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If you’ve ever struggled to build software in a large organization, you know how many obstacles can get in the way. To help you through the process, look no further than Catalyst, Postlight’s new whitepaper. This week Paul and Rich discuss the whitepaper and the different organizational aspects of shipping software that are often overlooked. 

Be sure to join us on November 12 at our live (remote) recording of the Postlight Podcast, where we’ll talk about all things Catalyst and give more insights on growing the digital side of your business.

Transcript

Rich Ziade I want to toot your horn, Paul. [Paul makes sad horn noise] [Rich chuckles] We can do better than that. [Paul makes slightly less sad horn noise] [music ramps up, plays alone for 15 seconds, fades out]

Paul Ford Richard Ziade. 

RZ Paul Ford. Happy Birthday, Postlight. We are five years old. It’s a pleasure work with you, my friend.

PF You know, it just has been the signal experience in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience quite like building an agency and learning all the things that go along with it. 

RZ It is something, isn’t it? 

PF Ouff, you did it before. So this is your second go around. So what’s the big difference this time, besides having a partner?

RZ I think the first time around, I really didn’t want to talk to the world. You know, it actually echoes my life, I was an utter failure through high school. I was left back in high school. I just hated authority, I didn’t want to ask to go to the bathroom. So I would just, I would just hang out at like Burger King. When I got to college, they didn’t care if I succeeded or failed, you know, nobody’s gonna chase you for truancy. And because they left me alone, I kind of realized I needed to be less arrogant, and less obnoxious about how the world works and work within it. And at Arc90, I really thought most of the world was too stupid to understand how great we were. And we kind of hold up. There was no marketing at Arc90 to be clear. Like I coated readability. That was the extent of our marketing message for the rest of our lives. And that was just not even for the purpose of marketing. That was just me finding an interesting itch to scratch. And so when Postlight started, I said, you know, we have to do, we’re going to do great work. I always knew it was going to be great work. But we also have to be willing to talk to the world and be empathetic around how the world understands technology. And Arc90, it was a tough place. My old agency was called Arc90. It was a, it was a tough place. It was tough to work there. But we were doing really great stuff. We just didn’t have that desire to kind of tell the world the story.

02:05 

PF No, there was no—’cause at one point I hired you guys.

RZ You advised, yeah.

PF And I admired but also was sometimes perplexed by the fact that even though I was in a client position, none of the rough edges ever would be smoothed out. [Paul chuckles]

RZ Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s true.

PF Somebody would come in and just sort of be like, ”Well, this is all wrong. And you’re all idiots.” I’m like, ”Okay, but maybe we can not say that to the other—” [Rich laughs]

RZ Yeah, so the big lesson I learned and and, you know, I also, I don’t consider myself a marketer. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. I wanted to have great authentic signal out in the world. And I’ve been a fan of you, you and your writing for many years. But also, more fundamentally, I wanted our shared mindset of technology to be applied in a bigger way. And with a real vision behind it. Arc90 had no vision. Arc90 was just, was like literally taking testosterone and lifting weights to see how big we could get.

PF People might think you’re joking, I remember going to the office once [Rich laughs] and everyone had creatine on their desk. Like, I never saw anything like it. It wasn’t like, it wasn’t a bro culture. It was just this like, [no] [Paul grunts] about—yeah.

RZ Yeah. People were mystified by us, they thought we were doing only stuff for like government and banks, like dark tech stuff.

PF Nobody knew what an API was when you started that last company. So like, here we are. And I think this is right, I knew Arc90 really well, I really liked it. It was, because it was doing such innovative work at a platform level in New York City. Things that people were thinking about in terms of what the West Coast were happening in the 40s on Third Avenue in New York City, which was just surreal. And so we brought over that engineering culture. But yeah, I think you’re right, in that. It’s not just like we said, oh, empathy, that’s a good thing. It was just like, you know, this is gonna be holistic, it’s gonna last for a while. And we want to talk to people in a broader way around the impact and the culture of the work we’re doing. And so that’s what I mean, to me that the work we did for the MTA, if you go to Postlight.com, and you look at our case studies, if you look at the MTA case, case study, it’s very much about like, how do we work inside of the system of New York City, design all the way down to really low level stuff. And you know, we talk about that one a lot, because we’re really proud of it. But anyways, five years, man!

04:25 

RZ I think the big, the other big thing that contrasts Postlight with Arc90 is that we go to enormous lengths. And if you listen to this podcast, you know we do. We go to enormous lengths to speak to business people, to speak to people who need technology to be successful, but don’t necessarily want to go inside and get at the innards and get all the details out there. So—

PF That’s a part of growing up, right, which is where you go ”My thing is not the other person’s most important thing.”

RZ Exactly, exactly. And I think, I hope we’ve tried to do that with Postlight. A lot of our writing—we will write—we’ll geek out and write the the technical article every once in a while. We have one more recently on TypeScript that came out. But generally, we don’t want to patronize you. And we don’t want to obfuscate. And we want to speak clearly.

PF Well people are really buying impact, rather than they’re buying a bunch of JavaScript.

RZ Of course. Of course. So some some of our best relationships are based on that, that willingness to kind of translate things tough for others to understand.

PF Let me ask you a question. So first of all, we should tell people, we have a new book, actually, it’s not super long, it’s about 50 pages that you can download. And it is about—if I had to find a point on it, Rich, it’s about managing up. It’s about how to build software inside of large organizations and how to share and communicate what you’re doing. Even when there are politics, even when it’s hard.

RZ Would you say managing up and sideways? Less about managing teams, there’s a little bit down, but it is about up and sideways, isn’t it? It’s about getting your peers to not feel threatened. It’s about people. What’s it called Paul?

05:58 

PF Oh, good question. It’s called Catalyst. Good business name, right? Catalyst! 

RZ And Paul, how much does it cost?

PF Oh my God, man, you get ready. Ready? Ready? Ready? 

RZ Yeah. Go.

PF Free. Not a single penny. Although you do—

RZ Wait, wait, wait, wait.

PF Oh no, but hold on. You fill out a form, you give us your information, you can download it, you got to go to Postlight.com/Catalyst. And listen, you know, the kind of work we do. It is filled with delicious bonbons of content. It’s designed to be fun and interesting to read. And, as opposed to, I think your classic marketing material. For us, it was a way to organize a lot of our thinking around this part of the process, because there isn’t much written about it. We know that because people reach out to us all the time and are like, ”Hey, I listen to the podcast. And you all talk about, like the organizational aspects of shipping software. And it’s actually really hard to get that most people talk about quality. And they talk about, you know, agile methodologies, and so on. But they don’t talk about how hard it is to actually ship something inside of an org.” And we’re like, ”Well, that stuff matters, too.” But yeah, we will talk about that. And we do all the time. And so this is a chance for us to put that all into a box. So go to Postlight.com/Catalyst, and download a delightful PDF.

RZ I like to summarize it this way, you know, there are a lot of really dry, long document PDFs that you can get on the internet, about management and about software development and whatnot. This is more like a cheat sheet. But I want to also toot the Paul Ford horn. I mean, there’s a wink to a lot of it, it’s not too serious or dry, it tries not to be. You know, it’s it’s funny how the, you know, the way to untangle knots is rarely through a different framework or library, but rather, that conversation you have with that person. And that’s funny. Let’s just pause for a moment, and accept how ridiculous and funny the world is such that the single biggest technological barrier is not technology.

07:49 

PF It’s the thing I was thinking, which is, and maybe it’s the current political climate, but almost anything that isn’t descriptive of physical reality, eventually kind of becomes ideology, right? So it’s like, the computer is a machine that goes, and then people will tell you that JavaScript is better than Python. Under what circumstances, what are the criteria, and so on and so forth. And people argue one way or the other. And all of it’s fine, like people do, and you need those things, you need those frameworks, so that you can ever make a decision. Because if you’re sitting here going, ”You know, computers are made up of logic gates that are, you know, run on top of metals etched into silicon. So we should really think that think about that, when we choose our cloud service provider” you will lose what’s remaining of your brain, like it won’t—you can’t. [yeah] So you have to have some tech ideologies. But what’s wild is those become orthodox, and people get really serious about them, and very defensive about them. And so this is about pushing through a lot of those conversations, a lot of other conversations, people don’t have any idea what you’re doing. Going through. Let me ask you a question. [yeah] What are the ways that people stop projects from getting started?

RZ One of the ways is process, [okay] approval, you can’t really do that. And then one of the things they’ll do is leverage their knowledge. And their not just knowledge as in like pure knowledge, but also terminology and concepts such that this, just it brings enormous drag to the ask and the asked may be very straightforward. 

PF Let’s do it. Let’s do it. I’ll be the, I’ll be the CTO. Come on in and let’s get something built.

RZ Okay, listen, you know, we’re one of the largest property appraisal companies. Okay?

PF Okay. So the bank, the bank calls you up when you’re doing a mortgage.

RZ What’s your name? You’re the, you’re the CTO?

PF Oh, yeah, I’m definitely the CTO. I’m definitely, I’m a Jeff. I’m 100% a Jeff.

09:45 

RZ Jeff. Listen, Jeff, I can’t take it anymore. Our volume is too high. And when the appraiser goes out there, I can’t wait for him to get home at the end of the day or back to the office so he can upload the photos off of Canon Powershot to some shitty portal. Like everybody’s got phones, my daughter sent me 11 pictures while I was talking over in the last hour. I need to be able to see stuff go right into the, I don’t know house folder somewhere as he’s taking pictures so that we can get to work because it’s slowing us down and we can’t handle this kind of volume. And you can’t tell me that you can’t do it. My phone takes—I have 200,000 pictures on my own phone. We still got my agents, my appraisers, you know, waiting to come back to the office with USB drives!This is ridiculous! [sure] And I need this! And look, it’s winter. But I need this by spring because you know, that’s when the market kicks up again. And so I’m guessing that’s plenty of time. Right, Jeff?

PF So first of all, that is great. That is totally the way we were thinking, let me just pause for a minute. Before we do that though, and let you know we’re gonna I’m putting a Seamless order through right now. I’m going to order from Chop. Do you want anything?

RZ Okay. I mean, I actually do Jeff, the beet walnut blue cheese salad would be great. But that’s not why I’m here. I have things to do. But if you can just add that to the order, thanks.

PF Sure, sure. Okay, well, no, let’s talk about it. But first, what dressing?

RZ [Rich laughs] Oh, my God, mustard vinaigrette, Jeff. But let’s back to the—

PF Do you want a Diet Coke?

RZ I mean, throw it in. [Rich laughs]

PF Okay. Alright. So, so look, first of all, as great feedback. Look, I’m gonna tell you though, I think first of all, it’s probably doable. And the thing that I need from you is for you to come in and get involved with our roadmap planning process, because you can see, hold on if you want to, I can bring up the roadmap for the next four years.

RZ Well, Jeff, Jeff, what I want us to do is play out a scenario one and a scenario two. [okay] Scenario one is deflated executive. [yeah] Alright. Listen, I can’t I don’t have time to get a roadmap review discussion going. 

11:52 

PF Well, I mean, look, I’m gonna, I’m gonna tell you something. You know, a lot of people think I’m extremely passive aggressive all the time. And that is true of my entire engineering department. And maybe they’re right. But what I want you to understand is that without planning, I have things that take six, eight months to do. And I have—you’re the 25th person to come in here in the last two months and tell me you need something incredibly significant that will cost a lot of money in time, and you need it right away. And so I, you know, I guess you’d like me to hop up and say, let me help you. But what I have—

RZ You’ve got 45, engineers and designers in your group.

PF Yes, and I have 742 overseas, but that doesn’t mean anything. Because I have a roadmap, and I have a set of deliverables that the board signed off on that I have to get done. You know, I don’t, I appreciate where you’re coming from here. But what I don’t have is a sense that this is the mandate for Q’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 that are forthcoming. And so with, with all due respect, if you don’t want to participate in the roadmap, and our RNZLP2507 process as well as the ISO stuff, I don’t know how to help you.

RZ People don’t know—maybe people do know—how common this exchange is. People probably do know, because the experts wield their expertise to roadblock.

PF Notice, I didn’t even say anything about technology. I just like once you get down to the tech layer I can make I can ruin it five different ways for you.

RZ At that point, I’m I’m just worn down to a fine dust.

PF Here’s what IT does. Here’s what IT does classically, which is that—

RZ I do you want to play out the angry version, Paul, after this, I want to react more angrily to you. Okay.

PF Yeah but see, don’t even do it. Because I can always win on that. I draw the hard—there’s a hard wall. And you can’t get any new work over the wall. Unless you elevate it to, usually to almost like CEO level. Right? Until I get that absolute, like—

13:58 

RZ Yeah, we didn’t mention who I am. So I’m a junior executive. I’m a VP, not even an SVP, who knows that some changes need to happen for me to work well. So I’m—

PF I’ve seen you 500 times, you come and go in my life. And you complain, and you bluster and you stomp around and you tell me that you have to have this change. Because the place that you used to be, had it’s so much better and the tools were so much better and the systems are so much better. And you show up once a month at my door, and I go ”Mmm, yeah, that’s a really good point. Do you want to come to our committee and planning meetings and work on the roadmap?” Basically, what I do is I say, unless you’re going to come and live in my world, I won’t help you/

RZ You’re right. It’s worth saying out loud that a lot of the conversations that steer towards Postlight from other places is because either they’ve been stonewalled or they’ve been told something else has to give just go outside for it. Well, you know, because I’ve already got my plate full and there is enormous advantage. It’s worth pointing out whether it’s Postlight or any other agency, to route around that bureaucracy and just go outside because we live in terror agencies live in absolute terror. Every day, we wake up wondering if we’re gonna get a bad phone call. And that’s a wonderful place to be when you’re a buyer, because you’re like, you know what, these guys are, they’re not looking to make me happy. And in fact, they want to solve things. They don’t want to give me run arounds, especially you know, an agency like ours that’s more deliverable driven than we are time driven. I want to counter, man. Hold on, listen to me, Jeff. Jeff. Two months ago, my daughter sent me a picture and her head was in her head. It was a toaster. And every time she smiled, pieces of toast flew out of her head. I thought that was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen. Must have taken them years to produce it. No, but listen, then two months later, she messages me. And she’s an ice cream cone. And because it’s hot out, she’s dripping. She’s dripping ice cream on my phone, live! Now, I just need pictures of the house. I don’t need the house to turn into gingerbread. I just need pictures of the house when the guy takes the pictures, Jeff, and I want this in 45 days!

16:06 

PF Okay, so 45 days. Now, in this—should we make it so that you have a little power over me and this one. Keep it interesting?

RZ Let me make it interesting. Listen, I don’t want to go to JP. [Rich & Paul laugh] That’s the last conversation I want to have is to go to JP.

PF No, don’t go to JP.

RZ He’s not here. But I’m gonna get on a Zoom call with him. He’s is he’s at his Lodge. But I will, I’ll find them. And I don’t want to have that conversation, Jeff, I need this.

PF Well, that’s very interesting, I can understand the pressure that you’re under. 45 days, well, I’m going to be very clear with you. 45 days for, if you truly want 45 days from internal release from launch, it’s not going to happen. Because I can’t make it happen. I can’t, I can’t move the battleship that quickly. There’s a couple ways we could approach this. One is we could look for a service that provides this and so we can get you signed up, pay a couple hundred dollars a month. And there you go. The frankly, that’s the one I’d recommend. Is there anything you’d like?

RZ I don’t know what you’re talking about, but a couple hundred bucks a month? How fast will I have it? I don’t understand, you’re not going to build it yourself?

PF No, what we’re going to do, what we can’t do is build it for you. I can’t get it for you integrated in our systems. But I can get you some sort of system built on some other world that you could start using inside of your org and then over the next 18 to 36 months, we can probably bring those two worlds together, I can do that for you. And then you win, CEO wins and I don’t have to deal with it. 

RZ And now the Rich in me would be like there are 45 of you. And I have to go buy this from from somewhere else. But I won’t say that part of it. I’ll say that in my head. I may just say yeah, I mean, this is why a lot of people run away from software, it’s why business runs away, when it can, right?

17:43 

PF I’m gonna win on this, right? You’re gonna go buy some software as a service thing. Because what I can do now, as the CTO type is, I can promise you that we will bring these worlds together at a future state where everything is great, and labor is free. And you can’t say no, because I can’t get it for you in 45 days, everybody knows that. You can’t launch a new software product without a couple months. And you know, if you can, then you’re basically modifying a database and crossing your fingers. And that promise that it will all line up later. it’s a lie. Every time. Never has happened. Not once in the history of software.

RZ I do want to pause here and just say we are we are stereotyping the CTO here.

PF Here’s what you do. Like that CTO is actually not wrong to tell—because he’s had 20 or 30 of these conversations. He’s sitting on top of a legacy platform. And he’s got to deal with all this stuff every day. And everybody’s coming in and wanting to run him to build more software to solve things that they think are the most important thing in the world. Let’s say that that’s actually a good CTO, he just has a very passive aggressive personal style. That person, Rich, what do you do? You got to make friends with them. So now start over how do you make friends with the CTO? 

RZ There’s no one answer, because CTOs are humans, and they’re they have a lot of variables. 

PF Let’s say you do want to go outside, you say I want to move fast. I want to use an agency, I want this thing to be really slick. But I’m going to need your help evaluating to make sure that they can live inside of our platform.

RZ I think that’s one way right here. What you’re saying is, you’re not I’m not looking for an alternative. I’m looking to give you more horsepower, and I need you to help me decide if that’s the right shop to come in and help us.

PF Yep!

RZ CTOs buy our services. It’s worth noting, our clients are not I said this before, but by no means are all our clients, angry business stakeholders who have given up on their CTOs. That’s not what we do. In fact, a lot of the time the CTOs are in the conversations, they’re actually on our side. 

PF Almost always with the big orgs. And what we’ve learned is to be effective in those conversations. And the way you’re effective in, in an IT org is that your technologists really listen. You don’t come in and say, ”Well, don’t worry, our data adapter will plug in right into your back end.” You say, ”Can you give us a tour? And then we’ll fit we’ll have to figure out how we’re going to shape our stuff. So that when it ends up into your data or data lake or platform or whatever that there’s no work for you guys.” And they’re gonna go ”Oh, you know, you should talk to Sally she’s in, you know, unit C.” Other ways, how else do you make friends?

20:09 

RZ A lot of times people go, you can either speak to the president of that nation ie the CTO, or you can get a visa fly right into its biggest city and make friends inside. And you’ve seen it happen. There’s that whip smart front end person that just loves solving little problems. A lot of business people go right inside the mix. And don’t ask for permission from the CTO. It’s it’s, it’s a classic move. Some CTOs embrace it. They’re like, yeah, there are certain—we’re services like we’re here to provide things for you. I don’t have control over everyone. Look, it’s not a great thing. When you come and you sort of hang over someone’s shoulders, like, ”I need my thing. And I need it tonight.” Like, that’s not great. 

PF You know what, the more unrealistic your ask is, the better people are routing around you and saying no, right? So you have to figure out what an actual ask is. People like to come in and stomp around and say ”I want it in two hours.” They think they’re doing this really intense thought experiment where everybody will rally around them, and what people see you as as danger and damage. So yeah, what’s a sensible ask? And if the organization you’re in can’t meet the ask, how do you get it met outside of the org, but then bring it in? Right. And that’s shaping that ask is the actual work of strategy inside of a big org. Good CTOs, even if they’re the kind of classic naysayers are usually good partners for that process.

RZ Yeah, good CTOs are, I think that’s right. And good CTOs don’t sit at the other side of the table waiting for asks. They actually go out of their way to understand why you’re asking for what you’re asking for. What is the problem you’re dealing with? The concept of a Chief Platform Officer or Chief Product Officer is still very new, it’s not that common, you’ll find it on LinkedIn. But it’s not that common. But a great CTO, not just a good CTO, a great CTO actually cares deeply about the product roadmap, they actually want to know what is going to be highest value. He knows he only has a finite amount of resources to get stuff done. How does he, how does he maximize it, so it’s perfectly wired to the best interests of the business? Many CTOs do that, and those are the best, because what they’re doing they’re like, talk to me about why this is important, not just a nice to have, and they want to understand it and they want—and they’ll reprioritize. And they’ll actually be your ally in that situation. 

22:33 

PF It’s hard, though, because they’re also in the business of smashing dreams. 

RZ Boy, aren’t they? I mean, that’s true. I’m surprised you didn’t use the, you didn’t use the security. Well I could get this to you in 90 days, but it would be very vulnerable to—

PF You know, it’s but it’s not security. It’s our process, our special process, our our environment for deployment, the way that we develop the code languages that are approved, our security methods, the external analysis, QA is another one, like how we do QA.

RZ They defend that process. 

PF Oh, If you’re in a big org, and you’re going to start a project, you might as well add six to eight months of buffer for the processes inside the firm. The problem is that, and this is not us being like ”Change is coming America!” this industry actually doesn’t tend to give you eight months of buffer, like you don’t get it, you don’t get to—

RZ That’s right. 

PF You know. And it’s not just like, oh, we’ll be late to the market, it just means that your project will kind of implode. Because marketing won’t happen, it won’t get out in time, people won’t really be using it like things just limp across the finish line when you have all of this processes. So the more enlightened orgs, what is the CTO really do in this position, they come into a giant org. They accelerate processes, they figure out ways to simplify DevOps so that anybody can get a development server within two minutes instead of two weeks. It’s things like that. Like if you come in and you say, I really want a thing that looks like the thing on my phone, they’re not thinking about that. They’re thinking, I have 180 engineers who could be 30 times more productive. If I could just get it so that we’re not setting up servers by hand anymore.

24:12 

RZ We could go on a tangent here regarding innovation. And it’s less about like, sometimes they come in and say ”I need to send the photos quickly from the phone,” a lot of the times they come in and say ”They’re eating our lunch. And we need to innovate.”

PF Well, that’s a good one—that frankly, if you want to get something done in time, an organization point to a competitive pressure and then point to positive revenue. If you get on the other side. This is the number one. Nobody, nobody does this dude, everybody tends to go in and be like, ”I want to be better. I want to be like this. And I talked to my people and they showed me this and it’s so much better.” And everybody’s like, ”Well, it sure does look better.” But because it doesn’t point to competitive risk or increased revenue, it gets pushed down because when everybody else is—half the time IT is sitting there going like ”Can I just get more productivity out of what I got? Because nothing’s working.” You come in and you’re like, I have a thing that will absolutely generate, you know, something, and they’re like, ”What?”

RZ Money.

PF And if it’s 100 million dollars, maybe I’ll take a flyer on it. Everybody deserves empathy. It’s hard to work this stuff out. But this is why we wrote our book. It’s why we did our thing. 

RZ It’s a lot of that. And the first section of the book is about the discussions. The conversations that have to happen to lay the groundwork for something big landing and getting like real organizational momentum behind it. We’re actually going to have a live—do they still say webinar, Paul? I don’t want to say it.

PF Ugh, say it. Say webinar.

RZ Webinar.

PF Ahhhh!

RZ I know. 

PF You know, the things—I have to say, there’s certain things this job has made me do, like, say webinar out loud, that I just never I couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago.

RZ November 12th, which is my birthday, Paul Ford. So everyone, when you come to this live recording, it is on November 12th. It’ll be a Zoom webinar, we’ll have Q&A, it’s a live recording of the podcast, it’s going to be it’s going to be really fun. 

26:04 

PF It will. 

RZ And we’re going to talk more about Catalyst. [music fades in] Easiest way to sign up, go get Catalyst at Postlight.com/Catalyst. And we’ll follow up with you soon after, for this event, for this live event. It’ll be, it’ll be a lot of fun. It’s November 12, at 1pm Eastern Standard Time.

PF I’ll be there!

RZ You need to be there, Paul. Otherwise, it’s just me talking to people. 

PF The one man webinar is a bad idea. That’s a webi-log.

RZ Anyway, check us out at Postlight.com. We’re a digital strategy, design and engineering shop based in New York—based everywhere these days. We hope you’re all well. Ask us questions, if you have any questions. We’d love to talk. Postlight.com.

PF Alright. 

RZ Alright. Have a great week, everyone. [music ramps up, plays alone for 3 seconds, ends.]