Entrepreneurial Spirit

What can a person do to make a difference in the world?

Lots of people I respect feel we need more entrepreneurs in our economy. Even … in the world economy. I’m with them. Look for problems no one else sees. Solve them. Sell the solution.

Recognize that good ideas have a shelf life. Be attuned to the time an idea goes stale; have another ready to develop. In your work life, be ready to move with the times.

By way of example: I started a company. It’s not a big deal. A lawyer and an accountant gave me advice on the legal structure I should adopt; I’ve received significant benefit from the investment. I’ve always admitted to anyone who asks that I’m not much the sales guy. It has always nagged at me: “If you don’t have all the parts of a company (marketing, sales, products, distribution, etc.), are you really a company?”

Another side of me always argued, “Doesn’t matter. You’re running your company. It doesn’t have to look like any other company in the world. Besides, for the product you’re selling, how would you effectively and cost-effectively market and sell?” Having no answer to that latter question, this side always won my internal debate.

I have since gotten some experience with “freelancing” on Elance.com. (Don’t follow me there; Upwork.com bought them and is consolidating their businesses to Upwork. If you’re interested, see Upwork.)

Here, it is pretty apparent how to market, sell, and do all other parts of the business cycle. And it is apparent that many actors are concentrating on small parts of the total and staying around. Hmmm … I think that spells opportunity. If I can do the whole package, I might have all the work I want. Cool!

If I go that direction, things will be very different.

Talk about competition! People from all over the world are offering jobs and bidding on jobs. I did a small job for a guy in Ohio. I competed for his attention with people from everywhere. I’m thankful he offered me the job. We did his work by collaboration over the web. He could have been anywhere. (In point of fact, he was on the road the whole time we worked.)

I could find myself working for firms in Bosnia, Egypt, China, India, Brazil, Europe, Canada, or the U.S. And all from the comfort of my home. With no commute! Sounds tempting!

I think you’ll see some changes on my web site and life in the coming months. I’m busy preparing. I’m still the same me. I intend to continue working in information technology. Otherwise, I have all options open. Maybe I’ll go back into office work and commuting again. Maybe I’ll work from home and all over the world at the same time!

Keep your options open. Be entrepreneurial! Do what you love to do.

All comment welcome! You don’t have to sign up to leave a comment. You don’t have to identify yourself. Of course, I don’t have to allow your comment on this blog. Lots of comments come in; most are thinly veiled attempts to market something to readers here. You never see those comments.

Some Hints About Managing Time

(I had reason outside this blog to write this. It may not be at the center of interest for this blog, but I’ll include it here in case it helps someone!)

Good process makes time management lots easier and less stressful.

List The Big Goals  It’s great to always know the three most important goals for the coming months. You might find the exercise of writing them to be difficult! Try it! Maybe you don’t need three; maybe you need more. Find a number that works for you, but don’t try to work with seventeen “most important goals”; that’s too many.

Make a To Do List  In my personal life, I’ve experienced a certain feeling of being constantly behind and stressed; it’s tough! The antidote is: Write it all down. Every time I’ve felt that feeling, I’ve also felt I should have recognized it earlier. Every time I’ve created a list of all the things to do, I’ve emotionally reacted to the full list with relief, “This isn’t that tough!”

Your list has all your assignments and due dates on it. Feel free to put other things on the list; they may deserve part of your time, too.

Prioritize Your To Do List  Sort your list by importance, which for me changes with due dates and with my Big Goals; you may have other factors. The ability to sort the list is valuable; consider writing the list items on index cards or in an electronic file so that sorting is easy for you. (In this case, “easy” includes “quick”; don’t spend a lot of time maintaining your To Do list!)

Break Big Items Into a Series of Smaller Items  Perhaps a first task for a major project is research. Set yourself a date by which you’ll complete that research. You’ll may want to get more sources as part of later work (making the task not fully complete), but getting most of the research done early makes the rest of the project smaller. Further, it’s easier to prioritize the research with other current priorities when it is separate from the larger project.

Look at the Top Several Items  Often, you’ll see interaction: “The only way I’ll complete this number 4 item in two weeks is to defer this number 3 item for a while.” Let your Big Goals drive such tradeoffs; focus your limited time.

Execute The Plan  Every part of every day, work on the most important item on your list for that moment. Work each item thoroughly and to reasonable completion, but don’t spend excessive time. There’s a balance here; there’s other work to do. Leave the right amount of time for fun and family (especially if you didn’t include activities with them on your To Do List!)

Schedule Fixed Time  Big Goals may deserve scheduled blocks of time. Reserve your work time. (Income is good!) If you’ve committed to an organization (say, a church choir), reserve the time they need. If every Tuesday evening (only an example), you work on Big Goal #1, it gets to be a habit and it’s easier to complete that goal. Don’t schedule your whole week; you need some flexibility. Are you over-committed? If so, the best time to say “No; I can’t do this.” is early rather than late!

Stick to Your Plan  You’ll probably feel, “Is it worth it? Really? Spending time surfing the ‘Net is so much fun!” Yes … it is. That’s just an example of conflict you might find with this process. It’s a matter of balance. Are the choices you’re making entirely consistent with your Big Goals? That’s your call! Do your Big Goals need change?

That’s a good process for managing your time. There’s lots of flexibility in it; if changes to it work better for you, who better to decide to use them? Good luck!

Good Renewal Experience

Last week (Thu and Fri), I spent some time at the UNO IT Academy. I had a great experience. They’re a good source of professional renewal.

I attended two sessions from this version of the Academy.

Dr. George Royce (who I’ve known about for years because of his high profile position at Mutual of Omaha) taught “Lean IT – Save Money, Reduce Time to Deliver, Focus on Your Business”. His slides stepped through a number of transitions he and Mutual of Omaha have taken to complete more work with existing resources, resulting in great value to that organization. During his four hours, he asked his attendees to engage in two workshop exercises that supported their learning quite well. There was material about Lean (one of the “Agile” models), but his intent was to cover a great deal more information than that. If you need to streamline business processes in your organization and if you need to provide IT support for business processes your organization is streamlining, you might well find that a later presentation of this material will help you along. Dr. Royce did a nice job responding to the particular needs of the group I sat with. Good session.

Dr. Abhishek Parakh and Matthew Battey taught “Security Challenges and Opportunities in Cloud Computing”. I considered this an interesting session because I understand both the potential cost savings cloud computing can give us (the shared resources argument) and low tolerances to the vulnerabilities of storing one’s data in a shared environment. Going in, I expected that “someday”, our industry will find solutions to the shared storage problem. Walking out, I perceive we are much closer than I was aware to solving that problem. The hands-on portion of this session involved firing up a virtual server at Amazon Web Services and setting up Porticor, an encryption appliance, to protect all data on the AWS server. Porticor claims to “encrypt the entire data layer in minutes”; I’ll vouch for the quick setup part. If you’re an “educate myself” kind of person, I’m betting all the information to do what we did is on the AWS and Porticor web sites; it’d be a good exercise. Use the option for the smallest server on AWS (which is large enough for a SharePoint instance) and the experience should be free to you. Dr. Parakh clearly has lots to offer the data security community. Matt Battey helped us fire up an instance of SharePoint on our AWS server and use SharePoint protections to further protect data there. I deeply respect a consulting skill I see in Matt: He talked about highly technical subjects at a layman’s level and never approached making the attendees feel he was “dumming down” his discussion. He is clearly a technical expert well beyond the level at which he spoke; he expertly spoke to his audience. Well done by both presenters.

This version of the Academy was in October; they apparently run them three times a year. In 2012, their sessions were in April, August, and October. So, the next one might be in April; dunno. If you want to join their mailing list, you might consider contact with Dr. Deepak Khazanchi at UNO College of IS&T. Or ask me to send you the invitation I received for this session; I presume it’ll have all the information you’ll need for that purpose.

A Model of a Project

Some people used to say, “Agile is so different and so much better than the past that we’re best to un-learn all we learned before Agile.” (I haven’t heard this sentiment for a while. Good riddance!) On the other hand, when we pursue agility right, we:

  • give the customer the option to implement working product earlier and to benefit from that product longer.
  • strengthen interdependency relationships between service organizations and the business organizations we serve.
  • add valuable new tools and results to our profession’s toolkit.
  • lower the time we spend on code our customers won’t use.
  • create code with fewer defects and lower life-cycle costs.

(All that is good!)

But how can we compare “agile” models to “waterfall” models? The desire to meaningfully compare got me to this model of a project.

The Model

The model is simple, really. The core of it is a 5-by-5 grid representing 25 units of work necessary to deliver the product of the project. The top row represents the five pieces of “requirements” work, one piece of work for “Function 1” (part of scope) and one piece for each of four other functions. Succeeding rows represent other common work (“design”, “development”, “testing”, and “deployment”, successively) each row including each of the Functions 1 through 5. The left column represents the five pieces of work necessary for “Function 1” (requirements, design, …); succeeding columns represent one Function each, including each of the five work types.

Figure 1: A Model of a Project

Pretty simple, eh?! (As promised!)

As a broad generality, this project is complete when a team does these 25 tasks. (In the specific, some of the agile people would observe that they don’t do these tasks. I’ll get to that level of specifics in future blogs. There’s value in the thought; this generality is reasonable to support the point here.)

The Waterfall Version of Our Project

If a project team doing this project guides itself by the “waterfall model”, the project looks like this.

Figure 2: A “Waterfall” Team’s View of our Project

They seek to do all requirements work early in the project (sometimes before doing any design work). They might call that time of the project the “Requirements Phase”. After that comes the “Design Phase”, etc.

They might claim this is “the right” way to do the project because any incomplete work in one phase might affect work in the next phase, and projects are hard enough without the avoidable challenges. (They might say, “We might well select a different design if we know about an additional requirement. We must know all requirements before we design.”)

The agilists might observe that

  • some of these waterfall projects they’ve served felt too documentation-centric and too slow.
  • for decades, studies have shown that something like 70 percent of functions in software we produced are “never used” or “seldom used”.
  • for decades, studies have shown that shorter projects are more likely to be successful.
  • it is increasingly accepted that it is impossible to know all requirements in advance.

There has to be a better way!

The “Agile” Version of Our Project

If a project team doing this project guides itself by the “agile model”, the project looks like this.

Figure 3: An “Agile” Team’s View of Our Project

They seek to identify some sliver of function (“Function 1”) that they can work meaningfully through, all the way to demonstrating working code to the customer. In the first “iteration”, they do all aspects of assigned function (“Function 1”). Optimally (but not necessarily), the code is ready at the end of the iteration to deploy if the user wants it deployed. Each iteration results in a demonstration to the customer; later iterations add more functions.

One view of the “agile” team is that they do many short projects: one per iteration. Each iteration might be as short as one week. Within an iteration, “user stories” define iteration scope and those in the iteration must not change during the iteration; product owners are generally welcome to change user stories not assigned to the iteration. And agile teams generally rejoice that they can be so responsive and flexible as to accept the changes in those stories. The parallel waterfall statements are that requirements define project scope, that many waterfall methods seek to freeze all project requirements before design starts, and that many waterfall teams seek to “control” “scope creep”.

The agilists tell us their communication with the customer (“early and often”) significantly increases the customer’s emotional investment in the product and also increases the customer’s sense of ownership of that product. And, if the demonstration at the end of any iteration is for a function the customer will “never use” or “seldom use”, the team knows it far earlier than in the waterfall model. (All that is good!)

Wrap-Up

Of course, all other things equal, after completing ten “blocks” of work, the waterfall team will finish “design” (the second row). The “agile” team completes a second demonstration of working software for the customer (“Function 2”; the second column) and they have a second chance to get valuable feedback.

With this simple model, everyone can understand one major difference in pursuing agility: agility models and waterfall model do substantially the same work, but do it in a different order. I hope you’ll keep coming back as I explore more detail!

Who’s Your Competition?

Bo Pelini is the head football coach at Nebraska. That first hyperlink is a bio that starts with, “It is about the process.” The phrase expresses a mindset for Bo, judging by how often the public has heard that message from him. Sportscasters say he tells the players that, “They are their own barometers.” Or, “They’re their own standard.” Or not to worry about the other team; if Nebraska players execute the plays right, the game results will take care of themselves. (That last one demonstrates considerable confidence in his coaching staff, eh?! He’s a leader to them, too!)

Is your mindset non-competitive? Do you compete with peers? Or with an idea?

My experience suggests non-competitive mindsets are the least common. We commonly teach aspiring members of our workforce that we and our organizations achieve more if we and they set goals and track progress toward achievement. The PMBOK® Guide devotes one of the largest of its five “Process Groups” to “Monitoring and Controlling”. At the start of each Sprint (or Iteration) in Scrum, teams set goals for the Sprint in a Sprint Backlog. At the end of each Sprint, teams focus for a time on what went well (so we’ll be more likely to do it again) and what didn’t go well (so we’ll be more likely to try something else). Maybe goals and competition with them are intrinsic parts of the human condition.

Some problems in our organizations relate to competition. On a sports team, two players at the same position “compete” for playing time and for approval of team, coaches, and fans. There are parallels in the workplace. It’s too common that people react with jealousy, sabotage, and other attributes and acts we’d rather not see in our organizations. (Or … in ourselves!)

At the same time, some benefit to our organizations relate to goal-setting. It is one way people notice when there’s a better way to complete a process; they consider (and sometimes choose) to improve that process. It is one way people widen the breadth of their thinking and base decisions on more information. (They avoid “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”, or what some mathematicians call “suboptimization” or “local optimization”.) Goal-setting is one way to introduce a feedback loop into our decision processes. And each point this paragraph makes about people applies also to our organizations.

Is Bo Pelini competitive? It’s just my opinion, but I’ll say the veins sticking out on his neck after something doesn’t go Nebraska’s way is powerful evidence! I’ll say … he’s competitive.

I conclude Bo Pelini is teaching Nebraska football players to compete against an idea: the “perfect” game in which each player executes every plan as assigned and adapts as intended. Because Bo establishes that emphasis, players at each playing position focus on each other as teammates rather than as competitors; they work hard to develop the skills they contribute to the team. The players learn to think simultaneously at a position level (“Who am I supposed to block this play?”) and at a team level (“This play is supposed to achieve [I don’t know–a running back running the ball through a particular gap; whatever]; if the player I’m to block is out of the play for any reason, I’ll find another way to contribute to the larger goal.”)

I suspect Bo chooses this coaching mindset in part because it helps his players focus on cooperation with teammates and skills they contribute to the team. He believes teams work better when team members cooperate.

I suspect Bo feels the team is stronger if all players focus on doing all they can to help the team win. And avoid focus on comparing themselves to teammates. He seems to want them to feel that if they focus on being the best player they can be, the playing time will take care of itself.

I see parallels for those of us serving less visible teams than Nebraska football. My examples come, of course, from software engineering projects.

  • A clear and accepted team goal (say, completing the software tool a customer needs to implement their planned new business process) is valuable in helping team members make supporting decisions and independently adapt to unexpected conditions. It encourages initiative and free thinking. (Some in the U.S. military use the terms “Command Intent” or “Commander’s Intent“.)
  • Teamwork may be achievable, but it is more difficult if a team “knows” that two teammates want a promotion (or raise, bonus, or recognition award) only one can get. Maybe those two people sabotage each other. Maybe those two people are exemplars of good behavior, but teammates suspect otherwise.

NCAA Division I athletics (and software engineering projects) are tough enough without optional obstacles! I like Bo’s coaching mindset.

Hmmm … college athletics are supposed to be education, right?! Maybe they’re working beyond the teams! Thanks, Bo!

Example post from a user

This is an example post from a user. Garry Flemings wrote it with the account on this blog on which I have fewest permissions. When I used the WordPress “Submit for Review” button, WordPress put the post in line for moderation. When I signed into the blog with an account with more permissions, I got a “Publish” button. That button made this post available to the community. Very easy … WordPress has nice capabilities here …

One lesson learned: Use that “Save Draft” button periodically, or … well … ya know …

We learn from experience …

I have strong thanks for my many valued friends!

I’m Garry Flemings. I have a short bio at Garry Flemings bio. And at Garry Flemings on LinkedIn. (blush) Enough about me. Let’s get to information you can use!

We learn from experience. If I can write here about an experience and you can learn from it, we’re both better! If you care to comment about it, we’re both even better! I hope to learn much every day.

I spent Monday with a lot of my friends; the event was ProDev. That’s the annual Professional Development Day for the Heartland Chapter (Omaha) of the Project Management Institute. I wish I had started this blog earlier so I could have encouraged you to attend. (I certainly would have; I’ve attended every year for many years.) Look for it next year at the Chapter web site. Congratulations to those who put together this year’s event!

It was a great day. Dr. Tom Osborne started our day. (Former Nebraska Head Football Coach; former U.S. Representative for Nebraska; Nebraska Athletic Director. It seems he just can’t help but have a high profile in a state where nothing seems to unite us as much as our support of football at University of Nebraska at Lincoln!) I can’t do him justice, so I’ll just say: He’s much more than a winning football coach! He inspires. He demonstrates balance and encourages us to find our own balances.

Some friends at ProDev motivated me to (finally!) start this blog. It’s been one of the those things on the to-do list …; now it’s not. Thanks especially to Mike Bitter of Affordable Social Media, Inc. for pointing the way and making the case for action. (Again: Well done, Mike!)

Thanks for reading this first post. If you’re already among my friends: Thanks again for all your impact on me. If you’re joining that list: Welcome.

I hope the series proves to be worth your periodic return! And I hope a posting here proves worth your comment!