Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
I’m a fan of anticipating the future, and creating the future. Even speculation helps dream up what’s possible, and be ready for anything, when it happens. And if you balance that with key trends, you can really stay on top of things.
After all, what’s The Art of the Long View teach us? While we can’t predict the future, we can better prepare for it by playing out the “what if” scenarios and possibilities.
With that in mind, I did a search on Microsoft secret stuff, and found some interesting things. After all, Microsoft spends more on R&D than Google and Apple combined.
Here are some of the more interesting articles I found:
Here are my key take aways …
Touch and Touch Screens
What neat stuff do you see Microsoft working on?
How do you create career opportunities? You reinvent yourself.
While you can always hope for things to land in your lap, there are specific patterns I see successful people do. Among those that continuously create the best career opportunities, here are the key success patterns:
If you’re wondering where the best career opportunities are, sometimes it’s the job you’ve already got, sometimes you have to go find them, and sometimes, you have to make them.
What do Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Walt Disney teach us about building a culture of innovation?
I put together a comprehensive collection of innovation quotes. And by comprehensive, I mean more than 100 of the greatest thoughts on innovation, all at your finger tips. You’ll hear from Edison, Mozart, Michael Porter, Peter Drucker, Seth Godin, and more.
And, to make the innovation quotes more meaningful, I’ve grouped them into useful categories, so you can flip through the sections you care about the most. There’s a section on Action, Birthing Ideas, and Continuous Learning and Growth. You’ll also find a section on Fear and Failure. After all, success in innovation is often a numbers game. Remember what Edison taught us.
Just because it’s a comprehensive collection of innovation quotes, doesn’t mean it’s complete, or that it’s a done deal. There’s always room for improvement (and innovation.) So if you have some favorite innovation quotes that I’ve left out, please let me know. I want this collection to be truly insightful, and most importantly, actionable.
After all, what good are good ideas, if you can’t turn them into results.
And that’s the truth about innovation.
This past January, more than 20,000 people got the book that’s changing lives, and changing the workplace:
Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and life
You’re going to want to read this if you want to level up in work and life, or share it with a friend you know that you want to help give the edge.
I’m going to walk through how I use Agile Results to show you how YOU can seriously and significantly amplify your impact, get better performance reviews, and spend more time doing what YOU enjoy. (So, while this post might seem all about me, it’s really about you.)
I’m not going to make it look easy. I’m going to make it real. I care way more that you get the full power of the system in your hands so you can do amazing things and get exponential results. Agile Results is not a fly-by-night. It was more than ten years in the making.
Keep in mind, it’s an ultra-competitive world, and what you don’t know can hurt you. On the flip side, what you do know can instantly boost your creativity, productivity, and impact in unfair ways.
Use Agile Results as your unfair advantage.
Now then, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it. But first, some context …
I use Agile Results as a personal productivity and time management system.
In one line, it's my "personal results system for work and life."
I also use it to lead distributed teams around the world. I use it to drive high-impact projects, and for projects at home.
This post is a detailed walkthrough of how I use Agile Results as a time management and productivity system for making things happen.
Before we dive into the details, I want to make an important point ...
The simplest way I use Agile Results is as follows:
I write down Three Wins that I want to accomplish for the day on paper.
Yes, that’s it, and it is that simple (to at least, that’s how simple it is to start using Agile Results.)
If ever I get off track (and I do), the simple way I get back on track with Agile Results, is I simply write down my three wins for the day, down on a piece of paper. Agile Results is both forgiving and instantly useful.
The main goal of Agile Results is to help me spend more time where it counts. I needed a light-weight and flexible system that I could use for myself or for others. For several years, I had to build up a new team every six months. I needed to build high-performance teams under the gun, as quickly as possible. And, at the same time, I wanted work to be a place of self-expression, where you live your values, give your best where you have your best to give, and experience flow and continuous learning on a regular basis.
I needed to get "Special Forces" results, from individuals, and from the larger team. So I needed a system that could stretch to fit ... either scale up for a team, or simply help an individual get exponential results. I wanted it to be based on timeless and self-evident principles, rather than tools or fads. And I wanted it to "play well with others" ... where if somebody already had an existing system, or favorite tools, Agile Results could just ride on top and help them get more of what they already use.
Above all, it had to be as simple as possible.
Having a system that’s as simple as possible, helps support you while you do the impossible.
With that in mind, let's dive in. So here is how I use Agile Results ...
My favorite startup routine is:
It's a simple routine. I've learned that one of the keys is carving out time for what's important, first thing in the morning. What I like about this routine is that it's not chaotic. It's serene by design. I've had chaotic startup patterns. This is the one that I purposefully made the morning about exercising, eating, and setting the stage for a great day. I don't turn on the TV. I don't watch the news. I don't check my computer. All of that can wait until I'm in the office.
It's how I charge up.
Monday is all about vision for the week.
For example, if the week were over, and you were looking back, what would be the three big things you want under your belt?
It's such a simple thing, but I make the most of the week, by starting with what I want out of the week. On Monday mornings, my main starting point is Three Wins for the Week. I identify the top Three Wins that would make this week great. To do so, I jump ahead and imagine that if this was Friday, what would I want to rattle off as my three wins under my belt. I do this on my way to work, while listening to my favorite songs. I play around with possibilities. I think of what big wins would look like. I also think about the big, hairy problems need attention. I try to balance between addressing pain, and acting on opportunities.
If I really get stuck, I try to think of the top three things that are top of mind that really need my attention. If I'm going to invest the next week of my life, I want to make sure that I'm nailing the things that matter.
The key is that I use very simple words. I'm effectively choosing labels for my wins. For example, "Vision is draft complete" is simple enough to say, and simple enough to remember. If I can't say it, it's not sticky.
When I get to work, I scan my mail. I think of my inbox as a stream of *potential* action. I walk the halls to beat the street. I absorb what I learn against what I set out to do for the week. If necessary, I readjust. If I catch my manager, I do a quick sanity check to find out his Three Wins for the Week, and how I'm mapping to what's on the radar.
For each project on my plate, I have a simple list of work items. This gives me "One Place to Look." This also helps me identify the "Next Best Thing" to do. It's this balance of the lists with what's top of mind, that keeps me grounded. I try to support my mind, with just enough scaffolding, but let it do what it does best. If I can identify the big outcomes for the week, I don't have to get caught up in the overhead of tracking minutia.
On my computer, I keep notepad open so that I can list my three wins at the top for the week, list my three wins for the day, any tasks or things on my mind below that. It's important that I keep my mind fresh and ready for anything. It's also where I do my brain dump at the end of the day ("Dump Your State"), which is simply a dump of anything on my mind or pending issues, so that I don't take work home with me, and I can pick up from where I left off, or start fresh the next day.
Each day of the week, the most important thing I do at the start of the day, is identify Three Wins that I want for that day. I write them down. I cross-check them against the Three Wins that I want for the week.
First I brainstorm on what I want or need to achieve for the day. This is just a rapid brain dump. If I'm at my desk, I write it down on paper. When I hone in on what seems to be my three key wins for the day, I say them out loud. Verbalizing them is important, because it's how I simplify and internalize them. Being able to say them, keeps them at my mental finger tips. It's like having the scoreboard right in plain view. I want them front and center so that I can use them to help me prioritize and focus throughout the day.
I try to put my "Worst Things First", either in the start of the week, or the start of the day. The worst thing is to have something looming over me all day or all week. The other way I look at this is, if I jump my worst hurdle, then the rest of the day or the week is a glide-path.
If my worst thing is time consuming, then I might need to "Timebox" it, such as spend no more than an hour max on it. If the work is intensive, I might tend to split it up, and work through it in 20 minute batches, and take 10 minute breaks. If I'm on a roll, I might go straight for an hour. If this is regular work that I need to do, that I really don't enjoy doing, then I try to either get it off my plate, or find a way to make it fun, or "Pair Up" with somebody. I find somebody who loves to do what I hate doing, and see if they might like to show me, either why they love it, or how to do it better, faster, and easier. This practice has taught me so many new tricks, and it's also helped me appreciate some of the deep skills that others are good at.
I know my peak times and my down times during the day. For example, at around 11:00 AM, I have lunch on my mind, and 3:00 PM is effectively siesta time.
My best hours tend to be 8:00, 10:00, 2:00, and 4:00.
They are the hours where I am in the zone and firing on all cylinders. I’m generally more “productive” earlier in the day, and more “creative” later in the day. I don’t know all the reasons why, but what I do know is it’s a pattern. And by knowing that pattern, I can leverage it.
What I do is I push my heaving lifting into those hours as best as I can. I use my best horse-power to plow through my work and turn mountains into mole-hills. When I don’t use those peak hours, somehow mole-hills turn into mountains, and it’s slow going. It’s the difference in feeling between riding a wave, and pushing rocks uphill.
To get to this point, I simply had to notice during the week, when my best hours really are, not just when I want them to be. Now that I know my best times for peak performance, I have to defend those hours as best I can, or at least know what I am trading off.
When it comes to defending your calendar, you need to know what’s worth it. Once you know your best Power Hours, you know what’s worth it.
Aside from spending more time in my high ROI activities, and playing to my strengths, my Power Hours amplify my productivity more than any other way.
This is the space of creative breakthroughs and innovation. It’s not that I’m not creative throughout the day, but I generally have a pattern where I’m more creative at night, or in the quiet hours of the morning. I’m also more creative on Fridays and Saturdays.
I can try to change the pattern, but I can also first notice the pattern and leverage what already exists. If I know the times when I’m most creative, I can start to use this time to think and brainstorm more freely.
And, I do.
That’s how I come up with ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper. It’s how I figure out ways to change the business, or ways to change my approach, and ways to take things to the next level.
When I’m in my creative zone, I do more exploration. I follow my thoughts and play out “what if” scenarios. I value the fact that my Creative Hours lead the ideas that help me learn and improve whatever I do.
A simple check, if I’m not flowing enough ideas or if I’m feeling too much nose-to-the grindstone, is I ask myself, “How many Creative Hours did I spend this week?” If it’s not at least 2, I try to up the count.
Create Hours are my best way to decompress, absorb and synthesize, which ultimately leads to my greatest breakthroughs.
Day is done, gone the Sun. From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
But how do you put it to rest?
I like a deliberate switch from work-mode to home-mode. I don’t want to bring my work home with me, and have it seep into everything I do. When I’m at work, I work hard (and play hard, too … especially because I treat work like play, and drive it with a passion.)
But when I shut down my work day, I need a way to unwind.
I found the best way to free my mind, is dump it down. So I simply dump it to notepad, or my little yellow sticky pad. Any open issues or challenges or things on my mind. I can always pick them back up. Or, I can let them go.
But the last thing I want is for a bunch of problems to be swirling around in my head.
Besides, if you stop swirling problems around in your head, you make space for creative insights, and the answers start to pop out of the woodwork.
Another pattern I’ve adopted is to use a metaphorical tree in my mind to hang my hat of problems on. Again, I can always pick them up again tomorrow, but for now, I’ll stuff my problems in this hat, hang them on the tree, and free my mind.
What if every Friday you could get smarter about your productivity and effectiveness?
I know it sounds simple, and it is, but remember that one of the big keys in life is not just knowing what to do, but doing what you know.
Friday Reflection is a perfect chance to ask myself two simple questions:
That’s how it starts.
I keep a simple recurring 20-minute appointment with myself for each Friday morning. It’s often the most valuable 20 minutes I spend each week. It’s where I actually reflect on my performance. Not in a critical way, but a constructive way. I explore with simple questions:
Friday Reflection is how I learn to master my capacity and be more realistic about my own expectations. I tend to over-estimate what’s possible in a week (and underestimate what’s possible in a month.) This little feedback loop, helps me see the good, the bad, and the downright fugly.
The most important outcome of my Friday Reflection is, three things to try out next week to do a little better.
The little better adds up.
The main thing to keep in mind is that Friday Reflection gives you deeper insight into your strengths and weaknesses in a way that you instantly benefit from. The key is to carry the good forward, and let the rest go, and to treat it as a continuous learning loop.
You only fail when you give up or stop learning or stop trying.
To make my month more meaningful and to add a dash of focus to it, I identify my Three Wins for the Month. At the month level, I can take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Asking myself, “What do I want under my belt when the month is over?” is a powerful and swift way to create clarity, and identify compelling outcomes.
Since I'm leading a team, I go a step further. I think of Three Wins for the team. Based on everything that's on our plate, I try to identify what the Three Wins for the team should be. I try to figure out things that would be easy to share with my manager. This makes it easy to check alignment, and it makes it easy for them to sell our impact up the management chain. (Read – It helps you get better performance reviews.)
When I get to work, I send out a short mail to the team, with the subject line: WEEKLY WINS: 2012-07-23. It's simply WEEKLY WINS, plus the current date. I briefly summarize the drivers, the threats, and hot issues on our plate, then list the Three Wins identified. I follow this by asking the team for their input, and whether we need to recalibrate. At the bottom, I simply do an A-Z list of bulleted items to dump the full working set of work in flight. It both helps people see what the full scope is, as well as help us rationalize whether we bit off the right things, and it helps people stay on top of all the work. It's like a team To-Do list. Sometimes it's a crazy list, but the three wins at the top, help keep our sanity and focus at all times.
It's a simple approach, but it works great for distributed teams, and it gives us something to go back and check at the end of the week, or throughout the week to remind ourselves of what we set out to do.
Since my manager adopted Agile Results too, he shares his three wins for the week to the team in a simple mail. Folks across the team, simply add their wins for the week. It's nothing formal ... it's more like a simple assertion of our intended victories.
During our team meeting, our manager goes around the team, and we share our three wins from last week, and our three wins we plan for this week. This helps everybody across the team stay connected to what's going on.
I need to throw in this tip, because it’s the single most effective way I’ve found to get a team on the same page, and avoid a bunch of email. And, it’s a simple way to create clarity, and avoid confusion.
It also builds the discipline of execution.
All you do is meet for ten minutes each day, Monday through Thursday. I call it, Ten at Ten.
I found ten at ten to be one of the most effective times in the day to do a sync. That said, because I always have distributed teams, I’ve had to vary this. But for the most part, I like Ten at Ten as a reminder to have a quick sync up with the team, focused on creating clarity, debottlenecking any issues, and taking note of small wins and progress.
The way it works is this:
You’d be surprised at how quickly people start to pay attention to what they’re working on and on what’s worth working on. It also helps team members very quickly see each other’s impact and results. It also helps people raise their bar, especially when they get to hear and experience what good looks like from their peers.
Most importantly, it shines the light on little, incremental progress. Progress is the key to happiness in work and life.
One thing I’ll point out is that the Monday meeting is actually 30 minutes, not 10 minutes, since it’s more of a level set for the week, and it’s a chance to figure out the Three Wins for the Week.
Well, there it is.
It might not look like a simple system for meaningful results, but when you think of all the synthesis it is effective.
The way to keep it simple is to always start simple. Whenever you forget what to do, go back to the basics. Simply ask yourself,
“What are Three Wins I want for today?”
- OR -
“What are Three Wins I want for this week?”
- OR -
“What are Three Wins I want for this month?”
… if you’re feeling really bold, and want to go for the gold, “What are Three Wins I want for this year?”
Hopefully, this little walkthrough helps you easily see how you can apply Agile Results to your workflow, and get more out of the time you already spend. If nothing else, remember this:
Value is the ultimate short-cut.
When you know what’s valued, you can target your effort. When you know the high value activities, you can focus on those.
What Agile Results does is streamline your ability to flow value, for yourself and others.
Pure and simple.
And that’s how getting results should be … elegance in action.
If you find you can't keep up with the world around you, then break things down. Breaking things down is the key to finishing faster.
Breaking things down is also the key to agility.
One of the toughest project management lessons I had to learn was breaking things down into more modular chunks. When I took on a project, my goal was to make big things happen and change the world.
After all, go big or go home, right?
The problem is you run out of time, or you run out of budget. You even run out of oomph. So the worst way to make things happen is to have a bunch of hopes, plans, dreams, and things, sitting in a backlog because they're too big to ship in the time that you've got.
Which brings us to the other key to agility ... ship things on a shorter schedule.
This re-trains your brain to chunk things down, flow value, chop dependencies down to size, learn, and, move on.
Best of all, if you miss the train, you catch the next train.
I’m always on the lookout for the best insight and action you can use for work and life. I especially enjoy when I find somebody who is truly a thought leader, a giant in their space.
After all, I’m a big fan of helping everyone “stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Elizabeth is a giant (actually, more like a Titan) in the field of management. She brings to the table more than 30 years of experience in the art and science of management. She’s a former McKinsey partner, a holds a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, and she is the author of McKinsey’s Marvin Bower, and The Definitive Drucker.
She knows her stuff.
So I asked her to share her stuff.
Elizabeth has written a powerful guest post for me on her best lessons learned in the art and science of management:
Management Lessons of a Lifelong Student, by Elizabeth Edersheim.
She reveals the secrets of the best managers and best leaders, and puts it right at your fingertips. Every now and then you read something that changes your breadth or depth on a topic. This is one of those posts.
It’s a wealth of insight and action.
Keep in mind that Elizabeth operates at multiple levels of management, so whether you are a line-leader or a CEO, Elizabeth has distilled some key insights you can immediate apply, or refine your thinking, or perhaps lead to a new “ah-ha” moment.
Enjoy, and may the best practices for management serve you well, whether you’re shaping your own business or the business around you.
I was watching a video on Google Glass with Robert Scoble, and I couldn’t help but wonder about all the possibilities that technology can bring to the table.
Wearable computing bridges the gap between the real world and the things we see in Sci-Fi movies.
Of course, when we overlay information on our world, the key will be turning information into insight and action. All change isn’t progress, and the market will flush out things faster than ever before. And, to the victor go the spoils.
In the video, you can see how the Google Glass does a few basic things so far:
The big limit in what it’s capable of, so far, seems to be the batter power. And of course, a key concern was security. It’s another reminder how in the software space, security and performance always play a role, even if they are behind the scenes. In fact, that’s the irony of software security and performance, they are at their best when you don’t notice them.
Security and performance are often unsung heroes.
The big take away for me is that the game is on warp speed now. By game, I mean, the business of software. You can go from idea to market pretty fast. So the big bottlenecks range from the right ideas, to the right people, to the right strategy, to the right execution.
But more importantly, the reminder is this:
Companies with smart people, data-driven insights, a culture of innovation, great software processes, customer focus, and reach around the world, can change the world -- at a faster pace than ever before.
Who knows what we’ll be wearing next?
No, this isn't about "Once upon a time." There are ways to know and share yourself with skill. You can combine stories and branding to reveal the truths that help you stand out in the marketplace or workplace, and play to your competitive edge.
But the challenge is this -- unless you're a skilled marketer, how do you reveal the power of your brand in a more compelling way?
I'm not a marketer, and I don't play one on T.V., so I have to work at it. The way I work at it, is I pay attention to the people that are outstanding at what they do.
So what do the people that are outstanding at this do?
They focus on values. Finding shared values is the key to building brands and building stronger relationships in everything you do ... in work, and in life. Brand building is largely about creating clarity around the values the brand stands for.
A simple way is to start by just figuring out three attributes that you want your brand to be about. For example:
It needs to be believable. You need to believe it, in your heart of hearts and soul of souls.
Related to that, you need to know who your brand is for. What are the values they share? What are the boundaries of those values, and at what point, do you have polar opposites or create conflict?
Find the intersection.
That’s where the magic happens.
If you want to be relevant, you need to find the intersection of the values.
Values are the ultimate lightening rod.
If you have an understanding of types of behavior change, you can design more effective software.
Software is a powerful way to change the world.
You can change the world with software, a behavior at a time.
Think of all the little addictive loops, that shape our habits and thoughts on a daily basis. We’re gradually being automated and programmed by the apps we use.
I’ve seen some people spiral down, a click, a status update, a notification, or a reminder at a time. I’ve seen others spiral up by using apps that teach them new habits, reinforce their good behaviors, and bring out their best.
To bottom line is, whether you are shaping software or using software on a regular basis, it helps to have a deep understanding of behavior change. You can use this know-how to change your personal habits, lead change management efforts, or build software that changes the world.
We know change is tough, and it’s a complicated topic, so where do you start?
A great place to start is to learn the 15 types of behavior change, thanks to Dr. BJ Fogg and his Fogg Behavior Grid. No worries. 15 sounds like a lot, but it’s actually easy once you understand the model behind it. It’s simple and intuitive.
The basic frame works like this. You figure out whether the behavior change is to do a new behavior, a familiar behavior, increase the behavior, decrease the behavior, or stop dong the behavior. Within that, you figure out the duration, as in, is this a one-time deal, or is it for a specific time period, or is it something you want to do permanently.
Here are some examples from Dr. BJ Fogg’s Behavior Grid:
Do New Behavior
Do Familiar Behavior
Stop Doing a Behavior
When you know the type of behavior change you’re trying to make, you can design more effective change strategies.
If you want to change the world, focus on changing behaviors. If you want to change your world, focus on changing your behaviors. (And, remember, thoughts are behaviors, too.)
“Managers help people see themselves as they are; Leaders help people to see themselves better than they are.” — Jim Rohn
Actually, it's leadership development in a book. The book is, Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential, by John Mattone.
Intelligent Leadership is seriously a breakthrough book.
You should be able to tell from my book review, that it's one of the best books on leadership development.
It works the inner and outer you – in a very deep and skillful way. It’s among the best self-paced leadership development books available (and ultimately leadership is powerful personal development in action, as you learn to groom and grow your capabilities, and the capabilities of others with skill.)
It's the real deal, and the book includes significant leadership tools for helping you make the most of what you've got. Mattone is an executive leadership coach and it shows. His book is deep and his leadership tools are powerful. The beauty is just how much he's packed into an actual book, so the tools are right there at your fingertips.
I like the fact that Mattone organizes leadership styles into a set of 9 leadership types:
He says we're a mix of all of them, and that's where our power comes from -- if we know how to harness it. To harness our personal power and to mature our leadership capabilities, we need to learn how to sharpen our strengths, and address our weaknesses. We can use these leadership types to see ourselves and to see others, and to better integrate our strengths when we interact with others.
Another powerful aspect of the book is how Mattone connects your inner goo with your outer you and shows the flow and relationships:
Self-Concept and Character (values, beliefs, and references) -> Thoughts -> Emotions -> Behavioral Tendencies -> Tactical/Strategic Competencies -> Self-Concept and Character.
This is a book that can be your short-cut for getting ahead in today's super competitive world. You don't have to hope for somebody to identify you as high potential. You can own this. You can take your leadership abilities to the next level, using Mattone's prescriptive guidance and leadership tools. You can immediately use his leadership tools to assess where you are, and to identify a very specific leadership development plan.
I would put this book up there wither Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and Tony Robbins’ Unlimited Power. It's more than a book. It's a framework. It's a playbook for building your personal leadership dojo.
When you read the book, John Mattone's 30+ years of experience, and his insight as a leadership coach, will quickly become apparent.
For a "movie trailer" style review of the book, and some of my favorite parts, check out my book review of Intelligent Leadership.
Edward de Bono wrote that scientists and engineers had proven that man-powered flight was impossible because a human couldn’t generate enough horsepower to raise a plane off the ground. Then Paul MacCready did it successfully because he didn’t know it was impossible.
What would you do if you didn't know it was "impossible"?
As Walt Disney said, "It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” Disney was a dreamer and a doer. He was a man of action. He said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Walt Disney turned dreams into reality. According to Walt Disney, the secret of turning dreams into reality is the four C’s: Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy. (See Walt Disney Quotes for a more comprehensive list of Walt Disney’s mantras and thoughts.)
When you study success, “action” is the active ingredient. Edward de Bono agrees that there are "describers" and "doers", where describers are happy enough just to describe or explain something in detail, while "doers" use action to test their ideas and get feedback.
Edward de Bono is fan of combining thought with action: “… there is a continuous synergy between though and action. The suggestion is that you cannot smell a flower at a distance – you have to get up close to it.”
Walt Disney was a fan of combining imagination with action. As Walt Disney said, ““I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.”
Even the best laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry, when the rubber meets the road. You fall down, you get back up, you learn, you change your approach, and you try again.
And that’s where Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy come into play.
It’s how you make your dreams happen.
In the words of Walt Disney, ““If you can dream it, you can do it.”
I read a lot. I read fast. I go through a lot of books each month. Books help give me new ideas and ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper. Books are one of the best ways I get the edge in work and life.
Here are the 5 of the best books I’ve read recently, along with links to my reviews:
When Can You Start?, as the name implies, is all about turning interviews into job offers. It’s a quick read and it tackles many of the common pitfalls you can run into during the interview process. Best of all, it provides a methodical approach for preparing for your interviews, by using your resume as a platform for telling your story in a relevant way. If you’re trying to find a job, this is a great book for helping you get your head in the game, and stand out from the crowd, during the interview process.
Advices is for Winners is a cornucopia of insights and actions for creating an effective board of advisors to help you in work and life. I thought it would be a fluff book, but it was actually a very technical guide. It's written by an engineer, so the advice is very specific, and very data-driven. It includes a lot of lists, such as 6 benefits of getting advice, 22 questions for scoring a scenario, and 28 reasons why people resist advice. Mentors are the short-cuts and getting better advice is how you get ahead.
The Power of Starting Something Stupid is all about how to crush fear, make dreams happen, and live without regret. In the forward, Stephen Covey wrote: "It reminds each of us that all things are possible, that life is short, and to take action now."
Stories that Move Mountains introduces the CAST system for creating visual stories. It’s a powerful book about how to improve your presentation skills using storytelling and visuals. I ended up using some of the ideas in one of my presentations recently to senior leadership, and it helped me prioritize and sequence my slides in a far more effective way.
It's Already Inside directly addresses the question, "Are leaders born or made?" The book is a really great synthesis of the leadership habits and practices that will make you a more productive and more effective leader.
Each of these books has something for you in it. Of course, the challenge for you is to dive inside, find the gems that ring true for you, and apply them.
Sources of Insight is ready for action. It's my blog focused on proven practices for personal effectiveness for work and life. I started it a while back to help you sharpen your skills and to grow your personal capabilities.
The big idea is to help people "stand on the shoulders of giants", drawing from great books, great people, and great quotes.
The big change is the user experience. I upgraded the theme to a modern and responsive design, so now you should be able to read it more easily, even from your phone. The other big change is that it's easier to explore the knowledge base more easily. With the new menu, I got the chance to better surface key topics for you, such as Emotional Intelligence, Personal Effectiveness, Leadership, Personal Development, and Productivity. It's also easier to dive right into the articles or browse by key topics. It's also easier to explore key resources like Checklists or How Tos.
Great Books, Great People, and Great Quotes are also front and center. With Great Books, you can easily browse the best business books, the best leadership books, or the best time management books. With Great People, you can browse lessons learned from Tony Robbins, John Wooden, Stephen Covey, and more. With Great Quotes, you can browse timeless wisdom from folks like Confucius, Buddha, Gandhi, and more.
It’s life wisdom at your fingertips.
Sources of Insight is meant to be a "Garden of Greatness" where you can find specific tools and techniques to help you get the edge in work and life. It also features guest posts from best-selling authors and experts from around the world, who share what they do best.
It’s a work in progress. Your feedback is always welcome to help shape it to something more useful, relevant, insightful, and actionable. I’ll be focusing on sharing a lot more principles, patterns, and practices for key topics in the near future.
The simplest way to get the updates from Sources of Insight is to subscribe -- either subscribe by RSS or subscribe by email.
I’ll add more social features in the future, meanwhile, I’m still exploring the best ways to create an effective platform that’s simple and scales. It’s up to 210,000 monthly readers now, so I’m trying to focus on slow growth, with a strong platform.
While the overall site is focused on personal effectiveness, and especially topics like emotional intelligence, personal development, leadership, and productivity, be sure to let me know if there are scenarios or topics, you’d like me to address.
When you write your Three Wins for today, you set the stage for better results. This simple habit gives you a rapid way to focus, prioritize, and master your time management.
You can do this anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
Here are some examples: I'm on top of my day. I have a draft plan in place for completing the project. I have a great demo to showcase my results.
If you’re having a bad day, maybe your win will simply be “have a great lunch” (we all have those days.)
Those are just a some examples. You have to write the wins that make sense for you. They should be simple, sticky, and easy to say. Your test is whether you can say them without looking them up, and that you believe in them, and they inspire you for the day.
You can identify your Three Wins for the day, by simply asking yourself a question:
What are three wins you want for today?
In other words, if today were over, what are Three Wins that you would want under your belt?
Writing down your Three Wins is the easiest way to get started using Agile Results. Simply write down your three wins for the day, and you're using Agile Results. (I explain this in much more detail and with examples in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.)
It’s simple. It’s effective. It works. It works because you engage your brain, and breathe life into your day, by holding a few vital wins in your mind, to guide you throughout your day.
We have a ton of things coming our way every day. We can be overwhelmed, or run over by requests for our time, meetings galore, waves of email, or simply too much to do, and too little time.
That's one lens.
And that lens shapes our mindset. It's easy to get overloaded, and overwhelmed. It's easy to give up on doing the things that make the difference. In Stephen Covey terms, it's easy to spend too much time on "urgent" things like distractions and interruptions, and not enough time on important things, like our critical activities and important longer term goals, or "sharpening our saw."
But, you can flip this around.
You can use your tools to change your day. When you ask yourself, what are the Three Wins that you want for today, you create a brand new lens. You drive your day. Rather than react to the things coming your way, you can respond. You know if you're trading up or just getting randomized. It's a conscious choice now.
If you want better results each day and for the long haul, you need a simple habit you can use on a daily basis that gives you the edge.
Use your Three Wins to win more in work and life.
One of the best books I've read recently is Advice is for Winners, by Raul Valdes-Perez. It's all about how to get advice for better decisions in work and life. I’ve written a deep review on it:
Book Review: Advice is for Winners
It's a great book whether you are an advice seeker, or serve in a trusted advisor role. It helps you with either role, because the author shares an in-depth look at what holds back people from taking advice, as well as the qualities that make an advisor more effective.
On a personal note, I've had to learn how to seek advice with skill, back when I first joined Microsoft. I started out in Developer Support and it really was a team sport. It was rare for any individual to have all the knowledge to address the complex issues that came our way. Instead, the key was to be very good at finding the answers and expertise around the world. It’s true that two-heads are better than one, and there is a lot of power in the collective perspective – if you know how to use it.
When I joined the Microsoft patterns & practices team, I had to learn how to be good at both seeking out experts as well as giving deep advice about how to put our platform together and make the most of it. One of the biggest challenges I faced on a daily basis was conflicting advice from qualified experts.
At the end of the day, I learned how to use test cases to find and validate the answers and solutions. To do this well, I need to use scenarios and context both to weed out generic or irrelevant advice, and to be able to test advice. Interestingly, the key to finding a solution often involved being able to "repro" (reproduce) the problem or challenge.
Once you could "repro" the problem, you could share it with others and get their heads in the game. Also, often while trying to create a repro, you would find out what the real problem was, or at least, get clarity in the decisions and assumptions.
Sometimes, trying to reproduce the problem wasn't practical, so instead, the goal would be to understand the context or scenario as best you could, and construct a skeletal solution in incremental steps. This way, when somebody tries to duplicate the solution, if something doesn't work along the way, you can usually backtrack to the basic steps. Effectively, you can gradually build up from a working foundation, and when a part of it, doesn't work, you can isolate it, and troubleshoot what's different about the particular context (such as security context, or configuration, etc.)
Back to the book … in Advice is for Winners, Raul provides a great distillation and synthesis on the art of getting advice with skill. What I especially like about the book is that it very much matches what I’ve learned the hard way about giving and getting advice. Raul does a fantastic job of helping you get over any limiting beliefs or mindset that might hold you back from seeking advice. He also does a great job of articulating what holds us back from getting the advice we need.
The backbone of the book is an actionable framework for getting advice that’s principle-based and easy to personalize. If you aren’t sure how to approach people to ask for help, this framework will help you get over that. If you aren’t sure how to deal with conflicting advice, the guidance will help you get over that, too. If you aren’t sure what scenarios to even seek out advice, Raul provides very specific examples and stories. To bottom line it, what you don’t know, can hurt you, and building your advice seeking skills can be a powerful investment that pays you back for the rest of your life in exponential ways that you can’t yet predict.
For a "movie-trailer” style book review of Advice is for Winners, see Book Review: Advice is for Winners.
Becoming a skilled advice seeker might be one of the best capabilities you can build to improve your personal effectiveness.
The operating model is the level of business process integration and business process standardization for delivering goods and services. The operating model is one of the three keys to building a strong foundation for execution (The three keys are: operating model, enterprise architecture, and IT engagement model.)
The key benefits for building a strong foundation for execution include better profits, faster time to market, and cheaper IT costs, as well as more business agility.
By choosing an operating model, you enable IT to play a proactive role in identifying future strategic initiatives, and you define the role of business process standardization and integration that guide daily decisions and tasks.
In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson explain why it’s worth choosing an operating model, how it enables IT to become proactive, and how your operating model becomes a driver of business strategy.
Debating your operating model creates clarity and helps drive a foundation for execution. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
"We encourage senior managers to debate their company's operating model. This debate can force managers to articulate a vision for how the company will operate and how those operations will distinguish the company in the marketplace. In clarifying this vision, management provides critical direction for building a foundation for execution."
According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson there are four operating models for how a company addresses business process integration and business process standardization.
See Diversification, Coordination, Replication, and Unification.
Choosing an operating model puts a stake in the ground, and your operating model becomes a driver for business strategy. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“Because the choice of an operating model guides development of business and IT capabilities, it determines which strategic opportunities the company should -- and should not -- seize. In other words, the operating model, once in place, becomes a driver of business strategy. In addition, the required architecture -- as well as the management thinking, practices, policies, and processes characteristics of each operating model -- is different from one operating model to another. As a result, the operating model could be a key driver of the design of separate organizational units.”
By choosing an operating model, you enable IT to become proactive, and you define the role of business process standardization and integration that impact daily decisions and tasks. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“Focusing on the operating model rather than on individual business strategies gives a company better guidance for developing IT and business process capabilities. This stable foundation enables IT to become a proactive -- rather than reactive -- force in identifying future strategic initiatives. In selecting an operating model, management defines the role of business process standardization and integration in the company's daily decisions and tasks.”
Without a clear operating model, you can’t leverage reusable capabilities, and you’ll lack a strong foundation for execution. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“The operating model concept requires that management put a stake in the ground and declare which business processes will distinguish a company from its competitors. A poor choice of operating model -- one that is not viable in a given market -- will have dire consequences. But not choosing an operating model is just as risky. Without a clear operating model, management careens from one market opportunity to the next, unable to leverage reusable capabilities. With a declared operating model, management builds capabilities that can drive profitable growth.”
You can clarify, debate, and define your operating model (the level of process integration and process standardization) across your business units using the four operating models: diversification, coordination, replication, and unification. By doing so, you set the stage to build a strong foundation for execution, empower IT in a more proactive way, and use your operating model as a driver for business strategy.
For a deeper dive into each of the operating models as well as case studies and examples, check out Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson.
One of my colleagues, Marc Ashbrook, has written a fantastic guest post on how gaming and gamification are reshaping education:
The Gamification of Education
Marc specializes in social collaboration, gamification, and productivity so his insights are always great to see. I’m currently working with Marc on the impact of social in the Enterprise, and it’s a fascinating journey, and very eye-opening. We’ve spent several brainstorming sessions on looking at the ways in which social tools can accelerate employee learning and productivity as well as how companies can use social to connect with customers on a much deeper level, and gain new insights.
Education is a great place for innovation and change. It’s one of the hot spots I called out in my Trends for 2013 post. Challenge and change are breeding grounds for innovation. In our age of insight, one of the biggest bottlenecks is how quickly you can learn and adapt to our ever-changing world. Related to that, how quickly can you learn new skills or build new capabilities.
Continuous learning is your friend.
The trick is how to learn more rapidly and effectively, while enjoying your learning path. That’s where gamification steps in. You can choose your own learning adventure, and the world’s information is at your fingertips in more ways than ever before. This sets the stage for amazing immersive experiences, and finding ways to learn that suit your style.
I’ve been asked to do a lot of Agile retrospectives around Microsoft over the years. I don’t know how it started, but it started several years ago when somebody recommended that I lead a retrospective for their team, and then it caught fire from there.
In this post, I’ll share a simple recipe you can use as a baseline to help shape your Agile retrospectives for building high-performance teams.
Agile retrospectives are a powerful way to help teams go from good to great, and to help less than good teams, get better fast. The value of a retrospective is the learning and insight that you can carry forward. A retrospective is a look back with an open mind on the collective learning around what to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing.
With that in mind, the true value is in the actual change in the people, process, or technology that supports your ability to flow value.
To drive a great Agile retrospective, it helps to know what gets in the way or what goes wrong:
Below is a recipe that you can use that should help you get started or improve your retrospectives. Nothing is set in stone, but it helps to see some things that have worked time and again (the timeless truths.) Be sure to adapt as you see fit, but at the end of the day, remember that establishing is important, and that your best outcome is a short list of what to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing – that you actually implement.
I’ve found two Edward de Bono techniques help deal with conflict during hot topics are:
I find these techniques help keep an open and curious mind. Especially if you use them in a question-driven way and keep it simple. Rather than have people arguing different sides at the same time, have them argue the same side at the same time, and then switch perspectives (or “hats.”)
· White Hat – the facts and figures
· Red Hat – the emotional view
· Black Hat – the “devil’s advocate”
· Yellow Hat – the positive side
· Green Hat – the creative side
· Blue Hat – the organizing view
· What are the facts and figures?
· What’s your gut reaction? How do you feel about this?
· Why can’t we do this? What prevents us? What’s the downside?
· How can we do this?
· What are additional opportunities?
· How should we think about this? (what are the metaphors or mental models)
Sometimes, the best way to help people stay open and
How to Shift to Dialogue:
You can skip doing an affinity diagram exercise, if folks are comfortable with each other and there's no recent new members. Otherwise, it's overhead, but it helps for the following:
There are other tricks of the trade, but if you focus on a clear agenda, compelling outcomes, and manage the conflict while driving an open dialogue, you’ll be in good shape.
May the power of Agile retrospectives serve you well.
Your operating model is determined by your choices around how you handle integration and standardization for your business processes. Your choices around your operating model can dramatically influence and impact your ability to compete in the market.
A clear operating model decision has a profound effect on how you implement your business processes and IT infrastructure. For example, if you don’t have a clear operating model, then it can be like starting from scratch, each time you have a new imitative. You won’t be able to bring forward any automated, pre-existing, low-cost capabilities to your new strategic pursuits.
The challenge is that selecting an operating model is a commitment to a way of doing business. The upside is that if you make deliberate choices around the integration of shared data, you can gain increased efficiency, coordination, transparency, and agility. And, through deliberate choices around standardization of business processes, you can drive efficiency and predictability across the company, which can lead to dramatic increases in throughput and efficiency.
In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson write about how to analyze and categorize your company or business unit’s operating model based on four models: Diversification, Coordination, Replication, and Unification.
You can increase your operational excellence, customer impact, product development and strategic agility through better choices around business process integration and business process standardization. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“Our research suggests the payoff for making that choice can be huge. Companies without a foundation for execution supporting an operating model reported 17 percent greater strategic effectiveness than other companies – a metric positively correlated with profitability. These companies also reported higher operational proficiency (31%), customer intimacy (33%), product leadership (34%), and strategic agility (29%) than companies that had not developed a foundation for execution.”
When you analyze how a company approaches business process integration and business process standardization, four different quadrants emerge. This helps you see the distinctions between each strategy in a s simple way. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“We have developed a straightforward two-dimensional model with four quadrants, representing different combinations of the levels of business process integration and standardization. Every company should position itself in one of these quadrants to clarify how it intends to deliver goods and services to customers.”
According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson, companies adopt different models at different levels. For example, they might adopt one operating model at the enterprise level, but then a different model at the division, business unit, region, or other level. To figure out which of the four quadrants your company or business unit mostly belongs, Ross, Weill, and Robertson suggest asking two questions:
This helps you figure out your business process integration requirements and your business process standardization requirements.
Diversification is effectively "independence with shared services." Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
"Diversification applies to companies whose business unit have few common customers, suppliers, or ways of doing business. Business units in diversified companies offer different products and services to different customers, so central management exercises limited control over those business units.”
Coordination is "seamless access to shared data." Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“Coordination calls for high levels of integration but little standardization of processes. Business units in a Coordination company share one or more of the following: customers, products, suppliers, and partners. The benefits of integration can include integrated customer service, cross-selling, and transparency across supply chain processes. While key business processes are integrated, however, business units have unique operations, often demanding unique capabilities.”
Replication is "standardized independence." Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“Replication models grant autonomy to business units but run operations in a highly standdardized fashion. In a Replication model the company's success is dependent on efficient, repeatable business processes rather than on shared customer relationships. The business units are not dependent on one another's transactions or data; the success of the company as a whole is dependent on global innovationand the efficiency of all business units implementing a set of standardized business processes. Accordingly business unit managers have limited discretion over business process design, even though they operate independently of other business units.”
Unification is "standardized, integrated processes." Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
"When organizational units are tightly integrated around a standardized set of processes, companies benefit from a Unification model. Companies applying this model find little benefit in business unit autonomy. They maximize efficiencies and customer services by presenting integrated data and driving variability out of business processes.”
For a deep dive into each of the operating models as well as case studies and examples, check out Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson. It’s one of those kinds of books that you can tell is born from experience, rather than just theory. It’s rich with data and authoritative, prescriptive guidance to help you mature and transform your company to compete in today’s arena (it’s a powerful collection of proven practices and timeless advice, and extremely relevant to our emerging digital economy.)
Make your operating model a clear choice. Choose the appropriate levels of integration and standardization that help you build a strong foundation for execution and improve your strategic agility.
Your company's foundation for execution will make or break your survival in the market for the long haul. How can you incrementally build and shape the foundation, while executing projects? How do you connect and align IT with your business vision, while shaping your foundation for execution?
You can use three linking mechanisms to build and shape your company's foundation.
In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson write about three linking mechanisms that help you build and shape the company's foundation.
Linking mechanisms are the key to building and shaping your company’s foundation for execution. You can incrementally shape the foundation as you drive projects. You can also inform your company’s foundation as you learn from your projects. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“Good linking mechanisms ensure that projects incrementally build the company's foundation and that the design of the company's foundation (it's operating model and enterprise architecture) is informed by projects.”
According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson, the three linking mechanisms are:
Architecture linkage connects projects to IT governance choices about architecture. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“Architecture linkage establishes and updates standards, reviews projects for compliance, and approves exceptions. Architecture linkage connects the IT governance decisions about architecture with project design decisions. For example, a company working to increase integration may have a mechanism for insisting that a supply chain project -- rather than focus narrowly on its own data needs -- restructure an inventory database so that it facilitates anticipated future uses of the inventory data. Companies may fulfill architecture linkage with one mechanism, such as an architecture review board. More commonly, firms employ multiple mechanisms, ranging from architect training programs to architecture exception processes.”
Business linkage links projects to business goals. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“Similarly, business linkage ensure that business goals are translated effectively into project goals. Business linkage coordinates projects, connects them to larger transformation efforts, and focuses projects on attacking specific problems in the best possible way. For example, a key linking mechanism for companies pursuing companywide standardized processes is the use of process owners with primary responsibility for designing and updated processes. Business linkage also includes incentive programs to guide behavior as new projects demand new ways of thinking.”
Alignment linkage connects business and IT relationships. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“Alignment linkage mechanisms ensure ongoing communication and negotiation between IT and business concerns. Business-IT relationship managers or business unit CIOs are typically a critical linkage for translating back and forth between business goals and IT constraints. Other mechanisms in this category include a project management office, training and certification of project managers, and metrics for assessing projects.”
It’s a maturity thin. The more you practice the linking mechanisms, the more it becomes an organizational habit. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“Earlier we noted that a company's management practices evolve through the stages of architectural maturity. Many of these evolving practices are linking mechanisms. As they are implemented and improved, they contribute to increasing sophistication of the IT engagement model. Over time, linking mechanisms can become increasingly embedded in IT governance and project management processes so that linking becomes an organizational habit.”
A strong foundation for execution for your company includes an operating model, an enterprise architecture, and an IT engagement model. If your company builds a strong foundation for execution, you can experience higher profitability, faster time to market, and lower IT costs.
In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson share how a company can build a foundation for execution.
According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson, the operating model is the vision of how the company will operate. The enterprise architecture is the key architectural requirements for the foundation for execution, as defined by the Business and IT leaders, and based on the operating model. The IT engagement model specifies how each project benefits from, and contributes to, the foundation for execution.
The key benefits for building a strong foundation for execution include better profits, faster time to market, and cheaper IT costs. But, those aren't the only reasons you would want to build a strong foundation for execution. Additionally, growing complexity in a company's systems can create inflexibility in the systems, and excessive costs, without added value. Also, business agility depends on a strong foundation for execution. More agile companies have their core processes digitized. Changes in regulations are another reason to have a strong foundation for execution so that you can increase the likelihood that necessary data is available or can easily be obtained. Lastly, building a foundation is less risky than the alternative. You can use ongoing projects to steadily build your foundation for execution, while decreasing IT costs, and increasing business efficiencies.
According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson, the three keys are:
The operating model is the level of business process integration and standardization for delivering goods and services. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“The operating model is the necessary level of business process integration and standardization for delivering goods and services to customers. Different companies have different levels of process integration across their business units (i.e., the extent to which business uits share data.) Integration enables end-to-end processing and a single face to the customer, but it forces a common understanding of data across diverse business units. Thus, companies need to make overt decisions about the importance of process integration. Management also must decide on the appropriate level of business process standardization (i.e., the extent to which business units will perform the same process the same way). Process standardization creates efficiencies across business units but limits opportunities to customize services. The operating model involves a commitment to how the company will operate.”
The enterprise architecture is how you organize the business processes and IT infrastructure to support the operating model. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“The enterprise architecture is the organizing logic for business processes and IT infrastructure, reflecting the integration and standardization requirements of the company's operating model. The enterprise architecture provides a long-term view of a company's processes, systems, and technologies so that individual projects can build capabilities - not just fulfill immediate needs. Companies go through four stages in learning how to take an enterprise architecture approach to designing business processes: Business Silos, Standardized Technology, Optimized Core, and Business Modularity. As a company goes through its stages, its foundation for execution takes on increased strategic importance.”
The IT engagement model helps align business and IT, and ensures that individual solutions are guided by the enterprise architecture. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“The IT engagement model is the system of governance mechanisms that ensure business and IT projects achieve both local and companywide objectives. The IT engagement model influences project decisions so that individual solutions are guided by the enterprise architecture. The engagement model provides for alignment between the IT and business objectives of projects, and coordinates the IT and business process decisions made at multiple organizational levels (e.g., companywide, business unit, project). To do so, the model establishes linkages between senior-level IT decisions, such as project prioritization and companywide process design, and project-level implementation decisions.”
If you want to stay in your market for the long-haul, exploring how to build a strong foundation for execution, if you don’t have one already, can be one of your best moves.
Getting things done during a big project can be a real series of humps and hurdles. You can quickly get overloaded and overwhelmed if you don’t have a way to stay on top of things and to outpace your problems.
I wrote a post on SWAT Mode for Extreme Productivity.
“SWAT Mode” is the term we used on one of my early teams in patterns & practices. When we would start falling behind and our backlog was out of control, we would go into SWAT Mode. In SWAT Mode, we used extreme focus and high-energy to get things done. We would swarm our problems as a team, in an “all hands on deck” sort of way, and blast through our backlog like it was nobody’s business.
What I didn’t realize at the time, but later appreciated, was how these short-bursts of extreme focus and energy created momentum that helped us complete our projects time, on budget time, and high impact, time and time again. During any significant project, it’s easy to fall behind, and gradually get overwhelmed by a lot of little things that add up.
Going into SWAT Mode, really starts with a mindset. You drive from a sense of urgency, with the intention of getting things done. You switch gears into overdrive and you plow through the pile that stands before you.
The beauty of going into SWAT Mode is not just the fact that you get back on top of things. It’s also that while you are in SWAT mode, you often experience states of flow. You’re fully engaged. You’re not distracted. You’re challenged and putting your skills to the test at a faster pace. You’re fully engaged.
It can be hard to get people into SWAT Mode if they haven’t done it before. One of the simplest ways is to take the team offsite, and focus for the day. Changing the environment makes it easier to try something new. The best way to start off is to put a short list of the high impact outcomes you want to achieve. These are the things that have eaten away at your energy and bogged you down. It’s time to tackle them and blast through them, or at least put a serious dent in them.
The worst case scenario is that you don’t make as much progress as you wanted. The best case is that you’ve gotten rid of the things that were starting to hold you back and wear you down. Instead of you getting overwhelmed, you overwhelmed your problem. Sometimes, that’s exactly what it takes. The more you learn to outpace your problems, the more you learn to stay on top of things in simpler and more sustainable ways.
Why do some companies survive and thrive in the face of global competition? What do some companies do differently so they are growing and making money, having more productive employees, getting more from their investments, and having more success with their strategic initiatives?
They digitize their core processes.
In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson write about how to turn IT into an asset rather than a liability.
Companies that survive and thrive can execute their core operations in a reliable and efficient way. They can do so because they’ve digitized their core operations. In this way, they’ve turned their IT investment into an asset versus a liability, and they’ve achieved business agility. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“We believe these companies execute better because they have a better foundation for execution. They have embedded technology in their processes so that they can efficiently and reliably execute their core operations of the company. These companies have made tough decisions about what they must execute well, and they've implemented the IT systems they need to digitize those operations. These actions have made IT an asset rather than a liability and have created a foundation for business agility.”
Digitizing your core operations can lead to higher profitability, faster time to market, and more value from IT investments. And, lower IT costs. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“We surveyed 103 U.S. and European companies about their IT and IT-enabled business processes. Thirty-four percent of those companies have digitized their core processes. Relative to their competitors, these companies have higher profitability, experience a faster time to market, and get more value from their IT investments. They have better access to shared customer data, lower risk of mission-critical systems failures, and 80 percent higher senior management satisfaction with technology. Yet, companies who have digitized their core processes have 25 percent lower IT costs. These are the benefits of an effective foundation for execution.”
Some companies just don’t get it. They cut, but they don’t create value. Meanwhile, the companies that do get it, pull further ahead. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“In contrast, 12 percent of the companies we studied are frittering away management attention and technology investments on a myriad of (perhaps) locally sensible projects that don't support enterprise-wide objectives. Another 48 percent of the companies are cutting waste from their IT budgets but haven't figured out how to increase value from IT. Meanwhile, a few leading-edge companies are leveraging a foundation for execution to pull further and further ahead.”
With a strong foundation for execution, you can achieve business agility and profitable growth. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“As such statistics show, companies with a good foundation for execution have an increasing advantage over those that don't. In this book, we describe how to design, build, and leverage a foundation for execution. Based on survey and case study research at more than 400 companies in the United States and Europe, we provide insights, tools, and a language to help managers recognize their core operations, digitize their core to more efficiently support their strategy, and exploit their foundation for execution to achieve business agility and profitable growth.”
I’m lucky enough to be on the Enterprise Strategy team at Microsoft. A focus in Enterprise Strategy is to help a company identify their core business and IT capabilities and to pick the best opportunities to transform their business in a scenario-based way. Changes at the capability level have a ripple effect across people, process, and technology. It’s effectively the business of business transformation. The goal is to accelerate business value and help these companies survive and thrive in changing times.
Speaking of changing times, the Cloud is really a great forcing function for business transformation. More and more companies are looking at what they should do to make the most of what Cloud, mobile, social, and big data bring to the table. I’ve been watching the transformations unfold and hearing the stories from the trenches.
I’ll be talking more about the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, in the near future, as it’s one of the best books on how to create a foundation for business execution, and I get to see it in action. Our Enterprise Architects tell me stories about how they are leading their customers on journeys to the Cloud and transforming IT for competitive advantage.
These are truly exciting times to be at the leading edge of business transformation.
As I’ve delivered Agile Results training to more organizations, I’ve had to really get crisp on how to get started. Like anything, there are so many possible ways, and what people really are looking for is a simple way to test the waters to see if it’s for them.
I’ve updated my Getting Started with Agile Results page.
I think it really captures the spirit now. The most important insight I’ve learned is that the easiest way to adopt Agile Results is to focus on Three Wins: Three Wins for the Day, Three Wins for the Week, Three Wins for the Month, and Three Wins for the Year. And, the easiest way to get started with Agile Results is to write down Three Wins for today.
I remember the time when a friend of mine was telling me what he liked about Agile Results. He said he liked the fact he could write down Three Wins on a piece of paper and he’s doing Agile Results.
It took a while to sink in, because I knew how much more Agile Results is capable of. But, eventually, time and again, it’s adopting this one habit that helps adopt the others. It’s a great place to start.
Why is writing down your Three Wins a great place to start? It almost sounds too easy. In fact, it sounds so easy that it’s easy to dismiss. And, that’s exactly the problem. We don’t usually walk around knowing what we want out of our day. We usually just know all the things we have to do. We get mired in muck and don’t take a few minutes to figure out what’s the value before diving in. Imagine how many times you’ve thrown hours at something, only to find out that it didn’t matter or it was nice to do, but when you look back, it was a complete waste of time?
By writing down the Three Wins that you want to achieve for the day, you take a moment to engage your brain, and actually check whether it’s worth it. Are those really “wins” or just things you’re doing? What’s the challenge or opportunity? What’s the challenge and what’s the change? (Tip – the value is always in the change.)
Here’s a quick example. Clearing my workspace might seem like a win. But, the real win is if I re-organize my workspace so that I’m more effective on a daily basis. I move up the stack. I change my routine into something better.
My wins come from changing something into more value, or responding to key challenges and opportunities. Wins come from turning things into something that is better, faster, cheaper. Wins come from moving yourself up the stack, by turning routines and things “below the line” into value that’s “above the line.”
The value is in the change.
One of the messages I don’t think I stressed enough is how Agile Results helps you become a more effective change agent. It’s a powerful tool for personal transformation. It’s a powerful system for winning in work and life. The change agent aspect is the fact that the wins you identify as part of Monday Vision or as part of your Three Wins for the day, Three Wins for the month, or Three Wins for the year, are really powerful changes. They are powerful because you’ve articulated a change. They are powerful because they help you take action against a meaningful outcome.
Change is a challenge, and the advantage of Agile Results is that it puts the power of routines, repetition, and results on your side. By putting just enough structure in place, you move up the stack. Routines and repetition help you concentrate your effort and find ways to do things better, fast, and cheaper. This keeps you moving up the stack versus reinventing how to do the basics all the time. It also scales with you and stretches to fit. If you’re ready to take on bigger challenges, then focus on bigger wins.
Agile Results is really like a Russian nesting doll. It’s simple, but there is more than meets the eye. You can open it up and find more inside. And you can open that up, and find yet more. What keeps it “Evergreen” and timeless is that it’s a system that’s principle-based, value-driven, and built on the basics.
If you haven’t done so already, a great way to master getting results is 30 Days of Getting Results. It includes little lessons and exercises you can do to profoundly improve your ability to get results in work and life. The funny thing is I used Agile Results to create 30 Days of Getting Results. I made it my 30 Day Sprint, and each day, I used a 20 minute timebox to write as much value as I could about how to get results. What you’ll notice is that as the lessons progress, my writing flowed more, and I gradually got better at creating better daily lessons and insights. Looking back, I’m actually amazed at how I was able to create each lesson in 20 minutes or less, but I’m glad I did, and it’s a great reminder of what’s possible with focus, inspiration, and a compelling vision.
If you’re already a master of Agile Results, challenge yourself to lift others up and help them use Agile Results to win at work and win at life.
A Kanban is a great tool for improving your process. The real power of the Kanban is that you can start from where you are. Rather than fit you into a process, you can use a Kanban to mirror or reflect your current process. You decide how you want to visualize your work, and you divide your Kanban board accordingly.
If you need more visibility, then you can break your Kanban board down even further. For example, when you start off, maybe you just want to know, what’s in development and test, and what you’ve released:
As you go, you might find that development really involves requirements analysis and design, so you might add those:
In this way, you can unfold your process to add clarity and visibility. You can evolve your process as your team evolves. And that’s really the beauty. You don’t have fit yourself into a canned process. Instead, you mirror your process on the wall. This helps everybody on the team see the “system” of development at a glance. If you see it, you can improve it.
Because it’s a living process, it’s very easy to adapt as you learn, and to add meaningful stages, or consolidate as needed.
Your stages ultimately reflect a significant or meaningful change in state (e.g. The item was in development, and now it’s in test, or now it’s ready for release.)
When you visualize your workflow with a Kanban, you’ll also more easily notice where your bottlenecks are occurring. If everything is getting stuck in test, you might find be able to do a few things up stream to improve the flow. For example, maybe there are a few simple guidelines or checks that you can do during development to simplify your test stage.
A great approach is to add notes below each stage, such as key checks or process improvements to perform. Everybody will get to see and feel the impact of the process improvements. Flow is feedback. If things aren’t flowing, something needs attention.
One of the things a Kanban helps you do is to break things down. You can use a Kanban to divide and conquer your work. If you notice that things are bottlenecking at a certain stage, you can pay attention to how big things are. Can you break them down further? Don’t let the big get in the way of the small. Similarly, don’t let the small derail the big.
Progress is a key to happiness and job satisfaction. Your Kanban can be a powerful tool for collaboration, productivity, and process improvement.
Wanting to improve is not enough. Taking action, getting feedback and responding is. It sounds simple, but it’s one of the most powerful ways to rapidly improve your results.
See it, do it, review it, improve it.