Experiment in Management (Part 3)

So the first complete round of our little experiment is now over. The division was divided up into 12 groups. Each group was given a topic and told to come up with a list of quick wins for product development as well as a bit of a longer term goal.

I personally was a member of 3 groups. Issues with the process started when people began to question the scope of each group. Since the groups didn’t have central meetings and there really wasn’t anyone centrally positioned, it was difficult to answer these questions. I actually found out that two groups had each assumed that the other would cover the scope of one of the products, so the result was that no one covered it. Oh well, the joys of decentralized processes.

After a month of intesive meetings and planning each group had to give a 5min presentation on it’s quick wins. Once this was done a governing body would go through the list and sort all of the proposed items for both customer impact and engineering difficulty. The resulting grid allowed management to pick the items that were in the corner of highest impact and easiest to do.

So, a month of meetings involving the entire division and extensive planning resulted in a list of about a dozen todos for product development that was ~90% the same as lists generated prior to the process. We still do not have actual product specs to develop the products. That process needs to start now and we’ll have another month or more of meetings to get those done. I’m concerned that since the scope of these quick wins isn’t really nailed down that during the product spec phase they could dramatically increase in scope and no longer be a quick win. The one good thing is that the number of groups has been dropped down to 4 to manage the next round of the process and i’m only involved in one of those groups.

I’d have to say that so far the decentralized product development process has not lived up to the hype. It’s allowed everyone to get involved, but when it came down to it the final call had to be made by a group of managers. This resulted in people getting upset that their quick wins had been cut from the list. There was one possible idea that I know of that came up in this process that wasn’t already proposed prior. So you could point at that as a sign that we had a richer source of ideas that would had not previously tapped, but had we just remained open to including new ideas as they’re brought up couldn’t we have achieved the same result in much less time.

The final result is that the company is having a tough time handling the level of data in our day to day business. What is protrayed to the end user is our inability to develop new features for them. In each review that comes out comparing the entire field, we seem to fall further and further behind. We need to get this turned around fast or there will be serious consequences.

Crazy Ideas

I went to the 106Miles meeting last wednesday night. This is a really interesting group of engineers in Silicon Valley with entrepreneurial motivations. Started going to this group at their second meeting after hearing about it on Jeremy Zawodny’s blog, which interestingly enough I had started reading because I found his account of difficulties with a water heater interesting as I was replacing my own. The group has grown dramatically in a very short period of time and often has to turn people away due to the groups inability to host 100+ people.

Some times the ideas I encounter at the meeting are eye-opening. Other times it’s just worth it to go chit-chat with other like minded individuals. I’m still surprised at some of the ideas that make it off of the scribbling on a napkin stage, some even make it to full funding and employees. Not sure if this is a comment on how there’s too much money and not enough ideas these days or if a certain number of crazy ideas always get funded in the hopes that maybe they’re not so crazy.

The ideas that seem to be the most out there for me are the ones where alternative market places are set up, complete with their own currencies. I wish the people behind these ideas the best of luck, but just wonder if they really understand how markets work.

One final comment, on non-content sites, putting google ads on your webapp is not a business plan.

On Being An Entrepeneur

So the term Entrepeneurship is a bit loose in meaning. However, over the last several years I’ve come to realize that it very much applies to me.

I grew up in the midwest where there just wasn’t a whole lot of focus on business. After college I started to look around at a lot of things happening in the world around me and was surprised to see so much happening. I can’t figure out why I didn’t see what was happening earlier, while I was in school. Must have been too focused on passing the next test and figuring out when I’d get the next mountain bike ride in to notice dot-com bubble inflating. I moved out to San Francisco in early 2000. Right at the tail end of the gold rush. This was purely by luck though, as my primary goal for relocation had been Atlanta at the time. Since I’ve been out here though, I’ve been learning more each day about engineering, science, and business than I ever did in school.

Some of the lessons in business have been the most astounding. To see first hand some of the insanity that happens, and is considered normal, was amazing. I never realized how spot on Dilbert was until I started to live in that world.

At this point though, I’ve come to realize that what I really want to do is to be able to create my own product vision, grow it and launch it. I’m driven by the fact that I don’t think I can ever be happy spending my years working trying to make someone else’s dream come true. To really feel that I’ve accomplished something in life I have to make one of my dreams come true.

So now the problem is, what is a dream worthy of following that actually has a chance of being succesful? Working in the Bay Area and talking with other engineers I’m still amazed at some of the dreams they choose to chase after. Putting Google ads on your new web based app is not a business plan, but there are so many startups getting funding with little more behind their idea than that.

I’ve currently got an idea in the oven. It’s been baking a little while now and seems to be rather promising. I’ll fill in the details as it gets closer to being done. Hopefully, this is the dream that I get to fulfill. In the meantime I’m going nuts, which is what being an entrepeneur really means.

Experiment in Management (Part 2)

So after the first set of meetings it appears that there might be some issues with this experiment that need to be worked out.

1) Does anyone have the power to make final decisions or is it a pure democracy?
2) Since it’s impossible to completely segregate the different groups completely what is to be done with product idea overlap?

These issues have been brought up and everyone is currently mulling them over to see if a solution can be found.

An experiment in management

So, there is a another experiment that is taking part in my life right now. It’s not one that I have a whole lot of control over though. At my place of employment, there are some very different points of view on how a company, or in this case a division within a company should be managed.

Some very interesting studies have come out recently concerning the knowledge that can be derived from a group of independent people as compared to having a concentrated group of experts. Some of these studies have shown rather amazing results that at first glance are very counterintuitive.

1)That the makeup of the group of individuals is not entirely related to the results.
2)That the more diverse the makeup of the group the better the results.
3)That a group of “experts” performs worse than a diverse group.

To try and put these ideas into a usable format, the division that I belong to is attempting an experiment where product development is entirely decentralized. Everyone has a voice into what the product should look like, what features should be included, what the focus should be. The products have been broken down into subareas. Then there are groups that will discuss these areas. These groups will create product specs. Finally all of the resulting product specs will be merged into a complete product vision at the end.

I have some concerns about this process. The studies that this is being modeled off of uses very large groups, so is it applicable with a small group (ie. less < 20 people)? Will there be issues with having a cohesive vision at the end? Will chaos reign?

My own personal bias is that there needs to be a strong manager. Someone to make the final call on decisions and care for the cohesiveness of the vision. Can a small group of peers create a better product without this figure?

I'll be sure to continue posting with updates of this experiment.