Monday, December 28, 2009

Debugging Life

Living life well is your biggest project, so why not adopt tips from successful project leaders to the project of managing your life?

In the self-help field, there's no shortage of people, books, churches and more, all eager to tell you what to do, but most suffer from provability problems. One can never be sure whether a priest's advice has ever gotten anyone into Heaven! Reports of success from  self-help programs may be artifact of observer bias or even of modifying goals to meet the results achieved. It is hard to find objective standards for evaluation.

In contrast, product development has a somewhat objective standard for success; products ship on time or late, buggy or not - and customers complain loudly! It stands to reason that successful project leads have ideas that that we may profitably swipe and modify to other parts of life - such as life itself!

In this spirit I just finished reading Steve Maguire's "Debugging the Development Process: Practical Strategies for Staying Focused, Hitting Ship Dates, and Building Solid Teams", and can report that it is, indeed, full of ideas that can be adapted to everyday life.

For example, in the workplace, we may all recognize we should "work smarter, not harder" and Maguire is no exception; his parsing this concept into particular skills, with homey examples of actual implementation, is helpful for extending this concept to everyday life.

Another concept is that project members should work only on things that advance the goals of the project; the function of a project lead is to shield the rest of the staff from anything that gets in the way. To adapt this concept to managing your own life, ask yourself: If your project is to be a better person or to have a happier life or whatever, ask yourself: why are you doing anything else? You may have good reason for doing those other things but if you don't know what those reasons are, perhaps you need to re-evaluate.

I most enjoyed the idea that part of every day of successful leadership is pausing to think of how we can hit the project goal just a little be better. Not every improvement will be major but they add up; the important thing is an attitude of systematic, continuous improvement. Surely this applies to life as well as to business!

These few ideas drawn from the book may seem obvious, but if they are so obvious, ask yourself: are you doing them? Perhaps you need a program of systematic, continuous improvement in your life skills; you can start by giving this book a quick read.

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