Friday, July 08, 2011

Angry Birds®: Managing your team and yourself

If you’re amongst the millions (if not a couple of billions) gamers - occasional or not - that have fallen prey to Angry Birds®, you know deep in your heart that you have wasted a pet sea turtle’s lifetime playing the game so far. But - and this may only apply if you’re a consultant - you may add all that “invested” time to your clients’ bill, since there are at least 5 very important things you can apply in the real world, all for the good of your client, your team and yourself.

1. Every team member needs to know what you’re aiming at
Whether you’re managing a small team like I’ve done recently or a big one, communication is key. Every team member needs to understand what your department’s objectives are, how those goals will be achieved and how you will measure them. Use any tools out there, but use one that’s fit for whatever you want to measure and make sure that your team knows if you’re all aiming at the real objective or are falling short of achieving it.
2. Your goal may look simple, but it sometimes might not be
You’ve seen the silly structures made of glass, wood and stone. Some of them seem to defy logic, a couple of laws of physics and gravity, but in the end they are there to protect those silly, grinning pigs. Your overall objective is sometimes that clear, but when you try to achieve some of your key metrics, you fail maybe once or twice. Have you asked yourself why? Have you looked at what is behind those metrics, broken  down the processes and come up with another, better way of achieving your goals? Do so. Sometimes it may look easy but it’s a continuous improvement process.
3. Learn, learn, learn... and adjust
You know it’s true: you’ve been stuck at some levels for longer than you expected. You’re embarrassed of looking for online help, but you may eventually do so if you keep doing the same things over and over again expecting different results (a cliché is needed in every single one of these pseudo-consulting advices, I’ve been told). You may try to change the angle, wished you had more controls like wind speed or you’re simply too slow to use your finger to detonate one of those birds in the right place, at the right time. Whether you decide to try to learn by yourself or ask a friend or - gasp - your significant other for help, learn new tricks every time and adjust to the changes in the structures and number of pigs to eliminate (disclaimer: I’m a vegetarian and it breaks my heart to see digital birds and swine being used so savagely, yet I keep playing the game).
4. Every team member possess a different skill; use it to the team’s advantage
I managed a team that looked exactly like many of these birds. One was small and barely produced a beep; another one was big and noisy and another one exploded in mid-air with the slightest remark about her work. But guess what? Somehow, they were all necessary in order to attain my department’s goals and before getting rid of all of them (the thought crossed my mind more than once), I opted to use their skills for the best and we hit our goals over and over again. Could I have done things differently with a better team? Most likely. But the reason why I joined the rank of industrial engineers was that I liked working with people, not only machines. Treat your team well and - eventually, hopefully - they will realize how important their skills are and - unlike in the game - they can even attempt teaching their skills to other team members.
5. If it gets boring, ask yourself: is this it?
Level after level in the game, you get introduced to new difficulties, new birds, structure complexity, combination of factors that make you ask yourself: now what do i do? if that’s the case or even if you look at the structure and the birds at hand and have one of those eureka moments, the game designers have achieved their goal successfully. It will take you ages before you get bored of the game. At work and whilst working with your team, ask yourself this: am I bored of doing the same things over and over again? Is there no room for growth? Is this what I want to do? If the answers were yes, no  and no, there might be another game out there waiting for you. Or even better, there might be a chance for you to design a better one and win big time.
© 2011 Francisco J. Brenes. Reproduction is authorized if you credit me and add my email ( so people start paying me big money to write things like this. If I get good feedback, I will write what Gary Larson’s The Far Side taught me about business. There is a lot to learn, believe me.

Image courtesy of Rovio Mobile ltd.

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