I'm loving: PomodoneApp

I’m terrible at focusing and single-flow discipline, so I tend to practice the Pomodoro technique – which is about enforced habit of working for short, concentrated bursts, taking a short breaks and longer breaks after a number of work bursts.

I love not being focused and everywhere – I get to be curious and explore, finding interesting things, people and relationships –  but when I need to get stuff done, there’s nothing for it but to hunker down and FOCUS!

That’s when I am absolutely grateful for a fantastic little app called Pomodone App.

At it’s heart is a timer that works based on the Pomodoro technique.

Projects I’m working on, daily tasks, can be sourced and sync with a range of tools – from Trello to Evernote, Asana and more.

 

Three Reasons I love Pomodone App

#1: It is easy as pie

Right out of the box, it is set up to have a work cycle and cycles that follow the textbook technique.

I changed mine to 45 minute long pomodoros (basically the period you are focused on workd) and 5 minute breaks, with a longer 30 minute break after my 4th pomodoro.

You create your tasks (in my case, I get my tasks from Trello, more on this in the integrations bit). I also, occasionally, create local ones. Wherever you get your tasks from they are easily selectable to start working on.

#2: Notifications range from nice to naggy

You can set the reminder interval, when the clock isn’t ticking. To be honest the regular reminder really pulls me back from the weeds and helps me refocus on my list.

I used to have the reminders every 90 minutes and that was nice, but I found that I could get lost in other things – emails, chat, browsing and 90 minutes is a big chunk of time. So I set it 15. Now it is proper naggy!

Annoying as it might get – I don’t want to be timed all the time, so better the irritation than 2 hours going ‘poof’ on containerisation or AI or some other interest that is not immediately relevant to my delivery goal.

#3: It integrates with my work flow – perfectly

I use StoriesOnboard  – and online tool for user story mapping, which I use for big picture business /strategic planning and Trello for more operational stuff.

Recently we started using Sentry to log any errors that happen on Decksender.com. Really cool that Sentry lets you create Trello cards for things that need resolution.

At my desk, all my tasks primarily from Trello and Pomodone App integrates just beautifully with that. When I start a task, it automatically moves it to the right ‘Doing’ list on Trello, recording on the card how much time has been spent on it and finally we when I’m done – it moves it to ‘Done’.

Now, I’m not ninja-level at managing my focus – where is the fun in that – but every now an again, the right mix of tools come round that really hit the sweet spot and PomodoneApp is the core of that sweet suite!

Try it out and let me know how you get on,  happy to answer any questions I can and even learn from how you use it.


Full Disclosure: I’m not paid or receive any payment or benefits for writing.

Photo by Shiva Smyth from Pexels

Bullies and Bluebells

I was recently in a dialogue with a client and the conversation turned to “Evil Scrum” and some previous negative experiences that some people had experienced.

They imposed velocity targets and demanded estimates a year in advance and then bashed people when those forecasts weren’t met

Now, I’m no big fan of Scrum or Kanban in the same way I’m no fan of the Catholic Church or any religious organisation. It’s not the tool that I object to per se – it is the commercial agenda and what it makes otherwise nice people do in order to profit from the tool.

However, I am deeply knowledgeable about Scrum and Kanban and the agile manifesto that broadly underpin the credentials of both as better ways to handle complex adaptive systems and work.

My response to the client group was this:

Even a bluebell could be used by a bully to bludgeon you to death.

Neither of these process frameworks advocate any kind of violence to anyone. But they provide the hooks by which the brutish minded can exact violence on some people.

There was consensus in the room that this misuse of process and power e.g. Evil Scrum (could as well be Evil Kanban / SAFe / LeSS / whatever – was often worse than no process.

So my assertion is that those who get what they want through bullying others will try it with whatever tool they can find. From process, to working conditions and contracts to , yes, even bluebells.

Do you agree or disagree?

 

Lessons from a #LinkyBrains event no one else came to

The LinkyBrains movement is purely accidental. It has gained and is gaining momentum primarily through small groups of people meeting to have coffee, some lunch or just a walk. What brings them together is the idea of different mindsets, curiosity, meeting kindred spirits – whatever.

Messy.Pexels / Pixabay

These ‘coffees’ are shabby-chic. There is often no structure, no theme (beyond being Linky). They are just people with pretty broad common ground, holding space to give their linkyness a chance to conenct. They are nicely messy and vague.

They are also super easy to setup. This is deliberate – the easier and lower risk something is, the likelier it is that the hesitant will try it.

 

But there is risk. People might simply not come. What happens then?

Here are three lessons I learnt from that experience.

Risk very little

Reduce what you could lose. The only real things at stake here were time and money.

It took me all of 10 minutes to find a location that was central, create the event on Doodle and share it on my channels. That’s almost no time at all.

I didn’t book a table at a posh restaurant. I hadn’t hauled post-its, markers and other collaboration tools. I certainly had not paid for anything. So, absolutely no money lost.

Of course, one could argue there was an opportunity cost – what are those things I could have done instead? Great question. I’ll get to that further down this page.

The only thing that stung in all this was my ego and any lesson that helps control that beast is worth almost any cost.

Be OK with no one coming

This was in Malaga, it’s not London or Berlin or Barcelona. LinkyBrains is new, the buzz has not been that well shared in Spain and certainly not in Malaga. Yet, two people had said they would come. My expectations were low, but not zero.

But no one showed up. When I prodded one of the people I was expecting, he apologised and said he was currently in the US!

I was disappointed. Even after 15 years of being involved in conferences, meetings, open space technology, lean coffees, world cafe and most kind of other formats for people getting together to collaborate. I was still disappointed no one showed up.

Then I remembered one of 4 principles I live by. They come from the Open Space Technology framework for running large group conversations

Openspace principles and law

Whoever comes are the right people

The openspace principles are designed to create psychological safety and the single law is a reminder of personal responsibility.

With mojito in hand and view of Malaga port, I quickly accepted that I was the ‘right people’ – this was precious time for me to ponder and converse with myself about neuro-diversity (the core of LinkyBrains) and to reflect on my collaborations in the space.

The two and half hours I spent were some of the most productive of the week. Headphones on:

  • I agreed a deal for some work and got halfway through the Statement of Work draft for it,
  • had 3 chat conversations in parallel with some really cool people,
  • drafted three blog posts (including this one),
  • launched some features on the LinkyBrains.com site,
  • and wrote some code on my side project.

It was OK that no one came. I was there and that was all that ultimately all I could be responsible for.

Do it Better Next Time

When you are learning to ride a bike and you fall off , your instructor encourages you to get back on as quickly as you can – so that your bruised ego and sense of failure do not succeed in convincing you never to try again.

So I got back on. I booked the next event that same night and I’ll do it differently.

I’ll share more regularly leading up to it – via email and socially, in English and Spanish. I’ll prod colleagues and friends to prod their Malaga based friends to check it out.]

I’ll give luck a helping hand.

So – go ahead, if you are curious about LinkyBrains or simply want to get together with other LinkyBrained people, create an event – it will be fine, whatever happens.

Three thoughts on April 14.

I probably could have had a better, more clicky title.

Can the crowd save the world?

My wife and I had a BBQ today. It started out as my idea and it worked beautifully, the end, it was ‘our’ BBQ – everyone who attended.

At one point there were going to be 50 people coming to it – our friends their families.

Catering would be expensive for one person to shoulder. So we said –

bring some food for you all and a little extra for the table.

And that’s what everyone did – some folk brought more than a little and some brought less. But there was plenty for everyone without a strain on anyone.

Even better was lots of people offered to help with this and that, it became a group BBQ.  Very few of them knew each other and I didn’t know everyone that came either.

Might a model like this work for the world – could a simple thing like “do your weekly shop and spend 10% more towards the weekly  food needs for the homeless” transform localised food inequality?

What would happen if for every €10 spent to educate a child in the wealthiest countries, €1 was contributed to a practical, effecient fund to educate a child in the less wealthy countries.

You see where I’m going with this.

Should we be removing dents in the world instead?

I read this by Fred Destin and it made me think ‘dent in the world???’

It’s a reference to Steve Jobs’ famous ding / dent in the Universe quote

“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?

Perhaps we aren’t here to put a dent in the Universe.

Perhaps the universe is already dented – blasted by human, environmental and ecological assault. Dents that lend to our World’s broken-ness.

Corruption, wealth inequality, man-made ecological and environmental destruction, slavery, the disconnection of humanity from itself all seem like major dents to me.

Perhaps we are each here to smooth out the dents or at the very least not make them worse?

Can we get to a new world by using the same thinking that got us to this one?

My friend Doug Scott and I chat alot about “Kansas has been destroyed”.

The ‘Kansas’ we mean is in reference to The Wizard of Oz – where Dorothy is swept away from Kansas by a powerful hurricane, and taken to the magical land of Oz and all she wants to do is get back to where she came.

Doug and I speak of a New ‘Oz’ like world, significantly different from this one (which is Kansas) – operates on radically different principles, structures and purpose.

I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that this world of the pursuit of unlimited growth, profit is entirely unsustainable, that a new world is possible and urgently required and the strongest possibility to create it is by discovering, connecting and empowering more #linkybrains in our population.

If you don’t know what a LinkyBrain is – go read this.

Now imagine a world with 100 Elon Musks (Elon, being as Linky as they come!), each working on 3 of the most pressing challenges facing our world, with the urgency, creativity  and resources of the Elon Musk we currently have.

Imagine 1000 or 10000 or 10 million Elon Musks.

But can we get their with the structures, language, rules, motivations and processes that we currently have?

What do you think?

No one is unstoppable forever.

Looking at the current landscape of tech giants, from Facebook to Google, from Stripe to Intel, it is almost impossible to imagine they can ever be out-spent or out-competed.-

Whilst they might seem unstoppable – with the sheer brain power they employ and the almost bottomless stash of cash they command, it is reassuring that every giant has its weaknesses.

Some weaknesses might be transient –  momentary lapses of attention, or wrong footed by some government legislation or mishandle a sensitive public issue and start to lose patronage. Others might be systemic – by virtue of their size, their industry, regulatory constraints, their leadership failings or something more permanent.

For those wishing to find the kink and exploit it – they should be prepared to move as fast as they possibly can. They need to cultivate now, the ability to make decisions very quickly, to execute spectacularly fast and to maximise the natural love that the market has for upstarts and underdog to their advantage.

What kinks in iron of the giants have you spotted? What should the upstarts and underdogs watch for?

My 15 Year List of Ideas is a Ready Made Company Selector

For the last 15 years I’ve maintained a list of ideas to build – things that both excite me and improve the world.

I’ve kept it pruned, adding new ideas, removing those that no longer seem viable and adding more details of the idea over time to those that still do.

It turns out this list is a wonderful way to help me identify those companies that I would really love to work with. To help those people build things that I am passionate enough to want to build myself.

Turns out that I care more that those amazing and positive things become realised and are in the world doing good than I do about being the person that created them.

Turns out I’m equally happy to be one of the many hands and hearts to bring them into existence.

One such company is Too Good To Go – this amazing organisation is using tech to reduce food waste.

Their mission ties in so strongly with an idea that I had about five years ago – “fix the problem of global western food waste”

Then at the Agile Testing Days conference in Potsdam last year as I brainstormed with some amazing people including Maria Urdaneta Castro, Ilan Kirchenbaum and Karen Greaves, that idea morphed into “The People’s Pantry”:

So what is the takeaway here (pun intended!)

• keep a list of your passionate ideas, keep them pruned – I spend 2 hours a month on this. Remember to write what the compelling goal is  – what change do you want to see in the world.

• keep a look out for those people/organisation that are trying to build it.

• join them and help, if you can.

I hope this proves helpful to you to remember what you are passionate about and to help when you are looking for a job where passion and purpose are important.

Thanks for reading and I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

My first week of Helpful Conversations

Last week I started having Office Hours to have conversations with anyone who wanted  the benefit of my experience in startups, tech and a few other things from my 25+ years in the software space.

Using the awesome ‘Booked’ wordpress plugin – which I had acquired for another idea that I was launching last year – I set up a simple calendar/appointment booking on my blog site and wrote a blog post to make my offer and kick the whole thing off.

The first week has been tremendous. I’ve had 4 conversations that each went well beyond the 30 minute slot that was booked and all ended with some very positive feedback and heart felt gratitude from the people I spent that time with.

I haven’t asked their permission to write about the conversations – they are, of course, private and confidential – so no names will be named and no identifying details will be shared.

Two of the conversations were about starting out as an agile coach, one was about remaining relevant as a people manager and the last one was helping a startup on its growth plans – specifically raising market awareness. Here are just some of the ideas I shared:

Starting as a (independent) agile coach:

  • Don’t do it. The market for ‘agile coaches’ is saturated and filling up with project managers, scrum masters and all sorts of other folk. Rather than be bound to some title,  strive to be of value instead by understanding what problem your client is trying to solve (and not simply help us do Scrum/LeSS/whatever) and be determined to use *all* that you know to help them.
  • Know what you bring to the engagement – be clear about it, at least to yourself!
  • Get yourself financially lean to compete, take risks and endure the downturns.
  • Get comprehensive agile experiences – learn to code, ship something, try to market something – you cannot empathise effectively if you don’t know what they are going through.
  • Stay in your day job long enough to get the essential capabilities you need – once you have to make money, it becomes harder to make strategic decisions  – being financially lean can mitigate this but not remove it entirely.

Remaining relevant as a people manager:

  • Ask the people you manage what they need – practically, emotionally and financially – to be happy and fulfilled in their jobs.
  • Remember that your responsibility is to spend authority wisely – for the benefit of your reports and indirectly, the organisation.
  • Stop shielding people from the consequences of their professional actions – agree some rules beforehand, but blind support does no one any good. That said, helping to create an environment where the consequences are manageable and fairly trivial is also important.
  • Tell the person who manages you the same thing (even if they don’t ask for it).
  • Go ask your ‘customers’ what they enjoy about you as a manager and what they don’t. Commit to them to act on their feedback.

Growth for a startup – creating awareness of a product or service:

  • Focus on what the users and customers are actually trying to use your product or service to achieve. No one uses a tool for the sake of the tool. Customers will value your service better if you strive to understand their goals.
  • Be honest with what your product and service is great at and what it isn’t – users do not appreciate wasting their time on something that doesn’t work in their use case.
  • Use your paying customers more – if you are lucky to have them, then engage with them more.
  • Try and get better at being out of your comfort zone by doing more of it and learning ways to be better.
  • Rediscover your passion for what your product does – the unique way you want to change the world. This is the bigger goal than the features you are building and enables you to speak and promote your startup with passion.
  • Give what you have to get what you want – create content about useful and helpful things, share it, help companies for free using the expertise you’ve developed from your product. Earn goodwill, it pays off.

A huge thank you to the amazing people who accepted my invitation  this week and had the courage and humility to ask for help. Needless to say, I’m deeply enjoying these conversations and hope for many more.

If you or anyone you know would find a conversation with me helpful – book a time on my office hours, show up and lets do this thing!

 

Offer: Let's have a helpful conversation

It seems that when I’m most busy is when I also seem to want to share and help others the most – so continuing in a long established tradition, I would like to offer some office hours to help anyone who needs it.

But first – at the risk of inventing another buzzword/phrase that gets trademarked and certified, what is a ‘helpful conversation’?

It is simply a time that you bring something a person needs help on, we talk about it and you leave feeling better, clearer, energised or otherwise ‘helped’. If you don’t leave the conversation feeling like it was s good spend of your time, then we haven’t had a ‘helpful conversation’.

It isn’t free, it’s priceless.

My time is the most precious thing I have and I offer it, in the hope that we both have a brilliant conversation and learn and share from each other. My reward is knowing that I helped you.

So, what could be helpful to you?

Here are some things I know I can help with:

Startups

because I’ve spent the last 15 years learning by doing

Bootstrapping a startup
Designing your test-the-market strategy – MVPs, guerrilla testing
Essential tools I use everyday to planning, testing, prototyping etc super easy
Designing marketing experiments
Dealing with failure – how to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’
Hiring and equity sharing
Advising your startup on a regular basis

Agile Things

because I’ve been coaching for over 10 years and been a dev, product guy, maker in this space for the last 16 years 

Most things about Scrum, Kanban, Lean and variations therein.
Should you get agile certification? I have an alternative view and can help talk you through your options.
Building and growing self-organisation, empowered teams
Being an effective manager or executive in an agile organisation or during a transition

Helping People be Successful & Joyful

because that is basically what my entire career has been about – and I love it.

Using improv to get better at being present, collaborative and generally ‘good to work with’
Software and tech industry career advice – what you might want to invest in (and not) as you start out in tech –  attitudes and essential skills
Valuing learning and relationships.
Getting mentors

Business meeting culture

because I built a startup to fix this and it has 6000 users.

Simple techniques to transform your personal meeting behaviour
Make any meeting better (or at the very least, suck less)
Helping your organisation have fewer and better meetings

I want a helpful conversation,  how do we do this?

I thought you’d never ask! This is simple as pie.

If you don’t know anything about me – I encourage you to check out my about page, my LinkedIn and some of my tweets.

Then, if you think I could be helpful,  checkout my office hours availability, book an available time slot and show up.

There, all done. I look forward helping however I can.

 

Be a Person of Substance

I love to take my dog – Maya – for walks and she loves it when I throw for her and she fetches. A long throw really helps her open up the speed!

As I took her for a walk this morning, I brought with us one of her ‘throw and chew’ balls. Much like a tennis ball but squidgier.

Usually I throw rocks for her and I have a pretty long throw – but despite my usual effort, this ball didn’t travel as far.

Now, it was substantially larger than a stone and almost perfectly spherical – looking picture perfect to throw, but it lacked density and this is why it didn’t make the most of the strength with which it was hurled. In fact, sometimes it only travelled a few meters! Needless to say, Maya was none too pleased.

It got me thinking

I believe that Life, the Universe and the force that is greater than us all, seems to want to propel us to great heights towards what we wish for ourselves, but what do we bring to this ambition to help it along?

If life presents an opportunity to propel a person forward – perhaps to greater learning and prosperity, how does that person get themselves in a position to maximise how far they travel?

As I pondered this, I wondered if the density or substance of the rock was more suitable to be propelled than the ball – which ‘looked’ like the best thing to be propelled.

What is the substance of a person that helps them make the most of the propulsion that life offers? Seems to me that by the time the opportunity arrives,  there is likely very little a person can do to acquire the skills to make the most of that particular gift. So it seems substance is a set of general characteristics and capabilities.

Here’s a list of attributes that I think count as ‘substance’ by which a person ‘goes far’.

  1. Integrity – being true to your word and being guided by your principles.
  2. Being good to work with – being respectful of others, open to collaboration.
  3. Being adaptable – anticipating and responding elegantly to change,
  4. Learning what they need to – and quickly.
  5. Being generous – with their time, knowledge and resources.
  6. Being open – in mind and of heart.
  7. Persistence –  knowing when to push on (and pushing on) and when to pull out.

I’m sure this is not exhaustive but what do you think?
Do you agree with my list, can you think of any more?
How does one develop these capacities to be a person of substance?

Yes, learning is hard. But do it anyway.

It seems popular, these days, for coaches and consultants to talk about ‘continuous learning’ or the ‘learning organisation’.

Learning is like sex – everyone nods knowingly when it is being talked about, but few are actually doing it well or at all.

For me, learning a new skill is hard – especially if you are unconsciously competent – i.e. an expert, in another domain. Although I take baby steps and mentally (an emotionally) prepare to feel inadequate or stupid, that preparation does not fully protect me against those feelings. I do feel frustrated and stupid when I learn something new.

I’m not one of those naturally curious ‘take it apart to see how it works’ nerds. I need a reason to do anything – even if that reason is simply to have some fun. Luckily I am a solution dreamer – to problems that I see everywhere and even those that haven’t yet peaked. So, what I lack in curiosity, I make up for in imagination.

Of course, learning is only the beginning – think of it as an introduction to a new skill. You are barely becoming competent, you are simply prepping yourself to begin. Practice, once you have the basics, is really where I make all my solid, sticky learning. This holds its own hardships too.

My preferred style of learning anything is to have a goal – for example, when I learned to knit, I set myself a goal of knitting a scarf.

This goal-focused approach means that I can focus my learning, ignoring those things that may be valuable but do not directly move me towards my goal. It also means I have a reason to practice – rather than to learn, it is to create my goal.

What often suffers when I take this approach is that I skip a whole load of important theoretical back story of why certain things are the way they are. But on the plus side I get something tangible quickly.

Every step of the learning experience, especially in the early stages are painful. I feel frustrated that I’m making such slow progress. I find having expertise in a related domain makes things worse.

For example, as I learn React Native to build my Personal Relationships Management app – “Percy” – the WTF/min are really high because I know how quickly I can achieve the same functionality in Java or Ruby – both of which I code with some fluency.

Of course you hear those well meaning fools who harp on about ‘make it fun’ – clearly they haven’t done any learning recently. How do you make the constant feeling of inadequacy or the sense of being a dumdum any fun?

When I learned to juggle, I remember feeling physically sick from sense of failure when – in spite of my best efforts – I just couldn’t keep three balls in the air at the same time. Until I did and that sense was immediately quashed forever.

This turnaround is addictive – and anticipating when I will get beyond the tunnel of crap into the light of palpable competence – itself is exciting. It’s a rush. It’s what keeps me showing up to learn and improve.

The capabilities you develop are rewarding – if nothing else, this new skill gives you a new set of filters and paradigms to see the world through. It gives me a new world from which to draw metaphors from.

So – of course it hurts, but it’s worth it – so do it anyway.

How does learning affect you and why do you show up?