Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
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.
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.
A while back I put together a comprehensive collection of leadership quotes. It’s a combination of the wisdom of the ages + modern sages. It was time for a revamp. Here it is:
The Great Leadership Quotes Collection
It's a serious collection of leadership quotes and includes lessons from the likes of John Maxwell, Jim Rohn, Lao Tzu, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and more.
John Maxwell said it best when he defined leadership as influence. Tom Peters added a powerful twist to leadership when he said that leadership is not about creating followers—it’s about creating more leaders.
I like to think of leadership in terms of incremental spheres of influence starting with personal or self-leadership, followed by team leadership, followed by organizational leadership, etc. Effectively, you can expand your sphere of influence, but none of it really works, if you can’t lead yourself first.
I also like to think about the various aspects of leadership, such as Courage, Challenges, Character, Communication, Connection, Conviction, Credibility, Encouragement, Failure, Fear, Heart, Influence, Inspiration, Learning, Self-Leadership, Servant-Leadership, Teamwork, and Vision. As such, I’ve used these categories to help put the leadership quotes into a meaningful collection with simple themes.
I’ve also included special sections on What is Leadership, Leadership Defined, and Leading by Example.
While I haven’t counted the leadership quotes, there are a lot. But they are well-organized and easy to scan. You’ll notice how the names of famous people that said the leadership quote will pop out at you. I bolded the names for extra impact and to help you quickly jump to interesting people, to see what they have to say about the art and science of leadership.
I bet you can find at least three leadership quotes that you can use on a daily basis to think a little better, feel a little better, or do a little better.
For those of you that think that leadership is something that other people do, or something that gets done to you, or that leadership is a position, I’ll share the words of John Maxwell on this topic:
“A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.” — John Maxwell
In fact, if you’ve never seen it before or need a quick reminder that everyone is a leader, this is a great video that makes the point hit home:
Everyone is a Leader
It’s one of those cool, simple, cartoon videos that shows how leadership is everyone’s job and that without that philosophy, people, systems, organizations, etc. all fail.
The world moves too fast and things change too much to wait for somebody at the top to tell you what to do. The closer you are to where the action is, the more context you have, and the more insight you can use to make better decisions and get better results.
Leadership is a body of principles, patterns, and practices that you can use to empower yourself, and others, with skill.
Just like a Jedi, your force gets stronger the more you use it.
But always remember the surprise about leadership – the more you give your power away, the more power that comes back to you.
It’s not Karma. It’s caring. And it’s contagious.
(As Brian Tracy would say, the three C’s of leadership are Consideration,Caring,and Courtesy.)
Well, maybe it is like Karma in that what goes around, comes around, and leadership amplifies when you share it with people and help everyone become all that they are capable of.
Stand strong when tested, and lead yourself from the inside out.
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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.
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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.
Will you have a job in the future?
What will that job look like and how will the nature of work change?
Will automation take over your job in the near future?
These are the kinds of questions that Ruth Fisher, author of Winning the Hardware-Software Game, has tackled in a series of posts.
I wrote a summary post to distill her big ideas and insights about the future of jobs in my post:
The Future of Jobs
Fisher has done an outstanding job of framing out the landscape and walking the various arguments and perspectives on how automation will change the nature of work and shape the future of jobs.
One of the first things you might be wondering is, what jobs will automation take away?
Fisher addresses that.
Another question is, what new types jobs will be created?
While that’s an exercise for the reader, Fisher provides clues based on what industry luminaries have seen in terms of how jobs are changing.
The key is to know what automation can and can’t do, and to look at the pattern of work in terms of what’s better suited for humans, and what’s better suited for machines.
As one of my mentors puts it, “If the work can be automated, it’s not human.”
He’s a fan of people doing creative, non-routine work, where they can thrive and shine.
As I take on work, or push back on work, I look through a pretty simple lens:
I find that by using this simple lens, I tend to take on high-value work that creates high-impact, that cannot be easily automated. At the same time, while I perform the work, I look for way to turn things into repetitive activities that can be outsources or automated so that I can keep moving up the stack, and producing higher-value work … that’s more human.
I know several people looking for inspiration.
I believe the right words ignite or re-ignite us.
There is no better way to prime your mind for great things to come than filling your head and hear with the greatest inspirational quotes that the world has ever known.
Of course, the challenge is finding the best inspirational quotes to draw from.
Well, here you go …
I revamped a few of my best inspirational quotes collections to really put the gems of insight at your fingertips:
Each of these inspirational quotes collection is hand-crafted with deep words of wisdom, insight, and action.
You'll find inspirational quotes from Charles Dickens, Confucius, Dr. Seuss, George Bernard Shaw, Henry David Thoreau, Horace, Lao Tzu, Lewis Carroll, Mahatma Gandhi, Oprah Winfrey, Oscar Wilde, Paulo Coelho, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Stephen King, Tony Robbins, and more.
You'll even find an inspirational quote from The Wizard of Oz (and it’s not “There’s no place like home.”)
Here are a few of my favorites inspirational quotes to get you started:
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”
— Mary Anne Radmacher
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
— Dr. Seuss
“It is not length of life, but depth of life.”
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by every moment that takes your breath away.”
“You live but once; you might as well be amusing.”
— Coco Chanel
“It is never too late to be who you might have been.”
— George Eliot
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
These inspirational quotes are living breathing collections. I periodically sweep them to reflect new additions, and I re-organize or re-style the quotes if I find a better way.
I invest a lot of time on quotes because I’ve learned the following simple truth:
Quotes change lives.
The right words, at the right time, can be just that little bit you need, to breakthrough or get unstuck, or find your mojo again.
Have you had your dose of inspiration today?
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.
If you are really behind, and want to dig yourself out, and get back on top things, then close the flood gate.
Don't take on new things.
Time management tips #22 is close the flood gates. It's all too easy to reopen the door, let things slip in, and keep taking on new things, without first finishing what's already on your overloaded plate. Closing the flood gate simply means stop randomizing and churning on new work that you don't have the time, capacity, bandwidth, attention, or energy to focus on. If you keep taking on more, it's not a service to anybody, especially yourself.
Whenever I find myself buried among a sea of open work, unfinished tasks, and things to do, I close the flood gate. I stand guard at the door of incoming requests, and I put all of my focus on the open work.
It's easy to stretch past capacity. You say yes to things you think will finish a little faster than they actually do. Things come up. You didn't have a buffer for when things go wrong. The key is to recognize when you're past your capacity, and to take decisive action.
No new work. Full focus on the work that is wearing you down, or blocking your ability to flow value.
The problem is work will still come your way. Have a place to put it. A simple list is fine. You can review it and prioritize it when you're read to take on more things. The trap to avoid is dabbling in new work, dabbling in unfinished work, and throwing more balls in the air, than you can possibly juggle.
Don't create your own problem by taking on work past your capacity. If somebody assigns work to you, do them a favor, and let them know you're at capacity, and when you expect to free up. If you see new work as higher value than what's already on your plate, consider trading up for it, and letting your open work go. If you have so much open work that you're spending more time managing it, than finishing it, then consider shelving the lower priority work. Put it on the shelf for another day. Temporary let it go, while you concentrate your focus on a vital few things to complete them.
You'll be surprised what you're capable of with focus and priorities and concentrated effort in small batches of time.
Close the flood gate, narrow your focus, flow your value.
For work-life balance skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a work-life balance system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.
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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.
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.”
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Here’s the opening blurb …
'Getting Results the Agile Way' -- A Timeless System for Changing Times -- Now Available in Print
Seattle, WA (PRWEB) October 26, 2010
Author J.D. Meier is announcing that his new book ‘Getting Results the Agile Way’ is now available in print. The book shows readers the way to make the most out of work and life. Meier has come up with a simple system to achieve meaningful results that combines some of the best methods for improving one’s thinking, feeling, and doing.
“The best way I can put it is, it helps you be the author of your life and write your story forward,” says Meier. “Basically, it’s a system that can support you in everything you do. It’s based on principles and patterns so you can tailor it for yourself or for any situation.”
Read the rest on PRWeb at - http://www.prweb.com/releases/Getting-Results/Now-in-Print/prweb4636494.htm
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
One of the smartest books I’ve read lately is Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova. I wrote a deep review to include a bunch of my favorite highlights.
It’s hard to believe I only scratched the surface in my review, but it’s a very deep book with tons of insight and proven practices for elevating your thinking to the highest levels.
While I like the concepts and practices throughout the book, my favorite aspect was the fact that Konnikova references some great research and theories by name and illustrated how they apply in our everyday lives.
Some of the examples include:
Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes includes plenty of surprising insights, too. For example, we physically can see less when we’re in a bad mood. We can do better on SATs simply by changing our motivation. We can use simple meditation techniques to causes changes at the neural level, to increase creativity and imaginative capacity.
If you’re a developer, you’ll appreciate the “system” view of how memory works. Konnikova walks the mechanisms of the mind based on the latest understanding of how our brain works. You’ll also appreciate the depth and details that Konnikova provides to help you really understand how to think and operate at a higher level.
Basically, you’ll learn how to put your Sherlock Holme’s thinking cap on and apply more effective thinking practices that avoid common cognitive biases, pitfalls, and traps.
By the time you’ve made it through the book, you’ll also better understand and appreciate how our mindset and filters dramatically shape what we’re able to see, and, as a result, how we experience the world around us.
If you want a tour of the book in detail, check out my book review of Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.
It might just be one of the smartest books you read this year.
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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.
It was time for an update.
Here’s my Focus Checklist v2:
Focus Checklist (v2)
Here’s what’s new …
I organized the checklist into more meaningful buckets. It’s mostly the original list, but now they are grouped into better buckets to make it easier to turn into action. After all, a great checklist is measured both by it’s value and how actionable it is.
Focus is often the different that makes the difference when it comes to succeeding at work and succeeding in life. Otherwise, we don’t see things to fruition, or we bi-furcate our potential in ways that undermines our effort.
To make it easy to get to the Focus Checklist, I added a quick menu item to the feature menu:
You can still get to the checklists from Resources, but the saying “out of sight, out of mind”, tends to be true.
By moving Checklists to the feature bar, it will remind me to continue to turn insight into action in the form of simple checklists.
I’ve long been a fan of checklists for building better habits and sharing and scaling expertise. I’ve used them for security, performance, application architecture, and for personal effectiveness in a variety of ways. There’s actually a lot of research and science behind why checklists are effective, but I like to think of them as simple reminders and automation for the mind, so we can move up the mental stack and focus on higher-level issues.
If you’re a fan of Personal Software Process (PSP) or Team Software Process (TSP), you’ll appreciate the fact that checklists are one of the best ways to quickly, efficiency, and effectively radically improve quality, for yourself or for the team. Of course, that depends on the quality of the checklist, and your focus on actually applying it, and treating it like a living document, and keeping it updated with your latest insights and actions.
If you adopt checklists as your tool of choice for continuous improvement, you’ll be in good company. It’s how McDonald’s and Disney spread best practices. It’s how the best hospitals reduce errors and raise the quality bar. And, it’s even how the Air Force keeps fighter pilots from falling prey to task saturation.
Like anything, the value of the checklists depends on the user and the usage, and if you treat it as a static thing, that’s when problems happen. Use it as a baseline and adapt it to your needs, and update it based on your latest learnings.
If you do that, and you treat your checklists as continuous learning tools, and you continue to evolve and adapt them, then your checklists will serve you well.
Ugh … it looks like this post ran into some scope creep. This was supposed to be just letting you know that I have a new version available of my focus checklist.
Luckily, my 5-minute timebox in this case, reeled me back in.
PS – It’s worth noting that the practices behind this focus checklist are industrial strength. Folks with ADD and ADHD have used the practices in this checklist to retrain their brain to focus with skill. They learned to direct and redirect their attention, and to enjoy the process of focusing their mind on meaningful results.
Sometimes you need to Just Start. Other times, you need to Just Finish.
One of the best ways never to finish something, is to spread it out over time. Time changes what's important. People lose interest. Changes of heart happen along the way. Spreading things over time or pushing them out is a great way to kill projects.
Open items, open loops, and unfinished tasks compound the problem. The more unfinished work there is, the more task switching, and context switching you do. Now you're spending more time switching between things, trying to pick up where you left off, and losing momentum.
This is how backlogs grow and great ideas die. This is how people that "do" become people that "don't."
Time management tips #19 is just finish. If you have a bunch of open work, start closing it down. Swarm it. Overwhelm your open items with brute force. Set deadlines: - Today, I clear my desk. - Today, I decide on A, B, or C and run with it. - Today, I close the loop. - Today, I solve it. - Today, I clear my backlog.
If you want to finish something, then “own” it and drive it. To finish requires ruthless prioritization. It requires relentless focus. It requires putting your full force on the 20% of the things that deliver 80% of the value. It requires deciding on an outcome and plowing through until you are done.
Stop taking on more, until you finish what's on your plate. If you want to take on more, then finish more. The more you finish, the better you get.
The more you finish, the more you will trust yourself to actually complete things.
The more you finish, the more others will trust you to actually take things on.
The more you finish, the more you build your momentum for great results.
For time management skills , check out 30 Days of Getting Results, and for a time management system check out Agile Results at Getting Results.com.
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.
A few years back, I put together a roundup of 25 holiday classic movies to help people find their holiday spirit:
What 25 Holiday Classics Teach Us About Life and Fun
The post was pretty broken in terms of formatting, but the content is evergreen, so I took the time to revamp it. It should be 1000 times better now (at least.)
If you’re a movie buff, you'll recognize a lot of the classics, like The Lemon Drop Kid, or The Bishop’s Wife, or White Christmas.
I can never find anybody who has actually seen Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, though it’s still one of my favorite versions.
And when it comes to Claymation, my favorite is still Rudolph. I can never forget the scene where Yukon Cornelius says, “Look at what he can do!”, and the Bumble (the Abominable Snowman) puts the star on the top of the tree, without a ladder.
And whenever I see a sad looking little tree, I can’t help but wonder if adding a bunch of lights would magically transform it into a big, magnificent, and full tree, Charlie Brown style.
Transformation isn’t magic though.
It’s a lot of work. A lot of smart work.
As you get ready for this coming year, I hope that the key lessons you learned, and the key insights from this past year serve you well.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s how investing in the right capabilities pays off time and time again.
“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.” – Peter Drucker
I’m diving deeper into patterns and practices for innovation.
Along the way, I’m reading and re-reading some great books on the art and science of innovation.
One innovation book I’m seriously enjoying is Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of building Breakthroughs by Larry Keeley, Helen Walters, Ryan Pikkel, and Brian Quinn.
Right up front, Larry Keeley shares some insight into the journey to this book. He says that this book really codifies, structures, and simplifies three decades of experience from Doblin, a consulting firm focused on innovation.
For more than three decades, Doblin tried to answer the following question:
“How do we get innovation to succeed instead of fail?”
Along the journey, there were a few ideas that they used to bridge the gap in innovation between the state of the art and the state of the practice.
Here they are …
Larry Keeley and his business partner Jay Doblin, a design methodologist, always balanced three dimensions of innovation: a theoretical side, an academic side, and an applied side.
Via Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of building Breakthroughs:
“Over the years we have kept three important dimensions in dynamic tension. We have a theoretical side, where we ask and seek real answers to tough questions about innovation. Simple but critical ones like, 'Does brainstorming work?' (it doesn't), along with deep and systemic ones like, 'How do you really know what a user wants when the user doesn't know either?' We have an academic side, since many of us are adjunct professors at Chicago's Institute of Design and this demands that we explain our ideas to smart young professionals in disciplined, distinctive ways. And third, we have an applied side, in that have been privileged to adapt our innovation methods to many of the world's leading global enterprises and start-ups that hanker to be future leading firms.”
Innovation is a balance and blend of analysis and synthesis. Analysis involves tearing things down, while synthesis is building new things up.
“From the beginning, Doblin has itself been interdisciplinary, mixing social sciences, technology, strategy, library sciences, and design into a frothy admixture that has always tried to blend both analysis, breaking tough things down, with synthesis, building new things up. Broadly, we think any effective innovation effort needs plenty of both, stitched together as a seamless whole.”
Game-changing innovation is an orchestration of the ten types of innovation.
“The heart of this book is built around a seminal Doblin discovery: that there are (and have always been) ten distinct types of innovation that need to be orchestrated with some care to make a game-changing innovation.“
The main idea is that innovation fails if you try to solve it with just one dimension.
You can’t just take a theoretical approach, and hope that it works in the real-world.
At the same time, innovation fails if you don’t leverage what we learn from the academic world and actually apply it.
And, if you know the ten types of innovation, you can focus your efforts more precisely.
Innovation Life Cycle
Management Innovation is at the Top of the Innovation Stack
No Slack = No Innovation
The Drag of Old Mental Models on Innovation and Change
The Myths of Business Model Innovation
I love one-liners that really encapsulate ideas. A colleague asked me how work was going with some new projects spinning up and a new team. But she prefaced it with, “Your book is all about making sure your life energy is well spent. Are you finding that you are now spending your energy on the right things and with the right people?” (She was referring to my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.)
I thought was both a great way to frame the big idea of the book, and to ask a perfectly cutting question that cuts right through the thick of things, to the heart of things.
… Are you spending your life energy on the right things?
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.
I did a revamp and sweep of my health books collection. The focus of my collection of health books and fitness books is to help you get healthy, get in shape, get lean, and get strong. I’ve collected and tested many books to find patterns and practices for health and fitness that actually work.
Some of the new additions to the collection include:
Your Body as Your Gym is the most recent addition. It’s an incredible system. Here’s the deal. As a Navy Seal instructor, Mark Lauren needed to find a way to get more people in better shape in record time. He’s refined what he’s learned over years to get rapid results. The best part is it’s using your own body so you can do it anywhere. He wanted everyone to be able to get in the best shape of their lives and leverage what he’s learned from the special forces. It’s all about building lean, functional muscle, and using interval training. His routine is four times a week, 30 minutes a day.
I added Super Immunity to the collection. Dr. Fuhrman is a doctor that gets results. I know several Microsofties that have followed his approach to get in the best shape of their lives. What I like about Dr. Fuhrman is that he focuses on principles, patterns, and practices. His specialty is “nutritional density.” He focuses on the food that have the highest nutritional value per calories. Super Immunity is all about building up your immune system by eating the right foods to get your body on your side. In a world where we can’t afford to be sick anymore, this book is in a class all its own.
One of the books in my health books collection is Better Eyesight without Glasses, by William Bates. This book is near and dear to my heart. I used this approach to avoid getting glasses. A long story short is that I failed my eye test back in 7th grade, and I was determined not to wear glasses. I intercepted the letter that went to my parents and that bought me time. I then used the exercises from Better Eyesight without Glasses to get to 20/20 vision. As you can imagine, I saved a lot of money and a lot of inconvenience over many years, thanks to this one book.
Another book I should mention is Stretching Scientifically. This is the book I used to be able to do splits for Kick-boxing. I’ve never come across a better book on how to improve your flexibility in record time.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change” -- Charles Darwin
That's one of my all-time favorite quotes because it's surprising. It's not the smartest or the strongest, or even the fastest that survive ... it's the most flexible.
That says a lot about the value of agile and agility in today's world. I think of agility as the ability to effectively respond to change.
Intelligence is valuable too, but not just raw smarts. It's what you do with what you've got. There are multiple flavors of intelligence, and they can help you survive and thrive in today's world. Maybe you've heard of emotional intelligence, social intelligence, positive intelligence, or multiple intelligences?
I think how we look at our own intelligence can limit or enable us. For example, if you don't think you're intelligent, then you might not try to do intelligent things. For example, if you've defined intelligence in your own mind to mean something along the lines of "the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria", that singular view of intelligence might put a damper on how your view your own abilities (depending on how you scored on your IQ test.)
I wrote a post on What is Intelligence to elaborate and share what I've learned from Howard Gardner and his definition of intelligence.
I’d be curious on how your thoughts about intelligence have evolved and changed over the years, given how much of a premium people put on how smart you are.
A fellow Softie, and performance improvement architect extraordinaire, Walter Oelwein, wrote a fantastic article on Life Lessons from The Legend of Zelda and Zelda Theory.
It’s all about how to apply what we learn from The Legend of Zelda to real life. If you are a gamer, you will especially appreciate this insightful piece of prose. Even if you are not a gamer, you will appreciate Walter’s wit and wisdom, as well as his systems thinking. If you are a continuous leaner and you find yourself always on a path of exploration and execution, this article will directly speak to your heart.
Check out Life Lessons from the Legend of Zelda and get your game face on for life.