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?

Top Agile Blogs