What Do You Practice?

I was writing a series of draft blog posts about resource efficiency (optimizing for people) and flow efficiency (optimizing for projects). I wrote them fast, flowing the ideas from my brain to my fingers. I edit later. For me, this is the best kind of writing I do. It’s not about writing fast. It’s about writing well. I practice this.

I practice my weight training. There, the emphasis is not about speed but about how well I use my specific muscles and entire body. It’s the same with my walks every day—I want enough speed to create a bit of cardio, but it’s more important that I practice great walking (heel to toe, walking through my entire foot). Us dizzy people have a tendency to drag our heels to provide stability.

When I was a developer, I practiced different ways of coding, to see if my actions changed the design, performance or reliability. When I was a tester, I practiced different ways of testing to see if I could find problems faster.

As a project or program manager, I practiced listening. As a manager, I practiced being the best person I could be for my team. In these roles, I had to learn how to lead by serving the people and the project/program. What did I want to make transparent? What did I want to hide and why?

These are all examples of deliberate practice. I thought about what I wanted to learn or improve my skills and I practiced and reflected on my work.

We practice to gain expertise. We practice to enhance our strengths. Sometimes, we practice to avoid problems in the future (I put exercise in this category).

We optimize for different things when we practice. Sometimes, we optimize for speed, as in my writing. Sometimes, we optimize for accuracy as in weight training or something physical. Sometimes, we optimize for learning, as in my development and testing work. We learn from the reflection on that practice.

What are you practicing now? Are you optimizing for what makes the most sense in your deliberate practice?

That is the question of the week: What do you practice?

Do You Give Yourself Credit?

I like getting “credit” for my work. Not just the work I did, but the work I didn’t do.

When I write articles or books or whatever, I start by writing it “all” down. Some of these words are not useful. I look back at them and say, “What were you trying to say??” Sometimes I realize I need to remove sections or files. I put those in a file with the heading, “Stuff to use sometime.” I have yet to use them. I keep them anyway.

I get credit for every word I write even if I don’t use all the words. That’s what allows me to continue writing. I make progress, even if the words I write are not an obvious part of that progress.

When I wrote code or tests, I didn’t quite have the same perspective, but it was close. I counted everything that helped me learn more about the problem I was solving (writing code) or how to understand the product (writing tests) as something useful. I might not use my interim “products,” and I counted them anyway.

I felt better about myself. I made progress, partially by recognizing that I could make interim progress and get credit for it.

How about you?

Do you give yourself credit for interim work, or does it all have to be totally done before you can recognize your work?

What would it take for you to take partial credit and allow that work to inform your next chunk of work?

In my work with product owners and teams, I see this problem all the time.

The team asks for “complete” stories, what I would call feature sets. The product owner says things such as, “If it’s not all done, it’s not done.” The “It” here is a large story, what I would call several stories or feature sets.

When we set our expectations for completing all the work, it’s difficult for us to see progress. As humans, we like seeing progress. In Amabile and Kramer’s book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, they report research that says we like to make small chunks of progress. When we do, we are more productive.

In order to see progress, we need interim milestones or deliverables. I like deliverables.

How easy is it for you to give yourself credit? Do you need to be all done, or can you give yourself credit for something and continue?

My dear adaptable leaders, that is the question of the week: Do you give yourself credit?

When Do You Change Your Mind?

I was in an airport recently. I was in the ladies room, headed for a handicapped stall. This airport had the handicapped stalls at either end of a long row of stalls. The stall nearest my entrance was occupied. I headed down the line to the last stall.

I was four stalls away when a woman rushed in and was all set to take the handicapped stall. I said, “Really?” and kept walking towards the stall. She said, “I’m in a rush.” I replied, “I am sure you are.”

She let me take the stall.

I suspect she realized it was nuts for her to take the handicapped stall when there were many regular stalls—in fact, there was one available adjacent to the handicapped stall. I appreciated it and said, “Thanks.” She changed her mind.

I hear many excuses for why people take handicapped stalls:

  • “I like the railings.” (Gee, so do I.)
  • “The seat is higher.” (Okay, that’s not a positive for me.)
  • “I have my kids with me.” (I realize that. And, you and your kids can use a regular stall. I can only use the handicapped stall. Besides, what are you teaching your kids?)
  • “I have to change clothes.” (Okay, I understand that. The regular stalls are small. How fast can you change? Can you know that a handicapped stall is available at all times when a handicapped person enters?)
  • “I thought the baby changing table was in here.” (For your 6-year old? Who can sit on the toilet and tell everyone about it? Do you think I can’t hear him?)

There are many excuses. And, I’m not talking about when the line goes out the door and down the hall, and we each take whatever stall is up next. Nope, in that case, you gentlemen are lucky we don’t invade the men’s room. I’m talking about the case when there are empty regular stalls and someone who is not handicapped decides to use the handicapped stall.

I bet some of the people have niggling doubts about their behavior. That’s why they give me excuses.

I don’t ask, except for the woman who tried to cut me off when it was clear she wasn’t handicapped. If I didn’t use a rollator when I travel, I would not look handicapped. Okay, maybe I would, but it would be subtle.

I rarely engage people in the ladies room. I try for a laissez-faire attitude. However, I don’t have the flexibility in the stall choice that able-bodied people have. I would like them to consider me when they act—especially when I’m right there.

I make excuses for myself when I doubt my actions. I suspect other people do, too. For me, that’s time to change my mind.

I often think about whether my actions are congruent with my values. I find I get angry (mostly with myself) when I’m not living according to my values. I suspect that when people feel they need to make excuses to me, they are not behaving in a way that is congruent with their values.

Doubts (or excuses) can be useful for us. They tell us when we are not being true to ourselves. We can listen to our doubts and select a different action. We can adapt. We can change our minds and then our actions.

I happen to believe that changing my mind, especially in the face of more information, is a feature. Some of our elected officials think it is a defect. Interesting, eh?

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: When do you change your mind?

(P.S. If you have a funny/interesting story, please share it in the comments.)

Who is First?

I went to the bank to get something out of our safe deposit box. The bank is “friendly,” meaning there are no queues so you can stand in line for the right person. (#Fail #1)

I first stood in line for a teller because both of the manager-type people were busy. The teller told me I would have to wait for a manager-type person. I had now spent 10 minutes waiting.

The manager-type people were seated at either end of the bank lobby. I poked my head into the first one and mouthed “I’m waiting for you.” I did the same with the other one. I sat down. (#Fail #2)

10 minutes later, a young man with a bank badge came into the bank. He milled around near where I was.

The first manager-type person’s customer left. He jumped into that office. I had enough.

I walked into the manager-type’s office and said, “I was here first.”

The manager-type looked astounded and said, “He’s an employee.”

I said, “I’m a customer. Don’t I come first?”

By this time, the other manager-type came over and asked what I needed. I explained, and in less than 10 minutes, I was done.

I explained my interaction with the other manager-type, and said, “I would be happy to provide her feedback, that when a non-local employee comes in, customers should come first, or they need an explanation.”

She said, “She’s the branch manager.” (#Fail #3)

Who is most important to you? I’ve seen this when I visit my doctors. A doc (or someone medical) enters as the administrator tries to check me in, and interrupts the admin. The doc asked if the admin had seen another doc that morning. I said, “I’m a human, and I am here to check in. Your question can wait.” The admin was astonished and the system had already logged her off. (#AnotherFail) It took another 10 minutes to check me in.

Hierarchy doesn’t impress me. Does it impress you?

Inside the organization, employees have to come first. The represent the face of the company. And, what about when the employees see customers when your business is customer-facing? Who comes first then?

Consider this for yourself. We had to make decisions as parents as our children grew. When did we pay attention to them first and when did we pay attention to our guests first? There is no one right answer for children. I often gathered them in for a hug and said, “I need to answer so-and-so first and then I can talk to you.” Yes, that was an interruption for me before they knew better.

In business, if you treat your employees right by creating a great environment, you can reap significant results. When you interact with customers all the time, you can use transparency. If the manager-type had said, “I have a situation and I need his guidance,” I would have had a different reaction. But to be told, “He’s an employee”? Fuggedaboutit.

When do you make these decisions? How do you make these decisions? Who is most important to you when? There is no One Right Answer. However you answer, someone has to come second.

That is the question this week: Who is first? I look forward to your answers.

How Often Do You Look for Feedback?

I recently got a FitBit Zip. I got the small one that fits in your pocket and tracks steps. It supposedly counts calories, too, but I’m not using the calorie part.

I have transparent data now. I am astonished at how quickly I have changed my behavior.

I knew I was barely moving. I knew that to lose weight and gain leg strength I needed to move more. When I first got the FitBit, I was only walking about 1500 steps per day. That’s like sleeping all day. (Okay, not quite, but I realized I wasn’t going to be able to lose weight on that regimen.)

I decided I could easily get to 3000 steps a day. I started to take a 15-minute walk around the neighborhood once a day.

Even with my rollator, this is not trivial for me. Our neighborhood is full of private ways. That means the streets are not all paved or were paved so long ago they may as well not be paved. We have no sidewalks. Everyone walks on the street here.

Walking this way challenges my vertigo. I need the stability of a flat surface. Well, I don’t have it here. When I first started walking, I was slow and could only do 10 minutes at a time. I had to traverse the street to go down some of the hills.

I worked up to 15 minutes. Now, I have two walks: a 12-minute walk (down from 15) and a 20-minute walk. I am working on managing the hills. I still hate going downhill. I don’t mind uphill at all. I walk at least 5000 steps a day. That’s my new minimum.

When I see the feedback every day—multiple times a day—I change my behavior. I make time for a walk. I make time for a second walk later in the day, so I don’t tire myself too much to work.

More frequent feedback works for me.

Think about your work. How often do you get feedback on your work? Would you like more feedback?

More frequent feedback is the reason small stories, small planning, and continuous integration work for software projects. More frequent feedback is the basis for making your stories smaller and working as a team to move stories across the board (regardless of your approach to software).

When you look for feedback all the time, you receive it. I’m not making my walks longer. I’m taking more of them, which is what I need. Because my legs are stronger, I find that I’m more able to do the laundry and cook. I want the steps that household chores bring. More steps are good.

What do you need to do to get more feedback yourself? Do you need a pedometer as I have, for fitness? Do you need to make the work smaller and get feedback on it in your teams? Do you need to set a goal and then break it down into smaller chunks?

When you get more frequent feedback, you have more choices about what to do next.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: How often do you look for feedback?

Do You Ever Doubt Yourself?

Early in my speaking and consulting career, I doubted my abilities. I was concerned I wouldn’t give a good talk. I was worried I would let my clients down. Now, I’m concerned about my ability to write fiction that people will want to read.

When you doubt yourself—even when you have the skills—you suffer from “Imposter Syndrome.”

Imposter Syndrome can prevent you from living your life the way you want. Here are more examples of Imposter Syndrome:

  • You downplay your accomplishments when you look for a job
  • You are concerned that you don’t have the right to apply for a job, even though you have experience in that area
  • You have the knowledge and interest, and you don’t actually write that article or book or give that talk, even though you know you have great information
  • You don’t experiment with possibilities (such as leading a project, leading a team, doing anything out of your current comfort zone) because you are concerned you don’t have the ability to do so

Imposter Syndrome can paralyze you.

You can battle Imposter Syndrome with the growth mindset. You can say, “I might learn early.” You can ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?

For me, the worst thing that could happen in my life is that I don’t try something. Cutting off my possibilities before I know anything about what might happen? That doesn’t work for me.

I regularly speak and write. Early in my speaking career, I made a mess of a couple of talks, one of which was a keynote. I forgot my stories and ended 20 minutes early. I decided to turn my keynote into a “town hall” type of talk, and people loved it. If I had been paralyzed by my failure, I would have slunk off the stage.

I once wrote an article for Software Development magazine with misinformation. I corrected it, but not in time for print. That didn’t mean I wasn’t a good writer. It meant I made a mistake. I learned. I didn’t stop writing.

You can, too. You might think, “I haven’t written an article/book until now.” You might think, “I haven’t given a talk until now.”

Recognize when you are capable and you don’t feel capable. If you aren’t capable, learn how. But if you are, learn when it’s your feelings and not your skills.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, the question this week is: Do you ever doubt yourself?

What Are Your Assumptions?

We all have assumptions. I recently flew on JetBlue. They are beta-testing their wi-fi. I assumed I would have to pay for it. Imagine my surprise when it was free! I was thrilled. (There was no wi-fi on the return trip, and that was fine with me.)

When I teach my agile and lean project delivery workshop, many people and teams assume they cannot deliver a feature in one hour. Often, they are surprised by what they can do in an hour. (I ask them to pair and/or swarm over one small feature. Then, I ask them what it would take to make all the features like that one.)

We challenge our assumptions all the time. Sometimes, we are happy with our results. Sometimes, not so much. We grow and change when we challenge our assumptions. We see new possibilities. 

Sometimes, our mental models prevent us from challenging our assumptions. Our models prevent us from seeing possibilities.

The more assumptions we have: “this is the way it must be” or “it could never work this way” the less capable we are at discovering possibilities or solving our problems.

What do assumptions have in common?

Often, they use words such as must, never, or always. They tend to be rules of some variety—rules we have found useful up until now. These rules may be outdated for our current context or circumstance.

My original assumption was “airlines always charge for wi-fi.” I was happy to be wrong. I’m flying JetBlue next week and I am anticipating the trip. I will be happy if there is free wi-fi, and happy if there is none. If there is paid wi-fi, I won’t use it. There is nothing I need wi-fi for on that trip.

When people assume they cannot break their stories into smaller chunks of value, they shortchange themselves. They haven’t been able to break their stories into something smaller up until now. If they think about their work differently, who knows what they can do?

Do your assumptions prevent you from using the growth mindset? Mine do. I’m working on those assumptions.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: What are your assumptions? You might be surprised to see them.

What is Wondrous to You?

IguanaWhen we were on vacation last week in Key West, I saw an iguana out by the pool. Look at his coloring and size. I had never seen a real iguana that big, up close and personal.



KeyWestSunset2015We also took a sunset sail, and I took several pictures of sunset on my phone. Here is just one. It was a beautiful evening.



During our last day, I saw a gecko next to my pool chair. I took this picture.




Do you ever miss some of the wondrous, beautiful things in life? I do. We can take them for granted. When I have experiences like these, I remember how much of the world is wondrous to me.

You don’t have to be on vacation to notice. Sometimes, I think back to the computers I used at the beginning of my career and then look at my phone and I wonder! I knew that computers would become “more” and “better,” and I had no idea how fast that would happen.

Dear adaptable colleagues: What is wondrous to you?

Can You Think, “Until Now”?

On vacation, I saw a young girl—maybe 5 years old—throw a ring into the pool and carefully put her head into the water to retrieve it. When she started, she wasn’t very good. Over the course of three days, she became quite good. She hesitated less. She threw the ring farther. She started using her legs to kick so she could go deeper. I could see her coaching herself, learning to throw the ring, dive under the water to get it and continue to challenge herself.

This little girl had embraced the growth mindset. You can, too.

When we say to ourselves, “I haven’t been able to do this up until now,” we give ourselves a chance to grow and learn. We might not want to learn to throw a ring in the pool and dive in to get it. There are plenty of other things to learn.

In agile teams, I often see stories that are too large. I hear, “We need the stories this big to do end-to-end development.” (I’m dubious of two-week stories.) Instead, we can say, “We haven’t learned how to make them smaller yet, up until now.” That’s the first step. Instead of deciding we can’t make smaller stories, we say we don’t know how. That leads us to the growth mindset and experimentation.

We then have choices for experiments to make stories smaller and learn more. 

I meet people who want to write an article for agileconnection.com or someplace else. They say things such as, “I want to write an article, but I don’t know how.” Or, “I’m not really a writer.” 

Instead, I recommend people say, “I don’t know how to write for publication yet.” Or, “I haven’t written for publication until now.” Either way, you can start to see possibilities. Maybe you need to learn how to start. Maybe you need an editor’s feedback. Maybe you have already written something already and can adapt that. 

When you say to yourself, “I don’t know yet.” Or, “I haven’t done this up until now,” you leave the possibility of success open. When you say, “I can’t,” you decide it’s not possible.

There’s a big difference between “not yet” and “not possible.”

 Adaptable problem-solvers, that is the question this week: Can you think either, “not yet” or “until now”?

Who Do You Trust?

I fell down again the other day. I was crossing the street, didn’t see that the ramp had a curb and my rollator’s front wheels stuck.  As my rollator fell over, so did I. I skinned my knuckles and banged my knee. I’m fine. I was thrilled I didn’t hit my head.

Two lovely people ran across the street to help me get up. I have no idea who these people are, or what they do. The gentleman was strong—big biceps! He helped me stand up and get the rollator back in my hands. The gentlewoman was solicitous: “Do you need anything, dear?”

Nope, I was fine once I got my feet underneath me.

That got me thinking about trust. I trusted them to help me stand up. They trusted me to be a reasonable human and not prey on their good Samaritan helpfulness.

We trust each other like this all the time. These people are part of our support systems, formal or informal.

Sometimes, we don’t trust others.

What creates the conditions for trust? I read Trust and Trust Building, a fascinating essay. In a sense, I trusted these people to be benevolent to me. I trusted their ability to help me stand up. They trusted me to stand, once they helped me up. They trusted me to not abuse our interaction.

We build trust—or try to—in our teams all the time. Have you considered how people might build trust in your organization?

  • Once you deliver (and continue to deliver), you build trust
  • Explaining the conditions under which you can succeed (or know when you might fail) builds trust. See my post What Creates Trust in Your Organization?
  • Extending trust first earns you trust in return

What happens when someone breaks trust with you? (It happens.)

It depends on many things. How important was the result and what’s the context?

Maybe the two of you were experimenting and the experiment didn’t succeed. That’s not breaking trust—that’s early learning. However, if all you do is “learn early,” and not deliver, no one earns any trust.

If the trust break was over something personal, you might not be able to recreate the original relationship. Each person will need to earn trust from the other. Even then, the original trust might not be attainable.

Is it worth the effort to regain trust with this other person?

Note that I talked about the other person. You can’t develop trust in an inanimate object. You either trust it or not. The object is either deterministic or not. (You can represent a deterministic object with a finite state machine.) Yes, sometimes finite state machines break. However, otherwise they work the same way all the time. My car turns on the same way each time I turn it on. That’s what I mean by deterministic.

On the other hand, people are wonderfully not deterministic. People are capable of learning, of change, of doing something different, even under similar circumstances.

Once you know what you need to do, you can build trust if you desire, with people. You can extend the trust you build with one person to a team. Once teams build trust with each other, they can help the organization achieve great things. It all depends on trust.

My dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question of the week: Who do you trust?