Friday, February 26, 2010

Tork & Grunt's Guide to Great Presentations

Author:       Bob Harvey
Published:   2008
Publisher:    Marshall Cavendish
Paperback: 200 pages.

"Arrows Not Bullets", is the tagline of this book.
It takes a dig at typical presentations done within the confines of an organization or in various public events. 
The author stresses that you can be a successful presenter only by pointing the audience clearly in the right direction (Arrows), rather than hitting them with random and confusing "bullet point" statements !
By means of a story about two cave-people - Tork & Grunt,and their tribe -  and also through some modern-day case-studies this book provides a concise guide on how to effectively work on a presentation through the various phases of  its lifecycle - planning, scripting and delivery. However it is a bit difficult to keep track of the flow of these stories, each spread across several chapters. It would have been better if there was just one story to illustrate all the aspects of a great presentation.
The author also provides tips on using tools like PowerPoint and Keynote.
On the whole a useful book on making great  presentations.

The key takeaways from this book are:
A) If you don't seize the opportunities of speaking, you will never explore your full potential.

B) In every situation, the purpose of the presentation or speech is to change the mindset of the  audience. The audience should either think differently or act differently after the presentation.

C) Every audience is sitting there thinking: 
     What's in it for me?                                       

D) Content is the key to an outstanding presentation.
Albert Mehrabian's much-quoted research - communication is 7 % content, 38 % tone of voice and 55 % body language- is highly misinterpreted. This research dealt with emotional communication only NOT the  general communication and CERTAINLY NOT the business communication. As Mehrabian himself says on his website: "Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable."
However his research does indicate the need for emotional content, voice and body language to be in synch with one another. 

E) To create the content, start with a braindumping session.

F) Presentation structure is similar to a three-act play with a beginning, a middle and an end.        

G) Ten Commandments of PowerPoint:
   1. Bullet points are speaker support, not audience support.
   2. KISS - Keep it simple, stupid!
   3. Slow down: just because you're anxious about being successful, 
       don't rush to get it all over!  
   4. Decide what you want the visual to say.
   5. Put on screen the minimum amount of data needed to 
        illustrate your argument.
   6. Simplify the visual to accentuate the trend.
   7. Seperate speaker support from audience support.
   8. Every slide should carry a thousand words (A picture !).
   9. Icons simplify and improve the visual presentation of data
  10. Use your theme as the visual basis for all your audience support - if appropriate - for the whole event.
(These commandments make a lot of sense, but my personal experience is - they are very difficult to follow in a hectic business scenario. It is easier and much faster to write in bullet points. Besides the audience also likes to see more details in slides. They want to keep these slides as reference, in lieu of reading a detailed document.That's the reality ! 
By the way I just came to know today that it is slightly over 25 years since the first version of PowerPoint was released. An interesting history of PowerPoint is available at the BBC website)
H) It is good to be a little nervous before your speech or presentation. In fact you exude overconfidence, you will come across as insincere or arrogant.

I) As a speaker or presenter be proud of who you are and what you have to say. 
Apologize only for genuine failings or shortcomings - and even then, only if they are clearly obvious. It is similarily demeaning to express an excess of gratitude. Always be polite, but constant 'thank-yous' are as inappropriate as constant apologies.

K) To create impact with your ending, slow down as you draw your presentation to close, so that your proposals and recommendations are clear and memorable.

 L) Stage skills
    1. Don't hide behind a lectern. You can still glance at your notes if you stand to one side.
    2. Using different points in the room to make different points in your presentation will anchor the differences through visual connection.
    3. Don't fiddle with your hands. If in doubt, just 'hang loose'.
    4. Your gestures should be directly proportional to the size of audience  - 
         small audience,  small gestures;big audience, expansive gestures.
    5. Don't embarass your audience with long pauses, while you wait in anticipation of  their   response. Make sure you get the right answers by asking rhetorical questions and answering them yourself.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Network Security - A Practical Approach

Author:     Jan L. Harrington
Published: 2005
Publisher: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers
Paperback: 384 pages
Readers in India: Buy from

This book gave me a good and well written introduction to the Network Security. However it requires the readers to have a basic understanding of LAN, WAN architecture; network interconnection hardware and the types of transmission media that are used to create network. Though I did not have this prerequisite knowledge , I still found many, though not all of the network security concepts presented in this book easy to understand.
The first chapter of the book provides a definition of security in terms of Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability (CIA) and then identifies sources of external and internal threats to the network. It also describes a typical Organization Security Policy and process and then towards the end briefly touches upon the topic of Security Audits. The next chapter deals with basics of security architecture.
The subsequent chapters are about security threats like - Physical security threats (Theft, vandalism etc,), Information Gathering, Gaining and Keeping Root Access, Spooling, Denial of Service Attacks, Malware, Password Cracking, Remote Access Vulnerabilities, Wireless Security Vulnerabilities. Practical tips on how to counter these threats are provided.
The final chapter of the book is about Data and Message encryption.
The book is well illustrated and the language is simple. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to have a quick overview of network security concepts.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

eXtreme Project Management

Author: Doug DeCarlo
Published: 2004
Publisher: Jossey-Bass
Hardcover: 560 pages
The author presents approaches for succeeding with eXtreme projects.
He defines an eXtreme project as a project that has two or more of the following dynamics in play:
- High stakes: failure is not an option.
- Deadlines are short.
- Innovation is paramount
- Success is to be measured in bottom-line results.
- Bureaucracy can't be tolerated.
- Quality of life is important.
He proposes a  holistic framework which uses leadership qualities, principles and tools that deliver value to all stakeholders in an environment which is highly volatile.
It is people centered, reality based, and business focused. 

It comprises of following components:
  • The 4 Accelerators (principles for unleashing motivation and innovation)
    1.  Make change your friend.
    2. Build on people's desire to make a difference.
    3. Create ownership for results.
    4. Keep it simple.
  • The 10 Shared Values ( establishing the trust and confidence to succeed)
    1. Client Collaboration
    2. People First
    3. Clarity of Purpose
    4. Results Orientation
    5. Honest Communication
    6. Fast Failures
    7. Early Value
    8. Visibility
    9. Quality of Life
    10. Courage
  • The 4 Business Questions ( ensuring the customer receives value each step of the way)
    1. Who needs what and why?
    2. What will it take to do it?
    3. Can we get what it takes?
    4. Is it worth it?
  • The 5 Critical Success Factors ( taking action: the tools, skills and environment to succeed)
    1. Self-Mastery
    2. Leadership by Commitment
    3. Flexible Project Model
    4. Real-Time Communication
    5. Agile Organization
This book has four parts.
In Part One , DeCarlo describes the project realities and urges us to adopt a Quantum mindset and accept the chaos and unpredictability in the project as a norm.
In  Part Two he  focuses on  the leadership skills (including self-leadership skills) that are critical success factors on eXtreme projects.
Part Three proposes a flexible project model for eXtreme projects. This model provides just enough discipline to allow people the freedom to innovate and to get the work done. The model is iterative and consists of four cycles: Visionate, Speculate, Innovate, Revaluate, and one final element, Disseminate. (seems to be similar to Six Sigma methodology !).
Part Four provides practical guidance on managing the project environment.
The eXtreme Tools and Techniques section at the end of the book is a collection of tools and techniques for use with eXtreme projects.

This is a very well written book, with lots of real life examples drawn from author's experiences. It also has a fictious but humorous case study to illustrate the eXtreme Project management technique. It is based on the biblical story of Noah's ark. 

A MUST READ for every Project Manager especially those in charge of software projects !
Also browse through the eXtreme Project Management section maintained by the author in to keep yourself updated on the recent posts and articles on eXtreme Project Management.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    The Art of Lean Software Development

    Authors: Curt Hibbs, Steve Jewett & Mike Sullivan
    Published: 2009
    Publisher: O'Reilley Media Inc.
    Paperback: 144 pages

    Got this book as a part of conference kit, when I attended the Agile India Conference conducted by Agile Software Community of India.

    It is a brief introduction to the Lean methodology as applied to the software development process. This also gives a roadmap for getting started on Lean.

    The first chapter introduces us to the Lean Principles after setting the context by discussing the problems in software development and the success stories of Agile and Lean methodologies.

    The next chapter provides an overview of how Lean can be applied to software development. It also compares the Lean and Agile Methodologies. Both the methodologies aim to improve the software quality (from customer's perspective) and productivity; both view requirement changes positively ; both place highest value on delivering the software that meet the customer's real needs (not the initial perceived customer needs). The difference between these two approaches lie in their respective primary focus. While the primary focus of Agile software process is on close collaboration with customer and the earliest possible delivery of working software, the Lean methods focus on eliminating waste in context of what customer values.
    Lean considers defects, extra features (unasked for features), handoffs, delays due to waiting , partially completed work, task switching and process overheads as wastes and strives to eliminate them.

    The authors recommend six basic practices necessary for successful Lean implementation. They are:
    1. Source Code Management and Scripted Builds
    2. Automated Testing
    3. Continuous Integration
    4. Less Code
    5. Short Iterations
    6. Customer Participation
    Each of the above practice has a complete chapter dedicated to it. These chapters outline how to go about implementing these practices and also provide tips on how to overcome the impediments encountered on the way.

    The last chapter introduces the concepts of Lean thinking and analysis practices - Kaizen, Value Stream Maps, Root Cause Analysis (Five Whys) and Kanban.
    In my opinion each of these topics deserved a dedicated chapter so that more details could have been discussed. This would have greatly enhanced the value of the book (probably its bulk and price too !)

    The book also provides a comprehensive list of books for further reading.

    On the whole a very well written book in a easy to understand language. Highly recommended for an absolute newbie to Lean.