20 January 2007

Request for proposals (RFP's)

Greg Storey at airbag shared a couple of great examples. The real tragedy of RFP's is that they are all too common. I made a decision years ago to never, ever respond to these and I will tell you exactly why.

There are only three reasons to send out an RFP.

1) The company or person has no idea what they need and are looking for you to tell them. Lame.

2) They already have a firm in mind, but don't trust the bid so they would like you to spend a bunch of your time to help determine if it is a fare price. Totally lame.

3) They are going to make a decision based on price. Inexcusably lame.

Is there really any reason to respond to these?

…of metrics for design and innovation. A fool's errand.

“The purpose of business is to create a customer.”
~ Peter Drucker

A business invests in only two things, marketing and innovation. Every other expenditure is a cost – the price of being in business. Marketing and innovation are the two areas where a business has an opportunity to reap extraordinary rate of return. Metrics are absolutely necessary and typically well established for costs such as accounting, finance, operations, customer service and manufacturing. But metrics, as we know of them now, have no place in measuring the success of design and innovation.

Bill Breen’s recent column[1] in the February issue of Fast Company discusses the thinking behind Chuck Jones’ efforts to install a metric system to gauge the success of innovation at Whirlpool. I suppose it varies from company to company, but I think the notion of metrics specific to innovation is a fool’s errand. It represents the business world’s efforts to conform design thinking to the ideals of command and control management and the language of business. The true measure of innovation is success in the marketplace. Granted, there are a lot of steps along a process that can sour a potentially stellar product, and metrics are perfectly appropriate for many of those steps. (full paper)

12 January 2007

Building a killer team for innovation part (7 of 6)

Firing. One last thing to add, don’t be afraid to fire a team member if it is not working. It is nearly always the best thing for them, you and the team. Typically the team knows well before you that this should and will be relieved when it is finally done. Setting employees free when they are incompatible is often the push they need to re-evaluate, find their true calling and move forward. It is a terribly difficult thing to do, but it is much easier than loosing clients, your best employees or ultimately laying god people off. Be definitive and do it quickly.

Spend most of your time with and for your best designers. Like focusing on your strengths, focusing on designers with the most talent and have the most potential, it is how you should best spend you resources. If you do this effectively, you will in fact loose more designer than if you coddle the low performers. But you team will ascend to greater heights and you will attract more talented people and higher quality clients. Set that bar high

Building a killer team for innovation part (6 of 6)

One more thing. Make your company, team or division attractive to talent. You do not have to be the constant self-promoter (hmmm, IDEO comes to mind here with more books and case studies than any of us will likely ever read.) But, showing off your best work, having a great website, and promoting your talented designers in the next phase of their careers are all effective measures. When talking to prospective talent be honest and set realistic expectations. I see many large firms in a constant hire mode. Most often this is a result of an inability to keep talent, not the exponential growth they claim.

11 January 2007

Building a killer team for innovation part (5 of 6)

The work. Just as your company receives multiple forms of currency in exchange for your work, so do your employees. You want the people on your team to have a career plan. If they are not thinking strategically about their careers, they are likely not thinking strategically about their design work. Don’t count on them working for you forever. If you manage to keep a stellar team in tact, great – but it is rare and hard to do in this age of the “free agent nation.” Allow designers to build their portfolios. Personally, it is the last criteria I consider in hiring, but it is an important take away from any job. If an employee finds a better opportunity, let them go with your blessing. Your job as team leader is to make the job exciting, challenging and worth staying for. I have never resented an employee for accepting a better opportunity, more difficult challenge, or higher pay off – and I would not work for some one who would resent me for the same.

10 January 2007

Building a killer team for innovation part (4 of 6)

Clients. Most every designer I have worked with wants to be in the meetings with clients. Every designer should have the tools necessary to do exactly that. Unfortunately many designers do not. A designer must embrace the client’s goals as criteria of the project, not a problem to work around. We are not artist and our vision as designers should always consider, if not come second to that of the client.

Designers must also be able to communicate their ideas. Presentation skill is critical. The designer must be able to communicate ideas to business people. Further, designers need to learn business speak. They do not have to be MBA’s, but they do need to command the respect of business people and I cannot stress enough the importance of speaking their language. This is a major omission of nearly every undergraduate design program in America.

Lastly, while designers must be passionate about their work, they must be able to separate themselves emotionally from their work – for a couple of reasons. First, a designer has to be able to “kill their babies”. We all get obsessed with a cool solution. Our obsessions can become a huge hurdle in moving forward to a better solution. When you come across an epiphany mark it and work through it. You will be surprised at how great the next idea or five may be. Another problem with our “babies” is that in critical evaluation they are not so much aligned with the client’s goals as they are with our own. Secondly, a good client will ruthlessly challenge you ideas and supporting rational. This can crush an emotionally attached designer. I have even encountered clients that do not want the designer n the presentation for just this reason.

I don't get the whole "anti" thing

I know that Apple fanatics can get a bit wearing. I also get that if you don't appreciate the "added" value of what Macs and iPods offer, you won't buy one. Similarly, if you don't get why people buy porsches - stick with the mustang. But where does the anti apple thing come from? I have been reading a lot iPhone reviews today and I see a lot of self proclaimed "anti-apple" people commenting. Why be anti anything? I think this is mental poison. We should all find more issues to advocate - am I anti-anti?

Yeah its a phone, but its not a phone

By now I don't even need to tell you what product I am referring to. The hype machine is in full-scale tidal wave mode and you have heard. I even heard the local evening news offering a "sneak preview" a full day after the product announcement (local news is such crap). But back to the point - this is not a phone. Apple could not call this a tablet, a pda or a pocket mac because the press would treat these as limited markets blah blah blah. Besides, Steve has eschewed these products in the past - not that he doesn’t have a history of contradictory statements, its just not the best marketing approach. Hyping this as a phone (a trojan horse in my opinion) is brilliant. The numbers are the sort that Wall Street loves, (note the stock rise of 6 bucks in a single day) and everybody is interested in a cool new phone.

Personally, I can't wait to get one. My current laptop is exactly three years old and just out of warrantee. This product promises to do everything my laptop needs to do and fits in my product. My current life allows me to sit at my desk when I need a mouse or a large display... and so be it. I am on the list. The only downside will be after 2-3 months of ownership and they announce the newer model that I REALLY want with even cooler new features.

08 January 2007

Building a killer team for innovation part (3 of 6)

Workplace. I do not think that the specifics of the environment are terribly important. My personal preference is for warehouse space over cubicles… but it is just not that important. The right tools to do the job (hardware and software) are about not letting process get in the way. Yes they can help position you in front of clients but that is not about team management. I will say that a great chair is worth a lot in terms of endurance. Speaking of endurance… let go of that monster volume work ethic. Establish a maximum number of hours that you allow the team in the office. Why? Because burnout is a huge problem with self motivated people. Further, designers and innovators need a life. I don’t mean they appreciate a life, I mean they absolutely have to have a life. It is an essential source of inspiration, motivation and insight. Without a life a designer is crippled.

Make it business like, but make it fun. Give your people enough responsibility that they are challenged. Good people will not stay for long at a job they have already mastered. Don’t push innovation, make room for it. Many ideas that immediately seam worthless to me, or that I do not like, turn out to be pretty good. The resistance is often a result of challenging our preconceived notions. This is a good thing… don’t waste it.

Lastly, assign (or let them choose) each team member an area of expertise. Let them become the “go to” person regarding a particular discipline, tool or process. I like the notion that designers are “T shaped” people (borrowed from IDEO, Cooper?). Help them to deepen their vertical specialty.

06 January 2007

A very basic observation regarding opportunity

It has always felt to me that whether looking for a job or scouting clients you have a choice. Find those in tune with what you do well and compete. Or find those that are not and educate. Neither is an easy course.

The chart was obviously inspired by the sharp observations at www.indexed.blogspot.com

Building a killer team for innovation part (2 of 6)

Hiring. I have found that hiring smart people is particularly beneficial. I have found that hiring good people is even more effective. I try to live my life by surrounding myself with people that I admire and want to be more like. It has served me well. Friendships that I put effort into are with people who reflect these attributes. The hiring process can benefit from the exact same criteria. Hire people you like to spend time with. Hire quality people with ethics and values that the entire team share. This absolutely does not mean that you consider political views or spiritual orientations. In fact, if you can not tolerate people on your team that do not share your specific views in that regard you are destined to fail as a manager.

Hire a mix of people who think about design and produce design. Design thinking is extremely powerful. Design as a craft is necessary, but a room full of design craftspeople is not a formula for success. If I thought it would be effective I would repeat this paragraph 12 times. It is that important to designers to THINK more than they DO.

Manage rules and projects… not people. And that last thing I spend time doing is supervising. If a team member requires management pressure to get the job done they should be set free. Management is about providing leadership and vision… not enforcement. A good manager mitigates enforcement through quality hiring.

Building a killer team for innovation (part 1 of 6)

You. One of the first couple of things you hear or read from management pundits is to hire people smarter than you, the other is to locate where there is a wealth of talent. Those are worthy ideas, but not always possible. The number one criteria in building a killer design team, is that you qualify as a potential member of the team. If you are in charge only because your dad owns the company… then you will struggle assembling a crack team. If you have no skill or experience in working on a great team… you probably won’t be able to build and lead a great team. If you lack moral fiber or leadership but have a big bank account, hire someone to build and run your team and stay out of the way. We could call this the Al Davis syndrome… but then, the NFL Raiders have had their moments inspite of Al.

To build and lead a team, you have to be “the guy” that you would hire. Sometimes it is hard to find people smarter than you, and sometimes it is hard to find talent outside of the “creative culture zones”, but there is in fact extraordinary talent everywhere. You can find it in the Midwest… deep in the mountains, in the desert and in Fort Wayne and Wichita. I know from experience. You just have to look a bit harder.