Risk isn’t necessarily Harm

The term “risk” gets batted around projects like a ping pong ball zipping around a startup. It’s everywhere. Your schedule is at risk. Your budget is at risk. Your resources – fraught with risk. Your scope is basically nothing but risk.

But how often do we really stop to evaluate what we’re (a) worried about and (b) able to manage?

Fundamentally, each dimension of a project is of course going to have risk, in the sense that something incomplete could not get completed. It might not be completed by a certain time (schedule risk) or at a certain amount of money (budget risk). But are we sure we’re properly equating risk with harm?

Harm is bad. We want to avoid harm. The notion of harm insists that there’s a consequence to a bad outcome. Risk… Is a little murkier. It implies that there are consequences, but the nature or impact of those consequences may not necessarily hurt.

Here’s an example: Your sponsor walks in the door and says, “This new software application is critical for our 3rd Quarter sales numbers. So you must have the project complete by end of June.” Now you’ve established a time-box, and all future decisions (scope, budget, resources, etc.) are likely derived from this boundary. Slipping any of those facets might result in increasing the risk of your project. But can you clearly articulate the harm? This is where an honest discussion needs to happen with your sponsors & stakeholders.

The Discussion:

Product & Project Manager: You said that the app is CRITICAL to 3RD QUARTER… Can you define those two things?

Sponsor: Not really. I’d just really like to have it done by September so we can train everyone during the holiday slowdown.

Sometimes, it’s that silly. The 3rd quarter really means the 4th quarter, and critical really means “nice to have.” But, sometimes the discussion can be direct, and creates a measurable structure to evaluate risk:

Sponsor: Sure – We think that this will boost our sales team performance by 5% per person. Right now my average salesperson is doing $120,000 per month, so I’d like to net an extra $6k per person per month. Across our 10 salesperson team, that’s $60k incremental per month, starting July. That gives us an additional $360k revenue for the year.

Product Manager: Which features in the scope are the ones most directly associated with the revenue bump you’re looking for?

Sponsor: [ Points to 1 “magic feature.” ]

Now you’ve established your risk profile: Every “day” of slippage past June 30 is going to cost the company something like $2,000. Also, you’ve found the #1 item on the deliverable that without implementing nets actual harm to the project. If that feature doesn’t work right, the whole “app” might as well be useless.

These sorts of discussions can be tricky, so have them at the right time (hopefully early – before you’ve committed to anything) and with the right people (ideally, the sponsor / product owner). But now, if a resource slips on a non-essential feature, you can at least differentiate between harm and risk in a meaningful way.

My Favorite Podcasts for Business & Creative Thinking

There’s something overwhelming about digital media these days. Whether it be trying to figure out which of the dozens of new Netflix releases might actually be worthwhile, or having all music from all time available at a tap, or trying to catch up on news & events in your Twitter feed – there’s just a lot out there. It’s too much for anyone to keep up with. I feel the same way with podcasts – there’s an unbelievable amount of great material out there, and frankly I pity the poor person who has enough of a commute to really take advantage of it all.

Some friends and I were together for lunch a few weeks back and struck up our favorites, so I figured I’d share some of mine with the world. Here’s a few of my favorite podcast episodes, which I find really worthwhile as a burst of inspiration and creative thinking during a commute or a trip around town.

Note: All links are to iTunes / Apple Podcasts. 

Freakonomics Radio: When Willpower Isn’t Enough from March 11, 2015 – There’s a topic in here called temptation bundling that has really stuck with me over the years. It’s a really simple idea: pair something you want to do with something you should do. I’ve used it this year to shed more than 20 pounds by pairing Netflix show watching with my elliptical workouts. I now have an almost pavlovian reaction to the idea of watching a “binge-worthy” show that I’ll need to be working out to see it. Great episode, and the Freakonomics podcast is my absolute favorite.

How I Built This: Barbara Corcoran from April 24, 2017 – Guy Raz is a supremely talented interviewer and the production / editing of these podcasts is great. In this particular episode, I found Barbara Corcoran to be a tremendously inspiring person – both that she overcame many technical & professional obstacles to create her business, but also plenty of drama in her personal life. Double-underline hustle. This is a great episode to start on if you’re interested in hearing some worthwhile business founder stories. As an aside – I can also recommend you skip the episode about Rolling Stone Magazine – there’s absolutely no drama in that one. You can tell even Guy is getting exasperated by the lack of conflict or adversity, which for a supremely talented interviewer is no small feat. 

Decrypted (Bloomberg): … Build a Startup Outside Silicon Valley from February 27, 2017 – This series from Bloomberg bounces around many different topics any given week, but this episode certainly feels relevant to someone like me who is “tech” but no longer in the Bay Area. There’s another great stretch of Decrypted episodes from April – May 2017 that seemed to focus on a lot of Chinese & Asia-tech topics, always of interest to me given the time I’ve spent in Macao, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Silicon Valley may have an edge today, but the startups of the future are more mobile than we may realize.

Planet Money: #682 When CEO Pay Exploded from February 6, 2016 – This is another well produced podcast with a consistent format and a worthwhile use of the ‘Subscribe’ button. I think the topic of CEO pay is an interesting one, and this is a good fact-finding episode for that discussion. The only issue with Planet Money is that some of the episodes are more like testing-grounds for other NPR shows, so don’t be surprised if you get something other than economics or business topics. It can often be a good diversion, but if you’re in a mood for steak, no point in someone handing you a piece of kale and saying ‘try it!’

So those are my staple podcasts – Freakonomics Radio, How I Built This, Decrypted, and Planet Money. Here’s a few more that I’m just starting on:

Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell – Much like having Steven Dubner host the Freaknomics radio podcast, having Malcom Gladwell host this show really provides an authenticity and perspective that prompts deeper thinking and consideration. I’m only a few episodes in (starting at the beginning) but already I’m enjoying the narratives, and the Gladwell hook is always enjoyable.

Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson – Again, another world-class author has taken to narrating his own podcast, and the results are a thoughtful journey through a bi-weekly topic of disruption. Clear storytelling and a great emphasis on the full history of the topic makes this one a worthwhile listen even for stories you think you already completely understand.

So those are a few of my favorites. I hope if you’re stuck looking for some podcast amusement you’ll give them a shot, because I’d love for their audiences to keep growing so they’ll keep producing them! What I really can’t fathom is how these high-quality productions stay in business? The podcasts themselves typically only include a couple commercial plugs, and even those are done in a low-key and unobtrusive manner. I hope whatever the rewards are, these creators continue to produce great stories and share them on this medium.

Do you have any suggestions for me? Please leave a comment or send me a note on Twitter with your suggestions (Twitter.com/heydavecole). Thanks for reading!



Hiking Mount Charleston

Vegas is known for a lot of things, but I’d venture to say most don’t associate it with a great outdoor’s scene. That’s fair – down in the valley for ~4 months out of the year the entire “outdoor” experience you want to have is probably between your air conditioned car, your air conditioned office, and your air conditioned house. Sometimes an air conditioned restaurant or shop, just to try out other people’s air conditioning.

View from the trail on Cathedral Rock, Mt. Charleston

But hidden about an hour away from the strip along Highway 95 is a very pleasant escape called Mount Charleston. I’ll admit living here for 4 years before venturing up there with some friends on a whim, and in the last few months I’ve enjoyed several great hikes along some of the trails. The nice part about Mt. Charleston in summertime is that you get about a 20+ degree “discount” from whatever it is in the valley. 100 degrees at home? Make it high-70’s on the mountain. A great escape!

I’ll start by recommending this quick link from Mt Charleston Resort: Hiking Mt Charleston

Here are the trails I’ve done so far:


Mary Jane Falls

Beautiful view and great company! – May 2017

On the other end of the difficulty spectrum from Sawmill Trail is Mary Jane Falls. Don’t get me wrong there’s no climbing involved, but the hike is definitely more challenging. The main trail runs a brief stretch casually uphill before turning into a burst of uphill switchbacks. However – the payoff at the top is a beautiful waterfall (at least, it was during our visit in Spring). Even found some snow up there! Yes – snow just outside of Las Vegas. It happens.

For this hike there were 4 of us – 3 adults and my son Charlie. Definitely recommend having a similar ratio, so we could hand-off Charlie from time-to-time. The climb is tough, but add in a 30lb. toddler and you’ll definitely be taking some breaks.

Mary Jane Falls Trailhead of Google Maps – It’s got a good parking lot and restrooms at the base.

Fletcher Canyon

This is probably my favorite trail so far, in terms of duration, difficulty, and scenery. You get a lot of variety including open stretches of forest, some dense shrubs & bushes, and beautiful canyons. There are a couple trickier parts requiring to climb over objects or squeeze through narrow pathways surrounded by shrubs, but overall it’s a moderate climb. There aren’t much in the way of views – the hike is the view itself. The canyon ends cleanly, but for those willing to adventure, there are even more boulders to climb up and over to see the canyon from a different perspective.

Fletcher Canyon Trailhead on Google Maps – The parking lot is across the street from the trailhead. Keep a look out for pedestrians crossing the road!

Cathedral Rock

This is our most recent hike! My son and I took this one on Labor Day weekend, 2017. Again – about 100-degrees in the valley and about 80-degrees up on the mountain. A little warm, but definitely suitable weather for trudging up the mountain. A nice feature of this trail is that most of the signs were intact and legible. I wasn’t too worried that we were getting off the beaten path.

This trail was very nice and very popular! Obviously families were looking for something to do during the long weekend. But as is usually the case on hiking trails everyone was very friendly and courteous – we had no problems passing or allowing ascending or descending traffic. The hike itself was solid – gradual switchbacks leading up the mountain on a well marked trail with some beautiful views along the way. At the peak – a great payoff with a view down the entire valley.

Cathedral Rock Parking on Google Maps – Again, we went on a holiday weekend so it was very crowded (arrived about 9:30am). Would definitely recommend!

Sawmill Loop

So this one is a little tricky given that there are actually several trails that weave around the same neighborhood. The signage is OK, but not great. The trail itself is clean, easy-to-follow, and easy to climb. No switchbacks or trouble to be found, though one stretch can be a little steep. This is a great starter hike – but be warned it’s not as high on the mountain as many of the other trails so it’s hotter during the daytime.

Sawmill Loop Trailhead on Google Maps – We started on “Yellow” and then wound up on “Blue” – before cutting across to the Forrest Trail to catch back up to the parking lot. Like I said – a little confusing if you’re not prepared for it.

What’s Next

So, we’ve checked a few trails off the list – but I’m hopeful there are many more to come! I’m eager to check out Little Falls (by way of Cathedral Rock), as well as trying out Mummy Springs and Bristlecone. Stay tuned! Have you hiked Mt. Charleston? Let me know what you think, especially if you have recommendations for things I might not be thinking about.

The Servant Leader

One of the core tenants of any good Agile practice has to be the openness and transparency of the exercise. There’s little room for opacity in a well run Scrum – both within the development group as well as with the business team & users. One of the phrases that I both love & hate is the expression: Servant Leader.

I love the concept of the Servant Leader because it immediately conjures images of someone in an authority role serving those who he* is responsible for. It inverts the traditional image of “boss” and “worker.” Thanks to this inversion, you’ve effectively cleared the mental reasons for someone in a worker role to avoid sharing an idea, opinion, or concern. At the heart of Agile is the need for the leader to quickly understand the true facts of the situation, whether it’s an estimate that’s turning out wrong, a requirement that’s incomplete, or a technical hurdle that needs more hands. In a Servant role, it’s my responsibility to take care of the hassles, nonsenses, and nuisances. Cook the food, feed the troops, clear the table, and get ready for the next meal.

Thesaurus entries for the word: Servant… Not particularly uplifting…

I hate the concept of the Servant Leader because it’s not really authentic. Sure, I’m going to do whatever I can to make you happy – but if I’m not sold on the results there’s no real question of how these roles are going to change. You’re going to be responsible for the outcomes and I’m going to be responsible for figuring out if there’s any consequences. This notion of servitude and being subject to each other can compete with traditional structure and focus. The expression “servant” seems dated, and in our modern language might seem insensitive. I don’t have any first-hand experience with this (I’ve never had a coworker or colleague say that it’s offensive) – but if it were, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Continue reading The Servant Leader

Apple Watch: Sit, Stand, Do a Dance

I’ve had my Apple Watch for almost 6 months now. At first, I was reluctant to even consider one, because watches are round. Rectangular watches aren’t appealing to my eye. They still aren’t. Even as I’m writing this, glancing down at my wrist reveals this smooth-edged eyesore, and I cringe.

But – I’ve managed to overcome most of my style aversion thanks to the cleverness of the device itself.

There’s a litany of reviews for the Apple Watch – this isn’t one of them. What I find really intriguing about the device is the activity circles, which is what I want to speak to now. Namely, the “Time to Stand” circle, and the reminder that comes along with it.

For those who don’t have the device, the Apple Watch is designed to monitor your activity on a regular basis, and if you haven’t stood up for the last 50 minutes (from 9:00-9:50am, for instance), the watch will provide a little alert encouraging you to move around for a minute. When you do this, you fill in 1/12th of your “Stand” circle. Arguably, the easiest of the “circles” to fill, given that all you have to do is stand. This is all premised on the idea that sitting down is unhealthy in the long run. Seems legit.

What’s interesting to me about this, however, is the implication that this kind of thinking has on our lives moving past something as fundamental as standing up.

The first thing that I find interesting is that this is a baked-in application which is practically core to the Apple Watch. If you don’t care about the activity monitors, the case for acquiring one of these devices can’t be that large. This is a fitness device first-and-foremost as far as I can tell. But, as with many Apple devices, you don’t pay for a subscription to access this function. It’s included in the hardware, which is somewhat refreshing.

It’s an agent. It acts on your behalf to make you do something that you might otherwise not even know you weren’t doing. In this case: Standing up. I have absolutely no idea how much I’ve stood or sat in my lifetime, but I’m sure I should be more active than I’ve been in the past. The watch is now my standing agent, which is a role I didn’t even know I needed.

This line of thinking has now got me working on asking this question: What other agents should we be building? If an agent can help me live a healthier life by standing, doing some jogging, and encouraging me to hit calorie goals — where else can I be influenced by something working in my best interests?

I think there are huge swathes of opportunity and I think this premonition of the “bot” economy will start to tip into an “agency” economy. Already, robo-advisors are displacing small but meaningful chunks of the financial services sector. But I think finance is just one of the areas that will be transformed by this emerging capability. How about an amusement agent that figures out how to keep principals entertained while trying new things? How about this whole grocery-delivery thing coming full circle to a nutrition agent which identifies healthy food options and creates new recipes, orders take-out, suggests restaurants, and communicates with my exercise & activities agent? How about mental health agents who are able to connect you with friends in richer ways, including prompts to say hello, ways to meet new people, and checkpoints for all sorts of other indicators and outcomes?

The 3-circles on the Apple watch activities app could be a waning fad, or they could be a harbinger of a future where we’re all working to fill the circles and improve our lives in many ways. I’m optimistic to see where this all takes us.

~ As an aside – this is my first writing in a long time. I’m hoping to get back to it, so stay tuned for more. This was more of a “knock the cobwebs off and go for it” moment. Thanks for reading! ~ 

Dashter Source is now on Github

Quick note: The version I uploaded to github may not be the last version we published, but it’s probably close. I’ll see if I can find the final stable build.

Thinking back to late 2012 / early 2013, there was a lot going on. We had just moved out to Las Vegas that year, and an opportunity opened up at Las Vegas Sands that was taking my full attention. For some reason, the jump from ‘yes of course Dashter, the company is shut down’ to ‘oh, yeah, why don’t I share the source code’ seemed quite large.

Anyways, it really wasn’t – but for some reason I just neglected to ever sharing the product that we had built. There are a few hundred / couple thousand man-hours sunk into that code, but sadly (like much of the internet) there’s nothing much of value beyond a couple neat code-hooks any more.

The Twitter API change that took us down in 2012 was pretty much the final death-blow for Dashter. The code that I’ve uploaded will not function in virtually any respect; I think the license-key that we built talked back to Dashter.com – a site that none of us maintain anymore and has been taken offline. But if you bypassed that, and then tried to true-up the API calls, it might stagger back to life. I haven’t even looked at the Twitter dev docs in a couple years, so I couldn’t tell you which things are more likely to survive than others.

Go ahead and scope out the source code here:

Opportunities for Data Innovation are All Around Us

I just recently finished reading Sexy Little Numbers by Dmitri Maex. It’s a very timely and interesting look at some of the data trends that anyone can and should be accessing using the customer data and insights they already have around them. What was striking to me was the presence of statistical modeling in the book – the opportunity to yield useful and actionable information in the presence of data-sets that you probably already have in front of you.

The opportunity to use data creatively to yield useful results was absolutely present during our development of Dashter. And its worth thinking about within your business as well… What data do you have – and how can you use it to your advantage?

Here’s a couple examples from within Dashter where we developed greater value by tapping the data that we were already pouring in to.

Trending in Friends

One of the first things that a Dashter user sees on their homepage is the Trending in Friends pane. Within there, we provide 18 “trends” that are collected from a gathering of ~200 tweets from your timeline. So what does it do? Well, basically, it just adds up all the hashtags found in those ~200 tweets, and then shows you the top 18, in rank order from most-used to least-used (of the top results).

Why is this useful? Well – when exploring Twitter, its often hard to get a grip on all the data swirling around you. But there are two assumptions that can be made: 1) You follow people who say things that interest you, and 2) Events of significance often peak within groups. By organizing hashtags among people you follow, it’s easy to develop a personalized trend graph that refreshes every 15 minutes or so. That means instead of having to pour through dozens or hundreds of tweets to see what’s happening – you can merely glance at an ordered list of top-hits.

Translating this to Your Business

You likely have an overwhelming amount of data pouring in on any given day. Continue reading Opportunities for Data Innovation are All Around Us

Of Walls and Gardens

20120909-111922.jpgI spent the last year building on the Twitter platform. Dashter was my vision to bring blogging and “tweeting” together – and the result is a fun blend between the two platforms. When our team got together, we had grand visions for what each platform could mean: We dreamt of a symbiotic platform experience that blended the depth of blogging with the expediency of tweeting. The data security and independence of self-owned self-hosted long-form content with the network effects of twenty-million twitter users.

We knew that the crux of our project was really rooted in the fact that we were dependent on Twitter to provide consistent API calls – and to keep the platform open and unrestricted.

So when I saw this tweet from Jeff, I knew what he was trying to bring to my attention:

The article Jeff shared (perhaps ironically, on Twitter) is not going to be the last we hear about the Twitter of the future. It tells the story of a Twitter developer who was subject to the demands of corporate clients who require understanding how apps are going to affect their bottom line – and who foot the bill for a project with the expectation that the work will live beyond tomorrow.

Continue reading Of Walls and Gardens

The New HeyDaveCole.com

This week I decided to give my site a makeover… My previous site had several very cool elements, but overall it wasn’t focused on what I wanted to focus on: providing you a clean & readable format for what’s on my mind. Too many sidebars, too much navigation, and not enough reading room.

Well, that’s all changed with this new theme. I’ve thought quite a bit about how I want readers to engage with me and my posts, and this is the outcome. I can also attest to several key influences during this re-design, including the super-barebones homepage of Jason Schuller, and the clean barebones WordPress framework Wordplate (which this site is built upon) by Nathan Staines. Continue reading The New HeyDaveCole.com

Social Media ROI with Custom Campaigns and Google Analytics

Social Media ROI (Return on Investment) is the elusive 3rd-rail of social networking. It’s elusive in the sense that there is no absolutely agreed-upon industry-wide calculation to use. It’s the 3rd rail because that’s where all the power is. Social media managers don’t want to be judged by a set of metrics that might not reflect the true “value” of the social media channel(s). Social media brand managers are focused on building communities and building attention rather than focused on delivering to the bottom line.

Unfortunately, this leaves many executives with an uneasy feeling that all this tweeting, “liking”, and pinning is just an act of futility without anchoring anything to a real bottom line.

It’s clear that there is and ROI in there somewhere – but how can it be measured?

Building a Set of Success Metrics

I’ve chatted with many customers & friends (often from the SMMOC crowd) about the SMROI issue, and the first thing that becomes obvious is that for some reason basic marketing practices get tossed out the window. I don’t know why it is – but SM is merely an extension of the existing branding / PR / Sales / Advertising / Promotion channels that have existed in all businesses.

Advertising using Google Adwords is perhaps the antithesis of Social. Social is about building relationships, attending to customers on a one-on-one level, and fostering a sense of community within the social-sphere. Adwords is the opposite. It’s about reaching a customer at the crux of their decision-making process: At the point they’re searching. The website is responsible for the rest.

So, the challenge becomes building a set of metrics (quantifiable) that operate within a personalized space (qualifiable responses). Continue reading Social Media ROI with Custom Campaigns and Google Analytics