J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    The Innovative Team

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    I’m working my way through my massive book backlog, and doing reviews as a I go along.   Yesterday, I wrote my review of Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.

    Today, I read and wrote my review of The Innovative Team:  Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results.

    It’s perfect timing.  Just yesterday a friend ask me if there’s some science and proven practices that we could apply to create high-performance teams, especially when there is a lot of innovation involved and we need to be more agile in how we execute our projects.

    At the same time, we need to give enough time to really explore the problem domain and build some solid foundation to base our solutions on.

    The Innovative Team directly addresses this dilemma.  And it does so in a pragmatic way.

    It does do by framing out the 4 stages of innovation and the corresponding cognitive style preferences that people tend to have.  The book then shows you how to leverage these different cognitive styles that can often create conflict during the project cycle.  It includes specific proven practices for elaborating on ideas and then converging on solutions and keeping things moving forward.  At the same time, the framework is all about getting the best out of every one on the team and bringing them along.

    It’s a recipe for creating and leading high-performance teams that deliver high-impact, innovative solutions for big challenges.

    Here is a quick look at some of the things I found especially interesting …

    The Four Stages of Innovation:

    1. Clarify the situation
    2. Generate Ideas
    3. Develop Solutions
    4. Implement Plans

    The 4 ForeSight Cognitive Styles

    Here is a brief summary of each:

    1. Clarifiers – Analyze and clarify the situation
    2. Ideators – Blue sky or big picture thinkers, continuously generate big ideas
    3. Developers – Tirelessly focus on developing and perfecting the solution.
    4. Implementers – Implementing the plan and moving to the next project.

    Common Patterns of the 4 Cognitive Styles in Action (+ The Integrator Style)

    Here are some common scenarios that you might see, or see yourself in, when working on projects and going through the various stages of innovation:

    1. “For example, if you really like to generate ideas and also feel adept at clarifying the challenges, you are probably full of energy out of the starting gate, identifying and solving issues with ease, coming up with targeted ideas that you feel perfectly (and instantly) solve the problem at hand.  But because you do not devote much energy to later stages in the process, you might find that these solutions ultimately fall short of their mark because they are not properly developed or implemented.”
    2. “What if you really like developing an idea and putting it into action but had no energy for clarifying  the challenge or generating a bunch  of potential options for it?  This would mean that you enjoy the final steps of the process – seeing well-thought-out ideas come to fruition, and watching people welcome and readily adapt to the new solutions thanks to how thoroughly they were developed to fit the situation.  When your ideas have failed, it’s often not the fault of how well they were developed but because they were not well targeted.  They may have solved a problem or met a need, just not the right one.”
    3. “Some people may have nearly equal preference for three of the four stages.  For example, they may like clarifying, ideating, and developing but not implementation.  These people would be comfortable analyzing, coming up with ideas, and tinkering with them toward perfection, but they often can overestimate how much they can get done and you may see them step back when it’s time to put the ideas into action.”
    4. “There are of course many other combinations of types, each with their potential plusses and negatives.  In our story, the character Maya represents of the more common combinations of preferences – the integrator.  She was comfortable with all the stages in the process with no clear preference for one stage or another.  Integrators are indeed a special group.  If you are leading a team and are lucky enough to have an integrator in the mix, you may be able to leverage that person’s abilities strategically to move the team on to the next phase of the process or to act as a mediator between team members of different preferences.”

    As you can imagine, this is a powerful books, especially if you do project work.  It’s also powerful even if you just want to improve your own ability to innovate, either as a one-man band, or as part of a larger team, or leading a high-performance team.

    If you want a deep dive on the book and more highlights to get a better sense of what this book is all about, check out my review:

    The Innovative Team:  Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes

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    One of the smartest books I’ve read lately is Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova.  I wrote a deep review to include a bunch of my favorite highlights.

    It’s hard to believe I only scratched the surface in my review, but it’s a very deep book with tons of insight and proven practices for elevating your thinking to the highest levels.

    While I like the concepts and practices throughout the book, my favorite aspect was the fact that Konnikova references some great research and theories by name and illustrated how they apply in our everyday lives.  

    Some of the examples include:

    • Correspondence Bias
    • Scooter Libby effect
    • Attention Blindness
    • Selective Listening

    Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes includes plenty of surprising insights, too.  For example, we physically can see less when we’re in a bad mood.  We can do better on SATs simply by changing our motivation.  We can use simple meditation techniques to causes changes at the neural level, to increase creativity and imaginative capacity.

    If you’re a developer, you’ll appreciate the “system” view of how memory works.  Konnikova walks the mechanisms of the mind based on the latest understanding of how our brain works.  You’ll also appreciate the depth and details that Konnikova provides to help you really understand how to think and operate at a higher level.

    Basically, you’ll learn how to put your Sherlock Holme’s thinking cap on and apply more effective thinking practices that avoid common cognitive biases, pitfalls, and traps.

    By the time you’ve made it through the book, you’ll also better understand and appreciate how our mindset and filters dramatically shape what we’re able to see, and, as a result, how we experience the world around us.

    If you want a tour of the book in detail, check out my book review of Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.

    It might just be one of the smartest books you read this year.

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    30 Nuggets on Software Development from Shaping Software

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    A while back, I started a site called Shaping Software.   The purpose was to create a collection of little nuggets on lessons learned from designing, building, and shipping software.

    I ended up writing more than 100 articles on software development (browse the archives for a quick view).

    The didn’t maintain the site.   For one reason, I wanted a timeless depot, and I wasn’t sure how timeless it could be.  Another reason is the site didn’t take off the way I expected.   For example, if my MSDN blog generates 1000’s of visits a day, Shaping Software was in the 10’s per day.

    Looking back, I think I learned important reasons why it didn’t take off.   I didn’t name titles very well.  It’s not always obvious what’s inside.  Also, I didn’t always elaborate on topics that needed more elaboration to better understand and appreciate the nugget of knowledge.  On a very practical, SEO side, I didn’t apply any SEO knowledge and I didn’t build any backlinks.   Given what I know now, I probably should have continued to groom and to grow it.  

    There will always be a need for learning how to shape software with skill and there is an “evergreen” body o timeless principles, patterns, and practices … that is not well known.   It’s an art and science and there is always a gap between the state of the art and the state of the practice.  Principles, patterns, and practices at our fingertips help us reduce that gap.

    Anyway, here are 30 nuggets from Shaping Software that you might find useful:

    1. 4+1 View Model of Software Architecture
    2. 5 Ways to Manage Complexity in Software Architecture
    3. Application Scenarios Model
    4. App Types, Verticals, and Scenarios
    5. Best Practices at Microsoft patterns & practices
    6. Constructive Criticism of the Waterfall Model
    7. Engineering Practices Frame
    8. Evolutionary, Incremental, and High-Risk
    9. How To Bring Experienced Engineers on Board
    10. How To Cure Optimitis
    11. Insourcing
    12. Key Project Practices
    13. Knowledge Areas, Capability Levels, and Ladder Levels
    14. Macro and Micro Software Processes
    15. Make a List of the Jobs to Be Done
    16. Microsoft patterns & practices Solution Engineering
    17. Mission Impossible
    18. MSF Agile at a Glance
    19. Organizational Structures to Support Product Lines
    20. Periodic Design Refactoring (How To Avoid Big Design Up Front)
    21. Personas at Microsoft patterns & practices
    22. Requirements Types
    23. Scenario and Features Frame
    24. Shifts of Power (Ward Cunningham's way of describing what drives the requirements)
    25. Software Product Lines
    26. Source Code Reuse
    27. Waterfall in the Large and in the Small
    28. What is Systems Architecture
    29. Why Do We Need Software Architects
    30. You Can’t Evaluate Architecture in a Vacuum

     

    Probably, the most important article to read (and re-read) is:

    Lessons Learned in Microsoft patterns & practices

    I find myself still using and referring to many of the ideas on a regular basis, whether it’s explaining to somebody why you can’t evaluate an architecture in a vacuum, or what shifts of power mean to software, or how to avoid Big Design Up Front, or what the different types of requirements are, etc.

    I have to wonder whether it’s worth reinvesting in it, as a true repository of timeless insight and action for the art and science of building software.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Simple Enterprise Strategy

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    One of the challenges my General Manager put on my plate, was to tell a simple story, as simply as possible, about the essence of doing Enterprise Strategy. 

    Here is what I ended up with:

    image

    The way I told the story is …

    • We use scenarios to scope meaningful chunks of change (vs. boil the ocean)
    • Big scenarios are actually chunks of organizational change.
    • We drive a program of change using a repeatable formula: Current State, the desired Future State, the Gaps, the ROI, and the Roadmap for Business Capabilities, People Capabilities, and Technology Capabilities.
    • The value is in the change, and this connects business and IT in a significant and meaningful way.

    He loved it.

    I elaborated.  

    I shared a simple Workstream Frame to show how when we drive Enterprise Strategy, we can use the following canvas as our backdrop:

    image

    It’s a simple map but it helps chunk up and think about how you are making the changes:

    • Program Governance – This is the space of operational excellence and governance.
    • Business Value – This is where the business-led conversations and business-led changes flow.
    • IT People/Process – From a pragmatic perspective, this is where IT-led conversations, and changes to IT people and process happen.
    • Technology – This is where the fundamental technology changes happen – the IT platform for the business.  Again, dominantly IT-led conversations.

    To fully appreciate the simplicity above, below is what I first walked my General Manager through, and he said, while he could appreciate the essence of it, it was too complex:

     

    image

    At the end of the day, I think he was right, and I was glad that he pushed me to find a simpler story and to be able to tell it quickly at the whiteboard.

    When people see that it’s all about driving a chunk of organizational change, and that it’s by changing the business, people, and technology capabilities, light-bulbs go off, and people get excited by how they can reshape the future of their Enterprise story, through Enterprise Strategy.

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    Xbox One

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    image“Xbox One is designed to deliver a whole new generation of blockbuster games, television and entertainment in a powerful, all-in-one device” -- Don Mattrick, president, Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft

    Key Features of Xbox One

    • Integrates the cloud, voice control and gesture technology.
    • All-in-one entertainment solution: Live TV + video-on-demand + web chat.
    • Measure your heartbeat
    • Recognize your voice
    • Voice activation, motion, and facial recognition control the Xbox One
    • A new set of universal gestures to control your TV
    • Improved Kinect sensor will track wrist and shoulder rotations
    • TV on Xbox One“Navigate and watch live TV from your cable, telco or satellite set-top box through your Xbox One. Microsoft is committed to bringing live TV through various solutions to all the markets where Xbox One will be available.”
    • Snap Mode.   Offers a second screen and allows users to run two activities – such as watching TV and browsing the internet, or using Skype – simultaneously.
    • Home. Turn on your entertainment system with two powerful words, “Xbox On,” and a custom-tailored Home dashboard welcomes you with your favorite games, TV and entertainment.”
    • Skype for Xbox One. “Specially designed for Xbox One, talk with friends on your TV in stunning HD, or for the first time ever, hold group Skype calls on your TV.”
    • Trending“Stay on top of what is hot on TV by discovering the entertainment that is popular among your friends, and see what is trending within the Xbox community.”
    • OneGuide  “Find your favorite entertainment easily, searching by network or name, all with the sound of your voice and presented in a tailored program guide.”
    • Content maker + platform provider
    • Main camera can record 1080P RGB video at 30 frames per second.
    • Powered by 300,000 servers (more than the entire world's computing power in 1999)
    • 8 gigs of RAM, 8-core CPU and GPU SoC, and a substantial 500GB HDD
    • A Blu-ray drive as well as USB 3.0 and integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi.

    Microsoft Summary of New Generation of Xbox Live

    • Smart Match. “A new Smart Match matchmaking system virtually eliminates waiting in lobbies by estimating wait times and finding people you want to play with while you are enjoying other activities — reputation fundamentally matters and helps find best matches.”
    • Game DVR. “A dedicated Game DVR captures and accesses your magic moments, all saved to the cloud. Along with sharing tools, you will have the most amazing bragging rights with Xbox Live.”
    • Living Games. “Dynamic, living worlds evolve and improve the more you play, and advanced artificial intelligence can learn to play like you, so friends can play against your shadow.”
    • Expanded achievements. “A new and expanded achievements system captures video of your epic moments, continues to grow a game’s achievements over time and rewards you in new ways, and your Gamerscore carries over from Xbox 360.”
    • Xbox SmartGlass.“Xbox SmartGlass is natively part of the Xbox One platform, built in from the beginning with the ability to quickly render content directly onto your device, and now more devices can connect at one time for multiplayer and shared entertainment.”

    Microsoft Summary of Xbox One Look and Feel

    • “New Xbox One hardware is sleek and modern and complements any décor. The console is shaped in the 16:9 aspect ratio and employs a horizontal orientation optimized for its high-speed Blu-ray™ disc player. It is molded in a deep and rich liquid black color and includes a distinctive beveled edge.”
    • The completely redesigned, revolutionary 1080p Kinect is more precise, more responsive and more intuitive.”
    • “Xbox controller is refreshed with more than 40 technical and design innovations. Updated directional pad, thumb stick and ergonomic fit immerse all gamers in ways that are uniquely Xbox, and precision and control have been dramatically increased with all new vibrating impulse triggers.  The Xbox One Wireless Controller is designed to work in concert with the new Kinect, allowing the two to be paired automatically to create seamless player syncing.”

    Interesting Deals for Xbox One

    • NFL Deal - Integrate coverage of the sport with game-like elements such as a Fantasy Football app, allowing viewers to manager their own fantasy sides while watching the real thing in action.
    • Stephen Spielberg Deal - Stephen Spielberg will be producing a TV series based on the best-selling Halo game, exclusively available to Xbox One.
    • EA Games - Four new titles exclusive to Xbox:  FIFA 14, NBA Live, UFC and Madden.

    Analysts on Xbox One

    • Gartner: "The Xbox One really looks to advance the state of video game technology and entertainment in a way that we haven't seen before," said Brian Blau, a director of Gartner Research."
    • Greenwich Consulting: "The Xbox One is set to mark the beginning of a new generation of games, TV and entertainment." -- Fred Huet, a managing partner at Greenwich Consulting

    Key Links for Xbox One

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How NOT To Make Money Online

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    I mentor several folks on how to make money online, either because they are trying to supplement their income, or take their game to the next level, or simply trying to reduce the worry around losing their job.  

    An interesting pattern is that many of the folks that I know that make a second (3rd, 4th, 5th) income online, show up strong in many ways.     Their second source of income is always a “passion business.”   They find a way to monetize what they love in a way that’s sustainable and creates a ton of value for their tribe of raving fans.  

    They end up spending more time in their art, so they recharge and renew, and show up fresh at work because they found a way to spend more time doing what they love (it’s an interesting question when you ask the question, “What do you want to spend more time doing?”, and then actually do it Winking smile

    One of the most important success patterns I see is that people do what they would do for free, but pay attention to what people would pay them for.   This does two things:

    1. It forces them to figure out what they really do love and can do day in and day out (where can they be strong, all day long)
    2. It forces them to be smarter at business (otherwise, it’s not sustainable and it slowly dies)

    I see people succeed at making money online by doing lots of experimentation and continuous learning.  The ones that do the best, learn from success AND failures.   The ones that create truly outstanding success, learn the patterns of failure to avoid, and the patterns of success to do more of.

    Lucky for me, I got to see several people right around me making $10,000, $20,000, etc. a month online, and they happily shared with me what they were doing, including what was working and what was not.   The variety was pretty amazing, until I started to see the patterns.  As I started to see the patterns, what surprised me the most is how so many people fail to make money online because “they try to make money online” – it’s like chasing happiness, and having it always evade your grasp.

    How ironic.

    There are so many ways NOT to make money online.  In fact, they are worth enumerating because people still try them and get incredibly frustrated and give up.

    Here are 50 Ways How NOT To Make Money Online.

    It’s serious stuff.

    I took a pattern-based approach, so that it’s easy to see the principle behind each recipe for failure. 

    You can actually apply many of the insights whether it’s an online or offline business, and whether you are a one-man band, or a business partnership, or working in a corporation.  

    It puts a distillation of many business basics, great business lessons, and business skills at your fingertips.

    I’m hoping that more people can be entrepreneurs and create their financial freedom by doing more of what they love, in a business-smart way.

    Also, I’m hoping this helps more people get their head around the idea that we’re in a new digital economy and the ways to make a living are changing under our feet.

    The future is here and it belongs to those that create it and shape it.

    Own your destiny.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Daniel Cook on 8 Laws of Productivity

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    Daniel Cook has a great PDF on the 8 Laws of Productivity.  The subtitle is “8 Productivity Experiments You Don’t Need to Repeat.”

    It’s the synthesis of Dan’s learnings and research over the years on how to create more productive teams.

    Right up front, Dan defines productivity as work accomplished, minus work required to fix defects, and minus work required to fix bad design decisions.   He adds that it’s possible for productivity to be negative when workers end up doing more harm than good.  Dan says, “People commonly measure ‘what was accomplished’, but often this is a poor measure of productivity. It is possible to check in code and design decisions that must be later fixed or removed at great cost. If you only measure work accomplished, you could generate great ‘productivity’ numbers but never ship a working product. The real measure of productivity is valued working code in customer hands.”

    Here are the 8 Laws of Productivity according to Cook:

    1. Law #1 - Working more than 40 hours a week leads to decreased productivity
    2. Law #2 - There is Always a Cost to Crunch
    3. Law #3 -- Repeat experiments on knowledge workers, not factory workers
    4. Law #4 -- Teams on overtime feel like they are doing more, but actually accomplish less
    5. Law #5 -- Productivity is maximized in small teams of 4-8 people
    6. Law #6 -- Seat People on the Same Team Together in a Closed Team Room
    7. Law #7 -- Cross-Functional Teams outperform siloed teams
    8. Law #8 -- Scheduling at 80% produces better products

     

    Law #1 - Working more than 40 hours a week leads to decreased productivity

    What happens if you try to improve productivity by working longer, either through more hours in a week, or more hours in a day?

     

     

    image

    Cook summarizes the results:
    <40 hours and people aren't working enough
    > 60 hour work week gives a small productivity boost
    The boost lasts 3 to 4 weeks and then turns negative

    Cook tells us that according to Ford, and 12 years of experimentation, 40 hours was the most effective.  

    Interestingly, an early XP practice was 40 Hour Week, before it became Sustainable Pace.  The main idea is that "productivity does not increase with hours worked."

    A key point here is that "After a certain tipping point, teams tend to be more destructive than productive." (see InfoQ on Sustainable Pace)

    I've experience the benefits of a 40 hour work week and wrote about it in 40 Hour Work Week at Microsoft.

    An interesting data point is that 6 of the top 10 competitive economies prohibit employees from working over 48 hours/week.  (See MBA on Bring Back the 40 Hour Work Week.)

     

    Law #2 - There is Always a Cost to Crunch

    What happens if we work harder in bursts?  Can we take advantage of the burst that comes from working overtime?  What happens if we crunch for a week and then 'only' 40 hours for another week?  Are there other patterns of scheduling work that might be more efficient?

     

    image

    Cook summarizes the results:

    Anything over 40 hours results in a recovery period, no matter how you split it up.
    35 to 40 hour weeks can be divided in a variety of ways, such as four 10-hour days on and three days off.
    These 'compressed work weeks' can reduce absenteeism and, in some cases, increase productivity 10 to 70%

    Law #3 -- Repeat experiments on knowledge workers, not factory workers

    Do the same rules apply to creativity and problem-solving as manual labor?

    Cook summarizes the results:
    Studies show that creativity and problem solving decreases faster with fatigue than manual labor.
    Grinding out problems by working longer on average result in inferior solutions.
    Lack of sleep is particularly damaging.

    Law #4 -- Teams on overtime feel like they are doing more, but actually accomplish less

    If many workers self-report that they are the exception to the rule and can work longer with no ill effects, and overtime workers report they are getting more done, is this true?

    Cook summarizes the results of measurements where Team A works overtime and Team B does not:
    Team A feels like they are doing much more than Team B.
    Yet, Team B produces the better product.

    Law #5 -- Productivity is maximized in small teams of 4-8 people

    Does productivity change for various team sizes and which size team produces the best product?

    Cook summarizes the results:
    Productivity for small groups is shown to be 30-50% higher than groups over 10
    Cost of communication increases dramatically for groups larger than 10
    Smaller groups don't have enough breadth to solve a wide array of problems well

    Interestingly, the Navy Seal create super teams with teams of 4.

    Law #6 -- Seat People on the Same Team Together in a Closed Team Room

    What is the most productive physical work environment?  Are cubes, individual offices or team rooms most effective?  Every individual has an opinion, but what is best for the team?

    Cook summarizes the results:
    Studies show 100% increase in productivity
    Being nearby means faster communication and problem-solving
    Few external interruptions to the team (not the individual) means higher productivity

    Law #7 -- Cross-Functional Teams outperform siloed teams

    How should workers of different disciplines be organized?  Should teams be composed of a single discipline? For example, all programmers or all artists?  Or should teams be mixed?

    Cook summarizes the results:
    Cross-functional teams produced more effective solutions in the same time
    Cross-functional teams have more likelihood of generating breakthrough solutions
    There is some negotiation of norms of front, but this is a short-term loss

    Law #8 -- Scheduling at 80% produces better products

    What percentage of team capacity should be officially scheduled?  110% to promote people to 'stretch'?  100% because that's what they can do? 80% because slacking is good?

    Cook summarizes the results:
    Scheduling people at 100% doesn't give space to think of creative solutions
    Not lost time: Passionate workers keep thinking
    The 20% goes into new idea generation and process improvements
    Producing 20 great features is usually far more profitable than producing 100 competent features

    Dan included some of his research sources:

    Crunch in the Game Industry
    IGDA - Articles - Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work: 6 Lessons - http://www.igda.org/articles/erobinson_crunch.php
    InfoQ - Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work, by Ben Hughes - http://www.infoq.com/news/2008/01/crunch-mode

    Best Team Size
    Is Your Team Too Big? Too Small? What's the Right Number? - http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/articles.cfm?articleid=1501
    Team Performance and Team Size - http://www.teambuildingportal.com/articles/systems-approaches/teamperformance-teamsize.php

    Sickness and Overtime Correlation
    Relationship between self-reported low productivity and overtime working - http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=15461524

    Prioritization
    First Things First (book) - http:///en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Things_First_(book)

    4 Day Work Week
    Alternative Work Schedules and Work–Family Balance: A Research Note - http://rop.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/28/2/166

    Team Spaces
    "Rapid Software Development Through Team Collocation" IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, Volume 28, No. 7, July 2002

    Additional Resources

    INFOQ: Does Sustainable Pace Mean a 40 Hour Work Week?

    MBA on Bring Back the 40 Hour Work Week (Info Graphic)

    40 Hour Week (C2 Wiki)

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Any Activity Can Be Turned into a Game

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    Any activity can be turned into a game, if it meets the right criteria.  Wise words from Dan Cook:

         “If an activity can be learned…

         If the player’s performance can be measured…

         If the player can be rewarded or punished in a timely fashion…

         Then any activity that meets these criteria can be turned into a game.”

    Gamification is hot.  I called it out in my Trends for 2013 roundup.   When all things are equal, fun is a differentiating factor.

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    Free Time Management Skills Guide

    • 3 Comments

    30 Days of Getting Results is a hard-core time management course.   

    It’s a 30 Day Sprint with a lesson each day, but you can go at your own pace.   For example, I every now and then I scan through it in about 20 minutes to remind myself of the best time management skills to work on.

    Some of you have let me know that you can’t get to the site.   I’m not sure why.  

    Regardless, I have a free PDF version of 30 Days of Getting Results available.

    It’s powerful stuff.   If you want to master time management, productivity, and work-life balance, this short-course will help you do that.

    Time management and extreme productivity are a few of the things that I regularly mentor individuals, teams, and leaders on.

    It’s 129 pages, and very easy to flip through.

    Each lessons includes an exercise to make it real and drive it home.

    If you download and go through it, please rate it on Good Reads.

    Enjoy.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Chalene Johnson on Personal Development, Productivity, Motivation, and More

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    To do great things, it helps to study people that do great things and show us better ways to do things.  It helps us build our reference library of what’s possible and it helps inspire us to new levels of success.

    Most importantly, it expands our capabilities.

    Chalene Johnson is a powerhouse when it comes to personal development.   She continuously pushes herself, while expanding and exploring what’s possible physically, mentally. and emotionally.   She’s a unique blend of entrepreneur, physical fitness expert, choreographer, author, life changer, and motivational speaker … and we can learn a lot from her approach.

    I wrote up 27 lessons from Chalene Johson, but my favorite lesson is actually Lesson #7 – Success isn’t magic, it’s a method:

    Chalene says, “It’s NOT luck — it’s KNOW HOW. There is a formula for everything.”   You have to study the people that have the results that you want.   Learn from their formula.   Study what made them successful.  If you can find the proven practices and the methods that work, you’ll speed up your success, and you’ll avoid the dead-ends.   Finding a formula helps you establish and practices routines that will help you get better and better over time.

    Personally, I’ve found this to be true time and time again.  Whenever I got stuck, it was my strategy or approach.  I just didn’t know the right formula or who to model from.  There’s always a recipe.  One of the most important things I learned on the Microsoft patterns & practices team is that if you look to the right sources, you’ll find the proven practices or the patterns that really work, even if it’s not well-known (in fact, part of our job on the Microsoft patterns & practices team was really to share and scale this knowledge more broadly.)

    I’ve shared my personal rapid results formula before in The Way of Success, and it helps elaborate on how to model success in a more effective way.  As Tony Robbins says, success leaves clues.  We just need to be good students of possibility to find them and apply them.

    Even if you’re not into working out, I think you'll enjoy lessons from Chalene Johnson on personal development, productivity, motivation, and more.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    What Do Customers Teach Us About Business?

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    Everything.

    This morning I started and finished, The UnStoppables: Tapping Your Entrepreneurial Power, by Bill Schley.

    It’s a powerful book that brings us the essence and lessons of entrepreneurship, including what we learn from a band of Navy SEALs, Israeli investors, a branding expert, and a chairman of a multibillion-dollar tech company.

    But my favorite nugget is about what we learn from customers.

    Customers teach us how to be better.  

    They are our ultimate business mentor, if we listen and learn.

    Schley writes:

    “Customers might as well be air and water; your business has no life without them.  Success is something you must learn from them because only they can teach it to you, through what they need, where their pain and pleasure are, how they want to be sold to, what kind of relationships they want to have with a company in your category, and so forth.  Customers hold the answers to all your most important questions about your product, service, and brand.  The Wonderful Paradox is that the secret of getting what you want is to think most about what they want.”

    I’ve always been a fan of customer-connected development to build better software and ship better products.   Empathy for customers seems to be the difference that makes the difference when it comes to envisioning and creating great products and services.  (It works for education, too, when you put the learner-first, great things happen.)

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To Use Tasks in Microsoft Outlook More Effectively

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    If you just have a long list of tasks in Microsoft Outlook, then it won’t help you focus on immediate actions.  The key is to organize your tasks in Microsoft Outlook by priorities.

    The challenge is that the first thing you’ll most likely want to do is sort by a custom priority.

    While it’s not very complicated, it can be incredibly frustrating if you just want a simple task list that sorts by your custom priorities, and you don’t know the precise steps to make that happen.

    Let’s do it.

    If you do want to use Microsoft Outlook for tasks, here’s the trick to making it more useful:

    1. Add Start Date (it’s often more important to know when to start something, than to know when it’s due – this helps you bubble up critical actions better)
    2. Add a custom priority field.  In the example below, I created a “Pri” field and used P0, P1, and P2 for the priorities.  Here’s the trick:
      1. Don’t use the “Custom Priority” field that’s readily available in “Field Chooser”.  (You won’t be able to edit the text and you’ll get frustrated.)
      2. Instead, add a custom field by clicking “New…” on the “Field Chooser” – see below.
    3. Group by your custom field.  After you add your custom field for priority, to group by it, you need to use the “Group By” option (it won’t be listed under “Arrange By”)
      1. Note -- You need to switch “Select Available Fields” from the default to “User Defined Fields in Folder”  (otherwise, you won’t see your custom priority field)

    Here it is visually …

    This is just a simple set of tasks in Microsoft Outlook, nothing fancy, so we keep our focus on the key thing – a list of tasks organized by priorities with a start date.

     

    image

    When you right-click on the fields, you can click the “Field Chooser”, and then click “New …” to create a “New Column.”

    image

    To group your tasks by your new custom priority field, you can again, right-click the fields at the top of the Tasks, but this time, click “View Settings.”  From there, click “Group By …” and then change “Select available fields from” to be set to “User-defined fields in folder.”  This will then let you set the “Group items by” option to your new custom priority field (“Pri” in my example above.)

    image

    Remember, the key to effective task management isn’t managing your tasks.  It’s actually doing the most important tasks that achieve your goals, at the right time, in an efficient and effective way.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    7 Ways to Take an Outside-In View of Your Group

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    I was helping a mentee take a new view on their business, so they could transform their business to compete in a new arena.   Here are the 7 ways I outlined for them to get a better view on their business to shape significant change:

    1. What are the key deliverables that the company cares about? (Who are the stakeholders and why do they care?)
    2. How does the money flow? (Who funds and why?   If they gave you more money, what more would you do? If you got less money, what would be cut?   This gives you a fast business sense)
    3. What is the cadence of your deliverables?  (Do you ship 3 big thingies or 30 thingies per year? .. what would a “fast” cadence look like?   More importantly, what would people value?  For example, can you focus on 3 big wins each quarter that have high impact?)
    4. What’s the roadmap look like?  (Can you put it on a one-slider to show the big impact in a way others get?)
    5. What are the critical few KPIs that tell you whether you are keeping up, falling behind, or changing the game?
    6. What is your unique set of capabilities of your product/service?
    7. What is the unique set of capabilities of your people?

    If you can answer those without a lot of work – congrats!

    The above lens gives you quick insight and a critical view into the customer, the value you provide, the cost, and the capabilities you can use to drive meaningful change and transformation.

    To put that into context and apply it, when business leaders look to shape a business, they tend to look at the capabilities.  They want to know what’s unique and what’s redundant.   If you can’t differentiate at your capabilities, then you have a problem articulating your unique value.

    Capabilities help give you a simple language for talking about value and unique strengths.  They are also a business tool for consolidating and improving efficiencies by maturing or outsourcing capabilities.

    Use them wisely.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Gartner Says Smart Organizations Will Embrace Fast and Frequent Project Failure in Their Quest for Agility

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    Beautiful.

    In a new digital economy and a world of ultra-competition, it’s great to shape a smart organization.

    We learned this long ago.   Agile was part of the early Microsoft patterns & practices DNA.   We embraced agile methods and agile management practices.

    We learned that execution is king, and that shipping early and often gives you better feedback and a way to make changes in a customer-connected way.

    Here is what Gartner says …

    “Accepting higher project failure rates can help organizations become more efficient more quickly, according to Gartner, Inc. Gartner said project and portfolio management (PPM) leaders who take a "fail-forward-fast" approach that accepts project failure rates of 20 to 28 percent as the norm will help their organizations become more agile by embracing experimentation and enabling the declaration of success or failure earlier in a project's life.”

    Check out the article, Gartner Says Smart Organizations Will Embrace Fast and Frequent Project Failure in Their Quest for Agility.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Agile Downsizing: Why Agile Skills Improve a Project Manager’s Job Security

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    In PM Network magazine, Jesse Fewell wrote a great article on Agile Downsizing? Why Agile Skills Improve a Project Manager’s Job Security.

    Here are a few highlights:

    “Agile wasn’t designed to improve the bottom line like that, but it’s a misconception that has some project managers worrying whether a move to ‘self-organizing’ teams would make their position redundant.  Even more concerning, many of the formal approaches, such as Scrum or Kanban, do not define a project manager role.”

    Project managers are in higher demand than ever.  Fewell writes:

    “PMI research shows the use of agile approaches tripled from December 2008 to May 2011, and 63 percent of hiring managers would encourage their project managers to pursue agile certification.”

    It’s not doing more with less. 

    Fewell shares a few skills that project leaders with agile experience can show on their resume:

    Delegating more work“Do you have a bent for process and facilitation?  Then create that well-oiled machine and groom an analyst to manage the business. The most successful project managers I’ve met have focused on their strengths, and found capable hands for the rest of the work.”

    Leading more“Agile approaches place a dogged focus on delivering business results by improving collaboration.  Once you’ve delegated the daily minutiae to the project team, you can invest in more strategic relationships.”

    Driving more improvement“… if you’ve equipped and trusted your team to handle the details and you’ve improved collaboration with stakeholders, then you finally have the energy and influence to brainstorm solutions to that quality problem, stabilize a more reliable delivery cycle than last year, or launch a product-strategy working group to mend some broken fences and get everyone on the same page.”

    The key take away is this:

    “The project manager with agile skills has evolved past a positional title babysitting details.  The new role is about building the capability of your teams, partnering with senior stakeholders and driving incremental improvements across the board.”

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Are You Used to Delivering Working Software on a Daily Basis and Changing the Software in Response to Emerging Requirements?

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    That’s a pretty good question, and timeless, too.  

    I remember several years ago, when a vendor asked me that, and I remember laughing and thinking, “yeah, that’s what we try to show other people how to do.”

    What was great though, was the vendor followed up with a short-list of precise questions:

    1. What is your current software development process?
    2. Key milestones?
    3. Release frequency?
    4. Daily practices?
    5. Build frequency?
    6. Approach for getting / learning requirements?
    7. Approach for dealing with changing / emerging requirements?
    8. Approach for creating testable software? (e.g. you change the software for requirement X, how quickly can you make and verify the change)

    That’s actually a really good set of questions both to quickly get a handle on your software development process and to test how “agile” you really are.

    It also reveals your culture and how responsive to change and feedback you really are.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    10 Ways to Make Agile Design More Effective

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    The key shift with Agile Design is to deliver quickly while handling changes smoothly.   Instead of doing long requirements phases, and heavy documentation up front, with Agile Design you focus on incremental and iterative delivery, going from low-fidelity to high-fidelity, while getting feedback and improving your design.

    Here are 10 ways to make Agile Design more effective:

    1. Avoid BUFD – Big Up-front Design.  Avoid it.  Whenever there is a big lag time between designing it, developing it, and using it, you’re introducing more risk.  You’re breaking feedback loops.  You’re falling into the pit of analysis paralysis.   Focus on “just enough design” so that you can test what works and what doesn’t, and respond accordingly.
    2. Avoid YAGNI – You Aren’t Gonna Need It.  Avoid bloat.  At the same time, avoid scope creep.   “Keep the system uncluttered with extra stuff you guess will be used later. Only 10% of that extra stuff will ever get used, so you are wasting 90% of your time.”Extreme Programming.org
    3. Embrace Occam’s Razor and KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).  Use the simplest solution.  Simplicity always win in the long run.  This will help you stay in the game before bogging your solution down and crippling it’s ability to keep up with evolving requirements.
    4. “Test-First.”   If you don’t know the criteria for what good looks like, you’ll have a hard time finishing.  You’ll also get lost among your designs, unless you clarify what your actual test-cases are.   If you keep a small set of useful tests, you can parse through a variety of designs, and find the diamonds in the rough.
    5. Deliver iterative and incremental solutions.   An iterative solution would be decorating the living room.  An incremental solution would be adding a porch to the house.   Deliver useful and usable increments, and then iterate on them to improve them based on real feedback.
    6. Cycle through alternatives.   Fail fast and fail often.  This is another good argument for being able to do rapid prototypes, and low-fidelity prototypes.   You need to cycle through competing solutions.   Do A/B testing.  Do the Toyota Way and create 3 alternative solutions.   Don’t get wrapped up in finding the “best solution.”  In many cases, your best solution will be found by “satisficing.”  This will keep you ahead of the game, and ready to respond to emerging requirements.
    7. Stay customer-connected.  Stay connected with the users who will actually use what you’re making.   Get 5 customers to stand behind it.  Don’t just throw it over the wall down the line, and hope it sticks.  Invite your customers to your side of the wall.
    8. Think Big Picture First.   Put the scaffolding in place.  Focus on the plumbing before the interior decorating.  Solve the big challenges first.   Get the big picture, before getting lost in the details.  Optimize the maxima before the minima.
    9. Get cross-discipline feedback early and often.    The better you can balance cross-discipline feedback, the more reliable your solution will be.
    10. Spike early and often.  Use technical spikes, functional spikes, and user experience spikes to get the risk out.

    The last thing you want to do is throw a solution over the wall, and nobody wants it, or you missed the basic scenarios.   That’s why delivering early helps get the risk out, and helps validate your path.

    If you’ve ever watched people argue over how they “satisfied the requirements”, but nobody wants to use it, you know exactly what I mean.  People don’t always know exactly what they want, or, even if they do, it’s hard to articulate in a way, that everybody gets it.  But people are way better at recognizing what they like, and knowing whether or not they like something when they actually use it.

    Embrace it.

    That’s what Agile Design does – it embraces the reality that people get more clarity over time of what good really looks like.

    Creating an early feedback loop also forces you to keep your solution easy to maintain and easy to evolve.  Otherwise, it’s very easy to cement your design, and no longer respond to emerging needs.  The key to lasting solutions is they are built to change.

    It’s a process of continuous learning and continuous delivery.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Inspiring a Vision

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    One of my mentees was looking for ways to grow her prowess in “Inspiring a Vision.”  

    Here are some of the ways I shared with her so far:

    • Future Picture - One of the best ways that the military uses to create a shared vision rapidly and communicate it down the line is “Future Picture”  (See How To Paint a Future Picture.)

    The key with vision is, when possible –

    1. Draw your vision – make it a simple picture
    2. Use metaphors – metaphors are the fastest way to share an idea
    3. Paint the story - what’s the current state, what’s the future state
    4. Paint the ecosystem – who are the players in the system, what are the levers, what are the inputs/outputs
    5. Paint the story over time … how does time change the vision … and chunk up the vision into 6 month, 1 year, 3 year, five year

    And, a powerful tool we use at Microsoft is a Vision / Scope document.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Sinofsky on How To Analyze the Competition

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    Sometimes the best way to do something well, is to know what to avoid.  In Ex-Windows Boss Steve Sinofsky: Here's Why I Use An iPhone, Nicholas Carlson shares some tips from Steve Sinofsky on analyzing the competition:

    1. Don't use the product in a lightweight manner
    2. Don't think like yourself
    3. Don't bet competitors act similarly (or even rationally)
    4. Don't assume the world is static

    Sinofsky elaborates, and says to use the product deep, and use it over time.  Use the product like it was intended by the designers.  Wrap yourself around the culture, constraints, resources, and more of a competitor.  And, don't take a static view of the world -- the competitor can always update their product based on feedback, or weaknesses you call out.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Microsoft Secret Stuff

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    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 …

    • Holodeck - transform your family space into a something like Star Trek’s famous holodeck.
    • Kinect Glasses (Fortaleza) - wearable peripherals and augmented reality.
    • Xbox Surface – a 7-inch Xbox tablet.

    Kinect Stuff

    • Kinect Fusion - create interactive 3D models.
    • KinectTrack - a new six degree-of-freedom (6-DoF) tracker which allows real-time and low-cost pose estimation using only commodity hardware.
    • SuperKid - Use Kinect to make movies: watch yourself against a virtual background, and interact with virtual props.

    Touch and Touch Screens

    • LightSpace - create interactive displays on everyday objects.
    • OmniTouch - displays graphical images onto virtually any surface and transform the projection into an interactive, multi-touch-enabled input.
    • Sidesight - expand a mobile device's multi-touch capabilities beyond the size of its screen.
    • SkinPut - beam interactive displays onto your hand and arm
    • Thinsight - a hardware and software product that allows ordinary LCD screens to become fully functional multi-point touchscreens.

    More …

    • Digits - translate a user’s hand movements directly into a virtual space.
    • Foveated Rendering - accelerate graphics computation by a factor of 5-6 on a desktop HD display, by exploiting the fallout of acuity in the visual periphery.

    What neat stuff do you see Microsoft working on?

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Creating Career Opportunities

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    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:

    1. They invest in themselves.  They’re always learning, and taking some sort of training, beyond their day job.
    2. They reinvent themselves.  As a result of investing in themselves, they grow new capabilities.   With their new capabilities, they expand the opportunities they can easily plug themselves into.  For example, a few of my friends started to focus on data science in anticipation of big data, as one of the key trends for 2013 and beyond.  As part of re-inventing themselves, they re-brand themselves to better showcase what they’re bringing to the table.
    3. They build connections before they need them.  It’s always been a game of who you know and what you know, but now more than ever, your network can be the difference that makes the difference when it comes to finding out about relevant opportunities.
    4. They know who’s job they want.   They have a role-model or two that already does the job they want.  The role-model exemplifies how they want to show up, how they want to spend their time, and through that role-model they learn the types of challenges they want to take on, and they get better perspective on what the life-style is actually like.  This not only helps them get clarity on the type of job they want, but it helps when they tell other people the kind of job they want, and can point to specific examples.
    5. They know the market.   They pay attention to where the action is.   They don’t just follow their passion.  They follow the money, too, to know where the growth is, and where there’s value to be captured.  As the saying goes, every market has niches, but not every niche has a market.
    6. They have a mentor, and a “board of directors.”   They use a circle of trusted advisors that can help clue them into where to grow their strengths, and how to find better opportunities, based on what they’re capable of.   It might be their “wolf pack”, but more often than not, it’s a seasoned mentor or two that has great introspection, and can see what they can’t, and they can help them to see things from a balcony view.  Most importantly, the sharp mentors, the wise and able ones, help them to know their Achilles heal, and get past glass ceilings, and avoid career limiting moves.
    7. They have a sponsor.  Like a game of Chutes and Ladders, skilled sponsors help them find the short-cuts, avoid the dead ends, and avoid sliding backwards.

    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.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Innovation Quotes

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    What do Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Walt Disney teach us about building a culture of innovation?

    A lot.

    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.

    Enjoy.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How I Use Agile Results

    • 2 Comments

    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 ...

    Daily Startup Routine

    My favorite startup routine is:

    1. Wake up
    2. Throw on my shoes and run for 30 minutes
    3. Take a shower
    4. Eat breakfast slow
    5. Take the back way to work, play my favorite songs, and figure out my three wins for the day

    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 Vision

    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.

    Daily Wins

    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.

    Worst Things First

    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.

    Power Hours

    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.

    Creative Hours

    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.

     

    Daily Shutdown Routine

    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.

    Friday Reflection

    What if every Friday you could get smarter about your productivity and effectiveness?

    You can.

    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:

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

    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:

    1. Am I biting off too much?
    2. Am I biting off the right things?
    3. Am I making the right impact?
    4. Are there better activities I could spend more time on?
    5. Are there soul-sucking activities that I could spend less time on?

    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.

    Monthly Focus

    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.

    Ten at Ten

    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:

    1. I schedule ten minutes for Monday through Thursday, at whatever time the team can agree to, but in the AM.
    2. During the meeting, we go around and ask three simple questions:  1)  What did you get done?  2) What are you getting done today? (focused on Three Wins), and 3) Where do you need help?
    3. We focus on the process (the 3 questions) and the timebox (10 minutes) so it’s a swift meeting with great results.   We put issues that need more drill-down or exploration into a “parking lot” for follow up.  We focus the meeting on status and clarity of the work, the progress, and the impediments.

    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?”

    - OR -

    … 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.

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