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 ??

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