Monday, November 20, 2006

How do you know how much process is “just right”?

I’m sure we’ve all been in organizations where there was either not enough process, making things crazy and chaotic, or too much process, making it so hard to do anything that we spend all our time trying to get around it. Maybe some of us have been lucky enough to have been in situations where the process was “just right”. It’s possible that we have not even noticed this sublime situation, just because it was “just right’, not in the way, not making us crazy.

Certainly it’s a personal thing – a loose light process may feel ad hoc to some and unnecessarily restrictive to others, but is there some objective way to determine the optimal level? I think so.

The key questions are “what are you really trying to achieve?” and “what is the lightest process that will get me there?” No one tries to make things more difficult or slow down their business, but this is often a result of too much process. This is true whether we are talking about software development, or tracking employees’ vacation time.

Monday, November 13, 2006


One of my business partners is a philosopher. His favorite question is “why?”

I’m an engineer. My favorite question is “how?”

Most of the time, we balance each other beautifully. He keeps us from rushing into things, and I keep us out of “analysis paralysis.” This month, as we’ve started to prepare for our business planning sessions, this fundamental difference in the way we think has become even more apparent.

I was ready to take the general strategy we labored over last year and put together tactics to continue to move it forward. The “how”. He was ready to evaluate growth strategies in general. It only took one painful meeting for us to realize we were not on different pages we were in different books.

Now, I’m a big believer in examination and introspection, but I also believe that at some point you need to pick a direction, decide to believe in it, and go for it! The question is “when?” I don’t know the answer to this. Maybe it’s when you’ve tried everything reasonable tactic and have not had success. Maybe it’s proportional. (I find that Pareto applies to almost everything in life, but we’ll save that for another day). Maybe there is no answer.

What I do know is that every time we experience this conflict between “why” and “how” we get a little better and a little quicker at recognizing it. I’ve also realized just how much I value the tension it creates – holding us back just long enough to re-examine our underlying assumptions, and resulting in even more confidence, anticipation, and passion around the company we’re building.

The Best Consultants (part 1 of 38,329)

What makes a consultant great? It’s a question I’ve thought about every time I’ve hired one, and we ask ourselves frequently at my firm. It’s not just the technical skills, but then that’s obvious.

The best consultants I know make a positive contribution on every engagement, and that contribution is usually not isolated just to the particular task they are assigned to.

I remember very early in my career as I was making the transition from hardware design to software design, I was having a terrible time with some embedded firmware I had written. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but ultimately a consultant was assigned to help me fix it. Well, not only did he show me the error of my ways in my interrupt handling scheme, but he also began to teach me the things they never teach you in school - the subtleties of becoming a good programmer.

This particular person ended up becoming a long-time mentor and friend so I happen to know he’s made that kind of personal (not personnel) contribution again and again. One thing the top consultants have in common is that they are both willing and able to share their gifts, and do so generously.