25 Things I’ve Learned in 2015

I finally got around to sitting down and thinking about the past 5 months. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned in 2015:

Problem Solving

1. How you define the problem matters more than how you solve it

A great solution to the wrong problem is a grandiose waste of time. Spending extra time on diagnosing the right problem to solve is much cheaper in the long run.

2. Setting up a problem is the foundation of exceptional problem solving

This includes thinking about the objectives, the constraints, the process/methodology and the tools you’ll use to solve it. It can save you a lot of rework and headaches later on in the process.

3. Think critically (“Why?”) to understand the problem

If you can’t explain the problem in plain english, you’re bound to get lost later on.

4. Most problems are emotional

The ‘root cause’ of most problems is often more “upstream” than we can imagine. Problems usually begin with some deeply ingrained desire, fear or behaviour.

5. Your gut is smarter than you think

Your gut feeling provides solid intuition about how you feel about the problem & the solution. If the solution doesn’t ‘feel right’, there might be something wrong with it.

6. Struggling leads to learning

Struggling with a problem is a great way to understand its complexity and intricacies. We don’t try as hard as we should to solve a problem before we usually give up.

7. Not all problems are created equally

Problems need to be prioritized, based on impact and timing. This needs to be thought strategically at both a department and company level.


Managing Projects and Project Teams

8. Managing moving parts is critical to managing projects

Everyone else will focus on their task at hand, but you need to focus on the bigger picture.

9. People’s expectations need to be managed throughout the project lifecycle

People’s expectations, desires and interests change frequently over time. Make sure you have a plan to manage your team’s expectations during longer projects.

10. Estimates of time and cost are frequently underestimated

The estimate cost of “Uncertainty” is seldom accounted for.

11. Reducing the ‘Launch Barrier’ is a big part of Implementation

Half the battle of long projects is won at the early stages of project definition. Achieve more by doing less.

12. Delegating is more strategic than you think

It’s a good approach to define team roles based on problems. Then delegate roles and tasks based on the best fit of your team members’ skill sets.


People and Teamwork

13. New People Bring Baggage

New people often bring a set of preconceived notions and habits that drive how they think and how they work. Notions that differ from your culture need to be either embraced or addressed early on.

14. Purpose → Motivation → Excellence

Most people need a fire under their ass to do good work. This fire is based on stress and survival. (Example: Keeping your job.) Jim Collins was right. People that are driven by purpose go beyond their duties of “good work” and are driven to excellence.

15. Companies Transform People (Not the other way around)

Company habits often become people habits. Human nature is more prone to blend in then to stand out. Given that, work hard to allow people to transform the culture of your company.

16. Effective Collaboration starts with Needs

A simple question: “What do you need from me?” goes a long way in enabling teams and departments to work together effectively.


Product Development (PD)

17. PD begins with User Needs

We often misunderstand these needs. It’s very hard to get them right the first time.

18. Defining Needs Begins with Empathy

You need to develop a deep understanding of your users in order to truly address their pain points. Spending time with your users is the most effective way to learn about them. User Personas are useful tools for synthesizing your insights into a user archetype.

19. User Needs > Client Needs

The needs of the user should outweigh the needs of the client. The client is he/she who pays for the solution. The user is he/she who will engage with it. Great products are the resulting of addressing the needs of the user, and satisfying the expectations of the client.

20. $ Maintenance > $ Creation

We often think we should build something because it is cheap, quick and our client wants it, overlooking the long term costs for supporting that feature/product. Draw a clear line between what you do and what you don’t do to minimize the risk of diluting your product vision.



21. Implicit (Tacit) Knowledge is gained by doing

You tackle a tough problem, try a couple things out, and eventually figure it out. It’s like learning to ride a bike or drive a car.

22. Explicit (Formal) Knowledge is gained through introspection and instruction

You sit down and reflect on your experience, what you did well and what you could have done better. You translate actions and emotions into thoughts, and thoughts into insights.

23. Guided Learning requires a filter

Consuming everything leads to Information Overload. You need a process (filter) in order to effectively guide your learning efforts.



24. Personal Development is about Change

It happens when you translate learning insights into real practices and behaviors, once you successfully institutionalize good practices within yourself.

25. Healthy Body → Healthy Mind

Eating right, plenty rest, regular exercise are the essentials for a healthy mind. They are the source of your creative problem solving and your emotional resilience.

If you have any comments, thoughts or would like to add anything to the list, let me know!

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