Getting Results: From Annual Commitments to Daily Execution
Work 40 hours a week, the rest is life. This is my personal system for getting results at work. The main question here is – how do I make sure I produce high impact results without breaking this boundary?
I took principles outlined in J.D. Meier’s book – Getting Results the Agile Way – as a baseline (full disclosure – I was reviewing the book’s drafts).
The keys to my system are:
- Simple lists of outcomes
- Mapping outcomes to timeline
- Prioritization based on importance and urgency
- The rule of 3
- Reflection and adjustment
At the beginning of each year every employee at Microsoft builds his commitments for the next fiscal year. It is very heavy process and everyone is committed to it. There are many tools and resources to support this process. I am building my commitments based on these three pillars:
- My discipline commitments. Each discipline – Program Managers, Software Engineers, Testers, Consultants, and others – offered predefined set of common to the discipline commitments. I am Programming Writer, I have mine, specific to the role.
- My organization strategy. There are many Programming Writers at Microsoft – some write guidance for Windows Server, some for Windows Phone 7, and some for Windows Azure. Each org has its own strategy so that everyone should focus on specifics of the organization he belongs.
- My personal aspirations. That’s my personal development and growth. This is where I am completely free to express my aspirations for my growth – it can be anything that supports my growth and in some way related to the two above.
At the end of the day, when the exercise for writing personal commitments completed, I have simple list what I need to deliver throughout the year. A plain list of commitments.
Annual Deliverables Map
Now that I have my list of commitments I need to spread it throughout the year. It’s unreasonable I would work toward each commitment from day one. Or as Gerald Weinberg puts it in his Secrets of Consulting book:
“The wider you spread the thinner it gets”
What I do is create Annual Deliverables map. It is a simple table with months as rows and projects or themes (meta projects) as columns or swim lanes. It is really easy to shuffle and reshuffle the commitments list until it makes sense to me.
Now that I have a map I can pave the path to each deliverable. It means I can work backwards and put on the map sub deliverables for each commitment. Each deliverable should support building up the overall commitment:
Done. I have annual plan broken into monthly deliverables. I can test my progress each month and see if I am on track or off.
Here I adopt and adapt principles from Chapter 7 – Design Your Week.
At the beginning of each month, which is usually correlated with the beginning of week I create a new monthly planner which looks similar to the following:
Using this template I follow the following steps to build my weekly plan:
- I look at month’s deliverables I need to produce and think what outcomes should contribute to it.
- I map the outcomes on the week’s days
- Repeat this for all monthly deliverables.
- Shuffle weekly outcomes so it makes sense taking into account holidays, moods, priorities.
- Scan through the week’s outcomes and drop lower priority items.
- Repeat it until each day has only three outcomes to deliver.
- Go to my calendar and proactively block time for each outcome. This is where I can perfectly sense and test if I have enough time for each one. I might have meetings I must attend, or other reasons the plan won’t fly. If it does not – go back and brutally cut more from the table.
- Done. Outcomes planned, time blocked meaning resources allocated. It’s time to execute.
I conduct this exercise at the beginning of each week.
Each morning I start fresh. I open my calendar and I perfectly see my daily schedule for daily results. I do not need to to think and spend time what’s to do or how much time I need to spend on it – it is just there. No excuses. Just do it. Boom Boom Boom.
Reflection, Re-prioritization, and Adjustment
At the end of the day I see what I was able to accomplish while sticking to the daily plan. I mark as done what’s done. What what wasn’t accomplished is treated as follows (it’s either or):
- Drop it, just drop it.
- Push down to other day of the week and drop other item instead.
The key is keeping only 3 daily outcomes.
It is simple prioritization game. Since there are only few items in the table, 3 per day, it is easy to see which one is more important than the other. Just drop the lower priority one.
If I feel I drop more items then I accomplish chances my planning is too ambitious, so I go back and plan accordingly or tell my manager I won’t be able to deliver it. The beauty is that I am able to spot the bad trends early enough vs. realizing it at the end of the track. No one likes last minute surprises, especially managers.
image by kwanie21 January 2011