Learn Tech Management In 45 Minutes
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It took me two years to get a master’s in tech management. I save you $40K and give you the short version.
Speaker: Sumana Harihareswara
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Annotated, edited transcript follows. Talk transcribed by StenoKnight CART Services, then edited by Harihareswara.
Learn Tech Management in 45 Minutes, Wed. 22 June 2011
My name is Sumana Harihareswara. I am giving the talk "Learn Tech Management in 45 Minutes." I work for the Wikimedia Foundation. However, I am not representing them right now, because this is a talk I submitted before I even got hired by them earlier this year. But MediaWiki 1.17.0 just came out last night, so if you're running MediaWiki, please upgrade, because it's great and new and has lots of fun stuff.
And, by the way, we are hiring. I'll just say this now and get it over with. Wikimedia Foundation is hiring, and I have a bunch of flyers about the things that we're hiring for, so please feel free to come talk to me afterwards. And, just so you know, I would not be managing you. In case the rest of this presentation gives you pause about that.
I have a Masters degree. Not entirely my fault. I got a Masters degree in Technology Management from Columbia University between 2006 and 2008. And all in all, according to Columbia, this was worth somewhere around $45,000 or $50,000. So I figure -- this is a 45-minute talk. It's like you're making a thousand dollars a minute. Which is pretty good ROI, which is a term you learn when you get a Masters in Tech Management.
It's really good to get those kinds of professional Masters degrees to make you think about Theory, but the assumption is: "All right. Now you go get practice on your own, or you already have it." So there's some stuff I'm not gonna be talking about in this talk, which is stuff that you have to learn on the job, involving things like how to communicate with other people like a human being, or stuff like that. But I am gonna be telling you how the suits think. I was sort of like your reconnaissance person, who went into the land of suits and learned their language, and now I can come back and tell you about -- if you are, you know, ever going to have to talk to suits, to executives, and manage stuff, then this might come in useful to you.
Because you're already an entrepreneur. Even if you've never started a startup or a project or something like that, you have to be an entrepreneur with your own career. Right? You have to treat yourself like an organization that has a strategy. And you're probably already trying to translate what you do to executives or people who are non-technical, or something like that.
And, really, that's a big part of technology management, is just thinking: "okay. How do those other people think?" And then translating what you want into terms they'll understand.
So here's the agenda of what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna tell you some lenses, some perspectives, to try on. And I'm gonna show you some ways to map out where you are, such as how much money you have and what your resource and opportunities are. Ways you can decide what to do. Certain kinds of planning. And how to persuade others to do that. And ways to execute at the end. So does that all make sense? Is that, like -- is this really, really far off from what anyone thought they were gonna get here?
Okay, great. And I wanna also tell you that I am gonna talk a little bit about kind of managing up and managing down, but really more of what I'm talking about is managing up, because I think a lot of us have had at least some experience of managing other people and helping them understand what to do, but managing up is where it gets all mysterious, and people wear suits, and they talk about terms we don't understand.
And I think of this as kind of harm reduction. This talk that I'm giving right now. It's a little bit of the gentle art of self defense. Because, you know, you might be an engineer who has to deal with management and fight for your project, or you might want to take leadership of your open source project, and you might want to write proposals for what people should do or why they should give you a grant. Or you might accidentally turn into a manager at your firm. It might be foisted upon you.
And so I hope that some of the stuff in this talk will take you from, like, 0th percentile up somewhere else, and give you a bunch of keywords that you can look up on Wikipedia, the world's free, open source encyclopedia. (I gave a sample of this talk at my work, and they were like -- "okay, don't tell them you're giving them keywords to Google later, okay? We have an encyclopedia. Tell them about it.")
So this is the agenda.
- * big perspectives to try on
- * mapping out where you are financially & strategically
- * deciding what to do
- * figuring out how to finance & budget for it
- * persuading others to do it
- * implementing it & managing other people
We'll start off with a lens or two. You may or may not care about what your organization says its mission statement is, but everywhere you are there is at least a de facto mission. There's something people care about. I would like a random person in the room to tell me what organization they work for. Hi. You.
- Parthenon Software.
Parthenon Software. All right. And what would you say the mission of that is?
- We build custom software, web apps, and mobile apps for small (inaudible) businesses.
Okay. So do you aim to just do that, or do you also aim to make money while you do it?
- Lots of money.
Lots of money. Okay. So as a reward for this, by the way, I am going to give you a small gift, which is an empty greeting card that has an old pulp sci-fi cover on it.
- Oh, how cool is that?
Because you communicated, and this is a tool for communication.
- Hurray! Thank you.
Sure. I don't have -- that's all. That's all, in terms of the greeting cards. So... But there might be other gifts and rewards.
 Drivers vs Supporters
So... The driver, then, is anything that directly connects to that mission. It's building the software itself, or making money off it by selling to customers. What's the supporters? All the infrastructure that makes that possible. Things like janitorial. Human resources. Certain kinds of marketing. Stuff like that. So you can judge whether or not an organization is gonna think you're important by whether they think of you as a driver or whether they think you're a supporter.
(And this is what sysadmins run into, right? Sysadmins are always infrastructure. They get treated like the Cyber-TSA. You know? Like, all they do is set up policies that stop other people from doing what they want, and inspect their packets.)
But this is what infrastructure falls prey to, is -- they only get talked about when something goes wrong, because they're not thought of as the people who move things forward.
Drivers are technologies that affect the relationship between the customer and you.
So if you're in an organization, if you're in a place in an org where you're thought of as a supporter rather than a driver, you have three choices: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. I am borrowing that term from Albert O. Hirschman. Other Political Science majors in the room -- sorry. I'm gonna radically simplify what Albert O. Hirschman wrote about. You have three choices when you don't like something that's happening in an organization. You can leave and go someplace where you'll thrive, you can speak up and try to change it, or you can kind of suck it up and get Stockholm Syndrome.
I can't tell whether this silence is boredom or... "Oh, God. That's happened to me."
- Audience: "The latter."
Okay, all right. Good to know.
Choose what you work on! Choose to work on something that's a driver, or something where you can make the case that it is -- or move to another place.
And so one form of loyalty is to actually just be happy with being a supporter, because it's kind of low stress. The problem is, if you're in that supporting role, someday you're gonna get outsourced, because that's what happens to supporters, right? The driver is what moves things forward, and you leave supporters behind and hang on to new things.
 Opportunity Cost
And one reason why we care about what we do is because you only have so much time. There's opportunity cost, right? We think of tradeoffs in engineering. Well, you have to think about them with your own career as well, and with any organization that you're in. So much of the time, each day is just a mutant variation on the day that came before. Each year's budget we treat as a small variation on the one that came before.
But if you were going to think about it from scratch, if you were thinking big, what would you just get rid of and replace with something awesome, that would actually help you achieve whatever you're trying to get done? This is how executives think, which is why when they're looking at you, they might think of you as -- "huh. How much return on investment does this person get?" So that's something to consider.
Don't fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy.
 The Innovation S-curve
And this is one way to think about what opportunities are going to get you further in the future. This is what's known as the S curve of innovation. The idea is: any technology starts off kind of unprofitable, and kind of in an early research phase. Like cold fusion. Not the MySpace thing but the physics thing. "Oh, no one's ever gonna make money off that." NoSQL. "Oh, wow, it's going way up." And people can make money off it. You can make a career off it. It's growing in maturity and stability. And then it levels off into -- you know, whatever commodity. COBOL, what have you.
- (An audience member asks, "Isn't it more like an L curve?" because there'll be a dropoff at the end.)
Right, right. And so that's over here in, like, the late adopters thing. Is, like, you can make money off it if you are catering to (some customers), but then there's this new thing. And so at some point, there will be a dropoff, but you never know when. And also, people do need certain kinds of commodities. It's possible to make a certain amount of money off it.
So yeah. This is a model. And all models are wrong, and some are useful, right? But one thing to think about is: What is the new emerging technology that's coming along? There is a quote about how technology is the industry that eats itself. And therefore you have to kind of think long-term.
- "Technologies are structures
- whose conditions of operation
- the restructuring of their environments"
- --Langdon Winner, 1977, Autonomous Technology
This is Langdon Winner. "Technologies are structures whose conditions of operation demand the restructuring of their environments." Anything you're doing will not last forever.
- All that is solid
- melts into air
- – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848, The Communist Manifesto
Or, as Marx and Engels said, "all that is solid melts into air."
(It's nice to quote from the Communist Manifesto in a presentation. It keeps people awake.)
So you've got to watch out, or your career will disappear around you. And you've got to watch out, or your organization's reason for being will disappear. This is a thing suits think about. This is why senior executives do get paid. It's to manage risk. And the more risk that's available to manage, maybe the more money you can make, or the bigger wins you can have.
- Additional notes:
- * Order qualifiers are necessary but insufficient, & winners are competitive advantages. But over time, winners become qualifiers
- * Another applicable term: "creative destruction!"
 Why do projects fail?
So why do projects fail? For example, what killed Betamax? Well, you might think your innovation is awesome, and might be right on the inflection point of that S curve, but great tech isn't enough. You know, Betamax had certain technical things that were better about it than VHS, but the efficiency of Sony manufacturing wasn't great. The design process wasn't consumer-focused. Compared to VHS, there was lower play times. No remote control. It didn't have a timer. It didn't have pause. And Betamax thought VHS can't match our features, but they totally could.
What killed Betamax?
- * product competitiveness
- * efficiency of Sony manufacturing in general -- :(
- * design process not consumer-focused
- * compared to VHS:
- ** lower play times, no remote control
- ** lacked timer & pause
- ** beta thought VHS could not match features; they could
- * closed licensing, treated partners badly
- * bad selection: for example, no adult content
- * bad pricing, distro, marketing
There was closed licensing. They treated partners badly. There was really bad selection. For example, there was not adult content. And they had bad pricing and very bad distribution and bad marketing. So people will say, "oh, Betamax was better." But was it for a user? Or was it for a market?
So, it's not enough to have great tech. If you have a cool innovation, and you want it to compete, you have to think about this other stuff, too.
So you need to think about how, if you have an innovation, other people will have thought about it too. The efficient markets hypothesis is basically -- well, we're not stupid. Other people will have thought of the cool thing you're thinking of. So if you're going to think strategically, you need to think long-term, and most people don't. Most people have a time horizon mismatch, where they just -- us, me, you, everyone -- we focus on the small task that's right in front of us, and we need to yank our perspective up higher.
- The efficient markets hypothesis:
- * we're not stupid
- * if you see an opportunity, chances are someone else does too
So you want to think strategically, longterm, and see and deal with risks.
And now I'm going to give you some suggestions for ways to think: how to yank your perspective up into a larger strategic sense, and then, as I mentioned, decide what to do, plan, persuade, and execute.
I do have to blow through this, because I am covering two years in 45 minutes, but I can take one or two questions or comments. Okay.
 Mapping out where you are
Thriving is about a person matching their environment. And that goes for organizations too.
So... Accounting. Blaaaah. Does anyone here actually enjoy accounting? (Sheeri Cabral raises her hand.) You? Yeah. I thought it would be. Yeah. DBAs understand something about accounting. Accounting is an inventory. Accounting is a way to inventory where you are and what resources you have.
You can get ideas by looking at this map, and you can discover risks. Like, if you see that it's actually 5 times more expensive to get a new customer than to retain one, by looking at how the cash flows work, and then a 5% increase in the loyalty rate might lead to, like, a 40% to 95% increase in profitability. And that means, if you have an idea for some tiny UI change that will do that, hey -- now you have a way to present this and frame it so that your boss' boss can sign off on you spending a week on that.
But you can also discover risks. For example, liquidity: cash on hand and ability to borrow. If you or your business doesn't have, let's say, three weeks of cash on hand or ability to borrow, then you kind of can't take big risks that won't bring in money during that time, because a million dollars six months from now won't save you if you can't make this month's payroll. So it'll give you a sense of what kind of risks you're under.
And I figure that accounting -- being able to read the basic documents, like a balance sheet, income statement, profit and loss -- it's like being able to read the real basics of your own medical chart. For an organization that you care about, money is like its blood. So if you care about it, and you want to know how it's doing, being able to understand the real basics of that is about as important as knowing the basic health history and status of you and people you care about.
And I'll have a recommendation for a book at the end, in the book list, that basically shows you: Here are a few really key ratios to look for in the relevant numbers that would be publicly available, or that you could get from your boss, if you care.
(The book is How to Read A Financial Report by John A. Tracy.)
All right. Another kind of mapping is strategy exercises that will inventory you and your environment. And these are things that you would see on the cover of terrible-looking magazines at the airport. Like the Harvard Business Review or something like that. And they'll have names like PEST or SWOT, that stand for politics, economics, sociological, and technology. Or strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.
And I figure these are kind of like party games. Because the point of a party game is not to play Apples to Apples. The point is for people to get together and have fun. And similarly, it's like writing a spec. The point is to get people together and get them thinking the right way.
(Like party games, exercises make up for the ubiquity of poor communication.)
Some common mapping exercises to help you discover strategic opportunities and risks:
- * PEST: Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological
- * 5 Forces: the threat of new entrants, customer bargaining power, supplier bargaining power, and threat of substitutes, all affecting the competitors in an industry jockeying for position.
- * SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats
So the point is: Look at some of these. Take a look at some of these on Wikipedia, the world's free encyclopedia, and just look them up and ask yourself, "Could I do this exercise either by myself or with some other people in my organization?" And that might put you in the right frame of mind to say, "hey, what strengths and threats and so on might we be missing?"
(And I'm happy to talk more about these also afterwards, after the talk. The five forces, for example, are, like, the threat of new entrance, customer bargaining power, supplier bargaining power, and the threat of substitutes. And then the fifth force is how the competitors are jockeying in your industry.)
Note: Doing this kind of exercise is an opportunity to align the culture of your org, especially around risk. Look at NASA -- it drifted from a startup's risk culture to a routinized culture and didn't adjust what risks it was taking, and that's a reason for the Columbia and Challenger disasters.
So those are some ideas about what mapping is, that I figure -- that financial mapping and mapping of all the resources and opportunities that you have are useful to do.
 Deciding what to do
Choosing what to do. This is where people ask, "well, what's your business model?" And when they say that, instead of hitting them, which I want to do, one should instead understand what it is they're asking. Which is basically: "Well, how are you going to make this work? What's the economic logic of it gonna be for cost and value?"
You know, you start over here with money or resources or whatever. You put it through whatever your magic black box is, and out the end comes the thing you say you're gonna produce, whether that's money or free information for everybody in their own language, or what have you.
(I have to do this, because I have to shoehorn the stuff I care about in open source and non-profit and government work into this Columbia Masters that was full of Wall Street people talking about IPOs. So I am giving you, yes, less accounting material than I got in my Masters, but I'm also basically giving you more thought about the things that we in this room care about, because we might not actually care about the Fortune 500 as much. Although maybe you do.)
So business model is: How do these pieces fit together into a system? Does the math work for how much money you take in or how many resources you take in and how much you're gonna put out? And then there's this additional thing, which is strategy, which is the competitive advantage. Not just how do you do it, but how do you do it better? How do you differentiate? What is it that makes you so special? Because remember: Efficient markets hypothesis. We're all not stupid.
- Business model
- * Economic logic of cost & value
- * Pieces fitting together into a system
- * How do you do it?
- Business model: activities of making & selling, mechanisms of production & delivery, economic logic of cost & value, and pieces fitting together into a system, turning into (for example) profit.
- * Competitive advantage
- * Differentiation
- * How do you do it better?
- Strategy: doing the right things. Internal capabilities + external possibilities. A broad formula for how your org or how you will compete. A plan to give competitive advantage via differentiation.
- Some strategic moves:
- * Create & dominate a new market
- * Start a beachhead where rivals are weak or uninterested
- * Process innovation
- * Product differentiation -- positioning
- * Buy market entry - joint venture, merger, acquisition
Also, watch out for starting without enough funds -- you might just create a market for better-funded competitors.
So maybe there's something in your organization that makes you the best in the world, or at least the best in whatever your niche is, about how you understand design. How you understand internationalization. How you understand whatever it is.
So, in a larger sense, strategy is business model plus competitive advantage. And information in an organization kind of flows through some layers, right? Of -- you've kind of got to think about what it is that we're trying to do in relation -- and then relate that to -- like, on a mission level. And then, well, what's going to achieve that? And you might end up with kind of some spiral learning, right? Where you encounter something cool, and then realize, "oh, here's how it relates to our mission," and stuff like that.
Finance: how do we pay for what we want to do?
(checking time) Wow. This might actually work. Because I cut, like, explaining how to read a profit and loss statement. You'll be grateful. Really. So... Planning...
So if accounting is where are we right now, finance is "how do we get where we're going to go?" And I was told to tell you about this by my sister, who's an MBA. She was like, "please, don't let people confuse accounting and finance". And I said, "(sister's name), I don't really care about the distinction between accounting and finance." And then she made me care. And she's an older sister, so she can do that.
So -- oh yeah. I actually did put the word "blergh" in this slide, didn't I? Yeah. Because that's kind of how I feel about having to understand this stuff, which is why my sister's an MBA. I just offload it to her.
But more seriously, what instruments can you use to get what you want? You know? When you've decided what kinds of stuff you want to achieve, do you want an IPO? How do you want to do that? Do you want to structure a merger acquisition? Do you, maybe, need to take on debt as an investment?
Because just like technical debt is an investment that we sometimes choose to make to get something done now and pay for it later, financial debt is also something that we can choose to take on now, if we have a good plan on how to pay it off later. We usually actually think about the financial debt, and we don't think enough about the technical debt. But that's a different story, right?
And this is where I would say you don't have to understand everything about finance. You don't have to necessarily understand how to -- all the different permutations of net present value versus internal rate of return, versus return on investment, versus the hurdle rate. I did, and I'm going to say you don't have to right now.
But if you run some numbers, if you try and think about -- "what are these things that I'm going to do? How much will they cost? How much will they bring in?" Then the suits will use that as a lossy proxy for: "oh, you've actually thought about this."
It's a little bit like... wearing a suit (to make people take you seriously). But this actually has a real, measuring effect. Because it is like writing a spec. In the working out of that thought, you may adjust what you're thinking about.
- Some finance items:
- * asset management
- ** assets, liabilities, debt, equity
- * Net Present Value, Internal Rate of Return, Return On Investment, Cost Benefit Analysis, hurdle rate
- * portfolio theory - might diversify revenue streams as a hedge against certain risks. Example: Salon.com -- subscribers vs ads
 Cost-benefit analysis
CBA is a framework of measuring what's the most optimal investment for yield.
You'll hear people say, "Oh, I want you to run a cost/benefit analysis," or, "I ran a cost/benefit analysis, and therefore we should do blah". So the biggest thing that I can say about cost/benefit analysis is: watch out for the biases. Because all cost/benefit analyses are biased. Whose costs? Whose benefits? You might be undercounting things you want because they're in groups that don't make much. What was the set of potential alternative projects that you ran it against? What was the sensitivity analysis? How are these scenarios sensitive to differences in the interest rate or the discount rate, or things like that?
And there's always a subjective weighting scheme. And one of the options always has to be status quo. Kind of like the null hypothesis, when you're running an experiment. So finance is a language, and some people speak it better. And if you understand a few words of it, you'll be better off. And you kind of have to use it or lose it, I think. Because I understood it way better -- I'm seeing some nodding from the back of the room -- yeah.
- Some key questions:
- * Specify the set of potential alternative projects. Economics is about enumerating Bizarro universes.
- * Check your horizons
- * Sensitivity analysis: think of plausible scenarios
- * Discount rate -- accounting for interest rate & inflation. A dollar now is worth more than a dollar in five years.
 Not going to talk about software development methodologies
And when I'm talking about planning and execution, I'm actually not gonna talk at all about, like, Waterfall and Agile and methodologies like that. (And someone just left! Oh, I drove them away by not talking about Agile. This is the power of Agile. By not talking about it, you drive people away.)
But just be disciplined, whatever you're doing. And by the way, we didn't talk about this kind of methodology at all in my tech management class, right? Because the assumption was -- "oh, well, you're gonna be, like, a CEO someday, and you won't have to dirty your hands with actually getting people to code. That'll be someone else's job." But, you know, whatever you're doing, just be disciplined about it. There are gonna be other talks about that. There's a zillion books you can read. I figure that whatever you choose to do, as long as you are disciplined about it, you'll probably be fine.
 Q&A on credibility and research
So I'm about to move on to the persuading others section, but I was wondering if there are any questions. Because I have plans to -- I won't actually be talking the whole 45 minutes. I do have a little bit of time for questions. Does anyone have a question?
- An observation. The terminology of finance, business speak, it's good to remember that ... if you try to take this and use it with the financial guys in the organization, they know it better than you do.
Yeah. So you can use them as allies, if possible.
- So use them as allies, but don't try to snow them.
Oh, certainly. Oh yeah. Oh yeah, yeah. You can -- once you know a little bit, you can snow absolute novices, but yeah. You can't snow the people in your organization who actually know this stuff. Right. Just like I can't snow an engineer. Because I'm not one. So... (Oh, good. I didn't drive anyone away with that.) Are there any other thoughts or comments or questions about what we talked about so far? All right. Yes?
- A woman in the front row asked: "How would I suggest that one get the data that I'm suggesting you use to work with in a lot of these exercises?"
A good question. So if you're in a public organization of some kind, like a non-profit, or a publicly owned corporation, or the government, then this information will be available for you somewhere on the web. If it's not, you can observe. Under some circumstances, you can simply ask for it within your organization, and it will be taken as a sign of your interest, that you want to know things about basic, like, revenues and income and expenses and stuff like that.
If you're talking about things more like -- you know, strategic things, like what's our industry like, or what are our opportunities, or things like that, you're gonna get a lot of that just from personal observation, and the kind of research about your industry that, say, industry analysts would do. Of reading up in trade magazines, or doing searches in public databases, looking on SEC's EDGAR, looking at who the competition is, and stuff like that.
It's a really good question, and if anyone else has any thoughts on it, then -- I might be completely wrong. Or if anyone has better ideas that they want to share... I may not actually be saying anything useful.
- (inaudible from audience)
Yeah. If you want to check out competition and the competition is open source communities, then yeah. Like, that'll be pretty easy to find out by using the technology.
... For discovering new technologies, yeah. Yeah, you know, you can keep your finger on the pulse of things, via whatever the planets are for your community. The RSS aggregators, or, like, Linux Weekly News, or things like that. If you can find a member of that community, usually they can tell you where the good sources would be. And create them. And then you become a trusted person, and then you can scam people! (I don't know why I keep talking about being evil. It's really not the case.)
 Persuading people
When you want to talk to somebody about what your product or idea is going to do, you talk about benefits, not features. You don't say that -- "oh, good. It's dual core." Unless they're nerds and they know what that means. You say, "you will get your work done faster. You won't have to wait."
If you want to convince people to do something, they will do it for one of two reasons: Either because they enjoy doing it for its own sake, or because they can draw a straight line from it to something they care about. Or from not doing it to an outcome they don't want. And this is true whether you're managing up or managing down. I find this is true especially in open source communities, but it's also true, I think, in almost any other community you run into.
So, well, what do suits want? Tom -- Tom Limoncelli, whose name I'm saying wrong -- I gave him this, and he's like, "If that's the only thing they get out of this talk, it's worth it." The hierarchy of what suits want. So if you're writing a proposal, or you're thinking about -- oh, and these slides will be available online later, of course, so you don't have to, like, scribble all of this down.
What do suits want?
- * Directly achieve the mission (such as $)
- * ↑ scarce thing
- * ↓ cost
- * ↑ compliance/control
- * ↑ knowledge
- * Competitive advantage
- * ↑ tech pizzazz
The number one thing is to directly achieve whatever that mission is, right? And in a for-profit company, it's money. At Wikipedia, if I could come up with an initiative that would beam information directly into people's heads, and we wouldn't have to bother with the web, I could get a lot of traction with that. We would have some privacy concerns.
Then the second thing is: Increasing a scarce thing. Like, if you can say, "Oh, we have a bottleneck here on the thing that other people want that we produce. And I can get more of it." Then that's fantastic.
The number three: Reducing cost.
Underneath that is -- "oh, we have to comply with whatever legal restriction." And so on and so on.
And at the very bottom is... "But it's just technically sweet! It's just elegant! It's just the right thing to do. Nobody uses MySQL anymore!" That's not gonna get you what you want.
So, for example, if you say, "Oh, I want to create system monitoring scripts and streamline processes and install and configure new programs on the server, and I need time to do that." And you're asking a boss for time to do that, you know, it's more elegant, or it's just technically the way things should be doing now, it's best practices -- that's actually number five. Or lower. Right?
"This will take us to 99.9% uptime." That might be more like number two. With this level of service, we could create a whole new line of products to sell. That's actually more like number one.
So does that basically make sense? Right. So from an engineer's perspective, it would be nice if managers pandered more to what engineers want, involving technical purity and progress. But, you know, I'm talking more descriptively than prescriptively, of course. I hear about ways to think about, from the manager's perspectives, what are her pain points? What are the bottlenecks? What's costing him opportunities?
- Persuading others: Empathize, Observe, Spin
So to persuade others. Empathize with them. Try to think from their perspective. Observe. Like, if you can't directly ask them, if it would be weird or creepy or otherwise unavailable to actually ask them, "What do you care about? What are you aiming at?" Then just try and observe from their behavior: What do they spend time on? What do they complain about? What do they love?
 Evil list
This is the list you want! This is the evil list. And this is the list you can use, and when you see things like this happening, you can notice.
Ways to deal with a proposed budget cut:
- * cultivate a clientele ahead of time
- * propose a study
- * cut something popular. Example: National parks.
- * warn of dire consequences
- * "you pick!"
- * "we're the experts"
To augment an existing program:
- * round up
- * make fancy presentations
- * sprinkle stuff across the board or in hard-to-detect and obscure categories
- * play the units/numbers game. "We need 5 headcount" → "we need 400 person-hours"
- * talk about backlog and workload
- * say that the accounting system demands foo
To make a new program:
- * say that it's actually old
- * mislabeling
- * get your foot in the door (or, It's So Small) -- pilot project.
- * it'll pay for itself!
- * spend to save
- * crisis
- * Other Agency forced us to do it
- * We Have A Mandate
- * matching the competition
Ways to deal with a proposed budget cut. You cultivate a clientele ahead of time that will fight for you. You know, a lobbying special interest group. You propose a study, to stall. You cut something really popular, like the national parks, so that then there'll be an outcry. You just warn of really dire consequences, in case you cut things. You say to the person who's making you cut, "Well, you pick." So that they'll be blamed, right? And then maybe you'll have some leverage later. And then you say, "Oh, no. We couldn't possibly deal with that. We're the experts." And you sort of do a dominance display, like a peacock with its feathers. You know?
Ways to augment -- (and again, you don't need to write all this down. This will be in the slides.) You just round up on whatever it is you were asking for before. Especially if you can make fancy presentations and sprinkle stuff just across the board, or in hard to detect and obscure categories. You can play sort of a units/numbers game, from last year's to this year's, where you change the way you're counting things and then you get more. You could talk about, like, "Oh, there's so much backlog! There's all this work load we need to take care of." Or you say that the accounting system demands -- and then you just sneak something in. And then here are ways to start a new program under everybody's nose.
Ways to make a new program: You say it's actually old. You know, you just mislabel it. You get your foot in the door. It's so small! With, like, a pilot project, and then by the time next year rolls around, everyone's used to it. Right? You just say, "It'll pay for itself." Or, "You've got to spend to save." You say, "It's a crisis! We just have to do this." And then, again, by the time next year rolls around, you've kind of institutionalized it. You say, you know, "That other agency, that other department, forced us to do it." Or you say, "Oh, well obviously we have a mandate from our customers." Or the public, or something like that. Or you say, "Well, we have to match what the competition is doing." And you try and, like, whip up some inter-whatever rivalry, like, "Sports team. Go. Rah."
(How many of you have seen something like some of those used? Okay. About half the hands go up. All right. Well, Portland is a very nice town. So maybe not much of that goes on. All right.)
- If you are in a big organization, government or corporation, in institutions, you need to work through the layers, lobby, deal with grassroots, rational ignorance, sub-institutions that are insulated from hard economic arguments. Plan your timeline. Get resources.
- People won't say "I disagree," they'll say "there isn't a strategy."
- How to secure funding? and how to present numbers and objectives? set up objectives & performance measures before someone asks how the project is doing.
 Suit-friendly presentations
So suit-friendly presentations. Let's see. How much time do we have? We have, like, 10 minutes left. I can do this in 10 minutes.
- * Fast
How The Tech Works
So you should be fast. You know, you should have an idea -- you'll practice this, right? You'll talk it out with a friend, you'll think it out, and you'll be like, "What are the things I can say in one minute about what I'm proposing, why we have to do this, the top level of how the organization would benefit, and when we have to do it?" Because if you give them a timeline, that helps them make a decision. If you do it fast, that's great.
Don't focus on cost. Talk about investment. Right? Don't start by saying, "I need $20,000." You would say that the return on investment is going to be blah-blah-blah.
And don't talk about how the technology works! Just treat it like a magic bean. They won't understand, and you'll have to oversimplify anyway, and it'll kill you, so just don't talk about how it works. Sorry! Once you actually get it working, then you can write a paper, and people who care will read it, and then you'll be lauded and get to give a talk.
And anticipate their likely reactions, and have little one-liners in response. The same way, like, if someone insults you and then drives away in traffic, you know, like, you think of all these responses -- you can do this. Right? You can think ahead of what might they say, and then think of what you should say back.
You can do this. It'll take a little preparation. So that's why, the first time you come up with an idea about what your organization should do, you don't just go BLURT! Right? You think about it a little bit. How can I actually convince other people? Think from their perspective. Empathize. Observe. Spin.
- What to cover in the first minute of a suit-friendly talk:
- * what I am proposing
- * why we must do this
- * top-level how we will benefit
- * when must we do this?
- Prep your elevator speech: know opening & 3 phrases
- What to cover in the first minute of a suit-friendly talk:
 Q&A about persuading from the outside
- (question from the audience about whether it's sometimes easier or harder to persuade an organization to change when you're a contractor, versus an employee)
I think a lot of this still is the case. I think that when you're a consultant or a contractor, you have a certain kind of external power, where you can be like -- "well, I'm the expert. That's why you hired me." You know? And then you can put that veneer -- like, dominance display on it. And you unfortunately know less about the landscape inside the company. You might know more about outside and less about inside. So you might have to do more reconnaissance on that, in order to make your proposal stick. Does that make sense? Does that kind of answer your question? And, of course, there's a lot more to think about there. Yeah? Real quick?
- As a contractor, I think it's more important to build alliances with those who are on the inside.
Yep. Yep. There you go.
 Lawyers are insurance
Lawyers are insurance. Lawyers are like accountants in this, right? in that they know a lot about this domain, and if you just learn a little bit, it might help you understand them, which is great. Things like: How do you slice up the risk on representations, warranties, covenants, and stuff like that? How do you create a contract with somebody that covers everything that you want to cover, so they don't suddenly say, "Hey, I thought I was staff and not a contractor." And then they sue you for a lot. Because an audit report might cost you $10,000. A legal motion might cost you $50,000.
These are risks you will have to mitigate against. If you are very cautious now about how you deal with, like, data, then it will help you when you eventually expand to the EU. This is the kind of mindset that lawyers have, and being in touch with that will at least help you understand what kind of risk you might be taking on. It's insurance.
- Some legal points to remember:
- * There are four kinds of intellectual property; know the difference.
- * For contracts:
- ** be specific, have a change control method
- **specify payment terms
- ** representations, warranties, covenants, indemnities. how do you slice up the risk?
- * As soon as you are aware there is a reasonable likelihood of a case, you have to try to preserve any info in your control with a bearing on the case.
- How do you create a culture of information hygiene?
- * tech forcing (like a pop-up saying "is this necessary to archive in case of litigation?" & bcc'ing to the archive server)
- * culture (behavior, lead by example, suasion)
- * bureaucratic, rules, regs
- * communications
 Project insurance
Process is also a kind of insurance. Things like actually setting goals. When you set goals for people or suborganizations in a "SMART" way -- who here has run across the acronym SMART? All right. So it's people who have worked in large, soul-killing organizations, right? Anyone want to tell me what SMART stands for?
Specific... Measurable... Achievable... Realistic...
Time-based. You got it. Okay. I'm gonna give you a copy of a science fiction anthology.
- How cool is that?
- He did that smartly.
Exactly. See? It pays to attend business school. And the point is just: Make sure you don't come up with completely unreasonable goals that suck. And then people feel bad, and then you lose momentum, and then they go home and cry. Because no one wants people to cry.
Well, what do managers do all day? Well, what managers are doing is they're doing the insurance. They're doing the preventative maintenance and the infrastructure and the systemic checks on performance and financials. They're aligning and analyzing. They're the early warning system.
I figure managers are like system administrators, but socially instead of technologically. What does a sysadmin do all day? What does a manager do all day? I think they're actually very similar. These are chores that need doing, and if you try and do them in a smart way, instead of trying to overhaul on two axes at once, and be a team lead and an architect, and a coder and a manager all at the same time -- that's not gonna get done. Someone needs to think long-term, and that's what a manager does.
And the insurance portion of this is that you look for problems. You seek out problems. You don't just look for evidence that things are going okay. You check to see whether something is going wrong, and you look out for problems. Ask yourself, "If there were gonna be a problem, how would I see it?" And then you look out for that.
Because most tech projects are 100% late, or they just fail. So if you're above the 50th percentile on that, you're, like, golden.
- Some process tips:
- * Those who start companies often regret not having networked more
- * Don't get attached to any one project or initiative. Emotionally, know when to kill it. Because it's better that you, the sponsor, kill it than someone else.
- * Look for possible things that could fail, but think in a timeframe where you could do something about it.
- * Fly ahead of the plane. how would you know if there were a problem in your org?
- * Weekly meetings: have reports convince me that they're fine.
- Some process tips:
So I'm coming to the conclusion of my talk. This is where you say, "Dude, that's a lot. Like, that's a lot of stuff." And I didn't even cover everything that was in my notes. I didn't cover everything that was in my meganotes that I compiled from two years of notes. The point is requisite variety. Does anyone here actually know from Cybernetics what that term means?
No? Cybernetics had some good stuff in it. Much like the Communist Manifesto. Which is the idea that a well designed system must have a variety of responses, commensurate to the variety of events, stimuli, and situations it will encounter. When you run into a situation at work, within your community, within your open source project, with your bosses, with your colleagues, the answer is not always to write better code. Sometimes the answer is, "Let's set up a weekly meeting." Sometimes it's, "Let's kill this project." Sometimes it's, "Let's apply for a grant." Sometimes it's, "Start a business." Sometimes it's, "Leave this job and go someplace where I'm valued." You as a person, and your organization, needs to have requisite variety, because if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
And one thing that my overly expensive, overly Wall Street-focused Masters of Science and Technology Management did give me was a sense that -- at least there's a lot of tools. And if I forgot exactly how to read this particular financial ratio, I can look it up later. If I forgot exactly what the difference is between a warranty and a covenant, I can look it up later, and there are people out there who can help. And this is open source, right? Diversity of perspectives is helpful.
I have a tiny book list. There's a zillion books about management. These are some ones that came in handy to me. And this will also be available on the web later.
How to Win Friends and Influence People. Dale Carnegie gives you more return on investment than Kernighan and Ritchie's C book, I think. It's a very short read, and it's fantastic. How to Read a Financial Report, by a guy named Tracy, is the little book that helps you understand things like income statements and stuff. And then there's a bunch of other stuff here.
 Book Recommendations
Tiny book list
- How To Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie
- How To Read A Financial Report, John A. Tracy
- Producing Open Source Software, Karl Fogel
- The Psychology of Computer Programming, Gerald M. Weinberg
- The Mythical Man-Month, Fred Brooks
- Dreaming in Code, Scott Rosenberg
- Managing Humans & Rands in Repose (blog), Michael Lopp
- Creating Passionate Users (blog), Kathy Sierra
 Q&A about measuring intangibles
So I'm not completely done, because I don't want it to finish recording at the applause, which is evidently the signal for this recording to stop. But I will say I am grateful, which is like the synonym for the thing that I would say that would stop the recording. And I will ask for questions, because we have five minutes for questions. Hi. You?
- (question about measuring intangible return on investment)
Right. I will repeat the question for future people who listen to this, via -- hopefully Ogg Vorbis, or another open format -- but probably MP3. So, when you are building something where it is kind of unclear what the return itself will be, how do you measure ROI? Like, for, let's say, a marketing site, where you're not trying to bring in $100,000 of donations or direct payment or something like that.
One way to think about that is... Think about risks and opportunities and stuff like that as a chain of what brings people from wherever their state was to whatever you want, and then there's some kind of funnel there. Right? And people drop out at each stage of the funnel. And if you are strengthening and widening one part of it, then you're increasing the total throughput. And so this isn't entirely as made up as it might sound. I realize that. But... Oh, who is that guy who was thinking about the probability that sentient life exists somewhere? Drake equation. Yes, thank you. I knew someone would remember.
So the Drake equation is: if you want to figure out the probability that sentient life exists somewhere in the universe, you multiply -- what's the probability that there's other planets? And that those planets sustain life? And that that life will turn out to be intelligent? And that it will develop a civilization? And that they will eventually communicate with us? And they won't blow themselves up before we get to meet them? Right? Similarly, if you want people to buy your product, what is... You know? Then who are those people? Where are they? What is the probability that they'll get to you? How do you improve the funnel of how they get to the point that they meet you before your company blows itself up from lack of revenue? Kind of like the Drake equation. And so, if you can at least just get some back-of-the-envelope calculation for that, it will help you convince people that you've thought about it.
And there will probably be some kind of yak shaving there with analytics, where you have to develop some basic analytics there, but were probably gonna do that anyway. That is one thought about how to do it.
Another is: If you can just tell a really good story and be really charismatic, and the people you're convincing aren't as much like numberheads, and maybe are volunteering their effort, then you can just convince people by being a demagogue too.
There's basically, in political science, there's this idea that there's three reasons why people follow a leader. One is tradition, like -- "well, that's Mom. Of course you obey your mom." Another is charisma. And I'm talking, like, serious -- like, Jesus, Hitler, Steve Jobs-level charisma. Right? And then the third is legal-rational. "Well, we elected them Debian project leader, and so they've followed the rules, and therefore we're gonna do it that way." Max Weber came up with that. And I'm completely simplifying Max Weber way more than I did Albert O. Hirschman.
But... So you could just become a leader through one of those things, and then people will just do what you say. So that's another option.
Are there any other thoughts? Comments? Questions? Heckles? I guess it's late for heckling. Yeah. What do I have to give out in reward? I have... Yeah, my friend's Brooklyn social media startup sticker. Because I don't have the Wikimedia ones yet. And I have flyers about the fact that Wikimedia is hiring. Yeah. I don't have that much else to give out. I can, like, shake your hand. I guess that's about it. Let me just give one more chance for people to ask a question or give a comment.
Thank you very much.
 Random tips I couldn't fit into my talk
- In government, no more than 10% of your budget should be to service debt.
- * a reasonable debt/equity ratio in private: 70% debt, 30% equity
- In government, no more than 10% of your budget should be to service debt.
- Turnover cost of a wanted employee is 1/3 to twice her/his yearly salary
- * Challenging & stretching & delegating is an employee retention strategy
- * Senior execs get paid more money to manage risk. And the higher up they are, the higher the risk, and the higher the possible reward
- Turnover cost of a wanted employee is 1/3 to twice her/his yearly salary
- cost of capital for a startup:
- * 25% to 30% for a venture deal, 8-12% inside a company
- * WACC of 9% or so is comparable to 30-year govt bonds
- When budgeting:
- * An audit report might cost $10,000.
- * enterprise's value might be 3x revenues
- * taxes might be 35%
- * selling expenses will scale with revenue
- * CEOs care more about revenue than about profit, because revenue is a proxy for number of customers
- Two thirds of IPO firms fail within 5 years. Try to be profitable within 3 years.
- cost of capital for a startup:
 Tweets (what attendees noted)
- vmbrasseur: Standing room only at 'Learn Tech Mgmt in 45 min". @brainwane having to do crowd control to fit them all in. #osb11 #thistimewiththetag
- railsfitz: The purpose of a specification is to get people thinking in the right direction as a group. -- Human H. #osb11
- demew: "I don't know why I keep talking about being evil, it's not really the case" - delightful @brainwane on technical management :-) #osb11
- demew: "This is the evil slide, guys" #osb11
- demew: "Don't talk about how the technology works. Just treat it like a magic bean. They won't understand" #osb11
- demew: "One day you'll get to write a paper explaining it and then you'll be lauded and get to give a talk" #osb11
- lagerratrobe: Nice quote, "Managers are like sys admins for people." #osb11
- demew: "Managers are like system administrators, but socially instead of technologically" #osb11
- demew: "I'm talking about serious, Jesus-Hitler-Steve Jobs style charisma" #osb11
- sheeri: @brainwane "I'm talking Jesus/Hitler/Steve Jobs levels of charisma." #osb11
- DanielZRob: RT @demew: "Who here knows the acronym SMART? It's people who have worked for large, soul-killing organizations, isn't it?" #osb11
- demew: "Who here knows the acronym SMART? It's people who have worked for large, soul-killing organizations, isn't it?" #osb11
- sheeri: @brainwane did a kickass talk "tech management in 45 min"...standing room only! #osb11 @osbridge