The Key Ingredient to IT Success? Building the Right Team

Sophie Danby and I still have more blogs to write based on SysAid’s trip to Interop New York at the start of October. But we need to be quick as we’ll also be writing from FUSION – the co-delivered itSMF USA and HDI IT service management (ITSM) conference – pretty soon.

So here’s another. It’s based on the final day-two keynote – a frenzy of wisdom nuggets on technology, team working, and success (plus a room full of smiles) from this guy:


Sorry, wrong image. I meant this guy:


That’s Harper Reed, who according to his Interop bio, is a US-based technology engineer, innovator, and entrepreneur – who has been called a tech pioneer, a digital wizard, and hard to miss in a room.

From 2005 to 2009, Harper was the CTO of Chicago-based clothing company Threadless, one of the first successful crowdsourcing companies. From 2009 to 2012, he consulted for companies like Rackspace and Sandbox Industries. And in 2012, Harper was responsible for delivering Barack Obama’s online re-election campaign and get-out-the-vote program, perhaps the most sophisticated (and successful) political campaign of all time. He is currently the CEO of a funded mobile commerce company in Chicago called Modest, Inc.

According to Wikipedia, which we know always to be 100% true, Harper has subtitled himself as “pretty awesome” and “pretty much one of the coolest guys ever.” We might have been separated at birth.

The key notes from the keynote

Harper spoke of “sharing, openness, collaboration, and engaging in the Hands-On Imperative.” The “Hands-On Imperative”? It doesn’t mean anything in the context of his presentation, Harper just likes the sound of it (though a quick Google of the phrase shows it to be part of “The Hacker’s Code of Ethics”).

How to succeed in providing technology to support a presidential campaign

Or, more appropriately, how to quickly provide technology that provides a competitive differentiator whatever the business or cause.

So Harper assembled a team of developers from tech companies like Twitter, Google, Facebook, Craigslist, Quora, Orbitz, and Threadless. They started from scratch — there was nothing brought forward from Obama 2008 — and had to deliver in a ridiculously short timeframe. The following observations and learnings were offered in reflection:

• Focus on what simply solves the problem.
• Failure was not an option. But we practiced failure for one month. We practiced failure constantly.
• User experience and testing was key.

And of course they succeeded. They succeeded big-time, otherwise I wouldn’t be blogging about Harper and his colleagues. They even won industry awards such the Webby Breakout of the Year 2012:

“The team’s historic campaigning effort masterfully combined savvy political and tech genius to become the secret weapon behind Obama’s commanding re-election. Their efforts proved the Web to be an integral part of modern political campaigning. The team’s ability to harness the Web for political ends was ground-breaking; they revolutionized the way future campaigns will be implemented across the globe. Most significantly, the team’s unique understanding of the power of big data ensured a real-time analysis of American voters that enabled the team to more efficiently read and target voters than ever before. This understanding of data coupled with unprecedented social tactics used to engage voters on the Web, demonstrated exactly how effective the Internet can be in garnering significant fundraising contributions and mobilizing individuals around a cause or campaign.”

How many internal IT teams would love to receive just a sniff of recognition for their efforts and successes? And, in Harper’s opinion, getting the right team was critical, in fact essential, to their collective success.

Tips for creating the right team

The real “technology” innovation, for Obama for America 2012, was the team. And building a team isn’t easy. So Harper shared his rules for building a successful team:

• Pruning – don’t be afraid to fire people
• You might have heard the phrase “Always be closing.” Always be … Creative
• “A’s hire A’s, and B’s hire C’s” – simply hire people who are smarter than you
• Trust
• Measure everything
• Credit success – I like that you can blame people for success
• Authenticity
• Purpose

And most importantly: Diversity. Don’t be afraid to hire people that look different from you.

It was a great presentation, during which it was far too easy to miss as much as you took in. I’d listen to it again and you can too by clicking here.

If you want to hear more from Harper, please follow him on Twitter.

Image credit 1

Image credit 2 and 3: @harper’s Interop keynote deck

Posted by Joe the IT Guy

Joe the IT Guy
Joe the IT Guy

Native New Yorker. Loves everything IT-related (and hugs). Passionate blogger and Twitter addict. Oh...and resident IT Guy at SysAid Technologies (almost forgot the day job!).

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