28 April 2011

Tips On Giving Presentations

Communication skills are a critical part of a project leader's professional competency. Project leaders who fail to hone their ability to give a compelling briefing or write a cogent paper are dropping the ball on one of their key responsibilities and most important skill sets. A project leader who doesn't communicate well is like a vampire who's afraid of the dark.

Look, everyone doesn't have to be a dazzling speaker or writer, but we all must put forth effort to up our game when it comes to giving presentations and writing papers.

Here are a few thoughts towards that end:
Read Garr Reynolds' book Presentation Zen. And his blog. Then read them again.
If your presentation is dull, you're doing it wrong. And I mean that in both senses of the word wrong (incorrect & immoral) 
To be even clearer: being dull is a sin, a crime, a theft and an assault. Don't waste people's most precious irreplaceable resource - time - with droning messages that don't convey anything useful and that beg to be tuned out. 
Prepare. 'Nuff said. 
PowerPoint isn't the problem. PowerPoint's defaults are the problem. Reject them with great enthusiasm. 
You have my permission to be interesting. You do not have my permission to waste my time. 
 When giving a presentation, don't be the only guy in the room who doesn't know how much time you have left. 

26 April 2011

Another Objection

OK, it was so much fun to look at objections to the FIST (Fast, Inexpensive, Simple, Tiny) approach, I figured I'd do it again.

Today's objection sounds something like this: "The FIST approach would never deliver a high-tech, complex, expensive system (like the F-22, for example)."

Um, duh!

At the core of most of these objections is a faulty assumption. One of the most common of these assumptions is that the cost, schedule and complexity of technology (particularly military technology) is inevitably high... and that these are not only inevitable attributes of a system but are also desirable attributes. FIST argues that speed, thrift and simplicity are simultaneously possible and operationally desirable.

Now, if we were to sit down and create an air superiority fighter using the FIST principles, we'd end up with something like the F-16 (or the F-5 or the F-20). It would be a low-cost, simple aircraft, requiring a minimal amount of effort to train, maintain, own and operate. It would do one thing extremely well and we'd have a large enough fleet of them to make a significant difference. It would also leave enough money in the treasury to build a second type of system to handle other missions (say, air-to-ground missions).

So, would the FIST approach deliver a high-tech, high-cost system? Um, no. But then, you really don't want one of those...

21 April 2011

Two Objections

It's not often I get push-back when I talk about the FIST (Fast, Inexpensive, Simple, Tiny) approach to developing new systems. Most of the time, people tend to agree that it makes sense, etc. But on the rare occasion a skeptic speaks up, the objections tend to come in one of two flavors:

1) We've already tried this and it didn't work.
2) We've never tried this, so how do you know it would work?

What's even funnier is when both objections come out of the same person. Yes, that happens.

Allow me to briefly address these two objections. On the first objection, I'd like to gently point out that's not a very strong or compelling argument. Past failure does not prove future success is impossible. And for that matter, they're trying to prove a negative by asserting the FIST approach has never worked, often based on a single attempt. And even one successful example is sufficient to counter objection #1 - and I have buckets full. What kills me is when I hear this objection immediately following my 45-minute FIST presentation, which includes a half dozen or so.

Often time, people who use Objection #1 are thinking about NASA's Faster, Better, Cheaper initiative from the 90's. I wrote about that a while back, and Howard McCurdy's Faster Better Cheaper book provides an even more comprehensive assessment, concluding that FBC can be done.

The second objection is based on an erroneous assumption. As I already mentioned, I have dozens of examples of situations and programs where we have indeed used the FIST approach to successfully deliver new capabilities.

Most of the time, I think what people mean by this objection is that the FIST term per se wasn't used by the P development team. That's often true. What I try to explain is that FIST is a term I use to describe a particular pattern of decision making. So when I apply FIST to an old story like the P-51 Mustang, I'm being descriptive and saying that project followed the pattern. I then suggest new projects use FIST, in a prescriptive way, to apply this proven pattern. FIST isn't some new idea - it's a consolidation of rather old practices.

There are other objections of course... maybe I'll take a look at some of those in the future.

19 April 2011

Go There

My latest addition to the list of Words And Phrases I Don't Like is "Don't go there."

It joins "There's Nothing We Can Do About It," "For The Record" and the words pamphlet, brochure and utilize in the pantheon of linguistics that seriously rub me the wrong way.

Unlike pamphlet and brochure, which I dislike for purely aesthetic reasons, "don't go there" made the list for reasons of ethics and honesty. People seem to use this phrase when someone is in danger of speaking an uncomfortable truth. It's a shorthand that cuts off conversation in a manner that is borderline dishonest... or even blatantly (albeit subtly) dishonest.

Don't Go There means let's pretend something that is true... isn't actually true. Let's ignore the issue. Let's not deal with the core problem. Let's go somewhere else. It's the verbal equivalent of looking for your lost keys at the street corner, because that's where the street light is, instead of the dimly lit area down the block where you actually lost them.

Look, we can't solve problems by avoiding them. Discouraging people from discussing something because it's uncomfortable or impolitic doesn't really help.  Don't Go There really means "if we don't talk about it, I believe it'll go away." And that's not only a silly belief, it's dangerous.

It's still important to exercise discretion of course, but when it comes to going there, I'm thinking we should...

18 April 2011

Bonus Monday Post!

I know, I know, I said I'd post on Tuesdays and Thursdays... but I get impatient sometimes and want to say things ahead of schedule, so once again you get a free Monday Bonus Post - no extra charge!

Several recent conversations and experiences have once again confirmed in my mind the primacy of simplicity as a systems engineering / programmatic / technical / leadership principle (pick your genre). Time and again, complexity eats our lunch, wastes our time and generally makes things stink.

The worst part is, so much of the complexity we face is self-inflicted. No, wait, that's not really the worst part. The really worst pat is that it's deliberately self-inflicted. Not only do we do it to ourselves, we do it to ourselves on purpose. And we think it's a good idea... and then we're confused when the yogurt hits the fan, as Tom Peters says.

See, all too often we equate complexity with sophistication. We think adding more features, parts & functions makes the thing better. We miss out on the opportunity to leave something simple... or to make it simple. All too often, simplicity isn't a goal. We aim for complexity... and we hit it.

So once again, I'd like to invite you, my internets friends, to download your FREE copy of The Simplicity Cycle, over on the Rogue Press. And then pass it around to your internets friends, so they too can read it and ponder the cost and the value of complexity.

Actually, strike that. I've never said this before, but here goes : I'd like you to actually buy a copy. 

Yes, yes, I've always discouraged people from paying money for this book. I give it away free because I want to make the idea as accessible as possible. I've poo-poo'd the idea of buying the dead-tree version. But the truth is, I personally love reading books on paper. And when I get an electronic book, I tend to either not read it or I misplace it, accidentally delete it, etc. With a paper copy, you're more likely to keep it, read it, flip through it again at odd times, or share it with a friend. Thus, my decision to encourage you to pick one up.

I hope you'll pardon this shameless commercial plug. And of course, the free PDF version is still available, if you don't have one yet. But I think it would be really great if you'd pick up a hardcopy of The Simplicity Cycle. Your team will thank you.

14 April 2011

Rogue Maturity Model

Although I'm very impressed by some of SEI's recent work (on Agile and Acquisition Archetypes) I'm not a big fan of their Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI). Rather than spend a lot of time explaining why, let me simply point out that CMMI is solidly the result of Modernist management thinking. As I explained in an article titled Postmodern Program Management, I lean towards a postmodern point of view.

Accordingly, I've put together the first draft of a Rogue Maturity Model. In keeping with the spirit of RPL, you're all invited to contribute your thoughts and expertise to the RMM. Just click that link and type away!

13 April 2011

FIST Handbook Update

I've updated and expanded the FIST Handbook - check it out!

Now, along with links to a bunch of FIST-related articles, there's also a section for media & interviews, data and tools. It's a much more complete reference point than before and I hope it'll be useful to you as you move out on applying FIST in your own projects.

Stop on by & tell your friends!

12 April 2011

Reality Is Broken

I love-love-love Jane McGonigal's beautiful new book Reality Is Broken. It's a fascinating blend of psychology, philosophy, history and technology. In large part the book is about what it means to be human - how we learn, how we interact with each other, what we want and need and contribute to the world around us.

Her TED talk is a great introduction to Jane and her ideas. But as with most movies, the book is even better. Here are a few excerpts to get you started:

By removing or limiting the obvious ways of getting to the goal, the rules push players to explore previously uncharted possibility spaces. They unleash creativity and foster strategic thinking.

In a good computer or video game, you're always playing on the very edge of your skill level.

Why do unnecessary obstacles make us happy? (read the book to find the answer)

The opposite of play isn't work. It's depression.

Within the limits of our own endurance, we would rather work hard than be entertained.

The game must be carefully designed so that the only way to be rewarded is to participate in good faith... rather than on providing compensation for doing something that would otherwise feel boring, trivial or pointless.

And yes, I'm totally going to play Top Secret Dance Off. I hope you'll come play too.

07 April 2011

POGO Interview

The Program On Government Oversight (POGO) blog posted a sweet interview with yours truly. Bryan Rahija and crew came up with some great questions and I'm really psyched with how it all came together. POGO's Watchdog Fu is the stuff of legend and I'm honored they asked me to share some ideas.

I'll spare you the longish story of the effort involved with getting this thing approved - let me just say I'm glad to see it all paid off.

So - stop on by the POGO blog (they've always got interesting stuff) and maybe even click the Share button to pass the link along to your various internets and friends.

Stuff That Matters

The RPL thought for the day comes from the always brilliant Hugh MacLeod. I couldn't agree with him more.

The idea of doing stuff that matters is something I've been thinking about for a long time. In fact, that's what my first book (The Radical Elements of Radical Success) was all about.

See, it's so easy to get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent. To get distracted by artificial emergencies and to waste time on activities that nobody thought of yesterday and nobody will remember tomorrow. There are plenty of things that can be safely left undone, with little to no impact on anything at all.

Someone recently asked how I find the time to write books and magazine articles, on top of my day job, etc. Part of the answer is that writing is recreational for me. It's something I really enjoy doing (and yes, recreational activities matter!). But another part of the answer is that  writing is important to me. It's how I process my experiences. It helps me understand the world around me and has led to all sorts of new relationships with readers around the world. Writing is something that matters, so I make the time to do it.

How about you? Are you doing stuff that matters?

05 April 2011

Change The World

It's amazing to me that some people don't want to change the world, at least in some small way. I'm a rather content guy, but I have a hard time fathoming how a person could look at the world around them and be satisfied with the status quo.

And yet, Hugh MacLeod's commentary is right - not everyone wants to make a big difference. I know some people have a hard enough time just surviving, let alone changing the world. I understand that. What I don't understand is the comfortable & competent people who don't make an effort to improve things.

For those of you who want to change the world, the opportunities are endless. The trick is figuring out how to do it.

Lately I've been told, emphatically and with great conviction, that change only happens when it's led by Top Leaders. As in, people who sit at the peak of the org chart, people with corner offices and multiple stars on their shoulders... or better yet, people who tell people with stars on their shoulders what to do. Those are the only people who can institute big, meaningful change.

Other times I've been told the only real change is grassroots driven, that it's all about Power From The People. You need to harness the power of the masses in order to bring about real change.

I'm not sure either opinion is quite correct. Instead, I think Hugh is right - the key to making change is to want to make change. I'm not sure it matters how much formal authority a person has. Ghandi and Jesus seemed to do just fine. Martin Luther King wasn't exactly a Formal Authority Figure either.

Bottom line: I'm not convinced you and I need to become CEO's or Generals or High Ranking Public Officials if we're going to change the world. I'm not even sure we need to get those people on board with our ideas... for that matter, I'm not sure how much their support really helps. I think the key to changing the world is to want to do it... and as Hugh explained, not everybody does.

04 April 2011

Free Books! (and Cheap Ones Too!)

Wanted to invite all the new RPL readers to download their very own free copy of The Simplicity Cycle over at the Rogue Press site. It's a quick read and takes a practical look at ways to deal with complexity in your designs. It applies to everything from building a PPT deck to an organization to a technical architecture. I hope you find it interesting & useful... and you can't beat the price.

If you're so inclined, you can also pick up inexpensive eBook versions of several of my books, either from the Rogue Press site or Amazon's Kindle store. If you want to read before you buy, the Rogue Press site lets you "preview" the entire text of each book.

And for old school readers like me, there's a dead tree version of each one.

Happy reading!