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The Art of ‘Ware (V 2.0, maxim 1:3): preparing a company for success

February 27, 2008 0 Comments

[From The Art of ‘Ware (Version 2.0) by Bruce F. Webster (forthcoming), Chapter 1, “Starting Out”]

By answering these seven questions, you can judge ahead of time how well the company will succeed:

Does the board of directors have Tao?1

The common image is that the directors are only interested in the bottom line. But a board that is collectively committed to the company vision can be a powerful force for good: when they have to ask the difficult questions, they do so for the right reasons. There are boards like that, and they benefit the companies they advise.

Does the CEO offer true leadership?

Leadership is the quality of setting a direction that encompasses the charter of the company, then guiding the employees to that end. True leadership must be built upon integrity, or it will ultimately fail.

How well does the company adapt to the economy and to the marketplace?

Because of the long path that often winds from original idea to shipping product, the company needs to be willing and able to adapt to the changes in the economy and in the marketplace as it goes along. This becomes ever more critical as the rate in the technical market continues to pick up speed.

As importantly, the company needs to be able to complete and launch products successfully. This requires marketing acumen, sufficient capital, and a product that meets the needs and demands of the customers, not of the engineers, or the management.

How excellent are the management skills?

Management is the art of increasing communication, reducing friction, and achieving goals. Superior management comes from below, as the managers see themselves serving and supporting those they supervise.

How committed are the employees?

Leadership, management, and Tao are essential in having the employees commit to see the process through. Profit sharing and stock options help, but they will not long compensate for lack of management or leadership.

How skilled are the developers?

The “infinite number of monkeys” approach doesn’t work for technology development. You are better off having a few excellent engineers than a lot of mediocre or inexperienced ones. In many cases, you’re better off having just a few excellent engineers than a lot of excellent engineers. Why? Communication, coordination, and unity of product architecture.

How much opportunity is there for growth and how little tolerance for incompetence?

Excellent developers and marketers don’t change jobs to do the same old thing; they change jobs to do something new. Keeping excellent engineers means giving them the chance to grow professionally.

On the other hand, one unwilling or misdirected developer or marketer can tie up significant resources. Make it clear when someone is hired that competence, cooperation, and hard work are prerequisites to keeping their job. I once had the awkward experience of having to fire a friend whom I had hired for a development project because I felt he was unwilling or unable to complete the tasks assigned to him. I’m afraid the friendship didn’t survive the experience.

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1 Compare Suntzu pingfa (Chapter 1, “Calculations”): Therefore, compare them by means of calculation, and determine their statuses. Ask:

which ruler has the Way,

which general has the ability,

which has gained Heaven and Ground,

which carried out Law and commands,

which army is strong,

which officers and soldiers are trained,

which reward and punish clearly,

by means of these, I know victory and defeat! (Sonshi online translation)

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About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at bwebster@bfwa.com.

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