Be Straight with Yourself to Get What You Want and Want What You Get

Being straight with yourself puts you on solid ground for getting what you want. And who doesn’t like to get what they want?

Can you own up to your motivations and limitations, your values, and your intentions? Are you self-aware enough to acknowledge your capacity and capability and to own up to your strengths and weaknesses? Can you manage your emotions to be responsive rather than reactive? Are you clear about your values and intentions and how they motivate you?

What Do You Want?

Here is a little story about owning up to what you really want.

A person came to the Guru to get instruction on how to deal with an exploitive partner (it could be an abusive, uncooperative, or incompetent boss, subordinate, or peer).

Guru asks, “So you want to change your partner.”

“No, I want to change myself” the person answered.

Guru (who is a bit of a mind reader) says, “No. You only say that because you think wanting to change the other is not “spiritual,” not giving and allowing; that it is manipulative.  You might have read somewhere that the only thing you can do is to change yourself and your perception, that you need to accept things as they are.”

Influencing

“Admit it.” the Guru says. “You are unhappy with the relationship, and you want change. You want to change the other or to have them change themselves into someone you’d like them to be, doing (or not doing) the things you want them to do.”

Guru continues, “You want to change the situation and you think the only thing you can do is to change yourself because you can’t change your partner. You are correct, you can’t change others.  But you can change your perception. When you do, behavior changes. When your behavior changes, you influence others, so they are likely to change their behavior. Though the change may or may not be to your liking.

You can’t change others, but you can influence their behavior.”

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Are You Being Straight?

The Guru concluded, “Are you being straight with yourself? Are you acknowledging your true feelings, thoughts, wants, and needs? Do you have an accurate sense of the situation? If not, you won’t get the change you want.

“Once you acknowledge the situation and your part in it, you can look in on it. You can be both a part of it and an objective observer, a witness. Stepping back to objectively observe you can better know the situation and it’s causes. Then you can apply the courage to work to change it or learn to settle into it.”

A Self-serving Boss

Take the example of a self-serving, manipulative manager. She exploits and verbally abuses team members. She takes credit for successes and blames others for failures; expresses no gratitude.  You are frustrated, depressed, and angry.

You’ve read a self-help book or listened to a podcast that says you can only change yourself and you begin to deny that you want to change her. So, you learn some techniques to manage your anger. You apply them and the frustration seems relieved; you’ve accepted the situation. Or have you?

The frustration doesn’t go away, instead, it gets buried or turned inward. You become frustrated with yourself and your inability to accept the situation as it is. You feel powerless. Your anger turns to resignation and depression.

A Solid Foundation

When you acknowledge your desire to change the situation and accept that you can change yourself and influence others, you courageously do it or you learn to settle into it, truly accepting what you can’t change.

If it’s neither change nor settles, then you complain (to yourself or out loud) and everyone suffers. When you are straight with yourself you can decide and do.

What You Can Do

When faced with a challenging other, do a reality check.  Are they behaving in an abusive, exploitive manner or are you overly sensitive or expecting too much? Or is it a combination? Are you being open and empathetic? Are they? What are the risks of being straight with them?

Answering these questions will put you in a position to more effectively manage the situation to get what you want and be more likely to like what you get.

Depending on the situation, voice your wants and needs. You can confront your partner gently but firmly and tell them what you are feeling and how their behavior affects you. You can ask them to change their behavior.  If you don’t say what you want, the likelihood of getting it is small.

At the same time, you can change your perception and become less vulnerable to their abusive behavior. Here we are on a slippery slope. You don’t want to become a doormat or accept the unacceptable. You need to know your limits  In negotiation it is knowing your best and final offer and having the resolve to walk away.

Changing your perspective to unconditionally accept what is, is wise. However, accepting what is does not mean that you can’t do something to influence the future. Remember, you can’t change the past or the present moment, but your thoughts, speech, and actions create a ripple that changes the future.

Knowing what you want and don’t want, influences your behavior. You establish goals and objectives, and these motivate you to do what you can.

Values, Intentions, Implications

What are you willing to do to get what you want? Does getting what you want to harm others?  What are the immediate, medium, and long-term implications?

Being straight with yourself includes knowing your values and intentions. The values may be saving time and making money, health and happiness for yourself and others, environmental health, ethical and non-harming behavior, safety, and security. Your intention might be to win at the expense of everyone or to find win-win solutions. Your highest intention may be to become a great servant leader or the richest and most powerful.

Getting What You Want

Opening to self-knowledge, being straight with yourself, may sound easy, though for many people it is not. It requires the courage to confront your beliefs and acknowledge realities that you do not like. It requires stepping back to objectively observe and accept things you don’t like.

When you own up to your motivations and limitations; your values and intentions, and acknowledge your expectations, capacity and capability, strengths, and weaknesses you can get what you want and be more likely to like what you get.

Cultivate self-awareness and be straight with yourself.

Work Plans Must Account for Friction

I overheard this conversation at work one day:

Manager Shannon: “Jamie, I know you’re doing the usability assessments on the Canary project right now. Several other projects are also interested in usability assessments. How much time do you spend on that?”

Team Member Jamie: “About eight hours a week.”

Manager Shannon: “Okay, so you could work with five projects at a time then.”

Do you see any flaws in Shannon’s thinking? Five times eight is forty, the nominal hours in a work week, so this discussion seems reasonable on the surface. But Shannon hasn’t considered the many factors that reduce the time that individuals have available each day for project work: project friction (as opposed to interpersonal friction, which I’m not discussing here).

There’s a difference between elapsed hours on the job and effective available hours. If people don’t incorporate friction factors into their planning, they’ll forever underestimate how long it will take to get work done.

Task Switching and Flow

People do not multitask—they task switch. When multitasking computers switch from one job to another, there’s a period of unproductive time during the switch. The same is true of people, only it’s far worse. It takes a little while to gather all the materials you need to work on a different activity, access the right files, and reload your brain with the pertinent information. You need to change your mental context to focus on the new problem and remember where you were the last time you worked on it. That’s the slow part.

Some people are better at task switching than others. Maybe I have a short attention span, but I’m pretty good at diverting my focus to something different and then resuming the original activity right where I left off. For many people, though, excessive task switching destroys productivity. Programmers are particularly susceptible to the time-sucking impact of multitasking, as Joel Spolsky (2001) explains:

“When you manage programmers, specifically, task switches take a really, really, really long time. That’s because programming is the kind of task where you have to keep a lot of things in your head at once. The more things you remember at once, the more productive you are at programming. A programmer coding at full throttle is keeping zillions of things in their head at once.”

When I was a manager, a developer named Jordan said he was flailing. He would work on task A for a while, then feel guilty that he was neglecting task B, so he’d switch to that one, accomplishing little as a result. Jordan and I worked out his priorities and a plan for allocating time to tasks in turn. He stopped flailing and his productivity went up. Jordan’s task-switching overhead and priority confusion affected both his productivity and his state of mind.

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When you’re deeply immersed in some work, focused on the activity and free from distractions, you enter a mental state called flow. Creative knowledge work like software development requires flow to be productive (DeMarco and Lister 2013). You understand what you’re working on, the information you need is in your working memory, and you know where you’re headed. You can tell you’ve been in a state of flow when you lose track of time as you’re making great progress and having fun. Then your phone pings with a text message, an e-mail notification pops up, your computer reminds you that a meeting starts in five minutes, or someone stops by to talk. Boom—there goes your flow.

Interruptions are flow killers. It takes several minutes to get your brain back into that highly productive state and pick up where you were before the interruption. A realistic measure of your effective work capacity is based not on how many hours you’re at work or even how many hours you’re on task, but how many uninterrupted hours you’re on task (DeMarco and Lister 2013).

To achieve the high productivity and satisfaction that come from an extended state of flow, you need to actively manage your work time. Jory MacKay (2021) offers several recommendations for reducing context switching and its accompanying productivity destruction.

  • Timeblock your schedule to create clearer focus boundaries. Planning how you will spend your day, with dedicated blocks of time allocated to specific activities, carves out opportunities for extended deep concentration.
  • Employ routines to remove attention residue as you migrate from one task to the next. A small transition ritual or distraction—a cup of coffee, an amusing video—can help you make a mental break into a new work mode.
  • Take regular breaks to recharge. The intense concentration of a state of flow is great—up to a point. You must come up for air occasionally. To minimize eyestrain, periodically focus your eyes on something in the distance for a few seconds instead of the screen. Short mental breaks are refreshing before you dive back into that productive flow state.

Effective Hours

At-work hours seep away through many channels. You attend meetings and video chats, respond to e-mails, look things up on the web, participate in retrospectives, and review your teammates’ code. Time gets lost to unexpected bug fixes, kicking around ideas with your coworkers, administrative activities, and the usual healthy socializing. Working from home offers myriad other distractions, many of them more fun than project work. Even if you work forty hours a week, you don’t spend anywhere near that many on your project.

One software group of mine measured how we devoted our time on projects for several years (Wiegers 1996). Individuals tracked the hours they spent working on each project in ten activity categories. We didn’t try to make the weekly numbers add up to any total. We just wanted to know how we really spent our time, compared to how we thought we spent our time, compared to how we were supposed to spend our time.

The results were eye-opening. In the first year we collected data, we devoted an average of just 26 hours per week to project work. The time tracking made us all more conscious of finding ways to focus our time more productively. However, we never exceeded an average of 31 hours per week of project time.

Several of my colleagues have obtained similar results, averaging five to six hours per day on project work. Rather than relying on published figures to estimate your effective project time, collect your own data. Recording how you work for a few typical weeks will provide a good idea of how many hours per week you can expect to devote to project tasks. Knowing the team’s average effective weekly work hours helps everyone make more realistic estimates, plans, and commitments.

Other Sources of Project Friction

Besides the daily frittering away of time on myriad activities, project teams lose time to other sources of friction. For instance, most corporate IT organizations are responsible for both new development and enhancing and repairing current production systems. Since you can’t predict when something will break or a change request will come along, these sporadic, interruptive maintenance demands usurp team members’ time with unplanned work.

The team composition can further impose friction if project participants speak different native languages and work in diverse cultures. Unclear and volatile requirement priorities can chew up hours as people spend time researching, debating, and adjusting priorities. The team might have to temporarily shelve some incomplete work if a new, higher-priority task inserts itself into the schedule. Unplanned rework is yet another time diversion.

Distance between project participants can retard information exchanges and decision-making. A contract project that involved a customer in the eastern United States and a vendor in western Canada planned some peer reviews of certain deliverables. However, the long-distance reviews took longer than expected, as did follow-up to verify the corrections made. Sluggish iteration to resolve requirements questions and ambiguity about who the right contact people were for each issue were further impediments. These—and other—factors put the project behind schedule after just the first week and eventually contributed to its failure.

Planning Implications

I estimate how long individual tasks will take as though I will have no distractions or interruptions, just focused and productive time. Next, I convert that ideal effort estimate into calendar time based on my effective work-hour percentage. I also consider whether any of the other aforementioned sources of friction could affect my estimates. Then I try to arrange my work so that I can focus on a single task at a time until it’s complete or I hit a blocking point.

My colleague Dave described what happens on his current project, whose manager doesn’t consider the impacts of time lost to excessive multitasking:

“The manager likes to split people up between teams, 50 percent here and 50 percent there, or 50, 25, and 25. But when this happens, it seems like they forget the percentages and think the team has all full-time people. Then they seem surprised at how long things take. Also, being on multiple teams means more overhead in meetings and less coding time.”

If people always create estimates without accounting for the many ways that time splitting and project conditions can slow down the work, they’re destined to overrun their estimates every time.

References

DeMarco, Tom, and Timothy Lister. 2013. Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, 3rd Ed. Boston: Addison-Wesley.

MacKay, Jory. 2021. “Context switching: Why jumping between tasks is killing your productivity (and what you can do about it).” https://blog.rescuetime.com/context-switching.

Spolsky, Joel. 2001. “Human Task Switches Considered Harmful.” https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2001/02/12/human-task-switches-considered-harmful.

Wiegers, Karl E. 1996. Creating a Software Engineering Culture. New York: Dorset House Publishing.

Leading From a Distance: Boost Workplace Morale From Anywhere

For 30 years, my main motivation as a leader and entrepreneur has been the certainty of facing new challenges, finding solutions, and overcoming them as a team. To date, the global pandemic has been the most challenging crisis our company has faced. How can we navigate these trying times? In which ways can we help slow the spread of COVID-19? Should we abandon our current business processes, policies, and procedures until things get back to normal? How do we lead employees post-covid?

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that businesses are innovative, powerful forces — made up of inventors, designers, dreamers, and doers. As a project management software company, it is my strong belief that collaboration tools can be a huge part of the solution. By addressing our skills with the ongoing problems, we can work toward creating the type of workplace we all need during this time of uncertainty. That’s where we can make a difference.

The Future of the Workplace is Remote

While the shift to remote working was already well underway, the pandemic has certainly put the work-from-home trend on a fast track. As restrictions ease, we wonder if “business as usual” will look, well, usual.

Nearly two years after the start of the pandemic, it has become clear that this will be the situation for a while yet. Like many other companies navigating the uncertainties of the times, we have been revamping our processes to ensure we work better together even when we’re apart. Of course, it’s a learning curve. There are still so many questions. What are the new expectations for turnaround? How flexible should the workday be; which hours should everyone be present? Which channels are appropriate for which types of conversations? What does a meeting now look like? It might take some figuring out, but remote working is here to stay. It will continue to grow and bring new opportunities for business application developers and those in the technology sector.

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When we think about the future of the office, we imagine an environment where employees can work from wherever they perform best, whether that’s at home or in the office. For some, that might mean coming into the office a couple of days a week, while others may only come in for an occasional meeting.

Whichever working arrangement employees prefer, we want to ensure that it contributes to their overall well-being and productivity. We aim to be flexible – if we can take better care of ourselves, we can take better care of our clients.

Digital is The Best Solution

As we too adjust to the new way of working, we’re also granted the opportunity to reimagine the workplace, rethink our priorities, and reevaluate our values.

While there are still many unknowns about the future of the workplace, I can say with certainty that siloed communication, archaic systems, and disengaged employees are not going to help a company hit the ground running.

In this day and age, we need technology that connects people as well as the digital tools we use daily. Effective communication should be a top priority for any type of business that is dependent on collaboration, from small startups to enterprise companies. This is how work gets done. Businesses that invest in new technology will see major improvements in terms of output and employee happiness, compared to those using out-of-date systems.

As a leader, it is my responsibility to give my employees everything they need to get the job done. Now more than ever, we need ways to engage in real-time conversation with team members by commenting on ongoing tasks and sharing files, ideas, comments, and more. The health and well-being of my employees are very important to me and I feel it is my duty to make sure they work in the best possible conditions.

Work-life Balance

For a large number of us, the perimeters between our personal and professional lives have been obscured due to the continuous pandemic. Consequently, it can be challenging to keep motivated while telecommuting. The absolute best approach to avoid burnout is by empowering employees to put their mental and physical well-being first. That means setting actual limits, like not checking messages on weekends or getting completely off-screen after nightfall. Working constantly will just prompt burnout over the long haul. We need to set aside time for fun, family, and friends.

It’s also important to make expectations clear across the board. Especially these days when it’s considerably challenging to understand what the ideal work pace should be with everyone is in different places and time zones. Some employees might feel like they’re putting in more hours than other teams or getting more work than they can handle. Without clear benchmarks and deadlines, employees aren’t going to feel rewarded or fulfilled. In fact, they might wind up doing a bunch of work that ends up not mattering or working overnight on a project that isn’t actually urgent. Is there anything more demoralizing?

Not everyone is going to take to the work-from-home routine right away. With the added autonomy can come additional disruptions. While being able to work from wherever offers freedom and flexibility, it also opens doors to new distractions. And while there is no shortage of tips for remote working on the internet, good processes and documentation are an essential part of putting the advice to action.

An added bonus that comes with project management software is the time tracking feature, which allows us to analyze and compare productivity, focus, and output from home against the office. When management can understand productivity, they can help their team better juggle responsibilities and tasks while working from home. Moreover, I invite and encourage employees to propose alternative working styles. This is new for everyone. I see no fault in a flexible arrangement that is beneficial for both the company and the individual. It’s a win-win in my book.
Most Importantly, Take Care of Each Other

Of course, I wish the pandemic never happened, but the new challenges that the current world situation brings are a source of motivation for me. And while I take great pride in my ability to tackle complex issues quickly, I know I need to remain humble in order to recognize my errors and continue to learn. Being a visionary means being imaginative and creative, yet this is only possible when you are open to learning with and from others.

It goes without saying that we must be empathetic during these times. This crisis isn’t over. Workers are still getting their footing, which means they may have off days or not be as productive as they once were. Despite all the aiding technology, now is the time to be human — we must take care of each other. Call me optimistic, but I believe we can use what we learned from this pandemic to be more compassionate, innovative, and connected.

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From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Power of the People Network

“I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.” – Jeff Bezos, founder, and CEO of Amazon

These days, new stuff is introduced every minute of every day, around the world. It is impossible to keep up let alone stay on top. Too often that new stuff tweaks what already exists. Much less frequently, something new changes the game, provides a new paradigm. And often we don’t understand the impact of an innovation until much later, after the markets have spoken.

Perhaps that’s the case with Sellizer, an application developed by a small but passionate group of marketers, financiers, and technologists. It was conceived in response to challenges and frustration with a lead generation operation in one company. Is it a game-changer? Let us know what you think.

The Situation

Marcin Zaborowski was a co-founder of a marketing agency that sold e-marketing and consulting services for businesses. Leads came from several sources:

  • Recommendations
  • Inquiries from website content marketing and SEO activities
  • Upselling to existing customers.

These sources helped generate leads for their business – up to 400 quarterly. They would score the leads by contacting these potential customers and checking several factors, including needs, potential budgets, time, importance, etc. On average, only 20% of the leads scored warm and were pursued.

Offers were created for the warm leads, requiring approximately 15 hours each. However, less than 30% of those contacted would respond to the emails, offers, and proposals. Of those, about 15% were closed. The sales cycle from lead generation to proposal to contract lasted about 3 months.

It was a frustrating and time-consuming exercise. The proposal creation process was manually intensive, involving cut and paste, custom crafting, and a variety of shared content. They didn’t always know when or if the prospect opened their proposal, they didn’t know how long the prospect spent reviewing the material, they didn’t know whether the contact revisited the information, or how often. And, they had to put the statistics used to manage the process together manually on a monthly basis.

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Those results and related frustrations lead Marcin and his team to conceive of a better, more productive process. Among the features and functions they included on the wish list:

  • Automated, intelligent lead quality and proposal assessments
  • Automation of proposal generation, leveraging a suite of standard templates and an AI infused creation process with optional custom editing
  • Automated follow-up regarding the prospects handling of a contact and intelligent response generation
  • Distribution of proposals through a variety of channels including email, SMS, and LinkedIn
  • Integration of the website lead forms with the proposal generation and follow-up capability
  • Full integration with other supporting system including CRM, sales, and contract management
  • Real-time statistics on all key metrics with multiple personalized views for senior management, sales, customer service, and production staff and organizations.

Marcin and his staff kept an eye on the market, looking for a product or tools that would address their needs, but they found the few offerings available lacked on most fronts. Finally, with no other apparent options available, Marcin decided to build his own solution and left the company. The Sellizer project was launched.

The Goals

The initial goal of the Sellizer project was to address the organization’s wish list and finance the development costs through sales of the product to other interested parties. Consequently, at the very beginning, it was crucial to enter the market.

Now, there are 3 primary goals for Sellizer:

  1. To expand internationally
  2. To develop features, nurture AI-wise technologies, and add some functionalities, such as signing documents
  3. In five years, to become a global leader among other email and proposal tracking software

The project targeted the global market but focused initially on the home (Polish) market to test the solution.

The Project

In 2017, the founder and CEO of Sellizer – Marcin Zaborowski – made a decision. He left his managerial position at the marketing agency to focus on the creation and promotion of the Sellizer app. He assembled his initial team of one analyst/business developer, one designer, and one developer and created their initial, minimum viable product (MVP). The initial offering included SMS/e-mail notifications about opening an offer and offer statistics.

The market, however, turned out to be very demanding and after several months of getting feedback from users, they had over 1000 requests for improvements. Over the next three months they implemented 80% of the suggestions that were deemed to be essential. With the demand for additional capability in the app, additional funding was sought and obtained and additional staff were hired, including a project manager, two more developers, and a tester.

Marcin and his team had extensive experience in the market and used that knowledge and discussions with users to plan and shape future releases. Each potential requirement was recorded along with the number of occurrences. Then, the founders collaboratively determined the impact of a specific function after implementation as well as its cost-effectiveness. Everything was recorded in an Excel sheet. The actual content and priority of the releases was guided by continual reference to the organization’s goals. They gave weight to the possible actions and calculated the priority of a sequence of actions based on their experience and consultation with their user base. This information was also maintained in an Excel file.

The team used PHP and JS technologies to build the app and applied agile approaches in every field including design, development marketing and sales. The deliverables were tested internally by the team and then automated tests and friendly testers were used. Due to the team’s long experience in the market, they had lots of business contacts. They invited over 100 of those contacts to Sellizer tests. Nearly 30% of them became customers. In addition, one of Sellizer’s founders was the organizer of a large Internet Beta marketing conference. That forum was used to introduce the app to over 300 people and get the sales rolling in. The amazing power of a network!

The Results

The Sellizer app’s first release was launched in September, 2018. The company’s target revenue for the first year was 100,000 Polish Zloty(PLN). However, due to the demand for improvements and additional functionality, it took almost two years to reach the target.

The costs to add the incremental capability were considerable but the company managed to obtain additional funding to deliver the enhanced product. There are now more than 350 users actively using the tool. They have sent out over 200,000 proposals to date.

As far as Sellizer’s own lead generation performance goes, using their own app of course, they act on about 150 leads a month and close 12% in a lead generation cycle that last 19 days on average.

The company is currently aiming at retaining new strategic investors and expanding internationally. Android and iOS versions are also in the works. Its path to success with Sellizer is a great roadmap for anyone with a dream.

Lessons Learned

If it wasn’t for risk tolerance on the part of Marcin and his investors, Sellizer wouldn’t have been developed and launched. As Marcin, the Sellizer CEO, once stated, “I can’t overstress how crucial it is that you get out of your comfort zone”. However, I think there were a number of other insights and practices that contributed to Sellizer’s success:

  1. A committed sponsor is a game-changer – Marcin was the initiator, the visionary, the driver, the leader and the final decision-maker the project needed to achieve its goals.
  2. Metrics matter – The story of Sellizer is founded on a solid foundation of information. Knowing the number of leads, the quality of the leads, how the prospects responded and the time and effort involved in yielding the results obtained was the catalyst. Without that knowledge, very little would have changed.
  3. Always be on the lookout for opportunities – There were hundreds of different potential responses to the challenges the company was experiencing in its lead generation operations. Building that wish list helped coalesce the search for solutions around an app like Sellizer.
  4. Balancing risk and reward – Marcin and his team took a rational approach to the exploration, development, and release of the app. They defined their minimum viable product (MVP), they had a small, talented team, they had just enough financing, they took an agile approach to the development of the product and they relied heavily on their network of colleagues and clients to ensure market reality.
  5. Engaging with clients – Marcin is fond of saying, “Sellizer itself is an everlasting lesson. We appreciate the power of feedback more than ever.” One Sellizer user even applies the app on internal communications: “In our internal communication, we use Sellizer to send important documents to ensure that they have not been skipped or missed among many other messages.”
  6. The power of your network – Look at the leverage and power an extensive and connected network of friends and colleagues provided. Marcin’s initial partners were professional colleagues. 100 contacts to help with the testing. 30% became customers! Finding investors to fund expansion of the application was enabled by the network of contacts. It was a force multiplier!
  7. The quality of the team – According to Marcin, “We managed to gather great partners and associates quickly. We have our dream team!”

So, if you’re involved in an innovation venture or a challenging change, consider Sellizer’s approach and the seven insights and practices above that have helped it succeed. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process, and the Decision Framework right upfront so you don’t overlook these key success factors.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First-time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a PM or change manager’s life easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights. Thanks