Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
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
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.
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 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
"If you see a bandwagon, it’s too late." -- James Goldsmith
I’m really focused on helping businesses large and small succeed. Times are tough. I’ve been reading a lot of books on business skills and techniques. The latest book I read is pretty hard-core.
And exactly what I wanted to find.
Here’s my review:
Business Techniques in Troubled Times: A Toolbox for Small Business Success
It puts more than 70+ business skills at your fingertips.
What’s especially interesting is that the author is a turnaround artist. He helps flailing and failing businesses get back on track. Imagine having that kinds of ability – to help business rise from the ashes phoenix style.
That’s cool stuff.
Actually, it’s very powerful stuff.
Business transformation is a great place to be in today’s world.
After all, businesses are re-inventing themselves at a pace never before possible.
Anyway, you’ll appreciate this book if you want to know …
How to analyze the marketplace and do true competitive analysis and find your differentiation
How to design a great product or service
How to price your product or service more effectively
How to create a roadmap for your product
How to prioritize your product ideas
How to create a more effective business plan
How to avoid the most common mistakes when making a business plan
How to analyze a business model
How to create a financial plan
I could go on, and on, because this book really packs a lot into it. It’s an “all-in-one” guide that really covers creating and growing a business. You’ll especially appreciate this book if you’ve struggled with the “money” part of business. It’s one thing to have a good idea. It’s another to fund that idea, and to make it economically viable. This book actually shows you how.
The thing I want to stress about this book though is that it’s written by somebody who helps owners save and grow their businesses for a living.
Within the first fifteen minutes of reading the book, I had at least three new business skills I could immediately apply.
If you want a deep dive into the book, including snippets and insight, check out my review:
6 Steps for Enterprise Architecture as Strategy
Architecture Linkage, Business Linkage, and Alignment Linkage
How To Build a Foundation for Execution
What Do Customers Teach Us About Business
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
I heard a beautiful nugget on the art of simplicity the other day. It was about reducing complexity, cost, and time. Or, to put it another way, it makes a great case for simplicity.
Why focus on simplicity?
To reduce complexity.
Why reduce complexity?
It’s the key to reducing cost and time.
What a great way to connect the dots.
Aside from improving adoption, if you focus on simplicity, it’s a very real way to improve time to market and cost of goods, and in the end, elegance.
The big win for me with simplicity is the ability to improve things, whether it’s a process or a product. If you’ve ever had to deal with a beast of either one, you can appreciate what I mean. My first goal in taking on something is to drive for simplicity so that it has a fighting chance to improve over time.
Complexity dies, where simplicity thrives.
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.
I’m honored to have a guest post by Guy Kawasaki on Top Ten Reasons to Self-Publish. Self-publishing is hot. It’s a great path, especially if you can use writing as a way to share and scale what you know.
That said, there is a lot to know when it comes to the business of books, and that’s what Guy’s latest book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, is all about.
One of the big surprises I found in terms of self-publishing is that I made more in a month, than I made in a year, once I shipped the Kindle version. I knew there would be a difference, but I didn’t really anticipate just how big that difference would be.
The other thing I learned is that there is a big difference in what you can achieve if you look at self-publishing in terms of a longer-term play. The best advice I got from a friend was to think of it more like a slow burn, than a fast flame. This helped me experiment more and play around with everything from different covers, to different taglines, to different formats, etc. As a result, it’s been a best-seller in Time Management on Amazon for many months, which is an extremely competitive niche.
But I digress. Check out Guy Kawasaki’s guest post for me on Top Ten Reasons to Self-Publish. Who knows, it might just be your future career, or play a big role as we shift to a digital economy of information products and insight.
It's easy to build what's possible. It's tough to build what's valued.
If there's one thing I've learned from shipping stuff, doing competitive assessments, working closely with customers, and doing a lot of in-depth feature analysis ... it's that value is the short-cut for building better products. If you know what's valued, then you can target that. And, the surprise is, less is often more. (A little gold, beats a lot of junk, every time.)
I've also learned that value is in the eye of the beholder.
What's valued can surprise you. For example, one customer might value integration, while another customer might value, and pay for, simplicity. One customer might value security, while another might value usability. Value is a slider scale and there are always key trade-offs that impact the design. That's the art part.
It's easy to assume you know what's valued. Here's the irony. It's also easy to check your assumptions. Customers are happy to tell you whether they prefer A over B.
Missing the boat on what's valued is one of the worst mistakes. It's easy to build the wrong thing. It's also to build something irrelevant. It's also easy to build “bloat”-ware, where the product is too many things to too many people, and master of none. Less is more, especially when you solve the problems that people actually care about, and when you enable users to have a great experience achieving their goals.
Here's the message: "Do overs" are expensive (if you even get a second chance.) You don't have to build things that people don't want. You don't have to build things that people don't value. You don't have to build things that people won't pay for.
You can test the value, early and often. And, that's what some successful shippers do that other shippers don't.
The press release for Getting Results the Agile Way is now live at Time Management Tips and Time Management Strategies for Achievers. I think the message hits a sweet spot – it’s a time management system for achievers. (One interesting tidbit along those lines is that Getting Results the Agile Way was #2 on the Amazon best sellers list in Germany for “time management”.)
Here are the opening paragraphs:
Some say, “Time is all we have.” To master time is to master life. The secret of time management is to have a trusted system and a collection of time management tips and time management strategies to draw from.
Getting Results the Agile Way, by J.D. Meier, now available on Kindle, is a time management system for achievers focused on meaningful results. The power of Getting Results the Agile Way is that it combines some of the best practices for thinking, feeling, and taking action into one simple system to help achievers make the most of what they’ve got.
You can read the rest of the press release at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/10/prweb8914806.htm
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?
Getting better, faster, simpler, and more meaningful results is the name of today’s game.
What you don’t know can hurt you. Your own and other people’s productivity issues can get in your way. This is especially true if you don’t know what good looks like. This is especially true, if you don’t know what’s possible.
There are many ways to take your game to the next level. Everything from eliminating bottlenecks to focusing on the right things to flowing more value to reducing friction. If you are a one-man band and really need ways to scale yourself more effectively, I have written a deep post on how to scale yourself as a “one-man band” to flow more value, get more things done, and free up more time for yourself:
Note – I wrote it in 40 minutes, so hopefully it only takes you five minutes to read it. Normally, I limit writing a post to 20 minutes or less, but for this one, I figured the value of it, is worth if I had to spill over. I see too many people bogged down, losing sight of value, and not knowing how to get off the treadmill. I figured a pointed post on how to free yourself up and flow more value would be worth it.
Enjoy – and feel free to share your own proven practices for scaling yourself with skill.
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.
One of the simplest ways to get your groove back on, is to do things differently.
"Do the opposite" is a great strategy.
For example, if you've been staying up late, try getting up early. (Getting up early can help you go to bed earlier. And the secret of waking up earlier, is to go to bed earlier. See the loop?) Getting up earlier changes your world ... the traffic you see or don't, the people you pass or don't, the quiet times, the busy times, your state of mind. It all changes because you changed your structure.
And all you had to do was change your “When”.
You can apply "Do the opposite" to many things. It's a great way to cut the baggage. For example, if you normally write long and lengthy posts, try some short ones. Set a simple limit, like, “the post must not scroll.” You might find that you suddenly drop a burden from your back, and now you are light and ready for anything.
Another way to do the opposite is if you always decide that something must be done later, try doing it now. If you always do things slow, try doing things fast. If you always try to be right, try being interesting, useful, or insightful. Shake it up.
Rattle your own cage.
When we shake our cage, we wake up our possibilities. We surprise ourselves.
Have you ever felt like a phony? Like, if “they” found you out, they’d realize that you aren’t as awesome as they thought you were?
“Impostor syndrome” is a common issue.
Impostor syndrome is where you can’t internalize your success, and no amount of external validation or evidence helps convince you otherwise. So you work harder and harder to prove your success, but yet you still don’t quite measure up.
I’ve mentored a lot of people, and found that a lot of highly successful people actually have impostor syndrome, for one reason or another. For some, it’s because they feel they are in the fake stage of “fake it until you make it.” For others, it’s because their success doesn’t match their mental model of how it’s supposed to happen. For example, success came too quickly, or they feel they got a “lucky break.” For others, they don’t feel they match what a successful person is supposed to look like, or they don’t have the credentials they think they are supposed to have, or the specific experience they are supposed to have went under their belt.
So, it’s success on the outside, but no success on the inside.
And that leads to all sorts of issues, whether it’s a lack of confidence, or self-sabotage, or working harder and harder to validate their external success.
Luckily, there are proven practices for dealing with impostor syndrome.
I have the privilege of a guest post by Joyce Roche, author of The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success:
7 Ways to Conquer Impostor Syndrome – Lessons from Successful Business Leaders
It’s a simple set of coping strategies you can use to defeat impostor syndrome and find more fulfillment.
Anatomy of a High-Potential
The Guerilla Guide to Getting a Better Performance Review at Microsoft
The Book that Changes Lives
In the article, The Strategy Accelerator, Alfred Griffioen shares some specific examples of how today’s landscape changes the competitive arena:
I’ve seen this in action, and I like how Alfred called these out. It helps us not just see the landscape, but start to form new rules for the road.
My Related Posts
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.
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.
I have a new cover for my book, Getting Results the Agile Way. Getting Results the Agile Way introduces Agile Results, a simple system for meaningful results.
The purpose of the book is to share the best insights and actions for mastering productivity, time management, motivation, and work-life balance. In fact, I’ve been doing several talks around Microsoft on work-life balance, and helping teams improve their results.
It’s the best way I can give the edge to my Microsoft tribe, as well as share the principles, patterns, and practices for getting results with the rest of the world.
The new cover better reflects the values of Agile Results: Adventure, Balance, Congruence, Continuous learning, Empowerment, Focus, Flexibility, Fulfillment, Growth, Passion, Simplicity, and Sustainability. Specifically, the cover reflects simplicity, focus, continuous learning, and flexibility. Hopefully, the simplicity is obvious. The new cover is pretty bare-bones. It’s clean, while, minimal, and features a symbol. In this case, the symbol is a variation of an Enso. Intuitively, it simply implies a loop. But if you happen to know the Enso, it’s also a symbol of enlightenment. The beauty of a symbol is you can make it be what you want it to be to be meaningful for you (for me, it’s continuous learning and growth.)
Getting Results the Agile Way is serious stuff. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, Moms, restaurant owners, consultants, developers, project managers, team leaders, and more have been using the approach to do more with less, flow more value, and find work-life balance, while improving their thoughts, feelings, and actions to make the most of what they’ve got.
The system scales down to the one-man band (after all, it is a “personal” results system for work and life), and it scales up to teams. It’s the same approach I’ve used to lead distributed teams around the world for more than ten years.
Here is the back of the book which gives a quick overview of the system:
The new cover will likely be available this October, so if you are a fan of the current blue cover, scoop it up now, while it lasts (maybe it will be a collector’s item some day.)
One town that all roads seem to lead to, is that … brand is the ultimate differentiator.
It’s a reflection of the perception of perceived value, the emotional benefits, the intangibles and the culture and the values that the brand stands for. In fact, a good way to test your brand is to figure out the three to five attributes that it represents.
Brand is a powerful thing because it’s a position in the mind. For some categories, especially on the Web, sometimes you only need one brand at the top, and the rest don’t matter. That’s why sometimes the only way to play, is to divide the niche, or expand to a new category.
As an individual, your brand can serve you in many ways at your company, from opening doors to creating glide paths … especially, when your reputation proceeds you in a good way.
The trick as an individual is, how do you fit in, while finding ways to stand out and sharing your unique value?
I’m an avid collector of proven practices for execution and getting results. Execution is your best friend, among changing times and evolving landscapes, especially when you combine your execution with effective strategy.
One of the key practices for successful companies is digitizing their core processes. Digitizing your core processes can create higher profitability, reduce time to market, and get more value from your IT investments, while lowering your IT costs. That may sound too good to be true, but that’s a taste of what some of the data is showing. Regardless of the data, you may have experienced this yourself first-hand, if you’ve seen a company that really has it’s IT act together.
In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, by Jeane W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson, the authors write about the difference that makes some companies survive and thrive, while others fold.
Higher Profitability, Faster Time to Market, and More Value from their IT Digitizing your core processes can help you in multiple ways. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“We surveyed 103 U.S. and European companies about there IT and IT-enabled business processes. Thirty-four percent of those had digitized their core processes. Relative to their competitors, these companies have higher profitability, experience a faster time to market, and get more value from their IT investments. They have better access to shared customer data, lower risk of mission-critical systems failures, and 80 percent higher senior management satisfaction with technology. Yet, companies who have digitized their core processes have 25 percent lower IT costs. These are the benefits of an effective foundation for execution.”
Leading Edge Companies Pull Further and Further Ahead A good foundation for execution can help you focus, invest wisely, and get ahead. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“In contrast, 12 percent of the companies we studied are frittering away management attention and technology investments on a myriad of (perhaps) locally sensible projects that don’t support enterprise wide objectives. Another 48 percent of the companies are cutting waste from their IT budgets but haven’t figured out how to increase value from IT. Meanwhile, a few leading-edge companies are leveraging a foundation for execution to pull further and further ahead.”
Companies with a Good Foundation for Execution Have an Increasing Advantage A good foundation for execution is an exponential advantage. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“As such statistics show, companies with a good foundation for execution have an increasing advantage over those that don’t. In this book, we describe how to design, build, and leverage a foundation for execution. Based on survey and case study research at more than 400 companies in the United States and Europe, we provide insights, tools, and language to help managers recognize their core operations, digitize their core to more efficiently support their strategy, and exploit their foundation for execution to achieve business agility and profitable growth.”
I’ve seen the force multiplier of strategy+execution, and it’s no surprise why that is the difference that makes the difference between companies that thrive, and ones that die.
I’m on a hunt for the greatest thoughts of all time, expressed as quotes. I’m a big believer that our language shapes the quality of our lives and that we can shape the landscape of our minds with timeless wisdom and inspirational quotes.
I especially enjoy little pithy prose, those gems of insight, that remind us of how to live better and operate at a higher level. I’m a fan of the quotes that really bring out our inner-awesome in work and life.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes of all time, which reflect some of the greatest thoughts of all time:
If you have a favorite quote or thought of all time, feel free to share it with me. I’m working on my timeless wisdom collection in the background, and I want to make it easy to scan the greatest thoughts of all time.
It will be a collection of evergreen wisdom at your fingertips.
Inspirational Quotes for 2013
Quotes to Empower You for Work and Life
Personal Development Hub on Sources of Insight
No, this isn't about "Once upon a time." There are ways to know and share yourself with skill. You can combine stories and branding to reveal the truths that help you stand out in the marketplace or workplace, and play to your competitive edge.
But the challenge is this -- unless you're a skilled marketer, how do you reveal the power of your brand in a more compelling way?
I'm not a marketer, and I don't play one on T.V., so I have to work at it. The way I work at it, is I pay attention to the people that are outstanding at what they do.
So what do the people that are outstanding at this do?
They focus on values. Finding shared values is the key to building brands and building stronger relationships in everything you do ... in work, and in life. Brand building is largely about creating clarity around the values the brand stands for.
A simple way is to start by just figuring out three attributes that you want your brand to be about. For example:
It needs to be believable. You need to believe it, in your heart of hearts and soul of souls.
Related to that, you need to know who your brand is for. What are the values they share? What are the boundaries of those values, and at what point, do you have polar opposites or create conflict?
Find the intersection.
That’s where the magic happens.
If you want to be relevant, you need to find the intersection of the values.
Values are the ultimate lightening rod.
In their Value Disciplines Model, Treacy and Wiersema suggest that a business should focus on one of three value disciplines for success:
This re-enforces the idea by John Hagel and Marc Singer to split businesses into three core types (infrastructure businesses, product innovation businesses, and customer relationship businesses.)
The question of course is whether, does Traecy and Wiersema’s model hold up in today’s world, where business blends with technology, and social media makes customer intimacy a commodity?