Does Your Team Know What Success Looks Like?

Shot of a group of businesspeople high fiving in an office

When Jason Nazar and I launched Docstoc years ago, we got 30,000 unique users on the first day.

I was ecstatic. I remember how my team of engineers and I were all high fiving each other, with big smiles on our faces. Then I walk into Jason’s office and he had a very different reaction. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hey, we got 30,000 unique visitors on the first day.”

Jason: “Yeah, we got 30,000 users on the first day.”

Me: “Yeah, we got 30,000. That’s great!”

Jason: “No, we got 30,000. That’s horrible!”

Me (scratching my head): “What do you mean? No one knew about the website yesterday and we got 30,000 uniques today. That’s great!”

Jason: “No, you don’t understand. We got only 30,000. That’s way too low.”

And then it hit me: We never really defined what success for the launch would look like. So we both looked at the very same facts — 30,000 uniques — and came to very, very different interpretations of what it meant for the business.

You’ve probably had a very similar experience at some point in your career. It’s not that you failed to deliver on the project goals. It’s that the bottom line expectations were not clearly defined. Someone, maybe you, didn’t define what success looks like. And if you don’t define what success looks like, how do you know when you’ve succeeded?

So many times when we plan projects for our businesses, we think through a mountain of details — the timeline, the budget, who’s doing what, and how we’re going to follow through after launch. We consider every little task that needs to get done and who will do it. We then manage it carefully, sprint by sprint.

Except, we often forget to go through one of the most critical tasks of all — agreeing on what the bottom line success will look like, and how we’re going to measure it.

Here is another, more recent example. At unGlue, we decided to build a new feature called Steps for Time, which rewards kids for physical activity like walking, running or working out. The more you walk, the more screen-time minutes you can earn.

You take your dog for a walk, you can earn more time. If you walk to school, you can earn more time. I loved this idea because parents are always trying to encourage their kids to be more active.

And so we decided to develop this feature. We decided on what it would look like and how it would work. We considered all of the steps needed to get the feature shipped. I worked on a PR strategy and a marketing launch plan.

Later, as the data come in, I remember meeting with my product lead. He’s telling me it was a huge success.

And I said, “What do you mean? It was not successful at all.”

He says, “What do you mean? We hit the goals. We hit the milestones on time. It looks amazing. It behaves beautifully. The users who are using it, love it! It’s a huge success!”

And I’m telling him: “What do you mean? We got almost no PR for it. Fewer than 5% of the users are using it, and we didn’t get any noticeable increase in app downloads. It’s a failure.”

And that’s when I realized, once again, holy shit, I fell into the same trap. Even though it was clear to me what success should look like, I didn’t clearly communicate it to the team. From where he stood in terms of responsibility, the project was a success. We hit our product milestones, and we launched on time. It looked absolutely amazing and people who used the feature did love it.

But from my perspective and from the business standpoint of getting A LOT more users to sign up for unGlue, it was a failure. It didn’t move the needle at all. We were both right, of course — looking at things from our own lens.

There are things we both could and should be celebrated. We completed the project on time. It looks amazing. People love it. People are using it. We should absolutely be proud of it and celebrate it, even if it’s not a huge business success.

However, we all needed to agree that this was not a good outcome for the business, as measured by the number of new users it drove. It didn’t change the metrics that were important for the business. If we had come to this understanding, we could have avoided, we could avoid having an argument about opinions and agree on the facts.

With the Docstoc launch, we had some things to celebrate. And we also had a lot of room for improvement. Yes, we were able to launch the website without a hitch (well, maybe a few…), but we also didn’t hit our biggest milestones for site visits. Both of these realities are true.

The vision of success for the overall business is a critical piece of information that is often not clearly communicated to everyone. So the leadership is disappointed and frustrated while everyone else is celebrating. They’re scratching their heads, asking: Why is everyone giving high-fives when we just wasted all of this time building something that didn’t make any difference whatsoever to the business?

Successes and failures should be shared across the company. But when success looks like failure to one team and failure seems like a success to another, then you’ve all made the crucial mistake of not setting the right expectations.

Make sure to clearly define what and how success should look like and share it with the team every time you meet. Bottom line: it’s hard to reach a goal that is not clearly defined.

Running a Startup without Losing Your Family

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This post is for everyone, married, singles, with children and without. I tried to focus on a few, non-common, lessons I’ve learned along the way. If you don’t have children but plan on having some in the future, please continue reading at your own risk. If you do have children, please sit down…

A starting Point

You really though it will be easier than this, didn’t you? You though you can do it all with time to spare. I can almost hear it “I can do/manage multiple projects at once, how difficult can it be?” or “I’ll just have to be more efficient” or “I will change!” or “my wife will help…” or probably all of the above. Instead, it became your life’s biggest underestimated challenge and you find yourself in an uncharted territory. It is very challenging to have a demanding job while raising a (mentally) healthy family.  I’m not going to tell you that it’s going to be easy or share some “tricks” I’ve learned that will make it all better and easy. There are no easy answers or 10 golden rules that, if followed, life will be rosy and simple. Than again, if you read this post you’re not looking for a simple and rosy life.

However, I will tell you that it IS possible. I will tell you that you don’t have to choose between your carrier and your family! You just have to adjust some things in your life, people’s expectations (including yourself), think about it as much as you think about issues as work, and make even more sacrifices.

Ready?

Balance

Think of your life as a triangle with the following sides: your family life, your professional life, and your personal life.  This triangle needs to fit into a 24 hours timeframe. You can’t increase one side of the triangle without shortening another. The first instinct we have is to believe we can cut our personal life to zero, but it really doesn’t work. Everyone needs some time for themselves, to charge batteries, to enjoy life, to take a break. We don’t even notice it we just end up in front of the TV or with friends or at the gym or at another conference, which cuts the family side of the triangle.

Once you realize the triangle of life and understand that every part of the triangle needs to be represented, you start understanding the need to balance. Many years ago, when my first son was born, my wife kept telling me I have to stop working seven days a week. I didn’t understand what she’s talking about and kept saying I’m only working six days, at most. So she started taking notes every day, when I left and when I came back, when I started working at home and when I finished. After a few weeks she showed me the list. I was shocked. I was working seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day. I didn’t even notice. I realize there was only one side to my triangle and I need to make room for three. I needed to balance my life.

Share is Caring

Many people don’t tell their husband or wife almost anything about their professional life. Yeah, there’s the chit-chat about office stuff and the usual “How was your day honey?” but with no real substance. Starting a business, working on a tough project or any other challenging effort impacts our life and resonates on the other sides of the triangle. There are no firewalls in our head; there is no switch we can turn On or Off when we get home. You can take your clothes off your body but not your mind off things.

The answer is to make everyone at home part of your professional life, your wife/husband, your children, your parents, everyone! The more they understand what it is you do and how important it is to you, the more they’ll help, the more they’ll empathize, the more happy they’ll be when you are, and the more understanding they will be when you’re not.

Once you start sharing you’ll realize how much you gain by it and in ways you can’t imagine. When I explained to my older son what is Docstoc and what I do, he was so exited he started thinking with me about new features and how to make the site better. Many times, before he goes to sleep we think together about new features, the product roadmap, and the features he wants. He’s ten years old.

Be More Efficient At Work Not At Home!

It is important to be efficient, to be able to achieve more in a given unit of time. If you prioritize your tasks in order of importance, you can usually accomplish half your daily list, if you’re good. If you finished your list for the day, you did something wrong… at work, it’s all about efficiency.

At home it’s NOT! You cannot and should not be efficient with your kids or your wife. The concept of “quality time” is nonsense, as you cannot efficiently play with your kids. You cannot efficiently prepare them for life. You cannot have an efficient relationship with your wife. If you need to finish stuff at the office better stay late that day and come early the next day. It’s better than coming “somewhat late” both days and spent seven and a half minutes with them.

Sleep

Our society made us believe that sleeping is overrated. We find ourselves sleeping less and less stretching ourselves to the limit. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy stretching myself to the limit but I also understand what it means.

The problem with sleeping less is that we use most of our energy during the day, at work. That leaves very little energy when we get back home. We’re tired and cranky and don’t really enjoy what is an important part of our life.

Dude, get some sleep, you’re a mammal, a human, it’s natural, you need it.

Get Energized – With Them

A lot of people get energized when they’re by themselves, with friends, hiking, running, reading, watching a movie, etc.  Think about doing some of these activities by with your family. I’m not talking about a family trip to Vegas or Hawaii. I’m talking about doing whatever YOU need to get energized but taking someone with you.

I really don’t like floor games, it’s boring and hurts my back. I do like hiking and biking, the air and the wind are great for recharging. So I spend less time playing Chatters and Ladders and more time hiking/walking/biking with the kids. Find what YOU like to do and see if you can fit your family with you.

Last Words

Someone once told me that you could either be a businessman or a family man. I believe life’s ultimate purpose and challenge is to be both especially if you want to make a positive change in the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur, a Rabi, or the president of the United States, you do better if you do both.

P.S.

If you’re lucky you’ll also have a loving, understanding, and supporting wife with endless patients that will help you along the way. I certainly do. Thank you Orit, I love you very much.