Teaching is Learning

NY Times Interview of Kon Leong Interviewing for Brains and Drive

Do you really want to learn something quickly? Try teaching it to someone else. Consulting work often puts you in the position of augmenting the expertise you may have in a one particular area with deep knowledge of a subject matter you may be relatively new to working in. Our team is often in the position of building applications in the cloud to support all different types of organizational requirements from inspections and facilities management to capital planning and portfolio management.

 

Over time we have developed expertise in a variety of different types of systems but their is always a new wrinkle or new angle. For clients, who are pinning the modernization of an application whose business rules and execution they depend on, it can be nerve wracking if you are stammering through the basics of their business.

 

I never try to pretend I know more than I do, but I do try to learn as much as I can, as quickly as I can so I can be more effective and put the clients mind at ease. One trick I’ve learned over time is to teach the client’s business to someone on staff prior to a project kickoff. You may wonder how much benefit you can get from one person who is admittedly not an expert teaching another who knows nothing about a subject.

 

In my experience the act of attempting to teach someone else forces you down a deeper learning path. The simple act of thinking through how to teach something to someone forces you to find ways to map the new material to the world you know so you can express it to someone else. It forces you to begin to chunk and categorize the information as well as making it easier to identify gaps in your own understanding.

 

It usually takes me a couple of attempts to complete my teaching assignment with a colleague, but at the end I inevitably find myself with a deeper understanding of the subject matter and a deeper confidence in speaking about it. At the end of the day this better understanding not only puts the clients mind at ease but it positions me to be better prepared to service their requirements.

 

So if you really want learn something fast…maybe you should start by figuring out how to teach it to someone else.

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Eliminating waste from the bottom up

eliminating waste

One of the things that gets lost in the complexity of getting a job done or doing the next task, is a focus on group work.  You need to be able to take a step back from the pieces of the system that you’re involved in and:

  • understand what’s supposed to come out the other end of the organization

  • what’s the value of what you are doing

  • understand your role in the organization

  • understand how the process within your organization help support that value

Over time, whether you’re management or somebody that is working as a component of that system, it’s important to be able to understand when what you’re doing needs to change. Things you should be asking yourself are:

  • How do I get rid of extraneous actions

  • How do I slim down what we’re doing as an organization so there’s less waste

  • How do we more effectively meet our goals

One of the things that people often don’t think about but it’s of critical importance, is that the things that you do in your day to day job that don’t drive value are things that are making the organization less competitive.  They are the things that are taking you farther away from the goals of your organization.  Waste to the organization aren’t just the big 100, 000 million dollar line items they are the time wasters such as the forms that have no point and the meetings that bring no value. Those things add up and if they are pervasive enough in an organization they can significantly change the competitive landscape. The world is moving towards a higher performing environment  and these time wasters will breed bad consequences for the organizations that don’t eliminate them.

People don’t think of that at Monday morning status meetings that go nowhere as the thing that is going to put the company out of business. While that may not be the one thing that ends an organization; it’s emblematic of things that are happening within the organization on a grander scale that could put you on the brink of going out of business. So I can’t stress how critical it is to focus on the big picture but sweat the details a little bit too. If there are things that you’re doing that don’t add to the bottom line then you really need to question whether you should continue doing them. Those things are by definition luxuries and if you’ve got time wasting meetings that add no value, maybe you’d get more value just by giving people that hour off. Maybe you could get some sort of benefit for being a kinder gentler organization, but certainly  no value status meetings are something to be avoided.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Brainstorming dead end? Try doodling

Brainstomring

I keep a stack of legal sized paper, a pencil, and a couple different colors of pens on my desk at all times. When people first walk into my office and see the set up I’ll sometimes have people laugh at me but there is a reason for this. Whenever I have people in my office and we’re talking through a problem, I like to take a sheet of legal paper and just start drawing. I think part of the reason I’m getting laughed at is because I’m sitting at our high technology company and I’m pulling out a piece of paper to draw on instead of my computer; but I really think it’s one of the most powerful brainstorming tools at your disposal.

A pencil and paper gives you so much more freedom to make mistakes, to throw things away, and to just start over. The classic pencil/paper combo is also a timesaver across the board.  Being able to quickly sketch something out gives you that sense that remaking, erasing, crumpling up and starting over isn’t the end of the world because you’ve only lost a few minutes. I think there’s something to that. It triggers something subconsciously where you’re simply not as afraid to make mistakes and because of that, it encourages you to think outside the box.

If you insist on using your computer I’ve come to favor free form drawing tools such as Omnigraffle for building presentations. The best thing about this software is that it doesn’t come with any preconceived notion of what you’re going to put on a slide.  It is a tool that really allows you to have a blank slate and there’s lots of nice drawing tools at your disposal. Again I really believe that it keeps you from putting boundaries on yourself when you’re in the middle of brainstorming.  So the next time that you’re faced with a tough problem or you’re trying to do some brainstorming, maybe try writing on a piece of paper before you crack open that PowerPoint deck or start typing into Word. I really think your eyes will be opened to something new if you’re just willing to give it a shot.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Agendas: Keeping you focused

Agendas keeping you focused

Every once in a while you hear somebody saying, “Oh they have their own agenda,” and it doesn’t always have the most positive connotation. From somebody who’s spent most of their life in meetings, some of which do not have an agenda despite the overwhelming consensus in the best practice area that that’s how it should be, I think it’s ok and should actually be encouraged to have your own agenda.  In fact if you don’t have your own agenda and no one else does either, you’ll probably all just end up wasting your time.  When I find myself in that situation where I’m going into a meeting and for whatever reason it would be uncomfortable or improper for me to ask or provide an agenda I like to spend a little bit of time developing my own agenda going into the meeting.  You should know things like:

  • Why am I attending this meeting
  • What am I hoping to achieve by attending this meeting

I also like to think about what the other people that are participants in the meeting might be hoping to achieve from it and what their agendas might be so I’m at least prepared for whatever direction the meeting might take.  Finally once I’m in the meeting and things begin to drift into that agendaless zone that happens so often when you don’t have a plan and the topics sort of drift left and right, I’ll try to steer the meeting towards value.  Simple things like

  • What are we hoping to accomplish in  today’s meeting
  • What are the actions that we are looking to get as we move out of today’s meeting

Simple prompts like that that get people back thinking about why are we here and why do we want everyone to take time out of their day to be in this one place or be on this one call.  To have the conversation be brought back around to what are we trying to solve is usually enough to get people tracking back towards value.  I’m curious what other people think as always and I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Easing the transition from vacation back to work

Back form vacation

I take the first week of July off every year and one of the things that I try to do every time is make sure that I take as much of that week actually off as possible. I try not to do too many calls and I keep correspondence to a minimum because I want to come back refreshed and having really felt like I spent some time away and maybe even missing work a little bit. I was able to do that this time around and the challenge then becomes: how do I get back up and running after I’ve been missing in action for a week? So I’ve got kind of three things that I do to make sure that I can hit the ground running.

  1. The first is that in the same way that I try to makes sure that I’ve prepared well for leaving, I try to make sure that I come back well. That means that I don’t make my entryway back into the work-a-day world a distraction for the other members of the team.  I don’t want to have people have to take unnecessary time to bring me back up to speed. So one of the things that I’ll do is the Sunday night before I come back into work, I’ll send out a few notes to key people to get a gauge from them as to when is a good time for me to touch base with them. This way they have an opportunity to work it into their schedule and I actually make that entire Monday an open day if possible. I try not to have any calendar appointments on the day that I come back because I recognize that a lot of that day is going to be spent getting up to speed.
  2.  The second thing I do is I try to have a creative project as something to work when on when I come back.  I think one of the really neat things about vacation is it gives you the chance to separate a little bit from the daily grind. One of the advantages of that is it enables you, if you embrace it, to take a little bit different perspective on the way that you work. I want to try to take advantage of that to the degree possible. So I’ll try to use my time away as an opportunity to maybe think outside the box or maybe to take a new approach to a problem that has been a plaguing the office for a while.
  3. The last thing I try to do is I try not to sprint back. I think that one issue that a lot of us have is you don’t want to miss too much time away from the office.  If you’re a hard charger, the temptation is to always go, go, go. I almost feel that if you run too fast in the days right after you get back from the vacation you miss some of the opportunity to take advantage of the separation that I was speaking of earlier from the office. So I try tom the first few days that I’m back, take things in and see if that fresh perspective enables me to think about something differently.  A lot of what I’m trying to get out of coming back is ensuring that I take advantage of the opportunity to use that fresh look and fresh perspective to my advantage rather than trying to buckle myself right back into the grind.

If anyone else has any tricks or tips they use for coming back from vacation or ways that they try to leverage their time away from the office, I’d love to her them.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Maintaining good habits as easy as 1,2,3

good habs

Over the last few years I’ve gotten a bit better at seeing things through, disciplining myself to overcome some bad habits, and stick with my habits that I’d like to hang on to.  Today I thought I’d share a few of the things that I think are helping me accomplish that objective. The first of which is regularly scanning my environment for habits gone awry.  Many of you know I’ve recently changed my eating habits quite a bit. I’ve also focused in on how I stay organized for example I’ve worked to keep a cleaner desk and for better or worse I’ve pretty much been able to stick to those items. However, it hasn’t been without some setbacks. There are few things I like to do to make sure I stay on track.

  1. One of the things that I think is really important is to monitor yourself. I think you need to really assess on a regular basis whether or not you’re holding tight to things that were important enough that you worked really hard to develop some better habits around them.
  2. The second is that I’ve tried not to beat myself up too much when I do slip.  I think it is important to evaluate yourself on a regular basis but I think, at least for myself, there’s a subconscious block against doing that if you get too hard on yourself with the results. I try to treat the results as a basis for moving forward and an opportunity to improve.  Evaluating yourself on the basis of have you 100% of the time achieved what you wanted to achieve in life is way too high of a standard, at least for me.
  3. The third thing that I do is if I notice that I’ve slipped in an area and I need to bring that habit back up to par, I make a note of it. Then I put it somewhere like on my desk, on a post it note, just someplace that I’m going to be regularly reminded of it so I can focus in on it.  It’s not that I’m stepping right back to the beginning of where I was originally but I think when you notice that you’ve slipped a little bit in a particular area where you’ve worked really hard to improve, it makes sense to focus in on it to remind yourself of it. So for me that can be as simple as if it’s a work thing, a little post-it on the edge of my screen is all it takes. Oftentimes one word is enough just to remind me. Just having something in my face on a daily basis like I need to clean my desk when I leave the office or I need to complete my getting things done list before I leave the office; whatever it is that triggers to me that it is important.

So I’m curious how other people maintain good habits over long periods of time.  That’s my simple formula.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

3 Rules for creating a constructive 1st draft

First Draft

I want to talk a little bit about what I believe a draft should be. Obviously there’s a lot of latitude in this subject but I think that it’s really important to understand that no matter what you call it, everyone has an understanding of what a successful draft looks like at the end of the day.

Our internal process for idea generating is very team oriented. We may have 3, 4, or even 5 people in a room working on a whiteboard, sheets of paper, or different drawing tools trying to get some concepts out. We may go back and forth, go and work individually, come back share things, and talk about anything that crosses our minds. I consider all those things to be part of the idea generating phase of doing things. The more people the better in many cases as the whole point of what you’re trying to do is come up with a lot of ideas. Then you want to vet those things down to just a few good ones. Once we have it narrowed down I like to hand it off to somebody to take as their own.

I think that when you get to the point where you’ve squeezed the idea sponge until its run dry in the room and you’ve winnowed your brainstorms down into a  more reasonable amount of a few different things that the team believes have legs its then time to hand that off to a person. Ideally I hand it off to one person or maybe just a couple people that work well together if it’s a big project to get a draft together. If it’s a document maybe that means an outline or if it’s a drawing, an architectural artifact, or whatever it is, there should be an accepted form to it.  I believe no matter what that accepted form is there are a couple of rules that people should follow to know when their draft is ready for exposure to others.

  1. The first thing that should happen is your draft should be able to clearly tell the story of whatever the next phase is going to be. For us, that usually means you’re going to go through a few different drafts, you’re going to get some critical inputs and refine things. Even in that first draft there ought to be idea clarity. What I mean by that is that you ought to be able to explain to me why the things that are in there are in there.  There should be a reason for all of the stuff on the page. So that’s number one and if you can’t do that then it’s not draft ready.
  2. It should not enormously deviate from the concepts that were put together by the larger team. If you’re responsible for taking the work product of the group and further developing it into draft form, I think it’s important that you be true to the concepts that were developed in the group.  If you don’t do that then there was almost no point to having that group work done.  If you get into it and find that there’s just too much new information that makes you want to go down a different route, at that point you need to go take it back to the group and vet that with them before you run with it.  I think that’s important because one of the most critical things that you got out of that big group session was consensus around some of the things that are important and needed to be expressed. So if you’re going to greatly deviate from what had been set forth in the brainstorm sessions you need to go back and get buy in even if you’re right. It’s important that you have those preliminary communications otherwise you’re going to end up presenting those ideas to a group of people who have never seen it before. You’re going to have some people, no matter how good your idea is, think that you betrayed the trust of the group by doing that. They’re going to dislike it just for those reasons and maybe a really great idea goes unused because you didn’t have the professional courtesy to express it or validate your new direction with the group.
  3. Finally the third big thing in knowing when something is a draft that it still has to have a certain level of professionalism. Now this is an area where I have gotten a little push back from people before.  They will say, “Hey it’s still a draft and I just want to have things on a page,” but I will tell you that won’t cut it a lot of times. I’m actually not one of these people but for a lot of others if you haven’t hit spell check and you turn a draft over to them, they can’t get beyond the fact that you misspelled a lot of words. It distracts them from the overall concept and so the five minutes it would take to run spell check is worth doing.  The same thing with drawings and things like that.  If you have an incredibly cluttered page where you can’t clearly express why things are working the way they are or why you’ve laid things out the way you have, it’s not ready and it’s not a draft.  I believe draft materials should be sufficiently developed so that they can be sent to somebody via email. They shouldn’t require extensive oral communication to have an outside party understand what you’re trying to get across or I don’t believe that they’re ready to be shared.  If you have to spend a half hour explaining to me the chicken scratch on a torn out sheet of notebook paper it’s not a draft.  It might represent some really great thinking but it needs to have just a little bit more polish.

Now I’m the first person to tell you don’t waste a lot of time making draft materials client ready but there is a certain amount of effort that is required to get something into a state where people can understand it and that is the point.  You want your draft materials to be good enough to convey the point of what you’re trying to accomplish and there are not distractions in them that prevent people from understanding the concepts that you’re trying to put forward.

Now those are my big three things needed for a draft to be completed.  This is to me, what makes something a draft. I think that way too often people don’t put enough thought into or don’t take the time to step through the idea to product phases enough to end up with the type of product that they should. I think a lot of those mistakes occur because people don’t pay attention to detail in the drafting process. So that’s what I believe constitutes a good first draft for any high level document, drawing or any other knowledge work product. I know that other people have great ideas about other things that should be in there but those are the big three that I find myself talking about more than any others.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.