February 27, 2021

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How Promethean’s item chief adopted Amazon-influenced company practices at edtech company

9 min read


Denisse Guerrero et al. posing for the camera: Steven Halliwell, chief product officer for Promethean, with his family in Carlsbad, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Halliwell family)


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Steven Halliwell, chief solution officer for Promethean, with his family members in Carlsbad, Calif. (Image courtesy of Halliwell family members)

Steven Halliwell, chief product officer for Promethean, phone calls himself a alter agent. In his current job all through the COVID-19 pandemic, that has intended pushing for new techniques internally and with clients.

Halliwell came to Promethean in 2017, becoming a member of the Chinese-owned education and learning technology company soon soon after it built Seattle its new headquarters. He was formerly at Amazon for 7-and-a-fifty percent years, which he named “finishing school” and a opportunity to steep in units-degree thinking. Prior to that, he was at Microsoft for 10 yrs the place he honed his solution administration techniques and realized to “step fearlessly” into new worries.

Arriving at Promethean, he was keen to carry out some of Amazon’s legendary company ways, this kind of as its type of concise, focused, bullets-free of charge conversation starting meetings with a specific doc describing the concentration of the discussion and Amazon’s choosing and interviewing tactics. Halliwell had been a selecting “bar-raiser,” taking part in 750 Amazon employee interviews (the business stored a tally).

“There is a drive and a pull there,” he said, when it arrives to bringing these concepts to a new corporate tradition. When people today resisted some of the concepts, indicating Amazon is a a lot various enterprise, Halliwell experienced a technique: “I check out to boil it back again to, ‘these are the matters they do that make perception for anybody.’”

He has also acquired in excess of time to figure out that sometimes an plan is not a superior in shape. In that situation, it’s not the organization that needs to shift, but him.



a man standing in front of a door: Steven Halliwell. (Promethean Photo)


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Steven Halliwell. (Promethean Image)

“Somewhere the alter will materialize,” he reported. “The worst part of it is if you tilt at the windmill and almost nothing is realized on either side.”

COVID made an unpredicted chance for Promethean to issue and re-assess its priorities. The edtech firm, which builds interactive screens and program for offering classes, was out of the blue “working with a user group likely by a single of the most significant transformational improvements we have noticed in the earlier century.”

The education sector tends to be slower transferring in earning large shifts, but the virus has triggered academics to rethink their approaches and transfer additional quickly. Halliwell claimed his teams received scrappy and repurposed technological innovation to help distant finding out while also doing work to make sure their tech integrated with other training platforms. He predicts numerous of the academics will keep on a path that incorporates new tech instruments.

“There is so significantly chance to modify,” Halliwell stated. “For me, I’m extremely interested in that dynamic. Every 12 months, if you’re not altering, you are getting guiding.”

We caught up with Halliwell for this Doing the job Geek, a frequent GeekWire element. Go on examining for his answers to our questionnaire.

Existing area: Seattle, with folks on my crew in Seattle, Atlanta, England and China, as effectively as remote staff

Pc sorts: Dell laptop computer, iPad Professional and all the cloud providers we want

Mobile gadgets: Apple iphone 11 with about 2,000 applications mounted

Preferred apps, cloud expert services and application resources: Slack, Miro and Trello for arranging, Jira for ticketing/sprints, Figma for UX. We use AWS in a number of regions close to the entire world for reduced latency and details sovereignty concerns. Back when I was commuting to work, I seriously made use of “Speaking Email,” which reads your email to you and responds to voice instructions.



a man sitting at a desk in front of a computer: Halliwell on the job. (Photo courtesy of Halliwell)


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Halliwell on the task. (Photograph courtesy of Halliwell)

Describe your workspace. Why does it operate for you? I have many displays and an adjustable top desk, accompanied by a 75-inch interactive flat panel (one particular of our goods) that is a fantastic whiteboard. I normally need to go around when I am speaking, and I obtain that making use of a whiteboard software clarifies my considering regardless of whether I am “architecting” or making an attempt to make new product methods. I also have a couple of guitars helpful, simply because I obtain that switching about to a thing artistic or musical for even 10 minutes re-energizes me in the course of the day.

Your ideal information for handling everyday do the job and lifestyle? Timetable time! Make specific time for looking through e-mail and your possess independent get the job done, or else that will operate into your time with spouse and children. Have hobbies and give them their have time, so that your do the job time is much more successful. I also use my individual hobbies to inspire me at function. I discover that if I am obtaining my goals in my private lifetime and sensation thriving there, that rolls in excess of into my qualified life and will make me focus on accomplishing there, way too.

Your most popular social community? How do you use it for organization/do the job? I only use LinkedIn and Twitter, and only in compact quantities. Fb just isn’t incredibly persuasive for me. I use LinkedIn for recruiting and networking, and have appear to take pleasure in the posts from different gurus. I am normally searching for product or service thoughts, and obtain that casting a extensive net and reviewing a bit of all the things is very stimulating and allows me locate new tips. I also continue to keep in touch with a wide array of colleagues and generally will dial them up to capture up and hear to their difficulties and thoughts.

Existing number of unanswered emails in your inbox? 18, only for the reason that it’s Monday. It will go up and down but my intention is to have a lot less than 10 unread when I exit Friday afternoon. Just one “superpower” of mine is that I can read through with comprehension faster than most many others, so I can burn off through an email backlog immediately.

Quantity of appointments/conferences on your calendar this 7 days? Let’s see… 32 at this position between Monday and Friday. My conferences start at 6 or 6:30 a.m. on most days and go as a result of 5 or 6 p.m. My target is to have 20 or less per 7 days, and I have some key hires coming on that will assistance in that regard.

How do you run meetings? I am sad to say a incredibly literal man or woman. That signifies in get for me to genuinely have an understanding of anything, I have to have to listen to it or read it without slang or hyperbole. So we have to start out with a quite clear statement of what we’re striving to get done on the get in touch with, working with pretty basic language. As persons have gotten used to it, I assume it really can make us more quickly and extra focused.

I have discovered to request for enter and to make notice of people who are not commenting, and to attempt to draw them out to see if we’re missing anything. I check out tough to make the environment open up and inclusive and all about having on the hard concerns and staying easy.

I normally benefit solutions and recommendations in every single discussion, as in “here are the solutions that we deemed, and of them we/I believe that choice B is the a person we suggest for these reasons.” Devoid of possibilities and suggestions, you just cannot be certain the because of diligence is completed at the appropriate stage, and we need to have to go again.

Each day work uniform? Denims, lengthy sleeve cotton t-shirt or button-down, a pair of Chuck’s.

How do you make time for family? I am quite involved in research and the evening regime, which for us involves some sort of quick relatives activity each and every night — Jenga or card video games, normally something. Aspect of why I work early is so I can get up and get hours of operate carried out in advance of my family, and then finish in the night and invest time with them.

Very best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I have many: managing, cycling, a heavy bag in the garage, and I have been understanding guitar. I have discovered that I adore undertaking carpentry jobs close to the household, making decks or stairs, and so on. It is wonderful to establish anything in the authentic bodily world following doing work in the virtual earth all day. I could go a minimal overboard on that — I did build a treehouse on a assets we ended up only renting…



a person riding on the back of a boat in the water: Halliwell paddling with a pal. (Photo courtesy of Halliwell)


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Halliwell paddling with a pal. (Image courtesy of Halliwell)

What are you listening to? Blues, typical rock from the ’70s and ’80s, some alternative, and everything I am attempting to master on guitar.

Day-to-day reads? Preferred web-sites and newsletters? Washington Post, Google Information, LinkedIn posts, Flipboard. I consistently search for connections or styles throughout company and technological know-how to update my way of considering, so I subscribe to a extremely numerous established of subjects.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? I equilibrium looking through enterprise/tech publications in opposition to fiction novels and usually get by way of two guides a week so my Kindle invoice is uncomfortably superior. Ideal now I am in the center of “Range” by David Epstein and am savoring the concepts.

Evening owl or early riser? Early riser! I like to be up early and carve out effective time in the quiet of the morning. Likely by university, I worked many work opportunities in transportation and trucking, and I was constantly on the 4 to 5 a.m. commence timetable. I love the stillness and silent of the early morning several hours, and the feeling that I am receiving a head start. It is also important that I remain off news apps or e-mail for the very first 45 minutes so that I can seize my individual ideas and get arranged.

Where do you get your very best strategies? Often when I am relocating: pacing in the office environment, cycling, jogging. I usually have a bunch of topics likely on in my head, and am constantly looking for extra information factors to see how they synthesize. Most of it is about structure concepts, wanting for the suitable thinking that captures a unique shopper workflow or approach. Then I try to assume out the architecture, which usually potential customers me again to the root thoughts when I find some thing missing. It’s very iterative, most likely not at all as successful as I want it to be.

Whose function design would you want to understand additional about or emulate? I have been exceptionally lucky to have worked with and noticed some excellent tech leaders: Andy Jassy, Charlie Bell, Matt Garman, Deepak Singh of AWS Gene Farrell of Smartsheet Jay Heglar at Domo and numerous other folks. They all have an open curiosity and willingness to understand and problem their considering that I test to emulate. It does indicate mentally juggling opposing viewpoints all the time, but you are seriously exploring for the mental model or route ahead that matches all the facts points.

They all however have a starvation for new information details and apparent, concise communications and share that expectation for “raising the bar” with their full teams. That’s where the “magic” is for me — and the really hard get the job done. It is in minimizing those people tips down into a created conversation that has all the things you will need to know… and absolutely nothing you really don’t on a particular matter. When you are obtaining data at that amount (I believe of it as “clean” — no distractions or unfinished ideas), then you can not only make fantastic conclusions, but you can make much more of them in a shorter time.

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