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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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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Anatomy of an Execution Plan

Have you been challenged with performing a high-risk task like upgrading a prominent server, for example?

Here’s an execution plan template that you can use to guide you.

I. Executive Summary
Brief overview of intended event.

II. Review of Discovery
Details of what efforts were made to research what is listed in the following sections.  Meetings, Vendor consultations,  OnLine Resources, and Conventional Wisdom can be included.

III. Pre-Upgrade Procedures
Steps identified to be taken before the event.

IV. Upgrade Procedures
Steps identified to be taken during the event.

V. Post-Upgrade Procedures
Steps identified to be taken after the event.

VI. Test Plan
Verification procedures to confirm the event was a success.  This section should define the success criteria.

VII. Rollback Plan
In case the worst happens, what to do.

IIX. Situational Awareness Plan
After-the-event steps to validate the success of the event with the system’s business users.  This would include a two-way communication between your group and the business users, announcing the success, and providing contact information for them to contact you in case there is still a problem.

IX. Risk-Management plan
A plan listing risks associated with the steps above and recommendations as to how to lower those risks.

X. Schedule
If the event spans many hours or days, you may want to draft a schedule for the benefit of all involved.  Include on the schedule the ‘rollback point,’ which would be the latest time a rollback could be successfully performed.  Your success criteria whould have to be met by this point to avoid a rollback.

Be sure the Execution Plan is in a checklist format, not a bullet-list format.  Require participants in the event to ’check’ completed checklist items and sign-off sections they are responsible for.

For critical areas of high-risk, (ie: setting up replication), for example, you may want to require two individuals to perform the checklist steps and sign their names when that section is complete.

If you like, add a ‘lessons learned’ section to be completed later, and keep a copy of the execution plan for historical purposes.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Excellence over Heroics

I value Excellence over Heroics.

‘Excellence’ can be defined as “the crisp execution of established procedures.”  Think about that for a minute.

Do you know of a software development shop where several prominent developers often stay up late into the night, or come in regularly over the weekend to solve high-profile problems, or put out urgent mission-critical fires?

The thrill of delivering when the whole company’s reputation is at stake can be addictive.  I remember once staying up 37 hours in-a-row to deliver an EDI package for a bankers convention.  I was successful, delivering the application just before it was to be demo’d.  I went home and slept for 24 hours straight afterwards.

The problem with ‘Heriocs’ is that the hero is compensating for the effects of a broken process.  Think about that for a minute.

If heroes are needed to make a software development project successful, then really something upstream is broken.

Most problems requiring heroics at the end of a project stem from improper effort estimations, inability to control scope, inadequate project tracking transparency, mismanaged Q/A scheduling, unnecessary gold-plating, or inadequate communication between the development team and the project users/stakeholders.

A well-organized development group humms along like a well-oiled machine.  Proper project scoping, analysis, design deconstruction, estimating, tracking, and healthy communication between development and the users/stakeholders will bring that excellence that trumps heroics.

Hey, I hear that Microsoft is looking for some Heroes.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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NewsCHIME.com passes the 100+ repeat visitor mark!

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives, Most Popular, Leadership, Strategy & Portfolio Management, Uncategorized | Thursday 23 October 2008 11:11 am

NewsCHIME.com, the ‘News from everywhere, every 10 minutes’ website has officially passed the 100+ repeat visitor mark!  This site was launched in May of ‘08 with no advertising at all, and now enjoys more than 100 repeat visitors, and over 1000 unique visits per month.

I classify a ‘repeat visitor’ as somebody who has come back four or more times.   The number four is kind of arbitrary, but I think somebody who comes back only once or twice is not really a captive audience participant.  They are more link a potential customer peering into the store window.

NewsCHIME.com was created to bring headline news to people who, like me, love to read the news.   We love it so much, in fact, that that’s all we want to see on the site–news headlines and nothing else.

Have a BlackBerry and a few spare minutes between (or during) your meetings?  Go to NewsCHIME.com and check out what’s happing across the world!

Need to do research for education, work, or personal interest?  You can search for headlines topics from the past 18 months or so on the search page.

This works great if you are expected to know about something newsworthy in a short amount of time.

For example, a search for ‘Obama’ or ‘McCain’ and a quick headline perusal will give you a one-sentence summary of everything noteworthy these candidates have done for the past 18 months.  10 minutes on NewsCHIME and you be more infomed about the upcoming presidential election than more than 300 million other people.

Need research project material on the mortgage meltdown, type ‘mortgage’ and you’ll see the unfortunate play-by-play.

Be sure to take note of what you will NOT see at NewsCHIME.com.  You will not see lots of useless links to various websites that have nothing to do with your topic.  You will not see pictures of dancing people,  and you will not see ads from GM, Chevy or eHarmony.

I almost forgot to mention, NewsCHIME has free news alerts!  That’s right, Free!  Sign up and select which search criteria you want, and as those terms are named in news events you’ll be the first one to know about them.

So, impress your friends, impress your boss, impress you teacher.  The faster you can get at information, the more beneficial your decisions will become.  Enjoy.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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www.NewsChime.com

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives, Leadership, Strategy & Portfolio Management | Tuesday 3 June 2008 8:03 pm

The value of information…

Here’s a fun site if you are a news junkie.  www.NewsChime.com is a simple site that grabs news headlines from major news sites and lists them in an easy-to-peruse text-only format.

I’ve got the site on my PDA which makes reading news articles perfect for that boring meeting or that inconvenient 10-minute wait you hadn’t planned on.

An interesting feature on www.NewsChime.com is the ability to search for keywords in past news headlines.  Want to know what has been newsworthy about Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama?  Housing Crisis?  Gas Prices?  You can easily search for past headline keywords with this feature.

www.NewsChime.com also allows you to get news alerts sent to your phone or email.  I have news alerts sent to my phone about mortgage prices, home-loans, home-lending, and foreclosure because we talk a lot about this at work.  It’s been fun to be the first one at the office to know the latest.

www.NewsChime.com is a free service.  Enjoy.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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What does it mean to be a Professional?

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives, SDLC Management, Leadership, Strategy & Portfolio Management | Thursday 10 April 2008 5:42 pm

Decades ago I had a friend tell me this question was posed to their High School class. I never found out what the class concluded.

Over the years I have thought often about the answer to this question.

My earlier conclusion was that professionalism meant a separation of work and personal life.  This is something that I think the older generation is better at.  The younger generation seems more transparent about personal matters in the workplace.

As the years go by, however, my experience doesn’t support this conclusion as a definition of professionalism.  I find many professionals are actually quite personable.

This has caused me to re-evaluate the answer to this question.

I think the answer I would give now is that professionalism means ownership.  It means responsibility and accountability for producing the appropriate results.

I walked into a CostCo last week looking for a large household item.  I found a smiling attentive employee with whom I asked where I might find the item I was looking for.  He said “I’m new here,” and shrugged his shoulders.

There was this moment of pregnant miscommunication.

No doubt he was unable to help me due to his present unfamiliarity with the store layout, but as a customer I felt neglected.

I thought to myself, “Well, are you going to get someone for me who knows where this item is?” And then I realized I had, perhaps, misaligned expectations for customer service from a new employee at a wholesale warehouse selling everything from car tires to margarine.

Then the light bulb went on—a more professional employee would have “owned” my problem.  They would have found someone who did know where my item was and would have walked with me until my problem was solved.

Suddenly I realized I had the answer to my decades-old question: Professionalism means ownership.   Ownership of issues.  Ownership of assignments.  Ownership of tasks.

My thanks go out to the anonymous clueless employee.  After several decades, I finally have my answer.

How would you answer this question?

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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The Bat-Phone

Do you have one of those executives that harasses you with status updates to projects, yet never attends the status update meetings?

Perhaps they call you, email you, stop in to your office, and want to know what the latest on project X is?

Is the behavior effecient?  What suggestions do you have about how to convey project status communication within your organization?

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Anti-Values

I was sitting in a KFC eating lunch, reading the slogans muraled on the wall.  This particular KFC is supposedly the first KFC in America.  Yes, it’s in Utah.  Along with some chicken legs and a drink, you can enjoy a small exhibit showing Colonel Sander’s original briefcase, white suite, shoes, etc.

One mural read, “Somehow we’ll do it, by the principles of thrift, honor, integrity, and charity.”

I thought for a moment.  Some of the financial service companies I’ve worked with would fail if they valued charity.  Then I thought about how trust is a wonderful interpersonal dynamic, but the companies I’ve worked with in the medical field allow no latitude for trust.  Everything must be written down and authorized by a credentialed physician.  Walk into a pharmacy and you’ll need a signature on piece of paper to get a prescription filled.

Hmmm, just like charity is an anti-value in the financial services industry, trust is an anti-value in the medical industry.

I spent the day thinking about this new concept.  I owe the title of ‘Anti-Value’ to the Discovery-Channel documentary about Anti-Matter I was watching the night before.  I  guess I’m coining the phrase here, but it makes a lot of sense to me.  Normally, a value is something our society charish’s, yet in a particular situation, or line of business–it becomes the wrong thing to do.

I started seeing how this concept can be applied all over to help clarify the decision making process.

I remembered taking third place instead of second in a Maryland school-district programming competition in high school because I let the guy from our rival high school cut in line in front of me to turn in his test.  When the results were announced we had both scored the same grade, but because he handed his paper in first, he won second place and I won third. (I beat him in the State programming competition the following month.)

I’ve never forgotten this experience, and actually now that I think about it, offering your competitor any leeway is an anti-value.

Some business meetings I’ve been involved in are a collage of participants cutting other participants off mid-sentence to make their point known.  Rude? Yes.  But, in fact, politeness may be considered an anti-value in these types of situations.

I think the concept is fascinating.  Just as a good value system should be in place to help an organization, department, team, or individual govern their decisions, an anti-value system can compliment a value-system by providing additional clarity for the decision making process.

One example of this is the U.S. government’s policy on dealing with terrorists.  The government values having a “no negotiating with terrorists” policy.  As a disincentive to future terrorism, they have an additional policy to provide or produce exactly the opposite of what the terrorists are demanding.  The notion–to give them what they want–really becomes an anti-value, and is an additional input to the decision-making process.  So, in fact, their policy is set by values, and anti-values.

I hope you find this concept as fascinating as I do.  It was the best $7.79 I’ve spent on lunch in a while.

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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