Tag Archives: Project management

Price Industries

Next on my list is Price Industries. I’ve been fortunate enough to had the opportunity to go on a tour of their facilities, and they are quite amazing. But I’ll take a step back before I get ahead of myself.

Price is a worldwide supplier of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) units. Basically those metal boxes you see on the top of buildings that have fans in them.

Not only is being a world leader impressive enough, but the values that Price practices are almost exactly like any company that I would want to grow. This, of course, is no accident and takes years of careful action. While it may not always be easy, Price is an example of when the correct values are instilled properly into a company great things can happen.

First, Price’s is commitment to innovation is commendable. By investing in projects that may not see any direct cash inflows for many years, if ever, Price does what many companies refuse to do. Not focusing on quarterly profits, but rather the long-term future of the company is, in my mind, the best way to ensure the success.

Being a privately owned company, it is easier to make these decisions. Public companies can often fall victim of focusing on short term gains, rather than worrying about what’z going to be happening 10 years down the line.

What I appreciate most about Price is the fact that they started a Manitoba company and have stayed a Manitoba company. By operating here they bring skilled labour jobs, which is a great thing for our province! While it would likely make more financial sense to move operations to the US (or even next door to Saskatchewan for that matter) by staying here they can keep Manitobans employed with meaningful work.

I’m so sure that it would be less expensive to operate elsewhere thanks to the payroll tax. A company the size of Price has to deal with the Manitoba government taxing them for employing Manitobans. If that isn’t the most backwards thing I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.

So thank you to Price for staying in Manitoba and leading by example. in my mind they are exactly what every company should aim to be in their respective industries.

Scalable Skills

Being a business grad can be a tricky thing. Regardless of the program that you went through, the exact technical skills required for any job were not something that you likely learned in school. I’m sure it’s like this for all people starting jobs, but I like to write what I know.

What’s more is it seems like there’s a very strong bias to those who have done the exact thing that a company is hiring for when filling roles. Regardless of how well you did anything in the past, if you can somehow make your experience sound like it fits in the box that they are lumping things in, you’re the type of person that they want!

While I’m not saying that a level of proficiency related to the position being hired for is important, I do think that there is something to be said about a person who doesn’t have direct experience, but has a related skill set. That way you have someone who has obviously learned a similar job and your company gets the opportunity to train them. You’re not hiring some other company’s bad habits.

All of this, in my mind, is yet another reason that a side business is a great idea for any new grad. While you likely won’t get the exact experience that is needed for a job you’re applying for, there is a high likelihood that you will have done something related. The key is being able to communicate that your skills are scalable.

Talking about my experience (again, writing what I know), I’ve been intimately involved in the development, evolution and re-development of a product. In financial management, marketing, sales, project management, service delivery, customer interfacing, researching and now hiring. There’s likely more.

Would any of those experiences be to the same extent as if I was working in one of those functions at a larger company? Likely not. Are they still valuable and show that I’m not only able to learn what is needed, but identify what that need is? Yep.

I’m here to tell you, anyone can do this.

Even if you don’t want to start a business for yourself, there is always some crossover in your job or volunteer work. Just because you had a certain title doesn’t mean you weren’t exposed to other skill sets, so make sure that you really think about what they were and how it felt to perform those tasks. They may end up coming in handy in the future.

Product Planning from Breaking Bad

I doubt that I’m alone in my love of the show Breaking Bad. While I am sad that the final episode is done, I do think there are some great product planning lessons that can learned from the show’s creator Vince Gilligan. Thought I was going to be talking about meth, didn’t you?

It’s no accident that BB is a very popular, award-winning show. Not that I claim to know too much about the entertainment business, but the research and planning that goes into what eventually gets produced, I think it stands to reason that the business world can stand to learn a few things. Specifically how it relates to product planning.

Start Customers Slow

The character of Walter White at the beginning of the series compared to the end of the series is not recognizable. He may as well be a different person. The reason viewers kept watching and even sympathizing with him even when it was clear he was completely evil is that we were started off slow. He was a geeky guy doing something bad for a good reason at the beginning, and then the baby steps that were taken to what he eventually became could be swallowed more easily.

A company that is great at doing this is Apple. Any one of their products can serve as a gateway to a number of others. When a customer buys one of their iPods, they are not just an iPod consumer. They will potentially buy another product and another, until they are so invested in the Apple Ecosystem that they can’t break away.

Listen to Your Customers

The original plan for Jesse was to have him killed off at some point in the first season. Then the writers strike happened and while this was going on the producers of Breaking Bad spoke to viewers. What they found out is that people loved Jesse’s character, so the decision was made to keep him around. Imagine how different the show would have been without Jesse.

Companies which truly want feedback about their products and services stand to connect better with customers and potential customers in the long run. Rather than trying to guess what people want, ask them and they will tell.

Innovate, Within Constraints

The idea of the anti-hero has been around since Greek mythology or before, but has taken on a new life in recent years. Shows like the Sopranos and Mad Men are always mentioned in the same breath as BB as examples of this. While Breaking Bad pushed the boundaries, they never went so far off the rails that people couldn’t wrap their mind around the concept.

The same can be said for putting out a new product. Most consumers can only handle a certain leap forward in order to consider making the purchase. If there is absolutely no reference point in their minds, no matter how amazing the product there is a good chance of failure.

Plan for the End

One of the things I respect most about Breaking Bad was the decision that was made to end the series when it was arguably at the height of its popularity. That is counter to most other TV shows out there. Rather than drain every last drop of profit from the show,the story arch was completed in a satisfying way and it will go down in history as one of the greatest shows.

Similarly products don’t last forever. Without reasonable improvement or complete overhauls, anything that can be developed will one day be obsolete. Keeping this in mind ensures that there is adequate preparation and future planning that goes into the process.

Credit Where Credit Isn’t Due

I really want to post a specific story from a few months ago, but I can’t seem to find the courage. I don’t want to use this as a forum to go into too much specific detail about myself or any other person, but I really think I learned a lot from this experience. It may be best to skip the story part and keep it general…

Have you ever dealt with a person who seems like they go out of their way to be unhelpful? As in, it would likely be easier for them just to do what you’re asking of them, rather than giving you the run-around, just to get upset in the end? Well, I have.

For whatever reason, this person was not wanting to help forward something that was in their best interest to complete. I’m not going to waste time speculating as to why, but I suspect that this isn’t the first time he has been like this to someone.

What was amazing in this case was the ability to deflect blame from himself onto everyone else around him, belittling them at the same time. I could almost appreciate the skill it took to do this, and maybe would have as an outsider looking in, but being in the thick of things it was just a headache that I wanted to be over with.

What was more frustrating was, as a firm believer of doing things right the first time, this guy seemed completely oblivious to the fact that if he just help out from the get-go there would be no need for future interaction.

At the end of it all, he ended up doing his job and I hopefully never have to talk to him again. Even at the end, though, once he did the thing he is paid to do, he managed to make it clear that he was the “hero” and should be celebrated as such. Like I said, could almost appreciate his skill in manipulation.

Specialization is Overrated

As you may be able to tell, I have a lot of interests. A lot. As I get older I feel social pressures, as well as some that I put on myself, to start narrowing my field of interest and focusing on becoming specialized in a few things. While I guess specialization is important in some cases (doctors come to mind), I don’t think that someone with the goals and aspirations I do should be in too much of a rush to choose the path they want and ignore all others.

In my opinion, the world needs people who are interested in a whole pile of things and want to learn about them all. Sure, I will probably never be the #1 person in a specific field, but I’ve made peace with that. I would rather know a passable amount about a number of things, rather than a lot about few things. The world is too big to stop exploring!

“Who cares,” some of you may be thinking. I remember a specific conversation with someone a few years ago who told me that, ” People don’t get along in life just knowing a bunch of random things.” While I laughed at the time, I think that shows a common misconception that people have about generalists. First, even if our thought process seems random, we can usually understand it. Second, that randomness is how innovation is achieved.

The best example from my own life that I can think of is with me and my business partners. Two engineers by trade, they are able to do things that I could never hope to. I do, however, manage to ask enough stupid questions that they can take lots of what I say and make it into something that is actually workable and a good solution. Or they tell me to shut it, which is fine too. All part of the process!

The point here is that I have an interest in what they do. I’m never going to have the same skill set as them, which is fine, but the more I learn the more we can get into details with one another. They know to dumb it down every once in a while, but I’m sure appreciate my attempts to bring my speak up, too.

You always hear about how it’s our differences that make us interesting and solve problems. Well, I want to be the one who closes the communication gap between those differences. That’s why at any given time I’m reading about marketing, psychology, space travel or economics. There is too much going on to close your eyes to, and the more you learn about everything, the more astounding it all becomes! Therefore I don’t discourage anyone from becoming specialized, but next time you talk to someone who doesn’t know as much as you do, rather than think less of them for that, find out what else they know about.

A Loose Business Plan

Getting a business plan down on paper seems to be a tough exercise for entrepreneurs. Slowing down the process to research and write, rather than taking action that you feel in your gut usually does not feel like the right thing to do. In many cases the personality type is wrong, or there are too many pressures from elsewhere (notably making money) that it just does not get done.

While not having a business plan in and of itself is likely not the #1 reason for a business to fail, but I would bet that in some cases the information contained in the plan would have helped a failed business avoid it’s eventual demise. To me, the real benefit of a business plan is forcing yourself to think about very specific parts of your business, that you may not have otherwise until it was too late.

Don’t get me wrong, when I’m excited about something (like starting a business)  it goes against every fibre of my being to sit down and thoroughly dissect my thoughts. I would much rather get out there and start doing things right away! Having done that enough times in a non-business setting it is now clear to me that this approach isn’t always the best. In trying to keep true to myself, however, I have come up with my own middle ground.

Before I talk about my process, I want to first discuss the seemingly dark side of having a business plan. The fact that having one is great, but if you hold on to it too tight and treat it like an exact “how to” manual, it is going to fail you. Allowing for changes to the plan is vital, because you should always be learning from your experiences and thinking about how they will affect your business. One of the great strengths of a start up or smaller business is that it is able to be agile and make changes quicker than the competition.

As for my process, there are a few different steps. The first is to write a one page summary of what I think the most vital information is. In exploring an opportunity for starting a business, making changes to my current one or starting any sort of other project, if I can’t fit a top-level view onto one page, I obviously haven’t put enough through into it. Or I just don’t know enough about the endeavour.

After that I start filling in the blanks, but in point form. Take a rough planning template that I have and see what I can make of it. If it seems to be coming together, than I may be on to something. If I’m hitting walls, find a competitor or lose interest then I know that this wasn’t the idea for me.

After that is done I usually start talking to people about the idea and start sketching out a timeline and desired outcome. By doing this I start vetting the idea with people much smarter than I am, as well as determine what exactly I need to be focusing on. From there I either decide to keep moving forward or end the process.

I admit that after this is all done I have internalized enough that I rarely look at the document again. That is until it is time to start planning for the next steps. For whatever reason I can always think of things that can be done in the future, but there are usually 10+ steps between now and then. By recording them in the plan I make sure that I have record of them somewhere, while still focusing on the task at hand.

This, like everything else, is a very personal process. I don’t know if it would work for anyone else, but I encourage you to try it out with your own modifications. The last thing is, if you get off plan don’t worry too much. I like to keep it loose and if something interesting pops up, go chase that for a while.