Mark Cuban’s take on the “follow your passion” trend from Business Insider. Passion is definitely important, but it needs to be grounded in REALITY.
And then conversely, from the same article:
“Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love. If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession.”
Seems to be a little at odds, but I think his point is valid. Don’t let passion be your sole driver…
- Are you Searching for Passion? (managingmindspaces.wordpress.com)
- 20 Quotes That Reveal How Mark Cuban Became Everyone’s Favorite Billionaire (ibtimes.com)
What did I learn?
Nothing nobody hasn’t heard before. But it was good to experience them first hand. And in no particular order…
You can build anything you want if you are driven, dedicated, and smart enough.
You’ll work faster, and better when you work on things you care about.
You will slouch, drag your feet, and work much slower when you’re forced into positions that aren’t right for you.
You will build a lot of shit, but it’s okay to ship it and iterate.
So true…if you care about it and you like what you are doing, the end product is going to be better.
From The Atlantic article When the Nerds Go Marching In:
In fact, some shakeups were necessary. Reed and Slaby sent some product managers packing and brought in more traditional ones like former Microsoft PM Carol Davidsen. “You very much have to understand the campaign’s hiring strategy: ‘We’ll hire these product managers who have campaign experience, then hire engineers who have technical experience — and these two worlds will magically come together.’ That failed,” Davidsen said. “Those two groups of people couldn’t talk to each other.”
Part of the reason you someone to translate between the “techies” and the customer…
This month I decided to take a new job as a Project Manager for a set of technical projects. For many, especially highly technical engineers and developers, the Project Manager role is treated as a necessary evil. Hell, when I first started my career I had similar feelings. In fact sometimes a Project Manager creates more work rather than helping move the project along.
Therefore, as I start this new job, I am reflecting on my ideas for how to be a successful Project Manager and what my job truly is. This is not meant to be exclusive…rather it is a set of core philosophies that help contribute to success.
Protect the team (and be their advocate) so they can do their job
Too often the politics and bureaucracies of the customer environment can affect the product(s) produced by the team. High performing teams need to keep their eyes on the prize. It is the job of the PM to ensure that the BS is kept to a minimum and processes are streamlined where possible. Should the project team understand the political environment? Absolutely. This affects the solutions they provide, makes the pressures of the customer real to them, and creates some empathy for the PM. But they shouldn’t be bothered by the constant barrage that can come from a toxic customer environment.
Additionally, solution teams can be a very weird, AND fun place. However, customers may get somewhat concerned if they sit in a meeting when the QA lead gets into a heated discussion with the solutions architect. The customer doesn’t have to see how the sausage is made…
Ensure the solution meets the customer requirement
Customers and users typically speak a very different language then developers and engineers. A good PM (especially one with some technical chops, even if they are a little outdated) has the ability to act as a translation layer between the customer and the solution team. This is not necessarily a pure abstraction layer! Both sides still need to have collaborative sessions to ensure what is delivered meets the customer’s intent. But the end set of requirements need to be readable and agreed to by both sides.
And a quick note on requirements. They are often hard to state clearly and succinctly. More often I find the use of use cases or user stories to be much more effective. It is easier for customers to see how the system will work through the eyes of a potential stakeholder, and it allows the team to understand the end experience.
….but also doesn’t exceed the requirement
Bad ass teams, developers, and engineers want to make cool shit. But cool shit can sometimes get in the way of solutions that actually work. The PM must keep the team’s eye on the prize, and introduce un-required features VERY CAREFULLY. There have been MANY times when I have seen projects grind to a halt because testing fails on a requested feature.
Facilitate collaboration and teamwork
This seems like a no-brainer, but it is a must for increased productivity. Pretty self-explanatory, and covered in numerous textbooks and on the web. This can also relate to requirements creep. Make sure meetings don’t grind to a halt for four hours as you discuss a feature that doesn’t actually meet a stated requirement.
PMs must strive to understand the project since they will be in position to speak to the customers on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean they have to be the expert on all parts of the project! That is why you have a team. But it does mean that PMs need to understand enough that they can articulate the project to a variety of stakeholders. Unfortunately this often leads to a spiral of multiple Powerpoint decks and Visio diagrams, but I believe that this is a mark of a strong PM. If necessary, refer questions to the studs/studettes you have on the team, or have them back bench or even present the project.
If necessary, jump on the grenade
Shit happens. Sometimes it is the team’s fault, sometimes it is the customer’s fauly, and sometimes it is related to factors outside of your control. But when it does, the LAST thing to do is throw your team under the bus if shit does hit the fan. Take the fall because it is ultimately the PMs responsibility to ensure the customer is successful. If there is fault with the team, address it with the team (or team member) and do your best to make sure it doesn’t happen again! And if the customer screws up, you still may get blamed. Find some body armor and just be prepared to take one for the team.
Ultimately the goal of a PM is to MAKE THE TEAM SUCCESSFUL. There is no better feeling when a well oiled team pulls off the impossible. I strive to get that feeling in my work life again.
- 7 Deadly Sins Of Highly Inefficient Project Managers (noobpreneur.com)
- 8 Myths on Project Manager vs. the “Real” Manager, Part 2 (anyaworksmart.com)
In the early 2000s, I was privileged to go through a formal leadership training program while I worked at SRA. The program was three two-day sessions over a period of 3-4 months. Each two-day session concentrated on a separate set of topics, and the time in between those 2 day sessions was a great way to absorb what you learned and practice it in the field. Still the best professional training I have gone through, and I wish I could attend more of them!
One of the things that stuck with me was the professional growth graph they presented. Similar to a growth graph for a child, it shows professional growth on the Y axis and time on the X axis. Over time during your career, there are moments where you must “stretch” to face a new challenge and your growth will accelerate. However, there are also moments when you will grow complacent and actually may degrade your growth.
I have had the pleasure of having several stretch experiences thought out my career, and I’d like to think that I successfully learned from them which has made me a better leader. This has included extremely short-term integration efforts for DISA and WHCA, leading a team of 40+ people while at SRA, and becoming a founder and CTO of Ennovex Solutions.
What has always worried me is getting too comfortable in a situation and becoming complacent. I firmly believe that like all things, you must continue to grow or you will be left behind. The last 3-4 years have offered their own lessons that have improved my leadership abilities. However, I found that it was time to identify a new opportunity that would allow me to continue to grow.
So, I decided it was time for a pivot.
But pivot to what? To where?
I quickly discovered that this was the hardest part. What did I want to do next? I have been working for 14 years, and I found myself in a weird place. What do I find fulfilling and what will help me grow?
As you would expect, this takes a decent amount of soul-searching and time. One of my first steps was to enlist some outside help. I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar run by Ben Sands, a friend of mine who recently went through his own pivot to start his new company called Regret Free Life. The seminar, the company, and the subsequent five-week course that I attended emphasized answering three basic questions about myself. Who I am. What I want. What I do.
Sounds simple, but in 14 years of working, and even before that, I don’t believe that I ever did that amount of introspection. It forced me to identify what I really wanted out life and what I wanted out of work. It also helped me to start thinking out of the box. Yes, I work as government contractor, but do I have to stay in that field? Or is there something else in the government contracting space that will make me happier?
The Regret Free Life sessions, and subsequent conversations with Ben, really jump started my motivation to actively seek a fulfilling opportunity. Over the past couple of months I have had several great conversations with companies and have had the privilege of meeting some great folks. Ultimately my pivot has led me to an opportunity at Novetta Solutions where I can lead people again…something I truly enjoy.
So where will the pivot lead? Who knows, but I know that I am excited to move forward.
Over the past couple of years, there has been an explosion of free, quality learning opportunities online. This has been covered a lot in the news, and is a reaction to the continued absurd rise in education costs.
<rant>Considering there is no requirement for real life training, or a Life 101 type course, and it still costs this much is CRAZY. I sometimes wonder if Visa and MasterCard purposefully lobby for no mandatory education in personal finance in college or high school.</rant>
In an effort to expand my horizons and learn something new, I have signed on a couple of these sites for some coursework.
I actually found this site a year ago and signed up for the Model Thinking course that started this fall. Each course has a synopsis and an over view on the courser website. The class itself is taught by Scott Page from the University of Michigan. Each week had a series of 5-12 minute video lectures that walked through the material. Dispersed throughout the coursework are quizzes and questions to make sure you understand the material. At some point during class there were over 89,000 students enrolled!
To be honest, I made it through about 5 weeks of the class until I got too far behind to keep up with the class. This is not the fault of the class, rather a function of prioritizing my own time. If you do complete the course, you receive a certificate of completion. My advice is like most things, if you are going to sign up then be ready to set aside time to learn the material. Luckily the courses are free. I doubt that will last though, and at some point I think there is some extrinsic motivation if you actually paid (so that you were “forced” to set aside time).
Although I started programming in elementary school/middle school (geek cred?), I stopped formally learning half way through college and haven’t really used it much since. However, there have been several times in my career when I wanted to get back to it. Perhaps the drive to create? Anyhow, I have tried buying books and learning from them, but it hasn’t really held my attention.
So along comes Codeacademy, which offers free programming lessons on several programming languages (Python, jQuery, Ruby, etc). After some quick research I have dived into the Python track. Although the semantics are slightly different, my OLD background in C++, Pascal, Basic, etc has come in handy. However, even if you are a first timer, these courses are quite good. You may want to take one of the fundamental courses first to get some good background.
Each language has a series of topics to introduce you to the language, and takes you step by step to create your own code. The site actually has its own code editor and interpreter, so you don’t need anything installed at home! Definitely a big plus for those just started out. All in all I have really enjoyed this type of learning. Individuals concepts are taught well, and even some conventions of the language.
There are other options out there (Khan Academy, EdX)…these are just my observations. However, since the courses are free, it is worth finding something new you want to learn about and dedicate some time to it!
- Codeacademy’s Free Kits Help Kids (and Educators) Learn to Code (thedigitalshift.com)
- Ruby Track on CodeAcademy (i-programmer.info)
- Codeacademy’s Free Courses Democratize Computer Programming (openculture.com)