Tag Archives: mozilla

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.

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!

My mobile and desktop browsing habits are very different things

Browsing habits are the kind of things that gradually change over time without you even realizing it. If you look back a year ago, I’m sure some of the most visited websites today weren’t even on the top 20 list then. An obvious example is that quarterly goals page from Q3 2011 that you visited every day for a full quarter, and then suddenly never looked at again.

What’s even more interesting for me is how my mobile browsing habits have gradually changed into something very different from my desktop browsing habits. A couple of years ago, I used to visit roughly the same sites on both devices, but over time I found myself visiting some websites more from my mobile, and other websites more from my desktop computer.

Today, the separation is very clear: I almost exclusively use my desktop computer for work-related browsing (wikis, Etherpads, calendars, reports, etc), and I use my mobile phone mostly for casual browsing (news, social media, tech, blogs, etc). Another separation along the same lines is that I mostly use my desktop computer to write, and I use my mobile phone to read.

This actually makes me a little torn about the Firefox Sync implementation on Android today. On the one hand, I absolutely love the fact that I can have convenient access to all pages I visit on the desktop, and I simply can’t live without the pre-filled passwords. But on the other hand, I’m not sure I’m too crazy about the fact that all of those “Top Sites” are mixed together the way they are on the Awesome Screen. At the end of the day, I find it distracting to see ten different flavors of https://mail.mozilla.com/zimbra/#%5Binsert number here], or twenty different Etherpads or wiki pages all mixed up with the handful of sites that I actually do want to visit from my phone.

This is one of the things that I like about the stock Android browser on my Samsung Galaxy Note: it allows me to define exactly how I want the top bookmarks to look like, even in which order they should appear in the thumbnail grid.

Stock browser's bookmarks grid -- pardon the Swedish and poor reading taste.

Some things that would make my use of Firefox on Android feel more awesome:

  • An intuitive, quick way of arranging my top sites and bookmarks and ensure duplicates aren’t bubbling up at the top.
  • An option to view the top sites as a thumbnail grid instead of a list.
  • An option (or simply changed default) to not show the soft keyboard until you hit the text field again — I just want to click the top site rather than type on the keyboard.

Firefox Awesome Screen

All this said, I don’t know what I’d do without Firefox Sync. It really enables me to accomplish stuff on my phone that I previously had to use my desktop computer for. The only downside, I suppose, is that it also makes it that much easier to switch your mind back into work mode after stumbling on that interesting report, or Etherpad, or wiki page that you’re not supposed to read when trying to wind down after a long workday… :)

Firefox for Android finally ready for prime time!

If you’ve tried Firefox for Android in the past and weren’t impressed, try again today. With a revamped interface built entire from scratch, it’s infinitely faster, renders websites beautifully, and supports Flash (for those who happen to like that).

Promotional Graphic (2)

Sync your mobile and desktop Firefox

If you’re using Firefox on your desktop computer, the first thing you will want to do is to set up Sync so you can synchronize bookmarks, passwords, form data and other settings across your devices. Simply follow the on-screen instructions or check out this step-by-step guide.

Already hungry for more? Get Aurora!

What if you’re already using Firefox and want to get a sneak peek at what’s coming up in the future? Then install Firefox Aurora and use that instead of plain Firefox! Aurora is an experimental branch of Firefox that represents what will eventually appear in a future Firefox release. So by using Aurora, you get to see what awesome things are coming up before mere mortals will benefit from them. They’re generally stable enough that you can use it without any major issues. Besides, if something does go wrong, you can always just switch back to normal Firefox again — you can keep both versions installed on both your computer and phone (though you can’t run them both at the same time, so Quit one before starting the other).

Keep in mind that by using Aurora, you are also encouraged to provide feedback about the experience. If you’re a bit more technical and used to filing bug reports, you can go straight to Bugzilla and submit your feedback that way.

Firefox tip: Getting past the Wikipedia blackout

Wikipedia is joining the movement of protests against the SOPA/PIPA bills. Quoting their page linked to from every article today (Wednesday January 18):

What are SOPA and PIPA?

SOPA and PIPA represent two bills in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate respectively. SOPA is short for the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” and PIPA is an acronym for the “Protect IP Act.” (“IP” stands for “intellectual property.”) In short, these bills are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but, in our opinion, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet. [...]

Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people’s access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world.

For the record, I fully support Wikipedia’s protest — and so does Mozilla. However, this blog post isn’t really about that.

What if you really, really need to read that particular Wikipedia article today and you don’t have your mobile phone nearby, and you’d rather not disable Javascript of the entire browser? I thought I’d share this simple method that will allow you to quickly get access to the content:

Update: Asa Dotzler pointed out that there’s an even easier method than what I explain below: just replace the “en” part of the address of the article you’re visiting to “m” and you’re done — that will take you to the mobile-optimized version of the Wikipedia article. Example: change http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper_orientation to m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper_orientation. That’s it!

The original instructions were:

  1. In Firefox, navigate to the Wikipedia article you want to read. You’ll see something like this:
  2. Press Alt on your keyboard to reveal the classic menu of Firefox:
  3. Click View > Page Style > No Style. You’ll then see a somewhat crudely formatted version of the original article:

This setting is not remembered in Firefox, so when you’re done reading the article, just close the tab and things will go back to normal when you open it the next time. (Wikipedia itself will also go back to normal, tomorrow. In the meantime, take action!)

The next browser war: Users vs Web Content

Browser wars is a popular (and retro!) topic these days. In this post I’ll discuss another kind of browser war that I’m afraid all browsers are at risk of losing.

One side-effect of a richer web experience with html5, Javascript and CSS is that it becomes increasingly harder for web browsers to stop bad web design practices for the benefit of the user. Firefox is known for putting the user’s needs first and pioneered mainstream use of features designed to make the web experience better for users – the pop-up blocker is perhaps the most notable example.

Features like the pop-up blocker were not designed for web developers — they were designed completely in the interest of users, who were fed up with annoying ads that popped up over and under the web page you were currently visiting. This effectively forced web designers to adjust their practices and keep the users’ interests more prominently in mind. I think this is a wonderful example of how web browsers can change the web for the better. Before the pop-up blocker, web designers were dictating how their web sites should behave, and users had no other choice but to put up with it.

There are of course many other examples of when browser features have helped tame annoying web design practices, such as scrolling text in status bars, disabling the context menu when right-clicking, and blocking third-party cookies — the general theme is that the browser balances the sometimes bad urges of web developers and designers with the actual needs of the user. And as a result, the web becomes a better place. Mozilla has its own spin on this that captures the essence of Firefox: Firefox answers to no one but you.

The yellow pop-up blocker info bar in Firefox. A rare sight these days.

Today, however, you don’t see the little pop-up icon  in the location bar of Firefox very often anymore. This is because “true” pop-ups, (in the traditional/technical sense) are no longer common. It used to be that, in order to display a pop-up, web developers had to use Javascript methods like window.open to tell the browser that it wants a new window to be open so the (usually annoying) ad could be shown.

Back in 2004, when Firefox was first launched, window.open was the way of displaying pop-ups. These kinds of pop-ups are trivial for Firefox to detect, since the web page creates a separate browser window for the ad (this usually happens when a page loads, or at some other event which is straightforward enough for a browser to determine that it isn’t explicitly requested by the user).

Today, most modern web sites have become smarter and use more sophisticated technologies to display pop-up ads embedded within the web page triggering the ad. In fact, a quick anecdotal survey shows that most large, international websites have completely stopped using the traditional pop-ups. You can still find them on smaller or more local websites though (for example, Swedish news sites like aftonbladet.se are typically a year or two behind the more recent web page practices used on websites from the US in general, and the Valley in particular). The original pop-up blocking implementation certainly still matters, but its relevance is decreasing.

New websites use all sorts of clever (and highly annoying) tricks to make sure their ads are not missed by anyone:

  • Inline pop-ups — these behave similar to the traditional pop-ups, but the ad content isn’t actually displayed in a separate window. Instead, the ad is embedded in the web page itself. From a technological point of view, a browser is then unable to distinguish the ad from the rest of the web page, so it can’t block it.
  • Hover ads — this is similar to inline pop-ups, but taken to an increasingly more annoying level: here, the ad doesn’t just block a particular area of the web page, it follows along on your screen as you scroll down on the page — often with a smooth movement to give the impression that it’s actually hovering over the page. It’s like the ad is trying to say “I’m here! Look, I’m still here!”
  • Splash screen ads (I just made this term up) —  these are by far the most annoying ads and are commonly seen on sites like di.se and e24.se (two popular finance websites in Sweden). This is like an ad saying: “Look, I’m not going to let you read the web page until you’ve paid attention to ME!” Web designers do this by overlaying the ad so it completely covers the content of the page (alternatively, it redirects you to a separate page). If you pay close attention, you will see a tiny link to get to the page you actually wanted to visit, but the web designer has usually made it the smallest link on the entire page — despite the fact it’s the link you are most likely going to want to click. These type of web pages clearly answer to no one but the ad provider — certainly not to you.
  • Video ads — as videos are getting more and more mainstream, the most common practice today by content providers is to show an ad before playing the video clip you actually requested. This is similar to those “important messages” you see when inserting some DVDs, and just like those messages, you can’t skip these ads. You simply have no choice but to watch the entire thing. (Some content providers add a small clock countdown in the corner to at least let you know how long you have to put up with watching the ad — it’s clear that they’re aware of the inconvenience for the user here.)

All of these types of web ads have one thing in common: it’s next to impossible for web browsers to block them. These ads are, from a technical point of view, integral parts of the web page itself, and as such they’re indistinguishable from the “good” content on the page.

Where do we go from here?

Web browsers make at least a bit of an effort to block advertisement today with their aged pop-up blocker feature, but it’s also clear that they are not able to block all attempts of displaying advertisement on the web. (And should they? Unless we can create a world where advertisement is not just generally unwanted, but also not necessary to make the online economy spin, I would say we probably shouldn’t try to block them all. But that’s a much deeper discussion than I’m aiming for in this blog post.)

More importantly, however, web browsers are no longer stopping bad design practices. Showing an ad as a splash overlay covering the entire page and blocking the user from seeing the actual content of the page is exactly the kind of thing that Firefox effectively stopped in 2004 — but so far there is no solution in place in any web browser on the market to stop the new pop-up behavior that is at least as bad as the traditional pop-ups.

Taking a step back, what is the role of the browser in this new world where web pages are becoming more like web applications that live a life on their own terms? How can we ensure that the browser still acts as a balance that puts the user first? Of course, I don’t have the answers to these broad questions, but it’s definitely something I think must be discussed.

Status update

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I blogged last time. The thing is that the longer you wait, the harder it gets to start writing again because you have a growing pile of things you should have blogged about in the past that makes you raise the bar on the significance threshold. Essentially, picking up a blog after almost a year of silence requires that the update has to be spectacular.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another way could be to just say: Hey, I’m back! I’ll try to be a little more frequent in the future, but for now let’s summarize the most important bits that have happened up until now:

  • I got married on September 3rd. It was fantastic! :)
  • Sophie and I went on a honeymoon trip to Cyprus on September 5th and it was also fantastic.
  • The plan was to get back home again this Monday so I could take an early flight to SFO on Tuesday morning to join the Mozilla all hands on Wednesday. However, the plan didn’t go so well, because the trip from Cyprus back to Sweden was delayed, and I missed the flight to SFO. So in case anyone at Mozilla wonders where the heck I am, I’m doing the best I can to work remotely while everyone else is on site.
  • Oh, and during the honeymoon trip, my LDAP password expired and I haven’t been able to read mail or access my calendar since then. Resetting the password proves to be hard when all of Mozilla’s IT staff is asleep in the US. ;)