Category Archives: Effectiveness

Manager != Leader

All too often we see knowledge workers, media and other professionals confusing the role of a leader with that of a manager. Peter Drucker spelled it out clearly for us – leadership is about ‘doing the right things’, in other words about being effective. Management on the other hand is about ‘doing things right’ – it’s about being efficient, the first looks outward, the latter looks inward. What’s the big deal in confusing the two you ask?  There are two general problems:

  1. A manager who strives for the glory of leadership, without understanding the essence of his role as a manger, will increase the risk of demotivating the team he manages, while also increasing the probability that goals and objectives go unmet.
  2. A leader who strives for the operational control of a manager, without turning his focus and vision outward,  will cement the ineffectiveness of his decisions.

This begs the question, can an individual be both a great leader and manager?

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Technology of Doing

Over the course of the past twenty years or so, the software development community has created or sought axioms, metaphors, techniques, approaches, analogies, processes and other practices (sometimes borrowing them from automobile manufacturing) that render software development work more productive and the worker more effective.  These practices continue to influence work across organizations, teams, and individuals and their recent rise to prominence in other knowledge worker disciplines supports the notion that software developers are in fact “pioneers in knowledge work”, as was suggested by Watts Humphrey.

Many of these practices resulted from the need to improve the effectiveness of software development efforts after the general ineffectiveness experienced with projects that followed the traditional management and engineering mindset.  As other forms of work continue to evolve to depend more and more on the effective application of specialized knowledge,  we may find that what has proven effective for the software development community (e.g. Agile) may be equally so when applied to other work disciplines.

Background

About ten years ago I started implementing my vision for a repository of knowledge worker tools and practices that could help promote this cross-pollination of practices.  At the time I referred to it by the name “Metaframeworks” and the idea was to organize, document and digitally capture these popular practices so they could be effectively studied, referenced, mixed and matched across disciplines.  An example of the practices I set out to capture were all those defined under the compound software development practices such as Scrum and Extreme Programming. With Metaframeworks however, I wanted to capture the practices emerging from many knowledge worker disciplines, not just software development.

So as the ‘need-to-know’ culture of Web 1.0 began a transition towards a ‘need-to-share’ culture in Web 2.0, I also started looking for ways to add more structure to this repository as well as introducing new ways to share the knowledge and information it captured.  At this point the project was renamed ‘CGuide’, and supported a new hierarchical classification of practices, with the classification scheme borrowed directly from Google Directory.  The repository had also moved from my local hard drive to Amazon’s online Simple Storage Service (S3) and while CGuide’s predictable structure and online accessibility made it easier to find and navigate towards a relevant practice, there was something missing.  Needed was a common metamodel and associated metadata to capture key characteristics of these practices.  This metadata would be critical in promoting the development of semantic tools capable of searching through the directory of practices, for example.

Which brings me to the third generation of this repository.  This new phase operates in a web increasingly dominated by social media technologies such as Twitter and Facebook but also increasingly limited by traditional keyword based search tools of Web 1.0 and 2.0.   As our collective maturity in using the Internet increases, along with the tsunami of data it generates, users are demanding more relevant search results to their increasingly sophisticated queries.  Back in 1999 the founder of the World-Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, was quoted as follows:

I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.

– Tim Berners-Lee, 1999

His ambitious vision is turning out to be the seed for the Web’s next generation.  In the spirit of evolving this repository with the times of the Internet, I am moving it to Metaweb’s excellent structured data platform known as Freebase, with the vision of turning it into the world’s largest open linked data repository of knowledge worker practices.

The Project

Technology of Doing includes a comprehensive dataset of knowledge worker practices.  You can start using this dataset by visiting http://technologyofdoing.freebase.com.   Practices are none other than methods, concepts or phenomena that feed from a large body of true sciences and/or experiences and provide an effective way to achieve a set of objectives.  For example, ‘Pair-programming‘ is a type of knowledge worker practice prevalent in software development , ‘DIKW‘ is a type of practice found in knowledge management, and ‘Strengths-based Selection‘ is practice adopted by business management specialists. Each of these practices can be associated to one or more objectives (e.g. improve productivity) as well as a one or more practitioner strengths (e.g. empathy).

Semantic Possibilities

With the structure and metadata in place, the development of semantic tools capable of offering a strengths-based practice selection to individuals, teams and organizations alike is now possible.  An example of this is the Boost Practices application, where individuals can use it to better align their work practices with their natural talents.

Check back throughout 2011 as I cover more of the Technology of Doing.

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Boosting Effectiveness

Remember the “Computers are Everywhere” slogan from this vintage 80’s cartoon commercial?  It appeared on broadcast television during Saturday mornings as a way to educate young audiences to the newfound efficiencies computers were bringing to all aspects of society, including air traffic control, fire response, and space travel.  The commercial delivered an important message to kids, probably the same ones who a few decades later, would be at the center of the tidal wave of innovation and speculation that came to be known as the dotcom era.  Notwithstanding the commercial’s positive message and influence, it neglected to mention the importance of doing things faster, cheaper, and better, presumed the right things were being done to start with.  Which is to say, it didn’t pay to be quicker at doing the wrong things.

This is the basis for effectiveness, which has become the mark of quality for 21st century knowledge work.  But what exactly is effectiveness and what renders a person, process, or technology more effective?   In this series, Boosting Effectiveness, I will present the essential characteristics for effectiveness in knowledge work, and discuss how you can improve effectiveness in your own day-to-day knowledge work.

Purpose and Objectives

Legendary management scientist, Peter Drucker, differentiates the logic of work from the logic of working.  Work, he says, represents the tactical actions defined by an organization to fulfill a set of objectives.  These objectives in turn, represent the direction and “action commitments” of the organization towards a common purpose while also setting the standard for measuring performance.  You may hear terms like ‘mission’, ‘vision’, ‘strategy’ or ‘tactics’, but the general concept is the same – purpose, objectives and the tactical actions derived from them form a framework meant to inspire and concentrate an organization’s thoughts and efforts towards a common point.

Countries are founded on this type of framework.  The United States of America defines its purpose in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.  This constitution in turn defines a set of objectives, that include the Bill of Rights.

Business organizations also hold their thoughts and actions accountable to this framework. Consider a a high-tech company with the mission of “organizing the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful“.

The logic of working follows a similar principle.  Drucker reminds us that  “making the worker achieving implies consideration of the human being as an organism having peculiar physiological and psychological properties, abilities, and limitations, and a distinct mode of action”.   Consider, for example, an individual who decides to live a life that remains true to her core values and principles.

Therefore, boosting effectiveness in knowledge work first requires we maintain an intimate understanding of the context for what is ‘right’.  The key is to understand that there are two contexts for effectiveness in knowledge work.  The first embodies the purpose and objectives of the organization through the definition and creation of work, and the second embodies the purpose and objectives of the worker through their ‘distinct mode of action’, which includes their talents, skills and knowledge.

This brings me to the first principal for boosting effectiveness in knowledge work:

Boosting effectiveness in knowledge work requires an intimate awareness and understanding of the purpose and objectives of the work (logic of work), along with the purpose and objectives of the knowledge worker (logic of worker).

Harmony

Any bicycle mechanic will tell you the importance of regularly maintaining a wheel’s ‘trueness’.  This process involves the careful adjustment of tension, provided by the wheel’s spokes, to achieve a perfectly straight wheel.

Boosting effectiveness follows a similar logic.  Both require finding a harmonic balance between potentially opposing elements. When truing a wheel, a single turn of the spoke can impact any of the four variables controlling its shape and performance.  In knowledge work, any decision or action that doesn’t fully harmonize logic of work with the logic of the worker can have a detrimental impact on one, the other, or both.   Consider the following examples that benefit both the work and the worker:

This brings me to the second principal for boosting effectiveness in knowledge work:

Boosting effectiveness in knowledge work requires that decisions concerning people, process or technology harmonize the logic of work with the logic of the worker.

Responsible Commitments

In his book ‘Reflections on Management‘, Watts Humphrey talks about the importance of creating and communicating ‘responsible commitments’.  These commitments are key to a team’s performance, and according to Humphrey ‘the only way for the team to operate’.   Thus far, the principles for boosting knowledge worker effectiveness have focused on the logic of work and the logic of the worker.  Responsible commitments, although rooted in a work plan, are also designed to elicit and nurture a shared vision and commitment from all team members.  This is key in an era of knowledge work where the body of knowledge required for effective decision making rests with the knowledge workers themselves.  Humphrey points out four necessary characteristics of these commitments:

  1. They should be based on a work plan
  2. They should be freely assumed and publicly accessible
  3. They should follow a phase of diligent preparation
  4. They should precede the performance required to fulfill them

Responsible commitments thus ensure that the vision and commitment towards fulfilling an objective starts with the specialists, while also providing a motivational boost for two reasons.  First, the individual and/or team will feel more confident in achieving commitments they help define.  Second, with their name associated to the commitments, credibility is also on the line.

Therefore, the third principle for boosting effectiveness in knowledge work:

Boosting effectiveness in knowledge requires  a culture of creating and communicating ‘responsible commitments’ of work, by engaging and eliciting the thoughts and opinions of all members whose responsibility it is to fulfill them.

Quality Feedback

In February 2001, 17 software developers met to discuss lightweight software development methods. Heavyweight predictive software development approaches, such as the Waterfall method, were perceived ineffective, complicated and slow to respond to changing requirements.  The software development community was heavily criticized through widely quoted statistics showing the failure rate of software development efforts.  The air was right for a change and this now infamous meeting resulted in what has become the Agile software development movement.

The software development practices born out of this movement share a common characteristic.   They are all designed around the early and continuous discovery and adaption to change.    Test driven development, for example, which forces a programmer to confront the question “Why am I doing that?” more times than not, has been proven more effective at improving the quality of software being produced.  Or take Agile’s promotion of daily meetings, which inspire all team members to open up and think through their work day, anticipating changes while also better understanding their previous issues through shared feedback.   There is also Scrum’s burndown chart, which helps team members visualize their daily progress, or Agile Retrospectives, which give all members a chance to reinforce what they liked, learned, lacked and longed for from the previous software release.  These practices are all designed to generate quality feedback so teams can make the necessary adjustments.

This brings me to the fourth principal for boosting effectiveness in knowledge work:

Boosting effectiveness in knowledge work requires practices designed to generate timely, accurate, precise, and complete feedback regarding the work’s output or the worker’s performance.

Trust

Arguably the most fundamental and overarching element when talking about boosting knowledge worker’s effectiveness is trust. By trust, I’m referring to professional trust and its components.  In order to establish the foundation for boosting a worker’s effectiveness, there needs to be a strong and growing foundation of trust between a worker and his team, his employer as well as the technologies and processes underlying her work.   Knowledge management researcher, David Snowden, confirms the importance of trust (pdf) for the effective exchange of knowledge by suggesting “shared context is vital to knowledge exchange, and such context always involves some human trusted validation.”

This brings me to the fifth and final principal for boosting effectiveness in knowledge work:

Boosting effectiveness in knowledge work requires the growing presence of professional trust between the worker and his colleagues, employer, tools, processes and customer.

This concludes the series on Boosting Effectiveness.

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Behavior Driven Hiring

While past performance does not guarantee future results in the financial markets, when hiring knowledge workers, this same heuristic does not apply.  A knowledge worker’s past performance indicates the recurring professional behaviors that enable him or her to succeed in future work. In their book, First Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman point out that these recurring professional behaviors are talents.  By asking open ended questions as well as analyzing these recurring professional behaviors in the candidates they interview, organization’s can significantly boost the effectiveness of their hiring practices.

There are three reasons for the improved effectiveness. First, with a focus on talents comes the advantages of a strengths-based hiring approach.  As Tom Rath, Author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, points out in his book, “People who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having and excellent quality life in general”.  The second benefit of this hiring approach is the belief that, when it comes to people, past performance may be the most accurate indicator of future performance.  Finally, the understanding of talents, emerging from the hiring process, will help guide the self-organization phase for effective team growth after the candidate comes on board.

Sabermetrics & Internships

The sports and software industry provide two fascinating examples of organizations who found a way to build winning teams by selecting the right talent. I’m talking about the Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball and FogCreek Software founded by Joel Spolsky.

In his book MoneyBall: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Michael Lewis takes a fascinating look at the subjective and often flawed conventional wisdom guiding Major League Baseball’s insiders for over a century.  The book focuses on the Oakland Athletics baseball team, and the method in which its front office, headed by its General Manager Billy Beane, took advantage of more empirical gauges of player performance.  His system relied on the principles of sabermetrics in order to build a team, which in 2002, finished tied with the New York Yankees for most wins despite having one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball.

Similarly, Joel Spolsky knew exactly the kind of programming talent he needed to thrive as the small software startup, FogCreek Software, in New York City. Needing the ‘top 1%’ of programming talent was not enough however.  He needed a way to identify and recruit this talent before his competition had a chance to.  And so he devised his lavish system of internships. Through this system, he has been able to stay true to his vision of “helping the world’s best developers make better software”.

Two organizations, two completely different hiring strategies, but both first determined exactly the type of talent they needed to succeed, then found a way to hire it.

Effective Amplification

Throughout this series I will apply many of the concepts and ideas presented in Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0.  In particular the language for talent devised by strengths psychologist Don Clifton, which consists of 34 talent themes,  and the strengths equation:

Strengths = Talent * Investment

where investment is simply the time spent developing and growing skills and knowledge.  This equation is essential in the larger context of high-performance knowledge worker teams.  In such teams, selecting the right people is the first and most important factor behind a management strategy that aims at high-performance, and when coupled with the right team building approach, can propel any group towards something greater.

The Programmer Example

Consider the following example.  By now it should be common knowledge that the best programmers in the world have a superior attention to detail.  Yet this is just one of the innate talents they possess.  Rob Walling presents a broader set of traits found in great software developers, including the tendency for them to be pessimistic, angered by sloppy code, long term life planners, as well as possessing elevated attention to detail.  Mapping these traits to the talent language proposed by Don Clifton results in the following themes:

If you’re looking to hire the best programmers available, you could start by giving preference to those candidate’s whose recurring professional behaviors indicate the presence of some or all of these talent.  Let’s take another example.

The Social Media Manager Example

Consider the traits of a brilliant Social Media Manager.  In her blog post, Maria Ogneva suggests that passion, domain expertise, natural evangelism, a service DNA, personable,  thirsty for knowledge, risk tolerance, ability to fail fast, balance of perfectionism, advocate for community, strategic, business savvy, and innovative self-starter are all characteristics of a capable Social Media Manager.  Mapping these to the talent language results in the following themes:

If you’re looking to hire a great social media manager and find a particular candidate’s recurring professional behaviors indicate strong Input and Strategic talents, your chances of hiring the right manager have improved significantly.

The Level-5 Leader Example

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, discovered that leaders who transformed their companies from good to great all exhibited the characteristics he referred to as Level-5 leadership.  These characteristics include self-confidence, humbleness, unwavering resolve, and workmanlike diligence.  Mapping these characteristics to the talent language results in the following themes:

Your business strategy may be designed such that it depends on a Level-5 leader at the helm, and choosing a candidate who possesses all these talents will provide a solid step towards implementing that strategy.

The Startup Founder Example

Looking to hire someone with the qualities of a Founder?  Paul Graham has a few ideas on which traits to look for .  Mapping these to Don Clifton’s language for talent results in:

Behavioral Interviewing

These examples demonstrate a way for hiring organizations to better understand their talent requirements.  What they do not show, however, is how organizations can verify these talents are innate to the candidates they’re interviewing.

Any organization can address this through talent assessments, such as StrengthsFinder 2.0,  which relies on instinctive, “top of mind” responses as a more accurate indicator of a person’s talents.

With Behavior Driven Hiring, however, I’d like to propose an approach that also incorporates the analysis of a candidate’s blogs, github, linkedin, and twitter accounts, just to name a few, in order to conclude his or her talent profile.

Examples of this could include the following:

  1. Determining a programmer has elevated levels of the Discipline and Harmony talents because of the consistently favorable static code measures in the open source projects he has owned over the years.
  2. Pinpointing the Belief and Activator talents in an aspiring Social Media Manager through the analysis of their blog posts and twitter usage.
  3. Concluding a potential Level-5 leader’s knack for the Restorative talent through numerous linkedin references suggesting she managed to dramatically improve the market standing of all her previous employers.
  4. What does an open source programmer’s poor github “commit hygiene” tell you about their Analytical and Deliberative talents?
  5. Realizing a stock market trader’s skill and knowledge are perfect for the job at hand, but the extraordinary focus, discipline and adaptability he has shown in past military experience (as discussed by Paul Sullivan in his book Clutch), will make him particularly adept at delivering under pressure.

These examples are just a small sampling of current and future possibilities for behavior driven hiring.  Share your own ideas for analyzing recurring professional behaviors by posting a comment or emailing techdoer@gmail.com.

Check back soon, as I continue updating this series on Behavior Driven Hiring.

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Four Stages for Team Effectiveness

A few years ago, I was part of a software development group stressed by a combination of challenges.  The first was our ability to quickly assemble small effective teams to take on an increasing amount of short term consulting assignments.  The second was ensuring that these same people could divide their attention and continue their contribution to a core team focused on a longer term and more strategic software product.  As a budding project manager in charge of both teams, I grasped at anything that could help me better understand the team-dynamics we would experience over the coming months.

Source: Unknown

I stumbled upon Bruce Tuckman’s, 5-stages of group development model (a.k.a. forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning), which despite it’s age, and simplicity, proved timeless in helping me understand the maturity of the transient and core teams I was managing.   Fast-forward a few years, and my understanding of team dynamics has grown to include concepts that are more deliberate in describing the stages of growth for high-performing teams.  Although I liked Tuckman’s model in the past, I no longer find it useful because it does not make explicit the pre-requisites for effectiveness from one stage to the next.  For example, how well your team ‘performed’ depends on how well they ‘stormed’.  I want to remove any notion haphazardness in Tuckman’s model while making explicit the characteristics required for successful transition from one stage to the next.

Four Stages for Team Effectiveness

I’m proposing the following new model for effective team growth:

Self-organize -> Trust -> Adjust -> Deliver

The growing research and understanding of creativity, motivation and trust in knowledge worker teams inspired this Four Stages for Team Effectiveness model.  Derived from Tuckman’s model, it borrows concepts and terminology from Agile software development, the importance of trust in creative teams, and from Peter Drucker’s teachings on knowledge worker effectiveness.

Self-Organize

It doesn’t surprise me to hear Dan Pink, The Surprising Truth on What Motivates Us, talking about the critical role autonomy plays in fostering motivation in creative types.  The link between autonomy and self-organization is how they work hand-in-hand towards ensuring the most effective team members are assigned to productive work as well as inviting the cohesion and commitment required to overcome big challenges.   The key with self-organization is for management to define the right-outcomes while allowing team members to organize around their strengths in order to determine how to achieve them.  Command-and-control organizations lacking this autonomy and self-organization across their structure, are forced to rely on a complex and potentially demotivating system of closely monitoring people, and their productivity, while providing the “carrot and stick” rewards to keep them going.

Trust

By trust I not only mean the trust between team members, but also the trust between a team and their stakeholders, their customers, their organization, their processes and the tools they use to build solutions.  As Rachel Davies writes, the equation for Trustworthiness depends on four critical factors.  Each of these factors is responsible for regulating the level of trust in knowledge worker teams.  Diana Larsen’s Agiles 2009 presentation on trust supports this equation in more detail by elaborating on the necessary components of trust which include credibility, support, and consistency.

Adjust

As Jim Collins wrote in his book Good to Great, sooner or later all great teams will need to confront the brutal facts. Regardless of the level of trust between team members, uncomfortable periods of adjustment are inevitable.  They represent the teams desire to narrow the gap between what they are doing and what they should be doing.

These gaps can result from changes in the marketplace or from within the organization.  Development methodologies or business processes designed to continuously discover and communicate these changes will increase a team’s ability to respond to them as exemplified by the Agile software development practices.

Deliver

Elevated levels of motivation and happiness will be the signature of teams who have grown through and mastered these previous stages. By this stage they will be an autonomous, cohesive group, committed to doing the right things while delivering immense value.  Teams should learn to rely on the feedback loop, emerging from this stage, to reinforce and grow the solid foundation of trust and effectiveness they have built.

Conclusion

Think back to the software development teams you’ve been a member of.  Do you remember your own stages of forming, storming, norming, performing or adjourning?   Now compare the stages of growth between a lackluster team you worked with and a high-performing team.   How did the stages of growth differ between these teams?   I’m proposing a new model for growing effective teams and the elements of this model are rooted in exactly those differences.

Share your own stories of team growth and effectiveness by emailing techdoer@gmail.com.

Related posts: Behavior Driven Hiring, Boosting Effectiveness

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Entrepreneurial Spirit – Opportunity

This is the final part to my series on the Entrepreneurial Sprit, where I present the characteristics of the perceived struggle driving the success of today’s internet entrepreneurs. I recommend you read parts one and two if you haven’t already.

As I mentioned previously, this struggle does not belong to entrepreneurs alone.  Knowledge workers also need to continuously align with their strengths, at the same time effectively growing their knowledge and skill, if they are to make a remarkable impression on their customers.  In this final post I’ll talk about the other side of the struggle, that of finding or creating the right opportunity.

Quick Rewind

Thus far I’ve stressed the importance of knowing and building on your strengths, as well as becoming more effective in both thought and action.  I believe these are essential ingredients in forming the foundation of autonomy, mastery and purpose that is so important to the motivation of creative people.  As I conclude this series, a narrative has emerged and it reads as follows:

Achieving and growing this level of effectiveness will permit you to grow your competence in a unique and powerful way.  This results in elevated levels of motivation which further amplifies your sense of purpose, autonomy and mastery, which further increases the number of opportunities you encounter and your ability to succeed in them.

In essence I’m saying that the number of opportunities you encounter will depend on your level of effectiveness.

What is Opportunity?

Look up the definition of ‘opportunity’ and you’ll find words ranging from ‘possibility’ to ‘chance’.  In his classic book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill suggests the following:

Opportunity has a sly habit of slipping in by the back door, and it often comes disguised in the form of misfortune or temporary defeat.  Perhaps this is why so many fail to recognize opportunity.

For entrepreneurs, an opportunity is a calling to act, and every aspect of this ‘calling’ will directly relate to the effectiveness of the person who found it.

I asked my brother, a successful designer and woodworking entrepreneur, how he finds opportunity:

“The right opportunities come from surrounding yourself with the right people, this includes prospective clients.  Imagine you are an explorer or hunter entering a forest.  Not just any forest, but the right forest. This is your ‘market’.   The machete and other tools you carry will help clear the mess and pave your path forward.  Preparation means sustaining and growing the effectiveness of your mind, body and machete. This is what you can control.  In this context, the longer you search, the greater your chance of finding the reward. And don’t forget to enjoy and refine this process throughout, it will increase the chance of future reward.”

It’s Simple Really

As a person who creates and does things, the way to find and create new opportunities is to continuously align with your strengths while growing your ability to decide and do the right thing across the spectrum of people, processes and technology/tools.  I’ll end this series with a relevant quote from Guy Kawasaki that says “Make meaning and you’ll make money”, perhaps better restated as find meaning and you’ll make money.

I hope you enjoyed this series on the Entrepreneurial Spirit.

For questions for comments please email techdoer@gmail.com

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Entrepreneurial Spirit – Preparation

This is part-2 of my series on the Entrepreneurial Sprit, where I present the characteristics of the perceived struggle driving the success of today’s internet entrepreneurs.

The Effective Executive

In part-1, I suggested that one of the many keys to the success of software company Balsamiq, was the methodical preparation of its CEO Giacomo ‘Peldi’ Guilizzoni. Luck requires preparedness and his preparation not only included 10,000 hours of professional programming practice, but the acquisition of management and leadership skills while still working for Adobe. During his presentation at the 2010 Better Software Conference in Florence Italy, it was easy to see how these new skills coupled with his innate charisma and humbleness might have served him well as an effective leader and first employee of his new venture.

Peter Drucker taught us the following traits of the effective executive:

  1. Executives have to know where their time is being spent.
  2. They must focus on outward contributions: on results rather than work.
  3. Build on strengths first, and then give attention to areas of weakness.
  4. Concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results
  5. Make effective decisions.

Browsing through Peldi’s online presentations and interviews, you’ll see references to the  precise timeline of events and key milestones in the life of his company.  You will also detect his conviction when deciding what NOT to focus on, especially during the early days when risk of failure was high.  Examples like these are in line with the traits described above.  Knowing your strengths and where you excel, for example, provides a start to effective decisions making.  It will also provide the knowledge that helps you find those things you enjoy doing.

So how can you go about discovering your strengths?

Emotional Intelligence

As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman so eloquently state in their book, First, Break All the Rules, the equation of competence includes the set of talents, skills and knowledge one possesses.  Surely a successful leader will have learned to grow his competence, but this can only be effective in the context of the intimate understanding he has of his own strengths.

To begin understanding your own strengths, it’s helpful to think about how others perceive you.  How were you praised or criticized in previous performance reviews? What suggestion for improvement were you given?  In a previously stressful situation, how did you react?  Answers to these questions will provide the clues you need to get started.  I also recommend reading through the panorama of talents, as well as completing Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment.

Identifying and acting on your strengths allows you to engage in a symbiotic and efficient system of effective preparation, which leads to the right opportunities, which in turn leads to more effective preparation and so on. This is how you amplify your strengths.

We are all Executives

A key point I’d like to introduce here is that the concept of effective executive not only applies to entrepreneurs, but to all knowledge workers, from generalists to specialists, across the organizational hierarchy, programmers included.   We live in a world where our success as knowledge workers, as well as the success of our team and organization, no matter it’s size, depends on an ability decide and execute ‘the right thing’.

Getting Back to Luck

Allow me to be overly simplistic for a moment.  We all agree you have to be lucky to succeed as an entrepreneur.  So if luck is the product of opportunity and preparedness, and preparedness involves the 10,000 hours of practice mentioned by Gladwell,  the understanding of strengths, skills and knowledge suggested by Buckingham and Coffman then how is one supposed to create the right opportunities?

Click here to continue to part-3.

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Entrepreneurial Spirit

Pick today’s favorite programmer turned successful software or internet entrepreneur and take a look at the books he’s reading. Chances are you’ll find him reading more books from Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell and Guy Kawasaki than books from Martin Fowler, Steve Mcconnell, and Grady Booch.  While the technical excellence and know-how taught by this latter group is fundamental to any successful software venture (or any true software craftsman for that matter), the fact that internet entrepreneurs are reading books like Gladwell’s Outliers, or Godin’s Linchpin implies a few things.  First, by the time they commit to realizing their business vision, the technical mastery promoted by books like Mcconnell’s Code Complete is a given, and not enough to determine success.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. – Einestein

What this also implies, which you can confirm by listening to their presentations or reading their blogs, is the existence of a struggle that sees them continuously aligning with a deeper purpose while amplifying talents in order to transform the lives of their customers.  This struggle is similar to the Hedgehog concept presented in Jim Collin’s book Good to Great and one that marketing has detoured around for the last 20 years.  In this post, Entrepreneurial Spirit, I’ll present the characteristics of this unquenchable struggle that drives these entrepreneurs towards successful software ventures.

Luck of the Italian

We’ve all heard the expression “Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness” and it’s hard not to find a whole lot of this luck in stories like that of a rapidly growing and successful software startup, Balsamiq, and its young founder and CEO, Giacomo ‘Peldi’ Guilizzoni.   I recently had the opportunity to listen to the charismatic and passionate CEO during his presentation at the 2010 Better Software Conference in Florence, Italy.  Throughout the presentation, it struck me that yes, his company has had its fair share of luck, but only because of his remarkable pursuit of preparation and opportunity.

During the presentation, he talked about his persistent desire to start his own software company but also pointed to a phase in his life when he simply wasn’t ready to commit to this venture.  The story goes that in 2004, and with a few years of professional software development experience under his belt at Adobe, he picked up a book from Barry Moltz, You Need to Be a Little Crazy: The Truth about Starting and Growing Your Business, only to put the book down “after 20 pages”, admitting to overwhelming reluctance to absorb the risk needed for such a venture.   If he admitted to a lack of preparation in 2004, what changed by 2007, the year he committed to and officially launched Balsamiq?

Power of Time

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he talks about the 10,000-hour rule, or the minimum time of practice required for success in any field.   Peldi wasn’t prepared to take the risk to start his venture in 2004, but by 2007,  he not only completed his 10,000 hours of professional practice but had acquired the broader knowledge and skills of an effective leader.  Borrowing the words of the legendery Peter Drucker,  during these three years Peldi dramatically matured his ability to answer the question, “What is the right thing to do?”, he was on his way to becoming the effective executive.

Part-2 to the Entrepreneurial Spirit continues here.

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Clarifying Requirements – Verification vs. Validation

In part 1 I discussed how user needs are the core of a good requirement.  The restaurant example  highlighted the key differences between needs, features and requirements.  In part 2 I showed how features, or the range of options and constraints across people, process and technology, will allow analysts and engineers to thread these needs through the requirements specification process.  In part 3, I’ll talk about the categories of a requirement, the difference between their validation and verification and conclude with a brief summary of the linguistic features behind a good requirement.

First, it is important to distinguish between user requirements and system requirements.  User requirements are typically written without any reference to a solution, technology or implementation approach.  Instead they are centered on the needs of the user in the problem domain, as well as the characteristics and context behind these needs.  For example, a requirement may incorporate elements from an overarching project vision statement.

System requirements, on the other hand,  contain references to technologies and solutions but ultimately should be written so that the functional behavior and non-functional characteristics of the solution are specified without describing how they should be implemented.  Use cases, for example are system requirements rooted in the solution domain that describe how the system is used and how it should behave and respond to user input.

Requirements Pyramid – http://www.ibm.com

System requirements can also be classified as functional or non-functional in nature.  This distinction is an ongoing source of much confusion.  Functional requirements describe the behavior of the system whereas non-functional requirements describe the characteristics of this behavior (click here for examples of non-functional requirements from our Agile on Wall Street presentation).   Indicating that a system should first authenticate a user’s credentials before allowing him to proceed to the reservation booking page is an example of a functional requirement.   Indicating that this process should take no longer than one second is an example of a non-functional requirement.

Verification vs. Validation

The differences between verification and validation in the software context are similar to those between efficiency and effectiveness in the business context. For our purposes, validation refers to ensuring the right needs are being met.  In part 1, I discussed the importance of correctly defining the user group from which needs will be elicited.   Successful software projects will prioritize the needs of this group so they can answer the validation question – Are we doing the right thing?

Verification, on the other hand, refers to the process of ensuring the correct implementation of these needs.  In other words, verification answers the question – Are we doing the thing right?

Any project that begins the software development phase with a validated set of requirements, and finishes the software deployment phase by verifying this set, is on the brink of satisfying customer demands.

Linguistic Characteristics

Quite simply, any stated requirement should satisfy the following criteria: the requirement should be written in such a way so that it is unambiguous, concise, and complete.

This concludes the series on Clarifying Requirements.  If you have any questions or comments on this article please email techdoer@gmail.com.

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Clarifying Requirements – Features

In part 1 I talked about stakeholder needs, both implicit and explicit and how these needs should be the core to any good requirement.   I also talked about the importance of correctly eliciting requirements from the right group of users.

Once the user needs have been identified, it is the responsibility of the project’s business and engineering teams to understand if and how they can capably solve them.   In our restaurant example, the patron who entered the restaurant craving a sizzling stake would be wasting his time in a Vegan restaurant.

The requirements pyramid below shows the relationship between needs, features, requirements and the boundary that separates them in the problem and solution domains.

Requirements Pyramid

Source: http://www.ibm.com

‘Features’, in this context, are better understood as the range of options and constraints across people, process and technology that may influence how the technical requirements are specified. The important part is to first understand and match the solution-agnostic needs with any solution-specific features that could help to satisfy these needs.

In part three of this series on Clarifying Requirements, I cover other important aspects of a good requirement.

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