Category Archives: software

Leadership: striking a balance between runway and horizon

Inspired by the LEAD leadership training last year with Mozilla, I’m writing this blog post to share a snapshot of where I am in my leadership journey today. I believe that true learning doesn’t begin until you share, since that’s how you get to validate your observations and see if your reflections hold any value.

One thing I got familiar with last year is the concept of the runway and the horizon — and more importantly, I learned that you can’t have both as your team grows bigger. First, let me explain the concept.

Things like looking after your team, ensuring that everyone is on a growth path and that they’re happy, stimulated, motivated, and that you’re delivering on all of your team’s objectives and projects — that’s the runway. In contrast, meetings with stakeholders, forming healthy alliances with key players in and outside of the org, getting yourself some solid mentors and using all you learn from them to influence your team’s strategy and success — that’s the horizon. Everyone in every part of an organization typically does a bit of both, and generally speaking, the bigger your individual responsibility, the more you need to focus on the horizon.

Here’s the catch: the more you look up at the horizon, the less you get to look down at the runway. You can’t do both well unless you have a really small team. If your team is large, you have to choose what you want to focus on, and you need help with the parts that you choose to step away from.

Finding the right leadership balance is rarely as simple as the classic rule of third!

I used to be a manager of a handful of extremely creative and hard-working individuals. With a team of that size, things were fairly straightforward and it was relatively easy to keep an eye on both the runway and the horizon. It also helped that Mozilla only had one product at the time. Some people say that there’s a breaking point in terms of the size a team can have before you begin to fail to manage it reasonably well on your own. This breaking point is often said to be around 7-8 direct reports; after that point, you begin to compromise on your important responsibilities as a manager and you have to essentially choose between the runway or the horizon — or do a half-assed job with both like I did when I had ten direct reports in 2012. Luckily, all ten were as creative and hard-working as the first handful of people I hired, but it was still too much to manage for one person while at the same time trying to work on strategy.

By the time I had ten direct reports, I found myself unable to do my job well, and this impacted my team, created some conflicts, and probably also led to my team missing opportunities in the org. This was a big cause of stress for me, because I felt like I wasn’t in control of my life. There were things I knew I should be doing that I simply didn’t have time for anymore. I began to realize that I couldn’t handle both the runway and the horizon anymore, so I had to get help to continue to grow the influence and success of my team. The solution was to form another management level in my team to get help with some of the load.

The art of letting go of the runway

This change of structure of my team also changed my own role, because it allowed me to gradually focus more on the horizon and less on the runway. This gradual change is still going on today: as my new managers grow into their new roles, so am I growing into my new role; and vice versa. At first it felt strange — actually a bit empty and saddening — to not have frequent 1:1s with everyone on my team. All of a sudden, I only managed three people directly instead of ten (today that number is up at four again).

It was hard for me to let go of the idea that I need to stay on top of everything that is going on in my team, but I realized that if I tried to do that, I would fail even more to stay on top of what was going on outside of my team. Also, letting go is the only way the people on my teams will be able to continue to grow their own autonomy and influence by being allowed to step up, make mistakes and learn from them.

If I focus less on the runway and more on the horizon, new opportunities arise that would otherwise not happen to the team. And this new focus of mine has the great side-effect that it spills over to the entire team: I’m noticing that everyone in all of my teams is wearing bigger and bigger strategic hats. In short, every single person is increasing their impact in the organization today — the crucial strategic thinking seems to spread like ripples in a pond.

But there is still a balance between the runway and the horizon that I have to strike. I’m still exploring and learning what the right balance is for me. On the one hand, if I focus too much on the horizon, I run the risk of being useless to my team because I’m simply not in the loop on the things that are happening in the teams I’m responsible for. And on the other hand, if I get myself too involved in the projects and people on the teams, I run the risk of missing critical strategic opportunities for my team — and being perceived as a micro-manager! I believe that the right balance for me is to try to do two things well. I’ll share them here because they may be helpful to others, too:

  1. Runway: Grow the leadership of your direct reports by helping them increase their autonomy, accountability, and ability to communicate and coordinate their work with others. Support them when they make mistakes, cheer for them when they succeed. Don’t micro-manage, but try hard to understand most of what they do so you can be supportive and offer support when needed. Be there for them, but stay out of their way. And help them be the same kind of influence to their direct reports so the ripples continue to spread.
  2. Horizon: Devote all of your remaining time on the things that influence your teams indirectly: strategic alliances with other teams, coordinating efforts with stakeholders in the organization, ensuring your teams are where they need to be, looking for opportunities for your teams to increase their impact, staying on top of news and activities related to your area of responsibility. Do everything you can to ensure that your teams make a big difference in the organization.

If you do both of these things well, your teams and the entire organization will benefit. Sounds easy? I’m afraid it’s anything but. This should really be seen as the instruction manual for myself, not me trying to preach to anyone else how to be a great leader. I keep making mistakes almost every day, but I try hard to learn from them — that’s my key, I think, to become a better leader in the future.

Firefox is freedom

Love this quote:

I honestly believe Mozilla is committed to freedom and privacy on the web. Google is committed to making money and knowing everything I do. Firefox greets me with a page explaining my rights as a user of open source software. Chrome greets me with… sigh… Chrome greets me with a fucking advertisement for a Chromebook.

Cameron Paul on Why I’m Switching (Back) to Firefox

If you’re running Windows, Mac, Linux and haven’t used Firefox for a while, it’s time to switch back. And if you have an Android-powered phone, you definitely should check out the best mobile browser, bar none: Firefox for Android.

The mobile web is broken — and Firefox OS will fix it

Ten years ago the web was broken, but Mozilla fixed it with Firefox. Today, the mobile web is just as broken — and Mozilla will fix it again with Firefox OS. Read on to learn how.

Monopolies are bad for customers

A common sight in 2003.

Not everyone has been around long enough to remember it, but the web used to be dominated by a single company that dictated most of its terms. Ten years ago, most dynamic websites were built using ActiveX, a technology developed by Microsoft that only worked in Internet Explorer on Windows due to its close ties with the underlying APIs of the operating system. For customers, this meant that in order to use the (then) modern web, you had to use Internet Explorer 6 — and you had to use Windows. Over time, other technologies like Flash and Shockwave eventually replaced the role of ActiveX, and this opened up interoperability across platforms a little bit since those technologies worked on Mac OS as well, but minority OSes like Linux were still in the dark with either non-existent or obsolete versions of these proprietary technologies.

At Mozilla, we saw these problems and understood the importance of cross-platform interoperability and standards on the web. Standards are good for customers, developers, and the whole industry because they promote freedom, choice, and innovation. In Mozilla’s eyes, having one for-profit company continuing to dictate the terms of the web would lead to a very dark future. So we created Firefox.

Mozilla fixed the desktop web with Firefox

Few people believed back in 2003 that an open source web browser built by a tiny non-profit would stand a chance to beat a giant like Microsoft at its own game. The odds were certainly against us — Microsoft’s combined market share exceeded 95% the year before Firefox 1.0 shipped. But we all know the history that followed: Firefox quickly disrupted the monopoly and introduced a kick-ass web browser that focused on users’ needs by creating a truly delightful browsing experience — and more importantly, one that actually followed web standards. This had enormous effects on the web: suddenly developers started to innovate again and created new experiences that no one had seen before (pre-Firefox, innovation on the web was basically limited to figuring out new ways to annoy users with pop-ups and scrolling marquees).

As a result of our success with Firefox, Microsoft woke up from its self-declared hibernation of IE6 and decided to pick up the development of their browser again to catch up on some of the new web standards that developers were now using extensively thanks to Firefox. This pushed the innovation forward even faster because the lowest common denominator on the web (IE) slowly became a browser largely following the latest web standards. It also made it possible for other players to enter the web browsing market. And this is what makes the web as cross-platform compatible as it is today. It’s still not perfect, but the difference since 2003 is dramatic.

coffeeLet’s be clear about this: the reason why you can buy just about any desktop computer or mobile device today and expect websites to work without hick-ups is because Mozilla created Firefox! We take this interoperable web mostly for granted today, but it’s important to remember that just ten years ago, this was a utopia.

Web sites → Apps

Fast forward to today and the landscape and definition of the web has changed. The web is turning mobile and people increasingly use phones, tablets and other mobile devices to get online. But it’s not just the usage of the web that has changed — the web itself is different too. The most notable change is that the majority of the time spent online using mobile devices is happening in native web apps developed specifically for the platform of that particular handset — not on actual web sites viewed through a traditional web browser. For example, instead of going directly to http://www.twitter.com, people download the Twitter app for their phone. In other words, native apps are increasingly becoming the lens through which the web is viewed these days. Why is this? The short answer is historical reasons.

The slightly longer answer: Native apps were faster and more capable than web technologies when smart phones started to become mainstream a few years ago. The web itself didn’t have capabilities like offline storage or technologies optimized to create snappy and app-like user interfaces. Web standards also lacked direct hooks to crucial hardware like the camera and other important parts of the device. (It’s relevant to point out that today’s web technologies do have all of these app-like capabilities; more on that later.)

Duopolies are just as bad

If you consider the issues ten years ago with web sites that only worked on certain platforms, you begin to see the connection with today’s mobile web apps that only work on certain mobile platforms. Today’s situation isn’t any better than the monopoly we were facing on the desktop before Firefox came along.

For customers, these isolated vertical silos mean limited choice and freedom, because you can’t easily switch from one platform to the other without a lot of headache and changed workflows. For example, if you’re used to the iPhone and have purchased a bunch of apps for it, you will basically have to start from scratch if you decide to switch to an Android-powered phone. There might be some overlap, but there will no doubt be a handful of apps that you simply won’t be able to use anymore. And you’ll most likely have to pay for many apps again. This sucks. It’s a bit like not being able to access certain websites just because you switched to a different operating system. Déjà vu anyone?

Example of how the apps world is scattered and incompatible today.

Example of how the apps world is scattered and incompatible today.

For developers, the situation is a nightmare, since you have to almost double the development resources to reach most of your customers. And with Tizen and Windows Phone and other mobile OSes lined up and eager to get their own share of this old vertical silo landscape, it’s easy to see how this way of doing business on the mobile web isn’t financially viable for anyone but the largest app development houses. Who wants to develop an app five times?

And customers will of course continue to suffer just as much in this scattered model (“when is Spotify coming to Windows Phone?” and “Why doesn’t Instagram have the same art filters on Android and iOS?”).

Mozilla will fix the mobile web with Firefox OS

Enter Firefox OS. The whole idea with Firefox OS is to make the web itself the platform not just for traditional web sites, but for apps as well.  Apps are the new lens through which the web is mostly used on mobile devices today — and the new, modern html5-based web is more than ready to power it.

Crucially, Mozilla isn’t trying to create its own new silo — the goal is to demonstrate that the web itself is capable of powering apps on all platforms, and to bring web platform interoperability to the mobile apps world. This will disrupt the whole industry for the benefit of both customers and developers, and it will bring the same benefits to the mobile web that Firefox brought to the desktop web: freedom, choice, and innovation. Case in point: today you can choose between many modern browsers on the desktop: Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and IE — and you don’t have to worry about whether your favorite web sites will work or not. Firefox made that possible. And that’s exactly the future we are building for the mobile web with Firefox OS!

What does this mean for developers? Imagine writing an app once and immediately having it running on all major and minor mobile platforms. If you write your app using web standards like html5, that’s a possibility. The cost savings will be enormous.

What does it mean for customers? Imagine a world where you truly own the apps you’ve purchased and where you have the freedom to choose any mobile platform and even switch between them over time — and take all your apps with you wherever you go. You might start with an Android device in 2012, then switch to a Firefox OS device in 2013, and perhaps you want to try iPhone 7 in 2015 (only to dump it in favor of Firefox OS again in 2016). Regardless of your choice, your apps will follow along with you and work just as well on all of these devices. Sounds like utopia? Déjà vu anyone?

fxosphone

This is why I’m so excited about what Mozilla is doing right now to disrupt the web and open it up once more. We did the impossible ten years ago, and we’re ready to do it again.

And the best part of it all is that if Mozilla wins, everybody wins!

SUMO in 2013: Summary

This is the final part of the SUMO in 2013 blog post series — let’s wrap up:

If you read all previous posts, you probably noticed a few overarching themes throughout the series: Mobilization, Advocacy, and Scale.

Mobilization

With mobilization, I mean it in a non-traditional sense of the word: the web is becoming increasingly mobile, and this shift changes our efforts to support our users. We need to become mobile — we need to mobilize!

The Swedish term for a portable music player was -- freestyle!

The Swedish term for a portable music player was — freestyle!

I’m extremely excited about our plans to create a mobile support experience that no one has built before. Mozilla Support is already insanely cool to use from your mobile phone, but just imagine how awesome it will be once we hook it into your phone’s notification system and utilize some of the new web APIs we’ve worked on as part of making the web itself the app platform for Firefox OS (and, long-term, for apps across all major mobile platforms). With the direction the web itself is taking through efforts like Firefox OS, the opportunities to create awesome experiences are only limited by your imagination.

The closest comparison to what is happening with the web today that I can think of is the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1979, which revolutionized the way people listened to music. SUMO is heading in the same direction and this will bring lots of new opportunities to help fellow Firefox users no matter where you are — and the karma this will give you will feel more rewarding than listening to your favorite mixtape!

Advocacy 

Over the years, we’ve gotten better and better at distilling user feedback from our support channels and reporting it to engineering and QA so they can prioritize their work on fixing the most annoying bugs our users complain about. Cheng played a huge role in kickstarting our efforts already back in 2008, and today we have a dedicated team responsible for this work. In 2013, we’ll institutionalize User Advocacy and partner even more closely with Product Management, UX, Engineering and QA to deliver on Mozilla’s brand promise: Firefox answers to no one but you.

We’ve already built in hooks to Input in Firefox OS so we can ensure high quality user sentiment and feedback reporting for the first handsets once we launch. Of course, our user advocacy efforts will go beyond our internal feedback tools — we’ll also be monitoring press, blogs, forums and social media throughout the product launch to make sure we aren’t missing anything. Our goal here is the same with Firefox OS as it’s been for desktop and Android Firefox: to proactively support our users by making our products better.

Scale

This is the glue that will tie it all together — at the end of 2013, our hope is that we’ll be able to look back at a year with significant community growth and where contributions went from just something you could do in front of your computer to something you could do anywhere you are as long as you have your phone with you.

SUMO staff, summer 2012.

We have awesome people in the SUMO community already — people like Alice, feer56, Scoobi, cor-el, Satdav, madperson, iamjayakumars, jscher2000, Tobbi, underpass, Swarnawa, smo, Nukeador, michro, and many many more (this is really just a sample of our incredibly passionate community!). At the end of 2013, I hope that these people will have taken even more ownership in their various areas of our support efforts — and I hope I’ll be able to list even crazier and impossible to pronounce forum nicknames for new people who joined our community this year!

As part of our quest to grow our community, we need to challenge our assumptions and traditions and be open to completely new processes and community governance models to scale our work to Mozilla’s growing product line. I’m envisioning a community where hundreds of people around the world help with everything from writing support articles that are read by tens of thousands of users, to helping users directly where our users are — the forum, social media, and in person. While I’m incredibly proud of the community we’ve been able to build so far around SUMO, I know we can do more.

Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 15.46.20

SUMO superhero and his butler — awesome artwork by Sean Martell.

Thanks for reading thus far. If you haven’t already, please join our community and help us shape the future of the mobile web, get more involved with Mozilla, and help our users! It’s dead simple, fun, and can take as little as a few minutes to make an impact to thousands of people around the world.

Congrats, you made it to the end of the blog series about our Mozilla Support goals in 2013!

SUMO in 2013: Firefox Android

This is part 4 of SUMO in 2013, and the focus today is Firefox on Android!

Our goals for Firefox for Android support can be summarized in three words: Community, Mobilization, and Community! :)

Enable fully community-driven self-service support for Firefox for Android

The scope of SUMO has grown significantly in the last year. We went from supporting just one product (Firefox on the desktop) to multiple products, and this suddenly made the SUMO community feel small — despite being several hundred people strong!

In 2013, we will focus even harder on scale in order to keep up with all the support documentation needed for all of our products. With Firefox for Android, we want to enable a model where the ownership of the knowledge base is with the wider community. In practical terms, this means that the responsibility of keeping articles up to date and writing new ones would be shared by a wider group of people in our community.

Android is the most widely used mobile operating system today, and Firefox on this OS has made incredible improvements in the last year and is now easily the best web browser in the ecosystem. A big part of this has been our tireless work on helping our users on SUMO while listening carefully to what they’re telling us about their experience in places like our forum and in Google Play reviews.

Contributing to SUMO is a great way to get involved in this effort and help shape the future of Firefox on Android. Here are some ways you can dig in right now:

Develop mobile support web app with built-in social support

busstop

Bus Stop No. 75 by mgarbowski. (CC)

Imagine someone standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus to arrive in the morning. While she’s standing there, she pulls up her phone and launches the SUMO app where she finds a user who has a problem with Firefox for Android. She quickly pulls down a canned response, customizes the answer a bit and hits Send. Right there, as she was waiting for the bus, she was able to help a fellow Firefox user solve their problem. A few minutes later, karma kicks in: she gets a notification in her phone that the user found her answer helpful…. and the bus suddenly arrives!

In 2013 we want to enable mobile contributions like this — and this will of course also be useful to help users of all of our other products, including Firefox OS! We’re already well on our way with our work last year on mobilizing the SUMO website, but there are some more steps to take to “appify” it too — things like hooking into the mobile notification system.

This summarizes the key goals we are working on this year around Firefox for Android. Stay tuned for the final part of this blog series.

If you’re interested in getting involved and learning more about what we’re working on to make the web better, please join our discussions in our SUMO contributor discussions forum. Oh, and don’t forget that today is SUMO day. Help us answer questions in the support forum and join us in irc.mozilla.org channel #sumo!

SUMO in 2013: Firefox Desktop

You’re reading part 3 of SUMO in 2013, and this time the focus is Firefox on the desktop!

Increase retention and user loyalty

Over the years, we’ve built something pretty amazing with the desktop Firefox support on SUMO, so this year it’s all about optimizing and oiling that engine to go from great to awesome. Overall, the goal in 2013 is to decrease issue-driven churn.

SUMO developments over the years

Snapshots of support.mozilla.org over the years.

Some of this has already been covered in the first part of this blog series — the stuff that applies to all of our products — but it’s worth repeating some of it here since desktop Firefox represents the vast majority of our traffic on support.mozilla.org today. There are two main components to this that will contribute to increased retention and user loyalty that we are responsible for:

  1. Understand our users by listening to their feedback. This is what the User Advocacy team is focusing their efforts on.
  2. Delighting our users with better-than-expected support. This is what the Desktop & Cross-Product Support team focuses on, including efforts like a kick-ass education strategy. But it also includes our focus on providing kick-ass help articles and covering more topics and answers.

Achieve 100% resolution rate in English support forum

To be clear, 100% resolution rate here means that no posts in the forum should be left unresolved. In other words, any user posting a question should get an answer to their question, and if that answer doesn’t solve their problem, we won’t give up until that problem is solved. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all resolutions will please the user — for example, if a user posts a question like “Why is there no official version of Firefox for Playstation 3?” we will simply do our best to explain why and resolve the thread that way. While the user may disagree with our answer, we would consider that thread resolved. So we won’t exactly achieve magic here — but we’ll get pretty close. ;)

Let’s be clear about one thing: this is a very ambitious goal. It will take a huge effort from everyone involved: our insane community of volunteers, our awesome WebDev team to prepare the platform for things like being able to mark threads as “unsolvable” (similar to the INVALID resolution in Bugzilla) and streamline the interface, and of course the SUMO team itself. There will no doubt be some threads that will be left behind or forgotten in the day-to-day answering of questions in our community. Because of this, we will need to have people ready to “fill in the gaps” as they appear, and to ensure that all threads that already have an answer actually lead to a resolution. Do you think we can do it? Would you like to help us while learning more about our products and development processes? Come join us in the forum!

Provide first response to all forum questions within 24 hours

Another forum-related goal this year is to ensure that everyone gets a first response within 24 hours of posting a question in the forum. This is part of our commitment to delight users with our support, and in reality we’ll aim to do even better than 24 hours — but this is already an ambitious goal as it is!

QuestionsThe good thing is that already making great progress in our ability to provide timely responses. In fact, we’re already responding to close to 80% of all of our questions within 24 hours. But the road to 100% will be both challenging and fun at the same time!

That’s it for desktop Firefox this year. Piece of cake, right? ;) In the next part, I’ll walk you through our goals for Firefox for Android.