Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
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
How To Build a Foundation for Execution
Team Execution Patterns
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.)
Agile Results: It Works for Teams and Leaders Too
Crafting Your 3 Wins for the Day Using Agile Results
How I Use 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.
How To Use Timeboxing for Getting Results
Timebox Your Day
Time-boxes, Rhythm, and Incremental Value
Agile Results On a Page
By using Agile Results, you give yourself an extreme advantage in terms of mastering motivation, productivity, and time management.
The simplest way to start using Agile Results is to adopt the practice of 3 Wins. Simple identify the 3 wins you want to achieve for the day.
Crafting your 3 wins for the day is part art and part science.
Here’s a quick tip on how to do the art part a little better …
One of the things I do is scan my calendar at the start of the day to internalize it. Rather than react to appointments, I want to design my day as much as possible for maximum impact and spend more time in my strengths. It also informs me of my non-negotiables or specific windows of opportunity.
For example, today I have a few key meetings with influential people. To make the most of the opportunity, I need to carve out some time to
So my short-list of "3 Wins", or "stories", for today are:
I’ve got a bunch of stuff that's below the line that supports the above, but the above short-list of wins helps me rise above the noise, and claim victory for my day. If I scoped my "wins" too big, I'll quickly know when I’m in the thick of things, and then I'll re-frame the "win" to better express more incremental progress.
One-liner stories work perfectly well. All you need is a quick prompt or reminder of what you're trying to achieve, before getting lost in your tasks. It's how you put a bow on your results, and it’s how you guide your focus, energy, and action throughout the day.
They are "stories" because they reflect a "challenge" and a "change." You are the hero in each one-liner story, where you do something to create the change. And, most importantly, the "value" is in the change (otherwise, it's just same-old, same-old, and you're stuck on the treadmill of life.) Tip – A good way to think about value is to first figure out who it’s for, and then think in terms of benefits they care about, and express it in terms of “better, faster, or cheaper.”
By practicing these one-liner stories, these "3 Wins" for the day, you get better at articulating your value and unique contribution, both to yourself, and to others.
It's not only the secret of getting results, but also the secret of getting better performance reviews.
Note Agile Results is fully explained in detail in Getting Results the Agile Way, a best-seller in Time Management on Amazon.
Think in Three Wins
The Guerilla Guide to Getting a Better Performance Review
One of the first things to help a business to gain agility is to connect the product development to the actual user community. A simple way to do this is to connect the backlog to user input. If you can show the users your backlog of scenarios, and they can help you prioritize and validate demand, you just gained a great competitive advantage.
A picture is worth 1,000 words, so here it goes ...
The development team manages the backlog. Using input from users to help prioritize and identify gaps, the backlog is then used to drive the monthly development sprints.
It looks simple and it is, but it's not the knowing, it's the doing that makes the difference.
Enterprise Library 5.0 Product Backlog Prioritization Survey
Portfolios Programs and Projects
Scrum Flow at a Glance
Structuring Your Personal Backlog to Make Things Happen
I’ve put together 50 life hacks to help you get ahead in work and life:
50 Life Hacks Your Future Self with Thank You For
This is a serious set of game changing strategies you can use to level up in life. These aren’t your ordinary life hacks. These are 50 of the best life hacks that go beyond and help you adopt proven practices for life for key topics, including:
I’ve included one of my favorite life hacks here to give you a taste …
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to “do the opposite” of what you’d normally do, to periodically surprise people and have them see you in a new way.
It’s easy in life to fall into routines that don’t serve us.
The fastest way to change our game is to rattle our own cage and shake things up.
If you’re always late, try being early.
If you’re always slow, try changing your pace.
If you’re always fast, then try slowing down.
If you’re the person that always says, “No” to things, try saying more “Yes.”
If you always find what’s wrong with things, try finding what’s right.
If you lack your confidence, try strutting more of your stuff.
Doing the opposite of what you normally do, might lead to your next best breakthrough.
Worst case, you’ll learn more about you, you’ll learn more about balance, and you’ll put more options under your belt for how you show up or how you respond in life.
For more life hacks, check out 50 Life Hacks Your Future Self with Thank You For.
10 Big Ideas from Getting Results the Agile Way
30 Day Improvement Sprints: The Key to Making Impact, Changing Habits, and Rapid Learning
How To Use Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection to Triple Your Productivity
Agile is hot.
Especially, the Agile Way.
I wrote up a new step-by-step How To use Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection:
How To – Use Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection to Triple Your Productivity
The goals is to help you master motivation, time management, and personal productivity with a simple approach that you can use instantly.
The Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection pattern is probably one of the most important concepts I introduced in Agile Results, and explained in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way. (Getting Results the Agile Way has been a best seller on Amazon in the categories of Time Management and Business Life.)
It’s a powerful productivity pattern that can easily triple your productivity. It does so by eliminating noise from your work, to help you ruthlessly focus, and relentlessly execute. It helps you create extreme clarity by focusing on a short-list of top priorities. By adding “the fun factor”, and turning results into “wins”, you improve your motivation and momentum for unstoppable results.
There’s another key to Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection that makes it work. It’s based on a week on the calendar. It’s a specific recipe for what to do on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. It’s easy to remember. It’s easy to do.
And, with Friday Reflection, you get better each week, so the whole system keeps improving.
The other reason Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection works so well is because it’s optimized for the productive artist. Rather than a rigid system, it’s flexible by design. You can choose how big or how small to make your wins. You can choose what to focus on when you identify the results you want to achieve. For example, you can focus on the impact, or you can focus on how you achieve your results.
Most importantly, it’s a healthy reminder to connect your results to your values, so you can take your productivity to new levels.
I’ll be adding more How Tos in the near future to the Agile Results How Tos page on Getting Results.com, so if you have any special requests for How Tos, be sure to send my way.
It’s Not Volume, It’s Value
Productivity on Fire: 30 Days of Getting Results
I was talking with a colleague recently about the following question:
“How do you accelerate business value?”
One of the key challenges in today’s world is accelerating business value. If you’re implementing solutions, the value doesn’t start to get realized until users actually start to use the solution.
THAT’s actually the key insight to help you accelerate business value.
When you are planning, if you want to accelerate business value, then you need to think in terms of pushing costs out, and pulling benefits in. How can you start throwing off benefits earlier, and build momentum?
With that in mind, you have three ways to accelerate business value:
Before you roll out a solution, you should know the set of user scenarios that would deliver the most business benefits.
Keep in mind benefits will be in the eyes of the stakeholders.
If the sequence is a long cycle, and the adoption curve is way out there, and benefits don’t start showing up until way downstream, that’s a tough sell. And, it puts you at risk. These days, people need to see benefits showing up within the quarter, or you have a lot of explaining to do.
So one of the ways to accelerate business value is to accelerate adoption. There are many change frameworks, change patterns, strategies and tactics for driving change. Remember though that it all comes down to behavior change and changing behaviors. If you want to succeed in driving change in today’s world, then work on your change leadership skills.
This approach is about doing the right things, faster.
Another way to accelerate business value is to re-sequence the scenarios. If your big bang is way at the end (way, way at the end), no good. Sprinkle some of your bangs up front. In fact, a great way to design for change is to build rolling thunder. Put some of the scenarios up front that will get people excited about the change and directly experiencing the benefits. Make it real.
The approach is about putting first things first.
The third way to accelerate business value is to identify higher-value scenarios. One of the things that happens along the way, is you start to uncover potential scenarios that you may not have seen before, and these scenarios represent orders of magnitude more value. This is the space of serendipity. As you learn more about users and what they value, and stakeholders and what they value, you start to connect more dots between the scenarios you can deliver and the value that can be realized (and therefore, accelerated.)
This approach is about trading up for higher value and more impact.
If you need to really show business impact, and you want to be the cool kid that has a way of showing and flowing value no matter what the circumstances, keep these strategies and tactics in mind.
The landscape will only get tougher, so the key for you is to get smarter and put proven practices on your side.
People that know how to accelerate business value will float to the top of the stack, time and again.
10 Ways to Make Agile Design More Effective
Agile Methodology in Microsoft patterns & practices
How We Adhered to the Agile Manifesto on the patterns & practices team
“We must become the change we want to see.” – Mahatma Gandhi
I’m a fan of continuous learning and skills development. The challenge, though, aside from figuring out which training is worth it, is to first and foremost build a foundation that makes all the rest of your training actually worth it.
The key is to first build a rapid learning foundation that helps you absorb all the other training in a more effective way.
I’ve wasted a lot of money over the years testing and trying out various programs that made great promises. But, during my trials, I’ve also found programs that really do produce outstanding results. Of course, like anything, you get what you put into it, but some personal development programs are clearly based on better principles, patterns, and practices.
That’s the gold, and we have to dig deep to find it among the sea of mediocre personal development programs.
Just last night, I was sharing with a friend, how to read 10,000 words a minute (I’m not there, yet.) I was explaining the process of training to read without subvocalizing (which slows us down, big time … after all, you don’t want the voice in your head to sound like a chip monk, but you don’t actually have to internally vocalize words for your mind to absorb the content.) Another key is developing high speed imaging skills, where you glance at information and absorb it. Again, this doesn’t come naturally to most people so you need to train for it.
I realized this personal development program alone has paid me back so many times in so many ways and saved me so much time over the years, whether it’s processing email or devouring books. I shared with my friend that I don’t have a lot of time to read books, but I’ll use a few hours to read 3-5 books a week, as well as often write up in-depth reviews. He was amazed, and commented that he’s got a large book pile that he’d like to chomp through.
That’s just one of my secrets that has helped me leap frog in terms of rapid learning and saving massive amounts of time on a daily basis, and being to use my brain for other things than getting mired in walls of text.
But there are more.
In fact, today I decided to share 3 personal development programs that give you an edge in work and life. I’ll bottom line it for you here, that the three personal development programs are 1) Personal Power, by Tony Robbins, 2) The Personal Mastery Program, by Srikumar S. Rao, and 3) Lead the Field, by Earl Nightingale.
In my write up, I shared quick stories on how each of them has helped me gain specific advantages in work and life. In fact, some almost seem like unfair advantages because of the results they produced.
If you are looking to find the difference that makes the difference, or get an extreme advantage in our ultra-competitive world, then these 3 personal development programs should really help you out.
BTW – here is a tip that I often share when it comes to competition. While you can draw inspiration from your “competition,” the best way to compete is to actually compete with yourself. Whether that means pursuit a path of relentless excellence, or simply pushing yourself to higher ground, that’s where your breakthroughs happen.
Here’s to you and your ability to be awesome at life.
One of the best books I’ve read lately is, What Keeps Leaders Up at Night, by Nicole Lipkin. I wrote my review at:
What Keeps Leaders Up at Night
The book is all about how to be at your best, when things are at their worst.
By learning a core set of leadership skills and psychology tools, you equip yourself to deal with the tough stuff, no matter what’s going on.
It covers a huge amount of space in terms of psychology theories, terms and related concepts. Here’s a sampling:
Confirmation Bias, Transactional Model of Stress, Social Exchange Theory, Norm of Reciprocity, Extrinsic Motivation, Intrinsic Motivation, Cognitive Dissonance, Group Conformity, Social Identity Theory (SIT), Social Loafing, Collective Effort Model (CEM), Polarization, Groupthink, Shadenfreude.
Lipkin also covers communication styles, stress coping skills, dealing with envy, how to build better group dynamics, how to resolve conflict, how to build better self-perception, how to build constructive core beliefs, and more.
Overall, the book is a great guide on how to keep our cool when things get hot, and Lipkin reminds us that others only see our behavior:
“To paraphrase an old adage, ‘We see ourselves as a combination of our thoughts, fears, and intentions, but others just see our behaviors.’”
Aside from learning how to be more influential, another bonus of the book is that it will help you recognize and label thinking errors and cognitive distortions, which often lead to bad behaviors.
7 Habits of Highly Effective Program Managers
10 Free Leadership Tools for Work and Life
Best Leadership Books
Inspire a Vision with Skill
Leadership Development in a Box
One of the most important skills of an effective Program Manager is to inspire a vision. If you can’t paint a story of a better future, then all bets are off.
Change is tough enough. People need a good reason. They need to see a better future in their mind’s-eye. They need to believe in the challenge and the change. The cause has to make sense. And, it needs to inspire.
Sure you can throw facts and figures at people. For some, this is cause enough or inspiring enough. For most people, it’s not. They need something that they can latch on to with their minds and their hearts. In fact, if you win the heart, the mind follows.
I’ve put together my thoughts on How To Inspire a Vision, based on what I’ve learned as a Program Manager at Microsoft. Metaphors, stories, and pictures are all powerful ways. That said, you really need to step into the future and walk various aspects to pressure test your vision, and make it real. Not just for yourself, but for your various stakeholders and for their various concerns, which will range from innovation to market position to financial impact to insider perception, etc.
If you have a proven practice for articulating your vision in a way that works, I’d love to hear about it.
Inspiring a Vision
The Operating Model as a Company Vision
Vision Scope Template
"If you see a bandwagon, it’s too late." -- James Goldsmith
I’m really focused on helping businesses large and small succeed. Times are tough. I’ve been reading a lot of books on business skills and techniques. The latest book I read is pretty hard-core.
And exactly what I wanted to find.
Here’s my review:
Business Techniques in Troubled Times: A Toolbox for Small Business Success
It puts more than 70+ business skills at your fingertips.
What’s especially interesting is that the author is a turnaround artist. He helps flailing and failing businesses get back on track. Imagine having that kinds of ability – to help business rise from the ashes phoenix style.
That’s cool stuff.
Actually, it’s very powerful stuff.
Business transformation is a great place to be in today’s world.
After all, businesses are re-inventing themselves at a pace never before possible.
Anyway, you’ll appreciate this book if you want to know …
How to analyze the marketplace and do true competitive analysis and find your differentiation
How to design a great product or service
How to price your product or service more effectively
How to create a roadmap for your product
How to prioritize your product ideas
How to create a more effective business plan
How to avoid the most common mistakes when making a business plan
How to analyze a business model
How to create a financial plan
I could go on, and on, because this book really packs a lot into it. It’s an “all-in-one” guide that really covers creating and growing a business. You’ll especially appreciate this book if you’ve struggled with the “money” part of business. It’s one thing to have a good idea. It’s another to fund that idea, and to make it economically viable. This book actually shows you how.
The thing I want to stress about this book though is that it’s written by somebody who helps owners save and grow their businesses for a living.
Within the first fifteen minutes of reading the book, I had at least three new business skills I could immediately apply.
If you want a deep dive into the book, including snippets and insight, check out my review:
6 Steps for Enterprise Architecture as Strategy
Architecture Linkage, Business Linkage, and Alignment Linkage
What Do Customers Teach Us About Business
It’s time to share some hard-core skills for improving your focus and directing attention:
Proven Practices for Improving Focus
It’s a hard core set of more than 60 proven practices for improving focus.
It also includes 8 things that work against our focus, and 10 strategies that shape our ability to focus at the macro level.
When I originally created the focus guidelines, it was just a flat list. Recently, I revamped my Focus Checklist to organize it into themes. That helped a lot to make the information more consumable. It only made sense to go back and update my focus guidelines accordingly.
Here is a sampling of some of my favorite proven practices for improving focus:
To explore more ways that you can radically improve your focus, check out Proven Practices for Improving Your Focus.
Be sure to share your favorite practices that work for you.
40 Hour Work Week at Microsoft
Focus Checklist v2
Daniel Cook on 8 Laws of Productivity
It was time for an update.
Here’s my Focus Checklist v2:
Focus Checklist (v2)
Here’s what’s new …
I organized the checklist into more meaningful buckets. It’s mostly the original list, but now they are grouped into better buckets to make it easier to turn into action. After all, a great checklist is measured both by it’s value and how actionable it is.
Focus is often the different that makes the difference when it comes to succeeding at work and succeeding in life. Otherwise, we don’t see things to fruition, or we bi-furcate our potential in ways that undermines our effort.
To make it easy to get to the Focus Checklist, I added a quick menu item to the feature menu:
You can still get to the checklists from Resources, but the saying “out of sight, out of mind”, tends to be true.
By moving Checklists to the feature bar, it will remind me to continue to turn insight into action in the form of simple checklists.
I’ve long been a fan of checklists for building better habits and sharing and scaling expertise. I’ve used them for security, performance, application architecture, and for personal effectiveness in a variety of ways. There’s actually a lot of research and science behind why checklists are effective, but I like to think of them as simple reminders and automation for the mind, so we can move up the mental stack and focus on higher-level issues.
If you’re a fan of Personal Software Process (PSP) or Team Software Process (TSP), you’ll appreciate the fact that checklists are one of the best ways to quickly, efficiency, and effectively radically improve quality, for yourself or for the team. Of course, that depends on the quality of the checklist, and your focus on actually applying it, and treating it like a living document, and keeping it updated with your latest insights and actions.
If you adopt checklists as your tool of choice for continuous improvement, you’ll be in good company. It’s how McDonald’s and Disney spread best practices. It’s how the best hospitals reduce errors and raise the quality bar. And, it’s even how the Air Force keeps fighter pilots from falling prey to task saturation.
Like anything, the value of the checklists depends on the user and the usage, and if you treat it as a static thing, that’s when problems happen. Use it as a baseline and adapt it to your needs, and update it based on your latest learnings.
If you do that, and you treat your checklists as continuous learning tools, and you continue to evolve and adapt them, then your checklists will serve you well.
Ugh … it looks like this post ran into some scope creep. This was supposed to be just letting you know that I have a new version available of my focus checklist.
Luckily, my 5-minute timebox in this case, reeled me back in.
PS – It’s worth noting that the practices behind this focus checklist are industrial strength. Folks with ADD and ADHD have used the practices in this checklist to retrain their brain to focus with skill. They learned to direct and redirect their attention, and to enjoy the process of focusing their mind on meaningful results.
I’m working my way through my massive book backlog, and doing reviews as a I go along. Yesterday, I wrote my review of Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.
Today, I read and wrote my review of The Innovative Team: Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results.
It’s perfect timing. Just yesterday a friend ask me if there’s some science and proven practices that we could apply to create high-performance teams, especially when there is a lot of innovation involved and we need to be more agile in how we execute our projects.
At the same time, we need to give enough time to really explore the problem domain and build some solid foundation to base our solutions on.
The Innovative Team directly addresses this dilemma. And it does so in a pragmatic way.
It does do by framing out the 4 stages of innovation and the corresponding cognitive style preferences that people tend to have. The book then shows you how to leverage these different cognitive styles that can often create conflict during the project cycle. It includes specific proven practices for elaborating on ideas and then converging on solutions and keeping things moving forward. At the same time, the framework is all about getting the best out of every one on the team and bringing them along.
It’s a recipe for creating and leading high-performance teams that deliver high-impact, innovative solutions for big challenges.
Here is a quick look at some of the things I found especially interesting …
Here is a brief summary of each:
Here are some common scenarios that you might see, or see yourself in, when working on projects and going through the various stages of innovation:
As you can imagine, this is a powerful books, especially if you do project work. It’s also powerful even if you just want to improve your own ability to innovate, either as a one-man band, or as part of a larger team, or leading a high-performance team.
If you want a deep dive on the book and more highlights to get a better sense of what this book is all about, check out my review:
The Innovative Team: Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results.
High-Leverage Strategies for Innovation
Lessons Learned from the Most Successful Innovators
Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes
Nobody Wants to Invest
One of the smartest books I’ve read lately is Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova. I wrote a deep review to include a bunch of my favorite highlights.
It’s hard to believe I only scratched the surface in my review, but it’s a very deep book with tons of insight and proven practices for elevating your thinking to the highest levels.
While I like the concepts and practices throughout the book, my favorite aspect was the fact that Konnikova references some great research and theories by name and illustrated how they apply in our everyday lives.
Some of the examples include:
Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes includes plenty of surprising insights, too. For example, we physically can see less when we’re in a bad mood. We can do better on SATs simply by changing our motivation. We can use simple meditation techniques to causes changes at the neural level, to increase creativity and imaginative capacity.
If you’re a developer, you’ll appreciate the “system” view of how memory works. Konnikova walks the mechanisms of the mind based on the latest understanding of how our brain works. You’ll also appreciate the depth and details that Konnikova provides to help you really understand how to think and operate at a higher level.
Basically, you’ll learn how to put your Sherlock Holme’s thinking cap on and apply more effective thinking practices that avoid common cognitive biases, pitfalls, and traps.
By the time you’ve made it through the book, you’ll also better understand and appreciate how our mindset and filters dramatically shape what we’re able to see, and, as a result, how we experience the world around us.
If you want a tour of the book in detail, check out my book review of Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.
It might just be one of the smartest books you read this year.
How To Use Six-Thinking Hats
Where the Focus Goes
A while back, I started a site called Shaping Software. The purpose was to create a collection of little nuggets on lessons learned from designing, building, and shipping software.
I ended up writing more than 100 articles on software development (browse the archives for a quick view).
The didn’t maintain the site. For one reason, I wanted a timeless depot, and I wasn’t sure how timeless it could be. Another reason is the site didn’t take off the way I expected. For example, if my MSDN blog generates 1000’s of visits a day, Shaping Software was in the 10’s per day.
Looking back, I think I learned important reasons why it didn’t take off. I didn’t name titles very well. It’s not always obvious what’s inside. Also, I didn’t always elaborate on topics that needed more elaboration to better understand and appreciate the nugget of knowledge. On a very practical, SEO side, I didn’t apply any SEO knowledge and I didn’t build any backlinks. Given what I know now, I probably should have continued to groom and to grow it.
There will always be a need for learning how to shape software with skill and there is an “evergreen” body o timeless principles, patterns, and practices … that is not well known. It’s an art and science and there is always a gap between the state of the art and the state of the practice. Principles, patterns, and practices at our fingertips help us reduce that gap.
Anyway, here are 30 nuggets from Shaping Software that you might find useful:
Probably, the most important article to read (and re-read) is:
Lessons Learned in Microsoft patterns & practices
I find myself still using and referring to many of the ideas on a regular basis, whether it’s explaining to somebody why you can’t evaluate an architecture in a vacuum, or what shifts of power mean to software, or how to avoid Big Design Up Front, or what the different types of requirements are, etc.
I have to wonder whether it’s worth reinvesting in it, as a true repository of timeless insight and action for the art and science of building software.
One of the challenges my General Manager put on my plate, was to tell a simple story, as simply as possible, about the essence of doing Enterprise Strategy.
Here is what I ended up with:
The way I told the story is …
He loved it.
I shared a simple Workstream Frame to show how when we drive Enterprise Strategy, we can use the following canvas as our backdrop:
It’s a simple map but it helps chunk up and think about how you are making the changes:
To fully appreciate the simplicity above, below is what I first walked my General Manager through, and he said, while he could appreciate the essence of it, it was too complex:
At the end of the day, I think he was right, and I was glad that he pushed me to find a simpler story and to be able to tell it quickly at the whiteboard.
When people see that it’s all about driving a chunk of organizational change, and that it’s by changing the business, people, and technology capabilities, light-bulbs go off, and people get excited by how they can reshape the future of their Enterprise story, through Enterprise Strategy.
Microsoft Secret Stuff
The Microsoft Story
Microsoft Explained: Making Sense of the Microsoft Platform Story
Microsoft Developer Platform at a Glance
Office 365 at a Glance
Windows Azure at a Glance
“Xbox One is designed to deliver a whole new generation of blockbuster games, television and entertainment in a powerful, all-in-one device” -- Don Mattrick, president, Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft
I mentor several folks on how to make money online, either because they are trying to supplement their income, or take their game to the next level, or simply trying to reduce the worry around losing their job.
An interesting pattern is that many of the folks that I know that make a second (3rd, 4th, 5th) income online, show up strong in many ways. Their second source of income is always a “passion business.” They find a way to monetize what they love in a way that’s sustainable and creates a ton of value for their tribe of raving fans.
They end up spending more time in their art, so they recharge and renew, and show up fresh at work because they found a way to spend more time doing what they love (it’s an interesting question when you ask the question, “What do you want to spend more time doing?”, and then actually do it
One of the most important success patterns I see is that people do what they would do for free, but pay attention to what people would pay them for. This does two things:
I see people succeed at making money online by doing lots of experimentation and continuous learning. The ones that do the best, learn from success AND failures. The ones that create truly outstanding success, learn the patterns of failure to avoid, and the patterns of success to do more of.
Lucky for me, I got to see several people right around me making $10,000, $20,000, etc. a month online, and they happily shared with me what they were doing, including what was working and what was not. The variety was pretty amazing, until I started to see the patterns. As I started to see the patterns, what surprised me the most is how so many people fail to make money online because “they try to make money online” – it’s like chasing happiness, and having it always evade your grasp.
There are so many ways NOT to make money online. In fact, they are worth enumerating because people still try them and get incredibly frustrated and give up.
Here are 50 Ways How NOT To Make Money Online.
It’s serious stuff.
I took a pattern-based approach, so that it’s easy to see the principle behind each recipe for failure.
You can actually apply many of the insights whether it’s an online or offline business, and whether you are a one-man band, or a business partnership, or working in a corporation.
It puts a distillation of many business basics, great business lessons, and business skills at your fingertips.
I’m hoping that more people can be entrepreneurs and create their financial freedom by doing more of what they love, in a business-smart way.
Also, I’m hoping this helps more people get their head around the idea that we’re in a new digital economy and the ways to make a living are changing under our feet.
The future is here and it belongs to those that create it and shape it.
Own your destiny.