How Lack Of Resources Forces Innovation

How do you build a great product? How do you ensure that your users love what you build and are willing to spend money on it and even act as your virtual sales force and spread the word? How do you ensure that you stay one step ahead of competition? The answer is simple: innovation and execution.

And I don’t mean you need to come up with breakthrough technology or something no one has ever thought of before. You just need to make sure you don’t get too comfortable with where you are today. Once you fall into “let’s just continue to do what we do today” trap, chances are that the performance will slowly degrade, motivation of the team evaporate, and before you know it you have a crappy products that not only your customers but also your team doesn’t care about.

Lack of time

Great way to build a culture of innovation and strong execution is to work with limited resources. And that starts with time. To build the sense of urgency you need to set really tough deadlines and explain why it is critical to be so aggressive. You can see this in almost every start up that has limited budget. If you don’t ship first version of the product before the money runs out you will never ship it and will have to start looking for a new job.

When the companies get bigger it is far too easy to ask for more time or more money to get your product off the ground. If you argue well enough your case you may get couple of weeks, months, even quarters of extension. The consequence? You will not try hard enough when it comes to tough choices and prioritization. Because you know that you can have more time, you try to pack the product with features that might be cool but are not necessary. Or you may over engineer the technology so it is “future-proof” (assuming such a thing exists) but takes twice as much long to build and brings zero value to customer.

Having to work within a limited timeframe forces your team to think about faster ways how to get the same job done. It sparks innovation.

Lack of budget

Pouring tons of money on a problem doesn’t necessarily mean that you get it solved. Chances are that eventually with enough money spend and given enough time you will reach the results you want but is it really the most effective way? The best ideas very often come not from well-funded research but rather from a starving student or entrepreneur who is passionate about some topic and because of lack of money comes up with innovative way how to solve the problem. Just look at most of the technology start-ups.

The same goes to big organizations. If you want your team to be innovative and build a new product or service it doesn’t necessarily mean you need a big budget to do so. It just needs a bunch of enthusiastic guys within the organization who go out and build a small prototype of the idea often without any need of financing. Or even things like various team building and social events to get the team together are often much better when being subjected to low budget rule.

Yes, you can spend tens of thousands dollars to lease a fancy hotel, hire a professional rock band for a weekend and the team will have a good time. But at the same time giving them just hundred dollars may spark a level of creativity that will lead for the team not just to enjoy the actual event but all of them participate even in preparation and organization of the event which leads to even higher level of team building.

Lack of manpower

Number of people you throw at the problem is related to amount of money you are willing to spend on it but not completely. This is mostly visible in software development where doubling the size of the team doesn’t automatically leads to doubling the number of features or awesomeness of the product. Fred Brooks in his 1975 book The Mythical Man-Month proposes that at some point adding more people to a problem will not make it solved sooner but in fact will delay the solution. Or as he puts it “Nine women can’t make a baby in one month.”

Small, agile, and laser focused teams often outperform big organizations. The trick here is that you need to have the right set of people on the problem, give them the right tools and freedom to get the job done the way that is most effective. That is why hiring the right people to the company is such a critical process that needs every leader’s attention and why interviewing is such a critical skill to learn.

So if you are leading a product development effort and the product manager comes back to you and asks for more people so he can deliver more features start asking very hard questions and even propose that you are actually thinking about taking some people away from his team. Do whatever you can to force everyone on the team to take a hard look at how things are done today, what features are really important for the customers, what the MVP (minimum viable product) looks like, and what innovative way of work will allow the team to reach the goal without adding more manpower.

 

How do you spark innovation in your company? What tricks do you use to allow your team to be creative? How do you ensure that what you build really brings value to your customers?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Leadership And “I’m Waiting For…”

The world is getting faster. We live at speed like never before and especially in business you need to move fast if you want to stay competitive. I won’t talk today about the inherently stressful situations this bring but I will rather focus on what mindset you need to adopt if you want to keep up with the best.

Sense of ownership and urgency

Instant is the key word of today. Instant communication by mobile phones, instant information available through internet, instant coffee in your kitchen and instant escalation of any problem your business faces. You know what’s going on every single second and the environment demands you respond.

Having a sense of ownership means that you accept responsibility and accountability for delivery. It might be you commit with your team to deliver the best customer experience, it might be you committed to produce a great product, it might be you committed to roll out a new initiative. Regardless the situation having sense of ownership means that not only you feel accountable for success and combined with sense of urgency it means you also act instantly.

If you want to grow your business, grow your team, or grow yourself you need to really feel responsible and you need to be willing to act now. Keep in mind that the world is moving forward and if you don’t move you will be left behind. I’m not promoting here that you need to be online 24×7, in fact I personally spend significant portion of my time offline and unreachable but I always make sure that someone else would be able to step in and understand the importance of moving things forward.

Data and consensus building

It is so easy to access data today. In fact, it is too easy. You might be so overwhelmed by data that you need more of them to make sense of those you’ve already got. And what if you have a team? Each of them has access to the same amount of data and may interpret them differently. And you want to be a democratic leader who empowers others so you want them to make decisions or even better build a consensus.

Consensus building is a great thing as long as all the people share all the data so they have the same view of the world, are able to constructively discuss and then decide instantly with everyone committing to the outcome. If that is not the case then attempts for consensus usually lead to one deadly sentence…

I’m waiting for…

This is the one sentence that shows you or your team don’t have the sense of ownership and sense of urgency. These words may sound reasonable at times but it promotes culture of passivity, feeling of us against them, and leads to lost momentum, lost drive and lost opportunities.

“I’m waiting for Bob to deliver his part,” well go and help him work on it!

“I’m waiting for approval from my boss’s boss,” well get the preliminary work done so you can move fast once approved!

“I’m waiting for more data to make a decision,” paralysis by analysis, get the necessary minimum of data and just decide!

“I’m waiting for the results of last year’s employee survey before I do anything,” so you really have no idea what is the most likely outcome to get at least some work on the way?

“I’m waiting for summer to start my exercise regimen,” oh, I guess because it is impossible to exercise during winter?

Most of us are using these dangerous words as an excuse for not being willing to commit and do what it takes. And don’t even get me started on “but it is not my job!” If you have sense of ownership you move things along regardless whether it is your job or not and regardless whether you have the formal authority to do so.

Bias for action

The top achievers have bias for action. Instead of waiting for something to happen or forever debating what needs to be done they just go and do it. That is the strategy you should follow if you want to be wildly successful. Will you always make the right choice? Of course not. You will make your share of mistakes, get your share of beating but that is all fine because you also know that you “won’t be waiting for” someone else to course correct you when needed. You move, you move fast, and when you realize you are not moving in the right direction you don’t stop but just change where you are heading and continue at full speed.

 

What is your approach to decision making? Are you biased towards action or prefer to wait and see how things work out before you get involved? What situations you experienced where waiting hurt the outcome?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

How To Hire A Winning Team

Lean and mean. That’s how you could describe a winning team that is passionate about the work and has the skills and attitude to get things done. Specifically in software development you are looking at a team that will be able to build a product that is easy to maintain, easy to support, easy to install, easy to use, and brings an obvious value to the customers so they have no choice but to fall in love with it. You want a team that has good technical insights but who won’t get distracted by doing something “cool” on the expense of building product that brings value to customers.

It all starts with recruitment

I have talked already about why attitude is important in Effort And Attitude Beats Talent And Knowledge and I talked about the importance of everyone in the team putting their share of effort in finding the right candidates Everyone Is A Recruiter. I haven’t spent much time yet on how the decision to hire someone should be made.

Interviewing as a critical skill

Interviewing can be sometimes seen as a necessary evil. In some organizations it is seen as a distraction from the core business, hiring managers are too busy to participate or work with the recruiter in timely manner, and sometimes it is being outsourced to HR team completely.

That is a wrong approach. If you want to build great products you need great people. If you want to have great people you need to get them somewhere and ensure that they really are great. Why would anyone want to let others make such important decision for him? Interviewing is simply the most critical task you can do and the most valuable skill you can develop. And it doesn’t really matter if you are a manager or an individual contributor. Being able to find the right members of your team will drive your long-term success and job satisfaction. The priorities we live by in my teams were always very clear: first comes the customer, then the candidate, then the rest of my job.

Over my career I have interviewed hundreds of people for positions from a developer or tester, across designers, project managers or directors. Most of them were engineering types but I always gladly stepped in when asked to interview people and give my opinion even on roles in other departments such as technical support, human resources, finance, or sales. Making sure that we get the right people to the company, regardless whether they report to me or not, is so important that I will always find the time. And as a side effect being constantly involved helps me to exercise my interviewing muscle and helps me understand how rest of the company works.

Don’t hire copies

Your recruitment process and hiring decisions should be as unbiased as possible. You shouldn’t discriminate against any age, race, gender, religion, and other attributes not related directly to the job requirements. It is not just a legal requirements in many countries but also a good business practice and simply the right thing to do. Having a good set of forms to fill to assess all candidates against the same criteria may sound like “big company thinking” but it will pay off regardless of the business side. The overhead is minimal and it ensures consistency, especially when you have multiple people as part of the interview team and you rotate them often. It will also push everyone to take the interviews seriously, make notes and hire based on data rather than feelings.

Having couple of interview rounds with different people is a must. Having the candidate do some practical tests to assess her cognitive abilities and the hard skills needed for the job is always a good idea. It might be also a good idea to have a clear guidelines on what does it take to be successful on your team and have a specific questions or tests to focus on core values and attitudes.

I was often part of discussions within the panel of interviewers that was very passionate and where “the company fit” was a big issue. It is one of the critical component when evaluating the candidate. It is not just about the hard skills that are usually easy to measure but also about whether this great guy is actually a great fit for your team. At the other hand there is always a danger that you will hire someone who looks like your copy. For this reason you should ensure that during the interview process the candidate speaks with people who have different background, different skills and styles of work. Then you will make sure that you hire team that is diverse enough to expand their view and don’t get stuck in some narrow thinking.

What I like to do every now and then is to look at the qualities of the team already on board and try to find what skills and more importantly what characters are missing. I’m a big believer in well balanced teams and that means you need to have good coverage and redundancy in all the skills and styles of work. For example, if you have a management team where everyone is driven by numbers and hard facts it may be a good idea to put in someone who will take care of the more human side of the discussion. If you have a team where everyone is always trying to get consensus and it slows down business just put in someone who is not afraid to pound your fist on the table and decide. Yes, it will most likely disturb the status quo, but honestly, that’s what you need when you want to build great team. Great teams are made of great people with strong opinions and a character.

It is a numbers game but emotions are important

That being said, you are not a robot and you don’t want to make a decision only based on some scores, formulas and automated systems. The human factor in the final decision really is a key. You need to ensure you have the right people as part of the interview process. People, who are passionate about interviewing and who love the search for the next team mate. People, who understand that on a small team everybody counts and must contribute or the team dies and who will ensure that they are hiring only the best. People, who are willing to hire others who are better than the current team. I always like to ask myself after the interview “is there something I could actually learn from this candidate?” If I cannot find anything I’m really hesitant to raise my hand and vote for the person.

So let’s say you had five people interviewing a particular candidate. They all shared their notes, you have all the data, and the time for a decision has come. I would suggest you ask each of the interviewers to rate the candidate on a scale one to four:

  1. I love this guy and will fight for him
  2. He is ok and I will not stand in the way
  3. I don’t think so, you better have a really good reason why to hire him
  4. Over my dead body

There needs to be at least one person who strongly believes in the candidate. If no one is willing to put their reputation at stake you don’t want to hire the person. If all people say 2) or 3) then you would hire a sort of ok guy who would do sort of ok job but who would not help to build a top notch team and create amazing products. And if someone says 4) then it is an end of game for that particular candidate. You don’t want to bring to the organization someone who will have internal enemies from day one.

So next time you start building a new team think twice who will do the interviewing and make sure you dedicate enough of your time to such an important task.

 

Is the hiring process and interviewing important in your company? How much attention it gets? Do you have some tips and tricks on how to make the right decisions about candidates?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Why Discussion About Millennials Is Irrelevant

Every now and then you can hear discussion about how the “new” generation is different. Ever heard of the Millennials? People born at the end of the 20th century who want everything now, who are smart, technology savvy, impatient, want to live at their terms, are creative, lazy, ambitious, with feeling of entitlement, etc. Depends on who you listen too they are being portrait either as the future of the world better than any previous generation or as the doom of humanity that will never achieve anything. So what does this all means for you as a leader? Well, nothing…

So many Generations

Let us have a quick glimpse into our past and agree on what all these generations actually are:

There might be some disagreements on some of the dates but more or less this is what we are talking about when we discuss “generations”. That’s it, at least in the Western civilization.

Generations versus Culture

Generation Y or Millennials are a construct of Western civilization (mostly the US and the UK) and in Asia or Africa you would find completely different way how to classify the generations. These are terms to describe not so much people but rather different eras of our history. Even within Europe one could find that generations may have different meaning across countries and the dates might be a bit of. For example, since I’m coming from the Czech Republic I would argue that the significant event that splits the generations in the Czech context is the Velvet Revolution in 1989 rather than anything else.

Generations versus Age

So are the Millennials really so different in their ambitions, abilities or dreams than any other person over the history of humankind? I consider myself being born to Generation X and when I was in my early twenties I exhibited the same traits we are today seeing in Millennials. Young people simply act in a certain way regardless of a century.

The one thing that has changed over the last twenty years (in some parts of the world) is our use of technology and incredible amount of information we have to deal with on daily basis. The world is getting faster and faster. This sort of environment impacts mostly our willingness to wait. We as a society (not just the Millennials) want more and want it faster than the previous generations. But the dreams were always there, we just have them bigger today since we have more information about the world around us.

So how do you motivate the young people?

I would argue you motivate young people the same way you motivate anyone else. If you are a manager building a new team or a leader who finds herself in the charge of a big organization comprised of various generations you need to follow couple of basic rules.

  1. Start with business objectives – What is your business model? Who are your customers? At what speed your business runs and how often does it change direction? Answers to these questions give you a framework for everything else starting with what people you need to hire, how you manage them, compensate them, and what sort of culture you create.
  2. Build culture that supports the business needs – What internal culture will support your business? What are the values your employees need to live and breathe to make the company successful? How do you want to be seen by all the stakeholders (customers, partners, employees, potential employees, public)? Identifying the core values of the business and subsequently the culture that would support it is a key to long-term success. Everyone who joins the team needs to understand why the organization exists, needs to understand what you as a leader stand for, what the core values of the team are and how they are being exhibited on daily basis by every single member of the organization.
  3. Hire to fit the culture – Get the people who have the skills and exhibit the traits of the culture you are trying to build. Forget about what generation they are from, forget about they age, gender, religion, even education and focus on what skills they have and what their attitudes and core values are. You may have, in fact, you want to have a variety in the team. You want people with different educational and cultural background, with different experiences that can enrich each other and add something unique to the organization. The only thing you need to watch for is the same core values and dreams that are aligned with the core values of the organization.

If you do this you will automatically ignore any differences in the generations, ages, genders, religions, and will not discriminate against any. The only thing that matters if the person has the right skills and attitudes to fit what you need. This view dramatically simplifies the way how you hire and later on manage your employees. It puts aside any misconceptions or biases and leads to truly motivating environment where everyone feels welcomed regardless whether he is a baby boomer, Gen X or Millennial. So just keep it simple and don’t overthink “how you will manage the Millennials”.

And if you really want to have a discussion on how to motivate Millennials here are some tips

  • Provide a vision, inspire them – we all want to dream and know why we are doing the stuff we are asked to do
  • Treat them with respect and show that you care – everyone wants to feel respected and valued. Regardless of generation or culture keep in mind the basic human needs
  • Be fair – being transparent, unbiased and fair in the sense of treating everyone the same way will go a long way
  • Acknowledge their contribution – we all want to be recognized for our achievements so learn to celebrate even small wins with the team
  • Provide feedback and mentoring – most of us want to learn and grow. That is what we do since birth and having around us people who enable the continuous growth is always appreciated
  • Let them grow and make mistakes – the best way to truly learn is to make mistakes so make sure you build environment where mistakes are allowed though shouldn’t be repeated
  • Make sure their work has meaning – most of us want to work on something bigger than us, we want to leave a legacy and thus giving your team work that brings value to your customers or humanity itself is a key

The conclusion?

You motivate the Millennials exactly the same way you would motivate most of the other generations. The difference is the intensity and speed required. Being patient comes with life experience and it is no surprise that a smart, talented individual fresh out of university and full of energy has no patience to just sit and wait for something to happen.

 

How do you manage Millennials? In fact, how do you manage different generations? Do you feel it is good to have a team composed of more than one generation? How do you account for different cultures in global teams?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.