How to make decisions with large groups

One of the things I have learned in my career as a product manager is that you are in positions to make decisions every day. Quite often, these decision are hard, and impact a lot of people. In a simplified world, there are two ways to go about doing this. You can do this by pushing, or you can do this by pulling.

What do I mean by pushing?

Some people manage to push their decisions to others. Many of these people are very smart. Many of these people have the respect of the organization. Quite often, these people are right. Like I said, they are smart.

Often these people are the fast thinkers, the experts in their field. If you think about it, these people are the ones that are the “go to” people for an organization. If there is a question that comes up, people are often quick to point this person out. “Run this by Bob, he will know.” See, Bob is smart.

What do I mean by pulling?

Others in the organization are seen as influencers, consensus getters, trusted counterparts to do what is seen as right for the organization. No, this isn’t the opposite of the people who push decisions as we discussed, it’s just that the organization sees these people in a different light.

People in this realm are ones who seek out opinions, try to see all sides to a decision, help collect and collate the data to help everyone understand what the answer could be, and pull everyone along to what the answer is.

When the organization has hard conversations and choices to make, these people are often brought in as a balance to the pushers in an organization.

When is a pusher the right way to drive an answer?

There are times and places for both types of decision makers/getters in an organization. Quite often in your career (and in your life), you will be asked to fill one of these roles. When do you need to use the proper technique, and why?

It could be a standard Thursday night, your family is happy the weekend is coming, and nobody wants to cook dinner. Someone needs to take control and make a choice.

What is the impact of that choice? Well, we need to eat tonight. The decision will impact my family, likely only my family, and will be a short-term consequence for the call that is made. Now, I am an expert in my family. I know what they like. I know what they don’t like. I know the budget we have. I know around what time we’d like to eat. These are all factors in my ability to be the pusher in this situation. Considering this type of decision has happened often, it increases my chance of success here.

With a reasonable expected outcome, I can take all of the factors that make me the expert here, and I can decide to make the call. I will pick a place that everyone will enjoy, it fits our budget, is available now (because we are all hungry), and I know it’s close. Decision is made, and communicated. In all likelihood, the outcome here is going to be ok. If it’s not, at least we know the consequences are relatively short term.

When is a puller the better call?

Let’s take a different scenario. My family is getting ready to buy a new house . We have lived in the same house for a few years, but we are ready to move. The consequence of this decision is not short term. We plan on living in this place for a long time. RED FLAG #1. This decision will impact a group of people over a very long period of time . I should recognize this.

Now, I know everyone wants a place to eat, sleep, play and relax. These are facts. I can be the expert, right? Hmm, let’s pause there. Do I really know the factors that each person is thinking of for each of these checklist items?

We don’t go through this decision on a regular basis like we did the dinner choice. I’ve never actually sat and talked with family about what they like in the current house, and what they’d like to change in the new house. RED FLAG #2. This conversation is infrequent enough that likely nobody is the actual expert here. I should recognize this. We all have inputs, but varied by person/role.

So, what is the right way to pull people along?

We want to ensure that we satisfy the needs of the collective whole. In business terms, who are the stakeholders? Well, in this case, for me, it would be my wife, mother in law, and me. (We don’t have kids, and I am not letting my dog try and talk me in to a swimming pool).

In order to make sure that we satisfy the key items, we have to approach this differently. What do we know?

  1. We are buying a house
  2. We want to eat, sleep, play and relax in this new home
  3. What other factors do we need to consider in making this choice.

This is where some guardrails on a decision come in to play. Often we will call these the principles of the decision. What this really means is, what are the rules by which we will make our decision, so we can collectively arrive at a reasonable set of narrowed choices, that match these principles, and hopefully satisfy our collective needs.

In order to do this for our house, we could brainstorm on things like:

  1. Style of house
  2. Color of house
  3. Location
  4. Price
  5. Number of Rooms
  6. Amenities
  7. Wood Shop

It’s easy to weed out a couple of items that may not matter to the list of core principles here. First: Color. Color is something that can be changed later. It is not a long-standing impact for us collectively. This is a short term impact, and it’s not high. Second: Wood Shop. I am really the only person who cares deeply about this. Since this does not impact everyone as a long-standing core principle, we can weight this lower.

Now, if we arrive at a set of criteria like this:

  1. Style: Craftsman or Log Cabin
  2. Color: Ignored
  3. Location: within 15 miles of our current house, but not east of I-5
  4. Price: $300k-$2.5M (whatever, it’s my story here)
  5. Number of Rooms: Minimum of 4
  6. Amenities: Nice to have items include workout space, long driveway, lots of trees
  7. Wood Shop: Nice to have, not core

OK.. so now that we have our principles by which we want to make our decision, this is how we can pull everyone along as the person driving towards this decision. Think of them again, as guardrails that help us stay in our lane. If we can get consensus around these principles, it is likely that we have a good chance to arrive at the same (or similar) decision in the end.

If we find an amazing house that matches all of our criteria, but it happens to be east of I-5, this house violates principle #3 of our decision criteria. In theory, everyone agrees that this house is not a viable option. No complaints. We all agreed up front that east of I-5 is out.

OK, so what happens if someone says “Nope, this IS the house. We are getting this one!” . Well, you have to re-visit the principles to ensure you all still agree. Why does this person think principle #3 doesn’t matter any more? Why are they willing to violate this rule and be east of I-5? If you discuss this together, and can all agree that “No houses east of I-5” is a rule that can be violated, you can adjust your principles. You have collectively agreed that the framework by which you make your decision has now changed. If you don’t agree to that, you must all come to the conclusion that this house is off the list.

How do I close the decision by pulling everyone along

As the person responsible for driving closure to this decision, it is key that you are able to pull everyone along. If you end up in an argument about the house that violated a principle, you are now arguing on emotion or flawed logic. This won’t work long-term. You must ensure that you have clarity on the rules by which you make decisions is agreed, and then you work towards your decision within those guardrails. Once you collectively get to a decision, it is one that everyone can agree upon based on the rules.

What happens if you get close, but are stuck on one factor?

It is not uncommon to get through some basic principles and still end up with two differing answers. The easiest way to solve this is to find the variance in the two options, and then decide on what the principle is that can help you make this decision. The principle is usually aligned towards a joint goal between all parties. By narrowing the rules by which you make the decision, you can guide the answer based on the new principle.

Know when to use the right method

It is up to you to determine how you make decision. You must recognize that sometimes people do want to be pushed. You know the answer, you can make the call. Sometimes it is ok to push a decision.

You must equally know when it is important to pull people along. Often, this decision process takes a lot longer. It often has longer-term impacts and will affect more people. This is were pulling helps. Guide people with principles by which you make the decision, and then collectively you will likely arrive at the same answer. Then, it’s a joint decision. Building out that framework is key. If the framework is wrong, the answer is wrong.

Hopefully this helps in some thinking on how to make decisions in your family, or your organization.

The auto industry is approaching Car Apps in an interesting way

I saw an article today on Ford and Toyota launching a Consortium to get developers to build on the Smart Device Link (SDL) platform. You can learn more about it on the SDL homepage.

The strange thing is, SDL appears to be a declarative way to express your application while still giving the auto manufacturer the control over how things actually lay out in the car. I am curious, don’t the brands building want to own the display for THEIR application?

The other thing that comes to mind is “what value do I get out of building for a car platform?” Does this make my users more sticky? Is it just the PR value for the announcements and ongoing press? (which does have some real value) Are companies able to not only build, but keep up with the platforms in the auto space as it gets more fragmented?

I was curious, I am sure there has to be a handful of key apps that motor companies want on their platform. If they think it is a differentiator, or something that partners of the Open Source SDL platform could benefit from, why not just build it for them?

Taking Ford as an example.

Assuming nobody was kicking in money but Ford, and they ate all of the costs, it is probably still worthwhile. (but they could spread the cost over each SDL partner and encourage other car manufacturers to sign up for the platform)

Ford made $7.2B in revenue in 2015. (with a gross revenue of $23M) That’s nothing to sneeze at for top line. Now, let’s say you wanted to ensure you got the top 20 applications on your platform. Things like weather, music, podcasting, traffic, etc. You could hand select a couple from each category and build the winners with no cost to them.

You can see that even at an estimated cost (wild ass guess) of $500k per application to build, getting the top 20 apps would be roughly 1/10th of a percent of Ford’s top line revenue.

Now, let’s say they could convince just 4 other companies to help share the cost. This becomes a much better value for them, and others; something each company could easily justify to expand from the top 20 apps, to the top 50 apps if it show real value as a differentiator.

There are probably arguments to be said about doing what SiriusXM did with building the cost of the services in to the cars, that would be a whole separate discussion.. but it is something interesting to think about.

EDIT:  I should have taken the extra step to calculate additional car sales against competition due to the advantage, and top line growth due to that number.. but I was running under the lazy assumption that Ford/Toyota did that work, and that’s why they are investing in the platform.  It wouldn’t take long though to make up  the revenue..roughly the Equivalent of 1 days sales or less.

Urgent vs. Important work

Urgent vs. Important work

We have been having this recurring discussion at work lately about the difference between Urgent work vs. Important work.  Understand how this fits in your decision making process is key in my view to being productive, yet understanding the proper interruption cycle when things are not going as planned.  I thought I’d share the matrix that is going around just because I find it valuable.

When you are getting ready to think about a piece of work, or more importantly engage with others.. where does the work fall in this matrix?  And is it the same for them as it is you?



Twitter Acquires Posterous – good timing for me

If you didn’t read.. Twitter bought up Posterous today.  I gotta say.. it was quite good timing on my part.  Yesterday I started migrating off of Posterous back to my own WordPress blog.

Don’t get me wrong, Posterous was great.  I was always torn between running my own WordPress instance, Tumblr and Posterous.  In the end.. for a couple years I kept Posterous around.  The ability to email in your posts was quite nice.   I finally decided that more control is what I wanted.. and so I am in the process of moving back to WordPress.

One small beef with Posterous?   I couldn’t easily export my data out.  In this day and age that is a complete FAIL!  Frustrated to say the least.   Oh well.. live and learn.

Original Post:

RANT: Securely storing Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

Quick rant here.  I came across another article about a company and their data being compromised.   I use “THEIR” very loosely here, as it typically means OUR data (read for what I mean with PII).  

Tivo had their email database hacked, which is leading to a bunch of spammers getting access to valid email accounts.  While this isn't as bad as the Gawker incident, it is still a concern. My email address and password had to be changed on their site due to the security breach.  It is a hassle. (and risk)  PII is largely talked about with regards to health care and HIIPA, but in my view, people storing your personal information should be as concerned about protecting their customer data as those in other, more secure sectors.  

There are some best practices when it comes to storing and retrieving data, but by all means.. storing passwords in clear text has to be the dumbest rookie move ever.  (GAWKER).  Beyond that, let's try to get people to be responsible.  I'd like to see a certification of sites that safely store my PII.  At least that way I know how often and who I need to watch when storing certain data.  

Word of the day?  Encryption.  Hell.. at least use and MD5 hash or something!  🙂  


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Why I like the new Apple TV

Lots of people are complaining about the new AppleTV and what it didn't bring for features, what they don't like, what they wished it had, etc.  Realizing that Apple did their homework first, to try to hit the mass market, many of us “techies” are not necessarily the target demographic. Get over it.  Unfortunately they didn't make this for you. Geeks should wait for Boxee.  


Apple has one primary goal with AppleTV.  Sell content.  If you can get a small, easy to hook up box into someones routine, make it non-subscription yet easy to purchase content.. you have a winner.  The previous AppleTV had two problems holding it back.  First was the cost.  $200-$300 for an unproven technology was too much for many people to shell out.  Drop that to a magical $99 price point and you have reduced a major barrier.  The second issue was the technical side of setup.  The syncing, hard drive, etc.. all just a little much for “mass market” ease of use.  Make this as easy (or easier) than a DVD player to watch content.. and another barrier is gone.  

The final icing on the cake is the price point for content.  Nobody will argue (at least rationally) that $5 for a first run HD rental is too much.  It'll cost you that much for the pop at the theater to see it.  People do that all day.  The $0.99 “rental” of TV shows is another win.  Seriously, how often do you watch TV shows more than once?  If you want to buy a season and stream it to your AppleTV, you are welcome to.. but for somewhere in the range of $20-$25 you can rent an entire season of a show you like. The nice thing is if (and it's a big IF) you can choose to unplug from your cable provider, Dish, DirecTV, etc.. you can probably save a fair amount of money and time over the course of a year.  At least for me this would be the case.  

Anyway.. I think Apple did it right.  Plus, add the ability to stream from your iOS products to AppleTV, ease of packing this thing on vacation if you want to.. it is some extra gravy in the value ladle.  I ordered one already and will be quite happy to move my “old” AppleTV to a new location in the house. 

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Blackberry Torch thoughts…

I have to say, it's only been a couple days however, the Torch seems like a complete #FAIL to me.  Sure, I'm an avid iPhone user, but in no way do I see this thing winning over any iPhone or Android users at all.  At best, you'll take a Blackberry Curve user who hates their web browsing and convince them to stay with RIM for one more contract cycle.  After that, if RIM can't pull some magic.. they are destined for major failure. 


They should really just consider adopting Android across the board and making some good Blackberry hardware, BES server integration, etc.  See if the can't pull it off. 

The discussion we had at work this week was around focus.  RIM is trying to build a new OS, control the hardware and release multiple phones this year.  
Google is focused on the OS innovation and letting the OEMs handle bringing new hardware to market for all of their releases
Apple is focused on owning the entire device, hardware and software.. but only doing one phone per year. 

I think RIM is lost.. and needs to regain some focus badly, otherwise in 12-18 months you will see their marketshare well below 15%

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Struggling with Google Buzz

OK, I’ve really tried to giv e Google Buzz a run and see how useful it can be.  My problem is two fold. First is the lack of integration into my GAFYD (Google Apps for Your Domain) email, the second is lack of integration into the linked sites.

GAFYD:  Lack of integration is a source of constant frustration with this tool.  I personally love the Email, Docs, Calendar.  Don’t want to give it up.  The problem is feeling like a second class citizen because GAFYD does not include things like Reader, Voice or now Buzz.  (sure it’s coming.. but..)  What is the purpose of that little checkbox on the dashboard to get new features if we REALLY don’t get things early?  or at all?

Without Buzz being integrated into my REAL email account, it forces me to go to yet another location for information.  I now have Google Reader, Twitter, Buzz, Email, Facebook.. hmm.. too many.  It isn’t really a solution to fix that problem and just caused a NEW location to look.  If it was part of my email, it might be ok.

LACK OF TIE IN TO LINKED SITE:  My second beef is the lack of tie in back to the social site.  If I am following someone on Buzz, they post something on Twitter.. then I have to either respond in Buzz, and people using Buzz can see it.  The problem is the loss of conversation on Twitter?  I have now moved conversation from the main site (where presumably MOST people follow) to Buzz, where it is a parasite, leaching the good value off to allow itself to live.  Had it not been for the host, Buzz wouldn’t exist.. hell, even parasites provide SOME value back to their host (like cleaning bacteria, etc).. Buzz is just migrating traffic from other sites to their own!  If you are building a nice following on Twitter, it is detrimental to your core group of followers.. unless they all use Buzz.

Here is how I keep track of things.  I’d be interested to know if others have found Buzz to be useful in a way to help consolidate my current sources of news.

Google Reader:  I use this for my blog reading and following.  This link is to my shared items.. but I keep track of around 40 blogs.  It is a lot per day.. I need to find a way to remove dupes… too many people post the same news.

Twitter:  I have found this to be a great source of news.  I use Twitter to keep up with things.. not typically to reach out or communicate.  I’m a consumer, not a producer.

ReadTwit:  I use Readtwit to pull links from Twitter into my RSS feeds.  This helps me while on the bus and using Google Reader on my iPhone.  It finds links in the posts of people I follow on Twitter, pulls in the content and makes an RSS feed for me.  Nicely integrated.

Any additional news consumption is through random surfing, reading or links emailed to me.  My open question then is this.  How does Buzz help?  I would like to benefit from a tool.. I just don’t find this one useful.


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Managing your group for success

This is going to be a fairly short little post, but after a couple discussions recently with some other people, it is still amazing to me how many managers don’t know how to manage a team properly.  The experiences I have been hearing about all resonated with me based on my own past.

First off, let me say that as professionals in our fields, we all recognize the times where it is crunch time.. go time.. the time to put your head down, focus on your work to completion.. no matter what it takes.  Those are the make or break opportunities in our own fields, the ones that get us the big deals.. the ones that impress big clients.. the ones that meet a critical deadline.  As a manager, you hope to have team members who recognize these times and do the right thing without you having to ask.  That is what helps create a great team.. and one that truly will gel over time with these experiences.  Now.. as a manager, don’t confuse this with always expecting your team to work long hours, weekends and holidays.. on a regular basis.  If your team is ALWAYS overworked, working long hours, weekends or constantly taking on random tasks…there is a systemic problem in your organization.  You will succeed in the short term with some wins.. but fail in the long-term.  You will fail to deliver long-term sustainable results.  You will fail to retain quality employees.  You will fail to recruit new good candidates as word spreads.  You, as a manager.. will have failed.  You failed yourself, your team and your company.

As a manager you also need to manage the tasks coming in to your team appropriately.  Being the manager that never says no to upper management does not make you successful.  If it is putting your teams ability to succeed at risk, you are failing.  There are two areas I see this happen.  The first is in sheer volume.  (see first rant above)  If you are taking on more work than your team can handle, and expecting them to “suck it up”, you will fail.  The second way this occurs is with managers who don’t know what the capabilities of their team really are.  Some managers take on ANY task and expect good people to just make it work.

If you truly give someone a task that is out of their skill set, hoping they will grow with the task, you may have just set them up to fail.  If you can provide proper education, training or assistance, it could be for the better.  If you don’t enable their success, you just asked them to fail.  The problem is, many managers will have good people who they just expect to succeed.  Nobody can do EVERYTHING well.  There are limits.  Take a solid project manager and try to make them do customer account management across multiple large customers with big projects.  While at surface level.. it is someone tracking and delivering goods on a timeline.. they are two different disciplines.

Lastly, if you are hiring a manager for a group from outside the company into an organization, have a transition plan for the newly hired manager.  Please take the time to think about how this person will succeed or fail.  What is your plan to ramp up this individual on your products?  Do they come in as an individual contributor before taking on a management role?  How do you expect this to impact the team?  Was there someone on the team that may have felt they should have received a promotion and that management slot?  If so, have you talked to the team to let them know why you went the path you did?  Have you clearly laid out a career path for your employees that will help them meet their goals and not feel slighted by this new hire?  How do you plan on educating the rest of the organization on the new hire’s role in the organization.  Educate the current team on the reasons you hired the new person.. what is their background, skill set, etc.  By all means, if you can make them part of the interview loop.. do so.

Anyway.. just a quick little rant. I’ve had too many discussion with people lately who are bringing up similar stories.  Lucky for me these are really not part of my current organization.. but clearly I have had these things happen to me in the past through direct contact or close ties and the great stories that inevitably follow.

Work should and can be fun,  you just need to be set up to succeed.  If your manager is not helping to enable your success, you should be concerned.

One final tip for managers: You will go MUCH farther and do MUCH better by setting your team up to succeed with flying colors time and time again… vs. the manager that is trying to make him/her self look good to upper management.  Do the right thing for YOUR employees;  Their success will drive long-term sustainable wins for your customers, your company and your employees.   Your management team will surely recognize the solid team you have built and maintained. That is what will drive YOUR success.