crushing pressure

Should Temperance be A Higher-Valued Leadership Quality?

As a Co-founder at Event Espresso and Event Smart, I function in many roles: project management, sales rep, technical support, accountant, marketer, counselor, etc. I’m faced with handling challenges from just about any area. This is where my formal education has come in very useful, by the way. Too, I am rarely fully informed about a situation and I often have more questions than answers. However, I often struggle with determining whether something needs my attention or not, now or later, whether my team is being distracted or mislead and how I lead our team through the situation. It’s not an easy task to be clear and level-headed, and the way I engage (or not) in a situation influences my team.

I enjoy road cycling, and am motivated to ride harder by the beat of Eminem’s song Toy Soldiers. More importantly though, I often ponder some of the [clean] lyrics:

I’m supposed to be the soldier who never blows his composure
Even though I hold the weight of the whole world on my shoulders
I ain’t never supposed to show it, my crew ain’t supposed to know it
Even if it means goin’ toe to toe with a ______ it don’t matter
I’d never drag them in battles that I can handle unless I absolutely have to
I’m supposed to set an example
I need to be the leader, my crew looks for me to guide ’em
If some ____ ever does pop off, I’m supposed to be beside ’em…

While Eminem intended to communicate his own expectations as a leader, I feel he adequately conveys my expectations for myself in my role professionally. I should also feel this responsibility in other areas of my life too, like at home.

I believe a certain level of transparency is good, but leaders also have a special responsibility to bridle our emotions that can affect others in a negative way. Our emotions can lead us and our team to over-emphasize details or over-react to situations that can influence us to focus on the wrong things and make the wrong decisions.

To help me be the leader I want to be, I have a sticky note on my monitor that reads: “Do I need to react? How should I respond?”

That message helps remind me to more deliberately decide whether I need to react to a situation and how to do so. If I do decide to engage, the second sentence encourages me to pause just a second to think about how I should get involved. I can’t fault my team for how they feel about a situation, but do I contribute in a positive or negative way? Do I clarify the situation? Do I calm the situation? Or do I add fuel and confusion to the fire?

It is rare when we immediately and completely understand a situation. Instead, we usually comprehend a situation gradually over a period of time. The challenge for us is to recognize when we are fully informed or lack the understanding to make a decision at all. Once we are more self-aware we can better understand the context and respond.

In software development you are faced with a nearly infinite number of possibilities, scenarios, conditions. So one of the challenges is determining what to actually worry about, what to be motivated by, and when to act. Are you scared and do you freak out every time your competition releases a new product or secures a big client? Are you debilitated with each bug in your program or when someone leaves your team? Do you need your team to react like you, and are your emotions rubbing off on them, or are they allowed to respond differently?

We can’t be so naive to think our emotions don’t matter. Some people will absorb emotions more readily, while other people will be more temperate. Whatever your decision making process, as a leader make sure that you are intentionally and skillfully applying the right positive pressure to encourage focus, or reduce pressure to diffuse a situation.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get emotional, rather it means you have to use emotion with skill and responsibility.

When have leaders in your life shown temperance or the lack thereof?

Lastly, are you a leader? Aren’t we all leaders, in our jobs, at home, school, church, on even on the road? And if you think you are not a leader, you underestimate yourself.

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software-warfare-attack

Do you Respond to a [Software] Attack with Unarmed Fighter Jets?

You can’t entirely prevent an software attack, but you can be prepared to respond.

In 2015, we learned an interesting fact about how prepared the United States Armed Forces were to respond to an attack. During the attacks on September 11, 2001, after three other airplanes attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon, all flights were ordered to land immediately. But Flight 93 continued its course towards Washington, D.C.

In response to Flight 93 disobeying the orders to land, the government ordered multiple F-16 fighter jets to scramble and fly towards Flight 93, presumed to have been hijacked due to its refusal to land. What we did not know until 2015 is that the fighter jets were not equipped with munitions to shoot down the plane. Consequently, the only option was for the pilots to ram the jets mid-air to stop them from approaching Washington D.C.

Apparently, the U.S. was more focused on threats farther away and had disarmed their domestic fighter jets. I don’t want to second-guess or comment on their military strategy, but did they ever play the game of Risk?

Prepare to Respond to Attacks in Modern Software Warfare

The September 11, 2001 attacks are similar to and an example of how it is nearly impossible to see and detect every threat. Likewise with software, as programs get more complex, users get more creative, and inter-connectivity increases, it leaves applications vulnerable. Software developers should do everything they can to protect their applications. However, I subscribe to the philosophy that if your applications are popular enough, eventually your systems will get hacked.

When your application is hacked, how you respond to those attacks will be just as important as protecting yourself in the first place. It’s a sad but true reality that we can’t anticipate all threats. But, I do believe that we can be more prepared to respond.

At Event Espresso and Event Smart we have a fairly rapid release process where within a minute or less of fixing a security hole we can release updates to our products. While that won’t stop the attack from happening in the first place, it does allow us to quickly block the attack and move on to damage control.

While an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as software developers we should have a process in place to manage an attack of various types that was unable to be prevented.

Ultimately, we were fortunate that the passengers of Flight 93 were able to neutralize the plane and do what the U.S. military was not very prepared to do. But we should not find ourselves in such a vulnerable position so that when an attack happens we are not even prepared to respond.

What is your process for responding to an attack on your software, platform or infrastructure?

whole foods peeled oranges

Whole Foods’ Irony is an Example of Making it Easy for Customers

It was a true irony when Whole Foods started selling peeled oranges by replacing the natural peel with a plastic container. For an organic and natural food retailer, this was a cardinal sin.

Whole Foods quickly recognized their mistake and retracted the product.

It should be obvious how critical it is to meet BOTH the tangible needs and core values of your customers. Selling plastic-packaged peeled oranges makes very little sense when you evaluate that product from the point of view of their customer’s core values (generally, they value natural, organic materials and wish to minimize their burden on the environment). At first glance, this seems like an obvious mistake of Whole Foods; a moment of insanity by the produce manager. 😱

But less obvious from Whole Foods’ mistake is a hidden lesson: What can we do to make it as easy as possible for customers to consume our products/services? 💡

At this point in my life, I would never purchase a peeled orange. I don’t want to spend the money on it, plus it doesn’t seem as sanitary, and it does seem wasteful to have to throw away the plastic packaging. However, for a segment of customers with specific needs (use-case) the peeled orange was very helpful. Assuming it’s easier to open these plastic containers, pre-peeled oranges can be a great convenience to people who have limited use of their hands from injury or diseases such as arthritis or rheumatism. And for customers who have a preference for traditional, non-peeled oranges, those are still available for purchase.

The lesson I learn from Whole Foods’ mistake is to make it as easy as possible for customers to access your product. The easier it is to consume the more people will buy AND/OR you’ll attract new customers who will now be able to buy your product.

What do you learn from this?

remote controls commercials and team cadence

What I Learned about Team Cadence When My Wife Had the Remote Control

If you’re a sports fan with DVR, you usually have a queue of recorded sporting events to catch up on before you accidentally come across the scores in the ticker tape, headlines, get a score notification on your mobile device, or a text from a friend ruining the surprise. 😖 And, if you’re going to get through that queue of excitement quickly but without missing the action, you have to be skilled with a remote control to skip the commercials and intermissions.

There is Skill to Using a Remote Control

I have mastered just such a skill.  I have a sense of knowing when to start and how long to 4xfast-forward (>>>>) the recording before I need to push the play button again just as the commercials end and the sporting event resumes. I have the muscle memory for knowing how many taps of the fast-forward button and how long to let it fast-forward before pushing the play button. This muscle memory has developed because the commercial breaks are predictable enough that I can almost anticipate when they start and stop.

It wasn’t until I let my wife hold the remote and be responsible for skipping the commercials did I realize that she was still learning the higher ways of using the remote control. She didn’t fast forward right at the beginning of a commercial break, so we were stuck watching lame commercials for a while. Then, sometimes she fast forwarded too much and we missed part of the game when it came back on. If you’re Type A like I am, it is a little painful to refrain from taking over. 😱

Are You That Familiar with Your Team’s Cadence?

Because of enough experience with television programming, commercials, and the remote control, I can skip commercials with ease. I also have a sense for my team’s cadence of accomplishing tasks. Do you have a sense for how fast your team is moving? Does your team have a rhythm, a fairly consistent burn down rate or velocity? Would you notice when things change? I did.

We have a new project that is running over time and over budget. This new project has been particularly challenging because it has required a new development skill-set, new tools and new service. It’s an important project, but our approach has taken us out of our normal expertise. We had a chance to re-evaluate that project and decided to slow down development on that project and re-focus on our core projects.

Within two days of redirecting our development toward the tasks that we normally work on, I noticed we were completing the development we are more familiar with at a much faster pace and more predictable rate (cadence).

I also noticed a change in the demeanor of those affected. We had added motivation and energy because we were able to get things done.

When I have the remote, we watch fewer commercials and more sports. When my wife has the remote, we watch more commercials and less sports. Likewise, when your team is taking on tasks that they are not familiar with doing, you will get less accomplished and perhaps be frustrated.

My Wife Helped Me Connect the Remote Control and Team Cadence

I’m not throwing my wife under the bus. She is amazing. ❤️ She just wasn’t doing what she does best (baking cinnamon rolls is where she really excels). She was actually trying to help me relax and watch games while my hands were full typing blog posts. But then she also taught me something:

If your burn down rate or development velocity is not what it normally is, then you might reconsider whether what you are doing now is what you are best at doing.

A Free Spreadsheet to Track and Measure A/B Marketing Campaigns

When you are new to using A/B testing for your marketing campaigns, the whole process can be a little overwhelming. There are software service platforms available that can help manage the A/B testing process, but those are often expensive. And if you don’t know what those A/B testing platforms are doing in the first place, you can waste a lot of time and money by mis-configuring your campaigns and platform fees.

If you are new to A/B testing, I’d recommend you start your A/B testing campaigns by tracking the performance manually.

The Basics of A/B Testing – One Split for Each Change

I won’t get into the statistics of A/B testing, but one very critical thing you need to realize is that you must change only one element of a campaign at a time. You can only change the discount amount, or the color of a button, or a title of a campaign, or the elapsed time before an ad is shown, etc. For example, you will need to setup a campaign with one discount amount and then another advertisement where the only change you made is the discount amount. You can setup as many campaigns as you’d like, but each campaign and each variation can only be different by one parameter. 🤔

That one principle is essential for the A/B testing to be accurate. If you need more clarification, please ask a question below or get into a statistics course (I took two or three of them). 😀

Free A/B Testing Spreadsheet

Now that you understand the statistics of A/B testing, or at least how to get started, here is a free A/B testing analysis spreadsheet that can help you track and measure the performance of these campaigns. Please take a look: 👀

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19HWUV_-8mfHz20uTdnDUv_g9VFkDLpbKOR2I65YJh_4/edit#gid=0

I’ve included some example data to help you get started. The advantage of this spreadsheet is that you can keep track of your A/B testing over time, not just compare campaigns one at a time, manually.

Here are the instructions:

  1. This document is Read Only, but you can Copy/Save this document to your own Google Drive account to make changes.
  2. Replace the example data in the green columns with your own data.
  3. Choose which control group to compare against in columns U9:AA9 (yellow cells).
  4. When you want to add more campaigns, add an additional row and copy and paste the cells from one row into that new row.

Notes:

  • This spreadsheet will help you measure visits, clicks, conversions, refunds, revenue, statistical significance, etc.
  • If the “T @ 90%”, “T @ 95%”, and/or “T @ 99%” trigger to “YES” that means that campaign is statistically different from the control group.

Credit to EventEspresso.com and EventSmart.com for letting me share this with you.

Again, if you have questions, feel free to ask below.

If you find this helpful, please share it. 🤘

counting priorities

3 Factors to Quickly Set Short-term Development Priorities

There are an unlimited number of factors you could take into consideration when determining what projects or tasks should be a priority. You will likely use different factors when considering long or short term priorities too. What factors you actually use will be a reflection of the mission of your organization. Recently I spent a little time setting priorities for our Event Espresso and Event Smart developers for the next week. During this process I used Speed, Impact and Strategy to make the process of setting short-term priorities more practical. 🔨

Most Factors Distill Down to the Mission of the Organization

If the organization has a mission to make money, the organization will focus on what will drive money now and later. If the organization is focused on a different specific purpose, then the purpose of the day will be whatever can forward that mission.

Sometimes the “Mission” is Too Ambiguous to be Helpful

However, sometimes using the mission of the organization is not clear enough for the day-to-day decision making to be very helpful.

Here is a mission statement for Coca Cola that is probably less than helpful for a manager or programmer to decide what software code to work on today.

The Coca Cola Company Mission. Our mission is: To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit. To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions.

If you’re a programmer could you justify doing yoga to support that mission statement? 🤔

And if you’re the manager of that programmer, you won’t be very happy with the progress of your software project at the end of the week.

We have a mission statement and vision for Event Espresso, but that’s not necessarily enough to tell us what we should work on today, tomorrow or next week. For the real short-term planning I favor: speed, impact, and strategy.

Speed

Speed is important because sometimes a developer can complete a task (or several tasks) that can collectively improve a customer’s experience. Sometimes a few quick wins can increase your team’s morale, momentum and energy.

Getting a batch of issues resolved quickly can also clarify the fewer remaining tasks.

Even if a task has a lot of impact (discussed next), it might take a long time to get done, which can delay other enhancements.

So, the speed or velocity of completing the tasks is important. The faster a developer or development team can get something done the more likely it will be a priority today.

Impact

Some of the tasks you might consider will be trivial or significant. In the short-run, I favor projects that can have the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time. We often categorize tasks by the amount of work we expect it will take. So when we are evaluating a task we can get a sense that if we invest a little in that task it will be done pretty quickly. That gives us confidence that we can make customers happy and increase our chances of gaining market share in the event registration and ticketing software space.

Strategy

Even if there are features or bug fixes that customers want addressed, and we can do that task quickly, that still doesn’t mean those tasks should be a priority. In the software business you want to avoid throwing every little suggestion into your program. Unnecessary features and code creates technical debt that will have to be maintained and will impact future development (for good or bad). So, only when a task fits into the purpose of your software should you consider investing resources into that code.

What factors do you consider?

There are a lot of other great factors that could also be considered, such as marketability, popularity, etc… but I’ve discussed just a few of the more easily understood factors I use to help set development priorities in the short-term.

Give some encouragement and share a little…What factors do you use to quickly set short-term priorities? If you haven’t thought about it specifically, pause for a minute then tell me what you think.