Guest Blog by Newsgator’s Brian Kellner: Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be

I've seen a few versions of Wayne Gretzky's famous quote, but its essence is that anticipating, deciding, and moving quickly allows great players to make great plays. Like lots of good advice, it sounds pretty obvious when you hear it; but, if you've ever played a sport, you know that it's often quick and chaotic when you're on the actual field (or rink) of play.

NewsGator has many of the same challenges – we're trying to deliver the right enterprise social computing features at the right time to SharePoint customers. We need to have software that fills specific gaps in SharePoint ready for the market right when the market needs it. Granted, SharePoint releases don't move at the speed of a star NHL defender, but NewsGator can't build Social Sites quite that fast either. Just like Gretzky, we need to anticipate, decide, and move quickly.

See the open ice:
In order to anticipate (something that Newsgator probably finds easier than an athlete), we have to consider what's happening around us. The primary signals come from consumer solutions and Microsoft direction. The consumer social computing market moves at lightning speeds, and the ideas that are created in this space get tested and refined quickly. If a feature has utility in the consumer world, it's likely that some form of that feature will also work well for enterprises.   

In addition to tracking consumer market developments, NewsGator also anticipates by improving our understanding of what Microsoft will do in future SharePoint releases. To do this, we work as closely as possible with Microsoft at all levels, and we participate in every early access program. Microsoft adds features to SharePoint in every release, but not at the same pace as consumer markets. You can see great improvements in wikis and tagging, for example, in SharePoint 2010. Both of these improvements are big steps forward, but enterprise needs often go further. Continuing with the sports metaphors (I grew up in Minnesota but I never actually played hockey), it's more like watching a lot of videotape on a player, rather than being inside their head, but it still gives us a pretty good "jump on the ball."

Become a playmaker:
Unfortunately, even having a good idea of where to move doesn't really matter if you can't decide. At NewsGator, decisions happen quite quickly and collaboratively. We work on four-month release cycles – we plan the next release in the final month of a cycle, learning as we go through a release and adapting it as necessary to meet market and customer needs. 

Decision-making happens at all levels. Testers are free to push back on developers if a feature doesn't make sense; developers have a lot of freedom to innovate; and product managers get daily input from sales, marketing, and support. Finally, our software is pushed to an in-house production environment during the early stages of release cycle, and then it's updated daily during the later stages of the release. This way, the feedback we receive from internal users has tremendous impact on how the features work. 

Utilize the power play:
Lastly, every quick decision needs a quick action to make it count. If Gretzky couldn't skate, it wouldn't matter if he knew exactly where the puck was going to be. At NewsGator, this means we rely on extremely talented people who can quickly build and test products with minimal guidance. It's a beautiful thing to see a developer run with a concept, pull together other developers for an on-the-fly design session, get feedback from a tester or a group of internal users, and then iterate on the feature-all within one day.  This just wouldn't be possible without great people who work well together.

This speed of action radiates out to all levels of the organization: the Services and Support teams have weekly cross-training with developers, product managers, and each other; the Marketing team quickly updates our capabilities and works to share customer stories rapidly; and the Sales team participates in product betas and trains on new features. This whole-company commitment to promptly and continuously enhancing our products continues all the way up to the top – just ask me someday which one person gives the most internal product feedback.

And, the post-game, locker room wrap-up…
As I've alluded, playing competitive sports is demanding. Modern professional athletes seem to train and practice non-stop. That's what it takes to have the anticipation, decisiveness, and speed to get to where the puck is going to be. That's also what it takes to continuously deliver the right enterprise social computing software to the SharePoint market at the right time. I'm proud and honored to be a part of the NewsGator team that also continues to have the anticipation, decisiveness, and speed to deliver a great product that fills key customer needs.