Monday, November 16, 2015

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks


Wayne, stay.

In the work place, what is one of the reasons we make changes?  To keep current - current with best practices, current with technology, and current with new thinking.  When Bob Dylan sang about “The Times They Are A-Changing,” his commentary was mostly social in aspect and highlighted the gap that existed between generations, the events over the past 15 years in the business world (globalization, Sarbanes-Oxley, mobility, etc.) have had a lasting impact on the work that we do.  As we get older, which is something we have to recognize, the actions we take, the thinking that we do and our interactions with others (i.e., social media), can easily broadcast what age category we belong to.  The fact of the matter is, this is true not only at work, but in our home lives as well.  Which brings me to the question, can you teach an old dog new tricks?

When we were younger, we were good at learning and using what we learned.  Let’s face it, after we graduate school and start working in earnest, we are still in a mode where we are happy to listen to others and take on the things that we need to know to move forward in life.  Same thing goes for outside the workplace as we begin to “move out” from our parent’s house and begin living life as an taking on bigger responsibilities.  Over time, we develop the habits that will carry us forward.  If we are diligent and focused, the habits, for the most part, will be positive.  If not, we will establish bad habits (including our vices).  To use a tree as an example, as a sapling, the young tree is flexible and able to bend with the breeze.  As the tree ages, its trunk thickens, becomes less flexible and is more likely during a windy storm to fall over.  We took a hike recently and noticed all of the big trees on their sides, not so the saplings.  As we gain in years, we become more fixed on what we do and tend not to be as flexible, both physically and in our actions.  For me, I have spent the past 17 years thinking in terms of project management, where projects tend to last months, have a beginning, a middle and an end.  At home, I leave all my work habits in the office, and have different ways of approaching things, with many beginnings, some middles and less ends.

In the last 20 years, technology has changed drastically and the incremental advances occur more quickly.  Some of the strategies in the workplace have changed.  17 years ago, for example, I was introduced to Rapid Application Development (RAD) to speed up development and to shift time from planning activities to iterative development.  Many years ago, I attended a Project Management training class where they showed a movie, which had a huge impact on how I approached projects.  The movie was called the 4-hour House (http://network.projectmanagers.net/video/4-hour-house-short) and it showed the importance of taking the time to plan-out projects before actually starting (even included a practice / UAT process).  Due to the planning efforts, the house finished under schedule and set a world record.  Today, Agile Management has changed the focus from planning to providing small incremental deliverables and has been adopted by many businesses.  In fact, a friend of mine who is a certified SCRUM Master, says the practices are adaptable in her activities outside of work.  New practices, new ideas, and new thoughts.  I am not ready to become “one o’ dem ole guys” quite yet.  Short planning and deliverable cycles are a philosophy that I can leverage at work and at home!  Here’s to this old dog happily learning new tricks…