Two “Magic Rules” for Achieving Great Things

Ok, I lie – but it got your attention.

This week I want to talk about the two most important rules you can follow if you want to deliver great work and hit goals. Regardless of whether they’re software projects, books you want to write, or exams you want to pass. They are utterly underwhelming…

Rule 1: Start doing it

Rule 2: Keep doing it until you finish

There you go, I told you they were underwhelming!

However, I want to go a little deeper (otherwise this would be a very short post).

Failure to start is one of the biggest reasons people don’t do things. How many times have you planned to do something one evening only to get home and fail to do it? The reason (according to James Clear in his book Atomic Habits) is because it takes energy and effort to start doing things. Far too often our brains follow a pre-programmed pattern to avoid decision fatigue. Do you want to go running tonight or watch television? What do you need to do to start running? You’ll need to get changed, then you’ll need to find your trainers, then you’ll need to actually do the running… oh, and then there’s the shower. But the TV remote is just there.

In his book James describes ways to reduce the friction required to take on these individual habits and actions and make them easier to do day to day. I do this myself. I want to listen to audiobooks each day, so I leave my headphones by the side of my bed so they’re the first thing I pick up each morning. If you want to go for a run after work then put your kit on your bed before you leave in the morning – or even better put it on before you leave the office so it’ll actually be more effort not to go for a run than it will be to just get out the door!

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

Once you’ve got started that’s a huge step forward. But a single run doesn’t make you fit. A thousand words doesn’t make a book. So how do you keep that momentum going day after day to make progress until the work is done?

The first step is to understand what “Done” is. Is there a done? If it’s about fitness then you may be looking for a particular weight or time, but you may also be looking to maintain. If you’re building a product you may be looking for a number of active users. Just like in product management and software development we should always be clear about what we want to accomplish before we set off. We can evolve that view, but it helps to act as a beacon.

This leads directly into the motivation question. If we understand our objective we can track our progress towards it. Visibly seeing our progress towards a concrete goal is a very powerful motivational tool (as well as the other benefits of transparency and adaptibility). Burn up charts for your personal goals may seem like overkill, but they’re really not.

Here’s my burn up chart for my reading goal (you can see I actually made the goal far more ambitious because I was doing so well).

You can see I’m doing something similar with my cloud computing exams. This one isn’t going so well, and what am I going to do about it? Revalidate the goal, recalculate the effort and expectations, and then really myself. As with all things agile create transparency, inspect, and adapt.

I know this post started a little tongue in cheek but hopefully it helps and has provided some valuable tools to meet your own goals. Don’t forget, start… and then continue until you are done!

A Talk about Goals

I was recently lucky enough to give a talk about Goals at the Hainton’s Community Group (currently online). Rather than doing a blog post this week I thought you’d enjoy this.

.A huge thank you to Tom and the team at Hainton as well as the participants for coming along and listening to me. It was really exciting to hear what people had planned and how they were getting on.

What goals are you planning? Drop me a message or comment below!

Measure What Matters Book Review

I’ve had this book for a while and it finally reached the top of my Audible list. Measure What Matters has intrigued me for a while, especially as I am focusing on setting and meeting goals at the moment.

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the  World with Okrs: Amazon.co.uk: 9780525536222: Books

I have to confess to being a little disappointed. At it’s core the book discusses OKRs, a kind of public goal which does a very nice job of splitting out the goal and the actionable tasks required to complete it. Visibility creates transparency to make sure no teams are duplicating effort or conflicting priorities, they also allow people to assist each other in meeting their goals.

So far so good, I didn’t have a problem with any of that.

However, the majority of the book was a list of testamonials from the author’s long list of supporters. It was genuinely interesting to see how the technique has been applied to everything from IBM to U2. But I’m really not sure wheeling out the famous and successful was really needed (in the audiobook many of them actually contributed their parts). It felt more like a sales pitch of OKRs rather than a practical guide of implementing them.

I kept finding myself expecting the next chapter to be a “How to get started with OKRs in your business.” but alas, it never came.

Enlightening by adding a new way to think about goals, however disappointing because although I’m intrigued I feel far from equipped to take advantage of the concept.

Do you agree? Have you read Measure What Matters? What did you think?

Personal KPIs

I’ve spent a lot time reading about daily habits and routines recently. Both Atomic Habits and Routine Machine strongly advocate spending a small amount of time each day to contribute towards your larger goals. I like the idea, after all as an agile geek I fully support the importance of transparency. Otherwise, how can we expect to inspect and adapt?

I mentioned some of my 2021 goals recently. Some of these are perfect examples where I must display if not daily, then weekly behaviour if I’m going to hit them. Donuts and Dragons isn’t going to write itself, I need to put words on the page day after day. My reading goal isn’t magically going to happen, I need to spend a little time each morning listening to audible or perhaps reading in the evening.

To this end I’m experimenting with a Personal KPI spreadsheet. In this spreadsheet I’m tracking various KPIs such as “Donuts Words Written” and “Time Reading”. I’m also tracking various KPIs around health and daily routine. Am I hitting Inbox Zero every day?

My spreadsheet gives me a daily score, however most beneficial I believe will be the weekly rolling averages. I don’t have to write a blog post every day, however I aim to write at least three a week. I don’t have to listen to my audiobooks every morning but I do want to make sure I’m listening for an appropriate time each week to hit my quarterly targets.

Am I on track to hit my personal goals this year? Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

It may seem like overkill, but I’m hoping that this mechanism will help me stay on track for some of the big goals I’ve set myself this year.

What do you think? Is this overly complex for personal goals? Do you have a similar mechanism and how did it work for you? Let me know in the comments below!

Let’s Talk About Goals

It’s getting towards that time of year again, where have conversations with our managers about what they expect us to achieve over the upcoming year and we throw in a few “personal development goals” which won’t really matter when we’ve forgotten about them in twelve month’s time.

Somewhere personal development and annual performance have got mixed up somewhere here. Most companies base some element of their employees’ performance on how well they’ve met their goal. Personally I disagree with this. I believe there are three types of goals.

  • Goals which you need to meet to successfully perform in your role
  • Goals which form part of the team’s improvement plan
  • Goals which are designed to help you meet your long term career aspersions.

Ideally a goal should fit in to two or even three of these. However it’s the third option, goals for personal development I want to discuss in more detail.

Insert Cheesy Goals Picture Here

My grandad was a train driver, he drove everything from The Flying Scotsman to the first diesel Deltics. When he joined the railways he was given a number, everyone who subsequently joined would get a higher number. As the years went by and he progressed in his career The drivers with the lower numbers, who joined before him retired and he became the senior driver on the east coast mainline because he had the lowest number.

In today’s organisations we can’t sit and wait for the people ahead of us to retire for us to gain our promotions. I’m not suggesting that there wasn’t a lot of study involved to progress on the railway, however there was a lot more structure. If we want to progress in our careers we need to identify not only the gaps, but our long term objectives.

List a few of the people you believe are very successful. I admire Barak Obama, Dwayne Johnson, Bill Gates, and several others. None of these people became successful by chance. They envisaged their careers, their successes, and they made them happen.

Ok, enough motivational writing and comparing ourselves to famous millionaires. In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advised his readers to Start With The End In Mind. In order to get a big picture view of your goals in life he suggests you write your own eulogy, or perhaps less morbidly, your retirement speech. What do you want people to say about you? What accomplishments would they list? If you find this too difficult visualise where you want to be in five years. What role do you want? What skills do you want to have?

The next step is to break down those ambitious goals into smaller steps. For example if you want to start your own business but don’t have any knowledge of sales then you may set yourself a goal to complete a sales training course. If you want to be working as an iOS developer then perhaps you have to release your own personal app to the app store?

Lets stop assuming that major change in our lives and our careers will suddenly happen. Successes like Microsoft, the presidency, and film careers don’t happen by accident. They happen because those people took small, measured steps, and smaller goals which we set ourselves and complete on a daily basis.

This is why your annual goals are so important. They’re your commitment to your personal progression and an opportunity to seek support from your manager and organisation.

Large scale change doesn’t happen by coincidence, it’s planned and happens through a series of small steps.

Our annual goals should reflect where we want to be in 12 month’s time, a step on the ladder of where we want to be in our grand vision. If we want to deliver on them we need to manage them, quarter by quarter, and even day by day.

This is why personally I don’t believe our personal development goals should factor into our annual performance reviews. However, as managers we want to coach people on their careers (not to mention meeting department goals). These are people’s personal and private goals and I don’t think any bonus or annual performance should be tied to those. But we work within the systems we’ve got!

So what should you do now?

  1. Create a vision of what world domination looks like – what’s your super goal which you want to achieve over the course of your career (this can evolve as you go, today it just acts as a lighthouse of where to aim for).
  2. Understand WHY you want to achieve that.
  3. If that’s the end goal what significant steps could you make towards that vision in the next 12 months?
  4. Discuss (if you wish) these 12 month goals with your manager.
  5. Create an annual schedule, what will those 12 month goals look like as you move through the year? How will you know if you’re on track? Schedule these times in so you don’t forget
  6. Reserve a little time each and every day to move one of those goals forward.

Don’t wait for that big ambitious career goal to mysteriously drop out of the sky. Make it happen, a little each day until you’re there.

Goals for 2021

As is the time for goals and be years resolutions I’m going to throw out a few of my own.

  • Read 21 Books
  • Write 52 Blog Posts
  • Pass my PSM1
  • Finish my new book
  • Finish painting my Stark and Lannister armies!

21 books isn’t that ambitious for me, although without knowing whether I’ll be commuting will cut into my audible time. The scrum master exam, yeah – I probably should have hit around to that years ago!

The book is top secret, well… unless you’re on Leanpub! But the blogging and painting will take some discipline.

Let’s see how it goes. Happy New Year everyone!

Setting SMART Goals for your Team

Annual reviews are often one of those things we do as a box ticking excercise. It’s dull, time consuming and there are often more interesting geeky projects you’d rather be working on.

Words like SMART buzz around our brains for a few weeks and then are promptly forgotten (much like the goals) until the same time the following year when each goal is ticket off as “Done” or “No Longer Relevant”.

Surely there’s a better way?

Let’s look at what SMART stands for…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time Constrained

Your business may have different words but the jist is the same.

I want you to think about these words differently. Instead of writing goals for someone to achieve I want to think about User Stories. It’s reasonable to demand that any PO writing new features for the backlog should create them so they are Specific, have good Acceptance Criteria, be feasible to implement, be a valuable addition to the software, and should fit into a single Sprint.

In other words SMART is just another way of setting detailed and unambiguous instructions!

So now we know that SMART is simply a way of writing clearly let’s look at what goals you should set.

What do you expect your Team Member to be doing for the upcoming year?

This may sound like an obvious question but in my opinion annual goals shouldn’t all be about Continuous Personal Development or an arbitrary “I’d like to lean that” because these are the first things which will be abandoned when you have a tough day. Instead look at what your department goals are and propagate these through to your team.

If you have a major release coming up then set that as one of the goals. If you need to analyse system performance or memory usage then write it down. What you will find is instead of irrelevant targets which will be abandoned in favour of more pressing work your team will suddenly become accountable for getting the releases out to customers. Not only that, but they will see that their day to day tasks are being used to measure performance instead of the “Nice to Haves” which were abandoned as soon as the year hit a rough patch.

You will quickly find that most developers will much rather have a goal of “Create Offline Sync Mechanism as specified in Feature 123 before the end of January” than something vague like “Improve the Support mechanism”. For one thing there’s a lost less ambiguity as to whether it’s actually been achieved! Remember, less ambiguity means fewer awkward conversations when you come to assess goals, that has to be a good thing!

In conclusion, setting clear (or SMART) goals for your team which actually reflect the work they’re going to be doing day to day is a great way of getting investment in your department’s objectives and helping making those annual review forms much more relevant. Learning goals are good, but they shouldn’t be the core of a Team Member’s assessment.