Monday, November 23, 2009

Lean Startups (via Agile) by Eric Ries ...

I had the opportunity to hear Eric Ries deliver his Lean Startups presentation last Friday at DogPatchLabs. Most would benefit - even to re-affirm what you know intrinsically, as he has done a great job synthesizing his learning into a well thought-out lesson. In particular, the real-world examples - both successes and failures, bring instant credibility and great contextual grounding to the core concepts. There were a lot of great perspectives but the most powerful concept for me came down to a simple diagram - one we all have in our minds, but it is nice to see it in picture form:

He takes the fundamental concept of agile - small, iterative steps with heavy customer focus (and therefore business-focused) and puts the emphasis on the verbs, with the most important one being learning. In essence, Eric challenges everybody’s assumptions about finding the shortest path to learning. A great example was how his team spent many months building a product that when released nobody downloaded. It would’ve been much easier to put a “download now” button on the site and see if anybody actually would click to download. Six hours vs. 6 months. Obvious? Sure - always in hindsight, but I know lots of folks that take the later option by default. He openly talks about learning and managing customer expectations without creating credibility and trust issues, obviously important with the above example.

I’m a big believer in Agile and Eric’s presentation shows how powerful it can be. We practice it at Aligned Global, especially for our emerging technology and start-up clients.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stress is (mostly) manufactured...

I believe most stress is manufactured vs. inherent in a given situation, at least in terms of our business lives. In my experience the most common source of stress comes from misaligned expectations – or more specifically, delaying or completely ignoring acknowledgment of the misalignment. This skewed outlook could exist between anybody: colleagues, manager & employee, sales rep & customer, and of course into our personal lives as well. Addressing this one issue could dramatically improve the quality of our lives and those around us.

For the most part, it doesn’t even matter why expectations are out of alignment; sometimes this is of our own doing including missed deadlines – either by Murphy’s law or ego-tized schedules, ignoring bad news – unexpected or not, and my favorite is fooling ourselves into believing we can control things we cannot. There are many reasons expectations get out of sync, but this is more the norm and folks need to learn to accept and embrace this fact. I’ve learned to accept mistakes and failure – so long as they are not repeated and everybody learns from the experience. The bottom line is that whatever happens you need to deal with it straight-up. Open, honest and direct is my mantra; if you can manage to be nice, cool, calm and collected then all the better, but the most important thing is to always face reality.

So, what can we do to eliminate more stress from our work life? Here are two common scenarios to consider:

  • If you make a mistake, quickly admit it and take responsibility. You’ll find that hiding it doesn’t change the outcome, except to make it worse by compounding an already unpleasant situation. I find a lot of people think they can make up for the mistake by putting in some extra hours. Sure, on occasion this does work, but if you find yourself working extra hours often, then there’s a bigger problem and trust me – everybody knows it, especially your manager. Reach out and explain your problem and you’ll find most will be understanding and willing to help get you back on track.
  • Don’t assume others know. Planning is not about predicting the future but about being able to react to what it brings. Assumptions are a part of every plan but they only work if others know what they are, otherwise we call these surprises! If budgets, dates, or resources get compressed, think through and state what it means in terms of additional risks, issues, concerns – in terms of quality, dates, deals, pricing, etc. You may not change the outcome, but you will help manage the risk down. Some might think of this as a form of CYA – it’s not, far from it. Managers get paid to manage risk down, and this information allows them to do their job better.

Both of these approaches will eliminate or greatly reduce the stress for you and your team. In the organizations I’m involved with I encourage a full-disclosure environment up and down, so the opportunity for misunderstood risks and issues is minimal and stress is not manufactured!

Listen to your 'gut'

The advantage of a startup is the speed with which decisions can be made, however this is the downside as well. By nature everything is compressed and what takes six months or more in an enterprise organization takes six weeks, six days – or more likely six hours, in a startup. This is an incredible competitive advantage as well as a deadly liability, with the only difference being how well-equipped you and your team are to make lightning-quick decisions.

Good decision making includes a few key factors – keeping a laser-like focus on the most important issues, being honest with yourself – confronting reality at all times, being sure to consider the positive outcomes not just the negative, and noting any and all assumptions. Intentionally missing from this list is data. Innovation is the norm within startups so information is always limited due to lack of money and resources or the simple fact it’s s never been done before.

Equally important, good decisions are about action. Indecision on any front leaves the team or company exposed and under-performing. Left undecided, situations can go from chaos (not good) to thrash (deadly). This is why you hear the axiom “it is better to make a wrong decision than no decision.” I’ve seen too many instances where the timeliness or lack of decision has caused significant and sometimes irreparable harm. At least a bad decision can be course-corrected whereas ‘no decision’ can’t be acted upon never mind changed. The only wrong decision is to not make a decision.

With little or no information and answers needed yesterday, what’s a leader to do? The answer: tap into that internal guidance system – which is really a snapshot of all your experience and intuition rolled into a ‘gut’ feeling. This is not guessing or gambling; it is using your ‘gut’ to bridge the gap between the known and the goal. When these decisions have far-reaching implications, the process is not easy. The key here is to trust yourself and convey your decisions with passion.

Being a leader can be a lonely job sometimes, but it can be the most gratifying as well – just keep your eyes on the horizon and trust yourself to listen to your instincts.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Intel Invests In Four "Digital Home" Firms

Intel Invests In Four "Digital Home" Firms: "Intel's Digital Home Fund, worth a total of $200 million, invested an undisclosed amount of capital into Digital 5 Inc.; a provider of consumer electronics networking technology; Staccato Communications Inc., an ultra-wideband (UWB) wireless solutions developer; Trymedia Systems Inc., a secure distribution technology and services provider; and Wisair Ltd., a UWB wireless chipset and solutions company."
Intel Capital's top investment priorities for this year are related to communications infrastructure, the digital home, modular computing solutions for IT departments, and wireless mobility, the company said.

SAD: There are many interesting things happening in the media and entertainment space, especially for the digital home.

Trouble on Silicon Valley's doorstep | Newsmakers | CNET

Trouble on Silicon Valley's doorstep | Newsmakers | CNET "The new enterprise has to do five things: respond and deliver to support demand; grow or shrink, based upon changes in demand; operate any time, anywhere, under any conditions; minimize asset and labor content per unit of production; and provide real-time transparency of operations, both internal and external. Those will be necessary to understand, as you build a software company. You can't go to the market now and say, 'I've got a software package that will take a year to install.' You need something that will install very quickly and update very easily. "

SAD: Ray Lane comments on the new world of software and technology - and what it's main market (enterprise) need to be doing ... interesting read.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Avaya gives corporate IM a SIP of VoIP | CNET

Avaya gives corporate IM a SIP of VoIP | CNET "The maker of corporate telephone equipment recently began selling gear using Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), a standard supporting many popular Internet telephone, videophone and instant messaging services. As a result, Avaya's latest line of equipment provides IM features like 'presence,' which indicates whether a user is on the phone, what his or her future availability is, and the best way to contact the user, Avaya convergence strategist Lawrence Byrd said in a recent interview.
This is not your standard IM, by any means. The Avaya gear, for instance, lets someone make calls to landline phones from any Internet-enabled laptop or personal digital assistant or dial a phone number listed on a Web site simply by clicking on it. 'Someone can be using IM to reach someone, then turning that text chat into a phone conversation, then conferencing-in an associate tracked down using a presence feature to join in on the conference call,' Byrd said."
But the high price tag for corporate SIP-based services is a problem, analysts say. Avaya, for example, is charging corporations a one-time $25 per user fee for its Converged Communications Server software, $6,100 for a necessary server and $130 per user for a "softphone" for laptops or personal digital assistants. A 3,500 person company, then, would pay about $500,000 to give everyone SIP's capabilities, which could be too much for some companies to make the leap.

SAD: It's a great play, minus the pricing mismatch moving from HW to SW, and will accelerate an already excited market for presence-based services. The level of sophistication that will follow-on from here will be quite astounding. At one point, "collaboration" used to be about documents (email, discussion database, etc.) but now communication systems will be center stage for a while.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

RSA Keeps RFID Private

RSA Keeps RFID Private: "The blocker tag system is software-based and relies on technology developed by RSA researchers that prevents RFID readers from gathering data from other tags in their immediate vicinity. Without it, any RFID reader could query any tag, enabling retailers or other companies to read the tags on any merchandise a customer may be carrying.
Essentially, the blocker tag system works by tricking readers that all the possible RFID tags are present at a given time. Because RFID readers can communicate with only one tag at a time, when multiple tags reply to a single query, the reader detects a collision."
"The tag is just the first fruit of the approach we're taking to this," he said. "There's still a good amount of research to be done. We need security on the protocol, the readers and the back end, too. We need a full set of technologies on the table in order to know what's possible."

Elluminate, Heat Up Web-Conferencing Market

Elluminate, Heat Up Web-Conferencing Market: "Both companies are taking on Web conferencing leaders such as WebEx Communications Inc. and Microsoft Corp., which had acquired PlaceWare Inc. last year.
Elluminate, of Pompano Beach, Fla., renamed its Web conferencing software, formerly known as vClass, to Elluminate Live. The company comes to Web conferencing with an e-learning focus and strong academic customer base, but with the Version 5 release Elluminate is targeting corporate business by offering to buy out customers' contracts from competing Web conferencing offerings.
To grab customers from competitors, Elluminate is offering to provide free access for existing customers of competitors up to the length of time remaining in a contract, or a maximum of eight months, Arora said.
In its separate announcement, launched Conferencing. It allows users to add Web conferencing and telephone-based audio conferencing to through their hosted collaboration site so online meetings can be initiated on-demand, said Woburn, Mass.-based

The conferencing option is provided through partner Netspoke, a conferencing provider based in Woburn, Mass. It includes the sharing of presentations, files and applications as well as features for chat, question-and-answer sessions, polling and white boarding.

SAD: one should be careful of aggressive competitive pricing plays with MS squarely in the game...

VoIP to get a voice in Washington | CNET

VoIP to get a voice in Washington | CNET "As more phone conversations begin to flow through unregulated VoIP networks instead of the heavily taxed public switched telephone network, state governments stand to lose billions of dollars. Because Net telephony is not regulated, companies offering the service aren't subject to the vast tangle of taxes and regulations that govern the E911 emergency service and guarantee wiretapping access for police.
Members of the collation are AT&T, which plans to launch a VoIP telephone service in 100 markets, and current VoIP service providers ITXC Corporation, Level 3 Communications and MCI. Others are chipmaker Texas Instruments, and Microsoft, which plans to support videoconferencing, cheap Internet voice calls and complex message-management functions on its Microsoft Real Time Communications Server 2003."

SAD: The fact that anyone, including state governments, might lose significant revenues by not regulating VoIP is as good a reason as any to step up efforts to protect it from unnecessary regulation.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Can you super-size that for me?

1,000 Gigabytes Appease the Multimedia Glutton: " If hefty digital video files, thousands of MP3 songs and scads of JPEG images are crowding your computer's 30- or 40-gigabyte hard drive, you may want to ease the space crunch by supersizing your system with an external hard drive.
There are plenty of big drives that can add a few hundred gigabytes of extra space. And then there is the LaCie Bigger Disk hard drive, which holds a full terabyte - that's right, 1,000 gigabytes - of data."

SAD: In less years than one can imagine this will be cheap and the norm - the only question I have (even with today's HD capacities) is 'how do you back it up?'

Friday, February 20, 2004

Now Preening on the Coffee Table: The TiVo Remote Control

Now Preening on the Coffee Table: The TiVo Remote Control: " To most home viewers, remote controls may seem like ancillary sidekicks to the main attraction that is the television, DVD player or digital video recorder. Yet in some ways the remote has become the centerpiece of home entertainment: so many functions have been relegated to this slip of an object that if it is lost, you may find yourself unable to do so much as call up a menu for watching the movie you popped into the DVD player."
"They did a really good job," said Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group, a technology consulting firm in Fremont, Calif. Mr. Nielsen called the oversize yellow pause button in the middle of the remote "the most beautiful pause button I've ever seen."

SAD: The 'ten foot UI' -- one of the big challenges of blending interactivity into the home media experience. As more services are blended into the media consumption process, the fight will no longer be for the desktop (as is on PCs) but for a button or two on the remote control. To any Ad-skipping TiVo user, the notion of watching TV without a remote in your hand is akin to driving a car without a steering wheel. Of all the interesting turf wars in the effort to control consumer consumption and mindshare, the remote control will be one of the more interesting ones. There are alternatives to deal with function creep, such as on-screen display, speech control, or touch-screen remote (a la Pronto) but for various reasons these don't come close in terms of ease-of-use nor hand-holding creature comfort to a TiVo remote control.