I have been working mostly with startups over the last few years. The founders and CEOs are mostly in their mid to late 20s. Most of the time, the founders have had one or two jobs in their lives. Very few even had the ubiquitous high-school food-service job. These founders are slightly delusional (which is good!), sincere, and good people. In general though, young founders miss one key skill which impedes their ability to deliver. Detail Management.
Some call it day-to-day management. We call it the Scrum Master in Agile Scrum. More rarely, it’s called Operations. No matter what it’s called, the job is to manage all the little details which need attention during the day. It mostly involves coordinating people and their tasks. The manager needs to ensure things are progressing daily, keeping people on track, and resolving issues as they arise. Detail management needs to be applied in two ways; Tactical and Strategic.
Tactical Management is typically a fire-fighter role. Tactical management requires resolving critical issues when they arrive. Tactical work usually supersedes strategic work and is a critical duty focused on customer satisfaction. Issues need to be resolved quickly and prevented from reoccurring. This requires a deep understanding of the problem and people needed to fix the root issue.
Strategic management focuses on longer-term deliverables. In general, strategic work requires determining the detailed tasks to complete, in priority, to obtain a business objective. This requires an understanding of:
- The business problem
- Operational workflows
- Technologies needed
- Team infrastructure
- Staff to implement the changes
Being able to balance the tactical and strategic work is a key role of a valuable manager. Both tactical and strategic management require a deep understanding of the details needed to complete an objective. This is where detail management is a key skill. Team will spiral out of control without someone tracking and managing all the details. I like to call this person “the pilot”. Their job is to keep the plane in the air and deliver on time. There are a million little details which need to be tracked and resolved.
How does this affect Startups? Startups are like jumping off a cliff and having to build an airplane on the way down. Funding slows the rate of descent. In the end though, you have to build something. Building things requires a knowledge of the details and the process to get things done. Projects and delivery will not happen without someone to manage the day-to-day details of the team. Without experience in managing details, both the tactical and strategic management can’t take place.
Hiring a detail manager is hard. Make sure they understand the role and have experience managing details. Ask them how they track and prioritize details. They need to be able to show your their toolset and process for running the project.
I have been managing Agile project teams since 2008 and building software products since 1992. My experience has shown the cost and pitfalls of untrained and inexperienced management. Your best chances of success are using staff which have a track record of success. Contact me if you’d like to find out how I can help you get your product to market with high-quality, on-time, and on-budget.