Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The 10 Year Rule

When I started running, I came across a statistic that the typical world-class runner had been running for about 10 years, and that's when most people could expect to reach their peak. This held true in my case as well, but I didn't think much about why this was the case.

It turns out, it's just not for runners. In general, people will get really good at something after about 10 years of practice, or after about 10,000 hours of practice. This is true for musicians, computer programmers, athletes, and probably even project managers.

One of my favorite stories is of the basketball great, Michael Jordan. After not making the varsity squad, he became one of the hardest working players, and it was this hard work that lead to his eventual success, not some talent he was born with. There's a term for this; deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is when you are focused on your technique, not just the outcome and you dedicate a lot of hours to practice. Feedback is also important in deliberate practice, to make sure you are moving in the right direction.

So how does a PM get this? Having a mentor or coach is a good start, they can provide that feedback that is part of deliberate practice. Getting feedback from your boss is also a good idea.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A day with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I had the privilege of spending the day getting to hear His Holiness The Dalai Lama speak. He was at the University of Arkansas today as part of a set of visits around the US.

The morning session was a panel discussion on non-violence with Sister Helen Prejean and Vincent Harding. One moment that stuck with me was when Sister Prejean brought up the fact that as people watch more television, they develop more fear. His Holiness expanded on the thought by saying there are two types of fear. One fear is real, such as when a mad dog is charging you. In his humorous style, the Dalai Lama said meditating about compassion won't help you here; the dog will still bite you. The other kind of fear comes from within but it isn't based on fact.
If a problem has a solution, there is no need to be overwhelmed and if there's no solution there's no point to be overwhelmed - The Dalai Lama

The other speakers had some amazing stories as well. Sister Prejean told about the first time she met with the parents of the victim of a murder after the murderer had been executed on death row. While there is a lot of pressure for the family of victims to help support the death penalty, they don't necessarily feel this way.

Vincent Harding had a story about when a church in Alabama was bombed in 1963, killing four girls and injuring many others. He remembers people close to the event who's first reaction was to get even, people that stood for non-violence. However, they turned this feeling around and what eventually came out was the march from Selma to Montgomery.

My favorite sound bite was when the Dalai Lama said "your enemy is your best teacher." He went on to explain that we won't learn how to practice compassions from our friends. We will only truly learn how to practice compassion and forgiveness by engaging our enemies.

The afternoon session started with the University conferring an honorary degree on the Dalai Lama and a short lecture by him. This was followed by a question and answer session, with topics from the recent events in Egypt, censorship, and even the first time the Dalai Lama drove a car (it didn't end well). The real message throughout both sessions was a call to action. In order to stop violence, we can't go meditate about it. We have to go out and do something.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Snakes in the Garden

There's an Arab expression "When you allow a snake to live in your garden, it will eventually come into your house." I heard it used this week in reference to Osama Bin Laden, but that's not what this blog post is about.

When I was first learning about Scrum, one of the thoughts that kept surfacing is that Scrum won't fix all your problems, but it will make them more visible, kind of like making that snake visible. The next step then would be to fix the problems (get rid of the snake). While Scrum does talk about inspect and adapt, it's really focused on the team level. Sometimes the problems you may face are bigger then that, and Scrum doesn't provide the solution to fix them.

This is where Lean can help out. A key principle of Lean is looking at the entire value stream, not just your development lifecycle. I had a conversation lately about organizations that have separate QA teams that do the testing after development. In a non-Lean organization I was working at, there was a handoff to QA after development, which resulted in a number of problems that caused delays. If we took a Lean approach, we would have worked with QA to optimize the entire process. So we failed to get the snake out of our garden.

What snakes are in your garden?