Saturday, May 7, 2011

Eating Our Own Dogfood: Using My Own Services

Every day, I meet with founding partners to discuss their practices’ IT needs, and we often touch upon PC (or Mac) support mechanisms that will allow them to replace a lost or malfunctioning computer in a timely manner.  I cannot stress the importance of this kind of system.  In our view, timely means the next business morning.  There are expenses associated with support like this, but the math clearly shows that it is more expensive not to have it.  For an average attorney who bills 7 hours, losing one business day means thousands of dollars.  These dollars add up fast if a few days pass.  This doesn't include the reputational cost you incur when your attorney has to tell a client they can't service them because of a bad computer.  For a small firm, this can make you seem small time and cause clients to question your capabilities.
Often, I hear "We won't need this. I've had this computer for 3 years and I've never had a problem."  My favorite: "I have a Mac, and it's flawless."  It all sounds great until your computer goes bad, as mine did this week.  Oddly, this is actually the second time in a year that this has happened.  Last time my daughter poured a glass of water on my keyboard.  Goodnight, nurse.  This time, I have no idea what happened; it just quit.  Of course, it happened at the worst possible time.  Things are booming here at NexFirm and I couldn't be busier working on proposals for new clients or working harder to meet the needs of our existing clients.  As you can imagine, lots of deadlines and no computer equals enormous stress.  To make matters worse, I had photos of my kids, my music, and a bunch of other personal documents on that computer.  I felt completely crippled.
As unfortunate as it was, it gave me a chance to "eat my own dogfood," or to see how NexFirm's support and replacement service would work for me in this jam.  You might think that as the CEO of NexFirm I would get preferential service, but in practice I get on the end of the line behind our clients.  (Least favored nation status, so to speak.)  So, I waited to receive my computer, which arrived the next business morning, just as we promise to our clients.  While I waited, I used our web tools, which allowed me to access my email and documents and to stay productive working from my home computer.  When I received my new system, I hadn't lost any data, and all of my applications were just as I’d left them.  In the end, my heart attack turned out to be a tiny blip.
Without my NexFirm team, how might my experience have been different?  A quick check today showed a 7 to 10 day wait to receive a new laptop from Lenovo.  Dell was no better.  Since that would be untenable, and we couldn't find a way to get a replacement that met the specifications I needed on short notice,  I probably would have been forced to buy something inexpensive from Best Buy to get through the week while I waited for a new system.   That would have meant spending the day buying and configuring a computer, as well as trying to restore my data.  Then another day when my permanent system arrived.  The answer is lots of unproductive time, how much is hard to say.
Think carefully about the cost of not having IT support for your users, and include lost work time and the cost of temporary replacement solutions.  It's bound to be more than the cost of having a support system in place, and it will certainly save you from stress and aggravation.
David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm.  He can be reached at dd@nexfirm.com.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Would Rex Ryan Make a Good BigLaw Managing Partner?


As I emotionally recovered from the heartbreaking news that the NY Jets won’t be competing in this year’s Superbowl, I decided to go back and reread a post I first wrote in September but never published (some of the people here thought that Rex Ryan was controversial so the post would annoy readers).  Aside from the fun I had watching my team prepare for what promised to be an exciting season, I was really surprised to learn about the training camp coaching process as I watched Hard Knocks on HBO.  More to the point, I was incredibly impressed with the communication techniques I saw.  The NY Jets seem to be doing a better job of managing their organization than any law firm I can think of.  What can we all learn from Rex’s management style?  Set clear objectives, provide feedback and constantly measure whether your message is being received.

An organization with a single purpose.
During the first team meeting of the season, coach Rex Ryan’s slide show starts with the objective: Win the Superbowl.  He follows up with the steps to reach this goal: “To have the most wins on offense, to have the most wins on defense and to have the most wins on special teams.”  Well, this might not be a surprise, but it surely is clear.

Do your attorneys know what it means for your organization to “win the Superbowl,” or the steps it takes to get there?  If not, communicating your goals as an organization will allow them to keep focused on what is important, to think strategically and to be motivated by something that is often forgotten these days: Purpose.

Clear communication of individual objectives with honest feedback.
The frankness of Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum in player meetings is noticeable.  He tells one player “I am not sure that you are good enough to make it in the NFL,” and tells another “you played your best but the other guy was just better than you.” The biggest surprise is that the player always appreciates the feedback!

Your attorneys may not respond well to such harsh feedback, but they do want an honest assessment of their work, good or bad.  Well articulated objectives and uncolored feedback are tools that we all need to succeed professionally, and we all value managers that provide them.  On the flip side, failing to let your staff know how they are doing creates frustration and distraction.

Speaking the language of your team.
It seems like Rex Ryan thinks that the language of his team is exclusively four letter words; maybe not a good strategy in a law office.  But I notice that his players, when interviewed, seem to use the same phrases that he does.  In my mind, that is a sign that his message is received and processed by his audience.  Speaking in a vernacular that resonates with the team is just the first step, repeating and measuring the receptiveness of the group is the key.  Scenes showing the coach visiting players in their bedrooms at lights out demonstrated his technique, but there are many ways to get belly to belly with your team and find out if they are clear on their assignment.

How do you suspect it would help your organization if you defined and communicated the company’s goals, clearly articulated each team member’s role and provided critical feedback on their performance and spent more time talking with them to make sure that they were on the same page as you?  Give it a try, who knows, you might just win your Superbowl.
Oh, and don’t throw the ball on 3rd and goal from the one yard line.

David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm.  He can be reached at dd@nexfirm.com.