Editor’s Note: Sam Bayer is the founder and recently retired CEO of Corevist, a Durham-based bootstrapped software company launched in 2008. Bayer launched his career in 1980 working for IBM, which he left when he founded his first entrepreneurial endeavor Axiom Systems in 1987. Axiom would eventually be taken public through an initial public offering. Bayer notes that his entire 42-year professional career was guided by his determination to negotiate win-win value with his customers and fueled by his thirst for knowledge and scientific approach to problem solving. Now, he will be recounting his entrepreneurial leadership experiences in his “Stories at Work” series for WRAL TechWire. You can also follow Bayer on instagram @sam.bayer and at firstname.lastname@example.org any feedback about this series.
DURHAM – Want to get stuff done? Throw a party.
Several years ago, before the ink was dry on our closing documents, my wife and I scheduled a housewarming party. Two months from that day we’d be entertaining a house full of guests. That was our way of ensuring we wouldn’t procrastinate turning our house into a home. Things had to get done because people were coming over. We would never allow ourselves to be embarrassed by an ugly wallpapered kitchen, unpacked boxes, unadorned walls, and a house without a sound system.
Without the scheduled party, we could—and would—always find something more interesting to do.
Deadlines focus the mind
A date on the calendar not only gives us a real deadline to work towards, but also serves to control the scope of our efforts. Consider the fixed timeframe a “timebox” and a challenge to commit to putting things into that box. Overcommit and a lot of things are going to be started but not finished. Undercommit and you may have regrets for the things that could have been. Therein lies the challenge. Finding the balance.
The timebox forced us to define the most important, and achievable projects within the time and resources available to us. We would have to concede that some projects that we were enthusiastic about would simply have to wait. That would give us the added benefit of living in the house for a while and getting a better sense of what was really important to us. For instance, as my wife’s culinary passion and skills improved, it became obvious why and how we needed to modernize our kitchen. Another example was that a decade before the word pandemic entered our vocabulary, I founded a remote work only company and was compelled to upgrade my home office situation to accommodate the work world I was creating. Neither of those projects were in scope the day we moved into the house. And neither was needed to make the housewarming party a success.
The timebox effect
I first experienced this timebox effect in the late 80’s as the newly minted Director of Marketing for the US division of a Belgian company called AGFA. I inherited a team of professionals who were in the midst of getting ready for their annual trade show. It was only 90 days away and time was accelerating.
A booth had to be built, company/product positioning and messaging had to be agreed upon, collateral developed, a strategy to recruit partners created, a dinner party to be planned, presentations to be built, product features committed, promotional material developed, press releases written, people assigned to the show and trained, contracts to be signed and logistics to be managed.
It. Was. Overwhelming.
What happened next
Aside from the fact that it was all new to me—the industry, our products, our people—I noticed that there was one overambitious marketing manager who was driving people nuts. She was a workaholic who resorted to barking out orders and reprimanding anyone who was preventing her from executing on her tradeshow vision… which was everyone else.
We had no choice but to attend the trade show, lest the market would think we were going out of business. Recognizing that the timebox was fixed, my only recourse to preserve everyone’s sanity was to set our priorities and manage our scope.
Simplify our messaging. Create less collateral. Tone down the booth. Take less risk on pushing new product features. Make sure that whatever we were creating for the show would have life afterwards… presentations, demonstrations, brochures etc.
While I met with a lot of resistance during the descoping process, in the end, the feedback we received at the show was as good as it ever was.
We generated plenty of business leads and had great conversations with customers, partners and industry analysts. As an added benefit, all of our internal employees appreciated the reduced anxiety of the rationalized scope of effort. All except our workaholic marketing manager who earned the ignoble position of being the first person I ever fired. Not because of her lack of knowledge, passion or skill, but because of her disruptive workstyle.
Less can be more
Lesson learned? Timeboxing drives towards less, and less can be more.
As far as our housewarming party was concerned, with a glass of wine in hand, music in the background, and enveloped by the cacophony of lively conversation, my wife and I found a solitary moment to celebrate what we had accomplished. We relished the moment and knew that some time in the near future we’d have to throw another party.