Saturday, June 29, 2013

Almost any idea (yes, including yours) can be improved by collaboration

I once worked with a very successful entrepreneur.  He had founded a company, taken it public, and made him and his shareholders hundreds of millions of dollars (the total wealth created was over a billion, but I don't think any one entity ended up making 10 figures).

He told me once about how his engineering team had presented him with a present after a particularly grueling launch: A baseball cap adorned with the letters JFDI.

The cap commemorated one of his favorite management sayings, which he used to end most arguments: "Just fucking do it."

Now obviously, he was very successful.  And other CEOs Steve Jobs have employed the same technique.  But I believe that collaboration is a better approach for almost everyone.

We're working on an important new feature at PBworks, and as the VP Marketing, one of my jobs is to come up with a pricing plan for it.  So I wrote up a brief on the feature and what I wanted to do, including three different options.

We then convened a meeting at which anyone in the company who was interested could participate (product touches everyone).  Despite the time pressures of a Friday afternoon meeting, we took the time to discuss and refine the different options.  While there was disagreement  at times, we reached a final decision that everyone agreed to.

It takes longer to write up a brief, allow people to review it, and hold a detailed discussion.  It would have been faster for me to say, "I'm the VP Marketing, and it's my call.  JFDI."  But the net benefits of collaborating far outweighed the costs.

First, holding a real discussion gets all the involved team members bought in.  Second, we dramatically refined the proposal, and figured out a lot of tricky details, thanks to the expertise in the room.  Finally, it only took an extra 60 minutes to write up the proposal and hold the discussion.

This is a feature that we hope will be a major strategic advantage and generate a big chunk of revenue; taking an extra 60 minutes to arrive at a better plan is well worth it.

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