Tag framework

Frameworks.

I think I’ve always been interested in solving problems, and when I’m asked to describe my strengths, “problem solver” is a phrase that immediately comes to mind.

In my experience, there are three steps to problem solving:

  1. Identify & understand the problem
  2. Choose or build a framework in which to solve the problem
  3. Come up with the solution (or solutions)

For many of the problems I’ve tackled over the past several years (many in the form of specific projects), the “framework” has remained fairly constant: it typically involves the creation of a team organizational chart and a conceptual visual that depicts the project’s “end state.”

While this model works well for project management, it doesn’t fare as well for creating business models.

Historically, business models tend to be verbose and full of financial analysis and risk-oriented topics.  In many cases, this results in a business model that is too detailed, lacks true understanding and prone to gaps / errors.

In the book “Business Model Generation“, the authors present a different way of creating business models through the use of a modular graphic, or “canvas.”

This “canvas” approach streamlines the process of creating new business models by allowing participants to focus on the core subject matter vs. having to constantly remember how the pieces “fit” and whether anything has been missed.

Here is what this framework looks like:

I found this approach to be particularly useful, so much so in fact that I used it during a recent interview.  One of the questions posed involved identifying several key aspects of introducing a credit card portfolio to a company’s product suite.

To answer this question, I drew two canvas’ on the whiteboard.  The first represented the “as is” state and the second represented the future state, one where I had successfully integrated a credit card portfolio into their business model.

I used these two visuals to explain or identify:

  • what would need to change
  • where resources would be required
  • sources of revenue
  • potential opportunities
  • sources of risk

Once I was able to tell this initial story, I found I was able to answer additional questions much more easily now that I had a solid foundation to work from.

When problem solving, the use of a problem solving framework is, I think, essential to long-term success.  Once you find the right framework, you can continue to refine and expand its use, which can lead to more efficient use of your time and can open up possibilities in other areas as well.

When asked a problem that involves getting from point A to point B (physical location or point in time), duplicate the framework to show what sections need to change.  Once you have a grasp on the original framework, replicating and showing the delta between the two versions is easy.

It’s at this point where you can spend most of your energy solving the real problem, and that’s where the fun really begins!

Resilience II: The ABC’s

“Resilience, then, is the basic strength, underpinning all the positive characteristics in a person’s emotional and psychological makeup.  A lack of resilience is the major cause of negative functioning.  Without resilience there is no courage, no rationality, no insight.  It is the bedrock on which all else is built.” – Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté, The Resilience Factor

In my last post, I introduced the topic of resilience and how the key to greater self-esteem is self-efficacy.  The path towards greater self-efficacy is resilience, and the path to greater resilience begins with an understanding of the ABC model – a resilience-building methodology presented in The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté:

  • Adversity – What pushes your buttons?
  • Beliefs – What are your beliefs at that moment?
  • Consequences – What do you feel and what do you do about those feelings?

While it would be easy for me to fabricate an example to illustrate this technique, I think it’s beneficial if I share a personal example from my own professional experience.

In a previous role I was responsible for maintaining a project schedule of nearly 1500+ tasks.  Since the team was still getting familiar with the overall PM structure and methodology, there was bound to be some communication breakdowns, and I eventually found myself in the middle of one.

Prior to this event, I had established a weekly schedule where updates would be collected from the various workstream leads and subsequently incorporated into the larger program schedule.  This particular breakdown occurred because the schedule was compromised, the reasoning was unclear, and I found myself in the spotlight for issues I was also unaware of.

Let’s walk through this example to illustrate how the system works.

First, let’s summarize the Adversity in an objective and specific manner:

“Shortly after responding to inquiries about the project schedule, my colleagues sent follow-up emails that highlighted the urgency of the related changes and asked that these changes be made as soon as possible.”

Next, I’ll describe what I was feeling at that very moment: (my Beliefs)

“What is wrong with these people?  What happened to the schedule that was established weeks ago?  If they are unhappy with the manner by which I am maintaining the schedule, why aren’t they updating it themselves?”

“Ticker-tape” beliefs are beliefs that you may not be immediately aware of.  In this particular case, my ticker-tape beliefs centered around my desire to do work that took greater advantage of my strengths and skill set.  And this task, while important, was not aligned with this desire.  In retrospect, my mind was already looking for potential issues.

When utilizing this approach it’s important that you avoid filtering what you are feeling at that moment.  Doing so can cause you to skim the surface of your true emotions, and you’ll gain less from the experience in the long-run.

The third and final component of this resilience methodology is Consequences: “the way you feel and what you do in the moment of an adversity or challenge.”

The authors go on to present a few standard B-C connections that one can refer to in the midst of an adversity:

  • Violation of your rights … results in … anger
  • Real world loss or loss of self-worth … results in … sadness, depression
  • Violation of another’s rights … results in … guilt
  • Future threat … results in … anxiety, fear
  • Negative comparison to others … results in … embarrassment

In this particular example, my immediate and initial B-C connection was about a violation of my rights and the feelings of anger that soon followed.  But the B-C connection was actually less about my rights and ultimately about loss of self-worth.  After all, in this role I wasn’t really leading – I was maintaining, and to receive any sort of “criticism” dealt a blow to my self-worth.  “Can’t I do even THIS correctly?”

While I chose to deal with this adversity head-on, expressing my concerns directly to my colleagues, I let the combination of anger and sadness result in a criticism of their abilities in managing related tasks.  Thus, I was faced with yet another B-C connection – one where I inadvertently violated another’s rights, and felt a sense of guilt for doing so.

Events and experiences that I have been faced with over the past several years have helped strengthen some of my ticker-tape beliefs, and it’s those same beliefs that unfortunately played a key role in the consequences I’ve just described.

What is critically important here is the fact that “… our emotions and behaviors are triggered not by events themselves but by how we interpret those events.”  Responding to my colleagues initial requests using an altered belief system could have resulted in a less direct conversation, leaving greater flexibility afterwards for a less charged dialogue, thus obtaining perhaps greater results in the long-run.

The next natural step for me is to take a closer look at my belief system to determine which beliefs are working and which are not.  While my job may not always be 100% in alignment with my strengths, my relationships with others should not have to suffer because of it.

The (New) Hierarchy of Needs – Part III

[This is part three of a series on project management that is based upon Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”]

Constraints

The next level “encapsulates” mission and objectives within the triple constraint: timescopebudget.

When the topic of project management comes up, one of the fundamental concepts is the triple constraint.  Needless to say, truly understanding the triple constraint and having a subsequent dialogue about each constraint is key to the success of the effort.  Interestingly enough, many assumptions are made during this dialogue that can introduce problems down the road.

For example, instead of asking which constraint is “variable”, it’s sometimes best to ask the question – if we don’t do X, what is the impact?

  • Timeif we can’t finish this by X, what happens?
  • ScopeIf we cannot deliver X1, what happens?  What if we deliver X1-Y instead?
  • BudgetIf we go over budget, what happens?

It’s recommended that the PM challenge the constraints as much as possible.

The customer may say that the effort must be delivered by date X, but if we fast forward to date X and the project isn’t delivered, what is the course of action?  If there isn’t a defined course of action, then that really isn’t a hard and fast constraint.  If there is flexibility, then it’s best to make it apparent.  Use the constraints to your and the team’s benefit.

Another aspect of this discussion is to think about the triple constraint when things aren’t going well.  If it takes an additional 10 resources to finish the project by time X, will the business still benefit in the long-run?  Scenarios like this should be discussed and planned for in advance so that you have some boundaries that you can work within.

Storytelling

The next level focuses on “storytelling” – describing the project lifecycle and the end-goal in such a way that is easily comprehensible by all involved.

Requirements are typically seen as the central “core” around which all work is driven from.  Regardless of the analysis methodology employed, leveraging “static” requirements as the basis for all work is not ideal.  The reason for this is that people do not think linearly – and traditional requirements gathering is just that.  Since this is materially different from how people think, gaps are likely to arise which can cause downstream problems.  Instead, a recommendation is to employ different “storytelling” methods to describe what the end functionality should look like.

These “stories” can take multiple forms:

  • writing out in paragraph form what the end functionality looks like.
  • creating individual “stories” that align with each objective.
  • describing the objectives using a mind-map.
  • describing how the project progresses over a period of time.

Creating a story isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive from creating requirements – but the story can ultimately build a better framework from where the requirements can exist.  Remember, you aren’t here to create “shelf-ware” – you’re here to create documentation that is going to drive action.

Ultimately, true comprehension comes from natural prose, not bullet points – tell the story first.

Recalibration II.

Motivation: … the psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal; the reason for the action; that which gives purpose and direction to behavior.” (Source unknown)

In my last post, I highlighted three main areas where I would like to improve – self-motivation, perseverance and connection.  In this post I’ll continue my exploration of motivation.

All too often, the word “motivation” has a positive connotation.  After all, how often do you hear public speakers or other leadership types exclaim “Be Motivated!”  Because of this, how can one not assume that being motivated is always the right thing to do?

In contrast to public opinion, I believe that being motivated to do something isn’t always the right decision.  Why?  Because you could be motivated to do the wrong thing – i.e. something that is misaligned with your core values and/or for the wrong reasons.  In the above definition, it’s easy to assume that the goal or “reason for the action” is clearly known, but in many cases it may not be.

In thinking about this concept, my belief is that truly understanding what motivates one to do something can ultimately help one achieve a particular goal faster than if that level of awareness is left unchecked. Along a similar path, gaining this understanding early on can also highlight whether the goal should be abandoned entirely – i.e. is being motivated truly the right path in a given situation?  In short, I think one needs to have a clear understanding of the goal (and the reasons why achievement of that goal is worth the pursuit) before being motivated to act.

Let me share a personal example to illustrate this concept in more depth.

I grew up in a family where education and success went together.  Over time, I started to believe that my success (the goal) was primarily dependent upon my education.  Not withstanding my desire to learn, even after my master’s degree I continued to take classes in the hope that I would eventually acquire enough knowledge to be “successful”.

My business coach challenged this long-standing belief late last year when I started formulating the basis for Big Generator.  Up until that time, I never thought that I was truly ready to move forward.  Did I know enough?  Did I have enough experience? The answer is that I’ll never know enough.  Thus, I consciously decided to accept this fact and the rest would need to come with more experience.

This example is relevant because being motivated to continue with my education vs. moving forward with my business could have been the wrong decision over the long-term.  Thus, being motivated to carry out the wrong goal for the wrong reasons doesn’t make the activity right.  Instead, being motivated to advance the business while continuing to gain knowledge is the right decision for me at this time in my life.

Formal education, while deemed worthy in nearly all contexts, is actually the direct opposite in this example.  In essence, formal education was employed as a “motivator” to help me meet a goal that I call “success”.  However, “success” takes more than being well-educated.  Thus, taking inventory of what I wanted to do and identifying the right motivators allowed me to break out of this cycle and make alternative decisions.

This isn’t to say that there will not be times when the mantra of “get motivated” doesn’t have value – particularly in situations where you aren’t excited about the path you’re on, but there really isn’t any choice but to use an alternative (positive) perspective and go ahead with the task at hand.  However, in the grand scheme of things, it’s important to understand what it is that you want and build a motivation framework to help you achieve that which you are seeking.

In my next post in this series, I’ll go into more depth about this framework and show some guidelines to make sure that you are motivated for the right reasons.

PLANESCAPE Generation 3: “Regeneration”

As mentioned briefly in the BIONIC post, I have been working fairly consistently on defining the next generation of PLANESCAPE, which I call “Regen”.  Over the next several posts, I will share the details behind this new approach as well as its multiple “advancement subsystems”.  I believe this new framework will allow even more intellectual and interpersonal growth over the coming years, so I am excited to share this here!

Q: What is Regeneration (or “Regen”)?

“Regen” is the third major release of the Planescape advancement framework.  It is an evolution based upon personal and professional experiences over the past 3-4 years, extensive research and intense self-analysis.

Q: What was the catalyst for Regen?

It is difficult to pinpoint “one” main driver.

At some point in 2008 I came to the realization I was not taking care of myself.  Unfortunately, by the time I realized this, my overall self-confidence and self-esteem were at an all-time low.  Recognizing this, I took steps to read more about the challenges I was facing and what I could do to better understand who I was, how to manage my thoughts, and advance to the next level of “life”.

I also came to a realization that I didn’t have a clear sense of my values.  In fact, up until this point, I really had not taken the time to identify values that were ultimately important to me.

Finally, I think came to the conclusion that things in my life were not “working” and I needed to make significant changes to make things better.

Q: How does Regen differ from previous Planescape “releases”?

When I first came up with the idea for Planescape, there was no real concept of an advancement “framework”.  Or if there was, the framework was quite simple – it consisted of dividing my life into short-term “phases”.  Each phase served as an entity for identifying and tracking goals for a 3-6 month time period.  It was a way for me to document my history and to learn from that history.  I call this “Version 1.0”.

Version 1.5 introduced the “Plane” concept.  At this point, I realized that the phases seemed to exhibit a natural “evolution” all on their own.  I wanted some way to capture this evolution while at the same time identify a long-term vision and align these phases within that vision.

Version 2.0 saw the introduction of numerous “foundational” elements.  It was at this time where I realized that having short and long-term goals was not enough to be successful.  In this version, I introduced “containers” for a formal self-esteem framework, standards and values, principles and “modules” for dealing with crises and even death.  This version also started to explictly define “areas of concentration” – i.e. what were the key things that interested me and that I wanted to pursue?

Version 3.0 (“Regen”) takes many of the ideas first explored in Version 2.0 and takes everything to the next level of refinement.  The main elements contained in this version include advancement “subsystems”, a “living rulebook” and value / strength / principle “inventories”.

Building the Design “Foundation”

In order to excel at anything – particularly over the long-term – I believe it’s critical one construct a knowledge “framework” which can represent / encapsulate topics that you’ve learned and those yet to be explored / understood.  At the base of this framework is a solid knowledge “foundation”.

As it relates to understanding good design, I feel the time is right to build my own “design foundation”.  While classes and video tutorials have definitely helped in this regard, there are two books that fit well into this “foundation”.

The first is called The Universal Principles of Design and is written by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler.  In my opinion, this is a key reference guide (or “rulebook”) for all things design.  One of the primary drivers behind its creation is to ensure that all designers (regardless of specialization) have easy access to a common set of design principles.

While the principles are listed alphabetically, they are also categorized into the following five categories:

  1. How can I influence the way a design is perceived?
  2. How can I help people learn from a design?
  3. How can I enhance the usability of a design?
  4. How can I increase the appeal of a design?
  5. How can I make better design decisions?

As I get further into the text, I am sure that I will pull out specific extracts for further expansion.

The second text is by John Maeda and is called The Laws of Simplicity.  I purchased this book not necessarily to contribute to the “foundation”, but to gain a better glimpse into Maeda’s mind.  After reading the first twenty pages, it’s clear that “simplicity” is a fundamental design principle that warrants investigation and awareness.