Showing posts with label business. Show all posts
Showing posts with label business. Show all posts

19 June 2008

Damager or Manager?

Since Open Letters to Management seem so flavour du jour, I thought I'd save the following fine rant from oblivion. Names and project details changed to protect the guilty, of course.

DumbTribe is a small startup in the mobile space. They have started seeing some good traction for their product, but are completely chaotic in their "management" of the company. The company is 100% reliant on IT, yet, whilst they're willing to spend an ordleplex of money on fancy new offices, they're astoundingly short of cash when it comes to things like buying another server to act as failover for their single server. Said server is the sole source of income for the business.
What [ManagerX] calls a "blogger tool" is really a form of Content Management system that ends up providing (among other things) Atom and RSS feeds...

[ManagerX] wrote:

> This has certainly taken longer than we initially thought it would. I
> think it was over a few of months back that we were expecting a
> finished blogger tool.

You seem to have forgotten that there were other tasks that YOU prioritised ahead of the "blog" tool -- development of the feed aggregator and the [BigClient] pilot, not to mention system administration tasks more numerous than I can recall, design and coding assistance to my colleague, installation and maintenance of essential technical infrastructure indispensable to organised development (some of which runs on my own servers, at no additional charge to [DumbTribe], simply because that was the fastest way to get the tools in place.) I regret that I am unable to work on more than one thing at a time, but these are rather complex systems dealing with some very erratic, "dirty" data coming-in, and, like most men, I don't multitask well.

> It is of zero use in it's present state(just like the blogger tool you
> created was in it’s 'unskinned' state(to me the level of things that
> fell under 'skinning' was surprising.

First: I warned right from the start that installation of the necessary software was the quick and easy part, but that changing templates -- "skinning" as you call it -- would take at least several days for someone expert in the templating system. I also made it clear that such templating was NOT in my sphere of competence. Evidently nobody was listening to the bits they didn't want to hear.

Second: I will not take responsibility for your inability to produce a coherent specification for the tool. Lack of any technical specification underlies the several misdirections and false starts. A powerpoint does not BEGIN to form a clear technical specification.

Example: I, at one stage, asked you how many "blogs" it is necessary for the system to support. At that time I had in mind to use a particular piece of software as the foundation infrastructure. Your answer to my question was "thousands!" which answer had a significant impact on my technical decision-making, since the tentatively-chosen solution is unsuited to such large volumes. I certainly made it clear that I was unfamiliar with the more suitable tool, and, indeed, the "skinning" -- the writing of custom templates -- turned out to be more problematic than I anticipated. I made a poor guess in the face of inadequate information, a misleading business requirement and insufficient time to evaluate alternative technical solutions.

In the long run it turned out that a "blog" system is just what [DumbTribe] does NOT need. What IS needed is an article/story management system for providing Atom/RSS feed output. This is in the final stages of development.

You seem to have forgotten that using a blog-system was initially mooted merely as a temporary stopgap solution to provide a mechanism for getting article content into feeds; it was never intended to be the "real" solution. What I have been developing is such solution. Assuming you don't sabotage delivery with yet another interruption.

I would have been finished 10 days ago had [my colleague] had enough spare hours to assist me on areas where I do not have the deep knowledge of data structures and code she already has in place, and if the "specification" had not been changed on a number of occasions. Unfortunately other more pressing issues have had to take precedence on her time, with resulting delays on the "blog" project. Furthermore the assistance I have (gladly) given [said colleague] on other projects has also had the effect of taking several days from "blog" development.

> I am sure you understand what this looks like from our end. It just
> feels like you can’t give us what we need.

Yes, I am pretty sure I DO understand. It seems to me that you think one of two things; either:

1. That I am incompetent to produce working software, or

2. That I am dishonest and lie to you about my activities.

I am neither, and find either accusation hurtful, denigrating, and completely unprofessional. Software development, unlike so many other jobs, does not allow one to delude oneself about the limits of ones knowledge or abilities, so the charge of incompetence is easier for me to dismiss when I consider its source; I know exactly how good I am.

Clearly you have absolutely no clue how software development works, nor what is a "normal" pace of production for software systems. The fact that your most-recent experience of software development is exemplified by [colleague], who is prepared, for reasons I cannot comprehend, to endanger her health and wellbeing by working outrageous hours in order to meet ridiculous, unrealistic and arbitrary deadlines does not alter the truth of what I am saying. Nor is it my place to attempt to teach you how software development works; for that sort of work I charge considerably more than you pay me.

The fact that you have badly under-resourced this area of the business is hardly my fault.

> I am so frustrated and feel if I have to explain what we need again I
> will go mad.

Unfortunately software is all about the detail. If you do not tell a developer all the detail that they need, they will guess, and likely guess wrong.

Therefore, where details are lacking I will ask again and again and again. I have on occasion asked users to describe their requirement from beginning to end as many as 8 times in a single day in order to be sure I understood the requirement. Then I asked them a couple more times the next day. I am deeply sorry if my need to know what you want in full detail drives you mad -- I certainly do not wish to cause such mental anguish.

> Please can you confirm that you understand and accept all the
> functionality that we need

No. I do not believe I understand what you need, particularly as you keep changing the requirements. I am not a mind-reader, and you have not produced a comprehensive technical specification.

Example: Your comment on Monday, "Make sure we can direct the 'see original story' link to a site of our choosing (e.g. [ClientA] sites or [ClientB] sites)" This directly CONTRADICTS the requirement laid out in your powerpoint that NO such link be present. What am I supposed to do with that? I can put such a link in (though linking to what, I have no idea, nor do you say -- another missing detail) or I can leave it out (as is done at present.) I am happy to do either, or to make any changes you require, since I understand that business requirements can and do change from time to time. However, changing what is already implemented does unfortunately take some time and cannot simply be done with a wave of a magic wand.

Example: The original requirement was for articles to have a single image attached. Then an image or a URL. Then multiple images or URLS. Then it became "unusable unless we can upload video". Then we didn't need video any longer. Then we were back to one image/URL. Currently I am informed that multiple images/URLS are a non-negotiable requirement. Every time a change such as this is introduced it costs me hours or days in the attempt to comply.

And you wonder why there have been delays.

My current aim is to get the system in place with the capability to upload ONE image or attach ONE URL, either of which shall appear at the tail-end of the feed content (another detail not specified.) It is my belief that it is better to get SOMETHING up and running, even though we all agree that it is NOT the end-product desired. Then we evolve it to the state we desire. After all, that is why it is called "soft"-ware.

> and let me know what *date* we can expect a working tool to start
> testing.

In the absence of a full, clear, comprehensive specification, no such estimate can be made by anybody. In effect you are waving your hands about, saying "build me a Tudor-style house over there" and then demanding that I tell you how long it is going to take without giving me the plans for the house, specifying the building materials, size of the house, number of bedrooms, etc. When you supply me with a proper User Requirement Specification -- for which I will gladly supply a Word template outlining all the necessary information it should contain -- I may consider beginning to make estimates.

> I don’t think it is unreasonable for me to ask you to commit to a
> deadline, the brief is surely clear now after all these emails back
> and forth and the very easily accessed example of which I
> asked you to use as a starting point.

On the contrary I think it thoroughly unreasonable to make such demands. The "brief" (whatever THAT is) is non-existent. To point to and claim that that is what you want is ridiculous, since is totally unsuited to your needs. If it were suitable there would have been no need to build anything else and we would not be having this conversation.

I will remind you that I am contracted to deliver 40 to 80 hours per MONTH of work -- not per week. This was deliberately and clearly negotiated up front. Consequently I do not work full 8-hour days on DumbTribe activities, which, too has its effect on delivery schedules. The fact that I consistently seem to end up working more than the agreed number of hours per month seems to be taken for granted, or alternatively is regarded by you as an attempt to rip you off. On the contrary, it is a good-faith attempt to come some way further than I strictly, am contractually obliged, in an attempt to help DumbTribe meet its goals.

A lack of planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part.

In the extremely unlikely event that I elect to extend/renew my contract, should DumbTribe wish to do so, please be assured that I will require a considerable tightening-up of the conditions relating to all of these issues.

08 May 2008


My week for being haunted by old ghosts.

A bit more than a week, actually... It all started last Thursday with a call from a lady working with a lot of organisations that support HIV counselling, treatment and management. A lot of organisations. She had tripped (how?) across a product/project that a few of us put together some years ago that we called Projectory. Projectory is a collaboration and communication platform, specifically aimed at software-development organisations and teams. Think of CollabNet. But better, of course! ;-) Certainly quite different in some key ways! Except we never got the business off the ground, mostly through an unlucky turn of events that resulted in us losing key sales people at a most critical time.

My caller was wondering whether the Projectory platform could be adapted to help them to communicate, collaborate and coordinate better with a couple of hundred other organisations. Well, we've set up a meeting for next week, and we'll see... What a blast from the past, though! I had all-but-forgotten about Projectory... Thankfully I have the code archived away somewhere safe.

And then it happened again. A call from an ex-colleague a couple of days ago: Could we put together a rough estimate and proposal for a social-networking platform for World Cup 2010. In case you're living in a cave (or the USA where "football" means something completely weird) South Africa will be hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup, and, for South Africans, it is a very big deal. This is, after all, the second biggest sport event in the world after the Olympics. (China get the hell out of Tibet!) The weird bit is that what's being asked for is very, very close to the project we called Flightwish -- a social-networking platform centred around group travel opportunities and concepts. We failed to get funding for Flightwish, though we tried hard. Normally I would favour a small-start, organic-growth, little-or-no-funding startup model, but that path is clearly a very poor fit for a Grow-Big-Fast webalicious venture. Since then, a few others have started playing in that space, but I have yet to see any of them put together the exact combination of ingredients we planned. Would we have done better? Who knows?

But now we may just get a chance to try it again.

Key takeaways:
  • I suck at Sales and driving Sales, therefore I am a poor fit for CEO of a startup.
  • Flightwish taught me a deep hostility to the idea of a single "window of opportunity"; it's rubbish.
  • Beware the Websites Of Yesteryear! You put up a website. It's out there. You forget about it. Google doesn't! Fix them up or shut them down.
  • The "social" potential -- the ways that the web opens-up for collaboration and group communication -- we've barely scratched the surface of what's possible.
  • VC people in SA are mostly bankers with fancier job titles. And we all know the collective noun for bankers, don't we...

21 July 2006

Why Advertising is Broken

Brad Feld started it with his Three Constituencies post.  Stan James followed up with some very interesting insights on the model set-up by Brad.  Go! Read them; I'll wait here.

In thinking about this model and all it implies, I started drawing a diagram to keep the value-flows straight in my head, and suddenly something I've been mulling over for some time popped clear in my mind:  Why Interruptive Advertising is Dead.

For awhile, now I have held it as an article of faith that interruptive advertising is dead, just the body hasn't stopped moving yet.  (And if you think the Death Throes of the RIAA/MPAA business model has been messy and ugly, you probably ain't seen nothin' yet!)  For example, I never see popups (very interruptive stuff!) because Firefox blocks them with the preferences I have set.  The Adblock/AdblockPlus plugins block most other advertising that might reach me, and the recently-installed Flashblock plugin catches the remainder.  Do I hate adverts?  You bet!  I find them consistently irritating, irrelevant to my purposes, intrusive and obnoxious.  I've yet to find any exceptions.

Ya, ya!  We've all heard the bullshit: "Advertising informs you about products and product choices..."

Well, if there's something I want - a new house, a new car, some food, a holiday, a PC - I go out and shop for it.  Then I'm still not interested in adverts because they lack the substance I need to make a buy decision.

With the recent availability of Explorer 7beta3 (if you are so hooked into MS products that you simply can't give them up) every major browser now has ad-blocking.

What about TV?

Yes.  What about TV?  Its mostly boring and irrelevant.  The programming is mostly apalling, the news banal.  I doubt whether I watch an hour of TV a week any more.  I'm getting the content I want elsewhere.  If there is the occasional show I want to watch, chances are I'll timeshift it anyway and skip the ads there, too.

I truly believe that interruptive advertising is dead.  Permission-based advertising, and something I'll call Entertainment-based advertising, though is a whole new bundle of opportunities!

My diagram, based completely on Stan's blog explains why:

See the problem?  All around the value chain there is a fair exchange of value given and received (or something like it.)  Except when we come to the advertiser's relationship with the consumer.  One way only.  No wonder most of us resent and loath ads.

Thank you Brad and Stan for paving the way to this understanding of precisely why Interruptive Advertising is Broken.  The fact is that your interrupting me is a form of force: you believe you have to force your content onto me since I probably wouldn't want it otherwise.  And you're right!  I wouldn't.  I don't.  You give me nothing in return.

The truth is that interruptive marketing has always has been broken.  It's only recently that we consumers are in a position to do something about it, and we're doing so with a vengeance!
"There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands"
- Richard Bach, "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah"
There's a hell of a lot of opportunity in getting beyond the "need to interrupt", too, and it hinges on the advertiser giving back fair-value to the consumer in turn, but this post is already too long.

19 July 2006

When Funding Falls Through

Just received email to the effect that the funding deal we were hoping for has fallen through.  Again.

I confess I'm rapidly losing faith - not to mention running out of money to keep the roof overhead.

We've been trying to get funded for about six months now, with a conspicuous lack of success.  I freely admit that for part of the time we were simply not trying very hard: the deal on the table was too tempting for us.  We were close enough to the investor that we had no need to draw up a very formal business plan for pitching (though we certainly did have an internal operational/development business plan) so we were pretty lackadaisical about the whole thing.

A couple of months into the negotiation it became apparent that the amount of money we were negotiating would be insufficient to get the business as far as "revenue generating", and the amount we would really require was more than the angel-group were willing to invest; "Too rich for our blood!"  Fair and reasonable; indeed the right decision for all concerned, since we would otherwise be throwing money at a venture doomed before it started.

So we then had to spend considerable time working up a reasonable (I think!) "pitch" business plan for another angel investor.  They're the ones who have turned us down this morning, and I can understand and sympathise with their reasons - essentially they feel that the market we wish to tackle is just too tough, and we are neophytes in the space.  We agree.  We've known it all along, and addressed those problems in our business plan, but evidently it wasn't enough to convince them to part with (about) USD 1million.  That amount will get us about to public-Beta in a timespan of about 4 months.

So.  Anybody know of an angel/venture group wanting to get into the social-web space in a venture that has real-world revenue streams (i.e. We're not planning on ad-revenue) in a USD45billion/year industry? (And Yes, that's a "b", not an "m".)
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