work


The odd thing about work is that most of the time you don’t get the chance to think about what you are actually doing. The good thing about vacation is that you can take a distance and see whats “wrong”. When working with fewer people than needed, and doing more things than I should; I usually find out that business as usual eat up the things I really want to do and the things I consider need to be done. It is the typical case of urgent beats important.

So how to cope with this? In an ideal world, I’d got a backup for part of the day to day work, so I could divert my attention to what I think needs to be thought. In the real world this is never going to happen.

The answer is priorities. My number one priority of course is what the company pays me for, my “real” job. That can’t change (unless my manager decides to switch my role). Then I have to choose from the gazillion things I want to get involved into and things I want to happen.

To make such choice there are several variables to take into account. First and foremost: is it useful? It makes no sense to waste time in something that brings no good. If something just isn’t worth the effort or no-one will “use it” you’re better off spending your time on more important stuff. The answer to this question might not be as easy as expected, since something that might look worthless can potentially set a base for further very cost-effective work.

Second question is: will it happen? I have a personal tendency to sort of radicalizing ideas, thus I have to be very careful with projects and ideas I want to boost, since they might not be very welcomed by the “corporate status-quo”. Two things must fall into place here. A) is the idea coherent with the overall direction of the company? B) can I market the idea well enough to those responsible? If the answer is “yes” to both, you’ve got a winner.

I’ve come to realize there’s no possible way to do everything that comes to mind. Try to cope with too many things and you’ll get none done. I like to call this the “nail” principle. Force applied into a smaller area is more effective (the same way that it’s easier to hammer a nail into a wall than it is to hammer a 10 x 10 steel plate into the same wall). It is quite difficult, since “ideas” are like children: they are hard to let go; but over time I’ve noticed I tend to like people who can discard their own thoughts and ideas fast when they realize they are not doable or not quite practical. On the other hand it is fundamental to stick to concepts you’re convinced will work and pursue them until they see the light of day. 

The important thing at the end of the day is to be sure you’re some steps closer to achieve the important goals, to take ideas to good ending, and that “everyday” to-dos don’t eat up all your time and creativity.

Sell this way and stick to it. Don’t even try to suggest something different. Stop. No, I said no!! Don’t think about it, its not going to happen.

So, what is a business model, according to Wikipedia, the definition given by Osterwalder, Pigneur and Tucci is:
a conceptual tool that contains a set of elements and their relationships and allows expressing the business logic of a specific firm. It is a description of the value a company offers to one or several segments of customers and of the architecture of the firm and its network of partners for creating, marketing, and delivering this value and relationship capital, to generate profitable and sustainable revenue streams.

In other words it’s what you have to sell, how you sell it, and who you sell it to.

What.
Of course the type of commodity you are trying to sell is going to define your how and your who. Its not the same to sell heavy industrial equipment, high tech medical appliances or cell phones. Your “audience” is different, the way they are going to buy is different, the way they are going to pay is different and the way you are going to deliver and support the products is different.

How.
You can direct sale. You can sale through partners, you can finance, you can take cash, credit or check, you can provide support directly or through a 3rd party (or provide no support at all, if you want a company to run out of business its not my issue), you can ship, you can retail. It’s a whole universe of possibilities out there.

Who.
The most important part of the trilogy. The fuel that drives everything. Customers. Business models aim to them, products aim to them and how we sell aims to our Target audience. Of course the segment we will sell to is defined mainly by our what and the success in appealing to them is determined by the how.

So out of the three parts in this trilogy our most variable item is the “how”, we have a set of products which we usually can’t change all that much. Then there’s the who, products limit this, and business models, pricing, payment methods and other “details” can limit this. You might limit your target customers purposely with your model, or it can happen by “accident” .

But where’s the tyranny?
We’re getting there. In most cases  companies instate a Business model that proves to be somewhat successful and stick to it. Sales managers fall in love with what works for them and if someone suggests anything a tad different they are accused for heresy (and usually burn in some sort of pyre as well).

The result this usualy yields is a static business model, which only changes due to external influences and not because of an inside desire or drive to change.

What then happens is that a business model then wears off, gets outdated and must be replaced once it’s not working anymore (does the word “loss” ring a bell?). Thus the model tyranny.

Get out of the circle.
Is there any way to avoid this? Sure is! The business model should be in continuous reinvention, evolving and changing, ahead of the events whenever possible. Thus, new things should be tried all the time, different approaches (hows) to tackle the same issue. Of course this can be both time and resource-consuming, so there must be no confusion about “evolution” and “just trying things out”.

The whole point is to change the set of mind. Keep asking questions:
-This works so far, but can it work even better?
-What things can be done to improve the different areas?
-What’s already showing to be outdated or less than perfect (or will become so in a short term)?

Its a whole different approach, regarding a business model more like a dynamic ever-changing part rather than a word carved in stone.

Well I haven’t been in a “leadership” position for much, but there are some things I have learnt, both form my previous experience (and what my old “bosses” did right and wrong from my point of view) and what has been an exiting journey so far.

Not so long ago I was a self employed freelance designer and programmer. Most of the time I struggled to survive and make a living, the remaining time I struggled to handle tons of work that seemed to come the same month. With such “work randomness” I had to work alone. Before that I manly played music (and had not-worth-mentioning-jobs) which is done in a group but has a lot of individualism as well (manly on the composition side). So, before IBM (and then Lenovo) I didn’t have a lot of teamwork experience. Right before I started working this kind of made me nervous: would I adapt?

I did. And I loved it. Quickly enough I could see that 4 people together could do a lot more than 4 people working alone. And quality is much better. The whole is more than the sum of the parts. Even better if there is a good leadership.

I had both good and bad leaders in the past (and will have both kinds in the future, for sure), I hope people consider I am in the first group, but that is not for me to say; but I can scribble a couple of concepts I think are good to keep in mind.

M stands for Motivation.
I cannot state strongly enough how key this is. If people are motivated they are unstoppable. They can achieve whatever you ask them to do, and more.
So, what motivates people? Well salaries are the obvious answer for many, but I think that even if good salaries are a must, they don’t motivate that much (on the other hand, bad salaries kill motivation as fast as light). You can’t motivate if you pay poorly, but a healthy pay check wont motivate people per se.
The enumeration isn’t looking very good this far, 1 thing that kills motivation but is not a motivation itself; lets try to do a little bit better now.

  • Create a good work environment. Enhance participation, make people comfortable.
  • Promote creativity. People have ideas, most of those are good, listen to them, take good care that their ideas see the light of day and that credit is given.
  • Absorb the punches, pass congratulations. Most “rants” about things gone wrong should be absorbed by leaders, lessons must be duly learnt and positive feedback should be passed along in every case (even in case of screw-ups). Every now and then a warning might be necessary, most of the time it’s not.

Communiquê.
Communication is the base. Listen and learn. The best way to learn what’s going on in a team is to listen to what people say and listen harder to what they don’t say. (Tricky, ain’t it?).
Take the time to listen to suggestions and issues. And do not “just listen”, take action to prove you are actually listening.
Make them out-stand.
The worst mistake I’ve seen leaders do is to “stop” their team members from doing things mostly because they are afraid of either loosing control or to be “out-shined” by them. In my experience the exact opposite is true. The better people in a team work, the better the leader looks. In terms of control, just re-read “Communique”.

Preach with the example.
“I don’t expect you to work more than I do”. If you prove you work, listen and are yourself motivated you’ll transmit exactly that. Works like a charm.

Always stand by them.
Make your team members life as easy as you possibly can. If you have to choose between covering your own back and theirs: cover theirs. You will never recover from a “treason” to your own team.

Final word.
I have always been part of creative teams. I know nothing about, say, working on an accounting team; but I think the same basic principles apply to all sorts of teams.

As I keep learning on a daily basis I’ll keep the blog updated on this regard.

Lately I have been feeling I need 48 hour days… I know it is a common feeling as you try to “climb the corporate ladder” sort to speak. (Although I don’t regard myself too much as a climber). I tend to try to manage as much stuff as I can (or can’t) and that takes a toll.

On the other hand I must say I have a team I can rely completely on. The guys whose work I administer give 110% all the time. They are proactive and full of ideas and I try to encourage that as much as I can (which brings more work and somewhat of a hassle sometimes, but I can live with that, I’d rather have a bunch of creative, “crazy” people working with me).

Thus here is mi ussal way of doing things: From 9 to 6 I try to get all things my position require me to do (managing requests takes a lot of time!) after that I feel sort of free to try and get the “extra” stuff done.

This usually yields workdays that last from dusk till dawn (with the missus complaining that I work too much… and she’s right). Even the days I decide I’ll “take it easy” I’m still online and available in case something urgent comes up.

Once upon a time I used to be on the client side, so I know what clients usually expect. Their work is their life and when doing services their work should be our life as well. People spend quite some time planning things; so the “execution” part must be as close to perfect as can be. That is our responsibility, to make sure that other people’s hard work sees “the light of day” in the best possible way.

Having said this, what happens most of the time is that development times are short. Too short actually. This usually contradicts the principles of doing the est and most creative work. There is a contradiction with ridiculously close deadlines and quality of work. I’m amazed that things go as well as they do with the short times we usually manage (our average development time is 2 days, with things spanning from a  price change to a full sitelet creation)
How to handle this? You have to learn the hard lesson of saying “no”. From time to time it becomes somewhat visible that we have “spoiled” clients, who know we deliver and thus push and push (something natural, I guess), then comes the moment when it’s necessary to step on the break for everyone’s mental sanity.

So much to do, so little time.