Product Management

Product Management

Handing over the baby BEFORE you go on Maternity leave

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I appreciate that this is a rather niche post. However, it isn’t a post about babies and women.  It’s a post about self organising teams and empowerment.

Last week, (for the second time in my 9 years of entrepreneurship) I handed over the business for 6 months in order to have my ‘real baby’.    I always used to call Magic Milestones my first baby and indeed there are many similarities.

Just like the first time I have used belts and braces to ensure that the business can be handed over in tip top shape.  It’s amazing what a fixed deadline can do to focus the brain (even a baby brain).

However, despite a full sales pipeline and great financial results, the last 2 weeks have been very very tough.  Rather like the first time you leave your child at nursery, handing over your business needs to be a highly disciplined process.  Otherwise, the wrench can cause unforeseen consequences.

I was particularly good at handing over ‘Real baby no. 1’ to nursery..

  1. I booked an apt for the whole hour so that I had to leave her promptly.  No sulking in the corridor for me!  It was a clean break.
  2. I wrote comprehensive documentation on her current state knowing that this would change but at least there was a smooth operational handover.  As an aside, they soon knew more than I did about her bodily functions, day-time sleeping habits and cognitive abilities.
  3. I trusted the people the cared for her, even when slight mistakes were made.
  4. There was a constant feedback loop but I only found out what I needed to know.  A bump on the head.  Yep, need to know.  That Jayden yanked a toy off her and made her cry? – not so much.
  5. Most importantly, I didn’t feel jealous that she loved her key worker because I knew this meant she was happy and prospering when I wasn’t there.

I was rubbish at handing over the business the first time though..

  1. I did indeed hand over the business fairly cleanly.  Tick.  However it was to one person not a full senior team that covered every business function.  It was very much MY business.  In particular, we had no Financial Director back then and no Marketing Director. A massive error.
  2. I did write documentation but I probably did too much.  I wrote about the business I was handing over rather than the operational stuff that mattered for the first 2 weeks.  I wasted valuable time documenting business processes that got changed (for the good I may add!)
  3. I “trusted” sure.  But then I resented the mistakes that were made in my absence.  Not cool.
  4. I didn’t check in regularly.  I just checked out.  That was my view of a self-organising team.  Hire the best leader, handover, set the direction then let them find their own way.  That was empowering in my mind.  It sort of worked.  I didn’t go into the detail but then again, I wasn’t over the big stuff either.  Ultimately, I could have done with being over the big stuff because some things tripped us up later.  I could have helped.
  5. When I came back I wanted to wrestle all the power back again.  I felt challenged.  I’d made a huge leap forward by giving up control in the first place but I simply wasn’t emotionally ready for my old job to be filled permanently by somebody else.  Even though it affected my own progression.

What we’ve done differently this time..

  1. I handed over to 5 people, not just one.  They see it as their business.  We put a product based structure in place supported by a comprehensive functional one.  There is someone better than me at Finance, there is someone better than me at Marketing, someone better at HR etc.
  2. I didn’t just leave on my due date.  I concentrated on a few key tasks that would add the most strategic value and I operationally ensured that people could make it to the next meeting without me.  After that, it was down to them.
  3. I’m still working on 3.  Hey I’m only human 🙂  However, number 1 helps because I know that the collective team are better than little old me on my own trying to take over the world between the hours of 9am and 3am.  Also, we have a handful of key metrics at our disposal now and an awesome real time tool to monitor them.  So it isn’t just the captain that spotted the iceberg, everyone saw it miles back and is already steering the ship away from it.
  4. The plan is to leave them alone but we have a 1hr meeting scheduled fortnightly so that I can act as an advisor if necessary and keep everyone focused on the key metrics that count.

And 5?  Are you gong to wrestle your old job back?

That’s an interesting one and I may have to keep you posted.  However, the key thing is that the job I do now is already partially outdated.  The restructure has meant that my role is now much more focused on the key things I can bring to the table rather than spreading myself thinly across everything.  For instance, today we had an IT issue.  I didn’t solve it.  I was nervous about a meeting yesterday and felt I needed to be there.  I didn’t have to be.  The Managing Partner confidently nailed it on my behalf.  I will of course add value on my return but it will be in the areas I am most passionate about and competent in.

So how is this relevant to self organising project teams?

I appreciate I’m lucky.  I don’t have a choice in this handover business.  But next time you go on holiday (or have to leave the team to their own devices for any other reason) try testing the true extent of your self organising team.

Before you leave..

  1. Make sure everyone’s roles are clear
  2. Ensure ‘sprint goals’ or fortnightly goals are in place, that key delivery metrics have been set and most importantly that they are visible to EVERYONE on the team no matter where they sit in the hierarchy.
  3. Pick the metrics that need to go to Stakeholders and ensure that someone is in charge of getting those communicated.
  4. Review the problem that the project is trying to solve.  Use a project canvas if necessary to review all the key features.
  5. Set overarching metrics backed up by personal metrics for each team member ensuring there is a ‘golden thread’ to the overall project goal.

While you are away..

  1. Check in at pre-defined times once a week for half an hour but only if you really have to.
  2. Do not read your emails.
  3. If you don’t have to check in, then don’t!

When you return..

  1. Delete your emails from the team.  If you feel brave delete them all and follow up with stakeholders as soon as possible
  2. Be gracious about the team’s efforts
  3. Assume a coaching role on your return even if you don’t stay in that mode after the first week back
  4. Delete the words “I told you so” from your vocabulary
  5. Leave your ego at the door
  6. Realise you weren’t there at the time when decisions had to be made and that hindsight is a wonderful thing
  7. Review the metrics in detail
  8. Follow up on failures with the intention of truly learning from them rather than pointing out people’s deficiencies or worse, your own superior knowledge/ experience/ expertise
  9. See the big picture
  10. Celebrate successes

Finally and most importantly..

Bring in local delicacies, rather than photos of you and your partner in your swimmers.  No-one needs to see that at work however gorgeous the sunset, however great your body or gorgeous your other half might be.

It’s detail they just don’t need to see.







Leadership, Lean, Lean Startup, Product Management, Project Management, Stability, Teams

Did you just build the wrong team?

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No-one goes to work to do a bad job.

Sometimes it may feel that way but really… they aren’t!
Some people may be in the wrong job, someone may be having a bad day, they may have a completely different agenda to you but 99.9% of the time they aren’t trying to fail.
So why do technology teams so often fail? How can we be so bad at ensuring that technology teams actually succeed?
Well my team and I have been pondering this for some time. We’ve been working on something called ‘Team Genes’. Looking at the genetics of what makes a good team so that we can replicate this for our clients. This is my current stance on the subject..

If we built software like we built teams we wouldn’t be so surprised at the outcome.

Organisations consistently go about building project teams with no purpose, design or thought behind them at all and wonder if they have built the wrong team later down the line. The usual process is this:

  1. Bill says he needs an X
  2. Jill is an X
  3. Jill is available to do X (sort of)
  4. Bill meets Jill
  5. Bill and Jill get along
  6. Jill joins the team!

So imagine the same in the software process:

  1. Bill says he needs an X
  2. Acme’s product is an X
  3. The organisation already bought 20 licenses of Acme product
  4. Bill uses Acme product for an afternoon…and he likes it!
  5. Let’s roll out Acme tomorrow!

So let’s break down where Bill went wrong on the product front and then maybe we can learn how he goes wrong on the people front..

  1. Bill’s assertion that he needed an X wasn’t really challenged by anyone.  (Ring any bells?)
  2. The organisation is already familiar with a product so it decides that’s enough to be a contender.
  3. Hence, no-one goes out to look for any other options thus assuming the organisation’s first choice of product was a good one.  Note that the requirements have had a cursory glance at best.
  4. Bill’s happy so let’s go!

The dangers of choosing a software product in this way are that:

  1. An organisation repeats its mistakes time and time again
  2. Politics tend to rule over substance
  3. There is no strategic relationship built with the supplier or investigation into common values and goals.  Hence, the organisation may find the vendor giving them less value over time.

And most CIOs would laugh at Bill.  Silly Bill.  Rash Bill.  And yet the product that Bill was assessing was worth maybe, 10K a year in licenses.  (These days probably a lot less).

But the person that Bill is assessing in the first example is going to cost the business between £200 and £800+ PER DAY!! People often cost between 10 – 20 x more than software does and yet we use MORE RIGOUR in choosing the former than the latter!

Here’s where you might be thinking the following..

This doesn’t apply to my company as we always create job specs for all roles

Newsflash.  A job spec isn’t a requirement.

Do we write a product spec when we go looking for software?  Hell no! We write user requirements.  We state the problem and not the solution.  (Well most of the time anyway).  A person specification would be something like this.. “My name is Bill.  I’m a busy Product Owner with a day job and I’m currently writing all my own user stories.  It would be great if I had someone who could reduce the team’s reliance on my time by creating user stories for me.  I could then spend the time I do have with the team answering their day to day questions about business processes.”   Yes the answer might be to get a business analyst in.  Or, it might be to utilise the test team differently.  Or, it might be that the Dev team lead is totally happy to help out here.  Unfortunately, because we are so used to the status quo we leap to the solution in the blink of an eye.  This is partly because we want our problem solved and partly because in most people’s hiring process, the quickest way to get your problem solved is to ring up an agent and say,

“I want a business analyst please.  For the rest of the project. 3 months would be good and I want them ASAP please”

Let’s look at the next part of the process.  Jill is available.  So Jill is suitable.  That’s the problem with hiring ASAP.  Suddenly there’s a drought for the thing you need the most.  So we look at who is available.

Are you now throwing things at your computer?

Of course I only hire people who are available!!  Why would I do anything else?

Well this point is kind of related to the last one.

Sure someone may not be available, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you.

Being lean is about minimising waste and waste (when applied to people) comes in the form of under-utilisation.  But how many companies truly assess this ruthlessly before going off and hiring?

Finally, let’s look at the 3rd part of Bill’s process.

He likes her.  He hires her.

Well here’s where I can totally disagree with you.   We hire people using personality assessments as well as those for competency.

Okay not bad.  What if Jill hates doing X? Wants to move away from X and you are just making her do more Xing?? We rarely find out if people are interested in roles just whether they are competent enough.She might be good at it sure but is she passionate about it?

Last but not least, Bill and Jill may not even be working together to produce the same stuff. Jill gets parachuted into a brand new team and left to fend for herself. We used to let software out of the packaging to fend for itself but we soon stopped that. We realised it was insane to impose software on people without due care and attention and yet this is exactly what we do when we impose one person on a whole group of people and vice versa.

Doesn’t that sound a little insane?

How about we do this instead?..

  1. Write a problem statement not a job spec, rather like we do for products
  2. Let the team interview the person rather than their prospective manager or someone who ‘knows’ about the area in which you are hiring
  3. Test where Jill naturally sits in a team and assess if Jill would clash with anyone else or whether there is still a gap.
  4. Ideally do an assessment of your team before you hire ANYONE.  Then you can use this information to inform your choice of both role and the type of person you need.
  5. If they are costing more than around £8K per month, try them out for an afternoon.
  6. Be prepared to accept a failure has occurred – fast – and take action if necessary.  People are rarely fired for swift action provided it’s backed up by evidence.

But that sounds a bit of a long winded process.

Really?  How many hrs did you spend interviewing people last week?  You probably did at least 3.  That’s 3 hrs of your time.  That doesn’t include anyone else’s either.   HR?  Your boss?

We think life’s too short for endless interviewing.

So.. here’s the news.  Magic Milestones can set this up in under 24hrs and it saves time beyond just the first hire.  No-one gets near us without a competency check anyhow so that bit’s done.

To be a member of the Team Genes club our people are tested all year not just when you ask for their services.

Using a different method of hiring is brave.  We know that people’s habits are hard to change.  Why don’t you start the ball rolling and find out more here.

In the meantime, I’m just going off to help Bill out of a fix..



Investment Management, Negotiation, Product Management, Project Management, Project Office, Stakeholder Management

Plagued by Seagulls

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Looking out onto the Cornish coast this morning I was having a lovely relaxing time. Then the gulls came..

Apologies if there are any gull lovers out there but for me these creatures are pretty awful. Ever since one nicked my cheesecake next to the Sydney Opera House I’ve never quite forgiven them as a species. They have circled me menacingly and dive-bombed me in a Kayak. They have kept me awake at 4am with their incessant child-like wailing. They have deposited the unthinkable over my lovely new coat. They are something I could live without. However, they are there and I do unfortunately, have to live with them.

But why are seagulls relevant to delivery management?

The seagull is the person who circles overhead or stalks you on the ground. For some reason your project is both enticing and toxic to them. They poop from on high over your delivery efforts or else they just peck at your feet. Either way dealing with Sea Gulls on a project is irritating and tricky.

Pellet guns are not allowed

As tempting as it may be, shooting Seagulls is illegal. Likewise on a project that option is not the best to pursue and may indeed get you fired.

So what is the best approach, if circled by a seagull?


Know your Seagulls. They could be lurking anywhere and strike at any time. The common ones are:

  1. Security experts. They play a vital role and that role involves swooping in when you least expect it.
  2. Technical Architects. Beware not having this person on side. If you break the rules be prepared for the inevitable whitewash of your technical plans.
  3. Finance bods. Less Seagulls and more rug pullers but the effect is the same. If they aren’t bought in they will ruin your delivery plans.
  4. Members of department under-going change. Perhaps the least expected and most prevalent they can undermine a change at the last possible moment leading to certain failure and a possible pecked head. These guys tend to come in pairs.


  • Try to get them fired. This may backfire like the pellet gun approach.
  • Avoid them. Ever tried avoiding a Seagull? They don’t get the hint.
  • Feed them. If you are doing a bad job at delivery or stakeholder management you are doing their job for them. Try not to get distracted or they will nick your cheesecake when you aren’t looking. They may even tell everyone it was theirs to begin with.


  • Involve them as soon as it is practical to do so
  • See their point of view. Seagulls have their own agenda. They are feathering their own nests. How can your project help them? Work it out and see if your agenda can align more with theirs. It may not be possible but worth some thought.
  • Keep them out of pecking distance but make sure you know they aren’t roosting nearby. Keep them in the communication loop and make sure that others know their intentions. Otherwise, they could potentially shoot you out of the water with an argument that disrupts your project entirely.
  • Pre-empt their arguments and prepare your defence.

sunSince I’ve been writing this the Seagulls have gone and the sun has even come out.  Waiting is another option as Seagulls are often on the look out for other threatening projects and their attention can be deflected elsewhere.

Just make sure yours isn’t their focus today and grab a large umbrella if they start losing their proverbial cannons.





Entrepreneurship, Failure, Investment Management, Philosophy, Product Management, Strategy, Teams, Uncategorized

The Boy and the Starfish

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When the tide is coming in..

You need a team or a consultancy that can focus on solving one problem at a time.

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance, as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water.
Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.

As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.

The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied,”I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. “But”, said the man, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied,

“I made a huge difference to that one!”

Author Unknown


Consultancy & Training, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Lean Startup, Product Management, Project Office, Stability, Strategy, Teams

Why the “Intrapreneur” has self-discipline beyond any entrepreneur

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Eric Ries (the author of ‘The Lean Start Up’) has written that people can apply entrepreneurial principles within the corporate world.  “It’s not ‘intrepreneurship,’ it’s not ‘like entrepreneurship,”’  Ries says.  “Corporate entrepreneurship is regular entrepreneurship.”

In a recent Birmingham meetup we had a great conversation around this..  One of the things that came out of the discussion was that people in the corporate world actually face a set of challenges that largely come from over-resourcing.  If you think about it, there is a pattern, a path that many have already walked.  However, the intrapreneur needs to reject this path.  Why?  Well, because if they walk it, they just fall into the same trap as everyone else in their organisation.  They are unlikely to change the outcome by doing what everyone else has done before.  If a project manager, a product manager, a DBA, a front-end developer, a back-end developer, a tester, a designer, a UX specialist etc. etc. all get hired straight off, this is fishy to me.  Someone is hiring the Rolls Royce Team for a Fiat Punto job.  However, if the smallest possible team is hired and later skills are begged, borrowed or stolen then this is the equivalent to acting more like an entrepreneur would.  Sorry… I will amend that.  This is tantamount to acting like an entrepreneur should.

However, entrepreneurs are only human.  Just like everyone else.  People like people. Entrepreneurs don’t set up businesses to sit around by themselves.  They want a team around them.  In fact having met and talked to well over 100 of my fellow business owners over the years..  I’d even go so far as saying they NEED them.  So even entrepreneurs, with their tight budgets, cash flow constraints etc. etc. are prone to a little ‘pushing the boat out’ when it comes to hiring people.

But what about Intrapreneurs?  Well, I have to confess here that I haven’t ever been an intrapreneur but I have worked alongside many people tasked with the job of making something work.  Generally, something other people have failed at.  Although they all had the best of intentions I can think of more than a one or two who decided to hire based on the standard template.  And who would blame them?  Entrepreneurs are constrained by the fact they HAVE NO MONEY.  Much of the time it hits their own pocket!  Yet they still OVER HIRE!!  I have done this.  Many times.  It does not end well.

So who can blame the intrapreneurs for acting in the exact same way?  The only difference being that they have more money to waste.

Hence, the actions of an intrapreneur must be more measured, more calculated.  Their resistance to following the status quo must be second to none.  They must have the grit to be able to deliver on a shoestring with all the risks involved.

They are putting themselves in the line of fire by acting in the best interests of the organisation.  WOW.

To me, it kind of feels like an intrapreneur needs to be way more disciplined, way more entrepreneurial, than the entrepreneur ever was.

Stephanie Chamberlain runs Magic Milestones Limited, which is a Delivery Management Consultancy.  She is a serial entrepreneur, published author on Agile Methods and a visiting industrial fellow at Aston Business School.