Monday, 26 November 2018

Workplace 3.0


On one of the evenings last week, my sleep broke I at 1AM thinking about stuff happening at the office workplace, thoughts raced through my head about my own experiences of the workplace over the years (reflecting on working in Europe versus Africa), and reflecting on my recent transformation going back to about six years now, where I took deliberate action to focus on the deeper meaning of the workplace - i.e. keep my biases in check, resist the temptation for passing value-judgements, and stop with cloning a European/British work ethic/practices in Africa.... I reflected on my public description on LinkedIn, currently my core value system for my workplace - am I still serious about these values, and are they in conflict with the organisation?:

Delight | Engineer | Innovate | Lead | Empower | Fun 
My core principles / work ethic as a technology leader for small and large teams alike:
Aim to delight customers through my own uniqueness to handling engagements, taking pains not to force processes and practices dogmatically, instead take the time to work with customers to fully appreciate the system (cultural, people, organisational & engineering) dynamics. Delight by not being too presumptuous, always staying the humble, attentive listener. 
Engineer practical, workable solutions, avoiding complexity as far as possible, keeping it real and contextual. Innovate by expanding on the current state-of-play that happens to be as-is, in-process behaviours (focus on incremental evolutionary progress than big-bang changes).  
Continuously foster this innovation through Leading by example, taking time out to appreciate feedback and through working with people at all levels. 
Empower individuals and teams to follow-through on their own in becoming world-class, whilst overseeing their trajectory (coach, mentor, guide but never the dictator) to reach the desired goals.  
Most importantly create a workplace that makes it Fun to work, being part of a story that's much bigger than myself.

And from this, I started to think about typical conflicts in the workplace: culture clashes, mindset challenges, behavioural incompatibilities and especially the new dynamics of working with a diverse group of younger people, including the leadership & organisational transformation needed to take the workplace to the next level, given our changing modern times...where adaptation is critical to survive the next wave.

So I came up with a term "workplace 3.0" at about 2AM, jotted some notes in my journal to follow-up during the week as I thought I was onto something, and went back to sleep. Super excited about my new term, I thought of ways to describing workplace 3.0. Alas, as all bright ideas go, a quick google for "workplace 3.0" to sanity check my founding claim to the term, shows up a few results - interestingly enough, this site seems to be the one that coined the term up first, and also interesting to note that we're thinking along the same lines, whilst other sites seem to describe workplace 3.0 more from an aesthetic architectural vision of the future in terms of office layout.

I prefer to focus workplace 3.0 more on the human aspect - working with people thus creating value and getting shit done...and so wanted to explore the scenario where you might have found yourself wondering what's happening to the workplace, that you're perhaps been scratching your head wondering about how to adapt to the changing workplace, perhaps reminiscing about the good old days....and really wondering if you're a culture fit, or have become a dinosaur not fit to survive the modern workplace??

How does one describe workplace 3.0 / #wp30 / WP3.0 / #workplace3.0?

Here's my draft brainstorm attempt by highlighting conflicts arising today ...Remember my bias is technology software development in the ever changing industry of Digital Video Technologies and I've been working in Africa...
If you find yourself with at least 20 years work experience and you're often thinking back to the good old disciplined way (military) of doing things, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you love sticking to dates and deadlines and all you want is a status update from engineering, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you think software development is commodity that anyone can write code, and easily outsource to Asia/Eastern Europe, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you treat software developers as code monkeys, that you as the customer don't have time to explain or hear ideas from the techies, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you are driven by role titles and seniority and refuse to interact or come to the level of someone who's low on the org chart, then keep staying in your ivory tower because WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you the kind of manager or leader that likes to know every detail and micromanage, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If your default mode is not one of trust, but rather suspicion or doubt, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you believe you're superior to younger (inexperienced "green") people in their 20s or 30s by way of your work experience, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you prefer cracking the whip and all you care about is execution and delivery to a project plan or date, then WP3.0 is probably no place for you... 
If you find yourself uncomfortable with diversity (race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationalities, etc.) then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you feel you own your technology development team, and not see the tech team as a vital partner & contributor to strategic outcomes, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you lose patience with empowering your people, instead taking over and just getting the job done (and have no problem with "the end justifies the means") - you reign teams in - then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If age makes you uncomfortable, that a person in his/her 20s/30s can be an inspiring leader with senior management responsibilities, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If all you want is a status update without taking time to ask nicely or care to have a conversation with your engineers, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you strongly advocate that you come to work to work and don't care about developing meaningful relationships with your peers and colleagues, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you're someone who encourages people to "stay in their lane", then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you can't seem to break the habit of referring to people as "resources" and find ways to justify calling people "resources", then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you feel insecure with the intelligence of young people being greater than yours, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you can't allow yourself to be vulnerable and expose your humanity in the workplace (let your guard down now and again, drop your shield), then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you find yourself unwilling to be candid with a dose of empathy (radical candor), then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you expect perfect planning and up-front design, you get extremely uncomfortable with waiting for the "last responsible moment" for decision-making, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If experimentation makes you nervous, or you can't embrace failure (and learning from failure), then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If "move fast and break things" just scares you, then WP3.0 is probably not for you...
If your people says "I got this" and you hesitate showing a modicum of doubt or uncertainty, then WP3.0 is probably not for you...
If asked to "embrace mess or chaos" makes your skin crawl, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If your default is "I sent the email, don't talk to me unless you read the email or document", then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If taking time out to have some fun, cut-some-slack, causes you stress about lost productivity, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you demand 100% capacity and productivity all the time, and can't come to accept the theory of constraints, or that you're working with humans and not machines, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you expect paper qualifications over experience or unwilling to take a chance on the outliers (i.e. don't fit the mould), then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you have zero tolerance with investing time, energy and emotional effort in building self organising teams, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you keep pulling your team to your past experiences, or past superstar teams or comparing with "best practices" world-class teams, instead of embracing the local culture (Africa is different, and this difference is a good thing), then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you find it hard to accept that the workplace is becoming more like the tribes from "Survivor", that people seek out tribal leaders, and that winning people's hearts is a good strategy for leadership - that natural selection can't happen in teams - then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you feel you can't allow your people to diversify, even if it means leaving your employ for something else that aligns with their own personal aspirations, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you seek out people to blame or reprimand when issues occur (written warnings favoured as actions) instead of acknowledging the issue and learning from it, impatient on building trust and commitment instead prefers  fear-mongering, then WP3.0 is probably not for you...
If you have to ask why must we celebrate accomplishments or minor achievements, give kudos and recognition to people - when it's their job and get paid for it - then WP3.0 is probably not for you...
If you value your positional authority and expect compliance, instead of taking time to listen, to really listen and solicit feedback from your people-on-the-ground - i.e. you don't have the time or inclination - then WP3.0 is probably not for you...
If you cannot admit as a leader, you've made a mistake or taken the wrong decision, for fear of embarrassment or see it as a sign of weakness (and not humility), then WP3.0 is not for you...
That's it for now....if you have some ideas or comments, please share some your examples of the behaviours in conflict with what #workplace 3.0 could be... 

Sunday, 2 September 2018

2018 Life/Work Balance Review Jan-Aug


Three quarters of 2018 is now behind us, so I decided to look back and review where and how my time has been spent so far, looking back from what I last set out to do in January this year, where I reviewed my 2017 time tracking in this post. I wasn't doing a good job this year in reviewing my personal life/work goals, the months flew by - time to re-calibrate.

Changes to my Personal RAGE model

In March 2018, I revisited my personas, see below. The main change to the model was leaving my own consulting company AS3 behind, as I took on a job as a permanent employee. I also decided to focus my values more on family, putting my own individual personal aspirations somewhat at a lower priority. The matrix looked like this:


Reviewing Personal Goals from January

Earlier this year, I noted down the following. Without looking at the data insights, the comments reflected in italics:
  1. Find a way to reduce work hours to a point that it is actually sustainable, and not be the only thing that consumes me (even if I'm having a good time at work). Goal is to maintain a consistent level of 168 hours maximum per month on work. Need to do this by building an awesome management team, foster leadership & responsibility downstream. Implement behaviours from "Turn this Ship Around". Goal not met, my work hours are still quite high.
  2. Create space for Personal endeavours, focusing on leisure activities as well as health & fitness. 
    1. My 3D printing experiments seized in 2017. Start again. Not started
    2. Cycling virtually non-existent in 2017. Start again. Only starting now, Sept!
    3. I have a boxed Lego Robotics Mindstorm set waiting for me (gifted this toy for my birthday) Still boxed!
    4. Five programming books to read and new languages to code - waiting for a year, unopened. Where are these books anyway, out-of-sight, out-of-mind??
    5. Read 24 books this year. In 2017 I completed just 9 books of the 38 I'd planned to read! Going okay, 65% there
    6. Create the software for my RAGE tracking tool. I wish!
  3. Continue to nurture the family time to be as memorable & enjoyable as possible. Looking good!

What's the data showing?

Sometimes the big picture is not always a good thing. When summarising the last 8 months, it seems my Life/Work balance seems pretty normal - good percentage of split between Life/Work, where:
Life >> Work, so all must be good right??


But something feels off...

Why does it feel like I'm spending way too much time doing work? Roughly speaking, employees average monthly hours in South Africa should be around 168 hours per month. So what do my work hours look like?

So it seems my work hours are exceeding normal expected hours - although, now that I'm at executive level, it is expected to put in the extra hours, so I'm still trying to come to terms with this and really need to figure out how to still deliver on the expectations and keep the hours to my own personal target of maximum 168 hours - so with 4 months remaining, I really got to solve this puzzle somehow. When I look back at these numbers, sometimes I can't help but feel I would've been better off financially if I was still consulting and billing-by-the-hour :-)

So what if I'm working way too many hours - as long as my work keeps me happy right?? That I should be having fun, and enjoying it right?? Good thing I'm still keeping track of my daily feelings journal for work - let's see if my overall happiness sentiment is still in check??

Am I enjoying the Work? ...Yes, it seems so!

Looking at my sentiment tracking data, it does seem pretty green, not much red - so that should be a good thing. Although a cause for concern is that recently, the enjoyment in terms of positive feelings is being overtaken by more of an indifferent/neutral sentiment, that is, I can neither say I'm having a really terrible time, nor can I say I'm having an absolutely awesome time either. This could be due to a few factors: organisational transformation, people challenges and pressures of strategy changes &  new delivery challenges hitting all areas of the company - my personal challenge is never to fall into complacency or mediocrity. I'm also challenged with personal leave days, so back when I was consulting, I took some personal time pretty regularly - but from April this year, these personal leave days have drastically reduced compared to previous years. I'm becoming increasingly mindful of this, to the point of potentially taking some unpaid leave... 


Overall Breakdown of Time per Area of Life

It's not all bad - given that I did prioritise my Family-First value ahead of my own Individual needs, the areas are mostly green. However, I do need to move invest more on the personal Health & Fitness areas, and have to think really hard about investing more time and energy into the idea of breaking out as an Entrepreneur. I've got ideas building up on my backlog, with absolutely zero time invested in taking them anywhere...On my individual need for improving my spirituality, 2018 has been a very good year...On the family-side, it is still quite the challenge to dedicate real one on one time with my individual family members, I've got more work to do with 1:1 time with my wife, outside of the family time we spend together with the kids...and I got to get back to more writing time for my blog, although some close friends say I should spend less time blogging about my time tracking and instead use it for 1:1 time with my wife!



Sunday, 1 July 2018

Experiments with XL: Extreme Leadership (Paired Management)

I recently (in early June) took some time off from life and work, decided to be completely unplugged for ten full days, with no access to any electronics whatsoever. This break from work coincided with the last 10 days of Ramadan, a practice called Itikaf, which is about secluding (surrendering) one's self to God by living day/night within the precincts of the Masjid boundaries, where one is engaged in various acts of worship, including self reflection, self-awareness & meditation. Itikaf is about leaving it all behind, including your own family.  I had actually made my decision sometime in April, a feeling that suddenly inspired me as something I just needed to do, without too much thought or planning. I immediately fired off an email at 5AM informing by boss (the CEO) of my upcoming intent, not really seeking his approval - I merely informed him that I'll be away from the office, completely unreachable for 10 full days, a personal life quest I needed to fulfil...thankfully, the boss didn't get in my way ;-)

When people, both friends and colleagues included, found out about my leave plans, they immediately enquired how I was going to manage the work topic. I lead a technology team responsible for an online video platform for DStv (providing live/linear streaming channels as well as video-on-demand Catch Up services, we also support a major part of the business with a full digital/web platform infrastructure). Around that time, my teams were working flat out to stabilise the platform, in preparation for the FIFA world cup. We will only be ready to "freeze" a week before world cup - how could I possibly leave the team at such a critical period??  On top of that, my division was part of an ongoing group-wide organisational restructure, in those two weeks, there was much HR work to do, including rationalising job roles across various technology divisions, job grading, role & people profiling, as well as one-on-one consultations. How could I leave the team leaderless through this period?? And to add a cherry on the top, whilst I would be on leave, the group's yearly Ops Review would've taken place, I would need to input into this stream as well.  As if this wasn't enough, there were concerns that my leadership team was fairly new, people had some doubts...

I wasn't really concerned by these, instead I saw it as the perfect opportunity to test my leadership team. Whilst a fairly new team that's been only recently formally announced, they are still in between the storming/norming phase (even though it's been over a year since they're under my leadership transformation). I wanted to test out a few things:

  • I'm not seen as a bottleneck, if there's a crisis my leadership team can manage well without me
  • My leadership team can get along and do what's best for the customer/business
  • The leadership team and rest of the foot soldiers can continue with the template set out for them
  • My boss and fellow exec members get to know & learn about my senior managers
  • My team's overall readiness level to tackle execs (a world they're usually buffered from)
So I came up with this idea: Instead of leaving one single person as my cover or 2IC, I would take a page out of XP's (Extreme Programming) Pairing Developers and rather instead PAIR MY MANAGERS UP, called it "Paired Management" or "Extreme Leadership" XL ;-)

I did not have time to do any research on this concept, but it felt like the right thing to do - we've been doing paired leadership in our technical / DevOps operations space, a sort of failover, having a primary / secondary leader for redundancy, so how bad could it get?? (I've still not researched this topic, hence my reaching out on LinkedIn for commentary).

I also did not want to single out one particular person as my 2IC, for fear of sending out the wrong signal in terms of succession planning - and I also felt that no single person was ready yet for that role. I did however concede to having a single point of contact for the business or my boss, the go-to, only in the event of a crisis - everything else was shared between my leadership team. I am also quite reluctant to appoint a 2IC whenever I'm away, I want to grow a team that can self manage, self organise amongst themselves to lead as the situation demands, respect meritocracy instead of having someone assigned by false attributions. I also expect my direct reports to develop a sense of maturity, mutual respect & appreciation for each others strengths, weaknesses, remain humble, remove egos & sense of hubris, converging on what's best for the customer, etc.

My boss asked for a 2IC - I said no, not really. I'm going to pair my managers to represent me, but in the extreme case of a crisis, you can have a go-to person. My out of the office email message contained similar message. 

How did I go about Pairing Managers?

So I needed to pair up my managers, but I had an odd number to deal with: Five (I'm still looking to hire a Technical Operations/Integrations manager, ping me if you're interested). Four males (strong technical), One female (agile project management). Since this is South Africa, as much as I'd like to ignore the topic of "race", it is actually still an issue in this country (I was surprised to see that not much had really changed in the workplace after returning home from working abroad for a decade). So "race" really can't be ignored in my humble opinion. I have two white male Afrikaans-speaking managers, two black African males, and one white English female, and I'm an Indian (6 generations in South Africa, British by naturalisation).

So I decided to pair the male managers up by race (mixed black/white), and as well as assigned pairing the most likely people who tended to rub against each other - i.e. where some healthy tension exists. This was deliberate on my part, my experiment to see if any conflicts arise and how they'd deal with it. The odd female manager was left to arbitrate and manage conflicts between the pairs if needed, be the voice of reason, as well as my aide for feedback on the experiment, as well as handle administrative finance & other operational responsibilities.

Each pair would spend a week in my shoes. Attending the necessary exec meetings, handling business communications, etc.  In the two weeks that I'd be on leave, it would have exposed all my direct reports to a reasonable chunk of my responsibilities - a view into my world. It would also expose my boss & fellow peers to my direct reports.

Simple Rules for Paired Management

In terms of rules of engagement, I basically expressed my feelings that as senior managers I expect a modicum of maturity and respect, highlighting the following:
  • Always be respectful to each other
  • Do not openly contradict or challenge another's view in a public forum outside of technology
  • Handle your differences internally but appear united when representing me at my exec meetings
  • If you're unable to sort your differences,  seek the arbitrator assigned for counsel (the female manager)
  • Note that the pair are my substitutes (you're representing me). If one speaks or is asked to respond to something in a wider forum, the other should follow and resist the urge to disagree
  • Leave your egos outside - when dealing with a conflicting view or decisions - always fall back to what is best for the customer.
  • Two brains are better than one
  • You're not alone - lean on each other for support
Suffice to say, not all my direct reports were comfortable with my pairing approach. One even voiced strong opinions against this pairing, in favour of just leaving a single person as 2IC or stand-in, will avoid all the energy lost in fighting with each other...

I did not relent. I can't have my direct reports not being in harmony. Healthy conflict and tension is good to a certain point, but if I have a leadership team who are incompatible with each other, then I have a much bigger problem on my hands. I also felt quite strongly the benefits of pairing far outweigh the other, just as the benefits of paired programming is much greater than just producing solid code (builds team rapport, encourages dialogue and collaboration, builds mutual respect, etc.). Pairing my managers up, I was hoping similar positives as seen from Paired Programming...

The Result??

My ten days went by, and all was well at the office. The pairing worked well enough, although in retrospect, maybe 10 days is just too little?? Anyway, the group as well as individual feedback was that it went well - managers have gained some insight into my world, and were all too eager to give it back ;-) No serious conflicts. The technical platform performed well enough - no crisis. My boss was happy, there were no burning issues. HR was super impressed by my team stepping up to handle all the HR processes...positive feedback all round.

Was it a resounding success?? Probably not a resounding 100% earth shattering success -  but I do believe it has indeed planted the seeds for further experimentation. I know that no one else in the company has ever tried that before, so I am forging some new ways...there's definitely ways to improve going forward (like daily stand-ups for management team, getting my boss to interact more with my direct reports, exposing my direct reports to wider forums, empowering & delegating more).

If you've had experience with "Paired Management" please share with me...

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Update: Reflections on my career in Software Engineering & Management

Two years ago around this time, I explored my progress with respect to my career choices by performing some self-reflection, by asking myself some searching questions. Later I shared my findings on this blog, in this post: Reflections on my career in the hope my story could resonate with people who may be experiencing similar challenges. I'm glad I did so since people did actually reach out, thanking me for the post & providing feedback.

Anyway, two years have since passed since I last shared the cross-road I found myself at, since I'd started my journey with this path in mind...

a) Software Team Lead -> Software Manager -> Senior Manager -> VP -> Director -> CEO
b) Principal Engineer -> Senior Principal -> Technical Director -> CTO -> CEO
b') Principle Engineer -> Architect -> Senior Architect -> Director -> CTO -> CEO
c) Technical Project Manager -> Senior Project Manager -> Program Manager -> Director -> CEO

...but instead found myself being in the technical project management space for too long, that people started naturally profiling me as the "rockstar program manager" (check out my LinkedIn recommendations and you'll immediately see why). Whilst this is a great place to be (don't get me wrong, I think a career in Project Management is one of the most versatile, lucrative and flexible professions out there, I highly encourage the move), for me, I felt I'd learnt and experienced enough, that I didn't see myself doing that for much longer. I did enjoy the project leadership, but I wanted more. Another factor that was causing me anxiety was that my role as a management consultant was getting a bit boring, what I imagined it to be versus the reality were not fully aligned. My time was fully consumed, leaving me little time to explore my own ideas to look at new ideas/products (my own start-up), I might as well have been a permanent employee - I was living an illusion, in reality I was basically a "perm-tractor". I had built up enough personal equity, credibility to enjoy a decent level of referent power to indirectly influence outcomes in my favour, I still wanted more - I wanted to feel more alive than being a neutral facilitator (which in itself I found quite rewarding but also quite energy-draining).

So what did I do? I went back to my RAGE model, here's what I had for my persona as a professional:

  • As a software professional, I would like to learn & grow, seek out individuals, companies and interactions, to reach heights of excellence, so that I can not only enjoy the profession, but take me to new opportunities & experiences. I want to surround myself with people that motivate me, journey together to grow to the next level.
  • Want to work with inspiring, motivated leaders that I can learn from. Want to surround myself with deeply technical, bright people. Want to work with people who know what they're doing or unafraid to take chances. Want to work with disruptors, people unafraid to push boundaries, challenging status quo. Want to work with people who are equally, if not, more motivated than me. Want to learn from people so that I can grow and do my own thing one day. Want to be with fellow professionals that will help take me to the next level. Want to work on projects and products that are interesting and cutting edge, not "me-too, copy-cat products. Want to stay at the cutting edge of software, be involved in the next wave like cloud services, mobile app development, car infotainment / self-driving cars, drone software, cloud, etc. Want a chance to start-up my own business in ideas in product development, services-space like crowd-based testing, etc.
  • As a professional, I want to run a company, lead my own division. I believe the experiences and skills acquired over the years puts me a good position to do this, regardless of technology stack. I haven't been successful in launching my own start-up, so the best place would be to go back to corporate, be part of story much bigger than myself, and get the experience I need.
I also came to the conclusion that being a specialist is not a bad thing, so I'm now settled with the fact that I'm a Digital TV Technology Specialist, so I should just focus my energy in this area. I can still keep abreast of new technologies, but the road to my continued success is to build upon this experience - the rest is noise - if an opportunity comes my way for investing or if there is something truly exciting with a lot of upside, then I still might consider it ;-)

So what's happened in the last two years?
I made a decision to leave project leadership behind. I explored opportunities that aligned with my aspiration of running my own division. I took a chance by breaking the perception that I'm the guy to call in to rescue failing projects - landing an engagement as interim GM/CTO. A year later, I decided to leave consulting (248 weeks consulting) altogether and enter the corporate world as a permanent employee, taking on a CTO/Head of Technology role :-)

So my path has indeed played out a little different but now seems to be back on track:
Software Engineer > Senior Engineer > Technical Project Manager > Senior Project/Program Manager > Principal Engineer > Program Manager > Management Consultant > CTO (now) > CEO (next)

Lessons learnt / myths busted?
Who says you can't change tracks in between (especially switch to project management) and switch back to technology leadership? It can definitely be done!
Be prepared to Leave it All Behind as long as you believe you're heading in the general direction you seek (maintain your guiding compass always).
Take time to process your situation with Life/Work by investing the time in self-reflection & planning. I found my RAGE model to be a constant source of guidance. It does take some self-control, but it will be worth it in the end, just keep at it...
It is indeed possible to start from humble beginnings and change your life for a better outcome...

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

2017 Life/Work Balance Review

2017 was a year that went by lightning fast. It seems like not so long ago I was reflecting on 2016 when I did the write up of 80/20 rule on my life/work balance timing review around this time last year. Now a year later, I'm reflecting on how my time was spent in 2017. Interestingly enough the overall profile of my life/work balance hasn't changed drastically if you look at the summaries, but once I dive a bit more into the detail it becomes evident that my time did take a knock in some areas.

I've been tracking my time on how I spend my life for three years and counting. I've still not developed an automated system yet for tracking, need to write an app that simplifies all this manual work, however I need to find the time to do this :-) Part of my personal projects which had taken a knock last year. Once I've automated this through an app, it should make Life/Work goals tracking much simpler, lets see what 2018 brings!

My Personal Value System - Personas

At the turn of 2017, I'd optimised my value system to the following elements, split between Personal & Professional lives:

This was supposed to reflect the priorities in my overall life, with the view that when it comes to time management, how I consume time should be relative to these priorities. In hindsight, this is more difficult to achieve in reality.

What happened in 2017?

Overall, the data for 2017 is shown below:

Putting this in pictures, it looks like this:

Comparing this to 2016, it looks pretty much similar at the high level:

Quick Analysis

2017 compared to 2016, the data shows roughly a balanced life/work split, although in reality I don't feel like it was balanced at all. In May 2017 I started a new job, which had me focused on work more than anything else. If I ignore the hard reality constraints, which is something I define as unavoidable, must-happen activities like Rest/Sleep, Driving-Car and Household maintenance, the picture looks a little different:

In 2017, I worked a total of 2383 hours.
The income-generating portion was spent working as a consultant, totals 2339 hours.
Accounting for 168 hours as the legal working hours per month, this works out to 13.33 months.
Assuming a full calendar month for leave & public holidays (11 working months), I've worked an extra 2.33 months in 2017!

Whilst time spent with Family exceeded Work time, my personal time for my own individual interests took a knock. I've hardly spent time on hobbies, pet projects as well as general health/fitness/well-being.

2017 Lessons Learnt

I worked more in 2017 than 2016, in 2018 I need to reduce work-time, to focus more on personal time. If Personal time invested as an Individual is prioritised higher than Work then I need to figure out a way of allocating more time in this area. I can't compromise on the Family aspect so the time has to come from somewhere else.  Even if I leave consulting and enter full-time employment, I need to create space to value my personal endeavours. Pet projects and new ideas have had a dismal focus in 2017, making me wonder if it's worth any focus at all - the reality is quite different from aspirations or expectations. General Health & Well-being took big hits as well. Becoming an entrepreneur is hard, running a consulting company is also hard - are these just dreams, or am I serious about these? It maybe enough just to have three major focus areas: Family, Life & Work, unless Work converts to Entrepreneur / Running my own business - need to ask myself some serious questions here. Career-wise, my trajectory is looking promising but I don't know if I should resign to the notion of just spending the rest of my years working in a corporate and just settle...

Tracking 1:1 time with each child is also very challenging, with three kids where the age gaps are not that huge. The numbers do reflect quite poorly, what I've found though is that the interactions are captured as Family time - so it might not make sense anymore to focus on sole 1:1 time with each child. I still think this quite important, and need to figure out a way of creating these 1:1 times more frequently. I may have to kick-off the weekly family retrospectives to get this going again.

How did I enjoy Work in 2017?

So if I feel I'm working more than anything else, and the data shows a major part of my life is spent in the office, am I having a good time? Am I enjoying the work? Am I spending my valuable life-hours just to get by as a matter-of-fact, or am I actually enjoying the gig, and getting some fulfilment out of it? I've been tracking my level of enjoyment at work for the last few years - here's what the data shows.

I track feelings as: 
Enjoyed - Good! When I had a good productive day, relationships good, achieved something, good flow-state.
Bad When I feel I should really be doing something else, had a bad encounter, things pear-shaped.
Indifferent / Neutral Neither good nor bad, just another day-at-the-office, uneventful.
Personal Time Time off to focus on personal topics: Leave, Family-Time or Personal Time Out

The theory is that if the number of Bad days increases to a level of causing alarm, then this signals an event for me to start reconsidering my options - like just leave the work and find something better. Looking at the data, there is still far greater upside than downside - 2017 has been a year of increased enjoyment at work, so there is really no reason for me to look elsewhere...unless the level of uncertainty in employment is increasing - which as I write this, might just be the case. I've learnt through the years never to be complacent, no matter how "secure" you might feel...so as I start 2018, I must still keep my options open.

2018 Key Goals/Objectives

In 2018 I need to get back to re-evaluating my state every three months. The themes to focus on for now:
  1. Find a way to reduce work hours to a point that it is actually sustainable, and not be the only thing that consumes me (even if I'm having a good time at work). Goal is to maintain a consistent level of 168 hours maximum per month on work. Need to do this by building an awesome management team, foster leadership & responsibility downstream. Implement behaviours from "Turn this Ship Around".
  2. Create space for Personal endeavours, focusing on leisure activities as well as health & fitness. 
    1. My 3D printing experiments seized in 2017. Start again.
    2. Cycling virtually non-existent in 2017. Start again.
    3. I have a boxed Lego Robotics Mindstorm set waiting for me (gifted this toy for my birthday)
    4. Five programming books to read and new languages to code - waiting for a year, unopened. 
    5. Read 24 books this year. In 2017 I completed just 9 books of the 38 I'd planned to read!
    6. Create the software for my RAGE tracking tool.
  3. Continue to nurture the family time to be as memorable & enjoyable as possible.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

On Managing Change: Damped Sine Wave

I recently read a piece from the June edition of ACM, Q&A with Erik Meijer, which I found quite apt as it speaks to my current situation at work. Whilst Meijer talks specifically to software projects, we can apply this to any kind of topic, be it personal or professional, work & life - everything we encounter when it comes to dealing with change & uncertainty (career, new teams, family, new projects, etc.).

This is especially relevant to the period I'm in now, a leader driving change - i.e. changes to the way we working, kicking-off a focused management war room, and the recent announcements around delivery priorities for the next three months. This is a large corporate, multi-million dollar industry, the amazing part is that things are so fast-paced and always changing that one can argue that the only constant in this company is one that of Change!

So we need to deal with this reality, it's not going to go away anytime soon. My experience is pretty much aligned to Meijer: try to manage the level of uncertainty (balanced by one's appetite for risk) as quickly as possible through communication & stakeholder engagement, converge on well-bounded known-knowns based on the information we receive, agree to execute & deliver within the binding time constraints. Add to this is a sense of measured calm and patience, start practising ways to control your default responses too...

Courtesy: ACM

Below is the excerpt of the Q&A:
<quote>
What is your team process? How does work get done? How do you communicate status? 
A lot of what you read about process and agile has very little evidence behind it. I don't believe a lot of process is scientific. Instead, I define general guidelines about what I want to see happen, and within those I don't care how things happen.
My thinking has two main sources of inspiration: the military and the hacker way.
Over thousands of years, armies have figured out how to get things done and achieve their goals in an environment that is really chaotic and unpredictable. That is the environment we live in as developers as well. If you read the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting manual, and replace the word war with software, everything in there holds true.
So how do you deal with uncertainty? When people attempt to solve with process, they are trying to fight or control uncertainty. For example, someone can say just adopt zero inbox and your life will be awesome. In reality though, that isn't really the case.
One of the things I like about Facebook is "the hacker way". It is an approach to creating software that involves continuous improvement and feedback. It is about computational thinking: how do you program the system, and how do you make the system do things that no one thought possible?
Being agile is about communication.
The process needs to change with the situation. You have a big picture of where you want to go, but any plan or process will shatter immediately when you hit your first bug or something happens out of your control.
In most projects there are two phases: an exploratory phase and an execution phase. Your project should progress like a damped sine wave, where the amplitude gets smaller over time (see picture above). You have to figure out what to build, and figure out what question you are trying to answer. In the beginning you want to increase the vertical velocity to get the uncertainty under control, and then you want horizontal velocity to increase when you get into execution.
With prescriptive processes. people are looking for a silver bullet to solve problems, but it doesn't exist...the world is super-confusing, and you have to embrace it and work with it.
</quote>