Have You Updated Your Mental Map?

When Mark and I moved, we didn’t move far. Less than two miles, to the “other” side of town. But those two miles has changed how we drive everywhere.

Our routes have changed: to the grocery store, to the Post Office, to the gym, you name it.  We changed everything about the default way we started and ended our drives. That means we have to update our mental maps of the town we have lived in for the past 30+ years.

You might think this is easy. Ha! We might as well have moved 50 miles away instead of the under two miles we moved. We are on the “wrong” side of my map for everything. I need my GPS to know the right ways to get places. None of the  landmarks in this neighborhood are “right” yet.

Does this sound like one of your projects, or does this sound like you, when you are deep in learning? It might. You don’t have your bearings yet. You don’t yet know what to expect. All you know is that the old ways don’t work. But the new ways aren’t comfortable yet.

That’s exactly where we are. The new ways aren’t comfortable yet. But going back to the old ways? That would be nuts. It would add much more time to my driving. I don’t want to do that.

We have to update our mental models, our maps of our problem solving. We have to adapt our old rules to integrate new ones. We are learning to do so. We are still in practice and integration.

Satir Change ModelHow long will it take until the driving is second nature? I don’t know. I suspect I will just drive one day, realize I didn’t think about how to get to where I was going, or how to get home, and say, “Oh, I did it!” I will know then, that I have finished learning my way around this neighborhood.

Learning a new map takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Learning any new skill takes time. How long? As with any really good question, the only adequate answer is, “It depends.” It depends on how often you practice. It depends on how purposefully you practice.

Esther Schindler once told me that once you had written 100,000 words, you were a writer. I have amended that to once you have written and received feedback on 100,000 words, now you are a writer. For those of you who are not sure, 100,000 words is about the size of one published novel or 100 short articles. Either one of those will make you a writer.

When people transition to agile, my rule of thumb is that it takes 5-7 iterations. It doesn’t matter how long the iterations are. Why? Because it’s all about feedback. That’s why I urge teams to use two-week iterations. Short iterations provide you feedback that much more often.

Are you trying to learn a new natural language? Practice with another person. You get the feedback.

Trying to learn a new computer language? Write short programs. Compile often. I tell you this from my experience. Once you have mastered short programs, then you create longer programs. Even better, integrate practices such as test-driven development or behavior-driven development. Why? Because those practices are not about testing. Those practices are about design and thinking in the language. If you do those with other people and pair or mob/swarm, you will get more feedback even more often. Why? You have the benefit of more people suggesting “Do this here, do that there.” Or, “What about this here or that there?” It’s constant design and code review. Feedback, all the time. It’s your programming GPS talking to you, all the time. And, you talking back. Much better than your car GPS.

Here’s a link to the article that says we make ourselves into experts (HBR registration required). I like that article, because it says we use the growth mindset. It’s all about feedback.

And, the 10,000 hour rule? What Malcom Gladwell said was if you have the innate talent and interest, and you deliberately practice, then 10,000 hours seems to be the right amount of preparation. Maybe. Here is a quote from Outliers: The Story of Success that I think is even better:

Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

It takes time for us to update our maps. I don’t think it will take me 10,000 hours for me to learn how to drive to and from our new house. But, it will take longer than a week. BTW, I started drafting this post a couple of weeks ago. I now have updated my mental maps.

So, dear adaptable problem solvers, the question of the week this week is: Have you updated your mental map?

What Does “Have It All” Mean?

I read Ann-Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All a while ago. I was stunned. Why does anyone think they can have it all, at the same time?

I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.

I have never believed that. I don’t believe in nonsense such as “work/life balance” either. I say this in Manage Your Job Search:

There is no such thing as work life balance. There is only life. Live it.

You need to decide for yourself what “having it all” means to you. You have to have your own personal definition of success.

When we decide on success, when we know what “having it all” means, then we can make our choices. Each of us has to decide on our personal project portfolios. We have to decide when to say yes and when to say no. Many of those decisions are difficult.

What you need to decide for yourself is what you want for your career, your family, and your legacy. These are not easy questions.

What do you think is your legacy?

I work hard enough that my books and articles will be my legacy, in addition to my family. However, it was clear to me, that my family was my primary legacy. I am ambitious. My achievements matter to me. I want to do the best job I know how. And yet, what matters the most to me? My family.

When it came time to make decisions about what to do for my jobs, I made decisions that would allow me to be able to give my babies their baths. I helped with homework. I only volunteered once in the classroom, because I don’t have the patience. (You’re not surprised, right?) I volunteered to be on the after school program board. I walked/drove the girls to the camp bus and picked them up.

In the 22 years that both of us traveled and the girls lived at home, we had three times that we had to get someone to stay with them, because the work was too important for one of us to say, “No” to the travel. Just three times. Those were our choices. They are not yours. These choices were difficult, at times.

My choices are mine, and not yours.

Could I have been a different consultant? I’m sure. What if Mark had made different choices? My goodness.

We chose to live our lives so that we maximized our family life, and still had great careers while we raised our children. It wasn’t fashionable to do it that way in the last 20-25 years. It won’t be fashionable in the next 20, either. But here’s one thing I have learned:

You cannot have it all, not at the same time.

I have leaned in, as Sheryl Sandberg says, my entire life. I’m still leaning. (Yes, that’s a vertigo joke :-)

If we want to have great careers and great families, we all need to adapt—businesses, families, marriages. And, we definitely need to adapt our expectations of ourselves and what is reasonable.

Over your career, you will want different things at different times. You can think of your career as a problem to solve, a little at a time. Don’t think you will want the same thing over the course of your life.

In my 20′s, I learned about software engineering, software development, bicycling, and kissed many frogs. I found Mark, and married him just before I turned 30. In my 30′s, I learned more about the dynamics of software project management, software program management, software management, how to raise children, how to be a partner and spouse. In my 40′s, I learned how to balance my needs as a person with my family’s needs (which was not easy!) when I started my business. In this decade, I am learning how to balance my condition’s needs with my desire to work.

Life is a balancing act.

So, think about what you want. Only you can define success for yourself. Do you know what “it all” is? Do you know why you want it? Once you do, you can make your choice, for now, and re-evaluate later. Doesn’t this sound like project portfolio management?

Gentlewomen, gentlemen, you fine adaptable problem solvers, there are two parts to the question for this week: What is “it all?” Do you think you can arrange your life so you can have it? That is the meaning behind “What does “have it all” mean?

Where Is the Manual?

We are still learning the ins and outs of our new house, including the HVAC system. We have a nifty heat pump system.

Now, I know what you are thinking, because I thought it, too. “You live in New England, Johanna. A heat pump? What are you thinking?” We have backup radiators for when the temperature gets below the teens in the winter. This would not work for northern New England, or the midwest. But it should work here. (Famous last words.) The people who installed it assured us it would work. (Famous last words.)

One of the things they told us is that the house would be balanced. The entire house would be the same temperature. I looked the guy cockeyed. “How are you going to do that, with all three bedrooms on one zone, the kitchen/family room on one zone, the living room/dining room on one zone, but all those zones are only for the radiators? The heat pump is all one zone for the entire house, right?”

“Of course. The heat pump works on the entire house.”

“We have windows all over the house. We have different size rooms all over the house. But each room has the same size vent and we have three returns. I’m not an HVAC person, but I do not understand how the same size vent and three returns in different size rooms will create the same temperature in each room.”

The guy gave me the “little woman is too stupid to understand look.” He said, “Believe me, it will work.”

I read fantasy. I read science fiction. I read paranormal romance. I suspend belief for those. I want to live in this house and not believe in magic.

I didn’t tell him I have a Master’s degree in Systems Engineering. Maybe I should have. But I don’t have any courses in HVAC. I don’t understand HVAC. I do understand flow and return. I do understand systems. I am a terrific problem solver. I don’t understand if you put the same amount of coldness or heat in the same pipe into different size rooms, how the system “understands” how to cool or heat them. It’s magic. Yeah, right.

Our first two weeks here, I had a terrible head cold, so I walked around with my winter jacket, because the house was so cold. In my office, the temperature was 70 degrees. (Everything here is Fahrenheit. Sorry, my Celsius readers.) But, the kitchen/family room was 75 degrees. The thermostat was set at 73. Something Was Wrong.

Mark and I started to fight about the temperature. I kept turning it up, because I was freezing. We finally closed the vent in my office. My office was still freezing, if I left the door open.

We went on a family vacation to Key West last week, where I finally got warm. (Ah, the temps were in the high 80′s, low 90′s, and it was humid. I felt great. Everyone else said it was oppressive, but I only felt oppressed in the sun. My cold finally cleared up. Ahhhh.)

When we returned, the house was at 69. 69!!!! Clearly, the magic thermostat had magically gone haywire. It’s not just me being cold. It was Broken. Mark agreed. The Magic thermostat was Broken!

That night, the AC stopped working, and I woke up at 2:30 am hot. Great, the one time I need to be cold, and I wake up hot. The program was not working. Darn software.

I decided the thermostat that was supposed to determine the temperature was not calibrated. I was either going to calibrate it, or I was going to take it offline. I was going to reprogram the thermostat. I took control. (You are not surprised, are you?)

I sent an email to our builder, asking for the manual. Mark had been programming the thermostat, but it wasn’t working. “Auto” was clearly not working. What happened if we used “Cool”? The thermostat has Auto, Cool, Fan, and Heat. I want the manual, so I know what I’m doing.

The very nice guy calls while we are eating dinner. Mark thinks he’s going to intercept the call. Ha! No chance. I’m the one who works out of the house. We both need to be on the call. I want the manual. Believe me, I want this manual.

First, this nice guy talks us through bypassing the thermistor in the thermostat. He has the manual. Of course. I want his manual. But it’s the tech support manual. I can’t get it. But his manual is so bad, we get an error code. He has to call the manufacturer tech support.

Ten minutes later, we get a call back. Here is the right way to change the settings to avoid the thermistor.

We think we have a handle on the thermostat now. We think we have programmed it correctly, although, I’m not sure. I still think the thermostat is out of whack. The thermostat is located in the internal hallway. That hallway might be the coldest part of the house. I have a travel clock with a thermometer, which I will set out later today, to see. The thermostat is acting as if it’s the warmest part of the house. Why? Because there are no vents. (Aha!) There is one return.

We could have avoided all of this craziness with a fine manual. (As in “read the fine manual”.) Those of us in the software business will recognize this as RTFM. Some of you may choose to translate the F as something else. That is your choice, of course. This is a G-rated blog.

If you have embedded software, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. If you sell a product to a consumer, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. If you are a product owner or a product manager, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. If you are a product development team, agile or not, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. I hope you heard me.

I have a scale that allows me to choose up to four people to record their weight. It comes with a manual. I have a food scale, so I can decide how much food I consume. It comes with a manual. (Yes, I have those manuals. I read them.) I paid a lot less for those products with embedded software than I paid for this HVAC system. I have a new Viking oven and microwave. They are embedded software products. I have been reading the manuals (and enjoying them!).

There is no excuse for not having a manual.

If you are a product owner or a product manager and your product team has convinced you that your product does not need a manual, they are Wrong. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong. If I had a manual, I would be singing the praises of this system. Right now, I’m pissed. It’s the middle of summer, and I’m wearing a winter coat in my office because in order to keep the rest of the house cool, my office is still freezing. Why? Because we cannot figure out how to use our own HVAC system. This is nuts.

If you are a product development team, and your product owner thinks you don’t need a manual, show him or her this post. Every consumer product needs a manual. It doesn’t have to be a large manual. I shouldn’t have to mess with the field settings, as I did this week. We still have some problem solving to do. But, with a manual, I could do some, before I call the manufacturer or the sales rep.

Do you develop software? Do you develop embedded software? Keep the customer happy. Where is your manual?

Do You Have Something to Share?

Last week, I had a chance to talk at Boston SPIN. I’ve been involved at Boston SPIN for more than 20 years. So, speaking in front of a home-town crowd is a great thing.

I had a chance to try my new version of my Creating An Adaptable Life talk. (The link goes to my new slideshare.) Here’s the talk:

I was pretty funny in person, telling stories about why single sided deafness is socially awkward, but I’ve slept better now since I’ve had it. Just roll over onto the hearing ear. I never hear Mark snore. (Go ahead, laugh! I do.) You can’t tell the stories from the slides. Oh well.

One of the participants asked me why I’m so open about my deficits/handicaps now. I’m paraphrasing what I said, but this is the gist of it:

We all understand what it’s like to have broken legs or arms. Even with a problem broken bone, you set it, and it’s better in a few months. At the outside, maybe a year. With a traumatic injury, you often better inside of a year. But with a brain problem, you are almost never the same. You are changed, forever.

Vertigo is a brain problem. I don’t have cognition problems, but because I sometimes use all of my energy to maintain my balance, I sometimes appear to have cognition problems. I slur my words. I have trouble walking (that’s the “vertigo waddle.”) With my medication, I can choose between the vertigo stupids and the Topamax stupids.

I sometimes need help knowing when to drink water. Or, sometimes to stand up or move. I get stuck.

As a society, we have trouble responding to brain problems.

Let me add this now:

As a society, we don’t know how to respond to permanent loss, ours or others. If I can help people understand and empathize—not sympathize—with people who have permanent loss, then I will have made the world a better place.

We all change in the face of permanent loss. We can survive. We can thrive. We can become more resilient. Maybe not on the very first day. There is no timeline for dealing with permanent loss. But, if we don’t start discussing these issues, we can’t have much empathy with each other.

I know how to take a small step, get some feedback and learn from it. It is my hope that you do the same.

This week’s question of the week is a little different. Do you have something to share?

What Did You Learn This Week?

We moved into our new house just over a week ago. We have all new appliances: a new vacuum, new washer and dryer, new oven, new microwave, new counters (granite!), new everything. We are the same old people :-) Oh, our toothbrushes are old. Otherwise, everything is new.

I have to tell you, I have wanted a new kitchen for years. At least four years.

I have been cooking my low carb muffins like there is no tomorrow. We have used our new gas cooktop (five burners!) as if we have new toys.

This new kitchen is such a treat. So far, I haven’t had to throw any food out. Not all of it is up to my normal standards, but it’s all edible.

I have learned plenty. I must be burning new neural pathways by the second. I’m experimenting with every step I take in this house.

I have finished plenty of things, although not so that you, my readers could tell. What I have finished is inside the house, in terms of cooking, laundry, and boxes. I did laundry, without feeling as if I was going to fall over, for the first time since I had the vertigo. What a relief. Small successes.

I am learning how to live in my own home again. It feels great.

I am also learning how to drive to all the different places I normally drive to. We now live on the “other” side of town. That means we need to learn all new ways to drive everywhere. I have to turn on my GPS to know where to go: the grocery store, the bank, the post office, the mall. We only moved about 1.5 miles away. It’s as if we moved 10 miles away. Everything has changed.

When was the last time you set out to specifically learn something new, and carved out time to do so? Remember, change takes time.

I decided that this week was time to learn my appliances, so I would be comfortable with them. I wanted to get the learning hump out of the way, so all the appliances would be second nature after this week. They almost are. I need a little more practice.

I decided I would take time this week and experiment with learning new ways to drive to and from my house. I need to learn the neighborhood. I don’t want to be stuck in old patterns from my old neighborhood. I want to make this transition.

I have learned many new things this past week. More than I could imagine. I have had some confusions: how do we set the timer on the oven? How do we make the muffins brown? Where does this street go? Why are none of the streets straight in this neighborhood? (None of them are. I swear. None of them.)

I have had the growth mindset. Try something. Learn from it. Try a little something more. Keep experimenting. Don’t be stuck on my past “failures.” They are all part of me being a work in progress. Keep inspecting and adapting.

You might not have all of these changes in one week. It is many changes in one week. For you adaptable problem solvers, today’s question of the week is: What did you learn this week?




What Surprises You?

We moved last week. We thought we had purged—donated, tossed, recycled. We had. But we discovered that we missed a key item in our past life—freezer things.

We have taken many car rides with kids that involve bringing food with us. We have taken food for the day, food for weekend, and food for the week. We have many kinds of freeze-its. Big ones, little ones, the kind I received when I bought food online, you name it, we have it.

Because we had two freezers (upstairs and downstairs), I had no idea how many of these we had. No idea. When we moved in, this is what we discovered.

freeze-it1 freeze-it2Two boxes of freeze-its! Is this nuts? Yes.

This surprised me.

It’s the same thing on your projects or in your life. What surprises you might be a good measure.

The question for this week is “what surprises you?” Maybe you don’t have many freeze-its the way we did. (They are gone now.) But, I bet you have something that surprises you.

If you are developing a product, how long does it take to release? If you are in support, how long does it take to escalate? If you plan events, when was the last time a vendor surprised you, and how?

Surprises can be good, but they often aren’t. I’m trying to remember the last time I was happily surprised by something at work. Our move came in under the estimate—that was a happy surprise.

Problem-solving, adaptable leaders can go with the flow. But sometimes, too many surprises knock them for a loop.

What surprises you?

Why Ask Questions?

I write a newsletter for this site, too. Subscribers received this on May 1, 2014. Want to subscribe? The sign-up form is on the right hand side of the page.

Create an Adaptable Life Vol 3 #1: Why Ask Questions?
May 1, 2014

Why Ask Questions?

If you’ve been reading my CreateAdaptableLife blog, I bet you’ve noticed that the posts since January have mostly been questions for adaptable problem solvers.

Why have I been doing that?

Because questions change how you look at a problem.

If you allow me to go “meta” for a minute, the questions you ask, and how you ask them determine the way you might solve your problems.

I’ve asked questions such as Is Anyone Using This? to see if anyone is using the work you are doing.

I’ve asked myself Which Problem-Solving Picture Are You Seeing? when I want to remind myself to look at the details.

I asked about perfection rules in Do Your Rules Prevent You From Solving Problems?

When I write these questions, I turn them around in my head, and they spark something different in me. From the comments, they spark something different in my readers, too.

When you change your questions, you can change your mindset. If you are stuck, go to the blog and look at the category questionoftheweek. You might find a new way to see your problem.

“Manage Your Job Search” is Available!

My newest book, Manage Your Job Search is available everywhere, both the ebook and the print version.

If you’re looking for a job, you need this book. If you think you might look for a job sometime in the future, you should buy the book. If you think you might want to know how to network, you should buy the book. Some books you buy because you want to adapt before you desperately need them, right?

If you’ve read Manage Your Job Search, please leave a review somewhere and let me know. I’ll blog about it.

Read More of CreateAdaptableLife

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.


© 2014 Johanna Rothman

When Is It Time to Replan?

If you’ve read any of my project management writing, you know I’m a huge fan of replanning. We had a chance to do that with our house remodel.

I have a space in my new office that used to be a closet. We planned to open it up and create what I call a “nook,” an open storage space. I will be able to see all of my storage boxes.

I have many storage boxes. I have index cards of various sizes, stickies, markers, printer paper, supplies for various simulations, the list goes on and on. I need to be able to access these boxes. I want things clean and neat. This is the part of my office that is already organized. Everything has a box. The boxes all are where I can reach them.

However, my new office has a different aspect ratio. Okay, that was kind of geeky. My new office is a different size and layout than my current office. (That was better.) I need to organize differently. I want everything in my nook.

Our kitchen and bath designer was supposed to design my nook. Mark and I met with her back in March. We had a start of a plan.

We didn’t hear from her in April. I was worried. We had emails back and forth, but no plans. In early May, Mark received a plan, but it had no dimensions on it. Well, I can’t tell anything with a plan with no dimensions. I pulled the plug. I told the builder I was no longer willing to work with the designer. There were not enough antacids in the world to allow to me to continue.

The builder came over, saw what I have for boxes. In 30 minutes, he designed my office nook for the new house. Two days later, he emailed me a plan with dimensions, and explained that the counter had to be 30 inches off the floor in order to accommodate my boxes. I could not get both storage and pack-my-suitcase capability in my nook. Okay, I understood. I accepted the design and asked him to please go ahead.

They are halfway done building my nook. It is a thing of beauty. It will be just what I need for all of my stuff. I am very happy.

At some point, when you solve problems, you often have a decision point. You need to decide: do I continue as I am? Do I change course?

This time is sometimes called the “most responsible moment.” Some people like to call it the “last responsible moment.” I don’t like to call it that, because when it’s the “last” responsible moment, people leave until past the last moment, and it turns into a crisis.

Instead, you manage the risks in your project. You look at the trigger dates. You ask yourself, “Is there a date by which I need to act, so I don’t create a crisis?” That date, or some time before it, is your most responsible moment.

Too far in advance, and you’ve cut off other people’s possibilities to act. Too late, and you have a crisis.

You have to see your current reality. You have to see possibilities. I was frustrated with our designer, but I wasn’t yet angry, because it was not yet a crisis. Do you see the difference?

Projects—and life—almost never go according to plan. Being able to consider Plan B, Plan C, and even Plan D (remember your Rule of Three) will help you replan.

So, that is this week’s question of the week. When is time for you to replan?

When Do You Need This Done?

Mark and I have been purging our house of all the accumulated stuff that you have when you live in a house over 25 or so years. Have you noticed that more stuff comes in and less stuff goes out?

happyI’ve already said I’m not a keeper. I am delighted in my ability to throw things away, give things away, donate things, and recycle things. I’m positively gleeful at the amount of stuff that is leaving our house.

We knew we needed to purge before we moved. We knew we needed to purge before we put the house on the market. We had no idea how much we had to do, until we met with the real estate broker.

We met with Bob, the real estate broker, back in February. He said, “No blankets on the couch. Nothing on the counters, even in the kitchen. Nothing on the desk. Nothing on the dining room table. Nothing in the front hall. No shoes anywhere.”

I was allowed to leave my office in the regular state that it is in. (Thank goodness!) But the rest of the house? We could leave the televisions on the surfaces. We could leave the olive oil, napkins and that was about it on the counter in the kitchen. I am serious. No mixer. No newspapers. No wooden spoons and plastic mixing utensils.

We had our interim milestones:

  • Be ready to put the house on the market
  • Be ready to move

Note that these are two different milestones. We needed to accomplish different things for each milestone.

For the open house, we need to purge enough and organize enough to make the house attractive. What does that mean? Everything is organized and cleaned up. Our kitchen looked like this once, the day we moved in.

Our closets? Everything is lined up by color. Short sleeved shirts are segregated, not mixed with long sleeved shirts. By color. Our shoes are lined up. Little soldiers, all.

Mark and I joked that “people didn’t live in this house.”

But, we wanted to sell this house—fast. So, we purged, organized, and as the showing date got closer, we put things away. We put more things away. We arranged the house, so that by last Thursday, when the house went on the market, there was no extra stuff on any surface. Nothing.

I sent pictures to our daughters, who did not believe me when I told them. It’s not that they thought we were lying. They just didn’t think we had it in us.

We spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday making sure there was nothing on any surface. You try living that way. It’s painful!

Our work paid off. Boston is having a housing boom. We sold the house in one weekend. We have stuff back on the counters. We are very happy and much more relaxed.

We worked down to the deadline. We paced ourselves. “When do we need this done?” was a great question.

It’s the same question you should ask. I bet you have a crisis happening right now, if not more than one. How do you know what to do first? You can’t run around like a headless chicken.

Well, you can, but it’s not very comfortable. Your better bet is to pace yourself and ask, “When do you need this done?” or “When do you need this by?” Either of those questions, or something like them will work. Then you can decide what to do first, second, or never.

Mark and I knew we had to eliminate the big stuff first. We went through closets and eliminated clothes we didn’t need, old bicycles nobody used, stuff we could give away and recycle.  We got to the small stuff the weekend before the open house. The very last things, such as moving the cords that we use to charge our iPads into drawers in the kitchen so people wouldn’t see them during an open house.

Now, we are still purging, because we need to move. We don’t want to move stuff we don’t want to keep.

It’s the same idea with your crisis or crises. Can you eliminate some of the big things first, and move to the smaller things later? Maybe, maybe not. It’s worth asking.

So, that’s the question of the week this week. Before you jump into crisis mode, ask. “When do you this done?” Your date might be later than you think.

What Do I Need to Solve This Problem?

Have you ever seen a team that’s wedged? They go around and around, not making progress. Maybe it’s happened to you, too.

I don’t get stuck often. That’s because I have no shortage of ideas. But sometimes, it’s not ideas that’s the problem.

I have a messy office. It’s true. I should belong to a 12-step program. “My name is Johanna and I have a messy office…”

Part of the problem is I don’t have a sufficient organizational structure to organize my office, and part of the problem is I don’t have the motivation to clean my office. Why? Because there’s no good place to put things. Do you see how these two problems feed off each other? Maybe if I solved the organization, I might have the motivation to put things away?

Now, my supplies are organized. When I need supplies for a trip or to teach a workshop, all my bins are exactly where I need them. Everything is organized. I know where things are. I can take out what I need, teach, put what I have remaining back when I’m done. No muss, no fuss.

But my desk? Let’s not go there. You would think that after 20 years of being independent, I would have figured this out. No, I have not.

In our new house, I am buying yet another desk. I hope that this one will be The Right Desk. It should be low enough to the floor and wide/deep enough that I will be happy. I expect to buy a monitor stand to have both my laptop and my extra monitor side-by-side. Right now, my laptop is in front and my monitor is off to the left. Not good ergonomics. That should move my phone forward, and allow me to have my piles of work in progress in a different location.

sideofdeskI happen to like seeing my work in progress. Yes, I have my personal kanban, so I can visualize my work in progress. But, I also like to see my workbooks, so I can work on the workbooks, and then recycle them. Not only do I get to move the stickies across the board, I get to review the previous workbooks, and recycle the actual paper. I feel as if I’ve accomplished a lot!

I don’t need a cheerleader, do I? I know I need to organize. If you look at the desk part of my office, you can see I need some organization.

How do I organize? That’s the question.

Let’s take a look at my monitors. It took me a while before I realized they might be the cause of this desk problem.

monitors See how in order to see my big monitor I have to have it sideways? That takes much valuable desk real estate. it pushes my phone down and to the left. That pushes my work in progress stack down and to the left also.

Now, I might want my work in progress stack exactly where it is. But you notice, I have no place to take notes if a client calls. That’s quite bad.

What do I need?

I don’t need ideas. I have plenty of ideas, also known as information.

I don’t need motivation. I really want to solve this problem.

I need organization.

This is the MOIJ model from Jerry Weinberg’s Becoming a Technical Leader.

So, what’s the J part of the model? That’s Jiggling. If you have a stuck team, or if you are stuck, what’s the smallest action you can take to help the team or you move again? For me, I realized they made monitor stands double-wide. Okay, stop laughing. I have no idea when they started making double-wide or triple-wide monitor stands. I’ve had an extra monitor since about 1994 or 1995. First, it was a two-page display. (Remember those?) I used it instead of my laptop. I’ve used a variety of extra monitors foreeevvveerrr. As my laptops had finer resolution and as my eyes got older, I got a printer stand, because I needed something before they made monitor stands. Did I have any idea they made double-wide monitor stands? No.

I suspect that pairing and and developers having multiple monitors has made my proposed organization possible. I am planning to get a double-wide monitor stand and put that in front of my keyboard. I can then move my phone up front. That will give me space to take client calls.

Will I still have my work in progress pile? Maybe. I have to live with my new arrangement for a while and see what happens. It’s possible I will work it down. Although, that rarely happens.

If you are working with a team, or wondering for yourself, “What is preventing me from acting on this problem?” check these things:

  1. Do you have enough information to solve the problem? (The I in MOIJ)
  2. Do you have enough organization to solve the problem? (The O in MOIJ)
  3. Do you have enough motivation to solve the problem? (The M in MOIJ)
  4. Do you need a little, subtle jiggle to nudge the problem-solving people to a better state? (The J in MOIJ)

MOIJ is much more than this. This is quick introduction. If you are interested in more, let me know.

In the meantime, today’s question of the week for us adaptable problem solvers is: What do I need to solve this problem?