    3. How to sell Soft Dollar.  For example, how do you sell the soft dollar (soft savings, potential cost and risk avoidances) side by side with the hard dollars, without over-selling, inflating the estimates, or creating audience rejection?

    There are known techniques that address each, and there are some that I had to improvise to make them fit the maturity stage of the target organization. In all cases, getting stakeholder agreement to the assumptions, transferring functions, and using the Dollar as an IT solution provide horse power to go a long way.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    If You Can Differentiate, You Have a Competitive Monopoly

    • 2 Comments

    In the article, The Strategy Accelerator, Alfred Griffioen shares his thoughts on competitive monopoly and how the only way outperform your competitors is through differentiation.

    Griffioen writes:

    “The question "how to be successful in the market" is among the most relevant for business economics, but only a few researchers and authors have formulated directive rather than descriptive answers.  A better direction can be found in basic economy researchers: if you can differentiate yourself from the competitors, you have a sort of monopoly.  In a monopoly you can choose your own price and quantity optimum on the demand curve.  As soon as you encounter competitors, the power shifts to the customer: the price is set by the market and you can only follow.  The only way outperform your competitors is through differentiation.”

    I think Griffioen raises some good points and the best way to differentiate is by building a better brand for whoever you serve.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To Be Ready for Any Emergency

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    “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

    I know a lot of people have had their lives turned upside down.   Hurricane Sandy and the follow up Noreaster, really created some setbacks and a wake of devastation.

    Disasters happen.  While you can’t prevent them, what you can do is prepare for them and improve your ability to respond and recover.

    I’m not the expert on disaster preparation, but I know somebody who is.  I’ve asked Laurie Ecklund Long to write a guest post to help people prepare for the worst.  Here it is:

    Disaster Proof Your Life: How To Be Ready for Any Emergency

    The goal of the post is to help jumpstart anybody who wants to start their path to planning and preparation for emergencies. 

    Laurie is an emergency specialist.  She is a best-selling author, national speaker, and trainer that helps individuals, businesses, and the military survive natural disasters and family emergencies, based on her book, My Life in a Box…A Life Organizer.  On a personal level, Laurie’s inspiration came from losing 12 people close to her, including her Dad, within the span of five years.   She learned a lot during 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and she’s on a mission to help more people be able to answer the following questions better:

    Do you have a personal emergency tool box?  Can you quickly locate your legal, financial and personal documents within minutes and be able to rebuild your life if something happens to your home?

    Check out Laurie’s guest post Disaster Proof Your Life: How To Be Ready for Any Emergency, and start your path of planning and preparation for emergencies, and help others to do the same.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    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.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Life Hacks on Sources of Insight

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    I now have a life hacks category on Sources of Insight.   It includes strategies and tactics for hacking life and how to live a little better.  It includes posts on life, life quotes, lessons learned in life, and what is the meaning of life.

    My latest addition to my life hacks bucket is 37 Inspirational Quotes That Will Change Your Life (or at least your mind.)

    There are more than 120 articles in the life hacks bucket as of today.

    Where to start?

    If you’re not sure where to start, start with That Moment Where the World Stops.

    If you’re feeling ambitious then read 50 Life Hacks Your Future Self Will Thank You For.

    If you want to dive deep, read Happy vs. Meaningful: Which Life Do You Want?

    Enjoy and in the words of Bruce Lee, “It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”, and “Simplicity is the key to brilliance.”

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips #6 - Schedule the Big Rocks

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    Untitled

    Have you heard of the big rocks story?  If not, the idea is that if you don't first make room for your big rocks, all the fillers of life will fill up your day for you.

    Time management tips #6 is -- schedule the big rocks.  If you don't have an appointment on your calendar for XYZ, it's not going to happen.  If you don't have a recurring appointment called, "Write Your Book," it won't happen.  If you don't have a recurring appointment called, "Workout," it won't happen.

    Maybe you want to build an app to change the world.  Do you have a recurring appointment on your calendar called, "Build an App to Change the World"?  I know some people that do.  And even if they don't change the world, they are making the time for it, and that's exactly the point.

    You don't have time for this.  You don't have time for that.  You only have time for the things you make time for.  Carve out time for what's important.  Schedule it, and make it happen.

    What are you making time for?

    In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the time management exercises to Carve Out Time for What's Important and get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis.  You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Adam Grocholski on Timeboxing

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    Adam Grocholski has a great post on timeboxing.  In his post, he shares his secrets of how he’s applied Getting Results the Agile Way to take control of his time.  One of my favorite parts is where he explains how he made a business case with his customers to spend less time in meetings, and more time producing results.

    Check out Adam’s post on Timeboxing.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Expert Access Radio Interview on Getting Results the Agile Way

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    image

    You can listen to the Expert Access Radio Interview on Getting Results the Agile Way.   It’s available as a podcast and on iTunes.

    I'm honored to be interviewed by Expert Access Radio on Getting Results the Agile Way.   

    Expert Access Radio is a weekly talk radio show that features live, in-depth interviews with business leaders and best-selling authors from around the world.  Some of their featured guests include Guy Kawasaki, Robert Kiyosaki, and Steven Pressfield. 

    On the show, Jay McKeever  and Steve Kayser have their guests share their ideas, information, insights and inspirational stories to help listeners in their life of business, or their business of life.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    The Mission of Microsoft Enterprise Services

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    I've heard it before, but it's good to put down on paper.

    The mission of Microsoft Enterprise Services:

    “Our mission is to lead and serve our customers and partners as they realize their full potential through software and services.”

    It sounds like servant leadership in action.

    I found this blurb that describes Microsoft Enterprise Services:

    “Microsoft Enterprise Services is the consulting, support and customer service arm of the world’s leading software company. Microsoft Services focus on top enterprise customers in each of the 82 countries where we operate. The organization includes 17.300 employees in Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) and Microsoft Premier Services (Premier).”

    What's your company's mission? 

    Does it inspire you to give your best where you have your best to give?

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Making Sure Your Life Energy is Well Spent

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    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?

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Time Management Tips #4 - Three Wins for the Day

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    Getting Results the Agile Way on Kindle

    "What are your three wins for today?"

    That's the one very simple test I ask myself and my team, on a daily basis.  It instantly helps focus and prioritize our massive backlog, our incoming requests, and competing demands.  It's how to cut "Crazy Busy" down to size with one simple question ...

    “What are your three wins for today?”

    It’s a way to carve out and shine the spot light on the value we will create today.  It sets a target to aim for.  It flips the haystack.  Instead of finding the needles of value lost among the hay stack of stuff, we start with the needles.  Clarity of value, trims the To-Do tree down to size.

    After all, no matter what's coming your way, and what's on your plate, you can only do so much.  The trick is to figure out what's the next best thing to spend your time and energy on.  When you answer that question, you give yourself peace of mind, knowing that you are working on the smarter things you can for the day.  You also give yourself creative freedom to achieve your goals, rather than get stuck in “the how trap.”  (To-Do lists have a nasty habit of making you slaves to administration and getting stuck in tasks instead of focused on goals and value.)

    Just by identifying your three wins for the day, you give yourself a way to succeed.  You've just identified your personal tests for success.  At the end of the day, it's easy to check your progress against your goals.  It's also easy to use your wins throughout the day, as a way to stay focused or to re-prioritize.

    My three wins for today are:

    1. Map of IT scenarios validated.
    2. A simple heat map of the pains and needs of the program.
    3. Rob up to speed.

    I keep the wins, simple and punchy.  The key is saying them out loud.  Actually verbalize your wins.  This simplifies them.  Then write them down.  Say them out loud first, as if saying your wins for the day to your manager, and then write them down.  The simpler you can say your wins, the easier they are to remember.  The simpler you can say your wins, the easier it is for your manager to follow, and to actually appreciate your contribution.  The simpler you can say your wins, the easier it is for other people to follow or help you achieve your goals.  The simpler you can say your win, the easier it is to get others on the same page, whether that's your team, your allies, or winning over the forces of evil, by setting a shared goal.

    This is an extremely key habit for unstoppable you.  Whether you want a better review, or to be a better leader, or to simply be more effective at time management, focus, and setting priorities ... this is a daily habit for success.

    In Time Management Tips #3 -- Three Wins for the Week, I shared how you can use your three wins to shape your focus and priorities for the week, as well as give yourself a way to acknowledge your impact.  Otherwise, it's easy to have another week fly by, do a bunch of stuff, and yet not even be able to articulate the value you delivered or the way you change your world. even in some small way.  The wins accentuate the positive, focus on what counts, and rise above the noise.

    By using Three Wins for the Day and Three Wins for the Week, you have a way to zoom in on your day, or zoom out to the week, so you can see the forest for the trees, and take the balcony view.  It also gives you an easy way to readjust your priorities if the focus is off.  This two-pronged approach also helps you connect your daily work toward weekly impact.  It also helps you see what's right in front of you, and lean in, knowing that you are spending the right time, on the right things, with the right energy.

    Say your three wins for today and write them down, and see if you can nail them.

    In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the exercise and three stories to drive your day to get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis.

    You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com

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