The Gorilla Pareto: Agile Adoption Anti-Pattern

80-20_TeamsIt seemed like a good idea at the time. That’s what I kept trying to tell myself and I dragged my way up the hallway to my office.

When the VP had come to my office and told me he wanted me to go help the Perseus team, kick off an agile transformation, I was thrilled. We’d been having some really good luck agile on the Icarus project and the VP wanted to see if we could extend that farther. The guys on Icarus we’re awesome, true rock stars all of them and I know that helped a lot. Still I saw no reason why the Perseus project couldn’t get some benefit from agile. 

I felt like a Spartan who came home without his shield. Not only did I fail, I was massacred. 

“You’ll be more motivated, more empowered,” I said. 

To which someone on the team replied, “We’re plenty motivated, we are doing the work we want to do.”

“The scrum master will be tasked with removing your impediments, making work easier,” I said. 

To which someone on the team replied, “If the company doesn’t fix blockers, then we work on something else.”

“You’ll be recognized for your expertise.” 

To which someone on the team replied, “So? We must be recognized, the company hired us. We gonna get paid more if we do agile?”

“You get to decide how its built, instead of being told.”

To which someone on the team replied, “Seriously? We don’t listen to product management anyway. We’ve been building it our way for years.”

“Status reports practically write themselves. The burn down is your status.”

To which someone on the team replied, “Project management writes the status reports. Besides, it’s not like anyone pays attention to them.” 

I slumped against the door to my office and gave a deep sigh. Of the entire team I think only one or two showed any real interest. One was a smart kid probably no more than three years out of his masters and the other was the overwhelmed and frustrated development manager. 

“Hey,” a voice called from inside my office. I looked in to see Hogarth abusing my office chair with his bulk. He was holding up the banana I’d picked up from the fruit bowl this morning. “You don’t have any Lady Finger bananas? Heck, even a Goldfinger or Lacatan would be great.” 

I strode into my office, extremely not in the mood to deal with my gorilla conscience today. “Hogarth, it’s a banana. You can have the yellow kind or the green kind that’s not good unless cooked.”

“Plantain” 

I stopped, “What?”

Hogarth got a professorial look, indicting a teaching moment was coming. “Plantain, that’s the green kind and not technically a banana. It’s Musa paradisiaca, while dessert bananas are Musa sapientum.” He held up the banana, “This Musa sapientum is a Cavendish, a Robusta to be precise. Your generic everyday banana. Okay for putting on cereal or peanut butter and banana sandwiches, just not the connoisseurs’ banana.”

“You’re telling me bananas come in more than big, little, green and yellow?” I asked. 

He nodded “Yeah, I think it’s like the parrot principle or something. Eighty percent of the bananas produced and exported are a variety of Cavendish.” He held up the banana by way of demonstrating. 

I blinked in confusion, “You mean the Pareto Principle?” 

Hogarth shrugged, “Yeah, that’s it. Some Italian economist right?” Hogarth cocked his head, “too bad they don’t have some Pareto rule for people.” 

Yeah too bad, that would explain a lot of things….

Hey, wait a minute!?! 
Why do some developers hate Agile? 

Note: The goal of this blog is to generate critical thinking on this subject, not to point fingers.

A lot of the popular agile marketing pumps up how much developers will love agile. How your development teams will be the ones fighting for it, championing for it or even doing it behind management’s back. Sure, I’ve met these people. Most of them work for boutique shops or start-ups. Unfortunately I find in enterprise software companies that these agile champions are often in the minority.

This has long created a cognitive dissonance in me. I know and understand in my soul that the values and principles of agile promote not only a more effective and productive workforce, it also produces happier, more engaged people. In short, I support agile because I think it will lead to a better world.

So why is there so much resistance from those it was intended to directly benefit? Then it hit me. I had a realization, an epiphany even. Agile is only revealing the underlying truth, one that many in the work force would love if it had never been undiscovered.

In Traditional Development, the majority of the work is being done by the minority of the people

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. 

Anyone whose spent even a couple of years in high tech will have heard of the 80-20 rule. I hear it most often in the “80% of our calls are from 20% of our customers” or “80% of our business comes from 20% of our customers. Reaching to Wikipedia we find that the Pareto principle has several common business corollaries.

  • 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a company’s complaints come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of the time its staff spend
  • 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its products
  • 80% of a company’s sales are made by 20% of its sales staff

    From <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle#In_business>

Notice the one I bolded? Well yeah, I bolded it so you would.

What happens if you replace “sales” with “code” and “sales staff” with “development staff”, what do you get? The Pareto principle is arguing that 80% of the code developed is coming from 20% of your software development team. Those rock star coders? The ones management frets about what will happen when they leave? Yeah, they should worry. Because these rock starts are not just good at their job, Pareto argues they are probably doing much more work than the majority of the team.

Then along comes agile to shine a bright scary beacon on this reality. Suddenly bringing the coders into the light and making in crystal clear who is doing the work and who is not. When the team is reviewing work every day, and planning every week or two it quickly becomes apparent who is doing the work and who is not.

This is a tough subject and not likely to be wholly popular. No one wants to be told “hey, you’re a slacker!” I know, I’ve been exactly in the shoes of an agile resistor. I once told a room full of people “you’ll pry waterfall from my cold, dead hands.” And reflecting back now, I can say one of the things I feared was how much attention it would put on my own work.

So I can first hand the feeling of that scrutiny on your work is not unlike being a cockroach caught in the light. Close to twenty years ago I was in a job where I was doing okay, just okay. I wasn’t a rock star by any means. I was, however, the only person with a specific skill set and for a variety of reasons I didn’t work as hard as I could have. Then a new person came along. They knew my special skill set and tackled work with a wild abandon. The person was also incredibly nice and personable which meant it was hard to even dislike them. They were just doing their job and doing it well. I still felt like a cockroach caught in the open.

There are plenty of hard workers out there, that are not in the theoretical 20% of the people doing 80% of the work. And the painful fact is there are also a percentage of those workers who are knowingly under performing. The 2014 Gallup poll again found more than 15% of workers are actively disengaged in there jobs.

 

Want another interesting thought exercise? Let’s reach into the agile bag of data for a second. A common statistic you hear, agile proponents, is more than 60% of product features are used rarely or not at all. So if 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people and only 40% of features are ever used, does that mean our teams are 80% too big? I have seen some blogs of late that argue a super-star team of ten can build any product a team of 100 can and do it better and faster. Taking the Pareto principle into account, they may not be far off the mark.

What’s the call to action?

As I noted at the start of this section, I am not seeking to point fingers. I’m seeking to generate thought. I don’t have a call to action, I don’t have a solution.

I think I know a reason why some enterprise software coders are resistant to agile. However if they don’t want to be more productive, shining a bright light on them isn’t exactly going to make them happy.

I suppose we could use this data to convince executives to adopt agile more. If we can show them who are the real producers, they can either shrink their work force or hire more of the 20% who do the work. I’m not sure that’s going to be the best use of this data by an agile coach. It might be useful for agile consulting firms in their sales cycle.

As an agile coach, trying to find a way to encourage teams to adopt agile, it’s not immediately helpful. I’ve got a symptom now. What I don’t have is a cure.

How do we make everyone part of the 20%? Can we?

A Gorilla is more than the sum of its parts. So is Agile.

Car_Exploded _View_David_Wall_6999872214_93978664bc_z“Agile is failing, can you believe that, he actually said that to me?” 

You know you’re having a bad day when you willingly engage in a conversation with an 800 pound imaginary gorilla. I was striding down the hallway fairly vibrating with emotions. Hogarth lumbered along beside me uncharacteristically quiet. Which I guess should have been my first clue as to the rabbit hole I was being led down. 

“How can he say that?” I looked directly at Hogarth, “I mean we’re doing standups every day now. I even got them down to 30 minutes.” 

Hogarth finally chose to speak immediately making me wish he hadn’t, “What about the backlog?”

I threw my hands up “What about it? The backlog is being pulled straight from the PRD and we got the product manager to rank order them instead of the stupid P0 stuff. I mean how much more agile do you want us to get?”

Hogarth nodded sagely, or so I thought and I turned to walk into my office. Where I promptly stopped. 

“Hogarth, where’s my fichus?” The pot that held my latest incarnation of my favorite fichus was empty. Not just denuded of leaves and branches, empty. Even the dirt was gone. 

“Oh, that” Hogarth said. “Sorry, about that. I did replace it though. Here.” 

Hogarth reached under my conference table and started laying several objects on the table. A sack of dirt, a trunk, several loose branches and a sack of leaves. 

“Hogarth…. What’s that?” 

Hogarth smiled cheerfully at me. “Oh that’s your new Fichus. Well at least it’s all the parts to a fichus, you just need to put it together.” 

“HOGARTH!” I put up with a lot from my imaginary gorilla. His eating my plants wasn’t the end of the world, they made for a nice tax deduction. But this… This was going too far. “Do you think I’m some kind of Dr. Frankenstein? I can slap this all together with some glue, yell ‘IT’S ALIVE’ and suddenly I’ll have a fichus?”

I stared at Hogarth, my eyes blazing with a demand for an answer. 

Only no answer was forthcoming. Hogarth and retreated to the corner of the office and was sitting in his ‘happy budda’ pose with his hands clasped happily over his hairy belly. He just kept staring at me, as if he’d already answered me and was waiting for that inevitable moment when all the pieces would crash together making whole the monumental idiocy I’d…. 

Pieces… Made whole… Sigh…

Putting my head in my hands I said “and we’re so focused on doing the artifacts of agile we’re completely missing the spirit and purpose which would make it whole and successful ?” 

“Pretty much,” said Hogarth. 

 

A pile of parts does not Agile make

“We’re doing stand ups, we must be agile.” Admit it, how many times have you heard this? Honestly it’s grown to internet meme status and is one of the go too jokes for mocking a company that has failed to “get agile.”

That doesn’t mean it isn’t hitting the truth smack dab on the head.

Yes, the practices of agile are incredibly important. So is structuring your organization with interactive support from all tiers of the company. If you only do the motions though, you’ll end up with an organization that is a soulless automaton not unlike Frankenstein’s monster. The monster was “alive”, but lacked a purpose and drive, a soul if you will. It at least had the intelligence to know it lacked something and spent the story trying to find acceptance and love.

In some organizations they are just like the monster, in that they know what is missing, but their efforts to find the missing is stymied. This can be the teams own roadblocks or barriers imposed by the company or even external partners and customers. These organizations are almost sadder than those oblivious to what’s missing in their agile transformations. They know they are not getting what they should out of agile while being forced to go through the motions of agile every day.

The same cannot be said for all attempts at agile transformations. They muddle along doing the practice of agile, without the purpose of agile and they either gain minimal benefit from agile or fail completely. Often blaming agile they then fall back on whatever they were doing before because it has the comfort of familiarity. These organizations then face an even greater challenge in improving because “we tried it already and it didn’t work.”

An agile transformation is more than just predictability, stability, shipping early, or even transparency. Agile is a tool that can lead an organization from being extrinsically driven to intrinsically driven. From unengaged to fully engaged. From passive process following to active innovation creation. In short all those things we are hearing about from such modern luminaries as Steven Denning, Dan Pink, Eric Ries and past visionaries such as Peter Drucker, are things that an agile transformation can help with.

If you truly set out to do it and not just pick up a couple of pieces and expect to be able to have the value of the whole.

 

Gaining agile alignment, Gorilla style

right-238369_1280“Seriously?!” I was dumbstruck. How did this happen?

What I was looking at was nothing short than a monumental divergence of goals. The VP over the product group wanted to open up small satellite offices in several locations across the US. Granted, each location would be fully connected, high end telepresence rooms, live work space cameras all backed by a top-end online agile management tool. On the face of it, not the worst implementation for a distributed workforce using an agile development model. 

Only it was in direct contrast to what Jake had been working towards. He’d been working with facilities and they had a plan all in place to gut the development floor and rebuild it as a fully integrated team workspace. Pods for each team, quiet spaces, team dedicated meeting rooms with floor to ceiling white boards, the works. The perfect co-location workspace. 

Two wildly divergent plans. Yeah, they both were completely supportive of the company’s move to agile. The problem was they were pretty much diametrically opposite approaches.

“How on earth did I get here?” 

“Well, you got in your car this morning, got on the 280, headed south…” 

I looked up from my computer display to my unwanted visitor. Hogarth, my 800 pound imaginary gorilla and self-appointed conscience was leaning against the door to my office. He’d already reached over and stripped a branch from my latest fichus tree and was carefully plucking a leaf from it (Someday I’d figure out how an imaginary gorilla managed to cost me a fortune in real plants). 

“Hogarth, I’m not in the mood for your beat around the bush word games. If you have something to say, just spit it out.” In retrospect, telling a gorilla, imaginary or not, to spit probably wasn’t the best choice of words. 

Fortunately Hogarth didn’t take me up on the format of communication. Instead he quietly snacked on the fichus branch for a minute. “Well,” he said as he tossed the denuded branch to the side, “sounds to me like an alignment issue. The teams and management don’t have the same view on the why. The same order of values.” 

I gaped at him as if he’d suddenly grown a second head and it was speaking in Latin. “Look, everyone from the CEO down to the front line coders can recite the agile values and if they don’t know the principles by heart, we’ve got them on posters around the whole office.” I pointed to an example of such on the wall of my office. “So we are plenty aligned on what agile means.” 

Hogarth looked at the poster of the agile principles and cocked his head to the side, “Which one’s first?” 

I shook my head forcefully. “Are you crazy? They are all equally important. The Manifesto drafters didn’t number them.” 

“Oh, so they are all a P0 feature, I get it now.” Hogarth nodded with a satisfied smile. 

“Wait? What!?… No… I mean… Umm….” 

I really hate it when he does that.

 

The Agile Principles, they can’t all be Priority Zero

12_Legoman

How many of you have seen a classic Product Requirements Document (PRD, MRD) where the majority of the feature requests are priority zero or one? Yep, me too. It’s the job of one of twelve principles of agile “maximizing the work not done” to address just this problem. It’s part of what drives the creation of a rank ordered backlog. The backlog is one of the overarching “artifacts” of agile (and lean). You can be running sprints, doing Kanban pull, DAD, SAFe, LeSS, XP, etc and you will have a backlog. Few if any other “artifacts” have that kind of span.

And yet, we’re expected to hold all four agile values and twelve agile principles as equal?

Okay, yes, that would be awesome. A truly transcendent self-organized working group that has moved beyond the material concerns of today’s world.

Reality though tends to point out that having more than one priority is nearly impossible. Peter Drucker said something to the effect of “an effective executive can focus on one thing really well. An exceptional executive can focus on two.”

We rank order our product backlog. We even rank order things coming out of our retrospectives. And yet we don’t spend time aligning on the principles of agile? We can’t do twelve things at once, so what do we focus on first?

Agile Principles 20 / 20 Exercise

This simple exercise can quickly let a team, of up to twenty, rank order the agile principles from highest priority to high priority (recognizing that all the principles are important). By conducting the exercise across the company, you can quickly get a sense of priorities and where alignment is lacking. For example, I’ve found development teams often put “welcome changing requirements” very low on their list, while a product management or sales team might place this very high.

Understanding where alignment is lacking, will then allow the conversation to bring about that alignment. At the end of the day, Sales could end up realizing that development’s goal of “delivery working software frequently” is better than getting to make changes weekly. You have to have the knowledge, to have the conversation, to gain the alignment.

Exercise In a Nutshell: The exercise in two hundred words or less (152 to be precise).

Print each principle on a single sheet of paper. Find a bare piece of wall. A neutral facilitator then randomly shuffles the cards, placing “Our highest Priority” principle at the bottom of the deck. The facilitator places the first random principle on the wall and invites discussion. Then the second principle is held up and the team is invited to decide if it is more or less important than the first. This proceeds through eleven principles, with discussion as each one is placed (trust me, there will be a lot as more cards get on the wall).

When you get to “Our Highest Priority” explain that while the signers of the manifesto did not rank order the principles in general, they did put this one at the top of the list on purpose, feeling it to be the most important of equals. Challenge the team on if they feel it is also the most important.

For a complete walk through of the exercise, you can download it from my Dropbox share: Agile Principles 20 /20 Exercise.

I’ve also created a Pecha Kucha format presentation, which I’ve shared on Slideshare , under the name “Agile Principles 20-20 The Gorilla Coach

20-20-vision-v31-150x150Credit where credit is due. I learned this technique from the dual powerhouses of Jason Tanner (@JasonBTanner) and Luke Hohmann (@lukehohmann). Jason is a Certified Scrum Trainer and CEO at Applied Frameworks, a company that specializes in helping your company get its product direction and strategy going in the right direction. Luke is the founder and CEO of Conteneo Inc., well known for their Innovation Games which is now part of their larger Collaboration Cloud. I took a Certified Scrum Product Owner class co-taught by these two gentlemen and learned this exercise in their class, which uses Conteneo’s 20/20 collaboration game as a the framework.


How Gorillas Connect to Stakeholders

Photo by Danilo Rizzuti

Photo by Danilo Rizzuti

“I just don’t get it.” I was staring at the email thread on my screen. I was in utter disbelief as to what it was telling me. Like pulling on a single loose thread unravels a cartoon sweater, this one email thread had just unraveled three months of my hard work on the Jericho project. I felt like the walls were falling in on me and a part of me was hoping the building would collapse and crush me so I didn’t have to deal with the fallout.

Turning in my seat I stared out my window taking in the inky black of a moonless night. Jake’s email had started the thread innocently enough. He wanted to make sure we’d addressed the dependency with the data team before he started work. Donald’s reply pointed to a dependency with the release operations team and capabilities of that datacenter. This led to a ever growing cascade of dependency and communication issues that were culminating in a pretty simple message, the project was dead before it ever laid the first brick of its foundation.

“I just don’t understand”, I said to my reflection, in the window. “We planned everything, we reviewed the plan, we had buy in. What went wrong?”

A voice answered me from  the darkness of my office, “I believe the technical term is that the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.”

Why did I ask a question? Didn’t I know exactly what would happen if I asked  rhetorical question?

“Of course you knew what would happen,” replied my 800 pound conscience. Hogarth reached his massive hand out of the darkens to turn on my desk side lamp. My office no longer lit by just my computer screen, I could clearly see Hogarth looming from the darkness of the rest of my office. Flashing me a blindingly white smile, he continued “Don’t feel bad, you know I would have answered even if you hadn’t talked out loud.”

I sighed. He was right of course. May as well just take the medicine and hope to get it over with. “Enlighten me, oh wise one.”

My gorilla wagged a baguette sized finger at me, “Now, now, I’m the sarcastic one here.” His other hand came into view with part of my fichus clutched in it. Nibbling on some leaves he said, “your problem is you didn’t tie off with your stakeholders right.”

“Seriously?!” I just stared at him. I had most definitely met with my key stakeholders. Heck, half of them I met before the project even started.

“Having coffee with Jake doesn’t count as meeting your stakeholder.” Hogarth scolded.

“Don’t start, Hogarth. I know how to talk with my stakeholders. I have relationships with all the key ones.”

He nodded his beach ball sized head. “Yes, you do. Let me ask you a question though. When the teams create user stories, is there a specific formula?”

I nodded.

“And when you do release planning, is there an agenda and set of questions you always ask?”

I nodded.

“And yet your meetings with the stakeholders are informal, not structured and not the same. How do you expect to know if  they are on the same page if you don’t ask them the same questions.”

Huh…

 

Ask the Same Questions, you will see Patterns

The Internal Customer Interview has been a staple tool in my project tool box for years. I first adapted it from Manager-Tools.com and over the years have  tweaked it and discovered its value beyond just when starting  a new job.

 

Now stakeholder meetings are nothing new. Even the Hogarth me knew to have meetings with the stakeholders. The secret to why the ICI tool works over standard relationship building meetings is in its consistency. If you don’t have consistency across your reviews, you’re not getting proper value out of your interviews.

 

Say you meet with ten stakeholders and with each of them you have a different agenda and questions, then you only gain the context of that stakeholder in that stakeholder’s domain.  You are less likely to pick up on trends that crossing the organization.

 

With the ICI format the key is to ask the exact same questions to each stakeholder. By asking the same questions, you can take the qualitative data of a single interview and begin to form a quantitative view of the whole through repeated asking of the same questions.

 

An interview shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes, so generally you want to limit yourself to five or six questions.

 

The Questions:

New Job / Major New Project:

These six questions are what I used when would start a new PMO job or major new PMO project.

1‐ What do you and your org need and expect from the PMO team?

2‐ What metrics do you use to assess us?

3‐ How have we done relative to your needs?

4‐ What’s your perception of our org in general, that perhaps the numbers don’t show?

5‐ What feedback and/or guidance do you have for me/my role/my team?

6- What are your biggest pain points?

Agile Stakeholders:

I developed these questions working for LeadingAgile. They are designed to evaluate where company is with its agile transformation (or preparing for an agile transformation). It extends beyond the recommended number of questions because of the sub-questions. It still fits into 30 minutes though, since the follow-up questions are generally shorter answers, so it still fits the model.

1- How well do you think <your company> is doing at establishing long-term, executable product vision?

2- How well do you think <your company> is doing at release planning (next 3 months) and making this plan transparent?

   2a- How well are you doing at meeting the commitments in the planned work?

   2b- Was new work added to the release plan after planning close and if yes, what percentage of overall backlog changed?

   2c- If yes to 2b, what percentage of new work was from farther down the existing backlog as opposed to brand new features/stories that did not exist when release planning closed

3- How well are you doing at delivering of working, “accepted” product to the end customer? Is it high quality, is it delivering value to the customer?

4- How well do you think <your company> recognizes problems and opportunities for improvement? With it’s Products (internal and external)? With it’s processes?

   4a- How well are you at executing on these opportunities for improvement?

5- Do you feel you are getting sufficient support to fulfill your  job role?

6- What are your biggest pain points in your job (or what keeps you awake at night).

Meeting Setup:

While the questions are the secret to a successful series of interviews, you need to make sure you set things up for that success.

Invitation: Contact each stakeholder individually. Request 30 minutes of their times to ask for them questions related to X (new job role, project, initiative). In the invitation include the one slide overview (see below) and a copy of the questions you will be asking. Never send this out as a broadcast message. Each person should be contacted individually.

One Slide Overview:  This isn’t a presentation. This is a focus for talking points. The contents are:

Mission Statement/ Goal Statement- What is being attempted?

How Statement (Optional)- It may be helpful to include how something is going to be done in some instances. For example the Goal focuses on improving predictability, and the How states this will be done through the rollout of agile governance (for example).

Plan- For a new job this is usually the 90 day plan. For a project or initiative this should be the next steps planning, not a detailed list. There should be no more than 5-6 bullets.

The Questions: Have them prepared before hand and let your stakeholders see them before you meet with them. For about half your audience, they won’t ever look at them. However the other half will look at them and be much better prepared to answer them in the interview because you gave them a chance to think about them before hand.

Stakeholder interviews are too important to go in off the cuff. Take some time to plan them and you’ll get a lot more value from them.

 

 

The Gorilla learns Management Values from Cinderella

The_Wizard_of_Oz_Bert_Lahr_1939It was dark through the office, hours after everyone else had gone home. Okay, pretty sure Greg was off in some even darker corner coding, but that didn’t count, he was one of those nocturnal breeds of coders. I was in my office busy denting my desk with my head. It hurt sure, but the pain was taking my mind off my larger pains.

Pivot or persevere, burn down charts, customer value over stakeholder value, story points, user stories, Intrinsic vs Extrinsic value, Stoos, agile, Lean. I was a project manager, I ran a PMO, I was darn good at what I did. Only what I did didn’t seem to be what was being done anymore. What happened to my carefully planned out planning cycle? Where did my Gantt chart go?

I guess I got that things were changing. I just didn’t have a clue how to get from where I was now. This was safe, this was comfortable, this was.

“Not as it should be.”

Sigh. You know the expression “a monkey on your back”? Well I had a Gorilla on my desk. He was usually leading me down the primrose path only to pummel me with my own errors. My conscience in the form of an 800 pound gorilla (imaginary).

“Hogarth, I already know I need to change. I just haven’t the bloodiest flipping clue how to get from where I am now to where I need to be.”

Hogarth smiled at me, his white canines glinting in the light of the desk lamp. “That part’s simple, you have to see the world not as it is. Instead see the world as it should be.”

I looked back at him, “Sure all and good. What if the world as it should be is big bad and scary? How am I supposed to lead my PMO into this new way? What can I do to make it easier for them?”

The inky black gorilla smiled again, “By showing courage and kindness

“Another one of your trite aphorisms?” I muttered. “Who did you get that from, the Dali Lama?”

Hogarth shook his head as he snatched the banana from my fruit, “Nah, Cinderella told me that after her 20th wedding anniversary ball.” Pealing the fruit Hogarth looked wistfully at the ceiling, “Now she knew how to throw a party.”

“Wait” I held up my hands in confusion. “Cinderella is real?”

Hogarth gave me one of those painful, pitiful looks when I’ve said something grossly idiotic. “Imaginary gorilla, remember? She’s not real, but neither am I, so yes I can talk to her.”

“Oh, right, I knew that.”

Hogarth bite off half the banana and began talking, “So let me break this down for you into a really easy question.”

I looked at him. His easy questions usually required a lot of work for me. “Go on…”

“Do you want to be a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?”

Now with the Wizard of Oz? Oz, Lion, Courage… Oh…

How Will You Face the Changing Tide of Business?

Whether we like it or not, the face of business is changing. You don’t have to be using Agile or Lean or any of the recent trends in development/ project/ business transformations to be impacted. Because odds are pretty much a million to one that if you’re not transforming your business, one of your competitors is.

We can try and deny the changing tide. However that would be like trying to deny the actual tides (Cnut the Great Tried that, didn’t work). Business has been going through a constant change since it first began. From the Master/ Apprentice trades of the middle ages, to the early factories of the industrial age, to the martini fueled age of Mad Men, to Martin Friedman’s “Shareholder Value” and beyond. The simple fact is business will continue to change and evolve.

So we should give up trying to deny that it will and instead decide how we’re going to face it.

With “Courage and Kindness”: You find inspiration anywhere you look, so long as you are willing to open your eyes. I found that inspiration watching the live action version of Disney’s Cinderella (Mar 2015). These words were the mantra Ella’s dying mother gave to her and which the young maiden lived by even when her step-mother and sisters had subjugated her down to little more than a slave.

And that I believe is the secret to how managers are going to deal with the disruptions facing the business world.

Courage:
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. -Nelson Mandela.

It is absolutely okay to not be comfortable with change. To not be happy that your world has shifted.

Even to be scared of what it all means to you.

You just need to not let it keep you from acting. Fear will drive you into a dark cave from which you will just lash out at anyone who comes close. Grab a torch, get out of the cave and explore this new world.

Kindness: No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop

Think back to your own time in school as a child. Odds are probably really high you had these two kinds of teachers.

Teacher A- Instructor: This teacher wasn’t a bad teacher, you just wouldn’t ever get warm from their smile. Business like to a fault, factual, direct. You learned from this teacher, but you were never inspired. You did the work, you got it done and you made fun of the teacher in the lunch room.

Teacher B- Mentor: This is the teacher who always had a smile. They told stories that turned out to teach you a lot about the subject. They were available and approachable outside of class. They were the teacher you went to when you had a problem.

The question is, which kind of the teachers above would you like to be as a manager? More important question, which kind do you think your employees want you to be?

And just remember, kindness is easy, kindness doesn’t cost much. A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. William Arthur Ward

Until next time, remember to keep some bananas handy for the Gorilla in the Room.

Where the Gorilla Looks, the Gorilla Goes

 

“I just don’t understand how we can be so far off schedule?” I was staring at the reality of the latest monthly progress review and trying to decide just how many floors the General Manager would blow through when he hit the ceiling on getting this news.

A voice echoed out of the dark corner of my barely illuminated office. “Just imagine how far behind schedule you’ll be next month.”

Wonderful, just what I needed at… was it really 9:00 pm? I grabbed my coat and hurriedly shoved my computer into its bag. “Not now, Hogarth, I need to get home.”

The 800 pound gorilla emerged from the shadows, his inky black fur blending with the darkness so that only his glinting eyes and brilliant white teeth showed clearly. “No problem, I’ll walk with you.”

I signed and pushed out of my office doing my best to ignore Hogarth.

“Tell you what,” he said as he lumbered behind me. “Do me one quick thing and I promise to not pester you for a week if it doesn’t change your view.”

I stopped and turned. “Fine, deal. What do you want?”

Hogarth pointed at the cube lined hallway in front of us. “I want you to walk down the middle of this aisle, without hitting anything.” Before I could tell him just how easy and stupid that sounded he held up a massive hand. “Oh, while you are walking this way, you must keep your eyes on that wall clock over there to the right. No matter what you can’t take your eyes away.”

” Seriously?” I rolled my eyes. “Fine, just remember, you promised not to bother…” WHAM!

After picking myself back up from the floor I looked to see who the heck had left one of the rolling file cabinets in the middle of the hall. Only problem was I was looking up at the side of a cube wall. I’d not only not stayed in the middle of the hall, I’d veered into one the side halls and then into the wall of the corner cube.

Hogarth offered me a hand up. “You knew where your goal was. What happened?”

I brushed away his hand and straightened my coat. “If I was allowed to look where I was going…”

“So you mean like checking your project status more than once a month?”

I really hate it when he’s right.

We Achieve Goals We Look At

How is making your goals like riding a horse?

Some time back I introduced you all to Peet, my horse. At the time Peet was helping Hogarth and I explore a point regarding too much focus on work being bad for you. Today Peet and Sky, my wife’s horse, are back to help us demonstrate why keeping the goal in sight is so very important. If you ride a motorcycle, you already know what I’m about to demonstrate.

About twenty years ago, my girlfriend (now wife) told me I had no business ever riding a motorcycle. She said something to the effect that I didn’t have the focus. Being an overly confident young man I naturally disagreed with her. I mean I was a guy, I could do anything right? Well luck, fortune, or fate prevented me from realizing my dream to own a BMW Touring bike. This was one of those times to be thankful for unanswered wishes.

About eight years ago I started riding. My wife got me into it and I am forever thankful. As I talk about in the Gorilla Robot blog, it gave me a sense of peace and relaxation I had been lacking. It wasn’t all wine and roses though. About three months after owning Peet I took my very first solo ride. When I came back from the ride I found my wife and asked her “You remember when we first met, you told me I should never ride a motorcycle?” To this she answered something to the effect of, “yes and you still shouldn’t”. I nodded to her and said “you’re right. If I can make an intelligent animal walk into a tree, I have no business on a motorcycle.”

What Peet demonstrated to me that day was the principle of “you go where you look.” In the opening  photo is another very real demonstration. When cutting cows (herding), if you don’t keep your eye (and the horses eye) on the cow, they will happily go where ever they want. If I were to have looked away (I did), then Sky would have (he did) and the cow would have run back to the heard (she did). 

When you drive a car, the car is amazingly forgiving. If you look off to the side of the road, you don’t immediately swerve. You will, given time, but the car is very forgiving. Horses and motorcycles are not if you lose focus, if you start looking at something on the side of the road, very soon you’ll end up on the side of the road. Your entire body shifts when you look and aligns to move in the direction you are looking. With horses and bikes you see this effect very easily.

And the principle applies to goals and objectives as well. My mind really made the connections this week, when I attended the Bay Agile Leadership Network. Dan Kimble of Resonance Executive Coaching came to speak on the topic of the Leadership Crisis in the Digital Age. Dan has done competitive motorbike racing and drew the example between where you go on a bike and where you go with your goals. Being a horseman (who once nearly rode his horse into a tree) I instantly saw what he meant.

Think back to high school and the English final. You know, that multi-page essay about some book that at the time you would have rather read anything but it? You had a whole month to do the project. Yet how many of us didn’t even put the first word down until the week it was due? And how many of you wrote the entire paper the night before?

When we don’t keep our goal in sight, we don’t reach our goal.

So what can we do?

Do One Thing

Back in 2013 I expounded on not Multi-Tasking. This is not just for your day to day work, it’s for your goals as well. Try not work on two life goals in the same week, neither will get the proper attention they deserve. Since you’ve already broken these goals down into tasks (you have, right?), just focus on one task at a time and if a week is like an agile sprint, and the goal the product, work on only one product at a time.

The Daily Goal Look

Let’s pull a page from the agile community and hold our very own daily standup. Every day a Scrum team gathers around the task board and go through the three question ceremony. When they do this, they are not just reviewing what happened yesterday and what they plan to do today. They are also focusing again on their goal. The backlog shows their goal for the Sprint and every day they are focusing back on that goal. When you only review program status once a week, that’s four business days (and a weekend) to get distracted and end up completely off track.

So every day, connect with your goals again. This can both be your current work goals (what you’ll do this week) and more importantly your purpose goals. This won’t take long, just five or ten minutes a day. Your purpose goals should be no more than five at any one time and you can only do so much work in a week so don’t overwhelm yourself. Just reconnect with your goals so you can get to them at the end of the ride instead of running into the wall.

Until next time…


Gorillas use the 5 Whats not the 5 Whys

“Can someone tell me why I just spent two hours on the phone with a screaming client?”

“They dropped a server rack on their toe and it really hurt?” asked Greg.

I glared at Greg until he went back to studying the dirt under his finger nails. The I turned to Jake, our development manager. “Jake, why can the client only load half their user base into the DB?”

Jake gave a shrug. “No clue, why didn’t QA test that?”

Vinnie jumped forward in his seat, “That’s not even in our test cases, why on earth would we test that.”

The room seemed to pause for a moment and then all eyes slowly turned towards to Tully, our junior product manager. With Bob visiting a potential customer, Tully the product management representative.

An hour later I walked into my office, tossing my coat on the conference table chair. “Poor Tully” I muttered.

“Why?”

I jumped. Turning to look where my coat landed I saw instead Hogarth holding my coat in one hand and looking at me with a questioning gaze.

“Why? Because Tully got torn to pieces in that meeting.” I said.

“Why?”

I blinked at my Gorilla. It wasn’t like him to not know everything. After all wasn’t he just a figment of my imagination? “Because Bob wasn’t there. And Bob is the one who made the requirements that didn’t address the customer’s number one need.”

“Why?”

Now I glared at my gorilla, was there a point to all of this? “So do you have a point with the annoying string of ‘why’?”

Hogarth nodded, “I do. What do you think would be a better way?”

“What?” My brain started spinning, how was this an answer? What did he mean? What was the right answer? Wait, wait, What?

And Hogarth nodded, “Exactly.”

 

Why the 5 Whys should be the 5 Whats.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve almost certainly heard of Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota. He calls it Five Whys. Unless the rock was really heavy, you’ve also no doubt heard Simon Senek’s “Start with Why” TED Talk.

The Five Whys:

5 Whys is an iterative question-asking technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships of a problem. The goal is to get to the root cause of a problem, because all too often the first cause is not the true cause. Doctor’s call this “treating the symptoms, not the disease.”

An example the 5 Whys :

Why did our service go down?

  1. Why? – The servers lost power. (first why)
  2. Why? – The backup power supply didn’t work. (second why)
  3. Why? – It couldn’t handle the load. (third why)
  4. Why? – A replacement hasn’t been bought that can meet the power needs. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The DataCenter budget was frozen last quarter and we haven’t had the money to perform upgrades. (fifth why, a root cause)

Starting with Why 

Simon’s talk is an incredible exploration of how companies can be inspirational and change the world. His Golden Circle places the question “Why” directly in the middle of the circle and What is placed at the edge. As Sinek pounds home, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy how you do it”

The danger of “Why”

“Start with why” is an excellent for a company exploring how they can better market their products. It can help them to better connect with their end customers and provide greater value.

And “why” is completely the wrong word to use when trying to get to the root of a problem.

What makes me say that? Professional coaching has a key concept of using powerful questions. These questions are deigned to help the coach guide the coachee to the answers they need. The coach doesn’t give the answers, the coach doesn’t even guide the answer. The coaches job is to ask the powerful questions that will allow their client to get to the solution. Examples of powerful questions are:

  • What is important about that?
  • What is stopping you?
  • What is the lesson from that?

What you won’t find in powerful questions is “Why”. What is the reason for this?

“Why” questions rests on the popular belief that « to succeed, one should understand how one has failed ». In other words, to learn how to swim, one must carefully analyze how one has almost drowned. In effect, why questions only let clients meander within their same-old limited past frame of reference. A good coaching process needs to gently lead the client out of their box.” (quoted from www.metasysteme-coaching.eu)

The question “why” carries a lot more emotional content than it’s cousin “what”. When you ask someone “Why didn’t you take out the trash” you are essentially putting them on the defensive and laying blame. Even saying “why is the trash still here?” creates an adversarial space.

This is “Why” is not used in coaching. You don’t want the client to get defensive, or wrapped up in the “why” of the problem you want to ask them “what” they need to do to get out of the problem.

Why 5 What’s is better

You see, Toyoda’s 5 Whys could get to the root cause, but all too often I find they side tracked by the personal agendas, defensiveness and the tragic corporate blame game circle. The 5 Whys can so easily go wrong, let’s look at the example above again, this time with real people involved.

Why did our service go down?

  1. Why? – Because we lost power. (umm duh)
  2. Why? – Bob hasn’t replaced the damn UPS yet, I’ve been on him for weeks. (the buck is passed)
  3. Why? – Don’t look at me, I’ve been trying to get the UPS replaced for weeks, finance won’t approve the PO. (the buck passes again)
  4. Why? – Unless sales starts signing up more customers, we won’t be approving a lot more POs. We’re broke.

We didn’t even get to the 5th why at this point and totally missed that the UPS isn’t broken, just can’t handle the load, so you can’t even explore how to make what you have now work for you.

Let’s try with What.

What caused the service to go down?

  1. What? – We lost power to the core servers
  2. What happened to our UPS- It can’t handle the load we have.
  3. What are we doing about it?- Well we’re trying to get a new one, but budgets are frozen right now.
  4. What else could we do? We could try putting just half the servers on the UPS. If we lost power we wouldn’t be able to handle a full login load, but we’d be partially up at least.
  5. What do we need to start doing that? – Give us the okay and we’ll have it done tonight.

Asking “What” is about creates an environment of clearer answers. If you ask “What is the speed of light” you get a very specific answer of 299 792 458 m / s. If you ask “why do people fight?” you could fill a Google datacenter with the results. Not a fair comparison? You’re right, it’s not. “Why” is used when the answer isn’t as clear or there are more than one answer.

So let’s try and experiment. What would happen if we used the 5 Whats instead of the 5 Whys?

Gorilla 911 Career Emergeny

“The company no longer has need of your services”

At least I think that’s what they said, can’t be too sure over the roaring sound in my ears. Still the very proper manager, sitting next to the properly sad looking HR person was a pretty dead giveaway. One of those things you know is coming the minute you walk into the room. 

I was out of a job… My brain tried to process  this as I walked in a daze back to my office. The security guard was keeping a respectful distance, but I could feel her presence as much as I felt the lack of weight of the badge no longer hanging from my belt.

Turning the corner I could see movement in my office. The company had already sent movers to clear out my office? Why were they wearing Day-Glo safety vests? What in the world did ECT mean? And most important why were the two figures gorillas?!?

I recognized the first gorilla immediately, despite the neon yellow vest. It was Hogarth, my personal gorilla (like Harvey the Rabbit, only mine is an 800 pound gorilla). Hogarth had his hairy fingers on my cell phone and was consulting a wrist watch like he was taking my phones pulse. The other gorilla was a bit light in color, kind of a deep grey instead of the charcoal black of Hogarth. This gorilla had a stethoscope to the screen of my computer.

The greyish gorilla turned to Hogarth and said “Linkedin profile is offline, should we start CPR.” As soon as he spoke I recognized him. Stanley? What was my old friend’s gorilla doing here?

Hogarth interrupted my thoughts. “Patient’s contacts are thready and non-engaged. I agree, we need to start immediate Career Panic Reset, get the crash cart.

I opened my mouth to speak but before a single word escaped a high pitched tone filled the room. Hogarth turned to Stanley and spoke in a rushed tone. “Career is flat lining, I’m going to need 20cc of social network stat and we better start an IV drip of phone calls.” Stanley made busy inside a garish carpet bag while Hogarth consulted a clipboard with a familiar looking document on it.

“Hey, is that my resume?”

Hogarth looked up, still speaking the Stanley. “It’s worse than we thought, no resume update since 2010. CPR may not work, get me a shot of adrenaline.”

“Hogaaaarth, I’m not dead!” I shouted.

Hogarth looked me up with what could only be described as an incredulous stare, “of course you’re not. If you were dead no one would have called the Emergency Career Technicians and we wouldn’t have to worry about the sorry state your new job readiness is.”

“What? This is not a project. I’ve been laid off. Of course I’m not ready to be laid off!”

Hogarth gave a deep sigh and looked at me with huge, sad eyes.  “No, you’re not. But you should be…”

Sigh… I can’t really argue with him on that.

Are you ready for a career emergency?

If it hasn’t happened to you, odds are high that in your life you will be laid off (or even fired) once in your career. Odds are pretty much equally high it will be more than once if you work in any of the volatile industries like high tech, automotive, manufacturing, health care, BioTech, construction… (You know what? Maybe I should be listing the safe industries, the list is a lot shorter). All too often the layoff is something you have absolutely no effect over. If an entire division is being eliminated, you could be the next Steve Jobs and you’ll still be getting a package like everyone else.

So what can you do? Sure it’s 911 time (The number you call in the United States when there is an emergency), that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. Even if you’ve been caught totally flat footed, you can still take control right away and do some simple things fast to put the fires out and rebuild. Better yet, start doing all this stuff now. Only your actions can develop career life insurance.

A Disclaimer on Advice: Old readers know that I have never made any pretense that the advice I give is whole cloth. While I have the occasional gem of an idea, more often than not even those are already good ideas more learned people than I have taught or written on. More often the advice I give is just distilled down for easy consumption. I like to think of Hogarth and I as the gateway to a better way of doing things. We make it easy to find and learn how to be a better worker, manager, team member, program manager, manager.

 Online Presence Emergency Makeover:

Welcome to the 21st Century! It doesn’t matter if you have created an online presence, you have one. The question is, “are you in control of it, or is it in control of you?”.  Even if you work directly with your personal network (You have one, right? No? Read the next bullet then) your online presence will still be a factor in your being hired.

  • Linkedin: Dead simple, have one. If you don’t have it, create it now and start reaching out to colleagues. One of the first places recruiters and hiring managers go now is to Linkedin. People you meet professional at work or at professional events (meetups, conferences, etc.) will look you up here. A sizable number of companies are using LI as their primary recruiting tool and pool of candidates.
    • If you send an invite, always personalize. It doesn’t take much effort and you are creating a personal connection view people in LI bother with.
    • Full profile, including the photo (see below).
    • Your Linkedin isn’t your resume, don’t just copy your resume. Instead use LI to tell more of a story. Make them want to know more about you.
    • Setup Pulse- It’s a way to have automatic subjects to talk to people about.
  • Social Networks: Linkedin is a must, see above. After that it’s all optional. However there are guidelines.
    • A Presence is Good: Especially is you work in anything to do with technology, bio, pharm or medical having a strong online presence shows that you are part of this century. I know, I know, the Apollo program put men on the moon without email, why do I need a Google+ account? Because perception is everything. That doesn’t mean you have to hang our life on the line.
    • Public Profile: Linkedin is public, so be comfortable with anything there being seen by a potential employer. Doesn’t mean you have to be a wilting violet and have not opinions. Just be comfortable with it and stay away from national or global controversial topics.
    • Private Profile: Facebook, Instagram, and Pintrest are examples of private networks. These are places where you connect and communicate with friends and family. These are the places you setup your profile as private. It’s no employers business what you do on your weekends, but if you don’t make it private, they will know. Just remember your profile picture is ALWAYs public, so make sure it’s something you’re okay with a potential employer seeing. A picture of you in shorts and sunglasses is fine. You chugging a beer, not so much.
  • Own your Google: Go to Google and type “Your Name” in quotes. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Done? Okay, good. If you don’t either own or are 100% comfortable with the first two pages of a Google search on your name then you need to fix it. This is not hard, you don’t need to pay someone to do it and you don’t need to be a tech expert. Now this can be harder if you have a common name, but remember it doesn’t have to be all you, you just have to be happy with the search results. If you have the same name as a famous quarterback and he’s getting good press, awesome. If, like a colleague of mine, you have the same name as an IRA terrorist from the last century, you need to work a little harder to control the google search on your name.

Some quick tips are:

    • Social Networks: Even if you don’t use them and keep them locked down, having an account on the regular social networks is going to help. I have accounts on Google+, Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter, that’s four Google searches right there or almost half a search page. Just follow the advice from above.
    • Share Linkedin pulse stories: You’ve got the account. Now set up your preferences on Pulse and at least twice a week share an article you read there.
    • Comment on publicly visible blogs and news articles: Google searches on comments so if you use your name when you post, they will show up in your search index.
    • Start a blog: This can be a little more time intensive as you need to commit to updating it. That said, barrier to entry is easy these days. Even a Tumblr or  Instagram account can work well. Posting wise sayings from other people can be enough to count.
  • Own your image: Just like you need to own your Google, you need to be happy with the images associated with your name. This is mostly done by controlling your online networks (see above), here are just some focused reminders.
    • Make it easy: Check out my Linkedin profile. My profile image is less than a year old. Sure it shows the gray in my beard, but do a Google search on me and you’re bound to find a picture of me anyway. So the first advice is to make it easy for hiring managers to find out what you look like. If you don’t, then either they’ll go looking or they will assume you have something to hide. Does this suck? Sure. Doesn’t it make it easier for managers to discriminate on <insert Demographic>? Sure. And there is nothing you can do to stop that. You need to use your network to get past these issues, not hide your face since they’ll see it eventually.
    • Keep your private photos private: This goes back to your private networks, but needs to be stressed. Make sure when you post photos online that you keep them private. You don’t want that picture of you at a Christmas party with a martini and a glazed expression being the first thing a potential hiring manager sees.

Manager Tools: Interview Podcast Series, Resume Workbook, Failures Chapter 3: Career Crisis.

Manager Tools has been one of my go to resources since 2009. MT has won The PodCast Awards‘ Best Business podcast 5 of the 8 years the award has existed and in 2008 won People’s Choice (in the rarified company of “MuggleCast” and ESPN Fantasy Football”). With 25 years of proven management consulting just in the lead founder, the free podcasts, premium products and conferences are worth their weight in gold. I personally have used MT and CT products and casts to get my last two jobs as well as be highly successful in those jobs.

In this case three key tools will be of use to you:

  • Resume Workbook: $29.95 download with an hour long how to video. Learn to make resumes in an effective and proven way, not the way recruiters with a year’s experience advise you to use.
  • Interview Podcast Series: I believe it’s $199 right now, but it is absolutely worth the price. I’ve used the Manager Tools interview method to get my last two jobs. It works.
  • Failure Chapter 3: Career Crisis - A two part podcast on their Career Tools cast, it came out in January of 2015 (the month before this blog). It’s a great place to start on what you should do Right Now. To sum it up…
    • Get on the phone the minute you are out of the office. Just start calling the people you can think of right away. But for gorilla’s sake, start with your spouse/partner if you have one.
    • Make a list of everyone you know (not just who is in your Linkedin) and start contacting them. The people with a good relationship, call, everyone else, email.
    • Take control of your budget. If you don’t have six months of savings, start figuring out what you don’t need so you can make it to the next job. Six month job searches are pretty common these days.

Wrap up:

This isn’t just good advice for a career in crisis. If you practice preventive medicine you won’t need the ECT to use cardiac paddles on your career.

Best,

Joel and Hogarth

Gorillas don’t procrastinate, people do

Photo courtesy of neeravbhatt - FlickrI hit Ctrl-S and closed the document with a sigh of satisfaction. Another task complete and with no small amount of satisfaction at the final outcome. I switched to my personal Kanban board. Clicking on the task box, I cheerfully moved it from “Doing” to “Done”.

“Awesome, so what’s next.” I moved my gaze over to my rank ordered backlog and looked at the task at the top of my list, ready to move it to my “Doing” column. My eyes took in the next task, “Oh…”

I looked at my watch. “You know, an early lunch might be nice today.”

“It’s only eleven o’clock, nothing’s open.” Hogarth, my personal gorilla conscience spoke up from the corner of my office.

“Oh, yes, well good point.” I looked at my calendar. “Well, I should probably prepare for my 1:00 meeting. It’s a pretty big affair after all.”

Hogarth nodded, “It is. Isn’t that what the purpose of that report you just moved to ‘Done’ was all about.”

“Yes, well another good point.” I snapped my fingers, “Today’s Thursday, that’s the day I spend thirty minutes reaching out to my network!”

Hogarth waved towards my computer, “pretty sure you have that on the kanban board as a lower priority already. You’re board is ordered on what’s most important, right?”

I glared at Hogarth this time. “You’re not helping.”

Happily munching on bit of the bamboo plant, he said “And you’re procrastinating.”

“What!” I half rose from my chair. “I am not, I just have a lot of important things to do. I can re-prioritize my kanban based on new data.”

Hogarth nodded again, “Yes you can. Are you going to re-prioritize this task like you have every day for the last six months?”

“Six months, don’t be absurd. I bet you a brand new bamboo plant that it has not been six months.”

Hogarth smiled, flashing me those brilliant white gorilla teeth. “Deal.”

I flipped back to my task board. “Let see, opening up the history on this task I created it June 1st. Hah! See it hasn’t been six month. It’s been… uh… eight.” I glared at Hogarth again. “You set me up!”

He nodded. “And you’re still procrastinating.”

 

The Road to Done is Paved With Good Intentions:

All right, who here has never procrastinated on a task, raise your hand. Right, no one, no one, wait you? Okay, Captain America, you don’t count you’re a comic book character. For the rest of us, procrastination is probably as common as the common cold. Fortunately, unlike the common cold, there is a cure for procrastination.

According to psychologist Professor Clarry Lay, a prominent writer on procrastination, procrastination occurs when there’s “a temporal gap between intended behavior and enacted behavior.” That is, procrastination is occurring when there’s a significant time period between when people intend to do a job, and when they actually do it.

So how do you tackle procrastination. I’ve got two techniques and one kick in the butt that I think will help.

Break It Down: “Class, the assignment is a twenty-page essay on the impact of the Spanish Inquisition on a country of your choices. The paper is due in six weeks.” The enormity of such task often  paralyzes us into inaction. We find all manner of excuses to not start.” It’s so big”. “I’ll never get it done in time”. “Twenty pages?” Our high school history essay was just the first of many enormous projects we would face in our adult lives. Twelve-month software  development windows, five-year new car designs, decades-long infrastructure improvements. And like the essay, projects typically start with that huge hairy, audacious goal that seems insurmountable.

Yes, as Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” Projects run using agile principles have shown us that even the largest task can be broken down into a manageable chunk of work. Whatever you are working on, start dividing it into steps and keep dividing them until you have something workable.

Avoid the Blank Page: As a writer there is probably nothing I fear more than a blank, white page. As a project manager, starting a project with no plan and no schedule used to give me nearly the same level of fear. That was until I discovered the almighty power of “Save As”. Whether I’m starting a new piece of fiction or a new project, I never start with a blank page. After two decades in Silicon Valley, I’ve amassed a huge library of templates and examples. With these, even if the project I’m working on has no history and no processes to follow, I always have some template I can start from. The final product may not look even close to the original template. That doesn’t matter, I don’t see it as rework, I see it as a jumping off point. That veritable beach head from old World War II movies.

Just Do It™: Good old Nike and their iconic slogan. Sometimes mind tricks, decomposition and the best laid plans of mice and men still leave you staring into the maw of procrastination in gibbering fear. That’s the time when my wife likes to give me a shove and say “Cowboy up.” Sit down and just start doing it. Don’t think of excuses, don’t schedule it, just start doing it. Odds are pretty good you’re going to come up for air an hour later having accomplished a lot more than you thought possible.

 

What was that? I haven’t written a blog since June, I’m a fine one to talk? Yes, yes I am. I’m not perfect, I absolutely make mistakes.  It’s the very reason I started writing this blog in 2009. I’m okay with not being perfect and sharing those mistakes with the rest of you, in hopes you don’t have to cover the same ground I did.

So grab a not-blank page and get going, “done” is just the other side of “not done.”

Don’t blame the Gorilla, blame the you

I shot up from my chair so fast it skittered backwards headed for the wall of the conference room. I didn’t really notice though, I was so worked up at this point, I would probably have ignored a 7.0 earthquake. The blame game going around the table had gone on long enough and I was damn well going to put a stop to it here and now. I pointed at the projector screen and was getting ready to lay into the program team with a vengeance.

 

When the projector cut out and the room was plunged into near darkness…

 

It took a minute of pandemonium before someone got the lights turned on and attention turned to trying to get the projector back on.

 

“Did you check the bulb, maybe the bulb burned out.”

 

“I bet it over heated, it is hot in here.”

 

“Did your computer get unplugged? I do that all the time.”

 

“Are we having a power outage? No, right, we wouldn’t have lights.”

 

“Facilities can’t keep anything running around here, you really outta complain.”

 

The “help” from the rest of the program team was not doing anything of the kind. Finally I decided it was better to just call the meeting. No one was focused on the meeting anymore and without the projector we couldn’t work through the issues we were looking at.

 

As everyone filed out of the room, someone brushed the light switch plunging the room back into a gloom broken only be the light coming from the hallway. Apparently my laptop was now suffering the same malaise the projector was and its screen was black. Leaning on the table, I gave a long weary sigh. First the program drives off a cliff, quickly followed by most of the program team and now I’m being plagued by faulty equipment. What was causing all of this?

 

From deeper in the gloom of the conference room I heard a deep voice. It spoke quietly and I could just make out the words “circles” and “oneself.” I hung my head a little lower, great, just what I needed.

 

I stepped over to the doorway and flipped on the lights. “What do you want Hogarth? Can’t you tell I’m just a little busy right now to be dealing with a figment of my imagination. Unless you can solve my problems I’m not interested. You can’t tell me what cause the projector failure is, can you?”

 

My gorilla was lounging in one of the chairs nearer to the projector screen. His size umpteen big feet were propped up on the table and he gave me one of his casual Hogarth signature shrugs. “Oh, I don’t know. Have you ever thought it might be you?”

 

Looking at him as if he’d just grown a second head I said, “What on earth makes you think I’m the cause of the problem?!”

 

Hogarth pointed me at my chair, still pushed up against the wall where it had stopped after my abortive tirade. Down at the base of my chair, wrapped around one leg, was indeed the source of all the problems.

 

The power cord for the entire conference-room table. My chair had caught the cord and pulled it from the wall when I stood up.

 

“Oh, well dang…”

 

 

One Hundred Conversations With The Gorilla In Room

 

In November 2009 I had my first conversation with the “Gorilla In The Room” and began my ongoing journey to become a better program manager, leader and person. Ninety-eight conversations later I find myself looking back at my journey and asking myself what I can learn from all my conversations with Hogarth. What can I learn from how I managed my career differently, from how I helped others, from how I interacted with others, from the conferences I’ve spoken at and the people I’ve coached.

 

In June of 2011 I asked similar questions in “Wake Up and Smell The Gorilla.” Only at that time I was still focused my personal “branding.” I was trying to create solutions. “Wake Up” was my vehicle to talk about my five point value system, when I probably had no business in trying to change anyone else yet. Reading the blog again today I even see that Hogarth had already giving me the answer. I was just so absorbed in helping others, I was missing the real key.

 

“When searching for the source of a problem, start looking in ever widening concentric circles about oneself.”

Mark Horstman, Manager Tools      

 

Regular readers met Peet, my horse, back in “The Gorilla Robot.” Last year I also took up the sport of archery, an excellent sport for mental calm and mental concentration. While both my hobby of horse-back riding and my sport of archery were taken up for their enjoyment and for the positive impact they had on my stress levels, I have since learned an equally valuable lesson from these two past times.

 

What does this have to do with Mark Horstman’s quote?

 

~”I’ve never met a problem horse. I’ve met many problem owners.” Clinton Anderson, Horse Trainer

 

“Don’t blame the arrow, blame the archer.” Uncounted numbers of Archery Coaches

 

Whatever the problem you are facing, no matter who is involved, or what the mitigating factors are, you can almost be certain that some of that problem is because of you. An example…

 

Before I met my wife, I had the normal red-blooded American-male aspiration to own a motorcycle.  My wife had owned a motorcycle and was a really good rider. Not long after we met she told me I had no business riding a motorcycle, I just didn’t have the right mindset for it. Naturally I didn’t believe her for an instant. I would take the CHP Easy Rider safety course and I’d be a great motorcycle rider, there was nothing wrong with me. Clearly she was wrong. The only thing stopping me was time and money, motorcycles are expensive.

 

I’d owned my horse for about three months when I took my first solo ride. I came back from that ride and told my wife, “You’re right. I have no business riding a horse. If I can steer an intelligent animal into a tree, just think what I could do with a motorcycle?”

 

I was so bound an determined to own a motorcycle (I wanted one of those nice BMW touring bikes) that I refused to even consider if I was right for riding. I ignored that I might be the source of the problem. Taking up archery was an even greater example. There is so much that the archer can do wrong, that the few times it really is your equipment are so rare it just pays to assume it was you.

 

And even if this is the 1% of the time that you are not at all a factor in the problem, if you tackle the problem like you might be part of it, then you’re going to get a hell of a lot farther than if you are always looking for the source outside of you.

 

Assume you are the problem, be happy when you are not. If you focus on constantly making yourself better, then you will make the world around you better.

 

So as long as I’m not perfect, I’ll keep on having conversations with Hogarth. One hundred conversations down, and here’s to two hundred more conversations.