About the Biz

Retention starts with Why

Create and Keep

We now have a couple of groups that have passed the one month period of using their scorecards.  With our current sample size, 86% of our participants have stuck with the experiment after five weeks.  This data is certainly skewed because some of the retention is clearly because of personal relationships with the participants.  This data will become much more relevant when we move to our open beta and those relationships are not as close.  Looking at how people are using our framework, it is critical to think through why some people are sticking with it and some aren’t.

How do we understand more about retention?  When you are trying to start a movement or launch a product there are always two sides of the movement momentum coin.  The first is generating excitement to get people to join up.  When launching product this excitement generation can be economically quantified into the metric customer acquisition cost or CAC.  CFOs spend a large majority of their time calculating this metric and even more time talking about it to anyone who will listen.  And it is important.  If your CAC is not a small fraction of your customer lifetime value, your long term biz prospects are going to be grim.  This is one of the reasons why business execs won’t shut up about their CACs.

The other side of the coin is customer retention.  In my experience, far too little time is spent on retention.  Peter Drucker once said, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”  We spend a ton of time on the first part but rarely do we spend enough on the second.  When we talk about retention, product quality and customer service are the first two obvious factors.  If either of these suck, the good news is that you will have plenty of time on your hands to watch your customers floating over to a better option.  Quality product and customer service are a bare minimum, you’re not even in the conversation without them.  Those two factors alone don’t start a movement.

The power of why

Movements are started by taking a stand.  Wanting to help people is not enough.  No matter how well intentioned that goal is, almost all products and movements claim they want to help people.  You gotta know why.  Let’s look at a couple of fairly recent examples.  The first is the open source movement.  The stance behind the open source movement is that fundamental knowledge and technology should be free to the world.  A group of engineers and academics got together and built huge libraries of work on their own time because they felt that proprietary software was unethical and unjust.  Another example is net neutrality.  Net neutrality believes that all data on the Internet must be treated the same.  Internet service providers cannot discriminate or charge different types of data differently.  Both of these movements have completely changed how technology is developed and consumed by our world.

There are tons of examples of movements started by companies as well.  None of that happens without the why.  The why is what allows people to connect emotionally with the movement.  If you think about Apple, they have always been the computing company that is bringing the power back to the masses.  This is obvious in looking at their original Super Bowl ad that mimicked ‘1984’.  Apple users are the righteous outsiders, the creative, the free spirits, the cool ones.  People love to identify with that.  Nike is another good example.  ‘Just do it’ has been inspiring athletes for years.  A huge part of that identity is aspirational, when we think of these brands we think of a better version of ourselves.  This keeps people coming back.

What is our why?

What is our why?  Let’s start with a theory.  Our capitalist society has created a culture of victimhood.  Why?  Because victims are susceptible to marketing.  Being susceptible to marketing means that you are going to buy more.  We’ve trained folks that all the answers to your problems can be found by spending money.  Not by doing.  By buying.  It is insanely unethical that we allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise their drugs directly to consumers.  The drug pushers list a host of generic symptoms that 80% of the populace can identify with, then convince themselves they have.  This creates more victims.  The drug companies then tell them to ‘ask their doctor’ which creates a crazy burden on healthcare professionals who should be prescribing based on their diagnoses not by some unethical outside marketing effort.  That’s madness.

As another example, take academia.  Political correctness, while a noble idea at first, has gone completely off the rails.  Academia has created ‘safe spaces’ where students will never be exposed to ideas that threaten their delicate sensibilities.  They’re treating our students like victims.  You don’t grow as a person when you’re not allowed to leave the echo chamber.  The right has Fox News, the left has liberal academia.  The only way we are ever going to get back to a world of civil discourse is if both sides listen to what each has to say with some iota of empathy and humility.  These academic crooks that are creating victims by creating ‘safe spaces’ are also creating victims by continuing to raise tuitions to astronomical levels while hiding their money in off-shore accounts.  These scumbags are not too far from Trump University when it comes to contempt for their students.  Yet 90% of our children grin and bear it because of the nature of victims to accept the status quo.

Finally, let’s talk about Facebook.  Facebook is the echo chamber.  They make almost all of their money on marketing, so they want you as defenseless as possible.  Look how easy it was for Russia to manipulate the US election.  That doesn’t happen when people’s guards are up.  Facebook has lowered our discourse to the lowest common denominator.  There’s plenty of humor on Facebook but very little substance.  Very rarely do you see big ideas on social media.  Your status on Facebook is directly proportional to how curated your conversational style is.  If you see someone saying something that you don’t agree with, do you engage them and try to understand?  No, you either violently spit out your counter talking points or you unfriend them.  Almost all major innovation and breakthroughs come from passionate disagreement, not from apathetic echo chambers.  To grow we need to challenge and be challenged.  We need to feel uncomfortable.  Facebook is the opposite of that.

Here’s our why: we want to destroy the victimhood of America and the Western world.  This is not an easy message.  Being a victim means that you can give up responsibility for your current situation.  That’s a hard safety net to get rid of.  Dropping the victim mindset starts with acknowledging that you are where you are today because of the choices that you made and for no other reason.

There are a ton of other factors that contribute to retention.  We may cover more of these in a future post.  But if you’re trying to start a movement, it has to start with why.

About the Biz, Methodologies

Personal Development in only 3 minutes?

Gamifying the Experience

We’ve done several sessions of the full, mediated personal development plan.  The most common feedback question that comes back: this is great when it is moderated, but how can you ever turn this into software?  Will you use videos?  Will you just sell it to life coaches?  How will you introduce this to the average Joe or Jan on the street?

In one of my previous lives, I built a company where we developed video games.  We were always planning on making gamification a big part of driving personal development.  The original idea was that gamification would come in as an afterthought, as icing on an already tasty cake.  The more feedback we get, the more it feels like the entire system should be structured like a game from the get go.  The newbie level will be an introduction to the concepts and we will gradually unlock all the different pieces of know thyself and ultimately the entire development plan.  Yes, there may be videos along the way but everything will be introduced in very bite sized pieces.

The 3 Minute Rule

As I was explaining the idea of the Odyssey to one of my closest friends, whom I started the video game company with and who stayed in the industry, he brought up the 3 minute rule.  A lot of the titles that he publishes these days are mobile titles.  One of the golden rules for a mobile game is that you have to be able to have a satisfying experience in 3 minutes or less.  This means that you can play a round while on the subway or on the can.  It has to be an encounter that can give you a sense of accomplishment in that time frame.

Turns out the 3-minute rule has applications in a ton of other scenarios.  We all know that the average pop song is around three minutes.  The Beastie Boys actually had a song called the 3-minute rule, not that I would ever dare to categorize the Beastie Boys as pop.  Billy Joel also lamented the restriction in the Entertainer – “it was a beautiful song / but it ran too long / if you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit / So they cut it down to 3:05.”

The 3 minute rule is also used in auctions and nautical measures.  Another interesting case is a philosophy that a venture firm proposed in the Harvard Business review about understanding your customers.  They found that you can learn a ton about them by asking them what they were doing three minutes before using your product and three minutes after.   These three minute chunks place the customer in context to see why they start using your product in the first place.  Similarly, the three minute chunk after they use your product gives you a sense of what they are doing with the outputs you provide, how you fit into the greater workflow.

The moral of the story seems to be that the human mind identifies three minutes as a minimal amount of time to get something necessary, like an errand, done.  I did some research on this to see if there is an evolutionary reason for the time period but failed to turn anything up.  If you have seen any research about this segment of time, please let us know in the comments.

Making Each Step Fun

The other rule that we want to pull from gaming is that it should be fun at every level of progression.  RTS(real time strategy) games were brilliant at this.  The early game was all about establishing a base, the mid game was about exploration and advancement while the end game was typically about destruction of the enemy.  Another good example of this is the game Rim World.  Although it sounds like some dirty space fantasy, it is actually a brilliant strategy game.  I don’t know anybody who plays it the same way.  My wife loves the early game of setting up the colony, where I love the end game.  My girls seem to enjoy the expansion that happens in the middle.  The point is that one game allows us all to enjoy it for different reasons.  This is what we want to bring to the Odyssey.

The Internet Quiz

Internet QuizSo how do we implement the 3 minute rule in personal development?  The first obvious way to do this is the internet quiz.  Half of the Know Thyself elements that we use are built around taking personality or character strength multiple choice quizzes that define some primary attribute(s) about yourself.  Buzzfeed made the internet quiz a staple over the last ten years so familiarity with the approach will not be a problem.

The next step is providing an enjoyable entry level experience.  This will start with narrowing the problem space.  Can we pick a couple of problems that are very common in the current zeitgeist and build a ‘make-your-own-adventure’ decision tree that will allow our users to address very real problems in bite sized chunks?  We hope so.

Finally, we need to build the entry level functionality with an eye towards the mid and end game.  Each step needs to be fun and each step needs to bring our users a step forward in their personal development.  Most of this will be presented by unlocking new functionality each step of the way until our users are working off of a full personal development scorecard.  Many of these ideas have been story-boarded and wire-framed.  Our next step will be getting some early user feedback.  Stay tuned!


Building the personal development plan 4

Building the Scorecard

This should be our last installment of building out the personal development plan.  In our last blog we ended up with the outline of a scorecard that looked like this:


To finish out our plan we have to fall back on the idea of SMART goals.  SMART goals have been brought up quite a bit in these blogs but, as a reminder, SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time sensitive.  When building out our CFOs and big rocks we spent a lot of time talking about specificity and relevance.  In this final section we will dive into attainability, time sensitivity and measurability.

Time Sensitivity and Attainability

Nothing spurs urgency like a deadline.  Think about those papers you had to write in school or those times you had to get something done by end of day for a client.  Something magical happens when the urgency lever is pulled.  There is typically a little fear involved but it is productive fear.  That productive fear forces us to focus.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish with purpose and focus.

It’s difficult to hold ourselves accountable for personal growth so we have to employ some tricks to convince our lizard brain that these goals are fight or flight worthy.  This starts with building out deadlines that we have to commit to.  These are goals that we have determined to be big rocks, some of the most important things we want to change in our lives.  That should be worth building some urgency around.

The first thing we need to remember about big rocks is that we are working at the one month goal level.  All big rocks should be accomplished within 30 days.  When we set the deadlines for our big rocks, our end date has to be less than 30 days away.  We also want to have a start date for our big rocks so that we draw out any dependencies between rocks.  If one of our rocks is dependent on another being completed, we need to know how and when those dependencies will work out.


In the example above, all start and end dates have been filled in.  The size column is a t-shirt size estimate of how big we think the big rock is going to be to accomplish.  This is a very loose estimate.  The reason we ask ourselves to estimate is to take a first stab at quantifying how much work this actually is.  This is where we need to pull out the realism glasses and really look if these rocks are attainable within the next 30 days.

If you have a bunch of XLs and larges, your chance of completing these rocks is probably pretty small.  The rule of thumb here is that if you have more than one or two larges, you should probably attempt to slice your rocks into smaller, attainable chunks.  Remember that you will have two more months to complete your three month critical few objectives (CFOs) so you do not need to get all of this done in the first month.

While setting goals, it is always good to reach but they have to be attainable.  If you reach too far, if you get to the finish date and have none of your goals completed, what do you think is going to happen?  Exactly.  You’re going to throw the whole scorecard away as another failed tool.  We want this process to be aspirational but not a pipe dream.  If you pick the right rocks, the results will inspire.  If you chase something that’s not attainable, you’re gonna have a bad time.


“What gets measured gets improved.” – Peter Drucker

Measurement is the secret sauce to the whole system.  To explain why, let’s first talk about a subject near and dear to my heart, quantum physics.  One of the foundations of quantum mechanics is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  The principle states that there is a fundamental limit to what one can know about a quantum system.  That’s not the interesting part though.  The interesting part is the thought experiment that goes with the Uncertainty Principle.  Ignoring the wave/particle duality of light for a moment, Heisenberg asked us to think about photographing an electron to determine its position.  If we try to photograph an electron, we have to hit it with at least one photon, or light particle.  When we hit it with the photon, we will be imparting energy to that electron causing it to move.  So the very act of measuring the particle’s position changes its position.  Hence the uncertainty.  Another way of saying this:  the act of measurement drives change.  This isn’t some old wives tale or management principle, it’s physics baby.

On a fundamental level, we know measurement drives change.  If you want to lose weight, what do you think would work better?  You do your best to eat better and get exercise when you can, then get on the scale every day and see the results, OR you sign up for Lose It! and measure every calorie you eat and calculate every calorie you burn, then get on the scale?  You got it.  The very act of measuring every calorie you take in changes your interaction with food!  You know, if you’re being honest with yourself, that you will have to enter that 750 calorie bowl of ice cream in to your food log for the day.  Is that really worth it?  You may decide that it is, but now it is a conscious choice that has a discrete cost rather than something that you kind of know is a bad idea.  That changes the whole system.

So that’s what you’re looking for when you are building metrics.  You are looking for measurements that will change your interaction with the system.  This is not always easy and will probably require a little iteration to get right.  One of the questions that is always worth asking when building your metrics is: will this measurement change our behavior in the direction we want to change?


Now it will also turn out that a lot of your big rocks may just end up being tasks, simple to dos.  That’s fine.  To dos are a big part of this but the big rocks that require measurement are typically the ones that will drive the most change.  You need a strong combination of both types of rocks when you are building out the scorecard to make progress on your three month critical few objectives.

Once we set our metric, we need to set our goal for that metric for the week.  If our goal is to lose five pounds in a month we know that we need to lose a little over a pound a week to hit that, not plan on losing all five in the last week.  That is what the OBJ column is for, weekly objective.

We now have our scorecard!  In our next process blog we will discuss how we manage the scorecard on a weekly basis.

About the Biz

The horrors of context switching

We’re all busy.  Being busy is fun.  It sure beats being bored.  But being busy can be very counterproductive if we are constantly flitting from task to task like a hummingbird on Red Bull.  While starting The Odyssey I have been working on starting another business and doing some consulting on the side.  This has put me in a state of regular context switching.  Context switching sucks.

When we’re context switching it becomes very difficult to find a state of flow.  When we can never get in the ‘zone’, working on things like our big rocks becomes almost impossible.  One of the best ways to avoid the costs of context switching is to be aware of them.  With that in mind, I dug up an old blog that I wrote about the perils of context switching and pasted it below.  It dives a little into agile development which isn’t super relevant to personal development but the costs associated with multi-tasking are relevant to everybody.  Enjoy!

Context Switching

Context switching is the bane of productivity. For those of you not familiar with the term: context switching is when one is forced to switch from one topic or work item to the next. This is also known as multi-tasking. Sadly, too many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers. This is nonsense. Nobody is an excellent multi-tasker.

The brain is single threaded. We are not processors that can be running two tasks in parallel. We don’t have the internal CPU for such a job. Every time we switch tasks, we have to rebuild our mental architecture. We have to tear down the thought processes for our current task and replace them with the thought processes for the new task. This takes time when we are working in a vacuum. But when’s the last time you worked in a vacuum? Think about how much more time this takes when we are getting interrupted on a regular basis.

This is the famous chart that Gerry Weinberg put together to illustrate the waste caused by context switching.

If the numbers aren’t working for you in the first chart, that is because several assumptions are being made. The chart below explains those assumptions in a little more detail.

If you don’t find these graphs shocking, you’re not reading them right. If you are working on two projects at one time, then you are losing a full 20% of your productivity. If you are working on 5? 75% of your productivity goes straight in the shitter. To say that another way, when you are working five projects, each project gets 1/20th of your time. Rebuilding your mental architecture each time gets 3/4ths of your time.

That doesn’t apply to me, I’m a great multi-tasker

Oh yeah? If you are such a good multi-tasker do these two simple tasks for me: recite the lyrics of your favorite song and calculate the square root of 2,116. The hitch? You have to do these two tasks at the same time. Start the lyrics now and do not pause. Before you finish those lyrics, come up with the answer to the math problem.

In my personal experiments, one of two things happen here. The person gives up OR they come up with the right answer to the math problem but keep losing their place in the song. Humans are NOT capable of multi-tasking. Unless you are a cyborg or have figured out how to split your brain, please stop claiming that you are a good multi-tasker. My crappy personal experimentation aside, the science is in. You can start here for more info:

There is always some wise-ass at this point that asks the question: if that is true how can I drive and hold a conversation? OR, how can I chew gum and walk at the same time. The answer: habits don’t count. The things that you have done so many times where your lizard brain takes over and the action gets moved to auto pilot don’t rely on higher level thought. We are only talking about those tasks that take higher level thought. Which, hopefully, is most of the tasks you do every day at work.

Interesting sidebar edit: It took me an hour and a half to write 80% of this column. I received a phone call when I was almost done writing that I had to take. It took me another hour and a half to write the final 20%. Context switching in action.

So what do we do about this loss of productivity?

One of my old bosses had a great philosophy: you want to move faster? Do less at one time. This is another way of stating the old maxim that less is more.

Let’s get specific and address one of two primary issues where context switching is a huge killer: software development. We’ll cover the other productivity killing issue, meetings, in the next post.

Cut your WIP (work in progress) ASAP

This is where the less is more rubber hits the road. When it comes to agile, one of the questions we need to be asking ourselves all the time is how much we can cut our work in progress. This questioning is where Kanban can be incredibly effective. Kanban translates to ‘visual signal’ and was pioneered on the floors of Toyota plants back in the fifties. Most people will use Kanban to give the team and folks outside of the team insight on the progress of work. Boards like the one below can be seen in almost every agile shop out there:

Unfortunately, for most teams, that’s where the utilization of Kanban ends. This is a shame. If you end with just the visual representation of the work moving from stage to stage you are missing out on the critical improvements that Kanban can offer you and your team. As you dive deeper you realize that much of the benefit of Kanban comes from identifying and eliminating bottlenecks.

One of the ways to tell if you have bottlenecks is to identify where most of your cards are backing up on your Kanban board. If most of your cards are in your backlog (to do) or sitting in Done, this isn’t much of a problem for your team. If however, most of your cards end up sitting in develop or test for most of the sprint right up until the last day: you’ve got WIP problems.

WIP problems typically fall into two categories: context switching and process problems. These categories have a ton of overlap, so we’ll talk about both together.

Set fixed limits for WIP

In a previous life, one of the teams I worked with had six devs, three QA and a product owner. Our rule for this group was the team could only have six WIP cards that were between the backlog and the done swim lanes.

The reaction to this early on was unexpected. The developers complained that they would be sitting on their hands a lot waiting. Granted, there was some hand sitting but not nearly as much as you would think. Instead, the team gelled better than ever before. A lot of agile teams pay lip service to the idea that no matter the task, the whole team pitches in to move product through the pipeline. So dev will help with QA, QA will help with requirements definition, etc. The sad reality is that these teams almost always get siloed. Developers just work on dev and QA just works on quality.

What happened with our team after instituting very strict WIP limits is that the devs got a lot more involved with the QA process and helped test other developer’s stories. In doing that testing, they gained a much better understanding of how QA was writing test cases. Most QA folks can’t code so QA didn’t implement any stories but the QA team got much more involved in the definition of these stories. Our devs also learned how valuable a good unit test is.

In the end, the numbers told the final story. That team went from an average push rate (work items being pushed at the end of a sprint) of 17% to under 5%. And their overall velocity increased by 10%. What we found was that keeping the whole team focused on a small number of items at one time caused us to move a lot faster. Less is more when you limit context switching.

You will need to play around with what your WIP limits are but err on the side of less work items at first. Even though it may feel like some people are sitting around waiting to work, people generally like to work. Chances are, you will find them helping out with other jobs and understanding the process as a whole a lot better. You will also quickly identify your bottlenecks. For us, the bottleneck was QA. Having developers finish more stories was only backing up the QA machine in the production line. Having dev help out with QA made everyone faster.

Segregate the issues coming in from the field

Another issue that can completely destroy your team’s productivity is adding work items to the sprint after the sprint has started. This is agile 101. Most of you know this and know that most product owners would never dare to add a new work item mid sprint. But what happens when a defect comes in from the field? This issue turns out to be bad enough that the customer is genuinely pissed off and now you have your CEO breathing down your neck.

The most effective way I’ve found to deal with this issue is to build a dev support team. We had a rotating dev support team that was made up of one developer with another on back up. The person on the dev support team was only on that team for two sprints at a time. Then they would move to the backup position. When they were the primary support dev, their only job was to handle issues coming in from the field. When there were no issues coming in from the field, they would fix defects. They were never assigned story work.

This is another great anti-silo approach. This forces all of your developers to become familiar with the entire codebase. It also shows you as a leader, how your different devs react to stress.

What if I’m on a custom software team?

If you’re building custom software for clients, context switching comes with the territory. It can be managed but not eliminated. The most effective custom or outsource teams that I have worked with manage this in a couple of ways. First, they budget for the context switching costs. Most of these teams have been doing this long enough that they understand the impact of context switching WAY better than product development teams so they incorporate it into their estimates. They also mitigate some of the risk by trying to keep their resources on one project and only one project as long as they can. When that is not a possibility, the best outsource teams that I have worked with try to limit their resources to working on only one project per day. It’s easier to rebuild that mental architecture if you only have to do it once per day.


None of us can multi-task effectively which is why context switching is such a killer. Acknowledging that multi-tasking is the problem is the first step in the healing process. The more you can eliminate context switching from your life and the lives of your team, the more productive you will be. This is part one of the context switching topic wherein we covered the mechanics of context switching in the agile product cycle. In the next post we will cover the other big context switching time thief, meetings.


Building the personal development plan 3

Personal Development Big Rocks

In our last discussion on building a plan, we finished with our three month vision.  Here was the example we were using from our last post.


This was built from a combination of our critical few objectives and our overall three month time boxed aspiration to understand who we are.  In the next steps of building our scorecard, we build out the specifics of how we will realize this vision.  This starts with our big rocks.

Big Rocks

I first heard the term big rocks from Dr. Stephen R. Covey as one of the anecdotes he references in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  In case you haven’t read the book, or it’s been a while, I’ll sum up the idea here.  Covey asks us to think about our time as a mason jar that slowly gets filled up with all the things that we need to do.  All of the big important things we need to do are represented by big rocks.  We can think of all of the urgent things that come up throughout the day that we have to take care of as smaller rocks or gravel.  Finally, we can think of all the little things that we have to take care of as sand.  The sand items are things like email, text messages, interruptions, Facebook, etc.


Covey posits that the most effective people are those that focus on the big rocks first.  Back to the mason jar analogy, if we put the big rocks in the mason jar first, then we still have room for the urgent stuff (the small rocks) and the not so urgent (the sand).   The point of the analogy is that most people don’t work like this.  Most people tend to focus on the urgent which is not necessarily the important.  If you start filling your mason jar with the gravel and the sand, there’s no room for the big rocks.  When you are focusing on the urgent, those big important things never get done.  These are the big ticket items, the goals that, if completed, could have a big impact on your life.  Big rocks are the tools that allow us to work smarter rather than working harder.  These are the targets that drive purpose, rather than just pass time.

As I explained this analogy to one of the groups I was working with, one of the Sand-People.jpgparticipants claimed that he was nothing but a sand person.  Without missing a beat, one of the other participants said, “the sand people are easily startled, but they will soon be back, and in greater numbers.”  Star Wars hilarity aside, there are some lessons here.  This particular participant is one of the best educated people I have ever met, having both a Ph.D. and a law degree.  He claimed that as a patent attorney, his entire work existence was driven by sand and small rocks, by the urgent.  For him, he feels like it is just one case after another.  He wasn’t alone.  My wife is a doctor and she has felt the same way.  While she is at work, seeing patients, it is all about the urgent.  One patient after another, it becomes difficult to focus on the big stuff.

This is true with a lot of professionals, especially those professionals where he/she is the product.  The services they provide drive the business.  One of the sad realities of the schooling that professionals receive is that it is so specialized.  My wife spent four years in medical school and another three in residency and never once had a single class or lesson on business.  When she opened her practice, she felt constantly overwhelmed.  She had to see 12 to 15 patients a day as a family doc and try to run a business on top of that.  So where can big rocks possibly fit in with all of that urgency?  The answer for her was nowhere.  After about five years of this urgency, like a lot of professionals and certainly like a lot of family docs, she wanted to quit.  She loved the patients and the medicine but hated the system that forced her to practice medicine like a drive through attendant.  She was becoming bitter and that bitterness was making her unhealthy.

It took a couple of years of further unhappiness before she finally was forced into realizing that she would need to make some big changes.  She could either quit and do something else or she could focus on the business and become a business owner and not just the product.  After years as a sand person, she came to a tipping point where the big rock decisions she had to make were forced on her.  After going through that pain, she now splits her time between being a business owner and being a provider.  When she’s a business owner, she is allowed to work on the big rocks that allows her practice to work smarter.  When she’s a provider and back in the sand, things are running far better because the business invested in efficiency.  The sand doesn’t seem nearly as suffocating.

The moral of the story is that the big important stuff has to get done one way or another.  You can either wait until there is an emergency or you can be proactive and enjoy the journey.  If you look with the attitude of – let’s catch this before it turns into a fire drill – you will find that there is always time for the big things that drive improvement.  Big rocks create opportunity.  Sometimes that opportunity comes in the form of efficiency.  Efficiency creates time.  Sometimes big rocks create happiness, sometimes they create better relationships and sometimes they create mastery.  Regardless of the big rocks that you choose, they are going to affect change that will impact your life for the better.  The only mistake we can make when focusing on big rocks is not spending time on them.

Big Rock Process

Back to the process.  Once we have our critical few objectives, we need to figure out what we can do in the short term to accomplish our three month critical few objectives.  When we build out our big rocks we are now working at the one month level.  These big rocks are the important things that you can get done in the next thirty days that will move your three month objective forward.

Each big rock needs to fit the SMART goal definition.  This means that it needs to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results oriented and Time boxed.  When setting goals, most people go wrong at this stage.  The two big mistakes I see all the time is that folks will either try to boil the ocean and go waaaay too big or they pick something that is too ambiguous, where you can’t tell if you’ve succeeded or not.

Here is an example of some big rocks built for the vision above:


It’s ok to lean on the obstacle and plans from the WOOP step as a reminder of what you are nervous about in hitting your targets.  The obstacle and plan become far more important in our next step however, when building out our metrics.

Now that we have our big rocks filled out, we are making some serious progress on the end scorecard.  Here’s how the scorecard is starting to look:


In our next process post we will discuss how we are going to measure for success and how we set our time boxes on each big rock.


Building the personal development plan 2

The personal development plan

When we last wrote about building the personal development plan, we ended with building out the four skills and passions that we wanted to focus on over the next three months.  These skills recognized the character strengths necessary to improve or create these skillsets.

The finale of that step looked something like this:


When building these skills out with some of the groups we’ve worked with, the number one piece of feedback we received was that it is difficult to come up with skills and passions that you want to improve when they are not related to problems being faced in the day to day.  Utilizing that feedback, our next sessions will prime the pump before we start deciding on skills.  We will do this by asking our users to first think of those things in the last couple of months where they fell short on something, they felt scared, or they were disappointed in their own performance.  We will be asking them to do this in all four life categories of Work, Health, Play and Love.  Once these issues have been identified we will then ask our users to build out the skills and passions that would have changed these outcomes for the better.


Once the skills and passions have been identified, we then move on to how we are going to act on them.  In a previous post we discussed the benefits of WOOP.  This is a great tool for crystallizing goals.  Once we have identified the problem space and the skills and strengths necessary to overcome those problems, we focus on specifics.  This is where WOOP becomes the go to tool.

The first step of WOOP is the Wish element.  We spend a couple minutes thinking about the most important goal we wish to accomplish in the next three months related to the particular skill or problem set.  Once we have this written down, we focus on outcome.  Outcome forces us to ask: if your wish were fulfilled, what would be the best possible outcome?  How would that outcome make you feel?

Some of ours users struggled with understanding the difference between wish and outcome.  Most of our test group seemed to think it was the same thing.  The difference between the two steps is that the wish is defining what you want to accomplish and the outcome is taking the step of visualizing the positive outcome.  Most of our users believed that they were doing that anyway in the wish step so felt the outcome step was redundant.  To each their own.  We are going to keep both steps because we believe that reinforcing the visualization of success is really powerful.  Not all users will do that in the wish step and we want to make sure that we explicitly call this out.

Once the Wish and the outcome steps have taken place, we end up with something like this:


In the next step we explore our obstacles.  This is where we spend some time trying to understand what is going to prevent us from hitting our goal.  The trick is to be specific.  There are a lot of obstacles that we don’t have any control over.  So we need to hone our focus by asking: what is your main inner obstacle?  What within you is holding you back from accomplishing this wish?  This is a critical step in pulling ourselves out of the victim mindset.  In this step, we are acknowledging that our biggest challenges come from within.

Once we identify the obstacle, we work on the plan.  This is a traditional If..then statement.  If we hit this obstacle then we take this action.  The question we ask: what can you do to overcome this obstacle?  What action can you take when it arises?  This plan gives us the power to do something about the obstacles we know we will run into.

Here’s an example of this phase:


This was just the first of four WOOPs.  Once all four WOOPs are completed, we then move on to building our vision.

Critical Few Objectives (CFOs)

The critical few objectives concept comes from the balanced scorecard discipline.  These objectives are critical because they are our top priorities for the three month period.  If we complete them, they will have a changing impact on our lives.  They are few because our only chance at success is if we keep focus.  The whole thing only works if we pick a small number of achievable goals.  We set the max here at four.  Finally the objective is the SMART goal that comes out of the WOOP Process.

As an aside, we did receive some feedback that we are using way too many acronyms.  Guilty as charged.  This all comes from a biz background where the landscape is littered with these capitalized eyesores.  We will be working to personalize our terms as we build the software.

To build each of our CFOs, we ask our participants to come up with some combination of wish and outcome to create the CFO.  This is primarily a wordsmithing task at this stage.  Here’s an example of two CFOs:


The three month vision

Once all the CFOs are created, they fit nicely into a vision statement.  The vision statement becomes the north star for the next three months.  The beginning and end of the vision statement are boilerplate for the first plan.  Moving forward these become custom tailored as our users get closer to defining their own purpose.  Here is an example of a vision statement.


The vision becomes the keystone for building out the rest of the scorecard.  Stay tuned as we’ll cover that in our next process blog!

About the Biz, Methodologies

Truth in User Testing

User Testing

Back in ’98, like many rookie entrepreneurs starting their first company, all I cared about was building the most super fantastic product the world has ever seen.  And we did, we built a great product.  There was just one problem, nobody wanted it.  To be fair, there were external factors that played into the low sales (9/11 being one of ’em) but those are all just excuses.  We didn’t spend nearly enough time talking to potential users.  I have since seen this happen again and again and again in businesses that I have consulted with and some that I’ve worked for.

Talking to your customers before and during the building phases of a product seems like an obvious step.  So why don’t companies do this more often?  Turns out, there are a lot of reasons.  I’m not saying any of these reasons are good ones, but they are worth looking at because they do provide a window into the human condition.  Here’s a short list that could easily grow to 10+ pages:

  • It’s hard.
    • Finding prospects in your target demographic that are willing to give you the time is not easy.
    • True user testing is not a one-time thing.  You need to keep asking for feedback and it’s going to be hard every time.
  • It’s expensive
    • Most of the time you have to incent these potential customers to try the product and give real feedback.
  • It’s emotionally taxing
    • You have to put your baby out there.  Nobody likes to hear their baby is ugly.
    • It’s much easier to believe in the narrative that you will be that 1 in a million that gets it right the first time.
  • You might not like what you hear
    • Truth is always a double edged sword.  You’re not going to like everything you hear but you are almost guaranteed to learn something.
    • The irrational fear that all the feedback will be negative.  Wouldn’t you rather find out now so you can pivot?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  After vowing never to make the no user testing mistake again, we decided that we are going to test this idea early and often.  As I’ve aged and mellowed a bit, like a fine bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, I’ve learned that you are always going to be your own harshest critic.  Most of the feedback you get will not be nearly as bad as the insults hurled like feces by your internal lizard brain monkey.  The best thing you can do is embrace it.  Treat all the barbs and arrows of negative feedback as an initiation to greatness.  If you can shift your mindset to treat every piece of feedback as a gift that will enhance your learning, you really start to look forward to these things.

Our first round of testing

That brings us to our first round of testing.  We had guinea pig rounds before this to iron out a lot of the little things but this was to be our first real test.  This took place on Saturday night with a small group of test subjects.  We plied them with food and booze to make them compliant and we got to work.  We took them through the entire process.  This is still the paper process as we are not building any software until we are sure this has a need in the market.  Before we started, they had homework to do all the ‘Know Thyself’ steps.  This is the Meyers-Briggs, the 5 Love Languages and the Character Strengths and Virtues.  This put the working group in a pretty introspective state when they arrived.  This was a great move because everyone was excited about the results of their tests and interested to see what was next.  They really wanted to know how we were going to drive a plan and a purpose from these next steps.

We had all the steps in a time boxed agenda.  This was the first chink in the armor.  Folks didn’t like being timed while thinking about these sweeping, grand life issues.  Getting through the entire process was important though, so we stuck to it.  We would have considered the testing a failure if we did not walk out of this session with personal scorecards.  Some of the steps that we thought would go really quickly took forever and some that looked like they would take a long time, went really quickly.  We will modify the agenda to account for these time discrepancies before our next round of user testing.

As we went from skills to scorecard, we heard another set of concerns.  The first was that it felt a little too ‘business-y’.  Not surprising considering our backgrounds.  The second was the concern that we wouldn’t be able to easily turn this into software.  The argument was that without someone mediating or coaching the process, it would be very difficult to train the end user in building goals that were actionable.  Taking care of the ‘business-y’ feel is a lot simpler of a problem to solve.  We can get rid of all the acronyms and make the jargon much more approachable.  This is a fixable user experience issue.

The problem of how we do this without a coach or mediator is much more difficult.  This led us to brainstorm some ideas.  The first was that we could intersperse a bunch of videos in between steps and treat it more like an online educator’s approach to a  personal development plan.  Something like what you would find on Udemy.  We could also have our primary target be life coaches and just have the software enhance or document the improvements that they are already making with their clients.  The brainstorm I liked the most though was to ease the users into it.  Instead of starting with building out a full 3 month scorecard, you start with one easily surmountable problem to solve.  You use the same methodologies to solve this problem but you train the user on the lingo and make it a lot less overwhelming at the start.  Someone even compared it to Home Advisor’s site.  You pick the problem you are trying to solve, get access to the literature and ultimately a contractor who can help you through it if you can’t do it yourself.

This reminded me a bit of how many video games are approached.  You always start off on a newbie level which introduces you to the basic controls.  the game then has you find your first quest or mission.  Once you complete that and have a handle on how to navigate through the world, the challenges get tougher and tougher.  A lot like life.  We have talked about gamifying the software from the get go, so this is not a new idea.  Introducing gamification at the very beginning of the process is new however.  The gamification would drive the learning and the scorecard.  We haven’t made a decision on this as we still need more testing but this idea feels like we’re getting warmer.

Folks also struggled with building out their metrics.  This is a very common problem in our business backgrounds.  Understanding what to measure that will actually affect change is always a trial and error process.  The concern is that we will lose our users if this trial and error process is too haphazard and they run into too many failures early on.  This concern also lends itself to a far more curated problem to solve for your introduction to the software.  Once the end user sees how this works, we can then unlock the functionality that allows them to determine their own metrics.

Even though there were plenty of bumps in the process, all of our test subjects came out of the meeting super charged up.  They also all walked out with three month scorecards.  There was a ton of energy in the room and the feedback session at the end went on for almost an hour when we expected only about ten minutes of feedback.  This felt like we were on to something.  Boredom is the worst possible response and we were far from that.  People have a ton of emotion about the subject and a lot of hope that things can be better.  That seems worth pursuing.

Next Steps

We have three more user testing sessions lined up for this first iteration of the process.  It’s tempting to make major process modification after the first round of feedback but we do want to get feedback from different age groups and other diverse demographic variables.   We will be making small tweaks to the process to make it run smoother but we will not be shifting any of the fundamental process steps yet.

The other step we will be taking is in monitoring the progress of these scorecards.  Building the scorecard is only step one in the process.  The next step is making sure folks follow through on their plans.  This first round of monitoring will teach us a lot about how folks execute without job based pressures to do so.  We have a lot of techniques that we will be employing to motivate folks to follow through.  It will be interesting to find out which work the best!

Stay tuned for our next process blog!