As I am writing this I feel I am wasting time. I had the same feeling a day ago. I was writing another long email (you could call it a memo but I hate the term) to the whole uberVU team. It was a long, deep and (I hope) clear email about how I look at things and why we are doing something instead of something else.
In that couple of hours I could have spec'ed a new feature, look over some metrics or have a client interview . You know ... the stuff we usually associate with work. But instead I spent all that precious time writing an email.
But looking back it is probably the most important accomplishment of the day.
You see: a couple of months ago I had an epiphany. It happened to me after hours and hours of trying to explain something to some members of our team and feeling like we are talking separate languages. That triggered a burst of frustration and to escape it I traveled to the the mountains as a weekend escape. And there it hit me:
The hardest part about creating software isn't software. It's actually ... people.
And if the hardest part is people than I should focus more on that. The most important part of my job should be to make sure the company is aligned with what we are building. At uberVU we take pride not in shipping a feature but in the fact that that feature is being used. For that to happen all people in the team should dance on the same beat.
How did we get here?
Alignment should never be an issue
when the company is made of 5 guys at a table hacking something. Everybody is
in flow. Communication happens naturally. Paradise.
But then the team grows and things don't work the same way. You decide to build a feature, a developer understands it as something completely different and sales is frustrated we are not building some other feature. This is the point nostalgia kicks in and founders start remembering the early days where things were so much easier.
The problem I found lies in this subconscious assumption that all the people are as committed to this as you. Or that they see the big picture. That they understand what's going on even without being told what's going on.
But you see ... Things worked in the early days because communication happened naturally. Everybody was aligned because every experience, thought or discovery was shared. Every success was celebrated and all the fears and frustrations were felt by the whole group. This resulted in ultimate transparency and clarity.
As the company grows you need to stop taking this for granted. You need to work for it. And let me tell you: it's a lot of work.
Get rid of assumptions
The quote above is what I try to
remember each day. This is one of the arguments I use to fight the irrational
side of me who is whispering in my ear: "Writing emails about your ideas
is wasting time. Get back to work!"
Assumptions one can make that can fuck up everything:
- People understand what the vision for
the product or company is.
They may but they may not. And just because someone had a speech about it you should not expect people to get it. It's your job to reiterate the purpose as much as possible.
- The benefit of this feature is self
evident to everybody
No. It is not. Think of the smallest product improvement and I bet that in a team of 10 people you will find at least someone who has different ideas that the rest of the group.
- I have the master plan in my head and
that's all that matters
This was one of my biggest problems. I always think 3 steps ahead. Every small feature is actually connected with something else. Everything is connected and is part of a bigger puzzle. But keeping it in your head is the stupidest decision. For one: you may be wrong. Chances are you forgot something and your plan is not as inflable as you thought it was. Another one is that if someone understands what the long term plan is it can take that into account and plan for the future. The last thing you want is to get to last step and get the coment "I had no idea this was the plan. We engineered it differently and if you want that we need to refactor it."
To sum up: write more emails and everything will fit into place. I am of course kidding. It's not even about the email. There are a lot of other available mediums and you should combine use them all. I just found that writing forces clarity and that is why I usually start with that.
Don't assume anything and make your thoughts, ideas as public as possible. As always ... I am looking fwd to hear what you think.
PS: As I was writing this, a new interview with John Sculley hit the interwebs. He talks about how the board "fired" Steve Jobs in '85:
I found it very relevant to my article because it is obvious to me Steve assumed both John and the board were aligned with him. And from what I hear he didn't spend a lot of time communicating any of his thoughts. He just assumed ...