Book – Radical Candor

This book was not quite what I expected. It is a very practical guide on management, and not only management, but a work life in general. The author emphasizes honest but encouraging feedback, and also understanding the human aspect of management.

One of interesting aspects was a definition of “career trajectory,” which can be different for the same person at different parts of his or her life. Fast career trajectory might be desired when the person is striving for promotion, and slow career trajectory might be perfect at time when other aspects of life become more important, such as family or external interests. Each person might react differently to the same event; one new parent might want to spend more time with the child (shifting to slow career trajectory), and another one might strive for career progression as a means to provide for the needs of a growing family.

Another insight was movement of internal employees to roles, which may not be a good fit, even if the person thinks that this highly desired role might be his or her dream job.

  • One successful manager was pursuing a position, which the book author did not think was a good fit, as it required significant political skill set the individual did not have. The manager got the desired position, fell into a political trap soon after that, and was fired eventually from the organization.
  • Another successful manager was moved into a position, which was more analytical than her preference and interest, did not perform well, and later was reassigned to a more suitable role, where she thrived.

“Radical Candor” site has a wealth of the resources on the topic of management and, simply, our work habitat 😉

Book – The Box

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger is a fascinating book. I read a portion of the book as part of a very enlightening Coursera business class, and now listened to the entire volume after joining a company in the industry.

The most insightful part of the story seems to me not the technical complexity of the containerization, but its societal aspect. Though the advantage of containers was obvious, the new approach threatened established interests at first. Later, however, the popularity of the container moved to another extreme – some cities jumped to invest more resources to improve their ports for container ships, but the ships did not always come.

The success of the container required the technology and people to come together at the point where the technology made sense, process generated clear benefits, and the people involved wanted to change their traditional approach. Everything started from the people 🙂

The Book on Account Based Marketing

The book is an interesting journey of discovering ABM. The author came to a realization that targeting only desired potential accounts made sense for the business he tried to grew. The approach also allowed investing into more elaborate marketing efforts, as the target audience was reasonably small.

Some of the most interesting aspects:

  • Creative approach to marketing based on ideas from any part of the organization. A new employee suggested to use a video… in a direct mail. Why not? The campaign was a success.
  • The author promoted a very narrow webinar, which would be interesting only for a particular prospect. The prospect found the topic irresistible, and signed up. The webinar was held for only one person (who did not know about this fact), and eventually lead to a sale.
  • Prioritization… The author emphasized the need for focus and thoughtful prioritization of the target audience to avoid costly distractions. Focus is difficult for startups, which might try to adjust the product to suit one large customer from a different segment. This lack of focus would be a mistake. Product and marketing resources need to be concentrated on a core market.

Book – Measure What Matters

Most people understand the need for objectives and some measurement of success. However, many of us experienced goal-setting exercises in a variety of companies, which, sometimes, made goals even more difficult to understand after they were set.

The book, and a companion site with useful and concise resources, give an excellent guidance on organizational goal setting and measurement of success.

I loved the idea of understandable goals, which could be distilled to the short list hanging in the company’s bathroom. The inspirational stories in the book were encouraging and uplifting; if a tiny startup can use the approach to clarify its direction, everybody can. And – based on the experience of other companies – the process is challenging enough and may not be done right from the first attempt. This is OK. This might be the first objective 🙂

Some simple tests to see if your OKRs are good:
— If you wrote them down in five minutes, they probably aren’t good. Think.
— If your objective doesn’t fit on one line, it probably isn’t crisp enough.
— If your KRs are expressed in team-internal terms (“Launch Foo 4.1”), they probably aren’t good. What matters isn’t the launch, but its impact. Why is Foo 4.1 important? Better: “Launch Foo 4.1 to improve sign-ups by 25 percent.” Or simply: “Improve sign-ups by 25 percent.”
— Use real dates. If every key result happens on the last day of the quarter, you likely don’t have a real plan.
— Make sure your key results are measurable: It must be possible to objectively assign a grade at the end of the quarter. “Improve sign-ups” isn’t a good key result. Better: “Improve daily sign-ups by 25 percent by May 1.”
— Make sure the metrics are unambiguous. If you say “1 million users,” is that all-time users or seven-day actives?
— If there are important activities on your team (or a significant fraction of its effort) that aren’t covered by
OKRs, add more.
— For larger groups, make OKRs hierarchical—have high level ones for the entire team, more detailed ones for subteams. Make sure that the “horizontal” OKRs (projects that need multiple teams to contribute) have supporting key results in each subteam.

OKRs and KPIs

OKRs have a soul and directionality to them. Your objective is what you want to accomplish. Your key results are how you get there. Since KPIs are measures, they make great key results. For example, a museum collects data on the number of visitors and number of donors and those serve as some of its KPIs. This museum in particular has an objective to: make the museum more relevant to the community. A good pair of key results would be: grow number of monthly visitors from the local area 30% by next quarter and host 2 community events focused on attracting local donors. Both KRs happen to incorporate the museum’s KPIs.

There is no competition, KPIs and OKRs complement each other. They both have their place in a wellfunctioning organization.

Book – This is Marketing

seth.pngSeth Godin summarizes many known (and loved) marketing concepts in his new book.  It is difficult to say which one of his books is my favorite, and a couple of books might be needed to make sure a new idea is firmly planted in my understanding.

The latest illustration of frequency concept is very vivid: don’t change your ads when you are tired of them, don’t change your ads when your coworkers are tired of them, don’t change your ads when your friends are tired of them, change your ads when your accountant is tired of them.

The most interesting (and new for me) idea in the book is Minimum Viable Market or a minimum viable audience. As Minimum Viable Product is a well-known concept, Minimum Viable Market should probably be considered at the same time.

Stake out the smallest market you can imagine. The smallest market that can sustain you, the smallest market you can adequately serve. This goes against everything you learned in capitalism school, but in fact, it’s the simplest way to matter.

When you have your eyes firmly focused on the minimum viable audience, you will double down on all the changes you seek to make. Your quality, your story and your impact will all get better.

And then, ironically enough, the word will spread.

Book – The DevOps Handbook

devops.pngTrying to understand better the concept of DevOps, I picked up the DevOps Handbook with the hope that my marketing curiosity would not be lost in a very technical text.  I was lucky.  The book is technical enough to keep the concepts real, but the main idea is communicated very clearly for a non-technical reader (or, in my case, listener).

DevOps is not a passing fad; it is a new way of thinking about software development, which is beneficial for companies’ bottom line and also personal lives of their employees.  DevOps is closer related to “process” than “code,” but anything touching the code needs to fit seamlessly into the process.

The book explains “shift left” known in the cybersecurity industry, which incorporates security earlier in the development cycle to speed up the creation of applications with “built-in” security thinking.

The book helps a marketer to appreciate the complexity and challenges of his target audience, and, hopefully, understand this audience a little better.

Book – HBR’s 10 Must-Reads 2019

hbr.pngHBR’s 10 Must-Reads seem to be part of holidays; it is thoughtful and entertaining.  The book format encourages to read not only articles which catch attention but also ones that seem less interesting and could be skipped on the website.  Very often, those “less interesting” articles happen to be the most insightful.

This year a couple of unexpected articles were particularly eye-opening (from my perspective 🙂 ).

Artificial Intelligence for the Real World puts in perspective the excitement generated around AI.  AI might be debated and discussed, but the practical applications may not yet be defined, or practical enough, or rather limited (based on my observation).  From another side, futurists are expecting AI to make a business impact somewhat similar to electricity.  As at one point of human history many known products became “electric,” many know products and processes are expected to become “smart” in the near future.  The article shows a practical route to the future “smart” world.

The Problem

Cognitive tecnologies are increasingly being used to solve business proglems, but many of the most ambitious AI projects encounter setbacks or fail.

The Approach

Companies should take an incremental rather than a transformative approach and focus on augmenting rather than replacing human capabilities.

Three types of AI:

  • Robotics process automation
    • “RPA is more advanced than earlier business-process automation tools, because the “robots” (that is, code on a server) act like a human inputting and consuming information from multiple IT systems.”
  • Cognitive insight
    • “This type of projects uses algorithms to detect patterns in vast volumes of data and interpret their meaning.”
  • Cognitive engagement
    • “Projects that engage employees and customers using natural language processing chatbots, intelligent agents, and machine learning.”

Interesting: based on the article, we are more likely to get an AI help in doing our jobs rather than to be replaced by AI, which is “smart enough” to do our jobs completely.

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Why Do We Undervalue Competent Management?  explains the value of competent management for the organization and difficulties of copying this seemingly obvious approach.

Interesting: managers overestimate the quality of management in their companies.

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Quality of management also varies across – and within – countries.  Below image represents US (blue) in comparison to worldwide (grey).

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Wouldn’t it be nice to work for a company located on the right side of the chart?  🙂