The downside to Getting Things Done

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

This morning I had a thought that I found a little sad. In my life pre-entrepreneurship there would be mornings where I would wake up and think, “I’d like to finish that book I’ve been reading.” That would be my goal for the day and it would be a successful day if I spent it lying on the couch and ultimately reading the last page and closing the book for good.

I don’t have those days anymore.

The methodology of Getting Things Done has been great overall for me. In particular:

  1. Putting everything on paper (or in Asana) rather than storing in my brain
  2. Do it, delegate it, or defer it.

I never struggle to remember things anymore because I have a system in place that ensures I never forget anything.

However, omniscience is also a curse. Knowing everything you need to do is a weight unto itself and does not lend itself to spontaneity, creativity, or relaxation. It has put me into a state of feeling that I need to be doing the most productive thing with every minute of my day with no time for recharging.

I dread those morning emails from Asana reminding me of my seemingly never-ending task list.

Asana morning email

An even bigger issue than the fact that I never wake up with a day where I have nothing to do is the fact that it seems as if every day I wake needing to do more than I could possibly do. My list never gets shorter! My morning emails from Asana typically greet me with a subject line of, “You have 37 tasks due…”. Great. Just great. Never does that number drop below 36 and I think they stop counting at 50.

Let’s look at the GTD ethos of doing it, delegating it, or deferring it and revisit my list. I count seven things I can do in less than five minutes each. Let’s get those done and trim the list down to 30.

Some of these tasks are ones that I have been putting off for years and never get around to completing. Here is one I created on 5/20/17 and have since rescheduled 15 times. It is something I would still like to do someday but is not pressing (hence why I’ve put it off so many times) so I’m just going defer it indefinitely by removing the due date completely and marking for later which will keep it off of my “Today” list and off of my morning task reminder emails.

Asana rescheduling tasks

A few of these other tasks are ones that are a bit more urgent but also not ones that I need to address today. Those are getting deferred until next week or later.

What is missing from my bag of productivity tricks is delegation. I’m a one-man band at the moment and don’t have someone sitting next to me to delegate to (thankfully as the room would be a bit cramped). Until I have a (virtual) assistant I need to get better about utilizing online services such as Fiverr for accomplishing some of the simpler tasks that crop up. I had success with it a few years ago but, at some point, I started feeling as if I didn’t even have the time to write up a task and stopped using it. That has to change in order to make my busy life work.

Down to 14 tasks to do today (in Asana–let’s not talk about the lists in Trello, Jira, Evernote, and my notebook). The day is half over so I won’t get to them all but things are looking up.

So, the problem is not with Getting Things Done but with me putting too much on my plate and not being able to get it all done. Secondarily, I need to modify the Getting Things Done methodology just a bit and make a clearer distinction between ideas and tasks. Just because an idea forms in my brain (and thus needs to be jotted down) does not mean it should be added to the task list and assigned a date for completion. Those can easily be cards in Trello or notes in Evernote without a date constraint.

I am feeling more spontaneous already.

10 Productivity Tips From Hacker News

Photo by Guillaume Briard on Unsplash

“Suck it up. Stop reading blogs, stop reading HN, stop making excuses. Start working. There are no tips that will break you out of it – just self discipline.” – krschultz

This is the Nike approach to procrastination and productivity (“Just do it”). I like that the advice pulls no punches but I believe it will falter for most people in that it doesn’t reduce big projects down into small, manageable steps. Productivity is as much, if not more so, about state of mind as it is use of time.

“Work on only one thing.” – edw519

Trying to get many things done at once leads to not getting anything done in the amount of time it should take. Irrefutable logic. Additionally, and I think this is particularly important for entrepreneurs, a finished project creates value for your business while you work on the next project. For example you have two projects. Project A will take three weeks to finish and project B will take two weeks to finish. No matter what you are going to be spending five weeks getting both of the projects finished but if you work on and finish project A then it is going to be delivering value (e.g. content that adds leads to the top of your funnel, a new feature that will reduce churn, etc.) while you work the next two weeks on project B.

“Get enough sleep.” – Mz

Sacrificing sleep to meet a deadline is something that a lot of us have done countless times. For me personally I find that those late hours are at 25%-50% as productive as my morning hours the next day on a full night’s rest. So it often makes sense for me to throw in the towel in the evening and start fresh. Additionally, lack of sleep has a cumulative effect (as any young parent will tell you) so too many sleepless nights in a row will have an outsized negative effect on your productivity.

As a corollary to this, identify where in the day your most productive hours tend to be and block those off on your calendar if you can. Use the other parts for the day for the phone calls, meetings, email, etc.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

“Find a team partner – and you will be cornered to start “get things done”. Otherwise, you can’t keep show up everyday without any progress.” – hwijaya

Having an accountability partner is a great practice for staying on track. Commiting to a deadline and telling someone else about it is a powerful method for driving focus and accomplishing the task in front of you. For entrepreneurs mastermind groups are often recommended and there are numerous ways to accomplish this in a corporation including what the commenter suggested.

“I write things down. I set micro-deadlines. I force myself to move on after the deadline, or if I really need to finish it, set another deadline.” – snikolov

Writing things down is the key to Getting Things Done. Get everything that is not the current task in front of you out of your head and on paper. This helps keep your mind from wandering and holding onto distracting thoughts.

“Once a week, take something you’re doing ad hoc and systematize it, or take something you’ve systemized and measure it, or take something you’ve measured and improve it, or take something you’ve improved and automate it.” – patio11

Creating processes and automating repetitive tasks is a hit on your short-term productivity but an investment towards long-term productivity and ultimately your success. This permanently takes something off your plate (note there is some time required to maintain upkeep as all processes will change over time) and opens up time every week to invest elsewhere.

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

“Walk – Any time I am feeling distracted or stressed I take a walk outside. It reboots my mind and I come back refreshed. If something was eluding me before the walk it typically reveals itself quickly after returning from the walk.” – endswapper

This is something that I did daily for five years when I lived in a climate where I could do it year round without putting on a parka. I still try to do it as much as the weather and my schedule allow. When I get back to my desk I am much more prepared to tackle my ONE thing.

For some a mediation break might work as well but getting the fresh air and a bit of exercise really worked for me.

“What helps the most for me is just closing out all other applications, chats, and browser tabs and not reopening anything else until I’m finished with work.” – apolymatth

I’m pretty terrible about opening tabs and then not closing them for sometimes a month or two. The problem with this is that they are a continual reminder of things undone. Those chip away at your focus just like those ideas in the back of your head and things you need to remember day to day.

One thing I try to do (and still need to be better about) is taking each open browser tab at the end of the day and creating a task for it in Asana. That way I can schedule reading those webpages along with all of my other tasks. If they aren’t applicable to what I need to accomplish the next day then I’ll schedule them for next week, next month, or possibly even just close and forget them.

“Shut off social media. Kill the noise. (FB, Twitter, Snapchat, HN, $SOCIAL_MEDIA_NETWORK)” – akulbe

Social media is probably the biggest time sink of our generation. Sure it can lead to interesting new ideas and discussions but the reality is that it doesn’t make any positive material difference in your life. By making communication so simple it has lowered the level of what people share thus creating so much more noise. (If you are old enough you remember writing emails to groups of friends–or even letters–which took more effort to write. That meant you tended to not share the shape of the milk in your cappuccino or what you overheard on the bus in the morning. Still couldn’t avoid the politically motivated chain mails though.)

You would be amazed and how much time in the day is spent looking a social media feeds. Add those hours (yes, hours) up and picture what you could accomplish with that time!

Btw, for me Reddit is the killer that is not on that list.

“Love what you do. Productivity is easy when your heart is in it.” – orky56

When work doesn’t feel like work you are in a good place. This reduces the stress you feel about being productive and stress is a productivity killer. It is a vicious cycle that ensnares many employees and one that is hard to step out of. If you aren’t doing something you love you should be doing something else. (I know that is way easier said than done but you can start by mapping out a plan and taking baby steps. It might take a while–years even–but eventually you hopefully will get to a place where getting up and going to work is something you look forward to.)

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl from Unsplash and used under Creative Commons.

Productivity Powerups Course

Today I’m launching Productivity Powerups which is a free email course that will help you make the most of every hour of your day and help you achieve everything you aspire to. When you sign up you will receive one actionable strategy a day for ten days that you can implement to free yourself from the busy work that is holding you back and instead focus on the projects that will propel you forward both personally and professionally.

All this course requires is about three minutes of your day (so 30-minutes total) to read the emails. Some of the tactics laid out can be implemented immediately while others are habits that you will build over time. Time is only thing you cannot make more of so a small investment of it now will grow into personal and financial dividends that you benefit from for the rest of your life.

This course also marks a renewed focus in this blog on productivity. Our software’s goal is to save you time managing your business and our articles going forward aim to do the same.

Sign up today!

Productivity is prioritization

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“If only I had another few hours a day…” is something that every busy person laments occasionally. As a parent of three young boys it is something that I find myself thinking almost daily. I imagine that I can turn more working hours into more productivity, more money, and ultimately more success. If only it were that easy.

The difference between me and Elon Musk is…well too many things to list here. One thing that we definitely have in common is that we both have twenty-four hours in our day. (Unless he has conquered the space-time continuum which I wouldn’t put past him.) He had twenty-four hours when he started his career and twenty-four hours now. Let’s not look at the seemingly superhuman entrepreneur who is simultaneously building rockets (SpaceX), trains (Hyperloop), and cars (Tesla) while powering homes (SolarCity) and, perhaps most impressive, finding a way to beat Los Angeles traffic (the Boring Company). Instead let’s imagine him at day zero of his entrepreneurial journey.

What did he do better than other entrepreneurs?

Work harder? Plenty of entrepreneurs work hard.

Get lucky? That probably played a part of it but definitely is not the whole story.

Prioritize? Definitely.

When all entrepreneurs have the same number of hours in a day what enables some to be more successful than others? Successful entrepreneurs get better returns on their time. They understand that productivity is not a function of time management but a function of priority management.

If you were to write down everything you do in a day you’ll find that (outside of familial and work responsibilities) a lot of it does not advance your progress towards your goals. Take that hour you spend on Reddit, pick up a healthy carryout dinner instead of cooking, skip the Netflix, and you have freed up multiple hours. But the important thing is what you spend those extra hours on.

Put everything except sleep (exercise, cooking, and television watching included) on your to do list (or block out time on your calendar). Organize your to do list by return on investment (ROI) (with your investment being your time) and you will always be working on the tasks that will have the largest impact on your success.

TLDR: Only do what is on your to do list. If you want to watch Netflix then put it on the list. Order your list by return on time invested. Work from the top of the list down. Success.

Your ONE thing for your next flight

Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash

I really love Gary Keller’s book The ONE Thing. It is a little long-winded but the idea it presents is very powerful:

“What is the ONE thing you can do right now that will make everything else easier?”

Putting this idea into practice forces you to consistently work on what is important and what will drive your business forward.

Unfortunately is isn’t always that easy. When you are in the office you’re often interrupted by phone calls, emails, and meetings. (I have yet to encounter a meeting that came anywhere close to qualifying as my one thing for the day.) At home I joke that my one thing is getting my children to bed so that I can accomplish my true one thing.

However there is a magical place where those interruptions don’t exist–an airplane. When flying you are free to put on some headphones and focus. This is an opportunity to pound out a blog post, craft a new feature for your product, brainstorm, or whatever task on your to do list that jumps out at you as something you have been procrastinating on because you aren’t able to put together two or three uninterrupted hours.

To make the most of this precious time I plan ahead. I pick my one thing before I leave for the airport and make sure that I have the files and research I need downloaded on my laptop. I get myself in the headspace that I need to be in to be productive (it can be a challenge to do with with security lines, flight delays, and the general madness of airline travel). What I do not do is get on a plane and hope that inspiration strikes.

(This blog post was something that languished on my to do list and today it is my one thing for my flight from St. Louis to Chicago.)

Even as I preach this I must acknowledge that this doesn’t work for all of my flights. Frequently with late afternoon or evening return flights I make my one thing small and quickly accomplished so that I can spend the remainder of the flight letting my brain unwind with a novel.

So I propose that you make the most of you next flight and do one thing that will push your business forward.

Safe travels.

Creating processes to become a great entrepreneur

creating processes

“Great entrepreneurs don’t have better ideas, they have better processes.” – Eric Ries

This quote is not suggesting that great entrepreneurs are building successful businesses out of terrible ideas. What it is saying is that what makes businesses successful, and the entrepreneurs that found them great, is execution. Developing processes and executing them is what allows a business to scale and become more than a sum of its parts.

The first step to developing processes is to start documenting everything you do. Anything you find yourself repeating is an opportunity to create a process. This can involve anything from onboarding customers to handling bug reports to processing expense reports. (StartOpz can help you with that last one.)

The next step is to write down each thing you do to complete the task. You have now documented the process and can find ways to streamline it, outsource it, or eliminate parts of it, All will help you be able to work more on your business rather than in your business. That is what ultimately will make you a great entrepreneur.

documenting processes

Documenting processes

There is no one way to document processes. You just have to find a system that works for you. At a previous employer the office manager kept dozens (it felt like hundreds) of spreadsheets to document different processes. It was an example of the process breaking down. Nobody knew about a new process unless they were told about it and, with no built in notification on completed tasks, if a process involved multiple people you had to rely on others to notify you they had completed their step and it was now time for you to work on yours.

I like creating project templates in Asana for each process as that handles the discovery and notification problem automatically. I duplicate the template each time we need to go through a process. For simple recurring processes (e.g. daily or weekly tasks) I create recurring tasks inside Asana and sub-lists inside of them if necessary.

Identify inefficiencies

When you are in the middle of a process you rarely stop to question it. You are concentrating on the task at hand. However, because you have them documented you are able to periodically review them and identify any inefficiencies they might have.

Frequently inefficiencies are there because “that is how it has always been done” or because something changed and nobody revisited the process when it did. Examples might be recording information that is no longer needed due to a change in your customer onboarding process or rolling out a new software solution and trying to create your old workflow when the software has a different, and better, workflow built in.

Bottom line is that if you make an annual effort to review all documented processes you will likely find steps you can eliminate and steps that can be done more efficiently.


In addition to identifying inefficiencies when you review your processes you can also look for steps that you can automate with technology. Techies might do that with shell scripts and cron jobs but there are plenty of tools that all of us can use.

A few ideas on easy automation wins:

  • Inbox rules to automatically file or forward emails or to create tasks from emails.
  • Zapier/IFTTT to pass data between different software systems that you use.
  • Excel macros for automating any repetitive tasks in spreadsheets.

Easier to hire

Documented process make hiring easier and training go a lot more smoothly. Hiring is easier as you can more readily identify the skills required for a position based on what processes and steps the position you are hiring is responsible for.

Training is easier as there is no question as to what needs to be taught in order to get the hire up to speed. You can just follow the process step by step.

blank notebook full of possibilities


Part on the premise of the book Getting Things Done is getting all to do items out of your head and into your to do list. Doing so keeps you from having to remember the dozens of little things that crop up and instead work your list based on priority.

Perhaps the biggest reason to implement processes is so that you can maintain clarity and focus on the big initiatives that push your business forward rather than getting distracted by the day-to-day operations of your company.

Most recommended books on entrepreneurial podcasts

I used to be a voracious consumer of podcasts for entrepreneurs (and took notes on many of them) and still try to listen to them as time allows. I also love reading business books and am always looking for recommendations. These books are the most recommended ones on the podcasts that I listen to.

(contains affiliate links)

  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 4/4/13
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 5/9/13
  • Tropical MBA 2/12/15


Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You

  • Tropical MBA 11/30/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 6/20/13

Crossing the Chasm

  • Tom Byers (STVP) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 1/18/06
  • Aaron Levie (Box) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 1/19/11
  • Drew Houston (Dropbox) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 5/13/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 4/11/13

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

  • Smart Passive Income 8/2/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 3/28/13
  • Tropical MBA 8/29/13
  • Smart Passive Income 6/28/14

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t

  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 3/28/13
  • Kyle Forster (Big Switch Networks) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 4/22/15
hatching_twitterHatching Twitter
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 12/3/13
  • Tropical MBA 12/5/13
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 7/1/14


How to Win Friends and Influence People

    • Smart Passive Income 3/17/14
    • Tropical MBA 2/12/15

Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 2/7/13
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 3/14/13


Orbiting the Giant Hairball

  • Frank Ricks (LRK Architecture) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 11/16/05
  • Stephanie Keller-Bottom (Nokia) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 4/26/06


The Hard Thing About Hard Things

  • Startups for the Rest of Us 7/8/14
  • Tropical MBA 2/12/15


The Lean Startup

  • Startups for the Rest of Us 12/3/13
  • Jessica Mah (inDinero) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 11/30/11


The Millionaire Fastlane: Crack the Code to Wealth and Live Rich for a Lifetime.

  • The Foolish Adventure 10/20/11
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 12/27/12


The One Thing

  • Tropical MBA 6/12/14
  • Tropical MBA 11/27/14


The Ultimate Sales Machine: Turbocharge Your Business with Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies

  •  Lifestyle Business Podcast 8/9/12
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15


Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers

  •  Startups for the Rest of Us 8/26/14
  • Tropical MBA 9/11/14
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15
  • Tropical MBA 3/19/15


Work the System

  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 12/6/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 4/25/13
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 12/20/13
  • Tropical MBA 2/12/15
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15


Zero to One

  • Startups for the Rest of Us 11/18/14
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15

Three places clutter kills concentration

I’m pretty sure that people universally despise clutter yet almost all of us let it invade most parts of our life. (My brother-in-law is one exception as he keeps the cleanest house you have ever seen which is quite a feat with two children.) There is always something more urgent to do than cleaning. But it must be done eventually and why put off until tomorrow that which can be done today?

These are three things that get always get cluttered for me and have a perceivable effect on my concentration and productivity.

Your desktop

I don’t mean your computer desktop though your file organization there could likely use work and reflects your overall state of organization.

I’m talking about your actual desk. This advice might not apply those that work in cafes all day but most of us work at desks. And unless there is a company policy about it those desks are likely covered in papers and post-its. Not everybody is wired the same way but for me a creative mind does not thrive in the clutter.

This one had the easiest fix. Really it is more of a hack. If your desk has drawers then open one and sweep everything inside of it. If not then get a manilla folder (I don’t know of anywhere that sells a single one so you can steal one from somebody else or your spouse when you meet up with then for lunch) and put everything in there. You will immediately feel better.

Now block out a half hour on your calendar at some time in the next week to organize everything in your drawer or folder.

Your browser

How many tabs do you have open right now?

Each tab represents a half-finished project. Yes, even your Gmail tab is a project. You’ll be much more productive if you only check it at set, scheduled, times of the day.

(Nobody’s job is to answer email. Nobody has that job title. Rather, responding to email is a means to an end. It is a tool, and only a tool, that you use for communications with people integral to what your real job is.)

If you’re like me then it isn’t that uncommon to have tabs open for two months or more. I have one particular tab that has been open for more than four. I am not proud of that.

What I should be doing is at the end of each day creating an Asana task for each open tab. (That would be a nice Chrome plugin. And as I finished up writing this Google Inbox prompts me to install a plugin that is the exact opposite which saves links to your Inbox. I find that to be a terrible idea.)

Your inbox

Just like you spend much of your day physically at your desk, you spend much of your day digitally inside of your inbox. Each email sitting there represents something you need to do. There are a couple ways to tackle this. The first is to handle it like you did your desk and create an email folder titled “Pending” and move all your emails into it.

The second is to start tackling it right here and now. My post on Inbox Zero provides some tips on that but you can start now by identifying any email that will take you less than five minutes and then responding to it. Create filters for any mailing lists you receive so that those are automatically moved to a sub folder. And finally create tasks for any emails that will take you longer than five minutes to respond to. (For software such as Asana, Trello, or Evernote you can forward the email. For Outlook you can drag the email to the Task button and a task will be created.)

Remember that you should always use the best tool for the job. Email is a communication tool–not a to do list.

All of this clutter compounds on each other and occupies just a bit of your brain as you are trying to work on the projects that move your business forward–the projects that deserve your complete creative brain.

Talk about your idea as much as possible

Creating something from nothing is a special process. Inspiration becomes an idea. An idea gets refined, work is put in, and eventually out comes something that creates value for yourself or others. Whether you are creating something for others or something just for yourself, I strongly urge you to talk to as many people as possible about what you are creating. Unfortunately many people are hesitant about talking about their ideas even though the benefits are numerous.

1459198455_ideaNobody is going to steal your idea

One of the most common reasons that entrepreneurs do not tell people about their ideas is because they think somebody will steal it. That is not going to happen. Likely you are not the first person to even have the idea.

Most people are too focused on their own ideas to steal yours. Besides ideas are pretty close to worthless without execution. The idea is the easy part. Now you have to work harder than you ever have before and smarter than any of your competitors.

People will want to help you

When you tell people about your idea they are going to try to help you if they can. They are going to be your users and your first evangelists. When they hear your idea they will say, “You really should talk to my friend. Let me connect you.” Early on those will be some of the most valuable conversations you have.

Your idea will get better

Early on you might think you have a clear vision of what you are creating. But more than likely it will morph over time due to the work you put in, the challenges you face, and, in particular, the feedback you receive.

Your idea becomes more refined as you talk through possible issues the you will face. People in your target industry or tangent industries will have a wealth of experience on which you can draw.

And of particular importance is to talk to potential customers early and often. Call them up or email them and introduce yourself as an entrepreneur. Ask them how they handle the problem you are trying to solve and shut up and listen. Follow up their response by asking why and then why again to really get past the problems or obstacles and to the root of what they are trying to accomplish.

You will get better at talking about it

The more you talk about your idea the better you get at telling your story. When looking for partners and investors, when hiring, and when making sales calls to prospective customers you are going to be saying who you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it (your pitch). You’ll be a lot better the twentieth time you do it than you are the first time. And even better the hundredth.

Startup Stock Photos

You will remain excited about it

Some people warn against talking about an idea because it can feel like a substitute for progress. I think if that is the case then you are actually daydreaming rather than serious about building a product or business.

After having a good conversation about my product I usually want nothing more than to get back on the keyboard improving my product. That excitement needs to be leveraged and not let go to waste.

You will start building a list of potential customers

Those potential customers you have been talking to will be the first people you reach out to when you are ready to launch your product. Continue to engage them throughout your development process so they don’t forget about you and so that they will get excited to hand over money when the product is ready.

Make notes of your conversations

I really like carrying a small notebook and pen around in my pocket. While typing a quick note on my phone is good for one-off notes when I am by myself, I don’t think it is good to do when having a discussion with somebody. At best it is distracting from what is an engaging conversation. At worst it is rude.

Even better is to not take notes during a conversation and to find a way to be alone for five or ten minutes after in order to write your notes down. The person you’re talking with will respond more to your full attention and ideas will happen more rapid fire if they aren’t slowed down from you taking notes.

Wait a couple of days before implementing feedback

Wait a couple of days after getting feedback to implement it to make sure that you still view it as worthwhile. A lot of times you hear something, particularly after a few beers, and it sounds great at the moment but might not with the light of a new day.

Feel free to disregard feedback

Sometimes the advice you get isn’t good advice. The trick is knowing which advice to act on and which to disregard. Being able to tell which is which only comes from experience so get out there and start talking to people!

The Worst Product Meeting Ever

The title might be some hyperbole but a while ago I listened in on a product meeting that was eye opening in the sense that the bureaucracy explains why the product is in the state it is in after investing substantial amount of time in developing it. It was also a cautionary tale for every product and company I’m involved with going forward.

The meeting was a state of the union on the status of a project that had been in development for about a year but been talked about for a few. It also happened to be one that I think is the future of the business.

I pictured the product as having seven different sails all pointing in a different direction. Not making any progress anywhere but eventually one might get a big enough gust of wind that the only outcome will be capsizing.

This is a product that the high level management wants done so a lot of people are hitching their wagons to it. They hope it succeeds so they can get the feather in their cap but nobody is taking responsibility for its success. There is not a true, single project lead as everybody wants to have a say in every decision but the project is not the primary focus for anybody.

Without proper delegation nothing will get done.

The technical guys explained their choice of platform (there had been no discussion or due diligence done on this prior to development) not in terms of advantages but one which would result in the least amount of work for them when somebody wanted a report ran.

One person was not interested in what the product did only that they were able to harvest data from it for sales pitches.

It was very, very briefly acknowledged that in its current state there is no reason for anybody to use the product (one single user had logged in and used it in the lifetime of the product) but that was not deemed to be important enough for more discussion.

At no time were the actual needs of the users brought up.

As far as I can tell nobody ever asked, “What problem are we aiming to solve by building this product?”

I have no idea what the official takeaways were from the meeting. However some of my takeaways were:

  • Software is not a collection of features but a vision. Every decision that is made must contribute to and support that vision.
  • For users software is a tool used to achieve something. They do not care about any features that do not help them achieve their goal.
  • You cannot design a great product by committee. While many people may contribute, at the end of the day there needs to be a single, specific person who is the keeper of the vision and the arbitrator of all product decision.
  • When company leadership creates a product directive there are going to be many people trying to get the feather in their cap for moving it forward. Progress will drown in meetings and any that is made will be questioned and likely abandoned.
  • A meeting must have a specific, and written, agenda. When something comes up that isn’t on the agenda make a note of it and put it on the agenda for the next meeting.
  • A culture of open feedback is important. Every employee who touches the software or interacts with users is responsible for reporting bugs and passing on feature suggestions.
  • Always think of the user. If you cannot put yourself in their shoes with every decision then you’re going to lose them by creating something that does not address their needs.

There are many reasons a project can fail but if bureaucracy is unavoidable then it needs to be carefully managed otherwise an even worse fate can occur. That being a failed project that continues to consume resources as nobody will let it die.