Entrepreneurial Project Management

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Archive for the ‘Program & Project Mgmt’ Category

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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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.

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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 »

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 »

Charterstreet and Coghead

Posted by matteverard on July 7, 2006

Greg Olsen and Paul McNamara are building a company that allows biz-sumers (business consumers who might be able to write an excel macro but aren’t IT folk) to build hosted applications (a la Ning and a bit like DabbleDB), thus further commoditizing the tool making process. They’ve taken an old school business approach (e.g. no Aeron chairs and cheap office space) even though they have taken VC money.

I love this business space right now–so much of corporate IT is broken (animosity between users and IT, high costs, low innovation, poor stability, little competitive advantage, need I go on?) and there is a huge opportunity to build SaaS businesses that serve the end-users.

Their blog is called Charter Street. Read their 5-part series on “The Next Technology P-Wave“–beautiful writing, smart ideas, these guys are worth watching.

Posted in Innovation, Program & Project Mgmt, Start-up, Tools, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Understanding When Not to Invest

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

A great speech by Warren Buffet’s right hand man, addressing the question “How does one pick stocks?” for USC’s Biz School. I got this from the often cantankarous, semi-aristocratic Nicholas Carr, the pundit who penned “Does IT Matter?” His book argued that IT was becoming a commotidy and that businesses would be wise to treat as such (and focus on cost reduction rather than innovation). It made CIOs drop a load in their collective shorts.

From Carr:
But my favorite moment comes when Munger explains why investing in great new technology often leads to economic pain, if not ruin:

The great lesson in microeconomics is to discriminate between when technology is going to help you and when it’s going to kill you. And most people do not get this straight in their heads. But a fellow like Buffett does.

For example, when we were in the textile business, which is a terrible commodity business, we were making low-end textiles – which are a real commodity product. And one day, the people came to Warren and said, “They’ve invented a new loom that we think will do twice as much work as our old ones.”

And Warren said, “Gee, I hope this doesn’t work because if it does, I’m going to close the mill.” And he meant it.

What was he thinking? He was thinking, “It’s a lousy business. We’re earning substandard returns and keeping it open just to be nice to the elderly workers. But we’re not going to put huge amounts of new capital into a lousy business.”

And he knew that the huge productivity increases that would come from a better machine introduced into the production of a commodity product would all go to the benefit of the buyers of the textiles. Nothing was going to stick to our ribs as owners.

That’s such an obvious concept – that there are all kinds of wonderful new inventions that give you nothing as owners except the opportunity to spend a lot more money in a business that’s still going to be lousy. The money still won’t come to you. All of the advantages from great improvements are going to flow through to the customers.

Keep that in mind the next time your company’s considering a big investment in information technology. You know you’re going to pay the bill, but who’s going to end up reaping the rewards?

Posted in Program & Project Mgmt | Leave a Comment »

Free Book (Sorry, for Startups Only)

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

Scott Berkun is offering copies of his book free to startups. There’s a lot to love about this book–great examples, insight on what goes wrong, and a real focus on the art rather than science of PM work. I read it last year and highly recommend it.

Posted in Program & Project Mgmt, Start-up | Leave a Comment »