Thursday, January 27, 2005

Why Bother Blogging?

Got your attention?
What? A Blog, questioning the benefits of Blogging?

Actually, I know the benefits, here are a bunch of links that describe the obvious benefits, particularly to startup software entrepreneurs:
What are the benefits of blogging for small business?
Business Benefits of Blogging
Uses/Benefits of Blogging for Knowledge Workers
Do Blogs Really Help Create Traffic
etc. etc.

What I have found though is that Blogging may just be a distracting sideline for the entrepreneur authoring the Blog.
Recently, I read "The 80/20 Individual" (here's a good summary) . The premise is that many of the world's most successful people are 80/20 Individuals. These are people that have a "20% spike", that is, 20% or less of these people contribute to 80% or more of their impact. The 20% Spike is the one thing that the person is outstandingly good at. If these people achieve intense focus on this strength and surround themselves with other people that can perform the other required 80% then they will reach the pinnacle of success in their field.
It is also critical that they apply their 20% Spike to an appropriate field. For example, an extreme case is Shaquille O'Neal who obviously has a 20% Spike (or 1% Spike) suited to slam-dunking a basketball over much smaller people. He is most successful concentrating on that while surrounding himself with others that can perform the remaining 80% of the tasks. And of course, he has wisely choosen to pursue a career in basketball.
It is of utmost importance, that we, as software entrepreneurs, identify our 20% Spike and apply it with laser-like focus to a product idea to which it is suited.

I say all this to point out that maintaining a Blog for any benefit may be extremely counter-productive for many software entrepreneurs (as well as individuals in any other field).

When I started this Blog back at the beginning of the year, my main purpose was to share my progress in developing (read Jan 11 Entry).
The reason I want to do this is to;
- be accountable and
- to solicit advice.
When compared to working in a corporate environment, a software developer, independently working on a product is accountable to very few people. In addition, advice and criticism is rare unless actively sought.
So, I considered daily chronicling my progress, decisions and questions for all to see.
It turns out that my particular 20% Spike may not include Blogging.

When I write, I typically strive for more quality and completeness than a well-written Blog demands. If I were to Blog daily, it would consume a good portion of my time.
It's possible that I can set guidelines and metrics to strive to Blog daily:
- for no less than 15 minutes (to honestly test whether it is worthwhile)
- and no more than 30 minutes to ensure that I don't cut into the work I need to be focusing on.

A quote from Bruce Lee that I have posted in my office, "The successful warrior, is the average man with laser-like focus". Somehow, I don't sense that this includes Blogging.

BUT, at the same time, I still feel that I can benefit greatly from some sort of accountability that I had while employment in the past.

In my own case, the verdict is still out on writing a Blog.
The case of reading Blogs still has benefits to me so that I can learn from others (I'm glad that Blogging is part of their 20% Spike).

Now, my default behaviour would be to go back and proof-read this post, condense it, add headings etc etc.
But in the interest of proper Blogging I will just click "Publish Post"....

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Big Visible Charts For A MicroISV

My previous post discusses some of the essentials of a home office designed for software development.
A bulletin board for 'Big Visible Charts' is at the center of the action.
BVCs aren't just for collaboration and communication.
Since this is a single person project, the priority is on:

  • accountability to my stakeholders (family)
  • focus (to keep me working on the right things)
  • urgency (to constantly remind me how much work still needs to be done)

To satisfy these purposes my BVC has:

  • Work Breakdown Structure (printed by MS Project)
  • Schedule (a linear calendar of 4 weeks)
  • Backlog Tasks cards (taken from WBS to show what is coming up)
  • Current Scheduled Tasks cards (taken from WBS to show what is currently being done)
  • Recently Completed Tasks cards (to show stakeholders what has been accomplished)

I will write a post later about why scheduling only needs to be done for 2-3 weeks (especially for one person) as long as a Work Breakdown Structure is kept current for the entire project. The entire project shouldn't exceed 4 months (or it should be broken down into 2 projects).

The guideline is to closely watch your footing on the path immediately in front of you (your 2-3 week schedule and Task Backlog).

Don't be too concerned about the path that is out of view, as long as you ensure that the path is leading to the correct destination (your WBS).

Periodically look back at where you have been to learn from it (add notes to your Recently Complete Tasks when they have important lessons for a retrospective).

The Pilgrim's Den - where it all happens

In my previous post I officially unleashed my plans to develop (still not described here, but I'll get to that).

I mentioned that one thing I accomplished was to set up The Pilgrim's Den, which is what I call my home office. I have always felt very strongly that the physical work environment is critical to productivity and success in software development. While employed in the past, I would take great care in setting up my workstation just the way I wanted it.
Here are some of the essentials:

  • lots of whiteboards
  • close to all team members that I am working with
  • an environment that allows speaking back-and-forth (without being concerned about interupting other developers working on something else)
  • a desktop computer where I can sit or stand to work
  • a notebook computer to be able to move around
  • a kitchen nearby

When working at home the criteria are slightly different:

  • whiteboard space
  • huge bulletin board for 'Big Visible Charts'
  • music (CD player and great computer speakers)
  • hands-free phone
  • books, printers, files easily accessible

Working at home is a lifestyle decision and it must be fun. This isn't frivilous but I have found it critical for productivity.

Here are some pictures of 'where it all happens' for me.

The home office location up in the Great White North

The Pilgrim's Den- The Think! Inspiration Whiteboard

The Pilgrim's Den- The Big Visible Chart (WBS, Tasks and Schedule)

Inception Stage Started - WBS and stuff

Now that I've had over 2 months to get started as a microISV, here's what I've accomplished:

  • transition to self-employment and spend time with family
  • read or skim about 100 marketing/business and technical books
  • read tons of web articles about business/marketing
  • develop some qWIKpage technology
  • put qWIKpage on the back burner

I have now committed to developing

Here's where I'm at with that:

I'll talk more some of this in later posts but I want to mention a bit about making the Work Breakdown Structure.

In the past I have used WBS's to get a project started when it was anything but obvious where to start. Even when working on a single person project it is essential to get a feel for what work needs to be done.

The typical approach I use is to breakdown all tasks on post-it notes and build a hierarchical structure of work down to individual tasks. Each tasks is about 1/2 to 2 days. If a task is very important but only takes an hour or so it still may get a WBS entry of its own.

These post-it notes then form the basis of a MS Project Gantt chart. This time around I felt I didn't really want to use MS Project since collaboration and communication isn't necessary. So I searched for software specifically designed to create WBS's.

It seemed that WBS Chart Pro is the most popular tool in this niche. With a 30 day (50 task) trial license I tried it out. Yes, it is quite easy to use and does what it should but I don't really see any advantage over using a subset of MS Project's features to enter tasks and print out a tree-like Big Chart.

In a post to follow I will show and describe my Big Chart system.

This now officially unleashes the Inception Stage of my microISV business.

Gestation Phase - First 2 Months

November 1, 2004 was Day 1 for me as a microISV.
Since then I have been in the Gestation Phase.
(Note: this terminology is from Ten3 Business e-Coach. Take a look, their site is filled with 100s of quality concise articles related to starting and running a business)

The risks identified with the first period of a new venture are:
- clarifying vision
- developing your business skills
- identification of the market niche

I started with a file of potential ideas and some prototype code for some of the ideas.
I had a short-list of 3 ideas and one in particular that I was prototyping. I started working on something called TEAM qWIKpage while learning as much as I could about business, and marketing in particular (which I contend covers most of what we need as microISVs)

On the personal side I also spent more time with my family than in the past 7 years while at Pattern Discovery Software as Dir. of Product Development. I needed more time with my kids just doing things together. Simple things, like preparing and eating breakfast with all 5 of us each morning and then driving them to school instead of the bus. Of course, I may have accomplished more in my business if I didn't do this but you can't put a price on these memories.

While working on the qWIKpage Technology in Nov and Dec, I made some exciting innovations that will differentiate it from the competition.
At the same time, I was becoming less comfortable with my market positioning. You see, this technology (not unveiled yet) can be used in many applications.

The common downfall of many software entrepreneurs is that they get married to an idea and press on with developing and launching a product. In an article titled, The 10 Deadly Small Business Mistakes, the number one mistake is "Getting Wedded to an Idea and Sticking with it Too Long". With the technical blinders on, the status quo entrepreneur misses the chance to target a more profitable market.

We read everywhere that the best time to save a failing project is sooner rather than later. For this reason, I stopped the product development to allow me to be more diligent about the product strategy.

I shifted my focus to to do some on-the-job training on launching a site, getting it indexed in the search engines and generating traffic.

While doing this I started to do some market research on some other product ideas. This is where I am now.

If you read my tongue-in-cheek page About DRB, you will learn that a personal passion of mine is running. This experience has identified an opportunity in the sizeable running subculture. Not only is there a potential for a successful site/service/franchise but there is a seasonal window of opportunity that goes along with it. For this reason, I have committed to developing this idea immediately.

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