Category Archives: Leadership

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.

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.

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.

Passion trumps Experience

CVs are important.  Street cred and what you’ve done is valuable.  Wait no, they define you.

But if you don’t care about what you do, you won’t be successful at it.  You can manage the hell out of something and work tirelessly.  But if you aren’t passionate about what it is you do, your results will show it…for they will be but mediocrity.

For a good read on the value of Founders in a Startup even after the big boys come in to run things, check out – http://bsr.london.edu/lbs-article/767/index.html

That VP of Eng, Yammer is one smart dude…

http://firstround.com/article/Why-Yammer-believes-the-traditional-engineering-organizational-structure-is-dead

http://firstround.com/article/The-one-cost-engineers-and-product-managers-dont-consider#%23ixzz2WrPaCwIm

Read those links, you won’t be sorry, particularly if you’re in software development or product management.

Leaders versus Managers

I recently read What is Authentic Leadership? and started thinking about the difference between a Leader and a Manager.  The article seems to assume that a Leader = Manager and uses a Leader’s followers interchangeably with employees.

In my view, they do not always mean the same things.  A good Leader is not always a manager but a good Manager is almost always a good Leader.  The same qualities that the article talks about – being genuine, self aware, and results-oriented while thinking long-term – are the same qualities I have found in my favorite managers and mentors.  What I thought the article missed though was a Leader must *care* about his employees to be an effective Manager.

If my Manager does not care about my well being, my professional development and my career advancement, what chance do I as an employee have of achieving my goals?  If my Manager won’t help me progress, who else at the company will?  Who becomes my champion for success?  I think good Managers is something a lot of companies, particularly young companies, lack.  I’ve been fortunate these last few companies or so in that my managers have connected with me and understood what makes me tick.  And they’ve fostered that while helping me get to where I want to be.  All the while, they continued to lead by example and show me, and the company, what needs to get done to get the company to where it needs to be.