Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
One of the things I do, as a patterns and practices kind of guy, is research and share success patterns.
One of my more interesting bodies of work is my set of patterns and practices for successful executive thinking.
A while back, I interviewed several Microsoft executives to get their take on how to think like an effective executive.
While the styles vary, what I enjoyed is the different mindset that each executive uses as they approach the challenge of how to change the world in a meaningful way.
My approach was pretty simple. I tried to think of a simple way to capture and distill the essence. I originally went the path of identifying key thinking scenarios (changing perspective, creating ideas, evaluating ideas, making decisions, making meaning, prioritizing ideas, and solving problems) ... and the path of identifying key thinking techniques (blue ocean/strategic profile, PMI, Six Thinking Hats, PQ/PA, BusinessThink, Five Whys, ... etc.) -- but I think just a simple set of 5 key questions was more effective.
These are the five questions I ended up using:
The insights and lessons learned could fill books, but I thought I would share three of the responses that I tend to use and draw from on a regular basis …
1) The dominant framework I like to use for decisions is: how can we best help the customer? Prioritizing the customer is nearly always the right way to make good decisions for the long term. While one has to have awareness of the competition and the like, it usually fails to “follow taillights” excessively. The best lens through which to view the competition is, “how are they helping their customers, and is there anything we can learn from them about how to help our own customers?”
2) I don’t think that there is anything magical about executive thinking. The one thing we hopefully have is a greater breadth and depth of experience on key decisions. We use this experience to discern patterns, and those patterns often help us make good decisions on relatively little data.
3) Same answer as #2.
4) How can we help our customers more? Are we being realistic in our assessments of ourselves, our offerings and the needs of our customers? How can we best execute on delivering customer value?
5) It is key to keep some discretionary time for connecting with customers, studying the competition and the marketplace and “white space thinking.” It is too easy to get caught up on being reactionary to lots of short-term details and therefore lose the time to think about the long term.
There are three things that I think about as it relates to leading organizations: Vision, People and Results. Some of the principles in each of these components will apply to any organization, whether the organization's goal is to make profit, achieve strategic objectives, or make non-profit social impact.
In setting the vision and top level objectives, it is very important to pick the right priorities. I like to focus on the big rocks instead of small rocks at the vision-setting stage. In today's world of information overload, it is really easy to get bombarded with too many things needing attention. This can dilute your focus across too many objectives. The negative effect of not having a clear concentrated focus multiplies rapidly across many people when you are running a large organization. So, you need to first ask yourself what are the few ultimate results that are the objectives of your organization and then stay disciplined to focus on those objectives. The ultimate goal might be a single objective or a few, but should not be a laundry list. It is alright to have multiple metrics that are aligned to drive each objective, but the overall objectives themselves should be crisp and focused.
The next step in running an organization is to make sure you have the right people in the right jobs. This starts with first identifying the needs of the business to achieve the vision set out above. Then, I try to figure out what types of roles are needed to meet those needs. What will the organization structure look like? What kind of competencies, that is, attributes, skills, and behaviors, are needed in those roles to meet expected results? If there is a mismatch between the role and the person, it can set up both the employee and the business for failure. So, this is a crucial step in making sure you've a well running organization.
Once you have the right people in the right jobs, I try to make sure that the work environment encourages people to do their best. Selfless leadership, where the leaders have a sense of humility and are committed to the success of the business over their own self, is essential. An inclusive environment where everyone is encouraged to contribute is also a must. People's experience with the organization is for the most part shaped by their interaction with their immediate manager. Therefore, it is very important that a lot of care goes into selecting, encouraging and rewarding people managers who can create a positive environment for their employees.
Finally, the organization needs to produce results towards achieving the vision and the objectives you set out. Do not confuse results with actions. You need to make sure you reward people based on performance towards producing results instead of actions. When setting commitments for people, you need to be thoughtful about what metrics you choose so that you incent the right behavior. This again helps build an environment that encourages people to do their best. Producing results also requires that you've a compelling strategy for the organization. Thus, you need to stay on top of where the market and customers are. This will help you focus your organization's efforts on anticipating customer needs, and proactively taking steps to delight customers. This is necessary to ensure that organization's resources are prioritized towards those efforts that will produce the highest return on investment.
The big things that really stand out for me are using the customer as the North Star, balancing with multi-disciplinary perspectives, evaluating multiple, cascading ramifications, and leading with vision.
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Early on in my Program Management career, I ran into challenges around cutting scope.
The schedule said the project was done by next week, but scope said the project would be done a few months from now.
On the Microsoft patterns & practices team, we optimized around “fix time, flex scope.” This ensured we were on time, on budget. This helped constrain risk. Plus, as soon as you start chasing scope, you become a victim of scope creep, and create a runaway train. It’s better to get smart people shipping on a cadence, and focus on creating incremental value. If the trains leave the station on time, then if you miss a train, you know you can count on the next train. Plus, this builds a reputation for shipping and execution excellence.
And so I would have to cut scope, and feel the pains of impact ripple across multiple dependencies.
Without a simple chunking mechanism, it was a game of trying to cut features and trying to figure out which requirements could be completed and still be useful within a given time frame.
This is where User Stories and System Stories helped.
Stories created a simple way to chunk up value. Stories help us put requirements into a context and a testable outcome, share what good looks like, and estimate our work. So paring stories down is fine, and a good thing, as long as we can still achieve those basic goals.
Stories help us create Cuttable Scope.
They make it easier to deliver value in incremental chunks.
A healthy project start includes a baseline set of stories that help define a Minimum Credible Release, and additional stories that would add additional, incremental value.
It helps create a lot of confidence in your project when there is a clear vision for what your solution will do, along with a healthy path of execution that includes a baseline release, along with a healthy pipeline of additional value, chunked up in the form of user stories that your stakeholders and user community can relate to.
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Ten at Ten are a very simple tool for helping teams stay focused, connected, and collaborate more effectively, the Agile way.
I’ve been leading distributed teams and v-teams for years. I needed a simple way to keep everybody on the same page, expose issues, and help everybody on the team increase their awareness of results and progress, as well as unblock and breakthrough blocking issues.
When people are remote, it’s easy to feel disconnected, and it’s easy to start to feel like different people are just a “black box” or “go dark.”
Ten at Ten Meetings have been my friend and have helped me help everybody on the team stay in sync and appreciate each other’s work, while finding better ways to team up on things, and drive to results, in a collaborative way. I believe I started Ten at Ten Meetings back in 2003 (before that, I wasn’t as consistent … I think 2003 is where I realized a quick sync each day, keeps the “black box” away.)
I’ve written about Ten at Ten Meetings before in my posts on How To Lead High-Performance Distributed Teams, How I Use Agile Results, Interview on Timeboxing for HBR (Harvard Business Review), Agile Results Works for Teams and Leaders Too, and 10 Free Leadership Tools for Work and Life, but I thought it would be helpful to summarize some of the key information at a glance.
Here is an overview of Ten at Ten Meetings:
This is one of my favorite tools for reducing email and administration overhead and getting everybody on the same page fast. It's simply a stand-up meeting. I tend to have them at 10:00, and I set a limit of 10 minutes. This way people look forward to the meeting as a way to very quickly catch up with each other, and to stay on top of what's going on, and what's important. The way it works is I go around the (virtual) room, and each person identifies what they got done yesterday, what they're getting done today, and any help they need. It's a fast process, although it can take practice in the beginning. When I first started, I had to get in the habit of hanging up on people if it went past 10 minutes. People very quickly realized that the ten minute meeting was serious. Also, as issues came up, if they weren't fast to solve on the fly and felt like a distraction, then we had to learn to take them offline. Eventually, this helped build a case for a recurring team meeting where we could drill deeper into recurring issues or patterns, and focus on improving overall team effectiveness.
Here is more of a step-by-step approach:
You’d be surprised at how quickly people start to pay attention to what they’re working on and on what’s worth working on. It also helps team members very quickly see each other’s impact and results. It also helps people raise their bar, especially when they get to hear and experience what good looks like from their peers.
Most importantly, it shines the light on little, incremental progress, and, if you didn’t already know, progress is the key to happiness in work and life.
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Before the Cloud, there was a lot of focus on deployment, as if deployment was success.
Once you shipped the project, it was time to move on to the next project. And project success was measured in terms of “on time” and “on budget.” If you could deploy things quickly, you were a super shipper.
Of course, what we learned was that if you simply throw things over the wall and hope they stick, it’s not very successful.
"If you build it" ... users don't always come.
It was easy to confuse shipping projects on time and on budget with business impact.
But let's compound the problem.
The big hump of software development was the hump in the middle—A big development hump. And that hump was followed by a big deployment hump (installing software, fixing issues, dealing with deployment hassles, etc.)
So not only were development cycles long, but deployment was tough, too.
Because development cycles were long, and deployment was so tough, it was easy to confuse effort for value.
Now, let's turn it around.
With the Cloud, deployment is simplified. You can reach more users, and it's easier to scale. And it's easier to be available 24x7.
Add Agile to the mix, and people ship smaller, more frequent releases.
So with smaller, more-frequent releases, and simpler deployment, some software teams have turned into shipping machines.
The Cloud shrinks the development and deployment humps.
So now the game is a lot more obvious.
Deployment doesn't mark the finish. It starts the game.
The real game of software success is adoption.
If you picture the old IT project hump, where there is a long development cycle in the middle, now it's shorter humps in the middle.
The big hump is now user adoption.
It’s not new. It was always there. But the adoption hump was hidden beyond the development and deployment humps, and simply written off as “Value Leakage.”
And if you made it over the first two humps, since most projects did not plan or design for adoption, or allocate any resources or time, adoption was mostly an afterthought.
And so the value leaked.
But the adoption hump is where the business benefits are. The ROI is sitting there, gathering dust, in our "pay-for-play" world. The value is simply waiting to be released and unleashed.
Software solutions are sitting idle waiting for somebody to realize the value.
All of the benefits to the business are locked up in that adoption hump. All of the benefits around how users will work better, faster, or cheaper, or how you will change the customer interaction experience, or how back-office systems will be better, faster, cheaper ... they are all locked up in that adoption hump.
As I said before, the key to Value Realization is adoption.
So if you want to realize more value, drive more user adoption.
And if you want to accelerate value, then accelerate user adoption.
In a Cloud world, the original humps of design, development, and deployment shrink. But it’s not just time and effort that shrink. Costs shrink, too. With online platforms to build on (Infrastructure as a Service, Platforms as a Service, and Software as a Service), you don’t have to start from scratch or roll your own. And if you adopt a configure before customize mindset, you can further reduce your costs of design and development.
Architecture moves up the stack from basic building blocks to composition.
And adoption is where the action is.
What was the afterthought in the last generation of solutions, is now front and center.
In the new world, adoption is a planned spend, and it’s core to the success of the planned value delivery.
If you want to win the game, think “Adoption-First.”
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So, if you have a bunch of smart people, a bunch of bright ideas, and everybody wants to talk at the same time ... what do you do?
Or, you have a bunch of smart people, but they are quiet and nobody is sharing their bright ideas, and the squeaky wheel gets the oil ... what do you do?
Whenever you get a bunch of smart people together to change the world it helps to have some proven practices for better results.
One of the techniques a colleague shared with me recently is Method 635. It stands for six participants, three ideas, and five rounds of supplements.
He's used Method 635 successfully to get a large room of smart people to brainstorm ideas and put their top three ideas forward.
Here's how he uses Method 635 in practice.
The outcome is that each person will see the original three solutions and contribute to the overall set of ideas.
By using this method, if each of the 5 rounds is 5 minutes, and if you take 10 minutes to start by explaining the issue, and you give teams 5 minutes to write down their initial set of 3 ideas, and then another 5 minutes at the end to vote, and another 5 minutes to present, you’ve accomplished a lot within an hour. Voices were heard. Smart people contributed their ideas and got their fingerprints on the solutions. And you’ve driven to consensus by first elaborating on ideas, while at the same time, driving to convergence and allowing refinement along the way.
All in a good day’s work, and another great example of how structuring an activity, even loosely structuring an activity, can help people bring out their best.
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I was flipping back over the past year and reflecting on the high-value activities that I’ve seen across various Enterprise customers. I think the high-value activities tend to be some variation of the following:
At first I was thinking of Porter’s Value Chain (Inbound Logistics, Operations, Outbound Logistics, Marketing & Sales, Services), which do help identify where the action is. Next, I was reviewing how when we drive big changes with a customer, it tends to be around changing the customer experience, or changing the employee experiences, or changing the back-office and systems experiences.
You can probably recognize how the mega-trends (Cloud, Mobile, Social, and Big Data) influence the activities above, as well as some popular trends like Consumerization of IT.
I also found it helpful to review the original memo from July 11, 2013 titled Transforming Our Company. Below are some of my favorite sections from the memo:
Via Transforming Our Company:
“We will engage enterprise on all sides — investing in more high-value activities for enterprise users to do their jobs; empowering people to be productive independent of their enterprise; and building new and innovative solutions for IT professionals and developers. We will also invest in ways to provide value to businesses for their interactions with their customers, building on our strong Dynamics foundation.
Specifically, we will aim to do the following:
Facilitate adoption of our devices and end-user services in enterprise settings. This means embracing consumerization of IT with the vigor we pursued in the initial adoption of PCs by end users and business in the ’90s. Our family of devices must allow people to be more productive, and for them to easily use our devices for work.
Extend our family of devices and services for enterprise high-value activities. We have unique expertise and capacity in this space.
Information assurance. Going forward this will be an area of critical importance to enterprises. We are their trusted partners in this space, and we must continue to innovate for them against a changing security and compliance landscape.
IT management. With more IT delivered as services from the cloud, the function of IT itself will be reimagined. We are best positioned to build the tools and training for that new breed of IT professional.
Big data insight. Businesses have new and expanded needs and opportunities to generate, store and use their own data and the data of the Web to better serve customers, make better decisions and design better products. As our customers’ online interactions with their customers accelerate, they generate massive amounts of data, with the cloud now offering the processing power to make sense of it. We are well-positioned to reimagine data platforms for the cloud, and help unlock insight from the data.
Customer interaction. Organizations today value most those activities that help them fully understand their customers’ needs and help them interact and communicate with them in more responsive and personalized ways. We are well-positioned to deliver services that will enable our customers to interact as never before — to help them match their prospects to the right products and services, derive the insights so they can successfully engage with them, and even help them find and create brand evangelists.
Software development. Finally, developers will continue to write the apps and sites that power the world, and integrate to solve individual problems and challenges. We will support them with the simplest turnkey way to build apps, sites and cloud services, easy integration with our products, and innovation for projects of every size.”
If you can’t imagine what high-value activities look like, or what business transformation would look like, then have a look at this video:
Nedbank: Video Banking with Lync
Nedbank was a brick-and-mortar bank that wanted to go digital and, not just catch up to the Cloud world, but leap frog into the future. According to the video description, “Nedbank initiated a program called the Integrated Channel Strategy, focusing on client centered banking experiences using Microsoft Lync. The client experience is integrated and aligned across all channels and seeks to bring about efficiencies for the bank. Video banking with Microsoft Lync gives Nedbank a competitive advantage.”
The most interesting thing about the video is not just what’s possible, but that’s it’s real and happening.
They set a new bar for the future of digital banking.
It’s long over-do, but I finally wrote up my 10 Big Ideas from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
What can I say … the book is a classic.
I remember when my Dad first recommended that I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People long ago. In his experience, while Tony Robbins was more focused on Personality Ethic, Stephen Covey at the time was more focused on Character Ethic. At the end of the day, they are both complimentary, and one without the other is a failed strategy.
While writing 10 Big Ideas from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I was a little torn on what to keep in and what to leave out. The book is jam packed with insights, powerful patterns, and proven practices for personal change. I remembered reading about the Law of the Harvest, where you reap what you sow. I remembered reading about how to think Win/Win, and how that helps you change the game from a scarcity mentality to a mindset of abundance. I remembered reading about how we can move up the stack in terms of time management if we focus less on To Dos and more on relationships and results. I remembered reading about how if we want to be heard, we need to first seek to understand.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is probably one of the most profound books on the planet when it comes to personal change and empowerment.
It’s full of mental models and big ideas.
What I really like about Covey’s approach is that he bridged work and life. Rather than splinter our lives, Covey found a way to integrate our lives more holistically, to combine our personal and professional lives through principles that empower us, and help us lead a more balanced life.
Here is a summary list of 10 Big Ideas from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
In my post, I’ve summarized each one and provided one of my favorite highlights from the book that brings each idea to life.
A Minimum Credible Release, or MCR, is simply the minimal set of user stories that need to be implemented in order for the product increment to be worth releasing.
I don’t know exactly when Minimum Credible Release became an established practice, but I do know that we were using Minimum Credible Release as a concept back in the early 2000’s on the Microsoft patterns & practices team. It’s how we defined the minimum scope for our project releases.
The value of the Minimum Credible Release is that it provides a baseline for the team to focus on so they can ship. It’s a metaphorical “finish line.” This is especially important when the team gets into the thick of things, and you start to face scope creep.
The Minimum Credible Release is also a powerful tool when it comes to communicating to stakeholders what to expect. If you want people to invest, they need to know what to expect in terms of the minimum bar that they will get for their investment.
The Minimum Credible Release is also the hallmark of great user experience in action. It takes great judgment to define a compelling minimal release.
A sample is worth a thousand words, so here is a visual way to think about this.
Let’s say you had a pile of prioritized user stories, like this:
You would establish a cut line for your minimum release:
Note that this is an over-simplified example to keep the focus on the idea of a list of user stories with a cut line.
And the art part is in where and how you draw the line for the release.
While you would think this is such a simple, obvious, and high-value practice, not everybody does it.
All too often there are projects that run for a period of time without a defined Minimum Credible Release. They often turn into never-ending projects or somebody’s bitter disappointment. If you get agreement with users about what the Minimum Credible Release will be, you have a much better chance of making your users happy. This goes for stakeholders, too.
There is another concept that, while related, I don’t think it’s the same thing.
It’s Minimum Viable Product, or MVP.
Here is what Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, says about the Minimum Viable Product:
“The idea of minimum viable product is useful because you can basically say: our vision is to build a product that solves this core problem for customers and we think that for the people who are early adopters for this kind of solution, they will be the most forgiving. And they will fill in their minds the features that aren’t quite there if we give them the core, tent-pole features that point the direction of where we’re trying to go.
So, the minimum viable product is that product which has just those features (and no more) that allows you to ship a product that resonates with early adopters; some of whom will pay you money or give you feedback.”
And, here is what Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, has to say about the Minimum Viable Product:
“The Lean Startup provides many strategies for validating the worth of a business idea. One core strategy is to develop a minimum viable product – the smallest offer you can create that someone will actually buy, then offer it to real customers. If they buy, you’re in good shape. If your original idea doesn’t work, you simply ‘pivot’ and try another idea.”
So if you want happier users, better products, reduced risk, and more reliable releases, look to Minimum Credible Releases and Minimum Viable Products.
Continuous Value Delivery helps businesses realize the benefits from their technology investments in a continuous fashion.
Businesses these days expect at least quarterly results from their technology investments. The beauty is, with Continuous Value Delivery they can get it, too.
Continuous Value Delivery is a practice that makes delivering user value and business value a rapid, reliable, and repeatable process. It’s a natural evolution from Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery. Continuous Value Delivery simply adds a focus on Value Realization, which addresses planning for value, driving adoption, and measuring results.
But let’s take a look at the evolution of software practices that have made it possible to provide Continuous Value Delivery in our Cloud-first, mobile-first world.
Long before there was Continuous Value Delivery, there was Continuous Integration …
Continuous Integration is a software development practice where team members integrate their work frequently. The goal of Continuous Integration is to reduce and prevent integration problems. In Continuous Integration, each integration is verified against tests.
Then, along came, Continuous Delivery …
Continuous Delivery extended the idea of Continuous Integration to automate and improve the process of software delivery. With Continuous Delivery, software checked in on the mainline is always ready for release. When you combine automated testing, Continuous Integration, and Continuous Delivery, it's possible to push out updates, fixes, and new releases to customers with lower risk and minimal manual overhead.
Continuous Delivery changes the model from a big bang approach, where software is shipped at the end of a long project cycle, to where software can be iteratively and incrementally shipped along the way.
This set the stage for Continuous Value Delivery …
Continuous Value Delivery puts a focus on Value Realization as a first-class citizen.
To be able to ship value on a continuous basis, you need to have a simple way to have a simple mechanism for units of value. Scenarios and stories are an effective way to chunk and carve up value into useful increments. Scenario and stories also help with driving adoption.
For Continuous Value Delivery, you also need a way to "pull" value, as well as "push" value. Kanbans provide an easy way to visualize the flow of value, and support a “pull” mechanism and reinforce “the voice of the customer.” User stories provide an easy way to create a backlog or catalog of potential value, that you can “push” based on priorities and user demand.
Businesses that are making the most of their technology investments are linking scenarios, backlogs, and Kanbans to their value chains and their value streams.
If you want to drive continuous value to the business, then you need to plan for it. As part of value planning, you need to identify key stakeholders in the business. With the stakeholders you need to identify the business benefits that they care about, along with the KPIs and value measures that they care about.
At this stage, you also want to identify who in the business will be responsible for collecting the data and reporting the value.
Adoption is the key component of Continuous Value Delivery. After all, if you release new features, but nobody uses them, then the users won't get the new benefits. In order to realize the value, users need to use the new features and actually change their behaviors.
So while deployment was the old bottleneck, adoption is the new bottleneck.
Users and the business can only absorb so much value at once. In order to flow more value, you need to reduce friction around adoption, and drive consumption of technology. You can do this through effective adoption planning, user readiness, communication plans, and measurement.
To close the loop, you want the business to acknowledge the delivery of value. That’s where measurement and reporting come in.
From a measurement standpoint, you can use adoption and usage metrics to better understand what's being used and how much. But that’s only part of the story.
To connect the dots back to the business impact, you need to measure changes in behavior, such as what people have stopped doing, started doing, and continue doing. This will be an indicator of benefits being realized.
Ultimately, to show the most value to the business, you need to move the benefits up the stack. At the lowest level, you can observe the benefits, by simply observing the changes in behavior. If you can observe the benefits, then you should be able to measure the benefits. And if you can measure the benefits, then you should be able to quantify the benefits. And if you can quantify the benefits, then you should be able to associate some sort of financial amount that shows how things are being done better, faster, or cheaper.
The value reporting exercise should help inform and adjust any value planning efforts. For example, if adoption is proving to be the bottleneck, now you can drill into where exactly the bottleneck is occurring and you can refocus efforts more effectively.
In essence, your value realization loop is really a cycle of plan, do, check, act, where value is made explicit, and it is regarded as a first-class citizen throughout the process of Continuous Value Delivery.
That’s a way better approach than building solutions and hoping that value will come or that you’ll stumble your way into business impact.
As history shows, too many projects try to luck their way into value, and it’s far better to design for it.
A Sprint is simply a unit of development in Scrum. The idea is to provide a working increment of the solution at the end of the Sprint, that is potentially shippable.
It’s a “timeboxed” effort. This helps reduce risk as well as support a loop of continuous learning. For example, a team might work in 1 week, 2 week or 1 month sprints. At the end of the Sprint, you can review the progress, and make any necessary adjustments to improve for the next Sprint.
In the business arena, we can think in terms of Value Sprints, where we don’t want to stop at just shipping a chunk of value.
Just shipping or deploying software and solutions does not lead to adoption.
And that’s how software and IT projects fall down.
With a Value Sprint, we want to do a add a few specific things to the mix to ensure appropriate Value Realization and true benefits delivery. Specifically, we want to integrate Value Planning right up front, and as part of each Sprint. Most importantly, we want to plan and drive adoption, as part of the Value Sprint.
If we can accelerate adoption, then we can accelerate time to value.
And, of course, we want to report on the value as part of the Value Sprint.
In practice, our field tells us that Value Sprints of 6-8 weeks tend to work well with the business. Obviously, the right answer depends on your context, but it helps to know what others have been doing. The length of the loop depends on the business cadence, as well as how well adoption can be driven in an organization, which varies drastically based on ability to execute and maturity levels. And, for a lot of businesses, it’s important to show results within a quarterly cycle.
But what’s really important is that you don’t turn value into a long winded run, or a long shot down the line, and that you don’t simply hope that value happens.
Through Value Sprints and Continuous Value Delivery you can create a sustainable approach where the business can realize the value from it’s technology investments in a sustainable and more reliable way for real business results.
And that’s how you win in the game of software today.
Blessing Sibanyoni on Value Realization
What if your work could be your ultimate platform? … your ultimate channel for your growth and greatness?
We spend a lot of time at work.
For some people, work is their ultimate form of self-expression.
For others, work is a curse.
Nobody stops you from using work as a chance to challenge yourself, to grow your skills, and become all that you’re capable of.
But that’s a very different mindset than work is a place you have to go to, or stuff you have to do.
When you change your mind, you change your approach. And when you change your approach, you change your results. But rather than just try to change your mind, the ideal scenario is to expand your mind, and become more resourceful.
You can do so with quotes.
In fact, you can actually build your “work intelligence.”
Here are a few ways to think about “intelligence”:
In Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki, says, “intelligence is the ability to make finer distinctions.” And, Tony Robbins, says “intelligence is the measure of the number and the quality of the distinctions you have in a given situation.”
If you want to grow your “work intelligence”, one of the best ways is to familiarize yourself with the best inspirational quotes about work.
By drawing from wisdom of the ages and modern sages, you can operate at a higher level and turn work from a chore, into a platform of lifelong learning, and a dojo for personal growth, and a chance to master your craft.
You can use inspirational quotes about work to fill your head with ideas, distinctions, and key concepts that help you unleash what you’re capable of.
To give you a giant head start and to help you build a personal library of profound knowledge, here are two work quotes collections you can draw from:
37 Inspirational Quotes for Work as Self-Expression
Inspirational Work Quotes
Let’s practice. This will only take a minute, and if you happen to hear the right words, which are the keys for you, your insight or “ah-ha” can be just the breakthrough that you needed to get more of your work, and, as a result, more out of life (or at least your moments.)
Here is a sample of distinct ideas and depth that you use to change how you perceive your work, and/or how you do your work:
For more ideas, take a stroll through my inspirational work quotes.
As you can see, there are lots of ways to think about work and what it means. At the end of the day, what matters is how you think about it, and what you make of it. It’s either an investment, or it’s an incredible waste of time. You can make it mundane, or you can make it matter.
Here’s another surprise about work. You can use work to live the good life. According to Martin Seligman, a master in the art and science of positive psychology, there are three paths to happiness:
In The Pleasant Life, you simply try to have as much pleasure as possible. In The Good Life, you spend more time in your values. In The Meaningful Life, you use your strengths in the service of something that is bigger than you are.
There are so many ways you can live your values at work and connect your work with what makes you come alive.
There are so many ways to turn what you do into service for others and become a part of something that’s bigger than you.
If you haven’t figured out how yet, then dig deeper, find a mentor, and figure it out.
You spend way too much time at work to let your influence and impact fade to black.
40 Hour Work Week at Microsoft
Agile Avoids Work About Work
How Employees Lost Empathy for Their Work, for the Customer, and for the Final Product
Satya Nadella on Live and Work a Meaningful Life
Personas and scenario can be a powerful tool for driving adoption and business value realization.
All too often, people deploy technology without fully understanding the users that it’s intended for.
Worse, if the technology does not get used, the value does not get realized.
Keep in mind that the value is in the change.
The change takes the form of doing something better, faster, cheaper, and behavior change is really the key to value realization.
If you deploy a technology, but nobody adopts it, then you won’t realize the value. It’s a waste. Or, more precisely, it’s only potential value. It’s only potential value because nobody has used it to change their behavior to be better, faster, or cheaper with the new technology.
In fact, you can view change in terms of behavior changes:
What should users START doing or STOP doing, in order to realize the value?
Behavior change becomes a useful yardstick for evaluating adoption and consumption of technology, and significant proxy for value realization.
I’ve written about personas before in Actors, Personas, and Roles, MSF Agile Persona Template, and Personas at patterns & practices, and Microsoft Research has a whitepaper called Personas: Practice and Theory.
A persona, simply defined is a fictitious character that represents user types. Personas are the “who” in the organization. You use them to create familiar faces and to inspire project teams to know their clients as well as to build empathy and clarity around the user base.
Using personas helps characterize sets of users. It’s a way to capture and share details about what a typical day looks like and what sorts of pains, needs, and desired outcomes the personas have as they do their work.
You need to know how work currently gets done so that you can provide relevant changes with technology, plan for readiness, and drive adoption through specific behavior changes.
Using personas can help you realize more value, while avoiding “value leakage.”
When it comes to users, and what they do, we're talking about usage scenarios. A usage scenario is a story or narrative in the form of a flow. It shows how one or more users interact with a system to achieve a goal.
You can picture usage scenarios as high-level storyboards. Here is an example:
In fact, since scenario is often an overloaded term, if people get confused, I just call them Solution Storyboards.
To figure out relevant usage scenarios, we need to figure out the personas that we are creating solutions for.
In practice, you would segment the user population, and then assign personas to the different user segments. For example, let’s say there are 20,000 employees. Let’s say that 3,000 of them are business managers, let’s say that 6,000 of them are sales people. Let’s say that 1,000 of them are product development engineers. You could create a persona named Mary to represent the business managers, a persona named Sally to represent the sales people, and a persona named Bob to represent the product development engineers.
This sounds simple, but it’s actually powerful. If you do a good job of workforce analysis, you can better determine how many users a particular scenario is relevant for. Now you have some numbers to work with. This can help you quantify business impact. This can also help you prioritize. If a particular scenario is relevant for 10 people, but another is relevant for 1,000, you can evaluate actual numbers.
Let’s take Bob for example. As a product development engineer, Bob designs and develops new product concepts. He would love to collaborate better with his distributed development team, and he would love better feedback loops and interaction with real customers.
We can drill in a little bit to get a get a better picture of his work as a product development engineer.
Here are a few ways you can drill in:
Another approach is to focus on the roles, responsibilities, challenges, work-style, needs and wants. This helps you understand which solutions are appropriate, what sort of behavior changes would be involved, and how much readiness would be required for any significant change.
At the end of the day, it always comes down to building empathy, understanding, and clarity around pains, needs, and desired outcomes.
Here’s an example of a high-level process for persona creation:
Doing persona analysis is actually pretty simple. The challenge is that people don’t do it, or they make a lot of assumptions about what people actually do and what their pains and needs really are. When’s the last time somebody asked you what your pains and needs are, or what you need to perform your job better?
In one example I know of a large bank that transformed itself by focusing on it’s personas and scenarios.
It started with one usage scenario:
Connect with customers wherever they are.
This scenario was driven from pain in the business. The business was out of touch with customers, and it was operating under a legacy banking model. This simple scenario reflected an opportunity to change how employees connect with customers (though Cloud, Mobile, and Social).
On the customer side of the equation, customers could now have virtual face-to-face communication from wherever they are. On the employee side, it enabled a flexible work-style, helped employees pair up with each other for great customer service, and provided better touch and connection with the customers they serve.
And in the grand scheme of things, this helped transform a brick-and-mortar bank to a digital bank of the future, setting a new bar for convenience, connection, and collaboration.
Here is a video that talks through the story of one bank’s transformation to the digital banking arena:
Video: NedBank on The Future of Digital Banking
In the video, you’ll see Blessing Sibanyoni, one of Microsoft’s Enterprise Architects in action.
If you’re wondering how to change the world, you can start with personas and scenarios.
Scenarios in Practice
How I Learned to Use Scenarios to Evaluate Things
Business Scenarios for the Cloud
IT Scenarios for the Cloud
An Enterprise Architect can have a tough job when it comes to driving value to the business. With multiple stakeholders, multiple moving parts, and a rapid rate of change, delivering value is tough enough. But what if you want to accelerate value and maximize business impact?
Enterprise Architects can borrow a few concepts from the Agile world to be much more effective in today’s world.
First, let’s take a brief look at traditional development and how it evolved. Traditionally, IT departments focused on delivering value to the business by shipping big bang projects. They would plan it, build it, test it, and then release it. The measure of success was on time, on budget.
Few projects ever shipped on time. Few were ever on budget. And very few ever met the requirements of the business.
Then along came Agile approaches and they changed the game.
One of the most important ideas was a shift away from thick requirements documentation to user stories. Developers got customers telling stories about what they wanted the future solution to do. For example, a user story for a sale representative might look like this:
“As a sales rep, I want to see my customer’s account information so that I can identify cross-sell and upsell opportunities.”
The use of user stories accomplished several things. First, user stories got the development teams talking to the business users. Rather than throwing documents back and forth, people started having face-to-face communication to understand the user stories. Second, user stories helped chunk bigger units of value down into smaller units of value. Rather than a big bang project where all the value is promised at the end of some long development cycle, a development team could now ship the solution in increments, where each increment was a prioritized set of stories. The user stories effectively create a shared language for value.
Third, it made it easier to test the delivery of value. Now the user and the development team could test the solution against the user stories and acceptance criteria. If the story met acceptance criteria, the user would acknowledge that the value was delivered. In this way, the user stories created both a validation mechanism and a feedback loop for delivering and acknowledging value.
In the Agile world, bigger stories are called epics, and collections of stories are called themes. Often a story starts off as an epic until it gets broken down into multiple stories. What’s important here is that the collections of stories serve as a catalog of potential value. Specifically, this catalog of stories reflects potential value with real stakeholders. In this way, Agile helps drive customer focus and customer connection. It’s really effective stakeholder management in action.
Agile approaches have been used in software projects large and small. And they’ve forever changed how developers and project managers approach projects.
But how does this apply to Enterprise Architects?
As an Enterprise Architect, chances are you are responsible for achieving business outcomes. You do this by driving business transformation. The way you achieve business transformation is through driving capability change including business, people, and technical capabilities.
That’s a tall order. And you need a way to chunk this up and make it meaningful to all the parties involved.
This is where scenarios come into play. Scenarios are a simple way to capture pains, needs and desired outcomes. You can think of the desired outcome as the future capability vision. It’s really a story that helps articulate the art of the possible. More precisely, you can use scenarios to help build empathy with stakeholders for what value will look like, by painting a conceptual scene of the future.
An Enterprise scenario is simply a chunk of organizational change, typically about 3-5 business capabilities, 3-5 people capabilities, and 3-5 technical capabilities.
If that sounds like a lot of theory, let’s step into an example to show what it looks like in practice.
Let’s say you’re in a situation where you need to help a healthcare provider change their business.
You can come up with a lot of scenarios, but it helps to start with the pains and needs of the business owner. Otherwise, you might start going through a bunch of scenarios for the patients or for the doctors. In this case, the business owner would be the Chief Medical Officer or the doctor of doctors.
If we walk the pains, needs, and desired outcomes of the Chief Medical Officer, we might come up with a scenario that looks something like this, where the CURRENT STATE reflects the current pains, and needs, and the FUTURE STATE reflects the desired outcome.
Here is an example of the CURRENT STATE portion of the scenario:
The Chief Medical Officer of Contoso Provider is struggling with increased costs and declining revenues. Costs are rising due to the Affordable Healthcare Act regulatory compliance requirements and increasing malpractice insurance premiums. Revenue is declining due to decreasing medical insurance payments per claim.
Here is an example of the FUTURE STATE portion of the scenario:
Doctors can consult with patients, peers, and specialists from anywhere. Contoso provider's doctors can see more patients, increase accuracy of first time diagnosis, and grow revenues.
It helps to be able to picture what the Future Capability Vision might look like. That’s where storyboarding can come in. An Enterprise Architect can paint a simple scene of the future with a storyboard that shows the Future Capability Vision in action. This practice lends itself to whiteboarding, and the beauty of a whiteboard is you can quickly elaborate where you need to, without getting mired in details.
As you can see in this example storyboard of the Future Capability Vision, we listed out some business benefits, which we could then drill-down into relevant KPIs and value measures. We’ve also outlines some building blocks required for this Future Capability Vision in the form of business capabilities and technical capabilities.
Now this simple approach accomplishes a lot. It helps ensure that any technology solution actually connects back to business drivers and pains that a business decision maker actually cares about. This gets their fingerprints on the solution concept. And it creates a simple “flashcard” for value. If we name the Enterprise scenario well, then we can use it as a handle to get back to the story we created with the business of a better future.
The obvious thing this does, aside from connecting IT to the business, is it helps the business justify any investment in IT.
And all we did was walk through one Enterprise Scenario.
But there is a lot more value to be found in the Enterprise. We can literally explore and chunk up the value in the Enterprise if we take a step back and add another tool to our toolbelt: the Scenario Chain.
The Scenario Chain is another powerful conceptual visualization tool. It helps you quickly map out what’s happening in the marketplace in terms of industry drivers or industry scenarios. You can then identify potential investment objectives. These investment objectives lead to patterns of value or patterns of solutions in the Enterprise, which are effectively Enterprise scenarios. From the Enterprise scenarios, you can then identify relevant usage scenarios. The usage scenarios effectively represent new ways of working for the employees, or new interaction models with customers, which is effectively a change to your value stream.
With one simple glance, the Scenario Chain is a bird’s-eye view of how you can respond to the changing marketplace and how you can transform your business. And, by using Enterprise scenarios, you can chunk up the change into meaningful units of value that reflect pains, needs, and desired outcomes for the business. And, because you have the fingerprints of stakeholders from both business and IT, you’ve effectively created a shared vision for the future, that has business impact, a justification for investment, and it creates a pull-through mechanism for additional value, by driving the adoption of the usage scenarios.
Let’s elaborate on adoption and how scenarios can help accelerate business value.
Driving adoption is a key way to realize the business value. If nobody adopts the solution, then that’s what Gartner would call “Value Leakage.” Value Realization really comes down to governance, measurement, and adoption.
With scenarios at your fingertips, you have a powerful way to articulate value, justify business cases, drive business transformation, and accelerate business value. The key lies in using the scenarios as a unit of value, and focusing on scenarios as a way to drive adoption and change.
Here are three ways you can use scenarios to drive adoption and accelerate business value:
One of the ways to accelerate business value is to accelerate adoption. You can use scenarios to help enumerate specific behavior changes that need to happen to drive the adoption. You can establish metrics and measures around specific behavior changes. In this way, you make adoption a lot more specific, concrete, intentional, and tangible.
This approach is about doing the right things, faster.
Another way to accelerate business value is to re-sequence the scenarios. If your big bang is way at the end (way, way at the end), no good. Sprinkle some of your bangs up front. In fact, a great way to design for change is to build rolling thunder. Put some of the scenarios up front that will get people excited about the change and directly experiencing the benefits. Make it real.
The approach is about putting first things first.
The third way to accelerate business value is to identify higher-value scenarios. One of the things that happens along the way, is you start to uncover potential scenarios that you may not have seen before, and these scenarios represent orders of magnitude more value. This is the space of serendipity. As you learn more about users and what they value, and stakeholders and what they value, you start to connect more dots between the scenarios you can deliver and the value that can be realized (and therefore, accelerated.)
This approach is about trading up for higher value and more impact.
As you can see, Enterprise Architects can drive business value and accelerate business value realization by using scenarios and storyboarding. It’s a simple and agile approach for connecting business and IT, and for shaping a more Agile Enterprise.
I’ll share more on this topic in future posts. Value Realization is an art and a science and I’d like to reduce the gap between the state of the art and the state of the practice.
3 Ways to Accelerate Business Value
6 Steps for Enterprise Architecture as Strategy
Cognizant on the Next Generation Enterprise
Simple Enterprise Strategy
The Mission of Enterprise Services
The New Competitive Landscape
What Am I Doing on the Enterprise Strategy Team?
Why Have a Strategy?
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” —Steve Jobs
What does it take to create a company where everybody gives their best where they have their best to give?
It takes empathy.
It also takes encouraging people to be zestful, zany, and zealous.
It takes bridging the gap between the traits that make people come alive, and the traits that traditional management practices value.
In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel walks through what it takes to create a company where everyone gives their best so that employees thrive and companies create sustainable competitive advantage.
Resilience and creativity are what separate us from the pack.
Via The Future of Management:
“Ask your colleagues to describe the distinguishing characteristics of your company, and few are likely to mention adaptability and inventiveness. Yet if you ask them to make a list of the traits that differentiate human beings from other species, resilience and creativity will be near the top of the list. We see evidence of these qualities every day -- in ourselves and in those around us. “
People are adaptive and creative, but they often work for organizations that are not.
“All of us know folks who've switched careers in search of new challenges or a more balanced life. We know people who've changed their consumption habits for the sake of the planet. We have friends and relatives who've undergone a spiritual transformation, or risen to the demands of parenthood, or overcome tragedy. Every day we meet people who write blogs, experiment with new recipes, mix up dance tunes, or customize their cars. As human beings, we are amazingly adaptable and creative, yet most of us work for companies that are not. In other words, we work for organizations that aren't very human.”
Why do so many organizations underperform? They ignore or devalue the capabilities that make us human.
“There seems to be something in modern organizations that depletes the natural resilience and creativity of human beings, something that literally leaches these qualities out of employees during daylight hours. The culprit? Management principles and processes that foster discipline, punctuality, economy, rationality, and order, yet place little value on artistry, nonconformity, originality, audacity, and élan. To put it simply, most companies are only fractionally human because they make room for only a fraction of the qualities and capabilities that make us human. Billions of people show up for work every day, but way too many of them are sleepwalking. The result: organizations that systematically underperform their potential.”
There’s a great big gap between what makes people great and the management systems that get in the way.
“Weirdly, many of those who labor in the corporate world--from lowly admins to high powered CEOs--seem resigned to this state of affairs. They seem unperturbed by the confounding contrast between the essential nature of human beings and the essential nature of the organization in which they work. In years past, it might have been possible to ignore this incongruity, but no longer--not in a world where adaptability and innovation have become the sine qua non of competitive success. The challenge: to reinvent our management systems so they inspire human beings to bring all of their capabilities to work every day.”
Hamel offers his take on what the relative contribution of human capabilities that contribute to value creation, recognizing that we now live in a world where efficiency and discipline are table stakes.
“The human capabilities that contribute to competitive success can be arrayed in a hierarchy. At the bottom is obedience--an ability to take direction and follow rules. This is the baseline. Next up the ladder is diligence. Diligent employees are accountable. They don't take shortcuts. They are conscientious and well-organized. Knowledge and intellect are on the next step. Most companies work hard to hire intellectually gifted employees. They value smart people who are eager to improve their skills and willing to borrow best practices from others. Beyond intellect lies initiative. People with initiative don't wait to be asked and don't wait to be told. They seek out new challenges and are always searching for new ways to add value. Higher still lies the gift of creativity. Creative people are inquisitive and irrepressible. They're not afraid of saying stupid things. They start a lot of conversations with, 'Wouldn't it be cool if ..." And finally, at the top lies passion.”
Passion makes us do dumb things. But it’s also the key to doing great things.
Via Via The Future of Management:
“Passion can make people do stupid things, but it's the secret sauce that turns intent into accomplishment. People with passion climb over obstacles and refuse to give up. Passion is contagious and turns one-person crusades into mass movements. As the English novelist E.M. Forster put it, 'One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.'”
Rule-following employees won’t help you change the world.
“I'm not suggesting that obedience is literally worth nothing. A company where no one followed any rules would soon descend into anarchy. Instead, I'm arguing that rule-following employees are worth zip in terms of their competitive advantage they generate. In a world with 4 billion nearly distributed souls, all eager to climb the ladder of economic progress, it's not hard to find billable, hardworking employees. And what about intelligence? For years we've been told we're living in the knowledge economy; but as knowledge itself becomes commoditized, it will lose much of its power to create competitive advantage.”
You can easily buy obedience, diligence, and expertise from around the world.
But that’s not what will make you the next great company or the next great thing or a great place to work.
“Today, obedience, diligence, and expertise can be bought for next to nothing. From Bangalore to Guangzhou, they have become global commodities. A simple example: turn over your iPod, and you'll find six words engraved on the back that foretell the future of competition: 'Designed in California. Made in China.' Despite the equal billing, the remarkable success of Apple's music business owes relatively little to the company's network of Asian subcontractors. It is a credit instead to the imagination of Apple's designers, marketers, and lawyers. Obviously not every iconic product is going to be designed in California, not nor manufactured in China. “
If you want to bring out the best in people and what they are capable of, aim for zestful, zany, and zealous.
“The point, though, is this: if you want to capture the economic high ground in the creative economy, you need employees who are more than acquiescent, attentive, and astute--they must also be zestful, zany, and zealous.”
If you want to bring out your best, then break our your zest and get your zane on.
The Principles of Modern Management
How Employees Lost Empathy for their Work, for the Customer, and for the Final Product
No Slack = No Innovation
The Drag of Old Mental Models on Innovation and Change
The New Realities that Call for New Organizational and Management Capabilities
Who’s Managing Your Company
"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." -- Winston Churchill
I now have more than 300 articles on the topic of Success to help you get your game on in work and life:
That’s a whole lot of success strategies and insights right at your fingertips. (And it includes the genius from a wide variety of sources including Scott Adams, Tony Robbins, Bruce Lee, Zig Ziglar, and more.)
Success is a hot topic.
Success has always been a hot topic, but it seems to be growing in popularity. I suspect it’s because so many people are being tested in so many new ways and competition is fierce.
But What is Success? (I tried to answer that using Zig Ziglar’s frame for success.)
For another perspective, see Success Defined (It includes definitions of success from Stephen Covey and John Maxwell.)
At the end of the day, the most important definition of success, is the one that you apply to you and your life.
People can make or break themselves based on how they define success for their life.
Some people define success as another day above ground, but for others they have a very high, and very strict bar that only a few mere mortals can ever achieve.
That said, everybody is looking for an edge. And, I think our best edge is always our inner edge.
As my one mentor put it, “the fastest thing you can change in any situation is yourself.” And as we all know, nature favors the flexible. Our ability to adapt and respond to our changing environment is the backbone of success. Otherwise, success is fleeting, and it has a funny way of eluding or evading us.
I picked a few of my favorite articles on success. These ones are a little different by design. Here they are:
Scott Adam’s (Dilbert) Success Formula
It’s the Pebble in Your Shoe
The Wolves Within
Personal Leadership Helps Renew You
The Power of Personal Leadership
Tony Robbins on the 7 Traits of Success
The Way of Success
The future is definitely uncertain. I’m certain of that. But I’m also certain that life’s better with skill and that the right success strategies under your belt can make or break you in work and life.
And the good news for us is that success leaves clues.
So make like a student and study.
If you already use Agile Results as your personal results system, you have a big advantage.
Because most people are running around, scrambling through a laundry list of too many things to do, a lack of clarity around what the end result or outcomes should be, and a lack of clarity around what the high-value things to focus on are. They are using their worst energy for their most important things. They are spending too much time on the things that don’t matter and not enough time on the things that do. They are feeling at their worst, when they need to feel at their best, and they are struggling to keep up with the pace of change.
I created Agile Results to deal with the chaos in work and life, as a way to rise above the noise, and to easily leverage the most powerful habits and practices for getting better results in work and life.
Agile Results, in a nutshell, is a simple system for mastering productivity and time management, while at the same time, achieving more impact, realizing your potential, and feeling more fulfillment.
I wrote about the system in the book Getting Results the Agile Way. It’s been a best seller in time management.
Agile Results works by combining proven practices for productivity, time management, psychology, project management, and some of the best lessons learned on high-performance. And it’s been tested for more than a decade under extreme scenarios and a variety of conditions from individuals to large teams.
Work-Life balance is baked into the system, but more importantly Agile Results helps you live your values wherever you are, play to your strengths, and rapidly learn how to improve your results in an situation. When you spend more time in your values, you naturally tap into your skills and abilities that help bring out your best.
The simplest way to think of Agile Results is that it helps you direct your attention and apply your effort on the things that count. By spending more time on high-value activities and by getting intentional about your outcomes, you dramatically improve your ability to get better results.
But none of that matters if you aren’t using Agile Results.
Simply ask yourself, “What are the 3 wins, results, or outcomes that I want for today?.” Consider the demands you have on your plate, the time and energy you’ve got, and the opportunities you have for today, and write those 3 things down.
That’s it. You’re doing Agile Results.
Of course, there’s more, but that’s the single most important thing you can do to immediately gain clarity, regain your focus, and spend your time and energy on the most valuable things.
Now, let’s assume this is the only post you ever read on Agile Results. Let’s take a fast walkthrough of how you could use the system on a regular basis to radically and rapidly improve your results on an ongoing basis.
Here’s a summary of how I do Agile Results.
I create a new monthly list at the start of each month that lists out all the things that I think I need to do, and I bubble up 3 of my best things I could achieve or must get done to the top. I look at it at the start of the week, and any time I’m worried if I’m missing something. This entire process takes me anywhere from 10-20 minutes a month.
I create a weekly list at the start of the week, and I look at it at the start of each day, as input to my 3 target wins or outcomes for the day, and any time I’m worried if I’m missing anything. This tends to take me 5-10 minutes at the start of the week.
I barely have to ever look at my lists – it’s the act of writing things down that gives me quick focus on what’s important. I’m careful not to put a bunch of minutia in my lists, because then I’d train my brain to stop focusing on what’s important, and I would become forgetful and distracted. Instead, it’s simple scaffolding.
Each day, I write a simple list of what’s on my mind and things I think I need to achieve. Next, I step back and ask myself, “What are the 3 things I want to accomplish today?”, and I write those down. (This tends to take me 5 minutes or less. When I first started it took me about 10.)
Each Friday, I take the time to think through three things going well and three things to improve. I take what I learn as input into how I can simplify work and life, and how I can improve my results with less effort and more effectiveness. This takes me 10-20 minutes each Friday.
Use it to plan your day, your week, and your month.
Here is a simple recipe for adopting Agile Results and using it to get better results in work and life:
There are lots of success stories by other people who have used Agile Results. Everybody from presidents of companies to people in the trenches, to doctors and teachers, to teams and leaders, as well as single parents and social workers.
But none of that matters if it’s not your story.
Work on your success story and just start getting better results, right here, right now.
What are the three most important things you really want to accomplish or achieve today?
Are your management practices long in the tooth?
I think I was lucky that early on, I worked in environments that shook things up and rattled the cage in pursuit of more customer impact, employee engagement, and better organizational performance.
In one of the environments, a manufacturing plant, the management team flipped the typical pyramid of the management hierarchy upside down to reflect that the management team is there to empower and support the production line.
And when I was on the Microsoft patterns & practices team, we had an interesting mix of venture capitalist type management coupled with some early grandmasters of the Agile movement. More than just Agile teams, we had an Agile management culture that encouraged a customer-connected approach to product development, complete with self-organizing, multi-disciplinary teams, empowered people, a focus on execution excellence, and a fierce focus on being a rapid learning machine.
We thrived on change.
We also had a relentless focus on innovation. Not just in our product, but in our process. If we didn’t innovate in our process, then we got pushed out of market by becoming too slow, too expensive, or by lacking the quality experience that customers have come to expect.
But not everybody knows what a great environment for helping people thrive and do great things for the world, looks like.
While a lot of people in software or in manufacturing have gotten a taste of Agile and Lean practices, there are many more businesses that don’t know what a modern learning machine of people and processes that operate at a higher-level looks like.
Many, many businesses and people are still operating and looking at the world through the lens of old world management principles.
In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel walks through the principles upon which modern management is based.
Hamel gives us a nice way to frame looking at the modern management principles, by looking at their application, and their intended goal.
Most people aren’t aware of the principles behind the management beliefs that they practice or preach. But before coming up with new ones, it helps to know what current management thinking is rooted in.
“Have you ever asked yourself, what are the deepest principles upon which your management beliefs are based? Probably not. Few executives, in my experience, have given much thought to the foundational principles that underlie their views on how to organize and manage. In that sense, they are as unaware of their management DNA as they are of their biological DNA. So before we set off in search of new management principles, we need to take a moment to understand the principles that comprise our current management genome, and how those tenets may limit organizational performance.”
It really comes down to a handful of core principles. These principles serve as the backbone for much of today’s management philosophy.
“These practices and processes of modern management have been built around a small nucleus of core principles: standardization, specialization, hierarchy, alignment, planning, and control, and the use of extrinsic rewards to shape human behavior.”
It’s not by chance that the early management thinkers came to the same conclusions. They were working on the same problems in a similar context. Of course, the challenge now is that the context has changed, and the early management principles are often like fish out of water.
“These principles were elucidated early in the 20th century by a small band of pioneering management thinkers -- individuals like Henri Fayol, Lyndall Urwick, Luther Gullick, and Max Weber. While each of these theorists had a slightly different take on the philosophical foundations of modern management, they all agreed on the principles just enumerated. This concordance is hardly surprising, since they were all focusing on the same problem: how to maximize operational efficiency and reliability in large-scale organizations. Nearly 100 years on, this is still the only problem that modern management is fully competent to address.”
If your management philosophy and guiding principles are nothing more than a set of hand me downs from previous generations, it might be time for a re-think.
Elizabeth Edersheim on Management Lessons of a Lifelong Student
“In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.” -- Tina Fey
The Digital Revolution marked the beginning of the Information Age.
The Information Age, or Digital Age, or New Media Age, is a shift away from the industrial revolution to an economy based on information computerization. Some would say, along with this shift, we are now in a Knowledge Economy or a Digital Economy.
This opens the door to new ways of working and a new world of work to generate new business value and customer impact.
But what did the Industrial Age do to employees and what paradigms could limit us in this new world?
In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel walks through how industrialization and large Enterprises have created a disconnect between employees and their customers, their final product, and the big financial picture. And in the process, he argues, this had led to disengaged employees, crippled innovation, and inflexible organizations.
If you don’t know Gary Hamel, he’s been ranked the #1 influential business thinker by the Wall Street Journal.
According to Hamel, what we traded for scale and efficiencies created gaps between workers and employees and gaps between employees and their customers, the product, the financial impact, and … a diminished sense of responsibility for quality and efficiency.
Do managers exist because employees do?
“Here's a thought. Maybe we need 'managers' because we have 'employees.' (Be patient, this is not as tautological as it sounds.) Think about the way computers are dependent on software. PCs aren't smart enough to write their own operating instructions, and they sit idle until a user sets them to work. Perhaps the same is true for employees.”
When we manufactured employees, did we manufacture a need for managers?
“Earlier, I talked about the invention of 'the employee.' What happened in this process, at the dawn of the 20th century? How did work life change as individuals left their farms and workshops to be absorbed into large-scale organizations? In manufacturing employees, did we manufacture a need for managers as well? I think so. If we understood how this came about, we will gain clues into how we might learn to manage without managers -- or, at least, with a lot fewer of them.”
As the size and scale of industrial organizations grew, so did the disconnect between employees and their final customers.
“In pre-industrial times, farmers and artisans enjoyed an intimate relationship with their customers. The feedback they received each day from their patrons was timely and unfiltered. Yet as industrial organizations grew in size and scale, millions of employees found themselves disconnected from the final customer. Robbed of direct feedback, they were compelled to rely on others who were closer to the customer to calibrate the effectiveness of their efforts and to tell them how they could better please their clients.”
Without a connection to the customer, employees lose empathy for their work, for the customer, and for the final product.
“As companies divided themselves into departments and functions, employees also became disconnected from the final product. As tasks became narrower and more specialized, employees lost their emotional bond with the end product. The result? A diminished sense of responsibility for producer quality and efficiency. No longer were workers product craftsmen, now they were cogs in an industrial machine over which they had little control.”
It’s hard to make changes to the system when you no longer have a system wide view.
“Size and scale also separate employees from their coworkers. Working in semi-isolated departments, they no longer had a system wide view of the production process. If that system was suboptimal, they had no way of knowing it and now way of correcting it.”
People at the top don’t hear from the people at the bottom.
“Industrialization also enlarged the gulf between workers and owners. While a 19th-century apprentice would have had the ear of the proprietor, most 20th-century employees reported to low-level supervisors. In a large enterprise a junior employee could work for decades and never have the chance to speak one-on-one with someone empowered to make important policy decisions.”
Scoreboards tell employees how they are doing their jobs, but not how the company is doing overall.
“In addition, growing operational complexity fractured the information that was available to employees. In a small proprietorship, the financial scoreboard was simple and real time; there was little mystery about how the firm was doing. In a big industrial company, employees had a scoreboard but it was contrived. It told workers how they were doing their jobs, but little about how the company was doing overall. With no more than a knothole view of the company's financial model, and only a sliver of responsibility for results, it was difficult for an employee to feel a genuine burden for the company's performance.”
Standardizing jobs and processes limits innovation in the jobs and processes. They are at odds.
“Finally, and worst of all, industrialization disconnected employees from their own creativity. In the industrial world, work methods and procedures were defined by experts and, once defined, were not easily altered. No matter how creative an employee might be, the scope for exercising that gift was severely truncated.”
With the disconnect between employees and their inputs, there was a natural need for the management class.
“To put it simply, the pursuit of scale and efficiency advantages disconnected workers from the essential inputs that had, in earlier times, allowed them to be (largely) self-managing -- and in so doing, it made the growth on an expansive managerial class inevitable.”
Employees don’t lack wisdom and experience. They just lack information and context.
“To a large extent, employees need managers for the same reason 13-year-olds need parents: they are incapable of self-regulation. Adolescents, with their hormone-addled brains and limited lie experience, lack the discernment to make consistently wise choices. Employees on the other hand, aren't short of wisdom and experience, but they do lack information and context -- since they are so often disconnected from customers, associates, end products, owners, and the big financial picture. Deprived of the ability to exercise control from within, employees must accept control from above. The result: disaffection. It turns out that employees enjoy being treated like 13-year-olds even less than 13-year-olds.”
What is the result of all this disconnect? Stifled innovation, rigid organizations, and disinterested employees.
“Disengaged employees. Hamstrung innovation. Inflexible organizations. Although we are living in a new century, we are still plagued by the side effects of a management model that invented roughly a hundred years ago. Yet history doesn't have to be destiny -- not if you are willing to go back and reassess the time-forgotten choices that so many others still take for granted. With the benefit of hindsight, you can ask: How have circumstances changed? Are new approaches possible? Must we be bound by the shackles of the past? These are essential questions for every management innovator.”
Does history have to be destiny?
We’re writing new chapters of history each and every day.
In all of my experience, where I’ve seen productivity thrive, people shine, and innovation unleashed, it’s when employees are connected with customers, they are empowered and encouraged to make changes to processes and products, and they are part of a learning organization with rapid feedback loops.
Ability to Execute
Business Value Generation is the New Bottleneck
How We Adhered to the Agile Manifesto on the Microsoft patterns & practices Team
Why So Many Ideas Die or Don’t Get Adopted
I updated my Motivational Quotes page.
I’ve got more than 100 motivational quotes on the page to help you find your inner-fire.
It’s not your ordinary motivational quotes list.
It’s deep and it draws from several masters of inspiration including Bruce Lee, Jim Rohn, and Zig Ziglar.
Here is a sampling of some of my personal favorite motivational quotes ..
“If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” – Bruce Lee
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“Kites rise highest against the wind; not with it.” – Winston Churchill
“To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.” – Bruce Lee
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius
“There is no such thing as failure. There are only results.” – Tony Robbins
“When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.” -Henry David Thoreau
“People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” – Anonymous
“Motivation alone is not enough. If you have an idiot and you motivate him, now you have a motivated idiot.” – Jim Rohn
“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.” – Bruce Lee
For more quotes, check out my motivational quotes page.
It’s a living page and at some point I’ll do a complete revamp.
I think in the future I’ll organize it by sub-categories within motivation rather than by people.I think at the time it made sense to have words of wisdom by various folks, but now I think grouping motivational quotes by sub-categories would work much better, especially when there is such a large quantity of quotes.
"To accomplish great things we must dream as well as act." -- Anatole France
Innovation is the way to leap frog and create new ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper.
But it takes slack.
The problem is when you squeeze the goose, to get the golden egg, you lose the slack that creates the eggs in the first place.
In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel shares how when there is a lack of slack, there is no innovation.
Creativity unleashes productivity. And it takes time to unleash creativity. But the big bold bet is that the time you give to creativity and innovation, pays you back with new opportunities and new ways to do things better, faster, or cheaper.
“In the pursuit of efficiency, companies have wrung a lot of slack out of their operations. That's a good thing. No one can argue with the goal of cutting inventory levels, reducing working capital, and slashing over-head. The problem, though, is that if you wring all the slack out of a company, you'll wring out all of the innovation as well. Innovation takes time -- time to dream, time to reflect, time to learn, time to invent, and time to experiment. And it takes uninterrupted time -- time when you can put your feet up and stare off into space. As Pekka Himanen put it in his affectionate tribute to hackers, '... the information economy's most important source of productivity is creativity, and it is not possible to create interesting things in a constant hurry or in a regulated way from nine to five.'”
Without think time, creativity lives in a cave.
“While the folks in R&D and new product development are given time to innovate, most employees don't enjoy this luxury. Every day brings a barrage of e-mails, voice mails, and back-to-back meetings. In this world, where the need to be 'responsive' fragments human attention into a thousand tiny shards, there is no 'thinking time.' And therein lies the problem. However creative your colleagues may be, if they don't have the right to occasionally abandon their posts and work on something that's not mission critical, most of their creativity will remain dormant.”
If you want more innovation, make space for it.
“OK, you already know that -- but how is that knowledge reflected in your company's management processes? How hard is it for a frontline employee to get permission to spend 20 percent of her time working on a project that has nothing to do with her day job, nor your company's 'core businesses'? And how often does this happen? Does your company track the number of hours employees spend working on ideas that are incidental to their core responsibilities? Is 'slack' institutionalized in the same way that cost efficiency is? Probably not. There are plenty of incentives in your company for people to stay busy. ('Maybe if I look like I'm working flat out, they won't send my job offshore.') But where are the incentives that encourage people to spend time quietly dreaming up the future?”
Are you slacking your way to a better future?
If you want to change your game, you need to know what the key challenges are.
Innovation is a game that you can play much better, if you know where and how to debottleneck it.
In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel shares 3 challenges that he believes can help you unleash your organization’s capacity for innovation.
According to Hamel, "Make progress on these challenges and your company will set new benchmarks in innovation."
If I think back through the various teams I’ve been on at Microsoft, one team that I was on was especially good at helping innovation flourish, and we were constantly pushing the envelope to “be what’s next.” Our innovation flourished the most when we directly addressed the challenges above. People were challenged to share and test their ideas more freely and innovation was baked into how we planned our portfolio, programs, and projects.
Innovation was a first-class citizen – by design.
High-Leverage Strategies for Innovation
Innovation Life Cycle
Lessons Learned from the Most Successful Innovators
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
I did a deep dive book review.
This time, I reviewed Fearless Speaking.
The book is more than meets the eye.
It’s actually a wealth of personal development skills at your fingertips and it’s a powerful way to grow your personal leadership skills.
In fact, there are almost fifty exercises throughout the book.
Here’s an example of one of the techniques …
When you’re overly nervous and anxious as a public speaker, you place yourself in a ‘third degree’ spotlight. That’s the name for the harsh bright light police detectives use in days gone by to ‘sweat’ a suspect and elicit a confession. An interrogation room was always otherwise dimly lit, so the source of light trained on the person (who was usually forced to sit in a hard straight backed chair) was unrelenting.
This spotlight is always harsh, hot, and uncomfortable – and the truth is, you voluntarily train it on yourself by believing your audience is unforgiving. The larger the audience, the more likely you believe that to be true.
So here’s a technique to get out from under this hot spotlight that you’re imagining so vividly turn it around! Visualize swiveling the spotlight so it’s aimed at your audience instead of you. After all, aren’t you supposed to illuminate your listeners? You don’t want to leave them in the dark, do you?
There’s no doubt that it’s cooler and much more comfortable when you’re out under that harsh light. The added benefit is that now the light is shining on your listeners – without question the most important people in the room or auditorium!
I like that there are so many exercises and techniques to choose from. Many of them don’t fit my style, but there were several that exposed me to new ways of thinking and new ideas to try.
And what’s especially great is knowing that these exercise come from professional actors and speakers – it’s like an insider’s guide at your fingertips.
My book review on Fearless Speaking includes a list of all the exercises, the chapters at a glance, key features from the book, and a few of my favorite highlights from the book (sort of like a movie trailer for the book.)
7 Habits of Highly Effective People at a Glance
347 Personal Effectiveness Articles to Help You Change Your Game
Effectiveness Blog Post Roundup
“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” — Howard Aiken
It's not a lack of risk taking that holds innovation and change back.
Even big companies take big risks all the time.
The real barrier to innovation and change is the drag of old mental models.
People end up emotionally invested in their ideas, or they are limited by their beliefs or their world views. They can't see what's possible with the lens they look through, or fear and doubt hold them back. In some cases, it's even learned helplessness.
In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel shares some great insight into what holds people and companies back from innovation and change.
Yesterday's ideas that were profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted, eventually become the norm, and then eventually become a belief system that is tough to change.
“Innovators are, by nature, contrarians. Trouble is, yesterday's heresies often become tomorrow's dogmas, and when they do, innovation stalls and the growth curve flattens out.”
Success turns beliefs into barriers by cementing ideas that become inflexible to change.
“... the real barrier to strategic innovation is more than denial -- it's a matrix of deeply held beliefs about the inherent superiority of a business model, beliefs that have been validated by millions of customers; beliefs that have been enshrined in physical infrastructure and operating handbooks; beliefs that have hardened into religious convictions; beliefs that are held so strongly, that nonconforming ideas seldom get considered, and when they do, rarely get more than grudging support.”
Big companies take big risks every day. But the risks are scoped and constrained by old beliefs and the way things have always been done.
“Contrary to popular mythology, the thing that most impedes innovation in large companies is not a lack of risk taking. Big companies take big, and often imprudent, risks every day. The real brake on innovation is the drag of old mental models. Long-serving executives often have a big chunk of their emotional capital invested in the existing strategy. This is particularly true for company founders. While many start out as contrarians, success often turns them into cardinals who feel compelled to defend the one true faith. It's hard for founders to credit ideas that threaten the foundations of the business models they invented. Understanding this, employees lower down self-edit their ideas, knowing that anything too far adrift from conventional thinking won't win support from the top. As a result, the scope of innovation narrows, the risk of getting blindsided goes up, and the company's young contrarians start looking for opportunities elsewhere.”
When you want to change the world, sometimes it takes a new view, and existing world views get in the way.
“When it comes to innovation, a company's legacy beliefs are a much bigger liability than its legacy costs. Yet in my experience, few companies have a systematic process for challenging deeply held strategic assumptions. Few have taken bold steps to open up their strategy process to contrarian points of view. Few explicitly encourage disruptive innovation. Worse, it's usually senior executives, with their doctrinaire views, who get to decide which ideas go forward and which get spiked. This must change.”
What you see, or can’t see, changes everything.
“The only people who can change the world are people who want to. And not everybody does.” -- Hugh MacLeod
Is it just me or is the world changing faster than ever?
I hear from everybody around me (inside and outside of Microsoft) how radically their worlds are changing under their feet, business models are flipped on their heads, and the game of generating new business value for customers is at an all-time competitive high.
Challenge is where growth and greatness come from. It’s always a chance to test what we’re capable of and respond to whatever gets thrown our way. But first, it helps to put a finger on what exactly these changes are that are disrupting our world, and what to focus on to survive and thrive.
In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel shares some great insight into the key challenges that companies are facing that create even more demand for management innovation.
I think Hamel describes our new world pretty well …
So how do you respond to the challenges. Hamel says it takes becoming strategically adaptable and operationally efficient. What a powerful combo.
“These new realities call for new organizational and managerial capabilities. To thrive in an increasingly disruptive world, companies must become as strategically adaptable as they are operationally efficient. To safeguard their margins, they must become gushers of rule-breaking innovation. And if they're going to out-invent and outthink a growing mob of upstarts, they must learn how to inspire their employees to give the very best of themselves every day. These are the challenges that must be addressed by 21st-century management innovations.”
There are plenty of challenges. It’s time to get your greatness on.
If there ever was a chance to put to the test what you’re capable of, now is the time.
No matter what, as long as you live and learn, you’ll grow from the process.
Simplicity is the Ultimate Enabler
One of the best books I’m reading lately is The Future of Management, by Gary Hamel.
It’s all about how management innovation is the best competitive advantage, whether you look through the history of great businesses or the history of great militaries. Hamel makes a great case that strategic innovation, product or service innovation, and operational innovation are fleeting advantages, but management innovation leads to competitive advantage for the long haul.
In The Future of Management, Hamel poses a powerful question …
“Who is managing your company?”
“Who's managing your company? You might be tempted to answer, 'the CEO,' or 'the executive team,' or 'all of us in middle management.' And you'd be right, but that wouldn't be the whole truth. To a large extent, your company is being managed right now by a small coterie of long-departed theorists and practitioners who invented the rules and conventions of 'modern' management back in the early years of the 20th century. They are the poltergeists who inhabit the musty machinery of management. It is their edicts, echoing across the decades, that invisibly shape the way your company allocates resources, sets budgets, distributes power, rewards people, and makes decisions.”
That’s why it’s easy for CEOs to hop around companies …
“So pervasive is the influence of these patriarchs that the technology of management varies only slightly from firm to firm. Most companies have a roughly similar management hierarchy (a cascade of EVPs, SVPs, and VPs). They have analogous control systems, HR practices, and planning rituals, and rely on comparable reporting structures and review systems. That's why it's so easy for a CEO to jump from one company to another -- the levers and dials of management are more or less the same in every corporate cockpit.”
What really struck me here is how much management approach has been handed down through the ages, and accepted as status quo.
It’s some great good for thought, especially given that management innovation is THE most powerful form of competitive advantage from an innovation standpoint (which Hamel really builds a strong case here throughout the entirety of the book.)
Principles and Values Define a Culture
The Enterprise of the Future
Cognizant on The Next Generation Enterprise
Satya Nadella on the Future is Software
Actually, it's more than 100 articles for your mind. I've tagged my articles with "mind" on Sources of Insight that focus on increasing your "intellectual horsepower":
Articles on Mind Power and the Power of Thoughts
Here are a few of the top mind articles that you can quickly get results with:
Note that if reading faster is important to you, then I recommend also reading How To Read 10,000 Words a Minute (it’s my ultimate edge) and The Truth About Speed Reading.
If there’s one little trick I use with reading (whether it’s a book, an email, or whatever), I ask myself “what’s the insight?” or “what’s the action?” or “how can I use this?" You’d be surprised but just asking yourself those little focusing questions can help you parse down cluttered content fast and find the needles in the haystack.