Friday, August 31, 2007

Last Work Day of Summer

The end of summer always makes me feel a little down. When I was a kid it always seemed like summer would go on forever. They get shorter and shorter (and I seem to do less and less) the older I get.

Working at a startup again (requisite plug: has been really interesting. This team has gone into it with a very specific product in mind. The last startup that I was involved with could never really figure out what it was building. This is very different. For one thing, we drink a lot more coffee!

Building project management software is kinda entertaining and kinda frustrating all at the same time. So much of the software out there is so friggen bad that it feels like, "Hey, this should be easy!" And that's also where a lot of the frustration comes from as well.

My office upstairs at home has cooled off from the heat of the day. Soon the Seattle rains will start again. That'll be nice because I'll feel much less guilty about spending my life thinking about statistics, software, human interaction and project management.

See, everyone thinks that this should be an easy problem to solve. How hard can it be to figure out when a project will be done?

Well let me tell you that it is pretty goddamned hard.

Even the simplest little thing like figuring out how much time it will take to do a simple, simple task is nearly hopeless. And it isn't just because we're concentrating on solving this problem for project management of software projects. You hear all this crap about how building software is not like building houses because the houses have a plan and defined methods and blah blah blah.


If you think that building a house is all cut and dried and that all of that is a "solved problem" and that there is little uncertainty in home construction then you've obviously never built a house. As someone who has personally done a major remodel (as in, I swung the damned hammer and cut the damned two-by-fours) let me tell you that you make a lotta shit up as you go along.

So what's the difference? Well, I think that like a lot of things it is the people. When you work construction you show up at 8am and work through 5pm (provided you're on schedule). It is not that construction workers are predictable robots, it's that software workers are unpredictable flakes. And I'm fine with that.

In fact, if I had to punch a clock again I'd quit. Period.

We want those people to be allowed to work however makes them the happiest. Even if it would be easier to schedule zombies to do the work would we really want to encourage that? What I want is to liberate the knowledge workers from the tyranny of their schedules. Free them to work however and whenever they want and still have their projects succeed. Hell, not just succeed, friggen ROCK. Exceed all expectations for function, cost, schedule.

The tricky thing is that we're trying to build software that predicts a schedule from the most vague information. And we're trying to do it while not interfering with the poor bastard who has his head full of Amazon Web Service APIs while rewriting the chunk of code that is going to actually get his company paid but is already looking kinda sketchy because it's a rewrite of Jimmy Foobraugh's port from Fortran-77 of the linear regression algorithm and Jimmy got fired for never commenting anything.


I should have drunk more rum this summer. That is my conclusion.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hi {SalesWeenie.FirstName}...

Nice title! Feels real personalized.

Yeah almost as personalized as this knee slapper from

Hi {Lead.FirstName}, is above Siebel CRM for the first time as “Leaders” in the 2007 CRM/SFA Magic Quadrant, the industry’s most prestigious and valued ranking of CRM products and services.

Previously, Siebel was the only leader, and now is above Siebel. This is a milestone for the industry and shows that an on-demand service can replace traditional software in a leadership position!

"We predict that within three years the majority of SFA deployments will be based on Software-as-a-Service."
--Gartner, Inc.

View the entire report here:


The irony is exquisite.

Come on folks. You sell software that does CRM and I'm supposed to trust your software when I get something like this?


Isn't this exactly the kind of thing that good CRM software is supposed to prevent? But that aside, the real problem is that there is a not so subtle distinction between personalized and personal emails.

Send me a personal email. Send me an email that shows that you know me; that you know my dog's name; that you know what I had for lunch; that you know I'm partial to rum. Send me an email that lets me know that I'm important to you as a person (not just a {Lead.FirstName}).

Or alternatively, don't.

I mean it. You don't know me Nicole. Just admit it. You don't know me, my dog, my lunch, or that I am very good friends with Jerry. Just send me a sales email like every other crappy sales email but which at least has the honesty and integrity to admit that you don't know me.

But whatever you do, just don't let me know that you think of me only as {Lead.FirstName}.

That's just pathetic.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Quick Notes from Ignite Seattle

So tonight I went to tonight's Ignite Seattle event.

Dude! I mean DUDE!

The talk format is 5 minutes with automagic 15 second slide changes. The talks were GREAT!

The stand outs were Rob Gruhl's talk about "How to Buy a New Car" (strategy), "Startup Metrics for Pirates: AARRR!" by Dave McClure (my personal favorite), and Leo Dirac's "Venture Capital Term Sheets". These were really great, informative 5 minute talks. You can see the video from the talks and the decks (I think) on the Ignite Seattle site.

One disappointment was Werewolf Strategy by HB Siegel. While he talked about the game, he never really got into the strategy. In part it was disappointing because I guess I had really high expectations for the talk. In retrospect it really wasn't a bad talk (in fact it was really entertaining) I just hoped for more meat about strategy. The game itself is perfectly suited to this short format of talk since in the game there's no objective information that is usable in each round. Thus the game is played at a higher level by playing the players rather than playing the game. If I lost you on that one just drop me a line an we'll play it sometime.

I'm dying to do a talk at one of these. If you have suggestions for a topic that would fit nicely in 5 minutes please leave a comment.

Anyway, I'm exhausted but totally energized by tonight's events. If you get a chance you MUST go. It is one of the best geek-fests I've ever been to.

Follow up from 8/11/2007

Dave McClure nicely posted a comment with the deck from his talk. You can find it here at Startup Metrics for Pirates: AARRR!.