Maria Matarelli Blogs

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sustainable Pace

It is important for teams to find their sustainable pace. This applies to individuals and businesses as well.  Sustainable pace is working at a rate that can be maintained long term, not just for a short period of time working at full capacity, rather a reasonable rate that can be sustained.

"Endless business requirements, desired features, market pressures… There is always more work that needs done. Sometimes, it may feel like endless sprints where you thought you saw the finish line, but every time you round the track they tell you there’s another lap. You dig deep and pull together the energy to continue to sprint, but again, you round the last turn and push forward toward the end and people on the sidelines are yelling “another lap, another lap” and you check to see if you can find the energy to keep going, but you can’t. You keep thinking you’ll have a break but it never ends. The sprints are seemingly endless back-to-back cycles and you see no end in sight. You need to catch your breath, you need water, you’re getting blisters… You’ve burnt out"... 

Read the full article on Sustainable Pace: Trusting Your Teams on the Scrum Alliance Website.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Become more capable than you ever imagined

The best way to weather times of famine is to save in times of prosperity.  To protect your career before it’s threatened by company downsizing and other impacts of the economy, here are 5 steps to follow.

  1. Maximize opportunities for professional development: Take advantage of your company’s training programmes and at the beginning of every year carefully plan courses to take.
  2. Showcase your value: During a recession companies don’t stop needing services; they just need different services. Look at your strengths and match them with new need emerging needs.
  3. Be committed to continuous improvement: Be willing to consider relocating or travelling just to expand your options.
  4. Defy the Impossible: What might seem impossible can be overcome with hard work, delivering quality work and a willingness to ask.
  5. Take a risk with a higher possibility of reward: Be confident enough in your own abilities and set up a business of your own or become a partner with a business owner.
Taken from The Recession experience of Maria Matarelli; a professional coach and personal mentor. For more tips on improvements and personal development, follow@mariamatarelli on Twitter, Download the book from The eBook Library Or enter 50% paperback discount code BLC1000 to get the book at The eBook Library.

Blog also posted in the Business Leaders Book Club

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Accomplishing Goals or Losing Time

Day in and Day out...
Have you heard someone say "I can't believe another year has gone by"? Just yesterday, it seemed like summer and already another winter is approaching. I used to have moments of thinking time was passing by too fast or not knowing where the summer went until I made a shift in my perspective a handful of years ago. I had been working in a job, wanting to get ahead, thinking of a certification I thought I should be working toward, but not really making any progress. The days came and went and they just seemed to pass me by.

I have since deemed that first certification my "Everest". It seemed so difficult to achieve, but the only real roadblock was me. My procrastination. Then one day there was an announcement that the certification requirements were changing and there was a deadline to take the test before they came out with the new version. In lieu of this new externally imposed deadline and not wanting to have to start over, I became determined to get that certification. After taking a prep class, occasionally studying here and there, and carrying the book around with me for about two months straight, I sat down and really studied over a four-day weekend, scheduled my exam within a few weeks and went and passed it!

This achievement seemed out of reach until I thought of how much more complex it would be to start all over from the beginning with new material which sounded less desirable. I refer to this as my "Everest" because it was the biggest challenge in my path that until I conquered it, I couldn't seem to move forward in other development areas. I imagine that if you were to climb to the top of Mt. Everest, the world's highest mountain with a peak 29,002 ft above sea level, other mountains would seem like a piece of cake after that. Well thats what happened with me, by the time I finally buckled down and conquered that Everest, it was like an opening of floodgates. I saw that it wasn't as difficult as I had made it out to be. My next achievements and ambitions became easier and easier to complete. Things aren't as hard as you may have originally thought once you make up your mind to go and do it. Only the first of anything is hardest to get.

The Mindset Shift
When you set goals that you are working toward, as time passes, you are making progress toward that goal. You can identify incremental achievements along the way and find inspiration and momentum from small wins. As time passes, instead of feeling like time is passing you by or you are losing another year of time, you will be that much closer to achieving your high set, far reaching goals and conquering milestones along the way. When you shift your focus to be more goal oriented, you are making progress with every day. You just need to identify what you want to strive toward.

Time flies. Whether you are making progress toward your goals or just feel like you are losing time is all in your perspective. Behind me is no longer lost time, it is gained experience, accomplishments, additional knowledge and one step closer toward reaching my next goal. Get inspired. Set your goals today and embrace that sense of accomplishment and excitement of achievement that comes with it.

Monday, June 20, 2011


The need to call aardvark: A tool for meeting effectiveness

I was working with a team on a website redesign and our Product Owner was working with the design team to ensure they had the proper requirements. He began to pull in other stakeholders for input and was working closely with our web editor. After a few sprints, they pulled me in as a stakeholder to see the progress and give input to the aspects of the site that related to my work.

They invited me to participate in the online collaboration tool and I read as much as I could to get up to speed but many conversations had taken place on and offline prior to my engagement. Before the meeting with the design team began, we were discussing how to best use our time with the team effectively. I was aware that I may have thoughts or input on a topic that had already been discussed and didn't want to de-rail the conversation or waste time talking about something they had already resolved.
We agreed that we needed a code word of some kind to use in the event that we were getting off track. A few suggestions were thrown out, then out of my subconscious came "Aardvark". It had all the qualities of a good catalyst and seemed so appropriate with the perfect element of random arbitration. It was harmless, yet cunning and the perfect neutralizer.
We agreed upon Aardvark and we were able to utilize it soon enough. When a topic was a side track, aardvark was exclaimed and we were able to jump right back on target. We delegated a facilitator for the portion of the meeting that we were leading, but the second portion yielded many open ends and thus resulted in multiple rabbit trails. Aardvark was utilized regularly and it worked brilliantly every time. No offense was taken at the exclamation, rather side tracks were averted.
The design team chuckled a bit at the first use of the word, but did not question its use at any time. It was not disruptive and was an effective tool for prodding the conversation along while avoiding any hurt feelings or misinterpreted interruptions. Because we had set expectations for the usage and meaning of the utilization of our new catalyst to efficiency, we were able to reap the benefits to proceed as a higher performing team.
There was an instance or two where we did veer from the agenda and that was because a high level discussion led to another then to another outside of the focus of the work for the near upcoming sprints. It could have been that as the long afternoon transpired, some of the participants began to sink into a moderate state of complacency, drifting in and out of attentiveness. An "Aardvark" moment must be identified in order to be utilized effectively. An Aardvark will not be called out on its own.
We do recommend the use of Aardvark in conjunction with a facilitator for best results, although it can be used by a team that does not have a set facilitator as a group self facilitation method. The beauty of calling Aardvark is that it was derived by our team for our team and was the perfect arbitrary word to serve the purpose of keeping ourselves on track. We recommend that you try calling Aardvark as a way to keep your next meeting on track. 

you can buy your own aardvark here...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Getting Stuff Done: Back to the Basics

Have you worked in an office or for a large organization for an extended period of time and gotten caught up in the hoopla of the corporate merry-go-round. Where you one day realize that you didn’t really do anything but push a little paper around, have some conversations in email and maybe attended a few meetings. Volleying the ball out of your court to keep movement. My favorite is a round of 5+ emails to set a time for a phone call. 

I discovered an amazing technique for getting things done that can be referred to as “pick up the phone”. A seemingly long lost form of communication in our electronic media age. It can be surprisingly refreshing to see what can be accomplished by picking up the phone and making things happen. 

I encourage you to try it. The next time you are about to craft a carefully thought out email to volley back and forth some ideas, try picking up the phone and save the time delay of the electronic exchange.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Work in Progress: A Constant Struggle

Overwhelmed with too much Work In Progress?
"I have all this Work in Progress (WIP) but I can't seem to get anything done..."
Sometimes it can be easy to start up a bunch of work and you may feel productive because you are constantly busy, but do you ever stop to ask yourself what you are accomplishing or ensure that you are finishing tasks through to completion. Taking a step back to review what you are completing may be a good periodic step.

Gain Momentum from small wins
If a task seems overwhelming, breaking it down into smaller pieces could help it become more manageable. You can gain incredible momentum from small wins. Completing work in progress can stimulate fuel from a sense of accomplishment. Remember to celebrate your successes and utilize that positive momentum.

Identify your roadblocks
Take a moment to survey your current situation and look for what may be preventing you from making progress. Sometimes, small roadblocks may derail your focus that you may not be aware of. If you are trying to do something that is not your core strength, maybe you need to find someone with that skill and work with them to complete the task that stood as your roadblock.

Leverage your strengths
What are you good at? Are you spending your time on something that does not come naturally to you? Identify things that you can do to use your strengths and see if you can either build your skills  in that area vs. leveraging the skills of others with that expertise to allow you to do the things that you are good at.

Beware of inefficient multi-tasking
Studies have been done on the inefficiencies of multi-tasking. Compared to working on one task until it is done, multi-tasking can often lead to a lot of tasks started, but nothing finished. This can lead to subconscious discouragement. You could be operating  in a constant state of Work In Progress unknowingly missing the stimulation and encouragement that comes from small achievements and pocket wins.

The impacts
Without a clear order or idea of everything that needs to be done and your current progress, one could have a general sense of unease along with this inefficiency which only causes a lag in performance and may lead to less accomplishments.

Assess your current work in progress and really look at what may be keeping you from being productive. It may be the case that finishing up some of those loose ends could free your subconscious to be more effective while you complete needed tasks.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Distributed Teams and Overcoming Geographic Constraints

It can be difficult to overcome geographic constraints, especially when your team is used to working with people face to face. There is alot of benefit to being in the same room with someone. You can read body language, interact seamlessly and most people are used to working together in person.

Although face to face communication is often preferred, I've worked with teams in different countries and timezones and operated very efficiently while doing so. It helps to have a single point of contact on each of the separate sites for coordination and setting recurring meetings and expectations up front is very beneficial. When coordinating with other time zones, you can essentially set up your teams to work 'around the clock' and gain momentum this way.

Technology allows for many collaborative opportunities that didn't exist in recent decades. We can video chat, share desktops, utilize collaborative online environments to create documents and interact.

The possibilities are quite remarkable. We've had great success with streaming real time video while running presentations, training and holding meetings with remote locations.

We are exploring virtual world collaboration for the next agile users group meeting at IRAUG and look forward to seeing the great possibilities of such an environment. Read more about this on the IRAUG blog

Success requires risk. Leverage your technology.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How can I get Started in Project Management?

I've been asked this question multiple times recently so I wanted to share some guidance on how one can get started in the Project Management field. Other comments and insights welcome, so please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences or questions in the comments below.

Where Can I Start?
There's always that bitter catch 22 that you need experience to get the job, but how can you get the job if you don't have experience. I believe that if you want something bad enough, you can achieve it. You have to choose to make it happen. There are many opportunities to get the experience you need, but you have to be willing to put forth the effort and you may need to get a little creative.

Find an Opportunity to Get Experience at Work - Go Above and Beyond
The first step would be looking at your current role to see if there is opportunity for you to take on additional responsibility to either manage a team or if there is any project that may need to be completed. These opportunities for growth may mean that you will have to take on this new responsibility or opportunity in addition to your current job with no additional pay or incentive other than gaining the experience. A project is defined as a temporary endeavor with a specific start and end date. You will need to identify the people and resources needed to complete the work, document the goals and objectives of the project (often referred to as measures of success) and plan out how you intend to accomplish the work by the target finish date (you may identify a list of tasks necessary to complete the project), then begin execution of the work. As you lead the project, you will need to collect status from your team to track your progress and assess what work remains. 

Keep it Basic
This may appear to be an overly simplified description of what managing a project entails for those that have worked on many projects in their time as there are a vast number of methodologies and approaches for Project Management and countless valuable training courses with great techniques and ways to effectively manage project work. However you have to start somewhere, so if you can find an opportunity where you can begin to gain experience running projects, breaking it down to the basics and not over complicating will give you an opportunity to gain that first ounce of experience you need to get started.

Once you have an opportunity to work on projects, talk with your current boss to see if you can lead more project teams or see if there is a Project Manager role within your current organization that you could work towards. If they have career development opportunities, you may be able to work with them to further develop your skills and begin leading more projects.

Get Involved in the Industry and in the Project Management Community
Get more involved in the Project Management community. You can join your local Project Management Institute (PMI) chapter and learn more by attending their monthly chapter meetings. You could also volunteer as a Project Manager for one of their projects to gain more Project Management experience. This would be great on your resume if you are looking at different companies or if you are looking for more experience to show your current employer. 

Get Paid in Experience, not Cash
Other volunteer opportunities exist with Not for Profit groups in your area. Many groups are always looking for volunteers and people to help them with developing their organization. If you identify an area of need for a local Not for Profit group, you could volunteer to lead a project for them using a basic Project Management approach and documenting your work on that project. You can gain references from the people you work with and the organization leaders.

Read, Study, Learn
There are many resources available to learn the basics of Project Management and advance resources to take your skills to the next level as a Project Manager. You could take a training class in Project Management to help you learn the fundamentals or there are self study opportunities and webinars available online.
These learning resources can include:
  • Read books
  • Read articles online
  • Follow and participate in discussion forums
  • Take a training course
  • Attend industry conferences
  • Get certified

Getting Certified
Some people question whether a certification can actually guarantee whether a person knows what they are doing. Regardless, when a certification is widely recognized by hiring managers, you may want to show that you understand the fundamentals or advance concepts in a particular field and sometimes, it can set you apart from your competition or at minimum, level the playing field if enough people have the certification that it is expected as foundational level understanding. It does demonstrate a certain level of understanding and dedication in taking the time to pursue a particular designation.

In Project Management, the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is widely accepted and often a prerequisite by hiring managers. You can prepare for this exam by studying the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). It also requires that you have a minimum number of experience hours to qualify in the application for the exam. Working on more projects at work or volunteer projects in your community will help you build this experience. There are many training preparation classes and study guides available to assist you in preparing for the exam.

Setting Goals and Taking Actionable Steps
Take a look at where you are and identify where it is that you want to be. It may seem overwhelming to try to figure out how you get from your current state to the end desired state, so this is where you should set incremental goals. Break down the large task at hand into smaller, more manageable steps that you can focus on and set target goals that are achievable. Be sure to revisit your goals and regularly re-assess your progress and next steps as some things may change or new opportunities for growth may arise.

The Value of a Mentor
It is a good idea for any endeavor that you are seriously aspiring toward that you get a coach or mentor that can guide you in achieving your goals. It helps to find someone knowledgeable and experienced in the field you are working toward that can assist in guiding you toward good actionable steps toward achieving your goal. Accountability is important in propelling yourself out of your comfort zone and taking on new challenges. Finding someone respected in the field you are working toward can be a valuable resource as you begin your journey toward acquiring those skills. Building a relationship of trust can be a good foundation for assessing where you are and getting honest feedback on what you may need to work on to become a great Project Manager. 

Be Determined, Never Stop Learning
Don't give up. Keep at it. Believe in yourself and celebrate your successes. Be patient. Not everything will happen overnight. Steadily build your portfolio, network and resume and little by little, you will begin taking great steps toward your new desired position. Find encouragement from those around you and surround yourself with others that are already in the role you are pursuing. Be open to feedback and input and don't think you know it all. After years of leading training classes, I still find myself amazed at what I learn from my students. Be open. You can learn from your environment and from your surroundings everywhere that you go.