Entrepreneurial Project Management

Guerrilla tips and tactics for getting things done

Interviewing Is Sales (and that’s a good thing)

Posted by matteverard on August 16, 2006

I’ve done a lot of interviews in the last couple years (since leaving my firm I’ve been on contract jobs that always require at least one).  Although initially painful, I’m grateful for the experience.  It’s made me grow up and understand who I am as a professional.  At the beginning, I couldn’t tell a coherent story.  I couldn’t discern if I was a good fit or not.  I was scared and, frankly, mostly interested in putting food on the table for the family.  I would have shovelled shit if necessary.

Later, I got more picky.  I’d sniff out the interviewers for signs of bad politics, project success rate, team agility and transparency.  It kept me out of a few really bad projects (I’d learn later from friends inside the org).

Ultimately I came to the conclusion that interviewing is really “sales” where I’m the product.  That was a great revelation b/c I could solve the sweaty palms problem.  In the early days I’d get seriously anxious at interviews.  Stammering speech, nervous ticks like pushing my glasses up, and clammy hands–I had ’em all.  Most of that was b/c I internalized the process, equating an interviewer’s rejection with personal failure.  If I didn’t get the job, I would be “worthless.” (yes, I’ve got issues, just pay attention).  Later I realized that I’m a good product, but this product might not fit here (I don’t due well in slow, bureaucratic places).  The interviews became more clean.  I wasn’t giving an “apologia for my life”;  I was peddling a product.  “You wanna buy?  If not, that’s OK, others will.”

Guy Kawasaki’s recent post “Everything you wanted to know about getting a job in SV but didn’t know to ask” is wonderfully articulate, witty, and on-the-money.   Advice delivered as only Guy can.  I particularly loved the “cast of characters” you will meet, their key question, and your key response.  The wunderkind, mom, Mr. CPG–hilarious.  Valuable reading for interviewing outside of SV, too.

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FakeSteveJobs, Where Are You?

Posted by matteverard on August 7, 2006

The blog that put sunshine in my day appears to have been shuttered. I was reading it yesterday and have the last several posts. I’ve posted them as a Word file at my own peril.

Posted in Anti-pattern, Innovation, Society | Leave a Comment »

Change, Change, Change

Posted by matteverard on August 4, 2006

I remember first learning about Entropy in undergraduate physics and, like all classical laws of science it seemed wonderfully intuitive (Relativity or Quantum mechanics are just plain weird). So the universe is like a tightly coiled spring and it is gradually unwinding. Cool. Makes sense with how I experienced the world (hot things become cool, copies of copies degrade).

And, although I’m generally opposed to transferring physical laws into social contexts, the law of Entropy seems apply to personal lives–you have to inject “work” to have an orderly system. If left to natural forces, the “system” will devolve into a random mishmash of goo.

(Now you purists don’t need to write me with corrections about my physics…yeah, I understand that you really can’t inject “work” into the system when you are the system. It’s OK, just play along.)

The “work” I’ve recently injected into my system is a change of venue which implied a change of employ. I decided it was time to flee the baking clay flatlands of the mid-west and try living in a vacation destination. So the wife and I mulled over SanFran, NYC, London, Seattle, and Vancouver. This was a tough call. It was kind of a “career or lifestyle” decision. Well, we picked Van (which a friend likened to saying “up yours” the business world).

So the job thing. Well, it turns out there’s a lot of great opportunities in Van and I landed with a great company called Atimi–a software group led by Steve Gully whom I met through Darren Barefoot a few weeks ago. Steve’s a sharp guy and understands both the craft and the business of software dev and has a team of quality people. During our discussions it was so obviously a good fit that it was hard to put up a fight when they asked me to come aboard.

This means packing up the house and downsizing from 2200sf to 1000sf, moving across a large land mass and crossing a national border. With wife and kids in tow. After accumulating 9 years of random Target purchases. Lots of “work” here, believe me.

But “fortune favors the brave” as they say and the stars are aligning. Take for instance, housing. This is no small matter in Van as any native will tell you. We were looking at $2000/mo in Yaletown for a 900sf 2BR–beautiful, with all the bling and troubles of downtown living. Then my buddy calls and tells me of a non-profit apartment complex right on Granville Island that has a 3BR for $1400. I call the manager. We’re 4th in line. I think, “No way we’ll get it.” But yesterday we signed the papers. We move in Sept 6. Our new address is:

1390 Island Park Walk
Vancouver, BC V6H 3T5

Map, here.

Kids’ school and good friends are a 5 minute walk along the seawall. Shopping, restaurants, aqua bus, view of the northshore mountains, all right there. This is sweet.

And so the work injected into the system appears to be paying off. The spring is being tightened, and it feels very, very good.

Posted in off-topic | 2 Comments »

Usability, Instructions, and Foreign Airports

Posted by matteverard on August 3, 2006

I recently traveled through Toronto International Airport for the first time and the experience reminded me of how it is nearly impossible to communicate an unintuitive process to a listener. Take, for instance, trying to teach somone how to drive a manual transmission auto (“Let out gently on the clutch, slowly engage the gas…Slowly…Slooowly…GOOD LORD I SAID SLOWLY!!”).

Or teaching a 6 year old how to punt a soccer ball (“hold it like this, and drop the ball when it gets just below your knee…No, don’t toss it up…up is bad, let it fall…whatever…just have fun, you’ll get the hang of it).

So, OK, I’m waiting in terminal 1 for my baggage…waiting…getting nervous…watching the same two forelorn bags circling and circling without any new friends to join them. Then I did what I normally do when I can’t find my luggage (and don’t ask me why b/c it has never yielded results, but it just seems like “common sense”), I walk around the other baggage carousels thinking there’s a mix up. I think I blew 30 minutes before I went for help.

Baggage guy: “Oh, you’re going international, so you pick up your bags in terminal 2. Which is way over there.” He looks at me, twists his head a bit and points to a vague, far off land that requires a bus ride. To him, looking for international luggage in term 1 was just insane. Just then I remember hearing something in the PA system talking about international passengers which I had tuned out. Sure enough, it gave me perfect directions.

Yep, the manual was there but I didn’t read it. Why? Well, I never read manuals b/c they are usually very, very dumb. Here was an exception, but I’ve already figured out how to navigate these types of systems and the PA system has never before contained critical information. (BTW–my friends in Vancouver had warned me of the weirdness of the Toronto luggage system before I left, but I had no category to receive the data. I just didn’t get it.)

So to me, looking for luggage in a remote terminal is insane. Sure, I live in Ohio and don’t get out much. Go ahead, make your jokes. Never mind. This is the way software works. People don’t read the instructions b/c they’ve, say it with me, used this stuff before and know how it should work.


OK, so, here’s the moral of the story: I hated the Toronto International Airport and blamed them for my bad experience. “That’s not fair,” you might say. True, but that’s the way it went.

I think end-users grow to hate sofware through similar experiences. If you don’t design a highly usable UI/flow, don’t count on warning signs or manuals to help with adoption.

Posted in Society, Usability | Leave a Comment »

The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs

Posted by matteverard on July 25, 2006

I’ve just blown the last 30 minutes at this site.  My face hurts from laughing (don’t miss the comparison of Eric Schmidt to a squirrel).  From GMSV:

Quoted

“Wow. Will ya look at these friggin financials! Sales up 24%, net profit up 48%. And our EPS is 10 cents above what those imbeciles on Wall Street were predicting. Gosh. We are sooo friggin hot right now. We’re like the Michael Jordan of business. Nothing but net. Hey, Michael Dell, how you guys doing down there in Buttfriggerville? Huh? What’s that? I can’t hear you. Watchoo say, boy? Sales up 6%, net down 18%? Well, sorry to hear that, wall-eye. Hey, maybe you guys should try to actually invent something. Like, hire engineers and actually design a product. Or maybe not. Maybe just leave that invention stuff to us. Ha! We R 2cool2Btru!!!!! I am going to run out to the JobsMobile and do donuts in the parking lot!!! Then I am going to kiss Peter Oppenheimer on the mouth!!!! Later losers!!! I am so cool!!!!”– Excerpt from the laugh-out-loud funny Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, Aged 51 1/2

Posted in Anti-pattern, off-topic | Leave a Comment »

Corporate Executive Structure

Posted by matteverard on July 15, 2006

PMs are not often in the position to structure a company’s executive roles, but understanding “who does what” and “why we separate roles to insure success” is key to our jobs.  Brad Feld, the intrepid nerd-cum-VC marathoning blogger, has a very good piece on the trend towards separating the CEO and Chairman roles.  Given recent history, I’m in favor of this approach.  Shareholders need an advocate separate from management (who often have their interests at heart).  Brad points out that this “best practice” extends to start-ups, too. He has a nice list of duties in his article that will help you understand what this looks like.

Posted in Leadership, Start-up, VCs | 2 Comments »

Jon Stewart on Net Neutrality

Posted by matteverard on July 13, 2006

I’m continually amazed by Jon Stewart’s intellect, grasp of complex social issues, and, of course, comic delivery.  (His book, America: Democracy Inaction is a gem, especially as audio.)   For those you who were aghast by US Senator (and Chairman of the Commerce Committee) Ted Stevens “the internet is a series of tubes” speech, you will enjoy this 5 minute snippet.

Best quote: “People, if you let those tubes of the internet get clogged, how long do you think the gerbils that power the internet are gonna run?  No long!”

Posted in Anti-pattern, off-topic, Society | Leave a Comment »

If You Care about Quality, Don’t Compete on Price

Posted by matteverard on July 12, 2006

Writing about my basement made me remember an important PM rule about winning contracts–good buyers are not as price conscious as you think. They’ve been burned before and understand that your price includes some padding to make things right. My basement contractors were 25% over the next bid, but I went with them b/c I know I’m a quality hound.  I want the same ethos in my subs and I’m willing to pay for it.  Clients who go for the lowest bid either (1) don’t know how complicated software dev is or (2) are very good at beating their vendors to death with ambiguous terms in the SOW.  In either case, this is bad revenue and should be avoided.

Posted in Program & Project Mgmt | Leave a Comment »

Adding Features

Posted by matteverard on July 12, 2006

When I had my basement finished, I outsourced the drywall. I’d done it myself once before and vowed to never again spend 80 hours sanding paste and breathing dust. Turned out to be a great investment. I spec’d out the project and hired a good crew. One of the finishers decided to add to my spec by joining the new ceiling to an exposed I-beam because it was “nicer.” When I inspected their work before payout, the ceiling and I-beam joint was a mess (steel and drywall don’t like each other, I guess). When I pointed to this hideous bit of work, the team said “well, we did that b/c we thought it would look better than what you described.” “Yes, yes, but it looks awful. Can you fix it…Please?”

You see what happened? They made a better solution than I asked for (my idea would have been really ugly), but they (1) didn’t get my buy-in so I wasn’t emotionally invested in their decision, (2) didn’t warn me that of the risks.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit it–their solution was a lot better than mine, but that didn’t matter at close out. The only that counts at the end of a project is scope, timeline, and money.

These guys gold-plated my basement ceiling and regretted it.

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Unworkable Projects

Posted by matteverard on July 12, 2006

I’d guess 20% of IT projects are “unworkable.” By that I mean that, as a PM, you should find a way to gracefully shut the thing down before a lot of time & money are wasted. There’s two steps to this:

  1. Figuring out that it’s a dud
  2. Counseling your exec to shut it down

Now, to explain.

#1. This is the hard part. If you’re a seasoned PM, you’ll feel it in your belly after about 2 weeks on the job. Go with your gut. (If you are a novice, good luck.) Here are some early warning signs that might be of use.

  • The team is fragmented and they don’t communicate often or well.
  • No one has time for the project due to pressing production issues and when you ask them for time they begin pulling at their hair, contorting their faces or simply don’t respond to your email.
  • There is no defined budget. When you talk about money, people speak in ambiguous terms.
  • The users have a totally different vision than the exec sponsor, etc.

#2. Oh, this is the really hard part…all of the root failure causes mentioned above will have executive answers. Examples:

  • “Bring the team together! That’s the PM’s job!” Well, yes, we can setup meetings and take everyone canoeing, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll come. People are busy with their daily jobs and personal life. You need a cohesive group, rallied around a goal to make a project work. Has the exec made this possible?
  • “Help them see that this is valuable!” Well, yes, but there are organizational and structural issues that will conspire against you. If the resources don’t have any skin in the game, you’ll always be a 4th priority (after regular work, personal email, and kids’ soccer games). Has the exec made this valuable to the team?
  • “Well, we’ll figure out the money later.” Fine, but the problem is that if the PM doesn’t have a sense for the monetary value of a solution, they don’t know whether to build a breadbox or a refrigerator. The PM has to set expectations for the solution at the beginning. Has the exec quantified the value of your project?
  • Is there agreement on the problems your project is trying to solve? Often the tool users are interested in improved productivity, but the exec has his eyes on customer sat or the bottom line and productivity is low on the totem pole. You can find a bridge to make people happy if there’s a general consensus, but not if there’s radically different understandings. Has the exec made his vision clear?

Execs are hard driving, goal oriented, damn-the-torpedo types (something I love) but they pay a PM to keep them out of trouble. They want you to warn them of risk and convince them to keep their wallets in their pockets if necessary. If you don’t raise the white flag early in a bad project, god help you! You’ll be on the hook for delivering a great product when the odds are nearly zero that you’ll be able to.

Posted in Leadership, Program & Project Mgmt | 1 Comment »