Hala-ween Giveaway!

It's Halloween! (A.k.a Halaween, if you live in my world.)

A perfect opportunity to give stuff away. Or, in other words, give back to the entrepreneurial and tech communities that I so love. (And since we're on the Hala theme, I'm calling it Hala-back Days.)

This year, I'm giving back by giving away my time. 

Yes! It's true!

For the first 3 people to respond by filling in the information below, I will spend up to 30 minutes talking to you about your (or your team, or company's) current challenges and some possible solutions.

  1. Product Development: (Product roadmapping, planning, effective execution).
  2. Agile: Knowledge of or Training in Agile methodologies at different levels in your organization. 
  3. Lean Startup for YOU: Implementing a Lean Startup approach in the context of your company/business/team.
  4. Analytics & Metrics: What analytics should you be tracking so you're getting the right insights and making effective business decisions?
Name *

Are You a Startup-Adrenaline-Junkie?

Photo credit: My friend Jonathan House, avid skydiver and Agilist. 

I just got back from a meeting at a local entrepreneurship mentoring group where I totally got my fill of startup adrenaline rush.

I loved it.

My name is Hala, and I'm a startup adrenaline junkie.

Let me back up a little.

I was invited to participate this week in some project review sessions for some local Salt Lake City startups. These startups represent the current cohort of entrepreneurs being mentored by a group called Foundry SLC. 

The Foundry was established a few years ago here in Utah, and has helped some companies achieve amazing growth. The Foundry's model is being emulated by universities and other groups across the country and even internationally. 

As part of the project reviews, mentors and advisors listen to the entrepreneurs present their company ideas, including the problem they are trying to solve, the market they are solving it for, and why they think they can solve it. 

Our job as mentors and advisors is to provide constructive criticism. What that translates to is coming in and poking holes through the proposed solution, the proposed business model, and even the assumed target market. This is done only with the best of intentions: helping these smart, driven entrepreneurs focus on the most important questions they need to answer NOW.

It is So. Fun. 

As you can imagine, I may have been more than a little giddy to have had the opportunity to give guidance and help out with the reviews. 

Afterwards, I walked out into the co-working space and saw others brainstorming, collaborating, networking. I thought to myself how much I loved that type of environment. I started to fantasize about spending late nights working downtown in shared spaces with smart people, where we would collaborate to the sounds of good music, and the promise of good food just down the street. 

I let myself dream for a few minutes, then I came back to earth. 

Brainstorming, "bouncing ideas around", working together, and collaborating with smart people in cool spaces are great ways to re-energize and get that startup adrenaline rush we all love. But when you're trying to make progress, one of the key things you have to learn is balance. 

Figure out how to get energy boosts from connecting with your local entrepreneurial community in ways that don't hinder your own progress. 

For me, that translates to treating participation in local entrepreneurship events as dessert; a treat that I consume in controlled doses and at the right time. (But it's a treat that I'll definitely still consume, hopefully for years to come.)
You might be better than I am at this, but I know that I have to watch myself so that I don't replace my main meals with the yummy, instant gratification of dessert. 

Does this resonate with you at all? Does it remind you of someone who might need to lay off of the startup-adrenaline, and focus on finishing something they started? Click "Share" below and spread the love!

Let's Solve the "We found an issue and can't deliver on time" Problem

You want to know about risk early on in your projects and product development.

You really don't want to be surprised with showstopper issues that show up as you near your launch date.

You mostly want to avoid losing money on project delays, costly fixes and workarounds, or even having to start from scratch.

So then why do you continue to face scenarios where the biggest risks, issues, dependencies, and even requirements frequently get pushed much later in your development cycle than they should?

Problem: Procrastination

There's a lot of fascinating science around why people procrastinate.
As it turns out, one of the main reasons is that humans tend to avoid tasks that are hard or seem difficult when they fear failure

When fear of failure is combined with environments where it's treated as The Worst Thing Ever (like when we give failure very bad consequences like demotions, getting fired, or even just laying blame), people will naturally put off those risky/ uncertain/ daunting tasks for as long as possible.

And then everyone's in trouble.

What You Can Do TODAY (Hint: It Involves Looking in The Mirror)

Here are 3 steps you can start implementing today to begin seeing improvements (Yes, the solution starts with you!): 

1) Focus on Business Value:
By this, I mean stop looking for reports that show you % of requirements "completed".
Instead, start looking for tangible value that's incrementally being build for your end-customer. 

2) Allow for (or be more tolerant of) Failure:
Create an environment where failure is acceptable, ESPECIALLY in the early stages of a project or product development. 

Warning: Don't just pretend that you're ok with failure. That's even worse than being intolerant of failure but being open about it. 

Set systems and boundaries for failure, so that it happens early, and always has clear learnings associated with it.

3) Timeboxing
Timeboxing is probably one of my favorite things ever. And it should be one of yours, too.

Give a smart, resourceful team like yours a challenge, such as "Let's figure out how to get XYZ Company's API working with our software solution by doing a minimal proof of concept for the next [week/ 2 weeks/ etc.]"

If it doesn't work, you'll know at the end of that timebox that you need a new strategy. Right then. Not two weeks before launching your huge project. 

THAT is invaluable.

Long-Term: A New Approach

Your company or team culture is a critical component of how empowered people feel to communicate and attack challenges early on. 

Culture issues are exacerbated when your process does not lend itself to communication, collaboration, and transparency. 

One way to address these issues is to implement a more agile approach in your team or organization.* 

Agile approaches and methodologies have a knack for showing us what we need to improve on in our organizations, and if we listen carefully, we can actually fix the issues that hold our teams back.

I've personally seen the transformative power of bringing in an agile approach to organizations that had major issues with delivery, communication, and collaboration, and the results can be mind-blowing.
People who never spoke to one another because they worked in different departments were now part of a team. Issues were found and figured out collaboratively, and costs were avoided (or at least identified) much earlier on. 
Even if you aren't ready to implement a specific agile methodology in your organization, there are things you can do to make incremental, meaningful improvements. (Have questions? Contact me and I would be more than happy to talk to you about some of your concerns and potential solutions.)

* Implementing an agile approach is not a silver bullet, nor is it the only way to realize improvements in your organization. It is, however, one of my favorite ways, since I've seen the results first-hand. (And they can be pretty cool.)

How to Start Tracking the Right Metrics and Get Results

This Saturday, I gave a talk at an event organized by one of my favorite communities: Utah Geek Events. If you read announcement #3 in my last post, you know my talk was titled "Be a Data Hero and Drive Business Results". 

After having made a number of the analytics mistakes I spoke about in the session, I knew I had to find a better way.
So I did.
Here's what I learned..

Dashboards - Don't Let Them Fool You

While dashboards can be a good tool to give us a quick glance at what seems to be going on with our business/product, they can also be dangerous when used as a crutch. 

Simply tracking metrics and coming up with a pretty, colorful dashboard doesn't mean you're tracking the right metrics (or tracking them for the right reasons). 
More importantly, if you aren't evolving from data reporting to data analysis**, where the meaning of the metrics and specific actions are provided along with the data, then you aren't utilizing the wealth of information you have available to you. 

Don't let the fact that you (or someone in your organization) puts together a dashboard fool you into thinking you're "data-driven".

Choose The Right Metrics

Right now you might be thinking "Ok, but how do I choose the right metrics to track?"
I'm glad you asked. Here are some guidelines:

  1. What is THE most important metric for your business/product right now?
    This is your One Metric That Matters*.
    Your whole company or team should focus on this metric, and it should be displayed for everyone to see.
  2. Your business model and stage of growth should be taken into account when selecting the other metrics you should be tracking. 
    - SaaS companies will probably care about different metrics than a mobile app would care about.
    - A company still validating that there is a market for their product should track different metrics than a company scaling their validated product and market.
  3. Most importantly, the metrics you track and analyze should be able to change the way you behave. 
    For example, if you agree that you will kill Feature X if less than 20% of your users use it over the next 4 weeks, then there is a good business reason to track the usage of Feature X. 

What Analytics Challenge Do You Have?

Think for a minute about the current state of analytics and metrics in your company or team. If you're brave, answer the Qs in the comments section below, and we can have a discussion. 

  • Do you track metrics?
  • Do you have a good reason to track those metrics specifically, or are they just the ones that come standard with the analytics tool your company decided to integrate?
  • If you are tracking metrics, are you reviewing them regularly?
    (It is so sad to see companies pay money for an analytics tool and then just never look at the data the tool provides them with.)
  • Do you know what your One most important and critical metric is? Can you identify it today?
  • What is your biggest challenge or concern when it comes to your metrics and analytics?

* Please read Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster. Or if you want, I can come tell you about it. 
** Also please check Avinash Kaushik's blog and books, including Web Analytics 2.0, which heavily inspired my talk. 

Launch things! New halasaleh.com, 27Sprints, & Big Mountain Data Conference

A few things to announce today, and it feels really good to be able to share. 

  1. The website (www.halasaleh.com) is undergoing a major overhaul, and yes, there will be new blog posts!
  2. I am launching my new company, 27Sprints.
    My focus will be to use lean startup and agile product development concepts to help companies and entrepreneurs (you know how I love 'em) strategize, plan, and deliver successful products.
    Since I also have project and product management experience, and am passionate about agile, I will also help implement and execute product delivery, and work with my faves: development teams.
  3. I am speaking tomorrow at the Utah Big Mountain Data and SQL Saturday conference, which is organized by the amazing Utah Geek Events team. My talk is titled "Be a Data Hero and Drive Business Results".

    Synopsis: "Companies need data to help them determine what's wo rking, what isn't working, and where they need to be spending their money (or not). A lot of companies today are starting to understand that data is a key component (although not the only component) for delivering successful products.

    However, there are still gaps between the data that business executives think is relevant, the data that is actually relevant, and the decisions that are made based on the interpretation of the data. 

    In this session we will talk about how you can be the voice of reason, and how you can potentially redirect company strategy based on key metrics and user behavioral data. Ultimately, you could drive business success by taking a leadership role in data delivery,analysis, and communication."
An image from one of my slides. 

An image from one of my slides. 

You're welcome. 

More announcements to come (and blog posts!) Stay tuned, have a good night, and I'll see you at the conference.

Project Leadership & Entrepreneurship

This week, I had the amazing privilege of being the guest on the weekly #PMChat (Project Management Chat) Twitter discussion.

I can't begin to describe how much fun I had, answering questions, debating, and engaging in an intellectual tweet-dance!

The topic of this week's #PMChat was one I recently wrote a guest blog post about on Robert Kelly's blog, titled "5 Ways a Project Leader is Like an Entrepreneur".

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Mindshift: Stop Doing "Whatever It Takes"

I used to go into job interviews with the phrase "I'll do Whatever It Takes to Get It Done" emblazoned on my forehead.

I used to write documents nobody would ever read, create status reports nobody cared about, and schedule so many meetings that people didn't even bother to respond to the invites anymore. 

Even worse, I expected my project teams to work on and deliver "project artifacts" that were redundant, or clearly unnecessary, because someone else asked for them.

I did (and expected others to do) "Whatever It Takes", which translated into doing everything and anything requested, without questioning the logic behind the requests.

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