Customer Service

Customer (and Partner) Service is something that for me gets regularly pressure tested and often speaks to the underlying philosophy and values of an organisation.

Although there is a full spectrum of experiences we receive as customers, it’s really the edge cases that resonates and lingers. The 10% awesome or 10% terrible customer service, most other falls into some type of BAU and realistically attracts no further cognitive load.

Unfortunately we tend to use our platforms (digital and pre-digital) to swiftly call out the 10% terrible, meanwhile neglecting to do the same with the 10% awesome. It seems difficult or inconvenient in some way to do so, which is a bit of a shame, so here goes…

A couple of months ago I bought a secondhand Milwaukee Finishing Nailer on TradeMe (New Zealand’s answer to eBay etc.) and had been merrily finishing away in my ‘shop, until I realised I had a jam, a really bad jam. In fact such a bad jam that after following all the unjamming instructions simply wouldn’t budge.

Fortunately for me the Milwaukee Service Centre was just down the road, and so although slightly embarrassingly (as if I’d somehow ‘misused’ the tool), I rocked up and explained the situation to the customer service rep.

I’ve been here before BTW… When did you buy the tool, do you have the receipt, is it still in its warranty period… I was ready for that kinda conversation, but it’s a conversation that never came. What came was the rare 10% of awesomeness, the conversation of no drama, let’s get you up and running again, let me fix it for you right now, and he did.

Our products aren’t always as reliable or performant as we’d like them to be and things don’t always go well. That’s just an unfortunate fact of life, however how we deal with that is up to us.

What matters is being open and honest about the situation, demonstrating empathy to our customers / partners and focusing on getting them up and running and back into shape as soon as we possibly can.



The CxO conundrum. CTO, CIO…CDO

I’ve been asked a tonne about this over my career, the CTO, CIO, CDO…what do these titles mean and don’t they cross over?

Well?  Yes and no, actually not a lot actually. Let’s go from T to D. There is not right / wrong, big / small. But here is some changing…

A CTO builds technology, because they work for a company who’s output is technology.  This is my personal bread and butter, a SaaS situation, not always but often in cloud situations.  Our primary output is in service of our customers, as a tech enabler.  More recently this is Serko, an amazing kiwi company who builds some of the worlds best travel and expense technology…for our customers.

A CIO runs information systems for a corporate / enterprise.  A CIO does not typically build tech, they run it… ERP, CRM etc.  In service of the business itself, not for the business customers.

A CDO replaces a CIO where the corporate / enterprise wants to (finally) shift to digital.  This is the cross roads.   CIOs often want to become CDOs to take the ERP/CRM to digital, but more often than not the mainframe/mini can never become the web/mobile…

So to recap, CTO build tech, CIO runs tech, CDO disrupts CIO for the most part. 

Brutal, but my POV


On Ramps

On Ramps… the ability to join, an entranceway.

I’ve worked for a few companies that have a policy that goes along the lines of: Our recruitment targets are engineers who have 2-3 years experience. WTF? Who gives them the 2-3 years?

This isn’t just a pondering, it’s actually a, who exactly is going to give these promising young people the 2-3 years?

My POV is pretty simple on this one, creating on ramps for people is not a side benefit of feeling good about ourselves, it is our responsibility to do so.

When we work long and hard to become leaders I genuinely feel that we need to use our positions to effect better change for the next.

Our success can never be just about ourselves, our successes and the influence that affords us means we should also give back, create the open, create the create. As a tech leader I feel that we must create the on ramps because it’s our responsibility to offer opportunity and contribute to our (tech) community.

Interns, grads, return to work… Whatever, wherever and however we can, these are just some examples.

Covid-19 has put some ice on our current on ramp programmes and if there is anything more exciting about coming out of the thaw locally where we are, it’s to kickstart this.

I can’t say how many amazing and capable people I’ve personally seen come through these types of initiatives. It’s not BS or rhetoric, it’s a real thing.

I’m keen to not zero in on the 2-3 year experience people, I’m keen to have that too, but I’m also super enthusiastic about awesome people being provided an opportunity and then genuinely say, we believe in you.

Build the on ramps and they will come.


Soft Edges

As humans we seem to engage in a never ending dialog around who should, when and why?

A constant conversation that often focuses on the process rather than the outcome. In my own world (a technology product delivery world), there has probably never been a better example than when does architecture end and technical design / engineering begin? If I had a dollar…

I feel that this type of question is (unfortunately) more about when to engage the people / team rather than the activity itself. More about when do we get Jenny in the loop than what will our architecture and technical design look like?

I’ve got a pretty strong opinion on this and it’s rooted in primaries, secondaries and soft edges.

For simplification, think of primaries as the R/A in RASCI and secondaries as the C. Soft edges? Well that’s just about not being precious and working together as primaries and secondaries.

When we lead into something like architecture, the reality is that our architects are responsible / accountable for it, but our engineers have so much to contribute. In fact they need to contribute because they will ultimately implement what’s being architected.

When we lead into something like technical design and engineering, our engineers are responsible / accountable, but our architects typically have a deep engineering background. They too can contribute to ideas on how to implement the architecture.

Therefore is architecture and technical design / engineering mutually exclusive? Nope, never is. In fact over time, such involvements and activities don’t start and stop, they merge and transfer. As we progress through time and implementation, our architects shift from primaries to secondaries and our engineers vice versa.

Where is the handoff point then? Well there actually isn’t one. Instead there is a blended activity of outcome ownership and a shifting of responsibility / accountability and contribution within the team.

The underpinning philosophy that enables this is the soft edges.

The ability for roles / teams / people to work together on problems, contributing together with little regard for job description or remit. Soft edges allows us to have a first class opinion and not get precious about ‘who’s call is it’? Rather can we get the best outcome, like what’s the best idea?

We all know who the elephant in the room is, and we all know who is the deer. Let’s not rule out what the deer has to say.

It’s important to know who is primary and has the responsibility / accountability and who is a secondary and can contribute. Over time this often reverses, and when working well it does so with smooth transition. Smooth transitions need a lack of jarring and the best way to do that IMO is through softness, as in soft edges.


Privacy Deal Breakers

As you may know there’s been a lot of noise around recent changes to the WhatsApp Privacy Policy. Quite rightly so, as the level of scrutiny should correlate to the degree of change in question.

There is just so much to unpack about these WhatsApp privacy policy changes that it could consume a month of blogs.

From the fact it’s totally possible you’ve already optionally and/or unintentionally consented to these types of changes some time ago, through to the reality some personal data probably does actually need to be shared with WhatsApp to enable the services and experiences as they say.

However, and this is the kicker, what I can’t and won’t accept is for 2021’s WhatsApp to force me to share my personal data collected on its platform with other Facebook companies, for any reason, regardless of how these companies are supposedly packaged or the benefits they and I will reportedly receive.

It’s really as simple as that.

For me it’s goodbye and best of luck WhatsApp, unfortunately it’s a well telegraphed and inevitable end to our relationship. It’s been great, but not allowing me to opt out of sharing my personal data with 3rd party companies that I have no relationship with is a deal breaker for me.

So there is no misunderstanding, in this case it’s you, it’s definitely not me.


Phased Alignment

If there is one thing that I’m constantly encouraging my team to do it’s to get into alignment with each other.  You know, the close the door and everyone has their say, everyone debates the issue and when they leave the room they’ve all signed up to the decision and don’t break ranks.  

Sounds great!  However it doesn’t always play out that way. Even when the team is full of great professionals with the best intent, alignment sometimes cannot be achieved.  So where to from there then?

I like to use what I call Phased Alignment.  Phased Alignment is a construct which defines phases of getting a team to alignment by starting with decisions that can be simply endorsement by leadership through to (unfortunately at times), mandated by leadership.  

What do I mean by this?  Well… what I mean is I use a construct that fully empowers my team to make decisions through alignment, but if they can’t they know ultimately I’ll step in and make it on their behalf. Decision needs to be made, there’s no backing away from that.

Phased Alignment goes like this:

  • Phase 1 – Leadership Endorsed Decisions: Teams operate independently and self guided where alignment is achieved. Leadership is able to endorse these decisions.
  • Phase 2 – Leadership Guided Decisions: Teams fail to gain alignment and needs leadership input and guidance to get aligned.
  • Phase 3 – Leadership Mandated Decisions: Teams fail to get aligned and forfeits the decision making ability.

Let’s explore these phases a little more…

Phase 1 – Leadership Endorsed Decisions

Leadership Endorsed Decisions is when my team is empowered and able to work effectively together and whether it’s 1 workshop or 20, they emerge with an aligned decision ready to be endorsed.  This is the best outcome and most decisions in a high functioning team come through the Leadership Endorsed Decisions phase.  This is the good stuff.  What’s the decision? Everyone Happy?  Awesome, job done.

Most of the time we stop here, which is great news, however sometimes it really isn’t that straight forward.  Sometimes it’s because it’s a difficult subject, or that people past experiences have already formed strongly opposed views, or even sometimes its even inexperienced or (unfortunately) ineffectual staff.  

Whatever the reason, sometimes the team is not able to get aligned themselves and at that point they move out of Leadership Endorsed Decisions into Leadership Guided Decisions.

Phase 2 – Leadership Guided Decisions

In failing to get aligned themselves, the team needs guidance in the conversation from leadership.    This is the team struggling, this doesn’t mean troublesome but it does mean struggling.

Leadership Guided Decisions typically manifests itself in re-workshopping with the leadership playing an active role, in being clear in the need for alignment, the outcomes required and guiding the conversation.  Tools like Six Thinking Hats can be helpful, so can the reassurance that nearly every decision is reversible and that we’ll test and learn and review and if need be reevaluate the decision at a point in the future.

Effective leadership and high functioning teams should nearly always get aligned after the Leadership Guided Decisions, but on occasion there are team members who collectively or individually don’t or can’t respond to the leadership guidance and at that point there is no other way. The leaderships hands are now forced and it’s time to consider the discussion and options and make the decision for the team.  

Phase 3 – Leadership Mandated Decisions

This is the destination we normally didn’t want to be at.  The team has had the opportunity to get themselves aligned and couldn’t, the team then came under leadership guidance and still alignment could not be reached.  Let’s not sugar coat it, we’ve collectively failed at this point.

I try to avoid Leadership Mandated Decisions wherever possible, but what I don’t avoid is being clear to the team that alignment is required and that the team is empowered to execute on that. However and it really is a big however, if they can’t we’ll head towards leadership making the decision for them.  A decision is required one way or another.


I’ve found using the Phased Alignment Framework really helpful and teams response very well to it.  I’m able to very clearly outline my commitment to empowering teams and allowing them to make decisions for me to endorse, but at the same time if they can’t there are consequences of that because the decision is required.  

Mostly I see my teams operate in Leadership Endorsed Decisions and occasionally traverse into Leadership Guided Decisions and that’s great.  Sometimes even teams ask to start in Leadership Guided Decisions to get some extra horsepower in the process and that’s great too.  Sometimes we end up in Leadership Mandated Decisions and that is… well it is what it is.

Let’s always aim for Leadership Endorsed Decisions, they are typically the best ones, with the highest buy in and the best results. 


1 Over Interviews

When employing staff I’m looking for my teams (and myself for that matter) to finalise things with a 1 over interview; an interview with the hiring managers’ manager. Recently we were hiring another 2 new senior engineering managers and I had 1 over interviews with them which ultimately caused me to jot down these thoughts.

Although 1 over interviews are a pretty normal practice nowadays (for a load of good reasons), I strive for consistency, simplicity and repeatability so I go into these 1 over interviews with a specific approach in mind, best in a relaxed mutual environment over something like a coffee or tea.

My context and opening gambit is simple, we are here because I have strong trust in my hiring managers. My hiring managers also understand that my time is a precious commodity and don’t use it sparingly, so we don’t need to repeat the discussions and vetting been done to date.

The thumbs up has already been given and endorsed by others, so this is really about two things, why am I here and why are you applying.

The why am I here is an important frame in my view as I want to clearly outline the challenge and opportunity that I saw and very much personalise it. Joining is personal. I think it’s also important to lead the contribution to this conversation because not only do I have more exposure to the environment and context, it gives the candidate an opportunity to speak into the same frame using their own perspective.

If the two why’s are aligned, we are in a good space. We are going to be rowing in the same direction, if not… you know.

All going well, this leads further into a conversation around curiosity and things that only the two involved will shape in realtime.

Ultimately I really do trust my hiring managers and work hard to attract and retain them, and in that these have to be their hiring decisions that they are accountable for. At the same time it’s important to me that potential new team members hear from existing senior staff as to why they are here, in their own words.

The measure of success of this is candidates feeling more inspired to join and hiring managers being endorsed for great hiring decisions.


Who Am I Looking For?

I’m currently recruiting for a couple of roles: Head of Engineering and Head of Products. In chatting to the exec, recruiters, my mates and wider network, something that’s come up a lot is who am I looking for? It’s a damn good question because working with and for good people is really important to me. Like really important.

I thought I’d share.

Firstly I really really don’t want to do your job for you, that’s why I’m looking for you. Sure I (think I) was a pretty decent software engineer, sure I’ve spent like forever architecting highly scalable real-time platforms, but I’ve got different (not bigger, but different) fish to fry. This is a really important point to me because we certainly have different levels of accountabilities and abilities to affect the outcome (both in success and failure), but we all need to play our part outwards, not top down or any other fashion.

No BS and politics. Period, as in period, period.

What I need is for you to be damn good at what you do, own the function, lean towards a bit of a servant-leadership style of things and be super present. Oh and being a top person is a bit of a must, you’ve just got to fit into a team and be a team player. If you can’t enjoy some humour at and from people above, below and beside you (in the HR org chart), you’re probably need not read on. And if you can’t have a beer (figuratively, or not so) with the team, again, need not read on. But if you can, put your company card behind the bar (figuratively, or not so again) and show some love to your folk. Make sure you can enjoy.

You know when we get put under pressure or new / unexpected things come up, there are going to be cracks and gaps that appear, most noticeably ones that no one knows much about, something totally new to the team and outside the comfort zone. You’re gonna need to feel cool to step in and own some of those for us. Take point, and I’ll not only personally appreciate it, we’ll back you and give you whatever you need.

I’ll be sharing the outcomes we need and why we need them, I’m gonna need you to work out the best method and why we need those. Win the minds and hearts, speak clearly, openly and sincerely and if all else fails, make the call. No call is the worst call, don’t make that call.

You’ll also need to be open to new stuff yourself, and not always have the answers. Someone you never expected may have the idea or answers and you’re gonna need to be not only good with that, but champion it and praise it.

If you can run stuff well and have genuinely happy and engaged staff, I can get on and do what I need too. If all my DR’s are doing the same, well actually you probably don’t need me there a lot of the time, which is just as well because I probably won’t be. I’ll be facing into some other storms, selling what you’ve done and built or hey, even might be on vacation from time to time.

I’m gonna ask that you never surprise me and I’ll do the same, let me know early, let me lend some thoughts / experiences over to your side and I’ll see how I can help. But don’t let something fester, and bring it to me when it erupted. Eruptions aren’t good.

I commit to all my staff and I extend the same to you: I’ll communicate all that I can, as soon as I can, as complete as I can. I’ll take any and every question and answer it honestly and completely, the only caveat to that is if there is a degree of confidentiality around it, in which case I’ll tell you exactly that. 

You’ll need to bring something in with you though, and please be prepared for that. You’ll need to pack some energy each and every day. It’s my view that real energy causes something awesome in a team or relationship and you can’t create magic without it. Energy is your mandatory entry ticket.

In terms of the role, come on, you know its a guideline and will need flex. We’re all gonna have some cross-overs, hell we may even have opinions on things that aren’t in our remit. Lets not all be too precious about the 10 point font in your position description. Lets draw upon each other to get the best results, we actually do win and lose as a team.

Beware though, you’ll need to put in a decent shift. That doesn’t have to mean time, it means quality. But what’s very very important is that you’re gonna need to be able to ease off when you can too, soak up the calm and spend it with friends and family if you get a moment. If you travel for a week overseas for us, come home and your child is receiving a certificate at the school assembly, get to the damn assembly and beam as they beam at you. School camp? Get on the the school camp!

To much to ask? I don’t think so. I’ve met many people in my professional and personal life who easily fit the bill, I’m proud to say I have some who work with me right now. I’d like a couple more.

Lastly, be bold, be really bold. Nothing awesome is done without some good old boldness. Don’t tell me you’re not ready, you’re always ready, you just may not know or be comfortable with it yet. The only thing that might be holding you back is you, so get some boldness and move forth. Oh, and don’t leave the handbrake on while you’re at it, if it’s on yes you’ll have higher overall success rate, but you will slow us down, potentially all the way to failure. Don’t slow us down now!

Lastly, lastly, if you come on board, never ever ever (ever!) throw your role on the table. Never ever say ‘As the <INSERT ROLE HERE> I am’… Don’t bring your User Story form into your team engagement. That would be poor form (everyone knows who the hell you are), disrespectful and just totally unnecessary. Just get on board, lend some muscle and lets crack into it.

Who am I looking for? I think you might know by now.

Note: I originally posted this as Who Am I am I looking for on LinkedIn in April 2018 as a tongue in cheek recruitment message for character needed and slightly tweaked for this post.


SLA: Counter-productiveness

I was in Sydney a couple of weeks back at the (excellent) AWS Summit and was lucky enough to get the heavy Amazon customer obsession treatment via the exec track. Now each to their own, but I double down on the If we do the right thing for our customers, we will succeed as an outcome of that, and that’s a barrow well peddled by JB et al. 

Clearly the opposite is true too, which leads to what really resonates with me: the ? email speaks of no SLA context, it speaks of perception and expectation which is customer first. You with me? 

I thought I’d share.

If you’re not familiar, the ? email has been getting some great air recently, it’s the email you really don’t want to receive at Amazon. In my own words: What have we done to let our customer down? And from what I gauge, I blatantly over indulge by 34 letters. Sometimes less really is more.

Now I know that there probably isn’t actually an SLA around everything that Amazon does, but I also don’t think that really matters. For me, intent is where it’s at. What I think really matters was whether the (our) customer was let down or not, based on their perceptions and expectations.

Where am I going with this? In my mind the SLA is pretty much counter-productive, as in internet definition counter-productive: 




having the opposite of the desired effect.

“child experts fear the Executive’s plans may prove counterproductive”

To me, the SLA actually defines the worst possible service a company can provide to their customer whilst getting off the hook. Sound good? Not so much for me.

I’m thinking that the SLA is actually the yes we had an outage, yes we impacted on your brand and reputation, your customers brand and reputation, and in turn their customers experience and expectations, but look sorry about that, we met the SLA. 

I’m thinking the SLA is the: we’re all good right?  Nope, actually we aren’t all good. 

I’m thinking the SLA is the warranty of the used car, the warranty that the salesman tells you you’re never Going to need…Surely it is the caveat for the worse case scenario. Problem it’s there because it probably needs to be, because that worst case scenario is often a when not if, well known by the ’service’ provider. The SLA could very well be where we fall back to when some nasty red, yellow & blue concoction has hit something consisting of a rotating arrangement of vanes which act on the air. 

I’m a customer and I have customers and I’m personally really against drawing upon the wisdom of the SLA (like really really against, so please don’t do it to me either), instead we (and you) should probably be asking a single question, did we let our customer down? That question is productive, lets aim to avoid the counter. It might be subjective, but then again, maybe it should be, because it’s our customer calling.

I’m looking to making sure I don’t let my customer down, regardless of whether that falls within the SLA. You with me?

Note: I originally posted this as the counter-productiveness of the SLA on LinkedIn in May 2018 and slightly tweaked for this post.


Stopping Takes Courage

Today I was considering the news around Atlasssian waving the white flag on Stride & Hipchat via an IP acquisition from Slack and I was like, that’s some real courage right there.

I’m referring to: Atlassian exits business communications space, surrenders to Slack

For context, this was nothing about the platforms in question, frankly I’ve never used Stride or Hipchat but have heard pretty decent things about them. Ironically I’ve previously switched my teams to Slack, but that’s a total coincidence and pretty much irrelevant to this piece.

I’ve personally been a big fan of Atlasssian for quite some time, plucky Ozzie company once punching above their weight to now being a seriously quality heavyweight and doing that in some style. I think this latest decision speaks volumes of the leadership style within the organisation.

Stopping something can take the most courage.

Being a technology exec I am very familiar with the seeding of ideas, shaping of business cases, building of teams and leading the implementation of the products / platforms that they promise. In my experience to really succeed the team needs to believe in what they are building and why, care about their crafting and feel a real sense of pride in the outcomes. In this comes a real momentum and without a shadow of a doubt, coming to a dead stop at these speeds can have catastrophic consequences.

But in this case and for the bravery of Atlassian, catastrophic consequences hasn’t occurred, quite the contrary to a point where their share price soared close to 17% in after hours trading on the news. Too right it should. This is where companies like Atlassian get well deserved respect and increased confidence. They know when to change tack / pull the plug / refocus and do more of what they do well. They make the courageous, painful and hard calls because they are the right calls. They face into things like this.

But alas Atlasssian is in the minority in this space. We really don’t tend to see this kind of courageous leadership very often I’m afraid. Instead we tend to see companies wasting massive amounts of their shareholders money continuing to drink the company Kool-aid on failed strategies and doomed products, spanning years, sometimes decades… think Windows Mobile Phone. Chasing, chasing, chasing when the ultimate demise is pretty much already clear to most externals.

Stopping doing something that you’ve lobbied for, you’ve built teams for, you’re burned serious cash and / or political capital on can be the most courageous move you will ever make. On the outside it’s dollars and opportunity cost, on the inside it’s personal and professional pride, reputation, <INSERT LOADS OF OTHER SHIT HERE>.  The challenge and stakes of the decision often correlate to the courage required to making it.

In the case of canning Stride and Hipchat I’d say this is one hell of a courageous decision by Atlasssian. Given the current business communications platform landscape I would also say it’s the right one. More great stuff from Atlasssian.

Note: I originally posted this as stopping something can take the most courage on LinkedIn in August 2018 and slightly tweaked for this post.