Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
While putting together lessons learned from our Cloud-related Enterprise Strategy engagements, we consolidated a set of recurring IT drivers.
The improvement of IT services and operations can deliver benefits such as improved service levels and cost savings. The Cloud offers numerous routes to IT optimization.
10 IT Drivers for the Cloud Some of the key IT drivers for the Cloud include:
My Related Posts
Getting Results the Agile Way is a personal results system for work and life. It’s about making the most of what you’ve got, and helping you get exponential results, by working on the right things, at the right time, the right way, with the right energy. Most importantly, it’s about getting meaningful results, not simply doing more things. It’s also the playbook I wish somebody gave me when I started. It would have save me a lot of time, hard lessons, and accelerated my path in a more sustainable way.
The heart of the system is three parts:
That’s the system. But the system comes to life when you hear how people use it or how it changes their life.
Meet Tim Kropp.
Tim is an Information Security Program Manager, and here is his story of using Getting Results the Agile Way …
For the past 10 years I’ve been focused on two significant methods for getting results 1) Using Project Management methods (PMBOK) and 2) Franklin Covey’s “Habits”. In May of 2010 I began to apply the Agile Results process, and put simply, it has added completeness. While both Project Management, with its strong focus on planning correctly, and 7 Habits, with its foundation in values, are both effective - using Getting Results provides a few things that I hadn’t expected. You see, for several years I’ve been a big proponent of planning correctly, analyzing prior to implementing, long periods of thinking, and then implementing. My methods were incomplete. Agile Results provided completeness, agility, and flexibility to my approach. It’s not a matter of the PMBOK, or 7 Habits systems being better, or worse. It is a matter of the approach being different. It is now part of the big three methods right, not separate? So here is what I think is my “Big 3”:
Agile Results allow you to make adjustments, immediately or over time, as you need them. It’s more than just a systematic way of doing things. JD provides insight, advice, through proven practices that he and others use. It is more than just a Project, or a Value, or a Habit. It’s a combination of them all, and they all work together synergistically. So, pick any given project or goal you might have. Just try starting with something simple from this large swath of information from JD (another thing I learned – keep it simple). Say like, the rule of 3, the reflection pattern and then after a few weeks of trying it out, look at the results. It’s amazing. I did it. And you’ll want more. I was completely overwhelmed, overworked, and behind in a huge project delivery. I needed a way to get it done, effectively. JD gave me a hint to read through “Getting Started”. Of course, the last thing you want is more workload, but I listened and tried applying it immediately. I haven’t stopped. Every day, every week, even monthly, quarterly, yearly, the rule of 3 is my foundation. And now that’s just the beginning……….imagine what’s next. -- Tim Kropp, Information Security Program Manager
Getting Results the Agile Way is a personal results system for making the most of what you’ve got. As the book cover says, it helps you focus and prioritize, manage time and information, and balance work and life, to achieve meaningful results. People have been using the approach for anything from shipping software to home improvement to renovating their restaurants. Leaders have been using it to improve the productivity, passion, and performance of their teams. By having people work on the right things, at the right time, the right way, with the right energy, it brings out the best in people. It’s a way to amplify impact and get exponential results.
… But what makes it real is when you hear from the people that are using the system.
Meet Jason Taylor. Jason is CTO (Chief Technology Officer) at Security Innovation, and here is his story of using Getting Results the Agile Way …
I came to Getting Results with a history of effectiveness and success. I had a solid sense of what I felt were the best ways to get things done, a set of process and principles that had worked well for me over many years. I am a process guy, a details guy and a lover of great strategy. I sweat the small stuff and I look at the big picture in order to guide myself and my organization to maximum results. Then I met JD...
I started with JD on a project to build security guidance for the ASP.NET development platform. A huge undertaking that involved discovering, consuming, and analyzing a huge amount of information from a huge amount of sources both written and verbal and then turning that into specific, contextual, prescriptive guidance for Microsoft developers. The goal was nothing less than to change the way in which web applications were written on the Microsoft platform. In order to make consumers more secure, the applications needed to be more secure. In order to make the applications more secure, developers needed to know what to do. That's where JD and team came in. What I saw in the course of this project, changed my view on how to get things done. JD accomplished the seemingly impossible. In too little time, with too little resources, with a staggering amount of chaos to deal with, JD coaxed the team into writing a masterpiece. I couldn't see how it was done, but I was curious. Luckily for me I had to opportunity to work with JD on a number of other projects over the course of several years. I learned the process as it was developed and maybe even had a chance to contribute to it a little here and there. Whether I had any impact on it or not, it had a huge impact on me. Before I explain what I learned, I want to set some context to explain how I used to get results. I was a huge believer in up-front planning. For a new project I would spend a lot of time designing and planning what needed to get done, how it would get done, when it would get done, who would do it and in what order. I was a master of this style. I could plan a complex project with a dozen team members and have an 18 month plan with all of the tasks laid out to the day and then we could execute to that plan so that 18 months from the start we had accomplished exactly what I had laid out at the start. Impressive right? Well, not really. I learned, the hard way, that I was focusing on the wrong things. I was focusing on tasks and activities. I was focusing on what got done, which I thought were the results, but I was neglecting the real results. Most importantly, I had the wrong assumptions. I assumed that a rigorous planning process could remove risk. I assumed that I knew up-front what I wanted to accomplish. I assumed that my plan was helping me when it was actually a prison.
So what did I learn from JD and how did it change how I do things? What kind of a difference did it make? Here are the key lessons I learned, my most important take-aways:
I'm sure your take-aways from Getting Results will be different from mine. We are all different, have different goals and are all in different places in regards to our abilities and motivations to be effective. There is so much in this guide, it has so much to offer, that I think anyone who reads it will get something out of it. If you are lucky, it may even change your life like it did mine.
I don’t do a lot of interviews, but I like what Carl and Richard do for the .NET developer community at large, so I agreed to shoot the breeze … Check out the .NET Rocks Interview on Getting Results the Agile Way.
Carl and Richard were curious to learn more about the system and what it’s all about. I warned them up front that it’s not about agile development, and that it’s actually a system that anybody can use to get better, faster, simpler results.
That said, if you are a developer, you can appreciate the full extent of the system and how it’s based on Evergreen principles, patterns, and practices for time management, productivity, energy management, and meaningful results. (Note – it’s the same approach I used to be on time, on budget for more than ten years, leading distributed teams around the world, so it’s industrial strengths, but I designed it to be simple enough that my Mom can use it.)
Some users of the system like to think of it as “Agile for Life” or “Scrum for Life.”
My ultimate goal was to give as many people possible, an extreme advantage in achieving results, but bringing together proven practices from positive psychology, sports psychology, project management, software development, and other disciplines into an integrated, simple system. To bottom line it, it’s a simple system for meaningful results.
It’s the playbook I wish somebody gave me when I started out in life, and I’m hoping that it saves many people a lot of painful lessons and helps them leapfrog and make the most of what they’ve got.
From the Archives Rituals for Results – The bigger your bag of tricks is for getting results, the more you can choose the right tool for the job. Otherwise, it’s a one-size fits all deal. The more tools you have in your toolbox, the more you can respond to changing environments and situations. Rituals for Results is a collection of best practices for getting results that have served me well over time. I continue to learn from anyone and everyone I can, and I share many of my best practices for productivity, time management, and getting results at Getting Results.com.
Zen of Zero Inbox - This is an oldie, but goodie if you struggle with keeping up with email. Many years ago I decided that keeping an empty inbox would serve me better than fishing through an overflowing inbox of potential action items. It was one of the best moves I made and it kept my administration down to a minimum. I deal with a lot of email with distributed teams around the world, and I did not want to spend all my time in email. This is a short presentation that shares some of the most important concepts to managing your email and keeping your inbox down to zero. (Note – I often get more than 150 emails directly to me a day, and most of them are actions, and I limit myself to ~30 minutes a day in email administration.)
From the Web Inspirational Quotes – If you haven’t seen these before, this may become your new favorite quotes collection. These are many of the best of the best gems of timeless wisdom. The gang’s all here … Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Emerson, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Twain, Franklin, Churchill and more. That’s a powerful bunch to have in your corner. Use their words of wisdom to lift you up and help you “stand on the shoulders of giants.”
36 Best Business Books that Influenced Microsoft Leaders - I reached out to several Microsoft leaders, past and present, and up and down the ranks. The beauty of Microsoft is the extremely high concentration of smart people and I like to leverage the collective brain. In this case, I posed a simple question to find out which business books actually made a difference: “What are the top 3 books that changed your life in terms of business effectiveness?” This list of business books reflects the answers to that question.
This is a simple visual of a frame we used for helping choose which projects to invest in in patterns & practices.
The main frame is “Technical Uncertainty” vs. “Market Uncertainty.” We used this frame to help balance our portfolio of projects against risk, value, and growth, against the cost.
From the Archives Reference Models, Reference Architectures, and Reference Implementations – A reference model is is a model of something that embodies the basic goals or ideas, and you can use it at as a reference for various purposes. It’s like having a topology map of the key concepts. A reference architecture provides a proven template solution for an architecture for a particular domain. A reference Implementation goes beyond a reference architecture and is an actual implementation. The way to distinguish between a reference architecture and reference implementation is simple: If it’s an exemplar of the architecture, it’s a reference architecture … If it’s an exemplar of the implementation, then it’s a reference implementation. Each serve different purposes, and require different levels of detail or abstraction.
40 Hour Work Week at Microsoft - One of the most important lessons at Microsoft was learning the value of a 40 hour work week. I’ve been on time, on budget for 10 years on projects ranging from grass-roots or “best efforts” to $ million+ investments. In my first few years, I was on time, on budget through heroic effort. That’s not sustainable and folks don’t want to sign up for that more than once. Luckily, I learned early on how to drive more effective results by fixing time and flexing scope, while flowing value, and optimizing team health.
From the Web Productivity Personas - Personas are a simple way to share examples of the different types of behaviors. Anybody can be a mix of some or all of the various personas. No persona is good or bad. Some are more effective than others, depending on the situation. The key is to use the personas as a lens on behavior. You can analyze yourself, other people, and common interactions. We all have the capacity for the various behaviors. The trick is to know your preferences and the preferences of others. This is a set of personas relevant to the productivity space.
Motivation - Motivation is the “Why” behind the goal. It’s your little engine that says you can, when the rest of you says you can’t. It’s also the same force that on a good day can help you move mountains. Motivation is a life-long skill that you can improve through self-awareness and proven strategies. The better you know your own drivers and levers, the more effective you’ll be at getting the results you want in your life.
"Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often." -- Mark Twain
I created a consolidated set of Action Guidelines on Getting Results.com. Taking action is one of the most important skills you can master in this lifetime. It’s the secret sauce of making things happen at work. It’s also the secret sauce of making things happen in all areas your life, whether it’s a personal project or personal development. It’s also how you go from idea to done.
If there’s one attribute that has served me well at Microsoft, it’s having a bias for action.
Smart people with great ideas and great intentions get passed by with people that take action. When you take action, you put your ideas to the test, you find what works, you scrap what doesn’t, and you carry the good forward. When you take action, you produce results. If you don’t like the results, you change the approach, and the fastest thing you can always change is you.
Action Guidelines explains each guideline, and here is the list of guidelines at a glance:
One of the questions I get asked is, “Why do teams fail?”
While there are lots of reasons, here are some of the most common patterns I see:
If those are the anti-patterns, what are the success patterns? Here are some the main success patterns I’ve seen:
On pairing up, I've seem magic happen with these combos:
Structuring your personal backlog of work you have to do, helps you in multiple ways:
The process for a simple backlog is pretty simple. Here are the keys:
The mental model for how you are structuring your backlog for each project is this:
Here is an example of a list for project X:
P1 ----------------- - Apples - Oranges (Orange you glad I didn’t say Banana) - Pears
P2 ---------------- - Kiwi - Lemons - Mangos - Pineapples .. etc.
Done --------------- - Blueberries - Cranberries - Grapes
By keeping your lists flat and functional, they are easy to update, easy to store, and easy to share. Whether you use OneNote, Excel, Workflowy, or EverNote, you have a list for each project, and each list has a simple map of the work to be done, at your finger tips.
As part of the Great Books to Read Collection, I put together a collection of the best books on Interpersonal Skills.
When it comes to building software, shipping stuff, or just plain making things happen, interpersonal skills are a key to success. With interpersonal skills, you can better deal with the following scenarios:
What makes these the best books on interpersonal skills? They are books you can use to solve real problems. They are ones that have made an actual difference for many people in tough scenarios. (Of course, best is all relative, so only you know which books are best for you, by testing what works for your specific scenarios.)
While there are so many books that are truly useful, there is one in particular that I know many people have found to be insanely useful. It’s the book, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner. Here’s why … the book gives you a “lens of human understanding” that helps you see what drives people to act a certain way. Once you understand this, it’s like knowing how the magic trick was done … all is revealed. The other reason why people like this book so much is because it gives you a language for bad behaviors. Having a language for bad behaviors makes it easy to identify them, understand them, and deal with them, in an actionable way.
From the Archives 40 Hour Work Week at Microsoft - If you want to be more effective, limit the time you spend. It’s a forcing function that fixes a lot of underlying execution issues that you just cannot see if your organization throws time at problems.
Patterns and Practices for New Hires - These are from the school of hard knocks. Whether you're a new hire or taking on a new job, I share some principles, patterns and practices to be more effective.
From the Web A Language for Software Architecture - An article I wrote for The Architecture Journal on how to map out the software architecture space, so we can organize and share knowledge more effectively.
You 2.0 – A free e-Book I wrote to help you unleash a version of your best self. Find your purpose, live your values, play to your strengths.
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” -- Jim Ryun
One of the best moves I use to change habits and adopt new practices is very simple, but very effective:
I schedule a recurring Friday appointment on my calendar. On that appointment, I list reminders, habits, and practices that I want to work on. It’s the art of applied reflection.
I tend to use bulleted questions, because they make a great checklist and I find that questions work better than statements for reflection. Here are a couple of examples to show what I mean:
You get the idea.
This works extremely well for baking in new practices, especially after taking a new course or training. It helps turn the training into action, because it forces you to turn the insights you learned into simple test cases (For example, the questions above.) It also works well, simply because it’s making you mindful of your choices, and it’s reminding you to check your thinking, feeling, or doing against your goals.
I’ve been using this practice for several years, and it’s worked like a champ. It’s part of the Friday Reflection pattern in Getting Results the Agile Way.
If there is a new pattern or practice you want to adopt, simply add a Friday reminder and see how easily you can adopt a new habit.
When it comes to people, underutilized does not mean squeeze out more hours, it means unleash more strengths.
When people have the chance to give their best where they have their best to give, this has an automatic way of taking care of utilization, motivation, impact, etc. When somebody is in their element, effective managers co-create the goals and get out of the way. It’s among the best ways to get the best results from teams or individuals. If you want to optimize a team, then unleash the strengths of each individual.
The power of people in a knowledge worker world is that you get exponential results when people are playing to their strengths. The simplest way to do this is have people in roles where they spend more time in their strengths and less time in their weaknesses. Another way to unleash their strength is pair them up with people that compliment their strengths or balance out their weaknesses.
On the flip side, the simplest way to create low-performing teams is to have people spend more time in their weaknesses and very little time in their strengths. While this is simple and obvious, the real trick is looking for it and finding ways to bring out people’s best.
While it’s not always easy, and you often have to get creative, one of the best things you can do for you, your company, the world, is to spend more time in your strengths and help others do the same. It’s the fittest and the flexible that survive, and it’s your unique strengths that crank up your fit factor.
"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." -- Douglas Adams
I wrote a step-by-step How To on How To – Set Goals and Achieve Them on Getting Results.com.
I find setting goals and achieving them is a blend of art and science. The art part is knowing how to frame the goal in a way that inspires you to action on a regular basis. The science part is breaking the goal down into actionable steps that you can measure against targets.
Over the years, the three most important things I learned about goals are:
Factor the Inspiration from the Perspiration Dream big. Don’t hack up your dream into little insignificant parts right off the bat. Inspire yourself with skill. Find your buttons and push them until that little part of you that wants more from life wakes up and says, I want me some of that.
Goals are among the best way to change your life or change the world or simply move forward versus slide back. Create inspirational goals, the kind that light your fire. That’s your starting point. That gets you ready for the tough part.
The perspiration of the goal, or the tough part, is translating the end-in-mind into action. This is the part where you break the goal down into sub-goals, steps, and actions. This is the part where you make the goal SMART – specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timely. This is the part where you get clarity on what success looks like along the way, and how you will map out your path to get to your destination.
The simple lesson here is, dream up compelling goals first and get excited before you start applying the rigor and discipline of making them happen. Then use the rigor and discipline of making them happen to inspire you along the way, as you make progress toward your goal.
The Why Behind the Goal is Everything There are many ways to kill a dream or kill a goal. The longer it’s spread out over time and space, the more hurdles and challenges you might have to deal with along the way. But some goals are dead right out of the gate.
If your goal lacks life and has no compelling “Why” to drive it, it’s dead in the water. It doesn’t stand a fighting chance. If you want your goal to stand the test of time and to help you stay the course, then you need to have a compelling “Why” behind it. The “Why” is the generator of your juice that makes you go. You know it’s working when you simply remember “Why” and you are back on track.
You Can Achieve Big Goals by Taking Little Steps Over Time The surprise is that consistent action really does pay off. It’s a case of slow and steady wins the race. The trick here is not to go intentionally slow and not to depend on baby steps. Instead, it’s to find the way forward, and to keep taking action. Sometimes that means taking little steps. Those little steps add up over time.
I integrated these lessons into my How To – Set Goals and Achieve Them to stack the deck in your favor and to help set you up for success in achieving your goals.
One of the first things I do to get a handle on execution is to map out the work in flight in the form of a roadmap.
When there are multiple teams shipping stuff, one of the best ways to improve coordination, collaboration, and planning is to make a simple roadmap.
Just even putting the roadmap together is an exercise in clarity.
The simple roadmap of key events is a great way to set expectations and communicate what’s going on. When there is a lot going on, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose track of the various trains leaving the station. A simple one-page view helps you stay on top of the trains and anticipate where focus and energy will be.
When you have multiple workstreams and dependencies, such as with vTeams and initiatives, it’s also helpful to put together a simple roadmap of the workstreams to illustrate the interactions.
One of the key points of creating effective visualizations of roadmaps is to keep them simple. You can always drill into details with detailed schedules or detailed Gant charts. The point of the visualization in this case is to have a very simple, “at a glance” of the work in flight across multiple teams.
You know you’ve done a good job when you can “glance and go” vs. “stop and stare.”
I created a Leadership Checklist to distill and share practices for effective leadership.
I created this checklist a little bit differently to try something out. I used a “user story” approach and I wrote each checklist item as a mini-story you can use for self-reflection. In a way, they can act as unit tests for leadership. Here are some examples:
It’s a work in progress, but so far the feedback has been positive. Feel free to share your favorite leadership practice as a one-liner reminder in the comments on the leadership checklist page.
Execution excellence as a one-man band is one thing. Execution excellence for a team or group is another.
One of the best ways to improve execution excellence for a team or group is to map out the portfolio, programs, and projects.
Having clarity on the portfolio, programs, and projects is a starting point for mastering execution.
In patterns & practices, what we did is create a visual roadmap to share the big ticket items. This helped set expectations with stakeholders in terms of what would ship when. It also helped build awareness for our internal teams to improve coordination and alignment.
The Portfolio We managed our portfolio in a very simple way. We simply kept a backlog of projects and initiatives grouped by themes and programs. At this level, we would do two key things:
In general, we could manage budgets and resources at the program level, as program level investments. This helped simplify planning.
The Programs We used programs as organizing themes to group related projects, streamline planning, and simplify communication. For example, in patterns & practices, we organized our projects into the following programs:
By having a backlog of programs and projects, we could establish our “cut line.” The “cut line” was the line where we’d need more resources and budget in order to execute. This made it easier to both share what we were working on, as well as push back on demands that exceeded our capacity. It also facilitated discussions with stakeholders in terms of priorities. The impact of prioritizing one project over another made it very easy to see the impact in terms of the Roadmap or what would be pushed below the cut line.
At the program level, we could use high-level user stories and scenarios to get a sense of the size and scope of key projects. We kept the scenarios high-level so that it was easy to tell the story and paint a quick picture of why the particular project, program, or initiative was important, in a way that stakeholders could relate to.
The Projects At the project level, we got way more specific. At the project level, we had to get clarity on the demand and the scope. To do so, we would map out the user stories. The user stories were collected and prioritized with customers and stakeholders. The user stories were important because they created a very specific way to scope the project. They also helped see what skills and experience were crucial to project success. They also created a way to cut scope at a more atomic level. They also created a way to flow incremental value throughout the project life cycle.
As you can imagine, when you have clarity on your portfolio, both in terms of a backlog of programs and projects, as well as expressed as roadmap, and you have clarity on your programs in terms of big bucket investments and themes of work, and you have clarity on your projects, in terms of priorities as well as the actual user demand and how the projects relate to one another, you are moving up the stack in terms of execution excellence, organizational maturity, and most of all, simplicity.
It’s that time of year when folks are busy with reviews. Here is a time-tested template for writing your results in a way that’s easy to defend, while making both your results and your approach shine through:
This is no ordinary template, and don’t let the simplicity fool you. It’s evolved over time under the collective scrutiny of many reviewers and people that have used this template to better articulate their impact in a more objective and holistic way. Here’s why. It explicitly frames out the following:
“Results” creates space to write about your bottom line results. This answers the question, “What did you deliver?”, but more importantly, frames it in the context of outcomes and impact. It’s less about whether you did X, Y, or Z, and more about the actual impact you delivered. Your results.
“How” creates space to write about how you achieved your results. This is especially important if you are trying to highlight and show how your approach demonstrates skills or competencies at a higher level. This is where you can highlight things like teamwork, cross-group collaboration, leadership skills, etc.
“Evidence” creates space to share all the quotes, quantities, and qualitative feedback about your impact. This is the place where you can truly make it obvious that your results and impact are more than just your subjective view. Nothing speaks stronger than a few powerful quotes from a few of the right people.
“Analysis” creates space for you to write about the highs and lows. A simple way to target and frame this is to think in terms of three things going well, and three things to improve.
Check out the Performance Review Template and I’ll be interested to know what tips or tricks you have for articulating your impact and making your review do justice to the work you’ve done throughout the year.
I wrote a simple step-by-step How To on How To – Achieve a Peaceful Calm.
It’s a simple way to achieve a peaceful calm state of mind. When your mind is relaxed, you can take in information with less distortion. You’re connected to your emotions, but rather than being overwhelmed or randomized, it’s more like using your emotions as input. When your mind is ready, you are responsive. You are able to easily see the situation and respond with skill instead of react out of fear or anxiety. When your mind is resourceful, you are able to easily think the thoughts that serve you. Your creative mind is ready to solve problems with you instead of work against you.
If your mind has been buzzing, you haven’t felt centered in a long time, and it feels like you’ve been building up, as Scott Hanselman would say, “Psychic Weight”, then you are in for a treat.
Take How To – Achieve Peaceful Calm for a test drive and let me know if it helps you get back in your zone.
I wrote a how to on How To Design Your Week. It’s all about mastering time management.
Let me first say that mastering your time is one of the most challenging things you can do in life. It’s a topic that folks like Peter Drucker have filled books with. Let me also say that, while it is tough, it’s also one of the best things you can do to lead a better life. And the beauty is, the moment you start spending your time in more meaningful ways, you get immediate payback.
What if right now, you were working on your next best thing to do? (It’s a simple question, but it cuts to the chase.)
This How To is based on helping many folks inside and outside of Microsoft design a schedule that helps them simplify their work, free up more time, get more done in the same amount of time, spend more time where it counts, and use their best energy for their best results. The trick in today’s world is that you don’t get more hours in a day – but you can amplify your results by improving your energy.
I prioritized creating this how to because I need to scale. Lately I’ve been helping a lot more fellow Microsoft colleagues design a schedule that brings out their best results and helping them get a handle on their work-life balance. The bottom line is, they wanted to spend less time, but get better, faster, simpler results. Most importantly, they wanted to stop thrashing and start thriving.
Just about everybody I know is feeling the pain of an increasingly competitive, increasingly connected, “always on” world. There’s always more to do, than you can possibly get done, but throwing more time at the problem isn’t the answer.
… So what is?
Design your time with skill.
If you let your week just happen, it’s very easy for your weekly schedule to erode to a point where it works against you in every possible way: your best energy gets wasted on the least impactful things, it takes ten times longer to get things done, the faster you go, the more behind you get, you wear yourself down emotionally, mentally, physically. Perhaps the worst thing though is, without carving out time for what’s important, you never have the time for the things that mean the most to you.
If you can design a week, you can create repeatable patterns that serve you throughout the year. The key is spending the right time, on the right things, with the right energy, the right way. This is the magic formula for getting exponential results from time you already spend. This is how you unleash your best, time and again, get more done in the same amount of time, feel strong all week long, and free up more time for the things you really want to spend your time on.
If you’re ready to exponentially make the most of what you’ve got and unleash yourself, take How To – Design Your Week for a test drive.
"You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." -- Mark Twain
Focus is the key to success at Microsoft for many people. I put together proven practices for how to focus in a comprehensive set of “Focus Guidelines”.
One of my mentors, a seasoned manager at Microsoft, once told me that the difference that makes the difference – why some people succeed and others do not – is focus. Those that lack focus spread themselves too thin, or never finish what they start. They have a lot of dreams, ambition, and ideas but they never spend enough time working on any one thing to make it happen. On the flip side, those with focus, know what they want to accomplish, and they apply concentrated effort, and see it through to completion. They also focus on less, yet achieve more.
I set out to nail a set of proven practices that could help anybody improve their ability to focus. I gave myself a timebox of four hours to see what I could put together for a v1 release. I sanity checked the results with a few folks that said it very much echoed what they thought were the keys to improving focus, so now I’m sharing with a broader audience. (If you’re wondering why I gave myself a timebox of four hours for this it was to help me focus Focus is a complex topic and deserves attention, but I also have other priorities I’m working on. I was willing to spend 2 hours Saturday and 2 hours Sunday to chip away at this stone, if it could help the greater good to have a robust set of practices that actually work for achieving the highest levels of focus. I expect my four hour investment to help many others get exponential results and help them take their game to a new level, by expanding their mental toolbox. Even if that’s not the case, spending four hours to work on such a key cross-cutting skill for life is still a good investment.)
These practices are time-tested and Softie approved. As you can imagine, with all the bright and shiny objects that go flying around, it takes skill and discipline to stay focused. The beauty though is that if you know the key strategies and tactics for improving your focus, then it actually gets a lot easier to focus where it counts and enjoy the ride.
Explore my “Focus Guidelines” and learn how to focus with skill.
One of the scenarios I get asked to coach teams on is, “Email Therapy.”
Basically, this translates to, “Help our team deal with email overload” or “Help our team get un-swamped” or “Help our team process and manage email more effectively.” In a lot of these scenarios, it’s where the team uses email as a heavy part of their workload.
Why do they ask me? Usually it’s word of mouth where somebody I’ve mentored shares the approach. In other cases, it’s a team that wants to adopt Getting Results the Agile Way, but want to first get a handle on their email challenge.
Why Keep an Empty Inbox I deal with hundreds of email each day, but I keep my inbox empty. Having an empty inbox is not only a good feeling, but it streamlines things. My inbox really is for incoming messages. I keep my inbox clear because I have a place for actions and tasks, a place to stick the email I’ve read, a simple way to schedule time for things that take time, and a simple folder system for archiving useful reference information. I avoid “death by a 1000 paper cuts” and “paper shuffling” using this approach. Because my approach is designed to easily deal with large volumes of email, it’s easy for me to batch process. I limit the amount of administration time I spend, so I can optimize the time I spend on higher value activities.
5 Patterns for Keeping Your Email Inbox Empty To share my approach, I use patterns. This way whether you use GMail, HotMail, Outlook, etc., you can still apply the same concepts.
Here are the main ideas behind each pattern:
Pattern #1 - One Folder for All Read Mail
Pattern #2 - Filter Out Everything Not in Your Immediate World
Pattern #3 - Tickler Lists of Action
Pattern #4 - Schedule Items You Need Time For
Pattern #5 - Reference Folders
The main anti-patterns that these patterns help you avoid are:
As I’ve been teaching Getting Results the Agile Way to more people and teams, I’ve had to simplify the mental model. Here is the simplest visual that I like to whiteboard to show the main idea:
It’s all about having a simple system for flowing value each day, and each week. I’ve focused more on the story-driven approach, because I find that this helps people connect more deeply with what they do. Instead of focusing on “doing tasks” or just “getting stuff done”, they focus on meaningful impact and meaning results. It’s also about living your values. Or, to put it another way, doing what makes you strong, all day long.
A Story-Driven Approach to Great Results Using simple and sticky “one-liner stories” each day, and each week, helps you turn tasks into results:
The more you turn your tasks into compelling outcomes, and the more you connect your outcomes to your values, the more you will ignite yourself and others on fire as you blaze your trail forward. The key here is connecting to your values. In the simple examples above, winning a raving fan is all about connecting with customers, slam dunking your bugs is about making it a game while testing your skills, and inspiring your team to go for the epic win is all about making it an adventure. If customers, growth, and impact are high on your values, those results take on new meaning and jazz you vs. drain you.
Anyway, I’ve created a simple one-page guide to answer the question, What is Agile Results.
From the Archives Customer-Connected Engineering – Involving customers throughout your software development cycle can help you make sure you make something your customers need and want. It also helps you better understand the requirements and prioritize more effectively. It also helps you get more relevant and timely feedback so you can ship stuff that people will use. We’ve called the approach we’ve used in patterns & practices, Customer-Connected Engineering (CCE), and this is the approach in a nutshell.
Methodologies at a Glance – At the heart of every software methodology, there are core practices. When you know the key activities and artifacts that make up a methodology, you can easily compare across methodologies to find the best fit. You can also fill your toolbox with practices so that you can use the ones that you need, when you need them. This is a bird’s-eye view of some of the more popular software project and product development methodologies.
From the Web Focus Guidelines – It’s been said that the difference between those that succeed, and those that don’t is focus. Focus is a skill you can build and use throughout your lifetime, to counter distractions, fully engage in what you do, reduce stress, and improve your results. This is a comprehensive set of guidelines that give you an edge in today’s world.
How To – Set Goals and Achieve Them – This is a step-by-step guide for setting compelling goals, and making them happen. If goals leave a bad taste in your mouth, this can help you turn it around. It’s all about creating goals that inspire you and that help you achieve whatever you set out to do.