Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
"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
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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?
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
In a new digital economy and a world of ultra-competition, it’s great to shape a smart organization.
We learned this long ago. Agile was part of the early Microsoft patterns & practices DNA. We embraced agile methods and agile management practices.
We learned that execution is king, and that shipping early and often gives you better feedback and a way to make changes in a customer-connected way.
Here is what Gartner says …
“Accepting higher project failure rates can help organizations become more efficient more quickly, according to Gartner, Inc. Gartner said project and portfolio management (PPM) leaders who take a "fail-forward-fast" approach that accepts project failure rates of 20 to 28 percent as the norm will help their organizations become more agile by embracing experimentation and enabling the declaration of success or failure earlier in a project's life.”
Check out the article, Gartner Says Smart Organizations Will Embrace Fast and Frequent Project Failure in Their Quest for Agility.
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
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The cycle of change is short in the knowledge age and digital economy. Jobs end. We create new ones. Do we create new ones fast enough? Do we have the durable and evolvable skills to make it in our emerging landscape?
The cycle of change used to be longer. One reason is the cycle of resource technology change used to be slower. With a slower rate of change, you could go to school, learn a trade, do that job, maybe change jobs once or twice during your career, and then retire. That cycle fundamentally changes when jobs are anchored to a different backbone, and the rate of change outpaces the skills you learn in school.
A colleague sent a great article from Strategy + Business on The Jobs Engine. From the article, these are my favorite nuggets:
One of the things that’s always on my mind is the question, “What value can I create?” In parallel, I’m always asking, “What value am I flowing?” I hope the ideas or projects I work on, lead, or in some way contribute, to job creation. I like to be a springboard and a platform or a catalyst for business. In fact, several of the projects I’ve worked, have helped people grow or start businesses, create value, and create jobs. I like to be a platform that empowers.
Personally, the way I find my way forward in the changing landscape, is to anchor to skills that should serve me well for the foreseeable future: strategy, project management, and entrepreneurism. As a program manager at Microsoft, I actually see the job of a program manager as a technical entrepreneur, where the goal is to bring new ideas to life, make things happen, and shape user, business, and customer goals into high impact, high value, results. Strategy is a key skill because it’s about what I will do, won’t do, and why … along with how I’ll differentiate, while playing to strengths. Project management is a key skill because it’s about making things happen as you explore and execute an idea from cradle to grave, while orchestrating teams towards a vision, while dealing with risks, and playing within the boundaries and constraints of time, budget, and resources.
I share these thought because I’m finding myself mentor more and more people on the art and science of effective program management. I firmly believe that effective program managers (or technical entrepreneurs) play a key role in shaping the future.
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.
It’s long over-do, but I finally wrote up my 10 Big Ideas from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
What can I say … the book is a classic.
I remember when my Dad first recommended that I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People long ago. In his experience, while Tony Robbins was more focused on Personality Ethic, Stephen Covey at the time was more focused on Character Ethic. At the end of the day, they are both complimentary, and one without the other is a failed strategy.
While writing 10 Big Ideas from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I was a little torn on what to keep in and what to leave out. The book is jam packed with insights, powerful patterns, and proven practices for personal change. I remembered reading about the Law of the Harvest, where you reap what you sow. I remembered reading about how to think Win/Win, and how that helps you change the game from a scarcity mentality to a mindset of abundance. I remembered reading about how we can move up the stack in terms of time management if we focus less on To Dos and more on relationships and results. I remembered reading about how if we want to be heard, we need to first seek to understand.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is probably one of the most profound books on the planet when it comes to personal change and empowerment.
It’s full of mental models and big ideas.
What I really like about Covey’s approach is that he bridged work and life. Rather than splinter our lives, Covey found a way to integrate our lives more holistically, to combine our personal and professional lives through principles that empower us, and help us lead a more balanced life.
Here is a summary list of 10 Big Ideas from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
In my post, I’ve summarized each one and provided one of my favorite highlights from the book that brings each idea to life.
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.
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.
As technology and software change our world at a faster rate than ever before, we need to play a better game.
How do we play a better game?
By recognizing our conceptual blocks and removing them.
Here is how Satya Nadella told us to think about our mental game and conceptual blocks:
“It's really a mental game.
At this point, it's got nothing to do with your capability, at all. You're going to be facing stuff that you never faced before and it's all in the head. The question is how are you going to cope with it. It's all a conceptual block.
And if we can get rid of that, things get a lot easier.
You've got to really think about the conceptual block you have, be mindful of it, and remove it.
And then you can have a different perspective.”
When we change our perspective, we change our game.
That’s how we win, in work and in life.
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 Live and Work a Meaningful Life
Satya Nadella on the Future is Software
Satya Nadella on Everyone Has to Be a Leader
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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"People are known by the company they keep; companies are known by the people they keep." -- Bill Gates
I’ve revamped and swept my business books collection. My business books collection is a rich set of the best business books that you can use to change your game. They are especially important now with the cloud.
I find the cloud is a great chance to get back to your business, and get back to the basics. To do this, you have to figure out the role you want to play in the cloud (be the cloud, use the cloud, move to the cloud.) You also need to really figure out your strategy.
My strategy section of my business books includes:
Blue Ocean is your best friend when it comes to the strategy game. The idea is to compete where there is no competition. For example, how would you compete against a circus? Would you find cheaper or better animals? No, you change the game and create a new market. That’s what Cirque du Soleil did. The question then becomes, how do you do this at the personal level to stay competitive in the marketplace?
Business Model Generation is an amazing synthesis of business tools all rolled together into a simple approach. It’s a great way to sketch your business. It helps you think on paper so you can analyze your model more effectively. If I could only have one business book, this might be the one business book to rule them all.
Good to Great is a business book classic. In fact, this is one the main books we used to shape the early days of the Microsoft patterns & practices team. We spent a lot of energy asking the question, what can we be the best in the world at, with the people we’ve got? We put a lot of focus on making sure that people were giving their best where they have their best to give, and leveraging the power of the system. I think it was this ruthless focus on blending passion, purpose, and strengths that accelerated Microsoft patterns & practices through the early days, with a clear differentiation. As one of my colleagues put it, the power was having “architects who could write.”
The Well Timed Strategy is one of those books that really makes you think. You start to see things in new ways. It’s the business book that got me seeing things in cycles. I stopped looking at things in such a static way. I started paying more attention to the ups and downs and the cycles of things. It helps me better understand the mountains and the valleys of the business cycles. I stopped pushing rocks uphill and learned to ride the waves.
I’ll continue to tune and prune my business books collection. Smart people are constantly recommending great business books to me to help me get ahead of the curve and sharpen my business skills. In today’s world, business skills + technical skills are the way forward.
Life’s better with the right words.
And life quotes can help us live better.
Life quotes are a simple way to share some of the deepest insights on the art of living, and how to live well.
While some people might look for wisdom in a bottle, or in a book, or in a guru at the top of a mountain, surprisingly, a lot of the best wisdom still exists as quotes.
The problem is they are splattered all over the Web.
My ultimate Life Quotes collection is an attempt to put the best quotes right at your fingertips.
I wanted this life quotes collection to answer everything from “What is the meaning of life?” to “How do you live the good life?”
I also wanted this life quotes collection to dive deep into all angles of life including dealing with challenges, living with regrets, how to find your purpose, how to live with more joy, and ultimately, how to live a little better each day.
Did I accomplish all that?
I’m not sure. But I gave it the old college try.
I curated quotes on life from an amazing set of people including Dr. Seuss, Tony Robbins, Gandhi, Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Dean, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Confucius, Jonathan Swift, Henry David Thoreau, and more.
Yeah, it’s a pretty serious collection of life quotes.
There are many messages and big ideas among the collection of life quotes. But perhaps one of the most important messages is from the late, great Henry David Thoreau:
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
And, I don’t think he meant play more Guitar Hero.
If you’re waiting for your chance to rise and shine, chances come to those who take them.
E.E. Cummings reminds us that there is more to living than simply existing:
“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
And the trick is to add more life to your years, rather than just add more years to your life.
Life quotes teach us that living live on your terms starts by defining yourself. Here are big, bold words from Harvey Fierstein that remind us of just that:
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”
Now is a great time to re-imagine all that you’re capable of.
It’s not usually the things that we do that we regret. It’s the things we didn’t do:
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.” – John Greenleaf Whittier
Have you answered to your calling?
One sure-fire way that many people find their path is they aim to leave the world at least a little better than they found it.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s a reminder that we can measure our life by the lives of the people we touch.
7 Habits of Highly Motivated People
10 Leadership Ideas to Improve Your Influence and Impact
Boost Your Confidence with the Right Words
The Great Inspirational Quotes Revamped
The Great Leadership Quotes Collection Revamped
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.
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.
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 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
Back in 2010, Gartner suggested that Business Value Realization would be Enterprise Architecture finally done right. Related, when people were confused by the scope of Value Realization, all we did was add "Business” up front (i.e. “Business Value Realization”) and that seemed to add instant clarity for people, and they said they got it.
They realized that it was all about extracting business value and accelerating business value.
The most interesting pattern I think I see is not that value is an individual thing.
It's that any individual can create value in today’s world – with their network, the ways they work, the technology at their fingertips -- they can focus on their end users and continuous learning, and operate without walls.
In fact, the enticing promise of the Enterprise Social vision is comprehensive collaboration.
There was an uprising in the developer world to create customer value -- it was agile.
It seems like the world is experiencing another uprising (and you hear Satya Nadella talk about a focus on individuals whether in business or life, focused on learning, collaborating, and changing the world.)
So it's not the CIO, the CEO, etc.
What is the new uprising?
Value is everybody's job.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A while back, a colleague challenged me to find something simple and sticky for the big idea behind Sources of Insight. After trying several phrases, here’s the one that stuck:
Skilled for Life
He liked it because it had punch. It also had a play on words, and you could read it two different ways.
I like it because it captured the big idea behind Sources of Insight. The whole purpose behind the site is to help as many people improve the quality of their life as possible.
I’ve found that skills can make or break somebody’s chance for success. And, I don’t just mean from a career perspective. To be effective in all areas of our life, we need skills across several domains:
Skilled for Life is meant to be a very simple phrase, with a very intentional outcome:
Equip you with the skills you need to survive and thrive in today’s world.
It’s all about personal empowerment.
Not everybody gets the right mentors, or the right training, or the right breaks. So Sources of Insight is designed from the ground up to be your personal success library that helps you make your own breaks, create your opportunities, and own your destiny.
By sharing the world’s best insight and action for work and life. By providing you with very real skills for mastering emotional intelligence, intellectual horsepower, creative brilliance, interpersonal relationships, career growth, health, and happiness (yeah, happiness is a skill you can learn). And by providing you with principles, patterns, and practices for a smarter, more creative, and more capable you.
To give you one simple example of how happiness is a skill, let me tell you about the three paths of happiness according to Dr. Martin Seligman:
You can think of them like this: The Pleasant Life is all about pleasures, here and now. The Good Life is about spending more time in your values. The Meaningful Life is about fulfillment by helping the greater good, using your unique skills. It’s giving our best where we have our best to give, and moving up Maslow’s stack.
When you know the three paths of happiness, you can more effectively build your happiness muscles. For example, you can Discover Your Values, so that you can spend more time in them, and live life on your terms.
That’s just one example of how you can improve your self-efficacy with skill.
There is a vast success library of everything from inspirational quotes to inspirational heroes, as well as principles, patterns, and practices for skills to pay the bills and lead a better life. Sources of Insight is a dojo of personal development, and your jump start for realizing your potential.
I invite you to check out the following page on Sources of Insight, where I share what Skilled for Life is all about:
Skills empower you.
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.