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Building a Culture

One of the challenges we face in business is building a team identity, and ultimately, a company culture. We have team building exercises, mission statements, birthday cakes, and all sorts of other mechanisms in place to try to make people feel bonded to one another. The benefits of a cohesive team are innumerable, and members of a “gelled” team often feel like they can accomplish anything.

That’s challenging enough to do at a company – a simple microcosm of a country. Finland seems to be attempting to do this as a country, and at my first glance I would say succeeding at it since 1949. How? Baby boxes. Yes, expectant mothers in Finland receive a box full of baby clothes and such (or a 140 Euro stipend). Not just poor mothers, but ALL mothers. Imagine walking down the street with your decked out new born and seeing all the other new parents walking with their toddlers in the same style. It’s an instant cultural identity.

While the box alone cannot create material equality for all babies born in this country, it is only one of many benefits designed to give children a good, fair start to life. There’s no shame in using public aid that everyone accesses and there’s no statement of consumerist individuality in the clothing that all babies are wearing. The box gives us lots of fun opportunities to play baby punch buggy and it spared us more than a few shopping trips and plenty of money, but its real value lies in its message of social justice for all children.

Ok – I’m not a fan of the punch buggy game, but the rest of it makes sense to me. Babies are the future of society, why not spend a trivial amount of money starting them off right?

via The Finnish Baby Box « All Things Mothering.

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Thinking In SaaS

Our platform selection process is continuing along well, and we have seen some very interesting solutions. Some have been good fits, some are poor fits. At this point, we are going through 2 proof of technology exercises to evaluate who is the best fit. One is a standard on premise solution, and the other is SaaS.

SaaS, aka Software as a Service, really brings a new model to thinking about solutions from a customer perspective. With on premise solutions, it’s pretty clear that you host, you install, you upgrade, you code, etc. You can of course hire consultants, professional services, etc. but at the end of the day, the onus is on you. With SaaS solutions, the line is blurred. The company is offering a specific set of features or services. These may be a complete solution, or there may be gaps for you to fill in. Your challenge is to find these gaps (if there are any) and determine how to fill them.

This challenge requires a whole new line of thinking. You have to think about things in terms of being a customer, and not an engineer on the vendors team. I too often hear “how do I see the debug log” or something along those lines. Better questions are the ones that determine what the SLA is, what the mean time between failures is, the average service restoration times, and what the penalties for breaching the SLA are.

Of course I mentioned earlier you have to figure out where the gaps are. Asking questions around those is absolutely necessary. You should also determine how you will engage one another when an issue in the handoff between gaps experiences a failure. But beyond that, don’t expect to see their debug log.

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Fall Tennis Has Begun!

Tim Henman preparing to hit a serve. The left ...

Image via Wikipedia

Last night was my first match of the Fall Season in Ultimate Tennis. Ultimate Tennis (also known as the K-Swiss league) is a flex tennis league where you are your own team. Match schedules are posted and you have an entire week to get your match in. This is a great way for busy people who can’t commit to a fixed time every week (usually Saturday or Sunday) to play a match on a team like ALTA or USTA.

This is my second season playing singles in that league, after taking 20 years off from playing tennis competitively. I’m starting this season about 6 pounds lighter than I finished the last, and I have been practicing pretty consistently with a group doing drills weekly.

Last night’s match felt good all around. My first serve percentage was high in the first set. It fell some in the second set, but I started going for bigger serves then and winning points off my serve. My backhand was in pretty good shape, although it was weaker than my forehand. I mixed it up occasionally and threw in a slice backhand instead of topspin whenever I felt out of position or just needed a mental reset on the point. My opponent played well. We broke each other a few times through the night, and had a few of his service games play on for decades of deuces. In the end, I came out on top 6-4, 7-5.

Overall I’m feeling really good about my game, especially since it was only mid-May of this year when I decided to come off the bench and play. I had to get my groundstrokes, serve and net play all back in line – not to mention my racket was OLD and desperately needed upgrading. I’m really looking forward to playing Doubles in this league starting in mid October with my buddy Jason. We played a LOT back in the day, and I have a feeling we are going to have a blast!

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Know Your Interviewer

I recently went through an interview cycle where I was essentially a “C” in the RACI scheme. The role was a program manager on the business team, and I would be one of the primary interfaces from the technology team to assist in analysis, consultation and getting things done. Just as a side note, I think it’s great that the business and technology teams involve one another in the hiring process since our success really is tied together.

Back to the story – I had already interviewed a few people, and there were some people that might have been a good fit, but none were just blowing my doors off. Then, I interviewed one person who had found my Linked In profile and website and knew a lot about me. It took him a total of 5 minutes, and really won me over in the interview.

Why? Normally, I’m looking at someone’s past experience to dig in, ask questions, etc. If the candidate knows my background, he can better shape his answers, ask questions, etc. The interview was a good give and take, and at the end of the day I knew that he was genuinely interested in the position and likely willing to go the extra mile.

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Amazon Book Reviews

I’m seeing an increasing number of “reviews” on Amazon that say something along the lines of this:

The books were delivered faster than expected and I look forward to doing more business with Amazon.

I guess there is a culture gap somewhere so that when Amazon sends an email saying “Please review your purchase”, the purchaser thinks we care about how well Amazon delivered. That’s fine on eBay or some other merchant brokering site, but c’mon folks – we know how Amazon does. Give us a review of the book!

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