Fear–let it help you not hurt you!

Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you use it wisely it might even help you!

I am a runner. I loved running 5 km races. Occasionally I would run a 10 km race, but they seemed really long. Somewhere along the way I decided I should try a half marathon. The furthest I had run at that point was a 16 km run which was part of my training plan to run 10 km faster. I figured I could likely manage 5 more km.

I asked my sister (a running coach and talented runner) for a training plan. I followed it and picked my goal race. I set myself a goal of completing the race in 1 hour and 50 minutes. Race day arrived and I felt great. I ran my first 10 km at a pace that would have had me finishing at nearly 1:45! I was ahead of pace! Somewhere around 17 km I hit the wall. Most people hit the wall when they run their first marathon, I guess I am an overachiever because I did it on a half. My knee and hips were screaming, I was completely miserable. A combination of walking and jogging took me to the finish line, and I felt every single step. That night, I was so sore I remember contemplating stealing a walker from a lady walking across the parking lot (if I could catch her) and wondering why street curbs were so high!

Fast forward two years, I registered for my first marathon. The marathon is infamous for testing the limits of runners. At this point I had successfully completed four half marathons but the marathon was more than a little intimidating. Could I do it? Preparing for a marathon reminded me of pregnancy: Anyone who had been through it themselves either had advice or a horror story to share! 42 km! 4 + hours non-stop running, I had bombed my first attempt at 21 km, how would I finish 42 km!

I had a training plan, a running group and coach, and amazing family and friends cheering me on. They gave me the tools and support, but it was fear that gave me the motivation to prepare. I followed my training plan, when the running conditions were bad, I drove to the gym and paid to use a treadmill. I was terrified of repeating my experience with my first half marathon. I listened and considered all the advice fellow runners shared. On race day, I started out feeling good. I got to 21 km feeling pretty good. But, when you train for a marathon your longest run is 32 km, so I knew the last 10 km was the real test. The best description I ever heard for a marathon was a 32 km warm up for a 10 km race. I got to 32 km and felt okay. I reached 35 km where my husband and son were waiting with signs to cheer me on and I was tired of course, but I was able to maintain my pace. At 40 km I realized I was going to make it. My first marathon was a race I could be proud of!

NationalCapitalMarathonIt was fear of failing that motivated me to do my training runs. It was fear that had me dragging myself out in the dark, through the cold, through the snow and sleet. It was that fear that led to my success

I’ve had the same experience when preparing for big presentations. Fear of failing drives me to prepare, to research, to practice my presentation, my demos. Fear is what motivates me to do the groundwork I need to do to succeed!

I am not the most disciplined worker. I’m the person who forgets to get something done. I am the person who says ‘I am going to do sit-ups every day’ does it for three days and then gets distracted. One of the reasons I decided to register for a marathon was because I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing something that required discipline. You can’t fake your way through a marathon. If you skip the runs, you will feel it on race day. The fear of falling apart after 32 km helped me do what I needed to do and allowed me to achieve my goal.

So what is it you want to achieve? are you afraid you can’t do it? Maybe that very fear is what will help YOU reach YOUR goal!

Ranking priorities is easier than you think

Whether you are prioritizing your to-do list or requirements for an application. It helps to have a simple way to prioritize, in this post I’ll share my favorite method.

I’ve seen many different methods to rank items on a requirements list or to-do list. Priority High/Medium/Low,  ranking priority from 1-5.  When doing everything isn’t an option (and it never is!) somehow you have to decide what comes first.

When I taught Business Analysis, I came across a wonderful and simple way of ranking priorities: Must, Should, Could, Would. What I love about this method is the fact it is self describing. However, I still find it helpful to describe each category to co-workers when we are trying to decide what to do first.

MUST 

For requirements

When I am considering requirements for an application, anything identified as a MUST is a feature that is worth delaying the release to get. Put simply, the application MUST have this feature or it is not worth building the application at all!

For my to-do list

If I don’t do this I am not doing my job! I am not talking about forgetting to file an expense report, I mean my core reponsibilities, what I was hired to do! Sometimes there is a MUST on my to-do list that I dread doing, but when I acknowledge to myself it’s a MUST do, I have to set aside time to do it.

For exercise

We all know we should get some exercise. Some weeks it is easier than others. Did you know that as long as you exercise every third day you are improving? If you exercise the 4th day you are at least maintaining. So for me, a MUST exercise day is when I’ve gone 3 days and haven’t done anything. On Day 4 I MUST do something, otherwise I am actually getting less fit. Of course a must varies depending on your goals.  When I am training for a marathon, the MUST is the long run because that’s the run that you will regret skipping race day)

SHOULD

For requirements

Anything identified as a SHOULD that is not included in a release is going to make users unhappy and may even make them mad! They will be able to use the application but you had better give them a date when the SHOULD requirements will be added. Some of the SHOULD features may be pushed back a release or two but you know the users are going to be complaining until the SHOULD requirements are released.

For my to-do list

If I don’t do this task, one of my co-workers or maybe even my boss is going to be unhappy. Maybe it’s data I promised to try and put together so they could complete a plan. Maybe it’s something I promised to follow up on. My boss isn’t going to start yelling at me because I didn’t do it, but somebody out there will be unhappy if this doesn’t get done.  I certainly try to do all the SHOULD items on my to-do list. But during a crisis, they may get pushed back until everything is under control.

For exercise

If you get exercise every third day, then you are improving. Shouldn’t we all strive to get fitter rather than just maintain our current level of fitness? Getting in a workout at least once every three days is something we SHOULD all do. When I am training for a marathon, hill work falls into the SHOULD category. I know if I do my hill work it will pay off on race day (there are very few marathon courses out there without hills). But if I don’t do my hill work I’ll still finish, it’s just going to be a lot tougher.

 

COULD

For requirements

This is how you make users happy! When you start adding the features a system COULD have the result is a feature that will make the users happy. Something the old system perhaps couldn’t do and caused them frustration. Something taht will make the users lives easier

For my to-do list

When I get to the COULD items on my to-do list I am making the people I work with happy. Perhaps even going a little bit above and beyond. Maybe it’s taking the time to write a little email to their manager thanking them for helping with a task. Maybe it’s taking the time to put together a really awesome graph or report that summarizes the work we’ve done in the past year or the work to do in the coming year. When you manage to get a few COULD items on your to-do list completed you may start to get a little recognition for your effort, even if it’s just a ‘Thank you this is really helpful’ email from a co-worker.

For exercise

Ahhh, now if you can get to the COULD do items on your exercise strategy you should actually start to notice improvements. You could take a few minutes each day to do some situps or push ups. You could add some cardio to your routine, or if you do cardio maybe add a little strength training to your routine.  But, if you want to make it a habit to get to the COULD items on your exercise routine, I strongly recommend doing it with a friend, or making sure it’s something you can turn into a routine. When I am training for a marathon I COULD add some strength training to improve my core and some stretching. I can run a marathon without doing situps, but I’m going to look much stronger in that finish line photo if I can fit it in. Hmmm, since stretching will help me prevent injury, I guess I should really bump that up to the SHOULD list!

WOULD

For requirements

When you interview users and ask them for their list of requirements for a new system, every now and then they will say something like ‘you know what would really be nice’ . These are the WOULD like to have priorities. These are feature we will include if it turns out we can do them without really spending any serious amount of money or time doing it. Every now and then the users request a change that will take very little time to implement,  it may be a feature that already exists in the software but wasn’t implemented or well understood. We don’t often get to add a WOULD to a system, but when you do, the users smile and you get the satisfaction of knowing you made them happier without a big investment of resources.

For my to-do list

Ahhh, I have so many WOULD like to do items on my to-do list. You know all those articles you want to get around to reading, or the things you want to sit down and learn when you have time. When you do have the opportunity to tackle a WOULD item on your to-do list, the result is YOU are happier. You had a little time to tackle something that you wanted to do for you. Keep an eye out for easy WOULD like to do items that won’t take much time. Once in a while you may find a little window at the end of the day, when you really don’t have the energy to tackle the big to-do items and giving yourself 30 minutes to work on a WOULD like to do can re-energize you and remind you why you like your job!

For exercise

What exercise do you actually enjoy? Is it yoga? kickboxing? (I love kickboxing) cross country skiing? A walk along the river? Find a little time here and there to do something you enjoy that happens to be exercise, rather than doing it because it is exercise. When I am training for a marathon, going for a run wiht no goal pace or distance is such a pleasure especially with a friend! Itgives me a break from the gruelling training runs and reminds me why I took up running in the first place.

Women in Tech–10 Tips for balancing family and business travel

ViewFromAPlaneAfter twenty years of working in high tech and just about every one of those years involving business travel, I won’t even pretend to have perfected the family/work balance but, if you are about to embark on a job that involves travel, I have a few tips that might help.

1 – Accept you may catch some moments in reruns

First steps, losing a tooth, scoring a goal at the hockey game, as a parent you will get to witness many amazing moments in your child’s life. If you travel for work, you are going to miss some of those moments.  It’s not the end of the world, find pleasure in listening to your spouse or child tell you all about that awesome moment. They will be thrilled to have an opportunity to relive it with you when you call or get home.

2 – Find a farewell routine

Life is easier when you have a routine. It helps to have a routine when you leave on a trip. My routine is fairly simple, when I leave town I give the kids (and my husband) a bedtime kiss and hug for each night I will be gone (a little tougher now the boys are teenagers). This is my way of letting them know that even though I am not home, I am still thinking of them. It also gives them a sense of how long I will be gone. A 3 year old doesnt really understand the difference between a 2 day and a 5 day trip. But, kids figure out quickly that only one extra hug meant a short trip. I still remember the night before a two week trip, my 7 year old son stepped back and looked at me and said ‘that’s a lot of extra hugs mom.’  Some people count sleeps until mom or dad gets home. You could make a countdown with post it notes or tear out pages from a day by day calendar and leave them behind one per day. Whatever works for you. Just make sure it doesn’t require too much work beforehand, if you are travelling regularly, you won’t always have the time and energy for complicated rituals.

3 – Do what you can to make your time away easier for your spouse

Leaving for a week? maybe you should call a cleaning service to come and clean the house while you are away, or arrange for someone to mow the lawn. Maybe, the best way to help is by getting someone to help get the kids to and from their various activities. I try to make arrangements for someone to drive my son to his hockey practices so my husband has doesn’t have to manage supper, dishes and driving to and from the arena. Sometimes I can make his life easier by doing something as simple as baking the kids favorite cookies before I leave, so there are peanut free snacks to put in the kids lunches. When I had a two week trip I made arrangements for a friend to come to the house and take the kids to dinner and a movie over the weekend, so dad could have a night off. (We don’t have the luxury of grandparents in town to help out, but if you do, they could also be a great resource to give your spouse a break when you are away)

4 – Set expectations on when you will call home

In this world of text messages and Skype, there are lots of ways to stay in touch when you are on the road. But, it’s still a good idea to just have a quick chat with your spouse to manage expectations. Will you be available during the work day to exchange a text message or an email? A call may take some planning. What nights will your spouse be busy with kids activities?  When will they be busy with bath time?  When will you have privacy for a voice call? a video chat? Are there nights when you have evening commitments on your trip? Are you going to talk every night? Are you caliing to talk to your spouse at one time and your kids at a different time? In my early days of business travel (pre cell phones) my husband used to call my hotel room in the evening, on my first couple of trips I missed the calls and came back to my hotel room to a blinking light and it was too late to call back (don’t forget to factor in time changes as part of your planning). You may be busy on your trip, but your spouse is still at home dealing with all the day to day activities and may be craving some adult conversation, or a chance to unload after a bad day. Sometimes you can just call on the spur of the moment, but it’s good to have a couple of pre-planned times just in case!

5 – Don’t buy everyone presents on every business trip

If travel is going to be a regular occurence, you don’t want the kids to expect a gift every time you go away. Don’t hesitate to bring home a little something from time to time, but you don’t need to be rushing around the airport gift shop every time you have a flight. Like everything else you need to find a balance. My approach was to pick up a gift when I am visiting somewhere new or out of the ordinary. Of course, sometimes you stumble across something you just can’t get at home, a favorite brand of chocolate bar, an interesting bottle of wine, a cool pair of socks (no seriously, my son loves wearing funky socks, and I never know when I will find a cool pair). When it’s unexpected it’s a bigger treat.

6 – Share your travel perks and points with your family

If you have status on the airline, make a point of going to the airport with enough time to visit the lounge with the family (assuming your kids are old enough to get a kick out of the free cookies and drinks). Can you cash in some air miles to get free admission to the zoo? How about using your hotel points to stay at a fancy hotel for one night, cash in your upgrade coupons on a family trip and give your spouse a turn in first class. If your kids are older and are well behaved travellers, consider giving them a turn in first class as well. Please remember that smaller children should not be sent up to first class on their own, I have a friend who when upgraded ended up sitting next to a 3 year old (not sure of the age, but he got my friend to cut his meat up for him so we are going to guess the 3 year old range) this boy was providing his own loud commentary as he watched the in flight tv, was rude to the staff, kicked the seat in front of him, and was generally loud and disruptive. Meanwhile his father was somewhere in economy oblivious to the whole thing. My friend was getting the dirty looks because they thought he was the parent. So while I applaud taking kids on trips and giving them the opportunity to experience first class, with younger kids that should only be done supervised by mom or dad. But I digress, the main point here is your family is affected by your business travel, it’s stressful for them, so if you get a few perks try to share the benefits with them.

7 – Listen and ask questions

When you come home from a trip or you call home during a trip, chances are your spouse or kids will have news to share. Even if you had an exciting day/trip listen before you tell your story. Ask about the science test, the doctor’s appointment, recess, bath time.

8 – Try to be home before bedtime

I’ve discovered that if my kids see me before bed, they don’t consider that a day away. So sacrifice a little sleep in the hotel bed to catch that early morning flight so you can be home by suppertime. When going on your trip, try to avoid those early morning flights so you at least have breakfast with the family before you take off. 

9 – Set limits on your travel

How much travel is too much? Best to discuss that with your spouse before it happens. You should also ask yourself which family events should not be missed. Sometimes the answer when the boss says ‘can you do this trip’ is no. I call it my domestic air miles balance. When I take a trip I am cashing in domestic air miles, and when I get home I need to earn them back. Occasionally, if I am travelling somewhere really interesting or in a city where I have friends or family to visit, I cash in a few extra domestic air miles and spend an extra day in the city to explore. If I have had a few trips back to back and another one comes up I might tell my boss that I have cashed in all my domestic air miles and need some time to earn them back before I travel again (If you do turn down a trip, tell your spouse you did it, I’ve discovered letting them know I said no to a trip helps me earn back a few more of those domestic air miles). Saying no from time to time is not going to hurt your career. If you have accepted a job with very heavy travel, then it’s important to stop from time to time and discuss with your family if the job is worth that much time apart. 

10 – Give your spouse a chance to be an awesome parent

When you are away, the household routine may vary. maybe the kids get ice cream as a bedtime snack instead of fruit. Maybe they get to watch a tv show you normally don’t let them watch, or they get more video game time than you would normally allow. A little rule stretching can actually help the kids feel a little closer to dad. Maybe there is a restaurant, tv show, or movie that you don’t like but they do, what better time to do it then when you are out of town! They will still want to spend time with mom, and tell you about their days and adventures when you get home. If the kids get a little quality time with dad and bond doing something you wouldn’t normally do, even some minor rule breaking, maybe that’s okay. I honestly believe that my kids are a little closer to their dad because I am occasionally out of town.

Jobs which require business travel can be exciting and great opportunities, but they will absolutely impact your life at home. A little foresight and planning will make it easier on everyone! Safe travels and share your tips as well!

How do you help someone discover coding?

One hour at a time!

HourOfCodeNEwsletterImageI am very excited to be a part of the Hour of Code. Hour of Code was created by code.org as a way of getting kids interested in coding.

“more than 50% of today’s jobs require some degree of technology skills”

Did you know more than 50% of today’s jobs require some degree of technology skills? That number is likely to increase not decrease! Some of the greatest innovations in technology seem to occur when someone in a field that is not necessarily viewed as technical (e.g. music, fashion, journalism, healthcare) learns how you can leverage computers and technology to solve problems and applies those tools to solve problems in their field.

Let me give you a couple of specific examples

Music

When a musician wants to compose a piece of music on a piano, they typically start by playing the piece, and then they have to transcribe it. This can be done using a midi keyboard so you can generate a midi file that captures the music as you play. But what about the concert pianist on the grand piano, who finds themselves having to record the music and then listen to it afterwards and transcribe it. transcribing the music is a tedious process. There is software out there that tries to convert audio to midi file or sheet music but no-one has really nailed it yet. Enter ClaVision, students from Lethbridge Alberta who were inspired by Beethoven to create software that could analyze a video of someone playing a keyboard and generate a midi file which can then be used to create the sheet music!

Journalism

Nonny de la Pena has taken the technology used for virtual reality game to find an entirely new way to share stories. This could really change the way we think of learning history or journalism. Storytelling becomes more powerful than ever. You can learn more here. (warning the video at that link contains recreated footage of a bombing and a beating that may be  unsuitable for young viewers)

Fashion

Fashion is a multimillion dollar industry, obviously technology is used during the manufacturing, but how about technology being part of the finished product? Here’s a neat little story by Sage Franch (@TheTrendyTechie) that talks about a wearable display you can integrate into clothing! Or what about the girls from Oman d=who saw their sister carrying a huge pile of nail polish bottles trying to find ‘the perfect color’ and designed an app and printer that would allow you to design and print a single application of your own custom nail color.

New people bring new ideas!

When we break down the barrier that technology and coding is for ‘geeks’ we invite people with different ideas and different problems to solve to explore the capabilities of technology. That’s why the hour of code is so important! If we can get kids to explore coding before they develop the mindset ‘Coding is for geeks, I am not a geek so therefore I am not a coder’ then perhaps a 10 year old with a passion for drawing and painting will find a new way to share art with the world. perhaps a 14 year old who dreams of trying to solve world hunger will find a better way to feed the world! The more people we have with different backgrounds and different interests learning the capabilities of technology, the more problems we can solve with technology.

Monday December 8th, 2014, I will be co-presenting a webcast on how to get started coding with Sage Franch. You can see it here
I am also presenting it to a grade 8 class, to a group of kids at Pathways to Education, and last year I presented it to a grade 5 and a grade 6 class. Anyone can do an hour of code, and that includes you! Just deliver your own hour of code at a school or community group near you, or maybe just share it with a son or daughter, niece or nephew, one of my coworkers shared it with her parents! Who would you like to introduce to coding?

Here’s a few resources to get you started:

  • Check out http://aka.ms/startcoding for a self guided tutorial
  • You can also visit http://aka.ms/learn2code to find other courses aimed at helping kids explore the world of coding (Warning: you may be subjected to me as a presenter in a couple of those courses Smile, there are few things I love more than helping people discover the power of code!)
  • You can also visit code.org and find more tutorials for kids young and old!

If you have discovered the joys of coding, consider introducing it to a new generation! You might even have a little fun on the way!

Not convinced yet? Check out this great little video and see if it inspires you to share an hour of code!

Learn from improv–it’s not about you!

There are some basic rules in improv comedy that more of us should apply to the workplace!

I know when you think of improv you have visions of Robin Williams or Whose Line Is It Anyway? They may make it look easy, but there is a lot of practice and training required, along with some quick wits.

Some of the rules you are taught when you explore improv comedy are rules we should apply in the workplace as well. Here’s one of my favorites:

You look good if you make your partner look good

DSCF6051If you didn’t watch that Whose Line is it Anyway clip, watch it now. Notice how Colin & Ryan set each other up?  Neither one is trying to steal the scene. When they set up Wayne to sing a song they give him song styles that play to his strengths. Fans of Whose Line will know Wayne is good at  songs in the style of Tina Turner, Prince, and Sammy Davis Jr, the rest of the cast are fully aware of his go to characters and give him every opportunity they can to work them into a song.  If it’s Brad singing, they will throw him a B52 number, because he does a great impression of the lead singer of the B52s. They know that if the song works, the skit works.  An improv skit relies on the whole team and when one team member tries to control the entire scene,  hog the stage  it falls apart.  If a team member sets up a team member to fail the entire scene fails and they look bad too.

How does this apply at work? Imagine you are doing a joint presentation with a co-worker. During the presentation a demo isn’t working and an audience members asks a question that is the area of expertise of your co-worker.

Let’s suppose you are focused on making yourself look good:

Maybe when your co-workers starts their part of the presentation you tune out, maybe you are reading ahead on the slides to review your upcoming topic, or you are having a side bar conversation with an audience member when your co-presenter’s demo goes wrong. They end up spending 5 minutes with the audience watching as they try to fix it. Your co-worker is getting flustered and the audience is getting frustrated. Now later an audience member asks you a question when you are presenting, you think you know the answer but get something slightly wrong.  Your co-presenter who is an expert in that area realizes you’ve made a mistake in your explanation and either has to correct you in front of the audience, or leave the audience with misinformation.

What happens if each of you is trying to make your co-presenter look good?

You are paying attention as they present, nodding and looking attentive. When they start having trouble with their code demonstration, you can give them time to fix it by discussing a related topic while they dig through their code to get it fixed or restart the demo, or perhaps engage the audience to help out pointing out that live code demos are always a challenge (my go-to joke is “the number of typing mistakes you make is directly proportional to the number of people watching you type”). The audience is focused on your discussion not the struggling co-presenter, or they are sympathetic to the co-worker and trying to help out a fellow coder. Later, when you get a question on a topic you know is their area of expertise, you pass the question to your co-worker who provides a complete and accurate answer.

For the record, I think of myself as a pretty good presenter, but I have been guilty of the acts described in scenario one. We all slip from time to time. Hopefully this post will help keep me honest in my future presentations!

Think of it this way: instead of trying to be more successful on your own, you are trying to be more successful as a team. A succesful team can accomplish much more than a successful individual. How well would Whose Line is It Anwyay skits work if there was only one actor on the stage?

Girl Geeks vs Geek Girls and why does it matter?

GeekGirlWaterBottleTo get more girls interested in technology we need role models they can look up to. In this post I talk about not only geek girls as role models, but also girl geeks! Because we need both!

I recently returned from the Ontario Celebration of Women in Computing. This event did exactly what the title describes: celebrated women in computing. Microsoft Research was a sponsor and there was high demand for their geek girl water bottles. Shortly after, I was telling a co-worker about the water bottles and we ended up discussing whether a geek girl was the same thing as a girl geek.

This may seem like a trivial discussion, but it helped me clarify something that had been picking at my brain throughout the conference. One of the ways we can encourage more girls to enter technical fields is by providing role models. When we recognize the two different types of girls who enter technical fields, we recognize the need for two different types of role models.

Sometimes, I am asked to act as a role model. Anyone who has seen me present knows I am a passionate speaker. I love having the opportunity to try and get people excited about technology and it’s capabilities. But am I the right role model? The answer, as is so often the case, is “it depends.”

I was good at math. I was told engineering was a good degree if you are good at math. I was a tom boy as a kid. So I was quite comfortable entering a field that was dominated by men and had a perception of requiring strong math skills. I was coding Choose your own adventure games on my TRS-80 computer before we ever had a computer in my classroom. I spent hours playing video games at the arcade (okay I really dated myself there didn’t I?) or playing Dungeons and Dragons.  I was a geek, I just happened to be a girl. I consider myself fully qualified to inspire future geek girls!

ButterflyBut are there girls out there who have the potential to find their inner geek? I know there are! You don’t have to be a tomboy! You don’t have to have math as your favorite subject! You don’t have to own a 20 sided dice, in fact if you don’t even get the reference to a 20 sided dice, you can still find an amazing career in technology.

I have met some amazing girl geeks! Let’s make sure we find more of them to share as role models along with the geek girls!  Let me introduce three girl geeks I have the honour of counting among my acquaintances!

Meet Marwa and Alaa from Bahrain, together they form Team Butterfly! They love nail polish and observed the constant challenge faced by others with the same passion to find a specific color. Their solution? An app that allows you to design your own custom nail polish, pick your color, select your finish: glitter, gloss, matte, and then send it to their printer to get a sample that provides just enough polish for a single application! These girls have found a way to combine their love of fashion with technology! They have also got a brilliant business idea. Which is why they took home third place at the Imagine Cup World Finals

meu_wearable_led_panel_3

Meet Sage Franch (@TrendyTechie). Sage is one of the Microsoft Student Partners I work with from Dalhousie University.Her blog, Trendy Techie,  is a blend of fashion and technology topics! She’s blogging about how to use the Kinect sensor one week and about Tentacular knitwear scarves the next. What’s really exciting is when she gets a chance to combine the two as she did with her post about MeU, a wearable LED display that attaches to fabric and displays custom information through your clothes. 

A junior at McGill University, Genevieve has a double major in computer science and molecular biology, a small exclusive program made up of about 30 people.Finally, meet Genevieve L’Esperance, who used to describe herself as a Tech Diva. She is currently a Microsoft YouthSpark ambassador but I first met her at the 4 Girls coding event in Montreal.  Genevieve decided to become Microsoft certified after hearing a woman speak about a tech school she wanted to create for young women in Bangladesh with the help of Genevieve’s mom. Genevieve was only 14 at the time and jokes that she only agreed to attend the Texas conference so she could buy new cowboy boots. But when she listened to the woman and heard her express such heartfelt desire to teach girls in an area with extreme poverty, she was inspired to further pursue technology and teaching.

Since she unleashed her love for computer science and her desire to spread it, Genevieve has devoted countless hours to teaching programming to girls. She works not only to show them the skills but to convince them that the field is a viable option. She learned that in part from her mom, who worked as a model at tech trade shows before becoming a successful entrepreneur. She attempts to show girls how technology is opening doors for her with the hope she can convince them it’s not just for boys

So if you are talking to young students about careers in technology, make sure you tell the story of a geek girl and a girl geek! You never know which story will inspire the next young woman to seek out a career in technology!

I know what I am doing, why do I need a process?

If you have worked in a big company, you have been told “there’s a process for that”. This post will look at why the process, as much as we love to hate it is essential for long term success.

Some people are very good at their jobs! They know instinctively what needs to be done and how to do it. I love working with these people, we all do! Maybe you are one of those people. But, even if I have a team of high performers, I still need process.

Maybe someone on the team is changing roles. Maybe we just hired someone new. A team is usually a mix of junior and senior team members. If you have rock stars on your team, I think a manager would want to bring some junior people onto that team to learn from the top talent!

When different people do the same task the quality is going to vary. Some people will do it really well, some people will do it reasonably well, others will not do it well at all. Those who are underperforming at a specific task may be very talented people but perhaps they are new to role, or this particular task is not their area of expertise. Ever met a great programmer who seems incapable of filling out a time report or expense report correctly?

The result is a widely varying level of quality, the quality level changes depending on who did the task or even depending on how alert and busy someone was on a particular day. (I have days when I write carefully thought out blog posts, and I have days when I knock out a couple of short paragraphs and point to a video to meet a deadline). Quality can vary tremedously as shown in the graph below.

QualityBar

So how does process fit into all this? Well when you define a process, you guarantee a mimum level of quality. By having a checklist or a set of steps that you *must* complete and that you complete *every* time you undertake a task, you ensure the quality never falls below a certain minimum standard. If someone new joins the team and all they do is follow the process, at least you know the task was completed acceptably well. Likely not as well as if it were completed by a senior team member, but it got done! If your junior team members can complete this task that may free up your senior team members to do other things that require their specific expertise!

Basically a process throttles the quality. So  you end up with something like this

MinMAxQuality

The lower red line indicates the minimum quality guaranteed by following the process.  The upper red line indicates the highest quality that can be reached when you follow the process. So, following the process is great for the a new team member or someone who is not an expert on that task because they know following the steps in the process guarantees an acceptable output.  Some of you are cringing at my terrible drawing skills above. But at least I centered the drawing on the page, and I set it to the recommended size for this blog (300-600 pixels wide), and I removed the shadow background on the image. I am a lousy artist, but at least I have a process I follow when I add an image to a blog post. Nobody is going to yell at you for doing a a lousy job if you followed the approved process. If you ever do have somebody accuse of of not doing your job properly when you did follow the process, then it’s clear your process needs updating. This may be an opportunity for you to be a star by being the person who identifies the need to update the process and works with the team to update the process so the next person who comes along doesn’t have the same problem you did!

But what about the rock stars on the team? Do we make them follow the process as well? After all you can see on my professional looking chart above that if I follow the process I limit the quality level that can be reached. My strongest team members may be able to achieve a greater level of success by not following the process! Good for them. But don’t I want the entire team to be successful? Don’t I want my top team member to not only do their job well but to help other people improve? What is it about the process that limits their ability to perform at their best?What information do they have? What tricks have they learned? I look to my top performers to help me improve the process so that everyone on the team does their work better. So for all of you who took one look at my graph and cringed, I ask you: If I was on your team what specific steps could I take whenever I am drawing a graph to make it look more professional? What tool should I use? are there particular colors I should select? a particular font? Yup, I know all those things affect the quality of my graph. (now you are wondering am I really that horrible at drawing or did I do it this way just to provide an example… I’m not telling). They key is that I look to the experts and the rock stars to help improve the process. That way you raise the quality of the output for everyone!

BetterProcess

Now, before you go off to your boss and start suggesting improvements for all the existing processes, I do want to point out another very important aspect of processes! A process can be used to guarantee a minimum level of quality, but sometimes steps in a process are there to ensure we are compliant with the law, or to ensure we can track important information. So if you are trying to convince the boss to remove steps from a process, it’s a good idea to try and find out why the steps are there in the first place!  I hate scanning all the receipts and attaching them to me expense report but since Revenue Canada requires the company to have copies of my receipts we can’t just take that step out of the process. Though I would like to thank whoever it was at the company who improved the process so we can just scan and email them in now. I used to have to send in physical copies. The work doesn’t end when you define a process, you should constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to make the process more efficient and more effective.

So next time someone tells you ‘we have a process for that’, your response should be ‘awesome I am glad to hear it’. If you are new to the task, you have instructions on how to complete your task with the confidence. If you are a subject matter expert then I fully expect you to look at the process with skepticism, and if you think the process can be improved, talk to the process owners! Let’s make it happen and make everyone look like rock stars!

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