Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
This is a guest blog post from Martin Sykes. Martin has been involved with Enterprise Architecture and IT Strategy for 15 years and is today a coach in Microsoft Service’s Enterprise Strategy Centre of Excellence. He’s also known for his use of visual storytelling techniques and is one of the authors of Stories That Move Mountains: Storytelling and Visual Design for Persuasive Presentations. (watch his top rated session on storytelling from TechEd New Zealand if you want to improve your own presentations)
Without further ado, here’s Martin on Value Realization …
This week I was teaching a class for our Enterprise Architects where we covered some of the most important topics for success as an EA, with one of the sections focused on the identification and delivery of value. If “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” then I think it’s fair to say “Value is in the eye of the customer”, although depending on your perspective you might replace customer with stakeholder or shareholder. In this posting I will cover some of the things we talked about that can make a big difference when creating business cases, and ensuring you realize the value promised in the business case.
What’s the first thing you do when creating a business case? Some may start by clarifying the scope, some by identifying the real drivers for change, some the budget.
I recommend you should first think about who will care about the opportunity proposed in the business case. Who will be reviewing it? Who will be approving it? What do they care about? Every business case must have good numbers, let’s take that as a given. Those numbers must be correct for the business case (and your reputation) to be credible. But while a business case must have the numbers it is more than the numbers. Even for purely internal teams the business case is a proposal for someone to make an investment decision, or more bluntly, to buy something.
Let’s turn that last statement around, when you create a business case you are selling something. So before you start work on that business case spend some time really understanding the consumer of the business case to work out why they will ‘buy’ your ideas now. This is important even if your customer is your own management, who have asked you to write the business case.
Use the insight into your customer to work out what narrative (or story) needs to go into the business case to support the numbers, to ensure you focus on the aspects that are important to the goals of the stakeholder. This is where so many standard templates fail to inspire. They take a business case to the point where it has all the logical argument and can totally miss, or at least hide, why the proposal is important and relevant to the customer today.
If value is the difference between cost and benefit then let’s look at all the different types of benefit that can come from making a change. I like to use a benefits structure developed from ideas first published by the Information Systems Research Centre of Cranfield University School of Management back in the late 1990s. The desire to make a change, or create a business case often comes initially from a belief that there will some form of improvement or financial return. In most organizations belief is not good enough - that’s why we ask people to work on a business case – so the team at Cranfield defined four levels of benefit that be used to build a business case:
Observable – these are the benefits we can see, but have not worked out how to measure. These could be improvements in morale or changes in the culture of an organization.
Measurable – one step up from observable and we now have identified some way to measure the benefit. For a cultural change program you could start to survey staff members to understand their attitudes to work and track this over time. Unfortunately you may not know what the current value for your measure is, and the first task may be to go out and do an initial survey to set a baseline.
Quantifiable – if you already have some data for the measures you might use then we call the benefit quantifiable. The best case here would be that you have a trail of historic data to show not only the current position but the existing trend. If you have a trend showing a slow but steady increase in staff turnover then you may be doing well simply to make a change that levels things off. If the trend was already improving then you have to do better than the trend.
Financial – finally, can you turn your measurement into financial value? If you know the costs of recruitment and training to bring in a new staff member you can define a financial benefit to balance against the costs of your proposed changes. There are two kinds of financial benefit though, the first is where you can recognize the value, but in reality you can do nothing with the money. This is typically the case where a proposal has identified savings in time because of a new process, but in reality the saving does not allow you to reduce staff numbers. All you can really do is re-purpose that time for more work. The second is where you can realize the value and actually have real money in the bank (or avoid spending some). If a new process allows you to achieve the current workload with 3 people instead of 4 then you have a choice to reduce staff costs and realize the benefit.
All of these benefits can be included in a business case and contribute to the value of a project, but in reality only realized financial benefits can be used to provide a return on investment calculation. If you want to learn more about this approach then watch my TechEd New Zealand recording from earlier this year.
Most of the business cases I see developed are used to secure funding, then used simply as a baseline for the project costs. As benefits usually cannot be realized until something is delivered this part of the business case is often quietly forgotten about. When an IT project team complete a delivery there is usually some form of celebration, the solution is handed to operations and a small group might be left providing some user training. The benefits drift away, someone else’s problem.
Here’s an idea I have only ever seen implemented a few times around the world, and that’s because it challenges a few basic assumptions about the role of a project manager and a PMO.
Change the definition of success for a project manager to be about the realization of value. Delivery is just another milestone. The PM should be required to stay on the project until the ROI stated in the business case is achieved. This makes the PM responsible for user adoption and achieving the benefits defined in the business case. Achieving the value becomes the goal of the project, resources are planned to ensure adoption happens, and measures are implemented to show progress. It also changes the types of business cases produced. Inflated expectations are pushed down by the PM to more realistic levels so the project can be reach the ROI as quickly as possible and the PM can move on to their next project. For such a little idea it can take a big change in mindset and culture to make it happen – but the result can be projects that have a much more demonstrable impact on the business.
Mark Bestauros on Value Realization
Graham Doig on Value Realization
Strategy Must Be Dynamic
I was watching a video on Google Glass with Robert Scoble, and I couldn’t help but wonder about all the possibilities that technology can bring to the table.
Wearable computing bridges the gap between the real world and the things we see in Sci-Fi movies.
Of course, when we overlay information on our world, the key will be turning information into insight and action. All change isn’t progress, and the market will flush out things faster than ever before. And, to the victor go the spoils.
In the video, you can see how the Google Glass does a few basic things so far:
The big limit in what it’s capable of, so far, seems to be the batter power. And of course, a key concern was security. It’s another reminder how in the software space, security and performance always play a role, even if they are behind the scenes. In fact, that’s the irony of software security and performance, they are at their best when you don’t notice them.
Security and performance are often unsung heroes.
The big take away for me is that the game is on warp speed now. By game, I mean, the business of software. You can go from idea to market pretty fast. So the big bottlenecks range from the right ideas, to the right people, to the right strategy, to the right execution.
But more importantly, the reminder is this:
Companies with smart people, data-driven insights, a culture of innovation, great software processes, customer focus, and reach around the world, can change the world -- at a faster pace than ever before.
Who knows what we’ll be wearing next?
If you are really behind, and want to dig yourself out, and get back on top things, then close the flood gate.
Don't take on new things.
Time management tips #22 is close the flood gates. It's all too easy to reopen the door, let things slip in, and keep taking on new things, without first finishing what's already on your overloaded plate. Closing the flood gate simply means stop randomizing and churning on new work that you don't have the time, capacity, bandwidth, attention, or energy to focus on. If you keep taking on more, it's not a service to anybody, especially yourself.
Whenever I find myself buried among a sea of open work, unfinished tasks, and things to do, I close the flood gate. I stand guard at the door of incoming requests, and I put all of my focus on the open work.
It's easy to stretch past capacity. You say yes to things you think will finish a little faster than they actually do. Things come up. You didn't have a buffer for when things go wrong. The key is to recognize when you're past your capacity, and to take decisive action.
No new work. Full focus on the work that is wearing you down, or blocking your ability to flow value.
The problem is work will still come your way. Have a place to put it. A simple list is fine. You can review it and prioritize it when you're read to take on more things. The trap to avoid is dabbling in new work, dabbling in unfinished work, and throwing more balls in the air, than you can possibly juggle.
Don't create your own problem by taking on work past your capacity. If somebody assigns work to you, do them a favor, and let them know you're at capacity, and when you expect to free up. If you see new work as higher value than what's already on your plate, consider trading up for it, and letting your open work go. If you have so much open work that you're spending more time managing it, than finishing it, then consider shelving the lower priority work. Put it on the shelf for another day. Temporary let it go, while you concentrate your focus on a vital few things to complete them.
You'll be surprised what you're capable of with focus and priorities and concentrated effort in small batches of time.
Close the flood gate, narrow your focus, flow your value.
For work-life balance skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a work-life balance system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.
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People like to hear stories about how other people are adopting Getting Results the Agile Way. Meet Praveen Rangarajan. He’s a developer with a passion for more from life.
Praveen is not a "process" guy, but Agile Results gave him just enough structure to support his everyday things. Using Agile Results he learned to improve his results at both work and life in a more systematic way.
Here is Praveen telling his story of how he adopted Getting Results the Way …
For a majority of my life, I had never been a "Process" guy except when it came to work. I always believed order was meant for the military. I wanted to be a free bird - doing things my way at the time of my choosing.
When JD briefed me on his new book and the process he was working on, I volunteered and said I wanted to be a part of it. I am quite successful at work and wanted to improve it further. However, I wasn't too keen on adopting it for life. I thought it would restrict me a lot and clip my feathers. So, I adopted it at work and did a trial run for a month. It was much more successful than I thought. The Agile Results process has in more ways than one made me a responsible individual. The most important realizations for me at the end of it was
Starting with The Rule of Three I started by applying the Rule of 3. On the way to work, I decide on the three things I want to get done for the day. I restricted myself to one day only. I get distracted if I start thinking too far ahead. For the first week or so, I had trouble identifying the three best things for a day. I would either achieve it in the first hour of work or wouldn't be able to complete even 1 out of the 3. For example, I wanted to complete a module that would have been possible had it not been for a CR [change request] flowing in. Now, it would take me more than 2 days to finish it. My plan for the day went down the tube. Slowly, I began to realize that I had to be more granular. The granularity had to be such that it was independent enough to be completed in isolation and at the same time wasn't too small a puzzle to solve. For example, "complete and check-in functionality ABC in module XYZ". This way I'm assured of completing the three activities I want to perform. Also, I can add more if time permits.
Timeboxing to Get a Handle on Time Management The next most important pattern was the Timeboxing a week. In other words, scheduling results for a week. Its a pretty simple yet strong pattern. Again, I misunderstood its importance when I started off. I used it more like a calendar. A reminder of bucket lists of sorts. Although it helps, there is something more that this pattern offers. JD was kind enough to point it out to me. He said to think of it like a strengths and weaknesses chart. It triggered a new way of thinking in me. I was now also looking at a week gone by and identifying times of the day, or days of the week where I was strong or weak, and displayed efficiency vs. laziness. And if this behavior was repetitive, odds are you have just plotted a pattern map. Ultimately this chart helps you make better use of your "Best" time, and look to improve upon your "Idle" time. Complementing the pattern above is the Mindsets pattern. JD uses the term switching hats or changing personas. This basically allows you to maximize the returns on "Idle" time by using them effectively in other ways. For example, I would be annoyed when someone disturbed me with something really stupid when I was doing great work. I would lose 10 minutes in the conversation and another 20 cursing the moron who started it off. After using the Mindsets pattern, I now use the 20 minutes of previously wasted time to walk out of my cubicle and stretch and relax. What it has allowed me to do is to concentrate on my exercise rather than the worthless discussion. Also, both my mind and body get a mini-refreshment.
It’s How You Apply It I began to admire this [Agile Results] process because it was so flexible that I could take, leave or modify certain steps so that they fit my profile better. The goal is to understand the essence of the process and modify it to one's needs. I was pretty satisfied with the results and decided to do a trial run for life as well. A week later, the results came. It was a disaster. The worst part was when I couldn't figure out why it failed. I thought I must be doing something wrong and worked out the whole thing again. Another week went by and it was still not working. After giving it some thought and asking the right set of questions, I realized one fundamental part that I completely ignored in the application of this process to life - and that is setting minimum and maximum time to activities right from the most granular to the complete. Now, I re-did my strategy of application. In two weeks time I could see improvement. It was far from the final outcome. But bottom line, it had started to work. Now, it is unto me to make it successful. Like they say, success or failure lies in not what you have but how you apply what you have.
Changing the Game a Practice or Principle at a Time Like I had stated earlier, the process works well even if I pick 1 out 10 steps as long as I believe it is going to be my game changer. You can add/remove steps any time. At the end of the day, you want your life to be better. And only you know what's best for you. In my case, the most important game changers were:
Work Backwards from the End in Mind A very important by-product of this process is quick feedback. You get to know if you are on-track or tangential almost immediately. You can alter the course of your activities midway so long as you understand what you are doing and targeting. This is one of the very few processes that works its way backward, i.e. you look at the end and work your way back. This means you have a vision for what you want to achieve even before you start. This is a very positive way to look at things. The problem with thinking the other way is that my mind will give up very soon. It [Agile Results] is designed to choose the most optimal Traveling Salesman Problem (TSP) algorithm. And if the time to achieve is long, it will deem it unimportant and a waste of my time.
It Starts the Journey In summary, this process has not turned my life upside down in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. But it has paved a path. Adopting it has not been easy at all, at least for me. But the ROI has been well worth it so far. There's no denying that it will only improve as time goes by and I continue to keep doing things the right way. If there is one thing I have to tell others about this process, it is that do not follow it like a horse. It is a guide, a mentor. Like my mother always tells me, God will help you get you good grades in your exam only if you prepare well for it and put all your energy into it. You cannot expect him to perform miracles out of nothing. Same goes to this process as well. Put your best foot forward and the rest will follow.
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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.
Have you heard of the big rocks story? If not, the idea is that if you don't first make room for your big rocks, all the fillers of life will fill up your day for you.
Time management tips #6 is -- schedule the big rocks. If you don't have an appointment on your calendar for XYZ, it's not going to happen. If you don't have a recurring appointment called, "Write Your Book," it won't happen. If you don't have a recurring appointment called, "Workout," it won't happen.
Maybe you want to build an app to change the world. Do you have a recurring appointment on your calendar called, "Build an App to Change the World"? I know some people that do. And even if they don't change the world, they are making the time for it, and that's exactly the point.
You don't have time for this. You don't have time for that. You only have time for the things you make time for. Carve out time for what's important. Schedule it, and make it happen.
What are you making time for?
In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the time management exercises to Carve Out Time for What's Important and get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis. You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com
How you split the work is one thing. How you team up on work is another.
This is one of those patterns that can be counter-intuitive, but is one of the single-biggest factors for successful teams. I've seen it time and again, over many years, in many places.
When I compare the effectiveness of various organizations, there's a pattern that always stands out. It's how they leverage their capabilities in terms of teamwork. For the sake of simplicity, I'll simply label the two patterns:
In the One-Man Band scenario, while everybody is on a team, they are all working on seperate things and individual parts. In the Pairing Up scenario, multiple people work on the same problems, together. In other words ...
The Obvious Answer is Often the Wrong Answer The obvious choice is to divide and conquer the work and split the resources to tackle it. That would be great if this was the industrial age, and it was just an assembly line. The problem is it's the knowledge area, and in the arena of knowledge work, you need multiple skills and multiple perspectives to make things happen effectively and efficiently.
Teams of Capabilities, Beat Teams of One In other words, you need teams of capabilities. When you Pair Up, you're combining capabilities. When you combine capabilities, that means that people spend more time in their strengths. You might be great at the technical perspective, but then lack the customer perspective. Or you might be great at doing it, but not presenting it. Or you might be great at thinking up ideas, but suck at sticking with the daily grind to finish the tough stuff. Or you might be great at grinding through the tasks, but not so great at coming up with ideas, or prioritizing, etc.
The One-Man Band Scenario Creates Bottlenecks and Inefficiencies As the One-Man Band, what happens is everybody bottlenecks. They spend more time in their weaknesses and things they aren't good at. Worse, the person ends up married to their idea, or the idea represents just one person's thinking, instead of the collective perspective.
Crews Spend More Time in Strengths and Gain Efficiencies If you've had the benefit of seeing these competing strategies first hand, then it's easy with hind-sight to fully appreciate the value of Pairing Up on problems vs. splitting the work up into One-Man Bands. For many people, they've never had the benefit of working as "crews" or pairing up on problems, and, instead, spend a lot of energy working on their weaknesses and meanwhile, spending way less time on their strength.
When people work as teams of capabilities, and are Pairing Up on problems, the execution engine starts to streamline, people gain efficiencies, and get exponential results. Several by-products also happen:
There are Execution Patterns for High Performing Teams Of course there are exceptions to the generalization (for example, some individuals have a wide variety of just the right skills), and of course their are success patterns (and anti-patterns) for building highly effective teams of capabilities, and effectively pairing people up in ways that are empowering, and catalyzing. I learned many of these the hard way, through trial and error, and many years of experimenting while under the gun to bring out the best in individuals and simultaneously unleash and debottleneck teams for maximum performance and impact. I’ve also had the benefit of mentoring teams, and individuals in reshaping their execution. This is probably an area where it’s worth me sharing a more focused collection of patterns and practices on leading high performance teams.
If you have a favorite post or favorite write up that drills into this topic, please send it my way. In my experience, it's one of the most fundamental game changers to improving the execution and impact of any team, and especially, one that does any sort of knowledge work, and engineering.
You can listen to the Expert Access Radio Interview on Getting Results the Agile Way. It’s available as a podcast and on iTunes.
I'm honored to be interviewed by Expert Access Radio on Getting Results the Agile Way.
Expert Access Radio is a weekly talk radio show that features live, in-depth interviews with business leaders and best-selling authors from around the world. Some of their featured guests include Guy Kawasaki, Robert Kiyosaki, and Steven Pressfield.
On the show, Jay McKeever and Steve Kayser have their guests share their ideas, information, insights and inspirational stories to help listeners in their life of business, or their business of life.
In the article, The Strategy Accelerator, Alfred Griffioen shares his thoughts on competitive monopoly and how the only way outperform your competitors is through differentiation.
“The question "how to be successful in the market" is among the most relevant for business economics, but only a few researchers and authors have formulated directive rather than descriptive answers. A better direction can be found in basic economy researchers: if you can differentiate yourself from the competitors, you have a sort of monopoly. In a monopoly you can choose your own price and quantity optimum on the demand curve. As soon as you encounter competitors, the power shifts to the customer: the price is set by the market and you can only follow. The only way outperform your competitors is through differentiation.”
I think Griffioen raises some good points and the best way to differentiate is by building a better brand for whoever you serve.
"What are your three wins for today?"
That's the one very simple test I ask myself and my team, on a daily basis. It instantly helps focus and prioritize our massive backlog, our incoming requests, and competing demands. It's how to cut "Crazy Busy" down to size with one simple question ...
“What are your three wins for today?”
It’s a way to carve out and shine the spot light on the value we will create today. It sets a target to aim for. It flips the haystack. Instead of finding the needles of value lost among the hay stack of stuff, we start with the needles. Clarity of value, trims the To-Do tree down to size.
After all, no matter what's coming your way, and what's on your plate, you can only do so much. The trick is to figure out what's the next best thing to spend your time and energy on. When you answer that question, you give yourself peace of mind, knowing that you are working on the smarter things you can for the day. You also give yourself creative freedom to achieve your goals, rather than get stuck in “the how trap.” (To-Do lists have a nasty habit of making you slaves to administration and getting stuck in tasks instead of focused on goals and value.)
Just by identifying your three wins for the day, you give yourself a way to succeed. You've just identified your personal tests for success. At the end of the day, it's easy to check your progress against your goals. It's also easy to use your wins throughout the day, as a way to stay focused or to re-prioritize.
My three wins for today are:
I keep the wins, simple and punchy. The key is saying them out loud. Actually verbalize your wins. This simplifies them. Then write them down. Say them out loud first, as if saying your wins for the day to your manager, and then write them down. The simpler you can say your wins, the easier they are to remember. The simpler you can say your wins, the easier it is for your manager to follow, and to actually appreciate your contribution. The simpler you can say your wins, the easier it is for other people to follow or help you achieve your goals. The simpler you can say your win, the easier it is to get others on the same page, whether that's your team, your allies, or winning over the forces of evil, by setting a shared goal.
This is an extremely key habit for unstoppable you. Whether you want a better review, or to be a better leader, or to simply be more effective at time management, focus, and setting priorities ... this is a daily habit for success.
In Time Management Tips #3 -- Three Wins for the Week, I shared how you can use your three wins to shape your focus and priorities for the week, as well as give yourself a way to acknowledge your impact. Otherwise, it's easy to have another week fly by, do a bunch of stuff, and yet not even be able to articulate the value you delivered or the way you change your world. even in some small way. The wins accentuate the positive, focus on what counts, and rise above the noise.
By using Three Wins for the Day and Three Wins for the Week, you have a way to zoom in on your day, or zoom out to the week, so you can see the forest for the trees, and take the balcony view. It also gives you an easy way to readjust your priorities if the focus is off. This two-pronged approach also helps you connect your daily work toward weekly impact. It also helps you see what's right in front of you, and lean in, knowing that you are spending the right time, on the right things, with the right energy.
Say your three wins for today and write them down, and see if you can nail them.
In 30 Days of Getting Results, you can use the exercise and three stories to drive your day to get exponential results on a daily and weekly basis.
You can also find more time management tips in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way, and on Getting Results.com
I was talking with a colleague recently about the following question:
“How do you accelerate business value?”
One of the key challenges in today’s world is accelerating business value. If you’re implementing solutions, the value doesn’t start to get realized until users actually start to use the solution.
THAT’s actually the key insight to help you accelerate business value.
When you are planning, if you want to accelerate business value, then you need to think in terms of pushing costs out, and pulling benefits in. How can you start throwing off benefits earlier, and build momentum?
With that in mind, you have three ways to accelerate business value:
Before you roll out a solution, you should know the set of user scenarios that would deliver the most business benefits.
Keep in mind benefits will be in the eyes of the stakeholders.
If the sequence is a long cycle, and the adoption curve is way out there, and benefits don’t start showing up until way downstream, that’s a tough sell. And, it puts you at risk. These days, people need to see benefits showing up within the quarter, or you have a lot of explaining to do.
So one of the ways to accelerate business value is to accelerate adoption. There are many change frameworks, change patterns, strategies and tactics for driving change. Remember though that it all comes down to behavior change and changing behaviors. If you want to succeed in driving change in today’s world, then work on your change leadership skills.
This approach is about doing the right things, faster.
Another way to accelerate business value is to re-sequence the scenarios. If your big bang is way at the end (way, way at the end), no good. Sprinkle some of your bangs up front. In fact, a great way to design for change is to build rolling thunder. Put some of the scenarios up front that will get people excited about the change and directly experiencing the benefits. Make it real.
The approach is about putting first things first.
The third way to accelerate business value is to identify higher-value scenarios. One of the things that happens along the way, is you start to uncover potential scenarios that you may not have seen before, and these scenarios represent orders of magnitude more value. This is the space of serendipity. As you learn more about users and what they value, and stakeholders and what they value, you start to connect more dots between the scenarios you can deliver and the value that can be realized (and therefore, accelerated.)
This approach is about trading up for higher value and more impact.
If you need to really show business impact, and you want to be the cool kid that has a way of showing and flowing value no matter what the circumstances, keep these strategies and tactics in mind.
The landscape will only get tougher, so the key for you is to get smarter and put proven practices on your side.
People that know how to accelerate business value will float to the top of the stack, time and again.
10 Big Ideas from Getting Results the Agile Way
10 Ways to Make Agile Design More Effective
Agile Methodology in Microsoft patterns & practices
How We Adhered to the Agile Manifesto on the patterns & practices team
Adam Grocholski has a great post on timeboxing. In his post, he shares his secrets of how he’s applied Getting Results the Agile Way to take control of his time. One of my favorite parts is where he explains how he made a business case with his customers to spend less time in meetings, and more time producing results.
Check out Adam’s post on Timeboxing.
Don’t try to turn all of your traditional IT into a digital unit.
You’ll break both, or do neither well.
Instead, add a Digital Unit. Meanwhile, continue to simplify and optimize your traditional IT, but, at the same time, add a Digital Unit that’s optimized to operate in a Cloud-First, Mobile-First world.
This is the Dual-Speed IT approach, and, with this way, you can choose the right approach for the job and get the best of both worlds.
Some projects involve more extensive planning because they are higher-risk and have more dependencies.
Other projects benefit from a loose learning-by-doing method, with rapid feedback loops, customer impact, and testing new business waters.
And, over time, you can shift the mix.
In the book, Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation, George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee, share some of their lessons learned from companies that are Digital Masters that created their digital visions and are driving business change.
You can grow one of your existing business units into a Digital Unit. For example, marketing is a pretty good bet, given the customer focus and the business impact.
Via Leading Digital:
“Changing the IT-business relationship is well worth the effort, but doing so takes time. Your company may not have the time to wait before starting your digital transformation. Rather than improving the IT unit, some companies try to build digital skills into another unit, such as marketing. They try to work around IT rather than with it.”
Don’t throw away your existing IT or break it by turning it into something it’s not, too quickly. Instead, leverage it for the projects where it makes sense, while also leveraging your new Digital IT unit.
“Although building digital skills is useful, trying to work around IT can be fraught with challenges, especially if people do not understand the reasons for IT's systematic, if sometimes ponderous, processes. This kind of flanking action can waste money, make the digital platform more complex, and even worse, open the company to security and regulatory risks.”
You can have the best of both worlds, while both evolving your traditional IT and growing your Digital Unit to thrive at Cloud speed.
“A better approach is to create a dual-speed IT structure, where one part of the IT unit continues to support traditional IT needs, while another takes on the challenge of operating at digital speed with the business. Digital activities--especially in customer engagement--move faster than many traditional IT ones. They look at design processes differently. Where IT projects have traditionally depended on clear designs and well-structured project plans, digital activities often engage in test-and-learn strategies, trying features in real-life experiments and quickly adding or dropping them based on what they find.”
Your Digital Unit needs to be very different from traditional IT in terms of the mindset and the approaches around the people, processes, and technology.
“In a dual-speed approach, the digital unit can develop processes and methods at clock-speeds more closely aligned with the digital world, without losing sight of the reasons that the old IT processes existed. IT leaders can draw on informal relationships within the IT department to get access to legacy systems or make other changes happen. Business leaders can use their networks to get input and resources. Business and IT leaders can even start to work together in the kind of two-in-a-box leadership method that LBG and other companies have adopted.”
To make it work and to make it work well, it takes partnerships on both sides. The business and IT both need skin in the game.
“Building dual-speed IT units requires choosing the right leadership on both sides of the relationship. Business executives need to be comfortable with technology and with being challenged by their IT counterparts. IT leaders need to have a mind-set that extends beyond technology to encompass the processes and drivers of business performance. Leaders from both sides need to be strong communicators who can slide easily between conversations with their business- or IT-focused people.”
With both options at your disposal, Great IT Leaders know how to choose the right approach for the job. Some programs and projects will take a more traditional life-cycle or require heavier planning or more extensive governance and risk management, while other projects can be driven in a more lightweight and agile way.
“Dual-speed IT also requires perspective about the value of speed. Not all digital efforts need the kind of fast-moving, constantly changing processes that digital customer-engagement processes can need. In fact, the underlying technology elements that powered LBG's new platform, Asian Paints' operational excellence, and Nike's digital supply chain enhancements required the careful, systematic thinking that underpins traditional IT practices. Doing these big implementations in a loose learning-by-doing method could be dangerous. It could increase rework, waste money, and introduce security risks. But once the strong digital platform is there, building new digital capabilities can be fast, agile, and innovative. The key is to understand what you need in each type of project and how much room any project has to be flexible and agile. Great IT leaders know how to do this. If teamed with the right business leaders, they can make progress quickly and safely.”
It takes a shift in processes to do Dual-Speed IT.
“Dual-speed IT also takes new processes inside IT. Few digital businesses have the luxury to wait for monthly software release cycles for all of their applications. Digital-image hosting business Flickr, for example, aims for up to ten deployments per day, while some businesses require even more. This continuous-deployment approach requires very tight discipline and collaboration between development, test, and operations people. A bug in software, missed step in testing, or configuration problem in deployment can bring down a web site or affect thousands of customers.”
DevOps blends development and operations into a more integrated approach that simplifies and streamlines processes to shorten cycle times and speed up fixes and feedback loops.
“A relatively new software-development method called DevOps aims to make this kind of disciplined speed possible. It breaks down silos between development, operations, and quality assurance groups, allowing them to collaborate more closely and be more agile. When done properly, DevOps improves the speed and reliability of application development and deployment by standardizing development environments. It uses strong methods and standards, including synchronizing the tools used by each group.”
DevOps is the name of the game when it comes to shipping better, faster, cheaper and more reliably in a Cloud-First, Mobile-First world.
“DevOps relies heavily on automated tools to do tasks in testing, configuration control, and deployment—tasks that are both slow and error-prone when done manually. Companies that use DevOps need to foster a culture where different IT groups can work together and where workers accept the rules and methods that make the process effective. The discipline, tools, and strong processes of DevOps can help IT release software more rapidly and with fewer errors, as well as monitor performance and resolve process issues more effectively, than before.”
In order for your Digital Transformation to thrive, it takes building better bridges between the business leaders and the IT leaders.
“Whether your CIO takes it upon himself or herself to improve the IT-business relationship, or you decide to help make it happen, forging a strong link between business and IT executives is an essential part of driving digital transformation. Strong IT-business relationships can transform the way IT works and the way the business works with it. Through trust and shared understanding, your technology and business experts can collaborate closely, like at LBG, to innovate your business at digital speeds. Without this kind of relationship, your company may become mired in endless requirements discussion, filing projects, and lackluster systems, while your competitors accelerate past you in the digital fast lane.”
If you want to thrive in the new digital economy while driving digital business transformation without breaking your existing business, consider adding Dual-Speed IT to your strategies and shift the mix from traditional IT to your Digital Unit over time.
10 High-Value Activities in the Enterprise
Cloud Changes the Game from Deployment to Adoption
Drive Business Transformation by Reenvisioning Operations
Drive Business Transformation by Reenvisioning Your Customer Experience
How To Improve the IT-Business Relationship
Management Innovation is at the Top of the Innovation Stack
Think in a Series of Sprints, Not Marathons
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
Sometimes you need to Just Start. Other times, you need to Just Finish.
One of the best ways never to finish something, is to spread it out over time. Time changes what's important. People lose interest. Changes of heart happen along the way. Spreading things over time or pushing them out is a great way to kill projects.
Open items, open loops, and unfinished tasks compound the problem. The more unfinished work there is, the more task switching, and context switching you do. Now you're spending more time switching between things, trying to pick up where you left off, and losing momentum.
This is how backlogs grow and great ideas die. This is how people that "do" become people that "don't."
Time management tips #19 is just finish. If you have a bunch of open work, start closing it down. Swarm it. Overwhelm your open items with brute force. Set deadlines: - Today, I clear my desk. - Today, I decide on A, B, or C and run with it. - Today, I close the loop. - Today, I solve it. - Today, I clear my backlog.
If you want to finish something, then “own” it and drive it. To finish requires ruthless prioritization. It requires relentless focus. It requires putting your full force on the 20% of the things that deliver 80% of the value. It requires deciding on an outcome and plowing through until you are done.
Stop taking on more, until you finish what's on your plate. If you want to take on more, then finish more. The more you finish, the better you get.
The more you finish, the more you will trust yourself to actually complete things.
The more you finish, the more others will trust you to actually take things on.
The more you finish, the more you build your momentum for great results.
For time management skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.
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.
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
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
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?
I did a major cleanup of my post on lessons learned from John Maxwell:
Lessons Learned from John Maxwell
It should be much easier to read now.
It was worth cleaning up because John Maxwell is one of the deepest thinkers in the leadership space. He’s published more than 50 books on leadership and he lives and breathes leadership in business and in life.
When I first started studying leadership long ago, John Maxwell’s definition of leadership was the most precise I found:
“Leadership is influence.”
As I began to dig through his work, I was amazed at the nuggets and gems and words of wisdom that he shared in so many books. I started with Your Road Map for Success. I think my next book was The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Ironically, I didn’t realize it was the same author until I started to notice on my shelf that I had a growing collection of leadership books, all by John Maxwell.
It was like finding the leadership Sherpa.
Sure enough, over the years, he continued to fill the shelves at Barnes & Nobles, with book after book on all the various nooks and crannies of leadership.
This was about the same time that I noticed how Edward de Bono had filled the shelves with books on thinking. I realized that some people really share there life’s work as a rich library that is a timeless gift for the world. I also realized that it really helps people stand out in their field or discipline when they contribute so many guides and guidance to the art and science of whatever their specific focus is.
What I like about John Maxwell’s work is that it’s plain English and down to Earth. He writes in a very conversational way, and you can actually see his own progress throughout his books. In Your Road Map for Success, it’s a great example of how he doesn’t treat leadership as something that comes naturally. He works hard at it, to build his own knowledge base of patterns, practices, ideas, concepts, and inspirational stories.
While he’s created a wealth of wisdom to help advance the practice of leadership, I think perhaps his greatest contribution is The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. It’s truly a work of art, and he does an amazing job of distilling down the principles that serve as the backbone of effective leadership.
When you drive business change and digital initiatives with Cloud, Mobile, Social, and Big Data (and Internet of Things), successful businesses think a series of sprints, not marathons.
Successful businesses go digital by transforming their customer experiences, their employee experiences, and their back-office experiences through rapid prototyping, building proofs-of-concept, testing pilots, and going to production. It’s a fast cycle of prototype –> pilot –> POC –> production.
These short cycles create rapid learning loops, build momentum, and help adapt for change.
In the book, Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation, George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee, share some of their lessons learned in driving digital initiatives and agile transformation.
Avoid Big Up Front Design. Whenever there is a big lag time between designing it, developing it, and using it, you’re introducing more risk. You’re breaking feedback loops. You’re falling into the pit of analysis paralysis. Focus on “just enough design” so that you can test what works and what doesn’t, and respond accordingly.
“The digital world moves quickly. The rapid pace of technology innovation today does not lend itself to multiyear planning and waterfall development methods common in the ERP era. Markets change, new technologies become mainstream, an disruptive entrants begin courting your customers. Your roadmap will need to be nimble enough to recognize these changes, adapt for them, and course-correct.”
Hold on to the vision and use that to guide you as you test your ideas and implement them, without getting bogged down.
“To design an agile transformation, borrow an approach that has become common among today's leading software companies. Keep people committed to the end goal, but pace your initiatives as short sprints of effort. Create prototype solutions, and experiment with new technologies or approaches. Evaluate the results, and incorporate the results into your evolving roadmap. Adam Brotman, Starbucks CDO, explained the iterative process: 'We didn't have all the answers, but we started thinking about other things we could do ... I think it worked not to go too far, too fast, but to keep a vision in mind and keep building on success along the way.”
Short cycle times help you respond to market change and adapt as you learn what works and what doesn’t.
“The test-and-learn approach will require some new ways of working in its own right, but it enjoys some distinct advantages. By marketing ideas quickly before they go to scale, this approach saves time and money. It's short cycle times also make it more adaptive to external changes. Finally, it enables your transformation to sustain momentum through small, incremental successes, rather than the big-bang approach of long-term programs.”
When it comes to your digital strategy and driving business transformation, drive your business change the agile way.
Building Better Business Cases for Digital Initiatives
How Digital is Changing Physical Experiences
McKinsey on Unleashing the Value of Big Data Analytics
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.
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.
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.
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.