Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Think, Apply and Work

There are now 3 managers in the team. There are new ideas, new way of learning presentation coming up. All of us vie for the same work team. The team is now saddled with 3 projects and 3 managers requiring them to work their own way.

Think, Apply, and Work is a simple expectation that all managers have from their resources. I like to highlight the way one of my colleague goes about the business of deployment in client location servers.

It is a seemingly simple task for many that involves copy, pasting files from one machine to another, starting/stopping server, testing and occasional recompiling of files with deletion of any history/cache problems.

However,the risk side is forgotten. In case a virus attack or a system crash, it is easy to blame the vendor directly. In face of perception error, it is difficult to defend ourselves and best offense is to accept the possibility and deflect the hate. WIth such risk riding the simple task, the way the colleague approaches this task is as follows:

1. A list is prepared with all files due for the day deployment.

2. After copy paste, they are checked on the server and checklist updated.

3. Each of the files are accessed through their direct links to test for their working. The checklist is updated again.

4. Now the main link is tested for all inter connections of various files. The interaction update in database are tested again.

5. Any clean up of files, data is executed and appropriate entries are entered in the check list. Any recompilation of files, testing them seperately are updated as well.

6. There is no predetermined check list. It is dynamically created as and when every task is completed.

7. All test data have a naming convention to enable easy filtering for deletion.

8.  Many times, source code is tweaked to accomodate last minute requests or changes required based on server configuration. It is important that they are updated back in office SVN. They too are updated in the list and the files are duly copied immediately to the transfer drive.

Can you too work the same way ? Doesn't the above illustration show the love for the job, where thinking the process, applying the process and working on actual tasks are in right mix.

Would you entrust responsibility to such person ?? Well, as long the above way is adhered, I am sending him to client site all alone.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Communication with multiple stakeholders

The biggest challenge faced in my current project is the multi channel communication and the variety of content that need to be dealt with.

Different businesses together are required to own a project part and with no relationship of their users with other business users. Thus, this is still difficult, as one process and one set of styles are not acceptable to the other divisions.

Further more, the integrated team which conceived the project is not the end target audience nor has convinced them about this importance.

Amid such tough challenges and constrained timelines, the only silver lining is creation of another IP within the group.

Hope at end of this project I would be able to post some answers.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chief of Training

 While covering operations that rebel groups wreak "havoc" the attention goes to the training they received, the person who gave the training and their bio, the rigorousness in the system for induction before their execution. Even, our security agencies have such training methods and are really good and tough creating one of the finest forces and officers in the country.

Recent incidents in mumbai attack, reports say, the executors were in touch with their "trainers" during the execution period.

Cant see the irony still? Many agencies, companies, which do socially constructive work typically see training as a first time, one off activity and a time off process. But be it any rebel groups in various countries, their training is the highest priority and they prepare every time before executing every single job. Training includes initial training, dry runs, collecting requisite information, master plans, back up plans, communication networks. And using this information, they simulate models and try out their plans. Yet, they still, do it in time frame they decide to execute their job.

Even during execution, they ask their trainers what to do next, not your peer or boss on job.

When will training be institutionalized to this degree of being part of day to day execution in socially accepted institutions?

Can corporates make training and development organizations accountable to this degree to ensure the employee success.  If any of the failures are by people, then it should be training department that should be accounted for poor skills in people not able to do business.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

e-Learning companies slug fest


Many of us know that e-Learning professionals in India are connected in a small circle and have got friends in almost all companies. Most of us must have switched between few known specialist companies that we know what projects each company has and works with and the client names. The stamp of past employer style of working can be seen in the output generated, as our style and the company style is more or less merged with the years put in individual organizations. The article though seems to go beyond this one.

Competition is good, and winning is necessary in business. However, it is harmful when employers are beaten hands down with their own work and their own strategy by their own alumni, just that implementation is quicker outside the organization, it originated.

However, when I move to a new organization and I know that my past employers are involved in competition, I would subconciously provide information, that can offer better price points, solutions, and methods to win account. But these go with assumptions based on similar past experiences in these organizations. Does this too constitute unfair competition?

Thinking about it to convince myself with the hypothesis that I feel is right.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Security, Sensitivity, Accountability

Joining chorus with the angry sentiments post Mumbai Taj attack, what would we want our leader class to do?

Roti, Kapda, Makaan have become eternal falsification and sadistic satisfaction realized by elected candidates in stating it election after election. It is a classic case of vision misused and directed way wards for self upliftment at cost of believers. Because winning is proportionate to muscle, money, fear, and closed group  than genuine one by one conscious vote. Does not mean you don't vote. One by one, day by day, it will become the most potent force. Don't you read reports, where ruling class always gets jittery when voter turn out is high?

Looking back all these years, it is clear that the vision now needs change.The same slogan will win many more elections - true, but it is flogging a dead sheep. You will still get wool as much as sheep has.

Recent incidents prove Roti, Kapda, Makaan can all vanish in a moment, however hard you get it. 

What I really need is Security, Sensitivity, Dignity, Accountability from the people seeking votes

Security: Sorely lacking without people, equipments, infrastructure, collaboration. Can any leader have a bolder vision to outline the security strategy for every person in the country. By default, the discussion moves towards their salary and lacunae than creating a vision to eliminate them. Sadly, police force and their families are a solid vote bank lot and hence they too are part of roti, kapda, makaan promise that can be eternally milked by promising them police reforms.

Sensitivity: Can we elect politicians and parties containing such people, who can  be sensible enough to keep quiet and do something along with public than give sound bytes to media. It is good that at least these politicians who mouthed insensitively are asked to resign. Since lack of work experience will be eternal and as a country, we have tolerated them enough and will continue to do so, but lack of sensitivity will spell doom for us all. Does not a political party have such people in every ward, town, city, state whom we can choose?

Dignity: I was listening to ministers and media manager politician speeches to public. Couldn't feel more pungent anytime so far in life.

Cant we have more dignity in "suffering management". Is it more to ask from the very people, we accept to be a minister without asking them for their credential and aim to be accomplished on job?.Cant there be emotional support, psychology counseling centers, medical relief camps, mandatory education admissions in private schools, bonding care by asking corporate's to spend their employees time with people affected directly and indirectly in the calamity? 

When the nation is watching with angst, Can you please NOT READ a prepared speech. Why insult us with a speech which you cant think on your own. WHY CANT YOU SPEAK FROM YOUR HEART ? Why cant you connect? Your own security cordon has a family. They can mouth what people think. All it takes is to ASK them.

Accountability: Only when you do some work, can you be audited, made accountable. Maintaining a clean image, doing nothing seems to be catching fad among our political class. Can the real leader stand up to be made accountable for actions and be fearless in taking action? Rajiv Gandhi ji was fearless when he brought Bofors guns for army, Vajpayee ji was bold when he announced golden quadilateral. They stood scrutiny. They understood accountability for WORK.

Searching for such people still should come from political class. It is easy to say, we must do something. Yes, but when organizations are there (read political parties) to do what we expect, it is their responsibility to come up to expectations and if not, just as business go bust, they too should be de-recognized.

Can the audacious leader become our Shahenshah.

Why I will not Crib any more

When officers in police force can execute their duties under so many constraints, I will contain myself in organization shackles and still be myself.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mumbai Attack -Couple of articles I wish our PM reads (acts)...Really.

I wish I too get to write like them:

Arun Shourie:


 First article, that touched my heart on the attack. Under normal circumstances, the writing would have empowered me, but this time, the enormity of the situation left the article wanting a little more punch. Educatory Value: Thank You.

MJ Akbar: http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/dec/02mumterror-pakistan-will-have-to-pay-a-heavy-price.htm

Very subtly touched the complicacy in dealing with the issue, but article keeps the head and heart straight in doing what is right than what is politically right. Definitely a large sample of Indians would subscribe without a change to a single word. Thank You

Friday, November 28, 2008

Practice Eco System - Support Systems

A practice or a young organization exists for servicing a particular need in a narrow area. It is easy at start. You quickly build trust with the single trusted source(for your revenue and existence) and so assemble a team who share the same spirit. You go to great lengths to keep them satisfied and get few more orders based on this work and relationships.

Over a period of time, you move into domains that are traditionally not your fort, but you still know it is doable given the experience you havehad with past projects and processes.

As a coincidence, a project comes in, which is typically skewed, towards higher price figure, and it demands you ramp up team and also need them to work from day 1 in the unknown yet optimistic allied sphere. This is where the problem starts. The talk of this project consumes you completely and make you leave other priorities behind.

This is when support systems, if carefully managed and tuned to anticipate this day, will you show your mettle. To do business as usual when you explode with big orders, it is necessary to evolve with support systems than organic hiring and growth. To integrate multiple partners, vendors, service providers, contractors, part time staff, administrative staff, for bringing a service closer to customer needs requires enough maturity in processes and concern for their well being in not only you, your bosses, but with the organization itself. For pointers I would like to see implemented for good support system would be:

1. Give a differential badge when they enter your premises like "Participative vendor", "Esteemed service provider", "Our Customer" and treat them better - subject them to lesser queries, attend to them faster, give a recognition smile, etc. And please, use a better quality paper than normal visitor tag card.

2. Typical description of support system is that monetary consideration are the fundamental priority over relationships. They start with relationships and would continue long after the professional engagement, but when they become your support system, they need money - simple. So my wish list is to clear their payments immediately or within 7 days than make them give credit and service together.

3. Make legal life simpler - Legal teams are well within their roles and I respect the people in this field who suspect and prevent liabilities and would like to spin their command on language in the stamp paper. But your support system gives you life support and it is important that legal gives in win-win clauses than just look at preventing liabilities at the cost of other. Many a times, my major frustration is in crossing this hurdle.

A good "practice eco system" with support system being the central pillar and other pillars being

1. Your employees

2. Your processes

3. Your IT infrastructure

4. The project management team and

5. Your administrative Team

will deliver the transformation from a cost center to a profit center.

To ensure deliverance in a harmonious ecosystem, you need to cultivate it with Focus, Discipline, Course correction with love for co-existence than as a self contained unit..

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Where do you start

Every project, I always fumble the start. This also could be due to fact, that I kick off a new project with new customer every 6 months. Having a behavioral preference for being numbers driven , I prefer hard data collection with which the project plan will be near accurate. Making guesstimate is most uncomfortable situation.

So my own checklist will be
1 .Can you delegate more work to customer. DO IT FIRST.
2. Customer Education (I am posting a new one under "Project Literacy" - includes project team literacy as well)
2. Schedule Plan FIRST. Schedule Plan FIRST.
3. Don't take it on your plate, if you have not done it before and the stakes are high (less time, more work for you, etc)
4. Report Report Report!! This is hardly followed as it is kinda more administrative and mostly good things only happen which is taken for granted.
5. Escalation is a bad word. So if things don't go your way start reporting daily, saying the phase is crucial.

Whose Project is it?

When you win a project, how much do you, rather should you take on your plate? The full responsibility of success or just your work for which you are paid?

In hindsight experience, lack of owner and a project master at client end always ends in a mess and stress. Typical project master qualities should be
1. The project owner should be the direct beneficiary of the program.

2. The content owners/providers must have "something in it for them" individually. May be say, a cosmetic overhaul / better looking PPT service would need to be considered without a change request to customer.

3. The requirement has to be from "business" and not from training/HR cell. Our most business is from Training/HR cells. But such projects are delayed, content inputs flow is disrupted, pressing business transactions, push this to back seat,. Business is the ultimate sign off authority and hence dealing with influencer is most importance.

This now brings me to next question - Do you then work ONLY for which you are paid.
Well Yes. That would be meaning business. However, you as a vendor need to provide perspectives and qualify multiple options out of which a concious decision is comin from customer. So you do share what works and what doesnot based on your past experiences, but not with responsibility and only suggestive in nature.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Start, Stabilize, Explode

Did you guess the missing word in the title ? Well, it is fine and this is the way it should be.

If you feel that instead of Explode, "Grow" must be the word, then you are right, as far as mental models go. However the reality in business is not to "Grow" but explode after a certain point of time.

Growth is very static as the graph rises steadily. But with competition, changing business landscape and above all team and management changes, the graph slopes very lean, that there is hardly any excitement in growth phase. Explode on the other hand, gives your professional career a meaning and reason to stay on against all odds and weaknesses inherent in the company.

"Explode" brings along its disruptions that consumes your attentive mind and body, that it is important to explode on every year. Money with disproportionate lower risk is always better - right. When you explode, the amount of money vs risk of downside is disproportionately low.

We are exploding right now. Challenges already started. What is happenning with you?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Where has our fire gone - Missing Love, Passion from work

This is in continuation to my earlier post - Execution Attributes. Few of my friends pointed out to the cold bloodedness implication of the post. They also said, if the fire within is missing, work is considered the same "W O R K".

This Friday late night, we friend colleagues joined together and were rattling our experiences till 3:00AM in morning. The core revolved around only one theme - Where has our fire gone ? Why do we consider work to be work and do not enjoy it anymore. The more we discussed, the more the topic seemed endless.

This post is to correct the impression and put my execution attributes in the title's perspective.

Focus, Discipline, Course Correction is still the mantra for good executor. Becoming the best requires Love, Passion, Learning which leads to enjoyment in work.

How to create the fire in team? Why should the manager instruct and police the team to work on select weekends or late nights ? Cant the team understand the scope of their and others work to make their mind on how to deliver ? Did we -4 some along with other friend colleagues expect the management to tell us what to do ? Didn't we party hard, work hard, and still wanted to be together to do more?

What should we as managers do to bring the team we worked with back in our own lives? Where will people get love, passion to their work and do what they love?

Googling for practical answers.

Parrot Lines

It is often a sub conscious act that we make monotony of ourselves by repeating our pet ideas, themes, defenses for our line of thinking, with various people, forums, and rake the topic when there is a minimal pause in conversations. Think of times, when you spoke of a topic with same sentences with same group or multiple people at multiple instances. You will often see it when we say the same story over and over again.

It is important to understand the power of this situation - "Parrot Lines".

Parrots are used in India to forecast your future (Still very popular). They are trained to see the color of a card deck and say exactly the line that is appropriate for the card. So the foreteller person,plays a mind game with you. He says that the parrot has intelligence that it chose a color card and after completing his reading, the parrot will speak a line that is apt to the contents in the color card. He says that what he said by seeing the color card that Parrot picks up is validated by parrot again. Hence, having an alibi say the same thing, makes you believe that it is about "YOU" and so the future truth is bare open by parrot and not the foreteller person.

  1. Parrot lines are instruments that serve the cause of focus and discipline. Saying them again again in same way, seeks to drive the seriousness of the point and hence rallying teams is easier. At times, they signal closed mindset as well. Rephrasing the parrot lines and reasoning the various other thinking hats, may seek to open the person for better insights, or you know where you are headed if any good discussion always ends with the same parrot line.
  2. So be it a peer, juniors/seniors, bosses, customers, vendors, partners, it is important that they know a consistent picture of you when you are not around. Parrot lines help this cause.
    • For example, when my boss asks any of my team members about a task/assignment, the member will recollect to give an answer that satisfies me and then my boss. Because, my questions are parroted every time in more or less the same sequence, the team member will exactly know the questions, will answer according to my order.
  3. Parrot lines can also serve a good reminder message for the critical success factor that is in consideration.It could be like:
  • We need to be careful if this would exceed the scope. The scope is for 80 screens. In our recent project, this is the favourite line, I start with and end with in a discussion.
  • I would prefer to put more resources and effort, but still schedule constraint may not be addressed. In one of the projects,that I am unable to close (yes, my failure as on this writing date), this is the parrot line, I repeat to customer for every request.
Parrot lines, help a manager to rally the team to a cause with commitment on "passion" than just monetary considerations.
  • Imagine the cognitive load, you are putting on me and other reviewers for this output. Can't you make it more easy to comprehend? My favourite line to all my team members, to push them for better output and buy myself more time for task on hand. ;)
  • What is your value in this system if you are just a postman, transferring deliverable from one to another? Again my parrot line to all my team members to think of their value in their system. (inherently to reduce the cognitive load on deliverables, that would have been passed without you in the system)
Parrot lines are important to put things in perspective. Perception is built over a period of time looking at consistent and inconsistent behavior of group (mostly senior management leading by example, needs to be careful about this one). When I need more than realistic expectation, my parrot lines are:

1. Let us get it done for leaving a legacy and add it to our portfolio first. It is up to company to leverage it or not.

What parrot lines do you have in your arsenal and are you conscious about it?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tension Elasticity: A Management Framework for small teams

Not PMP, PRICE II, ITIS. I work with small teams and the most simple framework is something not for managers but to make team members self manage themselves. Hence the idea needs to be in the term and not in an explanation for terms. The framework is simple. Every project and team members goes through 3 phases:
  1. Concern Phase,
  2. Breath Easy phase and
  3. Elongation phase
What you need to do is bring the project to "Breath Easy" phase all the time.
Why is this a framework and what worth is it to say what every one knows. The importance is in the "tension" inherent in the phases. As long as you maintain the "tension" to "breath easy" phase, the project will always be a good place to work giving you lot of experience. Why it does not seem to be worth given a consideration is that the "tension" is never realized.

When the customer raises a concern, we firefight till customer cools down or till the customer forgets "Temporarily" about the project. We never move the project and do things that get us back to "Breath Easy" ways of doing work. Mostly we move into "calm" phase than "easy" phase. The more you breath easy the more sustainable the project team will be and more satisfied your employees would be.

Hmm, how do you know that you "breath easy" and not "calm" phase ? The answer is in delegation. Are you dispensable in whatever your role on the project demands you today ? Can you get a fresh recruit, share the hard coded files, documents, explain the work in a couple of hours and relax googling for the rest of day ? If yes, the project is in "Breath Easy" phase. Which can be judged by the fact that the scalability and bottle necks are non-existent on the project.

When are you in concern phase ? It happens at all stages in project.
  1. Whenever you are sure there is an impending fire that you are allowing to subside with time.
  2. It could be a seemingly simple comment that customer would have made, that you took it lightly.
  3. It could mean a request that potentially, without analysis looks good to deliver, but consumes more time than anticipated,
  4. Could be a feature, you have no experience with that you theoretically think is possible, something the team considers as a value add while the basic needs of the project are still not delivered while you press for delivery of value add first, etc.
  5. You can always feel, that you are in concern phase, if you do not get a systems view of the work, be it lack of information, time, resources, experience, expertise, support, tools, etc.
Elongation phase should then be same as concern phase - rite? Yes, as far as tension is concerned, it is in same league and you need to move in to "Breath Easy" phase fast. However, elongation phase is more painful than mind mapping a concern phase. In Elongation phase you need to manage reality and perception differences as well. In a recent project, I totally believed the customer is taking more time, while we deliver as per the last 3 month old project plan asking for the turnaround time dates. However in last sales interaction, I got the feedback that 'damage is already done'. Well, to bring the project to "Breath Easy" phase, we are trying to complete them to the satisfaction, while another "breath easy" option is to to write off the small amount based on the reality or facts submitted to client.

Fundamentally, elongation phase starts when there is a miss from deadlines and scope. When value add becomes a priority, and many times I falter this principle not to entertain them till the scope is closed.

Any ideas on how to "Breath Easy" often in project teams?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Instruments as Weapons

Any task requires instruments. Software is one. Transport is another. Document is the evergreen, must have, all purpose instrument for reference.

Whenever you use anything, have you thought, how they are channelized? How they can be used for best benefits. Be it a bag, for a seemingly simple task of carrying vegetables.

Weapons are instruments that serve the purpose they are created for. Use and Misuse is the same. The pedestal they reach is always on a target. Missing the real target they hit another target. Isn't that the reason why they are so powerful, dreaded, lot of committees, safeguards, efforts go in creation, maintenance and securing them. Isn't the same effort goes in using them at the time they are required. Even diffusing a weapon before it is put to work, has lot of tension and precision to disarm them COMPLETELY.

The point is, if we take weapons as a benchmark for all instruments, then in simplest plane, they need to exhibit the following character:

1. Purpose: All instruments should have one purpose. Instruments in e-Learning content could be Video, Animation, Graphics, Text, Polls, Surveys, FAQ's, Glossary, etc. If you want to use them in your project, then you need to define their single purpose channel used in the course. For example,

Video: Seeing an action is easy to imitate. Do we imitate voices in radio more than actions of heroes TV or Movies? Providing videos give more answers and aid in easy comprehension.

Animation: Kids love illustrated motion than real motion. Seeing my daughter, I realize that illustrated motion (Animation) gets more attention to details, with fun, than real action. Using the same analogy, I suggest use of animation for providing low level details along with action for better application.

2. Precision: While instruments are created with purpose, their execution determines their effectiveness. Using instruments at their appropriate place gives the precision of a weapon, that can be used in a good place for best intent. For example,

Video: Executing a video has multiple challenges. First, feature a model, if you want a diversion. We recently saw a video explaining a product demo, and half the attention went in noticing the mis-act sequences of the lead. When a normal person needs to be the lead/host, just get a close up. I may be a best actor when my wife is around, but cannot do the same in front of the camera. The strain of getting the body language correct and relishable by the viewer is beyond normal man bounds. We recently saw a video with key top people explaining the values - at times, I need to admit, the actions were funny.

Second, Zoom slowly. There is no hurry to reach the destination. A little bit of action, suspense, aids better comprehension than focussing on the object and holding the camera as if it is a still picture.

One more for this post, cover multiple angles: A video is a movie format of delivery. To ensure precision of the intent, use its potential to give better views than normal eye can perceive in normal circumstances. Can you now understand, why fight sequences are captured in angles, that overwhelm you or there is so much attention on camera man as the director?

3. Preciseness: When precision can acquire its purpose is the timing when it is used. In content design, animation initially is always felt more entertaining than concluding a module.the results. While concluding a module, a little bit of action is better refreshing and leads to a continuation action than a passive conclusion. Recently, we started showing the learning objectives as a static screen while the summary slide acts as a recap and option for user to comment on the learning. Will keep you posted on the results.

4. Passion: One of the elements I missed in my last post, Execution Attributes is passion. There is a reason. Reason is, execution involves things that need not be liked by you. As a practice lead, I detest testing. But in a small team, where the function is managed internally, I need to do it. To do it properly, I cannot bring passion with me; but I need to bring focus, discipline and course correction to do the job right.

The case of instruments is different. Execution, timing and creation purpose requires passion to bind them all together. When you find an instrument, not living up to expectations, then passion will be missed block. Either preciseness will miss what precision and purpose want to achieve or preciseness and precision will miss the purpose for which the instrument is designated.

5. Pointers: In olden days, instruments always had a mental model towards sharpness, pointed objects with a target object in reference plane.Example, sharpening a saw to cut a tree, to have a sharpened pencil to draw a thin line, a sharp dart to indicate target attack and sharpness to hit the target. In India, it is always bow and arrow that are used for pointers to mean target and sharpness to hit it hard.

Ensure your instruments have enough pointers. Simply put, is the instrument used with right set of references. References could mean users too. Are users familiar with animations, polls, surveys, assessments? In one of the recent projects, I learnt this lesson. Good instruments cannot be used everywhere when the pointers are blank and blunt. For the customer, polls, surveys as instruments were not aimed at them and their target audience. So utilizing them without a pointer would result in vaccum zone. Isn't that a great insult to the instrument itself.

So use instruments where they are capable of making an impact.

Like weapons, instruments should boom with sound, visual and match them in their functional effects. Videos should have music, sound and matching action, while animations should have music,visual effects and attention to detail,while glossary should have letters, words, definition along with pictorial depiction of their meaning for better attention and knowledge reference.

Did you read the related post for knowing what instruments can do for you?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Execution Attributes

Man, being essentially active, must find in activity his joy, as well as his beauty and glory; and labor, like everything else that is good, is its own reward.--WHIPPLE.

While ideation, strategies, process formulation, vision documents are various forms of expression/desire, it is execution that gives credibility to these forms. May be why news is relied upon for movements/momentum while results are relied upon for decisions/commitments.

Execution is a commitment to achieve the expression/desire.
To do so, execution teaches you 3 most important things that any sacrifice is worth.

1. Focus
2. Discipline
3. Course Correction.

Out of the 3 characteristics, the 3rd point is the most mis-understood/ missed term. There needs to be focus on tasks at hand and at the sight in future; Discipline to commit in good faith to a decision or a majority view point. However, the earliest warning signs must wake you up for a course correction.

In my experience, course correction is the missing characteristic in otherwise success stories, that went down even with focus and discipline. This also applies to few of my mentors whom I learnt the tricks from.

The easiest way to take course correction is to leave a trail of numbers that can inform you about the pitfalls when looking back. With little PROPER introspection, future path can be visualized with focus and discipline. The path can be course corrective in nature as well. This can save you time, efforts and remove "fear of failure" from your hearts.

Hence execution is not about having work that I need to do, but doing work that needs to be done. Get it Done. Have a happy execution for the rest of your life.

How do you get Focus, Discipline, Course Correction in style? I will share my formulas in next few post.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Project Outsourcing Commandments

Customer is king. Customer decision is final. King's deliverables should be good and on time. There can be many statements validating customers importance. Yes, it is important to drive the point to ensure greater customer satisfaction. But it is equally important for customers to know when and how projects can be turned downside with their own actions/statements.

Few don'ts advice to my customers and prospects will be:

1. Never give a project without internal commitment: Who needs to review, who needs to approve, who needs to be involved, who will pay the invoice, is important to be on board from first time.

2. Never give feedback more than twice on a file: First time, the delivery has all the passion in it. Second time, the feedback on issues seen are considered learning, third time, the moods/mindset and expectations are understood. But from this time on, more feedback will only add to low motivational work. The fixes would be done just to satisfy you, without any passion or brain behind it. If the release is not up to your expectations, send email that you do not consider it as a release at all, and still keep only 2 review cycles.

3. Treat Review cycles with seriousness: Ensure you dedicate time, stop reviews after a optimum batch size(say 25 local issues and/or 5 global issues) in one review cycle, 5-6 localized issues in second review cycle. Period. Validate issues fixed please.

4. Delay the start of the project, but never delay the completion date. The date committed during project start is known to all (senior managers of both companies), but changed dates are hardly communicated unless in case of escalations. The initial buy-in will see to it that projects are on review radar, but past initial deadlines, it is left on excel sheets/Gantt charts within project teams.

5. Escalate without bias: Never escalate only when there is a problem that is discomforting you. Escalate and demand when normal, routine deliverables are missed. Treat escalations for support deliveries as well, like meeting minutes, discussion notes, future commercial implications, tracking requests for fix, changes, etc.

6. Ask for senior management attention, what ever your size be: The seniority can be decided by the vendor. But a non-project senior person is necessary to provide attention and consultation on project from both sides. If this is not there, project teams will tend to do things comfortable to them but not to their respective organizations.

7. Praise the team: US customers do this. We love it. But in India, these are more subtle. A behind the scenes word of mouth is very nice for managers and seniors, but a word of applause is required for project team workers.

8. Accept for delays and contingencies at both ends: You do not need a status report to tell you who is delaying what. Delays are inevitable at both sides. It is important to acknowledge or force an acknowledgement in email, so that they do not become a habit.

9. Provide enough references/source/stories: Well, this sounds like why i need to give the project to you. However think about it differently. Giving a project is no letting go of your commitments. It is to do things smartly and differently. Smart way, is to outline your needs progressively based on vendor thoughts. What you have in mind is validated/invalidated by similar prior experiences available with vendor. What you need is executed differently with added bonuses of giving away the maintenance and support hassles.

References/Source examples/Stories gives better clarity on expectations and aid in realistic schedules and deliverables matching expectations.

10. Prioritize what you need: As a vendor I can be willing to give a "free" lunch. But it is free only for a day. What lies ahead is more investment. Hence prioritize and do not ask for "free" lunches unless there is a need for the same. Example, You ask for a blog engine, I give "content engine" free. To manage, govern and administer the content engine, is really additional investment from your side. Do you really need it ?

11. We work mutually for better appraisals: You may hate me saying this. But at the end of the year, my project and yours too will be evaluated for WIN. Hence WIN-WIN is a must for a serious engagement. When either of our appraisals and more money is in danger of getting lost, we will not be able to get together at any levels - professional or personal. Hence mutual respect is governed by more serious personal money at stake.

Can we strive for a better appraisal partnership please ?

And few more, may be in next posts.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The ever shadowing late night experience

One of the differences that I bring as part of my existence in organization is to ensure that people leave early and leave me time in night to focus on my tasks. Part of it is selfishness since I am a night-person and late riser.

Though, it is a good practice, in IT, any one who has been strict about timelines is not known in my circle yet. Ask my mom and now she has tutored my wife better to poke fun at my management practice whenever the late nights happen.

Today (or yesterday, it is always a confusion), the late night work happenned. The master plans, effective habits all went to a toss. So what makes late night follow you constantly and catch you at the appropriate moment? Would not any IT company have a practice that is so mature and robust that they have good clients and accept only limited work that promises not a single day of extra staying hours ?

Still groping for answers...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Cognitive Load - Part 2

If there needs to be a simple measure for the work/services/deliverables rendered then you can self-evaluate yourself using "Cognitive Load" concept.

Cognitive Load simply attempts to answer the question - Does the work give me confidence that it increases my productivity or does it put more responsibility on me to review/check the work thus extending by dependency ?

Cognitive Load is a self-perception quality. How do you do it ? Here are few pointers.

1. Stand up, step back and view the soft copy of the document: Are you happy with it ? Hmm you have done your best, you say. So don't want to comment on it. Better, call a peer and ask what they make out of the delivery from the same distance. Can they point out the distinction in the work ? Can they assume what you have done ? Can they tell the mood of the work ? If there is at least an answer, then there is a good deal.

2. Take a Print of a sample: Going green means do not waste paper. So take a few pages out and see the results in black and white. Do the areas get highlighted properly? Is there a depth that is spotted. Is it easy to read the print copy with minimal attention rather in a distraction environment.

Meaning, is your file now visible to users and can they see the difference that they spotted for you in color soft copy ?

3. Try out an alternate: If there is a paragraph, put that in bullets. Are you impressed? If you have put them in bullets try separating them in a table row and see if they are impressive ?
If you are working on an excel sheet, have you color coded columns or color coded rows ? Are you impressed ? If not, try playing with border styles, colors, thickness ? Still feel you could do better - Did you try fonts sizes and colors ?

4. Give yourself a try: Try showcasing your work and highlight the important user friendly elements. Specifically highlight the following to your peer:
  1. Are the users reaching the right spots with the right cues ?
  2. How many places should the user look around to spot the information ?
  3. How many times you will ask the input for a specific information - Meaning how many forms and fields needs to be filled in by user in one sitting ?

4. Optimize the batch: One of the major foundation blocks that e-Learning business address is the granularity and independency of content as 2-3 minute capsules. Follow this rule. Split your deliveries in multiple chunks and send it for review/approval. If there is a huge delivery,stagger it on a weekly basis. This way you let your managers rest easy and you can work at ease by getting your confidence back.

5. Can you reduce the intermediate sign off posts - This suggestion coming from a manager might sound counter intuitive and surprising. Many milestones are actually intermediate sign off posts to keep project in track. However think about the over heads associated with each intermediate delivery. You need to spend time in reviews, packaging, communication, solicit feedback, rework on the delivery and submit it again going through the release process. Is it worth the effort to do these or take a calculated risk of proceeding further with a commitment that the deliveries are on track. The amount of changes/issues in a major milestone will not exceed the time spent in intermediate deliveries. Hence be careful in setting milestones (refer above point on batch optimization). Think if it is really a milestone or is it part of intermediate delivery in the name of showing progress and achieving a billing point.

The least cognitive load is the best form of process optimization. Do you prefer a Government bank asking you to come over and sign forms or do you prefer a private bank who does the service of collecting documents, photocopying them, obtain your signatures at you convenient place ?

The difference is considered user experience, but in the underlying deal, it is lesser cognitive load that matters.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Project Stand Lessons from my daughter - Power and Sweetness of "NO"

Once in professional life, there would be at least one mentor required who comes in as an "Angel" exhorting you to practice saying "NO".

If you are like me, you would detest the fact that it is quite opposite to what parents teach - Saying No to people is rude and at times a sign of weakness or failure. Well, you will also like the perception that your friends, peers and most of all your bosses detest openly with people who stop work by saying "NO" when something extra comes their way or there is an unbalanced load of work on some one else. You get the air that you are not one of them and are respected for the "attitude"!

Are you one of them ? Well, both profiles are a manager's nightmare. It is important to make the "YES worker" and "NO worker" normalize their stances. My tough stance as manager is always manifested for both these profiles.

Why "YES worker" needs to be normalized - Wouldn't such resource earn good reputation for the manager? Almost Yes in a myopic view. Consider this:

A senior manager sees the "YES worker" working late many times. When there are no pressing things and things are going smooth, have not you heard the senior manager commenting in meetings that resources need to be taken care better, there should be more balanced distribution of work and that stress needs to be addressed as the pressing issue ? Would the same response come when an entire team is genuinely working to meet stringent fires and there are escalations looming large threatening the senior manager's time? In effect, the "Yes worker" suddenly introduces "Stress" on the entire system and team along with skewed balance of work. Don't they divert your energy from more productive and lovable things to do in the day ?

Well then "NO worker" must balance the equation rite ? Almost No except if you develop the knack of saying "No" my daughter way :)

My daughter starts any request with "Na na" - her vocabulary for saying "No" (refresh with this post - Closed vocabulary set). However the timing and sweetness is to make you request more with valid reasoning rather pampering. Once the reasoning is valid, she again tries to divert attention by acting a little "snob". Crying or asking for something that was promised last night.

Once you get her last demand, she gleefully accepts the request. So what great lesson does that teach?

1. Always use "No please" together for more information.

2. Empathize your earlier situation to see if there is recognition for your past work

3. Become a "YES worker" immediately on accede of request.

Why you should not say "Yes" with every request. Well my daughter learnt from her mom, that accepting a compromise that she is not fully convinced or giving in without a murmur sets the expectation every time from the time the implicit obedience is given. It becomes a norm from that time onwards. It becomes routine and change always is painful - even if a child wants to change it.

Hence say "No Please", but work for the manager who empathizes the situation and requests you for that extra work the organization or a earlier goof up requires now to be solved. At the end "working" is the only way to live up to your reputation.

You end up stronger and powerful with this strategy. Isn't it ?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cognitive Load - Your Take - Part 1

What is the real worth of your work ?
Have you ever considered that you take up a task to complete something that someone else needs to find it easy for their progress?

Do you deliver a physical asset at the end of your task ? If you claim you deliver an asset, then have you defined what the asset is worth ?

Try yourself and tell me the answer.

Is there a "Sholay" in your arsenal

How many times have you watched "Sholay" movie? The answer probably will be "many" times.

For readers not familiar with bollywood, Sholay is an all-time hit and iconic movie that has withstood many spoofs, copies of the storyline, a flopped remake and many jokes spanning the characters. Still the movie is watched by people who knew the crowded theatres at that time and now cozy in the TV sets by a generation not witness to the first release and the hit culture set in that time.

What sets apart the movie from so many movies and other hits available from that time even from the same actors in various other roles or similar ones in other movies? There is no simple answer. However there can be a simplest logic given to the hit - It is lovable, watcher(user) friendly, good masala combination of action, dialogues, songs, dances, locales and best of all timed well. Which simply begs the question - Why is it difficult to create another "Sholay" then?

Hmm, rather than researching and answering which many greats are investing their time in, can the question be answered - Have you got a "Sholay" magic in your kit ? Have you delivered one in your career ? If not, when can you know that you have delivered one ?

Well, while compiling a list of demos of past work, my team has worked on, we always stumble upon this little game, that has always got our prospects excited and got us to talk the next level.

We always wonder what is in it that potential customers link it to or get attracted to. There are better works that we are proud of - more creative, more animation, more illustrations, and more business results achieved with better solution and more repeat orders than this little game has got us.

But still we are surprised that this game with the ordinary common theme, gets repetitive after 10 moves, but never ends and keeps giving you points, done a couple of years ago, and has not even given a facelift, is still fresh and looks very refreshing.

As with researchers trying to replicate the "Sholay" formula, we are also trying for the formula to create one more atleast to our arsenal.

Is there a "Sholay" in your arsenal ?

Sunday, May 18, 2008


In recent past, I tried to move from micro management to try and bring in more empowerment to my team. When I was explaining how to approach a customer requirement and frequently I have to explain that the fit and finish is lot left to be desired during my review, I wanted a "word" that I can always ask and establish the context for discussion easily.

After much long speech explaining what I need multiple times and thinking over it for couple of weeks, I got the "eureka!!" moment. The term is "Sensitivity and reduction of Cognitive Load". This post is about first - Sensitivity.

Isn't the most important thing any human being in personal or professional life requires is "Sensitivity".

1. Think the pains of sales to get the business you have in your hand.

2. Think the pains of a manager in taking down notes of issues that you left open for them to find.

3. Think the pity of your users using your work, in going to live with the pain as it is mandated by the company.

4. Think about the appraisal your client is going to get for being responsible in giving the business to you.

5. Think about the constraints in real world the manager is going to face in making decisions of either schedule or quality.

6. Think about the shareholders investment (if you are one) in your company. Does not the company ability to keep its promise depends on the revenue you earn with your rendered services .

7. Think of your team member who is going to take over from you and work in lesser time that assigned to you and does not have the luxury of the same background that you work.

8. Think the marketing guy who is going to write about your work and try earn some brownie points over competitors hoping to make some big orders.

9. Think about the sales guy missing their commission and hence breaking a promise to their loved ones.

10. Think while making edits to a document or file of another author in having to review your work entirely to know what has changed ? Would you not make sense by providing a mechanism to highlight changes to make lives easier?

Would not these thoughts bring to you the desired qualities that any company expect in you ?
Having thought at above topics, what is your action ?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Angel Bullet Points, Devilish Details

Often do you get into a session where you are told that life is all rosy and no thorns? You have all solutions and no problems anymore ?

Have you often been in situations especially after power point presentations where the bullet points sound great positive statements OR a client gives you a presentation which seems a very comprehensive requirements spec and all is expected is to dive to work and deliver exactly what is told ?

Well, experience has taught me to always see "dangling carrots in air" without getting the sweetness of a bite and the freshness of it.

What corporate culture does not teach you and so does your education is to differentiate between "negativism and criticism". Hence we tend mostly to accept/believe the angelical bullets, so as not to send the impression of a pessimist. Thus the devil escapes always hidden in the context or details and comes out when you already know where you are.

To clear the conception, here is my 'criticism'.
  1. Negativism is an argument while criticism is discussion.
  2. Negativism is a body language while criticism is a thought language.
  3. Negativism is perception while criticism is lack of belief due to absence of data.
  4. Negativism is indiscipline while criticism is discipline with conviction.
  5. Negativism is drag while criticism is a pull factor.
I find it always illuminating to see and work with data than presenter interpretations. I arrive at my own conclusions and wait to see if the presenter rallies upon the same interpretation sequence but intelligently detours to give a different perspective.

Consider meetings, such as these:
1. Target setting and business climate presentations - They definitely sound great, where everything is "BIG" and challenging. But should not the data about the current team SWOT be the most pressing bullets for setting targets and driving action.

Justifying a decision that affects emotionally - Should not the data about speculations doing the rounds be addressed in bullets, rather than giving a management spiel of a strategic decision/direction necessitating such decision? Can you be counted as a "on-board person" for such reasoning ?

New business initiatives - Well, even I do this many times. Google for public market research data and mostly you get them in free domain after their validity is out of date. Use them to show graphs, data, impressive quotes from various people, to justify our entrance and a strategy to corner some business.
Rather should not the initiative be based on whether you have let such opportunities pass, how many of them and what is your reasonable guesstimate of opportunity cost, the wishes of team, the readiness of sales force, operations team, availability of talent pool, cost overheads required and best of all the corporate patience ingrained in the culture ? But how many times does this approach give you the "buy-in" required ?

4. Solution Architecture diagram:
How many times as a consultant have you made a slide on disadvantages and overheads required to make the solution work ? When a solution can deliver all goods, then where would be the case for repeat business and business excellence and continuous improvement ? If these devilish details are not covered, then how do you believe in Angelical bullets ?

In the absence, I prefer pessimism, if that is what needs to be term used to call "ground zero validation".

Why is it always "preaching" as a presenter in most cases is about good and no bad at all? Isn't it disconnected with the ground and what purpose does this achieve ??

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Project Stand Lessons from my daughter - Closed Vocabulary Set

My daughter is now 18 months old. The best period of one's life is to see your very own come to liven you up and remind you what you did unknown.

For quite a few months, I am getting used to seeing my daughter pick up some communicating words. Now she is quite comfortable in her zone of expressing her desires according to her style and it is left to us to understand and interpret it. Which means, she now has enough vocabulary in her set in her own style that is sufficient to make us understand her needs.

Which led me to wonder - Isn't it important that we establish such closed vocabulary set in project teams, which will lead to better communication and the interpretation within the team will always be right every single time.

Thinking of my past, I now realize that this closed vocabulary that we used within ourselves could have been the success for our smooth interaction and greater work satisfaction at Digital Think (my first company job). However, then I was not conscious about this existence and it just happened.

More on the story...

In e-Learning business, we use various terms like STB(storyboard) , UI (User Interface), CDD( Course Design Document), visual design, PI(product integration), CI(content integration) and similarly in quality area SS(Show stopper), NC (no change as against non compliance), Critical, Major, Minor Incidents, etc. If you are reading from e-Learning background, lot of these terms may sound familiar as a mother tongue.Put yourself in shoes of a newbie or from a different industry and try making sense of the short forms and sentences around it. Better still, try talking to your parents with these terms and see their reaction.

While we were practicing it without any hitch or fuss or didn't even find that we are using something different that people outside the group/industry will not understand. My new, last boss in Digital Think, was asking us for details on each of the terms in our off site meeting conducted by my sweet US boss to make sense of what we were talking. Being shrewd (has to be if he has to be my boss ;)) he picked up the vocabulary set very fast and easy.

This brings out 2 important points:

1. Any closed vocabulary set is easy to adapt, comprehend and understand. Think of the languages tribes speak and acquire various dialects of same language.

2. A closed vocabulary set is easy to follow and becomes part of self and peers which leads to better communication, bonding and ease of doing job with a team.

3. As with any language vocabulary, a common team thinking is subtly re-inforced every time. This under current flow making management of employees and their work easier.

4. Further don't you think it with a little creativity that child infuse in a language, we too can Become Child Again ?

However, it took my daughter to make me realize the profound impact of this simple mechanism for creating, sustaining and developing ever challenging high performance teams.

Have you consciously developed vocabulary set for your teams or have you left it to be a sub conscious effort ?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Business for a low cost solution thro Innovation

Recently one of the team's innovation that is operational is to create a decomposed hierarchy file structure for simulation training. The file structure is then assembled through code rather than handcrafting the animation and integration. For more details refer to my last post on Product Action .

This has led to productivity improvements which have improved our lives considerably. Not only the cost of service has come down but the schedule for delivery is also now rapid and is in days for a small size job, which we used to deliver in a month.

You may think this is a good for everyone and organization benefits from it? However, systems thinking gets you a different dimension and a dilemma.

What is in it for a sales person to sell a low cost solution and where volumes are not as high as would be desired?

Why should a sales person prospect, qualify, respond, follow up to get orders worth a few lacs, while allied solutions can be sold at higher cost with exotic technical jargons or SOA, Portals, application migration, AJAX enabled web sites, new Java, .NET technologies, etc?

Well I don't have answer to this yet. Can you tell me what options we can consider?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Product Action

After a long time servicing projects and being in reactive mode, we took time to step back, reevaluate our lives in office . While my patience had run out in 4th month of the job, doing the repeated tasks, I had to wait for 5 more months for my team to come out of the hood and challenge our working style and realize that they can do a lot worth their character.

As I said in my earlier post,

Evolution Story - Power of Need establishing the need is an organic process and needs to be incubated for the time it takes. All you can do is to mould the thinking in subtle ways in hope of acceleration the need for change.

To the real story now...

In the step back exercise, we decoupled and dis-integrated all our project assets to its atomic level (yes including the efforts). On analysis we found that rather than hand crafting the integration of the assets, the technology we are familiar with was more powerful and could do most of the tasks better. All it required was the basics of XML and the power of integration with Action Script.

So we started our journey within the project time frame to risk our reputation of on time and quality delivery and try the creation of productivity improvement tool. Hats off to my team that even though the basic idea germinated in me, the execution took its own turn and was not stamped with my control written on it. The positive outcome of the exercise was that we now have a tool, started for internal use, has a good UI (yes we are designers first) and is web based with the simplest of usability that hides the complexities that is associated with simulation design.

Looking now at the output, each one of us have started thinking that product creation is a great way to service every project. Rather than ONLY provide an output that is usable to customer, the thought magic is now to create a product that can be extended, customized, maintained, changed frequently at customer's will which at the same time will reduce the work load or rather provide us with the challenge of working on better mind stimulating creatives.

The product action has just kicked in. Hope it sustains the way of thinking and brightens our future.

How else have you incorporated the service around a product, rather than a service or product service model?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bring back the Child Again

This week I was host to 2 good guests from South Africa. The enjoyable things were, they came with specific purpose of ensuring we understand their business before we start the project. Sounds right as theory but never found in practice - right? Well, it happens at times and I had the good pleasure now.

The best outcome of such "first" meetings enables us to first talk common points across - politics, culture, people, cricket, etc.

As host, true to this tradition, me and my boss took turns for trying to provide the good time - post office formal wear meetings.

In the penultimate day, we went to "Choki Dhani" an ethnic village closer to our office. After initial rounds of stiffness between vendor and customer, the first ice breaker came when the client went for a folk dance. From there started a time filled with translation, fun, laughter, competition, camaraderie. Some folk arts were also good viewing.

"THE MOMENT" came when we all were excited to aim the arrow with a bow at a board. It was so contagious that even faltering were taken in strides. In the process the client remarked " All have become child again".

Well the same quote was repeated again when we all tried to hit a big iron plate with a heavy wooden hammer piece (typical of announcing the entry of people through a door in olden times).

"All have become child again" - Isn't it not a profound thought and statement which has deeper meanings? Thing about it.

  1. Bringing ourselves as child mean higher levels of enthusiasm into the Job.
  2. Being child enables us to work together in a playful, fun and joyous moods.
  3. Being child enables us to make the environment so bubbling with contagious laughter and lighter from work pressures that there does not exist a earning - living gap.
  4. Bringing our child selves has less to do with money and more to do with relationships and true empathy.
  5. Bringing the child in us helps the cost of retention of a employee with higher loyalties cheaper than retaining professionals.
Think about it. How much of effort, time and cost is it going to consume to make the environment lively, entertaining and providing relaxation with such mock places. Providing a small size cricket bat, tennis ball is enough to fuel the creativity of the team to create their own rules of the game.

Having a common area which requires a strenuous effort like moving a big wheel or the big iron block which needs to be hit with a big wooden hammer or trying your strength games we play as a child does not need a heavy investment but can self sustain the entire team together for a longer time.

So many things more can come in when we become child again?
Would not it be an important lesson for HR to revolve their entire energies and synergize the execution, strategy, and plan to make every one bring the child back again to your work.

What am I doing with it ? Well, cannot let the occasion pass. We came up with the idea of movie watching sessions every week with a vote on the list of movies available.

Any ideas that you can share to make us work with the child vigour, focus, passion and ABOVE ALL - WITH DISCIPLINE that we often overlook or forget

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Estimation - A near correct approach

Isnt it any company dream to have a correct estimate, correct price with normal profit and earn it upon delivery ?

Well, after much experience with simulation training models, we have intrepreted our experience to address this common problem. Infact the delivery team this time felt that overruns, over time and over work is killing their creativity. Hence came up with near to accurate tracking times and days required for their work.

Having emperical data is always a master stroke. Here it is a doubly sharp as data is accurate enough to be tracked and reported immediately with as many minor tasks that can be reasonably captured. The estimation technique has been refined with various baselines across multiple projects, that now our estimation technique of any simulation exercise is
= number of clicks determined*$ value for efforts.

Number of clicks is a very obvious number to measure during proposal stage. The value size is so granular that the % of assumption error will hardly be 5-10%. While traditional estimation models with the same error margin result in 15-20% normal variances, in this case, you can cover the variances in the cost, which is fraction less than normal costing models.

Our experience which is being field tested is hoped to confirm our postive thinking of acheiving 20% lesser cost and 15% less schedule time for delivery.

You wonder about the compromises made in the solution - Very minor which has not been enabled for want of time to deliver projects and not because of any technical limitation. However as my boss said today - you better revise your ID strategy for better communicating instructions than making them look machine instructed sounds.

Thanks to timely boss reminder that we are taking course correction to the ground principles that any e-Learning is not about technology but enable better visibility to Instruction principles through proper application of technical solutions.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Client Eye Review

One of the very first projects at my current engagement is handling a tried and comfortable method of simulation animation with a team adept at a certain way. This was a time when 2 of my reliable team leads left the organization. The audio vendor we engaged was without any defined SLA's.

Being new, the first thing I realized was that the quality of the audio recordings in multiple sessions did not have the correct settings. The stereo mixing was incorrect, the audible levels were not matching with each other. How much ever trials to correct them were not leading us satisfactorily to the end output result.

Further, being the first in engagement with the client as a company and team, we were caught by the customer in the delivery quality. To complicate matters, there were issues in the delivery which were not caught in the review cycles instituted as a process.

What did we do then ??

Enter the process of "Client Eye Review"...

What is the process all about? Get the entire team sit in a conference room and have a product viewing session.

The Objective:
Role play the customer and try to find as many obvious seemingly small issues that can be found without much attention.

The Reason:
People with technical knowledge and working in technical area always seem to be chasing the big issues and looking for challenge to all reviewers to find a show stopper or a critical issue. While they feel that smaller issues can always be fixed in a matter of time. Even now, after 10 projects together, I am grappling with the same mental model of developers. Enough explanation that these seemingly simple issues are what affects the customer psyche and are the uncovered open visible issues that puts off a customer confidence, never has satisfied their quest to find bigger hidden issues. These issues they feel are worthy of their time are known only to them and not to customer, still never makes sense.

The Real Timing of Client Eye Review:
The client eye review is very very important when the company has acquired a first time customer. The importance of communicating what the customer feels rather than sees has to be perceived to make repeat business happen.

In my current experience, client eye reviews are the best way to start an engagement before the first delivery to make a decent impression. While the use has not been of much bigger value from second releases, rather after the time the team is comfortable working on the project and know all the most common errors/mistakes/issues that customer is likely to find.

Isn't it a great quality system where a team remains unchanged and committed to a customer thereby making a committed customer good business sense?

What is your customer acquisition engagement execution plan?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What is your Story?

One of my first assignments/meeting I took part in this company is to create a "service definition" for our "e-Learning Practice". The practice was 6 months new to the company and we were actively in business - Thanks to the "inorganic growth" and the customers who remained with us with the management change. The "service definition" is part of our quality process and systems. The compliance and audit trail will map and match this definition with practice work to ensure we stay on course. Hence falling under the purview of quality assurance team, we were meeting the quality head of the company for mentorship on the thoughts and the steps to create our "service definition".
When the meeting started, we were expecting templates, devilish level of details and forms to be filled in, the non compliance areas and penalties, the drills and procedures, what micro level do we document, track and trace, etc. However, the opening statement is a 2 minute pitch and it was on these lines. (Not reproduced verbatim)
"You are hiring a consultant in a distant location and will be airborne to a client site immediately on offer. What will you tell him and how will you ensure that he does a good job and satisfies the client. The consultant is experienced in the domain but not on the "way" that you expect to "Wow the customer". So how will you communicate the way to the consultant."

Sounds simple? Look at the details - It requires
1. Every single step mapped out,
2. Every single document listed,
3. For every document - a template created,
4. For every template - a design and thought applied,
5. For every design and thought, a checklist prepared,
6. For every checklist, an audit planned, and from here on
7. "A great improvement-fixes-validate" cycle steps declared, defined and detailed.

Did we care for these details when the quality head told this story? Not me atleast, but it was impressive enough to dive into details and start work. But only when we got the job, the "full story" came through as sunrise on a sunny day.

Did the story motivate me - Well "yes" - wouldn't it for you if you are starting a practice or a company on one service ? So can we identify the merits required in storytelling from above case: 1. Make a compelling context bordering on "Worst Case" hypothesis: In this case, sending a fresh hire, however senior to a project and that too on a client partnering role is bound to be scary for every manager, handling projects and clients. However there is always a realization that this could always be a reality in many situations. Hence any document or details required for such a target audience is always going to address all important points in the priority list order.
2. Do not explain the details: The story makes an impact only when felt and not told. For every question or solution, anchor your response to the questions posed by central theme of story. Repeat the story and ask if the Q/A context fits the central question of the story.
3. Practice the delivery: Amitabh and Rajnikanth are iconic superstars for their styles of dialog delivery. Hence the story you say, must be ,with your own conviction and importantly true to your style.

Have you told your story for getting work done?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Estimation - Unitization by solution or by components - Study of 2 Practices

Having been with e-Learning domain for around 9 years now, hence with little bit of confidence I can say that estimation techniques have been learnt the hard way and is still being perfected with various models. The maturity levels of gathering emperical data and improving upon the past estimation vs execution effort variances are rarely heard by me in my e-Learning friends circle.

Starting with per hour of learning model to Instruction design based effort multipliers to notional complexity level multipliers and currently looking at effort based estimation, I can say that e-Learning companies are still trying to get the "margin success" a recurring phenomenon.

In the company I work for is no different. Being an IT company delivering e-Learning content design services, it is expected that we too provide hueristic effort estimates like LOC, FP, resource loading chart (in case of a top-down approach) etc as with other technology projects. Any amount of convincing that we are different does not help either of us, since the sales team tuned to sell IT finds it complex to sell e-Learning. However few people who have had success with e-Learning find it an indispensable selling proposition for them to make some quick targets.

So initially we sailed in the same boat with classifying levels of interactive complexity and deriving best estimates by considering the good circumstances. Quick comparison with actual efforts we executed earlier confirmed our estimates are in right track.

Recently, we need to bid for an entire account where there was competition. The focus was submission of costs for various solution features. This broke our foundation with which we we defined levels - "based on interaction complexity efforts". This levels model required a great deal of documentation to make an inclusive list. The manager in me considers it to be a not good usage of effort.

While we mind mapped in our brain storming session, we found that there are various solution features, like PPT conversion, simple page turners, games, 2D Vector illustrations, 2D, 3D animations, 25 different interactivities and each of them can be combined to offer a solution in predictable ways.

The results were astonishing. Across the solutions there was a great overlap of efforts and it is indeed possible to group various solution in multiple price levels.

So instead of saying
  1. "For a given price I will give you Flip book, Drag and Drop, Match the Following and MCSS interactivities", or
  2. "My Instruction Designer would provide you with mandatory course features which is a passive animation and no support/interactive levels", I can now say

"For the given business requirement, I can think of the possible 2 solutions that address the need in the same price band. It is now dependent on the target users preference to choose one solution over another. So we would like to give you our User Research based Design Services."

Would you give your project to me, if I would tell you the above story ?
Well, the result of our submission to our client is still waiting for their consideration.

Friday, March 7, 2008

More on One to One Meetings

After practicing it as initiator for quite some time now, I feel the success of one-one lies in the inherent values present in the process itself.
1. Suits both Introvert and Extrovert behaviours: For people who are introvert or extrovert, one to one is an ideal setting. Extroverts can let go their feelings more forcefully while introverts will try to submissively but subtly put their points across.
2. Air of Confidence : News in the room is known to ONLY two people. So each of the parties know well who the source of any unwanted, unnecessary leakage is. Since it is a boss-subordinate relationship, it is always the respect for each that would make the sharing of news easier. This is important to be in "Sync with the ground realities" and getting the "pulse" of people before commitments made to the management.
3. Short and Sweet: This is something I used to like. It helped me improve my communication better. Whenever I need to ask a question to my remote boss or convince him of something closely affecting me, I felt the need for preparation to cover as much ground in the discussion within the available time. It helped me hypothesize situations and prepare statements that would lead to the points, I like to hear or get addressed.

Have you a good case to share for one to one meetings ?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Participative Management

One of the most important aspects of a manager is to share a common bond with the team. At middle management level the best bond element that works for me is - Crib about the system. This does not necessarily mean bad mouthing the company, but cribbing about cracks, red tapes in the system sends a vibe across the team that every one is battling the same "dinosaur" ("monkey" apparently drives an unintended pun these days to cricketing people) - the limitations that restrict the good work done by us as a team and the creative ways we need to adapt to be the best in circumstances.

One thing that I always see it working is to make people see genuineness in the manager. I look for empathy from my bosses about the system(see it is a common bond at higher levels also) and trust that people looking to me as a manager expect the same. Few good to heart initiatives I suggest because they have worked for me are:

1. One to One: I learnt it in my first company from my bosses who were disciplined and diligent in giving due importance to this meeting.

They use to manage it with recurring advanced meeting requests , apology emails (once in a while with proper rescheduling if required), asking what we can expect from next one-one meetings.

Few things that was never attempted and should never be done are:
1. Do not attempt at improving the quality of interaction in first few meetings. The bonds needs to be established first. The agenda and discussions will go awry. It is better to let it pass till the discussion carries itself forward. There can NEVER be a case where One to One will ever become bitter.

2. Never postpone a meeting as an initiator. If there is no topic or no need for a discussion, all it takes is a 5 minutes talk to listen to agenda and set next course of action.

2. Throw a Party: Something I really love to arrange or get done, is to throw a party suiting the audience style. Include everyone involved to make your life easier. Socialization is the best way for slipping the team to a "comfort zone". It has been the biggest teacher for me to know the "dialect" of the group. The way the team behaves, understands, and reacts are important aspects for a manager to not miss as much as deadlines, efforts. However efforts, deadlines, logs, issues, risks are manager's "dialects". Expectation of conformance to a foreign dialect with a team is downright insensitivity.

3. Follow up on smaller group parties: A genuineness can only be established by repetitive action. Once in a blue moon or sudden surprises get branded as "mood swings" of manager. Hence whenever possible, take smaller groups which are naturally formed wings of the team out for a party. It is important to be in team's familiar surrounding and see their potential.

4. Ensure that project party "overdue" is organized by you: Organizations need to be most happening place to spend most of the waking time. Hence "fun" theme events of HR are not inclusive models of team building exercise. It is important that teams "feel" the bond, live the life in office rather than earn the living. Hence if the team you inherit has a long overdue project celebration, that is the best moment to show the capability to make people look to you at having excelled in doing something that was given not to happen in their life with the company.

How did you participate with your team today ?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Evolution Story - Power of Need

The team that I inherited have many things in common - long time bonds of 3+ years with same company and almost all Maharashtrians. This would be the most ideal suited team for any manager - consistent performance, all good proven horses for longer races, great comfort factor and synergies within members, solid back up without expressing authority - What more could I ask for?

Isn't it the dream team that a manager would like who can spend time focussing on tasks at hand rather than work on individuals to ensure bonding and manage expectations and attrition which take time away from productive work ?

When such teams exist and you are new and want few tuning to be done for newer business needs, one long lesson I learnt after 1 year is to make the change a compulsion not through brute force or management decision but bring in the Need.

Case in Point: Because of the close knit nature, business was done as usual in tea breaks and regional language "talks" in canteen and numerous informal means. What this means to a manager is to be careful in bringing in fresh talent in the team and yet maintain the team spirit. Further with business expansion on the cards, there is always the lurking danger that the team will travel to various locations and still the "camaraderie" needs to be present from distance.

These required tapping the formal communication channels and utilizing them effectively. Making sure that formal communication means are practiced in a safe closed environment and improved, while informal channels will still act as life support system till the protocols and understanding is in place.

However, this realization seemed more compulsive only to me to ensure change happens and it happens fast. But moving from "comfort" zone of a well entrenched team (not just one but many) is a typical "new manager syndrome. It is tedious, pisses off most people and some consider it to be a case of "false alarm" or pressing the "panic button" too early.

The change happened recently when we were in fire fighting mode and the blame game started in a project. THe same project has panned many blog titles in last month :). The team members in the hidden firing line ( behind me), as if by magic were writing and sustaining themselves against the onslaught through carefully drafted emails, status updates, clearing the intent and scope of deliveries, making sure that "HELP" is duly recognized explicitly, telephonic talks, reference to discussions and surprisingly not wanting my interference.

The stress and strain of the entire episode led me to know the power of need and now our team have a couple of members who can be marketed on their own. I still have to work on the remaining team.

Can you help me with "NEEDS" you "CREATED" for change management?

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