Knowing when to stop

I’m someone who craves quick and thoughtful decisions. (We called this “think smart, move fast” at Intuit.) Balanced with that, I’ve always been a believer in stopping meetings and conversations that are not moving forward; sometimes you just need the break to change the way something is progressing. Lately, the number of meetings and conversations I’ve stopped for this reason is more than I want. (Not an extreme, just more than the “rarely” that I like.)

My general guideline for knowing when to stop is if I find myself repeating the same thing in a different way a fourth time, it is time. The key point is “in a different way”. Make sure you are listening to understand the other party well enough to change your response to answer their objections, or clarify your position. You should also listen to hear the differences in their explanations. Overall, if you are both just repeating yourself, then you likely won’t move forward at all.

So that’s how I approach it… do you have any rules that you use for when something isn’t moving forward and how you solve that?

For what’s on my shirt, I have a line that is appropriate for this story, but actually happened to me a week or so ago. I was paying for parking at an automated machine. I swiped my credit card, and on the screen it said:

Waiting for an answer

Here I sit now waiting for your answer… and looking forward to the conversations this t-shirt starts when I wear it. 🙂

Nature vs Nurture and the Art of Customer Service and Product Innovation

I’ve been silent for the last week because in my spare time rather than blogging, I’ve been banging my head against the Windows logo. Short version of the story… I started getting a Windows error (svchost for you geeks), which I was able to diagnose as an Auto Update issue. After some amount of playing around, I found a Knowledge Base article stating there was a hot fix, but it was only available from Microsoft support. They had an option for online chat support for $35, saying it would be faster than the email run around. I’m an optimist and went for it. The chat went about as you would expect… back and forth that wasn’t focused on my problem, but rather about them filling in their customer database. Then, the remarkable piece happened, the support agent came back to say, and I quote:

“That hot fix isn’t available any more. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

 Many responses came to my mind, as you can imagine, but the most important and immediate one:

“Oh, hmmmm, that’s too bad… well, in that case, maybe, at least, TRY TO FIX THE PROBLEM I JUST PAID YOU TO AT LEAST TRY TO FIX?!”

However, being more patient, I said, “Any other ideas?” After 30 more minutes (really), the chat hung up and I heard no more. Sigh.

Alas, I will fix my own problem, but it reminded me of an on-going discussion that I had with Scott Cook when I was at Intuit. The short title, “Can you train people to understand customers?” While some people are naturally good at seeing the hard to see, or being empathetic, I believe that people can be trained — or nurtured — to see. Continuing my optimistic tendencies, my top tips for nurturing listening, understanding, seeing and/or empathy… that fit for both customer service and product innovation:

  1. Slow down. The biggest limiter I’ve seen is jumping to conclusions. Take the time to pattern match at a more detailed level to get the true picture, not the general one that “everyone can see”.
  2. Work at disproving your theories. When you have a theory, many things you see will fit it because our minds work that way. If you actively work to find the holes, you’ll typically do a better job at proving them.
  3. Be there. For customer service, take the time to understand the full situation… not just what the customer is saying now. If you are in innovation, actually go and sit with your customers. I always say, “See around the problem.”
  4. Relive your time with customers. Reviewing what you think you’ve learned is important. What surprised you in the case or the visit? Surprises provide the biggest opportunities. (Caution: Surprises aren’t all good, but the ones there are… really are.)
  5. Go for the fun. While the obvious might make us feel like we solved a problem quickly, it usually isn’t fun. Let customers teach you… rather than you teaching them. This opens your mind and makes you think differently.

Do you think my MS rep would have benefited from these tips? I do. What are your experiences on nature vs nurture, and product innovation or customer service?

OK, I’ve already ordered this shirt. I’ll be wearing it often… 

T-shirts are user friendly
         (PCs are not)

P.S. Yes, I almost put “Computers are not”, but well, you know I tip my hat to Apple with that adjustment.

Blame me… maybe that wasn't a good idea

Whenever I’ve moved on from a job, I’ve always told the team I was leaving to blame me for the wrongs when I was gone to move past the blame game quickly, and focus on solving the issue. A piece of an awesome Fast company article on Toyota’s continuous process improvement way of life made me think that’s not such a good idea… because it let’s people continue the idea that blame (or shame) is a natural part of a work environment. Here’s the story in brief:

Jim Wiseman joins Toyota in community relations. In his first presentation to the plant manager, he spoke about how well things were going. When Jim finished, the manager, Fujio Cho, now chairman of Toyota worldwide, said, “Jim-san. We all know you are a good manager, otherwise we would not have hired you. But please talk to us about your problems so we can all work on them together.”

This reminded me of one of my absolute favorite work environments, when I was working for Lorrie Norrington at Intuit. She was SVP of Small Business and Personal Finance at the time, and was one of the three board members, who directed the Innovation Lab I ran. What was remarkable to me about working for Lorrie was that in any meeting, she focused on what was wrong. But, not in a negative “what did you do wrong” way, rather in a moving forward way. She was focused on solving together piece, and never made you feel like she was stepping in because you couldn’t handle it. I have a feeling this is what the folks at Toyota feel like… and it feels productive!

I need some techniques for setting that environment up correctly, because, as recently as this week, I’ve unintentionally put people on the defensive about what was done when I wanted the focus to be on moving forward. It wasn’t productive. Have you worked in an environment where the focus was deeply focused on the problems, but it wasn’t about blame or shame? If so, how did you, your manager, or your team set the tone for this?

I think what would go on my shirt for this:

Learn from history, but don’t relive it

I need to learn from you and your experiences here, as it is core to the way I want to run my businesses, and it is one where I don’t have a “doing business as Jana” way of doing things that I’m comfortabe with. So, what is your “doing business as you” on this topic? Or what are the experiences you’ve had?

What is the least you could do?

In the Innovation Lab at Intuit, we came up with a concept of minimum viable to describe our goal for initial product/service releases… the least bit of functionality that’s actually viable in the market, i.e., something can get real-, using- customer feedback. Why the least? Why don’t you worry about WOW’ing the customer with nifty features?

Minimum keeps you and the customer focused on the core of the pain you are trying to solve for them… or core of the joy you are trying to deliver. I often use the example of tuning and fine tuning on product definition. This should be your tuning stage… can customers “hear” the music you are trying to produce? Are they seeing what you are trying to solve? Can people use it to solve that problem? Do they use it in the way you thought? Do they use it for anything else?

Viable means you have to have something that works, and can function “in market”. This isn’t a prototype; it is actually delivering value. It might only solve one core problem. For example, we did customer research for Intuit’s Easy Estimate. The pain we were trying to solve was estimates for contractors. What was viable for this wasn’t just the calculation about the estimate. Actually, what we learned was viable was a site walkthrough checklist, going to an estimate (a calculation), going to a proposal (a document), going to QuickBooks once accepted. So, this had our focus for viable… not the depth of what could be needed for calculations. Get the flow right… additional functionality on calculations could come later, after the was actually being used in their workflow.

So, what do you think? Do you have good minimum viable examples? Do you have other concepts that have worked for you in figuring out how and when to launch? Or leading people in launching new products, services, or companies?

Oh, and why did this come up today? Because I’m finally launching this blog, and… it isn’t where I want it to be. It isn’t where I feel it will “wow” you in the way I want, and I worry you won’t come back and give me a second chance when I get there. For example, the header is plain; the tag cloud breaks; trackbacks are being included in comments; recent posts aren’t showing on the home page; the associated t-shirt store isn’t set-up… some of these are pretty major. I realized though I wasn’t living minimal viable, a concept I truly, deeply believe in.

So, what is on my shirt today?

Practice what you preach

P.S. I’ve launched a new tag with this post dba. When I post something that is a core value to me, like minimum viable is, I’m going to tag it is as “dba”, as in “doing business as Jana”.

Starting with the obvious…

The first question people ask you when you make a change is “why”. In starting my new role as CEO of Spreadshirt, the two questions folks had for me:

  • But, I thought you were happy at Intuit?
  • Ummmm… t-shirts?

First, my commentary on the questions. As a culture, we question – rather than support – change. We need to work on this. Provide counsel and guidance, while being happy for those with the courage to try something different. More than nine times out of ten, they will grow from it. What do you think?

And, what are the answers to those questions?

  1. I was extremely happy at Intuit. Intuit is an amazing company… a combination of entrepreneurial vibe and operational expertise. QuickBase is growing like crazy; and the team is outstanding. The Innovation Lab was leading not only at the company, but in the industry; and the team inspired me every day. I wasn’t considering leaving, and I told Spreadshirt that for several months… until one day, I realized that I had done my job at Intuit. The kind of early-stage audacious problems I get energy from working on… they were solved. I realized that I might be turning down a great opportunity, not because the teams weren’t ready to carry the torches we had lit together, but because I wasn’t ready to leave. Not a good reason, IMHO.
  2. What about those t-shirts? I can’t tell you. Really, I can’t tell you more about the secret sauce here at Spreadshirt. We aren’t ready just yet. What I can tell you is that:
    • I had already decided I wanted my next gig to be with a company that produced a physical product. After 15+ years in the bits-and-bytes business, it was time for a change.
    • After spending time with Lukasz, Matthias, and Michael, I wanted Spreadshirt to succeed even more. And, my skills seemed complementary to theirs.
    • Closely related to the above, quality wasn’t just an adjective to this team, but a key value.
    • I missed being in an international setting. Since ’97, I worked in some capacity on global aspects of a product or company.
    • I can wear t-shirts to every event and it is appropriate!
    • …But, seriously, this is about more than the shirt itself, but the self-expression capabilities provided. I like the simplicity of a t-shirt being the vehicle for that.

What’s “on a shirt” on this topic? To support big change, how about:

You can’t jump a 20-foot chasm in two 10-foot leaps.