The Tale of the Sprinting Hippo

Some people call me the ‘The Sprinting Hippo’ and I don’t mind it at all. I coach and play for a softball team during the summers, and, just like the noble hippopotamus that can reach top speeds of 30 mph (it’s true, look it up!), I am much faster than you might assume just by looking at me. I’m not sure how to write out the sound that a hippo might make, but rest assured that I have attempted it several times as an on-field cheer (and it never fails to elicit a laugh – but no one has ever said, “That sounds just like a hippo!”).

My success with sprinting doesn’t end on the softball diamond though, nor does it even end with running. I have found it to be a very effective way to manage the work that my team and I do. If you have a lot of work, or a long way to go, it’s often daunting to try and look at the end as the goal. Instead, I like to think of it as a series of small distances I need to go.

My team subscribes to a method of work management called ‘Scrum’. Scrum has a lot of different principles (which are covered in this very excellent book), but the fundamental tenet that I like most is that you plan your work for relatively short periods of time called sprints. Sprinting at work has dramatically improved our throughput and may be exactly what you need to get through your own large project load.

At its most basic, a sprint is some period of time (we use 2 weeks, but typical sprint lengths range anywhere from 1-4 weeks). At the beginning of each sprint we decide, “What are the most important things on our list to accomplish during this sprint?” We select those items, discuss generally how they should be executed and then go to work. Each member of my team knows what’s expected from them during that time period, knows what success looks like, (Did we finish all of our objectives for the sprint?) and knows where to go next without needing me to guide or direct them. In short, it creates autonomous flow and keeps us having small successes.

Instead of looking at our entire workload as a never-ending pile of features to build, integrations to create and automations to… well, automate, we just look at it as a series of 2-weeks-worth lists of projects to accomplish. Our to-do list decreases down to empty as the sprint comes to an end and who doesn’t love the feeling of accomplishing everything on their list? What’s more, the relative importance of items on our total list changes pretty frequently. By only setting our list for 2 weeks, we have the ability to reprioritize every 2 weeks which keeps us agile and responsive to what our business needs.

Not everyone has the same kind of project list, I get it, but setting sprints for yourself has plenty of applications:

  • Completing Important but not Urgent Projects: Sometimes work is hard to predict – you can never really tell when jobs will come to your lot – but that doesn’t mean that your larger business objectives don’t have to be met. Your sprint objectives don’t have to be your entire weeks’ workload, just the most important thing for you to accomplish during that period. Choose just one or two such items set them as your sprint objectives for this week. Find time to accomplish those and then re-evaluate at the end of the week.
  • Completing Unpleasant Projects: Unpleasant tasks are often the most delayed because, well, they’re unpleasant. Sprint scheduling allows you to add one or two unpleasant tasks to your overall sprint goals which lets you take the sour with the sweet as you get work done. Just as importantly, success tends to beget momentum. Get a few things done on that painful project and the rest of the work will feel that much more possible.
  • Chipping Away on Home Projects: Got a big “Honey-Do” list at home? Pick the most important items you can reasonably complete in a weekend and choose that as your ‘Sprint’. You’ll feel less distracted by the entirety of your workload and will have a clear idea of what success looks like.

While sprinting as a runner is about going as fast as you can, sprinting for work is more about taking your work in appropriately bite-sized chunks. There’s always more work to do and if you always look at your full list, it’s human nature to get overwhelmed and decide that maybe it’s just better to not get started until tomorrow (or next week or next month). Instead, try choosing the bites you’d like to take, the sprint distance you’re going to run, and then start sprinting.

<Insert triumphant hippo noise here.>

 

Making a Bad Choice the Right Way

This is a bad Reman U. I mean it. It hasn’t been thought through, agonized over, contemplated, speelchecked or proofreaded. I didn’t have a blinding insight nor did I have one of those everyday experiences that suddenly feels like an analogy for good work/life decisions. What I do have is a deadline, a commitment… ultimately, a promise. I would rather sign my name to a bad Reman U than break a promise. So, this is a bad Reman U… but maybe that’s a good thing.

You see, when I write a Reman U I start to think about the longevity of words. I think about how language is our legacy, literature is our history and the things we take the time to compose can often ripple out into eternity. And then I think, “I better not sound like an idiot.” And that’s the crucial moment where my fingers suddenly stop, and I begin to agonize over every word. All progress halts as I struggle to make the perfect word choice…

Recently, I was making another kind of choice, and this abrupt transition lets me tell you about it. I was configuring a new tool for my department to manage our workflow of tasks and projects, and I came to a potential sticking point. The tool I had researched and chosen to use had dozens of pre-configured project styles. Each one had plusses and minuses, and the one I chose will dictate how we work for the foreseeable future. In short, it was a decision that would impact my team, our internal customers and even our external customers. How could I make that choice but still not figure out how to end this paragraph nicely?

I chose the option that solved most of our current problems, even if we lost some features we currently liked. But, crucially, only after I’d read the documentation on how to migrate to a different style if this one didn’t suit us. Because of that, I know that even if I thought there was a chance this was the wrong choice, it was still the right choice to go forward.

So far, it’s worked out quite well AND it also turned out to be the wrong choice. Solving immediate problems means that we adopted it and got immediate benefits. But, we’re also finding things we want next, and that will require us to convert to a different style… good thing it’s so easy!

Making a “Bad” Choice the Right Way

These two principles can guide your decision making and allow you to move forward at a good pace while staying flexible enough to work around problems and limitations.

Any Choice is Better Than Not Choosing – Let’s pretend you want to run an ad in a local paper or on the radio, but you keep putting it off because you can’t think of the perfect way to stand out. Your current need is to get an ad out there. Until you do, you’ll reach exactly no one. Get something going first and start generating feedback, then adapt as you learn.

Have an Exit Strategy – You’re going to make a bad choice sometime, the law of averages dictates it, so make your bad choices easy to move away from. Don’t commit to running the same ad for a long period of time, or pay for a year of an untested service when a monthly option exists. It will be worth the relatively small extra cost to avoid sticking yourself with a bad choice.

In the programming world, we have a phrase “Software in development doesn’t do anyone any good.” You have to let people use your software before they can get a benefit – even if it’s not the full benefit you’d like to provide. It’s probably more widely understood simply as “Done is the new Perfect.” But there are different kinds of “done”, and safe ways to make decisions or deliver on the deadlines that you’re not entirely confident in.

So, this is the end of my bad Reman U. I was trying to think of how I can end it in a way that’s meaningful, but then I realized I was doing it again. So instead, I’m solving the immediate problem and not committing to any particular ending:

Until we meet again!


Jim committed to writing a REMAN U article. The good news? He did it. The bad? Well, he didn’t really do it right, or at least not the way he likes to do it. But there’s a lesson in that, too, isn’t there?  Join the conversation below or connect with Jim directly.  

Being a Tool Builder

 

We work in a world of tools. Humans are distinctive from most other creatures on this planet by our ability to make and use them. The earliest advances in society are measured by the tools we built and used (fire, hand axes, spear throwers, the wheel, pottery and so on). The automotive industry is particularly defined by the tools we use. How many jobs can you do without some highly specialized tool?

Tools have an especially strong personal association for me. My father is a tool-builder. For as long as I can remember, he’s been the Toolroom Foreman for a metal stamping/fineblanking plant in Wisconsin. Even before I understood the technicalities of what he did, I was fascinated by the idea of a whole department focused on creating the tools necessary to run a business.

Tools make people’s lives easier and make the impossible possible, from lifting a 2-ton truck overhead to flushing all the crud from every nook and cranny of a radiator. My dad takes a lot of pride in how the tools he builds impact his business and the people who work for him. His example inspired me, and I am honored to call myself a Tool Builder as well.

Instead of working with metal and stamping process, I work with software and business processes. But, the process is largely the same (and surprisingly simple):

  1. Identify a point of need.
  2. Isolate the ways it could be done easier/faster/more effectively.
  3. Build the tool/process to address those points.
  4. Refine and revise by starting again at Step 1.

Here’s the thing: we are ALL tool builders. When you think of a tool, it’s easiest to think of the wrenches, sockets, and other items in your toolbox. But, at its most basic level, a tool is anything that extends, amplifies and/or simplifies your efforts to accomplish a specific task. So, what about the people who work for you or the processes your business employs? Those absolutely count as tools*.

And, just as you invest in the traditional hardware tools in your shop to make individual jobs easier, investing in the human and process tools in your operation will make your entire business run more easily and reach higher levels. Investing in those tools doesn’t need to be an overly special process:

  • Find the things you are doing over and over again – those are the processes most likely to benefit from a new approach. If you’re doing the same thing repeatedly, chances are good that someone else can do it, too (and then your time is freed to find the next area for improvement).
  • Identify a leader on your team and let them shadow you as you work on the process/procedure. You don’t need a fancy procedure document or documented process – let that be part of the training. Show them how to do it and ask them to document it for you. Then, you can review the documentation to be sure they understood and can work from their own document. (Bonus: You’ll have the start of a library you can use to train the next team member.)
  • Shadow your new approach a few times to be certain it’s being done to your standard. This step is crucial because if you’re not confident in the tool/process you’ve built, you won’t really be able to move on to the next thing. Put the time in here, and you’ll be much more effective at finding the next problem you can solve.
  • Use the time saved to move on to your next point of need, confident knowing that you’re building a collection of tools that won’t just impact specific jobs, but your entire business.

Your business is likely full of tools – and arguably, the most important ones don’t live in your toolbox. Take a close look at the way your business runs and see if you can’t find some areas where a newly placed resource can extend, amplify, and simplify your own activities. Being a Tool Builder is rewarding – and I don’t mean just to your bottom line.

*No Bob, I did not just call you a tool. I said that you extend, amplify, and simplify business processes. 


Your business is likely full of tools, especially if you’re in the automotive industry. But what are your most important ones? As ET-D2 shares this week, they could live outside of your toolbox. Join the conversation below or connect with Jim directly.  

The Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal

So much of success comes from setting goals for yourself – that’s nothing new. You write your goals down, make them SMART, share them, remind yourself what your goals are and which ones you’ve accomplished… but in navigating that “goal wilderness” there’s an audacious monster of a goal that you should not neglect: your BHAG (bee-hag).

A BHAG is a “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal”. The concept is pretty simple: pick an objective that is a little (or a lot) extreme, but that you believe you can accomplish (regardless of what others might think). Unlike more traditional SMART goals, a BHAG doesn’t need to come with a plan. Not knowing exactly how you’ll get there is rather the point.

Perhaps the most famous BHAG of all time was when John F. Kennedy challenged our country to the goal of “…landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” But, a little closer to the ground (and more recently) was one that I set with The Sales Cyclist in March of last year.

First, a drop of background: Dreamforce is a major industry conference for those who work with the Salesforce.com software platform (as we do). It’s attended by more than 170,000 people from around the world with more than 4 million others watching remotely. The speakers range from Fortune 100 business leaders to industry experts – but all of them are recognized as having something significant to say to the Dreamforce audience. I said to Ben:

“We’re going to go this year, and we’re going to present on stage.”

As I uttered those words, I realized that I had no idea how it was going to happen. What I did know is that I wanted to create something great for our Sales Team and being recognized by Salesforce would be a significant measure of that success.

For months The Sales Cyclist, the Sales Team, and I focused on the more tangible goals. We worked on software tools and integrations, building a more efficient process for serving our customers and finding insights in our data that led to a greater understanding of how we can continue to improve.

Our BHAG was always in sight, but never a primary focus – and that’s what’s crucial here. A BHAG will almost always be too big to take in one bite. A well-made BHAG should be the culmination of the principles and strategies you really want to encourage. That way, as you work on the shorter-term SMART goals and objectives, you can always be building towards something grander.

Then, as opportunities become available and as breakthroughs occur, you’ll know which paths are the right ones to take. For us, it started with Salesforce noticing the work we’d done to customize our platform. They invited us to participate in a contest alongside 300 other companies, including 7/11, TD Bank and hundreds of other household names. Because one of the rewards was the chance to present on stage, it naturally fit into the BHAG we had set.

The contest wasn’t simple; it required us to have an idea for an app, get it approved by Salesforce, build a prototype, and present for evaluation. Everyone had a chance to participate in the process and in the end, our entry (named “Sales Hero”) was selected as a winner. Not only were we invited to Dreamforce for the standard winner’s presentation, but we were asked to conduct a solo presentation as well. The BHAG’s time to shine was nigh.

While the success was sweet (who doesn’t like to win?), what made it all the better is that when we stood on that stage and presented to a room full of developers and members of the Salesforce Ecosystem, we knew that we had accomplished a goal we set for ourselves. Success didn’t just happen to us. We chose the kind of success we wanted and then made it happen.

Now that’s what I call audacious.

 


Goals are great. ET-D2 thinks so. You probably think so. They’re even better with a BHAG – a giant, crazy, guiding goal which you may not yet know how to accomplish but will. Join the conversation below or connect with Jim directly.  

Building Projects (and Relationships) in the Dark

REMAN U is a place for stories. This post is no exception, but I’m going to go slightly off-script and start by telling you the moral to this story: most businesses hurt their relationships with customers because they don’t apply the same project management skills that they use in the shop when working with them.

Now the story…

Imagine with me for a moment: you and your team are working together to build a project vehicle. Because of scheduling challenges, each of you has to take separate turns doing the work. When your turn arrives, you enter the workspace to find all the parts you’ll need. It’s obvious something has been done… but it’s not at all clear how far and where your predecessor left off. You spend the first several minutes of your time figuring out what’s been done and then get to work.

A bit later your turn comes around again and, once more, work has been done but you need to figure out what and where so that you can begin. This time, it takes longer to figure out and you can do less actual work moving the project forward. In fact, each time you come back to the project you need to spend more time figuring where you should begin and less time actually working.

Sounds like a nightmare? At a recent staff meeting, I subjected my teammates to this very scenario.

Each small group was tasked with building Star Wars Lego vehicles. The catch? I had blacked out all the step numbers in their instructions and had each person close the booklet between turns to assemble. Suffice it to say, no projects got completed and very few even made it past the first third in the time allotted.

Then, we did it all again.

This time, their instructions had clear step numbers, and they could leave the book open to their last page. In short, they could tell their teammates exactly where they left off. This time around, several projects were (very nearly) completed and everyone made it MUCH farther along.

These results aren’t shocking – the most basic elements of project management are to document what’s been done and what’s next to do. But here’s the thing: I’d be willing to bet that there is one crucial place where you ARE still running processes in the dark – customer relationship building.

Do any of these sound like your recent customer interactions?

  • You search among post-it notes and message slips to see if you’ve heard from them/what they’ve told you. Maybe you find something, or maybe…
  • Your customer has to be put on hold while you ask around to see who talked to them last. Hopefully that works, but perhaps…
  • You ask them the same question someone else (or even you) asked them before. Maybe you tell them you’ll call them back, but then…
  • Your customer contacts you to follow-up on a request that you were ready to answer hours before. Or, perhaps worse…
  • You tell your customer information that someone else (or even you) had already told them.

None of these are a big deal by themselves (everyone gets busy), but in a small, subtle way you are telling your customer that something/someone is more important than them. Even if every other part of your service is great, with enough interactions, these sorts of experiences can drive your customers to someone else – someone who cares enough about them to remember what’s been said and done before.

Speaking as someone with roughly the memory of a particularly forgetful petunia plant, I can tell you that the answer is very rarely to ‘just remember better’. Instead, a Relationship Management process is called for. You very likely already manage your customers through some sort of process (if not – stay tuned here because that’s my next article topic), so the next place to go is to a better tool.

  • CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software – Certainly, this is the most sophisticated tool for the job. They range from complicated multi-use platforms like Salesforce to simpler tools like Highrise CRM. Many shop management programs even come with some limited CRM functionality that you may already have. That said, even the easiest ones can be difficult to implement. It’s better to implement something than nothing, so if CRM software isn’t for you, you can try…
  • A note-taking program like OneNote, EverNote or SimpleNote – These tools allow you to create notes and categorize them in any number of categories. For customer relationship management, create a folder/category for each customer and then add notes with each interaction. It’s searchable, shareable, and even accessible from your mobile device. That said, software isn’t for everyone and internet connections aren’t always great, so there’s always…
  • A Customer Journal – Keep file folders, a book, or even just a notepad with a page/section for each customer. Take notes on each of your interactions with the customer and then you’ll have a single place where each person can look at what’s happened before. This more basic approach is easy to implement quickly, but could be hard to maintain as time passes.

Don’t Forget the Process: All of these suggestions are just tools. Without a defined process and discipline to follow it, the tools will not bring you success on their own.

No matter how you approach the challenge of customer relationship management, the crucial first step is realizing that it IS a challenge and it’s one that needs to be changed. When your vehicle (or lego) project isn’t managed well, the frustration is limited to you. When your customer relationships aren’t managed well, your customers go away.

Don’t let them think you don’t care about them, and you’ll never have to figure out how to get them to come back.


If you ask Jim, aka the Sales Enabler, building customer relationships isn’t unlike building a project car – or a Lego version. And in all cases, it’s best not to be flying blind. Like what Jim has to say? Join the conversation below or connect with him directly.