How Project Management tools kill more companies than any other SaaS out there

“If only we had an option to create sub-tasks and use templates, we’d be x10 more productive. We could build more features. We could win!” — Everyone, all the time.

Sadly, it’s all lies.

In the recent years, there is a huge blossom in the Project Management area: “This tool is great for implementing Kanban!”, or “This tool has a great intuitive UX!” and “Yea, but this tool actually follows the Lean Startup principles” are thrown into the air faster than you deploy code to production these days.

I call bullshit.

I believe that focusing your time around Project Management tools is a premature optimization and probably #1 killer of many startups. Why? In a single word: “Focus”. In two: “Wrong Focus”.

In order to build a great company, here is what you need:

  • Internal Purpose – Which kind of company are you trying to build? VC-backed? Small & Bootstrapped? Why does building this company matters so much to you? What are the core values you believe in? How would these values manifest in the way you hire people? 
  • External Purpose – Why does it matter to the world? Who do you help by building this product? Is it really valuable to them?
  • Communication & Trust – Do people feel comfortable sharing feedback and ideas? Do they understand the motivation behind the decisions made  in different parts of the company? Are you willing to argue and fight for you believe in? Are you willing to eventually let go and help the person in charge to succeed in executing upon her beliefs, even if they’re opposed to yours? Are different individuals in the company allow their peers to learn faster by enabling experimentation (via tools and teaching) rather than guarding against mistakes (via checklists and roles)?
  • Focus –  Are you saying “No!” enough times a day? Are you building momentum for the critical parts in your business? 
  • Alignment – Are you building an organization that aligns all individuals to a greater goal, instead of optimizing locally (team level)?
  • Hiring – Are you making sure that you don’t hire a “ninja” or a “hacker” that could not emotionally connect to the type of company you are trying to build? Are you hiring people who are better than you?

And here are some things you don’t really need:

  • Tasks hierarchy to the 5th level.
  • Gantt-like dependency visualization.
  •  Template-based for repetitive tasks.
  • 100% accurate Velocity tracking.
  • Single-click Gmail calendar integration.
  • A mobile app that also works on your iPhone 3GS and your iPad 1.


Project Management tools may help you to manage your work more smoothly, but the question is not how fast are you able to deliver things but how fast are you able to learn that you’re delivering the wrong things and make the adjustments.

These adjustments will never be driven by using a better tool. It’s about your attitude, your culture, your DNA.

“But hey, I thought that it’s all about Execution!” It’s not. Well, it’s not the “Execution” you’re referring to anyway. This mantra is so popular today because we tend to read articles covering the top companies out there: Facebook, Google, Dropbox, Amazon etc. These companies already have a solid definition of purpose. They figured out how to scale their communication and hiring. These companies thrived because they were able to focus on customers, growth or revenues over time. Most chances, you’re not there yet.

This doesn’t mean Project Management tools are bad or evil. You may want to invest more in them, when your foundations and product are solid. Just don’t let “imperfect” Project Management tools to be an excuse for a failed business.

It’s like blaming a poor relationship with your spouse due to a lack of decent calendar app for your iPhone.


p.s. check out my latest side-project, SoftwareLeadWeekly – A free weekly email, for busy people who care about people, culture and leadership.



Is GitHub’s self-assignment of tasks a myth?

I’ve been listening to Scott Chacon‘s great talk at Cultivate, and during that talk he was sharing how employees at GitHub get to pick their own tasks. They let people pick tasks using a very simple “decision algorithm”:


Crazy, eh? Or is it?

 As someone who’s never worked at the company with such freedom of choice in terms of task assignment, I cannot help but wonder how they handle the following scenarios:

1. Working on non-critical issues first: Say we’ve got 50 problems in our company’s backlog, ordered by priority, how do we make sure people will take the top problems that intersect with their interest? An effective organization, one may claim, would start with the most important problems, while at companies with a complete task assignment freedom, there is no guarantee that someone would not start with the 50th task.

2. What if there are important tasks with no intersection? What happens if there is an urgent task with a huge impact on the business which is simply not that interesting to the employees? Just remember the last time you had to integrate with some 3rd party vendor. The horror!

Should we force an assignment here or can we say “if it’s not interesting to our employees then we should probably not do it”?

It’s hard to imagine a situation where the company would not force a decision in this case.

3. What if we cannot eat our own dog food? Some of us are not working for companies in which the employee is actually a user of the product (GitHub employees are using their own tools all of the time). That makes it a bit harder, in comparison to GitHub, as there is no direct motivation to fix a bug or introduce a new capability.


“Let’s tell them what to do and motivate them with customers’ success (aka KPIs)”

Most companies, including the ones I’ve worked for so far, will assign the most urgent issues to their employees, by priority. Usually the Product Team (or CEO) will make sure the backlog will be prepared and prioritized to best serve the business needs. This makes it easier for each team, and team member, to pick the most urgent tasks and start with it. It reduces dramatically a situation of analysis-paralysis where employees do not really understand or sure what they need to work on and why. Then, we motivate our employees by looking at the metrics – did our effort just changed the KPI we were aiming for (say increased retention for the app)?

Using this paradigm, we couple employees’ motivation to customers’ happiness. The problem with this approach for the long run is that for most time, people would work on tasks here:

traditional-tasks-pickedWhile it makes a lot of business sense, it raises a lot of questions:

1. Motivation and retention of employees – What happens if you let employees work on important problems that the company has, but with almost zero intersection to the employees’ interest? We can always go to the basics – improving our skills – there is value in merely learning to write better code, design better products or any other craftsmanship in the company. Working on tasks which will improve our engineering skills but would also cost us days of pain, would make anyone reluctant to continue and grow in the company for the long term. As @rands said before – “Bored people quit”.

2. Branding (type of people you’d attract) – Joining a company known for a very clear hierarchy and certain way to assign tasks, may create a very specific impression for your values. An easy way to see it is to compare a traditional manager-assign-the-tasks company to a self-assignment company. Trying to judge from no internal knowledge, who do you believe have employees who are more self-managed? Where do you think people are more or less motivated? Can you explain why? What about the expectations each company has from their employees? Do you prefer to work at a place which demands decision making abilities?

Even if your gut feeling is incorrect, it is still a great way to understand the difference in “branding power” between these two paradigms. Certain kind of people would naturally be drawn to each company, and it is my belief that if I had to guess, higher-quality employees would love to join a company who trust them enough to make their own priority and calls.

3. Mentoring (which behavior do you want to cultivate) – We are what we do, not what we say. In a company where managers decide on the task order, how can we mentor anyone inside to make their own decisions? Is it okay to let them determine the priority of the tasks inside a feature but force them to implement the feature because it matters most to the business? What does it tell our employees when we trust them only to priorities and decide for the tactics without applying the same logic to the strategies?

I’m not sure there is a clear cut here. There shouldn’t be. Obviously, GitHub encountered many of these situations I’ve stated above and solved them, but it wasn’t covered during the talk (Scott, mind sharing a nice link to Quora or a blog post, pretty please? ;)). The team at Treehouse took the same path and described the entire process in a few blog posts. It’s pretty incredible and inspiring to see how they expect their employees to “sell” their ideas and projects internally. For me, it says a lot about the kind of employees they want to have and what it would be like working there.

I do believe that self-assignment is something that companies should actively strive to. Not as an end-goal, but rather as a metric or score to track. Treehouse’s example is great, as they started as a traditional organization and made the move while also kept writing about their lessons learned during that transition. This change forces hiring (and retaining) self-managed people, or at least people who want to become such and have a mentor to show them the way.

Scalable companies are ones which built autonomy and self-purpose into their DNA. Having self-managed employees with great sense of balancing their own passion with business’ needs, for me, sounds like a great way to assure employees retention while having business success.

What do you think? Do companies like GitHub and Treehouse make an exception to the rule, or is it the beginning for one of the biggest cultural changes we’re about to see in the next 5-10 years?

p.s. check out my latest side-project, SoftwareLeadWeekly – A free weekly email, for busy people who care about people, culture and leadership.


What Dan Ariely can teach us about Software Development


Let me start with sharing an insight from Dan Ariely’s TED talk on “What makes us feel good about our work” (full list of insights from his talk can be found here):

The harder a project is, the prouder we feel about it

The Study: Ariely gave origami novices some paper and instructions to build a (pretty ugly) form. Those who did the origami project, as well as bystanders, were asked in the end how much they’d pay for the product. In a second trial, Ariely hid the instructions from some participants, resulting in a harder process — and an uglier product.

The Results: in the first experiment, the builders paid five times as much as those who just evaluated the product. In the second experiment, the lack of instructions exaggerated this difference: builders valued the ugly-but-difficult products even more highly than the easier, prettier ones, while observers valued them even less.

The Upshot: Our valuation of our own work is directly tied to the effort we’ve put in it. (Plus, we erroneously think that other people will ascribe the same value to our own work as we do).

How does it apply to Software Development?

How many times we spend years, pouring our heart and soul building software (our origami), only to find out that others are not finding it as valuable as we do?

If you read Ariely’s experiment, then you might understand by now that your developers completely fell in-love with their amazing architecture, that your operations team has a full-blown monitoring system that took months to build and that your product team has a yearly plan with at least 3 months of spec a head of time.

Here is the problem – what will happen when you’ll approach your team and ask them to throw away what they did and “pivot” to a new business? Are we too emotionally invested to see that we built a beautiful origami that no one will pay for?

Companies that fail to learn and adjust will eventually run out of money and people. This is why it’s so important to change the way we value our execution team, and set our expectations differently from what we used to.

Strive to build an organization which values learning over building

“Lean startup” created a huge impact that not enough existing companies fully understand and utilize. More specifically, not enough managers and leaders leverage the fact that “Lean methodologies” change the focus from just building things to building the right things, by asking these questions:

  1. Do we solve a real problem?
  2. Do we have customers who find our solution useful?
  3. Can we make enough money to make our solution a sustainable business?

Execution value should be equal to how fast we’re able to learn and adjust

As an execution team (i.e. everyone involved in releasing the product), our job is not only to appreciate well-crafted software, but also to understand if it makes sense to invest so much in every step of the way. We need to enable faster learning by breaking apart our solutions into smaller steps while measuring their need/usage as we release small deliveries to our customers.

Here are a few questions you should ask your execution team more often:

  1. Will we know when and how people hear about our solution?
  2. Will we be able to understand if and how they use our solution?
  3. Can we change things quickly enough to improve our solution (based on learning)?
  4. Can we measure the quality (usage) of our changes?
  5. Can we reduce amount of work and test for need earlier (think MVP)?

Using these questions to set context and priorities can help your execution team to be more passionate about problem they’re trying to solve, and the process they’re using to figure it out, as opposed to being passionate about their current implementation.

When you focus on the problem, it will be easier to change the solution.

Kris Gale (of Yammer) wrote it beautifully: “Embrace simplicity in your product and in your code. The value is in what gets used, not what gets built. “

P.S. did you check my latest side-projects?
1. SoftwareLeadWeekly — A free weekly email, for busy people who care about people, culture and leadership.
2. Leading Snowflakes — A practical guide for building, growing and mentoring teams.

Photo credit – TED


Stop outsourcing your emotions at work

robots-optRobots: They look cool, but they don’t give a damn.

What if I would tell you that you are outsourcing one of the most powerful motivators at work, without even paying attention?

Do you remember the last time you got a gift at work for your birthday? Well, did one of your teammates actually make the effort of buying and picking it up or was it a “recommendation” passed to Human Resource department, who made it happen?

Looking back at the companies I’ve worked for, it seems that we somehow outsourced most of our ways to show our teammates we care about them. It was comfortable, so naturally, as the company grew, it became easier to outsource the “tedious work” of showing genuine interest and making the effort. A few other examples that come to mind:

  1. Welcoming new employees – do you personally introduce new employees to everyone else or do you let HR do it? Are you responsible for the workstation to be prepared or is it an “IT problem”? Do you prepare some kind of personal starter kit to WOW them on their first day at work?
  2. Life changing events (e.g. new baby, moving to a new apartment, getting a dog) –Do you let someone else send them the obvious “flowers & chocolates” combo?
  3. Holidays – are you writing a personal note to each teammate on New Year’s Eve or is there a generic gift that everyone gets?
  4. Fun days for the team – are you taking care of it by yourself or you wait for someone else to figure it all out for you?

I think we give up too quickly. We let someone else in the organization take care of our own people’s happiness.  Having a great HR department should assist and support you. They should nurture and celebrate it, but not own it completely. Their willingness to help should not make you lazy, sloppy or numb. It’s making the effort which counts most, not picking the best possible gift every time.

Why outsourcing your emotions will eventually kill your company –

When you let someone else take care of your employees, at best, you’ll create a bond between your employees and your company, as these gifts are usually company-wide and lacking real personal investment from you. When you take care of it yourself, you’ll create a bond with your people. Even better, if you involve your teammates, you will make connections between them, encouraging them to show interest in each other. In a world where people switch jobs every 2 years on average, the worst thing you can do is create the wrong kind of bond – “People leave managers (and teams), not their companies”.
San Antonio Spurs coach, Greg Popovich, gets it:

Yes, we’re disciplined with what we do. But that’s not enough. Relationships with people are what it’s all about. You have to make players realize you care about them. And they have to care about each other and be interested in each other. Then they start to feel a responsibility toward each other. Then they want to do for each other.


Do you also feel we have outsourced our emotions or do you see it differently? I would love to hear your thoughts, so please drop me a comment and discuss on Hacker News.

btw – are you passionate about culture and people? If so, check out my latest side-project, SoftwareLeadWeekly.


Photo credit: Ѕolo.



How To Use Your Unfair Advantage To Create an Unforgettable First Day For New Hires


Let’s say that you’ve just hired Emma, one of the most talented [title goes here] on the face of the planet! How cool is that, right?!

If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably prepared a powerful (mac)laptop and a gigantic, cinema-size screen waiting for her arrival. But you didn’t stop there, haven’t you? You smart, devilish-fox…

You also came up with one or two tasks she can do on her first day at work, maybe even considered to let her press the BIG RED button and deploy her work to production. Anything you can do to make her feel frighteningly productive, eh? Nodding your head?

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but you’re doing it wrong.

People want to connect with people, not with todo lists

Even though feeling productive is a strong emotion, it is also a short-lived one. In order to create a long lasting emotion, a real WOW effect, you have to create a personal bond.

Research has shown that a person’s mood can be affected even by 3 degrees of separation from people they don’t even know. That’s right, t-h-r-e-e. Do you remember feeling utterly ecstatic because a task of a user-story of a feature smiled at your direction? Nope? Nothing? Bingo!

It’s time to pull out your secret weapon.


 AirBnB’s secret weapon


Do you remember the slide of which investors drool on? The one with those smiling faces of people trying to have fun and build things? “Our Team”, you refer to it (others may call it holy-f$ck-what-a-bunch-of-geeks), and this, my friend, is your unfair advantage.

Ever wondered how you can use this handsome bunch of people to create an unforgettable first day at work for your new employees?

“Your job is to bring down the walls”

I really like the way Roy Klein, our newest secret weapon at Commerce Sciences, puts it –

You’re job at the first week is to bring down the walls and let new teammates talk and get to know the team. If they’re good, they’ll be effective anyway, so don’t worry so much about it. Find ways to make them connect. Eat lunch out every day together, play some Team Fortress 2. Whatever works!

Some ideas to get your brain ticking, your heart pumping and your face doing some funky stuff

Make them smile

To fuel your creativity, let me share a personal story. Five years ago, after getting a super talented engineer to agree joining the team at Delver, I wanted to make sure he’ll have an awesome first day.

I was so excited to have him with us that my mind was spinning like crazy, figuring out how to make it a memorable first day.

About a week before he joined, I saw on Facebook that he raved about Let’s Say You’ve Gone Back in Time poster. “Ahh!”, I thought, “I can purchase it and have it framed!” This is exactly what I did, having it hang above his workstation, waiting for his arrival.

Ask your team to be creative, to go crazy, to give away some loovvvvve

If you know that your new guy or gal enjoy playing a game, say Startcraft 2, maybe you can buy a miniature and place it on their table, with a little note “We’ve got your back! Attack!” Or, if your new hire is a part of distributed team, send them a barber shop quartet to sing her a song.

It’s time to pull some Nicki Minaj craziness to show them you were waiting for them!

Make it a company tradition

We have a little tradition, where the last person to join the company is responsible to create a “starter kit” for the next one to join. No rules, no guidelines, just your creativity, time and effort. It’s something that started before I joined, and it blew my mind on my first day at work. What a day!

8 months ago, when Omri joined the company, it was my turn to prepare something for him. Luckily, I had the chance to sit with him for lunch before his official arrival. We had an interesting discussion about our shared interests and how we’re both fascinated by “brain hacks” – figuring out how our brain works and how we could utilize it better. I remembered a great book I read called Your Brain: The Missing Manual and thought to myself that it would be a great welcome gift to give him. I knew that 5 years from now, when Omri opens this book and re-reads my dedication on the first page, he’ll remember his first day with us. It wasn’t much of a starter kit (yes, we had his working station ready as well ;)), but it was something I thought he would appreciate. I hoped it would make his first day with us memorable.

When our latest teammate, Roy, joined us, it was Omri’s turn to prepare an awesome starter kit. I forgot to mention that Omri is our marketing hero and by far the most creative dude on the team. The box you see at the top of this post was made by Omri, and was waiting on the table for Roy when he arrived. It was filled with jokes, coffee capsules, nerf-gun ammo (don’t ask) and above all, Omri’s personality.

Passionate about #culture and #people?

Check out my latest side-project, SoftwareLeadWeekly.

Your turn!

Do you have a story you can share about how you WOW-ed your new teammates? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.