Tuesday, November 29, 2011

You Can't Learn Jazz from Wikipedia

I've been listening to a series on Jazz from iTunes University. It's been interesting because they talk about a topic and then play some examples of what they're talking about. It makes it easier to understand the difference between Hard Bop and Modal when you are listening to the styles as they're discussed. Even then, I don't think you really learn Jazz until you pick up an instrument and start playing.

This got me thinking about how people learn. I often go to Wikipedia to look up some fact. This is often the case when I'm researching an article that I'm writing. As helpful as Wikipedia is, it's not a place where someone can learn a skill.

I'm starting an engagement in which I'm playing the role of mentor. I'll provide the client some basic knowledge about running agile projects, the kind of stuff you might find in Wikipedia or a good book on the topic. But then I'll observe and provide coaching. I'll share experiences from my past that are relevant. At this point it is a true learning experience.

Passing a certification exam doesn't mean we have the experience to perform a job, it means we have the knowledge. It is by applying the knowledge that we gain the experience. Sometimes we have the ability to try a new technique in the office and see how it works, sometimes a new skill is forced upon us, and sometimes we need to seek help from a coach or mentor. 

As this year draws to an end, think about the skills you've developed and the experiences you've had. Has it been enough? Are starting to think about what skills you want to build next year? 

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Habit a Month

There have been studies that have shown it takes about 25 days of repitition to learn a new habit. So whether its trying to exercise on a regular basis or take time every day to keep up on advances in your field, it will take about a month to turn it into a regular habit. 

So here's a thought. At the start of each month, identify a habit you want to build up.  Work on it every day for the month. Next month, start on something else new. Or it doesn't even have to be new; it could be something you used to be better at that has become less of a habit recently.   

So keep it simple. Make this new habit the first thing you do every day, before checking email or your Twitter feed. It doesn't have to be a lot of time, keep it as short as practical. Prepare the night before, whether its laying out your workout clothes or finding the article you want to read. Just keep doing it for the whole month. When next month comes around, pick something new to work on.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Less WIP for better flying

I spent the end of the this week at ProjectFlow2011, a conference put on by Realization. Realization focuses on software and professional services using a Critical Chain approach.

The conference speakers were primarily Realization customers sharing success stories. One story that I found interesting was from Delta Airlines, primarily because I fly on Delta so much. The challenge Delta had after the merger with Northwest was how many different types of airplanes they had to support. There was almost no overlap between the planes Delta flew and the ones Northwest flew. Over the course of a year, Delta was able to reduce their cancellations by 62%.

One primary change had to do with reducing multi-tasking. Before the change, they would look at all upcoming scheduled maintenance on all airplanes every night and would perform any work that was on the schedule for the next 2 1/2 days. This meant each plane had some other maintenance due 2 1/2 days later. The change they made was working on fewer aircraft each night, but looking forward 15 days on each plane they worked on. By focusing on fewer planes at a time (less work in progress), they were able to keep all the planes running better.

There were a number of other companies that shared the similar stories and reduction of work in progress was one of the key tools used to improve project execution. I'll save some of the other techniques, such as buffers, for future blog posts.