Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
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:
Go back to school in style and unleash what you’re capable of.
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.
Six Steps for Enterprise Architecture as Strategy
Architecture Linkage, Business Linkage, and Alignment Linkage
How To Build a Foundation for Execution
How To Turn IT into an Asset Rather than a Liability
Simple Enterprise Strategy
“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.
Anatomy of a High-Potential
The Guerilla Guide to Getting a Better Performance Review at Microsoft
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.
Improve Your Execution Excellence with Roadmaps at a Glance
Team Execution Patterns
Dr. Jay Conger has a must see presentation on The Anatomy of a High-Potential:
The Anatomy of a High-Potential
I’m always on the hunt for insights and actions that help people get the edge in work and life. This is one of those gems. What I like about Dr. Jay Conger’s work is that he has a mental model that’s easy to follow, as well as very specific practices that separate high-potentials from the rest of the pack.
In a fast-paced world of extreme innovation, change, and transformation, it pays to be high-potential.
Anything you can do to learn how to perform like a high-potential, can help you leap frog or fast track your career path.
Here are some of my favorite highlights from Dr. Conger’s presentation …
High-potentials consistently out-perform their peer groups. Dr. Jay Conger writes:
“High potentials consistently outperform their peer groups in a variety of settings and circumstances. While achieving superior levels of performance, they exhibit behaviors reflecting their company's culture and values in an exemplary manner. They show strong capacity to grow and success throughout their careers -- more quickly and effectively than their peer groups do.”
According to Dr. Jay Conger, high-potentials distinguish themselves in the following ways:
High-potentials are game changers. Here is a snapshot of Dr. Jay Conger’s pyramid that illustrates how high-potentials move up the stack:
What I like the most about the model is that it resonates with what I’ve experienced, and that it frames out a pragmatic development path for amplifying your impact as a proven game changer.
Kanban: The Secret of High-Performance Teams at Microsoft
How To Lead High-Performance Distributed Teams
The Innovative Team
I think “to help people realize their full potential” and “to change the world” is why a lot of Softies come together.
It’s the life-blood that flows through our veins.
Softies come from all walks of life. But there seems to be a common bond when it comes to sharing the Microsoft vision, the mission, and the values, especially personal excellence, and continuous self-improvement.
In Steve Ballmer’s email, he set the stage for our “One Strategy, One Microsoft.” Here’s my favorite part:
“This company has always had a big vision — to help people realize their full potential. In the earliest days, it was by putting a PC on every desk and in every home. We’ve come farther than we could have imagined. The impact we have collectively made on the world is undeniable, and I am inspired when talented new hires say they chose Microsoft because they want to change the world — that’s what we do today, and that’s what we’ll do tomorrow.”
I like the whole services + devices story for individuals + businesses for work + life, and it’s all about empowering people around the world for the activities they value the most.
Value is the key word, and I’m a fan of empowerment.
I’m a fan of helping people realize their full potential (and then some.)
I also liked this part of Steve Ballmer’s email, especially on integration:
“We will reshape how we interact with our customers, developers and key innovation partners, delivering a more coherent message and family of product offerings. The evangelism and business development team will drive partners across our integrated strategy and its execution. Our marketing, advertising and all our customer interaction will be designed to reflect one company with integrated approaches to our consumer and business marketplaces.”
It smells like team spirit, with a shared goal, and it’s got a nice air of agility.
Speaking of agility, over the past year, I’ve been asked to do a lot more talks and coaching for individuals, teams, and leaders on how to go agile, whether it’s for improving execution, improving creating and flowing value, or developing more agile strategies to win in our ever-changing world.
It’s refreshing and I see the results. I see more customer-connected development, more Kanbans on walls, more pairing up on problems, more focus on scenarios, and, most importantly, the embracing of change.
I also see people and teams growing their capabilities, learning execution excellence, and flowing and accelerating business value.
It’s powerful stuff.
It’s Microsoft … the Agile Way.
The Microsoft Story
The Mission of Microsoft Enterprise Services
Microsoft Secret Stuff
Agile Results: It Works for Teams and Leaders Too
Everybody has too much to do, too little time. Yet, some people have a way of spending their time on things in a way that yields better results.
What’s the key to crushing an overwhelming list of things to do and getter better results?
3 simple steps:
I elaborate on this approach in 3 Steps to Crushing Your Overwhelming List of Things To Do.
Why does this work?
It dumps what’s on your mind. We tend to think better on paper. At least, it’s easier to be more objective when you are looking at your list of things to do on paper, right in front of you. Instead of swirling it around in your mind, you can look at each item and ask better questions, whether it’s worth it, and whether it’s the right thing to be working on now.
When you bubble up Three Wins, you’ve identified the three most valuable outcomes that you want to achieve. These instantly help you focus and prioritize all of your other efforts. If it feels off, then you carved out the wrong things. You have to get real and be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve (or can achieve) with the time and energy you’ve got for the rest of the day. Given the time you’ve got left for today, and the energy you’ve got left, what are the three most valuable things you could possibly achieve?
The beauty is you can do this at any time in the day, whenever you are overwhelmed. Simply stop, and remind yourself what your Three Wins will be for today, and refocus on those. It takes practice to get the level-right, and to not confuse outcomes, wins, or results with tasks, but you’ll get the hang of it, the more you do it.
With your wins at the top of the list, you can then prioritize the rest of your list, to support your wins. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a bunch of tasks and reminders, whatever you need to help you take better action, but do yourself the favor, and guide all your actions with Three Wins.
You’ll be amazed by how much better you can trim an overwhelming mound of things to do, down to size, and how easily you can focus and stay motivated, even when you are doing the heavy lifting. If you know you are going for a win, and not just doing a bunch of stuff, you will inspire yourself with skill, and bring out your best, time and again.
If You're Afraid of Your To-Do List, It’s Not Working
My Personal Approach for Daily Results
I’m on a hunt for the greatest thoughts of all time, expressed as quotes. I’m a big believer that our language shapes the quality of our lives and that we can shape the landscape of our minds with timeless wisdom and inspirational quotes.
I especially enjoy little pithy prose, those gems of insight, that remind us of how to live better and operate at a higher level. I’m a fan of the quotes that really bring out our inner-awesome in work and life.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes of all time, which reflect some of the greatest thoughts of all time:
If you have a favorite quote or thought of all time, feel free to share it with me. I’m working on my timeless wisdom collection in the background, and I want to make it easy to scan the greatest thoughts of all time.
It will be a collection of evergreen wisdom at your fingertips.
Inspirational Quotes for 2013
Quotes to Empower You for Work and Life
Personal Development Hub on Sources of Insight
One of the ways to be awesome at work is to create roadmaps that lay out the big “projects” or “initiatives” for your team. This helps you easily plan in a visual way, get your team on the same page, and communicate to other teams, both your impact and what’s going on.
Roadmaps smash the perception that your team is a “black box” or that your team is just a random bunch of activity.
Roadmaps are also a great way to help build high performance teams because you can rally the team around the initiatives, and keep everybody focused on the most important outcomes. Another beauty of a great roadmap is that you also instantly set yourself apart from all the teams that don’t have one. You instantly demonstrate strategic thinking and execution excellence (assuming you plan for a healthy cadence, deliver on your promises, and demonstrate great impact.)
I’ve talked about the power of Visualizing Roadmaps for Execution Excellence before, and I gave some good examples. Here I want to share another way to visualize your roadmap. Here’s one of my favorite samples of a team roadmap at a glance:
Here are the key design points:
If you have a roadmap in place already, good for you. Practice telling your story of impact, and see how simply everybody on your team can internalize it, and how well understood it is by your partner teams.
If you don’t have a roadmap in place already, now is a great time to put your plan on paper for how you will do great things for the year.
Visualizing Roadmaps for Execution Excellence
Portfolios, Programs, and Projects
Lessons Learned in Execution
I wrote a guest post for Dumb Little Man on Agile Results:
How You Can Instantly Improve Your Productivity and Focus with Agile Results for Extreme Productivity
You can read it in 5 minutes, but you might save yourself 5 hours this work, or even better, you might 10X your impact.
Agile Results is a simple system for meaningful results.
It’s the productivity and time management system I teach individuals, teams, and leaders to get more done in less time, and amplify their impact. It’s all about working smarter, not harder, by spending the right time, on the right things, with the right energy, the right way.
It’s effective, and it’s balanced. In fact, early on I referred to it as “The Zen of Results.”
For many people, it’s helped them find their work-life balance and get better performance reviews.
In my guest post on Dumb Little Man, I share how to get started, as well as a few of my favorite practices that really crank up your productivity, while enjoying the journey:
Worst Things First
Play to Your Strengths
Perhaps the most important tip I share is actually the bonus tip. It’s how to use 30 Day Improvement Sprints to get a fresh start each month, build better habits, find your breakthroughs, and experiment and explore new ways of doing things.
If you want a jumpstart for Agile Results so you can get better, faster, more efficient results, this post will do just that. Please note, my guest post is split into three parts:
Enjoy, and if you like the article, share it with your friends (and whoever else you want to have an extreme advantage in work and life.)
Crafting Your 3 Wins for the Day Using Agile Results
I was reading a nice little eBook on Opportunities and Challenges with Agile Portfolio Management.
I especially like this part on “Work About Work” and how Agile helps avoid it:
“Agile software development is all about eliminating overhead. Instead of establishing hierarchies and rules, Agile management zeros in on what the team can do right now, and team leaders, developers and testers roll up their sleeves to deliver working software by the end of the day. Put another way, Agile software development favors real work over what I call "work about work." Work-about-work is that dreaded situation where creating reports about the project is so time-consuming it prevents you from actually working on the project.”
Agile helps you make things happen, and focus on work, versus “work about work.”
Team Execution Patterns and How the Work Gets Done
Are You Used to Delivering Working Software on a Daily Basis
Here’s the part that caught my attention:
“In her report, Visitacion suggests organizations adopt Lean to drive their portfolios and Agile to drive their activities. ‘Lean supports the disciplines necessary to select high-value, high-need investments, while Agile provides the path to optimize how you work,’ she wrote.”
I’ll need to take a better look at this. In my experience, I’ve used a variety of approach for selecting high-value, high-need investments, and not particularly Lean. And, when it comes to execution and optimizing how work gets done, I like a combo of Lean + Agile + Scrum (what can I say, I’m a Bruce Lee fan, “absorb what is useful”, and I like to integrate and synthesize the best tools for the job.)
Choosing Where to Invest
Models for Competitive Advantage
Spend $100 to Prioritize Your Opportunities
The Four Gears of Competitive Advantage
I was reading a nice little eBook on Opportunities and Challenges with Agile Portfolio Management.
“Johanna Rothman, an Arlington, Mass., consultant and author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects, said understanding the value stream of an existing product or ongoing project is key. ‘If we stop talking about people as resources and start talking teams, we have a better way of managing the portfolio,’ she said. ‘If we flow work through teams, we’re much more likely to be successful; teams get things done in software.’”
Well put, and that it matches my experience.
Here’s what I’ve seen in my travels to different organizations …
I see a common mistake the team level when it comes to effective execution and productivity:
Teams of capabilities vs. teams of one.
Individuals work problems instead of the team works shared problems.
It’s the resource vs. team mentality.
In other words, the team gets split into individuals working individual problems instead of the team working on shared problems together.
In that case, it’s not really a team effort. It’s individuals doing mini-projects as a one-man band. Instead of a team of capabilities, you get teams of one, and capability varies. Worse, because it’s individuals driving projects as an individual, they wear many more hats, and spend less time in their strengths. So you end up with individuals performing sub-optimal, and you never experience the benefits of an actual high performance team.
When you work problems as teams, and have people spend more time in their strengths, you can better optimize for the strengths on the team. You can also balance better for the weaknesses. You can also put simple systems and processes in place that lift everyone’s performance to new levels. Ultimately, individuals on the team can spend more time on their unique value, and less time reinventing wheels and re-solving basic execution challenges.
5 Questions for Capability and Capacity for High Performing Teams
How To Lead High Performance Distributed Teams
Kanban: The Secret of High Performing Teams at Microsoft
If you’re into change leadership or persuasion, you might know David Straker from ChangingMinds.org, where he’s put together a massive knowledge base of concepts, techniques, principles, and theories on the art and science of change leadership.
David is also the master mind behind CreatingMinds.org, where he has put together an arsenal of content and tools on the art and science of creativity and innovation.
I’m very honored to have a guest post from David on 10 Tips for Better Design.
It’s a fast read, and insightful. David says a lot with so little. He’s a master of precision.
Aside from tip #9 – Start at Goats, my favorite is tip #1 – Start with a Brief, Not Requirements. It reminded me of how many years I suffered through bad requirements gathering exercises, until I learned some proven practices later in my career. I still can’t believe how many bad requirements documents I’ve seen over the years, and how so many had completely failed to capture any sense of the end in mind. The analogy I often used was that it’s not even obvious whether we were talking about Frankenstein’s head or his foot or his arm. In fact, it was so bad, that after a while, I flat out stopped accepting any requirements documents. Instead, I found other, more effective ways to capture and express the goals, requirements, and constraints.
I wish I had been exposed to the “Start with a Brief” concept long ago. It would have served me well. I actually think as more businesses go through their transformation and re-imagining, that this technique will prove even more useful. I’m seeing business-first design really reshape how IT gets done.
Your ability to capture, assert, and express design intent will serve you well for the years to come.
Enjoy David’s article and challenge yourself to walk away with at least one new tool you can use in your design toolbox, or one thing you can do differently from how you do your design thinking today.
A while back I was asked to do an interview on timeboxing for a Harvard Business Review book. They didn’t end up using it. It might be just as well since I think it works better as a blog post, especially if you have a passion for learning how to use timeboxing to help you master time management and get great results.
One of the interesting points is that when I originally responded to the questions, I gave myself a 20 minute timebox to answer as best I could within that timebox. So my answers were top of mind and pretty much raw and real. I simply wrote what came to mind, and then offered to follow up with a call if they needed any elaboration.
With that in mind, here’s the secrets of using timeboxing to master productivity and time management …
I use timeboxing as a way to invest my time and to set boundaries. It’s probably one of the most effective tools in my time management toolbox for making things happen, as well as enjoying the journey as I go.
Parkinson’s Law teaches us that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” I find this to be true. I often use timeboxing to set boundaries because when something is unbounded, it’s easy to make it bigger than it needs to be. And when it’s too big, it’s easy to procrastinate. To overcome procrastination, I simply ask myself, “How much can I do in 20 minutes?” (20 minutes is an effective chunk of time I learned to optimize around in college.) Using 20 minute timeboxes helps make it a game, and it gives me a chance to improve my efficiency. I’ve learned to tackle many problems using 20 minute chunks. On the flip side, I also use timeboxing to defeat “perfectionism.” To do this, I focus on “What’s good enough for now, within the timebox I have?” versus chasing the moving target of perfection. To bake in continuous improvement, I then “version perfection.” So I might do a quick version within a timebox to be “good enough for now”, but in another timebox I’ll make another pass to take it to the next level. This way I am learning and improving, but never getting bogged down or overwhelmed.
Timeboxing is probably one of the best ways I know to find balance. When we’re out of balance, it’s usually because we’re either over-investing in an area or under-investing in another. For example, I like to think of spreading my time across a few key areas of investment: mind, body, emotions, career, money, relationships, and fun. If I’m underinvesting in an area, I’ll set a minimum. For example, let’s say I’m under-invested in body, then I’ll add a timebox to my week and set a minimum, such as 3 hours a week, or “run for 30 minutes each day.” Maybe I’m over-investing in an area, such as career, in which case, I might cut back 60 hours to be 50 hours or 50 hours to be 40 hours, etc. for the week.
Setting these minimums and maximums when I need them help me establish better boundaries, even if they seem arbitrary. They are way more effective than going until I run out of energy or burn out or get too tired, and they are way more effective than when I completely ignore or forget about an area to invest in. Even just asking the question how much time are you investing in one of the areas helps you start to pay more attention to what counts.
Timeboxing can help you stay focused, as well as set a better pace. For example, maybe I can sprint for a minute, but not for five. When you put a time limit in place, you effectively designate the time to be fully focused on the task at hand. If you use small timeboxes, then you can effectively treat your task more like a sprint versus a marathon, because you know it’s short-burst.
One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that it’s easy to fatigue the deliberate thinking part of our brain. If you’ve ever felt like your brain hurts or you need a break from concentrating on something, then you know what I mean. Rather than “march on”, in general, you are more effective by thinking in bursts and taking little breaks. Some people say take breaks, every ten minutes, others say take breaks every twenty minutes or forty minutes. I’ve learned that your mileage varies, and what’s important is that you have to test taking breaks at intervals that work for you, and you will likely find that it largely depends on the type of task and your level of engagement.
The beauty is that with timeboxing you can turn any task or goal into a game. Going back to my earlier example, where I see “How much can I do in 20 minutes?”, I can treat this like a game of improvement. I can try to do more each time. That’s the quantity game. I can also play the quality game. For example, I tend to use a timebox of 20 minutes to write my blog posts. If I’m playing the quantity game, then I might see how many little ideas I can come up with to say about the topic. If I’m playing the quality game, I might see how I can take one little idea and elaborate on it, and give myself enough time to wordsmith and tweak the fine points.
On a daily basis, I tend to use my “power hours” for getting results. My power hours are the times in the day in which I am “in the zone” and firing on all cylinders. I find that I tend to be my strongest at 8:00am, 10:00am, 2:00pm, and 4:00pm. I use these power hours, these one-hour timeboxes, to tackle my toughest challenges and to move the ball forward. Once I realized these are my most powerful hours, I started to guard them more closely and use them to produce my greatest results within the shortest amounts of time. Using my power hours to get results helps me exponentially improve my productivity. Rather than something dragging on, I can blast through it pretty fast. Simply by using the same time I already spend, but by reshuffling my work around, has been one of the greatest game changers in my personal productivity. I’ve also extended this to teams as well. I do so in two ways. First, I make sure that people on the team know their power hours and use them more effectively. Second, I use the natural rhythms and energy of the day to plan and execute work. For example, one of the practices I use I call “Ten at Ten.” At 10:00am, our team takes ten minutes to touch base on priorities, progress, and blockers. We go around the team and ask three simple questions: 1) What did you get done? 2) What are you working on?, and 3) Where do you need help? It sounds simple, but it’s highly effective for keeping the team moving forward, embracing the results, and using their power hours. I’ve experimented with longer meetings and different times of the day but I found this “Ten at Ten” strategy to be the most effective. Following this meeting, since I’m in my natural “Power Hour”, I can then throw my energy into debottlenecking the team or moving some of the tough rocks forward, or pairing with somebody on a key challenge they are facing.
I think when it comes to getting others to get done what we need, we hit on things more than timeboxing. For example, one key to getting something done from others is to have them “sign up” for the work, versus “assign the work” to them. If they are part of the process, and you have buy-in then they will naturally want to do the work versus resist the work. It’s also important to have the person that will do the work, estimate the work. This helps set expectations better as well as account for how long the work actually takes. Sometimes there are deadlines of course, but if it’s about having somebody sign up to do their best work, it’s important they have a say in how long it should take. This improves personal accountability if they internalize the schedule.
If we assume somebody wants to do the work, then the next thing to focus on is when will it be done? This is where timeboxing comes into play. If you’re working within a timebox, then you can work backwards from when it’s due. For example, aside from timeboxes within the day, I also think of timeboxes in terms of a day, a week, and a month. Beyond the month, I tend to think in terms of quarters. If I need somebody to do something for me, I now make it a habit to tell them when I need it by. I used to make the mistake of just asking for the work. This makes it easier for them because they see what timeframe I’m operating within. Here is the art part through. Sometimes people think they can’t do the work justice within the timebox, so what I do is I set reset expectations and help them see the minimum types of things they might do within the timeframe. For example, if I need quick feedback on something, I’ll let somebody know that I just need high-level or directional feedback at this stage, otherwise, they won’t think it’s reasonable to do a detailed, comprehensive review, which is not even what I want at that stage. That’s another reason why timeboxes can help. They force you to put expectations on the table and get clarity on what’s good enough for now versus what’s the end-in-mind, and how to chunk up value along the way.
I do think one of the most powerful tools for any longer-term project is milestones. Chunking up the timeline into meaningful milestones helps everybody see key dates to drive to. Effectively, this also chunks up the project into smaller timeboxes or windows of time. It then becomes easier to focus on identifying the value within a particular timebox to reach the milestone. The other advantage of this approach, when it comes to driving results from others, is that you can do milestone reviews. People like to look good in front of their peers, so it naturally encourages them to do the work, to be seen as reliable and effective.
That’s really timeboxing in a nutshell. It’s simply treating time as a limited resource, and setting limits (both minimums and maximums) to help you stay balanced, stay focused, and get great results.
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