Monday, January 28, 2008

Pick Any Two

Need something built? Problem solved?

You can have it done:
1. Quick
2. Cheap
3. Correct

Pick any two.

The above adage is something that gets brought up pretty regularly in the consulting world. Along the way, I've added a few more elements to flesh out some more guiding principles about what it takes to maximize deliver along all three fronts. These are in no particular order.

  • If it works, it works. Conceptual isn't relevant. Theory is only interesting if during the discussion, the participants are allowed to drink beer.
  • Simplify. There is no code that runs faster than No Code. Use fewer words and as little fine print as possible. If you can't hold the whole thing in your head, it's too complicated. If you need more than one diagram that can be read from a single sheet of paper, you've over done it. If there are more than three If's involved, you need to remove, restate, or reorganize.
  • If it isn't written down, it isn't real. If it can't be measured, it can't be written down.
  • Measure consistently. When your measures stop moving, then you've stalled and you should kill the [project/idea/initiative/report/product/etc.]. Or you've simply been measuring the wrong things. The later is more likely.
  • One voice, one vision. No great idea or product in history was ever conceived by more than three people. If your working group (or decision-making authority) is larger than that, you might as well quit now.
  • Intuition rules. You know what you know, don't second-guess. If you don't have an intuitive response, learn more about the subject until you do. Habits and standards always beat new, slick, and fancy when it matters.
  • Change consistently. It isn't that you should seek change or avoid change, but accept it when the opportunity presents itself. Whether you go gracefully or kicking and screaming, make sure your reasons are rock-solid, repeatable, and right.
  • If you can't change or compete, then compensate. We like to think everyone should be good at everything. Which is complete crap. If you need something done that you aren't good at, get someone better to do it. Don't like doing something? Pay, entice, or swap with someone else. You don't have to be good at everything if your address book is big enough. Stick to what you are good at and surround yourself with people who will compensate for your short-comings (as limited as they may be).
  • Going pro? Go big. When you decide to pay someone for their experience or specialized skills or knowledge, choose wisely and don't hesitate to pay well. Then shut up, listen, and learn. There is a sign in the garage that says: Oil Change $10, Oil Change While You Watch $50, Oil Change While You Help $200.
  • Kompromise Kills. Don't even start.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Startup Stereotypes

The last couple of days I've been giving a friend some advice as he tries to flesh out a startup. Having spent a decade or so playing in that arena with some good successes (and even more valuable failures) to my credit, I'm doing what I can to make his transition into the ranks of the entrepreneur less volatile than mine. From time to time, I use this place to spew thoughts that seemed to be helpful to him and might be useful for others.

In the technology workspace there are a couple stereotypes that have evolved. The first is the Developer. The technical guy who solves engineering problems, makes the impossible a reality, and knows way more details about how things work than most of us will ever care to acknowledge. The best ones are often very temperamental, strong-willed, and emotionally volatile. Their opinions and decisiveness, an un-erring determination of their own correctness or failings, and unflagging curiosity are their hallmarks. These traits are what spur them to the feats of creative genius and startling leaps of intuition which are why they are tolerated. As a sweeping generalization, the more valuable and miraculous they become the harder they are to manage.

The other major stereotype is the Manager. The general purpose resource who can direct activities, plans details and contributions, and makes the decisions. The best ones align themselves with contributors and seamless funnel opportunities and remove roadblocks in their relentless pursuit of specific outcomes. They are cheerleaders and priests, mothers and big brothers. They protect their people when necessary but make the hard choices on who to throw under the bus when necessary. Being social and flexible, easy to speak and quick to learn are key traits. As a sweeping generalization, great Managers sell themselves and their people, and act as information insulators.

In the startup world today you need both types of people. If you are somehow able to find both in the same person, hire them immediately. If for some reason you can't hire them, send them my way and I will.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Fleecing

As someone who travels full-time as part of my career, I am no stranger airports, hotels, taxis, and rental cars. Few things stick in my craw as much as the way the rental cars fleece their patrons. Except perhaps the insurance industry.

My recent bout with Hertz just really got to me. The rental car had serious problems so it had to be returned. The lady on the phone was extremely short with me as if my trouble with the car somehow inconvenienced her. When trying to figure out the best way to handle it she just said take it back to the airport. Which by this point is 30 miles away in the opposite direction I need to head. No alternatives, no sympathy even, just take it back. She didn't even offer to call the facility and ensure they'd be ready to exchange my vehicle.

So I make my way back to the airport and lacking any other information proceed to the rental car return location. Which as it turns out is only for returning cars, not for exchanging them. Don't ask me what the difference might be, they couldn't explain. Further, they never offered to explain where the heck I should have gone to do an exchange either.

While filling up the gas tank, I took the time to read the contract terms and noticed that had I not returned the car full of gas they would have charged me $7.49 a gallon. I had to read it twice to be sure I understood. Yep, more than DOUBLE what it would cost me to fill the tank up! Or I could purchase an entire tank of gas at 10 cents a gallon cheaper than gas on the street. Evidently they have decided it is okay to bend over their patrons simply because they can.

Either you save a meager few cents but make up for it by buying an entire tank of gas, or you do it yourself, or they'll rape you when you return. Why? They obviously have a sunk cost already in they guy who will fill it up if I return it less than full. With the volume of cars, surely the get a discount on the fuel as well. They can certainly continue to make a profit by simply performing this service for a small fee instead of the bitch-slap of more than twice the cost of gas! Why not simply charge me a few cents more per gallon? If they can offer me an entire tank for twenty cents per gallon less, why not charge me twenty cents per gallon more for a partial tank?

Simply put, it is because they can. Because rather than be a good company that provides great service for solid value they choose to be an evil company that provides minimal service for exorbitant fees. They might not have to kill the golden goose, but that doesn't mean they can't choke it a little and give it a flogging from time to time.