Category Archives: kaizen

Restructuring Presentations: The Leadership Journey

When I attended a presentation called “The Leadership Journey” at the Technical Leadership Exchange, I greatly enjoyed the anecdotes the speaker used to illustrate each point, but I felt overwhelmed by the 21 laws of leadership he presented, one after the other. The speaker had faithfully reproduced the structure in John Maxwell’s book, the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You. Although he had supplemented it with personal anecdotes, it came off–at least to me–as sounding rather like a book report. A detailed, lively book report, but a book report nonetheless – a laundry-list of concepts. I wondered if there was a better way to present the information. Here are the laws he presented:

  1. The Law of the Lid
  2. The Law of Influence
  3. The Law of Process
  4. The Law of Navigation
  5. The Law of E.F. Hutton
  6. The Law of Solid Ground
  7. The Law of Respect
  8. The Law of Intuition
  9. The Law of Magnetism
  10. The Law of Connection
  11. The Law of the Inner Circle
  12. The Law of Empowerment
  13. The Law of Reproduction
  14. The Law of Buy-In
  15. The Law of Victory
  16. The Law of Big Mo [Momentum]
  17. The Law of Priorities
  18. The Law of Sacrifice
  19. The Law of Timing
  20. The Law of Explosive Growth
  21. The Law of Legacy

I mentioned this to another colleague who got in touch with me about an internal conference. I had put this presentation down as one of the sessions I could volunteer to present if no one else stepped up, although I admitted I had my misgivings about how to deliver the presentation well. I told him how I felt the long list of concepts made the presentation less effective than it could have been, and that a mnemonic device or a navigational aid would make this presentation better. He was amused by the idea of a mnemonic–a 21-letter acronym, perhaps?–and said he’d pass on my feedback for some presentation coaching. Hearing that, I volunteered to give the speaker feedback myself. That would be better than second-hand feedback, I thought, and I might as well stand behind my words and learn even more in the process. =)

This challenged me to think about the presentation more. If I were presenting this, what would I do? How could it be organized to present all that rich content in some more easily digested and applied form?

I reviewed every slide in the original presentation, writing down keywords on a piece of scratch paper. I thought about questions the speaker could ask people to help them think about the topic before the explanation of the law. After the fourth or fifth law, I found myself categorizing things based on questions, using Who-What-When-Where-How-Why as my original framework. My first pass through the list gave me these categories: “who is a leader”, “where you go”, “how you get there”, and “what you do”. I created a spreadsheet organizing the topics into those categories. As I moved things around, I ended up refining the categories to these five:

Who can be a leader?
2. Influence
5. E.F. Hutton

How do you become a leader?
10. Connection
3. Process
7. Respect
6. Solid ground
14. Buy-in

What can hold you back or move you forward?
1. The lid
17. Priorities
19. Timing
11. Inner Circle
18. Sacrifice

What do you do as a leader?
8. Intuition
4. Navigation
9. Magnetism
16. Big Mo [Momentum]
15. Victory
20. Explosive growth

Where do you go next?
12. Empowerment
13. Reproduction
21. Legacy

Some of the topics can be moved around. “12. Empowerment” belongs in both “What do you do as a leader” and “Where do you go next”, and it could also go into the earlier entries. I don’t have a good feel for whether “1. The lid” should be in “What can hold you back or move you forward?”, or “How do you get there?”. If I spent more time revising this, I’m sure things would settle down.

What I like about this structure is that it has a certain cohesion about it. Similar laws are together, allowing the speaker to illustrate them with a single well-chosen story or use several stories to build upon a point. There are guide questions that prompt people to reflect as they’re listening to the presentation, and these guide questions are followed by advice and examples from leaders who have taken on those challenges. There’s a chronological flow that matches the leadership journey as well. Each category flows smoothly into the next, and within each category, each law leads into the next. You tell a story.

Structure is good for speakers and listeners, too. This arrangement gives you a structure that scales: you can cover the entire thing in less than ten minutes, or you can talk for hours. And because it’s broken down into chunks, it’s easier for you remember, whether you’re presenting it or listening to it. You could probably give a speech on this from memory, and people can leave the session with a feeling of understanding the whole thing, not just the first and last chunk.

Now I’m tempted to look for John C. Maxwell’s e-mail address and send a link to this blog post. It feels weird giving feedback to an author who’s written leadership bestsellers, and maybe there’s a higher reason why he organized those topics that way. But maybe the author hadn’t taken a step back and seen things click into place… If so, then maybe he’ll like this suggestion and use it to help others in a second edition of the book!

What would you call what I did? I really enjoyed poking inside that presentation and bringing everything together into a structure, a story. I would love to do more of that in the future. It’s quite far from my official IBM role (although the presentation and communication practice will help me as an evangelist), but maybe I can bring aspects of that into my life sometime. Maybe one of my careers will be as a presentation coach… =) I’d love to learn and share more about effective communication!

Kaizen Presentations: Web 2.0 and the University

I’m still buzzing from the first client teleconference presentation I made. I gave a brief overview of Web 2.0 and universities.

Here’s what I learned because I did it well:

  • Energy and excitement really helps. I focused on topics I was passionate about, picked highlights that I wanted to share, and told myself not to be intimidated by the collective IQ in an audience I couldn’t see.
  • Standing up is good. It makes it easier to project more energy and pretend to be giving an actual presentation. This also makes it easier to gesture.
  • If you need to use the handset, use your hand to hold it against your ear instead of scrunching your neck. This not only saves you from a sore neck, but also allows you to improve your breathing. If you have a noise-cancelling headset, use that instead. I don’t have one of those yet.
  • If you’re running out of preparation time, practice your opening and closing, run through middle parts quickly, then go back and practice enough of your opening to give you a confident start. It’s important to make a good first impression. Not only does the primacy effect mean that people will remember the beginning of your presentation more than the following parts, but a strong start will give you confidence and make the rest of the presentation flow. A strong close that recaps important points and energizes people is also very helpful. Things in the middle will come to you once you get into the flow.
  • Upload the presentation to Sametime Unyte instead of sharing your screen. Not only will this be faster for your audience, but you’ll also be less worried about random things popping up. (It’s still a good idea to set Sametime to Do-Not-Disturb or something similar, though.)
  • Call in and start recording the Unyte presentation at least ten minutes before the start of your session. Things get really hectic right before the presentation. It’s easier to spend 10 minutes just waiting on the phone than to try to remember to set up all of your recording while the organizer’s announcing you.
  • Check your social network for resources. Cattail was really handy. =) Also, thanks go to Stephen Perelgut for links and de-stressing!

Here’s what I can do to make things even better:

  • Bring a glass of water. No stage doesn’t mean no stage fright.
  • Create an activity template to make sure I remember to do everything. I’m starting to believe in Activities – I used it as a last-minute checklist for myself.
  • Make sure I get a quick brief from the organizer as early as possible. I went down the wrong path with my first draft. Fortunately, the client rep briefed me last Tuesday, so I spent the rest of the day (and the night) hurriedly revising the presentation. It came out nicely.
  • Reserve a room. I hadn’t reserved a room because I was planning to take one of the smaller non-bookable rooms, but all of those rooms were full. Moving to the “think bar” near the windows didn’t help. I should book a conference room. Even if the room is more space than I need, using that space is better than distracting more than six people. This will also minimize distractions from people asking me to quiet down. ;)
  • Keep a library of materials. I need a good system for organizing slides, images, stories, and so on.

Happy! =D

May 8, 2012
I remember this talk. I was nervous, but I pulled through, and things were just fine. Many of the tips I shared here ended up resurfacing in my “Remote Presentations That Rock” talk. I’m still in the process of building a library for slides. Slideshare gives me a visual library of my past presentations. I’ve been using Emacs Org to collect ideas and snippets, and I use Evernote to store some of my hand-drawn images.

Relentless improvement and a focus on the positive

W- asked me the other day, "Does everything need to be positive with you?" I thought about it for a bit, and I realized that yes, I firmly believe in the power of focusing on what’s positive and what’s actionable in order to grow. (So much so that I translate what other people tell me!) I think that focusing on the positive helps you build people up instead of tearing them down. I love Sam Decker’s description of one of Bazaarvoice’s workplace practices:

Quarterly performance feedback (our "3/3/1" process), including "upward" feedback for the managers from their staff – to help all of our employees rapidly grow and reduce the anxiety in our organization (everyone always knows where they stand); I have been told by many of our employees and managers that they have learned more at Bazaarvoice than anywhere else they have worked.  Our feedback is balanced (the 3/3/1 is a simple email form to document the 3 things you did well that quarter, the 3 things you could have done better, and the 1 initiative you are going to focus on as a result).  The upward feedback from staff illuminates blind-spots on our management team, many of which have never been discussed with them in previous companies because the feedback process was too poor to generate intensely constructive dialogue.

Sam Decker, myventurepad: Total Leadership and Bazaarvoice’s Amazing Culture

3/3/1. The three things you did well, the three things you could have done better, and the one initiative that you’re going to focus on as a result. Relentless improvement that gives you energy and opportunities to celebrate what you’re doing well and envision where you want to go. Good stuff.

Kaizen: What would make our Drupal lives better?

Kaizen: relentless improvement.

We’re getting ready for the next phase of our Drupal project, and it’s a good time to think about how we can make our process better.

  • Automated builds: I have a few Makefile commands related to pushing the latest development source code to the testing server, but the other developers can’t use the commands on Microsoft Windows. However, they have access to another Linux-based server. If I can simplify the deployment process (maybe a password-protected webpage that allows you to choose which revision to deploy?), then they won’t be held up when I go on vacation.
  • Automated testing: We used simpletest for a few pieces of functionality, but we don’t have anything close to coverage. I’d like to learn how to write proper tests for Drupal so that I can avoid regression errors, which I often made during development.
  • Switching between hosts: Because we use Domain Access, I can’t just use a local domain name and a copy of the server’s database. My current approach is to use the same domain name as on the testing server, and then keep editing /etc/hosts to switch back and forth. An alternative might be to create a Makefile target that grabs the server’s database, runs it through sed to translate all the domain names to my local domain, and restores the database from this translated file. That way, I don’t need to edit /etc/hosts all the time.
  • Coding environment: I’m thinking of moving my development from Eclipse to Emacs in order to be able to customize my environment more effectively. I’ll post more notes about it as I figure out what works for me and what doesn’t. It’s a good excuse to learn even more about Emacs…

What worked well:

  • Source code control, I love you so much, even if you’re Subversion.
  • Adding a CSS person to our team meant that the other developer and I were much less stressed out about cross-browser issues. Hooray!
  • Using a defect-tracking system was infinitely better than sending e-mail around, even if that defect-tracking system was ClearQuest. ;)

Development kaizen: Deployment and testing

I got back yesterday to a still-empty defect list, so I decided to spend the day working on some infrastructure to help my team work more effectively.

Thinking about what could make the most difference in the other developers’ productivity, I decided to invest time into making it easier for them to deploy code to the testing server. I had written a Makefile target that efficiently transferred only the updated files, but the other developers worked on Microsoft Windows and did not have all the necessary tools. I spent the morning writing a web-based interface for them: a password-protected PHP script that displayed a list of recent revisions and allowed people to deploy a selected revision to a separate server. Behind the scenes, it was a mess of bubblegum and string. To work around various limitations, I strung together sudo and suid and rsync and ssh key-based authentication. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. I e-mailed instructions to my team members, and they started using it right away.

After solving that problem, I focused on improving our tests. Fixing one bug often led to creating or recreating another, and these regression errors resulted in back-and-forth communication and wasted time. I explored the Simpletest automated testing framework for Drupal, and found out that I could write both unit tests and Web-based tests using the framework. However, I had a hard time figuring out why several of my Web-based tests consistently failed. I found out that the latest version of Simpletest for Drupal 5 did not understand the Location: header, which we use extensively in order to direct people to different subdomains and external sites. I fixed it and wrote a number of tests for one of our key modules. By the time I was ready to pack up and go home, I’d gotten into the swing of writing test cases.

Easier deployment and automated testing go a long way towards making a project almost a joy to work on. I’m glad I spent some time paving the way for my team and for other projects to come. =) Kaizen: relentless improvement.

Kaizen: Moving time around

I recently (re)discovered that writing is much easier and more enjoyable in the early morning when I’m fresh and focused than late at night when I’m thinking more about what I’m doing at work. To take advantage of this, I’ve been slowly moving my waking time earlier and earlier. Yesterday, I went to bed at 9 after tidying up and preparing for the next day. Today, I got up at 5:15. It was fifteen minutes later than I’d set the alarm clock for, but I realized that the dream I was dreaming wasn’t all that interesting compared to what I might learn if I started writing.

Moving tasks to the night before can support this early-morning writing by freeing up more time. The more I can do the night before, the less I need to do the morning after – and it pays off even when the exchange isn’t 1:1. For example, moving the half-hour I used to spend cooking steel-cut oats for breakfast from morning to evening means that I spend just a few minutes heating up a breakfast with much more texture than instant oatmeal. I packed my lunch last night, so I just need to grab it from the fridge and head out the door. I checked my purse for my keys and badge, too. Doing these little things the night before helps me streamline my morning routine.

What else can I do to free up time? I might try watering the plants in the late afternoon or try outlining in the evenings. OpenLoops has good tips for making the most of these early morning hours, and I’m sure I’ll discover more along the way.

I’d also like to look into freeing up weekend time. I used to save laundry loads and library runs for the weekend, but if I can use my weekday evenings to take care of these things, then that frees up a larger block of uninterrupted time.