Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra.” — H.E. Luccock
Welcome to my roundup of blog posts from across Microsoft on the art and science of Program Management.
The Program Manager role is a very powerful one. I think of it as a technical entrepreneur that blends customer focus, with technical skills, and business acumen. It’s the blending of those three domains that makes it so powerful for bringing ideas to life.
Great PMs make things happen by setting a vision, bringing a team together, creating an execution engine, and shipping ideas that change the world.
What exactly is a Program Manager? At Microsoft it’s a role that means many things to many people. In general though, when you meet a PM at Microsoft, you expect somebody who has vision, can drive a project to completion, can manage scope and resources, coordinate work across a team, bridge the customer, the business, and the technology, act as a customer champ, and influence without authority. From a metaphor standpoint, they are often the hub to the spokes, they drive ideas to done, they take the ball and run with it, or find out who should run with the ball. Some PMs are better at thought leadership, some are better at people leadership, and the best are great at both.
One of my favorite quotes that helps distinguish program management vs. project management is by G. Reiss:
“Project management is like juggling three balls – time, cost and quality. Program management is like a troupe of circus performers standing in a circle, each juggling-three balls and swapping balls from time to time.”
“The winners in life think constantly in terms of I can, I will, and I am. Losers, on the other hand, concentrate their waking thoughts on what they should have or would have done, or what they can’t do.” – Dennis Waitley
One of the ways I set better goals and achieve them at Microsoft is by using well-defined outcomes. It’s a way to begin with the end in mind. An outcome is simply something that follows as a result or consequence.
Maybe the best way to think of an outcome is that it answers the question: “What do you want?”
(If you want to just jump to the recipe and full expanded explanation of how to set better goals, go here: How To Set Better Goals with Well-Defined Outcomes)
NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) has popularized the use of outcomes over the years to help people achieve better results. You can think of NLP as a way to model excellence and replicate it from one person to another. It’s a way to program your mind, body, and emotions using advanced skills for high-performance. (Tip – if you don’t’ program yourself, somebody else will.)
Imagine if you could model what the most successful people think, feel, and do, and get that on your side.
If you like languages or the idea of language to share and express concepts, you’ll especially appreciate the power of NLP. NLP helps you create a lot of precision in how you see things, how you articulate things, how you filter information, and how you distill feedback into actionable insights.
NLP is like Agile Personal Development where continuous learning is fundamental to its core.
NLP is probably the most powerful set of techniques I’ve ever come across for personal development, personal effectiveness, leadership, and high-performance. The techniques effectively help you find better, faster, easier ways to accomplish outstanding results, while helping you bring out your best. Tony Robbins popularized NLP back in the 80’s, but it’s more mainstream today.
In fact, I know a lot of executives and highly effective Softies that use NLP to get the edge in work and life. I also know a lot of developers that have NLP under their belt and it helps them clarify what they want, set better goals, take more effective action, and communicate more effectively to themselves and others. In fact, some say that NLP is simply a set of advanced communication techniques.
Developers often find a special place in their hearts for NLP because of its precision and how it helps to “codify” behaviors. Specialists often use NLP to model high-performance behaviors and break them down into a recipe. These recipes for results help guide your thoughts, feelings, and actions in a more powerful way.
Anyway, what makes NLP powerful when you are setting goals is that it helps you really identify the end in mind. It brings your full senses to bear, so instead of imagining a fuzzy scene of what success looks like with loosey-goosey language, it forces you to get specific and use precision, and to really get clarity on what you actually want to achieve.
After all, it’s a lot easier to get to where you are going, if you know what you really want to accomplish.
In addition to helping you create compelling scenes of success, or mental movies of your future victories, NLP also helps you break your goal down into actionable chunks. It also sets you up for success by teaching you to focus on feedback as a way to improve, not a sign of failure. In this way, you keep refining your actions and your outcome until you achieve your goal.
What most people don’t know about NLP is that it’s been an effective tool for years for building a great big body of knowledge around high-performance patterns for individuals, teams, and leaders. The NLP framework provides a way to capture and share very detailed patterns of behavior that help people improve their performance. Whether you want to improve your leadership skills, or your relationship skills, or whatever, there is a bountiful catalog of very specific patterns that help you do that.
And, the beauty of patterns in NLP is that they tend to be very prescriptive, very specific, and easy to follow and try out. This makes it easy to test and adapt until you find what works for you. (I’m a fan of don’t take things at face value – test them for yourself and judge from results. I’m also a fan of Bruce Lee’s timeless wisdom: “Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.")
One of the best books I’ve found is the book, The Big Book of NLP Techniques, by Shlomo Vakni. Surprisingly, it actually delivers what it says on the cover. There’s more than 350 patterns at your fingertips. I wrote about one of the patterns, Well-Defined Outcomes, in my post on How To Set Better Goals with Well-Defined Outcomes. You need to see it to believe it. It really is detailed, so if you’ve ever struggled with setting goals, this might be your big breakthrough.
Here’s the real breakthrough though in goal setting. Aside from making sure you have goals that inspire you, and that they are aligned with what you really want, the power of the goal is ultimately in moving you in the right direction. It’s not a perfect or precise path where you can simply do A and get B. In fact, the irony is, that if you really want B, your best strategy is to first act as if you already have B. This will help you think, feel, and act from a more effective perspective so that your actions come from the right place, and help you produce more effective results (or at least guide you in the right direction).
That’s why you often here people say that you have to BE-DO-HAVE, not HAVE-DO-BE. With HAVE-DO-BE, the idea is when you get what you want, then you’ll start doing the things that go with it, and finally you’ll act the part. This is like saying that you won’t show up like a leader or act like a leader until somebody appoints you in a leadership role. This creates a negative loop, since why should anybody put you in a role that you don’t act the part.
The right thought pattern is BE-DO-HAVE because then your thoughts, feelings, and actions support your end results.
Are you acting like what you want?
If you’re not getting what you want, what does your feedback tell you to change?
The Guerilla Guide to Getting a Better Performance Review at Microsoft
Think in 3 Wins
E-Shaped People, Not T-Shaped
“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” — Publilius Syrus
Change is tough. Especially leading it.
Whether you are leading yourself, others, or organizations through a change, it helps to have tools on your side.
Recently, I read Leadership Transformed, by Dr. Peter Fuda.
It uses 7 metaphors to guide you through leadership transformation:
It might seem simple, but that's the point. Metaphors are easy to remember and easy to use.
For example, you can use the Movie metaphor to increase your self-awareness and reflection that allow you to first "edit" your performance, and then direct a "movie" that exemplifies your leadership vision.
The other benefit of simple metaphors is they allow both for creative interpretation and creative expression.
I appreciated the book the further I went along. In fact, what really clicked for me was the fact that I could easily remember the different metaphors and the big idea behind them. It was a nice brain-break from memorizing and internalizing a bunch of leadership frameworks, principles, and patterns.
Instead, it’s just a simple set of metaphors that remind us how to bring out our best during our leadership transformations.
The metaphors are actually well-chosen, and they really are helpful when you find yourself in scenarios where a different perspective or approach may help.
Even better, the author grounds his results in some very interesting data, and aligns it to proven practices for effective leadership.
Here is my book review: Book Review: Leadership Transformed: How Ordinary Managers Become Extraordinary Leaders
I included several highlights and “scenes” from the book, so you can get a good taste of the book, movie trailer style.
If you end up reading the book, I encourage you to really dive into the background and the anatomy of the Leadership Impact tool that Dr. Fuda refers to. It’s incredibly insightful in terms of leadership principles, patterns, and practices that are fairly universal and broadly applicable.
“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.” – Bruce Lee
Aaron Lynn and Thanh Pham of Asian Efficiency wrote a thoughtful and interesting post about why they like Agile Results over GTD:
6 Ways Agile Results is Better than GTD
Here's the opening blurb:
“Here’s a short, fun article about why I prefer JD Meier’s Agile Results as a foundational productivity system more than Getting Things Done (GTD). Not that GTD isn’t awesome, it just misses a lot of things given the complexity of our lives nowadays. If you’ve been on the edge about switching to Agile Results, here are 6 great reasons why.”
What I like is that they are fans of GTD and are familiar with both systems.
I used to get asked how Agile Results related to GTD. My most common response was … “better together” and “to each his own” or “absorb what is useful”. Of course, Bruce Lee was an early influence on me: “Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.”
That said, I never had a snappy unique selling proposition, other than Agile Results is a personal results system for work and life. For many folks, they liked when I said that it’s a “simple system for meaningful results.” For other folks, they said the big deal is “outcomes not activities.”
I actually think that’s the key: meaningful results.
A lot of Agile Results was born out of a desire to achieve 3 key things for as many people as I could:
On #3, I always think of the line from Rocky 6:
“Nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain’t how hard you can hit. It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It’s how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning’s done.” – Rock Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)
I also think about my last visit to one of the Block Busters that was closing. The lady there had spent the last several years of her life. For her, Block Buster was her life. With Block Buster closing, she didn’t know what was next. She was scared. She was feeling the struggle of each day, and wondering how to keep going.
I confidently gave her a copy of my book, Getting Results the Agile Way. I was confident that it would help her figure out how to write her story forward. I was confident that she could use it to help her find her strength each day. I was confident that she could use it to help her figure out what’s important in her life and spend more time on that.
In that instance, the last thing I wanted to do was to show her how she could use Agile Results to get more things done. Instead, I wanted Agile Results to help her get back on her feet again and bring out her best, and to help her write her story forward.
I wanted help her to hit her high notes.
And, I wanted her to have better endings, brighter beginnings, and better adventures along the way.
Ultimately, I wanted Dr. Seuss's timeless wisdom to ring true for her on multiple levels:
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
I hope with Agile Results, I help people smile more.
“If the road is easy, you're likely going the wrong way.” ― Terry Goodkind
If you know struggle, you know adversity. If you know loss, you know adversity. If you know setbacks, you know adversity. If terrible things have happened to you, you know adversity.
But do you know what to do with adversity?
You can turn adversity into a gift. It's not easy though. In fact, if it was easy, it probably wouldn't be called adversity.
I wrote a book review on The Gift of Adversity: The Unexpected Benefits of Life’s Difficulties, Setbacks, and Imperfections, by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. Dr. Rosenthal is the same guy who first described winter depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and he pioneered the use of light therapy for its treatment.
It's a hard-core book with some grim stories, and some lighter tales, all about dealing with adversity. Dr. Rosenthal is a powerful storyteller and he does a great job of sharing his insights and actionable things you can do to embrace adversity.
In fact, according to Dr. Rosenthal, embracing adversity is how we can live more authentic and meaningful lives.
Dr. Rosenthal divides adversity into 3 flavors:
This works well because the book is written memoire style and Dr. Rosenthal draws from family, friends, and colleagues, as well as his own experiences, to share memories, personal anecdotes, and vignettes about the multiple categories of adversity.
Here is one of my favorite nuggets from the book ...
“Many people enter psychotherapy for problems they see as the result of repeated bad luck or the misbehavior of others. Such chronic failure to take responsibility leaves people like victims of fate rather than architects of their own destiny, which is not an empowering state of mind. Why do they think this way? Because it is painful to admit errors and shortcomings. It is generally far more painful, however, to suffer the consequences as they play out over time. That’s what happens to people who habitually fail to take responsibility for their actions.”
The key take away is -- don’t be a victim and don’t play the blame game. Rise above your circumstances and design a new story forward.
I share several more nuggets in my book review.
If you want to turn adversity into an advantage in work and life, check it out.
Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is one of the greatest books on personal development. Why? Because it provides a firm foundation for personal effectiveness. Even better, it provides habits and skills you can build to realize your full potential.
Here are the 7 habits of highly effective people, according to Stephen Covey:
I’ve provided a summary of each of the habits in my post, Adopt the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Here, I simply wanted to provide the habits at glance, as a reminder of some of the most useful habits that can help you throughout life.
Interestingly, the habits serve me well at Microsoft. I’ve always been a self-starter, which is critical for the Program Manager role. Similarly, whenever I set out to do significant work or put any time into significant things, I begin with the end in mind. A big part of project success, product success, or personal success comes down to putting first things first. I very naturally go for the win/win because it’s the key to influence without authority. I learned long ago that you have to first seek to understand, then to be understood, or you’re just fighting for air time, and without rapport, there is no influence. Synergize also comes naturally to me because I want more from the whole than the parts, and I want more out of the time I and energy I invest. As a life-long learner, sharpening the saw is how I continuously re-invent myself and stay relevant as the game changes under my feet.
Of course, it’s one thing to “know” the habits, it’s another thing to do habits. Here are some tips on how to change habits and making them stick. If you want to get hard-core about habit change, here’s how to use Agile Results to change a habit.
Are you I-shaped, T-shaped, or E-shaped?
I is depth, T is breadth, and E executes (Of course there’s overlap, but you get the idea.)
If you think of yourself as a mini-business, can you “execute” your ideas? (either yourself, with others, or through others, and amplify your impact) And, by the way, just how important is the ability to execute? Well, it’s important enough that Gartner uses “Ability to Execute” as a key criteria in its Magic Quadrants.
Ability to execute + high-impact ideas are a recipe for value.
After all, what good are a bunch of ideas if you can’t make them happen.
Keep these mental models in mind as you design your career path and grow your capabilities, skills, and experiences.
With that in mind, let’s explore a little more …
Here's what Wikipedia says about T-shaped people:
"The concept of T-shaped skills, or T-shaped persons is a metaphor used in job recruitment to describe the abilities of persons in the workforce. The vertical bar on the T represents the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field, whereas the horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one's own."
(The earliest reference to T-shaped people is by David Guest in "The hunt is on for the Renaissance Man of computing," in The Independent, September 17, 1991.)
By contrast, I-shaped people have a very narrow, but expert domain skills in one specific area.
According to Sarah Davanzo, E-Shaped people are those that "execute":
“People (workers) today also need to be able to execute. As they say, 'ideas are like noses, everyone has one.' I’m tired of people coming to me with a great idea or invention, but with no clue how to bring it fruition. Real genius is being able to execute ideas. “
According to Sarah Davanzo, an “ideas person” isn’t good enough. You need the ability to execute. Here’s what Sarah says:
“Being an experienced, expert, exploratory “ideas person” isn’t good enough in today’s culture, and here’s why. The trends clearly favor those with “breadth” and “depth”, as well as the tangible (execution) and intangible (exploration), implying having both a big-picture outlook and an attention to detail from being a practitioner.”
According to Sarah Davanzo, “E-shaped” people have a combo of 4 Es:
“’E-Shaped People’ have a combination of ‘4-E’s’: experience and expertise, exploration and execution. The last two traits – exploration and execution – are really necessary in the current and future economy.”
Note – If you want to work on your ability to execute, Getting Results the Agile Way is a good way to start (It’s the playbook I wish somebody would have given me long ago.)
According to Sarah Davanzo, your CQ matters more than your IQ and EQ:
“Exploration = curiosity. Innovation and creative problem solving is tied to one’s “curiosity quotient” (CQ). In this day and age of constant change (think: Moore’s Law), one’s CQ is more useful than one’s IQ or EQ.”
Side note – Edward de Bono wrote about how exploring ideas is how to have a beautiful mind.
Bill Buxton puts a spin on “I-shaped” people in his article on Innovation Calls for I-Shaped People:
“But while I love Bill's (Bill Moggridge) notion of T-shaped people, things are just not that simple. So as both compliment and complement, I propose I-shaped people. These have their feet firmly planted in the mud of the practical world, and yet stretch far enough to stick their head in the clouds when they need to. Furthermore, they simultaneously span all of the space in between.”
According to Bill Buxton, at Microsoft we purposefully plan for equal levels of competence and creativity in business, design, and technology:
“When you slide multiple Ts together, their cross bars all overlap, indicating that the various Ts have a common language, and, ideally, their combined base can be broad enough to cover the domain of the problem that you are addressing. At ( (MSFT)), we try to make sure that in looking at new product or services ideas, we have at least three Ts, which we call BXT, reflecting equal levels of competence and creativity in three domains: business, (in design), and technology. These are three interdependent and interwoven pillars we see as the foundation for what we do.”
Outstanding people can generalize and abstract, as well as get specific and make things actually work. They bridge the head in the clouds and feet on the ground with other people. Bill Buxton writes:
“I once asked him (Brian Shackel) if he had noticed any particular attributes that distinguished the students that went on to do remarkable things compared with the rest. His answer was as immediate as it was insightful. He said: ‘The outstanding students all had an outstanding capacity for abstract thinking, yet they also had a really strong grounding in physical materials and tools.’ By this, he meant that they could rise above the specifics of a particular problem to think about them in a more abstract, and in some ways, more general way.”
One way to grow your T-Shape is to grow your personal effectiveness capabilities. The U.S. department of labor actually has a Competency Model Clearninghouse. You can easily browse different industries and find a list of Personal Effectiveness capabilities. For example, in the Information Technology Competency Model, they list the following Personal Effectiveness Capabilities:
BTW – did you notice that Personal Effectiveness is at the base of the pyramid of the competency model? The higher you go up, the more narrow and specific it gets. The lower you go, the broader and more general the competency model is. Personal Effectiveness is at the base of all the pyramids. That should tell you something.
Note – If you want to work on your personal effectiveness skills, I have a knowledge base at Sources of Insight that focuses on personal effectiveness, personal development, leadership, productivity, emotional intelligence, time management, strengths, motivation, and more.
Ability to Execute
Agile Downsizing: Why Agile Skills Improve a Project Manager’s Job Security
Anatomy of a High-Potential
Generalists vs. Specialists
The Microsoft Career Survival Guide
When you build teams, one of the issues that comes up is whether to build a team of generalists or specialists.
On the Microsoft patterns & practices team, because I was doing project-based work, I was effectively building new project teams roughly every six months (it varied – in the earlier days it was more like every 18 months and in the later years, it was more like every 3 – 6 months. The bottom line is, I got to see a lot of patterns and practices for building effective teams, both on my own teams and across Microsoft patterns & practices.
In my experience, the teams that had a healthy composition of generalists with relevant specialist skills, performed the best.
They performed the best in terms of speed, flexibility, and quality. Why? Because there was less scheduling complexity depending on availability of specialists for the day to day work, while we would broker in deep expertise as needed.
So, we did use specialists, but we optimized around generalists with relevant specialist skills.
Having generalists with specialist skills also helped broker in additional experts, as well as keep things very pragmatic, rather than dive off the deep end. It also helped us bridge the knowledge and speak the language of the specialists, by having folks on the team that knew enough to be dangerous, and that were well aware of there limits … but most importantly, knew when to reach out, and who to reach out to.
Having a team of generalists with relevant specialist skills for the day to day work helped us better load balance the work, and to avoid significant bottlenecks either due to dependencies or simply by getting stuck. It’s easy to get stuck when you are doing knowledge work if you don’t have a team of capabilities you can rely on to keep the ball moving forward, and to sanity check the path.
With that in mind, in the book, Agile Management for Software Engineering: Applying the Theory of Constraints for Business Results, David J. Anderson shares some great insights on the great debate between Generalists vs. Specialists. (Keep in mind, I’m a fan of the AND approach.)
Jone’s says specialists should outperform generalists. Agilists say, generalists will do better. Perhaps both are right. Anderson writes:
“Therefore, there is a plausible explanation to the conflict between Capers Jone's observation that specialists should outperform generalists and the Agile methodologists' contention that generalist developers will be better. Jones is clearly measuring organizations that employed specialists who were motivated and controlled by processes that led to good quality at every stage in the process. The Agile methodologists are clearly reacting to their environment. They are assuming that it is impossible to fix the systemic issues with analysts and both quality and performance can be improved by eliminating them.
Perhaps the final conclusion is that an Agile team of generalists will outperform a badly organized, badly incentivized, poorly skilled team of specialists following a traditional method. However, a good team of specialists, measured by properly set governing rules and focused on quality should outperform the team of Agile generalists. Hence, the Agilists and Capers Jones are not in conflict, the Agilists are basing their beliefs on differing assumptions.”
Maybe the generalist specialist is the answer? Anderson writes:
“Scott Ambler has suggested the ultimate solution to this problem . He calls them generalist specialists. These are software engineers with specialist in-depth skills in a few areas but adequate skills across a breadth of other areas. The generalist specialist is probably the ideal member for an Agile team. Such a team of generalist experts using an Agile method would probably perform even better.”
When you depend on specialists, the big issue, of course, is availability. Anderson writes:
“Specialist roles that will generally not be resource constraints tend to be horizontal and consultative in nature. These roles include language gurus who advice developers on esoteric or obscure elements in development languages, mentors and coaches, trainers, IT support staff, help desk personnel, program managers, project managers, development managers, and executives.
General developers or testers will generally not be constraints -- rather, in circumstances where they are in short supply, they would be classified as insufficiently buffered resources.
If the schedule is to be3 protected from delays, the additional resource constraints must be scheduled. The schedule must be designed to allow the resource constraint, for example, the user interface designer, to move freely from one task to the next without delaying the start of any specific large grained component. The feeding chains were planned with feeding buffers based on the notion that the start date is the latest possible date that the feeding chain components can be started without endangering the Critical Path. If a feeding chain was delayed because a resource was unavailable, the project would be in jeopardy.”
At the end of the day, specialists can be bottlenecks you need to account for when you plan. Anderson writes:
“Hence, the specialist resources must be scheduled across the PERT chart. Uncertainty surrounding the availability of a specialist resource must be anticipated in the planning. In the user interface designer example, it must be recognized that some sections of the project may require more design or be more difficult to design than others. Uncertainty generated by the complexity of the design challenge for certain elements of the project must be buffered appropriately. The schedule must reflect this.
This section should raise awareness that is it not a good thing to have too many specialist resources. Specialists are potential bottlenecks and must be schedule on the PERT chart as CCRs. They must be buffered and protected. Too many of them would produce a scheduling nightmare, and all the protecting buffers would result in increased Lead Time (LT), increased Operating Expense (OE), and reduced Throughout (T).”
Can you eliminate the need for specialists? Probably not, but you can limit and reduce your dependency on them, and use specialists more effectively. Anderson writes:
“XP eliminates specialists. There are no analysts in XP, no designers, no UI designers, or architects. XP encourages the virtue of the highly talented, highly skilled, highly educated generalist. By eliminating specialists, XP eliminates a large number of potential bottleneck points or constraints. However, this is a double-edge sword. Capers Jones has metrics to suggest that teams of specialists outperform generalists [Yourdon 2002]. Constantine has suggested that XP is bad for usability [Constantine 2001a]. Would the customer, for example, want a programmer to design the UI or would they prefer a skilled interaction designer and usability engineer?
However, eliminating specialists does eliminate constraints. There are no specialists to be schedule on the PERT chart and no specialists to be protected with buffers. There is no need for Critical Chain in XP.
In many cases, XP seeks to deny the Theory of Constraints whilst accepting that traditional software development is constrained. XP simply eliminates the constraints and moves on, for example, version control lock and technical specialists are eliminated through collective ownership and developers as generalists. This may, in fact, be appropriate on small-scale projects with highly talented people. It may be possible to ignore constraints because the people take care of everything and don't get into trouble. However, as projects get larger and the talent level of the team begins to vary, it may be necessary to look at other methods that seek to accept constraints for what they are. Rather than ignore constraints, they will identify, exploit, subordinate to, and ultimately elevate them. Denying constraints exist and denying the need for specialists in a large-scale system of software production may hold back the adoption of XP in larger enterprises.
Another approach to the denial of constraints could be to declare them paradigm constraints. XP could be viewed as a paradigm shift in software engineering. Hence, in a new paradigm, why should existing constraints be considered? Specialists are merely part of the old paradigm. Version control lock is equally part of a paradigm. By changing the working practices of development to a Lean interaction perhaps version write lock dies with the old mass production, specialist paradigm.”
In closing, I want to point out three key things to keep in mind when you think about generalists vs. specialists:
Happy team building.
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.
Are you leading an epic adventure and don’t even know it?
When you are leading a project, it helps you and those around you to have a simple story of the impact you plan to make.
As one of my mentors always challenged me, “How will the world be different when you're done?”
For example, when I was kicking off the Cloud Security Guide a few years back, I challenged the team to write the movie poster or news headline.
To model the way, I shared my example first:
A winning team with great results for customer success on the platform. Do for the cloud what we did for .NET. Create a compelling glide path for developers and solutions architects to smooth adoption of Azure.
Here are the specific instructions I gave the team at the time:
I’m a fan of stories and telling compelling ones. I think we all have stories in our mind. Write your few line story (imagine the movie poster or the news headline) of the project. Get creative. Tap into your passion.
Here are some of the examples I got back:
The essential security guidance for current and aspiring Azure architects and developers. Concise, relevant, scenario-based guidance to ensure you make the right decisions. Packaged and presented in a compelling, easy-to-consume manner.
Create the bible for azure app development. MSDN is reference, the azure guide is where you go first if you want to understand: 1) The key scenarios for how you may want to use Azure 2) How to be successful, secure and effective in each scenario Create a team of expertise on Azure that can be leveraged for future success, both independently as consultants and together as a team for future Azure efforts
A rapidly consumable, highly relevant guide demonstrating easily actionable behaviors and activities for securing your Azure implementation.
As you can see, the examples varied. What’s important is that the exercise helped everybody get their head in the game. It effectively helped everybody expand what they thought was possible and to envision a brighter future to deliver against and shape our path.
It’s a simple exercise, but it’s a great way to begin with the end in mind, clarify your vision and mission, and make your projects the epic adventures that they really can be.
Nothing beats smart people on a cadence shipping ideas and making things happen on an epic adventure.
7 Habits of Highly Effective Program Managers
Agile Results: It Works for Teams and Leaders Too
Inspiring a Vision
Vision Scope Template
I first learned to use scenarios to evaluate things when I was working on security guidance for the Microsoft platform. It was the most obvious way to really get hardcore: Map out the most important scenarios that people perform, and use those as tests to evaluate.
I know “scenario” is an overloaded term, but in software development it typically means one of three definitions:
#3 is often preferred because it provides a testable result.
In the broader industry, here are some common definitions …
Growing up at Microsoft, I saw “scenarios” used in the following ways:
Our thinking and maturity around scenarios has evolved a lot since then, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that sometimes people use scenarios to focus on the problem side, sometimes they use them to focus on the solution side, and sometimes they use them as a bridge between the problem and the solution.
When people use “future scenarios” they typically are showing “Future Capability Visions”, or storyboards of possibility. They are a great way to help people envision what’s possible.
Scenarios themselves are incredibly powerful for analysis, putting requirements into context, and shaping design.
This brings us back to my story about how I learned to use scenarios to evaluate design and implementation in a very deep way. When I was working on security guides for the Microsoft platform, I focused on scenarios to map out the priorities and test cases. Here is a sampling of some of the scenarios we used to help us scope the security work, focus our efforts, and score our results:
Arch / Design Solutions
I used simple, goal-oriented language (how to blah), and focused on the solution side. We were already well aware of the problem side of the equation. Our best scenarios were the result of asking: “What do you want to accomplish?”
The big idea here was that I wanted to use scenarios to shape our work and score our success.
It was like having the questions for the final exam up front. We used the best experts to really identify a complete map of what developers, architects, and administrators need to accomplish.
By mapping out all the scenarios that mattered the most, we had a comprehensive map of what to solve for. Then it was just a matter of rallying the best brains inside and outside of the company to solve the challenges.
Think of it as the ultimate crowd-sourced quiz where the best in the world could share their best knowledge, experience, and insights to advance the art and science of software security. (Yeah, scenarios really can be a powerful thing.)
When our security guidance made a big impact in the industry, changing how people actually did software security, I recognized the power of scenarios. We basically leap frogged ahead in terms of our capabilities because we used real-world scenarios to focus our efforts.
By using scenarios, we performed extremely well in any platform comparisons because we actually had a full map of the most important scenarios and we solved them by design. We didn’t luck or hope our way into nailing the things that mattered. We mapped out the scenarios that mattered, and drove from there.
From there, I became “the scenarios guy” for the team, and started to dive deeper into ways we could use them. My next move was to use them more deeply for performing inspections and for raising quality. I learned to appreciate the distinction between “usage scenarios” for functional things vs. “architecturally significant scenarios” for cross-cutting things.
Along the way, I dove into various software evaluation methods, including:
But, the most important insight, (in hindsight), was that utility trees could help visualize the trade-offs among quality attributes. The other lesson though was that it was tough to integrate and hop around a lot of different tools and techniques for designing robust architectures. Related, it was even tougher because very few people knew the different vocabularies, approaches, and tools.
As a result, I focused on creating the Agile Architecture Method. I wanted a more rapid way to prototype or evaluate architecture and designs, in an iterative and incremental way. Also, I wanted to use the one language everybody seems to speak: “whiteboard.” (Why? Because it’s visual.)
But when did I learn to really use scenarios for my own evaluations of every day things? The first time I bought a digital camera. I thought about my main usage scenario – I wanted to snap pictures of the whiteboard and share them.
It was simple enough. The problem was that when I bought the camera, I only focused on one part of the scenario – taking the pictures. It didn’t occur to me that because I got a fancy pants camera, that the memory disk was an odd size and didn’t fit in my laptop. So whenever I took a picture, if I wanted to share it, I had to connect USB to my camera.
It was just enough friction that I think I did it three times, then stopped.
So the other lesson I learned, aside from using scenarios for evaluation, was how important friction is, both in terms of adoption on the user side, and how important of a consideration it is on the producer side: you have to eliminate as much friction as possible if you want people to adopt your stuff.
The moral of the story is that the better you know the real-world usage scenarios, the better you can prioritize, design, implement, and validate your ideas, and, most importantly, get your ideas adopted.
Agile Architecture Method
Business Scenarios for the Cloud
IT Scenarios for the Cloud
Evaluation Criteria Example
Scenario Scoreboards for Testing Your Product Success
Test-Driven Product Design
Lifehacker is hot.
Just when I forgot about how hot it is, I noticed that I got 31,000 page views in a day for 30 Days of Getting Results.com
I got curious what the buzz was about.
It turns out that Melanie Pinola of Lifehacker, wrote an announcement:
This 30 Day Program Teaches You to Get More Things Done the Agile Way
After all, 30 Days of Getting Results is my ultimate self-paced training program to help you master time management, master productivity, and master work-life balance.
That’s quite the tall order.
Anyway, I noticed some interesting comments in the post, so I thought it would be worth elaborating on some of the big ideas, important concepts, and points of confusion.
30 Days of Getting Results is based on the book, Getting Results the Agile Way.
Getting Results the Agile Way is not about how to do Agile development. It is an “Agile for Life” guide. The time management and productivity approach inside is Agile Results. Most importantly, Agile Results is a personal results system for work and life.
It will help you do things better, faster, cheaper, and most importantly … it will help you focus on meaningful results and impact, not just getting things done. It’s also a continuous learning system, so if you are a lifelong learner, this will help you learn things better and deeper.
(Note to insiders – the “enso” on the cover of the book is actually a symbol of enlightenment, but I went with the loop to imply a loop of learning and continuous improvement, which Agile Results is all about.)
I’ve used various names, but the big idea is to focus on something for a month. Behind the scenes, I went from calling it a 30 Day Improvement Sprint to Monthly Improvement Sprint back to 30 Day Improvement Sprints and sometimes just 30 Day Sprints.
Two things are important:
I really have to elaborate on point #2 – how 30 days AND a month are both important. Let’s start with, why a month? Originally, I suffered from “shiny object syndrome.” I wanted to dive into too many things at once. As a results, I dabbled in too many things, and lost focus. Yet, I wanted a simple way to experiment or try new things. I had found that spending a week or two on something, wasn’t enough to give things a fair chance. I really needed to try something for about a month.
I basically decided that I wanted the chance to focus on something new each month, or to go back and try something again for another month. But I very clearly wanted a theme or focus for the month, and where at the end of the month, I could decide whether to continue or not. It’s like a “try it for 30 days” sort of program, or like a “30 day challenge.” I used this approach to try out new things and to brush up on old hobbies and to learn new skills. I used it for everything from trying a “living foods” diet to roller blading many miles a day to learning the guts of WCF and other technologies.
I really, really, really liked the idea of getting a fresh start each month. And, I liked the idea that over the span of a year, I could invest in 12 significant things, on top of what I already do. Basically, each month, I could add something new under my belt, or replay a previous focus. At the same time, this made my months more meaningful. I could focus on a 30 Day Sprint for work or a 30 Day Sprint for something personal.
I also learned that starting at the beginning of a month and ending at the end of the month was more important than I thought. If you ever tried starting something part way through a month and losing track where you are, and trying to do it for a set numbers of days, you know what I mean. In fact, I found my success rate at sticking with something was lousy if I randomly started somewhere within a month.
So to make this point super crisp, I deliberate renamed 30 Day Improvement Sprints to Monthly Improvement Sprints. And to keep things simple, periodically, I would just say a 30 Day Sprint or a Monthly Sprint, which helped, especially those that didn’t want to “improve” but rather just focus on something for a month.
And then I learned something. Even though you should really start at the beginning of a month and end at the end of the month, and turn the page, people prefer to call it 30 Day Improvement Sprints or 30 Day Sprints over Monthly Improvement Sprints or Monthly Sprints.
I get why. Quantity is precise. 30 days is specific.
Agile Results is insanely simple. In fact, one of my first early adopters said the big deal was how to get started:
Write 3 things down today that you want to achieve.
That’s it. You're doing Agile Results.
The mantra to remember is this, and this is how you get the ability to zoom in to your day, or zoom out to the balcony view:
Think in terms of 3 wins for the day, 3 wins for the week, 3 wins for the month, and 3 wins for the year.
Again, it’s super simple. But, it’s super powerful.
Behind the scenes, I had stumbled on this pattern out of necessity. I had to stay on top of big teams spread out around the world, and I needed a very fast way of knowing what matters. I didn’t want to focus on all the negative (that was natural for me and easy for everyone else, too.) Instead, I wanted to focus on value and flowing value. But, to make it significant, I wanted to boil it down to 3 things.
3 significant things.
3 significant things could easily be remembered. I could use the 3 significant things to focus and prioritize all time, energy, and attention. What a powerful tool. And, it worked both at the individual level, and the team level. I wanted a way to easily tell the story of 3 wins for the team each week, so management could appreciate the value, and, most importantly, so the team could feel good heading out into the weekend.
Working backwards from the end of the week, I realized that I could ask a very simple question:
“What are 3 outcomes you want under your belt, if this was Friday, and you were looking back?”
No more regrets. No more wasted efforts. No more frantic scrambling. Just simple clarity of what would be great to achieve before we go through a bunch of time at things. And, it was a great way to make for more meaningful weeks.
This is how the Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection pattern was born.
On Mondays, identify 3 wins you want for the week. Each day, identify 3 wins you want for the day. On Fridays, set aside 20 minutes to reflect on 3 things going well and 3 things to improve.
That pattern alone changes lives (and it’s been used to change businesses and transform execution capability.)
I should point out that I’ve also called it Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection, which is accurate. But, to inject some gamification and add the fun factor, I started going with Daily Wins and focusing on 3 Wins for the Day, the Week, the Month, and the Year.
People like to win. Agile Results is a way to do that.
Ergo, you can win, the Agile Way. (Aren’t you glad I said, “ergo”, and not “thus”?)
So, if somebody wants the minimal, bare bones implementation of Agile Results, or “how to get started”, then I say, just write down 3 things you want for today. Instantly, you just put into focus what’s valuable, what’s worth spending time on, and you’ve given yourself a way to focus and prioritize against your laundry list of incoming time thieves, fire drills, action items, and other priorities competing for your attention.
It’s a very practical way of putting First Things First, in a Stephen Covey kind of way, and giving yourself a mini North Start for the day.
And, if somebody wants a sticky way to both remember Agile Results – then I tell them, just remember the Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection pattern. If you get each day right, you get your week right, and if you get your weeks right, you get your months and years right. And yet, it’s perfectly OK to adapt and adjust along the way. In fact, Agile Results is designed to help you adapt.
… but here’s the ultimate trick to using Agile Results. Add 3 recurring reminders to your calendar (1 for Monday Vision, 1 each day for Daily Wins, and 1 for Friday Reflection.)
I won’t claim to be a Getting Things Done expert. That said, I’ve mentored many (many, many, many) people over the years who struggled using Getting Things Done to get things done. It was ironic, but the true irony is that it was not Getting Things Done’s fault. It’s a perfectly good system. Instead, people were breaking themselves against the system (and I couldn’t help but remember when Stephen Covey said don’t break yourself against the laws … you have to know the principles.)
So when I designed Agile Results, I used everything I had learned from doing process and methodology development, and what I had learned from writing about principles, patterns, and practices for years.
The most important thing I did was rather than get mired in the details of a deep process or methodology explanation, I focused on a few key things:
With that in mind, I have had many, many, many GTD’ers show me how they use Agile Results + Getting Things Done. Like I said, I’m a fan of “better together” and blending the best of the best in a Bruce Lee sort of way.
Like I said, Getting Results the Agile Way, is not about how to do Agile software development methodologies (though, interestingly, I’ve used Agile Results to get more out of Agile methodologies
But, I have learned Agile methodologies and practices from some of the world’s best practitioners, including Ward Cunningham (father of Wikimedia, which is the platform that Wikipedia runs on.)
While there is a lot of information out there about how to do Agile development, I still see a lot of people struggle when they try to get started. If you haven’t made the journey from early on, it can be tough to figure out how to get started now. Worse, if you aren’t living in software, it’s not always obvious to know how to adapt Agile practices. The other challenge I see is that people are trying to adopt more Agile ways, but they are in environments that don’t have dedicated teams.
It’s the worst-case scenario of v-Teams or ad-hoc teams of limited and chaotic availability.
So, while I always thought there was plenty of great Agile resources for people to use to get started, I still see a gap.
I’m finding myself spending too much time ramping people up on things that I thought were more mainstream than they really are yet.
I suspect I will do my part to try and fill this gap in the near future.
My first and foremost goal was to help people learn how to be “Agile for Life”, and that was the driving goal behind Getting Results the Agile Way.
My next step will be to help professionals learn how to be “Agile at Work.”
… and, in that case, I will be able to draw from my experience over the years, and share even more on what I’ve learned over the past few years, especially as it relates to helping startups and helping businesses undergo major transformation and change … the Agile way.
10 Big Ideas from Agile Results
40 Hour Work Week at Microsoft
The Values of Agile Results
I’ve created a book reviews at a glance page at Sources of Insight.
I read a lot of books and do a lot of book reviews. Previously, you could get to the book reviews through the book reviews category, but you had to flip through pages in order to find them all. Now the book reviews are right at your fingertips.
I do my book reviews a bit differently. They are more like movie trailers. Rather than focus on whether I like a book or not, I focus on what you can use from the book, in work or life, to get better results.
Here are a handful of my favorite book reviews you can explore to get a sense of how I do book reviews:
These also happen to be some excellent books for improving your effectiveness at work.
In fact, if you read nothing else, at least read The First 90 Days. It’s the book that will help you become a highly effective corporate warrior, in a peaceful warrior way. You’ll learn to see the chessboard and operate at a higher level. It includes everything from the five conversations to have with your boss to ramping up more effectively in a new organization. It’s definitely one of those books that I can point to as making a leapfrog in my career trajectory.
Surprisingly, I don’t have as many book reviews as a I should. I resisted doing book reviews early on because, in general, I wasn’t a fan of book reviews. Too often, I read book reviews that were just about whether somebody liked or didn’t like a book. What I really wanted was a deeper peek into the bowels of the book, and some highlights on what I could use, so I could figure out whether to get the book.
Last year, I decided to give it a whirl and just do book reviews in my own style. I wanted the book reviews to quickly map out the book, show what problems the book solves, and give highlights on the big ideas. Next thing you know, I started getting emails from readers about how they liked my book review approach and how my book reviews were like nothing they had seen before. So I continued to do them ever since.
So here it is, at your fingertips, my book reviews page.
It’s an evergreen page, so I’ll update it as I release more book reviews.
“Creating value is an inherently cooperative process, capturing value is inherently competitive.” -- Barry J. Nalebuff
I remember back in the day when prototyping solutions was the biggest bottleneck. It could easily take many months to prototype a working solution that would address the key concerns in a viable way.
In fact, in one particularly painful example, I remember a team had spent more than six months on their prototype. They were trying to find the right combination of authentication and authorization patterns to support a suite of line-of-business applications. They got lost in all of the possible combinations and permutations, and they ended up going down a bunch of different rabbit holes.
Worse, they ended up with a bunch of dead ends that would never work in the target environment.
This example really stuck out in my mind, because when this particular customer met with our little security SWAT team on the Microsoft patterns & practices team, we figured out a workable solution within 30 minutes, and had concrete plans for three specific prototypes just to play out the possibilities.
Of course, we had several things on our side that helped us reduce six months down to 30 minutes:
Here’s the algorithm we used for solving every authentication and authorization challenge:
Obviously, there’s a lot of details behind each step, but the high-level sequence was the key to success.
The reason why this approach was so effective is that we worked backwards from the end in mind. In many cases, solution architects and developers were so focused on the authentication piece, that they lost sight of the spectrum of resources they would need to access, and which identities would need to be authorized, etc.
This authentication and authorization design process also worked really well because we had a shared language and mental models for each of the parts. For example, when we identified resources, we looked at Web server resources, database resources, and network resources. When we chose an authorization strategy, we evaluated role-based vs. resource-based (claims wasn’t on the scene at that time.) When we chose identities, we evaluated the original caller’s identity, the process identity, service accounts, and custom identities. When we evaluated different authentication approaches, we would use terms like the trusted subsystem model and the impersonation/delegation model.
My big insight at the time was how a little knowledge and a proven practice for designing authentication and authorization solutions could effectively “flatten” time. In which case, now the bottleneck gets pushed around. If it no longer took a team six months to prototype a solution, then what would be the next obvious big bottleneck? If you’re into Theory of Constraints (TOC), you’ll especially appreciate this dilemma.
Let’s fast forward to today’s emerging landscape. With today’s tools, people, and processes, prototyping no longer takes a six month epic journey.
It’s no longer the big bottleneck.
In a world where we are moving towards “IT as a service”, what does become the next biggest bottleneck?
You could just say that it’s the absorption rate, or the adoption rate, or the consumption rate, and you’d be in good company. In fact, a book that explains this bottleneck in detail is Consumption Economics: The New Rules of Tech.
But, there is another bottleneck.
It’s one that I was exposed to thanks to a few incubation teams where we got to see what happens when a customer goes Cloud and re-imagines their business. Suddenly, they have a lot more capability at their fingertips, as well as agility, and the ability to innovate.
The new bottleneck is business value generation.
Precisely, it’s the challenge of finding, creating, capturing, and accelerating business value – which is the key to the future.
It’s like a switch is suddenly flipped, and it’s a race to figure out how to create new value.
I like how Charlie Bess describes this new landscape when writing about HP Discover 2013:
“The IT industry behavior is definitely changing. We’re moving from a focus on cost savings and RFP driven engagements between companies and suppliers into an environment that is more consumption-based. Where nearly anything in IT can be purchased “as-a-service”. This allows for a much more business-led approach, focused on business value generation, yet with a demand for a relatively short return on investment. This leads to many asking for advice on what they should do or just a level-set on what is actually happening and what others are doing.”
With the pace of change, the ability to innovate, and the ability to execute, the bottleneck really comes down to how to generate new business value (and, related, how to accelerate that business value.)
It’s a loop, too as value goes from productized to service-ized, to commoditized.
And, it’s a continuously changing game as value moves up the stack, where things that were once “above the line” are now “below the line.”
Remember that example of six months vs. 30 minutes? Amazing things are possible when you have proven practices, a shared language, and mental models.
I’ll share more on this in a future post, but for now, let me give just a brief example to hopefully illuminate what’s possible …
A colleague and I were brainstorming on potential scenarios on how social computing could change the Enterprise as we know it. We knew we could use scenarios as a way to rapidly envision future capability visions, and then use storyboards to play out future possibilities.
When we were operating from a blank slate, we didn’t get very far. In fact, it was pretty abstract, and not very effective.
Then we switched gears.
We pulled up a topology map of business capabilities and started to heat map capabilities that we could light up with social computing scenarios. Suddenly, we were on fire. For example, externally, if you had more insights into your customer’s pains and needs from social computing, could you design more targeted offers? Or, if you had better connection with your customers in the marketplace through social computing, could you better shape your customer loyalty and perception in the market? Or, internally, through social computing capabilities, could you improve collaboration and more rapidly share tribal knowledge among your teams?
Behind the scenes, we used a rapid way of checking for potential business value, and quickly validating whether the scenario would be a meaningful and significant chunk of organizational change.
Long story short, we quickly walked away with tens of future scenarios for the Enterprise in under an hour.
What I learned from this exercise is three key things:
Your ability to generate new business value will be the key to making the most of big technology trends, including Cloud, Mobile, Social, and Big Data, and re-imagining your business in a digital economy, while crossing the chasm to the Cloud, in a globally connected, always-on, ultra-competitive, ever-changing world.
Innovation, instead of being the exception, is the new norm.
3 Ways to Accelerate Business Value
It’s Not Volume, It’s Value
Value is the Short-Cut for Building Better Products
I’ve done another intensive user experience exercise to improve Sources of Insight.
Sources of Insight is a knowledge base of principles, patterns, and practices for helping you get better results in work and life.
A friendly way of looking at it is:
“Skills to pay the bills and lead a better life.”
I started the site a few years back to help give people an advantage in work and life. We don’t get a great playbook when we start out, and there are a lot of skills that we don’t learn in school. For example, motivation, productivity, time management, personal development, etc.
I’ve used Sources of Insight as a clearinghouse of ideas you can experiment with to help you figure out better ways for better days, find your breakthroughs, and get over some issues that might be holding you back.
You can use Sources of Insight for several things, including, but not limited to:
I also do hard-core Book Reviews. They are like mini-movie trailers but for books and they give you a deep dive into significant highlights from the book. Here is an example of my book review of The Charge.
So what exactly did I do in terms of improving the user experience for Sources of Insight?
I took a look at all the feedback and looked for patterns and things that I thought could be improved. I tested multiple combinations of layouts and changes to things like menu items and placement. Here’s a highlight of some of the more important changes that overall should help create a better user experience:
I made a number of other changes, too, but I think the addition of the Explore page is what will make a big difference for a lot of people. You’ll want to bookmark the Explore page because it’s got enough articles that you’ll want to go back to. It features key articles for Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Personal Development, Personal Effectiveness, and Productivity.
Each time you Explore, you bound to walk away with some insight and action you can immediately apply to work or life for instant impact.
I’m still in the process of making improvements so if you have more ideas, be sure to send my way.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” -- Mahatma Gandhi
It's back to school time. To help students get the edge, Getting Results the Agile Way is available for free on the Kindle for a limited time:
Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life
Grab it today, so you don't miss out.
If you're a student, you can use Agile Results as your unfair advantage.
It will put some of the best science on your side, and help you master your time management and productivity skills. It's more than a system. It's a playbook full of proven practices for personal effectiveness.
It's the book I wish somebody gave me long ago.
Back to school time is a great time to do a reset and own your future.
That’s really what Getting Results the Agile Way is all about – owning your future. It helps you be the author of your life and write your story forward. By focusing on meaningful results, taking action, and creating continuous learning loops, you set yourself up for success.
It’s a playbook you can use for school, work, and life to help you make the most of what you've got, and enjoy the journey and the destination.
Times are tough. The world changes under our feet. You need a system to get rapid results and to embrace change.
You can actually use change as a way to transform any situation into opportunities, if you know how.
Maybe the most important thing you learn from Agile Results is how to flow incremental value … to yourself and others.
Darwin taught us long ago that it’s not the smartest or the fastest that survive … it’s the most adaptable who thrive.
The problem is that by default, we’re creatures of habit, and we aren’t very good at change, unless we know the habits and practices that can help us think, feel, and take action more effectively.
Even if you consider yourself more of an “artist” than a productivity type, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Agile Results has helped many artists experience what it’s like to be a “productive artist.” In fact, a key focus in Agile Results is leveraging your energy and creativity for breakthrough results. One of the big ideas is actually adding more Creative Hours to your week so that you can leap frog ahead in today’s ultra-competitive world.
You’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of, when you use the ideas from Agile Results to enhance your focus, play to your strengths, and sharpen your ability to complete things in record time.
There are a lot of time management and productivity systems out there. That’s a good thing, because it means you don’t have to start from scratch.
But there’s a challenge.
The challenge is, how do you integrate all of the best principles, patterns, and practices for productivity and time management into a simple system that works for you?
Agile Results is a simple system for meaningful results that integrates the world’s best techniques for productivity and time management. Here are some of the key distinctions that make Agile Results different, but complimentary and compatible with other systems:
In other words, you don’t have to throw out your existing systems. Instead, you can enhance your existing time management system, or get more out of it, by using some or all of the insights and actions from Agile Results.
Grab your unfair advantage today, so you don't miss out, and tell all the students you know so they, too, can have an unfair advantage:
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10 Big Ideas from Getting Results the Agile Way
“Strategic management consultants help clients perform markedly better in a world of rapid change. Consultants must constantly learn new skills, contribute to the intellectual capital of business, and build enduring relations with their clients." -- Carl W. Stern, The Boston Consulting Group
While flipping through my copy of, Management Consulting: A Complete Guide to the Industry, by Sugata Biswas and Daryl Twitchell, I came across an interesting model for thinking about the execution of client engagements:
It’s a way of dividing a client engagement into three basic phases.
It helps explain how different firms may work with a client throughout the entire lifecycle of an engagement. It also helps explain divisions of labor. The actual composition of the team would vary based on the work stage of an engagement, so that the best resources and capabilities handle each stage. For example, strategists often dominate the team in the early phase. Functional and creative designers dominate during the second phase, and technologists dominate the final phase.
I like the simplicity of the model, and it helps really show where the action is without getting bogged down, and losing sight of the main focus. It’s all too easy among the chaos to let the wrong thing overshadow what the real value is.
Here’s a quick view, according to Sugata Biswas and Daryl Twitchell of what’s happening in each stage:
Here’s a visual of what these different phases might look like, according to Sugata Biswas and Daryl Twitchell:
As simple as it is, I like the fact that it’s a hypothesis on where the bulk of the work tends to be. It also makes it easy to imagine or re-imagine what other combinations of work might look like, if there’s certain shifts or changes in the market place.
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“He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of a diplomat.” – Robert Estabrook
Are you a skilled negotiator?
Negotiation skills are often the difference that make the difference in achieving more of what you want in business and in life.
We negotiate every day. With our friends, our family, our colleagues, our bosses. We negotiate everything from where we want to go on vacation, to what to work on next. We negotiate our jobs, our schedules, our salaries.
Strong negotiation skills can set you apart. Especially, if people find out that you are fair, flexible, and have their best interests at heart. If you are manipulative, out for your won interests, and go for the win-lose, you’re the one who loses over time. Zig Ziglar said it best:
"You can have everything in life that you want if you just give enough other people what they want."
But negotiation skills don’t come easy to many of us. We have to work at it.
What are some of the things we have to work on to build our negotiation skills?
Here’s a short list …
How to figure out what you want
How to figure out what other people want
How to be able to read a situation
How to figure out what people value and to speak in that language
How to be able to figure out key concerns and the threats people perceive
How to know what success looks like for both parties
How to be flexible in what you want
How to trade up short-term wins for long-term gains
How to stay connected with people while having crucial conversations
How to develop your emotional intelligence and keep your cool under pressure
These negotiation skills and many more help equip your for negotiating with the best of them. But, where do you start? There is a lot to learn.
One effective place to start is the book, The Complete Guide on How To Negotiate. I wrote a detailed book review so you can explore it:
The Complete Guide on How To Negotiate: Master the Art of Getting What You Want in Business and in Life
What’s good about this book is that it cuts to the chase, equips you with the mindset of an effective negotiator, and gives you strategies and tactics you can use for a variety of scenarios. It’s a short book that focuses on giving you negotiation skills that you can use in work and life to get more of what you want, and potentially more important, help you avoid getting taken advantage of.
The book has a solid foundation because the author both has extensive experience and drives from the philosophy of going for the win-win, rather than playing a bunch of tricks to take advantage of, or manipulate people. That said, you’ll learn what the most common tricks of the trade are, and how to deal with them.
I could recommend a lot of books on negotiation skills. In fact, another book I would recommend that helps build your fundamental negotiation skills is Influence Without Authority. What I like about The Complete Guide on How To Negotiate is that it gets you up and running fast. Then, if you want to really build out your repertoire and understand persuasion and influence at a much deeper level, then dig through Influence Without Authority.
If you read these two books, you’ll be well ahead of the pack. In fact, you’ll know when people have not read these books because they’ll be negotiating all wrong. They’ll only know their point of view. They won’t answer what’s in it for you. They’ll be rigid in their approach. They won’t speak in the language of what you value. They’ll be going for a win-lose. You get the idea.
Even if you don’t like negotiating, at least work on your negotiation skills so that a lack of negotiation skills won’t work against you. Too many people, all around you, are asserting themselves and their positions for you to sit idly by and be on the receiving end of bad propositions.
You know you’re doing a good job when you can effectively argue for you, your team, your company, your customers, the right thing to do, etc.
In fact, the more you build your negotiation skills and learn how to influence without authority, the more you will enjoy using your ability to grow new and better opportunities for all those involved, right under your feet.
It’s the Stephen Covery way of staying out of the scarcity mentality, finding 3rd alternatives, and creating a bigger playground for everybody to play in.
Emotional intelligence is how you gain control over your lizard brain.
Here's what Seth Godin says about the lizard brain: "The lizard is a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because her lizard brain told her to."
Emotional intelligence is kind of a big deal.
In fact, according to Daniel Goleman -- “As much as 80% of adult 'success' comes from EQ.”
But there's more ...
“Comparing the three domains, I found that for jobs of all kinds, emotional competencies were twice as prevalent among distinguishing competencies as were technical skills and purely cognitive abilities combined. In general the higher a position in an organization, the more EI mattered: for individuals in leadership positions, 85 percent of their competencies were in the EI domain.” — Daniel Goleman
So, if you want to improve your personal effectiveness, emotional intelligence is a key.
And, if you want to learn more about emotional intelligence, take a stroll or a scroll through my latest collection of quotes:
Emotional Intelligence Quotes
There's words of wisdom on emotional intelligence from Benjamin Franklin, Buddha, Dale Carnegie, Vincent Van Gogh, and more.
I’ve made another attempt to improve the user experience for 30 Days of Getting Results. To improve the experience, I’ve focused on minimalism, whitespace, easy navigation, and powerful content that helps you thrive.
30 Days of Getting Results is the ultimate self-paced training system to help you master productivity, time management, and work-life balance.
It’s productivity on fire.
You’ll learn multiple ways to at least triple your productivity, while spending more time on things you love, and plowing through the tough stuff, and doing your heavy lifting with more skill and capability.
It’s based on the book, Getting Results the Agile Way, which introduces the Agile Results system. Getting Results the Agile Way has been a best seller in time management.
In fact, the 30 Days of Getting Results is itself a 30 Day Improvement Sprint, where you use Agile Results to learn a new habit, and to get great results over a 30 day period.
Just because it’s a 30 Day series, doesn’t mean that you have to take 30 days or go in sequence. In fact, when somebody is first checking it out, I tell them to take a peek at the following lessons:
Here is the page that provides the complete list of 30 lessons.
And, here is a list of the 30 lessons, with direct links, so you can explore at your leisure:
So far, everybody that I know that’s gone through has found something significant they can do to really up their game, whether that’s improving their productivity, mastering time management, or improving their work-life balance.
It’s both a great way to get introduced to Agile Results (a personal results system for work and life), and to instantly improve your productivity by applying the lessons to everyday life.
I’m a fan of strategy, and being strategic. To put it another way, I’m a fan of being intentional about spending my time and energy on things that produce more effective results. I’m not a fan of randomly throwing time and energy at things in a flurry of activity.
Life’s short, then you die, so it would be great to get more impact out of the time and energy you spend on things.
That’s where strategy fits in.
One of my favorite books on strategy is Being Strategic, by Erika Andersen. She defines strategy like this:
“Consistently making those core directional choices that will best move you toward your hoped-for future.”
I like that.
I’m not a fan of strategy without execution. For me, strategy is what shapes the execution. Strategy is a way to guide your tactics, or to shape your actions for better results.
Strategy is a beautiful discipline with depth and breadth. In fact, so much so that it can be hard to shift to being more strategic, if you aren’t used to thinking that way.
I wrote a simple post to help you be more strategic based on the approach presented in Being Strategic:
What’s the Hope, What’s in the Way, What’s the Path
It’s very simple, but very powerful.
Interestingly, each of the parts is powerful on its own. For example, just clarifying “What’s in the Way”, can help you instantly reveal what’s been holding you back or help you see a limiting belief that’s keeping you stuck. It also helps you put into perspective some of the real challenges that stand in the way between where you are, and the “castle on the hill” (you're hoped-for future.)
If you haven’t been a fan of strategy, because it’s either been too complicated, or something that “other people do”, or you’ve been let down by people that do a bunch of strategic planning, but no execution, I invite you to give strategy another chance.
Start to practice this simple little mantra: “What’s the Hope”, “What’s in the Way,” and “What’s the Path”
Use it to get clear on what you want, reveal the obstacles in the way, and help you clarify a more strategic approach to guide your tactics to get there.
By using strategy, and being more strategic, you can do more with less, get more out of the things you spend your time and energy on, and build momentum around your activities to help you achieve your success, whatever that may be, more consistently.
I have a long history of keeping an empty email inbox. More than a decade. Not because I don't get lots of email. I do. And, I send lots, too. That's how I stay connected around the world, and it's part of my daily job.
By lots, I mean a few hundred directly to me each day (not CC, not part of distributions, etc., directly to me with actions required)
So clearing my mail is a daily chore, but it's not a daily win.
At one point it was.
Long ago, one of my early managers said that I need to stay on top of my email. I was getting hundreds per day and they all required some sort of action or response. It was insane. To me, it was a huge time sink.
My manager made it clear that I needed to process all my mail, but there's way more to the job than just that. I said, that if it doesn't count, then I don't want to do it. He said it was non-optional.
So, that day, I decided I would spend no longer than 30 minutes a day on email (what I considered administrative overhead.)
It was a bold goal. Sure, I was a fast typer, and a fast reader, but the daily onslaught of overwhelming amounts of mail was insane.
But, like with anything in life, there's always a solution. If you know where to look.
So I cast a wide net and basically found the people across the company who were the most amazing for dealing with information overload and for always being on top of their email. And, I found quiet heroes as well as very visible rock stars in the email management arena.
And, I studied them.
I modeled from their email practices and email management ways. That's how I formed the early version of my Zen of Zero Email.
Surprisingly, a lot of the strategies and tactics came down to doing exactly the opposite of what other people did. In fact, my most surprising lesson was the one I learned the hard way, when I reached the limit on Outlook's number of inbox rules. I forget what the number was at the time, but it was a lot. Since I couldn't add any more rules, I had to change my entire approach. That day, I went from a crazy set of rules, down to exactly one inbox rule.
Surprisingly, years later, it's still just the one inbox rule.
And, still, I hit zero email in my inboxes on a daily basis.
This way, I'm never paper shuffling. I don't lose actions or reminder among a sea of email.
Basically, I transformed my approach for email long ago, after a lot of pain, and a lot of trail and error, and by studying the best of the best in action, in the most extreme scenarios.
Here's why I tell you this ...
"Clear my email" is something I do daily, but it's “below the line.” For me, it's not a win anymore. It used to be. But now, it's well below the line … it’s just expected, and it’s just something I do.
It's below the line, and if it takes me more than 15-30 minutes daily, it's actually a flag for me that I'm spending too much time.
Rather than focus my day on how to react or deal with email, I can just always systematically clear my inbox and be done. I get back to everybody. Sometimes, it's as simple as acknowledging I got it, and a note that I'll respond more deeply later. But staying on top of my email means that I have a very simple stream of potential action and insights.
But the big deal is that it's a "below the line" activity.
It's not my high value activity.
So I spend as little time as possible in it, yet get the most benefit that I can.
That said, a decade ago, that very much would have been a win for me.
It probably would have been one of my Three Wins for the Day for a while.
But that's the point.
The goal isn't to focus on things to do forever. It's to transform them so that you can do them better, faster, cheaper -- or eliminate them entirely. And, spend more time where it counts.
It's how you move up the stack.
This is a long-winded way of saying, "Clear My Email" is no longer a win for me. It's a highly effective habit that helps me spend more time in my higher value activities.
And for that, I'm actually grateful.
I don't know that I made all the points that I wanted to, and I wandered a bit, but I thought the little story of transformation might be useful for you, and might help you think about how you pick off your Three Wins for the day (if you're doing Agile Results.)
It's also a reminder for me how easy it is to take for granted and actually forget how difficult things were at one point, and how a few proven practices can be transformational, and how they can pay back daily.
And, every now and then, instead of writing a 20 minute post, I like to write a 5 minute one.
Agile Results on a Page
Clearing Your Inbox
The Zen of Zero Mail
I did an interview with Harvey Schachter on Agile Results and timeboxing (from my book on mastering productivity and time management, Getting Results the Agile Way.) Harvey is a freelance writer, who writes three columns a week for The Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, on management and workplace issues. The Monday column is about management tips.
And that’s where I fit in.
Here’s the interview online:
How To Focus in 20 Minute Bursts
Here are some additional points about timeboxing to get the most from the interview …
The focus in the interview is to make more out of the thin time slices we have, and to cope with mental fatigue, even when chasing problems we love.
Basically, if we're doing significant thought work, we burn out our prefrontal cortex throughout the day. To put it another way, our brain works better in short-bursts, more like sprints, less like marathons. Books like Flow, The Power of Full Engagement, Flawless Execution elaborate on this quite well, and share stories and the science behind this.
Wandering around in work you enjoy, or even just staying engaged, is not the same as staying focused while producing tangible results. If you’ve ever gotten lost in your passion, but then had nothing to show for it, you know what I mean. We go through different stages of research, analysis, creative synthesis, and actual production of information assets or products. The shift from exploration to execution often takes deliberate focus, with a clear end-result in mind.
Directing our attention is a skill, and we can learn how to improve our precision. Edward de Bono has spent a lifetime teaching people how to direct their attention and how to leverage executive thinking skills by ordinary people. While focus may not a be a problem per se, there is always room for improvement, and we can improve both our ability to direct our attention, and our ability to focus for longer periods of time.
Additionally, while you can certainly use 20 minutes batches of extreme productivity or timeboxing to deal with drudgery and boring work, it’s better to eliminate the drudgery to begin with. Interestingly, drudgery happens more often when things are unbounded. Something can start off fun, but if there’s no end in sight and you don’t know how long you need to do it for, it can get old fast. And, the longer you continue unbounded, the more you’ll feel the tugs of competing priorities, especially if you don’t have a time and place for them.
Also, keep in mind that, single-tasking, or avoiding multiplexing is a way to boost productivity. Reduce open work to improve your productivity. Rather than have a bunch of open work, you close the loops, and finish what you start. A common pattern here is to stay focused on meaningful task, while having a background task to switch to, when you get stuck or blocked on the main task, or need a brain break.
Unfortunately, the value of single-tasking and avoiding multiplexing is often misunderstood, or undervalued.
While knowing is half the battle, doing is the harder half, but remember that if you want to flourish, it’s a journey, not a destination.
The key is to find your sustainable way, and that’s what Agile Results is all about.
Check out my interview with The Globe and Mail on How To Focus in 20 Minute Bursts, and be sure to stop by and say, “Hi.”
How I Use Agile Results
Personal Effectiveness at Microsoft
Have you ever felt like a phony? Like, if “they” found you out, they’d realize that you aren’t as awesome as they thought you were?
“Impostor syndrome” is a common issue.
Impostor syndrome is where you can’t internalize your success, and no amount of external validation or evidence helps convince you otherwise. So you work harder and harder to prove your success, but yet you still don’t quite measure up.
I’ve mentored a lot of people, and found that a lot of highly successful people actually have impostor syndrome, for one reason or another. For some, it’s because they feel they are in the fake stage of “fake it until you make it.” For others, it’s because their success doesn’t match their mental model of how it’s supposed to happen. For example, success came too quickly, or they feel they got a “lucky break.” For others, they don’t feel they match what a successful person is supposed to look like, or they don’t have the credentials they think they are supposed to have, or the specific experience they are supposed to have went under their belt.
So, it’s success on the outside, but no success on the inside.
And that leads to all sorts of issues, whether it’s a lack of confidence, or self-sabotage, or working harder and harder to validate their external success.
Luckily, there are proven practices for dealing with impostor syndrome.
I have the privilege of a guest post by Joyce Roche, author of The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success:
7 Ways to Conquer Impostor Syndrome – Lessons from Successful Business Leaders
It’s a simple set of coping strategies you can use to defeat impostor syndrome and find more fulfillment.
The Book that Changes Lives
I wrote my first article for Projects at Work. It’s called Don’t Push Agile, Pull It, and it’s a simple recipe for introducing Agile into established organizations, in a more effective way. Here it is:
Don’t Push Agile, Pull It
If you’re ever rolled-up your sleeves and tried to champion new ways of doing things into an established organization, then you know how tough change can be. In fact, it’s not just tough. It’s often how, careers end. If you don’t have the right sponsorship and the right change leadership skills to lead people through the organizational change, you take the brunt of the blame, or become the scape-goat for pain.
That’s why change leadership skills are an important part of your arsenal for getting results.
Even when you have a coalition of the willing, it can be incredibly tough to change the habits of people, the processes or the way things are done, and the tools and infrastructure that reinforces the well-established ways.
As you can imagine, this is a serious and significant challenge in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, where change is on warp speed, and businesses are forced to adapt or die.
In fact, that’s largely why more and more organizations have a strong appetite for Agile -- Agile embraces change as a first-class citizen.
But, how do you get an organization to change from its waterfall ways, or less-than-agile culture?
That’s what I’ve had to learn, time and again, as I’ve helped individuals, teams, and leaders make the shift. I’ve also had to make rapid shifts as I’ve moved around during my career.
Along the way, I’ve learned some very simple, but very powerful ways to help teams rapidly adopt Agile practices, and get results. And, this goes well beyond the halls or walls of software.
Here’s the first blurb that introduces to the article:
“Introducing Agile methods to a team in an organization deeply rooted in waterfall ways is tough, especially when the culture is risk-averse and well-established. But you can be a catalyst for change and help your team learn to be more agile by following three simple practices.”
Please enjoy Don’t Push Agile, Pull It and be sure to share it with friends and colleagues that you know need some help in adopting Agile practices to help their team or business survive and thrive in our ever-changing landscape.
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