Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I forgot how much I love reading the CMMI model...

I've been reading portions of the Chrissis interpretation of the CMMI-Dev model v1.2, and find the process of studying it strangely reverential. Like a good Bible study, somehow. It's been over a year since I cracked it last. I'm looking forward to the release of version 1.3 this fall with the kind of giddiness that I experienced waiting for Ice Age to hit theaters.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Checklist Manifesto

It's been a very busy year since my last post here, and I'm glad to be in a position to start blogging again. I'm focusing on professional and self-development books and resources here. One of the ways that I stay sane during my 2+ hour commute is to listen to audiobooks. I also have a deep and loving relationship with As a result, I have a backlog of good, recommended books that I've consumed over the last year, and over time I plan to go back and address a number of them.

I'm currently nearing the end of The Checklist Manifesto. Although it focuses on the medical community, there are lessons to be learned simply about how people process information, remember steps of complicated procedures, and can be gently and effectively encouraged to remember the important things with measurable positive outcomes. Gawande brings in industries other than the medical/surgical environment including airline and construction, demonstrating the same levels of successful improvement of outcomes based on having a simple checklist reminder to focus on what's important moreso than on what's loudest or comes to mind first, at crucial stages in the performance of a process.

I read this book with an eye toward how to simplify core procedures in a corporate environment, in part to achieve higher levels of process compliance (after all, I do perform internal audits), and in part to define and measure positive work outcomes. In the medical context of the book, I'd be asking not only how do we ensure that certain steps to prepare for surgery are performed consistently, but how do we measure that the outcome of surgery is improved by performing those steps. In my context, how can we ensure that we achieve process compliance, and also how do we correlate process compliance with improved project outcomes -- customer satisfaction, on-time delivery of work products, reduction in defects identified in testing, etc.

The lesson is apparently universal. People respond well to simple lists of reminders that are clear and well thought out. If the items on the checklist are well-selected, the simple act of focusing ones mind on them at critical moments can have a profound positive impact on both compliance and outcomes.

Conclusion: Recommended reading for medical and other industry process improvement.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rereading Loving What Is

Four years ago, I ordered a copy of Loving What Is from Amazon. It sat with a couple of other self-helpy, get-sane-quick books on my desk for some time when I was struggling worst with my job, my life, my marriage, my parenting. When I think back on it, there was rarely a moment that I was happy that wasn't all about the oxytocin rush of holding my son. I could hold him and smell his little baby boy smell, and I could even just imagine holding him and sniffing his little head, and I would get this amazing flood of well-being. The rest of the time, I just wanted to wish hours and days off of my life so that I could get to a part of it that didn't hurt as much. I remember thinking that it's like solving a Rubik's Cube -- sometimes, you just are in an arrangement that can't be solved, and you have to keep moving the pieces randomly until you get to a solvable configuration. And so it was with life. At work, I thought I couldn't possibly win or get anything meaningful done; at home, I thought more of the same. And I kept trusting that eventually, life would become solveable, and took it as my task to just survive until I saw the pattern that I could fix.

Things are so much better than they were then. Looking back, I blame probable post-partum depression, I blame sleep deprivation, and I blame myself for not asking for the help that I needed. I'm sad, perhaps, that others didn't recognize in me what I had no idea to watch for or how to recognize, no matter how obvious it is with 20/20 hindsight. But I feel strong and capable and hopeful now -- I feel like I've got the pattern figured out, and now I'm just slowly and methodically working my way through the puzzle, fixing things as I get to them, trusting that I can work with each pattern as it comes up to a successful resolution.

And I'm glad for the books that I read, mindlessly, non-absorbant as I was at the time, because even if I couldn't use those tools then, they distracted me for a time, and became part of the toolkit that I have today.

I picked Loving What Is, a book describing The Work of Byron Katie, off my bookshelf the other day, and am looking forward to the refresher course in breaking free from encrusted ways of thinking and checking out the possibility that if the perception of a problem is causing you pain, maybe it's not the problem, but the way you're perceiving that's the source of that pain.

As a doctor of mine once said, "Pain is your emotional response to a physical stimulus." There is no requirement to feel pain in response to a skinned knee or a jilted prom date or a broken heart or a frustrating job. The eyes we use to see sometimes determine what we end up seeing, and the eyes are equal partners to the vision.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Story, part 3: The value of a traditional job.

My family is opinionated. Let's hear that one again. OPINIONATED. And not afraid to tell you about it. This information will be important later.

So there I am, no job, not quite sure what to do with myself, knocking around and finding bits of piecemeal work, enough to pay the bills, keep the lights on, buy cheap things to put in the $30 crock pot that turns all manner of cheap things into something resembling food. I found that I was pretty happy in this arrangement. I began to fantasize about maintaining this kind of lifestyle, what it might take to market myself as a consultant. Get my own insurance. Go it alone.

As a single woman, living in a house that needed maintenance and repairs, making mortgage payments, it felt risky, but in a "wheee!" kind of way. Like getting on a rollercoaster. I knew I had the skills, that I would be able to find the work. I just needed some help making the connections.

I shared this thought with my family. See above. It wasn't pretty. Apparently, to my complete amazement, the long-term relationship between employer and employee was covered on a day that I was out with strep in my childhood, because I missed that lesson. On the other hand, there was a fairly strong sentiment coming from the general direction of my childhood home that it was absolutely going to be the downfall of society that people were no longer thinking of themselves as employees. That we wanted to choose our work, direct our own careers, think of even our employers as customers, and not tie ourselves to desks for 40-60 hours a week on the vestigial hope that our loyalty would make them loyal to us in return. As I'd so recently so clearly seen, no amount of love and loyalty buys you corporate safety. Being honest about it and making the transactionary nature of employment more visible seemed like the next logical step to me.

I flashed back to my childhood, recalling hearing my stepmom occasionally bark "Oh, Rebecca, you're such an iconoclast" at my retreating back after some teenaged snit. But the time that she made me write the definition of Integrity on posterboard and hang it in my room also came back to me. And to me, integrity strongly smelled of freedom.

I made some contacts, and got some short-term jobs. One recruiter made a contact for me with a company making a very interesting medical device, and it needed documentation. I met with the client, we came to an agreement about my terms, I began work. Truth is, I can't recall how it happened exactly, but one day they requested to convert me to a full-time employee. For the first time since my revelation about having my freedom as a consultant, I took a job, this time with my eyes wide open. I consciously traded 40+ hours a week for the safety of a regular paycheck. I knew it every minute that I was at work, all the moreso because they had so very little for me to do. They didn't really want documentation, and they really didn't want training materials. My guess is that they wanted to be able to say that they had a writer on staff, but the system didn't require documentation. Dozens and dozens of users telling me the contrary didn't make a difference -- it's what they wanted to claim. And I helped, by being there, on staff, 40 hours a week, doing almost nothing. When they finally came to their senses after some months and let me go, it was like stepping out of a huge tub of boiling water. MAN it felt so good when it stopped.

Part 4: Conscious Employment.

Sleeping dragons lie.

I thought this would be a fun blog, and then abruptly I felt like I had nothing useful on the topic to say. I realize now that it's been over a year, and it's time to get back on the dragon, as it were.

I find that my life goes in cycles where I am drawn to self-development material, and other cycles where I can't imagine why I ever would have read such a book, thought such a thought, taken such a class. I'm in a 'drawn in' phase.

For the last two years or more, I've had a long commute, and discovered the joys of audio books to make the time that I resented so much for being wasted in my car more useful to me. In two years, I've listened to thirty to forty audio books, ranging from fiction to history to business, and indeed to self-development. I barely use my ipod for anything but audio books and podcasts, but heaven help me if I get in the car without it.

Yesterday, I downloaded Five Wishes by Gay Hendricks from, and I've nearly finished it in a single day. The premise is simple: On your deathbed, what are the five things that you would say caused your life to be a failure, if you continued on your current trajectory? VOILA! You still have time to correct them, and knowing that THE SUCCESS OF YOUR LIFE is on the line, well, hop on it!

Hendricks then goes through the story of the five that he picked, and how he has changed his life in these areas over the subsequent 30 years. I am secretly annoyed that the ones that I instinctively go to match his at an 80% rate. But I digress.

I find myself aware both of the ways that my life falls short of the mark that I'd like to reach, and the ways that I am surprisingly on track. Having reached the age that my mother was when she died sometime last summer, I have a profound sense that I'm living on borrowed time, and that if I actually get to live all the years that she didn't, I'd better live them well for both of us. In a very clear, short, succinct way, this book provides an interesting structure for figuring out how exactly to do that.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Lost my mind and got a website.

It's not up yet, but it's under active construction now. I got a domain name -- it was my first impulse domain name, actually -- to structure the information I'm collecting based on the kind of thinking I've been doing here. My list of links is huge; my stack of books is staggering. It's time to make some sense of all of it.

The book that hit me the hardest recently is this one, and I can't recommend it enough: Crucial Conversations. About how to handle conversations with "high stakes," where emotions run strong and people have a natural inclination to withdraw or overpower, it gives guidance on how to stay present and keep the other person present in a cooperative spirit based on maintaining sight of a mutual goal, not just "winning." It is without a doubt the most important book I've read all year, and possibly ever in this category.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Enthralled by Covey and Maria Montessori

Just tossing up a note to say that I'm in the midst of a Steven Covey read-a-thon. I've listened to 7 Habits in the car while reading 7 Habits/Family, and pre-reading 7 Habits/Teens before giving it to my stepson.

Simultaneously, I've been reading some of Maria Montessori's books about her teaching method. I'm shocked by how similar some of the basic concepts are.