J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

February, 2012

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    Agile Results: It Works for Teams and Leaders Too

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    “No one can whistle a symphony.  It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”  -- H.E. Luccock

    A colleague of mine that’s been using Agile Results as an individual contributor asked me about how to apply Agile Results to a team as a manager.   It’s actually a question that I get a lot, so I figured I’d share the answer here.

    On a good note, Agile Results was born for teams.  It arose from chaos, madness, and mayhem to drive vision, clarity, and agility for distributed teams around the world.  All the practices that apply to the individual, apply to the team – it sets the rhythm, cadence, and clarity to operate more effectively.  It works for teams of various shapes and sizes, from software to consulting firms to non-profits to pizza shops.  (Side note – A local pizzeria owner I know used Agile Results to refocus and revitalize his team to transform his business and it was night and day.   The Rule of Three is his favorite recipe for success Winking smile

    Here are some quick notes on how to apply it at the team / manager level …

    Agile Results for Teams

    Item

    Notes

    3 Wins for the Week

    Identify three wins for the week at the team level.  Encourage individuals to identify their three wins for the week.   This is Monday Vision.

    3 Wins for the Day

    Encourage individuals to drive for three wins each day.  These are Daily Outcomes.

    3 Wins for the Month

    Identify three wins for the month at the team level.  Encourage individuals to identify their three wins for the month.

    Monthly Theme/Focus

    One driving theme for the month, such as “simplicity” … something helps move wins forward and give meaning to the month.  This is a Monthly Improvement Sprint.

    “Ten at Ten”

    If you have a “ten at ten” meeting (ten minutes at 10:00 am), then you can ask folks what they got done, what they are working on, and where they need help.  This gets everybody on the same page fast, helps debottleneck the team, and helps acknowledge the work being done.

    Weekly Team Meeting

    In the team meeting, go around the table and ask folks to talk about their wins.

    Think of it as a “3x3” system.

    It's a simple structure but you get a lot of synergy.  The big deal is that it helps you flow value in a more fluid way.   When you focus on outcomes and wins, you set your eyes on the prize and get out of your own way to unleash the creative force of the team.   The team can solve problems and deal with any setbacks when they have shared compelling goals and a way to focus.  It’s a learning system and you get better over time.

    You don’t have to start all at once.  The practices are better together, but if you do nothing else, simply start by identifying three wins for your week.  Go for the wins and help people find their fun factor.   This is how people really get engaged and find their flow.

    Additional Practices

    Item

    Notes

    40 Hour Work Week

    Drive the team to a 40 hour work week baseline.  Brains are better when they are rested and relaxed.  Use the timebox at the week level to ruthlessly prioritize and focus on flowing value.

    Pairing

    Pair people up on the team to rapidly cross-pollinate skills and to spread and amplify success.

    Friday Reflection

    Individuals on the team, and you, should reflect on three things going well and three things to improve.  Carry the lessons forward and bake them into each new week.   This builds continuous improvement.

    Sweet Spot

    Push people to spend more time in their strengths and less time in the things that drain them.

    This may look simple, but the message you are driving is: “Outcomes, not activities!”

    This changes everything.   You will see folks quickly rise from the weeds and focus on wins.

    This should start to build momentum and buzz.

    The beauty in all this is that you can easily ask simple questions in the hall, such as, “What are the three wins for the week?”

    This drives greater focus, clarity, and the right behaviors .. it’s all about flowing value for yourself and others, with the end-in-mind, and in a balanced way.

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    Spirit Magazine Mentions Getting Results the Agile Way

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    Back in December, an editor from Southwest Airlines Spirit magazine reached out to me because they were going to feature a story on goal-setting that mentions my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.   The story is on the first paraplegic ever to walk again.

    They wanted to confirm my book's key message.   They have an audience of more than 3 million so they wanted to get it right.  Here is what they proposed is the key message in Getting Results the Agile Way:

    "Rather than letting the little stuff rule your life, define just three things you’d like to accomplish within a given time frame (a year, week, or day). Then define the individual tasks you need to accomplish during that time. Regularly scheduled reviews at the end of each period keep you from veering off course."

    I thought it was a great synopsis and I was flattered for a mention in such a powerful article.

    The article is called Luck and Desire.  It's by Nathaniel Reade, and it's a seriously good article.  Check it out.

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    Agile Results in Russian

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    Yury wrote a great post on Agile Results in Russian.    The post is titled, Agile Results - a new approach to personal effectiveness. Description of the basic techniques and principles, and it's on a Russian productivity blog -- betteri.ru.

    What I like about the post is that Yury gave a simple description and then walked some of the big ideas and enumerated the values, the principles, and the practices. 

    In my experience, one of the best ways to share any system is to focus on sharing the principles, the practices and the values.   The principles help guide and focus on outcomes rather than have a rule for every occasion.   Practices are a great way to share “techniques”, especially if you give them fun or memorable names.   For example, I tested different names and went with things like Rule of Three, Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection, and Hot Spots.   The values help bring like minds together and that helps the system grow.)

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    Idea to Done: How I Use a Personal Kanban for Getting Results

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    I’ve been using personal Kanbans for several years, thanks to early guidance from Corey Ladas.  In fact, the first time I used a personal Kanban was back in 2004 to “pull” a set of high-demand How To articles for .NET Security.

    The beauty of the Kanban is it scales up and down, from an individual to a team.  I’ve used Kanbans to help shape process, drive clarity and shift from “push” to “pull”, and to eliminate bottlenecks in terms of shipping stuff on time and on budget.   I’ve also used them to improve quality, and to push quality checks up stream, where they are cheaper to deal with.  But for my personal Kanban, it’s just a simple way to stay motivated, see the work that needs to be done, and to easily avoid biting off too much as the same time.

    “Idea to Done” Board
    One of my favorite ways to create a personal Kanban is to create a very simple “Idea to Done” board. 

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    The sample above is a personal Kanban I use to drive creating How Tos for Getting Results the Agile Way.   It consists of three columns: 

    1. Idea
    2. Doing
    3. Done

    The thing to keep I mind with a Kanban is to achieve two primary goals:

    1. Visualize the work / workflow.
    2. Reduce open work.

    Word or PowerPoint for Personal Kanbans (“Pages” and “One-Sliders”)
    I usually create my personal Kanban in either Word or PowerPoint, so that it’s easy to update and share, wherever I go.  While I prefer whiteboards and stickies for team Kanbans, I’ve found that a single slide deck in PowerPoint, or a simple page in a Word doc works wonders.    I’ve tried little portable whiteboards and mini-stickies, but that just dioesn’t work for me over time.  If it’s a Kanban I can leave at home, then a whiteboard and stickies works great, because I love the visual impact and the ease of use.

    My main goal is to see at a glance, “To Do”, “Doing,” and “Done.”   If the demand is not that clear, I call it “Ideas.”  If I have a lot of clarity, I call it “To Do.”    Sometimes I keep the lists separate, depending on how much I have.  I stay flexible in my approach. 

    The key to effectiveness with a personal Kanban ultimately comes down to how well it helps you “flow” value.  If you keep that in mind, then that’s a good way to keep refining your approach, until you find what works for you.

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    Getting Results Site Redesign

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    While writing some more articles on the art and science of getting results, I took a quick detour to do a redesign of Getting Results.com    I’m testing a new and simpler landing page, focused on three actions:

    1. Read the book
    2. Buy the book
    3. Explore the Knowledge Base

    I also fixed up the Knowledge Base and the Testimonials page.   Here are the key pages with a new look and feel …

    Getting Results.com - http://gettingresults.com

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    Knowledge Base - http://gettingresults.com/wiki/Knowledge_Base

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    Testimonials - http://gettingresults.com/wiki/Testimonials

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    Scott Hanselman had been pushing me to simplify the design and put more focus on simple actions.  I think the home page now achieves this.   I think it simultaneously makes it easier to get the story behind it, and to watch a quick video that talks about how it’s used in the real world, as a productivity and time management system, beyond Microsoft.

    I wish I could share all the stories that people send me of their transformations, but I only share if somebody says it’s OK.   That said, the Testimonials page has a good set with a variety of people and circumstances.

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    Office 365 Links and Resources

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    While looking for key Office 365 resources, I found the following to be useful starting points:

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    Portfolio Management

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    How do you manage your portfolio of IT investments?  Do you have a mental model for portfolio management?   Here is an example:

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    While there are a lot of ways to manage a portfolio, I find the frame above to be highly effective.  It’s from the Cranfield School of Management in the UK.   It’s a very simple frame:

    • Two dimensions:   Value Today vs. Value Tomorrow
    • Four Quadrants:  High-Potential, Strategic, Key Operational, and Support

    The key is to know where your investments are in terms of this map.  A common path for investments is to move through the quadrants in this order:  High-Potential, Strategic, Key Operational, and Support.

    Example Investment Ratios
    Here is an example of a common investment spread:

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    Above the Line
    A cutting question to ask about your portfolio management is, “Are you operating above the line?”   This cuts to the chase to answer two key questions:

    1. Are you operating on the top half of the chart?
    2. Are you working on things that create business value for your future?

    You can use this frame to look at cloud investments … your current business investments … how you spend your time … etc.   It can be a lens for a life, and a lens for learning … and a way to shape your path forward by flowing more value and staying in the game for the road ahead.

    Here is a nice distillation of IT Portfolio Management and how to think about it as it relates to the cloud.

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    Happy Valentine’s Day

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    In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I have a guest post from a colleague, Rob Boucher on lessons in love.   It’s no ordinary post.  Rob dives deep.  If you’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places or just want to grow what you know about love, it’s a lengthy post on the ins and outs of love, and finding your way forward.    To put it in context, it’s what Rob knows now that he wish he knew then.

    Rob has a developer background, he’s a musician, and he has a passion for customers.   Microsoft has been his stomping ground for making impact in big ways, including The Microsoft Application Architecture Guide.  He’s on the Windows Azure product team now, working on some amazing things.

    Check out Rob’s post on what he’s learned about love, and use the lessons he’s learned the hard way to serve you for life.

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    Scale Things Down so You Actually Do Them

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    If you find there are things you really need to do, but don’t do, then scale them down, so that you do.  Make taking action so easy that there’s no excuse not to do it.  Or make it small enough that you can take action within the small windows you have.   This means shaving things down to the bare essentials.

    When something is good to do, it’s easy to make it bigger than it needs to be.  It’s easy to tack on more things.   It’s very easy to make things grow so big, that you no longer do them.  It’s the little friction that adds up over time.

    A perfect example is planning.  Whether it’s planning your day, or planning your week, or planning a month.  It’s very easy to make it big.  It’s very easy to make it so big that eventually you don’t do it.  Or it’s easy to make it so big that there’s no time to actually do your plan.   The trick is to do “just enough” planning, that you can execute it and actually implement your plans.

    This is a very big reason why Agile Results is lean.   I had to keep it so lean that I could use it in any scenario, and get results fast.  I have way too much going on to skip planning.  I have to make sure I’m working on the right things, at the right time, the right way, with the right energy.   Because I lead project teams, planning is even more important.  Keeping it light weight makes sure that I can always do it.

    Here’s how I use Agile Results in the lightest way for maximum results:

    • On Mondays, I identify three wins I want for the week.
    • Each day, I identify three wins I want for the day.
    • On Fridays, I identify three things going well, and three things to improve.

    This pattern for weekly results creates a “learning loop” of continuous improvement.  More importantly, it helps me rise above the noise by focusing on outcomes, not activities.   Because I have clarity in the outcome, I can shave off everything that is non-essential.

    It’s this light-weight approach to planning that helps me take more action on the right things.  It’s this light-weight approach that helps me adapt for any situation.   It’s this same light-weight approach that helps me scale across a team very quickly to make sure that, as a team, we are all working on the right things, at the right time, the right way, with the right energy.

    I’ve never had a day where it was a good idea to throw my time and energy all day at something without first asking myself, “What are three outcomes I want for today?”  It’s the difference between lucking into success, or succeeding by design.

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    Simplified Home Page for Getting Results the Agile Way

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    I made significant changes to simplify the home page for Getting Results the Agile Way:

    I focused on making the following scenarios simpler and more discoverable:

    1. Browsing Getting Results the Agile Way in HTML
    2. Getting Started with Agile Results.
    3. Reading testimonials.
    4. Reading stories and case studies.
    5. Browsing the Knowledge Base.

    I also put Checklists, Guidelines, How Tos, and Templates at your finger tips. You can master Focus, Goals, Motivation, Time Management, and more.

    Hopefully the site better exemplifies simplicity, effectiveness, and excellence.  If there are key things you would like to see on the site, use the contact form on this blog and let me know.  Keep in mind I am building out a rich collection of How Tos, Slides, Videos, and more.  

    Note that there is also a companion site of free time management training, 30 Days of Getting Results, at http://30DaysOfGettingResults.com .

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    Drive Your Week with Skill

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    You can drive your week or your week drives you.   One of the ways I add sanity to the chaos of my week is the Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection pattern.   It’s a simple way to setup a rhythm of results for the week.

    Monday Vision – Three Wins for the Week
    On Sundays or Mondays, I identify three wins I want for the week.   For example:

    1. Alignment on approach X across the four teams.
    2. A baseline information architecture for “fast-pathing” cloud architecture.
    3. A usable prototype for cloud strategy “on a page.”

    Power Hours for Exponential Results
    Some of the work requires “heavy lifting” in terms of extreme concentration and focus.   To do that well, I make sure that I allocate some of my “Power Hours” to these problems.   This will help me take cover more ground in a better, faster, and simpler way.  For me, my best hours tend to be 8am, 10am, 2pm, and 4pm.   I’ll use these to move the big rocks each day, or at least chip away at the stone.

    When I make the mistake of working on a tough problem during a non-power hour, I end up wasting time, unless it’s exploration and creative work.   If I need to make significant progress, my single best move is to use my Power Hours.   That’s how I do ten hours of work, within a single hour.   It’s me at my best.  It’s firing on all cylinders.  I can do mental sprints during those hours, and deal with the worst setbacks, and still make the most ground.

    Stories to Light Up Meaningful Work
    I use simple, “one-liner” stories to make my goals or tasks more meaningful.  I try to connect my goals back to my values.   For example, I value customer impact, so instead of “call a customer”, I “win a raving fan.”   I also value adventure, so instead of just driving my project, I’m “leading an epic adventure.”   It takes practice to frame work in terms of more meaningful achievements, but the key thing to remember is …

    You are always the most important meaning-maker in your life.

    The story is in the change.   You are the actor.   That’s the empowering part.   Whether it’s achieving a private victory, or making great things happen in your world of work, it’s about inspiring yourself with skill.  You do that by connecting what you do to your values, and making a story out of it.   This also helps when you have to tell and sell the value of what you do, and for yourself when you need to recap what’s going well.

    Daily Outcomes – Three Wins for the Day
    Each day, one of the best things you can do is write down three wins you want to achieve.   It’s not activities.  It’s outcomes.   Focus on the end-in-mind, and you can use these three outcomes to help prioritize and focus throughout your day.  This is the best way that I turn laundry lists and end-less “To-Do” lists into more focused results.   It helps me deal with information overload and task-overwhelm.   It’s a very simple way to step back and see the forest for the trees, at least for the day.  

    When you combine the idea of three wins for your day with three wins for your week, you can easily zoom in and out to keep perspective.   When you need to focus on what’s in front of you, zoom into your day and focus on your immediate win.  When you need a little more perspective, step back, and look at the wins you want for your day.   When you need even more of a balcony view, simply step back and look at the three wins for your week.

    Friday Reflection – Three Things Going Well, Three Things to Improve
    On Friday, simply carve out an appointment with yourself, and ask the tough questions.   Ask the questions that will help you bring out your best.   Ask the questions that will help you continuously improve and take your game to the next level.   To do this, simply ask:

    1. What are three things going well?
    2. What are three things to improve?

    They are simple, but revealing questions.   This gives you a chance to celebrate your wins.   It gives you a chance to formally acknowledge what’s going well.    Maybe things aren’t going the way you want them, but congratulations for making the effort and taking the steps, and doing the tough stuff.   Catch yourself doing something right.   This is how you build momentum and carry the good forward.

    When you ask yourself what are three things to improve, use this as a chance to really identify some actionable things you can do to make things better.   You can think of big changes, but I think little ones work just fine, if you actually do them.   The beauty is, you can use all next week to try out your little changes.  Each day is a new chance at bat.   Repetition and practice are the best ways to improve.

    If you follow this recipe for results, each week you should notice that you improve your focus, you achieve more wins, and you get better results.   Another way to put it is, this recipe will help you spend the right time, on the right things, the right way, with the right energy.  

    And that is how you flourish, while flowing value, and achieving meaningful results.

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    Job Creation

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    The cycle of change is short in the knowledge age and digital economy.  Jobs end.  We create new ones.   Do we create new ones fast enough?  Do we have the durable and evolvable skills to make it in our emerging landscape?

    The cycle of change used to be longer.  One reason is the cycle of resource technology change used to be slower.   With a slower rate of change, you could go to school, learn a trade, do that job, maybe change jobs once or twice during your career, and then retire.  That cycle fundamentally changes when jobs are anchored to a different backbone, and the rate of change outpaces the skills you learn in school.

    A colleague sent a great article from Strategy + Business on The Jobs Engine.   From the article, these are my favorite nuggets:

    • “… the most important consequence of global entrepreneurship: job creation. Without the initiative and energy of entrepreneurs, the job engine sputters.”
    • “Humans used to desire love, money, food, shelter, safety, peace, and freedom more than anything else. The last 30 years have changed us. Now people want to have a good job, and they want their children to have a good job.”
    • “A great question for leaders to ask is: “Why is knowing that the whole world wants a good job everything to me?” Leaders of countries and cities must make creating good jobs their No. 1 mission and primary purpose because good jobs are becoming the new currency for all world leaders.”
    • “Until rather recently in human evolution, explorers were looking for new hunting grounds, cropland, territories, passageways, and natural resources. But now, the explorers are seeking something else.”
    • “When the talented explorers of the new millennium choose your city, you attain the new Holy Grail of global leadership — brain gain, talent gain, and subsequently, job creation.”

    One of the things that’s always on my mind is the question, “What value can I create?”   In parallel, I’m always asking, “What value am I flowing?”    I hope the ideas or projects I work on, lead, or in some way contribute, to job creation.  I like to be a springboard and a platform or a catalyst for business.   In fact, several of the projects I’ve worked, have helped people grow or start businesses, create value, and create jobs.  I like to be a platform that empowers.

    Personally, the way I find my way forward in the changing landscape, is to anchor to skills that should serve me well for the foreseeable future:   strategy, project management, and entrepreneurism.     As a program manager at Microsoft, I actually see the job of a program manager as a technical entrepreneur, where the goal is to bring new ideas to life, make things happen, and shape user, business, and customer goals into high impact, high value, results.  Strategy is a key skill because it’s about what I will do, won’t do, and why … along with how I’ll differentiate, while playing to strengths.   Project management is a key skill because it’s about making things happen as you explore and execute an idea from cradle to grave, while orchestrating teams towards a vision, while dealing with risks, and playing within the boundaries and constraints of time, budget, and resources.

    I share these thought because I’m finding myself mentor more and more people on the art and science of effective program management.   I firmly believe that effective program managers (or technical entrepreneurs) play a key role in shaping the future.

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    Ability to Execute

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    If you’re familiar with Gartner’s Magic Quadrants, you’ll recognize Ability to Execute.  “Ability to Execute” is a powerful concept.   Here is a quick mental model to picture Ability to Execute:

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    Ability to Execute is a quick way to help prioritize ideas worth acting on.   After all, what good is a bunch of ideas you can’t do anything about. 

    In the world around us, there are too many ideas, and not enough action.    I’m a fan of making things happen.   My strategy is aim big, but flow value along the way.   The little wins build execution muscle.    The trick though is to act on things that have value.  Otherwise it’s just noise.  It’s thrashing or churning and burning.  A better approach is to focus on meaningful results and high value.

    In the spirit of Garter’s Magic Quadrants, here is a view of Ability to Execute and Value:

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    One thing to keep in mind is that value is in the eye of the beholder.

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