J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

March, 2012

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    200,000 Served: Getting Results the Agile Way Continues to Grow

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    As of yesterday, Getting Results.com served up 200,000 views on the home page.  If anything the traffic seems to continue to grow.  A friend of mine said to approach awareness of Getting Results the Agile Way as a slow burn, rather than a big bang.  I think he was right.  With this approach, I continue to invest in terms of building out the Agile Results Knowledge Base, tuning the 30 Days of Getting Results, and working on the adoption and readiness story for individuals, teams, and organizations that want to adopt the approach.

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    How To Focus

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    image“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” — Bruce Lee

    Here is one of my favorite quotes by Napoleon Hill on the power of focus:

    “Until a man selects a definite purpose in life, he dissipates his energies and spreads his thoughts over so many subjects and in so many different directions that they lead not to power, but to indecision and weakness.  With the aid of a small reading glass, you can teach yourself a great lesson on the value of organized effort. Through the use of such a glass, you can focus the sun’s rays on a definite spot so strongly that they will burn a hole through a plank. Remove the glass (which represents the definite purpose), and the same rays of sun may shine on that same plank for a million years without burning it.”

    The newest addition to the Agile Results knowledge base is a step-by-step article on How To Focus.   The goal of the knowledge base is to give you the best patterns and practices for personal effectiveness.  In How To Focus,  I share a combination of proven practices for improving your focus with skill.  Whether you are having a hard time directing your attention, staying on task, or focusing where it counts, this article will give you insight and action you can use and apply immediately to dramatically amplify your ability to focus. 

    This is no ordinary article on focus.  It’s deep.   Here is the structure of the article at a glance:

    • Objectives
    • Overview
    • Summary of Steps
    • Step 1. Identify Your Objective.
    • Step 2. Identify Your Reward System.
    • Step 3. Set a Time Limit.
    • Step 4. Identify Your Approach.
    • Step 5. Dump Your Distractions
    • 3 Ways to Refocus
    • Common Scenarios and Solutions
    • Troubleshooting Your Focus
    • Additional Resources

    One of my mentors, a seasoned manager at Microsoft, once told me that the difference that makes the difference – why some people succeed and others do not – is focus. Those that lack focus spread themselves too thin, or never finish what they start. They have a lot of dreams and ideas that they never spend enough time working on to make any progress. On the flip side, those with focus, know what they want to accomplish, and they apply concentrated effort, and see it through to completion. They also focus on less to achieve more.

    The key to focus is to both reduce distractions, while increasing engagement.   The trick to improving engagement is to find your internal rewards, and to be more deliberate about what you choose to focus on … even while focusing (… in fact, especially while focusing!)  For example, you can focus on the task, or yourself.  You can focus on *what* you are doing, or you can focus on *why* you are doing it, or even *how* you are doing it.  You can focus on the *process* or you can focus on the *results.*   You can choose to focus on what’s behind you, or what’s in front of you.

    If you want the power of focus on your side, check out How To Focus or share it with a friend.

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    Health Books

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    imageI did a revamp and sweep of my health books collection.  The focus of my collection of health books and fitness books is to help you get healthy, get in shape, get lean, and get strong.   I’ve collected and tested many books to find patterns and practices for health and fitness that actually work.

    Some of the new additions to the collection include:

    • Body by Science
    • Super Immunity
    • Your Body as Your Gym

    Your Body as Your Gym is the most recent addition.  It’s an incredible system.  Here’s the deal.  As a Navy Seal instructor, Mark Lauren needed to find a way to get more people in better shape in record time.  He’s refined what he’s learned over years to get rapid results.  The best part is it’s using your own body so you can do it anywhere.  He wanted everyone to be able to get in the best shape of their lives and leverage what he’s learned from the special forces.  It’s all about building lean, functional muscle, and using interval training.  His routine is four times a week, 30 minutes a day.

    I added Super Immunity to the collection.   Dr. Fuhrman is a doctor that gets results.  I know several Microsofties that have followed his approach to get in the best shape of their lives.   What I like about Dr. Fuhrman is that he focuses on principles, patterns, and practices.  His specialty is “nutritional density.”  He focuses on the food that have the highest nutritional value per calories.  Super Immunity is all about building up your immune system by eating the right foods to get your body on your side.  In a world where we can’t afford to be sick anymore, this book is in a class all its own.

    One of the books in my health books collection is Better Eyesight without Glasses, by William Bates.  This book is near and dear to my heart.   I used this approach to avoid getting glasses.   A long story short is that I failed my eye test back in 7th grade, and I was determined not to wear glasses.  I intercepted the letter that went to my parents and that bought me time.  I then used the exercises from Better Eyesight without Glasses to get to 20/20 vision.  As you can imagine, I saved a lot of money and a lot of inconvenience over many years, thanks to this one book.

    Another book I should mention is Stretching Scientifically.  This is the book I used to be able to do splits for Kick-boxing.  I’ve never come across a better book on how to improve your flexibility in record time.

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    Business Books

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    "People are known by the company they keep; companies are known by the people they keep." -- Bill Gates

    I’ve revamped and swept my business books collection.   My business books collection is a rich set of the best business books that you can use to change your game.  They are especially important now with the cloud.

    I find the cloud is a great chance to get back to your business, and get back to the basics.  To do this, you have to figure out the role you want to play in the cloud (be the cloud, use the cloud, move to the cloud.)  You also need to really figure out your strategy.

    My strategy section of my business books includes:

    • Blue Ocean Strategy
    • Business Model Generation
    • Competitive Strategy
    • Delivering Happiness
    • Doing Both
    • Good to Great
    • Rework
    • Strategy Maps
    • The Answer to How is Yes
    • The Art of War
    • The Well Timed Strategy

    Blue Ocean is your best friend when it comes to the strategy game.  The idea is to compete where there is no competition.  For example, how would you compete against a circus?   Would you find cheaper or better animals?  No, you change the game and create a new market.  That’s what Cirque du Soleil did.   The question then becomes, how do you do this at the personal level to stay competitive in the marketplace?

    Business Model Generation is an amazing synthesis of business tools all rolled together into a simple approach.   It’s a great way to sketch your business.   It helps you think on paper so you can analyze your model more effectively.  If I could only have one business book, this might be the one business book to rule them all.

    Good to Great is a business book classic.  In fact, this is one the main books we used to shape the early days of the Microsoft patterns & practices team.  We spent a lot of energy asking the question, what can we be the best in the world at, with the people we’ve got?   We put a lot of focus on making sure that people were giving their best where they have their best to give, and leveraging the power of the system.  I think it was this ruthless focus on blending passion, purpose, and strengths that accelerated Microsoft patterns & practices through the early days, with a clear differentiation.  As one of my colleagues put it, the power was having “architects who could write.”

    The Well Timed Strategy is one of those books that really makes you think.  You start to see things in new ways.  It’s the business book that got me seeing things in cycles.   I stopped looking at things in such a static way.  I started paying more attention to the ups and downs and the cycles of things.   It helps me better understand the mountains and the valleys of the business cycles.  I stopped pushing rocks uphill and learned to ride the waves.

    I’ll continue to tune and prune my business books collection.   Smart people are constantly recommending great business books to me to help me get ahead of the curve and sharpen my business skills.   In today’s world, business skills + technical skills are the way forward.

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    Best-Selling Author on Mental Toughness

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    I’m honored to have a guest post by Jason Selk, Ed.D., on patterns and practices for mental toughness.  Jason is the best-selling author of 10-Minute Toughness and Executive Toughness.  As a trainer of executives, world-class athletes, and business leaders, Jason shares proven practices for mental toughness.  

    Jason is a rock-star in the mental toughness arena in business and in sports.  He is a regular contributor to ABC, CBS, ESPN, and NBC radio and television and he has been featured in USA Today, Men’s Health, Muscle and Fitness, Shape and Self Magazine.

    Mental toughness is what gets you back on your feet again.  Mental toughness is what helps you keep your cool when a bunch of hot air blows your way.  Mental toughness is the stuff that unsung heroes are made of.  Mental toughness is the breakfast of champions.  The beauty is that you can learn and leverage the same proven practices that work for business and for life.

    I think of the tools that Jason shares as the fundamentals.   They may sound like common sense, and yet, they are the ways the work.  The trick is not just knowing what to do, but doing what you know.  I find it much easier to do something that I can believe in, and what I like about Jason’s patterns and practices for mental toughness is that they are tested in action, and they stand the test of time.

    Check out Jason’s post on patterns and practices for mental toughness and get results.

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    Expert Access Radio Interview on Getting Results the Agile Way

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    You can listen to the Expert Access Radio Interview on Getting Results the Agile Way.   It’s available as a podcast and on iTunes.

    I'm honored to be interviewed by Expert Access Radio on Getting Results the Agile Way.   

    Expert Access Radio is a weekly talk radio show that features live, in-depth interviews with business leaders and best-selling authors from around the world.  Some of their featured guests include Guy Kawasaki, Robert Kiyosaki, and Steven Pressfield. 

    On the show, Jay McKeever  and Steve Kayser have their guests share their ideas, information, insights and inspirational stories to help listeners in their life of business, or their business of life.

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    David Zinger Interviews Me on Getting Results the Agile Way

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    I'm honored to be interviewed by David Zinger on Getting Results the Agile Way.

    David Zinger is author of Zengage: How to Get More Into Your Work to Get More Out of Your Work, founder of the Employee Engagement Network, and creator of the Employee Engagement for Results Model.

    Here is the abstract of the interview:

    “This practical webinar outlines how to get results and foster employee engagement with agility. JD Meier from Microsoft, and author of Getting Results the Agile Way, shares his proven methods to get results for us and others with David Zinger, the founder and host of the Employee Engagement Network.”

    It’s raw.  It’s real.  David has a way of asking great questions, connecting the dots, and teasing out key insights.

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    Find Your Strengths Path to Accelerate Learning and Growth

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    "Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will." -- Mahatma Gandhi

    When people ask me what my biggest game changer was in terms of producing more in less time, I have to say that it’s a combination.  It’s a combination of 1) spending more time in my strengths, and 2) finding my power hours.

    This was the biggest key to getting more done in less time, and keeping my energy strong.   Imagine doing the work you do in 40 hours in four hours.  That’s what it’s like.

    Hands down, this accelerated my learning and growth the fastest way possible.  Imagine taking something that you could already do all day, and honing that.  Imagine sharpening this blade to cut through any problem that comes your way, in the most effective and efficient way.  That’s what it’s like.

    It’s now my edge.   I’ve found ways to use this edge in any job I do.  You can do so too.

    Here is a blurb from my 30 Days of Getting Results on Day 10 – Feel Strong All Week Long:

    Get on Your Strengths Path
    What if there was one thing you could focus on that would help you get exponential results in all areas of  your life?  Well there is.  It’s getting on your strengths path.  When you are spending more time in the activities that make you strong, you automatically do great work, you renew and rebuild your mind, body, emotions, and spirit, and you dramatically accelerate your learning and growth.  Fighting to get on your strengths path is one of the highest ROI (Return on Investment) battles you will ever win.  It pays you back daily.

    If there are so many benefits to being on your strengths path, and spending more time in your strengths, then why doesn’t everybody just do it?  Because it requires self-awareness and you have to own it. Nobody comes along and puts you on your strengths path.  YOU have to own it.  YOU have to continuously find ways to spend more time in your strengths.  Only you know truly what makes you strong and what makes you weak.  You have to decide you want to spend more time in your strengths and you have to be deliberate about spending less time in your strengths.

    That really is the key message here.   You have to own it.   When you choose to give your best, where you have your best to give, you empower yourself up to operate at a higher level.   Your edge is at your finger tips.

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    Life Lessons from the Legend of Zelda

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    A fellow Softie, and performance improvement architect extraordinaire, Walter Oelwein, wrote a fantastic article on Life Lessons from The Legend of Zelda and Zelda Theory.

    It’s all about how to apply what we learn from The Legend of Zelda to real life.   If you are a gamer, you will especially appreciate this insightful piece of prose.  Even if you are not a gamer, you will appreciate Walter’s wit and wisdom, as well as his systems thinking.  If you are a continuous leaner and you find yourself always on a path of exploration and execution, this article will directly speak to your heart.

    Check out Life Lessons from the Legend of Zelda and get your game face on for life.

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    30 Days of Getting Results Revisited

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    Do you really know what you are truly capable of?  It’s time to get your game on and find out.  30 Days of Getting Results is revamped and ready for action.  With a new and cleaner look, each lesson brings you a memorable image, a quotable quote, an outcome, a lesson, and a set of exercises to put what you learn into practice.

    It’s time to get the wisdom of the ages and modern sages on your side.  The purpose of 30 Days of Getting Results is to give you the proven principles, patterns, and practices for time management.  It includes 30 self-paced lessons to help you find your purpose, find your passion, set goals, master motivation, and achieve work-life balance.

    The thing that’s really different about Agile Results as a time management system is that it’s focused on meaningful results.  Time is treated as a first-class citizen so that you hit your meaningful windows of opportunity, and get fresh starts each day, each week, each month, each year.  As a metaphor, you get to be the author of your life and write your story forward.

    I used a 30 Day Improvement Sprint, a practice in Agile Results, to create the lessons.  For 30 days, I took 20 minutes each day to write my best lessons down on paper on how to master productivity and time management.  It’s raw.  It’s real.  It’s hopefully some of the best insight and action you’ve ever experienced in terms of exponentially improving your results.

    It’s easy to dive in.  All of the time management lessons are there at your finger tips on the sidebar for easy exploration.  It’s timeless too.   Even if you’ve take the lessons already, they are there as a refresher.  

    If you test-drive just one lesson, check out Bounce Back with Skill.

    Share it with a colleague, a friend, or your family … or anybody you want to give an edge, in work and life.

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    Agile Methodology in Microsoft patterns & practices

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    “I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.” -- Vincent Van Gogh

    I find myself mentoring on Agile practices and Agile methodology on a regular basis.  More and more teams are needing to stay connected with customers, respond to change, and flow value along the way.   I find that if you know what Agile methodology looks like, it’s easier to get started.   In this post, I’ll share what an implementation of Agile methodology looks like.

    When I was on the Microsoft patterns & practices team, we used a combination of XP/Scrum for executing projects.  We called our agile methodology, "Customer-Connected Engineering"or CCE.  The following table is an overlay of customer-connected activities on top of the agile methodology:

    Phase Core Activities Customer-Connected Engineering Activities
    Exploration
    • Go / No Go
    • Business Case
    • Product Backlog
    • Release Planning
    • Team Role Assignments
    • Vision Scope
    • Broad Customer Surveys
    • Customer Advisory Board Setup
    • Stories / Scenarios
    • Prioritization
    Iteration 0
    • Clarification of process, responsibilities, and roles
    • Infrastructure setup
     
    Iteration N
    • Iteration Planning
    • Daily Stand-Up
    • Mid-Iteration Checkpoint
      Review
    • Retrospective
    • Internal Release (Optional)
    • Customer Release (Optional)
    • Stories / Scenarios
    • Prioritization
    • Demos
    • Product Drops
    • Feedback
    Stabilization
    • Remaining Work Completed
    • Outstanding Bugs Resolved
     
    Release
    • Documentation Updates
    • Incomplete Stories Removed
    • Final Test
    • Remaining Bugs Resolved
    • Release Bar Met
     

    The activities on the left-side of the table are core activities in patterns & practices projects.  If you’re familiar with XP/Scrum, you’ll be familiar with the activities.  On the right-hand side are customer-connected activities.

    10 Highlights of the Agile Methodology and Customer-Connected Engineering
    Here are some of the most important points and distinctions:

    1. 40 Hour Work Week.   In my experience, a 40 hour work week is a benchmark of the most effective teams.  They have work-life balance.  They have buffer to respond to opportunity and to deal with crunches.  They have processes in place, they invest in their learning and growth, and they move up the stack instead of always solving the basics.  Instead of perpetual fire-fighting, they are more deliberate about planning and strategy and they anticipate their customers and the market (through empathy and staying connected to customers.)  They learn and respond and can turn on a dime.  They have a dashboard, they know the score, and they can change their approach.   See 40 Hour Work Week at Microsoft.
    2. Exploration and Execution.   One of the best moves we did was introduce the idea of an “Exploration” phase.    This is where we would explore and test customer value, while also exploring technical risk.  By doing architectural spikes we could very quickly identify potential technical risks that would impact the project, long before we even started the project.  In general, our exploration phase was anywhere from 4 – 8 weeks.  It was also a practical way to drive innovation and explore new opportunities.  We reduced risk by setting a limit on time and budget.  This gave creative freedom within the box, but constrained risk and cost for the business, while exploring high potential opportunities.
    3. Demos.   Demos are the key to product success, if you do them early enough.  Demos actually serve two functions.  First, they force you to put together that you’ve got into a presentable form.  What looks good on paper, or sounds good in your mind, might not be that good when you actually present it.   So, the demo is a great forcing function for you to identify what’s actually valuable and how to package and showcase that value in a presentable way.    Second, the value of the demo is the actual feedback.  As a rule, I like to Demos on Thursdays each week, as a way to bring work together into a package.  It helps people show off their stuff and feel acknowledge and appreciated.  If it’s an internal demo, then it helps people on the team get real feedback from their peers before going more broadly.  If it’s a public demo, then it’s a great chance to get real feedback from actual users.  I’m a fan of failing fast and failing often.   You get better through failure than you do from success because you learn *why* and *how* to improve.   As Tony Robbins puts it, when you succeed you party and when you fail you ponder.  My guiding principle is to carry the good forward and to turn failure into feedback.
    4. Iterations.   Iterations are a wonderful thing.  They help you set a cadence for shipping stuff, doing demos, and executing your work.   In patterns & practices, the most common pattern was two-week iterations.  I originally used three-week iterations, and then moved to two-week iterations, and eventually moved to one-week iterations, for a variety of reasons.  The one-week iterations reduced my iteration planning time from one or two hours down to 30 minutes max.  It also helped people on the team feel more connected to their results and to drive a great week.   It also meant people had to spend less time estimating their work, and it meant that estimates were more accurate.  In simple terms, it meant that the team could plan a great week, and on Friday reflect on their results without bleeding things into the net week … bite off a weeks’ worth of work, and finish a week’s worth of work.   This radically improved our agility and our ability to execute in a more predictable and streamlined way.   This also set the stage for more lean practices, and on my projects, I was a fan of using a Kanban to visualize the work, reduce open work, and to improve our flow.  I also liked that Kanban is a very customer-connected approach to development in that it is “pull” vs. “push.”  It’s the ultimate in “demand-driven” development.
    5. Product Backlogs and Sprint Backlogs.   Your “Product” backlog is everything that needs to get built.  The “Sprint” backlog is simply the chunk you are biting off for this particular iteration.   This distinction is an important one.   It’s great to have one place to look for everything that makes up the possibilities, the pains, and the needs of your potential product.   It’s also great to be able to grab a meaningful chunk for execution.   The real trick with biting off a meaningful chunk is knowing the dependencies and being able to sequence in a way that flows value while reducing risk.  This is also another reason why user stories are helpful.  They are a collection of customer value at your finger tips.
    6. Prioritization.   To prioritize our user stories and backlog items, we’ve used surveys extensively.   A proven practice is to play a game of “spend a $100.” (See Enterprise Library 5.0 Product Backlog Prioritization Survey.)   An important point is that the prioritization surveys are input into your prioritization planning.  They help you balance perspective and identify actual demand.  In a best case example, they help you find the surprises or disconnects.  Customers usually know what they want, but they don’t always know what they need, and there is often an awareness issue.   If you’re familiar with marketing, this is specifically about finding, surfacing, and addressing latent needs.   Customers may want the “cheaper” bridge, but as the engineer, you need to make sure they know the trade-offs, and that a “safer” bridge might be a better bet.  What’s important is that you create an opportunity for customers to voice their priorities and that you keep an open mind to being surprised.
    7. Project cycles and product cycles.  Having a distinction between the project and product cycle help you optimize and use the right tool for the job.  For a simple example, Scrum is more of a project process, while XP is more of a product development process.  The project cycle is important at the business level.  It’s the cadence of the projects.  It’s where the vital few milestones are established in terms of start, key checks, ship, and post-mortem.  Product cycles on the other hand, are geared towards the product development.   The real key here is that if you have multiple teams, you can standardize on the project cycle, while you let each team choose it’s most effective product cycle or development methodology.  The product cycle would simply feed into the agreed milestones at the project cycle level to support the rhythm at the business level.
    8. Release Planning.    Release planning is a significant body of work.   One of the most important features of release planning in patterns & practices was determining the Minimum Credible Release (MCR.)  This was the minimum product we could ship that would actually be worth it.   To illustrate this to management, we simply drew a cut-line in terms of scenarios.
    9. Scenarios and Stories.   In many ways, scenarios and user stories are the backbone of the product.   They are one of the best ways to set scope.   Scenarios and stories are also a great way to capture and share requirements in a more contextual way.   You get customers to tell you their specific goals and tasks.   If you want to build a better product, then focus on building a great set of scenarios and stories.   These are the backbone of your product.   They set the tests for success.   They are your tool for prioritizing.   To stay customer connected, your customers directly contribute the stories and scenarios, and they help prioritize the stories and scenarios with you.   This is how you build empathy for the customer’s pains and needs.   For examples, see WCF Security Scenarios in Azure and WCF Scenarios Map.
    10. User, Business, and Technical Perspective.   Maintaining and balancing perspectives and points of view is key to successful product development.   You’ll find that a lot of conflict and arguments happen because everybody is “right”, but they are “right” only from their perspective, and you need to know which perspective they are arguing.  The perspectives that you will most often bump up against in product development are user, business, and technical.   If you keep those in mind, then whenever there is an argument or a conflict, then you can do a quick sanity check to figure out what perspective are they arguing from.   When you know this, it is a lot easier to build bridges too or speak the right language.   When speaking to the business, talk about value and cost, budget, and quality.  Or talk about cycle time and efficiency or effectiveness.   Or focus on the “What” or the “Why.”  When speaking to the technical, it’s fine to elaborate on trade-offs, the “How”, and implementation details.  Tech is a great perspective to elaborate on system concerns or quality attributes like security, performance, or reliability.  When talking tech, it’s a great perspective to speak about features and specifics.   When speaking to the customer perspective, here is where you want to talk about persona, roles, and goals.  Or it’s a great place to talk about pains and needs.   A great rule of thumb that has served me well is to speak in terms of “persona-based goals with scenarios.”  See Perspectives Frame and User Experience, Tech Feasibility, and Business Value.

    There is a lot more I could say, and a lot more I could share, and I will.   For example, I learned a lot from doing Retrospectives for various product teams around Microsoft.    I also learned a lot on building more effective business cases.   I’ve also learned a lot about doing effective daily standups with distributed teams around the world.  The most important thing though that I learned, at least in terms of helping teams get up and running with Agile, is how to show and share end-to-end life-cycles.   For example, I have a simple model now of the Project Cycle + Product Cycle and the workstreams below each, now in my head.  In a future post, I’ll share what that looks like, if there is interest.

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