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Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

Series A Crunch And The Lean Funding Model

Duncan Davidson of Bullpen Capital recently presented a very interesting concept at the December 2011 TechCrunch conference in Tokyo. At the conference he discussed how the lean startup model had given rise to a lean finance model for venture capital.

The concept: keep funding lean for as long as possible, until the startup has validated its model and is beginning to scale. Usually it takes around six months of metrics to be in position to raise a big round. That “shovel-in” round is where the lean model catches up to the traditional venture model, as shown in the chart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: BullPen capital

By using this process, the founders have preserved more ownership as well as their options. Most startups are not suited to become billion-dollar babies, and exit via M&A, often quickly (a “quick flip”). Lean funding makes the quick flip attractive both to the founders, who often each pocket at least $10M, and the funders, who make larger multiples on their invested capital by putting less in. If this happens quickly, the IRR can be quite attractive to the LPs who invest into the lean venture funds.  They have learned to be wary of big venture, where their capital is tied up for ten or more years.

To learn more, read the TechCrunch article and view the interview with Duncan, click here!

-DF

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Written by David Frederick

December 6, 2011 at 5:57 PM

Keeping Your Project On Track

Don’t you hate it when you get those pop up messages that tell you a task, item, project or activity is late? Some software applications give you a color key to tell you and your team you’re late – Red, Yellow, Orange and Green. Others give you a cute smiley face, sad face or a grimace. That’s because a project plan and managing that plan is all about staying on track. Especially if there are interlocking, parallel and contingent based activities in your plan or workflow. In fact, the most common problem in managing projects big and small, is falling behind schedule.

As we all know, it’s difficult to avoid delays. Especially when there many moving parts in the project or the project movement/activity is tied to others contributing, but you can often improve your situation and still complete the project on time by using some common sense methods.

Try one of these three approaches before accepting the inevitability of defeat or a project hold up:

  • Use the end to recover. Look at the long-term plan. Find places later in the schedule where you can make up for lost time. Even better, build in areas of recovery in your project plan. I have yet to see a project plan that executes to plan and time allocation. Ever!
  • Narrow the scope. Focus on the true goal and end result. Eliminate nonessential elements to reduce cost and save time.
  • Keep your plan fluid. There will always be factors that impact your plan. Ensure your plan is fluid enough to absorb disruption. If your plan is to rigid, you will be knocked completely off course with little chance of full recovery. See the first bullet.
  • Renegotiate with stakeholders. Explore alternatives. Discuss the possibility of increasing the budget or extending deadlines to keep the project on track. Regrettably, this is a solution or tactic of absolute last resort. There is almost never enough money or time to increase the budget without consequences to the project AND your career. Ever. You should have planned better. Deadlines are tricky things in that they are almost always driven by multiple and competing interests –  clients (internal and external), departments, manufacturing, marketing, etc. Again, you should have planned better. Remember, make sure you are not tied to the stake before you put the stake in the ground on deadlines and budget!

As you know, there are millions of books on project management as well as an equal number of frameworks and methodologies. Be sure to use a methodology that suits your project. Use common sense. You would be surprised what a little common sense can do to keep you on track.  You can also check out this interesting article on keeping your projects on track. It has some interesting ideas.

Guide To Project Management

by Loren Gary, Gary Klein, Ron Ashkenas, Melissa Raffoni, Tom Cross, Jon R. Katzenbach, Douglas K. Smith, Nadim F. Matta, Ray Sheen, Clayton M. Christensen, Matt Marx, Howard H. Stevenson, Jimmy Guterman
Source: Harvard Business Review

-DF

Written by David Frederick

November 29, 2011 at 12:48 PM

Competent Management

I have been fortunate in my career to have managed some great employee teams as an executive and when I look back at what made my teams so successful I have identified several areas that have made the difference. One key area is following these tips below:

  • Trustworthy. Trust is grounded in competence and character. You should know what to do and how to do it. And, you should always do what you say you will. This should be a no brainer but all to often and regrettably, it is as foreign to managers as the chemical and mineral compounds found in martian surface soil are. What a novel idea – competence and character.
  • Influential. Your people rely on others to get their jobs done. Therefore, you need to cultivate relationships with those beyond your immediate group who make your people productive. This is especially true in larger organizations where other inter-company constituents have an impact on your employee’s performance, their success and the company’s overall success. Building solid and mutually successful relationships with other inter-company constituents will go a long way to driving success.
  • Team-focused. A good boss knows that a team is better than the sum of its parts. To bring your group together, give them a compelling purpose, clear goals and plans, and a culture of “we” not “I.” To many times management, especially those in executive management focus on “I” and not we. A strong manager and executive always fosters an environment of we both in success and failure to do otherwise injects resentment, lack of trust, lack of communication, and distance between manager and employee. Nothing can disrupt a company more than lack of purpose, goals and plans. I would also add communication to this list as well.

Properly managing people is hard. No doubt about it. But you can go a long way with some basic common sense. However, many managers seem to lack this trait. These three points are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to effective and productive management. Like most things that are effective, keep it simple, clear and concise. This will go a long way to building a successful and mutually beneficial relationship with your employee team. Remember, without employee’s you don’t have a team. Without an effective leader, they don’t have management, just some jerk they report to everyday. It takes both parties to be successful personally, professionally and for your company. At the end of the day, that’s what everyone should strive for.

-DF

Written by David Frederick

July 21, 2011 at 10:16 AM

S Curves Everywhere

If you have ever worked with predictive models and trend mapping you are no doubt familiar with the S curve. The ubiquitous S-curve (also known as the sigmoid function) has long been recognized by economists, technologists, and scientists as a strong tool for understanding patterns. Now professor Adrian Bejan at Duke University, with collaborator Sylvie Lorente from the University Toulouse, has developed an exiting new theory that explains the reason for the prevalence of this particular pattern throughout nature and the man-made world.

Their research shows that this phenomenon can be predicted entirely by recognizing in it a flow. The flow is not by diffusion alone, rather it is a combination of tree-shaped “invasion” by convection, followed by “consolidation” by diffusion perpendicular to the invasive lines. The S curve is not unique: its scales depend on the relative magnitude of the speed of the invading lines and the diffusivity perpendicular to the lines. Tree-shaped invasion covers the territory with diffusion much faster than line-shaped invasion. The predicted S-curve flow architecture unites the designs of spreading flows and collecting flows (e.g., mining, fossil fuel extraction, Hubbert peak) in all the realms of nature: animate, inanimate, and human-made.

Economic trends, population growth, the spread of cancer, or the adoption of new technology seem to follow certain patterns, says Bejan. A new technology, for example, begins with slow acceptance, followed by explosive growth, only to level off before “hitting the wall. Rebecca Henderson – one of my favorite MIT Sloan Professors who is now at Harvard Business School had some very interesting theories and practical models for working with S-Curves when developing a successful product and technology strategy. You should also check out her work as well.

Bejan’s theory, known as the constructal law, uses a large river basin as a visual description of flow systems, growing fast and far, with smaller branches growing laterally from the main channels. It is based on the principle that designs of flow systems develop over time by facilitating flow access — reducing and distributing friction or other forms of resistance.

  • A new technology, for example, after a slow initial acceptance can be imagined moving fast through established, though narrow, channels into the marketplace. This is the steep upslope of the “S.”
  • As this technology matures, and its penetration slows, any growth, or flow, moves outward from the initial penetration channels in a shorter and slower manner.

If your involved in predictive models, product development, technology development or analysis this is a very interesting study and I recommend you check it out. You can get the study below:

-DF

Ref.: A. Bejan and S. Lorente, The constructal law origin of the logistics S curve, Journal of Applied Physics, 110, 024901 (2011); [DOI:10.1063/1.3606555]

Written by David Frederick

July 21, 2011 at 9:49 AM

The Six Steps In Cost/Benefit Analysis

I am always amazed at the confusion, misunderstanding and ineffectiveness of middle and senior management when it comes to conducting meaningful and actionable cost/benefit analysis.

Either the effort is to high level or mired in too much data which ultimately produces inaccurate and non-actionable outcomes.

We all know it’s easy to make an investment decision when the benefits obviously outweigh the costs, but few people understand what really should go into the analysis. So here are six steps to help you produce a meaningful and actionable CBA.

  1. Understand the cost of status quo. You need this to measure the relative merit of an investment against the “do nothing” option. Sometimes doing nothing is the right decision.
  2. Identify costs. Consider up-front costs as well as any in future years. Almost any initiative will have up front cost. Most people get hammered when they fail to consider the upfront costs or hidden costs.
  3. Identify benefits. Ascertain what additional revenue or return will come in from the investment. This is dicey because you need to define an ROI. The challenge is how to define the ROI. Remember, ROI to one constituency may be efficiency. To another it may be revenue. To another it may be market share, etc. ROI is subjective and you will need to consider all perspectives and ROI definitions to truly get a true benefit picture/metric.
  4. Determine the cost savings. What can you stop doing if you make this investment? Sometimes its a trade-off. If we do X, can we stop using Y. That’s another hidden variable that many forget about. If you stop doing Y because of X that cost savings could exponentially increase the benefits of doing the initiative.
  5. Create a timeline for expected costs and revenue. Map out when the costs and benefits will occur and how much they will be. This is critical for two reasons. One, expectations. By having a defined timeline you can align and define expectations of all interested parties. Two, understanding the timeline allows you to plan for the cost and revenue impacts to your operations thus empowering you to better manage and adjust course accordingly if things change.
  6. Evaluate non-quantifiable benefits and costs. Assess whether there are intangible benefits such as strengthening your firm’s position with distributors, or costs such as creating unnecessary complexity. This kind of goes back to point 2. It’s important to understand the benefits from all perspectives including tangible and non-tangible. Benefits or ROI are subjective understanding and accounting for them are key. Defining non-quantifiable benefits and costs i.e. emotional toll, work load, disruption to the enterprise, client or market confusion, etc. can all impact the overall benefit and cost of the initiative. Even if you don’t include these variables in the actual equation, as a responsible leader you should consider these issues in full to ensure you have a complete grasp of the impact on the project and can manage the initiative effectively and productivity to a successful outcome.

I hope you find these tips helpful but remember, when conducting a CBA be careful of data overload. While considering all the data to make an informed decision is important, you need to balance the effort so you don’t end up with paralysis by analysis. The ultimate objective is to make in informed and actionable decision based on a reasonable and responsible CBA.

-DF

Written by David Frederick

July 14, 2011 at 8:47 AM

3 Ways To Predict The Future of Technology

It’s expected that today’s CIO’s, CTO’s and even CEO’s are able to see deep into the future so they can make reliable and actionable predictions (in an ever-changing world) about coming technology needs and trends. If, like most CXO’s, you don’t have a crystal ball, try using these three tactics to better see the future:

1: Rely on more than one source. Don’t depend on one consulting firm, no matter how well-respected. Turn to a variety of internal and external experts to predict
what’s coming. This can also include industry peers, case studies, competitive analysis and more,

2: Go to more than the customary events. Widen your sources (internal and external) by going to a variety of conferences, industry education events and trade shows. Mingle with vendors, customers, venture capitalists, and academics to see a breadth of views. You should also engage with leading universities that specialize in technology to see what is being done, new technology solutions and application/usage trends. I highly recommend MIT, MIT Sloan School of Management, University of Advancing Technology,  Cal Tech, etc.

3: Look down. Rather than turning to people who have more experience than you, seek out junior people. The younger crowd often spots trends in technology long before even the best CXO knows of them. This is a model perfected from the Military. Everyone knows who has ever served in the Military that the Chief’s and Sergent’s run the show and usually have the greatest/diverse experience and solutions to both current and over the horizon tactical and strategic challenges.

For more information on this topic, I recommend you check out Robert Plant’s The CIO as Corporate Psychic.

-DF

Written by David Frederick

July 13, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Tips For Dealing with Urgent Requests

How many times have you been told something is urgent and requires immediate attention and action? If you’re like me, it’s probably thousands of times. The one good thing about dealing with thousands of urgent requests is that is after the first 50 or so you start to realize two things. One, some things are simply not really urgent. Two, your definition of urgent is almost always different from someone else definition. So what to do?

First, understand that we live in an instant-response world where a simple push of a button can make something feel urgent. This creates a false sense of urgency. Next time you get that email with the little red exclamation point or the voicemail at 10 p.m., try these three tips for determining how to respond:
1: Don’t assume urgent means right now. Talk with your boss or your customer about what he wants to accomplish and when it’s really needed. His interpretation of “immediately” may be different from yours. Many times if you simply discuss the “urgent” matter together, you can redefine the issue to a more manageable and appropriate response.

2: Respond, but don’t necessarily act. Sometimes a client or colleague wants you to commit or respond right away to a plan of action, but doesn’t need more than that in the short-term. Explain what you will do and your intended timeline to be sure that meets her needs or at minimum sets up a clear expectation.

3: Be prepared to say no. At times, you need to discern between a true crisis and a cry of wolf. Even if your customer, employee, boss, etc. thinks he needs it right now, it may be best
to simply decline. Often times when taking this approach the “urgent” issue resolves itself. Caution, this approach can sometimes upset the person who thinks this is an urgent matter. However, you should be able to tell based on your relationship what is truly “urgent” and what is cry wolf. The person may still get upset, but that is always a risk when you say no.

Hope this helps!

-DF

Written by David Frederick

July 13, 2011 at 11:28 AM