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Quite a Ride

I haven’t been writing much. At all. I used to write constantly, especially as I started a journey that led me through a lot of twists and turns as I worked by way down the many avenues of being a product manager.

Things change.

Both personally, and professionally, I have grown up a lot the last several years. Quite honestly, I lost interest in documenting things; it just wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.

As I continue to learn – both about being a better person, but also improving and enhancing my skill set, I find myself wondering if I should write regularly again. It gets things out there. It helps me reflect more often, which leads to a better understanding of what’s working and what isn’t.

This past week as a big milestone in my career: The opportunity to take on being a CEO, which is something I’ve always wanted and been working towards for the last 13 years. The challenges that come with that are immense. You feel a lot of pressure, but also a lot of excitement simultaneously. It’s no longer “someone else’s job” to worry about, literally, everything – it’s mine.

As I work feverishly to get up-to-speed, while also putting together all of the necessary materials to try raising venture capital for the first time myself, I realize how many great friends I have willing to pitch in and help however they can. Those I’ve come in to contact with over the years – either through this blog, or that I’ve worked with directly. And I couldn’t be more grateful for their time and expertise.

Certainly this is when I need the help. I have weaknesses I need to cover – and need advice when I’m unsure. I’m not trying to sound too serious, but I do take it very seriously, and want to succeed. For myself, for those that are part of the team, and for everyone that has helped me get to this point.

So while this journey begins at SqueezeCMM, maybe it is time to start writing again – like I did when I started as a product manager. A way to record my thoughts and see where it leads.

One thing I am sure of – If I can keep it up frequently, it will be a pretty good story.

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Function Over Form

When trying to get a v1.0 out the door, does form really matter all that much?

Of course the answer is yes – but in my estimation, not as much as everyone may think.

Now, keep in mind – I’m talking from the standpoint of pretty quick releases. Of course, the importance of trying to “get everything right” increases the longer your release cycles are. But that’s a whole different approach.

If you are quick enough, you can stay focused on getting something out the door, with as much value as you can eke out. Really worry more about making sure there is a solid foundation in place on which you can build. Core functionality now throwing errors all over the place is far more important out of the gate than making sure a button label is correct.

Really, the focus has to be on how you’re going to continuously improve your product. Getting things aligned and workflow tweaks can come as you build.

I’ve seen several instances where products just simply fail to ship due to paralysis and not enough forward thinking. v1′s are inherently difficult to drag across the finish line. I will tend to put off overly ambitious functionality and features to later on in order to worry about the core of what’s important now. Really trying to hone in on addressing what is outlined as the market need.

When embarking on delivering that first release, you’ll be faced with a million close calls and tough decisions. Things you didn’t anticipate when you started out. Some will be easy / common sense stuff, and some you will feel way out in left field, not knowing whether you made the right decision or not. When deep in the weeds like that, I don’t want to keep piling on circumstances that will make it harder and harder to deliver.

Worry about building a working, functional base to address your market need / problem first. The rest can, and will, follow.

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Why Does Focus Count?

Most people, usually, have the best intentions.

Why does it seem like creating a bunch of products, to hedge bets, makes sense when it doesn’t? Mainly, my belief is because it hedges bets.

If you put enough products out in to the market, eventually something is bound to work, right?

Not so much.

Start-ups are typically bound by cash they have on hand. You can only hire so many resources before you start to top out. You can only get them to do so much work before they start to burn out. Why try to get them all spinning on multiple things at once instead  of a clean set of priorities all geared around a single problem?

You have a limited amount of time – don’t mess around.

As opposed to trying to make it all work, it’s better to adopt a strategy of focusing and pivoting. A change in direction.

This drives entire teams to focus on the same problem and market opportunity. It means everyone can work together to create the best solution they are capable of – not waste time with conflicting direction, constantly unclear direction, and so on. In addition, it means your top folks aren’t split.

Why risk putting yourself in to a spot where your CTO, COO and other key team members need to start splitting their attention to the products that yell the loudest? Let them worry about a single long-term vision and how to execute on that. If they are thinking about three or four, they will be hard pressed to make a real go of it.

You may think it’s still possible, or wise, to run with a larger product portfolio with the constraints of a start-up if you setup multiple teams – developers, QA, product, ops, etc… Again, the logic is harmless enough – if everyone is working on their own things, it means they have focus, right?

Yes and no.

Again, in my opinion, why spend capital setting this up when everyone can just work together? If your market opportunity is too large, it might be time to look at narrowing it down to something more digestible. Really get that problem well crafted and understood. After all, if you can’t solve one smaller problem, how do you expect to solve four or five?

Keep it small and keep it simple. And if it’s not working, find another small and simple problem to solve and change course. There’s no shame in that – or harm. It’s better for everyone to have a single mindset and all be working on the same goals.

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5 Ways to Deal With Difficult Team Members

This guest post was provided by Ryan Sauer who contributes in areas of project management certification for the University Alliance, a division of Bisk Education, Inc. He actively writes to help professionals succeed in preparing for their PMP training online.

Have you ever experienced the following range of emotions throughout the lifecycle of a project?

Eagerness, frustration, raised blood pressure, lack of progress, fear, contempt (the project falls behind), and then anger sets in!

We’ve all run this emotional gamut at one time or another during a project where something is not flowing quite right. That one thing usually turns out to be a kink in the workflow and sometimes comes in the form of a difficult team member. Some things you might come across when dealing with a difficult team member are:

  • Lack of regard toward other team members
  • Not carrying their load and ignoring timelines
  • Refusal to collaborate with others on a portion of a project; lone wolf syndrome
  • Abrasive behavior that can instill fear in others who have to work with this person

As a project manager trying to keep a project on track, these types of situations can become especially aggravating. We all know that one of the most critical processes to ensure a project’s success hinges on communication, and one of the most common ways to hit a snag in communication is having a team member who is less than cooperative. Rather than looking at this person as dead weight, make it your personal challenge to bring them back into the team. Here are 5 practical tips to help deal with a difficult team member.

  1. Approach with empathy; the person could be going through a personal tragedy or having a family issue
  2. Build a rapport with the team member; one-on-one or team building exercises are perfect for this
  3. Do not speak ill about this person behind their back
  4. Rather than accuse, offer help (i.e., if the team member hasn’t handed in their portion of a project, it could be as simple as they do not understand what is being asked or they are being challenged by something and are fearful of speaking out. People can act out when frustrated.)
  5. If all else fails, take action and report any insubordination

The last step above is really a worst case scenario. If you are coming upon tip #5, it should be because you’ve exhausted all other avenues of working with this person.

A good example of this approach can be found in corporate regulations. There is a reporting process within some organizations where an employee has to be written up several times before any other formal discipline takes place. During that time, an action plan may be created to help get them back on track. If the employee wants to stay at their job, they are usually receptive to the opportunity to right their wrongs.

With a bit of luck, tips 1-4 will do the trick and you can avoid tip #5 altogether. After all, your job as the project manager is to create better morale within your entire team, get projects moving smoothly again and achieve a successful completion. Don’t let a difficult employee get in the way of your goals. Instead, mentor them and work with them to make things right. This will allow for greater innovation, increased quality of work for the entire team and an overall higher project success rate.

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Communication is Imperative

Something that might get lost in the excitement of building all those exciting, shiny new features and products is really quite simple: communication. Talking. Informing. Discussing.

If your team / organization doesn’t know what’s going on, there is trouble ahead. If there is a culture of not really talking to one another, again – trouble. People will start to feel unloved, uninvolved, and blindsided when things come down the pike.

Some things that I’ve come to appreciate over the years:

  • All-hands meetings
  • Regular team meetings
  • One on one’s
  • Functional updates (e.g., roadmap presentations)

Don’t be afraid of getting together and talking. It doesn’t have to be formal – coffee will do just fine. Deliver that information over a pancake breakfast. But don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day brouhaha you forget there are folks around you looking, and maybe starving, for information.

If the people you are trusting to be excellent don’t know what’s happening, they can’t help and point out potential issues that are imperative to the business succeeding. And really, you want that data – it all contributes to the overall success.

Make meetings effective. Don’t have them for the sake of having them – we all hate “meetings to plan meetings.” Make them worthwhile, to the point, and on target – but don’t abandon them. I truly believe face-to-face communication makes everyone more effective and feel involved. Don’t assume it’s going down – make sure it is.

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