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The Riverblade Developer's Blog

Beth demonstrating Visual Lint at the ACCU Conference 2008  Anna taking part in a discussion panel at the European Software Conference 2007 

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Time Pressures and ISVs
Saturday, November 24, 2007

I've just read the ISV Burnout thread on the Business of Software Forum with a great deal of interest :

    "I've got a full time job a wife and an 18 months old son.

    I'm a happy family man, but I suck at managing my time and I don't want that my mISV venture keeps me totally away from my family have you got any tips & advise to keep a good balance between mISVand other commitments (I'm in the process of starting my mISV, the product development has just started).

    Basically I need to fit a bit of coding hours before going to work and when everybody is still sleeping and a few hours after work and a couple of hours over the week end.

    Some people have claimed here that they never been so productive until the day they became father, their theory was the more tasks you've got the better you learn to manage your time efficiently

    Another tip I've read on a blog somewhere was to work in chunk of of 48 minutes block with 12 minutes break.

    Has this worked for you ?"
Time pressures can be a killer for any mISV, and doubly so if you have a family.

There are four things I think are key:

1. You need to be organised. Break your tasks down into small enough chunks that you can nail them in an hour or two, and constantly re-prioritise as required based on your progress, customer feedback etc.

I find that keeping a continuously updated record of your "project backlog" (in Agile terminology) helps immensely - I use OneNote Mobile for this, as it doesn't interrupt whatever I'm doing on my laptop, and I can update it whenever I need to, as opposed to only when I have my laptop in front of me.

2. Your family (and especially your partner) needs to understand what you are doing, and why.

If you find your partner gets upset while you are working because you are not spending time together (even if you are doing both at the same time), you are potentially going to have real problems reconciling work and home life .

I am rather lucky in that regard as my partner is also a developer, but even we struggle to find the right balance at times. I really feel for the original poster in the thread linked above, as his parter seems to be far from as understanding as mine, so I fear he is going to have to make a hard choice sooner or later.

3. If you start to feel burnt out or uninspired in a particular area, do something else that you've been putting off.

There's always something in your backlog that's sufficiently different to give you the mental kick you need to reboot. Switching from development or support to marketing or research can be breath of fresh air at times.

4. Listen to your body, and make sure you take sufficient breaks, rest enough and eat the foods which will give you the energy you need.

Never push yourself beyond what you can manage. If you do, you will burn out sooner or later - and that can be a demotivating killer for a microISV.

Exercise can be a great motivator too - taking an hour out to walk, run, or cycle can be hugely liberating and give your brain the break it needs to re-focus (I usually walk down to the beach when I need to clear my mind. So far, it has worked every time).

I can't empahasise enough that if you are a one or two person shop you are unlikely to have anyone to delegate to, so you really need to make the most of your time and find a way of working which suits you. Above all, don't try to translate a way of working you are familiar with in from the corporate world and expect it to work - you need to find the most efficient (and stress-free!) working practices that suit you, rather than a larger organisation.

Good luck!

Posted by Anna at 09:09 | Get Link


Riverblade at the ESWC
Thursday, November 08, 2007

It's been a mad few days. Beth and I arrived in Cologne late on Thursday afternoon for the European Software Conference, which kicked off on Friday evening with a beer and bratwurst style (what else could it be?) gathering at the Frueh not far from the magnificent gothic cathedral:

The magnificant gothic cathedral, viewed from across the Rhine

As we'd had a day to ourselves to explore the city we were pretty relaxed by the time everything started on the Friday evening. We didn't even have a hangover on the Saturday morning this time.

Speaking of which, Saturday morning was a mad rush as we tried to fit in a quick breakfast before rushing to the conference hall to set everything up in time for the first delegates arriving for registration.

Beth manning our stand on Saturday morning

The view down from the sponsors gallery as the first delegates began to arrive.

Fortunately, it went without too many hitches, although the rolling demo we'd brought with us kept misbehaving (hint: Powerpoint and Flash just don't mix. Don't even go there). That was a minor irritation though...the important thing was that we were there.

We missed quite a few of the sessions as a result of being up in the sponsors area, but what we did catch was as informative and entertaining as ever. Bob Walsh (47hats), Michael Lehrman (Microsoft and Independent Innovation) and Dave Collins (Shareware Promotions) were of course there and as affable and helpful as ever. It was good to see some familiar faces again.

One thing that did come out quite strongly for me this year was that as an ISV we have three core activities - Development, Marketing and Support. Everything else is an overhead, and as such is to be minimised as far as possible. Of those three core activities we have had great success in the past year streamlining our Development and Support activities (due largely to the adoption of agile methods), but Marketing is an area where we still have much to do. As a technology lead ISV I don't think we're anything like alone in that, of course.

When we signed up as a sponsor for the ESWC it was partly with that in mind. In that regard it was been very successful - as a largely internet based business I doubt we would have prepared the promotional materials we have otherwise.

During the run up to the conference I was co-opted onto two of the discussion panels -"DRM and software licencing models" on the Saturday and "The role of the Internet in being a successful ISV". It is a long time since I have done any public speaking, and I must admit to a mixture of nervousness and anticipation. In the event both went very well, and I now know what I look like (and sound like, of course) with a microphone (a big thank you to Jan Goyvaerts for sending us this picture):

Me in full flow on one of the discussion panels. Bob Walsh of is on the left

As ever the highlight was Dave Collin's "Web Design Mistakes" session on Sunday afternoon. I've no idea how he finds some of these sites, but when he introduced this one as "They must have paid a madman $5 to design this" I nearly fell off my chair (Go on, click the link. You know you want to).

The two days passed in a bit of a blur, quite frankly. We did our fair share of networking, socialising and generally rushing about, pausing only to sleep, eat breakfast and go bratwursting again.

Now of course we need to find time to work through all the follow up actions that resulted from the conference...

Finally, Jan Goyvaerts has a great selection of pictures taken at the conference at

Posted by Anna at 23:15 | Get Link