Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Great companies have great marketing... does your team?

Everyone wants to get ahead, correct?  What better way than to promote yourself?  That depends on your lens  or perspective.  I'm from a blue-collar family, where humility is regarded as a positive value... and well boasting... is usually reserved for fishermen and hunters.  Those that do, let their actions speak... and those that can't... well... spend more time speaking than doing.

Does it always work, probably not... there are times when we each need to stretch outside your comfort zone.   I've always envisioned the role of a good manager as one that promoted the efforts of their team, and gave recognition to where it was most earned, by those that do the work.  I'd prefer to market team successes than any individual accomplishments.  The reality is that any success of the team are a result of the efforts of the team... and any failures... well... often they are a failure of leadership.  I'll have to do a future post on what is leadership... it's not management... leadership is painting the target on the wall and getting people to follow you... management is controlling how we get to the destination..

So, back to the question at hand... what is marketing... and why is it important in technology for companies that do internal  IT?  It's a question that most people ask themselves.  For that answer, let's discuss what marketing is not...
  1. It's not overstating what you've done, what you can do, or what you're capable of doing.
  2. It's not committing to something you can't deliver, are incapable of delivering, and have no plans to deliver.
  3. It's not lying, stretching, or stating things that cannot be achieved, or trying to get a foot in the door when you hope that like a tick, you can't be pulled once you're hooked in and get some blood.

What is marketing?  It's a necessary skill that you need to learn in order to survive.  Just because you're an internal resource doesn't mean that you should not be prepared to compete with other teams or external organizations for projects.  It's important to be prepared to provide a plan to get and service a new customer, or to maintain an old customer.  There's this small thing that's been happening in IT... it's called outsourcing.  There's always someone smarter that can do things better... if it's not you... it will be someone else.

Case and point... see the cartoon below... it was developed using tools from ToonDo.com, and was delivered as an icebreaker at a recent meeting.  It was an overwhelming success... it helped demonstrate that we had some basic sense of what their challenges, goals and objectives were for a project in a context that was understandable... and important to our customers.

Connecting with your customer!
We've made significant efforts moving from older technology to a new ASP.NET stack adopting object oriented technology, implementing user controls that could inherit properties from their parents when dragged onto a form... and that handled their own methods to update the associated data.  My team had also abstracted the database into business objects as well.  This new effort included a dynamic workflow engine that included versioning to support future workflow changes that may need to be introduced... and was designed to be able to match workflows at different hierarchical levels of granularity.  We also heavily adopted templates, environment variables, and other "soft" ways to update the application without changing code.

Our partners are going through some major changes, and want to evaluate other solutions... partially because one of our highly adopted systems was written almost ten years ago... and doesn't have the flexibility of the new architecture.  If we want to be at the table and in the discussion, we need to ensure that our customer is judging us on our current projects, not one that is a legacy project.

Through demonstrations, and connecting with them on a business level, we've allowed our new solution to continue forward in the evaluation process.  Will it be chosen?  I don't know... that will really be a business decision.  However, it should be a decision based on an equal footing... not one that is from lopsided from a lack of marketing on our side.  Making this assumption, in my opinion... would be nothing more than a significant miscalculation.

The moral of the story... don't become a dinosaur, learn, innovate, and continue to compete.  Don't become stagnant in your technology, or complacent... and for the sake of your projects.. sometimes all you need to do is guide.. and then get out of the way!  If you focus on recruiting great people, develop them, and make sure they are recognized... they will want to succeed... have ownership... and a sense of pride.  The will develop great products... sometimes it's your role to ensure they have the knowledge, skills, and tools they need... remove any obstacles, and let them succeed!  Guide the project... there's nothing that kills a project quicker than scope creep...   

Don't let the below be said of you... for everything you add to a project, look for something of equal weight to remove, or extend the timeline immediately... you should NEVER hear....WHAAAATTTTT?!?! YOU'RE GOING TO BE A YEAR LATE?!?!? AND YOU BLAME IT ON ME CHANGING SCOPE!?!? YOU ARE INCOMPETENT... YOU DIDN'T CAPTURE THE CORE REQUIREMENTS IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!...