Get It Right EVERY TIME (not just the first time)

Get It Right EVERY TIME (not just the first time)

Technology

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

One of the cool things about working with developers, sysadmins, and customers is that the environment is changing constantly.

The Habit

We technical folks often fall into one of two mindsets when we’re working through a problem.  We either get laser focused on the end goal — forsaking any and all incremental improvements along the way in favor of that sweet victory that waits for us in the end, or we revel in the flow of the technical process itself until we are surprised — if not a little let down — in the end when we’ve implemented an elegant solution.  This is natural.  It’s why we’re good at what we do.

But if we’ll take force ourselves to pause during the moments when we’ve made positive progress and take notes of how we got here, we’ll end up doubling the bounty when we beat the big boss at the end of the level.  By taking time to document what it was that got us here, we’re no longer just solving this problem — we’re taking time to solve this kind of problem and not just for ourselves, but for anyone who might follow in our footsteps.

The Method

As mentioned above, I have found it very beneficial to as completely as possible document how it is that I do my work.  The idea came while reading The eMyth Revisited by Michael Gerber, and it’s a simple but vital discipline to have in order to move from art to science in your field.

When we’re starting out we think of what we do as an art form, and there’s no one in the world who can do it as well as we can.  Most of us stick with that mindset and quickly fall into the trap of limiting mindsets.  We’re grateful for the work but there’s only so much of it we can do.  This is where packaging our methods into a process can take our success to the next level.

Converting from Art to Science

Most of us can identify tasks we’ll need to repeat again in the future.  I recommend keeping a watchful eye out for those tasks, and committing to making the next time you do the last time you perform that task as an art form.  The next time you perform that task, you’ll write down in detail how you did it.  Write it in detail – step by step – so that anyone can follow it with little or no knowledge of the art at which you’ve become so skilled.

The next time you perform this task – and I know this is hard because like you, I’m an artist and there’s no one better at this task than me – don’t rely on instinct.  This time use your documentation.  Read it step by maddening step as if you had never done it before.  Pretend you’re an intern learning the ropes of this business and are reading the words from a learned master of the art.

Replay.  Revise.  Repeat.

Think for a second.  Did the documentation give you everything you needed to get the work done?  Or did you have to rely on instinct for parts of it.  If you had to use your gut, go back and update the documentation.  Commit to using this document every. single. time you perform this task until the end of time.  Each time you do, the documentation will get better, and someday in the not-very-distant future, magic will happen.

Someone will ask you to do the task and you’ll realize you’ve documented it so well that anyone can do it.  So well in fact that because anyone can do it, you no longer need to do it.  You can provide the documentation to the person who asked, or you can delegate the work to someone on your team, complete with detailed instructions on how to complete it.  The point is, you’ve successfully created a process that allows your art form to be done by someone else, so you can create new art.  

That’s how you begin to say yes to more opportunity and succeed with work than you ever thought possible.

Next Steps: Use Your Template as a Template

Once the fix is in place let’s take the next step in creating the ultimate elegant solution by formatting our notes into a reusable template. Write out a solution that works for this type of problem in all its forms. For whatever variation of this issue may come along may our solution be the solution that works.

Let’s make the template beautiful, effective, and simple. Let each step be so well-planned that the outcomes our readers experience are the outcomes we have predicted.
With a working template in place, build it into a template for templates.  Use it to make templates for other solutions.  Take note of patterns we discover from template to template and use those patterns to create automation. With that we can package a way to either prevent the problem, or to solve it reliably on command.

And with that, we amplify the value of our solutions.

The Tools

The E-Myth Revisited
Next Page: Complete Work Faster and Better With Scrum

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Complete Work Faster and Better With Scrum

Complete Work Faster and Better With Scrum

Technology

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

I’ll go ahead and assume you know what Scrum is.  If not, look it up – there are tons of people who can provide a far better and more complete explanation than I.  My team is technically too small for Scrum, but we use it in the best way we can, and have really seen amazing results with it.

The parts of scrum that have proven most revolutionary for me:

  • Understanding how to assess the priority of work
  • Being able to accurately estimate the amount of effort and time required to complete the work
  • Scrum provides the team with a level of self awareness that helps us confidently accept new work, and to recommend alternatives when we know the proposed work is unlikely to succeed as proposed.

The Habits

The team agrees on the estimate of all new work

The team closely monitors the types of stories that become problematic (unclear, too large, too small, etc.)

Retro and planning at the end of EVERY SPRINT.  Complete with kudos, things to change, things we learned and things to keep.

Through the use of the template process, create an organized method of delivery that is used every time.  This will help funnel each story into a way to get the work done successfully. For more about this see THIS POST.

Scrum master and product owner roles are rotated between members from sprint to sprint in order to maintain perspective

Sprint time is sprint time.  This one is a big challenge.  Time blocking is a huge essential for this component.  Without proper, somewhat rigid, time blocking, your sprints will fall behind.

 

The Tools

Scrum Crash Course

Official Training

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

Long-distance Kanban with Trello

 

Next Page: How To Make More Effective Use of Your Office Productivity Software

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Keep Email in its Box with Inbox Zero

Keep Email in its Box with Inbox Zero

Self-help, Technology

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

We all have a love/hate relationship with email, except maybe without the love. Yes, email is terrible, but it’s part of life so we may as well deal with it in this guide. I recommend looking at email at least once per day and no more often than three or four times per day, depending on the length of your work day. If you’re an eight-to-fiver, twice is plenty. If you run from five am to midnight, you may need to deal with email as many as four times a day.

The Habit

Check sometime in the morning. Schedule it AROUND your big rocks. Give it anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes and get through it then. If you have more email than you can read in that amount of time, make use of rules, filters, and assistants to get you through the list every single time.

Do Inbox Zero. Delete, delegate, do, defer.

Delete what needn’t be there (and unsubscribe, rule, or filter it away from your inbox forever).

Delegate what must be done, but not by you, and schedule time to train involved parties on how to do the work, and how not to involve you. Empowering others is one of the qualities of highly effective professionals.

Do what must be done. Do it right now.

Defer what can’t be done now. Sparingly, you may need to schedule some things for a later time. Put them on your calendar or todo list, and get them out of your inbox.

Inbox Zero http://www.43folders.com/izero

David Allen’s Getting Things Done http://gettingthingsdone.com/

The Tools

How To Make More Effective Use of Your Office Productivity Software

Shrink the Window and Shrink the Energy

 

Next Page: Weekly Review and Planning

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Online Meetings and Collaboration

Online Meetings and Collaboration

Products I Love, Technology

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

The Habit

Online meetings can be just as productive as a meeting held in person, provided everyone remembers that the meeting is still a meeting.

Turn your camera on.  It seems weird at first but it doesn’t take very long before it feels normal, and makes a huge difference in the quality of the conversations you can have.

Especially in larger meetings and when some attendees are present via phone only, announce who you are when you’re talking.  It takes no extra time to do, and brings refreshing clarity to the call.  Not only is it courteous to other attendees, others can focus more clearly on your comments and questions when they’re not trying to remember whose faceless voice spoke last.

Prepare.  As with any meeting, be organized and prepared.  Make sure you’re ready to contribute value to the discussion and serve the needs of the group with your presence.

The Tool

This is one section of the guide that has been revised many times.  My favorite tool is GoToMeeting, but in the last couple of years Cisco WebEx has improved significantly and has some nice features, especially when it comes to collaborative remote computer support.  With that said, GoToMeeting is clearly the most polished, professional experience available.

LINK: GoToMeeting

Next Page: Why I Keep My Files in Dropbox

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Why I Keep My Files in Dropbox

Why I Keep My Files in Dropbox

Products I Love, Technology

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Dropbox for File Sharing

Free with paid version available for home users with large amounts of data enhanced collaboration features for business

Dropbox makes it a breeze to sync files between multiple computers and multiple people. It is simply a must-have application for anyone who needs access to files from multiple places. Even more than that, if you need to share files with business associates, Dropbox makes this task a breeze. You simply set up your files in your own folder structure and share only the specific files and folders you need to share. You have complete control over who has access to the files, and you get notifications anytime someone updates them. This is great for teams who are separated by geographic distances or work in different time windows.

Another really helpful feature of Dropbox is that it maintains a list of previous versions of your files. This comes in SO handy when you make a regrettable edit or deletion to an important file and need to get it back. Just a few clicks takes you back to happier times. This has saved me countless times in application development.

In-Sync and Available on All Your Devices

With apps for every type of device under the sun, dropbox puts your files where you need them when you need them. At any given time a quick open of the app puts you in touch with the information you need, with the ability to share

Integrations

If you use any other web-based service, there’s a great likelihood that it integrates with Dropbox. Through integrations you can link to and share files directly from your applications, often without ever needing to download the file.

Simplified Sharing

With Dropbox it’s easy to share files with other people, and to share very large files. No more worrying about how much you can send in an email, or trying to find creative ways to send information to other peoples. Thanks to Dropbox’s share feature and built-in file viewers, your recipients can easily view or download any file you send.

LINK: Why Dropbox is Awesome for Programmers (and everyone else)

LINK: http://www.dropbox.com

 

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

On Sunsetting Code

On Sunsetting Code

Self-help, Technology

Today I took a call from a colleague asking if we could extend an existing app to support new changes that had been made in the business. When scoping the project and prioritizing we realized that we have outgrown the app and need to replace it with a 3rd party solution in order to provide the level of scale we want to provide without having to add weeks of development time and priority waits. Before I move on, just a quick note of nostalgia about that killer app.

15 years ago I wrote an application to provide us with a repository of information. We called it our knowledgebase. If we learned how to do something for a client our practice became to “add it to the KB” so we could use it later. It became a selling point. Each client benefits from our extensive base of collective knowledge gathered through years of experience and hard work. The app itself was a tinny piece of classic ASP code written in VB, initially stored in an Access database, later upgraded to SQL Server. It was connected to our customer list from the accounting system, enhanced with document management capabilities, and refined countless times over the years.

A few years later while sitting around a conference room table loaded with monitors and takeout containers, spreadsheets on projectors, I contemplated with three longtime colleagues how we could help the team leap from our homegrown ticketing system and knowledgebase to our recent purchase of ConnectWise – a professional tool with greater scalability. It had one major problem. No KB — at least not like the one to which we had all grown accustomed. While we mulled, I surfed through the database and threw a couple of views together, and in the span of ten or so minutes threw together some shaky code that worked! We had a simple but elegant solution to our problem. Team members could now enter information into the system without modification, and we could retrieve it using this new app. It was fast, simple, and effective.

It was quick moment of pride as I got to use some talent and skill to quickly solve a business problem with some great teammates.

Years have gone by and that dodgy code has matured into a professionally coded web application integrated with Active Directory used thousands of times a day by a team over 100 strong and growing. As we step into the next level of maturity for our company we need to grow faster than my little two-person team of jacks-of-all-trades can responsibly manage given our current set of priorities.

So it is with sadness and just a tiny bit of pride that I recognize the end is near for an application that has lived and grown with me for the last decade and a half.

It was great fun to grow together.

Set Boundaries with Your Time and Money

Set Boundaries with Your Time and Money

Howto, Self-help, Technology

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

The Habits

TIME BLOCKING

The Covey organization does a fabulous job of describing life as boulders, rocks, pebbles, and sand. You’ve likely heard the analogy a dozen different ways, but it goes something like this. Picture your life as a jar and things to do like things you put inside the jar. Fill the jar halfway with sand then try putting in 20 large rocks and you’ll run out of jar before your run out of rocks. Start with the rocks, however, and you’ll find that the sand just finds a place to live inside the jar. It’s a great analogy for life. If we prioritize the things that are most important, the rest will fall into place. If we fail to do that, the unimportant things will throw the important things out of our lives, and our lives will be less fulfilling. Simple stuff.

Time blocking is the digital calendar way of putting the rocks in the jar first. Take the most important todos from your task list and drag them to your calendar so they have a set time and date. Do this before you schedule anything else. The big rocks are your vacation with family, your annual retreat, strategic planning, project work that will get your business and life to the next level. Schedule these things first, and make sure you don’t blow them off. Everything else will happily find a home on your schedule; make sure you do these things without failing!

FINANCIAL BUDGETING

These two topics go hand in hand because they are the two most essential, but also absolutely finite resources we have.  In the same way time blocking budgets the time you spend on the things that are most important for you to accomplish in life, the habit of consistent financial budgeting (and living by the budget) helps you to map out a path to achieve the goals using the financial resources at your disposal.

My wife and I learned about financial budgeting — and looking at finances from a new perspective of purpose — by taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course, and it has changed our lives and improved our marriage without a doubt.

The basic principle of budgeting is to recognize how much money you have coming in, and learn to operate with that amount of money, and it really is as simple as it sounds.  When you use a monthly written budget you discover your ability to live according a disciplined financial mission and begin reaching your financial goals more quickly than you ever thought possible.

The Tools

Time Blocking – The One Thing

Financial Budgeting – Financial Peace University
If a book is more your speed check out The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey

NEXT PAGE: Keep Email in its Box with Inbox Zero

 

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

How to Round Up by Quarter Hour in T-SQL

Howto, Technology

If life should ever punish you by challenging you to round up decimals by a quarter of an hour – always up and never down – here’s a liferaft

In a scenario where you wish for 2.04 to be rounded up to 2.25 instead of down to 2.00:

This solution is based on the solution posted in 2001 on VBForums – props to original poster MartinLiss!

http://www.vbforums.com/showthread.php?64997-Rounding-to-nearest-25&s=c6a62b3deef741b3d7aaf8d10e8a9032&p=292208&viewfull=1#post292208

 

Weekly Review and Planning

Weekly Review and Planning

Howto, Self-help, Technology

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

For the past year I’ve kept a habit that has helped me significantly to grow professionally and to be more productive.  That habit is what I call the weekly review and planning pause.  This simple, 30 minute appointment is on my calendar toward the end of each week for the purpose of helping me assess what I did, whether or not I’m proud of what I did, and what I’m going to do next week to do as well as or better than I did this week.

The goods with this one are in the repetition.  A wise guy once said to me “perfect practice makes for perfect performance,” and I believe it.  What we practice we become good at, and what we become good at we have a shot at becoming great at.  I don’t know about you but I don’t just want to be decent, or even good, at what I do.  I want to be awesome.  Amazing.  Outstanding.  Here’s one of the things I do every week to try and get there.

  1. Make Sure It’s Quiet.  If you need to leave the office, leave the office.  If you don’t have the freedom to leave the office (your employer has totally missed out on helping you to be your best and serve them better – you should talk to them about this), then do this planning after hours or wait for a time when it’s naturally quiet around the office.  This is important.  Make time for it.
  2. Record The Review – paper, digital, black box recorder.  Whatever.  I don’t care.  Just put it down so you can review it later.  Why spend time doing it if you can’t look back at the data later?
  3. Be Consistent.  Do the review every week.  Answer the same questions.  Give it the same effort every time.  That is, unless you’re okay with totally mediocre performance.  In that case, do whatever you want to do.  But that’s not you.  You’re a pro.  You’re a ninja.  You’re striving for mastery.  So you’ll be consistent.
  4. Review.  Rinse.  Repeat.  After you’ve been doing these activities for a few weeks you’ll pick up patterns and start to hold yourself accountable for achieving better results every time.  You’ll find those ways you’re getting in the way of your own success and making life harder than necessary for yourself and those around you.

I recommend recording the following five bits of information:

  1. Activities. What did I spend my (my organization’s) time doing this week?  To what end did I strive, what was my purpose in showing up for work this week?
  2. Setbacks. What just didn’t go right for me this week?  What mistakes did I make that I can avoid next week?  What behaviors can I improve on next week?
  3. Lessons Learned.  Sometimes this one is something that really bit you in the butt.  Sometimes it’s a profound moment of learning and growth.  One week for me during a chat my plumber he laid down on me some of the most profound people management advice I’d ever heard.  What rocked your world this week?  Whether it was pleasant or painful, it will make you better.
  4. Accomplishments.  What have you forgotten to celebrate.  What level of awesome did you throw out for the world this week that you’ve been too busy looking down to celebrate?  Write it down.  This is the stuff you’ll look back on and say “I rock.  I need to do more of that.”
  5. Next Week Will Be Successful If…  Write down the 3-5 things you need to accomplish next week in order to get to the next step on your goal plan.  No matter what happens next week, if you get these things done, you’ll have lived to fight another day.

That’s it.  Five things.  You write these five things down every week and two things will happen. You’ll start performing better on Monday and you’ll go home on Friday unburdened, ready to rock it with the people you love.  After all, they’re the reason you do this, right?

Rock next week.

Next Page: Get It Right EVERY TIME (not just the first time)

This post is part of the series The Best Tools and Techniques for Winning at Business and Life

Shrink Your Window to Reduce Time Spent Writing (and Reading) Emails

Shrink Your Window to Reduce Time Spent Writing (and Reading) Emails

Technology

Email is expensive to write, and expensive to read.  It costs our organizations vast amounts of time (aka money) to communicate with email.  Worse, email is far less effective at communicating ideas, and is utterly useless in the human interaction department.

My advice is to avoid email whenever possible, and choose instead face-to-face communication, followed by phone or video calls, followed by just about anything other than email.

Finally, when we simply must use email, this simple hack helps us to spend less time writing emails, and helps the readers of our emails spend less time reading them:

  • Open your email program
  • Create a new email
  • Shrink the new email window to about half the size of your cell phone.  It’s okay to hold your cell phone up to the screen.  People won’t think you’re so silly when they start getting succinct emails from you.
  • Send an email.  Your email program will remember the size for next time.  (if it doesn’t, you may consider a different email program)

We tend to fill the space available to us, and unfortunately the default size of most email applications is larger than necessary.  By simply shrinking the available space, we naturally will try to write fewer words and make more effective use of the words we use.

This is great, because when our email gets read, there’s a good chance that it will be read on a screen about the size we typed it on (remember when you made your email window the size of your cell phone?).  With this simple little life hack, we’ve catered to our audience and saved two people time in the process.

Happy emailing.