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. πŸ™‚ Nonetheless, it was a phenomenal experience & to this day I get great mileage out of the whole story.

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

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.

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 πŸ™‚ 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 and I’ll tweet whenever I get results.

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 πŸ™‚

Startup Life

Just lucky?

Lucky Child

A little out of step

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, then you already know each one tries to cover a specific tool in the family of social software. My next post is actually going a little too far but circumstances have inspired me to come out with it now.

A little story

Many moons ago when I was a self-employed consultant, someone I know griped to a mutual friend of our’s, that I was just lucky to always be landing contracts one after the other. At first, I looked at it as sour grapes and was grateful for my luck. But a few months later, I was watching 60 Minutes and the interviewer suggested to the interviewee, that many others discount his good fortune as just being lucky. (I wish I could remember their names). The response was something along the following: “True, I am lucky… if you define “Luck” as the point in time when preparedness meets opportunity.” So, I’m just lucky to be writing the next post out of sequence and will return to any missing pieces shortly.

Startup Life

The Funny Thing About Leaving Comments

Taking Advice
Taking Advice

Taking advice from my own comments

Leaving my mark

A few days ago I made the following comment on Chris Brogan‘s Question for You While Preparing for 2009;

Steven Milstein 12.19.08 at 9:31 am

I have to agree with many of the comments above. Personally, I’d take a whack of those bullets & make them perquisites for the bootcamp. Why not blog a Prerequisite To-Do List with Chris’ Preferred Bookmark and let folks go off on their own to get them done? Maybe even give them an estimate of how much time they could expect to spend on each task. Personally, I think this approach is not only more scalable and containable, but it also ensures participants that you’ll get to the good stuff.

For me, that good stuff would not be the technology behind Chris Brogan but the classic Chris Brogan we read everyday. That would be the value add for me.

And speaking of Classic Chris Brogan stuff, it would be very much in your persona, and your curriculum, to link to some of your contributors. As I comment here, I’m number 26. That means there’s potentially 25 links ahead of me who could make that list. IMO, of course πŸ™‚

Despite my closing πŸ™‚ , I have to admint to being a little frustrated that Chris – who’s taught me so much & has such a huge social network, would exert his energy showing people what so many others – myself included, are already doing in their own special way. I was especially surprised that Chris, who’s always made it a point to link to others, wasn’t taking advantage of the this seemingly obvious opportunity to do so. And that’s why I left my comment.

Not being one to dwell too much on these things, I went off to tackle another one of my To-Do’s. Oddly enough the To-Do was from one of Chris’ earlier posts and one which he reiterated on above.

Claim the blog on Technorati.

Clutch in (or, changing gears, subject….)

I’ve been to Technorati but never understood this business of Claiming your blog. So, like a good little student, I followed the links and went through the process. By the way, you may be interested to know that, at the time of this writing, my blog is ranked 4,713,769 with 1 having the most blogs linked to it, and therefore being the Best! While I’m not aiming for the best, there is lots of room for improvement. So, I continued reading some of their tips & saw one like this;

Find out what others are writing and interested about and post something that helps them achieve their goal.

All altruism aside, this also happens to increase your own blogs awareness. And then I remembered that comment I left.

Clutch in. Taking my own and Technorati’s advice

Ding, ding, ding. So right after I publish this post – which I’m doing my best to keep short, I’m going to start a series of posts implementing Chris’s bootcamp scenario in Lotus Greenhouse Connections.

Clutch out.

Startup Life

Inspired/incited by Seth Godin. Empowered by Garr Reynolds & Dan Roam (under 7 minutes)

Permission granted to post

Inspired by

Do you have positions like this in your organization? If so, how’s it working out? If not, would you consider one like this? What tips could you offer up?

Social Software Startup Life

The Basis for a Social Experiment

Agile Social Software Compass
Agile Social Software Compass

Basis for my outside-in social software experiment, benefiting non-techies and the developers who write this stuff.

The Basis
In the spring of 2008, I read Outside-in Software Development: A Practical Approach to Building Successful Stakeholder-Based Products by John Sweitzer and Carl Kessler of IBM’s Software Group and having a software developer’s background myself, was truly inspired. So much so, that I reached out to Carl Kessler (one of the huge perks about being an IBM’er – we can do things like that) and asked him if he knew where I could gain some practical experience as a Product Owner with a team actually practicing outside-in agile software development. I was hooked up with a team in a matter of days and truly had a great experience.

The Social Aspect
Since then, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time following the Forward Thinkers on my sidebar to the right, as well as, a few of the books (under Pivotal Moments) they introduced me to. Pretty soon I noticed the connection between outside-in software development, the agile/scrum software development process and social software.

Without getting into the specifics of each, the one common thread shared by all was that true business value, or, success, could only be achieved when the community/tribe worked together to achieve their common goal.

The state of affairs
Now while I work for IBM, I don’t work for Lotus – the keepers of IBM’s social software, nor do I work in the brand of the VPs mentioned above. I’m not in sales, nor am I in marketing. Take a look at my brief About – I’m a business analyst in Rational. I have no sphere of influence on any of those other brands

The experiment
So what I’d like to do – with your help of course, is starting from outside of Big Blue, put together a simple scenario where we feel social software will provide true business value for all stakeholders concerned. And by Stakeholders, I mean you, me, and the community/tribe we assemble. Since I am outside the trusted firewall, have my Disclaimer in the Sidebar and am secure with our Business Conduct Guidelines, this tribe is not restricted to IBM’s software development community. Anyone from any software development community can become a stakeholder.

Defining success
Like any experiment, or, project, we need a deliverable – something that can be measured. Something that we as stakeholders can say defines success. Here’s my suggestion: We, as stakeholders, want to deploy a social network with a specific non-technical mandate, using IBM’s social software, so that we can achieve our goal while contributing to the greater outside-in social software development community.

Up Next
In the coming posts, I’ll describe the non-technical mandate I have in mind and then how we’re going to experiment with IBM’s latest social software offerings – for free, no obligations, no spam, no hardware required.

Until then, if you already have a simple, non-technical goal you’d like to achieve by implementing a social network, please let me know so we can compare notes.

Startup Life

Starting My Own, Thanks to …

Social Networking Stickman

Starting my own, thanks to Mitch Joel, Chris Brogan, Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki.

Why I got started
I only started taking social software seriously after reading Seven Blogs You Must Read And Other Useful Know-How – By Mitch Joel at Twist Image in the Montreal Gazette. For the most part, I’ve been following Mitch Joel‘s advice and listening to him, Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki’s How to Change the World and try to keep up with ReadWriteWeb, MobileCrunch and TechCrunch every now & then.

To be quite honest, I never felt a burning desire to spend much time with Facebook and just couldn’t relate to telling the wold that I’m going to have a coffee with Twitter. Now I know that sounds rather anti-social but I really felt there had to be more to it. But then among all of the feeds above, I came across ESME: Is This What an Enterprise Twitter Could Look Like? – ReadWriteWeb and things started to gel for me.

But enterprises come in many forms and I’d like to focus more on enterprising communities – those that are looking for new ways to tackle age-old problems. Those that are anxious to learn as they go along and maybe even contribute to the learning process.

One more Why
Here’s a comment I posted to Start A Blog Today | Six Pixels of Separation – Marketing and Communications Blog and Podcast – By Mitch Joel at Twist Image that explains why I finally got off the sidelines:

Actually, I only “got” social media after reading your post. Just recently, I started blogging myself, also, mainly due to you,, and I most definitely agree with you & the others, that – given the challenges of today’s realities, now is absolutely the best time to show your snowflake. With so many people being batched together in layoffs, people need a way to distinguish themselves.

The light bulb went off for me when I was about to offer the father of my daughter’s best friend an afternoon How-To do it. Fortunately, I realized the arrogance of my offer & held back. I was about to waste 4 hours of his time, my time, completely frustrate both of us and in the end set us both further back from where we started.

That’s why I started blogging. I realized that so many people I know – personally & professionally, have no idea of the social software tools not only available to them, but more importantly, just how beneficial they can be. So instead of inefficiently offering my help one person at at time, I hope to learn & refine the experience in my blog, grow my own social network and help others seed their own.

Here’s my lightning rod
According to Rubicons’ October 2008 report entitled “Online Communities and Their Impact on Business: Ignore at Your Peril”, there’s pretty much two kinds of community members: the most frequent contributors (MFCs) and the ones that read their contributions. By the way, the MFCs represent only 10% of the members but they contribute 80% of the content. If this is true then this is what I’m aiming for:

  1. If we can get just a handful of members, then I’m hoping that 90% of our new community will follow the adventures.
  2. Hopefully a percentage of that 90% will even try to implement their own community
  3. 10% will either let me know of:
    1. mistakes I’ve made, and/or
    2. problems encountered using my choice of software, and/or
    3. let me know how the competition deals with a scenario – whether it be better, or not

So bring it on. Let’s all learn together. Let’s share our experiences with not just this community here, but with any children communities born here, as well as, the developers who write our social software.

Up Next
Over the next few postings, I’m going to explain my niche market, a simple scenario for us to implement and a high-level outline of to-do’s which will ultimately become our How-To’s. You may agree, or, disagree with what I think is niche & whether my scenario has any practical use. But that’s the beauty of this social networking thing – provided you post your comments back.

My Process
There’s nothing truly original here. I’ve seen others do it. So unless anyone has any other suggestions this is how I’ll proceed:

  1. Send a tweet through Twitter letting anyone who’ll listen know what I’m planning on posting next & ask for any insights.
  2. Post my entry, with the first line being the entry’s tweet. If I can’t net out my posting in 140 characters and you can’t “Get it”, then I failed & you shouldn’t bother reading any further.
  3. Tweet that first line and see if anyone “gets it”.

All thoughts are welcome

Startup Life

Lots of Pictures

Reposted from my Lotus Greenhouse 26 Sep 2008 Blog (create a free account)
Dan Roam - The Back Of The Napkin
Dan Roam - The Back Of The Napkin

I’d like to thank Guy Kawasaki for his How to Change the World: The Art of Visual Thinking post and introducing me to Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures. If the posting doesn’t inspire you to read the book, take a look at the book’s slick web site for a another perspective. In addition to all the glowing reviews out there, I’d just like to add a few of points that may hit closer to home for all those folks out there engaged in Geographically Distributed Development (GDD):


  1. Not all developers are born public speakers. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with some brilliant folks – from coders to architects. However, there are times when this talented group of people can’t seem to net-it-out. They’re so immersed in their code, or, diagrams, that its difficult for us less savvy folk to get the point. Now even if you never share your picture (which based on my own experience is a giant leap of faith), the exercise of attempting to draw it has huge benefits. With each iteration, you not only clarify the physical image but you clarify the one in your “mind’s eye” – which in the end simply improves your code, or, detailed diagrams
  2. Not everyone’s mother tongue is English! Pictures transcend language. So look upon your creations like the Egyptians looked upon their hieroglyphics.
  3. Not everyone can draw. True. Neither can I. But I still read the book and benefited from it. It’s easy to read – lots of picures!

So read the book anyway and post your thumbs-up, or, thumbs-down comments here, or, on my postings featuring my creations πŸ™‚