Category Archives: productivity

Books, Podcasts, and Conferences related to Designing Great Organizations

Here’s a list of books, podcasts, conferences, frameworks, methodologies, models, and other resources related to designing and building great organizations that I think are worth checking out.

If you have any recommended additions, please email or send me a tweet.

Books, Frameworks, and Standards

Resource

Key Takeaways

Additional References, Summaries, Notes

The Scrum Guide
  •  Defines Agile Scrum implementation, including relevant ceremonies (meetings), roles (Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Team Member), and information radiators (tools)
  • David Anderson gave a great keynote at the CMMI Capability Counts 2017 conference — Kanban is often over-simplified for people who don’t appreciate the whole concept
  •  The Amazon reviews complain about the Kindle version of this, but I’m guessing they’re using the traditional Kindle — the figures look great on my Kindle Fire
Scaled Agile Frameworksafe-logo.PNG
  • Framework for scaling Agile practices to teams of over 50 people
  • Combines best practices from several other sources (e.g. Lean, DevOps, Scrum, Kanban) along with some good tactical recommendations, such as investing in a 2 day, in-person planning events every quarter for the whole team (Program Increment Planning)
Disciplined Agile (DA) process decision framework

DA-logo.PNG

  • Map (analyze) your operation, find the worst bottleneck, resolve it, and repeat
  • Optimize the system, not locally (don’t try to keep each individual machine or person “busy” or productive; instead focus on optimizing the whole system)
  • This is a classic book, written as a fictional story to teach the concepts of the Theory of Constraints
  • Note: A graphic novel version of this was recently released, which sounds interesting
  • Teaches the mindset and concepts of DevOps and why DevOps is so critical to increasing organizational agility
  • Quality Management standard, originally focused for manufacturing organizations, that provide a template on how to define best practices related to ensuring Quality in your organization’s operations, leveraging concepts such as formalized surveys asking your customers how you’re doing
  • Significant overlap with CMMI PPQA, but has some unique practices
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Podcasts

Podcast

Key Takeaways

Additional References, Summaries, Notes

Cover Image
  • Fascinating podcast by Reid Hoffman, where he interviews leaders who have scaled their organizations
Software and Process Measurement Podcast (SPaM CAST)

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  • Tom Cagley interviews people related to process improvement and lots of related domains

Conferences

 Conference

Key Takeaways

Additional References, Summaries, Notes

Agile Alliance’s Annual Conference
LeanAgileDC
CMMI Capability Counts Conference
DevOpsDays
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Are you Running in the Right Direction?

Early in my career, I was a leadership development conference (through Lockheed’s great Engineering Leadership Development Program), where we played a game called Gold of the Desert Kings  — it was a group game, in a big event space ballroom packed with engineers from all over the country.  I don’t remember the rules of the game, but I do remember that it was a powerful reminder of how important it is to plan before you start working.

It’s easy to say we should plan before we start doing work — people say things like that all the time:

  • Look before you leap
  • Measure twice, cut once
  • Cal Newport made this point on Ramit Sethi’s blog a while back
  • Agile Scrum “forces” people, every few weeks, to stop and assess where they’ve been (sprint demo), where they’re going (sprint planning), and how they could improve (sprint retrospective)

But while we talk about this often, most people often regress back to a tendency of “jumping in” under pressure, instead of taking a breath and investing the energy of actually building a plan.

At the individual level, people are very quick to start working, trying to “make progress” and “feel productive” without investing the time to validate that they’re working on the most valuable thing. When groups of people (teams) are involved, we’re even worse at this — not only does the team want to jump in to avoid the plan of group planning and not feeling productive, everyone wants everyone else on the team to be productive (busy) so they feel they’re not the only one working hard.  This creates this nasty culture where the team is trying to keep everyone busy (Instead, Goldratt’s The Goal teaches that we need to optimize the entire system, not at the individual person or machine level).

Yes the plan will change, but it’s not the first version of the plan is not the valuable part — it’s the exercise of pulling together all the different pieces of a project and thinking about them together that is valuable.

While making progress on some new task feels more rewarding and productive than building a plan, whether it’s an Agile backlog; a resource-leveled Microsoft Project file; and/or a few quick PowerPoint slides summarizing major activities, schedule, resources, and budget; INVEST the time to make a plan — make sure before you start sprinting in some direction that you’ve actually checked to see if that’s where you should be running.

Using JIRA to Scale your Business

I recently spoke at the 2017 Capability Counts conference, put on by the CMMI Institute. David Anderson Keynote 2017.PNG It’s an interesting event that isn’t focused just on CMMI maturity models — instead it’s a conference where a few hundred people get together to discuss process improvement, Agile, software engineering processes, and a variety of other related topics.

The keynote (shown in the picture above) is David Anderson of LeanKanban University talking about the core concepts of Kanban, which go far beyond most people’s understanding of 3 column boards.

I spoke on using Atlassian’s JIRA product to help an organize scale — sharing some best practices/recommendations on how to use a tool like JIRA to get information out of email, hallway conversations, and meetings and into a system where work can be clarified, prioritized and tracked.

CIO 101 for Entrepreneurs

This morning I got to share IT infrastructure, business strategy, and business
architecture tips and recommendations with some local current and future entrepreneurs at The Capitol Post in Old Town Alexandria.  Capitol Post is a great organization focused on inspiring Veteran entrepreneurs to find professional clarity and scale those visions.  They offer several great things, including  a cool co-working space right in North Old Town Alexandria, classes, and a startup accelerator program.

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Here are the slides and strategy template I went through with the group this morning, helping entrepreneurs deal with IT.   We talked about:

We talked about how IT for non-technical entrepreneurs can be like personal finance for non-financial people — it’s very important, but it’s hard to motivate yourself to invest the time you need to understand it, make some solid plans, automate it, and then move on to creating value.

It’s been a year since I last taught at Capitol Post (https://mikehking.com/2015/09/11/talking-technology-bunker-labs/), and it’s great to see how much they’ve grown (the office is beautiful and their getting ready for their next cohort to go through the Bunker Labs DC accelerator.

Organizational Operating System Upgrade?

I’ve started reading Brian Roberton’s book Holacracy, which talks about an organizational
management approach focused around self-organization and protected autonomy.  It’s an interesting attack on the base assumption that we should build companies in the traditional, top-down approach where a CEO directs leaders who direct other leaders, through layers and layers of business leaders.  Holacracy is the first non-traditional approach I’ve seen to business architecture (designing a company) that is cohesive and specific.  Managing teams with a methodology like Agile Scrum is powerful, but Scrum doesn’t scale to an entire organization, without armies of Scrum of Scrum Masters.  Early in the book, Brian lays out this metaphor of a business having its own operating system (including the org chart, business processes, etc.):

…the operating system underpinning an organization is easy to ignore, yet it’s the foundation on which we build our business processes (the “apps” of organization), and it shapes the human culture as well.  Perhaps because of its invisibility, we haven’t seen many robust alternatives or significant improvements to our modern top-down, predict-and-control “CEO is in charge” OS.  When we unconsciously accept that as our only choice, the best we can do is counteract some of its fundamental weaknesses by bolting on new processes or trying to improve organization-wide culture.  But just as many of our current software applications wouldn’t run well on MS_DOS, the new processes, techniques, or cultural changes we might try to adopt simply won’t run well on an operating system built around an older paradigm.

Brian describes an entire methodology, like some of the prescriptive ceremonies and roles you see in Agile Scrum; which I’m still wrapping my head around.  The core tenets of independent, autonomous roles seems incredibly powerful, because it seems to make companies much more scalable.  And it reminds me of the core factors that Daniel Pink identified in Drive as what employees wants in their job:

  1. Autonomy: People want to have control over their work
  2. Mastery: People want to get better at what they do
  3. Purpose: People want to be part of something that is bigger than they are

Holacracy’s concepts explained in 107 seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUHfVoQUj54

Fire and Forget: Difference Between A Vice President And A Janitor

The military classifies some missiles as “fire and forget” because they don’t need to be missilesmonitored after they are fired.  Great leaders are like this — their boss can give them an objective and know they don’t need to follow up over and over to ensure success.

This concept is incredibly important in your career as take on more and more responsibility.  Junior team members are expected to work hard and be guided by leaders to support the team.  However, there is an inflection point where the the value people add to the organization separates based on those who work hard and those who will ensure success.  It’s great to be someone who works hard to support the team, but it’s a whole different level of value to an organization when someone can be trusted to accomplish an objective without needing oversight.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check in with your boss, or ask for advice or mentorship, or request in-progress reviews (IPRs) or other meetings to touch base — it means that your boss sees you as a person they can “fire and forget”:

This type of high-value leader doesn’t wait for someone to check on them if they have questions or obstacles (they analyze and solve them, or they ask for help, or they bring recommendations to someone for validation)

Business Insider wrote a post several years ago about a related quote by Steve Jobs:  Steve jobs explained that the difference between a janitor and a Vice President is that a janitor can have excuses for not getting their work done, but a VP is responsible to succeed, regardless of obstacles.

“Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering,” says Jobs, adding, that Rubicon is “crossed when you become a VP.”

In other words, you have no excuse for failure. You are now responsible for any mistakes that happen, and it doesn’t matter what you say.

Invest time and energy and become a leader that people can trust to get things done when you say you will, without oversight or reminders.

Super-busy? You’re not a Hero, You’re Investing your Time Poorly

I’ve been working some long days recently, trying to balance some big projects at work. I overworkedlove the excitement and intensity that comes from leading big change, whether it’s setting up a new system or process, or chasing a big opportunity.  But I often need to remind myself that great leaders don’t have to work long hours, over-working themselves into a frenzy of stress and bad decision making.  Great leaders plan, delegate, recruit, mentor, and they build systems to ensure things get done well without having to be directly involved.  Like Michael Gerber teaches in The E-Myth Revisited:

Work on your business, not in your business.

Gerber’s book is focused on a company, but the concept also applied well to people who lead projects or teams.  Stop thinking of yourself as a hero when you’re super-busy with something — instead, think about how you can:

  • Better plan projects
  • Recruit great people to support the project
  • Mentor others to be able to contribute effectively without significant oversight from you,
  • Design systems/processes so others can work within those systems without needing your to guide them throughout in each step of the process