Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kalamazoo X Conference is Just Around the Corner!

My second favorite conference[1], the Kalamazoo X Conference, is rapidly approaching! Please come join a passionate, interactive, engaged group of folks in Kalamazoo, MI, on 30 April for a very unique, wonderful conference.

KalX is a single-track event focusing on the soft skills we technologists don’t often think about: interviewing, building your brand, leadership, education, and so forth. Sessions generally 20 – 30 minutes, and they’re always dynamic and engaging.

I’ll be giving two talks at this year’s event: Working With Great Teams, and a still-untitled talk on dealing with evaluations (giving and receiving). I’m also going to be part of a panel talking about interviewing – look at the list of speakers and you know that panel will be kicking out some tremendous discussion!

The Heartland has a passle of wonderful conferences to get you educated and engaged. KalX is a place I go to get inspired and motivated. It’s Just. Plain. Awesome.

Go register. Now!

(If you’re in the Dayton area and want to go but are hesitant because of the distance, drop me a line via the sidebar contact link. I’ve got room in my car and would be happy to have some carpool mates. I’ll keep my yodeling to a minimum.)

[1] Do you really have to ask what my first favorite conference is?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Your Resume: Go Visual

I (mostly) diligently update my resume twice a year. I do this regularly because I use the updating process as sort of a retrospective on where I’m at, what I’ve done, and what I want to do moving forward. I try to get one of the updates in a few months before my formal review comes up at work – not because I’m fearful of what’s going to happen, but because I want to make sure I’m on track with goals my manager and I had laid out.

This year I decided to do something different: create a visual resume. Pal Ben Carey once had a Tweet or link about visual resumes, and I started exploring around. I’ve seen a number of them around over the years and have really been impressed by the concept. Visual resumes definitely speak to organizations with a creative, curious mindset, and I think they’re a great way for younger workers to better highlight things in their short careers. For old farts like myself visual resumes enable a much better understanding of one’s career timeline and milestones.

After a couple attempts here’s what I finally came up with. It’s somewhat (ok, mostly) copped from the beautiful one Jef Newsom of Improving put together; however, I tweaked a few things to fit my style. (The image is a link, so you can see the full-sized version if you want.)

I tried this initially in PowerPoint, but that quickly fell apart, so I moved to Visio. My first go using a horizontal timeline got a polite thumbs down from Josh and his recruiter wife Gretchen who both suggested a vertical orientation to emphasize the most current work.

There are a number of other really neat styles which look like subway maps, octopuses, and various graphs; however, this format was one I could pull off with the tooling I had available. I’m happy with it as my first attempt. It plays around with technologies I’ve been around, it shows my positions and roles, and I use the middle lane of callouts to highlight specific events which have shaped my career.

I might not use this resume by itself for every position I was interested in. I’d definitely send it with a strong cover letter, and I would likely accompany it with a traditional resume if I was looking at a company with a more formal culture.

That said, as another pal Joe Morel remarked, “Do you really want to work for a company that wouldn’t find this really cool?”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Focus on 100% Value, not 100% Complete

Too often folks on a project focus on getting to 100% complete of a specific feature, feature set, or even project. Unfortunately, too often that means those same teams aren’t focusing on delivering 100% value.

Draw a comparison with the infamous 80/20 rule: the first 80% of something takes 20% of the effort, and the last 20% takes 80% of the effort.

It’s highly likely I’m not delivering the best value to my company or customers if I’m spending inordinate amounts of time finishing up the last 20% of every feature/feature set/project. Instead, teams should constantly be evaluating the progress through their features and asking the hard, hard question: “Does it make sense to finish out the last bit of this particular feature set, or should we stop and move on to something else of higher value?” [1]

This isn’t often an easy sell to folks. Some individuals or teams get very focused on those 100% metrics because that’s how they measure their own value: 100% complete of their work instead of 100% value delivered on the project. That’s a tough hurdle to overcome since this mindset hits not only teams, but also management and stakeholders.

You can sometimes overcome this mental FUD by laying out the cumulative effect of working five features to 100% complete, when only 80% of those features offer high value. Continuing with my completely arbitrary, highly contrived numbers, say each of those features takes 20 hours.

80% of the value of those features was created in 20% of the work time: 20 hours * .2 == 4 hours of value creation time. Conversely, you’ve spent 16 hours per feature working on lesser value portions of that feature.

Add that all up and you’ve spent 80 hours of your 100 on low-value work. That hurts. Badly.

The bright side of this – the really shiny, awesome part – is that you’ve created tremendous value in 20 hours of work out of the 100 you had planned for those five features. You have delivered tremendous value to the customer in just 20% of time/budget/whatever.

If you focused on only the most critical aspects of your work then you could apply those 80 remaining hours to building tremendous value elsewhere in your project. You could even have the conversation with your customer that “Hey, based on the close interaction we’ve had with you through this short project, it turns out we’ve gotten everything you really need on this project. How about we figure out some other awesome things to do with the money you’ve got left in those remaining 80 hours.”

[1] You also need to think hard about the added weight for maintenance, sustainability, and overall complexity you’re adding in by working that last 20% to completion. Those longer term costs, both direct and implied, can crush the life of a system.

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