One of the smartest things I did as Interim VP of Engineering for Padcom was let Don talk himself into coming to play with us over the course of several hours overlooking the Puget Sound one weekend morning. Padcom was a small tech company with some unique internetworking technology in the process of building-out into the bigger-time. The unique IP was in software but one of the challenges was shipping a next generation ruggedized client as a delivery vehicle to access markets in public safety.

The hardware & integration project to produce that client was much-delayed, under pressure, and more than a little out of control. I didn’t need a PM. They already had more “help” doing that the normal way than anyone could stand. What I needed was a kind of “un-PM” to coordinate and focus what the execution team was doing, mostly by filtering out the noise from above and across, and maybe injecting somber reality checks into what we said was happening. I needed someone with perspective on the technologies & manufacturing, a grasp of project execution, and a delicate touch with people. I needed someone honest, fearless and gentle about both without losing the need for real data, for he and I to respond to. Taking the culture and history into account, I needed some magic in “just in time” coaching and OD-on-the-sly, to help these people grow into the jobs they were supposed to be doing, without making too big a deal about it. I needed to help these people loosen up while staying focused on the job at hand.

Don has the gift of retaining the child-like quality of enjoying what he does despite decades’ experience with technology development, and a butt-load of training in OD and human systems. He’s serious where need be, but never solemn. With his other skills and gifts, he was perfect.

Don slid-in, and within a week we were tracking to reality of what was done and he’d cleared the underbrush so we could see what remained all without making anyone’s head explode. The product went beta the day I had predicted a couple months earlier, received all certifications and approvals, and worked as advertised. One of the crustier software engineers said: “It’s the best hardware we’ve ever shipped.”

So, what did Don contribute, beyond his background in hardware development, software development, and projects?

  • Gentle leadership.
  • Sense of fun.
  • Just enough Command & Control which was mostly less in detail than there had been, and more in direction
  • As a bonus, Don was able sometimes to explain to the more interested members of the staff what I was doing with the organization and how. That conversation is a complicated one to have when you are the boss, as I was.
  • And Don engaged in some just in time coaching and almost mini-workshops on tools and techniques of working well together, general systems in particular.

Don and I have since threatened to offer a workshop on general systems applied to development work. I’ve been the slacker on this. But, if we pull it off one day, it should be a riot. I’d like to do that because the one regret I have about working with Don at Padcom is that I didn’t get to spend as much time with him as I’d have liked to.

Jim Bullock – February, 2007, Seattle Washington