High Performance Teams

Every time I read about organizing people into teams I got excited about the way people will become more efficient by working in consistent teams, how its more interesting for people to work on a variety of projects and how self-directed teams improve morale. Then I’d have trouble implementing it in my organization. There was a person who had the scarce skills, I couldn’t get my backlog to fit well with the skills and availability of the team members or I couldn’t figure out how to fit managers into the picture – something was always awkward and hard.

So, I started to think about a structure that combined self-directed teams with Helpers who would assist with parts of a project – a model that looks more like an atom with a team as the nucleus and Helpers as the free electrons that orbit them.
Let’s take a closer look at how you might develop a similar model for your organization. Disclaimer – the math in my examples works out perfectly – in the real world mine doesn’t and yours wo…

Balance Conflicting Priorities

I believe most business decisions come down to keeping three things in balance: clients, employees and margin. When you think about it – everything you do supports one of these three. I like to think of them as the three points on an equilateral triangle.

If we focus exclusively on one of these three, the other two suffer. For example, when we only focus on our clients and allow them to make unreasonable demands, we may overwork our employees or offer discounts that ultimately make us unprofitable. In the end, we don’t satisfy our clients because our unhappy employees leave or we have to downsize because we can’t pay our bills. Conversely, focusing too much on employees or only caring about margin will damage our relationships with clients.

Let’s apply this to a business decision. Imagine a software company rolls out a new product then finds it’s defective. They have to decide whether to offer clients a discount (affecting margin), ask employees to work extra hours to fix it (affecti…

Skills aren't Trivial

Everyone struggles with ramping up new consultants, getting them billable is often a frustratingly long process. I’m sharing a simple mental model I’ve using to speed up the process, help project teams with critical milestones and keep my new hires sane. It’s a model that’s easy and works especially well for early stage or fast growing situations and can also be applied to non-consulting roles.

Think about games you’ve played – games that make you collect tokens or points to win – Trivial Pursuit, for example. In Trivial Pursuit you collect six little pie pieces representing six different knowledge areas to win. As you go, you store them in a pie shaped playing piece. Now, imagine that’s your new hire and those six items are the six skills they need for their job.

Now that you have the visual image, work with your team to figure out the six skills – probably a combination of tools, processes and knowledge. For example: documentation, product configuration, training clie…

Tips for Communicating a Small Acquisition to Employees and Clients

This article covers communicating smaller acquisitions that fall into the category of Acquire-hire (you are acquiring a company for their talent) or an acquisition that adds additional clients and a few employees. Smaller acquisitions generally impact one or two departments in your organization and communication is often the responsibility of a department head once the ink dries.

Acquire-hire acquisitions add additional people to teams without adding additional products or service offerings. Although they may come to you with some projects in flight, once those projects are finished the new people will only work on your existing client base – your sales team won’t be selling anything new.

Since you’ve done the acquisition to add employees, prioritize on boarding and retention. You want to make them feel welcome and make sure they integrate into your organization quickly. Then think your current employees – do they see the new people as competition, a training burden or …

Deciding What to Build

I recently spoke on a panel and was asked, “how do you decide which features to build next?” This was a great question and really comes down to two things:
First, as you may already know, you should build something that solves a big, painful problem for your clients. Working with the Chicago Lean Startup Circle for the last few years taught me how to figure this out – ask them if they will pay for it. This question may sound a bit mercenary but it actually helps your client figure out their priorities – involving their money helps them clarify their priorities.
For example, we’ve all been in client meetings where a client shared ideas. Frequently we’ve been pushed to build a feature because someone with a C-level title came up with the idea. In Lean Startup this is called the HIPPO – the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. If we aren’t careful, we’ll get sidetracked by HIPPO requests and spend our scarce development budget on features that only solve small, convenience problems.
When we p…

Client Support – Beyond the Help Desk

Whether you’re implementing software, building custom applications or working on a new process flow – most people think you’re done when you hand the deliverables over to your client. Your client probably doesn’t agree so let’s take a look at post-project client support.
Post-project support often takes a back seat to selling and refining processes for new work – which is a shame because effective support helps: ·Sales teams sell more product to happy, existing clients and their referrals, ·Engineering to build more, new software instead of handling esca

How to Run a New Hire Bootcamp

This article will help you run a boot camp – a rapid training program for new hires. It’s a great approach if your team is growing fast and you’re hiring several people into similar roles.

Step One – Hiring: Schedule your boot camps a few weeks in the future then give the people you’re hiring the same start date. (Start dates that leave a gap before the next boot camp can erode your bottom line because untrained new hires aren’t very productive.)

Step Two – Think about travel and HR on boarding: I hire people from all over the country and my company has a standard half-day HR orientation program. With this in mind, I know my training has to start Monday afternoon after the HR on boarding and I want to leave Friday afternoon free for travel. In return for letting my new hires travel home Friday afternoon, I run boot camps from 8:00 to 6:00 Monday through Thursday and from 8:00 to noon on Friday.

Step Three – Variety: Most new hires need a mix of soft skill, industry and p…