Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Month: September 2014

How to Go from Peer to Manager

promotionsignI had the luck to work on a great team supporting Microsoft Enterprise products and VMWare for a number of years in a global Enterprise environment. Through hard work and learning new leadership skills, I became the person that the team looked to for answers. I led the team in an architecture lead and mentor capacity for a number of years, but wanted more.

After discussing with my manager, he gave me more and more responsibility and mentored me. Finally the day came when I got promoted and moved into management. I had been really close with everyone on the team and developed great relationships. It was interesting to make the move, and here’s what I found when I became a manager to my peers.

90 Day Plan
Let’s get the no-brainer out of the way first. You should have a 90 day plan for your team. End of story. Just do it, but don’t lose sight of the long term goals.

I Get It, They Aren’t My Friends
The number one thing you will hear is that you can no longer be friends with your employees. As a manager, of course your relationship will change. You will now be exposed to the complexities of the team’s inter-personal relationships. As a peer, you may have only noticed your individual relationship to each of them.

The first thing you need to work through is getting comfortable delegating to your subordinates and holding them accountable. If you had a good relationship with them as a team member, this can prove to be easy. You can’t become a pushover though. That will blow up in your face. Instead, give others clear directions and use a heavy hand if necessary.

There’s certainly no reason to stop going to lunch or getting coffee with your subordinates. You will likely find it can be an excellent way to get some feedback on how you are doing.

Quick Successes (or Problems) Lead to Bonding
A great way to help your team adjust is to create a short-term project with specific goals. Since you were on the team, you should know the quick-fire projects and get (and give) your team some praise. Step back and let them work.

This should help your team do two things. First, your team will have to figure out how to work without you in the dynamic. Second, the success and quick praise helps them bond.

Our company experienced a major email outage shortly after I took over the team due to a hardware failure. Everyone on the team got involved and it was a fantastic bonding experience for everyone. It also helped me learn some new management and communication skills.

From Mentor to Manager
If you don’t gel with the rest of your team, you probably shouldn’t become their manager. As I started down the management path, I found that I had a great tool already in my toolkit to help me build good relationships. Leveraging empathy in a peer role is great and can help you gain trust and respect, especially if you use it while mentoring.

Mentoring others is a great way to ease the transition into management and can make it feel more natural for your team. Also, you can learn a myriad of skills by mentoring, both management and those related to your job. When I became manager, it was well received by the team because I had already started down the mentoring path and built respect by helping my peers.

Engagement
My previous manager set aside time for both 1:1 and team meetings. I kept these meetings in place, and they turned out to be critical in the transition. Initially, I made both meetings weekly. I used these meetings to set the tone, learn about both technical and personnel issues, communicate changes, plans and ongoing issues to the team.

1:1 time was especially critical in the beginning and helped me get a better handle on what everyone was working on. This helped me prioritize, get others the help they needed to succeed, and organize the team more effectively. Beyond that, I was able to start identifying each team member’s unique personality from my new and different perspective.

Honesty
I was extremely honest during the first 90 days. I didn’t pretend to know everything because, despite being on the team, I just didn’t know everything about everything  or everyone. If I saw something that didn’t look right to me, I deftly asked why things were like that and led the team in directions to make improvements.

Don’t be afraid to question what you see and give honest feedback. You are now in a position to make changes and are responsible for ensuring your team is doing the best work it can.

Find and Build a Group of Management Peers
Your management peers can help you succeed. Since you were just promoted, they will have a lot of advice that can help you navigate the complexities of management. Reach out to them with questions. It may make sense to ask someone to be your mentor. Since my previous manager was still around, I was able to leverage my relationship and get feedback on my performance.

As you build new relationships with new manager peers, be sure not to neglect your old relationships with your team!

Summary
For many, going from a team member to a team leader can be an easy way to transition to management. How you handle the transition is extremely important for both your success and your team’s. This is no time to rest on your laurels! With the same hard work and planning you used to get promoted, you will succeed.

Microsoft and Mojang:
Not Just Another Game Studio

Hindsight is 20/20, right? Let’s hop back in our time machines to the year 2000 and review some game studios that Microsoft has bought since then and what happened. We had just narrowly escaped the end of days and new, exciting video games were coming. The XBox 360 was still a few years away.

By no means is this a complete history. For more information, check your local library.

A Brief History of Microsoft and Game Studios
I love me some Halo. The storytelling and gameplay were both fantastic. Bungie had previewed Halo and Microsoft quickly announced they were buying them. 7 years and 3 Halo games later, Bungie was spun back out and on their own. Microsoft retained the rights to Halo and Bungie kept it going. One thing fans never saw though was the rumored explosion of this universe into the mainstream. Sure, there were Halo comic books, novels and Mega bloks, but there weren’t television shows, movies or LEGO sets. All this despite Microsoft having its own XBox Entertainment Studios.

In 2002, when Microsoft bought Rare, it seemed to be more so for the talent than the franchises. After not doing too much during the 2000s, Rare was basically unwound in 2010. In 2006, Microsoft bought Lionhead Studios. This may be the most comparable to today’s announcement with two exceptions. First off, the main talent isn’t coming over. Second, while Lionhead Studios’ Fable game was popular, it wasn’t on the scale as Minecraft is today. Fable II was a critical and commercial success, but was it worth $375 million?

In 2011, Microsoft bought Twisted Pixel Games and they haven’t done too much since then. Granted, it hasn’t been too long, but still.

Similarly to Halo, Microsoft has announced that (instead of purchasing Epic Games), they purchased the rights to Gears of War. Again though, no game was available for the XBox One at launch.

Microsoft seems to have a bad history of purchasing video game studios. So, what is different this time around with Microsoft’s purchase of Mojang? Let the speculation begin!

An Afterthought
Minecraft is arguably the top selling game of all time or soon will be. In the wake of this announcement, some articles out there are asking why Microsoft would make such a purchase at potentially the height of its popularity, especially with everything stated above. Certainly, this is a good question, but  here are some other Minecraft things you may not know about.

A live action movie is planned. In case you didn’t hear, movies based on blocks are awesome and make money Why not take a page from LEGO and see what happens? Speaking of LEGO, they have just become the world’s top toy manufacturer and even they have boarded the Minecraft train with several Minecraft sets. Maybe this isn’t such an afterthought after all. There is definitely some things in the works.

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Lastly, this is certainly one way to ensure Minecraft arrives on Windows Phones.

What if this is just the beginning though? Let’s take a look at some potentially sweet ways Microsoft could grow Minecraft beyond the game.

Licensing
If there’s one thing I know, it is LEGO. Wired published a great, short infographic recently on LEGO’s positive turnaround in 2003 pivoting against their ability to license. Now think about what Minecraft is. It is basically a digital LEGO world. Minecraft modders all over the world have proven that this platform can be used to develop licensed material and XBox already has licensed skins for Minecraft. How about Microsoft goes furthers and builds entire games in Minecraft based on these licensed properties? It seems to be working for Traveler’s Tales Games. LEGO has even expanded the LEGO Star Wars universe into its own television show as well, not to mention their other original properties, Chima and Ninjago. Couldn’t Microsoft go down this path?

With the announcement to close XBox Entertainment Studios, Microsoft could finally move to a LEGO-like model for content production. Microsoft may be on the cusp of realizing that you don’t have to produce the content, just own the rights and distribute. Also, they are a very different company than Sony, which has a potential advantage in producing and distributing the content through their own Sony Entertainment, like they are with the PS3 and their foray into original programming. Sony Entertainment isn’t tied to the PS3, like Microsoft XBox Studios was.

Clicks and Blocks
Minecraft is LEGO-like for certain, but LEGO has something Minecraft-like in its new Fusion line. Is there a closer partnership developing here between the world’s largest software company and the world’s largest toy manufacturer? It could go either way. LEGO and Minecraft seem to be playing pretty nice now and Microsoft now has a massive platform for LEGO to build on. Fusion, on the other hand, has real world toys creeping into the digital and could turn into a massive platform in its own right. This partnership could be a huge windfall on both sides.

A rift here would likely be messy (and potentially a legal disaster) once the digital franchises start playing out. Imagine if Disney pulled Star Wars licensing from LEGO and gave it to Minecraft or if Microsoft made it cost prohibitive for LEGO games to be developed on XBox. I’ve pre-ordered my LEGO Batman 3 already (complete with Plastic Man minifig), so say it ain’t so! I think this scenario is as unlikely as Microsoft buying Mega Bloks to compete directly with LEGO, but stranger things have happened!

Virtual Worlds
Well folks, here’s where I’m going off the deep end. Back in 2012, there was a patent filed by Microsoft for an Environmental Display. Just imagine what Minecraft could be on this type of platform! Paired with a Kinect, you could actually mine and build with your hands instead of a controller and be completely immersed in this virtual world.  The sky is really the limit here. You could redecorate your room, take your kids on a wild adventure or even romance your wife in a blocky Denmark (ok, maybe not that last one).

What about interfaces? People spend a lot of time in Minecraft. What can it teach us about immersive words and 3D interfaces for future software releases? Could a Minecraft-like interface be built for Windows Phone or the ubiquitous Windows interface itself? It worked with Unix in Jurassic Park (with apologies to SGI)!

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Bananas, I Say!
There is one last thing that could be a massive game changer for Microsoft that would be even more bananas than mining in your living room. Minecraft has a unique combination of dedicated and social gamers. Microsoft could leverage Minecraft’s quick popularity to determine the next social network. Amber Mac nails it on the head in this article in my opinion and Minecraft surely has to be an easier and more relevant study on success in the gaming industry in relation to social networking than My Little Pony.

Not only that, the users have driven the changes from the bottom up in Minecraft through community. Microsoft could learn development and product lifecycle skills through studying the interactions between the Minecraft gamers and developers. The modders play risk vs. benefit on massive scales daily and somehow keep the popularity of Minecraft going. Think about how else this could be applied to another piece of software that you might want to improve.

Help Me Microsoft, You’re My Only Hope
Microsoft seems to have a love/hate relationship with game studios that it acquires. I’m not sure if the studios are too independent once they are folded into the mix or if they are kept to their franchises, but they just don’t seem to produce (except for Bungie, which ended up getting split out again and maybe Lionhead Studios). I’m not too worried about Microsoft squashing down modders or forcing competing platforms to pay so much for the licenses that Minecraft becomes platform specific and unbearable with in-app purchases. Even with the ever growing hunt for exclusivity on gaming platforms, that just isn’t Microsoft’s style these days.

Microsoft has the potential to do some amazing stuff with Minecraft. I mean, if someone can build a working hard drive in Minecraft, what else might be possible? Microsoft would be missing out on a huge opportunity if this just became another game studio that released a sequel and was then shuttered a decade from now.

Awesome Corporate Mix Vol. I

Mixtape

Guardians of the Galaxy was a great and fun movie. In the movie, Peter Quill’s mother gives him a cassette called Awesome Mix Vol. I. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how well the music complements the action. I love watching my 8 year old dance to these old songs and make her own mixes on Spotify. Over the years, I’ve used music as I’ve worked to get things done, get pumped up for a project, and even get through the tough times. How about a Awesome Corporate Mix Vol. 1? Let’s kick it off with one from Guardians of the Galaxy!

Track #1
Fooled Around and Fell In Love by Elvin Bishop You’ve got an internship, just started, and you could just work here forever! Heck, you’ll be in charge after your first year! (You poor naïve sap.)
Relevant Lyrics: Free, on my own, that’s the way I used to be / Ah, but since I met you baby / Love’s got a hold on me

Track #2
Retreat! by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings Someone in your management chain (you know who I mean), is just a little off. You wonder how they got there and why they are still there. Bananas might be a good way to describe this person.
Relevant Lyrics: Step back, boy, because you can’t fix crazy!…Retreat, ’cause it’s my way baby / And I don’t care none about the rest of you

Track #3
Applause by Lady Gaga This one is for the millennials. If LinkedIn has taught me anything, this is it. I will cling to this stereotype forever, sorry I can’t be swayed otherwise. If it makes you feel better, you can consider me an angst filled Gen X-er (refer to the post you are currently reading).
Relevant Lyrics: I live for the applause, applause, applause / Live for the way that you cheer and scream for me / The applause, applause, applause

Track #4
Don’t Say Nothing by The Heavy Have you ever been in a meeting and you are just about wrapped up, but then BAM! Tangent Man arrives! He has the power to interject his 2 cents and hijack any meeting! His only weakness is not hearing his own voice for one hour.
Relevant Lyrics: I get it / If it’s wrong then it’s wrong /  But you say nothing /  ‘Bout all kinds of something

Track #5
Gimme Three Steps by Lynyrd Skynyrd Dedicated to all you Silicon Valley folks that try to interview across tech companies and then get found out. Oops! If you’ve been living under a rock, lift it up and go read this.
Relevant Lyrics: Gimme three steps Mister and you’ll never see me no more

Track #6
The Touch by Stan Bush It’s been six months and your project is over. Despite all the issues and marketing’s instance on miring you in a two week product name discussion, the widget is ready to ship two months early and $200k under budget. You are the king (or queen). Commence strut! Surely, this project will get you noticed!
Relevant Lyrics: You’re at your best when when the goin’ gets rough / You’ve been put to the test but it’s never enough / You got the touch

Track #7
That’s Not My Name by The Ting Tings Oh my gosh! The CEO is calling! This has to be about the great work I did on that widget!
You: “Hello?”
CEO: “Uh, hello, uh, Michael, congratulations on the success of the widget.”
You: “This is Matthew.” (I also would’ve accepted stunned silence here.)
CEO: “Ah, yes, well on behalf of the board, I wanted to offer my sincerest thanks! Keep up the good work!” (He hangs up here. You have a thank you, but no bonus.)
Relevant Lyrics: They call me Hell / They call me Stacey / They call me her / They call me Jane / That’s not my name

Track #8
Private Eyes by Hall & Oates *click, click click When did IT start blocking Facebook? *click I’m the social media marketing manager, dang it! (Pulls out phone and hops on the 4G connection to post anyway.)
Relevant Lyrics: Private eyes, they’re watching you / Watching you, watching you, watching you

Track #9
Patience by Guns N’ Roses Hello, Help Desk? Email is down. It’s in the cloud, you say? Not your problem anymore, you say? Get a coffee, you say?
Relevant Lyrics: Said, woman, take it slow / And it’ll work itself out fine / All we need is just a little patience

Track #10
Peace of Mind by Boston What do you mean, I can’t get the iPhone 6? My cubemate just called and got one! How can I show my face at work without it? What will my loved ones think?
Relevant Lyrics: But I don’t care if I get behind / People livin’ in competition / All I want is to have my peace of mind

Track #11
Tick Tick Boom by The Hives Look, I’ve brought up this risk 10 times over the past year. If you’re not willing to fund the fix, I can’t be held accountable (2 days later, the risk manifests and you are still blamed anyway.)
Relevant Lyrics: You get your head out of the sand / But its too late, it’s too late, too late 

Track #12
Too Much Time on My Hands by Styx Your group is being eliminated. The good news is that we want to keep you on just in case for another year. The bad news is that your resume just took a one year hit.
Relevant Lyrics: Well I’m so tired of losing I got nothing to do / And all day to do it

Track #13
Uprising by Muse Congratulations! Your company is being acquired. All your software, processes and staff are changing. Here’s hoping YOU make it through! You have 2 months to complete this mission. Good luck, random participant!
Relevant Lyrics: They will not force us / And they will stop degrading us / And they will not control us / We will be victorious

Track #14
I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor Your cell phone is ringing. It’s from that company that fired you last week…they have a question that only YOU can answer. You’re busy on a new project at a better company. You wonder if not answering the phone is considered burning a bridge?
Relevant Lyrics: And so you felt like dropping in / And just expect me to be free / Now I’m saving all my lovin’ for someone who’s lovin’ me

Track #15
Running on Faith by Eric Clapton The stock is at an all time low with no end in sight. Actually, the company’s end is in sight, you just refuse to see it.
Relevant Lyrics: Lately I’ve been running on faith / What else can a poor boy do?

Bonus Track (for Guardians of the Galaxy viewers only!)
O-o-h Child by The Five Stairsteps This one is a challenge. If you are in a meeting and Tangent Man shows up, here’s what to do.
Step 1: Stand up and start singing this song.
Step 2: Find your groove and start dancing.
Step 3: Challenge him to a dance off.
If you happen to get a video, send it to Twitter #danceoff and be sure to include @MatthewSekol!

Too Small to Jump – Office 365 and Smaller Businesses

Some new details emerged this week with the launch of FastTrack for Office 365. This solution, focused on business over 150 seats, aims to help you get your tenant up and running quickly. You can even go further and leverage FastTrack to get you with a partner if you need help migrating email.

Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountainsWhat about companies under 150 seats though? Surely, they need email that isn’t as generic as @outlook.com or @someispname.com! Let’s call them smaller businesses, shall we? I have family members that work at 3 such businesses and I’ve noticed something, probably you’ve noticed it too. Smaller businesses are either:
1. Stuck with a legacy on premise mail system
2. Worked with a partner to get into Office 365 or Google Apps

Isn’t there a better way though? One that can be supplemented with a FastTrack lite? Well, it can’t be too cumbersome because it might just be cost prohibitive for Microsoft. On the other hand, we can’t push the costs off to the customer either. A smaller business shouldn’t necessarily need a partner to get them there. That is just a one time cost for hardly any work, especially if they can manage certain things on their own. For this article though, I’d like to assume they can’t.

I decided to sign up for trials of Google Apps for Business and Office 365 to find out how easy or hard the process was for a small business.

Sales Practices
From a sign-up perspective, Microsoft and Google were similar enough and dropped you into your tenant in similar places after the initial registration. It was what happened next that surprised me and I want to talk about it first because it represents an area where Microsoft needs to step it up.

I received 2 calls over the first week and 5 calls total from Google during the first 30 days. Some of these were voice mails, but all of them were from the same sales rep. He called and wanted to understand my business to see how Google Apps would work for me. He also sent me several non-form emails from his own account, not a Google system account. I explained that I was really just checking into the process to see how easy it was and that the account was really a personal trial. He didn’t press me on this, but did follow up a few more times. I did receive some form emails from a system regarding the tenant expiration, which contained specific resources to check to update my DNS records and add payment information (of course).

After I signed up for Office 365, I received no phone call. There was an initial welcome form email from the system, but no other communication until a few days before my tenant was going to expire. I received another form email about the expiration and then another one regarding adding other accounts to the tenant.

I was surprised at the difference in sales approaches between Google and Microsoft. Now, I did sign up prior to FastTrack, so I can only hope a Microsoft rep would now call me and ask if I wanted to be in that program at least. What made the biggest impact on me though was that Google actually asked what my business was. This showed the person wasn’t just trying to make the sale, but trying to determine how their solutions could fit my needs.

For Microsoft, the recommendation is clear – be more aggressive in your sales calls when someone registers for a trial. I could have been a company of 10,000 seats for all they knew! Also, this would be an opportunity for someone to explain the next thing…

Domain Name Verification – Full Stop on the Sign-Up Process
This is really where Microsoft could shine. Once you sign up for an email client tenant, you have to prove that you own the domain you are trying to use. To work through this requirement is difficult because it requires an understanding of what DNS is, where it is hosted and who manages it. For a smaller businesses, DNS is configured when their website is done and for mail routing. No one has checked it in years and it just works. So, which company does a better job at communicating what is required here?

Both Google and Microsoft direct you to help pages for domain ownership. I found Google’s page easier to understand and better organized. They also defer the steps to do this step until after you’ve signed up. In contrast, Microsoft’s page has a ton of text and is more technical than a tech-saavy person or prospective business owner can understand. My assumption is that FastTrack could help here, but it isn’t for these smaller businesses.

Here’s where the pre-sales team can help. Having a follow-up call within a week of sign-up to check in is invaluable. Train the pre-sales folks to understand this particular issue and how Microsoft addresses it until it is confirmed (with a secondary @smallerbusiness.onmicrosoft.com email name). Just a 10 minute conversation that goes through this script would be helpful.

I see you’ve signed up for an Office 365 account. I want to ensure that you get up and running as soon as possible. If you’re comfortable with the plan you’ve selected, your next step would be to update your DNS record so that you can prove to us who you say you are. Do you know how to update your DNS? No? OK, let’s talk about DNS and maybe I can help you figure it out (pre-sales person could even do a whois query).
Do you know who manages your www.smallerbusiness.com website or do you have a staffed IT person? That would be where to start. I can send you the steps on what they need to do.

That took less than 2 minutes to write and could really help someone out. The plan conversation is an important one to have, but I’m assuming someone at least picked the right one. If not, obviously the pre-sales team should be versed in the plan and maybe even have access to change the plan type on the back end on the fly (or make a request with a confirmation to the registered account).

Buying In
For those self starters, make it even easier to sign up. Right now, you can’t purchase Google Apps for Business or Office 365 from the mobile applications (at least that I’ve seen). With the success of Office 365 for iPad, Microsoft seems to have missed out on a huge opportunity. Right now, when the Office 365 for iPad app loads, it prompts for an account. If your email address is not an Office 365 account, it just sends you away. Why not build in intelligence and use that rejection as an opportunity to sell something? The login form should recognize the email address as a non-Office 365 customer and give the person some options to purchase (maybe not the E3 and E4 plans). At least link them to more information!

Return on Investment
There were a lot of interesting discoveries in going through this process. If you’ve read any of my other articles or know anything about me, you’ll know that I think Office 365 is clearly the leader for Enterprise collaboration. What concerns me in Microsoft’s lack investment in the smaller business space and their reliance on the partner network. FastTrack is certainly a step in the right direction, but Microsoft should be thinking about ways to automate the process for smaller businesses too. You can’t always rely on partners because they too will turn down customers because they just aren’t big enough. This falls back on the smaller IT guy or someone in the business to help out. In a lot of areas, these folks have gone away because even they couldn’t be sustained by smaller businesses. It falls to Microsoft as the provider of the solution to design methods to get smaller businesses in quicker by making the sign up process as painless as possible.

 

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