Entrepreneurial Project Management

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Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

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 »

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 »

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 »

What’s Your Secret Magic?

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

I’ve recently read a story to my kids from The Magic Treehouse series where Jack and Annie, brother and sister, find (what else?) a magic treehouse that transports them back in time so that they can save the day over and over again. In The Night of the Magician Jack and Annie meet up with four of the “new magicians” at the World’s Fair in Paris, 1889, at the top of the Eiffel Tower. The kids have to discover the “new magicians” secrets before an evil magician comes to steal away their knowledge. When Louis Pastuer, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Eiffel are asked “What is your secret magic?” they scratch their heads and respond.

Eiffel: My secret is that I have a taste for adventure and a love of work and responsibility.
Pastuer: Chance favors the prepared mind.
Bell: When one door closes, another opens.
Edison: Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

After each man gives their “secret” the others nod and clap in appreciation. I found myself resonating with each of these perspectives, perhaps especially Eiffel’s. I love challenging projects, love to learn, and have a passion to build things that matter.

As Joel Spolsky said, there are two things that matter most when evaluating a candidate: aptitude and passion. People with aptitude can learn new things and are immensly valuable in a host of situations. People with passion get things done.

Posted in Leadership | Leave a Comment »

Preventing Innovation

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

Scott Sehlhorst gives us an irreverant, entertaining playbook for preventing innovation. He begins:

At a recent presentation in Austin by Seilevel about the goals and methods of requirements gathering, a member of the audience asked “What can we do with our requirements to assure innovation?” That’s a tough question with an easy answer – nothing.

What if the question had been “What can we do to prevent innovation?” That’s a better question with a lot of answers.

Of particular interest:

5. Treat employees like garbage. Yell at them. Whenever possible, call them at midnight to yell at them some more. They work for us. If they get uppity, make them work on the weekends. Make them dig holes and fill them back up again. Threaten them – especially when they need the job. If you can’t yell, at least be condescending in public forums. Remember we are smarter than they are. Punks.

Reminds me of the Peopleware chapter on “making teams jell” (short answer: you can’t).

(again, via Scott Berkun)

Posted in Innovation, Leadership | Leave a Comment »

Mistakes in Technical Leadership (Hacknot)

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

Put this site in your “low frequency/high quality” blog list. Hacknot cranks out about one article a month of decent length and excellent quality. Similar in tone and content to Joe Spolsky (note the common love of private offices). The most recent post details 19 (yes, 19!) mistakes common among tech leads. The first two mistakes help you get a feel:

  1. Assuming the team serves you
  2. Isolating yourself from the team

Link via Berkun

Posted in Leadership | Leave a Comment »