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Product Thoughts

On Taking Ownership

By | Product Thoughts

Over the last decade, I’ve noticed that there is one thing that separates the pros from the junior varsity squad at work. Pros take ownership of the things that they work on… It’s that simple.

Taking ownership means that you understand the buck stops with you. Taking ownership means that it’s not OK to not know what’s going on, or how everything fits together. Taking ownership means finding people who can help you when you need it and caring enough to do it until it’s right.

As a project manager, I’ve dealt with a lot of people who throw things over the fence. Like it’s somehow OK to expect somebody else to solve their problems for them. And when things inevitably fail, fingers get pointed, conversations get heated, and nobody wins.

It’s really nice to find other people who take ownership of things, because I would argue that it’s a rarity in the working world… There’s a lot of risk in taking ownership, because you could come up short when the chips are down, and that final hand is dealt.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Exploring Self Promotion

By | Product Thoughts

I started LouisvillePM, a Ning community for project managers in Louisville, KY, in July of 2008 with the misguided theory of: if I build it and they will come. In fact, that was the theme of my first ever blog post. One and a half years later, I’m selling LouisvillePM and I’ve since learned that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I had to work very hard to build up the membership of that site. I had to spam people on LinkedIn even, and I had to be very self promotional.

Even though I had a limited target market, within a tight geographic range, I wasn’t able to reach everyone. They most assuredly weren’t running to my site with open arms.

My take away from the experience was that people aren’t seeking me out, even if I offer a product that they need. I had to get in front of them and make them understand why they needed me.

So how do you do that without being overly self promotional? Well, you could always let Google answer that for you. You could read case studies. Or you could simply buy ads, because that’s safe. But in the end, on the social web, you’re going to have to talk about yourself in some capacity.

And when you do…

Strap In

This is the internets, after all, and one thing we’ve all come to love about the internets is that everybody is afforded an opinion. Everybody has an opportunity to provide a glowing review or a scathing criticism. We tend to like the people who like us and dislike the people who dislike us, by default. And therein lies a tragedy because we learn more from our differences than from our similarities with one another.

If more of us were able to effectively listen to other people’s points of view, even when it’s upsetting, the internets would be a better place.

Hithertofore, listening without emotion is the key to self promotion…

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Intrapreneurs and Tenacity

By | Product Thoughts
Participants compete in the 1977 Little 500
Image via Wikipedia

Mark Suster wrote a great post that you need to check out on the number one trait separating entrepreneurs he funds from the ones he doesn’t: Tenacity.

I would argue that the same trait is needed if you want to get anything done in a large organization as an intrapreneur. As Mark points out for entrepreneurs, for the most part, people will look down on your ideas, your projects, your work. Inside a big company, they will only want to help you once you are able to earn their trust. And the only real way to earn trust in a large organization is by continually delivering results.

Whatever It Takes

Delivering results, more often than not, means doing whatever it takes to get things done and that requires tenacity.

Whatever it takes always means figuring out what needs to be done and doing it. It may also mean coming in early or staying late. Or working through lunch. Or reaching out to, and establishing a relationship with, the person that doesn’t get along with anybody.

Whatever it takes is usually not easy.

That’s where tenacity comes into play. You need to be tenacious to keep going when other people stop. That being said, tenacious does not mean steamrolling. Mark talks about a fine line for entrepreneurs, and the same holds true for intrapreneurs. Being tenacious is not a license to be uncool. You have to know exactly where you can push, and exactly how far you can push to make sure that things keep moving forward.

If you don’t push hard enough, you never accomplish anything. If you push too hard, you turn people off and they will sabotage any future efforts you lay on the table.

A Simple Trick Toward Finding that Line

One thing I’ve picked up on is to never accept no as a final answer, but a chance to be curious. Look at the word no as an opportunity to understand the individual’s requirements further. Unless they’re being completely unreasonable, and you’re never allowed to assume that until it’s been validated on three separate occasions, there is always a reason why they’re saying no. No doesn’t always mean no. It may just mean, I can’t help you. And there are reasons for that. You need to understand those reasons so that you can solve them until the answer becomes yes.

When you ask questions to uncover this reason for the no, you have a higher probability of being able to solve the problem so that you may get what you want. The elusive green light.

Call it consensus building, call it whatever, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used this easy to apply approach to turn a negative situation into an outcome I desired. In a previous job, I went through four rounds of no before successfully changing a document template that made my life incredibly easier and ended up getting lauded by senior leadership on its way toward becoming an office standard. I’ve also used this technique to successfully attend conferences, pitch ideas and sell things to people.

It all comes down to tenacity, which is a skill you can learn and practice if you’re open to it. He who dares wins.

Intrapreneurs & Widgets & Blog Posts… Oh My

By | Product Thoughts
Red Swingline stapler
Image via Wikipedia

[Full-On Disclaimer Alert: I work in the Innovation Center of a health insurance company called Humana. Due to the nature of my employment, parts of this post could possibly be considered a paid advertisement to brainwash you in to using a free tool that we created, under the guise of it making your life easier, better, faster, and more motivated]

My boss, Greg, has been on a virtual rampage talking about the new whiz bang myTPSreport.com extra strength widget on his blog lately… So not to be out done, I’ve decided to talk about it here on my personal blog as well.

To showcase its awesome powers, I performed and saved a search for a term that is becoming near and dear to my heart. That term is known as: intrapreneur. If you’re not aware, an intrapreneur is defined by The American Heritage Dictionary, via wikipedia, as:

“a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation”

If that doesn’t define what we’re trying to do at work, then I don’t know what does. Back to the commercial though, be sure to check out the fact that I’ve embedded a little piece of heaven, aka the all new myTPSreport.com widget, into this very blog post… Also make sure that you check out the fact that the little piece of heaven provides you with a real time, up-to-the-minute info-graphic of where people are talking about the word intrapreneur in Twitter, and that clicking on the TPS logo will take you to myTPSreport.com so that you can interact in the stream of consciousness, that is going on around that search term, with people near and far:

As an added bonus, while setting up this display of awesomeness for you to behold, I discovered a great post by Ben Casnocha called, The Intrapreneur’s 10 Commandments that you should totally read. My personal favorite is number two: Circumvent any orders aimed at stopping your dream.

Greg and I have had talks about my performance regarding that one…

Put Your Customers on Rails

By | Product Thoughts
The Scenic Railway at Luna Park (Melbourne, Au...
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Talking with Todd Earwood over lemonades today got me thinking about what every customer really wants… They want the buying experience to go off without a hitch, obviously, but they also want to coast through the experience as if they were on rails.

What do I mean by that?

When you’re on rails, there is no room for deviation… it’s a linear process. We’re going from point A. to point B. and we’ll be there in X timeframe. There is no approximation, there are no maybes, it’s cut and dried.

After hanging out with some of the local start-up crowd over the past month, it seems that’s what they are all striving to provide, whether they’re dealing with consumers or businesses. They all want to get the customer experience right.

Of course the caveat to making your customer feel like they’re on rails is to actually know what you’re doing. I haven’t got the feeling that people in start-ups actually know what they’re doing all the time and, ironically, I don’t find anything wrong with that statement. People in start-ups know enough to get going and they know how to learn enough to keep going, but the customer ultimately decides which direction the business goes in, not the business.

Therein lies the rub.

How do you figure out where your customer will be, to meet them when they get there, and make them feel as if you’ve been doing it forever?

On Differentiation

By | Product Thoughts
friendly , helpful Starbucks employee
Image by wintersoul1 via Flickr

A lot of people talk about the people they work with on a daily basis as being great. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard somebody say that they worked with the best bunch of people, ever, during going-aways and retirements.

What if it was true?

What if the people who make up a company were part of that company’s differentiation among it’s competitors. What if a company’s employees were as important as the price and quality of the company’s product or service, to the customer?

– Price
– Quality
– Employees?

Not Just Customer Service

And I’m not asking these questions with a customer service lens on, either. Customer service is important, but I’m talking about every employee’s distinct personality, skills, and effectiveness providing differentiation from every one of the company’s competitors.

In essence, can every employee be customer facing, in some way? And if they are, what will it say about your company, product, or service?

In my mind, this only happens when companys’ hire the right employees and then those employees feel comfortable and are empowered to be themselves at work. To make names for themselves as individuals… However, therein lies the risk to the company, and possibly a large part of the conflict when it comes down to the need to control..

Still, I can’t shake the thought of the individual employee being more of an asset than we think of today… What else could your employees be doing for you if they were allowed to act like themselves in some sort of customer facing capacity?

Time with Frog

By | Product Thoughts
Frog Design party
Image by DustyReagan via Flickr

Design Thinking is a subject that I’ve become very interested in lately. So how cool is it that Humana’s Innovation Center brought in some Frogs to take us through their design thinking process?

In a word: supercool

If you don’t know what design thinking is all about, wikipedia says, it is a process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result.

Not Just Any Problem Though…

We’re talking about wicked problems here. The type of problems where nobody knows what is causing them and nobody knows how to define what fixing them looks like. Totally awesome, right? There is a methodology to go about solving wicked problems and we got an overview of that today, which was great. Think survey results mashed up with anecdotal evidence on a high level. The key take away was to test, test, test. The best way to solve problems in business appears to be to the scientific method and the nerd in me is all about it.

Group Work

I typically loathe group workshops, because they usually consist of an uninspiring mission for a make-shift team of not creative people to “think outside the box” together and come up with some kind of a solution.

That couldn’t have been farther from what happened today, and we get to finish up tomorrow morning.

I would say that my experience with this workshop has been outstanding. A nice blend of engaging lecture and group work. We’re learning concepts and then applying them with moderated conversation and guided worksheets in a group dynamic. Much like my favorite classes at the Zoo.

I’m really impressed with the people of Frog and am happy to have had a chance to get an up close look at the concept of design thinking. I’m into it and definitely want more.

Social Workflow

By | Product Thoughts
Soldiers of the Missouri Army National Guard s...
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I was talking with some friends at RightPoint the other day about Microsoft SharePoint customization, when it occurred to me that social tools, in the enterprise, will really only be great if work-flow can be built into the system.

Death by Document Management

As a project manager, I’ve often pondered: What if you could build the reporting into the work? I’ll tell you what would happen, time savings would happen. Can you convert time savings into a return on investment? You bet. How often do you find yourself managing different aspects of the same project with different tools? How cool is it to have to pull information from that series of documents to make an impromptu report for somebody on a moment’s notice?

Not very… That’s why big business is slow. There is too much duplication of effort built into reporting requirements.

By building the work-flow and reporting into the work itself, time isn’t wasted doing things over to report on. Specialized documents can still serve as artifacts attached to the overall effort, but I really think that the platform needs to be the information system, and not just the document management system. I also think that users need to utilize the platform for more than just socialized E-mail like communications.

I need to be able to do my job, by typing content directly into SharePoint, rather then by uploading documents to it. Typing the information directly into the system makes it dynamic and reportable, and would allow it to be shared socially through feeds, which would make it awesome.

What Do You Think?

That was my a-ha moment of the day the other day, but I want to know what your take is on the subject. Has everybody been talking about social workflow for ages and now I’m just catching up? Or does it not seem like anybody would be interested in an open communication system at work?

I Can Be Innovative or Efficient… Not Both

By | Product Thoughts
A Fool Will Tell You It's A Charm. . .
Image by Cayusa via Flickr

Adam Hartung gets to the point of Why Innovation Usually Fails in Forbes Magazine on-line. The whole story can be summed up in this paragraph from his post:

When companies launch innovation programs, management invariably wants to make sure they are carried out “effectively” and “efficiently.” Consultants and gurus are hired to make sure no time or money is wasted. “Criteria” for evaluating innovations are developed. Budgets are established, and timelines are set to make sure nothing is done outside of preset parameters. Management applies “best practices” to it all.

Totally Nailed It

If you were to take nothing away from Adam’s post but this paragraph, you have your summary of why innovation and efficiency don’t mix. Let’s explore Adam’s ideas one by one, shall we?

criteria and management oversight I get that management wants to see progress on their programs and that criteria need to be established. But the best thing management could do for an innovation program is give it a vague problem to solve and get out of the way. Weekly status reports and monthly reviews are for project progress. Projects are relatively known entities with stringent timelines. Innovation, on the other hand, is ambiguous by nature. Unknown unknowns are commonplace with innovation, so reporting “project progress” can be very frustrating for both the innovator and the manager. The fact is that an innovation mentality is different from a project mentality, and the two should never be mentioned in the same sentence, lest bad things happen.

failure vs. efficiency The two don’t go together. Period. For every guru talking about failing fast, you have five middle managers second guessing your progress, your methodology, and demanding to be convinced that your direction isn’t flawed on a daily basis. The real zinger is that time spent putting presentations together to report on fast failures and plead for continued funding leads to the wrong kind of failures. Time spent managing paperwork is not time spent failing fast. Ironically, failure ensues.

budgets? When I go gambling in Vegas, I personally set aside a predetermined amount of money that won’t cripple me if I lose it. Then I go out and have a good time. I don’t go to Vegas hoping to turn my last hundred dollars into a house payment for the next five years. Those stakes are too high, and if that’s what business transformation means to your organization then you should start a Powerball pool with all of your employees. The odds are better. Organizations can’t bet the farm on innovation, because there are a lot of missed steps when it comes to failing fast. See above. On another note, if the money has been budgeted, then I shouldn’t have to ask to be able to spend it via daily / weekly / monthly status presentation. The justification has already been built into the annual budget.

timeline vs. general direction I’m not unreasonable, I know that one of the keys to innovation is speed to market. I also know that detailed timelines can’t be placed on vague ideas. When it’s early in the innovation process, nobody knows whether or not it’s going to take three weeks or three months to land a strategic partnership agreement with a key vendor. Guessing just leads to missed expectations and more reporting about how next time you’re going to hire a better guesser. That’s why I like the concept of having a general direction. If I have a problem to solve and a general direction on how I’m going to get to solving it, then the timeline will take care of itself. If I’m a good leader, and why would you have hired me if I’m not, then I’ll become familiar with the market and acutely aware of the market’s velocity, by default. That will drive the timeline. Not arbitrary dates.

apply best practices Are you for serious? I think that there are generally accepted problem solving methodologies. I also think that there are general communication processes that can be established. And I think that some ways may be better than others. I don’t think that I can look at the way that Company X innovates and apply it to Company Y. There are too many variables: markets, problems to solve, consumers, vendors, distributors, personnel, facilities, equipment, corporate DNA, and the list goes on. If I look at innovation as a complex network of bringing an idea to market to solve a problem, then replacing one best practice part of the network, in isolation, won’t necessarily give me similar returns as another organization.

What Do You Think?

Now that I have that off my chest, I’m interested to find out what you think. Am I way out of line with this one, or right on? I’d love to get your take in the comments below.

Plans vs. Planning

By | Product Thoughts
General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses America...
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While sitting through an all day strategy session today, I was reminded of a favorite Dwight D. Eisenhower quote of mine:

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

sidenote: As a nerdy project manager, I’ve printed that quote out on my desk with the word [projects] replacing the word battle…


Whether your battles are real or imagined, keep these words in the back of your head. Clausewitz taught us about about the Fog and Friction of War, which was basically a 19th Century version of Murphy’s Law. The general concept can be applied to all aspects of life. Let’s face it, no matter the subject, I could have everything all mapped out in a plan but the slightest variation as events unfold ends with disaster when I don’t know how to react.

I start having to manage the plan and stop managing the task/project/what-have-you.


Planning on the other hand is excellent. When I sit down with a group of people in a planning session, we’re talking about objectives and strategies to reach those objectives. We’re talking about risks and fears and ways to mitigate and overcome them. We’re talking about things that need to be done and possible obstacles. We’re getting in tune with one another.

Planning is syncing and syncing is indispensible.

Totally And Completly Wide Open

By | Product Thoughts
PONY Headquarters Board Room, view from left f...
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Something is happening right now, and that something is a big deal that I want you to know about.

Peter Kim recently wrote about the Dachis Group opening up all of their internal communications into a feed called the Dachis Collaboratory. You can subscribe to it here. He talks about it in this post called, How open are you?

So what?

Let Me Tell You

After participating in opening up our board room at my day job, I know that this is a really big deal and another step toward true social business design. Here’s what being totally open gets you:

more communication I read a quote somewhere along the way, that I can’t find now, warning to never put in writing what can be said over the phone, and to never say something over the phone that can be said in person… I think the point of the quote was misaligned with openness, but it can be applied openness. Making everything public will more than likely force some people to pick up the phone and talk to one another, or get out of their cube and talk to one another and that is a good thing for any business.

less junk-mail Think of all the pointless E-mails you get on a daily basis at work. When everything is public, people will begin to scrutinize before they hit send. It won’t happen right away, and there will be embarrassments along the way but we will get there eventually and collectively. If you recall, over time, people learned that it was faux pas to reply all to E-mail chains. We will learn the intricacies of this new convention as well, and we will all be better for it.

more time I had the fortune of sitting across from Rick Klau, Google’s Product Manager for Blogger, during a dinner last week at BlogWorld Expo and he mentioned that every Google employee has real time access to every metric for every Google product available. The idea of this is both a dream come true and unimaginable to me, so I asked him what having all of that access is like… And he responded that it’s a big time saver. He doesn’t have to wait for somebody to answer any of his questions. He can find them himself, and save time. I can imagine searchable public streams of consciousness providing similar benefits.

reporting Who’s working on the company’s biggest project for fiscal year 2009, and what’s going on with it? You won’t have to wonder anymore, because that information will be at your fingertips. I don’t know that there are any huge disadvantages to open reporting, either, by the way. Let’s take sports for example. Scouts watch and report on the opposing team’s offensive and defensive strategies, they even film it, but the two teams still have to play the game. Is it really that big of a deal for a competitor to know that your company is: remapping it’s sales territories, upgrading internal systems, or promoting somebody to the executive team? If that information becomes public anyway, does it matter when it is released?

What Do You Think?

So that’s my take… what do you think about it? Is it the worst idea since American Idol, or are you on board the open digital work environment train with me? Have I hit on all the pluses with rose colored glasses? Is there anything I missed? Let me know in the comments below.

The Funny Thing About Goals

By | Product Thoughts
Football Road
Image by atomicShed via Flickr

Getting back to my roots as a project manager, I remembered the funny thing about having goals yesterday during some discussions around the public beta launch of myTPSreport.com. They just seem to make everything easier.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

The Power of Goals

I look at goals as being synonymous to things that I either want to attain or things that I want to have happen. Once I am able to understand what it is that I want, figuring out what it is that I need to do to get what I want is a lot easier. You absolutely have to know what you want, or you’ll always end up spinning your wheels.

I’m convinced of it.

In the case of myTPSreport.com, we just want people to use it and let us know what they think. That should be easy enough, right? The tool is free, and it adds value to our operations, which leads us to believe that it may also be valuable to the general public.

Once we understood what it is that we wanted: people to use and talk about the tool; our conversation around how we should promote the tool became a lot clearer. This isn’t a high pressure sale and we’re not making money off usage, so the messaging is come check it out and let us know what you think…

Easy enough, right? Well it wasn’t until we understood our goal.

What Do You Think?

Do you have goals? Are things magically easier when you lay out your goals? What goals have you achieved so far this year? What goals do you have left to achieve before 2010? Let me know in the comments below.