Posts Tagged ‘Continuous Improvement’

One of the most common situations/questions I was asked last year was around not having time to read books and “how on earth do you find time to read so many books?”, so I’ve published this article to help others wondering the same thing.

So how do I find time to read any books, let alone so many?

  1. We don’t have a tv at home, so there are fewer distractions.
  2. We don’t have any kids yet (although this might change this year).
  3. I make it a priority because I enjoy reading about other people’s experiences, the subject of books I read I have an interest/passion in, and learning from books make a positive impact on me personally and professionally.
  4. I only ever have one book in progress at a time, always have the next one lined up, and use an Amazon wish list to manage my backlog of books. Also, I only buy physical books, nice to escape from the screen and having a book lying around is a motivator to pick it up and read it.
  5. I seem to have a thirst for learning from books since I only started reading non-fiction books at the end of 2019 for the first time since leaving college over 20 years ago, so I’ve had a lot of practical experiences to make sense of and huge amounts of wisdom to learn from. Because of this, I tend to be able to relate to what a lot of books say, which helps me absorb the content easier and makes me feel immersed in the experience.
  6. Other people reading (especially my wife) and those that share their book reviews inspire me to read more.

It ultimately comes down to priority. Anyone can find time to read books if they make it a priority and reduce time on other activities they have less interest in. Also, as you start reading and experience the impact, you’ll naturally want to increase the priority of reading books and therefore find more time to read.

If you’re reading this article, the below books will get you off to a flying start:

  1. Indistractable by Nir Eyal
  2. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
  3. Atomic Habits by James Clear
  4. Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins
  5. Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

Here are some techniques to help you decide on what to read and do to improve:

1. Read a book that is relevant to a situation that you’re in now eg. Removing some bad habits, time management, reducing anxiety, understanding the full breadth of product management, levelling up your career, producing a product roadmap, putting together a product strategy, defining a compelling product vision, prioritisation, scaling a business from start-up, conducting customer interviews, improving soft skills, handling conflict, struggling to influence… and then try out the various tools or ideas you’ve learned in the book. Reading a book that is relevant to your current situation will likely help you absorb the content easier too, enabling you to extract even more value from it. There is a book for every situation nowadays, just search on Amazon and you’ll be surprised at what you find.

2. Conduct basic gap analysis in your knowledge/skills and read books on the gaps, then try out the ideas you’ve been exposed to. A performance review at work/feedback from colleagues is also a good source of insight on what to focus on.

3. Validate some of the nonsense you might be experiencing. If you’re experiencing a situation that seems a bit bonkers or you’re wondering whether there could be a more effective way of doing things, read a book with good recommendations that are always backed up by thorough analysis and then read some more similar books on the subject to further validate or increase your knowledge in the area. If several high profile authors are saying similar things and you’re experiencing the opposite, it’ll give you the confidence to question existing ways and in time help steer the ship in a more successful direction.

Now, if you’ve not got that opportunity at work to build up some practical experience of what you’ve learned (eg. If you haven’t got the autonomy or someone else does it) do it on the side or in your own time as an example/exercise and get feedback internally at work or from a mentor which will produce an extra benefit of being seen as being proactive and showing initiative. If you’re in an unhealthy culture where you’re not given room to experiment on your learnings, it’s likely time to seek haven in a more healthy culture.

On the other hand, if you’ve spotted a gap where something isn’t being done which you’re not directly responsible for, step up and try and fill that gap yourself whether it’s roadmapping, making a feature backlog more visible to stakeholders, market analysis, value stream mapping, reduce waste…

If you still aren’t sure where to start, the below books in that order should help get you off to a flying start:

  1. Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
  2. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
  3. Atomic Habits by James Clear
  4. Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins
  5. The Mindset of Success by Jo Owen
  6. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  7. Indistractable by Nir Eyal

As Sarah Wood says in her book Stepping Up “the most important thing is that you get started, as quickly as possible. Done is better than perfect!” which also applies to both reading and doing.

Top 3 reads which made the biggest impact:

1. The Mindset of Success by Jo Owen

“The most important mindset for a successful career is learning and growth. If you stay still, you will fail.”

2. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Once you’ve made the journey into the Now, you will no longer have problems (only situations) as nothing exists outside of the Now.

3. Stepping Up by Sarah Wood

What makes a good leader has changed over time, from being a dominant personality and didactic style to having leadership qualities of courage, kindness, trust, authenticity and empathy.

Thanks to all of the authors for sharing their wisdom, and thanks to my connections for sharing their book recommendations and inspiring learning experiences throughout the year.

Hope everyone has a nice festive break and a great learning experience next year.

Enjoyed this read by Scott Belsky where he uncovers a pragmatic set of techniques to help organise, prioritise and execute actions turning high aspirational goals into reality, gives tips on collaborating with other people to help accelerate progress, and provides good insight into effective leadership and self-leadership methods.

“Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration”

“To push your ideas to fruition, you must develop the capacity to endure, and even thrive, as you traverse the project plateau.”

“Making ideas happen boils down to self-discipline and the ways in which you take action.”

“Even when the next step is unclear, the best way to figure it out is to take some incremental action. Constant motion is the key to execution.”

“Nothing will assist your ideas more than a team of people who possess real initiative.”

Written in the same novel thriller style as The Phoenix Project, Gene Kim touches on every element you need to transform a slow-moving monolithic digital setup to a more modern Agile and Lean operation which allows you to validate ideas and solve problems at speed, getting ahead in the market.

I found the original Phoenix book gripping and a fun read as I’ve not experienced a manufacturing plant environment before, but I found the Unicorn Project more predictable as I was reading it, but I guess that’s due to going through various Agile and DevOps transformations over the past few years…

…saying that, it was still a pleasure to read the heroics of Maxine, Kurt and Brent with their relentless perseverance and motivation to continually improve and learn whilst getting ideas to customers, hearing about the fruits of the impacts they were making, and the value that a dedicated and empowered team can have, through a different lens.

“A healthy software system is one that you can change at the speed you need, where people can contribute easily, without jumping through hoops.”

“Because the distance from where decisions are made and where work is performed keeps growing, the quality of our outcomes diminish.”

“It’s been true for hundreds of years and probably thousands more: employee engagement and customer satisfaction are the only things that matter. If we do that right, and manage cash effectively, every other financial target will take care of itself.” Amen!

Another fantastic book by Gene which I’d recommend for anyone experiencing significant delays in the value stream or generally interested in DevOps.

“Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine.”

This book by James Clear has to be the best book I’ve read on continuous improvement. James’s approach is to just focus on making one tiny change, continuously, which in itself will yield positive results and in time a powerful outcome.

The content is structured around the Four Laws of Behaviour Change (obvious, attractive, make it easy, satisfying) and gives you some good tools and strategies that can help you build better systems and shape better habits.

Throughout the book, there are dozens of stories about top performers, who have faced different circumstances but ultimately progressed in the same way: through a commitment to tiny, sustainable, unrelenting improvements.

“There is a version of every habit that can bring you joy and satisfaction. Find it. Habits need to be enjoyable if they are going to stick. Choose a habit that best suits you, not the one that is most popular.”

James also talks about some common pitfalls to avoid when creating habits, one of which “is that they can lock us into our previous patterns of thinking and acting-even when the world is shifting around us…

…a lack of self-awareness is poison. Reflection and review is the antidote.”

Over a million of these books have been sold, so if you haven’t read it yet and are interested in self-improvement, psychology or wanting to take control of your habits, I’d recommend this book.

Link here to the book on Amazon.

This is the best book I’ve read on DevOps and it follows on nicely from Gene Kim’s other book The Phoenix Project.

It’s quite easy to think that DevOps practices are just something that dev teams deal with and the value is simply just an increase in throughput, but the book provides clarity on the colossal value that adopting a DevOps culture and the principles can have on teams, the business, and customers.

Throughout the book, Gene echoes the importance of having the whole product team (product manager, designer and several engineers)) involved in the transformation, as well as focusing on outcomes, and to achieve outcomes you need to collect data and learn through experimentation which is covered in the book too.

Gene gives good advice that it’s important to avoid funding projects and instead you should fund services and products: “A way to enable high-performing outcomes is to create stable service teams with ongoing funding to execute their own strategy and road map of initiatives”.

This is the most comprehensive and practical DevOps guide out there and the layout makes the content easy to digest. The book covers:

– History leading up to DevOps, and Lean thinking
– Agile, and continuous delivery
– Value streams
– How to design your organisation and architecture
– Integrating security, change management, and compliance

The principles and tech practices of:
1. Flow
2. Feedback
3. Continual Learning and Experimentation

“Our goal is to enable market-oriented outcomes where many small teams can quickly and independently deliver value to the customer”

Rewiring your brain to avoid your mind crippling your energy as it obsesses about past or future events is difficult, but it is absolutely possible, and this book makes it much easier.

It gives you tools on how to do it written in an easy to understand question-and-answer format to show you how you can silence these thoughts and use that energy more practically.

Essentially once you’ve made the journey into the Now, you will no longer have problems (only situations) as nothing exists outside of the Now. It is here you will find joy, are able to embrace your true self, and feel comfortable in the present.

“The energy form that lies behind hostility and attack finds the presence of love absolutely intolerable”.

Over 7 million people have read this book, it’s a best seller on Amazon, and I can understand why.

Loved reading this book by Eliyahu Goldratt as it’s written as a novel in a fast-paced thriller style, so once you start reading it it’s hard to put down.

Although it tells a heroic story of a manufacturing plant being saved from closure, the improvements closely resemble modern software development techniques – especially Kanban, as it touches on managing constraints, throughput optimisation, continuous improvement, less (smaller batch sizes) but more frequent, prioritisation, waste, the right KPIs (Goal), capacity, effort, WIP, value, estimation, and teamwork.

Throughout the book, rather than the external consultant (Jonah) just telling the plant manager (Alex) how to solve all of the problems they were facing at each stage of their continuous improvement journey to save the plant, Jonah coached Alex by asking him questions instead and getting him to find the answers out for himself, which sets Alex up for success in the future…reminded me of The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stainer.

If you liked The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim you’ll love this book as it’s written in a similar style, and comes with all of the drama of balancing family life with a high demanding job.

Image source here.

Before reading this book I’d read a few snippets in other books around Toyota’s Lean way of working, but this book tells a comprehensive story not only about the success behind Toyota’s legendary customer-centric product development techniques along with market performance data to back it up, but it was also fascinating to get insight into how the business got out of its comfort zone to innovate effectively with the Lexus and Prius.

If you’re an advocate for an empowered and learning culture, you’ll love this book as it’s packed with inspiring examples of how their success started with a healthy culture and a long-term philosophy.

This book gives insight into how Toyota creates an ideal environment for implementing Lean techniques and tools by:

  • Fostering an atmosphere of continuous improvement and learning
  • Satisfying customers (and eliminating waste at the same time)
  • Getting quality right the first time
  • Coaching leaders from within rather than recruiting them from the outside
  • Teaching all employees to become problem solvers
  • Growing together with suppliers and partners for mutual benefit