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Don’t let sunk costs sink you

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A popular term in economics, accounting, and finance is “sunk costs” which basically means costs that have already been spent. These costs may be from software purchased, processes redesigned, machines purchased, consultants hired, etc. Whatever the costs are it has been spent and there is no getting it back.

Instead of looking at what has been spent you need to do a fresh analysis right now to determine what decision you would make looking at things are fresh. This might mean going a completely different direction in software or equipment used.

Of course there are political dynamics here because somebody made that decision to spend money previously and if the course changes there are always questions that arise and there are people that will defend actions. In a later post we will discuss this and other potential things to take into account when making decisions counter to past decisions.

The following are things to remember when making a decision that could be impacted by “sunk costs”:

  • Analyze fresh: Remember sunk costs are just that – sunk. Do not include them in your calculations and make fresh decisions whether it is on changing a process, software, or hardware.
  • Do not get emotional: Avoid that emotional tug you and others may have to feel bad about money and time previously spent. Getting someone involved that does not have emotional baggage on the particular item is best.
  • Understand history: Oftentimes new people come into a department and are quick to find things that are “wrong” and should be changed. Getting fresh perspective is vital. However, understanding history and why decisions were previously made will help you ensure your new analysis takes into account all needed items into the calculation at hand.

It is important that you as an individual contributor or leader understand sunk costs and how to take a fresh lens to a problem and ignore these sunk costs in making good decisions will ensure that sunk costs do not sink you.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Do you follow the 80/20 rule?

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A catch phrase that is often mentioned is the “80/20 rule” but rarely do people really spend time living it. This rule is phrased in different ways but most often means that 20% of your efforts result in 80% of the benefits. In a sales environment for example 20% of your clients result in 80% of revenue and the other 80% of your clients result in 20% of your revenue. Generally speaking the analogy goes is that those same 20% of clients result in using only 20% of your resources so they are way more profitable – 10x or more.

The 80/20 rule is geared at asking how do you identify and focus on those 20% of items that result in highest level of value and, in turn, minimize the 80% of things you do that result in lower value? This is easier said than done for sure.

In order to take advantage of the 80/20 rule you should take note of the following:

  • Know your 20’s and 80’s: Until you know the 20 that produces the 80 you are nowhere. Start by understanding your clients’ profitability, understanding your team’s effectiveness, and understanding all else you can. Many things you don’t realize you are spending time and resources on until you focus on identifying what is generating what. It is easy to lie to yourself here.

Ask yourself if the data you have is really capturing what is needed to make the determination on identifying what is generating what. For example, are you factoring all the costs that your whole team spends servicing your clients? If you have good data to work with then the analysis becomes easy.

  • Make hard decisions: Just because you identify your 20 that produces your 80 does not mean that you are willing to fire the 80% of clients that generate 20% of profits. However, following this analogy, this lets you ask questions of how you can get your 80% of clients more profitable. Some of these decisions will indeed be to fire clients. Other decisions will be to stop projects. Yet other decisions will be to cancel ongoing meetings. All of these are valid decisions. It will give you an opportunity to deploy those resources in a more effective manner.

Be careful of the 80 that eats up your resources and only gives you 20. If you know your 20’s and 80’s and make the hard decisions, you will be living the 80/20 rule and increasing the effectiveness of your organization, profitability of your clients, happiness of your employees, and much more.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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About WorkLearnPlay: WorkLearnPlay.com is about helping information workers live better lives and supercharge their success in the workplace. Please let me know how I can continue to make this site better and help you and others supercharge your success.

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Solving problem solving

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The world is full of problems to be solved. If you are lucky your day is full of problems as an information worker. Some problems are more fun than others to solve but all problems require solutions – even if that solution is ignoring the problem.

While people generally consider themselves good problem solvers, they rarely are as good as they think. The better a person becomes at problem solving the quicker her career will progress.

While some aspects of being a problem solver are natural aptitudes, everyone can and must solve problems as an information worker and it is something you can and will get better at by following some simple rules:

  • Positive attitude: Start with a can do, positive attitude to every problem that is before you. It is amazing how problems get easier and ideas come quicker when you have a positive attitude. When your manager talks about a new problem needing to be solved say, “Yes, I will solve that”.
  • Ask questions: Finding solutions to problems requires a good understanding of the problem and its root cause. Asking questions and getting facts is a key part of solving problems.
  • Think long term, not short term: Often times the root cause of a problem is hard to determine but without finding it the problem will persist. People are often tempted to find the short-term solution but that often only results in another problem arising. Instead make sure to think long term and try to identify the root cause of problems and best way to resolve.
  • Learn from others: You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. But, you need to be able to ask for help and get advice from others. Many times others will have seen similar problems and have ideas to help.
  • Be creative: Creativity is something everyone is capable of but as we get older often we don’t focus on this important skill. When approaching a problem take a look at many angles and do the proverbial “out of the box” thinking. Not all solutions will be creative but often times the most challenging problems will mandate it.
  • Try, try, and try again: Hard problems are hard for a reason. Your first solution will not always be the cure. Just like a good scientist applies the scientific method and has a theory and tests it so to will an information worker solve a problem. There will be trail and error but in the end persistence and grit will lead to success.

Next time a difficult problem arises at work or home take it and apply the steps above and get better at solving problems. Just like most activities you can and will get better at problem solving with practice and applying the rules above.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Making meetings magic

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One of the most painful parts of a workday is a bad meeting. Meetings don’t have to be bad but too often they are done poorly. There are a variety of reasons why meetings go wrong. The meeting scheduled for an hour that goes an hour and 20 minutes with only two of the six people attending contributing to the discussion. Or, maybe the meeting where the first 10 minutes are spent trying to get the screen share going and everybody recalls a similar meeting that took place six months ago but people just don’t remember what was ever decided.

Here are some tips to making meetings successful as an organizer. A future post will talk about being a good meeting participant.

  1. Purpose: One of the most important things is to have a meeting purpose. If you can’t articulate the meeting purpose then the meeting should not be held.
  2. Format: Does the purpose of the meeting really need a meeting or is it something where an email, text, or discussion board would provide a better format? Not everything needs to be solved in meetings so ask yourself what the proper format should be before scheduling your next meeting.
  3. People: Do you have the right people in the meeting and only the right people? Too often meetings are either over inclusive and they include people as participants because they don’t want to be left out but don’t bring value to topic at hand. Or, meetings do not have all the necessary parties invited or attending. This means that another meeting needs to be held or bad meeting outcomes happen.
  4. Time: Meetings should only be as long as is needed to achieve the meeting purpose. People tend to fill meeting out because it was scheduled. So, it is best to estimate the time needed and only block that time. Instead of having your calendar by default setup 1-hour meetings, change it to 30-minute meetings.
  5. Technology: Good technology can make the meeting go smoothly whether that is conference line or screen sharing or projecting. Work to ensure that the right technology is in place to support the meeting format that has been put together to attain your meeting purpose.
  6. Punctuality: Meetings get blocked up together and many information workers’ days are just one long line of meetings. Accordingly, be respectful of people’s time and start the meeting on time and end the meeting on time.
  7. Preparation: Great meeting organizers spend time preparing for the meeting. This includes preparing documents or exhibits to make the meeting more effective and sharing them in advance.
  8. Record: Having a record of meetings helps ensure that what occurred is properly maintained and that later when recollections are foggy there is something to go back and review. Often times having a meeting record captured is best done by someone that is not an active participant in the meeting.
  9. Engagement: Great meetings allow all participants an opportunity to engage. This may include even going around the table in some instances to get each people’s input.

The tips individually above are not difficult but rarely do meeting organizers put them all together. Each item takes effort and some of them require real effort and time spent preparing for a meeting beforehand. I myself realize these items and while I do each of them sometimes – I rarely do all of them together. However, each new meeting is a new opportunity to make a great meeting – even if sometimes the best meeting is the meeting that does not happen because it is unneeded.

WLP Tip No. 6: Take the time to get feedback from others on how well you do on organizing and running your meetings and seek to improve. Review each of the areas above and assess yourself on how well you do on each and have several others do that same assessment. Then take your learnings and focus on making your meetings magic.

Remember that being a great meeting organizer will make you a more effective information worker and will build your brand no matter what you do. Take the opportunity today to put this meeting advice into practice.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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The real correlation vs. causation difference

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No matter what your role as an information worker – data matters. Data helps us understand our customers, health, friends, family, profitability, employees and the list goes on and on. As the world continues to have more computers, cameras, and sensors we will continue to have more data and have a better opportunity to either improve the quality of life or the alternative.

At one time executives had to be sold into the value of data driven decisioning versus their gut. These days that is less of a problem. Now the challenge is to not get lost in the data and making the wrong interpretation. As we all know the phrase “lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

A common confusion is the difference between causation and correlation. Things are correlated if two things have a mutual relationship between them. This can be a positive or negative correlation. Something can be correlated but not caused by something else and this is often the case. An example could be decreased meat sales correlated to declining home prices. Instead an economic downturn negatively caused both of these.

Things are caused if one thing causes another thing to change in a positive or negative direction. For example, you increase product sales when you increase Facebook ad spends. If you understand one thing causes another then you can act on that one thing and be confident that the other thing will be impacted accordingly.

People are quick to think that because things are correlated that one thing causes the other. Making decisions on things that are correlated but not caused by can lead to bad results. However, it does give us a starting point where we can do testing whether it is A/B testing if software or other testing to determine if one thing is indeed caused by another thing or if they are merely correlated.

The other item to be aware about is that there are varying degrees of causation and correlation. Generally causation or correlation do not have a one-to-one relationship. Sometimes this relationship can be greater than one-to-one but often times it is less.

WLP Tip No. 5: Next time you read the results of a study or setup your own research study make sure you identify if the results represent causation or are merely correlation and additional research is needed to determine causation.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Avoid bad people habits

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One of the things we hear a lot when growing up is to give people the benefit of the doubt but as we get older we see the same things happening again and again and the natural thing is to classify, judge and stereotype situations quickly. After all doing this is efficient and over the years often times your classifications, judgments, and stereotypes turned out right after all.

Successful people certainly learn from past experiences. But, they also realize it is dangerous to quickly dismiss people based on how a person dresses, initial conversation, or based on one person’s assessment. There are a number of things to be aware to avoid and this will help you in ensuring that you have good people habits.

Four things to avoid include the following:

  1. First impression: Be careful of first impressions with people. Do not make significant decisions off those first impressions. There are so many unknown factors in any meeting and understanding that we don’t know the full picture is important.
  2. Presume bad intent: People are generally good and are purposeful. Presume that a person has the right intentions. There will be cases when this presumption is wrong and once you have evidence that is the case act accordingly. However, quickly presuming bad intent in someone’s actions will result in poor relationships and generally result in you being wrong.
  3. Stereotyping: Even though stereotypes may prove correct sometimes avoid applying them to people. Stereotypes are dangerous, often times wrong, and if used incorrectly can make you look bad.
  4. Unwavering impression: Give people a chance to change. Don’t write a person off forever despite multiple bad impressions. People can always change and with time will often surprise you. We all go through different stages of our life and some of those stages are rough and don’t reflect the real us.

WLP Tip No. 4: Keep an open mind about people by not getting bogged down in first impressions, presuming bad intent, stereotyping, and impressions that do not change and be ready for people to surprise you because they often will.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Get “Balance Daniel-san”

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Many of us remember when Mr. Miyagi states “Balance Daniel-san” to Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid. However, how many of us really have good balance? Not the balance to do a one-legged crane kick but rather life balance.

When I speak of having good balance it really is aspirational. Sure there are weeks I get back on track and balance out things but often times my priorities are out of whack. I often work too much, I do not get enough sleep, I overly commit to charitable causes, I play too much golf (and bad golf at that), I eat too much, etc.

However, trying to find balance and realizing if you are not in balance are traits of successful people. That does not mean you always have to be in balance and you are not a bad person if you are not in balance. But, it does mean you have to have some self-actualization and do actions to better get balance.

For example, just like a lot of people I simply do too much and my mind goes rampant and this is not unusual for people. However, I realize that making a conscious effort to harmonize my mind with small meditation periods would be healthy and I have done just that. No you will not see me spending hours a day meditating but spending five or 10 minutes a day in silent meditation promotes good mental and physical health.

A few tips when trying to correct misaligned life balance:

  1. Stay positive: Don’t get down on yourself — be positive. The first step forward is realizing there is something that you can improve. Being down will only hurt your path forward.
  2. Small steps: Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make huge changes in your life to correct your life balance. This often times will lead to failure and depression. Take small steps and reap the rewards of the positive feeling of little accomplishments. These accomplishments will pile up and one day you will have the life balance you envisioned.
  3. Get support: Don’t hesitate asking for help and having others help you in your quest to better align yourself. People generally want the best for you. Personally I am lucky with to have a great wife and friends to offer support and honesty.

WLP Tip No. 3: Each day take the opportunity to self-actualize your life balance and staying positive and taking small steps to improve it with the support of your friends and family.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Process or die – the value of good processes

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Processes might not be sexy but they are important. One thing you learn very quickly as an information worker is that defining and executing good processes will provide efficiency, repeatability, and effectiveness.

Just like anything a good process is not easy to develop but time spent developing is usually well worth it. What people often don’t realize is that processes have a lifespan where they are born, they develop and they die.

  • Develop: Developing a process requires that you have the right people at the table. When developing a process always think about the primary purpose of the process. Keep in mind what are the necessary and repeatable steps to achieve that purpose.

It is essential to understand the lifespan of a process. Sometimes you may need to develop a process that you know will only have a short lifetime because of a change in technology and therefore the level of effort put into developing the process should be reflected in that shorter process lifespan.

  • Test: A process needs to be tested so that it does what it is supposed to do. Ideally there will be a quality metric and a way to measure that metric to ensure the process is performing per set standards. Testing is essential at both the initial process development stage but also developing ongoing testing is important to understand if the process is working as intended.

Some types of testing processes could be peer review testing, automated script testing, and quality metric verification testing to name a few. There are a lot of different types of testing that exist and you just need to ensure that initial and continuous testing needs for the particular process are established.

  • Document: Any good process is not developed until it is documented so don’t forget this important step. The process should be documented clearly step-by-step so that someone with the same skills as the person performing the process should be able to repeat it. Documenting the process provides value in not only helping ensure that knowledge is not lost but also that if audit comes a knocking you can happily answer the door.

Sometimes having a high-level and detailed process is warranted if it is a highly complicated process. The high-level process documentation will allow you to better communicate to executives and customers. The detailed process documentation will provide the detailed repeatable process.

  • Communicate: Not every process needs to be communicated but many do. If a new process is being put in place to help reduce customer fraud or increasing customer question resolution then take the opportunity to communicate this process. This communication may be internal and/or external depending on the circumstances. The degree of communication is really situation dependent but making a conscious decision on what to do regarding new process communication is essential step of process development.
  • Improve: No process is perfect from the start so there always can be process improvement. The more challenging question is whether resources should be spent improving a process or is it good enough. Not everything can be analyzed to the utmost degree but empowering and encouraging people executing the process to continue improving the process is essential to process improvement.

Having a process for process change is also important to layout for people to understand and follow. This would include things like determining if additional communication is needed if a process is changed and ensuring process documentation is updated with any process changes.

WLP Tip No. 2: Remember no matter who you are processes are important. Follow the process development steps of a) develop, b) test, c) document, d) communicate, and e) improve in order to establish efficient, repeatable, and effective processes.

Process development is not easy and not always fun but good processes payoff and will increase revenues, reduce risk, increase customer satisfaction, and much more.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Your career sweet spot – passion meets skill meets market

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You hear people say love what you do and you won’t feel like you work a day in your life or similar phrases. Ok, yes if you love what you do you it will certainly feel a lot better. But, what if you suck at your job? Or, what if your job pays little? Certainly having passion for your job will bring you a long way but don’t sell yourself short.

Successful people truly know that their work must intersect in three ways:

  1. Passion: Truly successful people are utterly passionate about what they do. This does not mean that highly successful people have loved every job they ever had. But, they have realized that having passion for what they do means that they will commit themselves to doing it in the best manner they can. Having passion for what you do also means that you will certainly be happier doing this work.
  2. Skill: It might seem obvious but having skill in what you do is vitally important. You might have passion at something but if you suck at it then your ability to have a fulfilling and successful career is limited. Most of us have a misconception of our skills despite what we hear from others. Even those of us who realize our limitations often think that we just need to try harder and work on our weaknesses. Evidence is pretty clear that people that focus on their strengths are more successful then people that focus on compensating for weaknesses.
  3. Market: Even if you have passion for what you do and you have good skill to do it there is the all-important question of “what the market is for what you do?” The market for what you do will determine a number of things including key ones like compensation and work conditions. Reality is few of us are independently wealthy and work for the fun of it. Finances are a key situation on a person and her family’s lifestyle. If you are doing something that you enjoy and have good skill but you are still paid $35,000 a year with the hopes or needs of someone making $100,0000 a year this simply might not meet your financial expectations or needs.

There is also market from an industry or geographic perspective. Being in a hot industry or geographic region as respects to people with your passion and skills will further likely increase your work satisfaction. One thing that you might want to do is get into an industry that is being disrupted or alternatively get into a new technology industry or move to a city where these are occurring and the job market is hot. Putting yourself in a situation where market factors are in your favor will make you more successful.

WLP Tip No. 1: Remember life is short and take the time now to find a place where your passion intersects with your skill and these intersect with a strong market. If you are able to do this you will move yourself a long ways down the path of supercharging your success.

Look for WLP tips to make a regular appearance in future posts. Thank you David Quimby (@DavidQuimby) for the suggestion. Take the opportunity like David did and let me know how WorkLearnPlay can provide you more value.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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It is all about the product roadmap

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As organizations focus more on agile development there is an ongoing discussion of product roadmaps and their purpose. Some believe that truly agile teams developing software products don’t need roadmaps. Others have dozens of product roadmaps for the same products and on a weekly basis customize their roadmap for customers and prospects. Then of course there is the rest of the world where there are hardware and service products.

Needless to say product professionals are not happy with their roadmaps. This disappointment is for good reason since most of the time roadmaps are done poorly and done in a manner that does not have a clear purpose. They are less visionary and more instructional.

Product roadmap frustration is often attributed to the mixed purpose and expectations of roadmaps. Roadmaps are used to:

  • Drive more existing customer sales or new customer acquisition by sales;
  • Gain funding for teams and products by executives;
  • Drive cross-team communication tool by project managers;
  • Drive to calm customer frustration by customer service;
  • Gain startup funding by CEO’s and CFO’s;
  • Drive cohesive engineering by development managers.

These are all valid uses of a product roadmap. However, maintaining dozens of product roadmaps is challenging and time consuming and results in wasted effort.

There are many different theories on product roadmaps. My belief is that it is best to keep roadmaps simple and there should be: 1) a visionary roadmap that is used to tell the high level product vision and this can be used by executives, sales, and others; and 2) a detailed roadmap that is a communicative tool to provide precise detail on items being released, timing, and launch information and this can be used by sales, customer service reps, and others to help provide that detail. These roadmaps should be updated together and reviewed at least quarterly.

Some people believe in having external and internal versions of the roadmap. I am a believer in not doing this as it again complicates things. You should be of the belief that your product roadmap is something that will be seen by competitors and this should not scare you but instead scare your competitors.

Visionary Roadmap: The visionary product roadmap should provide the following insights:

  • High-level product vision and value: This is not a one-line mission statement but should concisely state the product status and vision. Think product elevator pitch here.
  • Key product differentiations: This should focus on the key places where your product is differentiated from competitors either positively or negatively. While you certainly do not show how you underperform your competitor but ideally you either take it and address as future enhancement.
  • Upcoming key product advancements: This item should focus on key product enhancements being implemented. The enhancements should flow together with the product vision and clearly align.

Detailed Roadmap: The detailed product roadmap should communicate the same information as the visionary roadmap above but also provide:

  • Product release detail: Provide detailed information of upcoming releases and how they provide value.
  • Product launch: Provide detail about upcoming product launches and information about customer rollout and support.
  • Technology detail: Provide detailed information related to technology and platform.

The creation of product roadmaps not only requires careful written language and accompanying graphics but also requires honesty and provides real expectations that you and your team should believe in delivering upon. My belief is that product roadmaps should be anywhere from 2 to 3 years in length generally. Although it is not uncommon in some industries where product investment is extremely capital intensive to require 5 year or longer roadmaps.

Take this advice to heart and update your product roadmaps today and consolidate as appropriate. Understand that a great product roadmap is like a fine painting that you get the benefit of updating. Most of all use your roadmap to be visionary and communicate between your internal stakeholders and external customers.

Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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