Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The right decision vs. making a decision

Having spent much of my time since Jobster working with early stage companies, I have come to see some striking patterns in the challenges that they face.

One such similarity is in the area of decision making. Start-ups by nature find themselves facing decisions where:
1. There are multiple right answers and multiple wrong answers
2. There is little precedence and no data to easily interpret which is which

In these cases, the worst thing that the organization can do is get stuck in analysis and extended debate. If it truly is a decision that meets these characteristics, then I would ask if there is anything that anyone can provide to enhance the clarity of the choices other than opinion?

Right out of Microsoft facing a decision point like this, you would have found me digging in, debating my point of view with the rest. Not so much anymore.

When an early stage company finds themselves in this situation, the bottom line is that the organization will ultimately lose in the end regardless of the outcome.

It loses because it wasted time (sometimes months) debating and politicking their way to a decision, leaving the door open for a competitor to "out-maneuver" them.

It loses because this extended process not only alienated the participants along the way but may have fractured the cohesiveness of the team.

It loses because there may not have been a wrong answer at all.

If hindsight has taught me anything, it is that oftentimes there is no wrong answer. The right answer is to simply pick one and start actively learning along the way- building the data that will inform future decisions. The wrong answer is to do nothing and forgo any learning at all.

How can young organizations avoid this trap? To tell you the truth, it is really difficult, especially when an early stage company has filled it's senior management ranks with seasoned, big company people. These folks are heavy hitters; they're used to getting their way; they're used to winning debates; their saavy at corporate politics. Their comfort zone is to do exactly what the company cannot afford to do.

This is when the CEO must sometimes play the "I'm in charge" card. She/he must be proactive in curbing these tendencies. They must be willing to proceed without total consensus, especially if it relates to a new product that is outside the organizations comfort zone. They must open the organization to leaning toward decisions that produce opportunities for the organization to learn from the market.

Depending on your industry and product, this approach has varying levels of risks. I think it works best in an Internet, software based technology company, where software and services can be easily iterated, and users/customers can seamlessly and immediately gain the value of the next iteration.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

what am I passionate about?

Nearly one year ago I joined with a former colleague and founded a consulting company. It made complete sense. We both intended to work independently for the foreseeable future and at the very least we would be sharing the operational overhead and costs. We formed our corporation, hired a talented accountant and collections specialist, and selected a law & tax firm. Our 2007 tax year turned out to be a good one, we posted a profit.

In summary, year 1 (2007) was all about building the business and operational infrastructure to do something more.

Now I sit and review the 2008 plan and have been talking to a lot of colleagues and contacts about where opportunities exist in the marketplace. Some interesting and compelling things have surfaced, but they ultimately force an important question that was posed to me indirectly over lunch the other day:

What do I want out of this? What am I passionate about?

My immediate response over my spicy grilled chicken sandwitch was that I am passionate about product strategy and helping early stage companies establish an understanding of their market and the build the plans to address it. My lunchmate was perfectly happy with that answer and so was I. Now, however, I wonder.

Thinking more about it that day, I am most passionate about the freedom of working for myself; building a business that ultimately enables me to acheive my life goals. The most specific life goal is better life-work balance but without the financial sacrifice.

The Product Manager in me is starting to see the roadmap:
- BETA: My departure from Jobster. I was so eager to launch beta that I left without plans of what I might do next. That took some guts and passion.
- v1.0: Sub-contract consulting
- v1.5: Co-founding Prosys Inc. and finding my own work.

Each of these stages have taught me something more about myself and what I want.

The clarity reached just after lunch the other day was that while I am passionate about consulting, I am actually not as passionate about consulting as I am about building a business to reach those life goals I spoke of. Consulting is the answer for now and I am good at it.

What is in store for v2.0 you might ask? Good question.