Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book Report: Rework

I’ve long been a fan of the 37 Signals folks.  They really are the heralds of the lean movement.  The build super simple tools to run small companies and they do it using the best practices in the lean movement.  So, I was excited to dig into their book: Rework – a compendium of their best practices.

The book is organized in to 87 lessons that read like blog posts (just a few pages a piece).  Here are my seven favorites:

1- Scratch your own itch – build a product you will use.  Customer research becomes easy and part of your company DNA when you are the customer.

2- Interruption is the enemy of productivity – whether meetings, calls, emails, or colleagues stopping by – these little interruptions make sure nothing actually gets done.  I’m a big fan of arranging my work/communication in blocks. I will code or write for 3-4 hours with my phone off and outlook closed.  It’s good practice to carve out this time for your company on a regular (ie daily) basis.

3 - Go to sleep.  While everyone differs, my world revolves around sleep. Sleeping less makes me stupid and careless – often to the extend that I’m only creating more work for myself down the road.  Sure there are times where you need to pull an all nighter, but usually those events are preventable.  If you’re up all night – you’re doing it wrong.

4 - Welcome obscurity.  I think many misinterpret the lean startup methodologies to mean that you need to launch and build a product asap.  This often leads to a team maintaining the wrong business.  Lay out your theses and do the least amount of work possible to validate them in obscurity.  By the time you’re hunting for PR your business should be rock solid and ready to scale.  If it’s not spend more time on product and none on promotion.

5 – Press Releases are Spam.  Many young companies go chasing big press as a marketing mechanism.  Rework points out that they get far more customers from blogs/trade publications than big media.  In my experience I’ve certainly found this to be true.   I’ve gotten more useful leads from the HARBUS (the HBS student paper) than CNN.

6- Do it yourself first.  I’m a huge fan of this mentality.  I’ve done every job at my startup.  I know what it entails so I know what person I need and I can be a better manager (since I actually understand what they’re doing).  Also, if anything goes wrong, I’m never left helpless or blocked.  I can always pitch in to make sure the show will go on.

7 - Test Drive Employees.  Despite working at Microsoft – famous for their love of the brainteasers and intellectual horsepower tests – I don’t find that relevant to finding good hires at all.  If I’m going to hire for a position I look for comparable experience (ie this person has successfully done a similar job in the past) and then I watch them do their job.  Whether this is a 1-2 hour coding session where they work on a current company problem or even a weeklong period making sales calls – taking the time to watch someone work before hiring is the only way to make sure you’ve got the best candidate.

As the new year rolls in. These are great lessons to live by – the top two will definitely make my list of resolutions!

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