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Archive for June 2013

Delegating or micromanaging, threading the needle

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delegationMicromanagement can be a reflection of a manager’s feedback and concerns about progress.  Empowerment can create a detached or worried manager.  Threading the needle between delegation and micromanagement is central to the relationship between a manager and a report.  How do you balance this as either a manager or employee?

Be sure to check out the poll results at the end of this post on the topic of why meetings are so ineffective.  This week’s poll is https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NTSCCCK

A first year MBA student made the following observation:

High-performing people generally want autonomy to get things done without anyone micromanaging them.  At the same time, as a midlevel manager, I’ve often had someone above me who’s holding me accountable for whatever my direct reports are working on.

I’m struggling to find the right balance between giving people their autonomy while also asking sufficient questions to get the detail I need in order to feel comfortable with how things are going. 

This situation is not uncommon and represents a most fundamental challenge in any management hierarchy.  The situation boils down to a manager feeling accountable, employees wanting the freedom to do the work the best way they know how, and those outside this context assuming all is functioning well.

Here are 5 suggestions for improving the delegation process and avoiding the label of micromanagement:

  • Delegate the problem, don’t solve it.  The first sign of micromanaging is when delegating a project you also delegate the specifics of the solution.  While that makes sense in some fields, in creative or information work, being told up front the steps to follow makes one feel like a vendor and not a partner in the work.  This type of delegation doesn’t have the feeling that it enhances skills or career.  If the steps are well-known then perhaps there is a different view of the problem or delegation that will better suit a creative member of the team.
  • Share experiences, don’t instruct.  As the work progresses there’s a chance that the manager will see a pattern or similar situation arise.  There’s a good chance the way that experience is communicated can come across as either “sage sharing of experiences” or “more micromanaging”.  If there are experiences to share then share the story and allow the learning to take place by allegory and not turn the learning into “just do these steps”.
  • Listen to progress, don’t review it.  Just as managers should be delegating the problem, not the steps to solving it, when it comes time for progress to be reported it is best to let folks report on the progress the way it works best.  Micromanaging can also take the form of being specific about how progress should be reported or “summoning” people to review the progress.  If folks have been asked to take on a project, make sure they have the freedom to define the mechanics of the project as well.
  • Provide feedback, don’t course correct.  Things might not be always going as well as everyone wants and when that happens managers can sometimes slip into “gotta get this fixed” mode.  This type of course correction can remove many of the downstream benefits of delegation and turn into a big negative for folks.  It not only disempowers, but demotivates.  When things aren’t going well, the time is right for honest feedback and a two-way dialog.
  • Communicate serendipitously, don’t impede progress.  All projects have more work and less time than they need.  One way to reduce the amount of time available to make forward progress is for management to call for reviews or updates in a formal manner (meetings, written reports).  This type of communication can slow things down—the preparation, the review, the general stand-down while these work products are created.  If management is concerned about how things are going, then make it a point of finding the balance between serendipitous contact with the team and bugging them too much.

Above all, treat folks as you would like to be treated and validate that approach.  If you are the type of person that is eager to request and receive feedback then chances are you won’t see an eager manager as micromanaging you.  But if you are the type of person that likes some elbow room and your manager is the eager provider of feedback, then that mismatch is likely to be perceived as micromanagement rather than empowering delegation.

The simple solution to this potential dilemma is to communicate about these stylistic expectations before the work really starts.  Even if you’ve worked together for a while and have a rhythm, a new project might come with new approaches for working together.

Delegation can take the form of management asking for work from the team or it can take the form of “we’re all in this together”.  The question to ask yourself is if you delegate work so you’re part of “us” or “them”?

What are some tools you use for effective delegation?  Check out the poll – https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NTSCCCK.

–Steven Sinofsky

 

Thanks for everyone that responded to our survey for “Using meetings to be more effective”.  In this survey, we hoped to learn together about the tools and characteristics that make meeting successful.

Here are the results:

  • About half of our most recent meetings include a phone bridge, with about one third connecting via Voice over IP (i.e. Skype)
  • In about one in six meetings, at least one person joins via a cell phone
  • About half of our meetings take advantage of screen sharing and about half involve PowerPoint, though only in about one third was a projector used
  • When asked about whether our last meeting was a success, on average (mean and median) we “neither agree nor disagree” that it was a success

In looking at drivers for what made us rate a meeting a success, there were some interesting findings:

  • Regarding technologies, of the technologies queried (phone, cell, VoIP, screen sharing, PowerPoint, projector, and meeting software), only the use of a projector had a statistically significant impact on our success rating.  However, meetings with a projector ranked half a point lower on a five point scale, than those without projectors
  • Interestingly, presenters rated meetings with projectors lower than members of the audience, with a difference of about a half point, it’s worth noting this was not correlated with slideshow software like PowerPoint
  • Of the tips for success discussed,  “a fully understood context” drove the success factor up a third-point , and  a “concise” meeting (brevity) drove success up nearly a half-point.
  • Interestingly, presenters rated meetings with “a fully understood context” higher than members of the audience

Bottom Line:

Modern meetings leverage online tools like to get everyone on the same page, though care should be taken during in-person meetings to not let the audio/visuals detract from your message as a presenter.  Taking time before and during the meeting to create a shared sense of context and keeping your message concise seem to drive the best outcomes for everyone, presenter and audience alike.

Thanks, Cameron

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Written by Steven Sinofsky

June 18, 2013 at 9:30 am

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Applying the benefits of Yoga to product development and vice versa

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Yoga scene from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"The physiological benefits of exercise are well known, and regular exercise can also bring benefit to your work. Any exercise will do of course, starting with just walking as often as possible. The summer brings with it opportunities for broad ranges of outdoor activities. Almost all health studies point to the need for rigorous exercise to be a regular part of your routine in order to achieve the maximum benefit for health and work productivity.

Please be sure to take the survey on exercise and productivity found here.

Yoga is an especially good exercise for those that value a routine (or require a routine to better stick to a program). Rain or shine, hot or cold, day or night, yoga is always there. Centuries old, the health benefits of yoga are highly regarded by practitioners around the world and many religions, psychologists and biologists agree that taking time to rest, focus and center is an important part of human productivity. In the US, a variety of styles of yoga performed in room heated anywhere from 90 to 105+ degrees F has become increasingly popular. The heat provides additional benefits and an extra level of challenge as well. If you value routine, Bikram yoga is especially good since it is precisely the same every class.

Yoga’s history is rooted in meditation and ritual and for many today the spiritual aspect is the high order bit. For others, the spiritual side of yoga is appreciated in the context of other beliefs or just your daily personal life. Even the aum (om) sign or chant carries with it a deep ritual meaning for some as well as a more personally defined spiritual meaning for others.

I was asked about practicing yoga at the All Things D conference by Katie Boehret and she captured a few seconds on the KatieCam. I wanted to elaborate on the benefits by using 5 sayings/expressions that I’ve learned from many of the wonderful yoga instructors I’ve had over the years.

  1. Be present. At the start of most yoga classes, instructors will remind everyone to “be present”. That means to set aside all that is going on outside the class and to spend the next 90 minutes present in the room, on your mat, and in the practice–no electronics or distractions. How often at work do things outside the context of what you’re working on interfere with the work—did you bring the challenges from the previous meeting into the next meeting or is something going on outside work showing through how you are at work?  Take the time at the start of a day, as a meeting starts, or while coding to be present in what you’re doing.
  2. All that matters is on your mat. Yoga is not a competitive sport.* Yoga is not a race—you can’t finish first, you can’t be faster or lift more. Yoga is about making sure you are focused on what you can do best and that you are doing your best at that. So when practicing, making sure you’re focused on what you are supposed to be focused on is a path to success. The workplace isn’t a competitive sport either. In the workplace, this can mean doing the work you’re supposed to be doing and assuming those around you are doing the same.
  3. Drishti. Focus is a big part  of Yoga. If you lose focus during some balancing pose you probably just fall over. Or if you lose focus on your breathing you very quickly hyperventilate and get exhausted or just turn blue!  Drishti is a Sanskrit word that means focus, but a distinct form of focus. You focus but not so intensely that you lose sight of all around you. Rather it is the opposite, where you focus but with a full awareness of the rest of your mat and body. So rather than staring at a dot on the wall in front of you, you gaze at the dot but focus on breathing, your balance, and more. In software projects it is important to be focused—but if you’re too head’s down you miss important connections to what is going on around you or around the code. The full definition of drishti means vision, point of view, or even intelligence and wisdom. It also means being equal in all directions you look and maintaining self-control. A lot of collaboration in product development can be summed up in drishti.
  4. Yoga practice is not yoga perfect. Many “Type A” personalities find a way to compete in exercise—running times, weight lifted, miles biked and so on. Yoga is designed for life long exercise. There’s always more to do or a way to connect one pose to another you never thought of. Any yogi who has browsed the advanced videos online is quickly humbled by what they cannot do. During those difficult postures, yoga instructors always remind the class that yoga is a practice and it is not called yoga perfect. You do the best you can with the body you have that day, and you commit to practicing the next day. Product development is like this as well—we often say the enemy of the good is the perfect. No product is perfect, but the least perfect product is one that doesn’t ship. Shipping gives you the right to come back the time with improvements and a better product based on what you learned as a team.
  5. How you do anything is how you do everything. In class, especially when it is hot, you can easily find a way to slack off or find a way to do a pose that might look like you’re posing but in reality you are missing the benefits. Of course you’re just cheating yourself. When an instructor sees this you might hear the most gentle of reminders, “how you do anything is how you do everything”. Put simply this just means that if you are willing to take a shortcut on one pose then where else in life (or in your product) are you willing to take a shortcut. If you’re willing to cheat yourself out of your best efforts, then won’t you cheat others?  Always put forth your best efforts, even when you’re pushed to the point of thinking you can’t possibly continue.

That’s a yoga perspective on exercise and well-being that are critical parts of contributing to your work, your project, and your team. While yoga has been my personal approach, what is really important is that you find your approach to physical and mental well-being. Whatever that might be is sure to be a critical tool in your own success.

What do you do to maintain your physical as well as spiritual health in the workplace?  What lessons do you bring back to the workplace from your avocation?

Namaste,

Steven Sinofsky

*While controversial there do exist yoga competitions — check this out.

Written by Steven Sinofsky

June 9, 2013 at 9:00 am

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Sharing some learning – a few observations from “D11”

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d11-20130528-144203-01167-MThis past week the 11th All Things D Conference, D11, was held.  It is such a great opportunity to attend and to learn from a great combination of interviews, speakers, demonstrations, questions, and attendees.  Attending this conference has been a very valuable learning experience for me over the years and I’ve always made it a point to reflect and share some observations or learnings that stuck with me.  This year is no different.

As with all events these days, so much of what happens at the event is tweeted, live blogged, re-blogged, etc.  That makes it challenging to offer more by way of learning. If you’re interested in the details of the sessions, by all means watch the videos or see the official coverage on the All Things D, D11 Conference site.  All the interviews are done by one or both of Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.  There you’ll also find some behind the scenes “KatieCam” videos shot by WSJ writer Katherine Boehret in a more relaxed setting as speakers left the stage and other behind the scenes videos and articles by teh ATD writing team. Definitely check out the amazing photos from Asa Mathat (and team) that really capture the unique qualities of the conference.

“The Dialog”

For me what separates D from other events, if you had to pick one thing, is the dialog that takes place.  While the format is an interview, I see it as more of a dialog.  There are no slides, no setup, and after the interview the dialog continues with audience questions and then even more in the hallways during breaks (not to mention the electronic dialog).  I feel sometimes in an effort to report the event as news, the back and forth or the dialog itself can get a bit de-prioritized.

The dialog is important because the timing of the conference is the same every year.  That means not every speaker has something to announce or launch.  In fact some speakers have announcements already scheduled for the future and even with a lot of pushing they still aren’t going to preempt their organization’s efforts.  This means that speakers sign up to attend knowing there are definitely questions they will get that must go unanswered.  I think that speaks volumes to the appreciation for the dialog and participation that speakers share.

Still, that can be a tiny bit frustrating for folks reading about the accounts—you are hoping for news but don’t get any.  There is a slightly different tone “in the room” which I am hoping to convey through these notes.  The tone is very much about the nuance and subtlety of the topics being raised.  So even if there is not news, the conversation is interesting.  It is an important part of innovation and convergence of industries (the original and ongoing theme of the conference was how media, entertainment, and digital technologies are coming together).  There are gems in most every session if you watch the video—not necessarily news gems, but articulation of challenges and tradeoffs that everyone is facing as they do their work.  Making products is never a stark either/or set of choices and capturing these tradeoffs on stage, in the “hot seat” as it is called, is something I appreciate very much.

Big picture

There were 25 speakers along with demo sessions.  The breadth of topics discussed delivers on the promise of the conference.  Through the lens of product development there were a number of “themes” that surfaced for me:

  • Mobile “era” – No one doubts the era we are in as an industry and across industries.  The tech folks were “mobile first” from apps to advertising, not as a place to port to or also support.  The entertainment folks see mobile as a place to enjoy entertainment or as the screen that accompanies entertainment, not as a competitor to television.  Even attendees were mostly seen on their mobile devices most of the time.  While this might not seem newsworthy, observing the changing perspectives over the years of the conference provides a neat context for this change.
  • Disruption – Most tech conferences are about disruption in some form or another.  This conference came about during a time when disruption was really happening (and to be fair, the WSJ and ATD are/were both part of disruptive dialogs over the years—and the topic of conversation at the show).  The interviews always do a good job of confronting speakers who are viewed as participants in a potential disruption.
  • Sensors – The role of sensors as part of the baseline experience for computing is front and center.  There was a lot of discussion around form factors, wearables, and scenarios but all of this is rooted in devices that know about surroundings, which means products can be designed knowing the computers will have these capabilities.
  • Consumerization – Walt Mossberg has always taken the non-techie, consumer approach to looking at technology which, as he said during the show, was somewhat heretical when he first started his column.  These days the notion of consumers driving the experience and setting the bar does not seem so far-fetched.   You know that is the case when the CEO of Cisco says “bring your own device trumps security”.
  • Embrace of digital – In past years the “content” attendees appeared more on the defense than the offense.  While the business challenges remain in some parts of the content space, I think there is far more of a sense of embrace and partnering going on between the tech and content parties.  In general it felt to me like much more of a healthy dialog rooted in respect than in past years, which is a positive evolution.

Sessions

As mentioned, the sessions are all available on the D11 site along with live blogs done by WSJ/ATD reporters.  Check those out for sure.  I just wanted to offer some additional observations from a small set of sessions that hit close to home from a product development perspective.  Inclusion / omission or number of points below are not indications of quality or importance!

Apple / Tim Cook

  • Measuring what counts – There was a strong focus on measuring usage as a way of looking at success.  This contrasted with the recent debate about market share (units or revenue).  The depth usage of iOS devices is significantly more than competing devices.  It is super interesting to think about how to inform product development when balancing existing depth usage, new users, and growth – very interesting.
  • Relative to Android – The dialog turned to defining “winning” along the lines of usage, customer satisfaction, and even the amount of commerce done on iOS devices.
  • Magic – There was a good discussion about how working across the team needs to focus on the intersection of hardware/software/services as being where the “magic happens”.  Everyone in the product space knows that wherever seams exist there is an opportunity to innovate or for there to be challenges–seams can be found all over the place, especially as a product gets larger or an ecosystem around the product develops.
  • Tradeoffs – As an example of the nuance/subtlety that is hard to capture, Cook tried to walk through some of the tradeoffs that go into making different sized devices for different “segments” (Walt’s description).  He talked about color correctness, white balance, battery life, brightness, and more.  A favorite expression from Cook was “customers expect Apple to weigh all these factors and decide things” along with the humble notion that deciding means shipping and learning.  I personally love when the dialog turns to these types of issues at this “level” in an organization and also externally—real engineering stuff that is worth talking about in an open way.
  • Openness and control – In talking about the difference between iOS and Android (using keyboards as an example), Cook was asked about opening up more.  He talked about the challenges and tradeoffs involved in “putting the customer at risk” with some times of APIs and openness but committed to more openness at the upcoming WWDC.  Again there was a very interesting and subtle discussion about the tradeoffs involved.

Facebook / Sheryl Sandberg

  • Mobile is good for Facebook – There were a lot of numbers and support for how much engagement there is from both users and advertisers on mobile.
  • Increasing engagement – Sandberg shared some numbers that were counter-intuitive for many (as evidenced by the reaction in the section I was sitting) when she talked about the increase in engagement.  Five years ago 50% of people visited every day.  Now 58% visit every day and the number of users is much higher.
  • Priorities – I loved when she talked about how they have 5000 people to build and operate a service for a billion people.  That puts the product development challenge in perspective.
  • Mobile first – There is a strong “pivot” in the development team around mobile first.  Whereas the browser used to be the primary target and the mobile teams would be playing catch-up, now nothing gets done without it being mobile first.
  • Facebook Home – The challenges of doing an offering that is polarizing for sure.  She cited that customer reviews are either 1 star or 5 stars.  Home is a V1 and expect to deliver on the commitment to frequent changes/updates.

Disney Parks and Resorts / Tom Staggs

  • My Magic Plus – This session was about a new way to enjoy a WDW (Walt Disney World) theme park visit—essentially you wear a “magic band” around your wrist (like a Jawbone Up or Fitbit).  As someone who grew up in Orlando watching WDW go from the Magic Kingdom surrounded by orange groves to what it is today, I think the revolution that is going on with this innovation is amazing and far-reaching.
  • Features – Wearing the band provides an experience with reduced anxiety, less waiting, more fun, and far more personal.  And it is just starting.  An amazing example I loved was how you could order the food you want and when you get to the restaurant you sit down and what you ordered just shows up.  Neat.  But what is really neat is that the employees can focus on being “hosts” and not the transactional elements of ordering and getting things right.  Super cool.  It certainly makes that summer job at Disney a lot more fun!
  • Senses and sensors – Of course this is all about location aware, cloud experienced.  But the way Staggs described it was “360-5” as a 360 degree experience for all 5 senses—you’re immersed in the experience beyond the rides.  In general, this was a demonstration that unfolded super well—as I thought of questions they got answered moments later.  So much opportunity on this platform.

Twitter / Dick Costolo

  • “Social soundtrack” – Twitter was described as the second screen for television.  It is viewed as a complement to broadcast.  This was a statement that gets broadened to mean that Twitter is not itself thinking about making content or distributing it.
  • Global town square – The way they think of Twitter is to think about both planned/unplanned events and to provide an unfiltered/inside out platform for the people “the event is happening to”.  This town square is public, real-time, conversational, and distributed.  From a product point of view, the clarity of this framework is incredibly valuable.
  • Advertising – Costolo discussed how advertisers are coming to understand that being part of the conversation is important and how the idea of having a conversation as the canvas versus the ad itself as the canvas is important.
  • Design – Another subtle part of the dialog was around where the openness of the Twitter platform will be.  The idea is that Twitter does want to own the timeline experience for customers but still be open to thousands (100s of thousands) of developers with fairly lightweight rules.  Simplicity is a major focus on the design of the timeline experience.

Glow / Max Levchin

  • Demonstration – this was a demonstration of a new product that brings data and mobility to the challenges of procreation and fertility.
  • App – The app is focused on being a beautiful source of telemetry and information for both the man and woman planning together to conceive a child.
  • Data – Turns out that there is tons of data which is hard for people to get hold of and include in their planning and efforts.  Glow is a way to bring this data to the solution space for people.
  • Funding – The data shows that with the right use of data “infertility” can drop way down and thus the overall cost to the healthcare system is much lower.  To support this the way the product will work is essentially to create a pool for people who are still unable to conceive after using the tool, which is a much smaller number than would be using less data-informed tools.
  • Innovation – This is truly innovative when it comes to the problem space–hearing Levchin describe a typical way physicians handle this sounds almost like “country medicine” compared to using the data, telemetry, and an app.  Combining data, mobility, and more into this app shows how empowering all the technology can be.  We’re all able to start experience this notion of being in so much more control of our lives with these technology tools.

Box / Aaron Levie and Cisco / John Chambers

  • What fun – This was such a fun pairing as the contrast between the people and companies was so interesting.  Yet at the same time, both organizations are developing products for a new world where individuals are far more empowered.  While no one is going to go out and buy their own router, the IT pros that do want to have the capability for you to use the router when you bring in your own device.  A fun part of D in general is when you can see widely different perspectives in a dialog about a problem space each is approaching.
  • IT control – Chambers asserted that the ability for IT to “say no” really changed 4 or 5 years ago and now enterprises need to catch up to consumer technologies and support them.  Chambers even said “BYOD trumps security”.
  • Disruption – Levie offered a wonderful example of how companies are handling disruption.  He said that the three biggest Box customers are companies formed in the 1800’s.  This speaks to how much change is going on among IT pros.

Disney Media / Anne Sweeney  and Producer / I. Marlene King

  • Twitter integration – It was fascinating to hear the content developer view of creating content knowing that Twitter is part of the viewing equation.  There’s a clear perspective that Twitter is contributing to the experience and enjoyment of the show.
  • OMG moments – I loved hearing about the way they essentially create the show to support “OMG” or “jump off the couch” moments, and how that plays into Twitter.
  • Time zones – Turns out that the audience is pretty self-governing when it comes to spoilers and time zones, which was interesting to think about.

Pinterest / Ben Silbermann

  • First appearance – Ben doesn’t often appear or do presentations. It is great to see him.
  • Framing – Another great example of framing the goals of the product: Pinterest aims to help people “discover things they really love and inspire them to experience them in real life.”
  • Early users – From a product development perspective, he spoke about how early users ended up setting the tone of the product when it comes to passion.
  • Last web app? – Kara asked if Silbermann thought that Pinterest might be the “last web first app” or not.  The answer focused on starting off where people were but now today of course the goal is to be able to use the service wherever you are and of course a ton of that is mobile which overtook the PC along the lines of industry trends.

Tesla, SpaceX, Hyper Tube / Elon Musk

  • Along with everyone at D11 and online, this was an incredible treat.
  • “Mars is a fixer upper” – as far as planets go, Musk said Mars is our best bet for life on another planet since it can be fixed up relatively easily.
  • Every tech takes 3 or 4 generations to get it to mass market.  He walked through the original Tesla plan (high price/low volume, mid-price/mid volume, low price/high volume).  He framed this as competing with a hundred years and trillion dollar investment in gas combustion.  This is a great example of how disruption gets talked about in early stages – all the focus on whether electric cars can displace gas cars using the criteria gas cars developed over all this time.  From a product point of view, this perspective is super interesting.

— Steven Sinofsky

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Written by Steven Sinofsky

June 2, 2013 at 12:45 pm

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