J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Multiple Solutions and Flat Projects


    Graham Barry, one of the key VSTS members helping us pave our paths through Team Foundation Server, shared a model he likes to use.  He uses multiple solutions, but with a flat project list:


    It's flat, but effective.  You get flexibility and you avoid baking in a folder structure than can be tough to change.  You can also spin up solution files for presenting different working groups of the projects as you need them.

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    Structuring Projects for Team Foundation Server


    I've seen a few customers asking how to structure projects for Team Foundation Server.  I don't blame them.  Finding a structure that works well for you can be tricky, particularly if you don't have the benefit of hind-sight or a bunch of reference examples to draw from.

    My team spent some time this past week evaluating various approaches and lessons learned from various projects  We boiled it down to something that seems to be working well, and distills what's worked for some teams.  With the caveat that we're still evaluating, here's what we learned ...

    Local File System


    Source Control (Team Foundation Server)


    Key points
    Here's a few highlights about this approach:

    • On the client side, we explicitly creat our solution file up front instead of rely on defaults
    • The project folder containts one master solution. 
    • The project has source and unit tests.  Loading the solution for the project, loads the source and unit tests
    • The Main folder in TFS holds the project assets (Build, Docs, Source, Tests).  Using Main lets us create other folders for potential branches (Development, Production, Maintenance ... etc.)

    Repro Steps
    Here's a brief walkthrough to test using a file-based Web:

    1. Create a blank solution in VSTS
    2. Create a source folder on the file system (C:\MyApp\Source)
    3. Add new Web project (C:\MyApp\Source\MyAppWeb)
    4. Add new Class Library (C:\MyApp\Source\ClassLibrary1)

    Verify your folder structure on your File System:


    Adding to TFS

    1. Add your solution to source control
    2. Create a Main folder
    3. Create a Source folder beneath Main

    Verify your folder structure in Source Control Explorer


    More Information
    You should know that while I talked through the single solution scenario, there are additional patterns.  Here's the key patterns we see:

    1. Single solution
    2. Partitioned single solution
    3. Multi-solution

    You can find more on these patterns at Team Development with Visual Studio .NET and Visual SourceSafe.  You should also know that we have a few How Tos on structuring your projects coming your way.  We'll post them to our VSTS Guidance Project.

    Share Your Story
    If you've got lessons learned the hard way or practices to share, I'd like to hear them.   Now's a great time to share since we're actively building guidance.  Either comment here or write a post and leave a link. 

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    Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us


    Web 2.0 means a lot of things to different people.  For me, it means moving from a read-only, one-way Web  to a read-write, conversational Web.  I think the most exciting part is the shift from sites serving content to humans driving the experience.  The machine is us!  Where will we take us next?

    For a short, thought-provoking video, watch Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us.

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    Roles and Goals


    The next time I need to get a set of requirements, I'm simply going to start with roles with goals.

    I made the mistake of asking for a set of scenarios.  What I ended up with is a list of user tasks.  Tasks aren't the same as goals.  Flying a kite is not the same as having a goal to discover electricity.  One is what you're doing, the other is what you want to accomplish.

    Since I didn't have the benefit of direct customer interaction for this case, I'm using that as a challenge.  What is the most precise, reliable way to get the information need?  Roles with goals.  I realized, iterating on a list of roles with goals, would get me closer, faster.  I can always drill into the stories or scenarios from the goals.  The reverse doesn't seem to be true.

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    David Anderson's Recipe for Success


    David Anderson distills his software management learnings down into four bullets:

    • Focus on Quality
    • Reduce Work-in-progress
    • Balance capacity against demand
    • Prioritize

    He names this set a recipe for sucess.  Here's what the recipe mean to me.

    Focus on Quality.  For me, focusing on quality means pushing quality upstream, and choosing quality over scope or quantity.  It also means quality isn't somebody else's job. 

    Reduce work-in-progress.  Reduce work-in-progress really hits home. Carrying too much in-flight work leads to excessive task-switching and administrative overhead.  In the buffet of work to be done, frequent small plates, wins over the single, large plate that over-floweth.       

    Balance capacity against demand.  Thinking in terms of demand, helps me right-size execution.  Specifically, it helps me think in terms of frequency (how often do I need to deliver value), size (how big does the value need to be), and quality (what does good enough look like now versus perfect down the road).  

    Prioritize.  There's always more work than we can possibly do.  To prioritize problems, I think about pervasiveness and impact.  Sometimes I need to prioritize a lesser problem that hits  more people, over a bigger problem that hits few.  I also keep my teams focused on value delivered vs. work completed.  It's a subtle shift in mindset, but it makes all the difference.

    More Information

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Making 30 Day Improvement Sprints More Effective


    In my 30 Day Improvement Sprints post, a reader asked, what tips do I have to make 30 days sprints more effective.  Here's my short list

    • Buddy up.  Seriously.  One guy's hurdle, is another girl's breeze.
    • Don't beat yourself up.  If at first you don't succeed, tell yourself you just learned another way how NOT to do something.
    • Count your improvements, not your blunders.  It's a pick you up vs. put you down approach.
    • Make each session count.  Keep your sessions short and sweet.   Slow and steady wins the race.
    • Focus on your improvement process vs. the result itself.  Make the process your reward.  I enjoy learning again for learning's sake.       
    • If you're churning, change your approach.  Don't mistake churn for awkwardness. Growth feels awkward and is a precursor to proficiency. 
    • Find experts you can model and learn from.  Success leaves clues.  If you can find somebody who does a great job at what you want to do, you have a head start.  I leverage lots of mentors.  I used to just see an amazing pool of people around me.  Now I see an amazing team of coaches.
    • Journal your lessons learned.  Each day, reflect on distinctions you made.  What's one little thing you learned you didn't know the day before.  You'll be surprised how simple notes can shine a spotlight on your gains.
    • Repetition is your friend.  Remind yourself that repetition is the mother of skill.  World class experts master the fundamentals through repetition and refinement.
    • Set your own bar vs. follow others.  Don't compare yourself to others; compare yourself to you.  Be your personal best.  I remember a point John Wooden made some time ago.  He didn't think his team should gloat over wins, or beat themselves up over losses.  His point was, if you won, but didn't play your best, did you really deserve to win? ...  If you lost, but you played your personal best, did you really lose?
    • Focus on the thinking, feeling and doing.  Sometimes the inner dialogue is more important than what you see or hear.  While something might seem purely physical, sometimes, there's a lot of self-talk an expert does that might not be obvious.  What do they think about when they perform the technique?  When they mess up, how do they get back in the zone?  What's their decision tree?  For example, when I do a customer arch and design review, they see me put stuff on a whiteboard.  They hear me ask precise questions.  What they might not know is the matrix of questions and reference examples I draw from.
    • Be your own best coach.  Use questions to shape your improvement.    
    • Ask for feedback.  Find those you trust to point out things you might otherwise miss.  

    Few problems withstand sustained focus.  There's a bit of captive genius in everyone that just needs to be uncorked.  30 days of focused improvement seems to be a great way to pop the cork.  I'm finding improvement sprints refreshing because I now have a schedule for exploration.  I can rotate through more interests.  Most importantly, rather than tackle everything all at once, I just wait for my next 30 day focus.  It's easier to put something aside for the moment, if I know I'll have a chance to immerse myself in it in the future.  If I enjoyed something so much and I want to continue, I just do another 30 days.

    Hope that helps!

    Related Posts

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    Requirements Perspectives


    Here's a simple set of perspectives I use for rationalizing requirements:

    • User
    • Business
    • Expert / Technical
    • Industry/Standards

    Believe it or not, simply identifying these perspective helps a lot.  You'd be surprised how many debates happen simply because nobody explicitly identified the source or perspective of the requirement.  You'd also be surprised how quickly this helps you make more deliberate decisions and understand what you trade. 

    How does this help?  Your business goals might be a n orders per hour.  Meanwhile, your user wants sub-second response time.  Well, that's what your users want, but what will they tolerate?  Can your business afford the resources for an idealistic experience?  Design is always about trade-offs.

    In practice, I generally see industry/standards trump business trump expert/technical, trump user.  Unfortunately, a lot of software has unconsciously catered to the expert/tech/business at the expense of it's users -- making a lousy experience.  On the flip side, some software has catered to users at the expense of the business or industry goals.   See the dilema? 

    You can make a difference.  If you build software, know the perspectives, know the goals, and know the scenarios.  In some contexts, some tech/expert reccomendations simply do not make sense.  Know what you're optimizing.  In some scenarios, industry/standards reign, while in others user experience is king.  Make sure you have the right representation at the table.  Don't ask your patient to prescribe the medicine, or your doctor to rate the taste.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    30 Day Improvement Sprints


    I'm using 30 day improvement sprints as a way to sharpen my skills.  I pick a focus to work on and I committ to improving it for a 30 day timebox.  Committing to 30 days of improvement in a focused area, is easier to swallow than changing for life.  However, improving an area for 30 days, is actually life changing.

    With 30 days, persistence and time are on my side.  It's a big enough time box that I can try different techniques, while building proficiency.  Using 30 days makes working through hurdles easier too.  A lot of the hurldles I hit in my first week, are gone by week 2.  Little improvements each day, add up quickly.  I look back on how many things I tried for a week and stopped thinking I hadn't made progress.  The trick was, I didn't get to week 2 to see my results.  Lesson learned!

    Related Posts

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    Prashant Bansode is Blogging


    Prashant Bansode has stepped up to the blogging plate.  He's been a core member of my team for a few years.  I first met Prashant, when he reviewed our Improving .NET Performance and Scalability.   I was impressed by his attention to detail, focus on the customer, and keeping things real.  Next, we teamed up on .NET 2.0 Securirty Guidance, exploring new models for more consumable guidance.  During this adventure, I found that Prashant was a developer who could do it and write about it -- a trait I value.  Our next adventure was Guidance Explorer -- an R&D experiment around building tooling to help change the guidance game.  We learned a lot about innovation, distributed teams, scenario-driven engineering, and shipping software incrementally and iteratively.   Our latest adventures include learning how to build guidance projects on CodePlex:  Performance Testing Guidance and Visual Studio Team System Guidance.

    Prashant has worn many hats throughout our adventures together -- developer, tester, writer, mentor  ... you name it.  He's a true case of student becomes the teacher.  Be sure to stop by and say Hi to Prashant at his new blog:  PAB's World  (Prashant uses his initials).

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Influencing Without Authority


    Today I got some relevant training for today's world - how to succeed when you don't have authority and control over execution.  This is a common scenario in cross-team, cross-group scenarios.  At Microsoft, you don't get rewarded by saying, "...if only I had control over authority and execution ... I would be successful."

    At the heart of the class was the model of influence without authority:

    1. assume all potential allies
    2. clarify goals and priorities
    3. diagnose the allies world
    4. identify relevanc currencies
    5. deal with relationships
    6. influence through give and take

    You obviously deal with relationships throughout the process.  If you assume those you need to influence are allies, you're in a more resourceful state.  If you don't clarify goals or understand the world of those you influence, then you can miss out on finding mutual purpose or understanding why or where you get stuck.  Currency is more than money; it's any type of exchangable value, such as expertise, resources, ... etc.    

    I liked the class.  The ideas weren't brand new, but instead of sit back and think, it was roll up our sleeves and apply the tools.

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    Ward and the Wiki Way


    When Ward Cunningham was on our team, I learned a lot about building Wikis.  He walked me through my first Wiki page.  He probably didn't expect that 4 days later, I'd have more than 500 Wiki pages (he added a counter to my wiki!) 

    Ward told me Wiki Wiki was Hawaiin for fast, and he wanted to simplify publishing (the writeable web). This explained away my initial complaints of formatting and features, and I adopted the mindset of shapable content you can evolve over time.  I thought of Wikis as notepad for the Web.

    Ward and I had a lot of insightful conversations around various Wiki issues: one Wiki vs. many, choosing namespaces, choosing names, collaboration ... etc.  The most important lesson for me was to think in terms of great pages.  This meant, choosing better page names and make pages that matter.  How to eat an elephant? ... one bite at a time.  How to build a useful Wiki? ... one page at a time.

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    30 Days of Living Foods Ends Today


    Today ends my 30 day experiment eating living foods.  I'm a burger and pizza boy at heart, so this was a big change.  Friends and family noticed my slimmer look and healthy glow.  A friend of mine said I found the Fountain of Youth.

    Here's what I noticed:

    • dropped 12 pounds
    • had enough energy to start working out again
    • shed my skin
    • eliminated sinus issues I had for a life time
    • stayed healthy while others got sick
    • maintained peak performance throughout my days
    • got the eye of the tiger back

    I didn't expect to shed my skin so that surprised me, but I liked what was underneath.  I was also surprised by how some issues were dietary vs. natural.  Nature vs. nurture strikes again! 

    Friends asked me what practices I'll carry forward:

    • more water over soda
    • balance my bad foods with more good foods (I'll eat my veggies - Mom will be proud)
    • raw vegetables over cooked
    • stick with my workouts (again to balance my bad foods)
    • more frequent meals

    Most importantly, I learned how to effectively do living foods for 30 days.  This means, I can choose to do 30 day tune ups throughout the year.  What I walk away with is a better idea of how foods affect me, how to balance my bad foods with good, and how to tune my body when I get run down (or need to fend the flu season).

    We're such thinking, feeling, doing creatures at heart and food has such a big impact on the way we think and feel.  I'm going to explore more options.  A friend of mine suggested testing intuitive eating, where you eat what your body craves, not what you mind thinks it wants.

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    Deep Enterprise 2.0 Penetration


    In Now THAT's What I'm Talking About! , Andrew McAfee writes about a case study of deep Enterprise 2.0 penetration:

    "Highly popular, and highly useful.  I find that the sites I visit most often these days are ones that give me 'the latest.'  They help me stay on top of (or at least feel like I'm staying on top of) the world, the blogosphere, and my personal network of people and content.  This page does the same thing at the company level for AARF employees.  It gives them 'the latest' about their work environment.  And it does so in a bottom-up and egalitarian fashion.  This page doesn't contain the latest information that the company's senior managers, or its IT staffers, think employees should know about; it contains the latest information that employees think employees should know about."

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    MVPs for Team System


    I updated our index of Team System MVPs index today so that my guidance team can quickly see the profiles and blogs.  I couldn't find some blogs, but I'll add them as I find them over time. 

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    Enterprise 2.0


    I like how Most Business Tech Pros Wary About Web 2.0 Tools In Business summarizes a Web 2.0 +  Enterprise world ...

    "Enterprise 2.0 can't just be about a wiki here, a blog there forever. Taken together, the emergence and convergence of Web 2.0 and IP communications is what will determine whether there's truly an Enterprise 2.0. It's a new architecture defined by easier, faster, and contextual organization of and access to information, expertise, and business contacts--whether co-workers, partners, or customers. And all with a degree of personalization sprinkled in."

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    Guidance 2.0


    Imagine what a Guidance 2.0 world might be like ...

    • browse tag clouds of reusable "architecture nuggets"
    • subscribe to "guidance feeds" that give you the latest practices and recommendations
    • share your "guidance" playlists with friends (share your favorite collections of how tos, guidelines, checklists)
    • build guidance mashups from your favorite trusted sources of information
    • rate the guidance and rate the raters (think Amazon or EBay)
    • browse a federation of guidance Wikis in your company and in the community

    I think next-gen guidance is about bringing together a lot of key concepts:

    • context-precision (using context to organize information)
    • personalization (create your own views, tailor it for your needs, ... etc.)
    • community type ratings (expose the thinking and rate the raters for the guidance)
    • guidance types (evolvable schemas for guidance types, such as how tos, guidelines, checklists, patterns ...)
    • Folksonomy over taxonomy

    A lot of today's guidance lives in blogs.  Part of the problem (and beauty) of blogs is that every end node is a blob of information.  What if there were RSS end nodes that contained "collections" or "lists" of how tos, guidelines, patterns ... etc.?  From a very practical standpoint, I would love to subscribe to the latest MS (or any company) recommendations and view those in a type of my choice (patterns, guidelines, how tos ... etc.)  The mashupability is endless.

    Those are the ideas that drove and shaped Guidance Explorer.  Guidance Explorer was just one small step towards a world of more effective and efficient guidance.

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    patterns and practices Visual Studio Team System Guidance Now Available


    This is our first release of our Visual Studio Team System Guidance.  This project is a collaborative effort with VSTS team members, customers, field, and industry experts.

    What you'll see so far, is Practices at a Glance and Questions and Answers as we're tackling source control / versioning.  They are designed to give you a quick path through the lessons learned and emerging practices.  These are works in progress.  As we learn, we update.  What you'll also see is a section that includes artifacts we create to help us build the guidance.  You'll also see a Team System Resources Index which is lists of the various public resources we use.  One of the first things steps we took to ramp our team, was gather and catalog the available resources.  There are a lot!

    Once we tackle source control, we'll be moving through other high priority areas, such as build, work items, and reporting.   We're evaluating customer success using scenarios, organized as Scenario Frames.  Here's our emerging Source Control Scenario Frame. The working plan at this point is to build community around our Visual Studio Team System Guidance, while we tune and prune our guidance.  We have a fast publishing path in CodePlex and we can experiment with usability and various guidance form factors.  As the guidance matures, we can make key guidance broadly available in the MSDN library.

    Our team includes previous members from security and performance guidance: Alex Mackman, Jason Taylor and Prashant Bansode.  We're working closely with Jeff Beehler, Rob Caron, Graham Barry, and Bijan Javidi on the VSTS side to bring you the guidance you need.  Send your feedback, fan mail and hate mail to VSGuide@microsoft.com

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    Using Scannable Outcomes with My Results Approach


    Some readers asked to hear more on how I use my Scannable Outcome Lists in conjunction with My Personal Approach for Daily Results.  Here's the work flow in a nutshell ...

    On Mondays, I figure out my key outcomes for the week.  To do this:

    • I remind myself what I learned from last Friday's reflections.
    • I scan my calendar
    • I scan my inbox for new information
    • I scan my Scannable Outcome List for each category

    I keep my inbox completely empty, so the only items are what comes in over the weekend.  The empty inbox is particularly important for me.  I get ~150 mails directly to me each day, and I send about that, so I can't be a paper shuffler.  For my Scannable Outcome Lists, I use a flat list of posts in Outlook.  I name each post according to category: Body, Career, Mind, Project X, Project Y .. etc.

    As I scan, I use four guiding questions:

    1. What must be done? ... what should be done? ... what could be done?
    2. What customer value am I delivering? (I measure in value delivered vs. activity performed)
    3. How am I improving myself in key areas: career, mind, body, financial, relationships?
    4. What are the things that if I don't get done ... I'm screwed?  (By using the principle of contrast, I paint a picture of where I don't want to be.)

    As I scan, I also do some quick shuffling:

    I get a few outcomes from this

    • Most importantly, I have a mental picture for the week's outcomes (notice outcomes vs. activity)
    • I know my big risks for the week
    • I know my MUSTs vs. SHOULDs vs. COULDs
    • I have my list of outcomes for the day -- my Daily Outcomes.

    I have weekly iteration meetings with my team on Mondays, so this information helps me shape the outcomes with my team.

    Each day, I construct my Daily Outcomes list.  Since I did the bulk of the work on Monday for identifying key priorities, this is a fast exercise.  In fact, it's usually 5 minutes.  It's as fast as it takes me to open a new post in Outlook, name it the current day (e.g. 02-25-07) and write the key outcomes down.  Throughout the day, I add to this.  I fish my email stream throughout the day for relevant actions and I add these to the current day's daily outcome.  If it's a longer team outcome, I list it under the relevant Scannable Outcome List.

    This is the day where I do more reflection.  To do this:

    • I scan my Daily Outcomes for the past week.  (This is fast because, for each day, I have a single post named by date.  For example: 02-19-07, 02-20-07, 02-21-07, 02-22-07, 02-23-07)   
    • I scan accomplishments
    • I scan my backlog

    As I scan, I ask some guiding questions:

    • If something's not getting done, then why not? ... Is there a habbit or practice I need to change for efficiency or effectiveness?
    • Do I need to change my approach for myself or the team?
    • What key lessons learned need to carry forward?

    I'll note that underlying my approach is my belief that important things should float to the top, less important should slough off, and I should be able to deal with change.  Having my Scannable Outcomes keeps me grounded in what's important vs. urgent.  This to me is the key to driving versus reacting.  If an area is slipping that I want to improve, I narrow my focus and concentrate on that.  There's few problems that withstand sustained focus.

    Well, that's the heart of the approach.  What I like most about this approach is that it's low-overhead and it works.  I've done away with over-engineered approaches, where you die the death of a 1000 paper cuts in administration.  I also like this approach because it's systematic, yet holistic and flexible.  Basically, it's designed for getting real results, in real life.

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    Scenario Frames for Guidance


    When I tackle a problem domain, I first frame out the space.  To do this, I list out scenarios and sub-scenarios.  I group the scenarios under categories.  Sometimes categories come first, sometimes scenarios do.  I call the result, a Scenario Frame.

    I use Scenario Frames to evaluate platform, tools, and guidance.   I also use them for product design, innovation, competitive assessments, subject matter expert reviews, arch and design reviews, and as a way to build shared understanding of a problem space.

    Here's a Scenario Frame Example my team is creating to enumerate and evaluate Source Control scenarios in VSTS 2005:

    What's your favorite tool for framing out problem spaces?

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    patterns and practices Performance Testing Guidance


    We have a new Performance Testing Guidance project in progress.  Our team includes some of the original members from Improving .NET Application Performance as well as some new faces.  We're tackling various flavors of performance testing (stress, load, capacity) as well as how to bake performance testing into your life cycle.  We're also tackling how to use Visual Studio 2005 for effective performance testing.

    We're building our performance testing BOG (Body of Guidance) in three parts:

    1. Methodologies 
    2. Techniques
    3. Visual Studio 2005 Performance Testing Guidance

    This factoring let's us create both a focused set of timeless performance testing practices, as well as a set of very specific practices for getting the most out of the tool.  You can pick the modules you need for your tasks at hand.

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    4 Questions to Cap Your Day


    At the end of each day, I ask myself the following:

    1. What did I learn?
    2. What did I improve?
    3. What did I enjoy?
    4. What kind act did I do?

    I use these questions to reflect on daily improvements as well as course correct.  I also use them to appreciate life's little lessons each day.  It's a simple practice but it helps make sure I don't slip into life's auto-pilot mode.  What's interesting too, is this simple practice can actually raise your happiness thermometer, according to Do You Have What It Takes to Lead a Happier Life?

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    Scannable Outcome Lists


    I realized another key for helping manage To Dos.  It's having scannable lists of outcomes.  I keep flat lists of outcomes chunked by area or project.  These aren't the next actions.  They're the results I want to accomplish.  They act as prompts to help me quickly identify next actions.

    I keep lists for all my various areas for outcomes:

    • Continuous Improvement: mind, body, career, relationships, financial
    • Projects
    • Ideas
    • Goals and committments
    • Recurring items (such as backup, status reports)
    • Habbits or practices I'm developing
    • Training
    • Information sources (places or people that I routinely browse or pull information from)

    In a single view, I can first scan all of my areas.  I can then quickly scan any particular area for outcomes.  What I like about this approach is that I get a bird's-eye view of all the areas that I'm working on.  Because I like to focus on a given area for results, I could easily neglect areas.  This approach keeps important things on my radar and helps keep me balanced.

    I use my scannable outcome lists in conjunction with my personal approach for daily results.

    Related Posts

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    patterns & practices Enterprise Library Test Guide


    We released the Enterprise Library Test Guide.  I plan on analyzing the sections on security and performance testing.  I do like the focus on testing for compliance with recommended practice over testing for all the permutations of bad (whitelist over blacklist testing).

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    Visual Studio Team System Technotes

    I found the Visual Studio Team System Technotes while hunting and gathering resources for my team.  I like the Technotes because they are short and focused on a specific concept or task.  I also like the fact that they are first-hand from many of the product team members.
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    Task-Analysis Grid for Communicating Product Design


    How do you communicate design decisions? … Srinath sent me a helpful link on the Task-Analysis Grid.   A Task Analysis Grid is effectively columns of scenarios along with sub-tasks to complete the task.

    Here's the key points:

    • The columns are organized by Before, After, and Future
    • The sub-tasks are prioritized and color coded.

    In practice, I think the Task-Analysis Grid is useful for communicating user experiences and high-level product design.  For driving engineering and project management, I use Scenario Grids.  Scenario Grids are useful for figuring out baseline releases, incremental releases, dependencies, as well as doing scenario-based evaluations and competitive assessments.  I'll post more on building Scenario Grids another day.

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