Great Is Personal

Wondering lately what makes something really great.

Great comes when a person decides that the effort is personal. They are going to commit to making/doing something that is great. They care about the details. Every nuance. It is a reflection of them, their ability, their vision, and their promise to whoever is going to consume that something. And they have the guts to do it right and the humility to ask for help.

I’ve also been thinking about why is it so hard for large organizations to make good software. Not all large organizations, but definitely some.

This likely applies to any product or service, not just software.

Working theories. Some or all (or none) of them might be right.

Simplicity – “Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” – Lao Tzu – What if we looked at building things through this lens? Make it as simple as possible (easy), have the patience that you will make it better over time (ship it), and have compassion (understanding) for your end-user. Sometimes, or most of the time, we insist on overcomplicating what we make.

Negotiation is Bad – Collaboration is good. Building by democracy is bad. A strong visionary doesn’t budge on what is important. Unfortunately, survival in large organizations often comes down to negotiation. Give and take. Politics. Can we please find the best way, not just have our way?

Focus – You can’t be all things to all people. Do what is important. I mean really important. Figuring that out is hard and saying no is hard. Also, the very best people are often focused on too many things. If you want to make great, you have to focus. A real product champion with real authority across all silos with the time to focus is required. Multi-tasking doesn’t work during your day and it certainly doesn’t work with your organization’s priorities. Maybe we should call it ‘multi-focusing’? Either way, not good.

Honesty – People struggle with being honest. Either they don’t have the courage to call it like they see it or the culture isn’t safe enough to allow real honesty. Ultimately, that’s a leadership issue. The best relationships (and teams) are built on trust. If we can’t have honesty between each other what can we have?

Agility – this is the “ability to move quickly and easily”. Long road maps with product features with no real understanding of the concept of MVP. You can be assured that user needs, the market, and the technology will change. We get stuck on a waterslide with big walls and no ability to stop and turn. Move fast. Ship. Learn. Ship again. The only thing guaranteed is you are going to get it wrong. You must be able to change course.

Creativity – We are all creatives. Society doesn’t necessarily encourage creativity. Frankly, I think it is trained out of us. We often take the known over the unknown. “You aren’t going to get fired if it just works.” Ugh. I can’t think of the last time I rewarded someone for trying something hard and failing. I will fix that. We need to have the courage to put it out there. Don’t be scared. I can promise you not everyone is going to like it. Make it for the people that will.

Ego – Go find the truth. Don’t be afraid of what people will say when you put it out in the world. Take blame, give credit. Admit when you are wrong. Have the courage to listen and go back to the team (and board) and say we have spent $1M building XYZ and guess what, we were wrong. That takes courage. You can’t make great by committee but you can make great when you understand reality and make what the world needs. I’ve found the best things I’ve made are when I check my ego, gain perspective, and ask for help.

Most importantly, be courageous. The hardest, and most important, things take courage.

I don’t think this is a complete list (or necessarily right) but it’s rolling around in my head. Send me your thoughts – and if you know someone that might find this helpful, please share.

Keep building, Kelly

Some footnotes.

Sometimes we get to have ‘believer bias’. We get stuck. I’ll share my rants on that another time.

Working theory – the very best leaders have no issue with confrontation (or at least they work through the issue and confront anyways).