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Date: Thursday, 28 Feb 2013 18:10
Poker players...poker players aspiring to improve, anyway...are always analyzing “leaks” in their game.   Leaks are mistakes or tendencies that can dramatically impact one’s bankroll and success over time...not for the better.    Some leaks are particularly pernicious in that you are aware of them, you know you need to fix them, but they are so psychologically ingrained that you repeat them even when you know better.  I have those...but, no, I’m not “telling”.  My fellow poker players should appreciate the pun.

Over the last few months, I’ve found myself repeatedly answering the question “What are common reasons for product failures.    Great companies with very talented product professionals can have their fair share of “failures” and yet still recover.  I’ll use the term “leaks” to address some of the mistakes I see repeated over and over.  I have those, too.  But, again, I’m not telling.

  1. Nobody Puts My Baby in a Corner  - I see this most often from founders and product-minded CEOs, but this can also afflict product managers, architects and just about anyone who develops product concepts.   This is the tendency to be so emotionally invested in your own product concept or product feature that you won’t/can’t listen to the market/customers/competitors/employees/spouses that are screaming at you to pivot or abandon the idea.  BTW, I put this first in the list for a reason.
  2. Customers Just Don’t Understand - I fully appreciate the philosophy that you shouldn’t build a specific feature or create a specific product requested by your customers.  Instead, you want to understand pain points and business imperatives.  However, I am stunned at how I see customer feedback being treated as inconsequential.  Which brings us to...
  3. Customer Said What? - You’d love to build value for your customers, but you don’t know what they want because you have no methodical and serious approach to any of the following: analytics, A/B testing, usability testing, customer feedback mechanisms, focus groups, regular site visits...and, whatever other mechanism will get you closer to your customer.  Whether that customer is a consumer using a mobile app or a knowledge worker in a Fortune 50 company using premise-based software, you really should understand them.
  4. Customers? - OK, this is mostly for the very early stage companies with a brand new product.  But, even before the product is built...especially before the product is built...you should be vetting ideas with target users.  Wireframes, design comps and prototypes are all useful tools for garnering very early feedback.  
  5. We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat - Or a bigger server.  Or more network bandwidth.  Or more I/O.  Or...whatever results in crushing scalability issues that bring the best products to their skinny little knees.    No, you don’t necessarily need to architect for ultimate scalability in your early stage product.  But, you better understand scalability issues and have a plan to get where you need to be well before you think you need to be there.
  6. Just Say Yes...Then No - I have never worked in a software product company where the product backlog wasn’t much, much bigger than the development team’s bandwidth.    That is to be expected and you might as well get used to the tension that will arise from conflicting priorities.  Product people don’t like to say No.  Sales folks REALLY don’t like to say No.  You will say No...you’ll just be doing it implicitly or explicitly.  I prefer the latter.  For every release, I recommend being very explicit about what you aren’t doing and why.    Have that conversation early with key stakeholders.  Don’t wait until the release to hear “But, I thought....”.  Your “No” list should as carefully vetted and as well understood as your “Yes” list.
Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "lean startup, product management, softwa..."
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Date: Thursday, 20 Oct 2011 20:33

It was a fun 2+ years, but my experience at Closely is soon coming to an end.  All things are impermanent, you know.  While this ending came with a twinge of sadness, it would have ended at some point anyway and is a good reminder not to cling to those things over which we have no control.

In June 2009, Perry Evans called me to discuss an idea for a new product.  We had breakfast in the suburbs and chatted casually about the idea.  Six  months later, Closely was born and we were off to the races to build something cool.  Start-ups are in my blood and I enjoyed creating something tangible from scratch...I’ve done it before Closely and I’m sure I’ll do it again.   Of course, part of building a start-up involves sacrifices - of time, of opportunity and of finances.  There were plenty of all three, but I don’t regret a minute of it.    

Many of you are asking what I want to do next.  Well, I certainly wouldn’t shy away from another start-up, with a leadership role in product management, engineering, professional services or customer care.  However, I was in a hands-on role during my entire tenure at Closely and I am pretty proud of what I accomplished as a sole contributor.  So, indulge me and consider the following list if you are looking for someone to help out in a contracting capacity.  I really can still do “real work”.  :’}

Product Management and Development

  • Developed 60+ product specifications from epic stories for new products to detailed specifications for individual features.  
  • Collected input from all parties to develop and maintain product roadmap.  Led prioritization and iteration planning sessions.  Conducted review of comparable and competitive products to serve as input to the roadmap.
  • Evaluated commercial e-commerce solutions and selected Braintree based upon product and operational requirements.  Completed all processes required to establish merchant and gateway processor accounts.
  • Served as sole software test resource for the first year of the company.  Performed acceptance testing for specific features as well as comprehensive regression testing for all releases. Developed test plans.


Customer Operations and Services

  • Established accounting processes for merchant payment.  Prepared all monthly statements.
  • Evaluated solutions for customer support and community site.  Based on that evaluation, selected Zendesk.
  • Solely developed 100% of structure and content for Closely Knit, the closely support community.
  • Solely developed all support and client services processes from scratch.
  • Solely managed all channel partners (pre and post sales), including ongoing account management, technical support and project management of custom development projects.


Company Operations

  • Established HR and benefits processes via TriNet.  Managed ongoing HR and benefits issues.  Research and established 401(k).
  • Managed all facilities issues, including office network, janitorial service and maintenance of work space.
  • Created Google Sites intranet for internal collaboration and document management.
Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "customer service, jobs, lean startup, ma..."
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Date: Thursday, 06 Oct 2011 16:38

Well, I certainly have "let go" of blogging.  While I was at Newsgator, I was a regular blogger, but find myself without a specific view these days.  Let's rephrase that...I am no longer working in a position or company that affords me the opportunity to be an industry consultant, different than my days as a E2.0 "guru".  

But as I deepen my Shambhala practice and study, a view is exactly what I am developing.  We are currently studing Karma and the 12 Nidanas.  Sounds kind of heady, eh?  It is.  While the term "karma" is bandied about frequently in our society, our view of the concept is a bit more complex than the idea that cutting someone off in traffic on Tuesday means someone will cut you off on Friday.  That isn't karma, that is driving in Denver. 

As a novice, I wouldn't dare attempt to explain the Shambhala view of karma, but I will say that the concept continues to support me as I let go of so many current habitual patterns and graspings.   I've let go of being a manager, being in a strategic role, handing off the grunt work to others, gainig public recognition and so on and so on.  That doesn't mean that any of those experiences will never arise again...likely, they will.  But, for now, I am in a perfect place to contemplate the teachings and experience what is happening right this moment. 

One of my favorite lines from one of our celebratory liturgies is "You will never get what you want."  OK, that is taken out of context, but I find that line soothing.  No matter how hard you grasp, no matter how much you try to protect your desire to be right, no matter how feverishly you try to bolster your ego...it will never work.  Isn't that cause to rejoice?  :'}  Well, not for most of us, given how we are brought up in this world.  But, embracing these concepts has certainly made my work and personal life a little saner and less rough around the edges.

That's all for now...I feel the desire for some yogurt.

Author: "Karyn German"
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Date: Friday, 28 Jan 2011 22:40

Actually this post has little to do with Closely specifically, but more to do with what I have learned during my last year in a new endeavor.   We "officially" started the company at the beginning of December 2009, so I've had ample time to pick up a few "aha" moments.  And I'm happy to say, I've had quite a few more of those moments than I've had in the past 10 years or so.  I will attribute that to my advancing age and a mind that becomes increasingly open as the years rapidly past.  So, in no order whatsoever, here are some things I have learned:

 

  • I really, really love product management.  I always have and I had forgotten how passionate I am about the daily details and the profession as a whole.  NewsGator was the first company in a long while that I did not oversee or participate actively in the product management side of the company.  I'm certainly glad to be back.
  • But, I also really, really love managing clients and overseeing the customer services side of the house.    So, for the time being, I have the best of both worlds in that I manage this aspect of Closely as well.  And, by manage, I mean that I do 95% of the hands-on work for both functions.
  • Speaking of hands-on work...damn, it's fun and rewarding.  Over the last 15 years, I have held a number of management roles from Director to VP and I do enjoy leadership and organizational process.  But, doing real work everyday, all day is something from which I found myself removed.  I realize that with success and growth, I will have to return to the ranks of management.  But, I sure am enjoying the trenches while I can.
  • I think I have become better at managing a roadmap to focus on a healthy mix of innovation and real-world feedback.  It is a challenge to let features you are convinced are indispensable fall to the bottom of the priority list until they are market validated.  Likewise, it can be nerve-wracking to let a feature move to the top of the list that is highly speculative but heavy on innovation.  You have to do both and you have to just learn to let go when necessary.
  • Execution is a creative art in itself.  I have never considered myself to be the creative one.  Oh, I can come up with a feature idea here and there, but it is usually motivated by what customers tell me or what the competition is doing.     But if everyone is rattling off ideas and no one is focused on execution, you will end up with a lovely list of ideas that never get done.  My forte is in execution and I've grown to accept and be proud of that.
  • This is the first time in many years, that I am not running engineering.  And guess what?  It is profoundly liberating.  As a former engineer with a graduate degree in computer science, running engineering was a huge part of my identity.    But, having a natural and healthy tension between engineering and product is critical and I am thrilled to be on the other side of the fence for a change.
  • Speaking of engineers....I love 'em.  And, I've come to appreciate more than ever all of the great engineers and engineering managers I've worked with all these years who are true geeks.  They will do anything to get back to writing code and solving challenging technical problems.  The best of the best don't want to sit in meetings.  They don't want to sit around and read articles all day.  They don't want to write product requirements.  And, they sure as hell don't want to do PPT presentations.    If I've never expressed it to my network of rockstar engineers, you have my profound respect and appreciation.  
  • Finally, I haven't missed an office for a single second.  Working in an open space with the entire team has been a blast and I love coming to work everyday because of it.

 

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "lean startup, work"
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Date: Wednesday, 17 Mar 2010 22:52

To be fair, six months is really quite arbitrary, but it has a nice ring to it.  I first spoke about the concept with Perry Evans last summer and officially started as a co-founder and employee at the beginning of December.  But, it is safe to say that I have been entrenched in the product and concept for six months.  I hope to blog more regularly about the company and the product in the coming months, but I thought I would  share some early musings.  Oh, and also to brag about the fact that we will be on stage at Demo '10 in Palm Desert this coming Monday.  Pretty darned impressive for a company so young!

I haven't co-founded a company since January of 2001 when Dave Jilk and I started Wideforce.  I learned a lot about entrepreneurship and work relationships during that period and hope that I am carrying some of those learnings forward.   I wear a lot of hats at Closely, as is to be expected in an early stage, angel-funded start-up.  On any particular day, I might be writing product specifications, testing software, configuring our help desk software, managing client implementation schedules, getting ready for a major trade show or communicating with the janitorial staff.  Or washing dishes.  Or buying office supplies.  This job (or jobs) has reinforced several things I know to be true:

  • I love to work on lots of different tasks and hold many roles.  I can focus for hours (sometimes even days) on a singular activity, but I do much better when I have 3 or 4 or 10 different tasks amongst which I can multi-task.  I am blessed to have had a career that has allowed me to hold many different positions and learn how to do a lot of different things.  I am most certainly a generalist, not a specialist.
  • While I do enjoy many different activities, I always have and still do love product management. Taking a high-level vision and making it tangible in the form of a working product is incredibly rewarding.  I have also always enjoyed showing products off at trade shows, providing sales support and conducting training.
  • I relish the intensity of challenging deadlines and lofty goals.  While there is ample opportunity for these in a larger company, it is never the same as it is in the first year.
  • Finally, being a very social person, I appreciate the intimate (not in a bad way!) relationships you develop with your start-up colleagues.  When you spend this much time with a group of people under what can be trying circumstances, you inevitably develop relationships that are deeper and more rewarding than those you develop in a more casual setting.

I expect to have lots of cool stories to share as the year progresses.

Author: "Karyn German"
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Date: Monday, 16 Nov 2009 22:40

This post has very little to do with the words in the title.  I'm really just curious to see which ads appear as a result of such intriguing keywords.  And, maybe my obvious, brute force attempt at SEO will increase my traffic...or show my complete ignorance of SEO.

 I'm several years into using social media applications and I am somewhat amused by my changing patterns of communication and usage.  In the past year in particular, I have changed a number of behaviors.  Some of those behaviors have changed as a result of my job functions at my last employer, NewsGator, and at my current gig, LoMain Media.  But, others are simply due to the fact that I continue to find what works for me professionally and personally.   If you are a friend who is perplexed by my newfangled communication style, then perhaps this post will help you to understand that style a little better.  Or, you may simply deduce that I am a social media addicted snob who is slowly losing her mind.  See?  I knew I could tie in the title words to the article content.  Here's what I do (or don't do) these days:

  • Blogging - well, it should be obvious that I have become a very infrequent personal blogger.  The reasons are very simple.  At NewsGator, I was writing for the company's blog, as well as Silicon Angle.   I recently became the Denver Zen and the Art of Work Examiner on Examiner.com.   I only have so many articles in me, so I have tended to do my writing on other more public channels.   And, other bloggers keep saying that "blogging is dead" (huh?), so I want to make sure I am following the trends.  I'm elitist that way.  
  • Twitter - this is where addition really rears its ugly head.  I started tweeting almost two years ago and at the time I thought it was the silliest thing I had ever seen.  That was before I signed up, followed a few people, and became so enamored with the voyeuristic nature of the product that I could only communicate a thought in 140 characters.  I have two Twitter accounts - my professional account is @karyngerman and is open to followers.    This account is integrated with LinkedIn, which is my professional profile (more later).  My personal twitter account is @karlgco and it is locked.  This account is integrated with FaceBook (personal profile) and FourSquare.   So, the synergy between social media technologies is less about the tools and more about my various circles - professional, personal, spiritual community, etc.  
  • FaceBook - my FaceBook usage has increased dramatically in the last few months as more and more of my close personal friends are using it.   I've also connected with folks from high school, college and previous jobs.  Now, if I can only get my husband and best friend to connect to me on any social media channel...
  • LinkedIn - as stated earlier, LinkedIn is my professional profile and I use it heavily.   In hiring, I expect any candidate for a company such as ours to have a very complete and rich LinkedIn profile.  Just sayin'.  That is probably elitist.     OTOH, I feel no need to connect to my personal network via LinkedIn.
  • FourSquare - ah, my newest addiction!   I love FourSquare and am trying to get more of my Denver friends to join so that I can frantically try to one up them on the weekly leader board and to see who can get the most badges.   I received my first Mayorship today and I am feeling mighty elite.
  • Email - um, what is this doing in this list?    Just as I was an email/website/e-commerce snob back in the mid-90's, I have become a social media snob some 15 years later.  I still enjoy a personal 1-on-1 email exchange when the situation calls for it, but please don't forward emails to me that are intended for a group.    The other Web 2.0 channels are so much better suited for this type of sharing and I am trying to keep email to those communications that are 1-on-1, urgent or confidential.  

Author: "Karyn German"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Sep 2009 15:43

Over the next few weeks, the product development team at LoMain Media will be conducting interviews with small business owners to learn more about expectations and needs related to online direct marketing.  In particular, we are interested to learn about your usage of Twitter as a real-time mechanism.    Have you used Twitter?  If so, for what end goal?  What worked?  What didn't?  What would make the experience more productive?   The real-time nature of the problem is of acute interest.  Some examples of real-time communication include:

  • Promoting a very limited time offer, e.g. 2 for 1 drinks from 5-7 on Tuesday evenings.
  • Filling inventory, e.g. a networking dinner for 8 people has 2 openings.
  • Notification of an unexpected event, e.g. an entertainment event has been postponed.


If you are a small business owner in the Denver/Boulder metro area and would like to help shape a new product idea, connect with other local business owners and snag a free meal, please reach out to karynmgerman@gmail.com.   Or, DM my Twitter account - karyngerman.

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "SMB 2.0"
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Sep 2009 16:45

At 2.5 weeks into my very temporary retirement, I find myself exploring a number of new topics...or, perhaps more accurately, revisiting topics from previous lives.  As stated before, I have committed to building a new company with Perry Evans.      Early reaction has been extremely positive from prospective partners, customers and investors.  The timing for the concept is excellent and the product is one that I am anxious to use.  So, I am very excited to get it built!  

When I am not cooking fabulous meals, hanging out with friends and watching Oprah (I just said that to annoy Perry), I am researching and consuming content about the following topics:

  • SMB 2.0 - OK, I don't think that phrase has been widely used and I realize that it is trite.  But, the time is ripe to help SMBs effectively use real time technologies in a more effective manner.  If you are a small business owner, I would love to hear from you about if and how you are using Twitter and Facebook for promotion, advertising, customer management, etc.  Would also love to hear how you are using other offline and online direct marketing tools.
  • Real Time Web - there are many informative sources on this topic, including chatter about PubSubHubbub, RSSCloud and Google Wave.
  • Lean Startup - I've been using agile methods since Rally went into beta in 2003, but there are some other very interesting ideas around lean product development  that are more relevant to building a brand new product than to growing existing products.   I'm always up for chatting with other local startup folks on this topic.  

Oh, and we are still in recruitment mode for great software engineers who love that early stage excitement.     If you are looking for a new gig and want to build new products rapidly using the latest and greatest tools/technologies/platforms, send me a note.  Perry has built and grown many previous companies and we are definitely aligned in our vision of what makes a great culture and working environment.  Though, oddly, he was not too thrilled about me offering to bring my cats to work.

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "lean startup, SMB 2.0"
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Date: Thursday, 27 Aug 2009 22:20

I'll admit I am being a bit coy with that blog post title.  I am quite excited about my next venture, but I am still holding the details a little close to the vest.  More on that later.

October 3rd would have marked my four year anniversary at NewsGator.  After considerable reflection, I made the decision to resign....it was not an easy decision, but I know that it was the right one.  Very simply put, the reasons for me to depart were far greater in number and weight than the reasons for me to stay.    I discussed the topic exhaustively with my husband, my closest friends and a number of close business contacts whose opinions I value and trust - we all agreed that it was time to move on.

There are many people I have enjoyed working with during the last four years - some are still at NewsGator and some are part of a sizable alumni group.    These individuals are hard working, passionate, honest and possess tremendous integrity.  These are all traits I admire and I am certain we will stay in touch in the future.  I wish those folks the absolute best, knowing that those admirable character traits will carry them through the challenges and the triumphs. 

What's next?  Well, when I made the decision to move on from NewsGator, I was really looking forward to several months of downtime.  I planned to cook, do small home improvement projects, play golf while the weather holds out and simply enjoy days without planned agendas.  I figured I would begin an earnest job hunt around the start of the year.  But, it looks as if the universe has a different plan.  I find myself committed to building a new company with a well known and highly successful local entrepreneur.    I will have the opportunity to shape the culture of the company and be very hands-on during the product development process.  Hey, this is what I have been doing for years and I am giddy at the thought of getting back to my passion and utilizing my strengths.  I will be blogging frequently about the new journey, so stay tuned for more details.  I think this is going to be a very fun ride!

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "jobs, newsgator, work"
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Date: Monday, 27 Jul 2009 20:58

Back in the late 1990's, I had the pleasure of participating in a 360 degree review at a Silicon Valley VC-funded start-up.  It was by all means the best performance management event in which I have ever participated, both as an employee and as a manager.  The reasons it worked?

 

  • There was a tremendous amount of trust at all levels of the organization and amongst most employees.
  • An outside facilitator with expertise and experience in conducting these reviews was hired.
  • The necessary time and energy was devoted to the activity.

 

 I was not the one paying for the consulting firm who conducted the process.  And this was the late 90's, so we were all burning through money like it grew on trees - which at the time, it seemed to do.  I would have to think hard about spending this type of money in a tight economy.   If conducted properly, these types of reviews are expensive in both hard costs and time commitments from everyone in the organization.       Where am I going with all this?  Well, the topic got me to thinking about how the proper deployment and usage of social computing within the enterprise  could facilitate on ongoing and continual 360 degree review process.  Heightened transparency, improved corporate identity, and the ability for people at all levels of the organization to critique content should enable the emergence of a new way to manage performance.  Certainly, talent management professionals at corporations all over the world are thinking hard about this phenomena and it may by a bit disconcerting.       We will need to see constantly improving innovations in reporting, social networking analysis, social "fingerprinting" and rating systems to provide the tools that will be demanded by corporate governance and talent management departmernts.   But, patterns will most definitely emerge that will question the status quo of traditional, top-down performance management.  Representative activities which will cause this to happen:

 

  • Rating of activity, commenting on created content and voting of ideas will provide feedback that a single manager could never collect in a more closed system.
  • Transparent discussions, taken out of email, open the door to voices never before heard.
  • Emergent skills will be more visible as employees participate in their daily activities - e.g., "Who knew that Todd has such great ability to craft a marketing message?"
  • Status reporting becomes an ongoing activity, represented in each employee's activity stream.

 

I am interested to hear feedback from companies who are considering how performance management will change within their companies as a result of Enterprise 2.0, both the required cultural changes and the introduction of technology.  What frightens you about this transformation?

 

  • Inappropriate commentary, backlash, sabotage amongst peers or against subordinates.
  • A developing laziness by managers who hate doing performance management now and see this as a way to shirk the duty.
  • Fear of retribution by employees who openly share feedback.

 

To the contrary, what excites you about this transformation?

 

  • The usage of the tools highlights skills and experience that might have been missed in the past, resulting in the fulfillment of more positions from within.
  • Performance management actually becomes much easier for managers and occurs continually instead of as a yearly occurrence.
  • Top management more readily receives candid feedback from all staff, leading to a keener appreciation for the voice of the employee.
Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "Enterprise 2.0, management, social compu..."
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Date: Thursday, 23 Jul 2009 22:03

To lighten up the atmosphere a bit, I presented this very tongue in cheek lampoon of our enterprise 2.0 rapid adoption program at a NewsGator board meeting.  Brad Feld then dared me to post it.  So, I offer my sincere apologies in advance if this offends anyone.  Hopefully, you take it in the light-hearted spirit in which it is intended.

 

  1. Admitted that we are powerless over the inefficiencies and bloated Enterprise 1.0 tools, technology and culture.
  2. Came to believe that Enterprise 2.0 could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of blogs, wikis, social profiles, micro-blogging, bookmarking, syndicated content and all things Enterprise 2.0.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our portals, email servers, collaboration platforms, KM systems…you get the picture.
  5. Admitted to our customer, to ourselves and to employees everywhere the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We are entirely ready to have Enterprise 2.0 remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked the Virtual 2.0 team (not the executive staff) to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all employees and customers we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people (in a blog, wiki or twitter of course) wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it – “I’m so sorry I emailed that article to 500,000 people”.
  11. Sought through analysis and evaluation to improve our conscious contact with Enterprise 2.0 as we understood It.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to Enterprise 1.0 addicts.

 

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "Enterprise 2.0, funny, humor, newsgator"
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Date: Wednesday, 15 Jul 2009 18:35
Author: "Karyn German"
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glo_title   New window
Date: Tuesday, 30 Jun 2009 21:29
Author: "Karyn German"
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Date: Friday, 26 Jun 2009 14:31

I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston earlier this week.  While the trip started with an 11-hour journey from Denver to Boston (yes, on a direct flight), the remainder of the adventure was highly informative and thought-provoking.  It is a rare occurrence that I am in one place for almost two full days and immersed in the subject of enterprise social computing. 

NewsGator announced Social Sites 3.0 at the show, introducing  capabilities that affirm social computing as the new operating system for business.    You can read the press release for more details (insert hyperlink).  We were especially proud as we listened to our customers discuss their real world case studies at several conference sessions.  Much more so than last year's conference, this year's show focused on how social computing is being deployed and adopted within large corporations and government agencies.     

I won't attempt to summarize everything I heard, but the biggest takeaway seemed to be the recommendation that social computing within the enterprise should be used to solve real business problems.  You don't say?  We have known this for a while, which is why identifying appropriate business challenges is Step 1 in our Roadmap to Successful Social Computing Adoption methodology.    A few of the other tidbits I particularly enjoyed:

  • People don't share unless there is a trusted connection.
  • Connecting people is a fundamental value, even if the ROI associated with it is not concrete.
  • Corporate performance metrics should already have line items for collaboration and knowledge sharing.  Social computing just makes those activities easier.
  • Executive leaders have to set a good example, but top-down mandates almost never work
  • Users might do "stupid" things, but a sound community will police these inappropriate activities.
  • Instead of updating your status to reflect what you are doing, update it to reflect what you are learning.

I can't wait until next year when we will hear stories from many companies who will have 12-18 months of experience in this area.  We're looking forward to helping our customers be at the forefront of this rapid evolution to social computing nirvana.

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "Enterprise 2.0, newsgator, social comput..."
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Date: Monday, 18 May 2009 22:40

That is a seriously cheesy title for this post, but I am a customer care exec so the topic tends to be on my mind a lot.    While most of my career has been focused on software product development, I have been managing customers for many years.   What have I learned?

 

 
  • The people you serve are just…people.   You don’t serve Corporation X.  You don’t manage Project Y.  You help Susan and Mark and Vanessa and Sam.  Just like you, these individuals will have good days and bad days.  Some of them will be mostly kind  and cooperative.  Some of them will be mostly cantankerous and surly.  Most will be somewhere in the middle, but will swing to either end of the pendulum depending on the level of service your company is providing.  Or simply because they are having a bad day that has absolutely nothing to do with you or the company you represent. 

  • Because they are just people, personal connection matters.  Sales people know this.  That is why they spend the time to offer lunch, dinner, a round of golf and tickets to a Nuggets game.  Well, if they are offering that final option this week, you have one heck of a great vendor.    Taking that extra time to get to know a customer personally goes a long way.  We learned this first hand recently after what ended up being an, um, “expansive” night of drinks and dinner with a very important customer on the East Coast.  They were quick to acknowledge that this event helped various staff members to bond and get to know one another in a way that makes them all feel more a part of a unified team.

  • “Find the best in everybody; no matter how long you have to wait for them to show it” – most of you probably recognize that quote as coming from Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture.   This quote haunts me and I try very hard to use it as a mantra when I am personally dealing with a challenging personality.  I hope that people who find me challenging are using it as well.     From the perspective of managing customers, I can’t count the number of times this lesson has proven itself to be true.   Continue to go above and beyond, act with the utmost professionalism, keep a sense of humor and over-deliver when you can.  I’ll bet you just about anything that your most difficult customer will come around.  It may take months or years….but, it will happen.

Now, how about the flip side?  As a customer, what can you do to make me feel cared for?

 

  • Do deliver what you tell me you are going to deliver.

  • If you can’t deliver, give me an honest answer as to why you can’t now and when you will.

  • Don’t talk down to me.

  • Don’t try and make up for shoddy service or products by treating me to a round of golf or buying me a gift basket.

  • Feel free to buy me a round of golf or a gift basket as long as you are delivering quality services and product.

  • Make up for mistakes.  Quickly.

  • Don’t make me contact you 5 times before you return my emails and/or calls.  Unless I am being a jerk and sending you emails or leaving messages every half hour.

  • Appreciate my preferred method of communication and try to use it, e.g. don’t return every email with a phone call.

 

Oops…way too much time on this blog post.  Back to our customers!

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "customer service"
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Date: Friday, 08 May 2009 16:06

Yesterday, NewsGator announced the release of Social Sites 2.7, which includes among many other great features, a new innovation management capability called Ideas.  As someone who uses our product internally all day every day, I thought I would share my enthusiasm for the features that I am most enjoying.

  • Ideas – this is the highlighted feature for this release and its utility is vast.  In the past, I would start a discussion to vet ideas.  Discussions are a great means for collaboration and I still use them heavily.  But, having the ability to easily and quickly start a brainstorming session within an existing community is awesome.    We are now vetting product enhancements from employees using Ideas in our Product Management community.    As mentioned, we used to do this in discussions, but find that we have more participation and can monitor support for any feature request by the number of votes it gets.    Perfect use case!

  • Activity Stream Email Digest – my activity stream has become the component that organizes my daily connection to my colleagues, content and communities.  I am a self-proclaimed Activity Stream addict.    I use our pop-up desktop notifier when I am in the office to stay on top of activities.   On the weekends or when I am traveling, I turn on email digesting and can stay abreast of new activities on my iPhone. 

  • Easy addition of blogs and wikis to communities – with an easy click on a checkbox, I can add a wiki or a blog to my communities.  As a result, I am now documenting best practices and usage guidelines in a wiki, which is a perfect choice for this use case. 

  • NewsGator Usage Dashboard – I’m also digging this new addition to our reporting capabilities.  I can see a graphical representation of usage patterns for communities, users and overall activity for the last 7 days.

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "Enterprise 2.0, newsgator, social comput..."
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Date: Wednesday, 06 May 2009 20:55

In November, I posted a blog post on leadership lessons I have learned over the past 20 years of leading and being led.    In an effort to demonstrate that I am still learning, I am posting a few more.  I find that the very practice of publishing helps to keep the lessons top of mind and offers a record to which I can return. 

 

  • Err on the side of openness and transparency - this is one of those cultural transformations I discuss with clients who are starting to deploy enterprise social computing applications.    This topic is usually brought up as one of the critical changes a company should consider if they wish to call themselves a practitioner of Enterprise 2.0.  But, this is a very difficult transformation at both macro and micro levels.    On a personal level, I try to manifest this trait by arming my employees with as much information as I can legally and ethically share.  In no way am I suggesting that you violate corporate governance.  However, knowledge that is often not at all confidential is still hoarded for reasons of ego or power.  Or because the trust in the employee really doesn't exist.    Both reasons are dysfunctional - the first on the part of the manager and the second…well, probably on the part of the manager as well.  The second may be because the employee has proven not to be trustworthy, but this is a performance management issue.  See my previous leadership post.

  • Taylor your communication appropriately to the employee and the situation - I tend to use a sense of humor extensively (excessively?) at work and this provides for a fun environment and guides me through some challenging times.  But, playful ribbing may not be taken in the same way by all people.  It is also the case that the same playful ribbing which was fun the previous day is taken more personally on a day when someone is experiencing their own personal or professional challenges.    It is prudent to be aware and mindful of how your words are perceived by others.  While true for everyone (including your close family members), this is particularly true for your reports, as any interpretation of discord from the manager holds more weight than the same interpretation from a co-worker.

  • Take the time to address issues of importance to your employees - we are all busy.  We all believe what we are doing at any particular moment is the most important thing in the world.  And, we really think those activities are important when they affect personal gain and ego stroking.  But, your employees have their own needs and it is your job to address them.   Does an employee need to vent and just wants you to listen?    Is a performance review pending and you keep putting it off, because it is not important to you or you expect there to be some conflict?   Does an employee need your input on an important issue to get the job done?     I saw a great quote the other day (can't remember the source) - The way you are treating your employees is the way your employees are treating your customers.  Wow.  As the person responsible for customer care at NewsGator, this one really caught my attention.  It drove home the point that you should be as diligent about treating your employees well as you are about making sure your customers are happy.  So, I challenge any of my staff to remind me of this last bullet point when I am getting too uppity and think I don't have time to listen.

 

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "management, work"
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Date: Monday, 04 May 2009 19:27

I was intrigued by and extremely envious of Brad Feld’s Airplane Super Power.   I don’t have that super power – in fact, I can only sleep on a plane if I am very ill and can lay down on three seats.  But, speaking of being “very ill”, the fact that I hardly ever get sick is my super power.  I am blessed with an immune system as powerful as any hero’s super powers.   Even when the entire office is hacking up a lung or I am surrounded by a plane full of passengers gushing liquids from their facial orifices, I don’t get sick.  I am pretty sure I catch some of these viruses and am exposed to nasty bacteria, but they usually don’t develop into full-blown occurrences of misery.    On Friday, I left the office early as I was having aches/chills and my throat was sore.  Ah, here it comes, I thought.  I was certainly more tired than usual this weekend, but I never succumbed to the full-blown virus.  I have never had an ear infection, a sinus infection or any other infections that we would prefer not to talk about in public.  The only infection I can ever remember getting was when I crashed my bike, road 20 more miles with blood running down my arm and then barely rinsed it off before slapping on a bandage.   That was a little irresponsible, I admit.

 

Now, why would I be so resistant to nasty germs?  I think it has a lot to do with my very humble upbringing.  My parents were loving and kind, but…how do I say this delicately….certainly not clean freaks.   The whole notion of refrigerating food prematurely or worrying about a “little” dirt was not top of mind.  Thus, I think I just developed a really strong ability to fight off anything because I probably ingested and/or was exposed to just about every bug you can imagine.    I’m still amazed at how germ-phobic we have become as a society and firmly believe that this has something to do with the bugs getting stronger and us getting less able to fight them off. 

 

Let’s keep the theme going – what is your super power?

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "health"
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Date: Wednesday, 29 Apr 2009 16:51

Figured I might as well just say it out loud and get over this identify nonsense.

 

During the last year, my role at NewsGator has gradually transitioned from overseeing development, technical support and technical operations to overseeing professional services and technical support.  In addition to those management duties, I find myself working yet again as a hands-on consultant.  I’ve managed professional services before and have been both an independent and corporate consultant numerous times in the past.    It occurred to me recently that I actually love being a consultant.  Should I be ashamed to admit that?  :’}   A strong part of my professional identify for the last 20+ years has been my role as a product development and technology professional.    I started my career as a software engineer after earning a Master’s degree in Computer Science back in the dark ages (aka 1987).  Yes, we had computers back then but no fancy handheld devices and the Internet was purely an academic exercise.  Throughout the next 20 years, I transitioned from writing code full-time to writing code part-time and managing.  Somehow, I found myself managing more people, more functions and more department, while doing less and less hands-on programming.  Not only did I become more “managerial”, but I found myself doing many other functions in the software and services industry, including product management (which I love), client services, business development and even (gasp!) sales support.  

 

I’ll admit that relinquishing my role in product development and operations was hard at first because of the solid identity I had formed.  Upon further self reflection, it occurred to me that reinforcing “identify” through a job function was hardly skillful and was simply manifesting habitual patterns that don’t sow positive seeds of karma.    I’ve done and/or managed just about every function related to the software industry and I’ve learned that doing any of them with integrity and authenticity is what really matters.      I’ve also learned that working in different functional areas is very educational and can help you to become more well-rounded in any position taken on in the future.    I’ve become a software industry generalist and that isn’t such a bad thing. 

 

 

My current job function as an enterprise social computing consulting, or coach, is very rewarding and a lot of fun.  I develop all of our consulting materials, do a lot of research on the industry, stay active in social media channels and help NewsGator customers figure out how to successfully launch and manage a social computing project within their companies.  How cool is that?    Oh, well, there is that other part of building and managing the services business, but that is mighty rewarding and fun, too.  So, here on a lovely Wednesday morning in the best city in the US, I consider myself pretty fortunate.

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "Enterprise 2.0, jobs, management, newsga..."
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Date: Friday, 03 Apr 2009 12:51

On my last full day of vacation, I thought it appropriate to blog the experience.  If for no other reason than I rarely write to my personal blog any longer given my other work-related social media activities.  


This has been a wonderful vacation and I am particularly pleased that I was able to relax and enjoy every moment.  Well, perhaps not the second round of golf, which was an astoundingly bad display of athleticism.  Golfers will appreciate that one can hit the ball beautifully one day and descend into  horrific regression just two days later.   Besides that little blip, the entire week was wonderful.  We are staying in a lovely beach house in the "city" of Holmes Beach, which is on Anna Maria Island (AMI).   AMI is about a thirty minute drive from Sarasota and has a lovely old-fashioned feel to it.  It brings back memories of my childhood vacations to the east coast of Florida, yet the gulf coast is much more picturesque.  The sand is softer and whiter than any I have ever seen and the water can be pale green and amazingly clear on calm days.    We have experienced windy and somewhat cool temps on the island, so the water has been choppy on most days.  


With the exception of golf, our days have been spent taking morning walks, lounging on the beach and taking short jaunts into the larger cities.  On our first full day, we visited the Ringling Museum of Art (and Circus).  The Ringlings were quite the influential family in Sarasota and the complex which houses the museums and mansion is impressive.    I couldn't help thinking of the book "Water for Elephants" while touring the circus museum.  As you can imagine, the story told in the museum shone a much more positive light on that history.  We quickly moved to the art museum and the mansion, which was my favorite part of the entire complex.


Our favorite dining experience was at The Sign of the Mermaid, a charming restaurant a block from our house.  The house was built in 1912 and was very kitschy in decor.  The food was excellent and will get my highest review on TripAdvisor.   We also loved Ginny's and Jane E's, which is a quirky little gift shop and coffee house.  Finally, Hurricane Hank's in a small strip center had good food and a friendly vibe.    The famous Sand Bar has great cocktails, but the food is just OK.


The question of work arises.  I'd like to say that I never looked at my email and, if I did, I never answered.  I'm afraid that wasn't possible as I have two consulting gigs next week, one in Chicago and one in New York.  So, I had to at least pay attention to what was going on for these engagements.  And, yes, I read every email that came my way.   But, none of this resulted in excessive stress or disturbed my relaxation.     


Finally, I observed that even the mundane things - driving around town, picking up groceries, doing dishes - were more palatable.  Simply because I had that "holiday" mindset.  I pondered this phenomenon and wondered about happiness and contentment.  I read the following passage from the book "One Thousand White Women" (great book) and I really stuck with me.  The quote is from a rough and ready frontier gal in response to a question by the protagonist  in regards to being happy.  


"An' that's exactly the good thing about the Injun life - you don't have to stop and think about whether or not you're 'happy' - which in my opinion is a highly overrated human condition invented by white folks - like whiskey.  You don't have to think about it any more than a bear cub or a pronghorn antelope or a coyote or a damn bird has to think about it.  You got a roof over your head?  You warm?  You got enough food to eat?  You got plenty of good water?  You got a good man?  You got friends?  You got somethin' to do to keep you busy?"


I think that about sums it up.  Yep...I'm pretty happy.

Author: "Karyn German" Tags: "anna maria island"
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