Thursday, April 19, 2018

Strategy and Tactics at Point of Value

Point-of-Work (PoW) is where measurable business outcomes are generated…or they’re lost…if not lost…compromised. – Gary Wise

Gary Wise has been a leading thinker in the Performance Support space for years.  He’s been banging the drum for workforce capability and thinking in terms of point-of-work publically for almost 10 years.  He was one of the key influencers in my instructional design career.

His recent posts have me thinking about projects and how they often stop short at value delivery.

Though there is significantly more discussion in the project management space around value and how projects are (or should be) designed to deliver business value, most projects in practice still focus on getting the deliverable out the door. Training, performance support, any change management, or discussion of how this impacts the organization’s customers are often considered at the last minute – if they are considered at all.

We got the thing out the door on time and on budget. Hooray!

Then no one uses it.

Or…worse…the successful project has a negative impact on the business.

We need to start looking further down-stream and longer term.

Here’s some ideas I’m kicking around right now – triggered from Gary’s recent post  Adopting a Strategic Re-Think

He talks about this from a Learning and Development perspective, but I think he’s on to something broader.

Let me list my assumptions.  These are some initial thoughts and I would love some feedback to let me know how far off the mark I am.

A project is an investment that will allow the organization to better serve its customers, either directly or indirectly. (I’m going to file any project triggered by changing compliance requirements as indirect service to customers – humor me here).

The interaction between the organization (often through its employees, with potentially a gatekeeper in between) and its customers is what I am going to call the Point of Value.  The organization exists and thrives if it is able to provide value to its customers.

For an employee to better serve its customers, the organization is looking for what Gary calls Sustained Workforce Capability in the knowledge and skills needed to deliver customer value through the organization.

As Gary argues, training is one tool to drive Sustained Workforce Capability. It does so by reducing the time-to-competency for new knowledge and skills.  However, training is NOT the ONLY tool that needs to be used. Appropriate longer-term supports and environments at the Point of Work for the employee are also necessary to embed these behaviors that will (ultimately) provide customer value.

Designing projects such that the “definition of done” for the project occurs at the point of usability and utilizes the appropriate metrics to determine the business impact of project deliverables.

You can’t design a project that ends at “we got the thing out the door.”

You can’t even design a project that ends at “we did training and went live.”

The project end is really when the longer-term supports are in place, the new system has stabilized, and you are starting to see the impact of your project deliverable on the business.

My experience has been to give it a good 2-3 months after “go live” to clean up any leftover business and allow the system to stabilize with no major configuration changes.  From there, the business can see whether the project helped or hurt, issues that have surfaced with adoption, and what changes need to be made next to get closer to the vision.



Gary’s blog, Living in Learning, is an encyclopedia of useful ideas and tools for workforce performance and how workforce performance impacts the organization.  It’s not just about “training.”

DRIVER – A Repeatable, Agile, Discipline to Generate Learning Performance Guidance

DRIVER: Enabling a Strategic Re-Think for L&D

DRIVER – Avoiding the Paralysis of Fear & Loathing of CHANGE

Performance Support & “The Art of War”

Data Analytics Vs. Tsunami

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Definition of “Done” – Have one

In too many activities, a definition of “done” seems to be missing.

I don’t know about you, but when I have too many unfinished things on my plate – my performance suffers.

Every unfinished activity has a cognitive load attached.

If something is not “done,” – it tends to hang out in my head and simmer there.

Too many of these things and it gets overwhelming.

One of the environmental characteristics of the flow state is clarity of goals.

Goals have many levels. At the basic day-to-day, what are you trying to accomplish?

What does a completed state look like?

If you don’t know, or if everyone involved has a different definition, it’s going to be tough to know how you are doing and next to impossible to determine progress.

That activity, without a definition of done, becomes a resource sink for both money and time.

Furthermore, it makes it difficult to move on to other opportunities.

Your resources will continue to be tied up in the never-ending project.

The definition of “done” should be explicitly spelled out and agreed to by all parties.

What are the criteria that need to be met to consider something complete?

These criteria can include deliverables and quality standards for those deliverables.

Example – The project team has determined that the best approach to communicate to the end-user, with the resources they have available, is written end-user training documentation.

The project team decides that the end-user training document is complete when:

  • All written content identified for development is 100% complete with no grammatical or spelling errors
  • All graphics have been completed and laid out in the manual
  • The table of contents is complete and accurate
  • 95% of the target audience easily understands the document and can follow the instructions without further guidance.
  • The document is ready for conversion to PDF and distribution via email to the end-user.

The Agile Alliance recommends posting that definition someplace visible to keep everyone on track.

This activity helps maintain clarity of goals.  You know what you are working towards and you know how close you are.

These definitions can (and should) be created at multiple levels.  You can create them per user story and/or per deliverable and create an over-arching one for the project.


I have encountered significant resistance in creating a concrete definition of “done.”

I’ve heard fears around the lack of flexibility, as well as the fears around the accountability demanded when you have stated explicitly what you are going to do.  I’m sorry, but accountability is necessary to get anything done.

However, I do think the fears around the “lack of flexibility” are unfounded.

The flex remains in how you get from where you are at to “done.”

To use the example I mentioned above – the definition of done may be a training document with no spelling errors and understandable by 95% of your target audience, but the document itself can be one page or many pages, leverage graphics in interesting ways, be serious or fun. As long as the document meets the definition of “done” for that deliverable and helps the greater project to deliver the promised value, you are golden.

You can use the concept of “definition of done” for projects (which should have one anyway – traditionally managed projects call this scope) and for personal activities (ie – when is my part “done” such that I don’t have to think about it anymore).

All I ask is that you develop the discipline of defining “done” and finishing activities.

I’ve found over the years that those disciplines go a long way towards reducing overwhelm.



Saturday, April 14, 2018

#52books How to Change the World


#52 Books – How to Change the World: Change Management 3.0

Format: Softcover Booklet

Jurgen Appelo has taken 4 common models and combined them into what he calls a “supermodel.”

  • Dance with the System – PDCA or Plan, Do, Check, Act
  • Mind the People – AKDAR or Ability, Knowledge, Desire, Awareness, and Reinforcement
  • Stimulate the Network – the Adoption Curve and focusing on the right people
  • Change the Environment – the 5 I or Information, Identity, Incentives, Infrastructure, and Institutions

He then goes into some detail about what he has learned as a management consultant as he applied the models.  There are some quick-shot ideas to try and stories of what worked and what didn’t in his consulting practice.

I’m a fan of this approach. No need to reinvent the wheel and develop a complicated framework with new terminology.  The 4 models he selected have become 21st century classics for a reason.

This booklet is a quick introduction into change agency and a jumping-off point for deeper study and worth a 45 minute read.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

How to Eliminate Noise

Michael Hyatt and his daughter Megan, in a recent Lead to Win podcast on the Cost of Overwork, observed that current technologies have made this an incredibly noisy world.

The whole podcast is worth a listen (or read – I linked to the transcript above).  However, what struck me wasn’t the cost of overwork (high), it was their observations of how we are doing this to ourselves through our technologies.

Social media services like Facebook… This is one of the dark sides of that particular service. We can get such a quick dopamine hit we don’t develop a tolerance for boredom and we don’t stay in these spaces where there aren’t the measurable results. I also think behind all that is fear. It’s like fear of missing out. “If I say no to that opportunity, if I say no to that project, maybe I won’t be promoted. Maybe I won’t advance as quickly as I would like.” Maybe it’s just fear of the unknown.  – Michael Hyatt

Beyond that – they noted that our digital productivity tools feel like we spend more time playing with our digital productivity tools. Our almost unlimited access to information these days makes it harder for us to find and filter what we need.

Worse, our technologies require us to run the gauntlet of distractions, people demanding our attention, and noise.

How many of you have been interrupted while looking for information on a Slack channel?

Have you taken a course that leveraged Facebook for its community participation and found yourself surfing your feed before getting to your group? How much time did THAT take?

What is your experience with Messenger apps? Email?  How much weeding do you need to do before getting to real information or real work?

And this is just desktop. Now let’s add your mobile phone and all of the notifications and the difficulty of shutting off all of the notifications.

We are in a time that requires us to get focused and stick to that focus. Find a north star and walk towards it.

Say “no” regularly and brutally cull anything that doesn’t apply to our direction and destination.

Our individual and collective sanity may depend on it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Window of Tolerance

The concept of Window of Tolerance is a useful one to help us understand why we feel so stressed in today’s working environments.

The original theory comes from Childhood Development.

I’ve observed the same behaviors in adults as well.

Also, many of the same solutions.

Are the environments you are creating around yourself safe or stressful?

How are your interactions with others?

How much time are you spending in fight or flight (chaos state)?

Alternately, how much time are you spending in freeze or numbness (rigidity)?

As adults, we are responsible for the environments we find ourselves in.


We have the responsibility to get ourselves back within our personal window of tolerance.

We have the option to walk away.

We have the option to find better coping mechanisms.

We have the option to pay attention to the things and people that support us.

We have the option to shut out the noise.


Take care of yourself.

Then, do your best to take care of others.

It’s the least we can do.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

#52books The Start-Up J Curve

#52 Books – The Start-Up J Curve: The Six Steps to Entrepreneurial Success (Amazon affiliate link)

Format: Kindle

Since I started Middle Curve, I’ve been struck by how much noise there is in the entrepreneurial space.  All the things one “must do to succeed.”  It’s overwhelming.

Howard Love has created a map.  And he is NOT arguing to “go find venture capital money and scale RIGHT NOW.”  He’s about building solid foundations and habits.  Asking questions and identifying problems that the people around you have.  EXPECTING the downturn after the initial excitement of starting.

Howard identified 6 stages that many new businesses will go through and what to expect in each.  He emphasizes the activities to focus on, and what to set aside for later.  He talks about how early start-ups should expect to morph as they learn more about their customers. He talks about how a business takes longer to work than expected.  The inevitable difficult time.

I got through the first chapter and thought “Thank-friggin-goodness someone wrote this.”  I’m not alone.

I’ve been revamping Middle Curve once I realized my initial model wouldn’t scale and wasn’t sustainable.

From Howard’s definition, I’m about to finish the Create phase and am about to go into the Release phase. He talks about the procrastination and perfectionism gremlins that pop up during this transition.

Wow! No kidding!

I’m just happy that someone has identified patterns around the reality of starting (or re-starting) a business.  He identifies the blocks and hazards. He clearly talks about ways to identify and overcome them.

I am grateful that this book landed in my hands when it has.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Following a North Star

The North Star analogy, to me, has two components.

The first component – an unattainable target.  One that, at least, has you walking in the right direction.

The second component – looking at your immediate environment to see how you can best walk in that direction.

Often, when I hear people talk of “Following their North Star,” I get an image of someone marching through a desert.

There are not many obstacles.  It’s pretty clear sailing. They can keep looking up at their star without the fear of walking into a wall or tripping on a curb.

The reality, in my experience, is more like navigating through varied terrain.

Yes, there are clear spots where you can keep looking up and not worry so much about falling or crashing into things.

But there are also areas where you need to bushwhack.

Or go east to find a clearer path. Or move west to find a better place to cross the raging river.

Navigating by using a North Star is an exercise in finding the star, looking at what is in front of you, maneuvering the next right step, finding the star again, looking at what is in front of you, maneuvering the next right step, rinse, repeat.

It winds up being more of a zig-zag path filled with backtracks and detours vs. a nice, linear multi-lane superhighway.

The journey demands a clear focus on the north star AND the agility to maneuver the terrain in front of us.

Focusing back and forth between near and far-sighted.

Stopping to evaluate and check our navigation occasionally.