While we were both enjoying our classic cars, the business itself was in a tailspin. The CEO had decided that the cash cow product line needed to be rewritten in the new language that was “perfect” – Java. After nearly 3 years, a version was running about half as fast with a quarter of the functionality, and the customers were irate. Realizing they were not going to make their Goals for the year, the key leaders of that business unit left, forcing us to step into those slots. My boss took over the business unit leadership, out of his CTO role and I stepped into Product Management…and our Goals were simple…
… ship something. Transitions always are opportunities if you are prepared for them. Think back 18 months, or even further, 5 years back. There was a leader at Cisco that kept requesting changes to their WebEx platform to make it easier to use, easier to join and manage meetings. Simply the ability to mail a link to a meeting so people could join from any device without a lot of set up. Denied over and over, he decided to go out and start his own firm – not out of the ordinary in Silicon Valley, but still risky. Yep – Zoom. Market valuation is up about 500% in a year, and using a lot of these platforms for 10+ years, for good reason. Simplicity is always a key factor in systems, and he got tired of the Goals being longer and more complex at Cisco…
Styx had been together for nearly 15 years, and was now on their 5th album, first with A&M records which was a much better deal… and yet, for some reason, John Curulewski decided it was time to spend “more time with his family” and have more control over his creative endeavors. While a typical phrase used in departures, it appears that he actually did spend more time with his family. He taught guitar in La Grange, Illinois, and his teaching was instrumental in many metal players around the Chicago area. He coached his son’s baseball team, and when he went to his son’s grade school as a volunteer lunch supervisor, he took in his guitar to the amazement of the kids.
The song today features his opening riffs on the 12 string guitar that sets the mood for the whole song, along with other great riffs on Lorelei and Light Up. Dennis DeYoung penned the song to talk about the upcoming BiCentennial being over-commercialized just as this album Equinox was being released. The lyrics are a fresh reminder that our stance in the world matters, and eerily prescient of what we hear currently about what America is, and can be. It features the phenomenal partnership of 4 part harmonies that will remind you of Queen. The album went to #58, eventually becoming a Gold record, and showed what the band could and would do next… without John…
A key portion of that season was my [former and again] boss and I knew each other well and could communicate with shorthand – having built a partnership at Fannie. As such, he trusted me to dive into what was actually happening, and as before, I found the key voices in the organization who good ideas on stop-gap changes we could make. As such, we set Goals for a release of a new version in 6 months, and my partner in engineering and I met daily to ensure that happened. It worked – the quiet voices learned to speak up, and with delivery behind us, we set another set of Goals for the team… bottom up… and more people got on board… including, eventually, the CEO. Customers stayed with us as we hit a cadence of 6 month releases.
I also learned to prioritize my own Goals in my planning – if you don’t care of yourself, it is unlikely others will. I noticed that Product Management is where most of the hard decisions should be made, and that very few places actually taught the skills critical to doing it well. I found a company that did offer good training, and arranged it for the team, and participated in it … for me. From that point forward, I understood better how requirements should be developed, and how to tell when they were being inflated or worse made up. And that the best are simple…
In future IT roles and eventually back in engineering at VeriSign, those skills paid off daily. And – this is the difficult thing to convey – No one would have told me to do that then, or now. At some level of leadership, you figure out that it is rare to actually have well-defined Goals – business or of your own. As Henry Kissenger said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you – nowhere”. It is up to you really – to figure out what that experience tells you to do in your team, and how you make sure you get the new experiences for you that will be needed in the future. And you need to write both of those down – where you are taking your team, and also, where you are taking your self… a solid Development Plan and Roadmap for both.
A fun aside in doing research for today’s post is this Father and Son video – showing them watching today’s song for the first time. It is another interesting partnership, where you see them review the song, and give each other feedback and some laughs. As you are contemplating your Goals for the year, give a nod to partners that can help you see things you might miss, encourage you to do more than you might have otherwise, and be there to hold you accountable to really learn lessons from each decision you make – good, and not as good. I also hope you will really enjoy the complex and moving song for the day – with lyrics that I believe we all need to pay attention to in this New Year. An homage to John who helped leave us a love letter to our… Suite Madame Blue.
Time after time I sit and I wait for your call
I know I’m a fool but why can I say
Whatever the price I’ll pay for you,
Once long ago, a word from your lips and the world turned around
But somehow you’ve changed, you’re so far away
I long for the past and dream of the days with you,
Suite Madame Blue, gaze in your looking glass
You’re not a child anymore
Suite Madame Blue, the future is all but past
Dressed in your jewels, you made your own rules
You conquered the world and more, heaven’s door
You’re not a child anymore
Red, white, and blue, the future is all but past
So lift up your heart, make a new start
And lead us away from here