Entrepreneurial Project Management

Guerrilla tips and tactics for getting things done

Archive for July, 2006

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.

Posted in Program & Project Mgmt | Leave a Comment »

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 »

“When You Set Yourself on Fire . . .

Posted by matteverard on July 11, 2006

People love to come to see you burn.”

–John Wesley

Good leaders know that if you are genuinely amped about your project, you will attract followers. I remember seeing an interview with some early Apple programmers describing how Steve Jobs rallying the troops into a death march with a St. Crispen’s day speech. The pitch: “if you can shave 8 seconds off the boot-up time for millions of people, think of the man-years of productivity gained!”

Leadership = vision + passion + diligence

My buddy, Todd, is showing some great leadership in his latest project to make his first movie…at 35, w/ 3 young kids, and a full-time job (not in LA, not in the movie biz). The best way to describe it is “a love-story-documentary about youths and record stores” and the cultural shift that has come about through digitization (e.g. kids don’t go to record stores anymore and as much as we’ve gained w/ iPods, we’ve lost something, too). Kind of a Dog Town and Z-Boys about Music.

You might say that the idea found Todd and is compelling him to set it free. He’s lit himself on fire and I’ve gathered round to watch. I’m going to post an excerpt from a recent email so you can get a sense the process. (I introduced him to a serious indie-rock legend who happens to be my neighbor, Ron House. His Memorial Day parties are amazing…)

we had a great time at Ron’s place a few weeks back. he dropped some excellent stuff on us, the quality of sound and footage was outstanding (made possible by the very expensive camera). i got some great direction from that discussion as far as the narrative is concerned. maybe even a title: “Pissing off of the Porch – Survival of the Independent Record Store” or something to that effect. i’ve had a few scheduling challenges. had to cancel this weekend’s scheduled trip to the store which sucked. plan is to shoot there, get in-store visual and perhaps some discussion. ron agreed to an on camera walking tour of high st – “show you where everything used to be”. he also invited us to record the TJSA re-union show at little bros in august. so it’s moving along, if a bit slowly. there’s a great story here though, and the more i dig around, the more pertinent it seems. ultimately it comes down to people – and we have interesting and compelling people. i can appreciate the work of directors/producers. even this little thing takes considerable effort, just to keep it in the air.

Posted in Leadership | 1 Comment »

Mac Commercials

Posted by matteverard on July 11, 2006

I’m among the throngs of people praising the new “Get a Mac” commercials. Apple is rubbing salt in an open wound in the consumer computing market: too much complexity. Just about any normal person has to promise free beer to a serious techie in order to get their new Dell up and running. I was called to my mom’s recently and spent an afternoon fumbling around with patches, updates, uninstalls, and virus protection. Add a wireless network to the mix and you’ve gone from two beers to four in a hurry. I was only able to succeed with a well-timed phone call to a full-time sys admin buddy.

Check out Charter St.’s (Paul McNamara) good piece intitled “The Software Complexity Racket.” It’s a smart take on the financial disinsentives for innovative simplicity that exist in the current enterprise software market.

Also, don’t miss the smart parody “Get a Mac” commercials from VH1! Hilarious!

Posted in Innovation, Society | Leave a Comment »

Reduced Feature Set = Better Product?

Posted by matteverard on July 10, 2006

Yes, it’s true. Here’s a great post by DabbleDB’s Andrew Cotton Catton (demo of his new product here) explaining why his product doesn’t have templates. Answer: it used to but they cut that feature after user testing. I love it! This reminded me of two things about design that every PM should know:

1. More features != better product. More features usually means more options to consider. “Considering” is thinking. Thinking leads to confusion. Confusion leads (quickly and unavoidably) to a bad experience.

2. You don’t know anything until you watch someone use the product. Actual user testing is the only way to know what’s good and bad in your design. You can get user input during design, recruit a great team of interface designers, and do paper prototyping, but you’ll never get the real deal until it is a tool in someone’s hand.

It’s very difficult to cut a feature (after pouring hours into development and design, you’re emotionally committed to it), but that’s the kind of discipline that needed to make a great product. Congrats, Andrew!

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

iPod Revolution: Unintended Consequences

Posted by matteverard on July 10, 2006

My buddy, Todd, sent me this fantastic article on one significant cultural effect of the iPod–the death of Rock Snobs–and what that means for the world. A sample:

While the term “Rock Snob” has a pejorative ring, the label also implies real social advantages. The Rock Snob presides as a musical wise man to whom friends and relatives turn for opinions and recommendations; he can judiciously distribute access to various rare and exotic prizes in his collection. “Oh my God, where did you find this?” are a Rock Snob’s favorite words to hear. His highest calling is the creation of lovingly compiled mix CDs designed to dazzle their recipients with a blend of erudition, obscurity, and pure melodic dolomite. Recently, I unearthed a little-known cover of the gentle Gram Parsons country classic “Hickory Wind,” bellowed out by Bob Mould and Vic Chestnutt, which moved two different friends to tears. It was Rock Snob bliss.

Funny and poignant–I’m definitely one of the milkers and have felt, on occasion, that I’ve dishonored the high rock gods by mixing rare collections with the profane.

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