Monday, August 25, 2008
I'm serious, this conference is like a two day, one track, SXSWi. There were great talks (and not all of them were in the conference hall itself), great food, great parties. Much like SXSW, I left the event feeling totally energized and ready to go out and DO stuff.
The theme was "Human Circuitry" and I certainly felt plugged in.
The most emotionally charged talks were Sarah Lacy's talk on the state of blogging and Scott Maxwell's Mars 3.0 presentation. The blogging talk had a bunch of tension in the room for reasons that really are not that clear. The Mars talk was one of the coolest, most hopeful things I've seen in years.
Mars is cool. I have a special warm spot in my heart for that cold dry planet. Back in 1976 my father worked on NASA's Viking project to put two landers on Mars. I was a little kid sitting in an auditorium waiting for the very first picture after the Viking 1 Lander touched down in western Chryse Planitia. When the first lines of that picture rastered out across the screen the crowd, quite literally, went wild. While not at that level of electricity, the standing ovation that Scott Maxwell received was most assuredly well deserved.
Matt Hartley posted his Top Five Gnomedex Tips which I think should be retitled Top Five Conference Tips. Number two is "Stop Twittering every so often and listen." The twitter army was out in force and I felt from time to time that it was rather impolite to the presenters to see a sea of the backs of laptop screens. Looking around I'd say that at any given time about half the people were heads down typing away. If the talk was boring I assume they were browsing for something more enterataining. If the talk was electrifying I assume they were blogging/twittering/noting that, "Wow, this is great." It seemed like a waste to me.
Entrepreneur Mark Bao did a great two person panel with Francine Hardaway (Chris Pirillo served as a kind of moderator and straight man). Mark posted some great observations about speaking and networking at Gnomedex. I got to talk to Mark at the pre-registration party on Thursday. He's a great guy and his blog is definitely worth reading. Like many others at the conference, I'm really glad to have met him.
Those were the high points for me.
The internet connectivity the first day was pretty spotty. So if you're really relying on having a solid connection get an EVDO or something like that.
Overall my first Gnomedex was a great experience. Will I be back next year? Damn right I will!
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I hear a lot of other folks say many of the same things about the way the tools of leadership and change management make them feel. This often reminds me of Samuel Clemens' quote about how "[t]hose who respect the law and love sausage should watch neither being made." Organizational change and true leadership cannot be apolitical simply because they fundamentally are about dealing with people and their varied interests.
His primary complaints about the book he read is that it appears to be giving the reader advice on how to play the political game to manipulate people into doing what you want. When put that way these things really sound pejorative. However without further context it is hard to tell. Motivation for manipulation is critical to understanding the ethics of persuasion, just ask the mother of any two year old trying to get them to eat something "good for them".
It is all fine and good to say that a good leader “should already have people aligned with the necessary changes and have them ready to implement change.” But how does the leader do that exactly? Well, one way is to create a sense of urgency. To say that if a leader is doing their job a sense of urgency already exists is just plain silly. That implies that a leader doing their job has created a sense of urgency. But that’s exactly the advice Eric appears to argue against.
Further, Eric posits that organizational change should be about changing the game not playing it. But implementing change within an organization in a smooth and orderly fashion requires that you work within the existing structure to gain support for your change. This is particularly true if the change is to the game itself.
The “political acumen” and “art of persuasion” that disturb him are simply tools in the toolbox of a good leader. A good leader without political acumen will get eaten alive by some jackass that out flanks them in the executive ranks. A jobless leader is not particularly effective. A good leader without mastery of “the art of persuasion” is an oxymoron since a good leader persuades (not forces) people to follow them, even when the way forward is unclear or difficult.
I suspect that there was something else about this book that set off Eric's alarm bells. I’ve had this happen several times with books where the advice they were giving was clearly “good” yet I hated (and hate is not too strong for how I felt about some of them) something about it. The tone, the subtext, something set me off. I’ll bet if Eric looks closer he’ll discover the same thing.Eric has many great posts about change management and leadership and I think he understands how technology fits into and can help drive the very changes he advocates (that's why I read his blog). But I think that like a lot of other people before him, he went off track on this one.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
When Jon talks about organizations without managers he is not talking about organizations without leaders. Leaders are the people you follow, managers are the people who tell you what to do. Sometimes they are the same person... if you're lucky.
Over to Jon...
Turning the Organization Inside Out
A Model for Hyper-Innovation
Jon Poland – 3rd i Designs – email@example.com
What is the chief reason that people fail to perform to their fullest potential?
I believe that it stems from a lack of motivation/inspiration. I believe the root causes are limited choice about the work they do and an inability to provide input into how their work is done. Employees also are forced to roll the dice on whether their manager is good to work for and can/will serve as a beneficial mentor/coach. On the flip side, some managers are not comfortable dealing with problem-employees directly and the whole team/organization suffers as a result.
This makes me ask the question: why do we need managers? In fact, why is a multi-tier hierarchical organization necessary at all? The answer that typically comes back is that the organization needs direction/leadership and that employees require overseeing or they won’t do their jobs properly, if at all. But what if these functions could be accomplished more effectively without a top-down structure?
All organizations need rules to operate by. Rules create order out of chaos. But rules – if overbearing, improperly applied, or treated like dogma without an understanding of the reason for their existence – can crush the soul of an organization’s employees. So we will pay careful attention to the rules that are developed for this new type of organization. Also, people need a purpose in order for their work to be meaningful, which can be expressed as an organizing principle. This principle should inspire people to come to work and act as a touchstone. The organization must live this principle in order for it to be beneficial.
Here are the proposed 12 Rules for Organizations without Managers:
Rule #1: No one can be made to work on anything they don’t want to and they get to choose how they want to do the work. This restricts one person from imposing their will upon another. People in this company will be self-managed.
Rule #2: People can work on projects or in professional groups with no more than 80% time allocated to any one project/group, no more than three projects/groups per person, and a minimum of 40% total allocation. People who can’t achieve minimum allocation are automatically dismissed after two quarters. Professional groups include accounting, HR and legal. People have the flexibility to work on different things so that their minds get enough stimulation, but without getting spread out too thin. Maximum 80% allocation to any one project/group encourages cross-fertilization between projects/groups. Minimum 40% total allocation gives employees flextime opportunities (school/family/health) while still making their contribution significant enough for the company to have them.
Rule #3: Anyone with an idea for a project can champion that idea within the company and recruit others to participate in the project. The project must have at least 6 members to be considered a project (no compensation for allocated time until then). The person(s) with the forming idea own 10% of the project (split according to their agreed upon percentage contribution to the idea) which translates into 10% of the profits generated by the project or 10% of the cost savings generated by the project (convertible to stock in the company per an agreement between the idea owners and the executive team). This encourages entrepreneurship within the company and rewards people for their IP contributions.
Rule #4: Anyone in the company can become a member of a project/group if they have three sponsors from that project/group. The amount of time they can allocate to the project/group is determined by the sponsors. An exception is that the idea person alone can recruit a new member if there are less than 5 people on that project. Another exception is that the executive team can appoint people to professional groups if a group is smaller than three members.
Rule #5: A person’s contribution is determined quarterly by 5 people they work closely within each project/group. People are rated anonymously on a likert scale based on their level of effort, mastery, mentorship, collaboration and attitude. The standard salary for all project members is the same (set by the executive team), but people with above average contributions make up to 100% above standard and people with below average contributions make up to 50% below standard. The standard pay for each professional group is set according to the industry average. People who are new to a project start at the standard salary until rated. Professional groups smaller than 6 people will need to fill the gap by getting rated from people they work with who are outside that group. Ranges are to reward higher contributions and to encourage underperformers to perform better or leave.
Rule #6: Anyone can be dismissed from a project/group, including idea owners, by a majority of the people who rate them (done anonymously). Idea owners retain their ownership rights described in rule #3. In addition, a professional group can dismiss an employee outright by agreement from three people in that group. If someone has violated HR policy or accounting rules, that profession is in the best position to make the judgment call.
Rule #7: Employees who have been with the company for a year split quarterly profit sharing evenly. Profit sharing is 20%. Yes, that’s very high compared to other companies, but it provides a strong incentive for every person to make the company profitable (and remember there is no managerial overhead to pay).
Rule #8: Executives are appointed by the board, but must be ratified by the employees and can be dismissed by a majority vote of the board or employees (done anonymously). Executive pay is 5X the company average with the CEO making 10X. The executive team can propose major company initiatives, but initiatives must be approved by the employees by a majority vote (also anonymous).
Rule #9: People who average in the top quartile of contribution for the last 4 quarters are eligible to be recruited by the executive team into the Front Office Group (FOG). The FOG supports the executive team. The rules that apply to this group are the same as for project groups (except they can’t propose project ideas). Their standard rate is 3X the company average. By agreement from three members they can disband any project they (1) suspect of being a hideout for underperformers, (2) feel is not in alignment with the company’s organizing principle, or (3) feel has reached a dead-end and won’t self-disband. People who were on two such projects within a one year timeframe are automatically dismissed from the company.
Rule #10: The total company budget (determined by the executive team) is distributed across employees in proportion to their salaries and assigned to projects/groups according to percentage time allocated. If a project/group has more budget than they need, they can assign the overage to other projects/groups that need it. Because of 20% profit sharing, hoarding is unlikely.
Rule #11: Project/group members let HR know which skill sets are needed. HR must at a minimum conduct background checks and verify resumes for promising candidates before letting them in and will let a few more candidates in than are technically needed for that period. It’s up to new hires to get onto projects/groups at the percentage allocation they prefer. This rule along with all the other rules will be disclosed to candidates up front. This gives more people a chance to work at the company and weeds out under-performers quickly.
Rule #12: In addition to sick/vacation time, everyone gets one week PTO for expanding their horizons, whether reading, going to seminars/conferences/training, etc.
All this assumes that there is money to pay employees. A bootstrap startup company could do without an executive team or FOG early on (and forget about budget). It could offer a higher share of project ownership, and relax minimum percentage allocation to encourage people to work there part-time as a second job until the company is in a position to pay them.
A company set up in this way would release people’s potential to be highly innovative as well as productive. It would be an exciting place to work.
Jon Poland is the founder of 3rd i Designs which provides an online set of tools for organizations to conduct faster/cheaper/better strategic planning. He is also working on an online application for organizations, communities and societies to participate in collective decision modeling. The ideas for this paper were inspired from his master’s degree in entrepreneurship work and from a BarCampSeattle session hosted by Bruce P. Henry on gaming the organization.
Friday, July 11, 2008
If you're super-technically adept, skip to the end to see the registry hack way of doing this directly.
Windows Update is generally useful. I like that it automatically patches my OS with all the latest security stuff. If you want to know why I like this please take a look at this article on herd immunity and then take a couple of minutes to think about it.
Anyway, the vexing thing is that at some time around 3am, when I am never there to tell it, "oh hell no, I have critical documents open!" Windows rolls an update and the computer helpfully restarts itself. Here's how to fix that little issue without turning off automatic updates in XP pro (for home edition you must hack the registry).
- Go to Start Menu -> Run type “gpedit.msc” and press Enter
- This opens the Group Policy editor
- In this window go to: Computer Configuration -> Administrative Template -> Windows Components -> Windows Update
- Double click on No auto-restart for scheduled Automatic Updates installations
- In the settings window Choose Enabled and click OK
- Close Group Policy Editor
The next time Windows Update updates your system it will not restart the computer automatically, but will notify you that restart is needed in order to finish the installation.
- Go to Start Menu -> Run type “regedit” and press Enter
- This opens the Registry Editor (if you are not sure of what you're doing STOP because you can completely hose your computer if you screw up)
- In this window go to: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE -> SOFTWARE -> Policies -> Microsoft -> Windows -> WindowsUpdate -> AU (if this key does not exist you must create it)
- Create a DWORD named NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers with a value of 1
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Sounds great on the surface. Let's dive a little deeper...
Put one way, advertising is the process of convincing people that they want to buy what you're selling. Merriam-Webster defines advertising as "calling something to the attention of the public" but I think that's a little too simplistic. You not just saying, "Hey, here's our stuff and you can buy it if you want."
Nope, you're trying to convince people that your product is better, that yours is cheaper, that they really want... no strike that... that they really need yours.
As the folks on the receiving end of this we try like hell to filter it all out. We don't want to hear the messages. Not just because they are irrelevant to us, but often because they are both relevant and persuasive. I've got more than enough junk that sounded like a good idea at the time thankyouverymuch.
So the advertisers try to convince you to buy something, and you try your best to ignore them. In this way advertising looks a lot like a classic measures-countermeasures game. But right now the advertisers have imperfect or incomplete information about you.
Advertisers come up with something, you learn to ignore it (e.g. dancing banner ads), they come up with something new, you learn to avoid it... and so on.
Saying that we want more relevant advertising based on our likes, dislikes, culture, background, blah-blah-blah is kinda like saying, "here are the keys to my brain, come on in and make yourselves at home and my wallet is on the coffee table."
We don't want more relevant advertising. We want less advertising altogether and more authentic communication. The advertiser wants me to buy their product. The authentic communicator wants to help me solve my problem no matter what (if any) thing I buy. For a good introduction authentic communications read any of Joshua Porter's excellent posts touching on the Cluetrain Manifesto).
For this reason alone I think that Facebook and others that hope to capitalize on our personal information by targeting advertising based on our profiles (even if they keep the details of our information from the companies doing the advertising) are doomed in the long run.
We just won't sit still for it. We will evolve new defenses and the game will start all over again.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
I blame the beer.
It all started with the oldie but goodie, "How the hell do you monetize Twitter?" About two minutes later we had replayed from memory the entire history of this discussion and come to the "you just can't" conclusion. Now, I'm not going to go into it here, suffice it to say that charging for a service that relies on tipping point type network effects to provide value when there are many free alternatives is a recipe for going out of business.
But then I got to thinking... and when I returned to consciousness I found that the discussion had revolved around are these web 2.0 companies viable businesses, or simply features waiting to be acquired by a bigger company?
Once you start looking at it that way you have to start asking yourself, if the company in question is just a feature waiting to be acquired then why would they need a whole bunch of accounting, HR, marketing, sales douche bags? I mean really, if the point is to spend a year or two building a real nice, useful feature with open APIs and all that crap so that it can easily be integrated into some other company, and you know your exit is going to be acquisition, why the hell would a development team burden themselves (and dilute their stock pool) with a buncha business douche bags?
Holy crap, they do have a business model; Build a feature, prove it out in the market place, then sell their development work. It's like market proven outsourcing of development. My god, it is a brilliant symbiotic relationship between bigger companies and small agile development teams.
In fact, the more I think about this the better it gets. There has always been an aversion to risk and change inside of larger companies that makes it difficult for them to innovate. But small companies moving fast can build out a whole new thingie and try it out in the marketplace for cheap. And it just keeps getting cheaper to do this. With hosted email, accounting, turnkey servers (or services like Amazon's S3 and EC2) small companies can build out major stuff on the cheap. Things that used to be multi-million dollar development projects can be done by a couple of folks in co-working space for a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
The reward for the development folks is higher because it is not weighed down by all the business douche bags (note: this is not to say that all business folks are douche bags, merely that a disproportionate number seem to be in the wild). The acquiring company already has a buncha their own business douche bags so why do they want yours? They would just have to "buy them off" with severance and crap like that.
In a lot of ways this is a B2B rather than a B2C play even if the feature/product is aimed at consumers. This should be obvious when you consider that the monitization scheme is actually acquisition. The small web 2.0 company is selling development cycles to the large acquiring company.
I'm not sure right now what this means for smaller software companies following this model. I suspect that over time it means that valuations for the smaller non-traditionally monetized companies will actually go down since the valuation model has been skewed upward by the ones that have a traditional valuation model (i.e. someone is paying money for the services on an ongoing basis before acquisition).
Interestingly, acknowledging this non-traditional monetization model might give a VC or angel investor group a leg up on the competition. There are teams out there building what amount to features as companies who cannot get funded because of their non-traditional monetization model. In other words, they are vastly undervalued and a bargain provided you can select for them.
I suspect there's money to be made, both by investors and by small teams, with this model. It will be interesting to see if this plays out.
It is friggin' hard to have both a company blog and a personal blog and not just talk about useless drivel on the personal one.
The difficulty I'm having is that there are things I want to talk about on this blog that simply don't fit in with the overall goals of my company. These things are in the same idea-space as LiquidPlanner's project management stuff so it is hard to keep them separated.
If I have a good idea for a blog post and it fits in well with the mission of LiquidPlanner then I want to post it to the company blog. But when they don't fit in so well I don't really want to post them here because... well... someone might read it and confuse my ramblings here with our company position on many of these issues.
So I've decided I'm gonna be brave. I'm gonna post here a bunch of the things that don't really fit in with LiquidPlanner so well. So there'll be a bit of a change in tone over the next couple of weeks here. There will be things that didn't really fit in with the original idea of this blog as a digression on project management and organizational wackiness inside of a larger company.
And there will be a lot more posting.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
But then I got to looking at them and realized that they beautifully illustrated the point about the futility of trying to get folks to track their time when there's nothing in it for them. Ray is complaining about how hard it is to get people interested in it, and John is saying if it is easier more people comply but not totally.
Yeah hello... that's my point.
But it goes beyond that. If you go sign up for one of their services I almost guarantee you that things just won't get that much better. That's because, again, there's nothing in it for the people who actually have to enter their time. Time carding isn't a problem for people who are paid hourly. Why? Because they're paid hourly. There is something in it for them.
Anyway, rant off.
In other news, LiquidPlanner is going to the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston to show off our online project management software. If any of you happen to be in Boston June 9-11 come look us up!
Friday, March 14, 2008
I ran across the following quote and it got me to thinking:
A typical problem, a few organizations in this industry face is collecting the required and accurate data. The performing teams needs to be oriented towards the importance of collecting data in an accurate manner. The team needs to be appraised on how the data collected is going to benefit their organization in future projects. Once the team is aware of how important the data collected is, how the data is going to be used etc., accurate data collection process will automatically be part of the project execution system.Well now, that’s such wishful thinking I don’t really know where to start. Yup, just tell those developers why it is so important that they fill out the time card and I’m sure they’ll be happy to jump right on it. The key line in this is “how the data collected is going to benefit their organization” (emphasis mine). Few people really give a crap about how something will benefit their organization. They care about how things will benefit them personally. Now if you’re lucky these things are aligned. But in this case they are so not aligned that it would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
- Size Based Estimation For Legacy Applications, G. Varghese and V. N. Iyer, 2005
If it were that simple there would be no struggle to get folks to fill out timecards or use other time tracking software. They simply would because what’s good for the organization is good for them, right? Rising tide, all boats, blah blah blah. Right.
Let me put it this way. Developers (professional ones anyway) typically demand source code management software. Try telling your developers that you want to get rid of their SCM and use simple file shares because it has less bureaucracy and is faster. Go on, try it. I’ll wait…
Oh, you’re back already? How’d that work for you?
Not so good huh?
Well it’s not friggin’ surprising since the developers can see a clear group benefit as well as a personal benefit to using SCM. They can see an immediate impact upon their own lives and how happy they are from doing this even though for any one action it is clearly harder.
Now time tracking… what’s in it for me? This is one of those “the dog didn’t bark” things. See if it really were true that filling out a time card improved how everything worked then everyone would be doing it. You’d have to fight your developers to pry their time cards from their cold dead fingers. So I’m claiming that the fact that nobody much really likes to fill out time cards suggests that there’s really no personal benefit to doing so.
Until we can make it obviously beneficial to the individual to track their time, they either won’t, or will do it very poorly.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
I started to write a short comment but to paraphrase Mark Twain, I didn't have time to write a short comment so I wrote a long one. One that I want to expand upon here...
The gist of her post is that there are all kinds of things that after we have learned to do them seems super simple. But if you're approaching them for the first time they seem confusing or complex. The techniques for dealing with these things are what get us through the day. Those learned techniques allow for a level of interaction with complex technology (like doors or computers , and if you don't believe me about doors just read her article).
This line of thought got me to thinking. For interaction design I wonder if things can't be split into two broad categories. I don't really know how to label them but let's try...
- Has cultural support desk
- Has no cultural support desk
Her donut shop example is a good one:
When you think about it, ordering doughnuts is a technique we all know, and if you didn't know, it might be kind of difficult to start. You have to know that doughnuts are generally sold in dozens and half-dozens (otherwise, you pay out the nose), and that when you say "I'd like a dozen doughnuts, please," the person working behind the counter will grab a box, some tissues, and then stand there, waiting for your instructions.
- Amy Hoy, Slash7
In North America there is a culture of how to order at a donut shop. You can watch other people placing their orders and at least attempt to infer what it is you're supposed to be doing. That's a case of there being a culture there to support the new "user".
Suppose that there was no culture of ordering at a donut shop. Then you couldn't even watch the actions of other customers because they don't know what to do either. There's no cultural support desk.
Software, particularly really new software has this problem in spades.
While designing the interface for LiquidPlanner (the product I'm currently working on) we ran into this problem. We needed to show uncertainty in the time it takes to complete a task. Like most problems we could break it down and most of the pieces had parallels that folks would just "get" (i.e. there is cultural support for them). But there wasn't anything out there doing this, so there isn't "some guy down the hall" who knows what the do-dads on the chart mean and can explain it to you when you get confused.
This is the point where I think real interaction designers shine. The good ones out there are worth their weight in proverbial gold because they make the user feel smart with designs that play to your preconceptions rather than fighting against them.
They are also good at dropping little nuggets of information along the way without getting all "RTFM" on you.
Speaking of which... have you noticed that when posting comments on blogs (or forums or...) that folks seldom tell you which markup language to use? Is HTML allowed? Which tags? RedCloth? LefthandedReversePolishPolyMarkDown?
I run into this all the time when commenting. A simple link to a reference and a preview would make me so much more likely to comment since I'd worry less about looking stupid (I still may sound stupid however). Blogger (the site this blog is hosted upon at the time of this writing) is a good example. They give a happy little "these tags are allowed" and a nifty preview button.
Anyway, time to get back to rehearsing my 6 minute DEMO demo. Did I mention that we're going to DEMO?
Thursday, January 03, 2008
The biggest issue so far has been getting time to rehearse. We know we need to rehearse but there just doesn't seem to be any urgency around it. I mean, we all feel like it is urgent, but we never seem to actually rehearse.
In case you were wondering if you really need to rehearse a 5-6 minute talk that much, I'd like to point out that our company is spending thousands of dollars (as in "tens of") to send us down there to make a good impression. While the talk isn't the whole thing, it sure feels important.
And let me tell you, five minutes isn't very friggen long to describe a revolutionary new way to plan and manage projects.
That coupled with the fact that we're still putting the finishing touches on the product and just switched over to running on our shiny new production hardware (thanks to our god of operations, Brett) and running a beta program and are going to analysts briefings and are doing press interviews and are doing demos for investors (or potential investors) and you've got some very busy boys and girls.
So now we've just got to stay calm and... yeah... calm... right.
We'll see you at DEMO if you're there. I'll buy you beer if you meet me down in Palm Springs/Palm Desert anytime from January 27-30. Drop me a line if you have my email or find it on the LiquidPlanner site (hint... it's here). You can alternatively comment on this blog and I'll mock you... er... meet up with you down there.
See you in the desert!