Leading engineering teams from a strategic perspective of creating competitive products can be the source of a company’s growth. I interviewed Mike Paschal to explore this dimension of product development, management, and innovation. In our discussion he shares his experience building and leading engineering teams and applying the 3 P’s of business – people, product, and process. Mike has been in several software engineering related roles, serving as product manager, director of engineering, COO, and founder. He has worked for Intel, Sequent Computer Systems, Sun, Nortel, and other companies. One of his favorite roles is helping $5-10 million dollar companies scale to $50-100 million dollar companies. Scaling a business, regardless of where you start, is challenging work because businesses tend to operate differently each time they scale up and the differences are predictable.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers, Developers, and Innovators
A few questions discussed:
- How did you get into product roles in the beginning of your career? I was working as a software engineer on a blood analyzer product. The software engineering team volunteered me to be the project leader and interact with rest of the organization because none of them wanted to. In doing this work, I discovered that I had a talent for bringing people together to solve problems and come up with new ideas. That was the start that led to other roles as engineering manager and development manager.
- How do you get people working effectively together on problems? When I was at Sun Microsystems, I learned a valuable lesson from my boss, Rich Green. He said, “Mike, people on your staff are smart. You’re a smart guy; they’re smart too, and you won’t be the smartest one in the group. What you have to do is get them all going in the right direction. You have to get them all on the same page.” When I brought the team together, I would let the discussion progress for a while and then I would end it by saying, “Okay, here’s the idea and let’s summarize it. Does anybody have a better idea?” When no better ideas are offered, the discussion tends to be over and everyone is moving in the same direction. Another approach I used when working with people that had much deeper knowledge in an area than I had was to share a half-baked idea. I would bring the team together and share an idea. The experts would start attacking the idea but in the process uncover gems that others built upon. It was an effective way to get people to collaborate – being willing to offer an incomplete idea, have it cut up and dissected to foster collaboration among the group.
- What is a barrier that prevents a company from scaling – to go from being a $10M company to a $100M company? You have to confront the brutal facts. This means being honest about what you’re good at, what you’re not good at, your position in the market, your product weaknesses and defects, issues with your support process, and the experience you create for your customer. There must be transparency in the organization and a willingness to confront problems. Another issue is not having what Jim Collins calls the Hedgehog concept. This is the intersection of what you’re passionate about, what you’re best at, and what generates revenue. Companies need to understand their hedgehog – what they are better at than anyone else.
“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt
Listen Now to the Interview
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.