My G-d. Another Post About Bad Presentations.

My G-d. Another Post About Bad Presentations.

What’s worse than a really bad presentation?

A blog post about really bad presentations.

Therefore, I’m going to propose a radical suggestion.

For your next presentation, ditch the projector, the big screen, and the clicker.

Present your material as is. With your mouth. Just you, standing up, talking about what you know.

Radical and crazy, I know.

But it just. Might. Work.

What Silver Bullet Management Methodology Will Work For Me?

What Silver Bullet Management Methodology Will Work For Me?

Trick question?


Very rarely will a blanket management philosophy effectively work across every employee in your organization to motivate them to do their utmost best every minute of every day they show up to work.

In fact, I would say it never has worked and it never will work.


Simple. Every person is different. Every person has a different motivation for being there.

If you were to be really honest with yourself, your text book, flavor of the week management mojo is there to impress your peers and those you report to.

To be an effective manager, you have to be able to not only reactively adjust to the give and take to the everyday workflow in your company, but you also have to anticipate roadblocks and challenges ahead in the course of developing your product or service.

Management is not metrics, though it is oft mistaken as such. Metrics are necessary, but I claim only in an ancillary role; though at many companies they are the de facto reason the employees operate the way they do (sales quotas, number of lines of code written, QA items cleared from the queue, etc.).

In truth, the metrics that ultimately matter are: (a) is my company making a profit, (b) are we growing relative to the market / competition, and (c) am I retaining the talent that made (a) and (b) possible.

Metrics and Methodology are most often used as crutches to assist lazy managers from actually applying gray matter to serious problems at hand: how do I get the most productivity from my employees? What incentives will make my people happiest? How can I improve the quality of whatever it is that I do?

In short, you have to not simply understand implicitly your market, but at the micro level you have to understand what your people can – and cannot do. And this is hard work, because it means you have to actually know about who your people are. And not just on an abstract level.

Management methodology primarily exists to give a set of managers a set of guidelines – not to excite or motivate – but to apply decision making in bulk. No thinking, no personal investment. “Sorry, but this is our policy.”

Do companies need standard policies? Yes. Guidelines? Again, yes.

But your policies and guidelines won’t lead to excellence, and they won’t lead to performance.

To inspire the people we work with to create great stuff, we have to lead by doing.

We have to stop conflating methodology with accountability – they are fundamentally different things. If I want to inspire the people I work for, with, and those working for me, I have to first perform my job as promised, with integrity, and to the best of my ability.

Accountability is ultimately a personal obligation, while methodology is wholly involved in dealing with people systemically and impersonally.

And sadly, all the great methodology and big thinking in the world can’t make workers with mediocre work ethic suddenly become great performers.

People are either hard workers, or they are not. They are either top performers. Or they are not. They have integrity. Or they don’t.

Don’t take me entirely the wrong way. There is a definite place for mentoring employees so that they may become great-er employees than they already are. Demonstrate what it means to be professional, to be accountable, to be thorough in their work.

But every Gantt chart in the world won’t accomplish this; every spreadsheet in the world won’t accomplish this.

Great management means getting in, getting your hands dirty with the task of knowing employees strengths and weaknesses, individually, and not trying to come up with a Silver Bullet system that will absolve you of doing this hard work, for the sole purpose of worshipping at the altar of Scale.

Business Etiquette DOES Matter – Revisited

Business Etiquette DOES Matter – Revisited

This is a repost from last November; but is still as valid today as it was ten months ago:

I realize that people are being asked to “do more with less” these days.

That doesn’t mean that common courtesy and business etiquette are no longer required to do your jobs.

It’s more important now than ever before.

  • It doesn’t cost anything to smile or be friendly.  It doesn’t cost anything to say “please” or “thank you.”
  • For any business call, return the call in a reasonable period of time.  Twenty-four hours is reasonable.  A week is not.
  • If you initiate a request for pricing and promise a return call, return the call when promised – especially if the answer is “no” so that you’re not dodging follow up calls.  It’s business – people hear “no” all the time.
  • In the middle of a project, don’t go “dark” for weeks on end.  This applies to both ends of the vendor / client relationship.
  • Do what you say you are going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, at the price you said you’d do the work for.
  • Be a person.  Be accountable.  Corollary: Never, ever, say “it’s not my job.”

Maybe being polite is strictly a function of how we are raised as children.  Maybe it’s directly related to our work environment.  Maybe it’s a direct reflection of your “I-just-don’t-give-a-damn” threshold.

Whatever the case may be, being polite, accountable, and timely will set you apart.

Because for all of us making our way in the wilds of this Recession, doing business with courteous companies makes the difficult journey a little more bearable for all involved.

Android Market Filtering and AndroidManifest.xml

Android Market Filtering and AndroidManifest.xml

If you have an application in Android Market that is visible to some users, but not others, chances are there is some filtering going on by virtue of some statement you have in your Application Manifest file, AndroidManifest.xml.

Usually, this filtering occurs through a major setting: operating system version, whether the device has a camera or a GPS, etc.

Sometimes, however, it is the little things that get you in hot water.

Take for example the following manifest statements:

<uses-permission android:name=”android.permission.CAMERA” />

<uses-feature android:name=”” />

<uses-feature android:name=””/>

As constructed, these statements will hide the corresponding app from any phone that does not have a camera AND does not have autofocus capability (not simply that your app can use autofocus).

Likewise, if you have the following:

<uses-permission android:name=”android.permission.CAMERA” />

The implication is that your app uses the camera and ALL features available to a camera (autofocus and flash) – and if the phone is missing a flash OR autofocus, the app will be invisible to Android Market. Double-plus un-good.

The magic secret sauce to requiring a camera, but not requiring that the camera have flash or autofocus, is the following set of manifest statements:

<uses-permission android:name=”android.permission.CAMERA” />

<uses-feature android:name=”” />

It is frustrating that something so subtle can severely hinder your ability to market your application, or even allow your customers to even see your application.

Madness, really.

Always Between Engagements

Always Between Engagements

If you watch many old movies, a recurring gag is the “unemployed actor” who is – not out of a job – but “currently between engagements.”

In a sense, I have been “currently between engagements” for the past fourteen years.

That’s not to say I’ve been unemployed – quite the contrary.

It means only that I am in a constant state of acquiring new work and new projects, even as I am in the midst of several ongoing projects.

I know that for many people, this level of uncertainty about precisely what is putting the dinner on the table next week, next month, next year is untenable.

Some people aren’t wired for the risk of being a business owner or entrepreneur.

For me, it’s mother’s milk.

There are times when I’ve been pushed to the wall to the point where I’ve ** almost ** cried “Uncle!” (or at least, whispered “Uncle!” very loudly to a few close friends).

In a very real sense, we’re all very much a single paycheck away from being “currently between engagements.”

Whether you embrace that realization or not is dictated by temperament, choice, or through sheer indifference.

Since I don’t know any better, I’ll continue on as if I’m always between engagements. And loving it.

Being the Boss Ain’t for Sissies

Being the Boss Ain’t for Sissies

Ted Murphy, the CEO of IZEA, has written several posts on being passionate in your job and creating an atmosphere where passion and creativity can thrive. Having worked closely with Ted these past few months on several projects, I know first hand that he walks the walk and not just “ploughs the cake.”

Like Ted says in his post, it’s hard to be the Boss.

And it ain’t for sissies.

Think of it this way – in effect, you’re responsible for the happiness and well being of not just every employee, but of every family member dependent upon the paycheck of that employee.

Heavy? You have no idea. Or maybe you do.

My business model for Sumner Systems Management has changed dramatically since starting the company back in 1996. We used to be a boutique supplemental manpower development company. Put as many fannies in as many seats for as long as possible. After the dot com crash, and 9/11, and the advent of offshore development, that model swiftly fell by the wayside.

Hello, 1099s. Goodbye W-2s.

So, today the only full time employee at my company is me. Everyone else who works for me directly is a 1099, tied to a specific project for a specific period of time.

I miss having full time employees. I miss the camaraderie. And I miss socializing and getting to know their families.

Harkening back to when I did have full time employees, here are the things that I did to try and make the job seem a lot less like a job and something to look forward to:

  • We always handed out paychecks over breakfast. Every two weeks, we’d truck over to Cracker Barrel and eat breakfast together (my treat). It was a great way to have an all hands company meeting (without calling an all hands company meeting) and have everyone hear what each other was doing. I think I miss this the most.
  • I would set aside between $1,500 to $3,000 for each employee annually for professional development. This could come in the form of conferences, ongoing education, or other training. Employee’s option.
  • We had a matching SEP-IRA for each eligible vested employee.
  • I almost never – never – asked any employee to work overtime. Ever. My feeling was that if I had to ask an employee to work more than 40 hours a week, I wasn’t doing my job properly.
  • I didn’t babysit my employees. They were adults, they had hours to bill, and the focus was on the success of their projects – and not whether they were at their desks at 8:01 or 5:15. Honestly, if I had to track their comings and goings as a performance metric I would have bagged it years ago. Life’s too short.
  • I tried to pay what I thought was a competitive wage. I never paid a developer working for me less than $65,000 per year (in Nashville, TN, ten years ago.) I always felt that if an employee was worrying about making ends meet, they weren’t focused on doing the job at hand with 100% focus.
  • I always paid my contractors the minute they submitted their invoices. Still do today. Getting paid is what it’s all about.
  • And I never treated my relationship with my employees as if our arrangement was anything more than a job. Not that I didn’t care about them – in fact, quite the opposite. I realized that I had an obligation to create an atmosphere where my employees could grow, and eventually, grow out of the job I was providing them. But at the end of the day, it was only a job and the real thing of value in their lives was their families, not the time spent with me and Sumner Systems Management.

Like with most things in life, I had mixed success with this approach. Some employees thrived; others took advantage; a few were fired.

If I had any advice that I could give any employer it would be this: respect your employee’s situation, regardless where they are in their personal and professional environment. And if you’re going to compensate your employees with anything, make it count and be real. Paying your mortgage and providing a good life for your kids is real; a new title with a small pay increase and double the responsibility is a sop.

Cash, Equity, and Stake are always good. I don’t care what you read about money not being important – that’s utter B.S. People and families need security and hope for the future, and that’s why they are working for you.

This post is more rambling than I initially anticipated, but holds many truths that I still believe in and try to live by today in my dealings with colleagues and contractors. If you’ve stuck with it this far, I hope it’s provided you with something substantive.

And if you’ve navigated a company, large or small, through this Great Recession you have my respect and admiration.

Being the boss ain’t for sissies. But it is a great way to build something that makes not only a great life for you but also for the people who work with and for you.

The Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes

The Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes

You know the old saw.

The Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes.

Same’s been true with me and updating my own marketing material lately.

To correct that, I’ve been playing around with Animoto this week (

Verdict: Me like. Me like lots.

Anyway, here’s the result:

iPhone Apps

Android Apps

Blackberry Apps

Playing Around with Animoto

Playing Around with Animoto

What Makes Communication Hard

What Makes Communication Hard


Honest to-goodness two way Communication is hard.

Very hard.

It’s hard because each side holding up their end of the conversation has to have a common frame of reference before anything meaningful can be conveyed and understood.

Speaking the same language. Having a common world view. Wanting similar outcomes. On the same topic.

Most conflicts, micro and macro, have at their heart a deficiency in this common frame of reference.

The significantly difficult parts of my job aren’t all the technical details involved in my day to day development tasks – it’s in managing the frames of reference that I move between when speaking with customers and colleagues.

And it’s getting more difficult as technology advances even faster.

Some clients won’t answer the phone or voice mail, and are offended if you call unannounced.

Some associates don’t read their email, or if they do, never respond to it.

Others only write me in the wee dark hours of the night.

I’m not talking about  cold-calling prospects.

These are people with whom I transact business. Regularly.

As time goes on, I have to make a more concerted effort to reach whatever comfortable frame of reference the person I’m trying to influence happens to dwell within. Not that I don’t want to; only that the effort eats up more and more of my time than I care to admit to.

It’s never enough to know the bare facts of any conversation; in order to be an effective communicator, you have to master the contexts and frames of reference that your target market or customer base carries around with them.