Great Mission Statements

Jack Welch, in his book, Winning, talks about how to create great mission statements.

He says most mission statements are dull, uninspired, and even unhelpful.  Most groups write their mission statement to describe only what they are in business to do.  While this is not wrong, it creates a whole bunch of mission statements that all look the same among competitors, and are not really valuable.

Welch suggests that a good mission statement not only describes what the company is in business to do, but how they are going to succeed at it.

For example, “We are going to sell lots of chickens,” is not as effective as “we are going to sell lots of chickens by growing the largest free-range chickens and advertising their value to the industry.”

Following his logic, I did some research and found some interesting comparisons:

Ford Motor Company in Europe’s mission statement (couldn’t find the U.S. mission statement anywhere online) is:

“Our Mission: we are a global, diverse family with a proud heritage, passionately committed to providing outstanding products and services.”

OK, so Ford’s mission is noble, but there is no explanation as to how they will succeed at their mission.  Compare this to Toyota’s mission statement:

“To sustain profitable growth by providing the best customer experience and dealer support.”

Toyota’s mission statement expresses their intention to make money by providing the best customer experience and dealer support.

Indeed, their mission statement tells what they are doing and how they will succeed.  This is an example of an effective mission statement.

There is a business principle at hand here:  Ambiguity is the enemy to progress.  It’s nice Ford wants to provide outstanding products and services, but there is no formula or direction given in their mission statement as to how they plan to do this.

Toyota states it will succeed by providing the best customer experience and dealer support.   Are they succeeding at this?

In 2007, Toyota became the largest seller of cars in America.  As customers, we vote with our money.  It seems then,  that they are providing the best customer experience, and are fulfilling their mission statement.

On a lighter note, Enron’s mission statement is/was:

“Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence.”

Mike J Berry

Improving Employee Morale

As a software development management consultant, I’m always looking for innovative ways to improve employee morale.

My friend and associate, Greg Wright, told me about an interesting process for improving morale that his company practices.

They have an appeasement committee and budget.   The appeasement committee is a group with one representative from each department.  Each month, a different member of each department is represented in the group.  If certain corporate goals are met, the committee plans an event for the company for that month.  The events are simple and not too expensive:  bowling, or mini-golf and pizza, etc.

What I find valuable about this example is that five important objectives are met:

  1. The individual employees are empowered by being able to participate in the suggestions to improve morale.  This personal involvement is more meaningful to them, and more appreciated.
  2. If a committee and a budget is in place, morale-building events won’t take a backseat to unexpected fires, or brand new deadlines.
  3. The effort-vs-reward principal is set in motion, which is one of the foundations of capitalism.
  4. Corporate goals get communicated, and emphasized, and are constantly on everyone’s minds.
  5. Team-building outside of the stressed work environment will occur.  This brings a fresh dimension to work-place teamwork.

Morale building is important because it separates the sweat-shop jobs from the career jobs.  This simple process can do wonders for your organization.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: The 4-Hour Workweek

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives,Book Reviews,Leadership,Most Popular | Monday 10 December 2007 2:43 pm

I just finished reading The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, by Timothy Ferriss.  Timothy Ferriss is a 29-year old self-made millionaire, TV actor in China, athletic advisor to more than 30 world record holders, Chinese Kickboxing Champion, first American to hold Guinness world record in Tango, speaker of four languages, and a four-world champion cage fighter.   This book now makes him an author.

Ferriss’s book is about beating Corporate America, and becoming content and happy using the newer technologies available to us today.

He provides a formula for successful entrepreneurship.  One important point he makes is the need to find a market, before investing in building the product.  He suggests this successful pattern:

  1. Pick an industry you understand.
  2. Target a product you can Create, License, or Resell.
  3. Look at competition to see how you need to differentiate your product.  Examples:
    1. More credibility indicators
    2. Offer a better guarantee
    3. Offer a better selection
    4. Offer free, or faster shipping
  4. Micro-test your product (before you put any money into it), by using eBay, or Google Ad’s.  Microtesting is “probing” customers to see if they would buy the product.  Some examples:
    1. Put an add on eBay, then cancel the add minutes before the auction ends, to see how much people are willing to pay.
    2. Build a dummy website, with item, description, pictures, and pricing.  After the user pressed ‘purchase now,’ display a “Thank you but this item is temporarily unavailable.”  This enables you to test your conversion rate up front, without needing to invest in manufacturing, etc.

This way, you can determine up front if there is a market for your product.  He suggests putting the price on a separate webpage altogether so you can measure the effects that changing the price alone will have on your conversion rate.

Ferris goes on to explain how to transform managing a business into automating the business.  He suggests time management is a thing of the past.  The key to living better today is to remove distracting inputs from our lives.

He talks about outsourcing every part of you business and empowering the outsourcers.  He talks about only answering email one day a week, and having your cell phone message redirect people to you email.

The final part of Ferriss’s book talks about what to do after you have successfully started and automated you business.  He talks about getting out of your comfort zone, travelling, learning new skills, and new languages.

I think this book is an excellent read, and surprisingly cutting-edge.  It’s nice to read a business book about PPC, Google AdWords, and eBay microtesting.   Makes me feel understood.

Mike J Berry

From The Trenches: Halo 3

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Development | Friday 7 December 2007 9:28 am

I finally finished Halo 3—in Heroic mode!  Heroic mode is one notch above Normal, and one below Legendary.   For those of you that have not completed the game, relax–there are no spoilers here.  I will offer some strategy advice, though.

Halo 3 is the third installment in Bungie’s highly-popular XBox video-game series.  The storyline takes place in a futuristic world that has been infested with an alien army.  Led by a creepy villain who calls himself the ‘Prophet of Truth,’ the alien onslaught will annihaliate the entire human race unless, of course, you and the space marines expel them.

Halo 3 is a little twist from 1 and 2 because you have an alien-defector who helps you during most of the levels, and well, it’s the Xbox 360 this time!

The graphics are outstanding and the playability is great.   I remember playing Halo 1 with my friend, Greg Wright.   He came to my house the day I brought the game home.   It was around 5pm when we started playing the game.  After what seemed to us to be about three hours, his wife called us to ask if her husband was ever coming home again because it was 2:30 am and she hadn’t heard from him.

With Halo 2, my neighbor Rob and I finished the campaign game in about two weeks.   We’d play every night until about 1 am.  By then, our brains were so fried we couldn’t speak properly.  We had to use hand signals to communicate ‘good-night’ and ‘same time tomorrow.’

My all-time favorite games were Bolo and Bilestoad on the Apple II, Doom and Klingon Academy on the PC, and 007 on the N64.  Ghost Recon is my most-played XBox game, and so far, Halo 3 is the best 360 game.

Heroic is a difficult level.  It took me about three months to complete, playing solo and moderately during that time.  The first few levels are pretty easy.  You basically shoot anything moving at you.  As the game progresses however, you start facing more difficult aliens and tougher challenges.

Here are some strategies that helped me:

1. Learn to be patient and lure the bigger aliens out one-by-one.  You have a much better chance of being successful facing them one-by-one.

2. Don’t feel compelled to annihilate every alien you come across.  Sometimes, the melee was so chaotic it was simply easier to run past everything and through the next door.

3. Discover your melee-punch attack.  This is where you run up on an alien, and punch them with your weapon.  I found this to be the best way to clobber a tough alien.  One or two hits and you can take down a Brute.  This works especially well inside a shield-dome.

4. Chieftains are the toughest opponents.  Wielding gravity hammers, and invincibility armor, they strike pure terror when they run at you.  There are three excellent techniques to use to defeat them:

A. Blast them with plasma cannons.  The continuous impact will stun and drain them of health.

B. If you have an invisibility shield, go invisible, quickly walk up behind the chieftain, and melee punch him in the back several times.

C. Learn to jump up over them when they run at you.  You can stay alive and shoot at them for a while doing this.

5. Attack the exhaust vent of the Wraith.

6. Attack the legs of the Scarab SuperTank, then jump on, run up to the top, and blast it’s power source.

7. This should be obvious to you– running over the aliens is easier than shooting them.

Halo 3 is a guys game.   It’s full of marines, monsters, lasers, rockets, jeeps, four-wheelers, space-ships and shooting.  There are only three women in the game.  A dispatcher who you never see,  the operations commander, and an attractive computer persona.

There are nine levels.  The environments range from jungle, to desert, to internal facilities, to inside creepy, fleshy-spaceships.  The final level is a unique racetrack-like experience.

I really liked the humor in the game.  The little grunt aliens see you coming and say “Oh, no!  A monster!”  Sometimes the little grunts poke fun at their bigger alien buddies by saying “Brute’s are jerks.”

The brutes have their own humor.  They are big, scary aliens that speak with deep voices.  Sometimes, when you die, one of them will say “All to easy…” which is a direct quote from Darth Vader.

The brute comment that makes me laugh the most is sometimes heard when you are unfortunate enough to come across a mass of Brute aliens marching towards you.  One of them will say, in their deep, Vader-like voice, “No inappropriate touching!”

I noticed a recent news snippet that Microsoft has released it’s seven-year hold on Bungie.  They’re now free again to wow us with more great games.

I really enjoyed playing this game.  I guess I’m ready for some Halo parties, now.  If you are having one, let me know.  Find me as MBER on Xbox Live.  I’d welcome some comments from others who have finished the game.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: Under Pressure and On Time

Posted by mikeberry | Book Reviews,Leadership,Project Management,SDLC Management | Thursday 6 December 2007 11:30 am

Ed Sullivan’s book, Under Pressure And On Time, is a no-nonsense guide for delivering software products to market in a timely manner.

In this industry where the average software project is late, over budget, or a complete failure, there are so many books written about what not to do.  It’s refreshing to read a software development book that tells you “what to do” for a change.

Sullivan skips past conventional theory and provides real-world experiences and wisdom for how project managers and software development teams can succeed in this challenging industry.

Novel to Sullivan’s recommended approaches is the concept of one-team-per-project, reporting to a single manager.  Conventionally, most companies split out development, quality-assurance, and product management into different departments.  Sullivan describres this configuration as a model set-up-for-failure.  Too many factors, he says, complicate team performance when each team-member is reporting to a separate manager.

I consult with software development companies to improve their product delivery speed and product quality.  I call Sullivan’s single-team suggestion the “lean model,” and I agree with his conclusions.

In the manufacturing sciences, there is a belief that the production manager and the quality assurance manager have an inherent conflict of interest, therefore, they should be separate departments within a manufacturing organization.  Many business books are written about this.

In software, however, this model is a less-effective approach.  It can work, but it creates barriers between project teams for several reasons:

  1. Contention can arise as an “us vs them” mentality builds when team-members go back to their respective departments dougouts, to commesurate with their non-project department staff.
  2. As team-members need each other to succeed, it becomes easy for a team-member in one department to delay requests, or grandstand, because their department manager “has asked them to work on other things this week.”
  3. A department manager will tend to be uninformed about upcoming urgent project team needs and may unintentionally delay the project by asking their employee to do other things at the most inconvenient time for the project.
  4. A lack of focus will accompany any project team-member who has continuous department responsibilities outside of the project team.
  5. If contention arises, the project team-members from different departments may value disparaging another department, rather than working together to solve the problem at hand.

Sullivan goes on to discuss effective hiring techniques, retention techniques, and general healthy corporate culture factors.  He talks about ranking employees in terms of inner-circle, middle-circle, and outer-circle.  This reminds me of Jack Welch’s theory on differentation.

Another novel concept Sullivan describes is his simple but effective project scheduling process.  He breaks each month into daily rows, listing team members names as column headers.  Inside of each cell is a letter/number combination representing who needs to be finished with what task on that day.  In my opinion this is much better than a gantt chart.

Sullivan goes on to describe meetings, schedule management, release management, and project closure.

I found this to be a beneficial book to read.  I would recommend reading it topically, as a reference, rather than cover-to-cover.

Mike J Berry