Rusty Divine

Live, Love, Learn, Teach

#HDC12–Building a Dream Team

This afternoon I attended the Build a Dream Team hands-on lab presented by Chris Carlson and Gabe Romero of Aureus Group.  They presented tips on how to hire and retain great team members.  We’re currently looking for some top talent at Five Nines, so the timing was great.

I learned that we could improve our interview process by creating a performance profile that focuses on what the candidate will have to do to succeed in the job.  What will be the objectives?  What projects will they work on?  What responsibilities will they be assigned? How long will they have to reach each objective?  Defining the future of what they are going to need to do and making sure they are qualified to do that is more important than arbitrarily specifying that they need XYZ certification or a degree in ABC.

For the first hour we talked about hiring and the book “Hire With Your Head” by Lou Adler.  Chris was a big fan of this guy’s work, which I haven’t read before, but a lot of the tenants she talked about from his work rang true for me, too.  For example, when writing an ad for a job, focus on what the candidate will have to do, not what experience they have to already have.  Make the candidate a customer – try to sell them on your company, and make sure they leave with a positive experience even if they don’t get an interview.  Try to limit bias and emotions by asking the same narrow, quantitative type questions to each candidate, and then scoring them on some pre-defined categories (having the book would help here, it comes with templates and extras).  Also, be careful of initial reactions to a candidate – it may be best to take a 30min break before you talk to anyone about the evaluation of the candidate.  Concentrate on a candidate’s past performance – what have they done to improve the environment at past jobs?  If nothing, then don’t expect them to hit the high notes in the future, either. 

When checking references, validate the candidate’s strengths with specific examples.   Would that reference hire them or work with them again?  How does the candidate compare to others they know at the same level?

The next hour or two we talked about accountability and engagement.  Gabe described the difference between responsibility and accountability by explaining that responsibilities are assigned, or given to you, but only you can be accountable to get the results done.  He talked about how engaging with your team is critically important to help understand what they are experiencing, what are their frustrations and aspirations and goals, and to give feed back and reinforcement.

I think our AppDev group is doing a very good job of accountability and engagement.  We practice an agile approach to all of our work, and each of us is held accountable each day at our daily stand-up meeting where we quickly review what we said we were going to get done yesterday, what got done, and what we’re doing today.  You can see instantly that someone got off track, and no one wastes more than half a day going down a rabbit hole before they get a chance to come up for some air and help from the team.  Our iterations are time-boxed, so it is obvious at the end of the 2-weeks whether we got done what we had planned or not.  After each iteration, we do a retrospective (Good/Could be better/Improvements) that has proven to be such a powerful agent of change that I’ve been thinking about how to apply it to my personal life.

We have weekly one-on-one meetings with our Director where we talk about whatever is going on with us in the environment.  It’s a great chance to vent (constructively, of course) and get some feedback.  We build trust as a team because we know our opinions matter and we really are being listened to. 

We occasionally have strategy meetings where we talk about the course of our group and what direction we will concentrate on in the future.  Each of us brings our ideas to the table during those meetings, and all thoughts are welcome.

LDNUG June 2012–Entrepreneur


Abraham Chavez (@RedPlasticSky) presented at the Lincoln Dot Net Users’ Group tonight about his experience starting his own business –

Abraham’s one of those few people you meet who you might call a unique thinker because he makes an effort to form his own ideas and opinions and is interested in countering common wisdom.  He draws on his experience and on the seemingly many books and articles he reads to develop a way of thinking about life and work at a philosophical level, and then has the will to live that philosophy – a rare combination.

The presentation covered lessons learned in how to start a small unfunded business while you are still working 8-5 at your day job as a software developer.  Here are some of the ideas that he learned or that worked for him:

Pivot – be ready to change your business as you learn the market.  You may design something for one audience and find that it is not wanted there, but with a change of direction can be very desirable in another market.  It’s a good idea to anticipate this and to not try to do all of your design up front so that you don’t become too rigid.

Local – we usually think of putting our software or product out on the national market so that it reaches more people.  Abraham turned that idea on it’s head – there is less competition locally, and you can very easily network in person.  You can market your business as a local thing, and that really does lend a big hand.  Plus, if there’s a national company that does something similar, they may just buy you out so that they can capture the market in your town.

Snowball – sometimes starting small and simple, then pivoting, can lead to a snowball effect that takes you farther than you could ever imagine.  Think about how apple made an iPod->iPhone->iPad.

Constraints – have designers block?  Give yourself some constraints to boost your creativity.  Abraham gave a great example of using a grid with three dots on it.  Use the constraint that drawing your logo has to fit on that grid and has to include those three dots.  Giving your mind somewhere to start is so much better than looking at a blank page.

Reduce Complexity – be zen-like in all things: don’t give your customers too many options, it’s paralyzing (again, constraints are good).  If you don’t need something, get rid of it or don’t do it.  I really liked how Abraham’s business, mexrico, just did one thing: make and deliver tamales.  He started with 7 types, and reduced that to three.  You had to order 6 at a time.  It was so easy for customers – there’s no psychological weight – and it’s like the business model for Caine’s chicken fingers, it’s just drop-dead simple.  Man, I really want some tamales, now.

Out-Source – you can out-source and off-shore everything that isn’t core to your business and that you’re not great at.  Abraham shared a couple of his favorites that he used to get logo and graphic designs, and video, too: and

And finally, for funding?  Abraham swears by contract employment.  He’s been able to find renewable 1-year contracts that pay very well and include benefits, although, he warns it isn’t necessarily a fun path, but it can provide you with the cash you need to get going.

No One Knows They Want Visible Solids in Their Spaghetti Sauce

I just listened to a wonderful talk by Malcolm Gladwell on how people think and what makes them happy.  The most important part to me as a software consultant, is that you can’t just ask people what they want – they won’t be able to tell you.  As a bonus, this talk explains why you have to choose from 14 varieties of vinegar and 47 varieties of cheese when you go to the supermarket.

Malcolm tells the story of how Dr. Moskowitz showed that there is human variability in human preferences.  If you ask most people what kind of coffee they like, you’ll hear an overwhelming number of people say something like “Dark, bold, strong”, when actually a third of people really prefer weak, milky coffee.

Dr. Moskowitz has shown that if you poll people for what they think they want, and then design your product around that feedback, you’ll end up with a sub-par product.  But, if you can separate out your data into targeted clusters and deliver a few variations, your variations will be raised in quality as experienced by the consumers or customers of that variation.