Image courtesy of rengawman.wordpress.com
I like my ducks in a row. Oh yes .. I do indeed. Every time my ducks get out of alignment I react, to some extent, poorly. This is particularly true as I help build companies through technology. Technology is just a business tool and even though it may take center stage as the enabler of a business, it is not the business itself. But that is no excuse to bypass technology best practices.
A word on best practices:
Most people take best practices as a recipe; as a cookbook; as a road to follow. To me best practices is a set of tools that I can use to accomplish particular tasks. There is no particular guide to the practices but the practices themselves as I adapt them to my needs. The same goes for development and project management methodologies. I only adhere to my own. Each problem is different and requires adaptations. It is ridiculous to think that one size can fit all; especially when each task is in the context of varied corporate cultures, projects and business needs.
Back to my ducks …
The whole thing starts with picking the first duck and placing it at the beginning. Then I pick another duck and I scurry to some supposed end and place the “last” duck there. This duck represents where the company may be in a distant future. Call it 5 to 10 years out. It is 100% my conjecture and based on my personal vision of where the business will be in “a period of time”. I based this vision on discussions I have with other stake holders. Will it go there? Who knows. I just like to think of the possibilities and have something to aim at. Does it matter if it does or not? Not at all. The company will experience changes based on the market. The business will go where the market takes it.
Third, I once again scurry around looking for another duck – the right one too – and I place it following the first duck. I turn around, look at the “last” duck and line the first with the second with the last.
It is time for another duck. I rush to find yet another duck, rush to the front and place it, all neatly lined up with the first, second and “last” duck. I go find another duck and I go back to the fourth position. I look back to the “last” duck, I look at the row in front; I look back just to make sure … and … the “last” duck is gone. I mean, nowhere to be found. This is not a real duck; it is my duck. How can it have flown away? Or walked?
I drop the duck in my hand somewhere in position and run back to find the last duck. I look around … I look around … I look around and I finally find it. There it is. But it is not where it is supposed to be. I pick it up and try to figure out where it really belongs. Undoubtably, since it moved, it does not go back to its original place. I figure out its new placement, most likely based on changed assumptions and market forces. And, I have to go to the front and quickly rearrange all the other ducks and align them with the “last” duck. This process happens again and again.
It does not bother me that the “last” duck moved – as a matter of fact I assumed from the beginning that it WILL move; what truly bothers me is that nobody told me before it got moved and then I am expected to auto-magically aligned the other ducks. If the duck had gone “quack quack”, then by just listening I could have quickly rearrange the other ducks on the fly. But these ducks are quiet. They do not make a peep, especially as they are being moved. Or maybe they are being forced to move pointed by a gun under the threat of death if they “quack” ? 😉
I see building companies very much as a process of putting ducks in a row. True, they do not need to be in a perfect line, but the row should have no gaps. The gaps are potential black holes that can drag the whole business into oblivion. Let’s be clear: gaps does not mean not having answers to all the questions. Many of the business or technology questions are answered as we lay down the ducks. Gaps means skipping the full understanding of basic elements in the business. In manufacturing it can mean skipping quality in the automation. In software development, not respecting a project plan. In business development, not having an out in a business relationship. In business in general, not having a solid strategy and not continually contesting it, revising it and analyzing potential risks factors.
Often I am asked “how can you know where the business will be?” As I stated above, I do not know. But I do imagine what the possibilities can be. It is not that hard to look up and try to take a leap of imagination and visualize where the business can be in 3, 5 or even 10 year. It is a dream. It is pure imagination. It is not real. It is a VISION. It is also a goal to aim for and a way to reverse engineer a road-map. Will the business end up there? Most likely not. Most likely it will take detours, it will change and morph, it will reinvent itself. It will struggle to survive (not necessarily in financial terms.) The market dictates where a business goes. And my ducks are witnesses to the detours and changes.
Regardless of the market, the vision needs to be there at the beginning. And the vision needs to adapt to the market. A business starts with imagining an idea. It continues with the fantasy of success. And follows the excitement of victory. In other words: THE VISION. Not vision as in a corporate statement – The Vision and Mission, those are important and necessary because they are internal call to arms and good external communications tools. But the vision as a quest to conquer some uncharted land or defeat some mortal enemy. Will the vision change? Absolutely. The change is what keeps things interesting.
I am a technologist and see technology as a business process, not as an esoteric pursuit of technicality. Indeed, the better the technical solution I come up with, the better I feel and I always strive to produce great technology including novel work when possible; however, as a function of creating value for the company and not for technology sake. I very strongly believe that in the end, if the technology does not answer the business need, for as good and revolutionary it may be, it is worthless.
My ducks, in the end, are just steps in a process to lead an important part of the business to success. Technology is an equal partner to all of the business units. It is normally considered a cost center, but it really is a revenue generator and through automation and operational efficiencies, a direct profit center.