Tuesday, February 27, 2018

My Why

This is the original TED talk for Start with Why.  If you have not seen this before, it is worth 20 minutes of your time.

Before I left my last job, I watched many highly skilled employees drop out.

These are the types of folks that employers say they want – intrinsically motivated, hard-working, intelligent, and creative.

These are people that have in-demand skills and knowledge.

The people that employers say they can’t find and there aren’t enough of.

These employees dropped out to pursue other interests in things not having to do with computers.

These employees dropped out because they were tired of the politics and the pushing and the treadmill.

Some went into real estate, or started their own business, or joined up with friends.

And if they didn’t drop-out physically, many dropped out mentally. Burned out.

Gallup’s most recent State of the Global Workplace found that 85% of workers are either not engaged or actively disengaged in their jobs.  That means that only 15% of workers are engaged at all!

And who can blame them?  A 2016 Korn Ferry study of 800 CEOs discovered

Two-Thirds of CEOs Believe Technology Will Be Their Firm’s Greatest Competitive Advantage–Nearly Half Say Robotics, Automation and AI Will Make People ‘Largely Irrelevant’

Is it any wonder that many of our workplaces have become inhumane?  We have leadership who don’t want us there.

Furthermore, many organizational cultures purposefully attract and feed on the insecurity of over-achievers.

Does anyone else see anything wrong?

When I started my business, I discovered very quickly that my ideal customer looks a lot like my friends.

These folks are middle-aged, in middle-management or are senior individual contributors, and have been around the block a few times with a few different organizations.

They aren’t success-driven, political, ladder-climbers.

They want to create cool things, serve their clients and customers well, and keep their head above water.

They are overwhelmed with conflicting and competing demands that make no sense.

They are frustrated by tasks that never end and new tasks that keep piling up along with the expectation that they continue to do all of the old stuff too.

They are concerned about the lack of opportunities for professional development and being left behind because they are too busy doing their jobs.


My friends deserve better.  The vast majority of the knowledge workforce deserves better.

And I am going to openly admit that I am losing patience with executive complaints that they “can’t find people.”

Chances are, what you want is under your nose and desires to become that person.

Are you going to give them the time, space, focus, and opportunities to become the people you claim you are looking for?

Are you valuing what you already have?

My personal “why” (in the format: To ___ so that____)

To use my personal experience so that I can support others and help them find personal success in whatever environment they find themselves in.

And if that means helping them flee, I’m cool with that.

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

#52books Find Your Why

#52books Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team

Format: Kindle

This book is the “how-to” for Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.

Simon Sinek, David Mead, and Peter Docker give incredibly detailed instructions for facilitating what they call “Why Discovery” and provide instructions for finding a personal “why” and finding a team/organizational “why.”

They talk in detail about potential pitfalls and failure points, particularly when trying to do this yourself (not recommended) or if you are working within an organization that is so dysfunctional that it is hard to have a civil conversation.

They also noted that directly asking for “why” may trigger emotional resistance.  Instead, it’s best to come at it sideways – asking more “what” and “how” questions.  Asking “why” tends to trigger an emotional, occasionally defensive, response.  I’ve seen that in my own practice, so it was nice to have that impression validated.

I’m impressed that they were willing to provide the entire how-to guide for their team workshop, including time codes facilitation tips, exercises, and question pools.

If you haven’t read or purchased Start With Why, I would recommend watching Sinek’s original TED talk, then purchase Find Your Why instead.  This book is the result of almost 10 years of practice in this space and provides everything you need for you and your team to determine your “why.”

Let me help you find your why!

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Flow-Friendly Environments

8 characteristics of flow

These are Csikszentmihaly’s 8 Characteristics of Flow

We can influence environment

We cannot MAKE someone experience Flow.

They have to do that for themselves.

I think we approach many of our change initiatives the wrong way.

We seem to be focused on changing behavior.

We don’t ask whether what we are doing is going to help provide the environment to encourage that behavior change.

  • Can they concentrate?  How many other activities are you having people do at the same time?  Is it additive? Are you subtracting ANYTHING? Or is it just “MORE.”  How much “multitasking” are you asking people to do?
  • Have you provided them clarity or at least a sense of direction?  How often does your goal change?  Do your changing goals, combined, lead somewhere – or are you still running in circles?  Do your people have any chance of succeeding?
  • Will they have some semblance of control over the new tasks?  My assumption is that you hired them because they know what they are doing or can learn quickly.
  • Are you giving them the space and the time to learn new skills so you can take on new challengesAre you complaining that your workers don’t have the skills, then not investing in the people you have? How much is it costing you to attract, recruit, and onboard new workers who come in with the skills?  How much productivity are you losing as you onboard your new employees (because that takes resources from your existing employees)?

We can’t force anyone to internally experience anything.  Why not focus on creating the right environment?


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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Faulty Assumption of Control

Autopsy of a Failed Holacracy: Lessons in Justice, Equity, and Self-Management

The assumption behind any change model is “I can change you.”

No wonder projects fail and people are resentful.

We approach these things thinking we are going to change someone else.

Worse is when we approach these things thinking we are going to change someone else, but I don’t have to change myself.

People are going to see right through that.

In a recent Non-Profit Quarterly article outlining a failed holacracy initiative, the author identified three assumptions within that model that can easily make the actual execution of Holacracy de-humanizing:

  1. That maximizing autonomy and coordinating behavior (emphasis mine) is central to good governance
  2. That explicit, linear, and reproducible meeting structures and language is preferred
  3. The system provides space for everyone to have and use power

The problem with each of these assumptions:

  • Good luck with “coordinating behavior”, especially if you are not willing to walk the talk yourself.
  • Those structures and that language usually wind up becoming another set of acronyms and code-words that few people understand.
  • The same people who tend to go after power will be the same people who have power in this structure.  There is nothing inherently in the structure (or in any structure) that equalizes how people experience power in its various forms.

My assumption is that an organization is a networked group of individuals and that culture derives from the interactions between these individuals and how the environment influences individual behavior.

The only thing we should attempt to influence is the environment the individuals work within – much like fertilizing and mulching a garden so that your plants can thrive.

What are you working with now?

  1. What are the characteristics of the people who “hold power” in the organization?
  2. How is your organization currently treating people who act autonomously?  Is it encouraged? Discouraged?  Is it encouraged verbally and discouraged behaviorally?
  3. What is your percentage of aggressive go-getters vs quieter thinkers and how are each of these groups treated?
  4. What environmental changes can you make to make your organization more inclusive?  Are there policies that need changing? Do different people need to be in leadership positions? Do the working environments accommodate different working needs?

Let me help you visualize your work-in-process!

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

#52books The Art of Living

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Format: Kindle

It’s been awhile since I have studied Ancient Greek philosophy.  When I was studying it, as part of my graduate studies in History, we didn’t spend much time on the Stoics.  Much of my time was spent with Asclepius, Hippocrates, Galen, and the other characters in Ancient Greek medicine.

The Art of Living is an interpretation of a translation of transcribed discourses from Epictetus.

The book is easy to read and easy to pick up and put down. Strict translations from the original Ancient Greek text tend towards painful reading.

You can see the gist of some key ideas that have carried over into modern day thinking.

  • Control what you can, accept what you can’t. (Serenity prayer, anyone?)
  • You are responsible for your thoughts.
  • Don’t adopt other people’s views as your own.
  • Clearly define the person you want to be.
  • You can choose how you respond.
  • Harmonize your actions with the way life is. Don’t try to make your own rules.
  • Appreciate what you have.
  • Happiness is within.
  • Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

From this interpretation, I can see why Stoicism and Epictetus are going through a resurgence in popularity among the entrepreneurial set.  Many of the messages have been passed down through the business/sales arm of the self-help community for generations.

The academic in me is “this close” to grabbing and reading a more literal translation of Epictetus’ discourses.  The inner academic would like to see how muddied the message is in today’s translations of Stoic philosophy.  Then there is the (larger) part of me that knows it has much better things to do than slog through literal English translations of Ancient Greek.

This translation/interpretation of Epictetus strikes me as a decent start.  If nothing else, I’d put this in the category of “distraction book” – something you can pick up and put down easily in short stints, close the cover, and feel just a bit better for having spent time with it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Types of Work

The authors of The Phoenix Project identified four types of work that appear in IT departments:

  • Business projects – the temporary activities that create something new with an eye towards creating a return on investment for the business.
  • Internal projects – the temporary activities that help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of internal business operations
  • Changes – work that needs to happen to accommodate a desired adjustment to an operational system (either a technology configuration or a business process). Often a result of projects.
  • Unplanned work – activities we didn’t see coming, but we have to do anyway. Often a result of projects, changes, and life.

I would argue that these types of work appear in all departments, not just IT.

These 4 types of work essentially define the whirlwind.

Too many projects.

Too much work in progress.

Maintaining broken systems and the unplanned work that results.

Saying “yes” to activities that, on the surface, don’t look like much.   “It will be quick.”

A death by a thousand cuts.

I think we are guilty of planning projects and activities in isolation.

Never accommodating ALL of the pieces of the whirlwind.

Never looking at what work is in progress right now, or lying around unfinished, or waiting for someone to have some bandwidth to finish the work.

I think we are also guilty of never pausing and asking whether the good idea is a good idea for US.

Never analyzing whether that good idea will move us towards our greater vision – or if it is just a distraction from the path.

Why are we not OK with letting that great idea go to someone else with the resources and bandwidth to execute?

Why the fear that good ideas will never appear again?

Or that we are “missing something” if we don’t do something with the idea.

We have so much inspiration, influences, and opportunity!

Where has chasing all of the things led you?

Let me help you with your goals this year.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

#52books The Phoenix Project

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#52books – The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win

Format: Kindle

It’s a luxury to sit and consume a book in one sitting.  Having the time to do that is half of it.  Finding a book you can’t put down is the other.

Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford use storytelling to share a way to think about DevOps and IT as a key business driver.

They have obviously spent time in the trenches.  The stories ring true, the characters seem to be modeled after people they have encountered, and I get the sense that some of the situations are thin disguises for real-life episodes.  Admittedly, they also try to cram those characters into typical IT and corporate stereotypes (the guru/mentor, the politician, the “CEO,” the savior engineer, etc). They also follow the hero’s journey as the framework, so you pretty much knew how things were going to end.

Thankfully, I was not reading this as a novel or expecting much of a plot.

I could have easily read the back of the book and get what I needed out of it.

Reading the whole book, however, helped to provide context to the ideas in the back of the book.

I also found myself going on the learning journey with Bill, the main character, as he tried to parse what Erik, the guru/mentor, told him.

It’s impressive when a book gets my attention enough to make me engage like that.


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Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Step Before the SMART Goal

Yeah, if you could create smart goals, that would be great.

I’ve noticed that people sometimes resist creating SMART goals.

That resistance strengthens the less certain they are about whether that goal (or even getting things headed in the right direction) is achievable.

I’m thinking there could be an in-between step.

Over ten years ago, I found myself carrying about 25 pounds more than I usually do.  The weight snuck up on me, of course.  A few incidents set off some alarms that maybe I ought to do something about it.

  1. I was wearing my mother’s hand-me-downs.  She had just lost a bunch of weight.  Her hand-me-downs were larger than anything I had worn – ever.  And some of them were too tight.
  2. A professional colleague made the harmless comment that I looked “old.”  I work in IT, so tact isn’t a strong suit for most people in the field.
  3. Clothes I’ve worn for years didn’t fit. Too tight.
  4. I was feeling tired, bloated, slow and fat.

Yes, I knew I needed to set SMART goals, but I’ve never needed to diet or lose weight before.

Furthermore, I wasn’t entirely sure what caused the weight gain to begin with.  I didn’t think I was doing anything differently.

I figured that a good approach, for me, was to see if I could change the momentum.

I didn’t set a target to fail at, then go through the whole shame-spiral thing when I missed.

It was more of an “if I do this, will the trend move in the right direction?”

In my case, I decided to start exercising. I tracked how often I did it and what I did.

After a month, I had enough data to start setting SMART goals.

What was that data?

  • Yes, in my case – exercise helps me lose weight
  • I also found that exercise dampened my appetite and I naturally made better food choices
  • I could exercise 2-3 days per week without feeling the “shoulds”
  • During my exploratory measurements, I lost 5 pounds and started to fit into my old clothes again.

Awesome!  NOW I can make a SMART goal because I have a good chance of achieving it and I have the data available to make it realistic.

If you find yourself resisting making a SMART goal, do some exploration.

  1. Where are you at now?
  2. Is there something you can try to change the trend?
  3. What happened?
    • Did your experiment have the desired result?
    • If yes, at what pace?
    • If not, is there something else you can try?  Or is there another variable at play?

With that data, you can then start setting specific, measurable, ACHIEVABLE, relevant and time-bound goals.

And you won’t get as stuck with the “achievable” part.

Let me help you set goals, prioritize, and plan.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

The Whirlwind

In The 4 Disciplines of Execution, the authors talk about the whirlwind – or “your day job.”

As I read the book, I had a nagging thought…

I think they are letting executives off the hook.

Why aren’t they asking what the executives are willing to give up to go after the wildly important goal?

Conversations around projects are about getting the project done.

I don’t see many questions about what life is going to look like AFTER it’s done.

Get the project done. Celebrate (maybe). Move on to the next thing.

Then they wonder why they aren’t seeing the expected business benefits.

Furthermore, projects are often conceived and expected on top of everything people are already doing.

The cult of “more.”

Do more. Have more. More productivity. More “lines of business.” More customers. More services. More more more!

Oh yeah, and with the exact same resources.

Then they wonder why their best employees leave and the rest have crummy attitudes on a good day.

They wonder why they can’t reach their goal.

No focus.

You keep adding.

You don’t provide any wiggle room to allow your people to adjust.

How adaptable are YOU when you are stressed out and tired?

And if you answer “very adaptable” – time to get an outside opinion. You likely won’t like what you hear.

The authors imply that by focusing on implementing the 4 disciplines and a wildly important goal with appropriate measures, focus takes care of itself.

And it might.

I think we can do more.

If we are leading a team, the least we can do is help that team gain some bandwidth to adjust to change.

Their resistance is valid.

Are you just adding on?

We need to do the hard, uncomfortable work of setting new boundaries, determining what activities need to stop, and saying “no.”

Let me help you create clarity around your goals, certainty about what to do, and demonstrate your value.

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Monday, February 05, 2018

#52books The 4 Disciplines of Execution

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#52 Books  – The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals

Format: Kindle

There will always be more good ideas than the capacity to implement.

I’m tempted to stick this quote on the back of my business card.


Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, Jim Huling and Jim Stuart at FranklinCovey spent years developing and implementing this model of execution.

Their 4 disciplines are straightforward:

  1. Focus on the wildly important
  2. Act on the lead measures
  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard
  4. Create a cadence of accountability

Straightforward, but not easy.

And, as with any sound change practice, the disciplines require steady, consistent effort to implement successfully.

They recognize the enemy of successful execution is the “Whirlwind”, i.e. your day job and the urgencies that appear necessary to sustain your business.  If you can’t focus on the wildly important, the other three disciplines won’t help you.

As they put it numerous times in the book:

The most important contribution a senior leader can make is to remain focused on the wildly important goal and resist the allure of your next great idea. (emphasis mine)

They recognized that the people who tend to rise to leadership positions are also the type of people who are creative and ambitious.  The type of people who are hard-wired to take on too much and, because they are in a leadership position, have their staff take on too much.

They also recognized that leaders like to hedge their bets and position themselves, and their team, such that people can’t question the level of effort.  Busy looks good.

Nothing is more counter-intuitive for a leader than saying no to a good idea, and nothing is a bigger destroyer of focus than always saying yes.

How many of these 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) implementations failed because their clients couldn’t find the discipline of focus?


They kept avoiding the “whirlwind.”  Throughout the book, I hoped they would ask, “Is what you are doing in the whirlwind truly necessary?”

They stated that a focus on wildly important goals might help narrow the size and complexity of the whirlwind.  It was obvious, however, that they were keeping day-to-day operations out of scope.

They never asked about what was happening in the whirlwind.

Why did they keep skirting around the thing that was likely to derail their model?

I’m going to talk more about this book in the next couple of posts and try to unpack that.

I hope you can join me on this journey!

Friday, February 02, 2018

#52books Good Business

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Format: Softcover

After his seminal 1990 work, Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote many books describing how flow works in various contexts.  Good Business is the first of two forays into Flow and business.

Csikszentmihalyi interviewed 39 business leaders who, he felt, combined high achievement with “moral commitment.”  He defined “moral commitment” as “long-term dedication to goals that advance the interests of the community, the people living in it, and humanity in general.”

Leveraging his previous research, he found that “few jobs nowadays have clear goals,” many jobs don’t leverage a worker’s skills, and there is little to no control over the goals of the process, how the worker performs the process or even the time it takes to do the process.

Csikszentmihalyi calls for a clear set of goals and values, along with consistent communication and reinforcement of those values.  “Every well run organization has not only a good business plan, but a set of core values that are expressed in the behavior of the leadership(emphasis mine) and are continuously reinforced through written statements and verbal communication.”

What saddens me is that 15 years after the initial publication of this book in 2003, goals are even less clear within many organizations.  A focus on “agility”, and the frequent abdication of the responsibility to decide on a direction and stick with it long enough to see results in many organizations, have not helped this issue.

I don’t know about you, but I am still seeing way too many people burned out, frustrated, and exhausted.  Maybe even more so now than in 1993.

Csikszentmihalyi also stresses the importance of an alignment between an organization’s values and an employee’s values.  Of course, this alignment is next to impossible if the organization isn’t entirely sure what it’s values are, or they have a laundry list of values that were decided by a committee.

There is an assumption, likely a result of his selected research methodology, that having a strong leader with clear values that are consistently demonstrated and communicated provides a partial solution to the misalignment problem.  At least employees can see the values and behaviors modeled.

I think that it is also a matter of the employee being more discerning about where to put his or her efforts. The employee needs to come in with his or her own clear and integrated set of values and determining whether there is a match with the organization and with the group; not trying to contort themselves to fit in.

In our current knowledge economy, our education, experience, and energy are the “means of production.”  How are we being asked to use our personal resources?  What values are we supporting?

Csikszentmihalyi warns, “The organization you work for will shape your entire identity. It will either enable you to grow or stunt you; it will either energize you or drain you; it will strengthen your values or make you cynical.”

I’m grateful that I am hearing more frequent discussions around how to make the workplace more responsive, responsible, humane, and sustainable.  I’m grateful for the small pockets of progress I’ve seen in the intervening 15 years.

I’m also sad that this book might be more important now than it was in 2003.

Amazon links
Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience 

I hope you can join me on this journey!

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Variable Capacity and Story Points

Wendy and Brian discussing agile prioritization

Brian Dusablon and I working at the Advocates for Human Rights.

Please donate.

Brian is serving as the developer/technical lead for this project.

In this picture, Brian and I are picking through the priorities Advocates set and discussing the level of effort needed.

This discussion is important because as with Advocates, his time on the project is limited and somewhat unpredictable.

Now, in the ideal Agile world, all members of the project are solely on that one project.

The closest I’ve seen to that ideal in real life was in the Data Whisperer’s implementation of Agile – and that took 3 years, a new VP, and probably 5 years off his life to achieve.

In the Advocate’s Agile-style implementation, the most important thing we had to accommodate was the wild variance of team availability.

Brian is a pro-bono volunteer.  As am I.

The Advocates staff needs to prioritize their time towards fulfilling their mission.

The tools that helped us here are the Scrum concepts of projected work capacity and story points.

For each 2-week sprint – Advocates will predict their projected work capacity by the number of hours available for the effort for those 2 weeks.  We anticipate that for some sprints, the number of hours may be zero.  That’s ok – though I am hoping that is NEVER the case, for fear that they will lose focus and drop the project.  That’s on them.

In the meantime, Brian predicts his projected work capacity for the project for the sprint, also by the number of hours he will have available for the effort.

Each card has an estimated number of hours (the story points) it will take to complete.  If the item requires feedback or a decision from outside the project team, I asked them to double the number of hours.  I suspect that they are better about talking to each other than most organizations, but it’s been my experience that it takes a lot longer to get an external decision than one predicts.

The estimation of the number of hours/story points occurs when Advocates moves the card from the backlog to Prioritized.

That estimation also occurs when Advocates moves the card from the sprint to “Ready for Development” – Brian needs to identify the amount of time he has available and when he will have something for testing.

Something Advocates made very clear on this effort is that there is no set deadline. They just need to show regular progress to the Board.  Since the velocity will be wildly variable from sprint to sprint, this is good news.  They are not setting an unrealistic deadline for themselves.  As long as they set regular bi-weekly milestones and keep an eye on their goal, I think they will be ok.

My hope is that they are able to maintain momentum after our visit.  As I mentioned before, Advocates staff will be leading the project from here.  A prime example of a business unit taking ownership.  I’ll keep you posted.