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productivity

Create Focus With Ecocycle Planning

How often have you found yourself juggling too many balls? You may start dropping things left and right in a frantic effort to keep everything in the air. You will also find yourself unable to pick up new balls as it will only add stress and chaos. This may happen to you personally. Or in your team. Or in your entire organization.

Ecocycle Planning is about exploring what it is that you’re keeping in the air (but shouldn’t), and what it is that you aren’t (but should)

In these situations, we have to rediscover our focus and creatively ‘destroy’ what isn’t valuable anymore. The Liberating Structure Ecocycle Planning is about exploring what it is that you’re keeping in the air (but shouldn’t), and what it is that you aren’t (but should). You can do this individually or with a group of people.

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Should a Distributed Company Hold All-Team Meetings?

I’ve spent a significant portion of my career working in companies that are at least partially remote/distributed. One of them was globally distributed, with no central headquarters at all. Everyone worked from their homes. When I founded VividCortex, I wanted to blend the best of both worlds, and to my credit, some of what I did has been an improvement. There are still downsides, though, and in this post, I want to explore how distributed teams can address a basic human need: seeing each other in-person.

I have a lot more thoughts about many aspects of remote/distributed work and the culture that develops with them, which I hope I can share in other blog posts someday when I get time. If you’re curious about whether I think remote/distributed teams have advantages, and whether being in an office has advantages, and whether the first or the second one is better, and whether people with clear and universal answers are wrong, the answers are "Yes, yes, yes, and yes." Beyond that, I will not go in this post, because I want to focus on the topic.

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Forget About the 10x Developer, Focus on 3x Instead

I am going to open up a controversial subject, the 10x developer myth.

This subject has been debated by the industry for decades, so why bring it up again?

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Effort vs. Productivity on Software Development

I am sure you have heard that software developers are lazy. They don’t do much most of the time and only actually work a couple of hours over the day.

When you are in an assembly plant, for example, assembling televisions, it’s an issue in that type of work if someone stops doing his task for just a couple of minutes. Those couple of minutes will mean that fewer televisions will be produced and when we convert that to money, it will raise the cost of the product.

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Software Quality Metrics that One Shouldn’t Use

Typically in an Agile software development team setup, after every sprint, the teams would have to produce a sprint report, used to review the sprint and also to report the status of the sprint to the line manager/coach. This report normally would have details about the number of lines of code produced by the team that sprint, the number of unit tests, integration tests, acceptance tests, exploratory tests, code coverage and the number of code reviews that sprint. This report will be scrutinized and critiqued if the metrics show a downward trend.

And this activity is done mostly on the first day of the sprint, which, ideally, should have been spent in sprint planning, but is invariably taken up to analyze various repositories.

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Time Management: 4 Tips for Remote Teams

Over the past decade, the way we work has changed significantly. With the rise of worldwide internet coverage and increased internet speeds, many employers choose to build remote teams and employ workers who are not geographically tied to the company’s headquarters.

The freelance workforce has seen a significant growth over the past years, and in the U.S. alone, there were 57.3 million people working as freelancers in 2017. The number of full-time remote workers is also on the rise, with managers expecting that 38% of their full-time staff will be working remotely in the next decade.

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Escaping the Predictability Trap

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, and yet we engage in an unconscious fiction of predictability every day. We work in an uncertain world, and our main goal in pursuing agility is to confront the unknown, and in doing so, to master it. Pursuing predictability causes us to lay a veneer of fiction over the real world, making it conform to a plan of what we would like to believe is true rather than what really is.

The reality, however, is that organizations, and the people in them, hate uncertainty. They find predictability comforting, even when it is an illusion. But to gain greater insight and achieve greater results, we have to strip away our false conceptions and see the world as it is. Agility without full transparency is a sham that reduces real agility to empty rituals.

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How to Foster Software Developer Productivity [Video]

Last month, we were very fortunate to have André Meyer come into Tasktop to give a presentation on fostering software developer productivity. For many years André has been working with a research team with one of our company co-founders, Gail Murphy, to address the ongoing supply and demand shortage in software delivery.

As "software continues to eat the world," the need for software is outstripping our ability to supply it. Just how do we enable and empower software developers to build better software faster and make them more productive?

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On Minimalism, Kanban, and Productivity

We used to all want to get access to as wide a range of information, things, and experiences as possible. For a while now, this has been changing — just as there is a shift in viewing the Internet as a place with all possible knowledge, to viewing it a place with all of the world’s garbage and some knowledge — in the same manner, a change in what we want to focus on in general, can be noticed.
Once you know what goals you want to achieve in life, a more specific path can be mapped out for you. In that sense, your interests and focus should be directed into that specific goal. You don’t need to know everything about everything (does anyone?); you only need to know your preferred specialties. Here is why minimalism in all shapes and forms can be applied.

And all in an effort to make life easier for yourself.

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XP: An Obsession for Simplicity and Productivity with Focus on Humanity

Venky (Enterprise Architect): “Hey dude, Agile isn’t working for us and we are wasting so much time in ceremonies with no fruitful outcomes.”

Ramesh (Agile Practitioner): “Well, let us start with the objective. What are you trying to do?”

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The 6 Best Time-Saving Tools

When you’re working as a business professional, your efficiency and productivity are typically only as good as the tools you use. Fortunately, with the advent of mobile data, smart devices, and software, the amount of time you have to spend stuck in the office on mundane tasks can be shaved down to a bare minimum. We’ve assembled a list of the best time-saving tools that also help you do more and stay organized. Here’s a quick look at each tool to help you get started.

Communications

Twilio

When you need to push communications for your business, you can do it the easy way or the hard way, and Twilio is one of the best tools to make the process as easy as possible. It allows for easy integration of text, voice and video communications through an easy-to-use API with endless scalability. As a cloud-based service, it’s easily accessible for fast tweaks on the go while remaining fully featured from day one, allowing you access to all the communication tools you need to stay in touch with your client base.

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Everything You Think About Shadow IT is Wrong

Shadow IT has been hotly debated in the tech industry for many years now, and is still an area of concern for IT leaders—it instills a fear of loss of control/security in them and leads to unregistered costs. In fact, research by Everest Group found that it comprises 50 percent or more of IT spending.

What if I told you that this loss of total control is actually the best thing that is happening to IT? It sounds crazy at first, but hear me out. There’s no doubt that the landscape of business is changing in all sectors, that the changes drive deep into the core business and the tectonic shift is ongoing and fast. This creates a significant challenge for IT as the business demands an ever-increasing level of agility and speed, but without a sacrifice of security or quality. It doesn’t seem fair. Something has to give. This is why you need to take a page from the sharing economy and actually embrace the good parts of shadow IT and while putting in guard rails to control to ensure that it fits your strategy.

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Why Giving Employees Autonomy Is So Important

Having control over what, how, when and where we work has been proven time and time again to be incredibly motivational to the modern worker. If further evidence were required, however, then a recent study from the University of Melbourne might provide it. It reveals that giving employees autonomy over their work results in higher performance levels and greater loyalty towards the employer.

The study centered on a management style known as being "autonomously supportive." This runs counter to being controlling and micromanaging employees and instead encourages and supports them. It’s largely analogous to the servant leadership that was popularized by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s.

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Virtual Collaboration: Not Just for Remote Teams Anymore

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Virtual collaboration is an excellent alternative to time-sucking in-person meetings, but few people recognize it as a viable option. That’s a shame – because people love to hate meetings.

“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” – Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith

“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” – Thomas Sowell, American writer and economist

“A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted.” Captain James T. Kirk, USS Enterprise

No one wants to sit in meetings all day, especially if they don’t feel productive. Studies found around half the meetings we attend are considered a waste of time, and that workers spend about 31 hours in unproductive meetings a month. (We have thoughts on combating unproductive meetings, btw.)

Good news is, we don’t always need to meet to get things done. We live in a virtual age, and virtual collaboration tools are here to help us connect and get the most out of our time at work.

Here are a few ideas for alternative forms of meetings and virtual collaboration tactics to help you boost productivity and stop wasting time.

What is Virtual Collaboration?

Virtual collaboration refers to working as a team, across digital tools to accomplish tasks. Virtual collaboration is old hat to distributed and virtual teams, but it’s becoming common across all types of companies. Even teams in the same building benefit from chat tools, extranets, and digital whiteboards.

Using Virtual Collaboration Instead of Meetings

Knowing why you’re having a meeting can help inform how you might move it into the digital space.

Sharing information

If the purpose of the meeting is to share information, consider turning it into an email, internal blog post or even an update in a chat room. Information sessions often get detailed, people zone out, and not everyone needs every bit of information. Presenting the information in written form allows people to skim what they need and make comments where applicable.

Additionally, people are more likely to read updates because they know it’s useful info and won’t be covered in a meeting. Taking all the valuable information and putting it in a place people can search, revisit and add comments, frees everyone up to get work done and encourages a culture of actually reading updates.

Solving problems

Studies show when people problem solve in larger groups they put in less effort, than when they work individually. It’s a psychological phenomenon known as social loafing.

So, instead of a traditional brainstorm session, consider putting together a blog post or even a Trello board outlining the problem and ask individuals to contribute thoughts.

Consider putting a deadline on feedback – “Please review this draft by Tuesday at 3 p.m.” This helps folks prioritize your request and allows them to work on it when they feel most inspired and fresh. Collaborating in an asynchronous manner enables people to build their own daily agendas, avoids disrupting creative workflows, counters social loafing, and helps introverts feel more comfortable sharing ideas.

Taking Action

When you’re using virtual collaboration, consider having explicit to-do lists in your shared workspaces or project management programs. Start building a culture of accountability around task assignments and deadlines. If no one mentions when a deadline is missed people think it’s acceptable and projects can get off track.

Sometimes asynchronous collaboration can get messy and actually cost time. That’s when a team chat room or even video chat comes in handy.

Tip: Look for ways to flag decisions and action items in your chat tool so the whole team has a shared understanding. (Hint: Stride offers this natively.)

Collaboration tools can make meetings more effective. More importantly, they cut down on the need for meetings in the first place. 

  • Chat tool: Ideally, choose one with different rooms for specific tasks and projects and a video chat option. Being able to reach your team at any time in any place is hugely valuable for getting stuff done and essential for virtual collaboration. Chat tools can also help with decision making and task assigning.
  • Internal blogging/document sharing/content management system: Every organization produces a crazy amount of documentation, and once you starting collaborating virtually having information accessible, searchable, and organized becomes critical. You need to be able to jump into a draft and make changes on the fly or move dates around on a calendar.
  • Project management software: Having a way to define and assign tasks to your team, share files and images, and track workflows are crucial to successful virtual collaboration. You can’t reach your goal if you don’t know where you’re going or where you’ve been. A project management tool helps you see your path and brings everyone along the journey together.

Whether your team is distributed across the globe or all sitting at the same large table, putting everything in a collaboration tool (instead of siloed in locked docs and inboxes), lets everyone stay informed without having to call a meeting.

Tools are only part of the teamwork equation. You also need people willing to be open and share work and agreed upon practices. Be sure to consider who is including in these chat rooms and on these live documents. Just like it sucks being invited to a meeting that you didn’t need to go to, it also sucks to get a bunch of alerts and pings on projects that don’t concern you.

However, you decide to run your virtual collaboration sessions, make sure there’s a stated set of best practices.

These practices might be:

  • Civility and kindness are required. Sometimes it’s easier to be cruel when someone isn’t right in front of you. The group should make it clear insensitive or belittling language will not be tolerated — virtually or otherwise.
  • Once a decision is reached, a corresponding task is assigned to the right person. One of the reasons meetings often feel ineffective is people often leave without clear action items. Make these virtual collaboration sessions valuable by ending with a plan.

With the right tools, people and practices in place, you have a clear roadmap for a healthy virtual collaboration culture, freeing your team up to get more work done from basically anywhere. 

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Black Tech Founder Leading the Evolution of Enterprise Time Management

Have you ever been at work and felt like eight hours was way too much time to be mulling around when the day’s task at hand should only take about two? Well, Kishau Rogers is disrupting the time magement industry with Time Study, an enterprise-level solution for time tracking.

Time Study uses machine learning, mobile technology, and passive data signals to automatically provide insights to key stakeholders regarding how time is spent, without the use of timesheets and manual methods of time tracking. They are also focusing their efforts on aligning time-spent with impact and real outcomes.

Black Enterprise caught up with Rogers to find out how she came up with the solution and how effective it has been for her clients.

Black Enterprise: How did you come up with this enterprise solution?

Kishau Rogers: I have 24 years of experience building software solutions for enterprise clients in the health and research sector. For the past 14 years as a technology entrepreneur, I’ve had the opportunity to help health organizations use technology to streamline their financial cost reporting. In working closely with these clients, I recognized an opportunity to innovate and disrupt how large businesses “do” time management. I observed the typical time management solutions, the impact of varying data collection and reporting requirements, and the increase in administrative overhead dedicated to managing this data. I also learned that outdated time tracking technology costs the U.S. economy $7.4 billion/day in productivity (50 million hours)*. These outdated methods increase administrative overhead while enabling companies to collect data that is largely inaccurate (40% of working time recalled inaccurately or not reported at all).

Businesses are “groomed” for collecting time sheets. I launched Time Study to eliminate self-reported time sheets and reduce the overhead currently required for enterprise time management. Our platform enables a shift in mindset regarding how corporations report, evaluate, and value work-time. Our product roadmap is designed to gradually move businesses from these old methods to the future of time reporting.

*Data source: https://hbr.org/2015/01/workers-are-bad-at-filling-out-timesheets-and-it-costs-billions-a-day

2. How many companies are currently using the solution?

Time Study launched in 2017. Our product is currently in use in approximately 20 hospitals across the United States. Our clients include notable research health enterprises such as Columbia University Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medicine.

3. How have you seen this help businesses?

Our solution enables our clients to:

  • Achieve accurate “time sheets” with as little disruption to a person’s normal workflow as possible, resulting in a reduction of administrative overhead.
  • Take structured and instructed data and transform it into insightful reporting that meets the business stakeholder’s requirements for time reporting (a burden that is often shifted to employees).
  • Create rich(er) data stores which improve data quality by 90% and recovers 80% of leaked revenues.
  • In the health sector, our solution streamlines cost reporting by automatically quantifying time using machine learning, mobile technology, and passive signals from electronic records.

Our current clients have indicated that they enjoy:

  • Automated Communication – Our system includes an automated communication system to empower and notify enterprise employees regarding how their time is collected, interpreted, and reported.
  • Quick deployment and Flexible Administrative Control – We can deploy an enterprise-level solution in less than one business day; our platform allows us to support a complex number of data collection and business rules without writing a single new line of code.
  • Excellent, dedicated customer service – Due to our team’s prior experience supporting enterprise clients, our help desk runs smoothly. Our end-users have five methods to receive support: documentation, videos, on-screen help, open a ticket, and phone. We offer predictable levels of service and are able to quickly triage tickets into three categories: questions, problems, tasks.

Join the Conversation

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Your Future Is In People with a Learning Agile Mindset

In today’s business world, companies are challenged to deliver exceptional customer experiences. But, by focusing on your people and employing a learning Agile mindset, applied technology skills, and the right technology platform, you can ensure a competitive and marketable future for your organization.

New technologies are released every day, and it’s easy to get lost in the hype. However, we must remember that true success in the twenty-first century business world is mostly about people. Organizations can transform their businesses for the better only if they are willing to empower those closest to the job to solve problems, make decisions, collaborate, and innovate.

Passionate about improving stakeholder experiences, your most valuable human talent comes from a variety of backgrounds and generations. These individuals are intimately versed in your organization’s most pressing problems and know how to use data and processes to solve them. A get-it-done attitude coupled with powerful technology at their disposal put these employees in a position to enact formidable change.

The problem-solvers I described above have two common traits. The first is strong business acumen. They keenly understand their business processes and the data that supports those processes, so they can leverage technology to solve any problems that arise.

The second is a “learning Agile” mindset. Learning agility is an openness to information and the ability to gain and apply insights based on past and current experiences. Learning Agile workers aren’t bothered by and may actually welcome shifts in direction. They are focused on the end state and are willing to relentlessly put themselves out there and shred obstacles to achieve a desired outcome.

Learning agility is good for business. A recent study by Columbia University and Green Peak Partners found that private equity-backed c-suite leaders who ranked high for learning agility on an assessment test also outperformed less-Agile peers as measured by revenue growth and “boss ratings” issued by their Boards.

Some employees are naturally more amenable to learning Agile than others, but there are things leaders can do to increase the prevalence of this trait in their organizations. The simplest is to encourage your team to ask questions and take risks. Don’t dismiss ideas out of hand, even if they sound crazy at the beginning. Reflect on where you’ve succeeded — and failed — and continuously revisit your learnings. Actively reward experimentation, and don’t blame or criticize your co-workers if a risk goes bad. Learning agility and its cousin innovation cannot flourish in a culture of fear.

Empower Your Talent with the Right Skills and Technology

In days gone by, people outside of IT didn’t need to know anything about software or technology. That is no longer the case. In a recent study I conducted with my nonprofit organization the Career Advisory Board, we found that organizations are expecting employees at all levels and in all functions to have applied technology skills.

Applied technology skills involve a solid understanding of how to integrate people, process, data, and devices to effectively make business decisions, and to leverage technology to solve problems, collaborate, and innovate. They include the ability to:

  • Adapt to different software packages and embrace their use
  • Understand new types of projects and how to utilize the IT resources available to them
  • Connect the various technology systems already in place

When asked to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “When I interview a prospective candidate, the presence of applied technology skills and experience is a competitive differentiator,” nearly 70 percent of our respondents agreed. The desire for leaders to have these skills is even higher (76 percent of the managers who hire senior-level candidates agreed).

Training existing employees in applied technology skills is a tall order, in part because current professionals did not receive this type of instruction via traditional education paths. It’s also not something that can be done overnight. However, by taking steps to develop internal and external courses and training, by reimbursing relevant tuition, and by encouraging mentorship, you can grow your organization’s base of applied technology skills.

App Development Skills Are Increasing in Relevance

The ability to develop apps to solve specific business problems is an applied technology skill of increasing relevance. And, with the right technology platform in place, knowledge workers don’t have to be programmers or coders to take advantage of this skill.

It didn’t used to be this way. Just a decade or so ago, application development required highly specialized programming skills like .NET and Java as well as complete IT control over the development process and tools. But today, organizations are discovering a new breed of high-productivity application platforms that support faster development (in a matter of hours, days or weeks) while offering a better fit with business needs and processes.

These platforms simplify the development process by enabling configuration via menus, graphical editors, and visual models. They facilitate data sharing, automation, and innovation, enabling line-of-business employees to participate directly in digital transformation and drive operational efficiencies as a result.

According to John Rymer, author of the 2017 report, The Forrester New Wave: Low-Code Platforms for Business Developers, these platforms address workflow, information mapping, and mobile app capabilities, but most importantly, they raise the productivity of underserved teams in sales, marketing, field service, supply chain, and retail among others. Business users can develop apps themselves without getting stuck in the IT backlog, and they need not do so in a vacuum.

To integrate a new app-building platform into your development infrastructure, you must know what to look for. To start, the solution you select should be a tool that makes application building easy and accessible by business users doing the work, who are, after all, the true experts on the customer, the problem, the data, and the processes. The platform should make it possible to capture a business process, gather feedback, and make changes to apps on the fly. It enables business developers and their users to track and measure performance, and retrieve reported insights from any location, across any device — with no need to develop separate apps for mobile devices or to manually upgrade the platform (it happens automatically in the cloud).

Would you like to learn more about leveraging new application building platforms to transform your employees’ productivity and workflow, facilitate their goals, and create a bright future for your organization?

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Top 6 Advantages of using Cloud Automation Testing for your Enterprise

The software testing domain has been heavily reliant on Automation, or Automated Testing. Using Automation Testing, the pros have far surpassed the cons. Cloud-based automated testing is undoubtedly the best approach to follow in the software industry. Cloud architectures have significantly molded the way businesses function. According to Forrester, more than 50% of worldwide operations will depend on at least one public cloud platform to manage digital transformation and meet customer expectations.  Not only that, Forrester also forecasts that the total global public cloud market will be $178 billion in 2018, up from $146 billion in 2017, and will generate $44 billion in 2018.

With the development of cloud technology and industries that are leaning towards increased acceptance of workflows, cloud test automation has gained high traction among QA specialists and has led to a significant revolution in the software development cycle.

Major factors for this adoption include the cloud’s capacity to produce better solutions to multiple test automation obstacles, and the constant pressure to deliver high-quality software products with minimal delivery time.

1. Real-Time Collaboration

Collaboration and communication tools are developed to increase efficiencies and users can easily add multiple comments to all the stages of the project structure like applications, versions, and test cases. Similarly, cloud-based test automation tools provide broad versatility and effective collaboration mainly for businesses that have disparate teams spread worldwide

Cloud automation testing makes it easier for QA Analysts to easily cooperate in real-time with each other as they have a higher availability of tools, test suites, and reports. While promoting DevOps and Test Automation Strategy for Digital Transformation, it effectively automates the delivery pipeline which results in improved efficiency and high reusability of test components.

2. Time and Cost Effective

Cloud automation testing tools expect zero primary setup time since everything is pre-designed and there is no need for any installations or updates for every automation testing tool. The entire sequence of testing tools is integrated into one single solution. It has multiple project management tools, such as version management, requirements management, and test case management along with execution environment management, team management, test reporting, and many more.

Research shows about 30% of defects are associated with the inaccurate configuration of test environments, and cloud-based testing that considerably reduces capex as well as operational costs. The major task is to choose a top-notch cloud service provider where they will be responsible for build, execution, and updates that you pay per use beyond their wide range of services and subscription models.

3. Easy Access to Resources

Software tests can be executed anytime and anywhere which leads to improved software development and deployment processes. And for the tool to get started, the only thing for the user to do is to login the tool as the tools are already available to you in and out of your workstation.

This fosters the new trend of remote personnel where a team consists of skilled workers stationed across the globe. All of them can access the tool at a suitable time provided they have the required authorization.

4. Various Environments & Platforms Support

Since a number of devices, browsers, operating systems, and platforms are test targets, an important consideration is to support testing on several environments or platforms at the same time rather than having a scheduled progression.

Parallel testing is a key component of cloud test automation which enables clients to cover multiple versions, platforms, and devices at the same time, saving an immense amount of testing time.

In addition, it allows active and speedy testing alongside a faster turnaround in deployments and is a strong business case for Agile methods and continuous integration. A few of these top-notch cloud automation providers have already included mobile, tablets and also on-the-spot access to virtualized test resources.

Also Read: Top 5 Features of Automated Cross-Browser Testing Tools

5. Test Environment Compatibility

Every now and then, you need more hardware resources than accessible to you for a specific task and sometimes you need only a few. Cloud-based automated testing tools provide extensibility to access resources exactly as per needs, and you need to pay only for the resources that you make use of. Moreover, since the infrastructure is virtual, it can be set up easily with few changes in the configuration.

6. Enables the Application to Achieve Market Faster

In today’s fast-paced industry scenario, time is of great importance, primarily when it is applicable to highly complex application needs. The time that is actually taken for a plan to be produced into an application and placed out in the market needs to be precise and well defined. Cloud-based testing tools decrease time-to-market to a great extent. Several perks that offer easy building of testing infrastructure, real-time reports, extended collaboration, and effective testing helps increase the pace of development and testing process.

The need for innovative concepts, creative advancements, and quality software with faster time to market drives cloud test automation to play a leading role in product development and the testing lifecycle, and turns into the most sought out testing approach where organizations will continue adopting cloud paradigms and reap their benefits in the future.

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How To Build Successful Multi-Cultural Teams

I wrote recently about the productivity boost organizations receive when employees work outside their native land. This trend towards increasingly multi-cultural teams not only benefits us as individuals, but the diversity brings innumerable benefits to us collectively.

Research has previously shown, however, that as diversity increases, the coordination costs increase, too. This can hamper attempts to collaborate or even work effectively as a team. It suggests a cultural sweet spot upon which peak productivity sits.

A recent study explored this issue in more depth to find out how the cultural background of team members influence how they work together. The research suggests that people from a multi-cultural background can play a crucial role in brokering the connections required for diverse teams to thrive.

Cultural Brokerage

These “cultural brokers” come in two main forms. Cultural insiders were defined as people who share a cultural background with at least one other member of the team, whereas a cultural outsider was one who did not.

It’s easy to assume that cultural insiders would be much more effective brokers than outsiders, but the evidence didn’t support that. What mattered most of all was the mere presence of a multicultural individual, regardless of whether they were an insider or an outsider. Teams with this added diversity consistently outperformed mono-cultured teams.

When the actual team dynamics were analyzed, it emerged that the two types of broker connected up their teams in different ways. Cultural insiders would integrate ideas from different cultures, but the cultural outsiders would elicit ideas from different cultures instead.

In other words, insiders would combine information and ideas from their team into something unique, whereas outsiders would utilize a much more participatory approach, with information and ideas drawn out of their teammates.

Two subtly different approaches, but the results are clear. Having a multi-cultural team improved the performance of the teams by roughly 28%.

The Right Personalities

With this study suggesting that multi-cultural teams are more creative and productive, perhaps the next question is what can organizations do to capitalize on this finding? The obvious start point is to encourage employees to take on overseas assignments.

Finding the right candidates for such assignments is not always easy, however. A recent study from Florida Atlantic University suggests that there are specific personality types that tend to thrive on overseas deployments.

“Oftentimes, expatriates have difficulty adjusting to this new environment. They can suffer poor well-being, experience conflict between their work life and family life, perform poorly and turnover,” the authors say. “All expatriates are different. Maybe some are more adept to adjusting effectively where others aren’t. We wanted to understand what characteristics of expatriates make them more or less likely to adjust effectively.”

When they explored matters according to the five key personality traits of emotional stability, openness, extroversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness, it emerged that three of these had a considerable impact on the subsequent success of the expatriate.

The data revealed that those who responded best to overseas assignments tended to be extroverts who were emotionally stable and open to new experiences. The authors suggest this is because extroverts are better at forming new social networks that help them with both the informational and emotional aspects of adjusting to a new culture.

Emotional stability was also crucially important, however, as the whole experience of adapting to a new culture can be incredibly stressful.

“Having strong emotional reactions to these types of stimuli acts as a barrier to effective adjustment,” the authors say. “People who are very emotionally stable, they’re not as affected by the culture shock and the various stressors that are faced on assignment; they are much more even-tempered and this helps them to adjust better in the face of these various stressors.”

Lastly, openness to new experiences was also important as you often fail to understand how to interpret unfamiliar behaviors. Those with high openness to new experiences would regard such things as novel and enjoyable.

Good Return on Investment

Sending employees overseas can be a significant investment. It’s crucial, therefore, that you only choose people who are well-suited to such a task as they will be required to adapt to new environments whilst also maintaining high levels in their day job. As such, personality tests should be included as part of career development processes to ensure the right people are selected.

Indeed, the authors believe that their findings could also be valuable for individuals who think that an overseas assignment is something they want to try.

“The stakes are very high, and that’s why we think it was so important to go beyond the existing research and look at the dispositions of people on foreign assignment,” they conclude. “Expatriates have their own characteristics that they bring with them, and these characteristics impact how they react to the various stressors faced on assignment and the behaviors they engage in overseas that have implications for adjustments.”

Developing multi-cultural teams can yield tremendous results, but it needs careful management in order to get it right. Hopefully, this post will help to guide you down the right path towards achieving that.

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What Are You and Your Team Avoiding?

Think of it like an app running in the background.

Over time, avoidance drains our battery.

What we avoid is still being processed and affecting our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Sometimes we are aware this is running in the background, and we catch ourselves thinking about it. Then we try to distract ourselves. Often we don’t even have awareness, and the effects still show up.

Because we are human beings with integrated (not compartmentalized) lives, avoidance in one area often impacts other aspects of our lives. From how we interact with our co-workers to how we engage with our community. It impacts how we show up for our family and how we show up as leaders in our organizations. From how we nurture our friendships to how we take care of our own needs.

Avoidance Manifests in Individuals, Teams, and Organizations

Things individuals may avoid:

  • Asking for open and honest feedback…and actually listening with openness and honesty;
  • Apologizing and admitting we were wrong…and truly meaning it;
  • Looking at where we want to grow;
  • Articulating that wild and crazy idea;
  • Admitting we are not satisfied, longing for something new or different…and actually doing something about it;
  • Expanding our skillset and trying something new.

Things teams may avoid:

  • Having an open and honest discussion about low quality…and actually doing something about it;
  • Being transparent about technical debt and its impacts;
  • Addressing a team member whose work is consistently not meeting expectations;
  • Being open with stakeholders about an unrealistic release date;
  • Learning that what we are building isn’t the right thing;
  • Trying a new technology, new design pattern, or new practice before we know exactly how to do it.

Things organizations may avoid:

  • Knowing the real value the organization is delivering, or not delivering;
  • Removing people who are toxic…even if they have subject matter expertise;
  • Sacrificing short-term success for long-term gain;
  • Making a choice about what is most important…and honoring that choice with supportive actions and realistic expectations;
  • Admitting the old business model isn’t working anymore;
  • Discussing a lack of employee engagement (and doing something about it).

We Tell Ourselves Stories to Avoid Difficult Things.

And the battery keeps draining.

Many times we point at the “other” as a mechanism for avoidance.

I am not going to look at my own mistakes and where I need to grow because the bigger problem is with team dysfunction and organizational culture.

Often I see teams point at organizational impediments and avoid dealing with challenges that are actually within their control.

There is a lot of effort going into these stories of justification. We dance around the unpleasant topics. All of this effort continues to drain the battery.

Busyness is a Symptom of Avoidance.

We are a culture of people who have bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.” – Brene Brown

I’ve had relationships with colleagues, friends, and family broken (or nearly broken) because one or both of us was avoiding a difficult conversation.

I’ve worked in and with organizations where I sensed that a large number of people, from the front-line employees to senior leaders, had strong gut feelings that they were going in the wrong direction. Yet it was not allowed to spend a day or two coming together to assess and re-align.

Because they were too busy. Hitting the date was too important. That seemed like a lot of money to spend.

So they kept avoiding the difficult conversations, facing reality, and admitting they didn’t really know if they would be successful. And this actually put them at greater risk of failure. And it cost them much more in the end.

What is the Solution?

Get curious about avoidance.

You are specifically looking for that app running in the background, draining the battery, and taking energy away from where you want to focus it.

Start with yourself.

  • What are you avoiding?
  • Why are you avoiding it?
  • How is this affecting your thoughts, emotions, and actions?

Then consider what your team (and you as a part of that team) is avoiding. Notice what your organization is avoiding.

  • What symptoms do you see?
  • What stories are being told? When is busyness used as an excuse?
  • In what ways can you see the battery draining?

Finally, dig into these powerful questions:

  • What is avoidance costing you/us?
  • What is possible when you/we deal directly with what you/we are avoiding?
  • How can you/we take the lead in bringing transparency, awareness, and truth to what is happening?
  • How can you/we help create more clarity and alignment to purpose?

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Time Wasters in Project Management

A project’s success stems from a number of things. Among others, it includes sensible planning, professionalism of the team members and individual productivity levels.

Nevertheless, there are certain aspects to almost every project that take more time than planned. This leads to missed deadlines and incomplete task scopes. Do you remember the last time your project met the deadlines? In this article, we are going to discuss three central problems with project time.

1. Poor or Incomplete Specifications

Product specs may cause all sorts of problems. For example, a task may lack a detailed solution and remain unfinished or it may need revision. Among common issues with specifications are the absence of clear metrics and use-cases, unclear goals and blurred timelines.

A typical example of this is when a group of developers gets a task from their PM and start working, however, the result is not what manager had expected. The individual vision of people who perform the task may vary from the manager’s one. It is the problem of poor specifications. The best practice is to make a checklist for specifications; that will save time on writing specifications and will improve the accuracy of execution as small details will not be missed.

2. Lame Communication

Communication is the core of efficient work, though sometimes it takes too much time to talk. Reasons behind that vary greatly. It may be poor specs (as discussed above), or it may be long meetings without a clear understanding of why or what we are discussing. A solution is simple: meetings should be pre-planned and they should have a distinct goal. Set objectives from the start.

Means of communication matter, too. Imagine if half of your team is using Slack, while others prefer Skype or even writing e-mails. Hence, the information gets lost or misinterpreted because of order inconsistency. Eventually, the team loses the full understanding of the situation. Mistakes occur, and nobody knows who is responsible for what. It is essential to pick the right tools and encourage all of your team to use them. Don’t underestimate internal communication.

3. Workflow Chaos

It is important to manage tasks and to track progress. Without the right tools, it turns into an agony. For example, a team may use a number of separate Excel charts to keep track of their projects, or apply a dozen different software tools. This leads to confusion, data misinterpretation or inconsistency, poor data visibility.

The problem can be addressed in a bunch of ways. Some dev teams choose a bug tracker like Jira to manage their scopes and track progress. Others implement the Kanban system and stick post-it notes on a board. Another convenient way is to use a time-tracking software. In addition to submitting hours, it allows assigning tasks to your team, follow progress and compare estimates with the real time spent.

Summary

To conclude, we must admit that it is entirely in the hands of a project manager to make things work. That is a simple thing called a job description. There are many aspects to this problem of wasted time in project management, this article covers only the top three. If you figure those out, things will definitely turn for the better! Guaranteed.

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Time Management Apps for Boosting Your Efficiency at Work

As hard as we try to be more efficient and productive at work, it’s often hard to adopt better time management practices without using special tools. Here’s our selection of the best time management apps that will help you boost your concentration, spend less time on routine activities, and be aware of how you’re using your time.

1. Focus Booster: Focus@Will

The app uses neuroscience to improve concentration. It’s scientifically proven that specific types of sounds contribute focusing and productivity. Based on this knowledge, Focus@Will app has been developed. Its authors created a short algorithm for selecting the right music on the basis of personality type, and developed over 50 music channels that boost focus.

The app is cloud-based, so there’s no need to install anything or store music collections on your PC or smartphone. After subscribing, you can listen to your music channel from any device. The authors claim 4x focus increase and exponential productivity growth.

2. Pomodoro Timer: Tomighty

If you ever worked on your productivity, you most likely know about Pomodoro time management technique. In its original idea, a simple kitchen timer is used. However, why not use a software timer for that? Tomighty is a free and open-source app that is installed as a desktop app Windows and MacOS and provides three different modes: Pomodoro, short break, and long break mode.

3. Time-Tracker: actiTIME

When working on time management skills and habits, the crucial point is knowing where your time goes. A time-tracking and time management app like actiTIME can be of help here: with it, it’s easy to collect information on time expenses and then summarize the data. Detailed reports and colorful charts provide an overview of how you spend your time.

actiTIME is available as an on-premise app and a cloud service and offers packages for teams of any size. It helps freelancers, small and medium businesses, and large companies improve time management practices.

4. To-do List: Clear

Creating nice and clear to-do lists to avoid overlooking something important in your daily routine increases productivity – this app is a great tool for that. The app helps unclutter your work process even if you have too many small tasks. With its multiple lists, you can sort your tasks by various areas: work, household, shopping etc.

Personalize your lists by selecting different color themes for them. Check what needs to get done soon in Today’s tasks view – this way you won’t miss out anything. Another helpful feature is iCloud sync: with it, it’s possible to access your task lists from anywhere.

5. Mindmap App: MindMeister

Mind maps are an efficient way to organize ideas. Use this tool to create your mind maps, share them with friends or colleagues, and work on them together. Such collaboration features as chat, comments and voting help develop great ideas in less time.

The tool also allows to visualize your ideas and prepare presentations. MindMeister has a built-in presentation module that converts your mind maps into informative and colorful presentations within a second. This way, you can communicate your ideas to others in an easy and efficient way.

6. Data Organizer: Evernote

Evernote is a tool that needs no introductions. If you’re not using it yet, consider adopting it. It provides a simple way to collect and organize all necessary information, helping you avoid wasting time on recalling what and where you’ve found and saved.

7. Email Organizer: Yesware

We all know what a time-waster inbox is. Spam and constant distractions for checking it seems to be the worst enemies of focus and productivity. A mindful time management approach involves optimization of this part of work, and Yesware is one of the tools that offers a solution to the inbox problem.

Yesware is a complex email management app that helps you schedule your communication, automate your emails by using templates, and manage follow-ups. If you’re a Salesforce user, you’ll also appreciate automatic sync of your emails, attachments, and meetings with it.

8. Meetings Manager: Clara

Speaking of meetings, the Clara app is worth mentioning. It is a meeting scheduling tool designed for HRs and other employees whose work involves multiple meetings. It helps you schedule, coordinate, and send invitations to all involved parties. The app is a great way to stop wasting time on manual coordination by email and phone.

9. Bookmarking App: Pocket

Do you consume a lot of information? If so, you’ll definitely appreciate Pocket, the bookmarking app. When you find a useful or interesting content, just save it to read later when you have time. This way, you’ll avoid getting distracted, save time, and discover new content. Pocket is available for mobile devices, desktops, and browsers.

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What’s in the Metrics?

Everyone’s supervisor wants to know the metrics behind their Agile journey.

Some of the most frequently-asked questions during Agile Scrum training are:

  • “There are a lot of metrics to measure. Which one I should pick up to track the progress of my team?”

  • “I use both the methodologies Scrum & Kanban within our iterations and I don’t want to confuse my team members with different metrics from time to ntime.”

  • “I thought my daily stand-ups are effective, but many times the last-minute spill-over surprises me.”

  • “My manager keeps telling me constantly to “raise the bar” to build a high-performing team. I am not even sure where we are today to consider the next level”

Scrum espouses principles of “transparency, inspection, adaption,” Kanban’s philosophy involves “visualization, limiting WIP & enhancing flow,” and Extreme Programming values “communication, simplicity & feedback.” But the common theme revolves around visibility of work inclusive of blockers for the team, not only to understand where we are but also to do course correction.

Throughput and cycle time of the deliverables are two vital parameters to understand the progress as well as the projection of completion based on the current timeline.

While there are different charts and measurements that help in understanding throughput and cycle time – burn-up or burn-down in Scrum, visual flow in Kanban, velocity in extreme programming – cumulative flow diagram is one powerful chart that works effectively irrespective of the Agile methodologies the team operates in.

“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.” – John W. Tukey

Let me explain the power of a cumulative flow diagram as compared to other charts in understanding the flow better for actionable outcomes.

Below is the summary of the work planned and achieved by the team over 10 days:

Image title

Let us explore a simple burn-down chart that depicts the ideal work remaining vs. actual work remaining:

Image title

Burn-down helps in understanding if we are on target or behind in comparison with ideal work remaining. It doesn’t directly reflect the change though.

Now, let us the same through burn-up chart:

Image title

While this also helps in understanding work remaining, we can see the change in scope after Day-5.

Both the burn-up and burn-down charts focus on work completed and work remaining from customer perspective. While these are great measures, we also need to understand the intermediate flow (movement from one state to another) to be able to understand blockers and impediments.

Let us represent the above with a simple stacked bar chart:

Image title

Much better, isn’t it? This depicts the progress through various stages as well as the scope change (the spike on Day 6).

It’s time to covert the stacked bar chart into stacked area chart.

Image title

Bingo! Here comes our superhero cumulative flow diagram to our rescue to be able to deep dive further. Each colored area represents the flow (in the above, it is “Yet to Start”, “In Progress”, “Done,” and “Shipped”) and shift from one to another depicts throughput.

There are several important key takeaways from this chart which helps in further inspection & adaption:

  • Scope Change: Change in overall horizontal line. In the above chart, the change occurred on Day 6 and is stable after that.
  • Thin Flow: Thin flow represents a quicker process. “Done” flow is faster compared to “In Progress”. If we need to lean overall throughput, then our focus should be on the “In Progress” flow.
  • Average Lead Time: The horizontal shift from “Yet to Start” to “Shipped”
  • Cycle Time: The horizontal shift from one state to another. For example, “In Progress” to “Done” will provide the cycle time.
  • WIP: It’s important to measure the work-in-progress since limiting WIP expedites the progress. The vertical line within one state provides the number of items that are being processed (a.k.a) WIP.

It’s a myth that the cumulative flow diagram is only for Kanban methodology. It provides immense value across the board. Cumulative flow diagram can be plotted for stories/tasks within an iteration. Hence is a great value addition in Scrum as well. It can also be expanded for features at program level and epics at the portfolio level. Thus, it provides benefits at various persona levels: Scrum master, program manager, product manager and business stakeholders. This is applicable not just in information technology; this visual representation helps in understanding and taking action in any day-to-day activity that we would like to optimize the overall experience/flow of.

It’s a great tool, not just to track and troubleshoot development projects, but also for maintenance and operation projects. You gain better insights using a cumulative flow design, and it helps in driving meaningful retrospection.

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Want to Know How to Kill Your Team’s Productivity?

“Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.”

It was obvious for the late Stephen Hawking and many great achievers in the past, but is it still true for most of us? There must be something in our daily work routines that makes us feel better about ourselves. And it must be a bit more than the trivial fleshpots of Egypt, a self-pleasing ratio of our output to our input, that brings much desired satisfaction and success, and is commonly known as “productivity.” Individual and shared, productivity is essential for all entrepreneurial endeavors, for all businesses big or small.

So what does it take to be productive as a team? Are there ways to control it? In the end of the day it all boils down to good management.

Without a doubt, nothing is given so freely as advice. So for those who enjoy slaying boredom and hate killing time here are some tips on how to kill your employees’ productivity (instead of effectively killing proverbial birds with stones):

Distracting factors help

Open space offices and noise pollution are things we’ve long been living with happily. Free communication and lack of hierarchy are well-achieved when everyone is in the same room, sitting at the desks next to each other. They all can talk about their anxieties and problems and collaborate very loudly, leaving no chance for focused work. Endless phone calls, bursts of sudden laughter, and constant door slams provide brilliant background noise turning your office space into the least comfortable workplace in the world. Who said that your colleague’s messenger signals are annoying?!

Run tons of useless meetings

Meetings are great if you have things to say, or they may be even greater if you don’t. You want to pass around minor plan updates, catch up on certain projects and give instructions to some of the team leads? Bring everyone in the office together and talk about things irrelevant for most, jumping from one topic to another and constantly interrupting everyone. Your employees will soon develop a great distaste for meetings that take a good portion of their work day, suck out their energy and leave less time for actual tasks.

Let chaos reign

Clear workflow — what a joke! Chaos has never harmed anyone; it is order that suppresses talent and creativity. Lack of streamlined work process helps your team do more in less time, given they choose things randomly, guided by their intuition and good spirit. Precise task descriptions are redundant, as they limit employees’ ability to think and express themselves freely. How on earth will they start thinking out of the box if you tell them exactly what they are supposed to do?! Productivity also drops dramatically if the team knows where the project is heading. Lower-level employees don’t need to see the big picture — it kills the thrill before the unknown.

Stop planning time

Time management is old news these days. First of all, it is boring. Besides it does nothing for output growth. Who cares about deadlines and timesheets in rapidly changing environment we find ourselves in? We have to respond to challenges that pop up out of nowhere and make us forget about time estimates once and for all. Don’t even bother getting time-tracking software, tell your team what to do in real-time mode. Forget about delusional time planning that turns exciting tasks into tedious day-to-day routines.

More micromanagement

It is not a secret that micromanagement demonstrates good leadership. Be with your employees, guide them, teach them and lead them, make them fear and respect you. It will, without doubt, benefit their engagement and productivity, will build trust and ambition to succeed. Fear is truly the most powerful motivator known to man; it’s helped great rulers build empires, and it will definitely aid your leadership and will boost performance of your team.

Never praise top performers

Some of your team are more productive than the others? Demotivate them. Control them at every little step, they need their manager’s support more than anyone else — failure awaits at every corner. Never talk to them about their work process, trying to understand how they’ve managed to get ahead of their colleagues. It is unhealthy to differ from the rest of the team. Stop noticing their achievements at once, there is nothing to acknowledge — just give them more tasks!

Say no to “one-on-one” meetings

There is nothing embarrassing in criticizing an employee in public. They all are part of one team and there is nothing to hide. Transparency is the key, not just to democracy, but to healthy working environment in the office. Why would we have open-plan spaces otherwise? Don’t hesitate to tell team members off at their workplace, it is educational for the others and besides you invest your time well. All those talks in private are in the past, peers should learn from each other’s mistakes. No room for awkwardness and hurt feelings.

Sustain the gap

Never try to make friends with your employees. Keep them at arm’s length, at all costs. Make them feel miserable; they need it to work harder. Don’t analyze why some of them are leaving — you cannot tell what goes on in other people’s hearts and minds. Productivity only stems from strong management, detached from personal ties.

Conclusion

As we all know – it is the little things that matter most. Overall productivity levels are fully dependent on such little things. And it is in the hands of good leaders to enable their employees to show best results and more importantly to help them find purpose in life through work. So, don’t kill time, make the right decisions and as Winston Churchill recommended: “If you are going through hell, keep going…”

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A First Look at dbForge Studio for MySQL

dbForge Studio for MySQL is a powerful integrated development environment (IDE) for MySQL from Devart, an industry leader known for its database development tools. In this article, we will discuss some of its features database developers, analysts, DBAs, or architects may find useful.

Disclaimer

This is not a product promotion article. The author is not affiliated with Devart or any other company associated with Devart.

General Features

Access to a Wide Range of MySQL Flavors

dbForge Studio for MySQL is compatible with a wide range of MySQL flavors, storage engines, and connection protocols. Besides the open-source MySQL database engine, it can connect to MariaDB, Amazon Aurora for MySQL, Google Cloud MySQL, and Percona Server to name a few. Other exotic distributions include Oracle MySQL cloud, Alibaba cloud, and Galera cluster. We were able to seamlessly connect it to an Amazon RDS MariaDB instance. When we tried to do the same from MySQL Workbench. it showed us the following message:

MySQL Workbench Warning

MySQL Workbench did connect to the MariaDB instance after the warning, but we could not see the system databases from its navigation pane.

Look and Feel

The user interface of dbForge Studio has a modern, intuitive look and feel. Tabbed panes, non-cluttered toolbars, and context-specific menus make navigation through the tool fairly simple.

dbForge Studio for MySQL UI

Those familiar working with Visual Studio will feel right at home with its default “skin.” There are other skins to change the UI theme:

dbForge Studio for MySQL "skins"

Command Line Automation

One really good feature of dbForge is that most actions on the UI can be exported to an operating system command. There is a button labelled “Save Command Line…” with most dialog boxes. This allows the action of the dialog box to be exported as an operating system command. The options chosen in the dialog box become parameters for the command. This can help users automate regular database tasks from their desktop:

Command Line Execution File Settings

For the Database Developer

Code Snippets

A good IDE should help developers save time and automate tasks as much as possible. When it comes to developer productivity, dbForge for MySQL offers some of the industry standard features like code completion, syntax checking, code formatting or code snippets. Here are some examples of code completion and code snippets:

Code Auto Complete

Creating Code Snippets

Using Code Snippets

Object Dependencies

Objects like tables or views can be checked for their relationships to other objects in the database. This can be done by choosing the “Depends On” or “Used By” folders from the object tree. The dependencies are shown in recursive manner. This can be really handy when troubleshooting or debugging code:

Checking Object Dependencies in dbForge Studio for MySQL

The CRUD Generator

Another good feature of this tool is the CRUD generator. Right clicking on a table and selecting CRUD from the popup menu will create a template for four stored procedures. Each procedure will be for a basic CRUD operation (SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE):

The CRUD Generator

Here is a portion of a sample script:

DROP PROCEDURE IF EXISTS usp_dept_emp_Insert;
DELIMITER $$
CREATE PROCEDURE usp_dept_emp_Insert (IN p_emp_no INT(11), IN p_dept_no CHAR(4), IN p_from_date DATE, IN p_to_date DATE)
BEGIN START TRANSACTION; INSERT INTO dept_emp (emp_no, dept_no, from_date, to_date) VALUES (p_emp_no, p_dept_no, p_from_date, p_to_date); /* -- Begin Return row code block SELECT emp_no, dept_no, from_date, to_date FROM dept_emp WHERE emp_no = p_emp_no AND dept_no = p_dept_no AND from_date = p_from_date AND to_date = p_to_date; -- End Return row code block */ COMMIT;
END$$
DELIMITER ;

The Schema Comparison Tool

Most database client tools would offer schema comparison and synchronization feature. dbForge is no exception. The intuitive user interface makes searching and reconciling schema differences very easy:

The Schema Comparison Tool

The Debugger Tool

Finally, the debugger will be another great feature for developers:

Debug Wizard

The debugger wizard requires the dbForge debug engine to be deployed in the MySQL server and creates a database called cr_debug. This database has all the procedures, functions, and tables required for user code debugging. Deploying the debug engine requires the user to have process admin rights, and we found this feature does not work with MySQL in Amazon RDS, because RDS does not allow access to the backend server.

For systems that allow deploying the debug engine, MySQL developers can run their stored procedures with “Compile for Debugging” option. This inserts custom debug code to the procedure, calling routines from the cr_debug database. This added code allows developers to perform step by step debugging on the code instead of using custom debug messages. To keep things simple, the debug code is not displayed when a procedure or function is loaded in the dbForge editor.

Once the code is ready, developers can easily remove debug information with a few mouse clicks.

For the Data Analyst

The Data Comparison Tool

Like the schema comparison tool, dbForge for MySQL has a data comparison tool that should be useful for data analysts and developers. It has an intuitive interface for comparing and reconciling data between two tables:

The Data Comparison Tool

Data Import and Export

dbForge Studio for MySQL can connect to ten different types of data sources for importing and exporting data. Notable types are Google Sheets, XML, or even ODBC connections. We were able to copy an Excel sheet in no time. Then, we tried with a JSON document — again, that was a breeze.

Data Import Wizard

Compared to these types, the Table Data Import wizard in MySQL Workbench can import CSV or JSON only.

Master-Detail Browser

The Master-detail browser is a great tool for viewing data relationship. Analysts can use this tool to quickly check different categories of master data and their child records:

Master-Detail Browser

Pivot Table

The Pivot Table feature can be used for data aggregation, grouping, sorting and filtering. For example, a source table may look like this (we are using the Sakila database as a sample):

Source Table View

With a few mouse clicks, the pivoting feature allows us to break down or roll up the rental income figure:

Pivot Table in dbForge Studio for MySQL

Reporting

Not too many enterprise class query tools have a built-in reporting facility. dbForge Studio for MySQL comes with a nifty report designer. Users can create reports either by choosing one or more tables or using their own custom queries. Once the wizard finishes, the report opens in a WYSIWYG editor for further customization. Once ready, it can be saved in Data Report (.rdb) format:

A Simple Report Created in dbForge Studio for MySQL

For the Database Administrator

Database administrators would find most tools they use for day-to-day management of MySQL databases are similar between dbForge and MySQL Workbench. This includes:

  • User management (“Security Manager” in dbForge, “Users and Privileges” in MySQL Workbench)
  • Table Maintenance (Analyze, Optimize, Check, CHECKSUM, Repair)
  • Current connections to the instance
  • System and Status variables

Similarly, backing up a database is as simple as right-clicking on it and choosing “Backup and Restore > Backup Database…” from the popup menu. dbForge creates a SQL dump file for the database. Restoring a database simple as well.

We could not find the server log file viewer in dbForge Studio for MySQL, although it’s readily available in MySQL Workbench. With Amazon RDS MySQL, the log files can’t be accessed from either of these client tools.

Copy Database

Copying databases from one instance to another is an intuitive and simple process with dbForge Studio. All the user needs to do is choose the source and the destination instances, select the databases to copy in the source plus any extra options if necessary, and then click on the little green arrow:

Copy Databases Tool

Copy Databases Settings

What’s more, databases can be copied between different flavors of MySQL: we were able to successfully copy a MySQL database to a MariaDB instance.

MySQL Workbench also offers Schema Transfer Wizard for copying databases, but the Wizard wasn’t able to show our MariaDB instance as a connection.

MySQL Workbench Schema Transfer Wizard

dbForge Studio for MySQL allows copying databases within the same instance (the new database name has a suffix of “_copy”). This is not possible with MySQL Workbench.

Query Profiler

Where dbForge really shines for the DBA is the query profiler. Using the query profiler, a DBA can capture different session statistics for a slow running query such as execution time, query plan, status variables etc. Behind the scenes, dbForge uses MySQL native commands like EXPLAIN and SHOW PROFILE to gather session data and presents it in an easy-to-understand format in the GUI. Looking at these metrics can help identify potential candidates for query tuning. Once tuning is done and the query is run again, the query profiler will again save the sessions statistics. Comparing the two different session profiles can help the DBA check the effectiveness of the tuning. What’s more, there is no reason to manually copy and save query texts between different runs. Selecting a profile session and clicking on the “SQL Query” button will automatically show the query executed for that session in the editor. This is possible because the query profiler saves the query text with session statistics.

Query Profiler in dbForge Studio for MySQL

For the Data Architect

Database Diagrams

Reverse engineering an existing database’s structure is often part of a data architect’s job and dbForge Studio for MySQL makes this process simple. Tables from the database tree can be dragged and dropped into a Database Diagram and it will automatically create a nice ER diagram, as shown below:

Database Diagram created by Reverse Engineering a Database

Database Documenter

Most high-end database tools offer some type of reverse engineering capability, but dbForge goes one step further by enabling the user to create database documentation. A full-blown professional looking system architecture document can be created with only a few clicks of a mouse. The documentation will describe tables and views, indexes, column data types, constraints and dependencies along with the SQL scripts to create the objects.

Database Documenter Options

The documentation can be created in HTML, PDF, or Markdown format:

Database Documentation Output File Types

Data Generator

Finally, the feature that database architects and developers would love is the Data Generator tool. Database design often requires meaningful dummy data for quick proof-of-concepts, load testing, or customer demonstrations. dbForge offers an out-of-box solution for this. Using the intuitive data generator wizard, it is possible to populate an empty schema of a MySQL database in no time:

Data Generator General Properties

The generator keeps foreign key relationships in place during data load, although foreign keys and triggers can be disabled if needed:

Data Generator Options for Table Constraints

Also, only a subset of tables can be populated if necessary:

Choosing Tables to Populate in Data Generator

The tool can create a data generator script and load it into the SQL editor, save it as a file, or run it directly against the database:

Data Generator Output Options

Conclusion

dbForge Studio for MySQL comes in four different editions: Enterprise, Professional, Standard, and Express. The Express edition is free with the next tier (Standard edition) retailing at $149. The Professional edition is priced at $299 and the Enterprise edition at $399. There is a volume discount available for 10 or more licenses.

dbForge also offers subscriptions for customers wishing to upgrade their product to newer versions. The subscription is available for one, two, or three years. Licensing prices come down with longer subscriptions. Also, a one-year subscription is included with new licenses.

Being a free tool, MySQL Workbench may seem an attractive alternative to stay with. In our opinion, the wide number of features available in dbForge editions make their prices seem fair. Also, the major differences between Professional and Enterprise edition are copy database, data generator, and database documenter.

The Express edition (free) or the 30-day free trial of any edition can be a good choice for anyone to get a feel for the product.

One thing to keep in mind is dbForge for MySQL is a Windows-only tool. This can be a major factor for shops where MacBooks are a favorite.

Overall, we would say it’s a good product, in fact, a very good product — one that deserves at least a serious test drive from the community.

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Too Much on Your Plate? Try Kanban!

If one look at your inbox and desk makes you feel overwhelmed – keep reading.

Many people start their workday by opening email or replying to missed calls, while having a list of things to do after that in the back of their heads. It can work out fine, but more often than not, it really doesn’t. As more things pile up during the day, the items one was hoping to get to begin to slide further and further away. At the same time, juggling planned and impromptu tasks can get incredibly stressful, not to mention – unproductive.

Too Much on Your Plate? Try Kanban!

Quit Multitasking

What we suggest as a remedy, is trying out a Kanban board. It will let you clear your head of the things you hope to do, put them on the board and manage the day as and when it unfolds. The simplest Kanban board has just 3 work stages: to do, in progress and done. One of the things that make Kanban different from a paper list is the ability to set an automatic Work in Progress limit.

You’d add all items to the to do stage and then decide on the WIP limit. 2 is a good work in progress limit to start with — it lets you do one thing and keep another at the back burner, making it easy to switch between the 2 when needed.

But the ideal scenario is when you’re able to keep just one, single item in progress at all times. Despite what you may have heard, multitasking is not a good way to spend days, it does not add to your productivity, nor does it help to keep you calm.

Don’t Worry About Forgetting

Keeping track of what you’re doing now and what’s coming up next is of help when you’re being interrupted and completely lose focus in result. Switching between tasks is where the largest amount of time is being wasted and when it becomes easy to lose motivation and interest in what you’ve been doing.

The best thing about Kanban, though, is not having to constantly worry about what you were supposed to do or whether there’s something you’re forgetting, and having the ability to focus on one thing at a time, completely.

Prioritize and Take Breaks

Using Kanban also facilitates easy re-prioritization of things, should this be required. You’d simply move a task higher up the list and keep going. It is always recommended to do the most important and difficult thing first. This way, you’re able to make your day get easier with every hour! Visualizing all activity on a Kanban board also makes it easier to plan in a few proper breaks.

Share and Get Assistance

After you’ve transferred all of your activity onto a Kanban board, it may serve as a help not only to you, but to your colleagues and supervisors as well. After all, where better to turn for current information about what you’re working on, as well as to an archive of things you’ve done, along with any documentation you’ve attached to task cards?

Kanban Tool is intended for use in collaboration with others — which is why it’s so easy to share your workflow with others, either for viewing only or to invite them to work with you. Seeing each other’s planned work is also an opportunity to find ways of helping each other out — if some of your work overlaps, perhaps one person can do the bulk, while the other picks up something from the other one’s list.

Analyze the Big Picture

Kanban also helps to better understand the big picture behind the work you do. It allows you to review your work over past weeks or months, to see how most of your time is spent, what you’re struggling with and where you excel.

Other perks that will further clear your head and buy you peace are automated functions such as due date reminders, recurring and postponed tasks, email-created items and so on.

Since hardly any profession gets less complicated with time, but rather adds new things to care for, it may be of benefit for more people to get a little help from Kanban. You’ll save time, yes, but mainly, you will gain control over and balance within your workday. Try the Kanban Tool yourself to see how big a change it offers, at so little effort!

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Drive Your Digital Transformation with Citizen Development

IT backlog, inflexible, standardized software, and excel sheets…oh my. Do these sound like familiar problems in your organization?

We understand your frustration and we’re here to help.

It’s important for organizations to see and accept the need to make a change. As digital transformations run on manpower, the change starts with the people. Your IT department plays an essential role in the success of your innovation efforts. Yet, IT is busy maintaining existing infrastructure within the organization to the extent that creating innovative solutions is set back. Along with delayed or neglected solutions, using standardized software is limiting for organizations due to the inflexibility and high costs of making changes. Then, the all-too-well-known struggle with data spreadsheets is another hindrance. Inefficiency is the antithesis of innovation.

Whether you’ve noticed or not, digital transformation is happening all around you, in every B2C and B2B company. Yet in either business, the goal is connected to people — they’re preferences and demands. Let’s look at a simple example:

Perhaps you’ve eaten at a restaurant where you ordered your meal with an iPad? Was it a surprise to you that printed menus were no longer in use and the wait time was drastically reduced? Based on digital trends, people want more convenience and ease with the service they receive. What this restaurant and many other businesses are doing is addressing the need to understand the customer better and provide the most adaptable service.

Behind this digital transformation is the application that digitizes and simplifies the ordering process. Whether customer-facing or internal, building applications enables all businesses to transform their operations, evolving from paper, spreadsheets, or endless files to digital databases. Even making changes to your legacy system infrastructure can be done efficiently with a cloud-based application development platform. So now that you know that applications can provide innovative solutions, what can you do about your IT backlog that’s holding back your digital transformation?

There’s two components to consider: a no-code platform for innovative applications, and citizen development to support the business and IT

A no-code application development platform enables a new kind of developer, the citizen developer. The citizen developer takes over an aspect of development that helps organizations expand their innovative capabilities strategically and renovate existing infrastructure in a manageable way. In this role, the citizen developer builds applications based on the business needs and in collaboration with IT, better aligning both the business and IT.

When IT is short-staffed and preoccupied with keeping the lights on, citizen developers can begin prototyping new mission-critical applications which will then be transferred to IT for improvements, maintenance and security. Citizen developers can further reduce IT’s backlog by building less-critical applications that require the bare-minimum of IT governance. The time to delivery is shortened with a larger development team and more so with the power user building applications faster without coding. With Betty Blocks, citizen developers can deliver applications within weeks, or even days, instead of months.

Using a no-code platform, like Betty Blocks, citizen developers can build customized applications using blocks of pre-written code. Therefore, the process is more intuitive and designed for collaboration, between the citizen developer and the business, as well as IT. Rather than re-writing the same line of code for repeated actions, blocks can be reused in the same application, different applications or in a shared application within your organization. Citizen developers can build solutions rapidly with a no-code platform and therefore deliver and help you business innovate faster.

Many CIOs are discovering the possibilities to innovate with Betty Blocks. To learn more about citizen development and no-code application development, subscribe to our newsletter.

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The Red Hot Developer: a Model for Removing Distractions from Your Teams

When your project, product, or component gets sufficiently big that it has a large impact on the rest of the organization, you’ll automatically get faced with lots of internal and external distractions. Other teams might want to get that pull request merged as soon as possible, all kinds of questions from sales and the project delivery people are piling up in Slack, and that occasionally failing UI automation build is also asking for some attention. And what about those weird errors in the log files and compile-time warnings that everybody keeps ignoring? Sure, we have a healthy amount of capacity reserved for technical improvements and reducing technical debt, but they tend to be used for the bigger things.

During QCon New York, I got introduced to the concept of the Red Hot Developer (or RHD for short), a (preferably) daily rotating dedicated developer that keeps distractions away from the rest of the team. He or she will investigate any failing builds and find the person who caused it, and try to find the answers to the questions those project people keep asking. Since the RHD is fully allocated to that task for the entire day, he (or she) may pick up some of those smaller left-overs. A typical day of being the RHD looks a little bit like this:

  • Consult with the RHD from the previous day to see if there’s anything to hand over.
  • Monitor the builds. We use a couple of build lights spread around the floor that are controlled by Beacon, a little open-source project that connects TeamCity to a DelCom LED-powered light. So monitoring the builds is a pretty trivial job.
  • If there are any problems, either with the individual builds, the build infrastructure or anything else, the RHD will first try to investigate the problem. If it can be traced to a particular commit or developer, he’ll notify that person and re-assign the problem.
  • Fix unstable unit or smoke tests, or find somebody to fix this.
  • Verify that all hotfixes on support branches have been merged to later branches.
  • Serve as the first contact for people outside the team.
  • Check that the performance metrics of the code hasn’t decreased by observing the relevant builds.
  • See if any questions from other teams or departments on Slack have been answered.
  • Making sure pull requests from other teams are reviewed and handled correctly.
  • Maintain frequently asked questions or refine the repository READMEs.
  • Work on small improvements to the build process, documentation or anything related to working with the code base and making sure existing problems are resolved properly.

When I initially proposed to introduce this principle, a lot of people objected to it. They didn’t like the idea of having to spend a full day on those petty tasks instead of working on the cool stuff they love to work on. Heck, some developers still don’t like it. And the Product Owners weren’t too happy about this, either. They felt we were wasting valuable developers on stuff that didn’t give them immediate business value. However, they didn’t realize how much distraction the developers were suffering from when the entire collective was trying to do that same job. I still remember having to walk around the teams trying to find somebody to investigate a broken build or repair an unstable smoke test.

As always when you introduce new ways of working, the RHD principle didn’t have a smooth start. Some developers tried to keep working on their regular tasks. But after we empowered them to really block that day for RHD duties, the quality and stability of the code base started to improve considerably. That day really gave them the freedom and time to work on substantial things that gave a productivity boost to all developers. For instance, some of those seemingly smaller improvements ended up being a bit more work. Trying to transfer that work to the next person proved to be very inefficient. So at some point, we allowed the RHD to continue the work the next day or to consider to pair up with the next RHD to ease the transition.

A nice side-effect of being the RHD is that every developer gets to see almost every aspect of building, testing, and deploying our code base. So front-end developers suddenly had to deal with RavenDB quirks or figure out how to configure WCF to use the right security context. Similarly, hardcore domain-driven designers learned how to use Gulp and Webpack to improve the JavaScript and CSS bundles. This has definitely improved the flow of knowledge in the teams. And the business also learned to deal with this. At some point, they even checked the RHD schedule on Confluence if they wanted to get something done without going through our usual Slack channels.

So what do you think? Do you recognize the cross-cutting concerns of being a developer? If so, would you consider trying the Red Hot Developer principle? Let me know by commenting below. Oh, and follow me at @ddoomen to get regular updates on my everlasting quest for better solutions.

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Three Simple Ways to Motivate Employees

Employee motivation is an essential aspect of a team manager’s responsibilities. Different ways to motivate employees might work for different people, work environments, organizations, your leadership style, or the structure of the work.

All these are factors affecting the level of motivation of anyone involved in a project. Luckily, there are some ways to encourage workers to do their best, be productive and energetic, happy and focused, without forcing them to do so.

Let’s explore how great managers create a powerful company culture where everyone’s determined to work hard and even thrive on their own together with being part of the team.

1. Combine Words with Actions

While some team managers and business owners are strong with their words when trying to motivate their employees, their actions don’t prove it.

Obviously, it leads to not gaining the trust and respect of the employees, not letting them open up and connect with the manager or each other, not communicating expectations and objectives clearly, and eventually, not working efficiently.

To combine words with actions, though, begin practicing what you preach. Or maybe you’re already doing that just behind the scenes.

Here are some ways to start:

  • If you want everyone to be engaged during a meeting, to speak up, share ideas, be proactive, give feedback, do it yourself first. Show people that as challenging as it is, it’s an important part of work, and everyone should feel welcome to speak up.

  • Be familiar with the technology you’re introducing to your team. Use all the software tools others should work with on a daily basis yourself.

  • You need to be the person in the organization who has all the answers to your employee’s questions regarding work-related procedures and tools used for them. Also, by going through what they are (such as learning how to use a new tool), you show that you care and are seen as down-to-earth.

2. Upgrade Your Incentive Program

You probably do have one, but is it what motivates your employees? Does it go beyond compensation? Is it tailored to your team or are you using general incentives?

If you feel like it can be done better, it’s time to take it to the next level.

Focus more on recognition, especially for the little things. Appreciating people encourages them to use more of their potential, to work harder and receive more recognition, to have more energy and go to work with a positive mindset.

Anything that compliments a person or their work style touches their sense of accomplishment, their level of confidence, and their desire to be a good worker. So make sure to praise your employees for good performance. They will always keep this in mind when they feel that they aren’t doing their best – feeling appreciated is crucial for staying productive in the long run.

It’s proven that with enough positive incentives, an organization won’t see its employees leaving any time soon, or ever.

You can also write personal thank-you notes. Make it special with one-on-one conversations. But also public by praising individuals during the meeting or on the company website. There are plenty of ways to show that you recognize their efforts and achievements and that itself will encourage people to do more of what they do best.

3. Focus on Individuals

In most organizations, it’s either about the project, the client, the business, the next objective, the profits, the manager, the boss, etc. But it’s rarely about the average team member.

With this approach, it’s easy for people on a team to feel isolated, underappreciated, and sometimes even angry or upset. Don’t let that happen on your team. In fact, turn it around by focusing more on them as individuals.

For example, show them you care about their work-life balance and discuss strategies on how every employee can improve their everyday life out of work. It could be by compensating gym memberships to encourage them to take care of their health, showing them how to use a time management tool for improving their productivity and saving time, or investing more in a relaxation area in the office so that the employees can make more use of breaks.

All these steps will lead to healthier, happier and more concentrated workforce on your team. Most importantly, they will do a better job for the company.

Summary

These 3 things are what great managers do to become more than just bosses, but to become leaders.

You can do the same and realize that employee motivation is a never-ending process. You just get better at it, see progress and need to constantly adjust your approach as times and people change.

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How Improve Time Management Within a Team

Any middle manager building a team knows the struggle of improving productivity in the workplace. It’s hard to motivate employees to do their best, get to know their time management skills, and get insights on how to improve time management within the team.Luckily, there are some practical things busy entrepreneurs and team managers can do to not just boost their personal productivity and organization but let their teams thrive together with that. Let’s see how.

1. Keep Track of Your Team’s Time

Be sure to track your team’s time expenses – and select the right tool for that purpose. Sometimes, tracking time takes too much time, which destroys the very idea of that.

So you’ll need an efficient tool if you want to manage a team of workers more effectively. It can enhance your business in multiple ways: from managing work assignments and tracking time to running reports and analyzing them, so you can spot weak points and amend them.

The best thing about a specialized product is that it allows you to see what everyone is working on, simplify payroll calculation and deliver projects on time. The tool can be adapted to your work process and used to cut business costs.

One aspect of all this could be a bit challenging though: people are often reluctant to adopt new tools. Let’s see how to do it right so you and your team can boost your productivity with less effort.

2. Adapt to New Technology – and Help Your Employees with That

It’s easy to introduce the new software product, give people some instructions and let them start using it from day one. But that’s not always effective: help with onboarding is often necessary.

To do this right and eliminate the shock of novelty for people in the workplace, do it in small steps. Instruct your employees in detail how they should use the tool. Also, focus on the benefits each team member will see.

Don’t forget to be an active user yourself. Your employees aren’t going to adopt a piece of technology you don’t seem fond of.

Experts say the first step to better time management is knowing exactly where our time is spent. Now you can achieve that and bring your team along on the journey.

3. Review Your Management Practices

If you want to be a step ahead of the competition and grow as a manager, you’ll need to take a step back and see whether your practices are truly effective. That requires reviewing your management techniques, talking to colleagues and workers and getting feedback, and taking notes.

After that, spend a few days outlining your current habits and practices as a manager, brainstorm ideas on what could be changed. Maybe it’s time for a slightly different direction. Or maybe having new people on board or entering a new niche means you have to build new skills or continue your training.

Not just that, but you should take into consideration the management at all levels in the company. They can go through the process, too. This ensures each department is up to date with their project management, culture company, collaboration and incentive programs.

4. Reduce Management Busywork

With smart time management techniques, people can start getting done in less time. The same goes for busy entrepreneurs who are responsible for a whole team. You can find ways to manage less when actually achieving the progress you’re after.

What’s the issue with managing too much? It’s that you don’t delegate enough or coach people on your team.

Management itself takes up a big chunk of your time. But what about the desire to inspire your team to get more done, to help employees build new skills with training, to find new talents and get them on board, and to take big decisions?

The only way to start doing all these again is to cut down on management busywork.

One thing that will help you get there is to stop expecting that much from your workers and instead focus on taking responsibility for the project preparation phase.

5. Implement Remote Work Practices

Multiple studies suggest that remote talent is the future and the reasons for that are many. Remote employees are those who have found the balance between work and personal life and are pretty happy with how they are living.

That’s exactly what you need – happy faces during meetings. Such people are energetic and motivated to do a good job and but disciplined enough at the same time.

If you haven’t already, get more remote workers on your team. This allows you to choose some passionate and hard-working individuals from around the globe instead of being limited by location.

Once you have more of them on your team, and after the training period, you’d be able to delegate whole aspects of the project to them and let them do what they are good at.

This leaves you with more time to concentrate on what matters, such as business growth.

No busy entrepreneur should end up stressed or forget that there’s a team they’re responsible for. Follow the tips above and be a productive manager of employees who knows how to manage their own time.

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Does Remote Working Boost Job Performance?

Flexible working is a topic of persistent interest to researchers, and indeed I’ve covered many of these studies on this blog before. For instance, one a few years ago highlighted the benefits of flexible working on a whole range of measures.

It found that flexible workers were generally a whole lot more productive than their 9-to-5 peers. Over a nine-month period they found that flexible workers:

  • achieved more;
  • were off sick less often;
  • worked longer hours; 
  •  and were happier in their work.

This general finding was replicated by a recent study led by Florida International University, which found that not only did working from home result in higher engagement levels, but also better performance from workers.

The researchers wanted to explore whether particular elements of a job can influence whether remote working impacts performance or not. They identified four key factors: job complexity and problem solving, and interdependence and social support. The findings revealed that performance tended to increase in jobs that were complex and required minimal interpersonal interaction.

When the job required a significant amount of problem solving, working remotely had much less impact. It’s an interesting nuance to a bulging body of work. The fact that those with complex jobs saw increased performance levels the more they worked remotely does give valuable insight into when it may be beneficial. The authors suggest that complexity tends to require focused concentration that is often hard to achieve in an office environment where interruptions are commonplace.

Interestingly, a performance boost was also seen among workers who had low levels of social support at work. The authors believe this could be indicative of a toxic environment at work, and an escape from that is enough to boost performance as well as engagement.

Informal Arrangements

A recent study from Cass Business School and Cranfield School of Management also suggested that the way flexible working is arranged may have a part to play. The study found that flexible working had the biggest impact when it was arranged informally between the employee and their line manager rather than via more formal flexible working arrangements.

The authors suggest that the informal flexible working arrangements were so effective because they triggered a sense of reciprocity, whereby employees felt they should return the favor in terms of increased loyalty and punctuality.

“Our research found that employees working under informal agreements received higher performance ratings. Informal arrangements can allow employees to better accommodate personal circumstances than when the arrangement is set up through a formal mechanism, and the informal negotiation with line managers can result in outcomes that are also beneficial to the team,” they say.

There’s a sense that flexible working is still a minority activity in the workplace, but hopefully as our understanding of it, and especially of when it does and does not work, increases, so too will our willingness to engage in it.

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How Do I Measure the Software Development Productivity? [Video]

The eternal question for organizations worldwide—how do you measure the productivity of your software development team?

There have been many attempts to answer this question, yet a solid measure continues to elude the industry.

For instance, counting output such as the number of lines of code produced is insufficient as there’s little point in counting lines that may be defective.

Quantifying input isn’t easy, either—do you count the number of individuals? The number of hours spent coding? The total hours spent working? What exactly is productivity in software development?

First, we need to establish how developers themselves perceive productivity. If we can determine what factors lead to perceptions of productivity, we can then look to recreate those factors and help developers feel more productive more often. And if a developer feels more productive, they’re more than likely to deliver better work faster.

To better understand how developers perceive productivity, researchers observed professional software developers from international development companies of varying sizes for four hours each. The findings—revealed in the white paper Understanding software development productivity from the ground up—identify the key factors that make developers feel productive, and provide compelling insight into how to eliminate the activities/tasks that drain developer productivity.

Speak to us today to learn more about how you can improve both the productivity of your development teams and the productivity of all other specialist teams that help you to plan, build, test and deliver software at scale. By focusing on end-to-end productivity, you can optimize your time to value to accelerate the speed and quality of your software products.

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7 Traits That Make a Great Software Developer

Finding a truly great software developer nowadays is like looking for a needle in a haystack: all but impossible.

Sure, there are a lot of good programmers out there who will do their job just fine, and most of the time, you will be satisfied with their work. Plus, you’ll definitely have an easier time pinning them down than you would a great developer.

So, why would you go after this rare species, waste your valuable time and resources, when you can opt for an average developer instead? What’s so special about “the greats”?

Well, one thing that comes to mind is that they are three times more productive than your average developer, and 10 times more than a bad one. Sounds like quite a lot, doesn’t it?

It actually is, once they start doing their magic.

Something else to remember when it comes to developers is that great ones are able to not only write solid code, but also have certain traits which make them as desirable as they are. Now, if you don’t have a lot of experience with hiring programmers, you won’t know which qualities to pay attention to.

Luckily, here at Kolosek, we do.

After years and years of working with both good and bad programmers, we’ve managed to pinpoint the traits which you should always look for in developers.

Today, we’ve decided to share with you seven traits which make a great software developer, in hopes of helping you find yours. It might take a while for you to stumble upon them, but once you do, you’ll be able to recognize them with more ease.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Curious/Loves Learning

Here’s the thing about great developers: they never accept matters as they are. Whether their code works or doesn’t, they are always trying to dig deeper into what they’re doing and find the answers to every “why” they have to ask.

Great programmers are not afraid to experiment, either—they are willing to approach projects from different points of view or learn new languages which will help them improve themselves. In short: they possess a strong love of learning and are curious by nature.

If you come across a developer who’s not inquisitive and who’s scared to ask “why”, it usually means that they don’t have the knowledge they need to solve certain problems and probably can’t justify why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Technical Mindset

Developers’ main tool for work is their computer, so it’s only logical that they know how to navigate their devices from the technical point of view. Right? However, what sets great software developers apart from average ones when it comes to this is that they not only understand computers (and other related devices), but actually enjoy figuring out the logic behind them.

It’s simple, really—a software developer needs to possess great technical skills and, more importantly, they need to be able to explain the technical parts to non-tech people they find themselves working with.

Analytical Mindset

Aside from a technical mindset, your perfect software developer needs to have an analytical mindset, too. What does this mean exactly? They need to be able to solve complex and simple problems alike, by making decisions based on the available information. Great developers have a solid set of thinking skills which they can use in different situations, and they can consider both the big picture and the smallest of details, if needed.

Great at Managing Tasks and Time

Here’s something a lot of people overlook, but that’s as equally important as the love of learning and technical mindset: great software developers are incredibly reliable. This means that they can always organize themselves in a way that will allow them to finish all of their tasks on time, and that they respect the given deadlines.

“The greats” are known for their strong work ethic, and they never fail to show up at a meeting or for a call with their client. If you decide to hire a developer, then make sure that they can manage their time, tasks, and clients all by themselves, and that you don’t need to manage them while they’re working.

Good Communication Skills

Believe it or not, good communication skills are not just about speaking a high level of the English language and being able to talk to your clients and/or employers. No, having good communication skills means being able to convey an idea in an accurate and effective manner. It means being able to get your point across and understanding what others are trying to tell you. It means knowing how to communicate with the people you work with.

And while it’s really difficult to figure out whether someone has supreme communication skills over the phone or email, a face-to-face meeting will tell you exactly what you need to know. If your potential developer’s communication skills are not as good as you’d want them to be, chances are that they won’t be able to do their job right.

Flexible

Code is unpredictable. That’s why great software developers need to be adaptable, no matter which programming language they specialize in. So, say, if the scope of a project changes unexpectedly, a developer needs to be able to deal with that change and continue working. A great programmer is constantly aware of the fact that anything could change, and they need to learn how to think on their feet.

Team Player

Whether you work as a developer, designer, or a content writer, chances are you’ll probably work with other developers, designers, and writers in your career, if not entire teams of them. If not flying solo, a developer will need to work closely with e.g. a marketing or sales team, or even their client’s team. That’s why, if they want to be successful in what they do, they need to be able to collaborate with their peers and be a fantastic team player.

A great developer won’t hesitate to offer their teammates help when they get stuck, teach new skills to others, and even write tutorials that can help not only the other members of their team, but the entire developer community, as well.

Conclusion

It’s hard to attract great software developers, it really is. Not only are they in high demand (and, ironically, rarely “on the market”), but they are also after cool projects they can work on and won’t accept just any job. So, if you want to get the best of the best, you need to have an exciting offer ready for them, a serious job interview in place, and you might want to pay attention to the traits mentioned above. The latter might not be the deciding factor in who you get to hire, but it can certainly help you make your choice.

We hope you found this post interesting and that it’ll help you out in your search! If you’ve got any traits you’d like to add to the list, let us know.

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How to Work from Home and Be a Productivity Hero

Working from home seems to be a dream. You don’t have to spend time and money for commuting, you can cuddle with your cat or play guitar in pauses, and you (usually) have a flexible schedule that allows you to combine work with hobbies, studies, and other activities.

But sooner or later, any remote employee faces the problems that make it look not-so-attractive. Literally, you are surrounded by the worst enemies of productivity and efficiency. Distractions, procrastination, losing connection to your coworkers – all this is extremely disruptive to your work and career.

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How to Get Yourself Out of Technical Debt

This week, for reader question Tuesday, the question couldn’t be simpler. It’s about technical debt, and here’s how it goes:

How do you get out of technical debt?

I told you it was simple.

I’ve talked about technical debt a number of times on this blog. I offered my own definition years ago (in another reader question, actually). I’ve talked about why it exists, and I’ve written at times about how you can use NDepend to identify and quantify it. But I guess I’ve never really talked in any detail about how to escape it.

Let’s do that today.

Not to Be Flippant, But You Can Always Just Run from Technical Debt

Come to think of it, there was another post that I wrote on the subject of technical debt. It was about the human cost.

On a long enough timeline, technical debt creates a lot of misery in the office. Team members tend toward finger pointing and infighting, and a sense of embarrassment pervades. Nobody likes explaining over and over again to stakeholders that seemingly simple changes are actually really hard.

So you might just take a breath one day and ask yourself if life isn’t too short to keep coming in every day and gingerly massaging some 20-year-old, battleship-gray Winforms app into shape. Maybe it’s time to move on to greener and more satisfying pastures.

Now, bear in mind that I’m not advocating that you quit your job every time the team makes a technical decision you don’t agree with. I’m talking about a situation that feels like a true dead end and where you can feel your market worth slipping day over day. It’s not a decision to make lightly, but you should understand that crushing technical debt isn’t something you have to tolerate indefinitely, either.

Declare Bankruptcy and Total the Application

Moving away from your most dramatic option, I’ll get to one that probably won’t entirely be your decision. (Though maybe it will, if you get to level 4 on this scale.) That involves declaring the application with all of the tech debt to be a total. In other words, you rewrite/retire/sunset the thing and call it a day.

Now this is a nuanced recommendation for me, personally, though. Years ago, I wrote a post for NDepend entitled “The Myth of the Software Rewrite.” The idea with that post was to be leery of a team that worked itself into a ton of technical debt declaring a rewrite the only way forward. I said this because that team is just going to make a mess in the new codebase. A team should be capable of covering legacy code with tests and evolving it piecemeal into a more modern system.

I still believe that just as much now.

But that’s a narrower situation than what I’m talking about here. You might have inherited a codebase from somewhere else entirely, or the entire team might have turned over since the original writing of the code. Or maybe it’s just an application whose user base is in decline.

Whatever the case may be, this is an option for getting away from tech debt, though this should be more of a strategic business decision than a tactical way to make life easier.

Embark on an Intense Legacy Rescue

Here’s something you’re likely to have more control over, if not total control. You can lobby to tackle the problem head on, with an intense effort. This is sometimes called legacy rescue.

The idea is that you put normal work on hold, and do the codebase equivalent of a massive spring cleaning. First you’ll need to get the thing under test. This means meticulously capturing current application behavior with characterization tests.

With a test suite in place, you can start to rework parts of the codebase, preserving existing behavior. The idea here is to pay down as much technical debt as you can with one sustained, Herculean effort. Go rip out that chain of singletons that has spread through your codebase like kudzu and is making it a nightmare. While you’re at it, get rid of the rest of the global state, too. Move away from your old-time, home-rolled ORM that uses code generation to spew out data access objects.

You get the idea.

Like band-aid removal, just do it in one fast, painful effort and get it over with. When you’re done and your tests are passing, the future should look brighter. You’ll certainly have some issues to contend with and a lot of testing to do beyond the automated suite you’ve created. But you’ll be on a path to joy, and away from crippling tech debt.

Form a Plan and Chip Away at it Over Time

Speaking of band-aid removal, you can always go the other way, too. Instead of ripping it off fast and painfully, you can drag it out with marginally less pain as you go. But it goes on a lot longer.

Same with working your way out from unhealthy amounts of technical debt. If circumstances simply don’t allow you to spend many days or even weeks reworking parts of your codebase, you can come up with a plan to chip away at it little by little.

You can do this by adopting a policy of following the boy scout rule with code. Make sure you’re writing unit tests and that you’re constantly improving the code you touch a little bit at a time as you go. The unit tests are critical so that you always have the confidence to refactor.

But on top of adopting that as general good policy for tech debt avoidance, you should also make a plan. Look at the biggest sources of slowness and pain, and figure out how you’re going to address them over the long haul. Then break those big tasks into subsequently smaller component tasks until you hit a point where the component tasks fit seamlessly in with your regular work.

Then simply have a backlog and keep chipping away.

Avoid Creating Technical Debt in the Future

Those are really the main strategies that I can think of off the top of my head. Of course, to some extent you can blend them (e.g. remediate with a plan eventually to sunset or do a bit of intense rework followed by a longer tail effort). Or you might have other ideas that are more specific to a given situation.

But in the end, it comes down to two main things. First, you have to make the decision as to whether you can drive the change you’re looking for in the codebase or whether you have to go elsewhere. And secondly, no matter what you decide, understand the nature of the problem—how the crippling technical debt came about. That way you can get better at avoiding such situations in the future and contributing to the fix when you do encounter them.

Technical debt is neither completely avoidable, nor is it always even necessarily a bad thing (in the short term, anyway). It’s going to surround you and affect you throughout your career. So do you part to minimize it by not creating it and by helping to pay it down when it exists for whatever reason. And, failing those things, declaring bankruptcy and moving on from a hopeless team is a lot less painful than the financial world’s version of bankruptcy.

By the way, if you liked this post and you’re new here, check out this page as a good place to start for more content that you might enjoy.

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IT Efficiency: 5 Ways to Improve Productivity in the Tech-Dependent World

Although it seems like IT, gadgets, and the Internet have conquered every aspect of the business world, some companies still refrain from using these gifts of civilization to enhance their everyday processes. If you notic, by “interacting with technology,” your employees mean simply checking the corporate mailbox, and if there’s still a fax number on your business cards, we have bad news for you. First, you notice your IT efficiency is low and later, you see your business slipping further down from the top. Sure, technology might not be the main reason your business is failing, but it can definitely change the way you’re doing things and improve your position. Don’t ignore technologies; your competitors definitely won’t.

Improving IT Efficiency through Digital Transformation

In the recent years, productivity in the USA has grown and several prominent American economists say IT is the cause. British think tanks and business organizations suggest that significant adoption of technology, or the so-called digital transformation, is the solution for modern businesses. Orientation on technology has become vital for any kind of production: from news making to law consultancy. Here are five universal ways to improve your corporate productivity with technology.

Data Management and Automation

Data Management and AutomationToday, data can become the new currency and unlocking its value is critical for a successful business. You can’t afford using yesterday’s technology for data collection and efficiency management. Businesses must invest in tools and technologies to capture, analyze their data and turn it into the base for informed corporate decisions.

Accessing Information Anytime, Anywhere

Accessing Information Anytime, AnywhereYes, it means that your colleagues may find you even on your secret vacation in Italy. However, it also means that you will not lose a business opportunity just because you were unavailable or certain important decisions weren’t made in time. Of course, being accessible doesn’t suggest that any of your employees should be working 24/7, but it is you who should develop an on-call schedule or choose a person on duty, who will be available via effective communication channels. Problems with the landline or bad Internet shouldn’t influence corporate decisions.

When used wisely, being available and having access to corporate information anywhere can give you more freedom than limitations. Working remotely from the Bahamas does sound more appealing that refreshing the Facebook feed every ten minutes in the office.

Seamless Communication with Coworkers

Seamless Communication with CoworkersThere are numerous tools today that allow people from different continents to communicate quickly and easily. Why on Earth then do your coworkers still roam around the office with a coffee mug in their hands, dwelling on the issues that could have been solved by a single email? The less time people waste on identifying a communication channel, the more time they have to actually communicate. Setting up an internal platform for interaction between employees would eliminate the need to use lots of different apps like Slack, Gmail, Trello and Workplace by Facebook. Moreover, a single platform that would allow employees to chat, write and receive emails, manage and keep track of projects and share their thoughts on the company or discuss personal topics would speed up communication and bring coworkers closer.

More Learning Opportunities for Employees

More Learning Opportunities for EmployeesWhat is your first thought when you think of corporate learning using technology? Another endless and boring PowerPoint presentation or a general online training obligatory for everyone? Well, don’t expect this approach to encourage your staff to learn something new, then. At the same time, the HR’s Council’s 2008 survey (held among nonprofit sector employees) has shown career development and training to be among the top significant contributing factors to people’s job satisfaction. Employees may even regard a helpful and practical professional growth course as a corporate bonus or a reward.

A really good training must be flexible, personally-tailored and based on technology-enhanced learning (TEL). There are numerous platforms that offer such services. Some of them use a system that assesses people’s competencies in targeted skill areas and addresses their skill gaps, others adapt while users move through modules and offer interactive quizzes and stimulations. Adults like to play while learning no less than children do, and look how quickly kids learn!

Better Security Management

Better Security ManagementPasswords may be your first guess when you determine the security efficiency of your business, but having a secure system means more than setting difficult passwords and changing them frequently. Too many businesses haven’t taken the necessary steps to protect their systems in case of cyber-attacks and have paid a high price for that. On the other hand, you can get stuck in a conflict between organizational productivity and security sometimes called the information security paradox. It suggests that people may work less and worse because they feel that cumbersome security mechanisms are draining both their time and efforts.

In 2015, Dell sponsored a survey of IT professionals and full-time business users. According to its results, 91% of the people asked said that security measures reduced their productivity. In the same survey, 70% of IT professionals said that the employees’ efforts to bypass security constraints are actually the biggest threat to the information security of their organizations. Warwick Ashford, ComputerWeekly.com Security Editor, points out that nearly all surveyed IT professionals recognize the benefits which a context-aware security approach would bring to improve productivity, but hardly a third of them are using it. The context-aware security approach gives IT the ability to adjust the dial in real time and is convenient for users. Ashford says it focuses on the context of the access request to ensure that the access is appropriate in real-time, hence, it allows to overcome barriers set by the conventional IT security.

Paradoxical IT Efficiency

Despite the constant praising of technology, declarations that the Solow Paradox is dead may have been premature. In 1987, Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics, famously said: “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” Since then, numerous studies have been carried out to prove or contest Solow’s conclusion that information technology doesn’t boost productivity. The discussion is still going strong but one of the possible explanations of the phenomenon is that while IT will not help you produce more of the same, conventional things, it will allow you to create something unique in new ways. Also, as Paul David, an economist at Oxford University suggests, technology will start having a significant effect on productivity only when it has reached a certain penetration rate, so don’t expect immediate results. All in all, try to use less technology, but do it in a more efficient way and focus on the IT infrastructure optimization of your business.

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6 Personal Kanban Board Examples

What are Personal Kanban Board Examples?

A basic personal Kanban board consists of three columns – To do, In progress, and Done. 

Depending on the industry you are working in, there are scenarios where these three columns are insufficient and won’t map the complete process of your workflow.

In this article, we will present different personal Kanban boards examples which you can copy and adapt to your personal and business needs.

1) Basic Personal Kanban Board Example

The basic personal Kanban board is a great start for anyone new the Kanban concept. 

Without any complications, It usually consists of 3 columns:

·         To-do;

·         In Progress;

·         and Done. 

It is an excellent way for beginners to visualize work and establish the groundwork for a highly efficient workflow.

Basic Personal Kanban Board Example

2) Marketing Kanban Board Example

Marketers have a wide variety of tasks and very dynamic workflow. Therefore, you can take advantage of a personal marketing Kanban board by applying some of the agile principles in marketing.

For example, the visualization of the tasks with a different scope keeps you focused and organized. 

Also, the visual process of mapping your work prevents you from multitasking, which is a prevalent issue in the marketing industry.

The marketing personal board example below consists of the following columns:

·         Near future;

·         Priority/To-dos;

·         Working on/In-progress;

·         For review;

·         Experiment in progress.

Personal Marketing Kanban Board Example

3) Personal Kanban Board Example for Sales

Here is how you can track your sales with the help of a personal Kanban board for sales. Feel free to copy the same structure and adjust the process accordingly.

     ·         Prospecting – This is the column where any prospect starts. An email turns into a Kanban card. Any opportunity here becomes qualified or is rejected.

     ·         Needs Analysis – In this column, you should put prospects that require some analysis before becoming qualified or rejected. As this takes time, limit the cards in this column up to 2, so you don’t get distracted. You can further label cards in this column to identify the amount of analysis needed – a lot or a little.

     ·         Proposal In Development – This column shows proposals which are being worked on.

     ·         Proposal Awaiting Response – In this column you move the proposals which have been sent to the customers, and you are waiting for their response.

     ·         Done – Closed – This column identifies sales closed successfully.

     ·         Done – Rejected – In this column you move deals that were lost or rejected through the process above.

Personal Kanban Board Example for Sales

For the purpose of this tutorial, I’ve collapsed three of the columns in this workflow to be able to capture it.

4) Personal Kanban Board Example for Recruitment

Probably one of the most dynamic industries these days is the process of acquiring new talents. Recruitment is an area with a pre-defined, step-by-step process for recruiting people.

The Kanban board is an excellent fit for this industry because you can easily track in which stage your candidates are at.

Here is one Kanban board example for Recruitment:

·         Unscreened;

·         Screened – Phone;

·         Interview;

·         In Negotiation.

Personal Kanban Board Example for Recruitment

For the purpose of this tutorial, I’ve collapsed the “Done” column in this workflow to be able to capture it. But as a rule in a Kanban-like workflow, we always have a column named as “Done.”

5) Personal Kanban Board Example for Project Management

If you are a full-time project manager or you work on multiple projects, then you should definitely map your work with a personal Kanban board designed for project management.

A Kanban board template for project management will naturally have a large number of columns, depending on the essence of work.

For example, some tasks may require work will clients and others may need work on new product features. This is an excellent opportunity to implement a new and more complex workflow.

You can distinguish different types of work by creating various columns, such as: 

·         Business Requirements;

·         Ready to start;

·         In progress;

·         Delegated to Clients;

·         Done.

The visual process contributes to greater transparency of the workflow.

Personal Kanban Board for Project Management

For the purpose of this tutorial, I’ve collapsed the “Done” column in this workflow to be able to capture it. But as a rule in a Kanban-like workflow, we always have a column named as “Done.

6) Personal Kanban Board for Support & Ticketing

Integrated with an email client, a personal Kanban board can be successfully applied to any support and ticketing system. 

You can transform each email into a Kanban card and then move it through your pre-defined workflow.

For example, these are the columns that any support and ticketing Kanban board may include:

·        New;

·        High Priority;

·        Investigation;

·        Client Follow-up;

·        Done.

Of course, you can adjust this structure accordingly.

Personal Kanban Board Examples for Ticketing and Support

For the purpose of this tutorial, I’ve collapsed the “Done” column in this workflow to be able to capture it. But as a rule in a Kanban-like workflow, we always have a column named as “Done.”

Originally posted: 6 Personal Kanban Board Examples With Flow-e

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5 Tips for More Effective Team Meetings

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Team meetings are significant and inevitable. They ensure the team’s projects are on time and on track and that everyone is on the same page. Team meetings make clear that everyone is working toward the same goal.

However, statistics show another side of the story. Generally, employees end up wasting approximately 31 hours each month in unproductive meetings.

Even at the management level, middle managers waste up to 35% of their time and upper managers waste up to 50% of theirs in meetings.

This being said, meetings are important. But how do you make them productive and effective, too?

We may have some tips to help you along the way.

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Have an Agenda

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While this may seem like unnecessary information — or a given — it may surprise you that more than 63% of meetings have no planned agenda.

With no pre-decided agenda, meetings can quickly become a waste of time. From conversations going off topic to discussing items with the least priority, a mismanaged meeting can do more harm than good.

A good method by which to stick to the agenda is by outlining the details of the meeting and sharing them with employees beforehand. This keeps the meeting’s discussions on track in a productive manner.

Creating an agenda also allows you to assign each employee a piece of the presentation, helping employees feel useful and focused.

Brainstorming Sessions

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While it’s good to have discussions outlined, it can also be effective to leave a time slot open in your meetings to brainstorm.

Employees have unique skillsets, thought processes and talents, and this gives your team members the opportunity to feel heard.

Employee disengagement is an unfortunate fact; a whopping 70% of U.S. workers report not feeling engaged enough at the workplace.

Thus, encouraging employees to speak up just may do the trick. Brainstorming sessions can help employees share ideas based on their unique skillsets.

These sessions can enable employees to voice ideas and issues that may otherwise seem invisible, which may contribute valuable information to the business and lead to finding unlikely solutions.

A Picture Says a Thousand Words

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Visuals are an integral part of every meeting.

Did you know that over 90% of information conveyed to the brain is visual? Also, your brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than it does words.

You may want to consider these statistics next time you arrange a meeting.

Don’t just talk over the matters using text on slides or paper handouts. Make use of graphs, pictures, and even videos to discuss progress.

Keep It Short

Image titleLong meetings can make employees tired and distracted.

According to research, the time span for paying attention is between 10 and 18 minutes. For this reason, you may want to keep meetings to, on average, 15 minutes or less.

Short meetings help focus only on the issues without giving employees the luxury of time to get side-tracked.

Did you know that Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer schedules only 10-minute meetings?

Online Meetings

Many modern companies have branch offices scattered in various locations.

Though face-to-face meetings are effective, traveling between branches can waste time and resources.

According to Verizon Conferencing, face-to-face meetings that require travel may be seven times more expensive than virtual meetings.

While you may consider the option of conference calls, you may also want to know that 65% of employees regularly do other work during a conference call.

This, in turn, causes loss of focus and wasted time.

Rather than conference calls, it can be useful to engage in video conferencing, allowing employees to meet face-to-face without actually being in the same place.

A good solution: online meetings.

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Better yet, invest in online meeting management software.

A meeting management app has the ability to streamline multiple processes, from managing attendees and vendors to deciding budgets and schedules. It can also provide multi-party video conferencing and content sharing.

Some can even arrange your notes into professional meeting minutes and help you send them to the team. Meeting management apps can be the solution to nearly all meeting productivity issues.

Do you have any tips to make meetings better and more effective? Share them with us, in the comments below.

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3 Reasons Why Unplanned Meetings Do More Harm Than Good

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Meetings are an intrinsic part of professional life. Meetings provide employees the opportunity to share ideas, network, improve their understanding of each other, and update employees and management alike on new developments.

However, when meetings are unplanned, they disrupt the entire work environment. Without a set meeting agenda, it is difficult to know whose attendance is a must for the meeting to be a success. Do you need the large conference room or the small one?

Let’s look at three ways in which unplanned meetings can prove to be more harmful than effective.

1. Lack of Preparation

Meetings are only productive when the meeting agenda has been devised in advance and the relevant people are made aware of the agenda and the time of the meeting.

Unplanned meetings catch people off guard; employees are not ready to discuss the meeting’s agenda. When called upon to highlight an issue, people are likely to not be ready to be ready to discuss.

Not only would people not be prepared for the meeting; some of them might not even be present in the office. Many offices now have workers who telecommute, and these employees must be notified ahead of time.

Meetings are an important tool for sharing information, exchanging ideas or even raising concerns. Unplanned meetings defeat this purpose entirely.

Furthermore, unplanned meetings affect worker productivity and morale. Employees may feel that they have been put on the spot during unplanned meetings. These employees are then more likely leave the meeting feeling less motivated and informed then before.

2. Time Crunch

Meetings, even planned ones, take up a substantial amount of time out of the work day.

However, when employees are prepared for a meeting, they take conscious steps to ensure that their work is done on time. They might take a shorter lunch break, spend less time exchanging greetings, or simply arrive earlier for work.

With an unplanned meeting, employees do not have any opportunity to prepare for the time loss. They probably had tasks to complete during the time that the unplanned meeting is taking place. Because of an unplanned meeting, employees may be late on deadlines.

The time crunch employees feel during an unplanned meeting has the potential to keep them distracted throughout the meeting. Chances are that employees would be preoccupied during the meeting and miss important information being shared.

Unplanned meetings end up reducing employee productivity even more than planned meetings do. Not only are the employees late in delivering their assigned work — adversely effecting project KPIs — they probably will not take away as much from the meeting as they would from a planned meeting.

3. No Clear Purpose

Successful meetings are run according to a set of rules. People have specific roles and the agenda of the meeting must be followed to ensure that the meeting is productive.

Without a clear and concise agenda, people cannot know what topics are to be discussed. People are not aware of the length of the meeting or what to expect from the meeting itself.

Without clearly defined roles, no one knows who is mediating the meeting. Several people may try to raise points that they think should be addressed first. People are likely break off into groups to discuss the topics they think are noteworthy. This can result in chaos and confusion.

Minutes of meeting may also be indecipherable.

A planned meeting is optimized with the view of increasing productivity and collaboration, whereas an unplanned meeting ends up adversely affecting productivity and hindering collaboration.

In order for a meeting to be productive, it is essential that people are expecting the meeting and are aware of its purpose. Online meeting management softwarecan be used to make sure that people are notified about meetings with plenty of time to prepare accordingly.

Read the original post on the nTask blog by clicking here.

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These Productivity Stats Prove Stand-Ups Aren’t Just for Coders Anymore

That moment when you’re neck-deep in a task, only to learn that a teammate has already completed it. Or when you thought someone else owned a task and they thought you owned it. As you mentally tally the hours of wasted time, your stomach sinks lower and lower.

Poor communication is toxic for any team. Fortunately, agile development teams already know how to safeguard their productivity. It’s called the “daily stand-up”, and it’s becoming increasingly popular amongst non-technical teams like sales and HR – those who are savvy enough to adapt and adopt agile practices, that it.

If you’re among the uninitiated, no worries: the concept is dead-simple. You gather your team for 5-10 minutes to share updates on what each person is working on and what they plan to tackle next. That’s it. In just a few minutes, you’ve insured yourself against duplicated effort and dropped balls.

Workplace Productivity Data Show Why It Matters

It’s no surprise that coordination and communication within and across teams are critical to productivity. But it’s surprising how hard they are to get right. Consider that 86% of execs, employees, and educators blame ineffective communication for most failures in the workplace. And those failures ain’t cheap. A business with 100 employees loses an average of $528,000 annually clarifying lousy communication.

So just throw a few emails at it. Job done. Right? Wrong. Workers spend 13 hours each week on emails as it is, and 96% say at least a few of those hours are completely wasted time that make their “real work” workload feel heavier. In other words, more email equals more stress – and stressed-out employees take almost twice as many sick days, and are less productive when they’re in the office.

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Stand-ups are a great alternative to email because they’re not just quick, they increase engagement between workers. Plus, they’re fast-paced and high-energy, both of which give the ol’ daily routine a nice shot in the arm.

The Dos and Don’ts of Daily Stand-Ups

Do…

  • Account for timezones. Stand-ups are traditionally a morning thing but don’t have to be.
  • Include remote teammates. Use video chat if you can, or a speakerphone if video isn’t feasible.
  • Keep it lively. Try going in random order, for example. Toss an object (a hat, a ball, a rubber chicken…) to a teammate to let them know it’s their turn.
  • Raise any blockers you’re facing so your team lead can help remove them.
  • Let stakeholders listen in. But don’t let them participate – this is your time to speak.

Don’t…

  • Sit down. This is supposed to be the fastest meeting ever. Standing discourages you from prattling on.
  • Let the conversation head down a rabbit hole. Table it, keep moving, and let the relevant people pick the thread back up later.
  • Be inconsistent with the cadence or location. Moving the meeting around causes confusion, which makes people late, which makes it take longer than necessary.

Already a Stand-Up Pro? Take It to the Next Level

If all this sounds far too vanilla for your tastes, try one of these variations.

Task-oriented 

Conduct your stand-up around a task board (e.g., kanban board, Trello board) and run through each task. Discuss what needs to be done to move each one along, whether it makes sense for someone to help out, and roughly how much work is remaining.

Show and tell

Instead of using the 10 minutes to update each other on the status of your work, use it to share tricks of the trade or that cool article you read this morning on the train. If nobody has anything to share on a given day, you can always dig into some data – how are you tracking on your OKRs? any interesting spikes in traffic to your site lately?

All for one, all distributed

If your stand-up includes a mixture of remote and co-located people, take a page from the folks at Trello: have everyone join the meeting via video conference. This levels the playing field in terms of how easy it is to hear and participate.

The Easiest Meeting You’ll Never Sleep Through

Being transparent about what you’re working on is the easiest way to ensure things keep moving smoothly – for everyone. Try a stand-up with your team today (or share this post with your pals over in finance/marketing/legal/HR). It’s a great way to put the “happy” back in this week’s Friday happy hour.

 

Also published on Inc.com.

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Advantages of Agile Method

Software development is weird. Like, weird weird. That is the thing you have admit in order to move forward peacefully. For outsiders it might seem like magic. In reality, it is merely a highly organised sequence of multi-faceted processes with a possibility to turn into a giant vaporous mess at any moment because of some vapid recklessness or simple miscalculation.

The agile approach is one of the two commonly used methods of organizing the development process. It is designed to be a polar opposite of its counterpart—the good old waterfall approach—in every conceivable sense.

Where waterfall is linear—“a to z” and strictly by the book—agile development is non-linear and adaptable to the current situation. 

Here are the five biggest advantages of applying agile method to development process.

1. Self-Organization

In many ways, the agile method can be considered to be anti-authoritarian. It favors self-organization and highly motivated workers over imposing authorities and strict subordination.

Every member of the team is encouraged to do their best and suggest different ways of solving the problems. Another critical advantage of agile is that team is allowed to take tactical decisions on their own; there is a task and it must be completed the way the executor sees fitting.

Discussion and brainstorming is another important element because sometimes the best solution comes from outside. This makes a healthier atmosphere in the team and in the long run provides much more insights into applied technological processes

2. The Client Is in the Game

Collaboration in agile goes far beyond the development team. The client becomes fully involved in developing process.

While it may seem odd at first, there is logic to it. The client is the one who started it all; he or she pays the piper, after all. Clients’ involvement, albeit limited to a consultant role, can be extremely helpful.

By discussing things on the go, the team is able to adjust to the vision and deliver the closest possible interpretations of his suggestions. In addition, it is the best way of keeping the client in the know about the status of the project.

3. Product Does the Talking

The traditional way of presenting the project to the client is through documentation, an extensive amount of documentation about every little thing that goes on in the product down to the most minuscule detail. At times it can be extremely annoying because one thing can look amazing on paper while in reality, it is a badly patched-up Frankenstein’s monster.

Agile moves away from documentation to the product itself. The reason is simple: it is the main goal of the project, so why it should be subverted through presentation? It seems more logical, as you can always fix the papers, but you can’t shy away from flaws in the program.

4. Supreme Flexibility

Agile’s biggest advantage over the waterfall method is in the ability to quickly and smoothly adapt to any changes. It is made possible by rearranging development process into a series of iterations.

If some function is abundant or not cost effective, it can be replaced on the go. If the client changes his mind over some parts of the projects, it can be changed accordingly.

Here’s how it works: you have a overarching task of developing a program. You define what you need to do. Then you break it down into digestible bits, or local tasks.

5. Quick Try-Out

Another hugely beneficial advantage of Agile approach is the availability of the MVP early on. Unlike the waterfall method in which the product is delivered in the end of the development process, agile approach allows developers to construct basic prototype of the program early on and drop it on the market to see how it will be perceived by the target audience.

This approach gives a lot of vital insights into what is working and what is not in the program and allows to fix, refine, and replace program’s functions and thus adapt much closely to the needs of the target audience.

In Conclusion

Modern life is all about being faster and more effective. It goes faster and faster and faster with each passing moment. It turns into intense competition where no one can catch a break without breaking a sweat and taking a few bumps on the way.

It is the reality of almost every modern industry, and there is no industry where it can be more apparent than in software development.

It’s tough to develop various application to begin with. It requires clear and distinct vision, martial work ethic, and an astounding gut in order to pull this off and not break into tears. And even that is not a solid guarantee that everything will be alright. However, by applying agile approach to development process, you can at least keep things under control and adjust to any situation.

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5 Tips and Tricks for Creatives and Designers to Meet Project Goals

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Project management is an incredibly valuable skill set, and companies spend millions of dollars every year to train, retain, and hire quality project managers. Although this type of job is incredibly involved, the basics of project management are relatively easy to summarize. Below we’ve captured five tips and tricks for creatives and designers to meet project goals.

Image title1. Staying on Track

Creatives and designers rely on inspiration, which can be somewhat unpredictable and chaotic at times. Ensuring that your approach to work is structured will help channel those creative juices in a positive manner.

Sorting through the chaos of creation can be a daunting task; this process can be simplified by using a task management or perhaps a project management software such as nTask. Online tools help designers and creatives keep track of their ideas so they can be captured, stored, and developed as necessary. The worst thing that can happen to a creative process is to lose track of an excellent idea.

Image title2. Clarify Expectations in Advance

Designers spend a lot of time revising their work because of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and changing expectations as the project evolves.

Many revisions are unnecessary because the deliverables were not clearly communicated and documented upfront. A common cause of this is the project manager making assumptions about the client’s requirements and failing to follow up by explicitly asking simple questions.

Benjamin Franklin once said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Spending time at the beginning of the project to ensure everyone is on the same page will save significant time and cost down the line.

Keeping track of all communication and documentation is vital so you can meet project deliverables with minimal revision. Quality documentation ensures that all the requirements are stated comprehensively and met.

Image title3. Quantifying Time Spent on Brainstorming

“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” — Linus Pauling

Brainstorming depends on inspiration, and this isn’t something that can always be controlled; in fact, a study in 2014 showed that 72% of people have creative insights while taking a shower. While controlling inspiration isn’t possible, structuring your approach to facilitate it is.

One time-proven best practice is to schedule brainstorming sessions with your team, or if the project team is only you, scheduling time for yourself to do this without any other distractions.

It is important to take time to brainstorm as many ideas as possible at the beginning of a project; during this stage, remember that no idea is a bad idea: the goal is to open your team’s minds to all of the possibilities — good, bad, and ugly.

After as many ideas as possible are captured, you can begin whittling them down to the solid prospects.

4. Being Organized

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Designers need a clear mind to align the project goals with their creative thought processes, and this means finding an organizational system that works for you. If you’re constantly faced with distractions, spending time to identify and find solutions for those is a direct investment in all of the work you’ll do down the line.

Start with your physical space: does it meet your needs? Is it comfortable? Do you have everything you need to complete the job without distractions?

Follow that up with your mental space: do you have processes in place to capture ideas about other projects as you work? Is your calendar dependable?

Finally, ensure that you have solid habits in place that directly relate to the project. You need to be able to capture the client’s ideas, track your progress, and ensure that milestones and billing are accurately recorded. Investing time to create structure will make every other aspect of your project more efficient.

5. Work with a Team

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Creative work is often solitary, but feedback is an effective tool for improving your work and push your artistic boundaries. Constantly focusing on your own work can be isolating and demotivating.

A social psychology study conducted in 1920 showed that people working on individual tasks at the same table performed better. This means when you work as a part of the team you have a greater level of motivation in accomplishing your work, even if those tasks are highly individualized.

Making sure that your team is on the same page and that individual tasks are being tracked is very important. There are multiple online project management softwaretools, such as Trello, which are specifically designed with these goals in mind.

How are you keeping up with your project goals as a creative/designer? Let us know in the comments below.

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Brainstorming in IT Teams: Must-Have or Time Wasting?

“Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships.” This is a quote from Michael Jordan and actually, he is right. Any successful decision, whether it is a victory in a championship or the release of a new product, is achieved through the efforts of the whole team. Where does the path to success begin?

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Here we’ll define all advantages of brainstorming process that can become the beginning of great success of your company.

Brainstorming is an effective way of solving problems and current tasks, based on stimulating the creative activity of team members. The goal of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible and determine the best solution based on them. Besides, brainstorming is one of the great solutions if the team members have such questions as, “How do we avoid routine in work processes?”

How often did your coolest projects start with a simple brainstorming session? Should we use brainstorming as a permanent practice in the team working life? In this article, we define what brainstorming is: a must-have process or time wasting.

What is Brainstorming in Agile Teams?

In fact, Agile brainstorming focuses on the same common goals as any other brainstorming. There are differences in team members — the majority of participants in Agile brainstorm are developers.

Do not confuse brainstorming and a daily Stand Up.

C:\Users\User\Desktop\Brainstorming\Brainstorm main 3.jpgA daily Stand Up is a meeting that takes place in Agile frameworks like Kanban, Scrum, Extreme Programming to synchronize actions and discuss statuses on short-term tasks.

The Stand Up should not be turned into brainstorming because it has time constraints assigned by product managers or project managers (most often, 10-15 minutes).

Brainstorming in Agile teams is a thorough and detailed event with a specific goal to find a solution.

During the brainstorming session, all participants are invited to express as many options as possible to resolve the issue. As a result of the practice, several of the solutions most acceptable to the problem are selected.

10 Rules for Arranging an Effective Brainstorming Session

1) Be prepared.

In an ideal world, the agenda of brainstorming should be announced in advance. In this case, the participants and team members will be able to prepare everything. A moderator (a project manager or a product manager) chooses and notifies all participants, informs them about the place and time.

It is important for the moderator to understand who needs to be invited. It depends on the theme: a content manager is unlikely to be useful in technical development issues, and the CEO of the company does not need to discuss the concept of the site’s FAQ page. However, each case is individual and there can be exceptions everywhere.

Example 1: Brainstorming dedicated to the industry exhibition where a SaaS product participates. The goal is to design the booth concept and explore related product activities. For discussion, a marketing specialist, a PR specialist, a designer, a financing manager, a logistics specialist and a procurement specialist are invited.

Example 2: Brainstorming dedicated to the introduction of product’s Android application. The goal is to diversify the app and to create competitive features. A project manager invites developers, a designer, a beta tester and a support manager.

2) Present the issue correctly.

A clear formulation is important to all team members. It is necessary to identify the problem without any additional clarifications.

3) Set the right goals.

Often, the global results depend on the goal formulation. The more clearly initial data will be given to each participant, the more effective the brainstorm will be. There is no need to discover continents: set your goals according to SMART principle.

4) Generate ideas.

In fact, this is the most important stage, in which, among dozens of options, real solutions to the problem are born. It should be a continuous stream of ideas, from the most trivial to the most fantastic. The more active participants in a brainstorming session, the more chances for successful ideas.

5) Download thoughts.

Visualization is the first step in finding a solution to any problem. Fix your ideas on paper and you will quickly find additional ideas or you can build a chain from the abstract thoughts. Draw illustrations, graphics, use Kanban-boards with cards. All this will help to find the right way faster.

6) Only constructive criticism (but it is better without it at all).

It is important to be able not only to listen but also to hear. Do not interrupt participants and give the opportunity to speak out to everyone. Even the craziest idea has a right to exist. Criticism during brainstorming can bring down the pace or even offend.

7) Evaluate, classify, and prioritize.

After active brainstorming, the stage of evaluating and ranking ideas begins. It’s a good time to remember about prioritization techniques and, if possible, to apply an accessible tool for prioritization that will quickly help visualize the most important and secondary ideas.

Even if the tool for prioritization is designed for long-term plans and ideas, it can still be useful for the short-term assistance. For example, Backlog Priority Chart by one of the platforms for product management includes the following criteria:

  • Quick Wins – for the prime ideas.
  • Big Bets – for ideas with high priority, but which can be executed later.
  • Maybes – the ideas with less value and urgency, they can be postponed.
  • Time sinks – the ideas of the most recent priority.

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8) Ask for help.

If the process of discussion has reached a deadlock or the votes of the participants have shared equally, do not hesitate to call “fresh” heads.

9) Moderate constantly.

The brainstorming coordinator should not leave the process even for a minute. Some participants may be shy and not speak out on time. You need to track the timing, ask leading questions and give the voice to everyone.

10) Do not get distracted.

Do not lose conclusions. It is very important to fix all the thoughts to have the opportunity later to return to them and to analyze something again.

Brainstorming can be held according to your rules, from timing to selection of participants, or can strictly follow the principles of one of the methodologies specially designed for successful discussion.

Popular Techniques and Practices for Effective Brainstorming

Stepladder Technique

The stepladder technique is a simple method that stimulates the entry of team members into the decision-making group and demonstrates how they do it.

Decision-making within a group may not go smoothly. There are always more active participants and those who prefer to remain silent if his/her position does not gain the necessary “weight.” Some people need a lot of time to fight for recognition within the team, and some gain credibility from the first minute. Because of this, the course of brainstorming can get out of control.

The technique was developed by Steven Rogelberg, Janet Barnes-Farrell and Charles Lowe in 1992. It motivates all team members to participate on an individual level, without undue influence. This leads to a wider variety of ideas. It does not force people to “close” and excludes the pressure from the more active members of the group.

The technique involves 5 stages:

  • All the participants learn the details about the problem to be discussed before the brainstorming. They need some time to form their own opinion on how to accomplish the task or solve the problem better.
  • A group of two people is formed. They begin to discuss the problem among themselves.
  • A third participant is added to the group. He /she presents own ideas to the first two participants before hearing their ideas that have already been discussed. After all three participants have presented their individual solutions and ideas, they discuss the possible options together.
  • The process is repeated with the addition of a fourth person, and so on.
  • The final decision is reached after all participants presented their ideas and discussed them with everyone.

The method is a systematic approach that involves all members of the group and allows everyone to be heard. Stepladder is recommended to shy, modest and calm people.

Delphi Method

This method is rather effective for everyday life and for professional solutions since it allows you to take into account the opinions of all people, by consistently combining proposals and conclusions. This is quite similar to Stepladder technology. However, this approach to brainstorming is different.

  • According to the method, the coordinator controls the group. In Stepladder all participants are equal.
  • Delphi method assumes the anonymity of group members. The moderator manages the flow of information, and participants may not know who else is participating, while in Stepladder meetings occur “face to face” approach.
  • The method is also considered a more time-consuming process, requiring more people.

Participants are divided into two groups:

  • Experts who present their views on the problem.
  • Analysts who should bring expert opinions to the common conclusion.

The technique involves three stages:

  • Preliminary, with the selection of experts (up to 20 people).
  • Primary. At this stage, experts are studying the main question and “break it” to the smaller ones. Analysts select the most common questions and form a common questionnaire.

The questionnaire is returned to the experts. They have to tell if there is anything to add and if the information is enough. The experts need to offer their own solutions to the problem and explore alternative positions. They assess the effectiveness, availability of resources and the relevance of solutions. The analysts identify the main opinions and try to bring them closer. The steps are repeated until the experts come to a consensus.

  • Analytical – agreeing with the opinions of experts, analyzing the results and final recommendations.

Round-Robin Technique

Round-Robin is a brainstorming session with the principle of circular ideas creating.

This method lasts not as long as the previous ones. The more participants, the better results will be. This brainstorming is best conducted with a large round table.

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Here’s how it works:

  • There is a presenter who announces the problem to the audience.
  • Each participant writes his own decision on a sheet of paper.
  • The sheets with the entries are sent clockwise to the next one.
  • Everyone should come up with his idea on the basis of the written idea and also write it down.
  • The sheets are transferred and the rounds are repeated until each member of the team returns his sheet. As a result, each participant receives his own “bank of ideas.” Then the discussion begins.

The Method of Reverse Brainstorming

Reverse Brainstorming is useful when more traditional techniques are no longer work. This is quite a radical way to raise the team’s activity and come to effective results from the opposite.

Reverse brainstorming is considered as a negative process. Instead of generating better ideas, participants are asked to offer impossible goals.

People who fond of the technology think that with the help of negative thoughts the group receives useful information about what does not work.

This method can be helpful when the team members are “burned out” or the company has reached a dead end.

It is always easier to find negative than positive. Besides, negative emotions provoke to speak. Therefore, reverse brainstorming can turn into an exciting event within your team.

Rolestorming Methodology

Rolestorming (role-playing brainstorming) may seem like a game or process, suitable only for creative teams. However, often, this technique allows you to go beyond the accepted and get completely new and fresh ideas by presenting the problem on behalf of another person.

You can generate ideas as Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, or even the Pope. Each participant describes his/her character and presents the problem and possible solution from the point of view of the person described. All ideas are discussed in the group.

What Technique Should I Choose?

You can understand which of the techniques is right for your team only by experiencing each of them. Testing the methods, you will find out that brainstorming is not a waste of time, but a productive event. The question “why” should give way to the question “how”.

Try them and share your experience!

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Hate OKRs? Avoid These 7 Mistakes

The moment I heard it, my acronym allergy kicked in: OKRs. I’d done S.M.A.R.T. goals at another company, and they kind of sucked. Ditto for quarterly As & Os (accomplishments and objectives). Obviously, this OKRs thing was going to be more of the same.

And they did indeed kind of suck. We’d start working out OKRs for the next quarter with a full month left in the current quarter, so it felt like we were always in planning mode. Then all quarter long, I’d go down my checklist of KRs doing the same things I’d probably be doing anyway, wondering how that month of formalizing them wasn’t pointless overhead.

OKRs (“objectives and key results”) n.  — Yet another corporate goal-setting framework.

The one thing OKRs had going for them was that people up the chain were setting high-level objectives, then leaving it to the people closest to the actual work (i.e., people like me) to decide exactly how we were going to contribute. That part totally makes sense, and I appreciate that level of autonomy.

Still, OKRs felt like a confusing and unnecessarily process-heavy way of shooting for the stars.

Image titleThen I realized I’d been doing them wrong in a bunch of ways. In fact, most of us were getting something about OKRs wrong. No wonder it was confusing. Long story short, we straightened ourselves out and now OKRs are actually fruitful — I’ll show you some real-life examples below.

If you hate OKRs, you owe it to yourself to at least make sure you’re doing them right (seeing as you probably have to do them anyway, rage notwithstanding). Below is a list of mistakes that were running rampant around, plus a couple bonus anti-patterns you should be aware of.

Full disclosure: we haven’t eliminated all of them. Yet.

The ABCs of OKRs

If you’re already familiar with the basics, skip to the mistakes below. But for the uninitiated… Objectives and key results (OKRs) is a framework for setting goals, typically on a quarterly basis. Your team sets 3–5 high-level goals (objectives) to pursue, along with 2–3 success measures you’ll use to determine whether you’ve reached it (key results).

At the end of the quarter, you score each KR on a sliding scale from 0 to 1 (0 = no progress at all; 1 = you hit or exceeded your target; .1-.9 = somewhere in between). During the quarter, you check in and predict what the final score will likely be, based on how you’re tracking so far. This keeps OKRs fresh in your mind and serves as an early detection system for OKRs that might need some extra attention.

Mistake #1: Confusing Themes with Objectives

“Ecosystem” isn’t a helpful objective. Neither is “customer experience.” They don’t say much about what you’re trying to achieve or where you want to go. They’re nice themes, sure. But they’re not really goals.

Instead, write your objectives such that you can look back later and see clearly whether you met it or not.

One of our design team’s objectives is, “Improve our craft, velocity, and quality of design decisions.” They paired it with KRs like “50% of product releases have a passing UX scorecard” (I don’t know what a UX scorecard is, but I trust our design team does).

Mistake #2: Writing All Your Things as OKRs

Your KRs shouldn’t be an exhaustive list of every single thing you and your team are doing. Stuff that falls into the “business as usual” category like fixing bugs or closing out the quarterly books doesn’t need to be there.

If your objective is to change the way in which you go about business as usual, that might be worth including — “Improve turnaround time on customer-reported bugs” or “Reduce late expense report submissions by 20%.”

OKRs are your highest priority items, and “just enough” is enough. FWIW, I’m a senior-level individual contributor and I typically own 1–3 KRs each quarter.

Mistake #3: Confusing KRs with Tasks

For a long time, I wrote my KRs as nothing more than a to-do list. Check ’em off when they’re done, score ’em all a 1 (more on that in a moment), and call it a day. Satisfying, sure…but again: formalizing my tasks as KRs just felt like busy work. Plus, there were times when, halfway through the quarter, I realized the task wouldn’t get me closer to the objective. “But it’s a KR! Im honor-bound to follow through on it!” Ugh.

My lightbulb moment was when I got hip to the fact that the “R” stands for “result.” (Duhhh.)

So instead of saying “Publish 3 blog posts related to the Team Playbook,” I started saying “Increase traffic to Playbook-related posts by 15%.” How I get that 15% increase is flexible. I could promote old posts, optimize them for search, publish new stuff, or some combination thereof. Also, getting to a 15% increase feels like a juicy challenge. (‘Cuz honestly, I could churn out 3 posts in my sleep. They’d get crap results, but I could do it.)

Think outcomes — not output.

Mistake #4: Scoring KRs by Gut-Feel

You may have seen KRs like, “Better customer engagement.” How could you even score that?? It’s super subjective, and therefore meaningless in the context of goal-setting.

When you phrase KRs as a measurable result, however, they’re easy to score. Just do the math. Going back to my, “Increase traffic to Playbook-related posts by 15%” KR above, let’s say I manage to increase traffic to my blog posts by only 5%. I divide 5 by 15 and boom: my score for that KR is .3 (roughly).

Objectives, on the other hand, are often articulated such that you can’t score them objectively. But that’s actually ok. Take the average of all the KR scores rolling up into it, and you’ve got your O score.

 Note the end-of-quarter score on the left. So easy to calculate! Yay math.

Mistake #5: Scoring KRs on the Wrong Scale

There’s this famous preso from Google about OKRs that talks about how a score of .7 is considered good. That led to some confusion on our team as to whether you score your KR a .7 vs a 1 if you hit your stated target. (The argument being that scoring it a .7 leaves room for you to exceed it and “get credit” for over-achieving.)

Here’s the deal. If you hit your KR’s target, you score it a 1. At least, that’s how Google does it. If you exceed your target, you still score it a 1 — and think about setting a more ambitious target next time. Which leads me to…

Mistake #6: Consistently Scoring 1s on Every OKR

The reason a .7 is considered good is that your stated targets are supposed to be really frikking hard to hit. If you’re nailing them most of the time, you’re not stretching yourself. Or, your KRs are actually just tasks (see above) that get a binary 0 or 1 score. Maybe it’s both.

My team once set a KR of doubling SEO-based traffic to one of our microsites, which, honestly, felt like a pipe-dream. But lo n’ behold, we did it! And we learned a ton along the way, which wouldn’t have happened if we’d set a target we could’ve sleepwalked to. This was my other lightbulb moment.

Mistake #7: Doggedly Pursuing a Bogus OKR

Don’t keep chipping away at a rock if it’s the wrong rock. Things change, new information comes to light, etc. It’s ok to remove or abandon an OKR if you no longer believe it’s the right thing to do. Score it a 0, and replace it with one that is right.

An important aspect of OKRs is that zeros are not punishable. (If they are, then you’re really doing it wrong.) Instead, zeros should prompt questions. Why did we miss so badly? Why was this the wrong goal? How can we set a better goal next quarter? If you learn something from your zero, you haven’t wasted your time.

It’s OK to Hate OKRs…But I Don’t (Anymore)

After a few quarters of doing OKRs the way they’re supposed to be done (or close to it), I generally feel more focused. It’s easy to figure out what I should be working on at any given point in the quarter. And if someone requests additional work from me, I can weigh it against OKR-related work and give them a yes/no answer quickly.

I also feel more connected to the work people around me are doing (and being a remote employee, that’s doubly important). My teammates and I often own individual KRs that feed into a common objective, which gets us sharing info and ideas more than we used to.

As a bonus, getting comfortable with setting stretch goals keeps me from wallowing in mediocrity. Complacency is a career-killer, and I’ve got too many years before retiring to rest on my laurels just yet.

So yeah: I’ve gone from OKR hater to born-again OKRs booster. Which makes me wonder what else in my life seems kinda sucky…but only because I’m doing it wrong.

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How Do You Measure Productivity?

How do you measure productivity? It’s a simple question, but does it have an easy answer?

If I increase my productivity by 20% or even 50%, how do I know for certain? How does your manager know? Is it a subjective, finger-in-the-air guess?

I thought I would explore the process of measuring how productive a person is. I presumed that a simple question would have a simple answer. To get at that answer, I realized that I needed to ask more questions.

What Amount of Work Was Done?

The most obvious answer to how productive someone is would be to measure how much work that person has done. For example, John has done 50 things today (a rate of 50 items/day), whereas Jane has done only 5 (a rate of 5 items/day). Obviously, John is more productive, right?

Let’s consider another analogy: John delivered 50 parcels today. They were all on the same street, whereas Jane delivered only 5 parcels today — but they were delivered in towns 100 km apart. Now, who do we think was more productive?

The amount of work done does not seem to be a good measure.

How Many Hours Were Spent on Work?

The next obvious answer is the more hours you work, the more productive you are. So John works 12 hours per day, whereas Jane works 7 hours per day. John, again, is more productive, right?

Well, John spent those 12 hours writing Testing Procedure Specification reports that no one reads, browsed MySpace, and twiddled his thumbs. He also complained about losing his stapler (Why, oh why, doesn’t Netflix carry Office Space!). By contrast, Jane worked on a method to save the company $5 million per year. Who was more productive?

The amount of time someone spends at work does not seem to be a good measure.

What Was the Work’s Value?

Perhaps we should try evaluating value. The higher the value of your work to the business, the more productive you are, right?

So John works on 5 high-value, 2 medium-value, and 1 low-value pieces of work. Jane worked on 1 high-value piece of work. However, John’s 5 high-value and 2 medium-value pieces of work were not very difficult, as they took only a few hours to do. The low-value work took him weeks, whereas Jane’s one high-value piece of work was difficult and required days of effort. Who was more productive?

The amount of value of the work does not seem to be a good measure, but I think we are going in the right direction. Value does need to be taken into account.

How Much Effort Was Needed and What Was the Difficulty Level?

Because the value of work must be taken into account, let’s work on the high-value items first. However, I think we need to take into account how much effort something takes.

Suppose we rate the work based on how much effort each item takes by using measures such as small, medium, and large. Assume that John worked on a large item for a week, while Jane worked on three medium items for a week. Are three mediums more work than one large? Are three mediums equal to one large? How can you easily tell? Who is more productive in this case, John or Jane?

Defining Units of Measure

I think we are getting close. We need a common unit of measure and some simple way to convert from (S)mall/(M)edium/(L)arge to a number. Let’s say that S = 1, M = 2, and L = 3.

So, we have John who worked on 3 smalls, while Jane worked on 6 smalls. This also doesn’t sound right. Some small tasks take no time at all, whereas others can take significant effort. We need something more than just three categories. Maybe we can use extra small (XS) for those items that take little to no effort; small (S) for items that take a little bit of effort, but still not much; medium (M) for those that are a quite bit more effort; large (L) for something that takes a lot of effort, and finally extra large (XL) for something that will either pull a muscle or burst a blood vessel, based on the amount of effort.

The units of measure look something like this:

  • XS = 1

  • S = 2

  • M = 3

  • L = 4

  • XL = 5

Wait, something doesn’t seem right. Where is the cutoff point from, “I’m exhausted from the effort” (Large), to “My head hurts” (Extra Large), or from tilts hand up/down, left/right in so-so motion (Medium) to “I’m exhausted” (Large)? The differences need to be much bigger than one unit greater.

How about this measure: The next level up is the sum of the two previous units? It looks something like this:

  • XS = 1

  • S = 2

  • M = 3 (same as before)

  • L = 5

  • XL = 8

Hmm, a 5 to 8 jump isn’t “Ow, my head hurts!” level of effort, but if we add an XXL, we get XXL = 13. That’s a big enough jump.

This sequence looks familiar. I remember my high school math teacher, Mr. Fibonacci, mentioning something like this. This looks very interesting. I’m going to call these work units (Hey, who said story points? What’s that?). Now we can work out how much work has been done.

Assume that John with his Large unit of measure has completed 5 work units, whereas Jane has completed 6 work units. I think we are making progress.

Let’s standardize this to a time period. They both completed the tasks in one week. The productivity rate for John was 5 work units per week and Jane’s was 6 work units per week (Hey, who mentioned velocity!).

Hang on, we’re not quite done yet. Individual productivity rates are all well and good, but John and Jane are a team. Measuring individual productivity rates does not promote a team mentality. If Jane is doing less than John, she should be helping John or vice versa. I should combine these into one overall rating, so the team rating is 11 work units per week. I should only compare rates week to week, per team, and not across teams because each team sizes work differently. I also need to make sure that the team agrees on the size of the work as a whole. There’s no point in having Jane say something is small when John thinks it’s large. They will both need to discuss and agree.

If in a few weeks, Jane and John’s combined work increases to 17 work units per week, they have gained about a 50% increase in productivity. A measurable, comparable unit of measure for productivity. I think we’ve got it!

Conclusion

This experiment on trying to determine how a manager might work out how to measure productivity is a fun way, at least for me, of trying to understand why, in Agile, you would use something like story points and velocity.

Using velocity for measuring productivity is not perfect and is subjective because it is based on an individual’s or the team’s idea of the size of work. It is also open to abuse. Jane and John could say all their work is Large and increase their productivity (throughput) significantly. Therefore, this rating should not be used for any incentives, simply because it can be abused and thus the rate becomes meaningless. However, it does indicate, for an experiment or trial, whether a productivity gain has made headway.

As you can see, this also ties into estimation, which is another reason to move away from doing estimates as time units.

One more thing: although this story is complete fiction, I still think it deserves a happy ending. 

Epilogue

With the help of their manager, John and Jane were able to visualize their productivity rates. Thus, they were able to put them into effect. They could make changes to the way they worked and get quick feedback on how those changes affected their throughput for work. Six months later, their productivity rose 1000%. They did this through experimentation, eliminating wasteful practices, and adopting a framework called Scrum.

And they lived happily ever after.

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Get Work Done: Strategies for Getting More Efficient and Finishing

For the second week in a row, I’m tackling reader question Monday a little late. This time, my excuse involves the mini-move my wife and I made over the weekend that I originally mentioned on Friday. So traveling, unpacking, and all that. But, better late than never. Today, I’ll talk about how to get work done.

Here’s a reader question that I received a while back.

Hello Erik!

I enjoyed your article on 10x developers. Environment is very much a large part of the equation. My current question is: What is the ideal way to increase one’s software efficacy? To increase their doneness?

A little context is that I’m feeling the need to become more “effective.” In the words of Steve Yegge of the “done, and get things smart ” dichotomy, I’m comfortable getting things smart. I like cleaning up code and making systems more readable, leaving documentation, and removing hurdles for the team. But it takes me a long time to do so.

I’m at a startup venture right now and will be here for a year or two longer. After that I’d like to take a month off, then spend 3-6 months (or maybe longer if the solution requires it) focusing on ‘closing the loop,’ getting more stuff done, being a better programmer.

Some possible options I’m considering:

  • Finding a new job with this as primary motivating factor.
  • Apprenticeship at 8th light or similar.
  • Grad school.
  • Some dev bootcamp.
  • Self direction + contracting.
  • Finding mentorship here.

I would love to get your thoughts, if you wanted to increase your general ability to get things done, how would you do it? Where does one learn to get things done?

Clarifying “Get Work Done”

First of all, let’s do a bit of clarification. In his blog post, Steve Yegge riffs on Joel Spolsky’s “smart and gets things done” theme. Steve’s take on “get things smart” refers to burrowing into existing systems and improving them – making them smarter.

So the reader question here is envisioning a spectrum of sorts between “done” and “smart.” When forced to choose, someone on the “done” spectrum would opt for quick and dirty. On the other hand, the “smart” folks would perhaps push the deadline in favor of having uncompromising standards.

You could interpret this question as “how do I stop perfecting and start shipping?” But I think it’s more than that. It’s a question of, once you’ve figured out how to “get things smart,” how do you get them done more efficiently and know where to make trade-offs?

So let’s take a look at that. What are some strategies to deliver more stuff?

WIP Limits

Let’s start with something of a project management concern. You should set WIP limits for yourself. WIP stands for “work in progress,” and this approach borrows from Kanban and the Lean movement.

Picture a Trello board. On this board, you have three columns:

  • To Do 

  • Doing

  • Done

A WIP limit means that you place a hard ceiling on the number of cards in “Doing.” When you hit that limit and you want to start something new, you must first finish something that you’re doing.

The WIP limit approach can seem overly simplistic. But it’s easy to lose sight of how much you’re taking on when you don’t pay a ton of attention. WIP limits force you to complete (or abandon) things.

Of course, you’ll have to define a granularity that makes sense for you. I’m not saying that you can’t have a side hustle going while also doing laundry, reading a book, and having a snack. When it comes to software, give yourself a relatively low WIP limit with projects. This forces you to stop tinkering and ship if you want to do something new.

Prefer External Valuations

Generally speaking, WIP limits force you to concentrate more on fewer things. This puts your inherent love of new ideas and projects at odds with your perfectionism. You then hope that love of new ideas wins.

Let’s look at another strategy for busting perfectionism: external and objective valuations. To understand what I mean, let’s look at two different ways to call a project done. You’ve decided to start a blog and you want to make sure it looks good. You can:

  1. Work on theme/styling until you decide that you’re happy with it.
  2. Work on the theme/styling until 3 out of 5 people you ask tell you that it looks good.

The first approach invites you to work forever, indulging perfectionism as long as you want. The second approach, on the other hand, gives you a clear exit criterion. For those who have perfectionist tendencies, this can really snap you out of endless iteration.

When you start on something, sit down and establish an external, objective goal that seems reasonable.

Commitment Devices

If you work for an employer and that employer gives you a deadline, you’ll probably ship something. The consequences force your hand.

But what about when you’re working on a never-truly-complete internal thing? Or some side project? In this situation, nothing forces your hand (unless you’ve already taken my advice and brainstormed an external valuation).

A commitment device is a way in which you force your own hand. Promise the software to someone. Write a blog post publicly announcing that you’re going to have it by a certain date. In short, do something that forces your hand. This also serves to get you out of endless fiddling mode and focused on deliverables.

Strategic Procrastination

On a related note, you can always engage in some strategic procrastination. There is an adage known as Parkinson’s Law that I have always found to be true.

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Let’s go back to the case of you starting a blog. If I give you an hour to accomplish this, you’ll probably go to some hosted site like Blogger or WordPress, pick some default theme, and come back with 10 minutes to spare. But if I give you a week, you’ll probably shop around for hosting, weight the merits of a static site generator, do a bunch of research, spend hours picking out a theme, etc. You’ll spend a week on it.

Understand this property of human nature and use it to your advantage. Procrastinate.

Well, I don’t actually mean to procrastinate in the “wait until the 11th-hour” sense. Rather, I suggest hard time boxes on your activities. Give yourself an hour instead of a week. Work on something a little ahead of heading out for the day. Or set aside time to start on your blog in the hour before family comes over. Use Parkinson’s Law to compress your available time window.

Understand That You Can Always Improve Later

The last bit of advice that I’ll offer is perhaps both more philosophical than the others and also simpler. It’s understanding that the universe requires you to perfect absolutely nothing right now.

Use some of the techniques that I’ve outlined here. Timebox yourself, impose WIP limits, etc. That’ll trigger you to get a prototype or gen 1 thing out the door without turning it into some kind of Rembrandt-esque piece of code. That means that you’ll ship more things in life and get more done. But it can also create a feeling of bleakness, especially in those of us with a penchant for perfectionism. Trust me, I empathize.

And that’s why I close with this piece of advice. Meet your commitment and move it out of the WIP column so that you gain a reputation for delivering things. But do so knowing that you can always add another card to your TODO column to come back and improve it. Doing this allows you to make steady progress but without feeling like you’ve sold out or done anything with half-measures. Even if it’s half done in your mind, that’s because you’ve only done half of what you want to – not because you’ve lowered your standards by 50% and declared victory.

You’re never going to build the perfect thing. But don’t let that stop you from taking pride in building something and then in the knowledge that you can always improve as you go.

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Meetings :  A Culture of Excess That Hurts Our Productivity and Morale

71% of meetings are considered unproductive. Let’s fix that.

Visualistan — The Ugly Truth About MeetingsI believe in a world where meetings enhance productivity, inspire creativity, and enable teams to move faster — not the opposite.

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.” 
―  Dave Barry

We’ve all been there. We get to work at 9 am (or 10 am if you’re on the West Coast), and open up our calendars to check the agenda for the day. Yup, looks like another day where 50%+ of the time will be dedicated to a meeting.

The ironic thing is: no one loves meetings. In fact, we all complain about them: too many, too long, too often. But, we still schedule them, we still join them, and we still go with the flow.

And why is this? Well, meetings are represented and ingrained in our work cultures. More progressive cultures will have strict meeting policies, but the majority of workplaces have no meeting policy or a bad one.

So, what do we hear day after day?

Wasn’t able to get anything done yesterday, had to go to a bunch of meetings.

— The Developer

Find a slot on my calendar if you can, though I’m pretty booked up.

— The Director

Oh my god. A one hour meeting just for that? They could have just sent an email!

— The Marketer

Ugh.. I have meetings all day… to schedule more meetings.

— The Sales Rep

Adopting Football Meetings

This article is focusing on the more formal type of meeting — where a defined block of time is set aside with a defined purpose (standups, formal business meetings, formally arranged conferences, recurring meetings).

Often, we conflate the word ‘meeting’ with a normal workplace interaction, whereby you will discuss work-driven objectives with your coworkers in a more informal capacity. These are typically more organic interactions without a set time interval and can happen spontaneously.

Let’s look at a sports analogy: football (American). There is continual interaction throughout the entire game: players on the sidelines, coaches, players on the field, the quarterback, etc. The players interact with each other the entire time. The players on the field huddle up prior to the play, but only for less than a minute. Those on the sidelines are still interacting and preparing for their time to play. Coaches are chatting with individual players or with small groups of players here and there.

At halftime, there is a more formal meeting where all players go into the locker room. This is the longest meeting and it only happens once per game. It is a chance for leadership to have an all-hands sync up with the entire team to discuss objectives, strategy, and reflect on the first half of the game.

Teams have a limited number of timeouts per game, that we’ll call ‘elective meetings.’ These timeout meetings are used only when necessary in case extraneous circumstances call for a change of plans.

Every meeting has a very defined purpose with an equally strict timeline and every meeting must result in some sort of decision to move things forward.

So the question is: should our workplaces treat meetings like a football team does? And, if so, why aren’t we and what are the consequences?

The Evolution of Meetings

The Olden Days

Back in the days of landline telephones, no computers, and no cell phones, meetings were much more of a necessity. You couldn’t Slack someone in a different building or coordinate an email thread with multiple participants.

In the early 20th-century, the friction to coordinate a meeting was much higher.

In fact, the friction to coordinate a meeting was much higher. You had to schedule in advance, make sure everyone was properly notified, and make sure everyone could attend. There was no Google Calendar to sync invites and reschedule with a push notification.

I don’t want to claim that meetings were necessarily more or less productive back in the pre-tech days, but I can imagine that the opportunity cost and planning cost were much greater.

The Growth Days

As the 20th-century pushed forward, companies grew and grew to massive sizes —in multiple regions with multiple different teams. Coordination became a widespread organizational challenge.

In the later 20th-century, multi-region companies inherited the culture of long and frequent meetings, but now at scale.

Inheriting the culture of the early-20th century, these companies still embraced a culture of long and frequent meetings — where decision-makers transition from one meeting to the next, making or deferring decisions based on very limited information.

The Tech Days

Now with the introduction of simple video conferencing, meeting schedulers, and automated calendaring, meetings have become frictionless to coordinate. You simply select your participants, find some time where most or all are free, and plop it on their calendar.

In the modern tech age, scheduling and organizing meetings have become frictionless — meaning more meetings, more often.

Scheduling and organizing meetings have become frictionless. Ironically, the toughest part is finding a time that works for all the relevant stakeholders because they are booked in so many other meetings.

Are Meetings Productive? Let’s Look at the Stats

71% of meetings are considered unproductive— meaning that they had no clear outcome and no productive next steps —  Microsoft Study

lucidmeetings.com

92% of respondents confessed to multitasking during meetings — Source

36–56 million meetings per day in the U.S. — Source

15–20% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings — Source

$213 billion per year is spent on unproductive meetings — Source

71% of meetings are considered unproductive — Source

Dilbert.com

Consequences of Excessive, Unprepared Meetings

In an organization where meetings are long and rampant, they become ingrained in the organizational culture. Suddenly, being busy does not mean you are doing a lot of work or being productive… busy means that your time is dedicated to meetings.

In a meeting-driven organization, being ‘busy’ does not mean you are being productive — it typically means your time is dedicated to meetings. Therefore, you are time-constrained, but not necessarily busy producing value for the company.

Here Are Some Other Consequences:

Ineffective and cursory decision-making — Due to the frequency and length of meetings, preparing adequately for every meeting becomes daunting and near impossible. So, what happens is that teams are making abrupt and poorly-informed decisions based on limited information. Or, teams will just agree on an outcome just to end the meeting early.

In meetings, teams will agree on an outcome just to end the meeting early — often leading to ill-informed decisions.

Task Interruption — When an individual contributor has meetings scattered throughout the day, your ability to concentrate and work on your tasks becomes interrupted. There is a ramp-up time to start working at a steady cadence, so every time you are interrupted, you have to re-ramp up.

Time Gaps — Building on task interruption is the notion of time gaps. If you have a meeting that ends at 10:30 am and one that starts at 11:00 am, then are you really going to try to churn out productivity in that 30-minute slot? At most, you’ll get 10–15 minutes of work in before you need to go to your next meeting. Most likely, you will just decompress and relax during that time gap before your next meeting.

Energy Drain — Remember that boring class in school? Where you watch the clock and your mind wanders? You struggled to stay awake and struggled to entertain yourself. You aren’t sure what the teacher is saying, so you just agree with the class and hope that you can get excused early.

Morale Drain — When everyone is bored, lethargic, or distracted around you, then it drains the morale from the room (see the cartoon below).

Should You Have a Meeting?

The Perfect Meeting

The perfect meeting is one that is:

  • Device-free (cell phone and laptop bans except for the presenter) — Due to the rampant multitasking in meetings, banning distractions will help expedite decision-making, attentiveness, and the meeting’s resolution. Teams will be more ‘present’ and it will enable more effective outcomes.
  • Time-conscious — The meeting should only be scheduled if it absolutely requires real-time conversation at a time that does not unduly impact the workflow of the attendees. 80% of meetings should only be 15 minutes or less.
  • Appropriately scoped — Only the absolutely relevant stakeholders should be invited to the meeting. Optional attendees should receive the meeting results in an email, but often do not need to attend in person. In fact, these attendees could give input prior to the meeting for discussion.
  • Discussion-driven—Your meeting collateral (like slides or handouts) should be tailored for real-time discussion. The meeting should have more time set aside for discussion than for the presentation. The meeting facilitator should ask attendees directly for their opinions in order to encourage active listening and participation. All tangential discussions should be tabled immediately.
  • Necessary — Does the meeting actually need to happen? Or could an email, chat, phone call, or in person chat resolve the issue? If it’s a topic that requires more thought, then maybe the meeting is premature and all stakeholders should do more research prior to formalizing a meeting.
  • Prepped in advance — Ideally, all important stakeholders should weigh in on the issue prior to the meeting or have time to do research. The meeting should be about decision-making and outcomes, not about discovering new knowledge. The knowledge and research should be sent prior to the meeting as homework so that everyone has had time to think about the issue prior to making a decision. The focus of the meeting should be a productive, real-time discussion.
  • Clearly defined — The purpose of the meeting should be clearly articulated and understood by all attendees. It should have a defined objective that keeps the discussion on point.
  • Scheduled with appropriate frequency — Recurring meetings are one of the greatest fallacies of the modern work culture. Often, these meetings are knowledge sync-ups, where stakeholders are just exchanging knowledge. Any sort of bi-directional exchange of information does not require real-time discussion, so a meeting is likely not appropriate. Rather, you can create a living status document or sync up via email.
  • Demanding of a real-time conversation — The purpose of a meeting is to cultivate real-time conversation. Does sharing a PowerPoint require real-time conversation? Possibly, but often times these presentations are very knowledge-sharing focused and could just be prerecorded or sent out to the relevant stakeholders. The stakeholders can then determine if a real-time conversation is necessary.
  • Results-driven — The purpose of the real-time discussion should be tailored to a specific outcome. The outcome should never be “to have another meeting.” The outcome should also be codified and emailed to the stakeholders (and those who did not attend) so that the relevant stakeholders are aligned and have written record.
  • Further reading: NY Times — How to Run an Effective Meeting

A Cultural Shift: Shorter Meetings, Less Often

If the paradigm for a ‘perfect meeting’ is implemented organization-wide, then you may start to see the following cultural shift:

80% of meetings should be no more than 15 minutes long.

  • The number of formal meetings reduced by 75%.
  • A 15 minute maximum for 80% of meetings, 30-minute max for 15%, and 1 hour+ max for 5%.
  • A 15-minute optional extension if more real-time discussion is needed.
  • For the average individual contributor, less than 10% of your time should be spent in formal meetings (this doesn’t include one-on-one discussions, quick sync-ups, and normal workplace coordination).
  • When there is no longer need for real-time discussion, the meeting should be adjourned and a summary/next steps email should be sent to all participants by the meeting host. This has two benefits: (1) it holds hosts accountable for the meetings they organize, (2) it provides a codified result.

Main Take Away

Meetings should enhance productivity, inspire creativity, and enable teams to move faster — not the opposite.

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Keep Calm and Code On: Productivity Tools for Developers

Productivity turns into a vague concept when speaking of jobs in the technology environment. Programming is one of the areas where productivity is really hard to measure and manage: a developer’s productivity cannot be measured in trivial figures like lines of code. There are various opinions about how to handle it and many management approaches, but in any case, adopting special productivity tools for developers is a great way to improve team’s results. Alongside with the apps designed specifically for developers, general productivity tools that work for everyone can also be helpful for software development teams.

Work Management and Focusing Tools

Let’s start with general productivity tools that help organize the work process regardless of the type of activity you’re engaged in. Keeping track of time, controlling workflow progress, and blocking workplace distractions is important for everyone when you need to get things done.

actiTIME

actiTIME is designed for keeping control over individual and team’s time expenses, but it also a good work management instrument. It is used both by companies and freelancers for recording time spent on work tasks, controlling project progress, analyzing performance and profitability, and more. With its rich reporting functionality, managers can always get a detailed picture of their team’s productivity and individual results, compare actual results with initial estimates, and better plan their work for future. For regular employees, the tool offers a detailed overview of their work time structure, and a possibility to control their work time expenses and productivity.

Cold Turkey

Cold Turkey is a popular distraction-blocking app that helps you focus on your work, not on everything funny and attractive on your desktop or on the Internet. Set it up to block your access to specific websites, or to the entire Internet, or to any applications on your computer to create a distraction-free environment. The app helps develop self-control habits and get more done in less time.

Strict Workflow

Experts say that 25-minute focusing sprints with five-minute breaks are an efficient way to increase productivity. Strict Workflow is a Chrome extension that implements this idea: set up and start the timer, and follow its work-and-break cycles. Or, alternatively, you can use the traditional Pomodoro technique with a kitchen timer to develop concentration and build up productivity habits.

Habitica

If you enjoy playing RPG, why not gamify your work, too? Habitica is one of the most popular productivity apps that motivates you with RPG-like rewards and punishments. The app turns your tasks into monsters that you need to defeat. The more you get done, the more you progress in the game (and you can customize your avatar, prizes, and punishments). And if you find it boring or disappointing to play alone, there’s a social network feature: compete with friends who are also working on their productivity, fight bosses that can hurt your teammates, and tackle challenges with special prizes.

Special Productivity Tools for Software Development

There is another category of tools that can help developers be more productive at the workplace. Special tools that create a more comfortable work environment and speed up routine processes can be of help even for those who are not facing productivity issues.

Oh My Zsh

Oh My Zsh is an open-source framework for managing a Zsh configuration that comes with lots of useful functions. It is designed for developers working on the command line. When creating the tool, the developer focused on keeping it simple for people who are new to the command-line environment, but those who need advanced functions can choose among various plugins, helpers, themes, etc. As for now, there are more than 200 plugins for different technologies, and over 1,000 contributors keep working on the project.

The Silver Searcher

The Silver Searcher is a code-searching tool. Its author explains that a lot of time he spent on “writing” code was actually reading the code and searching through it. He needed a tool that would search quickly and relevantly — and he built it! Now, The Silver Searcher is ranked among the most efficient productivity tools for developers, as it saves a lot of time and effort.

UltraEdit

UltraEdit is a text editor that is often used for editing code and markup in virtually any markup or programming language. It can handle large files (up to 4 GB) and allows the user configure the work environment according to their preferences. Besides syntax highlighting for an unlimited number of languages and other visual features, it supports FTP, provides an SSH/telnet console, and allows logical grouping and ordering of files and folders, which is convenient when working on large projects.

Homebrew

Homebrew is “the missing package manager for MacOS,” as the authors call it. Its purpose is the quick installation of freely usable open-source tools from binary packages. Its lead maintainer, Mike McQuaid, says that it is particularly useful for developers, as it offers the quickest and easiest way to find and install commonly used developer tools or to create your own Homebrew packages.

GitHub Changelog Generator

As the name of this tool suggests, GitHub Changelog Generator offers the automated creation of change logs for projects you’re working on. It generates change logs by tags, issues, and pull requests in developers’ tools. This way, you can spend less time on describing important changes you made to your project and more time focusing on developing tasks.

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Using Technology to Maximize Productivity

Image: #WOCinTech Chat

So a few weeks back during #TechTuesday, I was having a massive issue with time management. I am a big proponent of automating my life so that I conserve as much time as possible, but this was beyond basic automation. My schedule had gotten so crazy that I shut down. I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t want to do anything because I felt like I could never catch up. I took to Black Enterprise’s Instagram live during #TechTuesday and tons of suggestions came in. Thank you for all of your participation. These are some of the tools that I found to be helpful for productivity with both their pros and cons included. 

Accountability

Coach.me – I’ve known about this app for some time now, but had never tested it out. I actually thought they only dealt with modules so I wasn’t that interested, as I was at the point of needing a physical person to chat with. Well as programming would have it, they actually did have real coaches. I chose Kendra, to which I paid, $19 per week to help me get my life back in order. She gave me scheduling documents through Google Sheets to help organize my day-to-day, which was extremely helpful.

Sesh – In addition, I downloaded another app. Sesh is a new company that, from what I could tell, recently pivoted from another concept. Their coach was awesome and far more engaged than Kendra but you could feel the startup customer service when engaging with them. They didn’t tell me what my payment was until they’d actually charged me. We then went back and forth on why that was a bad business practice. That rubbed me the wrong way and even though I liked their coach better, I canceled my subscription.  

Scheduling

I must have downloaded about 10 scheduling apps but ultimately, I landed on Calendly.

Calendly – This platform has incredible UI/UX design and it integrates with most calendars but there was a massive problem. I am a mac user and Black Enterprise uses Outlook, which is typically known for performing on PCs. There was no option to sync my Exchange calendar without buying Microsoft 365, which I did for about five minutes before they told me I had to contact my organization and have them add MX and TXT records. Nope. I didn’t want to do all that, so there went the Microsoft 365 subscription.

My workaround? Using iCal. I found that you can sync all of your calendars on your iPhone and Calendly will look at iCal to see if you have any conflicts. So far, so good. Side note: For the extra features it cost $10 a month or you can pay $8 annually but, for the extra sanity, it was well worth it. 

So, there’s that. Now, let’s take it back old school. One of the things that you all mentioned over and over in the comments section of IG Live was traditional to-do-lists that you write down with a good old-fashioned pen and paper. Well, I purchased a planner from Target and that’s actually been working. Crossing things off does something fulfilling to my brain. I did download Remember the Milk, a to-do list app by way of Kendra’s suggestions but, I haven’t used it much yet.

CreateHer Stock Image: CreateHer Stock

What are you all using to stay productive? Leave your workflows in the comments section below.


Sequoia BlodgettSequoia Blodgett is the Technology Editor for Black Enterprise, Silicon Valley. She is also the founder of 7AM, a lifestyle, media platform, focused on personal development, guided by informed, pop culture.

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