A Return to Free Software Friday

May 10th, 2013 Dave 8 comments

So it’s been a good long while, but I’m back. This is a tough industry for continuity. The breakneck speed of innovation in the industry keeps us all with our hands full all of the time. I have some unfinished business here so I better get on with it.

Small businesses and start-ups have been on my mind a lot lately. I have been consulting for many of them during this long hiatus so I wanted to point out a few things that I have seen work very well out there in the real world where people are trying to grow their businesses.

 

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I started using this app about three years ago to keep track of several projects I was working on. It was my first real exposure to Kanban and it just made so much sense to me, that it changed the way I worked almost without conscious effort.

I know that many people really love Trello, but LeanKit’s backlog feature and analytics feature are incredibly useful for the way that I work and I never really was able to get Trello to do what I wanted.

I have seen businesses in almost every industry realize huge benefits from adopting this approach to productivity.  It’s free for 10 boards and up to 25 users.  You really can’t beat it.

 

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I’ve been questing for a replacement for Quickbooks for YEARS! I’ve come close a few times (the now defunct Intuit Billing Manager for example), but there always seems to be something missing.  I came across Wave Accounting recently and it seems to be the real deal. 

It has a full General Ledger system in addition to Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Expense tracking, and pretty decent reporting.  This is a seriously full featured system and it’s free. The ad-supported kind of free, that is.  The ads DO seem to be relevant to small business, though.

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Free Software Friday

June 24th, 2011 Dave 1 comment

As you might imagine, I get asked about computer problems a lot.  The conversation usually runs like this:  “My computer’s been running slower and slower over the last few months, and now it won’t even connect to the internet anymore.  Every time it starts up I get these screens popping up and they won’t go away.  Do I just need to buy a new computer or what?”

If this sounds like a question that you might ask, then fear not.  Your computer is most likely just suffering from virus and/or spyware issues and 80% of the time, the free software that I’m going to tell you about will fix you right up. 

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MalwareBytes Anti-Malware Free

This is a great application.  The free version will scan your system and find the vast majority of problems.  It’s not going to proactively look for and warn of potential threats, but it’s a great tool to uncover and correct problems that you suspect may be causing problems.  Just run a quick scan and it pretty much does the rest.

 

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Microsoft Security Essentials

This free tool from Microsoft is actually worth paying for.  It actively runs in the background and scans files as you work.  You can even use it for free in businesses with less than 10 computers.  You can download it from the link above or it will also show up in Windows Update as an optional update.

Both of these tools are simple to install and very easy to run.  If your computer is giving you any problems at all, this is a great place to start.

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Part 2–Integrating the Team

June 20th, 2011 Dave 2 comments

This is going to be another long post.  I’ve had this and other ideas rattling around in my head for several years now, so I have a lot of ground to cover.  If you’re just stopping in, you may want to check out Part 1 of this series and maybe the preamble too.

A while back, I was at a conference and the speaker referred to a management theory put forward by a psychologist named Frederick Herzberg in the 50s and 60s.  His premise (called Two Factory Theory) is that in order to motivate people, an organization must consider both job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction and that the two factors are independent of each other.

In Hezberg’s words:

“The factors that lead to job satisfaction (and motivation) are separate and distinct from the factors that lead to job dissatisfaction.  These two feelings are not opposites of each other.  The opposite of job satisfaction is not job dissatisfaction, but, rather no job satisfaction; and similarly, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction but no job dissatisfaction.”

As I was sitting in the conference, my mind was blown by this concept.  After doing some more reading, it started to really mesh with my experiences and even some things that I hadn’t even consciously considered. 

I had always believed that the best developers were not the ones that insisted on the highest salaries and that the best administrators and engineers were not the ones looking for the most solid retirement plan or health insurance.  The best folks that I have ever worked with are the ones that are looking for more than just a salary, a title, a name on a resume. 

So, if Herzberg was right (you already know my answer to that), then an organization must consider the following important factors:

  1. How Can We Eliminate Job Dissatisfaction? 
    I think of these things as extrinsic factors.  Things like management style, company culture, amount of self determination, status etc.  I don’t believe that there is a single utopian ideal of this.  One person’s work paradise could potentially be another person’s nightmare. 

    Certainly some of the factors can just be taken off the table.  Salary is one of them.  If you believe that you can’t afford to pay a competitive salary for technology employees, then you need to re-think your strategy.  I’m not talking about shoveling money out the door, but if technology is a key part of your business, you must pay your people enough to support their families.  If you disregard this advice, you will most definitely make up the difference paying for turnover.

    Think about your culture and how it might affect technology employees.  Is it conducive to this type of work?  Can your people have silence when they need it?  Can they meet together when they need to?  Do they have the tools they need to be as effective as they possibly can be?  It is the job of the team’s leader/manager/chieftain to facilitate, enable and block for the team as needed.  They will see every day how hard you are working for them and how committed you are to making them succeed and will absolutely reciprocate.

  2. How Can We Maximize Job Satisfaction?
    What does a technology worker consider satisfying?  I read a very funny (funny because it’s true) post titled “How to Keep Crappy Programmers”.  Most of the points he makes are extrinsic factors, but the last one is Make Them Build Crappy Software.  Wanting to build something they can be proud of is a very intrinsic motivation; one that is shared by every single technology employee I have ever worked with. 

    Technology people want to build great systems.  Why would you invest so much in them and then task them with anything less?  From a hard-boiled ROI standpoint, it makes no sense whatsoever.  (For the record, so do the following:  not buying them decent equipment, not giving them at least dual monitors, and filtering their internet access.)

  3. How Much Value Does the Team Produce?
    A technology team costs a business a certain amount of money.  Think of it monthly, annually, or whatever.  You need to know what that number is at all times.  Make sure you factor in salaries, benefits, capital and operating expenses relating to all of the things we’ve talked about so far.  (Those second monitors aren’t free, you know.) 

    Armed with that number, you must insure that whatever your team is working on produces more than that amount of value somewhere in the chain.  Either reducing costs through efficiencies or directly increasing revenues, you can take your pick, but if you fail at this point, it won’t matter how great of a team you put together or how well you motivated them.

I hope this has given you some food for thought and I look forward to your comments.  Next up, we’ll discuss Strategy and Support of your team.

Categories: Business, Uncategorized Tags:

Free Software Friday

June 17th, 2011 Dave 4 comments

I’ve known about IrFanView for years, but I always thought that it was just another image viewer app.  Little more than the built in windows image viewer.  I was WAY off! 

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This sweet little app is a swiss army knife of basic image editing, audio and video playback and a whole lot more.  It will do screen captures of all kinds (even on a timed basis – thanks Jared!), slide show of a directory of images, and batch file conversion and renaming. 

I thought the “Panaorama Image” feature was particularly cool.  You point the app at a series of images and it will stitch them together into a single view.  All this and it can capture images from a scanner too!  Very cool.

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Part 1 – Finding The Right People

June 13th, 2011 Dave No comments

This is the first (actual) post in a series that I first mentioned a LONG time ago.  I even posted some assumptions that would go along with the rest of these posts.  The idea was (and is) to lay out some specific steps that can be taken to build and keep a great technology team, get that team aligned with what the business needs, and measure success along the way.  Sounds fun, right?

There’s a game called Wii Play which has a mini-game called Find the Mii.  The point of the game is to endlessly pick the right person out of a crowd according to ever-changing criteria.  Whoever finds the right character first, scores points.  It’s a low impact game that my kids really like to play. 

I am not such a fan.  Staring at monitors for the better part of 15 years has not been very kind to my eyes, so I kind of suck at seeing some of the fine details that distinguish the creepy little Mii guys.  Not only that but my brain seems to be much better at retaining the thing we were looking for in the last round as opposed to the round we’re currently playing.  My 11 year old daughter owns me at this game every time, it’s embarrassing.

Finding the right people for your technology team is a lot like this game.  The selection criteria changes because of corporate and industry shifts, it becomes hard to differentiate the candidates after just a few interviews, and you’re constantly racing against the clock.  So, here are my steps to finding the top notch people without the constant urge to throw the Wii Remote through the nearest plate glass window.

Know What You’re Looking For

Logical, right.  You’d be surprised at how many companies write up a 1 paragraph job responsibilities blurb and call it good.  I’m not saying that you need to write volumes, but you should have a VERY clear idea of what you need this (let’s be honest) very expensive person to do for your team.  Take the time to develop a list of Evaluation Criteria.

Within all of the disciplines of IT, the same rule holds true.  It is far easier (you business types can read:  cheaper) to change something on a whiteboard than it is after implementation.  In hiring someone, the same is true.  Figure it out before you even start looking at resumes.  What does the ideal developer look like for your team?  Is it a C# guy knows everything there is to know about the .NET framework with a little SQL thrown in?  Or how about a jQuery person who has Fine Arts training?  How about the analyst that you need on this project?  What types of businesses have they worked for in the past? 

Once you get a wish list going, don’t forget to add in the more intangible things like what type of personality would mesh well with the rest of the team, what kind of peripheral interests might be of interest to your longer term plans, and so forth.

Above all, make sure you absolutely define in black and white what this person NEEDS to contribute to the success of the team and the success of the business.  Don’t get bogged down in HR-speak or technical talk, either.  I think it needs to be no more than a few sentences and drop-dead easy to understand.  (This will come in handy when you go to get the position approved, trust me.) Here’s a sample:

We need to add a new IT administrator to our team to reduce the average time to resolve a help desk issue, provide backup for emergencies and outages on nights and weekends to provide the highest possible uptime, and to take charge of server patching and upgrading to better secure and stabilize our network. 

Don’t forget to add in the benefits to the business.  How do we hope this new person’s contribution will be seen through the eyes of the rest of the company?  Once you have your Evaluation Criteria, you’ll be in good shape to go shopping!

Participate in the Community

So none of these steps are going to be easy.  They require time and effort and genuine interest on your part.  As far as time and effort go, this one is the big one.  You must get involved with the community, possibly even more than one.  Finding the best people is all about relationships.  The best way that I have ever seen to form lasting and meaningful relationships is through Service.

You can’t fake this one.  You can’t just show up for the meeting, eat the pizza and hand out your business cards.  Generally, the best people in tech out there want to give back to their communities.  They want to be thought-leaders and share their experience and insight with others.  What better way to get to know them than by supporting the forums that enable them to do it? 

If your company won’t support you doing this kind of thing, then volunteer on your own time.  If you truly want to seek out (and eventually employ) the best people possible, you’re going to have to step up.  This type of service will come back to you in countless ways.  Trust me, you’ll be amazed.

Once you’re there, make sure you take the time to actually connect with people.  Everyone out there has something fascinating about them, you just have to listen attentively and sooner or later you will find out what it is.  Ask them about people they’ve worked with, projects they’ve been involved with and what they thought about them.  By paying attention to the things they liked and disliked about former teams and companies, you can learn a lifetime of lessons to apply to your own team.

Keep a List

You know what you’re looking for.  You have put in the time by volunteering and supporting the communities that you’re targeting.  Don’t waste all of this effort by not keeping track of people that you’d like to work with.  Even if you know they’re not looking, keep your Missionary List up to date.

LinkedIn is a great tool to support this.  Not only can you keep up with where all of your top choices are working now, you can check out all of the places they’ve ever worked.  This can be invaluable when interviewing people that you don’t know, but may have worked with one of them.  Remember that those top people generally try to pass along the things they’ve learned to their teammates, which can really help you to evaluate that candidate.

Use Recruiters Strategically

A good recruiter can actually be a shortcut on some of the steps I’ve recommended.  I’ve worked with some great recruiters over the years.  I’ve also worked with some really sorry ones.  The good ones will make your life so much easier by really getting to know what you’re looking for, what your company and team are like, and actually screening people instead of just burying you with resumes.  In my opinion, a good recruiter is a good connector.  They see connections that will be mutually beneficial and then make them gracefully. 

As much as I like to have a talented and honest recruiter in my corner, they are not cheap.  If you’re paying what they will ALL say is the “industry standard” of 25% of the first year’s salary (even though I never paid more than 18%), you’re looking at starting around $10,000.  That is a healthy chunk of change no matter how big your company is.  That is why we must use them strategically.

To me, using a recruiter when you’re in the market to fill a short-term need is a no-brainer.  Why would you spend your time and effort on someone who will not be a permanent member of the team?  That’s not to say you want to short-change any of the process.  If you screen them carefully, and you find that you MUST have that role filled permanently then you have the room to hire them. 

The rest of the strategy is a little more dependent on your situation.  Are you completely buried in work?  Is it hard to carve out 30 minutes for a status meeting, let alone the couple of hours that a good technical interview would take?  If you are already past the red-line as far as workload goes, you probably need to just bite the bullet and go with a recruiter.  Your time is better leveraged that way.

 

I hope these ideas will spark some thoughts of your own on how to find the right people for your team and not get caught up in the Find the Mii game.  Good luck and let me know how it goes for you!

Categories: Business, How To, Team Building Tags:

Free Software Friday

June 10th, 2011 Dave 93 comments

I have talked about some different applications that can connect you to a remote computer, but I’ve been using a package called Mikogo for the last little bit and I am REALLY impressed with it.  It can connect you to a single remote pc or you can get up to 8 others joined to you in a remote training/meeting kind of scenario.  No more GoToMeeting fees!

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All you have to do is install the started app on your pc and then set up a free account.  Once installed you’re just a right-mouse click away from starting up your session.  Tell your friend/client/mother-in-law to go to join.mikogo.com and enter the Session ID that you tell them.  A few mouse clicks on their side and voila, you are all connected up with about 90% of the tools that the pay products give you.  Sweet!

Mikogo

You can share just a single program on your pc, your whole desktop or even switch control over to the other person and check out what’s happening on their end. 

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There’s even a whiteboard for crying out loud!  Are you downloading it yet?  Enjoy it!

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Resurgam–It’s Alive!

June 8th, 2011 Dave 4 comments

So!  It’s been a while.  (I just spent the last 20 minutes entertaining myself coming up with cheesy back-from-the-dead titles for this post.)  Where to start?  It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted anything at all (even on my food blog, so sad).

I struggled along for a several months before I started consulting with a great company.  I went full time with them on January 1 of this year as their CTO and I have had a blast ever since.  We have all been hustling it ever since and it shows no sign of slowing down.  I am very grateful and very lucky to have fallen in with such a great group of people.

In spite of all the time that has passed, I haven’t forgotten the outrageous boast that I made way back when.  I have had even more thoughts on the subject of technology investments and personnel and ROI and all those lovely things that make my world go ‘round.  Enough with the teasing already!  Here is the roadmap of my thoughts:

Part 1 – Finding The People

Part 2 – Integrating the People

Part 3 – Strategy and Support

Part 4 – Measuring

Part 5 – Real World Examples

So stick with me as I (finally) put to paper all of the crazy ideas that have been rolling around in my head for all of this time.  It’s good to be back.  Thank you for playing along.

Categories: Business, Career, Team Building Tags:

Free Software Friday

July 16th, 2010 Dave 1 comment

This weeks selection hits particularly close to home for me and some of my esteemed colleagues.  It’s called JibberJobber and it’s pretty slick.  They style themselves Career Management 2.0, and I think they bring the goods to back it up.

The software is pretty simple.  After you get signed up, you start tracking things like which recruiters you’re working with, any companies you’ve targeted, interview dates and so on.  After you plug all that info in, you can do things like search for people on Google, LinkedIn etc directly from the app, you can set follow-ups and reminders and such.  It’s like a CRM system for your job search.  You’re supposed to be working at this like it’s a full-time job, right?  This is the system you need to track your efforts. 

It will even show you all of the companies that it knows about in your area:

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The base product is free, you can upgrade for 5 or 10 bucks a month and get some nice add-ons.  If you’re in the market, check this one out!

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Assumptions. Always Start with Assumptions.

July 14th, 2010 Dave 1 comment

Before I follow through with the outrageous boast I made at the end of my last post, I’m going to make some stipulations.  Stipulations, I said.  Not weaseling.  Not waffling.  Merely stipulating.  The thing is, they’re big.  Huge, even.  Like if you can’t get these things in place, you are ultimately doomed to a horrible flaming demise while your coworkers laugh and point.

Seriously, though, it will be impossible to get as much mileage out of the rest of what I say without these things in place.  The thing is, technology workers and even technology leadership can’t make these things happen.  Or can’t make them happen by themselves.  The leadership of the business (CEO/Owner/President/Whatever you call the person at the top along with all the people he or she listens to) must step up and provide this stuff.  (How to convince them to do so will be another post entirely.)  Here they are:

  1. A reasonable budget to get the job done.  Have you ever worked on a project that was underfunded?  Or that didn’t have a set budget so that getting every dollar was like going to war?  How did those projects turn out?  I don’t think that IT should necessarily be the ones to set the budget (on their own anyway), but any project must be well enough thought out to allocate it a budget.
  2. Clear priorities and objectives.  Every technology worker has run afoul of this at one time or another.  Work for a couple of months on a project and then all of a sudden someone says we’re not doing that anymore, we’re doing this thing over here now.  Not only will this kind of thing sap your team’s will to live, it will guarantee you’ll never get a happy return on the dollars you’re investing in them.  As with the budget, the business needs to think things through, make a decision about what’s important to it and then stick with it.  
  3. An executive sponsor who accepts full responsibility for success or failure.  The old saying goes something like “when everyone is responsible for a thing, then no one is”.  Without a sponsor or champion that takes absolute responsibility for a project, that project will never enjoy a happy life and will rarely come to a good ending.  The sponsor has to be a person who has a seat and a voice at the big table.  You can’t just grab a lower level project manager and say, “You’re on the hook for this.  You better get it right.”  That won’t work because he has no ability to advocate for or smooth the path in any way.  It has to be someone who can effect real positive change to conditions that will affect the project.  Sometimes it can be the CIO/CTO, but sometimes even they don’t have the wherewithal to get the job done. 
    I’d love to hear your stories confirming or denying my opinions here.  I’ve seen a lot of projects and a lot of teams over the course of my career and these seems to be recurring themes when things go awry. 
Categories: Team Building Tags:

So I Have Some Time on My Hands…

July 12th, 2010 Dave 1 comment

I have been thinking big thoughts for the last few days.  I mean BIG THOUGHTS.  I’ve been pondering what it all means, what my place in it is and how exactly I think I’m making a difference in this crazy world. 

Over the last several years, one of the things that I have felt the most proud of is the development of a first rate team.  I have mentioned them on this blog more than once.  The thing is, as great as the individuals that made up the team were (and they were exceptional), it still took a LOT of work to bring them together and keep them going in the right direction. 

It’s not easy getting a team to do what you need them to, especially when we’re talking about technology teams.  They’re smart (often accustomed to being the smartest in the room),  they have definite ideas about how things should be and they aren’t afraid to speak up (or simply leave to find another job) when they’re unhappy.  Couple these factors with the high personnel costs and you have very little margin for error. 

As I have ruminated on this stuff, I realized that I have uncovered a need that I don’t see anyone filling.  A business that is spending on average $66,000 per year on a technology worker (that’s according to the US Department of Labor) needs to know that it is getting the most out of that investment.  A company whose existence is riding on the quality of its software products needs to take care of those developers that brought them to the dance and make sure they are not lost to competitors.  A startup company that is watching every dollar it spends needs to be sure that they have the right people making the right decisions.  These are not touchy-feely, new age ideas.  This is life and death stuff for a business of any age or size. 

So here it is.  I will break down for you exactly what it takes to create a team that can not only handle the tasks you set out for them, but do it with maximum efficiency and love every minute of it.  Does that sound like a line of bull?  Tune in and see for yourself! 

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