Measure the Mark

Each year, I take stock of where I was one year ago and what I accomplished in that time.

This servers to answer a number of questions;

  • Have I grown as person?
  • Have I challenged myself?
  • Am I proud with how I have conducted myself with others?
  • Was everything I accomplished worth the sacrifice to other areas?  Did I choose wisely?
  • Am I on the right path to what I want to accomplish?

For everyone one of these questions, the follow-up is the always the same – “If not, why not?” – why am I not being challenged, why did I not grow, where did I go wrong?

But it doesn’t end there, then the planning starts, the planning for next year, what do I need to do to get to where I want, to answer YES to all those questions with zero hesitation.  And if I answered YES to all those questions this year, what do I need to do to ensure that I can answer YES to them next year.

It’s a look in the mirror and a point where I’m able to set the proverbial watermark for next year – this is where you are starting, this is where you are going to get to, now go to it.

Set your Mark and Measure yourself against it.


Take the Complex, Make it Simple

I’ve blogged about taking something complex and making it simple before (and half a million others  have as well so its good we’re all on the same path) but beyond that I am a big believe in the install and a user’s first experience with your “thing” – product, device, software, hard drive, et al – is a lasting impression.

Today, I was looking to install WordPress on Windows 2012, knowing I’d need MySQL and PHP and hook it up to IIS, or do I use Apache,  etc, etc and then do I need PHP MyAdmin.  The list goes on just like that sentence.

Found this great article on using the Microsoft Web Platform Installer which I had not used in a number of years and was blown away by the simplicity of using the app and getting everything I needed done (by their count 16 tasks) which resulted in having WordPress installed and up and running clean as can be.

To elaborate what this app did;

  • Allowed me to select my version of PHP, MySQL and WordPress.
  • Queued it all for an install with IIS (I didn’t want to use Apache)
  • Ran through my 16 install tasks.
  • Prompted me with 3 screens; 1 for MySQL Creds, 1 for PHP Creds, 1 for WordPress Creds
  • Presented me with the login page to my new website.

How am I feeling after this experience;

  • Blown away, I went from hours to 10 minutes.
  • I installed it all the way I wanted, where I wanted, how I wanted.
  • I was able to start working in 15 minutes on my project.

The installation, often overlooked, always remembered, it’s the gateway to creating your best user experience with whatever you are building.

BTW – If you are interested in doing the above, the tutorial I followed for this is located here  and the tool itself is located here.

The Waffle Project

We’ve all been on “that” project, the one that is plagued with problems, the one that you’ve been on for 6 months and you can’t seem to the team motivated on.

It’s not a problem with the team or the purpose, somewhere it just waffled into what is today – people are doing things but it’s not really going anywhere.  No one wants to set an end date to walk a way from it, it just keeps going – taking on new features, working through bugs, trudging along.

Ask anyone and no one wants to part of the Waffle Project – it lost it’s shine sprints ago, it has no more glamour or shine to it, all it has become is the toast of the water cooler and “that” project.

I’ve seen the waffle project in action, I’ve been on a few waffle projects as well.  They aren’t pretty, they are soul-sucking, never-ending and people start to base their entire careers on this one project.

How do you fix a Waffle Project?

You go outside, you bring someone in who has been on a Waffle in the past and you ask them what to do how to kickstart it, how to make it better.  Before that, you admit to yourself that the project has started to waffle and it needs something, anything to get it back on track – perhaps those last 6 features to be turfed, perhaps it to be deployed today, perhaps it to be *gasp* shelved for awhile when we are ready to waffle no more.

But the first and foremost important thing is to recognize your project is waffling, to admit, through no bad intention or effort on your side, that this is happening and to start doing something about it… to commit to doing something about it… and to raising your hand up to ask for help from your team, your leader, your senior dev that you need help.

Many won’t, it’s an admission of defeat, they can’t handle it.  But those that do, will learn how to never have a project waffle in front of them again.

The Anatomy of a Complaint

A complaint always comes to you in a few ways – in most cases it is either very loud (i.e., an explosion in a meeting) or very soft (i.e., someone coming into your office, slumping down in their chair, feeling dejected).

Whichever the case I’m constantly amazed at the overall contrast between the need for people to make the complaint vs the desire to do something about it.  These are two very different things and they originate from the above – getting it out – feeling like you have unloaded and/or transferred it to someone else which creates this initial bit of euphoria but then… then… what?  Nothing.

It’s as though the act of raising the complaint can be measured as sufficient enough to transfer it to someone else when really it should be seen as that “AHA” moment where you hear yourself speaking about  the good, the bad and the ugly and you start to realize – “oh perhaps I could try this or that”.  I love those moments, I love watching people experience those moments… I’ll sit there for 15 minutes listening to everything… only for them to start to piece together what is really at the core of their problem.  It is only then I will start to interject on how I can help them perhaps what other avenues they can pursue.

In the end, a complaint does not always have to be composed of…

“Raise Complaint.  Bring others in.  Transfer Frustration. Leave.”

But instead can be composed of…

“Raise Complaint.  Ponder.  Own.  Take Action.  Leave”

Too often people stop at the raising of the complaint, sucking other people into that vortex and look for that transfer of frustration without ever wanting to figure out and own what the real problem is (whether it’s them or something else).

The first anatomy/composition is easier, but the second will get you further.

Break out of your Position

It’s amazing to see, even at a young age, how children can get slotted into positions when engaging in recreational sports and how the spirit of competition can easily find it’s way into the decision making process.

But you’re good at playing Defence, no one else plays defence like you, so let’s keep you there.

Where the child really wants to play Forward because it is something new to them, something they have not done very often and something they want to learn more of – maybe to understand the complete circle of the whole game or maybe because that is where their love truly lies?

I’ve been guilty of this, we all have.

Think about in your profession – how many times have you been told

We need you to focus on this, because you are the only person that can get this done.  You are the best.

Where your immediate thoughts are – “yeah but I hate this work, the only reason I’m good at it is because I such strong dislike for it that I don’t like to drag it out”.  That’s a problem and not one that is going to go softly into the night.

Some thoughts on how to break out of your pre-defined position;

  • Write tools that perhaps can automate some of what you are doing and take you out of the mix.
  • Educate/Train others in what you are doing so more people know what is going on without you being in the middle – slowly they will count on the docs and training – and the whole team benefits by having one more person of coverage in that area.
  • Play on the Edge – okay you put me in this position, but I really want to do this other thing, can I do some of this other thing if I am able to accomplish my positioned work first?

Notice the thread in the above, it’s not about changing the work that’s given to you, it’s about changing the work that you do by showing your interest in a new area and ensuring that your old position is taken care of.  You are taking the lead and the initiative to train others, to raise the game of your team and to showcase your talents in unproven areas before being assigned those tasks.

You chose to break out of that position, not to wait for someone to come along, pick you up and take you out of it.