Monday, December 11, 2006

Tenets of Appreciation

What makes you feel appreciated? Do you know your Love Languages (read: The Five Love LanguagesImage by Gary Chapman)?

Sometimes when I am out and about in public, I can't help but overhear the conversations of those around me. It's not that I'm intentionally eavesdropping (well, most of the time), it is just that I really like to pay attention to what is going on around me. During one snooping session in an airport recently I noticed a couple discussing her specific position within the company for whom I presume they both must work. At first it simply sounded like the same old whining you've come to expect always accompanying our American sense of entitlement.

As I listened with one ear, reading a paper out of one eye, the phrases started to become misaligned with how people normally register their dissatisfaction. It made me want to know more about why we she wasn't feeling particularly motivated or appreciated even as her friend effused praise on her obvious contributions to him and others in their workplace. If he was so readily able to supply evidence of her worth, why was she questioning her place? I wondered if her boss was aware? If she worked for me, would I have been aware? As is typically the case, I abandoned my attentiveness choosing instead to pursue something of more immediate self-interest. Namely, what did I think about her predicament? What would I do in her shoes, her friends sneakers, her team leaders clogs. (Okay, they may not have been clogs, but who knows.)

In dissecting the situation I had stealthily stumbled upon, I was reminded of some of the guiding principles in my own philosophy on motivation, personal career choices, and leadership.
I have to believe that I am relevant, valuable, and have an impact.
I will perceive this through the respect they accord, and the riches they afford.
Otherwise, it is as the author said, "[S]he's just not that into you."
These simple words guide my thinking whenever I begin to question my place and position. When responsible for the success of those working with me, I try and recall these principles and apply them to the value proposition I create for them.

What I find most useful about such a simple set of tenets, is that they can be applied regardless of the specific drivers and motivators of each individual. The indicators and behaviors that will show value and impact may be different from person to person, but their existence will be consistent. One mans riches take shape in cash, another in experiences, and still a third in freedoms.

Regardless of what the specific circumstances are, it can be very telling to ask yourself how you are measuring up? Are getting what you need? Are you making sure the people you are responsible for are getting what they need?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Technical Writing

Lately I've been reading a lot more documents and blogs then usual. You have to consume a lot of information if you are going to stay ahead of the game. Spending a fair amount of time both reading and writing technical information you develop an awareness of what is going to communicate clearly and what will only confuse. Here's some thoughts I jotted down recently. This applies to technical writing, not writing as art or entertainment of course. As always YMMV.

  • Be succinct.  Don't be overly verbose and stay away from flowery language. State your point in the most simple way available. If possible, use graphics or visual aids.
  • Define terminology. This is especially important when using words with multiple means (e.g. service, host, message). Give the context and the definition or your message will be hard to follow.
  • Explain assertions. Provide the logic and supporting materials for any claims. If the data or process followed is significant, give references to where and how more information may be obtained.
  • Be specific. Use hard facts as much as possible and avoid hyperbole. Speak to your point in a dispassionate way.
  • Generalize carefully. Words such as "all", "always", and "never" can be problematic, use sparingly.
  • Avoid buzz words and acronyms. They tend to reduce credibility and can drop out of style suddenly. If you do use them, make sure to provide definitions with each initial use.
  • Avoid cultural colloquialisms. They can be hard to communicate internationally, and will reduce impact in use.

If you have other points I should add to the list, please share.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Power of Not

Indirection is a large part of slight of hand. In slight of mouth, you use the same types of tools to influence the listener to pay attention, or not, to concepts and ideas that you are presenting. In many circles this technique is called Negation. For example, pretend I asked you not to envision a Pink Elephant. Do not think of the Pink Elephant riding a unicycle carrying a picnic basket and a perisole.

It can be very difficult "not" to do something because negatives get processed differently in our language than they do by our neurology. In this example the word "don't" is our negative. Our unconscious mind turns the words we hear into internal experiences (sights, sounds, smells, tastes & feelings) so that we can understand them. To comply with the request "Don't think about a Pink Elephant", you first need to bring one to mind just so that you can understand what you are being asked not to think about. Of course if you didn't know what a Pink Elephant was, this phrase wouldn't have the indirection effect.

Now that you know how indirection works, how can you use this to great effect during your discussions and negotiations? Let me break down the practical application a little.

I’m not going to tell you how to get a big discount on my tapes...
The wonderful thing about freewill is that it makes us constantly sensitive to when other people are trying to impose their will on us. As free thinkers and independant spirits we have a natural resistance to being persuaded. One of the key things about using negation is that it can be used to give people permission to relax their resistance. During a negotiation with someone, suppose you were to say "I'm not going to ask you to give me a big discount, because that would be rude..."

When this transpires, a couple of interesting things happen. First, the "not" lets them relax. If I’m not going to ask them, they don’t have to resist, they give themselves permission to relax. But in addition, I've now planted the idea of the discount in their mind. So when they are processing alternatives in the negotiation, they will automagically add that as an item on the list.

Now this next section may not be relevant to some of you.

When we hear that something may not be relevant to us, it generally makes us pay extra attention. We want to understand whether it is relevant to us or not. Often it can inspire us to respond even more strongly "I'll decide what is relevant to me or not!".

So I'm not going to ask you to come back for more tips later, after all, they may not be relevant to you.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Consistency is Critical

One of key tenets that I try to follow is consistency.  The reason I see most people being inefficient or unproductive is that they are not consistent.  Even when they realize they will be doing something multiple times, they don't take time to standardize.  Using standards and following patterns is at the core of my philosophy.

Regardless of the end goal, if you find yourself doing something more than once, standardize it. Having a fixed way to proceed will:
  • Improve efficiency - efficiency is the key to maximum productivity.  Using standards and following patterns means there will be less decisions to make and allows you to learn from the mistakes of others.  When producing something it generally means you can build on existing work instead of creating everything from scratch.
  • Increase quality - when you follow patterns and adhere to standards then things become reproducible.  Failures can be found and fixed quickly.  It becomes easier to trust the processes when they function deterministically.  You will have more trust in a product with many predictable bugs, then a product with few apparent bugs that behaves unpredictably.  Generally speaking, trust is a measure of how we perceive quality.
  • Unblock communications - when you agree on terminology, the steps in a process, or the definition of concept, you can articulate more concisely and reliably.  When you listen, you will be able to trust that the words convey the content and the intent in equal measure.  You will be able to express your point of view accurately, with fewer restatements and misunderstandings.
From a management standpoint, following patterns and creating consistent processes means that the we can share information without guessing about the intent or spending time on the packaging.  From and engineering perspective, this consistency translates into understanding the code produced by each team member.  For the entire team, when we don't know something, a standard will often save us from having to ask someone and waste time.

If you are a member of a team, you lead a group, or are an executive in charge, striving to create consistency will increase your capability.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Scheduling As An Art

This weekend I had the opportunity to crack open my PMI resources.  Generally I keep quite about it, but some time ago in years gone by I held a PMP certification after extensive training.  After learning and practicing I found most of my work held a more technical slant than that found purely in the project manager space.  The funny part is that the blokes I'm currently working with seem to think they wrote the book on the subject even as we flounder with something as simple as a project plan.  Not that a project plan is ever really simple.

Of course if you have too many cooks, the menu is under debate and no recipes in sight even for the dishes you can agree on, expectations for gastronomic delight are minimal at best.

Keeping a friendly face on the stewing brew was sufficient cause for me to brush off my books for a surface scan on the subject of scheduling.  It really does take skill and will to pull a proper plan together.  Then again so does life.  In the words of Samuel Butler...
Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.
My two step formula for creating a clear, defensible, precise plan that can easily be tracked, is straight-forward to modify, and is concise enough to explain?
  1. Turn on automatic leveling.
  2. Lay out the titles and durations of each task.
  3. Link tasks to their predecessors.
  4. Assign resources.
  5. Stop screwing with it.
It's not incredible sexy but I've used it hundreds of times and it works.  Start adding steps, and you are sure to take a wrong one.

The point I make by the above over-simplification is that laying out the plan shouldn't be a grueling ordeal of creativity and algebra.  A clear organization of fundamental data points will usually yield way more value than lots of groups, custom fields and extended analysis.

Having said all that, once you have to start tracking work, all bets are off.  The skills are different, the tools can be different, and personal style is a huge factor in the success of your choices.  Which is why I tend to be very simple when figuring out what needs to be done, how long it will take, and how many resources are required.  Because once you start executing, all the rules are changed, the race has begun and you need all the energy you can afford.  Plan simply, so you can simply succeed.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Capable of Being

Sometimes I don't pay as much attention to my feelings as I should.  I'm not exactly the most empathetic of people at times, but I seem to find ways to sell myself short most of all.  Being senstive to kinesthetics is a huge aspect of being self-aware, but it's probably my weakest area.

From time to time, I'll find myself doing things I don't enjoy, backed into corners I don't want to be, supporting things I don't believe in.  As I wake up and look around and ask "why am I in this?" it seems that not tapping my feelings is one way I got off track.  For someone formally trained like myself, that's a harsh reality.  So I'm going back to the basics.

The first step is to Identify. What are the feelings and reactions that don't quite seem to fit?  What doesn't smell right?  If things are jumping out at you, look for those endeavors where you got started fine, but lacked follow through.

The second step is to Orient.  Is the feeling applicable to who you were, who you are, or who you want to be?  Is it something that is just familiar and habitual?  Once you understand which way the feelings are oriented, pushing you into something, pulling you away from something, you can respond.  It is just as common for a fear to be a good thing pushing you to commitment and intensity.

The last step is to Imagine.  Once you have opened your sensitivity to your feelings and intuition, and you have oriented that feeling with an action or a behavior or a decision, then you are free to imagine the results of your responses.  This most often takes the form of "What would happen if...?"

This little question, when built on the clues about what you want in your life given by your intuition and feelings, is the key to planning your response.  Start by sticking to what you enjoy.  What makes you happy.

The most common response to this, is that "I can't make a living doing that".  Do it anyway.  Do it in any way that you can.  The happier you are, the more you will accomplish.  The fuller your life will be.  It's surprising how little in life we really need when we are pursuing that which we truly value.

Sometimes the thing people are most frightened of is who they are capable of being. They are simply afraid of how powerful and brilliant they can truly be.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
- Return to Love by Marianne Williamson

This was the refresher I needed to listen to my own sense of self.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Start Stretching Early

Spent some time on plane today and while catching up on my reading I came across the following in a community posting:
Most evidence I’ve seen indicates that 30-40% of the resources on a project not in its early phases using MOST methodologies should be dedicated to rework – something most customers could not swallow if said literally.
This of course is a broad statement.  Factors that seem to affect this (the variables):
1) Flexibility of the architecture – can increase maintenance costs and developer learning curve, but rework can be minimized.  Might be a tradeoff worth considering depending on customer perceptions and requirements.
2) Elegance of architecture – If the architect can foresee changes and design for them, then rework is easier…but this requires a combination of experience and a crystal ball – by no means predictable and can only be measured successfully after the fact.
3) Cross-area development – if developers are constantly switching areas of the project where they are working, this increases the likelihood that they will do something in one area that is not as anticipatory of future changes and perhaps not as elegant as someone that knows the area better.  The tradeoff here is that you reduce the risk exposure to someone leaving, because there is likely someone else ready to step in.
4) Requirement Variability – duh
5) Early Requirement Finalization – duh, but does this ever happen?
The most insightful part of the post was the very first sentence.  The rest of it, was a reasonably insightful explanation of why this conclusion makes sense.  However, I find it refreshing to see someone address this issue so rationally and direct.  Usually, I find myself in the minority on this front.  In this case, it was an accomplished architect in response to a generic question about rework brought on my Agile-type methodologies.

In reality, most of the methodologies that are being pawned off as new are just re-organizations of old schools of thought.  The practices are given new names, sometimes combined for different purposes, but they exist in the same world.  They are subject to the same laws of science and the same volatility of humanity that every other methodology has been subjected to for quite some time.

If you have a reliable architect, following something resembling a clear vision, you will arrive at a destination using a methodology.  If the thing being built is poorly defined or inflexible, if the user volatility is not kept in check, then you will have rework.  Change is just the reality of working at the speed any business runs at these days.

Now that you know that change is emminent, you can fix your mind to adaptability, instead of clutching so tightly to any semblence of stability that happens by.  You are going to have to be flexible, and rewrite something as the vision evolves.  My advice is that it's best to get on with it then, eh?

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Common Denominator

As a consultant, I get called into projects in varying states of disarray.  Most of the time, things aren't nearly as bad as they appear.  As a sweeping generalization, there are only couple of a main issues that I encounter that repeat themselves to cause the downward spiral.

Chief among these issues is Fear.  Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of failure.  It manifests itself by an increase in artificial controls.  More status reporting, more censorship, less proactive vocalizations, more questions, less answers.  When the fear-response is high, accountability becomes cloudy and nebulous.  The answers become subjective and verbose.  Sometimes people shift to formality and process, others simply clam-up and stop interacting.

One tried and true technique to handling fear is using Information.  Clear and obvious transparency generates trust, removes ignorance, reduces fear.  When you encounter people showing a high fear-response, shower them with information.  Be transparent, open, and forthcoming.  The more people are aware of their situation, can validate their own perceptions with your clear words, the higher the trust for the unknown.  If you don't know something, tell them.  But make sure you tell them what you do know.  Share anything and everything you possibly can so that they can construct their own reality using that information.  The richer the detail, the less fear.  The more they participate in the process, by way of sharing in the information flow, the more empowered they will feel about the process, the situation.

Another key issue is Churn.  When a problem area arises, good people will try and handle it.  Once it becomes obvious that an issue is no longer just a simple problem, but a symptom of a larger issue, they tend to move on.  If you realize the rock you are trying to move is really a part of the mountain, you will think twice about your choice of rocks.  Sometimes we'll simply give up, other times we might choose a different rock.  It is pretty rare that someone will be willing to wear themselves down fighting to move a mountain that was supposed to be a rock.  The process of bringing in people to beat on the rock, who figure out it is not just a rock, give up, leave, and must be replaced, is called Churn.  In these situations, there can be a tendency to fault the various parties brought in to confront the rock.  After all, they were not able to move the rock, so they have failed, right?  If it is just once or twice, perhaps that would be an acceptable conclusion.  But once you've repeated this process a few times, you might need to examine the large situation.  The common denominator in those cases is the person trying to move the rock, who is unwilling to acknowledge the mountain.  They repeatedly insist on throwing people at the rock, watching them bloody themselves and shaming them for failure. All the while acting as instigators of the vicious cycle.

The hardest part of addressing churn is identifying when it occurs.  Sometimes only experience and objectivity can provide the insight required to back away from such a situation.  It is a lot like the old lady who points out her son who is marching in the parade.  She says "Look! My son is the only one in step!"

If problems on your project are repeating themselves, look around for the common denominators.  When everything changes except a few faces, and the problems then are surfacing as problems again today, you need to be realistic.  You can continue to blame the stream of resources who came, were bloodied, and left in defeat.  Or you can find those things that aren't changing and ask why.  If it didn't work before, and you've changed everything but X and it still isn't working.  It would be reasonable to presume that X might be the problem.

Once you've identified the source of your Churn, you need to handle it cleanly.  If you let any part of it remain, it will continue to reinfect your project unless completely removed.  Like a virus or a cancer, you have to sterilize against it or the old behaviors and patterns that once responded to the source will recreate a new source.

It's worth noting that while these are generalizations, there are specific guidelines for identifying both of these issues.  There are also very specific techniques that can learned for dealing with these issues and many others.  Feel free to ping me if you'd like to know more.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Getting The 'Yes'

How much of your day is spent trying to influence others positively? We have bosses, employees, our children, our clients, and so forth.  Every interaction is, to some extent, a negotiation. A meeting of influences.

To be successful it can help to remember some of the key reasons that people say 'Yes' in these encounters. By understanding some of the reasons that motivate us to agree, you can position your argument, your dialog, to expose or maximize those reasons. Let me walk through the reasons and give some examples.

One of the key reasons is that "We Give What We Get". We tend to return to others the same behavior, treatment, or attitude that we are given. If you are polite, others will want to return the politeness. If you are rude, we tend to want to respond with rudeness. So if you want someone to be respectful, start by treating them respectfully.  This sounds obvious, and is one of the easiest to provide.  It is also one of the most common that we fail to provide.

Another reason is that "Information Is Power".  When we acknowledge the credibility of another we are allowing them a measure of influence.  By becoming knowledgeable and maintaining your integrity with that knowledge you make it easier to be percieved as creditable.  Once you have the credit, spend it wisely.

This brings us to "Majority Rules".  The more popular a choice is, the more popular a choice becomes.  When we think that everyone around us is doing something, we tend to go along instead of analyzing.  We give a portion of our reasoning to the group allowing others to share in the successes and failures.  If you can demonstrate that the mob is heading your direction, people will want to fit in so as to be included.

Speaking of the mob, "It's Real when Written Down".  When people write things down, they are more inclined to follow through on their commitments.  When someone goes "on record" they are making a public commitment.  Getting that public commitment, either written or in front of others, is a great way to motivate people to come through.  This can be a tricky one, because of the delicate nature.  Personally, I tend to be wary of people who always write things in email because I never know where my words will end up. I wouldn't want to be making a public commitment that I didn't realize was public.  ;-)

When dealing with the mob, "The less Supply, the more Demand".  Anything that is capacity controlled or has limited availability will create a sense of urgency.  That urgency will override our natural tendency to analyze and instead nfluence us to make decisions quickly and then rationalize them later.  This one of the main reasons that the impulse shelves in the grocery store check-out lines are so successful.

The last one is very personal and is simply, Popularity.  When someone likes you, they have a natural tendency to want to say "Yes".

Remember that while these are ways to influence positively, they can also be abused.  If you consider how to apply the techniques, it should easy to develop the defenses against these techniques.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Sacrifice Is Telling

This last week I've been busy just like everyone else. Over the weekend I had the unique opportunity to spend some time with different sets of my friends.  One in particular is floating on chaos.  Thriving in it, breathing it, just swimming and snorkelling in a sea of chaos!

As we spoke about how to find clarity and direction amongst the many challenges, opportunities, and possibilities he faced an interesting question arose.  Typically when I see someone struggling to choose, fighting to find their bliss the question "Why are they struggling?" comes to mind.  Those who know me will realize how hypocritical that is of me, but it's reality and helpful none the less.

If you have read the Moving Forward series, you are familiar with concepts such as Hidden Benefits, Limiting Beliefs and the Two Questions.  One of the easiest ways to begin moving forward is to examine motivations (read the Moving Forward series for more detail) but sometimes even that doesn't provide enough insight to get someone unstuck.  In this case, a little helpful technique called .

This technique is useful in cases where you can't choose because you are waiting for someone else to make the first move.  You don't want to commit, you don't want to sacrifice, until you know if the move (the sacrifice) will be worth it.  To unstick it, you must first, sacrifice.  Pay the price, make the move, do the deal, whatever the choice may be.  If you aren't willing to be the first mover, then you weren't really invested in that particular option to begin with.

For example, you would like to relocate to another city because you think you can find a better job there.  You've researched it and the cost of living is easier, the schools are better, the jobs more abundant, maybe the weather is even nicer.  You tell yourself, as soon as I find a job there, I'll move.  All I need is to land a position and then I'll sell my house and get to moving.

Anytime you hear "you go first" rationalizations it's a good bet that First, Sacrifice will unstick the thinking.  Tell yourself to sell the house, get the move happening, and the job will come.  First make the sacrifice, then reap the benefit.  Nothing motivates you to forward progress like the very real possibility of failure.  Nothing increases your focus on the intangible aspects of a decision like making that decision and sticking with it.

Of course, you don't actually have to just jump in.  Just putting yourself in the situation of having made the sacrifice first will often bring the intangibles, the hidden benefits, and the limiting beliefs into sharp relief.  Simply being willing to act as if you already paid the price, bit the bullet, sent the note; this can crystalize the full accounting and make it obvious that you are ready (or not), willing (or not), and able (or not).

Next time you get stuck waiting on someone else to act, trying seeing what it's like to give in first.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Treat People Like You Are An Adult...

...but act like you are a child.

Most of us would probably agree that kid-like qualities are cool.  The ability to treat the world with wonder, innocence, respect, trust, and a smile are skills that are important to foster.  Being able to frolic is right up there on my short list of critical qualities in companions.  In many world religions, child-like behavior is encouraged for one reason or another.  Studies show that laughter, skipping, and learning will keep you healthy longer.

Having said that, there is no excuse for not treating others as if you were an adult.  Kids can be extremely cruel and selfish, albeit usually unintentionally.  Their place in life is to figure out how things relate to them.  To learn, to associate, to become.  The responsibility of an adult is to behave, to create, to do, if you will.  As such, we have rules about appropriateness, courtesy, and morality that are generally accepted to create our civilization.  In most cases (the minor ones, nothing major here) we exclude children from these rules specifically because of their unique position in life.  They cry out loud in public, they ask questions about how much other people weigh, they stare at the scar on your face without it being rude, they pretty much get to run around exploring and causing mischief because they are kids.  And it's more or less okay...until it's not.

At some point, you have start treating others as if you were an adult.  Conforming to rules of ettiquete and propriety.  Being concerned about other people, instead of your own immediate need.

Because I travel all the time, I end up dealing with most of my friends from a distance much of the time.  Finally I will plunk down with them for a couple days of hardcore fun and merriment and then I am off again to let them resume their routines.  It is precisely situations like this which have crystallized for me the need to be playful and carefree at times, and the need to responsible, serious and courteous at other times.

My friends who can be kid-like slip easily into a weekend of laughter and companionship, experiencing the wonder of the world around us.  Once sated we slip back to maturity as we face jobs, workout schedules, routines, households.

My friends who never slip the bonds of adulthood are never quite sure why I would pull the car over just to savor a sunset, or why my eyes grow wide at a juggler.  They never get quite as excited as I do about the idea of Disneyland, watching animated movies, walking the waterfront, or the chance to see Cirque Du Soleil.

My firends who still treat people as if they were kids take so much more work to engage.  I'd rather just not talk about them.

In the end, I find that the only practical rule I can follow is:

Treat People Like You Are An Adult,
But Act Like You Are Child.

It's more fun than you'd think.  Less work than you'd imagine.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Three Random Rules of Engagment

Lately the project I've been working on has been heating up.  Because of the pressure and the fact that finding senior technology people in Orange County is like finding a snowman in a blizzard, I've had to ask some junior people to really step up and fill some challenging roles.  As typically happens when you push people quickly they have some missteps on their climb to excellence.

One such example, happened this weekend.  As I was dishing out some advice on the proper way to handle situations like this, I realized it might be valuable to others.  So I'll share the Three Random Rules of Engagement here.


The first thing is that when you are being vocal about something, always shift congratulations, never blame. It makes you sound petty and people won’t like that. If something isn’t your fault make sure your superiors know about it well in advance, and always in from your lips, never your pen. Don’t write down negative things until asked. Write down positive things without being asked. Once they’ve been told, assume they remember, even if it appears they don’t. Generally there are good reasons for this. If it really bothers you, then talk to them about it. Don’t write.

The second thing is that you never bring up a problem without a solution or the background. If you can’t explain why something is happening, or what to do about it, then you need more information before raising the issue. There are situations that don’t warrant them but they are usually emergencies, high risk ventures, and when you are under strict orders other wise. If you don’t do your research before bringing up issues, then you are just the one delivering bad news and we all know what happens to the messenger. In addition, it will appear that you aren’t capable of thinking outside your immediate area or being proactive about getting things done.

Lastly, never email above someone without them knowing about it first. Unless it is so serious that you want someone fired, it is never a good idea to email someone and copy their manager/supervisor/etc. without speaking with them first. One major exception to this rule is for kudos; those you email to as many people as possible. When you are raising an issue, the quickest way to piss someone off is to broadcast it to the world before giving them a chance to address your concerns. Often times there are valid reasons and an alternative viewpoint that perhaps you aren’t aware of. Of course, if the person in question is harmfully inept, shows repeated unwillingness to address issues, or otherwise constitutes a threat to the company, then by all means, email away.


Of course, there was quite a bit more to it.  And I did give him some encouragement as well.  I'm not a complete jerk, you know.

Anyway, next time you start to feel cornered remember these Three Random Rules of Engagement.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The 5-D Approach to Anything (sm)

Way back in the early ninties I started writing down some of what I was learning from experiences with technology, business, and other people.  Over the years, I kept writing,  sometimes publicly, sometimes just notes and scribbles.  From time to time I pull one of my notebooks out to review something applicable to what I'm working on, or just to keep my thoughts up-to-date.  When occasion arises I offer up my tidbits to friends or colleagues in situations where my advice or counsel has been sought.  And it so happens, I've had more than a few people remark that they appreciated my input.  Which I guess goes to show you that not everyone wants to learn things the hard way.  If someone can take a shortcut and not repeat the glorious chaos of my experiences then I'm glad to offer them up.  Since I have a minute today,  I thought I'd get started with one of my overview tidbits.

One of the foundational writings I did was The 5-D Approach to Anything (sm).  The 5-Ds are Dream, Document, Design, Develop and Deploy.  

It's pretty simple really.  Not as simple as "Is it plugged in? And turned on?" which by the way works in almost every stalled situation (people included!), but the concept is straightforward.  Follow the 5-Ds and you will increase your chances of success in any venture.  The idea applies pretty much everywhere, you just have to follow the steps.  For software, companies, and finance there are 6-D and even 7-D additions, let me know if you'd like the customized extras. For now, here's a quick overview of The 5-D Approach to Anything.

Start with the goal, the ideal, the vision.  If you don't know where you are going, how will you get there?  If you don't know what you want, how can you achieve it?  You've heard all this positive visualization crap before.  This is pretty much the same.  Let you mind be free to just imagine, envision, and well...dream.

In almost every aspect of human interaction, something can't be real unless it is written down.  That's why we have contracts, records, music scores, books, formulas, and even math.  So write down your dream.  Excruciating detail helps, but blocks and arrows, bullet points, napkin scratchings, and even audio recordings are all valid ways to document.  Just get it down in some concrete form so you can share it.

Once you have something concrete that represents what you are going for, you can share that with the people who can help you attain your goal.  Maybe those are your friends if the goal is personal. It's probably your financial planner if the goal is monetary.  Your employees and colleagues if the goal is career-oriented.  It's an engineer or architect if you want something built or constructed.  It's an editor if you want your book published, a personal trainer if you want to lose weight, or it's your banker if you want a line of credit.  See where this is going?  These are people who can refine your approach. Who can help you attack your problem, or obtain your goal, or make your ideas real.

You know what you are trying to accomplish, you've made it real, you've shared the goal, and refined your plan.  The people who need to be motivated and working can now being executing against the design you've laid out.  That might mean a mason can start laying brick, your broker can start buying stock, or you can head to the gym with confidence.  Whatever the doing step (or steps) of the plan might be, now is the time to get down to it.  Unleash the activities and charge forward.

With the execution over, you can do the most important step.  Share.  If it's your money you earned, enjoy it.  If it was time you freed up, relish it.  New body? Show it off! Amazing product? Sell the snot out of it. Company growing? Raises all around!  You see, once you get to where you were going, it's important to take that look around and appreciate the journey.  Assess the situation and make sure you like the view.  Learn from any mistakes, accept any blame, forgive any missteps.  Breathe a sigh, raise a glass and get some sleep.  Tomorrow you'll do it all again.

The 5-Ds are easy to master, but not obvious.  When you slow down and ensure you spend time on each step, you can make sure you aren't forgetting something crucial to your success.  Things like taking time to involve the right people, soliciting good advice, listening to your own reasons, celebrating your successes, sharing rewards with the deserving, and even being accountable for when you do screw up.  These are things that will attract good partners and friends and will ensure repeated success.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


I had to fill out this questionaire for one of the kids I'm "".  They made me think so I thought I'd share them with you.

Q: Do you think yor type of resume should depend more the job you are applying for or the specific company you are sending it to?
 A: The specific job you are applying for is more important.

Q: What is the best way to stay motivated when you own your own company and do not have a supervisor telling you what to do?
A: Written plans and delegated responsibility. When you write things down it can help you stay focused on what is really important. When you delegate responsibilty to your employees/service providers/vendors you have other people depending on you to keep things rolling. It's hard to slack off when you have an accountant who needs deposits made on time, or an employee how needs their worked reviewed so they can move on with the rest of their goals.

Q: During an interview what do you think most recruiters look for when hiring employees?
A: It depends on the company. Each company will have a different culture and focus. A very customer-oriented business will care more for your attire and presentation then actual ability or experience. A very technical business will care little for your attire or presentation and instead focus on your real experience or expertise and it's applicability to their bottom-line.

Q: When running your own business what do you do to seperate work from family and your outside life?
A: Set boundaries. Setting aside specific times for work and family is important. Not randomizing and trying to do a little of each is critical. Give yourself a bucket of hours to one thing, and then switch. Stay on task by turning off the phone when you are with family, and closing the office door when you are working. Be clear in your expectations for both sets. Let family know the proper way to interrupt, the appropriate and inappropriate reasons, and other boundaries. Do the same for your employees.

Q: What is the best job I can take after college to gain the experience needed to manage my own company?
A: Selling something is first. Working in customer service for a large company with volatile customer base is next.

Q: What are the qualities you look for in a good business partner?
A: Integrity. Attitude. Focus. Everything else is just gravy.

Q:If you start a business and it fails, how do maintain drive and confidence when beginning a new venture?
A: Make sure you have really learned from your mistakes. You don't really know something until you can teach it. At a minimum you have to be able to understand it. So write down your lessons learned. Go over them with your mentors and extract the key lessons, and hard truths. Put them in a form you can work into your daily thinking, like mottos or slogans or catch-phrases. Then use them. Doing a post-mortem on any venture is always necessary for any successful entrepreneur.

Q: Do you think it is essential to get experience at another company before starting your own business?
A: Yes.

Q: Would your recomend attending MBA school full or part time?
A: Full time. It's hard work and the socialization/networking aspects of the programs are much more valuable than the actual course content.

Q: Have you ever had a mentor? If so, how much do you think you benefited from his/her guidance?
A: I have and still do. Several, in fact. The objective viewpoint and the ability to speak to someone you can trust to have your best interests in mind is empowering and crucial.

Q: What is the most difficult part of starting/running your own company?
A: Realizing that the tasks you do which will make you successful usually have little to do with what your business is about. All businesses have the same challenges, those challenges aren't the business. The business is the output of addressing all those challenges successfully.

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being your own boss?
A: An advantage is that you get to pick and choose which opportunities you want to pursue. The disadvantage is that you don't always get to pick the challenges that created those opportunities. Sure you get hoard the success, but you also get to hoard the sweat, the hours, the tears, and the failures.

Q: Do you think credentials or personality are more important when hiring new employees?
A: Almost always personality.   Of course, exceptions of particular kinds of work are common too.

Whatcha think?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Scribes, Ants, Artists

In the spectrum of people in the field of Software, there are three major groups. Those for whom it is a job, those for whom it is a religion, and those for whom it is an art.

Those for whom it is a job we'll call Scribes. They generally thrive in the periphery. They may be involved but are never widely impactful. They are continually consuming but very rarely of any influence. The great ones are dependable and performant.  The good ones are mostly useless except as seat-warmers and secretaries.

Those for whom it is a religion we'll call Ants. They can be found littering up the landscape, infiltrating even the best structures. They are hordes of drones, led by a small number of disassociated individuals who make proclamations and generally rouse the masses without ever actually doing any work.  The great ones can seem to fly in relation to their followers, but they have a limited shelf life.  Once their nest is established, the hordes just dig in and tear up the surrounding country-side. The good ones can carry off projects many times their own weight, but inevitably just leave a whole that someone else has to fill.

Those for whom it is an art we'll call Artists (didn't see that coming, did you?). They are the smallest group, but the most influential. They actually create things just to see what they look like, and they appreciate the creations of others.  They borrow heavily from the world around them for inspiration and direction.  Sometimes they infuse religion into their art. They try to get paid for their art, but it's never fully appreciated until after they are gone. Artists can be very eccentric, it is the true price for their gift. Their creations inspire others. But unlike with the Ants and Scribes, the inspiration takes different forms for each of them.

Ants all follow the same path, and like Scribes get their orders from somewhere else. Artists prefer guidelines.

A Scribe can get stuff done, but will often only be successful by leaving a bloody mess of spaghetti and chicken-scratching in their wake.  They pay attention to the latest engineering fashions only so much as it directly impacts their day-to-day.  For them, change isn't particularly good, unless glacial in speed.

Count on the Ants to always read the latest works and writings.  It is the Ant Queens to write the drivel that is gulped down by the masses.  With their focus solely on increasing their hordes, they don't care about the wholes they leave in the landscape, only that their insatiable appetite is appeased.

When I look around and assess my peers, my clients, and my workers, I try to remember what I am striving to become. All too often I see reflections of the ways I've yet to master myself.

Which bucket have you found yourself in lately?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Just Because

Some time ago I was following a behavioral research project being carried out on the subject of motivation. The underlying concept had more to do with how to get people to do things than why they do them. Along the way some interesting things were learned about both aspects of motivation. In any case, the basic flow of the experiment involved cutting in line.

A researcher would come up to people who were waiting to use a photocopier, and ask to cut in, "I only have a few pages, may I go first because I am in a hurry?" Something like 90% of the time, the person asked would let them in front. In another case they would come up to someone waiting to use the photocopier and ask to cut in, "I only have a few pages, may I go first?" To this approach only something like 60% of people let the researchers go first.

The intial thinking was that it was the "I am in a hurry" that prompted the different reactions. They then adjusted the experiment to include other fake "reasons", including some very poor ones like "because I have to make copies". It was quickly apparent that giving a reason always prompted more success than without. Much more success.

Simply including a "because" with their request created a dramatic increase in the percentage of success for the request being granted. This simple exercise demonstrated (albeit indirectly) how important having a justification can be for actions.

As individuals we love to have reasons for things, it makes us feel secure. When you are given a reason for something, your brain can go "Alright then, as long as there’s a reason!". People love reasons, so if you are in a position of trying to influence someone, just give them one.

Of course, it should be obvious that if the likelihood of someone complying with a request is zero, then increasing it by any percentage (even a large one!) is still going to be zero. For example, I have well publicized that I am willing to give Sarah Alexander one of my famous back-rubs for no charge, because they’re very relaxing. However, the chances of that happening are pretty close to zero and I have yet to hear from her. Sarah, if you’re reading this, the offer is still very much on the table.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Reading my Diary again!

This morning, I caught up on Guy Kawasaki whose writing I've always enjoyed.  His recent post about the Bozo Explosion mirrored my own thoughts on the demise I've experienced as an ex-Microsoft employee.

In his post he lists many of the signs that a company is going through a Bozo Explosion (defined: the downward slide that seems inevitable after a company achieves rapid success--often during the years immediately following an IPO).  The first two points in his list are: managers hiring people less talented/smart/capable then themselves and arrogance.  These are the same two things I always end up explaining whenever I have to discuss my various reasons for leaving the Remond Giant.

His point about the "biorhythms" made me laugh so hard I about fell out of my chair.  Totally right on!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Altered Perceptions

Sometimes it is what people aren't saying that is more interesting than what they are saying. It's not uncommon for people to want things from me, but feel like they have to tip-toe around to get it.

The funny ones are the ones who think they can hide their disdain for my personality well enough to manipulate me into serving their ends.  How ignorant must you be to not realize I serve of my own freewill, not out of compulsion.  Certainly not because of their feeble attempts to handle or cajole me.  For whom are their petty machinations not transparent?
"When I use a word", Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
- Lewis Carroll - Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Minimum Wage == Cost of Living?

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) ran a competition recently to collect ideas for improving our economy and our day-to-day lives.  It was called Since Sliced Bread and they got some really interesting ones.

My personal favorite was the number three finalist.  Submitted by Filippo Menczer of Bloomington, Indiana, his idea was to tie the Minimum Wage to the Cost of Living Index. In this way it becomes a minimum purchasing power, not minimum inflation-bound dollars.  Read more about it here.

I really like this idea and I expect you all to write a letter to your Governor and Congressmen so they can get right on this one.

Have a better idea?  I'm all ears.