Book Review: Crossing the CHASM

I’ve heard people make references to Geoffrey A. Moore’s Crossing the CHASM book for several years now but had’t read it until this past week.

Moore’s book is a must-read for any IT company trying to launch a new product.  Although the concepts in the book are not novel (so admit’s Moore) the book brings a vocabulary and metaphoric dictionary to the readers allowing marketing groups, investors, and techies alike to communicate about the playing field in a proactive manner.

Moore discusses the importance of delivering continuous innovation, instead if discontinuous innovation.  Our new innovations need to help people do what they are already doing better, and not force them to abruptly change something that kinda works for something that they are not sure about that may possibly work better.

Moore introduces the Technology Adoption LifeCycle, complete with five categories of market segments.  He discusses how to market in succession to each group:

  1. Innovators
  2. Early Adopters
  3. Early Majority
  4. Late Majority
  5. Laggards

Finally, Moore introduces some business concepts you may have heard of by now, like the bowling alley, the tornado, and the fault line.

If you haven’t heard of these, then you need to get reading!

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Publishing My First Book: Software Quality Systems Management

Posted by mikeberry | Leadership, Book Reviews | Tuesday 21 July 2009 1:59 pm

I’m publishing my first book next month.  It’s about software quality management.

Quality management, that is, in the sense of improving software processes and production support methods, not about ‘how to test software.’

I include overviews of the four formal quality models: CMMI, Six Sigma, and ISO 90003, and ITIL.  I outline how to create a quality system within an organization and I discuss common fixtures it should have.

I talk about checklists, measurements, purpose, accountability, and continuous improvement.

So now I want your help.  Tell me what else I should include in a book about managing quality in an IT/Software Development/Production Support environment.

Also, suggest some titles.  Thanks in advance!

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com
 

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Book Review: The Book of Five Rings

Recently, while attending the ‘09 Agile Roots conference in Salt Lake City, UT, Alistair Cockburn–the keynote speaker–referenced Miyamoto Musashi’s 16th-century book called The Book of Five Rings.

I like Asian philosophy (and swords and such) so I picked up the book and read it.  The book was written in 1643 by an undefeated Japanese samurai master who was so effective he was rumoured to have spent the latter part of his career entering sword-fights purposely without a weapon.  Although meant as a battlefield manual, the book has gained popularity as a handbook for conducting business in the 21st century.

The book was translated into English by Thomas Cleary at some point and the edition I read was published in 2005.   Improperly named “The Book of Five Rings,” the book is actually a compilation of five scrolls.

The Earth Scroll: Musashi talks about how a straight path levels the contours of the Earth and how various occupations provide life-improving principles.  He talks about observing patterns and learning from them.  Certainly a great primer for any business trying to get across the chasm.

The Water Scroll: Here Musashi talks about how water conforms to the shape of its container.  He suggests a separation of one’s inward mind against it’s outward posture, maintaining that one’s control over one’s mind must not be relinquished to outward circumstances.  He translates these philosophies into about 80 pages of sword fighting techniques.  An interesting modern parallel is found in Jim Collins book, Good to Great, where he talks about how the most successful companies are able to say ‘No’ and not be influenced by immediate but non-strategic opportunities.

The Fire Scroll: As with any book written by a 16th century samurai master, you’d expect a core discussion on combat strategy.   The fire scroll is full of combat strategies, positioning, and pre-emptive theory.  Very interesting.  Did anyone notice how Apple’s announcement of the latest iPhone came about 1 day after the Palm Pre phone was officially launched–killing it’s market blitz?  No coincidence there.

The Wind Scroll: The wind scroll contains a directive to study and be aware of your opponents techniques.  Translated into business speak, this means one should always study ones competitors.  Be aware of new offerings, partnerships, markets, etc. that they persue.  Emphasis is placed on observing rhythms and strategically harmonizing, or dis-harmonizing with them as appropriate.

Finally, The Emptiness Scroll:  This scroll discusses the value of escaping personal biases.  Emphasis is placed on not lingering on past situations and being able to adjust quickly to new scenarios.

Overall I found this book ‘enlightening’ to read.  If you like metaphors and inferences, or sword-fighting, then you will enjoy this book.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Book Review: Motivating Employees

Employee motivation is an ever-present concern for most proactive managers.  Interestingly enough, motivation can come from both functional and dysfunctional sources.

I’ve seen employees motivated for many different reasons: recognition, financial incentive, empowerment, personal growth, tension release, fear, and finally there’s that weird Lord of the Flies thing where employees get motivated together against another employee.

In their book, Motivating Employees, Anne Bruce and James S. Pepitone describe the most effective ways to motivate a team.  They describe the three C’s which are vital to functionally motivating employees:

1. Collaboration: Be sure to involve employees in decisions and discussions where their efforts are involved.

2. Content: As they produce suggestions, act on those suggestions immediately.

3. Choice: Be sure to offer choices to your employees–even if you can predict what they will decide.

These three techniques actually empower your employees.   Involving employees in decisions that affect them, or the outcome of what they are working on produces a level of buy-in that is hard to match any other way.

Bruce and Pepitone continue with an examination of Theory-X and Theory-Y motivation and management styles.  These styles were originally presented in the 1960’s by Douglas McGregor.

McGregor states that Theory-X managers proceed from the assumption that their employees are uninformed, lazy, and needy of high-structure.

Theory-Y managers, however, proceed from the assumption that their employees are qualified, intelligent, and capable of making proper decisions provided they are given proper goals, accountability, authority, and resources to accomplish their tasks.

Although Theory-X is the most effective approach during some situations, if you consider the amount of college-educated employees in the workforce today, it’s easy to see how Theory-Y, if applied properly, yields much higher performance.

The authors continue with a formula for encouraging Entrepreneurial Thinking.   Their five-step formula is:

1. Explain the organization
2. Demonstrate how the organization operates and generates income
3. Help your employees understand the competition
4. Encourage intelligent risk-taking
5. Inspire innovative thinking

Another great idea the authors present is to link motivation to performance.  They suggest you develop a written-list of performance standards for meeting and exceeding the expectations you’ve agreed upon during collaborative sessions with them.

The authors talk about how important it is to weave fun into everything your organization does.   This may sound like a unusual suggestion at first, but the authors point out that there is a direct correlation between fun on the job and employee productivity, moral, creativity, satisfaction, and most importantly–retention.

The final few chapters in the book discuss de-motivating factors (or individuals), and how to deal with them.  There is also a good chapter on conducting effective employee-reviews.

Overall I recommend this book to any manager.   It’s a great book to re-read every so often.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Book Review: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Posted by mikeberry | Product Owner, Agile Executives, SDLC Management, Leadership, Book Reviews, Strategy & Portfolio Management | Sunday 10 February 2008 10:26 pm

Marshall Goldsmith’s New York Times Bestseller, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful is an excellent self-help book for executives and managers wishing to improve their “soft skills” and other interpersonal traits.

Goldsmith is an executive coach who has worked with more than 80 of the worlds foremost CEO’s.  As a symbol of his influence,  Alliant International University recently renamed their school of management after him.  With these credentials, probably anything he writes is worth reading.

In his book, Goldsmith lists twenty-one common “soft-skill” dysfunctions he has encountered while coaching top executives.   He explains that the higher you go in executive management, the more your problems are behavioral.  A few of these behavioral problems are as follows:

  1. The need to win to much
  2. Making destructive comments
  3. Starting sentences with “No,” “But,” or “However”
  4. Telling the world how smart you are
  5. Speaking when angry
  6. Withholding information
  7. Clinging to the past
  8. Playing favorites among direct-reports
  9. An excessive need to be “Me” (or, “I can’t change, that’s just how I am”)
  10. Goal obsession

To get the whole list, you need to read his book.  The first half of the book details these ten and the other eleven common issues at length.

One of the primary challenges Goldsmith writes about is getting executives to understand how they are perceived by others in their work environments, and at home.  He separates our personal “perception” into four categories:

  1. Public Knowledge (Traits known to others and self)
  2. Private Knowledge (Traits known to self but not to others)
  3. Blind Spots (Traits known to others but not to self)
  4. Unknowable (Traits unknown to others, and not know to self)

Goldsmith says that the most interesting traits to examine and study are #3, the blind spots known to others but not to ourselves.  He provides a formula for detecting these traits, examining them, and fixing any negative discoveries.  The formula is:

  1. Collect feedback from everyone around us, using both deliberate and subtle tactics.
  2. Apologize to everyone for any negative traits.
  3. Advertise that you are beginning a personal campaign to improve and that you would like their feedback periodically as you work on improvement.
  4. Listen to feedback in terms of “what can I do in the future to improve” and not “what did I do wrong in the past” (one is positive, one is negative)
  5. Thank people for their suggestions, and don’t disagree with them.
  6. Follow-up relentlessly.  This is the key to the improvement process taking shape.

He explains, for example,  that as a professional coach, he and a colleague call each other each evening and report to eachother on the progress of their goals.  This simple practice enables them to metric their performance over time–the same thing effective executives do to examine trends in their departmental interests.

Goldsmith discusses several other topics in his book.  One interesting aside is a list of common reasons why goal setting can fail:

  1. Time: It takes longer than expected, so it couldn’t be completed.
  2. Effort: It’s harder than was expected.
  3. Distractions: Nobody expected a “crisis” to emerge that took resources or time away.
  4. Lack of Rewards: After they see some improvement, they don’t get enough positive response from others, so they give up.
  5. Maintenance: Once a goal is met, there is no fortitude to stick with the pattern that brought success.

One of the closing thoughts in Goldsmith’s book struck me as quite novel.  As one of his executive coaching tools, he sometimes asks executives to produce a “How to Handle Me” guide for his staff.  This is a short memo detailing behavior, values, lessons from past experience, and input from past and present coworkers and direct reports.

As new hires are onboarded, part of their welcome packet is the “How to Handle Me” guide from their manager.

I found the most valuable part of Goldsmith’s book to be his formula for collecting feedback about others’ perceptions of us, and how we can affect change within ourselves where needed.  I appreciated Goldsmiths continuous transcentions that all of these tools and dynamics also have value at home to improve our family lives and social relationships.  This was a reoccurring theme in his book.

I recommend Goldsmith’s book for middle to senior level management, and to any husband or wife.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Book Review: The 360 Degree Leader

John C. Maxwell’s book,  The 360 Degree Leader, is an excellent field-guide for navigating the challenges of leadership at all levels of an organization.

Maxwell starts his book by dispelling many common dysfunctional myths that are found at line-level, or middle-level management.  Ideas such as “When I get to the top, I’ll be in control,” and “If I were on top, then people would follow me” are inaccurate adolescent attempts to understand the true nature of leadership–which is influence.

Maxwell continues by explaining the characteristics of influence:

  1. Position - Influence because people have to follow you.
  2. Permission - Influence because people want to follow you.
  3. Production - Influence because of what you have done for the organization.
  4. People Development -Influence because of what you have done for them.
  5. Personhood - Influence because of who you are and what you represent.

Maxwell gives examples of effective leadership in all directions: up, across and down.

To lead up well, he suggests you lighten your leaders load, anticipate your leaders needs and use their time wisely, and invest in Relational Chemistry–get to know what makes your leaders tick.

To lead across, Maxwell suggests you focus on completing your fellow leaders, instead of competing with them.   Be a friend, don’t pretend you’re perfect, and avoid office politics.

To lead down, Maxwell suggest you develop each team member, place people in their strength zones, model the behavior you desire, transfer the vision from above, and reward the results you desire.

Overall this is a good book worth reading and re-reading every so often.  I recommend it for managers at all levels.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Book Review: The 4-Hour Workweek

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives, Most Popular, Leadership, Book Reviews | Monday 10 December 2007 2:43 pm

I just finished reading The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, by Timothy Ferriss.  Timothy Ferriss is a 29-year old self-made millionaire, TV actor in China, athletic advisor to more than 30 world record holders, Chinese Kickboxing Champion, first American to hold Guinness world record in Tango, speaker of four languages, and a four-world champion cage fighter.   This book now makes him an author.

Ferriss’s book is about beating Corporate America, and becoming content and happy using the newer technologies available to us today.

He provides a formula for successful entrepreneurship.  One important point he makes is the need to find a market, before investing in building the product.  He suggests this successful pattern:

  1. Pick an industry you understand.
  2. Target a product you can Create, License, or Resell.
  3. Look at competition to see how you need to differentiate your product.  Examples:
    1. More credibility indicators
    2. Offer a better guarantee
    3. Offer a better selection
    4. Offer free, or faster shipping
  4. Micro-test your product (before you put any money into it), by using eBay, or Google Ad’s.  Microtesting is “probing” customers to see if they would buy the product.  Some examples:
    1. Put an add on eBay, then cancel the add minutes before the auction ends, to see how much people are willing to pay.
    2. Build a dummy website, with item, description, pictures, and pricing.  After the user pressed ‘purchase now,’ display a “Thank you but this item is temporarily unavailable.”  This enables you to test your conversion rate up front, without needing to invest in manufacturing, etc.

This way, you can determine up front if there is a market for your product.  He suggests putting the price on a separate webpage altogether so you can measure the effects that changing the price alone will have on your conversion rate.

Ferris goes on to explain how to transform managing a business into automating the business.  He suggests time management is a thing of the past.  The key to living better today is to remove distracting inputs from our lives.

He talks about outsourcing every part of you business and empowering the outsourcers.  He talks about only answering email one day a week, and having your cell phone message redirect people to you email.

The final part of Ferriss’s book talks about what to do after you have successfully started and automated you business.  He talks about getting out of your comfort zone, travelling, learning new skills, and new languages.

I think this book is an excellent read, and surprisingly cutting-edge.  It’s nice to read a business book about PPC, Google AdWords, and eBay microtesting.   Makes me feel understood.

Mike J Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Book Review: Under Pressure and On Time

Posted by mikeberry | PMP, SDLC Management, Leadership, Book Reviews, Project Management | Thursday 6 December 2007 11:30 am

Ed Sullivan’s book, Under Pressure And On Time, is a no-nonsense guide for delivering software products to market in a timely manner.

In this industry where the average software project is late, over budget, or a complete failure, there are so many books written about what not to do.  It’s refreshing to read a software development book that tells you ”what to do” for a change.

Sullivan skips past conventional theory and provides real-world experiences and wisdom for how project managers and software development teams can succeed in this challenging industry.

Novel to Sullivan’s recommended approaches is the concept of one-team-per-project, reporting to a single manager.  Conventionally, most companies split out development, quality-assurance, and product management into different departments.  Sullivan describres this configuration as a model set-up-for-failure.  Too many factors, he says, complicate team performance when each team-member is reporting to a separate manager.

I consult with software development companies to improve their product delivery speed and product quality.  I call Sullivan’s single-team suggestion the “lean model,” and I agree with his conclusions.

In the manufacturing sciences, there is a belief that the production manager and the quality assurance manager have an inherent conflict of interest, therefore, they should be separate departments within a manufacturing organization.  Many business books are written about this.

In software, however, this model is a less-effective approach.  It can work, but it creates barriers between project teams for several reasons:

  1. Contention can arise as an “us vs them” mentality builds when team-members go back to their respective departments dougouts, to commesurate with their non-project department staff.
  2. As team-members need each other to succeed, it becomes easy for a team-member in one department to delay requests, or grandstand, because their department manager “has asked them to work on other things this week.”
  3. A department manager will tend to be uninformed about upcoming urgent project team needs and may unintentionally delay the project by asking their employee to do other things at the most inconvenient time for the project.
  4. A lack of focus will accompany any project team-member who has continuous department responsibilities outside of the project team.
  5. If contention arises, the project team-members from different departments may value disparaging another department, rather than working together to solve the problem at hand.

Sullivan goes on to discuss effective hiring techniques, retention techniques, and general healthy corporate culture factors.  He talks about ranking employees in terms of inner-circle, middle-circle, and outer-circle.  This reminds me of Jack Welch’s theory on differentation.

Another novel concept Sullivan describes is his simple but effective project scheduling process.  He breaks each month into daily rows, listing team members names as column headers.  Inside of each cell is a letter/number combination representing who needs to be finished with what task on that day.  In my opinion this is much better than a gantt chart.

Sullivan goes on to describe meetings, schedule management, release management, and project closure.

I found this to be a beneficial book to read.  I would recommend reading it topically, as a reference, rather than cover-to-cover.

Mike J Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Book Review: Software Project Survival Guide

Posted by mikeberry | SDLC Management, Leadership, Product Management, Book Reviews, Project Management | Thursday 29 November 2007 11:21 am

In Steve McConnell’s book, Software Project Survival Guide, he describes the foundation and procedures for managing a successful software development project.

Researching from NASA, IEEE, and some other industry giants like Grady Booch  and Tom Demarco, McConnell summarizes software development into six stages:

  1. Planning
  2. Design
  3. Construction
  4. Testing
  5. Release
  6. Wrap-up

McConnell also offers some great ideas like keeping a project history to record lessons learned and actual project data (time to completion, lines of code, etc.)

He talks about Quality Assurance practices and team development.  Interestingly enough, his book starts with a diagram and commentary on Maslow’s human needs heirachy, and how the needs of a software development group are similar.  He proposes a Bill of Rights for the project team, and a Bill or Rights for the customers.

He offers a project health quiz–allowing you to measure your project to see how probable it is at succeeding.

McConnell ends his book with a chapter on project do’s and don’t, borrowed from NASA.  These are:

Software Development Project Do’s:

  1. Create and follow a software development plan.
  2. Empower project personnel.
  3. Minimize the bureaucracy.
  4. Define the requirements baseline, and manage changes to it.
  5. Take periodic snapshots of project health and progress, and replan when necessary.
  6. Re-estimate system size, effort, and schedules periodically.
  7. Define and manage phase transitions.
  8. Foster a team spirit.

Software Development Project Don’ts:

  1. Don’t let team members work in an unsystematic way.
  2. Don’t set unreasonable goals.
  3. Don’t implement changes without assessing their impact and obtaining approval of the change board.
  4. Don’t gold-plate (don’t add features no customer asked for).
  5. Don’t over-staff, especially early in the project.
  6. Don’t assume that a schedule slip in the middle of a phase will be made up later.
  7. Don’t relax standards in order to cut costs or shorten a schedule.
  8. Don’t assume that a  large amount of documentation ensures success.

Overall, this is a great book for new software development managers, and software development mangers who have chosen SDLC, or other non-Agile development methods.  Published in 1998, this book came out before the Agile software development movement.  Regardless, it’s a good book to refer to occasionally.

Mike J Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Book Review: Reinventing Strategy

Posted by mikeberry | Product Owner, Agile Executives, Leadership, Product Management, Book Reviews, Strategy & Portfolio Management | Wednesday 28 November 2007 10:47 am

I just finished reading Willie Pietersen’s book, Reinventing Strategy: Using Strategic Learning to Create and Sustain Breakthrough Performance.

Pietersen first sets the stage for the rest of the book by underscoring the need for organizations to be adaptable.  He paraphrases Charles Darwin, concluding that is it not the largest, the strongest, or even the most intelligent of species that survive, but the most adaptable to change.  He explains that corporations need to start thinking beyond doing things right, to thinking about doing the right things.

He explains that vision is different from insight.  Vision is what the leader has in mind for the group.  Insight is what the group learns about their customers needs, through studying their customers.

Pietersen describes a four-step process he calls the “Strategic Learning Process:”

  1. Situation Analysis (Learn)
  2. Strategic Choices (Focus)
  3. Align the Organization (Align)
  4. Implement and Experiment (Execute)

This process provides the basic toolset for gaining insight, and turning that into vision.  Continuous learning is essential, Pietersen says, and he quotes Arie de Geus’s observation that a company’s “ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage” they have.

He continues, “Nature, in effect, suffers from two massive learning disabilities.  When nature fails, it doesn’t know why; and when it succeeds, it doesn’t know why…therefore strategic learning is at the heart of successful adaptation”

Pieterson’s goes on to offer a formula for initiating change.  His formula is:

D x V x P > C

D = Dissatisfaction with Current State
V = Clear Vision for Change
P = Process for Getting it Done
C = Cost of Change

His formula suggests that if D,V, or P are not strong enough to collectively overcome C, change will not occur.

Pieterson concludes his book by suggesting Strategic Learning can be applied to our personal lives to enable personal growth.  Appling it to such topics as Emotional Intelligence, and Personal Renewal, the Strategic Learning process can help us throughtout our life.

Mike J Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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