Excerpts from an call with a client (printed with permission of the client)


<Note: Edited for clarity>

I had this call today with a client.  They agreed to let me post it.  Names are removed, because you don’t need to know their names (or company).

R: You aren’t understanding me – anything that increases your adoption rate by 10% increases your adoption rate by 10%.

C1: I don’t want to move resources off of <new feature X> to make these changes.

R: If you don’t, then 10% of the people that might have joined your site will never even see <new feature x>!  I don’t understand your love affair with this feature.

C2: Uh – <new feature x> is the CEO’s idea.

R: Well, is he there?  Can he join the conference?

C1: I’ll see

C1: (a few minutes later)  The CEO is here

R: Your guys are telling me that you are willing to take a pass on 10% adoption on your site to get <new feature x> launched.  Is that true?

CEO: What? I would trade ANYTHING in the pipeline for 10% more adoption.  What’s going on here?

C2: I told you we should have told him.

C1: I’m just following his schedule.

CEO: We’ll get back to you tomorrow, ok?


I talked 1:1 with the CEO an hour or so later, and he couldn’t understand why his (very bright) team made such an assumption that his "baby" had to be delivered first.  "Because you put it in writing", I said.  "You gave them a schedule – and a schedule has due dates.  Deadlines."

You can’t run a business without schedules.  But you can’t build a business with iron-clad deadlines either.  Startups are like Silly Putty – they stretch, and shrink, and grow, and most importantly, they morph.  Startups that morph quickly tend to be around a lot longer.

The problem here, and the CEO admitted to it, and allows me to retell it – is the CEO set expectations for his team that weren’t in the over-all best interests of his customers.  Sure, he didn’t mean to – but when you get a schedule from the CEO that pretty much becomes your task list.  And that’s fine – what the CEO neglected to do though was make sure his team knew what the over-reaching goals were – to build an audience – and that anything that interfered with that should be brought to his attention.  He didn’t empower his employees to question him.

I’ve seen time and time again where sites rush to add features before they even work on streamlining the end user experience.  Since there are alternatives for almost every online business right now, streamlining that customer experience is the key to adoption rates.  AND retention.

It doesn’t matter how cool your feature is – if users can’t easily access it, then they won’t.  They adopt the site with the least amount of restrictions.  And if you aren’t that site, then that costs you customers.

Of course there was a lot more to the conversations, and I am not painting these guys out to be idiots – they are anything but.  They did fail to understand as a company what the priorities were though.  They were not all on the same page.


  1. OK, comment editing works again. Man, that’s a fussy little feature 😉

  2. (comment edit stil/again broken)

  3. I think it comes down to an even more basic (and really simple) attitude that isn’t restricted to project management, but applies to all facets of life:

    “When in doubt: ask!”

  4. Kaylyn – at one level, you are right – since the basis of project management is communication.

    But really, these are amazingly smart people. They just got too wrapped up in what they are doing NOW, and they weren’t talking enough about what they need to be doing as a company.

    I’m pretty damned sure they are talking more about these things at this point. The CEO was extremely gracious though – not in just agreeing to let me post this story, but also in admitting he still has a lot to learn. So do I. And I like talking to people that know they don’t know it all.


  5. Sounds to me like these guys need to remember the basics of project management…

  6. The problem here, IMHO, is that the staff were not clear on the “commander’s intent” and therefore could not reason adequately in the tactical situation. You might want to recommend to them “Certain To Win” http://isbn.nu/1413453767 by Chet Richards.

  7. @Deannie:

    Two comments on your two remarks… 😉

    respect a CEO who is [..] willing to say [..] ‘oops’

    I totally agree.I have always believed in openess and hated (corporate) secrecy (and I mean flat-out lying).
    I also saw this reinforced by my having developed many VERY strong customer relationships, by JUST being honest. Especially about my (or rather my company’s) mistakes.
    Fortunately, I detect a trend to BECOME more ‘open’ in the business world. I just read a nice article about it in ‘Wired’.
    It mentioned the case of the CEO of Redfin, who started to blog openly about all his and his company’s failures and mistakes.
    Refreshing! Read it online: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.04/wired40_ceo.html
    A few weeks back I read a similar post that I liked by “Joel On Software”: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2007/02/19.html
    If I ever start a company: THAT attitude I will adopt!

    With respect to your second comment:
    I have to clarify that I DID understood what Rob meant. I just like teasing him, and also, I admit, I get a kick out of correcting native English-speakers. I fully realize that this is immature and based on insecurity, especially about my command of the English language. It’s just plain childish.. but sometimes, I just can’t help myself. And I never learn! Everytime I correct my wife, who is, not only American, but also a succesful and respected technical writer and VERY knowledgable about the English language (amongst others!), I find myself sleeping on the couch for at least a week. I JUST can’t help myself.

  8. @Deannie – thanks – your comment made me laugh.


  9. Made me laugh, how many times have we ALL SEEN THIS?!? You really have to respect a CEO who is approachable & willing to say, oops, I didn’t make myself clear.

    I understood what you posted. Maybe it is just a developer’s mind that needs more left to right writing? I have long characterized the way my mind works to spheres (not quite like running in circles though!)

  10. Hmmm – I guess it depends on how you read it. I’ll clarify it. Maybe I’ve been reading to much right to left lately…



  11. Right… so he WOULD favor the extra 10%!

    Yet you have him say “I wouldn’t trade ANYTHING in the pipeline for 10% more adoption”.

    That then should be the opposite: “I WOULD trade ANYTHING in the pipeline for 10% more adoption”! He WOULD give up things in the pipeline (new-feature-x) for that 10% increase.

  12. Hmm. I re-read it, and it still makes sense (to me). The CEO DID tell them that his “baby” was the top priority. But that was BEFORE they realized they were turning away customers, and needed to make changes in another area to correct that.

    That meant pulling developers off . The development team thought their instructions were clear – “finish x”. At that point they had not spoken with the CEO about the 10% adoption they were losing.

    The CEO did NOT intend that his schedule be taken as Gospel, and that people should be 100% focused on it – but he didn’t make that clear. Basically, they never sat down and had the talk about, “What’s most important here”. And for new sites on the Internet, adoption rate almost always is the most important place to focus resources.


  13. I’m confused. You’re not being very clear here.

    1. That CEO, DID or did he NOT want that 10% adaptation rate increase?

    2. Did he WANT to ‘deliver’ his baby, before adding new feature-X or did he want the new feature-X implemented first?

    You seem to imply one thing, but are saying the oposite. Or do I completely misunderstand?