It was a bit strange. Here we had a fairly successful product but I almost found myself wishing it had not been. What was wrong with me?
You see, we had a well organized project going on. In fact, we were getting rave reviews from all our internal teams and other projects were dropping by to see what we were doing and trying to emulate us. It was heady stuff. We finally got a major project onto the right track and people were liking it!
Well, not everyone was. It seems the powers-that-be, you know those influential people higher up that carry a lot of weight, didn’t like that someone was “doing it right” which of course implies that they must have been doing it wrong before. Within about a week, we had essentially lost control of our project.
They tripled the number of products the project would produce, increased requirements by 450% and pulled in the delivery date by 20%. It was complete insanity. This was the year I stopped buying the employee discounted stock because I decided that any organization that could do this was going to be in trouble in the long run.
Well, I was right and wrong. The project delivered late and buggy. That was actually pretty normal and what we were trying to fix. The upside was they were unique products, no one had anything like them, and people loved them, bugs and all. They were a success and I was somewhat depressed by it and that of course didn’t make any sense.
It took us years to finally stabilize and improve the quality of the software baseline this product relied upon. In the meantime we would end up turning out another product, after many missed tries, that would change the industry, it was iconic and everyone wanted one. Wow. The product was still buggy and regularly delivered late, but it was taking over the world.
Now, those products and the company is just a memory. A fortuitous home run in a game we ultimately lost and where the company eventually got split up and sold off. What went wrong?
I think in part that while we were having only middling success the company culture was more inclined to entertain innovations and improvements. Once we had a few hits, we quit focusing on how well me managed the products and quality but instead talked about market share and what to do with all the extra cash. I like the comment by the CEO of Samsung where even as their products were dominating their industries he says they could lose it all in any one of those industries within 10 years, if they don’t keep innovating and improving.
Bill Gates has said that success can make you think you know what you are doing, and you would be wrong. Well, the bottom line is that when we are successful is when we need to double down on making sure our engine of success is continually improving. The best indicators I’ve seen is simply what I experienced, that if we are having sporadic success, we know we have the potential, but we need to ensure our fundamentals are ever improving. Instead of cashing in and making big plans to take over the world, we probably need to be remembering our humble beginnings and continuing to get better.
I recall when Toyota finally became the world’s biggest car manufacturer by sales. Their comment to questions was that they were gratified that so many people liked their products but they would stay focused on trying to make the best automobiles possible and be a good company to investors, and not worry about who was number one.
It took us several more years before we again got to the point of improving our project management and finally delivering products on time with good quality. Unfortunately, they received only mediocre response from our customers and while they were happy that we finally did it, they bought most of their products elsewhere.
I always wonder what the future would have looked like if we had been able to align project management excellence (on time with good quality) with our world changing iconic products. I’d like to think we would still be in the game and be the one everyone was trying to catch. Luckily, I had not invested heavily in the company and its demise didn’t have much of an impact on me personally, but I hated being right.
Is your success keeping you from focusing on continually improving your management?