Category Archives: Principles

Getting Better Every Day

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as Improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Benjamin Franklin

 

Long ago in the town of Opshitz in the Carpathian Mountains there lived two great woodcutters: Boris and Andre. One day they decided to settle the debate of who was the greater woodcutter. They hired a referee to ensure they would have a fair contest. The referee positioned them in different parts of the forest. They were close enough to hear each other but couldn’t see the others results. As the contest began both worked feverishly. After about an hour Boris realized he hadn’t heard anything for 10 minutes straight. He figured Andre was resting so he redoubled his effort. This pattern continued every hour- Boris heard Andre taking a break and he doubled his efforts. Finally after 6 hours when the referee called the contest over. Boris was proud of his results. He realized that he cut down more trees than he expected. The referee counted both cutters results and declared Andre the winner. Boris was beside himself and confronted Andre “How could you have won? I heard you taking breaks and I worked twice as hard then.”

 

Andre responded “I wasn’t taking a break. I was sharpening my ax.”

 

In my early days of my career we had just installed a new  system and there was much to be done to support it. One challenge was tracking the programs and configurations changes we were making on almost a daily basis. We needed to ensure we moved all the appropriate changes into production when it was ready.  This seemingly minor housekeeping task was very important because without it the full work that my team would do wouldn’t go into the production causing issues to end users. Another chore to track was the list of over 300 items that the team needed to enhanced but there wasn’t a consistent tracking mechanism. With so much going on there wasn’t time to address these items and everything else going on. People always say there’s always more to do then there is time and resources available. Enter Incremental Improvement.

Incremental Improvement

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/uur51wTtNqUVgyKOAzVnNiTWJuDAWnBCcRFaZ4tqaq1GR49aj6d8_MU4rS_zOg3QiERG2ZlzTfJs2L2Yf0X5FowY-Fw2jajVAjM68trCnWkhEs-3i2UxFsFe1fQYcMtteFEzkcTYIncremental improvement is where you take small deliberate steps to improvement. With time all these small steps lead to huge change. On a corporate level it’s sometimes called “Incremental innovation” or Kaizen. On a product level it’s called “Minimal viable product”. In a development environment it’s called “Agile”. On a personal level it’s been called Person Kaizen or CANI (by Tony Robbins). As you see this process has many names and helps in various facets of organizations and personal life, but to me it’s more a mindset and I’ll take you through the four steps to get it implemented. No matter what you call it, it’s about starting small and constantly improving.

 

Gmail is a great example of incremental improvement. When Google launched its email application the market seemed mature. Further, email users don’t like to change their addresses as it’s disruptive. Hotmail & Yahoo were the dominant players with their robust web based technology. Gmail, by contrast, launched with a limited feature set but it did have a few innovative features like conversations that set it apart. Because of its limited features it was considered in “beta” for a long time. Early adopters accepted the limitations and enjoyed the extra functionality. With time Google improved Gmail and added more features until it became the dominant email solution. Google has continually used this philosophy across their new product launches.

Advantages

There are many advantages of incremental improvement including:

  • Minimal investment- being that the changes are minimal it doesn’t take a lot of resources to get them implemented.
  • Quick results- with minimal scope the results appear quickly.
  • Changes can be impactful- using the pareto principle (aka the 80/20 rule) most of the easy gains can require minimal effort.
  • Targeted- This philosophy offers the ability to correct course early and learn from early results. Instead of implementing a full featured product that may fail when users see issues early on it can be corrected or the entire initiative can be closed.
  • Buy in- With the players involved in their own processes it improves the success of the roll out and shows results there’s more buy in and ownership accepted.

Steps for Constant Improvement

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/l8vwHUqDg5BD0VMB4as7_P3BPT37BslblLKhYdufhZtp_cMlFutRcP_AxuhBvnsjk92lfAokzgrOLIqYz76qhP1T8mQcINNshQYgE62DnaY_Ce1sP6x6jo7BElWnDNEbYJxjQRcrEdwards Deming, who many credit as the inspiration for the Japanese post-war economic miracle invented the Deming cycle as a quick way to simplify the process: Plan, Do, Check, Act. In short, think about(Plan) what you want to do, Do it, confirm what you’re doing is good (Check) and finally implement it (Act). For those with a system background this is just a compressed System Development Life Cycle (SDLC): Plan/Design, Develop, QA & Implementation.

Plan

Identify the vision of what your project will become. You shouldn’t spend much time here as the vision can evolve but it’s important to know where you’re eventually going. It can also serve as inspiration. Jotting down a few notes may be helpful and it can be revised with each iteration. What’s key is identifying what specific function you’ll implement in this round and ensure it’s deliverable.

 

Here’s some guidelines for ensuring success:

  • Improvements should be small. Reminder: future iterations can include more improvements.
  • Improvements should come from the people with a direct stake in the process
  • Ensure the proper people are aboard on this iteration so they don’t delay it.
  • Changes should be tested and put into use quickly.
  • Be sure you have enough time to finish what you start

 

Do

In this step you make the changes you identified. Having people involved in the process doing the change is helpful.

Further you should think about how to make the change generically so you don’t need to come back constantly to make new changes. Give users the ability to tweak the solution on an ongoing basis so it can grow with minimal resource input.

Check

There’s no point in trying to improve a process if it isn’t showing the results you want or it introduces new issues. Always check your work. Ideally the person doing the work shouldn’t be doing the checking. Remember all those college papers you worked on all night to make it perfect only to get the response back from the teacher pointing out simple grammatical and structural mistakes. You didn’t see it as you were too involved in the process.

 

Act

All your work doesn’t count unless you ship a product or implement the process. Ensure others are ready for it by communicating, doing training etc. Take steps necessary to ensure the change is integrated into the routine.

 

Repeat

After completing the 4 steps, you start again. Sometimes you won’t have time to improve the specific process you completed. That’s ok, pick the one that gives you the biggest return. The goal is overall improvement and not just for a specific process. For processes that are done on periodic basis (e.g. a monthly report) you don’t need to improve it until the next run- at that point pick what you will improve and start the process.

Caveats

Incremental improvement has many advantages but there’s some potential potholes along the way.

Fixes only

Some people do fixes only and consider that constant improvement. If you’re always fixing then you have a problem- look at your underlying processes and fix the root cause. Fixes are reactionary, be proactive and get ahead of the curve.

 

Radical improvement

Continual improvement can lead to radical improvement over time. Sometimes a philosophy of a small change followed by a small change in the future won’t give you the full effect you need. The key here is focus. If there’s an area that needs a lot of changes dedicate the resources to it.

 

Cost of improvement

Not all improvement are worthwhile. When starting an improvement determine the cost of it in terms of time and effort and compare that to what you’ll get after (i.e. ROI). If it’s low consider another improvement opportunity or break it into a smaller fix that may be worthwhile.

Real life

In my dilemma of tracking move items, the initial quick fix for issue of tracking move items to production was a form that developers would fill out. The quick fix for tracking open items was to put the enhancement requests in a spreadsheet with accountability columns and detail columns for notes. This solved the immediate need but wasn’t ideal. The move document was cumbersome and couldn’t take into account the conflicts between enhancements and the spreadsheet wasn’t easily updated and didn’t fully account for hand-offs and task requirements. I could continue to enhance these forms and spreadsheets but that wouldn’t be a long term answer as it wouldn’t be transparent and would become cumbersome.

 

Fortunately a newly hired business analyst on my team was interested in learning programming. When I talked about the vision of what I wanted to accomplished he grew interested. At first this rookie programmer created a simple web form to track moves to production. There was limited time for process improvement but we periodically identified small areas that would give us the greatest return on our efforts. With time we added tracking for enhancements and accountability. Later we added workflow and enabled others within the organization to request items and have full visibility into the process.

 

There was also tough decisions on what wouldn’t be included. There was no administrative access in the system for 6 years but in the meanwhile I slowly built up a set of stored procedures to do the job. Further, knowing that there were be limited time to do wholesale changes to the system we designed it to be expandable. This manifested itself in the way we tracked new fields- we set up a keyword system allowing an administrator to add new fields on an ad-hoc basis. Further, we knew we couldn’t account for every special workflow request so we integrated the ability to call an external stored procedure giving the system unlimited possibilities.

 

With time this side little project grew into an integrated platform that tracks issues and manages the daily tasks of a number of people within the organization. There have been over 75,000 tickets tracked so far. We make changes to it only every 2-3 years now but with the built in expandability it has continued to evolve. This system has received praise from external auditors and internal people who initially resisted it. The system, although not perfect, is getting better little by little and has become a verb within the company. Some define success as having your brand becomes a verb- you can Google it. By that definition, this effort was a success.

The Best Investment You Can Make Today- Guaranteed

 “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest”

Albert Einstein

 

PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

This is not an article about money or math, it’s about something much more powerful. But first a pop quiz: What is compound interest? Don’t worry if you don’t know, the concept behind compound interest is simple- you take some money invest it, during the process your investment earns interest and also interest on the interest. Before you know it you have much more than you started with. For example, if you start with $100 and earn 10% interest you’re quick math would say you’d get $10 after the first year. The second year you don’t just earn $10, you earn $11. The $10 you expect plus $1 on the $10 of interest from last year. Each year that’s more and more. So instead of your $100 doubling in 10 years as quick math would tell you ($10 for each of 10 years) you double in 7.2 years! The longer you allow for this phenomena, the more you earn. After 20 years, the return wouldn’t be $200 extra, it would be more than $600 extra!

Math lesson is over, now let’s take this compounding process and apply it to a more valuable asset you have: Time! Time for your family, time for your career, time for yourself. They key is to make your time more valuable and remove items that are just taking your time. Invest in yourself. Here’s five ways to compound time:

 

Learning

Investing in learning time is crucial. Sometimes learning simple techniques can end up saving you a lot of time in the long run. For example you can earn how to type faster or the more advanced features of your word processor. An initial investment of time saves you time daily. With more time daily you can spend it on crafting better documents which in turn leads to more powerful presentations which minimizes rework etc. Just learn.

 

Automation

Invest a small amount of time to get a machine/computer to do your job for you. This is why I love computers. They have the potential to do exactly what you need, you just have to tell it in the right way. It may require a special program, a special setup, a macro or even some programming, but if you find the right command, your computer will do your work for you without complaint.

 

Outsource

geralt / Pixabay

You don’t have to do everything yourself. Get rid of the easy tasks so someone else does it for you. Need someone to do your errands, help with cleaning or repairs? Try TaskRabbit.com. Need someone to do some of your chauffeuring- try Uber. Need someone to do payroll? Try a company like ADP then all you need to do is spend a couple of minutes sending them your data and they take care of the rest. If there’s any kind of task you need there’s almost certainly someone who is offering that service online. This will cost some money, but if you can directly use that time to make more money by putting in extra hours at the office or free lancing you can profit from the difference and/or save time.

 

Delegate

Some tasks are too complex or personalized to outsource- instead you can insource it (delegate). Train someone to do your job inside your organization or family- a few minutes of training or direction can give you huge dividends in the long term. Sometimes, just asking is all you need to do and they may be glad to help out. Other times a barter can have a large impact. For example, your computer knowledgeable friend can write a macro for you and you can arrange everything for the party she’s hosting.

 

Systematize

When there is a system to your actions it makes it much easier to succeed. This is potentially the most powerful but overlooked technique. Think about a recipe- it tells you exactly what you need to do. For projects that you create look into making it systematic. It takes away complexity and limits the risk of problems (problems take up a lot of time). This will allow you to outsource parts of it and speed up subsequent runs.

 

geralt / Pixabay

To get the most value for your time combine these techniques and get yourself organized. I recommend the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. If you don’t have time for the full book yet,  be sure to read 3 techniques to get started (http://magnacare.typepad.com/blog/2014/04/3-simple-steps-to-help-you-get-er-done.html). You can start small but keep investing.

 

There is so much value to your time, don’t waste it. Invest in yourself.

 

Your Life is a Movie- Keep it Simple

A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.
Mark Twain

Sometimes life is complex. There’s war over conflicting issues. There’s a million things to do and not enough time to do it. The movies make things seem so simple. Sometimes it’s frustratingly simple, “You love her just say so and then we can cut an hour off this really long movie” you think to yourself. How can you get this simplicity in your life? Just take a step back and look at yourself objectively, as if you were watching your own life’s movie.

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
Mark Twain

Sometimes the simple things will jump out at you. You realize you should say “I’m sorry” first because in the end to have a happy ending someone needs to cave and you may as well be the good guy in your movie. You can stop pursuing money and realize how precious your family is now before the crisis happens (heart attach, lost job).

Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.
Mark Twain

I was reading Mark Twain’s biography and was saddened that despite all his success he directly brought on himself many of his problems. He loved his wife, his kids, the perfect house, he had great fame and was making plenty of money. So what does he do? He tries to pursue more money and almost loses it all. His lavish lifestyle (spending $30,000 a month on the upkeep of his house in the late 1800s) forced him to close his beloved  house and move to Europe where his family is seperated and isn’t comfortable. He has so much debt he’s forced to go bankrupt. To recover, he’s forced into touring which he dreads and leaves his beloved family for long stretches. If you were Mark Twain wouldn’t you have quit spending money just a little earlier and then your could have had everything.

You’re life’s a move- be the star.

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
Mark Twain

How are Mortgage Professionals Like Doctors and Why It Matters to Your Profession?

I was reading the results of a consumer report survey that said 78% of respondents said that lenders need to be reined in. This surprised me. Sure those lending professionals who were unethical should be reigned in (and many are in front page headlines) but that’s not 78%. Could it be that those few unethical lending professionals made a bad name for all? Could it be that people are just looking for a skapegoat for their financial problems? I’m sure there’s some truth to both of these reasons but I suspect there’s something more fundamental going on that I read about in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink.”

In Section five of the book entitled “Listening to Doctors” Gladwell talks about various studies on the incidences of malpractice among doctors.  The studies show that the risk of being sued for malpractice has little to do with the number of mistakes you make. In fact there he found something completely different.

He found the element that corresponded most to the risk of doctors being sued was: how the patients were treated on a personal level by their doctor.  Did they have a relationship with their doctor?  Was he snotty with them?  Negative?  Condescending?

One study Gladwell mentions provides some interesting pointers to you, no matter what your profession. Doctors who spent even a few minutes longer in consultations with patients, who gave orienting comments explaining the process, who were active listeners and who had a sense of humor/tried to be funny were much much much less likely to be sued for malpractice even though they made just as many mistakes as other doctors (who WERE sued).

Gladwell brings out instances where patients went to lawyers and said “I want to sue my specialist”. After reviewing the case the lawyer would say actually it wasn’t the specialist that was at fault it’s your primary doctor. The patient would insist on suing the wrong doctor, despite the evidence, just because they felt like they were not treated well.

Gladwell points out that it is all about your tone of voice with your clients, are you dominant or concerned?  That one aspect (tone of voice) makes all the difference in the world.

So…how are you treating your clients these days? How long does it take you to return a client’s phone call? When was the last time you sat down with a client to actually explain your opinion letter to them?

 

Can Someone Create Automatic Wealth Without Creating A Success Making Machine

As I scanned though my huge daily reading list I saw a title that obviously intrigued me. I eagerly read  How to Change Your Work Habits and Become a Success Machine by Michael Masterson, who has written Automatic Wealth. I enjoyed the story about how he turned into a straight A student and it was motivating but he missed one of the key features of a machine: a machine is automatic (like “Automatic Wealth”). Here’s how his machine helped him:
* once he got used to sitting in front of the class (which is conducive to learning), classroom success was automated.
* once he developed the early to rise habit he automatically maximized each day
* once he developed the learning muscle- learning more, for longer hours, wasn’t that hard
A machine is not about doing hard work. A machine turns hard work into easy or automated work.

How to Celebrate Old Age and Maintain a Healthy Diet

This is a guest post by Winston Cole.

alegoría patriótica con orégano, IISoon we will celebrate another new year. Let us be honest but positive, we are not getting younger. While we all wish we could maintain the healthy bodies of our youth, as time goes on our metabolisms start to slow and our weight starts to increase. We stop processing cholesterol and fat as well. If we don’t get the right vitamins we can feel miserable for an entire day.

When beginning to notice such feelings, we can start by changing our diet. But keeping to a new diet can be very difficult. Choosing the right foods for the diet to work are equally as hard. If you hope to keep to your diet, lose weight and be healthier, you need to follow several important tips.

Select Healthy Foods
Your food selection does not need to be free of fats and carbohydrates like many of the dieting companies would like you to believe. What it does need to be is balanced, with nothing in excess, and made with only healthy ingredients.

Some of our regular foods today contain unhealthy levels of chemicals. These are not good for the body. It makes our organs work very hard to process unwanted ingredients in the foods. Organic foods eliminate unwanted minerals so we do not have them coming into our bodies. Healthy ingredients mean organic and natural foods. When we consume organic foods we improve our body’s processes and help it to run smoothly. You will feel better and your body will be healthier.

Other Healthy Additives
In addition to maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, there are a number of different foods that, when added to your diet, will help improve your health:

  • Green Tea – Has caffeine like coffee but will not cause you to experience the crash afterwards. Also have a lot of antioxidants which help improve your heart’s health.
  • Fish – Not for vegetarians, obviously, but fish have so many health benefits (including Omega-3 and protein) that if you can get it regularly, there are a number of benefits.
  • Coffee – Not for everyone, but some coffee every day has a number of health benefits and no consequences. Don’t let coffee myths fool you – as long as you don’t drink coffee in excess, it is a healthy beverage.

Things Not to Do With Your Diet – Dispelling Myths

In addition to all of the available diets, there are a variety of commonly held beliefs about how to improve your health and lose weight that are entirely false:

Skipping a Meal Will Help You Lose Weight

Many people that are maintaining a diet for weight loss often skip meals when they are not very hungry assuming it will help them lose weight. This is entirely false. Skipping a meal causes your metabolism to slow considerably. When you finally do eat again, you will gain more weight than you would have gained had you eaten the meal. Skipping meals is a terrible idea, and will only result in you gaining more weight as well as being less healthy.

Cheating is Okay

While no one really thinks that cheating on one’s diet is okay, many people do it anyway. By having a big dessert once every few days or binge eating on the rare occasion, the assumption is that it is okay because it is offset by your diet.

But if you have kept to your diet for a long time, then the binge eating will not be able to be processed by your metabolism and you will gain a great deal of weight. You are actually more likely to process these foods if you eat more regularly, as your body will be better equipped to deal with the excess sugars.

Water Needs to be Limited

Some people assume they will lose weight if they refrain from drinking a lot of water. Water can only benefit your weight loss, and it is a good way to allow you to feel full even when you have not eaten much, which will prevent you from eating in excess.

Commonalities

As you see from the above list, many people assume their metabolism is their enemy. But if you work with your metabolism (don’t deny it food, eat at regular intervals, etc.) you are going to be able to keep it more active, process foods better, and your diet will be far more likely to work.

The key to your diet is choosing the right foods and keeping your metabolism healthy. If you do, you will lose weight and stay healthy without starving yourself.

Final Thoughts on Metabolism

Metabolism is not something you should take for granted. You can keep your metabolism high by lowering your stress and eating regularly. In addition, exercising and building your muscles causes your metabolism to increase. A high metabolism means better processing of food and a healthier and fit body. Keep to your diet. Avoid myths/misconceptions. Exercise so you stay as fit as you want to be.

About the Author

Winston Cole is very passionate about life. He views life as a journey and not a destination. Winston’s favorite hobby is traveling. He loves to go on Cruise ship vacations. He can help you if you are interested in contacting a cruise vacation planning guide.

Life can be beautiful but you have that power to make it so by your thoughts, actions and associations. Winston challenge is, every now and then, go and enjoy good scenery, eat well and exercise in pleasant surroundings. He suggests that you begin planning your cruise vacation. Who knows you may like it and discover something wonderful.

photo credit: tnarik

Balance: Start Running Your Life

About a year ago I started running, but I don’t always enjoy it. So lately on Sunday morning I’m inviting my son if he wants to come along. He’s 8 so he can’t quite keep up (one day soon I’ll have trouble keeping up with him) but it’s about having fun together. Here’s what we’ve done to make our routine compatible:

  • We run for as long as he can (I jog) then walk and talk then run when he’s able (he has good speed/stamina for his age). It’s not a full workout for me but I’m spending time with him and it’s fun time for us. Also people say this system of starting and stopping (interval training) may be more effective.
  • I run, he bikes. He’s faster biking than running and he doesn’t have to take breaks. After one round of this I asked him if he wants to do another one (I usually do 2 rounds around the neighborhood) and he was enthusiastic.
  • Maybe next time he’ll try rollerblading while I run.

I turned running time into a bonding experience. Balance is the key- I don’t try to push him because fun is the ultimate goal.

I’m not advocating starting a running routine. I’m advocating spending time together.

Vote for Success

It’s election day. There’s been so much negative talk and misinformation about both campaigns that it’s depressing.

The Solution on Who To Vote For

It would be great if there was a web site that listed the candidates in a grid and compared their positions objectively (in numbers or yes/no answers as much as possible) so you can say “I agree with this candidate” or “I agree with the other one” and you can decide based on the grid: “I choose candidate X”.

Throw Out Candidate Character

Character and personality is important when you have to live with the person. But even Mother Theresa would be shown to have a lowsy character in today’s politically charged environment. So how do you know what’s real or a media fabrication? I’d argue that if someone convinced his party and half the U.S. to vote for him then his personality is good enough- it’s just his positions that will bear out if he’ll be using it to go in the direction you want.

Actions Not Words

Don’t just go by the rhetoric. A candidate may say they are for a certain position but their voting or actions may show otherwise. The grid should reflect this- and hopefully cause the candidate to correct his actions or clarify his position.

Get Rid of the Lies

Every time a candidate mischaracterizes his opponent incorrectly- it should appear on this grid in a box for honesty as a negative point. After a whole campaign if one side is more lopsided than the other you should have some good data of who is more straight and who is fighting dirty. I’d hope that this would compel the candidates to stop this and focus on their issues- not negative campaigning.

In short, vote for who will bring you success and improve the world.

I don’t have any candidate in mind as I write any of this.

That was as political as you’ll see me, now back to work.