Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
One of the smartest books I’ve read lately is Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova. I wrote a deep review to include a bunch of my favorite highlights.
It’s hard to believe I only scratched the surface in my review, but it’s a very deep book with tons of insight and proven practices for elevating your thinking to the highest levels.
While I like the concepts and practices throughout the book, my favorite aspect was the fact that Konnikova references some great research and theories by name and illustrated how they apply in our everyday lives.
Some of the examples include:
Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes includes plenty of surprising insights, too. For example, we physically can see less when we’re in a bad mood. We can do better on SATs simply by changing our motivation. We can use simple meditation techniques to causes changes at the neural level, to increase creativity and imaginative capacity.
If you’re a developer, you’ll appreciate the “system” view of how memory works. Konnikova walks the mechanisms of the mind based on the latest understanding of how our brain works. You’ll also appreciate the depth and details that Konnikova provides to help you really understand how to think and operate at a higher level.
Basically, you’ll learn how to put your Sherlock Holme’s thinking cap on and apply more effective thinking practices that avoid common cognitive biases, pitfalls, and traps.
By the time you’ve made it through the book, you’ll also better understand and appreciate how our mindset and filters dramatically shape what we’re able to see, and, as a result, how we experience the world around us.
If you want a tour of the book in detail, check out my book review of Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.
It might just be one of the smartest books you read this year.
7 Habits of Highly Effective Program Managers
How To Use Six-Thinking Hats
Where the Focus Goes
I love one-liners that really encapsulate ideas. A colleague asked me how work was going with some new projects spinning up and a new team. But she prefaced it with, “Your book is all about making sure your life energy is well spent. Are you finding that you are now spending your energy on the right things and with the right people?” (She was referring to my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.)
I thought was both a great way to frame the big idea of the book, and to ask a perfectly cutting question that cuts right through the thick of things, to the heart of things.
… Are you spending your life energy on the right things?
This is a mental model we often use when connecting business and IT.
The big idea is that IT exposes it’s functionality as “services” to the business. When speaking to the business, we can talk about business capabilities. When talking to IT, we can talk to the IT capabilities.
In this model, you can see where workloads sit in relation to business and IT capabilities. Business capabilities (i.e. “what” an individual business function does) rely on IT capabilities. The IT capabilities, together with people and processes, determine “how” the business capability is executed.
The beauty of the model is how quickly and easily we can “up-level” the conversation, or drill-down … or map from the business to the IT side or from IT to the business.
“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” — Publilius Syrus
Change is tough. Especially leading it.
Whether you are leading yourself, others, or organizations through a change, it helps to have tools on your side.
Recently, I read Leadership Transformed, by Dr. Peter Fuda.
It uses 7 metaphors to guide you through leadership transformation:
It might seem simple, but that's the point. Metaphors are easy to remember and easy to use.
For example, you can use the Movie metaphor to increase your self-awareness and reflection that allow you to first "edit" your performance, and then direct a "movie" that exemplifies your leadership vision.
The other benefit of simple metaphors is they allow both for creative interpretation and creative expression.
I appreciated the book the further I went along. In fact, what really clicked for me was the fact that I could easily remember the different metaphors and the big idea behind them. It was a nice brain-break from memorizing and internalizing a bunch of leadership frameworks, principles, and patterns.
Instead, it’s just a simple set of metaphors that remind us how to bring out our best during our leadership transformations.
The metaphors are actually well-chosen, and they really are helpful when you find yourself in scenarios where a different perspective or approach may help.
Even better, the author grounds his results in some very interesting data, and aligns it to proven practices for effective leadership.
Here is my book review: Book Review: Leadership Transformed: How Ordinary Managers Become Extraordinary Leaders
I included several highlights and “scenes” from the book, so you can get a good taste of the book, movie trailer style.
If you end up reading the book, I encourage you to really dive into the background and the anatomy of the Leadership Impact tool that Dr. Fuda refers to. It’s incredibly insightful in terms of leadership principles, patterns, and practices that are fairly universal and broadly applicable.
Everything should be a startup.
Unless you’re a learning organization that actually uses what you learn to leapfrog ahead.
But the paradox is you can’t hold on too tightly to what you’ve learned in the past. You have to be able to let things go. Quickly. And, you have to learn new things fast. And, if you can create a learning organization with tight feedback loops, that’s the key to longevity.
Adapt or die.
But the typical challenge in a big organization, is rejecting the new, and embracing the old. And that’s how the giants, the mighty fall.
Here is how Satya Nadella told us how to think about what longevity means in our business …
“What does longevity mean in this business? Longevity in this business means, that you somehow take the core competency you have but start learning how to express it in different forms.
And that to me is the core strength.
It's not the manifestation in one product generation, or in one specific feature, or what have you, but if you culturally, right, if you sort of look at what excites me from an organizational capacity building, ... it's that learning ... the ability to be able to learn new things ... and have those new things actually accrue to what we have done in the past ... or what we have done in the past accrues to new learnings ... and that feedback cycle is the only way I can see scale mattering in this business ... otherwise, quite frankly you would say, everything should be a startup ... everything should be a startup ... you would have a success, you would unwind, and everything should be a startup ... and if you're going to have a large organization, it better be a learning organization that knows how to take all the learning that it's had today and make it relevant in the future knowing that you'll have to unlearn everything, and that's the paradox of this business and I think that's what I want us to be going for.”
In my experience, if you don’t know where to start, a great place to start is get feedback. If you don’t know who to get feedback from, then ask yourself, your organization, who do you serve? Ask the customers or clients that you serve.
But balance what you learn with vision. And balance it with analytics and insight on behaviors and actions. Customers, and people in general, can say one thing, but do another, or ask for one thing, but mean something entirely different.
Remember the words of Henry Ford:
“If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’.”
Expressing pains, needs, opportunities, and desired outcomes leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
Drive with vision, build better feedback loops, interpret well, and learn well, to survive and thrive in an ever-changing world.
Microsoft Explained: Making Sense of the Microsoft Platform Story
Satya Nadella is the New Microsoft CEO
Satya Nadella is All About Customer Focus, Employee Engagement, and Changing the World
Satya Nadella on How Success is a Mental Game
Satya Nadella on Live and Work a Meaningful Life
Satya Nadella on the Future is Software
Satya Nadella on Everyone Has to Be a Leader
“Another year over, And a new one just begun.” – John Lennon
Ready to get your game on?
January is a great time to focus on what you want out of this year. As you close out last year, you can reflect on what went well and what things you could improve. Focus on the growth.
January is also a great time to build some momentum. January and December are the bookends for your year. It’s interesting how they are both a month apart and a year apart.
What you fill that year with, is your opportunity.
If you’re having a hard time remembering what it means to dream big, I put together a collection of dream big quotes to rekindle your imagination.
I’ve also put together a set of posts to help you create goals with skill:
One of the most helpful things I’ve found with goal setting, is to start with 3 dreams or 3 wins for the year. I learned this while I was putting together Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life. As my story goes, I got frustrated and bogged down by a heavy goal process and lost in creating SMART goals. I finally stepped back and just asked myself, what are Three Wins or Three Outcomes that I want out of this year? The first things that came to mind were 1) ship my book, 2) get to my fighting weight, and 3) take an epic adventure.
It wasn’t scientific, but it was significant, and it was simple. But most of all, it was empowering.
In retrospect, it seems so obvious now, but what I was missing in my goals was the part that always needs to happen first: Dream big. We need to first put our dreams on the table because that’s where meaningful goals are born from. It’s the dreams that make our goals a force to be reckoned with. Really, goals are just a way to break our dreams down into chunks of change we can deal with, and to help guide us on our journey towards the end in mind. That’s why we have to keep pushing our dreams beyond our limits. That way we don’t try to push ourselves with our goals. Instead, we pull ourselves with our dreams.
If you want to know how to get started with Agile Results, before you get the book, you can use the Agile Results QuickStart guide. You can use it to create your personal results system. It’s a simple system, but a powerful one. Individuals, teams, and leaders use it to bring out their best and to make the mot of what they’ve got.
To give you a quick example, if you want to rise above the noise of your day, just take a quick pause, and write down Three Wins that you want out of today. If you’re day is pretty tough, you might say, “great breakfast, great lunch, great dinner.” We have those days. Or, if you’re feeling pretty good, you might say, “ship feature X” or “clear my backlog” or “finish my presentation” or “win a raving fan”, etc.
It sounds simple but by having Three Wins to hold onto for today, it helps you focus. It helps you prioritize. And it helps you get back on track, when you get off track. It also gives you a quick way to feel good about your achievements at the end of the day, because you can actually name them. They are your private victories.
So, if you want to practice Agile Results, just remember to think in threes: Three Wins for the Day, Three Wins for the Week, Three Wins for the Month, Three Wins for the Year. It will help you funnel and focus your time and energy on meaningful results that matter. And, you’ll build momentum a moment at a time, as you respond to challenges, exercises your choices, and drive your changes in work and in life.
A fellow Softie, and performance improvement architect extraordinaire, Walter Oelwein, wrote a fantastic article on Life Lessons from The Legend of Zelda and Zelda Theory.
It’s all about how to apply what we learn from The Legend of Zelda to real life. If you are a gamer, you will especially appreciate this insightful piece of prose. Even if you are not a gamer, you will appreciate Walter’s wit and wisdom, as well as his systems thinking. If you are a continuous leaner and you find yourself always on a path of exploration and execution, this article will directly speak to your heart.
Check out Life Lessons from the Legend of Zelda and get your game face on for life.
I hate quotas. For me, I'm about quality, not quantity. And yet quotas have consistently helped me get the ball rolling, or find out what I'm capable of.
Time management tips # 10 – set limits. When we set a quota, we have a target. It helps turn a goal into something we can count. And when we can count it, we build momentum.
In my early days of Microsoft, my manager set a limit that I needed to write two Knowledge Base articles per month. I did that, and more. Way more. It turned out to be a big deal. Before that limit, I didn't think I could do any or would ever do any.
A few years back, I set a limit that my posts would be no longer than six inches (yeah, that sounds like a weird size limit, but I wanted to fill no more than where the gray box on my blog faded to white.) My blog ended up in the top 50 blogs on MSDN, of more than 5,000 blogs, and my readership grew exponentially that month. The reason I set the size limit is because my original limit was "write no more than 20 minutes." The problem is, when I'm in my execution mode, I write fast, and my posts were getting really long, even if I only wrote for 20 minutes.
Setting limits in time, size, or quantity can help you in so many ways. Especially, if getting started is tough. One great way to start, is simply to ask, "What's one thing I can do today towards XYZ?" Limits also help us avoid from getting overwhelmed or bogged down. If we’re feeling heavy or overburdened, start chopping at limits until your load feels lighter.
Here are some example of some limits you can try:
Once you set a limit, you suddenly get resourceful in findings new ways to optimize, or new ways to make it happen. When there is no limit, it's tough to optimize because you don't know when you are done.
While I'm a fan of quality, the trick is to first "flow some water through the pipe" so you can tune, prune, and improve it.
If you're feeling rusty, try setting little limits to bootstrap what you're capable of.
In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the time management exercises to be more effective and get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis. You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com
You Might Also Like
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin
I know a lot of people have had their lives turned upside down. Hurricane Sandy and the follow up Noreaster, really created some setbacks and a wake of devastation.
Disasters happen. While you can’t prevent them, what you can do is prepare for them and improve your ability to respond and recover.
I’m not the expert on disaster preparation, but I know somebody who is. I’ve asked Laurie Ecklund Long to write a guest post to help people prepare for the worst. Here it is:
Disaster Proof Your Life: How To Be Ready for Any Emergency
The goal of the post is to help jumpstart anybody who wants to start their path to planning and preparation for emergencies.
Laurie is an emergency specialist. She is a best-selling author, national speaker, and trainer that helps individuals, businesses, and the military survive natural disasters and family emergencies, based on her book, My Life in a Box…A Life Organizer. On a personal level, Laurie’s inspiration came from losing 12 people close to her, including her Dad, within the span of five years. She learned a lot during 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and she’s on a mission to help more people be able to answer the following questions better:
Do you have a personal emergency tool box? Can you quickly locate your legal, financial and personal documents within minutes and be able to rebuild your life if something happens to your home?
Check out Laurie’s guest post Disaster Proof Your Life: How To Be Ready for Any Emergency, and start your path of planning and preparation for emergencies, and help others to do the same.
I did a revamp and sweep of my health books collection. The focus of my collection of health books and fitness books is to help you get healthy, get in shape, get lean, and get strong. I’ve collected and tested many books to find patterns and practices for health and fitness that actually work.
Some of the new additions to the collection include:
Your Body as Your Gym is the most recent addition. It’s an incredible system. Here’s the deal. As a Navy Seal instructor, Mark Lauren needed to find a way to get more people in better shape in record time. He’s refined what he’s learned over years to get rapid results. The best part is it’s using your own body so you can do it anywhere. He wanted everyone to be able to get in the best shape of their lives and leverage what he’s learned from the special forces. It’s all about building lean, functional muscle, and using interval training. His routine is four times a week, 30 minutes a day.
I added Super Immunity to the collection. Dr. Fuhrman is a doctor that gets results. I know several Microsofties that have followed his approach to get in the best shape of their lives. What I like about Dr. Fuhrman is that he focuses on principles, patterns, and practices. His specialty is “nutritional density.” He focuses on the food that have the highest nutritional value per calories. Super Immunity is all about building up your immune system by eating the right foods to get your body on your side. In a world where we can’t afford to be sick anymore, this book is in a class all its own.
One of the books in my health books collection is Better Eyesight without Glasses, by William Bates. This book is near and dear to my heart. I used this approach to avoid getting glasses. A long story short is that I failed my eye test back in 7th grade, and I was determined not to wear glasses. I intercepted the letter that went to my parents and that bought me time. I then used the exercises from Better Eyesight without Glasses to get to 20/20 vision. As you can imagine, I saved a lot of money and a lot of inconvenience over many years, thanks to this one book.
Another book I should mention is Stretching Scientifically. This is the book I used to be able to do splits for Kick-boxing. I’ve never come across a better book on how to improve your flexibility in record time.
It was time for an update.
Here’s my Focus Checklist v2:
Focus Checklist (v2)
Here’s what’s new …
I organized the checklist into more meaningful buckets. It’s mostly the original list, but now they are grouped into better buckets to make it easier to turn into action. After all, a great checklist is measured both by it’s value and how actionable it is.
Focus is often the different that makes the difference when it comes to succeeding at work and succeeding in life. Otherwise, we don’t see things to fruition, or we bi-furcate our potential in ways that undermines our effort.
To make it easy to get to the Focus Checklist, I added a quick menu item to the feature menu:
You can still get to the checklists from Resources, but the saying “out of sight, out of mind”, tends to be true.
By moving Checklists to the feature bar, it will remind me to continue to turn insight into action in the form of simple checklists.
I’ve long been a fan of checklists for building better habits and sharing and scaling expertise. I’ve used them for security, performance, application architecture, and for personal effectiveness in a variety of ways. There’s actually a lot of research and science behind why checklists are effective, but I like to think of them as simple reminders and automation for the mind, so we can move up the mental stack and focus on higher-level issues.
If you’re a fan of Personal Software Process (PSP) or Team Software Process (TSP), you’ll appreciate the fact that checklists are one of the best ways to quickly, efficiency, and effectively radically improve quality, for yourself or for the team. Of course, that depends on the quality of the checklist, and your focus on actually applying it, and treating it like a living document, and keeping it updated with your latest insights and actions.
If you adopt checklists as your tool of choice for continuous improvement, you’ll be in good company. It’s how McDonald’s and Disney spread best practices. It’s how the best hospitals reduce errors and raise the quality bar. And, it’s even how the Air Force keeps fighter pilots from falling prey to task saturation.
Like anything, the value of the checklists depends on the user and the usage, and if you treat it as a static thing, that’s when problems happen. Use it as a baseline and adapt it to your needs, and update it based on your latest learnings.
If you do that, and you treat your checklists as continuous learning tools, and you continue to evolve and adapt them, then your checklists will serve you well.
Ugh … it looks like this post ran into some scope creep. This was supposed to be just letting you know that I have a new version available of my focus checklist.
Luckily, my 5-minute timebox in this case, reeled me back in.
PS – It’s worth noting that the practices behind this focus checklist are industrial strength. Folks with ADD and ADHD have used the practices in this checklist to retrain their brain to focus with skill. They learned to direct and redirect their attention, and to enjoy the process of focusing their mind on meaningful results.
Sometimes the best way to do something well, is to know what to avoid. In Ex-Windows Boss Steve Sinofsky: Here's Why I Use An iPhone, Nicholas Carlson shares some tips from Steve Sinofsky on analyzing the competition:
Sinofsky elaborates, and says to use the product deep, and use it over time. Use the product like it was intended by the designers. Wrap yourself around the culture, constraints, resources, and more of a competitor. And, don't take a static view of the world -- the competitor can always update their product based on feedback, or weaknesses you call out.
A few years back, I put together a roundup of 25 holiday classic movies to help people find their holiday spirit:
What 25 Holiday Classics Teach Us About Life and Fun
The post was pretty broken in terms of formatting, but the content is evergreen, so I took the time to revamp it. It should be 1000 times better now (at least.)
If you’re a movie buff, you'll recognize a lot of the classics, like The Lemon Drop Kid, or The Bishop’s Wife, or White Christmas.
I can never find anybody who has actually seen Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, though it’s still one of my favorite versions.
And when it comes to Claymation, my favorite is still Rudolph. I can never forget the scene where Yukon Cornelius says, “Look at what he can do!”, and the Bumble (the Abominable Snowman) puts the star on the top of the tree, without a ladder.
And whenever I see a sad looking little tree, I can’t help but wonder if adding a bunch of lights would magically transform it into a big, magnificent, and full tree, Charlie Brown style.
Transformation isn’t magic though.
It’s a lot of work. A lot of smart work.
As you get ready for this coming year, I hope that the key lessons you learned, and the key insights from this past year serve you well.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s how investing in the right capabilities pays off time and time again.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change” -- Charles Darwin
That's one of my all-time favorite quotes because it's surprising. It's not the smartest or the strongest, or even the fastest that survive ... it's the most flexible.
That says a lot about the value of agile and agility in today's world. I think of agility as the ability to effectively respond to change.
Intelligence is valuable too, but not just raw smarts. It's what you do with what you've got. There are multiple flavors of intelligence, and they can help you survive and thrive in today's world. Maybe you've heard of emotional intelligence, social intelligence, positive intelligence, or multiple intelligences?
I think how we look at our own intelligence can limit or enable us. For example, if you don't think you're intelligent, then you might not try to do intelligent things. For example, if you've defined intelligence in your own mind to mean something along the lines of "the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria", that singular view of intelligence might put a damper on how your view your own abilities (depending on how you scored on your IQ test.)
I wrote a post on What is Intelligence to elaborate and share what I've learned from Howard Gardner and his definition of intelligence.
I’d be curious on how your thoughts about intelligence have evolved and changed over the years, given how much of a premium people put on how smart you are.
I was reading a nice little eBook on Opportunities and Challenges with Agile Portfolio Management.
I especially like this part on “Work About Work” and how Agile helps avoid it:
“Agile software development is all about eliminating overhead. Instead of establishing hierarchies and rules, Agile management zeros in on what the team can do right now, and team leaders, developers and testers roll up their sleeves to deliver working software by the end of the day. Put another way, Agile software development favors real work over what I call "work about work." Work-about-work is that dreaded situation where creating reports about the project is so time-consuming it prevents you from actually working on the project.”
Agile helps you make things happen, and focus on work, versus “work about work.”
Team Execution Patterns and How the Work Gets Done
Are You Used to Delivering Working Software on a Daily Basis
There's a quote in Ferris Bueller's Day Off:
”Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Satya gets it.
Sayta reminds us to individually think about our broader impact, our deeper meaning, and the significance of everything we do, even the little things.
Here is how Satya reminded us to focus on our significance and impact:
“I want to work in a place where everybody gets more meaning out of their work on an everyday basis.
We spend far too much time at work for it not to have a deeper meaning in your life.
The way we connect with that meaning is by knowing the work we do has broader implications, broader impact, outside of work.
The reality is every feature, everything you do, or every marketing program you do, or every sales program you do is going to have a broader impact.
I think that us reminding ourselves of that, and taking consideration from that, matters a lot. And I that's a gift that we have in this industry, in this company, and I think we should take full advantage of that. Because when you look back, when it's all said and done, it's that meaning that you'll recount, it's not the specifics of what you did, and I think that's one of the perspectives that's important.”
My take away is, if you’re not making your work matter, to you, to others, you’re doing it wrong.
If you have an understanding of types of behavior change, you can design more effective software.
Software is a powerful way to change the world.
You can change the world with software, a behavior at a time.
Think of all the little addictive loops, that shape our habits and thoughts on a daily basis. We’re gradually being automated and programmed by the apps we use.
I’ve seen some people spiral down, a click, a status update, a notification, or a reminder at a time. I’ve seen others spiral up by using apps that teach them new habits, reinforce their good behaviors, and bring out their best.
To bottom line is, whether you are shaping software or using software on a regular basis, it helps to have a deep understanding of behavior change. You can use this know-how to change your personal habits, lead change management efforts, or build software that changes the world.
We know change is tough, and it’s a complicated topic, so where do you start?
A great place to start is to learn the 15 types of behavior change, thanks to Dr. BJ Fogg and his Fogg Behavior Grid. No worries. 15 sounds like a lot, but it’s actually easy once you understand the model behind it. It’s simple and intuitive.
The basic frame works like this. You figure out whether the behavior change is to do a new behavior, a familiar behavior, increase the behavior, decrease the behavior, or stop dong the behavior. Within that, you figure out the duration, as in, is this a one-time deal, or is it for a specific time period, or is it something you want to do permanently.
Here are some examples from Dr. BJ Fogg’s Behavior Grid:
Do New Behavior
Do Familiar Behavior
Stop Doing a Behavior
When you know the type of behavior change you’re trying to make, you can design more effective change strategies.
If you want to change the world, focus on changing behaviors. If you want to change your world, focus on changing your behaviors. (And, remember, thoughts are behaviors, too.)
If you find you can't keep up with the world around you, then break things down. Breaking things down is the key to finishing faster.
Breaking things down is also the key to agility.
One of the toughest project management lessons I had to learn was breaking things down into more modular chunks. When I took on a project, my goal was to make big things happen and change the world.
After all, go big or go home, right?
The problem is you run out of time, or you run out of budget. You even run out of oomph. So the worst way to make things happen is to have a bunch of hopes, plans, dreams, and things, sitting in a backlog because they're too big to ship in the time that you've got.
Which brings us to the other key to agility ... ship things on a shorter schedule.
This re-trains your brain to chunk things down, flow value, chop dependencies down to size, learn, and, move on.
Best of all, if you miss the train, you catch the next train.
It’s always great to see how technology can help make the world a better place.
You might remember Ed Jezierski from his Microsoft days. In his early years at Microsoft, he worked on the Microsoft Developer Support team, helping customers succeed on the platform. These early experiences taught Ed the value of teamwork and collaboration, extreme customer focus, and the value of principles, patterns, and proven practices for addressing recurring issues, and building more robust designs.
From there, Ed was one of the early members of the patterns & practices team. As one of the first Program Managers on the patterns & practices team, Ed was the driving force behind many of the first guides from patterns & practices for developers, including the Data Access guide, and the early Application Architecture guide. He was also the master mind behind the first application blocks (Exception Management Block, Data Access Block, Caching Block, etc.) , which forever changed the destiny of patterns & practices. The application blocks helped transition patterns & practices from an IT and system administrator focus, to a focus on developers and solution architects. In his role as an Architect, on the patterns & practices team, Ed played a significant role in shaping the technical strategy and orchestrating key design and engineering issues across the patterns & practices portfolio. One of his most significant impacts was the early design and shaping of the Microsoft Enterprise Library.
In his later years, Ed worked on incubation and innovation teams, where he learned a lot about streamlining innovation, making things happen, and how to create systems and processes to support innovation, in a more organic and agile way, to balance more formal engineering practices for bringing ideas and innovation to market.
But, just like James Bond, “the world is not enough.” Ed’s passion was always for helping people around the world in a grand scale. His strength and amazing skill is applying technology to change the world and making the world a better place, by solving solve real-world problems. (I still remember the day, Ed showed up in his bullet proof armor, ready to deploy technology in some of the most dangerous places in the world.)
Now, as CTO at InSTEDD, Ed hops around the globe helping communities everywhere design and use technology to continuously improve their health, safety and development. As you can imagine, Ed has to make things happen in some of the most extreme scenarios, responding to natural disasters and health incidents. And he uses Getting Results the Agile Way as a system for driving results for himself and the teams he leads.
Here is Ed Jezierski on Getting Results the Agile Way …
I’m honored to have a guest post by Jason Selk, Ed.D., on patterns and practices for mental toughness. Jason is the best-selling author of 10-Minute Toughness and Executive Toughness. As a trainer of executives, world-class athletes, and business leaders, Jason shares proven practices for mental toughness.
Jason is a rock-star in the mental toughness arena in business and in sports. He is a regular contributor to ABC, CBS, ESPN, and NBC radio and television and he has been featured in USA Today, Men’s Health, Muscle and Fitness, Shape and Self Magazine.
Mental toughness is what gets you back on your feet again. Mental toughness is what helps you keep your cool when a bunch of hot air blows your way. Mental toughness is the stuff that unsung heroes are made of. Mental toughness is the breakfast of champions. The beauty is that you can learn and leverage the same proven practices that work for business and for life.
I think of the tools that Jason shares as the fundamentals. They may sound like common sense, and yet, they are the ways the work. The trick is not just knowing what to do, but doing what you know. I find it much easier to do something that I can believe in, and what I like about Jason’s patterns and practices for mental toughness is that they are tested in action, and they stand the test of time.
Check out Jason’s post on patterns and practices for mental toughness and get results.
“Action expresses priorities.” -― Mahatma Gandhi “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” -― Stephen R. Covey “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” -― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Your priority list is not your To-Do list. It's not your backlog. (Although, you should prioritize your lists. But, how do you prioritize them? Hint – this is where your priorities list comes in.)
Your priorities list is your little list of what’s most important. It’s your little list of the most important things to achieve.
How important is your little priorities list? Let's put it in proper perspective. A lack of priorities, or the wrong priorities, are one of the leading causes of failure in management, leadership, and otherwise highly capable employees.
Time management tips #20 is priorities list. If you don't have one, make one now. What else could be more important than having a list of priorities list at your finger tips? (If you had your priorities list you would know the answer to that.)
When you have your little list of priorities, you can say "No" to things. When you have your little list of priorities, you can check with your manager, or team, or your customers, or your spouse -- are these really the priorities? Most importantly, you can check with yourself.
Have you identified the little list of the things that are most important to YOU? If you know you are working on the most important things, it's easier to focus. It's easier to give your best. It's easier to stop the distractions. It's easier to say, "No" to all the little things that tug at your attention, or compete for your time.
It's also where peace of mind comes from. It's instant. When you know you are working on the right things at the right time, you are on path.
Conflict of priorities is one of the leading causes of churn, procrastination, and every other productivity killer you can think of. The only thing worse is having nothing that's important. And you know what they say, if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.
Resolving conflicts in priorities has been known to part the clouds and make the sun shine brighter.
In general, you can think of your priorities as your "Why" or "What", while other lists tend to be the "How." That's a generalization since obviously things will bleed, but what's important is that you have a short, explicit list of your priorities. When they swirl around in your head they get distorted, so get them out in the open. When you are in the thick of things, be able to give them a glance, and know whether to about-face or march on.
As Scott Berkun says, "Priorities are the backbone of progress." It's true. After all, if you are making progress against anything else, does it matter?
Here is an example of a set of my priorities for a month:
Three Key Wins
We can ignore the details, and focus on the structure. I had three wins I identified with my manager for the month, and a list of seven outcomes that were top priority. Did I have a backlog a mile long, and a laundry list of hundreds (if not thousands) of things to do? Yes. Did I also have short lists of rated and ranked items for the month? Yes, that's the list above. Did I also have rated and ranked items for each week? You bet. And did I have short-lists of rated and ranked items each day? Absolutely.
While priorities aren't the silver bullet, they are your way to "push back." They are your "push" when you need it most. They also are your "pull", that you can ignore at your own peril. They are also your "peace of mind."
If you haven't prioritized your priority list, you're missing out.
For work-life balance skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a work-life balance system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.
The key to effective knowledge management is to throw away documents. You can’t get attached to what you write down. Otherwise, you can’t learn and it won’t evolve. But there is a trick …
You throw away the document, not the learning.
I learned this the hard way. Several years back, I was trying to rewrite a document that had a bunch of gems, mired among bad ideas and bad writing. It was the equivalent of spaghetti code. It was hard to figure out what was the insight, what was the action, and what was just interesting information, but not critical path.
I spent close to 40 hours trying to rewrite it. Granted it was a long document, but at some point I had to ask myself, which was faster – re-writing it, or starting over? Eventually, I realized, the right answer was to start over.
So I started with a blank document. And then I carried over the gems, and elaborated from there. Within 8 hours, I was done with the finished document.
The big lesson I learned was how difficult it actually is to reshape something that’s off, especially when it comes to written information. Since this was prescriptive guidance, it had to be relevant, actionable, and timely. It had to be insanely useful. And to do that requires a lot of manipulating words and phrases until the bright ideas compile into actionable guidance with conceptual integrity.
But “throwing away” a document was tough.
At least, it was tough until I realized that all the document really was, was a learning doc. It was a place to experiment and put ideas down on paper and bounce them off of other people, and get the collective perspective. The problem was, this learning doc, wasn’t the same as a bunch of notes. It was meant to be the final document. It was on path to be so.
But, along the way, what I failed to realize is that it baked in a bunch of our learnings.
It didn’t yet reflect creative synthesis, or distillation.
It was more like a trail up the mountain, and we were still on our way up.
I had a conversation with John Socha, the guy behind Norton Commander. I explained the challenge of producing useful documents, and how our learnings get in the way, if we don’t let the documents go. Surprisingly, he said to me, “Exactly!”
He continued and basically said that it’s the mistake a lot of people make. They hold on to their documents long past their usefulness, and don’t let the documents go, but carry the learnings forward.
I don’t know what painful lessons John had gone through to learn that, but at the time, it was fresh on my mind, and it had cost me 40+ hours of trial and error to move a document forward to learn that vital lesson.
You need to be able to throw documents away to create something better in its place.
When it’s pen and paper, it’s easier to throw something in the trash bin. But, when it’s a digital document it’s, it’s easy to forget what it feels like to start fresh. You don’t lose something. You gain something. It’s whitespace, where you are free and able to express things more clearly, now that you have more clarity.
Whitespace loves creative synthesis and distilled ideas.
It’s a breeding ground for new ways of expressing what you now know that you have climbed further up the mountain. If the path before you is riddled with your previous learnings, it can tough to see how to pave your way ahead, or worse, how to make a cleaner path for others to follow, which, after all, is the point of the knowledge and information you are attempting to share.
They are you friend. If you let them go.
They come in all shapes and sizes. They may even resemble raw notes. What’s important is that you acknowledge that they are just that. They are learning docs and you need to be free to throw them away and start from scratch at any point in time.
This is fundamental to creating a relevant, actionable, and timely document set that helps your users climb the mountain.
This is especially important when it comes to collaborating on documents. In fact, that’s exactly where I first learned this lesson, and spent 40 hours trying to fix an 8 hour document.
Once I learned that lesson, I had to find ways to incrementally and iteratively evolve documents as a team (or by myself.) I adopted some simple conventions. One convention that served me well is to version documents in the title: MyDocument – v1, MyDocument – v2, MyDocument – v3, etc.
It takes judgment when to decide it’s worth calling the document a new version, but it also helps to let things go from one version to the next.
Another practice that has worked well for learning docs is to have a Boneyard section at the end of the document. Literally, a dumping ground at the bottom of the document with a big heading called Boneyard. And that is where information can go to rest, and be resurrected as needed. This helps make it easier to let information go, since it’s never far from reach, while you work on the critical path up front.
It often takes longer to rewrite a document, than start form scratch simply because you are mired among various stages of rot and decay, while other parts are more fresh and vibrant. While you can hack away at the decay, tuning and pruning is often not as fast as simply lifting the healthy parts forward.
I think the concept of learning docs is an important one.
And, not necessarily an obvious one. You may never have the benefit of a painful experience of trying to rewrite something that takes longer to rewrite than to start from scratch. So you may not even notice just how much the lack of a learning docs approach is holding you, or your team back.
This is especially true if you work on a team that is used to sharing documents and pairing up on them. Chances are, they iterate on the same document, with version control, until the document is done. And, the document, along the way, is heavily laden with comments, and undistilled insights, stepping stones, and spaghetti. And, it’s a heavy process to bring the document to closure because it’s a continuous navigation through the jungle of half-baked learnings.
The heart of the problem is that the document at any point in time reflects both creative synthesis and distilled ideas … and learnings in progress. Meanwhile, people are injecting their latest thinking, which may or may not actually be distilled points or creative synthesis. This is where the concept of learning docs shines:
Acknowledge that the documents are learning docs in progress, and make it easy to throw them away while carrying the good forward.
Getting attached is how you hold yourself back and how you limit the pace at which you can share the best thinking in a non-cluttered, clear, and concise way.
Hopefully, the power of learning docs will save you a lot of pain and wasted time and energy. It’s one of those insights that I wish somebody would have shared with me long ago, before I finally stumbled on it myself. Then again, it might be the type of lesson that you only fully appreciate once you have the problem at a grand scale.
Do you really know what you are truly capable of? It’s time to get your game on and find out. 30 Days of Getting Results is revamped and ready for action. With a new and cleaner look, each lesson brings you a memorable image, a quotable quote, an outcome, a lesson, and a set of exercises to put what you learn into practice.
It’s time to get the wisdom of the ages and modern sages on your side. The purpose of 30 Days of Getting Results is to give you the proven principles, patterns, and practices for time management. It includes 30 self-paced lessons to help you find your purpose, find your passion, set goals, master motivation, and achieve work-life balance.
The thing that’s really different about Agile Results as a time management system is that it’s focused on meaningful results. Time is treated as a first-class citizen so that you hit your meaningful windows of opportunity, and get fresh starts each day, each week, each month, each year. As a metaphor, you get to be the author of your life and write your story forward.
I used a 30 Day Improvement Sprint, a practice in Agile Results, to create the lessons. For 30 days, I took 20 minutes each day to write my best lessons down on paper on how to master productivity and time management. It’s raw. It’s real. It’s hopefully some of the best insight and action you’ve ever experienced in terms of exponentially improving your results.
It’s easy to dive in. All of the time management lessons are there at your finger tips on the sidebar for easy exploration. It’s timeless too. Even if you’ve take the lessons already, they are there as a refresher.
If you test-drive just one lesson, check out Bounce Back with Skill.
Share it with a colleague, a friend, or your family … or anybody you want to give an edge, in work and life.
I’m a fan of simple models that help you see things you might otherwise miss, or that help explain how things work, or that simply show you a good lens for looking at the world around you.
Here’s a simple Industry Life Cycle model that I found in Professor Jason Davis’ class, Technology Strategy (MIT’s OpenCourseWare.)
It’s a simple backdrop and that’s good. It’s good because there is a lot of complexity in the transitions, and there are may big ideas that all build on top of this simple frame.
Sometimes the most important thing to do with a model is to use it as a map.
What stage is your industry in?
When’s the last time you went for your personal Epic Win? If it’s been a while, no worries. Let’s go big this year.
I’ll give you the tools.
I realize time and again, that Bruce Lee was so right when he said, “To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.” Similarly, William B. Sprague told us, “Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”
And, Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Similarly, Alan Kay said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
Well then? Game on!
By the way, if you’re not feeling very inspired, check out either my 37 Inspirational Quotes That Will Change Your Life, Motivational Quotes, or my Inspirational Quotes. They are intense, and I bet you can find your favorite three.
As I’ve been diving deep into goal setting and goal planning, I’ve put together a set of deep dive posts that will give you a very in-depth look at how to set and achieve any goal you want. Here is my roundup so far:
Brian Tracy on 12 Steps to Set and Achieve Any Goal
Brian Tracy on the Best Times for Writing and Reviewing Your Goals
Commit to Your Best Year Ever
Goal Setting vs. Goal Planning
How To Find Your Major Definite Purpose
How To Use 3 Wins for the Year to Have Your Best Year Ever
The Power of Annual Reviews for Achieving Your Goals and Realizing Your Potential
What Do You Want to Spend More Time Doing?
Zig Ziglar on Setting Goals
Hopefully, my posts on goal setting and goal planning save you many hours (if not days, weeks, etc.) of time, effort, and frustration on trying to figure out how to really set and achieve your goals. If you only read one post, at least read Goal Setting vs. Goal Planning because this will put you well ahead of the majority of people who regularly don’t achieve their goals.
In terms of actions, if there is one thing to decide, make it Commit to Your Best Year Ever.
Enjoy and best wishes for your greatest year ever and a powerful 2014.