Saturday, February 9, 2013

Wrangling Cats - or - Guiding meetings pattern

I recently had the opportunity to guide a meeting with twelve other professionals, across two companies, with three different layers of management.  It could have been a disaster, with chaos raining down from the sky ( OK, maybe not that bad, but still could have been unproductive, which is _almost_ as bad. )  But it wasn't; we got through it with a solid plan of who was to do what next, what the critical path was, and with egos and careers intact.  I realized at the end of it that there was a pattern here that could be reused, so of course I wanted to share it!

The overall pattern is:
  • Round of quick introductions - keep note of who is there, and what their role is ( do-er, manager, sales )
  • Quick history and restatement of why everyone is there
  • State what the goal to accomplish is
  • Ask open question: "Now, how do we accomplish this?"
  • Listen more than you talk; if people start drifting away from solutions or start getting negative, step in to bring conversation back around to focus on solutions
  • Once an agreed solution starts forming up, take control by stating ( and this is the new trick ) "OK, let me go through the different levels we have here to make sure we understand what needs to be done"
  • Starting with the highest level of authority, state "OK, let's start at the 50,000 foot level: Sales guys / VPs, it sounds like you need to do..." and list out the action items they will need to take.
  • Then ask "OK, so at the 50,000 foot level, is there anything else that we need to do?" Let discussion flow if necessary but keep everyone focused on the tasks that level needs to do.
  • Then go to the next highest level of authority, stating "OK, so at th 40,000 foot level: Managers, it sounds like you need to do..." and list out the actions items they need to take.
  • Then ask "OK, so at the 40,000 foot level is there anything else we need to do?"  Again let it flow but keep it focused.
  • Then ask "OK, so at the 30,000 foot level: developers, it sounds like this is what you need to do..." and list out the action items they need to take.
  • Then ask "OK, so that the 30,000 level is there anything else we need to do?"  Let it flow, but keep it focused.
  • Then state "OK, so just to recap, sales / VPs will do this [ list it out ], while managers are doing this [ list it out ], and the developers are doing this [ list it out ]"
  • Then ask "Is there anything that needs to happen before something else can?" Let them talk about any critical path issues.
  • Then state "OK, so sounds like the order we need to get this done is...[ list out critical path]"
  • Then state, "OK, so I think we are all set.  Is there any other questions or concerns?"  Deal with anything remaining.
  • Wrap up with "Thanks for everyone for attending"
  • Immediately send the notes as "[ level ] Here are your items: [ items ]", followed with "The critical path here is [ critical path ]"
  • Assign someone to follow up ( or take responsibility yourself to follow up with everyone later on status )
Was a great way to help keep everyone focused, and let each level know what their duties were in relation to each other, and let everyone know what needed to happen in order, so that no one was roadblocked because someone didn't know that they were the block.

Surviving and Thriving at Trade Shows

My career just had another milestone: presenting at NRF in our booth.  For those who get lost in alphabet soup, NRF is National Retail Federation, and the show is _the_ event in Retail systems.  Everyone who is anyone is there, and leads generated at NRF help kickstart ( or start to sink ) the year.  This year, I was one of the sales engineers who met with our prospects and customers, and was on hand to give a demo or answer a question for anyone who walked by; I was, in a word, busy.

Now every industry is different, but most have some concept of a trade show, and the little lessons I learned at NRF can help the next wave of sales engineers who are getting ready to go to their first show, or give a comparison list to those who are veterans.

1. Bring supportive and comfortable shoes. 
I went with my standard "dress shoe" that I wear to meetings, and within a few hours was in a fair amount of pain.  Next time: new shoes ( broken in a bit before ) with an extra layer of supporting gel!

2. Bring your own water.  Since I was tied to the booth for duties, I couldn't break away to hydrate.  And I was talking, a lot.  The net result was that I had to ask friends who were heading off to other booths to bring me back water.  By day two, I had figured it out and was brining my own water and tucking it away, but wish I had done it from the beginning.

3. Bring your extra power strip and extra charging cables.  With all the craziness and commotion of the show, it was inevitable that someone would forget a cable, or that an outlet would be full and power still wanting.  Having some extra cables ( iOS chargers, USB chargers, etc. ) can go a long way to helping the team move forward.

4. After every meeting, make a note.
  After the show, management is going to want to know "Who did you talk to."  Suddenly you will find that all you can remember is a massive blur of activity and no details.  To avoid this, make a note after each little meeting, even if it is just on a notebook or in a note app on your phone.  I also saw lots of people taking pictures of business cards next to product, which was a great way to associate who the card was with what they were talking about.

5. Obey the marketing rules.  At a show, there will be investors and press; your marketing department may have specific people designated to talk with them.  But in the commotion, you could find that you are being asked questions by the press or investors, and the answer that you give off the cuff could have serious consequences for your company, your stock price, and your career.  If someone is designated to be the "face", lead the press and investors to them, or ask them to come back later!

6. Take care of yourself.  Make sure you are eating as appropriate for you; if you need to get away to get a bite, have someone cover you.  Get as much sleep as you can.  Avoid drinking to excess or at all.  Common sense, but as always needs to be called out.

7. Have fun.  As busy as I was, I was loving every minute of it.  I made sure to take some time to get out and walk the floor and see our competitors and partners, and to just get of sense of how our booth was compared to others.

8. Try out new material. 
You will be giving a lot of demos, and the people you are giving them to are less likely to remember every detail, so this is great time to try a new presentation trick, or see if your theory that explaining the product in a new way works, or to just get creative.  In a few hours, I gave the same demo 20 times over, and had a great reworked demo by the time I left.

So if you are getting ready for your own trade show, remember this: it is just like a sales call, except extended over several days.  The same rules apply ( dress up, game face on, positivity ), except it is a marathon.  If you prepare for it properly, you will thrive!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Know, don't think

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a great SQL Guru ( he'd call himself a tinkerer ).  It was over dinner prior to SQL Server Saturday 60, and I gained a lot of nuggets of goodness.  In no particular order:

1. Remember, despite what the relational zealots say, a database is a file system: Input - Process - Output; deal with it, and use it to your advantage.

2. Know, don't think you know.  In other words, use the scientific method to be sure that he assumptions that you are making are correct.  Create a test, and experiment to verify your results.

3. Watch out for parallax.  In short: If you are looking at your speedometer, if you look from the right side, you are going 50; if you look from the left, you are going 75, but only if you look right on do you see that you are going 65.  So don't taint your results by looking at it with a bias.

4. Test with millions of records, not 50.  Just because something works with 50 records means that you just don't have any syntax errors.  If it doesn't work ( perform ) with millions of records, you are not doing it right.

5. Whatever you do, stay far, far away from torpedo fuel.

The last two points are important, but more "you had to be there":
1. Take your wife out on dates.
2. Cats are sentient.

You really had to be there.

Welcome to my Node

Welcome to my blog.

This has been a long time overdue, but the Node has been kicking around in my head since the good ole days when you could explore all the sites in a Yahoo branch; back when the Internet had an end; an edge.

I'll post what I find useful; what caused sweat and tears on this side and will help the next wave; because lets face it, none of us would be as far along if it wasn't for those that blazed the trail for us ( or at least left a trail marker now and again! )

So please feel free to reuse anything you find here; if you find it useful or find a better way, feel free to shoot me a message; otherwise, take care, and thanks for stopping by.