How Should You Measure Experience?
When shopping for a software development or analytics partner, the depth and type of experience they have is one of the most critical factors in determining success.
Beyond technical expertise – which in itself is rarely enough to guarantee success – what should leaders and founders look for in a technology partner? A true partner in the broader sense is not just a technology partner, it is a business partner who brings additional dimensions of capabilities and perspectives that drive better planning, decisions, and execution. For this reason, it is important to consider a partner who has built products, teams, and companies by navigating the real world, with all of its inevitable surprises, challenges, and imperfections. In essence, the best technology partners are “technology business partners” who really understand the bigger picture.
But how exactly do you measure experience?
You may be familiar with Are You Experienced? – the debut studio album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Released in 1967, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest debuts in the history of rock music. We love the album for many different reasons, but the question also resonates with us because of the difficulty in defining experience when it comes to our industry.
Expertise vs Experience
In the professional services industry billable hours is an important number and it is often defined by the expertise of the provider. Technology consultants, for example, usually provide a laser focus on a set of clearly defined tasks, such as building an API or executing a series of clearly defined data visualizations to assist with the acceleration of outcomes. They are defined by their level of expertise in a subject matter and are known as subject matter experts or “SMEs.” Their role and remuneration are easily defined. A founder or project owner may seek out a “REACTJS” expert to work on the front-end portion of an application development project and rightfully expect that the work is done effectively. This is how we define “expertise.”
What they should not expect from this technology expert is an understanding of the bigger vision or consideration of variables beyond the scope of the immediate engineering tasks. However, a technology business partner with “experience” brings the kind of empathy only possible from partners who have carried the weight of project ownership themselves.
Focusing on The Essentials
When building a prototype of a complex product for a client presentation or investor pitch in a tight time window, the experienced technology business partner understands that first impressions are important. They prioritize the work around it, and push the team to improvise solutions for less important components.
This decision may sacrifice some product completeness to better demonstrate the product’s key capabilities, but it could land the first customer or funding to accelerate the project as a whole. This judgment can only come from an experienced partner who has been through this process many times
Learning Through Mistakes
When it comes to being a technology business partner in the software development and analytics world – a broad set of experiences plays a big part in becoming skilled at the job. Since technology business partners operate in a diverse and unpredictable space, they need to always listen, learn, and adapt. From dealing with investors, building talented teams, pivoting on product strategy, efficiently managing development expenses, and considering marketplace changes, they are challenged on many fronts. All of this becomes part of their overall experience and expertise.
Their experience also serves the project in less obvious ways, such as knowing when to say “no.” Their skill is multi-faceted, spanning a broader range and depth than the specialist, which enables them to solve problems in the context of the overall vision, not just in the context of a singular set of tasks.
A technology partner with first-hand experiences as an entrepreneur and product builder, therefore, is in stark contrast to a career consultant who focuses on one, well-defined area of expertise, and provides advice related to that area only. Since the technology business partner has operated in many domains, from birth to launch, and grown products and companies of their own, they’ve had opportunities to make mistakes, and learn from them, in a variety of situations. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.“
Mistakes are part of the game and arguably, the more mistakes they’ve made with their own companies and products, the better they are as high value-add technology partners.
Part of the Process From The Start
The technology business partner has the ability to pull vision, planning, and execution together to create something bigger. They become instrumental in the realization of the overall vision, including the inevitable pivots along the way. Comparing the technology business partner to a traditional bricks and mortar builder, their role extends beyond developing – or laying of foundations or bricklaying. In this example, they can assist the architect to draw up the plans, in addition to providing the skilled labor to complete the electrical, plumbing, carpentry, roofing, and finishes.
Beyond the obvious analogies, the technology business partner must also be adept at a diverse set of skills involved in the building process such as understanding the market, running effective jobsite meetings, managing expenses, and detecting schedule busters early. Good builders are also excellent communicators, offering full transparency to their partners and clients as the single most important tool for successful outcomes. They must be flexible and ready to step up to the mark at any point. Perhaps they’re leading a technical discussion with engineers onsite in the morning, and preparing their client for a meeting with investors in the afternoon. Their role is diverse, unpredictable and challenging.
Ability to See The Big Picture
Seeing the big picture, over time, is another skill that ownership teaches.
The technology business partner is like the parent who buys diapers and saves for college on the same day, whereas the career consultant is focused on analyzing the type of material used in diaper construction.
The ability to “pull back on the stick” and see the landscape below and ahead is critical to successful ownership. It helps them see the path ahead, and lead you down it. As Daniel Kahneman wrote in his New York Times bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow: “What you see is all there is.” The quote describes a cognitive bias that explains how irrational we are when making decisions and how little it matters to us. Many people knowingly make decisions based on limited knowledge or experience. However, the best path often includes challenging areas, which the technology business partner anticipates because they’ve ‘seen’ more and have the experience. This enables them to make better decisions.
Ability to Switch Focus
The builder, whether for a product or company, needs the ability to filter the important information out from the noise. As Isaacson wrote about Steve Jobs, “He would set priorities, aim his laser attention on them, and filter out distractions.” This skill is learned after being overwhelmed on a regular basis. Subtraction really is greater than addition in some instances. Successful owners have the ability to switch between laser focus and flying at 30,000 feet effortlessly. This ability to switch focus at speed plays a key role in their success. A good technology business partner serves the same purpose; to help the project owner execute while still considering the 30,000 viewpoint along the way.
A skilled partner also needs to be adept at crafting a compelling message that resonates with the audience, whether an investor or a potential new employee. This skill is learned by listening and observing the responses over time from direct personal experience having been in front of those same audiences. These experiences allow skilled partners to assist in the anticipation of responses and to modify plans accordingly to optimize outcomes. Some are naturals, others must learn this craft. Being passionate about a project and being able to sell an idea as part of securing buy-in is an essential element of being a good technology business partner.
Conducting the Orchestra
Similar to a conductor, the technology business partner guides the orchestra. Each player is a master of their instrument, but the conductor isn’t. He or she focuses on the whole body of music at once. This requires them to listen to the music, guide the group into the next movement, and, ultimately, the entire composition. He is also already scoping out the next event.
From getting a task status update from a developer to discussing a security risk assessment for due diligence, the technology business partner has their arms wrapped around the entire stack – top to bottom, and over time. How will the decisions taken now affect the solution next year? The topics are diverse, and the sum of all the decisions add up to strategy, which must be realized while making the decisions.
Their experience in the diversity of topics and its impact on strategy, is paramount to your project’s success.
At REEA – we are a team led by entrepreneurs and product builders who have learned through our direct experiences, just like you. We know how to connect the dots, bring together teams, and conduct the orchestra from beginning to end. We see the same big picture that you do and have a large team to assist in the execution of that vision as true partners from design to launch and beyond.
So, in the words of Jimi Hendrix: Are we experienced? Yes, we are.