Friday, January 7, 2011

OpenAgile- The PMs job hunt best friend

"What'cha doin?" Hogarth's question was nonchalant and as innocent as a cat burglar caught hanging from the ceiling.

"Remember when I was out of work last year," I said. "I tried to apply project management discipline to my job hunt, but it just ended up being a revolving to do list. I think if I use OpenAgile, instead of Scrum, we might really be onto something."

Dropping onto the couch next to me, Hogarth pulled out a banana from… Well some mysteries are better left that way. Pealing the banana he asked, "How come?"

I looked over at him, "Well for one thing, it wasn't much of a Scrum team with just myself and my gorilla."

Hogarth sat up, an indignant look  on his face, "Scum?! I'll have you know my father was a silverback for one of the largest bands in the Congo!"

I rolled my eyes, "Not scum, Hogarth, Scrum."

My 900 pound gorilla quickly deflated, "Oh." Looking at me he said "We're not going to France either, are we?"

"No, were not going to France..."

Hello and welcome to a practical Gorilla blog on using the OpenAgile Methodology for conducting a personal job search (For those confused about going to France, or what OpenAgile is, check out my last Blog where I review OpenAgile).

If you haven't checked out OpenAgile yet, it will help to at least have looked at the Process Reference sheet. I've put an image below, but it will help to have the actual PDF. To get a full understanding, go and grab the OpenAgile primer.

I'm going to go back to my own job hunt here. Like many Project Managers, I set out to tackle unemployment like it was a project. A nice a firm start, middle and end (A job). I can't speak for other PMs, but I found that once I rolled up my sleeves and got into the search, I was just working from a task list. I had a loose method going, but I wasn't approaching my search in a manner that allowed flexibility or repeatable structure (yes, you can have both in a project). My search became disjointed and often interrupt driven affair. It turned out well in the end, but I think if I had OpenAgile, things would have gone much different.

A traditional Waterfall methodology really isn't going to work well for running a job search project. A long planning cycle, followed by development before ever getting to Qaulity feedback means you could be applying for a job that was filled two weeks ago.  At the same time, Scrum isn't really the right fit either. Scrum is targeted at a teamwork process, with clear roles and is still very much geared towards a software development cycle. I tried using Scrum for my last job search and found it to have too much unusable overhead (which for you Scrum Masters our there that has to sound funny).

OpenAgile on the other hand has a very open structure, that can be easily adapted to nearly any kind of project (Perhaps OA Exec Direct D. Parker will do a blog someday on how he used OpenAgile to organize his cross country move). Where even Scrum has a Scrummaster, Product Owner, and Team Members, OpenAgile has only the Team Member, with facilitative work of Growth and Process facilitator potentially being all wrapped up in the same person. Almost makes me thing of OA as the zen Agile practice. "There is no spoon, you are growth and process in the same being."

All right!, enough theory, how would I use OA to job hunt?:

Cycle Length: Weekly. You want to be highly responsive during your job hunt, so a week is the best cycle time. Further, a cycle is Monday to Friday. You may be out of work, but weekends shouldn't be scheduled. You need down time and if you have a strong process for job hunting, you can take that down time.

Value Drivers: This is an area little covered by OpenAgile. OA is focused on the execution (which is a good thing) and doesn't currently have a body of knowledge around the generation of the Value Drivers (Scope, Features, "What is Done"). At the high level a VD should be "a characteristic deemed desirable by the stakeholders that is measured in relation to a goal. OA also recommends that Value Drivers use the S.M.A.R.T. goal format.

In the arena of your job hunting, this is where you define what a successful job hunt and job will look like. This is BIG, but is not in the scope of using OA for the actual job hunt. OA is about executing to the Value Drivers. There is a great concept called Value Levers which is used by such big names as Intel. I promise Hogarth and I will talk about it in the future, but email me if you want a copy of a Value Driver presentation I attended this summer.

Stakeholders: A quick note on these. Obviously you are a stakeholder. But your family is also a major stakeholder. Another stakeholder you can't ignore is your bills, more to the point, the people you pay your bills to. Even your poor car can be a stakeholder. Job A is perfect! But it's 60 miles away and your twenty year old Geo Metro isn't going to hold up well for that commute.

Enough on the ground work, now to the execution:

Start at the Circle: So one of OAs key components is the Learning Circle. One of the best things about it, is you can start at any place on the circle. In this case though, we'll start at the beginning (Flip to the second page of the OA Process Reference Document).

Reflection: Time to start with brutal honestly. Or in the parlance of OpenAgile, the foundation of Truthfullness. Before you can move forward, you need to reflect on where you have been. The first couple of weeks, these reflections are hardest as you are going to reflect on the last job you held. Moving forward though, Reflection becomes a look back at the last cycle (week) and what happened. I highly recommend the Manager-Tools Hotwash podcast for conducting reflections. The concept of "What went well" and "Things to Look At", combined with an open brainstorming model are very productive. Do it alone or grab your spouse (Significant other, close friend, etc) or reflect as part of a job hunt networking group.

Learning: I love OpenAgile for this. Lesson Learned (often better known under their more morbid name of "Post Mortem") and even Agile Retrospectives too often combine reflecting and learning into the same step. If you listen to the Hotwash cast, you'll probably understand quickly enough. I think of the Learning phase as the phase where you decide how you will apply the knowledge you gained in reflecting. By separating these two steps, it is like brainstorming . In Reflection, the goal is just to think, to reflect, to write stuff down, not to try and come up with a fix or solution. The Learning phase is where you decide how you will take the Reflections and put them to use. By giving them a space, you separate the emotion from the learning. Instead of kicking yourself for not having any cards to give the guy in the Starbucks line, you "learn" from the experience and set a task to go to Vistaprint and order some cheap cards.

Obviously, I espouse separating Reflection from Learning. Taking a page from Scrum, do your reflecting at the end of the last cycle (Friday afternoon) and do your Learning at the start of the next cyle at the Engagement meeting (Monday morning).

At the end of Learning, you should have some solid tasks, or process improvements that can be incorporated into the next cycle.

Planning: Now here we are again, right at the meat of it all. It's where we Project Managers often commit our worst sins. When we are planning multi-million dollar projects, we do a great job. When we are planning out something for ourselves, we too often get lost in the weeds or fail to plan in depth. The OpenAgile process breaks down planning into five distinct "artifacts". Calendar Events, Obstacles, New Artifacts, Quality Problems, and Repetitive Activities. I can't give this section the attention it fully deserves without all but re-typing large sections of the OpenAgile primer. But let me give a broad sweep on why this is good.

Breaking your activities down into the OA manner allows you to provide greater focus and importance. I like to think of it as a practical application of Covey's Habit 2 Urgent/Important Two by Two grid. It's a way to make sure you are "doing the right things" and not getting lost in the minutia that can be the death of a good job hunt.

Calendar Events: This is just common sense. Peter Drucker spoke of this for decades. If you don't plan your schedule, you won't be effective. What meetings and events do you have? If you don't list them, you don't know when you have open time to work. If you have a task that is best done in one sitting and you think will take eight hours, don't schedule it on a day when you have a networking lunch with old co-workers.  Make sure you schedule time to work on tasks (New Artifacts and Repetitive Tasks). If you know you're best at writing in the moring (you are customizing your resumes to every job right?) , the try to schedule that phone screen after lunch.

Obstacles: Roadblocks, Blockers, Speed Bumbs, we call them many names but in the end they keep us from getting our job done (and when you job is finding a job, that's bad). Remember last cycle, you didn't have a business card to give that guy in the line? That's an obstacle to your being able to easily advertise yourself. Convinced that HR person is blocking you from advancing when you are perfect for the job, that's a potential obstacle.  In Covey speak, Obstacles are Urgent/Important Quadrant 1 activities. Fix them fast, get them out of the way so you can go back to Quadrant 2.

New Artifacts: The heart of your activity cycle. New Artifacts result in the creation of something concrete. "The creation of a document, a process, or a tool, or changing existing documents, processes or tools are all examples of New Artifact tasks." New Artifacts have to be sized (Scrum estimating here we come, planning poker anyone?).  In job hunting terms, these are your resume updates, your cover letters, your contact emails to that old friend working at Amazon. Yes, it seems detailed, but you do need to plan out just who you will be emailing or calling this week. I personally used Mind Manager for this, mapping out each job I planned to pursue, each person I was going to communicate with, etc. I updated it at the start of every week and tweaked it daily.

Quality Problems:  Very similar to Obstacles, only these issues arise during a given cycle. Like Obstacles, they move straight to Covey's Quadrant 1 for immediate action. "Wow, did I really put a resume on Monster that says I am a professional "PiMP"?, gotta fix that right away!"

Repetitive Tasks: Don't be so quick to dismiss this one. New Artifacts are going to be your big fish (Intel is hiring for just your skills, need a plan to attack this opportunity), but to get the big fish, you often need to go dig up the bait first. OpenAgile suggests an RT format of “Every ____ we will _____.” (For example, “Every day we will check voice mail.”). A big part of job hunting is the unsexy, unglamorous practice of checking your sources. It also is a way to take control of your interrupt driven schedul.., (hang on folks I just got an email). Yes, that's right, stop looking at your email every 60 seconds. This harkens back to Drucker and Manager Tools, schedule three times a day to review your email. Make them set times with a start and end. Make them the same time every day. That's repetitive and that's good time management.

A final thought on repetitive tasks, and I know this is going to sound silly, but I speak from experience. Job hunting is a job, give it set hours. In my last job hunt I didn't do this too well. All to often my Wife would come into the home office and remind me "It's 6PM, are you coming to dinner?" A repetitive task can be a simple alarm to remind you to wrap up and end your "job" for the day.

And ACTION! All this blogging and technically we just finished the engagement meeting at the start of the week. Now that you have a plan, time to take action. You've got your tasks on the task board, you've scheduled your calendar and repetitives, you know what the Quadrant 1 obstacles are, now just summon up the courage and get going!

Just remember your progress meetings. With my own personal modification of OpenAgile, I would end the day with reflections. This gives you a night to mull them over, before you tackle the next day. Then, every morning start your day with your progress meeting. Hit the learning circle and figure out how to learn from your reflections and then look at how you want to change your day. Another great thing about OpenAgile, over Scrum. There is nothing to keep you reaching deep into the backlog, mid-cycle and pulling some task up to the top of the list. Talk about flexibility!

That's it! Yes, there is a lot more to it, but like OpenAgile itself, this is a framework.  A loose  framework to wrap around your own working style. There's a lot you can delve into, a lot you could tweak, a lot you could challenge. So with that, I'll give you one of the last gems of OpenAgile. JUST START! Don't over plan, don't over think, get going and keep going!

Joel BC
Veteran, the Project Manager wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Who is Hogarth? Read Blog 001 to find out all about my personal gorilla.