Monthly Archives: October 2010

Society, Complexity, and the Entertainment Content Business Model

A recent tweet by Mike Su led me to an interesting post on society, complexity, and the entertainment content business model.  The post was written by Clay Shirky, and is titled The Collapse of Complex Business Models.

The post starts out with a study of several successful societies that eventually went through a sudden collapse.  When each of those societies entered the growth phase, things needed to become more complex.  Whether this was because they needed to build granaries to house food or a system for distributing water, each added level of complexity added significant value to society.

As the society matured, it reached the point where the value added by additional complexity was actually zero to negative.  By this time, the elite in society were either unable or unwilling to devalue complexity.  The end result was that the collapse of the society was not only inevitable, it was necessary.  The author then goes on to discuss how this might relate to recent events in the entertainment content industry.

While this post was associated with the business model of the entertainment content industry, the lessons about society and complexity are useful for any organization.  I have seen organizations that have come to associate value with whatever has brought them success in the past, and then be unable to make adjustments when the thing that has brought them success no longer brings additional value.  It’s important to be cognizant of this, so that organizations and businesses can make better decisions when changes in the environment necessitate it.

Note: I’ve added the post by Clay Shirky to the Recommended Reading list.

A Simple Interview and Selection Process

I’ll quickly run you through a simple process I use with my teams to interview and select candidates for an open position.

The Interview

The first step is looking through the stack of resumes to find candidates that look like they have the requisite skills and knowledge for the position.  Once I’ve selected a handful of resumes, I go through a phone screen with the candidates to assess a few things:

  1. knowledge/experience, skill, & behavior in the core competency of a position
  2. technical knowledge

During the phone screen, I have a set of questions that I’ve pre-selected based on what the core competencies are of the position I’m hiring for.  Usually they are in the areas such as planning, communication, prioritization, etc. for my Program Management candidates.  For these questions, I ask them to provide specific examples in their previous work experiences (as past behavior is supposedly a good predictor of future behavior).  If I find areas that I need to drill into (be it knowledge of a specific area, additional clarity, or anything else), I deviate from the script and ask probing questions into their responses.

For the technical knowledge type of questions, I typically ask general questions that the candidate should know or questions that give me a sense of the depth of their knowledge in a technical area (obviously my positions do not involve coding, but you can tailor these to the position you’re interviewing for).  For example, I’ll ask a question about what a web service is or what a developer would use to find out the details of what methods a web service supports.  Other simple questions we’ve asked in the past are simple CS questions on linked lists and things like that.  It’s mostly for these questions where we’ll ask the candidate to go to the whiteboard (if this is part of the onsite interview).

After the phone screen, if I feel this person is a good candidate I’ll ask to schedule an onsite interview with the team.  On occasion if there’s someone who’s on the fence, I’ll have others assess via another phone screen.

For the onsite interviews, we meet as a team beforehand (before any candidates come onsite, that is) to determine who’s going to be asking what questions (what core competency areas each will cover, what technical questions).  For the interviewees outside the immediate Program Management team, I typically want to know from them if this person is someone they can work with from a knowledge, skill, and communication perspective.  In the past, I’ve also included them in the determination of who’s going to ask what questions.

I typically look to have at least 3 – 5 onsite interviews and stack rank the candidates based on the scores that were given for each core competency and technical knowledge area (to be honest, this might be a little overkill as recently we’ve gone back to hire/no-hire).  If it looks like the top one would be a good fit, we’ll go ahead and make an offer.  We’ll move on to make an offer to the next candidate who would be a fit as appropriate.  If there are no good fits, we’ll continue the process again.

There’s a good article about the interview process written by Joel Spolsky, which I really like.  You can find the article here: The Guerilla Guide to Interviewing (version 3.0)

A Note on the Business of Responsibility

Team ResponsibilityI’ve always thought that when the business is asking you or your teams to do a lot, it is almost never a bad thing.  It means that people are interested and committed to what you are doing, and they are betting that you can deliver value for customers and ultimately the business.  However, with that comes great responsibility.

Our responsibility to the business is to deliver on our commitments.  Saying we have a lot to work on is one thing, but doing what we can to deliver on them is another.  If the impression others have is that we are not putting in the necessary effort to deliver on our  commitments, we’re doing something wrong.  How can people trust us with the business if they don’t feel we put in the necessary effort to consistently deliver on our commitments?  How can our customers?  Would you invest further in a team that operates in this fashion?

As product lines reach their maturity and begin decline, the company always has to be looking for the next new business to continue to exist.  If you’re lucky, your team is being looked to as that next possible business.  However, if they can’t commit to taking the necessary action to make that business a reality, the company will move on and there won’t be a team.

Iconic Images from the Internet Era

Although the internet era is still fairly new (if you start counting from the time the internet started growing in the consumer space in the 90’s), the time has been packed with numerous stories of people and companies that have had a significant impact during this time.  I recently came across a question on Quora asking about the most iconic images of the internet era, and the images brought back memories of 2400 baud modems, monochrome monitors, Prodigy, blinking text, telnet, and Gopher among other things.

Here’s the link to the question, with all the answers and images contained within:  What are the most iconic images of the various stages of the internet era?

What is Program Management at Microsoft?

The title for this post comes from a question that was posted on Quora.  Over the years, we’ve tried to follow a similar model for Program Management.  I thought it would be useful to provide a few links that discuss what Program Management is at Microsoft to help in understanding of the role.

Here’s the link to the question on Quora:  What is Program Management at Microsoft?