Monday, 7 November 2016

Enterprise Agility Workshop

I recently held a workshop with senior management (general managers and executives) of a large enterprise company on agile methods. In this post I share the framework that helped me execute the workshop, sharing the experience and points for reflection. 

The situation with this client is a typical enterprise organisation structure, divided into broad areas of "Business" and "Technology". Divisions within the "Business" include Customer Care Operations, Marketing, Finance and a PMO. Divisions within "Technology" included IT Business Systems, Digital Media Product Development & Consumer Technology. Strategy is a separate division altogether. Added to this mix is the Technology Division supports multiple business units, with each business unit sharing similar (but unique) operational entities. The tech divisions were also unique in that each applied their own flavours of delivery: two were agile (but had different implementations of methods like scrum / kanban), whilst the third implements a hybrid waterfall / iterative life-cycle. And lastly, these three tech divisions had their own flavour of delivery PMOs (so count that as four PMOs in total, plus another PMO for BI/Analytics group - so that's five PMOs!).

The business people's request was basically:
We work with technology teams that are using this thing called Agile. What is it? Can we have a workshop to review agile methods, to decide whether / what / if the full enterprise needs to do / change to become more agile? How can we deliver faster? How can we get technology teams to respond faster, given that we in business operations can't move as fast as technology?

I was doubtful to say the least, because to me, timing was everything. The dust hadn't settled yet due to recent (and ongoing) organisational re-structures within both business and technology divisions, so I was hesitant this workshop would not add much value. Anyway, the client insisted the workshop happen, so I had to make it happen.

Was the workshop a success? Well, my client would argue yes, it was a success and it's great that we made a start.
Did the workshop run as I expected? No, what I had in mind (see mind map), what I planned for and what actually transpired did not fully meet my expectations, still there were some lessons learnt, and validation of my ideas & experiments are useful, hence I decided to share the framework publicly.

How to frame the workshop?

My mindmap design for the workshop

This picture is the mind map I used as a guide to planning the workshop. I applied my RAGE model as a guide, looking at:
  • Reality - I needed to understand the current reality of the stakeholders, in terms of their knowledge and experiences with agile methods?
  • Aspirations - Wanted to understand what problems they wanted to solve?
  • Goals - How could I run the workshop to address some of the stakeholders goals?
  • Expectations - What were these guys expecting as an output from the workshop?

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Experimenting with WuFoo

So, freshly inspired by the tools and tips shared by Tim Ferris's Four Hour Workweek, I decided to experiment with growing leads for my consulting company, AS3::Africa Systems & Software Services. Decided to use WuFoo to create a simple form to help me capture details of people interested in joining my team. WuFoo is great, very simple to setup and integrate with my online properties (website & blog). It allows me to store files (like CVs/Resumes) on the cloud. This experiment is about testing the level of interest out there, finding great talent and new opportunities...lets see how it goes!

Fill out my online form.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

On Self-Awareness: Happiness Criteria

In my previous post, I started sharing my lessons in Self-Awareness. The post was long and whilst broken down into sections, the feedback I received was that my posts are just way too long to read! So this standalone post talks about the section on Happiness Criteria. Check out the images of books that have helped in my journey to understanding Happiness. Disclaimer: I've not cracked it yet!

Happiness Criteria

Have you ever stopped to consider what makes you happy? I mean seriously think about what defines you as a person, and the things that you enjoy which in return provides you good feelings or sense of happiness??

As I described in earlier sections, we are the result of our upbringing, conditioned to think in a certain way, using a lifestyle framework that closely resembles our upbringing, our view of the world is impressed on us by our parents, family and close friends - until we start thinking for ourselves, and make attempts at stop living on auto-pilot. Our faith, values, principles all seem to come automatically, we live on instinct and on reflex, it is who we are, part of our core being - there seems to be no other way, or is there another way? 

The thought of breaking away from the norm, the group or community-think can be a pretty daunting one, so I contend that most people just take the path of least resistance, and are comfortable with their status quo. I have however, met a few individuals that are true outliers and have managed to break the typical stereotype - these people are few and far between though...

Take for example the typical South African Indian (4th or 5th generation), born into apartheid, working class (labourers below middle-class, uneducated or educated to primary school level, as was my heritage). Life was about working hard, getting an education as best as you can, earning an honest wage, support ones family, be content with the little you have, and maintain strong faith in your religion...

Happiness meant keeping the lights on, having food on the table, clothes on your back and a place to sleep. Over time, one has dreams about breaking away, getting an education, becoming a professional, working through the ranks, being recognised as an equal if not better (than the apartheid counterparts), gaining recognition, reaching a point of achievement. Start earning a decent income, buy your first car, travel a bit, then it's time to get married, soon after have a few kids, buy your first family home, spend the next twenty years working to support the family, pay off the mortgage, family vacations, etc...

Is this the picture of happiness, or could there be more??
Can you really measure happiness? 
What is the criteria for happiness, if any? 
How do you know you're happy? 
How do you know you're happy at work?
How can you tell you're heading in the right direction?
When was the last time you felt really happy?
Can you think back to a time where you were most happy, content and at peace?
How often do you find yourself tapping back into that memory?

These questions from Tim Ferris's Four Hour Workweek I found quite useful:
What are you good at?
What could you be best at?
What makes you happy?
What excites you?
What makes you feel accomplished and good about yourself?
What are you most proud of having accomplished in your life? Can you repeat this or further develop it?
What do you enjoy sharing or experiencing with other people?

I used to have a personal bias around people who claim to just "love" coming to work, that they have the "best time", work is so much "fun", that imagine getting "paid big bucks for something you love and would do for free anyway".... and I still do, because from my own background and experience, I couldn't bring myself around to seeing work as fun, as something you love. To me, it was always something that reality demanded, a necessity of survival... that people who can claim to love their work, are just plain old lucky. Honestly, it is quite a difficult bias to shake it the school of hard knocks...

Measuring Happiness??

"Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts"  --Unknown
Say you did try to measure and quantify your happiness - how would you do it?
For me, I've started experimenting. It starts with my RAGE model - the personas that I've prioritised as being important and valuable to me, in both my personal and professional life. Assuming I can allocate time to the activities, duties, rights to fulfil those personas, then it follows that I should be reasonably happy. I've been measuring time spent in each persona since February, at the end of each month I tally up the times, and check if the time allocations are proportional to the level of importance of the's a start but doesn't get me to measuring real happiness.

Another experiment I've been doing for coming up to a year now, is measuring enjoyment at work. Every day, I log how I'm feeling at the start/end of the work day. Basically tagging each day into one of:
  • Good (positive state, feeling positive vibes) - I really enjoyed working today: interacting with people, got results, got stuff done productively, won a debate, convinced people to see the light, received positive feedback, clients expressed appreciation, relationships positive, feel like I'm doing something valuable to customer and myself, learnt something new. I helped a colleague / friend, gave counsel, coached, mentored - people gave good feedback, appreciating my time. Positive emotions, increased energy and excitement, motivated and feeling of doing something good, something new, renewed sense of self-worth!
  • Bad (negative state, feeling negative vibes) - Any event or trigger that causes me to wish I could work somewhere else, or wish going back to working with solid UK/International people. It could also be that I didn't win people over in debating, or failed to reach consensus, difficult arrogant people issues. It's bad when I just don't feel excited or motivated and I just show up for the sake of showing up for a pay cheque ("work for work"). I didn't learn anything material, but expended a lot of energy for no gain. Dragged down by negativity, incompetence or mediocrity. Mediocrity of others scaring me that I might lose the plot and end up following groupthink, i.e. become mediocre myself. Feelings of "I wish I was running my own product company", "If i were in charge, I will do XYZ differently". It is BAD because I feel have to put up with shite, because there's currently no realistic alternative path for me.
  • Neutral / Indifferent (neither positive nor negative, neither stressed nor anxious) - basically non-eventful, couldn't care less or more, just run-of-the-mill, routine stuff. Stuff that ticks the boxes, doesn't say anything is remarkable, but nothing bad to cause me to slack, or get negative feedback or even get fired. Work is automatic - I still create my best work regardless, keep showing up, but nothing spectacularly awesome. Motivated by myself and own thoughts is OK. Basically routine, vanilla, bland stuff, nothing enticing - BUT - still showcases my consistent standard of work ethics (no regression). Neutral feelings, almost content with current status quo, not losing sight of my own endgame (work is a means to an end).
So my original thinking was to log these states (as crude as they may be), and depending on the distribution of negative states, which would signal unhappiness at work, should then trigger me into action of making a change: either leave the work or change my behaviours in some way. This is the crux of becoming self-aware, and a little bit of data analytics can indeed help along the way!

After one year, here's what my tracking data looks like (BTW I use Trello diligently):

It looks like I have a decent thing going on for my working life. Some bad days, some good days, but mostly neutral / indifferent. Should I focus on moving the Indifferent needle down, and boost my Good days up?? Probably, since this is most likely going to increase my overall happiness. Looking at my Personal (which is either study leave, training, sick leave, public holiday, family vacation, family emergency, state admin, car admin) time, this looks pretty good (by the way, I don't get paid for the days I take as Personal time).

So whilst I maybe on to something here via measurement, I still have searching questions:

Can I get any more happier by remaining in my CURRENT STATE, or does something need to change (change in my own behaviours or outlook, change in environment - same company, different team, different company same field of work, different company different domain, relocate to a new city, country) to get me to a FUTURE HAPPY STATE???

Look at my example - Could this tracking log HELP YOU OUT  in your current situation?

There's even an App for this!!!

Remember the saying "What gets measured, gets managed" - so should you start tracking your moment of happiness?

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

On Self-Awareness

This year I've been focusing on self-awareness, which in my case was really about taking stock of myself in asking searching questions. It started toward the end of last year, when I first began to make sense of a model that I coined as the RAGE model (Reality, Aspirations, Goals, Expectations). In the course of this year, I had applied RAGE to not only a number of my personal & professional situations, but also used it to help guide a few friends and colleagues. I realised that many people find themselves in situations, when faced with different choices, are often conflicted about these choices, find themselves searching, reaching out to me(!). What surprised me most was how I was able to give neutral counsel, often by re-applying the techniques I've come to use on myself - the crux of it is really around asking searching questions. So I decided to use this blog post to capture my learnings to date, as references to the topics I've come across, share them with the very least, I can come back to this post for a refresher when faced with my next dilemma. I myself am still learning...

This post is taking me more than just a few days to write, so I'm releasing it incrementally. There's still some empty sections that will be filled up as I go along. It's broken up as follows, you can read each section independently:

Friday, 16 September 2016

Experiments with Novo Resume

Back in July I started looking at potential jobs I could apply for (since applying for specific jobs is an ongoing activity in my personal development plan). I stumbled upon this interesting piece on a six second resume, which introduced me to this site NovoResume. The site is still beta, doesn't have many powerful features, still in development - but I decided to give it a try, for a potential job ad that was for GM Digital Media Operations. I did not end up applying, since after much thought, didn't feel quite right about it being a good fit for me.

Anyway, you might find NovoResume interesting and would like to experiment as well. Below is a version of the Resume I created using NovoResume in about 20 minutes. I am waiting for them to provide templates for Senior roles (with 10+ years experience profile).

Resume created using NovoResume

Sunday, 14 August 2016

On Project Management

In the last couple of years, I've had people approach me from different areas (technical and non-technical) to teach about project and program management. I've had some senior management ask me to guide project managers (that were close to being fired that needed an intervention to turn them around), engineers seeking guidance on how to get into project management, and heads of PMOs tell their people to shadow me to learn how "Muhammad does it", so much so, that most recently, most of my style of project documents, reports & ways-of-managing-meetings have formed the basis of "how we should do things here" templates. This year, I was asked to teach a course and was even offered a potential future coaching opportunity to help a PMO reach their desired levels of performance (which plays nicely to my aspirations of improved life-work balance and creating more time for myself, like working 3-day weeks).

This might sound like great feedback, something to be proud of, and a rather nice side effect of the work that I have come to "just do" automatically. I had no ulterior motives for recognition and reward. I never once professed to be a grand professional project manager.  Heck, I am not even certified (even though I've been on training courses and I am quite well read), I don't even promote PMP / PRINCE2 / Agile certifications & methodologies, and I've hardly used MS Project to run projects - and here are people who already have all the certifications in place (and arguably more proficient with project tools like MS Project), coming to me, asking for guidance and to be taught!! 

In truth, this recognition (and sometimes public endorsements) makes me more uncomfortable to say the least and has increased my own self-awareness, because I'm actually quite acutely aware of my own limitations. What is it that my customers see in my work?? Do they realise I'm not even currently a certified PM?? How can I help transmit what I've learnt in my experiences (acquired wisdom & intuition) in project management, that people don't already know, that they wouldn't already have picked up in PMBOK certification courses anyway? 

Recently I completed Any Hunt's "Pragmatic Thinking & Learning", where I came across the Dreyfus Model; and earlier this year, I read Donnie MacNicol's "Project Leadership" which made me realise that I may just be at the level of Expert/Mastery (Project Leader) skill level on the Dreyfus model for most (but not all) of the skills for project & program management. In a future post I will share my own PM-skills diagnostic when viewed according to the Dreyfus model. This will be a useful self-discovery exercise especially after watching a talk on Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.

So as an experiment, I decided to create a rough mind map of my own PM Knowledge-base. When I start a project, what framework do I use that helps me navigate the project minefield? So I created the picture below - a very rough dump from memory. This could potentially serve as a rough outline of a coaching course I could do for project management. If I were to write a training plan, how would I structure it? If I were running a PMO, what would I focus on? I could just about write a blog post on each of the topics (and over time, I could have training material emerge, who knows!).

My PM Mind Map

Rough Mind Map

My PM Knowledge Base

Whilst I have to date, kept away from acquiring a formal PM certification (see this post that explains my reasoning to shy away from certification), I read a number  of books and material on the subject. Below is my library that has helped me in my quest to master the subject and sharpen my toolbox. This list is in no particular order, although each one has inspired me in some way and has had a direct influence into how I apply my knowledge in applying my project management roles (I've got another five more currently reading, the list will update as I finish more in future).

Monday, 8 August 2016

On mapping your realities

Earlier this year, around March/April some time, I came across this TED talk, about drawing your life / aspirations in terms of current reality (current state) to desired new reality (future / desired state). At the time, I had just finished working on my own version of personal journey mapping, which I coined as the RAGE (Reality Aspirations Goals Expectations) model. This TED talk made me think and experiment with my own sketch, which I actually attempted, immediately after watching the video. I found the picture lying on my desk, so decided to post it on this blog, and to share with others (who may find themselves in a similar situation as I). I hope the picture says it all, suffice to say, I've been making some headway in my own personal journey tracking (which I plan to share in a future post, called On Self-Awareness). If you want to see what I've been tracking this year, check it out here.

Here's the TED Talk:

And here's my very own version 0.01, of my life picture, snapshot from March/April:

And back in Jan/Feb I had sketched my general view that led to my RAGE model, which incidentally is my implementation plan to get me from Current -> Desired State:

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

To manage software teams, take a page out of the baker of breads

Software management metaphor - Another one of those "This might not work" posts...

Last night I woke up from a deep sleep, to the sounds of the howling wind outside, the tatter-tatter of light scattered rain hitting the window, whooshing branches of the garden palm tree against the roof & telephone cable, at about one in the morning, and the sounds of an indecisive impending thunderstorm about to break - when a thought came to me: that managing software teams is just like being a baker who bakes bread

And if you're going to coach software teams, you won't do a great job unless you've been through a few projects yourself, in say maybe three different products...just like a baker should never profess to be a a true baker of breads if he/she only knows of just one type of bread :-)

So let's build on this metaphor
There are no doubt a wide variety of breads, over two hundred according to wikipedia. Each bread appears to have its its own unique characteristics, not just from outward appearances, but also sometimes, unique ingredients as well. 

Though most breads may share a common pool of ingredients, they will vary in terms of process & methods.  Some doughs (infrastructure code perhaps or engineering methods?) must be repeatedly pounded,  some need to reach a different points of elasticity, some need varying amounts of time to soak, just in preparation time, and some might be best served a day later. 

Some breads need a tender touch, care and extra attention, whilst some breads are rough, solid and can take on a few dents and bruises here and there. Either way, the baker understands that balance and care are needed to get the best bake out of the ingredients, methods and process - just enough and not forgetting, the baker's intuition, experiential wisdom all play a huge part into what makes a baker of breads, a great baker of breads...

The baker of breads is no doubt expert, finely attuned to the methods and processes that must be applied to each bread to get the desired result: beautifully baked, well worth the time, effort, energy and most of the time, patience.

Any shortcuts taken, or hastily applying a different method based on some other bread type could result in failure, or perhaps a mutation of sorts. The end result is likely not a very good bread, far from edible.

In pretty much the same way, a software manager (coach, consultant, etc.) needs to approach each software team with care, take time to understand its own unique character, culture and drive for success, applying possibly unique methods to "bake" the teams to reach their desired goals and outcomes. And this outcome in my view, is one of delivering value, keeping customers happy.

So to end the metaphor, a software manager must become a master chef, a baker of breads. Understand each bread is unique, invest in appreciating this uniqueness which may need you to change your own behaviours and biases. 

And revel in the the taste of variety...

Then I went back to sleep...

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The PayTV Platform VS Product Debate

This post has been on my TODO list for four years. It started as trying to clarify the role of the STB: Is it a Platform, or is it a Product?? I now feel this debate needs to be extended beyond the STB domain, and instead focus on the bigger picture - the end-to-end video technology stack. And in order to do this, one has to start right at the beginning - understanding the future design of a PayTV business...This blog post is a work in progress, my thoughts are not fully structured and far from complete...I needed to get this thing off my Trello TODO list because it was starting to burn a hole in my screen, so here goes...

The topic of what drives innovation in software companies in terms of understanding the differences between a Product versus a Platform is not a new one. It has been discussed since the early 90s in lead up to the evolution of PC Operating Systems & Applications, early 2000s on the dawn of the Internet age, mid-2000s on the rise of mobile platforms and the resurgence of Apple. Citing a few articles that discusses this topic of Platform/Products, by Michael Cusumano, a leading expert on the subject:

However, in the context of Digital TV, Pay TV or what the market is now calling "Video Entertainment", I feel not much has been written about this subject. This is probably because of the largely historical nature of these technology & architecture platforms being proprietary, in what has been quite a much-guarded and competitive landscape by technology vendors traditionally in the Set Top Box middleware space.

I believe the very same challenges that existed twenty years ago in the PC-world are really no different to the challenges Pay TV software systems face today. Whilst Pay TV exists to generate as much revenue from its subscribers as much as possible (one really can't argue with that bottom-line), one cannot ignore the fact that there is an enormous amount of software systems that power the business (consumer devices, broadcast systems, security & encryption software, billing & subscriber management systems, and more recently internet-backend services that deliver digital services on additional devices other than just set top boxes) so much so, that one could even argue that Pay TV is fundamentally, a software technology-driven business - and since this is pretty much the reality of today, then the topic of Product v Platforms in PayTV is all the more relevant!

Historically, the medium of consumption of PayTV, was through a device called a Set Top Box (STB). A piece of hardware that allowed a customer access to the content broadcast. The STB offered rudimentary user interface (an application / electronic program guide) that primarily allowed users to find content to watch - and this basic use case can still be considered the primary use case for PayTV, despite the bells and whistles that come with flashy graphics. The interface exists to allow users to find and watch content, period.

I believe the STB, in terms of software architecture, has to evolve from the once historic notion of being viewed as a standalone product, to instead becoming part a platform ecosystem, just like any other modern operating system (iOS, Android, etc.) that exposes a set of capabilities that allows for re-use of software components across devices. That, with the increasing convergence of mobile/internet/broadcast, the STB can no longer be considered its own island, with its own unique software stack (some might argue that these stacks are archaic), somewhat silo'ed & isolated from more modern technologies as in the case of platform software driving pretty much the mobile (smartphone / tablet) devices.

I have worked in the STB world for pretty much most of my career. I've always felt that we were really reinventing software systems, architectures and design patterns that was pretty much known since the sixties (really). In the last eight years, we started moving to the converged world, merging broadcast-and-internet TV, and in doing so, the constraints of the STB world start to reveal itself, especially when it came to inter-networking features, light-weight components and services-based design patterns and the challenge of essentially re-using software components across different devices. I've seen companies and teams struggle to adapt to this new challenge, especially when it came to the topic of truly understanding what it means for differentiating a Product or a Platform?

Is the Set Top Box a Product, or is it a Platform??

An example STB Platform
I believe the days of the STB as a unique device for viewing content, the primary means of interaction, and the constraint of being stuck in the world of broadcast TV - are over.

Customers don't care what a PayTV operator labels & markets its device as. The STB is simply, a means to an end - a thing that lets you connect your TV to access a world of content provided by a PayTV operator through a transport medium (satellite, terrestrial, broadband, whatever). And that in the connected world of the internet, customers expect to access the same experience on any mobile device (because it is possible and it's expected).

So initially, in isolation, just looking at the STB alone - I view the STB as providing platform software, just like iOS or Android.
From a hardware perspective, the STB device hardware too, is also a platform that allows the PayTV operator to incrementally add features over time. The hardware usually shares future-looking capabilities that STB software can realise over a period of time (usually 5-7 years, but this time is being reduced to more like 3-5 years shelf life).

This may sound like commonsense, because it is what consumers are used to with more modern  iOS & Android platforms, right? Yes, but in the world of PayTV, I've seen how technology implementations can go wrong, costing PayTV operators lots of time, money and energy, lost opportunities, lose market share, etc - due to not taking time to properly assess the nature of their products and services as well as the underlying technology ecosystem needed not only to satisfy their current business needs, but also the systems to power & drive future growth (at little cost, avoiding long development cycles, re-work and silo'ed ring-fenced deployments making maintenance a nightmare).

I also believe that we need to go further than just thinking in the STB-world - we need to think about a platform world, a world of re-use. The same applications and user experience must exist on all devices, regardless of technology domain. If the customer is expecting this unified seamless experience, in the same way the software components need to be shared across the architecture domains. I don't expect there to be separate application development teams per device. What usually happens is a PayTV operator has separate vendors, with their own stacks, a development team for STB, another development team for iOS, another team for Android, another team for PC/Web - all implementing pretty much the same thing. And similarly, separate infrastructure services teams (broadcast headend, internet online backed teams) usually fragmented, working in silos, often with duplication of services.

So the question for me has evolved: it is no longer about the STB being a product or a platform. It is about the End-To-End PayTV Technology Platform - how should a Video Technology Ecosystem be structured today?? Out with the old, in with the new is what I say ;-)

Why understand the difference between a Platform & Product?

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Reflections on my career in Software Engineering & Management

I was going to keep this post in my own internal reflections journal, but then decided not to, and instead, take a leap and make this public, since it may be of use to people who find themselves in a similar situation as I did, that is - the choice of branching out from software development path into the project management path.

So in sharing my experience, I hope it could help and benefit others, seeing that recently I've been approached by a few engineers about switching from a technical path into a project management path, which is the path I've been exposed to - and a path, that I myself am now, again find myself at a juncture, where I'm considering about what to do next(!).

Courtesy (link)
I am by nature, what you would call a Switcher (previous company even made a "switcher video" for people who moved around the organisation). It is probably down to my wiring, my upbringing & challenges growing up, experience of reality and my internal motivations that drives this behaviour - my own biases - that kick in and call for a change of some sort.  It is a state of restlessness that can only be resolved by a change, which I now find myself in, having given myself till March 2017 to implement my next transition.

The rest of the post is set as a series of Questions & Answer session that I had recently with myself, as part of my own introspection, as I took a long walk in the park, on a beautiful winter morning, just after sunrise, and did some soul-searching...I was the only walker, so I had a verbal conversation with myself:

Why did you choose a career in Software?
Why did you switch within software engineering roles?
Would you recommend software engineers to switch domains?
Why did you leave Software Coding and switch to Project Management & not pursue a path in Software Management?
What happens to your technical skills, are they still sharp?
Do you think it mandatory to get a PM Certification?
Do you regret the choice you made into Project Management?
Do you believe you've met your aspirations from Project Management path, looking back from where you started?
Given your PM journey, do you still consider yourself a Project Manager?
Given your experience, what next lies for you in the path of Project Management Career? Where to from here?
So what is this thing called "Project Leadership" then?
Where to from Here? After Project Leadership, what's next?

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Life logging LIFE-WORK balance May update

I am continuing my experiment to find the LIFE-WORK balance that I set out earlier this year, when I created my RAGE model to track my personal & professional aspirations, goals, expectations against my current reality. We are already into June, where does the time go?! 

At the end of April, I decided re-calibrate some of the Personas, thus updating my persona rankings. Going forward from start of May, for the next three months, my focus was aimed at these, major change bumping up my coding time (which was non-existent for a many years):

Looking at the big picture summary for May, across my new top 10 personas, here's how I'm progressing:

Nothing red, but still not good enough - I should be able to do better, but where is my time being spent then??

Life-Work Balance?

So in the grand-scheme of things, if I was to take the fifty thousand foot view, and look at whether my life is balanced or not, this is what I see:

Roughly, I follow the generally accepted norm that we sleep for a third of our lives!
And the remaining time is split, almost equally between Life and Work.
And in a nutshell, it appears, at face value that my life is pretty balanced - hooray!!! Wohoo!!

But why do I feel like it's just NOT enough?!

Can I get my WORK to actually be part of my LIFE?? This is a topic for another day, however, I need to continue tracking and quantifying myself to drive the behavioural changes I need!

Lets keep going. How is my LIFE and WORK split?

Insights  - Playing with the Levers

May was not a particularly great month for me:

  • My working hours as a consultant increased, which had a direct impact on my own personal pet projects like new ideas & innovations (e.g. Personametry did not get any airtime in May)
  • I made a start with learning to code again, started with Javascript & AngularJS. Coding time ate my blogging time, although I did manage to write two blog posts in May, and my blog hours increased nicely.
  • It is clear as day, that either my day job becomes a job where I innovate on new ideas, or I have to take time away from consulting and create the space I need to just follow my passion for new ideas. I still aspire to cutting down to a 3-day work week, but it's proving challenging.
  • On the life-side, maintaining it fairly steady - although I've had trouble on the Health & Fitness stream, that has seen a decline. 
  • Figure out how much sleep I could do with - can I go with less than six hours sleep? For how long?

So it's a game of levers...I don't think all the bars will end up balancing out, but I can strive to get close to levelling a few...the experiment continues!! Which lever(s) should I pull next??

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Consulting, Star Trek Prime Directive & My Simple Rules

DISCLAIMER: This is another idea or concept that just might not work, or people might find it a bit edgy...but it's been on my mind of late, and so I needed an outlet, hence this post, likely to need a few iterations :-)

In Star Trek, there is this philosophy called the Prime Directive, where an advanced civilisation, when either coming into contact with, or observing from afar, a culture or civilisation that is less advanced, or, the culture is at an early stage of growth / innovation / expansion, the rule is one of non-interference. Interfering or exposing advanced technology (or a culture) to a somewhat less-advanced civilisation might end up causing more harm-than-good, so it's better to stay away (as a right of non-imposition / interference).

Can this concept be applied to consulting, or even your workspace in general?
Star Trek
As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Star Fleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation

My Own Prime Directive (Simple Rules)

I believe some parts of this philosophy can be applied to the subject of consulting, coaching or projects that touch on change & transformation, for example: agile-transformation, or even the reverse, going back from "wrong agile" to a structured, predictable waterfall, classic command-control-central-planning methods...the situation in my context: coming from a world of advanced software engineering into a world just starting out, without having an actual mandate for intervening on changing process & methods (even though you know there is a better way)...or in the project world, how to work with people still entrenched in methodology dogma, instead of seeing projects as a people leadership activity, run by conversations & commitments and less so on Gantt-chart-style, date-status-checker-are-you-done-yet project management...

Being a consultant, at least in my experience, you need to have one or more prime directives of your own, some simple rules to guide you along a path that not only protects you as a professional (as well as a person / individual), but more importantly protects the clients (civilisations) you encounter during your formal engagements, including adhoc interactions & connections.

You could say I've been a consultant for the last five years, even though from a job title front, it is going on for 150 weeks and counting, nearing the three year mark. Before returning to South Africa, I had worked for international companies that specialised in Software & Systems Design & Engineering. I had the privilege to work with a few great teams, engineers, managers and leaders where I learnt the arts and secrets to some fairly sound, tried-and-tested Software Development & Project Management methods, including large-scale agile frameworks (which I've written about previously). Leaving the UK I'd just come off one of the largest, and most intense projects in my career to date (read here) - it is the kind of project that essentially kick-starts your career into consulting, it was my Everest where I knew instinctively that that project was as good-as-it-gets, and the probability of experiencing another similar monumental project in my future was going to be pretty low...

So when I started with my next project going back five-years ago, the landscape of the company, the product roadmap & projects portfolio was almost a copy-and-paste of my last project but tuned down by a factor of say 20 notches or so. I saw that as an opportunity to leverage the wins (and learn from the pain-points) of my Everest project, looking forward to create something similar but evolved...

It turned out it wasn't going to be that straightforward in reality...this particular civilisation was only just starting out, so I had to be mindful of the state & maturity level (new team, new to agile, new everything) just as when our Star Trek Explorers come into contact with less advanced civilisations and need to reference the Prime Directive. And the role I played wasn't grand divisional manager, but a role limited to program delivery (leaving the technical & rest of development processes in the hands of the respective managers). Even though I had come from a world of great industry, here I was faced with the challenge of working in a world just starting out...the choices:

I could go in all gung-ho guns-blazing (I'm the professional, I'm experienced, I've got years of experience, what you're doing is so minor in comparison to my last project, just listen to me, I'm the Expert, You listen-and-follow-me, I'll fix your entire division up even if it's outside my world of Project Management, I'm a generalist, I've seen it all...), heavily & dogmatically prescribe a blue-print, cookie cutter process, and do what-it-takes to enforce (bulldoze-through) the adoption;


I could pick and choose the core concepts to focus on (in-line with the organisation's state of development i.e. similar to how a civilisation has advanced technically/socially/culturally), that would incrementally lead to the organisation's goal (deliver product), but at the same time forge the road ahead on which their teams would grow, learn, develop & empowered to own the problem-space (allowing them to make mistakes along the way).

Sunday, 1 May 2016

My RAGE life logging April update

At the start of this year (2016), I made a firm resolution to keep track of the things that matter to me, in whatever aspect of my life (which I call "Personas") [As a Husband, Father, Blogger, Professional Consultant, Friend, etc.] - when I developed a model called RAGE which stands for Reality Aspirations Goals Expectations. 

For each Persona, I interrogated each strand: What is my current reality (the situation as it stands - is it good, bad, healthy, needs work, etc.).  What are my Aspirations (where would I like to ultimately see my self as this person?). Can I set some short, medium, long-term goals? What can I expect to achieve (given the reality)?

I ended up creating a set of 22 Personas, which I ranked and prioritized toward the tail end of January. I then decided to track the time spent in each of these roles, checking against the goals that I'd set. Since February, I have logged a total of ~2,236 hours, which roughly works out to 93 days (24 hours) which is just over 3 months of data. I have religiously logged every activity related to a persona, using the popular timekeeping software from Harvest. And now that it's become a habit, I will continue to do so for the remaining 9 months, lets see how long it goes on for.

April Insights

Three months of data has now revealed some interesting insights - the month of May has called for a course correction. More of this later. Looking at April, this is how I spent my time:

In terms of the top 10 areas I spent my time in April:

And comparing the last three months, for each of the Personas, according to the rankings I set out for in the beginning of the year:

The shaded area in yellow shows the top 10 personas that emerged from my ranking exercise at the start of the year. There were some obvious red areas that has now forced me to recalibrate going forward into May...

Here is a month-by-month view of the top 10 areas:

Recalibrating Personas for the next 3-month Iteration

Given this data, it has forced me to re-assess some of the areas in my life. One of my hypotheses was that I may just be infatuated with a certain area, the proof would be that if I was really interested and committed to something, then I would make an effort to work on it. It so happens, after much reflection, I have now adjusted my personas in the following way:
  • Improving my technical skills as a coder is now more important to me than being an investor, job hunter, software professional or a potential company employee. Moved up from 7 to 13 in the rankings.
  • Whilst being an investor is an aspiration, the fact is that I don't really have tons of money to invest in, and that trading in JSE is more of an experiment in savings than a major part of my life. If I were to ask myself the question "who am I really?" I would rather identify myself more as Coder/Software/Innovator than an Investor. So Investor has moved down from 14 to 8 in the rankings.
  • Job-Hunter: This has become a background activity. It is no longer as important as it was to me in the beginning of the year. With all other things going on in my life, I am comfortable with my current situation, and therefore this persona does not need prominence in the top 10 anymore. I will still respond to head hunters and seek out potential opportunities linked to my aspirations, but it's now becoming a stealth activity. Moved down from 15 to 6.
  • Potential Company Employee - similar to job hunting, this persona should really disappear off-the list, anyway it has moved down from 12 to 2.
So I've re-calibrated my Personas, meet Persona Ranking Matrix Version 2 for the next 3 months:

Outlook going forward

With the recalibration done, the tracking history, with the new top ten looks like this:
New baseline for tracking


Since the start of the year, I've made a commitment to focus on improving the areas of my life:
  • As a Husband, I've made headway into spending quality one-one-one time with my spouse. I just need to maintain it going forward. Doing this has taken a hit on my work, but being a consultant, it has made it far more easier for me to set aside time, during the work-week. I believe that alone time is important to nurture and grow the relationship, time with the kids is seen as family time (a separate activity). I will try to continue to taking a morning off out of my work-time to focus on this.
  • As a Father, I'm spending a decent amount of time with my kids. My eldest son has most of my time these days because of his interest in becoming a Hafiz.
  • As a Muslim, it is becoming a constant background activity again. Whilst some people (Muslims) might be surprised by my openness, praying 5 times a day is kinda expected, and the norm - but in reality, it needs work. Not only this, one needs to go beyond the basics and really try living completely, it's a state of mind and heart, that is quite difficult to achieve. I am on the road, there will be uphills and downhills...since starting tracking data again, I am hitting a rate of completing one complete Quran recitation every three's a start. I try not to be dogmatic in this area, I'm no saint...being in control of emotions / anger / discipline / calmness is the ultimate aspiration (and I'm quite far away from that!).
  • As an Innovator/Entrepreneur - the going has been tough. The hours I spend focusing on this is the early hours of the morning, and weekends. Being a consultant again helps, as I can take time out from work (which means not getting paid) and focus on my ideas. I am pleased with the progress I'm making with Personametry, and have decided to focus on just one idea at a time (I have tons of them).
  • As a Technical person, software programmer or coder - I have decided to focus on this more. If I am to start up my own product, like Personametry, to save money and resources, I should just do it myself (which means learning to code in the modern web app / iOS / Android frameworks). I'm an old C/C++/MFC/Windows coder...
  • As an Individual, pursuing hobbies, health and fitness is really a weekend activity. With winter coming, I need to look at better ways of indoor training, and also complement training with other learning activities (like podcasts, etc.). I have regressed on my cycling since March (used to ride alone on the road, but recently been put off by the crime and now looking at cycle parks as the safer option)...I also need to work on cutting down the time I spend Resting/Sleeping, trying to bring it to around 6 hours of sleep every day, and need to improve my boot-up time, takes me 30-45 minutes from the point of switching the alarm off, to hitting the keyboard!!

If I were to map my 24-hour day....

The experiment's a version of how my 24-hour day could look like going forward the next three months:

What else am I up to?

Personal Kanban

This is a post for another day, just to give you an idea: Before my RAGE model, I maintained different Trello boards for the different things I was focused on. Each board had its own TODO list, which made it difficult to track. I also had one board called my "General Brain Desktop" as a dumping ground for any idea/thought that popped in my head. These boards grew over time, making it a bit I'm in the process of consolidating ALL into just one board, my Personal Kanban board. So far I've got hundreds of cards spanning all 22 Personas. I've shared this board with my wife, so she has a view into my mind-space...

Personametry Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Tracking w.r.t. Stress Monitoring

For the month of April, I've logged my heart rate diligently, daily day-in, day out. Took it to work every day, took samples before-and-after meetings. Took samples when I'm driving. Took samples when I was doing this (blogging), or playing with kids, or spending time with my wife...This experiment is about measuring my HRV and drawing relationships between HRV and Personas/Activities - and checking if I could get some readings about Stressful situations...Expect another blog post in May.

Jozi Quantified Self & Personametry Meetup Group

I went out on a limb and set up my own Meetup group for Personametry. Twelve people have already signed up for this, so I need to work on running my very first meetup soon...

Saturday, 2 April 2016

RAGE Life Logging, Iteration 2 of many, March 2016

Earlier this year I created a model called RAGE, which stands for Reality, Aspirations, Goals, Expectations - a planning model that can be used in all sorts of manner. I'm using it to track my own personal & professional development. I ended up defining just over 20 areas of my life that I need to give time to, had prioritized these "Personas" and set about some goals to achieve for each one. I try to maintain a high level of focus around the top 10 personas, monitoring the rest in between. I am two months down into my tracking, this post shares insights for March 2016.

My goal was to start measuring my time spent in these various areas - either validating or invalidating my instincts. A friend of mine recently challenged me, quite rightfully so "Mo, why are you doing all of this?? Surely you know, deep down instinctively the areas you spending time in and the ones you're not? What did you learn from this data that you didn't know before?"

That is an interesting question indeed. I wanted to measure and quantify the time I'm actually spending against what I instinctively "know" I should be doing. For me, measurement is important because data often highlights interesting insights that we wouldn't have observed, or taken time to reflect - often because of the mental and emotional biases we all have.

One outcome would be that my measurements reflect one-to-one what I always knew; on the other hand, the numbers may just show weaknesses in my own aspirations. Just as you need to measure your progress with your physical fitness / nutritional planning, why wouldn't you want to measure how, where and what you're spending your life doing? Measurement allows you to take corrective action and steer your ship in the direction you'd like. Often we live our lives, day-in, day-out, accepting the routine as a fact-of-life, robbing ourselves of the opportunity to instigate meaningful changes...for me, being able to quantify my life, is helping define the person I want to be, in the next chapter of my life. Soon I'll be in my forties, we never know what's around the corner (quite literally, two weeks back I lost a nephew in a senseless armed robbery, 32 years old - life is cheap in South Africa)...

Am I Crazy??

In my previous post, I posed the question: Am I crazy for doing this stuff? I still maintain, nope I am not, maybe a little OCD, but I am so vested in this now more than ever. Besides, I recently found a massive Quantified Self community online and across the world that are engrossed in this area of personal measurement. So I'm really not alone in this journey :-)) I am going to start my own QuantifiedSelf meetup in Johannesburg this year, in what I hope will be the first of its kind in South Africa. Just take a look at this guy, from a few years back - this guy actually logged his life over a period of 6 years! What more vindication does one need? :-))

March 2016 Insights 01-Mar to 31 Mar (756.77 hours)

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Personametry - Idea Validation

I came across this guy whilst doing my research into Personametry idea. I believe I'm on the right track, and that there's still opportunities to play in this space.

I talked about Personametry in a previous post here:

Check this out:

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Tracking progress of my RAGE plan, snapshot 1 of many

Earlier this year I created and shared my RAGE model aimed at making sense of my own personal planning, to get to a point of balancing my work/life activities. I had sliced myself into 22 different personas, and for each persona, defined my current reality, aspirations, goals and expectations to achieve in 2016 going forward. I also found a way of prioritizing and ranking these personas using my own ranking matrix. Once I had those defined, the next step was to start collect the data, do the measurements, analyse, get insights, and then make adjustments if required. Run the experiment for a few months, until I've collected enough evidence to help demystify the path I should take. 

This all started toward the end of January this year, and I'm happy to report I've diligently kept up with this experiment, and am ready to share this experience with my first progress review!

How did I manage the Time Keeping?

I use HarvestApp for time keeping. It is a simple, powerful way of keeping track of your activities. Used by people to track time spent on clients / projects / tasks, I created a personal project and added as tasks, each of the Personas/Subject pairs I split myself up as. I am using the free version which is working beautifully. So from my phone, using the app, I can very quickly switch between tasks and start the timers off. It does take some getting used, to consciously remember to log the hours - it becomes second nature after a while (my daily tracking is close to 24 hours with +- 4% error tolerance).

Recap the personas I ranked myself as split into:

This became the basis as "project tasks" in Harvest, with a bit more detail to focus on the specific subject.

Data Captured from Harvest (29-Jan-16 to 05-March-16)

From the January 29th to March 5th, I had logged a total of 873.61 hours on Harvest, with 96% accuracy, given that in this time period of 38 days (912 hours), not too bad going for the first iteration of this experiment. Here's a report generated from Harvest:
Report view generated from Harvest

Analytics (Personametrics)

Harvest comes built in with some very basic reporting, I needed to make sense of this data in different ways, like in my best tool of choice Excel(!), which Harvest caters for exporting the data straight to Excel, where you can do nice things with Pivot Tables & Charts :-)

Just focusing on the Top 10 activities that featured out of the 873.61 hours, and getting a percentage split of my time, the picture looks like this:
How I spent my time over 38 days from 29-Jan to 05-Mar 2016
So this is what I've picked up - on average....
  • I spend 8.5 hours a day working as a Service Provider to my Client (MCA) - over a third of my day is spent working
  • I spend 7.97 hours day Sleeping / Resting (which involves reading before bedtime) - another third of my 24-hour day
  • I dedicate 3.5 hours a day on Family Time (this is the collective family time like dinner/movie time, school runs, but not one-on-one time with each member of the family)
  • I practice my spirituality (prayer, Quran recitation, etc.) for just over an hour each day
  • I spend just over an hour each day related to activities with my eldest child (10 year old son)
  • I'm not doing too bad with my health & fitness goals, about 16-18 hours a month cycling or running 
Overall the breakdown over 38 days (percentage of total hours):
Row Labels Sum of Hours
[Individual] Rest n Sleep 34,647%
[Consultant] Consulting - Service Provider to MCA 24,387%
[Family-Man] Family Time 16,047%
[Muslim] Spirituality - Practice n Awareness 4,762%
[Father] Relationship with Muhammad-Jawad 4,078%
[Husband] Marital Relations - Spending time with Fathima 3,228%
[Consultant] Knowledge-Base - Books 2,577%
[Individual] Health & Fitness - Cycling n Running 2,088%
[Business Owner] AS3 Time 1,730%
[Individual] Me Time (Nothing, PC/Surfing, Silence - Alone Time) 1,640%
[Community Member] Community NBHW Patrols 1,273%
[Friend] Social Being a Friend 1,148%
[Colleague] Work Social Relationships 0,553%
[Son] Relationship with Mommy 0,481%
[Blogger] Writing articles 0,317%
[Individual] Driving Car Time 0,244%
[Consultant] Service Provider Partners 0,228%
[Home Owner] Home Improvements 0,207%
[Father] Relationship with Ahmad 0,165%
[Job Hunter] Job Hunting Companies 0,096%
[Individual] Health & Fitness - General Well Being 0,072%
[Innovator Entrepreneur] New Product Ideas 0,027%
[Father] Relationship with Sarah 0,005%
Grand Total 100,00%


Now that I've got the data, how do I measure and compare against my initial planning, in terms of the focus areas for my personas that I'd ranked in importance when I started?? What if in reality I am focusing on other areas that are not ranked in my persona top 10?? 

I've decided not to make any drastic changes to my rankings until I've allowed three months of measurement, however, I could start looking at tweaking, fine tuning the following areas:
  • I'm not spending enough quality time with my wife as I hoped (1:1 outside of the kids / family time)
  • I'm probably sleeping too much, look at getting my sleeping hours down between 6-7 hours. Aim is to hopefully reach a level of fitness that could help with me coping with 6 hours sleep.
  • I'm not getting enough time to focus on my own business AS3
  • I'm not allowing enough time to push through my ideas / new product development stream
  • I've not made any progress connecting with software / startup professionals (need to attend at least one meetup event a month)
  • I'm not evenly spreading my Father-time across the three kids, currently it's skewed towards the eldest child
  • I should probably move "Job Hunter" to a low priority now since I'm fully booked as a consultant for this year already (but I will still keep an eye out for CXO / GM / Director opportunities, or a fantastic startup venture for personametry)
  • The same with "Potential Employee" - I am happy remaining a consultant for this year, unless an opportunity as above presents itself
  • I should probably move "Investor" to low and bump up Entrepreneur, Software Professional & Programmer
Based on the original rankings set out in January, this is how I've performed:

Am I just plain old Crazy??

Maybe so, it depends on your point of reference :-) Time will tell...all I know is that I'm finding this experiment quite interesting to me personally, it is making me see things in a different light, I'm hopeful that after three months, it will help me settle on the core personas of value, leaving a lot the noise all behind...I still feel strongly that just as we can see a future for self-driving cars, I see a future where people are into personametrics to improve their self-worth, and lives around them...