Author: lee (page 1 of 9)

Working Remotely in a time of Coronavirus (Covid-19)

We are going into a new period where a lot of people will have to work remotely for an unknown amount of time. Here are some tips to help make this transition successfully and easy for you, your family, and for your company.

  1. Set up your workspace to be conducive to work. This means different things for different people, but mainly it’s an area without distractions. Sitting in your living room with the TV on while your family comes in and out is probably not the best place. Find a quiet place, set it up so that you are able to work consistently during the day without interruptions.
    • Avoid distractions. Have a pile of personal paperwork on your desk that you’ve been meaning to get to forever? Put it aside, in a closet, or work on it after work hours to get it out of your space. TV on, Netflix playing, radio or Spotify playing? Turn them off and focus on the task at hand.
    • Family Ground Rules. Have a discussion with your family and set some ground rules, for example when the door is closed, do not disturb. Those of us with children will know that they will need attention throughout the day as well, however set up some rules where you can get some deep work done. 
  2. Over Communicate. One of the biggest challenges with remote work is being able to get in contact with people that you need to when you need to. It’s easy in an office to ‘pop over’ and have a chat with someone quickly, but that is still needed when you are working remotely as well. Make sure you are in constant contact with:
    • With your team.  The quick questions that you want answered, the updates, the help you need is right there. Keep in contact with your team through Slack and throughout the day. Let them know what you are working on and and when you need help.
    • With your Manager. They are going to want to still be aware of challenges you are facing and how they can help you. Management is there to help, and can only do so if they know what is going on, so keep in touch with them. 
  3. Keep your calendar up to date. One of the quickest and easiest ways of informing everyone what you are working on, and if you are able to be disturbed, is through the calendar. Make appointments for yourself for ‘lunch’, ‘break’, or ‘deep work’ so everyone knows what is going on. If you are needed for something, or you are not responding to Slack, it lets everyone know where you are and what you are doing. 
  4. Make time to get up and walk around. Being remote and not having any outside influences can be great for deep work, however you need to look after your health as well. It is recommended that you stand up and walk around every so often just to make sure you are being healthy. It’s good for your heart and your mental health to take a bit of a break and walk even around the house, for 10 minutes.
  5. Get dressed for work. Working from home is still working. You don’t need to be a 24/7 pyjama monster. Being dressed for what you are doing is important, not only because we want you on video conference calls, but also because it sets you in the right frame of mind for the day and tasks at hand. 
  6. Connect Socially. Working remote can be very socially isolating, and humans need outside communication to survive. Solitary confinement has been identified as having adverse effects on the mental health of those that have been subjected to it, and working remotely can have many of the same effects. Schedule time to connect with your colleagues. One tactic is to set up some “Beverage of Choice” meetings, where you take a break and video chat with colleagues. Get 2 or 3 of you together to have a 15 minute break, chat about what has been happening, what you are working on, or whatever. Keep the social connection with your team and people at work.
  7. Know when to log off.  Ever been working away and check the time and suddenly it is much, much later than you thought it was? When you are in the zone (current terminology is ‘the flow’) time just seems to pass by.  Make sure you give your mental health a break by stepping away from the computer and focus on anything else. You will be able to come back refreshed and able to tackle the task anew.

Toronto Agile Conference

How to #FAIL at Agile – presentation

October 30, 2018

TEDx Toronto Conference 2018

This year’s TEDx Conference was about Identity, what it means to be someone, how we are identified and how we identify ourselves. My good friend Dave Dame was an invited speaker, so it was a great opportunity to attend a conference I had always wanted to go to and to support a friend and his talk.

Overall the conference was good, with the best talks being from Dave and from Dr. Euginia Duodu. Both were engaging and interesting, however Dave’s was the only one that provided an action plan for moving forward.

What does it mean to be Agile?

Great Teams

A central tenet of Agile is that the team is empowered to make decisions on how to best accomplish their work in the quickest time possible. What this means is that each team is able to do things that are necessary in order to hit that goal. They structure the work in ways that allow everyone to know what is happening, and who is doing what. They stay in constant communication with the Product Owners to understand what needs to be developed, and they are able to control how it gets developed.  It also allows each team to adjust how things are working for them, in order to make them more productive and efficient. They conduct a Retrospective at the end of each sprint, looking back at what went well, and what didn’t go as well as hoped, so they can make adjustments or ask for additional help in resolving their issues. This empowerment makes people happy, and study after study shows that happy employees lead to happy customers.

Amazing Product

Since the team is happy and empowered to deliver on what the Product Owner needs, the outcome is an amazing product. We are able to shift priorities and work on the most important features quickly. Our Product Owners are able to interact with our customers and potential customers to determine what their pain points are and then focus the attention of the team on creating a solution to meet their needs. As importantly, the team is always focused on quality of the product.  There isn’t a separate team that slows down development or is critical to how something is made. Our Quality people are embedded in the team, understanding what the requirements are at the same time as the developers, involved in the process, and then able to be very effective in their job and complete their task within the sprint. With the whole team focused on delivering a quality product that meets the customers’ needs, it is easier to create a product that customers love.

Full Company Alignment

Being Agile also means we are able to be more responsive to the industry and our customers. We are able to quickly assess priorities and make adjustments to what we are developing, so we are always working on the highest priority items. 

Other organizations are often challenged to ensure that priorities from Sales are communicated to the right teams, that they don’t conflict with the priorities from Customer Support, or that Quality Assurance understands what is coming. They develop lengthy “Business Requirements Documents” or “Technical Specifications” to communicate to the teams what they want, taking months to pass on something simple by going up what hierarchy and down another.  With our Agile Methodology, we have eliminated that outmoded process and have a clear and open communication with all our teams, actively soliciting feedback from all the groups and people who have interactions in the industry or with our customers. This communication and alignment mean that we are able to develop a valuable product faster, which leads once again to happy customers.

Equals Happy Customers

Our great teams, amazing products, and full company alignment together allow us to deliver the highest value to our customers, which in turn, makes them happy. Everything we do is centred around ensuring our customers have a great experience with us and with our software. The key is that we are not just committed to making fantastic software, there are a lot of companies that have done that and failed their customers. We are committed to solving our customers’ problems, to provide them with the tools that they need for them to succeed. Helping our customers succeed, helping them save money, and assisting them to deliver value to their customers is where we focus and where we excel.  Agile allows us to deliver amazing products, be responsive to our customers’ needs, and to help them succeed.

It’s all about perspective

I’ve battled a fear of heights for most of my life.

It started when I was nine or ten when I was helping my dad in our backyard. He was in construction and has been on top of buildings and working in dangerous situations most of his life.  This particular day he was on top of our roof, leaning over the edge and cleaning the gutters out, almost 4 stories high (around 40 feet or 12 metres). No safety harness, no protective equipment. Just crouched on the edge of the roof leaning over and scooping leaves out of the gutter.

To me, as a child, the only thing I could think was “if he falls off that roof he’s going to die and I will not have a dad anymore”. Spoiler alert: he didn’t. 

Many years later I was speaking with a doctor and he helped me understand something about that situation that I had been practicing for other events in my life but that I didn’t for this one. I could have looked at that event a totally different way.  Instead of fear of losing my dad I could have looked at it as “look how brave/strong he is. That’s nothing to be afraid of. He can do it, so can I.”

The same goes with everything in our lives. We can look at every event through the lens of our own experiences and our mood at the time. Instead of being afraid of heights, I could have taken that experience and realized I could be working up high as well.  Throughout my life I have ‘forced’ myself to go up ladders, shingle roofs, and work on the side of buildings, when I could have not given it a second thought. 

Perspective

The photo above illustrates how your perception of an event can change depending on your angle or point of view: from the one angle it looks like Prince William is ‘flipping off’ the crowd, but the other angle shows him clearly signalling ‘three’.  Had you only seen the top image you would have an impression or opinion of the Prince that would be very different than if you had only seen the bottom image. 

All of life is the same way. We are only able to see things from our limited perspective at the time, through the filters of experience, education and mood. A person cuts you off in traffic is a jerk or the guy talking on his phone and ignoring you is rude. From a different perspective it may be that the person who cut you off is on the way to the hospital to see their sick relative, or the guy on the phone is talking his wife down from a panic attack. Until you’ve ‘walked a mile in their shoes’ you don’t know what they are going through and what is driving their current behaviour. 

Since my realization I don’t think about going up a ladder, up a rock wall or across a narrow platform. It’s not a problem because my attitude toward heights has changed. Don’t get me wrong, I have a healthy mistrust of heights, but it isn’t a paralyzing fear anymore. Now every time something happens to me I try and see if there is a different interpretation that I can put on it. 

Work Intelligently

A critique of a Demotivational poster

I love this critique. 

When you first look at this poster you think “Yes, that guy IS smarter than the others!”, but then everything the responder says is true. 

Knowing the goal and why we are trying to get there is the most important part of any job. Getting to the finish line fast, or easiest, is not always the way that is the best for the long term. There is no shortcut to learning the piano, no way to become an expert in any field without actually putting in the effort. 

To me, the author of the critique is the real one that is working intelligently. 

Presentation – How to Fail at Agile

I had a great time presenting “How to Fail at Agile” .  I mentioned that I would have the presentation posted online, so here it is! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me.

How To Fail at Agile

Agile Coach Camp Canada 2018

June 1 – 3, Cornwall Ontario

A new type of motivational poster

Being a Partner in a big firm

Years ago I was working for one of the biggest consulting companies in the world. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot from them, but one of the most important things I learned was that I was never going to advance in the organization. I didn’t have the dedication that was required to become a partner.

My boss at the time was striving to become a partner. He was driven, he was smart and he worked more than anyone I had met up until that point. He was at the office by 7am and routinely didn’t leave until 8pm.  He made all the right professional moves, he played the game very well. The problem for me was that he had a young family at home, two or three kids and a wife, and he was facing an hour commute each way. He was sacrificing his family for his career, and that his valid choice. I knew however that it wasn’t going to be my choice.

He made partner and instead of ‘taking his foot of the gas’ so to speak, they expected he keep up this pace and add more to it. It’s great that you are running a multi-million dollar, extremely high profile project for the company, but have you brought in any new work? Who are you connecting with that is going to lead to more business for us this year? His stress level went even higher than it was previously and he lasted in the partner role for just over a year before he quit.

I met with him several years later and he was not happy with his life choices. He chose work over his family and his family suffered as a consequence. He missed the first few precious years of his children’s’ lives.

It’s a choice we all have to make and live with the consequences.  Moving up in any organization requires putting in a lot of time, showing your skills and abilities, and a multitude of other factors. But it is not a gift, it is a product of a lot of time and energy that you put into the organization.  This time has to come from somewhere and it mainly comes at the expense of personal or family life.  Make the Little League game or stay for that important meeting? Be home for dinner or after everyone is in bed?

I have been challenged with this as well, but not to the same extent. Career progression is important to me but not as important as my family life. I like being able to have dinner with my wife and son. I really enjoy taking him to the bus, coaching his basketball team and his baseball team and I like to spend time with my wife. It’s a shame this has to come at the expense of upward mobility at work but it is my choice. I’m trading money and career for a lifetime of love and memories.

 

 

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