10 October 2009

The Long and Winding Road

I'm feeling super mellow. This was written on the plane home tonight (today, this morning, yesterday, whatever it was.) The airline was so cramped I couldn't open my laptop. So it had to be written by hand.

This past week has been exhausting; but, as I fly home from India I’m filled with renewed vigor and enthusiasm for the coming years. The first stage of the Chocolate Factory is nearly accomplished. We can articulate a vision, show how that vision provides significant return on investment, explain a strategy to reach that vision, and have an action plan in place. Finally, after numerous attempts at selling a project idea, we have a plan that is audacious enough to be funded. Soon we enter the execution phase.

The vision and strategy changed dramatically over time. What started as exasperation over our dysfunctional bureaucracy has turned into a project that can both drive more revenue in its first year than many products we currently offer, and it can break apart this monolithic beast of ~1400 people all striving toward one insane schedule. We tapped into a groundswell of frustration across the business. People from almost every discipline felt similarly. Each had their own view of the problem and their own ideas for a solution. In the end, most are convinced and aligned. Some, primarily in marketing and experience design, seem more hemmed in by their narrow view. (As an aside – the business leadership has brought new blood into marketing that is more aligned. In addition, as experience design starts seeing the specific tasks needed for this project they’re coming around and now trying to partner with us.) All of these disciplines contributed so that now we have a broad-based vision and a five year strategy to achieve that final vision. Most importantly, the path along the way can be “productized” to generate surprisingly large incremental revenue.

This trip to India had many goals, some short term tactical goals and some long term strategic goals. While the tactical goals of ensuring our current raft of products ship on time and with quality were important, it is the strategic goals that were the heart of the journey. After getting input and alignment with business and engineering leaders over the past year, what we really needed to accomplish this week was to sell the vision and strategy to the engineering boots on the ground. I think we nailed it.

After our all-hands presentation on Tuesday I saw the mood and tenor for the team change. They had already been tasked with a lot of the specific steps needed to move forward. Now, however, they understood the context of the tasks. Multiple times different individuals came up to me to express a renewed motivation. They had a greater vision for what we could become. They grasped the logic, the cause and effect relationship leading from their day-to-day work to our ultimate business goal of long term shareholder value. They understood the investment we were making in the people and why. And they were happier, much happier, to be able to apply that context to their role in order to more effectively further our strategy. Visible action took place the remainder of the week, from the engineering director on down through senior engineering management, program management, development and testing. There was anxiety for those who saw that their work or skill set wasn’t a perfect fit. There was excitement for those who saw how much more they could contribute. But mostly there was understanding and reaction.

It’s not that everything was displayed simply and beautifully for a glorious new future. Almost everyone , including me, showed a healthy dose of skepticism. What lays before us is a daunting set of tasks. Even when we’ve fully accomplished our goals our work won’t be any easier. The challenges, particularly for the testing teams, will be incredibly hard. We fully expect to stumble occasionally. After we succeed in breaking apart this monolithic CS product process we’ll have the chaos of 150+ teams with much more independence than ever before. It’s frightening just to think about how to coordinate so many people after tearing down the very bureaucracy designed to manage them.

The next steps are to finish the first phase of The Chocolate Factory; sell the ideas to the individual contributors on the US engineering teams and write the next generation document describing the project in detail. Then it’s a simple (hah!) matter of execution. We have lots of challenges to overcome: the ability to succeed at the tasks immediately before us, maintaining funding in a high profit margin company, continuing our commitment through the myriad emergencies that arise, developing the right skill set on the team, my own ability to lead our teams through this upheaval, and – most challenging of all – figuring out how to work with the non-product functions within the company with whom we must partner. It most definitely won’t be easy. But we’re ready, energized and confident.

1 comment:

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