November book review: Beyond Bullet Points

Cliff Atkinson
Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft® Office PowerPoint® 2007 to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire.

If you are tired of making the same old presentations again and again, take a look at the "Beyond Bullet Points" book by Cliff Atkinson. In this book, the author describes an approach on how to use Hollywood-style storytelling techniques to transform a set of bullet-pointed slides into a rich, engaging, and powerful presentation.

How can you capture the interest of your audience during one of your first slides? How can you maintain this interest to the very end? Cliff answers these questions and offers a structure and process for creating effective PowerPoint® slide presentations.

I have had excellent results taking the ideas described in this book and applying them in my own presentations. Will this approach work for you? Will this approach work for your audience? Rather than applying ideas blindly, consider the goals, assumptions, and expectations of your audience. This book gives you an interesting way to structure your presentations. But it is only one of the options you have.

To find more information about this book, click here. Happy reading!

October book review: Ready, Set, Dominate

Michael Kennedy, Kent Harmon, Ed Minnock
Ready, Set, Dominate: Implement Toyota's set-based learning for developing products and nobody can catch you.

This is a continuation of the book I reviewed earlier this year: Product Development for the Lean Enterprise. The authors pick up the story of the Infrared Technologies Corporation (IRT) a year later. The company has piloted bits and pieces of the Toyota System with various levels of success. The progress is visible but it is not sufficient to achieve the company goals. To make matters worse, the Board of Directors has run out of patience with IRT's poor financial performance and has hired a new Chief Financial Officer to improve profits fast. The new CFO does not believe in product development transformation efforts and recommends a different strategy: selling non-profitable side of business, outsourcing manufacturing, reducing cost through an across-the-board workforce reduction, and using profits to buy high-growth and high-profit companies...

No doubt, IRT faces serious challenges: market share is shrinking, overhead is increasing, and profits are deteriorating. Will the company be able to turn the situation around? Read this book to find out!

In the form of a business novel, the authors allow us to experience a journey towards Lean Product Development with the focus on Lean Knowledge Management. They point out common implementation mistakes and show how to effectively integrate the flow of innovative knowledge into a planned cadence of product releases.

Included with the book are case studies of two companies that have been successful at understanding and applying Toyota principles. I would like to quote one of them: "... once the desired specification was put on paper, it was viewed as an absolute requirement. No variance from the goal was acceptable. Since the requirements were not a variable, the only variables left were time and money. That meant missed schedules and cost overrruns."

Happy reading!

September book review: Design Patterns

Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, John Vlissides
Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software

Design Patterns is one of my favourite technical books of all time. It has been highly influential on my understanding of object-oriented design and software engineering principles in general. It helped me hone my skills as a software architect early in my career and now serves as a reference material for many of my training sessions.

This book catalogs 23 commonly used design patterns:

  • Creational
    Abstract Factory, Builder, Factory Method, Prototype, and Singleton
  • Structural
    Adapter, Bridge, Composite, Decorator, Facade, Flyweight, and Proxy
  • Behavioral
    Chain of Responsibility, Command, Interpreter, Iterator, Mediator, Memento, Observer, State, Strategy, Template Method, and Visitor

For each pattern, the authors describe the design problem addressed, the circumstances in which the pattern is applicable, and the consequences of using the pattern to solve the problem.  Each pattern is supplied with relevant UML diagrams and simple C++ examples.

As design patterns are becoming mainstream, more and more books are published on this subject. You can easily find resources with examples in C#, Java, VB.NET, and other programming languages. My recommendation is to read the original book first.  I find it less prescriptive and more thought-provoking, leaving you with options for implementing design patterns in practice. Do not fall into the trap of thinking about patterns as prescriptive solutions to common design problems. Instead, think about each pattern as a multiple-step journey. At each step, you can and should review your design problem at hand as well as the trade-offs associated with using the pattern. You can stop, move to the next step, or to continue with implementation in a different direction. The choice is yours.

This is a must-read book for any software engineer and is highly recommended for first-line managers. As a minimum, it will allow you to speak with your team at a higher level of design abstraction.

To find more information about this book, click here. Happy reading!

August book review: Toyota Talent

Jeffrey Liker and David Meier
Toyota Talent: Developing Your People The Toyota Way

I am leading a product development team at a financial organization. One of my objectives is to create an environment supporting and motivating team members to learn all jobs within the team and continuously improve our work methods. This may not be an easy goal to achieve, but I see a huge value in having team members capable of performing multiple jobs and willing to assume different roles and responsibilities.  

While I was exploring ideas on how to organize training and skill development for our employees, I came across Jeffrey Liker's and David Meier's book describing an approach to training used by Toyota. At Toyota, managers and team leaders are responsible for establishing a teaching environment within their teams. They create development plans for their team members, work closely with the trainers to evaluate the progress and skill level of each individual, and keep an eye on the overall performance indicators.

Jeffrey and David provide excellent ideas on how to identify critical knowledge, analyze and standardize work methods, break down jobs into small pieces for teaching, run training sessions, and follow up to verify the results. Even though the approach described in the book is targeted towards manufacturing, I found it to be applicable (with little adaptation) to product development and engineering. 

Happy reading!

July book review: Agile Estimating and Planning

Mike Cohn
Agile Estimating and Planning

Mike Cohn is an Agile Alliance co-founder, Information Technology executive, and the author of two excellent books: "User Stories Applied" and "Agile Estimating and Planning". His first book became de facto standard for creating user stories. His second book is often described as one of the best practical guides to estimating and planning agile projects. I really like and recommend both of Mike's books.

Estimating and Planning are necessary non-value adding activities on a software project. They are non-value adding because they do not add a direct value to the final product as perceived by the customer. They are necessary because the consequences of not doing estimating and planning are dire: we would end up with no data to support any quality decision-making process on the project. When is the project going to be done? What can we have completed by a certain date? Should we release now or shall we wait another month and release with more features?

You could argue that during estimation we analyze and evolve our requirements, which may be considered a value adding activity. I would agree with you. The trick is to make this process fast and lean by doing just enough analysis and eliminating all unnecessary wastes. You will need to figure out what works best for you and your team, but if you are wondering where to start, start with the "Agile Planning and Estimating" book. You will find simple, pragmatic, logical, common-sense methods and techniques to make your projects successful.

Happy reading!

June book review: The Secrets of Consulting

Gerald M. Weinberg
The Secrets of Consulting: A guide to giving and getting advice successfully

As a consultant, I find it illuminating and resourceful as it puts rationality and structure around seemingly irrational subject area. As a manager, I find it full of wisdom and wit, but perhaps lacking clear message and specific take-aways. As a reader, I simply find it entertaining. What am I talking about? "The Secrets of Consulting" book by Jerry Weinberg.

Jerry defines consulting as the art of influencing people at their own request. Even this definition alone makes me think hard and deep about my role as a consultant... or as a person who needs consulting help. In a casual conversational manner, Jerry introduces rules and laws helping a consultant become more effective and ultimately more successful at what she/he does.

To give you a taste of what this book is about, I listed a few of my favourite rules and laws below:

  • The Duncan Hines Difference: It tastes better when you add your own egg.
  • Prescott's Cucumber Principle: Cucumbers get more pickled than the brine gets cucumbered.
  • Rhonda's First Revelation: It may look like a crisis, but it's only the end of an illusion.
  • The Harder Law: Once you eliminate your number one problem, you promote number two.
  • Fisher's Fundamental Theorem: The better adapted you are, the less adaptable you tend to be.
  • The Bolden Rule: If you can't fix it, feature it.
  • The Third Law of Consulting: Never forget they paying you by the hour, not by the solution.
  • The Fourth Law of Consulting: If they didn't hire you, don't solve their problem.
  • The Fifth Law of Pricing: If you need the money, don't take the job.
  • The Principle of Least Regret: Set the price so you won't regret it either way.
  • Marvin's First Great Secret: Ninety percent of all illness cures itself - with absolutely no intervention from the doctor. Deal gently with systems that should be able to cure themselves.

For more information about the author, visit Gerald's website. Happy reading!

May book review: Product Development for the Lean Enterprise

Welcome again. Here is what I picked for this month's review:

Michael N. Kennedy
Product Development for the Lean Enterprise: Why Toyota's system is four times more productive and how you can implement it.

I first learned about Toyota production and product development around 5 years ago. Their numbers are truly impressive:

  • Toyota is consistently named at the top in owner satisfaction surveys
  • Toyota's  milestone dates are never missed
  • Toyota's engineers and managers achieve incredible 80% of value-added productivity (vs. 20% auto industry average in the US)
What does Toyota do differently from everybody else? How can we apply their principles to IT? Product Development is substantially different from Manufacturing. Which one is a better fit for an IT organization? 

While there is plenty of information on wildly admired Toyota Production System (Lean Manufacturing), there is considerably less data on Lean Product Development (Knowledge-Based Development). In order to better understand how these two systems are different, take a look at the table below:

  Lean Manufacturing Lean Product Development
Cycle Time: Short (minutes, hours) Long (days, weeks)
Core Material: Physical material Knowledge and information
Teams: Smaller, focused Larger, more diverse
Focus: Focus is on executing predefined tasks and automation Focus is on defining new solutions and building knowledge and expertise

In his book, Michael Kennedy introduces the principles of and key elements behind Lean Product Development:

  • Set-Based Concurrent Engineering
  • System Design Leadership
  • Responsibility-Based Planning and Control
  • Expert Engineering Workforce

In an engaging and humorous manner, he explains how these principles can be adapted and implemented in your organization. The book is thought-provoking, sophisticated, and extremely fun to read.  It appeals to my sense of humor and has a plot and engaging characters that no reader will forget. It will keep you occupied until early morning hours... ;-)

Principles of Lean Manufacturing work well for IT maintenance and support. Lean Product Development fits well IT software development teams. If you are a technical or functional leader in an IT organization, this is a must-read book for you!  I am sure you will enjoy it.

Happy reading!

April book review: Project Retrospectives

Welcome again. Thank you for reading my monthly column. Today, we will talk about a classical book on project retrospectives by Norman Kerth.

Norman L. Kerth
Project Retrospectives. A handbook for team reviews.

In my consulting practice, I see many teams working very hard, constantly in a rush trying to save the day, making the most out of every single minute they have... and never having enough time to stop and think about how they perform. Retrospectives provide a formal way for teams to get away from their daily grind and take some time to reflect on their performance, seek an opportunity to learn and get better.

In his book, Norman Kerth does an excellent job guiding readers on how to plan, prepare, and facilitate an effective retrospective on project performance. He describes a very thorough approach to how to prepare for a retrospective in a situation when you are an outsider and do not know the details and history behind the project. He spends quite a bit of time discussing how to make a retrospective safe for all participants and provides valuable methods for extracting related project data and capturing lessons learned.

Norman's approach to retrospectives is a bit heavier than mine. He advocates for 3-4-day preferably off-site residential sessions. I tend to like shorter more frequent meetings ranging anywhere from a couple of hours to a day. In order for shorter more frequent meetings to work, you will need to minimize your project cycle time down to 1-3 months. A retrospective on a 3-year monster will certainly require substantial time and effort.

Remember, the greatest teams are great because they self-reflect and continuously improve.

Happy reading!

March book review: Agile Principles, Patterns, and Practices in C#

Once again, it is time for our monthly book review.

Robert C. Martin and Micah Martin
Agile Principles, Patterns, and Practices in C#

A well written book on the subject of software design. The authors describe fundamental object-oriented principles, dig into a few design patterns, and even touch on agile methods while providing easy-to-follow examples in C#. Reading this book is like spending a day working together with a team of software developers where you can observe their development practices first hand.

While this book is not likely to become one of the classical books on object-oriented design, it is very practical and I recommend it to every .NET developer. For advanced readers, I highly recommend Robert Martin's original articles on OOP from 1990's. They are as valuable today as they were at the time when they were written.

Happy reading!

February book review: Domain Driven Design

Eric Evans
Domain Driven Design

I met Eric Evans in August of 2004, when his book had just came out and he was in Twin Cities at the Object Technology User Group (OTUG) talking about Ubiquitous Language, a language used by all team members to describe the domain model. I was very impressed with Eric's presentation. In very simple terms, he was able to find and explain the essence of what is often missing in domain implementations focused too much on technology.

You will not be disappointed with Eric's book. It describes patterns on how to explore a complex business domain and express it with a comprehensible software model. These patterns help me focus on central business problems while keeping the overall design of the systems understandable and manageable.

This is a must-read book for a business application designer and developer. Happy reading!

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