Looking Back on this Blog...

December 30, 2011

I started this blog in January of 2009. At the time, I wasn't quite sure of where I was going, only that I wanted to drive my professional development and get more involved in writing. I began posting once a week, and around the second quarter of 2010 I increased my posting to twice per week.

I'll confess that I was concerned if I could maintain a twice-per-week pace with my work schedule. I was also worried that I might run out of material. As it turns out, posting twice a week keeps the heat on me to continually learn and raise my game.

Product Development is Learning, not Predicting

December 27, 2011

New products—or new businesses—should not make predictions early on, like predicting what features customers will value or how much revenue will be generated from a new product or business. These are questions that need to be validated as quickly as possible by getting in front of actual customers, not by making projections using a crystal ball.

Even if you capture “data” in a spreadsheet, it’s still wishful thinking until proven otherwise. Everything has the illusion of being real when reduced to numbers that add up in a spreadsheet. But just because the math works doesn’t mean that reality is being represented.

That’s not to say that some thinking up front isn’t helpful. You need to have a clear articulation of the problem that you believe needs solving—based on keen observation and thinking on your part—coupled with an assessment on whether there are enough potential customers in the market who are willing to part with their hard-earned money to purchase your solution to make their lives easier or better. And you need to be able to offer a solution at an attractive price point that will also make you a profit.

This is all part of your homework, but it is only one step in the full learning process. You need to make informed decisions on what to pursue, but once you start down a path, the reality is that you are heading into uncharted territory. And the information that you collect along the way may cause you to alter your course.

Merry Christmas!

December 23, 2011

As we approach the Christmas holiday—and since some of us are doing some last-minute shopping—I wanted to take a moment to wish you a Merry Christmas! And thank you for reading!

Have a warm and happy holiday. -- Dave Moran

Image courtesy of: suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Control Trumps Intent

December 20, 2011

In his book, Disciplined Dreaming (A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity), Josh Linkner describes how his company ePrize won the business of UPS—but managed to enrage this new customer by doing something stupid: they shipped the first package of sales materials related to their very first promotion via FedEx.

How did this happen? Well, the employee who had the responsibility to mail the materials responded with, “Our shipping contract is with FedEx.”

Linkner says he learned two important lessons from this experience. First, a lack of awareness has what he calls a “gravitational pull” that pulls people into a state of semi-sleepwalking. The second is “the incredible power of rules and bureaucratic processes.” Linkner observes that, “People are quick to ‘follow along,’ believing it is more important to obey than to do what is obviously the right thing to do for their company.”

Seek Growth, not Perfection

December 16, 2011

In my last post about goals, I noted that there needs to be a conversation between the employee and manager, discussing why a particular goal is important and how it will help the employee grow through a combination of experience and learning. Nurturing and growing people is definitely a good thing!

There is a difference, however, between growing people and perfecting people. I think that most of us would attest that most performance management systems in place today tend to lean in the wrong direction by spending too much time pointing out flaws that may or may not be important in the grand scheme of producing results.

After twenty or thirty years of performance reviews where individuals have had their imperfections pointed out to them repeatedly, you would think that many of us “seasoned” (yes, I’m in this category) employees would be damn near perfect by now. But we’re not. Well, I’m not anyway.

Do You Have Goals or Good Intentions?

December 13, 2011

It’s that time of the year when performance reviews and planning for the upcoming year are taking place, and this means that we need to talk about the goals we achieved this year (or failed to meet) and begin making commitments to new goals.

Goals are useful, they give us all something to strive for; a goal describes what we want to achieve in the future. Goals should challenge us, with the recognition that meeting these challenges won’t happen without effort on our part. Because goals are something that we agree to take on, they will not only be challenging, they will be motivating.

Goals energize us because they give us purpose; they provide meaning to what we’re doing now and they give us a sense of achievement and satisfaction when we accomplish a goal. They also inform us about how we should prioritize activities that we are performing today. If something isn’t moving us forward towards our goal, it should be a lower priority.

Have you ever had a conversation about your own performance goals that concludes something like this? “That sounds good, and I hope I have time to work on it.” If this sounds familiar, you aren’t making a commitment. You have good intentions.

People are Unique, not Interchangeable

December 9, 2011

The term full-time equivalent (FTE) is a unit of measure and is as generic as you can get when talking about people. The use of terminology like FTEs or project planning exercises that allocate resources to projects (still general, but better language), coupled with standardized approaches to performance management can create a mindset that people are more interchangeable than they really are.

I’ve had experiences in the past where an “available resource” was plugged into a project to fill a hole in a project plan without regard for the skills and abilities required to actually make the project successful. Close enough was regarded as good enough. Needless to say, this never works well for the project team or the person assigned to a project.

Management is definitely an art because people are unique. Each and every one of us possesses certain knowledge, skills, experiences, perspectives, and preferences that make us unique. We have our own strengths and weaknesses; the key for management is to help people turn all of this into actual performance.

What is the Role of Reports and Meetings in Your Organization?

December 6, 2011

If people are coming to work excited...if they're making mistakes freely and fearlessly...if they're having fun...if they're concentrating on doing things, rather than preparing reports and going to meetings...then somewhere you have a leader.” –- Robert Townsend

Meetings and reports are double-edged swords. Used wisely they can be effective instruments for planning and coordinating work. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to cross the line and turn these very same things into onerous, time-consuming drains on productivity.

That line is invariably crossed when management takes the view that everyone is subject to their authority and control. This drives a demand for reports and status meetings that fills up countless hours per week.

This can be further exacerbated by the limited span of control concept because the constraint on the number of people that can be “controlled” (managed) by any one person ultimately introduces multiple layers of management into the equation that not only creates more meetings and reports. Worse, these extra layers don’t always mesh, further impeding the very cooperation and communication that organizations require to be productive.

Leadership Lessons from Two Boston Sports Legends

December 2, 2011

A title alone doesn’t make you a leader. Sports teams have coaches, and they are definitely (or should be) in charge. But sports teams have another type of leader that is driven by the recognition of one’s own peers: the title of team captain.

A captain’s job is to lead by example and to lead when the coaches aren’t around. To be effective, captains must have the respect from those they are leading. This goes beyond being genetically gifted with great athletic capabilities. You can be respected for your physical attributes, but leadership requires more.

Two examples of those who weren’t exactly known for being the most physically talented athletes in the world are Tom Brady and Larry Bird. This is not to say that they don’t have certain gifts, but neither of these two Boston sports legends have ever been regarded as being able to fun faster or jump higher than most others in their respective sports. However, they each posses leadership qualities that set them apart.

(Larry Bird is retired, but I’ll refrain from using the past tense to differentiate Larry versus Tom for the purposes of this post.)