Wouldn’t It Be Nice

Wouldn’t it be nice if testers could be given a defined role or if we could have less meetings or any of a million things we complain about all day? Yeah, of course it would be.

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. -Leo Tolstoy

Except really, you just have yourself to blame. You’ve told yourself “I can’t change anything” or “They won’t let me do what I need to do” or “The problem is impossible.” The good news: yes, you can change something. They aren’t holding you back, you are. And no, it’s probably not impossible, just hard.

How do you change something, become free, expressive, and get hard things done? Stop blaming others. Stop holding yourself back. Realize that you are lying to yourself. You lied to yourself a long time ago, but here’s the worst part: you forgot you lied to yourself. You said “I’m not good enough” or “People are mean and uncaring” or “Life is unfair.” And then you forgot you told yourself that. Really, you did.

“Holy crap!” you say, “I did lie to myself! I forgot!” It’s ok. Here’s how you fix it. Now that you realized it’s a story, you can realize it’s not true. Because it’s not true, all that stuff that was hard, impossible, someone wouldn’t let you do? It’s gone. Now you can create a great testing framework so you aren’t obsolete or show people how much time they waste with their meetings to get your point across. You can do anything you want without all of that junk in your way, crowding up your head, eating up precious cycles.

Go. Right now. Create something.

Start Less to Finish More

Great video from Jason Yip, one of my favorite former colleagues, about starting less things to finish more. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before if you’ve worked with me and it’s nice and short.

It’s Your Subconscious and What to Do About It

Al Pittampalli over at the SAMBA blog wrote It’s the subconscious, stupid, but left out an important point, got another wrong, and didn’t give us a solution.

We don’t talk a lot about the subconscious mind, but we should…because when it comes to personal achievement it can explain things like lack of motivation, procrastination, or self sabotage. And business wise, it can explain why your prospect hasn’t bought from you yet… whenever we’re deciding to do something, we think we’re evaluating the immediate task at hand. But subconsciously you may be thinking 6 moves ahead, and evaluating the decision based on the final move (all without even realizing it).

A great explanation of the subconscious and one that I use all the time with clients.

For example, let’s say you can’t get yourself to go to the gym in the morning. Consciously this may show up as laziness. You may just not feel like it. You may be thinking about how far away the gym is, or the fact that you can’t find your sneakers (how convenient). Or rationalize to yourself how an extra hour of sleep will do more for your health than the hour at the gym (yeah right). These immediate impediments might end up winning, and prevent you from making it to the gym.

An extremely common problem. Many of us face situations like this.

But is that rational? Going to the gym and losing weight is a major life goal of yours, one in which you have no shortage of motivation. How is it that general laziness won in the face of the long list of major benefits that going to the gym would result in?

Nope, it’s not rational. The subconscious isn’t rational. It makes connections and thinks very, very fast. As for how laziness wins? Let’s find out. Doing really well so far Al, I’m proud of you.

Well, consider that what really drove your decision actually lies 6 moves ahead…let’s lay out the gym scenario like it were a game of Chess…

Move #1: Go to the gym this morning
Move #2: Stick to my exercise routine this entire month
Move #3: Lose 10 lbs!
Move #4: Gain it all back (I always do)
Move #5: My friends will look at me like a failure
Move #6: I’ll become depressed, gain 10 more lbs, and I’ll be heavier than when I first started!

When you see these future moves, isn’t it clear why you wouldn’t want to go to the gym? As irrational as it seems, this is how we think, and this is what often determines our behavior.

Did you catch it? Normally it’s not this easy. I’ve taken hours just to get this list out of people. Here’s a pro tip: look for what I call the “unconscious moment” and/or the logical leap that gets made in this thought process. It’s Move #4. Gain it all back (I always do). Ouch. How did your mind reach that conclusion? It may not make sense to you rationally, but to your subconscious, it’s perfectly rational. That’s where things go wrong. They continue to go wrong in #5 and #6 as well, but #4 is what starts things rolling.

The subconscious mind is powerful and real. And when you can recognize that it often can lead to irrational conclusions, you can fight it, and help your soon to be customers too.

This is where Al goes a little off track. You don’t fight your subconscious. You train it. “But how?” you ask? That’s left as an exercise for the reader. I’ll help you because this is so important to so many things in your life. If you can solve little problems like this, it actually makes a huge difference.

4 Steps to Solving Any Problem by Training Your Subconscious

1. Get a Ballpark. Get the general description of the problem. “I can’t get myself to go to the gym in the morning” is perfectly acceptable.

2. Get Specific. Ask the person to get very specific about the problem. You want something like “Last Wednesday, at 7:04am, as I was sitting in bed, I thought about getting up to go to the gym, but I just couldn’t and went back to sleep.” If you hear words like “every time” or “sometimes” or even “a few times” that’s not specific enough.

3. Storyboard. Use that specific story now to create a storyboard. It helps to write this down. Imagine it like a movie and you need to look at every single part of the scene. Write down the thought process of the person from beginning to end in steps just like Al did with his example above. Leave room in between each step. This is where you’ll find those logical leaps. If you see the person go “um, then this happened” and you can’t tell how they got to that, start over from the beginning, then focus there.

4. Repeat and Defeat.You’ll be repeating this storyboard back to the person a lot. It may seem annoying. It probably is, but only to you. The other person will be into it. You’ll be helping them relive the experience and give you more details. Write them down. Now, once you’ve uncovered those unconscious moments, it’s time to break those down and change how that person thinks. Think you’ll gain 10 pounds back? Why? Help the person realize the error their subconscious made (not their fault) and then make a new connection and you’ll watch as the ballpark problem disappears.

There are plenty more advanced techniques you can use with this method, but this works for many of life’s problems including helping your customers buy from you. Just work the system and see how many results you can get out of it.

Ego and Checklists

I must have some secret employees at the Financial Times writing for me or something. Atul Gawande wrote ‘Airline Pilot’ protocols in finance today and it caught my eye.

Some choice quotes:

He also found he made mistakes in handling complexity. A good decision requires consideration of so many different aspects of a company in so many ways that, even without the cocaine brain [confirmation bias], he was missing obvious patterns. His mental checklist wasn’t good enough. “I am not Warren,” he said. “I don’t have a 300 IQ.”

So he devised a written checklist.

Sometimes you don’t even know you’re making the mistakes over and over unless you get reminded of them by using the checklist. It’s there to keep you safe from your own mind. The easiest person to trick is yourself.

Even in his own firm, he’s found it a hard sell. “I got pushback from everyone. It took my guys months to finally see the value,” he said. To this day, his partners still don’t all go along with his approach and don’t use the checklist in their decisions when he’s not involved. “I find it amazing other investors have not even bothered to try,” he said. “Some have asked. None have done it.”

As I said before, people think checklists are beneath them. I’ve had a hard time convincing people to use them in any aspect of project work. Clients don’t like it because they think that’s why they hired you in the first place; you’re the expert. Consultants don’t like it because they think it will somehow make them look incompetent.

I’ve tried many different ways of motivating people to use the list, but in the end nobody seems to want to listen even when I show them measurable results. Ego.

Atul has a book out as well. I’ve already ordered it. Will you?


One of the main duties I performed as a consultant was kicking off a project for a new client. The process went by many different names. Iteration zero, project kickoff, inception, and QuickStart. Sometimes a combination of them.

The thing I learned right away was that there was always plenty to think about and set up. All projects are different of course, but all projects are also the same in many ways. So, I began to do what I always do in a new situation and make a checklist.

I learned this skill a long time ago and it has served me well in many different ways. To my clients, I seem to have a super memory and intellect. Combining the checklist with GTD helps greatly. To my colleagues, I can share the list and get feedback and improvements for my own projects and help theirs. Now on with how to create your checklist.

First, I almost never start from scratch. I look to those who have done it before and have learned lessons the hard way. Nobody is smart enough to think of everything, and besides, why duplicate work? Look to retrospectives, post mortems, project wrap ups, lessons learned, bug reports, lawsuits (yep…), API versions, forums, email lists, etc. Anything where people are seeing 20/20 after something went well or, more importantly, something went wrong. Put it all on the list without filtering. If you don’t have stuff written down somewhere, try interviewing people and listen to their war stories. You’ll learn some good lessons. Write. Them. Down.

Second, once you have your list, try organizing it by rough topics: architecture, project management, QA, analysis, client relations, contracts, etc. This is a good time to take the list to your coworkers and ask them to fill in areas that you’ve missed. The important thing to remember is to keep things on the list unless they are incorrect. This list is for all projects, not just “your” project.

After you’ve created your checklist, put it somewhere it can be seen and used as well as collaborated on. A wiki is great for this because you can have multiple editors and you’ll get to see all of the versions. Tell people where it is and have them use it. Asking for feedback on how it works is a great way to get them to use it. They’ll improve things and add new items as they come up.

At this point, you’re probably expecting an example or even full version of my checklist. Sorry. That would rob you of the experience of creating it yourself which is well worth your time in just the collaboration alone.

Initially, people will complain that your checklist is too long. Ignore them. Explain that the checklist is there to keep them safe and spending a 30 seconds or a minute on each item on the checklist will save them loads of time and mistakes later.

One last thing. The checklist is a great tool to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything, but it isn’t a substitute for critical thinking. The checklist will help you to not look dumb, but you still have to be smart. Good luck.

Sophisticated vs. Complicated

Remember learning to ride a bike or drive a car? It was hard at first, with all of those things to remember and do at once. Put your foot here, your hands there, look straight, now look in your mirrors, gas, brake, turn signals, WATCH OUT FOR THAT TREE!

Driving that car or riding that bike seemed like a very complex activity. You didn’t know the simple steps to take and they weren’t natural for you yet.

What we didn’t realize then was that those things were sophisticated, not complex. They only seemed complex because we were trying to learn and remember and do things all at once.

Breaking something down into smaller, easier to understand parts allowed us to master those things. We had training wheels for a bike, someone to hold us and push us when we needed it. Learning how much pressure to put on the brakes of a car while going straight in a parking lot.

We could then put those things together into a sophisticated process that became more than the sum of its parts. It just looks complex to those who don’t know.

The next time you are learning something complex, remember it is probably just sophisticated and you need to break it down into smaller parts and master those things before trying to do the rest. Agile adoption is a good candidate for that breakdown.

So if you are learning something new like Agile, find out where you can break it down and learn small things at first. If you are being taught or coached by someone else, make sure they teach you this way. It is much easier. If they disagree, ask them why.

Keep Your Ear to the Ground

Ear to the ground

I’m always trying to find new ways to use technology to keep track of what’s being said out there.  Be it websites, RSS, mailing lists, twitter, etc. I try to know what’s going on for myself, my clients, and my colleagues.  As with most other things in life though, I always find someone who is doing it better than I am.

I created a twitter account using my name and not more than 24 hours later, Jason Calacanis followed me.  While this is not huge news (Jason has 62k+ people he follows), it was to me.  It means that Jason or a script is parsing his mailing list subscribers and finding them at places like twitter.  He can hear the train coming from miles away.  Can you?

Fear is Sand Under the Foundation

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life building houses with my family and also Habitat for Humanity.  Most people know the cliche that having a strong foundation is key to building a house.  That doesn’t make it any less important.  Today, Seth talks about the five pillars of success.

The five pillars of success

1. See (really see) what’s possible

2. Know specifically what you want to achieve

3. Make good decisions

4. Understand the tactics to get things done and to change minds

5. Earn the trust and respect of the people around you

It sure seems like we spend all our time on #4.

Seth doesn’t answer the question of why we spend so much time on #4.  The same reason we spend so much time on #4 and so little time on the others is fear.  Fear that we’re not good enough, fear that our dreams are too small, fear that we’ll make the wrong decisions, fear, fear, and more fear.  That fear brings all of the pillars crashing down.

For people who have never felt they could lead, I say take the first step.  Spend your time on something you find worthwhile and just start doing it.  Here’s the secret: you’ll make mistakes.  Probably a lot of them at first, but that’s often the best way to learn.  Learning to be alright with and recover from failure will help you get over your fear.  It will certainly help you with #5.

via Seth’s Blog: The five pillars of success.

Set The Mood

I had a conversation with a colleague about doing consulting and that there’s really no such thing as an “organization.”  There really is just a bunch of people who need their minds changed.  The CxO’s I work with usually only need a minimum of technical help, mostly they need an outside change agent to help get their people in the mood to do their best work, so they hire me.

You already know how to deliver excellent service that blows people away. You just don’t feel like it. Your organization has the resources to buy that machine or enter that market or change that policy. They’re just not in the mood.

If I accomplish anything on a good day, it’s helping you change attitudes. I’m working hard at getting you in the mood to do the things you already know how to do. I think that’s what your boss/the market wants you to do as well.

via Seth’s Blog: In the mood.

DSLs and Friends

My friends and fellow ThoughtWorkers Michael Schubert, Jay Fields, and Stephen Chu were just complimented by Martin Fowler.

This isn’t to say that there’s no benefit in a business-writable DSL. Indeed a couple of years ago some colleagues of mine built a system that included just that, and it was much appreciated by the business. It’s just that the effort in creating a decent editing environment, meaningful error messages, debugging and testing tools raises the cost significantly.

What Martin doesn’t go on to explain is that this project vastly improved efficiency for a whole organization.  They went from a situation where it took months with dozens of programmers to change some business rules in their software to minutes with all sorts of extras they couldn’t get before like “what-if” simulations.

Jay wrote about some of the things they learned in this presentation on InfoQ and much more on his blog about DSLs.

via MF Bliki: BusinessReadableDSL.