What Does Your Anger Reflect?

I had a great day yesterday. I had some meetings that went well. I heard from the guy I’d asked to write the foreword to Agile and Lean Program Management. He said yes, and wrote a terrific foreword.

Then, I received an email with the edits from an editor for an online magazine.

When I write, I check for passive voice and remove it. I work to make my writing easy to read. I like it when you agree with me. It’s okay with me if you don’t agree with me—as long as you understand what I wrote.

Well, you might be able to understand what I tried to say in the edited article, but since I had trouble—and I was the writer—I am pretty sure you would have trouble, too.

I could feel my face getting red. I could feel my blood pressure rise. I felt as if I could hear my heartbeat in my ear (Note 1). I was angry, angrier than I have been in ages. I can’t remember the last time I was that angry.

I decided to do something useful instead of responding or eating chocolate. It was raining, so I took an inside walk for 8 minutes. Then, I had more water and a low carb brownie. (Yes, the chocolate helped!) These things are the first step in emotional resilience.

I also asked for help. I asked other people to read the edited version to see if I was nuts. No, I wasn’t nuts. The problem solving was my second step in emotional resilience.

I also realized today that my anger was about my values, not this specific problem. It took me more than 12 hours to realize that. When I have a problem that violates my personal values, I have to separate the situation from my feelings about the situation. (In software, we call this “going meta.” That’s the third step in emotional resilience.

We have strong emotions for all kinds of reasons. I realize now that I become angry when the situation violates my values.

I have values for my writing starting with clarity. I have values for my driving, starting with safety. I have values for project management, starting with the fact each project is unique, so we should think.

For me, the more I feel as if my values are at risk, the stronger my emotion. I have encountered this editing problem four times before with this editor. We are not communicating well, are we? I will have to work on that.

What surprised me most is this: yes, I am angry about the editing. I am angrier with this other person not hearing my feedback the first four times. And, I bet the problem is mostly on my side. I did not remind him of my preferences when I sent him the article. I know how he works, and I thought he would remember my preferences. Kind of arrogant of me, isn’t it? I am angry with myself, too.

My strong emotions, such as anger, do not have a single cause. That surprised me a little, at first. On reflection, it makes sense. I might feel as if I’m angry at the other person. Then, I realize it’s much more about me. Oh, being human is so interesting…

Dear adaptable problem-solvers, that is the question of the week: What does your anger reflect?

Note 1: That’s a little deaf joke. One ear, get it? Okay, I thought it was funny when I calmed down.

What Provides You Courage to Start?

A few days ago, I asked Mark, “When do we need to replace our toothbrush heads? Mine looks like it’s done.” He told me, “Feb 1.” Okay, I could live with another few days.

This morning, he left me a new toothbrush head on the counter. I laughed and teased him, “It’s not the 1st. It’s still January. 28th in fact.” He smiled and told me, “We were supposed to change them on the 24th.”

For me, the new toothbrush head is the start of many possibilities. So is a tank of gas. The newness, the fullness creates—for me—a sense of being able to start new things.

You might not need a new toothbrush head. I admit, it’s a mundane thing. Smetimes, mundane things can create new possibilities.

That’s when I started to ask myself, what creates new possibilities at work for me? I came up with these ideas:

  • Starting a new book
  • Finishing a book
  • Starting and finishing articles
  • Offering new workshops
  • Redesigning other workshops to take advantage of my new ideas
  • Feeling as if I have a chance to start

This is my list, not yours. I bet your list might look something like mine if we go a little meta. My list is about finishing things, so I can start the next one. It’s about using my creativity to complete new and different work.

Can you finish things at work so you can start the next one? Can you solve problems and implement those solutions using your creativity? What do you need to start doing these things?

You need courage.

You need the courage to talk to your boss and say, “I can’t work on three things at once. Here are some alternatives….”

You need the courage to put your ideas out into the world in whatever framework fits you. You might write code, tests, manage projects, write articles or books, whatever. With courage, you publish your ideas. (I mean publish as in let the ideas out of your head and help other people see them.)

You need the courage to offer your work and stand behind it.

Courage takes the right mindset. You need the growth mindset, so if something doesn’t work for other people, you still have the emotional resilience to return to work and try again. You need the internal fortitude to hear other people’s arguments and see if you should change your work to incorporate (or adopt) their ideas.

What do you do to build your courage to start? Sometimes, it’s the little things, like having a new toothbrush head, a full tank of gas, or a great breakfast.  (These things set me up for the day!) But courage is not just something we “get” on good days. We need to practice courage, also. (That will be a future question of the week.)

Dear adaptable leaders, this is the question of the week: What provides you courage to start?

How Do You Use Data?

I saw this Ted Talk, Sebastian Wernicke’s How to use data to make a hit TV show.

The intro is funny when he discusses data analysis to make decisions. At about 8:57 into the talk, he starts talking about problem-solving. He says problem-solving with data has two parts. The first part is the take-apart phase, where you analyze the problem. In the second part, you put the pieces back together again to come to your conclusion.

He does say you might need to do this several times, the taking apart and the putting back together. Then he says something I found resonated with me:

“Data and data analysis is only good for the first part. … It’s not suited to put those pieces back together again and come to a conclusion.”

He goes on to say we need to use our brains for the conclusion part. Our expertise allows us to come to conclusions, even better than data by itself does.

Here’s why. With our brains, we can use serendipity. We take unrelated information, and can see new possibilities. With our brains, we can use the Rule of Three. (We need data to see our reality.  Data might lead us to consider only one conclusion.)

Sometimes, our expertise works in our favor. Sometimes, not. It depends on our expertise. The more narrow our expertise, the more we try to fit the data to what we know is possible and correct. The wide our expertise, the more open we might be to discovering other alternatives.

Many years ago, I was a software developer on a machine vision project to inspect printed circuit boards. The “experts,” the people who had deep domain expertise in optics were stumped. We could not obtain images with sufficient resolution to test our algorithms.

I asked, “Can we try different color lights to light the board?” They scoffed at my idea. The next day on my way to work, I bought red, yellow, blue, and green fluorescent lights. I tried them in that order. Sure enough, the green lights provided enough contrast to see the pads on the boards. We shipped machines with green lights.

I was an expert in problem-solving, not optics. My expertise did not impede me from considering options. Sometimes, expertise prevents us from seeing alternatives because “it’s not possible.” If we don’t know we can’t do something, we might find a way to do it. In the same vein, data might lead us to believe “it can’t be possible.” With multiple alternatives, we might see other possibilities.

As a Medical Mystery, I can attest that data is useful, but not sufficient for making decisions about our health and bodies. Yes, we need data—it’s essential for our ability to understand where the problems might be. Once we have data, we might need to consider alternatives that—up until now—we had not considered.

Data is one reason I recommend we not use cost in evaluating the project portfolio. We tend to towards insular spiraling-in decisions when we do.

Dear readers, that is the question of the week: How do you use data?

When Is It Too Late to Start?

I love serendipity. I was drafting this post and read Dean Wesley Smith’s post about Starting Late.

I’m practicing my fiction writing. Nothing to publish yet, still working. And then I thought about all the other things I started in 2015:

  • Online workshops
  • More non-fiction writing, including 2 books
  • Pair-writing with several new-to-me authors
  • Walking 5,000 steps each day

In 2016, I’m offering new online workshops. I have plans for several non-fiction books, and maybe I will finish some short fiction or even a novel. We will see how much client work I have.

There are things I am not going to start. I am not going to start playing volleyball, skiing, or anything else that requires balance. Just not. I challenge my balance enough with walking.

On the other hand, I will continue to try new approaches in my business, teaching, consulting, and writing. Why not? What have I got to lose?

Often, when I think it’s too late to start, I realize I’m afraid of failing, or of being mediocre, or any number of other risks. I’m afraid to be vulnerable.

I try to modify that fear of failure by calling it practice.

We practice all the time. Some things we know how to do already. We practice them by doing them more often, with intention, measuring our results and/or retrospecting on the results. We practice working as part of a team, finding (and then preventing) more of our defects/problems. We practice our relationships.

If you think it’s too late to start something new, you allow fear into your life. I don’t know about you, but fear paralyzes me. I do want to be reasonable with my new experiments. I don’t want to do something that will physically hurt me, because the costs are too high.

But learning something, regardless of my age? I love that. I often ask, What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen? When it comes to intellectual pursuits, I might look like a fool. Oh well. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt.

When it comes to relationships, I might be more fearful. I don’t want to screw up any of the relationships that work. On the other hand, if I’m not honest with the other person, what kind of relationship can I have? I’ve tried that, and my relationship degrades over time, to the point where I don’t have a relationship any longer.

Jerry Weinberg taught me that fear is an acronym: Future Experienced As Reality. I learned that I could create another future, by not letting fear rule me.

I can create a new future, by experimenting, by making a small change and seeing what the results are.

It might be too late for me to start new physical pursuits other than walking, because of my deficits. On the other hand, it’s not too late for me to start on my best life. Not too late at all.

Dear adaptable and resilient friends, the question this week is: When is it too late to start? I hope you agree with me that tomorrow is too late. Start today.

What’s the Smallest Change You Can Make?

It’s January, resolution time. I bet many of you have resolutions. I don’t do resolutions.

I try small changes that help me accomplish what I want. I often ask, “Can I do one more?”

When I want to increase my steps, I say, “Let’s try one more.” It might be a lap around the driveway, or a lap around the house, or just one more length of the kitchen. I try one more and I succeed.

I’ve been trying to lose a few more pounds. In this case, I try, “Can I do one more vegetable and less protein?” (I low carb, so I make different tradeoffs than you might.) “Can I do one more tablespoon of fat and have less protein?” (I try to stay ketogenic. I like food, what can I say?)

With writing, I might do one more timebox of five minutes.

It could be anything. The idea is I challenge myself to improve, but just by a small amount. No big commitments, no resolutions. Just one small thing, as in one more step. One more keto approach. One more word.

What is the smallest change I can make that allows me to progress?

With small changes, I am more likely to succeed. Not always. One day this week it was in the 20’s and windy. I asked myself if I could do one more lap outside and the answer was, “No. Not on your life. I’m going inside.” I was way too cold. Sometimes, I don’t do one more.

When I try a small change, I challenge myself to do one more improvement. Just one, not a gazillion. I’ve seen several good benefits to my little challenges:

  • I’ve been walking 200-300 more steps on my walks.
  • I feel healthier. I lost 5 pounds from July-December. I know this is slow weight loss. It’s still a loss.
  • I wrote more, even though I had a ton of client work and life interruptions.

Here’s what interesting to me: My self-esteem is higher because I’m succeeding more often.

For me, “one more” is a trigger to do better. It might work for you, too. It’s a small change.

That is the question this week: What’s the smallest change you can make?

How Do You Flex?

Create an Adaptable Life Vol 4 # 3: How Do You Flex?
November 2, 2015

How Do You Flex?

There’s a discussion on LinkedIn about an agile team with a deaf developer. The respondents—many of whom are fully hearing—are debating what they could do. There are plenty of opportunities:

  • Make sure everyone faces the deaf developer when speaking.
  • Have a hearing/sign language interpreter.
  • Use dictation software so the software writes down everything you say.

These are interesting ideas. And, they all involve having the deaf person flex to the hearing people.

What if we turned that around? What if the hearing people behaved as if they were deaf? How would that change things?

  • They could use some form of messaging software instead of standing at a board.
  • Maybe they could all learn sign language and stop talking.
  • Maybe they could eliminate standups and many other meetings altogether.

I like standups for many reasons. People recommit to each other. Depending on the kind of board you have, you might see all the work in progress and decide to work differently. The standup provides you options about what to do next.

I have also seen standups that stink, to put it mildly. They become blame games. Or the stories are so large, it’s not worth getting together every day. Or the team is so large, people don’t all know each other. There are many other ways for standups to fail.

Yes, it’s easy to consider ways to flex when you are in the minority. When should the majority flex, even as an experiment?

When you consider flexing how you work, what do you consider, the minority or the majority? Up until now, I’ve been considering the majority. I might have to change my mind.

More Learning With Johanna

I’ll be leading the Influential Agile Leader with Gil Broza in April and May next year. Registration is open now.

See my calendar page for all my workshops and speaking dates.

Read More of Create an Adaptable Life

If you only read the newsletter, you may want to read the blog, where I write more. Do join me on Create an Adaptable Life.

And, if you only read this newsletter or blog, you might want to read my other blogs, Managing Product Development and Hiring Technical People.


© 2015 Johanna Rothman

What Did You Patch?

It’s colder here in the Boston area. We have icing and thaws, which leads to “broken” street surfaces. My town patches the street with more tar. It works pretty well, unless the hole gets too large. In that case, the town considers repaving the entire street. (They don’t all the time, but they do consider it.)

On my daily walks, I see many street patches. The patches prevent deep holes, but the surface is not flat. I was wondering what you patch.

Back in my youth, I would wear jeans until they wore out, often at the knees. I patched those jeans and continued to wear them until my mom said, “Are you leaving the house looking like that.” I often said I was. She did not approve.

As a software developer back in the ’70s and early ’80s, I patched my code. We had limited space in each “page.” If you hit your 256 bytes (or whatever it was), you had to jump to some other location, stick your code there, and jump back. If you had a chance to return to that design, maybe you could redesign the entire module to make sure you could do it all on one page, or create subroutines that worked better. This patching is what we now call refactoring.

I bet you patch differently now if you are a developer or tester. We rarely have limits on software footprint. We can patch with abandon. That is not always a feature.

If you’ve ever apologized for something, you patched the relationship. You addressed the issue or concern that caused the relationship to become unsteady.

What do you patch now? How do you patch it?

Do you patch as the municipalities do, looking at this hole or that uneven piece? Or, do you take a look at the whole and decide what to do? Maybe you do small patches until it’s time to make a bigger decision, to rearchitect the code, change the relationship, or throw out those jeans?

There is not One Right Way to patch. We need to, and it might be useful for you to consider what and when to patch. What are your choices? Can you become more adaptable if you patch? Will the patch cause you to work or live in a more rigid way? Can you use the Rule of Three to provide yourself other options?

That is the question this week: What did you patch?

Where Are Your Fall Lines?

In skiing, the fastest way down the hill is a primary fall line. Every hill might have more than one fall line. If you rolled a ball down the hill, it might go more to the right or more to the left, depending on where you start, the angle you face, and how fast you start the ball rolling.

Parts of my daily walks are downhill. Depending on how I start down the hill, it’s easier for me to tend to the right or the left. I have to correct myself to go straight. I’m not excited about the downhills because I need to manage my walking. (Walking downhill is more challenging with vertigo.) I have to be more intent and watch where I’m going.

I prefer walking uphill. I find it easier to stay straight, and not wander off course.

I bet you have multiple fall lines in your projects, in your life, and definitely in your relationships.

The fall lines in my walks are visible. I can plan my “attack” for my downhill. How visible are your fall lines?

Fall lines in projects are about risks. If the risk occurs as I expected, it’s the fall line I expect. If it’s off a little bit, I don’t expect it. Here’s an example. I thought I would be done with the program management book by now. I’m not. It’s still in beta.

I have good reasons: I had a ton of travel in the fall, many client engagements, and some mourning. I was not able to do what I planned.

That’s normal. We make plans and “something happens.” I don’t know about you, but even with all my experience, I don’t expect dramatic shifts in my life. I expect small shifts, not big ones.

When a big shift occurs, that’s a change in fall line. We need to change how we react and what we do next.

We can try to proceed the same way we planned, and that’s often a failure. Acknowledging the fall lines, changing our immediate plans, and creating options for our next steps is almost always a better idea than trying to proceed the way we had planned. In my life, I call this “seeing the reality, replanning, and more choices.” You might call it something else.

On hills, fall lines are more clear. You might encounter a slight downhill that surprises you, but you are more apt to see the fall lines and be able to pick one to walk or ski down. In life, our fall lines are less obvious. What can you do to make your fall lines more obvious? Regardless of whether we see them, we do need to adapt to them.

That, adaptable leaders is the question this week: Where are your fall lines?

Are You Collaborating or Cooperating?

I attended an Agile New England event this past week. One of the roundtable facilitators mentioned there was a difference between collaboration and cooperation.

When you collaborate, you work with other people. When you cooperate, you do your work and make sure the work fits with other people’s work.

I thought that discrimination was quite insightful.

I collaborate with my co-authors. We write together. We pair on the same document. We work together at the same time.

Sometimes, when we complete our original collaboration, we cooperate. I have done final edit acceptance for some articles because my coauthor trusts me. Sometimes, the other author does, because I trust him or her.

When Mark and I fold laundry, we collaborate (on getting the clean clothes off the bed and into drawers). When we time when we do the laundry, (I wait to do the sheets and towels until after his bike ride), we cooperate.

I find that when I collaborate with others, I build more of my support system. I can build some support with cooperation, and I find that support can take longer and is not as solid as when I collaborate. Your experience might be different.

When you work closely with people at work, do you each do your own work, cooperating? (Design by contract is a form of cooperation.) Or, do you work together on a chunk of work, collaborating with each other? (Pairing, swarming, and  mobbing are all forms of collaboration.) Are you doing what is best for you, the team, and the project? (How can you know what is best?)

We need to collaborate and cooperate. I like this distinction and I hope you do, too.

That is the question of the week: Are you collaborating or cooperating?

How May I Help You?

I spent much of September, October, and November traveling. My rollator and I saw the world. (I’m delighted to be back in my office.)

One question I hear a lot is “May I help you?” That question is often followed by someone grabbing the top bar of my rollator to “help” me up a ramp, or yanking the rollator open instead of using the easy-to-flip latch. People mean well. They don’t realize the physics or how the rollator works. (For explanation, the top bar is a back support. No matter how hard you yank, the bar does not lift the rollator. And, the latch-flipping allows me to open and close the rollator. When people yank it open, the wrong side separates.)

It’s a problem. I look like a LOL (little old lady) until people see me walk with my rollator. I have a terrific long stride. (Okay, long for me.) And, I move pretty fast when I’m not worried about falling over. 

People see me and jump to a conclusion about my state. They assume I need help—from them, right now. They inflict help on me.

That happens at work and in life for you, too.

A number of my clients have managers who proclaim, “You have too many meetings.” Maybe the teams and project/program managers do. And, maybe, just maybe, these people need to meet in order to determine how to solve problems, what to do next, or because they want to connect. 

Sometimes, managers decide who will be on a team instead of asking, “Do you need more people? Who do you want?” Sometimes, managers decide one project needs more people and they pluck someone from one team and add that person to a different team—all without asking the person or the teams.

Software product development is a collaborative game. So is much of life. We need to talk to and with each other when we collaborate. We need teams that jell, not teams that have no way to jell because of timezones or personality issues. We need teams that stay together for a while. 

When people jump to a conclusion about my ability to walk or your need for meetings or people, they have diagnosed a problem in their minds. They decide what you need to do. They inflict help, as opposed to offering help.

Instead of deciding what you need to do for a person, consider asking the “how may I help you” question instead of the “may I help you” question, or imposing help. It’s just one word, and it changes the circumstances.  

When you ask, “How may I help you?” you offer the other person a chance to use you as part of their support system. You’re not assuming anything about their capabilities or decision-making. It’s an offer.

It might not sound that different from, “May I help you?” It feels different to me.

Adaptable leaders, that is the question of the week: How may I help you?