How long to hold a grudge?

Not against people, but against brands and companies?

The oldest grudge I have right now is 17 years and counting. Unless you count the fact that I will never buy a Chrysler because my father had a bad experience with Plymouth back in the 60s.

In 1993 American Express wronged me. Won't go into the details, but suffice it to say I will never do business with them. Ever. Ford and GM both pissed me off in the 90s, even after giving GM multiple chances to make good (my fault for being naive).

I'm a rational person. My Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is INTJ - the NT being the "rational" quartet. I am rational in almost all aspects of my life: dealing with my kids, deciding who to fire and promote at work, which charities I donate to, etc. The one exception is when I'm a consumer. Why does the iPod succeed when there are mp3 players with better storage per dollar? Why do people still buy from iTunes when DRM-free options such as Amazon MP3 exist?

Consumers are fickle. They are a challenge to understand. They are unpredictable.

Which is why it's imperative that every aspect of the customer's interaction with your brand goes well! You just don't know what sets off customers. And every small problem a customer encounters erodes trust in your brand.

Seth Godin for quite some time has talked about the new era of marketing. Consumers are in control now. Traditional marketing is ineffective at best; damaging (yes, that's right damaging) at worst. And he talked of this in the era of email and Internet message boards. "Back then," information spread virally around the web at amazing speed. Today, with twitter and facebook dominating the scene, things move even faster.

Speaking of social networks, its interesting to see how companies have responded to these tools. Those companies that are consumer-focused and known for customer excellence tend to use them well, those that have horrible customer experiences tend to struggle.

Xbox does this right - they have a twitter account (XboxSupport) that users can fire questions to. And they staff and respond to it. And when they respond anyone following them can see what they've advised.

Comcast, on the other hand, likes to respond with "Can I help you?" Can you help me? Why the frick are you asking the question? Do you really think I would say "no, I like not having internet access that I pay $60 a month for." (Yeah I would dump Comcast in a minute... if I had an alternative).

It was 10 years ago when Amazon cut it's marketing department and put the budget into free shipping. You know, an actual benefit for the customer. Why haven't more companies learned this lesson?

Ignoring your customer touchpoints isn't a smart way to do business. Some customers hold grudges a long time. 17 years. Maybe longer.


Using the concept of Impact in your sprint planning

The most common problem I see with people chartered with execution plans (project managers, program managers, whatever) is their blind scheduling of tasks using only priority and resources as their criteria. Let's take an extreme example. Assume you have two deliverables: the first is considered "highest priority," will result in a 10x decrease in operational costs, and will take 12 months to implement. The second one is not considered as high of a priority. It will result in a 5% decrease in operational costs, and will take 5 days to implement.

In my experience (assuming there are ample resources for deliverable #1), most execution planners will blindly execute the first deliverable followed by the second deliverable based on priority rather than consider the impact of reducing 5% of operating costs over the coming year. This is because most people who are chartered with execution have been considition to look at priority first, and resources second when scheduling work to be done.

Of course in the real world things are not so cut-and-dry and not so drastic. But the point is still the same: you should set your execution plan to maximize your output as a function of time. And here's the kicker: that should be your only criteria. And it's simple, really: start plotting out impact over time on a chart and look at the "area under the curve." Compare your scheduling options and you'll see why scheduling by impact is the best way to deliver value.

Most people will ask me at this point "but doesn't priority cover impact?" And the answer is "yes but's that irrelevant." It's irrelevant because it covers the impact of the deliverable only. It doesn't take into account impact as a function of schedule - the idea that changing around the scheduling of tasks will have different total impact over time.

Give it try on your current project. And start delivering value, sooner.


Microsoft releases a Silverlight 4 Facebook Client

Download it here. I had to uninstall Silverlight 3 in order to get it to install 4, but the Facebook client is really sweet. Better way to organize information.


Five free tips to speed your execution

Being at Microsoft almost two years now I've gotten to see how people, processes, and attitude contribute to speed of execution. Peers often ask me how I got things done, even without "approval," and by (gasp) not following Microsoft's heavyweight processes.

Here's what I tell them.

  1. Serialize your tasks. No matter what you're doing, what your roadblocks are, etc, this is a simple math problem. So long as your goal isn't "get a bunch of things done at exactly the same time (such as cooking a meal or a product launch) you will automatically increase your speed of execution simply by serializing your tasks instead of parallelizing them. Don't believe me? Try this out: pretend you have three tasks, each take 1 day to complete. Parallelizing them (spending an equal amount of time on each), you will finish all three at the end of day three. If you serialize them, you finish task 1 on day 1, task 2 on day 2, and task 3 on day three. Both approaches take three total days to complete all three. But serializing them gives you an average deilvery time of 2 days instead of 3 days (33% improvement). And you get the benefits from task 1 two days early and task 2 one day early. Always focus on one thing and get it done.

  2. Identify the least amount of work to move the needle. Smart people like to solve for the perfect solution, the 100% solution. Smarter people move the needle along the way. This is a cororally to the above. You can deliver an 100% solution in a month. Or, you can deliver a 25% solution this week, a 50% solution next week, a 75% solution the following week, and finally an 100%. The key here is once you've identified that 25% solution that moves the needle, get moving on it! Don't wait until the next phases are defined before you move on phase 1.

  3. Help others win. If you have a great idea, let others in on it. Let them win. Let them look good. Let them have some credit. Don't hoard it. You'll be shocked how fast things get done.

  4. Fail Faster. Startups know this very well. You will get things wrong more than you will get them right. And meetings, documentation, and brainstorming will not avoid the need to learn (although applied properly they will help you move forward with execution if you are getting others to contribute to your cause). So get on with failing. Now.

  5. Ask for forgiveness, not permission. A long time ago I heard "you will move as fast as you can make decisions." Amen. Every time you ask for buy-in, approval, etc you will slow yourself down. I work with a lot of Sr. PMs and I work with a lot of Jr. PMs. I never hear a Sr. PM say "I need to get my boss' sign-off" - they just do it and make it happen.

One caveat: know when care is required. The last bullet doesn't apply in all cases. You've got to know when moving forward does require input, approval, or buy-in. But the opposite is the important piece: know when you can aggressively move forward on your own and Make It Happen.

Oh yeah, one last thing: prioritize. I have probably 50 suggestions to help speed execution. But notice I kept the list to five. It's enough for you to get moving, without having to read a post 10 times as long.

So get moving :)


I just don't buy it re: Apple

Just got done reading this article on how Apple is going down the wrong path with their "closed" systems.

As I like to say, I'm a PC-and-a-Mac. I have nothing for-or-against Apple or Microsoft. I love iPods, hate iTunes Music Store (but love iTunes for managing my music library, love iPhone, hate Windows Mobile, love Xbox and Xbox Live, am indifferent to my iMac and indifferent to my Windows laptop. And I love Amazon MP3 :)

I heard this "open system" line five years ago as iPods really took off. Apple hasn't lost it's leadership position yet. Instead, they continue to innovate, deliver value to customers, and reap the profits. They have a solid business model (deliver a seamless end-user experience software to sell music as a loss-lead to sell devices at a huge profit).

Did the Wintel decoupling of hardware and software enable Wintel to beat Apple in the 80s? Maybe. Maybe not. I think they delivered something cheaper and easier-to-use. Was that because of the decoupling? I think so, but Apple could have played the price war with them (especially when Apple had the market share). Apple chose not to, they lost.

Here's the key point: open platform is not an end-user requirement.

Google or Microsoft will take market share from Apple when they build a better product or innovate a better model (something that beats the device-software integration currently done very well by Apple).


When will marketers catch up?

This chart is mind-blowing. How, in the year 2008 (when this analysis was done) can marketers still be so far behind on where their audience is? It's not 1998 anymore.

Here's what else is interesting: Google (and a number of online advertisers) has made a killing despite the low investment from marketing in this area. Imagine what happens when marketers do get with the times. Or, what happens when companies realize they can reach more of their audience with less dollars and that their ROI is higher online than TV (have they not realized that yet)?

Or maybe they never learn. Sigh.