Focus and be productive. A short tale from Pocket.

We always need more people.  I’m the first one in line to say I need more engineers.  And when I get more, I’ll still say I need more.  I will *never* have enough, and I challenge any product manager to say they have enough.
But, consider some of the success stories out there.  And consider the resources each of us have deployed.  We can do a lot.  And we are.  The key is focus on what’s important.  Organize around what’s important and make it happen, potentially at the cost of other things that are (less) important.

Notable quotes:

Remember: getting an app or company on your platform marks the end of a deal, but the beginning of an official working relationship.

There comes a point for every startup when you’ve got to decide between perfection and progression. The first is a stable characteristic and the second is a dynamic conversation. Choose wisely.

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How to reward your engineers

As a product manager, I take great pride in my work and getting the job done.  But let me be honest; I do not write the software products I manage.  My engineers do, and they do an awesome job of it.

These engineers do not directly report to me but I am one of their leaders.  I craft the stories they work on to deliver features to market that our customers love and pay us lots of money for.  Without them, I would not have a product to sell nor, a job to pay my bills.  So how do I show my appreciation?

Well, it starts with two very simple words.

Thank you.  

Pretty simple, I know, but it is powerful. James Kouzes‘ book The Leadership Challenge explains in detail how powerful these words can be, as I have stated before.

Often times, verbal appreciation is not enough.  I find I need to do more, simply because I cannot express how thankful I and the company are for the teams’ contribution.  My teams work hard for me and for our customers.  They pull all-nighters fixing important issues that jeopardize customers’ environments.  They sustain long days and nights, including weekends, to get a major feature or new product out.  Throughout it all, they put up with my incessant questions, minor changes in scope and constant feedback, validation and product acceptance processes.  They do, in fact, deserve more.

Pretty regularly, I take small groups of my teams out for lunch, coffee or dinner.  Sometimes we celebrate a particular milestone or accomplishment.  But often times, I am just spending time with the guys, getting to know them and to break some bread together.  I try to pick up the check more often than not, irrespective of whether the company will reimburse me for the team outing.  Part of the successful working relationship I have with my team, and the reason they are willing to work as hard as they do, is because we have a personal relationship founded in more than just “my function requires me to work with you Mr. Product Manager”.  We trust one another, and believe that we have each other’s back.

Some milestones warrant more than a meal.  For those really big feats that move the needle for the company, the words “go big” come to mind.  In the past, I have thrown a party in one instance, and taken the team go-carting in another.  The important part of these activities was to focus on having fun.  We laugh about the insanity of the last few weeks and months in getting our release out the door over food and drink.  At the race track, we had a great time competing with one another for bragging rights on who had the fastest course time.

Maybe it is obvious, but why should I bother rewarding my engineers?  For one, good behavior and actions deserve good things.  From a business perspective, there are compelling reasons to recognize and reward a job well done.  Spending company time and money on employee appreciation nets so many things.  It fosters healthier team dynamics, creating trust and respect.  It energizes employees to work harder knowing that their work means something to someone that they know and can talk to.  Finally, it has other soft benefits including promoting company loyalty and greater overall employee satisfaction.  I strongly recommend all product managers take the time to appreciate their teams’ efforts in building the product they manage.

To MBA or not to MBA?

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20131002144820-95015-should-i-get-an-mba-entrepreneurial-finishing-school

Good read.  I’ve come across the question a few times in my career thus far.  For the record, I don’t have an MBA.  I do have a graduate degree, though, and that helps me sleep at night.

Do I wonder I’m held back because I don’t have a business degree?  I used to think so.  But instead, I think I’m just not ready to be where I think I should be.  It takes a fairly honest look at yourself to come to this resolution.  “Why haven’t I been promoted?”  “Why didn’t they give me the job they waited 9 months to fill?”  Well, the answer is…”You’re not ready for it.”

Regardless of whether you’re in school or not, there are opportunities to learn in the workforce.  Often, I’ve found myself learning what not to repeat ever again.  But lately I’ve seen more and more examples of things I should emulate in the future.  It will help me get closer to my 5 year goal and what I want to be in business and as a person.

My advice?  Keep at the path you’re on.  If MBA is required for that path, you’ll know pretty quickly, either because you’ll explicitly be told so, or the universe will align and you’ll get into your dream school.  I don’t think you should go get an MBA unless you really need it to be successful and if you don’t get into your dream school.  The cost just doesn’t justify itself otherwise in this day and age.

Another thing to consider is the disruption happening within MBA programs.  More schools are offering 1 year mid-career programs for those who need a booster with emphasis on certain skills they are lacking to make a jump in their career (horizontally or vertically).  I can’t say that the cost is any cheaper, but it’s worth a look-see.

Happy educating!

Redundancy is key

To be a manager is to make yourself irrelevant.

Mark Suster agrees.

Finding the talent that ensures you’re protected in case someone gets hit by a “beer truck” (or in my case, a “soda truck”) makes life really easy.  But let’s be honest, the folks that are attracted to a small company that has potential are not necessarily the folks who have “been there and done that”.  They won’t immediately be at the level in their career necessary to take on your top levels of executive management.  So what needs to happen?  You spend more money hiring top talent that accepts positions below their capability in the off chance something happens above them so they can fill the shoes?  That seems a bit too altruistic for someone who’s in it for the money and the potential upside of a hot startup making the big time.

Instead, you need to invest in your people.  Make them capable to fill your shoes.  Mentor them, guide them, teach them to do your job.  Increasingly give them more and more responsibility.  Don’t just thrust it on them, but nurture them so that when the time comes, they can do the job you need them to do.

By the way, this is not to say you should expect them to do the job you need them to do before you formalize that role for them.  You have to do right by your employee.  If you expect them to be your CTO, give them the job roles and responsibilities of your CTO formally.  Or set their expectations by placing them on a performance plan that in some period of time enables them to take that job.  Don’t just expect it of them without any communication.

To innovate you must fail.

My CTO today said that building a product, feature or capability that looks good, but most importantly is useful to solve some problem, is hard.

I know that sounds simplistic.  But it’s true.

Everything that represents significant value is hard to build.  Really hard, in fact.

His key learning in the process to build the feature he demo’ed (if you care – check out Network Manager) was to iterate.

Iteration in my view is synonymous with failure.  You try something once, realize that doesn’t work well (either it isn’t pretty, or it isn’t usable, or both), and then you try again with a different approach.  The “difference” in the two approaches can be small or large, but that’s not really what’s important.  The importance is that you tried, you failed, and yet you tried again.

Jason Seiken at HBS agree with me too.  Failure is a key part of innovation and creating something that’s worth having.

Loyalty can be rewarding

In a day an age where upward mobility and career growth are characterized by jumping ship and changing jobs every two years, its pretty amazing to read about the few exceptions, notably one Dolf van den Brink of Heineken.

Enjoy!

Unlearning

Is there value in unlearning what we do for the first 22 odd years of our life?  Penelope Trunk thinks so.

I’m not so sure I find as little value as she does in the traditional tools that help children develop intellectually.

From my own experience, I started off as a poor student until I got the assistance and focus from private education.  From there, I was taught how to reason, how to apply effort in structured ways to meet societal norms around consuming information and sharing my own ideas and innovation.  These concepts spanned mathematics, science, literature, history, and economics.  (note, no geography 🙂 but that’s another topic).

I can’t 1. imagine being able to unlearn that and 2. I think these tools have their place.  Certainly there are pieces that I don’t disagree with, namely grading systems and rewards for completing your homework.

What do you think?