Categories
Startup Life

Getting my affairs in order – If this were Twitter, I’d just say “Thanks”

My First Profile Image - The Happy IBMer
My First Profile Image - The Happy IBMer

Social Values 2.0
Its more about the folks in your social network than the technology that enables your social network. Its the value they can spontaneously and casually generate with a simple click of a button.

The rumors were true. There are layoffs & I’m among them. I have until 6 Feb 2009 to find a new job within IBM, or, yada yada yada. This is the first of two posts I’d like to share with you about my experience inside Big Blue. It’s all good. Here is a cleansed version of my 19 Sep 2008 internal blog. (All internal links have been removed.)

I hear the train a comin’
About mid-September 2008, I was informed my current role as Lead Business Analyst (aka Product Manager) in Rational Portfolio Manager (RPM) has been discontinued. I have until the end of October 2008 to find a new job inside Big Blue, or else, yada, yada, yada. Now the truth is, this wasn’t a big surprise to me. RPM sales to new customers was halted back in Q1 2008 and for now, there will be no further releases – just iFixes. So managing requirements & providing demos is just not something the business needs.

Gotta get out of this place
So back in Q1 2008, I started improving my skill-sets and finding news ones. There’s loads of stuff out there & I chose to invest my time in learning about Agile software development. Almost immediately, I got into Outside-in Software Development: A Practical Approach to Building Successful Stakeholder-Based Products by John Sweitzer and Carl Kessler of IBM SWG. It’s a great read & if you’ve been in software development long enough, can easily relate to the experiences they write about. I was so inspired by the book, that I decided I needed to put my Agile education and outside-in software development knowledge to practice. Unfortunately, this was not going to happen back in RPM-land.

So on the advice of my manager Robert St-Laurent, I looked into “Blue Opportunities” (a way to temporarily join another team to gain new experiences) to see if there was anyone out there looking for this kind of help. I couldn’t find what I was looking for so, I simply created my own custom made opportunity. All I had to do was shop it around and see if I could get any takers. But where? These development practices seemed so foreign from where I was coming from. So I took a shot and sent an email to Carl Kessler, John Sweitzer & Scott Ambler asking if they knew of any teams already well experienced in outside-in agile software development & if they would be OK with me shadowing the process and more specifically the product manager/owner.

Now this was a sort of Hail Mary for me but, you never know if you don’t ask. Less than two hours later, Carl Kessler answers me & within days I’m hooked up with the Search and Discovery, ECM team from Information Management shadowing Jake Levirne & Rishi Patel. In the end, I had a better understanding of their environment and provided them with a proof-of-concept where I mapped their current tools & process into that of the Rational Team Concert (beta 3 at the time).

Funny, eh?
Trying to leverage my experience, I used my new found connections to go after a few new product manager/owner opportunities with the IM group. I thought it went well but nothing materialized & heard recently that they were not able to hire outside of IM. Get it? The group practising outside-in development couldn’t hire from outside. šŸ™‚ Nonetheless, it was a phenomenal experience & to this day I get great mileage out of the whole story.

Giveback
If you’re interested, I blogged (internally) the entire Blue Opportunity, presented a Lunch & Learn back in the RPM lab and just a few days ago, was given the opportunity to repeat (no pun intended) the Lunch & Learn at the Disciplined Agile Development Work

Categories
Startup Life

OK, maybe you Got It, but will They?

Hmmm… maybe one more change
Most of my posts take a few days to write. I tend to write my first draft as a collection of thoughts and then start piecing them together. Most times, I sleep on it and return with different thoughts and maybe even a different perspective. Sometimes, especially when I’ve recorded my sketches and voice over, I may redo everything. That’s a tougher decision to make because of all the effort involved in creating those things. And finally, sometimes I’ll go through the whole cycle again simply because I inadvertently fell asleep putting the kids – Sara (11) and Alex (7) to bed. That too may result in an update since my best ideas usually come to me when I’m away from the keyboard and completely mellowed out with them.

Sticky?
I have a few ideas rumbling around in my head that I think are pretty slick. They’re actually quite simple. But that’s in my mind. You see I’ve spend quite a few nights snuggling with Sara & Alex, so I’ve gone through the above scenario more than once.

Pitching an idea is an art. I’ve been in a start-up before & was always fascinated by how the pitches were modified based on the audience. So whether I want to bounce the idea off of a friend, or colleague, or, am pinned to give the proverbial elevator pitch to a VP, it has to be good. It has to stick.

So I’m now reading Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and have to admit, it is sticky. I am without a doubt more conscientious about how I express myself.

Beyond ‘Getting It’
But… Didn’t you ever wonder if you actually “got it”? Didn’t you ever wonder if you were able to do it justice? If the author, teacher, mentor were to review your work, would you get a šŸ™‚ out of them?

Depending on the situation, following through with that new approach can be a leap of faith. You get one shot to make your pitch. Are you going to risk it all on;

  1. Did you get it?
  2. Did you do it justice in your preparation? Or,
  3. Did you even take the right advice?

Here’s a little story
We have an amazing instant messaging tool – IBM’s Lotus Sametime, which lets you find anyone working in the company – IBM . Like many of these tools, it has Presence Awareness – you can tell everyone whether you’re “Available”, “Away from the computer now”, “In a meeting”… yada yada yada. But not like any other competing tools I’ve experienced, you can also see where anybody is in the organization chart, who they report to, their title, piers, who reports to them and loads more.

A few months ago I was looking for a new job within IBM and was chatting with my colleague Angus Mcintyre. Angus pointed me to a few other names that may be able to help me out. I usually check their info first before pinging them (checking if they could chat) but this time I forgot. I pinged Jeff Schick, a VP. Normally I would never ping so high up in the food chain but what was done was done. So I forged on.

By the end of the day I had a 30 minute phone call scheduled with Jeff at 7 AM – the next morning. I really wish I would’ve read the Heath brothers’ book back then. But, I was in the middle of another excellent book – Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures which I blogged about in Lots of pictures. I stayed up till 3 AM sketching my brains out trying to figure out how am I going to get my message across. To be clear, let’s review the situation:

  • I have a VP
  • He’s never heard of me before
  • I was persistent with his assistant to get any time on his calendar. (In a company of more than 390,000 employees, we are actually encouraged to be “persistent”. But one never knows for sure how its received.)
  • He was going out his way to talk to me
  • It was 7 AM
  • I had less than 30 minutes

I took that leap of faith & trusted that I had gotten enough of the book to pull it off. I sketched my last 20 years of experience in one image and called it “How [my profile image] came to [Jeff’s profile image] and Why”. I set up an ad hoc meeting with Sametime Unyte to share the image with Jeff and Sametime’ed (sent him an instant message with) the web site address (URL). Snafu. Jeff pushed back. It was too early in the morning for this sort of thing. So, I immediately apologized and backed off. I said he could just close the window but I’ll keep mine open because I’m sure the answer to any question he has in there somewhere.

It wasn’t easy and to this day I have no idea if Jeff actually saw my work or not. I do know that his first question was something like “So how did you come to me & what can I do to help you out?” It was an awesome phone call and I certainly did achieve some results.

Netting it out. Can you do it?
Another colleague of mine, Claudia Mueller Thompson, once advised me that you’ve got to net it out for execs. Don’t ever send them flowing prose in email expecting them to scroll and scroll through your War & Peace email. Make it one sentence – preferably with no punctuation. These folks are constantly being bombarded with distractions. They could easily have someone in their office, already be on a conference call and have Sametime chat windows firing off like popcorn.

So if you – the genius behind your idea, can’t net it out in less than one sentence, then how do you expect the person on the receiving end to Get It?

Imagine test driving your one-liner elevator pitches
Imagine you were posting something that, if done right, could really help your career. I’m sure you can because that’s apparently one of the reasons why people blog. (I wish I could find that link again.)

Try doing this. You could create a survey (for free) at SurveyMonkey and

  1. Add the link to your blog, or email message
  2. Use Twitter to broadcast it

Thanks to Michael Stelzner for introducing me to SurveyMonkey.

Please take my survey Which one of these titles is the stickiest?.

Be sure to follow me on http://twitter.com/stevenmilstein and I’ll tweet whenever I get results.

Reflection
Can you see yourself doing something like this? Give it a shot & please come back to let me know how it worked out for you. In the meantime, I’ll be more than happy to respond to your survey. And if we collaborate, then the next time you question whether you can net it out or not, you know the answer will be Yes We Can. Sorry, I just couldn’t help my self šŸ™‚