Screwing Up – Reinventing PowerOne #6

This is the next article in my series discussing the reinvention of the award-winning calculator, PowerOne. Read the entire series here.

Last week I wrote this opening paragraph:

This has been a brutal month emotionally. I was dying for feedback, desperately looking for unbridled response. And unbridled response I received. My customers told me exactly what they don’t like about the new version, in no uncertain terms.

I’ve worked every day for a month and a half. I have barely taken a half day away, even on weekends, and thanks to my iPhone it never is really away anyway. Before that I worked for years on the new version. I’m exhausted but have so much to do. I’m not helping myself.

Heap on top of this a lot of negative feedback. I want the feedback and understand it is how the product gets better but at some point the negativity of it becomes pretty overwhelming, especially when exhausted as I am right now.

By Friday I had apparently had enough. I reacted badly to an email, failed to take the time to let it settle before responding, and called the person out for being angry.

Two days later and I am seeing things differently.

That person wasn’t angry; I was.

This time I got lucky. I apologized and it was accepted. But I sure don’t want that to happen again so I’m establishing some ground rules for myself:

  1. I need time away from email. I can see why some small developers hire people to handle email for them. In my case I can’t do that right now but I do need to do a better job of separating myself from the flow of support.
  2. I need time away from work. If it doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done. I can only work so much and so fast. At this point it is not possible for me to working effectively when I am working. Time away will help that.
  3. I wrote a standardized response to negative feedback. I find it hard to tell whether the person is writing to share their feelings or whether they actually want to discuss what we are doing and where we are going. Instead of writing a response every time, I’ve now written a standard response I will copy (and lightly edit if I need to) then send. I also wrote a second option aimed at echoing back what I heard the person say so I can get more clarity on the issues.
  4. I need to remind myself to take more time before responding. If my reaction is negative then I can’t hit send yet even if it makes me look unresponsive. Looking unresponsive has always bothered me.
  5. Continue to use others as a sounding board, but make sure I listen to them. My wife has been reading over my responses the past few weeks to make sure I didn’t shoot myself. This time I ignored her and didn’t sit on it for a day as she suggested. Can’t do that again.

It’s hard to run a small company. Those of us who do it have to do so many different things. Our hearts and souls go into this work. It’s very easy to over-care. It’s also very easy to take negative feedback the wrong way and overreact.