Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
I’ve put together a comprehensive collection of project management quotes. I didn’t count them, but at a glance, it looks like more than 100 project management quotes covering key topics: what is project management and what do project managers do, actions and tasks, change and change management, failure and learning, plans and planning, process, project cycles, risk management, schedule and time, scope, teams and leaders, and vision.
If you have a favorite project management quote, I’d love to hear it.
I’m a big believer that project management skills are some of the best skills for life (See Program Manager Skills for Work and Life). One of the best skills we learn from project management is how to break work down into little steps we can execute. We learn how to document a vision in a way that inspires others to see what’s possible. We learn to anticipate, and better yet, deal with problems, risks, and issues. Dreams are one thing. Execution is another. Project management is where dreams meet execution and it provides the framework and tools to create a new reality.
It’s powerful stuff.
I wrote a post on the book, The Six Figure Second Income. It's about how to make money in todays world.
With great pain comes great opportunities. I've seen a lot of people lose their jobs. I've been asked to do talks to help people get back on their feet again. I do. It helps. It's not enough.
The real challenge is how to help people make a living in today's world. What does that mean? It means things like this:
What are some key strategies we can anchor to?
It's time to learn new skills. It's time to learn how to be an infopreneur. Whether it's your first profession or your second profession, it's time to learn how to sell your experience, skills, and talents in the digital economy. Whether you are a project manager selling How To guides, or a doctor selling your apps, or a developer selling your books, or a teacher selling your songs ... now is the time.
But we need to be taught how to fish. Giving us fish won't work. But how do you learn the skills you need to create and sell information products online if you don't even know where to start?
One of the best primers I've been sharing with family, friends, and colleagues is The Six Figure Second Income. It shows you how to make money as an infopreneur and how to put it all together, end-to-end.
I think it has many of the answers for helping people find a way to survive and thrive in our ever-changing times.
The road is not easy, but you first need to know the path.
To Do, Doing, Done is my favorite way to segment a Kanban. It’s where I start. It’s simple and intuitive. Another benefit is that it’s easy to glance at three segments. I’m a fan of “glance and go” vs. “stop and stare.”
In the Kanban above, the “To Do” segment has a set of work items yet to be started. The “Doing” segment has three things in progress. The “Done” segment shows three things completed. It’s simple, but visualizing the work helps declutter your head. It also helps you focus. It also gives you simple visual feedback. And, if you’re part of a team, it helps create a shared view of the work.
Corey Ladas introduced me to Kanban years ago. He kept it simple. He showed me a piece of paper, drew three lines to segment it, and wrote “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” He then walked me through the big ideas of pulling work through a Kanban. It stuck with me because one of my biggest challenges at the time was how to create a shared view of the work for the team. I liked the idea of using a Kanban as a backdrop for conversations and getting the team on the same page.
Whether I’m using my whiteboard, a wall in the hall, or a wall at home, I tend to start with “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” It’s served me well for years, whether it’s for a personal Kanban or a Kanban for the team.
I hope the simple visual above inspires you to manage your work in the simplest way possible, so you can spend more energy where it counts … the work itself. Nothing gets results like actually doing the work.
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If you follow my blog, you know that Sources of Insight is my blog dedicated to personal effectiveness. It includes almost 900 articles on happiness, leadership, personal development, productivity, and more.
Sources of Insight also features special guest stars, including best-selling authors such as Al Ries of The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Dr. Rick Kirschner of Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, Gretchen Ruben of The Happiness Project, and Jim Kouzes of The Leadership Challenge.
The goal of Sources of Insight is to empower you with skill to be YOUR best in any situation. It includes checklists, step-by-step How Tos, and 101 lists. In fact, if you haven’t read it all ready, be sure to read 101 of the World’s Best Insights and Actions for Work and Life. It’s a serious game changer.
One of the most significant features of Sources of Insight is the series on Great Books, Great People, Great Quotes. I’m a fan of timeless wisdom, and the idea here was to build a hall of heroes and put the wisdom of the ages and modern sages at your finger tips. For example, here is a collection of some of the world’s most inspirational quotes. If you’re a Seth Godin fan, you’ll definitely enjoy my Lessons Learned from Seth Godin. If you’re a Bruce Lee fan, my Lessons Learned from Bruce Lee will make your soul sing. Many people have made posters from that article.
My book lists are especially useful. First, I spend a lot of money on books every single month, and I actually test the books in action at Microsoft. Nothing is as revealing as applied use. I go through a lot of books looking for the best principles, patterns, and practices for leadership, personal development, time management, and more. Second, my book lists are not just flat lists. My book lists are organized into meaningful buckets so that you can find books that target the specific sub-topic that you care about. For example, there are a lot of leadership books out there. My list chunks up leadership books that I recommend into attitude, authenticity, change, character, communication, daily, leadership development, emotional intelligence, execution, excellence, failure, learning, practices, reflection, servant leadership, situational leadership, strengths, strategy, teamwork, and trust. See for yourself. Check out my Leadership Books page.
Sources of Insight also includes a lot of unique insights into extreme skills. For example, How To Think Like Bill Gates is a short and snappy article on how to emulate the thinking skills of Bill Gates in a way that you can use to improve your own thinking on a daily basis. Choice, an article by Michael Michalko, a former Disney imagineer and author of ThinkerToys, shows you how to shape the meaning of your life based on what you choose to do, and refuse to do. Discover Your Why, an article by Janine de Nysschen shows you how to find your purpose and lead a meaningful life. As an added bonus, at the end of the article, Janine shares her Purpose Pack which is an advanced toolkit for helping you find your purpose through question-driven techniques.
I also give away free eBooks on Sources of Insight. One of my most popular eBooks of all time is You 2.0. It’s a simple eBook to help you build a firm foundation. Within pages you find your one-liner purpose, your vision, your mission, and your values. You also create empowering metaphors for life .. and life becomes a dance, or an epic adventure … it’s up to you. In You 2.0, you also find your strengths, and you learn tools to improve your self-awareness. If you are ready to level up in life, You 2.0 may just be the catalyst you need.
What’s all this got to do with my Resources Page on Sources of Insight? Everything.
I made an attempt to do more justice to the profound knowledge base that I’ve built up over the past few years during my relentless pursuit of excellence. My previous Resources Page was just a simple list of the resources. I liked the simplicity of it, but enough folks told me that it wasn’t telling the story of what’s available. It was a tip-of-the-iceberg problem. With that in mind, I beefed up the page. Take my new Resources Page for a test-drive and tell me how you like it.
BEFORE This is what my Resources page looked like before the revamp. It was a simple list of the resources, organized by A- Z:
AFTER This is what my Resources page looks like now. It includes short descriptions and a few examples from each resource:
Be sure to share Sources of Insight with your friends, family, or colleagues to help them make the most of what they’ve got. Karma has a way of coming back around.
While it’s an open community, the site is optimized for people with a passion for more from life. Yes, there is a better way … if you “know-how.” Skills make the difference in life. Share them freely. Share them often. Lift others up – and help as many people as you can to “Stand on the shoulders of giants” … with insight and action for work and life.
I wrote another book review: The Charge: Activating the 10 Human Drives that Make You Feel Alive
I've been reading a lot of books lately, looking for ones that I can use at Microsoft. Microsoft is a challenging environment that pits your skills against some tough challenges. When you're working in an arena that supports the world, the game gets tougher. As you move up the stack, there is no shortage of traps, pitfalls, and challenges to stretch and grow you in new ways.
The way I stay on top of the game is primarily through three things:
I read a lot of books, anything from project management, to business skills, to personal development, to leadership and strategy. It's not like you can ever be too good, and the game is always changing. Learning the right methodology, method, or technique can be the difference between success and failure. Some of the best tools are new ways of looking at the world.
People can show you things fast. Like “monkey see, monkey do”, great habits can rub off on you, if you surround yourself with great people. People really are the short-cuts. More precisely, mentors are the absolute short-cuts. They've been there, and done that, so they can save you a lot of pain and help you avoid dead ends. They can also light the path to a better way of doing things. People really are the way to achieve better, faster, cheaper results in the real-world. When you experience masters in action practicing their craft, you know exactly what I mean.
Practice is taking the science and applying it to the real world. That's the art part. While practice doesn't make perfect, it does build skill, and skills are the difference that makes the difference. Motivation and ability are one thing, but skills are the amplifier of what's possible. The greatest growth I have seen time and again is when somebody expands their capabilities with new skills. It's how they change their game, play at a new level, and transform what they are capable of. It's like a martial artist graduating through the belts.
Anyway, back to my point about books. The beauty of books is that they are a fast way to learn smarter ways for better days. One of the most insightful books I've read lately, is The Charge, by Brendon Burchard. It's a book about how to light your soul on fire and bring out your best in work and life. What I like about the book is that it introduces a new framework for motivation that goes beyond what we need, and puts a new spin on what we want, backed by the latest neuroscience and positive psychology.
I wrote a book review that gives you a guided tour of the book and what you'll learn:
Note – My book review format is evolving. I’m trying to develop a format and structure that helps you very quickly get a tour of the book, and really understand what problems the book is solving, and what’s really in it for you. It doesn’t replace book reviews on Amazon, but it should be a nice supplement in that it gives you a quick bird’s-eye view, as well as deep dives into the content of the book.
Decision making is a skill we get to practice every day. The surprise is that it's the key to either accelerate or limit your career. It's the backbone of judgment. Leaders need the ability to make decisions and take decisive action. Effective decision making is an art and science, and the best thing you can do is get the science on your side, while you practice the art of applying it. And, like I said, you get to practice decision making every day: What to wear? What's for breakfast? What to listen to? What are the top priorities for the day? Should we go with option A, B, or C? What's the next best thing to do? Which features do we cut? Which customer segment should we target? Which problem should we solve? ... etc.
Here is a good roundup of articles on decision making at Lean Decisions.com:
I've learned a lot about decision making over the years. I learned a lot from Peter Drucker, especially when he pointed out the power of judgment as a skill. I've learned how to use emotions as input, listen to my gut, do rapid pattern matching, use Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats and PMI techniques, use Michael Michalko's THINKERTOYS techniques, use criteria and weight for team decision, and how to faciliate decision making more effectively, while driving action.
The power of techniques is that they are like training wheels ... eventually you don't need them. But along the way, they help you eliminate bad habits, and learn more effective ones.
The most surprising insight for me is how intuition is rapid pattern matching + mental simulation, and more importantly, that our intuition is a powerful tool in scenarios … where we have experience. If you've wondered why sometimes you intuition serves you while other times it fails you, it's because it depends on the patterns you've filled your head with. What makes a surgeon a great decision makers isn't the books -- it's their trials-and-tribulations. It's their daily practice and the experience they draw from under the gun.
So read the articles about decision making. Then “do” effective decision making and practice your art of decisive action.
If you need help with taking action, then read Getting Results the Agile Way. You’ll be glad you did. It’s an industrial-strength system for making things happen, whether that means being a more effective leader, unleashing the “productive artist” in you, or simply flowing more value for yourself and others, while using the world’s best insight and action to think, feel, and be your best in any situation.
I know a lot of people inside and outside of Microsoft working on their books. In fact, I’m helping a few people birth their books, and ultimately produce what they hope to be bestsellers. My book, Getting Results the Agile Way has been in the top 100 on Amazon in the Time Management category. (In fact, it’s been in the top 5, and it’s been #1 in some countries such as Germany.)
I want to help self-published authors around the world make the most of their effort and get a fighting chance at taking their book to the top on Amazon.
Here’s the surprise …
I have the honor and privilege of hosting a guest post by Gary Lindberg, author of THE SHEKINAH LEGACY. THE SHEKINAH LEGACY is a genuine Amazon bestselling thriller. In fact, for over a week it was the most popular Kindle thriller on Amazon.
Here is Gary’s story:
Lessons Learned from a Bestselling Self-Published Author
I asked Gary if he would share his best lessons learned on how to publish a best-selling book as a self-published author. I thought it would be great to give self-published authors an edge in taking their book to the top. I’m a fan of helping people that put in the work, get the results. And I believe that if you know some of the key success strategies that you amplify your impact.
Whether you are an author, or aspiring author, or hope to publish a best-selling book, you can leverage and learn from Gary’s experience as a bestselling author. Gary has some fantastic insight and it’s very actionable. In fact, if you read his story, I bet it will instantly and forever change how you think about covers and cover design for Amazon.
BTW – Gary is not just a best-selling author, he is also a film producer and director, with over one hundred major national and international awards under his belt. Gary is also the co-writer and producer of the Paramount Pictures feature film That Was Then, This Is Now starring Emilio Estevez and Morgan Freeman.
I didn’t know whether to call this why adoption fails, or why ideas die, but regardless, they are deeply related. After all, one of the main reasons ideas die is that they don’t get adopted, so they fizzle out. It’s usage that gives an idea enough legs to blossom and bloom.
I see the same recurring patterns again and again around why ideas don’t get adopted, so I thought I’d share some.
One of the most common patterns is somebody thinks up an idea. That’s as far as they get.
This is related to the first pattern. You thought up a potentially neat idea, but you didn’t try it out or test it to find out where, or if, the rubber actually meets the road. This is where some Agile approaches have had an advantage in bridging the reality gap. I’m a fan of “spiking” and exploration. Why “spiking”? Because, you can focus on the high-risk, and test it end-to-end with a thin slice (and thin slices reveal a lot.)
The pattern I see here is somebody or some team comes up with a great idea. Then somebody decides that it’s another person or team’s job to implement it. So the idea gets “thrown over the wall.” Sure, people might write up a bunch of specs or a bunch of docs about how somebody is supposed to adopt it, but that just about never works in the early stages of an idea. It’s the startup stage. That only works when you’ve matured an idea to the point where it’s a “transaction.” In the early stages, the idea usually requires a “relationship” play, because you have to transfer a lot of tribal knowledge. You have to get the kinks out. You have to learn what you didn’t know, and you have to build some empathy around the adoption pains. This is how ideas flourish.
There is a surprise here. Usually what I see is somebody or some team comes up with the best thing since sliced bread. Then they want others to adopt it. Others don’t adopt it. So the person or team with the idea, concludes, oh, they won’t use it because, it’s “not invented here.” What I see behind the scenes though is that other people or teams would love to adopt the idea, but they don’t know how. The person or team with the idea threw it over the wall. They expect the other people or teams to figure it out, because it’s such a good idea, that it speaks for itself. The devil is in the details, and the friction or barriers to adoption wear most people out. People don’t have all the time in the world to keep playing with other people’s ideas until they figure them out.
It’s sad, but that’s how so many ideas idea.
The lesson I learned long ago is that if you want somebody to adopt your ideas is that you have to do it for them or with them. It’s a small price to pay for getting over the humps of adoption. It’s not an ongoing thing either. Once people “get it” they run with it, but only if you’ve helped them get that far to begin with.
And that’s how ideas flourish and bloom.
“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” -- Japanese Proverb
What does it take to build an indestructible mind? In a world of setbacks, defeats, and failures, how do you stand up that eighth time? Sure, you could watch Rocky, and other inspirational moves from the 25 Inspiration Movies list … but what if you could get science on your side?
Well, you can. Dr. Alex Lickerman wrote the book on it. The book is, The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self.
I wrote a book review of The Undefeated Mind, but it gets better. I was lucky in that Dr. Lickerman was kind enough to write a great guest post for me. It’s titled Never Be Defeated. It’s actually the story of Dr. Lickerman’s journey in writing his book, his personal transformation, and how he learned the true meaning of what it means to never be defeated.
Whether you’re trying to get your code to compile, or pay your mortgage, or recover from a not so great performance review, or just get back up on your feet again, there is power in persistence, and power in resilience. We can all benefit from building an indestructible self.
I know a lot of people struggling with many challenges, from finding a job, to keeping their job, to fixing their health, to dealing with loss, and, recently, dealing with the after math of hurricane Sandy.
I hope that Dr. Lickerman’s story helps remind you of the power of resilience, and what it means to fall seven times, and stand up eight.
Another suitable title might be, 80/20 People vs. Perfectionists, but I really wanted to focus on the "perpetually incomplete" aspect that I see over and over again.
Here’s the deal. One of the most ironic productivity patterns I run into on a regular basis is this:
People who seek to be perfect or complete, are perpetually incomplete.
They optimize the local minima before the global maxima. In their pursuit of perfection or completeness, they leave a trail of "almost finished" or “not even started” or “half-done” everywhere. There are variations to the pattern. One pattern is that one room in the house is fantastic, while the rest of the house is falling apart. Another variation of the pattern is that every room has at least one weird mess or strange flaw, because the perfectionist ran out of time.
But the bottom line is, it’s the unfinished, not started, or half-baked parts that overshadow the good that was done. And that’s a shame.
80/20 people tend to be more complete, than their perfectionist counterparts. Why? Because they've made time to go back and revisit, or make another pass, or work the parts that are the most relevant and useful. They optimize the global maxima before the local minima.
80/20 people tend to work the high-risks or high-reward areas until they start getting diminishing returns. The power with this approach is accelerated time to value, but also it helps free up more time to work on areas that truly need it. And, more importantly, the 80/20 approach creates a more effective map because they know where to drill vs. scan, and what the key risks are (it's the bird's-eye view.)
It really is ironic because by their very nature, the 80/20 People should be leaving more half-finished work, but instead, they tend to leave less gaping voids than their Perpetually Incomplete counterparts.
The sad part is that in so many cases that I see, is how much damage the perfectionism creates, with its ripple effect. The perfectionist (or Maximizer or Perpetually Incomplete person) creates a significant problem by blowing something out of proportion, or making a mountain out of a molehill, or making a major production out of it.
You can usually trace the problem to three things
Basically, their work ends up way out of whack.
This is a perfect example, where if you "do the opposite" you instantly change your game. In this case:
There are a few one-liner reminders that can help you keep your trade-offs in perspective:
I was white boarding and naming some team execution patterns the other day with a few colleagues. Here's what we ended up with:
Just because you're on a team, doesn't mean it's teamwork.
I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to leading teams. I've built new high-performance teams from scratch, every six months, for more than ten years. Even more importantly, these were high-performing, distributed Agile teams, where we had to rapidly go from forming and storming, to norming and performing. What I've learned is priceless, and I thank my lucky stars, that I had the opportunity to experience so many execution patterns, and really find out what works and what does not, but more importantly *Why* and *When.*
At the white board, I walked each pattern above and highlighted some key points and lessons learned …
Core Team With a "Core Team" model, you are funded or staffed as a team dedicated on the problem. You are a "team of capabilities." This is where the best synergy and focus can happen. It's also where people can find ways to spend more time in their strengths.
The most effective pattern I've seen here is "resource pools" that come together as project teams, with the right experience, skills, and capabilities. They are dedicated on the project, and they work the project as a self-organizing team.
“One-Man Band” + Best Efforts In the "One-Man Band" model, or "The Hero Model", somebody does a job, as a "team of one." The problem that often happens here is that the job actually requires a "team of capabilities." While the individual might be good at XYZ, the work requires being good at ABCD, EFG, and XYZ.
When the work truly is a one-person job, no problem. But often the pattern I see is that instead of having a few small teams of capabilities, teams are split into operating like "One-Man Bands." The “Best Efforts” part is where the “One-Man Band” spends a lot of their time trying to convince, cajole, and influence without authority to get others to contribute their “Best Efforts.” Depending on the nature of the work, while this can be effective, it’s not usually very efficient, and timelines stretch on (and on, and on, and on.)
A simple way to see the problem is that if there are five problems and five people, then each person gets a problem. The opposite approach would be five people work problem #1, then problem #2, etc. or split into two teams and divide and conquer. This is actually a big deal because when it comes to knowledge work or information products, people get bottlenecked all the time. It's rare to find the individual that has great project management skills, deep expertise on the problem, great marketing skills, great customer focus, great business sense, etc. But when you pair people or create focused mini-teams, magic happens.
The thing to keep in mind is that this is not about hiring more people, it's simply shifting the mix, and changing strategy in how the work gets done. It's SWARMing on the work, and building momentum, versus creating "One-Man Bands" with single points of failure.
There are exceptions to this, obviously, such as when it's "weird work" that's hard to streamline, or mature and optimize, or when you don't have the right mix of skills for even mini-teams. That said, if you have serious and significant bottlenecks, you might look at how the work gets done.
vTeams The majority of vTeam work that I see often fails. It fails when the work is not a priority. It fails when there are no rewards for people that contribute to the vTeam. It fails when the work is not valued. On the flip side, vTeams succeed when they find mutual goals. vTeams succeed when the work is a priority -- meaning, it's literally a commitment with a P0 or P1 priority rank.
One mistake I see is when people think that you can "buy" vTeam members. I've seen many, many vTeams where people's time was bought or paid for, and yet the work still didn't happen. It was not as high a priority as the person's day job, and it was a spare activity, that even though it was funded or paid for, they were not really committed where it counts. They were simply committed with dollars.
“Community Will Do It.” One way that people try to get work done is "Community Will Do It." There is a lot of truth in the saying, "You get what you pay for." Sure, the community will do it. They will do what they value, on their timeline, and what they are passionate about. You can't expect anything more. Well, you can, but at least don't be surprised when the work is not done the way you expected. After all, it was "best efforts."
A better approach than “Community Will Do It” is, “With the Community.” That’s the approach we used on the Microsoft patterns & practices team.
Matrix Projects Another common model that teams use to get work done is matrix projects. What I've seen this usually turn into, is a whole lot of status, and not a lot of results. The irony is, the matrix project turns into matrix spreadsheets and tracking. The overhead added per person, and for the team in general, creates a lot of below the line work, and very little above the line value. All the energy goes into coordination, updating, and tracking, and very little is left for working the tough problems, solving the key challenges, and flowing value. After all, now you have a collection of agendas that is more like a quilt, and less like a blanket. Sure there are exceptions. The funny thing is, though, I've never seen one.
How the Work Gets Done The moral of the story is that whenever I take on a job, or whenever I mentor somebody, or coach a team, I first find out, how does the work get done. Any time that there are serious and significant bottlenecks in the system, it's almost always a matter of how teams are structured and how work is planned and executed.
It's always a fertile ground for opportunities and optimization. So if you are bottlenecked or your team is bottlenecked or you just want to build high performance teams, look for ways to shift the mix.
You can always do a lot more with less, if you work smarter, not harder, and together, not alone, if you can put "just enough" systems and process in place to support smart people, versus break them, get in their way, or make their talent null and void.
The Change Patterns are a very fundamental set of strategies you can add to your Change Leadership toolkit.
I’m a fan of patterns. In their simplest form, they are a great way to build a shared vocabulary and rapidly transfer knowledge and experience. It’s a great thing when a single word is a handle for a concept and actually encapsulate a few hundred words. It makes talking about a space very efficient and effective, and rather than re-explaining ideas, you can build upward and onward, and move up the stack. You can think of patterns as labels for strategies.
One of my favorite collections of patterns is the Change Patterns collection. It’s a collection of patterns for driving change and introducing new ideas. Here is my write up:
Change Patterns: A Language for Introducing New Ideas
The Change Patterns are from the book, Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas, by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising.
If you’ve ever struggled with driving innovation, adoption, and change, you’ll appreciate the patterns. Here are a few examples:
The power of the Change Patterns is that they are harvested from experts with real stories, real strategies, and real results. The patterns themselves are the distillation of that experience down into simple strategies with names.
One of the Change Patterns is Corporate Angel. According to Manns and Rising, the Corporate Angel pattern is “To help align the innovation with the goals of the organization, get support from a high-level executive.” Personally, I’ve made it a point to have a Corporate Angel on my toughest projects. It helps to get over some of the internal humps, blockades, and barriers, that you otherwise can’t, when things get stuck at the wrong level. It also helps give the project visibility, which can help remind people of the significance of the investment.
One of the things I’d like to do in the future is share my collection of change patterns at Microsoft, that I’ve learned over the years. As a Program Manager, I often need to drive change and influence without authority. This is especially true whenever I am driving projects. After all, a very fundamental question about a given project is, “How will the world be different when you are done?” Well, if nothing changes and nothing gets adopted, it won’t. So the challenge I always face is how to streamline adoption and change. I’ve learned a lot from the school of hard knocks.
Add the Change Patterns to your Change Leadership toolbox and amplify your impact and influence.
I have a new cover for my book, Getting Results the Agile Way. Getting Results the Agile Way introduces Agile Results, a simple system for meaningful results.
The purpose of the book is to share the best insights and actions for mastering productivity, time management, motivation, and work-life balance. In fact, I’ve been doing several talks around Microsoft on work-life balance, and helping teams improve their results.
It’s the best way I can give the edge to my Microsoft tribe, as well as share the principles, patterns, and practices for getting results with the rest of the world.
The new cover better reflects the values of Agile Results: Adventure, Balance, Congruence, Continuous learning, Empowerment, Focus, Flexibility, Fulfillment, Growth, Passion, Simplicity, and Sustainability. Specifically, the cover reflects simplicity, focus, continuous learning, and flexibility. Hopefully, the simplicity is obvious. The new cover is pretty bare-bones. It’s clean, while, minimal, and features a symbol. In this case, the symbol is a variation of an Enso. Intuitively, it simply implies a loop. But if you happen to know the Enso, it’s also a symbol of enlightenment. The beauty of a symbol is you can make it be what you want it to be to be meaningful for you (for me, it’s continuous learning and growth.)
Getting Results the Agile Way is serious stuff. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, Moms, restaurant owners, consultants, developers, project managers, team leaders, and more have been using the approach to do more with less, flow more value, and find work-life balance, while improving their thoughts, feelings, and actions to make the most of what they’ve got.
The system scales down to the one-man band (after all, it is a “personal” results system for work and life), and it scales up to teams. It’s the same approach I’ve used to lead distributed teams around the world for more than ten years.
Here is the back of the book which gives a quick overview of the system:
The new cover will likely be available this October, so if you are a fan of the current blue cover, scoop it up now, while it lasts (maybe it will be a collector’s item some day.)
One of the most common things I get asked, wherever I go is, “What were the team roles and responsibilities on your Microsoft patterns & practices project teams?”
Effectively, there were a set of repeatable roles that people signed up for, or covered in some way. In this case, a role is simply a logical collection of tasks. The role is the label for that collection of tasks.
As an Agile bunch, we were self-organizing. In practice, what that means is the team defined the roles and responsibilities at project kickoff. As the project progressed, people would shuffle around responsibilities among the team, to produce the best output, and to find ways to get people spending more time in their strengths, or learning new skills. It's all about owning your executing, playing well with others, and making the most of the talent you have at hand.
Here is a simple list of the team roles and responsibilities each team generally had to cover:
Roles Architect Lead Writer Developer Development Lead Product Manager Program Manager Test Test Lead Subject Matter Expert
Responsibilities Architecture and Design Budget Business Investment Collateral (screen casts, blogs, decks, demo scripts) Content structure Customer connection Design Quality Development Evangelism (screen casts, web presence, road shows, conferences, customer briefings, press & analysts) Feedback Product Group Alignment Product Planning Project Planning Quality (technical accuracy, consumability, readability) Release Requirements Scope Schedule Simplicity Support / Sustained-Engineering Team and People Test execution Test planning Usability
A colleague asked if I could elaborate on how we adhered to the Agile Manifesto on the Microsoft patterns & practices team. If you don’t know the Agile Manifesto, it’s a short set of sweet values, focused on building better software, flowing value to customers, while responding to change.
Here is my reply …
The heart of the Agile Manifesto is the values:
You can think of these as operating principles that embrace a set of core values that have proven themselves over time, and add “the people part” back into software, as well as embrace change as a first-class citizen.
Here is how we embraced the Agile Manifesto on the Microsoft patterns & practices team:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools A quick conversation could easily save somebody getting lost in the weeds or mired in the muck.
We used face time, even "virtual" face time, instead of a bunch of email. We established a simple cadence of meetings to stay in sync. For example, iteration planning meetings on Mondays, and a daily stand up, helped everybody stay on top of and participate in the plan.
Rather than shove everybody into a process or into documents, it was about building effective working relationships, and spending more time in conversations. This was especially helpful for complex topics and issues, that could easily turn into long, emotional emails.
Working software over comprehensive documentation Rather than get bogged down documenting, it was more action-oriented. The goal was to produce working solutions, incrementally, and test the path as we go. To do this, we would focus on capturing user stories, prototyping the solution, then getting feedback on the solution with the customer.
That does not mean the documentation was not valuable. It does mean that we put a priority on building and testing the solution, so that the documentation has a firm foundation to build on. What it also means is that rather than depend heavily on attempting to capture and share requirements as text, we spent more energy on internalizing and embracing the requirements, with empathy, by working with customers, and feeling the pain.
Something gets lost in the text, and if I had to put my finger on it, it's empathy, and that comes from shared experience.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation At the end of the day, this is about rapport. If you pair with the customer and co-create the solution with them, and bring them along on the journey, they are with you.
If, instead, you try to bind them to a contract, and tell them how every time they want to make a change, they can't because of what they agreed to earlier, you are simply creating a bigger divde for the customer, and your team.
The reality is, it's often less about requirements "changing" and often more about gaining clarity on the true requirements. Pushing the pain of this reality back on the customer is convenient, but ineffective, for all involved.
Responding to change over following a plan This really builds on the previous, but the big ideas is that rather than fearing or fighting change, you embrace it.
What keeps you grounded is having a plan to begin with. Another thing that keeps you grounded is having operating principles, and clarity of the end in mind. The most important thing though is having trust in your process. You have the trust the process you use to flow value along the way, and value adds up.
If you are not flowing value, you have a problem. It will not matter how good or great you thought your plan was. That's why it's called a plan, not reality. When the rubber meets the road, the unexpected happens.
How did we respond to change? We stayed open to the idea that we were wrong. Sure we tried to get the risk out early and often, but risk happens. We stayed connected to the customer so that we could understand what's actually valued. We used our iteration meetings to do a reset as necessary, and we would use project reviews and checkpoints as a way to readjust the bigger plan. The way we reduced the risk here overall is by having a timebox and resource constraints.
The upside was that we could continuously adapt and adjust as we got more clarity on what's truly valued.
I had 20 minutes before my meeting so I did a quick step through of the new Microsoft Cloud Analysis Tool and the Infrastructure Optimization Self-Assessment Tool.
The Microsoft Cloud Analysis Tool helps you build a roadmap to the Cloud based on your business needs, constraints, and desired attributes. It’s a “what if” for the Cloud, that you can play out the possibilities by changing your parameters. That’s a mighty powerful thing if you are trying to cycle through various options and understand the trade-offs. In fact, independent of the actual content in the tool, I think the most valuable part is the framing of the decisions. If you use nothing else, you can at least use the frames to help you accelerate your own Cloud decision making, and make more informed choices.
I limited my words and focused on screen captures so that you can quickly scan the end-to-end to see the inputs and the outputs.
Here is a summary of the tools:
Here is the home page of the Microsoft Cloud Analysis Tool and Microsoft Infrastructure Optimization Self-Assessment Tool:
Step 1 - Create an Account
Step 2 – Create a Profile
Profile a Workload
Step 3 – Choose a Discovery Activity
The output includes
Architecture Diagram (Visio)
A lot of people I know are either losing jobs, finding jobs, creating jobs, or changing jobs.
Others I know are looking for work-life balance, expanding their capabilities, figuring out how to work better with their boss, finding ways to use their strengths at work, and looking for ways to flourish while they master their craft. And others I know are spawning their own business or figuring out how to work online, or attempting to create six-figure second incomes to take away the threat of job loss, and to deal with a down economy (which may very well be the new normal … with a twist of irony where business growth means job decline.)
In a lot of ways, it’s a game of owning your destiny, plotting your path with your vision, mission, and values, driving from your life-style, and mastering self-efficacy, while adapting and responding to our ever-changing world.
I’ve put together a page to help:
The game is tough. Whether you are losing a job, finding a job, creating a job, or changing a job. It’s especially tough if you don’t have proven practices under your belt for everything from networking to building resumes to job searching to interviewing effectively. Even what appears to be simple transitions can be challenging if you can’t read the situations, build your network effectively, identify quick wins, and hit the ground running.
You might say that “making your way in the world today, takes everything you’ve got.”
To help my mentees, friends, family, colleagues, and more build their toolbox of proven practices for career development, I’ve significantly revamped my Career Books page. It’s a serious collection of the best books for career development, building your brand, choosing career paths, improving your workplace effectiveness, improving your energy and motivation, dealing with setbacks, finding jobs, improving your resume, improving your interview skills, surviving and thriving during change and transitions, and finding your work-life balance.
There is something in it for everyone. In fact, I’ve added new sections on topics like Artists at Work and Zen at Work. I’ve even added a section on Work Less, Achieve More. I’ve included my best books that really help you work less, while achieving more and flowing more value. There are many, many game changing strategies and tactics that you can instantly use to find your purpose, play to your strengths, get more things done, and get meaningful results.
I’ve also added a lot more books to really round out my career books collection. Some new additions to my career books include The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers, by James Citrin and Richard Smith, The Six-Figure Second Income: How To Start and Grow A Successful Online Business Without Quitting Your Day Job, by David Lindahl and Jonathan Rozek, Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams, by Barbara Sher, Getting Started in Consulting, by Alan Weiss, Case Interview Secrets: A Former McKinsey Interviewer Reveals How to Get Multiple Job Offers in Consulting, by Victor Cheng, The Google Resume: How to Prepare for a Career and Land a Job at Apple, Microsoft, Google, or any Top Tech Company, by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, Asher's Bible of Executive Resumes and How to Write Them, by Donald Asher, How to Click with People: The Secret to Better Relationships in Business and in Life, by Dr. Rick Kirshner, The Charge: Activating the 10 Human Drives That Make You Feel Alive, by Brendon Burchard, and many others.
I also expanded the Effectiveness section to include many of the books that have really made a difference for myself and others. For example, some of my favorites include, Mentored by a Millionaire, by Steven Scott, The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins, The 80/20 Individual, by Richard Koch, and Positive Intelligence, by Shirzad Chamine.
My collection of great career books will give you a serious and significant edge when it comes to managing your career and finding your way forward. Check it out:
In a world of “do more with less,” don’t be a victim. Be the hero when it comes to driving and dealing with what’s on your plate.
We’re all asked to do more with less, and everything was due yesterday. We all have more things to do than there is time in the day, and we are overloaded and overwhelmed.
What do you do when you don’t have the resources, budget, or capacity to do what you’re expected to do?
I posed this question to one of my seasoned mentors to get their take on dealing with this common scenario. Here is what they had to say:
It’s a simple formula, but it can help you think through how to either get what you need or get things off your plate with skill. Worst case, you expose the risks, and trade-offs, in a way that’s objective vs. mired in whining or complaining, or playing the victim.
Don’t be a victim. Be the hero. Teach others how to treat you.
I’m a big believer that values are the lightening rod. Values can repel or attract, and like attracts like (opposites attract, but similarities bind.) Values are the fast way to know whether something is right for you, or if you feel a conflict (and sometimes you can’t put your finger on it.)
I’ve been teaching Agile Results to more teams at Microsoft. With the spread of Agile Results, I have to think more about what the values really are. The values are the life-blood of the system. They give it juice.
Off the top of my head, when I ask, “What are the values of Agile Results?”, the first few that come to mind are:
Fulfillment, flexibility, and focus.
Agile Results was born to help more people find a path of fulfillment in a practical way. It’s designed to help you live your values in work and life. It’s also designed to be flexible. I’m a fan of Bruce Lee’s philosophy of, "Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own". Darwin also taught us that nature favors the flexible. There’s truth in the saying, “adapt or die.” Focus is also at the heart of Agile Results. Focus helps us engage with work and with our life. It brings out our best. You’re the director of your life and you can choose what you point your camera at. Voltaire also comes to mind: “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” And again, Bruce Lee reminds us of the power of focus, when he said, ““The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”
When I think a little more on the values that drive Agile Results -- the values that breathe life into the Agile Results system -- I think of the following values:
Adventure is a powerful metaphor for life. It adds the fun factor and it turns problems into challenges. In life, you can choose a lot of things, from your attitudes to your actions. Choose your own adventure.
Balance is a way to blend the best of both worlds, such as the game of business, or the business of life. It’s a way to meld our minds and our bodies and our emotions to bring out our best. Balance your great up time, with great down time.
Congruence is about living our values and staying true to you. It’s building a firm foundation versus a house of cards.
Continuous learning is about finding the lessons and turning insight into action.
Empowerment is about putting the world’s best insight and action at your fingertips to help you unleash what you are capable of … in an exponential way.
Focus is about setting your eye on the prize and going for it. Focus is also about choosing to find the opportunity in any situation. Focus is about directing your attention to things that empower you, whether it’s focusing on strengths over weaknesses, the future over the past, or the positive over the negative.
Flexibility is ready for anything. It’s rising above habits and practices that don’t serve you. It’s about staying open to new ways of looking at things. It’s about adapting to new situations as the world changes under your feet. It’s about being an acrobat for life.
Fulfillment is about writing your story forward in a way, where you give your best where you have your best to give, and play to your strengths in a way that shares your gifts with the world.
Growth is about continuously expanding your capabilities. You grow your ability to take on bigger challenges, and you become something more in the process.
Passion is about being bold, pushing the envelope, and chasing the dreams that make your soul sing. Passion is the value that races through your veins when you wake up in the morning, ready to face the World, and ready to make your mark.
Simplicity is about the essential. It’s elegance in action. It’s economy of motion. It’s reductionism in action. Simplicity is about useful, relevant, and intuitive. Simplicity is about the truths … the timeless principles, patterns, and practices that are enduring over time. It’s the part that sticks with you, when everything else fades away.
Sustainability is about finding a way forward in a way that is durable and evolvable over time. Sustainability is about finding your downtime, and responding to “always on” in a way where you can turn it off. It’s finding your flow. Sustainability is about fresh starts. Sustainability is about doing the things that reward, renew, and revitalize you.
I think that those are the values of Agile Results.
When I peel everything else away, and really look under the hood at what makes it tick, it’s those values that bring it to life. It’s the very fact that the system embraces and lives those values that make it sustainable, durable, and evolvable over time, and with the people that embrace the system.
Are you doing too many things for the sake of more, without enough space for the sake of value? Are you producing more stuff, but not necessarily producing more value or making more impact?
Less is often more, and less often works better in a lot of cases. This is especially true when less means:
When you have less of the stuff that doesn’t matter, you make more room for the stuff that does.
Bigger doesn’t make it better. More volume doesn’t make it more valuable. Small things come in good packages, and sometimes it’s the little things that mean a lot.
One good thing trumps the many things that are just getting in the good thing’s way … perhaps even blocking a great thing.
Before you mass produces something or do more of anything, you need to check if it’s even worth it.
But when you do get it right, streamline and scale the heck out of it … that’s the beauty and the power of systems and platforms. And it’s the true power of any effective productivity system. This is true whether you are scaling you, others, or the value you flow.
This is what the masters of productivity know that others don’t … it’s not volume, it’s value. And value is the short-cut. When you apply the 80/20 rule to the most meaningful value, you amplify your impact and you get exponential results. It’s better, faster, cheaper in action.
This is one of the core tenets in Agile Results, and expressed in the book, Getting Results the Agile Way.
One of my managers used to ask me each day …
“Have you changed the world yet?”
My reply was always the same …
“Yes, but the world didn’t like the change, so we changed it back.”
Change is a constant. In fact, change is a constant breeding ground at Microsoft. People respond differently to change, and my goal is to give you an arsenal of change quotes to help you deal with any situation in terms of change … whether you are driving it, or on the receiving end, or simply trying to escape it.
I’ve put together a comprehensive set of quotes about change:
Here is a sample of the top 10 change quotes in my change quotes about life change, business change, and more:
Check out more Change Quotes (in fact, 150 more
One of the best ways to win back time is to use outcomes. An outcome is simply an end-result, or an end-in-mind. You identify outcomes by asking, "What do I want to accomplish?" or "What do I want to achieve?"
Time management tips #17 is identify outcomes. When you know your outcomes, you know your target. Now you can focus on that. You can shave everything else off. By knowing the outcomes, you can focus on the most essential activities or steps to achieve the outcome. Or, as Bruce Lee would say, "Hack away at the unessential."
For example, consider these scenarios:
As a quick test, take any activity that you are about to do, and identity the outcome for it. This becomes your little test case. Now, when you execute, you can check yourself with your test case -- have you satisifed your test case yet?
If you get lost in asking about outcomes, simply start asking, "What's the goal?" By asking, "What's the goal?", you can quickly get back on track. Similarly you can ask, "What are you trying to accomplish?"
In either case, the point is to identify your target so that you can narrow your focus, and optimize
Outcomes help you hack away at the unessential, and they are your piercing lens of value.
For free time management training , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Getting Results.com.
A little bit now, saves a lot of time later.
One of the worst ways to bury yourself with endless tasks is to keep postponing. Every task you postpone means follow up. That means overhead. It's like constant paper shuffling.
You've heard the saying, "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today." If tomorrow is for everything you didn't do today, is that what you want tomorrow to really be about?
Time management tips #18 is do it now. It's really a shift in mindset. Rather than automatically push things to later, start trying to get things off your plate now, as fast as possible. Think of it as "getting the ball out of your court" or "clearing your plate."
What makes this work especially well, is when you combine it with effectively prioritizing, identifying what is important, working on things that will be valued, and focusing on the essentials.
What you don't want to do is keep the flood gate open.
Doing a little now, is often better than a lot later, or none later, or being overwhelmed later. Another key is practicing the 80/20 rule. Focus on the 20% that's the most important. Focus on the essentials. If you do the minimum really well, you will learn to improve your quality. You will also learned what is truly valued. You will then create more time for improving things, instead of getting mired in things up front.
This approach of "Do It Now" works well for a few reasons:
Trim tomorrow’s “To-Do” list by doing things today.
For free time management training , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.
As a program manager, it’s tough to shape a process with the team, if the team can’t “see” it. When you have a mental model you can share with the team, things move a lot faster. The problem with life cycles and end-to-end processes, is that people don’t usually know what the end-to-end actually looks like. When you can show people the end-to-end life cycle on a whiteboard, and you can show how the different activities fit together, the light-bulbs go off, and people get down to business. It empowers them.
One of the most important mental models I developed was a visual frame for Agile development. For lack of a better name, I’ll just call it the Agile Life-Cycle Frame. While it looks simple, that’s its power. I was able to use the same frame to illustrate how to bake in security, performance, and customer-focused activities, into Agile development using the same frame over and over again.
Agile Life-Cycle Frame The power of the Agile Life-Cycle Frame is that it helps people that don’t know Agile, very quickly follow the intent. The frame also helps bridge the gap between the project cycle and the product cycle. Here is what the Agile Life-Cycle Frame looks like:
What makes this frame useful and simple to use is the backbone of it: Exploration, Iteration 0, Iteration N, Release Preparation, and Release. Those phases are easy to identify with, and then it’s easy to plug-and-play different activities within each phase, as appropriate.
Agile Security Engineering With the Agile Life Cycle Frame, we can simply “overlay” key security activities to bake security into Agile development. Sometimes I call this the “Security Engineering Overlay.” Here is what Agile Security Engineering looks like:
Agile Performance Engineering With the Agile Life-Cycle Frame, we can also “overlay” key performance activities to bake performance into Agile development. Sometimes I call this the “Performance Engineering Overlay.” Here is what Agile Performance Engineering looks like:
Customer-Connected Engineering With the Agile Life-Cycle Frame, we can also overlay specific customer-focused activities, that bring Customer-Connected Engineering to life. Here is what Customer-Connected Engineering looks like:
How To Use the Agile Life-Cycle Frame You can use the Agile Life-Cycle Frame to show, share, and shape your current Agile development processes. Your frame might vary. The first step is to put your process down on paper. Keep things flexible, but at the same time, keep in mind what should be durable. If you can’t articulate your process with any sort of repeatability, it’s tough to get folks on board, or to change things in any meaningful way.
I kept these frames simple on purpose to help illustrate the power of having a model. But, the model is only useful if the model is simpler than what it is actually modeling. I did use a more complete set of activities in the Customer-Connected Engineering Frame so that you can see an alternative example, that might help prompt ideas for your own Agile Life-Cycle model.
Getting better, faster, simpler, and more meaningful results is the name of today’s game.
What you don’t know can hurt you. Your own and other people’s productivity issues can get in your way. This is especially true if you don’t know what good looks like. This is especially true, if you don’t know what’s possible.
There are many ways to take your game to the next level. Everything from eliminating bottlenecks to focusing on the right things to flowing more value to reducing friction. If you are a one-man band and really need ways to scale yourself more effectively, I have written a deep post on how to scale yourself as a “one-man band” to flow more value, get more things done, and free up more time for yourself:
Note – I wrote it in 40 minutes, so hopefully it only takes you five minutes to read it. Normally, I limit writing a post to 20 minutes or less, but for this one, I figured the value of it, is worth if I had to spill over. I see too many people bogged down, losing sight of value, and not knowing how to get off the treadmill. I figured a pointed post on how to free yourself up and flow more value would be worth it.
Enjoy – and feel free to share your own proven practices for scaling yourself with skill.