Thursday, August 25, 2011

Talking About Development

Development = Winning
This is part three of my discussion of my corporate values.  This week, I want to talk about development.  In corporate parlance, you hear professionals talk about developing “human resources.”  I disagree.  A business is not made of resources; it is made out of people.  It is people who sell your product.  It is people who innovate and help grow the firm.  Finally, it is people who will purchase your product.

Once you realize you are dealing with people instead of resources your attitude changes about how you do business.  Instead of wringing every ounce of productivity out of your resources like a technocrat, you will start behaving like a choir director attempting to get everyone to sing the same tune with enthusiasm.  It is a significant paradigm shift.    
Since we are dealing with people instead of resources, a successful business person should do everything in his power to make the people who work for them successful.  In a modern day economy it means the following: 
1)      A clear understanding of mathematics up to the Algebra level, even better an understanding of calculus.
2)      A clear understanding of science including basic physics, chemistry and biology.
3)      The ability to effectively communicate with the written and spoken work in both formal and informal settings.
4)      Being able to use a word processing program, spread sheet, and presentation software.
5)      Understand project management techniques.
6)      Be able to work with others in a team environment.
7)      Understand the basic cannon of Western Philosophy, Religion and Literature.
8)      Be able to write basic HTML and CSS.

This level of proficiency is earned by college graduates.  Unfortunately, we do not produce enough of these people each year to fill the roles in our modern workforce.  This means that business leaders have to provide training and education to the work force.  This means providing in house training to employees and providing access to continuing education at local colleges.  I find this doubly important for technical professionals who have their skills erode every 18 months as newer and better ways come along.  I know that I am struggling to keep up as XML Web Services are replaced with WCF and HTML 5 becomes a web standard. 
For a business to be successful, you need to be developing your work force.  As they grow they become more productive and you have the opportunity to make more money.  This creates an upward spiral where a well-developed workforce becomes a competitive advantage. 
Nothing is more frustrating that being put into situation where you are destined to fail.  Developing employees and co-workers mitigates this risk.  If you are going to winning company then you are going to teach your people how to win.  This is why development is so important to me and my company. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

On Growth

I have spent the last 20 years as a professional.  Instead of graduate school, I opted on going to the school of hard knocks to see if I could make a living.  In that time, I have swapped careers three times moving from radio to the casino business to finally winding up in the technology profession.   In that time, I picked up a little wisdom along the way.  I noticed that people who said one thing and did another were often rewarded for their deviousness.  The Peter Principle wasn’t just a fancy premise for an essay and that being a jerk was often forgiven if you made your monthly sales figures. 

I also learned a few things about the growth along the way.   Today, I want to talk about growth and how it will relate to my new firm.  The job of any business person is to grow their business.  A small business has to keep selling and growing in order to pay vendors and employees.  This simple formula of sales equaling growth quickly becomes complicated.  As customers increase, you have to hire more employees to service those customers.  The proper balance is how to keep customers happy while keeping employee costs down.  It is not easy.
Sorry, I am worried about growth not olives
I have witnessed a lot of funny things called growth which are fraudulent.  For instance, one company I worked for purchased regional competitors and other firms which provided the same service.  Sales increased but only because more market share was concentrated in the firm.  In many respects, it resembles building a house of beer coasters.  It looks impressive but it will fall apart the moment anyone pokes at the structure.  Which is what happened when bad weather affected the business, the share price of the company went from $33 a share to $12.50 and really hasn’t recovered in the eleven years since I left the firm. 
Another example, is fiddling with margins which boosts profits but really doesn’t solve a customer service problem.  I turn to the famous olive example, where an airline generated over $40,000 in profits by having fewer olives in its in-flight salad.  This is not growth.  It is accounting tricks and stiffing customers to create the illusion of growth. 
I plan to grow my business the old fashioned way with sales.  It will not be pretty but it will be honest and generate wealth and prosperity without all the smoke and mirrors. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Making Sense of Agility

Just like dancing...only with business
In the next few blogs, I want to discuss the corporate values of my organization.  I have four guiding principles which shape how I want to run this business they are; agility, growth, development, and respect.  Today, I want to share with you my feeling about agility. 

In 2009 I was working for a dysfunctional family business, the technology staff was banished into the server room and was not allowed to do much interaction with the rest of the business.  When we were interacting it was usually to get reprimanded for not delivering what the rest of the business wanted.  It was like living in a Kafka story.  Introduced into this ugly environment was agile project management.  I was skeptical but decided to give it a try.  Much to my surprise, I liked it and I quickly became a convert. 

For those not familiar with Agile and Scrum, it is a better and faster way to deal with software projects created by developers and project managers at a ski trip in Utah.  They even have their own manifesto which is much easier to understand than the one Karl Marx cooked up.  It reads as follows:

·         Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
·         Working software over comprehensive documentation
·         Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
·         Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
Thanks to Agile, it was now possible to put in place processes which helped the business user rather than get in the way.  Documentation is still necessary in Agile but could be changed to meet customer needs.  Changes no longer caused controversy because they were handled in a judicious manner.  Finally, developers and business users had to work together to get things done because they both depended on one another. 
In the course of developing my web application, I have made several major revisions to the product.  Each correction or improvement, never say change, did make the software better.  It also created an understanding between the developers and business users.  The developers set the deadlines for a project while the business users set the priorities of what needed to get done.  Each side had equal power and they both developed a mutual respect for each other’s challenges.  Best of all, we had working software which met expectations. 

In this business environment, being agile is going to be a competitive advantage as we strive to meet customer demand and make things happen.  I would rather have something people can use that is improving than vapor ware which promises to be perfect, whatever that means. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Its All About the Business Plan.

As I stumble into the world of entrepreneurship, I have learned a lot about myself and business.  I have also learned how much work goes into a business before a single sale is made.  I put together a board of directors to help me avoid dangerous mistakes and they also helped me put together a primitive business plan.  For those Type-A personalities, the purpose of writing a business plan seems foolish; you have a product and sell that product to others.  The rest is just details.   

What I am discovering is that the devil is in the details.  Without understanding the details of your business or hiring people who understand those details you are doomed to failure.  I realized this when I was being asked questions about my market, what my competition was doing and pricing comparisons between myself and others.  I knew everything I needed to know about my business but nothing about the environment where it would work.  It was humbling but necessary. 
So I am back to the drawing board with my business plan and spending a little more time doing research on where I fit in on the business food chain.  I suppose by sweating the details now I can enjoy better sales in the future.