Step 2 of getting my WIP under control: Categorizing ALL THE THINGS

by Angela 11. January 2018 19:00

I took an actual, honest-to-goodness, “no working when people aren’t paying attention: vacation for the holidays so it’s been a quiet few weeks for me. Last time I posted, I described how creating a “one version of the truth” repository for visualizing, prioritizing, managing all of my commitments was a great start to flattening out my over-commitment-then-working-crazy-hours-to-not-under-deliver roller coaster.

So once everything was in one place, my task from my coach George was to identify all of the roles I fill, both at work and at home, and create buckets for chunking up all of my To Dos. For one, I get visually overwhelmed easily, it’s a thing I recognize about myself, so it’s always more effective for me to take in small chunks of data and parse it out if I can. It also gives me another easy “filter”. So I spent some time thinking about my day, and while I sometimes felt like I filled like 20 different roles, it broke down to just 6 major themes when it came down to prioritizing what I focused on during my work day. Luckily Nozbe allows you to create “projects” for lumping things into buckets, so I started there:


The reason this was super important for me, was that like most folks, I cannot be really effective unless I am allowed to focus. So say I have a couple of hours of unstructured time in my day, I could turn on Slack and open my Outlook Inbox and start reacting (I’ve done this, it’s not recommended), or I could decide that working on marketing focused tasks is a good idea. Combing through dozens (or hundreds!) of jumbled To Dos stresses me out, and I tend to pick what’s easy instead of what’s most important or the most effective given my mental state. For instance, if my free time is during a time of day I don’t feel particularly able to be “on” I might not pick tasks that require me to be super attentive or to think quickly on my feet. But if I’m juiced up and feeling particular inspired, I might take on sales or networking related activities. I owe a lot of this thinking to Nancy Gaines.  She is a big advocate of figuring out when your “power hours” are, batching similar activities, and managing your calendar appropriately around that.  Batching similar activities is much easier when they’re already categorized.

Of course within those categories, it’s still important to refine the lists on a regular basis. Rank them by importance, flag things that can be delegated, delete things that are no longer important (THIS IS HARD!), and when hard due dates exist, make sure they are visible. Refinement leads me to Step 3, which is developing a cadence for iterating on those lists, committing to things, and knocking it all out.  Or as George likes to say, CRUSH IT!

Stay tunes for more on cadence and planning.  


Continuous improvement | Productivity | Agile


It’s Getting Better All The Time - Getting ALL THE THINGS under control: Step 1

by Angela 19. December 2017 23:37

Remember that time I admitted that I had lost control of my backlogs

Admitting you have a problem is always the first step to getting back on the right path. It’s been a few weeks since I hit rock bottom on the commitment roller coaster. I have been making some great progress, which included a weekly “accountability” session (sprint reviews anyone?) with my coach, delegating things that will stagnate on my backlog (lowering WIP), and devoting some regular time to planning out and refining my weekly commitments (sprint planning and backlog refinement!).  It’ was all so obvious in hindsight, it almost hurt.

If you recall from my last post, my 3 major To-Dos were:

  1. Identify all of the roles I fulfill on a daily basis, both at Polaris and in my personal life.
  2. Start categorizing the things on my backlogs under my identified roles and prioritize them.
  3. Invest in a planning cadence to cut through the noise and focus on what is important

Turned out there were a couple of important steps that I had failed to mention. In this blog post I’ll focus on my ramp-up to my 3 step strategy. I’ve already added backlog items to write separate posts on those 3 steps, and how I tackled them. There’s a chance I may change those 3 steps by then, but that’s the beautiful thing about continuous improvement Smile

First thing I did was make sure that all of my accountabilities were visible in a single place. As much as I love OneNote, VSTS, Pipedrive, Nozbe, and my little yellow notebook, having pieces of all of my stuff live in multiple places at the same time was NOT working, no matter how well I color coded and organized everything. After some trial and error I landed on Nozbe as my one version of the truth. Things still live in those other places too, my Nozbe list isn’t something I want to expose to all of the people I collaborate with as it contains all of my personal backlog items too (ex: my boss doesn’t care about when I take all those bags of clothing to the donation shop). But for my own benefit, anything I am ultimately responsible for delivering on ends up in Nozbe no matter what. If it isn’t in Nozbe, it doesn’t exist, and it probably won’t get done.  FULL STOP.

OK, so I did make an exception with Outlook, I try to immediately deal with stuff there if I can. Something from Outlook only goes into my Nozbe backlog if it needs more thought or follow-up than a quick email response, and you can forward emails to Nozbe to add them to your list – HURRAY! It means a little duplication of effort when things need to be copied to Nozbe, but that has proven to be far less overhead than checking all of those places every day and mentally stack ranking things across multiple backlogs. And let’s be honest, that was a lot of waste.

Second part of prep was documenting my goals and keeping them visible.  It’s easier to prioritize all of your To-dos when you understand what you’re trying to accomplish, much like the team having sprint goals! I didn’t want them in yet another tool, I wanted them in my face as much as possible. One of George’s many great pieces of advice was that every week, you should do at least one thing that contributes towards hitting your goals. Ideally everything you do contributes to the goal but sometimes you just have to drop packages off at the Post Office before Tuesday so people get their gifts on time Smile In Nozbe, it just meant creating them as To-dos in a Goals bucket, marking them high priority, and making sure they appear at the top of my daily task list. Here’s a preview of what that looks like:


I marked my goals as a high priority (note the star at far right), so when I am looking at the current week’s commitments (also starred), my goals are always included:


Next step, To-do #1 is categorizing all my stuff into “buckets” and prioritizing. We’ll tackle that in another blog post, which will appear on that list above this coming Sunday during my weekly planning “meeting” – and we’ll talk more about my cadence for planning in yet another blog post.

I hope this has given you some ideas if you too are struggling to keep what’s most important in focus, or if you are a serial over-committer like I have been for so long.

And here’s my schill for Nozbe (complete with an affiliate link), because it really is a pretty great tool if you’re looking for something digital to manage all of your To-dos.



personal growth | Agile | Collaboration | Continuous improvement | Productivity


The Agile Coach Has No Plan, and other tropes

by Angela 30. November 2017 17:45

About once a quarter, I come to a breaking point where I’ve dug myself into a commitment hole so deep I don’t see any way out other than working nights and weekend for a couple of weeks to get my head back above sea level. Ironic, given that I am an agile coach right? Ironic, and embarrassing. But what kind of coach and leader would I be to NOT share my failures, to show some humility, and then take action to improve? I decided I was done running, done being frantic and reactive, I needed a better way.

Now, there is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution for these kinds of things, but I just happen to work with George Evjen, one of our agile coaches down in St. Louis, and he shared with me what has worked for him. I share this because I am likely not alone, and maybe this will spark something in you.

I should back up and give you a little context. I am a Principal Consultant at Polaris and I not only actively juggle multiple clients, but I am responsible for sales and marketing, contributing to business strategy, managing client engagements and relationships, coaching and mentoring other employees, and I’m a Microsoft ALM MVP which comes with its own set of accountabilities like public speaking, blogging, and both organizing and speaking at tech conferences and user groups across the country. Oh, and I also mentor a couple of people outside of my company as well. For funzies. WHEW!

To say I wear many hats would be an understatement.


The way I manage all of that is, well, not terribly elegant or effective. I have backlogs in Nozbe (non-sales related work stuff), Pipedrive (sales related work stuff), and multiple VSTS instances (Polaris accountabilities and various client accountabilities). My email also serves as a backlog of sorts, as does OneNote, and my little yellow PacMan notebook that I use in business meetings where I collect even more things I am going to be accountable for. Long story short, I have about 8 different places I need to look at any given time to figure out what I should be doing every day. And this is just for work. THIS IS NOT AN EFFECTIVE LONG-TERM STRATEGY.

Back to George.

I decided to swallow my pride and ask for help from a coworker that seems to have this problem tackled. I showed George all 8 of my “backlogs” and he responded in a really unexpected way. He said “wow, all of those tools are really great. I wouldn’t stop using them”. I was expecting him to say “c’mon Angela, dump all of those tools, that’s a terrible strategy!” Instead, he pointed out that as I was using them, each one was really valuable in its own way. The flaw was that they didn’t allow me to effectively plan out what I needed to do each week or to visualize what I actually had capacity for. Hmm, so you’re saying I should be refining the (8) lists of things that people need from me onto a single, prioritized, and manageable sized list of things that I can confidently commit to in say, a week. I then need to really dig into planning just that week. BRILLIANT!  This is where I start blushing madly, because this is PRECISLEY what we coach our clients to do on a daily basis. This is like Agile 101.

If there was ever an appropriate time to user the old trope “the cobbler’s kids have no shoes”, this is it! I spend my career directing my clients to invest in planning, accountability, and transparency so that they can provide more value to their customers, avoid burnout of their employees, and build a culture where people feel like they can be successful and happy. But I was neglecting all of that when it came to my own career. I was burning out, and hindering my ability to provide value to the people I serve, which is what defines success and happiness for me.

This is not a sitcom, so alas I have no happy ending to show that I am now the master of my own career plan, not yet anyway. George gave me a few ToDo’s to get me moving in the right direction, and I’ll share those now, and provide an update when I’ve had a chance to internalize and execute on them for a while. I also setup a recurring coaching session with George so that he can help me to hold myself accountable, and do a mini-retro each week to see what worked and where we may need to improve upon my strategy.

My 3 big ToDos for the rest of this week are:

1) Identify all of the roles I fulfill on a daily basis, both at Polaris and in my personal life. I already color code these on my Outlook calendar so I can see where my biggest “investments are”, and I love this idea.

2) Start categorizing the things on my backlogs under my identified roles and prioritize them. It will help me figure out what to jettison or delegate when I can see I am going to be over-committed.

3) Invest in a planning cadence to cut through the noise and focus on what is important

a. Every Sunday night I am going to review all of my various backlog and identify the most important things for that upcoming week, let’s call it a “sprint”

b. Visualize everything I am committing to for the upcoming week on an actual physical thing – yes, another backlog, but now just the ONE. I am still investigating what this one place will be, and as I am really visual, this may literally be a paper day planner that I can have on me at all times

c. Each night I am going to review what I’ve accomplished that day, what new stuff came up during the day, and refine my plan for the next day as necessary

Wish me luck!



Join me at APLN on Nov 9th to Talk Agile Metrics that Matter

by Angela 1. November 2017 01:04

Join APLN on Thursday, November 9, 2017 between 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM to chat with me about metrics that really matter. This talk is aimed at any organization regardless of your size, industry, platform, or process.

The Nielsen Company

150 N Martingale Rd, Schaumburg, IL (map)

Venue is near Woodfield Mall. If coming in through the front entrance, take a left and people will see a sign for the event (look to the right if coming in from the parking garage).

Topic:  How do You Measure up? Collect the Right Metrics for the Right Reasons

Description: How many times have you been asked to deliver on metrics that did not make sense, that were counterproductive to the team's effectiveness, or that were seemingly impossible to collect? Often times, the metrics being collected are the ones that are easy, but not necessarily the ones that matter. In some cases, metrics can even have a demoralizing or counterproductive effect on the team!

When it comes to software delivery, lean and agile practices and methodologies have clearly taken the lead. In the spirit of Kaizen, this session will take a look at the measures we can and should collect from agile teams, why these metrics are relevant and interesting, and how we can use them to help our teams continuously improve.

Preliminary Agenda:

6:00 - 6:30 : Networking and Food
6:30 - 8:20 : How do You Measure up? Collect the Right Metrics for the Right Reasons
8:20 - 8:30 : Closing

Food and refreshments which will be provided during the networking period.

Sign up here!


Agile | Metrics | Scrum


November 2017 Chicago Agile and DevOps Meetup –Damian Brady Talks DevOps for Any Language, Any Platform

by Angela 23. October 2017 13:57

Microsoft and Polaris Solutions are teaming up to host Damian Brady on Wednesday November 1st in Downers Grove, IL. He'll spend an action packed hour giving you a guided tour of Visual Studio Team Services to see how seamlessly it works for any developer using any platform.

"This is no longer the Microsoft of old! I’ll be showing live demos in three different operating systems, using three different languages! As a developer, you can easily use your existing toolset and existing investments alongside VSTS and Azure. Come and learn about all the new VSTS announcements, out of the box features, and extensibility options to help your team adopt new Agile, Git, and DevOps practices!" ~Damian

Please be sure to register for the event, building security will not allow unregistered guests to enter the Microsoft space.

Dinner will be provided, and parking is always free and easy at this location.

Damian is an Australian CDA specializing in DevOps. He's currently based in Toronto, Canada, but will be moving back to Australia - the land of the dangerous creatures and beautiful beaches - in 2018.

Formerly a dev at Octopus Deploy and a Microsoft MVP, he has a background in software development and consulting in a broad range of industries. In Australia, he co-organized the Brisbane .Net User Group, and launched the now annual DDD Brisbane conference. He regularly speaks at conferences, User Groups, and other events around the world, and he's been an occasional guest on various podcasts like .NET Rocks and Hanselminutes.

Most of the time you'll find him talking to developers and IT Pros to help them get the most out of their DevOps strategies. https://twitter.com/damovisa


DevOps | Software Development Lifecycle Management | Release Management | Continuous deployment | Deployment | VSTS | TFS 2017 | TFS | Team Foundation Server | Visual Studio Team Services | Tea


Azure Red Shirt Dev Tour with Scott Guthrie comes to Chicago October 16th

by Angela 9. October 2017 16:27

Wanted to share out this awesome opportunity coming to Chicago next week, on October 16th. I’ll be down in St Louis at the DevUp conference, but I’ll be watching my twitter feed to see what exciting news comes from this event, so keep me posted Smile

The event is being held at the Field Museum, in the James Simpson Theater.  There is no cost to attend, so be sure to register now for FREE while there are still spots available!

Below is the event description and agenda:

Whether you’re new to the cloud or a seasoned expert, you’ll learn something at the Azure Red Shirt Dev Tour ‘17. The Red Shirt Tour is all about code. Join Microsoft’s cloud chief, Scott Guthrie, as he codes live and demonstrates how Azure can help you solve some of your most vexing developer problems.


Scott Guthrie is the Executive Vice President of the Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Group. As executive vice president of the Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Group, Scott Guthrie is responsible for the company’s cloud infrastructure, server, database, CRM, ERP, management and development tools businesses. His engineering team builds Microsoft Azure, SQL Server, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Active Directory, System Center, Visual Studio and .NET.


Azure | Cloud Computing | Clou


Overcoming Adversity and Keeping a Positive Attitude on September 26th, Sponsored by IAMCP Women in Tech Chicago

by Angela 25. September 2017 14:37

It’s with special thanks to the Kate Spade store on Michigan Ave that the Chicago IAMCP WIT chapter invites you to join us for an evening of networking, cocktails and a fireside chat with Jo Ann Mirabelli as she discusses Overcoming Adversity and Keeping a Positive Attitude.

Jo Ann’s journey with battling breast cancer has taken her on a journey that has been physically and emotionally trying — she’s focused on turning her experience into inspiration to help others be the best version of themselves.

Jo Ann’s Mantra Blocks will also be available for purchase ($20 each) as she donates the proceeds to Metavivor—a Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

The evening of the event, Kate Spade will also offer a 15% discount on everything in the store. Reserve your spot, as seating is limited!

There is still time, so register today!


About IAMCP WIT: Together, we’ve built a strong network of global communities where women can collaborate, support and empower each other to do amazing things that change the world. Supported by Microsoft and the IAMCP, we hope to inspire girls to dream of roles in technology and help women thrive in the industry, without doubting they belong there.


Women in Technology | Women | IAMCP


Trust and the Marble Jar

by Angela 28. July 2017 18:40

I am a big fan of Brene Brown and her work around vulnerability, shame, and trust. At first it was something I was spending time on with my own coach as a self-improvement project, then, over time, I started to connect with it again as a coach and mentor to others. And the more I talk about it, the more it’s clear that I’m not alone. I went off in search of some good resources on building trust and transparency, and unshockingly I ended up once again taking advice from Brene Brown. 

Today I watched this video of hers that digs in on the subject “the anatomy of trust”, and admittedly I found myself questioning my interactions with people, my reactions to difficult situations, and I was pretty sure that I was coming up short. Trust is integral to building long, lasting, and meaningful relationships, both personally and professionally. Trust is a tricky thing. Tricky because it can be fragile, emotional, and so hard to build and earn, especially if you’ve lost it or had it broken. Do people trust me? And who do I *really* trust myself?

I don’t have the answers just yet. And since I am pretty sure I am not alone in these doubts, I wanted to share some of my takeaways from the talk. Here are some things that really stuck out:

Brene describes trust as a marble jar that fills slowly until it’s full enough that trust is established. Others fill our marble jars and we fill theirs. Marbles can also be taken out through little “betrayals”. What kinds of things can you do for others to fill the marble jars so that they trust you?

  • Being genuinely interested in people’s lives, the good and bad
  • Asking for help when you need it
  • Attending funerals
  • Sharing your hardest stories (a.k.a. showing vulnerability)
  • Choosing to connect when opportunities arise

Trust also requires validity and reliability.  Validity was fairly straightforward, but reliability caught me off guard. It made me realize that it’s something I try to pride myself on but as of late have struggled with incredibly. Reliability means we don’t take on so much that we can’t follow through on our commitments. GUILTY.AS.CHARGED

Breaking commitments is an example of a small deception that removed marbles from our trust jars. And it’s not just breaking work commitments, those hollow offers of “oh my gosh we should have lunch soon, I’ll be in touch”, and you know it’s never gonna happen. We’ve likely all done it, and as well intentioned and harmless as it seems to just say, it erodes trust.

Trust is choosing to make something important to you, vulnerable to the actions of someone else. ~Charles Feltman, from “The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work” (I’ve already ordered a copy of that book)

Trust is built in small moments, over time. A lot of time.

BRAVING connections requires Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-judgement, Generosity. FWIW I might do a separate post on BRAVING but it’ll take some time.

“Beware the naked man offering you a shirt” ~African Proverb. I couldn’t resist a little humor because this post was getting awfully heavy. But honestly, it begs the question: Do you trust yourself? If not, how can you ask others to trust you?

This of course makes me start to think about how so many of the teams I work with are struggling to be successful in an agile environment, and an environment that 100% relies on trust and transparency to thrive requires an immense amount of trust. What things are teams doing that are blocking their marble jars from being full?  Are they braving connections? Definitely gives me some interesting new discussion points and analogies.


Agile | trust | vulnerability | teams


VS Live is Coming to Chicago in 2017 and I have a $400 discount to share with you

by Angela 20. July 2017 17:38

Hey friends! In case you haven’t heard, I’ll be speaking at Visual Studio Live in Chicago this year! ::cue massive Imposter syndrome episode::  Smile

Not familiar with VS Live? Visual Studio Live! provides you with immediately usable training and education that will keep you relevant in the workforce.  You’ll hear from Microsoft folks and industry experts about the latest news, new developments in tools and processes, and get some awesome networking opportunities. The conference is happening September 18-21, so sign up soon and get that time off requested before it sells out.

I am really excited to have the chance to share some of my experiences with you at the following sessions this year:

  • Getting Your Agile Team Unstuck! Tips and Tricks for Blasting Through Common Setbacks
  • Improve Your Retrospective Outcomes with Agile Kaizen

Now for the part you really came here for – I have been extended a special offer to share with you.  As a speaker, I can extend $400 savings on the 4-day package.

Register here: http://bit.ly/CHSPK08reg, the special discount code (CHSPK08) should pre-populate for you.

Amplify your knowledge at Visual Studio Live! Chicago — bring the issues that keep you up at night and prepare to leave this event with the answers, guidance and training you need.


VS Live | VSTS | TFS | Agile | Scrum | Continuous improvement | DevOps | ALM | Application Lifecycle Management | appl


ThatConference Game Night update! Boardlandia Returns

by Angela 28. June 2017 17:51

2016-08-08 20.45.10

As you may or may not know, I was one of the masterminds behind #ThatGameNight at ThatConference. My husband and I are huge fans of board games and it felt like a great way to get people together for a night of fun! It’s become an extremely popular event attended by hundreds of campers and their families every year, and to help us keep the momentum going we have established a partnership with a great, local board game shop. In case this is all news to you, a little background…

ThatGameNight is a free, social event open to all ThatConference attendees and their families on Monday night of the conference every year. ThatGameNight will be happening during and after the Monday night Happy Hour, so grab some refreshments and head on over to the gaming areas that night, we’ll have a lot of activities setup so you’ll have a blast even if board games are not your thing! The event begins at 6 pm and continues until midnight, and the schedule is flexible, so feel free to stop by at any point during the event and stay as long as you like.

Boardlandia is once again partnering up with That Conference to supply a free library of games for all ages to borrow and play while at That GameNight. As a special perk to all That Conference attendees, you can also go to their website to check out their full catalogue, and if you see something you like, they are offering an option to pre-purchase games and accept delivery at That GameNight – just use the "Free Pick up at That Conference 2017 Game Night" option when you place your order.  Pre-ordering will end on July 31st.

You can also bring your own games if you like, but be sure to take advantage of the Boardlandia game library if you can. It will be a great chance to discover new games, and meet new people!

We're also going to have a Pinewood Derby track set up at ThatGamenight. Come on out with your pre-built pinewood derby car and challenge your fellow campers to a race for bragging rights. Old and young alike can use the track, so use those engineering skills to build your best car and bring it out to trounce the competition!


ThatConference | boardgames

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