Posted by: OurKudos | June 14, 2011

Juggling

Being an entrepreneur often feels like being a juggler, except instead of batons, you’re juggling people’s lives. The stress is palpable yet so is the excitement of bringing together a group of people to accomplish something great. So you push through the fear, the self-doubts, the failures, knowing that they are what separates you from your eventual success.

I’m lucky, because Evy, my partner and wife, works together with me like these two fellows. All day long, and sometimes all night, we juggle our respective responsibilities, tossing them back and forth while trying not to drop any. But it’s not at all easy.

What happens when neither of you wants to “catch the baton?” I admit, there are always items that we miss because there’s only so much that we can multi-task. And that’s where having a team filled with responsible people comes in.

In a “normal” company, when management drops the ball, there’s nobody around to pick it up because everybody is locked in their own domain. But in a working entrepreneurial venture, there’s enough communication to allow others to notice the dropped ball and pick it up. We’re really fortunate to be in this category. More than I care to say, others on our team have seen things that we’ve overlooked or perhaps ignored, and either taken action on their own or brought them to our attention. What types of things are these?

  • “We should get color proofs before we go ahead with the big printing project” – of course we should, but did we think of this detail? No. But fortunately, our graphic designer caught this and nudged us in the right direction.
  • “I was concerned about page load times so I profiled the site” – this was something that should have been part of the plan, but was overlooked until now. Luckily, our head developer grabbed the ball and brought us some numbers so we could prioritize some optimizations.
  • “Are you sure you want the tasks completed in this order?” – with so many projects being worked on, sometimes lists get stale and need refreshing. A gentle reminder from the team helps us keep priorities straight. In a conventional organization, people would blindly plow ahead, just saying “that’s what they told me to do.”

The list goes on and on.

So, are we bad managers? I like to think that we’re just humans, trying to do our best. Thankfully, we have a great team where everybody is watching each others’ back.

But we can’t depend on this, so we have to utilize a variety of tools to help the process. Here’s what I do…

We use Basecamp, Pivotal Tracker, GMail and Google Docs.

Basecamp has a simple feature set but it’s extremely useful for group collaboration. Basically, it lets you post messages to private discussion groups defined for each of your projects. To this, you can add to-do lists, milestones, and “writeboards” – which are like digital white-boards for sharing notes.

I use Basecamp whenever I think of something that needs doing. Either I can put a task on someone’s to-do list or post it for discussion. If I know somebody has a particular interest in the topic or skills in the area, I can subscribe them to receive email notifications for the discussion. This puts stuff on people’s radar and documents it so that it can’t get totally forgotten. And with my memory, I need all the help I can get!

Pivotal Tracker is primarily a programmers tool that lets you break down big programming projects into tiny “stories” describing single functions from the user’s perspective. For example, “user can find an email recipient by real name or email address” – this tells the programmer about a finite need. The great thing about PT is that as we’re testing the software, we can write very simple bug reports, modification or feature requests and add them to the PT project. And, since all requests are kept in one place, we can instantly prioritize each item by dragging it where we want it in the list, seeing what other items are being “pushed down” because of the new item. Really simple but extremely powerful.

At the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter what specific tool I use, as long as I note everything in some format where I can easily refer back to it on a regular basis. This makes it a lot easier to avoid dropping (or losing!) the ball.

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