Let’s Venture Out: Storyline Conference

by Joe on January 20, 2012

“…Life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers…We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?”

Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts

I ventured out today. Booked a ticket to the Storyline conference. We were able to grab a group of 5 awesome guys to head out to Portland together.

Have you ventured out recently?

Should we be Driven by Personal or Organizational Success?

by Joe on September 26, 2011

Lately I’ve been merging my drive for personal success with the success of my organization.  If I’m honest, it hasn’t been working.  It is wrong of me to align the two – because when I do, I find myself frustrated. But if I can be focused on the success of the organization and her ability to achieve her goals, when we achieve them, I can be certain the personal success will follow.  So its about time to think about how we can recognize it and be more intentional about combating.

So after thinking about this all week, I wondered what questions will help me determine if my drive is healthy.  Thankfully,  Michael Hyatt posted two questions that leaders should ask to determine what is driving them:

1. Am I using my strengths for the good of the project or the organization, or am I mainly seeking affirmation from outside sources like my boss or peers?
2. What is my true motivation for working on this project? Is it for the sake of others and the bigger picture or just to elevate my own status?

Now, I’m off to act on them.  My goal is to spend the day for the sake of others and the bigger picture.  Tomorrow, I’ll wake up and try again.  It’ll take training, but the great thing is that we can choose to be teachable.

Today, I’m choosing to be taught.  What about you? How would you answer these questions?

Directional vs. Static Key Performance Indicators

by Joe on May 31, 2011

Many times we find ourselves measuring success with a singular static key performance indicator like profits, margins or revenues. But, there are other measurements that can inform us of our directional progress. These directional measurements ensure we are headed the right direction.
So how can directional trend variables help more than static variables? Well, for me, knowing YoY change of balance sheet items are much more valuable than knowing a snap-shot of a company’s liabilities, and beyond that it is even more helpful to know how that liability load compares to its shareholder equity.

So why do we continue to measure our success with static measures? It may be fun to know how many Starbucks stores there are (17,009 in 2010) or the average revenue per store, but I’d rather know the percentage of those stores that have revenues that are higher than their three year averages. This type of measure helps us understand the direction of the stores – growing or shrinking.

Another effective dynamic measurement is to apply a cohort analysis to examine groups trends. Analyze groups of customers, stores or members in any grouping to show how different groupings compare.

While it may be a bit NSFW, OkCupid, an online dating site, uses its massive profile database to chart and graph a wonderfully told story on its blog, OkTrends. However un-sexy our own data may be, there are some lessons to be learned from how they use dynamic measures and cohort anaylsis to tell stories.

The ability to build measureable triggers in our business processes is paramount to building businesses that can be measured directionally and further support our ability to achieve our objectives. Whether we choose an outcome measure or a process measure. The difference between these two types of measurement points are for another day.

Catch it, but dont be Paralyzed

by Joe on December 9, 2010

Just read a great piece on the difference between good and bad procrastination by Paul Graham and it spoke directly to me.

You can’t look a big problem too directly in the eye. You have to approach it somewhat obliquely. But you have to adjust the angle just right: you have to be facing the big problem directly enough that you catch some of the excitement radiating from it, but not so much that it paralyzes you. You can tighten the angle once you get going, just as a sailboat can sail closer to the wind once it gets underway. [Emphasis mine]

Just a bit of a Thursday attitude change toward projects.

Planning: Value in the Gray Space

by Joe on September 14, 2010

Picture via cliff1066 cc and flickr

“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower

The more I experience in business and leadership, the more I realize that planning is both worthless and invaluable.  Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best:  “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  While I don’t believe president Eisenhower is saying we shouldn’t bother planning, I do believe the statement does lend itself to viewing planning as a means of helping a team to learn the information necessary to execute and frequently adjust a project’s course.

President Eisenhower has created intentional gray space to allow his team to plan and adjust accordingly as seen fit as new information is gathered.  This shouldn’t mean that project managers outline every second and the minutia of a product.  I don’t think I am the only one that thinks my bathroom breaks should not be scheduled on a gantt chart!

As leaders we should build opportunities into projects that allow us to adjust course and allow our teams to innovate.  But that also does not mean we should allow operations to continue as if there is no plan.  Highlighting the large tasks and general outlines of tasks will help to reduce the ambiguity of a project and enable higher levels of innovation.  These opposing forces of rigidity and open space certainly creates a gray space  between planning activity that is seemingly useless and activity that matters.

Because of reasonable planning exercises, I have found myself more prepared to do battle and able to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time.

I’ve found three areas where I can embrace planning gray areas:
1. Vetting Financial plans:  Back of the napkin analysis is just as good as weeks worth of spreadsheet work, especially when we arrive at about the same result.
2. Long and medium term project plan development:  Embracing the gray areas while developing project plans allows for the insertion of relationship building and intention determination.
3. Assessing:  Allowing gray space in assessment of a new project, plan or measurable action allows for the creation of measures that creatively help to determine the next steps of the project.

The real trick is not to run to or from planning, but to utilize it in a way that advances the cause to a place where people agree on the vision, understand the large steps along the way and understand they have space to be creative.  Of course none of this can happen without mutual trust, both in the leader and from the leader. If the trust doesn’t exist, see Ben’s awesome post on how to handle office politics.

When leaders embrace the planning gray spaces, they can only continue to advance and innovate.